Book Review: Create A Story

Create A Story: Beat Writer’s Block with These Creative Prompts is due to be released April 6, 2021.

This title is a bit outside my usual book for review! It’s not even a book, really. Create A Story is neither a story nor a guidebook — this is a notebook filled with interesting prompts and wordbanks to get you writing. I wouldn’t have minded a little instruction, but the sheer variety and volume of the prompts makes this a fabulous brainstorming tool.

After two succinct paragraphs of encouragement, you’re dropped right into the prompts. No fanfare, no guidance, just a blank book waiting for you to fill it. Each genre is marked with a cute line drawing in the margin and is discreet enough that mixing genres is easy. The prompted genres include:

  • Historical Fiction
  • Mystery & Suspense
  • Romance
  • Life Experience
  • Comedy
  • Fantasy
  • Action & Adventure
  • Horror
  • Science Fiction
  • Western

So no matter which genre you prefer, you’re sure to find a prompt that inspires. There’s no guidance whatsoever. This may be encouraging to writers who prefer no instruction, but for inexperienced writers, a few paragraphs on story structure or genre tropes wouldn’t hurt.

The prompts within genres are wide-ranging. In the romance category, you may find prompts as simple as “a prince falls in love with his servant,” to out-there ideas about “a person who is guided by Cupid in their dreams and starts a matchmaking service.” Add that to 15 words to include in the story (arrow, oracle, meddle, arrange, etc) and it’s probably impossible for a creative person to find zero inspiration between these pages.

Overall, this is a great idea-sparking notebook. There isn’t much space to write, but plenty for jotting down ideas and plot points to write elsewhere. A physical copy would make a great gift for anyone suffering from writer’s block.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The Lodge

What could be cozier than Christmas in a hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands? For newbie constable Andrew, the inn owners, and a handful of well-paying guests, the tables turn when the hunted animals take revenge.

The Lodge by Chris Coppel is a bullet of a book: fast, compact, and impactful. It’s a short revenge tale that teeters on the edge of splatterpunk. There’s plenty of creative gore and atmosphere, but not a lot of creepiness. The lodge and the surrounding countryside are as beautifully visual as the deaths are gruesome. If you’re in the mood for something quick and grisly in an idyllic landscape, The Lodge is for you.

It reminds me a bit of a 90’s whodunit: a big spooky house, a locked-in atmosphere, and plenty of mysterious bumps in the night. Every now and then, a character would hear a shout from another room, rush in, and immediately ask what happened. Oh dear, it was the deer!

Like any good horror story, The Lodge doesn’t take itself too seriously. The bizarre reanimated animals are nightmarishly weird and creative in their retribution. Even the Christmas tree gets in on the action! And the human characters are good for a laugh: desperate for a positive Yelp review, the owners do their darndest to metaphorically sweep the deaths under the zebra-skin rug. The reader enjoys plenty of that “I know something you don’t know” feeling when the characters find themselves in a pickle.

I think it would have benefitted from being either a little bit shorter or a little bit longer. There were some gaps in the backstories and I think they all could have been either fleshed out or summed up. However, I did enjoy knowing the backstories and after learning the guests’ histories, I’ll admit it sparked a bit of a grinchy smile when karma caught up with them. Once everything started to make sense (sort of) it did feel a bit rushed and too tidy. A bit over the top, but what else would you expect from a story like this?

I can’t quite decide which genre The Lodge belongs in. The cover says thriller, it reads like horror, but it’s more of a vegan revenge tale with gore in it. The spook-factor is a little low, so there’s not a lot of dread, but plenty of revulsion. The reader can see everything coming from a mile away. In a vengeance tale, I consider this a good thing.

Whatever it is, The Lodge is just a lot of fun! Probably not so entertaining if you’re an avid hunter, but if you’re in the mood for a jolt of gross-out horror, this is just the ticket.

I read this book during a blizzard. And yes, I did make a vegan dish for dinner.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Point Roberts

A motley crew of survivors and murder victims’ relatives are determined to solve a cold case in a locked-down town. Who killed 15 people in the 80s and what could have tied them all together? When teenage Liza finds a discarded book of evidence and clues, she and four strangers band together to pull the thread. 

First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Rigby’s writing style isn’t for everyone. Some scenes are way over-described (I do know what happens when someone shrugs — the motion doesn’t need to be described in detail) and I suspect Rigby’s thesaurus gets a lot of use. For some readers, this may be enough of a turn-off that they won’t enjoy the story. The writing style is my biggest criticism. 

I flew through this book in just a couple of days; I just had to know what happened next! I especially enjoyed the diverse cast of characters — they aren’t just diverse in the obvious ways, they have unique personalities with rich emotional lives and fully fleshed-out backstories. Each character has their own voice, and although the chapters flow smoothly, we get to experience the story from new eyes in every chapter. There was no confusion about perspective. The story, pacing, character development, and balance are top-notch.

A few other reviewers liken Point Roberts to Scooby-Doo and they’re not wrong! A ragtag gang of five bands together to run around town solving a mystery. They do eat a lot of snacks, pair off to collect convenient clues, and unmask the baddie who would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling townies. Beyond that, it’s a unique character-driven whodunit with plenty of red herrings. 

Because there are so many victims, an astute reader could spot enough connections to solve the puzzle with a third of the book to go, but going along for the ride with Liza, Theodore, Colette, Grant, and Maude is the real purpose of the story. The small-town Pac Northwest scenery is gorgeous and feels like a character of its own. Mystery lovers will find Point Roberts a satisfying if wordy read.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Point Roberts by Alexander Rigby is available today.

Book Review: The House of Dust

The House of Dust is a sobering southern gothic with a religious horror twist. There’s no need for readers to have a religious background, but the horror aspects will be much more effective for those who find cults creepy. The deftly painted scenes are so mysterious and bizarre that there’s a sense of dread that the whole tragic story will never come into focus.

Right off the bat, main character Brad intentionally overdoses. He stumbles into some godforsaken hole of a town called Three Summers in a chemical haze, barely grasping his surroundings. Everything feels ominous and surreal as he tries to keep his eyes open and he is utterly unable to make sense of the few snippets of information that make it into his head. Still, he’s intrigued by these scraps and becomes absorbed in the town’s history. This chemical confusion translates from the page to the reader who slowly makes sense of the story as though emerging from their own chemical fog. The effect is spectacular and it’s something I don’t think I’ve experienced in literature before.

Yes, it’s a confusing way to start a book, but it makes the crystallizing of the story that much better. Readers should dedicate a weekend to this book to get the full effect of living inside Brad’s head. About halfway through, the story clarifies, and the other main character, Missy, becomes dominant. The parallel timelines keep things moving.

The House of Dust relies heavily on mystery, but there were some secrets that didn’t really need to be kept. Brad’s fiance’s name, for example. For half the book, she’s just his fiance, but suddenly she has a name. There’s no fanfare, no introduction, and I can only assume this is part of the overall clarifying technique the author started in the beginning of the book. Other mysteries were all clues and no reveal. Some characters’ backstories, for example, had a ton of buildup only to be summarized in a couple paragraphs at the end. The overarching mystery of Three Summers is outstanding and has a tremendous reveal when Brad pieces it all together.

I’m not quite the target audience for this book, but the writing style really worked for me. It’s so artful and emotional. From a feminist viewpoint, The House of Dust does raise an eyebrow; but to be fair, none of the characters are shown in their best light. They’re all at rock bottom, so to speak.

Overall, I feel that as a southern gothic, the book succeeds. Admittedly, it’s a bit over-mysterious at some points. It’s such an original concept, though, that I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Between the sweeping plantation house, claustrophobic rural setting, bizarre rituals, and creeping supernatural elements, The House of Dust truly terrifies.

CW: I started to write a list of potential triggering themes in this book, but it quickly became a paragraph full of spoilers. Long story short, skip this title if you’re a sensitive reader. Phobias and emotional triggers abound.

The House of Dust by Noah Broyles is expected to be released on May 18, 2021. Thanks to NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: One Poison Pie

Cozy fans will feel right at home with Lynn Cahoon’s Kitchen Witch series.

One Poison Pie was a satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs kind of cozy mystery. It checked off everything on my cozy mystery wishlist, but threw in a few fun surprises along the way. I appreciated that every character was well-introduced — well, right up until the end, where we are left with a few questions to be answered! The mysteries are solved, justice is served, but the book leaves just enough unsaid that there can be plenty of sequels. I didn’t guess the killer, but of course, everything clicked into place at the big reveal.

Really, this one had it all. A murder to solve, some side mysteries, a colorful cast of characters, a few laughs, romance, intrigue, and secrets big and small. And food! Can’t forget the food. It was an easy to read buffet of everything you’d expect and want in a cozy mystery.

However, it did take a long time for the magic part to gain traction in this story. I actually forgot this was a paranormal cozy until about halfway through. Maybe there will be more magic in the rest of the series, but this first installment was rather light on the paranormal. I’m still not exactly sure what a Kitchen Witch does with her magic, and I don’t think Mia does either. Perhaps this is part of a larger universe and I’d have a better grasp of the magical aspect if I had read other books by this author.

The main character wasn’t such a great sleuth. She didn’t set out to solve mysteries, though; she just kind of fell into it. She’s a caterer making a fresh start, after all, not a budding gumshoe! It’s not her fault that she got tangled up with Magic Springs’ curmudgeonly murder victim — or is it? I felt that the fact that she missed a lot of big clues actually worked in the book’s favor since it allowed the reader to feel cleverer than the main character. Plenty of opportunity to groan, “I told you so!”

This may be a bit of a spoiler, but I’m not sure where this title came from, except that the “One” implies that this is the beginning of a series. There was a brief mention of pie during an event planning scene, but no poison. I also expected Mr. Darcy to play a much larger role, considering his fascinating backstory. Maybe next time.

I listened to the audiobook version. The narrator did a great job with the pacing, but the voices were not always clearly differentiated. This may irritate some readers who rely on the narrator’s voice acting.

This was the first book that I’ve read from this author, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. One Poison Pie is comforting and engaging, just like a good cozy mystery is supposed to be.

Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Welcome to Brookville

Brookville is weird. It’s very dreamy in that you see and understand everything that’s going on, then realize you don’t, and wake up in a cold sweat just before the ending. Very effective Lynchian weirdness. I think, though, that there was just not *quite* enough information to connect the reader to the stories. It felt more like someone describing their dream more than being in it. I needed more.

These narrow stories are all vaguely thematically related but were otherwise unique pieces, each exploring a different aspect of horror. The buffet of creepiness was very successful and made me hungry for more information about Brookville. Unfortunately, I never got it. I didn’t enjoy every story, but that’s to be expected in a collection. I loved everything with Redmond. He was so interesting, visceral, and layered and I hope he returns in this author’s future works. I did not care for the ending at all. That type of twist not my taste, but it may work for others. I’d average my rating of each individual story at a solid 4 stars, but the frustration of too little information overall takes my rating down to 3.

Whatever’s going on here is fascinating and I do want to know more. I’d read a second installment for sure. Welcome to Brookville was world-building without actually building the world, if that makes sense. Somehow, it was too much show and not enough tell. Go figure.

Bottom line: If you like New Weird, have a strong stomach, a vivid visual imagination, and don’t mind being left in the dark, you’ll enjoy Welcome to Brookville. If you can’t tick off all of those boxes, take a pass.

CW: scenes of child abuse and themes of psychological distress throughout. This book is not for sensitive readers.

Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.