Giveaway: “The Luminaries”

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Book: “The Luminaries” by Susan Dennard

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: ALA, Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.

Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.

Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.

But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.

Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.

Giveaway Details: Susan Dennard is back with a contemporary fantasy with a super creepy cover. I’ll admit, the cover itself was one of the main reasons I’ve had my eyes on this one. For all that Kate is the horror expert, I do find myself leaning towards the darker stories here and there. And this type of monster-hunting fantasy story looks like just the sort to tickle that particular itch. Plus, who can say no to a bad-boy love interest?

Per the usual, this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. The giveaway ends on December 7.

Enter now!

Kate’s Review: “Five Survive”

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Book: “Five Survive” by Holly Jackson

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, November 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Eight hours. Six friends. Five survive. A road trip turns deadly in this addictive YA thriller from the bestselling author of the worldwide phenomenon A GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO MURDER.

Red Kenny is on a road trip for spring break with five friends: Her best friend – the older brother – his perfect girlfriend – a secret crush – a classmate – and a killer.

When their RV breaks down in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, they soon realize this is no accident. They have been trapped by someone out there in the dark, someone who clearly wants one of them dead.

With eight hours until dawn, the six friends must escape, or figure out which of them is the target. But is there a liar among them? Buried secrets will be forced to light and tensions inside the RV will reach deadly levels. Not all of them will survive the night. . . . 

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

With how much I loved the “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” Trilogy by Holly Jackson, I was waiting on pins and needles to see what she would come up with next. And lo and behold, I saw “Five Survive”, her newest YA thriller, up on NetGalley, and rejoiced. And the description was so, so intriguing: six friends on an RV trip are deliberately stranded by a dangerous stranger, who wants one of them dead and gone, with secrets coming to light and perhaps friends turning on each other. I mean come on. That’s all just catnip to me! And my high hopes were fairly well met, as “Five Survive” snagged me in and kept me going until I’d finished the book over two days time.

The breakneck pacing really works in this books favor, as the building tension that starts almost from the jump is really what kept me reading. We have our group of friends, the protagonist being Red, on a trip with her childhood friends and a couple new faces in the mix. Jackson wastes no time in cutting this trip short, as the RV is waylaid and it is clear very quickly that it is NO accident. And when they realize that a sniper is outside, demanding a secret, the people in this stranded RV go from stunned, to disbelieving, to frustrated, to horrified realization, and as the severity of their situation starts making all of them start making desperate decisions. Friends turn on friends in hopes of saving their own skins, and a fun road trip becomes nightmarish. I liked the time chunks and the way that the hours tick by and the desperation builds, and how they all start showing their true colors as secrets are revealed and the back stabbing begins. But I did like that a lot of the characters were easy to like, which made the stakes all the higher. Sure, there is one guy who is a complete asshole that is fairly two dimensional, but everyone else is explored well enough that the suspense about who was the secret holder and who wouldn’t make it out alive was palpable. After all, the title is “Five Survive”, and there are six people in the RV. And I do think that a lot of the surprises were well done and well earned. Jackson has really perfected the right formula for this kind of teen thriller, and it was neat seeing her tackle this kind of thriller as opposed to one like “Good Girls Guide” that feels more detective-y and step by step investigation.

In terms of our narrator, Red, she was a little more of a mixed bag for me for a lot of the book. A lot of her train of thought felt repetitive, and there were a lot of moments that felt need to remind us that she has a harder time than everyone in the RV and that she has had a lot of tragedy in her life. I’m not saying that there isn’t reason for this tragic backstory, or even that there isn’t reason for dwelling on it a bit, but when it does all come together it still felt a bit like it was hammered over the head perhaps a few too many times. I think that if we had more time with her in the story, and by that I mean a longer timeline than overnight, she may have been able to breathe a bit more with her angst and pathos, but crammed into one night, even if the book itself isn’t outside the average of a typical novel, it just gets a bit tedious. But there is still enough to like with her, and the supporting characters, from privileged asshat Oliver to sweet but condescending Maddy to awkward Arthur, all have satisfying moments and bring variety to a solid cast of characters.

Overall, “Five Survive” is a quick and engaging thriller, another fun read from Holly Jackson. I’m so glad that her streak is continuing, and once again I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Rating 8: Suspenseful and tense with breakneck twists and turns, “Five Survive” is another well done YA thriller by Holly Jackson!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Five Survive” is included on the Goodreads list “2022 YA Mysteries and Thrillers”.

Not Just Books: November 2022

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

Amazon Prime Show: “The Rings of Power”

It took me a bit to get around to this show (I won’t lie, I was a bit concerned about the ambition of this project and also the fact that nothing can live up to Peter Jackson’s original three movies), but I’m really glad I finally did! Sure, I can nitpick on changes (one, in particular, kind of made me chuckle), but overall, I think it was a very enjoyable show. I thought it did very well capturing the same general tone as the original trilogy, especially with the emphasis on beautiful locations and an excellent score. The acting was all solid as well. There were a few storylines that I definitely cared less about than others, but nothing I actively disliked, and a lot that I really enjoyed!

Movie: “Don’t Worry Darling”

My husband almost talked me out of this one on movie night, listing all of the drama that went on on set and with the changes to casting. But I’ve also really loved Florence Pugh in everything I’ve seen her in, so I persevered. And I’m glad I did! I did think a few aspects of the plot were pretty familiar, but, like I said, Florence Pugh really carried it with her excellent portrayal of a young woman who begins to question her world and fear she is losing her mind. The music in this one was also very strange, which added to the building sense of unease and creepiness of the entire situation. While it’s covering a lot of familiar ground, there were a few notable deviations from previous stories of this kind. Overall, I really liked it!

Sports: Fifa World Cup 2022

Both Kate’s and my husband are very, very into soccer. We’re talking season tickets, front row seats for our local club sorts of “into” soccer. So, needless to say, soccer has been on my TV practically nonstop for the last week. Luckily, I enjoy most sports well enough, so I’ve not minded. Yes, I do find it harder to get invested in the outcome of, say, Japan vs. Costa Rica. But I also watched the abysmal performance of the US men’s team when they failed to qualify four years ago, so it’s been great watching them finally play on the world stage! And the big one is tomorrow! I have to admit, I am a bit stressed about it!

Kate’s Pick

TV Show: “Welcome to Chippendales”

This was one of my most anticipated shows of the Fall, which is probably not surprising to anyone who knows me. I mean, come on: true crime! Salacious scandal! 80s tackiness! SEEDINESS GALORE! I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the dark history of male dancer organization Chippendales, and this show is making it intriguing and trashy and you KNOW I was watching it while making food for Thanksgiving. Kumail Nanjiani plays Somen “Steve” Banerjee, an immigrant to America with dreams of making it big. He opens up the Chippendales club, a strip joint with male dancers, and thanks to his drive and the dance numbers choreographed by the flamboyant Nick de Noia it is a HUGE success. But with success comes greed and vice, and as Banerjee and de Noia butt heads, violence follows. I think Nanjiani is fantastic as Banerjee, Murray Bartlett is a stupendous de Noia, and I LOVE Juliette Lewis as brassy costume designer Denise. Also, look out for Dan Stevens, whose name in the credits made me go ‘oh!’ with anticipation… and then ‘oh no’ when I saw he was playing Paul Snider. If you know, you know.

TV Show: “Criminal Minds: Evolution”

A couple years ago I very belatedly got into “Criminal Minds” when it was available for streaming on Netflix. I didn’t do the whole run as the cast turnover started to get aggravating, but I liked it for what it was. When I saw that they had a reboot in the works, I was VERY interested, as a lot of the original cast was game to come back, and during some downtime during the holiday weekend I sat down and started it. It did not disappoint. The BAU is back, and continues to look into violent crimes and cases by serial killers or those who are budding to become serial killers. But when they find a strange connection between seemingly unrelated cases across the country, they start to realize that, due to isolation during the pandemic’s early days, a network of killers found each other online to swap tips. And now they have to try and bring down the ringleader. I’m very happy to see the likes of Prentiss and Garcia on my screen again, and I am very interested to see how this all unfolds.

Film: “The Menu”

Flashback: March 2020. I went to see “Emma” starring Anya Taylor-Joy at the local Alamo Drafthouse. Little did I know it would be the last movie I’d see in theaters for almost three years. But Thanksgiving weekend my husband said ‘I know you’re still nervous, but there’s this weird movie I’ve been hearing about that I think we should go see if you are comfortable’. And I decided that, mask and full vaccination record in tow, it was time. So I returned to the movie theater, seeing “The Menu” starring Anya Taylor-Joy at the local Alamo Drafthouse. It follows a young couple who are partaking in an exclusive foodie experience on a remote island with one of the world’s most touted chefs running the dinner. And as the courses keep coming, it becomes more and more clear that this isn’t any old dinner service, but the premise for something far darker. I REALLY enjoyed this horror-black comedy, as it’s a great send up of snooty foodie elitism combined with a slow burn dread. Taylor-Joy is great, of course, but Ralph Fiennes really stands out as the prodigious, albeit unhinged, chef.

Serena’s Review: “Tread of Angels”

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Book: “Tread of Angels” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Publishing Info: Saga Press, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: High in the remote mountains, the town of Goetia is booming as prospectors from near and far come to mine the powerful new element Divinity. Divinity is the remains of the body of the rebel Abaddon, who fell to earth during Heaven’s War, and it powers the world’s most inventive and innovative technologies, ushering in a new age of progress. However, only the descendants of those that rebelled, called Fallen, possess the ability to see the rich lodes of the precious element. That makes them a necessary evil among the good and righteous people called the Elect, and Goetia a town segregated by ancestry and class.

Celeste and Mariel are two Fallen sisters, bound by blood but raised in separate worlds. Celeste grew up with her father, passing in privileged Elect society, while Mariel stayed with their mother in the Fallen slums of Goetia. Upon her father’s death, Celeste returns to Goetia and reunites with Mariel. Mariel is a great beauty with an angelic voice, and Celeste, wracked by guilt for leaving her sister behind, becomes her fiercest protector.

When Mariel is accused of murdering a Virtue, the powerful Order of the Archangels that rule Goetia, Celeste must take on the role of Advocatus Diaboli (Devil’s Advocate) and defend her sister in the secretive courts of the Virtue. Celeste, aided by her ex-lover, Abraxas, who was once one of the rebels great generals, sets out to prove Mariel innocent. But powerful forces among the Virtues and the Elect mining barons don’t want Celeste prying into their business, and Mariel has secrets of her own. As Celeste is drawn deeper into the dark side of Goetia, she unravel a layer of lies and manipulation that may doom Mariel and puts her own immortal soul at risk, in this dark fantasy noir from the bestselling mastermind Rebecca Roanhorse.

Review: I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by Rebecca Roanhorse. She’s one of those fantasy authors who seems to have a boundless imagination and the writing skills to properly bring those many ideas to the page in exciting, new ways. But, like many fantasy authors, she also writes a decent number of long books that require a good amount of time to get through. So, in the midst of a very busy fall full of tons of books that I wanted to get to I was relieved to see a novella heading my way.

In a society split into two sides after Heaven’s War, two sisters have tried to patch a life together for themselves. But while both are Fallen, those descended from the demons who lost the war, Celeste and Mariel grew up in very different circumstances. Celeste, largely able to pass as one of the priveleged Elect, grew up with her father in the city. Mariel was left behind, living in poverty with their mother. But now, as adults and together, they have worked to create a life for themselves, with Celeste determined to stand by the sister she feels she abandoned as a child. So when Mariel stands accused of a terrible crime, Celeste will do anything to prove her sister is innocent.

There was a lot to this novella. And that’s both a compliment and also my main complaint. On one hands, this felt like a very well-developed world, with a clear history and society. We only have glimpses here and there, but the concept of a war in heaven and the fallout that’s left behind with angels and demons is familiar enough to many readers that even without tons of details, it’s easy to understand what is going on and the dynamics at play. On the other hand, while I think the story itself works well, I did end the book feeling as if I still wanted more. More of that history. More of how this society works. More of the characters’ stories, especially their pasts that were only quickly skimmed over.

But what we do get is excellent. Celeste and Mariel were very interesting characters. Due to the nature of the story, Celeste’s is the story and character that we get more of, but through Celeste’s journey Mariel’s character becomes more and more intriguing as well, even if we don’t see her on page as much. There were a lot of excellent twists and turns to be found here. When I started the book, I quickly felt that I had a handle on what this story was going to be about, where the characters were headed and what the overall commentary and theme of the book would be. Obviously, I won’t spoil anything here, but this story turned out to be much more layered and complicated than I had initially imagined.

And while I loved these twists and turns, especially the way the story ended, this also contributed to my feeling of wanting more by the end. However, even typing that out now, I’m questioning myself. Was that feeling of wanting more due to the book or story actually lacking anything? Or was it in and of itself a commentary on storytelling, characters, and readers’ expectations? I’m not quite sure. It’s one of those cases where I think many readers will come to their own conclusions. One thing I can say with certainty is that, for as short as this book it, it really stuck with me, and I found myself thinking about it for several days after the fact. I definitely recommend it to general fantasy fans. It’s a nice short story that packs a punch with the limited page length it has.

Rating 8: Unexpected and interesting, I found myself both wishing for more but also, somehow, satisfied with this very same lack of satisfaction.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tread of Angels” can be found on this Goodreads list:[ATY 2023] Western

Kate’s Review: “White Horse”

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Book: “White Horse” by Erika T. Wurth

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Heavy metal, ripped jeans, Stephen King novels, and the occasional beer at the White Horse have defined urban Indian Kari James’s life so far. But when her cousin Debby finds an old family bracelet that once belonged to Kari’s mother, it inadvertently calls up both her mother’s ghost and a monstrous entity, and her willful ignorance about her past is no longer sustainable

Haunted by visions of her mother and hunted by this mysterious creature, Kari must search for what happened to her mother all those years ago. Her father, permanently disabled from a car crash, can’t help her. Her Auntie Squeaker seems to know something but isn’t eager to give it all up at once. Debby’s anxious to help, but her controlling husband keeps getting in the way. Kari’s journey toward a truth long denied by both her family and law enforcement forces her to confront her dysfunctional relationships, thoughts about a friend she lost in childhood, and her desire for the one thing she’s always wanted but could never have.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

It is such a good time to be a horror fan right now. I’m sure I’ve said that before, but it remains true. We are getting so many varied stories with so many different perspectives and voices right now, and it makes for such rewarding and interesting reading. I saw “White Horse” by Erika T. Wurth on a few different platforms, and it took me a few times to really look into it. Once I did, however, I knew that I needed to read it. The buzz was promising and the premise really caught my eye. And once I started reading I slowly began to realize that this was going to be an awesome reading experience. “White Horse” is a fantastic horror novel from a new Indigenous voice in horror literature.

The horror elements in this book are some of the most unique moments and beats that I have read in recent memory. Wurth takes a concept that sounded pretty straightforward (a haunted bracelet that brings protagonist Kari visions of her dead mother as well as some kind of monster), but it never feels hokey and it feels fresh and original with the way she approaches it. The visions she has are unsettling bordering on scary, with the imagery of her mother Cecilia being both eerie but also filled with a deep sadness that permeates the pages. Kari, who is of of Apache and Chickasaw descent and lives in urban Denver, is realizing that her missing mother Cecilia didn’t leave, but is actually a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman, and that Kari’s visions are going to haunt her and drive her into despair if she doesn’t find out what really happened. It is clear that Wurth has a very clear idea of how she wants to construct these supernatural and real life horrors, and it works very, very well, especially since so much Indigenous culture and spiritual aspects drive the story themes. Whether it’s visions or the story of the Lofa, Wurth uses these mythologies and beliefs and fits them into the story at hand perfectly. We also get a love letter to a more familiar horror icon, as Kari’s love for Stephen King connects to her journey as she finds herself at the Stanley Hotel, where King was inspired to write “The Shining”, and this part of the book was so jovial AND creepy that it was one of the horror highlights I’d experienced in my reading this year. Wurth really captured the Stanley, from the descriptions to the history to the way that it can make a Stephen King fan feel just be stepping foot inside (as someone who visited a few years ago, it was like going back and experiencing it all over again). I loved all of these elements so much.

And Kari herself is a very compelling protagonist, for so many reasons. She is wry and funny, for one, and I loved the way she gives no fucks about how other people think of her. I love her complicated relationship with her cousin Debby, how she clings to her and loves her fiercely, and I ached over her relationship with her father, whom she cares for after he was in an accident that left him with some pretty significant brain damage. Kari is rough and tumble, but she has endured a lot of trauma and loss in her life, which also enters into the horror themes of this book. So much of the foundation for this horror story is rooted in generational and communal trauma, specifically towards Indigenous women living in modern American society. From the MMIW aspect to microaggressions Kari endures here and there to the way that addiction can strain a person and make them do monstrous things, to even aspects of the magical and supernatural systems at hand, this story is from an Indigenous lens and perspective, and it make the book stand out all the more.

“White Horse” is a must read horror novel. I urge horror fans to pick it up, because it’s phenomenal.

Rating 10: Dark and soulful, “White Horse” is an effective horror story that also examines modern Indigenous life and the trauma that can come with it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“White Horse” is included on the Goodreads lists “Magical Realism”, and “Colorado”.

Serena’s Review: “Son of the Salt Chaser”

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Book: “Son of the Salt Chaser” by A.S. Thornton

Publishing Info: CamCat Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: After her desert-transforming wish, Emel follows Saalim to Madinat Almulihi to reclaim all she has lost. But the seaside city is not what she expected. When she is tasked with assisting the palace healer, she is faced daily with the reminder that Saalim—focused only on seeking the revenge of those who killed his family—does not remember her at all.

Cursing the magic that destroyed her love and brought her to an unwelcoming city, Emel regrets her decision to leave her settlement. That is, until she meets Kas. Though inscrutable, he is the first person to help her forget her past, and the pull of finding happiness with him tempts her from the life she wished for with Saalim.

But darkness waits in the desert, and not all people in Madinat Almulihi are what they seem. When Emel understands she is entangled in the fate of the city—and of Saalim—she is faced with the realization that magic may be the most powerful card in her hand. It might be the only way to save all that she loves, but if she plays her hand wrong, it could destroy everything.

Previously Reviewed: “Daughter of the Salt King”

Review: This was a highly anticipated read for me this fall. “Daughter of the Salt King” was a great surprise last year, blowing past all of my expectations of it. It also ended on a fairly massive cliffhanger, with one of our main character’s left with no memories of recent events and the other adjusting to a completely new world of choice and freedom. So it’s no surprise that I dove right into this book as soon as I could!

Emel always knew that playing with magic was quite literally tempting fate, leaving her wish to the interpretation of a mercurial god. But even knowing this, she never anticipated ending up where she is now: leaving the only home she’s know to follow the love of her life, a man who doesn’t even know her anymore. And once she reaches his city, she realizes that with freedom comes many scary choices and responsibilities. How can she make a life for her and her sister in this strange land and amount these strange people? For his part, while Saalim can’t deny the strange pull he feels towards Emel, he also has other challenges facing him and his city. A powerful threat is looming, can Emel and Saalim find their way back to each to other in time to face it together?

I hate writing this sort of review most of all. It’s always disappointing to finish a book and realize that I can’t give it a good review. But it’s all the worse when the book is the second part in a duology that I had been loving up to that point. Given how much I enjoyed the first book, I had extremely high hopes for this book. And man, did those hopes crash and burn.

To start with a few positives: the writing itself is still quite strong. The same general tone and feel of the story remained consistent with the first book, and when I first started this book, I was greatly enjoying this general feel in the same way I did before. It also starts out in an interesting way, picking up immediately after the events of the first book, following Emel and Saalim as they make their way across the desert to Saalim’s home city. Here, the story felt familiar and enjoyably, with action, the beginnings of a mystery, and Saalim and Emel awkwardly stumbling around each other, with Emel trying to get Saalim to remember who she is. But then we reach the city, and it’s like the story slams head first into a wall.

I really can’t emphasize enough how abrupt of a negative shift this book takes within the first quarter of the story. All of a sudden, the pace of the story dies. Emel and Saalim are separated. And nothing happens for long spells of time, with only the barest crumbs given to keep readers invested. It immediately began to feel as if the author had no clue what to do with this second book. The story felt floundering, with no real stakes and random subplots being thrown around here and there. Emel and Saalim are also reduced to shadows of their former selves. I honestly had a hard time recognizing these characters as the ones I enjoyed so much before.

The nature of their relationship was always going to prove difficult (this is exactly why I’m always extra nervous of “amnesia” storylines), but it’s handled extremely poorly here. Emel’s behavior never makes much sense. Saalim keeps seeking her out and giving obvious hints that he is struggling to understand his connection to her. But instead of trying to draw this feeling out, encouraging Saalim to remember, Emel is standoffish and cold. It makes zero sense for her character to behave this way. Even when we’re in her head, we get no explanation for her strange decision making here. It may seem like a small thing, but these are the sorts of strange character arcs and decisions that had me struggling to enjoy this book much at all.

Towards the final 10% or so of the book, the story finally comes together. But this was way too little and way too late to save my reading experience. I was incredibly disappointed by this book. And, looking back, I have no idea why this wasn’t left as a simple stand-alone story. The first book, with a few minor changes towards the end, could have been neatly wrapped up into one perfectly enjoyable package. Such a shame that that’s not what happened, and now we have a duology that, as a whole, I’d struggle to recommend to other readers.

Rating 6: Incredibly disappointing almost to the point of being unrecognizable from the lovely book that came before it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Son of the Salt Chaser” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Desert Fantasy.

Kate’s Review: “The Babysitter Lives”

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Book: “The Babysitter Lives” by Stephen Graham Jones

Publishing Info: Simon and Schuster, August 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon |

Book Description: When high school senior Charlotte agrees to babysit the Wilbanks twins, she plans to put the six-year-olds to bed early and spend a quiet night studying: the SATs are tomorrow, and checking the Native American/Alaskan Native box on all the forms doesn’t mean jack if you choke on test day.

But tomorrow is also Halloween, and the twins are eager to show off their costumes—Ron is a nurse, in an old-fashioned white skirt-uniform, and Desi has an Authentic Squaw costume, complete with buckskin and feathered headdress. Excitement is in the air.

Charlotte’s last babysitting gig almost ended in tragedy, when her young charge sleepwalked unnoticed into the middle of the street, only to be found unharmed by Charlotte’s mother. Charlotte vows to be extra careful this time. But the house is filled with mysterious noises and secrets that only the twins understand, echoes of horrors that Charlotte gradually realizes took place in the house eleven years ago. Soon Charlotte has to admit that every babysitter’s worst nightmare has come true: they’re not alone in the house.

The Babysitter Lives is a mind-bending haunted house tale from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Review: I did very little babysitting in high school. I had two families that I did the occasional babysitting job for, and they were family friends so it wasn’t really a ‘business’ relationship. Basically it was guaranteed pizza, soda, and the promise of watching “X Files” in syndication after the kids went to bed with a chunk of change to show for it. But I love a horror story involving a scrappy babysitter, so when I read that Stephen Graham Jones had a new audiobook about that very thing I was very, very excited. The man has already solidified his place as a favorite horror author of mine, and this trope just makes it all the more tantalizing! I went into “The Babysitter Lives” with a unique reading experience from the get go: it’s rare that I do audiobooks these days as I am not in a car nearly as much as I used to be. Because of this, I didn’t devour this book with as much aplomb as I may have a print book. But it’s still Stephen Graham Jones, and he is still a master of strange and entertaining horror stories, so as that was my only option, it was necessary, albeit a change from how I usually enjoy him.

Overall, I enjoyed “The Babysitter Lives”. I love a haunted house story, and Jones is always up to the task of tinkering with a classic trope and making it fresh and deeply unsettling or weird. It’s pretty clear pretty quickly that this isn’t your average haunted house or babysitting in trouble story, and as we follow Charlotte and her charges through a terror filled night things get more and more dire, and the plotting gets more and more compelling. There are a lot of different horror elements at play; a haunted house, shadow doubles, space/maybe time rifts, and some good old fashioned body horror and splatterpunk gore that had me cringing throughout. There were so many what the HELL is going on moments and twists and turns that it felt a bit like whiplash, but we were always grounded in Charlotte and her drive to be a responsible and effective babysitter, especially after a close call involving one of her other charges. She goes through some serious shit as this babysitting job goes on, and Jones really knows how to milk the scares and unease for all they’re worth. While it’s true that I wasn’t the BIGGEST fan of how some things shake out, I definitely get why they have to go the way they do when it comes to the story that Jones is trying to tell.

But the aspect of this book that made this all the more layered was Charlotte herself, whose babysitting duties are well honed and whose characterization makes the tale richer. Charlotte is a driven teenage girl who has dreams for herself, but is always having to deal with perceptions of those around her because of her Indigenous heritage. Whether it is the twins she is caring for who have Indian Halloween costumes, or hints of microaggressions for their parents, or even well meaning but sometimes insensitive girlfriend Murphy, Charlotte has lots of experience having to combat racist bullshit, and unfortunately it’s just another thing she has to fight against during this babysitting job. Jones balances this pointed commentary with other things at hand, so it always flows really well and just feels like another, more realistic horror (along with other aspects I haven’t touched upon here, but let’s just say that as a teenage girl Charlotte also has to protect herself from a more worldly creep than any spectre this house could create) to permeate the narrative and make it all the richer.

And finally, this is an audiobook, and I have found that even the strongest story can be derailed by an audiobook narrator who is lackluster. But we are in very good hands with Isabella Star LeBlanc, who brings all of the characters to life with varied performances, and who builds up tension with her stylistic choices in narration. I don’t do audiobooks as much anymore, but LeBlanc is a narrator who makes me think that perhaps I should carve out more time to do so.

“The Babysitter Lives” is a scary and relentless horror story that turns the haunted house and babysitter slasher tropes on their heads. We are so lucky to have Stephen Graham Jones here in the horror world! He consistently delivers!

Rating 8: Stephen Graham Jones keeps up with the weird and unsettling terror in a book about a badass babysitter!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Babysitter Lives” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of now, but it would fit in on “Haunted House Books”.

Another Take: Fall 2022

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Don’t just take it from us, other readers like these books, too! And we have decided that we would like to showcase other reviewers and bloggers that have their own thoughts and feelings about books that we have loved. Here are a few of the books we’ve enjoyed recently and what other bloggers have to say about them.

“Eversion” by Alastair Reynolds

From the master of the space opera, Alastair Reynolds, comes a dark, mind-bending SF adventure spread across time and space, Doctor Silas Coade has been tasked with keeping his crew safe as they adventure across the galaxy in search of a mysterious artifact, but as things keep going wrong, Silas soon realizes that something more sinister is at work, and this may not even be the first time it’s happened.

In the 1800s, a sailing ship crashes off the coast of Norway. In the 1900s, a Zepellin explores an icy canyon in Antarctica. In the far future, a spaceship sets out for an alien artifact. Each excursion goes horribly wrong. And on every journey, Dr. Silas Coade is the physician, but only Silas seems to realize that these events keep repeating themselves. And it’s up to him to figure out why and how. And how to stop it all from happening again.

Serena’s Review (9 Rating)

Ancillary Review of Books

The Quill to Live

SciFi Mind

“Spells for Forgetting” by Adrienne Young

A deeply atmospheric story about ancestral magic, an unsolved murder, and a second chance at true love.

Emery Blackwood’s life changed forever the night her best friend was found dead and the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her. Years later, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence on the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and running the family’s business, Blackwood’s Tea Shoppe Herbal Tonics & Tea Leaf Readings.

But when the island, rooted in folklore and magic, begins to show signs of strange happenings, Emery knows that something is coming. The morning she wakes to find that every single tree on Saoirse has turned color in a single night, August returns for the first time in fourteen years and unearths the past that the town has tried desperately to forget.

August knows he is not welcome on Saiorse, not after the night everything changed. As a fire raged on at the Salt family orchard, Lily Morgan was found dead in the dark woods, shaking the bedrock of their tight-knit community and branding August a murderer. When he returns to bury his mother’s ashes, he must confront the people who turned their backs on him and face the one wound from his past that has never healed—Emery.

The town has more than one reason to want August gone, and the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises spanning generations threaten to reveal the truth behind Lily’s mysterious death once and for all.

Serena’s Review (9 Rating)

Grim Dark Magazine (5 Stars)

Caffeinated Reviewer (4 Stars)

These Lyrics and Lines (5 Stars)

“Poster Girl” by Veronica Roth


Sonya Kantor knows this slogan–she lived by it for most of her life. For decades, everyone in the Seattle-Portland megalopolis lived under it, as well as constant surveillance in the form of the Insight, an ocular implant that tracked every word and every action, rewarding or punishing by a rigid moral code set forth by the Delegation.

Then there was a revolution. The Delegation fell. Its most valuable members were locked in the Aperture, a prison on the outskirts of the city. And everyone else, now free from the Insight’s monitoring, went on with their lives.

Sonya, former poster girl for the Delegation, has been imprisoned for ten years when an old enemy comes to her with a deal: find a missing girl who was stolen from her parents by the old regime, and earn her freedom. The path Sonya takes to find the child will lead her through an unfamiliar, crooked post-Delegation world where she finds herself digging deeper into the past–and her family’s dark secrets–than she ever wanted to.

Serena’s Review (9 Rating)


Utopia State of Mind


Book: “House of Hunger” by Alexis Henderson

Book Description: Marion Shaw has been raised in the slums, where want and deprivation is all she knows. Despite longing to leave the city and its miseries, she has no real hope of escape until the day she spots a peculiar listing in the newspaper, seeking a bloodmaid.

Though she knows little about the far north–where wealthy nobles live in luxury and drink the blood of those in their service–Marion applies to the position. In a matter of days, she finds herself the newest bloodmaid at the notorious House of Hunger. There, Marion is swept into a world of dark debauchery–and at the center of it all is her.

Countess Lisavet, who presides over this hedonistic court, is loved and feared in equal measure. She takes a special interest in Marion. Lisavet is magnetic, and Marion is eager to please her new mistress. But when her fellow bloodmaids begin to go missing in the night, Marion is thrust into a vicious game of cat and mouse. She’ll need to learn the rules of her new home–and fast–or its halls will soon become her grave.

Kate’s Review (Rating 10)

Books, Bones, & Buffy Review (3.5/4 Stars)

Utopia State of Mind

Carole’s Random Life (4 Stars)

Book: “Such Sharp Teeth” by Rachel Harrison

Book Description: Rory Morris isn’t thrilled to be moving back to her hometown, even if it is temporary. There are bad memories there. But her twin sister, Scarlett, is pregnant, estranged from the baby’s father, and needs support, so Rory returns to the place she thought she’d put in her rearview. After a night out at a bar where she runs into an old almost-flame, she hits a large animal with her car. And when she gets out to investigate, she’s attacked.

Rory survives, miraculously, but life begins to look and feel different. She’s unnaturally strong, with an aversion to silver–and suddenly the moon has her in its thrall. She’s changing into someone else–something else, maybe even a monster. But does that mean she’s putting those close to her in danger? Or is embracing the wildness inside of her the key to acceptance?

This darkly comedic love story is a brilliantly layered portrait of trauma, rage, and vulnerability.

Kate’s Review (Rating 8)

The Reading Cafe

The BiblioSanctum (4.5/5 Stars)

Cats Luv Coffee

Book: “Ghost Eaters” by Clay McLeod Chapman

Book Description: Erin hasn’t been able to set a single boundary with her charismatic but reckless college ex-boyfriend, Silas. When he asks her to bail him out of rehab—again—she knows she needs to cut him off. But days after he gets out, Silas turns up dead of an overdose in their hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and Erin’s world falls apart.

Then a friend tells her about Ghost, a new drug that allows users to see the dead. Wanna get haunted? he asks. Grieving and desperate for closure with Silas, Erin agrees to a pill-popping “séance.” But the drug has unfathomable side effects—and once you take it, you can never go back.

Kate’s Review (9 Rating)

Jenn’s Bookshelves

Ginger Nuts of Horror

Books, Bones, & Buffy (4.5/5 Stars)

Serena’s Review: “Raven Unveiled”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Raven Unveiled” by Grace Draven

Publishing Info: Ace Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Siora has been on the run for longer than she cares to remember, from her past and her gift. Born with the ability to see and speak to ghosts, she has heard their desperate pleas as an otherworldly predator stalks the dead amid the fertile killing fields of the collapsing Krael Empire. The creature’s power and reach are growing with every soul it consumes, but Siora is preoccupied with her own troubles: namely an assassin who has sworn an oath of vengeance against her.

Gharek of Cabast was once the right-hand man of the reviled empress but is now a wanted fugitive. Although his reasons for hunting Siora are viscerally personal, what Gharek can’t anticipate is that when he finally does find her, she will hold the key to saving his world, or what’s left of it. To make good on old debts and protect the vulnerable dead from a malevolent force, Gharek and Siora will both need to make an ally out of an enemy—and trust that will be enough to save each other.

Previously Reviewed: “Phoenix Unbound” and “Dragon Unleashed”

Review: I’ve really enjoyed the, at this point, many books I’ve read by Grace Draven. She has a fairly significant back catalog that I have been slowly working my way through. But it’s also been fun to read her “Fallen Empire” trilogy as it’s been published in real time. So far, I’ve really liked both of the books in this trilogy. We’re introduced to the main characters for this book back in “Dragon Unleashed,” so I was already primed with excitement to get to their story here. Plus, who doesn’t love a good old “enemies to lovers” romance??

Siora had finally felt as if she had a place and the beginnings of a home. But then, in an effort to save lives, including that of her young war, Siora was forced to betray the man who had taken her in. For his part, Gharek is not one to forget and forgive. While he is a wanted man by many for his role as the late queen’s assassin, he is still driven with one goal and one goal only: find the woman who betrayed his, and his daughter’s, trust. But as they race in a game of cat and mouse, Siora and Gharek begin to realize that larger forces are moving in the world and they have to trust one another if they have any hope of overcoming it.

So, shocking take here given everything I already said about this author and this series so far but…yeah, I really enjoyed this one! Ok? Ok, review done? But in all seriousness, it’s always so great to find an author who consistently churns out enjoyable books. I’ve definitely had preferences and favorites, but I’ve never actively disliked a book by Graven. And this trilogy in particular has been very consistent throughout: great individual stories, great characters, great love stories, and an interesting world and history that connects them all.

By the third book in the trilogy, readers should be very familiar with all of these elements, and in a lot of ways it was like returning to a cozy, favorite place. Don’t get me wrong, this world is brutal and cruel. But as a reader, it’s also full of lovely characters and stories, and by the time you get to the third book, you’re on constant look out for returning faces. The fear, then, is that the new characters could be washed out by older characters. But Gharek and Siora definitely hold strong on their own.

I found Siora’s character and her story particularly compelling. Hers is a tale of long experience living on the outside of society. But through these experiences, and the influence of her late father, she has developed a keen sense of right and wrong. So devoted to this path, she follows these instincts even when they work against her own best interest. Indeed, this is what has lead to the situation she finds herself in now: on the run from her late employer, Gharek. For his part, Gharek’s journey is much more introspective. His role and position in the world has been pulled out from beneath him. He’s still a father, but he is barely able to understand how to be that (or any other loving role) without falling back on the destructive tendencies that had made him successful. He loves his daughter more than anything, but then to express this he leaves her behind in pursuit of revenge that she didn’t ask for. This, of course, also is seen in his growing relationship and feelings towards Siora.

The pacing and action of this book does stumble a bit. For one thing, though we get a decent amount of time with Siora and Gharek together, I found myself always wishing for more. Maybe it was the many stages that this relationship needed to go through, but I found that each of these stages could have used a bit more fleshing out. I also stumbled a bit with the “big bad” of this story. In the past two books, the Empress was a very present evil. We saw her repeatedly and her influence on everyone and her kingdom was obvious. But this book opens with her having been dealt with already. And then the evil that we do end up with is of a much more nebulous sort. The danger was unique, the way that Siora’s death powers played into this was cool, but I just found myself lacking real investment in this storyline.

Overall, however, I really liked this book. Siora and Gharek have a lovely romance, and in a lot of ways, it checks off many of my favorite tropes. The actual plotting of this book was probably not my favorite of the three, but it was also by no means bad. I flew through this book in only a few days and highly recommend it to fantasy romance fans (as part of the entire trilogy, of course!)

Rating 8: An excellent conclusion to the trilogy, but I found the love story more compelling than the actual plot of hte book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Raven Unveiled” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Characters Who Hide Their Powers.”

Kate’s Review: “Blackwater”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Blackwater” by Jeannette Arroyo & Ren Graham

Publishing Info: Henry Holt & Co. (BYR), July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Tony Price is a popular high school track star and occasional delinquent aching for his dad’s attention and approval. Eli Hirsch is a quiet boy with a chronic autoimmune disorder that has ravaged his health and social life. What happens when these two become unlikely friends (and a whole lot more . . .) in the spooky town of Blackwater, Maine? Werewolf curses, unsavory interactions with the quarterback of the football team, a ghostly fisherman haunting the harbor, and tons of high school drama.

Co-illustrated by Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham, who alternate drawing chapters in their own unique and dynamic styles, Blackwater combines the spookiness of Anya’s Ghost with the irreverent humor of Nimona.

Review: I’m admittedly a bit of a slacker lately when it comes to graphic novels, and I am making a promise to myself that in 2023 I am going to try and do a better job of reading more graphics. But when I saw “Blackwater” by Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham on my Goodreads feed, it caught my eye, and I made sure to get my hands on it for 2022. It has a lot of great things going for it: a horror graphic novel! With POC and queer and trans characters! With a spooky cover right off the bat!

So first, the werewolf stuff. Werewolves aren’t a subgenre I dislike by any means, I just don’t find myself reading or consuming much around this kind of monster (that said, read “Such Sharp Teeth!” by Rachel Harrison!). But I do know when a werewolf story has hamfisted metaphors as opposed to well done ones, and “Blackwater” has a mix of both. For one, this isn’t REALLY werewolves in a traditional sense as it’s more about emotional state than moon phases. Once Tony, one of our protagonists, gets bit, he’s turning into a wolf whenever his feelings get the better of him, usually rage. Which is, frankly, a bit obvious and a little bit of a cheat to say it’s werewolves when it’s not REALLY at the heart of the matter werewolves, mythos wise. But on the flip side, there is a good exploration of grief and loss in this book that does also tie into wolf transformation, but also as it applies to other characters and the hardships they are facing. One protagonist Tony is grieving a broken relationship with his father or a changing friendship with a childhood friend, just as other protagonist Eli is grieving a strained relationship with his mother because of how she responds to his chronic illness. Both of them feel lonely in their own ways, and that fits into the overall metaphor well too. There is also a side story involving Eli’s ability to see ghosts and a ghostly fisherman who has some unfinished business on Earth that I found to be the most effective storyline, but I don’t want to go into why I found it as such as it will be pretty spoiler heavy if I did. But let’s just say that I did find myself crying a bit with this whole plot line.

But here is the aspect that didn’t work for me and I wish it had: the romance between Tony and Eli. I get what the authors were trying to do, having them slowly start to fall for each other after each having preconceived notions about the other, and having them both grow as people in a coming of age tale where their romance is just the icing on the cake. But the issue I had with this was 1) I didn’t feel like I got to know either of them well enough to get super invested, and 2) there is a moment that REALLY derailed it for me, and I need to talk about it a bit so I’m going to do a

So early on in the book, Tony is still pretty chummy with (though admittedly outgrowing) his childhood best friend Biff. Biff is a complete jerk, and he bullies Eli for being weird and solitary and different, and Tony, though he doesn’t approve, feels like he can’t push back against his friend. He doesn’t participate, but he doesn’t stop it either. He also offhandedly mentions to Eli that he has asthma and has to use an inhaler before his track meets. Eli, angry that Tony didn’t stand up for him, takes his inhaler out of his bag and throws it into the woods. Then Tony has an asthma attack during the track meet, to the point an ambulance has to be called. He ends up just fine, but still, that’s pretty serious. And when it does come out that Eli did this, there is anger on Tony’s part, but he is pretty much told that ‘hey, Eli made a mistake, but you should forgive him’ and that is that, and I just…. That didn’t sit well with me. I don’t have asthma so I’m not going to speak for those who do, but I do have memories of my younger sister having to be up at 3am with a nebulizer multiple times a week because of her asthma making it hard for her to breathe, so for this kind of thing to be dismissed as a slip up versus something that is potentially VERY dangerous was hard to swallow. I don’t need Eli to be a villain over it, because yes, people do make mistakes when they are in pain and it can be nuanced! But it made it hard for me to be rooting for them as a couple when Eli did this and then kept it a secret for so long. Add in a vague lack of fleshed out chemistry and it just didn’t justify the romantic reconciliation. If there was more time to give me a relationship chemistry based reason for them to overcome this I could have been more forgiving, probably. I’ve done it before! But I just didn’t see the chemistry or character development for that.

And I do want to mention the artwork, mostly because the two authors, Arroyo and Graham, alternate taking on the illustrations as the story is told. I liked the round robin-esque aspect of this and the way that two creators come together to tell a story through their own aesthetics. It doesn’t really add anything to the story at hand, but it’s a fun idea and I think they executed it well. I also liked their styles overall. They hit the right tone, with scary elements when needed but sweet designs as well.


So when it comes to werewolf themes and romance I thought that “Blackwater” was a bit lackluster, but the deeper themes of grief and loss were well conceived and constructed. Ultimately I’d say it was ‘okay’.

Rating 6: It’s an okay werewolf tale with some decent themes about grief that work, but the romance was so so when I had hoped I’d be more invested. Plus there’s a moment that I thought was pretty unforgivable that’s glossed over.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Blackwater” is included on the Goodreads lists “Trans YA Fiction”, and “BIPOC Boy MC in YA Fantasy/SciFi/Mystery”.

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