Bark at the Ghouls

Stay chill, it's only a silly book review.

I read the good, the awful & all of the "meh" in the middle. Mostly horror & romance of all kinds.

You Guys See This?

People are pissed and some are sucking up.

 

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/19800171-introducing-the-new-goodreads-help-and-an-update-on-the-feedback-group?comment=191712668#comment_191712668

 

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

The Invited - Jennifer McMahon

I read roughly half of this story before throwing in the towel. I don't do this lightly but I've come to the conclusion that life is far too short to struggle with a book that doesn't mesh with me. It started off on the wrong foot and never improved. I have worked in the construction industry most of my entire working life and found the fact that two teachers building a two story house BY THEMSELVES (oh, with the help of a preteen girl) with their vast knowledge of YouTube videos, Habitat for Humanity weekends, manuals, Google-fu and "working with dad back in the day" incredibly ridiculous and unbelievable. But that's not why I quit. I quit because I was dragging myself back to the book every day and unable to read more than a few pages at a time because I found it all very predictable and dull. Maybe it picks up in the second half but I'll never know.

 

I'm not rating this for obvious reasons. If you've never read a haunted house book before you might have better luck than I did with this one.

 

Thank you to Doubleday Publishing for providing me with an ARC. I wish I would've loved it but not all books are for all readers.

Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond

Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds: The First Official Novel - Gwenda Bond

I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of this book set before the events that take place in the Stranger Things Netflix series. I mean, I love Stranger Things on tv, but would I love a book set before Eleven, Chief Hopper, and Dustin and Steve’s unlikely bromance hit the screen? I wasn’t sure.

 

We learn all about Eleven’s mom, Terry, who is a college student when she gets involved with Dr. Brenner and his human experiments for nefarious purposes. At first it’s the chance to do something good for the world which is currently sending its boys off to die in Vietnam that pulls her in, later it’s the friendships and strong bonds she develops with the other experimentees and the five year old little girl called 008 who is kept prisoner at the facility that keep her going back. As they all get in deeper and one of them starts seeing monsters, they come to realize that Dr. Brenner may be up to no good. No good at all! Terry starts snooping and gets herself in so deep she may never get out.

 

This book is less about monsters than it is about science experiments, unexpected friendships and uncovering a devious government project. It has engaging characters, is emotionally painful and lacks the humorous bits of the series but I did not want to stop reading. It’s a terrific addition to the series and a fascinating story all on its own and I highly recommend it.

The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz

The Dark Game - Jonathan Janz

I have to admit that I had a little struggle with this book because the font on my ARC was so teeny tiny I could only read the story in 20 minute increments before my eyes started to cry and reading became an impossibility. After trying to read it this way for over two weeks I finally gave up and requested an eArc via Netgalley. Thank you Netgalley and Flame Tree Press for the arc’s! The author has confirmed that final copies will have an easier to read font so your eyeballs need not worry.

 

This is a story about a group of writers who are invited to join in on a game at a creepy old mansion hosted by a creepier old writer. A Dark Game, mwahaha. The winner will receive fame and fortune and all they desire and who doesn’t want that? Everything about this game and its mysterious host is weird and ultra-creepy but the prize is irresistible. The losers? Well, you do not want to lose this game and that’s all I’ll be saying about that . . .

 

When the story begins it tells the tale of a full cast of characters in alternating chapters and, likely because I was reading it in such short bursts, I had a difficult time keeping track of who was who and whose back story went with who and I kept mixing them all up in my head. I kept hoping a few of them would get killed off fast in order to end some of my confusion. I know, how selfish of me, but it is the truth. I don’t like straining my brain that hard after a long day of life and some of these characters were no good trashy people anyway and no great loss to humanity, if you’re asking me.

 

I enjoyed this book once the cast was trimmed down a bit, as I knew I would. The whole atmosphere was very well done and I enjoyed learning about the darkness hiding inside most of these characters. Reading about terrible and sordid secrets is my one of my favorite past-times and this book delivered on those. There were lots of nasty surprises to be found and watching the characters get all vicious with each other was a bit of blast!

 

This is a wild book that really ramps up in its last few acts. If your memory is better than mine and you can handle a large cast of characters, I bet you’re going to fall right into this deliciously evil story and not come up for breath until you finish.

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

An Unwanted Guest - Shari Lapena

This story takes place at an old fashioned hotel/inn (it is called both things so don’t ask me what’s what because I will be no help at all). The guests begin checking in. There are several couples, a few singletons and the owner and his son are the only two employees due to a snowstorm. The storm takes an icy turn, they lose power and they’re all stranded together until the roads settle down. And, of course, there’s no wifi or cell service because this is a place people come to get away from it all. You just know something terrible is going to happen, or at least you hope it does, right? No worries because it isn’t too long before it DOES!

 

Someone takes a topple down the stairs and it may or may not be murder! As they reel from the death and are told to leave the body where it lay until the police can arrive (in several days, probably, yuck!) more of these people start dropping dead and a delicious story reminiscent of a game of Clue begins to unfold. 

 

 

Was it the secretive writer, the lawyer with a whiff of murder lingering about him, the shrew of a wife, or was it her philandering husband, perhaps? Maybe it was the journalist who is just slightly not ok or was it handsome heir to a fortune blowing off some steam? Really, it could’ve been any of these many near caricatures inhabiting the story because when the motive is made clear, I was left scratching my head just a wee bit trying to make sense out of it because it seemed to have all come out of nowhere or maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention to the clues for that particular character because I was too focused on all the red herrings. The final twist however was super fun and I loved it.

 

I didn’t like any of these characters. They were all pretty much either a jerk or a non-character who I didn’t learn enough about to throw them a care. I wish it had been more involving character-wise but it wasn’t a deal breaker because the book was fun and claustrophobic despite me not caring who lived or who died. I think the author was also very self-aware that she had created a cliché or two because one character even calls out their spouse as such which made me laugh.

 

I’m going to give it a 3. A three means I liked it all of you potential haters out there in Goodreadsland who think a three damns a book to the fiery pits of hell!  Do not come bitching on my review here to explain to me that I read it all wrong because you will not be welcomed into my space. Do us all a favor and save your breath for your own review because no amount of explaining will ever change my opinion on a book.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

The Hunger - Alma Katsu

This book has a zillion reviews so I’ll spare you from another and only say that I was a wee bit disappointed with the horror aspects of this novel. It was a super slow burn, and I like those usually, but The Hunger was peopled with so many characters and their dramas and romances and jealousies and stupidities and - well, you get the point. There was just too much of all of that and not enough struggle, pain, fear, and horror (and I’m here for the horror) and I was bored throughout too much of it.

 

The supernatural aspect was woefully underplayed for my taste and I didn’t care about any of the characters. It also wasn’t nearly as gruesome as I was expecting knowing what happened to these people. The terrible things were mostly skimmed over. Those things all combined made the read slow down to a crawl for me. With all that said, the historical details were excellently written and life on the trail did come alive but this is a long book and those things weren’t enough to keep me glued to the pages.

 

 

Come Find Me by Megan Miranda

Come Find Me - Megan Miranda

I don't know if I'm going to bother with a real review because I'm feeling lazy and don't have a lot to say and I'm just posting this because I HATE with all of my dark passion the fact that Goodreads keeps telling me that I'm 2 books behind on my reading challenge. I know, I know, already! I am reading as fast as I freaking can! Anyway, that's why I wrote this, haha.

I requested this from Overdrive thinking it was another secret filled thriller about awful people doing awful things - as they usually do but that wasn't this book. I doubt I even read the blurb because the cover fooled me so much. Doesn't it look like one of those types of books? Is it just me? 

Anyhow, this one does have secrets but it's a young adult novel about two teens whose lives have been shattered by tragic events and there's a signal (aliens!? I was hoping for aliens or at least a visit from Fox Mulder) that calls to them and tells them things and also brings them together. They have two mysteries to solve and fall in love during the process. It was decently written and engaging enough on audio and the dual narrators did great work but it wasn't quite the book I thought it was going to be and it didn't connect with me on an emotional level which is strange considering the tragedies hanging over both of their lives. I felt no feelings which is a shame. There was also way too much going on and it got bogged down and was a wee bit of mess there for a bit. One mystery would've been plenty. Thus it's getting a three from the likes of me.

The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald

The Night Olivia Fell - Christina McDonald

No one ever calls at 3 am to tell you you’ve won the lottery, am I right? When Abi’s phone rings in the middle of the night she knows it’s going to be bad news but she never imagined just how devastating that news was going to be. Her teenage daughter Olivia has been in an accident and the outlook is bleak. She has irreparable brain damage, is on life support and she will never awaken. She’s also pregnant. Poor Abi was not at all prepared for any of this news. 

 

This is how the book starts so don’t go yelling at me that I’ve spoiled everything. My fingers are in my ears and I am singing “I do not care, it happens in the first five minutes”! Just kidding, sort of. This book isn’t about Olivia’s sad fate. It’s about how and why she ended up braindead and pregnant, poor thing, and also a plethora of other things.

 

Olivia was always the perfect daughter, the good girl who listened, worked hard and did everything right but Olivia was keeping secrets and so was her mom, Abi. This book goes back and forth in time to tell their stories and I found it fascinating – as I always do with these kinds of tales. I never seem to get sick of peeking in on the lives of the perfect people who are never quite-so-perfect as they first appear.

 

Olivia is a great character. She’s down to earth and sweet. She keeps secrets and she tells lies but she does so to protect others and herself from pain. I liked Olivia and I don’t typically enjoy teenage characters. There seems to be no malice in her heart unlike many of the people in her circle and her fate left a sad pallor over the whole story. My heart also went out to Abi who must deal so much pain and frustration and fear. The grief of losing her daughter, gaining a grandchild (if the baby survives) and feeling as if no one is taking her seriously when she points out that she believes Olivia’s death wasn’t accidental.

 

The story is filled with twists and sharp turns but none of them were all that shocking but then again I read a steady diet of horror so I’m pretty unflinchable when it comes to murder and mayhem. The writing here is so engaging that I always wanted to keep going even if I anticipated most of the twisty-twists. I had to know EVERYTHING but especially how poor Olivia met her doom.

 

THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELL is a tear-jerker, I’m not going to sugar coat that. You know what is going to happen to Olivia from the very beginning and it is so very tragic because by the time the book ends the reader has come to know her quite intimately. So go in prepared to peel some onions at the end so you don’t look like a big baby as I did.

WHILE YOU SLEEP by Stephanie Merritt Review

While You Sleep - Stephanie Merritt

“Even in sunshine there was a bleakness to the island’s beauty that had whispered to her.”

While You Sleep is a book dripping in beautifully written atmosphere and eerie goings-on and features a protagonist who isn’t entirely reliable or likable. 

Zoe arrives at a remote island to rent a recently renovated home in Scotland. She’s running from her life, for – reasons, and needs some alone time. The neighbors are welcoming and a little smothering even though she does her best to keep them at arm’s length. She quickly learns that the house where she is staying has a spooky reputation and her attempts to investigate upset some of the locals. When odd events start occurring inside the house; sex dreams, a man who may or not be there, strange voices and other haunting events, no one wants to take her seriously with the exception of an old bookseller and a young teacher who is attracted to her. 

So that’s the set up. What follows is a very slow burn but the pace is pretty steady and even. Zoe and her crew of two attempt to figure out exactly what is happening at the house and dig up what has happened in the past. This may or may not have something to do with a long deceased woman, her dead son and possible experimentation with the occult. There are many descriptive passages of sexy times past and present because there also may or not be an incubus involved here somewhere. This may or may not be your cup of tea, coffee or bourbon but I didn’t mind it. More of it wouldn’t have hurt me any either.

Secrets and hints hide in every nook and cranny of this house and its surrounding cliffs. I figured out a few and a few I didn’t see coming at all (a particularly juicy and scandalous one at that). I admit I was disappointed when I guessed at a big one because I don’t think I’m very good at this kind thing but that one was so obvious to me. The characterization is strong and detailed and even though I personally didn’t like Zoe very much (and that never changed); she’s, ummm, imperfect to put it nicely and comes off as self-involved, angry at the wrong people and scatter-brained, I was involved enough with the other characters and their welfare that it wasn’t a stumbling block for me. You can’t like everyone, right? I also NEEDED to know all the secrets and most of them were answered in the end. There’s a pretty big one left dangling though which was a wee bit frustrating after all of the build-up.

I’d give this book a 3.75 on a scale of 1-5. It’s better than average and kept luring me back in whenever I had to put it down to live my life.

I received an ARC from Pegasus Books, thanks for sharing!

The Perfect Liar by Thomas Christopher Greene

The Perfect Liar - Thomas Christopher Greene

Susannah is a widow with a teenage son who wasn’t expecting romance. Then she meets Max after he’s crashed a party to meet an important person in the art world. Even though their first meeting is a little bit shady, if you ask me (but I am a suspicious type), they quickly fall in love and marry and live the lives of successful, wealthy art people in a beautiful home in Vermont.

 

Blech. Sounds totally boring right?! Well, no worries. It isn’t long before a note shows up on the front door saying, “I know who you are” and all that gooey perfection is shot to hell.

 

Max has secrets. Susannah has secrets. Watching them both squirm and plan and seeing their perfect little lives unravel is so much fun, even more so if you have a little evil inside you. And you’re reading this, so you probably do!

 

I’m not afraid to admit that I didn’t like any of these characters very much but that’s beside the point. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to. Suzanna is very strange and difficult to get a read on but that wasn’t a bad thing because her character kept me guessing. The kid is a bratty teen for most of the book until we finally get a wee bit of his past and see things from his point of view. And then there’s Max. I won’t spoil Max for you. Max is Ted Talk famous and he’s a guy who takes care of business and I will leave it at that. You should read about him for yourself if this sounds at all interesting to you.

 

The pace is pretty quick and I never found myself drifting off and thinking about all the cat boxes I need to clean when I get home from work so that’s an indicator of a good book for me. The fun here is trying to figure out who is the biggest and best liar and delving into all of their dark corners. If you enjoy these kinds of books, I think you’ll dig this one. It’s darker than some and for that I am thankful! There are some bits that require you to leave your brain at the door and the ending wasn’t a huge surprise for anyone who reads a steady of diet of these and pays attention to the clues but I have no major complaints about it. It was a dark little diversion and one I can easily recommend to others who like this stuff.

 

I listened to this story in its unabridged audiobook version narrated by Tavia Gilbert who did a fantastic job with the voices and bringing the emotions (and sometimes lack there-of) to life for all of the characters.

The Nowhere Child by Christian White

The Nowhere Child - Christian White

This is a debut novel and now that I’ve finished it, I’m looking forward to reading whatever the author comes up with next. The Nowhere Child has great character development and atmosphere, tons of family secrets, danger, illicit affairs, true love and loyalty. It’s like the author took a whole bunch of my favorite things and shoved them all into one book and I loved it all. There’s a lot going on but, trust me, this is not a kitchen sink book because I hate those.

 

Kim is living her life in Australia, the only life she’s ever known, when she’s approached by a strange man who claims she is not who she thinks she is. Ummm, what?! His declaration turns her life inside out and she ends up returning with him to America to discover the truth of her past as they unravel a strange web of secrets that inhabit one very small town.

 

The story is told in two storylines. There’s the present day and “the past”. Back in the 90’s, a two year old little girl named Sammy went missing and the author places you smack in the middle of the aftermath. What were the reasons leading up to this event? Who took baby Sammy and why? Everyone seems to have a secret or to be keeping secrets. This is what hooked me. The attention to detail and the strong characterization are what kept me.

 

The pace is fast and furious, flipping back and forth in time and both storylines keep you hanging in there from chapter to chapter. I was never bored, nor was I confused which is quite a feat for me.

 

The final act may stretch the limits of believability but I’d like to believe it could’ve happened and that’s all I’m saying.

 

The narrator Katherine Littrell uses a lovely Australian accent for her main character that I enjoyed. She also does spot on voice work for the American characters as well. There are a lot of characters in this story and I was never confused as to who was who. She gives them all a unique voice and tone and I can easily recommend this book in its audio format to help you pass the time.

4 1/2 Stars

The Tragedy Man by Staci Layne Wilson

The Tragedy Man - Staci Layne Wilson, Andy Garrison

Cary works at a dreary art gallery and he does not like his boss. He may even wish ill upon him, if only in his thoughts. As he sinks further into his own little world of misery, he daydreams about creative deaths for the jerk in charge of his work life.

When his boss turns up dead, Cary decides he’s going to become an Important Literary Writer of Important and Smart Literary Things. Instead, he sells a pulp horror novel all the while despising himself for writing such drivel and he becomes very successful in spite of himself but his success has a steep price. Cary really should’ve read the contract before signing it . . . 

The rest of the book follows the insufferable and always morose Cary as he falls further and further into a fever dream of sex, violence, madness and poor-me-ism. 

I liked some of the story even though it’s quite easy to guess at what’s going on here and the terrible images in the latter half had me laughing at Cary’s expense but I did not like a single thing about Cary. He’s a depressing, pompous sad-sack, lacking charm and self-awareness and he is also weak and insecure and has a mommy issue or two. He’s just really douchy, hateful and hard to stomach. I guess I wasn’t supposed to like him but his terrible snobbery and constant jabs at horror fiction made this story a not-so-fun time for me. He and his lover were constantly denigrating the genre I love most in the world, as well as its fans, and I found it all very unpleasant and wished painful death upon him a million times over. But the ending was spectacular so I am torn about a rating. I suspect I’ll go with a three after stewing on it for a bit. 

I listened to this story as an unabridged audio (and, YES, that counts as reading – fight me) and the narrator does a terrific job of bringing Cary’s arrogant and bitter tone to life. 

*I received a copy of this audio courtesy of the author.

In The River by Jeremy Robert Johnson

In The River - Jeremy Robert Johnson

This little book looks innocuous enough, doesn’t it? Soothing waves of blue and green grace the cover. Perhaps it was about an adorable sea monster or even a meaner one crunching and munching its way through a bunch of B-movie characters who kind of, sort of deserved everything they were getting.

 



It isn’t either of those things.

In The River is a deadly serious examination of pain and madness and it is one of those books that will not leave you after you turn the last page. It seeps under your skin and even now, quite a few days later, the images and emotions still bubble to the surface of my brain and continue to haunt me. I assumed I was going to give it a read in-between the bigger books and move along feeling accomplished that I finished a book in a few hours. That didn’t happen. I finished it quickly enough because I had to know what happened but I found myself unable to start up anything else for several days and watched tv and listened to podcasts in order to clear my head instead. 

So be warned, this one may be slight but it will wound you deeply and if it doesn’t I fear for you a little.

I can’t tell you much about the plot and honestly I am struggling with this review. I have put it off for days and days because I didn’t want to think about it. I’ll only say that it’s about a man and his boy and a fishing expedition that doesn’t end at all the way it should’ve ended. It hits you with a grueling image and prose that says only just enough to destroy you and just when you begin to believe that you’re ready to continue on and see where it leads and that you’ve perhaps recovered emotionally, it smacks you again with another terrible image for good measure. This is true horror, people, the kind that leaves scars on your soul.

In The River wasn’t an easy read but it was incredibly moving and incredibly painful and it made me feel all the anguish. This book gets all five stars. If you’re up for a good gutting, give it a read. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

The Between by Tananarive Due

The Between: Novel, A - Tananarive Due

The Between is a story about a man on the verge of a breakdown. Is this breakdown caused by supernatural forces or is it all in his mind? Well, I’m not going to be jerk who spoils it all for you!

 

I bought this book years and years ago and I’m glad The Ladies of Horror Fiction finally forced me to unearth it, blow off the dust and read all of its pages. This book was their featured Community Wide Readalong and it was a good time. You should all join in on the next one.

 

When Hilton was seven he found his beloved Nana cold and dead on the kitchen floor. He ran to get help and when he arrived back home Nana was alive but she was never quite the same again. Many years later, Hilton is married with children and spends his work hours helping addicts get their lives back together but there is trouble brewing beneath the surface and his dreams are becoming increasingly more disturbing as the days pass.

 

Here’s a little quote snippet that’ll either make you want to read more, make you run screaming or maybe do both!

 

“There’s no joy in fucking the dead.”

 

Still with me? If so, you need to know this is a books rife with stress, marital woes, suspense and a flawed protagonist who makes a lot of mistakes. I’ll be honest, Hilton made me a little crazy angry at times. There's one scene where he nearly lost me because I’m not a very forgiving type when it comes to that particular way of dealing with stress so it may not bother you but it bothered me. It bothered me so much. As the story went along he grew on me and his love for his family was apparent and strong but it was touch and go there for me for a few chapters, I cannot lie. In the end, it is a compelling read with some truly nightmarish and disturbing images and I thought it all ended exactly the way it should’ve ended. There are a lot of surprises that kept our entire group guessing and I can easily recommend it to anyone looking for a nail-biter with some chilling scenes and very strong characterization.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, the Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite

I was pretty sure I knew what I was getting myself into when I picked up this book. It is called MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER, after all, and I wasn’t disappointed!

 

This is a tale of two sisters bonded by sisterhood, an abusive childhood and murder. One sister is the beautiful, flighty one. The other is the responsible, devoted one. One of them gets rid of pesky boyfriends with the help of a handy knife. The other helps hide the bodies. But when the knife wielding one sets her sights on the crush of her sister, things go awry.

 

This book, despite it being about a serial killer, is not overly gory nor is it very bloody. Parts of it are even darkly comical. Most have classified it over on Goodreads as a thriller or a mystery and it’s a little bit of both but it’s mainly a story about familial bonds and the lasting effects of childhood trauma with a bit of sociopathy thrown in there. It is told in a very entertaining way so you won’t feel as if your soul has been ripped out of you when you turn the last page. I enjoyed every fascinating word of this complicated relationship and highly recommend it to every weirdo like me who enjoys similar things. 

 

“We are nothing if not thorough in the deception of others.”

In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire Audiobook Review

In an Absent Dream - Seanan McGuire

In An Absent Dream is a prequel to a series of books I have not read so I’m walking in cold here.

 

The tale begins when a young girl spots a tree where previously there wasn’t one. The tree does some twists and contortions and a little door appears. On that door it says only, “Be Sure”. Katherine is pretty sure she wants to step through that door so she does. Who could resist?! As you can guess, there are wonders on the other side of that door. Centaurs, cow people and girls who look almost human and the tastiest of pies! It’s a wonderland of freedom and choices and glorious sights free from the prying eyes of pesky parents and their expectations to form you into a proper wife. But then there are the rules. And the rules cannot be ignored. To ignore a rule is to lose a wee bit of what you makes you human and that is all I’m going to say about that.

 

This tale begins a little like a skewed Alice in Wonderland and it is completely enchanting. I loved Lundy. Young Lundy learned at the tender age of six that books are often better company than people and she wasn’t wrong, haha. She lives in a world that doesn’t value smarts in a girl and there are a lot of things written here worth chewing on.

 

“He shouldn’t have treated her like she didn’t matter. He shouldn’t have treated her like his idea of a girl.”

 

I loved watching Lundy grow and mature into a thoughtful and caring young lady. She faces some very tough choices and this book has some dark edges when the incorrect choice is made. I was a bit worried, as I always am when dipping my toe into the fantasy/YA world, that a boy would arrive and become the focus of the plot but it doesn’t happen here. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike romance but I get testy when it is shoe horned into a story where it doesn’t belong. This story stays focused on friendship and family and obligation and there isn’t a wisp of forced romance no matter how hard you look.

 

I listened to this book as an audiobook narrated by Cynthia Hawkins. She does fine with all of the voices and changes her tone enough so you easily differentiate between the characters but her pace was just a wee bit slow for my liking and my player wouldn’t allow me to speed it up. Had I been able to pace it at 1.25 or maybe even 1.5 I think it would’ve been perfect.

 

If you enjoy a beautifully written modern day fairytale, this one is for you!

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