Friday, January 23, 2015

The Vanishing--5 stars

I get Amazon gift cards from my family a lot. They know it's the way to my heart. Diamonds? I do like those. Gargoyle bookends? Yes, please. But an Amazon gift card elicits squeals of delight. There's something about having money specifically dedicated to the books my heart desires that fills me with happiness. So in perusing Amazon to choose my purchases, I often follow a rabbit's warren of "other customers who bought this item bought--" or "other titles you may enjoy." I can spend hours at this. Hours, people. And one of those sojourns is how I came across The Vanishing by Wendy Webb. The novel instantly appealed to me. The synopsis reminded me of Barbara Michaels or Barbara Erskine--both authors who's books I've read and re-read. I'm a sucker for a good Gothic. Plus, the book had ghosts, a horror author (wait, I'm a horror author), and an interesting setting. Sold! Trying Wendy's work was one of my best decisions ever.

You can read about Wendy Webb over on The Author Spot where she was kind enough to let me interview her. Now on to my review of The Vanishing.

Synopsis: Recently widowed and rendered penniless by her Ponzi-scheming husband, Julia Bishop is eager to start anew. So when a stranger appears on her doorstep with a job offer, she finds herself accepting the mysterious yet unique position: caretaker to his mother, Amaris Sinclair, the famous and rather eccentric horror novelist whom Julia has always admired . . . and who the world believes is dead.

When she arrives at the Sinclairs' enormous estate on Lake Superior, Julia begins to suspect that there may be sinister undercurrents to her "too-good-to-be-true" position. As Julia delves into the reasons of why Amaris chose to abandon her successful writing career and withdraw from the public eye, her search leads to unsettling connections to her own family tree, making her wonder why she really was invited to Havenwood in the first place, and what monstrous secrets are still held prisoner within its walls.

The story grabbed me from the very beginning. Julia's life is in ruins, she's bankrupt, people she considered friends now hate her, and her husband--the one person who could tell everyone she wasn't in on his scheme--is dead. So when Adrian Sinclair shows up on her doorstep and makes his offer, what choice does she have? And once we arrive at Havenwood, the story really gets going: ghosts, a hint of madness, a mystery, and a hunky Scottish caretaker.

The narrative is simple and direct, the story well paced, and the characters well drawn and sympathetic. The atmosphere is delightfully eerie and will have you just as uneasy as our heroine, Julia. The mystery is involved enough to not have you guessing the ending right away, in fact it took me quite a while, while the hint of romance is just enough and doesn't overpower the story line. 

I liked the book so much, I immediately ordered Mrs. Webb's other two novels: The Tale of Halcyon Crane, and The Fate of Mercy Alban. I loved them as well, but I'm partial to The Vanishing. I highly recommend the book to anyone who enjoys Gothic tales, especially those put in a more modern setting. Fans of spooky tales, who like it a little lighter than the horror genre's usual offerings will enjoy this one as well. Five stars from me.

Happy Reading,


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Bird Box: 7 out of 10 stars

I'd seen a friend on Facebook recommend Bird Box. I'd also read another friend's scathing review of it. And yet, for all the critiquing the review did, he still insisted he liked the book. So when I was leaving the library and just happened to see it on the shelf, I grabbed it. I like to decide for myself and occasionally a bad review actually prompts me to read a book. What can I say? I'm contrary like that.

It's not a long book and the prose is sparse, which can be a downside or an upside depending on how you like your books, so it only took me a few nights to finish. I'm not a big fan of sparse prose, but it depends on how it's done as to whether it's a reading turn off or not. For me, the author handled it well and it suited the story line so it wasn't a detriment. Sometimes, I like books that go quickly.

Here's the synopsis: Written with the narrative tension of The Road and the exquisite terror of classic Stephen King, Bird Box is a propulsive, edge-of-your-seat horror thriller, set in an apocalyptic near-future world—a masterpiece of suspense from the brilliantly imaginative Josh Malerman.

Something is out there . . .

Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motley group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted?

Interweaving past and present, Josh Malerman’s breathtaking debut is a horrific and gripping snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

I'll tell you this: the premise is truly original and that is a hard thing to do in this day and age. Josh Malerman proves not every idea has been written. And it's plausible, which is even better. But, I think where the novel fell down for me was the sense of urgency. I never felt like the threat was imminent or physical. As long as Malorie did what she knew she had to do, the bad things wouldn't harm her. Which makes no sense if you haven't read the book, but those who have will get it.

The characterization was not well developed. You had a sense of who each person was, but not a whole picture. Usually for me this would be a problem, but I think it worked ok for this novel. Because of the brevity of the novel and the amount of ground it covered, I don't think you could have done a better job of characterization without bringing in another 500 pages. And while I might have enjoyed that novel too, it wouldn't have been in keeping with this author's style. So while I'm usually all about characterization, in this case the lack worked.

All in all, I did find it hard to sympathize with the main character. I understand why she was the way she was and why she treated the children the way she did. Extreme circumstances call for extreme measures. And I did sympathize with the children because they're children. 

I did like the flashbacks. Every other chapter alternates between the present Malory is living with the children and the past where the story is set up and the threat explained. I'm a huge fan of the flashback though, and alternating really helped moved the story along. 

I kept reading because I wanted to find out if they made it, and if making it was even a good thing. I think the ending could have had a little more fleshing out. I'm not sure I trusted everyone where Malory ends up and it would have been nice to have that settled when I left the characters. But maybe that was the author's point? In this new world, can you really trust anyone ever again? I don't know.

I'm recommending the book. If for no other reason than the original premise. But I think that a lot of people will be surprised to find themselves liking it. I know I was. It did remind me a bit, style wise, of Jennifer McMahon's Winter People, which I did not like as well as I did Bird Box. Again, I think it's the premise that holds you.

So if you like apocalyptic fiction, like original ideas, and don't mind sparse style, this is definitely the book for you. And if you don't, well it's a fast read, what have you got to lose?

Happy Reading,


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley is a bestselling author in multiple countries and so definitely doesn't need my review. However, I do like to turn people on to good books, so I'm going to do a review anyway.
I read her book The Winter Sea first and I will probably get around to reviewing it as well (I'll just say here that it was fantastic), but then I read several others by her and The Splendour Falls is the most recently read.

Synopis: Emily Braden has stopped believing in fairy tales and happy endings. When her fascinating but unreliable cousin Harry invites her on a holiday to explore the legendary own of Chinon, and promptly disappears—well, that's Harry for you.

As Emily makes the acquaintance of Chinon and its people, she begins to uncover dark secrets beneath the charm. Legend has it that during a thirteenth-century siege of the castle that looms over the city, Queen Isabelle, child bride of King John, hid a "treasure of great price." And in the last days of the German occupation during World War II, another Isabelle living in Chinon, a girl whose love for an enemy soldier went tragically awry.

As the dangers of the past become disastrously real, Emily is drawn ever more deeply into a labyrinth of mystery as twisted as the streets and tunnels of the ancient town itself.

First of all, let me just say that I'm dying to go to Chinon, France now. Not only am I a sucker for a castle, but Susanna Kearsley makes the whole town come alive. I especially enjoyed the camaraderie between the travelers at the Hotel. It's something you experience in Europe, but rarely while on vacation in the US.

The book is well written, the tension taut, the mystery compelling. And while I did figure out who the murderer was before the end, it's one of the few times I didn't flip to the back to check to see if I was right. I didn't want to possibly see anything that might change the book for me. The conclusion is satisfying and wraps everything up. I like that in a book, I hate having loose ends blowing in the wind.

The book is a mystery, it's not exactly supernatural, but there are a few hints of the paranormal. It also relies heavily on historical accents, and includes a bit of romance. If you're a fan of Barbara Erskine, I think you'd really love it.

I recommend it. It's a much quicker read than The Winter Sea, but still satisfying. I, myself, plan to read all of Mrs. Kearsley's works.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sacrifice by Lisa C. Hinsley

I was given Sacrifice as a free read, but more for suggestions than a review. But I liked it so much I decided to review it as well. I also interviewed the author over at my author blog, you can read the interview here. Go on, I'll wait.

Okay, now that you've had an introduction to the author, here's a little about the book. The synopsis:

From the bestselling author of Plague: Part one of the Sulham Close series.

Pete rubs his hands together and waits for midnight. Neil tightens the noose around his neck and jumps from a stool. Kellie collapses to her knees, making the sign of the cross, even though God no longer listens. Sean and Amelia hold each other and wait for the screams. Harold pins Eloise to the kitchen floor as she shrieks her warnings. And so another August passes.

The residents of Sulham Close are cursed. Each year they must provide a sacrifice or suffer the wrath of a goblin-like creature called the ellyllon. Pete finds the victims, vagrants, junkies. People no one will miss.

He lures homeless Mark to Sulham Close with promises of getting him off drugs and giving him an education, installs him in the sacrifice cottage and leaves him to his fate. But Mark has a secret, a girlfriend Pete didn’t see. Heavily pregnant Louisa arrives late in the evening. Unsure whether to believe Pete or clear the house out of valuables, they decide to go exploring. They find a noose and then a man in a tub full of blood, one hand hanging by a sliver of skin at the wrist.

Nothing is worth getting caught up in a murder, so the pair make a run for it, but the gates are locked and there’s no way out of the close. Time has nearly run out. There are noises coming from a cupboard in the cottage and as midnight arrives, the handle turns from the inside…

The idea calls to mind stories like "The Lottery," where residents of a particular place are tasked to provide human sacrifices in order to maintain their lifestyles. But that would be where the similarity ends. As you're never quite sure who the townspeople of "The Lottery" are offering their sacrifice too, or if it's accepted even, you're given quite a close of view of the recipient(s) in Sacrifice. And they're a terrifying bit of welsh folklore. I'm not sure where Mrs. Hinsley drew her inspiration from, but I don't want to visit there late at night.

While Sacrifice is short, 113 pages, the characters are well developed and thought out. I easily sympathized with Mark and his girlfriend, disliked Peter immensely, and got a good feel for the other residents of the close, and their characters.

What I didn't know when I read Sacrifice was that it was going to be a series, this explains a lot of the questions I had and a few themes I felt were underdeveloped. I look forward to reading the rest of the series and finding out more about the curse and it's victims.

I'd recommend the book to anyone who enjoys supernatural horror. But I'd lock my cupboards before reading, if I were you.

You can find more about Lisa C. Hinsley's books at:


Happy Reading,

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Taste by Allison M. Dickson

I'll be honest--I had a hard time deciding which of Allison M. Dickson's works to review. So I'm going to do three of the short stories. I haven't dived into the novels yet, I'm savoring the anticipation. You know, like when you're waiting for a particularly good movie to come out and you keep watching the trailers until you just can't wait for the movie to release? What? I can't be the only one who does that... I interviewed Allison over at The Author Spot. If you'd like to read that first, go ahead, I'll wait. No, not patiently. Duh. Back? Okay, great, moving on. I downloaded a few of Ms. Dickson's short stories a while back while they were free (several of them still are. Start here and download till your heart's content).

I decided to go with Taste because it was the first of her stories I'd read. And can I just say it gobsmacked me? I thought I'd read everything; I was jaded, nothing new to shock me. And yet, it did. The idea was just so blatantly weird and repulsive. But it stuck with me. And I thought, if one short story has this kind of power--what are the others like? I was not let down.

Next, I read A Debacle of Donuts. Why? Because what could be scary about donuts? And let me just say  I was indeed, almost terrified something would be scary about donuts, thus ruining one of my favorite treats. After that first story, I wasn't putting anything past Allison. Luckily, it's not the donuts themselves that are scary in this story. What is scary is how far we'll go to achieve what we want without having to work for it. The idea behind the story was clever, and intriguing. But what really grabbed me, was how Allison got inside my head. Yep, I could totally picture myself in the main character, no problem. And there were some hard truths pointed out. I finished the story a little shell shocked and deep in thought.

And then I read Liar's Tongue. I'm pretty sure it should be passed out to anyone thinking of running for office in the future. We might weed a few out with this one. At least those with enough sense to heed the warning. Again, the story was fresh and interesting and I eagerly turned pages. After three stories, I was hooked. I'm an Allison M. Dickson fan for life.

The good news for me? She's got a new novel coming out soon. Along with the few things of hers I haven't read yet. The good news for some of you? You still have all of her work to discover. Go forth and enjoy. I know I will. And then I'll continue thinking about her stories, long after I'm done reading. That, my friends, is the greatest compliment I can give any writer.

Happy Reading,

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Afterbirth by Belinda Frisch

Having read the first book in The Strandville Zombie series, Cure, I was more than anxious to crack open a copy of the sequel, second book in the series, Afterbirth. So when Belinda offered me a copy as a Beta reader, I was thrilled. And then I was amazed. All too often, a sequel doesn't live up to the original. But that was not the case with Afterbirth.

Afterbirth picks up months after Cure left off, but with no feeling of having missed something. And perhaps that's because the author drops us right into the action. We understand that due to events in the first book, the zombie apocalypse is a reality. And we figure our characters have been too busy trying to survive to have done anything significant. But now, they're getting used to dealing with zombies, and must go back to fighting a more pervasive evil--man, one man in particular--Dr. Nixon. Knowing there is still a good possibility his experiments worked with Miranda, and that her baby could offer a cure for not only the zombie plague, but cancer, he's searching for her. And so is Reid, the number one henchman who fell from Nixon's good graces by letting Miranda get away. (Not that he meant too, mind you.)

Miranda and husband Scott are trying to survive both the apocalypse, Miranda's pregnancy, and the imminent delivery. In desperation, they turn to their ex friend and doctor--Michael Waters. Events take place which gather everyone once more at the Nixon Medical Center and a thrilling climax ensues. And lest you wonder about other characters from the first book, many of them are present in the sequel (some only briefly): Allison, Zach, Foster, Carlene, Penny, John, and Frank.

I don't generally read zombie fiction. I like zombies, don't get me wrong, I love zombie movies, love The Walking Dead, like teasing about the imminent zombie apocalypse, but I'm not necessarily a fan of zombie literature. The reason being it's pretty rare to come across something original in the field. Zombies happen, people fight them, and more of the same. The reason I like this series so much is because the idea behind the zombie plague is different, and the story isn't so much about the zombies; sure, they're in there and they ramp up the danger, but the story is really about the characters. And that's what makes it come alive for me. I care about these people. And I'd care about them in any situation, not just when they're fighting zombies and hiding from crazed scientists.

So, even if zombies aren't your thing, give this series a try. Afterbirth is well written, fast paced, character rich, plot driven, and action packed. Really, what more can you ask for in a book?

You can read my review of the first Strandville Zombie book, Cure, here.

You can purchase the book at and It's available in all eBook formats and will soon be coming to print.

Visit Belinda's Amazon author page here. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Happy Reading,

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales

I met Fran Friel at KillerCon in Vegas this year. And she's a very special person. She's also a fantastic author. If you'd like to learn more about her, you can head over to The Author Spot and check out the interview I did with her for today's post.

But let's get right to the book. Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales is Fran's first short story collection. Mama's Boy was originally published as a novella. The collection made it to the final ballot for The Bram Stoker Awards in 2008. The original novella was a finalist in 2006. Those of you who are horror fans will know what an amazing accomplishment that is!

Synopsis: Nothing good comes of the closest ties in Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales, the new collection from Fran Friel and Apex Publications. Things can go especially awry when the tie in question is the one binding mother and son. This collection contains 14 tales, including the Stoker Award nominated novella "Mama's Boy."

The synopsis is short and sweet and doesn't give away anything good. And there's a whole lot of good in this collection. My personal favorite is probably the darkest story in the book: "Special Prayers." This story is about Mama, from "Mama's Boy." And gives us a glimpse into how she got to be the way she is. It's everything a horror story should be; shocking, dark, horrific and yet encapsulated into only four pages.

My second favorite story was "Fine Print." It's a longer story, and maybe a little slow moving for some, but for me, the pace was just right. There were a lot of details to soak up and I enjoyed having the time to do so, with no rush to the conclusion of the story. The story paints a picture of a world where clairvoyant dreamers are used to a very bad end.

The book is filled with other stories, some very short, and poems, plus the novella which lends the book its name. There's not a single story or poem I didn't enjoy. And many of them left me rolling the idea around in my head for days afterward. "Don't look under the dryer." "How glad am I that I don't have a Siamese twin?" "Potatoes!"And many other strange thoughts that you'll only appreciate after you read the book. Which I highly recommend you do.

The introduction is written by Gary A. Braunbeck and captures the essence of Fran and the book very well. If you enjoy short stories, if you aren't afraid of the dark, and if you've ever wondered what lives under your dryer, look up Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales by Fran Friel. Then read at your own risk. You can purchase the book here.

This blog is not technically part of the Coffin Hop. But since I'm feeling generous today, any comments left on this post will get you an entry into my contests over at The Author Spot.

Happy Reading,