Category Archives: Fiction

The Shadows

Finished The Shadows by Alex North.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile–always on the outside of the group. Some part of you suspected he might be capable of doing something awful. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree did just that, committing a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet–and inspired more than one copycat.

Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree–and his victim–were Paul’s friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and senile, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home.

It’s not long before things start to go wrong. Reading the news, Paul learns another copycat has struck. His mother is distressed, insistent that there’s something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.

It wasn’t just the murder.

It was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again…”

This is such an intense book! I’ve been reading a ton of thrillers lately but this is actual horror.

If you remember the Slenderman case a few years back where two girls tried to kill their friend to please the mythical creature from the internet, that’s very similar to this. Except here, we have Mister Red Hands, who rules the dreamworld. If you can teach yourself how to have lucid dreams, you can then have the same dream as your friends. Once you master those two steps, you’re almost done. Then you just have to murder a third person (with those friends) and then you take sleeping pills, disappear and wake up in the dream world to hang out with Mister Red Hands forever.

Obviously this has failed many times, but one kid (Charlie) has managed to do it. He actually DID disappear and was never seen again.

For most of the book, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. It all seems like a bit of a dream; details are hazy and things don’t fully make sense. Even so, it’s completely creepy and very, very fun to read.

I definitely need to read The Whisper Man, too. That also looks fantastic.

The Last Flight

Finished The Last Flight by Julie Clark.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Two women. Two Flights. One last chance to disappear.

Claire Cook has a perfect life. Married to the scion of a political dynasty, with a Manhattan townhouse and a staff of ten, her surroundings are elegant, her days flawlessly choreographed, and her future auspicious. But behind closed doors, nothing is quite as it seems. That perfect husband has a temper that burns as bright as his promising political career, and he’s not above using his staff to track Claire’s every move, making sure she’s living up to his impossible standards. But what he doesn’t know is that Claire has worked for months on a plan to vanish.

A chance meeting in an airport bar brings her together with a woman whose circumstances seem equally dire. Together they make a last-minute decision to switch tickets ― Claire taking Eva’s flight to Oakland, and Eva traveling to Puerto Rico as Claire. They believe the swap will give each of them the head start they need to begin again somewhere far away. But when the flight to Puerto Rico goes down, Claire realizes it’s no longer a head start but a new life. Cut off, out of options, with the news of her death about to explode in the media, Claire will assume Eva’s identity, and along with it, the secrets Eva fought so hard to keep hidden.

The Last Flight is the story of two women―both alone, both scared―and one agonizing decision that will change the trajectory of both of their lives.

This is such a fun, fast read. I have been in such a mood for thrillers lately, and this one definitely delivered.

I think everyone’s had the thought, however brief, that they want to escape their lives. Mine usually came as I was driving to work at my last job, a job I hated. But Claire has done more than briefly think about it. She has an actual plan and fake IDs and money. But a last minute change in plans has thrown all of that out the window and has now made everything harder, worse and much more tense.

We get the story from both Claire and Eva’s perspectives, Claire keeping us in the present and Eva filling in the background pre-switch. It worked incredibly well and I love the way that Julie Clark presented the story.

If you’re in the mood for an escape, definitely pick this up.

Topics of Conversation

Finished Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey.

Summary (from Goodreads):

For readers of Sally Rooney, Rachel Cusk, Lydia Davis, and Jenny Offill–a compact tour de force about sex, violence, and self-loathing from a ferociously talented new voice in fiction

Miranda Popkey’s first novel is about desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, guilt–written in language that sizzles with intelligence and eroticism. The novel is composed almost exclusively of conversations between women–the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves, about shame and love, infidelity and self-sabotage–and careens through twenty years in the life of an unnamed narrator hungry for experience and bent on upending her life. Edgy, wry, shot through with rage and despair, Topics of Conversation introduces an audacious and immensely gifted new novelist.”

This is a hard book to review and to recommend. Each chapter is a different conversation and so this is more of a series of vignettes than a straightforward narrative to follow.

I’m someone who enjoys listening to other people’s conversations. I get that that sounds creepy or intrusive, and I don’t mean it to. But if I’m on the lightrail (back when I went places) and there’s a conversation? I’m listening. I don’t actively try and eavesdrop on people, but if I can hear a conversation, I’m already invested enough to listen.

I mention that because this book is perfect for me. I get to listen in on a bunch of interesting conversations. Some are incredibly sad; all of them are thought-provoking.

This book is definitely not for everyone. I think a lot of people would be bored or actively annoyed by it. I found it absolutely fascinating and I’m very happy I read it.

Outlawed

Finished Outlawed by Anna North.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The Crucible meets True Grit in this riveting adventure story of a fugitive girl, a mysterious gang of robbers, and their dangerous mission to transform the Wild West.

In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.

The day of her wedding, 17 year old Ada’s life looks good; she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. But after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, her survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows.

She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid. Charismatic, grandiose, and mercurial, the Kid is determined to create a safe haven for outcast women. But to make this dream a reality, the Gang hatches a treacherous plan that may get them all killed. And Ada must decide whether she’s willing to risk her life for the possibility of a new kind of future for them all.

Featuring an irresistibly no-nonsense, courageous, and determined heroine, Outlawed dusts off the myth of the old West and reignites the glimmering promise of the frontier with an entirely new set of feminist stakes. Anna North has crafted a pulse-racing, page-turning saga about the search for hope in the wake of death, and for truth in a climate of small-mindedness and fear.”

I absolutely love this book. It’s incredibly fun and very feminist and exactly the book I needed to read when life feels like a horror movie and I know the last jump scare is coming but I don’t know exactly when or from which direction.

I’m so glad I chose this as a Book of the Month Club pick. I’ve been trying to read outside my comfort zone and while “feminist” is very much in my wheelhouse, “western” really is not. But even from the first sentence, I knew that this would be a favorite of mine and I was right. I read the bulk of it in one sitting and if you know any other books like this, please recommend them to me.

I’m not telling you anything about the plot because it’s a great surprise and I’m jealous it’s ahead of you. Highly recommended.

The Cecil Hotel

Finished The Cecil Hotel by C.L. Swinney. I borrowed this from Kindle Unlimited.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Since the magnificent and opulent double-doors opened in 1927, things have not been normal at the Cecil Hotel. Located in the heart of Los Angeles’ Skid Row, literally any and everything has happened within and outside the property. Eighteen people have died in or directly outside, two well-known serial killers spent weeks staying there while on killing sprees, and countless odd events have happened baffling all walks of life for almost one-hundred years…and yet the hotel somehow remains. Although the name has been changed, whatever is going on there has not. Eight years have passed since the last death -that of Elisa Lam found in a water tower on the roof- but anyone familiar with this story knows it’s only a matter of time before something diabolical happens again. This is a work of historical fiction based on the true events that have occurred at the Cecil Hotel (now known as Stay on Main) since 1927.”

This is a hard review to write, because there are two aspects to this book. There’s the part that’s true (the suicides, murders and weirdness associated with the Cecil Hotel) and there’s the part that’s not (the criminals who learn about it, thanks to a secret room run by one of its workers in order to track and stop all that activity).

I loved the nonfiction part. There’s definitely something off about the hotel (two serial killers stayed there; the Black Dahlia may or may not have been there; SO MANY SUICIDES, the woman who killed her newborn and, of course, Elisa Lam).

The fiction part? I didn’t enjoy that as much. (The Cecil Hotel is interesting enough. You don’t need to add more.)

This is definitely an entertaining read, though, but I hope there’ll be another book that’s straight nonfiction. (Or there’s also always Netflix’s documentary!)

People Like Her

Finished People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A razor-sharp, wickedly smart suspense debut about an ambitious influencer mom whose soaring success threatens her marriage, her morals, and her family’s safety.

Followed by Millions, Watched by One

To her adoring fans, Emmy Jackson, aka @the_mamabare, is the honest “Instamum” who always tells it like it is. 

To her skeptical husband, a washed-up novelist who knows just how creative Emmy can be with the truth, she is a breadwinning powerhouse chillingly brilliant at monetizing the intimate details of their family life.

To one of Emmy’s dangerously obsessive followers, she’s the woman that has everything—but deserves none of it.  

As Emmy’s marriage begins to crack under the strain of her growing success and her moral compass veers wildly off course, the more vulnerable she becomes to a very real danger circling ever closer to her family.

In this deeply addictive tale of psychological suspense, Ellery Lloyd raises important questions about technology, social media celebrity, and the way we live today. Probing the dark side of influencer culture and the perils of parenting online, People Like Her explores our desperate need to be seen and the lengths we’ll go to be liked by strangers. It asks what—and who—we sacrifice when make our private lives public, and ultimately lose control of who we let in. . . .”

This is an incredibly fun novel and one that starts out very plausibly. (Yes, by the end, things have taken a sharp turn into “This would never happen” but even so, it is a very, VERY entertaining story.

Emmy is famous on Instagram and she has a lot of fans…and a lot of trolls. And, most alarmingly, at least one of them is dangerous. (I think we’ve all been on the internet long enough to realize that the more people are aware of you, the likelier it is that someone will take a random dislike to you and that people will be mean to/about you.) Her husband Dan, meanwhile, is an author who wrote one book and has been trying to write his second for quite some time. (It feels cruel to specify exactly how long and exactly how far into the writing process he’s gotten.) He definitely seems to consider Emmy’s work to be less important than his own, although they’re also kept afloat because of her income.)

The story is told from both perspectives and that serves the story well. We see that events are remembered differently, and the way that Dan assumes everything she does is incredibly easy. (Spoiler: it’s either very hard or Dan is not skilled in those areas. Or both.)

I loved this book and it is an incredibly fun distraction.

When No One is Watching

Finished When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Rear Window meets Get Out in this gripping thriller from a critically acclaimed and New York Times Notable author, in which the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…

Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?”

I knew that I wanted to read this when it was billed as Get Out meets Rear Window. (Those are two amazing movies, and this seemed like it was actually perfect for me.)

It may not be what most people would consider traditional horror, but it’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever read, because it’s all very plausible. (Alyssa Cole has a list of further reading to do if you don’t find this book realistic.)

This is very timely but I feel like it would be just as timely in any era of this country’s history. I felt actual dread as I was reading this, and for most of it, everything happening was very insidious. There were so many parts where I was like, “Wait. Did I just read that?” (I did. I always DID just read that.)

We can always find the capital r Racists, the people who are in the Klan and who drop racial slurs and are very obviously about it. This is about the regular people who are just as awful but who hide it really well. And the things they’re planning are awful.

This is an intense book and, while I know that this isn’t what Alyssa Cole usually writes, I’m definitely planning to read more of her books because this one is flat out amazing. Highly recommended.

Fangs

Finished Fangs by Sarah Andersen.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A love story between a vampire and a werewolf by the creator of the enormously popular Sarah’s Scribbles comics.

Elsie the vampire is three hundred years old, but in all that time, she has never met her match. This all changes one night in a bar when she meets Jimmy, a charming werewolf with a wry sense of humor and a fondness for running wild during the full moon. Together they enjoy horror films and scary novels, shady strolls, fine dining (though never with garlic), and a genuine fondness for each other’s unusual habits, macabre lifestyles, and monstrous appetites.

First featured as a webcomic series on Tapas, Fangs chronicles the humor, sweetness, and awkwardness of meeting someone perfectly suited to you but also vastly different. Filled with Sarah Andersen’s beautiful gothic illustrations and relatable relationship humor, Fangs has all the makings of a cult classic.”

I’m a huge fan of Sarah Andersen and I’ve read all of her Sarah’s Scribbles collection. When I found out that she was writing a novel, I got very excited. When I learned that it was about what would happen if a vampire and werewolf fell in love, I knew this would be one of my favorites (and spoiler: it was!).

I know most people are excited for fall because it’s when everything is pumpkin spice, but for me? It’s Halloween season. And there aren’t many things that are more perfect for Halloween than a story about vampires and werewolves. But it’s also got all the hallmarks I’ve come to expect from Sarah Andersen. It’s incredibly relatable and more than a little bit inappropriate. And reading it was a complete delight.

If you’re in the mood for something that’s a little spooky but also incredibly funny and also surprisingly sweet, this is for you. I absolutely loved it.

The City We Became

Finished The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Five New Yorkers must come together in order to defend their city in the first book of a stunning new series by Hugo award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.

Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.

But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.”

I don’t read very much science fiction or fantasy. It’s not really a genre that I’m comfortable with (give me real situations, please and thank you). I was a little uneasy when my book club picked it for August, and I’m so glad it did. Otherwise I would never have read this and that would’ve been awful.

It took me a while to figure out exactly what was going on, but even from the first few sentences, I knew that I was along for the ride and happy to go wherever the book went.

I didn’t know very much going in, and I think that really helped me; it’s what I’ll do for you. But absolutely get this book and read it. It’s so, so good and I really don’t know how I’m going to survive the wait for the second book (which currently doesn’t even have a title or release date).

Highly, highly recommended.

The Living Dead

Finished The Living Dead by George Romero and Daniel Kraus.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A horror landmark and a work of gory genius.”—Joe Hill, New York Times bestselling author of The Fireman
New York Times bestselling author Daniel Kraus completes George A. Romero’s brand-new masterpiece of zombie horror, the massive novel left unfinished at Romero’s death!

George A. Romero invented the modern zombie with Night of the Living Dead, creating a monster that has become a key part of pop culture. Romero often felt hemmed in by the constraints of film-making. To tell the story of the rise of the zombies and the fall of humanity the way it should be told, Romero turned to fiction. Unfortunately, when he died, the story was incomplete.

Enter Daniel Kraus, co-author, with Guillermo del Toro, of the New York Times bestseller The Shape of Water (based on the Academy Award-winning movie) and Trollhunters (which became an Emmy Award-winning series), and author of The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch (an Entertainment Weekly Top 10 Book of the Year). A lifelong Romero fan, Kraus was honored to be asked, by Romero’s widow, to complete The Living Dead.

Set in the present day, The Living Dead is an entirely new tale, the story of the zombie plague as George A. Romero wanted to tell it.

It begins with one body.

A pair of medical examiners find themselves battling a dead man who won’t stay dead.

It spreads quickly.

In a Midwestern trailer park, a Black teenage girl and a Muslim immigrant battle newly-risen friends and family. On a US aircraft carrier, living sailors hide from dead ones while a fanatic makes a new religion out of death. At a cable news station, a surviving anchor keeps broadcasting while his undead colleagues try to devour him. In DC, an autistic federal employee charts the outbreak, preserving data for a future that may never come.

Everywhere, people are targeted by both the living and the dead.

We think we know how this story ends.

We. Are. Wrong.

This is a hard book to recommend. For one thing, there are multiple narrators, and some of them are I’m going to say low-key racist. Also, there’s one narrator who’s likely on the autism spectrum and I don’t think that’s the best portrayal, either. And also? It’s super gross. And I’m sure you’re thinking “I saw the opening of Dawn of the Dead; I think I can handle it.” (Which…yes? But this is more extreme, I think.)

All that said, I very much enjoyed this book. It’s incredibly creepy and pretty hopeless for a lot of it, but it makes some very interesting points.

Fans of Romero’s movies will enjoy some of the easter eggs throughout here (it really made my day every time I caught one) and there’s a real sense of fun running through this story. OK yes, people die and it’s super gruesome but it’s also just a good time. (It’s not like we’re in danger of being eaten, right?)

I would definitely recommend this to my fellow horror fans but everyone else, proceed with very real caution.