Tag Archives: horror

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! ❤

Short Tuesday #10: “You Know How the Story Goes” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

I went back to Tor again this week for another look at their short fiction, since most of it is just so damn good! “You Know How the Story Goes” was a fast, fun read; you can read it for yourself here…

This story feels like a more polished version of r/nosleep stories; the voice coupled with the monstrous elements lend the piece a distinctly creepypasta vibe—and that’s not a bad thing! There’s so much to love about the horror that’s been birthed from Internet culture, whether that’s Ted the Caver, Petscop, or The Interface Series. (Hmm, maybe I should devote an article sometime to an introduction of my favorite Internet horror/weird stuff.) In any case, you could easily expect to read this story on r/nosleep, especially given the multiple references to Reddit. In fact, if you can’t tell from the title, this short story is meant to feel like something familiar—like the ghost stories and horror memes that rattle around in the back of your subconscious, rearing up on dark nights or when you’re deep in the back of the basement.

So though the piece is nothing distinctly new, I don’t think anyone should mind that, since it’s a gripping story, with great visual descriptions that are never too much or too little.

There was something wrong with these fingers. They were not longer than before, but still, they looked like they were. Long and curved. Cold-cold blue. Almost dripping. And I noticed the tips had no nails. What had happened to her nails?

Some might complain about a slow start, but I liked the pacing; my favorite horror always starts with a slow creep. The ending was also satisfying—a “this happened to me, so it could happen to you” resolution that felt just right. If you are in the mood for creepy, I’d really recommend this one.

The New Girl by S.L. Grey

The New Girl is the third and final installment in the Downside series by South African duo Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg, who write under the pseudonym S.L. Grey. Yet despite the fact that this is a series, these books read basically as standalones, with the (excellent omg I’m so sad it’s all over) worldbuilding being the real tie between them all.

Let me paint you a picture. Below our human realm on the surface of the earth is an underground horror society of almost humans who regard everyone up top as a curious, amusing, entirely different species. The downsiders speak almost English, eat almost food, shop in almost stores.

She grabs her gelphone and hides under the blankets with it. She reads the proclamation ticker for comfort, to make herself feel closer to home. ‘Victuals are precious. The meat tree is a fable. Use your tokens appropriately.’ ‘Apparel does not auto-generate. Wash sparingly.’ ‘Energy is scarce and opulent. Save energy for essential tasks and services only.’ Everyone knows that resources are scarce, she finds herself commenting, you don’t have to repeat yourself. She tries to block out the disregardful thoughts.

Everything downside is human culture with a horror twist; the downside society is structured like a massive corporation, with a dual focus on production and resource conservation. Whether you’re a downsider or an unfortunate human who has somehow stumbled downside, you are a mere cog in the grinding horror megastructure. And as the horrific atrocities pile up one by one, understand that there is no ill intent meant toward the hapless upsiders. Yes, it’s unfortunate that you had to lose a few appendages… But this is simply just a part of doing business. 😉

The New Girl breaks a bit from the formula of the last two books. Here, most of the action takes place upside, but we are at last allowed a downsider POV, in addition to the other two upsider POVs. I was forever waiting for the next POV section starring Penter, Deputy Node Liaison for the Ministry of Upside Relations. All Penter wants is to do her job, but the more time she spends upside, the more nuggets of humanity she discovers within herself. Can a downsider learn what love is? You’ll need to read the book to find out.

For fans of dark humor, Silent Hill 3, or body horror, this series is a must, in particular the first book. The South African setting, too, adds another fascinating layer to the whole effect. In short, I can’t recommend this series highly enough, and I’m hoping S.L. Grey release something new soon, since it’s been a little while since their last book.


Just a brief reminder that a new chapter for The Gold in the Dark will be up this Sunday! All right, that’s all for now. ❤

Short Tuesday #8: “Mama Bruise” by Jonathan Carroll

I sound like a broken record: this week I again returned to Tor to peruse their original fiction! This week’s Short Tuesday contender is a short story by Jonathan Carroll published just a few days ago. You can read it here… FYI that there will be spoilers in this review.

I enjoyed this story, both in terms of voice, pacing, and plot. I thought it was interesting how there are no names for any of the main characters—perhaps this is author trying to emphasize the soul inhabiting the body rather than the body itself? Reincarnation is central to the plot, so if we were juggling names I think that would take away from the message. Also want to add that somehow this is not the first “reincarnation in animal form” work of fiction I’ve read this year! If you like this sort of story, perhaps give The Hungry Ghost a try.

The ending, too, came as a pleasant surprise. At first I was all, oh, their dog’s come home. But if we’re to take what the female MC says as accurate, I think the most logical conclusion is that the other dogs in the neighborhood have come to take out the main characters, so that the secret knowledge they’ve garnered stays secret. It was an unexpected end, perfect for a last boo.

Ooh, I’m really liking all these Tor short stories! And it seems there’s a big backlist and that they publish new works regularly, so I have a ton of great content for more Short Tuesdays. 🙂

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. ❤

A Good, Old-Fashioned Haul

You know that feeling-spendy itch, the kind where the only way to scratch it is by heading to Barnes and Noble or Amazon? It doesn’t hit me often, especially now that I receive ARCs, but maybe it’s the change of seasons or something—I just had to add some new books to my TBR shelf. And it’s not a lot, but listen, this girl has a limited amount of shelf space, so I have to be choosy about the physical books I bring into my house. (Spring cleaning un-haul coming soon!!)

Since this is the only book of the bunch that just came out, I wanted to buy this in hardcover at Barnes and Noble in the first week of release. That’s my general rule of thumb for new releases I care about—I do this 1) because I’m surprisingly often able to buy a signed in-store copy; 2) because I’ve found that many times these books are still stashed in the back, even though they’ve just been released, so I feel it helps the author out to go specifically to the store and remind the booksellers to get them on the shelves; and 3) because I have a vague sense that buying the hardcover helps the author more than buying the ebook in terms of sales numbers and the possibility of future opportunities. Would love to know if those suspicions are correct… :/

Anyway, I’m super excited to read this book, since I’ve heard good things about the author and it’s supposed to be similar to Stranger Things. I’m also really interested to see how the aliens are handled in this book, since aliens in YA aren’t a huge thing. Or are aliens the next vampires or something???

The other three books I bought were from Amazon. Under Rose-Tainted Skies only landed on my radar recently, since I was searching for a book featuring a character suffering from agoraphobia. I have a book in the works that may have an agoraphobic character, so I’m curious to see how other authors have written about agoraphobia, as well as to get some sense of how people deal with the condition. It’s just the first step of what will likely be a whole lotta research. Look at that gorgeous cover—I’m pretty psyched for this one to arrive in the mail.

This is the final book in the Downside trilogy by S.L. Grey, the South African horror duo who wrote The Apartment. The Downside books can be read as standalones; it’s really the horror worldbuilding that ties them together—and it’s the best worldbuilding, let me tell you. If you are a Silent Hill fan, especially if you’re a Silent Hill 3 fan, then do yourself a favor and read The Mall. There are no words to express how excited I am to read this book—it’s going to be fantastic.

The last book I picked up was Matt Haig’s The Humans. This is definitely one of those books that’s made the rounds in the book blogosphere, and also another book to do with aliens! As I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I have an idea marinating for a book about an alien, so I’m trying to read some alien-related fiction to get a sense of how other authors approach the topic. I’m also pretty interested to see how funny this book is; most people say it’s hilarious, but I have a track record of disliking supposedly funny books. (Bad Omens, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, etc.)

And that’s my haul! Short and sweet, but I think keeping hauls smaller makes me more likely to read the books for some reason.

Have you picked up any exciting books lately? Are you also getting that spring shopping fever? Let me know, and thanks for reading!


Just a real quick reminder that Chapter Five of The Gold in the Dark will be posting this Sunday at 11 AM EST! 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.