Small Favors by Erin A. Craig #bookreview #YA #darkfantasy #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Ellerie Downing lives in the quiet town of Amity Falls in the Blackspire Mountain range–five narrow peaks stretching into the sky like a grasping hand, bordered by a nearly impenetrable forest from which the early townsfolk fought off the devils in the woods. To this day, visitors are few and rare. But when a supply party goes missing, some worry that the monsters that once stalked the region have returned.

As fall turns to winter, more strange activities plague the town. They point to a tribe of devilish and mystical creatures who promise to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand and impossible, for just a small favor. But their true intentions are much more sinister, and Ellerie finds herself in a race against time before all of Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves go up in flames.

This is the second book I’ve read by this author, and I’ll be waiting in line for her third no matter what it is.

Don’t be deceived by the calming, flower-filled cover. Inside is a chilling, dark fantasy that will make you hesitate before entering the woods ever again. I count the movie The Village directed by M. Night Shyamalan as one of my favorites, and this book shares many similarities with it – a small, tightly knit community, strange activities in the town, deadly creatures in the forest, and a MC who’s determined she and her family will survive. There are also shades of Stephen King’s Needful Things with some of the townfolks’ deepest desires being fulfilled.

The first few chapters introduce readers to a simpler kind of life and allow them to become acquainted with the isolated town, its residents, and their daily activities. Ellerie’s idyllic life of learning beekeeping from her father, cooking with her mother, and playing with her little sister begins sliding away a piece at a time after a supply party goes missing. Visitors, a rare event, show up in town, and one is especially intriguing to her. Whitaker’s motivations were a mystery to me throughout the story, and I wasn’t sure if I should trust him. Soon the town is plagued with deformed animals, strange bouts of weather, and a lack of food before neighbors turn against each other in vengeance and hatred. I’m talking a serious spiraling of events, folks. Some of these scenes aren’t for the faint of heart.

This slow burn dark fantasy pulls you in a page at a time, and before long you’ll notice the book is super glued to your hands. It felt like 350 pages instead of nearly 500 to me. Fans of The Village, Needful Things, and dark fantasy will spend several engrossing hours reading Small Favors and shutting out the world around them. Just be careful when you go into the woods.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Blurb, Butterflies, and #AmWatching

I’m still working like a maniac to meet my October 1st deadline for the sequel (still untitled) to Subject A36. It occurred to me a couple weeks ago that I needed a blurb for the cover. With this being a sequel, options on who I could ask were limited. As I was putting makeup on last week (I get the best ideas doing that or when taking a shower for some reason) a name popped in my head. I asked and he agreed – which is a huge relief for me and one less thing to worry about.

A weird thing happened Friday evening. I was sitting on the patio reading when small, brown spotted butterfly landed on my hand. And stayed there. I’m a butterfly lover – I even brake for them – so I was thrilled when he stuck around. Over the next hour, he crawled from my hand to my leg, ankle, and foot. Unfortunately, Bond (my cat) discovered my new friend and nearly tagged him with a paw. A ruckus ensued (the neighbors had quite a show if they were watching), but I shooed the butterfly away while restraining Bond. I would have been horrified if Bond had killed it. There’s bound to be some bad karma attached to that. Anyhoo, I was curious and Googled what it means when brown butterflies land on you. In most cultures, it symbolizes a fresh start and also means that important news is coming. If you’re going through a rough time or have experienced a loss, it can signify the situation will get better. All good things. Again, I’m glad Bond didn’t slaughter him.

I mentioned in another fairly recent post about TV shows I watch being canceled. Add a couple more to the list – Manifest (which was supposed to have three more seasons) and Debris. Both ended on big cliffhangers naturally. The Manifest creators promised the fans they’ll have a resolution some way – maybe with a movie. Evil, a show on CBS, was renewed after season one, but moved to Paramount Plus. I guess when all the episodes from season two drop, I’ll sign up for the seven day free trial. The number of shows I watch on network television has dwindled every year and seem to be replaced with more reality shows. If it was just me I’d probably drop cable, but hubby still likes to surf the channels.

Have a great week!

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould #bookreview #YA #thriller #LGBTQ

Courtney Gould’s thrilling debut The Dead and the Dark is about the things that lurk in dark corners, the parts of you that can’t remain hidden, and about finding home in places―and people―you didn’t expect.

The Dark has been waiting for far too long, and it won’t stay hidden any longer.

Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV’s ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before, but the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there’s more secrets buried here than they originally let on.

Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she’s felt his presence ever since. But now that the Ortiz-Woodleys are in town, his ghost is following her and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who—or what—is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness. 

All I needed to read was strange happenings and ghost hunters to jump at requesting this book. Dark, intense, intriguing, mysterious – does the description give you an idea of what this story is like? I honestly could have read it in one sitting but had to split it into two days.

Snakebite, Oregon isn’t very welcoming to newcomers or even to some of the previous residents who visit. It’s a small town, but cliques are prevalent in both the teenage and adult crowds and, like most small towns, secrets are nearly bursting out of the closets they’re barricaded in. Logan’s dad, Brandon, has been in Snakebite scouting the location for his TV show ParaSpectors. When Logan and her other dad, Alejo arrive, they learn a teen boy disappeared around the same time Brandon rolled into town six months ago. The locals don’t consider this a coincidence and make it known to Logan and her family at every turn. Logan is the curious type and isn’t content to sit around the hotel room watching TV all day and before long, she’s caught up in a tangled web of secrets involving her family. Although adversaries at first, Logan and Ashley, a local resident, make a pact to discover the truth together after it becomes evident Ashley’s mother is involved.

Something I really liked about this novel is the relationship between Logan and her dads. In most YA books parents don’t play large roles, but that’s not the case here. She enjoys an easy camaraderie with one of them, but has a strained relationship with the other (which is explained, but no spoilers here). Besides the paranormal occurrences, a parent’s overwhelming love for their child, finding your place in the world, and learning acceptance are strong themes in this story. Readers will also be shipping the budding romance between Ashley and Logan.

I guessed a couple of major plot points early on, that didn’t prevent me from devouring this book. Murders, ghosts, mediums, and some cool ghost hunter gadgets held me spellbound. The story skillfully builds to a nail-biting climax, but I did feel like the ending wraps up a little quickly. This is a strong debut novel, and I’ll be looking out for future releases by this author.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig #bookreview #horror #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

A family returns to their hometown—and to the dark past that haunts them still—in this masterpiece of literary horror by the New York Times bestselling author of Wanderers

Long ago, Nathan lived in a house in the country with his abusive father—and has never told his family what happened there.

Long ago, Maddie was a little girl making dolls in her bedroom when she saw something she shouldn’t have—and is trying to remember that lost trauma by making haunting sculptures.

Long ago, something sinister, something hungry, walked in the tunnels and the mountains and the coal mines of their hometown in rural Pennsylvania.

Now, Nate and Maddie Graves are married, and they have moved back to their hometown with their son, Oliver.

And now what happened long ago is happening again . . . and it is happening to Oliver. He meets a strange boy who becomes his best friend, a boy with secrets of his own and a taste for dark magic.

This dark magic puts them at the heart of a battle of good versus evil and a fight for the soul of the family—and perhaps for all of the world. But the Graves family has a secret weapon in this battle: their love for one another.

How I’ve made it this long without ever reading a Chuck Wendig book is a mystery to me, but he can now count me among his devoted fans.

This book weighs in around 550 pages, but trust me when I say it doesn’t feel that long. You’ll be so caught up in this family and their treacherous situations the pages will fly by. These characters had me from nearly the first page. They made be a small family of three, but this is one tight unit, and the love runs deep. After Nate, Maddie, and Oliver move into Nate’s childhood home after the death of his father, the action begins almost immediately. Each of them are dealing with everyday kinds of problems – Nate settling into a new job, Oliver dealing with bullies at school and finding new friends, and Maddie experiencing creative struggles with her art. Soon each of them are dealing with situations of a more supernatural nature. You’ll feel like a part of this family and find yourself fighting alongside them on every page. I can’t go into much detail without giving away spoilers, but I went into this book expecting a certain type of story. Wendig certainly delivered a captivating horror story, but he elevated it to the next level. I was shaking my head in disbelief and nearly speechless at certain twists, yet they were absolutely perfect and fell into place like the gratifying click of the last puzzle piece.

With magnificent character development (including supporting characters) and arcs, chilling scenes that raise the hairs on the back of your neck, and a gripping storyline, The Book of Accidents gave me early Stephen King vibes. The ending was absolute perfection, and one I’m still thinking about. This is an easy five stars for me. Horror fans, don’t miss this one!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Subject A36 Sequel and #AmWatching

Last Monday I mentioned I’d have an announcement this week – so here it is. Seems like it’s been forever coming, but I can now say the sequel to Subject A36 will be published May 19, 2022! Assuming I meet my deadline, lol. I’ve been revising and editing like a fiend over the past few weeks, and my beta has been reading chapters as quickly as I send them to her. She’s a superhero. Still no title yet (you can’t even be surprised by that), but it’s coming. I hate that it will be a little over two years between the books, something I hate as a reader, but it couldn’t be avoided. The pandemic messed with the creative flow of many writers, me included. I’m toying with the idea of doing some outtakes or bonus scenes for readers and making it free on my website before the release. Let me know your thoughts.

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this before, but has anyone watched Animal Kingdom? Hubby and I became addicted and binged four seasons on Amazon Prime in a little over a month (and you know how difficult it is to keep his interest). Season Five just started on TNT last week. It’s based on an Austrailian movie by the same name released in 2010. I watched it soon after its release, but didn’t remember much about it. This family is seriously dysfunctional, mostly because of Smurf, the mother/grandmother, but it’s impossible to look away. The way she manipulates those boys is disturbing, but completely fascinating. If you like dark crime shows, we highly recommend it.

Back to edits and revisions!

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim #bookreview #YA #fantasy #fairytale

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.

There’s no way I can skip commenting on this cover – it would be a disservice to the designer. It’s a work of art and perfect for the story.

Before learning this novel is based on a fairy tale I’m unfamiliar with, I was thinking how it reads just like a fairy tale. Shiori could easily be a future Disney princess. She’s strong, curious, loyal, and determined not to let anyone else define her. Having six older brothers, she easily holds her own with them and is probably the most mischevious of the bunch. She’s also hiding her forbidden magic. After learning her stepmother possesses dark magic of her own, Shiori is banished and her brothers turned into cranes. Even worse, if she speaks to anyone, one of her brothers will die for every word she utters. I needed to know how this princess would survive and overcome the odds.

The sibling bonds are strong in this story, and I liked how protective Shiori’s brothers are of her even though she doesn’t always need it. Takkan is honorable and astute from the beginning, and I loved that he crafts stories for his little sister (who’s pretty feisty herself). Encouraging people to look beyond appearances or misunderstood actions is an important theme this book brings to the forefront.

The first quarter of this book had me riveted. I was angry with Shiori’s stepmother and the people that treated Shiori so badly when she was only trying to survive and anxious for her to find her brothers. She knew her mission and was fixated on it. Then things took a turn. The next half of the book mainly focused on the romance, and Shiori’s urgency to undo the curse wasn’t the driving force I’d expected. Toward the end of the story I didn’t see how plot lines could fall into place for some kind of resolution, but over the span of a few pages, several reveals come to light. Some are easy to predict, but others come out of left field and left me scratching my head because of the lack of hints along the way.

I’m a reader who doesn’t mind romance in a book as long as it’s not the primary focus, but this novel spotlighted it more than I’d expected from the description. That’s just a personal preference and in reading other reviews, I’m definitely in the minority on this. Fans of fairy tales, magic, and romance will be thrilled with Six Crimson Cranes, and while I enjoyed the story, it wasn’t exactly what I’d anticipated.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

WWW Wednesday: What Am I Reading? #amreading

WWW Wednesday is a meme from Sam at Taking On A World Of Words

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

This is a weird kind of week for my WWW post. I just realized while putting this together that all these books feature boarding schools or elite prep schools. Sure didn’t plan it that way, and I doubt the stars will ever align like this again. Anyhoo, I’m currently about halfway through A Lesson in Vengeance. It’s very atmospheric with all kinds of witchy goodness and possibly ghosts. I didn’t read Wilder Girls, but I’d say Ninth House is an accurate comp title.

For fans of Wilder Girls and Ninth House comes a dark, twisty, atmospheric thriller about a boarding school haunted by its history of witchcraft and two girls dangerously close to digging up the past.

Felicity Morrow is back at Dalloway School.

Perched in the Catskill mountains, the centuries-old, ivy-covered campus was home until the tragic death of her girlfriend. Now, after a year away, she’s returned to graduate. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students—girls some say were witches. The Dalloway Five all died mysteriously, one after another, right on Godwin grounds.

Witchcraft is woven into Dalloway’s history. The school doesn’t talk about it, but the students do. In secret rooms and shadowy corners, girls convene. And before her girlfriend died, Felicity was drawn to the dark. She’s determined to leave that behind her now; all Felicity wants is to focus on her senior thesis and graduate. But it’s hard when Dalloway’s occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget.

It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway, and she’s already amassed a loyal following. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is a so-called “method writer.” She’s eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks Felicity for help researching the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no. Given her history with the arcane, Felicity is the perfect resource.

And when history begins to repeat itself, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway–and in herself. 

I finished How We Fall Apart over the weekend. It’s a quick read with a brisk pace, but it didn’t work for me as much as I’d hoped. The ending required a huuuuge suspension of disbelief. Other reviews have mentioned this book is for fans of Gossip Girls and Pretty Little Liars, shows I didn’t watch, so I’m thinking I’m not the intended audience.

Students at an elite prep school are forced to confront their secrets when their ex-best friend turns up dead.

Nancy Luo is shocked when her former best friend, Jamie Ruan, top ranked junior at Sinclair Prep, goes missing, and then is found dead. Nancy is even more shocked when word starts to spread that she and her friends–Krystal, Akil, and Alexander–are the prime suspects, thanks to “The Proctor,” someone anonymously incriminating them via the school’s social media app.

They all used to be Jamie’s closest friends, and she knew each of their deepest, darkest secrets. Now, somehow The Proctor knows them, too. The four must uncover the true killer before The Proctor exposes more than they can bear and costs them more than they can afford, like Nancy’s full scholarship. Soon, Nancy suspects that her friends may be keeping secrets from her, too. 

I’m excited about In the Wild Light. I’ve only read one other book, The Serpent King, by this author, but it was a beautiful story. It was my choice for one of my book clubs, a group who never reads YA. The verdict was unanimous – all gave it a big thumbs up, and one member made her son read it.

From the award-winning author of The Serpent King comes a beautiful examination of grief, found family, and young love.

Life in a small Appalachian town is not easy. Cash lost his mother to an opioid addiction and his Papaw is dying slowly from emphysema. Dodging drug dealers and watching out for his best friend, Delaney, is second nature. He’s been spending his summer mowing lawns while she works at Dairy Queen.

But when Delaney manages to secure both of them full rides to an elite prep school in Connecticut, Cash will have to grapple with his need to protect and love Delaney, and his love for the grandparents who saved him and the town he would have to leave behind. 

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix #bookreview #horror #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.

In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?

Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.

But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

If you’re one of those people who enjoying yelling at the characters on screen during slasher movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, this book is for you. You’ll find yourself reminiscing.

This support group is exactly what it sounds like – these six women are literally the final girls left standing, each the survivor of real-life horrific situations that were turned into movies. What the slasher movies never show is the fallout of surviving, the paranoia, guilt, and fears these women are left to struggle with. Some are dealing with things better than others, but Lynnette isn’t one of those people. Except for the support group, she’s cut herself off from everyone, has essentially barricaded her apartment (where her roommate is a beloved pepper plant she speaks to – and he talks back), stashed weapons and cash in hiding places, and has numerous escape plans. She’s certain it’s only a matter of time before someone else shows up to finish her off. And then her worst fears are realized when someone kills one of the final girls and then makes attempts on the lives of the other five.

As with the classic slasher movies, you can expect gruesome and gory scenes, some cheesy lines, and poor decisions made by the characters. The climax of the book plays out exactly like the final movie scene – a little long, kind of over the top, with plenty of injuries and blood. I’d guessed the “villain” early on, but I still enjoyed watching the characters piece it together. Another review I read pointed out that the final girl characters are named after the actresses who played final girls in slasher classics from the 70s and 80s, something I thought was a clever detail added by the author.

I was a fan of those movies in their day so I found this to be a nostalgic, entertaining read. If you’re not familiar with those films, keep in mind they’re a little campy, and this book follows that pattern. Not recommended for the squeamish when it comes to gore and violence – you may want to steer clear.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Our Weekend – Good, Bad, and Ugly #blessed

What a fun weekend we had! Our son’s Canadian girlfriend received her second vaccine a couple weeks ago and flew to KY to visit. They hadn’t seen each other since Christmas. Hubby and I were also invited to visit them for the weekend, and we jumped at the chance. You know what big fans we are of escape rooms, and our son booked one for Saturday. After lunch, we went to a new game the facility was featuring based on the classic boardgame Clue. Colonel Mustard, Mr. Green, Ms. Scarlet, etc. – they were all suspects. We had to name the killer, weapon, and room the murder takes place in. We traveled through four rooms – the hall, kitchen, conservatory, and study – to find clues and solve puzzles and finished the game with about thirteen minutes to spare. We all said it was one of the most enjoyable escape rooms we’d done – and we’ve done several. If you have the opportunity to try this one out, you’ll spend an enjoyable and nostalgic hour – or less if you escape sooner.

That was the best part of the weekend. On our way home yesterday, just five minutes from our house, someone ran a red light and T-boned our car. We’re both fine, just bruised and banged up. I was driving, hubby was in the passenger seat. My side air bag deployed, but I was unable to open my car door and had to climb over the console to get out. Some very kind Good Samaritans who witnessed the accident (it was at a large intersection) stayed with us to give their statements to the officers. We feel so fortunate and blessed to walk away from this with minor injuries. We’re pretty sure the car is totaled.

I’m thinking I’ll have a big announcement next Monday, so make sure to drop by. Have a great week!

The Girl in the Headlines by Hannah Jayne #bookreview #YA #mystery #thriller

The headlines say she killed her family. The truth? She doesn’t remember.

Andrea McNulty goes to sleep on her eighteenth birthday with a near-perfect life: she’s a high school field hockey star, a doted-upon big sister, the beloved daughter of two happy parents. But when she wakes up in a motel room the next morning, unable to remember what happened the previous night and covered in blood, Andi is a fugitive.

According to the news, Andi’s parents were brutally attacked in the middle of the night. Her father is dead, her mother is in a coma, her little brother Josh is missing–and Andi is the prime suspect. Terrified and on the run from the police, Andi teams up with Nate, the sympathetic boy working the motel’s front desk, to find the real murderer. But while the police are getting further from the killer, the killer is getting closer to Andi–closer than she could ever have imagined.

Waking up in a motel room covered in blood with no memory of what happened? I needed to know this girl’s story.

The hook for this novel is compelling and a perfect setup for an intense, thrilling novel. I felt Andi’s confusion, grief, and strong need to find her little brother. Seeing her home with police tape around it on television and hearing she’s a suspect in the investigation is surreal. I was as outraged and frustrated as she was over the media’s assumption that she’s guilty. Luckily for her she comes across street smart Nate working at the front desk of the motel, because she wouldn’t have survived a day without him. He’s a voice of reason and prevents her from making some (a couple at least) questionable decisions. I found it difficult to believe an eighteen-year-old girl could be this naive about the world around her.

A quick read, the story moves at a brisk pace. There’s plenty of action as Andi and Nate gradually piece together what happened that night, and it’s pretty clear from almost the beginning who’s involved. With such a breakneck pace wrapping up the plot, I was surprised when it ended abruptly and left many questions unanswered.

While this book begins with an intriguing mystery, puts the MC in a harrowing situation, and introduces a strong, very likeable supporting character, I was left scratching my head over the ending. I honestly expected an epilogue to wrap up the loose ends.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.