Book Review: Tainted Love – Women In Horror Anthology

This was an excellent way to celebrate both Valentine’s Day and Women In Horror Month!

Like any anthology, Tainted Love was hit or miss, but this was mostly hit. The interpretations of the prompts of love and horror were wide and varied. Not all stories were scary horror — some were sad, some were social commentary, some were fantasy, and one was hard sci fi. This anthology explored a wide variety of settings, time periods, voices, and story lengths, as well. I loved seeing the broad range here.

Not every story portrayed romantic love, either. From obsessive romantic love to narcissism to familial compassion, this anthology explores the vast types of loves that exist. They may not always be healthy — although some of them are, surprisingly! — but they are always passionate.

There are 14 distinct stories in this anthology. I enjoyed most of them and especially liked Of Guys and Dolls. It is a quick dive into two types of love, romantic and sibling, with devastating results. The level of horror in that story was delicious. Vanitas and Prey are tied for second favorites; these longer titles have great levels of character development and explore very different aspects of horror.

CW: Although there is a broad trigger warning encompassing many potential triggers, it should also be mentioned that there are scenes of animal abuse. This book is definitely not for sensitive readers!

Tainted Love: Women in Horror Anthology by Azzurra Nox and Erica Ruhe is expected to be released February 16, 2021. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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

Book Review: Look I Bought Plants

Look, if you’re a poetry buff, you’ll hate this. If you want emotional depth and life-changing poignancy to ponder until your dying day, this is not the book for you. At all.

But if you’re in that transitional period between the uninhibition of young adulthood and the disappointing reality of adulthood adulthood — and you’re ready to look in the mirror and laugh — you’ll probably enjoy this.

Look I Bought Plants is a compilation of approachable free-verse poetry that’s not about plants. The description/blurb implies that this book will dive deep into the harsh realities of millennial anxiety and offer a shoulder to cry on. It doesn’t. There are countless outstanding poets who bleed on paper and stir the soul, so if that’s what you want to read, this unapologetic book isn’t for you. These are raunchy, silly, self-deprecating, and sometimes pointless life observations in a poetic format.

Imagine if Rupi Kaur had a series of horrible Tinder dates, ate way too many burritos, and then got very drunk about it.

should i get bangs
or process my emotions
of disappointment
about where i am in my
life right now

This minimalistic book is just for fun, okay? It’s not meant to give your life new meaning. If you happen to catch your own reflection in this book, perfect. Some of it is actually very sweet and a few pieces have a broader meaning. Yes, there’s a lot of sex and body humor that may cause some readers to clutch their pearls. Oh well. Pretentious poetry, this is not.

i don’t fit into last summer’s swim suit
woe
is
me
but it’s because i am getting thicc
so i guess that’s fine

If you can visualize a poem about bad sex superimposed over an unrelated faux-inspirational sunset pic and find that funny, then congratulations, this is your type of humor.

Look I Bought Plants (and other poems about life and stuff) by Eva Victor and Taylor Garron is expected to be released May 18, 2021.

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

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.

What’s new? Reviews!

I am pleased to announce that I am now a NetGalley reviewer! For years, I’ve been envious of the ARC reviewers who get sneak peeks of new releases, and I’m thrilled to finally join their ranks. Unsurprisingly, I was a little over-enthusiastic with my requests on day one, and five of my requests were approved within 48 hours of joining. A little daunting, yes, but I’m over the moon.

I enjoy all literature bizarre and unsettling, so most of the titles I plan to review will be horror or at least weird. So far, so good.

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My first book up for review, Welcome to Brookville by Kelly Ennis, was a quick and dreamy read. I’ll be honest, I picked this title based on the cover in the hopes of some serious atmospheric weirdness. WOW did Ennis deliver! This collection of vaguely interconnected short stories takes place in the town of Brookville, where nothing normal seems to happen. If there had been giant rabbits spouting non sequiturs in their living room (spoiler: there aren’t) I’d almost believe it could be a Lynch movie. Almost. I felt like the most pertinent pages ripped out of my copy, so I could never say for sure what was going on, but I think I liked it.

The overarching themes of imprisonment and anxiety brought even the mildest psychological horror to the forefront. I can’t say what this book was about, exactly, but it left me with some disturbing and frustrating after-images, and in that way, it was successful.

Click here to see the full review.

There are four more books to review in the next couple weeks, and countless more in the pipeline. Mount TBR just got a lot higher.

Next up, The House of Dust by Noah Broyles.