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Book Chat: Grey Skies by William Becker

A few weeks ago, William Becker got in touch with me and asked if I would like to read his upcoming horror novel–Grey Skies, which released tomorrow, June 9th–for review. He sent me the synopsis, which really intrigued me, and I asked for a digital copy. I’m not writing a review for this one, though, because it was a DNF for me. I’m writing this post instead, because I do *not* think this is a bad book. It just really wasn’t for me, which I’ll explain below.

First up, here’s the cover and synopsis from Goodreads:

Grey Skies

Roman Toguri finds himself burying the body of a nun in Boone, North Carolina. As the skies darken and it begins to storm, he is forced to shove the corpse into his trunk and take it home for the night, unaware of the torment that playing God will bestow upon him.

Enter Hell with two bonus short stories: The White Shade, an ultra-violent look into the mind of a mass shooter, and The Black Box, a psychedelic dive into weird horror.


I love horror. It’s my “thing,” and honestly, I’ve consumed so much horror over the course of my life that I’m kind of jaded and pretty much nothing surprises or scares me anymore. But I still love it, and constantly am on the lookout for interesting books or movies to check out. This one sounded really interesting, but the problem was definitely me.

This book was what made me realize (for sure) that I just don’t like bizarro fiction :/ And I feel like this book definitely falls somewhere in that area. I want to like bizarro, and it feels like I should, but something about it doesn’t work for me at all, and I lose interest pretty fast. But, if you like stuff like John Dies at the End, then Grey Skies might be up your alley, and you should definitely check it out.

I read about 30% (roughly 70 pages) before I threw in the towel, and what I read was well written. The first couple or three chapters were weird, but I enjoyed them. After that, it got weirder, and harder for me to stay focused on it. (Again, that’s just me, not the book.) I really need to start caring about the universe or the character(s) by about 10% or 50 pages, whichever comes first, and I just didn’t connect with either.

When I first opened the book, I couldn’t help but laugh a little, and I had a smile on my face for a couple of minutes, because there are ciphers in here! The first one was a simple Pigpen Cipher, which I used all the freaking time between the ages of like…9-ish to, well…a few months ago 😛 That was super cool. After that, there are others that I feel like would be easier to figure out if you were looking at a physical copy of the book. It’s not impossible with an ebook, just slightly less convenient.

The opening chapter, with the nun, was weird in a sort of funny way, and I was feeling kind of bad for Roman, but also curious to see where things were going. After that, there was a thing with his bathroom, a thing with spiders (so, if you have arachnophobia, maybe pass on it), a tunnel leading from the crawl space below a house to the sewers, and more. By the time we landed on a ship, the fun had worn off for me.

I think this is another reason I don’t like bizarro, but I haven’t read enough (or seen enough) to be sure. I like to start seeing threads connecting by about 25%, and while I had some guesses about things that were going to connect, I wasn’t sure. I just can’t “go with it” for some reason. Most genre-fiction, sure. But I think bizarro(ish) is just a bit over my limit for suspension of disbelief and the like.

So, if you like ciphers, weird fiction, and you can just roll with whatever a story throws your way, definitely check out this book.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

I really do wish I’d been able to get into it, because I think it’s probably going to be well loved by people who enjoy this kind of weird horror :/

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Posted in book review

Sawkill Girls: Reviewed

Sawkill Girls

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Genres/Descriptors: YA; horror; fantasy; LGBTQ+

Publication: October 2018

Pages: 450

Check it out on Goodreads


What’s it about?

I tried to write something, but honestly? The Goodreads description is perfect, and I don’t want to give away anything.

Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.

He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.

Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.


Review:

This is either going to be very short, or very long, because I have a lot of feelings about this book, but I also don’t want to give anything away that might spoil it for someone. This book is so hard to talk about without spoilers, but I really think going into it without knowing much about the story is for the best.

I started this one night, barely managed to put it down after devouring about 60% of it, then immediately started reading again while eating breakfast. After that, I only put it down for a bathroom break. (The phrase “compulsively readable” comes to mind, and that’s exactly how I would describe this, if phrases like that didn’t make me roll my eyes.)

This book was so perfect for me: creepy and atmospheric setting, queer girls (there’s an asexual character, and the word “asexual” is on the page! plus a f/f relationship), great character dynamics, and it was angry in ways that are so relatable and had me cheering on the characters.

From the first page, I was totally sucked in. Sawkill Rock, and our three protagonists, owned my heart. By the halfway point, I’m pretty sure Claire Legrand owned part of my soul.

The writing is right up my alley, at least for books like this. Some people will probably hate it because it’s the kind of poetic kind of writing you find in some magical realism books, and I know that’s hit or miss for some people. It is for me, too, but in this book? It. Works. The writing added an extra layer to the atmosphere of the story, and I drank it in like I needed it to survive.

Non-spoilery example, from the prologue:

Old money: the taste of it sits on every tongue like a film of stale sugar.

The setting itself was fantastic. I love stories set on small islands, oh my gosh. Give me more! Something about those just instantly make a story feel a bit more magical, like anything could happen, like magic could be lurking just through the trees. I love it. If you enjoyed the setting of The Wicked Deep, you’ll probably like this one. Oh, and also Cabeswater, from The Raven Cycle (not an island, but kind of similar vibe). Sawkill Rock was very much a character in this story, and that’s another thing I want to read more of. I love when the actual land a story takes place on is a character (or like a character, whatever).

The characters. Where do I start? Background characters. So, even the characters who didn’t get a ton of page time were so freaking good. They were all distinct, and I could not only imagine how they looked, but I got a good sense of what they would sound like. That almost never happens for me, except when I’ve seen an adaptation before reading the book. Special shout out specifically for Grayson because he was a precious cinnamon roll and I love him ❤ He’s my newest book child, and I would protect him (possibly) with my life.

Marion, Zoey, and Valerie were amazing. Even when I didn’t really like them, I still liked reading about them.

Marion was strong and grounded, acting as the rock for her mother and sister to lean on. I was rooting for her from the beginning, and my heart just kept hurting for her. She went through so much, took on so much responsibility (I related a lot to that), and I just kept wishing she’d find some peace and happiness.

Zoey was probably the character I related to the most, at least with her personality. I can relate a lot to hiding feelings, laughing at possibly inappropriate times, and being an outcast. There were a few times I just wanted to hug her so bad.

And then there’s Valerie. I don’t know what to say about Val, because most of my opinions are wrapped so tightly with spoilers. I really enjoyed getting to know her, and her family history, and I was definitely satisfied with how things wrapped up. (For her, and for everyone else.)

The plot is tricky to talk about, but I will say that it kept me guessing. Until revelations were being made, I had no clue where this story was going, and I loved that. I usually have at least a couple of guesses, and one is usually right. But not with this book. I didn’t have a guess that turned out to be accurate until pretty late in the story, and it didn’t even involve any of our main characters. (It was about Zoey’s dad, for those of you who’ve read it.) The direction this took, with the reason girls kept disappearing from Sawkill, didn’t really surprise me, but I also wasn’t expecting it before it took that turn. The specifics of it all were different from anything else I’ve read, though, I’m pretty sure.

**If you think trigger/content warnings are spoilers, skip to the next paragraph!** This one definitely needs warnings for: blood and gore; violence; parental abuse; suicidal thoughts; loss of loved ones; drinking/alcohol; talk about miscarriage; animal death (not tortured, more like that scene from the ferry in The Ring); a challenged and apologized for acephobic comment plus mention of other comments that were not apologized for. There’s probably more, so I would suggest looking for others, if you feel you need to.

I want to gush and scream about this book, because that’s what I’m doing on the inside, but I’m trying so hard to keep this spoiler free. I’m wrapping this up now, before I can’t stop myself and do spoil it. So, in short, I absolutely loved this book, and I’m probably going to be screaming about it for a very long time. I highly recommend it.

I gave this one all the stars, 5 out of 5, and I wish I could give more, oh my gosh. This is a new favorite, and I can not wait to read more from Claire Legrand.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Posted in book review

While You Sleep: ARC Review

While You Sleep

While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt

Genres/Descriptors: thriller; mystery; horror; gothic; paranormal

Publication Date (US): March 5th, 2019

Pages: 400

Check it out on Goodreads


What’s it about?

On an small island off the coast of Scotland, the McBride house has been the center of rumors and strange occurrences for over a century, since a widow and her son died under mysterious circumstances.

Zoe Adams, an American woman, wants to get away from a bad marriage, and arranges to rent the house for a few week for some peace and time to herself. Her peace is short-lived, with disturbing incidents, strange singing coming from somewhere in the house, and the constant sense of being watches.

The locals blame everything on the house, but Zoe isn’t convinced. She doesn’t buy into the haunted house story, and thinks there must be a rational explanation for what she’s experiencing, and that the possible danger lurking is no phantom.

Review:

If you’re looking for something new, without the tired haunted house tropes, this isn’t it.

When I found this on Net Galley (I believe it came out last spring in the UK, but is now being released in the US), I had to request it. I’m a horror junkie, and a sucker for gothic, haunted house stories. I’m always hoping to find something that surprises me, or, if it doesn’t surprise me, at least entertains me for a while.

This one kind of managed to entertain me, but I was never surprised by anything. I had the entire story figured out from very early on, and I’m not happy about that. There are a few tropes I encounter somewhat frequently in horror (movies and books) that really irritate me, and this one had at least a couple of those. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about those things without giving away spoilers. I’ll just say that I kept hoping I was going to be wrong, that this book was not going to go where I thought it was, but then it did. (Actually, I am going to do spoilers, but they will be at the end, with a warning in bold so you can skip over them.)

Before I get into what I didn’t like, I will say that I enjoyed the writing. Stephanie Merritt is not a bad writer, and I will definitely be looking into her other books. I think she is certainly capable of writing a good story, this one just didn’t work for me personally.

The characters were okay, but not great. I only really liked Charles (known by locals as The Professor), but by the end I wasn’t even a huge fan of his character. (I didn’t dislike him, I was just not surprised by anything.)

Zoe just annoyed me. I wanted to like her, but I was pretty sure from the first few chapters that she was going to be a particular cliche, and I was right (and so angry about it).

The locals were what you would expect: superstitious, close-knit, and a tendency to not trust strangers. And, of course, there was the quintessential creepy perv, because we can’t have a story about a woman spending time alone without one of those, can we? (The more I think about this book, the more irritated I become.)

While I had somewhat high hopes at least for the atmosphere of this one, it fell short for me. It started off alright, and I got excited. Maybe this one would succeed in creeping me out! A restored (but still creepy) old house, strange sounds and happenings, the isolation… It seemed perfect, and I was so ready to feel claustrophobic and uneasy. That lasted about a minute, and then it never got creepy (in the paranormal way) again. If you’re easily scared, this might not be an issue for you, though.

**If you think of trigger warnings as spoilers, skip to the next paragraph.** This one definitely needs TWs, in my opinion, for: sexual content, sexual encounters that are non-consensual/have dubious consent (including adults with a minor), sexual assault/threat of assault, animal death and mutilation (that one is pretty brief and not too graphic, but I thought it was only there for shock value), mental illness as a plot device; death of children.

This book has graphic sexual scenes, so if that makes you uncomfortable, you should skip it. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t love it. I read erotica, so it didn’t shock me or anything, but I wasn’t expecting it.

I wanted to like this so much more than I did, and I’m not sure if it’s me (and my increasing exasperation with certain tropes in horror) or the book, but it didn’t really work for me. The plot was a lot of cliches, which isn’t necessarily bad, I was just hoping for something new, or a unique spin on tropes that took it in an unexpected direction.


Spoilers ahead!

Skip past this if you don’t want spoilers.

I knew, early on, that Zoe’s son was going to be dead, and that it was going to come out that she was dealing with some kind of mental illness or something. I hate that. I hate mental illness being used as a plot device, especially in horror and thrillers. Especially when you pair that up with something like paranormal events, in which women are often thought to be crazy or whatever anyway. (Think about haunted house stories. How often are the women, who are usually the ones experiencing the worst of things, believed by other people?) I’m so tired of it.

I’m also sick of this trope where women can’t seem to get through a horror or thriller without being sexually assaulted. In this one Zoe is repeatedly made very uncomfortable by the local pervert, because of his comments towards her, and that’s the tame stuff. At their first meeting, his touched her breast. Later, he assaults her, gropes her, and threatens to rape her.

There’s also the weird incubus thing with the house, which is supposed to explain people losing control and turning into sex-crazed beasts. I get that Zoe consented to sex with the teacher, but…if we accept that the house is exerting influence over the people inside, it’s dubious consent at best. And I am pissed about how that turned out, with her being pregnant with a new half-incubus fetus.

I don’t even have words for the thing with the teenage girl. I saw it coming, but I didn’t expect it to unfold quite the way it did. I was pretty sure she had a sexual relationship with the creepy perv, but gods. There is a kind of explicit scene in which she’s tied up in a sexual way (she seems to be consenting, but again, she’s underage and there’s the influence of the house going on), with not just him, but another middle-aged character. I am so beyond sick of situations like this being used in horror so frequently. We have enough of this in the real world, so it’s not exactly fun to read about it in so many books. (I don’t think I would complain about the sexual assault and such if it wasn’t so prevalent.)

End of spoilers


I’m giving it 2 out of 5 stars (actual rating more like 2.5, but I didn’t want to round up to 3 stars).

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for review.

Posted in book review

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein: Reviewed

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

Genres/Descriptors: YA; retellings; historical fiction; horror; gothic; sci-fi (less so than the original, I think)

Pages: 304

Check it out on Goodreads


What’s it about?

Okay, I couldn’t do this justice, so here’s the description from Goodreads…

Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.


Review:

I didn’t love Frankenstein, but I did enjoy it a lot. I picked this up on a whim, after finding the audiobook on OverDrive, and I could barely stop listening to it to go to bed. I still finished it within a 24-hour period, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

First of all, the narrator (Katharine McEwan) was great. I can be a little picky about narrators, but I thought she was a nice choice for this one. Her voice was just perfect, I feel, for the atmosphere.

I think you could read this without having read Frankenstein, but it will probably be a better experience if you have. *Also, this one needs some trigger warnings, so skip to the next paragraph if you think TWs are spoilers.* TW for: child abuse, animal cruelty, emotional and physical abuse, mutilation, murder.

I hate Victor Frankenstein. I’ve always hated him, and thought he was the true monster, no matter how brilliant his mind might have been. That’s one thing I think Penny Dreadful did really well, but he still ended up kind of redeemed by the end. I don’t want redemption for Victor Frankenstein, I want his monstrous inclinations exposed, without justification or letting him play at being a victim. This book delivered, by giving us the story from Elizabeth’s perspective.

Elizabeth has a home and relative safety in the Frankenstein household, but that stability depends on Victor and his desire to keep her around. She’s spent her life shaping herself into what Victor wants and needs, making herself indispensable to him, so she’s no longer quite certain how much of her is really her and how much is what she’s forced herself to be for him.

When she stops hearing from Victor, after he’s away at school, she gets worried and hatches a plan to track him down and bring him home. Along the way, she gets glimpses into what he’s been up to, and that really started to fill in some gaps and flesh out some bits from the original story. It was interesting, and deeply disturbing, following Elizabeth around as she begins to piece things together.

The first half or so of this one is a bit slow, but not boring. Getting to know Elizabeth, and how her mind worked, was slow in a good way, at least for me. She was a strong young woman, and a fantastic, sympathetic, morally grey character, capable of much more than her sweetly angelic visage might lead people to believe. Behind the curls and charming smiles was a sharp mind and a fierce determination to survive.

Her relationship with Victor was so… I can’t think of a word that works. It was disturbing and kind of terrifying. He was possessive and cruel, but had also convinced himself that he was acting out of something that at least resembled love in his twisted mind. It was realistic, and that was one of the scariest things about this story.

I loved the atmosphere of this book, and the writing. The entire thing had an unsettling vibe, the sense of danger just around the corner and fresh horrors to discover. (A+ for keeping the gothic vibe intact, and staying true enough to the original story, while still creating something new.) Even though this is a retelling, and I’ve read the source material, I honestly had no clue how this was going to wrap up. There was a constant sense of dread as I neared the end, fearing for Elizabeth, and anyone else unfortunate enough to cross Victor’s path.

I hope this doesn’t get spoilery, but I have to also take a moment to discuss the Creature. My heart has always hurt for him, and I think that’s why I loved him in Penny Dreadful. He was capable of such terrible things, but at his core, he was gentle and sweet. His character in this story almost made me tear up once or twice, for reasons I won’t go into because that would definitely have spoilers. Let me just say that I am so pleased with the way Kiersten White portrayed him.

This book is so hard to talk about without spoilers, because all I want to do is gush about the things I loved. I’m almost tempted to write a second post with spoilers, but I might be too lazy for that 😛

If you can handle this type of story, I highly recommend it. I’m strongly considering buying a copy, because this feels like a book I might re-read. This one is definitely going on my favorites shelf on goodreads.

I was torn between 4.5 and 5 stars, so I’m settling on 4.75 and rounding up to 5 stars.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Posted in book tags/memes

Book Blogger Hop: October 5th-11th

This weekly hop is hosted by Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer, featuring a question about books each week. The purpose is to bring bookish bloggers together, basically. To participate, write a post about the question for that week and add your link.

The question this week is: It’s getting close to Halloween. If you HAD to read one of these two genres, which would you prefer — urban fantasy, or horror, and why? (submitted by Maria @ A Night’s Dream of Books)

Almost certainly horror, because my most read genre is probably fantasy, and I think I might read more urban fantasy than other subgenres.

I tend to save up horror books to binge read during October because I participate in some spooky themed reading challenges and read-a-thons.


Which genre would you choose?