The Return by Rachel Harrison

There are a ton of books about female friendships. Female friendships are different beasts. Especially if the friendship began during school and then continued into early adulthood. They change and morph into different entities. You may still love those people but there are things that you no longer share with them. Your life may not be as intertwined any longer. People move, get married, have children and change jobs. What happens when one of those friends disappears and comes back completely different? The Return is about exactly that. Thank you to Berkley for sending me a review copy!! The Return goes on sale in the US on March, 24th 2020.

Synopsis: When Julie goes missing for two years and comes back completely different what do her friends do?

What I liked: I really enjoyed the story. The premise was interesting and kept me engaged. The pacing was fast. There was a lot of dialog between the characters which is something I really enjoyed. It gave you a peek into the relationship dynamics between the four women. I really enjoyed the build up of the story. There is a lot of emotion in the build up of the story. This emotional buildup helped understand the back stories of all the characters and really helped the reader understand the dynamics between the characters. I also like that Harrison brought diversity into the story. Especially, bodily difference and LGBTQIA+ representation.

What I didn’t like: Nothing…..

Star Rating: 4.5 stars

My thoughts: After I finished I went back and read some reviews. I felt like many reviews that were critiquing the portrayal of the female relationships weren’t being very honest with themselves. I felt like Harrison took a look at how many female friendships are and got it pretty accurately. What I found interesting is that if you combine the traits of the four women you can make a whole woman. Each of them display traits that we all have. I have had these types of friendships and these types of friends. You celebrate your victories and help each other when you are down but you don’t necessarily give them a blow by blow of your life. I felt like the women in the story were growing and evolving through the story. Friendships….especially women’s friendships are complicated and it was refreshing to see that complication written about in a story.

Infested by Carol Gore

In horror movies there is a period of time that is referred to as the atomic age. This is a period during the 1950s where movies were about how radiation would effect wildlife or even humans. When you look at what was going on in the world during that period of time the nuclear radiation movies make total sense. It had only been 5 years since the US had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. People saw first hand the horrible reality of this new harnessed power. People didn’t know what the radiation was going to do. There had never before been anything on this planet that had the destructive capability of the atomic bomb. So they turned their fear into movies about ordinary insects and reptiles into monster of enormous size that thirsted after humans. The atomic age of movies died down with the introduction of slasher movies. There was a resurgence in the late 80s/ early 90s where chemicals and not radiation would be the cause of mutation. Infested reminded me of all the movies in the 50s with a splash of 90s nostalgia. Thank you to the author for sending me a review copy.

Synopsis: A park ranger goes to battle with a infestation.

What I like: Gore’s writing was fast paced and fit with the story she was telling. The characterizations were familiar but that allowed me to root really hard for the main character. LOL. The premise of the story really made me happy. I always enjoy a new take on an old favorite. The new take was fresh and I appreciated it. I was totally there for the twist. What I enjoyed was that the twist was taken from the pages of science. I really enjoy when there is an element of non-fiction in the horror I am reading

What I didn’t like: Nothing

Star Rating: 4

My thoughts: I felt like the characters were characters that I had read before. However, that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the story. Mind you I read a lot and watch a lot of movies. This was just something that I noticed. That didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story. I can’t say too much about the twist BUT, I do know that National Parks have looked into this and I can say that my state actually does this. After reading Infested I am a little wary of it.

Benny Rose The Cannibal King by Hailey Piper

As a kid of the 80’s I remember going to this video rental place. This was before blockbuster came to town. It was in this old house. I was in about 4th grade the first time I was allowed to pick out a movie on my own. Honestly, I don’t remember what it was. But to walk through the aisles of movies. Picking the VHS cover up and reading the back was such a big deal. Normally, my parents wouldn’t have let me pick out my own movie by myself but this time they did. Remembering back to those times makes me happy and nostalgic. Those are good memories, but I also remember around the same time that kids were going missing in my home town. No one I knew went missing, but there were plenty of stories. Stories told at lunch and on the playground. Kids whispering behind their hands about what happened to the missing kids. Too bad the truth was much worse than the stories. Benny Rose The Cannibal King took me back to the 80s. Thank you to the author for sending me a review copy.

Synopsis: Some girls and their encounter with the cannibal king.

What I liked: Piper does it again with her fast paced tale of Benny. the premise of the story was amazing. The pacing of the novel was fast and action packed. Piper’s characterizations really made you feel all the feelings for the characters as the story went along. Sadness, anger and heart pounding fear for them. There is a twist in the story which I didn’t see coming and it knocked me upside my head. The legend of Benny Rose was something that we all possibly heard when we were kids. It was crafted in such a way that it would have been one of those stories that kids would have sat around on Saturday nights telling with torches under our chins. The climax was fast paced and action packed…..heart pounding. The ending was fantastic. Even though…..you have a suspicion that the ending isn’t the ending. It has that wonderful open ending where the reader can continue the story in their head.

What I didn’t like: There wasn’t anything that I didn’t like.

Star Rating: 5 Stars!!

My thoughts: Because, it was early and I haven’t had enough coffee I actually overwrote my other review so I am retyping this. LOL. Piper absolutely floored me with this story. It was such a unique take on how urban legends grow and take on a life of their own. Even if many of them are based on a loose reality. But this story hit all the high notes for me. It was deliciously gory with a heart! So much heart. Piper is one to watch folks I have been saying it. I can’t wait to see what else Piper has up her sleeve.

So, if you want to know what happened to the missing kids. The truth is always much worse than fiction. The found the man that was taking kids. he lived in a house across the wash from the town house complex that I lived in. (If you don’t know what a wash is it is a dry river bed). When the police showed up the man barricaded himself in the house when the police showed up. The man (I have no idea what his name was) left his house in a body bag. I don’t remember that part but I remember the police helicopters and the lights from the cars. That was really the night that I learned that humans are much scarier than any fictional monster that I could read about or see on the screen.

Grief Is a False God by Gemma Amor

The definition of grief is “deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.” There are many different ways that grief can manifest itself. What if grief manifested itself in a physical way? Or what about the idea of a feeling attaching itself to a piece of land or a home? There are discussions about whether hauntings are a feeling that has seeped into the pores of a structure and are continually replaying on a loop. Grief is one of the strongest emotions that humans can feel. Grief is explored in great detail in Grief is a False God. Many thanks to Cemetery Gates media for sending me a review copy.

Synopsis: The story of how grief can overtake an entire family.

What I liked: Amor’s writing evokes many different emotions. She writes from a place where you know that she has felt the same emotions that her characters are feeling. The story was sharp and a very different take on a trope that I felt was refreshing. The darkness that she conveys through the story is so well written it seeps through the pages and into your heart. The pacing of the story was perfect for the type of story that it was it drew the reader in and engulfed them.

What I didn’t like: There wasn’t anything that I didn’t like

Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

My thoughts: This story hit all the notes for me. The sadness that permeates the characters are so well expressed that you can feel them as you are reading. The sadness and grief. The story is so well executed that you don’t see where it is going until it gets there. Then it unfolds a bit at a time until you see the fullness and reality of the entire cast. There are some parts of the story that felt very personal to me. It feels like the story had been manifesting itself in Amor’s brain for a long time.

This is an illustrated story. The illustrator is Anibal Santos. Santos seems to have been able to take Amor’s words and put a face to the darkness in them. The color palette is perfect for the story and the line work is fantastic.

The Yellow Wall-Paper, Herland and Selected Writings by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Welcome to the first review of the year!!! 2020 has started out to be an excellent reading year at this point. I participated in #ladiesfirst20 again this year. For my first book of the year I read Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It was included in a new edition from Penguin Classics Women’s series. Which I am totally here for. In this edition there are poems and other short stories from Gilman. Many of which I hadn’t read before, and I am so glad that I have. A BIG Thank you to Penguin Classics for sending me a review copy!! This review is going to cover Herland specifically.

Synopsis: Three men end up in a isolated country which has no men.

What I liked: What can I say. It is Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I love her writing style. The pacing of the story was a bit slower then what I expected but the build up was perfect. I really enjoyed the slower pace it allowed me to immerse myself in the story and the characters. It wasn’t really horror but some of the themes within the story are horror adjacent. I really enjoyed Gilman’s characterizations. She took three different types of men (which she must have known) and wrote them so well. The poetry and the other short stories are amazing.

What I didn’t like: There was nothing that I didn’t like about this book.

Star Rating: 5 Stars

My thoughts: This was the perfect book to start off the New Year. I had read The Yellow Wall-Paper multiple times. There are things that I notice every time I read it. I am pretty sure that Herland is going to be one of those stories as well. What I found truly interesting here was the how the women evolved without having men around. I think for the stories time it was subversive. That women would be able to think beyond fashion and home would have been novel.

True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik

Nature vs. nurture….I think about this a lot. Yes, I probably watch too many true crime documentaries. I recently read a book on this history of mental health and there was a running theme through the book which was how is insanity defined. What makes one insane? Is it something that happened in our childhood or is it something that we are born with? True Crime explores this and much more. Thank you for the review copy Samantha and Grindhouse press.

Synopsis: The story of an abused girl and the fall out from the abuse.

What I liked: I really enjoyed Kolesnik’s writing. The pacing of the book made it a quick one sitting read. Kolensik’s characterizations are really well written. I personally felt all the feelings for the characters. When I say all the feelings I mean all the feelings. Hate, sadness and empathy. The story was very well written and I truly enjoyed the story. I would be interested in knowing what happened to Suzy. LOL. I feel like the story just kind of cut off.

What I didn’t like: There was a time jump that didn’t get explained until a little bit later after then. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it but rather it slightly confused me for a couple of minutes.

Star Rating: 4.5 stars

My thoughts: I finished this book last night and it is still on my mind. The themes that run through it are truly disturbing and I am here for it. As I was reading the entire time I was thinking about the nature vs. nurture question. Would things have been different for the characters IF their parents had treated them better? Or were the characters just born broken? True Crime made me sad LOL.

The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley

I didn’t like mushrooms on my pizza until I was about 15 years old. At that point I wanted to try all the different types of mushrooms that we have on this amazing planet of ours. I still love mushrooms. I kinda am not sure I want to eat them anymore after reading The Beauty. Who am I trying to kid I still love mushrooms but I will never look at a chicken of the forest mushroom the same again.

Synopsis: Women died and in their place grew yellow mushrooms.

What I liked: Whiteley’s writing is very straight to the point and I am here for it. This isn’t my first of Whiteley’s books that I have reviewed. But I have to say it is my favorite. It is the weird quotient that I loved about the book. Whiteley’s imagination is amazing. The pacing of the story was spot on for me. It was a fast read that as a reader I needed to know what happened next. There weren’t any unneeded scenes to fill the story out. The flow was perfect and the emotion of the characters shine through the story.

What I didn’t like: There wasn’t anything that I didn’t like.

Star Rating: 4.5 stars

My thoughts: When I finished The Beauty I had a few minutes of what the hell did I just read. Over the last few weeks I really have come to have enjoyed and loved the story. It is really beautiful and frightening at the same time. One thing I took away from it is that men and women have a symbiotic relationship with one another. I also enjoyed the strength that the “mushrooms” had. I think that there is a lot to unpack in this story. It is such an odd little story but could have a lot of meaning when you look between the lines. I know that there have been some mixed reviews regarding this lovely book.

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

There is a true lack of a girls coming of age stories in the horror genre. I think that it is important that girls and women see themselves in a coming of age story. Especially, in the horror genre. Most of the female coming of age stories are in the YA genre. Personally, I think that the horror genre would really lend itself well to a female coming of age story. Especially, body horror. But I was really excited when I received The Dead Girls Club I was really excited to review it. Thank you Crooked Lane books for the review copy.

Synopsis: 4 friends and 1 summer that will change their lives.

What I liked: Walter’s writing is very fluid. She really takes care with the pacing of the novel. Walter’s characterizations make the characters are three dimensional. Walter’s character building allowed the reader to experience everything that the main character was going through really put you in the main characters head Walter’s writing is fluid and very engaging. She has the ability to pull you into the story. The action scenes were well written and believable.

What I didn’t like: I wasn’t a fan of the fact that I knew where the story was going before the big reveal.

Star Rating: 4.0 stars

My Thoughts: I enjoyed the story. However, I had a couple of issues with it. My main issue is that I felt like I knew where the story was going before the climax. Which was my only issue with the story itself. However, with that being said the story kept me engaged and I really enjoyed Walter’s writing.

Diabhal by Kathleen Kaufman

I have this weird fascination with cults. I haven’t quite figured out what it is. Maybe it is people being under the spell of this one person and what that can mean. Or maybe it is the fact that one person has that much belief or whatever it is in themselves. That is the part that I really am not sure that I understand about the whole cult thing. I also don’t understand how someone can take something that people really believe in and twist it to their own needs. That is what fascinates me. Also all the weird things that happen in cults is another aspect that I can’t stop wondering about.

Synopsis: A young girl is put in a children’s institution when she is part of an ancient ritual that hurts her mother.

What I liked: I really enjoyed the premise of the story. Kaufman really writes isolation well. Thought the entire story there were aspects of isolation and being alone. I really enjoy these themes in horror. Especially with the isolation of modern society. The pacing in the beginning of the story unraveled very quickly. But towards the middle of the story the pacing slowed down and it was a slight slog to get through a few parts. I understand that it was part of the build up to the main character knowing who she is. But some of the slower parts of the story felt slightly unnecessary. Kaufman’s characterizations were so well written. For awhile you didn’t know who was good or bad. I also liked how Kaufman broke up some of the story with psych reports.

What I didn’t like: As I mentioned I had an issue with the pacing but that really was it.

Star Rating: 4 stars

My Thoughts: What really intrigued me about this story was the interconnectedness that Kufman introduces into the story. She pulls indigenous and gaelic beliefs together. There was also a lot of redemption in the story. Forgiveness is so important and the idea of forgiving yourself runs through the story. Basically learning to forgive yourself, in whatever shape that takes. There are times when the story drags and feels like there maybe some unnecessary parts of the story. But it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of reading the story.

The Need by Hellen Phillips

I am always interested when a book is not marketed. Then you read and it reads like horror. At that point I just want to scream “IT IS HORROR.” Alas, you can’t do that without upsetting the people around you. Horror can be very subjective to the person reading or watching it. However, as a parent these fears can be so deep that some horror can get under your skin. The Need does that very well.

Synopsis: A overworked and under rested paleobotanist finds some weird artifacts which leads to an unraveling of her life.

What I liked: There is so much to like about this story. Philip’s writing was anxiety inducing, in a good way. Her characterizations really made you feel like you had crawled inside the characters head to feel her pain and tiredness. The exhaustion was palatable through out the novel and by the end you are just as tired as the main character. The writing in this novel feels very personal, like it isn’t just a story that is being told but the frustrations and fears of any mother. There were a lot of feelings while I was reading this: anxiety, fear and anger especially when the main character wasn’t doing what you wanted her to do. But the plot was so clever and I can’t wait to read more from Phillips.

What I didn’t like: The artifacts did add a bit of a different angle on the story but we didn’t seem to get to delve too deeply into what their actual meaning was. I understood that they meant that there are other time lines and univereses but I would have liked to know more about t

Star Rating: 4 Stars

My Thoughts: As I was reading this I had a lot of thoughts. A lot! This whole book it about motherhood and being more than one thing. Personally, I find the topic of being more than one thing fascinating. Women have the inherient ability to be: boss, mother, sister, daughter, wife, friend and co-worker. But the question is what about her as a person. What happens when she slips and she isn’t sure who she is anymore. Who is a woman when she is be herself looking at herself in the mirror. I think that is a hard one and can’t be answered in a paragraph. This book also has really strong themes of postpartum depression/anxiety running through it. The what can and what might happen, thoughts that people have when the lights go out. I really hope that more people pick up this book. It was on the National Book Foundation Awards long list and I can see why.