Review: Black Tide by KC Jones

To be released May 31, 2022

Buy here:

Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

KC Jones’ Black Tide, a character-driven science fiction/horror novel that explores what happens after a cataclysmic event leaves the world crawling with nightmares, will be published by Nightfire in May 2022!

A story with a cinematic feel, Black Tide is Cujo meets A Quiet Place.

It was just another day at the beach. And then the world ended.

Mike and Beth didn’t know each other existed before the night of the meteor shower. A melancholy film producer and a house sitter barely scraping by, chance made them neighbors, a bottle of champagne brought them together, and a shared need for human connection sparked something more.

After a drunken and desperate one-night-stand, the two strangers awake to discover a surprise astronomical event has left widespread destruction in its wake. But the cosmic lightshow was only a part of something much bigger, and far more terrifying. When a set of lost car keys leaves them stranded on an empty stretch of Oregon coast, when their emergency calls go unanswered and inhuman screams echo from the dunes, when the rising tide reaches for the car and unspeakable horrors close in around them, these two self-destructive souls must find in each other the strength to overcome past pain and the fight to survive a nightmare of apocalyptic scale.

Review:

Black Tide starts with Beth house sitting for a friend. She sees the next door neighbor, Mike, and one a night he is outside drinking, she decides to introduce herself. Mike is a film producer and alone, so Beth asks to join him. While they get drunk and learn more about each other, things start falling from the sky. They think that it is a meteor shower, not realizing they are watching the end of the world. What starts as a fun night ends the next day in a world of terror and gore.

KC Jones does a lot of good things in his debut novel. I enjoy the characters he has created. Beth is someone who does not really had much going for her, someone whose mother has told her that she will ruin everything she touches, and someone who has fallen into a life of drug abuse and low self esteem. Mike is someone who is living through the sadness of the loss of his marriage and a career that is waning. Two sad and lonely people meet on a night and the next day the book has thrust them into the role of unlikely heroes. We genuinely want them to succeed, but Jones also does a great job of putting them into a situation that does not show very much promise. The synopsis says that there are tones of Cujo by Stephen King in this book, and I could not thinking this while reading. I read Cujo at a young age and remember the same feeling of the mother and son being trapped in the car with the rabid dog outside trying to get to them. This book spends a great deal of time with two of them being trapped, being stalked by these creatures, and trying to figure out what they are going to do before they die from the elements.

The biggest weakness in this novel is the monsters. I never really get a firm grasp of how they operate and their physical structures because it seems to progress every time they have an encounter with them. If we just had monsters with sharp claws, teeth, and were frightening to look at, we would not be so bogged down in the details. In the end, many of the characteristics that Jones gives them do not matter as much as they mattered in the moment. Claws and teeth, and speed are enough. If the monster design was a little more simplistic, we could have also gotten a better picture of them in our heads. Instead I really still do have have the clearest picture of what Beth and Mike were fighting.  

Overall Black Tide is a fun, tense, horror novel, and even despite the monsters, it deserves to be read. The tension of the situation makes the second half of the novel just speed passed, and this is what we always want from any novel.

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

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Review: Made for Love by Alissa Nutting

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Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

Hazel has just moved into a trailer park of senior citizens, with her father and Diane–his sex doll companion. Life with Hazel’s father is strained at best, but it’s got to be better than her marriage to dominating tech billionaire, Byron Gogol. For over a decade, Hazel has been quarantining in Byron’s family compound, her every movement and vital sign tracked. So when Byron demands to wirelessly connect the two of them via brain chips, turning Hazel into a human guinea pig, she makes a run for it. Will Hazel be able to free herself from Byron’s virtual clutches before he finds her?

Review:

I have owned Alissa Nutting’s novel Made for Love since it came out. After reading Tampa and reading the synopsis to this book, I knew that this was going to be something I needed to read immediately. So it sat on the shelf for four years. The first season of the show on HBO came out, and the novel sat on the shelf for another year, long enough for the second season to start. I honestly do not know why I waited so long to read a book I was so excited to start when it came out, but this seems to be something I do often. I have a shelf filled with preorder books I have not read.

The plot of the story is bonkers, and I had forgotten most everything about it except for a guy in love with a dolphin. I had not started the TV series so I really did not know what I was getting into. The book starts with Hazel leaving her husband and showing up on her father’s doorstep, a father who has just received his sex doll, Diane, in the mail. Hazel has to balance her disgust with her father having a sex doll and asking him if she can move in indefinitely, the type of tight rope walk she has to make several times throughout the novel. On the eight page, when she says, “You sold the station wagon to buy a sex doll?” I knew that I was going to love this book. Throughout the rest of the book, everything goes wrong. Most of the situations are hilarious and ridiculous. Unlike the serious tone of Tampa, the humor is not nearly as dark, and the story is a little easier to enjoy.

Made for Love is not a perfect book, but it is definitely one that I recommend. Nutting is an author that has written stories that are not always easy to digest, but they are good. The characters in Made for Love might be severely flawed, but they are a reflection of the situations that they have been drawn into. Hazel is doing her best to rid herself of a husband while being paranoid that he is going to kill her at any moment. Even though there are absurd reasons why she feels that way, the sentiment is real. There are many women who have left abusive relationships who feel like there is no way to escape their exes without being killed. The seriousness of Hazel’s situation is covered by follies, sex dolls, drunken escapades, and tech implants, and sometimes instead of feeling sorry for her and yearning for her safety, we enjoy seeing her as a sitting duck, waiting for her husband to finally catch her, because we wonder what is going to happen next. Hazel could be a character we sympathize with, but we really don’t. We don’t like her husband at all, but the danger that he represents is downplayed by the more bizarre aspects of the plot. In the end, this barrier is what keeps Made for Love from being from great to classic. This does not mean that I will not be buying Alissa Nutting’s next book as soon as it comes out. Hopefully it does not sit on the shelf for five years this time.  

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Review: Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma

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Tor.com, Bookshop, Amazon

Synopsis:

Acclaimed author Priya Sharma transports readers back in time with Ormeshadow, a coming-of-age story as dark and rich as good soil.

Burning with resentment and intrigue, this fantastical family drama invites readers to dig up the secrets of the Belman family, and wonder whether myths and legends are real enough to answer for a history of sin.

Uprooted from Bath by his father’s failures, Gideon Belman finds himself stranded on Ormeshadow farm, an ancient place of chalk and ash and shadow. The land crests the Orme, a buried, sleeping dragon that dreams resentment, jealousy, estrangement, death. Or so the folklore says. Growing up in a house that hates him, Gideon finds his only comforts in the land. Gideon will live or die by the Orme, as all his family has.

Review:

Ormeshadow is a gorgeous novella about Gideon moving with his parents to live on his uncle’s farm after his father fails in Bath. To deal with this failure, his father tells him great stories about Orme, particularly about the dragon lying underground, sleeping, and waiting to return. Gideon grows up in this environment with these stories. He is equally influenced by his life where he is only tolerated by his uncle and family, and his father, who is telling him fantastical stories to get through a life of hardship, sadness, depression, and disappointment. 

Many readers feel the beauty in this because many of us have a history of using stories and language to get through a life that is less than perfect. I feel a strong connection to Gideon because I was that kid growing up, getting through a life of feeling unwanted and a nuisance by living in stories and fantasies. He had learned it through his father, whereas I had learned it through books, but it was necessary. We need these stories for escapism. His father uses his stories and his fantasies as an escape the depression of failure and having to move in with his brother and his family, only to be tolerated because he owned half of the farm too. His life feels so desolate and disappointing that the only thing he could think to do is try to tell stories and make his son happy, let him escape their situation. He used the story of Orme being a buried dragon to convince him that everything is going to work out in the end.

I like this story, and it makes me think about the way that I have coped with failures and disappointments in my life through making up stories, but for some reason, I did not find this to be a my favorite novella. Every aspect of this should really click with me and make me fall in love with the characters and the plot, but this did not happen. The story is beautifully written, with strong themes and actions, and I am able to recognize this as a good story. It just did not connect with me on a deep level. I will not fault anyone for saying that this is their favorite book, but it just did not resonate with me, even though it should have. 

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Review: Horrorama edited by C.V. Hunt

Buy it here:

Grindhouse Press, Bookshop, Amazon

Synopsis:

Ready for the book version of a horror movie marathon? Horrorama brings you three novelettes reminiscent of those popcorn fueled all-nighters.

Stor-All Self-Storage by A.S. Coomer

Richard Dennison has just landed a new job at the Stor-All Self-Storage as a night security officer. The owners are a bit strange but not as bizarre as the renters who visit their units at night. And the only instructions he’s been given are to call the police.

Primitive by Lucas Mangum

A group of old friends decide to spend the weekend camping on Moon Mountain only to have their vacation interrupted when a disheveled woman appears out of the woods. She tells them she’s looking for her son but the group find her story hard to believe. Will she find her son and will they all make it off the mountain alive?

The Vessel by Matt Harvey

A cult, Heralds of Celestial Ascendancy, is hellbent on reviving their dark god. All they need is a body for their Master to inhabit. When Elise Abbington wakes in the middle of the night to find herself feeling strange, little does she know, she’s on a crash course with the cult and a deprogrammer willing to do anything to stop the cult’s cause. 

Review:

In the preface to this book of three novelettes, editor C.V. Hunt states that movie marathons are a huge peart of a horror fans life. Those nights when we watch movie after movie, staying up all night are some of the best memories a horror fan has. And these movies are not always good. They are low budget movies that do not always scream the highest quality of film, but even high budget studio movies are usually flawed in serious ways. None of these horror movies are going to win any awards, but those nights are still. C.V. Hunt has translated this feeling of watching low budget 80s movies on VHS or at a drive-in movie theater into a book called Horrorama.

This book consists of three stories. The first, “Stor-All Self-Storage” by A.S Coomer is about a guy who gets a job working night security at a self-storage center. What he does not expect is people coming and going throughout the night. When he gets too curious about some of the things that are happening, he gets caught into situations that would not have happened if he would have minded his own business. This is a well used ‘80s trope, where the single guy in the middle of the night is spying on things that he should not be spying on and gets caught. I liked this one the best of the three novelettes. 

The second story is “Primitive” by Lucas Mangum. The story starts with a bunch of friends going out to the woods for a guys weekend. They eventually run into a naked woman who is obviously living in the woods. They try to help her, but of course nothing goes well. Mangum is the only one of these three authors I had read before, and I enjoyed this story but not as much as the first one. 

The final story is “The Vessel” by Matt Harvey. Like most cult stories, this one is fun to read, even though it is more about the reason for the cult than the members of the cult. There are more sinister characters and nobody seems to be trying to do anything good. Maybe the right thing but not a good thing. There are parts of this story that really stick out as paths that could have been explored further, and so it is a shame that it is this a novelette. The writing in this story is much more vivid and descriptive but it also feels more gritty and pulpy than the other two entries.

In the end, I think that this collection of novelettes is exactly what C.V. Hunt is trying to accomplish. It does feel like a marathon of cheesy, low budget movies. None of the stories are perfect, but they are all good. Horror does not have many perfect movies or books, but horror has thousands of great movies and books that have flaws, sometimes deep flaws, but they are still worth recommending to any horror fan.

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Review: The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

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Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

The Kaiju Preservation Society is John Scalzi’s first standalone adventure since the conclusion of his New York Times bestselling Interdependency trilogy.

When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on.

What Tom doesn’t tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at at least. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures named Kaiju roam a warm and human-free world. They’re the universe’s largest and most dangerous panda and they’re in trouble.

It’s not just the Kaiju Preservation Society that’s found its way to the alternate world. Others have, too–and their carelessness could cause millions back on our Earth to die.

Review:

To be completely honest, I picked up this novel from the title alone. I had heard of John Scalzi and the buzz his work gets whenever a new novel is releases. There have been a few times when I think his next book will be the one I read. Then he released The Kaiju Preservation Society, a novel about an alternate world where people work to study and work with animals the size of apartment buildings. I have loved kaiju movies my whole life; there have been too many hours sitting in front of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and King Kong to even count, so when this novel came out, my excitement was finally enough to break that barrier of just saying, “I should probably read Scalzi some day,” to having to read it or else.

The story begins with Jamie Gray losing his job and delivering food to an old acquaintance from college. When he offers Jamie a job, in the midst of a pandemic where everyone was out of work, there is nothing better for him to do but accept. What he did not know was that he would be traveling to an alternate earth where kaiju rule and humans are there to try to scientifically study them. From there, not only is Jamie trying to fit into his new job, he is trying to help the researchers in any way he can and eventually becomes an important part of the crew. The novel has all of the beats of an action movie, where something is going to happen in every scene, so there are no dull moments between Jamie arriving on the base and Jamie getting initiated into a new world. At many points he is doing his best to make sure everyone makes it out alive. 

I love this novel. The subject matter endears me to the story from the beginning, but it still could have been horribly executed. Fortunately this is exactly the kind of novel I was hoping for, even though I did not know it. Scalzi writes a fun and light sci-fi action novel that is filled with humor, characters with defined roles (there is a huge line between the good guys and the bad guys, like in professional wrestling), and of course there is danger and excitement. In the afterward, John Scalzi says that this is a novel that came out of the crushing mental health strain of the pandemic, and what he has written is something we all need. I agree completely. His novel is a pop song that gets stuck in your head and really takes you away from all of the strains of the modern world.

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Review: Five Deaths for Seven Songbirds by John Everson

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Flame Tree Publishing Website, Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

Somebody is murdering the Songbirds…

A modern Giallo, Everson’s homage to the stylish Italian mystery thrillers. Somebody is murdering the Songbirds. When Eve Springer arrives in Belgium to study with the world famous Prof. Ernest Von Klein at The Eyrie, an exclusive music conservatory, it’s the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. But that dream is soon to become a nightmare.

When the star of the school’s piano program is strangled with a piano wire, the only clue to the killer is a grainy picture of the victim during her final moments, mouth wide and screaming, posted on the girl’s own Facebook account, alongside a classic music video. What does it mean? Eve soon finds herself taking the girl’s place as the enclave’s star pupil, in line for a coveted scholarship and a new member of the famed jazz combo, the Songbirds.

When Eve is drugged and another Songbird murdered at a campus party, she suddenly finds herself on the list of suspects. Another picture is posted online of the victim in her final moments, and this time, Eve is sure the hands around the girl’s throat… are hers! Could she have killed the girl while under the influence of whatever someone had slipped in her drink? The police and others at the Eyrie are suspicious; the murders began when she arrived. Her new boyfriend Richard insists that she could not be the killer. But who would want the Songbirds dead? One of the other Songbirds, like Gianna, the snarky sax player who seems to hate everyone? Or Philip, the creepy building caretaker and occasional night watchman? Or could it be Prof. Von Klein himself, who seems very handy with a camera and has a secret locked room behind his office where the light always seems to be on after dark?

Whoever it is, Eve knows she needs to figure it out. Because when a dead canary is left as a bloody message on the keys of her piano, she knows her own life may be in deadly danger.

Review:

There is something about Giallo movies. Every horror fan, whether they like them or not, has seen at least one or two Giallo movies. I am not the biggest fan of them myself, but I know the tropes, I know the things that make a Giallo film a Giallo film, and John Everson has written a pitch perfect tribute to the genre. With the black gloved killer, the wild kills, the red herrings, and a title and cover that tells me it is a Giallo without even reading the first page, I cannot think of a better of a modern take on this subgenre than Five Deaths for Seven Songbirds.

The novel starts with Eve arriving at a prestigious music school in Belgium. As soon as she arrives, people start to die. The people who are murdered are killed with musical instruments. Every single kill is bizarre and disturbing. While Eve is trying to navigate this new school, she becomes part of the Songbirds, a jazz group that plays in a coffee shop in town. The killer seems to be specifically killing members of the group, and this puts them all in danger. Between rehearsals, meeting new friends, and trying to figure out who is killing all of her friends, Eve feels like she can be the next victim at any given time. This tension caused by Eve’s fear is strong and believable. Even though she is in the heroine role, she could very easily be a victim instead. John Everson is a great writer and a great plotter. He is able to lead us through this dark maze of a story without losing us while making us fear what might be around the next corner. 

With the novel trying to feel like a Giallo story, the pacing is spot on, the mystery is strong and unpredictable, and all of the tropes are there. The only thing that might be missing is that some of the Giallo films I see have moments and scenes that do not make much sense to the film. Everson does not do any of this. He has written a Giallo novel that does not stray away from the story, and for this, Five Deaths for Seven Songbirds, is not only a good Giallo novel but one of the first things I will point to if someone asks me for recommendations about this genre. 

I received this as an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca

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Current edition unavailable. Preorder new edition here:

Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

A whirlpool of darkness churns at the heart of a macabre ballet between two lonely young women in an internet chat room in the early 2000s—a darkness that threatens to forever transform them once they finally succumb to their most horrific desires.

What have you done today to deserve your eyes?

Review:

There are many times when I have read a book and have sat on reviewing it because I really do not know what to think. After reading Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca, I have spent a few weeks thinking about it, about the story and the hype and gathering my thoughts. I bought this from WeirdPunk Books when it first came out, and now that it has been sold to Titan Books and will be rereleased in September with extra stories, I decided that now would be the right time to review it.

One of the first things that is really striking, and one of the first things that created a buzz about this novella is the cover. The cover is gorgeous in a bloody, disturbing way. This and the title automatically puts us in a mood before we even open the book. There are many times when the cover or the title makes us want to read something, but the combination of these two things is rare and our curiosity gets the better of us, even if we have no clue what the story is about.

The novella is very short, and the story written in an epistolary style with two characters exchanging emails and instant messenger conversations. The conversation starts out innocuous enough, with the selling of an antique apple peeler, but it quickly moves to things that are dark and disturbing. Both of the women, Agnes and Zoe, seem to have their troubles, and Agnes fall into the games that are being played much harder than Zoe. There is a deep sadness at the core of both of these characters, like their ability to do the things they do to each other and for each other shows that there are problems that run much deeper than those that are written. We are given room to speculate all of these things because LaRocca only gives us the minimum of their stories. The written is effective, but the characters that are unwritten fills us with even more questions about them. 

In the end, this is a polarizing book, people either love it or hate it, but there is still a reaction. Eric LaRocca has written something that does have deeper meanings and more questions than it has answers, and some people enjoy that type of fiction where as others do not. Either way, LaRocca has strength in their writing voice and will be widely read as long as they continue to write. 

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Review: Sundial by Catriona Ward

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Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

Sundial is a new, twisty psychological horror novel from Catriona Ward, internationally bestselling author of The Last House on Needless Street.

You can’t escape what’s in your blood…

All Rob wanted was a normal life. She almost got it, too: a husband, two kids, a nice house in the suburbs. But Rob fears for her oldest daughter, Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. Rob sees a darkness in Callie, one that reminds her too much of the family she left behind.

She decides to take Callie back to her childhood home, to Sundial, deep in the Mojave Desert. And there she will have to make a terrible choice.

Callie is worried about her mother. Rob has begun to look at her strangely, and speaks of past secrets. And Callie fears that only one of them will leave Sundial alive…

The mother and daughter embark on a dark, desert journey to the past in the hopes of redeeming their future. 

Review:

Catriona Ward’s last novel The Last House on Needless Street was one of the anchors of the new Tor Imprint, Nightfire. The buzz around this book made it one of the most anticipated novels of last year. Her follow-up, Sundial, came out earlier this month, and like The Last House on Needless Street, there are some good and bad qualities to the novel. 

The story starts with Rob, a woman who grew up in the desert on Sundial, a compound that raised and experimented on dogs. She now has a husband and two girls. The oldest one, Callie, is starting to do strange things, and once she hurts her sister, Annie, Rob takes Callie out to the desert compound to be away from her sister. This set-up is interesting because we do not know what the ultimate purpose of this trip is, just that it is happening under strange circumstances, and the tone for outcome feels very bleak.

What happens to Sundial is that it gets too deep into the backstory of Rob growing up at Sundial with her sister, Jack, and the story of her escape. She tells the story of the dogs, the experiments, and all of the things that her and Jack do as the only two kids on the compound, surrounded by dogs, their parents, and researcher interns from the local university. The telling of this childhood is interesting, but the story of the present and what Rob plans to do with Callie is way more interesting than the backstory. The long long sections of her childhood makes the middle part noticeably difficult to get through. I wanted to skip ahead and get back to the present, with the fighting between Rob and Irving, her husband, and what she planned to do with her child. 

There is a third set of chapters, between the past and the present. These are a that Rob is writing, a story about girls in an isolated school. This creates a thread of metaphor with these sections, but it is so thin because these chapters are so sparse and scattered that we cannot really tie them to the actual story. They are more of a distraction and unnecessary than a benefit to telling this story. I would most likely skip those sections if I were ever to read this book again.

Even with all of these complaints, I do like this book. I like the original story, and I like these unlikable characters. I will also say that I will point people to this novel before The Last House on Needless Street. This story is much better than her first novel, but I still see that there are things about the way that she structures her novels that I do not like. Overall, Sundial is better than her last novel, but it is still not as good as it could be.

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

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Review: New Animal by Ella Baxter

Buy Here:

Two Dollar Radio, Bookshop, Amazon

Synopsis:

New Animal is a poignant, darkly comedic look at human connection from a biting and original new voice in Ella Baxter.

Amelia Aurelia is approaching thirty and her closest relationships ― other than her mother ― are through her dating apps. She works at the family mortuary business as a cosmetic mortician with her eccentric step-father and older brother, whose throuple’s current preoccupation is with what type of snake to adopt. When Amelia’s affectionate mother passes away without warning, she is left without anchor. Fleeing the funeral, she seeks solace with her birth-father in Tasmania and stumbles into the local BDSM community, where her riotous attempts to belong are met with confusion, shock, and empathy.

Hilarious and heartfelt, New Animal reveals hard-won truths as Amelia struggles to find her place in the world without her mother, with the help of her two well-intentioned fathers and adventures at the kink club.

Review:

Ella Baxter’s debut novel, New Animal, establishes her as a writing force. From the very beginning, when we are introduced to Amelia Aurelia, I knew that I was in for a story and a character that I was going to love. Amelia is the makeup artist for her family-run funeral home, has a brother who is in a throuple, a mother she loves, and dating apps where she hooks up with random men to feel alive. When her mother suddenly dies, she runs off to her father’s house and gets caught in a world of BDSM. In the end, there are moments where her story fluctuates between extremely funny and extremely heartbreaking.

What I love most about this novel is that Amelia is written in such a genuine way. Her actions and her reactions to things, particularly her mother dying, feel true. There are times when she gets herself into dangerous situations, but these actions and reactions are completely real to the character that Baxter creates from the first page. Amelia does not do a single thing that does not make sense. She is someone filled with grief, even before her mother dies, and her way of coping has always been about men and sex. Her mother dying makes her reach out to grieve the only way she knows how, even if it is unhealthy. Amelia is one of the strongest, most genuine characters I have read in a while, so much so that this is one of those rare books when you wonder how much of Amelia is in Ella Baxter and how much Ella Baxter is in Amelia.  

This is not to say that this is extremely funny. For as serious as this story is about empathy and grief, there is a great deal of humor. This seems like a natural reaction as well. There are many people who joke at a funeral and around death. Healthcare workers might have some of the darkest humor I have ever seen. The term “gallows’ humor” is not something that was just made up. When confronted by death, many of us turn to inappropriate jokes and actions because it helps our mind cope with the reality of the situation. Ella Baxter does this well. Instead of being completely serious about the fact this story revolves around death and the actions because of it, Baxter uses the same humor that many people who work around death and dead people use to help us cope to keep from being swallowed by the depths of grief and sadness of the job.  

Ella Baxter’s book should not be missed. Amelia is one of the greatest characters I have read in a long time. Even though the subjects of the novel are very serious, any book that can balance sex and death with this level of dark humor without losing the overall sadness is one that should be read.

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Review: Vladimir by Julia May Jonas

Buy Here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

A provocative, razor-sharp, and timely debut novel about a beloved English professor facing a slew of accusations against her professor husband by former students—a situation that becomes more complicated when she herself develops an obsession of her own…

“When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me.”

And so we are introduced to our deliciously incisive narrator: a popular English professor whose charismatic husband at the same small liberal arts college is under investigation for his inappropriate relationships with his former students. The couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extra-marital pursuits, but with these new allegations, life has become far less comfortable for them both. And when our narrator becomes increasingly infatuated with Vladimir, a celebrated, married young novelist who’s just arrived on campus, their tinder box world comes dangerously close to exploding.

With this bold, edgy, and uncommonly assured debut, author Julia May Jonas takes us into charged territory, where the boundaries of morality bump up against the impulses of the human heart. Propulsive, darkly funny, and wildly entertaining, Vladimir perfectly captures the personal and political minefield of our current moment, exposing the nuances and the grey area between power and desire. 

Review:

The cover of Vladimir caught my eye because it reminds me of that picture of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park with his shirt open that has become a meme.

I like the cover and the stories of obsession are always interesting to read. The story is about a post menopausal English professor who’s husband John is suspended from teaching as well at the university due to allegations of sexual misconduct with his students throughout his tenure. In the middle of this scandal, a new husband and wife show up as adjunct English professors. The narrator becomes interested in the husband, Vladimir, and does drastic things to get him to be with her.

It does not feel like that this obsession is as much about her desire for Vladimir as it is about the main character trying to regain a feeling of importance and continue to be relevant in a world that is making her feel old. Since her husband’s accusations against him and is on the fence on whether or not he is going to lose his job, she had to come out and tell people more about her marriage than she wants. She says that John and her had an understanding that they can go outside of their marriage and have affairs as long as it does not interfere with their lives. This idea turns into John having affairs with young students, and even though they were willing participants, he still used his power and his position of authority to get his way. The main character does not encourage this behavior but she also does not see anything wrong with it. The only down side is that this coming into the public knowledge changes the dynamic of their relationship. She rethinks her roles as a wife, as a professor, and as a woman. Vladimir comes along, and he is young, handsome, and fit. He becomes something that she can use to try to prove herself. He is not a real thing for her as much as a prop, an object that she can obsess over and use to prove to her husband, the college, and the world that she still has things to offer. 

The first scene in this novel really grips the reader, and it is another hundred pages before we get back to that point. Those hundred pages unravels the story of a marriage that really has been frayed and has been on threads for years, and this new event could be the thing that finally breaks them apart. The entire novel has a sad tone, one that does not hold out much hope for a good ending, and even though this becomes a completely different novel than it suggests in the first few pages, in the end, all of the characters are in a situation where none of them are really satisfied. The true obsessions is not for the other people around them, but for a sense of peace within themselves.  

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