Review | Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak

Fresh out of rehab, Mallory Quinn takes a job in the affluent suburb of Spring Brook, New Jersey as a babysitter for Ted and Caroline Maxwell. She is to look after their five-year-old son, Teddy.

Mallory immediately loves this new job. She lives in the Maxwell’s pool house, goes out for nightly runs, and has the stability she craves. And she sincerely bonds with Teddy, a sweet, shy boy who is never without his sketchbook and pencil. His drawings are the usual fare: trees, rabbits, balloons. But one day, he draws something different: a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s lifeless body.

As the days pass, Teddy’s artwork becomes more and more sinister, and his stick figures steadily evolve into more detailed, complex, and lifelike sketches well beyond the ability of any five-year-old. Mallory begins to suspect these are glimpses of an unsolved murder from long ago, perhaps relayed by a supernatural force lingering in the forest behind the Maxwell’s house.

With help from a handsome landscaper and an eccentric neighbor, Mallory sets out to decipher the images and save Teddy—while coming to terms with a tragedy in her own past—before it’s too late.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was not a hard book to get into as Mallory’s voice from the beginning is likeable and relatable. I really enjoy that not everything was revealed about her at the building, but her narration definitely laid a foundation for herself as a character and the place she’s in in her life. It does lay ground work for a suspicion that she may not be entirely reliable later on. The story itself was wonderfully creepy especially with the question of if there was something supernatural going on and the decades old murder mystery that might be tied to current events. This story was a great read and I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a creepy thriller.

Happy reading!

Review | My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for

Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.

Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges… a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body.

My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I know that pretty much anything by Stephen Graham Jones is going to be a winner for me, but this one really blew me away. This book truly is an appreciation and love letter of all things slasher, really capturing the genre in and of itself while also featuring a main character who is obsessed with it. While reading you can’t really tell if Jade is a reliable or unreliable narrator, partly due to how deep her obsession with slashers goes. A lot of the book is spent wondering if she’s just imagining things or if they are really happening the way she is perceiving them.

Stephen Graham Jones’ writing style is perfectly showcased here as you’re left second guessing everything. Whether or not Jade is telling the truth (or what she’s hiding under her gruff and sarcastic front), who the killer is and just what is going on in the town overall. All the different twists that culminated at the end were mind blowing and for the most part unexpected. If you’re looking for a thriller that is an ode to slashers and constantly keeps you on your toes, this is one you should pick up.

Happy reading!

Review | Dark Waters by Katherine Arden

Having met and outsmarted the smiling man in Dead Voices but fearful of when he’ll come again, Ollie, Brian, and Coco are anxiously searching for a way to defeat him once and for all. By staying together and avoiding remote places, they’ve steered clear of him so far but their constant worry and stress is taking a toll on their lives and friendship. So when Ollie’s dad and Coco’s mom plan a “fun” boat trip on Lake Champlain, the three are apprehensive to say the least. They haven’t had the best of luck on their recent trips and even worse their frenemy Phil is on the boat as well. But when a lake monster destroys their boat, they end up shipwrecked on a deserted island. This isn’t just any island though. It’s hidden from the outside world in a fog and unless everyone works together to find a way to escape, they won’t survive long.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

After loving the first two books in this series I was really excited to get to this one and unfortunately didn’t love it as much as the previous two books. I still really enjoyed the continuing story and the way things unfolded but did feel like the ending was rushed and didn’t love all the actions different characters took throughout the story. This story definitely felt like it’s a bridge between Dead Voices and the last book, so to me it felt a little rushed and incomplete. I did really enjoy the unfolding story and lore that went along with this story, as I have liked the storytelling in the last two books and that’s part of what keeps me reading. Keep in mind there are trigger warnings in this one for potential loss of a parent and if you have an issue with snakes you should probably know going in that this book features one. I definitely can’t wait until the last book comes out and can’t wait to see what happens to our favorite group of friends and the Smiling Man.

Happy reading!

Review | Extasia by Claire Legrand

From New York Times bestselling author Claire Legrand comes a new, bone-chilling YA horror novel about a girl who joins a coven to root out a vicious evil that’s stalking her village. Perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Grace Year.

Her name is unimportant.

All you must know is that today she will become one of the four saints of Haven. The elders will mark her and place the red hood on her head. With her sisters, she will stand against the evil power that lives beneath the black mountain–an evil which has already killed nine of her village’s men.

She will tell no one of the white-eyed beasts that follow her. Or the faceless gray women tall as houses. Or the girls she saw kissing in the elm grove.

Today she will be a saint of Haven. She will rid her family of her mother’s shame at last and save her people from destruction. She is not afraid. Are you?

This searing and lyrically written novel by the critically acclaimed author of Sawkill Girls beckons readers to follow its fierce heroine into a world filled with secrets and blood–where the truth is buried in lies and a devastating power waits, seething, for someone brave enough to use it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The beginning of this book immediately drew me in and started the book off super strong. The setting and world the book is set in is dark and much of the ways of this world are very twisted, especially towards women – as they are essentially punished for what has happened to the world.

The writing was super atmospheric and perfectly illustrated the world and characters. That being said, not everyone is going to like it. There are times that certain characters and their behavior don’t exactly match with their personalities, but it wasn’t quite enough to detract from the story itself.

Be aware that this story very much takes on themes of religion and misogyny. Women in some ways are treated as objects, nothing more and for many that may be hard to read.

If you’re looking for dark horror that has a touch of weird, this will definitely fit the bill.

Happy reading!

Review | Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a gorgeously creepy haunted house tale, steeped in Japanese folklore and full of devastating twists.

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.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I absolutely loved the premise of this story, I’m always up for a haunted house story, but I was a little disappointed by the final product. This was one of those novellas that left me wanting more. I wanted more backstory on the relationships between the five main characters as well as on the house itself. We are given the bones of the story behind the mansion and little tidbits here and there but I definitely wanted more.

I did really enjoy the writing style and all the details about the house itself. The descriptions of the house as it changed over time and the things that happened were suitably creepy and easy to imagine in the mind’s eye.

Overall I did enjoy the story as it was, but I would have loved to have so much more.

Happy reading!

Review | All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

Sixteen bloodless bodies. Two teenagers. One impossible explanation.

Summer 1958—a string of murders plagues the Midwest. The victims are found in their cars and in their homes—even in their beds—their bodies drained, but with no blood anywhere.

September 19- the Carlson family is slaughtered in their Minnesota farmhouse, and the case gets its first lead: 15-year-old Marie Catherine Hale is found at the scene. She is covered in blood from head to toe, and at first she’s mistaken for a survivor. But not a drop of the blood is hers.

Michael Jensen, son of the local sheriff, yearns to become a journalist and escape his small-town. He never imagined that the biggest story in the country would fall into his lap, or that he would be pulled into the investigation, when Marie decides that he is the only one she will confess to.

As Marie recounts her version of the story, it falls to Michael to find the truth: What really happened the night that the Carlsons were killed? And how did one girl wind up in the middle of all these bodies?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This book was quite a ride that I was not expecting. I loved the sound of it and as someone who listens to true crime podcasts which include crime cases from the early to mid 1950s I figured it would definitely be in my wheelhouse. Once I got into the book I really enjoyed the interviews between Michael and Marie. As the story moves on you definitely have that aspect of wondering if there is really something supernatural or if it is all the act of humans.

Michael, with his yearning for the truth and love of journalism was a very compelling character, while Marie was at the best of times unreliable but tragic in her own way. Other characters such as Pilson, McBride and Nancy were also well dimensioned and really fleshed out to where their personalities were clear.

There were a few times I had to remind myself this was set in the 1950s as there was perhaps some more modern language or just something that rang modern, but overall I loved the aesthetic of this story and the way it progressed. There was just enough left up in the air to give it an even more unknowing and creepy feeling which was both unsettling and satisfying.

Happy reading!

Review | Ski Weekend by Rektok Ross

Six teens, one dog, a ski trip gone wrong . . .

Sam is dreading senior ski weekend and having to watch after her brother and his best friend, Gavin, to make sure they don’t do anything stupid. Again. Gavin may be gorgeous, but he and Sam have never gotten along. Now they’re crammed into an SUV with three other classmates and Gavin’s dog, heading on a road trip that can’t go by fast enough.

Then their SUV crashes into a snowbank, and Sam and her friends find themselves stranded in the mountains with cell phone coverage long gone and temperatures dropping. When the group gets sick of waiting for rescue, they venture outside to find help—only to have a wilderness accident leave Sam’s brother with a smashed leg and, soon, a raging fever. While the hours turn to days, Sam’s brother gets sicker and sicker, and their food and supplies dwindle until there isn’t enough for everyone. As the winter elements begin to claim members of the group one by one, Sam vows to keep her brother alive.

No matter what.

Filled with twists, secrets, and life-changing moments, Ski Weekend is a snow-packed survival thriller featuring a diverse cast of teens that will appeal to fans of One of Us is Lying and I Am Still Alive.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

When I first read the synopsis of this book I was really excited as I am definitely in the mood for survival/spooky/thriller books. At first I had a hard time connecting with some of the characters and felt that they were a little too cliche in some ways, but once I got a bit into the book they developed more and gained more depth which made them more relatable. None of them were perfect and there were certain thoughts and actions that had me rolling my eyes a bit, but I feel that was intended in some cases. I did really enjoy how much we really get to know the characters in this extreme situation which was a nice facet of the story.

Since I live in an area where there are isolated places/roads where people have gotten stuck and lost before, the setting and scope of this story was very realistic to me. The suspense was well written and kept the tension high as the story went on, which made it hard to put it down because I had to know what was going to happen to the characters. If you’re looking for a fast, suspense filled survival story, this would fit the bill.

Make sure to come back to the blog on release day to read my Q&A with Rektok!

Happy reading!

Review | The Summoning by J.P. Smith

When it comes to contacting the dead, it’s easy to go a step too far

Every year, as the anniversary of 9/11 inches closer on the calendar, Kit Capriol scans the memorials published in the New York Times. It’s a simple thing to look up a name and phone number, to reach out to surviving family members who might still be yearning for connection with their lost loved one… to offer assistance. After her husband went down in the north tower, Kit scraped by as an actress, barely supporting herself and her daughter. But now Zoey is in the hospital, bills are due, and the acting work has dried up. Becoming a medium is almost too easy for someone used to pretending for a living—and desperate clients aren’t hard to come by.

Now, though, something has changed. The seances Kit holds in her apartment are starting to feel unsettlingly real, and the intriguing man she met at a local bar could be more complicated than he seems. As the voices of the dead grow louder in her head and the walls of her apartment close in, Kit realizes that despite her daughter’s absence, she hasn’t been quite as alone as she thought…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When I heard the synopsis of this book, an actor who is pretending to be a medium to make ends meet after losing her husband in 9/11 and having her daughter in a coma – I was immediately intrigued. Things start to change when she seems to actually be hearing from the dead. I really enjoyed this roller coaster ride of a thriller as it took me in some directions I was not expecting at all. Much of the story is spent wondering if this is psychological or supernatural and that’s one of my favorite elements when done well – and it was done really well in this book. I was left guessing almost the entire book. While the pacing is neither slow or fast, I felt the story’s natural progression and evolution flowed well. The writing style was so easy to consume and kept me engaged the entire time.

Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for sending me a copy of this book for review. It’s out tomorrow (9/7) so make sure to pick up a copy!

Happy reading!

Review | The Haunted by Danielle Vega

Hendricks Becker-O’Malley is new in town, and she’s bringing baggage with her. With a dark and wild past, Hendricks doesn’t think the small town her parents moved her to has much to offer her in terms of excitement. She plans on laying low, but when she’s suddenly welcomed into the popular crowd at school, things don’t go as expected.

Hendricks learns from her new friends that the fixer-upper her parents are so excited about is notorious in town. Local legend says it’s haunted. Hendricks doesn’t believe it. Until she’s forced to. Blood-curdling screams erupt from the basement, her little brother wakes up covered in scratches, and something, or someone pushes her dad down the stairs. With help from the mysterious boy next door, Hendricks makes it her mission to take down the ghosts . . . if they don’t take her first.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I was prepared for this book to have great atmosphere and a thrilling story, but it was only about halfway there for me. I would have liked the story of the supernatural elements to be expanded upon some more and honestly the event that drove Hendricks and her family to this town is only revealed in bits and pieces with a lot of drawing out…and then resolved quite abruptly. By that point it kind of felt like it wasn’t really a plot component, but just a device to account for her behavior and the reason they moved. For a quick spooky read that at some points will have you questioning if it is supernatural or something else it was good, but there were just some elements that didn’t really mesh with me.

Happy reading!

Review | Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

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.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was not expecting the twists and turns that this book took, it was quite a ride. I really enjoyed the format of this book where you get a chapter in present day and a chapter from the book that Maggie’s father wrote. Sometimes the extreme of Maggie’s anger towards her parents was a bit much, but I suppose in most instances it was appropriate considering she had been made a public figure by the book her father wrote. This was crafted incredibly well and I have to say there was only part of the twist I guessed, and only at the last minute, which was pretty extraordinary. While I didn’t like Final Girls, after reading The Last Time I Lied and this one, I’m definitely looking forward to reading the others Sager has out!

Happy reading!