ARC Review – The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz

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THE DARK GAME

Paranormal, Thriller | 304 pages | 04.11.2019 | Flame Tree Press

3 STARS


500The Dark Game is a complex paranormal thriller that at times pays homage to classics like Stoker’s Dracula and at others invents completely novel and unique characters. It is a feast of backstories, books within books, and whodunit themes. A wealthy author holds a secret contest for aspiring writers at his estate. The catch: nothing is as it seems. We encounter imaginary foes, real-life killers, and ruthless competitors. We read developing drafts of various stories interwoven into the main plot line. We get to know each contestant’s dark past as it unfolds in the present.

Jonathan Janz shows great creativity and ambition in this novel. Sadly, the execution falls a bit flat. It was strenuous to follow the present plotline while sorting through the past side stories. It was difficult to remember who is who. But most importantly, it was too hard to care about any of the characters. This led to me slugging my way through the book as it dredged on. This should’ve been a suspenseful and fast-paced horror mystery but I was rarely scared or uncomfortable and I never felt my heart beat quicken. This book just felt perfectly average. It was a decent read. It just didn’t have the little something extra that makes a novel super special or great.


I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for my advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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ARC Review – Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

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LITTLE DARLINGS

Thriller | 336 pages | 04.30.2019 | Harper Avenue

2 STARS


499Little Darlings is a suspenseful narrative weaving in folklore and the paranormal. It is for sure a page-turner that keeps you guessing what is really going on. Lauren is a brand new mom of twin boys. She is convinced someone is trying to kidnap them, even trying to exchange them for some sinister changlings. The premise of this novel is immediately capturing, unfortunately, it falls flat in many aspects. Despite its intimate ties to some grimmer fairytales, the author struggles with seamlessly integrating their content. In fact, I thought on many occasions that the whole story could’ve worked without any mentions of river fairies or their attempts to swap out newborns. The protagonist, Lauren, is plenty unreliable on her own. We never know if she is delusional or if someone truly tried to take her babies. Another disappointment for me was the ending – it just left me feeling deflated. It was so anticlimactic that I was confused about whether or not I had missed a huge plot point somewhere along the way. I kept thinking “there has to be more, right?”. I also failed to care about most of the characters. Detective Harper had several of her own issues that should’ve been explored more. Her “relationship” with Amy, the journalist, was like an afterthought and added very little to the story. Lauren’s husband was sleazy and disgusting at the very least and hugely manipulative on his worst days. There was also NO solution to any of his indiscretions. Lauren herself was an ok protagonist but her personal struggles were incredibly relatable and earnest. And this is really where the author did her best work.

Golding tackled a very important issue – postpartum depression (PPD) – in a unique and smart way. Channeling it through an unreliable narrator in a setting of potential dark paranormal forces gave the novel some depth and made PPD accessible to a reader without any personal experience, like me. At times, I too had very visceral sensations as Lauren was going through her “breakdown”. I could understand her thought processes and I really felt for her. I am so glad we are starting to address some of our mental health issues in creative ways. I’d say this book could be a trigger for someone suffering from PPD but is definitely an interesting resource nonetheless. It sure allows bringing awareness to a topic that we often treat as hush-hush. I hope Golding will continue her writing journey along those lines and I will check out her next book.


I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for my advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

ARC REVIEW – WILL HAUNT YOU BY BRIAN KIRK

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WILL HAUNT YOU

Horror | 288 pages | 03.14.2019 | Flame Tree Press

2.5 STARS


464This story is meta! It begins with a warning to the reader that were you to proceed there is no turning back and bad things will happen to you – at times “the author” even speaks directly to you. If you continue reading, you’ll be sucked into whatever craziness this is. Of course, that immediately drew me in. The book starts off with a bang. We get to meet disillusioned guitarist, Jesse, who now writes commercial jingles instead of touring with his former heavy metal band. He is barely scraping by trying to support a wife and a child with a disability.  Immediately after a one-time reunion concert, he is giving his drunk friend (and frontman of the band) a lift home …. and now things get weird. As Jesse is driving down the road, ominous creatures appear out of nowhere, subliminal messages stream over a radio station, are they hunting him? why does the radio host know his name? and his friend bizarrely sleeps through all of this. Are these events related to a book Jesse recently read and who’s warning he blissfully ignored (same as you, the reader)? Or is he going crazy and all of this is happening in his head? Or could this be an elaborate prank orchestrated by his former band members? You, as the reader, may never find out. All you do need to know is that a journey through a funhouse on steroids begins and a hunt for survival begins. Honestly, that is where the author lost me. The chaos was so extreme and elaborate that I didn’t have time to even imagine the scary stuff that was happening. I was confused and irritated. I couldn’t follow the story. I know that this was done on purpose so I could experience what Jesse is experiencing but it just didn’t work for me. I wanted to be scared so badly but I never got there, and I am usually super susceptible to this kind of horror.

I am sad that this novel left me wishing for more. Great concept, much much less great execution. What I appreciated the most are the parallels between the things that happen to Jesse and his past steps to sobriety. His alcoholism led him to many questionable life choices, which he regrets but has to live through one more time.


I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for my advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

ARC Review – While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt

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While You Sleep

Thriller, Horror | 393 pages | 03.05.2019 | Pegasus Books

5 STARS


442This story was masterfully written! From the first sentence on, I felt leery, uncomfortable, and probably a little paranoid. Stephanie Merritt kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. This disturbing novel just wanders along in a slow burn constantly eluding to something could be happening at any time. I loved it!

The topic itself is not novel – we have an unreliable protagonist (is Zoe delusional?), we have a sort of 100-year-old witch hunt story (was Aisle McBride mad or misunderstood?), and we have a very isolated, most likely haunted house on a remote island in Scotland filled with superstitious and slightly hostile townsfolk.

What drew me in was the mysteriousness of Zoe’s back story (why is she taking refuge in this place that isn’t very welcoming to outsiders?), her slowly developing friendships with the elusive Charles and the overeager Edward (with their own secrets!), as well as her reoccurring eerie and foreboding dreams. The dreams specifically show Merritt’s genius in creating an atmosphere with words. I loved how they slowly escalated blurring the line between fiction and reality. We never really know what are the signs of a madwoman and what are paranormal or maybe even perfectly explainable occurrences. The spooky events taking place at McBride house could be the evil doings of spirits, the delusions of a single woman, and the deeds of a sick perpetrator, or something completely different.

This story is complex. No one answer can explain it all. Or can it?

As a side note, I don’t think the current synopsis on Goodreads does the book justice. It gives too much away and not enough. It slightly, but enough to be confusing, misrepresents what this book is actually about. The less you know the better it will be.

Addendum: I had originally given this book 4.5 stars but I keep thinking about it even days after and keep wishing I could read it again for the first time …. So, I definitely feel it actually deserves 5 stars.


I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for my advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

ARC review – We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

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We Sold Our Souls

Horror, Fantasy | 337 pages | 09.18.2018 | Quirk Books

3.5 STARS


436In this novel, we follow Kris on her journey to discover what truly happened the night when her band signed their contracts that ended every members’ but one’s musical career. This journey leads her down a sinister path that is paved by more than greed and selfishness. Was her soul sold for success? How and when? Grady Hendrix writes a fast-paced, paranormal story that is so fun and twisted you can’t put down the book. I was in glee every minute of it. Well despite those 15 or so minutes Hendrix scared me so badly with his descriptions of Kris confined in the deepest and tightest tunnels imaginable. I have to say I was in those tunnels with her the entire time. I felt claustrophobic along with her. I was delirious from despair just like Kris. I bow down to the author’s talent to create such a visceral reaction in me, the reader. The sole reason I deducted points stems from some of the choices Hendrix made to propel the story forward. A few of those plot points just weren’t believable despite that fact that you had to suspend belief to begin with in order to go on this ride. I wish he would’ve fleshed out some of these scenarios as I easily can say this book would’ve been a 5 star read otherwise. All in all, though, I really enjoyed We Sold Our Souls and I will certainly grab another Hendrix novel in the future.


I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for my advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.


 

ARC review – Dark Rainbow: Queer Erotic Horror (various authors)

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Dark Rainbow: Queer Erotic Horror (various authors)

Horror, Erotica, LGBTQA+ | 187 pages | 10.18.2018 | Riverdale Avenue Books

3 STARS


435This collection of short stories combines erotic content and horror, something that goes well together, in my opinion. The stories itself are very diverse in plot and protagonists, which I appreciate. Some stories are gory, some are haunting, and all are frightening in one way or another. There is quite some explicit subject matter but it doesn’t feel cheap.

My main criticism is that most of the stories felt too short and lacked that something special to make them stand out. For a few of them, I didn’t connect with the writing style at all, and for others, I felt that the characters needed more work to make me care about them.

There was however one story that I just loved. Think of Me grabbed me right from the beginning. Lindsay King-Miller’s words create an eerie but somehow beautiful and nostalgic atmosphere. Her plot, however, makes the reader feel regret, fears, and sadness. These two carry the main theme of suicide and its aftermath perfectly. Adding a paranormal twist to it is new and different. I am looking forward to reading more of her work.


I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for my advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.


 

ARC review – Even If I Fall by Abigail Johnson

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Even If I Fall by Abigail Johnson

Contemporary YA| 352 pages | 01.08.2019 | Inkyard Press

4 STARS


404In this young adult novel, we get to know Brooke and Heath. Two broken teenagers. One the sister of a murderer, the other the brother of his victim. They give each other solace and understanding and someone to rely on during a time their families suffer and certainly don’t allow their paths to cross. Abigail Johnson deals with death, grief, and loss in a beautiful way in this book. It’s raw and real. It’s all-consuming but also slowly subsiding. Her writing takes you through the different stages of letting go and coming to terms with the past. It allows you, the reader, to move on together with her protagonists. The main plotline is secondary but gives the novel the structure it needs to bring its message across.

I believe this is an important read for kids and adults alike. If you’re looking to understand what you or someone is going through at a time of hurt and sadness, you will find some condolence and maybe even answers in this story.


I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for my advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.


 

ARC review – Salt by Hannah Moskowitz

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Salt by Hannah Moskowitz

YA Fantasy | 258 pages | 10.30.2018 | Chronicle Books

1 STAR


428In this story, we meet 4 siblings who have recently become orphaned and took over the family business: hunting down sea monsters, living the ocean life, barely scraping by. They have their parents journal with notes about the various monsters and a map to a potential treasure, as well as their rickety ship and an arsenal of weapons. We follow the siblings on their journey to avenge their parents. Along the way, they encounter clues, monsters, and a female pirate. Will they come face to face with the monster that allegedly killed their parents? Will they find the treasure on the way?

I have to say this book wasn’t for me. I was intrigued by the genre and story synopsis as fantastical sea adventures are generally my thing. Unfortunately, the story felt like a hodgepodge of magical text messages sent by an angsty teen. Maybe the teenager-like language was done on purpose but somehow didn’t fit the atmosphere of the plotline at all. I was confused at times whether or not the narrator (teenaged Indi) was actually sitting in his older sister’s pocket or if it was just a figure of speech. Events along the journey happened abruptly and were hard to follow. The crescendo of encountering the mythical sea creature called El Diamante fell flat and the battle was way too short for me to care about its outcome. And the ending seemed like an odd afterthought.

All in all, I struggled reading this book and am not certain I understood its message. To me, the only positive note was the female pirate who made no excuses for herself and her lifestyle. She was a very positive (despite being a thieving pirate) role model in the book.


I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for my advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.