Friday, December 31, 2021

Book Review - Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Published by:
Publication Date: September 9th, 2019
Format: Kindle, 479 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Gideon wants nothing to do with the Ninth. The house is nothing more than a creepy death cult guarding a locked tomb that is quickly dying out. She wants off the planet and out of the life she's begrudgingly lived. But her countless escape plans have never worked and this newest one is no different, even if it's the closest she's ever come. She is once again stopped by her nemesis, Harrowhark Nonagesimus. Harrowhark is the scion of the Ninth. A wickedly powerful necromancer who has been puppeteering her parents corpses for years in an effort to make it look like the Ninth is still a functional house and not on it's last legs. This appearance is more important than ever as the Emperor has called all nine houses to his abandoned palace, Canaan House, to compete for the honor to become Lyctors, eternals who serve at his side. The problem is that each house has to have a cavalier, a warrior, indefatigable and unbeatable, who protects the necromancer. The only real contender for Harrowhark's cavalier is Gideon. The problem is Gideon wasn't trained for this role and more importantly she'd rather see Harrowhark dead than be the one having to save her. So Harrowhark makes a deal. They go to Canaan House, they put on the show of a lifetime, Harrowhark wins and becomes a Lyctor and Gideon gets to ride off into the sunset. Gideon doesn't like this plan. Gideon doesn't think it will work. Gideon doesn't have a choice. When they arrive at Canaan House Gideon is quickly abandoned by Harrowhark who plays up the mystique of the the Ninth House by being wreathed in shrouds and totally unavailable to Gideon. Gideon sees quite quickly that the reputation of the Ninth makes all the other houses wary of her, and yet, slowly she starts to befriend them. That's when they start dying. This Lyctor test was set up in a way that makes the suspicious houses unable to win, but amply able to die. Will Gideon even live to cash in on Harrowhark's promise or will she die screaming in agony on a distant planet? At least she won't die near the benighted locked tomb...

Me and much lauded books rarely get along. My tastes are rarely the tastes of the masses. And yet again and again I feel drawn to read them. That's how I picked up Gideon the Ninth. Though I was circumspect in that I knew it might not be for me and therefore got it from my local library. I mean, lesbian necromancers in space sounds awesome, but there was that voice saying, but is it for you? Turns out it was. But not without the reservations continuing for quite awhile. After my first night of reading I actually reached out to my friends asking them "has anyone read Gideon the Ninth? I am a die hard must finish a book and have literally only given up on one in the last decade...but this isn't catching my interest at all..." Theories ranged from it being the victim of hype to it just being very polarizing. But I refused to give up and this book is literally why I don't give up on books, aside from that one a few years back which I try not to think of. Gideon the Ninth literally took a third of the way through the book to click and when it did it became magnificent. This became the Gothic space thriller of my dreams! Teams of two pitted against each other in order to find keys to literally unlock secrets in the biggest most haunted space palace you could imagine. There were elements of The Haunting of Hill House and The Hunger Games and Rose Red! I literally was dumbfounded that the book I had bemoaned became this epic read. One of my friends was shocked it went from a possible DNF to four stars in the span of a week. I was even encouraging him to keep going because he would be surprised by what it became. Therefore I use this book as a reminder, whatever you use to cull your TBR Pile, a hundred page rule, a quarter rule, whatever, it wouldn't have worked here. Never judge a book until you read that last line, it might end up one of your favorite reads.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Book Review - Megan Giddings's Lakewood

Lakewood by Megan Giddings
Published by: Amistad
Publication Date: March 24th, 2020
Format: Kindle, 288 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Lena doesn't know what to do. Her grandmother was barely keeping things together before her passing. Now that she's gone Lena has to be the head of the family. Her mother has been ill for years. $80,000 worth of tests proved that she's sick but they still don't know with what. She has headaches and seizures, and her brain sometime just doesn't want to work right. In order for her to get the care she needs they need money. So Lena makes a decision. Her degree in art history can wait. It's not like school is going anywhere. She will become the breadwinner in the family. The problem is the only real job offer she's had is to be a sexy mascot at a taco restaurant opening up, and that isn't exactly going to pay much. But then she gets an invitation in the mail to join a medical study supposedly on memory. She'd have to sign an NDA and understand no one would be allowed to know what she is really doing. They'd set it up to make it look like she is just doing normal office work and all her and her mother's medical bills would be covered. Plus, Lena could start building a nest egg for herself and her mother. First she has to complete a week long series of tests. They are harrowing. Lena doesn't remember much except lots of doctors and needles and talking. But at the end of the week she's a few thousand dollars richer and realizes that because of her position, if she's lucky enough to be offered a place in the study, she will take it with no hesitation. Which is how Lena ends up in the town of Lakewood. There she reports everyday to a normal office and is handed a sheet of paper that tells her what her day consisted of. This is a well fabricated lie about dirty microwaves and stolen yogurt. In reality she and her colleagues undergo various tests. At first they seem benign. But then the "secretary's" teeth all fall out and Lena is locked in a cabin for she doesn't know how long. And then it gets worse. Also, why are there no white participants? And what is happening on other floors? And what will happen to Lena's mother if she leaves? Or worse, if Lena doesn't survive the study? Only time will tell if the mysteries of Lakewood get revealed.

The thing I love about my book club is that we all have such drastically different tastes that I read books I would never pick up on my own. And no, we never read books that the internet would designate as "perfect for your book club." Have you ever noticed those books are just... well, I could see the older women in my mom's old book club reading them, but never me. We read speculative science fiction, biographies, mysteries, YA, we are all over the place. I have to admit that the last few picks prior to Lakewood were not my cup of tea. So I was hesitant going in but also hopeful that it would break the cycle of, what I deemed, schlock. Lakewood delivered. The book was sold as "part The Handmaid’s Tale, part The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." While I get the whole reason for comparing books to other books to get people to pick them up, it sometimes annoys me, and in this instance I think they sold Lakewood short, because this is The Circle meets Get Out with a dash of The Office and a final helping of Annihilation and Stranger Things. It's got EVERYTHING! There's this day to day grind of what horrors will happen to Lena today. What will happen while she plays at having an office job? There's this veneer of normalcy that made me think of The Circle. The fact that this could be all above board except for this feeling that something is lurking beneath the surface. And while Lakewood would have been good at anytime, I think that when it was released led people to appreciate it all the more because it resonated with what was happening in the world, from the pandemic to BLM. This country has a horrible history of how it has treated people of color, and specifically in regard to medical trials, seeing them as nothing more than lab rats. Just look to the television commercials targeting people of color to get vaccinated featuring Spike Lee and the Obamas. The reason these ads are even necessary is because they have EVERY REASON not to trust. Years and years of medical experimentation have made them rightly wary. This book shines a light right on that and on the fact that people will only pay attention once white people start getting hurt. Things need to change and I hope this book, besides being entertaining, will get people to actually think.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

Murder at Teal's Pond: Hazel Drew and the Mystery That Inspired Twin Peaks by David Bushman and Mark T. Givens
Published by: Thomas and Mercer
Publication Date: December 28th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 335 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A brilliantly researched reinvestigation into the nearly forgotten century-old murder that inspired one of the most seductive mysteries in the history of television and film.

In 1908, Hazel Drew was found floating in a pond in Sand Lake, New York, beaten to death. The unsolved murder inspired rumors, speculation, ghost stories, and, almost a century later, the phenomenon of Twin Peaks. Who killed Hazel Drew? Like Laura Palmer, she was a paradox of personalities - a young, beautiful puzzle with secrets. Perhaps the even trickier question is, Who was Hazel Drew?

Seeking escape from her poor country roots, Hazel found work as a domestic servant in the notoriously corrupt metropolis of Troy, New York. Fate derailed her plans for reinvention. But the investigation that followed her brutal murder was fraught with red herrings, wild-goose chases, and unreliable witnesses. Did officials really follow the leads? Or did they bury them to protect the guilty?

The likely answer is revealed in an absorbing true mystery that's ingeniously reconstructed and every bit as haunting as the cultural obsession it inspired."

OK, I totally didn't know that there was a real life case that inspired Twin Peaks. And given I'm such a Twin Peaks fanatic, this is something I should have known! In fact I was ready to call BS until I saw Mark Frost wrote the forward. So now I MUST read this book!

The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan
Published by: Mira Books
Publication Date: December 28th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A popular sorority girl. An unsolved murder. A campus podcast with chilling repercussions.

Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found after two weeks, but the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the medical examiner's, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.

Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle. He just isn't sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace's last hours. Then he encourages listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer Regan Merritt, a former US marshal, to come on and share her expertise.

New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace's secret life, a much darker picture than Lucas imagined - and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own secret. The pressure is on to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast - before the killer silences him forever."

Sororities were created solely for murder mysteries and the horror genre. Throw in a podcast, and well, I'm a happy reader.

A Deadly Endowment by Alyssa Maxwell
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: December 28th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Set among the landed gentry of post-WWI England and perfect for fans of Downton Abbey, Alyssa Maxwell’s latest historical mystery finds sleuthing duo Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her lady’s maid, Eva Huntford, hunting a killer after the decision to open Foxwood Hall for guided tours turns deadly...

To make ends meet, Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her lady’s maid, Eva Huntford, have decided to open up Foxwood Hall to guided public tours. Not everyone is pleased about it - even to the point of committing murder...

The lean times following the Great War continue to require creative solutions for England's noble class. But Lady Phoebe’s proposal to open up the Renshaw estate to guided tours for additional income strikes many in the family as a “vulgar enterprise.” Phoebe’s grandfather, the Earl of Wroxly, however, reluctantly concedes the necessity.

Their first tour group consists of members of the Historical Society, a magazine writer, and a flock of students. It’s a large group for Phoebe, her sister Amelia, and Eva to manage, and when the widow Arvina Bell goes missing, Eva goes in search of her - only to find her in the library, strangled with a silken drapery cord.

The schoolchildren are promptly sent home, but the members of the Historical Society - many of whom also wandered off at times - remain for interrogation. There is also, curiously, a framed photo missing from the library. As the police hastily zero in on a suspect, Phoebe and Eva weigh the clues. Does the crime have to do with rumors of hidden treasure at Foxwood Hall? But they must make haste to solve the widow’s murder - before someone else becomes history..."

Because we all need something Downtonesque to hold us over until the movie comes out in March!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas!

"Suddenly, I have this dreadful urge to be merry" - Charles Addams

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Book Review - Riley Sager's Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Published by: Dutton
Publication Date: June 30th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Imagine being known your entire life as the girl who survived one the the country's most notorious haunted houses. Now imagine that notoriety is all your father's fault for publishing the experience in a book that rivaled The Amityville Horror in sales and skepticism. House of Horrors has haunted Maggie her entire life. What's more galling than the endless questions about Baneberry Hall is the fact that she can't remember anything that happened. Therefore she has grown up a skeptic. Ghosts don't exist and her father obviously made everything up as a cash grab, feathering their bank account and destroying Maggie's life and his marriage to Maggie's mother in the process. But when he dies Maggie learns a surprising fact, he never sold Baneberry Hall. He could have made a killing turning it into a tourist attraction, further incensing the ire of the locals, but instead he held onto the property. Fueled by her past Maggie has grown up smart and sensible and is a home restorer, proving on a daily basis there's nothing to fear in the walls of old houses but vermin and mold. Therefore upon learning of her windfall she does the logical thing, she returns to Baneberry Hall to assess it, fix it up, and sell it. A move that her mother begs her not to do. In fact she flat out offers to buy the house from Maggie so that she won't return to that horrible place. Her mother's insistence to stay away makes Maggie even more curious. This is nothing more than a house they're talking about. Sure it's big and rambling but there are no evil forces, because there are no such things as ghosts. Or are there? Because once in the house Maggie starts to experience what could be categorized as otherworldly phenomena. She also starts to remember what her father wrote about all those years ago. But that book can't be true can it?

I don't know why but while most people read horror around Halloween for some reason nothing says horror to me like a hot summer day with the cicadas singing. The long summer evenings where the light is still present to keep the horrors contained within the pages of a book at bay. Or pulling the shades down against the setting sun and watching a horror film before the creatures can reach out of the dark corners and worm their way into your nightmares. I devoured Home Before Dark over a few hot July nights and it easily became my book of the summer. It had everything I hope for in a book, I even got the bejesus scared out of me one night because I turned out the lights and my room was filled with a luminous glow. Turns out this book was designed by some genius graphic designers who used luminous ink on the cover. I tip my hat to you whomever made me almost crap my pants. What I particularly loved about Home Before Dark was the switching of the narrative between Maggie in the "present" and chapters from her father's book. House of Horrors was perfectly written in that it stylistically captured that specific genre of "true" hauntings from the late seventies and the early eighties. I was a kid again getting scared by a story just because it said it was "based on true events!" What's more is this book pays tribute to all the great haunted house books, in particular The Haunting of Hill House and the recent Netflix adaptation that I couldn't get enough of. In fact I think this book might make the rota of spooky books I return to again and again. Let's put it this way, this book has made Riley Sager a must read author with me only having picked up one of his four volumes in print.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

Darth Vader by Charles Soule Omnibus by Charles Soule
Published by: Marvel
Publication Date: December 21st, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 624 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Lord Vader...rise! Picking up directly where Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith ends, follow Vader as he ascends to power as a Dark Lord of the Sith! Having lost everything dear to him and now more machine than man, Vader takes his first steps into a darker world - beginning by eradicating the galaxy’s remaining Jedi! But librarian Jocasta Nu is making a desperate effort to preserve the religion’s legacy - and the stirrings of a rebellion have begun in the Mon Cala system! To ensure the Emperor’s grip on the galaxy is absolute, Vader must deal swiftly and brutally with any uprisings...but he has a goal of his own. And as darkness rises above Mustafar, scene of Vader’s greatest defeat, will the man once called Anakin Skywalker realize his true destiny?

COLLECTING: Darth Vader (2017) 1-25, Darth Vader Annual (2015) 2."

Seeing as I've spent a good deal of this year reading the big Star Wars arc, Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters, I have fallen in love with how Charles Soule writes some of my favorite characters. Therefore I am beyond ecstatic for this gigantic omnibus.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Book Review - Riley Sager's Lock Every Door

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
Published by: Dutton
Publication Date: July 2nd, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 381 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Jules's life has gone spectacularly to shit. But a new job opportunity might just give her the breathing room to get it back on track. She's willing to take it, caveats and all. And there are a lot of caveats. She would be an apartment sitter at the tony Bartholomew. This apartment is one of THE most famous in all of Manhattan. All the residents are rich and famous, some even infamous. So obviously one of the caveats is to not disturb them. She is to come and go and do nothing else. She must never leave the apartment unattended overnight and she must never invite a guest over. Given the opportunity and the life of luxury she would be living, the rules don't seem untoward. Plus, she would be PAID to live a life she could never even dream of. Floor to ceiling windows overlooking Central Park! Views to die for. Only, maybe people did die for them... There are actually a few other apartment sitters in residence and Jules starts to befriend Ingrid, the sitter taking care of the apartment right below Jules that has a convenient dumbwaiter so they can communicate with each other. Ingrid reminds Jules painfully of her sister she lost eight years earlier. So when Ingrid disappears, Jules isn't going to rest until she finds her. She might have forever lost her sister to the wide world, but Ingrid can't just be gone as well! Plus, Ingrid had some very dark theories about what is actually going on at the Bartholomew. The building has a history. A dark history. Also, the building feels as if it's watching and waiting. With Ingrid missing Jules decides to dig deeper. Not just into the Bartholomew's history, but into her fellow residents. She learns that the turnover rate for apartment sitters is quite high. They all jump at the chance to make $12,000 but then rarely do they stay for the length of the job. They disappear in the middle of the night, just like Ingrid. Also, looking back, it seems odd that Jules was asked so much about her lack of family and friends in her job interview. Why would her lack of connections matter? Unless of course the Bartholomew doesn't want anyone looking for you... Jules knows she's probably in danger just looking for Ingrid, but she's been in danger since she took the job. What's one more foolhardy risk at this point?

I remember the first time I walked past The Dakota in New York City. At the time I didn't even register that that was where I was. I had been walking around the Upper West Side and I felt this chill in the air and I noticed that the building I was passing had actual gas lamps around the entrance. Who would have actual gas lamps in this day and age, which admittedly was a few decades back, but still!?! They're so impractical and of another era I was flabbergasted. It didn't even sink in that the entrance they were surrounding was where John Lennon was killed. I just got a creepy vibe off the building and moved quickly to Central Park where I would no longer be in the shadow of this building. Later that day I put two and two together. And oddly enough it wasn't finding myself in Strawberry Fields that did it but talking to a friend of mine about her first experience of New York and what were the sights she most remembered and everything clicked into place. And the vibe I got made sense. John Lennon's death aside, there's a reason Roman Polanski chose this building to be the "Bramford" in Rosemary's Baby. This building feels off, yet at the same time, it feels quintessentially New York. Lock Every Door is Riley Sager's ode to this duality of New York and The Dakota and in extension Rosemary's Baby. The Bartholomew gives you this feeling of what you imagine New York to be but that it never is. Or at least it never will be for you. It's luxury and class, but then, there's the sting. New York is an old city with old money and people set in their ways and the "other" New York is what lurks beneath. What is behind an apartment that is too good to be true? What are you inadvertently sacrificing to "live the dream?" What will be revealed if you dig deep enough? Also there's that pull to not dig, to not look, to just blindly ignore everything and just remember to not pinch yourself in case you wake yourself up. Because why would you want to? You're being paid to live the dream with a hansom doctor, exuding a season two Dynasty Nick Toscani vibe, right next door. I'd be tempted to ignore my sixth sense, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Book Review - Leigh Bardugo's Ninth House

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Published by: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: October 8th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Alex Stern has been given an opportunity she never thought she'd get. At the age of twenty she is the going to be a freshman at Yale with a full ride. But how did she even get to New Haven? She had thrown her life away, living among the dregs and the drug dealers. Then she miraculously survived a gruesome multiple homicide that claimed the life of her best friend and her boyfriend of which she was a prime suspect. While recuperating in the hospital she was approached by Dean Sandow. He wants her to tell him about the Grays. It turns out Alex has been able to see ghosts her entire life. Her "job" will be to join the Ninth House, Lethe, it is a regulatory house for the other eight secret societies at Yale, Skull and Bones being the only one that the general populace believes exists. She accepts Dean Sandow's offer and is eastward bound. To a girl christened Galaxy by her hippie mother just the prospect of Yale's cafeteria is a dream come true, but being thrust into the world of the elite could take some getting used to. Take Darlington for example. He is there to mentor her and shepherd her in her duties to the other houses because once he graduates she will take over his duties. Darlington is the epitome of a Yale student. Like the members of the other houses, he is a golden boy raised by the right family with expectations. While the two of them are exact opposites, when Darlington disappears Alex realizes that she might be in way over her head. Now Alex has two major mysteries in her life, Darlington, and whatever happened that day when Hellie and Len died. And then she lands in the middle of a third when she starts investigating a murder that happened near the outskirts of campus. Her investigation brings up no untoward evidence until a Gray attacks her. Only once before has a ghost been able to touch her, and that was when she was almost raped by one on a school field trip. Oddly enough another Gray saves her and she realizes that something far deeper is at play at Yale. She will get to the bottom of it and find Darlington, though it might just kill her.

I find the worst thing in the world is when a book you've been waiting for with baited breath turns out not to even be worth the breath to discuss it. I mean, just thinking about writing this review is making me tired. I slogged my way to the bitter end of this dreck, I guess given how many people love this book I can rise to the occasion to explain why they are so so wrong. So, secret magical societies at Yale right? Should be magical yeah? Nope, it's just horrid. And what's interesting is that people who've liked it kind of agree with me once I start to innumerate my issues. So let's start! My problems, and they are nearly innumerable, can be summed up with the dismissive way rape culture is handled in this book. Leigh Bardugo seemed to want to include issues that are topical to colleges within her fantastical framework, IE rape culture, but instead she just pays it lip service. Magic is literally used to rape Alex's roommate Mercy and instead of handling this in a mature and helpful manner, Alex thinks up something so immature that I can barely even discuss it. I mean, ugh, seriously, this is a viable solution? Because her roommate's rape goes viral Alex decides to make the rapist Blake the star of his own viral shit eating video. She literally uses magic to make Blake eat shit and records it. And then her roommate is just fine because, well, no one remembers the girl who was raped when there's someone eating shit! Um no. This isn't how trauma and survival work. I am literally so mad thinking about this that I have to stop writing this for awhile. I'm back but still mad. I have literally been trying months to finish this review and every time I get angry so I try to pretend I'm just not bothered to exert any effort. But the truth is I'm just so bothered I just can't. How did the creator of the Grishaverse write this!?! Since I started this review and since now when I'm typing this I re-read the Grishaverse in it's entirety, and it handles abuse so thoughtfully and yet here!?! And don't get me started on the fact that the best character is just not there. Or that the ending is lame. Or that this series is taking away valuable time when Leigh could be writing another series! Ugh!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Darkest Place by Jo Spain
Published by: Quercus Publishing
Publication Date: December 14th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the bestselling author of With Our Blessing and The Confession comes a gripping and chilling new mystery.

Christmas day, and DCI Tom Reynolds receives an alarming call. A mass grave has been discovered on Oileán na Caillte, the island which housed the controversial psychiatric institution St. Christina's. The hospital has been closed for decades and onsite graves were tragically common. Reynolds thinks his adversarial boss is handing him a cold case to sideline him.

But then it transpires another body has been discovered amongst the dead - one of the doctors who went missing from the hospital in mysterious circumstances forty years ago. He appears to have been brutally murdered. As events take a sudden turn, nothing can prepare Reynolds and his team for what they are about to discover once they arrive on the island..."

Because, to me, nothing says Christmas like murder!

Friday, December 10, 2021

Book Review - Ruth Ware's The Turn of the Key

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
Published by: Gallery/Scout Press
Publication Date: August 6th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Rowan is in prison. Yes, she's the nanny who had the worst thing that could possibly happen happen. The police won't listen. No one will listen. Her fate has already been decided due to a few bad decisions on her part. She thinks if she could just get her story completely told to one person that person would understand and help her. Because no one gets what it was like at Heatherbrae House. The lack of sleep, the feeling of going mad, constantly being pushed beyond her limits. She was thrown into the deep end and she sank. She might be a flawed human being, but she is no murderer! It all seemed like a dream until it became a nightmare. The job in the middle of nowhere, the ridiculous salary, the perfectly behaved children, the chance to get away from her current job at Little Nippers, and the house. Oh, Rowan would have given anything to live there and to be a part of that family, and in the end she did. She should have known it was too good to be true. But the impeccable references got her in the door and she did the best job of selling herself she ever had and somehow she achieved the impossible, her dream job. But the interview gave her a glimpse into a nonexistent world. The smart house with it's omniscient technology might sound appealing, but it's just a means of control. Of forcing the modern and the old to coexist in a way they shouldn't. Also the remodeling of the house was just a means to scrub the past away. But that past is buried deep, like the roots of the plants in the poison garden out back. A garden conceived by a man who lost his daughter due to the very poisons he cultivated. Then there's Jack. He's the handy man. And he is very handy. Maybe too handy. He's always there when Rowan needs him but she doesn't question this until it might be too late. She should have questioned everything. She should have done better. She should have come clean sooner. Maybe then things would have turned out differently. Or maybe she was always supposed to be the catalyst for this tragedy, just a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

I have issues with The Turn of the Screw. Many, many issues. While many people have written copiously on all the plurality of meanings in The Turn of the Screw I could probably write a dissertation on why I hate it. There'd even be footnotes! But I think spending all my time dwelling on something I dislike wouldn't be the most beneficial to my health, though as I've said before, it's easier to write about something you hate than something you love. You can pinpoint with unerring accuracy everything that gets under your skin while that which makes your heart sing is almost impossible to describe. At this point you're wondering, well, then why did she pick up a retelling of The Turn of the Screw if she hates it so much? The answer is simple, I can see that this story has potential written by anyone other than Henry James and therefore I wanted to see where Ruth Ware would take it. The answer is a lot further and more futuristic than Henry James! Aside from the fact that she uses the built in horror tropes of a smart home perfectly, a home I would never live in because even my phone stopped reading my fingerprint, the bones of this version make it the best version of The Turn of the Screw I have yet read. Notice I am not mentioning The Haunting of Bly Manor, because that was watched, and that is now the pinnacle of perfection all retellings of The Turn of the Screw should be aiming for. What this retelling did so well is make us actually care about the characters and the family dynamic. Plus, with double the number of children, it's like Russian roulette, at least one of them is going down, and you can't be sure which one! So not only did I care if these characters lived or died, the fact that they were all in jeopardy made me turn the pages at breakneck speed. I was totally invested in a story that I thought would be just a mild diversion. Because of this I really started to over-analyze everything. There are weird little errors throughout the book. Rowan purposefully picks up an iPad when leaving the kitchen to watch the children but then ends up using her phone instead. The dog beds move from the weird servants pantry to the kitchen. There are all these little things that add up and I wonder, was it purposeful to highlight the fact that Rowan is an unreliable narrator? Or accidental? If accidental, this is the first time a lack in editing has paid off.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Book Review - Ruth Ware's The Death of Mrs. Westaway

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Published by: Gallery/Scout Press
Publication Date: May 29th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Hal is destitute. She has been eking out a living reading Tarot cards for the punters on Brighton Beach but she's nowhere near as good as her mother Maggie was at this. But Maggie died tragically before Hal's eighteenth birthday and Hal had to take out some loans from some disreputable people and they won't let her forget that. Even if she's paid it all back, with interest. Then a letter arrives that could change everything. Hal has somehow been "identified" as the granddaughter of a Mrs. Westaway and stands to inherit, well, something. Really, anything would be fine. Only, Hal knows this woman couldn't possibly be her grandmother. Her whole family was Maggie and Maggie is gone. But what's the harm in getting out of town for a few days and seeing if she can convince the family that she's a Westaway long enough for her to make off with a few hundred pounds. Just enough to help ease her situation. Maybe relocate away from Brighton? It's not like she'd be taking advantage of them, they're probably wealthy and what's a few hundred pounds to them when to her it could change her life? The only problem is she hasn't been left a few hundred pounds, she's been left everything. Knowing that she isn't the missing granddaughter Mrs. Westaway was looking for Hal is ready to pack it all in until she is given a picture. A picture that proves that her mother knew the Westaway siblings. Could she really be related to Mrs. Westaway? Could the inheritance be rightfully hers by some quirk of fate? But the grand estate of Trepassen has many secrets. Maggie came to Trepassen an innocent and ended up pregnant with Hal. Unwilling to divulge the name of Hal's father, whom Hal was always told was a one-night stand, Maggie was locked away in the attic. She was in fact locked up in the same room that Maggie is staying in. That can't be a coincidence. What was the reason Maggie never returned to Trepassen and does that put Hal in danger now?

Tarot cards, check. Mysterious letter bequeathing an inheritance, check. Stately, if slightly run down, manor house, check. Right there are the official bullet points that made me sit up and take notice of The Death of Mrs. Westaway. Well, that and the fact that it kept being compared to Daphne Du Maurier, a trap I fall for way too often. She is without equal and I need to keep reminding myself of that. But while none of those bullet points are wrong, they are also very misleading. This book isn't the least bit charming or Gothic, it's prosaic. Hal barely makes a living reading Tarot cards for the tourists. She gets a letter about an inheritance that she's sure is mistaken while obviously it's not. But she assumes she can pull off the con because she's so good at reading people. It's like a boring heist but with snow. I'm sorry, but if you're going to go for the grab bag of Gothic goodies could something have been at least slightly menacing? Even throwing Hal up into the creepy neither regions of the house elicited barely a shudder from me. What's more is that I figured out everything too easily. I'm not saying I'm a savant when it comes to crime solving, but I am knowledgeable enough that if you're a writer who isn't very good at disguising your clues, leaving them a little too open to the elements, well, I'll pounce on them like a cat on catnip. I had the killer down within five minutes of them appearing on the scene. What's more, I was able to pick out the motive way too easily. There are some "tricks" that work only in literature because there's wiggle room for mistaken identities that aren't there in a visual medium. The most successful use I've seen of this in recent years was in Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper. She nailed it. This, this doesn't nail it. What's also annoying is that during the reveal there is a major blunder. Hal's mother Maggie is trying to escape a dangerous situation in a flashback and runs out onto the iced over lake. In July. Yes, watch out for that dangerous July ice everyone. And there's no way it could have been a mistake because the whole scene is set in summer and there's flowers and a picnic and ICE! Yeah... just... whatever. In fact, whatever is kind of my general feeling for this book overall. I was entertained but that was all.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Midnight Hour by Elly Griffiths
Published by: Mariner Books
Publication Date: December 7th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Brighton police force is on the hunt for another killer, but this time they have some competition - a newly formed all-women’s private eye firm, led by none other than the police chief’s wife.

Newly minted PI Emma Holmes and her partner Sam Collins are just settling into their business when they’re chosen for a high-profile case: retired music-hall star Verity Malone hires them to find out who poisoned her husband, a theater impresario. Verity herself has been accused of the crime. The only hitch - the Brighton police are already on the case, putting Emma in direct competition with her husband, police superintendent Edgar Stephens.

Soon Emma realizes that Verity’s life intersects closely with her own - most notably in their mutual connection, Max Mephisto, who has returned to England from America with his children and famous wife, Hollywood star Lydia Lamont. Lydia, desperately bored in the countryside, catches wind of what Emma and Sam are up to and offers her services. What secret does Lydia know about Verity’s past?

The team of female PIs circle closer to the killer, with the Brighton police hot on their tail. The clues suggest they’re looking for a criminal targeting the old music-hall crew. How long will it be before that trail leads straight back to Max?"

I started this series this year and it has quickly become an all-time favorite. So how felicitous there's a new entry in the series!

Bryant and May: London Bridge is Falling Down by Christopher Fowler
Published by: Bantam
Publication Date: December 7th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The brilliant duo of Arthur Bryant and John May uncovers a nefarious plot behind the seemingly innocuous death of an old lady - and when the case leads them to London Bridge, it all comes down on the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

When ninety-one-year-old Amelia Hoffman dies in her top-floor flat on a busy London road, it’s considered an example of what has gone wrong with modern society: she slipped through the cracks in a failing system.

But detectives Arthur Bryant and John May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit have their doubts. Mrs. Hoffman was once a government security expert, though no one can quite remember her. When a link emerges between the old lady and a diplomat trying to flee the country, it seems that an impossible murder has been committed.

Mrs. Hoffman wasn’t the only one at risk. Bryant is convinced that other forgotten women with hidden talents are also in danger. And, curiously, they all own models of London Bridge.

With the help of some of their more certifiable informants, the detectives follow the strangest of clues in an investigation that will lead them through forgotten alleyways to the city’s oldest bridge in search of a desperate killer.

But just when the case appears to be solved, they discover that Mrs. Hoffman was smarter than anyone imagined. There’s a bigger game afoot that could have terrible consequences."

Pardon if I've made this joke before but it's too good to pass up.... It's a wonderful day when there's a new Bryant and May!

Observations by Gaslight by Lyndsay Faye
Published by: Mysterious Press
Publication Date: December 7th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 295 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A new collection of Sherlockian tales that shows the Great Detective and his partner, Watson, as their acquaintances saw them.

Lyndsay Faye - international bestseller, translated into fifteen languages, and a two-time Edgar Award nominee - first appeared on the literary scene with Dust and Shadow, her now-classic novel pitting Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper, and later produced The Whole Art of Detection, her widely acclaimed collection of traditional Watsonian tales. Now Faye is back with Observations by Gaslight, a thrilling volume of both new and previously published short stories and novellas narrated by those who knew the Great Detective.

Beloved adventuress Irene Adler teams up with her former adversary in a near-deadly inquiry into a room full of eerily stopped grandfather clocks. Learn of the case that cemented the lasting friendship between Holmes and Inspector Lestrade, and of the tragic crime which haunted the Yarder into joining the police force. And witness Stanley Hopkins’ first meeting with the remote logician he idolizes, who will one day become his devoted mentor.

From familiar faces like landlady Mrs. Hudson to minor characters like Lomax the sub-librarian, Observations by Gaslight - entirely epistolary, told through diaries, telegrams, and even grocery lists - paints a masterful portrait of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as you have never seen them before."

I've been on a bit of a Sherlock Holmes adjacent kick this year, there Observations by Gaslight by the author of Jane Steele is just what I've been looking for!

The Hanged Man's Tale by Gerald Jay
Published by: Nan A. Talese
Publication Date: December 7th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the shadowy back alleys and opulent homes of Paris, hard-nosed police inspector Paul Mazarelle of The Paris Directive sets out on the trail of a serial killer.

A murdered man is discovered dangling inside the tunnels of a Paris canal - the only clue, the tarot card in his pockets: the Hanged Man. When an innocent suspect is railroaded into prison for the homicide, Mazarelle sets off on the hunt for the real killer.

For the charming, hot-tempered, impulsive Frenchman - now back from the provinces and leading his own homicide unit out of Paris’s famed Quai des Orfevres - it’s an investigation that takes him far from the comforts of Beaujolais and bouillabaisse, and plunges him into an underworld of ruthless white supremacists looking for scapegoats in Paris’s growing immigrant community, corrupt cops eager to cover up a shady side business, and a conspiracy of secrets that threaten his own life.

Meanwhile, Claire Girard, an irresistible and ambitious journalist at a popular tabloid, is wrapped up in the same story. On the trail of the Tarot Card killer, Mazarelle finds himself blindsided by their growing attraction. And when his team’s case collides with Girard's latest scoop, and the body count keeps rising, Mazarelle himself becomes a prime suspect who must clear his own name. Gerald Jay’s latest Mazarelle adventure is a riveting, fast-paced thriller about a classic French detective making his way through the dangerous streets of a very modern world."

I might be a bit serial killer and tarot obsessed, therefore this book is SO in my wheelhouse.

The Witching Tree by Alice Blanchard
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: December 7th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Welcome to Burning Lake, a small, isolated town with a dark history of witches and false accusations. Now, a modern-day witch has been murdered, and Detective Natalie Lockhart is reluctantly drawn deep into the case, in this atmospheric mystery from Alice Blanchard, The Witching Tree.

As legend has it, if you carve your deepest desire into the bark of a Witch Tree, then over time as the tree grows, it will swallow the carvings until only a witch can read them.

Until now.

Detective Natalie Lockhart gained unwanted notoriety when she and her family became front and center of not one, but two sensational murder cases. Now she’s lost her way. Burned out and always looking over her shoulder, Natalie desperately thinks that quitting the police force is her only option left.

All that changes when a beloved resident - a practicing Wiccan and founder of the town’s oldest coven - is killed in a fashion more twisted and shocking than Natalie has ever seen before, leaving the town reeling. Natalie has no choice but to help solve the case along with Detective Luke Pittman, her boss and the old childhood friend she cannot admit she loves, even to herself. There is a silent, malignant presence in Burning Lake that will not rest. And what happens next will shock the whole town, and Natalie, to the core."

Witch persecution and murder is always a must read for me.

The Excalibur Curse by Kiersten White
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: December 7th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The gripping conclusion to the acclaimed Arthurian fantasy trilogy from New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White finds Guinevere questioning everything - friends and enemies, good and evil, and, most of all, herself.

While journeying north toward the Dark Queen, Guinevere falls into the hands of her enemies. Behind her are Lancelot, trapped on the other side of the magical barrier they created to protect Camelot, and Arthur, who has been led away from his kingdom, chasing after false promises. But the greatest danger isn’t what lies ahead of Guinevere - it’s what’s been buried inside her.

Vowing to unravel the truth of her past with or without Merlin’s help, Guinevere joins forces with the sorceress Morgana and her son, Mordred - and faces the confusing, forbidden feelings she still harbors for him. When Guinevere makes an agonizing discovery about who she is and how she came to be, she finds herself with an impossible choice: fix a terrible crime, or help prevent war.

Guinevere is determined to set things right, whatever the cost. To defeat a rising evil. To remake a kingdom. To undo the mistakes of the past...even if it means destroying herself.

Guinevere has been a changeling, a witch, a queen - but what does it mean to be just a girl?"

Damn, I'm a sucker for all things Camelot!

Shadows of Swanford Abbey by Julie Klassen
Published by: Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: December 7th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"News of her brother's worrisome behavior spurs Miss Rebecca Lane to return home to her village. Upon her arrival, he begs her to go to nearby Swanford Abbey, a medieval monastery turned grand hotel rumored to be haunted. Feeling responsible for her brother's desperate state, she reluctantly agrees to stay at the abbey until she can deliver his manuscript to a fellow guest who might help him get published - an author who once betrayed them.

Soon, Rebecca starts seeing strange things, including a figure in a hooded black gown gliding silently through the abbey's cloisters at night. For all its renovations and veneer of luxury, the ancient foundations seem to echo with whispers of the past - including her own. For there she encounters Sir Frederick - baronet, magistrate, and former neighbor - who long ago broke her heart. Now a handsome widower of thirty-five, he is trying to overcome a past betrayal of his own.

When the famous author is found dead, Sir Frederick makes inquiries and quickly discovers that several people held grudges against the author, including Miss Lane and her brother. As Sir Frederick searches for answers, he is torn between his growing feelings for Rebecca and his pursuit of the truth. For Miss Lane is clearly hiding something...."

It's like Jane Austen meets Midsomer Murders. You know, that episode in Maggie Smith's house from Gosford Park

Friday, December 3, 2021

Book Review - Lucy Foley's The Hunting Party

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Since their Oxford days a motley group of thirtysomethings have rung in the New Year together. Though this year they aren't all festive holiday joy as they arrive at the idyllic and isolated estate, Loch Corrin, in the Scottish Highlands. Mark's newish girlfriend Emma has arranged the trip for his college friends down to the very last detail. Of course, she couldn't control the weather, the fact that there is another group at the lodge, or all the secrets the group is concealing from one another. But this group has survived this long, what's one more New Year's Eve? Miranda has always been the leader of the group. The life of the party. But her supposedly perfect life is starting to careen out of control and her husband, Julien, has many secrets, only a few that she knows. She thinks a baby would solve everything. Boy is she wrong. Katie, who is a successful lawyer, has been putting her career ahead of her life for too long and while Miranda might think she's Katie's best friend, more and more she's been turning to Nick, who is there with his boyfriend Bo. As for Samira and Giles, they are so wrapped up with their newborn and the fact that they haven't slept since the birth that they barely notice they are on vacation. But when trapped together how long will fake bonhomie and champagne get you? How long can you reminiscence about the past? They have all changed over the intervening decade since they graduated college and not everyone is willing to accept the change. Not everyone is who they say they are. And what of the staff at Loch Corrin? Can they be trusted? Being trapped in the wilderness with your supposed best friends might be a nightmare, but trapped in the wilderness with strangers could be the most dangerous thing that could happen to this group. Trapped by the blizzard they have no way of escaping each other and one of them will die at the hands of another. But who will die and who will kill? Only the New Year will reveal all.

This is a book that pulls a bait and switch, in that your read the blurb, you see it compared to Tana French and Ruth Ware and Agatha Christie, you look at the cover, you think, country house in the Scottish highlands, a blizzard, a betrayal, and murder! YAS! I will read that! Instead you get a modern glass building with cabins for all the guests and no suspense at all. I figured out the killer in about two seconds because of the limited choice of narrators. It was like a vicious Peter's Friends, wherein you actually hope they all kill each other, mixed with that stupid Kevin Bacon house movie that got all those rave reviews, but it should be noted that this doesn't have the supernatural twist. It had no twist. Now I'm not saying that this couldn't have worked in the glass hunting lodge or with this cast of characters, I'm saying that it needed to be better written to work with the environment and suspects. Also it totally needed a different cover. I mean, seriously, did the designer even read the book or was it designed off the deceptive blurb? OK, I need to STOP bitching about the cover so let's concentrate on what annoyed me the most, and yes, I'm totally going to ignore the stupid secondary plot about what's going on at this resort because it doesn't even deserve a mention, what annoyed me was the choice in narrators. So we have four females told in first person and one male told in third person, which, yes, I'm groaning at the cliche of switching narration styles even as I type this. But the problem with this is it narrows the events from this motley cast of twelve or so characters to four. Because obviously the killer and the victim are among these four first person narrators. Why Lucy Foley would show her hand in such an obvious manner is beyond comprehension to me. What's more one of those narrators has no connection to the group, so she's immediately eliminated. So you can see why I think this is the biggest failing of the book. What's worse though is that every woman sounds the same. If each section didn't have the character's name at the start you would have no idea who was talking at you. The characters are just cardboard cutouts that all sound the same. Do yourself a favor and just steer clear of this party.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Book Review - Camilla Sten's The Lost Village

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: April 4th, 2019
Format: Kindle, 336 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Her whole life Alice has heard stories of Silvertjärn. But she isn't like everyone else in Sweden, obsessed with the town where in 1959 the residents disappeared overnight; leaving behind a newborn in the nurse's office of the school and a woman stoned to death in the town square. She has a personal connection. Her grandmother was from Silvertjärn. The day the residents disappeared Alice's grandmother lost her family. Alice has poured over the letter's her Aunt Aina sent her grandmother again and again. The people of Silvertjärn are real to her in a way that she wants to share with the world. Which is why she is trying to make a documentary about the lost village. She has assembled a small crew to go in for a few days in April and get enough footage so that they can lure in investors and then go back in in August and film the documentary, during the time of year when the disappearance happened sixty years earlier. Her crew consists of Max, the backer, Emmy, her ex-best friend, Emmy's boyfriend Robert, and Tone. Only Max and Alice know Tone's secret, she is the daughter of the baby found in 1959. So for two of the crew this is a coming home of sorts. It's unnerving stepping into the town and seeing it for the very first time. Pictures don't exist of the village anywhere so it comes as a shock to see how normal yet eerie it is. They set up camp and go over their plan of attack. Some places of interest are the school, the church, the railway station, and Alice's grandmother's house. Therefore the next morning Alice and Tone set off to investigate the school. Alice has spent a lot of time reading online about the best ways to enter old buildings in the safest manner possible. Therefore it's disheartening when Tone's ankle becomes badly injured on the stairs. She claims she heard something below them. Emmy and Robert also say that they heard noises on their walkie talkies. Could there be someone else here? What really happened to the villagers who were under the thrall of a charismatic preacher? As unsettling incidents start to pile up and one of their own goes missing, the question has to be asked, will any of them make it out of this remote location alive or are they the newest victims of Silvertjärn?

I think The Lost Village is a case in which I should have really paid attention to the blurb. But it was recommended to me by someone whose taste I trust so I kind of didn't notice the whole "The Blair Witch Project meets Midsommar." Of course I'd say it's more Jonestown meets Midsommar... but I really should have had a red flag go up at the mention of Midsommar. Let me make this crystal clear, I HATED Midsommar. It is the worst film I have ever seen in my entire life. Keep in mind at one point I was considering a Communication Arts degree but ended up with a BS in Art and a second in Theatre so I've seen a heck of a lot of movies and experimental films and performance pieces that nearly broke me. Yes, I did have a panic attack during a documentary about logging, but I would watch that documentary again if I could somehow expunge the pretentious piece of shit that was Midsommar from my memory. It wanted to be something big and meaningful but was nothing but dreck. So take it as read that I am affirming that this book is like Midsommar and therefore was never going to be the book for me. But ironically this wasn't what I hated most about the book. Yeah, that's actually a surprising statement to see written out given my hated of Midsommar. This book is just badly written. I don't know if this is because the book was lost in translation or the text was actually this clunky to begin with but Camilla Sten is horrible at describing, well, anything, from locations that have not aged as badly as they should have, to people. She often contradicts herself too. Tone goes from being hulking to petite. Everyone has a thin mouth like a dash. Seriously!?! Everyone!?! Oh, and don't get me started on how obvious that ending was. It was so obvious that there was no jeopardy or peril. Things that were supposed to be spooky weren't in the least. The only thing she got infinitesimally right was what it feels like for a friendship to fall apart. The "shock and rage and sadness" that hits you when you see that friend again. But what little inroads she made with that insight she destroyed by making her mentally ill characters nothing more than cliched tropes. I thought there was going to be some perception, instead it was more of the same shit. So that's what I came away with. Shit.

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