Book Review: The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan

The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan

Michael Simmons is a reasonably successful London art dealer. When one of his premier artists, Maggie Turner, gets involved with a violent, abusive man, Michael shows himself as a true friend, helping her get back on her feet and settled into her dream house, a remote, ancient stone cottage on the Irish coast, where she can rediscover her art again. At Maggie’s housewarming party, one of her friends decides to take advantage of the age of the house and breaks out a Ouija board. The party-goers unwittingly unleash something with their meddling, a being who calls himself The Master, and who slowly begins to take over Maggie’s mind and body.

This is a fantastic premise for a story. We have the broken, struggling to recover Maggie, and faithful friend and mentor Michael. We have the rugged and isolated Irish coast. We have a malevolent force, focused on the ragged psyche of Maggie, and the slow descent of a passionate woman into madness. The concept of the story is interesting on the face of it, add in the supernatural elements and this is a story with true haunting potential (see what I did there?).

Unfortunately, the story is told entirely from Michael Simmons’ point of view, and we see very little of Maggie’s struggles. In fact, we really only get to see Maggie in bits and pieces after her abusive relationship culminates in a hospital stay, at her housewarming party, and a few months later, when she has gone mad. All the horror and suspense of what must have occurred is pretty much nullified by the distance afforded by the narrator. As such, it is very hard to get into this book or to invest in Maggie or in Michael as characters.

In sum, there is the kernel of a truly terrifying book in here, but the author would have to let the reader into Maggie’s home and her headspace before it would be effective. Horror requires a narrator who cannot get away, who has no escape. Michael’s distance from the heart of the story gives us room to sidestep the horror.

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

Book Review: Macbeth by Jo Nesbø

Macbeth by Jo Nesbø

This is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare undertaking, in which modern author reimagine the Bard’s most famous works. In this offering, Jo Nesbø (of The Snowman fame) brings Macbeth into a Northern city amidst overwhelming police corruption. Duncan has recently been promoted to Chief Inspector, following the downfall of the former, highly corrupt chief. He quickly promotes his SWAT commander, Macbeth, to oversee a new department aimed at stopping the flow of drugs and violence into the city, most especially “Brew”, peddled by drug kingpin, Hecate. What follows is the age-old tale of murderous ambition, and the consequences of putting ends before means-wrapped in a dark, police thriller package.

Nesbø does a great job of sinking his story into the mud and the grit and keeping it there. The story is undeniably a dark one, and Nesbø pulls no punches. The entirety of the story takes place in dreary grayness or in the darkness of the night. Nesbø has given us a setting that is downright claustrophobic.

I’ve read several of the Hogarth stories so far, and I think this may be one of my favorites, I always enjoyed the Macboeth story, and Nesbø’s interpretation makes the story feel new, even as we trod old ground.

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

Book Review: Prudence and Imprudence by Gail Carriger


prudence imprudence

Prudence and Imprudence by Gail Carriger

Okay, these books are pretty much a sequel to Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, so if you haven’t read those books, you probably aren’t going to get a lot out of them. However, you really should read that series, it is one of the best examples of paranormal-steampunk out there. But for now, if you keep reading, there’s going to be spoilers for the Parasol Protectorate series.


So I was a huge fan of the previous books featuring Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Conall Maccon. Carriger manages to give us stuffy Victorians, steampunk gadgets, werewolves, vampires, and tea fanatics, and make the entire thing funny, entertaining, and (most astonishingly) not ridiculous.

Prudence and Imprudence continue the story two decades later, featuring (naturally) Alexia and Conall’s metanatural daughter, Prudence (though she prefers to go by Rue). Having been raised by a combination of her werewolf father, preternatural mother, and vampire spy master Lord Akeldama, Rue has had anything but the typical Victorian childhood. Fortunately, Rue is her mother’s daughter and thrives in the atypical. When Lord Akeldama presents Rue with her very own Dirigible for her birthday, she naturally takes to the skies with her best friends Percy and Primrose Tunstell, and Quesnel leFoux. Through the two books, she travels to first India and then Egypt, her time heavy with the style of adventures Alexia Tarabotti would have dived into in her day.

It is always hard to continue a series in the same world, but with new characters. People inevitably long for the good old days with the characters they know and love. Carriger does a great job of modernizing her story (to the 1890s, let’s not get crazy), and keeping enough of the old guard about to make the entry into Rue’s world both novel and satisfying (it doesn’t hurt that there are so many ageless characters to choose from). It is gratifying to see what became of some of our favorites in the intervening two decades, but Carriger keeps the focus on the newest generation, and does a wonderful job of it. Rue is definitely her mother’s daughter, though she would never admit it. Seeing Ivy’s twins grown up and rebellious in their own ways is fun. And of course, we have our requisite bad boy in Quesnel leFoux.

What I especially like in this series is Carriger’s willingness to tackle the dark sides of the Victorian era. She deals frankly (though in a steampunk fantasy way) with the violence the British wrought in India and their other colonies, and with the Victorian tendency to see people other than themselves as less than human. Rue marches straight into the teeth of these issues, and the books are the better for it. So many Victorian-era books glide over the problems with the era. I’m not opposed to romanticism on the face of it, but these books came through like a breath of fresh air.

If you were a fan of the Parasol Protectorate series, you should definitely check these books out. If you haven’t read the first series of books, this review is probably highly confusing. Go read ’em!

Book Review: Life and Death in the Andes by Kim McQuarrie

Life and Death in the Andes: On the Trail of Bandits, Heroes, and Revolutionaries by Kim McQuarrie
The Andes mountain range in South America runs down the west coast of the continent. The stories and histories of the place are as varied as the peaks themselves. In Life and Death in the Andes, Kim McQuarrie gives us a travelogue and a history book, a sweeping epic and an intimate portrait. 

From the cities of Columbia to southernmost Chile and Argentina, McQuarrie brings us stories of druglords and mummies, weavers and bandits, natives and revolutionaries. Mixing history seamlessly with his own travels, Life and Death in the Andes gives us a unique perspective of life in the Andes mountains. 

History buffs, world travelers, and the curious will find a lot to like in McQuarrie’s easy conversational style. Anyone who wants to go a bit off the beaten trail will enjoy the stories McQuarrie has to tell us.

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

The Irregular Reader’s Top 10 Reads of 2017

With 2018 coming on like a speeding train, it’s time for the nearly obligatory (but still fun) top ten list! With over 150 books under my belt this year, it was very hard to narrow it down. Looking back on my favorite books this past year, I found I went quite often for horror and fantasy–basically any sort of escapism I could find (but can you blame me?). I kept the list focused on books published in 2017, which helped to narrow down the candidates, but also meant that fantastic titles like Rejected Princesses didn’t make the cut. Life is cruel.

Well, without further ado, here are my top ten books of the year (in no particular order. It was hard enough to choose ten, please don’t make me figure out rankings!)

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Kate Moore’s fantastic and intimate portrayal of the young women who worked with radium as dial painters in the early 20th century is heartbreaking and beautiful. Moore takes incredible care with her research and her story, and these women jump right of the page as living, breathing people. These girls could be your sisters, daughters, wives, and Moore does an excellent job of bringing their suffering and perseverance into the light.

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Okay, I am an alumna of the University of Vermont, and lived in the state for years, so I am definitely biased in this regard. However, Bill McKibben has brought us the feel good, small town resistance fable that we didn’t know we needed. McKibben captures the think-local, take-care-of-our-own, live-and-let-live attitude of this small, eccentric state, and the thought of being able to fight the good fight with nothing more than good beer, local produce, and an Olympic biathlon team is just so tempting in this day and age.

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

I have rediscovered the horror genre this year, thanks in no small part to the oft-touted Nocturnal Reader’s Box.  The Grip of It by Jac Jemc was one of those gems from the box, and it creeped the hell out of me. Jemc brings us an unconventional haunted house tale, told by the alternating (and slowly degrading) narratives of a husband and wife, who move into and old, and odd, house in the suburbs. I loved how the story became more and more fragmented as the book went on, and the line’s between reality and illusion, normality and monstrosity began to blur. This is not a book for someone who wants everything laid out for them, but if you’re seeking a profound sense of unease that lasts beyond the reading, look no further!

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

Okay, this book is essentially a 600 page flashback, but the scope of the story,  and the depth of the characters (and the promise of more in future books) cried out for inclusion in my top ten. Kevin Hearne has brought us an old-fashioned fantasy epic, a complete world populated by giants, monsters, and magic that provides a huge sandbox to play around in. There is just so much here, and so much promise. This is world building along the lines of George R.R. Martin or J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

This is the second of Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy, continuing the story begun in The Bear and the Nightingale. Arden’s fairytale story, lovingly set against Russian myth and history, make the books delightful to read. Here we find fantasy at its best, both enthralling and moving. We can’t help but cheer Vasya on as she navigates a world of magic and monsters.

Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix

I’ve got to put this one in for the sheer amount of books it managed to add to my TBR. I adored Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and grabbed this bad boy right out of the gate. Here, Hendrix’s love of all things cult horror is on display. Prepare yourself for an entertaining and informative romp through creepy kids, murderous beasties, haunted abodes, and demonic possessions galore.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I love Neil deGrasse Tyson’s work. I love how he can take a stupefyingly complex concept and explain it in a way that is understandable for a lay person without being condescending. This is a rare gift in any profession, but as we continue to look further and further into the stars, I can’t help but feel that deGrasse Tyson has come along at the perfect time.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

This is the true story of the Osage murders of Kansas in the 1920s. When oil was discovered under their reservation, the Osage suddenly found themselves the richest people per capita in the country. Then they started to die, mysteriously. Grann tells the story of institutionalized racism, human greed, and murderous intent. This wave of deaths has been all but forgotten in the present day, but is a story that needs to be told.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

This seems to be one of those love it or hate it books, but I loved it. I found this retelling of the Lizzie Borden murders to be lyrical, the dialogue and prose flowing like poetry. Schmidt’s description of the hot, humid summer days surrounding the murders lends the book a sticky, claustrophobic feeling. This a gorgeously rendered Lizzie Borden story.

Gwendy’s Button Box by Richard Chizmar

This lovely little novella takes us back to Stephen Kong’s fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, where all the most terrible things happen. This story focuses on Gwendy, an awkward, overweight girl who comes into possession of a mysterious box with the power to change–or destroy–everything.
It’s always so hard to pick just a few of my favorite reads over a given year. I’ve got a long list of honorable mentions I could go into, like the gruesomely fun Quackery, or the post apocalyptic world building of Lotus Blue, or the laugh out loud satire of Will Save the Galaxy for Food. Maybe next year I’ll have to up my list to a top twenty . . . But that just seems crazy unwieldy.

Book Review and GIVEAWAY!!! Bloodstains with Brönte by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Bloodstains with Brönte by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Giveaway details are at the end of my review!

Fair warning, this is the second book on the Crimes with the Classics series, so expect spoilers below for the first book. But good news! You can read this book and have fun without reading the previous book. 


Okay, so this book finds Emily Cavanagh in the midst of renovations to turn the mansion she inherited from her murdered aunt into a writer’s retreat. Unfortunately, Emily’s ward, Katie, seems to have a horrible past with one of the workers, and the other seems to have developed an unhealthy obsession for the young woman. When one of the young men turns up dead at a murder-mystery fundraiser at Emily’s house, Katie becomes the primary suspect. With tensions running high and the dreary winter storms setting in, Emily must uncover the truth if she’s to save her young friend. 

I like a cozy mystery every now and then. A nice bit of fiction to consume in an autumn afternoon. Bloodstains with Brönte fit the bill perfectly. You have a quirky, independent woman pulled unexpectedly into crime solving, a small town with a crazy high murder per capita rate, a great setting in an antique house replete with hidden staircases and dark corners, and colorful local townsfolk to provide a plethora of red herrings for our heroine to follow.

My one complaint is with Emily herself. I expect my detectives to be flawed, and no mystery novel would be complete without pointing the finger at the wrong person once or twice, but midway through the book, Emily completely abandons all logic (it’s actually stated that “He might have reason on his side, but affection trumped reason in her book.”) in the face of Katie’s possible guilt. I’m all for sticking up for friends and family, but I prefer my amateur detectives to be a bit less willing to divorce their investigation from the facts. Fortunately, Emily eventually comes around, and the book continues on in a more satisfying way, but come on.

So cozy mystery lovers and fans of Louise Penny take note. Despite its flaws, this is a fun little tea cake of a mystery series.

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


Giveaway Details: 

Enter for a chance to win a finished copy of this book! (US only, sorry)

How to Enter:

Like and comment on this post for one entry

You can get bonus entries by following and liking the giveaway post on my Instagram page (@irregularreader) and by following me on Twitter (@readirregular) and retweeting the giveaway post. 

A winner will be randomly selected on December 20th, 2017. The book will be mailed directly from the publisher!

You know you want a free book for the holiday season!

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden


The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Fair warning: this is the second book in the Winternight trilogy. There’s definitely going to be spoilers ahead for the first book in the series, The Bear and the Nightingale. If you want, you can read my review of that book here.


Vasya has been driven from her village after the deaths of her father and stepmother. The options are slim for a young woman in medieval Russia — convent or marriage. Vasya, ever seeking to be her own master, decides to create a third option: to wander the vast expanses of Rus’ disguised as a boy, and explore the wide world now open to her. But the road and the places upon it are dangerous. Unnatural and vicious bandits are plundering remote towns in northern Rus’, and political intrigue and betrayal surround the residents of Moscow. Pulled into the events of the larger world, Vasya finds herself walking on a knife’s edge to help her family and her country, and to safeguard her precious freedom.

I simply adore this series. The Bear and the Nightingale was one of those delightful little surprises you come across occasionally. Expecting a typical historical fantasy, I found myself enveloped in a fairy tale story richly woven through with historical detail and living, breathing characters. The Girl in the Tower stays true to form. Arden’s careful attention to detail, and phenomenal gift for bringing fully-fleshed characters to her tales are undiminished in the second book.

Vasya has become a bit older and harder than last we saw her, but still retains her close ties with the many spirits who inhabit her world. Her choices and their consequences are rarely easy, and we get to see her grow and change as the plot moves along. Her relationship with Morozko, the winter demon is well done. No sappy love story here, but a subtler, bittersweet rapport that feels much more real.

If you enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale, then you’ll most likely love the continuation to the story. Fans of fantasy, fairy tales, and magic should definitely check out this phenomenal and original series.

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


Book Review: The Comic Book Story of Video Games by Jonathan Hennessey and Jack McGowan

The Comic Book Story of Video Games: The Incredible History of the Electronic Gaming Revolution by Jonathan Hennessey and Jack McGowan

Is there anyone left who doesn’t believe that video games are a legitimate form of entertainment? Advances in graphics and animation, and a focus on storytelling and character development have made video games a truly creative and unique medium. Yet, it seems to be easy for some to dismiss video games as time wasters, or simple orgies of violence, and overlook the artistry involved in their creation.

From the electric innovations of the 19th century, to the sanity consuming Angry Birds and Minecraft, The Comic Book Story of Video Games provides a complex and entertaining look at how we arrived where we are today. Told in an immensely fun graphic novel format, the book sails through the early days of oscilloscopes and simple gameplay, through the silicon valley book, the rise of arcade games and home consoles, the birth and death of Atari, the ridiculously long-lasting success of Nintendo, and the fierce battles in the console wars. 

Graphic novels are a great way to present a nonfiction story. They allow the drier, less flashy bits to be glossed over in a few images, letting the “meat” of the story shine through. Though by necessity less in-depth than a full-length book, they nevertheless provide an accessible and detailed way to tell a story. I would love for more nonfiction to be presented this way.
Most in the gaming world will find this book fascinating. The book is sprinkled with enough gaming Easter eggs to delight gamers, but even more casual gamers (or nongamers) will find this story incredibly interesting.

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

Book Box Review and Unboxing: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box – November

It’s gray and dreary here in November, the perfect time to find a package on your doorstep that promises oodles of goodies. Let’s dig in, shall we?

The books this month are two new releases. 

The first is The Wilderness Within by John Claude Smith, which sounds like a delightfully trippy tale of madness. Here’s the Goodreads description:

The forest is alive.

While visiting fellow writer, Frank Harlan Marshall, Derek Gray senses a palpable dread within Frank’s house and the forest that surrounds it; a subtle, malignant sentience. What should be a joyous event, as they await the surprise arrival of a long-lost friend, comedian “Dizzy Izzy” Haberstein, is fraught with unease Derek does not understand.

Derek’s confusion is upended by the chance meeting with musician Alethea, formerly of Dark Angel Asylum, a band that dropped out of sight once the leader, Aleister Blut, ended up in an insane asylum. As their relationship blossoms, Derek’s disorientation at the hands of the forest manifests as his world turns sideways…and one of Frank’s fictional creations–a murderous monster named Average Joe–gains foothold in the surreal, psychological terrain.
As the worlds of reality and fantasy meld, what transpires bounds from deeply profound to pure madness.

This promises to be an interesting read.

Next up is a collection of short stories by Ronald Malfi titled We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone.  From the Goodreads description: 

A new mother is pursued by mysterious men in black. A misguided youth learns the dark secrets of the world from an elderly neighbor on Halloween night. A housewarming party where the guests never leave. A caretaker tends to his rusted relic of a god deep in the desert… 

In his debut short story collection, Bram Stoker Award finalist Ronald Malfi mines the depths and depravities of the human condition, exploring the dark underside of religion, marriage, love, fear, regret, and hunger in a world that spins just slightly askew on its axis. Rich in atmosphere and character, Malfi’s debut collection is not to be missed.

I have been assured that I do NOT want to read this book at night!

And now, onto the goodies, those delightful little extras that are always so on the mark. This month continues Nocturnal Reader’s winning streak.

Per usual  the box included a bookmark and a pin. This month’s pin is a sliding bucket of blood ready to dump all over poor Carrie. 

This month’s art print features Butterball the Cenobite from Clive Harper’s Hellraiser series.

A Nocturnal Reader’s-themed pennant added some gray-scale whimsy to the box (and is now proudly gracing the wall in my reading room).

The remaining goodies were perfect for the colder, rainy (and possibly snowy) November days ahead

Included this month was this fantastic Shirley Jackson pillow case, which promptly swallowed one of my more abused throw pillows.

There was also apple strudel flavored coffee from The Coffee Shop of Horrors (LOVE their coffee), perfect for a cold morning

And this incredibly cozy Nights Watch hat (from GoT) that actually fits over my oversized head (yay!)

So a wonderful collection of stuffs his month. I have to say (as I have many times before) that the Nocturnal Reader’s Box has been one of the most consistently wonderful subscription boxes I’ve encountered. Visit them at their website to subscribe!

Book Review: Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

In 1977, the four teenaged members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club–Leader Pete, brainy Kerry, tough Andy (call her Andrea and die), and Nate–and their dog, solved their last case. The sightings of lake monsters and rumors of hauntings around an old house set in the middle of a deep lake turned out to be nothing more than a man in a mask.  But 13 years later, the four amateur detectives are shadows of what they once were, underachieving, mentally unstable, hair trigger violent, and (in one case) dead. Long suspecting that something about their last case was not what it seemed, the surviving members of the group (and new dog, Tim) head back to the scene of the hauntings to discover the source of their nightmares. Set against an enemy who is no man in a mask, the damaged Blyton Summer Detective Club faces down ancient monsters and an imminent apocalypse. 

 Meddling Kids starts off facing the camera with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and remains in that pose for the entirety of this story. This is a geeky book, full of references both subtle and overt to many disparate aspects of cult horror (“fuck Salem”, indeed). 

The book is touted as a mashup of Scooby Doo and H.P. Lovecraft, and largely lives up to the blurb. The four main characters are recognizable as rearranged bits and pieces from the Scooby Doo set, and the elder God and unnamable horror aspects take liberally from H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. With a plot like that, you have a good idea where things are going before you start the book. However, Cantero manages not to make Meddling Kids feel tired, including enough surprises and humor to make the read enjoyable. 

This is a book created for fans of cult horror.  If you’re looking for something that lovingly messes with your favorite genre, add this book to your to read list!