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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Litani by Jess Lourey

Frankie's father has died, which means that the young teen has been sent away from their home in Pasadena, to live with her mom in the small Minnesota town of Litani.

She and her mom have never been close, which makes the move that much harder. But Frankie feels responsible for her father's death, so living with her closed-off mom is just part of the punishment she thinks she deserves. 

As soon as she arrives, Frankie is warned about dark things in Litani. Within just a few days, she's heard about dead animals and missing kids. Worse than that, she's heard about The Game. And whatever The Game might be, she knows it's something to be afraid of. 

As rumors of Satanic worship swirl around the small town, talk of Frankie's own father's past starts to make it's way to the girl. Frankie becomes determined to learn more about her family while also vowing to help make Litani safe for kids. But where does a fourteen year old start in an investigation that seemingly stumps the professionals?

Jess Lourey writes some incredibly disturbing stuff! In Litani, as with Unspeakable Things, the narrator is a young girl and it lends a wide-eyed innocence to the story that makes the content all that much more unsettling. 

Frankie is fourteen and—except for one visit that ended badly—this is her first time in Litani. But it's the town where her mother and father grew up. The town where they met. The town their families are from. Everyone knows who Frankie is as soon as she arrives. And they know things about her family that even she is unaware of. 

As soon becomes clear to Frankie, some very bad things are happening to the kids in Litani. But she doesn't quite understand what those bad things are. And because Frankie is young and has led a fairly sheltered life—not just because the story is set in 1984—she misses some of the hints about said bad things. Hints that the reader doesn't miss.

And I have to say that those things weigh heavy on your mind as you follow such a young main character through the narrative. 

Lourey does offer a slightly older foil who tries to open Frankie's eyes to some of the things she's not seeing. I'd say it helps the reader as well, but I think most readers (especially those familiar with Lourey's books) don't really need the help. 

Litani is not an easy read by way of theme. And it reminded me a lot of Clay McLeod Chapman's Whisper Down the Lane, in that it draws from the same fervor of the era and even mentions the very case the latter is based on. 

I enjoy Lourey's work because it is so gripping. And also incredibly layered. Yes, this is a dark tale in more ways than one. But it's also got a young heroine who is determined to be just that—a heroine. She has her own suffering but she wants to save everyone around her. Her story is not an easy one to read but she's easily the girl next door in every sense of the phrase: you quite literally do not know what the people around you are going through. 

Lourey is an absolute must read for me. If you can handle the darker aspects of real life, her thrillers are undeniably gripping and her talent is amazing! 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, October 18, 2021

Cold as Hell by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Lilja Sigurðardóttir's latest, and first in a new series, Cold as Hell!

Áróra is no stranger to her sister's issues. In fact, she's had to return to Iceland a number of times to help the elder sister out of trouble. Which is why she's none too pleased when their mother calls and asks her to return once again to check on Ísafold. It seems she's been out of touch long enough for their mom to be concerned. What's more, she hasn't updated her social media either.

Áróra arrives certain that she'll find her sister in the same situation as before. And also certain that, like the previous times, she'll be nursing wounds from abuse by the boyfriend she refuses to leave.

And yet, when she arrives in Iceland she finds no trace of Ísafold. It's as though she's disappeared.

With the help of a detective, she begins to look into Ísafold's life, trying to find clues as to her whereabouts.

Meanwhile, she can't help but get involved in another case as well. And this one could be very financially rewarding!

First off, you'll notice I'm super late with this post. Like ten days by the poster. Life has been...yeah. And yet, as with last year, I find that Nordic Noir offers me such a welcome escape! Sinking into this story of sisters and financial investigation (which is what Áróra actually does for a living) was a fantastic diversion. 

Áróra and her sister have a complicated relationship. There's a big gap between them and Ísafold was resentful of her younger sister for quite some time. At least, it seems, until she could get something from her. Usually help in cleaning up her messes (literal and figurative). 

They moved to the UK young but Ísafold returned to Iceland as soon as she was able. And then she met Björn. Who was not a good partner. They tried to get Ísafold to leave him on multiple occasions, but inevitably she would refuse. And it's that combination of issues that has left Áróra with very little patience when it comes to her sister. 

And of course Áróra is concerned. But she knows her sister won't change. 

This time, though, things might just be different. Because no one has seen Ísafold. And not only that, the things that have happened in her life recently have been kept secret from her family...

The family dynamic is fabulous! But of course it's Áróra who drives the story. And I absolutely loved her! She has a bit of a nebulous sense of right and wrong, doing what she wants to do when she wants to do it regardless of whether it's exactly the right thing to do. 

She's a financial investigator and we meet her while she's working a case for a man who claims his wife stole all of their money and ran. She recovers it, but the man isn't going to pay up. Fortunately, Áróra has her own ways of negotiating with people like that. 

The book is about much, much more than just the sisters. And it is a bit of a slow burn—much more character driven than plot driven. Translator Quentin Bates does a fabulous job, in my opinion, of capturing and staying true to the author's style, which I think is always a challenge with translations. But Cold as Hell reads wonderfully, with characters and prose that grab you from the very start!

I cannot wait to read more with Áróra! She is exactly the kind of character I adore and is absolutely perfect to carry a series!

If you've yet to dip your toe into the incredibly deep and diverse well of Nordic Noir or, more specifically, Icelandic crime fiction, Cold as Hell is an excellent place to start!

This one is out now in the UK from the fabulous folks at Orenda. It will hit shelves in the States in February.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The Lighthouse Witches by C. J. Cooke

Happiest of Book Birthdays to C. J. Cooke! Her latest, The Lighthouse Witches is out today from Berkley and it is the absolute perfect fall read!

1998: Liv has been commissioned to paint a mural in a lighthouse located on a remote island in Scotland. 

She's been raising her daughters alone since the death of her husband a few years ago, and money has been tight. To say the least. Which is why the commission has come at the perfect time. Not only does it pay, but it comes with room and board for the duration of the project. 

As soon as they arrive on Lon Haven, Liv's oldest daughter, Saffy, dives into the island's odd lore thanks to a book she's found in their new home. The book outlines witch trials held on the island in the seventeenth century. But it also contains so much more...

2021: Luna has never given up hope that her mother and her two sisters will be found. But it is a shock when she receives a call saying that the youngest, Clover, has been located. Even more shocking is the fact that Clover hasn't aged a day in the two decades she's been missing. 

Luna has never returned to the island of Lon Haven in all these years. She also doesn't remember exactly what happened on her final days there—when her sisters and her mother disappeared. Now she'll have to return if she's ever to understand what's happened—and still happening—to her family. 

But on an island so steeped in folklore and mythology, where witchcraft still has a significant foothold, Luna will find herself in danger of falling prey to old beliefs!

The Lighthouse Witches is a perfect blend of supernatural and suspense! I loved every last bit of it!

First of all, the island the book is set on is fiction. BUT the witch trials that took place pretty much everywhere were particularly horrendous in Scotland. In fact, according to ye olde wikipedia, there were no less than 5 separate witch hunts that took place in the country. 

Oof!

Witch lore is probably most fascinating because it's one of many pieces of history that plagues women in particular. Got a neighbor you don't like—point that finger and say the magic word! Want a particular piece of property? Feel like you've been wronged somehow? Thing your husband is having an affair?...And while the victims weren't exclusively women, the majority very much were. 

(This is not meant to be glib in any way, but I'm not an expert on the history and there are TONS of resources available.)

The setting for Cooke's latest is an island that still very much holds onto their old beliefs. And in addition to witches in particular, this island has a strong and long-held belief in wildlings (you may have heard them called changelings). 

So here comes a mom and her three daughters, plopped down in a setting that's super insular, super superstitious, and, as we soon come to learn, kind of under the thumb of a particular family as well. 

And the lighthouse Liv's been commissioned to paint? It's owned by an eccentric millionaire who is never around. Oh, and it sits on the very site where witches were burned over three centuries ago. 

And that's just half of the story. Present day, an adult Luna has her own struggles. She's pregnant and not certain she wants to be married (which her partner views as the end rather than an understanding of her complicated past—no thanks to the fact that she doesn't adequately communicate that to him!). 

She's a child therapist, though, which means that she should be perfectly suited to take young Clover under her wing. Except that it makes no sense that Clover is still a child!

Each of the women in this book are so well drawn. I loved Liv and felt her pain as a single mother. I loved Luna and also felt her pain as an orphaned woman trying to start her own family. Saffy, the snarky teen trying to find her way in the world reminded me of those awkward teenage years and how awful they could feel. 

There's one final woman who plays a big role in the book, but we don't actually get her perspective. Amy, who lives during the trials themselves, is only really seen through the eyes of the man who loves her. And it's their story that Saffy finds in the lighthouse bothy in 1998. 

The Lighthouse Witches is out now! I highly, highly recommend this one and hope you'll all run out and buy a copy! It's an excellent anytime read, but it's especially perfect for fall (part of it takes place at Halloween!).

This is going down as one of my favorite books of 2021!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Feature: The Ice Coven by Max Seeck

Happy Book Birthday to Max Seeck whose second Jessica Niemi thriller, The Ice Coven is out today!

I was meant to be reviewing it today but LIFE got in the way of my reading. And since it hits shelves today and I want all of you to buy it, I'm going to do a feature instead :)

So here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Six months have passed since Jessica's encounter with the mysterious serial-killing coven of witches and the death of her mentor Erne. Her nightmares about her mother and the witchcraft that undid her have only gotten worse, but she's doing what she can to stay focused. Her homicide squad, now under new leadership, has been given a murder case and a new series of disappearances to investigate. A young woman's corpse has washed up on an icy beach, and two famous Instagram influencers have gone missing at the same time.

The missing influencers and the murdered woman all have ties to a sinister cult. Jessica finds an eerie painting--of a lighthouse on a frigid island--as she investigates and under the picture is a gruesome poem detailing a murder. The nightmares about her dead mother have intensified and seem all too real, making Jessica wonder if the woman might be trying to tell her something about the killings. And as Jessica works frantically to solve her latest case, her terrifying past and the coven of witches that almost killed her shockingly reemerge and threaten to destroy her.

So if it's not clear, you do need to read these in order! (You can check out my review of The Witch Hunter here, if you're interested.) 

This is Nordic Noir to a T and if you haven't yet taken the dive into that particular subgenre of crime fiction, I highly recommend that you rectify that ASAP! 

There's a unique style to Scandinavian crime fiction that I find so completely appealing. I think it's the ice and the snow and the odd sense of isolation even when the setting isn't necessarily isolated at all. 

All that's to say, Nordic Noir/Scandi Crime is some of my absolute favorite and I definitely want to see more crime fiction fans seeking it out :)

So yeah, run out and buy The Ice Coven today! And go ahead and get them both if you haven't started the series yet—you're going to want to read them back to back!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

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!