Book Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Corey and Kyra were inseparable friends. In a small, isolated town of 200 in the northern Alaska wilderness, they grew up close as sisters. And when Kyra is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it becomes Corey and Kyra against the world in a town that is unwilling to accept anything or anyone different. Then Corey is forced to move away when her mother accepts a job at a hospital in Winnipeg. She makes Kyra promise to wait for her, that it will only be a few months until her summer break, and then things can be like they were before. But after only a few months, Kyra is dead, and the people of Lost Creek treat Corey like an interloper. What happened while she was away?

This was an atypical thriller. The setting of a small, isolated town is one guaranteed to get under my skin. Something about a community with no anonymity, but harboring dark secrets, is claustrophobic and terrifying. Due to the age of the protagonists, and the general tone of the book, this fits neatly into the YA category, but it is one of those books that will appeal to a wide range of readers. I quite liked Nijkamp’s sympathetic portrayal of bipolar disorder, and the difficulties encountered by those with the disorder to find effective treatment and acceptance.

The book’s plot centers around the paranoia of becoming a stranger in a place you once called home, and of the ease in development of homogeneous belief among small, isolated populations. These real-world situations are juxtaposed against a magical thread running through the plot, as we examine the cult-like nature of the townsfolk and the presentation of Kyra’s mental illness.

In all, this is not your run-of-the-mill thriller, and is much the better for that fact. Fans of YA genres, psychological thrillers, and (semi) horror will likely enjoy this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Exes’ Revenge by Jo Jakeman

The Exes’ Revenge by Jo Jakeman

The Blurb:

A wickedly dark debut thriller about three women who’ve all been involved with the same man and realize the one thing they have in common is that they all want revenge against him…

Divorces are often messy, and Imogen’s is no exception. Phillip Rochester is controlling, abusive, and determined to make things as difficult as possible. When he shows up without warning demanding that Imogen move out of their house by the end of the month or he’ll sue for sole custody of their young son, Imogen is ready to snap.

In a moment of madness, Imogen does something unthinkable–something that puts her in control for the first time in years. She’s desperate to protect her son and to claim authority over her own life.

But she wasn’t expecting both Phillip’s ex-wife and new girlfriend to get tangled up in her plans. These three very different women–and unlikely allies–reluctantly team up to take revenge against a man who has wronged them all.

I wasn’t expecting to like this book as much as I did. About a quarter of the way in, I was ready to give up, chalk it up to another psychological thriller looking to hit the same buttons as countless other ones before. Then, the plot takes a hard left-hand turn and I found myself no longer in the gray muck of psychological thrillerville, but in the sparkly, colorful, oversaturated world of a pulp revenge story.

After a manner of speaking. The Exes’ Revenge lacks the gratuitous violence of the best pulp, but it is nonetheless a fast-paced story of revenge and unexpected consequences. The story follows the strengths and weaknesses of three very different women. They all have the same problem, but all have different priorities and goals, and all will go about wreaking revenge in their own way. There is something supremely satisfying in seeing a justly deserved revenge story play out.

So psychological thriller lovers will find getting into this story easy as falling down the stairs. But even those who aren’t thrilled with the genre (ha) can enjoy this book. Revenge is sweet, after all.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Sancia exists in the small spaces within the Tevanni Empire. While the great merchant houses keep their own states-within-a-state behind magical walls, Sancia scrambles to live as a thief in the lawless ghettos that exist outside the houses control. When Sancia is offered the chance of a lifetime; an unbelievable amount of money for a single job, she jumps at the chance to escape. Unfortunately, the item she steals is very dangerous, very valuable, and very coveted. Sancia soon finds herself fighting for her life as a highly-placed member of the merchant houses seeks to recover the stolen item and eliminate any who know of its existence.

Bennett has given us a world somewhere between a steampunk industrial revolution England and a medieval Italian city state. In this world, the powerful have cornered the market on magic, and industrialized it to suit their own ends. Those with the ability to create magical items and processes live in comfort within walled enclaves. Those who do not live a short, brutal existence in the slums just outside the wall. This story is a tale of haves and have-nots, and the extremes those in power will go to in order to keep that power close to hand.

Sancia is a fantastic heroine, flawed and broken, not doing things necessarily because they are right, but because circumstances have left her with little choice in the matter. She is a woman who has been victimized in the past, but staunchly refuses to play the victim any longer. Though she does not always win, she continues to strive forward because standing still or going back are simply unacceptable.

Make no mistake, this is a dark story, but hose who like their fantasy dark will enjoy this book. Same goes for anyone looking for a new heroine to root for.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Hanna is nearly perfect, at least according to her daddy. So what if she still isn’t speaking at age seven? She’s clearly very intelligent, and more than capable of communicating in her own way. Those schools she’s been expelled from? They just didn’t understand her. Suzette, Hanna’s mother suspects something is wrong. Her precocious child is displaying worrying tendencies towards manipulation and violence. While her husband remains blind to Hanna’s problems, Suzette begins to suspect she may be the target of Hanna’s wrath.

Let me say at the start that my interpretation of the book may be a bit different from most. I am emphatically childfree, don’t really care for children in any case, and tend to regard most of them as tiny little psychopaths until they reach their midtwenties. Am I justified in this point of view? Probably not. But that’s the mindset I’m coming from when reading this book.

And it was nightmarish. The book is great, don’t get me wrong. It is tightly written, and the alternating points of view between Suzette and Hanna let us truly get to know the central characters. I had to take a break from the book about 100 pages in because it was keeping me up at night. The utter despair and hopelessness of Suzette’s situation is wrenching. She is trying (though imperfectly) to do right by her daughter, though years of abnormal and worrying behavior from Hanna have made her a bit ambivalent about motherhood. Compound this with her husband’s need to see only the perfect, upper-middle class family he desires, and Suzette is entirely alone to deal with her daughter. This I find terrifying: when dealing with mental and behavioral abnormalities in childhood, it is generally left to the mother to wonder where she went wrong, and what she could have done differently. And in all cases, motherhood is a condition with no escape. Someone may regret bringing a child into the world, but there are few socially acceptable ways to divorce oneself from parenthood, especially when being “a good mother” is considered the epitome of female (and especially middle class) success.

Well, enough ranting. I did, obviously, pick the book back up (and finished the remainder in one sitting). In the interests of keeping this review spoiler-free, I’m going to say little about the latter part of the book, but I will say that I was surprised by the direction the story took.

In sum, this book is a nuanced look at motherhood and psychopathy, at the loneliness of being a stay at home mother, and the frustration of being an atypical child. This book intimately describes the horror of finding out that, rather than the sweet, beautiful child you may have dreamed about, you have given birth to a monster, and are now tethered to its side.

I’d be curious to see what more maternally-minded people thought of his book? We’re their sympathies (like mine) fully with Suzette? Or do they see something redeeming in Hanna? Do they feel the horror as “that could have been me”? Or does the horror lie in “Suzette should have done x,y,z”? I would love to hear your thoughts, feel free to leave me a comment or two!

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto

The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto

This is the second book in R.J. Koreto’s Alice Roosevelt series, so there may be spoilers ahead for the first book. You could likely read this book as a stand-alone, but reading Alice and the Assassin first is a better choice.


Alice Roosevelt and her intrepid bodyguard, Secret Service Agent Joseph St. Clair, have been reunited and sent back to New York for the social season. When a man is poisoned at the coming-out ball of one of Alice’s friends, Alice can’t help but get involved in the investigation. As they dig deeper into the man’s death, Alice and St. Clair find rumors of a secret society, and a surplus of suspects. It seems a lot of people had good reason to wish the victim dead…

R.J. Koreto writes a great female protagonist. In this series, he bases his leading lady on real-life Alice Roosevelt, daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt, and verifiable hellion. Koreto brings the plain-talking, cigarette-smoking, taboo-busting Alice into a great historical mystery plot and lets her loose.

The first book had some rough areas, which can usually be attributed to the difficulty inherent in introducing a new world and new characters without sacrificing plot and pacing. Happily, this installment is a fun, engaging ride, with Alice and St. Clair hitting their respective strides. Fans of historical mysteries will find a lot to like in Alice Roosevelt.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

This is Holmberg’s fourth entry into her Paper Magician universe. This is not a direct sequel, rather The Plastic Magician explores new themes and magics within the same universe as the Paper Magician Trilogy. This means you can read this book as a standalone without having read the others. But I’m going to say right now that if you haven’t read the original trilogy, then you are seriously missing out.

In this story, we leave magicians Ceony Twill and Emery Thane behind and instead follow Alvie Brechenmacher, an American girl with German parents who desperately wants to be a polymaker, that is- a magician who works with plastic. As polymaking is the newest and least understood magic, there is an entire world waiting for discovery, and Alvie, naturally brilliant and creative, wants to make her mark on the world. When she manages to apprentice to the world’s foremost polymaker, all of Alvie’s dreams seem to be coming true. But when she and her mentor develop a groundbreaking new invention, old rivalries emerge and Alvie learns that the world of magician can be a dangerous one.

This was a great addition to the Paper Magician world. Alvie is a fantastic protagonist–unapologetically brilliant, kind, creative, and more than a little socially awkward. I also enjoyed how, despite the book’s historical setting, everyone seems to take Alvie’s intellect as a given, and as an asset. Alvie occupies the brilliant inventor trope that is so often the territory of male characters, and she does it well. I always love a female protagonist who is comfortable with their own intelligence.

In fact, my biggest complaint would be that the antagonist of this book, while amoral and devious, exists more as a witless foil than a true challenge. While he certainly succeeds in disrupting things in the book (as he must), once his master plan was revealed, I felt a bit let down (really guy, that was your plan? And then what?!).

In all, this is a fun YA book that will appeal to a wide age range. Fans of the previous books will enjoy this one, and anyone who thinks this book looks good should check out the Paper Magician, like, yesterday.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Air Raid Killer by Frank Goldammer

The Air Raid Killer by Frank Goldammer

Dresden, 1945, is a city on the edge. The Third Reich is in its (well deserved) death spiral, the Russians are encroaching to the east as American forces push through from the west, air raids are constant, and wartime rationing and an influx of refugees have left the city on the brink of starvation. Amidst all this chaos, a brutal killer stalks the streets. Max Heller is a Detective Inspector with the Dresden police, a man seeking justice in a country descended into paranoia and chaos. As the body count grows, Heller must not only find a way to stop a serial killer who strikes when the air raid sirens sound, but to ensure justice in a city still under the thumb of Hitler’s fanatics.

This book was fantastic, a noir in every sense of the world. Goldammer has painted a world in the deep blacks, grays, and browns of a world torn apart by war, an ancient city beset on all sides by enemies and destructive forces. Goldammer has painted us a vivid picture of a city under seige, and the hardships its people must endure. In the midst of starvation, overflowing refugee camps, and the brutality and paranoia of Hitler’s officials, one serial killer is something most people are content to overlook, to let slide without investigation as the realities of war seem so much mire dire. Max Heller is the perfect detective to place into this mess. His overarching sense of duty and justice compel him to see the case resolved, to ensure that he can do a small part to defend his world against true anarchy.

The story is compelling, with actual historical events woven through the plot. I finished the book in one day, more accurately one sitting. This is an engaging read, infused with the unreality and paranoia of the time period. Max Heller isn’t the most fleshed out protagonist out there, but he doesn’t have to be. Rather, he represents our “better angels” fighting a losing battle against horror.

Fans of WWII era stories, dark mysteries, or serial killer-related plots will really like this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Fury from the Tomb by SA Sidor

Fury from the Tomb by SA Sidor

In 1888, young Egyptologist Romulous Hardy is offered a vast sum of money by a reclusive millionaire to search for ancient tombs in Egypt. Hardy jumps at the chance to get out of the library and into the field, but soon finds himself dealing with things no one could have forseen. After tragedy befalls his expedition, Hardy is charged with bringing the mummies he recovered (six in all, though one sarcophagus is twice as big as any normal human) back to LA. When his train is waylaid in the Arizona desert, he learns that his cargo may be more dangerous than he ever suspected, and that cursed mummies are only the tip of the iceberg.

This was a fun, entertaining, and wild ride. Told in the style of old weird fiction stories, Sidor brings quite a bit of HP Lovecraft and The Mummy to the table. The latter half of the book, which takes place in Arizona and Mexico is evocative of Weird West stories. There are monsters and mummies and cultists and vampires. There are cowboys and banditos and Pinkertons and train heists. There’s cannibalism and curses and ancient legends. This book is a mashup of everything that makes weird fiction fun.

In fact, my biggest complaint is that in including everything, the story loses focus in places and drifts along, detached. Sometimes the actions runs along at breakneck pace, and sometimes it stutters to a halt to gaze for a while at the supernatural scenery.

Still, anyone who is looking for a good time with some good, old-fashioned pulp will probably enjoy this book. I mean, just look at that epic cover art! If the cover sings to you, then more than likely the book will as well.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Haunted Heart of America by Logan Corelli

The Haunted Heart of America: In-Depth Investigations of the Villisca Ax Murder House, Myrtles Plantation & Other Frightful Sites by Logan Corelli

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? A tale of phantom footsteps, flickering lights, and unexpected icy drafts. So much the better when huddled under the blankets on a dark winter’s night. I’d be willing to lay down money that even the most scientific and logical among us experience a pleasurable frisson while reading about these purportedly true hauntings. And so I opened The Haunted Heart of America with anticipation, especially as the book details the author’s own experiences in famous (or infamous) haunted locations across the country.

Unfortunately, I found the book to be disappointing. While Corelli brings us to well known sites like the Myrtles Plantation and Waverly Sanatorium (famous from any number of ghost hunter television shows), he doesnt really bring anything new to the story. Each chapter details his experiences at a different haunted location, and each is written in the style of a high school lab report. The chapters are ungainly and awkwardly written, with little attention paid to telling Corelli’s story in a compelling manner. The use of lab report-style chapters would be more appropriate if the techniques and approach to the subject matter was handled in a more scientific way, but Corelli and his colleagues seem to be without defined purpose or set methodology, and rather wander about haunted locations, using instrumentation and personal observation at whim.

I’ll say again, I don’t read books such as these for their scientific merits, by rather for their entertainment value. Unfortunately, Haunted Heart of America fails to deliver on both counts.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James


The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

In the 1950s, Idlewild Hall in rural Vermont was a place where families sent daughters they’d rather forget. The residents of the boarding school are illegitimate, traumatized, criminal. But the school may be haunted by more than bad memories; a spirit called Mary Hand is said to stalk the halls, and four roommates, bonded over shared misery, will face the spirits of Idlewild when one of them disappears.

Meanwhile, in 2014, a local journalist is shocked to hear that long-abandoned Idlewild Hall is being restored. Her own obsession with the overgrown and forgotten school started when her sister’s body was discovered on the grounds twenty years earlier. As she begins to dig into the history of the school, she finds old mysteries entwined with new, and a growing sense that something haunts the grounds of the old school.

This was a wonderful mystery story with a supernatural twist. St. James weaves her narrative between 1950 and 2014, slowly parsing out information and clues to the reader. The book is atmospheric; the boarding school exudes a palpable sense of menace and despair. Fiona Sheridan, the journalist, and the four roommates from 1950 are well-written, with the young students quickly becoming characters to care about and fear for. 

The supernatural elements of the story are well done, and fit organically into the plot. Who, or what, Mary Hand may be is dangled in front of the reader, but largely kept teasingly out of reach until the very end.

In all, this is a wonderfully satisfying mystery that avoids the pitfalls of the mystery thriller genre. Anyone who wants a ghost story mixed in with their mystery will enjoy this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.