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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Never Change by Shari Sakurai #bookreview #shortstory #vampires #LGBTQ #TuesdayBookBlog

Thane’s arms curved around his back and he felt the younger vampire trembling as he rested his head on Taku’s shoulder. So easily broken, Taku often forgot what it had been like in the beginning. For him things had been different, he reminded himself. He had already known what it felt like to take a life.

With Nagasaki in the grip of a bitter winter, two vampires struggle to hunt in the challenging conditions. When an opportunity to feed from a dying man presents itself, Taku insists that they take advantage of it. Yet his newly turned lover is left feeling devastated by their actions. Seeing Thane so distraught is more than Taku can bear and so he makes a decision to shield Thane as much as he can from the darker side to their existence. However his desire to protect Thane might one day cost him everything.

Never Change is a short story set in the Demon’s Blood universe.

I “met” this author through hosting Bad Moon Rising a few years ago. Although I haven’t read this series, no prior knowledge is required to read this short story.

I’m always a vampire fan – have been since watching the original Fright Night. Even when they were out of fashion for a while in the book world, I had faith they’d come back. I’ve never been one to bow to fashion anyway. It’s a bitter, cold winter in Nagasaki – not that the temperature affects Taku and Thane. But plenty of snow makes it difficult to hunt and limits their food sources. Not very many warm bodies are out and about. Being a fairly new vampire, Thane still struggles with their darker side. With years (centuries?) of experience, Taku is more practical about what they should do when coming across a dying man.

Don’t think the whole story deals with heavy themes. There’s a fun, light-hearted snowball fight between the two, and even a snowman. It’s a sweet novella, and I can tell I’d enjoy this series based on meeting these wonderful characters.

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy #mythology #LGBT

Darkness blooms in bestselling author Kalynn Bayron’s new contemporary fantasy about a girl with a unique and deadly power.

Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.

When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.

From the bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead comes another inspiring and deeply compelling story about a young woman with the power to conquer the dark forces descending around her.

There are so many stunning covers out there these days, and this is one of them. Between that and the Poison Ivy (an antiheroine from the Batman universe for all you non-nerds out there) vibes I was getting from the description, this book called to me.

All of the Greek mythology references in this story were unexpected, but being a mythology fan, it was a very welcome surprise. The MC’s name comes from a character in The Iliad. Since I read it decades ago, I didn’t make the connection until I Googled how to pronounce her name. I also loved learning about all the botanicals. It’s clear the author performed extensive research, and some of them are unique and fascinating, but also kind of scary.

One of my favorite things about this novel is Briseis’s family. Her two moms are perfect examples of loving, supportive parents – and they’re also a great comedy team. I laughed so many times over their conversations and comments and unlike many YA novels, these parents play a bigger role in the story. Friends have never been plentiful in Briseis’s life, and she’s hoping to make a fresh start after inheriting the estate and moving to a new town. From almost the moment they arrive, strangers begin showing up and asking for tinctures and elixirs and soon Briseis feels as if she’s found her niche in running an apothecary where she can help people. But she didn’t just inherit the house – it comes along with dark secrets, curses, and shocking surprises. I plowed through this book in two days – that should tell you how difficult it was to put down.

The ending comes with a huge cliffhanger, and you can bet I’ll be anxiously waiting for the next book in the series. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy with a splash of mystery and a dose of Greek mythology, you can’t go wrong with This Poison Heart.

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

HMS Lanternfish by C.S. Boyack #bookreview #fantasy #pirates #TuesdayBookBlog

The Lanternfish crew completed their original mission, but got exposed to a more global problem. An entire continent is at war, headed up by a head-strong young king with dreams of power, and pushed from behind by a mysterious religious order known as the Fulminites.

Rather than let their country fall under the iron boot of conquest, James and his crew set sail once more to see what kind of muscle Lanternfish can lend to the war effort. Acting precariously under an unofficial charter as a privateer, even his allies aren’t always his friends.

HMS Lanternfish explores new worlds on its way to war, and drifts considerably off course. It features an international crew of characters, and for fans of the first book, the root monsters are back, too. Tall ships, a few con games, martial arts, and everything you loved about the original book is all returning.

Hoist the colors and wheel out the guns. Lanternfish is taking to the high seas once more.

My favorite root monsters are back! I think there were some other characters in this story also?

I was anxious to get back on the high seas with this crew of characters – I’m just sorry it took me so long to read the book. James is called out of retirement and into the privateer business. That may not be a bad thing, because it seems he has no talent for wine making – he makes a much better pirate.

Boyack never fails to deliver a wildly imaginative story, and with this second book in the Lanternfish series, his record remains intact. James and his crew encounter new characters, epic battles, and exciting adventures. Serang remains a strong character, and I was happy to see her return to the crew after being rescued from a very precarious situation.

The comedic root monsters still remain my favorites, and if the author ever decides to offer merch featuring them, I’ll be his first customer. Those critters work hard, but they also party hard.

With one more book to come in this series, I’ll be excited for its release.

Thistledown – Midsummer Bedlam by Teagan Riordain Geneviene #bookreview #folktales #myths

Thistledown ― Midsummer Bedlam is a wildly whimsical tale of faeries. It was originally written for a grownup audience, but it is suitable for children ages eight and over.

Thistledown is a world of color and light. It has faeries, hummingbirds, and ancient books of magic. Bedlam Thunder is a misfit faery who is afraid of heights. She is also a seer who has terrible visions of a parallel world devoid of color and brightness. The hate and darkness of that colorless world is seeping into Thistledown. Will Bedlam and her friends be able to save their home?
Thistledown ― Midsummer Bedlam, with its radiant creatures and faeries will lift your imagination to new heights. 

I first read Thistledown when it was a weekly serial on the author’s blog, but it was nice to have all the installments together in one book.

I’ve commented more than once about this author’s wildly creative imagination, and this adventure is no different. She’s created an enchanting, colorful world full of magic that’s home to numerous faeries with kaleidoscopic names. And also the coolest hummingbird I’ve come across, Bob (someone has to have a “normal” name). When Bedlam has disturbing visions of a parallel, colorless world filled with hate and darkness, it’s up to her and her friends to band together and save their home from the same fate. Their quest takes the reader through a mind-bending world filled with wondrous creations (hallucinating bats!). You may find yourself holding your breath when all seems lost and wonder how these faeries and Bob will manage to save Thistledown.

This is a delightful tale that will appeal to both children and adults. As a warning, it’s also likely to cause dreams of visiting Thistledown. I know I’d love to meet Bob!