Review: She Left by Stacie Grey

She LeftShe Left by Stacie Grey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s been twenty-years since the Memorial Day Massacre that claimed the lives of five of Amy’s friends. It happened at a small house party they’d been enjoying together.

After Amy was made to feel like she didn’t belong though, she left. Little did she know, that was the luckiest choice she could’ve ever made. Within an hour, all of those left at the house were be dead.

In the present, Amy, along with ten other people connected to that night have been invited to a cliffside lodge by a journalist preparing to do a piece on the murders.

After arriving at the home, and being introduced to one another, events quickly take a dark turn. With inclement weather closing in, isolating them even more from the outside world, it becomes clear that this weekend isn’t what any of them expected it to be.

As bodies start dropping, Amy and the others must fight to figure out who orchestrated this event and stop them before they complete their goal; keeping the secrets they’ve been hiding for twenty-years.

Y’all, I really enjoyed this. I went into She Left with zero expectations. I hadn’t heard anyone talking about it and I was unfamiliar with this author’s other works. I was attracted to it purely for the cover and synopsis.

The synopsis was giving me a classic mystery/horror set-up, where people get invited to an event, like a dinner party or weekend retreat, only to arrive and realize it’s not what they thought. It’s very And Then There Were None, amongst others.

Grey succeeded in her delivery of that set-up. I loved how this started off, meeting all the characters and learning how they were all connected to the Memorial Day Massacre.

They’re not all as directly connected as Amy was, so it was interesting to figure out all of that. We do get glimpses into all the various character perspectives, but Amy is definitely our main focus, and as an FBI Agent, Amy really had the most to offer as far as figuring the whole thing out.

Grey also succeeded in really building out her atmosphere. I loved the setting of this. She didn’t just tell us it was remote, it felt remote. The inclement weather, and potentially hazardous mudslides, added an extra element of danger that only aided in the feeling of anxiety and desperation.

This is extremely fast-paced, as well as engaging and easy to follow. I listened to the audiobook and loved that as a format choice. I absolutely flew through it.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t say there’s anything particularly ground-breaking about this story, but I didn’t need there to be. It was still highly-entertaining and that’s exactly what I was looking for.

Overall, the plot is gripping and fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but still delivers a well-plotted, intense mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.

Thank you to the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press and Dreamscape Media, for providing me with copies to read and review. I’m pumped to read more from this author!

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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: The Gathering by C.J. Tudor

The GatheringThe Gathering by C.J. Tudor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The easiest 5-star rating I have given thus far in 2024. I adored every moment of reading this story.

C.J. Tudor has explored new territory here. I can’t wait for more. It’s so good, and C.J., if you happen upon this review, this book was everything…

I basically fell in love with this book the very first time I set eyes on this eerie snow-covered cover. Added to that, the publisher created a fascinating Horror Mystery synopsis.

They had my attention. It was giving me heavy Bone White ((one of my favorites ever)) vibes and I was all over it!

Luckily, I was blessed with an early copy and although I tried to push it off closer to release date, here we are.

In this story, we follow Detective Barbara Atkins, an experienced specialist in vampyr killings. She gets sent to the very small and remote town of Deadhart, Alaska, to investigate the brutal murder of a teen boy.

Deadhart has a Colony of vampyrs living on their periphery with which they have an unsettling history. This most recent murder is the literal match to the wick. The townspeople are fired up and calling for a cull.

Barbara is tasked with determining whether or not a vampyr was responsible for the brutal slaying of the teen, and if so, does that solitary act necessitate a cull.

Needless to say, some of the townspeople don’t warm to Barbara’s presence. They’re a small, tight-knit community and don’t feel they need outsiders dictating how they handle their town and it’s adjacent Colony.

As the Reader, you go along with Barbara as she inserts herself into this town and really digs into this specific case, as well as anything else that may help her make her determination in regards to this Colony.

I was immediately intrigued with this set-up. I enjoyed how it’s essentially our world, with one major difference, vampyrs are real and they live openly amongst humans.

They may live in their own Colonies, but everyone knows they exist. It’s an interesting set-up to imagine.

I think Tudor did a great job of developing this. We learn slowly the details of the relationship between humans and vampyrs, historically, so it doesn’t weigh you down with major descriptors right off the bat.

It’s strictly a need to know basis and I liked that. I never felt like I needed more information. I had exactly what I needed to feel completely enraptured by this world.

I also loved the way the setting of Deadhart is portrayed. The atmosphere is so rich. It’s dark, uninviting and feels dangerous. I was shivering and wasn’t sure if it is from the cold coming off the pages, or the fear. Tudor created a real sense of dread; my love language.

We do get some other perspectives, so you aren’t locked in with Barbara the whole time. The back and forth kept the story going at a nice clip and I felt each perspective added a lot to the build-up.

One of my favorite aspects of this was Barbara’s relationship with the local law enforcement, particularly a former deputy, Tucker. They made a great team. Their relationship felt very natural and I enjoyed their coworker energy.

As you get past the mid-point, the pace really kicks up. You can feel the tension rising in the whole town. You can just tell that everything is going to come to a head.

I was nervous. You do start to care about some of the characters and the dangers were everywhere. I was so concerned for everyone that I cared about. I wanted everyone to make it out unscathed.

Overall, this was just so fun. It was well constructed and super gripping. I honestly hope this sets a new trend for vampire stories. It was unsettling realistic.

Thank you to the publisher, Ballantine Books, for providing me a copy to read and review. I cannot wait to pick up a hard copy for my shelves!!!

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Review: Among the Living by Tim Lebbon

Among the LivingAmong the Living by Tim Lebbon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Among the Living is an Eco-Horror novel from Tim Lebbon.

I was so excited when I read the synopsis for this one, as we all know, there’s nothing better than reading Arctic Horror in the Winter. I was super stoked to get into it.

This story is set in a very remote area of the Arctic Circle, specifically, on Hawkshead Island. We follow two groups of individuals. The first, a team of illegal miners who essentially exploit natural resources, is led by Dean.

The second, a group of climate activists, who try to stop illegal activities such as those Dean and his team engage in. The activists are led by Bethan, an old friend of Dean’s.

Dean and his team go to the island to explore a vast cave system. Their exploits lead to a horrific contagion being unleashed. This contagion has laid dormant for many millennia, but now that it’s free, it’s ready to wreck havoc.

Bethan and her team, wanting to stop Dean and his associates from exploiting this rare and special environment, rush there to try to stop them. Spoiler alert: they’re too late.

Dean, Bethan and their rivals teams are now on a survival mission from hell. They can’t let this contagion escape the island. If they do, it could mean an end to life as we know it.

But, hey, no pressure…

The concept of Among the Living is great. I love the idea of exploring what could happen if some sort of ancient contagion, or virus, is unleashed, either due to ice melt, or humans uncovering it from underground.

I think it’s such a horrifying idea. I actually think about it quite a bit. I was really excited to see Lebbon tackle that potentially species-destroying topic here.

Sadly, the execution left me feeling majorly underwhelmed.

This is a good book. I know many Readers will enjoy it. For me though, I just couldn’t care less about the characters, or their interpersonal issues. I was bored by them.

There were some extremely vivid horror scenes, where I feel like the horror imagery was very well presented. Those were the parts I enjoyed the most. They were a little few and far between for my tastes though.

IMO, the beginning of this was the most exciting part, even though in terms of action, that definitely gets more amped up towards the end. It gets crazy!

What I enjoyed about the beginning though, and found most exciting, was the unknown. The anticipation of entering the cave, of what they found there and what it meant. Those aspects were so well done. I wish it could have carried that hauntingly-ominous tone throughout.

Once Bethan and her crew came on the scene, however, it just felt that the interpersonal issues started to outshine the suspense and the horror.

Because of my fluctuations in interest, this book, coming in at just over 300-pages, took me almost 20-days to read. It just went so incredibly slow for me.

With this being said, I understand this is 100% personal taste. It’s nothing the author did wrong, it just wasn’t a good fit for my tastes. Nevertheless, I can appreciate the creativity and the concept itself is absolutely terrifying.

I would recommend this for Readers who enjoy more Literary Horror, but also aren’t afraid of a blood and gore.

It is thought-provoking and could also work very well for Book Clubs, Group Reads, or Buddy Reads.

Thank you to the publisher, Titan Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I am definitely interesting in reading more of this author’s work.

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Review: Assistant to the Villain (Assistant to the Villain #1) by Hannah Nicole Maehrer

Assistant to the VillainAssistant to the Villain by Hannah Nicole Maehrer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

I had zero expectations going into Assistant to the Villain. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it. Vibes: cute and cozy!

The ending was a wee bit of a cliffhanger, so I will definitely be reading the sequel. I can’t wait for it actually. There’s something about this type of Cozy Romantic Fantasy that screams Winter Read to me.

In this story we meet Evie Stage, who due to an ill family member is in desperate need of steady employment. So when a mishap, or perhaps we should call it a Meet Cute, with a local Villain leads to a job offer, she can’t turn it down.

Keep in mind, this Villain is a Fantasy World Villain, so there’s torture, killing, mayhem and chaos involved in Evie’s new work environment. But that’s okay. No job is perfect.

When Evie starts feeling attracted to the Villain though, she realizes she may really in trouble. It’s not just that he is her boss, there are other things to consider.

I mean, who finds sexy, darkly brooding, powerful, quietly sensual and possibly evil men attractive?

There is more to the story than that though. Someone seems to have it out for the Villain and the sabotage attempts seem to be coming from the inside.

Evie is determined to get to the bottom of it and save her crush before it’s too late.

As mentioned before, this is super cute. The pace is energetic and you want more. The synopsis comps this to Once Upon A Time meeting The Office and I think that is quite apt.

There was something so delightful about that mix. The fantastical office setting was completely unique and I can’t wait for more of it. Additionally, there was a great sense of humor to it and I enjoyed watching the chemistry build.

I also appreciated the romance that Maehrer created within this story. It was more about pining, getting to know one another and mutual respect, versus steam, steam, steam. I gotta say, compared to a lot of the things I’ve been picking up lately, it was a nice change of pace.

I think leaving the steam out allowed me to really focus on getting to know these characters. I feel attached to them after a very short time.

I was delighted that we ended up getting the perspective of the Villain, Tristan, as well. Oh my goodness, did I enjoy my time with him.

We definitely spend more time with Evie, but learning about the Villain through his own thoughts and feelings was really sweet. I liked reading what he was thinking about Evie’s presence in his world and watching that change over time.

I did enjoy the mystery, although admittedly, that did play second fiddle to the romance element, but I feel like Maehrer intended it to be that way.

Overall, I thought this was adorable. I’m definitely looking forward to getting my hands on the next book. I am wondering if it will go more in depth with some of the side characters, who I enjoyed, but I didn’t really feel like I got to know that well in this installment.

Counting down the days until Apprentice to the Villain!!!

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Review: The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict

The Christmas Murder GameThe Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

The Christmas Murder Game was the perfect audiobook for me to listen to over my Christmas holiday.

It didn’t require surgical-levels of concentration and the plot was easy enough for my holiday-fried brain to follow.

In this story we meet Lily Armitage, who is returning to her family’s lavish estate, Endgame House, for the first time since the tragic death of her mother, twenty-one years ago.

The Armitage family has an annual tradition called the Christmas Game and this year, the stakes are higher than ever. The winner receives the deed to Endgame House itself.

Lily doesn’t really want the house, but she receives a personal invitation she can’t refuse. If she attends, she may be able to get further information about her mom’s death, which Lily has long not believed the official story on.

The Christmas Game takes twelve days, with riddles and clues to finding twelve separate keys, and Lily must compete against her estranged cousins for the ultimate prize.

When bodies start dropping and the family gets snowed in, it’s clear someone will do anything to win this year’s game, even if it means killing off the competition.

I liked this. It’s a solid story with a lot of reveals and red herrings along the way. I really enjoyed the setting, including the harsh weather that helped build tension.

With this being said, while it did feature a lot of elements I enjoy, such as a locked room feel, unlikable characters, inclement weather and deeply-held family secrets, I didn’t find the overall story that gripping.

Most of the characters were a bit one-dimensional, but I did definitely want to know what was going on. I had many theories, none of which panned out 100%.

This is the second story that I have read from Alexandra Benedict. I think I preferred Murder on the Christmas Express a bit more, but reading this over Christmas probably did have a slight impact on my enjoyment level.

I do always find it a bit more challenging to really focus around this time of year, particularly when traveling.

Either way, I will be continuing to pick up anything I can from Alexandra Benedict, and you should too!

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Review: 15 Secrets to Survival by Natalie D. Richards

15 Secrets to Survival15 Secrets to Survival by Natalie D. Richards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

💚💛💛💚💚💛💛💚💚💛💛💚💚💛💛💚

15 Secrets to Survival is a Middle Grade Survival Thriller and is a Middle Grade debut for beloved author, Natalie D. Richards.

I have enjoyed quite a few YA-stories from Richards, including Five Total Strangers and Four Found Dead, so I was very excited when I learned she was going to be branching into the Middle Grade genre.

I always enjoying seeing what an author I have enjoyed can do in a new space. It can be hit or miss, but this one was definitely a hit for me.

As expected, Richards brought some serious thrills and intensity to this, while also bringing the humor and softer moments you would expect from a Middle Grade story.

We follow a group of four kids, Baxter, Abigail, Turner and Emerson, who have sort of been forced together their whole lives due to their parents all being friends. Truth be told though, they sort of drive each other nuts.

After they get in trouble at a school for fighting with one another, they’re forced to participate in an extracurricular project that will push them outside of their comfort zones, and will hopefully get them past their differences.

The goal is to get them to work together. At least that is what their parents and teachers want. We’ll see…

The four get taken to a remote wilderness location and dropped off with Baxter’s elderly Uncle Hornsby, who used to run a wilderness camp for kids. The parents seem to think he is just the person to get these kids in line.

The kids are shocked. It’s cold, it’s rustic, it’s in the freaking middle of nowhere. Are they seriously getting left here with this eccentric old man?

Just like that though, it happens. Their parents leave and their true adventure weekend begins. Using pages from a survival notebook, the kids begin a sort of scavenger hunt through a series of challenges that wins them more pages to the notebook as they go.

The notebook truly clues them in on how to survive on their own in the rough terrain. After Uncle Hornsby appears to go missing though, it’s a race against the clock as inclement weather closes in. They need to try to survive themselves, as well as find Uncle Hornsby before it’s too late.

Will the kids be able to work together to get everyone safely through the weekend, or will their past disagreements and hurts get in the way?

I did really enjoy this story. I found Baxter’s perspective fun to follow, although there were some repetitive jibes towards Uncle Hornsby, particularly in the beginning, that I didn’t find as funny as I think they were meant to be. Other than that though, I did enjoy getting the entire story through Baxter’s narration.

The kids each excel in different areas and that fact initially is sort of seen as a reason why they don’t get along. I liked watching each of the kids be able to bring their strengths into the weekend and I think it helped them to all gain a new respect for one another.

You definitely go on a journey with these kids and it seriously does get intense. There were moments, I wasn’t sure how they were going to get past certain things. I loved watching the evolution of their relationships through it all.

I loved the survival aspects as well. Richards included pages from the notebook the kids were following through their challenges. I liked the way those pages were displayed and the level of information they presented.

I also liked the use of a storm approaching to up the intensity of the plot. I thought Richards did a great job building-out the setting, creating a dangerous atmosphere and adding a bit of suspense. This one definitely got my pulse-racing in multiple scenes.

I also grew attached to these characters. I loved the growth they each displayed and I ended up feeling proud of them for everything they overcame by the end.

I would definitely recommend this to any Middle Grade Readers, particularly if you like Survival stories, or Thrillers that feature inclement, winter weather.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Delacorte Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review. This was a blast and I hope Richards continues to write in the MG-space. If she does, I will absolutely be reading it!

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