The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James + GIVEAWAY

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
Pub. Date: February 18, 2020
Source: ARC + finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Berkley!)
Summary: Upstate New York, 1982. Viv Delaney wants to move to New York City, and to help pay for it she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. But something isnʼt right at the motel, something haunting and scary.

Upstate New York, 2017. Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born. She decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982. And she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Paranormal, Horror

By now, Simone St. James is an auto-read author. Though I still have several to go, I have a good portion of her backlist under my belt and 2018’s The Broken Girls remains a book I enthusiastically recommend. When I heard she had a new novel coming out after a long, long two years, I immediately marked it as To Read – though I had absolutely NO idea what the book was even about. She’s just that great.

Bouncing between New York in 1982 and 2017, The Sun Down Motel follows two young women: Viv, 20, with dreams of becoming an actress; and her niece Carly, obsessed with the story of her aunt’s disappearance three decades ago. Broke and with nowhere else to go, Viv found herself in Fell, a barely-there town that had once had grand visions of becoming a tourist hot spot after an amusement park was announced. The park never amounted to anything, but by then the Sun Down had already been built, its rooms anticipating the flood of families that never arrived.

Viv was hired on as the night clerk, covering the desk and phone from 11pm until 7am and right from the start she knew something wasn’t right about the Sun Down. It was more than the salesman with the creepy smile. No, it wasn’t just the motel room doors that was open as one – even when they had been lock. It wasn’t just the smell of cigarette smoke that would permeate the office, moving about in the wake of some long-gone smoker. It wasn’t even the pool, empty and fenced off.

With the recent death of her mother, Carly is left with just her older brother. Having grown up knowing her aunt had suddenly vanished – but never hearing the full story because her mother refused to discuss it – Carly had become obsessed, searching and looking for anything that might lead her to truths of what happened. Her search leads her to a tiny town off the highway and a seemingly quiet job as the night clerk at a motel.

Simone St. James has outdone herself with this one. I’m calling it now: The Sun Down Motel will ABSOLUTELY appear again on my Top Reads of 2020 list! This is a book I could truly go on and on about – but I don’t want to spoil a single second! In my review of The Broken Girls I mentioned that I’m a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to things that go bump in the night. I will only read horror – or books that have even the tiniest whisper of horror – in broad daylight and stop well before dark, whether I’ve finished the book or not. When I was reading The Broken Girls, Matt was out of town. And by out of town, I meant in a totally different state. But I couldn’t stop reading. While Matt might not have been travelling this time around, The Sun Down Motel had me once again reading a book full of literal ghosts well into the night.

An odd string of disappearances has Viv playing amateur detective, a hobby that ultimately brings about her own disappearance. What Carly uncovers is a bunch of shoddy police reports, a person who wasn’t even reported missing for four days, and minimal time and effort spent searching before wiping their hands clean of things. As the book progresses, plots and details come together and – gah, it’s so hard not to talk about THIS or THAT!

The death of a little boy, a woman who still wanders the site where she died, a photographer-for-hire, a young woman desperately seeking answers about her missing aunt, and that missing aunt – so many voices came together to tell this magnificent tale. The pages flipped by all too quickly and, try as I might, I couldn’t slow myself down. I needed to know what the next page held, what the next chapter would bring. Readings new to St. James have come to the party at SUCH a good time and long-time fans are in for such a treat. This is a writer at the top of her game and I’m already sobbing at the thought of having to wait a year – or longer! – for her next book.

ONE lucky winner will receive a copy of The Sun Down Motel!
US only, sorry!
The giveaway will end Friday, February 28.
To enter, head over to instagram!

haunted houses, Christmas weddings, rebel librarians: mini reviews!

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons | orig. 1978
Colquitt and Walter live a quiet, private, and privileged life. Each house on their street is bigger and more lavish than the one before it and the neighborhood parties are legendary. Unlike their neighbors, however, Colquitt and Walter are fortunate enough to have an empty lot on one side of their property – until the day its sold and a young architect arrives with an even younger couple (Daddy is footing the bill for their wildly expensive dream home). Even before the house is finished, everyone agrees it’s downright gorgeous. Then odd things begin happening, initially written off as tragic coincidences, though Colquitt slowly begins to suspect something far more evil is to blame.

From the moment I first heard about this book and immediately put in a request at the library I was beyond excited to read this book. I’ve mentioned it both on the blog and on Instagram, giddily sharing lines and snippets once I finally was able to dive in. I was in the mood for a good, Halloween read, and what could be better than a haunted house??

On the surface, I enjoyed The House Next Door. It was one of those reads where I was completely immersed while reading and when I wasn’t I was thinking about it and looking forward to my lunchbreaks so I could sneak in a few chapters. However, this book was originally published in the 70s and has some pretty outdated views: the only family in the neighborhood with small children is labeled trashy and low class, allowing their brood to run around acting out and terrorizing everyone in sight. At one point the house turns two men gay. ..yeah. This is highly scandalous and shocking enough to result in death after the father-in-law of one of the men has a heart attack upon discovering the two and dies.

So although there are some scenes and opinions that had me, a reader in 2018, raising my eyebrows, I had fun with this one. How could you go wrong with an evil house doing sinister things to families, especially the week of Halloween? A word of caution though: don’t become attached to any of the animals or pets mentioned.

Christmas at the Chalet by Anita Hughes | October 16, 2018
Prior to this one, I had only read one other novel by Anita Hughes (California Summer), but enjoyed it to the point where I happily picked up a Christmas novel in October. Felicity, owner of Felicity Grant Bridal, is convinced she’ll wake up on Christmas morning to an engagement ring. After all, she’s almost 30 (spoiler: I began the eye-rolling in the first chapter) and has been with Adam six years. They have the same goals and want the same things out of life, so it’s only a matter of time before he finally proposes. Unfortunately for Felicity, the day arrives without a ring and, instead of happily announcing their engagement, the two have a massive fight, resulting in Felicity storming off angry to Switzerland where she’s about to take part in a fashion show that could take her career to a new level. One of her models, Nell, has a wedding coming up..only Nell’s newly-divorced parents hate each other to the point where they insist she has two weddings just so they don’t have to see each other.

Look I’m definitely in the minority here. Other reviews for this book have been great so far. Sadly, I can’t echo their praise. There are three storylines in this one: Felicity’s, Nell’s, and flashback scenes featuring Nell’s parents, and I didn’t care for any of them. If anyone deserved sympathy, it was Nell. Her wedding should be her day and I felt so sorry that her parents were selfish enough to where they couldn’t put aside their difference and act civil for a few hours. Felicity was the worst, though. Her end game is to have a ring on her finger, regardless of how Adam feels. And when it seems she’s finally going to get her wish? She has a complete character change and brushes Adam off. Uh? There’s another love interest here, a doctor named Gabriel, and their scenes literally amounted to a handful of pages where each conversation consisted of Gabriel admonishing Felicity for not wearing a coat/hat and suggesting she might have a concussion or broken ankle. He also told her fairy tales. So imagine my surprise when they confess they’ve fallen in love with one another. Uh???

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes | September 18, 2018
When June brings home a book from her school library, she doesn’t think anything of it. After all, she’s an avid reader and adores her librarian – Ms. Bradshaw has yet to steer June wrong when it comes to books! June’s parents, however, take one look at the title (The Makings of a Witch), say it’s much too scary for their 7-grade daughter, and immediately march down to the school to an emergency PTA meeting. From there, a full-scale investigation is launched; Ms. Bradshaw is put on leave and books are tossed into industrial-size garbage cans. What’s worse, June’s books at home have undergone the same treatment: her parents have taken all of her books, refusing to give them back until they’ve been read and deemed appropriate (and thoroughly edited – her parents have ripped out pages, blacked out sentences, re-written entire endings). June refuses to stand by silently and, with the help of a Little Free Library, becomes the Rebel Librarian, running a full-scale library out of an empty locker.

Oh, this book was great. Characters and scenes saw me seeing red. It was bad enough that the school was banning books, but to have June’s books at home confiscated?? I can’t imagine. There’s some filler with crushes and her best friend, but I was far more intrigued by the library June created. This was a one-sitting read and I have never been more thankful my parents never tried to censor what I read.

Middle Grade + ghosts = ♥

A Curious Tale of the In-Between (Pram #1) by Lauren DeStefano
Pub. Date: September 1, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Bloomsbury!)
Summary: Pram Bellamy is special–she can talk to ghosts. She doesn’t have too many friends amongst the living, but that’s all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.

Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help. But this spiritualist knows the true nature of Pram’s power, and what she has planned is more terrifying than any ghost.
Genre: Middle Grade, Paranormal

Oh, Middle Grade. Oh, my heart. While I haven’t read DeStefano’s Chemical Garden or Internment Chronicles series, the second I came across this one – a Middle Grade novel about a girl who can talk to ghosts – I was utterly charmed. And because of that, this review will be less SRS CRITICISM and more whee ghosties.

From the very first paragraph I was hooked: Pram had already died once before she was even born. While still pregnant, Pram’s mother committed suicide, and by the time she was lowered from the tree Pram was also dead. Miraculously she was revived but since then Pram has had a special ability: she can see things no one else can. Now, living with her aunts (for she never knew her father, a sailor), she spends her days out by the lake with her best friend Felix. Because Felix is a ghost, Pram’s aunts have simply assumed for years he was nothing more than an imaginary friend…but now Pram is getting older, too old to still be playing with figments of her imagination and the decision is made to send her to school.

While at school, Pram meets a boy. Clarence has also lost his mother and is determined to find a way to make contact with her. Together they find themselves at the door of a mysterious woman who claims she can contact the spirit world. Little do they know what’s in store for them.

I’ve been holding off on reviewing this one for a few weeks now. While I absolutely adored this book, there really isn’t much to say and for that reason I kept putting off writing down my thoughts. Please don’t get the wrong idea though – everything about A Curious Tale of the In-Between was wonderful, there simply isn’t much more I have to say apart from how much I enjoyed it.

Lauren DeStefano wrote about painful and scary topics like suicide and loss and she did so with grace and respect. In her author’s note she discusses how this book came to be and it makes it all the more lovely and bittersweet. While I completely agree with other reviewers that younger readers shouldn’t read this one alone (subject matter for one, and, well…it can be a bit scary too!) I still highly recommend it to readers of all ages and at a time when I’m craving standalones, I couldn’t be more thrilled that this one is a series!

mini-review: Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson
Pub. Date: February 24, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, First Second!)
Summary: Princess Decomposia is overworked and underappreciated. This princess of the underworld has plenty of her own work to do but always seems to find herself doing her layabout father’s job, as well. The king doesn’t feel quite well, you see. Ever. So the princess is left scurrying through the halls, dodging her mummy, werewolf, and ghost subjects, always running behind and always buried under a ton of paperwork. Oh, and her father just fired the chef, so now she has to hire a new cook as well. Luckily for Princess Decomposia, she makes a good hire in Count Spatula, the vampire chef with a sweet tooth. He’s a charming go-getter of a blood-sucker, and pretty soon the two young ghouls become friends. And then…more than friends? Maybe eventually, but first Princess Decomposia has to sort out her life. And with Count Spatula at her side, you can be sure she’ll succeed.
Genre: Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Paranormal
Recommended for: Readers with fifteen minutes to spare & looking for something quick and cute

This past summer I got back into the deep dark pit that are graphic novels. I churned through series after series, binging on whatever I could get my hands on. Print or digital, it was all the same to me. In this addiction-fueled spree, I came across Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula on netgalley and requested it without hesitating one second.

As Princess of the Underworld, Decomposia’s life isn’t exactly as carefree as you’d think. With her father suffered from some new illness every waking hour, everything has fallen to her. Decisions need to be made, meetings need to be held, papers need to be signed. Everything reaches a boiling point when the king fires the head chef (if he says he wants meat, by the time the food gets to his chambers he’ll have changed his mind and demand soup – the king is never happy). Now on top of everything else, Decomposia has to see about scheduling interviews and reading through resumes.

After a number of unsuccessful candidates, Decomposia has just about given up hope when someone new walks through the door: a vampire named Spatula. Count Spatula. Within minutes Decomposia realizes he’s perfect – and not just at cooking! With their new-found friendship, the Underworld has become a better, a happier place: Decomposia has a friend and confidante, someone to bounce ideas off of. That is, until the king finds out about the lowly commoner his daughter has been hanging out with.

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula was an absolute delight! It took all of fifteen minutes to get through (if that!) and was a joy the entire time. Before you even begin reading, you can easily guess at how the story will play out, what lessons the characters will learn, how it will all end, but I quickly realized I didn’t mind one bit; the journey there was half the fun!

With a comic of this length, there isn’t a whole lot to say and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The art was adorable, the characters charming, and the little bits hidden in the background were an extra treat! Prior to this story, I had never heard of Andi Watson before, but he’s got quite an impressive backlist: numerous Middle Grade comics as well as multiple Buffy omnibuses! If the rest of his work is as lovely as Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, I’ve just hit the jackpot!

Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy

Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy
Pub. Date: March 2012
Source: Bought
Summary: The body of a young girl is found mangled and murdered in the woods of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, in the shadow of the abandoned Godfrey Steel mill. A manhunt ensues—though the authorities aren’t sure if it’s a man they should be looking for.

Some suspect an escapee from the White Tower, a foreboding biotech facility owned by the Godfrey family—their personal fortune and the local economy having moved on from Pittsburgh steel—where, if rumors are true, biological experiments of the most unethical kind take place. Others turn to Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy trailer-trash kid who has told impressionable high school classmates that he’s a werewolf. Or perhaps it’s Roman, the son of the late JR Godfrey, who rules the adolescent social scene with the casual arrogance of a cold-blooded aristocrat, his superior status unquestioned despite his decidedly freakish sister, Shelley, whose monstrous medical conditions belie a sweet intelligence, and his otherworldly control freak of a mother, Olivia.
Genre: Paranormal, Horror
Recommended for: readers in a Halloween mood, fans of the Netflix series

I won’t lie: when I first heard Netflix was going to produce their own original line-up, I was more than a little curious. And, truth be told, not entirely convinced they could pull it off. Oh, sure, they’re great at providing me with other company’s material, but how would their own hold up? When Hemlock Grove premiered, Matt and I decided to give it a chance. What would one episode hurt? Before we knew it we were halfway through the season; before the weekend was over, we had burned through every episode. It was only after the fact that I discovered it was based on a novel.

It took two years, but I dusted off my copy and settled in. Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania is a fictional suburb of Pittsburgh and a once-booming steel town. When the times changed, so did the Godfreys, the virtual overlords of the town. The family transitioned from steel to a biotech conglomerate with the ever-shining White Tower at the center of it all. One autumn day, a body (or, rather, what’s left of it) of a teenage girl is discovered and rumors run rampant that it was a werewolf, not a man, who committed this horrible crime.

Hemlock Grove is total camp, but I loved it. I’m always a little nervous to read the source material (details big and small tend to change and entire arcs undergo massive overhauls), but I quickly discovered I had nothing to worry about here. Hemlock Grove followed the book almost religiously, though I shouldn’t be surprised since Brian McGreevy, the author of the novel, is one of the head writers. Because the first season was a year and a half ago, there’s a good deal I forgot; Hemlock Grove (the book) is the entire first season and was not only a great refresher, but I also discovered a few things I had originally missed in the show or tiny details that were cut altogether.

Roman Godfrey, the heir apparent who knows all-too-well the weight his name holds; Peter Rumancek, a constantly-roaming Gypsy who recently moved into the local trailer park with his mother; Shelly Godfrey, Roman’s younger sister and a Frankenstein-esque creation with a heart of gold. These characters were all as wonderfully-fleshed out in the novel as they were in the show. If my heart broke for Shelly ten times over in the show, here it broke a hundred times over. Hands down my favorite character, this sweet girl is even more so within these pages. Something is rotten in Hemlock Grove and this quiet community isn’t nearly as sleepy as it seems. Old, old magic is alive and well and supernatural creatures no longer just exist in storybooks.

The one downside to Hemlock Grove was that, at times, I couldn’t figure out who the narrator was supposed to be. Throughout the novel there were be sentences sprinkled into scenes that broke the Fourth Wall. Was Brian McGreevy actually witnessing these events and then relating the tale to the reader? Was the narrator a character in the book? It was never clear to me.

Hemlock Grove is one of those novels that feels written especially for me. From the cheesy campiness to the numerous Pittsburgh shout-outs, I was completely on board from the very beginning. It’s also one of those rare novels that didn’t need to be virtually re-written for a screen adaptation, so it made picturing nearly the entire novel a joy. Although I’d definitely recommend this one for a Halloween read, Hemlock Grove is more than just a scary story: there’s history, mystery, supernatural elements, romance, and one of my favorite bromances all thrown together to create a ridiculously fun ride.

As if you actually needed some convincing to watch the show, this beautiful boy is the star:

image via tumblr

Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer

Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer
Pub. Date: September 30, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Kensington Teen!)
Summary: Earth. Fire. Air. Water. One misstep and they lose it all. For the last time.

Michael Merrick understands pressure. He’s the only parent his three brothers have had for years. His power to control Earth could kill someone if he miscalculates. Now an Elemental Guide has it in for his family, and he’s all that stands in the way. His girlfriend, Hannah, understands pressure too. She’s got a child of her own, and a job as a firefighter that could put her life in danger at any moment.

But there are people who have had enough of Michael’s defiance, his family’s ‘bad luck’. Before he knows it, Michael’s enemies have turned into the Merricks’ enemies, and they’re armed for war. They’re not interested in surrender. But Michael isn’t the white flag type anyway. Everything is set for the final showdown.

Four elements, one family. Will they hold together, or be torn apart?
Genre: YA, Paranormal
Recommended For: Readers who are already fans of the series + aren’t easily disappointed by lack-luster endings

This is a review for the fifth and final book in the Elemental series. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but I’m not making any promises. For my thoughts on the previous books/side-stories, head over here.

So, here we are. Two years and five books later, the Elemental series is coming to an end. To say these boys have been through a lot would be the understatement of the century: multiple deaths, coming out, finally letting go of the past – let’s not forget those pesky Guides, people trained to track Elementals and eliminate them. With Secret, war was finally on the horizon, setting the scene for Sacrifice.

Since the beginning I have flown my Michael Merrick flag proudly. I have been so in love with this boy, the eldest brother-turned-parent. Michael’s childhood quickly came to an end when his parents were killed and if he’s been a bit hard on his brothers it was only because he was doing his best to keep them in line so he wouldn’t lose custody. To lose his brothers would mean the end of Michael and he’s done – and will do – anything in his power to keep his family together. Sacrifice couldn’t be a better title for his story.

The novel opens with a bang – literally. Multiple houses in their cul-de-sac have been set on fire, including the Merricks’. However, because of their powers (Chris can summon rain, Nick can manipulate wind), the fire racing through their house isn’t anywhere near as bad as the destruction raining down on their neighbors’ homes. With their house in relatively decent shape, fingers start pointing.

When a second fire occurs and Michael is on the scene – again – suspicions are raised and suddenly his worst nightmare is coming true: his brothers are hastily shipped away. As if the universe enjoys messing with him, there’s also a stalker texting Michael, taunting him with photos of his house, his girlfriend. The Guides know where he is and they definitely aren’t willing to back down.

I guess I’m lucky in that a series I love was started and finished in two years. Most writers take that long (or even longer!) just to write a sequel. Brigid Kemmerer managed to churn out five novels plus a handful of novellas in just two years. So I know I shouldn’t complain. ..but I feel that Sacrifice is such a disappointment. I hate saying that, I hate thinking that. This was the novel I had been waiting for since the beginning, finally I have my favorite character’s story; I get a peek into his thoughts and see things through his eyes. Unfortunately, Sacrifice felt like it was only half-finished. Remember that little war I had mentioned, the one the previous four books had been building up to? It never happened. I expected the entire cast of characters to come back, everyone joining forces to finally defeat the Guides once and for all. Instead I get a page or two of a fight scene and that’s about it.

I’m not sure if Brigid was in a rush or if maybe she became bored and tired of this series, but as a reader, I expected far more. Key characters from the previous novels weren’t even mentioned in Sacrifice. Even Michael’s brothers were conveniently sent away! If the novel had been solely about Michael, a more character-driven novel like Spirit and Secret, I would have been thrilled. Instead, there’s also Hannah’s perspective. In the previous novels Hannah had been a great character. Like Michael, she had to grown up quickly: at seventeen she became pregnant. Now, at 22, she’s working hard to earn the respect of her fellow firefighters and still be there for her son. I couldn’t wait to see more of her. In Sacrifice she seems to be a completely new character. She’s selfish and childish and can’t help but stare at a fellow firefighter’s chest as he’s changing. I did not like where that storyline was heading and the entire time I wished Michael would end things with her once and for all. He deserved better.

Reviewing Sacrifice isn’t easy for me. I had such high expectations and Brigid Kemmerer totally let me down. Everything the previous novels had been working up to – the entire point of the series – wasn’t even mentioned in this book and half the characters didn’t even appear. The fate of one of the character’s came out on nowhere and didn’t get a reaction from anyone. Really, Brigid? I expected more from Sacrifice, I expected more from you. You’re so much better than this novel and I’m disappointed that this is how the series is going to end. I don’t mind sad endings if there’s closure, but here? Sacrifice practically ended in the middle of a scene. In fact, I thought it was the middle of a scene: when I went to the next page I was shocked to discover I had finished the book. My e-ARC of Sacrifice is 424 pages. The book ended on page 274. Those other 150 pages? Reprintings of the novellas. The novellas that were in the previous books. I don’t know what was going on with this book – I know Brigid has a new baby, maybe that played into it? – but Sacrifice was a total letdown.

Omens and Visions by Kelley Armstrong

Omens (Cainsville #1) | Visions (Cainsville #2)
A big THANK YOU to Dutton for a finished copy of Visions!

Because I’m not a binge-reader, I rarely review series in one go. However, I’ve recently discovered vacations are the perfect opportunity to really dive into a new world for an extended visit. I’m also not a big reader of Urban Fantasy, so (spoiler!) I was completely shocked when I not only tore through both of these books, but that I really – REALLY – enjoyed them as well!

Olivia Taylor-Jones is a socialite’s socialite. As the heir to a department store empire, Liv had it all: vintage sports cars, an Ivy League education, the perfect fiance. Unfortunately, disaster struck when she discovered the secrets her parents kept from her all these years: not only was she adopted, but her parents? The notorious Larsens, locked away in maximum-security prisons after being found guilty of a string of serial murders. Oh, sure, Olivia’s still in the public eye, but in a much different way than she’s used to.

With her beloved father passed on and her mother suddenly not-so-doting, Olivia realizes she needs to get out. Now. Her world has turned upside-down – for the worst; she has no idea who she is, are her future-husband’s political dreams ruined? James claims he doesn’t care about her real lineage, but Olivia needs answers. She needs to talk to the Larsens and discover for herself who these people are.

Olivia finds herself in Cainsville, an odd little town that rallies around its own and isn’t quick to give up its secrets. Gargoyles decorate the town steeped deep in folklore and soon she’s remembering snippets of rhymes from her childhood. Poppies are harbingers of death, you never want to see a group of ten ravens, black cats are actually good luck. With the help of Gabriel Walsh, Pamela Larsen’s lawyer, Olivia looks into the murders her birth parents supposedly committed (along with finding out just who she really is and what these strange visions and rhymes mean). Through in a physic for a neighbor and a group of elders who are far more agile than they’re letting on, and you’ve got the makings of a great new series!

Brush up on your Welsh, folks. You’re going to need it with Cainsville! In an author’s note in Omens, Armstrong states she intentionally left out any kind of translation or contextual clues. I cheated a bit and Googled some of the phrases. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil those, but trust me: you’ll want to find out more! Cainsville definitely isn’t your normal sleepy town. Nope. Not at all. There are things going on here – Big Things.

Visions picks up almost immediately where Omens ended and, because I read them together, this transition was perfect. Olivia is a great character, she’s got substance to her. She’s in an incredibly crappy situation, but she’s making the best of it and, ultimately, comes out on top. Gabriel walks a fine, fine line between jerk and lovable jerk (his aunt is the town psychic, by the way!). Gabriel’s all no-nonsense and I felt their personalities meshed so well together. Don’t worry about romance bogging down the plot. After two books this pair still maintains a healthy business partnership: initially Olivia takes Gabriel on as her own lawyer only for Gabriel to later hire Liv on as an investigator for his firm. Sure there’s romance in the series, but not between these two (and, honestly, I’m a little disappointed! Fingers crossed for sparks to fly in book three!).

There’s so much to talk about, but anything I say would be a HUGE spoiler. If you’re a fan of mythology, folklore, mysterious towns, HELLHOUNDS, biker gangs, serial killers, omens and portents, and sassy cats, Cainsville is the series for you. I tore through these books – and they’re definitely not short reads. However, the writing is blindingly fast and the story completely sucked me in..these 400+-page chunksters were one-sitting reads. THAT is how much I loved these books. Only two things leave me upset: 1) I’ve never read anything of Armstrong’s before this (I’ve been missing out on some seriously good stuff!) and 2) I have to wait an entire year for the third book!

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
Pub. Date: August 12, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Doubleday!!)
Summary: When twentysomething A., the unexpected European relative of the Wells family, and his companion, Niamh, a mute teenage girl with shockingly dyed hair, inherit the beautiful but eerie estate of Axton House, deep in the woods of Point Bless, Virginia, it comes as a surprise to everyone—including A. himself. After all, he never even knew he had a “second cousin, twice removed” in America, much less that the eccentric gentleman had recently committed suicide by jumping out of the third floor bedroom window—at the same age and in the same way as his father had before him . . .

Together, A. and Niamh quickly come to feel as if they have inherited much more than just a rambling home and a cushy lifestyle. Axton House is haunted, they know it, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the secrets they slowly but surely uncover. Why all the suicides? What became of the Axton House butler who fled shortly after his master died? What lurks in the garden maze and what does the basement vault keep? And what of the rumors in town about a mysterious gathering at Axton House on the night of the winter solstice?
Genre: Paranormal, Mystery, Epistolary

Summertime isn’t exactly my preferred season for supernatural novels – they’re more for Halloween/fall – but this slim little novel caught my eye and my autoapproval on netgalley was all I needed to make the leap. To say The Supernatural Enhancements is a horror novel wouldn’t be correct, nor would labeling it a ghost story. While there are definite elements of the genre (okay, so there’s actually a ghost, but..!), this is far more a mystery and I was so set to take this ride.

When A., 23-years-old and never fully named, receives a letter declaring him to be the sole relative (and therefore heir) of the fabulously wealthy Ambrose Wells, he does what any reasonable adult would do: pack up his belongings and head across the Atlantic. With his friend (? girlfriend? companion?) Niamh, a mute, shaved-headed, punk-rock girl, they move into the sprawling Axton House. The house isn’t quick to give up its secrets, and there aren’t many around who are willing to talk: Ambrose followed in his father’s footsteps by committing suicide; the butler packed his belongings and fled; and the townsfolk definitely aren’t eager to get involved in anything dealing with the estate.

Told through a string of diary entries, telegrams, and Paranormal Activity-style camera footage, The Supernatural Enhancements delves into the life of a reclusive man, his estate, a ghost, encryption codes, and a mysterious garden maze. I’m typically not one for epistolary novels – I was never able to get into the story and get a good feel for the characters – but I lapped this one up. I plowed through it in a matter of hours (the formatting definitely helped with that!) and discovered an odd little novel that was seriously entertaining.

Hands down, the best thing about The Supernatural Enhancements was Niamh. Despite her handicap, Niamh is snarky and crass, always quick with a comeback and she never shies away from putting A. in his place. At her insistence they get a dog which they name Help ( as to ensure he’ll assist us in case of peril) and, just like me, Help immediately took a liking to this girl. She knows how to Get Things Done; when they first start to experience strange things, she heads to town to arrange for security cameras to be installed. She’s always the first to figure things out and leaves both A. and the reader to play catch up.

To discuss the novel’s plot would be to give away the best part of the book – and trust me, uncovering the clues is half the fun! All I’ll say is that Wells wasn’t as reclusive as people thought. Sorry guys, that’s all you’re getting from me! To find out more you’re going to have to read The Supernatural Enhancements, but I promise it’s so worth it!

If you’re into creepy settings (This silence here was somewhat heavier, lonelier than the preceding one. The former was an elevator silence; this one was a walking-through-the-woods-by-night silence.), rooms that lead to nowhere, secret pasts, awesome characters, quirky formats, The X-Files, and historical fiction (the novel takes place in the 90s, but were it not for a few specific references to television shows, I could have easily believed this took place far, far earlier), this is the book for you. From what I can tell, this is Cantero’s debut in English. If the rest of his books are this fun, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for translations!

Spirits of Ash and Foam by Greg Weisman

Spirits of Ash and Foam (Rain Cacique #2) by Greg Weisman
Pub. Date: July 8, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley + print ARC via publisher (thank you, St. Martin’s Griffin!!)
Summary: Welcome to the Prospero Keys (or as the locals call them: the Ghost Keys), the beautiful chain of tropical islands on the edge of the Bermuda Triangle where Rain Cacique lives. When Rain’s maternal grandfather passed away, he left her his special armband: two gold snakes intertwined, clasping each other’s tails in their mouths. Rain soon discovers that the armband is actually a zemi – a very powerful talisman created by the island’s native Arawak Taino Indians – and that it allows Rain to see ghosts, including her own grandfather who is determined to help her uncover the Ghost Keys’ hidden world of mystery and mysticism, intrigue and adventure.

Now, Rain Cacique’s looking for a few answers — and the second zemi, a Taino relic that allows her to see dead people. But it’s the first week of school, so she’s pretty busy juggling teachers, homework, baby-sitting duties, new friends, missing tourist kids… and a vampire with a tribal twist.
Genre: Middle Grade, Paranormal, Adventure

This is a review for the second book in a series. I’ll try to keep vague, but there might be some spoilers for the first book.

Last year’s Rain of the Ghosts was a quick, fun read that kept me entertained but left me with a few questions. The sequel, Spirits of Ash and Foam was one I was really looking forward to and I couldn’t wait to get back to the Ghost Keys. Unfortunately, it seems this book suffers from the dreaded Second Book Syndrome. The bad outweighed the good here.

There’s a string of islands in the Bermuda Triangle known to the locals as the Ghost Keys. Rain Cacique and her family run an inn on one of the islands and she recently inherited a magical bracelet from her grandfather. The zemi is just one of nine and Rain isn’t the only one who’s searching for them.

With literally no time elapsed since the first book, Spirits of Ash and Foam kicks off the morning after Rain of the Ghosts ended. Rain is still coming to terms with everything: magic, her new-found ability to see ghosts, her recently-deceased Grandpa ‘Bastian-turned-ghostly sidekick…and the beginning of the new school year is just around the corner. It was a joy to see Charlie and Miranda again (although Charlie’s massive crush on Rain still hasn’t gone anywhere) and there were some new faces too. While the other characters were beautifully crafted, Renee was little more than a Mean Girl stereotype. Miranda unknowingly sits in a seat Renee had wanted, and now Renee is out for blood. She enters their group, goes along with them on adventures…all the while intent on getting revenge. She wouldn’t let it go – even AFTER they finally became friends. Did this girl really have nothing else going on in her life?

The only thing I enjoyed about Spirits of Ash and Foam was that, in the first ten pages, I had answered to the questions I had from the first book. Everything was spelled out for me and I appreciated that. Sadly, that was where the good ended.

In a novel this short – 280 pages – there’s only room for so much. Whereas I had been under the impression this series was about the mysterious zemis and Rain’s quest to find the rest of them, here there were numerous plots and hardly any of them went anywhere. Callahan, the Bad Guy, is back. The inn has new guests and Rain’s forced to babysit the three unruly children. A murder or two. A search party. Mermaids and ancient legends. Charlie’s crush. There was so much packed into these pages and I felt that there wasn’t enough attention devoted to any of them. Cut out a few storylines and the book as a whole would have been far stronger.

A large chunk of this book was devoted to a strange woman/manatee the children glimpse one afternoon. Rain is told the tribal tales of the woman and how she’s an evil witch that, for centuries has been luring children away from their families and they’re never seen again. Centuries, remember. Many, many years. ‘Bastian simply asks her to return the missing children (the guests at the Cacique’s inn) to their parents and that’s it. Hundreds of years of suffering could have been avoiding if the parents had simply asked nicely. Turns out this woman was never evil at all, just misunderstood and lonely. Right.

Another issue I had was with the logistics. There are a handful of ghosts in this book and, for the most part, they’re free to come and go as they please. They can walk through walls and floors with ease. Yet they still need to take ferries to get from island to island. I couldn’t wrap my mind around this concept.

It’s such a shame when a solid first book is followed by a lackluster sequel. It wasn’t until the very end that Rain discovered the second zemi. There are still seven more to find and if the rate is one per book I really don’t see myself keeping up with this series. While I enjoyed Rain of the Ghosts, Spirits of Ash and Foam was such a downgrade that, unless something drastic changes in the third book, my time with this series is over.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Title: The Winter People
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Pub. Date: February 11, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Doubleday!!)
Summary: West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara’s fate, she discovers that she’s not the only person who’s desperately looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Horror

All quotes taken from the ARC.

The story of a little girl named Gertie who died.

Whose mother loved her too much to let her go.

So she brought her back.

One of the first reviews ever posted on the blog (back in August, 2011!) was Don’t Breathe a Word, a deliciously creepy novel about the disappearance of a little girl who went off to marry the King of the Fairies and never returned home. That novel was my introduction to Jennifer McMahon and has stuck with me ever since, a perfect combination of horror and reality and how blurred the lines separating them really are.

Two years later I’ve got another McMahon novel under my belt and I’m itching for a third (and fourth and fifth…). Going off the two I’ve read so far it’s clear McMahon has something of a formula, a recipe of sorts, that she uses when writing. Don’t Breath a Word had a cop-out ending that I didn’t care for at all – the final destination made the entire journey feel a bit worthless – and was a little worried the same would hold true for The Winter People. Despite my worries, I jumped right in and discovered a novel even better than the first.

She remembered her parents’ warnings when she was little: Stay out of the woods. Bad things happen to little girls who get lost out there.

The first thing you should know about me: I love dual time periods in novels. I live and breathe multiple eras so right off the bat The Winter People was looking good. The second thing you should know about me: the more character perspectives there are, the happier I am. The Winter People had a huge cast of characters, and the story played out over many of their points of view. Giddy from the get-go, I only came to love this book more and more the further I read.

An old farmhouse in West Hall, Vermont holds its share of secrets (some, literally). In the late 1800s, Sara Harrison grew up in the house with her siblings, father, and Auntie. Auntie’s strange and otherworldly beliefs ostracized her from the rest of the townsfolk, yet when they needed a surefire way to win the eye of someone or needed a remedy the doctor couldn’t provide, she was the person to go to. While growing up, Sara had heard whispers of sleepers, those returned from the grave, and on one occasion saw a classmate in the woods not long after having attended her funeral.

Now grown and with a child of her own, Sara Harrison Shea still lives in her childhood home. Unfortunately Gertie is in a terrible accident and her untimely death is too much for Sara to handle. As she sinks deeper and deeper into depression (or, as her husband and brother-in-law believe, madness) she faithfully pens her diary, filling it with knowledge Auntie had passed down.

Since then, multiple families have come and gone, and now Alice and her two daughters reside in the old farmhouse. As far back as the girls can remember, Alice has made it clear they are never to go into the woods, especially not the Devil’s Hand as the locals call it, and if anyone should ever knock on the door they are never to open it. Never. Alice’s sudden disappearance one morning sends the girls on a manhunt through states and decades as they discover hidden diary entries and realize the town’s legends might be real after all.

The Winter People had me thoroughly creeped out in the middle of the afternoon! I think that’s a pretty good testament to McMahon’s skill as a writer, don’t you? Broad daylight with the sun shining through my windows and there I was, jumping at every sound. More than once I steered clear of the closets, fulling expecting to be greeted by a sleeper. This novel is very much a winter read and not just because of the title. There’s a stark coldness that’s ever-present, and a resounding sadness that left me thinking in shades of blue and grey. Death is also a key theme and the novel explores the lengths some people would go to in order to see a loved one for one more day – or, in this case, one more week.

It’s been a while since a novel has captivated me from beginning to end, but The Winter People did just that. In one case I was reading well into the night (not my best decision!) simply because I could not put the book down. I came to know and care for these characters: Ruthie and her little sister Fawn; Katherine and her anguish over the loss of both her husband and son; Sara with her sorrow and excitement. Despite the number of characters and eras, McMahon wove the story together flawlessly.

Again, however, the ending loses a bit of its magic. Ruthie doesn’t so much make a decision as accept what’s thrown upon her. While it does leave room for a possible sequel, I had hoped for more. Despite that minor bump I absolutely loved The Winter People and highly recommend it. If you’re in the mood for a quick and compelling novel that will keep you guessing, this is it.