Reading Mash-Up #191

September is now well under way, and while it’s not quite autumn yet, there is definitely a change in the air with chillier mornings and leaves starting to turn colors.  We’ve still had some warm days, and I for one am looking forward to some much needed rain soon (the forest fires this year were getting a little too close to home).

My annual 31 Books of Halloween is well under way as well, be sure to check for the H x/31 to see how I’m doing!

What I’ve Been Reading

Body Art by Kristopher Triana — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 1/31)  Splatterpunk horror featuring a depraved undertaker, an aging porn star and a renowned porn filmmaker, a couple of eighteen year olds looking for a good time, and a mysterious red dust.  Add to this mix a liberal dose of extremely graphic body horror and the making of the ultimate snuff film and you have Body Art.  Now, I’m not a newbie to extreme horror, but I have to admit this one had me grossed out on more than one occasion.  Why the four stars if so disgusting?  Because Kristopher Triana has a way of telling a story that keeps me reading to find out what happens next, even when I feel like I need to bleach my brain after intense scenes.  Not for everyone, and probably not the first choice if you’re new to splatterpunk/extreme horror, but I have to say it was wildly entertaining.

Haunted Washington by Adam Woog — 2 out of 5 stars

(H 2/31)  Having been born and raised in Bellingham, Washington, and having lived in and traveled to many parts of this state, I was excited to find this “field guide” exploring various haunted sites around the state.  What a disappointment.  It served as more of a history lesson (and a poorly researched one at that), and the ghost “stories” were simply rehashing local urban legends and zero first hand accounts (any interviews were with people who scoffed at hauntings).  Which leads me to ask: why the hell would you write about “haunted” areas when you don’t even talk about the hauntings?  I would have given this one star but there were a couple of interesting things that caught my attention.

—Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies—

Cleveland Noir — 4 out of 5 stars

I’ve said it before, I love the Akashic Noir series and have read a few dozen of their titles.  This latest installment, with stories based in Cleveland, Ohio, may just make it’s way into my top five favorites in the series.  These are atmospheric, often dark, and I found them to be pretty addictive reading (I read this collection over the course of one day, I kept wanting to see what the next author would bring to the table).  If you haven’t tried any of the other books in this series, Cleveland Noir would be a great starting point.

Cold, Black, and Infinite by Todd Keisling — 4 out of 5 stars

(H 3/31)  If you haven’t read anything by Todd Keisling, this collection is a great place to start.  And if you’re already a fan, be sure to add this to your reading list!  This is one of those collections where every story shines in its own way.  I was invested in the characters, instantly drawn into the stories and settings.  There were some pretty dark topics so be sure to check out the content warnings at the back of the book.  A very strong and varied collection, highly recommend.

Dread by Jeff Wade — 3.5 out of 5 stars

(H 4/31)  There is a definite build-up of dread in this short story, but there was something about the dream sequences that threw the story off for me.  I get that there was a correlation between them and the “reality,” it just seemed a bit off (and really no other way to describe it without spoilers).  Not a bad read though, a decent way to start off spooky season reading.

Nineteen Claws and a Blackbird by Agustina Bazterrica — 3 out of 5 stars

(H 5/31)  Bazterrica’s novel, Tender is the Flesh, was one of my five-star reads a couple years ago, so I was excited to get this latest short story collection in a recent NightWorms package.  I didn’t know what to expect from it, but I didn’t expect the total roller coaster ride that it turned out to be…and not a fun roller coaster ride at that.  Some of the stories were very good, but I thought the rest were underwhelming at best.

Stay safe, and Happy Reading!

September — Sci-fi and Scary/The 31 Books of Halloween

It’s here!  It’s finally here!  My favorite personal challenge of the year, The 31 Books of Halloween, officially starts today, and do I have some great-sounding stories lined up for the next couple of months.

I’m also celebrating the sci-fi genre with this month’s selection…

500 years in the future, humans no longer exist having been replaced by the  genetically engineered Ertas.  The Erta race must decide whether to bring back humans so they create one child to see if humankind can be reintroduced to the world.  I’ve been waiting for the right time to read this, and now seems as good a time as any.

As for my scary/Halloween reads, I have a multitude of authors to choose from, including Jack Ketchum, Grady Hendrix, Kristopher Triana, Clive Barker…well, you get the idea.  The hardest part will be deciding what to read first!

What are your reading goals for this month?  Drop me a line and let’s talk books!

Stay safe and Happy Reading!

Reading Mash-Up #190

The month of August completely got away from me!  I originally started this post on August 10, but life happened as it usually does and, well, here we are.  As of today, the 30th, I’ve completed thirteen books this month, by far one of my most productive reading months this year.  Not all of them were noteworthy, but here are some of the highlights…

What I’ve Been Reading

Ghosts of the Orphanage by Christine Kenneally — 4 out of 5 stars

Subtitled “A Story of Mysterious Deaths, a Conspiracy of Silence, and a Search for Justice,” this is a powerful and heartbreaking expose of the horrific abuses, physical and sexual, that went on in various church-run orphanages throughout the twentieth century.  The author was able to interview some of the survivors, as well as find various documents to back up these tragic stories.  This is not an easy read at all, but one that definitely needs to be told.  Highly recommend, but proceed with caution.

Broad Street Bastard by Chad Lutzke — 4 out of 5 stars

The back cover blurb describing this latest from one of my favorite authors pretty much sums up the feeling of this novella:  “Slice-of-life, coming-of-age with the bruised face of Dazed and Confused and the dark heart of River’s Edge.”  This is a prequel to two other novellas (Slow Burn on Riverside and The Same Deep Water as You) where we meet young Jex, a struggling burnout whose life choices always seem to gravitate towards the dark and sinister.  I would recommend these three stories to anyone who likes their early 1990’s coming-of-age stories a little on the darker side.

The Elephant of Surprise by Joe Lansdale — 4 out of 5 stars

Book 13 in the Hap and Leonard series.  In the middle of a high-powered storm in East Texas, the duo come across a young woman who has had her tongue cut out and is being pursued by some seriously bad men.  What happens next is the chaos that always seems to follow Hap and Leonard.  This is extremely fast-paced with no gaps in the action.  One of the things I like about this series is that you don’t necessarily have to read the titles in sequence.  This is one I would recommend to anyone new to the H & L series as it’s a quick read and a good introduction as to what to expect from the other stories.

A Fatal Groove by Olivia Blacke — 4 out of 5 stars

The second book in the Record Shop Mystery series.  Juni and her sisters are excited to be a part of the local Bluebonnet Festival.  But when Juni discovers the town’s mayor dead in his office, things take an unexpected turn for the worse.   The first book in the series, Vinyl Resting Place, captured my attention with interesting characters and a well-paced story.  This second title did not disappoint.  The mystery is solid, and the characters are becoming some of my favorites in the cozy mystery genre.  There is no sophomore slump here, and I’m looking forward to the next story in this fun series.

A Place For Sinners by Aaron Dries — 4 out of 5 stars

Two siblings, an American businessman, a German hitchhiker, and a strange woman named Susan travel to a remote island off the coast of Thailand…sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but there is no joking with this intense horror novel from Aaron Dries.  The slow buildup pays off, as once the action starts it doesn’t let up.  And today, a few weeks after finishing this novel, I am still totally creeped out by the Susan/broken glass scene (shudder!!).  I can usually brush off scary horror scenes, but this story got under my skin and is still haunting my dreams.  Recommend for horror fans who like a good backstory before getting punched in the face with the brutality.

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch — 3.5 out of 5 stars

One of my August selections.  Thirteen-year-old Miles discovers a rare sea creature on one of his midnight outings to some local tide flats.  What follows is a story about a young boys obsessions, and his relationships with the colorful characters in his life.  Overall, I thought this was good, but there were times when I questioned the reasons behind adding certain elements or side-stories.  I’m also still not sure how I feel about the ending.  Added bonus points for this being set in an area I’m familiar with in my home state, and for the author keeping the setting pretty true to form.

Secret Santa by Andrew Shaffer — 3.5 out of 5 stars

Lussi Meyer is an unemployed editor, trying to find another job in publishing.  She is given a chance at a prestigious publisher on the grounds that she must find “the next Stephen King or Anne Rice” in order to keep her job.  Sounds pretty mundane, right?  Well, now add a sinister little doll that Lussi receives as a Secret Santa gift and you have the makings of a darkly fun and somewhat twisted little novel.

The Devil’s Woods by Brian Moreland — 3.5 out of 5 stars

Kyle and his siblings travel to an abandoned area on the Cree reservation to find clues behind their father’s disappearance.  With warnings of “Do not go into the Woods,” I mean, what could go wrong??  This story deftly combines mystery, horror, and Native American folklore.  I enjoyed the story (those woods were definitely creepy!!) but I had problems when it came to the pacing, especially in the first half.  One I would recommend for horror fans looking to add some sinister outdoor scenarios to their Halloween reading list.

Stay safe, and Happy Reading!

August — The Heat is On!

Aahh, the dog days of summer are here.  Through the years, August has symbolized many things to me, from back to school preparations to last minute road trips, county fairs to backyard barbecues.

Today, August is just the countdown to the beginning of my annual 31 Books of Halloween!   😀

This month, I searched my TBR piles for books that either take place during the summer or have summer vibes, and found these…

I picked out Instructions for a Heatwave for the title alone.  I mean, how much more appropriate can it be?  The story of a family in crisis that reunites during the historic heatwave that hit the United Kingdom in 1976.

The Highest Tide is set during summertime, with a thirteen-year-old protagonist named Miles, his childhood crush, and a lot of oceanic discoveries.  This sounds like it could be the “feel good” story I need in my life right now.

Another reason I picked these titles was simple–I really wanted to find some “lighter reads” before I start my two month journey into nonstop darker stories…and I can’t wait!

July Wrap-Up

I wound up finishing ten books, one of those being from my July selections, W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton.  I’m still a bit behind on my Goodreads goal of 150 books for the year, but I have a feeling that will change in the next couple of months.

What are your reading goals for August?  Drop me a line and let’s talk books!

Stay safe, and Happy Reading!


Reading Mash-Up #189

Summer may not be my favorite season (the heat and the constant fear of local forest fires takes a toll pretty quickly), but I do love the delicious produce that ripens this time of year, as well as enjoying my flowers.  These lilies are in full bloom right now, and they smell heavenly!

What I’ve Been Reading

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton — 4 out of 5 stars

One of my July selections.  I don’t think I’ve read a book in this series that I didn’t like, and this one is no exception.  Two seemingly unrelated deaths takes Kinsey Millhone down a rabbit hole that involves medical research and family secrets.  These nearly 500 pages flew by, and even though it’s been a while since I read the last installment, I quickly fell back into Kinsey’s world.  This can easily be read as a standalone, and a great recommendation for any mystery fan.

Final Girls by Riley Sager — 4 out of 5 stars

I don’t know how I managed to avoid all the spoilers for this wildly popular thriller, but I did and it was worth it.  The plot is probably well known by now so I won’t try to summarize it.  But I will say this–I was hooked from the beginning, and every time I thought I knew where things were going some new curveball would get thrown in.  I am usually pretty hesitant to read popular bestsellers as I go in with high expectations and oftentimes wind up being disappointed.  This one did not disappoint.  A good choice for fans of psychological thrillers.

Daughter of Song by Doug Hood — 4 out of 5 stars

In 2007, seventeen-year-old Panna Krom was found guilty of murder after hiding her pregnancy and the newborn was later found dead.  Several years later, while volunteering for a prison writing group, author Doug Hood met Panna, and, after hearing her story, launched his own personal investigation into the “crime” itself and the inequalities of the judicial system.  This is not entirely about Panna and the legal system.  Hood also interviews Panna’s family, refugees from Cambodia, and takes a look at the generational trauma that Panna grew up with that ultimately lead to the choices she made.  This is a somewhat difficult read due to the subject matter, and truly heartbreaking at times, but it’s one that is thought-provoking and will certainly raise questions about the “fairness” of our legal system.

North County Paranormal Unit by Amanda McCormack — 3.5/4 out of 5 stars

The first in a series of novellas that I think has the potential to be a fun addition to my Halloween reading list.  In this installment, we meet the people who make up the North County Paranormal Unit (think Ghost Hunters or the Ghost Adventures team).  There are a few paranormal encounters but the bulk of this story focuses on the character development.  I would label this as “horror lite,” and even with the couple of darker scenes I thought it was more amusing than scary.  Thanks to kindle freebies, I have the rest of the series ready to go and I am looking forward to following their adventures.

Inside the Wolf by Amy Rowland — 3.5 out of 5 stars

Rachel returns to her family’s North Carolina farm, where memories of a childhood friend’s death continues to haunt her.  When another child dies in a similar way, Rachel decides to confront her past and try to make changes to stop similar tragedies in the future.         First I want to say this was beautifully written and the characters, for the most part, were well developed.   While the many issues that were presented were definitely timely and thought-provoking, I felt that some things felt forced, as though they were last minute additions.  There was a lot to unpack in this story, and overall I would recommend it, but with caution.


Stay safe, and Happy Reading!

July — In Memoriam

On June 13, the literary world lost another great with the passing of Cormac McCarthy.  I’ve only read about half of his work, but every single one of those stories have stuck with me.

We’ve lost a few great authors in recent years, so this month I decided to pay tribute to some of my favorites who have passed.

I went through my Anne Rice phase in the 90’s, as did many others after the release of Interview with the Vampire.  As we entered the new millennium, I found my reading tastes changing and I slowly stopped reading her works.  I did not, however, stop collecting the books!  I have seven or eight on my TBR shelves, so it was a difficult decision as to where to restart the journey.  Merrick kept calling out to me, so  I figured a tale that sounds like it combines the worlds of the vampires and the Mayfair Witches would be a good starting point.

Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Series featuring one of my favorite characters, Kinsey Millhone, and has been a staple in my mystery reading for years.  Sadly, with Grafton’s passing in 2017, the series was left unfinished.  I’ve been reluctant to read the last three books as I really don’t want the series to end, but part of me also knows that there is no better tribute to a favorite author than reading the stories she shared with the world.

After I pulled Cormac McCarthy’s title from my shelf, I realized it was the third book in his Border Trilogy.  While I’ve read the first book (All the Pretty Horses), I have not read the second one, The Crossing.  I usually don’t mind reading certain series out of order, but knowing McCarthy’s style I have a feeling I better track down the second book before diving into Cities of the Plain.

I know that realistically I will only be able to finish two of these this month, but all three will be read by the end of the year.

As for June…

I was able to finish seven books for my personal “Just Because” goal.  I was hoping for five and aiming for ten so I’m happy with falling in the middle.  I’m still behind on my Goodreads goal, but hoping to catch up and get ahead in my upcoming 31 Books of Halloween.

What are your reading goals this month?  Drop me a line and let’s talk books!

Stay safe and Happy Reading!

Reading Mash-Up #188

Wow, halfway through the year!  I did a quick review of the 2023 reading goals I set for myself.  I am a bit behind on my Goodreads challenge (eight books!  Normally I would be ahead of the game by now).  Even though I’m behind, I’ve noticed my selections, on average, have been rated higher than the past few years.  I must be getting pickier in my “old” age.

June 30 not only marked the year’s half-way mark, but was also “Stuff Your Kindle” day on Amazon, and I made sure to take full advantage of all the freebies that were offered.  Thank goodness I had cleared up some storage not too long ago as I picked up over twenty new titles, mainly mysteries, horror, and a couple of cozies.  Now to find the time for them all!

—What I’ve Been Reading—

The Ghost of Stormer Hill by Craig Wallwork — 4.5/5 out of 5 stars

(JB 3)  The amazing finale to the Tom Nolan trilogy.  Detective Nolan has gone through a lot of shit to get to this point, and things aren’t about to get any easier.  This series has kept me on the edge of my seat, and while the ending wasn’t what I hoped for, I can’t think of a more appropriate finale.  If you’re a fan of fast-paced thrillers (fair warning: a lot of violence and triggers!), be sure to check this trilogy out.

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel — 3.5 out of 5 stars

(JB4)    Alternating between past and present, we learn the story of Lane and her truly messed-up family.  This is basically a watered-down version of a VC Andrews novel, complete with the whole incest/inbreeding,  “innocence lost” plot line.  The mystery behind the disappearance of Lane’s cousin is pretty good and kept me guessing up to the end.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby — 3.5 out of 5 stars

(JB 5)  Sometimes I do take a break from all the dark and gloomy stuff I tend to read, and this has been sitting on my TBR shelf for some time, calling my name.  I wasn’t very familiar with the story, just a bit from snippets I’ve seen from the movie, so I didn’t know what to expect.  I don’t know if reading a story about a guy who doesn’t seem to want to grow up and who can’t get over certain relationships was really the distraction I was looking for, but it was entertaining and not a bad way to spend a couple of lazy afternoons.

The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson — 3.5 out of 5 stars

(JB 6)  I had a hard time deciding how to rate this one.  It’s the story of Miranda, a young woman caught up in the local crime ring, a bayou witch, a strange little boy Miranda rescued many years earlier, and a sinister preacher.  The writing is lush (yes, I’m actually using that word, it’s truly appropriate here) and the overall storyline is quite good.  Surprisingly, where I had a problem, was when the mystery/thriller elements collided with the supernatural.  Events would be unfolding and tensions running high when suddenly some otherworldly creature or happening would pop up.  It just felt a bit off for me.  Of course, this could have been my reading mood just not being at the right place for this particular story.  Even though it was a bit off for me, I would still give this a solid recommendation.

Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub — 2.5/3 out of 5 stars

Only took me 8++ months to slog through this one!!  I never thought I would rate a Stephen King novel so low, but here we are.  I’m used to the verbose writing styles of both authors, but…good lord!  I will say the last hundred pages were (somewhat) worth the wait and I found myself flying through them.

—Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

Shooting Star by Joe Lansdale — 3 out of 5 stars

(JB 7)   Joe Lansdale has made his literary mark with the Hap and Leonard series as well as his highly acclaimed titles like The Bottoms, The Thicket, and Edge of Dark Water.  I don’t think this title will make the list of being one of his best, but it was a fun little novella, reminding me of a cheesy 1950’s sci fi movie mixed with some classic Twilight Zone.  Not a high recommendation, but a quick little read if you need an alien invasion story fix.

Stay safe, and Happy Reading!

Reading Mash-Up #186 and #187

Well, I could have sworn my RMU 186 was published nearly a couple of weeks ago.  Today when I went to check something I realized it hadn’t gone through…not sure if it was a glitch with the site or with my brain, but I decided to do a bit of cut and paste and combine it with my new one.  I mean, I wouldn’t want anyone to get too used to me posting two RMU’s so close together, haha!

And since it’s Just Because June, be sure to look for titles I’ve added JB to, I’m keeping track of how many I get to this month.

–What I’ve Been Reading–

Whalefall by Daniel Krauss — 5 out of 5 stars

This is the ultimate story of survival, not just physical survival, but mental and emotional as well.  It’s difficult to give a brief synopsis of this one as there are many layers to it, from the physical struggle of surviving being swallowed by a giant sperm whale, to the father/son dynamics that haunt our main character.  What I can say with certainty is that I absolutely loved this story.  I’m still thinking about it nearly a month after finishing it.  This is one of my top five reads for this year, and one that I highly recommend.

The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale — 5 out of 5 stars

I’ve been working my way through Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series and have been putting aside his other works.  Time for me to unfuck that.  The Bottoms is considered Lansdale’s masterpiece, and I wholeheartedly agree.  This coming of age tale set in the 1930’s introduces us to young Harry Collins, his family, and the small East Texas community where he lives (and I can’t forget about Harry’s faithful dog Toby!).  After Harry and his sister discover the body of a black woman in a nearby river, the wheels are set in motion to find out who is behind a string of deadly attacks, including the death of a white woman that leads to terrible and heartbreaking consequences.  I loved the writing, and the characters were well fleshed-out.  Highly recommend.

Bad People by Craig Wallwork — 4/4.5 out of 5 stars

The first title in Wallwork’s Tom Nolan trilogy.  This taut thriller involves missing children, a dangerous cult whose specialty is death, a cop-turned-author looking for inspiration, and our protagonist detective Tom Nolan, whose dedication to finding the missing kids will lead him to a literal hell on earth.  I became a fan of Wallwork after reading his collection, Human Tenderloin, and I must say that I have never enjoyed reading stories that give me nightmares more than these.  Bad People is not for the squeamish, but if you’re a fan of horrific fast-paced thrillers, then I highly recommend this one.

Labyrinth of the Dolls by Craig Wallwork — 4/4.5 out of 5 stars

(JB1)   The second installment in the Tom Nolan trilogy.  Wallwork doubles down in this one, bringing another depraved villain on board, along with a deeper mystery for Nolan to solve before it’s too late.  I can’t get enough of this series!

Such Pretty Flowers by K. L. Cerra — 4 out of 5 stars

Holly receives a strange message from her brother shortly before his violent death.  Following the funeral, Holly finds herself drawn to her brother’s girlfriend, Maura.  Soon, Holly is trapped in Maura’s tangled web…will it prove fatal for Holly as well?  I have to admit, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this one as much as I did.  While there were a couple of things that bugged me (personal peeves that I won’t bother going in to), I found myself totally sucked into the story, finishing it in a couple of afternoons.  This is one of those “I don’t know who would like this, but if you’re looking for something different then give it a try” kind of recommendations.

Funeral Songs for Dying Girls by Cherie Dimaline — 3/3.5 out of 5 stars

YA coming of age with some ghosts added to the mix, this is the story of Winifred, who lives with her father in an apartment in the local cemetery (he runs the crematorium).  Packed into 270 pages, we have a ghost girl named Phil, unrequited love, teen angst, family dysfunction, cemetery ghost tours…you get the picture.  I liked the story overall, but it got to a point where I felt like there were too many subplots/themes being explored and no real resolutions.  I did enjoy the author’s writing style, and I am looking forward to checking out more of her work in the future.

Triangle by Hisaki Matsuura — 3/3.5 out of 5 stars

I’ve been on a streak lately of picking up some truly strange books, and this is the latest.  This is another one that is really hard to describe, with a mix of unlikable characters, weird pornographic movies, and “dream” sequences that had me questioning my own mental soundness.  When I have to keep backtracking because I’m asking myself “What the hell is going on?”, then I know I’ve reached peak surreal fever dream experience.

—Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

How the Skin Sheds by Chad Lutzke — 4/4.5 out of 5 stars

(JB2)    The latest offering in the Splatter Western series put out by Death’s Head Press.  Garrett finds his sister brutally murdered and his niece alive but emotionally scarred.  With the help of an unlikely friend, Garrett sets out to find his sister’s killer.  Chad Lutzke has a wonderful skill of being able to bring humanity to the horrific.  The story is brutal, but I couldn’t help but fall in love with the characters.  And dammit, Chad, you made this bitter old bitch shed some tears near the end (again!).

Stay safe, and Happy Reading!

June — Just Because…

With the month of June upon us, it’s that time when I take a look at my reading goals and see if I need to alter anything.  As usual, it seems like the first five months were filled with books “needing” my attention, being either review copies or titles from my 2023 reading goal.  So, for this month’s theme, I’m going in without any set reading list.  While I do have a couple of ARCs I need to finish, I want to devote most of my June reading time to random titles from my ever-growing TBR piles.  Maybe I’ll start that Kristin Hannah book I’ve been wanting to get to, or maybe I’ll dive into a good mystery series.  Everything is on the table this month, so be sure to check my reading wrap-ups to see which direction I go!

What are your reading goals for June?  Drop me a line and let’s talk books!

Stay safe and Happy Reading!

Reading Mash-Up #185

The days are getting longer and warmer, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to sit outside with some fragrant flowers nearby and a tall glass of tea while catching up on some reading.  A great, relaxing way to tune out all the drama in the world…

—What I’ve Been Reading—

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay — 5 out of 5 stars

One of my February TBR selections.  It may have taken me a couple of months to read this, but I savored every moment spent.  An epic historical fantasy, the author uses the 8th century Tang Dynasty as inspiration for a tale of family honor, betrayal, love, and war.  The characters, including the minor ones, were well-crafted, and the descriptive narration made me feel like I was a fly on the wall witnessing the events unfold.  I originally picked this book up at a used book sale based on the cover alone, and now I feel the need to read more of Kay’s works in the immediate future.  Highly recommend.

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James — 4 out of 5 stars

Carly’s aunt Viv disappeared while working at the Sun Down Motel in the early 80’s.  Determined to find out what happened, Carly finds herself in the small town of Fell, working the same shift at the motel that her aunt did.  She soon discovers that the motel and the town are hiding some dark secrets.   This has been on my must-read list since it came out in 2020.  While many list this as horror, I would describe it more like a dark mystery with supernatural elements.  The scenes of the haunted motel are well written, with good pacing and a creepy build-up. If you like a good mystery with some ghosts thrown into the mix, be sure to check this one out.

Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie — 4 out of 5 stars

I’ve mentioned that I’m a huge fan of found-footage horror movies (think Blair Witch Project or Hell House LLC).  I don’t recall reading very many found-footage style books though.  I’d seen some random mentions of Episode Thirteen online, so when I found a copy at my local library I just had to grab it…and I was not disappointed.  Told through a series of journal entries, letters, and video transcription, we follow the members of the Fade to Black ghost hunting team as they enter an abandoned house to find answers to the strange happenings and disappearances that occurred in the early 1970’s.  They wind up discovering much more than they bargained for.  While I thought it was a little slow to start and I really felt little connection to the characters, I did find myself totally engrossed in the story itself, wanting to turn the pages faster to find out what was going to happen next.  And despite it’s length (400+ pages) it’s a relatively quick read.  A great addition to your Halloween reading list.

Fatal Fudge Swirl by Meri Allen — 4 out of 5 stars

The third installment in Allen’s Ice Cream Shop Mysteries, former CIA librarian Riley Rhodes finds herself playing amateur sleuth when a socialite is found dead on the morning of her Halloween-themed wedding, and Riley’s friend Mary Ann becomes the prime suspect.  This cozy mystery hit all the buttons, and had me staying up way too late playing amateur sleuth myself.  I have not read the first two books in the series, but I had no problems immersing myself in the story and quickly learning the characters (added bonus for the cast of characters at the beginning).  Another bonus for it being autumn/Halloween themed, my favorite!  This is one cozy series I will definitely be following in the future.

Behold the Monster by Jillian Lauren — 3.5 out of 5 stars

Serial killer Samuel Little may not be as well known as Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, but his crimes are no less horrific.  Little confessed to murdering over 90 women, and author Jillian Lauren heard the gruesome details in her jailhouse interviews with the murderer.  Along with the events that she recorded and witnessed, Lauren also adds fictionalized accounts from the victims, and this is where I had issues with the book.  I understand why she chose to do this (she explains in her introduction), but it just felt so over-the-top at times, which would have been fine for a fiction book (something she said she originally wanted to write).  As a true crime junkie, I appreciated the nonfiction aspect, I just wish there had been more of that and less fiction.

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw — 3 out of 5 stars

I’m not going to lie, I was totally prepared to hate this as much as I hated Khaw’s last novella, Nothing But Blackened Teeth.  So it was a great surprise to find myself actually kind of liking this one.  Granted, I didn’t know what the hell was going on for most of the story (there’s a man-eating mermaid, her plague doctor traveling companion, some weird “cult,” and lots of body horror), and Khaw’s overdone prose alternated between remarkably brilliant to pretentious and annoying.  Overall, though, I found it intriguing enough to finish in one sitting…and I now wonder if I should check out her other titles or just chalk this up as a win and move along.

Stay safe and Happy Reading!