Sundial by Catriona Ward

Summary:
You can’t escape what’s in your blood…
All Rob wanted was a normal life. She almost got it, too: a husband, two kids, a nice house in the suburbs. But Rob fears for her oldest daughter, Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. Rob sees a darkness in Callie, one that reminds her too much of the family she left behind.
She decides to take Callie back to her childhood home, to Sundial, deep in the Mojave Desert. And there she will have to make a terrible choice.
Callie is worried about her mother. Rob has begun to look at her strangely, and speaks of past secrets. And Callie fears that only one of them will leave Sundial alive…
The mother and daughter embark on a dark, desert journey to the past in the hopes of redeeming their future.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Sundial was an absolutely wild ride with twists and turns that I did not see coming at all. The story follows Rob, a mother to two daughters. When she thinks that one of her daughters has tried to kill the other, she takes Callie to her childhood home, Sundial. Sundial is where it all started and Rob thinks she must finally tell Callie the whole truth now that she’s tried to kill her sister and has a room full of bones.
What a story this was. I genuinely never knew what was going to happen next. I made predictions over and over and every prediction I had was completely wrong. Ward really kept me at the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next and how the story was going to play out. I really liked how the story jumped between the past and the present. We mostly follow Rob’s point of view, in both the past and the present. But every once in a while we got a chapter from Callie, and every single one of them was creepy and chilling, filled with ghosts.
I definitely don’t think that I can say I actually liked any of these characters. But I was quickly invested in their stories. Ward has written an engaging and compelling story that was very difficult to put down. The story was well-paced and suspenseful. Sharing just enough secrets to let me guess at what might happen next, but never enough for me to guess correctly.
Overall, I’m very excited to read more of Ward’s writing. This was a well-written story that has characters I wanted to root for, even if I didn’t actually like them. The twists and turns were completely unpredictable but still were tied back to the plot bringing the story full circle. I will definitely be recommending this one in the future.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

Summary:
Something hasn’t been right at the roadside Sun Down Motel for a very long time, and Carly Kirk is about to find out why in this chilling new novel from the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.
Upstate New York, 1982. Viv Delaney wants to move to New York City, and to help pay for it she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. But something isnʼt right at the motel, something haunting and scary.
Upstate New York, 2017. Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born. She decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982. And she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.

Book Cover

Review:
This is another audiobook that I read for spooky season. I didn’t get all my reviews written and scheduled in time, so we’re keeping the spooky content into November. The Sun Down Motel was confirmation that I love the ‘are the ghosts real or not’ trope in horror/mystery. Another example of this that I liked this season was Home Before Dark by Riley Sager.
The Sun Down Motel also had another common element with a few other books I read this October. It tells two stories: one in the past and one in the present. In the present, we are following Carly who finds herself in Fell, New York. The same town that her aunt disappeared in 30 years ago, an event that’s haunted her family since. In the past, we follow Carly’s aunt, Viv, and we get to see what really happened to her all those years ago in that same small town. I loved the back and forth between the past and the present. I loved that the events in the present seemed to mirror and reflect those that happened in the past.
I liked Carly and Viv. Both of them made some pretty poor choices, but I liked them anyway. They’re both head strong women that just couldn’t back down from a mystery. Carly’s mystery was her aunt and Viv’s mystery was the serial killer in Fell.
I absolutely adored the Sun Down Motel. It was such a weird setting, but I loved it anyway. I thought the ghosts that were there were completely fascinating and I really loved learning more about them and how they ended up stuck there.
Overall, I loved this book and I’ll be picking up more of St. James’s books in the future. She tells a suspenseful and emotional story that you just cannot put down until you manage to find every last detail and secret. I loved the setting, the characters, the pace of the story. I loved this book.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Summary:
What was it like? Living in that house.
Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.
Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

Book Cover

Review:
Here are five things I liked about Home Before Dark:

  1. I really liked that the story was told in alternating chapters. We follow Maggie, present day, but we also get excerpts from her father’s book (which is heavily talked about by Maggie in the present-day chapters). I thought this was a creative and interesting way to tell the story. I think it worked right up until the big reveal about the book.
  2. Along with how the story is told in both the present and the past, I thought it was really interesting how things that were happening to Maggie and Maggie’s actions were mirroring and reflecting many of the things that had already happened (or were claimed to happen in her dad’s book) in the past.
  3. I was surprised to find that I actually sort of liked that I had no idea what was the truth and what wasn’t. I don’t usually like books where I don’t actually know what’s going on. But Sager did an excellent job keeping up the mystery and the suspense until the big reveal. I spent most of the book flip-flopping between firmly believing that the ghosts were real or that they were definitely all made up.
  4. I listened to the audiobook which has two narrators. I liked both narrators. The male narrator that read Maggie’s father’s book did a great job and I will absolutely be seeking out more book narrated by him. I liked the narrator for Maggie as well. I think she did a great job telling the story and keeping up the emotion and suspense.
  5. The big reveal. I liked it because like I said above, I went back and forth for the entire book between believing and not believing that the ghosts were real. So, to finally have confirmation one way or another was almost a relief. I liked how things all played out to put it vaguely so that I don’t spoil anything.

Overall, I really liked this book. I’m not surprised since I’ve liked all of Sager’s other books I’ve read. I also discovered (partially because of this book) that I really like the ‘but are the ghosts real or not’ trope for horror and mystery books. I would definitely recommend the audiobook for this one to any audiobook fans, but I’m sure the physical or digital book was just as good.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Summary:
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. Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for an advanced copy of The Death of Jane Lawrence in exchange for an honest review. This story follows Jane, a woman that is seeking a platonic marriage of convenience so that she is no longer the responsibility of her foster family. She meets with Augustine Lawrence, a local doctor, who eventually agrees to her proposal. But she’s never allowed to stay overnight at his family home, Lindrige Hall. As things tend to go in stories, the first night they are married, Jane’s carriage is washed off the road on its way to town by a rain storm, so the only alternative is that Jane walks back and stays the night with Augustine at Lindrige Hall. This is when things start to get creepy.
I really liked Jane. I thought her backstory and character development were well done. We didn’t get her life’s story dumped on us, but instead got to know her as the story developed. We learned that she was a level headed, logical woman. But the things happening at Lindrige Hall were anything but logical. It was really interesting to see Jane in a situation where her brain couldn’t use reason and logic to explain what was going on around her. I liked Augustine, too. He had secrets that he never thought he would have to share with Jane. It was a marriage of convenience, after all. But when his secrets start coming out, the reader isn’t left with a clear idea of whether or not Augustine is a good or bad person. He was a complicated man and Jane’s growing romantic feelings for him didn’t make things any easier.
The mystery and weirdness of Lindrige Hall made this story excellently spooky. There are ghosts, we think. But they might not actually be ghosts. There’s magic, but is magic actually real? I guess it’s only real if you believe that it’s real. There was so much that defied the logic that Jane depended upon and this really added some confusion to the story, in a good way.
Overall, The Death of Jane Lawrence is the perfect book for October. It’s creepy and atmospheric. It’s weird and confusing. It leaves the reader wondering ‘what the heck is actually going on?’ But all the things that the reader learns are wrapped up for the most part by the end of the story. I liked the characters, the setting, and the magic. I would definitely recommend this one and I will be seeking out Starling’s backlist very soon.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Summary:
Our story begins in 1902, at The Brookhants School for Girls. Flo and Clara, two impressionable students, are obsessed with each other and with a daring young writer named Mary MacLane, the author of a scandalous bestselling memoir. To show their devotion to Mary, the girls establish their own private club and call it The Plain Bad Heroine Society. They meet in secret in a nearby apple orchard, the setting of their wildest happiness and, ultimately, of their macabre deaths. This is where their bodies are later discovered with a copy of Mary’s book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. Less than five years later, The Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever—but not before three more people mysteriously die on the property, each in a most troubling way.
Over a century later, the now abandoned and crumbling Brookhants is back in the news when wunderkind writer, Merritt Emmons, publishes a breakout book celebrating the queer, feminist history surrounding the “haunted and cursed” Gilded-Age institution. Her bestselling book inspires a controversial horror film adaptation starring celebrity actor and lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing the ill-fated heroine Flo, opposite B-list actress and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants opens its gates once again, and our three modern heroines arrive on set to begin filming, past and present become grimly entangled—or perhaps just grimly exploited—and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.
A story within a story within a story and featuring black-and-white period illustrations.

Book Cover

Summary:
I read Plain Bad Heroines for book club in June. The consensus seemed to be that everyone liked it, but I really loved it. This book was bizarre and convoluted and complex and I loved everything about it.
The story jumps all over the timeline. So, it’s not an easy one to summarize. There are the characters from 1902 which include some students as well as some teachers at The Brookhants School for Girls. But bad things are happening. People are dying. Then there’s the present-day timeline, which includes, Merritt, Harper, and Audrey (there’s more but these are the most important). But we also get smaller stories from the very beginning. Basically, this story is about yellow jackets killing people because the land is angry. Some say it’s cursed and others are fascinated. Regardless, Merritt wrote a book about Brookhants and it’s being turned into a movie with a focus on Clara and Flo (the first two girls to die at Brookhants). Harper and Merritt develop a flirty friendship before filming starts and when Audrey is cast alongside Harper, jealous starts to show. But the three grow close and the story grows creepy and I loved every page.  
I really loved these characters. They are all so beautifully flawed, it was a true joy to get to know them and follow their stories. I loved Libby and Alex (teachers at Brookhants) and their romance. It was lovely and sweet until it was tragic. Tragic actually fits well to describe a few of the storyline endings. This was not a happy story filled with happy characters. This was a creepy and atmospheric story filled with mystery and queer characters. The growth and personal stories we get to follow for Merritt, Audrey, and Harper was so enjoyable. I loved getting to know them better and see them get to know one another. They were all such well-developed characters with fears and hopes and dreams. I loved these three so much.
Overall, I loved this book. I loved all the different storylines. I loved the creep and mystery. I loved the slow pace of the story, revealing the tiniest bits and pieces at a time. I really loved the different time periods. I loved how gay everyone was. I loved the illustrations. I highly recommend this story for anyone that loves a slow, steady story.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.  

The Blade Between by Sam J. Miller

Summary:
Ronan Szepessy promised himself he’d never return to Hudson. The sleepy upstate town was no place for a restless gay photographer. But his father is ill and New York City’s distractions have become too much for him. He hopes that a quick visit will help him recharge.
Ronan reconnects with two friends from high school: Dom, his first love, and Dom’s wife, Attalah. The three former misfits mourn what their town has become—overrun by gentrifiers and corporate interests. With friends and neighbors getting evicted en masse and a mayoral election coming up, Ronan and Attalah craft a plan to rattle the newcomers and expose their true motives. But in doing so, they unleash something far more mysterious and uncontainable.
Review:
Hudson has a rich, proud history and, it turns out, the real estate developers aren’t the only forces threatening its well-being: the spirits undergirding this once-thriving industrial town are enraged. Ronan’s hijinks have overlapped with a bubbling up of hate and violence among friends and neighbors, and everything is spiraling out of control. Ronan must summon the very best of himself to shed his own demons and save the city he once loathed.
The Blade BetweenReview:
Thank you, NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. I requested The Blade Between because a friend of mine was absolutely raving about it. I’m glad that I requested it because I flew through this book. I don’t know that I would say I enjoyed it, but it was definitely an experience.
So, I want to mention first that the writing was incredible. There were so many great lines and fantastic descriptions in this book. I cannot say enough good things about Miller’s writing. He managed to make it a creepy and atmospheric story, but also convinced us to love these very flawed characters. I think there were some really interesting topics covered in a thoughtful way. This story follows Ronan as he returns to his home town of Hudson, a place he has no fond memories of. But his father is dying and it’s time he finally returns. But things escalate and suddenly he’s fighting against the gentrification of a town he grew up hating. I really liked this aspect of the story. Ronan has so many mixed feelings about his hometown, but he still does his damnedest to save it. I also loved all of the antics that Ronan and his friends participate in to ‘save’ the town. I think there were definitely some moments that were a bit extreme, but the author did a really good job showing character motivations that were almost understandable. It wasn’t hard to sympathize with these characters.
I also think the author did a really great job of creating different and interesting characters. Even though the story sort of jumped around with who it was following, I had no issues distinguishing between any of them. They were all unique and interesting. Now, the plot was fascinating. I loved the fantasy elements that were included in the story. The bits about the whales was absolutely creepy but only got creepier with the inclusion of the ghosts that play a role in the story.
Overall, I think this was a horrifying and excellent story. I will absolutely be reading more books by this author. Miller’s writing was exceptional and memorable. I think the characters were easy to love, even when they were doing shitty things. I just couldn’t put this book down. I highly recommend this one for fans of horror or darker fantasy books.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Summary:
Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.
Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.
Review:Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep, #1)
Into the Drowning Deep
is a horror novel about mermaids. I’ve always said that I didn’t like the horror genre, but recently I’ve found myself picking up and really enjoying horror novels. Into the Drowning Deep is a book that solidified my interest in the genre.
This story follows Tori and several other characters as they embark on a second voyage to the Mariana Trench and attempt to uncover what happened seven years ago. For Tori, this is a personal mission. Her sister was on that first voyage and not knowing what happened to her is something Tori has never been able to cope with. She’s a graduate student studying marine biology, more specifically she studies the sound waves underneath the ocean. I think the scientific aspect of this story was one of my favorite parts. This second crew is filled with more than 400 marine scientists, most that don’t believe in the myth of mermaids but are eager for the chance to do research fully funded by someone else. There’s quite a bit of science talk that goes on between Tori’s sound waves and other various things that come up once the mermaids have been ‘discovered.’ I don’t want to give too much away about the story, so, I’ll just say that I liked the science. It was detailed but still understandable. It wasn’t so technical that I didn’t understand what the characters were talking about.
Now, this book follows quite a few characters, which isn’t always successful when telling a story, but Grant did it in a way where eventually all of the characters overlapped and I cared about what would happen to all of them, even the ones I didn’t like. Grant created characters that were all compelling and very different from one another. They each had a unique voice and personality. They all had their own motivations for being on that ship.
Grant’s writing is what really pushed this story over the top for me. The suspense and tense mood of the story was excellent. I listened to the audiobook (which had a narrator that I really liked) and I couldn’t help but react to the story. There were times that I froze in fear, gasped in surprise, or relaxed in relief right alongside the characters. But Grant also let the reader know the whole story, so there were things that some of the characters didn’t know that we did, which added even more anxiety and worry for the characters.
Overall, I absolutely devoured this book. I would highly recommend it for any readers that like horror. I think the characters were compelling and interesting. The story itself was unique and made me think (I’ve always been fascinated by the ocean). I actually ended up looking up information about the Marianas Trench. I also think that Grant did a good job of including diverse characters. There was representation with deaf characters, and while I can’t speak to the accuracy, I liked that they were included as scientists. This was an engaging story that balanced between science and a bit of fantasy. I will definitely be picking up more books by Mira Grant in the future.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

GoodReads Summary:
A darkly enchanting reimagining of Gothic fantasy, in which a spirited young woman discovers the haunting secrets of a beautiful old mansion in 1950s Mexico.
Mexican GothicReview:
Mexican Gothic is a dark and atmospheric story that centers around family. Noemi is sent to the Mexican countryside to make sure her cousin Catalina is okay. Noemi’s father received a distressing letter from Catalina, who moved to the countryside to live with her new husband on his family’s estate. Her father sends Noemi to High Place to see Catalina for herself and make sure her cousin is alright. I really liked Noemi. She definitely doesn’t want to say once she sees High Place, but she does what’s right for her cousin. She seeks answers, but doesn’t even know if she’s asking the right questions. I liked that she was persistent and didn’t let this weird ass family push her around, much.
This story is creepy as soon as Noemi gets to High Place. The property and house are neglected and the family members are also creepy. Catalina’s husband, Virgil is immediately unlikable. He’s brash and scary, at times. I immediately didn’t like Virgil and didn’t understand why Catalina married him. I couldn’t help but be as worried about Catalina as Noemi was. Every time Noemi sat with Catalina, there were more questions than answers. That was a theme with this book. There were so many questions, which was a great way to build suspense and lead up to the big reveal. Moreno-Garcia did an excellent job of leaving the reader wondering what the hell was actually going on.
Overall, this was a creepy as hell story that I absolutely devoured. The writing was stunning and descriptive, painting a vivid and horrifying picture. The setting was atmospheric and perfectly spooky. I loved Noemi and Catalina. I hated Virgil and most of his family. I highly recommend this book and I will absolutely be reading more books by this author.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

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GoodReads Summary:
Fried Green Tomatoes and “Steel Magnolias” meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.
Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.
But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying VampiresReview:
I read this book for my local book club. It’s not something I probably would have picked up otherwise. This book was really something else. I didn’t love the overly grotesque parts of the book (but that’s just why I don’t generally read horror.) But I was fascinated by the dynamics of the women we read about. Their relationships with one another and their relationships with their husbands. This book really made a strong statement about how the world was in the late 80s and early 90s and it honestly just made my heart sad.
Overall, this book was a wild ride. The twists and turns, the way the author had me back and forth believing the main character and then not believing her. I’m going to keep this review short because I don’t have all that much to say about it. But, dude this book was a ride I don’t think I’d ride again.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.