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Short Tuesday #31: “Glove Box” by Annie Neugebauer

This week I again happened to be looking up short fiction by Stoker nominees and found myself reading “Glove Box” by Annie Neugebauer, published in Dark City Magazine. You can read the story for free here…

I really enjoyed this short story! I don’t want to give much away, but it details a woman in a convenience store who is frightened of one of her customers, due to a string of violent events that have happened recently. The author manages to maintain a level of dread all while concealing background information from the audience until the very last moment. The story feels very grounded in the real world, without a hint of anything supernatural, but somehow you get the sense that there might be eerie forces lurking, ready to spring.

The prose is simple and fits the story well, and the MC, Rose, is very relatable; you can easily imagine yourself in her position, on high alert all while doubting her paranoia. If you want a quick, eerie story, “Glove Box” is definitely one to check out.

ARC: Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Voyager for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Escaping Exodus debuts October 15th.

The seemingly acid trip-inspired cover of Escaping Exodus does the words inside justice: this book is unabashedly weird.

Just look at this cover, omg. I want it on my wall.

Drayden chronicles a matriarchal society that has made the innards of a gargantuan, living space beast their home; when one space beast is on the way out health-wise, they literally jump ship (har har) to the next one in the herd. It’s mad, it’s trippy, it’s body horror at times, and it’s the kind of book you really need to experience for yourself.

I inch closer to the pond of cool, debris-ridden slime that rims the sphincter. It pulses, back and forth, back and forth, a putrid-looking pucker of flesh. Adalla sticks both of her hands in the hole and pulls hard, her muscles rippling and bulging. The rim tries to hold tight, even looks like it’s tugging against her, but eventually it gives, and the hole widens just enough for a person to slip through.

And is the book YA? The main characters are certainly the proper age, but I’d say not really; it doesn’t have the tone you’d expect, which I chalk up to the MCs living in such an alien society and feeling so young and brash that they’re completely unrelatable. There were times I had a really hard time buying the decisions of the MCs; for people living in a society that faces the constant threat of extinction, they have no issues throwing caution to the wind at every opportunity.

The pacing of the book was also strange, to say the least. From start to finish action is stuffed together in a kind of madcap jumble, but then threads of story seem to wither away into nothingness, never to be picked up again. I think the blurb for the book is kind of telling: one big infodump followed by the most blah of final hooks:

And of course there wouldn’t be much of a story if things didn’t go terribly, terribly wrong.

Notice how unspecific that is? There’s too much going on in this book to condense the plot into “If X character doesn’t do Y near-impossible thing, then Z terrible consequence will happen!” We’ve got a lesbian princess and subject forbidden love affair, an underclass uprising, people communicating in code by making out, sex with baby space beasts, an obtuse matriarchal and polyamorous family system with like eight moms and a couple dads per child, court intrigue, clone rights, inter-space beast communications, forgotten histories… I could continue if needed. As per usual, the social justice themes were a turn-off for me, but even that kind of got drowned out by all the crazy, constant details. And yet, for a book with so much detailed worldbuilding, I somehow found it hard to picture exactly what was going on in a lot of scenes, I think because the whole book takes an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach.

Basically, Escaping Exodus felt far too ambitious; I would have liked to see more nuance. Nevertheless, many scenes were absolutely riveting, and some bits have really stuck with me. (I read this book back in July.) It’s obvious that this author has tons of potential, so I’m definitely up for reading more of her work.

ARC: The Speed of Falling Objects by Nancy Richardson Fischer

Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Speed of Falling Objects debuted October 1st.

If there ever was a book to convince me that I don’t want to visit the Amazon rain forest, this is it. The book progresses from a page one plane crash to poison dart frogs, killer snakes, leeches, and all the creepy crawlies you could ever want. MC Danny, short for Danielle, must confront all these and more as she and her survival TV star father, along with a reality television crew and a teen heartthrob movie star, endeavor to make their way to safety.

But this book isn’t just about the perils of the Amazon. Danny’s mission is to use the time in the jungle to get closer to her dad, who, to put it bluntly, is a total dick. She hardly knows him, but has spent most of her life obsessed with his wilderness survival television show. Much of the book revolves around her hopes and expectations about her father being summarily dashed; she has to learn who her father really is and whether she can accept that reality or not. The book was a bit introspective for my taste, but that’s a personal preference thing.

The writing is strong, and Fischer holds no punches. The inclusion of the teen heartthrob character made me think at the outset that this would be a bit of a fluffier read, but it’s definitely not. People die in this book, permanently, and not just the ones you’re kind of hoping might. If you’re looking for a wilderness-themed page-turner, this is definitely a book to pick up!

Short Tuesday #29: “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong

This past weekend I happened to be looking up Stoker Award nominees and finalists for the past few years and noticed that one of the award winners for short fiction was published in Nightmare Magazine! So you know me and my love of good old NM; I plowed through Alyssa Wong’s story in no time. You can read the short story here…

Kirkus called “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” a take on a vampire story, but as I was reading I was feeling succubus vibes all the way; the MC literally sucks evil thoughts from her (usually male) victims. She normally meets her victims through Tindr, a touch that I just loved for whatever reason, maybe for the subverting of the common wisdom that it’s normally dangerous men you have to watch out for when it comes to online dating, rather than women.

Other things I enjoyed about this story included the touches of Chinese culture throughout the piece and especially the opening scene, which was just so unexpected in the best way possible. I will say, though, that this story did go a little off the rails for me in the final act. There’s a turn of events that felt a bit too much “betcha didn’t expect that” for my tastes. Nevertheless, I can see why this piece garnered attention for literary awards, and it’s definitely worth a read.

My One Year Blogiversary!

Cue the streamers and party hats and confetti, because it’s my one year blogiversary! 😀

It’s pretty funny to say that, because making a blog was a total snap decision. I knew that starting a website was theoretically a good thing to do, since I was preparing to publish a first book, but really I think the main reason was because I just had a lot to say about everything I was reading! Reading a veritable shitton will do that to a girl. So on a lazy Sunday morning I did exactly zero research before signing up for a WordPress account and voila, here we are! Little did I know that it would bloom into this beautiful new mode of self expression, where I’d be serially releasing my first book, reading a new short story every week, getting the chance to read ARCs (I still can’t get over how cool that is), and keeping logs of my writing journey.

Even so, I still have that niggling feeling that I haven’t quite arrived yet. It’s a funny thing, to be both a blogger who does reviews and an author, and I’m still trying to feel out a good balance between the two of them so as not to step on any toes. Maybe a post on that a little later, when I have my thoughts straight.

Anyway, blogging is crazy fun, and I’m so grateful for the book blogging community. People here are so friendly, supportive, and thoughtful. It’s been mega-cool to look at my stats and see that people are visiting this little corner of the blog from such faraway places as Indonesia, Kenya, and Iraq. Basically, I’m feeling all the love right now, and I’m sure I’ll be here for years to come. Love you guys, and here’s to many more. ❤

Chapter Nineteen of The Gold in the Dark and a Writing Update!

Illustration courtesy of Ally Grosvenor.

The nineteenth chapter of The Gold in the Dark is out! New chapters, complete with brilliant chapter illustrations courtesy of Ally Grosvenor, release every other Sunday at 11 AM EST! You can get started on the series with Chapter One right here or now also on Wattpad!

Not much to report for these past two weeks; I’ve been drafting, which for me is always a painful process. I won’t lie, things are slow-going at this point—I’m still working on getting into the groove of this story, establishing characters and back story. I’m by-and-large a pantser (as opposed to someone who plots out their books), which can cause the process to be slow but also allow for creative spontaneity. So hello to the insight that aliens really like hot sauce—but heaven forbid you look at my pathetic writing speed. Oh well, it’s just the way I work. :/

This may sound funny, but I’ve also spent the last few weeks paying close attention to bookstagram. There’s kind of a long-winded explanation to this… As an indie author, I do all my marketing and social media, and there’s not enough time in the day to be on all platforms, so I have to pick wisely about where I want to be posting. It might be surprising to some people, but common wisdom in the indie community is that building up your personal newsletter is key to success. The reasoning behind this is that you don’t have to rely on algorithms for your posts to reach your audience; even if you’re following someone on Facebook, for example, there’s no guarantee that you’ll see their posts. (As an aside, I don’t think that newsletters make you immune to an algorithm effectively gatekeeping you from your audience, given that it’s really easy for Gmail to drop your carefully constructed newsletter into the dumpster that is the promos tab.)

All this said, I have a strong suspicion that newsletters are not the best way to keep a YA-reading audience updated on new releases and updates, since the demographic skews younger. (And yes, I obviously understand that older people read YA too. I am one of them.) Which leads me to Instagram/bookstagram; if I had to guess, bookstagram is the current best way for YA indie authors to connect with new readers. That means that I need to be more participatory on Instagram in a way that best connects with readers… which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m going to be going for a more “bookstagram” feel on my Instagram account, so I’ve been hard at work on that. Maybe it takes some of the magic out of all those beautiful pictures to think about things through this marketing slant, but that’s where my head’s at right now.

Anyway, drop a line down below if you actually read any of the newsletters that you’re subscribed to! Do they even arrive in your main inbox or do you subscribe and then get them relegated to a spam/promo folder? I am mega-curious about this. Myself, I have been a major slacker at newsletters; I don’t think I’ve sent one out since March. Gotta be better at that.

That’s all for now, folks! Have a great rest of your weekend, and enjoy Chapter Nineteen.

Short Tuesday #28: “Wilderness” by Letitia Trent

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to take a look at “Wilderness” by Letitia Trent. You can read it for free here…

I had a lot of fun with this short story! It concerns a group of people waiting for a delayed flight in a small airport who become increasingly concerned that dire secrets are being kept from them by the airport staff. The main character is traveling alone, is feeling sick, and gives off aloof vibes, which introduces a wedge between her and the other passengers. If you’re a fan of fiction with a paranoia/mob mentality focus (The Mist comes to mind), then this is probably a good read.

One thing I thought was interesting was the author’s decision to not employ quotation marks for any of the dialogue—perhaps to keep everything happening around the MC feel a bit more distant to her? Her character is of an observer, and I think that not using quotation marks perhaps gives readers a stronger feeling of being fully in the MC’s head. It’s a writing technique I might think about using myself in the future.

I do wish there had been more of an ending to the piece; like a lot of other short stories, “Wilderness” ends abruptly, and I didn’t find the conclusion satisfying. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the author’s voice and all the character details.

ARC: Seduction on a Snowy Night by Madeline Hunter, Sabrina Jeffries, and Mary Jo Putney

Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Seduction on a Snowy Night debuted September 24th.

Well, here we are; it’s not yet October and my Christmas ARC reviews are starting to go up. And from the publisher’s side of things, I get it, I get it, but I don’t necessarily have to like it. 😛

So Seduction on a Snowy Night caught my eye because it seemed like a great way to become acquainted with some more regency romance authors; I have not read anything by these authors prior to this. The book includes a novella by each author, with each story taking place during the Christmas season.

A Christmas Abduction by Madeline Hunter

The first novella revolves around a baron making his way home on the holidays who finds himself kidnapped at gunpoint by a woman who harbors a mysterious grudge against him. She brings him to her estate, where the baron must figure out the reason he’s been kidnapped and what to do about it. Of course, the chemistry between him and his captor is fierce, grudge notwithstanding, and even once the baron is allowed a bit more freedom, he finds that he might not want to return home.

I enjoyed this story, especially the baron’s POV sections. Hunter’s prose gets out of the way of the story, which is a quality I find absolutely crucial for romance in particular. I did feel that readers weren’t allowed to get to know the female MC as well as the baron, so it was a bit more difficult to identify with her. All in all, though, this was a great start to the book.

A Perfect Match by Sabrina Jeffries

Jeffries’s novel also involves a kidnapping, though this one is a bit more voluntary. Female lead Cass and her cousin Kitty are spirited away from Kitty’s dangerous suitor in the nick of time by the handsome Colonel Lord Heywood. Cass is an heiress who pretends at future poverty so that whoever is wooing her is only doing so out of true love. Heywood is swiftly falling in love with Cass, but knows he can only marry someone with a substantial dowry, for his own funding is meager.

This was probably my favorite story of the bunch by a hair. The chemistry between the two MCs is great, and we get to know each of them well. Jeffries’s writing wasn’t distracting from the story either. My only wish is that there weren’t so many family members introduced in the latter half; I have a feeling that most of them are characters from other books. I know this is a thing in romance, but it personally irritates me; I’d rather focus on the story than suddenly have all these inside jokes and call-backs to other books foisted on me as a reader. Just my two cents.

One Wicked Winter Night by Mary Jo Putney

This was the one novella of the three that I did not get on with. The premise is that a woman who has been in India for the past long while returns to England and immediately encounters the man who she was previously in love with, even sharing a kiss with him at a masked ball. Despite loving the male MC back in the day, she rejected his advances, but now in the present they find that they are both tempted to rekindle their relationship.

A good part of my grievances with this third novella came down to Putney’s voice; it’s not a close enough 3rd POV for my taste, so there was a lot of “she realized/thought/wondered/etc,” which is mega-distracting to me. Different strokes for different folks, of course, but the writing style to me just felt a bit dated. I was also annoyed by the focus on cats in this book; it was too cutesy for my taste, even though I have nothing against cats.


So there we go! This collection didn’t bowl me over the head with awesomeness, but I enjoyed two of the three. I’d say if you’re interested in trying out these authors without committing to a full book for each one, this is a solid pick. And if you’re a fan of them already and looking to get into the Christmas spirit, then this collection is an obvious no-brainer.

Specter is on NetGalley through 9/30!

Hey everyone, I just want to drop in real quick to say that Specter is free on NetGalley through the end of this month! Specter is a YA paranormal thriller that is perfect for Stranger Things fans or anyone craving a Halloween read. It received glowing five-star reviews from Indie Author Central and Indies Today, and it has a 4.64 rating on Goodreads, as well as 4.5 on Amazon.

Here are some things people are saying about Specter:

“Ghosts, treachery, risky business and first love bundled into an unputdownable YA adventure.” – author Julie Embleton, Indie Author Central

“You don’t want to miss out on this enthralling, exciting, and eerie book!” – Indies Today

“Would I recommend this book?  Abso-bloody-lutely.” – Bookish Beyond

It doesn’t matter if you get a copy from NetGalley and can’t finish it before the end of the month—a review on Amazon or Goodreads sometime in the future is enough! Here’s the blurb if you’re interested:

Horror aficionado Lanie Adams should be thrilled when two eighties-era ghosts materialize in her bedroom. Yet after a fainting incident unbecoming of a horror nerd, she would rather her haunting just go away—the ghosts’ waterlogged voices and ice-cold auras are more terrifying than any movie. Enlisting the help of Ryan, an entirely-too-cute stoner, she makes it her mission to put the spirits stalking her to rest.

Some sleuthing reveals that their sleepy Connecticut town is host to a shadowy, decades-old conspiracy. If Lanie wants to say a final goodbye to her ghosts, she’ll need to keep digging. But it’s important to tread carefully. The culprit is still in town—and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

All right, I’m all done with the self-promo. Have an amazing start to your weekend! ❤

ARC: The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Harp of Kings debuted September 3rd.

I have a lot of respect for Juliet Marillier for writing the Sevenwaters trilogy. It’s been years since I read the first Sevenwaters book, but I remember it being absolutely fantastic. I also read Wildwood Dancing last year, which I loved, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.

So knowing that Marillier is an industry heavyweight and a fantastic writer, I couldn’t request an ARC of The Harp of Kings fast enough. This is the start of a new series, with three books already listed on Goodreads, and the premise seemed great: a shadowy fantasy organization that gets contracted for missions (basically a fantasy CIA), whose latest quest is to recover a stolen harp that is crucial to a coronation ceremony. The three young main characters on the mission are vying to be fully inducted into the organization; this mission will be their proving ground. Cool, right?

So with all this said, you can’t imagine how disappointed I was to read this book and have a difficult time connecting with it. Many of the characters, and especially the dialogue, felt wooden, like it was missing some spark of life. Much of the action also felt too unrealistic for my taste. To give an example, the female MC has an encounter with the detestable heir-to-throne, where he tries to rape her and she shoves him, causing him to fall and hit his head hard. Through the eyes of characters in a medieval setting, this is understandably seen as her attacking the heir. The fall-out from the incident, however, was less than serious; after a bit of politicking, all she needs to do is give him a formal apology and the incident is more or less in the past. This punishment-not-punishment is meted out by the heir’s advisors; despite the fact that he is a man about to take the throne, he’s essentially not able to follow through on his now hatred for the female MC. The whole thing just felt extremely unrealistic to me; I have a very tough time believing that there weren’t more serious consequences for the female MC. (Please understand that I’m not taking the side of the heir, but just questioning the logic of the narrative choices.)

I also had a very tough time with the ending. Spoiler incoming in:

3…

2…

1…

There is a literal hand-of-God moment where the question about who should be the true king is decided by a celestial presence on high shining a light on the one they favor. It was a textbook definition of a deus ex machina.

This then followed by a denouement that featured more wooden dialogue, with all the flair of an HR exit interview.

“What part of this mission gave you the most satisfaction?” This surprising question comes from Illann.

Dau catches my eye and we both grin. Neither of us is going to mention that escapade at the wall. “To be honest,” he says, “I spent most of our stay at Breifne feeling anything but satisfaction. I was pleased when Liobhan got Brocc out of that place. And I was pleased when the harp ended up in the right hands.”

“And you, Liobhan?”

“Working as a team. We got better at that. We learned as we went along. Only… without Brocc we’re not so much of a team. Sorry.”

Do you see what I mean? This is a book that has a great, interesting premise, but fell short in the execution. If you are a diehard Marillier fan then by all means check it out (I’m pretty sure it has some Easter eggs in there for her fans), but sadly I won’t be continuing with this series unless I hear very different things about the second book.