Book Review: Dogwalker by Arthur Bradford

Dogwalker

Dogwalker Book Cover

Title: Dogwalker
Author: Arthur Bradford
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
Date of Publication: August 27, 2002
Publisher: Vintage


Dogwalker is an off-beat collection of short stories that share a similar tone and style.  While some of the stories are realistic and others are outright outlandish, they feel like they could all be set in the same world—one that mirrors our own, but is a little warped, like we’re looking through a funhouse mirror and something isn’t quite right.  Some of the stories are ridiculous (dogs giving birth to babies?!), which makes for an entertaining read.

I appreciated the absolute strangeness of each story. I never knew where the stories were going.  However, some stories end abruptly, with seemingly no resolution or purpose to them. I both enjoyed this, since it added to the quirky nature of the book, and I didn’t like it, because I wanted to know what would happen next!

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Book Review: The Scribbled Victims by Robert Tomoguchi

Scribbled Victims

The Scribbled Victims book cover

Title: The Scribbled Victims
Author: Robert Tomoguchi
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Date of Publication: February 28, 2017
Publisher: Ink Bleed Books


Yelena Solodnikova isn’t the only vampire in Los Angeles, but she feels alone. Not only has she lost her mate, Marcel, whom she lived with for over a century, but she is the only vampire with a conscience.  Every time she kills a human, she feels overwhelming guilt, which is something other vampires cannot understand.  When Yelena meets Orly, a twelve-year-old who draws “scribbles” of people that allow her to see all their secrets, Yelena has found a way to identify people worthy of being her victims. Rapists. Wife-beaters. Murderers. Yelena now has a way to feed without guilt, and she grows to love Orly as her own daughter. But Orly is dying from leukemia, and Yelena is at risk of losing everything… again.

Atmospheric and moody, this book is for fans of the deep existential and morality themes that are associated with immortality in books like Interview with the Vampire. The vampires in The Scribbled Victims don’t sparkle.  Far from it.  This is a dark book with dark themes, reminiscent of Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series.  However, the book never gets too twisted, and it skirts along the line without ever crossing it.  There’s quite a bit of black humour (isn’t that the best kind?) which lightens the tone when it gets too heavy.

Scribbled Victims

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Book Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch

The Bone Witch book cover

Title: The Bone Witch 
Author: Rin Chupeco
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Date of Publication: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire


The Bone Witch is the story of a young girl, Tea, whose life is turned upside down when her brother dies. But her life isn’t turned upside down because he died. It’s turned upside down because she accidentally brings him back from the dead.  Tea discovers that she is a bone witch, a rare and feared type of asha unlike the other witches in her village.  Tea must move to the city to learn how to harness her power.  She becomes an apprentice to the only other bone witch she’s ever met.

The Bone Witch is a dark, setting-driven young adult fantasy with lyrical prose.

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Book Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Baby Teeth book cover

Baby Teeth book cover

Title: Baby Teeth
Author: Zoje Stage
Genre: Thriller
Date of Publication: July 17, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press


Seven-year-old Hanna is a beautiful, sweet, and adoring child. To her father. To her mother, she’s something else entirely. She wants Daddy all to herself, and she will stop at nothing to get rid of Mommy…

The rest of the review focuses on analyzing the characters with no plot spoilers.

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Book Review: Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

Bring me back

Bring Me Back Book Cover

Title: Bring Me Back
Author: B.A. Paris
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Date of Publication: June 19, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press


Twelve years ago, Finn and his girlfriend, Layla, were driving home from a vacation in France when they just happened to stop at a service station. Finn got out to use the bathroom, but when he got back, Layla was gone. She disappeared. The police weren’t able to find any trace of her—or her body.  In present day, Finn starts to receive strange clues that Layla is not only alive, but that she’s come back.  But is it really Layla who’s reaching out to him? Or is it someone else, someone who wants to hurt Finn because of his recent engagement to Layla’s sister?

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Book Review: Whisper by Lynette Noni

Whisper by Lynette Noni

Title: Whisper
Author: Lynette Noni
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Date of Publication: May 1, 2018
Publisher: KCP Loft


Jane Doe has been held captive in a secret government bunker for over two years. She’s been experimented on, she’s been tested, and she still doesn’t know why she’s held there.  But she refuses to answer any of their questions.  She refuses to say anything at all.  And for good reason…

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Book Review: Depression: The Comedy by Jessica Holmes

Depression: The Comedy

Title: Depression: The Comedy
Author: Jessica Holmes
Genre: Memoirs, Mental Health, Humour
Date of Publication: April 24, 2018
Publisher: Sunnybrook Press


Jessica Holmes–comedian, mother, wife, and Canadian–is the author of Depression: The Comedy, a memoir about her experiences with depression.  Some of you might know Holmes from her work on the Royal Canadian Air Farce and she starred in her own TV program, The Holmes Show, back in 2003.

Depression: The Comedy is the perfect remedy for those who feel alone in their mental illness. Holmes maintains a lighthearted tone as she discusses the darkest times in her life, making it clear that those who suffer or have suffered from similar symptoms have company.  In the acknowledgements, Holmes states that editors had wanted her to “dig deeper”, but she had said that “when the going gets tough, some of us need a frolic in the shallows”.  Aptly put.  Despite this acknowledgement, I do think that the book, while short, does delve into some of the underlying issues surrounding depression, and there is a list of resources at the end of the book for those who are coming to grips with their mental illness.

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Book Review: Dead Girl Running by Christina Dodd

Dead Girl Running

Title: Dead Girl Running
Author: Christina Dodd
Genre: Romantic Thriller, Mystery
Date of Publication: April 24, 2018
Publisher: HQN


Kellen Adams is hired as an assistant manager at a secluded resort on the North Pacific Coast. A former marine, she has a lot of secrets, including the fact that she doesn’t remember an entire year of her life.  Not long after taking over the resort, Kellen finds the former assistant manager’s mutilated corpse.  She has to solve this mystery, and it becomes quickly clear that the killer is still at the resort…

Dead Girl Running

Christina Dodd deals with a lot of tropes in this book, which is both its strength and its greatest weakness. Dead Girl Running features a battered wife running from her past and a former marine with a unique mental ability.  But the catch is that both tropes are wrapped up in the same person.

Dead Girl Running doesn’t have much originality in its plot or characters (or even setting) aside from the fact that there’s a lot going on.  It seems like Dodd had about twenty ideas for a book, and rather than sifting through them and picking one or two to focus on, she decided to use them all.  This in itself isn’t a bad thing.  Using a lot of different character and plot ideas could work, but she stretches herself too thin.  The book has the bad-ass marines, the typical cozy mystery novel setting, a murder mystery party (which, sadly, was barely covered), spies, and the list goes on.

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Past Tense by Star Spider

Past Tense Book Cover

Title: Past Tense
Author: Star Spider
Genre: Young Adult, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: April 10, 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins


Julie Nolan is just another teenager who’s madly in love with her best friend, Lorelei.  She’s obsessed with her and spends a lot of time hunting down the perfect opportunity to come out and profess her undying love.  Once she does, she knows in her heart that Lorelei will reciprocate this love and they will live happily ever after.  But Julie’s home life is getting in the way with her grand plans. Her mother, who just gave birth to Julie’s younger brother, has started to act strangely.  Her mother has become meek and muted.  At night she takes Julie to the graveyard, where she asks Julie to bury her and give a eulogy.  She’s nothing like the vibrant, full-of-life person she once was.  She’s convinced that she doesn’t have a heartbeat, that she isn’t breathing, that she’s dead.

Past Tense Book

At first Julie’s singular obsession with her best friend was a tad tedious.  But do you remember when you were that age? A crush, or “being in love” would often demand all of your attention. Star Spider does a fabulous job of replicating the teenage experience, and manages to craft Julie into a three-dimensional character. Sure, she’s obsessed with her best friend, but she has other personality traits that she demonstrates and gets to develop over the course of the novel. She shows compassion for her teacher who she thinks is in love with her. She demonstrates maturity and a deep love and concern for her infant brother when her mother starts to act strange.

This brings me to the title. “Past Tense”. How clever! At the graveyard, Julie’s mother asks her to give a eulogy.  She corrects her when she starts – saying that it has to be in past tense. “Past Tense” aptly describes all the themes in this book.  Julie is evolving into a new person, and by the end, she’s nothing like the person she was in the beginning of the book.

As the novel progresses, Julie starts to develop more self-awareness. There’s an event that’s a turning point for Julie, but her evolution is gradual and beautifully conceived.  Julie becomes able to evaluate her relationship with her best friend.  She develops a friendship with a boy in her school, Henry. It’s refreshing to see that her new relationship isn’t insta-love, like what she had with Lorelei.  Julie has grown and evolved into a person who can see beyond looks and superficial charm, and she develops a true connection at a deeper level.  This self-realization is also demonstrated in her relationship with her mother.  While giving the eulogy for her mother, she says that her mother was “wonderful”. Julie ruminates over this term, the shallowness of it, and how she should be able to probe deeper. If nothing else, when Julie’s mother truly does die, Julie will be able to give a fabulous eulogy.

Julie’s relationship with her mother is fascinating.  From the beginning of the book, her mom is already suffering from some sort of mental illness, yet we know that Julie and her mother were very close before the events of this book begin.  Instead of just telling us that they were close, Star Spider demonstrates this with absolutely heart-wrenching little anecdotes at the beginning of each chapter.  They’re short, yet powerfully demonstrative of the relationship they once had.  In the past, her mother was dynamic and full of life and absolutely attentive to her daughter, which makes it even more painfully obvious that she’s suffering in the present.

I particularly loved the parallels between the two prominent plotlines in this story.  The storyline of her best friend and what’s going on with her mother intersects quite beautifully with a life lesson that we all should learn.  (Spoilers are between the glasses!)

 

Spoilers between the Glasses!

Julie learns that sometimes the best thing you can do is to ignore the wishes of the person you want to help.  Being brave sometimes requires a simple telling of the truth.  Sure, she’ll never run into a fire to save a life (like her mother did), but she can still have an incredible impact on the lives around her.

She tells her father about what her mother is going through, which helps her to get the medical treatment she needs. She tells another teacher about Lorelei’s highly-disgusting relationship with the teacher.  By the end of the novel Julie is glad with the decisions she’s made, and she has no guilt or regrets.

....

 

This is a fast-paced, easy-to-read book recommended to young adults (and adults!) of all ages.  While it deals with some intense themes, the book itself isn’t too dark.  The end is uplifting, which makes all the feelings that you had while reading worthwhile.

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*I received a copy of this ARC from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.*

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Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

Unbury Carol Book Cover

Title: Unbury Carol
Author: Josh Malerman
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Western
Date of Publication: April 10, 2018
Publisher: Del Rey


Carol Evers is a well-liked woman who is married to a not-so-well-liked man in the Wild West town of Harrows. Carol suffers from a unique medical (or magical) condition. She occasionally falls into a deep coma–one from which she cannot be awakened—for days at a time. During this time her heart barely beats, she scarcely breathes, but she can hear everything that happens around her. Her only friend and confidant, John Bowie, passes away at the beginning of this book, inciting the events that follow. Her husband, Dwight, is the only person alive who is aware of her condition. And he wants her buried.

Unbury Carol book cover

This book starts off with a fire, but it sizzles a little in the middle. There’s a lot of filler for a story that takes place over a few days. That said, the book is very atmospheric, and I appreciate Malerman’s attention to detail. He does a phenomenal job of painting the picture of Harrows, the surrounding towns, and the Trail, and he thoroughly describes the secondary and tertiary characters. However, I found the female characters to be either lacking or not featured enough in the story. Lafayette is feared and powerful, yet we don’t see her much. Carol herself is well-loved—but we never get to see her demonstrate her lovability. Even Farrah, the housekeeper, is painted as weak and ineffective. At one point Malerman briefly mentions a badass female outlaw, and I hoped beyond hope that she would show up, but alas, she did not. Still, Carol herself is strong, and it was interesting to watch her character evolve over the course of the novel.

To me, the conflict in the story was a little silly. Carol was well loved. Why wouldn’t she have told more people about her condition? She was hurt by someone she told her secret to twenty years ago, but that was her significant other. Surely she should have told the local doctor, or at least the town’s funeral director. Though I understand that the plot hinges on the fact that no one in town knows, this is still a plot hole that niggled at me while reading.

The following comment is a mild spoiler about the ending. The ending is satisfyingly clever, if a little anticlimactic. When everyone in the story is a little mad, I would have expected a lot more madness in the final pages.

Someone asked me if Unbury Carol is your typical Western, and I realized I had never read a book set in the Wild West before! I told her that this is a good gateway book to introduce you to the genre. It’s moody and dark and a little twisted, and if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, this is definitely a good book to read in the heat of the summer.

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*I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher and chose to review it. This in no way affects my review*

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