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.

Provided for Review: The Dali Deception by Adam Maxwell

Five criminals. Two forgeries. And one masterpiece of a heist.

Violet Winters—a professional thief born of a good, honest thief-and-con-artist stock— has been offered the heist of a lifetime. Steal a priceless Salvador Dali from the security-obsessed chairman of the Kilchester Bank and replace it with a forgery.

The fact that the “painting” is a signed, blank canvas doesn’t matter. It’s the challenge that gives Violet that familiar, addicting rush of adrenaline. Her quarry rests in a converted underground Cold War bunker. One way in, one way out. No margin for error.

But the reason Violet fled Kilchester is waiting right where she left him—an ex-lover with a murderous method for dumping a girlfriend. If her heist is to be a success, there will have to be a reckoning, or everything could go spinning out of control.

Her team of talented misfits assembled, Violet sets out to re-stake her claim on her reputation, exorcise some demons, and claim the prize. That is if her masterpiece of a plan isn’t derailed by a pissed-off crime boss—or betrayal from within her own ranks. 

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

Readers who have been with me for some time know that the majority of the books I review tend to skew towards the science-fiction and fantasy variety. Every so often I read and review something “modern” but those tend to be few and far between. When I was contacted by Adam Maxwell and asked if I was interested in reviewing his book The Dali Deception, I admit I was a bit hesitant. Once I read the book description, however, I was intrigued. And once I actually started reading the book itself, I was hooked.

When is a painting not quite a painting? When it’s a blank canvas signed by Salvador Dali.

After being away from Kilchester for almost two years, Violet Winters is given the chance to get back in the con game. All she has to do is steal a priceless Dali painting and replace it with a fake. The only hitch is the painting is located in an underground bunker apartment owned by a security-obsessed banker. There’s only one way in and one way out and enough security to make the US federal government jealous.

As she’s been away for a while, Violet has to assemble an all-new team. This she does by calling in old friends and making new ones along the way.

The character of Violet Winters – and the rest of her motley crew – are an interesting bunch. It would have been so easy for Maxwell to rely on character tropes that readers have seen countless times. But Maxwell doesn’t do this and instead subverts what readers are expecting and in effect take them by surprise. While there are some criminal cliches that are almost impossible to avoid, even with those Maxwell takes them and gives them a unique twist.

Personally, I think my favorite characters were Zoe and Katie. As someone who has perpetually looked younger than she actually was, I can completely relate to her sometimes frustration. And as for Katie, I find her whole person intriguing and cannot wait to get to know her better. In The Dali Deception, we do not learn much about her but it is easy to like her.

Maxwell’s writing style with The Dali Deception is fast-paced and funny. While reading it I couldn’t help but think how well this story could translate to screen – preferably a tv series type thing that would allow the whole story to be told.

In the end, I really enjoyed reading The Dali Deception by Adam Maxwell. I’m glad to know there is a second book featuring this crew and it has already been added to my extensive To Be Read list. I absolutely recommend it to my readers and to anyone looking for something a little bit different.

Many thanks to Adam Maxwell for allowing me to read and review this book!

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.

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: Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic by Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev

“The first time I committed suicide I was ten years old.

There have been many more suicides since.”

Adam is cursed. He cannot die.

But one man’s burden is another man’s blessing, and there are people who are out to harness Adam’s special talents.

However, Adam soon discovers that immortality comes at a cost; every time he dies, he loses a little bit of himself. So when Adam meets Lilyanne—his reason for living—he’s forced to choose between life and love.

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

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, glorification of suicide, death of a parent, murder, child abuse, references to drug use, animal death

Adam cannot die.

Whenever he tries, he wakes up in a new place with only the memory of his name. Any other memories are fleeting and usually lost when he dies again. Adam believes himself alone and unique but he is not. There are more like him and there are those who want to be like him. And they will stop at nothing to accomplish their goals.

My many thanks to NetGalley for approving my request for this book. I generally do not regret my decisions to request an ARC but I deeply regret this one.

I will be honest dear reader, Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic is not a good book. There were times that as I was reading it I was amazed it had even made it to publication. There is fanfiction on A03, fanfiction.net, or even WattPad that is better written and with characters infinitely more likeable.

The basic plot surrounding Strange Deaths… is, I admit, an intriguing one. The opening scene is quite strong and really draws you in but just as quickly descends in to ridiculousness. The plot holes are numerous and many of them could have easily been fixed with some kind of real editing work. Problems and conflicts are solved with little more than a waved hand and are often never mentioned again.

The writing for Strange Deaths is something I could go on about at length simply because it is so bad. Clunky prose and stilted conversations abound. The manner in which Adam describes Lilyanne (or any female character honestly) reminds me very much of the examples from Reddit’s ‘menwritingwomen’ board highlighting what NOT to do. At times I wondered if Mikheyev actually pulled ideas from there.

Unfortunately, the characters that populate Strange Deaths aren’t much better. Adam (or Aristotle) comes to romanticize his suicides. He spends paragraphs admiring the gun he carries and even admits to finding killing himself addicting. His viewpoints on women – along with every other male character – are quite misogynistic. The few female characters falling in to either the “goddess” or “whore” trope with no in-between. The women are very one dimensional and almost every one practically falls all over Adam soon after meeting him.

As I said above, Strange Deaths is not a good book. Clunky and awkward writing, plot holes the size of the Titanic, strange and abrupt shifts in narrator, and deeply unlikeable characters make this an eye rolling read. It is not often that I advise my readers to stay away and NOT read a particular book. This is one of the few times I make an exception. Head on over to fanfiction.net or A03, I know without a doubt you will find something better there.

Provided for Review: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

I’m embarrassed, still, by how long it took me to notice. Everything was right there in the open, right there in front of me, but it still took me so long to see the person I had married.

It took me so long to hate him.

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be.

And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and both Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up.

Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.

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

The basic premise of The Echo Wife is quite good. Evelyn Caldwell is an award winning scientist, her work with cloning is second to none. Unfortunately, her awards comes with a cost – namely, her marriage to Nathan. When Evelyn suspects Nathan of being unfaithful, she hires a private investigator to discover the truth. The truth is something Evelyn never would have expected; Nathan is indeed having an affair and the other woman is an exact duplicate of Evelyn herself.

For such a promising premise and such an intriguing cover, sadly The Echo Wife does not deliver. On more than one occasion I contemplated actually not finishing this book and writing a short review saying just that. However, because I was curious as to how it would end I continued to read and did finish the book.

For me, the majority of the problems I saw with The Echo Wife come from the main character herself. The story is told from Evelyn’s point of view with all her internal thoughts and feelings. And she is a mess. She is almost always upset by something, either from something someone did (as when Martine tidied up Evelyn’s townhouse) or from something someone did not do (such as her co-workers not noticing she was upset despite her keeping her feelings to herself). Evelyn comes across as self-righteous and overly emotional and that became tiring after a while.

Overall, while I did enjoy reading The Echo Wife it was also a struggle. Would I recommend it to my readers? Yes, provided they take my advice and take everything in the book with a healthy grain of salt.

Provided for Review: Ink & Sigil (Ink & Sigil #1) by Kevin Hearne

Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails–and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective–while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.

This book was provided for review via sweepstakes by Goodreads. Many thanks!

Trigger Warning: General violence. Mentions of trafficking, both human and otherworldly.

Ink & Sigil is the first book by Kevin Hearne in the series by the same name. Some readers might recognize Hearne’s name from the Iron Druid series. Others might be new to Hearne’s writing and his unique style.

Ink & Sigil takes place in a modern day world where the pen is quite literally mightier than the sword. With the right inks and the right written characters a person can accomplish almost anything. Heal wounds. Gain super strength (albeit only for a short while). Even alter another person’s mind. The art is heavily protected and Al MacBharrais in only one of a handful of practitioners.

As with his Iron Druid series, with Ink & Sigil Hearne manages to fuse fantasy and reality in to a very entertaining read. In its pages (virtual or otherwise) we are introduced to Al MacBharrais, who thought he might bristle at the term is a hipster through and through with his penchant for unique fashion and even more unique drinks. We are also introduced to Nadia, who works as Al’s accountant in his print shop but also moonlights as a pit fighter. Rounding out the trio is Buck Foi, a foul mouthed hobgoblin who loves “Your Mom” jokes.

Since this is the first book of the series, the universe and its rules must be spelt out for the reader. In Ink & Sigil this is generally done through flashbacks though on a few occasions Al explains something to Buck since he is new to the human realm.

In the genre of urban fantasy, authors must tread a fine line. They must combine the real and the fantastical in a manner that is both plausible and entertaining. Relying on too much of one or the other shatters the illusion and can be disappointing to a reader. Kevin Hearne has proven that once again he has the ability to walk that line and create a world that is so like and yet unlike our own.

Fans of Hearne’s other works will likely enjoy this book if they haven’t read it already. Likewise the same can be said for fans of urban fantasy. Personally, I really enjoyed reading Ink & Sigil and look forward to further adventures.

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.