Kate’s Review: “When the Reckoning Comes”

Book: “When the Reckoning Comes” by LaTanya McQueen

Publishing Info: Harper Perennial, August 2021

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

Book Description: A haunting novel about a black woman who returns to her hometown for a plantation wedding and the horror that ensues as she reconnects with the blood-soaked history of the land and the best friends she left behind.

More than a decade ago, Mira fled her small, segregated hometown in the south to forget. With every mile she traveled, she distanced herself from her past: from her best friend Celine, mocked by their town as the only white girl with black friends; from her old neighborhood; from the eerie Woodsman plantation rumored to be haunted by the spirits of slaves; from the terrifying memory of a ghost she saw that terrible day when a dare-gone-wrong almost got Jesse—the boy she secretly loved—arrested for murder.

But now Mira is back in Kipsen to attend Celine’s wedding at the plantation, which has been transformed into a lush vacation resort. Mira hopes to reconnect with her friends, and especially, Jesse, to finally tell him the truth about her feelings and the events of that devastating long-ago day.

But for all its fancy renovations, the Woodsman remains a monument to its oppressive racist history. The bar serves antebellum drinks, entertainments include horrifying reenactments, and the service staff is nearly all black. Yet the darkest elements of the plantation’s past have been carefully erased—rumors that slaves were tortured mercilessly and that ghosts roam the lands, seeking vengeance on the descendants of those who tormented them, which includes most of the wedding guests. As the weekend unfolds, Mira, Jesse, and Celine are forced to acknowledge their history together, and to save themselves from what is to come.

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

One of my favorite places to visit on a semi-regular basis (at least in the beforetimes) is Savannah, Georgia. It’s such a funky historic town, and I really enjoy staying in the historic area, walking around the squares, and doing haunted pub crawls and ghost tours. I also try to go on historic house tours, as there is a lot of interesting history there, but I almost always found it hard to really enjoy because so many of the tours would completely white wash the slavery aspect of said history. That isn’t to say that doesn’t happen in Northern historical institutions: as someone who has worked at historic sites before, one of which had a significant tie to Dred Scott, it happens up North too (admittedly, the sites I worked at did try to start the conversations, they just also didn’t give us tools to handle the visitors who would meet those conversations with either derision or flat out hostility. THE STORIES I HAVE.). Horrors of some of our historic sites can get lost, and a lot of the time it’s because of the fact America hasn’t really faced those horrors yet. “When the Reckoning Comes” by LaTanya McQueen takes this idea, and makes it into a full blown vengeful ghost story, and boy does it work.

In terms of ghostly plots, we have a little bit of everything. Childhood friends Mira and Celine have grown apart, but Mira returns home for Celine’s wedding at a rural plantation house that may or may not be haunted. We see this story unfold in a few ways. The first is the present, as Mira attends the wedding celebrations in spite of her very understandable discomfort. But that discomfort isn’t just because of the terrible things that happened to Black people on that land (and Celine deciding to have a lavish party there in spite of that), but also because of another timeline we see: when they were kids, Mira and hers and Celine’s friend Jesse went onto the land when it was run down and abandoned, as the rumors of ghosts were intriguing. But what they both saw and experienced on that visit changed their lives. For Mira, she saw things that she couldn’t explain, but for Jesse, the mysterious death of a white local on the property led to him being suspected of murder due to his proximity, but mostly his race. All of these things come to a head during Celine’s wedding celebrations, but there is also the aspect of the vengeful ghosts that want to take out any descendants of those who brutalized them in life… who happen to be a lot of the wedding guests and wedding party members. The ghost aspects of this book hit all the marks I wanted them to hit: they have VERY legitimate reasons for being angry, there are a lot of creepy moments with imagery and pacing, and we have Mira who just can’t quite believe that she is seeing something supernatural, even as it becomes more and more clear that something strange is happening. McQueen knows the beats to hit for an effective ghost story, and she hits them pretty well.

But this ghost story, while absolutely having creepy ghost moments, is also about the way that history and trauma can haunt for generations. The metaphors are rich in this book, the ghosts of America’s sins being a huge theme, and characters like Mira and Jesse who have to reckon with them, while characters like Celine don’t feel like they have to. Mira and Jesse bear the brunt of American racism in different ways, be it Jesse being accused of a crime he didn’t commit because of his race, or Mira internalizing that racism and trying to be an ‘ideal’ Black woman in a society that is fueled by white ideals and supremacy. For them to be invited by white childhood friend Celine to her LITERAL plantation wedding, and for her to not see what the problem is with it and to dismiss how fucked up it is, is truly a perfect set up for this kind of story. Celine is a bit more than the caricature that she could have been, in that you do see her complex friendship with Mira for both the bad and the good. You do see how she, too, had a hard time growing up in their community as someone who was poor. But you also see that she always, ALWAYS, falls on the side of her whiteness, even when it is on the side of those who mistreated her for other things, and how insidious whiteness can be because of that. It’s heavy stuff, and McQueen lays it all out expertly. And really, the true horror story moments are moments of interlude that are from the generalized POV of the ghosts of the slaves, who tell their experiences in all of their devastating truths. It is so hard to read, but it is very important to do so. We have so much reckoning to do still.

“When the Reckoning Comes” is certainly a horror story, but it’s the horror story of the disgusting legacy of chattel slavery in America. And it’s long past time we face that horror head on.

Rating 9: Lots of suspense and scares, as well as on point commentary, “When the Reckoning Comes” is a seething and scary horror story!

Reader’s Advisory:

“When the Reckoning Comes” is new and not on many Goodreads lists, but I think it would fit in on “Diverse Horror”.

Find “When the Reckoning Comes” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Forestborn”

Book: “Forestborn” by Elayne Audrey Becker

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, August 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Rora is a shifter, as magical as all those born in the wilderness–and as feared. She uses her abilities to spy for the king, traveling under different guises and listening for signs of trouble.

When a magical illness surfaces across the kingdom, Rora uncovers a devastating truth: Finley, the young prince and her best friend, has caught it, too. His only hope is stardust, the rarest of magical elements, found deep in the wilderness where Rora grew up–and to which she swore never to return.

But for her only friend, Rora will face her past and brave the dark, magical wood, journeying with her brother and the obstinate, older prince who insists on coming. Together, they must survive sentient forests and creatures unknown, battling an ever-changing landscape while escaping human pursuers who want them dead. With illness gripping the kingdom and war on the horizon, Finley’s is not the only life that hangs in the balance.

Review: Everything about this book promo worked to lure me in. The cover is gorgeous and speaks to the fairytale-like fantasy novels that I’m always on the search for. And the book description just cemented it for me. A young woman with magical abilities setting off on a dangerous quest? Yep! Siblings relationships? Yep! Friendship and potential romance? Yep! But even with all of these high expectations, I wasn’t prepared for just how much I was going to enjoy this book.

Though the last several years have seen Rora and her brother taken under the wing of the royal family, there life before this was very different. As shifters, they have been hated and feared almost their entire life and grew up struggling to remain alive in a land riddled with dangerous magic. Nothing could compel Rora to return to that frightful land. Or so she thinks. When her best friend, the young prince Finley comes down with a deadly illness that is sweeping the country, Rora knows there is only one hope of saving him. Now, she, her brother, and Finley’s older, serious brother must set out on a quest to retrieve the cure. But along the way, they discover that more is going wrong in the land than just this illness. And soon, the choices before them will become more and more impossible as they fight for all they love.

I really, really enjoyed this book. From the very beginning, I could tell the writing style was exactly of the sort that I prefer: descriptive, lyrical, and confident in its readers to pick up on small lines here and there to build a picture of the world around them. It’s always so nice when authors trust their readers. It allows the story to play out slowly and in a more natural way, with reveals about past events perhaps being referenced early but not made clear until a more organic moment later in the book. It’s quite a ways into the book before we fully understand Rora’s past and how (and why) it affects her views of herself in the present. But not only do we piece together these past revelations, but there are number of twists and turns within the story as well. I could predict one or two, but there were a number that were genuinely surprising, especially how they interwove with each other and our characters.

I also really enjoyed the fantasy and magical elements of the story. While we’ve all read “humans are afraid of those with magic and thus persecution” stories, this one played this out in a rather unique way. The magic itself was also appropriately wild and dangerous. While there are wonderous aspects of it, it’s also seen to be dark and terrifying. Like the tag line on the cover, magic is neither good or bad, but instead is a force of nature unto itself. Even those with magical abilities, like Rora and her brother, both fear and respect the forces of magic around them. There were some magical encounters that were truly creepy, and the fantasy creatures were also very unique and interesting.

Overall, the story was darker than I had expected going in. There is violence, death, and loss. Especially towards the end of the book, things became much more grim than I was expecting. But all of this darkness is nicely woven into Rora’s personal arch of self-acceptance and her struggles with abandonment, loyalty, and trust. She was an excellent character all around, and I really enjoyed her narration of the story. Not only does she go through a lot of self-reflection, but we see her readjust her opinions of those few individuals who have gotten close to her through her life. She learns that not everyone is who she believed them to be, for better and for worse. This translates best into her relationship with her brother, one that goes through the natural ups and downs of two siblings transitioning from the simply relationship they had as children to the more complicated one they share as adults. But we also see these themes play out in the lovely slow-burn romance.

There were a lot of big events towards the end of this story. Much of what feels like the main arch is somewhat resolved halfway through, and then we see the story shift into an entire new gear. I don’t see a sequel currently planned on Goodreads, but I think it must be a duology given the end of this book. It’s not a straight-up cliffhanger, but there is definitely a strong set-up for a continuing story. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for sure. And in the meantime, I strongly recommend this book for fantasy fans of all sorts!

Rating 9: So, so good! Strong, confident writing mixed with excellent characters and dark fantasy elements result in a near-perfect debut book!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Forestborn” is a new title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on 2021 Debut MG/YA Novels.

Find “Forestborn” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Just One Look”

Book: “Just One Look” by Lindsay Cameron

Publishing Info: Ballantine Books, July 2021

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

Book Description: Eyes aren’t the windows to the soul. Emails are.

Cassie Woodson is adrift. After suffering an epic tumble down the corporate ladder, Cassie finds the only way she can pay her bills is to take a thankless temp job reviewing correspondence for a large-scale fraud suit. The daily drudgery amplifies all that her life is lacking–love, friends, stability–and leaves her with too much time on her hands, which she spends fixating on the mistakes that brought her to this point. While sorting through a relentless deluge of emails, something catches her eye: the tender (and totally private) exchanges between a partner at the firm, Forest Watts, and his enchanting wife, Annabelle. Cassie knows she shouldn’t read them. But it’s just one look. And once that door opens, she finds she can’t look away.

Every day, twenty floors below Forest’s corner office, Cassie dissects their emails from her dingy workstation. A few clicks of her mouse and she can see every adoring word they write to each other. By peeking into their apparently perfect life, Cassie finds renewed purpose and happiness, reveling in their penchant for vintage wines, morning juice presses, and lavish dinner parties thrown in their stately Westchester home. There are no secrets from her. Or so she thinks.

Her admiration quickly escalates into all-out mimicry, because she wants this life more than anything. Maybe if she plays make-believe long enough, it will become real for her. But when Cassie orchestrates a “chance” meeting with Forest in the real world and sees something that throws the state of his marriage into question, the fantasy she’s been carefully cultivating shatters. Suddenly, she doesn’t simply admire Annabelle–she wants to take her place. And she’s armed with the tools to make that happen.

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

Given that Caroline Kepnes is one of my favorite authors, anything that she recommends I am going to jump all over. So when I saw that she had put a blurb on a book called “Just One Look” by Lindsay Cameron, I was definitely interested to see what it was about. If the blurb piqued my interest, the description totally reeled me in: a woman who is overseeing emails for a large fraud issue stumbles upon personal emails between a married couple, and starts to obsess about them and covet their life. Oh hell yeah, that sounds right up my alley! I figured I knew what I was in for. But boy, I was wrong. And in this instance that was a good thing.

“Just One Look” is a slow burn of a creepy tale of obsessive love and wanting, as a woman who has lost everything starts to covet a life that is laid out in front of her in emails. Cassie lost a very prestigious position at her previous firm, and her downfall was viral and well known enough that she has been reduced to humiliating drudgery. We slowly get to see just what Cassie did, and we do this as we watch her start to obsess over Forest and Annabelle Watts thanks to private emails between them that have been caught in this email review. As Cassie obsesses more and more and starts building up a narrative of their lives in her head, she starts to see herself there as well, and creeps ever closer to Forest as she pieces his life together. But I can tell you that this plot isn’t what you think it is. Cameron does a really good job of building up a lot of tension along with a very unreliable protagonist, so anything she says could be completely false, even if she doesn’t know it. I thought that this story was going to be one thing, but it took many different directions that I didn’t expect, and I really, really enjoyed being surprised at a new moment or reveal. It’s so unsettling watching Cassie seep more and more into Forest and Annabelle’s life, and Cameron yanks it so taut that it could easily snap. Especially when she pulls the rug out from under you.

But what I liked the most about this book was our protagonist, Cassie. I went into the book with some preconceived notions about how it was going to go, and just what kind of person Cassie was going to be. I mean, in my defense, since Kepnes was used as a blurb on the cover, I figured ‘okay, so it’s gonna be like ‘You’ but with a woman creepazoid’. And hey, I was here for that, don’t get me wrong! But Cameron has other tricks up her sleeves, and Cassie is a very interesting protagonist with a lot of layers. Some of those layers are incredibly sympathetic, and others are very, very disturbing. In some ways, there are definitely similarities to Joe Goldberg, but Cassie has more of a broken feeling to her, and in some ways that makes her all the creepier. But along with that, Cameron affords her some interesting exploration that female characters don’t often get. While it’s true that the things that Cassie does in this book are super, super unethical and also absolutely stalker behavior, it was kind of nice to see the background as to why she is this way, without excusing any of her behavior or making it okay. Cameron walks that fine line between romanticizing a dangerous obsessive, and making her a cartoonish caricature.

I really enjoyed “Just One Look”. It got under my skin, and surprised me in a lot of ways. Don’t sleep on this one, thriller fans! And be careful about what you put in emails that others can potentially see..

Rating 9: A slow burn of a suspense thriller with a creepy protagonist and some really well done twists!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Just One Look” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery and Thriller 2021”, and would fit in on “Thrillers ft. Stalkers or Obsessive Love”.

Find “Just One Look” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Falling”

Book: “Falling” by T.J. Newman

Publishing Info: Avid Readers Press/Simon & Schuster, July 2021

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

Book Description: You just boarded a flight to New York. There are one hundred and forty-three other passengers onboard.

What you don’t know is that thirty minutes before the flight your pilot’s family was kidnapped. For his family to live, everyone on your plane must die. The only way the family will survive is if the pilot follows his orders and crashes the plane.

Enjoy the flight.

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

So it’s not a sub-genre of action movies that I find myself watching too much, but I do enjoy a good ‘a plane is in peril’ kind of movie. My favorite is 100% “Con Air”, though I recently experienced “Air Force One” for the first time and thought it was a hoot. Understandably these kinds of films aren’t really a thing anymore, but they can be a lot of fun, if a little mindless. I kept thinking about this genre when I picked up “Falling” by T.J. Newman, and figured that I would pick at it over a couple days and then go rent “Con Air” or something. Well, the Soupy Brain was back, because I read the entirety of “Falling” in one night, staying up way too late to do so.

Me as I read this around 11pm, caring not for the fact I had to wake up to care for a toddler the next morning. (source

“Falling” is a highly addictive thriller that sucked me in from the get go. Bill is a pilot who has picked up a shift, much to his wife Carrie’s chagrin, as he had plans with her, their son Scott, and their baby Elise. But almost the moment Bill leaves, Carrie finds herself and her children held hostage, and Bill is soon relayed a message by their kidnapper: crash the plane, or his family dies. From there, we jump from perspective to perspective as Bill has to try and figure out if he can have his cake and eat it too, while contending with the fact that there is another terrorist on board who is perhaps keeping tabs to make sure he doesn’t do anything. We have settings for Bill, for Carrie as she is interacting with her kidnapper, as well as flight attendant Jo, and various people on the ground who get leaks of information and try to track down the culprit. In a lot of ways it feels like “Speed” in the air, and frankly, the works for me on basically every level. “Falling” keeps the pace and tension going and rarely lets up, as every breakthrough of good news can potentially lead to a new problem, and every reveal can have something lurking that you don’t see coming. As mentioned above, I kept reading far later than I should have until I had finished. It’s entertaining as hell.

Character wise, it was a little bit of a mixed bag. By far my favorite people to follow were those of the flight attendants, led by the fearless Jo, as they try to figure out how to keep the passengers safe when things start to take turns. What I loved most about Jo is that she and Bill have a very close relationship, but Newman never falls back on hackneyed ‘there could have been something there’ nonsense which would motivate her to trust him so much. Bonus, she had great interactions with her coworker Big Daddy, another no nonsense flight attendant who was always good for a laugh. I also liked seeing Carrie interact with her kidnapper, and seeing her slowly pull out not only information from him, but how she also connects with him and builds a bond that could keep her and her children more likely out of harms way. I love seeing compassion used as a weapon, for lack of a better term, as sometimes it isn’t valued as much. Oddly enough, the least interesting character was Bill himself, as the main action and how it’s affecting him in the moment is really the only thing we learn about him. He’s a good man in an impossible situation, which was a bit bland, but ultimately, that’s really what you get in stories like this (hello, Nic Cage in “Con Air” and Keanu Reeves in “Speed”!).

But what I found to be one of the most compelling aspects of this novel (and a bit of a relief as well) is the character of Sam, who has taken Carrie, Scott, and Elise hostage and is making Bill make the choice between his family and his passengers/crew. I’ve been talking about airplane action movies a bit, and for the most part the bad guys are terrorists, criminals, psychopaths, and a lot of the time they are very two dimensional and chew the scenery until there is little left. That can be fun, but it can also be very problematic, and in the aftermath of September 11th terrorists taking over planes has become more of a touchy subject. In “Falling”, Newman manages to walk a very fine tightrope with Sam (mild spoilers here, in regards to a bit of his motivation, just so you know!). Sam is definitely doing something very bad, in which innocent people are going to die. But Newman slowly shows us Sam’s background through flashbacks, and his own words. I was super worried that he was going to be a Middle Eastern terrorist, but instead he is Kurdish, and through horrific trauma and loss he has lost himself in the desperation of both wanting revenge, but also to just be seen when he feels like the atrocities that his people are constantly falling victim to are not only preventable, but due to American jingoism as well as American indifference. Does it always land? No. Are there still some sticky elements that we’re treading into by making him a terrorist? Sure. But I thought that he was supremely compelling, and he was the character that I felt for the most.

“Falling” is a REALLY fun thriller, and if you haven’t picked it up yet this summer, do so! If you have some pool or beach time ahead of you, this will be a GREAT read to complement it! Though proceed with caution is air travel goes along with that…

Rating 9: SUPREMELY addictive and suspenseful, “Falling” feels like an airplane disaster movie of the 20th century, but with more rumination on how devastation can lead to violence.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Falling” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery and Thriller 2021”.

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

Kate’s Review: “That Weekend”

Book: “That Weekend” by Kara Thomas

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, June 2021

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

Book Description: Three best friends, a lake house, a secret trip – what could go wrong?

It was supposed to be the perfect prom weekend getaway. But it’s clear something terrible happened when Claire wakes up alone and bloodied on a hiking trail with no memory of the past forty-eight hours. Three went up the mountain, but only one came back. Now everyone wants answers – most of all, Claire. She remembers Friday night, but after that… nothing. And now Kat and Jesse – her best friends – are missing.

That weekend changes everything. What happened on the mountain? And where are Kat and Jesse? Claire knows the answers are buried somewhere in her memory, but as she’s learning, everyone has secrets – even her best friends. And she’s pretty sure she’s not going to like what she remembers.

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

Kara Thomas is one of those authors who has never disappointed me. I have genuinely enjoyed and been surprised by all of her books, and she has easily been one of the authors whose works I am guaranteed to read as soon as I possibly can. I admit that the pessimist in me tends to worry whenever I pick up a book by one of these ‘can do no wrong’ authors, as I am always wondering ‘is this the book that is going to disappoint me?’ Thus far, with her newest novel “That Weekend”, Thomas has never done so. Hell, when I was reading this book and I was enjoying it and trying to figure out what was going on, I had an epiphany moment in the tub (when I wasn’t even reading the book) in which I thought that no, THIS was going to be the big reveal that was going to change everything. I wasn’t even mad about it, as it was, to my mind, a great reveal and surely that was what was going to happen because that would be genius.

And then, like she always does, Kara Thomas went and pulled the rug out from under me and my expectations of what was to come.

SHE DID IT AGAIN! (source)

But I am so ahead of myself. “That Weekend” is a YA thriller that could have used some tried and true tropes to tell a pretty familiar story. Thomas is a talented enough writer and mystery weaver that she could have done this and still made it work and feel fresh, but no, instead she takes it to other places that make it all the more interesting and suspenseful. We mostly follow Claire, a girl who went on a camping trip with her best friends Kat and Jesse, and woke up in the wilderness with a head injury, blood on herself, and no memory of what had happened for the past twenty four hours. On top of that, Kat and Jesse are no where to be found. From the jump we are in the weeds as much as Claire is, as she is the perfect unreliable narrator in that she has memory loss AND has some issues with Kat and Jesse that she is only starting to work through (specifically, the fact that they are now a couple, and she has been in love with Jesse for years). The mystery of what happened to Claire and what happened to Kat and Jesse seems pretty straight forward at first, with familiar beats and plot points, but never fear; Thomas has much more in store. What happens next is an engaging and very addictive mystery about friendship, secrets, trauma, and the things we don’t know about the people we love most. I really liked Claire’s storyline trajectory, as she goes from victim of something, to scrutinized potential suspect, to hard boiled amateur detective, all while realistically dealing (or perhaps not dealing) with the horrifically traumatic experience she went through and continues to go through as time moves on. Her characterization felt realistic in it’s messiness, and her resentment and determination was organic and never forced. Because of this, she was easy to root for, even if she was sometimes hard to like. We do get to see into the minds of other characters a little bit, and while they are all done well too, it’s really Claire that shines as a flawed but mostly empathetic protagonist.

And as I was gushing above, the mystery is so well plotted that I was always a few steps behind. Thomas has all the clues laid out so that you can trace everything back, but she knows how to keep them close to the vest. The reveals and surprises are all pretty darn rewarding because of this, and the pacing was such that I found it very hard to put this book down. And even one kind of out there late game twist that could have been seen as overkill was done in a way that I really didn’t hate it. It didn’t necessarily ADD to anything, but it worked well enough that the late revelation wasn’t the cheap moment that it could have been. Thomas also brings up some good, damning points about true crime tourism and media, as not only are there some armchair detectives online who come off as pretty terrible, there is a VERY clear nod to that horrible trauma scavenger Nancy Grace in one of the characters whose only goal is to get ratings by turning the public against literal teenagers. It’s one of the things that the true crime community really needs to reckon with, as people like Grace (and this character) see blood in the water and exploit it for ratings, even if they make chum of innocent people in the process.

“That Weekend” continues the streak that Thomas has had from the get go. It may be my favorite of her books. Thriller fans of all ages should definitely check it out.

Rating 9: Thomas has once again written a suspenseful, engaging, and surprising YA thriller!

Reader’s Advisory:

“That Weekend” is included on the Goodreads list “2021 YA Mysteries and Thrillers”.

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

Serena’s Review: “For the Wolf”

Book: “For the Wolf” by Hannah Whitten

Publishing Info: Orbit Books, June 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.

Review: Here we are with “Red Riding Hood” themed book number two of the month! As I said before, I always get a bit nervous when there are many books coming out around the same time that explore a similar fairytale or theme. They can’t all be good. Right?? Well, second verse same as the first with this one! Except, I think I liked this book even better than “The Wolf and the Woodsman!”

For centuries it has been know: the first daughter is for the throne, the second daughter is for the wolf. It has been many decades since the last second daughter was born and sent duly to her fate in the dangerous Wilderwood. But it is Red’s fate to once again live out this piece of history. While her sister, Neve, the heir to the throne, is aghast at the future before her beloved Red, Red herself is thankful to be locked away from the people she loves, people she fears she may injure with the dark magic growing within her. But once she finally makes her way beneath the shadowy bows of the forest, she begins to learn that the tales have twisted throughout the years and not everything is as she once thought. Neve, for her part, works diligently to save her doomed sister, and between these two, long-sleeping forces will begin to awaken.

Well, that was something else! I really like how this is now the second of these books I’ve read this month and both have had very little to do with the original “Red Riding Hood” tale. Not that I have any problems with that story, but it would have been a challenge to read three re-tellings in a month. So far, I’ve actually read zero retellings! Both of these books have only resembled that story in their use of names and the infamous red coat. Instead, imagine my surprise and joy when I got a bit into this and realized that not only was I not reading a “Red Riding Hood” retelling but I was, in fact, reading a “Beauty and the Beast” adaptation? And, like the best retellings, it was also unique and fully its own.

Much of what made it similar to “Beauty and the Beast” could be found in the basic concept and in the small call-backs littered throughout the story. You have the mysterious, other-worldly love interested, locked away in a gloomy castle, forgotten (or in this case, warped) by history. There’s the unknowing heroine, thrust into this magical world with no compass to guide her, missing a beloved family member back home (this time a sister rather than a father). And then there were small details, like the use of a glass mirror to view other places and the placement of a library as central to much of the interaction between the heroine and hero. So, very much Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” hints.

But this is not a kid’s fairytale. The woods itself was a character, and a dark, unknowable one at that. The violence of the woods’ history is clear from the beginning and the painful measures that are required to contain it sap the strength from the Wolf, the guardian of this place. Red’s own connection to the woods and the Wolf is no less comfortable. While she begins to understand the toll the woods takes on the Wolf, she sees that any help she has to offer will come with a similar price.

I was also surprised to see that Neve had her own POV chapters in this book. While Red definitely has the majority, Neve has a distinct arch and story of her own. It was equally compelling, if also frustrating in that we, the reader, have more information than Neve does and can see the pitfalls before her. But, as always, I love a book that focuses on a strong sisters relationship, and I like that Neve was not a passive character here, simply accepting her sister’s loss as fact but instead working against it.

The romance was also very sweet. The book took its time to develop this relationship properly, devoting appropriate page time for each party to work through their own personal challenges. The pieces of the puzzle and mystery behind the Wolf and the Wilderwood also only come together slowly as the story plays out. Overall, this slow pacing worked well, balanced out by the high stakes tension that looms in the ever-present danger presented by the woods itself. My one mark against the book, however, is that towards the end, the story seems to come to a head but then regroups and ramps up for what feels like a second ending tacked on. Both are necessary for the story itself, but it just read a little strange, erring a bit too close to feeling resolved to let the reader really easily step back in for heightened action all of a sudden.

I really enjoyed this book. Fans of fairytale re-tellings, particularly “Beauty and the Beast,” should definitely check it out. It’s the first in (I think) a duology, so expect another book to come, but it’s not a killer cliffhanger either.

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway and win an ARC copy of “For the Wolf!”

Rating 9: Dark, twisty, and romantic. Just how I like it!

Reader’s Advisory:

“For the Wolf” is on these Goodreads lists: Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2021 and Villain/Monster Romance.

Find “For the Wolf” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Lost Village”

Book: “The Lost Village” by Camilla Sten

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, April 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The Blair Witch Project meets Midsommar in this brilliantly disturbing thriller from Camilla Sten, an electrifying new voice in suspense.

Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened. But there will be no turning back.

Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice: They are not alone. They’re looking for the truth… But what if it finds them first?

Review: Awhile back I was perusing the titles on NetGalley, and I kept stumbling upon a book called “The Lost Village” by Camilla Sten. Every time I would see it I’d ask myself ‘why haven’t I looked into that?’, but then I’d look again and the description was the key. You have me at “Blair Witch Project”, but you lose me at “Midsommar” (sacrilege? Maybe. I just didn’t like that movie). But eventually I decided that I needed to give it a go. So I bought it, and as soon as I started it I never should have waited as long as I did.

Me contemplating the time I wasted. I dislike the movie, but love this meme! (source)

“The Lost Village” is a slow burn horror story that (absolutely) has similar elements to “The Blair Witch Project” and “Midsommar”, but stands very well on its own. The story is told through various channels. The first and most prominent follows Alice and her film crew in the modern day, as they start to explore the abandoned village of Silvertjärn. Alice’s grandmother was a resident who had left before the disappearance, and who lost her entire family. Alice is obsessed and determined to make a documentary about the town in hopes of getting answers, but there is tension in her crew due to messy histories and secrets. In this timeline strange things start happening, and the crew slowly starts finding themselves in danger. The second channel follows Elsa, Alice’s great grandmother who is seeing her town slowly become seduced by a new pastor, whose zealotry is manipulating everyone and leading them down a dangerous path. The third is through letters between Elsa’s daughters Margareta and Aina, which slowly shows Aina becoming more and more entranced with the new leader. All of these pieces come together to tell a well thought out horror story that slowly builds the dread and terror. I liked the back and forth through the narrative, as each storyline contained clues about the others, and the ultimate fate of Silvertjärn. The strongest was the modern day perspective, as not only did it have some of the scariest moments, it also had the most interesting characters. Alice is a flawed but interesting protagonist, and her interactions with her compatriots (particularly with Emmy, an ex-friend that Alice harbors some bitter resentment towards) are realistic as the situation turns from intriguing to dire. I found myself invested in them, so when the stakes are raised, the fallout has true weight. Sten makes you care about these characters, and that ultimately amps up the horror aspects.

And let’s talk about the horror aspects. Because they are spot on and very, very disturbing. The more obvious is that of the feeling that the crew is being watched in the abandoned town, and the slow build of paranoia as strange things start to happen, and one of the members of the crew starts acting strange as well. Some of the images that Sten brings forth in the narrative really messed with me in this regard, from descriptions of a corpse on a post to a shadowed silhouette staring towards Alice and her crew in the dark. The other horror, of course, is set firmly in the past storyline, as a town of generally decent people start to form a cultish devotion to a sociopathic con artist who twists religious fervor to suit his own needs. You eventually kind of see where this is all going, knowing that eventually Silvertjärn’s population just vanishes without a trace, but it still made me tense and completely horrified as people fell under his spell and terrible things came about because of it. The horrors of real life are put on perfect display here, and boy oh boy does it pack a wallop.

Fans of horror stories absolutely need to read “The Lost Village”. I cannot, CANNOT wait to see what Camilla Sten comes out with next.

Rating 9: Tense and ultimately horrifying, “The Lost Village” is sure to disturb any avid fans of horror in all the best ways.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lost Village” is included on the Goodreads lists “Haunting Reads”, and “Books Set in Sweden”.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake”

Book: “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” by Neil Gaiman, Michael Zulli (Ill.), Jon J. Muth (Ill.), & Charles Vess (Ill).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: When a Dream ends, there is only one thing left to do…

THE WAKE

In which the repercussions of the Death of Lord Morpheus are felt, and, in an epilogue, William Shakespeare learns the price of getting what you want.

This is the tenth and final volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, described by author Mikal Gilmore in his introduction as “nothing less than a popular culture masterpiece, and a work that is braver, smarter and more meaningful than just about anything “high culture” has produced during the same period.”

Review: When I’m coming to the end of a series that I’ve spent a lot of time with, I almost always feel melancholy. It’s like saying goodbye for a comfortable friend. The interesting thing about “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” is that we have already reached the crux of the ending of the story, and said goodbye to that friend. After all, at the end of “The Kindly Ones” Morpheus, aka Dream, died. For many stories, that would be the end. But Neil Gaiman knows that true closure means that there is a need for a wake. And that is what this final volume gives us: a moment of goodbye, some ruminations on the memories and the people that Dream has left behind, and the promise of moving on. It’s a volume that serves as an epilogue. And it’s beautiful.

Pretty much my entire being during this final re-read. (source)

As mentioned above, the real climax of the story was in the last volume, and now we get to see the fallout in the form of an actual wake for Dream, attended by not only his siblings, his friends, and other dieties, but also by mortals he encountered throughout the series (though they attend through their dreams, of course). I loved the quiet and gentle tone that this story took as we see those who loved Morpheus mourn and come to terms with his death, the most effective being that of Matthew, his messenger Raven, who is now lost without his master and friend. I haven’t really talked about Matthew in this re-read. He’s always around, ready to provide some insight or a sarcastic remark, but I found his journey to process Dream’s death to be the most bittersweet moment in this volume (well, it may be a tie, but more on that later). But his ambivalence ties into the other aspect of this whole plot point, and that is that, since Dream is Endless, and Endless are ideas and concepts, Dream isn’t really gone. Morpheus is. But now Daniel, Lyta’s son, has transformed into a new version of Dream, as the Endless are, well, Endless. As the other siblings say goodbye to Morpheus, they have to contend with meeting their new sibling, and Daniel!Dream (this is how I’m going to refer to him going forward) has to contend with starting over as someone new, even though he has elements of Morpheus still. It all connects back to the conversation that Morpheus and Delirium had with Destruction in “Brief Lives”, and it all ties up so wonderfully because of it. Daniel!Dream continues on, and nothing ever really ends.

There are two more stories in this volume which both serve as epilogues. The one that the book truly ends on has to do with Shakespeare, as earlier in the series we see the creative relationship and connection he has to Morpheus. But the other one, and the one that I think really works better, involves Hob, Morpheus’s immortal friend whom he meets up with at a pub ever century. Hob’s final bow is him with his current girlfriend, going to a Renaissance Festival, looking at how the life that he literally led at one time has now become re-enacted in modern times. It’s so poignant, knowing what he’s been through, what he’s seen, and seeing him meet up with Death and getting confirmation about Morpheus just feels like the right way for this series to end. I loved this story, as it has all the best things about Hob; his grumpiness, his sarcasm, and his deep love and respect for his friend.

I am so happy that we have “The Wake” to process the end of a truly magnificent series. “The Sandman” is so influential, so engaging and ambitious, and it changed comics as we know them. It doesn’t feel a need to go out in a huge and dramatic fashion, and instead opts for something more bittersweet, and it just fits perfectly. I’ll miss Morpheus. and Delirium, and Death. But luckily, I can always go back and start over again.

Rating 9: A lovely, sad, and hopeful ending to a truly remarkable and transformative series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” is included on the Goodreads lists “Graphic Novels that Rocked My World”, and “Mythic Fiction Comics”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “The Other Black Girl”

Book: “The Other Black Girl” by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Publishing Info: Atria Books, June 2021

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

Book Description: Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

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

Satire and horror go together like cheese and crackers as far as I’m concerned, and I’m always looking for some good commentary in the horror stories that I consume. When I came across “The Other Black Girl” by Zakiya Dalila Harris on my Twitter feed, I was immediately interested. Described as a mix of “Get Out” and “The Devil Wears Prada”, I went to see if I had access to a copy on NetGalley, and downloaded it post haste. I’m always one for workplace drama thrillers, but even more important it’s always great to see more diverse voices have space in genres that can feel very white a lot of the time. And if you’re going to say “Get Out” as a descriptor, well, I’m almost certainly in.

“The Other Black Girl” definitely lives up to the pop culture descriptors, though I would also throw in the horror movie “Bad Hair” as well, as “The Other Black Girl” takes on not only racism and microaggressions, but specifically Misogynoir in a work place that doesn’t think it has a racism problem, and weaponized tokenism. Our main character is Nella, an editorial assistant at the prestigious Wagner publishing house, and is the only Black woman in her department. Her job is exhausting enough on its own, and having to maneuver a work place that is filled with seemingly well intentioned white people who are constantly tossing microaggressions her way just makes it all the more isolating and tiring. Harris does a really good job of establishing the work environment and culture of Wagner, and how it bogs Nella down. Nella is a sympathetic and relatable protagonist, who is really hoping for success at Wagner, but is also insecure in her wants and needs to be accepted by a workplace that doesn’t really give her a chance. From the jump, you understand Nella, and her characterization is drawn in a way that her choices down the line make sense.

So when Hazel is hired on, Nella’s relief and excitement is palpable that she may at least have a companion in this difficult sea to navigate. Of course, nothing is ever that easy, and what seems could be a racist and sexist industry making two Black women feel like they have to be pitted against each other, is actually something far more insidious. What that is, we don’t know, but Harris is more than happy to slowly unpack and reveal darker and more far reaching dangers for Nella, all of it satirizing and critiquing white industries and how they treat their Black employees, and how these power structures can in turn make these employees feel the need to outgun each other, or conform to racist mores in order to succeed. Especially if those employees are women. And while these themes may be taken to outlandish places within this story (I’m holding this all close to the vest, though, as I think you need to go in with little idea of where Harris is going to take you), as satire is works really, really well.

And as a thriller novel, I’d even go so far as to say horror novel, “The Other Black Girl” is completely effective. I was totally sucked in right away, wondering who was trying to intimidate Nella, wondering what Hazel’s motivation was, and wondering how everything connected. Especially since early one, we see that there are other players who are a part of this story, some of whom we don’t know how they connect to Nella’s situation. I loved how Harris slowly established settings, timelines, and players, and then carefully and slowly brought them together. While sometimes the structure could be a little confusing (there were moments where we’d go into an extended flashback in the middle of an action point, which caused a little whiplash), overall I felt that all the pieces fall into place when they need to. On top of that, there is also a lot of humor in these pages, most of which comes from Nella’s close friend Malaika, who is a bit more confident and willing to give Nella some hard truths with wit and sarcasm. All of these things make this book not only a biting social commentary, but also super entertaining and a page turner until the very end.

“The Other Black Girl” is a buzz worthy and propelling horror-thriller that has a lot to say about Misogynoir and racism. If you like satire in your horror like I do, absolutely do not miss this.

Rating 9: A suspenseful an satirical horror-thriller about race, identity, and the workplace, “The Other Black Girl” has bite and hard truths, as well as some genuinely funny moments.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Other Black Girl” is included on the Goodreads lists “Well-Read Black Girl Book Suggestions”, and “Horror/Thriller Books by Black Authors”.

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

Kate’s Review: “Untamed Shore”

Book: “Untamed Shore” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Agora Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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