Review: WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor (2017)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult paranormal
Year Release: 2017
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

“Comfort read” for me is such a strange concept. Most people turn to old favorites or more cheery things with happy endings. I turn to the terrifying and unusual when I need something resembling normality. Welcome to Night Vale, the novel, hit just the spot.

This novel takes place in Night Vale, a quiet desert town where the dog park is to be avoided at all costs, pawn shop owners never age, and boys don’t stay in the same form for any reliable length of time. The book version of the podcast delves into the lives Jackie and Diane, two recurring characters in the show. I really liked being able to see what community and family looks like in this place where its creepiness becomes a background to the other trappings of every day life. I really enjoyed the story line of a mother trying to connect with her son, and the young person trying to be taken seriously and prove herself. The way the characters follows a satisfying trail of bread crumbs.

It’s wonderful and odd, but I will say, you might need to listen to an episode or two of the podcast to get into the quirks, such as the radio show and its recurring bits. As someone who has listened extensively to the podcast, it so true to the spirit of it. Having Cecil Baldwin narrate really rounded out the experience. I am definitely look forward to the rest of the ongoing series.

Review: THE RUIN OF KINGS by Jenn Lyons (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Remember Dragon Age 2? Remember how it opened with one of the party members getting interrogated by another party member of a different game and that’s now we got the story? Remember all the disaster queers? Remember how, for a thing with dragon in the title, there was one dragon? If you enjoyed all these things, this fantasy will be right up your alley.

The triple narration is executed with such precision, it is the thing of envy. We get the story of how Kihrin D’Mon wound up in prison from Kihrin, Talon (his jailer), and a mysterious third narrator who should up in footnotes and the last third. It is so fun, mostly because each perspective simply enhances the story, and the emotional connections are tenuous at best. It offers such a unique opportunity to delve into all aspects of the world-building, with scenes connecting based on relevance rather than sequence. Such a cool technique.

In addition, there were aspects of the world-building that feel familiar to many a fantasy fan, but my personal favorite: the mimic. These shapeshifters were so cool, and I am so glad they play such a huge role in the plot. Moreover, I was super intrigued by the soul-binding and death magic throughout this work. Terrible things are afoot in the world, and Kihrin and his friends are in terrible binds, which will probably take more pacts with gods to unravel.

I need my various audiobook subscriptions to refresh asap so I can continue this excellent fantasy saga.

Review: THE GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO MURDER by Holly Jackson (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young adult mystery
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Pippa Fitz-Amobi uses her senior year capstone project as a pretense to solve a murder. Andie Bell had gone missing five years prior and all signs pointed to Sal Singh as the culprit of her disappearance and murder. Pippa wants to find the answers herself, despite the case already being closed.

I really enjoyed the way Jackson uses several formats to bring the research to life. Between audio interviews, research logs, and traditional story telling, we really see every aspect of how Pippa solves this murder. No stone is left unturned as Pippa conducts interviews, visits locations both seedy and deceptively friendly, and learns secrets about people she had grown up with. The voice is clever, and I never got the sense that Pippa had everything handed to her. No moment felt too coincidental. Once again, it was nice to read a young adult where parents are involved and concerned about their children. The depth and breadth of all the character interactions were complex and memorable.  However, the various twists and turns in the final quarter of the book, though effective, could have been cut down a bit. 

If you were a fan of Sadie for how Summers incorporated the podcast element, you will enjoy this small town mystery.

ARC Review: THE DEEP by Alma Katsu (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult historical horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: Edelweiss

Read an eARC off Edelweiss

Having loved Katsu’s previous historical horror, The Hunger, I had high expectations for her second. The Deep is a fictional take on the events of the Titanic and the Britannic, ships which had sunk in very different circumstances, but shared a few passengers, including main character Annie Hebbley.

Katsu has such a knack for managing several timelines and points of view in one narrative. In addition to the great historical tragedies, Katsu delves deeply into one personal tragedy which spans both ships’ journeys. The one that carries the story—the Fletcher family consisting of Caroline, Mark, Ondine, and the late Lilian Notting—was particularly compelling. It features the promise of better, jealousy, terrible choices, and redemptive arcs which try to right the wrongs of the past. Katsu also narrows in on the stories of other passengers, like the Astors, Guggenheim, and more. The depth of research simmers on page, maintaining immersive dread.

Much like in The Hunger, each character gets ample page time. The supernatural, folkloric scares in this one work so well because this narrative is so character-driven. The ships simply serve as a backdrop and madness thrives independent of its majesty. Personal sins and tragedies haunt everyone every step of the way, making for yet another heart-wrenching narrative.

Once again, I found myself the kind of upset in a way that makes me say thank you.

Review: THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Paul Tremblay (2018)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult horror
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

When a young family escape to the woods for a summer retreat, the last thing they expect is a quartet of cultists to invade their cabin. They give Eric and Andrew an ultimatum: pick one of them to sacrifice else the world ends.

If you really enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane, this book is perfect for you. This single-setting story works so well because of how character-driven it is. The world-building in this contemporary setting is largely unnecessary. So much of the tension comes from what is true, what is perceived true, and the facts. The world could actually be ending but also maybe not! No one is level-headed enough to be honest from start to finish. This book does get violent and gory, so if that’s not your thing, watch out.

I also really liked how real the family felt. Wen read to me like a seven-year-old who just wanted to have a happy summer collecting grasshoppers with her two dads. Her two dads clearly had chemistry and history, but also an authentic sense of responsibility that (hopefully) comes with parenthood. There wasn’t a single character in this entire narrative that I didn’t end up caring about (even Leonard, of all people).

Tensely character driven exercise in the choices people make under the circumstances. That being said, if you are someone who cannot handle bad things happening to young child, put this down and read anything else.

ARC Review: ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS by Diana Urban (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Year Release: March 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss

Six students—star athlete, queen bee, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek—are invited to a scholarship dinner where they are presented with a bomb, a syringe, and a note saying that they choose one of them to die or they do.

This book delivers on all the tensions expected from a locked-room thriller. Urban expertly balances the stress in that room with the events of the year prior. Each revelations feeds into the next interaction. It is stressful from start to finish, but the teens feel so real, that the jokes amid the horror stick every landing. The author writes such relatable teen characters—and does a careful job not falling into the trope of cliques. I found myself both cringing and nodding along during the “before” segments because, wow.

There is not much I can say about the ending because when all the secrets come out, your jaw will be on the floor, and then you’ll have to read the book again with a new perspective.

Review: THE TWISTED ONES by T. Kingfisher (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult horror
Year Release: 2019
Source: Audible

Listened to the audiobook

Going to grandmother’s house turns into eldritch horror as Mouse is tasked by her father to clean the place out after grandma’s death. Armed with freelance work, helpful townsfolk, and a very good dog named Bongo, Mouse must face haunted woods, a creepy, prophetic journal, and her step-grandfather’s own descent into madness.

The concept of rifling through the deceased’s items can be uncomfortable enough. Mouse’s grandmother, however, had also been a hoarder on top of a generally terrible person. I really liked all the coping mechanisms Kingfisher presented during this cursed clean-up job: diving into edits, reading an old-timey journal as if it’s another editorial gig, listening to NPR, going on walks, and more. None of this, however, distracts from the creeping dread. It starts with a pedestrian kind of weird, i.e. the room of dolls, to something ripped out of Bloodborne’s design works.

Though immersive and character-driven in a way that makes the dead feel as alive as the living, the pacing of the story could have been a bit more consistent. I think I understood the intention of the normalcy, but when the ending came, it felt so abrupt. Perhaps that had been the point.

That being said, I will always appreciate a work which starts by “spoiling” the ending, but continues to deliver on the terror. We know Mouse and Bongo are telling us the adventure at grandma’s house after the fact. It doesn’t make the monsters any easier to look at or the mantras any less disturbing.

Unsettling in a way that makes rocks absolutely horrifying, a must-read for fans of folkloric horror and very good boys.