ARC Review: I COME WITH KNIVES (Malus Domestica #2) by S.A. Hunt (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: July 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read a NetGalley eARC from the publisher
Content  and trigger warning for dismemberment, gore, violence against cats, emetophobia, fatal shootings

We return to the urban fantasy Untied States right off where Burn the Dark left off as Robin Martine reunites with her mentor, Heinrich Hammer, to take out the witches who killed her mother once and for all. Between those working with the witches and new allies, nothing is quite so simple.

Once again, the pacing in this book is impeccable. Between every intense action scene, there is enough room to breathe and really take in the other story elements. The world-building of the world of witches and demons really shines in this one. Robin undergoes some character development, but not as much as some of the other POVs like Joel, Wayne, and Kenway. It works because all her new friends and allies are being pulled into her violent, supernatural world by forces beyond their control, but also as a result of their devotion to each other. It’s really compelling and makes for some good found family feels.

Compared to the first book, this one is definitely more off the rails. The battles are more intense, the enemies have far more bite to them. And as alluded to in the warnings above, if you like cats, you’re going to have a really bad time because nothing feels particularly gratuitous. It is just taken to the next level as the story demands and the horror elements really work.

An action-packed sequel that leans really into the horror and the introduction of new allies and more terrifying enemies.

June 2020 Reading Recap

June2020RR

June was my birthday! I wound up reading a whole bunch of ARCs, a few new favorites, and even interviewed K.A. Doore to celebrate the release of the Chronicles of Ghadid finale, The Unconquered City.

In addition the blog, you will now be able to find my reviews on The StoryGraph, in addition to Goodreads. My handle is JoReadsBooks

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Review: BURN THE DARK (Malus Domestica #1) by S.A. Hunt (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: My own physical copy

Content warning for gore, violence, vomiting, mental illness, dead parents, blood

Robin Martine is a YouTuber who films her literal witch hunts. Her latest trip takes her home to confront the witches who brought about her mother’s death.

This story doesn’t only center Robin. The Parkins family of Wayne and Leon move into Robin’s family home and the haunts start there. Wayne just started a new school, so on top of the normal being the new kid in a place anxieties, there’s also a demon to contend with. This child was so realistically written—smart and tenacious enough to get himself out of a bind, but still definitely needing the support of the adults around him. The entire cast has such a fantastic dynamic, especially because even though Robin has so much firsthand knowledge, she can’t survive on her own and this sense of found family and community permeates from start to finish.

The pacing in this book is so good. Hunt has a real grasp of when information is necessary and trusts the reader to keep all the threads in their heads. The witches and the hunts are scary and Hunt does so many interesting things with the way the words look on the page. I definitely do not want to live in a town that’s haunted by a dryad, is all I’m saying.

A fun, spooky, witch-hunting time for all of those wanting to get Halloween started early.

ARC Review: MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: June 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC (wish granted)
Buy links: Bookshop |Unabridged Bookstore| Barnes and Noble

Read a NetGalley eARC

Haunted house stories are great because you’re lured in with the promise of a lavish home and maybe some romance with polite homeowners, and then things go down into a trash bin faster and more strangely than expected. When Noemí received a strange letter from her cousin Catalina, she goes to High Place in an old mining town Pachuca. Eerie visions and awkward encounters unfold, spiraling into eldritch horror.

The atmosphere in this book is simply perfect. The descriptions are lush, and the reader feels the same amount of dread as Noemí as she uncovers unexpected secrets and peels back the many layers wrapped around Catalina’s illness. There is a perfect sense of time too. The book takes place in 1950s in Mexico, and the little details about pop culture really help put together that sense of setting, even if the plot beats are familiar to those who enjoy gothic haunted house tales.

Noemí is also the perfect protagonist for this story. She is a socialite and never loses that lively air around her, even as things get progressively worse around her. She has a very strong sense of self-preservation and empathy for those she interacts with. When she fights, she fights and I loved that tenacity about her.

A perfect gothic haunted house story that doesn’t take place in Victorian England.

 

ARC Review: BURN OUR BODIES DOWN by Rory Power (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Year Release: July 2020
Source: NetGalley eARC
Buy links: Bookshop |Unabridged Bookstore| Barnes and Noble

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Mothers don’t always tell their daughters anything, but Margot Nielsen just really wants to connect with the family she had never known. Some secrets lead to a rabbit hole and the truth puts Margot and her new friends in danger.

Much like her debut, Wilder Girls, Power has such a knack for writing feral, unlikable main female characters. Margot is determined to survive and not afraid to put up a fight. The stream of conscious writing is excellent because it allows room for these asides that show just how pissed off Margot is at, well, everyone around her. In addition, even though it has no real bearing on the plot, Margot is a queer girl who loves girls and it’s on the page.

The book is steeped in this creeping dread as the reader explores the notes and diaries left behind by Margot’s mom. Gram is also sweetly unsettling, and to say anything more would absolutely be spoilers territory. There’s definitely a sense of history in the farmhouse and the ruined cornfields, and the layers keep going and going.

A delightful Midwest horror in which family secrets are kept tucked away for good reason.

 

Review: YOU LET ME IN by Camilla Bruce (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Trigger warning for gore, violence, child abuse, murder, disembowelment, dismemberment

Cassandra Tipp left behind an unfinished manuscript a year after her disappearance. In it, she tells the truth of her fairy tale life, which is more Hans Christian Anderson than Disney.

The ferocity and violence of the fairies in this one is something to behold. The entire book operates under the question of how much of her violent life is grounded in reality and how much is the work of fairies. As alluded above, they are not friendly. Pepper-man is as much nemesis as he is friend, but he is never friendly. The narration to the reader proved really effective, and many of the texts that exist within the book felt like real books.

The details in this work are very much inspired by nature and do not shy away from grim realities and gory details. It is easy to see how Cassie found solace with the fairies, but giving those around her who couldn’t see the fairies the correct dubiousness. I highly recommend looking at the trigger warnings before diving into this one.

Uneasy and a must-read for people who want to read more murdery fairy instead of simply the mischievous kind.

 

Review: WALK AMONG US by Genevieve Gornichec, Cassandra Khaw, and Caitlin Starling (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror Novellas
Year Release: 2020
Source: Libro.fm

Content warning for suicide ideation, blood consumption, gore, violence, manipulation

Genevieve Gornichec’s “A Sheep Among Wolves” performed by Erika Ishii
A college student looks for companionship and finds it in the unlikeliest of places. I really appreciate how Gornichec approached the recruitment strategy, and laid out a solid framework for that final reveal. The mental health aspect of it was also relatable, plus the general loneliness that comes with being in college. Very atmospheric.

Cassandra Khaw’s “Fine Print” performed by Neil Kaplan
Of the three, I think this one might have been the grossest. Khaw takes the approach of food insensitivities and the paperwork that goes into  becoming a vampire. It also tackles individual interpretations of privilege that are both incisive and has you rooting for the antagonists in the best way. Sometimes the vampires are the good guys.

Caitlin Starling’s “Land of Milk and Honey” performed by Xe Sands
The setpiece of a verfiable blood farm was exquisite in this work. Leigh just wants to have an ethical source of vampire food, and nearly compromises the Masquerade in the process. If you’re looking for some sapphic pining, this novellas also has plenty of that to go around. The women are complex, and the attention to detail regarding animal husbandry is particularly good.

A must-listen for people needing more vampire stories in their life.

 

Review: THE GOOD HOUSE by Tananarive Due (2006)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2006
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warning for suicide, sexual assault, violence, body horror, emetophobia

This book was so good, I got myself a hard copy upon completion. In this horror novel taking place in the Pacific Northwest, a Fourth of July party goes horribly wrong and homeowner and lawyer Angela Toussaint works to find out what led to her son’s suicide, as other acts of violence take place.

The structure of The Good House absolutely blew me away. Where many novels build up to the absolute worst thing, this one starts with it. But the horrors don’t stop there—a father drowns his son, a starlet winds up dead, and other happenings make Angie’s journey a race against time. The attention to the reactions steep the reader in the loud horror that is this novel. Due does not pull any punches with this one, so if you’re squeamish or prefer quieter terrors, this book might not be for you.

Much attention is taken to round out each and every one of the characters.  The attention to intergenerational “sins” in a framework that’s not based in Christianity was something new to me, and I loved how seamlessly integrated it was into the more immediate problems of suspicious stomach aches followed by violence. The evil here doesn’t exist in a binary, which is what makes this story so immersive. There were definitely points at which I wished I could have looked away, but Due takes her time exploring the lead-up and consequences. The attention to detail is astounding. Even on a sentence level, the language in this work is so precise. No metaphor or simile is wasted and draws a straight back to the plight of the POV character.

A harrowing haunted house story with so many layers and a fascinating structure about a lawyer trying to do right by her family.

Review: INK AND BONE by Lisa Unger (2016)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2016
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning for child abduction and violence primarily against children

Few things are scarier to parents than losing a child. This horror novel really delves into both the experiences of a child abducted, her parents who are dealing with the loss, and the private investigator intern who is trying to solve the mystery.

This book is deeply atmospheric and has a very clear idea of the tone it’s going for. Few aspects weren’t totally upsetting, but I did really appreciate and the admire the commitment to depict frank family interactions. Finnley worked so well as an ornery protagonist, and the tension between what she wants and what her family expects versus the relative she clung to resonated with me. The ghosts themselves were scary, but as in most ghost stories, the living are far scarier. The sense of danger as it relates to Abby’s POV, especially the gaslighting and forced change in identity, chilled me. The way the different sections were interwoven instilled an acute sense of rescue being possible but so far.

An emotional read taking place in the haunting and haunted woods of upstate New York.

 

Review: WHITE TEARS by Hari Kunzru (2017)

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

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning for police violence

This book raced up my TBR when I saw it compared to Jordan Peele’s Get Out. This book follows the perspective of two newly-graduated young men, Seth and Carter, who take an interest in collecting records, focusing especially on Black genres and trying to take ownership of the music they claim to appreciate.

Kunzru cleverly immerses the reader in the mindsets of one of these privileged main characters. What really worked here was how they didn’t make any mistakes typical of the horror genre, and weren’t painted to be particularly unintelligent. Things are odd when the refrain of a legendary record repeats throughout the narrative, but the ride doesn’t truly go off the rails until the end. The most effective part? The boys are shitheads, but not particularly unintelligent, which makes what happens later on that much more harrowing and effective when Seth’s understanding of the world and those around him becomes thoroughly upended. It’s a fantastic indictment of privilege and the things money can protect and buy.  In addition, it expertly illustrates how appropriation works with a cathartic ending that I cannot go into because the book sticks its landing.

An eerie ghost story that’s somewhat about collecting vinyl records but mostly about privilege and appropriation.