Monday, September 27, 2021

The Margins by John Wigglesworth

Happy Monday, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things blog tour for John Wigglesworth's The Margins!

Ethan didn't have much by the way of plans when he landed in Delhi. After a few days hanging out in a Chinese restaurant drinking copious amounts of beer, he finally made friends with two other travelers. They were all three aimless, spending their days smoking opium and eating delivery. But as their money started to run out, they knew they had to do something. 

And so a plan was made. They would hike out to a remote paradise and live off the land. 

Except things didn't quite work out that way. By the end, over 700 people were dead. And only Ethan was left to tell the story. 

While this isn't technically a cult book, it's close enough. And it's not all pleasant reading, either (you've been warned). 

Ethan was a pharmacists's assistant back in England. He says he was, in his parents' eyes, the failure of the family. His trip to India isn't so much of an attempt to find himself as it was an escape. 

Which is kind of the same for Div, Hal, and Lorna. 

Div and Hal come first. A couple Ethan meets at the above mentioned Chinese restaurant. And Hal knows Lorna, who has her own place locally. In fact, Hal sort of barges in on her, forcing her to take all three of them in as their savings dwindle. 

As you can imagine, they soon wear out their welcome and have to come up with a new plan.

The story begins "present day" (1989) as Ethan is being interviewed by police after the bodies have been discovered. From there, the story alternates back and forth as Ethan recounts the tale to the detective in charge. 

Their plan is an idealistic one. And obviously, as anyone could predict, one that doesn't pan out. 

As I said, this isn't a cult novel but instead a book that explores the pitfalls of capitalism and more. And while it's set in the late 80s, it's absolutely a timely read! 

The Margins is incredibly captivating and moves quickly, begging to be read in one sitting! 

This is Wigglesworth's debut and I have to say I am definitely looking forward to more from him. (I hear he has a new book in the pipeline and it sounds pretty fabulous!)

Friday, September 24, 2021

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Ted lives on Needless Street. Ted is odd. He's quiet and keeps to himself. He likes things just the way he likes them. 

Lauren is Ted's daughter. She only lives with Ted part time. Sometimes, Lauren gets in trouble. 

Olivia is Ted's cat. She takes care of him, though he thinks it's the other way around. Olivia knows that she's been tasked by God to take care of Ted. 

This story is not the one you think it is...

The Last House on Needless Street really reads like a gift, with layers of paper and wrapping being pulled away to reveal new secrets as the story progresses. 

It's a hard book to describe without giving things away. And, like I said, it's not the story you think it is. 

It's a story about Ted, and Lauren, and Olivia. It's also about Ted's mom. And a missing girl. And the sister determined to find out what happened to her so many years ago. 

This is actually the first book I've read by Catriona Ward. She'd been recommended to me a while back, when I was looking for my annual Christmas Eve ghost story (The Girl From Rawblood). So when people started talking about The Last House on Needless Street well before it was ever released, I knew I had to read it! And then Stephen King blurbed it :)

This is a subversive thriller. It begins with Ted on the anniversary of the day a girl went missing. He calls her Little Girl With Popsicle. And what Ted doesn't know is that the girl's own sister, Dee, has been searching for clues about what happened that day. 

Ted, Dee, Lauren, and Olivia all get their own say in this book. The chapters are short and clipped, the kind that keep bedtime readers up much later than is healthy :) begging to be read! 

And what a read it is! It released in March from Viper in the UK (I cheated and ordered an overseas copy because I just couldn't wait!) and is due out next Tuesday from Nightfire. Amazingly, I haven't actually seen anyone spoil the book even with such ample opportunity! And I'm glad because it means so many people will get the chance to read this with fresh eyes and absolutely no idea what is coming!

Which is why this is such a vague review!

Catriona Ward is clearly a massive writing talent. I've got The Girl From Rawblood and Little Eve both in my TBR as we speak. I'm frothing at the mouth for a chance to read her upcoming Sundial, too. (Both the UK and US editions of that one will release in March.) And until then, I can't wait to see what everyone thinks about The Last House on Needless Street!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Moon Lake by Joe R. Lansdale

Danny Russell was just a boy when his father drove their car off a bridge. Danny survived but the car and his father were never recovered. 

Years later, a massive drought has left the lake almost bare and Danny's father's car has finally been found. But no one expected to find a second body in the trunk. 

As a journalist and writer, Danny is uniquely positioned to find out what might have been going on with his father. But his investigation into his own past becomes a much wider investigation that many want to keep closed. 

I love Joe Lansdale! His work runs the gamut of genre fiction—from humorous crime fiction to noir, sci fi, and horror—but you can always count on his books to be great. 

Moon Lake is no exception! And he calls this one East Texas Gothic, if you want to get specific. It's a wonderfully appropriate and I would welcome much more of it (by Lansdale or otherwise) in my TBR :)

Set in 1978 East Texas , Moon Lake is a story about the end of an era and a town that is determined not to change with the passing of time!

When Danny's mother disappeared, everyone assumed she ran off leaving her son and husband behind. And Danny's father never recovered. On the brink of losing it all, he packed his car and, with his son by his side, drove into the water that long ago flooded the town he and his wife grew up in. 

Danny is saved by a father and daughter who are fishing at the time. And without much in the way of options, that man takes Danny into his home until his aunt shows up to claim him some time later. That the family is black doesn't matter one bit to Danny. 

And it still doesn't matter to him when he returns to Moon Lake to find the girl he once called friend is now a deputy with the sheriff's department. 

But this is a time when even their friendship would be an issue for some. (And her position on the local force is already tenuous.) All that's to say that when Danny starts poking around in something the locals don't want dug up, he doesn't get much by way of help or support! In fact, the locals make it pretty clear that they want Danny gone, yesterday!

But Danny is stubborn. And determined. In part because he desperately wants to prove that his father couldn't have had anything to do with the body in his trunk. 

Lansdale often explores issues of race, found family, and friendship in his work and all of those things appear in this latest. It is definitely one of my favorite reads of the year. I also really hope that Danny will be a returning character for Lansdale as he'd make an excellent basis for more books. 

Moon Lake is perfect for anyone who loves weird cross-genre reads!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward

Happy Wednesday! Today I'm a stop on the Compulsive Readers tour for Rhiannon Ward's latest, The Shadowing

Hester was raised in a a traditional Quaker family. So when her sister, Mercy, eloped with their brothers' tutor it was a scandal, to say the least. 

In the aftermath, no one was to speak Mercy's name. 

But one morning, Hester wakes to find Mercy's spirit in her room. Later that morning they receive the news: Mercy has died in a workhouse in Southwell. And Hester is sent to find out more. 

With spirits shadowing her, Hester begins to investigate Mercy's death. What she finds is the story of a pale lady who steals babies. But the truth is even worse. And someone will stop at nothing to make sure that truth is never revealed. 

Rhiannon Ward is the gothic pseudonym for crime author Sarah Ward! And this, her second historical gothic novel, is exceptional!

Hester was raised in a mostly well-to-do traditional Quaker family. Her father is strict but after having suffered a stroke, his business isn't doing as well as it once did. 

Hester has always experienced what she calls Shadowing. In other words, spirits visit her. But it's not something her father is willing to entertain, and so she not only keeps it to herself but also attempts to banish said spirits as soon as they arrive. Including that of her sister. 

The day the letter arrives, her father suffers a second stroke and Hester is tasked (by her mother) with traveling to Nottinghamshire to find out more about Mercy's death. For someone who has been sheltered for so long, it's a bit of an adventure even with the tragic reason behind it. 

Little is known about Mercy's fate. What happened to her husband, first and foremost? Why was she sent to a workhouse? How did she die? And as Hester learns more, namely that her sister was pregnant, the answers seem to bring about even more questions. 

As with the best gothic novels, The Shadowing is absolutely brimming with atmosphere! A sense of creeping dread that builds as the story progresses—and is even tempered some in the beginning by Hester's newfound freedom! It hangs over the story, nonetheless, much the same way as the grime that Hester encounters on her journey. 

I really enjoyed this one! It's a perfect read for fall and an excellent addition to any gothic fan's TBR! 

The Shadowing is out now from Trapeze in the UK. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Megan Abbott's The End of Everything!

Yes, I know this one has been out for quite some time, but with the release of The Turnout, the publisher is, rightfully so, bringing some attention to her backlist as well!

Next door neighbors Lizzie and Evie are the best of friends. They grew up together. They share just about everything. And they have no secrets between them. Or that's what Lizzie thought until Evie went missing. 

Lizzie wants to help. Especially when she remembers the car. And the cigarette butts in the backyard. 

But as Lizzie becomes determined to solve the crime on her own, she find out that Evie didn't quite share everything with her.

This is actually a reread for me, which is very atypical considering how HUGE my looking TBR is. But I read this way back in 2011, when it originally released. I found the subject matter disturbing then—and still do!

Set in the eighties and built around two young teenage girls, The End of Everything is an unsettling story amidst gorgeous prose. How is this possible? Because Abbott writes very well and very prettily. Which contributes to making this story even more unsettling than the subject alone. 

That jarring effect helps too, in that the story is one told from the perspective of a fairly innocent thirteen year old. And this time in her life should be about getting to know herself, not getting a front row seat look at the nasty parts of life!

It makes the reader uncomfortable in a way that really sneaks up on you. I think, too, that it's a perfect melding of all of the things that start to happen to a girl at this particular age. 

Thirteen is still a girl. But on the cusp of becoming a young adult. Everything is changing and even though we, as girls, are taught to be wary and to be on guard for potential dangers even from such an early age, thirteen is not a time that you ever think think to consider those things. Thirteen is invincible!

Thirteen is when you start to realize you have a bit of power in your charm. Thirteen is when you desperately want to be older and enjoy the things all the older kids get to enjoy. But thirteen is the age when you realize those things are only open to you if you pretend to be something that you're not. 

And it's an age when everyone around you should be protecting you and sheltering you from those things!

In Abbott's story, Evie and Lizzie are missing at least some of that protection. They're vulnerable without knowing it. And they pay the price for that. 

The End of Everything makes me sad. And it makes me angry. Because while this is fiction, it's also reality for so many. Too many. Abott deftly taps into that fear, that knowledge that we, women and girls, aren't safe. 

If you've yet to dive into Megan Abbott's work, now is absolutely the time to do so! Her prose has so much power! It elicits so many emotions and feelings. It ingrains itself in your thoughts. And, if you're like me, it makes you examine long held fears and be grateful that you were lucky enough to have enjoyed the good parts of the kinds of stories she writes (close friendships, for one) without the bad. While also feeling so terribly sorry for the fact that anyone would ever suffer that fate. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

When Eve was just twelve years old, her family was brutally murdered by a man the media had dubbed "The Nothing Man." 

They called him that because he never left behind any evidence. And his crimes had escalated from serial attacks to murder by the time he targeted Eve's family. 

Years later, Eve has resurfaced as the author of a true crime book about The Nothing Man. 

Jim Doyle knew he shouldn't have let Eve live. And as he reads about his own exploits, he becomes determined to fix his mistake. 

For anyone who's read The Nothing Man, it's no surprise to find that Catherine Ryan Howard was heavily influenced by Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark. This was a book that, although I don't read much true crime, captivated me. McNamara's mission to finally bring the Golden State Killer to justice was a passion that even she said was an obsession. Sadly she passed away before the book was published and the killer was finally caught. And I wonder to this day what else she could have accomplished had she not died at such a tragically early age. 

But anyway! 

In The Nothing Man Catherine Ryan Howard imagines a scenario in which the survivor of a serial killer pens a book about her experience. And the murderer is reading the book as the story unfolds. 

The structure is interesting because it alternates between Jim's narrative and the book within the book. So Eve's story is just that, the fictional true crime book that spurs Jim on. This approach controls the pacing of the book, forcing the reader to read alongside the killer. And just as you're starting to sink into one or the other parts of the tale, you're ripped out of it and dropped into the other. 

I don't mean it to sound violent :) In actuality, I found that this worked quite well for the story. We know Jim is the killer all along. And in his narrative we see him start to deteriorate as he reads more and more of Eve's book. 

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. I'd meant to read it last year when it came out, but...life. And so when a buddy read opportunity popped up over on Instagram, I decided it was past time! In fact, I ended up reading it back to back with the author's latest release 56 Days and now can't wait to go back and read the rest of her backlist!

With all the talk about supply chain issues (yay for even more Covid fallout), there's a push for shopping early and suggestions for shopping backlist. With that in mind, this is a perfect book for anyone who was also drawn into the Golden State Killer news, I'll Be Gone In the Dark, and (another one I read but still need to review) Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

With the camera becoming less of a novelty, Agnes’s living as a silhouette artist is in grave danger. But there are still those who appreciate a deft hand and talents such as she once possessed. Once being the key. Because even Agnes’s skills aren’t what they used to be. 

And then Agnes’s waning clientele begin to meet with unsavory ends. 

Afraid that someone will draw the connection to the recent murders and Agnes, she vows to find out all that she can. So her stumbling upon Pearl is fortuitous. 

Pearl is making a name for herself as the White Sylph, a medium of incomparable talents. And it seems she truly can reach those on the other side. But her controlling sister is just one of many hurdles Agnes will have to cross in order to get the answers she so desperately wants. 

As the killer strikes again and again, Agnes is certain someone is actively targeting her clients. But can she do anything to stop it?

Any fan of gothic lit who hasn't discovered Laura Purcell is truly missing out!

In this latest, the Victorian era truly comes alive. First, it's set amidst the Crimea War, which I admittedly know nothing about. And yet, Purcell is able to imbue the story with the grim realities facing a nation at war so that it's easy to feel the effects. 

More than that, this is an England on the brink of new technologies. A time of change, but one that's still mired in the grime and habits of the older industries, including understandable hesitancy around medicine and the embracing of the paranormal. I say grime in particular because of the grim differences between Agnes's world and Pearl's. 

Agnes is on a precipice. She's never married, she's recently suffered health setbacks, and the means by which she makes a living is literally a dying industry. She lives comfortably, but barely. The tea tins are empty too often and the attention that has to be paid to heating the house and such is a careful one that isn't always pleasant. At any moment, she could lose her footing on her relatively safe life. 

At the same time, just walking distance from Agnes's home is Pearl's apartment. And the differences are literally night and day! 

Pearl's home is dark and dank. Her mother died in childbirth leaving Pearl and her half sister in the care of Pearl's father who can no longer work in the match factory where he made his living. But Pearl's sister is training herself in mesmerism and Pearl herself has a talent that brings attention and much needed coin.

The meeting of Agnes and Pearl is a bit fated, all things considered. The widow of the first client murdered attends a seance held by Pearl. But there's way more to it than that!

As with all of Purcell's books, there's the possibility of a paranormal influence but there's an equally possible scientific explanation as well. And I guess it's up to you as the reader to choose which version to take away from the story. 

I quite enjoy the uncertainty! It's one of my favorite aspects of Purcell's writing (I choose to go with the paranormal explanations myself!).

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!