January 2020 Wrap-Up

I’m finally rolling out a new type of blog post to break up the monotony of one book review after another. Back in December, when I  was creating my “Reading Resolutions”, I  came up with a couple different ideas for monthly blog post features. Well, neither of those came to be…mainly because I  have been too busy, but also because I  came up with some ideas I  like better.

Starting this month, I’ll be posting a monthly wrap-up at the end of each month. These posts will feature a recap of the books I  read, along with their ratings. Each wrap-up post will have additional details, but those may differ slightly from month to month.

Back to my reading resolutions…

I’ve realized once again that I  rarely stick to resolutions. I probably shouldn’t make them, but just like a TBR list for the month, it’s nice to have some kind of outline for what I’d like to achieve. One of my resolutions was to catch up on Stephen King reads, by including one King book per month on my TBR list. Well, I’ve already failed at that for January. I’m too much of a mood reader, and let’s be honest– I  have many other exciting books on my shelf. I’m breaking this commitment and instead focusing on reading whatever I’m in the mood for, along with any review books with a deadline that particular month.

And now, we get to the monthly wrap-up for January…

(I’ve placed a * next to my favorite reads this month)

TITLE AUTHOR RATING BRIEF RECAP
A Terrible Beauty Graham Masterton 5 The 1st book in a mystery/thriller series by this author; set in Cork, Ireland. I loved it and have ordered most of the other books in the series.
Breathe, Breathe Erin Al-Mehairi 5 A great dark poetry collection!
Clickers Forever Various 5 I freaking love CLICKERS. Can’t wait to read the rest of the series.
Consequences* John Quick 5 My first read from this author—not my last. Absolutely loved this one!
The Possession of Natalie Glasgow Hailey Piper 3.5 A unique take on possession horror and a fun, quick read
Up Jumped the Devil J.F. Gonzalez 4 4 novellas linked by an occult theme-loved this topic and can’t wait to read more of his work
True Crime* Samantha Kolesnik 5 This is a stunning debut novel! Can’t wait to see what this author does next.
Those Below The Tree House* Matt Hayward 5 This was a beta read. My favorite novel from Matt Hayward so far—watch for the release date and pre-order this one. It’s so damn good. I’ll have a review up closer to the release date.

COMING IN FEBRUARY…

  • “TBR Talk”: a new post at the beginning of each month, featuring my loose TBR selections
  • Monthly Wrap-Up: these will now be regular monthly posts

I’ve got some other cool ideas in store, but they are still in development, and I’ve learned it’s best to start slowly with my attempts at adding new blog features. Stay tuned!

 

 

Book Review: UP JUMPED THE DEVIL by J.F. Gonzalez

My interest in the work of J.F. Gonzalez began after reading CLICKERS, and only intensified once I finished CLICKERS FOREVER. As you can imagine, I was beyond excited when I saw the announcement for UP JUMPED THE DEVIL, and immediately ordered a copy upon release. I began reading this on the day it showed up, eager for immersion into more of the author’s words. Once again, I was not disappointed.

This is a collection of four novellas, completed by J.F. Gonzalez prior to his death. These stories were previously released in limited edition format, and this is the first time they’ve been published together in one book. After reading these tales, I’d love to get my hands on each in the original format, but that’s probably wishful thinking on my part. Nevertheless, I’ll be on the lookout.

CLICKERS and CLICKERS FOREVER took me away from the grind of daily life, and I consider both to be “books I want to hug”. While I didn’t feel the exact same about this current collection, I still very much enjoyed it, and continue to understand why the author has such a following. All four novellas were entertaining, and contained some of my favorite storytelling aspects.

J.F. Gonzalez wrote relatable, realistic characters. It doesn’t take long for one to empathize with the protagonists in these stories. He also developed unique plots, and did a great job of pulling the reader in from the very beginning. I found it difficult to stop reading once I started, and couldn’t put the book down if I was in the middle of a novella—I had to finish the whole story first. I enjoyed that all of these stories share a theme of the occult/demons, as this is one of my favorite subgenres in horror. Because of this, I was intrigued, and found myself flipping pages quickly, eager for what was next.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll mention this again: I LOVE author notes. Backstory and insight from the author add an intimate element to the reading experience for me, enhancing my connection and understanding of the story. The author notes in this collection provide a closer look into each story’s development, as well as some background information on specific story elements (such as the research Gonzalez did regarding the occult). These notes are even more special to have, considering that the author is no longer with us.

My favorite story in this collection is SINS OF THE FATHER. That one really got under my skin and left an impression, but I enjoyed them all. If I had to pick a second favorite, it would be SECRETS.

I feel it’s worth mentioning that there were several errors present in this book. They were spread throughout, and for me personally, this detracts from the writing when I find them in a final copy. I would’ve added an additional half-star to the rating had it not been for this issue.

Overall, I’d recommend UP JUMPED THE DEVIL to other horror fans. If you’re already a J.F. Gonzalez fan, you need this collection on your shelf. For readers who are new to his writing, and interested in short fiction first, this might be a good place to start. Reading more of this author’s work leaves me with a desire to collect everything he has written. I have plans to seek out all that was previously published, and I’ll certainly be watching for more posthumous releases. His friends and fellow writers are doing a solid job of keeping his memory alive, and I’m so happy to have discovered his work.

4/5 Stars

Book Review: THE POSSESSION OF NATALIE GLASGOW by Hailey Piper

Possession horror is one of my favorite subgenres, so I was immediately intrigued when I first saw this novella show up on social media. Typically with this type of story, I’m expecting to read about demons, so I was surprised (in a good way) to discover that the author placed a different spin on this topic. I was looking for a quick and engaging read, and this novella did the trick.

As mentioned, I enjoyed the originality—specifically the fact that it went in a different direction than what I expected. What I initially thought might be going on with Natalie was not the case, and that made this read more interesting, as I couldn’t guess what was coming every step of the way. Another aspect that I enjoyed were the female protagonists. That felt new to me, as most of my favorite possession stories feature a male authority figure stepping in to save the day, and that was not the case with this tale. It was refreshing to see a female character take on the role of the one sent to rescue the child in distress. I also loved the atmosphere created in this story. As I watched it unfold in my mind, it felt very dark and reminiscent of other possession films and books that I enjoy. The author also did a nice job of building the intensity—I found my sense of dread snowballing as the story went on, and I steadily flipped the pages to find what was next.

Despite the refreshing mix of characters in this one, I struggled to fully connect, and didn’t feel as strongly for them as I have with others. I found myself wishing for a bit more backstory on the leading ladies. This novella begins by placing the reader in the midst of the drama, and while that provided intrigue that drew me in, I felt a bit like something was missing. I think it would’ve been more powerful had it been a bit longer and contained more character backstory—either at the beginning, or scattered throughout within flashbacks.

Hailey Piper has a lot of creativity and displayed some solid storytelling skills with this tale—it hooks the reader and keeps you engaged, has great atmospheric qualities, and a fresh take on the possession theme. I’m definitely interested in reading more from this author. I’d especially like to see what unique spin she could place on other common horror tropes, and would also be interested in a novel-length piece. I noticed that she just released another novella, so I’ll be adding that to my shelf soon, and stay on the lookout for more work in the future.

3.5/5 stars

 

 

Book Review: CONSEQUENCES by John Quick

If I were to create a list of “A Reader’s Simple Pleasures”, the first two items that I’d jot down are:

  1. Reading a good book—but not just any book—one that not only provides a true escape, but the reader also can’t put it down. I’m talking about the kind of book that grasps you from the beginning, and never lets go until the last few words.

 

  1. Discovering new authors—feeling the accompanying sense of excitement and the urgency to tell other readers the great news.

 

Both of these statements apply to my experience reading Consequences. This book had so many features that I loved. I’ll begin by discussing the layout. I absolutely adore author’s notes of any kind in a book. This includes notes by the author of the book, but it’s an added bonus when there’s also a foreword by another writer. Imagine my glee when I discovered that not only is there a foreword (by Bryan Smith, nonetheless), but there’s also an afterword by John Quick himself. I really enjoyed this aspect, as well as the prologue and epilogue that begin and end this story.

Then we come to the bulk of the story, sandwiched in between the informative authors’ notes, and that’s packed full of some of my favorite things, such as:

-Great pacing: I was drawn in with the events in the prologue, and from then on I never noticed a lull in the story. I loved that the action was spread out over time, and that the killings didn’t happen in only one setting or over the course of a couple hours. Which leads me to the next item…

-Solid character development: I really enjoyed the characters in this one. The pacing of the action in this story allowed for time to get to know each character (some more than others). I was genuinely disappointed with each character who died along the way, and felt fully immersed in the experience. I could even see some of my own traits in a few of them, and this allowed for more of a connection to the story. The dialogue is not only true to the setting, but there are also some deep conversations that occur between some of the characters at different points in the story. Also, I found the villain to be extremely sinister. The fact that he was just a man without supernatural powers really creeped me out. There are a few types of villains that truly scare me, and this was one of them.

This is a novel that reads like a slasher film with depth. There are some gory moments when I actually caught myself wrinkling my nose in disgust, but in between those moments, there’s much more to the story. I’m so into John Quick’s storytelling style. He takes the reader on an adventure that conjures up an impressive range of emotions. Fear, disgust, and sadness abound, but there’s also a chance to revel in the connections between the characters—to share their moments of happiness and hope.

This is an impressive debut novel, and the fact that this was the author’s first release makes me even more excited to read his other work. Although the bulk of the story is set in modern times, Consequences has all the makings of the “Paperbacks from Hell” style books that we all know and love. For that reason, I think it’s the perfect novel to make its comeback in the form of a mass market paperback. I hope that this updated release sends John Quick into the spotlight where he belongs, and I have no doubt I’ll be sharing more of his work in the near future.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Publisher: Poltergeist Press

Release Date: January 24, 2020

 

Note: I received an advance copy of this title for review consideration.

Book Review: CLICKERS FOREVER (Various Authors)– Edited by Brian Keene

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CLICK-CLICK, CLICK-CLICK

No, that’s not the sound of a deadly crustacean lurking nearby. It’s just me, typing my thoughts so furiously that I can’t be bothered to formulate another long-winded, flowery review. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy this book.  On the contrary, it means that I loved it so much, I just want to blurt my thoughts with these bullet points:

  • So far, I’d only read the first book in the CLICKERS series. When I received this anthology, I worried that maybe I should wait to read it until I’d read the others. I decided not to wait, and it still worked for me.
  • I loved the mix of writing found in this book. There’s a nice balance of stories, along with tribute pieces. I enjoyed that the stories are set at different points in the CLICKERS series, and some of them are set in the worlds of other novels by J.F. Gonzalez.
  • There was something I enjoyed about every piece of writing in this book, and with so much variety, I found it tough to select favorites, so I’m refraining from doing my usual “Top 5” bit in this review. Another great thing—I’ve discovered more new-to-me authors after reading this one.
  • I’m sorry that I’m late to discover Gonzalez’s work, but on the flip side, how exciting is it that I still get to read many of his books for the first time? I’m especially looking forward to the fact that there will be more, previously unpublished work to come. I could really feel the love of his friends and fellow writers, and I’m sorry I’ll never have a chance to meet the man.
  • Most books provide an escape from reality, but there are some that do the job better than others. CLICKERS unexpectedly did this for me, and it was the same with CLICKERS FOREVER. I had a busy week while reading this and just couldn’t wait to dive back into the pages every night.
  • While there are heavy doses of humor and horror within these pages, there’s naturally a lot of heart that went into it. I didn’t expect this book to wreck me, but it did. (Especially that last piece by Kelli Owen.) This is another book to file under “Books I Want to Hug”.

If it’s not clear already, I loved this book. In the future, expect to hear much more from me regarding the CLICKERS universe and additional work from J.F. Gonzalez. It’s time to make more room on my bookshelves.

5/5 Stars

Book Review: TRUE CRIME by Samantha Kolesnik

I’d like to keep the spotlight on True Crime in this review, but before I do so, I need to tell you a short tale from my past. It may seem irrelevant at first, but stick with me, as I think it’s important to understanding the effect this book had on me. When I was in college, I overheard a group of students in one of my classes discussing the film “Requiem for a Dream”. One guy said, “Man, I felt so depressed after seeing that movie. You’ve got to watch it.” Well, that’s all I needed to hear to pique my interest, and I rented the movie shortly after. I watched it, and sure enough I felt some kind of way afterward. Call it depression, melancholy, whatever you will—all I know was that it had a major effect on me. I found that story impactful because I felt like I had gone through it with the characters, experiencing the highs and the lows, and ultimately arriving at an end with no hope. There were times I wanted to turn away, but I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen. I’m telling you this because I often think of that film when I’ve finished a book that hit me like a ton of bricks. True Crime is one of those books.

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To me, some of the best books are those that leave an impact—you’re left feeling something, no matter the emotion. Samantha Kolesnik has created this type of story with True Crime. The writing in this novel puts you inside the main character’s physical and mental experience, and it leaves a mark. I felt so much empathy for these characters, especially Suzy, despite never going through the same trauma myself. The descriptions of Suzy’s abuse and of its effects on her mind really got under my skin, especially when it came to her feelings of worthlessness.

There are no words wasted in this book. It’s less than 150 pages, without added fluff. To-the-point, but never bland. The writing is so well done that I could fill at least a page of this review with profound quotable lines from this novel. I’m not going to lie, this story is bleak, but that’s part of what makes it so impactful on the reader. Each time I thought there might be a ray of sunshine about to peak through the clouds, that moment of hope or redemption never came.

The story within these pages is a shining example of the horror found in humanity. There are no supernatural monsters here, nor are they necessary to make this tale frightening. Sometimes the scariest stories are those based on the evil found in everyday life. True Crime is a powerful debut—a punch to the gut that left me in stunned silence by the end. I’ve seen so many 5-star ratings for this one, so I trust that I’m one among many who anticipate this author’s next release.

 

5/5 Stars

 

Publisher: Grindhouse Press

Release Date: January 15, 2020

 

Thank you to the author and publisher for providing me with an advance copy for review consideration.

 

Book Review: BREATHE. BREATHE. by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

Reading Breathe. Breathe. was a great way to start the new year. This is a memorable collection of both poetry and short fiction. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a newbie when it comes to reading poetry; I’ve only read maybe 3 or 4 collections of poems in the past year, and I always feel a bit shaky and ignorant when it comes time to write the review. Sometimes I think maybe I’m missing the interpretation, as I’ve found myself enjoying many poems but feeling less affected by them than I do with prose. After reading this collection, I’ve changed my tune, and have come to the conclusion that it’s just a matter of finding poems that are a match for me—same as with reading a novel or short story, when you find your reading niche, everything just fits into place.

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I really enjoyed the author’s poems in this collection and loved how the book is broken into sections. The first poetry section is centered around the emotion of fear, and following that, anxiety. The latter is an emotion that I know all too well, and I found myself connecting with many of these poems. I had favorites from both poetry sections, and if I narrow it down to a top five, they are:

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Tale

-Earl Grey Tea

 -Anxiety of Darkness

 -Nature’s Salve

 -Wraith of the Lonely

The last section of this book contains five short stories, all of which I enjoyed. My absolute favorites were Life Giver of the Nile and Dandelion Yellow.

Not only did I enjoy the words within the stories and poems, I also loved that this collection contains both a foreword and afterword. I feel starry-eyed when I discover author notes of any kind in a book. For me it adds an element of deeper understanding and a stronger connection to the material. With regards to this collection, Brian Kirk said it best in his foreword, stating that the author writes with a “raw honesty”. I agree with this sentiment, as every piece in this collection felt like it was from the heart. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with the author on social media, and have found her to be genuine and supportive to myself and others in the community. These same traits shine through in her sincere and heartfelt writing, and I’d happily read more.

 

5/5 stars

 

 

Book Review: WHERE STARS WON’T SHINE by Patrick Lacey

Where Stars Won’t Shine is my third read from Patrick Lacey, and my favorite so far. I’m glad that I have more of his novels on my shelf, as I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve read from this author. I started reading this book at night, during a recent power-outage, which intensified the creep factor. Darkness aside, I was gripped by the story from the very beginning. I loved the format used for introducing the reader to the villain, and the subject matter was of immediate interest to me. The main antagonist in this story is a depraved killer, and it reads like true crime with a healthy dose of horror.

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There are some great storytelling elements at play here—an excellent plot, solid character development, and perfect pacing. All of these facets made for a great read that I couldn’t put down. I cared about the characters, and found myself fully invested in their journey. The author provides enough backstory on each character without too much detail. The details given on each person allowed me to have empathy for them all, even the villains, which made for an engaging read.

I’m aware that Patrick Lacey is a “Nightmare on Elm Street” fan, and I sensed some of that influence in this story. I really loved that vibe. It’s an original tale, but has that same dreamlike quality with memorable moments of terror. Ashton’s town of Marlowe is like a nightmare that the protagonists are desperate to escape. Most great stories play out like movies in my mind while I read, and this one was no exception. Lacey’s most recent novel (A Voice So Soft) has this same quality—his love of horror films really translates to his writing.

Overall, Where Stars Won’t Shine is a compelling read, and the subject matter rekindled my interest in true crime, despite the fact that this particular tale is fiction. At this point, I’m sold on Patrick Lacey’s skill as a writer, and I can’t wait for what’s in store when I pick up another one of his books.

5/5 Stars