Category Archives: Book

Book review: Days Long Dead by Gina Rinalli

Amnesia as a starting point into a story is a trope so often used that it is mocked for being a cliché, but there’s a reason so many stories return to it. That’s because amnesia is the perfect unreliable narrator. Someone with amnesia can’t tell you if they’re good or evil. They can’t tell you who is friend or foe, and so every connection they make is viewed with the same nervous tension. Amnesia can make even the most mundane character instantly more thrilling.

Days Long Dead uses amnesia to bring the reader into an event that could have been far more terrifying if it had been allowed to expand into a full-sized novel or even a novella. Julie Travis wakes up from a car crash and discovers her passenger is dead. Closer inspection reveals that he has been dead a long time, and Julie must trace her path away from the crash to find help. At first, it seems she has, but then the people she encounters are just as suddenly long dead for no explainable reason.

It’s hard to explain more than that without spoilers because this is a short story that explores three locations very briefly before revealing the truth. It’s not a bad way to finish the story either, but as I said, the main problem is, it’s not nearly enough running time within this world to properly build a sense of terror or even dread before the final revelation. Normally I’d say this is the best kind of complaint, that I want more, but in this case, the story doesn’t have enough time to explore its setting before the finale. It desperately needs more time to develop a connection to Julie so that I as a reader feel invested in her well being. I’m not, so when the truth is revealed, I can only react with a shrug and, “Well that was a thing, I guess.”

Days Long Dead is still a pretty good story, so I’ll give it 4 stars and recommend it to fans of mysteries and ghost stories. It could have been a great horror story with more time to build tension, but maybe the author wasn’t aiming for the full horror show.


Book review: Savage Season by Joe R. Lansdale

When a Hap and Leonard TV series was announced, I picked up the first book to read it first, and Savage Season got lost in the virtual ebook pile on my Kindle (I have a TBR pile so big I may never finish it, but that never stops me from buying new books. I’m an addict for sure.) We had a work-ish trip to Spain come up, and I figured what better way to pass the time than with a crime story?

The Hap and Leonard stories take place in Texas, a place I’m intimately familiar with. Although I live in Italy now, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in Texas towns both big and small, so I know Texas in all its forms. This then, should be a series that I would enjoy, right? Unfortunately, Savage Season never really worked for me.

Before I get into the problems, I’ll describe the basic plot. Hap Collins is a former 60s hippie who refused to go to Viet Nam and went to prison to prove his principles. As a result, his wife left him and he lost everything. His college degree was worthless, and so Hap came out of prison with no work, no house, no truck, no wife, and no pet. If the pet had been a dog, his life would be considered fair game for a classic country song. Continue reading


Book review: The Humans by Matt Haig

This is going to be a shorter review than is typical for me, mainly because I don’t have much to say about The Humans. I went into it with too high expectations based on my first read of Matt Haig’s work, The Radleys (which I loved), and by the blurbs littering the cover with gushing praise. And I should say that yes, I liked the story. But do I think it is “Wonderfully funny, gripping, and inventive”? No. Would I call it “Hilarious”? No. Would I describe it as “A laugh-and-cry book”? No. (I also wouldn’t call it that because ugh, hyphen abuse.) What I would call it is “Somewhat adequate.”

Putting it simply, The Humans is a retread of just about every “going native” story I’ve ever read or seen as a film. It’s the same as the many stories of tourists visiting another country and being bewildered by culture shock, only to eventually fall in love with the people (usually first with just one person) and coming to terms with their unusual habits. It’s Dances with Wolves, and Avatar, and any other number of examples across multiple genres.

The narrator for this book is an unnamed alien sent to Earth to erase evidence of a mathematical breakthrough that might somehow evolve the human race to the point of space travel. Why? Well because even if the claim is made many times that the whole race feels no emotions, they clearly fear the humans. I’m not even going to argue with their reasoning, because just look at what we’ve done with the internet and smartphones, and it’s clear that we do indeed have a problem with our technology advancing far too fast for us to catch up culturally and socially. So even if it seems illogical that the aliens who feel no emotions should fear humans, I can’t fault their desire to keep us constrained to one planet until we’ve had the chance to mature beyond our territorial pissing contest mentality. Continue reading


Book review: The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

The Boy Who Drew Monsters was my Halloween read, although I started it a day early. The first few chapters really sucked me in, but near the middle of the book it lost me, and reading the last chapters just dragged on and on because the story both loses momentum and does a terrible job of answering the questions its posed.

Jack Peter, or JP, or Jip, is an autistic boy who hasn’t left his house since almost drowning three years before the start of the book. Only that’s a lie the blurb tells, and he frequently leaves his house for trips to his therapist. Another lie the blurb tells is that he’s just recently started to draw monsters and they somehow come to life. Also not true.

Jack is a boy with extraordinary powers that he has always had, but no one noticed before, somehow. The circumstances of his near drowning are murky, but seem to be an attempted murder that backfired. His parents are friends with the parents of his best friend Nick, although I’m not sure how that can be when Tim had an affair with Nick’s mother, and everyone seems to know it even if it’s never explained when this all came out.

I guess that’s my real problem with the book. All the things I had questions about were glossed over, and the only question that did get answered in the end felt like a really, really stupid answer. I had so little interest in the story that it’s taken me this long just to write up a review.

I’m giving The Boy Who Drew Monsters 2 stars. If this is horror, it’s the kind of crappy PG-13 horror someone might make for a kid’s movie (assuming the one dull sex scene was edited out, that is). It’s never scary and wastes the potential it started out with. I can’t even think of anyone I’d recommend this to. There are better ways to waste time with. Navel gazing, for instance.


Book review: The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

The Ice Twins is one of the books I picked up to try and read outside my comfort zone, and the blurb certainly made it sound interesting. Nearly a year after a twin dies in an accident, the other twin suddenly starts claiming that her parents have mistaken her identity. Yep, interesting.

I was maybe 75 pages in and really not liking it when Cinzia, a friend of my husband, came over for dinner and was raving about how this was so, so good. I told her, “I’m trying to read it, but nothing is happening.” She said, “Yes, it’s slow to start.”

I think we have vastly different tastes and understandings of slow to start, because this book continues to grind on and on for roughly half its length before it decides to attempt shifting into second gear. And it fails and slips back into first before making another attempt one hundred pages later. It doesn’t help that the whole book is one long struggle with unreliable narration, or that the book has some really strange choices about comma and colon placement that had my inner editor making baffled sounds like “buh-wha-da-fu-is-dis-shi?” Continue reading


Book review: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Oh, my God, a book review! FINALLY, I finished a book and can issue my report on it. I know at this point the Goodreads Challenge app is extremely disappointed in me for my crappy reading numbers. I’m 9 books behind schedule for Pete’s sake! But this year, reading and retaining anything hasn’t been my strong suit. It’s damned hard to read for pleasure if you don’t remember what you’ve read just a few minutes later, yanno?

The Raven King is the last book in the series that started with The Raven Boys. I actually got this on the day it came out, and I’ve read whenever I could manage to get my brain to play along. Was the ending worth the wait? Um, that’s kind of a loaded question.

In the previous books, the big bads for each book were always kind of a letdown. It’s more of a series about four private school friends and their relations to a certain public school girl named Blue. With this last book, a lot happens in the build-up that suggests that these big bads are really different. People are dying left and right. Every member of the Raven boys are being attacked by the forest they love so much. Blue gets a badass scar in a shocking fashion. So yeah, as the book reaches those final chapters, there’s a building sense that these big bads are the really real deal, y’all. Continue reading


Book review: The Complex by Brian Keene

I admit, I got The Complex almost right after the ebook came out based on only one short part of the blurb. The book has a trans character in it, and given how extremely rare it is to see this, I had to know, does Brian Keene do such a character justice? For the most part, yes, he does. I’ll get back to that in a bit.

First, I should get the plot out of the way. People go crazy, get naked, and start killing their neighbors. Aaaand we’re done. G’night, y’all!

Heh, but no seriously, that’s the whole plot in a nutshell. There’s no explanation for why everyone goes nuts, which makes sense because the characters experiencing this have no idea what’s going on. Certainly, all of them speculate on what’s happening, but no theory is given weight by the story as it plays out. In a few ways, it reminds me of King’s story Cell, which is a good thing. Cell is one of my favorite horror stories in recent years, so seeing something with a similar theme definitely works for me.

This could very well be a by the numbers story if not for the extremely well done character development. The first part of the book is something of an introduction to the various neighbors living in the apartment complex, and regular readers of Keene will spot several references to his other books. Continue reading


Book review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I want to begin this review with two disclaimers and a side comment before getting into the book itself. The first is a warning that this review will contain spoilers. I don’t think it’s so much of a big deal because some of what I want to talk about is so garishly signposted early on in the book that within the first few chapters, I set the book down and gave predictions of what was to come to my husband. Nothing I said was wrong, and there were absolutely no surprises or twists to this tale. But if you want to read this without knowing what it’s all about, I’d suggest you look elsewhere for impressions because to explain my feelings, I need to dig into the spoilery guts of this book.

The second disclaimer is that even if I talk about the story and its characters in a negative way, I really did enjoy the story. I’ve spent several nights staying up reading under the spell of “just one more chapter” until fatigue was making the letters go crawling over the pages in a distracting manner. But this isn’t a happy story, nor are the characters entirely likeable. The setting is dark, and the conclusion is grim. That doesn’t make it a bad story, unless you just need all your fiction to be cheerful with happily ever afters. I don’t, but I realize I need to say right at the start, no matter what else I say, this is a good book.

And finally, here’s my aside: my first Ishiguro book was The Buried Giant, and I read that because it was supposedly a huge departure from his previous works. Having now read a second story from him, I’m not feeling that complaint. So one is fantasy, and the other is sci-fi. Both are speculative fiction, and both end somewhat grimly. I’d say they both have his signature writing style, even if they take place in vastly different time periods. So if you liked Never Let Me Go, but hated The Buried Giant because it had a dragon in it, I’d say the fault is more with your very narrowly defined comfort zone and not with the writing of an extremely talented author. Continue reading


Book review: Imp Forsaken by Debra Dunbar

I didn’t enjoy Imp Forsaken as much as the previous books in the Imp series, which is not to say that I didn’t like it, or that it’s badly written. There are a few things that rubbed me the wrong way, but I also recognize that they couldn’t be avoided given the way the last book ended. This is the logical continuation of the story thus far, and there’s no way to avoid the problems I had with it.

First of all, the book is slow to start. As I said, this couldn’t be helped because of how badly injured Sam was at the end of the previous book. Even with several time jumps forward, the scenes given “screen time” drag on without much happening until the middle of the book. It can’t be helped. I get that, and I understand why the story had to go here. I just can’t say I got much out of it.

The other problem is that there’s a sudden shift of perspective to a previously unimportant bit character. This is something that really bugs me, but again, it can’t be helped. Sam isn’t able to follow the story in progress back on Earth, and neither Wyatt nor Gregory are in the right frame of mind to be doing all this investigative work. So in comes Gabriel to provide some information that would have been impossible to convey otherwise. Continue reading


Book review: Vessels by Kealan Patrick Burke

Vessels is the last Timmy Quinn book that I will read, and also likely will be the last book I read from Kealan Patrick Burke. In a way, this bothers me because the first in the series, The Turtle Boy, was such a good introduction to the main character and his ability to give power to spirits thirsting for revenge. But the second book The Hides took some massive missteps for me, and Vessels doubles down on these problems while also making me aware of what’s truly missing from the series as a whole.

There’s no emotional investment in the characters. There never has been, but at least in the first book it was easy to miss because of how quickly the story unfolds. But with the second and third books, it becomes clear that far more attention is given to the locations than to any of the characters, Tim included. The writing is always good, but there’s loving attention to the details of the locales and homes that people inhabit, while the people themselves are so flat as to seem two dimensional.

Maybe I’m being unfair because these stories are all in a short novelette/novella format, but I still feel like these could have added a few more chapters to flesh out the characters, which would help build the mood and create some sense of dread. But after the first book, the sequels both have the exact same too fast plot. Tim goes somewhere to “get a fresh start,” and then bam, here’s a ghost. The only difference is that in the second outing, Tim’s parents forced this decision on him, and in the third, he’s making this choice on his own. I think this third story says Tim arrived a couple weeks back, but it skips the little bit of quiet time that could have been used for character development and moves right into the same haunting routine.

Tim has now grown to be a middle-aged man who rather than coming to terms with his abilities is still looking in vain for a place where no one has ever been murdered. This is a lost cause, really. The only way finding such a sanctuary would be possible is to journey to a place where humans have never been before and to live alone forever. Instead, Tim has opted to go to a remote island, and the story leaves no breathing room to get to know the locals before Tim is once again encountering angry ghosts. Continue reading