Review: Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1)Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Holy smokes!!! That was a debut?

Y’all, Tristan Strong is a hella ambitious first novel that felt like an entire world being built in front of your eyes. I am really dang impressed with this!

Okay, now with the initial swooning out of the way, let’s get into it.

Tristan Strong is a 7th grader who has had a tough time of late. After losing his best friend, Eddie, in a horrific bus crash, Tristan is struggling with his grief and feels like no one understands him.

His parents decide to send him to Alabama for a month with his grandparents to help with his recovery.

Yeah, he’s not super crazy about the idea either. Nonetheless, he heads off with them with only his best friend’s journal to truly remind him of home.

On his first night there, the most bizarre thing happens. Some sort of little doll baby thing steals Eddie’s journal from him and takes off.

Tristan gives chase. It’s all he has left of Eddie. He needs that thing back. He follows the doll baby into some creepy woods and around the mysterious bottle tree.

There as he is wrestling to retrieve the journal, he inadvertently punches a hole in the fabric of the universe, opening up a hole to another world, named MidPass.

This is where things get crazy. I can’t even go on to describe all that happens next, you will just have to read for yourself. This story is full of action, African folklore, mythology, African-American history, the power of words, stories coming to life and a boy finding the hero within himself.

I was so impressed with the level of Mbalia’s writing. So detailed, so funny, so engaging. All of the things. You may wonder why I decided to give this 4.5-stars versus a full 5 and really it boils down to the scope.

I think the book was a little long for my taste. I sort of feel like this story could have been broken down into two books. There were moments too, that there was so much going on, I felt a little confused.

However, with that being said, that is such a minor thing and totally personal preference. This is such a fantastic, important story. I urge everyone to pick it up!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I greatly appreciate it. Kwame Mbalia is a gift to the world and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

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Review: American Predator by Maureen Callahan

American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st CenturyAmerican Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Meg’s advice for October:

Read.
This.
Book.

Me upon completion:

You want to feel this way in Spooktober, don’t you???
Quite honestly, this was by far the most disturbing book I read all month.

American Predator is a nonfiction account of the capture and subsequent investigation of serial killer, Israel Keyes. Fortunately for the reader, this is much more than a droll portrayal of one monster’s heinous crimes. This is a compelling recounting of the investigation of his case, beginning with his final kill and going backward through time.

I thought this was a clever formatting choice by the author. It made the story seem more like you were part of the investigation versus starting at the beginning of his life and moving forward that way.

Reading about Israel was completely disturbing for me. Here was a man, a contemporary of mine, born in the same year, and to walk through his crimes was shocking. The fact that he traveled extensively in the state where I was living at the time was the icing on the cake.

His level of arrogance yet ability to plan and to leave no evidence was bone-chilling. He used his knowledge of surveillance and technology to constantly fly under the radar. One would think his arrogance could possibly make him slip up but it never really did until the final case when it seems things were beginning to unravel a bit.

Making the case even more disturbing was the seemingly random selection of his victims. There’s so much more but I don’t want to give anything away.

In short, read this book.

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Review: The Girl From The Well by Rin Chupeco

The Girl from the Well (The Girl from the Well, #1)The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the hosts of the Dragons & Tea Book Club announced this as our October pick, I was genuinely excited. A YA horror novel I had never heard of, I was completely intrigued.

Then I discover people comparing the vibe to one of my favorite horror movies of the early 2000s, The Grudge, and I was sold!

I am so happy to report that I really enjoyed this. I could not put it down once I started. I love this type of horror. It was smart and visceral with great characters and atmosphere.

One of the biggest surprises of this book was the perspective from which it is told. A 300-year old vengeful spirit is our narrator. She becomes tied to our protagonist, a troubled boy named Tark, and we follow along with them as she tries to protect him from others out to do him harm.

It’s hard to talk about this book without giving too much away. It was a very engaging plot with a lot of Japanese cultural influences which I found just so interesting. The cultural perspectives in regards to spirits, the afterlife and all things related to those topics, it was really well done. I seriously would consider reading this again because I am sure that I missed a ton of fine details.

During the course of the story our characters travel from suburban American to Japan. It is there that the creepiness begins to kick it up a notch. We have ancient temples, local folklore and legends, crazy ass doll rituals and Shinto exorcisms.

This story is very graphic and definitely doesn’t shy away from violence on page. Some of the scenes were hard to read. The narrators detachment in the midst of violence, pain and suffering was truly unsettling. Well done on Chupeco’s part. That has to be hard to write consistently from that perspective.

I was really impressed with this overall. It wasn’t perfect. There were some points in the narrative that were a tad confusing or even repetitive but overall, very solid horror story.

I definitely plan to pick up more books from this author in the future!

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Review: Alien: Echo by Mira Grant

Alien: EchoAlien: Echo by Mira Grant
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay. I like it.
I’m pleased I read it.

Fun, quick and gory.

Definitely a solid creature feature. If you are looking for a book with monsters this month, this would definitely fulfill that desire.Β 

ALIEN monsters!

This story follows twins, Olivia and Violet, who have recently moved to a new colony on a distant planet. Their parents are xenobiologists and they travel frequently, getting called to far off places to research new found alien life.

Violet is suffering from a debilitating illness that keeps her secluded in their home and sends Olivia out to navigate the new landscape on her own.

Attending school without her twin, Olivia is just trying to fit in and make the best of things. She has her first crush on a girl in her class so is pretty much dealing with things any teen would deal with.

Well, maybe a little more than that. She has always wanted to be more involved in her parent’s work and feels disappointed that they seem to still be treating her like a child. When her parents receive a call to explore an abandoned ship, they again tell her she is not to participate.

Luckily for her, she doesn’t. Things don’t end so well for a lot of others however.

An apex predator is introduced to this colony world via the abandoned ship. Even if you aren’t a xenobiologist, you probably understand that is not a good thing. Before they know it, the girls are literally fighting for their lives trying to escape the planet.

This little book has a lot of action and a ton of graphic gore and violence. Let that fact determine whether or not this book is for you. I personally enjoyed that aspect of it.

I wasn’t as crazy about the length. It was really short. I think the entirety of the book takes place in a day or two therefore I never felt fully immersed. Also, it definitely gets a bit romance heavy toward the end and in a way that was a little jarring, it didn’t quite fit with the rest of the story.

Grant’s writing is excellent though, there is no denying that. Overall, there was nothing outstanding about this but it was a quick, fun read. I think this would be an ideal book to pick up for a readathon because of its length and it could potentially fit a lot of varying prompts.

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Review: Campfire by Shawn Sarles

CampfireCampfire by Shawn Sarles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up because I feel this book deserves a higher overall rating**

((How’s that for honesty?))

When Maddie Davenport heads on a friends and family camping trip she has no idea that it is a trip that will change her life. But we all know what happens when teens go camping.

Y’all, this book is a teen slasher flick come to the page. If you enjoy the campy, bloody, sometimes ridiculous movies like Cabin Fever, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Friday the 13th, House of Wax or Wrong Turn, I think you could enjoy this.

It’s all about the mindset you go into a book with. I was looking for a campy, silly slasher that would make me nostalgic for my Junior High years, devouring every Fear Street book I could get my hands on. This did that. It gave me exactly that.

This does definitely read on the younger side of YA so if you aren’t into Tween reads, I would steer clear. I would put this at a target audience of 7th through 10th grade, which is completely fine. People in that age group deserve to have books too and for a fun, Spooktober read, this is great.

The writing is simplistic and the storyline was easy to follow. There are a ton of flawed characters to hate on so when bodies start dropping, you probably won’t shed too many tears.

If you are looking for a quick read, something to remind you of your younger years, when you first started to learn that scaring yourself was fun, you should probably check this one out. I was laughing out loud to the cheesy lines at the end. It was a good time. Glad I picked it up and I feel like you should too!

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Review: The Furies by Katie Lowe

The FuriesThe Furies by Katie Lowe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars rounded up**

A girl found dead on the grounds of a prestigious, all-girls private school. So, the mystery begins.

As a reader, you do not know the identity of the girl. Fun, right? Then begins out protagonist, Violet, telling of her days at the school and the events leading up to the mysterious death.

You grab your popcorn and settle in for what is sure to be an intense murder mystery and then it’s not.

There was so much about this book that should have worked for me. It was described as being set at a private school in a sleepy, coastal town. YES! Give me that.

I love that type of atmosphere and literally seek it out in books. I live on an island out in the middle of the ocean for goodness sake! My life is a sleepy, coastal town. I never really felt that sense of place though while reading this. The atmosphere just wasn’t there for me. It could have been anywhere.

Violet, the new girl at the school, is odd and unsure and desperate to fit in. When Robin befriends her, she is smitten right away. Robin seems dangerous and way more mature than Violet. Two other girls, Alex and Grace, ultimately make up their group of four. This set-up was very reminiscent of The Craft which also should have worked for me as that is one of my favorite movies, EVER.

Again, it just fell flat for me. The relationships were never intriguing or captivating enough. I didn’t believe it. The girls are in sort of a secret group that is headed up by one of their teachers. She teaches them about the classics and the history of the school itself, which was once the setting for witch trials and executions.

Okay, great. That all sounds interesting as well but the school stuff was just so boring to me. Perhaps if I was a bigger fan of the classics in question, of myths and legends, such as ‘the furies’ I would have been more into that aspect. Sadly, I am just not so fear it went heinously over my head.

Then the girls beginning dabbling in occult practices trying to harness magic for themselves. As expected they push it way too far with dire consequences. This was the one aspect of the book that kept me reading but even this, used in their eyes for revenge, I ended up feeling lost amidst all the details.

I’m not sure if it was the format that put me off or the fact that the writing, although using intelligent topics, words, structure, etc., it just felt so technical. It lacked heart. I am not sure if I am expressing this correctly or not, I just felt the entire story lacked emotion. I never, ever connected with it.

I know a lot of people are going to enjoy this as all the basic elements are in place for a solid story. Just personally, it wasn’t for me.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with an opportunity to read and review this book. I know this is a debut for this author and I would be interested in reading whatever she releases next.

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Review: All the Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle

All the Bad ApplesAll the Bad Apples by MoΓ―ra Fowley-Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Break the stigma, break the curse.

An absolutely enchanting feminist tale!

I was so enthralled by this story, I could not put it down. As Deena begins to unravel the mysteries of her family tree whilst on a search to find her sister, Mandy, assumed dead, I was completely swept up in their family lore. I wanted to know everything about the Rys family.

Fowley-Doyle seamlessly blended past and present together as the narrative unfolds. The reader takes a front seat as history repeats itself again and again. Women and girls are stripped of their power and choice, made to live false lives. It was heart-wrenching and felt extremely genuine.

At the beginning of the novel, Deena, our teenage protagonist comes out to her family with a mixed reaction. She is a student at a Catholic school and has been raised within a conservative household. She is struggling with her identity and being able to live her truth.

I thought this aspect of the story was so well done, as were all aspects really, but the feelings evoked as Deena questions whether or not she is a ‘nice, normal girl’, were just so powerful. That’s how the story kicks off and as far as gut-punching, hard-hitting topic choices, never lets up.

I loved the format the author chose to slowly reveal the truth at the heart of this tale. I am going to be thinking about this one for a long time to come. I am not going to say anything else in regards to the plot because I think it would best serve the story, and your reading experience, to go into this with as little information as possible.

A story of family, identity, secrets, truth and power, I am still reeling by how much this story has impacted me. Truly stunning.

While this is a fully fictional story, the topics explored within were well researched by the author and are based on true events that happened throughout the course of Ireland’s history. As the author lives in Ireland and is Irish herself, that is where the story is focused, however the issues the girls and women faced are universal.

Please read this book. Please read this book. Please read this book and as always, this includes the Author’s Note at the end. Read that too!!

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Review: Contagion (Contagion #1) by Erin Bowman

Contagion (Contagion, #1)Contagion by Erin Bowman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

OHHHH BABY!!!

Zombies in space! Y’all know, everything is better in space.

When an SOS goes out from a mining crew on a distant planet, a quickly assembled team heads out to investigate. Their number one selling point, they are the closest individuals to said planet.

They don’t seem to be prepared with manpower, experience, equipment, you name it, but off they go anyway. Once arriving they discover an abandoned site and a bunch of dead bodies but is there someone else there? Are there any survivors?

The rest of the book is a high-octane race to escape the planet before they too are are turned by the contagion infecting it. Zombie chases and fight scenes. Brutal zombie slayings. Bodies dropping. Dark, cold landscapes and abandoned space ships. All pretty stellar stuff.

This does follow multiple POVs which at times seemed perhaps a little unnecessary but in a way, I do understand the author’s choice. Because of the multiple POVs, jumping back and forth, it did gain some intensity from that. I know that is a personal choice as a reader, whether or not you enjoy that format. I can honestly say, I didn’t mind it at all.

I would definitely say this is more of an action-based story to a character-based story. For me, the action was high pretty much the entirety of the story. The ending was the perfect leave in anticipation of the sequel which I have already purchased and am hoping to get to real soon.

In short, if you like horror or science fiction involving remote planets, zombies, mass infections and / or rescue missions, you should definitely give this book a try!

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Review: The Town That Feared Dusk by Calvin Demmer

The Town That Feared Dusk (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 17)The Town That Feared Dusk by Calvin Demmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Short Sharp Shocks! Book 17

DEMMER!!!

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I don’t know how he does it. The ability to elicit such an ominous atmosphere with so few words, it’s a true talent.

This short-story follows intrepid reporter, Sylvia Bernstein, as she travels to a small town to investigate their abnormally high suicide rate. All the alleged suicides seem to take place at dusk on a certain bridge in the town.

Sylvia decides to visit the bridge on her own, scope it out a bit. Once there, she has a bit of a supernatural experience and comes to some heavy realizations. Now she knows there is way more at play here than just a bunch of suicides.

I just adore Demmer’s style of writing. It’s like every word is carefully selected to pack the most punch. There are always moments in his stories that hit you like an adrenaline jolt. Moments of quick and genuine fear that are so enjoyable!

Thank you to the author, Calvin, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I loved it and cannot wait for more!!

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Review: One By One by D.W. Gillespie

One by OneOne by One by D.W. Gillespie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

When the Easton family moves into a decrepit old house they are divided as to whether it is a good thing. Alice, the youngest, and her father, Frank, are excited to learn the secrets of the old house, while older brother, Dean, and mother, Debra, are less enthused.

Frank insists the fixer-upper is exactly what the family needs. A project to draw them closer together. As they start to settle in, Alice, discovers a child’s drawing under some tattered wallpaper. She calls the rest of the family to look and after the entirety of the drawing is revealed it becomes clear it is a drawing of a family. A family exactly like theirs.

When the family pet in the drawing is mysteriously drawn over with a giant black X and their aloof cat, Baxter, disappears, you are hit with the reality that something is very wrong with this house.

As with any horror story, the Easton family doesn’t initially react to this as you would expect them too. They each suspect that someone in the family has done it as a sort of misguided trick. However when the X appears over Dean, they start to take things a little more seriously.

This story has a nice, eerie intensity running throughout, making it a perfect read for Spooktober. There is a found diary element to this that I also really enjoyed. You learn a bit about the mysterious family that lived in the house prior to the Eastons. As that is filled it, the horrific truth is finally revealed to the reader and it was pretty disturbing!

The Epilogue really tied everything together and I loved that the author chose to include that portion of the story. It was a really satisfying conclusion. This was my first Gillespie book and I definitely look forward to reading more from him in the future.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Flame Tree Press, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. If you are looking for a quick spine-chiller to round out your October TBR, you should definitely check this one out!

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