Review: Where the Dead Wait by Ally Wilkes

Where the Dead WaitWhere the Dead Wait by Ally Wilkes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As you can tell from the 2-star rating, Where the Dead Wait was a disappointment for me. It’s my first time reading Ally Wilkes and honestly, I just don’t think their style is for me.

I’m thankful for the audiobook actually, because I may not have made it through otherwise. The narrator was great, as he somehow made his voice delivery just pompous enough to match the writing.

I won’t discuss the plot, as I had to reference the Publisher’s synopsis numerous times in order to figure out what was happening. I’ll let you read that for yourself.

I came here for Winter Horror, and yeah, I mean that was here, but it was so far buried under details and blah, blah, blah, that it wasn’t enjoyable for me. IMO, it’s overwritten.

I can’t stress enough how much I wanted it to be over…

With this being said, I recognize that I am being fairly snarky right now, and it’s most likely not 100% warranted, but I need to be honest about my experience. Otherwise, what are we all doing here?

Our experiences with books are completely subjective though, so just because this didn’t work for me, DOES NOT mean it won’t work for you!

If you read the synopsis and it sounds intriguing, pick it up. You could end up finding a new favorite Arctic Horror novel here, and if you do, I encourage you to come back and tell me how wrong I am.

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

Even though this didn’t work for me, I never write off an author after only one book ((pun intended)). This one just didn’t suit my tastes. Nevertheless, I would be interested in checking out more work by Ally Wilkes.

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Review: Grey Dog by Elliott Gish

Grey DogGrey Dog by Elliott Gish
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first line of the Publisher’s synopsis for Grey Dog, by Elliot Gish, promised me the following good time:

A subversive literary horror novel that disrupts the tropes of women’s historical fiction with delusions, wild beasts, and the uncontainable power of female rage…

There is no way I could walk away from that and I’m so glad I didn’t. This has probably been my most surprising read of the year in the best ways possible.

Words cannot express what I felt after reaching the conclusion of this novel. Grey Dog delivered EXACTLY what I was promised. I absolutely loved it!

It’s 1901 when Ada Byrd, described as a spinster, schoolmarm and amateur naturalist, accepts a teaching post in the remote town of Lowry Bridge.

We get told this story through a series of Ada’s journal entries, beginning as she arrives in Lowry Bridge for the first time. We follow along with her as she settles into her home and begins to navigate life in this new environment.

She arrives a wee bit before the school year starts, so she does have time to meet people and acclimate a bit to her surroundings. Ada is very happy to have this chance at a fresh start, around folks who know nothing of her past.

Ada makes friends, gets to know her students and explores the lush natural setting of the small farming community. Everything seems to be going swimmingly, but then Ada begins to notice odd things around her.

Like insects and animals behaving in unnatural ways. Her senses tell her to be afraid. The longer she’s there, the more unsettled she seems to become. It starts to weigh heavily on her mind. It’s taking a real toll.

How much of Ada’s story can we believe though? She’s a tainted woman, after all. Maybe it’s in her head, the result of some previous issues? Or is there something actually evil lurking in Lowry Bridge?

I had the pleasure of listening to this on audio and highly recommend that format. The narration of Natalie Naudus was perfect for the voice of Ada.

Being presented as journal entries, and listening to it, it made it feel so personal; like I was getting a secret glimpse into Ada’s life. It made for a gripping reading experience.

In addition to this, I found Gish’s writing style, in and of itself, to be a fantastic fit for my tastes. It was very fluid and engaging. Highly readable. The historical feel of this was spot on. I felt transported.

When I was reading this, I was so invested. When I wasn’t reading this, I was thinking about it and wanted to be.

I liked how it felt subtle and understated. There was an overall gothic-sort of feel that stayed eerie throughout. I felt ill at ease frequently without being able to pinpoint why.

I wouldn’t say it delivers earth-shattering levels of action, or suspense, but it’s just uber-intriguing, the human nature of it all. It gets under your skin and stays there.

Overall, I was very impressed with this. The ending had my jaw on the ground and a wicked laugh escaping my lips.

It was a perfect conclusion; wow. I definitely plan to get a hard copy for my collection. I’d love to reread it someday and annotate.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Dreamscape Media, for not only providing me with a copy to read and review, but also for introducing me to the talent of Elliott Gish.

I cannot wait for more!!!

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Review: The Only One Left by Riley Sager

The Only One LeftThe Only One Left by Riley Sager
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

After a client overdoses while under care, home-health aide, Kit McDeere, finds herself suspended from her job for 6-months. That’s a long time to be out of work, stewing on her past mistakes. Kit doesn’t like the feeling.

When her suspension is up, her boss tells her about her new assignment. Oh baby, it’s a doozy!

Unfortunately, she’s lucky to even still have her job, so Kit doesn’t put up much of a fight though. Beggars can’t be choosers. At least it will get her out of her Dad’s house.

Kit is headed to Hope’s End, a once lavish estate on the rocky coast of Maine. Set high on a cliff, the home has slowly begun to decay over the decades, leaning ever closer to the sea below.

Even so, it’s not the mansion itself that disturbs Kit the most. It’s who lives inside it. Lenora Hope, Kit’s latest client, is the sole survivor of the Hope Family Massacre of 1929. As the survivor, Lenora was the main suspect and was accused of killing her father, mother and sister.

The crimes are so infamous in the local area, there’s even a creepy little song about it:

At seventeen, Lenora Hope
Hung her sister with a rope
Stabbed her father with a knife
Took her mother’s happy life
“It wasn’t me,” Lenora said
But she’s the only one not dead

Kit knows what it’s like to be accused of something however, so she tries to stick all she thinks she knows about Lenora Hope into the back of her mind. Regardless of her past, Lenora is now a woman in her 70s, who has been left mute and incapacitated by a series of strokes.

Confined to a wheelchair, Lenora is completely dependent on Kit for her daily care. Her only means of communication is pecking out her thoughts on an old typewriter.

One night, through her typing, Lenora makes Kit and offer. She wants to tell her everything that happened back in 1929. Is Kit ready to hear the truth?

There was something about the synopsis of this story that told me that I should read it via audio. I was interested to see how the perspectives would be done and how the audio could possibly elevate the overall storytelling.

In spite of the fact that I bought a hard copy on the day of release, I did actually hold out until I was able to get the audiobook from my local library. I’m so glad I made that decision. I loved this audio. It’s actually the first Riley Sager novel I have listened too.

I may have to go back and reread some of the others that way, if they are all done this well!

The narrators’ voices were perfect for the different perspectives they were portraying. It really helped to bring this story to life for me.

The setting of Hope Manor was also fantastic. With Lenora confined to her room, it’s really just the workers that keep the property afloat, flitting about interacting with one another. Kit, as the new girl, just tries to go about her work, soaking it all in.

There’s so much history in the house, and each individual there offers their own perspective on the past, as well as the present. Trust, there’s drama.

I loved the use of the typewriter as a way for Lenora to communicate and tell Kit her story. There was something so ominous about that act. Lenora watching each letter appear as the past unfolded before her.

There’s also some unsettling things going on around the house that provided a nice, is it supernatural, is it not supernatural-feel, that I tend to enjoy so much. Oh, and bonus, this is set in 1983 and I love the 80s!!

There were a lot of well done red herrings in this, as your mind works to try to figure out the truth. I suspected a lot of people; pretty much everyone, honestly. There were also a ton of twists and I enjoyed how Sager built the intensity as the story progressed.

It felt dangerous and definitely got my pulse racing. Right after I finished though, I did struggle a bit on how to rate it. Part of me thought, it was one twist too many, but then the other part of me thought, shut the f*ck up.

As you can tell, the good side won. I loved this. Another engrossing, memorable story from Sager. I cannot wait to see what he delivers next!

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Review: Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas

Vampires of El NorteVampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Set in 1840’s Mexico, Vampires of El Norte is a love story a lifetime in the making. It’s more than just a love story between two people though. It also speaks to the love of the land, one’s home and culture.

This is the latest release from Isabel Cañas. It’s a beautifully told Historical Romance story with well-blended Horror elements. We’re talking creepy vampires!

Having loved The Hacienda, I was so excited for this release. Not only did it sound amazing, but the cover is easily one of my favorites of all time.

While this started a little slow, taking me about a week to make it through the first 10%, after I got through the initial build-up, I couldn’t put it down.

In this story, we are following two young people, Nena and Néstor. Nena is the daughter of a wealthy rancher and Néstor was her childhood best friend.

The two were inseparable as kids, even past the point where it was considered appropriate. They would sneak off and slowly, over time, they began to grow sweet on one another.

During one of their secretive late night rendezvous, Nena was attacked by a mysterious monster. Néstor races her to help, but believing Nena dead, he promptly flees the area. He’s been on the run ever since, wracked with grief, moving from ranch to ranch working as a vaquero.

When the heart of our story begins, nine years have passed since that terrifying night of Nena’s attack.

Nena has remained on her parent’s ranch, training with Néstor’s Grandmother to become a curandera. When war threatens to spill over their borders, the locals gather together and form a cavalry to fight back against the invaders from the United States.

Nena’s father is in charge and she convinces him to let her travel with the group as their healer. Men will be getting sick and injured and she knows she can prove herself useful.

Preparing to travel to the battlefields, Nena and Néstor are reunited with very mixed feelings. Néstor has lived the past 9-years feeling guilty for Nena’s presumed death and Nena has lived the past 9-years feeling abandoned by Néstor.

Good ole’ fashioned romantic miscommunication ensues.

As frightening and dangerous as war is, the nightmares from Nena and Néstor’s past still lurk in the shadows and they’re about to become more threatening than ever.

Forced to work together, will Nena and Néstor be able to put their misunderstandings aside long enough to rid their country from their enemies, both human and non-human?

As I mentioned above, this did take me a little bit to really become invested in. Once Nena and Néstor were reunited though, I was hooked. I loved their chemistry.

The journey of their relationship, as well as what was happening in the plot was just so satisfying. I really enjoyed them getting to know one another as adults.

The side characters, as well, added a lot. Both of them had family members still rather prominent in their lives and it was interesting watching all those dynamics play out.

I am not a Historical Fiction reader generally. It’s definitely not a genre I gravitate towards, however the way Cañas expertly blends in convincing Supernatural Horror elements really sells it for me.

I love the imagery she creates. These vampires are definitely not the sparkly kind. I also appreciate the vivid settings and how much culture plays a role in the story. You really get a sense of place and time from her writing.

Overall, I just had a really great time with this. I felt transported. This was the perfect type of romance story for me. I will remember this one for a long time.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I cannot wait to see what Cañas delivers next!!!

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Rereading 1922 by Stephen King

19221922 by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

1922 is the first novella included in my favorite short-story collection, Full Dark, No Stars.

This is the second time I have read this story and its impact was not diminished with repetition. In fact, I think I appreciated it more this time around.

One thing I had actually forgotten about this story is that the entire thing is told via a written confession. Epistolary format generally does work for me anyway, but in King’s capable hands, it elevated this to a higher level.

The quality of the writing makes you feel like you are actually listening to a haunted man tell his story. In this case, that man is Wilfred James, a farmer from the Hemingford Home area of Nebraska.

King’s Constant Readers may recognize that name from other works, most notably, The Stand.

The publisher’s synopsis for this story explains it best: A powerful tale of betrayal, murder, madness and rats, 1922 is a breathtaking exploration into the dark side of human nature. That’s exactly what this is.

The story flows organically and steadily, while unsuspectingly gettin under your skin. Before you know it, you’ll be flinching at the smallest noises around you. Any little scratch or scatter could be the rats coming for you.

I frequently mention that when I reread King’s works that my attention is drawn to different elements each time. With the initial horror of the story out of the way, I found myself more able to focus on the relationships this time through.

The relationship between Wilf and his son, Henry, of course, but also the relationship between Henry and his young love. Additionally, I felt more drawn to Wilf’s inner turmoil after the horrors began. It’s like a 1920s-Midwestern version of Crime and Punishment.

Overall, the way this story is told, it’s absolutely captivating. Even the gruesome bits will have your eyes glued to the page, dreading whatever will be coming next.

Readers are cautioned to scenes of animal hurt, or harm, but truthfully, it’s a farm and the circumstances involved are things that would, or could, occur on a working farm. I will admit to skim reading some of those scenes though.

As with the rest of the stories included in the Full Dark, No Stars collection, 1922 is ultimately a story of ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary, and gut-churning, circumstances.

If this sounds at all intriguing to you, I absolutely recommend checking it out. I’m so happy that I took the time to reread this. It’s definitely secured itself in my mind as one of my top novellas ever.

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Review: Boys In the Valley by Philip Fracassi

Boys In the ValleyBoys In the Valley by Philip Fracassi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Boys In the Valley is a classic Horror story; an absolutely delightful scarefest that gripped me from the start.

In the opening scene, we meet a young boy on the night that he loses both of his parents and his home in one bloody tragedy. The violence of this scene aptly sets the tone for the entire story, tense and atmospheric.

From there, we find ourselves at St. Vincent’s Orphanage for Boys, a self-contained parochial orphanage and school set in a remote valley in Pennsylvania.

It’s the early 1900s and being in such a location makes for a dire lifestyle. The boys at the orphanage, under the careful watch of several priests, grow their own food and only ever socialize with one another.

There are occasional supply runs to a distant farm, but only one of the priests, Father Andrew, and one of the older boys, Peter, ever go. For the rest of the boys, the grounds and the orphanage make up their entire world.

On a dark and dreary night, as all the boys lie in their bunks in the dorm, they hear a disturbance below. Someone has come seeking help from the priests.

It’s a group of men, one of whom is badly injured. The injured man is raving, dangerous, he has occult symbols carved all over his body. As the priests attempt to aid him, he dies suddenly, releasing an ancient evil with his last breath.

The boys upstairs aren’t privy to these events, but as the doors to their dorm room suddenly burst open and the cross hanging sentry above their door falls to the ground, many can feel a shift in atmosphere.

Soon a few of the boys begin acting strangely. They’re suspicious and mean, bullying in ways they never attempted before. They begin forming groups and taking sides.

Peter, the oldest and golden boy of the orphanage, an aspiring priest, becomes the unofficial leader of one side, as another boy, Bartholomew, leads the dark side.

As the tension rises, so does the danger and before the innocents can even wrap their minds around it, all hell breaks loose at St. Vincent’s. It’s chaos.

Fracassi transported me with this story. I loved the historical feel and the remote setting was so well done. I felt like I was there in the dark and the cold. I literally felt cold and I read this during one of the hottest weeks of the years.

That’s a damn good story.

It scared me. There were scenes, particularly in the beginning as it begins unfolding, that got my pulse-racing. I was simultaneously horrified and delighted.

This felt like a treat to read. There are no tricks, or gimmicks. It’s just a well-told, well-plotted, well-developed, atmospheric, engaging and creepy tale. A story that could be told just as easily around a campfire, as read in the silence of your own room at night.

It’s got that epic good-versus-evil feel, but stripped down to a fluid Lord of the Flies meets The Exorcist combination.

I would absolutely recommend this to any Horror fan, particularly if you are creeped out by things like religion and kids. If you are, this will play right into your sweet spots.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Nightfire, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I’m really excited to pick up more from this author!

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Review: Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silver NitrateSilver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

I was sold on Silver Nitrate from the moment I read the publisher’s synopsis, which claimed it to be a fabulous meld of Mexican horror movies and Nazi occultism: a dark thriller about the curse that haunts a legendary lost film–and awakens one woman’s hidden powers.

Ummm, color me intrigued. I had to get my hands on this.

Luckily, for me, this lived up to the claims. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I am going to now declare it my favorite Silvia Moreno-Garcia novel.

This story is set in the 1990s, in Mexico City, and follows two main characters, best friends, Montserrat and Tristan.

Montserrat is a talented sound editor, but as a female in a mostly male profession, she’s frequently overlooked. In fact, she feels practically invisible to everyone, but her best friend since childhood, Tristan, a charming soap opera star.

Having been close for decades, Montserrat and Tristan have a lot of history. They rely on one another for a lot of different things. It’s a comfortable relationship, though not without its complications.

As the story begins, Tristan has just moved into a new apartment building and he discovers, to his delight, that his new neighbor is cult horror director, Abel Urueta. Tristan can hardly believe it, Montserrat is such a huge fan of Urueta’s. Tristan can’t wait to tell her.

Tristan befriends the older man and before too long, Montserrat and Tristan are spending time in Urueta’s apartment, as friends. Over drinks he tells them about his career and more importantly, about its demise, which he blames on an unfinished film laced with the power of magic.

He weaves them a tale of a Nazi occultist imbuing magic into a highly volatile silver nitrate stock, never finished. He asks them to help him shoot the missing scene. Urueta claims once complete, his curse will be lifted.

After careful consideration, Montserrat and Tristan agree. What’s the worst that could happen?

Montserrat and Tristan discover quickly that messing with occult magic can get real messy. Montserrat feels haunted by an unknown presence, and Tristan is having encounters with the ghost of his dead ex-girlfriend.

Both friends are losing sleep, they’re on edge constantly and feel like they’re beginning to lose their grip on reality. Is it self-inflicted? Are they just feeling these things because of fear, or is something actually plaguing them?

As the danger grows, Montserrat and Tristan begin digging into the truth of the old film and Urueta’s stories. It’s seems they’ve unleashed something, but how can they stop it?

You better buckle up, because things get strange, things get wild, but boy, oh boy, was it fun. I thought this was fantastic. Moreno-Garcia truly brought the atmosphere, great characters, as well as captivating and original premise!

Silver Nitrate is a slow burn, with a subtle tone that builds intensity throughout. I thought this was beautifully-crafted and the rich quality of the writing can’t be denied.

The whole premise was just so interesting. I really enjoyed how it unfolded, with Tristan befriending Urueta and him sort of bringing Montserrat and Tristan in on his private struggle, the idea of the curse.

I felt Montserrat and Tristan were at the perfect place in their lives to be swept along on this journey with Urueta as well. The background work for these characters was a perfect match for the way the story progresses.

They were both sort of at a crossroads, where they needed a shake up. Urueta offered something intriguing and spurred on by each other’s interest, they both went along with it, regardless of any hesitations they may have had individually.

I also enjoyed how quickly after helping Urueta that stuff began to get spooky for them. The things happening, let’s call them the hauntings, were sort of quiet too.

It wasn’t all in your face, gory or shocking, just slightly subtle things that could have been imagination, just as easily as a true haunting, but it definitely lent a sense of dread to the narrative.

My favorite part of this book though was the character work. Both Montserrat and Tristan were so well fleshed out. I found their entire lives interesting, from their careers, to their families, to their past relationships.

I also loved watching their relationship grow and change throughout the story. The insight into how they were feeling about each other, it was complicated and it made me a bit emo. As the danger increased, they began to see each other in a new light; particularly Tristan in regards to Montserrat.

Overall, I thought this was such a well-rounded and well-written story. It’s memorable in its character work and uniqueness. I will be thinking about this one for a while.

I recommend this to anyone who enjoys a slow burn, historical-feeling Horror story, with equally great characters and plot. I think a lot of Readers will enjoy this one.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Del Rey, for providing me with a copy to read and review. This was a highly anticipated release for me and it did not disappoint!

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