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: Hall of Mirrors by Roxanne Lalande

The year is 1682, and the place is the palace of Versailles, where the Sun King, Louis the Fourteenth, reigns supreme over four thousand resident courtiers. Their social and political lives are intricately intertwined within a rigid hierarchy of etiquette.

Behind the brilliant facade of lavish festivities lies a shadowy world of intrigue, promiscuity, sorcery, and murder.

When human remains and a silver locket are unearthed on the neighboring estate of her husband’s lover, the duchess Elisabeth Charlotte d’Orleans investigates their origin and jeopardizes her own safety when her discoveries lead to the criminal involvement of her most powerful enemies at court.

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

Hall of Mirrors by Roxanne Lalande has the perfect setting for a murder mystery – the court at Versailles under the rule of the Sun King, Louis XIV. In a place where conspiracies and hidden plots were part of the norm, the discovery of human remains and a mysterious locket compel Elisabeth Charlotte d’Orleans to delve further into the mystery behind them.

My dearest reader, I so wanted to like Hall of Mirrors but unfortunately, it was disappointing. With so many characters it was difficult to keep track of what exactly was going on and to who it was happening. This is especially true since many of the characters have more than one name or title and could be called one or the other. The writing was confusing at times and the dialogue often had a stilted feel to it. Character information was often given in huge chunks of dialogue which I presume is meant to feel like listening to gossip but comes across more like clunky info dumps.

While I did enjoy reading about life at Versailles under Louis XIV and how frustrating it could sometimes be, it would have been nice if the main murder mystery plot had been given the same attention.

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: Lying with Lions by Annabel Fielding

Edwardian England.

Agnes Ashford knows that her duty is threefold: she needs to work on cataloguing the archive of the titled Bryant family, she needs to keep the wounds of her past tightly under wraps, and she needs to be quietly grateful to her employers for taking her up in her hour of need.

However, a dark secret she uncovers due to her work thrusts her into the Bryants’ brilliant orbit – and into the clutch of their ambitions.

They are prepared to take the new century head-on and fight for their preeminent position and political survival tooth and nail – and not just to the first blood.

With a mix of loyalty, competence, and well-judged silence Agnes rises to the position of a right-hand woman to the family matriarch – the cunning and glamorous Lady Helen. But Lady Helen’s plans to hold on to power through her son are as bold as they are cynical, and one day Agnes is going to face an impossible choice…

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

Trigger Warning: Death of a child (mentioned, happens off-page), Abortion (mentioned, happens off-page), Rape (mentioned, happens off-page)

Set at the end of the Edwardian Era and in to the first World War, Lying with Lions is a page turning tale.

Told primarily from the view point of archivist Agnes Ashford, she is a young woman who has been hired to sort and categorize the countless documents amassed by the Bryant family. It is during this time that Agnes uncovers a secret the Bryant family would rather forget. Armed with this information Agnes positions herself closer to Lady Helen, moving from mere employee to close companion and even lover.

The story of Lying with Lions takes place over many years, through numerous changes both to society as a whole and to the Bryant family itself. There are not only changes without but within as slowly Agnes’ “power” grows. Like Lady Helen, Agnes need only say the right word to the right person and she can move mountains. As the relationship between the two women deepens over time, one is left to wonder who is controlling and influencing who.

It is obvious that Fielding put in a great deal of research to write Lying with Lions. The atmosphere she is able to create is at times breathtaking, as is the way she is able to effortlessly weave historical and fictional events. The relationships between characters – not just Agnes and Helen, but the Bryant children, Harold and Meredith – are so carefully thought out. Each event serves not only to push the story forward but to also subtly reveal new facets of each person involved.

Some readers might have issue with the overall pacing of Lying with Lions. Much like the Bryant family, change – and the overall storyline – can be slow. And while there are a few placed where the story does seem to drag, I encourage any reader to stick with the book as it all pays off in the end.

A wonderfully gothic tale centering on the lengths one will go to for power and control, Lying with Lions is for older readers.

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.

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: Highfire by Eoin Colfer

In the days of yore, he flew the skies and scorched angry mobs—now he hides from swamp tour boats and rises only with the greatest reluctance from his Laz-Z-Boy recliner. Laying low in the bayou, this once-magnificent fire breather has been reduced to lighting Marlboros with nose sparks, swilling Absolut in a Flashdance T-shirt, and binging Netflix in a fishing shack. For centuries, he struck fear in hearts far and wide as Wyvern, Lord Highfire of the Highfire Eyrie—now he goes by Vern. However…he has survived, unlike the rest. He is the last of his kind, the last dragon. Still, no amount of vodka can drown the loneliness in his molten core. Vern’s glory days are long gone. Or are they?

A canny Cajun swamp rat, young Everett “Squib” Moreau does what he can to survive, trying not to break the heart of his saintly single mother. He’s finally decided to work for a shady smuggler—but on his first night, he witnesses his boss murdered by a crooked constable.

Regence Hooke is not just a dirty cop, he’s a despicable human being—who happens to want Squib’s momma in the worst way. When Hooke goes after his hidden witness with a grenade launcher, Squib finds himself airlifted from certain death by…a dragon?

The swamp can make strange bedfellows, and rather than be fried alive so the dragon can keep his secret, Squib strikes a deal with the scaly apex predator. He can act as his go-between (aka familiar)—fetch his vodka, keep him company, etc.—in exchange for protection from Hooke. Soon the three of them are careening headlong toward a combustible confrontation. There’s about to be a fiery reckoning, in which either dragons finally go extinct—or Vern’s glory days are back.

This book was provided for review by the author and the kind people at NetGalley. Thank you!

The copy of Highfire reviewed was an Uncorrected Proof provided by NetGalley. Any changes done after distribution were done at the discretion of the author and the publisher.

Being from the state of Louisiana, I am always interested in books (and movies and TV shows) that are set in this state. I almost always find myself comparing the fiction with the truth. Sometimes the two are so far apart as to be laughable and sometimes the two are actually quite close. When this happens, it is always a pleasant surprise.

Highfire is one of those books where fact and fiction are fairly close. At least when it comes to South Louisiana. And while Colfer does take a few small liberties (dancing alligators) for the most part his portrayal of this little corner of the world is pretty accurate.

Thankfully, Colfer sets the scene in the bayou backwaters around the city of New Orleans. It is much easier to fudge things here since the waterways are constantly changing. What doesn’t change is how the people there live and Colfer seems to get this mostly right. He does not try to make any one character sound too ridiculous or have a bizarre accent that no one down here has. There is a certain cadence to South Louisiana speech that Colfer did try to capture in the first part of the novel and it did not feel natural. Thankfully, the prose shifted away from that later on.

The characters that inhabit Highfire are all unique. It is very easy to cheer for Squib and Vern. Likewise, it is very easy to jeer at Sheriff Hooke. There is one particular character I would have liked to see more of before their departure – not named here because of spoilers. They provided a good dose of humor in to what could have become a too heavy story.

I really enjoyed reading Highfire by Eoin Colfer. Because this is a fantasy with a dragon, the action does go over the top in some scenes. Yet it is done in a way that is also kind of believable. The end is also left open with the understanding that we might once again visit the bayous of South Louisiana and a vodka swilling dragon. I certainly hope so.

Provided for Review: The Strange Adventures of H by Sarah Burton

Orphaned young, H is sent to live with her doting aunt in London. H’s life is a happy one until her lecherous cousin robs her of her innocence, and the plague takes away the city and the people she loves. H is cast out—friendless, pregnant and destitute–into the rapidly emptying streets of London under quarantine.

Forced to fend for herself, she is determined to gain back the life she lost. H will face a villain out for revenge, find love in the most unexpected places, and overcome a betrayal that she never could have foreseen. Weathering it all, can H charm, or scheme, her way to the life of freedom and independence that she longs for? 

Thank you to NetGalley and Legend Press for this Advanced Review Copy

Trigger Warning: Mentions of sexual assault/rape; Teenage pregnancy; Infanticide

The Strange Adventures of H is much like the title says. Sent with her sister to live with their elderly aunt after their father’s death, H is almost immediately surrounded by an eclectic cast of characters that reside in 16th century London. When fate deals H a cruel hand, it is to these individuals that she must turn if she is to somehow survive.

London in the late 16th century was tumultuous time in history. Not only was the city and surrounding areas besieged by the plague, but it was also decimated by the Great Fire, and again it later survived the Shrove Tuesday riots. Through all of this H is there with her insights and views and opinions on matters. Through her eyes we the reader are a witness to history, walking alongside one who –  though fictional in this case – was one of countless there at the time.

In reading The Strange Adventures of H, it becomes obvious almost immediately the amount of research Burton has put in to the novel. Not only for H herself, but for the people around her (whether they be friend or foe) as well as the city of London itself. The descriptions given are vibrant and full of detail and are given from someone who absolutely loves the subject matter.

The life that H leads is not an easy one and Burton doesn’t shy away from that fact. Though in the end H does prevail, it is a difficult road for her. Several times I had to remind myself that H was just a teenager, a young woman who had yet to even reach 20 during the events of the novel. Such is her strength of character and such are the trials she is put through.

In the end, despite the difficulty I sometimes had reading The Strange Adventures of H, I really enjoyed it. I say difficulty simply because of the sometimes heavy subject matter and also that the book is a bit of a long one. History buffs who are looking for a novel that really seems to grasp the era it is set in and portray it accurately will likely enjoy it. Readers who are looking for a novel with a strong female character, one who is well rounded and well written will likely enjoy it. Readers who are looking to branch out and try something new will likely enjoy it.

I invite any one and every one to pick up a copy and delve in to The Strange Adventures of H.