A Penny For Your Thoughts by Robert Ford & Matt Hayward #BookReview

TITLE: A Penny For Your Thoughts| AUTHOR: Robert Ford & Matt Hayward| PUBLISHER: Poltergeist Press | PUBLISHED ON: June 1, 2019 | PAGES: 287| RATING: 4 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Copy provided by authors for review consideration.

My Thoughts:

Guys, this book is a fucking trip! It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun with a book. It’s hilarious, it’s gross, it’s creepy, it’s touching…this book gave me a lot of very conflicting feels and I loved every second!

The book follows Joe, a recovering heroin addict freshly released from prison and trying to get his life back on track in some…questionable ways. Joe is a likeable, albeit extremely flawed, character and I really enjoyed following his insane attempts at staying clean while battling a whole new kind of addiction. But what really adds soul to his character is his connection with his father. It’s a small thing in the grand scheme of the novel, but their relationship and the love they clearly had for each other is what really drove my personal connection with Joe. His interactions with all of the other characters in the novel, and especially with Kenny and Ava, show that while he definitely isn’t a “good guy,” he is compassionate and truly trying his best to clean up his mess, which made the story all the more compelling for me.

While the humour is definitely present, this is still a horror story, and it has its fair share of chilling moments to make sure the reader doesn’t forget that. The two genres blend effortlessly in this novel, so that I found myself sometimes laughing and feeling utterly disgusted all at the same time. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but the authors have managed it beautifully here. I love a book that can make me question my own sense of humour by having me laugh out loud at completely gross, inappropriate moments, and this book delivers on that HARD.

The writing in this book is awesome. So often, collaborative projects end up feeling a little clunky because the authors’ styles just don’t fully mesh, but this book is seamless. Ford and Hayward clearly jive, because at no point could I pick out a section and say “oh yeah, this is where things switched off.” I also loved, LOVED all the little witticisms and descriptions thrown in, they definitely had me chuckling more than once. The story is completely unique, and while I had a couple of points where I had to remind myself not to think too hard about the specifics and just enjoy the ride, for the most part everything weaves together in a rewarding way. I wish we’d spent a bit more time with the Crimson Sisters, and I would have liked a little more detail on the mechanics of the wishes, but honestly this book is so much fucking fun that I can look past the areas that lack a bit of detail.

This book is a seriously fun read. I was hooked from the very first page and I had a hard time tearing myself away from it. It has a couple tiny weak points, but really the story as a whole is strong, original and just SO. DAMN. FUN. Highly recommend grabbing this one if you need a bit of a creepy laugh in your life (and really, who doesn’t?)!

The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz #BookReview

TITLE: The Dark Game | AUTHOR: Jonathan Janz| PUBLISHER: Flame Tree Press | PUBLISHED ON: April 11, 2019 | PAGES: 304|
RATING: 3 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Copy provided by publisher for review consideration.

My Thoughts:

I’m still fairly new to the Janz game. I read, and absolutely loved, The Siren and the Spectre last year, and it easily made my top 5 books of 2018. So I had very, very high expectations for my second read of his. Sadly I think these extremely high expectations are part of what led to my disappointment here. While The Dark Game has some great points, I was ultimately left feeling underwhelmed and, at times, pretty annoyed with this novel.

First, the good. I really loved the premise of this novel. Ten authors are invited to a secret writers’ competition hosted by a reclusive but genius author, with promises of fame and fortune for the winning writer. Of course not all is as it seems, and there’s a dark undercurrent to the contest that leaves the authors competing for more than just a cash prize. The setting of this novel is perfect. Who doesn’t love a creepy, crumbling mansion set in a secluded forest? It really set the tone for the story early on, and was probably my favorite part of the book. Without giving too much away, the twists that occur here are also fantastic and well executed. The details unfold slowly enough to build a wonderful suspense, but with punches of action throughout that prevent the reader from figuring out the end game miles ahead of the characters of the novel. I also appreciated the little Easter eggs and nods to Janz’ other novels, those are always a fun little tidbit to come across!

Now for the not so good. I found the characters to be extremely lacking. This was especially disappointing given how strong I felt the characters were in The Siren and the Spectre. Here, most of the characters felt like cardboard cut-outs rather than fleshed out people. I think part of this is just the nature of starting off with such a large cast of characters, but even a little bit more personality would have gone a very long way for each of the characters. As it stands, it really lowered the stakes of the novel for me. I figured out which characters were likely to make it to the end within the first couple of chapters because they were the only ones with any depth, and for the rest, I wasn’t all that invested in their deaths because I didn’t have enough to go on to feel invested in their lives first. There was also a lot of weird sex stuff that’s largely only mentioned in passing, but in a way that made me roll my eyes a little. It was clear that a lot of it was meant to be for shock value, and while certain sections made me uncomfortable, I don’t think it was for the reasons the author intended. I don’t mind sex and sexuality in my books, but it has to be well done. Unfortunately in this case, every instance was unremarkable at best, and completely cringe-inducing at worse. And would it really be a Literary Hooker review if I didn’t complain about a romance being thrown in for good measure? Because I’m gonna: this book didn’t need a romance element. It didn’t add much (except more awkward sex talk) and I kind of hate the idea that male and female characters can only experience deep bonds if those bonds are romantic and/or sexual. Boo.

The second half of the novel really did pick things up for me. Once the cast of characters was narrowed down a bit, it was easier for me to connect with the remaining characters and I really got into the story. The story goes into new and unique places in the last 100 pages or so that I really enjoyed There are tons of excellent twists and reveals in the latter part of the book, which certainly won me back a little bit. But it was too little too late for me to really fall in love with this one. It’s too bad, because there was SO MUCH to like about the second half, but the first half was so flat that I was already one foot out the door, making it that much harder for the book to draw me back in.

Maybe I’m partially to blame for my own disappointment because I couldn’t stop myself from comparing this novel to The Siren and the Spectre. Maybe if I’d read this one first, I would have enjoyed it more. But it was impossible not to hold this book to the high standards I KNOW Janz is capable of, and sadly it didn’t come anywhere near reaching the bar I’d set for it in my mind. This book had a ton of potential, which made it all the more disappointing when it failed to deliver. I’m glad I chose to finish the novel (I came close to DNFing it a couple of times) as it did redeem itself to an extent in the last half, but honestly I don’t see this one sticking with me for very long.

The Homecoming by Andrew Pyper #BookReview

TITLE: The Homecoming| AUTHOR: Andrew Pyper | PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster | PUBLISHED ON:  February 26, 2019 | PAGES: 353 | RATING: 5 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Self-Purchased

My Thoughts:

Andrew Pyper has been one of my auto-buy authors for a while now. Even when his books aren’t perfect, they’re always fun and I’m never left disappointed. With his newest novel though, I’ve been completely blown away. This is basically my perfect thriller, and I loved every page.

I like going into books knowing as little as possible about them, and in this case, I think it definitely added to my enjoyment. Because of that, I’m going to keep this review fairly vague, because the slow-burn of watching this story unfold is a huge part of this novel’s appeal. This is going to be a lot more about how this book made me feel than the actual characters or contents because I really feel like this book needs to be experienced with as little forewarning as possible. I will say that this novel treads the line between about 5 different genres and somehow never feels muddied or like it’s trying too hard. There are horror elements, some sci-fi, maybe a little bit of dystopian, all blended seamlessly into the central plot’s locked room (or, more accurately, locked estate) thriller.

On more than one occassion while I was reading this book, I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It just has this creepy, insidious vibe to it that had me feeling incredibly unsettled while I was reading, and I live for that kind of feeling. This book isn’t horror, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it scary, but the uncomfortable sense of foreboding bleeds off of every page in the best possible ways.

On to the actual content of the novel: I loved the characters in this book. All of them felt real and authentic, if maybe just a tiny bit off in an indescribable way that certainly added into the creep-factor. The flow of the plot was also seriously perfect for me; it had just the right ratio of twists to hints, leaving me guessing to the very end. A lot of the chapters ended in mini-cliffhangers which made this one impossible for me to put down. If not for a migraine rudely interrupting my reading time, I’m pretty sure I could have happily devoured this book in one sitting.

This novel has easily taken the top spot for me as the book to beat for 2019. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a thriller this unique and satisfying, and I doubt I’ll find a better one any time soon. If you haven’t picked up any of Pyper’s novels yet, you absolutely wouldn’t be going wrong to start with this one.  

The Sea Was a Fair Master by Calvin Demmer #BookReview

TITLE: The Sea Was a Fair Master | AUTHOR: Calvin Demmer | PUBLISHER: Unnerving | PUBLISHED ON: June 5, 2018 | PAGES: 130 | RATING: 5 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Copy provided by author

My Thoughts:

Flash fiction isn’t a style I’ve pursued much. I’ve read a couple pieces here and there as part of a collection of longer short stories, but it isn’t something I’d normally seek out. I’m more of a novel reader, I like my stories to have some meat on their bones, but I was intrigued by this collection after seeing so many incredible comments about it. This book definitely taught me that fiction doesn’t need to be lengthy to be extremely satisfying and extremely, extremely creepy.

I think the range of these stories was probably the most impressive part of this collection to me; all too often I’ve read a collection and gotten to the end with no idea which story was which because they all blend together, with no individual tone or voice to each story. That was absolutely not the case here. Each story is creepy, there’s no doubt about that, but the horror leans towards the atmospheric in some stories, tinged with sci-fi in others, and bordering on campy in still others. It was a really fantastic mix that made it easy to absolutely fly through this collection while still keeping each short tidbit fresh and unique in my mind.

My tastes ran towards, of course, the more insidious, atmospheric stories. It’s always my favourite style of horror, and Demmer does it wonderfully. If I had to pick my three standouts from the collection, they would be the first story, “On the Seventh Day”, the titular “The Sea Was a Fair Master,” and my absolute favorite of the bunch, “Underneath.” All of these have a fascinating human/maybe paranormal, maybe not element to them that I loved, and it’s kind of insane to what extent the author is able to examine that and cast doubt for the reader in so few pages.

This was a really excellent collection, with not a bad story in the bunch. I was worried I’d struggle to connect with the contents, given the short length of each story, but the author really works a ton of depth and emotion into every single page. I would completely recommend this collection for anyone looking to explore flash fiction as a style. This is a wonderful, horror-filled treasure chest of a book.