Kate’s Review: “Distant Early Warning”

Book: “Distant Early Warning” by Elizabeth Hirst

Publishing Info: Renaissance, April 2021 (originally published 2014)

Book Description: Canada is in crisis. Global warming has taken hold, and amid the flooding and the super storms, another horror has risen, more devastating than the rest. The dead begin rising from the ground at night, screaming out strange gibberish songs that terrify and entrance anyone who hears them. With people dying and fleeing all around, the north quickly becomes a wild west, without the west.

Felicia “Denny” Dennigan lives far from the crisis, with a good job at the university and a roof over her head, but her life is far from perfect. A perpetual loner, she relies on sporadic visits from her Dad as her only lifeline to friends or family. So, when Dad doesn’t return one fall day, and his dog, Geoff, shows up without him, Denny is concerned for his safety. The last postcard he sent her was from Sudbury, on the edge of the chaos up North…

Denny’s worst fears are confirmed when she sees Dad on TV, dead, and screaming. Desperate to end his suffering, Denny gives up her job, buys supplies, and heads out with Geoff to discover the truth behind her father’s death, but truth always comes with a cost. What Denny discovers in the wilds of Northern Ontario will shatter all of her assumptions about her life, and what lies beyond.

Review: Thank you to Renaissance for sending me an ARC of this book!

It’s been a bit since I delved into a zombie tale, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m zombied out, or if I just haven’t been seeing as many lately. Whatever the case may be, I haven’t been hanging with the undead as of late. But when I was approached by Renaissance to read and review “Distant Early Warning” by Elizabeth Hirst, I was immediately interested, for a couple of reasons. 1) It sounded like a new take on a zombie tale, which I’m always down for, and 2) it’s a story set in the wilds of Canada! As a Minnesotan, I feel a deep kinship with our neighbors to the North, so I absolutely am game for any tale that takes place there. If you got a horror story on top of it, that sounds like a party!

And let me tell you, once international travel is safe again, I intend to go visit! (source)

Overall, I enjoyed about “Distant Early Warning”. I really liked Denny as our main character. For one, I thought that she was wry and funny, and I liked her scrappy spirit and her determination to figure out what happened to her father. She has a lot of relatable moments, and I liked that she is described in ways that feel not really of the norm from what you’d expect from a zombie story heroine. I loved her connection to Geoff, her father’s dog, and I liked seeing her slowly come into her own as she goes on her journey into the wild. And yes, I’m that sucker who liked the slow building relationship between her and Wayne, a man she meets under suspicious circumstances, but someone who she comes to rely upon for companionship (as he too relies upon her). Denny was easy to invest in, and was easy to root for. And the complicated relationship she had with her father is a journey that slowly unfolds and has a lot of pathos to it.

In terms of the zombie story themes, I thought that the Screamers and some of the ways that they functioned were pretty cool and original. They could range from the general menace to more of a boss fight in a video game, but what made it even more intriguing was that (without giving much away) Denny has the skills to counteract them in ways that hasn’t been seen in stories like this before. There are also clear moments of ‘the humans are the real monsters’ within the narrative, and we get the realization that 1) climate change that is man made has really screwed up everything else on top of the whole Screamers thing, and 2) it’s hard to know who you can trust when you stumble upon humans in these lawless areas. The climate change aspect felt pretty unique to me, even if the humans as the real threat has been done many times over in zombie tales. But I also liked the fact that there just kind of had a bit of hopefulness tinging the story as we go forward, from Denny finding strength that she didn’t know she had, to her being able to actually open up to people in face of hardship and loss.

In some ways “Distant Early Warning” keeps to well treaded paths of a zombie tale, but in other ways it has uniqueness to it that I enjoyed. It’s entertaining, has a great heroine, and a cute dog. What more could you want?

Rating 7: An at times unique take on a zombie tale with some mild eco-horror thrown in, “Distant Early Warning” is entertaining as well as hopeful in the face of the unknown.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Distant Early Warning” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think it would fit in on “Eco Horror Books”, and “Horror Novels Set in Canada”.

Find “Distant Early Warning” on the publisher’s website!

ALSO, before I end this post, I want to share some links to organizations and groups that are collecting donations for Daunte Wright’s family members during this awful time, as well as the community of Brooklyn Center. Daunte Wright should be alive. Black Lives Matter.

Brooklyn Center Mutual Aid

Donations to Chyna, Daunte’s girlfriend and mother of his son, through a local health organization

A GoFundMe Campaign set up by Duante’s family

Emergency Housing Resources for families who live in the apartment buildings across from the police station (as tear gas and flashbangs have been going off right outside their home)

Kate’s Review: “Untamed Shore”

Book: “Untamed Shore” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Agora Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A coming-of-age story set in Mexico quickly turns dark when a young woman meets three enigmatic tourists.

Baja California, 1979. Viridiana spends her days watching the dead sharks piled beside the seashore, as the fishermen pull their nets. There is nothing else to do, nothing else to watch, under the harsh sun. She’s bored. Terribly bored. Yet her head is filled with dreams of Hollywood films, of romance, of a future beyond the drab town where her only option is to marry and have children. Three wealthy American tourists arrive for the summer, and Viridiana is magnetized. She immediately becomes entwined in the glamorous foreigners’ lives. They offer excitement, and perhaps an escape from the promise of a humdrum future.

When one of them dies, Viridiana lies to protect her friends. Soon enough, someone’s asking questions, and Viridiana has some of her own about the identity of her new acquaintances. Sharks may be dangerous, but there are worse predators nearby, ready to devour a naïve young woman who is quickly being tangled in a web of deceit.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of the most exciting voices in fiction, and with her first crime novel, UNTAMED SHORE, she crafts a blazing novel of suspense with an eerie seaside setting and a literary edge that proves her a master of the genre.

Review: It is probably becoming clear to all of you that this blog is very much a Silvia Moreno-Garcia Stan page. Given that she has been dipping her toes into all kinds of genres, there are things for both Serena and myself to love. This time I’m taking on a good old fashioned crime thriller novel called “Untamed Shore”, which promises suspense, secrets, death, and sharks. All while also being a coming of age story in 1970s Baja, Mexico. I mean my goodness, everything about this just screams ‘YOU SHOULD BE READING THIS KATE, AND HOW DARE YOU MISS IT THE FIRST TIME AROUND?!’

Me to my reading tastes. Also, holy “Detroit Rock City” gif, Batman! (source)

Something that has become very clear about Moreno-Garcia is that she can genre hop with ease, and that her stories will always be incredibly strong no matter what kind of themes that they take on. This is something that I have seen not very often with authors I like, as they either stick to one thing, or if they do branch out it doesn’t work as well. But for Moreno-Garcia, she makes it look easy. “Untamed Shore” is both a crime novel and a bildungsroman about Viridiana, an eighteen year old living in small town Baja who dreams of more for herself. She’s smart, she’s feisty, she’s misunderstood due to her ambition and her background, and she’s also naive, due to her youth and her lack of worldliness. All of these things make for an easy to root for character, and she’s well rounded and tenacious and everything I like to see in a female protagonist at that. You completely understand why she would be drawn to Ambrose, Daisy, and Gregory, three American tourists with money, privilege, and a somewhat dark dynamic that Viridiana sees when she becomes a live in assistant. Ambrose is cold, Daisy is magnetic and unpredictable, and Gregory is charming and seductive, and I love how we get a sense for all of them through Viridiana’s eyes, but also through the behaviors that she sees but may not quite catch. It’s Gregory’s wooing of Viridiana that feels the most dangerous, as her pie in the sky romantic nature and hopes for better things makes their romance feel sinister, even as she is led to believe that it’s real. So our suspense is ratcheted up because Viridiana may be in serious danger the closer she gets to them, and yet as the story goes on Viridiana takes a very interesting journey in which she adapts, grows, and makes moves of her own. Bottom line, I loved Viridiana, and her growth was fascinating to watch. Especially when she has to start figuring out if she has alliances to her supposed friends/the man she loves, or to those who may want to take her supposed friends down.

Moreno-Garcia has also set her story in a place that, once again, feels unique to me and my reading tastes. When I think of crime novels, I tend to think of New York, Los Angeles, maybe somewhere in Europe or MAYBE Asia. I am always trying to expand my horizons, however, so the setting of 1970s Mexico was very enjoyable. I felt like I knew the ins and outs of Desegaño, the small fishing town that is becoming more and more suffocating to Viridiana as days go by, and that doesn’t see TOO many tourists (which means the three she falls in with are all the more compelling). The setting is compelling, and it also is the perfect way to explore the way that American tourists take places like this for granted, thinking that they can waltz in, throw their weight around, and use the locals in whatever way they feel like. Ambrose, Daisy, and Gregory have their own preconceived notions about Viridiana, because of her youth and her ethnicity/nationality, and it all feels like a very ugly but apt metaphor that I greatly enjoyed.

And oh, the suspense! It’s pretty clear to the reader what happened when one of the Americans ends up dead, so the story there on out is wondering if Viridiana is going to realize what exactly she has been pulled into, or if she is going to be so desperate to leave Desegaño and so desperate to believe that she and Gregory are in love that she will believe anything that the two left alive will tell her. Her desperation is palpable and understandable, and I was barreling through to the end not necessarily wanting to know if all the garbage the Americans did would come to light, but if Viridiana would come out okay.

Overall, I loved “Untamed Shore”. I ran the gamut of emotions and am now even more excited to continue on my Silvia Moreno-Garcia journey.

Rating 9: A sizzling and suspenseful crime thriller with a likable, if not a little morally ambiguous, protagonist and a fun backdrop.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Untamed Shore” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mysteries/Thrillers by BIPOC Authors”, and “Historical Fiction Set in Latin America”.

Find “Untamed Shore” at your library using WorldCat, or or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Whisper Down the Lane”

Book: “Whisper Down the Lane” by Clay McLeod Chapman

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, April 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Description: Inspired by the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, the critically acclaimed author of The Remaking delivers another pulse pounding, true-crime-based horror novel.

Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday—but Sean does . . .

Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table . . . and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbor, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favorite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation—and Sean and his mother are left holding the match.

Now, thirty years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies.

Review: Thank you to Quirk Books for sending me an eARC via NetGalley!

As a person who has very, shall we say, passionate feelings about certain topics, there are a few subjects that will send me off on rants, be they happy or angry or what have you. One of those topics that is of the ‘angry’ variety is that of Satanic Panic, a period in American History during the 1980s and early 1990s in which people started to believe that there were hidden Satanists all over who wanted nothing more than to molest children and sacrifice them and do other things horrible things all to please Satan. This led to a hysteria fueled by Evangelicals, unethical psychologists, manipulated testimonials, and daytime talk show hosts, and in turn led to a lot of people being unfairly accused of horrific things that didn’t happen, and it wrecked peoples lives. It is a subject that makes my blood boil (and it sure doesn’t help that with the rise of QAnon we are starting to see a new breed of secret Satan conspiracy theories in real time). This brings me to “Whisper Down the Lane” by Clay McLeod Chapman, which takes the infamous McMartin Preschool Trials and makes a novel about a man who, when he was a child, told lies about his Kindergarten teacher, and is now as an adult having lies told about him. I steeled myself, ready to be pissed as hell as I read. And reader, boy was I.

This very phrase uttered numerous times, but quieter as not to wake the sleeping husband beside me in bed. (source)

As “Whisper Down the Lane” is probably supposed to get you riled up, as a story it works. BOY does it work. We get to see a frustrating and also unsettling narrative about Richard, who has tried to forget that he is actually Sean, a boy who told many awful lies about his Kindergarten teacher Mr. Woodhouse, because he liked the attention and because he thought that he was doing what his mother wanted. The mystery of who has started stalking Richard as an adult and has started to try to ruin his life in the same way he ruined Mr. Woodhouse’s is a promising and enticing storyline, as the question is is someone after him, or is this a manifestation of his own repressed guilt? This in turn leads to some very creepy moments, and it also does a fantastic and cathartic dressing down of Satanic Panic and how it preyed upon the misguided fears of a lot of people, and in turn did a lot of damage. Instead of portraying Richard’s/Sean’s mom as a zealous true believer, we got to see a fairly normal single mother with understandable anxieties swept up into something that is untrue, as it take advantage of those anxieties. I didn’t LIKE her as a character, but I don’t think you are supposed to. But I also liked that Chapman gave her some grace, showing that it was this horror of something happening to her son, and then the horror realizing that something HADN’T, that had some tragic fallout. Chapman does draw some really insightful parallels to Satanic Panic of the 80s and the whackadoo and dangerous conspiracy theories that we are seeing today (not just Q shit but also School Shooting False Flag shit).

But there was a big issue I had with “Whisper Down the Lane”. The same grace that is afforded to his mother isn’t REALLY afforded to Richard/Sean. One of the really awful things about Satanic Panic (in a real soup of MANY AWFUL THINGS) is that this strange obsession with Satanists preying upon children in turn led to many children being manipulated to not only tell lies, but also to start believing the lies that some really HORRIFIC things happened to them. While Richard’s/Sean’s actions absolutely fueled what ultimately happens to Mr. Woodhouse, I don’t feel like enough attention and culpability was put upon the adults who fed him that narrative. Sure, that means his Mom, a bit anyway, but what about the authorities? What about the crackpot psychologist who bullies him into lying in the first place (these were the worst parts for me, the transcripts of the interviews)? What about the talk show host who propped him up AS A CHILD as an arbiter or truth and justice and added even more lies into it? While we feel a true amount of anger towards them, I felt that there was definitely too much of Richard blaming himself, with no pushback against that thinking whatsoever. I don’t need a long and winding speech about ‘you were just a child, Sean!’. But I also don’t want to see that perfectly reasonable ‘you were LITERALLY FIVE’ argument be tossed aside as not good enough. It just felt a little too much like ‘and now you’re getting some just desserts’ in a situation where just desserts shouldn’t be sent his way. At least not to the extent they are. And had I not been able to see where this entire thing was going from pretty early on, this may have been a little forgivable. But the mystery itself wasn’t that shocking or surprising. True, some red herrings get thrown in here and there, but they weren’t explored enough to make me feel like they were actual contenders for a solution.

In some ways “Whisper Down the Lane” missed the mark for me. It’s very possible it is because this is a topic that really touches a nerve for me, so I don’t necessarily want people to write it off. As an examination the horrible things Satanic Panic did, it’s very effective. I just wish it had been a little more discerning in where to place the lion’s share of blame, because as it it feels more like a morality tale than the multi layered tragedy it could have been.

Rating 6: A lot of promise, but a somewhat obvious solution and misdirected blame made “Whisper Down the Lane” a bit of let down for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Whisper Down the Lane” is included on the Goodreads list “2021 Horror Releases”, and it would fit in on “Satanic Panic”.

Find “Whisper Down the Lane” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “You Love Me”

Book: “You Love Me” (You #3) by Caroline Kepnes

Publishing Info: Random House, April 2021

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

Book Description: Joe Goldberg is done with cities, done with the muck and the posers, done with Love. Now, he’s saying hello to nature, to simple pleasures on a cozy island in the Pacific Northwest. For the first time in a long time, he can just breathe.

He gets a job at the local library–he does know a thing or two about books–and that’s where he meets her: Mary Kaye DiMarco. Librarian. Joe won’t meddle, he will not obsess. He’ll win her the old fashioned way . . . by providing a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand. Over time, they’ll both heal their wounds and begin their happily ever after in this sleepy town.

The trouble is . . . Mary Kaye already has a life. She’s a mother. She’s a friend. She’s . . . busy.

True love can only triumph if both people are willing to make room for the real thing. Joe cleared his decks. He’s ready. And hopefully, with his encouragement and undying support, Mary Kaye will do the right thing and make room for him.

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

Long have I waited for Caroline Kepnes to continue the story of Joe Goldberg, my favorite literary psychopath/hopeless romantic/obsessive stalker. When I first encountered Joe back in 2016, in which I read “You” and “Hidden Bodies” almost in direct succession of each other, I was hoping we’d get more, but didn’t want to hold my breath lest I be disappointed. Well thank you, Netflix, for picking up the show “You” starring Penn Badgely, and making it a bonafide hit. Because now we are DEFINITELY getting more Joe stories, and the newest one is “You Love Me”. When I saw that I was approved to read it, I could have cried I was so happy (I may have a little bit, actually). I waited for five years, and it was pretty much worth the wait.

Hello again, creep. Oh how I’ve missed you. (source)

I missed Joe. And diving back into his mind was both fun and a bit jarring. “You Love Me” has similar traits to the previous books; we still have Joe obsessing, we still have a cast of over the top scumbag characters he encounters, and we still have the eerie and voyeuristic sensation of watching him as he stalks someone and worms his way into her life. But we also get some more complexity to Joe, complexity that certainly doesn’t let him off the hook for his misdeeds, but makes him a bit more semi-tragic than he was back in the early days of “You” and “Hidden Bodies”. Kepnes really dives into the darkness of his character here, and keeps mining out disturbing things, though at the same time she’s letting him grow in other ways that I found really interesting. I suppose it would be too repetitive to just keep him static, and that’s kind of a ballsy move given that this is a man who victimizes basically everyone he encounters. Even when he doesn’t mean to.

Since it’s from his POV again (and we’re back to the second person perspective in the unique way that Kepnes does it, in that it actually WORKS), we have to surmise that a LOT of what we’re getting from him is unreliable. But at the same time, I felt like that I did get a sense for many of the new characters this time around, from Mary Kay to her daughter Nomi (or “Meerkat” as Joe calls her), to Mary Kay’s obnoxious friends, to other thorns in his side. While I don’t know if anyone was going to live up to Love Quinn in my mind (more on that in a bit…..), Mary Kay felt like the exact kind of nuanced and complicated person that Joe would be drawn to. Kepnes manages to make all of these characters feel real, even though they are all a bit exaggerated just because of who the narrator is. 

The story itself has some of the same stumbling blocks that the previous books have. There are some moments or arcs that feel a little hastily tacked on to keep Joe a few steps away from his ultimate goal. There are a couple deus ex machinas. There are a couple of REALLY nutty moments of peril for Joe. My biggest issue was how the story wrapped up the L.A. storyline, as while I know we had to have Joe be able to move on to a new object of obsession, it felt VERY rushed. When we did revisit Love she felt a little stilted and out of character for my tastes, which was a shame because I felt like there was a FOUNT of depths, mostly dark, that we could have explored, so that was a disappointment. But ultimately these shortcomings I can pretty easily put aside, because it’s Joe. I read these books not for the believability of them, or to see how a plot will keep itself together, or to avoid over the top craziness. I read them because Joe Goldberg is scary, hilarious, and in some ways (not the killing ways) very relatable.

I don’t know where we’re going to go from here. I do know that a fourth book is going to happen. “You Love Me” is a welcome return to Joe Goldberg and his twisted obsessions. I’m happy to see him again.

Rating 9: A soapy, creepy, and funny return to one of my favorite series of all time, “You Love Me” brings Joe Goldberg back to freak us all out, and it goes splendidly.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You Love Me” is included on the Goodreads list “2021 Horror Releases” . That said, this is not a horror novel but it’s the ONLY list that is at all specific to theme. I may add more if more pop up that are more specific.

Find “You Love Me” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End”

Book: “The Sandman (Vol. 8): Worlds’ End” by Neil Gaiman, Mike Allred (Ill.), Gary Amaro (Ill.), Mark Buckingham (Ill.), David Giordano (Ill.), Tony Harris (Ill.), Steve Leialoha (Ill.), Vince Locke (Ill.), Shea Anton Pensa (Ill.), Alec Stevens (Ill.), Bryan Talbot (Ill.), John Watkiss (Ill.), & Michael Zulli (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1993

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Caught in the vortex of a reality storm, wayfarers from throughout time, myth and the imagination converge on a mysterious inn at WORLD’S END. In the tradition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, as the travelers all wait out the tempest that rages around them, they share stories of the places they’ve been, the things they’ve seen… and those that they’ve dreamed.

Review: We’ve entered the last fourth of my “The Sandman” re-read, and after the strong note that we ended on at the end of “Brief Lives” I was, admittedly, disappointed to see the number of illustrators coming into “The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End”. That many illustrators can only mean one thing: we’re getting a number of stand alone short stories. This has been something we’ve seen Gaiman tinker with as the series has gone on, but given that I haven’t remembered many of them as I’ve gone through this re-read, it kind of goes to show that for me these moments of pushing boundaries of storytelling aren’t as effective as the main plot of Morpheus and his siblings. I figured that the same would be said for “Worlds’ End”, and for the most part I was right. Except for one significant moment near the end. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Worlds’ End” is an homage to “The Canterbury Tales”, as a number of travelers have found themselves at a mysterious tavern that seems to meet at the nexus of dimensions. There are humans, creatures, entities, and spirits, and all have wound up at the Worlds’ End Tavern due to a strange ‘reality storm’ that has thrown all of them out of their home planes. We arrive with Brant Tucker and his travel companion Charlene, after he crashes her car in the middle of a snowstorm that happens to be occurring in June. Clearly something is up, and as he and Charlene take shelter, the other travelers engage each other with stories to pass the time. As someone who hasn’t read “The Canterbury Tales”, I wasn’t lost, per se, but I was wondering if I was missing something because of my ignorance. The stories range from fantasy to surrealist to creepy. Two really stood out for me in the stand alone stories list. The first is “Hob’s Leviathan”. For one, it brings back fan favorite and Morpheus friend Hob Gadling, but it doesn’t center him at the heart. Instead it focuses on “Jim”, a girl who has disguised herself as a boy to travel on sailing ships. As Jim and Hob travel, their ship encounters a humungous sea serpent. Jim wants to tell the world; Hob knows that the world won’t listen. I liked this one for two main reasons. The first is the reintroduction of Hob. I love Hob! He’s a fun character and it was fun seeing him through the eyes of someone else. The other is Jim, as any tale that has a woman trying to extend past societies expectations is a-okay in my book.

The other story I really liked was “The Golden Boy”. At one point during DC Comics’s Bronze Age there was a character named Prez Rickard, who was a teenage president of the United States. In “The Golden Boy”, Gaiman expands and adds complexity to this concept, following Prez as he maneuvers as President through multiple crises of 20th Century America, which is very clearly a country that has burned brightly but on the verge of starting to burn out. While Prez is never swayed by corrupting influences (specifically an otherworldly entity called Boss Smiley, who looks like the Smiley Face Icon from the 1970s), the ills of the world beat him down and he fades slowly out. It’s a strange and bittersweet but also hopeful story, and one that was VERY weird to read in the America that we’re living in right now.

The other original stories in this collection didn’t really connect with me. But there is one final story that is by far my favorite in its power, its emotion, and what it shows is on the way. The last tale is that of the travelers at Worlds’ End who are still waiting out the storm, and wondering what has caused this strange event, as it certainly must be something significant and ghastly to do such damage to reality. And then, across the sky, they see a funeral procession. They don’t know what they are seeing. We as readers don’t really know what we are seeing. But we do see various Endless in the procession, with Delirium and Death trailing behind at the end. Brant describes the entire thing in a sorrowful and yet dreamy way, and once we get to the end and see Death and the look on her face…. Guys, I wept. I think that in part it’s because I know what’s coming. But it’s also such a beautiful moment filled with poignancy and loss. This story was my favorite, and if shifted my perception.

The artwork in this collection is, as you may imagine, incredibly varied (LOOK AT ALL THE NAMES AT THE TOP OF THIS POST). Gaiman says in an afterword in my edition that he wanted to showcase all these different artists talents, and he does. But my favorite was definitely Gary Amaro, who created the funeral procession with such celestial grace and dejection that it just cuts me to the bone.

“The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End” is the last of the standalone story collections in the series. I’m glad to move on to the rest of the main storyline and characters, but I will say that the end of this one is probably the most powerful moment in the series for me. I’m glad to have been reminded of it.

Rating 7: Another collection of unrelated stories shows off Gaiman’s creativity and the illustrators’s talents. But after a strong previous story arc I was a little underwhelmed, outside of a powerful moment of foreshadowing…

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Vertigo Comics”, and “Books for the INFJ”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.8) Worlds’ End” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “She’s Too Pretty To Burn”

Book: “She’s Too Pretty To Burn” by Wendy Heard

Publishing Info: Henry Holt & Co. (BYR), March 2021

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

Book Description: An electric romance set against a rebel art scene sparks lethal danger for two girls in this expertly plotted YA thriller. For fans of E. Lockhart, Lauren Oliver and Kara Thomas.

The summer is winding down in San Diego. Veronica is bored, caustically charismatic, and uninspired in her photography. Nico is insatiable, subversive, and obsessed with chaotic performance art. They’re artists first, best friends second. But that was before Mick. Delicate, lonely, magnetic Mick: the perfect subject, and Veronica’s dream girl. The days are long and hot―full of adventure―and soon they are falling in love. Falling so hard, they never imagine what comes next. One fire. Two murders. Three drowning bodies. One suspect . . . one stalker. This is a summer they won’t survive.

Inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray, this sexy psychological thriller explores the intersections of love, art, danger, and power.

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

While I have a vague working knowledge of the main themes of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde thanks to pop culture, I haven’t actually read the book, nor have I seen any source material stringent adaptations. I figure I should probably get on that at some point, but man, the To Be Read pile is so big that it just keeps falling by the wayside. That didn’t stop me, however, from being totally interested in “She’s Too Pretty to Burn” by Wendy Heard when I read the description. Sure, the “Dorian Gray” adaptation is already kind of a tantalizing detail, but when you throw in teenage girls, sapphic romance, AND what sounds like a “Velvet Buzzsaw”-esque pretentious art scene/bloodbath? Baby, you got a stew going.

This movie is a mess, but it’s a mess that I couldn’t stop watching. (source)

“She’s Too Pretty To Burn” has two perspectives. The first is Mick, a shy, awkward, friendless teenage girl who lives with her narcissistic mother. Her self esteem is low and she hates having any attention on her. The second is Veronica, a budding photographer from a privileged home who has dreams of art school after high school, and who pals around with Nico, a passionate political performance artist who is always on the edge with his art. After Mick and Veronica meet at a party, their connection is immediately forged in passion as well as boundary treading, in that Veronica takes Mick’s picture without her knowing. This, of course, sets off a disturbing and highly readable chain of events. I liked having both Mick’s and Veronica’s perspectives, as I feel like we got a really good sense for both their passions, their hopes, and their insecurities, as well as how they both are deeply into each other, but know how to hurt each other. There were moments where I loved each of them, and moments where I would get so mad at each of them, but I was wholly invested in them, their relationship, and their fates. I also really enjoyed how Heard explored their differing levels of privilege, be it based on race, class, home life, what have you, showing that while Mick may have the upper hand in one way, Veronica may have it in another, and neither of them can see past their own issues to REALLY understand how their varying advantages manifest. Nico is a bit of a wild card in all of this at first glance, until he starts to manipulate both girls in different ways to suit his own purposes, and as that slow burn threw in a whole other dynamic to this story, I went from hooked to lined and sunk as well (does this metaphor work? I don’t care, I was all in is what I’m saying).

The plot, which I’m going to keep a little vague, is a slow build of suspense and dread as to what is going to happen. The unease is apparent from the get go, but you aren’t totally certain as to why you feel that way. Is it because of Mick’s unease with everything around her? Is it because of Veronica’s obsession with that photo she took of Mick and what it drives her to do? Is it the two of them, is it something else? Since I haven’t read “Dorian Gray” I can’t tell you as to how well it fits the narrative of that story, or how it reinterprets those themes, but what I can tell you is that this book is just off and unnerving enough that you will be on edge even before things really start to go south for all of our characters. And then when it does go that way, the tension is massive. At least it was for me. I was ripping through the final chapters, nearly breathless as I waited to see what was going to happen. I don’t know what it was about this book, but it really laid its talons in my brain and I am still shaken up. The only reason that this didn’t get a ten out of ten is because I felt like it went a LITTLE long by the end, extending past the climactic events and laying a little last minute groundwork that I don’t think was fully explored. That said, if it was laying groundwork for a potential sequel? I would be chomping at the bit to see what happens next.

“She’s Too Pretty to Burn” is going to be on my mind for awhile. Deeply disturbing but compelling as hell. Definitely check this out if you like YA thrillers, or even just thrillers in general.

Rating 9: A twisted and unnerving thriller that had me hooked almost immediately.

Reader’s Advisory:

“She’s Too Pretty to Burn” is included on the Goodreads lists “2021 Sapphic Releases”, and “Dorian Gray”.

Find “She’s Too Pretty to Burn” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Every Vow You Break”

Book: “Every Vow You Break” by Peter Swanson

Publishing Info: William Morrow, March 2021

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

Book Description: A bride’s dream honeymoon becomes a nightmare when a man with whom she’s had a regrettable one-night stand shows up in this electrifying psychological thriller from the acclaimed author of Eight Perfect Murders.

Abigail Baskin never thought she’d fall in love with a millionaire. Then she met Bruce Lamb. He’s a good guy, stable, level-headed, kind—a refreshing twist from her previous relationships. But right before the wedding, Abigail has a drunken one-night stand on her bachelorette weekend. She puts the incident—and the sexy guy who wouldn’t give her his real name—out of her mind, and now believes she wants to be with Bruce for the rest of her life.

Then the mysterious stranger suddenly appears—and Abigail’s future life and happiness are turned upside down. He insists that their passionate night was the beginning of something much, much more. Something special. Something real—and he’s tracked her down to prove it. Does she tell Bruce and ruin their idyllic honeymoon—and possibly their marriage? Or should she handle this psychopathic stalker on her own? To make the situation worse, strange things begin to happen. She sees a terrified woman in the night shadows, and no one at the resort seems to believe anything is amiss… including her perfect new husband.

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

After totally dropping the ball on getting my hands on Peter Swanson’s last book, I vowed, VOWED, that I wouldn’t let that happen again. They are just far too enjoyable. So when I saw that NetGalley had his newest book “Every Vow You Break” available, I jumped at the chance to read it, therein guaranteeing that I wouldn’t be so incredibly late this time. And, like most Swanson books, I was completely taken in by the mystery, this time taking place on a strange and isolated island as a newly married couple starts to crumble under secrets, lies, and a looming threat of a potential stalker hiding in the woods. Oh yes. This is exactly what I wanted from this book.

What I find striking about Swanson’s books is that they can hit completely different notes and feelings depending on the story. I think that were I to have no idea that Swanson wrote both “Eight Perfect Murders” and “Every Vow You Break” I’d have been gobsmacked that they were the same author. And “Every Vow You Break” also has a different feel from some of his earlier works as well. It doesn’t rely on a big early twist to set the reader off course, nor does it toss in any last moment twists and turns that feel unearned. But all that said, what I thought was going to be a pretty straight forward thriller about a woman being stalked by a man she had a single sexual encounter with turned into something far more sinister than I imagined. And I LOVED that. I pieced together a few aspects of this book, but for the most part I was kept on my toes, and fell for a couple of the red herrings that Swanson tossed out there. It felt fresh and new, and I had a hard time putting the book down once I had picked it up. Swanson took the story to places that I didn’t really anticipate, and I will say (whilst keeping it vague) that he tackles themes like misogyny, rape culture, and sexism in ways that felt responsible and biting. Which, again, I wasn’t expecting from this read. I should really learn to expect the unexpected from him, and yet….

Beyond the plot, our main character of Abigail was also a genuine and realistic protagonist. She definitely makes some poor decisions as the story goes on, as it’s really not a good idea to sleep with another person during your bachelorette party weekend, but for all of her faults you can understand why she does the things she does. And she’s probably the least screwed up protagonist that Swanson has introduced us too, or at the very least the least morally grey trending towards malevolent. I really liked Abigail by the end and was fully invested in what was going to happen to her. While the other characters didn’t feel as multi dimensional as she did, that didn’t bother me so much because even though it was in the third person, it was really her point of view that we were getting. Would I have been intrigued to get the POV of a few of the other characters, in particular Scottie, the man who she is trying to get away from? Absolutely. But at the same time, the decision to make it purely Abigail’s tale not only leaves more room for twists and surprises, it also lets her experience and perspective have the control of the narration as to what is happening to her.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times (or at least as many times as I’ve reviewed a Peter Swanson book): if you are into thrillers and still haven’t read something by Peter Swanson, do yourself a favor. Go read one of his books. “Every Vow You Break” would be a great place to start.

Rating 8: Another fun thriller filled with twists and turns from Peter Swanson!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Every Vow You Break” is included on the Goodreads lists “Wedding Mysteries & Thrillers”, and “Domestic Thrillers”.

Find “Every Vow You Break” at your library using WorldCat or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Follower”

Book: “The Follower” by Kate Doughty

Publishing Info: Amulet Books, March 2021

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

Book Description: A spine-tingling YA thriller, based on a still-unfolding true story
 
Instagram-famous triplets Cecily, Amber, and Rudy—the children of home renovation superstars—are ready for a perfect summer. They’ve just moved into the site of their parents’ latest renovation project when they begin to receive chilling messages from someone called The Follower. It soon becomes clear that this anonymous threat is more than a simple Internet troll, and he can’t wait to shatter the Cole family’s perfect veneer and take back what’s his. The Follower examines the implications of what it is to be watched in the era of social media fame—as well as the lies we tell and the lengths we’ll go to uphold a perfect image, when our lives depend on it.

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

One of the things that most caught my eye about “The Follower” by Kate Doughty is that in the description it says that it’s ‘based on a still-unfolding true story’. Sure, I’ve seen ‘based on a true story’ until the cows come home, but ‘still-unfolding true story’?

Like, WHAT? (source)

I did a little digging, and found out that this book takes some inspiration from the still unsolved “Watcher” case, in which a family moved into a house, and started getting harassing and threatening letters from an unknown person. This went on for awhile, the person was never caught, the family moved out. HERE is an article about it if you want to know more, and you probably do because it’s BANANAS. But ‘still-unfolding’ may be a little misleading, as it sounds like it’s stalled out and will probably never be solved. That said, “The Follower”, though taking inspiration, does not leave the reader hanging like reality did! In fact, it captured my attention and held it, making it so I had a really hard time putting this book down.

What I liked best about “The Follower” was how fast paced and generally addictive it was. We hit the ground running in the very first pages, and we never really paused to take a breather. This made for a book that I just kept on taking in, which was great in the moment. While it’s true that sometimes this fast paced momentum meant that we’d feel like we would trip through moments that needed maybe a little bit of a slow down, this only happened a couple times and the awkward pacing wasn’t too distracting. I also liked all three of the Cole Triplets, when I assumed that at least one of them was going to fall more by the wayside. But all three of them had well rounded personalities and motivations, as well as insecurities and flaws that made them feel human in spite of their ‘influencer’ lives. I especially liked how we got to explore Amber’s drive to be a fashion master while being plus sized, and how while she was hurt by how people (specifically her mother) think that she isn’t as valuable because of her body, she herself is happy with how she is because why shouldn’t she be? Also, the snippets of the social media comments were a fun way to show how their experience at the house and with The Follower was being perceived, and how when ‘fans’ on social media get whipped up into a frenzy of perceived wrongdoing/their own entitlement and or outrage, it can be REALLY damaging. I’m not going to say that it’s going so far as to be a critique of so called ‘cancel culture’, but I will say that it raises good points about how toxic fandoms can be towards living breathing people because of the faux intimacy of social media.

In terms of the actual mystery of who “The Follower” is, there were parts that were pretty obvious from the get go if you are familiar with tropes that go with these kinds of stories. If a character has a beloved pet, it will probably meet an untimely end. If things move around and no one fesses up to doing it, that may mean something more. The family can’t leave the house in which they are being terrorized because it’s a money pit. And so forth. It’s not BAD, per se, and these tropes are familiar and cozy in a way that means that they work just fine. But it also didn’t really make for many big surprises as the story went on. There were a number of moments that should have been ‘ah HA’ in nature, but because I knew the tropes and tricks from many stories before, almost all of them were not surprising, and even somewhat predictable. That being said, I’ve been consuming these kinds of stories for many years now, so for readers who are just getting started there could be things to discover.

“The Follower” was a comfortable read for me that gave me all the reliable elements that I like of a YA thriller. I look forward to seeing what Kate Doughty comes out with in the future, and will definitely be checking it out, whatever it may be.

Rating 7: Fast paced and a page turner, “The Follower” is a pretty satisfying thriller, if at times a predictable and reliant on tropes seen many times before.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Follower” is pretty new and not featured on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Books Involving Stalking”, and “Unwanted Attention”.

Find “The Follower” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Lost Apothecary”

Book: “The Lost Apothecary” by Sarah Penner

Publishing Info: Park Row, March 2021

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

Book Description: A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.

Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

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

As a true crime fan worth her salt, I can tell you that a trend seen in many women killers is the use of poisons and toxins within their murders. You have Mary Anne Cotton, Belle Gunness, Giulia Tofana, and numerous others. Poison has been deemed a ‘woman’s murder weapon’ (though, to be fair, plenty of men have used it over the years as well), and while I haven’t done MUCH deep diving into it as a means of murder, I feel like I should. Even more so now that I’ve read “The Lost Apothecary” by Sarah Penner, a dual timeline and multi-perspective narrative that involves women who are wronged by the men in their lives, and an apothecary owner who creates poisons to take care of such issues. Because why do things the direct way when you can just dump a vial into someone’s food and call it a night?

“The Lost Apothecary” takes place in two different timelines. The first has two perspectives, those of Nella, the apothecary owner who mixes poisons for wronged or desperate women, and Eliza, a servant girl sent to the apothecary to fetch a poison meant to be ingested by her employer (at the behest of the woman of the house). The second is that of Caroline, an American woman who has travelled to London on what was meant to be her tenth anniversary trip, though she has just found out about her husband’s infidelity. What connects the two timelines and three perspectives is a glass vial, lost in time but found by chance by Caroline. Penner is very careful to find the strings and threads that bring the two stories and three characters together, and draws parallels between all of their lives as women who have been aggrieved in one way or another by the men in their orbits. In the modern day we see Caroline start to find the puzzle pieces about Nella and Eliza, and in the past we see the path that Nella and Eliza take that may lead to their undoing and doom. The mystery of what happened to Nella and Eliza as found out through their perspectives and that of what Caroline finds is a fun device that kept me interested, especially as things in the modern day started to harken back to some of the, shall we say, ‘themes’ of the 18th century plot line. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say that poison is timeless…. On top of all that, it did mostly keep me guessing until the end, even if there were some convenient moments that felt a little forced or hard to believe. But I was having enough fun that I could forgive it. I also just liked learning about all the women, and found all of them pretty believable in their portrayals.

But what I liked most in “The Lost Apothecary” is how these two timelines slowly unfolded not only the fates of a long lost poison shop and those who were involved with it, but how they had similar grievances across centuries about abusive and toxic men and misogyny, and what that does to women. While it’s true that the degrees of the shitbird men in this book, especially the ones that have impacted the three main character’s lives, run a gamut, we still see how even in a 21st century setting a woman can have her life upended and set adrift because of power dynamics that society has set in place in terms of expectations on how a man and a woman should be, especially in a marriage. I felt for Caroline, not just because of her husband’s transgressions, but because of how much she sacrificed for him and their relationship all because she had been told all her life that was just what you do. And while Caroline may not be turning to poison as a solution, back in the 18th century Penner paints a very clear picture as to why women from all backgrounds may see poison as the only way that they can escape a really terrible situation when it comes to the men in their lives. Some of the stories that we learn of are truly horrifying, and it makes Nella’s shop seem more like a place for justice for the forgotten, instead of a place where murderers gather their wares. I got a fun and cathartic thrill, which was ultimately what I wanted from this book.

“The Lost Apothecary” is a fun historical mystery thriller, and one that I would definitely recommend to those who want a little nasty catharsis when it comes to patriarchy smashing.

Rating 8: A wicked and satisfying historical thriller, “The Lost Apothecary” is a slow burn of a cathartic tale of revenge against the ever present patriarchy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lost Apothecary” is included on the Goodreads lists “Dual Time Mysteries”, and “[ATY 2021] – Female Villains or Criminals”.

Find “The Lost Apothecary” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep”

Book: “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep” by Lauria Faria Stolarz

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, March 2021

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

Book Description: Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz returns with a thrilling novel where an eighteen-year-old girl’s search for answers lands her in one of the most terrifying situations imaginable.

Four days…Trapped in a well, surrounded by dirt, scratching at the walls trying to find a way out. Four days of a thirst so strong, that when it finally rains, I drink as much as possible from the dripping walls, not even caring how much dirt comes with it.

Six months… Since my escape. Since no one believed I was taken to begin with – from my own bed, after a party, when no one else was home… Six months of trying to find answers and being told instead that I made the whole incident up.

One month… Since I logged on to the Jane Anonymous site for the first time and found a community of survivors who listen without judgment, provide advice, and console each other when needed. A month of chatting with a survivor whose story eerily mirrors my own: a girl who’s been receiving triggering clues, just like me, and who could help me find the answers I’m searching for.

Three days…Since she mysteriously disappears, and since I’m forced to ask the questions: will my chance to find out what happened to me vanish with her? And will I be next? 

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

Back at the beginning of 2020 I reviewed the book “Jane Anonymous”, in which a kidnapping survivor has to readjust to her life after returning home. I thought that it did a great job of combining legitimate thrills with a realistic and responsible take on trauma. So when I saw that Laurie Faria Stolarz had written a new book within that same universe, “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep”, I was pretty interested! I really like the idea of a series that gives stories to different characters who are on the Jane Anonymous blog and support chat board that was established at the end of the first book, so I was really eager to jump into this one to see what story was up next. But unfortunately, this book didn’t live up to the high hopes I had for it.

I do want to say right off the bat that I think that Stolarz does her due diligence to portray mental illness and the effects of trauma on a person in realistic and non-romanticized ways. Terra has two big, horrible things that she has to deal with: the traumatic death of her parents, who died in a house fire that she survived, and being kidnapped and held captive for days, only to escape and have people not believe her. These two things would of course weigh on anyone, and the crap that Terra has to deal with, be it the disassociation, the PTSD, the fugue states, etcetera is only exacerbated by people who either can’t handle her very difficult behavior, or are openly hostile towards her or wary of her. Sometimes I think that mental illness can be portrayed in ways that doesn’t do it justice in the sense that it can be VERY hard for the person suffering, and it can be constant and repetitive. That was all well done. The problem, however, is that when you have a character going through these kinds of things in realistic ways, it can make for a plot that feels like its spinning its wheels or repeating itself. “Jane Anonymous” was able to balance both the trauma themes and the plot progression, so it was disappointing that this one couldn’t quite manage it.

And in terms of the plot progression, we have two mysteries at hand. The first is the mystery that is always in the air, and that is what happened to Terra when she was abducted, or if she was abducted at all. As the story goes on Terra has pretty much stopped trying to convince people of what happened to her, as she is met with those who think she’s flat out lying, or those who think that her previous trauma of losing her parents has led her to a psychotic break of sorts. There are moments of her looking for proof, and scenes of her maybe seeing clues that she is still being watched, though she lets it fall by the wayside a bit because she just doesn’t really know how to approach it lest she be met with derision. The other, more active mystery is what happened to her online friend Peyton, someone she met on the Jane Anonymous support boards, who has been talking about her own trauma of being kidnapped, and is worried that her kidnapper is stalking her again as well. After Peyton disappears, Terra is motivated to try and find her, and therein perhaps find the man who took her, as their stories have similarities. The problem with this storyline is that the action doesn’t pick up until we are more than halfway done with the book. I kept waiting for it and waiting for it, as it’s in the description that this is the main plot line, but it was very late, in my opinion a little too late in the progression. And by the time we do get to the big climax, which I won’t spoil here, there were things that just felt wrapped up a little too quickly, or too conveniently, and then the plot lingered a little too long post climax. Ultimately, it felt muddled and haphazard.

Given that I still think that there is a lot of potential for more books within the “Jane Anonymous” world that looks at different survivors and their stories, I’m not writing off the series as a whole. But “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep” was a bit of a let down that couldn’t quite find a good balance between important messages and captivating story.

Rating 5: Though I had hopes for this sequel to “Jane Anonymous”, “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep” was a repetitive and muddled follow up. That said, the candid look at how difficult mental illness and trauma could be was well handled.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sweet Vicious”, and “YA Suspense/Thriller/Mystery”.

Find “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: “Jane Anonymous”