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!