Review | Girl, Alone

Girl, Alone (Ella Dark FBI Suspense Thriller #1) by Blake Pierce

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FBI Agent Ella Dark has been called in to the swamps of Louisiana to help investigate a series of murders with star agent Mia Ripley. Ella immediately hits on the striking similarities at the most current crime scene to a murder attributed to serial killer Ed Gein. Reviewing the previous files she realizes that each appears to be a copy cat of other serial killers. With the help of Ripley, Ella fine tunes her skills and follows her instincts, eventually leading her to the killer after one potential victim escapes their grasp.

I listened to the audio over the course of a couple days while running errands. It was entertaining enough but it’s nothing groundbreaking. An FBI agent with a tragedy in her past is caught up in a game of cat and mouse with a copycat serial killer. It’s been done before – and it’s been done better. I didn’t feel like I really got to know Ella or Ripley, I didn’t feel invested in the case because it was an all-too familiar plot without any complexity and the climax lacked the suspense I was hoping for.
With that said, it’s still a perfectly entertaining read when you need a brief distraction and I could see myself borrowing the next in the series from the library the next time I need one.

Review | Bad Girls Never Say Die

Bad Girls Never Say Die by Jennifer Mathieu

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Evie and her friends are bad girls in 1960s Houston, Texas. They wear bold makeup, smoke cigarettes, skip school, and run with the greaser boys.
Evie’s life is changed forever when she’s saved from a sexual assault at the drive-in by a good girl from the wealthy part of town. The traumatic night sets off a chain of events that will uncover secrets, test loyalties, and put lives in the balance.

Just writing that makes it sound far more interesting than it really was. I am a huge fan of Mathieu’s novel Moxie so I was thrilled to have an ARC of her latest, Bad Girls Never Say Die.
Advertised as a gender-flipped The Outsiders, it also reminded me in several ways of That Night (book by Alice McDermott, made into a movie starring C. Thomas Howell and Juliette Lewis) as the young MC Evie finds herself in the middle of a tragic romance between two characters.

The entire story felt too contrived, following predictable plots common to this era and lacking heart as well as originality. So much of this felt cheesy as the characters themselves even acknowledge the fact that all of the events unfold over about 10 days. While that makes it sound like a story you can breeze through, it’s weighed down by repetitive conversations between characters and lacks development in several important ways. I never made a connection with the characters or the story.

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group/Roaring Brook Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Bad Girls Never Say Die was released on October 19, 2021.

 

Review | These Silent Woods

These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant

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For eight years Cooper has raised his daughter Finch in a remote Appalachian cabin, filling their shelves with books and teaching her the wilderness code. The only person they see regularly is a local hermit and their closest neighbor, Scotland. It’s a tenuous friendship; a careful dance around the secrets that they both know Cooper is keeping.

Once a year, Coop’s former battle buddy Jake visits to bring food and supplies before winter. The year finally arrives when Jake doesn’t show and Cooper must venture into town to stock up himself. Finch’s growing curiosity about the outside world worries her dad who has a lot to hide. Then, when a young woman wanders into their woods, Cooper is certain she was just passing through but Finch witnesses something that threatens their solitary life.

These Silent Woods is a slow burn, showing us the slow pace and isolation of the cabin in the woods as well as building the unease between Cooper and Scotland. The past events that led them to live in the cabin are also slowly revealed as Cooper comes to terms with present events out of his control.
The young woman going missing should’ve amped up the suspense and pace but it felt strangely out of place and wasn’t really explored; it was a trigger for several possible outcomes and yet it didn’t feel like anything was truly at stake.
With that said, I really enjoyed the father-daughter bond, the atmosphere, and the raw emotion of Coop’s story.

Thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. These Silent Woods is scheduled for release on October 26, 2021.09

Review | Mrs. March

Mrs. March by Virginia Feito

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It’s Christmastime on the Upper East Side and Mrs. March is proud of her husband’s latest literary success that has everyone talking. Unfortunately on a trip to the local patisserie, the shopkeeper is making small talk about the book and innocently assumes the protagonist is based on Mrs. March. The vain Mrs. March is shocked by this assumption because the protagonist of George March’s latest novel is a whore.
With this casual conversation, Mrs. March suddenly questions everything about herself and her marital relationship. She becomes anxious and paranoid, quickly spiraling into doubts about her husband’s whereabouts and considering the possibility he’s somehow involved with the disappearance of a young woman.

I see so many books compared to Shirley Jackson these days that I basically ignore the comparison at this point but honestly I felt some true Shirley Jackson vibes in this debut from Virginia Feito.
Mrs. March is an emotionally complex character; a vain housewife living a lonely life as she isolates from others because she believes herself to be better than everyone else yet cares what everyone thinks. She’s living an ordinary life and yet there’s something unsettling about her; a subtle breakdown where if you look close enough you see the cracks beginning …until eventually they can’t be hidden.
If that’s not trademark Shirley Jackson, I don’t know what is!

This novel is a fever-dream; I couldn’t be sure what era exactly we were in or even fully envision Mrs. March herself, but I was completely immersed in the atmosphere of the Upper East Side during the holiday season and invested in following all the little spidering cracks in Mrs. March’s facade all the way to the fittingly ambiguous ending!

Review | Nothing But Blackened Teeth

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

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I’ve been saving Nothing But Blackened Teeth to put me in the Halloween spirit. This novella is easily read in one sitting and while I settled in to my favorite chair after sundown for a spooky tale, I ended up shaking my head at what could’ve been.

A group of friends travel to an abandoned mansion for a pre-wedding celebration. Turns out most of them have had feelings for or past relationships with each other but it’s all pretty vague and almost feels like we’re expected to just immediately know the relationship dynamics. Instead, I felt like I was eavesdropping on conversations that didn’t mean much without provided context.

The crumbling mansion seems pretty creepy, could’ve been very atmospheric and created some real unease for readers but it was a fuzzy backdrop to a stage of arguing characters. All I knew that kept the creep factor going is that there’s an old tale that a bride was buried alive under the mansion when her groom didn’t show up for the wedding and since then women have been sacrificed and packed in the walls to quench her loneliness.
Ummmm… this was an incredible opportunity for nightmare fuel and it was completely wasted on characters with zero development.

I didn’t care about them because I never understood their motivations, reasoning, or history. There is zero suspense. The most unsettling thing about this book is the cover for me. I wish the house had ate them all, honestly.

Thanks to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Nothing But Blackened Teeth is scheduled for release on October 19, 2021.

Review | Mrs Death Misses Death

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden

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Mrs Death is exhausted.  So much tragedy, so much … well, death. 

Seeking to unload her conscience, Mrs Death shares her stories with young writer Wolf Willeford, who commits them to paper and begins her memoirs.
Prose and poetry combine in short chapters to share both fictional and real tragic deaths across history and include letters, psychiatric transcripts, and diary entries to expose the horrors of life and death.

Mrs Death Misses Death is an unusual story brilliantly executed in my opinion with brutal imagery and clever wordplay as well as thought-provoking gender reversal (What if Death were actually a woman, in fact, a Black working class woman?) and commentary on current events.

Truthfully, this book is an experience and I highly recommend giving it a try though I’m aware it certainly won’t be for everyone.

Review | A Witch’s Guide to Escape

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow

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Another short story I’ve been meaning to get to and I’m so glad that I finally did — A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow.
You can read it here: https://apex-magazine.com/a-witchs-gu…
After reading The Once and Future Witches by Harrow (see my review here), I’ll read anything she writes!

In this short story, Harrow lets readers in on a little secret: most librarians are witches. The librarian in this story cares about her patrons, taking special notice of those in need of a particular book and making sure it ends up in their hands at the right time. When a Black teen repeatedly visits yearning for other worlds, the librarian does her best to open them for him. After learning his living situation, she must decide if she’s willing to break the rules to help him perform a great escape.

A Witch’s Guide to Escape packs a solid punch with the quirky narrator, creative back story for librarians, and the literal take on books as portals of escape.

Review | Run

Run: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (Illustrator), L. Fury (Illustrator)

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I devoured March (read my review here), the graphic novel trilogy about the early years of Congressman John Lewis’s life and couldn’t wait to get book one of its sequel, Run.

Our high school history books like to tell us that the Civil Rights Movement was neatly wrapped with the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Johnson.

Run details the continuing struggles and new issues that arose once the Act was signed as well as the end of Lewis’s time as SNCC chairman.

This is another excellent and immersive graphic novel detailing an important time in American history that is unfortunately often glossed over in text books.

Review | Migrations

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

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Franny Stone is a wanderer.

She’s left everything behind except for research gear to follow Arctic terns on what is almost certainly their final migration from Greenland to Antarctica. She meets the crew of the Saghani fishing vessel and talks her way aboard, getting them to agree to track the terns. Readers learn that this story is set in the not-so-distant future where almost every animal is extinct.

Migrations moves back and forth in time, piecing together Franny’s life: from her lonely childhood, her whirlwind love affair with her husband, the eventual tragedy that led her on this journey, and the redemption she is seeking. We also get some back story on the Saghani crew which makes this a complex cast of flawed characters, propelling the harrowing journey forward with rich emotional development.

Migrations was an unexpected read for me. I didn’t think I would love it as much as I did but I found myself listening to the audio every free moment I had to hear Franny’s secrets unfold!

Review | The Death of Jane Lawrence

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

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Jane Shoringfield is a practical young woman with a head for numbers. She’s done the calculations and knows her path to security lies in finding a husband comfortable with a marriage of convenience, allowing her to continue an independent life and a career. Jane’s considered her options and decides her best option is the new and reclusive town doctor, Augustine Lawrence.

Augustine seems torn by her proposal but it doesn’t take long to reach an agreement: Augustine and Jane will be married on her terms — so long as she agrees never to spend the night at his nearby crumbling family manor, Lindridge Hall. Augustine will return to the manor each night while Jane will remain at the apartment above the office in town.

This agreement is immediately voided on their wedding night when a storm prevents Jane from returning to town.
What Jane finds is that her confident surgeon husband becomes a terrified and somehow haunted man within the walls of Lindridge Hall once darkness falls.

Oooh this was an incredible gothic horror novel just in time for spooky season! I definitely felt the Shirley Jackson/Daphne du Maurier vibes. My best description of The Death of Jane Lawrence is Rebecca meets The Haunting of Hill House crossed with Crimson Peak.
The magic aspect of the book didn’t seem fully explored – it felt more like an extra layer to cover all the spooky bases. The building sense of unease surrounding the crumbling manor and Augustine’s secrets make this a creepy spiral into madness!

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. The Death of Jane Lawrence is scheduled for release on October 5, 2021.