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.

Nothing But Darkness by Maria Ann Green #BookReview

TITLE: Nothing But Darkness | AUTHOR: Maria Ann Green| PUBLISHER: Self-Published | PUBLISHED ON: July 27, 2018 | PAGES: 305|
RATING: 4 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Author provided copy |
TRIGGER WARNING: Extreme violence against women

I fully admit, I was apprehensive about starting this book. The more I learned about it, the less it sounded like something that would be up my alley: I’m not a huge fan of serial killers, or gore, or romance. Not to mention those don’t really sound like things that would mix particularly well. But somehow, the author manages to take these very, VERY different elements and combine them into a thoroughly engrossing, supremely disturbing thriller.

Our main character is Aidan, a handsome, charismatic and reasonably successful man. He’s got a decent job, a caring best friend, and no shortage of luck with his sexual conquests. But Aidan is also discovering that he has a newfound penchant for death, and the more violent, the better. Even before you add in the whole serial killer element, Aidan is a grade-A asshole; he’s a liar and a womanizer, and the thoughts in his head are pretty damn disgusting. And yet, I couldn’t help rooting for him. I think it says a lot about the quality of writing when an author can make a reader simultaneously utterly disgusted by yet weirdly supportive of such a despicable character. I hated Aidan completely, but I also couldn’t help hoping that he’d succeed in his non-murderous endeavors. I had a lot of very uncomfortable, very conflicted feelings towards Aidan, and I have to applaud the author for making me feel that way about a character I should have out and out loathed.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of having romance thrown into a non-romance book. I feel like most of the time, it’s unnecessary and adds nothing to the story. I should have felt that way about our charming serial killer’s love life, and yet somehow I kind of loved the romance element here between Aidan and Bee. It just fit into the story perfectly despite being such a completely different vibe from the rest of the plot. It also made Aidan feel like an actual human being, which I think added a lot to the conflicted feelings I had about him. There was a cheating spouse element to the story that I didn’t care for at all, but that has more to do with my personal tastes than how it was actually integrated into the plot; I just don’t enjoy reading about infidelity. But overall the romance element was well done and I loved how it added a totally different and softer element to the still completely fucked up plot.

I really didn’t have many issues with this novel. Sure, Aidan’s thoughts on women are pretty horrifying, but it fits with his character. It definitely made me make my “ick” face more than once, but it was overall well done. The writing is great, with good pacing and complex characters. I did find the ending to be a little bit abrupt, but knowing there’s a sequel coming, it didn’t bother me much. This was a really solid thriller, and a great take on showing things from the killer’s perspective. I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Aidan and Bee will end up in the next book!

The Woman in the Dark by Vanessa Savage #BookReview

TITLE: The Woman in the Dark | AUTHOR: Vanessa Savage | PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing | PUBLISHED ON: March 12, 2019 | PAGES: 346| RATING: 3 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Publisher |
TRIGGER WARNING: Domestic Violence, Rape

My Thoughts:

I really, really wanted to love this book. Great cover, good premise, on the surface it sounded right up my alley. Unfortunately it rubbed me the wrong way from the very beginning, and while it did win me back slightly before the end, it never fully climbed back into my good graces.

This has a lot to do with my personal reading tastes. I hate, HATE, the trope of the traumatized and therefore hysterical woman who no one believes due to her trauma. It’s a weirdly popular trope in thrillers (especially thrillers written by women it seems) and clearly other readers are into it since some of the most popular thrillers in recent years have employed it, but I don’t like it. It feels like a cheap way to remove a character’s agency. This book does take it in a different direction than most other books I’ve read, and I can definitely appreciate that, but its use still got my hackles up right from the start.

I also found the characters as a whole to be rather shallow. The reader is offered glimpses into Sarah’s past, but never enough to make her complete breakdown believable for me. Her relationship with Patrick was the same, it felt extremely surface level which made it difficult to fully invest. Mia especially suffered here, she has essentially no personality outside of “angry teenaged daddy’s girl.” What made this all the more frustrating though was the fact that Joe is actually quite well written and fleshed out; he has a past and clear feelings and interests, and I found my heart breaking for him as I read. But this really showcased the shallowness of the other characters in comparison.

There were, however, a few elements of this book that worked very, very well. The sinister nature of the Murder House was a big winner for me. I found myself truly questioning whether there was something supernatural happening here, and I love a book that makes me doubt what’s taking place. The mystery itself, while not perfect and a little predictable towards the end, was also extremely compelling and kept me turning pages. The author did an excellent job of weaving the mystery together with the more domestic thriller elements. The prose itself here is also fantastic, and I loved the imagery the author paints for the reader. That was definitely the strongest point of this novel in my opinion.

Even though I never felt entirely immersed in the story, it did hold my attention and I was eager to see how things would end. For the author’s debut, I think she did a fantastic job of using evocative, attention-grabbing language. With a bit more depth to the characters, this could have been a slam dunk of a novel. As it stands, it was a mostly enjoyable read with a few stumbling blocks, and I would definitely be open to checking out the author’s future works.

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.  

Return to Hogwarts: My Harry Potter Reread, Part 1

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone| AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling | PUBLISHER: Scholastic | PUBLISHED ON:  June 26, 1997 | PAGES: 332 | RATING: 4 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Self-Purchased

My Thoughts:

I’ve been saying for ages that I was going to reread the Harry Potter series, but I’ve been stalling. Hard. Part of that is just my complete inability to stick to a TBR, but mostly, I was afraid that revisiting the series as an adult would take away from the magic of the experience. I grew up with Harry Potter, reading the books, watching the movies. It was one of my absolute favourites, and I can’t even tell you how many times I reread the series; it became a bit of a summer tradition for me to reread the entire series before the next book was released. I’ve reread a couple of other childhood favorites as an adult, and was left feeling a little disappointed. I didn’t want to risk feeling that way about this series which was such a massive part of my childhood. But, thanks to a Bookstagram readalong, I finally decided to take the plunge and start on my reread. And THANK FUCK, I still loved this book!

Of course rereading this as an adult is a completely different experience. It’s still magical and wonderful, but certain things definitely stand out more now than they did when I was 11 or 12. Case in point, Hagrid: WHO IS LETTING THIS MAN WORK WITH CHILDREN? As a character, I still love him of course, he’s a sweetheart who has Harry’s best interests in mind. But he’s also an alcoholic with no magical abilities, he’s horrible at keeping his mouth shut, and half the time he’s actively putting Harry and pals in danger due to his extremely poor decision-making. Mindblowing.

I also wanted to scream at Harry, Ron and Hermione to just mind their own damn business more than once. I kind of forgot what nosy little shits they are. Though, I suppose, if they weren’t, this book wouldn’t have much of a plot. As a kid, reading about their adventures is fun and exciting! As an adult, I’m wondering how the supervision at Hogwarts is so fucking lax.

All joking and get-off-my-lawnism aside, I really did still love this story. Rediscovering it as an adult is really like reading a brand new story, but one that somehow still feels so perfectly nostalgic and comfortable. I immediately sank back into the world of Hogwarts, and while I remembered the broad strokes of the story, I was surprised by how much I’d also forgotten since my last reread probably 15+ years ago.
I loved learning about magic all over again with Harry. The relationship between the main characters is still so wonderful and easy, the way all good childhood friendships should be.

I truly enjoyed re-immersing myself into this wonderful, fantastic world. It was just the right amount of nostalgia, reminding me of the days when I would stay up past my bedtime reading under the covers because I just absolutely could not even consider putting the book down in favour of sleep. I’m looking forward to continuing my journey, and I’m interested to see how I’ll feel about book #2 when I read it next, given that it was always my least favourite growing up…Stay tuned for part 2 in the next little bit, as I try to get caught up with the readalong in time for book #3 in March!

Black Water by Whitney Skoreyko #BookReview

TITLE: Black Water | AUTHOR: Whitney Skoreyko | PUBLISHER: Self-published | PUBLISHED ON: September 5, 2018 | PAGES: 205 | RATING: 3 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Copy provided by author

My Thoughts:

I like going into books more or less blind, knowing as little as possible about them. Usually that works out well, but every so often the mood reader in me gets burned by a book that isn’t what I had it set up in my head as. This book was not exactly what I was expecting. I had it in my head that it was a straight-up thriller, but what I got was more of a romantic suspense. Not a bad thing necessarily, but unexpected.

Okay so, as you’ve probably guessed, this book had a much larger romance element than I was expecting. That was really the biggest pitfall of the book for me, partially because I’m not a huge romance fan, partially because the whole thing felt far too instalove for my tastes. Hannah locks eyes with “the green eyed man” across a room and immediately falls for him despite the fact that he’s throwing up more red flags than a soccer ref. It didn’t feel realistic at all and their whole budding relationship really bugged me.

The actual mystery part of the novel was definitely intriguing though. I finished the book in one sitting because I wanted to know where the mystery was going, and the resolution was extremely unexpected, which I appreciated. I liked seeing everything come together, it was satisfying without being over the top neat and tidy. I also enjoyed the shifting perspective, which, to an extent, helped a little with the red flags I mentioned above, but not entirely. I do think it was an interesting idea though and it worked well in this story.

Now, I have to get something off my chest with this book that really, really bothered me: if you’re going to set your book in a city you aren’t familiar with, you need to do your research! I’m a detail-oriented reader, so when I read something that I know is incorrect, it bugs the everloving shit out of me and will completely take me out of the story. There is no Uber in Victoria, and no one is waiting for days for a plane to Vancouver (or vice versa, from Vancouver back to Victoria): there are nine million flights a day, a ferry, and 2 other cities within a 3 hour drive where you could also catch a flight or ferry. Like I said, I finished this book in one sitting so it didn’t completely ruin it for me, but it really stuck out to me as something that should have been caught since it’s so easy to verify.

As a debut indie book, this book was pretty well put together. It wasn’t flawless, and could have used a bit more fact-checking, but that’s fine and a book doesn’t need to be perfect to be enjoyable. It was a quick read, and while I did have my issues with it, I found it to be an entertaining read. I don’t think I was necessarily the right audience for this book given my general hangups with romance mixed into other genres, but if that your kind of thing, I’d say this book is worth a read.

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.

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren #BookReview

TITLE: My Favorite Half-Night Stand | AUTHOR: Christina Lauren | PUBLISHER: Gallery Books | PUBLISHED ON: December 4, 2018 | PAGES: 384 | RATING: 4 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Netgalley

My Thoughts:

Contemporary romance isn’t necessarily a genre I’d call my “thing.” Romance in general tends to be a genre I largely avoid. But sometimes, you just need some fluff, and this book caught my eye as the perfect palate cleanser after finishing another less-than-stellar book. Fluff is what I came for, and fluff is what I got, but with humour and intelligence that I truly wasn’t expecting going in.

Millie is a criminology professor who surrounds herself with work and her crew of her best guy friends. She doesn’t really get out or date much following a bad breakup years before from the man who is now her boss. But when an important event comes up that requires a plus one, Millie and her four guy friends agree to try online dating together. Easier said than done when there are already feelings involved in the group…

This story was super cute. It’s predictable of course, but not in a bad way. It’s your typical rom-com with a side of catfish. Honestly, as far as fluffy romance novels go, this one was really well done. Millie actually feels like a well-rounded human being with real problems and dreams and feelings. Yes, there’s your typical “it’s all just a misunderstanding!” plotline but again, done in a way that felt fresh and realistic. And this novel was funny as hell. More than once I had to stop for a second because I was laughing too hard to keep reading. I found myself really involved in the story, and I read the book in two sittings because I couldn’t tear myself away! I needed to know whether things would work out for Millie.

I surprised myself a little bit with just how much I enjoyed this book. Sure, it’s a total popcorn read and it isn’t exactly high literature, but man is it fun. I loved every page of this book, and it was just what I needed after my bad breakup with my previous read. Christina Lauren is definitely going on my list of go-to authors when I need something that’s fun and fluffy, but still intelligent and emotionally satisfying.

New Blog, Who Dis?

That’s right my friends, the day you’ve all (probably not really) been waiting for is finally here – I’ve finally made good on my repeated statements that I was migrating my blog to WordPress! I’m really excited by all the new features and options I’ll have versus my old blog, plus, look! Shiny domain name that’s all mine!

Now, I’m still very much in the process of migrating things over, but I’ve got plans baby! Here’s what you can expect in the near future:

  1. I have a few brand spanking new reviews that I’ll be posting shortly, so keep an eye out for that.
  2. I’ve created a page here for my 2018 reviews, so if you’re looking for my Blogspot reviews, they’re still easily accessible through the new site. This is still a work in progress, but bear with me, it’ll be done soon!
  3. While crocheting was never intended to be the main portion of my blog, I do want to incorporate it a little better. Not least of all so that my handle is a little less scandalous. To that end, books are now rated out of 5 hooks, and stay tuned for a monthly crochet feature!
  4. Up until now, I’ve posted pretty much exclusively reviews. Those will still form the meat of the blog, but I’ll be adding a few other fun features like wrap-ups and listicles. If there’s anything in particular you’d like to see, drop me a comment!

So there you have it, lots of new things coming and I hope you’ll stick with me for the ride as I put the last little touches on getting this thing up and running!