Category Archives: Book Reviews

Blogs that review books to help you know if it might be something you’d want to invest time in.

Hooked-Up Friday News: Two Books, a Movie, and a Show for Your Weekend. #Ghostland #DollCrimes #DoctorSleep #horror #books #film

I don’t normally do a lot of these (though I might start), but today is a Friday post of a couple good and bad things happening for folks I consider friends.

It’s been a long week and a half and I didn’t get separate posts made as I had wished. I didn’t even let on really on social media so no one even knew but… I had bronchitis for a week and a half and I’m still recovering (coughing and tired). I worked my full work load through it from bed and managed to get pretty much every thing accomplished (editing  a couple books, assisting two authors in self-pub books in process, etc.) while coughing incessantly, including buying two new front tires and a service from the tow truck for $400 when a tire shredded on my partner as he was driving down the interstate. Found out my mom was taken to the urgent care for her heart and she’s being evaluated by a doctor. She’s 81 and I’m worried about her. Some time I need to catch up on sleep but you know I always say that. Oh and I didn’t get any writing done for awhile now, so as always, please remember to buy my first collection too! It’s on sale in print for just $10 on Amazon currently.

These are horror related titles below, and there will be some more horror and thrillers later, but there’ll also be fantasy and historical fiction this month too. So don’t fret. I know I have a lot of readers here with different tastes. There’ll be more posts to come!

First good news!

Ghostland is open – Get Your Tickets!

Ghostland Duncan Ralston

Duncan Ralston‘s next book, GHOSTLAND, has arrived! I’ve been waiting so long for all of you to get your hands on this book. I can hardly believe the day is here! First, since it’s what you take in first with your eyes, let’s talk about this cover. I am IN LOVE with this cover by Dean Samed! It’s outstanding and one of the best I’ve seen all year. It totally brings to life all the facets of this novel. I totally want this on a mug, a t-shirt, a poster, and everything else I can put it on.

Now of course there is no cover without there being a book, so let me tell you how wonderfully amazing it is. Ghostland is something different for us all in horror and I have to say it’s the best book in the genre I read all year. I’m so thrilled I got to read an early copy. It’s gave me entertainment and fun in a read that I was really desiring. It’s for adults – it’s terrifying in parts – but it features two young protagonists. I love this viewpoint without it being strictly YA. I love that he utilizes the male and female friend relationship as well. Duncan does a great job with characters in his other books and here it’s no different. He writes thrillers, he writes ghost stories, he writes horror stories, he integrates virtual reality in a cool way, and he seems to have easily rolled all that up together in this bundle of entertainment.

You’re going to hear a lot about Ghostland, I’m sure. There will be interactive fun – within the book learn about the ghosts and attractions this way. There’s a park map. You’ll need to get your tickets because the park is open and they can use all hands on deck to keep the ghosts inside.

Get your copy HERE today! It’s available in e-book (and for a short time on Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback (if the print isn’t showing up yet, just wait a bit while it shows up). Enjoy the ride!

Here’s the synopsis –

People are dying to get in. The exhibits will kill to get out.

Be first in line for the most haunted theme park in the world – GHOSTLAND! Discover and explore hundreds of haunted buildings and cursed objects! Witness spectral beings of all kinds with our patented Augmented Reality glasses! Experience all the terror and thrills the afterlife has to offer, safely protected by our Recurrence Field technology! Visit Ghostland today – it’s the hauntedest place on earth!

________

After a near-death experience caused by the park’s star haunted attraction, Ben has come to Ghostland seeking to reconnect with his former best friend Lilian, whose post-traumatic stress won’t let her live life to the fullest. She’s come at the behest of her therapist, Dr. Allison Wexler, who tags along out of professional curiosity, eager to study the new tech’s psychological effect on the user.

But when a computer virus sets the ghosts free and the park goes into lockdown, the trio find themselves trapped in an endless nightmare.

With time running short and the dead quickly outnumbering the living, the survivors must tap into their knowledge of horror and video games to escape… or become Ghostland’s newest exhibits.

Featuring an interactive “Know Your Ghosts” guide and much more, Ghostland is over 400 pages of thrills and terror!

Oh – and also, keep an eye on Ghostland’s Restoration Project website.

____________________________

Now some good and bad news!

Doll Crimes

I’ve been so excited for Karen Runge’s next book, Doll Crimes, to publish! Karen is such an emotional and mesmerizing writer, if completely raw and visceral. Unfortunately, Karen went hiking last weekend at a nature preserve in South Africa and was attacked, beaten, and robbed by suspected poachers. Her pack with her belongs and key were stolen and she had to crawl and walk back two miles on her own to find safety and somone to help her. It was inhumane and terrifying, and so of course, the last thing on her mind is being able to promote her book properly. I’m so thankful how some of the horror rallied around to share her pre-order link and cover.

Today, it’s released from Crystal Lake Publishing and hopefully soon my pre-ordered copy will arrive on my Kindle. But it’s had several great pre-publish blurbs so check it out and spread the word.

Doll Crimes is gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, and so smooth it reads like reality.”
– Kaaron Warren, award-winning author of The Grief Hole and Tide of Stone

Here’s the synopsis for Doll Crimes

‘It’s not that there aren’t good people in the world. It’s that the bad ones are so much easier to find.’

A teen mother raises her daughter on a looping road trip, living hand-to-mouth in motel rest stops and backwater towns, stepping occasionally into the heat and chaos of the surrounding cities. A life without permanence, filled with terrors and joys, their stability is dependent on the strangers—and strange men—they meet along the way. But what is the difference between the love of a mother, and the love of a friend? And in a world with such blurred lines, where money is tight and there’s little outside influence, when does the need to survive slide into something more sinister?

Grab it HERE!

_________________________

Weekend Watchings

Doctor_Sleep_(Official_Film_Poster)

Did  you hear Doctor Sleep is out today at the theater? I’m so excited. I watched the end of Kubrick’s The Shining last night. Jack Nicholson just makes me laugh with his acting, but in reality, I know Doctor Sleep will scare the crap out of me! It’s going to be really cool how they link Danny’s special gift into this movie. I almost wish Kubrick would have done his film a bit differently and played into that more. But boy, was he good for a child actor wasn’t he? I hear he makes a cameo appearance in this film. Anyway, I’m excited to see Doctor Sleep! But I’m also excited to see Terminator: Dark Fate as well as Maleficent 2 and Midway! As always, too many good movies to choose from all at the same time.

Also, the European show Dublin Murders based on Tana French novels will premiere on Starz this weekend. Have I told you how much I like Starz? They keep bringing me the stuff I want.

If you’re not familiar, here’s a synopsis from the site Deadline: The psychological thriller is adapted by series creator and writer Sarah Phelps. Dublin Murders follows Rob Reilly (Scott) – a smart-suited detective whose English accent marks him as an outsider – who is dispatched to investigate the murder of a young girl on the outskirts of Dublin with his partner, Cassie Maddox (Greene). Against his better judgment and protected by his friendship with Cassie, he is pulled back into another case of missing children and forced to confront his own darkness. As the case intensifies, Rob and Cassie’s relationship is tested to the breaking point and when Cassie is sent undercover for another murder case, she is forced to come face to face with her own brutal reckoning.

Dublin-Murders-poster

Besides hopefully seeing a movie and getting out of the house for a bit, I also should be recording a podcast show with author friend Leo on his Losing the Plot! podcast. I’ve been on before and I’m looking forward to talking to him again on Sunday.

What are your weekend plans?
Whatever you do – reading, watching, writing, or living, enjoy your weekend!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Announcements, Book Reviews

Review: Little Paranoias by Sonora Taylor #PromoteHorror #HorrorisHealthy

Little Paranoias, Review –

Little-Paranoias-Cover-Front

I enjoy Sonora’s short story, flash, and poetic writing. I’ve read her full-length novel Without Condition but something draws me to her shorter pieces. I was excited to receive her collection Little Paranoias! I think we write somewhat similar: saying much in small spaces, similar themes – musings on death or the afterlife, surprise twists and endings, shocking amid the normal, and involving nature in our writing. I suppose the things I like to think about that end up in my writing is what I like about her short pieces because reading her pieces make me ponder life as well (when they aren’t shocking me).

I especially liked the opening piece “Weary Bones,” which takes us on a journey with skeletons who are, for lack of a better word, alive. It really was ingenious and made me think about how much we do forget our loved ones, in death, even in spirit, that we seem to need voice, warmth, skin. It was well-written and thought-provoking but also gave me a sadness. I only wished this story was longer and had more meat on its bones because it was over too soon and I feel there could have been more. I really felt I knew the character Brandon so well so soon, which is hard to pull off in shorter pieces.

“Crust” spoke deeply to me in a few hundred words and that’s all I’m going to say, but wow did it feature what I struggle with every single day. “Cranberry” scared the shit out of me. That’s some pent up rage and writing that holds nothing back. Many of the other stories dealt with murder of some sort whether a perpetrator, a family member, a spouse, the general populace. I am beginning to wonder if Sonora is a serial murderer in her head. I’m joking (maybe….haha). I can dig it as some of my stories often off men and foe. Many pieces had surprise endings, often they showed clearly life issues which created characters crossing boundaries into raw, primal emotion, and others were creatively done and had such a unique flair.

I actually was completely unnerved and uncomfortable with “Stick Figure Family” – I mean, it actually made me ball up in anger and question a lot, but in a way I suppose that just means it was well-written enough to urge reaction of me as most horror stories should do.

Though I really enjoyed “Hearts are Just Likes” quite a bit – I found it inventive and fun and cool – my favorite story was “Quadrapocalypse,” which has the character starting off on the DC metro, and after, the story splitting off into four ways with four different scenes. I love techniques like this! Also, the nature lover and activist I am really enjoyed the theme of this one. Be good to nature, or it may get you back!!

My least favorite was the last story, “Seed.” I wanted to like it, due to its themes of nature, and I DID like parts of it and the overall plot and thought behind it, but I don’t like too much erotic content in my reads. Also, it was just unexpected because there wasn’t any in the rest of the book but by the end I “got” the animal correlation of it and why. I’d probably not have put it as the last piece, since that should be the blow away read. I’d have chosen “Quadrapocalypse!”

Overall, I really had fun reading a few of these stories a night during this annual spooky reading month! They made me think, made me cringe, made me scream, and even shocked me. Bite-sized morsels of fiction that feel like a meal, maybe your last meal or one that haunts you, but fiction that’ll chill you to your bones no matter the temperature. Highly recommended!

Little-Paranoias-Cover-Front.jpgLittle Paranoias: Stories, Synopsis –

Is it a knock on the door, or a gust of wind?
A trick of the light, or someone who’ll see what you’ve done?

Little Paranoias: Stories features twenty tales of the little things that drive our deepest fears. It tells the stories of terror and sorrow, lust at the end of the world and death as an unwanted second chance. It dives into the darkest corners of the minds of men, women, and children. It wanders into the forest and touches every corner of the capital. Everyone has something to fear — but after all, it’s those little paranoias that drive our day-to-day.

Little Paranoias: Stories is Taylor’s third short story collection and fifth overall release. Featuring cover art by Doug Puller, the collection features twenty short stories, flash pieces, and poems. The collection features an assortment of dark tales, including “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” a contemporary reimagining of “The Tell-Tale Heart” originally published in the award-winning anthology Quoth the Raven (ed. Lyn Worthen, Camden Park Press).

Little Paranoias: Stories is available now in e-book and paperback (released: October 22, 2019) and exclusively on Amazon.

Purchase Here

sonora-taylor-2019-headshot.jpgSonora Taylor, Biography –

Sonora Taylor is the author of Without Condition, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” was published in Camden Park Press’ Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Taylor’s short stories frequently appear in The Sirens Call, a bi-monthly horror eZine. Her work has also appeared in Mercurial Stories, Tales to Terrify, and the Ladies of Horror fiction podcast. She is currently working on her third novel. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.

Find Sonora Online

Visit Sonora online at her website!

Facebook

Goodreads

Blog

Twitter: @sonorawrites

Instagram: @sonorataylor

________________________________

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a review/author blurb. This didn’t affect my opinion.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, women in horror

Review: Historical Fantasy Priestess of Ishana Based on Bronze Age by Judith Starkston #histfic #fantasy #bookreviews

Priestess of Ishana, Review –
Tesha Series, Book One
Judith Starkston
Historical Fantasy

priestess cover 500x750px

Today I’m doing a review of Judith Starkston’s historical fantasy novel Priestess of Ishana, which is book one of her Tesha series. Book two is coming out soon and Judith will be back very soon with a guest article for us, “The Queen Behind the Character.”

We know so little of the Hittite culture, don’t we? I’m enamored by the ancient civilizations and especially drawn to some of them as it’s such a puzzle to figure it all out. These people lived but so far removed from us. What were they like? Like us? Or were there supernatural elements of the gods? Art and fiction point us in all sorts of directions. I’m an overall historical fiction reader as well as fantasy and when they mix, I know it’s probably going to be something I might enjoy. With Judith Starkston, we always get strong female leads torching the way who are modeled after real life classical people of the past.

I first encountered Judith’s work with Hand of Fire, which was about Briseis and the Trojan War, and thoroughly enjoyed it. In her new series, we meet fifteen-year-old independent, strong priestess Tesha during the Bronze Age and Hittolian era, when real life queen Puduhepa reigned. Tesha is modeled after her, bringing real historical elements to the fiction. Learning more about the Hittite culture through this book was exciting, and I’d say… magical… but it WAS a magical time wasn’t it? We can’t know for sure, but I think so. Hittite and Greek culture brings us stories of the gods and Priestess of Ishana was no less filled with the magic, drama, and intrigue of these supernatural legends.

First let me say what I love the most about Judith’s writing is her prowess with historical details as a sturdy foundation for her fiction. That makes her world-building phenomenal in the way that her descriptions make us feel as if we are there (as if she herself traveled there and is interposing details she saw). On that level, it feels as if she entered a portal in time in order to bring back knowledge to us. Her ability to create time and place we can visually see in our heads in such a stunning way is the sign of a wonderful storyteller. She has opened our eyes to history in a way that isn’t documented many other places and has woven it into a story that would propel anyone’s learning, let alone entertain readers.

Second, I am always enamored by Judith’s female leads. My daughter is a young, strong fifteen-year-old and so I loved thinking about her in this role (and think this is a great book as well for that age reader), but also, big shoes to fill! I love that Judith is bringing these lost women of history to the stage from these ancient eras. Her character of Tesha is fiesty, intelligent, and a woman of great strength in a time where military action and intrigue was prominent. Her dialogue, her dimensional work on Tesha, was so good it made you feel as if you might really know her. She centers her tale of Tesha in her teen years as a priestess of Ishana and I’m extremely happy we’ll be able to see her grow in this series.

Even if all that is good enough for me, as I read a lot of historical fiction books based on strong females in history (forgotten or otherwise), the addition of the magic and supernatural with a curse from the dark Underworld weaved in created momentum, action, and excitement. Hattu, who Tesha meets at the temple, is the younger brother of the Great King, and is arrested as an evil sorcerer by her father (high priest and governor). Tesha believes him innocent. She starts on a trek to save him but risks her family’s honor doing so. This is where the mystery and romantic elements come into the story and all was well-written and attention grabbing for me as a reader.

Judith has another win for me with this book and this series. I can’t wait to read more and follow Tesha’s story! Grippint, accurate ancient history mixed with supernatural intrigue and mystery, drama and intrigue, and highly-developed characters with intricate details – Priestess of Ishana has for all the makings of a stellar book for readers of YA to adult. This is another must for any shelf of books featuring women lost to history. I highly recommend this book to historical fiction readers as well as historical fantasy and fantasy readers. You’ll be breezing through it’s pages like you were swept back in time and then not want to return home.

priestess cover 500x750pxPriestess of Ishana, Synopsis –
Tesha Series, Book One

A curse, a conspiracy and the clash of kingdoms. A defiant priestess confronts her foes, armed only with ingenuity and forbidden magic.

An award-winning epic fantasy, Priestess of Ishana draws on the true-life of a remarkable but little-known Hittite queen who ruled over one of history’s most powerful empires.

A malignant curse from the Underworld threatens Tesha’s city with fiery devastation. The young priestess of Ishana, goddess of love and war, must overcome this demonic darkness. Charred remains of an enemy of the Hitolian Empire reveal both treason and evil magic. Into this crisis, King Hattu, the younger brother of the Great King, arrives to make offerings to the goddess Ishana, but he conceals his true mission in the city. As a connection sparks between King Hattu and Tesha, the Grand Votary accuses Hattu of murderous sorcery. Isolated in prison and facing execution, Hattu’s only hope lies in Tesha to uncover the conspiracy against him. Unfortunately, the Grand Votary is Tesha’s father, a rash, unyielding man, and now her worst enemy. To help Hattu, she must risk destroying her own father.

If you like a rich mixture of murder mystery, imperial scheming, sorcery, love story, and lavish world-building, then immerse yourself in this historical fantasy series. See why readers call the Tesha series “fast-paced,” “psychologically riveting,” and “not to be missed.”

Praise for Priestess of Ishana

This time the throne is bronze. – Tinney Heath, Author

What George R.R. Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’ did for the War of the Roses, Starkston has done for the forgotten Bronze Age Hittite civilization. Mystery, romance, political intrigue, & magic… – Amalia Carosella, Author

Purchase Link 

Amazon 

Start this series with book one now, as book two is available soon.

Sorcery cover - 500x750pxSorcery in Alpara, Synopsis –
Tesha series,
Book Two

A curse that consumes armies, a court full of traitors, a clutch of angry concubines and fantastical creatures who offer help but hate mankind.

Tesha’s about to become queen of a kingdom under assault from all sides, but she has powerful allies: her strategist husband, his crafty second-in-command, and her brilliant blind sister.

Then betrayal strips her of them all. To save her marriage and her world, she will have to grapple with the serpentine plot against her and unleash the goddess Ishana’s uncontrollable magic—without destroying herself.

Purchase Link –

Amazon

Judith Starkston, Biography –

Author Photo (1)Judith Starkston has spent too much time reading about and exploring the remains of the ancient worlds of the Greeks and Hittites. Early on she went so far as to get degrees in Classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cornell.

She loves myths and telling stories. This has gotten more and more out of hand. Her solution: to write historical fantasy set in the Bronze Age.

Hand of Fire was a semi-finalist for the M.M. Bennett’s Award for Historical Fiction. Priestess of Ishana won the San Diego State University Conference Choice Award.

Sign up for her newsletter on her website JudithStarkston.com for a free short story, book news and giveaways.

Sign-up for her newsletter!

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Bookbub

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, women in history

All Kinds of October Update on Life, Writing, and What I’m Reading! #October #Halloween #AmWriting #AmReading

Happy October 1! Today, I’ve got a quick forward update!

Snoopy witch

October Life Update and Editing

This is one, if not THE, favorite month of the year for me. I love pumpkins, spooky stories, colorful trees, apple picking, and cool evenings. As many of you know, it’s also TWO of my three children’s birthdays (will be 20 and 16 this year – WHAT? I know!). It seemed like I was just writing posts about us picking apples when they were small and making lists for readers for Autumn-themed children’s books.

My daughters both ran cross country this year, are still I should say, and that will come to a close in mid-to-late of this month. My middle daughter’s selective “a cappella” choir will have their first concert and host it as a fund-rasier for the music program. As well, my oldest is now in Washington D.C. at George Washington University as a college sophomore, so it looks like we will be adding a trip in there at the end of the month to visit him. I just can’t let his birthday month go by without seeing him. I am excited to hug him, but also, to see the fall foliage through Virginia and Maryland on the way there and back. At the very end of the month, my youngest is still looking forward to Trick-or-Treating and dressing up with friends. I am looking forward to eating plenty of candy. haha!

It’s a busy month, but I’m scheduling NOW for editing work in November and December because… well, I have active kids that cost money and I because of my illnesses and circumstances, I have to work from home for myself.

My Writing

October is also fond to me as it’s the anniversary of my debut dark poetry and short story collection Breathe. Breathe.! It’s the two year anniversary – can you believe it? I’ve had a lot more poetry and short stories published elsewhere as well. One of those short stories I’m excited about is the anthology 7 Deadly Sins of the Apocalypse, with an official launch date of October 4, 2019; however, it went live early and hit Amazon #1 Best-Selling List in Horror Anthologies. I’ll have more to share on that but it’s on sale now for .99 cents. I’ll also be sharing things about my other pieces as well as hopefully provide you with an original poem like I did last year (those were about mummies)! You’ll probably also find some guest articles by me appearing on other sites and me in an interview or two.

I’ll have a short story, “Mia,” in the upcoming print magazine Outpost 28 by Dean Kuhta. I will have a story in this with my friend, the amazing Christa Carmen, so I’m super excited about that. Also, it’s getting an illustration from a artist I really like, so stay tuned for more on that. I absolutely think it’s one of the best stories I’ve written and I am thankful to Duncan Ralston for his assistance with edits.

Update: I just found out I’ll have two poems in the Halloween issue of The Siren’s Call e-zine as well. A new one called “The Halloween Feast” and one of the Mummy poems I shared with you last year here called “Dancing with Mummies.”

Reviews, Interviews, and Features Here or Other Sites

I have a packed schedule with publicity and editing work, writing, and kids, but I’ve also made promises and packed my schedule with reading of horror, historical, and fantasy books for review as well as a few interviews. Look for an uptick of reviews on this site , starting with an historical fantasy Priestess of Ishana by Judith Starkston (and a guest article by her) and Ribbons of Scarlet short story collection about women of the French Revolution by a myriad of authors I admire. I’m going to attempt to get caught up on a few back reviews for several genres but I’m also pushing dark fiction, dark fantasy, and horror (and the like) to the front since it’s that time of year! I’ll be reviewing a few new  titles in that genre as well such as the short story collection Little Paranoias by Sonora Taylor. I’ll also have a review up this month on the film review site Machine Mean talking about the movie “The Endless,” which left me mind blown.

My October Reading

I’m doing the #31spookystories challenge on Instagram (and cross-posting to Twitter), because I love to read short stories. You can read 31 short stories or 13. I’m trying to do one per day. Follow me on Instagram stories and Twitter to catch my reads (and follow the hashtag as a whole to get some good short story recommendations) and/or join in. I’ll try to do weekly re-caps of the stories here.

And I’m going to read Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party because it just sounds so good. I recently found a beat up copy of it at a thrift store and I can’t wait to dive in. If you want to read with me, let me know!

Christie, Agatha - Hallowe'en Party

I’ve got lots of things going on, building and coming down the pipe line so stay tuned. I am trying to organize myself enough to keep this spot updated!

I’d love to hear from you. What are your October plans? Do you like spooky, scary, or supernatural books > What will you be reading? Scary movies or shows? > What will you be watching?

Happy Harvest! Happy Halloween!

Erin

3 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Review: A Torch in His Heart by Anna Belfrage – Time Travel Romance/Suspense

Hi all, I have been way backed up on reviews and interviews due to work and life with kids and my own writing, but here is the first of many more upcoming reviews and posts I have promised to squeeze in voluntarily for authors. I can’t wait to share.

A Torch in His Heart, Review –
*could be minor spoilers*

A Torch In His Heart Cover

A Torch in His Heart (book one of her new Wanderers series) by Anna Belfrage is somewhat out of my usual reading comfort zone and carrousel of reading. However, I got on the ride because there was some sort of time slip or movement element, there was an ancient element, and of course, it’s Anna. I believe I’ve read about twelve of Anna’s past books – she has a superb historical time traveling series that rivals Outlander and another great historical fiction series. You’ll find all of them reviewed on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I love Anna’s writing, even if I am not generally a romance reader. I will read various genres that feature some romance, though. Those things said, I was ready to give it a whirl. I hoped it would be a summer read, but with kids and work and my own writing, time got a bit away from me so here we are in September – and no worries, it’s a great book for any season.

Why is A Torch in His Heart such a great book? To put it succinctly, in usual Anna prose, there are memorable characters, clear hero and villain tracks, a strong female main character, rousing prose, and witty dialogue. The additive this time that readers should know (of Anna and my own followers here) is the steamy sections. I hadn’t read the Amazon or other site warnings myself, so they caught me by surprise. Anna amped up her romance game by including many explicit sex scenes between the main characters. So fair warning, but also, the good thing is that they appear in proper spots and aren’t corny, but are naturally occurring. I’m blushing to tell you that Anna’s scenes lit the page on fire this series! Some of you will like it, some won’t mind it, and some won’t like it, but as I always say, you can skip those paragraphs if it bothers you and still enjoy the story! They are definitely a small part of the story and there for entertainment, not the meat or foundation of it.

Now that we have that part out of the way, the things I liked the most about the book was quickly learning that Sam, Jason, and Helle all had many lives in the past. A conflicted past with conflicted relationships. The flashbacks were shown in italics, and it’s a preference of my own, but I much preferred the story in the flashback portions more than the modern story because I love ancient history. However, I liked how Anna intertwined the two together and how she pitted good vs. evil and the love triangle.

When Helle gets a new job for Mr. Woolf (Sam) she is almost immediately scared of him and his piercing black eyes and controlling demeanor. He reminded me A LOT of Loki from the Thor/Asgard mythology!! Later, when Jason sees Helle on the street, he is instantly excited, until he realizes Sam must also be around. For the rest of the book, we are flipping pages as Sam tries to put Helle in precarious work scenarios to control her, while she, instantly feeling she knows Jason, but doesn’t know how, throws caution to the wind because she feels an instant connection with him (maybe too instant, but we’ll go with it). He becomes her hero and she calls on him time and again in dealing with Sam. I’m obviously not supposed to like the controlling character of Sam, and I don’t, nor am I intimidated by him or enamored by his aggressive nature, but he was well-written in his role and quite complex and calculating.

Mostly I didn’t like Alison. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. As Helle’s roommate, I feel she should have supported her and not been a vessel for Sam’s whips and chains lifestyle, but I see within the narrative why it was used and how it showed how men can have mind control over some women. I hope this was to show Sam’s evil character and not just for erotic content. I didn’t really like the dynamic between Alison and Helle though. It was uncomfortable to me. Maybe it was supposed to be. It made for good reading drama. I might have liked for another strong female ally or friend to be included, but I also know in the set-up of many of these stories, there often isn’t. I might be thinking outside the box here.

The last half or last twenty-five percent of the book was outstanding. I loved the drama, the action, the love, and most of all, more of the flashbacks. I came to understand more of their ancient past and struggles. I’m an ancient historical fiction type of reader and writer so these parts caught me best. I’d have probably liked the whole book to have been written from this perspective, if it was my birthday and I was given a choice, but of course then there wouldn’t have been the time movement element, which I did like of course. Anna did an excellent job capturing the modern time period though. She had the business world and descriptions down well. The ending of the ancient parts just killed me inside – so sad – though it’s a love story told before, as many take a nod from Shakespeare, it was touching and still hit the heart strings. I enjoyed the ending in the modern era too and I’m looking forward to reading book two and seeing where this cliffhanger goes…

It’s the long-time editor in me and the fact the romance genre is a bit out of my element as a reader that’s made me pick at some areas, but I write to be helpful and with honest thoughts.

For romance readers and fans of time travel or reincarnation-type romances, I have a feeling you’ll love this book. It’s got all the steamy scenes, drama, action, conflict, and enduring connections that will make you both groan at the bad and swoon with the good. Anna has the making of another great series under her established belt and carries a flaming torch herself as she forays into romance.

Note: I was supplied a complimentary copy of this book for review.

ATIHH-1801

A Torch in His Heart, Synopsis –

In the long lost ancient past, two men fought over the girl with eyes like the Bosporus under a summer sky. It ended badly. She died. They died.
Since then, they have all tumbled through time, reborn over and over again. Now they are all here, in the same place, the same time and what began so long ago must finally come to an end.

Ask Helle Madsen what she thinks about reincarnation and she’ll laugh in your face. Besides, Helle has other stuff to handle, what with her new, exciting job in London and her drop-dead but seriously sinister boss, Sam Woolf. And then one day Jason Morris walks into her life and despite never having clapped eyes on him before, she recognises him immediately. Very weird. Even more weird is the fact that Sam and Jason clearly hate each other’s guts. Helle’s life is about to become extremely complicated and far too exciting.

ADULT CONTENT: This book contains explicit sex scenes

Purchase/Add A Torch in His Heart

Available Kindle/Print (395 p); Aug 2018

Amazon 

GoodReads

Anna Belfrage, Biography

Anna BelfrageHad Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. Plus she always finds the time to try out new recipes, chase down obscure rose bushes and initiate a home renovation scheme or two.

Her most recent releases, A Torch in His Heart (Wanderers 1) and Smoke in her Eyes (Wanderers 2), are a step out of her comfort zone. Having previously published historical fiction & historical romance, with this first book about Jason and Helle Anna offers a dark and titillating contemporary romance, complete with a time-slip angle and hot & steamy scenes.

Her first series, The Graham Saga, is set in 17th century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland. It tells the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him. With this heady blend of time-travel, romance, adventure, high drama and historical accuracy, Anna hopes to entertain and captivate, and is more than thrilled when readers tell her just how much they love her books and her characters. There are nine books in the series so far, but Anna is considering adding one or two more…

Her second series is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The King’s Greatest Enemy is a series where passion and drama play out against a complex political situation, where today’s traitor may be tomorrow’s hero, and the Wheel of Fortune never stops rolling.

If you want to know more about Anna, visit her website!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

Review: Children’s Picture Book Little Taco Truck is Colorful and Inclusive

Little Taco Truck
Children’s Picture Book Review –

LTT Cover.jpg

When my daughters and I were asked to review Little Taco Truck, by Tanya Valentine, we jumped at the chance because…well, we are foodies as well as readers and put the two together and we are sold. Furthermore, TACOS! Need I say more?

Today is release day for this darling, fun children’s picture book and I’m so happy I can tell you all about it. We should celebrate with tacos now that I think about it! I digress.

Even though I have girls, and my 11-year-old and I had previously loved Dragons Love Tacos, this book featured food trucks, which could be focused more toward boys, but yet we really didn’t notice that when reading it – and my daughter certainly didn’t. That’s just my afterword thinking. There were female food trucks as well as male and it seemed to work across genders so if you have a little girl loves food or cute illustrations, I don’t think you should pay it mind in this day and age that it’s a vehicle-driven (no pun intended…or is there?) story.

The message in this story crosses gender and ethnicity boundaries teaching an important lesson about inclusiveness, overcoming shyness or feelings of being left out or pushed out, and ultimately, also standing up for yourself to get what you want.

LTT photo 1

As Little Taco Truck feels pushed out by bigger trucks with each passing day, and food that could far outweigh his simple tacos, he stakes his claim after problem solving. Though I am not so sure about his “stomping his wheels I’m here” mentality and anger, I suppose that’s one way to say, “I’m here and I’m staying.” It’s admirable to stand your ground sometimes. I think possibly I’d have toned down it down to have stated it in a calm manner, but I did like the reactions of the other trucks in their apologies and in their willingness to make room for all.

In the world today, there are important lessons here about many various cultures and personalities living amid each other and that we must work to include everyone and see their side of the equation.

The illustrations are lovely colorful and bright with a Hispanic flair that matches the taco truck being the main character. I liked how the illustrator Jorge Martin drew the food and sometimes with faces – but then I’m like I really don’t want to eat the falafel with faces! Haha! It was very cute though and I enjoyed looking at the art very much, which is a huge sell to me in a picture book. I believe the illustrations, with their joyful aura and colorful nature will largely appeal to young kids. I loved the flowers in the pots, and his attention to detail; I loved the little falafel, faces and all, and the tacos. My daughter loved the crayfish on top of the gumbo truck, for instance. It was heart-warming work and also made us hungry! Now, we want to go to this street and partake of all the food trucks – he made the community feel of them all very vibrant and real.

LTT 2

Overall, this was an engaging story for young readers who are being read to or who are captivated by pictures with their stories. This would be a bright story with a good lesson to read during story times or in the classroom. A happy ending is always a good ending!

With a colorful bustle in the illustrations, a good resolution to a problem in the writing, and captivation personalities within the writing and the art, Little Taco Truck is one you’ll want to snatch up for a morning read with a child, then if possible, take a walk to a food truck for lunch!

Little Taco Truck, Synopsis and Info –

LTT Cover

Print Length: 40 pages

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade

Publication Date: April 2, 2019

Sold by: Random House LLC

 Dragons Love Tacos meets Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, LITTLE TACO TRUCK is an irresistibly kid-friendly read-aloud about a little taco truck that is having trouble finding a place to park. It’s released today (April 2, 2019)!

Little Taco Truck serves up tasty treats to the hungry workers on Union Street…until one day, Miss Falafel shows up with her baked pita bread and crunchy chickpea fritters–and parks in his space. The next day, Miss Falafel is there again, and this time she’s brought Gumbo Jumbo and Annie Arepas with her. Little Taco Truck’s headlights dim. What if people like Gumbo Jumbo’s spicy stew and Annie Arepas’s warm cornbread cakes more than they like his tacos? When more trucks arrive the following day and there’s no space left for Little Taco Truck, he swishes his wipers to hide his tears and heads home. At last, with some ingenuity and help from new friends, Little Taco Truck wins back his coveted parking spot. And guess what? There is room enough for everyone!

Packed with flavor and savory smells, this irresistible read-aloud about friendship and determination is perfect for even the youngest truck and taco fans.

Author Tanya Valentine, Biography –

Tanya ValentineTanya Valentine is an active member of SCBWI and The Atlanta Writer’s Club. She is the author of All Bears Need Love, a picture book about interracial adoption, and Little Taco Truck, an irresistible read-aloud about friendship and determination.

Her dream food truck would offer every single kind of Italian food. It would be amazing. And enormous. S

he lives in Atlanta with her husband, two kids, one cat and a turtle.

Find out more about Tanya –

Website

Twitter

Illustrator Jorge Martin, Biography –

Jorge-Martin-220x220Jorge Martin is the author and illustrator of I’m Hungry and the illustrator of A Cat Is Better by Linda Joy Singleton.

His perfect food truck would serve Spanish omelets – made with eggs, potato, and onion. Simply delicious!

He has traveled and lived around the world. After more than a decade in London, and has now returned to his native country and lives in a tiny hamlet in northern rural Spain, population twenty.

Find out more about Jorge –

Website

Instagram

Thanks for reading! I was given a media review copy of Little Taco Truck by the publisher but this is my honest review.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Children and Family

Review: The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino Brings Love and Drama Circa 19th Century NYC and Irish Immigrants #histfic #histnov #lgbt

The Parting Glass, Historical Fiction Review –

Parting Glass Cover

With St. Patrick’s day not long behind us, and it still being women in history month, I have a review of the recently released The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino, which features Irish-American characters. Last week, I posted an interview HERE on the site with the author as well, which will give you more insight into her book and the processes to her publishing it. I’d suggest going back and reading that if you haven’t after you take in this review. I believe the author is currently in Ireland, so I can’t wait what she uncovers to write about next.

The Parting Glass is the new debut historical fiction novel from Gina Marie Guadagnino and published by Atria set in 19th century New York City. It delves into themes of Irish-American immigrant life, and worth nothing in my own quest to support inclusivity in art, that it has LGBTQ+ themes in regards to featuring lesbian characters.

Generally I don’t often think there is a reason to single out the sexual orientation of characters, but since it’s an historical time period as well as a deep part of the characters and their interactions with each other and the times, I think it’s important to identify it as a key part of her work. It’s been called reminiscent of Sarah Waters, and I agree to some degree, because she handles her characters with great emotion and care.

Mary Ballard is an Irish handmaiden who falls in love with the lady she assists, who happens to be herself in a forbidden-type of tryst with the Irish brother of Ballard, who works in the stables. Yep, cue drama. Mostly for Mary Ballard, whose heart pines to frustration. It’s forbidden (what? all of it) in the 19th century, of course, in an upstairs/downstairs sort of way first of all, as Ballard and her brother are hired help, and Charlotte Walden is aristocracy living in Washington Square (the area of the rich who hired low-wage labor). The lesbianism would be frowned upon too, but that’s the heart-wrenching part too, as it’s unrequited love. Cue more angst in here.

Also racism is heavy at work during this time period, though it’s coming to the tail end of it (kinda? I think it’s still going on now), so the climax is heated as the Nativists and the No Nothing Party spew hatred against Catholics, Irish, immigrats as a whole. There is also a lot of corruption and gangs. That’s why some people liken this to part Gangs of New York. I get that.

Guadagnino has done a tremendous amount of research and it shows in her writing, which is beautiful and captivating both. Her historical details are plenty and give a solid foundation for the story to unfold and the well-developed characters to flourish. The best developed was Mary of course, both sides of her personalities as you’ll come to read, but Charlotte needed some work to not be sterile (even if high society ladies may have seemed so at the time, she was rebelling and have sex with the stable hand – his character also ignited by the fact he is leading an Irish gang).

Given the lush and vivid descriptions of this area of NYC, it’s obvious Guadagnino knows, loves, and has researched the history of it extensively. The setting is a marvelous backdrop for which the story unfolds with some twists and turns amid the drama. I truly enjoyed the imagery she presented to the reader with her engaging prose.

In wearing my editor’s hat, I’ll note that though it was clean, lush, descriptive, and a dramatic, enjoyable read, it does what so many traditionally published debut historical fiction books do, and that’s possibly try to do too much and not be able to wrap up all the intertwining plots quickly enough by the ending page count a publisher wants. It could have been strictly a romance or a strictly a take on the Irish immigrant issue of the day, because there was enough plot to both. If I was to offer suggestions, I’d have played up the latter and toned down the romance and the focus on the maid living this dual life, or picked one or the other of the sister and brother to focus on. But that is just a small suggestion in the whole scheme of the book.

If you want a 19th century romp in NYC, with drama among the class system, a woman’s journey to self, and a lesson in Irish immigrants and their plight, this book will be a steamy and interesting read for you. Guadagnino definitely knows her Irish-American history and culture and how it intertwined with others in this time and place. Her love of NYC is undeniable. There aren’t many historical fiction books out there that I know of that use the Irish-American culture in their narratives and I am glad to see her rise to the occasion as there are so many stories to tell and create!

Highly recommended as a unique, cultural yet entertaining read that will tug at your heart strings and leave you breathless by the end.

The Parting Glass, Information –

Parting Glass CoverPub date: March 5, 2019
Publisher: Atria
Hardcover; $26.00
ISBN: 978-1501198410

Will a brother and sister’s steadfast vow withstand their wild devotion to the same woman? THE PARTING GLASS, a tempestuous nineteenth century love triangle threatens all that one secretive servant holds dear, is Gina Marie Guadagnino’s lush and evocative debut.

Posing as a lady’s maid in 1837 New York City, Maire O’Farren must tread carefully. The upper echelons of society despise the Irish and Maire, known to her employers only as Mary Ballard, takes great care to conceal her native lilt and lineage. Nor would the household be pleased with a servant who aids her debutante’s midnight assignations with a stable groom. Least of all would they tolerate a maid who takes a stronger liking to her charge than would be deemed entirely suitable for her sex.

Maire tends to wealthy young heiress Charlotte Walden’s every whim and guards her every secret. Though it pains her, Maire even delivers her brother Seanin to her beloved’s bed each Thursday night, before shedding her clandestine persona and finding release from her frustration in the gritty underworld around Washington Square. Despite her grief, Maire soon attracts the attentions of irreverent and industrious prostitute Liddie Lawrence, who soothes Maire’s body and distracts her burning heart.

As an English baron and a red-blooded American millionaire vie for Charlotte’s affections, Seanin makes calculated moves of his own, adopting the political aspirations of his drinking companions and grappling with the cruel boundaries of class and nationality. As Seanin rises in rank in a secret society and the truth of both women’s double lives begin to unravel, Charlotte’s secrets soon grow so dangerous even Maire cannot keep them. Forced to choose between loyalty to her brother or to her lady, between respectable society or true freedom, Maire finally learns that her fate lies in her hands alone.

Deeply researched and finely rendered, THE PARTING GLASS captures the delicate exuberance of nineteenth century high society, while examining sexuality, race, and social class in ways that feel startlingly familiar and timely. Perfect for fans of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith and Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin, Guadagnino’s captivating upstairs/downstairs historical fiction debut will leave readers breathless.

Gina Marie Guadagnino, Biography –

Gina Marie Guadagnino Author Photo by L.M. PaneGina Marie Guadagnino received a BA in English from New York University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School.

Her work has appeared in the Morris-Jumel Mansion Anthology of Fantasy and Paranormal FictionMixed Up: Cocktail Recipes (and Flash Fiction) for the Discerning Drinker (and Reader).

She lives in New York City with her family.

Praise for The Parting Glass

Downton Abbey meets Gangs of New York in this darkly compelling debut. A claustrophobic love triangle of stifled desire and class warfare plays out to deadly, devastating effect. A gem of a novel to be inhaled in one gulp.” —Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of THE ALICE NETWORK

“Knotted thickly with secrets both fervid and calculating, to read THE PARTING GLASS is to enter a jungle of passions and lies. Immaculately researched and gorgeously written, this book is noteworthy for its grasp of the agony caused by hiding cracks in the human heart. A thoughtful, lyrical, sensuous, moving tour-de-force.” —Lyndsay Faye, author of JANE STEELE

Purchase –

Amazon

Add –

GoodReads

Enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Uncategorized, women in history

Review: Inspiring Children’s Picture Book ANOTHER by Caldecott Honoree Christian Robinson

Children’s Picture Book Review:
Another by Caldecott Honoree Christian Robinson

Another cover

When we received a review copy of Another, a new picture book by Christian Robinson in the mail from Simon and Schuster, my fifteen-year-old daughter Emma with me, we were instantly struck by the unique and colorful cover. We couldn’t wait to show my eleven-year-old daughter too! I understand that the ages of my children probably aren’t in the normal target range, but I’ve been a children’s book lover all my own adult life since I was little and have passed this love onto my own children. Not only are we collectors, but we like to recommend to elementary schools, libraries, and others buying for young children leaning on our life long experiences. Also, Emma loves art and illustration, so she loves looking at it from that perspective with me.

The next thing we noticed was that it’s a picture book with no words! The art was so pleasantly creative and inspiring that no words were needed, however. Emma and I both found that we could talk about the story’s progression on each page and give our own thoughts and comments to each other. This makes it a great read along book perfect for looking at with young children and asking thought-provoking or critical thinking questions to spur the imagination. I’ve always believed this to be important in the growth of young brains. Their own ability to form opinions and thoughts at a young age help them with life-long decision-making skills.

The story flowed so well, because Robinson draws with motion and fluidity in mind. It’s a full-size picture book but if it was in small form, it could almost be like one of those flip books in which the movement makes it animated. You can certainly tell his animator experience shining though. I believe this also helps keep the book moving even though there are no words. We can see the story popping off the page in front of you without need of script. The personalities of the young girl and the cat jumps clearly out to us. Energy, excitement, and exploration ooze off the page to readers. We found ourselves smiling at each page.

AnotherPubDate

This will appeal to children who love adventure or children whose home lives dictate imagination be their way to survival. This endeared me greatly to the book. The themes within this book of your life having a parallel one – a new world in which you can see your life or yourself differently and a new place where you can see all new things and new people. I really liked how in the pages showcasing the meeting of others, he took the care to draw those of other religions or with disabilities because you’ll meet them everywhere. A perfect parallel world where people are happy still contains all sort of people living their lives.

I am a person who really loves bright colors and I thoroughly enjoyed the colors he utilized and his style and use of colorful dots, from in the girl’s hair to the other uses scattered throughout. It really made the book feel fun. I also love his cat! I have my own black and white cat, and so it reminded my daughter and I of our very own curious and mischievous cat. The best way my daughter described his style, was “cute.” And I agree. The book/art reminded me a lot of my own childhood growing up watching Sesame Street or Reading Rainbow and then passing on those traditions to my own children.

Overall, my daughter and I loved looking and talking about this book together. I think it will be a favorite on our shelves. As a former librarian, bookseller of children’s books, and mother of three, I have no hesitation to suggest this for use in reading with children in an environment that will help them learn and grow through the use of their own words. We even loved the end inside cover interior art (and the back cover photo) of the solar system/stars and the girl in the story (and cat) looking through the telescope. I can only hope that possibly he creates a second book in which she looking into, and instead of crawling through the dream hole as in this book, takes off for outer space.

Thank you to Christian Robinson for not only creating this wonderful book but for the half an hour precious moment he gave me with my teenage daughter that made us both feel like she was young again (and that I was too). It’s obviously created for a younger target market in mind, and will work well presented to them with discussion, but it can make all ages happy. His art and story is inspiring and Another will be a timeless classic. I look forward to seeing what Robison does in the future!

Another cover

ANOTHER by Christian Robinson, an eagerly anticipated debut as an author-illustrator from a Caldecott and Coretta Scott King honoree. Allow Christian Robinson to bring you on a playful, imaginative journey into another world.

What if you…

Encountered another perspective?

Discovered another world?

Met another you?

 What might you do?

 Recipient of four starred reviews, School Library Journal calls it “both beautiful and fanciful… a work of art and celebration of childhood.”

★ “A work of art and celebration of childhood for all libraries.”
— School Library Journal, starred review

★ “Robinson’s work comes alive in this expanse of wordless narrative.”
— Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ “An adventure that will both puzzle and amuse.”
— Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ “smart, sly, and imaginative”
— Horn Book, starred review

Purchase Links –

IndieBound

Amazon

Christian Robinson, Biography –

Christian RobinsonChristian Robinson was born in Hollywood, California, in 1986. He grew up in a small one-bedroom apartment with his brother, two cousins, aunt, and grandmother. Drawing became a way to make space for himself and to create the kind of world he wanted to see.

He studied animation at The California Institute of the Arts and would later work with the Sesame Street Workshop and Pixar Animation Studios before becoming an illustrator of books for children.

His books include Gaston and Antoinette, written by Kelly DiPucchio, and the #1 New York Times bestseller Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña, which was awarded the Caldecott Honor, the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, and the Newbery Medal.

He presently lives in Northern California with his rescue greyhound Baldwin and several houseplants. He looks forward to one day seeing the Aurora Borealis. Visit him online at TheArtofFun.com, Twitter, or on Instagram.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Children and Family

Interview: Sonora Taylor Open Up About Themes in Novel Without Condition #WIHMX #HookonWiHM

Hi Sonora, and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so glad you’ve joined me, and I look forward to talking to you today. I know we are both “foodies” and so if you brought some Duck Donuts or some Georgetown Cupcakes from D.C., I’ll make the enchiladas for lunch. It’s freezing here so let’s whip out the coffee with something a bit stronger, like rum or Kahlua, or I bet you even know something better because you are always giving me tips about the good stuff…?

Sonora: Thanks for having me over! I did indeed bring some donuts, but – not to be that local – I thought you might enjoy these cupcakes from Baked and Wired a little bit more. I also brought pupusas, and yes, load me up on some rum and coffee (though I take no responsibility for what I start saying after a couple drinks).

Erin: I had Georgetown Cupcakes a month ago when I was in D.C.(yummy!), but my son actually recommended we go to Baked and Wired next time – which sounds divine!!A girl after my own heart with the rum and coffee. And pupusas! We’re in trouble.

pupusa-lunch

Pupusas for lunch – we are doing this in person next time! For now, we’ll imagine. Thanks for the photo Sonora! Pupusas with tamale, rice, beans, and spicy slaw from El Rinconcito in D.C. Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Let’s settle in at the table and watch the snow pile up around us while we warm our bellies with food and spirits and our mind with conversation. Let’s get started! I recently had the pleasure of reading your first horror novel (though I know you’ve written shorter horror works) called Without Condition, which features a young, female serial killer as the lead. Can you tell the readers about it in your own words?

Sonora: Absolutely. The elevator pitch version is that Without Condition is about a serial killer navigating through her first relationship. In a bit more detail, it’s about a young woman named Cara Vineyard who lives with her mother on a former pumpkin farm in rural North Carolina. She works at a brewery during the day and drives her truck at night. Sometimes on those drives, she’ll pick men up – which usually means those men will die. Her life gets complicated, though, when she meets and falls for a man named Jackson. As they grow closer, Cara isn’t sure he’ll feel the same way about her if he discovers all of her secrets.

Without-Condition-Cover.jpg

Erin: Readers can read my review of Without Condition HERE. Your story deals with a lot of themes, one of them being children who come of age into adults holding onto the feelings they had from being ignored, bullied, or isolated in their formative years from fellow students or sometimes family. Why did you decide to use this topic as your propellant for revenge?

Sonora: It was a motivation for Cara that made sense to me, and something that I think many of us deal with in varying capacities. I think we sometimes take for granted the sticking power of bad experiences in childhood, especially things like bullying, name-calling, or being dismissed by teachers. It’s often ignored unless it gets physical, or else not taken care of until it’s too late and already well-settled in. In Cara’s case, it’s so settled in that, when she doesn’t have those external sources of bullying or anger, she still feels their effects and hears them as if they’re still happening.

I wanted Cara’s back story to both be realistic and not rooted in what we usually see with fictional women who kill. Two of the most tired tropes I see for women doing bad things are either revenge for being raped or assaulted (is it still considered fridging if it applies to motivating the woman?), or else vengeance on behalf of a child or partner. I won’t lie, when I was doing research on female serial killers for the book, I was actually a bit disappointed to see that one of the most common motivations was assisting their boyfriends or husbands. Don’t know what that says about me!

But in all seriousness, I felt like the bullying and Cara’s inability to let go were realistic motivators that readers would recognize; and while I don’t think it’s an excuse for Cara’s killing, it’s an explanation that, for some readers, may be scarily close to home.

Erin: Another theme presents about parenting in broken homes, children who don’t know their fathers, and abandonment issues that young people sometimes deal with – how did you form your character’s personality to identify with these themes and why? Do you feel your protagonist’s lack of father turned her against men?

Sonora: I looked at it mostly as how Cara grew up being used to loneliness, worrying that the people she cares about may disappear, and the quiet urge for something a little bit more than what she knows – all of which play some part in how she turned out, both for better and for worse. The male family figures in her life were both like fathers and yet they disappeared early on. She doesn’t remember her great uncle, but she still gets the sense that he’s missing. She remembers her great uncle’s friend Terry a lot more because he played the role of a father figure and friend, then disappeared.

Men in Cara’s life seem to provide her with calmer, more stable relationships; but their ends are more of a disruption to her than what she encounters with women. Her friends in school are mostly boys, and it’s when boys start gossiping about her that she becomes both angry and hurt; while girls picking on her was more of a constant prickle (much like her relationship with her mother).

I think Cara’s actions against men are based more on feeling betrayed by the men she’s known and loved than from her lack of father. Cara wants to know who her father is, but because she’s never known him and Delores never talks about him, he’s not really a missing figure to her the way Terry is. I also can’t say Cara would’ve turned out differently if her father were around. Even if in some alternate universe where her father was in her life – be it in the same house or just with frequent visitation – he would’ve floated in and out of her life and not been as close to her as Cara is with her mother. Neither Cara’s desire to wander nor her love of driving come from Delores.

shoebox-drawing-wc

Illustration for Without Condition. Artwork by Doug Puller.

 

Erin: From your protagonist’s mother to her boyfriend, themes of unconditional love abound in this story, even sometimes when to a reader it shouldn’t. What ideas were you hoping to bring to the table about love as your implemented this into your book?

Sonora: I wanted to explore the idea of what it means to love someone unconditionally even when they’re doing things they shouldn’t be doing, namely with parental love and romantic love. Whenever I hear about a serial killer, there’s almost always someone that still loves them even when their crimes are laid out. Mothers defend their children who are on trial, women write letters or stand by their men when accused, etc. I’m both appalled and fascinated by this, and while Without Condition isn’t a direct response to that, it was certainly influenced by that.

I also thought it’d be interesting to explore that from the perspective of the person receiving that love, and what unconditional love means to them. Cara is not entirely devoid of feelings, and though she’s put up a shield to keep herself from feeling vulnerable, she still wants things like friendship (granted on her terms), approval, and love. What I found interesting about her as I wrote, though, is that she doesn’t really crave or strive for those things with friends and family, but she does with Jackson. This in turn scares her not just because of what she has to hide, but because she’s not used to feeling this way around another person. Falling in love is a unique experience from other relationships, and in a dark way, I found it kind of fun to examine that fear so many of us have when falling in love, but through the eyes of someone who actually has something terrible to hide.

Erin: In part of my review back to you I said that the book was like if King’s Carrie had gone on to become a serial killer and lived a backwoods country life. That initially went back to the being bullied in high school theme, but talk about revenge and why you decided to make your novel revolve around it?

Sonora: In certain lights, revenge can be seen as the result of not being able to let go. The book explores Cara’s inability – both voluntary and involuntary – to let go of the grievances she’s accumulated over the years. It gets to the point where her anger is so much a part of her that, when the sources of her anger disappear or leave her alone, she feels lost. Her response, then, is to almost relish it when she’s provoked or angry again. It’s both sad and dangerous, especially for the people she chooses to take that anger out on. She sees her victims as a means to an end, and it’s an ending that doesn’t ever seem to really come – much like the mental torment she feels from her experiences in school.

nc-beers

From Sonora: A collection of beer I picked up on my last trip to Asheville. Papa’s Secret Brewing – the company Without Condition protagonist Cara works for – is fictional, but North Carolina’s beer scene is thriving. Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Erin: Speaking of backwoods country life, your novel takes place in a small, rural town of North Carolina. How do you describe what it’s like there both visually and within the personalities of the people? Why do you feel your protagonist didn’t fit in?

Sonora: Leslie, a fictional town in North Carolina, is on the outskirts of the outskirts of Raleigh. It’s not entirely farmland – there are small strip malls and a few restaurants that one would consider the downtown area – but the places of business tend to be off the side of the main road and surrounded by trees; and while everyone doesn’t know everyone else, most everyone knows of most everyone else. As such, while Cara and her mother aren’t incredibly active members of the community, Cara was known when she showed up for the first day of school – and unfortunately, she was known mostly by vicious rumors about her mother that were the result of Delores coming to live in Leslie when she was single, seventeen, and pregnant.

Because Cara spent most of her formative years on Vineyard Farm with her mother and Terry, she doesn’t really know how to respond to new people saying mean things to her right away. And because she’s used to being alone, it’s easier for her to retreat and give up on trying to make friends than to try and win over people. I think that, combined with her being blunt and acerbic, all make it harder for her to fit in. Her default is distrust, and in such a small and quiet town, it’s hard to escape what the few people there think of you – especially when what they think has taken permanent residence in your mind.

cox-mountain-trail

Cox Mountain trail, which is outside of Chapel Hill and Durham in North Carolina (and about 90 minutes from  my protagonist Cara’s hometown of Leslie). Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Erin: Your protagonist’s mother was also an interesting supporting character. How did you create her personality and what would her back story be like? Have you thought of writing a prequel using the mother’s life?

Sonora: I haven’t thought of a writing a prequel, but that would be interesting! Delores was often a tough nut to crack because, as you’ll see in the book, she doesn’t like to talk about herself or her past. It was actually pretty challenging to write her scenes with Cara because she’d usually either clam up or go on offense. I can see where Cara got her tendency to give up on people rather than dealing with their shit. As damaging as that is for both Cara and Delores, I do feel sorry for Delores. As she alludes to in the book, she didn’t feel loved in her family home. She lived with both her parents and three brothers, and the nicest thing she got from any of them was indifference. Her uncle Leo was the only relative who treated her like family, so she saw Vineyard Farm as a sanctuary from everything she hated about her home. I think Delores assumed that Cara would feel the same way about Vineyard Farm, and thus, would never want to leave the farm or her. But Cara isn’t Delores.

chimney-rock-nc

Mountaintop view of Chimney Rock, North Carolina; which is outside of Asheville (and about an hour or so from Without Condition character Jackson’s hometown of Pinesboro). Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Erin: The femme fatale in literature is almost supernatural, though your character is only into murder and doesn’t have powers. How fun was it to spin the serial killer motif into a modern-day femme fatale that no one would expect? What were your challenges in creating her? What did you feel your successes were while writing it?

Sonora: It was challenging to write a serial killer anti-heroine that felt so little remorse for what she does. Usually when you see a killer protagonist, they’re conflicted about what they do. They see killing as something they’re forced to do, something that’s just a job, something they do to pay a debt, etc. This does not apply to Cara. To her, killing is as natural a way to blow off steam as driving her truck, smoking, or taking a few deep breaths. I kept her this way because honestly, I found the absurdity of this, of her kills taking the same spot in her mind as making a mental note to buy cigarettes, to be darkly funny. But, I also found this made for a scarier narrative. She doesn’t care that she’s killing people beyond basic things like hoping the cops don’t find the bodies. She doesn’t even begin to care until she meets Jackson, and even then, it’s in the context of worrying she’ll lose him, not because of any sudden moral awakening.

This also presented a challenge, though, in asking both myself and readers to care about Cara for the duration of the narrative despite this lack of remorse. I wanted to do this, but without creating so much sympathy that it seemed what she’s doing is okay, or romanticizing serial killers or anything like that. I wanted understanding for what motivates her to kill, and I wanted her to be interesting in the context of her actions being scary, being unsettling, and being the result of failings around her as well as her own shortcomings. I think I was successful in that, but ultimately, it’s all in how readers read it – and every reader is different!

maple-view-truck

Truck outside of dairy farm in Orange County, N.C., much like Cara drives, even though she lives on a pumpkin farm. Photo by Sonora Taylor.

 
Erin: I have to say I didn’t really “like” Cara at all, but understood her and felt she was in complete development at the same time.

It seems Valentine’s week was the perfect week to release this book. Did you plan that? Haha! Should men buy this for their girlfriends? I’m just kidding. Did you do fun plans for promotion? I think that you should give away a free knife with each order by a woman. 😉

Sonora: I did plan that! I admit I was feeling a little mischievous by planning to promote it as “perfect for Valentine’s Day,” though really, Cara and Jackson’s relationship is pretty romantic. Plus, the book has some pretty hot sex in it, if I say so myself. There’s one scene in there that was so steamy, I started singing “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” to myself, ha ha.  I also consider it to be both horror and romance (with coming-of-age for good measure), since romantic love is the driving force for a lot of the things both Cara and Jackson go through.

Men should totally buy this for their girlfriends, or boyfriends. Women should buy it for their boyfriends or girlfriends. Everyone should buy it for everyone. Buy my book! (Okay Erin, you may want to cut me off from the rum-and-coffees).

I think a free knife would be too expensive – er, I mean, too dangerous to give out. But maybe I’ll send some paperback copies in a shoebox. Maybe as a Mother’s Day promotion. Heh heh.

Erin: As a mom, I am not sure how I feel about that promotion!! haha!

I know you also had a short story in the anthology from 2018 called Quoth the Raven, which was stories in homage to Edgar Allan Poe. What is the name of it and what’s it about? Did it model any Poe story? I was excited to see this anthology make the preliminary ballot for the Stoker Award!

Sonora: My story is called “Hearts are Just ‘Likes.’” It’s about an Instagram influencer who thrives on being seen online, but must reconcile that with having to hide the fact that she’s murdered her boyfriend. It’s a modern version of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I like that story because all of the horror is inside the narrator’s paranoid mind, and most of that paranoia comes from the fear of being seen. Social media has created almost a new form of paranoia, a willing placement of ourselves into Foucault’s panopticon where we feel we must perform our lives in the context of having it be presentable to whoever’s watching us online. I thought that was a perfect state of mind to explore for a modern retelling of a Poe classic.

Quoth the Raven was actually my first acceptance ever. I was so thrilled, not just for the acceptance, but because I adore Poe and was really happy to be included in such a fun and unique tribute to him.

I too was excited to see Quoth the Raven on the preliminary ballot, and not just because I’m in the anthology. It’s a wonderful collection – I was so impressed with all of the stories. Strictly as a reader, I highly recommend it!

Quoth the Raven

Erin: I love “Tell-Tale Heart!” One of the stories in my own collection had inspiration slightly from it. Of course I love Poe. Your story sounds amazing – and that’s so true, about the online world.

What is your favorite Edgar Allan Poe short story of all time and why?

Sonora: “Hop Frog,” because it’s the only Poe story that scared me so much that I almost couldn’t sleep after I read it. It’s actually very hard for a book to scare me. Audio and visuals are more effective, and even then, it doesn’t really linger unless it’s a combination of immediate scares and chilling moods. So, when text manages to scare me, it holds a special place in my heart. The ending of “Hop Frog,” (*spoiler alert*) where the protagonist commits a murder right in front of everyone and they have no idea … hoo, I got the willies just remembering it, and I haven’t read the story in almost 20 years.

Erin: What were some of your favorite books you read in 2018 overall (can be any genre!) and what are some by women in horror?

Sonora: My favorite book I read in 2018 was Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee. It’s about two sisters, one of whom is bipolar. The story is told from many points of view: the sister with bipolar disorder, the sister who is also her caregiver, and two of the afflicted sister’s boyfriends. It did a really good job showing the toll of mental illness on the person afflicted, the caregiver, and the people who love them; but without malice or lack of dignity. I highly recommend it.

Everything Here is Beautiful

I also loved Educated by Tara Westover. We read it for my office’s book club. At first, we were all kind of reluctant (we go by PBS’s book club recommendations so we always have an objective third party choosing the book), but most of us ended up being floored by the book. Westover has an amazing talent for writing about the horrors of her upbringing without writing them as horror. She doesn’t tell you how to feel or, really, how she feels beyond what she felt in that moment.

I also enjoyed Whiskey and Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith. It elegantly weaves points-of-view and time periods to tell a story about new love and lost love, all with beautiful prose.

I did read some women in horror too! I read Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado early in the year. I liked the collection a lot, and find her writing and ideas to be fascinating. My favorite story in the collection was “Inventories.” I also enjoyed My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite; and The Vegetarian by Han Kang.

Erin: Just coming in recently to the horror genre, how do you feel in regard to the treatment or level of support of women in horror, both from women and men both, since it’s women in horror month? What is positive and what can everyone do better?

Sonora: I feel like it’s getting better for sure, but there is still a sense of “Oh yeah, her too” when it comes to thinking about women in horror. A lot of times when people are asked about favorite and/or great horror writers, people will automatically list men – King, Barker, etc. – and then pause and think before adding women (I admit I’ve been guilty of this too). It’s unfortunately the product of a culture that promotes white, straight, cisgendered men as the default or universal; with all others as their own genre. My gender isn’t a genre. What I write is a genre (and many genres at that).

But on a positive note, it’s definitely better; especially online and in the independent scene. I’ve loved being introduced to so many talented women horror authors online that I never would’ve found on my own: Christa Carmen, Loren Rhoads, Tiffany Michelle Brown, Larissa Glasser, and you, Erin; just to name a few! I also see both women and men promoting each other online, which is nice.

One thing I think everyone can do better is reading more women and people of color. I feel really disheartened when I scroll through Goodreads and I see friends reading man after man, or white man after white man, or white man after white woman … you get the gist. Expand! There are so many voices out there in every genre, and with the access that the Internet, independent publishing, and self-publishing have all provided to reading so many more voices, we have a great opportunity to do so.

WiHMX-horizontal-Black

Erin: Happy to have met you too, thank you! I look forward to checking out some of your past short story collections. What writing plans do you have for 2019? What are your goals to make that happen?

Sonora: I’m planning to release another short story collection, a longer one than my last two. I’ve written some longer pieces and I’ve also written a lot of flash over the past year. Right now, the collection is called Little Paranoias: Stories. I have three works-in-progress left for the collection, and I want to finish them by May so I have time to read over everything one more time before sending them all to my editor in June.

Once that’s out for edits, I’ll either work on some more short fiction or, hopefully, get cracking on my next novel. I have some ideas that are percolating, but I’m not going to start it until my short stories are done.

my-books

The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Erin: I know you like to travel, see sites, and have fun in the world from going to NYC and Hershey Park this year to a past trip to Prince Edward Island. What is your top choice to travel to that was/is the home and/or museum of a famous author? Why?

Sonora: I had to rack my brain about this a bit because I don’t usually pick travel destinations based on writers! But in thinking about it … I’d actually love to visit Omaha, Nebraska; home of Rainbow Rowell. I like reading her descriptions of the downtown area. I also want to visit because one of my favorite chefs, Isa Chandra Moscowitz, has a restaurant there called Modern Love.

If you don’t mind me sharing a quick aside – this past summer, my husband and I went to Dublin. We visited the Writer’s Museum, and they have a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, along with notes and other books by him. I completely fangirled in the museum (quietly, of course). James Joyce who? I’m here for Dracula!

first-edition-dracula

From Sonora: The first edition of Dracula by Bram Stoker. I might’ve squealed a little bit when I saw it – it’s one of my favorite books! Photo by Sonora Taylor

bram-stoker

Bram Stoker Display at the Writer’s Museum in Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Erin: That’s amazing! I’m looking forward to visiting the Poe Museum in Baltimore!

What favorite foods and/or drinks make you write, and which makes you go into a coma? Haha!

Sonora: I don’t eat when I write, which my stomach hates, ha ha. I wrote a good portion of Without Condition before work in the morning, so I always had breakfast after writing – and I specifically craved whole wheat toast with Earth Balance and Trader Joe’s pink grapefruit marmalade on writing days. Just thinking about that breakfast makes me think I should be writing the book!

I usually just drink water when I write. I don’t follow the Hemingway rule of “write drunk, edit sober,” mostly because I’m getting old and being drunk means falling asleep. I have found that re-reading my work while buzzed makes me less of a harsh critic, so maybe that should be reversed?

Baked macaroni and cheese puts me into a coma, but a delicious, melty, bread crumb-topped coma; so it’s worth it. I make a delicious pumpkin macaroni and cheese in the fall.

Erin: Ugh! First of all, there is no Trader Joe’s near me, but next time there is I’m getting that marmalade. Also, mac and cheese for the high five! I had that last night haha! But adding pumpkin…mmm…I’ll have to try that this Fall.

Tell us where everyone can connect with you at below. I enjoyed first getting to know you doing the monthly Ladies in Horror Photo Prompt Challenge. I think so many more ladies should do that – it keeps the writing flow going! If you want to share any of your links from that, feel free to do so below too.

Sonora: I love the prompt challenge too! It’s great for creativity, as getting a picture prompt each month challenges me and gets me out of my comfort zone. It’s also a great way to discover new authors every month. You can find my collected stories so far right here.

I’m also all over the place online, though I’m most active on Twitter and Instagram. Give me a follow, especially if, in addition to writing and books, you like hockey, beer, and/or jokes.

Website

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

Goodreads

Erin: I think you forgot food and travel, which are things that drew me to you outside of our writing interests!

me-giants-causeway

Sonora looking out over the water at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Photo provided by Sonora Taylor.

Thank you SO much for coming over and hanging out with me. I think this lunch is in the coma category, not the energy for writing one. Let’s sit back and hang out with another cup of coffee. I look forward to seeing where your writing takes you in the future!

Sonora: Thank you for having me! This was all delicious, both the food and the conversation. I’ll definitely take another cup of coffee, though maybe I’ll skip the rum on this one.

Erin: Never enough rum, Sonora!

About Without Condition

Without-Condition-CoverCara Vineyard lives a quiet life in rural North Carolina. She works for an emerging brewery, drives her truck late at night, and lives with her mother on a former pumpkin farm. Her mother is proud of her and keeps a wall displaying all of Cara’s accomplishments.

Cara isn’t so much proud as she is bored. She’s revitalized when she meets Jackson Price, a pharmacist in Raleigh. Every day they spend together, she falls for him a little more — which in turn makes her life more complicated. When Cara goes on her late-night drives, she often picks up men. Those men tend to die. And when Cara comes back to the farm, she brings a memento for her mother to add to her wall of accomplishments.

Cara’s mother loves her no matter what. But she doesn’t know if Jackson will feel the same — and she doesn’t want to find out.

Purchase Without Condition on Amazon

Read the first chapter, “Dead End,” in Issue 42 of The Sirens Call

Shelve Without Condition on Goodreads

Sonora Taylor, Biography –

sonora-taylor-2Sonora Taylor I the author of The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes’,” was published in Camden Park Press’s Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Her work has also been published in The Sirens Call, a bi-monthly horror eZine; and Mercurial Stories, a weekly flash fiction literary journal. Her second novel, Without Condition, release February 12, 2019. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband.

Follow Sonora on Facebook | Follow Sonora on Twitter

Follow Sonora on Goodreads | Follow Sonora on Instagram

Contact Sonora

 

3 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, HookonWiHM, women in horror

Hooked on Reading: 35 Favorite Books I Read in 2018! #amreading

Over 35 Favorite Books I Read in 2018!

Better late than never is my new motto. Plus, hey, it’s still in the first quarter. I wanted to post a list of some books as reading recommendations I read and really liked in 2018. I discovered after the fact that 30 are by women! It’s not a “best of” list, as with my work and home schedule I didn’t nearly have enough time to read all the books I wanted to in order to do a proper comparison, but a best of what I personally read.

My Best Books 2018 final

When I did read in 2018, it often was books I was editing or a publicity client’s book, and so, you’ll see none of those on this list because I think it’s more ethical to not include books you might have made any money with by association. I am sad to not include some, but I feel it’s the right call. I don’t want to be perceived in offering any bias. These are books I sought out for my own reading interest or pleasure that I really liked (but that’s not to say that books I worked with and/or on this year are not some of my favorites I’ve read from the year either) or were anticipated ARCS.

There were many books I know are worthy or I know I’d have loved if I’d only had time to get to them, but that doesn’t mean I won’t read them in 2019. Also there are some books I started in 2018 but finished in 2019 so they won’t be on this list. Some of the titles below were not published in 2018, but I simply read them then. Therefore, it’s a list of favorite books I read in 2018. It shows you that I have a wide array of interests; I am very happy and proud of the fact that I read widely, cross-genre, both trad pubs and indie, and with diversity and inclusion in mind. To me, this only helps my own writing and editing and allows me to bring much more insight to the writing work I do with others.

One more note, because I am sure some will wonder why there aren’t more indie titles and that’s because I work so much in the horror genre in editing and publicity that I did read quite a few, I just can’t list them, as I said before. Also, there are indie and trad published books that just simply didn’t make the list. If a book didn’t grab me in the first five pages this year, I didn’t pick it up again. I didn’t have time. Also, keep in mind I read book submissions, beta read books, read books prior to and while editing, and read almost 600 short story and poetry submissions for an anthology project as well this year – most all of that horror. So while I read horror, I read so much of it in other ways, I switched gears in some of my pleasure reading (and I was sent very little straight horror ARCS as I am in other genres – go figure?). Though I love fantasy and sci-fi as well, I wasn’t able to read much of it this year due to time.

Some of these favorites below were given to me as ARCS, especially in the historical fiction genre, some were titles I found in trad magazines or watched the buzz about and requested from my library, maybe some I bought. Any print ARCS I am given usually find preference and I understand I still have plenty in my pile that I didn’t get to this year – many I truly want to read. Several I was given at the end of the year and have since read, but that will be January 2019 and the reviews are to come. I’ve switched and organized my schedule to hopefully begin to be more caught up on ARCS this year and be responsive to others, but work, my own writing career, and family always comes first. Please don’t fault me for reading a few books for my own pleasure here and there too (and yes, I ask this, because people do say stuff). I was sad this year I didn’t have more time for reading, but I managed to squeeze in some during insomnia, waiting in the car or other places for my children, or on weekends. I just didn’t have time to type up reviews for all as when you work for yourself time is money. This year one of my goals is to get up more reviews in a timely fashion!

Now that I hopefully have all the disclaimers out of the way, here are some books and collections I enjoyed in 2018:

Horror/Thriller/Fantasy

the-Chalk-ManThe Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor – I read this debut thriller shortly after it came out, mostly because these types of thrillers are some of my personal go-to books when I want some entertainment. This one was getting a lot of positive buzz. I highly enjoyed it and read it in one night. I was captivated throughout and she surprised me in the end.

The-HungerThe Hunger Alma Katsu – I’ve liked Alma’s work for a LONG while, probably before most people in my circles knew her name. I highly anticipated The Hunger, due to it having several factors that make me raise my hand: history, extreme cases in history, and survival. I’m primarily an historical fiction reader, so couple that with my next love of horror, and I’m happy. Alma’s writing is so professional, clean, and interesting. I loved the complexity about it. I highly recommend for fellow fans of Dan Simmons.

MelmothMelmoth by Sarah Perry – I just loved the description of this next book by Perry (the follow-up, but not linked, to The Essex Serpent) and so it was on my highly anticipated list. Perry is a very skilled writer and I love the intertwining of so many cool places around the world (set in Prague – I mean I’m silently screaming) and again, through flashbacks, an historical aspect. I mean if you truly love 18th century gothic to its core like me, this one will suck you in and most likely dry and you’ll need to recover. It’s fantastical and unique.

ProvidenceProvidence Caroline Kepnes – I mean CAROLINE. Caroline has a very original sort of writing. The type that you could pick up a book blinding and know it’s her writing as you start to read it. She’s funny, dramatic, soul crushing, and inspiring all at once. I mean the gamut of emotions I experienced reading this book left me wondering just how I truly did feel – terribly sad and broken? Inspired by devotion? Light humor always takes away the gloom realities of Caroline’s books and I love reading her for it. There are many popular authors I won’t name who are trying to do the same thing (ahem, sorry men) and it doesn’t work even 90% as well as Caroline doing it. I really enjoyed reading it.

The Forgotten GirlThe Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers – This is a page turning read that was just a lot of fun, with twists, turns, and originality. Youers gives great voice to his characters and you truly feel for them, even though the story is being unfolded at a very fast pace. You can’t help but want to know what happens to them and want it to end well, but you’re just not sure if it will at the same time – or if they will ever be the same. It has a lightness to it, as a read, and some humor of course. The plot propels the reader.

UNBURY CarolUnbury Carol by Josh Malerman – I don’t think I really love anyone’s work in horror at the moment more than I love Malerman’s. To me, he transcends writing and puts it into some other plane of creative existence. Literary, without being too posh, horror that doesn’t wreck your emotions in the way many horror books do – by being in your face – but subliminally strokes your insides until your weeping in places you didn’t realize or searching for lost places inside yourself or others. He knows how to tell a tale, but within it, he’s trying to get a glimpse at humanity himself. At all those lost questions. He’s phenomenal and he’s only getting started. Unbury Carol was not a favorite to some, but to me, it was my favorite so far! I can so relate to Carol on various levels and it just really spoke to me. Couple that with the fact I like deconstructed fairy-tales (Sleeping Beauty here) and even westerns, I was sold from the start and enjoyed every moment of it.

Siren and the SpecterThe Siren and the Specter by Jonathan Janz – This could also be put under Gothic category. I’ve read all of Janz’s books over the years and this was one of the best I’ve read of him flexing his paranormal fingers. He writes a solid haunted house story with an original plot. I’d say he truly keeps showing his mastery at the southern gothic style and should be receiving way more accolades for his work than he is – he really should have made the Bram Stoker ballot this year. He writes with intelligence and creates meaningful, complex characters, wrapping them up in just the right amount of scares. Ominous, atmospheric work.

(In full disclosure, his last two books were with the publisher I worked with so I promoted those books, as well as he’s been my personal client at times when he needed publicity support, but I felt I could give one tiny inch past my ethical presence on this one since I am not associated with Flame Tree and I didn’t work on this particular title. Plus, I REALLY loved it!)

The Night MarketThe Night Market by Jonathan Moore – I have loved Moore’s work since his first crime thriller/horror novel Redheads, and then, first in his next loosely-connected series of three books, The Poison Artist (one of my top favorite reads ever), from which The Night Market is the third book. I’ve neglected, as with many reviews in 2018, to get a review written and up, so I will remedy that in 2019, but suffice to say that this was one of my favorite books of 2018 – and it came in the first month of the year. Moore is precise in his plot, creative with characters and setting, unique in his mysteries, and yet, also manages to put in such cool scientific and forensic work too. The Night Market has him at the top of his game with his captivating suspense and decadent prose. This one, being set in a near future San Francisco, has a different appeal from the previous too so might enchant fans of dystopian and sci-fi as well.

Damned by the AncientsDamned by the Ancients (Nemesis of the Gods #3) by Catherine Cavendish – It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Cat Cavendish is one of my favorite horror suspense and/or gothic authors. In this series, she’s combined several other favorites of mine by using history, art, and Egyptology as her base for some captivating thrills. Though top on my list as personal fun reads, I hadn’t gotten to the first two books yet, but opted to dive into the third since it came out this year. You can read them stand alone, but I am sure they are better in order. At any rate, I’ll be going back to the other two for sure after I read my copy of her highly anticipated The Haunting of Henderson Close, which came our January of 2019. Damned by the Ancients has an intricate plot, good historical research, mesmerizing characters, and a pace that can quicken the heart of any reader because it’s also very scary!

methodThe Method by Duncan Ralston – This book, a Kindle Scout Winner from 2017, was just way better than I even thought the concept might be from reading the back cover copy. This was a psychological suspense thriller that is also categorized as horror, because it’s more violent mid to end; terrorizing. He combines it all nicely, leaving you uncomfortable, unsure, and wanting to know with every page, from the very first page, what is about to happen next and who you can trust. The characterization, plotting, and suspense all are stable foundations for a very entertaining read. Would be a great film (in fact he’s just finished writing the screenplay)!

Gothic Mystery and Mystery

The Death of Mrs. WestawayThe Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware – Have you heard me say how much I love Ruth Ware? I’m President of the Ruth Ware Fan Club. Not really, but I’d be happy to if anyone wants to form said club! I was really looking forward to what book she was putting out in 2018 after reading The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game in 2017. I was thrilled to find this one a little more on the gothic side as well, which I love of course. Ruth always gives me a good mystery and this one didn’t fail to twist, turn, and surprise me. I always identify with her main character. It’s a great summer read.

RebeccaRebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – This was a re-read for me that I picked up after many, many years so I could try to do the read-a-long with the Ladies of Horror Fiction. I read it all again within a couple days because I couldn’t stop. I just love this book as much as ever. There are so many things I could say about the novel – from its mystery to its atmosphere to its clever clues placed within scenery and characters, Du Maurier reminded me again why she’s a big influence on my own writing.

The AtrocitiesThe Atrocities by Jeremy Shipp – What a very strange novella that I had to read twice. I picked this book up as it seemed very different, surreal maybe, and gothic. Maybe much like Slade House. I’d say that all held true. Shipp’s mind is imaginative and flowing – almost like you’re reading a dream state. It was an experience for sure that I’m glad I tried, and I’d certainly recommend if you like literary horror that colors outside the lines like me.

The Body in the LibraryThe Body in the Library by Agatha Christie – I never tire of Agatha Christie and love reading her books, books about her, watching the movies, etc. I enjoyed reading The Body in the Library as a fun summer read and re-visiting the mystery with Miss Marple. I am largely a Poirot fan in general as it pertains to Christie’s detectives, and Miss Marple needs to shine more in this title, but overall I enjoyed the plot. I picked it up…well, because of the library of course. I enjoyed her descriptions and humor as always and the fact that it seemed very modern even though it was written decades ago.

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Polombo

SpellbookI love anything “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” as most people who know me will agree. I was eager, both in reading previous books by Polomobo (and liking them) and because this re-telling of Sleepy Hollow was from Katrina’s point of view and added the new twist of the disappearance of Ichabod on All Hallows Eve. Polombo introduces the character of Charlotte, who is the witch friend of Katrinia, and together they use magic to search for him. It was a fun read perfect for last October. It’s a little more on the romance/sex side than what I normally like in books and it was hard to know what category to put it in. Fellow horror readers didn’t think it was horror, though obviously it has horror and paranormal elements, it has witches and magic, it’s a mystery, and historical readers claimed it as her other works feature women in history (and the setting), plus it has this romance and some suspense as well. It’s an entertaining read encompassing all these things and is probably most likely suited for mainstream readers, not genre readers.

Domestic Thrillers/Suspense

The WifeThe Wife by Alafair Burke – I have followed Alafair Burke’s career since her first book. Though I haven’t read all of them in between, I’ve read quite a few. This one was SUPERB. Alafair’s writing never disappoints. Just what I needed for an escape into something else. I highly recommend this one for your next snowed-in or summer read if you like family crime or thriller dramas. It will suck you fully in and leave you astounded at the end.

Bring-Me-BackBring Me Back by B.A. Paris – Another stand out thriller from Paris that kept me guessing. I loved the including on the Russian nesting dolls in this one – and since I received this as an ARC, a doll showed up in my mailbox too (THRILLED!). It’s signature her if you’ve read her other books, though if you’ve read all her other work before this one, it might start to feel a little bit same in some respects. Nonetheless, it was a fun summer read I really enjoyed. Of course, her twists and turns always surprise me.

sometimes_i_lie.jpg.size-custom-crop.0x650Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney – Another in the vein of the thrillers I like, this title might be at the top for one of my best novels read last year. And it’s a debut, so I look forward to more to come from her. I feel it was a little cleaner and tidier than some of the other popular domestic thrillers (my editor eye coming out I guess) and that it flows and ties up things more smoothly. Plus, I felt I was in this character’s head with her! From my GoodReads review: “Page-turning quick read that hooked me and had me guessing. So many twists, made me think and go back to re-read parts. Excellent psychological thriller. Very enjoyable!”

the perfect strangerThe Perfect Stranger Megan Miranda – This was totally another fun summer read that took just a night to get through because I wanted to find out what would happen. It was so entertaining and it was one I truly enjoyed reading. Memorable characters and page-turning suspense. This is a great read for long summer evenings or on vacation. I will read anything Miranda publishes.

 

Historical Fiction

Tiffany BluesTiffany Blues by M.J. Rose – I am a HUGE fan of Tiffany glass and have had a decade long interest in reading anything having to do with the Tiffany family. As past reviews over the years on my site indicate, I’m also an enormous fan of Rose’s writing and books as well. Once I finally got a chance to sit down with this book, I breezed through it in no time at all. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the book, the mystery intertwined with romance, and the descriptions. I still owe a full review for this one on my site and I’ll still get to it this year.

The Lost Season of Love and SnowThe Lost Season of Love and Snow by Jennifer Laam – Jennifer is wonderfully smooth historical fiction author. It’s easy to get swept away in her novels and it suddenly be the next morning (which is in fact what happened to me). Of course, I love any fiction that has to do with Russia – this one of course even showcased a favorite poet, Alexander Pushkin! I read this over a year ago now, in January 2018, and I still owe a review on my site. I really must do that because if you like historical fiction, stories of women in history who were with powerful men, slight romance, and/or even want to learn a take on the life of Pushkin, this is highly recommended by me. Beautiful, tormenting, and sad, it’s also light-hearted in its pen because of Jennifer’s sweet writing skills.

Trial on Mount KoyaTrial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann – Susan is one of my most beloved historical mystery fiction authors. I love her descriptions of Japan and her characters – I’ve come to feel like I know them. This one I did get a review up on the site for and you can find it HERE. It’s book six in her fantastic series. You can find review and interviews with her throughout the years on my site by putting her name in the search bar.

MyDearHamilton-500x750My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie – I mean this book is a NYT best-selling national sensation and it’s well-deserved. It’s historical fiction at the very finest. You can read my full review and interview from this year here.

The Romonov EmpressThe Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner – Again, I love anything surrounding Russian history in literature. I also am a giant fan of Gortner and read all his books. If you like historical fiction, you can’t get much better than reading Gortner. This book was OUTSTANDING. I am late on a full review of it as well, but I’ll still have one up for those interested this year. It’s never too late to add this one to your collection.

Ecstasy-by-Mary-SharrattEcstasy by Mary Sharatt – Mary is also an author I look forward to every year and she never disappoints. This historical fiction book was a highlight of my year. Her writing is so deep yet so delectable, it’s like eating a really good meal (and I love a good meal). I always am swept away by her writing. If you like stories of strong women in history, this one is another to add to your list. Alma Schindler, wife of Gustav Mahler, but brilliant composer in her own right, is explored in ultimate ode to the beauty of women’s perseverance for their own talents and passions.

Collections

The Purple Swamp HenThe Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories by Penelope Lively – If you’ve never read Booker Prize winning London author Penelope Lively, you need to rectify that immediately. When I first started reading Lively, I wondered about the style of writing in the stories (this published in 2017 and she’s towards the end of her career). I took a breath and re-trained my brain to go with her flow. I was glad I did, as it took on a whole new cadence that I really enjoyed. Sharp, perceptive, witty, and emotionally captivating, I was drawn in to each one differently. These are stories I could re-read again.

Anthologies

The Devil and the DeepThe Devil and the Deep edited by Ellen Datlow – I love anything that has to do with water and that carries over to literature. In fact, I have a collection of “water associated” books! I think Ellen Datlow is one of the finest editor and curators in the business and I really enjoyed over half of the stories in this anthology, if not all of them on some level. I feel she did a great job at funneling a wide array into the anthology and as well was inclusive as far as authors. I still owe a review on this one too – which hopefully I’ll get done soon. It was only one of a few anthology reads for me this year, which is a shame as I LOVE anthologies, but it was the favorite of those I read.

Poetry Collections

I-Am-Not-Your-Final-GirlI Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire Holland – One of my favorite books of poetry this year, Claire’s debut work really humanizes and values all the strength of the final girls in so many horror movies we’ve watched over the years, taking them for granted. No more, as she gives them their due, with a swift blade for a pen and a black heart for those against these women. I need to present you a further review for this one soon as well, but I highly recommend it – to anyone. If you’ve never read poetry, so what? Read it.

Lessons on ExpulsionLessons on Expulsion by Erika L. Sanchez – I have a lot to say about this poetry collection and so at some point I’ll be posting a stand-alone review, but honestly, this TORE MY GUTS out and really made me feel for women and children in Mexico. From sex workers, murder, narco- traffickers, rape, abuse to artists and love, this is all about survival. I was just BLOWN AWAY. Consider eyes opened. This was my favorite poetry collection of 2018 – and one of my favorites ever read.

Your Heart is the Sea by Nikita Gill – “People aren’t born sad, we make them that way.” That is a line from the poem “Why We Are All Afraid to Be” from Gill’s latest collection. Your Heart is the Sea 2I read everything she puts out because it’s beautifully heart-wrenching and soul cleansing and reminds me a lot of things I’ve been through, things I’ve written about myself, and yet, offers hope to hold onto at times as well. This collection came out in December 2018, and I was drawn to it because as most people know, I love the sea. There are so cool illustrations inside, but the poetry is the highlight of course. Her honest rendering of humanity and the heart gives me purpose.

WarWAR: Dark Poems by Alessandro Manzetti and Marge Simon – The back cover copy states, “I appear as strife of many kinds, from Stalingrad to Scotland. Africa to Afghanistan, the civil war of Italy and the War Between the States, ghostly wars, drug wars, the battle of the sexes, World Wars I, II and visions of a holocaust yet to come. It’s all herein and more, with poems both collaborative and individual.” This collection takes us around the gamut of the globe, our relationships, and our hearts to parch our dehydrated tongues and bolster our internal defenses. I love historical work – mixing historical with horror is something I enjoy – so being able to read this historical horror poetry collection was grand. It’s something I aspire to – both Manzetti and Simon are master poets, bring vividness to the page. 

fierce-fairytalesFierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill – All of Gill’s collection have qualities of female empowerment, as does this one, all wrapped up in references to fairy tales. I love fairy tales, but since they are a little cliché and delve into stereotypical references, Gill re-molds the pieces giving us some empowering stuff. I loved what Gill did with these poems and the cover is beautiful as well as her own original art which graces the inside pages.

to-make-monsters-out-of-girlsto make monsters out of girls by Amanda Lovelace – Lovelace’s collection of poetry books are must- haves for any strong female who has been through a lot and is coming out swinging. Her collection from 2018 offer no less empowerment and words to survive by. This one particularly hit home to me as a domestic abuse survivor. The poetry is all about being in a relationship like this and completely moved me. Deep, dark, emotional, but there’s also healing.

Sea of StrangersSea of Strangers by Lang Leav – Leav is an inspiration writer on love and life and heartache and personal growth after break-ups. This collection has poetry written in stanza, some short essays, some quotes – all types of poetry that breaks your heart again or soothes it or both at the same time. Probably her best so far. She’s much more inspirational and empowering than dark in anyway and offers enough light that her poems and quotes are very sharable.

The-Poet-X-by-Elizabeth-Acevedo-309x468Poet X by Elizabeth Acevado – I first entranced learning of Acevado in my son’s college magazine from George Washington University. They featured her this year, and the book, as she is an alumnus from there with a degree in performing arts. A child of Dominican immigrants, raised in NYC, she now lives with her husband in Washington D.C. Something about the connection drew me to her, but upon reading her words, she mesmerized me all on her own. I educated and found out she is a renowned slam poet, then she went on this year to win a National Book Award for Poet X, which was highly deserved (I had been rooting for it when I heard it was nominated). This is primarily a YA book, catalogued as such, but anyone can read it – it’s just that the characters are young. It’s a book told solely in poetic verse about a young girl in Harlem discovering slam poetry and using it to understand her mother’s religion and her own coming of age. It’s a lovely, but strong, book of female empowerment and how words can truly help us in so many ways. LOVED IT!

If They Come for UsIf They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar – I have been trying to incorporate reading with diversity in mind. Not just women, of course, but works and poetry stemming from other cultures as well. This book, written in various flashbacks and time periods over the course of Indian’s history of colonization, was eye-opening. Even having a history degree, I was not aware of the atrocities bestowed in the 1940s upon India during their occupation. Asghar grew up in the more modern eras, but she intertwines life of her ancestors and her own modern world as an immigrant in America and offers a horrible bird’s eye view. Her writing is fierce, angry, visceral, haunting, but overall so very important. I absolutely am humbled by this poetry, a little terrified at humanity, but so very glad I read it.

Most Disliked Book of the Year

Strange WeatherStrange Weather by Joe Hill – Of the books I read this year, completely, but still didn’t like, the short story by Joe Hill takes the cake. I absolutely abhorred his story ideas, his comedy, his snark, and his overall writing. I think I maybe liked one of the stories, but it felt like maybe his dad had already done it and/or several movie scripts somewhere down the line – “been there, done that.” I know some people liked it, but I just didn’t connect.

Best Liked Book of Others I Couldn’t Like

Final Girls

The Final Girls by Riley Sager – I tried to read this book three times, and each time I was so bored, I never made it past the fifth chapter. I won’t be reading anything from him again, no matter the buzz. I loved the idea of it but I just couldn’t get into the writing.

Most Anticipated Book I Didn’t Get to Read

The outsider.jpgThe Outsider by Stephen King – I got through 30 pages of it before it was due back at the library (too  many holds!) but was so busy didn’t bother to check it out again. Will wait to buy it and then read it. Looking forward to it though, because I was enjoying what I read of it.

 

Stay tuned for our FAVORITE READ LISTS in YA and Middle Readers as Emma (15) and Addie (11) weigh-in with me on the books we each enjoyed most!

Happy Reading!

About Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi –

Erin Al-Mehairi Bio PhotoErin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has twenty years of professional experience in the communication and marketing fields and is currently an author, writer, journalist, publicist, and an editor.

Breathe. Breathe., published by Unnerving in 2017, is her debut collection of dark poetry and short stories and was an Amazon best-selling paid title, debuting at #2 in Hot New Releases in Women’s Poetry and held both that and the top ten of horror short stories for months. She has poetry and short stories featured in several other anthologies, magazines, and sites and was the co-editor for the gothic anthology Haunted are these Houses.

You can e-mail her at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find her books at Amazon, or GoodReads. You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter (@erinalmehairi), and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Feature Articles, New Books I've Found, poetry, women in history, women in horror