Review: The Lake House by Sarah Beth Durst

The Lake HouseThe Lake House by Sarah Beth Durst
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Lake House follows three girls who have just embarked on a summer adventure they’ll never forget.

Our main character is Claire. She’s excited to be going to the Lake House, an off-grid summer camp, but it’s definitely outside of her comfort zone.

On the boat ride to the remote location in Maine, Claire meets two other girls attending the camp, Reyva and Mariana. In fact, they’re the only campers on the boat. Although they’re quite different, they hit it off right away.

They get dropped at the dock and their escort, Jack, says his goodbyes. As he takes off, the girls realize this is it. He was their only connection with the outside world and he won’t be back for a long time.

This is it. It’s really happening. Their off-grid, roughing it, summer vacation has officially begun.

At this point, you may be wondering why these girls would sign themselves up for this? As it turns out, all of their parents were once campers at the Lake House and all highly recommended the experience.

Even though their motivations differ, each one of the girls has their own reasons for wanting to participate in the challenging summer excursion. You’ll hear a lot about those things over the course of the story. Be prepared.

As they make their way down the trail to the Lake House, all they discover is a burned out shell where the building once stood. Ashes all around, they find no one and worse, have none of the expected supplies that would aide in their outdoor survival.

After they find a dead body in the woods, they realize this was no accident. With no means of communicating with the outside world, and danger lurking around every corner, the girls will now learn the true meaning of survival.

Before I get into my thoughts on this story, can we all just take a moment and bow down at the alter that is this cover.

She is such a beauty; my favorite aesthetic. It’s giving me strong, dark 70s-Horror vibes and I am eating it up. I love the muted colors and haunting imagery. Honestly, I would hang this is as an art print above my bed, where I could behold its stunning glory daily.

Moving on though, we probably should get into my final thoughts.

I liked this. It’s good, but sadly, I was expecting more. I know a lot of people will love this. I wish I was one of them, but from the start, the set-up seemed off to me. It didn’t quite make sense. I had questions.

Around the 30%-point was my peak interest moment. There was some intrigue, after the girls find out their shelter has burned to the ground and they begin to really investigate their surroundings for the first time.

For a moment, it was channeling the same vibes I got in the early episodes of LOST. There was a lot of mystery and I was desperate to find out what was going on.

Unfortunately, for me though, while I wanted to dig more into that feeling, I kept getting distracted by the dialogue between the girls and the inner musings of Claire. I felt like I was a fly on the wall of a therapy session versus in the midst of a survival story.

There were a couple of interesting twists and I did appreciate the idea behind the Horror element, but for me there were holes that never got fully explored and as mentioned above, I kept getting kicked out of the story by the eye-roll inducing dialogue amongst the girls.

I know the above makes me sound bitter and maybe I am a little, because I was looking forward to this so much. I do want to be clear though, this is a good book. It’s a quick read and engaging overall.

I was just expecting a different, darker tone and wasn’t really psyched about what I ultimately got from this. Additionally, I may have enjoyed it more if I knew less about Maine, camping, or camping in Maine…

With this being said, just because it wasn’t a great fit for me, doesn’t mean it won’t be for you. If you are intrigued by the synopsis, you should absolutely give it a shot.

There’s a Reader for every book and book for every Reader. Please don’t let my slightly sour opinion sway you either way. I would love for you to come back and tell me why I’m wrong. I really want this to work for everyone else!

Thank you to the publisher, HarperTeen, for providing me with a copy to read and review. While this wasn’t a perfect match for my tastes, I really appreciate the opportunity to provide my opinion.

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Review: A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher

A House with Good BonesA House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A House with Good Bones is the most recent release from T. Kingfisher, one of my favorite authors. With this being said, it’s probably unsurprising that this is by far one of my most anticipated releases of 2023.

Happily, this peculiar Southern Gothic tale didn’t disappoint for one single second. I loved it from the first sentence.

When Sam’s brother calls her, expressing concern about their Mom’s health and state-of-mind, Sam figures it couldn’t come at a better time. With her archaeological dig site temporarily shut down, there’s no time like the present to travel home to North Carolina for a visit.

It’s been a while. She loves her Mom. Why not go stay with her and see what she can see. If her brother is right, Sam wants to be able to help.

Once back in her childhood home, Sam can feel it. Something is off. It’s not just the changes that Mom has made to the house, she’s acting different. It’s slight things, but they definitely don’t go unnoticed.

Sam senses her Mom is afraid of something, but what?

The mystery is deep enough that Sam is compelled to get to the bottom of it. There’s no way she’ll be able to leave her Mom like this. Further, Sam is prepared to kick the butt of whoever is the cause of her Mom’s secret distress.

Digging into it, however, requires digging into her own past and the past of her family. You never know what you’re gonna find when you start digging.

That Sam knows is true. She’s an archaeo-entomologist after all, but even she didn’t expect the Mason Jar full of human teeth buried under the rose bushes…

With help from some new friends, Sam gets elbows deep in her sordid family history and tries her best to rid her mother and their property from its long shadow.

Y’all, this was such an intriguing and engaging story. At this point, reading a T. Kingfisher for me is like story-time with an old friend. Her writing style is so distinct.

She’s like the Axel Rose of Dark Fiction. You can tell it’s her from just a few lines.

I always connect with Kingfisher’s main characters. I think it is the sense of humor. It’s the way I think and view the world, so it’s super easy for me to fall into step with their thought patterns and choices.

This main character, Sam, was no exception. I just got her, wow. I loved how on it she was with her Mom. She wasn’t willing to look the other way. She didn’t look upon her task as a burden.

Something was wrong here, her mom had sacrificed so much for her, and gosh darn it, Sam wasn’t leaving until she helped her in return.

I appreciate how quirky and unique Kingfisher’s side characters are. They contribute so much. In this one, Phil, her Mom’s kind-of-cute handyman and Gail, the eccentric neighbor, who owns a one-winged vulture and may-or-may-not be a witch, were stars of the show.

Gail fit nicely into one of my favorite Horror character archetypes. Let’s see if I can explain this correctly…

The older character, who comes into the orbit of our protagonist and teaches them, or guides them in what they need to know to survive/defeat/overcome the obstacles/issues/horrifying creatures they’re dealing with, all whilst providing incredible comic relief.

The atmosphere was fantastic. I loved learning about the house and all the different little things that Sam was noticing. There are some fun scenes with bugs as well.

The ending got crazy. It reminded me a little of The Twisted Ones. Not so much in the content, or what happened, but just sort of how it all unfolded leading up to the conclusion. I loved that book and loved this one too.

Also, the audiobook is great. I absolutely recommend it. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. The narrator brought this story to life for me!

I would recommend this to anyone who has enjoyed T. Kingfisher’s work in the past, or anyone who enjoys Southern Gothic tales, or stories that bring humor to Horror.

Finally, if you are new to T. Kingfisher, I actually think this would be a strong place to start.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Nightfire and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. I had so much fun with this and can’t wait to read it again someday!

A House with Good Bones is available now!!!

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Review: The First to Die at the End (Death-Cast #0) by Adam Silvera

The First to Die at the EndThe First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved, loved, loved They Both Die at the End when I read it all the way back in February 2019. Trust me when I say, since that time it has lived rent free in my heart.

I, along with most other people, believed it to be a standalone novel. Then shockingly, a prequel novel was announced. The First to Die at the End is that prequel. I’ll be honest, I’ve been so scared to pick this up.

I wasn’t sure any other content was necessary. How could it possibly live up to the story told in TBDATE?

Finally, however, I could resist my curiosity no more. I had to read it and ultimately, I am really glad that I did. Silvera successfully pulled off the unasked for prequel.

In this story, our main characters are Valentino and Orion. The stage is set on the eve of the launch of Death Cast. Valentino, with dreams of becoming a professional model, has just, as in this very day, moved to New York City.

Orion, is a life-long New Yorker with a tragic past. He is anxious for the launch of Death Cast due to the way death has previously touched his life. Also, he has a very serious heart condition. He always feels the clock is ticking for him.

Through a twist of fate, these two boys meet in Times Square and feel an instant connection. As Death Cast goes live, one of them gets a call and the other does not.

They decide, no matter how it is going to turn out, they are going to spend the next 24-hours together. Death Cast is untried. Will their prediction be correct, or will it all end up being nothing more than an elaborate hoax?

Woven throughout the over-arching storyline, we also get vignettes of side characters that Valentino and Orion encounter along the way.

I know not everyone is crazy about the inclusion of these types of tiny slivers of life, but I loved them and the way it demonstrated the interconnections in general.

It’s like all the tiny connections that we may never realize or understand, but we are all connected in one way or another. I think Silvera showed that beautifully.

As far as the main characters go, they were fantastic. They were complex with plenty of backstory to make you want to fight for them. I enjoyed the relationship that developed between the boys.

Of course it is a bit instalovey, but it sort of had to be, considering the brief time-frame of the narrative. I actually didn’t mind it. I sort of feel like if I had met Valentino on the streets, I could have fallen in love with him just as quickly.

The banter was great and Silvera provided plenty of hard-hitting issues to consider. It really showed a range for emotion and difficult circumstances, but also the power to rise above and keep living every day with intent.

There were also some fun connections to the original book and the NYC setting was vivid. So, while this wasn’t quite as powerful for me as the first book, I still really, really liked it and appreciate the characters and the heartfelt way Silvera told their stories.

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Review: The Angel Maker by Alex North

The Angel MakerThe Angel Maker by Alex North
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I read The Whisper Man in January of 2020, I was so impressed. It was everything I wanted in a Crime Thriller. It was gritty, eerie, sordid and compelling.

That book single-handedly sealed the fate of my future with this author. I would anxiously await and then eagerly pick up all his new releases.

I ended up really enjoying The Shadows as well. Thus, when I heard about this book, North’s most recent release, The Angel Maker, I was over the moon with anticipation.

Sadly, this one ended up being a complete miss for me.

I listened to the audiobook and starting out, I was so jazzed. The narration was great and I was stoked to be getting early access to North’s new book.

The next thing I know, I am 20% in and I have NO CLUE what is happening, who anyone is, or what I am supposed to care about. I can recall the very beginning though, that was interesting and it did stick with me.

A teen girl, who is supposed to walk her brother home from school, chooses not to in lieu of spending some private time with her boyfriend. When she arrives home to police cars, lights and an active investigation, she’s horrified to learn her kid brother had been viciously attacked.

Katie and Chris were the siblings. Here I am at the end of the novel and those are the only two characters I would be able to talk about with any confidence at all. I cannot name one other character.

I couldn’t follow this plot to save my life. It apparently required way more concentration than I was willing to give it. I didn’t care at all. There were so many characters, none of which I felt were developed, besides Katie. After the 60%-point, I just wanted it to end and here we are.

With this being said, I am very aware that I am in the minority opinion on this one. There are so many people who read this and absolutely loved it.

Therefore, do not take my opinion on this one as anything more than what it is: one Reader’s jilted opinion.

Please note, even though this didn’t work for me, I still think that Alex North is an incredible author and I will continue to pick up all his future novels.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Celadon and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

I appreciate the opportunity to provide my opinion and look forward to seeing what North comes up with next.

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Review: Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury

Delicious MonstersDelicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

She’s stretched her legs. She’s tied her sneakers and she is off, in the running for my favorite book of 2023!!!

Although there’s a long road ahead, I know Delicious Monsters has serious staying power. This was a darkly delicious story, which now lives rent free in my brain.

This story follows two young women, Daisy and Brittany, 10-years apart. Daisy comes first and I would say she is decidedly the star of this show.

Brittany is a host and co-creator of a popular web series, Haunted, who is interested in featuring a property owned by Daisy’s family on her show. Brittany would win the award for ‘best supporting actress’.

When the story begins, Daisy and her Mom, Grace, are living together in a small apartment in Toronto. Daisy has recently been dumped by her boyfriend and she’s admittedly struggling with moving past that.

It seems almost too good to be true then, when just when they need it most, Daisy’s Uncle passes away and leaves the family mansion to Daisy’s Mom, Grace. After a brief discussion, the two decide to pack up everything and move. Bye-bye city, hello, wide open spaces.

Set in a remote location, that’s extremely challenging to get to, the property is steeped in mystery. Grace refuses to enter the mansion, so the two actually take up residence in a bunkie, a smaller home on the property.

The goal though is to run the big house as a B&B, and Grace sets out to accomplish that right away. Daisy helps out, explores the property and even makes a couple new, intriguing friends.

As they settle in though, Daisy begins having disturbing experiences that make her question the history of the property and her mother’s story regarding it all.

Brittany’s sections are interspersed amongst the Daisy sections. It’s a mystery precisely why she is so interested in the property, like what exactly happened there, but you know it’s not good.

As things escalate with Daisy’s timeline, it feels like it is leading towards a violent end. From there you watch as the two timelines merge and all is ultimately revealed.

Delicious Monsters is a wild freaking ride. I was buckled in for it all and absolutely adored it start-to-finish.

Immediately, I was struck by how fantastic Sambury’s writing is. I knew this going in, but it’s been a while, so I guess I had forgotten a bit.

Let me tell you about it. Sambury’s writing is fluid as heck. It’s beautiful without being so flowery that it loses all semblance of a coherent narrative. It’s emotional, it’s dark and it doesn’t shy away from examining difficult topics.

The character development is excellent. Daisy, in particular, is so compelling. You’re in her head a lot and it’s not necessarily a comfortable place to be, but you grow to love her and have such empathy for her journey.

Additionally, there is great mystery to this story, as well as some truly haunting imagery. As you race towards the conclusion, things, I believe intentionally, start to get a little addled. You won’t be sure what’s up, what’s down, what’s real and what’s not. It was intense and a real page turner.

This was such a fun reading experience for me. It’s one of those books where I wish I could go back and read it again for the first time. It’s that good. It’s stunning, crushing, hope-inducing and toe-curling. It’s everything.

I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who enjoys Horror, YA Horror, Haunted House stories, or Dark Fiction in general. There are quite a few sensitive topics explored though, so I urge you to seek out the author’s review, as she includes a full list of content warnings.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Margaret K. McElderry Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I have been anticipating this book since July of 2021, when I first heard of the initial concept. It did not disappoint in the slightest. This is a phenomenal story!

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Review: Bright and Deadly Things by Lexie Elliott

Bright and Deadly ThingsBright and Deadly Things by Lexie Elliott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bright and Deadly Things is the latest release from Lexie Elliott, one of my go-to authors. I was so excited for this release and it did not disappoint.

This story follows Emily, an Oxford fellow, who recently lost her husband and is battling overwhelming grief. As she is getting her life back on track, she gets an offer to attend a retreat at the Chalet des Anglais in the French Alps.

This is a bit of a tradition for Oxford fellows and scholars. It’s looked on as a ‘reading week’, where they can go and engage in any academic pursuit they so choose. They live in the Chalet together, drink, dine and engage in what are hoped to be enlightening discussions.

Of course, when you get a bunch of adults living together under one roof, you’re also sure to get a lot of drama.

Also attending are Emily’s BFF, Jana, as well as other friends and coworkers of her and her late-husband’s. There are also a few students, who although Emily doesn’t know them personally, all seem interesting enough.

Most interesting is a girl named Sofi. The kind of girl who all eyes go to when she enters a room. She seems to be the black sheep of the bunch, but is sure to add some entertainment value and a bit of uncomfortablity as well.

Just prior to the trip, Emily walked in on an intruder who had broken into her house. Even though nothing was taken, she’s left rattled by the encounter. Later she hears her office building was broken into as well.

As her time in the French Alps begins, she cannot shake the feeling that someone is after her, or spying on her, or worse. Is it just nerves, brought on by grief and the break-ins, or is it something more?

Bright and Deadly Things had a great set-up. I really enjoyed meeting Emily and going on this journey with her. The rest of the cast were very intriguing as well.

When it starts to feel like someone is after her, messing with her really, I suspected everyone of having it in for Emily.

I really couldn’t suss out who could be behind the mysterious occurrences. I also considered a Murder on the Orient Express scenario; that’s how well Elliott disguised the truth behind what was happening.

You might be wondering, what is the actual mystery here, is there a murder, etc. I don’t want to go into any of that specifically, as I feel it’s best to go into this one knowing as little as possible.

I will say that it is a whole host of things that contribute to a general overriding feeling of dread and anxiety. Here they are at this very remote location, cut off from the world with no phones, wifi, or even electricity. Tensions run high in a competitive academic environment and feelings, amongst other things, are bound to get hurt.

I was really feeling for Emily. A lot of the things happening to her are quite scary. I don’t know what I would have done in her shoes; probably would have just kicked some butt and asked questions later.

One of my favorite things about Elliott’s writing is her deep sense of place. You always know where her stories are set, the environment, local area, vibe, etc. All these aspects are an important part of her storytelling and I love that.

Honestly, I always want that. I want to be able to feel like I am there too, right along with the characters, no matter what they are going through.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable reading experience for me. I always enjoy Lexie Elliott’s writing style. Her sense of place, character work and slow-burn suspense is very well suited to my tastes.

I was pulled into this one from the beginning. I was invested all the way. Elliott kept me in the dark enough to keep me engaged and guessing throughout. I also liked the light ‘is it supernatural, is it not supernatural’ vibes.

The setting and academic atmosphere were great as well. This takes dark academia on a bit of a field trip. We live.

Thank you to the publisher, Berkley, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I can’t wait to see where Lexie Elliott takes us next!

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Review: Don’t Fear the Reaper (The Lake Witch Trilogy #2) by Stephen Graham Jones

Don't Fear the Reaper (The Lake Witch Trilogy, #2)Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don’t Fear the Reaper released just in time for Valentine’s Day. Be still my Slasher-Loving heart. This was everything!

Stephen Graham Jones is a genius. His writing style is completely unique, distinct and is an absolute master class in Slasher lore. I’m hooked. ((pun intended))

In anticipation of this release, I recently reread the first book in the trilogy, My Heart Is a Chainsaw. I love that book and honestly, was concerned that nothing could top it.

Somehow, defying the general law of sequels, this was bigger, badder and more blockbuster than the first!

It’s been 4-years since the Independence Day Massacre. Jade, now going by her given name of Jennifer, has spent those years in prison. When her conviction is overturned, Jade returns to her native Proofrock.

As Jennifer’s luck would have it, on the very night she returns, a prison transport van carrying convicted serial killer, Dark Mill South, flips over in a blizzard. Dark Mill escapes and heads straight for Proofrock.

Back in town, Jennifer is reunited with her previously chosen final girl and dare I say, friend, Letha Mondragon. It’s a bittersweet reunion for the two women. They’ve both changed dramatically since that brutal night four years ago.

Very quickly bodies start dropping in harsh and creative ways. Is Dark Mill responsible for these killings? What would his motive be here? If not him, who?

True to character, Jennifer and Letha dive head first into the action, putting themselves in incredible danger. They essentially saved the town before. It looks like they’ll have to do it again, but if there’s really just one final girl, who will make it out alive?

This book starts with a bang and never ever lets up. Not for a moment. It has the classic slasher opening scenes, where stuff is already hitting the haunted ceiling fan.

In addition to all the phenomenal Slasher connections and references, I absolutely adored the character development displayed in this one. For both Jennifer and Letha. The student has truly become the master.

Also, I enjoyed getting more of the twins, Ginger and Cinnamon. I feel like their interactions with Jennifer and Letha added a lot to the narrative. It was like the older generation passing on the torch of horror to the younger generation.

Not that Letha and Jennifer are that much older, they aren’t old at all, but the experience of the Independence Day Massacre has certainly provided them with knowledge and seniority when it comes to be able to survive a Slasher.

I have no idea when the next book is slated to be released, but I do know I’ll be regularly stalking SGJ’s author page until we find out. I’m super anxious to learn the title and see the cover.

This series is everything I have ever wanted. Having grown up on a fairly steady diet of Slashers, thanks to my super cool older siblings, these stories bring me so much nostalgia and joy. I love the entire vibe.

While I recognize that this series may not be for everyone, I know that with the people it resonates with, it’s going to really hit. I cannot stop thinking about this. I’m really looking forward to reading both books again just prior to the release of the third.

If you love Horror Cinema, and Slashers in particular, and you haven’t picked up this series yet, I cannot recommend it highly enough. You don’t want to miss out on this!

Thank you so, so much to the publisher, Gallery / Saga Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

This was my most anticipated release of 2023 and it didn’t disappoint for a moment. Chef’s kiss!!

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Review: Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun (Finlay Donovan #3) by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun (Finlay Donovan, #3)Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun by Elle Cosimano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another thrilling, fun-filled, action packed, over-the-top adventure with my favorite gal pals, Finlay and Vero!!

In this 3rd-installment of the beloved Finlay Donovan Mystery series, Finlay and Vero pack their bags and head to a recently developed Citizen’s Police Academy.

Nick, Finlay’s potential love interest, is the cop in charge of the program and many of his departmental friends are there acting as instructors. Finlay is under the guise of researching her next book, but we all know how true that is.

She’s actually there to try to find the mysterious character, Easy Clean. But like, yeah, she does actually need to finish that book. Will her protagonist get together with the cop?

As you can imagine, Finlay and Vero’s time living in dorms, attending classes where they get put through police training along with Finlay’s elderly neighbor, some over-enthusiastic podcasters and others, will not be without its hijinks.

There’s so much going on in this one. Finlay’s ex-husband is circling around, trying to make amends, which Finlay wants no part of. Vero’s past gets brought up in a big way and mob boss, Feliks isn’t quite done with the ladies yet.

The Finlay Donovan series is one of my favorite Cozy Mystery series ever. The main reasons for that are the characters and the humor.

Finlay has such a dry sense of humor. I absolutely love the way she describes everything going on around her and her feelings about it. I’m seriously in stitches half the time.

I have listened to the entire series on audio and definitely recommend that medium. At this point, the narrator, Angela Dawe, is Finlay Donovan to me. Her voice-work in that role is top notch!

The relationship between Finlay and Vero is perfect as well. They’re so in deep together at this point. I love how even though, they are pretty different when you think about it, they are fully committed to one another and their friendship benefits them both equally.

The ending of this leads me to believe there will absolutely be a fourth installment. I’m not sure how many books are slated to be in this series, but I will be reading them all. Each and every one. Happily and with excitement.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Minotaur Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. I have been so excited for this release and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun is available now!!!

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Review: How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix

How to Sell a Haunted HouseHow to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t recall when Grady Hendrix and I had a conversation about everything I would love to see in a Horror novel, but the man must have been taking notes!!!

This story follows Louise Joyner and her brother, Mark. Louise lives in California, while her brother, Mark, still lives in their hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.

The two siblings are not close. They basically only see each other, or talk really, when they are doing things with the rest of the family, like with their Mom, Dad, cousins, Aunts, etc. Otherwise, it’s a bit like cats and dogs.

So, when Louise receives a random call from Mark, she knows the news can’t be good and it’s not. It’s like the rug has been ripped out from under her.

Their parents were killed in an accident. Louise needs to come home right away. It’s devastating. She leaves Poppy with her ex, packs her things and boards a plane.

There’s so much to do, the funeral, the estate, but she doesn’t want to be dealing with any of it. She just wants to be alone, but unfortunately, when people die they leave things behind that have to be dealt with.

Her parents left a lot behind. Of course they did, they weren’t expecting to go anytime soon. They built an entire life in Charleston. They lived in the same house that Louise and Mark’s Mom grew-up in; decades and decades of stuff, memories, accumulating.

How can they get rid of all of that? Stressful! Adding fuel to the fire, there are unexpected turns, mainly involving the wills, that leave Louise and Mark even more at odds.

This sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It is. It is for regular people with regular items that need to be dealt with, but what is kept within the walls of Louise and Mark’s childhood home isn’t exactly what you would call regular.

Their Mom was a puppeteer. She hand-made all of her own puppets; hundreds and hundreds of puppets. But even puppets need more friends, so there are dolls and odd taxidermy craft projects as well. Every room seems to have dozens of little eyes watching your every move.

From the moment Louise sets foot in the house, she feels like something is off. It’s giving her the creeps, she can hardly stand to be in there anymore. Memories overwhelm her. Disturbing incidents from her childhood. Was it just her imagination? Is it now?

Regardless of the vibe of the house, her and Mark want to prep it for sale. Both of them need the money. They need this done quick. They’ll have to work together.

I won’t say anything more about the plot of this novel, as I definitely recommend going into it knowing as little as possible. I didn’t really know what it involved when I started and I’m so glad.

I knew Haunted House, siblings and the fact that their parents had passed away. From that I expected to really enjoy this as I love Horror that explores grief, complicated family dynamics and of course, haunted houses.

This story does have all of that, but also much more. The surface level story is so engaging, yet this one runs deep. If you want to unpack it all, there’s a lot to explore.

Louise and Mark. Their relationship is so complicated. At first, I hated Mark. Not going to lie. I thought he was the biggest jerk to his sister and for no reason. He seemed spoiled to me and jealous of her.

As the story builds, you do get back story of their childhood and a lot of interesting things had happened to them; between them. I felt like after reading that stuff, Mark’s personality started to make a lot more sense.

I loved watching the evolution of their relationship as well. As they began to open up with one another and tried to understand the other’s perspective. I thought that was such a nicely done progression. I felt bad that it took the death of their parents for them to have those needed conversations.

It was dramatic. I also started to feel a certain way towards their parents and it wasn’t very charitable. I felt like they had sort of plagued their own children to grow up with certain issues because of the choices they had made.

This won’t make sense until you read the novel, but just trust, if you become as invested in this as I did, your emotions will run the full range before you are done. With emotional range in mind, I loved the clever section titles. Well played by Hendrix.

I can acknowledge that this book won’t be for everyone. I know that. It plays on certain tropes not everyone is going to love, but for me, this was a top-tier Horror story.

It was incredibly well-told with compelling characters, deep family issues and themes explored, as well as toe-curling imagery. This played off all of my childhood fears and let’s be frank, things I am still afraid of today, even as an adult.

I had moments where I had to walk away from it. It was scary to me. Seriously, there were nights when I had to put it down and read a palate cleansing book before I could even attempt to go to sleep. That’s a sign of a great story!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

This was absolutely one of my most anticipated books of the year and it did not disappoint. In fact, I’ve found a new one to add to my ‘Favorites’ shelf!!

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Review: Begin Again by Emma Lord

Begin AgainBegin Again by Emma Lord
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Emma Lord and I have a special relationship. It’s like she sees me, she gets me, she channels what interests me into her stories. Every time I pick up one of her books, my heart is filled to the brim with love.

Okay, I’m not delusional. I know we don’t actually have a special relationship, but I definitely connect with her stories in a remarkable way; one that stands out to me amongst the many books I read.

For her latest release, Begin Again, I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the synopsis. I don’t really care what it is about, if her name is on the cover, I’m picking it up.

I went into this blind and was absolutely delighted with how this story began to unfold. Something completely wild happens in our protagonist’s life right off the bat. I was shocked and laughed, is this what this book is about?

This story follows Andie, who is navigating her first year post-high school. After spending her first semester at a local community college, remaining at home with her grandmothers, Andie has recently transferred to the college of her dreams.

Blue Ridge State is 2-hours from Andie’s home and once she is there, she quickly realizes that she is on her own for the very first time. Honestly, the wide-open freedom is jarring and a bit overwhelming.

Andie is a girl who always has a plan and right from the start her plans for her time at Blue Ridge don’t go as she anticipated. Her long-term boyfriend, Connor, who attended Blue Ridge first semester actually transferred to Andie’s old community college to surprise her.

She transferred to Blue Ridge with the hopes of surprising him. Huge whoopsie!

That enormous flub really sets the stage for Andie’s first term. She’s sort of thrown for a loop, but she isn’t someone who gives in easily. She slowly starts to build her own life; establish her independence.

Andie finds a group of friends, passions to pursue and a boy who is super kind and shares her interests. Blue Ridge is beginning to feel like home.

Life isn’t always smooth sailing though, as we all know and before too long the stress-monster is rearing his ugly head.

Connor is trying to maintain his presence in Andie’s life and she has mixed feelings about the status of their relationship. Then some startling secrets are revealed and of course, there’s some family drama happening that Andie can no longer ignore.

It’s a lot for her to try to navigate successfully. She’s sort of torn between the person she was and the person she has the potential to become. I became super invested in Andie’s life and all the issues swirling around her.

This story is set in that pivotal time of life when you are transitioning from high school, living with your family, to adulthood, living on your own. It’s that sweet spot where the building blocks of your future really begin to solidify.

Andie had some trauma in her family. She lost her mother when she was younger and her father skipped out a bit after that. It was a very impactful experience in her life.

As you would expect, Andie brings that into college with her. Her relationship with her father is still strained, even though he is making an effort, she’s not entirely sure she’s ready to forgive him just yet.

I love how Lord’s stories always include the complexity of family life. Families are just that, they’re complicated. Even the ones that appear perfect, there’s always something there; some issue or issues that can be explored.

Andie being on her own for the first time was also so compelling. She was on quite a journey of self-discovery, even if she was the last one to realize it.

Emma Lord brings so much love to her stories. You can tell she writes with care. She cares about her characters and how the issues are presented. While the stories overall have a feel-good tone, there are always deeper meanings and connections to be made.

I connected particularly well with this story. I’m not entirely sure what it was, but I developed such empathy for Andie. Additionally, the friend group, the found family feel, really touched me and the ending was completely satisfying.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

While I figured I would love this story, I had no idea how much I would LOVE this story. I cannot wait to see what Emma Lord gifts us with next!!

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