Provided for Review: The Vanishing by David Michael Slater

To save her best friend from the horrors of Nazi Germany, an invisible girl must embark on an utterly unforgettable journey of redemption and revenge. The Vanishing is fierce and loving, devastating and compelling, a breathtaking blend of history, fiction, and magical realism.

This book was kindly provided for review by the author. Thank you!

Trigger Warnings: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Semitic remarks, rape, human death, animal death, child abuse.

Life has been pretty good for young Sophie Siegel. While it’s true she and her parents have had to move a handful of times in the last few years, things haven’t been all bad. She’s become a better student and has made a few friends – including the little boy next door.

One December morning Sophie wakes to find her mother sewing a yellow star on to all of their clothes. Sophie initially refuses, somehow knowing wearing the star represents a turning point for her and for the other Jews in the city where she lives. And she is not wrong because shortly thereafter Sophie’s world is turned upside down.

Many times when an author writes a fictional story set during World War 2 and specifically makes mention of the Holocaust, they tend to water the truth down some. In an effort to make the subject matter more palatable certain truths are glossed over. In David Michael Slater’s The Vanishing, the opposite happens. Slater does not shy away from the cruelty that was acted upon the Jewish people during this time. He does not gloss over the sadistic acts and instead lays them bare. Through Sophie’s young eyes we are given a first hand account of this horrible time.

Reading The Vanishing is by no means easy. Though the book itself is just shy of 200 pages, it is the content matter that can cause difficulties. Normally I would be able to read such a book in a day or two but I found myself having to put the book down on several occasions just to ground myself. To settle the anger and despair that bubbled in my own chest at the travesties that occurred over 75 years ago.

The Vanishing is one of those books that I believe everyone should read but it is also very difficult to recommend. It is a remarkable and very well written book but it also one that is gut wrenching and at times hard to read. It is sweet and sad, breath-taking and heart-breaking. It is a book that will stay with the reader long after they have gotten to the last page.

Provided for Review: The Dollhouse by Sara Ennis

Alfred needs Dolls. Blonde, blue-eyed human dolls that will help him rewrite his past and change his future.

When Peter Baden’s daughter Olivia was abducted nearly a year ago, he left his career as a respected journalist to find her. Now he spends his days searching for Olivia, and helping other families of abducted children survive the emotionally and physically exhausting experience of finding a missing child.

Twins Angel and Bud are used to making do. Their dad is in prison, and their mom won’t win parenting awards. Bud thrives on neglect, but Angel isn’t so strong.

Now they’re captives in a place called the Dollhouse, and things have gone from bad to worse. The Dolls are forced to re-stage old photographs, but satisfying Alfred is not easy. He has a twisted sense of humor and a violent temper that explodes when things don’t go his way — and sometimes when they do.

Angel knows that if she and the other Dolls are to survive this warped playtime, she can no longer be needy and afraid. She must prove how strong she can be — fast.

There aren’t many photos left …

Trigger Warnings: Physical torture, psychological torture, emotional torture, kidnapping, rape (mentioned, happens off-screen), murder, death of an animal (mentioned, happens off-screen), suicide

Everyone has moments from their childhood they would like to do over. Moments where if we had only done one thing differently then maybe everything could have changed. Moments we often think about later in life, replaying them over and over again in our minds.

How far would you go to truly replay those memories?

The Dollhouse by Sara Ennis is a book that explores this idea – albeit in a very creepy and disturbing way.

There are times when writing a review can be very difficult. When I find myself struggling to come up with the words to convey how a particular book made me feel. Whether it be because I did or did not enjoy the book, or like in this case how troubling the subject matter is.

The Dollhouse is a disturbing book. It is creepy and strange and dark. It is not a happy book and even though the ending could be considered a “good” one, it really isn’t. There are scenes of physical torture as well as psychological torture. The kids in the book are put through a LOT.

Normally, when I review a book I say whether I would recommend it to my readers or not. Whether I think it would be enjoyable to a specific group or for everyone in general. The Dollhouse is one of those that I hesitantly recommend. Is it a good book? Yes, I thought so. But it is also a deeply triggering book. Some readers could have a very difficult time with it.

So while I do recommend The Dollhouse, I also urge anyone looking to read it to pay attention to the trigger warnings.

Provided for Review: Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.

But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt. 

This book was provided for review by Netgalley. Thank you!

When I saw Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth available to read on Netgalley, I jumped on the chance to get a copy. Books set in Japan (whether modern-day or historical) are appealing to me. And if there happens to be a mystery and/or a horror element added in? Bonus!

I was so looking forward to reading this book and when I was finally able to I was so disappointed! So much about this book is simply awful!

I know horror can be difficult to write; good horror that keeps you on the edge of your seat doubly so. The juggling of characters, setting, and plot can be quite demanding. Even the most prolific of writers can have trouble. And while Khaw certainly tried with Nothing But Blackened Teeth, it was in my opinion an ultimate failure.

The cast of characters is an unlikeable group of twenty-somethings. Throughout the story, we are told they are friends and have been for some time – hard to believe considering the way they almost constantly bicker. Almost the entire book is like this with them fighting about past grudges and who might still have feelings for who. It added nothing to the story and only made it difficult for me to actually care when something happened to someone.

Because the story is set in Japan and because it is supposed to be a ghost story, Khaw apparently felt it necessary to throw in terms like ohaguro-bettari and shiromoku but without giving any translation or context. Readers who are familiar with Japanese ghost stories will likely recognize the terms – a female demon with no face and a mouth of black teeth and a pure white wedding kimono respectively – but the average readers will not. And without that context or translation, the words mean nothing and add nothing.

The writing for Nothing But Blackened Teeth is just as bad. Khaw’s prose is so purple at times it comes across as ridiculous. In some passages it isn’t purple, it’s ultraviolet. It is excessive and so over the top that I have no words to really describe it. And like in so many novels that have that overly flowery type of writing, it doesn’t add to the story but detracts from it.

I will be honest my dear reader, I did not enjoy reading Nothing But Blackened Teeth. The stilted writing and horrid characters made it difficult to even finish the story. I know there are reviewers who absolutely loved this book and there are readers who like me did not. My only advice is to read it and judge for yourself.

Corpse Rider by Tim Curran

Poor Christina is young and alone. Her every relationship seems cursed, each one slowly turning to poison. The only one that doesn’t seem to have soured is the one with her co-worker.

Christina is also at times kind. When visiting her mother’s grave, she notices a nearby grave left derelict. Thinking she is helping, she pulls the weeds growing around and tidies the tombstone up a bit.

Her simple act of kindness causes someone to notice and Christina realizes she is no longer alone. For what was laid to rest beneath that stone has attached itself to her and to it she will be the perfect wife. And, God help her, the perfect mother.

Corpse Rider by Tim Curran is the perfect creepy story to start off the month of October with. It is a short story – more a novella than a novel – and is therefore a fairly quick read.

This is the first book by Curran that I have read, but judging from his titles on GoodReads, he has a flair for the strange. His books run the gambit and it looks like his readers love them.

Corpse Rider is very much a psychological book. Written in a way that makes the reader wonder just how much is real and how much is in Christina’s mind. Did she really see a figure in black on that hot, sunny day in the cemetery? Was there really a hearse driven by that same figure at her work a few days later? As Christina is the only one seeing these things, one cannot help but wonder if perhaps she is going insane.

At times, it certainly feels that way. Every one around her is skeptical as there simply isn’t any proof. No proof until the very, very end.

I won’t go too far in to what happens next because to do so will ruin the ending for any one who decides to read this. Personally, I recommend it to my readers. Especially to those who like a good, creepy read. So grab your favorite hot drink, a warm fuzzy blanket, and curl up with this great thriller.

The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant (Fred, The Vampire Accountant #1) by Drew Hayes

Some people are born boring. Some live boring. Some even die boring. Fred managed to do all three, and when he woke up as a vampire, he did so as a boring one. Timid, socially awkward, and plagued by self-esteem issues, Fred has never been the adventurous sort.

One fateful night – different from the night he died, which was more inconvenient than fateful – Fred reconnects with an old friend at his high school reunion. This rekindled relationship sets off a chain of events thrusting him right into the chaos that is the parahuman world, a world with chipper zombies, truck driver wereponies, maniacal necromancers, ancient dragons, and now one undead accountant trying his best to “survive.” Because even after it’s over, life can still be a downright bloody mess.

 

Trigger Warning – blood, violence, general gore

So often when I read a book with a vampire as the main character, the vampire in question always comes across as someone cool and aloof. A badass that follows their own rules and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Someone who is always ready to kick ass and take names.

Fred – short for Frederick Frankford Fletcher (yes really!) – is none of those things. He’s not even close. And that is what makes him great.

In The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, The Vampire Accountant, Hayes has taken a well-known (and often overused) character idea and turned it on its ear. Fred doesn’t suddenly become a super cool guy when he’s turned, he remains his original sweater vest-wearing geeky self. He is aware of the person he comes across as and uses that to his advantage.

The Utterly Uninteresting… is actually five mini-stories in one book. Each chapter is one of Fred’s adventures, introducing us not to just Fred but the friends and colleagues he gains along the way. As the book goes on, we see Fred grow as a person and as a vampire in ways that are not only amusing but satisfying as well.

This is a wonderfully light story despite the seemingly dark subject matter. It’s fun and funny and was an overall enjoyable read. I definitely recommend Fred The Vampire Accountant to my readers. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

The Library of the Unwritten (Hell’s Library #1) by A.J. Hackwith

Books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell … and Earth.

Trigger Warnings: suicide, alcohol consumption, gun violence, knife violence, murder, and drowning.

The idea of a library filled with unfinished stories is not a new one. In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series we find such a library in the realm of Dream. And here in The Library of the Unwritten, we find such a library residing in Hell of all places. Why Hell? Sadly, that point is never explained.

As much as I wanted to enjoy The Library of the Unwritten, I had such a hard time with it and there was more than one occasion where I almost walked away. The overall plot was interesting enough, it was the characters that got in the way. For me, this was especially true of the character Claire. While I am sure there were those readers who found her brusque nature refreshing, I personally found her to be quite mean. Because of her often aloof and brash nature, she became almost one-dimensional and that made it difficult to like – much less relate – to her.

The rest of the characters – and honestly the book itself – come across the same way. Because it takes so long to learn any of their backstories, it was hard to care for any one person/demon/angel in the book. The same for the overall plotline – the true stakes are never quite fully explained so again it becomes hard to care.

I know there are numerous readers who thoroughly enjoyed reading The Library of the Unwritten as well as the second book in the series – The Archive of the Forgotten – I am just not one of them.

The Strings of Murder (Frey and McGray #1) by Oscar de Muriel

Edinburgh, 1888. A virtuoso violinist is brutally killed in his home. Black magic symbols cover the walls. The dead man’s maid swears she heard three musicians playing before the murder.

But with no way in or out of the locked practice room, the puzzle makes no sense…

Fearing a national panic over a copycat Ripper, Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Frey to investigate under the cover of a fake department specializing in the occult. However, Frey’s new boss – Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray – actually believes in such nonsense.

McGray’s tragic past has driven him to superstition, but even Frey must admit that this case seems beyond reason. And once someone loses all reason, who knows what they will lose next…

Trigger Warning: Murder, general gore, death of an infant

Set in the Victorian Era, The Strings of Murder follows Inspector Ian Frey as he is sent to Edinburgh to investigate the brutal murder of a well-known violinist. Upon his arrival, he is paired up with Detective McGray, a local detective who has also been selected to investigate. Immediately the two men butt heads; their personalities could not be any more different.

With McGray’s fervent belief in the occult and Frey’s skepticism, I was reminded of another pair of investigators – the X-Files Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

Though I never wanted to slap Scully as much as I did Ian Frey.

Frey’s penchant for what could only be considered whining was irritating and quickly became tiresome. McGray wasn’t nearly as bad but sometimes he felt more like a stereotypical caricature of a Scotsman and less like an individual.

The actual resolution to the murder itself though was a unique one. Locked room mysteries can be solved in so many different ways and de Murial was able to accomplish it in a way I had yet to encounter.

Final thoughts: Good mystery, satisfactory ending, incredibly irritating characters.

Provided for Review: Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

Meet Chloe Sevre. She’s a freshman honor student, a leggings-wearing hot girl next door, who also happens to be a psychopath. Her hobbies include yogalates, frat parties, and plotting to kill Will Bachman, a childhood friend who grievously wronged her.

Chloe is one of seven students at her DC-based college who are part of an unusual clinical study for psychopaths—students like herself who lack empathy and can’t comprehend emotions like fear or guilt. The study, led by a renowned psychologist, requires them to wear smartwatches that track their moods and movements.

When one of the students in the study is found murdered in the psychology building, a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins, and Chloe goes from hunter to prey. As she races to identify the killer and put her own plan into action, she’ll be forced to decide if she can trust any of her fellow psychopaths—and everybody knows you should never trust a psychopath.

Trigger Warning: Alcohol use, Mentions of rape (rape occurs off-screen before the beginning of the book)

To the casual observer, Chloe Sevre is the typical teenage “girl next door”. An honor student in her first year at college, she gets along well with her classmates and doesn’t really stand out.

Chloe Sevre however, is also a psychopath. She has been concocting a meticulous plan to kill Will Bachman – a fellow college student and someone from Chloe’s childhood who hurt her. Attending the same college is just one step in her overall plan.

Because as they say, revenge is a dish best served cold.

The overall story contained in Never Saw Me Coming is a multi-layered one. On the uppermost layer is the storyline centered on Chloe and her revenge on Will. An act of revenge she had been planning for years and finally is about to come to fruition. Beneath that is the murder mystery Chloe finds herself involved in. As one of seven psychopaths, she is at the university taking part in a specialized study. When one then two members of the study are killed, Chloe finds herself as both hunter and prey. Finally, beneath that is the rest of college life for Chloe including things like classes and parties and such.

The first two-thirds of Never Saw Me Coming are very well done in my opinion. Watching as Chloe tried to juggle getting close to Will as well as try to figure out who else was in the study and would want to kill her while also maintaining her facade as a typical college girl was entertaining. The issue came when Chloe was able to get her revenge but there was still so much of the book left. With what I considered to be the main driving plot point gone, the rest of the story kind of fell flat.

And personally, the final reveal of who was behind the murders wasn’t that satisfying either.

Final thoughts: Excellent premise, decent followthrough, needed a better ending.

Provided for Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him.

By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. 

This book was provided for review by NetGalley. Thank you!

When I first saw the blurb on NetGalley for The Death of Jane Lawrence, I was intrigued. Especially once I saw it compared to Crimson Peak – a personal favorite in both book and movie. So it leaves little doubt that I had to request it.

The Death of Jane Lawrence on the surface has a basic enough premise. There is a young woman with a potential decision to make and there is a handsome young man with a dark secret. Add in the ubiquitous crumbling manor house and you have the recipe for most any gothic novel. That however is where the comparison ends because this book contains so much more.

I think what I liked best about The Death of Jane Lawrence was how unexpected it was. What I mean is, while reading it I was quite sure I knew the direction in which the story would go. Having read my fair share of gothic novels – both modern and historical – I tend to be able to guess how a story of this kind will end. And while sometimes I am correct there are other times where I am wrong. The Death of Jane Lawrence proved that point to me, that one cannot always guess how a book is going to go.

I quite enjoyed reading this book. Starling does a wonderful job of creating the perfect moody setting with Lindridge Hall and its surroundings. She peoples it with characters that are sympathetic and ones that are insensitive and at times they are the same person.

As a fan of gothic novels, I heartily recommend The Death of Jane Lawrence to my readers. With the colder months soon upon us it the perfect spooky book to settle down with on a dark night.

The Patient by Jasper DeWitt

In a series of online posts, Parker H., a young psychiatrist, chronicles the harrowing account of his time working at a dreary mental hospital in New England. Through this internet message board, Parker hopes to communicate with the world his effort to cure one bewildering patient.

We learn, as Parker did on his first day at the hospital, of the facility’s most difficult, profoundly dangerous case—a forty-year-old man who was originally admitted to the hospital at age six. This patient has no known diagnosis. His symptoms seem to evolve over time. Every person who has attempted to treat him has been driven to madness or suicide.

Desperate and fearful, the hospital’s directors keep him strictly confined and allow minimal contact with staff for their own safety, convinced that releasing him would unleash catastrophe on the outside world. Parker, brilliant and overconfident, takes it upon himself to discover what ails this mystery patient and finally cure him. But from his first encounter with the mystery patient, things spiral out of control, and, facing a possibility beyond his wildest imaginings, Parker is forced to question everything he thought he knew.

The story of The Patient by Jasper DeWitt is presented to the reader in a series of online posts. On an internet message board Dr. Parker H. begins his story in a thread titled “Why I Almost Quit Medicine”. In the thread one can assume that other doctors had made posts about circumstances that made them almost leave their profession, whether it be from stress or workload or what have you.

In his first post Parker admits that the story he is about to relate will sound outlandish. He knows that there will be those who think him a fraud and his story is an effort to garner attention. He knows these things and doesn’t ask the readers to believe him, he only asks that they listen.

In The Patient, DeWitt has created a very dark and disturbing tale using a unique storytelling style. With the bulletin board style posts one can easily imagine how anxious the readers would have become. With each update from him more pieces of the puzzle surrounding Joe are revealed and with each question answered more are added in their place.

Some reviewers have tagged The Patient as ‘psychological thriller’ while others have tagged it as ‘supernatural horror’. In my opinion, both are accurate. The way the story is set up and eventually resolves, one is left to wonder if what Parker observed was true? Or was it the slow descent of an overworked mind?

At just over 200 paged The Patient is a fairly quick read. It is something the average reader would likely be able to finish in a day. However, I recommend the reader to take their time and savor the story DeWitt has created. Give thought to the things Parker writes about and decide for yourself whether monsters are real or imagination.