Review: The Lifestyle by Taylor Hahn

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Don’t miss the beach read of the summer! A heartwarming and hilarious novel about swinging, marriage, and complexities of the heart.

Georgina Wagman has it all—a great marriage, a great job at a prestigious law firm, and great friends. She’s living the life she always wanted, and everything is perfect. Until, that is, she walks in on her husband Nathan in a compromising position with a junior associate. Georgina has a moment of crisis. But divorce is not a part of the five-year plan, so she comes up with an idea to save her marriage and recapture the spark. She and Nathan are going to become swingers.

Georgina isn’t going to embark on this adventure alone, though. Her friends Felix and Norah and their respective partners decide to tag along for the ride. They’ve got relationship woes of their own that swinging just might fix. Georgina, convinced Felix and Norah belong together, is thrilled. What better place to reignite romance between two people destined to be together than a swingers’ party? Her plan is foolproof, until she runs into a college ex at the first party. When they reconnect, Georgina will find herself torn between her head and her heart, with her very happiness hanging in the balance.


I picked this novel as my Book of the Month selection last month. It was not something I normally read and review, but I it looked interesting and I sometimes want something light to read. The novel starts with Georgnia, a powerful lawyer with a strong marriage, finding her husband after hours with one of the junior associates. She thinks she can save her marriage by becoming a swinger with him. She has a few friends tag along, and what she finds out is the lifestyle is much different than she imagined.

This is a book I expected to breeze through it without much thought. I would turn the pages, read about swinger parties and clubs and I would probably not think much about it after I was finished. I figured it would be a book I read without much participation. Like I was leaning against the wall of one of these parties and just watching, going home afterward to my regular life. Instead I found that Taylor Hahn has written a novel that has a great deal of depth, relationships that I grew attached to, and even some moments that made me feel emotional about these characters. There were a few of the situations that were thought provoking, and Hahn seems to have varied the nuances of the marriages between all of the couples just enough to make readers latch on the different aspects. For me, the relationship with Norah and Ari and the way that the truth come out about Ari is the one that strikes me the hardest. Sometimes people really live unhappy lives because they are afraid of what their spouses might think. I really enjoyed the characters and many of the situations and relationships.

There are things to complain about if you want to complain. There is not a great deal of sexual diversity. Because of swinging, the marriages become complicated but not messy. It seems like everyone has a positive outcome to their lives by becoming swingers. I am sure there are some people who do this to explore their sexuality, some who do not gain any benefit in swinging, and somewhere swinging has turned a marriage into something awful. We do not really get these types of actions or outcomes. We get everything solved, not problems gained. This keeps the book pretty cheery but also a little Disney innocent. Sometimes this type of innocence is something a reader needs. I did not start reading The Lifestyle to pick out the flaws and take it very seriously as much as to read a story that is just fun to read. With this in mind, The Lifestyle was a good choice.

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Review: Hide by Kiersten White

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The challenge: spend a week hiding in an abandoned amusement park and don’t get caught.

The prize: enough money to change everything.

Even though everyone is desperate to win–to seize their dream futures or escape their haunting pasts–Mack feels sure that she can beat her competitors. All she has to do is hide, and she’s an expert at that.

It’s the reason she’s alive, and her family isn’t.

But as the people around her begin disappearing one by one, Mack realizes this competition is more sinister than even she imagined, and that together might be the only way to survive.
Fourteen competitors. Seven days. Everywhere to hide, but nowhere to run.

Come out, come out, wherever you are.

A high-stakes hide-and-seek competition turns deadly in this dark supernatural thriller from New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White.


Hide is one of those books that starts with a great premise but just does not deliver. The story starts with fourteen contestants competing for $50000 in a game of hide and seek in an abandoned amusement park, two of the contestants being caught and eliminated each day. This hits all of the buttons for me. Not only is the book is physically lovely, with map of the amusement park on the front and back binding, and the dust jacket is a very nice design, but the synopsis is exciting. The setting in an abandoned amusement park, children’s games played with high stakes, and the contestants getting killed if they lose, moved this to the top of my TBR pile. There is no way that this book can stink. Yet it does. 

Most of the things I dislike about this book are the structure of the paragraphs and chapters. The book is written in third person but the perspective is not steady. With a cast of fourteen contestants, there has to be some consistency in the perspective but instead the perspective shifts between characters at any given paragraph. All of the characters have their backgrounds and motivations sprinkled throughout the pages, not exactly like a mosaic of histories intertwined as much as broken glass lying in a pile. We are picking up random pieces and trying to see if we even care to finish putting it all back together. It is not as confusing as it is unnecessarily annoying. White switched perspectives of characters quicker than we can register which character the perspective has been switched to. And because of this style, the characters do not seem very well developed. I did not feel a connection with any of the fourteen contestants so I was not rooting for any particular one to win the game. This means I was not invested in the outcome of the game. It did not matter who won. Other stories like this, like The Hunger Games or Squid Games, are successful because they make us really care about the characters.

The choices in the plot reveals and writing could have been better as well. The history of the game is laid out through entries in a diary that the contestants find. This feels like such a cheap and lazy way to explain the history and nature of things. Instead of spending any time developing it organically, maybe even having the people who are running the game have more development and page time, we get a diary.

I really started this book with very high expectations, and I left this book with a headache. The end was decent but getting to the end was such a chore that I could not wait for it to be over. The potential was there, but the execution was lacking.  I could not run fast enough away from this amusement park.

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Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch

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“Mysterious, fascinating, and deeply moving—exploring the very nature of what it means to be human.”—ALEX MICHAELIDES, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Silent Patient and The Maidens

“You don’t so much sympathize with the main character as live inside his skin.”—DIANA GABALDON, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Outlander series

“Walks the fine line between page-turning thriller and smart sci-fi. Another killer read from Blake.”—ANDY WEIR, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Martian and Project Hail Mary

The mind-blowing new thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Dark Matter and Recursion

“You are the next step in human evolution.”

At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep.

But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy.

Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.

And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

Intimate in scale yet epic in scope, Upgrade is an intricately plotted, lightning-fast tale that charts one man’s thrilling transformation, even as it asks us to ponder the limits of our humanity—and our boundless potential.


It is easy to categorize Blake Crouch’s novels as sci-fi thrillers. At the heart of his new novel, Upgrade, the story is more action than science fiction, with Logan Ramsay, our narrator, working with the Gene Protection Agency to stop people from illegal gene modifications. The novel is set in a future where scientists and criminals might be the same person. His mother was one of these people, and it feels like Logan has chosen his job as penance for the mistakes his mother made. 

While on assignment with the GPA, he is injured, and shortly after, some strange things start to happen. He is getting smarter, stronger, faster, and has recollection of absolutely every piece of information he has ever received. This injury might not have been an accident at all. To quote an old adage, “With great power comes great responsibility,” so he is trying to keep doing the right things with his new powers, even when others are trying to use him for their own plans.

Blake Crouch’s novel does have some sections of heavy science elements, like when he is explaining DNA and what criminals are doing with it, but he is masterful with his pacing. There is not one time when the pages of information about what is going on at the science level get too long before he turns it off quickly with an action scene. While reading Upgrade, I knew that there was always some danger right around the corner, so if I needed to work through a couple of pages of information, the action would be right back. This kept me engaged in the story throughout the novel and made for a novel that is truly built like a page turner. 

I also like that even though the structure of the novel leans toward action and danger, there are moments of cinematic and environmental intrigue. Logan travels around the United States, but this is kind of a post-environmental disaster version of the US. There are times that he travels to the bigger cities, like Las Vegas and Manhattan, and his descriptions of them and the way people live now in this new future is enough to where I want more Blake Crouch novels set in this world, I like that there are not only sections that have become inhabitable but also people who have not given up on these areas. It is as if we still find a way to overcome the adversities of our environmental woes, regardless of how bad it gets. The environmental climate aspects are not a focal point of the story, but in the end it is the backbone to everyone’s motivation. This dark backdrop makes the actions of Logan, regardless of the outcome, feel pretty bleak. Blake Crouch does not shy away from the science of how the world is changing for the worse in this novel, but at the central core, the story is about humanities continued hope for a better future.

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

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Review: Just Like Mother by Anne Heltzel

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A girl would be such a blessing…

The last time Maeve saw her cousin was the night she escaped the cult they were raised in. For the past two decades, Maeve has worked hard to build a normal life in New York City, where she keeps everything—and everyone—at a safe distance.

When Andrea suddenly reappears, Maeve regains the only true friend she’s ever had. Soon she’s spending more time at Andrea’s remote Catskills estate than in her own cramped apartment. Maeve doesn’t even mind that her cousin’s wealthy work friends clearly disapprove of her single lifestyle. After all, Andrea has made her fortune in the fertility industry—baby fever comes with the territory.

The more Maeve immerses herself in Andrea’s world, the more disconnected she feels from her life back in the city; and the cousins’ increasing attachment triggers memories Maeve has fought hard to bury. But confronting the terrors of her childhood may be the only way for Maeve to transcend the nightmare still to come…


Andrea and Maeve are cousins who grew up in a cult called The Mother Collective until it was raided by the government when Andrea was eleven and Maeve was eight. They were split apart at this time, and it takes years later to find each other again. Maeve is excited to start this rekindled relationship with her cousin. She immediately sees that Andrea is a successful business woman, and when they start to meet, Maeve trusts her, even though they had not seen each other in years. This trust is put into the wrong person, of course, and in the end, Just Like Mother is a novel of psychological horror, family that is evil, and a past that cannot be outran.

Most of the book is a great amount of waiting and build up to the final quarter of the novel. This buildup is sluggish at times, and I wish that there was more of this time spent exploring their childhood in the cult. There are strong themes and arguments on motherhood, raising children, and contemporary views versus traditional roles on the fulfillment of womanhood through bearing children. I did not hate the scenes where Maeve and Andrea are arguing about having and raising children, but I wish this time was spent on their childhood at the cult instead. The roles of the men in this novel are also interesting. They are purposefully sitting in the backseat, obediently following their strong willed spouses while they dp most of the hard work. There is a reverse Stepford Wives vibe to the the actions of the men in this novel, like they are built to be a minor character in the lives of all of the powerful women. Each man in this novel is written this way, almost as a bothersome accessory. This is not so much something I see as a complaint as much as something I see as a very heavy handed foreshadowing. 

There are elements of Just Like Mother that are not as sharp as they could be, and there are times when Anne Heltzel gets a little deep into her arguments between the women about the pros and cons of motherhood. It does move a little slow through the first two-thirds, but the end turns very quickly, the danger ties everything together pretty well, and it’s a good novel.

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

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Review: Black Tide by KC Jones

To be released May 31, 2022

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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.


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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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?


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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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.


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

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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. 


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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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.


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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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.


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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