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Friday, December 6, 2019

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Jules is desperate. After being laid off, she returned home to find her boyfriend in bed with another woman. Taking only the essentials, she set up on her best friend Chloe's couch, an offer Chloe says is good as long as Jules needs it. But Jules feels like a burden and is anxious to be gainfully employed again. Which is why she answers a Craigslist ad for an apartment sitter. 

When the apartment turns out to be in the expensive and exclusive Bartholomew, a building featured in Jules's own favorite book, she's sure the offer is too good to be true. 

All she has to do is stay in the apartment for three months. She can't have visitors and she has to spend every night there. Other than that and being warned about the other tenants' need for privacy, it seems altogether too easy for $12,000 cash! But then a fellow apartment sitter goes missing. The official story is that she left, tired of the job. But Jules isn't buying it. And as she digs deeper into the history of the Bartholomew, Jules becomes certain things aren't right at the lofty building. 

With just three books under his belt, Riley Sager has made a name for himself as a master of suspense. And it's undeniably true that every one of his books is an absolute page turner. But I do have to say that I think Lock Every Door is his best to date.

The book is dedicated to Ira Levin, which, if you're literarily savvy is kind of a spoiler as far as a book about a mysterious apartment is concerned. But not really. All it did was set me up for what's pretty obvious from the start, there's something hinky going on at this apartment building!

Even our heroine knows it. But Sager's made her so desperate and in dire straits that she's willing to overlook the odd rules and the cash under the table because it means a roof over her head and money in the bank. And not wearing out her welcome with her best and only friend. So while you can imagine that reading the first pages is akin to yelling at a character in a horror movie not to go up the stairs, you can also easily sympathize with Jules!

Lock Every Door is twisted and suspenseful fun. I ripped through it as fast as I could, even delving into the audio so I could listen when I couldn't sit down and read. And Sager has some tricks up his sleeve as the story progresses. I'd almost guarantee you won't figure out what's really going on at the Bartholomew before Jules does.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

What I'm Reading: Walk the Wild With Me by Rachel Atwood

This week marks the release of a deliciously tantalizing new fantasy read, Rachel Atwood's Walk the Wild With Me.

Here's a little bit about the book from Goodreads:

Orphaned when still a toddler, Nicholas Withybeck knows no other home than Locksley Abbey outside Nottingham, England. He works in the Scriptorium embellishing illuminated manuscripts with hidden faces of the Wild Folk and whimsical creatures that he sees every time he ventures into the woods and fields. His curiosity leads him into forbidden nooks and crannies inside, and outside the abbey. He becomes adept at hiding to stay out of trouble.

On one of these forays he slips into the crypt beneath the abbey. There he finds an altar older than the abbey's foundations, ancient when the Romans occupied England. Behind the bricks around the altar, he finds a palm-sized silver cup. The cup is embellished with the three figures of Elena, the Celtic goddess of crossroads, sorcery, and cemeteries.

He carries the cup with him always. The goddess whispers wisdom in the back of his mind. With Elena in his pocket, Nick can see that the masked dancers on the May Day celebration in the local village are the actual creatures of the wood, The Green Man, Robin Goodfellow, Herne the Huntsman, dryads, trolls, and water sprites, the imaginary faces he's seen and drawn into the Illuminations.

Over the course of several adventures where Elena guides Nick and keeps him safe, he learns that Little John's (the Green Man) love has been kidnapped by Queen Mab of the Faeries. The door to the Faery mound will only open when the moons of the two realms align. The time is fast approaching. Nick must release Elena so that she can use sorcery to unlock that door and Nick's band of friends can try to rescue the girl. Will he have the courage to release her as his predecessor did not?

Rachel Atwood is the pen name for Irene Radford, who I have not read before. This first as Atwood is a historical fantasy and is maybe a Robin Hood retelling...I've only just started so I'm not 100% sure about that just yet (with Little John and Robin Goodfellow as characters, it certainly seems that way). 

I've been looking forward to this one and so far am loving the atmosphere and the pacing. It's also making some of the top SFF lists for the end of the year!

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

When Harry Bosch's old mentor dies, leaving behind the murder book for a twenty-year-old unsolved case, the mystery seems to be why the old cop held onto the book for so long. And the answer isn't easy to come by. Bosch asks Renee Ballard to help unravel the mystery and she becomes determined to solve the the murder itself. But two decades on, this presents some obvious challenges. 

Meanwhile, Bosch's help on one of Mickey Haller's cases leads to the acquittal of a suspect in the murder of a California judge. But that also means the real criminal is still out there, something Bosch can't let go. But his digging catches the attention of officers none to pleased to see the retired cop lending a hand as well. And with Ballard's position in the force somewhat precarious as well, it seems neither of them is going to clear their respective investigations without making a few new enemies in the process. 

I'm not sure if I've mentioned, but I've been a bit intimidated by the Bosch series. I love the show—I think Titus Welliver is wonderful and I anxiously await each new season. But breaking into the books has been a bit harder for me to manage. I mean, this is technically number 22 in the series! That's a lot of backlist if you aren't sure starting from the middle will make sense.

But when Connelly started the Renee Ballard series a couple years back, I dove in headfirst. And when Ballard's and Bosch's paths crossed, blending the two series together, I was not deterred in the least! In fact, I even started working my way back through the Bosch books, starting with the audios narrated by Welliver himself! My tally so far this year is 6 Connelly titles, most of them on audio. And the year's not done yet.

Readers, you can safely say I am a fan!

The Night Fire continues a track started in the previous Ballard/Bosch outing, Dark Sacred Night, in which the two decide they'll work cases together. Which is why Bosch is comfortable handing the file left to him by his old mentor over to the Late Show cop. Ballard has the connections to more convincingly nose into the case and Bosch has a couple of fires burning on his end already that require attention.

The two work well together and I love the interplay between them. Bosch tends to take a fatherly role that Ballard bucks every chance she can get. I also love that this book brings Haller in as well, much the way the last handful of Bosch titles have. He's not a main player here, but a vehicle for a couple of the subplots running through the story, including the case Bosch takes on for closure.

If you're interested in diving into Connelly's work, I'd recommend starting with The Late Show at the very least. This is the first in Ballard's series and, while it doesn't involve Bosch, it does give you a chance to get to know Ballard as a character, which makes it easier to understand her motivations moving forward into Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire.

Connelly is a master of crime fiction and an absolute (new) favorite of mine!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Alien Echo by Mira Grant

Another lost review from the new baby days! If you haven't experienced those hazy days yourself and have your doubts as to their existence, I recently listened to the audio version of C.J. Tudor's The Hiding Place convinced it had been ages since I read it. Nope, I read it in February of this year! Time is all relative when you have a new baby in the house!

Alien: Echo was read in the same time period and I never did get around to posting about it. But, I'm a die hard Alien fan and an equally die hard Mira Grant fan, so I felt I needed to do a post even if it's been months since the book released!

Olivia and her sister Viola have moved to a new home, again. This time, it's a new colony that has hired their xenobiologist parents to research alien life. But when the colony purchases a ship previously used in biological research, a ship that they plan to strip and repurpose, the girls' father is sent as part of the team to ensure the ship is safe. 

Which of course, it isn't! 

The ship crashes and the previously peaceful colony is infested with xenomorphs. Now, Olivia and her sister will have to find a way to survive and escape before becoming prey themselves!

There are few surprises in Alien: Echo. It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect it to be. (As is the case with just about every installment in the franchise.) And yet, the sci-fi/horror combo is one that I crave on a level I cannot even begin to accurately describe! And, this is a YA installment too.

The world Grant has created here is one filled with unique creatures galore. Plus, the characters are great! Olivia and Viola are twins but Viola got dealt a bad hand. As such, she's housebound while Olivia is free to attend school and make friends. But they're thick as thieves, so Olivia comes to Viola's defense quickly and passionately.

But Olivia has a crush on a classmate and it's this crush, this desire to connect and foster a relationship that means something more, that drives Olivia as the book begins. And allows Olivia to make decisions that aren't really all that smart.

She recovers quickly. Olivia is a fighter and a survivor, both of which are necessary in an alien invasion!

So yeah, the book is exactly what you expect, but as a fan of the world who never can get enough, it's highly satisfying fun!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Come Closer by Sara Gran

Amanda is changing. At first, it's little things: arguments with her husband, a new shade of lipstick, ordering the wrong book online. But then the little things spiral. The argument with her husband turns into her burning him with a cigarette. The new shade of lipstick is one she's accused of shoplifting, even though she's sure she didn't. 

And then there's the book. A book on demon possession that Amanda received by accident, surely. Except that the book resonates with her more and more with each passing day. 

Come Closer is one of those books that consistently pops up on best of genre lists. Published in 2003, it's almost embarrassing it's taken me this long to actually buy and read the book!

But I was in Houston in October and popped into Murder By the Book to attend the Yrsa Sigurðardóttir/Michael Stanley (Michael Sears) event, which happened to be taking place on the one night I was in town! And of course I had to do some shopping! The bookseller helping me pulled it off the shelf as one of her "dark" recommendations and I figured I'd waited long enough.

The book is about demon possession and makes no bones about it. There's very little question as to whether that's what's going on—from the moment Amanda receives the book and begins to wonder herself, it's clear she's being possessed. Instead, the momentum of the story is built by Amanda's attempts to overcome Naamah, the demon intent on possessing her.

It's a battle of wits, a psychological push and pull all going on within Amanda's mind considering almost no one around her, except maybe those possessed themselves, are aware that Amanda isn't in control of the changes she's going through.

Come Closer is a creepy read packed into a little more than 150 pages and one deserving of all the praise it consistently gets. If you're in the mood for a darker read that you can finish in one sitting, this is absolutely the book for you!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Zero Day by Kelly deVos

Happy Book Birthday to Kelly deVos whose latest, Zero Day, releases today!

The day should have been just like any other. Jinx is excited for the end of school so she can go home and tackle a campaign she's been planning in her favorite online game. The only hitch is that she needs snacks. 

What Jinx didn't plan for, though, was an apocalypse-level political coup!

Luckily for Jinx, her father trained her and her brother for this. He even wrote the book about surviving it. But he's also accused of causing it. Now Jinx must navigate this new world while also facing complications that come from being the daughter of the man who may be responsible. 

Holy cow this is a frightening book!

As you start into Zero Day, it seems like you're diving into a contemporary teen novel set in today's world. But, within just a few lines it becomes clear that deVos has created a world similar to but different from our own.

There are two political parties, like our own, but these are called The Spark and The Opposition. What's more, the political upheaval in Jinx's world has resulted in a New Depression. Which is why, as the book begins, people are worried about the latest election results. Just how worried becomes all too clear within these opening chapters.

As mentioned, though, Jinx is somewhat prepared. Her father, aka Dr. Doomsday, is the authority on survival. He's also, as we soon find out, responsible for a program that was supposed to reveal system weaknesses but ended up being used to tear down those systems!

I really enjoyed the pacing and Jinx's smarts. I did, however, find the political aspects terrifying! deVos has very aptly created a world that's close enough to our own that the scenario here feels all too possible!

Zero Day is the first in a duology and I can't wait to see what'll happen next!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Before the Devil Fell by Neil Olson

It's fall and I'm all about the creepy reads, so when this one popped onto my radar I knew I had to get to it this month.

Will Connor has made a life and a career for himself in New York but when his mother is injured in a fall, he has no choice but to put that life on hold and go home to take care of her. 

But for Will, home is definitely not where the heart is. He never quite settled into his mother's lifestyle, one he refers to as "hippie" but is, in fact, much closer to the occult than he'd prefer to admit. And then there are the accidents. Deaths that happen maybe a little too often and center around a specific group of families that all have a long connection to the small town. 

Will had pushed most of this to the back of his mind, but now that he's back it's all too viscerally real. But is there really something sinister and witchy to all of this? And if so, is there anything Will can actually do to stop it?

Before the Devil Fell is a quiet sort of dreadful novel. One that's steeped in witchy lore but eases you into it rather than being all up in your face!

It begins with Will in New York, where he teaches classes focused on folklore and legend. He has a strained relationship with is parents, but not so strained that he doesn't feel obligated to take care of his mother in her time of need.

But when he arrives, it's clear he's unsettled for more reasons that just family stress.

And then an old friend pops up. Sam, the neighbor girl, who he'd been having strange dreams about just prior to his return.

Sam makes people nervous, but it's unclear just why that might be even as the story begins to pick up steam.

There's a hum of creepiness that starts to seep in early on. A note that niggles at your brain as you're reading but stays steady in the background, growing oh so slowly more intense as the narrative flows on...

I loved it! It was the perfect blend of atmosphere and history, legend and skepticism, thriller and horror...A cross-genre read that plays on folksy, ritualistic horror!