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Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was really drawn into this one. I think it was because there were so many moving parts and it had all the mysterious elements that make for an interesting story. There were some issues with the writing and the story itself, however I was along for the ride anyway.

I read this one for the Literally Dead Book Club. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Cady McClain and Jon Lindstrom which I enjoyed.

The story.
I liked the build up. I liked the atmosphere, the setting, the elements of backstory and going back in real time with changing POVs to meet somewhere in the middle. I couldn’t decide whether it was going to be based on my lack of information, or psychological, or supernatural, or a simple thought-experiment, it kept me on my toes. I also like to go in blind with books, barely skimming the descriptions, looking for themes and key words that either turn me on or off to a story and diving in from there and this book was easy for me to get into based on just a few interests of mine, mostly having to do with a Victorian estate.

I liked how it played heavily on the emotions of scare tactics. There were unmentioned assumptions which were well played. Assumptions that people freak out over snakes, startled by creeps of hidden floor boards, flickering lights, music, appealing to a multitude of senses, creating a frightening scene and letting the reader play on those emotions and reactions, indulge in risking that readers would respond in such a way author intended without drawing unnecessary attention to itself as a thriller and doing more of the show instead of tell which went a long way.

This book was great, it definitely got super messy though. Mostly related to the composition of the plot which left loose ends, relied on convenient amnesia, question of plausibility, underlying lack of communication which created a sort of drama fatigue with ever-changing new leads and secrecy that started off convincing, yet only to a point.

The characters.
Ali had some characteristics I had expected from a daughter but came off as then it is but then it’s not, the relationship with her family was this, then it wasn’t. Flipped back and forth. Emotionally expressive verbally with adoration for her father but emotionally absent in every other way. I wanted the personal threats to the female main character to feel a little more personal in a realistic way. For her to be very much in the headspace of denial with counter arguments that don’t hold much weight with her continued action to pursue sleuthing, then it kind of fell apart from that aspect.

Character roles.
Surprised at word choice of professionals such as the chief saying crime scene guys instead of detectives. Contradictory whether the old furniture had any value or obvious signs of water damage for someone who renovates houses, also no home inspection, no blue prints, even for a historic home were just some things that were amiss for me.

The ending.
And the ending? So unsatisfying. A cover up? No thought to age of reason?

But I liked this book anyway, go figure. I was just in the mood for a read like this and it delivered in ways that were outside of the shortcomings I felt it had and I really enjoyed it.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this was great. I listened to it via audiobook, narrated by the author himself, which I’d highly recommend.

The writing, the story, really captured the innocence, both literal and magical thinking of a child, yet was palatable as an adult reader.

Kittens, staircases, hidden places, wormholes, riddle-like quests. Curiosity, the feeling of getting in trouble, being disciplined, friendships, dangers and fears, and dinner manners. All the themes, concepts, and individual interpretation shared, making for a really compelling read.

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The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying VampiresThe Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was great. It would make an excellent book club choice.

I listened to this one as an audiobook, narrated by Bahni Turpin, which I’d highly recommend. She brought the story to life. Her voice inflection, the cadence, her cleverness in depicting each character with such distinctness even while keeping all the Southern accents straight, the expressions in tone, and her amazing ability at voice preservation, very well done.

So for the story, I really liked how the author brought me into it, into the womens’ lives, working relationships, within this Southern lifestyle of home and hospitality, and bookclub, just the icing on the cake. It was just hilarious at times, one where I thought, oh, so spot on.

I enjoyed the trajectory of the story as it unfolded, wondering how it would go, then, it was very satisfying. Of course there were times I thought, oh geez, is that just too much? Was it far from the reality of what possibly could happen/how one would react? But it didn’t matter so much because it was consistent in character, setting, circumstances, and the tone of the book, suitable for what it was to build the climactic aspects up and overall fitting and done well anyway from those aspects, if that makes sense.

I loved the writing, the truth, the perception, all of it told in a way without apology which I just love about writing that does this in such a way. Also fun, playful with bits of humor, a spot on reminiscent decade of Redbook magazine, Opium perfume, dial phones.

The accurate quirks in the sayings of the time, not only how a child/teenager would simply act, but appropriate for the age and time on such a consistent basis within each rise and flow of the plot, narrative thought, and dialogue.

I did question a few things, though not terribly distracting. Pupils would constrict in sunlight, not dilate. How a suspected rape victim would have been handled by a medical professional. How they celebrated Halloween with an incident happening that evening, but then later in the story, the continuation of the timeline, the next day was a cloudless, sunny, October day?

A really great story nonetheless. One that definitely kept me engaged the whole way through.

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She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be by J.D. Barker

A haunting tale of suspense, rendered with the masterful skill only Barker could muster.

After the loss of his parents, young Jack Thatch first met Stella as a child—this cryptic little girl of eight with dark hair and darker eyes, sitting alone on a bench in the cemetery clutching her favorite book. Gone moments later, the brief encounter would spark an obsession. She’d creep into his thoughts, his every waking moment, until he finally finds her again exactly one year later, sitting upon the same bench, only to disappear again soon after…

SHE HAS A BROKEN THING WHERE HER HEART SHOULD BE conjures thoughts of early King and Koontz. A heart-pounding ride that creeps under your skin and will have you turning pages long into the night.

She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should BeShe Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be by J.D. Barker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Hampton Creek Press for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

An excellent book, one I couldn’t put down!

I could stop there and just make a recommendation to read it, but I can’t help myself to explain as to why when it comes to critiquing and there were a lot of things I loved about this book.

Starting with the overall premise and writing. There was a uniqueness both in original idea and writing style. I saw similarities to other namely authors, perhaps with some influence, but this author writes with a certain distinguished, intriguing sentiment that is all his own. It was like having a weird dream that only makes sense in your mind, materialized, taking risks in writing style, and then the retelling of such a story done right.

To begin with, it had all the essentials of what makes a good opener for a book. It sucked me in within the first few lines and chapter. I got a feel for the context, personality, setting, time frame, all with a taste of mystery, built as a nice set up with all the elements that readers crave when starting and continuing to enjoy a book like this, especially since it crossed into many types of genres. It was the seamless delivery that was carefully constructed.

Within each scene there was an ease to reading. Perhaps it was the way that each sentence was crafted. They were not so rule-hugging and rigid, formulaic, or formal, but appropriately written to enhance both personality, character growth, and the flow of the story. The writing pushed the boundaries, embracing the realm of creative thought and feeding it right back into the story.

I really appreciated the story because the detective work didn’t overtake it. Terminology wasn’t constantly being defined and explained, but instead jumped right into an occupation with use of the norms and lingo in conversation as they are understood among the people that use them. If you’ve ever read more than one mystery or crime novel, you will understand this and know that it is not uncommon to see stories get interrupted and cluttered with a bunch of backstories, rationales of behavior, or an over-explanation of job duties, procedures, and protocols that can so easily take you out of the story rather than be a natural progression of it.

I appreciated that there was not grab a thesaurus, word substitutions for adjectives, action verbs, words for said, and transitionals just thrown in, but actual descriptions told in unconventional ways which was both refreshing and compelling. Breaking of traditional rules by leaving in run-ons and fragments only added to the story, keeping the logical flow, the pace, the conversation, the thought-process, to speak for itself.

Even brand names, literary remarks, and historical references were mentioned without excessive descriptions or nouns to follow which made for an even smoother read. It just worked. Perhaps because the author knows his audience and can take liberty in allowing the reader to connect with the time and place, and feel like the story was just written for them.

With each character, the narrator voice was spot on consistent and distinguishable with actions, thoughts, and feelings, even through growth. The reminiscent parts were not only accurate to events but also perspective, really true to the time. The voice of internal conflict and insight was appropriate for each character age group. For example school-age memories and dialogue was told from a child’s mind, reflecting the safe, carefree life of youth, and also included the irrational fears and immature actions that resulted. I appreciated the attention to detail, even the accuracy of a growing boy’s height according to growth charts, which made it all the more believable even within the domain of nonfiction, paranormal, and fantasy.

I liked that it took me back to childhood memories of required reading, riding bikes to Circle K, skid-marks in gravel, and the fear of tetany. It made me want to reread Great Expectations, even though I haven’t had an inkling to ever read it again since its requirement in grade school. The desire to read another book as stirred up by a book you’re currently reading is always a success in my mind.

There were also comedic references that were sometimes overt, sometimes subtle, and so very funny.

Lastly I loved the internal dialogue referencing deeper meanings in life.

All-in-all, it reminded me of the momentum, thrill, and excitement of choose your own adventure books, the joy in anticipation and satisfaction of what comes next.

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The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore

‘Twas the night (okay, more like the week) before Christmas, and all through the tiny community of Pine Cove, California, people are busy buying, wrapping, packing, and generally getting into the holiday spirit.

But not everybody is feeling the joy. Little Joshua Barker is in desperate need of a holiday miracle. No, he’s not on his deathbed; no, his dog hasn’t run away from home. But Josh is sure that he saw Santa take a shovel to the head, and now the seven-year-old has only one prayer: Please, Santa, come back from the dead.

But hold on! There’s an angel waiting in the wings. (Wings, get it?) It’s none other than the Archangel Raziel come to Earth seeking a small child with a wish that needs granting. Unfortunately, our angel’s not sporting the brightest halo in the bunch, and before you can say “Kris Kringle,” he’s botched his sacred mission and sent the residents of Pine Cove headlong into Christmas chaos, culminating in the most hilarious and horrifying holiday party the town has ever seen.

Move over, Charles Dickens—it’s Christopher Moore time.

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror (Pine Cove, #3)The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So amusing!

Some parts are so incredibly outlandish, but yet totally make sense in the realm of Christopher Moore’s work as characters make a reappearance with the stunning humor that only he can deliver. Some of the humor and topics are overt, some understated, which only add to the inside jokes of character attribution, settings, and plot which are built upon previous readings that are hilarious in themselves.

Prepare to be entertained, offended, and to laugh out loud.

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Dracul by J.D. Barker, Dacre Stoker

The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a riveting novel of gothic suspense that reveals not only Dracula’s true origins but Bram Stoker’s — and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

DraculDracul by J.D. Barker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program. All opinions are my own. Not sponsored.

Loved this! The writing was beautiful. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, suspense, supernatural thrillers, gothic literature, or horror genres and also to anyone interested in the backstory of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Stoker’s early life, and his inspiration for authorship.

The authors, Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker, did an amazing job with the preservation of the characteristic epistolary relationship to the narrative and changing of multiple points of view, dialogues, voices, tenses, settings, and time. The original thought was upheld and intention of the story and presentation was well executed in a way that I think brought proud justice to the works of Bram Stoker, as well as his writing process and personal life.

The tone was one of discovery and intrigue as it depicted feats beyond human strength within an allegorical context. This included revelations of Bram Stoker in life and story, which was further explained in the authors’ note and was fascinating to read. The language, syntax, and decision-making within the plot, though written in a retrospective manner, this being a prequel, maintained authenticity of the time it was written and complimented the original novel and original journal entries and letters perfectly. I loved the language, expression, and descriptions used, being from the 19th century timeframe, which showcased both the talents of the authors as writers and the essence of classic gothic literature. The characters, both protagonists and antagonists alike, had individual qualities with depth, passion, and a moral code to each their own that shed light into the driving theme of vampirism and offered an understanding of all its attributes and rationales.

As far as the plot itself, it was a real page-turner and I thoroughly enjoyed the way it was organized chronologically as it unfolded into a deeper interconnection of subplots. The shaping of the story was compelling as was the climax and epilogue. It followed a gripping timeline of events that captured the themes, imagination, drama, and emotion of the original Dracula novel, in addition to having a complete set of characteristics for a stand alone novel in its own right as well.

MY FAVORITE LINES: To be revealed upon final publication.

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Zombies vs Aliens by Kristin Jacques

The zombie apocalypse has come and gone, the world has ended, and humanity has crumbled.

But nobody told the aliens.

And it seems that alien brains have some interesting side effects on the ravenous undead. Just ask zombie Li, who “wakes up” after a quick bite. The world is a wasteland, she’s a walking corpse, and her “snack” has just melted into a noxious puddle of goo.

She’s had better days.

But she won’t go through the rest of her undead life alone. As Li hits the road to figure out what happened, the end of the world brings her strange company, and even stranger enemies. The aliens are coming back, and it’s going to take more than a handful of quirky zombies to stop them. She’s going to need some serious fire power—like the remnants of the human race.

If she can find them.
Zombies vs Aliens (Z vs A #1)Zombies vs Aliens by Kristin Jacques

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What did I just read?? This type of read is so outside of my element, but it was certainly an excellent book! I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about zombies, aliens, especially them in combination, and those who like post-apocalyptic fiction with a bit of a humorous twist. Also to anyone on the fence about reading it will likely find it quite entertaining.

The author Kristin Jacques is an excellent writer. The characters were simple and straightforward but the scene and character descriptions were colorful and exciting. Though it was written in the first person point of view, I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked it. The prose was casual and contained subtle references to pop culture, which made it fun and relevant.

The plot was well-though-out and the sequence of events made plenty of sense out of nonsense as the story unfolded into a tale of suspenseful twists and hilarious subplots. There were a few parts that were a bit much for my sensitive soul, but with the action, anticipation, and drama, it’s one that I didn’t want to put down.

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The Urban Legion by Dave Agans

What if the Conspiracy concealed its crimes by calling them urban legends?

As organic food critic Lynn Grady savors the duck pâté, a phantom voice invades her head. A stranger appears, blocks the voice with an improvised tin-foil hat, and claims to be an urban legend survivor. Lynn doubts his story. But a surprise attack by armed French waiters plunges her into the Urban Legion’s underground war with a pervasive consumer products conspiracy. As she fights to save her teen daughter from corrupt golfers, taser-packing car salesmen, and her sold-out grunge-star ex-husband, Lynn discovers the sinister purpose behind everyday annoyances.

The Urban Legion puts a new spin on conspiracies and urban legends. Food courts and airport restrooms will never be the same.

The Urban LegionThe Urban Legion by Dave Agans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was so incredibly entertaining. I would recommend it to anyone with a good sense of humor and sense of adventure who is looking for a fun read with a satyrical spin on pop culture, conspiracies, urban legends, human desire, and corporate greed.

The author Dave Agans is a creative and clever writer. The plot and subplots are formulated in such a way that the suspense is maintained, characters remain well-developed, and everything comes together at such a good pace. I loved the story line, it’s hilarious, relevant, and the description are great, it’s one that you’ll want to read straight through. I’ll never look at truffles and mall food the same.


“[Pungent, garlicky bouquet.]
It smelled right. She placed it on the plate and sliced it open. The aroma filled her awareness, and her empty stomach purred with anticipation. She carved off a sliver, noting the properly complex inner structure. She hesitantly placed it on her tongue.
[Silky. Earthy. Hint of linden.]” -Dave Agans

“As a Trail Boy Manual says, intelligent strategy requires strategic intelligence–and we can keep tabs on enemy strategy from the comfort of our living room.”
“By monitoring the news?”
“By monitoring the ads.”
– Dave Agans

“You can fight popular culture, but you can’t be popular at the same time.”
– Dave Agans

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