Book Review: Howl-O-Ween by Gary L. Holleman

Howl-O-Ween

Howl-O-Ween

Title: Howl-O-Ween
Author: Gary L. Holleman
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: October 1996
Publisher: Leisure Books


Synopsis

Cyrus Twigg, a professional bodyguard, is hired by the mysterious and beautiful Kyna to protect her while she delivers jewels to clients across Canada and the US. Little known to either of them, her boyfriend and boss, Bryan, gave her a jewel that she wears around her neck, one that’s more valuable than the rest to the strange “Dark Man” who’s hot on their trail.

My Thoughts

What a weird book. Now, don’t get me wrong–I love weird. But this was weird in a way that didn’t quite make sense.  I don’t even know if I would classify it as horror, even though there were some gory bits. Also: werewolves.

The book has a noir-style feel to it, which normally I love, but if a book with a ridiculous premise takes itself too seriously… I think you see where I’m going with this. I think that in order to enjoy this book, you have to appreciate the dry humour, if that’s what it was intended to be. Still not sure on that point.

I was a fan of the Voodoo and the way that magic and werewolves worked in this novel.  However, it was a little convoluted and hard to keep my interest at parts. I’ve read a few books on Voodoo, and Holleman took some fact and threw it in with his fiction, which makes for a more interesting read.  While I love a book that’s heavy on the magic, however, I needed more likeable characters and a stronger plot to keep me interested.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the main character, Russ.  He was a typical thug.  His interactions with Kyna, the gorgeous woman who magically transforms into his lover (shocker) were so cheesy they bordered on comical. Here is an excerpt:

They made love. Not the way they usually did–like two sumo wrestlers in heat trying to pin each other–but slowly, carefully, lovingly, the way the Swiss make watches.

That said, the intentionally unlikeable characters were great. Holleman did a phenomenal job of making me detest characters like the boyfriend/boss “Bryan”, who fortunately get what’s coming to him in the end of the book.

Howl-O-Ween

I recommend this book to those looking for a cheesy horror book that’s set around Halloween.

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Book Review: Dogversations: Conversations with my Dogs by David Leswick

Dogversations

52816051._SX318_ (1)Title: Dogversations
Author: David Leswick
Genre: Humor
Date of Publication: March 26, 2020
Publisher: FriesenPress


Synopsis

If these dogs could talk…here’s precisely what Eva, the Brittany spaniel, Bruno, the golden retriever, and Agnes, the genetically diverse rescue dog, would say. Photographer David Leswick flawlessly captures the fun, quirky, clever, curious, and witty personalities of his family’s three canine companions in this collection of heartwarming photography-along with the hilarious dogalogue that comes along with it. The perfect doggie treat for the eyes, heart, and sense of humour of any animal lover, Dogversations is a laugh-out-loud hysterical glimpse at how this canine crew tries to make heads or tails out of their daily lives with the human family that loves them….

Goodreads

My Thoughts

This book is quite ingenious in its simplicity. It’s a coffee table book that has photographs of dogs alongside “conversations” with them.  Dogversations isn’t intended to be read from front to back (at least, that’s my interpretation), and selecting stories at random is a perfect way to go about enjoying this book.

The right-hand side of each two-page spread has a beautiful colour photograph depicting one or more of Dave’s dogs.  The left-hand side depicts a conversation–either between Dave and his dogs or among the dogs themselves. These conversations are light and sweet, with a tinge of dry humour. The situations are simple, yet amusing, and the dogs say exactly what you would expect them to say.  For instance, the dogs sometimes have misinterpretations about the English language – like mistaking “Skittles” for the word “riddles”.  Many of the situations are quite common (as most pet owners will know), from Bruno trying to escape its crate to Agnes losing her ball under the bed.  It’s the dialogue that makes these common occurrences unique and flavorful. For instance, there’s one photo where Bruno is wearing underwear on his head and refers to himself as a Jedi.  

The photographs throughout this book are stunning and capture the distinct personalities of all three dogs.  I also want to mention that there are seasonal spreads, which I appreciated, especially the one of Eva next to a jack-o-lantern (It’s perfect for this time of year!).  

I recommend this book to all dog lovers.  These little snippets of Dave and his family’s life with their dogs are a perfect pick-me-up for after a long day at work.  

*Thank you to the author for the book to review*

Four stars

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Book Review: Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Sister Dear

Sister Dear

Title: Sister Dear 
Author: Hannah Mary McKinnon
Genre: Thriller
Date of Publication: May 26, 2020
Publisher: MIRA


Synopsis

When Eleanor’s father dies, she’s devastated to learn that he wasn’t her biological father. Since she has a terrible relationship with her mother and sister, she decides to track down her birth father.  Eleanor is envious when she learns that she has a half sister, Victoria, who has everything in life: the perfect body, the loving husband, a promising career, and a doting set of parents. Eleanor will do whatever it takes to take what’s rightfully hers…

My Thoughts

Sister Dear is a fast-paced thriller. Told in the first person, we’re privy to Eleanor’s thoughts, and I couldn’t help but relate to her on a deep level.

I think that is part of what made this book so darn distressing to me. I was very invested in what happened to Eleanor, and every time something terrible happened it was like a knife through my heart.  Every time she made a bad decision, I was like “Oh no, honey”. I had to put the book down a few times to pace and let out some pent-up frustration.

As the novel progresses, Eleanor’s mental stability begins to come into question. McKinnon’s writing style demonstrates this descent perfectly—with Eleanor’s intrusive thoughts and her outlook on the world in general.  The way that she interprets people’s reactions to her is heightened by her paranoia, self-loathing, and desperation.

The side characters in this book are also fascinating, though they can’t hold a candle to Eleanor.  Readers grow to love Eleanor’s half-sister almost as quickly as she does.  Lewis is the perfect boy next door, despite owning a gym (You’d think he’d be all muscle talk, but he’s much more than that).  Her mother is the type of monster that readers just love to hate.

The plot itself is very engaging.  While there are quite a few twists and turns in the story, the real strength of this novel lies in the shock ending. I won’t say any more, but this book is definitely worth reading if only for the slap-in-the-face of a conclusion.
Sister Dear

I recommend this book to those who’re looking for a gripping, twisted thriller, and to those who won’t mind not being able to look their own sister in the eye ever again.

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* Thank you to MIRA and the author for the arc to review! *

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Book Review: The Dilemma by B. A. Paris

The Dilemma

The Dilemma

Title: The Dilemma
Author: B. A. Paris
Genre: Thriller
Date of Publication: June 30, 2020
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press


Synopsis

It’s Livia’s fortieth birthday and tonight she’s having a party, a party she’s been planning for a long time. The only person missing will be her daughter, Marnie.

But Livia has a secret, a secret she’s been keeping from Adam, her husband, until the party is over. Because how can she tell him that although she loves Marnie, she’s glad their daughter won’t be there to celebrate with her?

Adam is determined everything will be just right for Livia and the party is going to be perfect… until he learns something that will leave him facing an unbearable decision.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

I want to preface this review by saying that I’m a big fan of B. A. Paris’ previous works.  Behind Closed Doors and Bring Me Back were gripping thrillers from cover to cover (Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to check out The Breakdown yet).  But I think that categorizing this particular book as a “thriller” or “mystery” does it a great disservice. This is not a thriller.  The Dilemma is a suspenseful family drama. If you go into this book expecting twists and turns in the plot as you often see in mysteries, you’re going to be very disappointed.  It is suspenseful, but it is not a thriller.

There are two twists in the novel, and the first is given away by the prologue. I’ve whined in the past about how every author these days seems to think that their novels have to have a prologue. The prologue in The Dilemma gave away the major plot development of the book, and really provided nothing of value to the story itself.

That said, this novel is incredibly suspenseful. It’s clear that Livia’s big birthday bash is not going to be the idyllic event that she’s planned, and the stress that the main characters are enduring seems to ooze off the pages. I was sweating buckets while reading, genuinely worried about how it would all go down.  The Dilemma made me incredibly uncomfortable, yet I could not seem to put it down.

The depth of the characters is definitely the strength of this novel.  They are so detailed, with such rich backgrounds, that it feels like they could leap off the page.  I felt like I understood Livia and her motivations more than I understand my own mother (Sorry, Mom!).

BA Paris has such a phenomenal writing style that she could write about going to the bathroom and I’d hang on to her every word.  I would have liked to have known that this isn’t a true thriller when I started reading, since it would have completely changed my expectations.

dilemma small

I recommend this book to those who enjoy a suspenseful family drama filled with secrets, lies, and uncomfortable birthday parties.

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* Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the arc to review! *

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Book Review: Monster She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger & Melanie R. Anderson

Monster she wrote

Monster she wrote

Title: Monster She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction
Author: Lisa Kröger & Melanie R. Anderson
Genre: Non-fiction
Date of Publication: September 17, 2019
Publisher: Quirk Books


Synopsis

Weird fiction wouldn’t exist without the women who created it. Meet the female authors who defied convention to craft some of literature’s strangest tales. And find out why their own stories are equally intriguing.

Everyone knows about Mary Shelley, creator of Frankenstein; but have you heard of Margaret Cavendish, who wrote a science-fiction epic 150 years earlier? Have you read the psychological hauntings of Violet Paget, who was openly involved in long-term romantic relationships with women in the Victorian era? Or the stories of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, whose writing influenced H.P. Lovecraft? Monster, She Wrote shares the stories of women past and present who invented horror, speculative, and weird fiction and made it great. You’ll meet celebrated icons (Ann Radcliffe, V.C. Andrews), forgotten wordsmiths (Eli Coltor, Ruby Jean Jensen), and today’s vanguard (Helen Oyeyemi). And each profile includes a curated reading list so you can seek out the spine-chilling tales that interest you the most.
Goodreads

My Thoughts

What a beautiful book, inside and out! Of course, I’m referring to the illustrations, but also the content. Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson have a witty and informative writing style, and this book is a must-read for any horror lover.

Monster She Wrote is broken up into sections, where like authors are grouped together based on what or when they wrote.  Each section has a brief foreword explaining the importance of the contribution of these women to literature, talking about the political and social climates in which they wrote, as well as the impact their works have had on later generations.  There are sections on the traditional Gothic authors, the women who penned ghost stories, “the women who wrote the pulps”, and much more.

Throughout each author’s biography, there are mentions of their works and the significance they had on the genre and literature in general.  I was impressed with how Kröger and Anderson managed to summarize these books in such succinct and intriguing ways that made me reach for my notebook to add yet another title to check out later.  The end of the section on each author provides recommended readings, both by the author, as well as by those who were influenced by her.  My to-read list has grown pages since picking up this book.

For example, (I picked this at random) under “Related Work” for the author Angela Carter, “Werewolf fans may enjoy St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (Knopf, 2007), a story collection by Karen Russel about nuns, wolf-girls, and alligators set in the Florida swamps.” Um, yes please, add that to my list, thanks!

Monster she wrote

Monster She Wrote provides an excellent foundation on the women of horror and speculative fiction, and I recommend it to all readers and authors alike.

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Book Review: Lucy Crisp and the Vanishing House by Janet Hill

Lucy Crisp

lucy

Title: Lucy Crisp and the Vanishing House
Author: Janet Hill
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Date of Publication: April 14, 2020
Publisher: Tundra Books


Synopsis

When Lucy Crisp takes a job at the local florist after graduating high school, she decides to apply to attend Ladywyck Lodge, an exclusive arts school.  She’s thrilled when she’s accepted, and her father buys a surprisingly cheap house in Esther Wren, a small town just outside New York City.  She moves into the house a few months before classes are to begin, but she quickly realizes that this is no ordinary house. As Lucy investigates, she discovers that her neighbours are not ordinary either, and the school that she’s been accepted into is definitely not an ordinary arts school…

Plot

This is a delightfully whimsical story. It starts off a little slow, but once Lucy has moved into her new home and the strange events begin to occur, I had a hard time putting this down!

The illustrations are absolutely stunning, and they match perfectly with what is being told in the story.  They all have a similar tone and feel, and they helped to paint a picture (quite literally) of the beautiful and quaint little town, the house, and the people in it.

Continue reading “Book Review: Lucy Crisp and the Vanishing House by Janet Hill”

Book Review: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

The Unhoneymooners

The Unhoneymooners

Title: The Unhoneymooners
Author: Christina Lauren
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Date of Publication: May 14, 2019
Publisher: Gallery Books


Synopsis

Olive has always been the unlucky twin, but her luck changes when her sister and brother-in-law get food poisoning at their wedding and are unable to go on their honeymoon.  Olive decides to go for on their free vacation with her brother-in-law’s brother, Ethan, who she’s hated at first sight.  She expects to spend the entire beach holiday avoiding him, but things get a little confusing when her new boss shows up.  So she doesn’t get caught taking someone else’s free honeymoon, she tells her boss that she’s married to Ethan. But now she has to keep up the charade and pretend to be madly in love with this man she hates, all the while trying to remember why she hates him so much in the first place…

My Thoughts 

This book takes one of my favourite tropes (enemies turned to lovers) and brings a fresh new air to it. This book is laugh out loud funny, and there were a few parts that had me in hysterics.  The plot is fast paced, and the characters are absolutely lovable.

It was wonderful reading a romantic comedy where the protagonist is a woman working in the science field.  Olive is a scientist, and while it’s not a critical part of the plot, it is a part of who she is, and it’s brought up more than a few times. I loved this!  I am actually counting this book as my book featuring a woman in STEM for the PopSugar Reading Challenge.

I enjoyed the romance between Olive and Ethan quite a bit. While some of the plot “twists” are predictable (as is the nature of the romantic comedy, obviously they’re going to end up together. *Gasp* Did I just spoil the ending?), I didn’t mind one bit. For instance, it was obvious to me that Ethan didn’t think she was “disgusting” as she thought he did, otherwise this wouldn’t have made for a very fun or romantic read.

Another thing that I loved about this book was that it isn’t just about the romance. Olive does a lot of soul-searching over the course of the book, as she uncovers a fatal flaw in her outlook on life, and she works to overcome it. The book isn’t just about her falling in love with another person, it’s about finding out who she is and who she wants to be.  She grows as a person during the events in the book, making it so much more than just a romance story.

The Unhoneymooners

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a hilarious and romantic beach read this summer.

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Book Review: Beauty by Robin McKinley

Beauty

Book Cover Beauty

Title: Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast
Author: Robin McKinley
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Romance, Young Adult
Date of Publication: 1993, reprinted 2018
Publisher: Greenwillow Books


Synopsis

A strange imprisonment…

Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.

When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, “Cannot a Beast be tamed?”

Robin McKinley’s beloved telling illuminates the unusual love story of a most unlikely couple, Beauty and the Beast. – Goodreads

Plot

I wanted to love this book, but it lacked for me in plot. The book concentrates on Beauty’s family life prior to moving into the castle to live with the Beast. This is the focus of the book, which I had not been expecting at all. I wanted to read about the castle and whatever mysterious magic goes on there, but this only took up the last little bit of the book.  While the events that unfolded in her home life with her father and her sisters were interesting, I couldn’t quite enjoy it because I was waiting for the real story. It almost felt like two books ideas were slapped together, when they would have served better as two separate stories.

Language & Setting 

The major appeal for this story is the writing style. Robin McKinley has an exquisite writing style, and the way that she describes the settings and the characters makes it seem like they could leap off the page and into the real world.

Characters

I had a hard time connecting with Beauty, even though she was an ordinary girl with a love for books. It might be an artifact of the writing style – when the writing focuses on style and beauty of language, I personally find it harder to connect with the protagonist.  While we frequently get glimpses into her head and what she’s thinking, I never connected with her on a deeper level. 

Unfortunately, her family was far more developed than any of the characters in the castle. We don’t get to truly meet any of the servants, since they’re invisible, yet it’s understood that they’re there. The Beast is somewhat of a caricature, and, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why Beauty fell in love with him.  However, if Beauty’s time in the castle had made up as much of the book as the events leading up to it, I do feel that I would have had enough time to grow to appreciate the Beast and his idiosyncracies.

Beauty

I recommend this book to those who are looking for a different take on a magical medieval life, but aren’t expecting the story to exactly mirror the movie.  There is a much greater focus on her family than on her time with the Beast, and knowing this before reading the story might increase your enjoyment of it.

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Book Review: Death by Didgeridoo by Barbara Venkataraman

Death by Didgeridoo

death by didgeridoo

Title: Death by Didgeridoo
Author: Barbara Venkataraman
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Series: Jamie Quinn Mysteries #1

Date of Publication: November 23, 3013


Synopsis

Reluctant lawyer, Jamie Quinn, still reeling from the death of her mother, is pulled into a game of deception, jealousy, and vengeance when her cousin, Adam, is wrongfully accused of murder. It’s up to Jamie to find the real murderer before it’s too late. It doesn’t help that the victim is a former rock star with more enemies than friends, or that Adam confessed to a murder he didn’t commit.” – Goodreads

My Thoughts 

This is such a cute and fun mystery! The tone is light and the mystery is irresistible, which are two critical ingredients for a delightful cozy mystery.

I absolutely loved how much Jamie cared about her cousin, Adam, who was accused of murder. I genuinely felt for him and her need to protect him, even if she isn’t technically the right type of lawyer to do so.  The mystery itself is quite smart, and despite the short length of the book, (only around 111 pages) there were enough suspects and twists and turns in the case to keep me guessing until the very end. 

My only complaint is that the novel is a little too short and, as a result, a little too fast paced.  I loved the protagonist’s voice and her way of describing the world, and I wouldn’t have minded more scenes in between the action where I would get to see her day to day life.  That said, the length can also be considered an asset for the book, because most people will be able to finish it in one sitting (and they’ll want to, because it’s so darn compelling!)

Death by Didgeridoo

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, upbeat cozy mystery to get lost in.

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* Thank you to the author for the ebook to review! *

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Book Review: Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Darling Rose Gold

Darling Rose Gold

Title: Darling Rose Gold
Author: Stephanie Wrobel
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: March 17, 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada


Synopsis

For the first eighteen years of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill. She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair and practically lived at the hospital. Neighbors did all they could, holding fundraisers and offering shoulders to cry on, but no matter how many doctors, tests, or surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.

Turns out her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.

After serving five years in prison, Patty gets out with nowhere to go and begs her daughter to take her in. The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes.

Patty insists all she wants is to reconcile their differences. She says she’s forgiven Rose Gold for turning her in and testifying against her. But Rose Gold knows her mother. Patty Watts always settles a score.

Unfortunately for Patty, Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling…

And she’s waited such a long time for her mother to come home.” – Goodreads

Plot 

For those of you who are true crime fans like myself, you might have felt a niggling bit of familiarity when reading the synopsis. That’s because this book is loosely based on the story of Gypsy Rose, the girl who was poisoned by her mother for her entire childhood. Aside from this basic premise, the book has nothing to do with the true case (I hope–otherwise it’s a little too twisted for my liking!).

We get two points of view and two timelines in this novel. The story opens with Patty being released from prison after having served her five years for child abuse. Patty wants back into her daughter’s life, and Rose Gold welcomes her with open arms. But is it quite that simple? 

The other point of view if that of Rose Gold, beginning from the point where her mother goes to prison. We find out what happened during those five years to bring her to where she is today.  And let me tell you, there’s no way you could predict what happens…

The entire story is gripping and twisted from the very first page to its last.  

Characters 

Patty is your typical narcissist. I absolutely adore the way that she is portrayed. She doesn’t see herself as a villain, even though she knows deep down that poisoning her daughter was wrong.  She explains away everything as things that she has to do. She talks about the respect she deserves.  I get chills just thinking about her. 

Rose Gold is an absolutely fascinating character. She spent her formative years relying on her mother, who made her food (obviously), dressed her, and did everything else for her. When Patty goes to prison, Rose Gold has nobody. She’s alone, self-conscious about her slim figure and rotten teeth, and her chapters were quite hard to read. I genuinely felt for her, and I think that her perspective coupled with her mother’s made this into quite a phenomenal book.

Every single character in this book seems to be quite deplorable, which made for an engaging story, but really made me feel depressed after reading it.  At the risk of spoilers, I’ll leave it there, but I do want to say that I hope that people would be more forgiving of Rose Gold in the real world. I mean, she shouldn’t be mocked for having rotten teeth when she’s spent her entire life throwing up (stomach acid will do that).  

Darling Rose Gold

Ultimately, I recommend this book to anyone looking for a gripping psychological thriller that really delves into the minds of the damaged and broken. Bear in mind that it’s a very dark and twisted tale, so it’s not for the faint of heart.  

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* Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada and the author for the arc to review! *

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