Tag Archives: arc

ARC: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Thank you to NetGalley and Dutton for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Lock Every Door debuts July 2nd.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager was a binge-it-in-two-days type of read. This is the book you should have in your tote to read on the beach—an addictive and thrilling read that kept my nose glued to the page right up until the end. It’s also a rare specimen of book that advertises itself as having potential paranormal elements and manages to keep you guessing on that front far into the book. There are tons of books where the main character thinks, hmm, this place might be haunted, but it’s obvious to readers that that’s not the case. Not so here. (And I’m not giving anything away! Are there ghosts afoot in the MC’s bizarro apartment building or is everything rooted in the real world? You’ll have to read and see!)

The premise of the book is that a woman down on her luck (laid off, cheating boyfriend, finances in a downward spiral) manages to snag a gig where she gets paid to live in a ritzy, vacant NYC apartment. But, of course, everything is not as it seems, and things get spooky real quick. I was getting serious Rosemary’s Baby vibes throughout, due to the creepy New York apartment high-rise coupled with the young female MC.

I do feel obligated to mention that I picked up on two reveals far before they came. However, the full nature of the overarching plot reveal took me very much by surprise, while at the same time being very satisfying—the surprise is just that, surprising, while still managing to preserve suspension of disbelief. I highly recommend Lock Every Door, and I’m looking forward to reading more books by the author.


A small aside—if you haven’t seen the book trailer for Specter yet, check it out! Specter debuts July 7th, and the paperback and ebook are available for preorder at all major retailers and from Hidden Bower Press.

ARC: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Thank you to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Wilder Girls debuts July 9th.

This is one of those books that grips you hard from the first sentence, sinks its teeth into you, shakes you around, then has you gasping for air on the floor by the time you hit the last page. Seriously, Wilder Girls is an insane, intense ride, and I hope beyond hope that it ushers in a flood of YA weird fiction and body horror. When I picked it up, I already had a sneaking suspicion that this book was going to be my kinda thing because Jeff VanderMeer, king of the weird, is one of the blurbers. I was not disappointed; this is a book to buy on release day and devour in twenty-four hours.

The premise of the book is that a bizarre, unprecedented plague called the Tox has infested an island home to an all-girls boarding school. The Tox causes those it infects to mutate, perhaps by growing gills, claws, an extra spine, etc. The schoolgirls and the sparse crew of staff members remaining on the island have developed a system of survival, but when one girl goes missing and her friend determines to find her, everything is thrown into chaos.

Wilder Girls pulls no punches. The prose is raw and has so much forward momentum that it is a very difficult book to put down. I will say that the discovery and explanation at the end of the hows and the whys of the Tox was a bit disappointing to me. It came a bit out of left field; I was hoping for something less scientific and more just “this weird, inexplicable thing is happening and we can’t figure out why and now we just have to deal with it.” My opinion when it comes to weird fiction is that explanations take away from the mystique.

But even so, I basically adored this book and would hope for a movie version if I weren’t so sure Hollywood would fuck it up. Unless maybe we can get a return to practical effects à la John Carpenter’s The Thing… How amazing would that be? A girl can dream…

I’ll definitely be awaiting this author’s next book, whether it’s a sequel to Wilder Girls (would actually be satisfied with there not being a sequel, just to preserve some ambiguity in the story) or something else.

ARC: Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal

Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Teen for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Five Midnights debuts June 4th.

NetGalley’s a funny thing—most of the time all you have to judge a book by is the author name, the publisher, the cover, and a bit of doctored up marketing copy.*** It makes me judgey to the extreme—if I’m accepted to read the book, I’m kind of stuck with it, after all, since I want to keep my NetGalley ratio up. And if you don’t like the book, you’re left in the sticky situation of either giving a bad review or being dishonest with your readers. I always err on the side of honesty, but what I’m trying to say is that the whole ARC game is a grab bag type of situation.

Five Midnights met me halfway there—this is decidedly a three-star type of book, with bits both good and not so good. It feels very “young”; not in terms of its target audience, but in terms of the writing. Take the characters as an example: the MC, a New England transplant in Puerto Rico, has her emotions dialed up to eleven at all times. It’s an attempt at characterization that comes across as a bit jumbled; she doesn’t ever really settle as having a distinct personality. Another example is a fight that the MC has with a friend; the whole argument comes across as ungrounded, in a very “the author wants a fight here” kind of way. The pacing, too, is a bit off; a climactic scene facing off with monster stretches out over many POV switches, in a fashion reminiscent of those ten episode Dragon Ball Z fights.

But other parts are great. All the Puerto Rico setting details cannot be discounted; the author will make you feel like you’re in Puerto Rico, tasting the tastes and smelling the smell as the MC ventures from one unique neighborhood to the next. And though the details are many, they fit the book well, in a way that some other detail-heavy works never accomplish—“Yiwu” comes to mind. I appreciated the Spanish peppered throughout the dialogue (though “Hold the teléfono” maybe stepped a hair over the edge into ridiculousness). And the monster itself was interesting, since I knew literally nothing about this mythical beast.

I’d say that if the premise of the book sounds interesting, then give this a go. I’d be interested to take a peek at this author’s sophomore novel, since I suspect some of my craft complaints here might not surface in the next book.

***Speaking of marketing copy, by the way, can I pause for a minute on the word “unputdownable?” As per a review in the NetGalley description, this book is “flat-out unputdownable.” I’m starting to see this description everywhere; it was fun the first time around, but this word is just so over-the-top that I’m over it. It’s already getting cliched in my mind, and feels fake review-ish. Am I the only one??


Just a real quick reminder that Chapter Nine of The Gold in the Dark releases this Sunday at 11 AM EST! ❤

ARC: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon Pulse/Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Serious Moonlight debuts April 16th.

You know when you see a perfect cover, and you think to yourself, well, the book can’t possibly live up to THAT, could it? They’re compensating for something, right? Well, banish those fears—Serious Moonlight is a cozy contemporary that pairs an adorable romance with memorable characters and a Pacific Northwest setting. In my opinion, this book is exactly what new adult should be: kids post-high school taking their first steps into “adulting,” with sex present, but not in an erotic way. It has a YA contemporary voice, but the MCs are just a tad bit older. I also truly appreciated how Bennett placed her characters in a non-school setting. I’ve heard so many calls from people in publishing asking for manuscripts featuring MCs navigating college, and I’m just… not really interested in that?

The pitch is that the MC, Birdie, hooked up with a cute guy in his car, then totally freaked out and literally ran away from him. She’s doing her best to forget all this… but then said cute guy, Daniel, happens to work at her new job. Gotta be fate, right? But both Birdie and Daniel are going to have to work through a lot of things before they can get their happily ever after. Oh, and there’s a “mystery” in the book as well… I use quotes here because the mystery aspect really isn’t that big of a focus; we’re all just here for the developing romance between Birdie and Daniel. It’s cute, they’re cute, the setting’s cute, everything’s cute, cute, cute! Love it.

All this isn’t to say that the book is perfect. Daniel is a bit too much of a “nice guy” for my taste; he treats Birdie like gold at every opportunity, giving her all possible outs from their relationship. That didn’t come across as caring to me so much as unsexy; I was hoping he’d grow a spine. But Daniel did grow on me in time, especially as he plans one awesome date after the next. The one with a Clue focus? (Trying not to give anything away.) I was Googling if anything like that existed in my area. (Unfortunately looks like I’d have to travel to Boston, so… meh.) There was also some cringey, wooden dialogue—I could have done without the “skedaddling” scene. But these are just small quibbles; the setting, the characters, the “found family” aspect, the pitch-perfect new adult feel all added up to a thoroughly enjoyable read, so I will definitely be checking out Bennett’s other books.

ARC: The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz

Thank you to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Dark Game debuts April 11th.

This may have been a poor choice for a first book to read by Jonathan Janz. I didn’t know much about Janz, though the name vaguely rang a bell. (More on that later.) The premise is a bunch of writers competing for mentorship and future literary prestige at a spooky retreat. Normally I’m not huge on stories where the MC is an author; the characters always read cringy to me, like an over-the-top author-insert. But the whole writer competition thing sounded fun, so I decided to request the book.

Yet it turns out that ten writer MCs read more cringy to me than one writer MC, by a factor of about ten-fold. (Whodathunkit.) Again, this is totally a personal preference thing; I just can’t get past all the talk about agents and advances and genre dissing, since I’m forever trying to suss out Janz the author’s actual thoughts.

He narrowed his eyes, appraising her. “You look like a YA writer. Am I right?”

She considered telling him of her early success, transforming his arrogant expression into a look of awe.

Take the above quote, for example—what do you mean by that exactly, Jonathan Janz? You wanna throw down? Huh? Huh? 😀

But then. Then. We get to the above and beyond part. Because Janz inserts multiple mentions of one of his own novels into the book and talks up how great it is. Read that again. One of the writers on the retreat is writing one of Janz’s books, The Siren and the Specter, and keeps saying how it’s amazing. It’s bookception, with a marketing twist. As my husband put it, “Wow, that takes a lotta balls.”

This is when I realized why Janz’s name seemed so familiar to me; I have The Siren and the Specter on my (lengthy) Goodreads TBR. Honestly I have no idea if there are other Easter eggs in The Dark Game, but I wouldn’t be surprised. My overall sense is that this book might be great for diehard Janz fans as a sort of fan service book, but it left me kind of feeling like I was missing a bunch of inside jokes, while also being served some sneaky advertisements. I also had a difficult time connecting with the characters since there were just so damn many of them. Some had interesting back stories, but most felt fairly interchangeable, and it was hard to keep everyone straight. (Save for Sherilyn; really enjoyed her brief POV sections.)

So I’m not ruling out reading another book by this author, but suffice it to say that The Dark Game was unfortunately a miss for me.


Just a real quick reminder to everyone that the next chapter of The Gold in the Dark will be releasing this Sunday at 11 AM EST! This is one not to miss, since there’s a new POV incoming. (Oooooh.) All right, that’s all, folks. ❤

ARC: The Hungry Ghost by Dalena Storm

Thank you to NetGalley and Black Spot Books for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Hungry Ghost debuts June 11th.

This debut novel from Dalena Storm had my immediate attention with its title. Hungry ghosts are paranormal entities in the Buddhist tradition that emerge only in specific circumstances, such as when someone is violently killed—something I’m sure Storm knows, having graduated from Williams College with a BA in Asian Studies. In the picture below, you can see the hungry ghosts’ bulging, distended bellies—the better to eat you with, my dear. 🙂

Anyway, even though there are only a couple mentions of Buddhism in this fast-paced book, nevertheless the reader is presented with a hungry ghost, who drifts upward to the human world from a lower, hellish void and inhabits the body of an American woman in a coma. Spoiler alert that you can probably spot from a mile away: once she inevitably wakes up, the eating commences.

I appreciate the swift pace of the story; at two hundred pages, this is a book on the short side, but there’s nothing wrong with that—in fact, I think there’s a conversation to be had in modern publishing about books being too lengthy for the story they’re seeking to tell. I found it to be a nice palate cleanser—something quick to tear through in a couple hours.

The prose could use some editing, admittedly. There’s a top-down feel to the writing, where we’re told moment to moment what the characters are feeling and thinking, rather than being fed sensory details and internal thoughts via close third POV. I like a straightforward writing style to an extent, but here it grew to be too much for my tastes, to the point where some sentences felt almost utilitarian.

There were also a few leaps of faith in terms of the plot that had me raising my eyebrows, but these were counterbalanced by some genuinely surprising and horror-filled moments where I was fully on board. A couple scenes in particular will probably stick with me a good long while. If you’re looking for a page-turner and are interested in the Buddhist take on ghosts, then maybe give this a shot.


Just a real quick reminder to everyone that Chapter Three of The Gold in the Dark will be posting this Sunday at 11 AM EST! All right, that’s all, folks. ❤

ARC: Dead School by Laura Gia West

Thank you to NetGalley and Black Rose Writing for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review.

I requested this book on NetGalley in large part due to the beautiful cover and the title. Dead School? How cool of a concept is that?

Unfortunately, I didn’t even make it to Dead School. This book reads like a rough first draft; I’m a bit confused about how this is considered to be a manuscript in finished form. There are punctuation and verb agreement errors aplenty, as well as some exceedingly strange word usage. Characters “waver” papers in the MC’s face and “clog” down the stairs. (And I don’t believe this is referring to clog dance, but in this book, anything is possible, I suppose.)

All this can be forgiven if the story is good. For example, I have been extremely forgiving in the past of translated works. Metro 2033, which is shoddily translated but utterly fantastic, is one example that springs to mind.

Yet there is nothing to redeem the story in terms of substance. The MC is unlikable and acts nonsensically, as do all the characters flitting around her. We start the opening chapter with the MC in the car with her parents on Valentine’s Day. They are heading to Red Lobster to eat dinner, toting along their cat. With a bit of handwavium, we’re led to believe that the local Red Lobster manager is super cool with animals and will allow such nonsense at the table.

Okay. Fine. Second page of the book, my fingers are already starting to desperately tighten around my suspension of disbelief, which has grown oddly slippery… But let’s press on.

Wait, stop! Fuck Valentine’s Day and turn the car around, Dad—we have to go back to school! The MC suddenly has a blinding desire to beat her stage fright and perform in the school talent show, which is taking place LITERALLY RIGHT NOW. The MC’s parents oblige her, because… you know… the author wants them to.

And then our MC nails her performance, even though she hasn’t gone to any of the rehearsals. (Not joking.) The students in the audience, all of whom the MC despises, are moved to tears—she’s just that amazing. All is looking up—soon the MC will be the school’s new Queen Bee. Because she attends a prestigious performing arts school, our intrepid MC knows that there are talent scouts in the audience, pens at the ready to sign her for a record deal. Too bad a stage decoration then falls on her and kills her.

All this ridiculousness happens in the first chapter. I read a bit of it aloud to my husband, and his assessment is that the book has an uncanny valley feel. The characters just all act so bizarrely, as if a thousand YA novels got mixed together in a blender and an algorithm spit out the common elements it thought define human behavior. Needless to say, I only made it a few chapters in before I had to call it quits.

Let me be clear: I normally try to find the positive in things—sandwich method, etc.—but I cannot be charitable with this book. There is nothing to be charitable about. Even the famous quotes from historic figures attached to each chapter heading are cringey; what does Shakespeare have to do with any of this? I’m reminded a bit of how the infamous indie game Crying Is Not Enough (epic Let’s Play right here) stuck famous quotes on its interminable loading screens… But that game was bad yet had heart, and this book is just terrible.

Nice cover, though.