ARC Review: A Dark and Twisting Path (A Writer’s Apprentice Mystery #3) by Julia Buckley

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: A Dark and Twisting Path (A Writer’s Apprentice Mystery #3)

Author: Julia Buckley

Category: Adult Mystery

Publisher/Date: Berkley Books/31 July 2018

Edition: eARC



Barnes and Noble:

Writer’s apprentice Lena London is happily working on a new collaboration with her idol and bestselling suspense novelist and friend Camilla Graham, but her joy is short-lived when a dark cloud descends upon the quaint town of Blue Lake, Indiana…

Lena’s best friend, Allison, is in a panic. On a walk in the woods by her home, Allison discovers the body of her mail carrier, an argumentative man who recently had a falling out with Allison’s husband. Lena quickly realizes that Allison has nothing to worry about as the murder weapon points to a different suspect altogether: Lena’s embattled boyfriend, Sam West.

Sam was cleared of his wife’s murder when she was found alive, and now someone is trying to make him look guilty again. Surveillance video of a break-in at his house shows a shadowy figure trying to incriminate him by stealing the weapon from his desk. Lena and Camilla work on a suspect list, but a threatening note and a violent intrusion at Graham House prove that the devious killer has decided to write them into the plot.

I received an ARC from the publisher via the First to Read program. This book has content warnings for death, murder, on-page attempted murder, stalking, kidnapping (both adults and children), and violence.

This is definitely one of the most enjoyable cozy mysteries I’ve read in a while! This isn’t your typical “someone gets murdered so a friend tries to solve the mystery on their own” mystery book; it actually has quite a bit in common with a thriller. The character relationships in this book are complex, and though our main character, Lena, wants the mystery solved, she also in a sense wants to stay away from the mystery because she and her partner are in real danger because of it. The plot itself is rather complex, but not in a confusing way; though this book is the third in the series and reading the other two in order is recommended (especially by other readers), I had no problem following what was going on without reading the preceding books.

This book also had a very nice “small town” feel to it. The sense of feeling like everyone is watching you, how word travels very quickly, and how unforgiving small town people who don’t believe you can be felt incredibly real to me, and I loved this. The characters felt well-rounded and complex, even if they were side characters, and this part of the book was well done. (And the book gets bonus points for treating librarians like superheroes — because we are.)

Overall, this was a really good read. If you’re looking for a new cozy mystery series to pick up, you might like this one!

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC Review: The Cats Came Back (Magical Cats #10) by Sofie Kelly

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: The Cats Came Back

Author: Sofie Kelly

Category: Adult Mystery

Publisher/Date: Berkley/4 September 2018

Edition: eARC



Barnes and Noble:

The charming Minnesota town of Mayville Heights is hosting a music festival, and the whole place is bustling with musicians and tourists. Kathleen is looking forward to taking in some fabulous performances–and her two cats, Owen and Hercules, are looking forward to taking in some fabulous sardine crackers. But then the trio stumbles across a dead body by the river.

The victim is a close friend–who also happens to be a look-alike of a popular cabaret singer set to perform at the festival. Who could have wanted to harm this innocent girl? Was it a case of mistaken identity?

As accusations abound and suspicions swirl, Kathleen, Hercules and Owen will put their abilities–both mundane and magical–to the test, and lay down the paw. 

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Penguin’s First to Read program. This book has content warnings for death, murder, and violence.

Cats and librarians in mysteries tend to draw me in quickly, and this one did not disappoint. The supernatural elements in regards to the cats were rather fun, and the story was intriguing and well-paced overall. The mystery itself was interesting and well-done; it was the kind that an astute reader may be able to figure out on their own but not so quickly it ruins the reading experience, which is my favorite kind of mystery plot. The subplots also worked really well with the main plot, making this overall an enjoyable read.

My only slight disappointment was with our narrator, Kathleen. I didn’t dislike Kathleen — most of the time I liked her very much — but there were a handful of instances where she and I just didn’t mesh together very well. It was kind of strange because this wasn’t consistent and this didn’t occur for long stretches of the book by any means, but at times something about her character just bothered me. This didn’t make the reading experience too unpleasant, but it made it somewhat more uneven.

This wasn’t one of my favorites, but it was a solid, fun read, and I would definitely recommend it.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Probable Claws (Mrs. Murphy #27) by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Probable Claws (Mrs. Murphy #27)

Author: Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Category: Adult Mystery

Publisher/Date: Bantam/29 May 2018

Edition: eARC



Barnes and Noble:

With the New Year just around the corner, winter has transformed the cozy Blue Ridge Mountain community of Crozet, Virginia, into a living snow globe. It’s the perfect setting for Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen to build a new work shed designed by her dear friend, local architect Gary Gardner. But the natural serenity is shattered when out of the blue, right in front of Harry and Deputy Cynthia Cooper, and in broad daylight, Gary is shot to death by a masked motorcyclist.
Outraged by the brazen murder, Harry begins to burrow into her friend’s past—and unearths a pattern of destructive greed reaching far back into Virginia’s post-Revolutionary history. When Harry finds incriminating evidence, the killer strikes again.
Heedless of her own safety, Harry follows a trail of clues to a construction site in Richmond, where the discovery of mysterious remains has recently halted work. Aided as always by her loyal, if opinionated, companions, crime-solving cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and Tee Tucker the Corgi, Harry hunts for a link between the decades-old dead, the recently violently deceased—and ancient secrets that underlie everything. And while other deaths are narrowly averted in a flurry of fur, the killer remains at large—ever more desperate and dangerous. The deep-rooted legacy of corruption that’s been exposed can never be buried again. But if Harry keeps pursuing the terrible truth, she may be digging her own grave.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for death, murder, poison, gun violence, physical violence, racist/xenophobic language, and miscarriage/pregnancy loss.

I had expected better of this book than what I got; though it wasn’t the worst, overall it was quite disappointing. One thing that is less the book’s fault and more my own is that the dual timelines did not work for me at all; though cozy mysteries like this one are usually fine read as standalone books, the historical plot that takes place in the 18th century apparently spans across the book before this one in the series as well as the book following this one. Because of this, the storyline felt incredibly disconnected from the modern-day narrative because it didn’t have anything at all to do with Gary’s murder. What was more odd was that the modern-day storyline read as expected — as if it could be a standalone read out of order even though it’s part of a series. The historical plot was also pretty boring and dry, and I didn’t care for anything that happened during those chapters. Even though reading the books in this series out of order and not getting the previous part of the 18th century narrative from the previous book, I still expect the characters and the narrative to be interesting, and they just weren’t.

The modern-day narrative was self-contained and more interesting, although I wasn’t impressed by it, either. The human characters mostly spent their time bumbling around almost as if they were waiting for the animals to give them clues, and while the animals were snarky and kind of funny when they talked to each other, their scenes were almost entirely consumed by Pewter the cat complaining about a giant spider. I know cozy mysteries often have a very leisurely pace to them, but this was just too slow and repetitive. I don’t mind a book being a leisurely read, but if it’s going to do that then the narrative needs to have enough content to keep my attention. This book felt as if it could have been half the length and still keep its leisurely pace and storylines without sacrificing anything.

Additionally, I was pulled out of the narrative on multiple occasions because of the racism and xenophobia contained in the book. I realize that this book takes place in the south and maybe phrases like “you can pinch a nickle until the Indian rides the buffalo” (9%) might be more commonplace than they are where I live, but it was still off-putting to see in the text. There was also a really weird scene where Harry’s new Black friend, Marvella, basically starts explaining institutionalized oppression to Harry and sort of even tries to turn enduring institutionalized oppression into a “positive,” and it feels really unnatural and weird. This isn’t my lane so it’d be better to seek out opinions of Black readers (or other readers who are PoC for the racism issues as a whole), but these scenes left a funny taste in my mouth.

I was also a bit uncomfortable with physical violence in the book. There is a scene where a “good” character is breaking the bones of a “bad” character in order to keep them in line, and I was cringing through the whole scene because that felt incredibly wrong to me for a number of reasons. It’s just odd to me that something like that would be depicted as acceptable and heroic when it’s pretty terrible and the character clearly has other options or has started doing it just because they can. This just did’t sit well with me.

I found myself really just wishing there was more to this book. It’s pretty average for a cozy mystery and there definitely could have been more to this one. It wasn’t the worst read, but it was underwhelming at best. If you’re a regular Mrs. Murphy reader then you might like this one; otherwise it might be better to look at other cozy cat mysteries instead.

Final rating: 3 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Clowders by Vanessa Morgan

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Clowders

Author: Vanessa Morgan

Category: Adult Horror

Date: 1 March 2018

Edition: eARC



Clervaux, Luxembourg. This secluded, picturesque town in the middle of Europe is home to more cats than people. For years, tourists have flocked to this place – also known as “cat haven” – to meet the cats and buy cat-related souvenirs.

When Aidan, Jess and their five-year-old daughter, Eleonore, move from America to Clervaux, it seems as if they’ve arrived in paradise. It soon becomes clear, though, that the inhabitants’ adoration of their cats is unhealthy. According to a local legend, each time a cat dies, nine human lives are taken as a punishment. To tourists, these tales are supernatural folklore, created to frighten children on cold winter nights. But for the inhabitants of Clervaux, the danger is darkly, horrifyingly real.

Initially, Aidan and Jess regard this as local superstition, but when Jess runs over a cat after a night out in the town, people start dying, one by one, and each time it happens, a clowder of cats can be seen roaming the premises.

Are they falling victim to the collective paranoia infecting the entire town? Or is something horrible waiting for them? Something unspeakably evil.

Aidan and Jess’ move to Europe may just have been the worst decision they ever made.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for cat death, human death, gore, car accidents, physical violence, and toxic relationships.

This book was a mixed bag for me because while I thought the premise was fascinating and thought that the horror aspects of the book were really good and creepy, I felt frustrated with much of the rest of the book. To start with, I could not stand Aidan. After the move to Clervaux he almost immediately started cheating on Jess, whom he dragged to a different continent with him. (I also had a LOT of issues with the woman that Aidan was “seduced” by being a Latina-coded, stereotypical homewrecker. She was the only person in the book that was coded as a person of color, and that felt very icky to me because OF COURSE the cheating isn’t the white man’s fault…) His tone was also irritating and he was overall pretty boring. Jess was a little better, but not by much; it was clear that she cared about her child and her relationship, but her behaviors bothered me a lot and she was also difficult to read.

I also had issues with literally every other character in this book that was not either a child or a feline… Eleonore was fine and didn’t bother me because she acted like a small child could be expected to. Everybody else got on my nerves at all times. What frustrated me the most, I think, was how literally no one bothered to even try to explain to the newcomers (Aidan and Jess) why the town had rules against killing cats. This was written off as “too difficult to do” by one of the characters, but it just seemed silly because it’s written in the book description and telling someone a legend should not be that difficult. This really weird aversion to actually explaining what was going on to these characters was an okay mystery at first, but it got really tired really quickly and made the pacing feel very off.

I did enjoy the legend itself and the cats and the horror aspects of the book, but these didn’t really shine through because so much effort was put into masking these elements and making the book feel more like a mystery than a horror story. I think I would have liked this book a whole lot better if all humans were removed from the book and it was just the cats. With this town’s luck and history, it seems like this could be something that happens eventually anyway.

Final rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Dark Screams: Volume Ten edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Dark Screams: Volume Ten

Editors: Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Category: Adult Horror Short Story Anthology

Publisher/Date: Random House (Hydra)/13 March 2018

Edition: eARC



Simon Clark, Clive Barker, Heather Herrman, Wrath James White, Marc Rains, Lisa Tuttle, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch unleash the terrifying truths behind love, loyalty, and obsession in a sextet of twisted tales presented by preeminent horror editors Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for violence, war violence, death, child death, gun violence/shootings, and homomisia.

After really enjoying the ARC of Dark Screams: Volume Nine a while ago, I was really looking forward to this one. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as I’d enjoyed the previous volume in the series. I feel like this was largely because the first story of the anthology, “Bastion” by Simon Clark, took up a full 50% of the length of the entire anthology, and I didn’t care for it at all. It felt under-developed for its size, and I thought that a lot could be cut out of it without harming the story at all. If it really wanted to be something of a longer length, it could have gotten made into a novel with deeper character development and more worldbuilding. For its size, that story fell really flat with me — I couldn’t connect with any of the characters and there wasn’t enough explanation behind the war that was going on that these children were fighting for me to care. If a story is going to take up a full half of an anthology then it really needs to be something that shines, and this one didn’t do it for me.

I did enjoy several of the other stories; “The Woman in the Blue Dress” by Heather Herrman was a standout for me that was really creepy and connected with me really quickly. Likewise, “Seven Years” by Wrath James White was hard-hitting and powerful, and I really enjoyed it.

I didn’t run across any stories in this anthology that I truly disliked, but there were more stories that I felt ambivalent about than ones that I really enjoyed, and that was a bit disappointing. This anthology is a pretty quick read, and there are several stories that I would recommend. If you don’t like Simon Clark’s story, though, you might feel a bit disappointed with this one.

Final rating: 3 of 5 stars

Shakespeare and Company Year of Reading — First Box!

First, A Background Story

Back in July of 2015, I studied abroad for the first time. I was in London for a week and a half, Oxford for half a week, and Paris for two weeks. London was fun, things started to go downhill in Oxford pretty quickly, and Paris was difficult, to say the least. I was largely struggling because of a lack of privacy and quiet, and there wasn’t much of anything I could do about it.

I did have one place to spend time by myself, though — that place was where the beautiful bookstore Shakespeare and Company is located.

Shakespeare and Company storefront

Shakespeare and Company is an English-language bookstore in Paris located pretty close to Notre Dame. This bookstore is very special for a number of reasons. For one thing, the bookstore has been a popular place for writers — it houses aspiring writers and artists in exchange for help around the store. Writers like Allen Ginsburg and Langston Hughes have been fed and housed while working on their craft.

The first floor of the bookstore is the actual bookstore — books are shelved from floor to ceiling, stacked on tables, stacked on the floor, placed on banisters, and shoved into every nook and cranny for you to peruse and purchase. There isn’t a lot of room to walk around when its packed — after a certain amount of people have entered the store, they make you wait outside until others leave so that they don’t go past capacity and pack everyone together like sardines — so oftentimes you’re right next to other book lovers who are also getting lost in the shelves. There’s a little donation manhole-type place on the floor where you can donate to help aspiring artists and writers. I dropped a two euro coin in there.

And then there’s the second floor. The second floor is the library. And I have two words for you: Bookstore. Cat.

Benni and KittyKitty

This sweet little white cat was Kitty. He was old at the time I visited, and less than two months later, in September of 2015, he passed away. He lived in the bookstore, and especially later in his life he mostly stayed upstairs because it was more quiet up in the library than downstairs in the bookstore. To no one’s surprise, when I went to spend a day up in the library myself I spent a solid half an hour petting him before doing anything else. (I had been away from home for three weeks — I was a BIT cat-deprived by that point.)

The library has a significantly different tone than the bookstore — it is far more quiet. The library is where the little mattresses for artists and writers are located, and there are also a number of comfy chairs, a bunch of old manual typewriters, and a piano. There are books lining the shelves; they aren’t to be removed from the library, but visitors are welcome to take them off the shelves and sit and read in the library for as long as they wanted. I pulled a copy of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything off the shelf (I’d read it about eight years before in early high school because my history teacher lent it to me — it had a strange familiarity despite being 5000 miles from home, and I was drawn to it), sat down in a rocking chair next to the piano, and read the first half of it. Occasionally people would come by and play the piano; I heard some extremely talented musicians play while I was there. Sometimes kids would want to try it, and one child was far more skilled than any adult I’d heard all day. I read, I journalled, I said my goodbyes to Kitty, and (after buying some more books because I couldn’t resist) I said my goodbyes to that bookstore. I haven’t been there in years, but it’s still without a doubt my favorite place on this planet.

I brought some of it home with me, though — that stack of books in the next picture? I brought exactly four of those to Europe with me from the US. The majority of them were purchased at Shakespeare and Company. You ever left the country with 4 books and brought back home 22? I have…

A stack of 22 books

When I was in the Netherlands in August and September 2017, I almost went back. I couldn’t do it, though — the thing was that it would cost me about $200 to make a day trip to Paris, and I really didn’t want to go for anything other than Shakespeare and Company (where I knew I would spend probably the same amount…). It wasn’t something I could afford at the time, so I didn’t make it. I still plan on going back someday, but I don’t know when that will be.

Fast-fowarding to November 2017…

If you can’t bring the kid to the bookshop, bring the bookshop to the kid, right?

It sounds impossible, and yet they managed to do it. In late November of 2017, the bookstore’s newsletter (which of COURSE I subscribe to — I still want to hear about my favorite bookstore every month even if I can’t visit!) announced the 2018 Shakespeare and Company Year of Reading — a book box subscription that delivers twelve staff-picked books to your doorstep throughout the year. Books are hand-selected with a note from the staff, and the box is filled with other goodies from the bookshop. Boxes will be shipped in February, May and September.

And did I sign up? Fuck yeah, I did.

The first box (the February box) arrived on Friday this past week, and rarely have I ever been so excited to open a package.

And Now… The Box!

Me, Coco, and the box

Getting this box was even more similar to visiting the bookstore than I’d anticipated — my own library cat (Coco!) was just as excited about the box as I was.

The five books from the box

Five books came in the box. They were actually only supposed to do four (four each box for a total of twelve for the year), but they included a copy of How Should One Read A Book? by Virginia Woolf as a special bonus!

"How Should One Read a Book?" cover

This little chapbook is so pretty! The blue portrait and the yellow title covers are separate from each other, and the paper is a high-quality speckled paper. I just love it.

How Should One Read a Book? Title page

And the best part of opening it up? The stamp. All of my books that I brought home with me from Paris were hand-stamped in front of me in the bookstore. I’m so happy to get new books with the stamp again.

The Territory is Not the Map cover

I also got a poetry chapbook — The Territory is Not the Map by Brazilian poet Marilia Garcia. These poems are a commentary on the concept of space and our surroundings — and the really cool part is that the book itself is bilingual. I love that they included the poems in both their original form and their translated form in English.

Title page of The Territory is Not the Map

Opening the book up, I found the coveted stamp — and a surprise! A hand-typewritten poem, Emily Dickinson’s “To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave,” was tucked inside the cover. Sarah, one of the shop’s Tumbleweeds (what the visitors who are housed in the shop have come to be known as) typed it and the other poems I received up.

Green bookmark

One word about this bookmark: Kitty.

“Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise” is the shop’s motto — it’s painted here above the door to the first floor reading room.

Her Body and Other Parties cover

The next book has a blindingly bright green cover! Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado tells strange stories about the female body that play with the myths and realities surrounding them. It sounds like a really interesting read!

Her Body and Other Parties title page

I got a poem in this one, too — “Colour” by Christina Rossetti. Rossetti is one of my favorite poets, and I absolutely love the play with the red and black typewriter ink colors here! Tumbleweed Sarah must have had a lot of practice — there’s no way I could make a poem look this beautiful with a typewriter.

Blue bookmark

I love how the bookmarks show ordinary moments in various parts of the bookshop — they’re simple, and yet they bring me back there every time I look at them.

In the Restaurant cover

Next is In the Restaurant: Society in Four Courses by Christoph Ribbat. Linda, the bookstore staff member who annotated this one, says it reads a lot like a thriller. Thrillers and restaurants and cooking? Yes, please!

In the Restaurant title page

I love how all of these books have a perfect spot on the title page for the stamp — it’s almost as if they were designed especially for it! I got another poem as well — “Listening” by Amy Lowell. This is the only poem I received that I wasn’t already at least vaguely familiar with, and I don’t think a better new poem could have been picked for me. I connected with the musical and nature themes deeply, and it was perfect.

Peach bookmark

And, of course, the bookmark showing the outside of the store on an ordinary day with a smattering of visitors outside. The blossoms are a nice touch. It really is beautiful.

Exit West cover

One of President Obama’s 2017 books of the year, the last book, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, was a special treat. I always read the annotations by the staff members before opening the book up to look at the stamp…

Exit West title page

…and to my delight, this copy is both stamped and signed by the author. This is, without a doubt, a very special book.

As an extra surprise, “The Human Seasons” by John Keats was tucked inside this one. Keats is my favorite poet, so getting this poem was a real treat for me. All the poems I received were just perfect for me, but this one knocked it out of the park.

Coco and the yellow bookmark

Coco decided she wanted to join in on the fun as I attempted to take a photo of the next bookmark…

Yellow bookmark

This is the staircase I had to climb to get up to the library when I visited for the day. Each step contains a few words of a quote by the poet Hafiz — “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” It’s almost like I’m there again.

Coco sniffing Exit WestCoco rubbing on Exit West

Coco was really excited about Exit West. I could hardly get her away from it.

Coco and the sticker

I also got a sticker that reads “Who needs poetry.” Coco decided that she wanted to become a model, so she posed with the sticker for a few pictures. I think she thinks she needs poetry.

Front of tote bag

Finally, I received a tote bag with a photo of the doorway to the first floor reading room. I collect tote bags from bookstores, and this is my third from Shakespeare and Company now. (I bought a large, high-quality one, and then I got another one for free after spending like $180 on books all at once and the staff person decided to toss it in free because I’d bought a lot of stuff. This was about the point where I started learning there was a certain threshold you could pass in a bookstore where they’ll give you a tote bag if you spend so much — this also worked in Powell’s. I’m still testing this theory.)

Tote bag back

This bag is going to get a LOT of use out of it. I already took it to the library with me today while I was picking up a hold. I adore it already, and I can’t wait to take it places!

A Little Pretty Packaging…

As a bonus, here are the wrappings that my books showed up in that I’m really going to struggle to throw away eventually:

Small blue bag

The little blue paper bag with the Groucho Marx quote on it held the Virginia Woolf book on its own — the other books came in the other paper bag. I believe they wanted to make it really clear that this was a bonus book, so they wrapped it separately from the other ones.

Red paper bag

The red paper bag with the Lord Byron quote is quite a bit bigger (after all, it did have four books and a tote bag inside of it).

exterior of box

And then there’s the cardboard box with the Louisa May Alcott quote. This is going to be hard for me to recycle eventually, but while I can probably get away with stashing away the paper bags for a while, it’s really not realistic for me to keep a whole cardboard box for the quote. I’m going to struggle with this for a while.

And in the End?

I had to just sit and appreciate the contents of this box for a while after opening it. This isn’t a book box that has a lot of extra goodies like candles and mugs and tea and such, but the bookmarks and the poems and the stamp alone were enough to make this box mean more to me beyond the books that were inside of it. It felt like some of that “home” I’d found in Paris had made its way to Oregon just for me. I am absolutely delighted beyond belief that this little piece of my little Paris bookshop came home to me.

It’ll be May before I get the next box, and I am even more excited for it now than I was when I signed up for the Year of Reading. One of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I feel at home again.

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Resolutions/Goals!

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic is bookish resolutions and goals! I did a similar thing back in December with my post 8 Bookish Goals for 2018!, so I’m going to take a slightly different angle on this and talk about what kinds of books I want to read this year instead.

10.) DayZero Goal: Finish 7 more books from the Modern Library 100 Best Novels list

I’ve talked before about DayZero, and half of this list is going to be made up of the reading goals I set up for myself on that list. I had a goal to read 10 books from the Modern Library 100 Best Novels list, and I’ve read 3 so far. I have my TBR listed on the DayZero goal page!

9.) DayZero Goal: Read every Stephen King novel

Another DayZero goal, and one that I’ve talked about pretty extensively. For a more in-depth discussion of this goal, see this post: State of the King Address: My Stephen King Reading Quest

8.) DayZero Goal: Read 4 books suggested by friends

This goal was originally for 5 books, and I read one that my partner suggested last year. My problem earlier? I didn’t have friends who liked to read! Friends who don’t read don’t make book suggestions, so I was a bit stuck.

I DO have friends who read now, though — and that includes you! Want to help me with this goal? Suggest a book for me to read in the comments!

7.) DayZero Goal: Read a Sherlock Holmes novel

I have A Study In Scarlet on my shelf waiting for me. I just need to stop getting overwhelmed by other books and read it.

6.) DayZero Goal: Read Paradise Lost

I read about a quarter of Paradise Lost for one of my Intro To The English Major classes. We weren’t required to read the whole thing, which was good because I moved the weekend before finals week and lost my textbook in this mess:

An old photo of stacks of books lining the walls of a bedroom 3/4 of the way around and veering into the center of the room. Stacks are about 2 to 2 1/2 feet high.

A stack of YA fiction in the corner of a small bedroom. There are about six stacks of books ranging from 1 to 2 1/2 feet high.

…so now I want to read the whole thing! I know where my book is now. I can totally do this.

5.) Read the backlist YA I own already

I own a LOT of books that I haven’t read. My YA collection isn’t as big as some other parts of my collection, so getting through the ones I haven’t read yet shouldn’t actually take as long as other kinds of books will. I bought them for a reason — I want to read them!

4.) Check out more adult fiction from the library

I tend to stick pretty close to YA when checking books out from the library, but I want to branch out some more and read more adult fiction, too! I like adult fiction, but I don’t really know where to go when I enter that section of the library, so more often than not, I just don’t.

3.) Read more new middle grade books

Most of the middle grade I’ve read are books from when *I* was part of the target age group… I would like to change that and read some newer things!

2.) Read fewer books that don’t interest me

Sometimes I find myself picking up books because they look like ones I SHOULD read rather than ones that actually intrigue me. I don’t want to do that anymore. I need to read more fun stuff.

1.) Read a new-to-me series

I am not a big series person. I am impatient, get irritated when a series sags in the middle, and always seem to end up in ones that start out great but end up being pretty awful. So, I want to find a new series out there (preferably one that’s completed) that I’ll like! I want to give series another try.

What are some of your bookish goals? Do you have any book suggestions for me? Let me know in the comments!

State of the King Address: My Stephen King Reading Quest

Though I haven’t talked about it a ton, I am on a quest to read every Stephen King novel. While I’m not at all sure about how likely it is, I’d like to be able to finish this quest by the end of 2018. I’m a good chunk of the way through it already, which is good, but there are still a LOT more for me to read. Additionally, some King books are more dense for me than others (I swear it feels like it took me ages longer to get through Dreamcatcher than it did for me to get through Under the Dome…), so it’s hard to estimate how long one of these books will take me to read until I’ve actually started it.

Here are all of Stephen King’s published novels in alphabetical order (with The Dark Tower listed in chronological order) — the bolded titles are the ones I have read so far and the italicized titles are ones I still need to get to.

Salem’s Lot
Bag of Bones
Black House
The Colorado Kid
Cycle of the Werewolf
The Dark Half
The Gunslinger
The Drawing of the Three
The Wastelands
Wizard and Glass
The Wind Through the Keyhole
Wolves of the Calla
Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower
The Dead Zone
Doctor Sleep
Dolores Claiborne
Duma Key
End of Watch
The Eyes of the Dragon
Finders Keepers
From a Buick 8
Gerald’s Game
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
The Green Mile
Lisey’s Story
Mr. Mercedes
Needful Things
Pet Sematary
Rose Madder
The Shining
Sleeping Beauties
The Stand
The Talisman
The Tommyknockers
Under the Dome

According to this list, I have read 27 of King’s 49 novels, and I still have 22 left to read. This is a lot, but on the other hand at least I am more than halfway through the list. I am hoping to prioritize those 22 books in 2018 — I’d really like to get through the rest of these!

My partner is currently finishing up the Dark Tower series and wants me to start it too, so The Gunslinger is going to be one of my next few reads. I’m excited to start finishing up this quest I started so long ago!

Have you read all of King’s novels? Which ones are your favorites? Have you gone on your own quest to complete all of a different author’s works? Tell me about it in the comments!

ARC Review: Dark Screams: Volume Nine edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Dark Screams: Volume Nine

Editors: Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Category: Adult Horror Short Story Anthology

Publisher/Date: Random House (Hydra)/9 January 2018

Edition: eARC



Kelley Armstrong, Stewart O’Nan, Taylor Grant, Jonathan Moore, Peter Straub, and Lee Thomas weave six hair-raising yarns proving that appearances can be deceiving—and deadly—in this horror anthology assembled by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Overall, this was a great anthology! I love a good horror short story, and there were a bunch of them here. My three favorites:

  • “Invitation to the Game” by Kelley Armstrong was a VERY strong start to this anthology. The pacing was perfect, and the use of power imbalances was extremely powerful. I am so glad they put her story first in this collection.
  • “The Dead Years” by Taylor Grant was just creepy. It’s a story of lost love and doppelgängers that ends up being somewhat sweet with a huge dose of terrifying.
  • “Torn” by Lee Thomas tells the story of the aftermath of a young girl’s disappearance. This story was a bit longer and more of a slow burn, and it’s engaging through every page. (This story debatably has a “punishment for being gay” aspect to it; I don’t believe any homomisia was intended, and I still haven’t quite decided how I feel about this particular part of the story, but it could potentially be off-putting for other queer readers. There were also a couple of racial microaggressions; they didn’t feel that big to me while I was reading, but because I’m white I am not in a position to make that call.)

Overall, this was a solid anthology with some great stories that are worth reading.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars.

#ReadersCrossing “Set in the Wilderness” Read: The Wilderness Within by John Claude Smith

Image of book cover from GoodReads
Image of book cover from GoodReads

Title: The Wilderness Within

Author: John Claude Smith

Category: Adult Psychological Horror

Publisher/Date: Trepidatio Publishing/6 October 2017

Edition: Paperback


The forest is alive. 

While visiting fellow writer, Frank Harlan Marshall, Derek Gray senses a palpable dread within Frank’s house and the forest that surrounds it; a subtle, malignant sentience. What should be a joyous event, as they await the surprise arrival of a long-lost friend, comedian “Dizzy Izzy” Haberstein, is fraught with unease Derek does not understand. 

Derek’s confusion is upended by the chance meeting with musician Alethea, formerly of Dark Angel Asylum, a band that dropped out of sight once the leader, Aleister Blut, ended up in an insane asylum. As their relationship blossoms, Derek’s disorientation at the hands of the forest manifests as his world turns sideways…and one of Frank’s fictional creations—a murderous monster named Average Joe—gains foothold in the surreal, psychological terrain. 

As the worlds of reality and fantasy meld, what transpires bounds from deeply profound to pure madness. 

As much as I love horror, I tend to be skeptical of a lot of psychological horror stories because it’s all too easy to make them veer into ableist territory — there are SO many stories out there that rely on a character being “cr*zy” or “m*d” or “ins*ne” in order for there to be any story in the first place, and this book was no exception to that. In fact, this book plays into that ableist trope on multiple occasions, and it’s tiring. The characters were rather flat and had little substance, and I just didn’t care.

In addition to the ableism, there were multiple racist comments, sexist comments, homomisic jokes that the main character actually took the time to explain to the reader why he laughed at, and fatmisic comments, and the further I read the more angry I got. None of these things were central to the book at all — they were just the personalities of these characters. They weren’t in-your-face lines, but they certainly bothered me while I was reading. I felt myself distancing myself from the narrator and not really caring what happened to him because I didn’t like him as a person.

***If you don’t want to read spoilers or anything weird about penises, skip here!***

The climax of the novel was just disgusting, and it was literally a climax. The narrator starts turning into a tree while he is having sex, and his erect penis is literally what’s keeping him rooted into the ground. Are you kidding me? Honestly, if I’d have known that this graphic sex scene was what was going to end up being the high point of the novel, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered reading. The last thing I need is a sexist pig making this much of a big deal out of his erection. No, thanks.

***End spoilers and penises***

While I was reading this book, it felt most of the time like there was just nothing happening. Coupling that with my apathy for the characters, I ended up really bored by this book. It wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but I didn’t care for it at all and I can’t say I’d recommend it.

Final rating: 2 of 5 stars

So, clearly my first book for #ReadersCrossing was a flop. It happens. This was the book I was most worried about not liking, so now that I’ve gotten it out of the way I can read the books that I think I might like a bit more!

How is #ReadersCrossing going for you? Have you read any good books for it yet?