Kate’s Review: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 1)”

52295766._sx318_sy475_Book: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” by Sina Grace and Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM!Box, May 2020

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

Book Description: Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles and finds that the only ones who can help her find love and live life to the fullest are the ghosts of her new home!

In Los Angeles, finding an apartment is killer—unless you live with the dead. Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles for her boyfriend Ronnie, ready to live her happily ever after. But when happily ever after turns into happily for a month, she’s stuck in a strange city with no friends, family, or prospects for fun. Desperate to escape the lingering ghost of Ronnie’s presence everywhere, Daphne sets out to explore the city—and ends up encountering ghosts of a more literal kind! Rycroft Manor is abandoned, beautiful, and haunted. Will the dead be able to help Daphne find the life she’s been missing in the big city? From GLAAD Award-nominated Sina Grace (Iceman) and illustrator Siobhan Keenan (Jem and the Holograms) comes a story about learning how to make friends, find love, and live life to the fullest with a little help from some friends whose lives didn’t end at death. Collects Ghosted In L.A #1-4.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

When the writing was on the wall about the social distancing measures we as a society would need to take regarding COVID-19, I knew that my library pile wasn’t going to sustain me through the long weeks of staying at home. So I hopped onto NetGalley and began to request books that captured my interest. One of those was “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol 1)” by Sina Grace. I saw a cute looking graphic novel style and the promise of ghosts, which was enough to pique my interests. What I got, however, was something more than I anticipated, and something that I ended up really enjoying.

For one, yes, we have a ghost story, people. I love a good ghost story, and it doesn’t even have to be scary for me to enjoy it. The ghosts in “Ghosted in L.A.” (for the most part) aren’t all that threatening, but have mysterious reasons as to why they have continued their afterlives in the abandoned Rycroft Manor. Before each chapter, we get a bit of insight into the backgrounds of each ghostly character, from ringleader Agi to kindhearted Bernard to toxic Maurice, which makes their interactions with Daphne more layered an interesting. It also means that they aren’t relegated to ghost sidekicks, and that we get to see their motivations and backgrounds. I am very interested in learning more about them, and given that we’ve discovered some pretty dark and even dangerous things about some, it makes me feel like there are no guarantees that these ghosts are all going to be the kindhearted roommates that Daphne wants.

But surprisingly, the aspect of this comic that I liked the most had less to do with the ghosts, and more to do with the coming of age journey that our protagonist Daphne is on. She’s an 18 year old who has followed her boyfriend to Los Angeles for school, but then finds herself single and in a city that she knows very little about. 18 is already a confusing and scary time, so this, of course, sets her on a path of making some questionable decisions, and having to contend with not always pleasant people who are going to be supportive of her. Daphne is definitely a flawed and sometimes frustrating character. Sometimes I wanted to shake her because she was being foolhardy or blissfully un-self aware, but at the same time I remember what it was like being an 18 year old in the middle of a huge identity shift. From problems with her standoffish and judgmental roommate to conflict with her at home best friend to trying to reconcile her newly single status (especially since her ex Ronnie is really a good guy), Daphne is all kinds of realistic and relatable. I find myself really wanting her to succeed, even when she’s being all kinds of unreasonable.

And finally, I really love the artwork. It’s upbeat and colorful, and all of the characters have their unique feels while still being very of the style at hand. Plus, I love the coloring on the ghosts, which makes use of the darker side of the color wheel without being limited to just different shades of grey.

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(source)

I really enjoyed “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 1)”, and I will definitely be on the look out for Volume 2!

Rating 8: A super cute and creative comic about finding oneself and ghosts, “Ghosted in L.A.” has a lot of potential to become a new favorite comic series of mine!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads list “Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy Set in California”.

Find “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Follow Me”

46408162._sy475_Book: “Follow Me” by Kathleen Barber

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Everyone wants new followers…until they follow you home.

Audrey Miller has an enviable new job at the Smithsonian, a body by reformer Pilates, an apartment door with a broken lock, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to bear witness to it all. Having just moved to Washington, DC, Audrey busies herself impressing her new boss, interacting with her online fan base, and staving off a creepy upstairs neighbor with the help of the only two people she knows in town: an ex-boyfriend she can’t stay away from and a sorority sister with a high-powered job and a mysterious past.

But Audrey’s faulty door may be the least of her security concerns. Unbeknownst to her, her move has brought her within striking distance of someone who’s obsessively followed her social media presence for years—from her first WordPress blog to her most recent Instagram Story. No longer content to simply follow her carefully curated life from a distance, he consults the dark web for advice on how to make Audrey his and his alone. In his quest to win her heart, nothing is off-limits—and nothing is private.

Kathleen Barber’s electrifying new thriller will have you scrambling to cover your webcam and digital footprints.

Review: As you all know, I love the book “You” and it’s sequel “Hidden Bodies”. One of the creepiest aspects of those books is that we follow the stalker and creepazoid Joe Goldberg and get to root around in his head when he is obsessing over women, and going to violent lengths to get near them. As much as I LOVE those books, part of me has wondered how they would have been different if we’d been able to get a little more in the heads as his victims as much as we did his. So as I was reading “Follow Me” by Kathleen Barber, I was struck by the fact that that was basically what I was getting: insight into the stalking victim’s thought process and motivations.

“Follow Me” is another thriller novel that will make you want to double check your privacy settings on all of your social media, as the slow cat and mouse game of watching a mysterious stalker hone in on social media influencer Audrey is tense and freaky. Barber switches the perspectives between three distinct voices: ‘Him’, the stalker; Audrey, the ambitious and a little self involved social media influencer; and Cat, Audrey’s best friend from college whom she has reconnected with after moving to D.C. We get insights into each of the characters through these narratives, and while they aren’t always the most reliable, they all give key clues to the overarching mysteries at hand. I thought that all of them had distinct voices, and that Barber did a really good job of parsing out the pertinent clues between them. The pacing of their narratives really kept me interested, and the building suspense held a grip that kept me reeled in. Plus, at the beginning Barber has an author’s note that really lays out and explains some of the extra invasive and stalker-y tricks that some of these creeps will pull, like RAT software and spyware. This stuff is what nightmares are made of.

But what I appreciated most about this book was that it really humanized, but didn’t glamorize or infantilize, our stalking victim Audrey. Too often do we find narratives in the thriller genre in which women are either innocent and naive victims, or conniving bitches and/or whores who somehow deserve what is coming to them. Even “You” sometimes treads towards this, though I think that it ultimately doesn’t fall into this because EVERYONE in that book is horrible so it’s an even playing field (plus, what Joe does to Beck is horrifying). But in “Follow Me”, Audrey is given a lot of grace, even if she’s incredibly flawed. I was both hoping that everything would be okay for her, and also wanting to shake her because of her self involvement and mistreatment of those around her. I do wish that the same grace had been granted to Cat, as while we did learn a lot about of things about her past that explained her strange quirks, she felt a bit more two dimensional than I wanted her to be.

I will say that I thought that there were some hasty plot twists thrown in, and that the end fell apart by the time we got there. There were just some things that felt obvious and slapdash, and had the foundation been laid out a bit better it would have paid off more. But the journey getting to the end was so suspenseful and engaging that I didn’t really care about some of the ill conceived twists and turns.

“Follow Me” was a fun and unsettling read. Definitely pick it up if you want a suspenseful book, but also make sure you have something to cover your computer camera with once you are done with it.

Rating 8: A fast paced and suspenseful thriller that was enjoyable. It kind of fell apart at the end, but the time getting there was far too entertaining to discount.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Follow Me” is included on the Goodreads lists “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications Jan-July 2020)”.

Find “Follow Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Something She’s Not Telling Us”

44594911Book: “Something She’s Not Telling Us” by Darcey Bell

Publishing Info: Harper, April 2020

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

Book Description: She’s on the verge of having it all…

But one woman stands in her way.

Charlotte has everything in life that she ever could have hoped for: a doting, artistic husband, a small-but-thriving flower shop, and her sweet, smart five-year-old daughter, Daisy. Her relationship with her mother might be strained, but the distance between them helps. And her younger brother Rocco may have horrible taste in women, but when he introduces his new girlfriend to Charlotte and her family, they are cautiously optimistic that she could be The One. Daisy seems to love Ruth, and she can’t be any worse than the klepto Rocco brought home the last time. At least, that’s what Charlotte keeps telling herself. But as Rocco and Ruth’s relationship becomes more serious, Ruth’s apparent obsession with Daisy grows more obvious. Then Daisy is kidnapped, and Charlotte is convinced there’s only one person who could have taken her.

Ruth has never had much, but now she’s finally on the verge of having everything she’s ever dreamed of. A stable job at a start-up company, a rakish, handsome boyfriend with whom she falls more in love with every day—and a chance at the happy family she’s always wanted, adorable niece included. The only obstacle standing in her way is her boyfriend’s sister Charlotte, whose attitude swerves between politely cold and outright hostile. Rebuffing Ruth’s every attempt to build a friendship with her and Daisy, Charlotte watches over her daughter with a desperate protectiveness that sends chills down Ruth’s spine. Ruth knows that Charlotte has a deeply-buried secret, the only question is: what? A surprise outing with Daisy could be the key to finding out, and Ruth knows she must take the chance while she has it—for everyone’s sake.

As the two women follow each other down a chilling rabbit hole, unearthing winding paths of deceit, lies, and trauma, a family and a future will be completely—and irrevocably—shattered.

From its very first page, Something She’s Not Telling Us takes hold of readers’ imagination in a harrowing, unforgettable thriller that dives deep into the domestic psyche and asks the question:

Is anyone ever really who they say they are…?

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

When the movie “A Simple Favor” came out I was interested in seeing it, but knew that I should probably read the book first. So I listened to the Darcey Bell thriller while driving in the car, and while it was fine, I ultimately liked the movie version better. Scandalous, I know. But I did like it enough that I wanted to see more from Bell. So when I saw that her newest novel, “Something She’s Not Telling Us”, was up on NetGalley, I requested it, hoping that I would get to read it. There’s definitely something about Bell and the way she writes and crafts a story, in that it can suck you in and be unrelenting.

What I will say about “Something She’s Not Telling Us” is that, once again, I got sucked in pretty handily. It’s told from (mostly) two perspectives of two different women. The first is Charlotte, a high stung and privileged wife and mother living in New York City. She has a loving husband, a darling daughter named Daisy, and a job that she enjoys, though she is constantly fretting about Daisy’s well being and judging her younger brother Rocco for his poor taste in girlfriends. The other perspective is that of Ruth, Rocco’s current girlfriend who is desperate to impress Charlotte and hoping that Rocco is The One. As the two women interact we are treated to two unreliable narrators in their own ways, one seemingly wearing her heart on her sleeve while the other is trying to control a narrative. As we switched between their perspectives, the pacing was such that I felt like it was very easy to keep going between the two. It was incredibly readable, and I devoured the book in a couple of sittings in a weekend.

But ultimately, “Something She’s Not Telling Us” had the same pitfalls that “A Simple Favor” did. The first is that the mystery was perfectly fine and one I was invested in, but I kind of figured out a number of aspects to it quickly. It was clear from the get go that both Charlotte and Ruth were going to be unreliable in their own ways, but it wasn’t very difficult for me to tell which one was the one to be keeping my eye on. On top of that, there were very few actually likable people in this book, which was the same problem I had with “A Simple Favor”, the book. None of them felt particularly complex in their characterizations, so their nastiness didn’t really have any sort of softened blow. Sure, some tragic childhood stuff was tossed in, but not enough exploration or depth was done to make it feel like much more than a catch all. And the problem with unlikable or unrelateable characters at the end of the day is that ultimately, you aren’t invested in what happens to them. I did want to keep reading, but it wasn’t because of any of the characters that I was following. And frankly, when it gets down to it there wasn’t really anything unique or new about the various reveals and twists that we saw here. Readable, yes, but not exactly unique or memorable.

I’m still interested in reading what Bell may come out with in the future, mainly because there still continues to be a certain something that kept me going and reading. But “Something She’s Not Telling Us” didn’t stand out from other run of the mill thrillers that are coming out at the moment.

Rating 5: A very readable thriller, but not one with a lot of new things to say, “Something She’s Not Telling Us” has some okay twists, but not many interesting characters or plot developments.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Something She’s Not Telling Us” is included on the Goodreads list “Crime, Mystery, & Thrillers, 2020”.

Find “Something She’s Not Telling Us” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Little Secrets”

45046683Book: “Little Secrets” by Jennifer Hillier

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, April 2020

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

Book Description: From the author of Jar of Hearts, a mother driven to the edge by the disappearance of her son learns her husband is having an affair with the woman who might have kidnapped him. Four hundred and eighty seconds. That’s how long it took for someone to steal Marin Machado’s four-year-old son.

Marin had the perfect life. Married to her college sweetheart, she owns a chain of upscale hair salons, and Derek runs his own company. They’re admired in their community and are a loving family. Up until the day Sebastian is taken. A year later, Marin is a shadow of herself. The FBI search has gone cold. The publicity has faded. She and her husband rarely speak. The only thing keeping her going is the unlikely chance that one day Sebastian reappears. She hires a P.I. to pick up where the police left off, but instead of finding him, she discovers that Derek is having an affair with a younger woman.

Kenzie Li is an artist and grad student—Instagram famous—and up to her eyeballs in debt. She knows Derek is married. She also knows he’s rich, and dating him comes with perks: help with bills, trips away, expensive gifts. He isn’t her first rich boyfriend, but she finds herself hoping he’ll be the last. She’s falling for him—and that was never part of the plan.

Discovery of the affair sparks Marin back to life. She’s lost her son; she’s not about to lose her husband, too. Kenzie is an enemy with a face, which means this is a problem Marin can fix. But as she sets a plan in motion, another revelation surfaces. Derek’s lover might know what happened to their son. And so might Derek.

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

When I picked up a Jennifer Hillier book for the first time, I was completely enthralled by it. “Jar of Hearts” sucked me in and fucked me up, and I knew right then and there that I needed to add Jennifer Hillier to my ‘must read’ list. So when I saw that she had a new book coming out called “Little Secrets”, I was pretty damn hyped. I was hoping we’d get another soapy thriller that was infused with a little more darkness than you might see from other books within the genre. After all, I kept thinking of “The Silence of the Lambs” while reading “Jar of Hearts”, and I wondered if something similar would happen with “Little Secrets”.

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Okay I just needed to use this gif. Does it fit? Eh. (source)

While “Little Secrets” didn’t quite rise to the level of “Jar of Hearts” in terms of darkness, it still managed to serve a twisted and well plotted mystery that really had me on my toes during my read. Hillier mostly focuses on the perspective of Marin Machado, a woman who is still reeling over the disappearance of her four year old son Sebastian. Her relationship with her husband Derek is almost nonexistent, and her life is a string of just trying to survive each day. I thought that Marin was a great protagonist for the genre she exists within. She’s incredibly damaged and makes pretty questionable decisions, but I thought that Hillier did a really good job of showing us how her trauma has changed her and why it makes her do what she does. Even when she considers going to really dark and terrible places, Hillier has laid enough groundwork that while you may not approve, you still have a lot of empathy for her. I really liked Marin. It’s not uncommon for me to get irritated with these ‘damaged women’ protagonists, but Marin never took me there.

But then there is another perspective that we get to  see in this book, and it is that of Kenzie, the mistress that Derek has taken up with and the main focus of Marin’s ire. Kenzie, too, gets an in depth backstory with her own various moments of vulnerability and trauma. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like we got enough of it to make her truly sympathetic. I won’t go too much into detail with her, as she really is a cornerstone of the mystery at hand, but just know that I was solidly Team Marin. I don’t know if that was because Hillier wanted my sympathies in this place, or if she didn’t quite give Kenzie enough depth. Either way, she never really rose above the ‘perhaps conniving mistress or maybe not?’ trope.

The mystery, though, was great. Between the disappearance of Sebastian, Kenzie’s true intentions, and whether or not Marin is going to go fully to the dark side, we got a very intricate web of lies, jealousy, and deceit! You know that there are puzzle pieces laid out in the open, but you aren’t completely sure as to what they are. Red Herrings are present, but never overused, and by the time we got to the end of the story I was breathless and finally able to relax. The suspense builds at the perfect pace and I loved how it all came to a head. A well executed ending is always going to get props from me, as sometimes in this genre endings and plot points will overreach. Hillier never makes that mistake in this book.

Hillier is still one of the best thriller authors out there, and “Little Secrets” made certain of that. Cannot wait to see what she comes out with next!!

Rating 8: A twisty and suspenseful thriller about lies, jealousy, and trauma, “Little Lies” is another great read from Jennifer Hillier!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Little Secrets” is included on the Goodreads list “Crime, Mystery, & Thrillers, 2020”, and would fit in on “Popular Missing Persons Books”.

Find “Little Secrets” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Salvation Station”

48927102._sy475_Book: “Salvation Station” by Kathryn Schleich

Publishing Info: She Writes Press, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from Book Publicity Services

Book Description: When committed female police captain Linda Turner, haunted by the murders of two small children and their pastor father, becomes obsessed with solving the harrowing case, she finds herself wrapped up in a mission to expose a fraudulent religious organization and an unrepentant killer.

Despite her years of experience investigating homicides for the force, Captain Linda Turner is haunted by the murders of the Hansen family. The two small children, clothed in tattered Disney pajamas, were buried with their father, a pastor, in the flower garden behind a church parsonage in Lincoln, Nebraska. But Mrs. Hansen is nowhere to be found—and neither is the killer.

In St. Louis, the televangelist Ray Williams is about to lose his show—until one of his regular attendees approaches him with an idea that will help him save it. Despite his initial misgivings, Ray agrees to give it a try. He can’t deny his attraction to this woman, and besides, she’d assured him the plan is just—God gave her the instructions in a dream.

Multiple story lines entwine throughout this compelling mystery, delving into the topics of murder, religious faith, and the inherent dangers in blindly accepting faith as truth. While Reverend Williams is swept up in his newfound success and plans for his wedding, Captain Turner can only hope that she and her team will catch the Hansens’ cunning killer—before more bodies surface. 

Review: Thank you to Book Publicity Services for sending me an ARC of this novel!

There is one particular scene in “The Silence of the Lambs” where I find myself closest to relating to Hannibal Lecter (Go with me, I promise this isn’t creepy). When Clarice Starling visits him after finding a human head in a storage space, he is being punished for goading on a fellow inmate into committing suicide. His punishment is having to sit in the dark of his cell with a televangelist station on at full blast. I’m with you, Lecter, that sounds awful. When Book Publicity Services contacted me about “Salvation Station” by Kathryn Schleich, the aspect that really stood out to me was the televangelist preacher who may be putting his faith into the wrong person. So that angle was what compelled me to read and review the book, even if I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t know if it was my lack of other expectations or what, but I dove into “Salvation Station” and found myself completely taken in its web.

The first aspect of this book I liked is that from the get go, we know who the bad guy is. We know that this Susannah Baker character is assuredly the same woman who was married to the murdered Reverend that our protagonist is trying to catch. So instead of writing a thriller that’s mostly whodunnit, it is instead a cat and mouse tale in which you are desperate to know if Susannah is going to exposed as the conniving murderer that we know her to be. Schleich is pitch perfect in making the villain a character you love to hate. She is so venomous and so calculating that I found myself just ACHING for her to get what was coming to her. The pious woman of God act is both extra maddening, but it also rang super true in that unfortunately there have been plenty of con artists who have abused people’s faith in order to make them victims. We don’t get as much of an insight into Ray, the televangelist who is taken in by Susannah’s flattery and supposed born-again life, but that perhaps that was the point. At the end of the day he’s a guy who is devoted to the idea of devoted and pious wives, and so Susannah knew exactly how to play him like a harp. Perhaps it’s a greater commentary on the evangelical culture, but that’s not my business. Ultimately, Susannah is the center of this part of the story, and she is pitch perfect in her psychopathy. She is THE WORST.

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So clearly Schleich nailed it. (source)

On the flip side of this cat and mouse game is Linda, a tenacious Nebraska police captain who is on Susannah’s trail. Linda was horrified to find a local reverend and his two children buried in a garden, and has made it her mission to track down his wife, who they have deemed responsible. Linda was also a great character to follow, as she is the perfect foil to Susannah who is driven by the need for justice. You get the feeling that this case is a little personal to her, and as we get to see her own background and the things she’s been through she makes all the more sense in her choices and motivations. I also really enjoyed the steps that we take to see her investigate while we see Susannah laying out her new traps. It served as a satisfying juxtaposition, and made me want to read quicker and quicker to see how it was all going to play out. Plus, she has a fun relationship with another investigator that doesn’t overtake her story, but adds some fun spice to it.

There was one issue that I had with this book, though it’s a nit pick to be sure as it’s just a single moment. Still, it left enough of a bad taste in my mouth that I wanted to address it here. At one point Linda is musing about the kind of woman who could kill her own children, and she draws comparisons to both Susan Smith and Andrea Yates. Smith is apt to be sure, but I really wasn’t happy that Yates was mentioned, as she was in a post-partum psychotic break when she drowned her five children in the bathtub. She wasn’t a psychopath, she was severely, SEVERELY mentally ill. As horrific as her actions were, and they were HORRIFIC, it wasn’t a fair comparison.

Overall, I really liked “Salvation Station”! Fans of the hunt in a thriller novel really need to give it a go, I think you will find lots to like!

Rating 8: A fun and complex thriller that addresses the dangers of blind faith and the lengths greed will go, “Salvation Station” was a great read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Salvation Station” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Con Men, Gamblers, and Hustlers”.

Find “Salvation Station” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Book of Koli”

51285749Book: “The Book of Koli” by M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Book Description: Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.

Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls.

What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?

The first in a gripping new trilogy, The Book of Koli charts the journey of one unforgettable young boy struggling to find his place in a chilling post-apocalyptic world. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and Annihilation.

Review: Thanks to Orbit for sending me a copy of this novel!

I requested to read “The Book of Koli” in early March. The plot of a post-apocalyptic ravaged world overrun by killer plants sounded both wholly unique and super intriguing, Given that, in general, post-apocalyptic wasteland dystopias are my jam, I was excited to get a book not only about that very subject, but by M.R. Carey, whose works I have mostly enjoyed.

And then the COVID-19 shit hit the fan and it started to feel like we were living in an actual precursor to a post-apocalyptic world.

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The timing…. wasn’t great. (source)

I honestly cannot get on board the ‘let’s read all the apocalyptic fiction!’ train that I’ve seen as of late. My husband joked about starting to read our baby “The Stand” and I pretty much yelled at him that he wasn’t and has never been funny. So yeah, the idea of reading this book had me a bit wound up. Anxieties off the charts, I knew that I needed to read this book so I jumped in trying not to think of the doom and gloom of the real world. And what happened next was not at all “The Book of Koli”‘s fault. Extenuating circumstances like whoa made it so I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would.

But there is a lot that this book has going for it, and I’m going to really focus on that. Because the fact this book didn’t connect as much with me at this moment in time probably has very little to do with the actual content. The first thing that struck me was how Carey was toying with the idea of language, and how the language in this world (a future set England) has changed and evolved over time. It’s not as slang driven as “A Clockwork Orange” does with it’s dystopia, but it tweaks things enough that it’s slightly off, but you know what the characters are trying to say. There is also a bit of toying with the idea of technology and what can happen when it is lost to us, which is implied to have happened with the plants (genetically altered and then out of control) overtook civilization and drove humanity into heavily protected clusters (and allowed some to consolidate power). The first half of this book is the heavy world building to create this world, and to let us as readers get to know Koli as a character and who he is as a character. After he snags some tech from the Ramparts (aka those in charge of the tech) in the town he lives in, he meets Monono Aware, the AI within the tech he takes. Monono and Koli have a fun banter, and through him meeting her he discovers that tech can be wielded by anyone… which would be bad for the Ramparts if that secret got out. Sometimes this section dragged, but overall Carey used his time very well to show us what kind of society/dystopia we are dealing with. And I liked Monono a lot, even if she sometimes felt a little twee.

The second half of the book is after Koli has been banished into the wilderness, in danger of being killed by either killer plants, or roving bands of ‘shunned men’. This is where the book really started to build upon the action and the tension, and this was the part that I enjoyed most even if it was the part that stressed me out the most as well. Carey is no stranger to post-apocalyptic scenarios, and this one feels like he’s thinking outside of the box. He creates enough here that I can definitely see how he’s going to be able to pull enough material from this world and its characters to make a complex and well paced trilogy. I especially liked Ursala, a doctor who Koli meets while he’s still at Mythen Rood. She is the key to Koli starting to learn the truth of things, and her place in the story becomes even more apparent once Koli is out in the wilderness.

As I mentioned above, I had a hard time dealing with a post-apocalyptic story when it feels like we are at the start of our own. I think that it’s really just a matter of timing, as were we not in the middle of COVID-19 I truly believe that I would have been able to get into this story more. So while “The Book of Koli” didn’t connect with me as much as I thought I would, I really do think that that’s on me and not on Carey at all. So if you are one of those people who has been reading “The Stand” or watching “Contagion” in these trying times, and you also like dystopian fiction, “The Book of Koli” will fit the bill SO well. Once all of this is over, I will probably go on to the next book in the series, as I recognize that any of my apprehensions are solely on me during a literal global traumatic event.

Rating 7: While I had a hard time enjoying it as much as I could have in the moment of global pandemic, “The Book of Koli” is fresh and deep dystopic fiction.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Book of Koli” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sword and Laser Sci-Fi List”, and “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2020”.

Find “The Book of Koli” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”

44077284Book: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, April 2020

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

Book Description: Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.

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

While it’s certainly not up there with my favorite vampire movies, I really do have a soft spot for “Fright Night”. The original, not the new one. There’s just something about it that is so cheesy and 80s, but also feels very sinister and menacing. That’s probably because Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandrige is so outwardly charming when he’s a literal monster next door. It’s a great example of suburban horror, as suburbs were created so affluent white people could flee the dangerous city to feel safe, when danger is everywhere. Even in the handsome bachelor next door. If you took “Fright Night” and mixed it with “Steel Magnolias”, you would get Grady Hendrix new horror novel, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”. It’s no surprise that Hendrix would be the one to make that combination into one of his quirky horror novels, as his offbeat and campy scary stories have true elements of terror. “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” almost dethroned “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” as my favorite of his works. And you guys know how much I love “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”.

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Remember when Marcy Darcy and Prince Humperdink basically boned during an awkward dance sequence? Gosh I love “Fright Night”. (source)

The quirkiness and humor is a bit of a given with Hendrix’s stories, and “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” is no exception. It’s very funny at times, and has it’s tongue planted in cheek, though it does take itself seriously enough to create some legitimate scary moments. Our main character Patricia is an awkward and goodhearted book worm who loves to read tales of the macabre, as her husband is patronizing and her kids take her for granted. So she and her Southern Belle lady friends focus their book club on books about serial killers, murder, and other creepy things. I found Patricia relatable in some ways, mostly her general anxiety and her love of creepy books, and I liked how she is easy to root for, but also has flaws that are deeply human. Her initial encounter with James, the new neighbor, is right out of a horror movie, as she catches him in a trance of some sorts and his reaction is basically to scare her to death. But Patricia’s been raised in a culture (Southern, white, 1990s) in which she is more inclined to doubt herself and her own perceptions of James when he comes by later and just seems so nice, and so gregarious, and takes interest in her and her interests when her family does not. In fact, in contention for biggest SOBs up against James the vampire (more on him in a bit) were the husbands of the book club members, as they ranged from patronizing and gaslighting asshats like Patricia’s husband Carter to actual spousal abusers. And once Patricia starts to question if James is more dangerous than he seems, the men in the story are more inclined to believe the new man in town over their wives and any suspicions that they may have. It’s a tale as old as time, and it added an entire layer of suspense to this book that made my blood boil and had me concerned for Patricia. 

The vampire mythos that Hendrix has created for this story is centered around James, the deadly but enticing neighbor. Hendrix has created an original set of vampire rules for James, some of which are rooted in various folklores and some that feel totally original. Like Chris Sarandon in “Fright Night”, he’s the perfect villain because he just seems so wonderful, when he’s actually a vampire that is killing children in an impoverished part of town that is mostly black people. While some of the ways that Hendrix took on this part of the story felt a little clunky when it came to the racial issues at hand, I did appreciate that he wanted to talk about the fact that, indeed, in a situation like this the greater community of Charleston probably wouldn’t notice or care too much if these were the people being victimized. And he doesn’t spare Patricia and her book club friends from criticism in this way, as they are taken to task for their places of privilege in relation to the people that James uses as initial victims. 

I did have one big hang up with this book, however, and this is what knocked it down from a serious contender for top Hendrix novel. This is a mild spoiler, just to get that out there. There is a moment in this book that involves the implied rape of one of the characters, and the fallout thereafter. This moment was used as a way to up the stakes within the story, and I am so very sick of authors using rape in that way. There were plenty of other ways that Hendrix could have really reiterated how dangerous the situation had become, so to be like ‘ah, I’ll just use rape for that’ is something I am completely sick of. We can do better.

Overall, I thought that “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” was a very fun and entertaining read. Grady Hendrix has once again written a scary and funny horror novel, and I am happy he continues his streak of cheeky horror triumphs.

Rating 8: An original, eerie, and deeply funny vampire story from the master of quirky and cheeky horror, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” is both scary and amusing!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” is included on the Goodreads list “2020 Horror to Scream For”.

Find “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Last Book on the Left”

43261154._sx318_Book: “The Last Book on the Left: Stories of Murder and Mayhem from History’s Most Notorious Serial Killers” by Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley, and I own it!

Book Description: An equal parts haunting and hilarious deep-dive review of history’s most notorious and cold-blooded serial killers, from the creators of the award-winning Last Podcast on the Left

Since its first show in 2010, The Last Podcast on the Left has barreled headlong into all things horror, as hosts Henry Zebrowski, Ben Kissel, and Marcus Parks cover subjects spanning Jeffrey Dahmer, werewolves, Jonestown, and supernatural phenomena. Deeply researched but with a morbidly humorous bent, the podcast has earned a dedicated and aptly cultlike following for its unique take on all things macabre.

In their first book, the guys take a deep dive into history’s most infamous serial killers, from Ted Bundy to John Wayne Gacy, exploring their origin stories, haunting habits, and perverse predilections. Featuring newly developed content alongside updated fan favorites, each profile is an exhaustive examination of the darker side of human existence. With appropriately creepy four-color illustrations throughout and a gift-worthy paper over board format, The Last Book on the Left will satisfy the bloodlust of readers everywhere.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book.

I first discovered the podcast “The Last Podcast on the Left” in early 2018. I had just left my job, I was feeling a little aimless and sad (not to mention a bit taken advantage of), and was looking for any kind of distraction. It’s not too hyperbolic to say that hosts Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski brought me the most joy I had felt since leaving that position. Not only were they very funny, the research and presentation of stories about serial killers, aliens, supernatural incidents, and other tales of the macabre was phenomenal. So I was, of course, overjoyed when they announced that they were going to release a book. And when I was approved to get an eARC from NetGalley? I could have exploded from excitement.

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I actually screamed. (source)

Now I did have my reservations. After all, while I mostly enjoyed the other podcast based book that made a splash in the book community, I was a little nervous that this would be similar in that it just wouldn’t capture the essence of the source content. Let’s be real, “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered” is a fun book, but it’s not true crime, which is the draw of the podcast to begin with. But I was foolish to doubt Parks, Zebrowski, and Kissel. “The Last Book on the Left” is everything I wanted it to be and more.

As I vaguely mentioned before, one of the things that I love the most about the podcast is that Marcus Parks, the head researcher for the show, does a fantastic job of researching and presenting the topics that they cover in each episode. And he brings the same zeal and drive to the book. This book covers a number of notorious serial killers, from Ted Bundy to BTK to Son of Sam and many more. While I’m familiar with a lot of the cases in this book, I still found myself learning new information because of the deep dives that Parks does. I also appreciated that the book made the note that while all of their subjects have been covered on the podcast, they have tried to bring new information and content to the book. How easy would it have been to do an easy copy paste job from past scripts and witty rapport (looking at you, “Lore” podcast!)? And yet Parks, Kissel, and Zebrowski want to do their very  best for their fans and for the people reading the book, and refuse to cut corners, and because of that the reading is wholly original and fresh. Throw in some really fun and darkly funny graphics and imagery, and you have a fun and informational reading experience!

And if that wasn’t enough, “The Last Book on the Left” also achieves what I thought would be the unachievable: they manage to translate the podcast format to the page without being clunky or untrue to their natures. The premise of the podcast is that Parks will tell the stories, and Kissel and Zebrowski will make commentary and banter throughout the narrative. I figured that it was going to be straight information, which was completely okay in my book. But then “The Last Book on the Left” went and surprised me. Using graphics and color coded speech bubbles, they manage to put the witty and dark humored Kissel and Zebrowski commentary throughout the narrative, using their likenesses with varying facial expressions depending on the tone of the comment. It works, it’s creative, and it’s ingenious. I found myself laughing out loud probably as much as I do during each podcast episode, and was thrilled to see that they managed to translate their wicked charm to book form.

Now I do have to admit that I’m probably wholeheartedly biased when it comes to “The Last Book on the Left”. I was pretty much guaranteed to love this book given how much I love the podcast and it’s creators. So I’m going to try to level with everyone here for a moment. Do I think that this book is going to be for anyone and everyone? Probably not. If you aren’t into true crime it’s really not for you, and I am the first to admit and acknowledge that the comedy aspects of the podcast are not going to sit well with everyone. The book tones it back a lot, but it’s still not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. That said, as a fan of the show, I loved it. And I do think that the impeccable true crime content and research is God tier.

I loved, LOVED “The Last Book on the Left”. It was everything I hoped it would be, and it’s a true testament to the talent that these three hosts have.

Rating 10: “The Last Book on the Left” is a well researched and presented overview of a number of notorious serial killers, and manages to capture the banter and charm of the podcast and put it to the page. Well worth the wait. Hail yourselves, fellas!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Book on the Left” is included on the Goodreads list “Books of Podcasts”, and I think it would fit in on “Best True Crime”.

Find “The Last Book on the Left” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Saint X”

43782399Book: “Saint X” by Alexis Schaitkin

Publishing Info: Celadon Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister, Alison, disappears on the last night of their family vacation at a resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. Several days later, Alison’s body is found in a remote spot on a nearby cay, and two local men – employees at the resort – are arrested. But the evidence is slim, the timeline against it, and the men are soon released. The story turns into national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved. For Claire and her parents, there is only the return home to broken lives.

Years later, Claire is living and working in New York City when a brief but fateful encounter brings her together with Clive Richardson, one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. It is a moment that sets Claire on an obsessive pursuit of the truth – not only to find out what happened the night of Alison’s death but also to answer the elusive question: Who exactly was her sister? At seven, Claire had been barely old enough to know her: a beautiful, changeable, provocative girl of eighteen at a turbulent moment of identity formation.

As Claire doggedly shadows Clive, hoping to gain his trust, waiting for the slip that will reveal the truth, an unlikely attachment develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by the same tragedy.

Review: Whenever I hear the phrase ‘missing white woman syndrome’ I immediately think of Natalee Holloway. Holloway was an eighteen year old on a school sponsored trip to Aruba when she went missing. Her disappearance was all over the news, her face practically everywhere even as little new information came up. While her case is technically still unsolved, the general consensus is that she was murdered by a local whose father was a judge, and therefore had a lot of protection (it just so happens the same guy was eventually convicted of murdering another woman in Peru). A very sad and mysterious case all around, and it was all I was thinking of when I read the description for “Saint X” by Alexis Schaitkin. But instead of a run of the mill thriller that takes inspiration from real tragedy for lurid entertainment (I know that I’m one of the people who perpetuates that problematic issue by reading books like that), I instead found a literary thriller that had a lot of deep thoughts and haunting themes.

“Saint X” is less about Alison’s disappearance, and more about the fallout and consequences for those involved with the case, specifically her sister Claire and one of the accused but cleared suspects, Clive. Both Claire and Clive have had their lives completely upended by what happened to Alison. For Claire, it’s the grief and trauma of loss that her family never recovered from, and her obsession of wanting to find out what happened. This is sparked when she sees Clive in New York City. For Clive, being suspected and never officially cleared made his life back on Saint X one of suspicion, and he felt the need to start over and leave it all behind, which meant leaving everything he ever knew and loved. They are both damaged people with one commonality, and Schaitkin really brings out the pain that both of them have been dealing with. Along with these two and their trauma, we also get snippets of other people’s associations with Alison’s death. These bits are left to the end of chapters, and not only shed light into how Alison’s death sent shockwaves through many lives, but how she was as a person before her ill fated trip and during it as well.

Alison herself is a bit more of a mystery, but I thought that that was deliberate and I enjoyed that. We see her through Claire’s eyes, and Clive’s eyes, and the eyes of others. But those eyes can’t really know who Alison was as a person. Even the audio diary entries that Claire finds and listens to don’t quite capture who Alison was, because Alison was still trying to figure all that out. It’s a really interesting way to call out this obsession people get with missing and murdered (usually white and attractive) women, and how we project our own ideas of who they are upon their memory, even if those ideas are totally of the mark. I also liked that what we DO know about Alison is that she is very human, in that she isn’t perfect. Alison is at that tenuous age where she is trying to find herself, and yet still trying to be seen in a certain way by others. She is privileged and naive, and sees the colonizer issue of a resort in the Caribbean, but doesn’t see that her presence, as judgemental of the system as she is, is still perpetuating the problem.

And that was another thing that I liked about this book: Schaitkin definitely takes shots at the resort society on Saint X. It’s an industry that drives the economy, but relies upon a population group that is underprivileged and taken advantage of. Clive is doing his best to support himself and his loved ones, and has to kowtow to wealthy white tourists who see his home as an escape, but doesn’t see the inequities outside of the resort walls. This theme wasn’t at the very front of the story, but it was simmering underneath.

I wasn’t expecting what I got from “Saint X”, in that I was ready for a tense and addictive thriller. What I got instead was a little more ruminative. That isn’t a bad thing, but I will admit that had I known it was more literary I would have probably enjoyed it more. I did enjoy it, but it didn’t grab me as much as I think it would have had I had the expectations it called for. That said, I think that “Saint X” is a worthwhile read. Just go in expecting something more nuanced.

Rating 7: A haunting and evocative literary mystery. It wasn’t what I was expecting. But it’s definitely worth the read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Saint X” is included on the Goodreads list “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications January-July).

Find “Saint X” at your local library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale”

38452822._sx318_Book: “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” by Lauren Myracle and Isaac Goodhart (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Ink, May 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Selina Kyle is fiercer than she knows. For 15 years, she’s put up with her mother’s string of bad boyfriends, but when Dernell, her mom’s current beau, proves crueler than the others, Selina reevaluates her place in her home. There’s no way Selina and Dernell can live under the same roof, and since Dernell won’t leave, Selina must.

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Myracle (ttyl) and artist Isaac Goodhart comes a story about learning how to survive the world when you’ve been forced to abandon your home and finding allies in the most unexpected moments.

Review: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it many a time: I love Catwoman. I have always loved Catwoman. And because of my deep and unabiding love for Catwoman, I am VERY picky about how Catwoman is portrayed. Some portrayals I’ve loved, other’s I’ve despised, but at the end of the day while it’s a gamble, I am always up for giving any version a chance. So when I discovered “Catwoman: Under the Moon” by Lauren Myracle, I absolutely had to take the bet and roll the dice.

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It will probably never live up to this, but a good effort can do a lot. (source)

I always find it a little risky to try and give Selina Kyle/Catwoman an origin story, for a couple of reasons. The first is that Selina is such a mysterious character at her heart that learning too much can sometimes take away some of the allure. While I like getting into her head and seeing vulnerability, I think that part of the appeal of her is that she has secrets to hide, and don’t you wish you knew them. The other is that some origins have become so iconic over the years (“Batman Returns” really nailed it), I’m always going to be comparing new origins to well done old ones. I think that, for the most part, Myracle is able to fight back both of these pitfalls, as her backstory for Selina is filled with pathos and empathy while still feeling very believable in a lot of ways (I’ll get to the problems I had with it in a bit). And I also think that it feels different enough from other origins I’ve read and unique enough that I wasn’t constantly being like ‘well that’s not how I see it’. Selina’s story in this balances a good line between too unbelievable tragic, and not dark enough. And given some of the darker themes that Myracle brings in, like domestic abuse, animal cruelty, mental illness, and homelessness, she also has a large list of resources in the back of the book so that any readers that may see themselves in Selina’s story may have a place to turn to. I really liked that. 

But then there were the issues I had with it. The first was that, for whatever reason, Bruce Wayne had to be brought in as a childhood friend of Selina. Look, I love Selina and Bruce, no question, they are definitely a top ship for me in the DC universe. But I had really hoped that Selina could have just stood on her own two feet without him being around. It also just didn’t make sense that he had to tell her that his parents had been murdered and what was why they grew apart, and she seemed to not know that. I mean, I feel like the murders of two of the most powerful people in Gotham would have been news that most people would have heard of. And given that Selina was in a middle school setting with Bruce, that teenage gossip mill would have CERTAINLY clued her in, right?! On top of that, there were a good number of plot ideas and strings that were introduced in this book, but I didn’t feel like many of them were fully explored. The biggest one for me was when Selina started running with other homeless kids, and met a girl named Briar Rose who doesn’t speak and has a tragic backstory. There was a lot of potential in the friendship between Selina and Briar Rose (or Rosie as Selina starts calling her!), especially since Myracle left Selina’s younger sister out of this backstory. But we didn’t really get to see their friendship grow, as there was a time jump with small flashbacks to show that they were now thick as thieves so that the plot could progress as such. I never really care for that kind of storytelling.

“Under the Moon” was an alright backstory for one of my favorite DC ladies, but it had the promise to be so much more. That said, if Myracle continued this story, I’d probably pick it up!

Rating 6: A pretty okay origin story for Selina Kyle/Catwoman, but there were a few too many ideas that didn’t get explored enough.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ladies of DC”, and “DC Comics by Women”.

Find “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” at your library using WorldCat!