Review: Aliens: Vasquez by V. Castro

Buy it here:

Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

A groundbreaking Latinx Aliens novel by a rising star Latina author, featuring the fan-favorite character PFC Jenette Vasquez from the hit movie Aliens and the family she is forced to leave behind.

For the very first time, the canonical background of the breakout Aliens hero Jenette Vasquez, as well as the story of the children she was forced to leave behind as written by the rising Latina horror star V. Castro (Queen of the Cicadas).

Even before the doomed mission to Hadley’s Hope on LV-426, Jenette Vasquez had to fight to survive. Born to an immigrant family with a long military tradition, she looked up to the stars, but life pulled her back down to Earth—first into a street gang, then prison. The Colonial Marines proved to be Vasquez’s way out—a way that forced her to give up her twin children. Raised by Jenette’s sister, those children, Leticia and Ramon, had to discover their own ways to survive. Leticia by following her mother’s path into the military, Ramon into the corporate hierarchy of Weyland-Yutani. Their paths would converge on an unnamed planet which some see as a potential utopia, while others would use it for highly secretive research. Regardless of whatever humans might have planned for it, however, Xenomorphs will turn it into a living hell. 

Review:

There are three types of people who will read V. Castro’s novel Aliens: Vasquez. One group is the people who love the Aliens franchise and read all of the extended universe novels. The second group is the readers who love V. Castro and her works and are excited to see what she will do with the story of one of the most iconic characters in the Aliens franchise, Jenette Vasquez.  The third group is the niche reader who loves both Aliens and V. Castro. I’m in that third group. The day the novel was announced in May, I preordered it. Nothing could have been more exciting to me than the talent of V. Castro telling an Aliens franchise story. 

The novel opens with Jenette Vasquez growing up, getting into trouble, and working hard to follow her dream of getting into the military and fighting in the stars. She has twin children in prison, and the next half of the novel is about her children. We know what happens to Jenette, but what happens to her legacy? Ramon wants to make money and Leticia wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps. In the end, their paths cross and they end up on a team, getting into a situation that is far from ideal, which is pretty standard when Xenomorphs show up.

 
This novel will appease fans of V. Castro much more than the fans of Aliens. The novel spends most of the time developing the characters, telling the story of the Vasquez family and the actual Xenomorph scenes are less than twenty-five percent of the novel.

Aliens: Vasquez is not action-packed and wall to wall danger. V. Castro writes a family saga, filled with history, expectations, and secrets. Xenomorphs happen to show up in the middle of it. The focus is more of a character driven story, and the action sequences honestly are a backburner to everything else. Having previously read and reviewed two of V. Castro’s books, I had a sense that this was going to be the way that an V. Castro’s Aliens novel was going to unfold. I was not surprised, but I can understand how some readers, particularly those looking for a rollicking action/adventure novel, can be disappointed. This is a novel in the Aliens franchise that really spends more time helping us understand Vasquez, her motivations, and the way that her legacy lives on in her children than on fighting Xenomorphs. As an Aliens fan it is still worth reading, but as a fan of the works of V. Castro, this is a must read.

Posted in fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Little Eve by Catriona Ward

Where to Buy:

Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

A heart-pounding tale of faith and family, with a devastating twist

“A great day is upon us. He is coming. The world will be washed away.”

On the wind-battered isle of Altnaharra, off the wildest coast of Scotland, a clan prepares to bring about the end of the world and its imminent rebirth.

The Adder is coming and one of their number will inherit its powers. They all want the honor, but young Eve is willing to do anything for the distinction.

A reckoning beyond Eve’s imagination begins when Chief Inspector Black arrives to investigate a brutal murder and their sacred ceremony goes terribly wrong.

And soon all the secrets of Altnaharra will be uncovered. 

Review:

Little Eve is the third book I have read by Catriona Ward, and even though this is her second novel from 2018, it has just been rereleased by Tor Nightfire. Even though it won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel that year, this is also the first American release. The last two novels released by Ward on Nightfire have been good, but I’ve been left a little underwhelmed by them, as if there is a better Catriona Ward novel coming, better than both The Last House on Needless Street and Sundial. I did not know that she had already written and published it.

The novel is a gothic novel, cult novel, and murder mystery wrapped into one. Set in a dilapidated castle, “Uncle” and his companions Alice and Nora have adopted four children, and they worship the Adder. The children spend most of their lives starving, trying not to get punished, and being gaslighted by “Uncle” who says that the Adder is going to come for them, and one of them will be chosen and will inherit the Adder’s powers. Everyone’s life is unhappy, the girls are always trying to escape in one way or another, and eventually things boil over when Inspector Black starts to look into the legality of the things that “Uncle” is doing. There are many layers to this story, and I did find myself reading this for hours at a time, getting engrossed in what might happen next. The tension and sadness between all of the characters is compelling, and I could not help but sympathize for the children who were just trying to be in the good graces of the adults in their lives.

Catriona Ward’s writing is superb, and her characters and settings feel alive. I like most of the story and loved it until the last quarter. I am seeing a pattern in her endings. Ward as a writer who has done the same trick that she has done in all three of the novels that I have read. That trick in the last two made me anticipate it in Little Eve so that by the time of the big reveal, it was already expected. I do not know how many more of her novels I can read if the twisty endings continue to be twisty endings because there really is no longer much surprise in it. I like the ending of Little Eve much better than the previous two, and of the three novels by her I have read, this one is my favorite. The complaint is that the ending of her novels are starting to get predictably unpredictable, like she is not going to use effective twists much longer before the readers grow tired of the gimmick. Even still, it is a pretty entertaining, engaging novel, and the Catriona Ward novel I would recommend most. 

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Full Immersion by Gemma Amor

Buy it here:

Angry Robot, Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

A traumatised woman with amnesia finds her own dead body and sets out to uncover the truth of her demise in a race against time, sanity, crumbling realities and the ever-present threat of the Silhouette.

When Magpie discovers her own dead body one misty morning in Bristol, it prompts her to uncover the truth of her untimely demise. Her investigations take her on a terrifying journey through multiple realities, experimental treatments, technological innovations and half-memories in a race against time and sanity. Accompanied by a new friend who is both familiar and strange, and constantly on the run from the terrifying, relentless presence of the mysterious predator known only as Silhouette, Magpie must piece together the parts of her life previously hidden. In doing so, she will discover the truth about her past, her potential, and her future.

Review:

Psychology is one of the youngest social sciences, and there are times when people are still testing new techniques to try to get a result from their patients. This trial and error throughout the history of psychology has caused some normal practices in the past to be viewed as unethical and/or cruel in hindsight, but the excuse is that some experiments go too long or too far because the data is needed. Data is needed to help future patients. This is the case in Full Immersion, the newest novel from Gemma Amor. The main character, Magpie, writes to the Department of Virtual and Experimental Therapy at the University of Bristol, to volunteer for their experimental therapy, simply because she thinks about jumping off the Bristol suspension bridge every day. 

The story that follows is filled with mystery, sci-fi, and some horror, most of it because the therapeutic techniques that starts the beginning go beyond the data that had been previously gathered. This turns Maggie’s session into an experiment. The further Magpie gets into the virtual world, the more the lines between the imaginary and reality blurs until they become nonexistent. This is when the ethics of do we stop because it is dangerous or do we keep going because it is beyond the previously gathered data.

The way that this story is constructed makes everyone’s complete focus on Magpie, the patient, really the only person who’s health is monitored. The only other characters are the therapist helping Magpie and the two technicians, Evan and his female boss, both on the outside but who are also supposed to be in control. With Magpie being the main focus of everyone else, and the setting being solely in the virtual world and the basement at a university, there is a tension that this claustrophobic situation naturally presents. By the end we do not know if we are trapped with Magpie or trapped with Evans and the Boss. We just know we are trapped, and like all of the characters, all we can do is hope for the best. This is the best kind of horror, one where you are led to believe that there is no way for anyone to get out. 

There is someone out there that might be helped by this novel, someone who has been struggling with the same problems as Magpie. Someone might get help after reading this because the biggest takeaway from Full Immersion is that we are not alone. We may feel alone, but we are not alone. There are people who are struggling and that there are people that can help. The potential importance of this book in someone’s life far outweighs what anyone thinks about the plot, the characters, or the ending. I can say that I liked the story and the characters. I can say that the writing is great, and the story unfolds in a way that are interesting and exciting. I can say that it’s a good sci-fi and horror novel. None of these things compare to how Full Immersion can be a help for someone who is going through the same situation that Gemma Amor found herself in after the birth of her child. 

It is no secret that Gemma Amor wrote this novel for herself when she was struggling with her own postpartum depression. (There is a good two part interview with her on This is Horror). She says that she did not plan to get this novel published, but when Angry Robot approached her, she decided to give them this. She is also happy with the way that Angry Robot has taken a book with extremely sensitive subject matter and made it into a novel that honors and respects the subject. In all of the advertising and marketing for this book, respect and empathy has been shown toward the books difficult themes. It is like it is an honest conversation and not exploitative. I have been reading and collecting Angry Robot books since I saw the original cover of Edge by Thomas Blackthorne in 2010, and I am happy that they have published Full Immersion.

I received this as an ARC through NetGalley. I also received a physical ARC from Angry Robot. Both of these were given in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: White Tears by Hari Kunzru

Buy it here:

Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

From one of the most talented fiction writers at work today: two ambitious young musicians are drawn into the dark underworld of blues record collecting, haunted by the ghosts of a repressive past.

Two twenty-something New Yorkers. Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is glamorous and the heir to one of America’s great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to reach for the future. Carter is slipping back into the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it’s a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.

White Tears is a ghost story, a terrifying murder mystery, a timely meditation on race, and a love letter to all the forgotten geniuses of American music.

Review:

I have had a copy of White Tears since it came out, but I was triggered to finally read it when I stumbled upon a podcast that Hari Kunzru made in 2020 called, Into the Zone. The first episode talks about the world of collecting 78 rpm records, records recorded between 1898 and the late 50s. Many of these were recorded regionally, and they were made in a way that the records physically did not last long. This combination makes some of the recording have been lost forever, and some of them are so rare that there is only one or two copies in existence. The plot of White Tears starts with Seth and his friend Carter. Seth spends most of his time walking around the city with a microphone, recording whatever he can hear. Carter spends his time searching for 78 records. They open a recording studio, and Carter makes a record using some of Seth’s field recordings, and when it becomes a hit amongst 78 collectors, one person is aggressive, asking where they got that record, because he has been looking for it for years. 

The first half of his novel is a mystery, some of it due to the Mandela effect and some of it due to the fact that some of these 78s are so rare. While Seth works at the studio, Carter becomes more and more erratic, and there is a definite split between the first and the second half of this novel. The second half falls into complete chaos, where Seth is on a mission to figure out what is happening because of this mythical record, whether it really is real, even though he was part of making it himself. The further he goes, the more confusing and convoluted the story becomes, to the point where the reader starts to feel the same confusion that Seth is feeling. The second half is surreal. Some parts and some sentences do not make sense to the scene or even the sentence before it. And as the story tailspins further and further into this confusion, the more we start to feel like we are Seth as well, that the things happening to him are happening to us too. 

There are some things about Seth that are alluded to but not explained. When he is recording the city with his microphone in the beginning, there are times when he feels like he got a snippet  of something, but when he plays it back, he has recorded much more than he thought. He has other lapses in memory, and there are times when he does not understand some of his problems even when they are obvious. It is not exactly frustrating as it is interesting, like why is Seth like this, and how does not understand the situation he is in until it is almost too late. 


White Tears has it’s moments where it is purposefully confusing and chaotic. We are supposed to be just as confused as Seth. We are supposed to be empathetic to the things he is going through because we are going through the same sort of chaos. Hari Kunzru’s attempt to submerge us into his psyche is somewhat effective, but not fully because unlike Seth, we can stop at any moment. We can stop reading, shut the book, and do something else. Seth seems caught in his story, but we are not, and there are points where it is uncomfortable and I did stop reading for a while, so that I could get away from the problems he was facing. I enjoyed the two halves of this novel for different reasons. I like the first half for how interesting and constructed everything is, and I like the second half because it is the complete opposite of that. This type of book may be off putting to some readers, but I love it. I should have read it sooner.

Posted in fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Daphne by Josh Malerman

Buy it Here:

Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

It’s the last summer for Kit Lamb: The last summer before college. The last summer with her high school basketball team, and with Dana, her best friend. The last summer before her life begins.

But the night before the big game, one of the players tells a ghost story about Daphne, a girl who went to their school many years ago and died under mysterious circumstances. Some say she was murdered, others that she died by her own hand. And some say that Daphne is a murderer herself. They also say that Daphne is still out there, obsessed with revenge, and will appear to kill again anytime someone thinks about her.

After Kit hears the story, her teammates vanish, one by one, and Kit begins to suspect that the stories about Daphne are real . . . and to fear that her own mind is conjuring the killer. Now it’s a race against time as Kit searches for the truth behind the legend and learns to face her own fears—before the summer of her life becomes the last summer of her life.

Mixing a nostalgic coming-of-age story and an instantly iconic female villain with an innovative new vision of classic horror, Daphne is an unforgettable thriller as only Josh Malerman could imagine it.

Review:

Daphne, the newest novel by Josh Malerman and the first novel after the reissues of Goblin and Pearl, starts with Kit Lamb at the free throw line to win the basketball championship. This is the beginning of the summer before she goes to college so this is the culmination of her high school basketball career. She has her routine and does a simple superstitious thing that all of her teammates do during free throw practice: ask the basketball goal a Yes or No question. In this case, Kit asks, “Is Daphne going to kill me?” The answer is a game winning free throw. Kit had only heard about Daphne the night before when the team was having a sleepover and trying to tell stories to scare one another. Daphne is a town haunt, supposed to be over 7 feet tall, smelling like smoke and whiskey, and killing anyone who thinks about her for revenge. This description has stuck in Kit Lamb’s head, and the legend of Daphne comes to town after this game, after this winning shot, and Kit thinks Daphne’s return has everything to do with her and her basketball team. 

The first half of this novel starts slow, setting up a much better second half. There are times when I was reading the first half and wondering how much setup we need to go into the second half. This novel seemed to be wandering around, trying to figure out where it wanted to go. The second half brings everything together, and honestly we are rewarded for our patience. Malerman uses Daphne as a metaphor for the changes in Kit Lamb’s life, which is filled with uncertainty, a large amount of anxiety and fear. We do not know if some of this anxiety is what manifests Daphne or if Daphne is what manifests the heightened anxiety.

Daphne is not a flawless novel. There are questions that are not answered and scenes that do not make much sense to the rest of the novel. I think about this like many classic horror films, because so many of them are not perfect but they are so beloved. Horror enthusiasts find so much merit in stories even if there are many stories that take much longer to develop than they should. Horror in general is not perfect. Whether it be Jason and Michael Myers always returning from the dead, to giallo movies as a whole, to the bloated novels of Stephen King, most is not perfect, there are things that do not make sense, things that do not add up, but horror fans love horror regardless. Daphne is one of those horror stories. Despite it’s problems, Daphne is a great horror novel, and definitely worth reading. 

I received this novel as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Where to Buy:

Bookshop, Amazon

Synopsis:

A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.

In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?

Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.

But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

Review:

I read this a month or so back, but this is one of those books that I had to really think about what I wanted to say before I reviewed it. First off, I love the way Grady Hendrix writes. I read The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, and I loved every sentence of it. The women are fun characters, and the story is great. I picked up The Final Girl Support Group almost immediately after finishing it, and this novel definitely does not reflect the same sort of charms that The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires has.

A final girl is a phrase coined for the girl who makes it through the slasher movie until the end, when the killer is finally defeated and the girl can ride off, bloody, into the sunset. The plot of Hendrix’s novel is that a group of these girls meet in a support group, but someone is starting to hunt them. While the girls get killed off one by one, it is up to Lynnette Tarkington to get to the bottom of who is the killer and how to survive again. The tone of the entire novel is very dark, and I think that this is why I did not like it as much as some of his other works. There is no joy in this novel. There is no fun. It is all about running and survival, and even though the plot sounds like it could be a little silly, there is very little lightheartedness or joy in this novel at all. It is about the final girls becoming the final girls again.

I was on the last one hundred pages of this novel when I realized another reason why I was not really enjoying The Final Girl Support Group. In the films, final girls tended to be the good people in the story. Whether they were virginal or not, there is a wholesome aspect to them and they are people that we want to survive. In this novel, none of the final girls are good people. I did not care who survived and who did not survive because they were interchangeable to me. There was not a single one that sticks out as not being a horrible person. By the end, I was rooting more for the killer than the girls. I suppose that this could be a real thing. These women are not good people because the trauma and anxieties they have endured have changed them for the worst, and this causes them to betray one another. Only looking out for themselves is a trait that could be the result of living through their individual ordeals, but as final girls who are becoming final girls again, every one of them lack the element that causes us to feel any sympathy for them.


This is a good novel because it is written by Grady Hendrix and he is very masterful at storytelling. Unfortunately for me, I did not enjoy The Final Girl Support Group, and this will not be the book of his that I recommend to new readers.

Posted in fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Stargazers by L.P. Hernandez

Buy it Here:

Amazon

Synopsis:

Don’t read with the lights on…this is My Dark Library.

A collection of novellas curated by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann to represent her favorite themes, tropes, and subgenres in horror fiction today.

Book One: STARGAZERS
It began with a forum post titled “My Neighbor Has Been Staring at the Moon for Hours.” Dismissed as a poor attempt at fiction, other accounts soon joined, describing family members and neighbors gazing open-mouthed at the stars throughout the night. As the sun rises, the Stargazers are changed. Some gather in groups, some destroy, and some kill.


The unfolding chaos is familiar for war veteran, now father, Henry Sylva. As the city crumbles from its center, he relies on old instincts to save his family. But the enemy is all around, Stargazers and human monsters alike.


As Henry battles for survival a dwindling online community documents civilization’s end. A new beginning, perhaps, for what is to come.

Review:

L.P Hernandez’s novella Stargazers is the first in the My Dark Library Series curated by Sadie Hartmann and released by Cemetery Gates Media. This is also a novella that will make me want to read more in this series and anything I can find by L.P. Hernandez.

The story starts with an internet forum post about a neighbor who has been staring at the sky, head back, mouth open, for hours. People reply on the post like this is a CreepyPasta type, fictional story and not a very good one. The truth is that this is not a fictional account, but a real phenomenon that is starting to happen across the globe. While people start by staring at the night sky, the next step is to journey toward a particular spot, heading in mass, like they are in a trance. Some of them are naked, some of them are crawling on broken legs, some of them are dying on their journey, but nothing can stop them. In the middle of this is Henry, a veteran with severe PTSD and his wife and daughter. They know they have to move away from all of this, to a place of safety. Not only is it a novella about the havoc the stargazers are creating, but the havoc of what PTSD can create on an individual, especially when Henry feels like his family is being threatened. 


Stargazers does a great job balancing between a story that is heartfelt and emotional and a purely terrifying horror novella. I love some of the gaps we receive; we don’t know what started all of this, nor does it really matter. There are some of the internet forum posts that are the best because they show how other people are dealing with the same thing as Henry and his family, how the phenomenon is changing everyone. This does not distract from the main story but enhances it, gives us some breaks when they are needed because there is some serious gore. This phenomenon also brings out the worst in some people. The whole structure enhances the world that L.P. Hernandez is building in such a short book. He lets us know that everyone is trapped in the same nightmare, good and bad. I enjoyed every part of this, and I will be looking out for his next release.

Posted in fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez

Where to Buy:

Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

From the critically acclaimed author of “The Last of Her Kind”, a breakout novel that imagines the aftermath of pandemic flu, as seen through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy uncertain of his destiny.

His family’s sole survivor after a flu pandemic has killed large numbers of people worldwide, Cole Vining is lucky to have found refuge with the evangelical Pastor Wyatt and his wife in a small town in southern Indiana. As the world outside has grown increasingly anarchic, Salvation City has been spared much of the devastation, and its residents have renewed their preparations for the Rapture.

Grateful for the shelter and love of his foster family (and relieved to have been saved from the horrid, overrun orphanages that have sprung up around the country), Cole begins to form relationships within the larger community. But despite his affection for this place, he struggles with memories of the very different world in which he was reared. Is there room to love both Wyatt and his parents? Are they still his parents if they are no longer there? As others around him grow increasingly fixated on the hope of salvation and the new life to come through the imminent Rapture, Cole begins to conceive of a different future for himself, one in which his own dreams of heroism seem within reach.

Written in Sigrid Nunez’s deceptively simple style, “Salvation City” is a story of love, betrayal, and forgiveness, weaving the deeply affecting story of a young boy’s transformation with a profound meditation on the meaning of belief and heroism.

Review:

When Salvation City came out in 2010, I borrowed the book from the library and read the first quarter of it before it was due back. I remembered the title, the cover, the author, and that I had liked what I read, but nothing about it. When I found a used copy at Half Price Books, I decided it was time to get back into it. It’s about things that I love, post-apocalyptic worlds, small town religion, and of course it is set in Indiana. Even with all of these pluses, I am left feeling underwhelmed about the novel.

Salvation City is the coming-of-age story about Cole Vining, a thirteen year old who woke up after having a flu that is killing hundreds of thousands of people to learn that his mother and father had both died from this flu. He is an orphan until he is adopted by regionally popular preacher, PW and his wife, Tracy. Cole grows up knowing that they are doing their best within their system of beliefs and he does his best to follow their rules and fit into his new family. As he grows older, he has to come to terms about what his life means and what he plans to do with this future. In the novel, he sees that every adult is human and make mistakes. They let him down, and he realizes toward the end that his role models are not going to be the people who are gone or the people who are currently present in his life because they are all stuck in their own feelings and agendas.

This story is not one that I loved but I did not hate it either. I feel pretty lukewarm about the whole experience. I do like that Nunez wrote this novel in 2010 and did a pretty good job at predicting the way that America would deal with a pandemic ten years later. I saw a great deal of the same things that she described happening during the Covid lockdown, and it seems like she has a good pulse on the way that America and Americans think about things. Many of the characters are well-written and the scenes are very well constructed, but I did not feel much interest in any of them. The end result is an interesting book that will be easily forgettable. 

Posted in fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Beach Bodies by Nick Kolakowski

Preorder it here:

Amazon

Synopsis:

This billionaire’s luxury doomsday bunker has everything: spectacular ocean views, a full-service kitchen, three bedrooms, a broadband connection, and concrete thick enough to keep any kind of horror out.

Today, the bunker’s caretakers are about to discover those concrete walls are good—too good—at keeping them trapped with the horrors inside. Twenty feet below the world’s most beautiful beach, they’ll face the ultimate evil—one that transcends death itself.

Review:

Nick Kolakowski reached out to me and asked if I would review his new novella, Beach Bodies. I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Beach Bodies is a fast paced novella that I read in one sitting. The story opens with Julia house-sitting for a billionaire in a house that has all of the amenities but is like a bunker. When her friend Alec needs a place to stay after getting shot in Kiev, she lets him lie on the couch of this house, nursing his wounds and eating all of the snacks. This house seems to be computer operated, with a disembodied voice that tells Julia what needs to be done in the house. This includes going outside and chasing off three interlopers who have come within the boundaries of the property.

This does not go well for anyone. Julia and Alec are in danger from the very beginning, but they do not know how the three strangers will change their lives. The whole story feels very claustrophobic, like bad things can happen in a very small room at any moment. Even though the house is large and a fortress, as soon as the two people turn into five, there is not enough room for any of them. The desperation of Julia, knowing that not only is she in a house with dangerous strangers but also isolated from everyone on an island, quickly turns her focus into her struggle for survival. 

Any home invasion story is frightening to us because we all have a home, and the idea of someone rushing in to take over is a very scary situation. Even though they are both visitors in a house, Julia and Alec’s feeling of violation is still there, and we can still feel it with every turning page. The end is very unexpected, but the entire novella keeps the reader guessing. In this case it is a great thing. I read and reviewed another of Kolakowski’s novellas, Absolute Unit, and I can see how much his storytelling has grown. He is on the cusp of a breakout hit book, and this could very well be the one.

Posted in fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Getaway by Zoje Stage

Buy it Here:

Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

It was supposed to be the perfect week away… Imogen and Beck, two sisters who couldn’t be more different, have been friends with Tilda since high school. Once inseparable, over two decades the women have grown apart. But after Imogen survives a traumatic attack, Beck suggests they all reunite to hike deep into the Grand Canyon’s backcountry. A week away, secluded in nature… surely it’s just what they need.

But as the terrain grows tougher, tensions from their shared past bubble up. And when supplies begin to disappear, it becomes clear secrets aren’t the only thing they’re being stalked by. As friendship and survival collide with an unspeakable evil, Getaway becomes another riveting thriller from a growing master of suspense and “a literary horror writer on the rise” (BookPage).

Review:

I have been a fan of Zoje Stage since Baby Teeth, so I was excited to start reading Getaway. The story is about two sisters and their best friend reuniting after drifting apart years earlier to go on a week long hike into the Grand Canyon. This seems like a pretty boring premise, and for the first bit, it is not the most exciting book. There is a great amount of hiking and camping and walking and not much action. I did not know where this was going, but when it took a turn, I found myself gripped with the intensity of the situation. Maybe it is because I have heard stories from other campers and backpackers who have literally almost died in the Grand Canyon. I was listening to a podcast a few months ago that focuses on ultramarathon running. One of the guests told the story about how she went to hike in the Grand Canyon and underestimated it, to the point where they had to get some park rangers to help her get out. She says that she hiked and ran hundred mile races all over America, and even though she watched YouTube videos and studied maps, she still underestimated what hiking through the canyon is like. Maybe this true story put me in the mindset that these three women were in danger from the beginning simply because of the adventure they chose. After they were hiking the first two days, I wondered what kind of danger they were hiking toward. 


The truth is that this book felt tense to me the entire time. I knew something was always just around the corner, and most of the third act, I wondered how deep they were going to be pushed into the canyon by their desperation. The main character, Imogen, is the biggest focus and the other two characters really suffer for this. I did not feel very close to the other two women, and how they perceived the danger they were feeling because their perspectives were not presented. It might have been more successful as a third person with alternating perspectives instead of solely being focused on Imogen. Also the reasoning for the trip kind of gets lost in the plot. There are a few moments where they are confronting one another by the events in their past, but most of this is very soft compared to the rest of the story. The resolution between the three women seems more like a bonding over the trip than the actual forgiveness of the past.

Even with these flaws, Getaway is lush and gorgeous, and I do love the way that Stage constructs the story, making the tension so fierce that I could not stop reading it. I did not plan to read this entire novel in two days, but I had forgotten how great Zoje Stage is at painting the picture and pulling us into the story. I remember being pulled into Baby Teeth in the same way. I do feel like it is not a good as this first novel, but I did enjoy Getaway because of the writing and the tension that is created. The people who will really love this are people who have hiked these trails and camped in the Grand Canyon because they understand that the whole idea of the trip has an element of danger to it from the very beginning.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment