Provided for Review: Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

Welcome to Harrow Lake...
Someone’s expecting you.

Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker – she thinks nothing can scare her.

But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot. The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map – and then there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.

And there’s someone – or something – stalking her every move.

The more Lola discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her . . .

This book was provided for review by NetGalley and The Write Reads. Thank you!

When The Write Reads approached me on Twitter to join the book tour for Harrow Lake, I immediately accepted. As someone who grew up in the 80’s, horror films are as much a part of my growing up as anything else. And while yes, I did have my share of nightmares from them, I also came to appreciate them as the works of art that some of them are.

Harrow Lake is a story that centers around horror films and the hold they can create. It focuses on Lola Nox, 17 year old daughter of horror film director Nolan Nox. Having grown up around her father’s films, Lola believes that nothing can frighten her. Those beliefs are put to the test when Lola is sent – rather unwillingly – to her maternal grandmother’s home in Harrow Lake.

Harrow Lake reminds me very much of the older tv series The Twilight Zone. Any one who remembers the original show will recall that the stories they told were built on the premise of suspense and barely hinted at ideas. Where the shadows lurking in a dark corner could be a hideous monster or could simply be a pile of clothes. Where not everything is as it seems and looks are definitely deceiving.

Like some horror movies, the action in Harrow Lake is a bit choppy. Scenes jump from one to the next with almost no indication. It can be a little disconcerting at times. Also, the main character of Lola can be irritating. This can be explained by not only her age but also by her unique upbringing. Any one raised immersed in the horror genre from a young age is likely to be more than a bit jaded as well.

This is the first novel by Kat Ellis that I’ve had the opportunity to read and review. I enjoyed her style of storytelling and have already looked in to what others books she has written.

Readers who enjoy a good suspenseful story will likely enjoy Harrow Lake. It is the perfect creepy read for a dark night. I recommend it and hope others enjoy it as I did.

Provided for Review: If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Kyuri is a heartbreakingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a “room salon,” an exclusive bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake with a client may come to threaten her livelihood.

Her roomate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the super-wealthy heir to one of Korea’s biggest companies.

Down the hall in their apartment building lives Ara, a hair stylist for whom two preoccupations sustain her: obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that is commonplace.

And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to get pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise and educate in the cutthroat economy.

Together, their stories tell a gripping tale that’s seemingly unfamiliar, yet unmistakably universal in the way that their tentative friendships may have to be their saving grace.

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

It is my opinion that the purpose of a book – whether fiction or non-fiction – is to introduce the reader to new ideas. To take them out of the familiar and in to the unfamiliar. To introduce new people and hopefully have them stay with the reader far after the book has been finished.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha is an excellent example of this. In it we are taken to Seoul Korea and surrounding suburbs. We are introduced to several young women who live in the same apartment building. Through them we step foot in to a society that is as familiar as it is unique. And through them hopefully understand that despite the differences in language, the desire for a better life is universal.

While the four young women who are the main characters live in the same building and close to one another, their stories are separate. Yes, they are all acquaintances and interact with each other throughout the story, but each woman is her own person. And while there is an underlying thread that connects them, each young woman approaches it in their own way.

I absolutely loved each of the female characters in If I Had Your Face. They are all so relatable in one way or another – because honestly, who hasn’t fantasized about meeting their favorite artist and falling instantly in love? Cha’s writing makes each one of them so believable and it is easy to imagine them sitting around and gossiping over food and drinks.

Whether you are a fan of k-pop, Korean dramas, or not, I honestly believe most readers will enjoy If I Had Your Face. I found it to be a fascinating look at a slice of the world that is so familiar and yet so different than our own.

Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro (translated by Takami Nieda)

For two teens, falling in love is going to make a world of difference in this beautifully translated, bold, and endearing novel about love, loss, and the pain of racial discrimination.

As a Korean student in a Japanese high school, Sugihara has had to defend himself against all kinds of bullies. But nothing could have prepared him for the heartache he feels when he falls hopelessly in love with a Japanese girl named Sakurai. Immersed in their shared love for classical music and foreign movies, the two gradually grow closer and closer.

One night, after being hit by personal tragedy, Sugihara reveals to Sakurai that he is not Japanese—as his name might indicate.

Torn between a chance at self-discovery that he’s ready to seize and the prejudices of others that he can’t control, Sugihara must decide who he wants to be and where he wants to go next. Will Sakurai be able to confront her own bias and accompany him on his journey?

Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro is one of those books where expectation and reality don’t quite meet. This is not always a bad thing, because while the premise of Go points to romance, the book itself is actually much more.

Though the story centers on the blossoming romance between Sukihara and Sagurai, it is only one of the many layers that make up the entirety. The book is also about coming to terms with oneself and with society, for good and for bad. It is about realization, about understanding that just because the world says we should be one way because of the way we look or because of our background, it is not the only option. And while breaking free of a preconceived mold might be difficult, it can be done.

There is some violence and not all of the characters are very nice, but I think that just adds to the realism of the story. The fact that even the main characters, Sugihara and Sagurai, are flawed makes everything more believable.

Go is one of those books that I could easily see being taught to upper level high school students. As many of the characters are of the high school age, it would be easy to relate to them. That does not mean that adults cannot enjoy this book, because I certainly did.

Overall, I recommend Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro. Not only does it give a glimpse in to a foreign society – literally and figuratively – it also holds up a mirror to our own.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Nora hasn’t seen or spoken to Clare in ten years. Not since they were both in high school.

Not since Nora walked away one day and never looked back.

Until, one day an unexpected e-mail arrives. Clare is having a hen do and Nora is invited.

Reluctantly, Nora agrees to go and at first all seems well. But as the weekend goes on, things start to go wrong. And when Nora suddenly wakes up in a hospital with no memory of what happened, she desperately needs to remember because one of the guests might be a killer and she might be next on their list.

In A Dark, Dark Wood is supposedly a dark thriller, but I would be more likely to describe it as a light mystery. Based on the cover and the blurb on the back, one would expect something deeper and far darker than what is delivered. Yes, there is a bit of mystery involved, and yes someone does die, but the actual build up and final resolution left me wanting more.

The characters themselves were difficult to develop any kind of emotional attachment to. Several times I found myself wanting to give the main character Nora, a good shake. For a supposed crime novel writer she can be quite blase at times. Add to that the fact that she doesn’t have a very large online presence. In this day and age of social media, an author like her would at least have a Facebook or Twitter. It comes across that she has nothing like that. She also admits to only looking up her old boyfriend ONCE in the 10 years since the separated. That too I find hard to swallow, especially if we are to believe that they were a very close couple.

While In A Dark, Dark Wood started strong, by about halfway through it began to slow down tremendously. And while Ware tried to set the narrative to point to one character as the baddie, it didn’t quite work. I was able to guess the ending far before the big reveal. It was almost anti-climactic.

Ruth Ware has written some excellent books – her The Death of Mrs. Westaway has garnered some major acclaims. And while there are some readers who enjoyed In A Dark, Dark Wood from beginning to end, I was not one of them. While it started very strong, it finished weak. This isn’t one I would recommend to every one, but if you’re looking for a fast read with a touch of mystery, you could certainly give this a try.

Strange Practice (Dr. Greta Helsing #1) by Vivian Shaw

Dr. Greta Helsing has inherited her family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, family practice. In her consulting rooms she treats the otherworldly citizens of London for a wide variety of worldly ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies – just to name a few. And although she has trouble making ends meet, Greta wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Until a sect of murderous monks arrives on the scene. Killing human and supernatural persons alike. Terror has taken the city in its grip and Greta will have to team up with some strange friends to stop the cult, save her practice, and her life.

Strange Practice was a book I came across while browsing over in Google Play. It was one of those “Recommended for You” type of things. Honestly, I enjoy browsing those areas just to see how accurate – or how totally off base – the recommendations can be. Sometimes I come across a title that interests me, while other times I’m left scratching my head.

Strange Practice is the first book in the Dr. Greta Helsing series and in it we are introduced to the titular character. Greta is a 30-something medical doctor, who after numerous years of study and practice in London’s hospitals, has taken over her father’s practice. It is something she has wanted to do since she was a child as her family has a history of dealing with some of the more unique individuals that walk the city streets. Taking care of others – especially those of the supernatural sort – is something she loves to do and is something she is quite good at.

On the whole, the actual plot of Strange Practice is a tad cliched. A group of young theology students find forgotten information about a long dead sect of Templar Knights. At first, they reenact the rituals for love of the pomp and circumstance, they are not serious in their efforts. That is until an odd, disembodied voice begins to compel them to take things a step further. To rid the world of those deemed “unclean” and “monstrous”.

What sets Strange Practice apart are the characters themselves. Whether human or supernatural – of which there are quite a few mentioned – they are each written in a way that makes them believable. There are moments of joy and of pain, of anger and of self doubt, of surprise and of relief. While the majority of this attention is given to the main characters, even the background characters like Greta’s staff in her clinic, are given this treatment (pun intended). Brief mentions of them as actual people are made so when something happens, we the reader react just as the other characters do. We hurt when they hurt, and at one point even cry when they do.

Though the action can be a bit clunky at times, and some scenes tend to verge in to more morose territory, overall Strange Practice is an enjoyable read. With well written and well rounded characters, it’s easy to overlook it’s small drawbacks. Shaw has given the readers a strong female character that I believe many can relate to. I recommend this one to my readers and hope they enjoy it as much as I have.