The End of Her is my third Shari Lapena novel, and while I didn’t think it was her best, it nonetheless hooked me and fed my addiction for her stories. The plot follows several seemingly unrelated groups of characters, whose connections will be revealed later, but the main focus is on Stephanie and Patrick, a young couple from upstate New York who have just welcomed twin girls. Unfortunately, both babies are colicky, crying from evening until late into the night. A stay-at-home mom, Stephanie feels she is at her wit’s end, and Patrick, a partner at an architectural firm, also finds his work performance suffering due lack of sleep.
The last thing this poor couple needs is even more trouble, but that’s exactly what turns up in the form of Erica, the best friend of Patrick’s first wife Lindsey, who had died years before in a tragic accident. But now, Erica has tracked Patrick down with the intent to extort him, claiming to know what really happened. Unless he paid her, Erica has threatened to go to the police with the story that Patrick had in fact murdered his first wife, making it look like an accident. Knowing that Erica is an expert on manipulation, Patrick is terrified, having no doubt that she can make it sound convincing. Of course, it doesn’t help that he had put out a life insurance policy on Lindsey just before she died—or the damning fact that he and Erica had been sleeping together at the time. This last tidbit, Erica promises to tell his current wife if Patrick doesn’t pony up the cash, and remind Stephanie that “once a cheater, always a cheater.”
To head off the disaster, Patrick decides to come clean to Stephanie himself, preemptively telling her about the affair. However, on the death of his first wife, Patrick is adamant that it was an accident, insisting that it was all part of the lie made up by Erica to get at their money. Disappointed in her husband for his past involvement with this crazy woman, Stephanie is nonetheless supportive of him, believing his side of the story. But after refusing to pay, neither of them was prepared for Erica to actually follow through on her threat, getting the police to reopen Lindsey’s case. Suddenly, all of Patrick’s past indiscretions are laid bare for everyone to see, jeopardizing his career and the life he has built. Devastated that her husband has been keeping secrets from her, Stephanie’s trust in him is also eroding. She knows Patrick isn’t perfect and he’s made plenty of mistakes, but could he really be capable of murder?
The End of Her asks the same question that many other domestic suspense thrillers about married couples do: Just how well do you know your spouse? In Stephanie’s case, apparently not very well. An absolute terror of a woman storms into her life, blowing to hell the notion that she and Patrick have the perfect marriage. But while readers are meant to despise Erica with a passion, and to sympathize with the protagonists whose lives she is trying ruin, Shari Lapena isn’t about to let Patrick off the hook either. Sure, he may seem sincere, and come on, how many people can honestly claim they’ve not made any dumb choices in the past? And yet, as the lies start piling up, you can’t help but start to wonder. Either Patrick has got to be the unluckiest person in the world to be caught up in all these coincidences that make him look hella suspicious, or quite simply put, he is hiding something. And for all that Erica is an evil conniving bitch, she genuinely believes she is doing Stephanie a favor by outing Patrick as a murderer, so there appears to be a part of her not solely motivated by the money. In the end, readers are torn back and forth between whether Patrick might be guilty or innocent, and I loved the way the author kept this part of the mystery going until the very end.
In terms of criticisms though, the plotting was kind of a mess. That’s because Erica, disgusting piece of human scum that she is, is also running a racket on two other couples at the same time (related to the main storyline, but I won’t say how) and every so often there would be these other perspectives randomly inserted into the narrative. Certain developments also felt too convenient, not to mention the moments where I felt the characters were deliberately written to be the stupidest people on the planet in order for them to miss the obvious solutions dangling in front of their faces. And then there was that ending. Ugh. I’m sure in the author’s mind it was a fiendishly clever example of poetic justice meant to be her mic drop moment, but in reality, it just came across as horribly contrived, leaving me feeling cheated. After all, endings are so important when it comes to thrillers, and I hate to say it, but this one just didn’t stick the landing.
Still, right up to that point, this was a rocking good book. The End of Her may have had its hiccups, but nevertheless it kept me engaged and turning the pages through the whole thing. I’m still a huge fan of Shari Lapena, who remains on my must-read authors list, and I can’t wait to check out what she writes next.
It’s interesting that on the cover of this one there is a blurb from Neil Gaiman, because Night Train actually feels like a story Gaiman could have written and that his fans would like. And I definitely mean that as a compliment.
However, despite the wildly imaginative concepts in this darkly eccentric horror, the style was simply not for me. To put it plainly, this book was just straight-up weird. So weird, I wouldn’t even know how I would go about summarizing the story, but here goes nothing. As the novel opens, a young woman wakes up on a train surrounded by corpses. She can’t remember who she is or how she got there, but decides to adopt the name Garland based on the name patch stitched to the uniform-like clothing she finds herself wearing.
As the train continues to hurtle through a nightmarish alien landscape, Garland soon discovers the presence of other passengers, who are just as frightened and confused as she is. As a group, they all decide to work together to make sense of their situation, beginning their exploration of the train by going from car to car. But instead of answers, they only find more strangeness, like bizarre creatures and pocket worlds of surreal and impossible environments. There is no rhyme or reason to the things they experience, as everything on their mysterious train seems to defy the laws of the real world.
I think I realized fairly early on that Night Train wasn’t for me, but I persisted anyway, hoping the story would start making sense. And in a very surface-level way, a rough framework of a plot did begin emerging after a certain point, but unfortunately, the disjointed and abstract structure of the book didn’t change one bit. Needless to say, I felt untethered and lost amidst all this ambiguity, and I struggled as a result.
That said, I will give this book some major points for humor, which was an element I did not expect in this strange dark tale. Clearly, the author used the laughs to emphasize the surrealism of it all, and I have to say he did with great effect. We mostly have the characters to thank for this, as well as the crackling dynamics that resulted from throwing together a group of confused strangers on a train from hell. The characters themselves were well-written, even the couple of those with personalities that were deliberately exaggerated or over-the-top. It made for some hilarious dialogue and lighter moments that left me howling.
But while the humor might have alleviated some of the frustration I felt from the confusing storyline, I couldn’t say I really enjoyed the book overall. In addition to the muddled plot, the overall mystery also dragged somewhat, ironically because the author kept ramping up the chaos by dropping our characters into increasingly crazy and nonsensical situations without giving up any solid answers. Bottom line, I can only put up with being left in the dark and going in circles for so long until I begin to lose my shit.
Ultimately, Night Train was not the book I expected, though I’m glad I plowed on if nothing else to experience the humor. But as a story, it simply felt too fragmented and confusing, leaving me lost for most of the time. That being said, I’m sure the book will find an audience. If you’re a fan of postmodern dark horror with a good dose of the weird and surreal, you may enjoy this.
Audiobook Comments: The narrator has a rather strong accent, one which made me listen the audio of Night Train on a slower speed setting than normal, at least until I could get used to her voice and pronunciations. But other than that, I found no issues with narration or production, had a good listen....more
I am stunned! I mean, I always knew Rebecca Roanhorse would go places ever since I read her debut Trail of Lightning, and I have also gone on to adore the follow-up Storm of Locusts as well as the novel she wrote for the new Star Wars universe, Resistance Reborn. Her first crack at epic fantasy, however, was even better than I could have imagined! Black Sun is incredible, my favorite work of hers yet.
Told via multiple perspectives, the story takes place in a world inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas. As the winter solstice descends upon the holy city of Tova, all the members of the Sky Made clans under the newly appointed Sun Priest would normally be preparing for the upcoming celebrations. But this year, the event would be coinciding with the solar eclipse, a sign of great disturbance. In Carrion Crow, disgraced among the clans, a fanatical group of renegades believe that it is a sign of the imminent return of their god who will take vengeance upon those who stripped them of their power generations ago.
Meanwhile in the city of Cuecola, exiled far from home, a Teek captain named Xiala finds herself taking on an unusual assignment. The job sounded easy enough when she agreed to it, involving the transport of a single passenger across the seas to Tova. As it turns out though, the passenger in question is a strange and unnerving young man—blinded, scarred, and rumored to have the ability to speak to crows. Called Serapio, his very presence makes Xiala and the crew uneasy, added to the fact that their benefactor has stipulated a nearly impossible deadline for their journey through treacherous waters. Anyone else would have said it can’t be done, but Xiala is no ordinary sailor. Her Teek heritage has bestowed upon her the magical power to use song to calm the oceans, to coax the waters into speeding them along. But of course, every voyage has its perils and unexpected destinies—some more than most.
Beautifully crafted and filled with lusciously detailed descriptions of exotic locales and memorable characters, Black Sun is as close to perfection as you can get. Fellow epic fantasy fans, these are the kinds of stories we live for, richly woven adventures that whisk us away to imaginative worlds full of complex magic. There’s also an effusion of cultures and religions colliding with layers upon layers of political intrigue, ultimately creating a web of perspectives that not only helps bind the narrative but offers deeper understanding into its themes as well.
But above all else, characters are at the heart of every good novel, and Roanhorse is an author who grasps this concept extremely well. Black Sun is completely character-focused, with the narrative alternating between our different POVs. Each one is a uniquely fleshed out individual, with well thought out personalities and backgrounds. Flashbacks are also occasionally used to provide past context, but these are always artfully worked into the present thread to flow seamlessly with the rest of the plot. My favorite character was hands down Xiala, followed closely behind by Serapio, and the two of them made this book very special, even if their relationship may have felt a bit rushed. However, watching this dynamic develop and grow between them was probably my greatest joy of reading this book.
If I’m being honest though, I could go on for hours about the things I loved about Black Sun. So many highly anticipated novels have disappointed me so far in 2020, but this one is the real deal, and not just because it has great characters and world-building. The story itself is genuinely entertaining and engaging, fueled by real motivations which are enacted in a relatable, human way. As a result, falling in love with this book was effortless, magical.
So, do yourself a favor—run, don’t walk, to pick up Black Sun. Then, make sure you have ample time in your schedule before reading, as you may find it impossible to stop once you start. I know that I personally found it hard to put this book down, and that doesn’t happen nearly enough with epic fantasy. Rebecca Roanhorse has proven once again her talent and versatility as a writer, and I am now an even bigger fan than before....more
To be honest, when I first started The Return, I had my doubts the story was going to be as creepy as its blurb touted. The tone of the intro was just bizarre, beginning by glossing over the disappearance of a woman, and then upon her return, treating the reactions of her three so-called best friends with just as much flippancy. When the four of them next traipsed off to a girls’ weekend at some goofy themed resort in the Catskills, I wondered if I’d mistakenly wandered into some chick lit comedy when I’d expected a horror.
Well, suffice to say, the lightness didn’t last long. As the story progressed, its tone grew increasingly darker and more disturbing…and by the end of it, I sure wasn’t laughing anymore.
When The Return opens, our protagonist Elise is the only one unconcerned when she hears that her friend Julie is missing. Even when her other two besties, Mae and Molly, are devastated and a funeral is held a year after the disappearance, Elise is convinced that Julie is still alive and will one day come back. Then one day, out of the blue, it actually happens. Julie shows up on her own porch, with no memory at all of the time she went missing. Her friends, however, are just happy that she’s returned.
In order to reconnect, Mae arranges for the four of them to spend a long weekend at a swanky new hotel that just opened in the mountains, called the Red Honey Inn. For the exorbitant cost, Elise is unimpressed by the gaudiness of its themed rooms and frigid halls, though she’s excited to be spending time with Mae and Molly again, and they’re all hoping Julie will open up about what happened. Their friend has been acting very strangely since her reappearance, like the fact she used to be a strict vegetarian but now she can’t seem get enough of meat—the rarer the better. She’s also not looking too well these days: skin dried, lips cracked, hair and teeth falling out—a far cry from the healthy, vibrant and beautiful woman that Elise remembers.
Not daring to push Julie too hard for the sake of their friendship, the other three all try to ignore her new eccentricities—and some of them are downright freaky—chalking them up to possible trauma. But as the weekend wears on amidst the growing tensions and the increasing dread, it’s clear they’re dealing with something much worse…and not at all natural.
I think the best way to describe The Return is to view it as a novel of two parts—the first half which covers Julie’s disappearance and reappearance, as well as the women’s arrival at the Red Honey Inn; and the second half, where everything starts going terribly, shockingly, and sickeningly wrong for all our characters. Needless to say, as a horror fan I was not so satisfied with all the dithering we had to put up with to get to the good parts, but I absolutely loved where this story eventually led us. Packed with thriller elements and a nice strong dose of body horror, I wouldn’t go into this unless you’ve got a strong stomach and a good tolerance for what I thought were some pretty twisted and flat-out gross scenes and ideas.
Interspersed with the main storyline is also a fair bit of drama—a lot of it related to the women’s friendships and their romantic lives, like jealousy, scandals, backstabbing…you name it, it’s all there. Admittedly, none of it really paints our protagonist or her companions in the best light, though I did enjoy how it added interest to the story and fleshed out the characters.
That said, I think the writing held this one back from being all that it could be. The Return being Rachel Harrison’s debut, I expected a few hiccups, and there were definitely moments where her prose struck me as trying too hard. A story’s mood and atmosphere can’t really be forced, and a few of the book’s more awkward moments or Elise’s overwrought monologuing gave proof to some of that. Still, where it counts, the author delivered. The horror sequences were all very well done and fantastically described, so if what you want is a chilling read, this book will certainly not disappoint you.
All in all, this horror fan found plenty to like about The Return. Considering how I started the book feeling quite skeptical, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it in the end. While not perfect, it’s nonetheless a solid debut that has me excited to read what Rachel Harrison will write next....more
Some books simply deserve five stars because of how thoroughly and overwhelmingly it hooked me. The God Game by Danny Tobey was definitely one of these, a novel which first captured my attention because of its augmented-reality gaming angle, but soon I found myself completely wrapped up in its other aspects as I ravenously devoured its pages.
Although the story largely follows a group of five gifted teenagers at a Texas high school, The God Game is a mature thriller heavily influenced by the likes of Black Mirror, Stranger Things, and the works of Stephen King. The characters are generally seen as outcasts, gifted kids who don’t really fit into any of the other social cliques, so they formed their own. Calling themselves the Vindicators, they began as a group of overachieving geeks who met frequently in the school computer lab, bonding over a love of video games and coding.
But as the teens entered their senior year, much has changed in the recent past to alter the group dynamic. Charlie, who used to be a top student, saw his life and grades spiral out of control after he lost his mother to cancer. His close friend Vanhi, whose family immigrated to the United States from India to seek a better life, has her sights set on Harvard, though one lousy grade in AP History may have just put an end to those dreams. Then there’s quiet and unassuming Kenny, an aspiring journalist who is caught up in his own troubles at home and rivalries at the student newspaper at school. Next is Alex, whose strict Asian upbringing places high expectations on education. Unfortunately though, he’s been struggling in math and every time he brings home a failing test his father beats him black and blue. And finally, there’s Peter, the charming and popular rich kid who everyone likes. He can flit from group to group, rubbing elbows with jocks and geeks alike, though secretly, the other Vindicators take some pride in the fact that out of all the social cliques on campus, Peter has chosen them.
Then one day, Peter introduces his Vindicator friends to a big secret—the G.O.D. game, an old-school style text-based program he claims is run by an A.I. chat bot that believes it is God. Once you accept the invitation to play, he explains, the game will issue instructions. Good actions by the player will earn them “Goldz” currency, used to buy perks like special privileges and rewards, while disobedience will result in “Blaxx”, demerit points that can lead to bodily harm and even death. If you win though, the A.I. promises to make all your dreams come true. Intrigued by the idea, and believing it to be just a harmless game, Charlie, Alex, Vanhi and Kenny decide to play. At first, the teens are awed by the augmented reality technology, especially once they earn special glasses so that they can be connected to the game world at all times. However, what started as a handful of innocent instructions from G.O.D. rapidly begins escalating into more dangerous, malicious, and underhanded attacks on others, including their fellow Vindicators.
The issue of moral choice plays a huge role in The God Game. Although the characters are in their late teens, their ambitions are wholly relatable, sometimes gut-wrenchingly so. After all, whether you’re a senior in high school or an adult in the workplace, deep down all human beings need and want more or less the same things: to achieve their goals and to succeed, to love and be loved in return, to gain affirmation and be accepted. What makes the game in the book so sinister is the way it feeds on the Vindicators’ worst fears while dangling their deepest desires in front of them as bait. In this way, even the brightest, most mild-mannered kids can be pressured to commit senseless violence and do the most ruthless things to get ahead.
But no doubt the driving force behind the novel is the thriller aspect of it, which on occasion crosses over into horror territory. Tobey is well-versed in AR gaming, knows his pop culture, and has clearly spent time trawling through online social media communities such as Reddit, incorporating memes and other references into The God Game. The AI entity in this story is pretty scary indeed, made omnipresent and all-powerful by the internet and the fact that more and more facets of our lives are now being supported by monitoring and reporting technology. G.O.D. has eyes everywhere, knows your likes and dislikes, your darkest secrets, and can even accurately predict your next moves. While the concept of the game and many of the scenarios in this book may seem farfetched, somewhere in there is a cautionary tale about online privacy and how information can be abused and used against you, and that part is definitely no fiction.
Still, I would recommend The God Game to fans of sci-fi, as long as you don’t expect too much in the way of explanations. Like I said, the plot can sometimes get a little over-the-top, the game itself doesn’t operate on clear rules, and the world-building surrounding it is a bit fuzzy. I also wouldn’t categorize the novel as traditional YA fiction, but if you have low tolerance for teen drama like high school crushes, bully problems, or conflicts between kids and parents, do be aware there’s quite a lot of that in here. That said, if you like stories involving crazy, out-of-control bots and AI, then you’re in for a treat, as that is the book’s most prominent theme. Fans of thrillers should take note as well, since the storytelling style is a good match for the genre. I was kept riveted by the great characters, fascinating concept, and the plot’s fast pacing, and I’m pleased to say the momentum never ends....more
Haunting Gothic horror with just the touch of the fae, The House of Whispers (also known as Bone China in the UK) is an evocative and atmospheric novel worthy of the Laura Purcell’s talent. Always reliable for a chilling and entertaining read, she’s fast becoming one of my favorite authors.
Set on the Cornish coast in an old mansion overlooking the sea-swept cliffs, the story follows Hester Why who has arrived to take up a position as a maid and nurse to ailing Miss Pinecroft, mistress of Morvoren House. While the work is not in the best location, there is a reason why Hester has taken a job in such a remote place far from the city. From the start, it is clear she is running away from something, and there are hints it might be related to an incident with her last employer. Now she’s a wanted woman, and the only clue as to why lies in the mysterious snuffbox she has hidden among her belongings, as well as a badly stained dress at the bottom of her trunk.
But Hester’s tale is not the only one in play here. Inserted into the narrative are interludes that flashback forty years ago, as a physician and researcher named Dr. Pinecroft travels to Morvoren House with his daughter, Louise. Having recently lost his wife and son to the consumption, Dr. Pinecroft has dedicated himself to finding a cure and believes that breathing in the fresh sea air of Cornwall might be the first step towards recovery for those afflicted. In the nearby caves, he has arranged to house a group of convicts with the disease—desperate men who have volunteered to be test subjects in exchange for freedom if their participation in the medical trials results in a breakthrough. Working as her father’s assistant, Louise helps look after his patients and also interacts with the household staff, a few of whom can be described as nothing else but strange. Filled with superstition, one of the maids is convinced of the existence of malicious faerie creatures that lurk in the wilds around Morvoren House, claiming they will make changelings of them all if they’re not careful.
The House of Whispers is the third novel I’ve read by Purcell, and it is another winner in my eyes. While its story might not be as terrifying as The Silent Companions or as tightly woven as The Poison Thread, I think fans of the author will find this one dripping with the same atmosphere of anxiety and dread as her other books, yet sufficiently different enough to feel new and fresh. With this novel she also cements her talents as a writer of fascinating female leads who are tragically flawed yet sympathetic heroines, and Hester Why is a fine example of how multi-faceted her lead characters are. Threaded through her chapters is a sad the tale of how she came to leave her last employer, landing her in the difficult situation she finds herself now. Obviously I won’t be revealing any of the details, but if your instincts are warning you to prepare for some awful, reprehensible things, I recommend you heed them. Readers do get a sense that Hester can’t fully be trusted, though one also recognizes her desire to help those in need as genuine and sincere. Like so many of Purcell’s other characters, Hester is a deep and complicated puzzle.
Then there’s Louise, whose storyline takes place at Morvoren House decades before Hester makes her arrival. Later, we are able to identify Louise as the elderly Miss Pinecroft whom Hester has been hired to care for, but the infirm old woman was actually quite formidable in her youth. Unfortunately though, I think her chapters came in a little too late, causing me to resent them a little for interrupting the flow of Hester’s story, especially when her past indiscretions were just starting to come to light. Eventually, Louise’s chapters became more engaging, and though I still never felt quite as connected to them as I did with Hester’s, I liked the paranoid superstitious and mythological angle they brought to the book. Speaking of which, one thing I’ve come to love about Purcell’s work is her ability to tease just the right amount of ambiguity to make you wonder at whether or not there are supernatural elements at work. Legends of the fae have persisted for generations at Morvoren House, but it is up to the reader to decide if there’s truth to them, or if they are merely figments of the imagination.
Overall, The House of Whispers was a great book. The last chapter may have been a bit rushed, perhaps, but the conclusion was appropriately dark and unnerving. As well, while it may lack the impact of some of Laura Purcell’s previous novels, this one still kept me up late at night thinking about the story’s questions and the ending’s repercussions. If you’re interested in trying the author’s work, I would recommend The Poison Thread (AKA The Corset), The Silent Companions, and The House of Whispers in that order, but to be honest, you really can’t go wrong with any of them, especially if you enjoy Gothic horror. I can’t wait to see what Purcell writes next....more
In Shari Lapena I’ve found a new mystery-thriller author to watch, first thanks to An Unwanted Guest and now Someone We Know, another wildly entertaining can’t-put-down novel offering a classic who-dunnit plot with a modern twist. This time, we’re transported to a quiet suburban neighborhood in upstate New York, where life is about to become a lot more interesting for its residents.
It all began with a missing person report filed by Robert Pierce, whose wife Amanda had not returned from a purported trip out of town with a friend. At first, believing Amanda to have left her husband, the police were not too concerned. But then came the call about her car found submerged in the shallows of a lake, and stuffed in the trunk was Amanda’s badly beaten body.
Meanwhile, Olivia Sharpe is reeling along with the rest of her neighbors at the news about the murder, but she is also distracted with some big problems of her own. She has just found out that her teenage son Raleigh has been breaking into other people’s homes, hacking into their computers. Raleigh on his part swears that he has never taken anything and that no one has ever suspected he was there, but nevertheless, Olivia is consumed with guilt, leading her to write anonymous letters of apologies to the owners of the houses her son had broken into. To her horror, one of them is Robert Pierce, whose place is now crawling with police dusting for fingerprints in the investigation of Amanda’s murder. What they find is shocking—it appears there’s a lot more going on in this sleepy little town than anyone realized.
What an insanely addictive book this was, packed with all kinds of delicious mysteries and suspense. Lapena knows just how to get under your skin, making you dwell upon the kinds of secrets your neighbors might be hiding. She’s also an expert at unraveling your nerves, at knowing just what buttons to push to make you squirm. I mean, who wouldn’t be disturbed at the idea of a stranger in your house while you were away, snooping at all the personal information on your computer? Even when the home invader is a guileless and confused teenager like Raleigh, who can say what he was really up to and what kinds of things he’s seen? And no surprise, that ends up being an important aspect of this book.
But what attracted me most to Someone We Know was the murder mystery premise, which, like in An Unwanted Guest, was almost a throwback to the Golden Age detective classics. But unlike those stories, the investigators are not the central characters. We’re given a glimpse into the progress of the case though the eyes of a police detective, but he only plays a small part in this narrative which is predominantly about the various residents in the neighborhood. There are lots of characters to keep track of, but they’re all very fascinating and easy to remember in no small part due to the respective scandals and dirty laundry they’re all trying to hide. Like a juicy soap opera with all its tangled relationships and shocking secrets, the drama in this book was like crack.
And man, how the plot ended up jerking me around—but in a good way. You’ll think you’ve figured something out, only to have something happen to make you reconsider all your assumptions. Then almost right away, something else will happen to bring you right back to your original theory, but now, of course, you’ll be seconding guessing everything. And on and on it went, with the story hurling its twists at me left and right. The main mystery, of course, was who killed Amanda. But there are lots of other threads playing out along side it as well, making you wonder how they all tie together. As always, you can never truly take a character by their word or infer too much about their actions. That’s a lesson I learned with the last novel I read by the author.
All told, Someone We Know was everything I wanted in a mystery: delightful unexpected twists, plot developments and clues that kept me guessing, and plenty of suspects who all had their individual secrets and motives. I also enjoyed the classic feel and structure of the story along with its quick pacing and unpredictability. In short, I would highly recommend this one to fans of the genre....more
It’s official, Grace Draven is now my go-to author for fantasy romance. I adored Phoenix Unbound, the first book in the Fallen Empire sequence, namely because she treated the story and the characters with as much care and importance as the romance. Now she returns to the world with a second novel, Dragon Unleashed, which follows a new set of protagonists and thus can be read as a standalone.
Opening once more on the Krael Empire where magic is outlawed by the cruel tyrant Empress Dalvila, this novel shines a light on the draconic lore of the world. While most believe that the draga have long gone extinct, the truth is that the few who have survived still live secretly among humankind in disguise. Malachus is one of these dragons, who uses a magical artifact called a mother-bond to maintain his human form. Without its magic, he would be forced to revert to his true self, revealed to the world without protection.
When the story begins though, Malachus has just had his mother-bond stolen, and is in the middle of tracking the thieves who have taken it when he chances upon a caravan of free traders. Among them is a young woman named Halani, a healer who possesses the gift of magic. Her uncle is also the leader of their group, who purchases the mother-bond, unaware of the true power the artifact holds. When Malachus catches up to the original thieves thinking they still have what belongs to him, a skirmish ensues, leaving him grievously injured. It is Halani who ends up treating his wounds and nursing him back to health, and during his long convalescence, the two inevitably grow closer, inadvertently giving away some of their secrets. Malachus can’t help being drawn to the healer, despite being disapproving of some her less-than-ethical free trader ways, while Halani herself suspects there is something more to her enigmatic patient, but never in a million years would have guessed his true nature.
Meanwhile, the reason for Malachus’ furtiveness soon becomes clear as it is revealed that Empress Dalvila is on the hunt for a draga for herself. Her network of spies have been hard at work seeking information on the mother-bond, which she plans to use as bait, and unbeknownst to Malachus or Halani, they are already a target for Dalvila’s agents.
While Dragon Unleashed technically reads as a standalone and new readers can jump right in without worrying they will be missing out on pertinent information from the first book, I would still highly recommend starting with Phoenix Unbound for several reasons. First is that you will get a more detailed exploration into the background and history of the Krael Empire and why those possessing magic, like Halani, must remain hidden for fear of persecution and death. Second, the main couple from the first book, Gilene and Azarion, feature as side characters in this one, and I was able to appreciate reading about them a lot more knowing how much they’ve been through to get where they are. And third and most important of all, Phoenix Unbound was simply and excellent book that shouldn’t be missed, especially considering the romance in it was even more swoon-worthy than this one.
That said, Dragon Unleashed was no slouch either. While their romance might not have been as intense as Gilene and Azarion’s, I felt Halani and Malachus’s story was overall filled with more action, intrigue, and fascination. I can also understand why some readers might find their relationship too slow to develop, but I personally enjoyed how the author took her time. After all, Malachus teaching Halani to read was sexier than anything I could imagine! Plus, the differences between our two protagonists only served to make the journey of their courtship even more compelling, particularly in light of their disparate backgrounds and ideologies. In fact, I think the novel was strongest when it was focusing on our main characters, as well as the comings and goings around the free trader camp, which in addition to the appearances by Gilene and Azarion also included Halani’s charmingly sweet but mentally disabled mother Asil as well as the wretched and greedy uncle Hamod. In contrast, when the story flipped back to the capital, where Dalvila’s machinations are seen through the eyes of a top henchman, the interest there was simply not as strong, so that might be my only major criticism of the plot and pacing.
Still, whatever you may think of the lead-up to the conclusion, the book’s climax and its final scenes were incredible. I thought the ending also underscored Grace Draven’s talent as a romance writer whose stories aren’t just about the romantic aspects, because everything I’ve read by her so far has featured strong plot and character elements as well. However, given the way this one wrapped up, it did make me wonder if we might see another volume in this series, since things did end with something of an air of finality to them. If not, it’ll be sad to say goodbye to this world, but I will still be eagerly looking forward to the author’s next project....more
The origin of Slender Man as a creepypasta internet meme that gained traction on an online forum before becoming viral and exploding into a worldwide phenomenon has always fascinated me. It’s perhaps one of the best modern examples of how a legend or myth might come to life, its genesis and spread happening in real time for all to observe, especially following a series of violent related incidents widely covered by the media. The surreal nature of this now iconic horror figure is what immediately drew me to this book, simply titled Slender Man by an author whom, in a very meta touch, has been kept anonymous, which should clue you in as to the style and mood of story you’re in for…
In basic terms, Slender Man is an epistolary novel comprised of journal entries, emails, text messages, voice transcripts, and other forms of documentation surrounding the life of high school student Matt Barker, who is on a mission to discover the truth of what happened to his friend and classmate Lauren Bailey. The popular teen girl from Riley, an elite New York City high school, went out one night and never returned. Within hours, rumors were flying all over Riley speculating on her whereabouts, though secretly, Matt knows Lauren well enough to know the majority of them have no basis in fact. While the two teens never ran in the same circles at school, they have maintained a close friendship that neither of them advertised publicly, keeping most their correspondence through texts. Lauren had an obsession with dark subjects that, as far as Matt knew, he was the only one she ever shared with, sending with him gruesome stories and pictures that she found online that she thought were funny or interesting.
After days go by with no headway on the police investigation into the disappearance, Matt decides to take matters into his own hands, uncovering a series of strange photoshopped images on Lauren’s cloud drive, proving irrefutably that she was drawn to the legend of Slender Man. Given how the stories go—that any attention given to Slender Man is in fact a foolhardy way to summon the creature or draw its notice—Matt believes his friend is in serious danger, and the terrifying dreams he has almost nightly seem to confirm his bad feelings.
Due to its format, I suspect Slender Man will not be a book for everybody, and if you have struggled with epistolary novels in the past, it’s possible you may run into similar issues with this one. The style itself is limiting in certain situations, especially when the story calls for descriptive action. Often you end up with awkward moments where the character resorts to oral dictation and info-dumping, ludicrously stating out everything he/she is doing, and we have a few instances of this here where the forced narrative pulled me out of the immersion. One other thing to note is that the book is very Young Adult-oriented—which may end up being a disappointment to those who were hoping for a good scare out of this. Slender Man is at times deeply atmospheric and plays with your mind a bit, but for a horror novel, I did not find it scary or even that creepy. The characters’ personalities also fit in with the overall YA tone of the story, so expect a certain level of teen angst and other genre clichés like disdainful attitudes towards healthcare workers and law enforcement (or just adults in general).
Despite these caveats, I did have a good time reading the book. While the epistolary style does not always lend itself well to character development, I thought the author did a good job painting Matt Barker as a convincing and sympathetic figure, due to the fact his journal entries make up the bulk of the novel. Matt’s emotional state is strongly felt in these entries; we get a good depiction of his confusion, the genuine concern for Lauren, as well as the crushing sense of helplessness and fear as he realizes what he must do to save her. I also enjoyed the creative use of documentation to tell the story, not to mention the sheer variety of sources ranging from newspaper clippings to the Riley school letters sent out to faculty and parents, and even snippets from Whatsapp group chats and Reddit discussion forums. I thought they were a nice touch to give the situation a more “authentic” feel, and the eclectic mix also made this a super quick and addictive read.
All too soon, the book was over, and honestly, if I have one complaint about the ending, it’s that it felt rushed and the conclusion was left a little too open. But for a story of this nature about Slender Man, perhaps there was no other way around this issue. The character became a horror phenomenon precisely because of the mystery and ambiguity surrounding its motives, and the novel’s ending seems to reflect this limitless potential for speculation and the role of reader imagination. If you don’t mind the vagueness, then you’ll probably enjoy the enigma, and certainly the unknowns added greatly to the general atmosphere of the story, which was top-notch and was a counterpoint to some of the book’s minor weaknesses. Overall a fast and fun read if you’re looking for a bit of mood reading for the spooky season!...more
A few years ago, I read a terrific book called A Gathering of Ravens, a fantasy epic which wove together the flowing threads of myth and time. Its protagonist, Grimnir, was called orcnéas—an Orc—but regardless of the names they gave him, all saw him as a monster. Readers, however, soon saw that he was much, much more.
Now in this sequel, aptly titled Twilight of the Gods, our story with Grimnir picks up again in the early thirteen century, a time where only a few still follow the old ways while Christianity continues to spread across the world. The Raven-Geats are one such people, a northern clan which holds deep beliefs in their Asgardian gods even as they pay tribute to the Christian King. Still, it is a tenuous situation, one that cannot last forever, and sure enough, soon the stirrings of a new crusade emerges, led by a warrior who vows to purge Norse heresy from the lands.
But lucky for the Raven-Geats, they have Grimnir, their ancient guardian and secret weapon. For generations, their village has relied upon his protection, communicating with him through a Priestess of the Hooded One. With the death of the old priestess though, a new one has been chosen, a young woman named Dísa, who is understandably shocked when she sees the true face of their protector for the very first time. He’s a harsh teacher, but gradually, Grimnir hones his new student into a weapon as powerful as himself. Leading an army of warriors against the oncoming crusaders, Dísa will do anything to save the Raven-Geats and their sacred land.
While there are some themes in Twilight of the Gods that mirrored A Gathering of Ravens, on the whole they are very different books. However, one thing this sequel has in common with the previous volume is that I loved it just as much. War plays a big role in this one, resulting in darker, grimmer and more violent vibes, but the protagonists are once more stellar and truly shine. You can certainly read this as a standalone if you wish, but for a deeper understanding of Grimnir’s character, I would highly recommend starting at the beginning. He is the last of his kind, and no ordinary or traditional hero. Most of the time he isn’t even likeable. But even in his brutality and, for lack of a better term, his sheer “orcness”, there is humanity in him—the part that values honor, loyalty and duty to those he has sworn to protect. That said, you have to earn his respect. He is not gentle nor is he kind, and when you read about his style, you definitely think “tough love.” A Gathering of Ravens is a fantastic introduction to all this, especially when it comes to his relationship with Étaín, and you can also see some of it here in his relationship with Dísa.
And then of course, there’s the atmosphere. Author Scott Oden did a magnificent job bringing the setting to life in the first book, and the trend continues. This is a world of orcs, gods, magic and monsters, but the story itself is rooted in history, unfolding in a time of enormous cultural upheaval. The Norse clans are being threatened by the crusaders, as well as by weak leadership from within. Meanwhile, Dísa has to prove herself amidst the power struggle and rally the people. The tension is sharper and more present in this sequel, the story more action driven with plenty of conflict and breathtaking battle sequences.
The result is a delectable historical fantasy with an intriguing mix of adventure, mythology, and action which put me in mind of an old school sword and sorcery. And so, even though I really enjoyed A Gathering of Ravens, I actually think Twilight of the Gods may have surpassed it in some areas, in terms of pacing—which is faster and punchier, given the themes of war—and in the characters, because I really enjoyed reading about Dísa. Believe me, it’s hard to stand out when your costar is someone like Grimnir, but she managed to hold her own, and I loved her story arc and the growth of her character over time.
So bravo, Scott Oden! Clearly, his talents have only grown in the years since A Gathering of Ravens, because Twilight of the Gods flowed beautifully and never had to fight to keep my interest. It was a nice return to an unforgettable character, and I loved the way this sequel expanded his legend. Highly recommended, and I’m also beyond thrilled that this series has finally gotten audio editions. Paul Woodson is a skilled narrator who brings this epic tale to vivid life, and I’m glad I got to have this listening experience....more
After consistently being disappointed by so many books described as “Mulan retellings”, you can probably understand why I went into The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan with no small amount of trepidation (though of course I could hardly resist it). And quite honestly? I was blown away by this “Own Voices” novel. Sherry Thomas has written a refreshing new take on this famous Chinese folktale about the legendary female warrior, applying her own unique approach to the portrayal while staying faithful to the original story and ensuring historical and linguistic accuracy.
In this version of the tale, Hua Mulan has always been a skilled fighter. Each generation, the Huas and their rivals the Yuans vie for the honor to safeguard the two fabled swords named Sky Blade and Heart Sea, the outcome determined by a duel between one representative from each family. From a young age, Mulan has been trained for the role by her father, who made her disguise herself as a boy and take on the name of her twin brother who died in infancy. If she wins her duel against her Yuan challenger, Sky Blade and Heart Sea will be reunited under their house, and she will also score a major victory in the feud between their two families, avenging her father who was maimed in his own duel a generation before.
However, right before the duel, the Huas receive a letter from her opponent requesting the match to be postponed. War is brewing, and it seems the Yuans must focus their attentions elsewhere. At first, Mulan’s father regards the missive as a snub, until a messenger from the Emperor arrives at their own village along with a royal decree demanding each family put forth a male recruit for the war effort. To protect her little brother, who is too young, and her father, who is disabled and too old, Mulan decides to enlist using her male persona. On her first day in the army, she manages to impress the son of the duke with her martial arts skills, earning herself a place among his elite guard. To her surprise though, the position is not the safe assignment that she had expected. The young princeling is determined to fight on the front lines, and when Mulan discovers the secret he has been hiding, she realizes they may be in more danger than she thought.
Inspired by the traditions of wuxia, a genre which translates to “martial-chivalric” fiction, Sherry Thomas spins an epic tale of courage and adventure. I adored her depiction of Mulan, who embodies all the traits we think about when it comes to the character—fiercely independent, altruistic, and honorable. At the same time, the narrative never lets us forget that behind all that armor, our protagonist is a teenager, and wholly human. She is everything we want out of a kickass heroine, and yet still has a vulnerable side to her that makes her sympathetic and easy to relate to.
The story also takes place in 5th century China, during a period known as the Northern and Southern dynasties which was marked by much political unrest. Frequent references are made to these conflicts between the north and south, creating an atmosphere of tension that pervades through the entire novel. Major kudos to the author for doing what must have been a staggering amount research to get certain details as accurate as possible, and her afterword at the end of the book, including historical and linguistic notes, was a fascinating look into that process.
I really enjoyed the story as well, and the way it retained its folktale roots. Action played a large part, featuring both close-quartered martial arts and large-scale fighting in heated battles. But my favorite scenes were always the quieter moments where we got to explore the character relationships. There is a super sweet romance between our protagonist and her love interest, a man who is as honorable and brave as she is. They were certainly well matched, and I was rooting for them every step of the way. I was also glad this story shone a light on Mulan and the love and respect she has for her father, which a surprising number of retellings tend to neglect, considering his role in her decision to enlist in the army in his place. The Magnolia Sword adds another complex layer to their bond, making the final chapter with Mulan’s homecoming and seeing her father again even more touching and poignant.
Bottom line, I just loved this. The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan is one of the best Young Adult novels—and easily my favorite retelling—that I’ve read so far this year. A very satisfying novel overall, which filled me with all kinds of warm and happy feelings when it was over. Highly recommended!...more
Martha Wells once again shows us why her Murderbot series is so beloved with a new installment. This time though, there’s also extra reason to rejoice, because our favorite serial-watching, cynically cranky rogue SecUnit is back in its first full-length standalone novel, and speaking as fan who has been eagerly anticipating Network Effect ever since its announcement, the book was well worth the wait.
So, what’s a Murderbot to do when its pesky human charges can’t seem to stay out of trouble? Step in and save their hopeless asses again, of course. Even after hacking its own programming to free itself, Murderbot can’t seem to be rid of certain commitments, like once more feeling the need to intervene when its crew’s latest mission goes horribly wrong. However, this time the situation ends up being more complicated and disastrous than anyone could have imagined, involving no less than a brazen kidnapping, a hostile takeover, multiple alien threats, and an unexpected reunion with an old friend.
Well, so much for being left in peace to binge watch the latest soap drama.
To begin, it’s probably no surprise that what makes this series is the character of Murderbot itself. For an artificial intelligence, our protagonist is surprisingly full of heart, yet at the same time, unmistakably non-human. Still, for every machine-like trait it has, there is a perfectly relatable one to balance things out. This, I believe, is the key to the magic behind the series and its successes, because I’m sure most of us have an inner introvert that allows us to see something of ourselves reflected in Murderbot’s thoughts and actions—even if it’s as simple as an addiction to a TV show, or like being extremely annoyed by the human race.
The storyline of Network Effect is also very rich, and if you enjoyed the previous Murderbot Diaries novellas wishing they had been longer or that they had delivered more, then you will be very pleased indeed, not to mention how fans of the second one, All Systems Red, will be receiving an extra treat. Of the four novellas, that one had been my favorite because of a certain character, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled by his return (after a period of panic, that is, when Wells almost ripped out my guts with a devastating plot point before revealing everything was not as they seemed. Which was good, because I would have never forgiven her.)
It really is impressive, when you think about how far this series has come in such a short time. While I loved the novellas, I’ve never made it secret that I much prefer full-length novels because I feel they are more conducive to meaningful story and character development. Certainly, it helped a lot to have the background of the novellas under my belt before heading into this, but I also felt that Network Effect was the book which finally gave Murderbot the breadth and scope it deserved. I’ve been a fan of Martha Wells for a long time now, having discovered her work through Books of the Raksura. Clearly though, she’s found a new niche in sci-fi, and I think what makes her so damn good at it is the nature of the Murderbot series and its protagonist, which allows her to really let loose with her imagination, humor, and passion for adventure.
All in all, if you enjoyed novellas one through four (and I do highly recommend reading those before tackling this one), I see no reason why you wouldn’t love Network Effect as well. It is everything great about those stories, but even more fun, more action-packed, and more intense. Readers will love journeying with Murderbot again in a bigger and wilder adventure guaranteed to leave you craving more. Needless to say, I’m already burning to get my hands on the next one....more
The Lost Puzzler was a puzzle, in more ways than one. Not only was the story shrouded in mystery, the plot was also slow to unravel, inviting the readers to seek the solution to the big question while doling out clues gradually in a teasing fashion. In addition, the structure of the book felt like a series of many separate and dissimilar segments making up a whole, thus making it feel very fractured.
For obvious reasons, novels like this often present me with a conundrum: how to rate it when I enjoy some of its pieces but not the others? In the case of The Lost Puzzler, I loved everything about the first half. We begin the tale through the eyes of a lowly scribe of the Guild of Historians who has been tasked with a dangerous mission to discover the fate of a boy who disappeared more than a decade before. This boy—named Rafik—is said to be a Puzzler, an individual with a special talent to unlock mysterious puzzle box-like nodes that are scattered across the world, hidden away in labyrinths and other dungeon-like places, where they guard the valuable treasures of the lost Tarkanian civilization. Following an apocalyptic event known as the Catastrophe, those who survived have split into different groups, and one of these groups called the Salvationists believe that the answers lie in the ancient technology of their forebears. They send teams on dangerous expeditions to plunder Tarkanian strongholds, where the Puzzler will attempt to crack their defenses while the rest of the squad protects itself from threats like traps and attacking lizard-like creatures.
Soon after the intro though, the narrative shifts to tell the story of Rafik. He was born in a community that has reverted to the old ways after the Catastrophe, becoming deeply faithful to the new gods they worship while shunning everything to do with technology. When the strange tattoos marking him as special began appearing on Rafik’s fingertips, his parents feared their son cursed, sending him away to a “friend” of the family who promised to get a good price for him at auction. Recognizing his value, a powerful guild ends up purchasing Rafik at a high price, nearly bankrupting themselves in the process. To ensure a return on their investment, Rafik’s new handlers begin grooming him for the demanding role of Puzzler, putting him through rigorous training exercises to prepare him for his first expedition.
The book flips the reader back and forth between these two timelines—the one in the present, where our historian attempts to extract Rafik’s story from a woman who used to know him, and the one in the past, which flashes back to her knowledge of the boy’s history and her recollections of her time with him. The awkward transitions notwithstanding, I generally liked how the two narratives were presented, especially the way they framed Rafik’s backstory while doing an excellent job filling in the lore and background of the setting. Like I said, I loved the first half of the book, particularly the parts detailing the initial stages of Rafik’s exile, from the time he discovered the telltale markings on his hand to the harrowing journey on the road where he is traded from master to master.
Not surprisingly, some of my favorite moments from the book came from these early segments, with Rafik’s time with the charismatic Captain Sam and his supertruck Sweetheart immediately coming to mind. The problem, however, is that many of these fascinating encounters are much too short. While I really enjoyed Rafik’s backstory, I wasn’t so much a fan of the episodic nature of his narrative. It felt really fragmented, with his character being passed like a hockey puck from one situation to the next, not to mention how a lot of the entertaining side characters end up sticking around just long enough to endear themselves to the reader before they are swiftly left behind and never to be seen again. It seemed a little wasteful, in a way, how many of the incredible characters and concepts presented here were never explored to their full potential. It made me think that much of Rafik’s backstory of his time before being sold to the Salvationist guild could have been cut down or reworked because of the way it plodded and meandered.
The novel also started losing me in its second half. After Rafik is bought by the guild, the story descends into a confusion of ideas that remind me of a bit of a fantasy RPG campaign mixed with the premise of a YA dystopian like The Maze Runner. These elements didn’t mesh as well with the rest of the world-building. I also didn’t feel as invested in the story once the present timeline took over for good. And while the conclusion provided some answers, the explanations given were convoluted and I didn’t find them particularly helpful, especially since they led to even more questions.
All of this led to my mixed opinions on the The Lost Puzzler. At times, it was a compelling page-turner where all I wanted was to know more about the life of Rafik and his abilities; other times, I was uncertain how I felt about the story’s direction and disjointed sections. That said, on the whole I found this to be an entertaining read and a fairly solid debut, and at this point I’m up for giving this world another go if there is a sequel....more
Scream All Night is not a book that falls entirely into the realm of what I typically read, but I was already made aware of that fact by the author when he contacted me to see if I would be interested in taking a look at his debut. And quite honestly, despite not being a big reader of YA contemporary fiction, I really liked the sound of it. No, it’s not a horror novel, but the fact that the premise was about the making of horror films was an idea that greatly appealed to me, not to mention the meta quality of the story.
At the center of this coming-of-age tale is 17-year-old Dario, whose father Lucien Heyward is the legendary director of dozens of beloved B-Horror cult films such as The Curse of the Mummy’s Tongue and Zombie Children of the Harvest Sun. However, few were aware of the things that truly went on behind the walls of Moldavia, the castle estate where Lucien made all of his films. Dario was just a boy when he was cast in the starring role of Zombie Children, and was subjected to verbal and physical abuse as well as unbearable emotional pressure at his father’s hands while on the set. At the time, Dario’s mother, struggling with severe mental health issues, was also unable to help her youngest son and in fact was hospitalized for much of his childhood. Life got so bad for Dario, that soon after Zombie Children was completed, the boy had himself legally emancipated from his father, choosing instead to be raised in a foster facility rather than step foot in Moldavia Studios ever again.
But Zombie Children of the Harvest Sun, despite being universally panned by critics, gained a large following of loyal fans and Dario himself became a minor celebrity. Moldavia, along with the tightly-knit community of cast and crew who live permanently on its grounds, carried on with the business of making campy movies—until the news breaks that Lucien Heyward is dying. Refusing to go out quietly, the eccentric director decides to invite all his family, friends, and fans to a mysterious event as a final sendoff. Dario reluctantly agrees to attend, with a promise to himself that this would be his last time at Moldavia. Instead, he finds himself roped back into his past when it is revealed during the reading of the will that Lucien had named Dario the heir to his studio and legacy.
A quirky dramedy, Scream All Night delivers a unique spin on a familiar idea—that of going back to your roots and rediscovering the family and friends you left behind, in spite of the painful memories. The main gist of the tale isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s all in the way it is told. Notwithstanding its blood-curdling title, which actually refers to one of Dario’s father’s favorite catchphrases, there is a surprising amount of heart and warmth found in this novel. This is one big zany family, made up of not only the Heywards but also the handful of actors, film crew, and administrative staff who have done recurring work on Lucien’s movies and found a home at Moldavia. For the same reason I love books about circuses and traveling shows, I also enjoyed the feeling of community I felt when I read about life at the studio. There is a strong sense of trust and camaraderie between everyone, a shared culture that—as weird and chaotic as it is—all of them can understand. Even Dario, who has been away for years, is unable to walk away from Moldavia’s magic once he steps back into it.
Much of the story is built around the relationships Dario has with the people who are closest to him. In addition to the troubled memories he has of working with his father, our protagonist also has his oddball of an older brother to deal with. Then there is Jude, Dario’s roommate and best friend from their youth home, who tags along for the ride and is immediately taken by life at Moldavia. Most surprising of all, there is also a romance which I thought was exceptionally well written and sweet—rare for me when it comes to YA. Hayley is a young actress who has been working at the studio for years, but she was also Dario’s childhood friend, first love, as well as co-star in Zombie Children of the Harvest Sun. The romantic elements in their story were light, natural, and free of unnecessary drama.
With all these interesting personalities in one place, there was never really a dull moment. If you’re looking for something more beyond reading about relationships though, there’s also plenty of hilarity and tragedy involved in the making of a Moldavia Studios production. While the story takes place in the present, Milman wrote that his book was “modeled loosely on Hammer Horror during the time they were filming their classic creature features at Bray studios in the 1950’s.” Fans of cult horror films will probably enjoy these sections the most, as the narrative pokes fun and pays tribute to both the movies themselves as well as the subculture of fandom surrounding the genre.
At the end of the day, you can call this a fun read about monster movies, but Scream All Night is also about so much more. It’s a story that’s full of pleasures, and genuine even in its sometimes-over-the-top portrayal of love and family. It’s a coming-of-age journey full of sadness and regrets, but also hope and lots of laughter. All in all, the novel was an unexpected surprise, both in terms of its sentimental poignancy and how much I enjoyed it. I’m very glad I picked it up....more