Kate’s Review: “Where They Wait”

Book: “Where They Wait” by Scott Carson

Publishing Info: Atria/Emily Bestler Books, October 2021

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

Book Description: Recently laid-off from his newspaper and desperate for work, war correspondent Nick Bishop takes a humbling job: writing a profile of a new mindfulness app called Clarity. It’s easy money, and a chance to return to his hometown for his first visit in years. The app itself seems like a retread of old ideas—relaxing white noise and guided meditations. But then there are the “Sleep Songs.” A woman’s hauntingly beautiful voice sings a ballad that is anything but soothing—it’s disturbing, really, more of a warning than a relaxation—but it works. Deep, refreshing sleep follows.

So do nightmares. Vivid and chilling, they feature a dead woman who calls Nick by name and whispers guidance—or are they threats? And soon her voice follows him long after the song is done. As the effects of the nightmares begin to permeate his waking life, Nick makes a terrifying discovery: no one involved with Clarity has any interest in his article. Their interest is in him. Because while he might not have any memory of it, he’s one of twenty people who have heard this sinister song before and the only one who is still alive.

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

At one point I requested the Scott Carson horror novel “The Chill” from the library, and when it came I waffled about starting it, and then only got a couple chapters in before giving up. I wasn’t sure if it was the book itself or something that was gelling with my reading needs at the time, but I returned it and went on to the next. When I saw he had a new book coming out called “Where They Wait”, and that it involved a mindfulness app that could have deadly influence, I decided to bite. After all, as an anxious person who has barely been getting by during a full on global pandemic, I’ve done my time with meditation apps on my phone. So why not scare the piss out of myself in regards to some of the things that actually calm me down during an anxiety spiral?! That’s a joke. Kind of. Anyway, I was fully in, expecting full on tech horror. But “Where They Wait” took me by surprise.

“Where They Wait” is a slowly building horror novel that makes you think it’s going to go in one way, but it takes you in a completely different way instead. The mystery surrounding the Clarity app and Nick’s connection to it are slowly revealed as the book goes on, and it builds at a good pace and ratchets the tension up accordingly. As Nick dives deeper and deeper into the various sleep and relaxation programs on the mindfulness app Clarity, strange things start to happen, from bad dreams (dreaming being something he was never able to remember until now) to shady and cagey interactions with the makers and associates of the app. One of whom is his teenage years friend Renee. But what I thought was going to be fully tech and corporate conspiracy horror was a bit more complicated than that. In that realm, the book hits a lot of beats we’d expect it to. Nick clearly has an unknown connection to Clarity, specifically the strange song that he keeps hearing, and the song that, he finds out, has done some serious damage to other people just by listening to it. I loved following Nick as he started to piece together the origins of the song, and how they connected to him, and where those origins eventually took us in terms of setting and horror type. Again, I thought that we were going to be going into science fiction tech horror, but Carson surprised me by taking us down a different path. Well, at least in terms of the origins of the song. Those behind Clarity have the obvious motivations to harness a song that has a violent fall out, and it definitely references recent ‘in the news’ themes of things like Havana Syndrome, and how something like that could be unleashed on a tech hungry populace.

The first thing that came to mind outside Havana Syndrome. God I miss “The Venture Bros” (source: HBOMax).

So yes, there are definite tech horror aspects to this book, but there are also more primal horrors about what happens when we dream, and how vulnerable we are when it comes to our subconscious. When Nick is in what is possibly a dream (or is it?), there is a sense of ethereal dread that Carson just nails in tone and eeriness, be it the way that the song is written out or the descriptions of visions of a dead woman that is guiding Nick through his dreamscapes. But along with that are the fears of what we may do without realizing as our subconscious takes over, be it lost time, manipulated memories, or full on inability to control ones actions. Nick is the one bearing the brunt of this, though his experience is a bit of an exception to a rule that makes him a very sought after player for those who are pulling the strings. This whole aspect of the book was very unnerving in terms of the psychological manipulations, and I found these parts, especially in his dreams, to be very trippy and intense.

Overall I enjoyed “Where They Wait”. It makes me want to go back and give “The Chill” another try, as Carson taps into some basal fears and makes them very, very unsettling.

Rating 8: A creepy horror novel that goes places I didn’t expect, “Where They Wait” is eerie and unsettling and made me side eye my mindfulness apps.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Where They Wait” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror To Look Forward To In 2021”.

Find “Where They Wait” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “The Duchess War”

Book: “The Duchess War” by Courtney Milan

Publishing Info: Createspace, December 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Miss Minerva Lane is a quiet, bespectacled wallflower, and she wants to keep it that way. After all, the last time she was the center of attention, it ended badly-so badly that she changed her name to escape her scandalous past. Wallflowers may not be the prettiest of blooms, but at least they don’t get trampled. So when a handsome duke comes to town, the last thing she wants is his attention. But that is precisely what she gets. Because Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, is not fooled. When Minnie figures out what he’s up to, he realizes there is more to her than her spectacles and her quiet ways. And he’s determined to lay her every secret bare before she can discover his. But this time, one shy miss may prove to be more than his match…

Review: There have been a few articles circulating in readers’ circles noting the increased interest in romance as a genre throughout the pandemic. I think the reasons are probably fairly self-explanatory, so I won’t get into them myself. But I’ll definitely note that this point really hit home when fairly spontaneously at our last bookclub, we all seemed to realize we were all reading significantly more in the genre, so much so that we decided to make romance the theme of our entire next round! My reviews here on the blog don’t necessarily reflect this increase, but that’s largely due to the challenges of writing about book in a genre that by necessity are often fairly similar in structure. But I do want to throw reviews out there every once in a while when a particular one stands out. Hence, “The Duchess War.”

Minerva Lane understands the strategy of being a wallflower. Unnoticed, she can quietly observe everyone and make her subtle maneuvers with little attention drawn to herself. And, while her choices are very limited, at least they will be hers. But her carefully laid plans are upended when a Duke arrives on the scene. Minnie quickly realizes that Robert Blaisdell is more than he seems. Unfortunately, he, too, takes notice of her and before she can protest, begins pulling her inevitably out from her quiet corners and back into the center of attention. But will their own smarts be each of their own down falling? Or do they each desperately need the recognition that only the other can give.

When I logged on to Goodreads to mark this book as read, I realized that I must have read the second book in this series sometime in the past. And, judging by my low star rating, I didn’t like it much (honestly, I have zero memory of reading that book, even after looking at the description). Thank goodness I didn’t spot that before picking this one up, as I really enjoyed this historical romance!

There were several things that stood out to me as unique about this romance novel as compared other similar titles. For one thing, while most “historical romances” are set somewhere in the Regency or Victorian period, other than a few mentions of the current monarch or a particular style of dress (empire waste or bustles), there are often few historical markers to be found. It’s all very general, upper-class, social entertainments from end to end. This book, however, dove into some of the political and culture undercurrents moving at the time. In particular, there was a focus on the working conditions for the common man and the uneven wealth distribution at the heart of British society. Yes, it’s still a romance novel at heart so all of this is only lightly touched upon, but the fact that it all plays a rather key role to the story is fairly unique as a whole.

I also really liked our main two characters and their backstories. Their histories were slow to unfold, but once we fully understood the lives they had lead up to this point, it really help ground each character in the decisions they made going forward. I was particularly pleased to see strong aspects of their characters remain true even throughout the typical upheavals found near the end of romance novels. The conflicts that arose came through believable choices that each character would make, and, refreshingly, neither one of them completely loses their head. I was particularly pleased with Minnie, as in many ways she became the force of reason that held these two together in the end.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a perfect blend of wish-fulfillment on the romance side as well as an increased dedication to including interesting elements on the historical side. Fans of historical romances are sure to enjoy this and should definitely add it to their TBR lists!

Rating 8: Romantic and funny, everything I want from a feel-good story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Duchess War” is on this Goodreads list: 1st Book in Historical Romance Series.

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

Kate’s Review: “Silence in the Woods”

Book: “Silence in the Woods” by J.P. Choquette

Publishing Info: Self Published, April 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a paperback copy from the author.

Book Description: In 1917, four friends and photojournalists set out in the woods looking for answers. Why have so many hikers and hunters gone missing in the area of Shiny Creek Trail?

The two couples anticipate a great adventure, one they’ll tell their kids about someday. No one imagines the evil lurking in a remote cave. A horrifying discovery leaves one person dead and two others missing.

Two months later, Paul, one of the four, returns to the forest to find his wife. But will he find her before someone-or something-finds him?

Silence in the Woods is the long-awaited prequel to Shadow in the Woods, and delves into the frightening territory of the supernatural and the human mind.

Review: Thank you to J.P. Choquette for sending me a copy of this novel!

I remember there was one time that I was at my previous library job where I got a text from an old coworker from one of my previous museum jobs (libraries and museums, you know that’s right). One of the sites I used to work at was Fort Snelling, which had a state park nestled next to the old fort with lots of nature and trails. My old coworker told me that there were honest to God Bigfoot hunters in the park that day, and sent me a picture of their truck that boasted as such. While Minnesota isn’t exactly known for Bigfoot sightings (the closest we get to interesting cryptid beasts are Dog Men and a Monster in Lake Pepin), I was utterly charmed by the idea, as I love the idea of a gentle ape like creature like Bigfoot (and yes, I prefer GENTLE Bigfoot tales, as a rule). So when author J.P. Choquette reached out to me asking if I would be interested in reviewing any of her horror novels, when I saw that Bigfoot was a plot point, I was eager to read “Silence in the Woods”! I mean, you got Bigfoot, AND you have two couples going for a hike in the woods to investigate missing person reports… only to run afoul nature themselves. Sign me up! Especially since they also run into Bigfoot!

I want to believe. (source)

I’m focusing a lot on the Sasquatch elements of this story, but “Silence in the Woods” is also a survival horror tale that brings in other supernatural elements and threats, and I was super entertained the entire time I was reading it. It’s told though different third person perspectives, and jumps a bit through time to tell of two couples, Paul and Jane, and Deidre and Allan, who go hiking along the Shiny Creek Trail. From the get go we find out that this trip did not go well, and that Paul was the only one to leave the woods, but has found himself in an asylum because of what he says happened. Then we see him try to find his way back to look for Jane, as well as seeing how everything fell apart for the group of friends. The narrative structure is complex but not overly so, and we get a fair amount of time with each of the characters that we get a feel for who they are. I found myself easily invested in Paul’s search for his wife, as well as invested in Jane and the strange things she is seeing on their initial walk in the woods.

And in terms of plot and horror elements, “Silence in the Woods” implied that it was going in one direction, but ended up going in another, which worked pretty well. Now I know that this is a labeled as a ‘prequel’ to the next book in the series, “Shadow in the Woods”, and I wonder that had I read that one first that I may not have been as surprised by that, but as it was I liked being red herring’d in terms of what the horror elements are in this book. Mysterious human like creatures aside, there are other, more insidious things lurking in the woods. And even worse, we also have nature to contend with on top of all that! Choquette pulls a lot of scares and thrills from numerous places in this book, and I was kept on the edge of my seat as I read, wondering who would survive, and what would happen to those who didn’t. And yes, Bigfoot plays a role, and I don’t want to spoil anything for those who want to seek it out, but I really liked the moments that this cryptid was on the page, as well as the ways that our various characters interacted with it.

We’re still in the thick of Halloween season, y’all, and if you are looking for a quick and breezy creature feature to read “Silence in the Woods” may be a good match! I’m definitely going to look into reading more of Choquette’s “Monsters in the Green Mountains” stories, and this was a good place to start, chronological or not.

Rating 8: A quick read with survival horror, supernatural scares, and Bigfoot, “Silence in the Woods” is an entertaining page turner!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silence in the Woods” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists, but it would fit in on “Cryptids”, and “Lost in the Woods”.

“Silence in the Woods” isn’t available at any libraries as of yet, but you can find a copy through various retailers at J.P. Choquette’s website.

Kate’s Review: “Nothing But Blackened Teeth’

Book: “Nothing But Blackened Teeth” by Cassandra Khaw

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, October 2021

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

Book Description: Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a gorgeously creepy haunted house tale, steeped in Japanese folklore and full of devastating twists.

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company. It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.

But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

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

While I’ve seen and read a fair number of Japanese and Japanese inspired horror things, I know that there are many, MANY stories out there that I haven’t come across as of yet. I don’t have a very vast knowledge of Japanese folklore in general, and therefore I’m definitely game to read anything that would broaden my horizons in that manner. Enter “Nothing But Blackened Teeth” by Cassandra Khaw, a new horror novella that takes place in a rural Heian-Era mansion in Japan that is super, super haunted. I’m no stranger to various Japanese haunted house stories, from “Ju-On” to “Hausu”, but the cover alone of this book caught my attention. And hey, haunted house stories? Absolutely my jam. I held onto “Nothing But the Blackened Teeth” for what was supposed to be a stormy night, and though we didn’t get the rain we were promised I still found myself reading the book at night, which was, perhaps, a mistake. Because it’s SCARY.

“Nothing But Blackened Teeth” is a novella clocking in at around 120 pages, but Khaw has no trouble building a plot, pulling out everything they can from their characters, and leading them to a terrifying ending. It never feels rushed to get to that point, it never feels like we could have learned more about our cast or the house itself, and it is engaging and definitely terrifying. Khaw has a gift for description and atmosphere, as I could see the mansion as it goes from abandoned but docile home to an incredibly disturbing hellscape. While Cat is definitely the character we get to know the best, we still get to know enough about most of her friends and all of the tenuous relationship strings between them to fully buy into the choices they make, from the good to the bad. It feels like a slow burn at first, but the tension starts to build from the get go and when it finally releases it’s SO unnerving and scary.

And a lot of the scares come from the Japanese folklore that the horror elements derive themselves from, namely the Ohaguro-Bettari, a spirit that takes the form of a bride whose facial features are only a mouth filled with black teeth. I know a little bit about Japanese folklore and ghosts, specifically the Onryō, so seeing another yokai (spirit) at the forefront was refreshing and new to me. It made me do some independent reading on more Japanese folklore regarding ghosts and entities, which was really fun for me as a horror fan who likes lore of all kinds. And boy does Khaw really make this the stuff of nightmares. Cat is the first to start seeing this yokai, and given that she has a history of mental problems we get the usual ‘is this really happening or am I going crazy’ questioning that comes with such a history in stories like these. But what I liked is that for the most part Cat isn’t portrayed as hallucinating to the reader, and instead of an unreliable narrator we get a woman who is seeing something VERY wrong, and therein slowly sending shivers up our spines every time she sees something. Until, that is, it goes full gonzo bloodsoaked horror show. Khaw nails every part of the horror here, and the end was so incredibly disturbing that I had to flip back to re-read a few things to make sure that THAT was what had happened. I think that I would have liked even more suspense before we got to the gory ending, and maybe a little more easing into the wrap up, but overall it was enjoyable as hell and a sinister ghost story soaked in viscera and blood. And very easy to read in one sitting (though maybe not late at night, a tip from me to you)!

“Nothing But Blackened Teeth” is an enjoyable novella that set me on edge. Halloween is almost here, and if you haven’t read this one yet you should make it a part of your reading list before the holiday passes us by!

Rating 8: Disturbing, atmospheric, and brimming with Japanese folklore and yokai, “Nothing But Blackened Teeth” is the perfect short read for this Halloween season!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Nothing But Blackened Teeth” is included on the Goodreads lists “Celebrate Horror 2021”, and “Diverse Horror”.

Find “Nothing But Blackened Teeth” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Blood of the Chosen”

Book: “Blood of the Chosen” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Orbit, October 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: Four hundred years ago, a cataclysmic war cracked the world open and exterminated the Elder races. Amid the ashes, their human inheritor, the Dawn Republic, stands guard over lands littered with eldritch relics and cursed by plaguespawn outbreaks. But a new conflict is looming and brother and sister Maya and Gyre have found themselves on opposite sides.

At the age of five, Maya was taken by the Twilight Order and trained to be a centarch, wielding forbidden arcana to enforce the Dawn Republic’s rule. On that day, her brother, Gyre, swore to destroy the Order that stole his sister… whatever the cost.

Twelve years later, brother and sister are two very different people: she is Burningblade, the Twilight Order’s brightest prodigy; he is Silvereye, thief, bandit, revolutionary.

Previously Reviewed: “Ashes of the Sun”

Review: I really enjoyed “Ashes of the Sun” when I read it last summer. Yes, the story of some disease released on the world that wiped out an entire population hit a bit too close to home. But…fantasy! Ha..ha…ha? On a more serious note, Wexler has always been good for an excellent story from what I’ve read of him so far and this series felt like more of the same. Much of it was setting up our two main characters and the world, and yet he still managed to stuff in a bunch of action and set up the board for greater conflicts to come.

Just a side note before I get into the general description of this book. I had to read that summary twice and double check it against Goodreads more than once (each time I’ve touched this post while writing it) to make sure that I had the right summary. It reads like it should be for the first book! It’s honestly shockingly bad, telling us absolutely nothing about what this book specifically is going to be about and laying out much of the groundwork that was not only covered in the previous book but was laid out…in the previous book’s own summary! Very poor.

Maya and Gyre have found themselves not only on opposing sides of a brewing historical war, but caught up in the mechanizations of of mysterious opposing forces. There are secrets to be found in the Order, a group whom Maya now has come to understand houses traitors and inner workings that don’t necessary uphold the ideals for which she thought the institution stood for. As she works to uncover the truth, she will learn that there is an entire separate force at work pulling the strings behind the curtains. For his part, Gyre has begun to gather the strength of the ghouls to his cause. But without fully understanding their culture and motives, or the role they played in the past wars, will he be on the right side of history this go around?

So, shocker, I really enjoyed another Django Wexler book! In a lot of ways, I liked this one even better than the first. With the necessary character introductions and initial arcs that moved them into the titular roles as “Silvereye” and “Burningblade” out of the way, the story was primed to move into more of the grand-scale story. That said, this book is still clearly setting up a bigger conflict. Much of the action that we see in this book comes down to smaller skirmshes. Towards the end, we get what feels like a major battle only to really discover that it’s just the beginning. In the moment, this action is compelling and exciting. And it’s almost made better when you realize that things are only going to get bigger going forward.

Of the two main characters, Maya saw the most growth in this story. After realizing that there are traitors in the Order in the first book, her eyes are opened to the fact that mysteries still exist in this world and even the “good guys” might have bad sides. In many ways, her worldviews are more challenged and she must choose to grow (or not) along with these revelations.

For his part, Gyre continues to be fairly singularly minded. It’s a tough thing, because on one hand, I think Gyre is going to be on the right side of this situation. But on the other hand, looking at the reasoning he preaches to justify his actions, he’s very much on the wrong side of the argument. Maya’s morals and beliefs are much more in the right than Gyre, but it feels like he may have lucked into being on the right side? It’s kind of an uncomfortable position to be in as a reader. That said, there were so many twists and turns to be found in this book that I hardly can say that I have a firm grasp on what the end game is at this point. For all I know, my read on the situation here is completely wrong! And I love that!

I also really liked the closer look we had into the ghouls, the Chosen, and the Order. The roles they all play in the current landscape (though two of the three are practically if not totally nonexistent) are fascinating, and here, I really feel like I’ve only scraped the surface on what happened when these forces were at war and the Order was created. It was also great to see more of this world, with both Maya and Gyre travelling long distances and witnessing the various ways that people have found to live in such a dangerous landscape.

Fans of this series will definitely be pleased with this entry. It’s definitely a second book in that it ends on a cliffhanger and sets up some new “big bads” to be dealt with going forward. But if you’re already invested in this story, that’s only to be expected and just adds fuel to the excitement fire!

Rating 8: Solid, as expected. The most exciting part continues to be the murky history of this world and the unknowns of who is on the “right” side, Maya or Gyre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Blood of the Chosen” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but it is on Fantasy Books Releasing in 2021.

Find “Blood of the Chosen” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Chasing the Boogeyman”

Book: “Chasing the Boogeyman” by Richard Chizmar

Publication Info: Gallery Books, August 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The New York Times bestselling coauthor of Gwendy’s Button Box brings his signature prose to this story of small-town evil that combines the storytelling of Stephen King with the true-crime suspense of Michelle McNamara.

In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small Maryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumor begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. Law enforcement, as well as members of the FBI are certain that the killer is a living, breathing madman—and he’s playing games with them. For a once peaceful community trapped in the depths of paranoia and suspicion, it feels like a nightmare that will never end.

Recent college graduate Richard Chizmar returns to his hometown just as a curfew is enacted and a neighborhood watch is formed. In the midst of preparing for his wedding and embarking on a writing career, he soon finds himself thrust into the real-life horror story. Inspired by the terrifying events, Richard writes a personal account of the serial killer’s reign of terror, unaware that these events will continue to haunt him for years to come.

A clever, terrifying, and heartrending work of metafiction, Chasing the Boogeyman is the ultimate marriage between horror fiction and true crime. Chizmar’s writing is on full display in this truly unique novel that will haunt you long after you turn the final page.

Review: I was describing “Chasing the Boogeyman” to my mother during one of my parents weekly visits, where we inevitably start talking about what we are reading at the moment. She basically asked ‘so wait, is this a fictional book or a nonfiction book?’, to which I paused for a beat or two and said ‘I…. don’t know?’ And at the time I didn’t feel like I did. I knew that Richard Chizmar had written horror novels, as I’ve read him before, and I knew that people were describing it as ‘metafiction’. But surely this book that read like a narrative nonfiction story was nonfiction, right? I mean, there was a whole introduction by James Renner who talked about a previous edition and how he always wondered what happened to the Edgewood Boogeyman case! But it’s catalogued as fiction! IS THIS ACTUALLY REAL?!

No, “Chasing the Boogeyman” is not a true story, at least not the meat of it. And that is a testament to Chizmar’s writing and set up that I found myself questioning if it was a true story or not in spite of many pieces of evidence and flat out statements that it is, indeed, not. This book definitely reads similar to Michelle McNamara’s personal “I’ll Be Gone In the Dark”, as a fictionalized version of Richard Chizmar investigates a hometown serial killer and finds himself not only obsessed, but also perhaps on the killer’s radar. The setting of Edgewood, Maryland is real, and Chizmar does take anecdotes and community locations and people who exist or existed in the 1980s (when the bulk of the story takes place) to make the story even more realistic. It makes for a very engaging and realistic tale, and it makes the town of Edgewood just as much a character as Chizmar and his mirror-universe self and counterparts. The set up is unique, and the details that Chizmar puts in, from that tricky intro to staged photographs and documents are so great and just add to the narrative nonfiction feel. It’s easily one of the most ambitious works I’ve read this year in how it combines two completely different takes on literature and creates a fictional story that reads like a real one.

The plot itself isn’t terribly ambitious to the naked eye. A serial killer preying on young women in a small town is, unfortunately, all too familiar within the true crime world. The mystery is well set up, and by the time we got to the reveal I was legitimately surprised by the whodunnit solution (and we also get a very unsettling interview between Chizmar and the perpetrator, which just gave me CHILLS). But I think that what makes it stand out the most is that by framing it as Chizmar having this personal connection to the community, and an obsession with this dark reality that is functioning in it, it makes the story more about the darkness of small town America, and how sometimes we have to reckon with the dark realities of our childhoods. While Chizmar (both fictional and real world) has happy memories about growing up in Edgewood, he also has to ruminate on the fact that really bad things happened to women in his community, and how even beyond that there are definitely imperfect and dangerous things in small town America that are hidden behind the veneer of tight knit community and traditional morality. But as more girls and women are attacked and killed, the paranoia, gossip, and fear starts to show that people are capable of destructive things that aren’t limited to murder. It feels a lot like a Stephen King deconstruction of small town values, but since Chizmar has made it personal, it has its own spin. And his affection for his real small town of Edgewood makes it so that it feels more bittersweet of a revelation, as opposed to a Derry-esque complete take down of Americana.

“Chasing the Boogeyman” is unique and ambitious, and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. Part horror, part thriller, part faux (but also a bit real) memoir, it is truly a book that stands out this year.

Rating 8: An ambitious dive into metafiction that explores true crime through a fictional lens, “Chasing the Boogeyman” is unique and entertaining, and unsettling as well.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Chasing the Boogeyman” is included on the Goodreads lists “Horror With an Author As the Main Character”, and “Mystery & Thriller 2021”.

Find “Chasing the Boogeyman” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Tongues of Serpents”

Book: “Tongues of Serpents” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, July 2010

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Convicted of treason despite their heroic defense against Napoleon’s invasion of England, Temeraire and Laurence—stripped of rank and standing—have been transported to the prison colony at New South Wales in distant Australia, where, it is hoped, they cannot further corrupt the British Aerial Corps with their dangerous notions of liberty for dragons. Temeraire and Laurence carry with them three dragon eggs intended to help establish a covert in the colony and destined to be handed over to such second-rate, undesirable officers as have been willing to accept so remote an assignment—including one former acquaintance, Captain Rankin, whose cruelty once cost a dragon its life.

Nor is this the greatest difficulty that confronts the exiled dragon and rider: Instead of leaving behind all the political entanglements and corruptions of the war, Laurence and Temeraire have instead sailed into a hornet’s nest of fresh complications. For the colony at New South Wales has been thrown into turmoil after the overthrow of the military governor, one William Bligh—better known as Captain Bligh, late of HMS Bounty. Bligh wastes no time in attempting to enlist Temeraire and Laurence to restore him to office, while the upstart masters of the colony are equally determined that the new arrivals should not upset a balance of power precariously tipped in their favor.

Eager to escape this political quagmire, Laurence and Temeraire take on a mission to find a way through the forbidding Blue Mountains and into the interior of Australia. But when one of the dragon eggs is stolen from Temeraire, the surveying expedition becomes a desperate race to recover it in time—a race that leads to a shocking discovery and a dangerous new obstacle in the global war between Britain and Napoleon.

Previously Reviewed: “His Majesty’s Dragon” and “Throne of Jade” and “Black Powder War” and “Empire of Ivory” and “Victory of Eagles”

Review: Per the usual, I got back around to this series when my audiobook hold list at the library ran into a snag and I had a long wait for my next book to come in. Cue me returning to either this series or the Amelia Peabody series, to long-running series with excellent audiobook narrators. The “Temeraire” series is a bit harder to return to than the Amelia Peabody series, however, as there is a larger cast of characters (most side characters, but still a lot) and the books are more firmly connected to one another as an ongoing story. Still, never say I’m put off by a little thing like needing to take a bit to orient oneself at the beginning of a book. It’s a skill that any solid fantasy reader will develop, I think.

Convicted of treason, Temeraire and Laurence have been banished to Australia, a land that is barely understood, other than the small colonized areas that have been created as a holding pen for miscreants. Temeraire and Laurence, however, hold a unique position. Not only were their actions considered heroic by many of their friends and allies, but there is no effective way of “imprisoning” a powerful dragon like Temeraire. In reality, all that holds either of them is Laurence’s strong sense of patriotism and duty. Desperate to keep themselves out of any other political skirmishes, they embark on a dangerous mission into the interior of the continent. Only to find themselves caught up in a situation much larger than the one from which they had fled.

One of my favorite things about this series is how we travel the world alongside Temeraire and Laurence and get to witness first hand the way that dragons existing in this world has influenced known locations and historic events. Obviously, the Napoleonic wars is the big one. But we’ve also seen the effect of dragons on the slave trade and the difference in colonialism in that location when we travelled to Africa. As well, the threat that some Western cultures see in China with their very different (more advanced) way of interacting with and utilizing their dragons. Here, obviously, we go to Australia. Like Africa, this is a very wild, unknown location, so as the reader is discovering the wonders and threats of the country, so, too, are Temeraire and Laurence.

Most of what I liked about this book came down to this exploration of Australia. Novik had some very original ideas of how to work in the Aborigines, as well as a host of new flora and fauna. There were unexpected threats around every corner, and she did an excellent job painting a picture of this remote, completely foreign landscape. I almost wish the story had stuck strictly to this aspect of the plot. For some, it may read as the slower parts, but I enjoyed it for what it offered.

The political clashes were a bit on the predictable side. We know what side of things Temeraire and Laurence will usually come down on, so their moral struggles carry less weight as the series progresses. There were a few instances here, however, where we saw them at odds in unexpected ways, and I enjoyed that. The book also set up some larger conflicts between the various nations, to some extent, all struggling with how to manage Napoleon, even in his seeming current defeat.

The dragons, like always, stood out a bit more than their human counterparts. Laurence is, of course, excellent, but I’d struggle to actually name many of the other human characters. I know their roles, of course, but there’s not a whole lot more to them than these various stations. The dragons, on the other hand, all have distinct, colorful personalities and we had a few new ones added to the group this go around. More and more, we seem to be seeing how unique Temeraire is even within other dragonkind. Yes, their treatment by the British and other European countries, has been fairly poor. But we also see how it has taken this long for it to be challenged. Many of the dragons we have met so far, while strong in many ways, do fall prey to easily manipulated temptations. Their seemingly innate desire for riches and glory can be easily exploited by a crafty captain.

The conflict at the end of the book did seem to come a bit out of nowhere. And then was followed by a second, oddly tacked-on-feeling conflict. However, there were some newly introduces war tactics that were so interesting in the way they shifted the power of certain groups that I found it to be fine in the end. I’m definitely curious to see where Laurence and Temeraire will go from here. Fans of the series should definitely check this one out, though I admit that it’s probably one of the slower entries in the series so far.

Rating 8: Another solid entry, if it does feel a bit like a placeholder at times.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tongues of Serpents” is on these Goodreads lists: Napoleonic Novels and Best Books Set in Australia.

Find “Tongues of Serpents” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition”

Book: “Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition” by Josh Hicks

Publishing Info: Graphic Universe (Tm), October 2021

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

Book Description: Step into the ring at Glorious Wrestling Alliance, the universe’s least-professional wrestling company. The Great Carp, an amphibious wonder, is feeling the weight of his championship. Miranda Fury has donned a mask to smash wrestling’s glass ceiling. And Gravy Train is desperate for a new gimmick, but it’s hard when you’re shaped like a giant gravy boat.

Collected in colossal full color for the first time, Josh Hicks’s cult-hit comic covers identity, anxiety, and leg drops. In this hilarious love letter to the surreal theater of pro wrestling, the insecure grapplers of GWA lock up, throw things, throw each other, and occasionally curl up into little balls.

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

I’ve been with my husband since we were in high school, and I distinctly remember his bedroom being adorned with pro-wrestling posters. Just recently his mother cleaned some of his stuff out of storage at her house, and one of the items was a framed poster of The Rock that is now sitting in our mudroom, waiting to be placed somewhere in our home. I didn’t get into pro wrestling until recently, when a now closed (DAMN YOU COVID) bar in Minneapolis had a Mexican food and pro-wrestling theme. We would go there for drinks, and watch old school matches, and now I appreciate it for the entertainment that it is. So when author Josh Hicks reached out asking if I would be interested in reading his graphic novel “Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition”, I absolutely jumped at the chance!

“Glorious Wrestling Alliance” follows the wrestlers of the Glorious Wrestling Alliance, a quirky and a little bit of a hot mess in some ways wrestling organization. They are popular and well loved, but their CEO, Ricky Lovett Junior, has the company teetering. On top of that their reigning champion, Great Carp (a being with a fish head for a head and a human body), is suffering from anxiety, one of their bigger heels Death Machine is more interested in poetry than wrestling as of late, a frontman named Gravy Train wants to switch up his character in spite of the fact he is literally shaped like a gravy boat, and Miranda Fury wants to be taken seriously, when the women’s division is sidelined. We have our various moments of focus on each of these characters, and their storylines range from the funny, to the poignant, to the inspirational. You can’t help but root for all of them in their personal missions and goals, and seeing some rise while others start a free fall feels both VERY wrestling, but also very typical of stories about fame. There are definitely absurdist elements to this story (see above: a fish head guy and a man shaped like a gravy boat), but there are also relatable and familiar themes that shine through the absurd. My favorite was definitely Miranda’s arc, as she dons a mask and an androgynous look so that she can wrestle with the guys and be taken seriously. I felt that Hicks captured the frustration of being a woman in an industry that still has a lot of misogyny intertwined with it, and I liked seeing her persevere and kick butt, a lot of the time with humorous results.

Along with this, as a novice pro-wrestling fan who doesn’t see much of it outside of the annual Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, and the occasional Smackdown here and there, there were a number of cute Easter eggs that I spotted here and there on the pages. From similarities to trajectories that some wrestlers took post-wrestling (a budding writing career? That feels like Mick Foley to me!) to a one off character who is saying Ric Flair’s trademark ‘woo!’, I liked seeing the little references here and there to broader wrestling lore. And I have to imagine that there was a LOT there that a more knowledgable fan would be able to pick up on with ease. Maybe I should make my husband read this, I’m sure he’d spot a lot.

And finally, the artwork feels a lot like quirky cartoons a la “Steven Universe” or something that you may see from Noelle Stephenson, and it worked well for the tone and tongue in cheek attitude that this story has. And the character designs for some of the wrestlers and their mental states are really, really cute. I especially liked the moments where you would see an HP bar for the character depending on what was happening to them in the moment.

The guffaw I let out at this entire panel…. (Source: Graphic Universe)

I thought that “Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Edition” was a hoot!! It makes me want to dig up some old hilarious wrestling clips and watch to my heart’s content. There is so much love for the art form on these pages, it’s delightful.

Rating 8: A fun, funny, and sometimes poignant story about pro wrestling and some quirky people who have devoted their lives to it, for better or worse.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition” isn’t on any Goodreads lists at the moment, but I think that it would fit in on “Wrasslin'”.

Find “Ultimate Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “The Bronzed Beasts”

Book: “The Bronzed Beasts” by Roshani Chokshi

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, September 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: After Séverin’s seeming betrayal, the crew is fractured. Armed with only a handful of hints, Enrique, Laila, Hypnos and Zofia must find their way through the snarled, haunted waterways of Venice, Italy to locate Séverin.

Meanwhile, Séverin must balance the deranged whims of the Patriarch of the Fallen House and discover the location of a temple beneath a plague island where the Divine Lyre can be played and all that he desires will come to pass.

With only ten days until Laila expires, the crew will face plague pits and deadly masquerades, unearthly songs and the shining steps of a temple whose powers might offer divinity itself…but at a price they may not be willing to pay.

Previously Reviewed: “The Gilded Wolves” and “The Silvered Serpents”

Review: So far, my enjoyment of this series has been very on again, off again. My general likes and dislikes have remained consistent throughout the first two books. But as one of the “likes” is the characterization of the, arguably, two main characters, I’ve stuck around. I’m very much a character-driven reader, so if you’ve tackled that portion well, there’s a good chance you’ll hook me. That said, this author’s style of writing has never been my favorite. But I made it through the first two, so I was excited enough to see how it would all wrap up!

The race is on, with the Divine Lyre, a seemingly all-powerful magical device, within sight at last. But the group of friends is broken and distrusting. To many, Severin seems to have revealed himself as a betrayer and cold-hearted being to his core. But as they follow a few scattered clues, the group begins to wonder if all is not as it seems there. For her part, Laila can’t reconcile a Severin who would abandon his friends (and her) so easily with the man she’s grown to love. But her time, too, is limited as the clock that rules her life ticks down. For them all, the end is coming. What will it bring?

This was a pleasant surprise. The first book had been enjoyable enough, but I really struggled with the second one. So there were really only two options here. But luckily, it went the good route and ended on a strong note. Strong enough, even, for me to feel pretty good about reading the entire series, even with its low points.

Much of my enjoyment, again, came down to the character arcs. The middle book had felt like a lot of treading water and forced angst for our group, with emotional conflicts coming left and right that felt neither earned or natural. But here, with the end in sight, it was clear the author felt more comfortable again with these characters and their paths, while not devoid of twists and turns, felt stable and satisfying across the board.

Obviously, I’m mostly here for Severin and Laila, and I really, really loved what we got from them. It was incredibly cathartic to read some of the later scenes between them after the roller coaster ride that had been the first two books. That said, I was incredibly pleased to see their story take a few turns that took me completely by surprise. The ending, in particular, was very unexpected, full of bittersweet but cathartic notes.

I still struggled with some of the writing, with certain scenes and descriptions not painting a clear, crisp image. Chokshi’s style is now well-established, so I wasn’t surprised to see this. But it is probably the biggest reason why her books will likely never be huge hits for me. Too much emphasis is put on pretty sounding turns of phrase even if the words themselves fail to convey much of anything, sometimes even making things murkier and more difficult to follow.

Fans of this series will likely be completely satisfied with this book. Chokshi delivers on everything that she’s set up for the first two books. There is action aplenty and enough twists and turns to keep readers on the edge of their seats. The romance finally pays off in a big way, as well. I was pleased to end on this high note.

Rating 8: A definite improvement on the second book, including a strong, surprising ending for our beloved characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bronzed Beasts” is on these Goodreads lists: Series Ending in 2021 and 2020 YA/MG Books With POC Leads.

Find “The Bronzed Beats” at the library using WorldCat!

Joint Review: “Certain Dark Things”

Book: “Certain Dark Things” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, September 2021

Where Did We Get This Book: Received an eARC from NetGalley;

Book Description: From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a pulse-pounding neo-noir that reimagines vampire lore.

Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized.

Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.

Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?

Kate’s Thoughts

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

As someone who loves, but is VERY picky about, vampire mythology, I was very interested in seeing what Silvia Moreno-Garcia would do with a vampire story. She has consistently impressed me within multiple genres, and I figured that even if I didn’t care for her take on vampirism, I would at least find something to enjoy about “Certain Dark Things”. But good news! I not only liked the story as a whole, I also really liked her take on vampirism!

I greatly enjoyed our vampire protagonist Atl, a Tlāhuihpochtl vampire whose ancestors trace back to the Aztecs, and whose family is in a vampire gang war with the Necros, Central European transplant vampires who have been infesting Mexico for awhile. As Atl flees into Mexico City (where vampires are not allowed), she meets Domingo, a young man who is a bit aimless… until he meets Atl. Moreno-Garcia does a great job of bringing these two together and bringing in various vampire mythologies of vampires and servants to make their relationship both easy to like, but also a little hard to swallow. Which is almost certainly intentional, and completely appropriate in a vampire romance if we are being quite honest. I liked Domingo fine for his can do attitude, but it was Atl, with her hard exterior and suppressed pain for her lost family (and in turn violent motivations) that really sucked me in. I also LOVED how Moreno-Garcia brought colonialism into a vampire story, as the Tlāhuihpochtl are the now waning vampires that were in Mexico initially, and have been clashing with the Central European Necros, who came into Mexico and started throwing their weight around. Boy do I love social commentary in my horror, and this is how you execute it properly. And to make things even better, there is an entire encyclopedia of vampire factions within this universe at the end of the book!

It is, Deacon. It really is. (source)

“Certain Dark Things” was very fun vampire fiction! Silvia Moreno-Garcia continues her streak of genre jumping.

Serena’s Thoughts

I, too, really liked this book! I’m continuously impressed by how effortlessly (seemingly) Moreno-Garcia jumps from genre to genre, and this book is yet another example of it. Though, to be fair, this is a re-release of this book. Back when it was originally published, many publishers were cautious that “Twilight” had ruined vampire books for a good long time. But slowly and surely, this book gained a sort of cult following, strong enough to, years later, revive the book entirely (though I’m sure Moreno-Garcia’s spate of very successful recent releases has also played a part). Reading the book now, it’s hard to imagine how any publisher could ever equate this to “Twilight.”

Like Kate mentioned, in some ways, yes, this is a vampire romance. But when the romance in question is so highly questionable, with moving dynamics dependence and power inequalities, there’s no way it can be compared to the saccharine mess that was Edward and Bella. Atl and Domingo are each such incredibly complex characters, and their respective backgrounds are so rich (her recent loss of her powerful, native family to a encroaching gang of foreign vampires, and his perilous life on the streets as a trash collector). All of this plays into the slowly-built friendship and romance they develop.

It’s also incredibly dark and bloody. People die. Like, a lot of people. There are the nameless victims that one expects to find in true vampire stories, but there is also a larger cast of POV characters, each with their own compelling arcs, and their endings are also not guaranteed. I really enjoyed the action sequences and horror aspects of this story. It was just tense enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, but also too much for my non-horror-reading self.

This was another win by this author. At this point, she’s pretty much on my auto-read radar and nearing my auto-buy cateogry!

Kate’s Rating 8: A fresh take on vampire mythology with Mexican folklore as a guide, “Certain Dark Things” is a fun dark fantasy thrill ride!

Serena’s Rating 8: An excellent entry into vampire lore bringing with it an entire host of different vampires with the added bonus of the Mexican setting and history.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Certain Dark Things” is included on the Goodreads lists “Aztec, Maya, & Inca – Fiction”, and “Horror To Look Forward To 2021”.

Find “Certain Dark Things” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!