Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett

It was just a dare! Clare and her friends had heard about the Octagon House. Everyone had. They say a man killed his family there. And when one of their small group claims she knows how to find the place, of course they had to visit. But something happened in the woods that day. And Clare’s friend Abby was forever changed by the experience. 

Now, so many years later, Clare gets word that Abby tried to kill herself. At Octagon House. And though she’s now in a coma, one of the last things she asked for was Clare. 

In spite of everything, Clare returns to Sumner’s Mills to try and help Abby. To find out what happened to her in Octagon House. Because it’s her fault.

A haunted house story, a mystery, a story about lost friendships...Beneath the Stairs is emotional and chilling! It's also the perfect kind of book for a wide cross section of readers!

Clare is all grown up, but she’s never truly forgotten Abby or that spring when they visited Octagon House. And the guilt she’s felt since then has never gone away. It’s one of the reasons she’s never wanted to return to Sumner’s Mills. 

But Abby’s apparent plea for help is one that she can’t ignore.

The story alternates predominantly between Clare then and now, but the reader is also given a few other perspectives: Ben, the man accused of murdering his family in the home; Ben’s daughter Joan; Natalie, Ben’s wife; and Alice, a little girl at the time the house was being built. 

Through the various points of view, the reader is given a full picture of the history of the house as Clare herself tries to untangle it in an effort to find out what happened to Abby. And it’s not a pretty picture at all. 

This is the kind of book that will appeal to genre fans: mystery/suspense and horror readers. But it’s also the kind of book that will appeal to a much broader readership as well. The issues it deals with are certain to spark conversation, making it perfect for book clubs. It’s also a book that really stays with you, haunting you much in the same way the Octagon House haunts anyone who comes in contact with it. 

While Beneath the Stairs is hard to describe as a fun read, given the subject matter, it is a propulsive one that sinks its teeth into you from the very beginning. I thought it was fabulously well written and I can’t wait to see what Jennifer Fawcett will come out with next!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A Black and Endless Sky by Matthew Lyons

Jonah and his sister, Nell, haven’t spent much time together over recent years. Jonah split, leaving their hometown—and the person he used to be—behind. And Nell was part of that. But now Jonah and his wife are splitting up and he’s decided it’s time to return to his old home. And Nell is going with him for the ride. 

Their relationship is icy, at best, and not made any better when Nell picks a fight at a biker bar soon into their drive. But it’s what happens next that really changes things. 

Jonah finds his sister alone in a cave on an abandoned work site. And the Nell that comes out of that cave is not exactly the same Nell that went in. 

Before Jonah can worry too much about what happened to Nell, he realizes people are following them on their drive. People who believe in justice outside of the law. People who aren’t going to let Jonah and Nell get away under any circumstances. 

Matthew Lyon’s latest is literally the family road trip from hell!

Jonah is hiding things. Things he never wanted to think about ever again. But when he and his wife decide to call it quits and he teams up with his sister to drive him and his belongings from San Francisco to Albuquerque, the things from his past become all but unavoidable. 

This is in part because of Nell, who knew the Jonah he used to be and pushes for that Jonah’s return. So much so that she almost immediately gets them into a really hairy scrape! 

But that was Nell in all her glory. The old Nell. 

The new Nell is something altogether different. 

Once close siblings, the two have fallen so far apart that he doesn’t initially see just how much Nell has changed. But Nell knows something is wrong. And with a narrative that changes points of view between Jonah, Nell, and others, the reader is all too aware that something strange happened that night in the dessert. 

Lyons doesn’t pull any punches with the violence or gore. He embraces it from the start, making A Black and Endless Sky a brutal and completely chilling horror story! 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, March 14, 2022

Near the Bone by Christina Henry

Mattie has lived most of her life on the mountain with her husband William. In fact, she questions anything she recalls about the time before that. The mountain and William are her whole life. So when she starts to notice the dead animals, she knows all is not right. But she can’t even imagine the kind of creature that’s made it’s home in their backyard. 

A group of strangers arrives in search of the creature. But it’s Mattie who catches their attention. And attention of any kind is something William wants to avoid. But William is gone when they arrive and Mattie tries to warn them. 

Unfortunately it’s not enough to save any of them. 

I had mixed feelings about this one. 

On the one hand, I loved that it was a monster story! I loved the cryptozoology enthusiasts! And I loved the remote setting. 

On the other hand, this is not exactly actually a monster story of that kind. This is Mattie’s story. The creature and everything that happens after it’s arrival is just forward momentum for Mattie. It’s the thing that pushes her to remember who she is and to try and escape. 

And her story is in fact a different kind of monster story. A lot of the details of it made my skin crawl, to be honest. 

But I liked Mattie. And I wanted to see her make it. Which is why I kept reading. 

I'll admit, ultimately I really wanted more of the creature feature monster story rather than the human monster/survival tale that the book turned out to be. Which is not to say that I didn't like the book, just that  my expectations had to be changed when I realized exactly what I was in for. 

And Mattie's survival story is a great read. But again, something you might need to be prepared for given the subject matter. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Faceless by Vanda Symon

Happy Thursday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things Tour for Vanda Symon's standalone, Faceless

Billy and Max look out for one another. Billy is careful and clean, taking care to make sure that Max eats and brushes his teeth. She checks in with him and lets him know if she's going to be away. Which is why, when she doesn't turn up one night, he knows something is seriously wrong. 

See, Billy occasionally turns tricks for money. And Max has always been worried that something would happen to her. And this time, something has. 

Bradley has never picked up a prostitute before, but after a particularly bad day at work with his wife harassing him about his hours, he decides he's earned a bit of fun. Unfortunately, Bradley takes it to far. Now he's kidnapped the girl and he isn't sure what to do. 

Billy has no idea what Bradley's plans for her might be, but she knows she's in grave danger. And her only hope is that Max will find her before it's too late. 

My understanding is that this is an older title by Symon that Orenda has rereleased in time for International Women's Month and Homeless Women's Day. To that end, they have noted that a percentage of proceeds from the sale of the Faceless will be donated to SHELTER. 

This is, like Symon's other books, a multi-layered story. It hits on abuse, homelessness, mental health...

Billy, we learn, was kicked out by her parents after shaming them. Max's story is a little slower to come by, though it's clear early on that even though he's let himself fall pretty far in the two-ish years he's lived rough, he has a background that means he's not one to let a missing girl go unnoticed. 

And then there's Bradley, who begins as a beleaguered and overworked employee at an insurance company and turns into a complete sadist. 

As you've likely gathered, this is a rather dark read. But it's also a compelling one. As Max's background in particular is revealed, you can't help but hope for redemption on his part—that he'll succeed in saving Billy (who, I should add, is a strong character who uses all the resources she has at hand). 

Symon is a bestselling author in her native New Zealand with multiple award noms to her name. I would love, love, love to see her readership grow here in the States! 

Faceless is available digitally now from Orenda and will be available in paperback in August. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich—Excerpt

Hello, everyone! Today I've got another excerpt for you. This time it's Brenna Ehrlich's Killing Time, a thriller perfect for the growing true crime obsession sweeping the nation!

Before we dive in, here's a bit about the book from the publisher:

Summer in Ferry, Connecticut has always meant long, lazy days at the beach and wild nights partying in the abandoned mansions on the edge of town. Until now, that is.

Natalie Temple’s favorite teacher has been murdered, and there’s no way this true-crime obsessed girl is going to sit back and let the rumor mill churn out lie after lie. Not if she has anything to say about it – even if she has to hide her investigation from her disapproving mom and team up with a new boy in town with a mysterious smile and a talent for making fake IDs.

But the more Natalie uncovers, the more she realizes some secrets were never meant to be told.

With two interwoven mysteries, Killing Time is a deathly warning to a generation of murderinos: what happens when the stories we’re chasing finally catch up with us?

I could not be more excited to read this one! And if you are too, here's a little taste to get you started:


Natalie didn’t ask her mom if she wanted to come to Lynn Halsey’s memorial, which was just as well because, apparently, Helen did not want to go. When Natalie came down for breakfast that morning, she found a note under the orange juice saying that Helen was heading to dojo in the next town over to train for a while—which meant she was either stressed, angry, or both. (Helen said a while back she had started doing karate for self-defense, not that Natalie was aware of anything she’d need to defend herself against in Ferry.)

Natalie balled up the note and threw it on the floor, equal parts relieved and pissed off by her mother’s absence, but she quickly forgot all about it when she saw the envelope leaning against the box of cinnamon cereal her mom had left sitting out for her. It was your standard business envelope—plain, white—and it had only one word neatly typed across the front: Natalie.

Plopping down on a rickety kitchen chair, Natalie pulled her feet up onto the seat and ripped the envelope open, expecting, perhaps, some spending money from her mom—a small contrition for avoiding the memorial—but instead finding a piece of computer paper with a single message typed out on it: Stay out of it. I’m warning you. Her heart did a cold, little leap like it always did when the first body was found in one of her books, then confusion set in. She blinked, scanning the words again, flipping the paper over to see if she’d missed something—a name, an address, anything. But that was it. Just those two ominous sentences. She shivered despite the heat of the kitchen, which was barely mitigated by the lazily oscillating ceiling fan. Her mom was too cheap for AC.

Cereal forgotten, Natalie pushed away from the table and scanned the room as if the toaster or the microwave might suddenly fill her in on where, exactly, the letter had come from. The kitchen seemed eerily quiet in the diffuse morning light, the only sound the birds that spent the day gossiping at the feeder in the backyard. Natalie pulled out her phone, typing off a quick message to her mom.

Did you leave me a note?

It seemed the mostly likely scenario, since the envelope had been on their kitchen table, but a vague threat wasn’t exactly Helen’s style. No, her mom was more direct than all that, much to her daughter’s annoyance. And then there was the it she was supposed to be staying out of. She could guess what that was: Mrs. Halsey’s murder was the only thing that had happened in Ferry for decades, as far as she was concerned. But someone would have to know about her podcast to suggest that she stay out of anything, and no one really knew about that aside from Katie and the internet randos. They had one all the way in Mount Carroll, Illinois (wherever that was). Could one of them have turned stalker? Broken into her house to… What? Warn her not to discuss a very local crime with her audience of roughly three people who had probably clicked on her podcast by mistake?

Three bubbles appeared immediately on her phone screen. Natalie scoffed. Her mom was supposed to be sparring. Did she keep her cell phone tucked into her black belt?

Yes, honey, I’m at the dojo. Be back around 4.

Natalie snorted. Well after the memorial. No, another one, she typed, her fingers shaking slightly. This was all too bizarre. In an envelope?

There was one with the paper that I brought in for you. More dots, as if her mom were trying for casual. Why? Who is it from? Katie?

Natalie rolled her eyes. Helen would have implanted a tracking device in her daughter’s neck if she could, like those chips they have for cats and dogs—watched her roam the town on her trusty path from school to Katie’s to home, called the cops if she veered off course. It was a wonder she hadn’t just opened the envelope herself. There wasn’t time to fume, though, now that there was a mysterious, threatening letter with her name on it. Which Natalie was aware sounded like a sentence from a bad teenage soap opera. That didn’t negate its existence, though.

She sank back into her chair, staring at the words marching across the page. Stay out of it. I’m warning you. It could be Katie playing a bad joke, but that didn’t seem likely, as Katie could never keep a secret and would have spilled that morning, when they were texting about the memorial. Feeling silly, Natalie sniffed at the paper. Nothing. As if it had just materialized on the table, origin-free. She considered calling the police, but that would mean telling them about her podcast, which would mean telling her mom about her podcast, which would mean never seeing the sun again. Instead, she shoved the note into her backpack—not bothering to put away the juice and cereal—and trundled outside to her bike and Mrs. Halsey’s memorial. She would let it all stew, she decided. Maybe an answer would come to her while she was biking to the high school. She always thought better when she was in motion, legs pumping and lungs full of clean air.

It was as hot if not hotter than yesterday, and beads of sweat rolled down Natalie’s forehead into her eyes as she crested the hill toward the school that had been her de facto prison for the last four years—the only bright spot being a woman who would no longer walk its halls. The only teacher who didn’t hold her eccentricities at arm’s length.

The Halsey house wasn’t on Natalie’s route, but she could feel its presence a few streets over—could imagine the yellow police tape and silence—and a tremor traveled over her neck like phantom fingers.

The True Crime Club had only lasted for one year, officially; after Jessica graduated and her parents effectively bought her way into Columbia, Katie and Natalie were the only members, meaning that the club was no longer valid in the school’s eyes. (No yearbook picture, which was good since Natalie didn’t relish explaining that to her mom. She used to lie and say she was staying after school to study until, well, it all went to hell when she said what she said.) Still, Mrs. Halsey kept up their meetings, critiquing the relative merit of different podcasts, documentaries, and true-crime books through the lens of story. She was a fan of gripping, well-researched accounts of criminal investigations, like Michelle McNamara’s inquiry into the Golden State Killer, but felt a decided disdain for podcasts like this really popular one called My Murder Obsession, which was basically just two guys discussing their favorite murder mysteries. She thought the name was bad enough, but she couldn’t stand the gleeful, error-riddled way the hosts talked about crime. She was a stickler for accuracy—and empathy. “If you can’t get the facts straight, you don’t deserve the story,” she used to say.

As she coasted past Sammy’s Shack and the flinty sea, Natalie wondered what Mrs. Halsey would think of the note on her kitchen table: Stay out of it. Her legs pumped harder, sweat running down to her eyes as she squinted into the sun, her breath getting ragged. Lynn Halsey was the only person she wanted to talk to right now, and she couldn’t because she was dead. The thought brought sudden, angry tears to her eyes. She was dead, and there was nothing Natalie could do about it. Who was the letter writer to tell her stay out of it? How to care? Maybe her mom had written the note. Maybe she had found out about her podcast somehow and wanted to punish her. Helen hated Lynn Halsey; Natalie knew that. Tears flooded her eyes as she pulled into the school parking lot, dropping the toes of her black shoes to the ground to steady herself as her vision swam.

The last time she had spoken to her teacher was at the diner midway through senior year. She had been crying—or trying not to, rather. Her shift had ended, and she was crammed in a booth where her mother couldn’t see her—couldn’t send her home and straight to her room. The night before had been bad. The kind of bad that made your stomach heavy and your mouth flood with acid when you thought about it. She and Katie had been celebrating getting into the colleges of their choice by having a clandestine marathon of the worst true-crime movies on offer. Straight-to-streaming shit. Cheesy cable fare. Trash. Helen’s rules were pretty clear when it came to her daughter’s interests: fine, she could study it in school, but true crime as entertainment was completely off-limits. Sure, she got away with the occasional horror movie or novel, but true stories were, for some untold reason, strictly verboten.

Which was why she and Katie had waited until Helen went to a Garden Club cocktail night to indulge. Helen, not being the biggest drinker, had come home in the middle of a truly terrible early-thousands clunker called Teacher’s Pet—all about a TA who had an affair with his student, then killed her—and had lost her shit. She’d gone so far as to threaten to move to college with Natalie and live in her dorm room, which seemed like an empty threat if you didn’t know Helen, who wouldn’t let Natalie sleep over at Katie’s until she was thirteen.

“You okay, Natalie?” Mrs. Halsey asked, sliding into the booth across from her, holding a to-go bag of burgers and fries. She was wearing her leather jacket and had her hair up in a blue paisley scarf, her cheeks pink from the early spring chill; she brought with her the smell of the omnipresent daffodils that blanketed Ferry this time of year.

Natalie shook her head mutely, picking at a plate of cold fries she had pilfered from the cook. People in town knew her mother was strict, but she wasn’t quite sure she wanted her role model to know that Helen had had a meltdown over a Lifetime Channel movie.

“I dunno,” she muttered, chastising herself internally for her lack of eloquence. She always tried to speak as intelligently as possible in front of her favorite teacher, but right now she was too wrung-out to care. Her mother’s overprotectiveness was a shroud, stifling and heavy. And what was so ironic was Natalie had gotten into true crime because of her mom in the first place—she’d found a box of old books in the attic when she was twelve about the Manson murders, the Night Stalker, all the big ones. She had read them under the covers until all hours, equal parts scared and thrilled. She loved it when the killers were caught, the intricate work it took to track them down. That is, until her mom found out and burned all the books in the yard with the autumn leaves. She wouldn’t even tell Natalie where they’d come from in the first place.

“Did something happen with Katie? A friend?” Mrs. Halsey pressed, her voice so gentle and caring that Natalie caved.

“My mom flipped out on me last night,” she choked out, studying the table. “I was watching some stupid true-crime movie, and she just…lost it.” Natalie dug her chipped nails into the red vinyl of the booth and let it all spill out. “She’s just so controlling. Like, why does she care what I watch? I’m eighteen. I’m an adult, basically. And I’m good!” She raised her eyes to look at her teacher, who was studying Natalie with a furrowed brow. “I don’t break curfew. I have, like, no social life. I don’t drink. So why can’t I just…read and watch and do what I want? Who am I hurting?”

Mrs. Halsey gave a sad smile. “I understand, Natalie. It’s hard being eighteen. Almost independent, but not quite. But, I promise, it’ll get easier. You might even miss your mom worrying about you.”

Natalie grunted and folded her arms. “I doubt it.”

Mrs. Halsey laughed, then steepled her hands on the diner table. “I’m confused, though, Natalie. Why would a movie upset your mom so much when you’re in a true-crime club at school?”

Natalie swallowed hard. In her fit of rage, she’d forgotten all about forging her mother’s signature all those years ago to join Mrs. Halsey’s after-school group. She had forgotten the countless lies she’d told. Or maybe she was just subconsciously tired of it all.

“You’re in what?” Helen appeared behind her like the ghoul from that horror movie—the one that just slowly wanders after its prey until it wears it down and eats it. Natalie didn’t turn around. Instead, she gritted her teeth and dug her nails even deeper into the booth, anchoring herself to the spot. She couldn’t even sit with her favorite teacher for five minutes without her mom butting in. Without her ruining everything.

“You didn’t know about this?” Mrs. Halsey asked Helen, as if Natalie weren’t there, which Natalie found hard to believe, considering anger was radiating off her like a bad aura. Why did everyone treat her like a child? Like she couldn’t make her own choices without consulting her mother first? Why didn’t they see her?

Helen shook her head, her eyes locked on Natalie’s teacher, a twin rage coursing through her. The pencil she used to take orders snapped in her hand, but she didn’t seem to notice the pieces as they clattered to the floor and rolled to rest under the booth.

“I’m sorry, Helen,” Mrs. Halsey sputtered, getting to her feet, looking between mother and daughter, both practically vibrating with indignation. “I thought you knew about the club.” She raised a conciliatory hand. “And, really, it’s all educational. We talk about story and methodology and…” The words died on her lips as Natalie’s mother shook her head again.

“I appreciate all you’ve done for Natalie, Lynn, but we have rules,” Helen said in a voice befitting an android. “This stuff is not entertainment. If she wants to go to school and learn the proper way to engage with it, then fine. But no clubs. No movies. No bullshit.”

Mrs. Halsey cut in. “I would hardly call our club bull—” Natalie couldn’t help smiling, which didn’t make matters any better. Her mom gave a look filled with such pure menace she dropped her eyes to her feet.

“I don’t care,” Helen snapped, smoothing her apron as if eradicating the wrinkles would fix everything. As if she could control the world with her nervous hands. “My kid, my rules. Now, I think you should leave.”

Mrs. Halsey opened her mouth, shooting Natalie an inscrutable look. She took a step toward the door.

“Please, don’t go,” Natalie asked in a small voice before she knew the words were coming out of her mouth. “You don’t have to listen to her. Please.”

With her hands tucked into her jacket pockets and her hair coming free from her scarf, the teacher suddenly looked younger than she was. She was probably the same age as her mom, thirty-eight, but Helen’s face was much harder. Likely because she’d had Natalie so young, because she’d been worrying for eighteen years. “I’m sorry, Natalie.” She glanced at her bag of food but made no move to pick it up. “I think I should go…”

Natalie got to her feet then, leveled her eyes at her teacher, watching her one tether to everything she cared about cut her free, let her go. “You never cared about me,” she said finally, seething and holding Mrs. Halsey’s eyes for a long moment before retreating to the kitchen so she wouldn’t have to see her mentor go, regretting the words as soon as they left her mouth. She turned back to stop her, to apologize, but her teacher was already gone.

Mrs. Halsey deserved more than that. More than her mom’s disdain and her own parting words. She deserved to be remembered. To be avenged. And no anonymous note writer could tell Natalie otherwise. An idea that prompted a mix of excitement and shame deep down in her stomach germinated in Natalie’s head as she pushed through those familiar swinging doors and entered the bizarre world that is school during summer.

Excerpted from Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich, Copyright © 2022 by Brenna Ehrlich. Published by Inkyard Press.

About the Author: Brenna Ehrlich is a journalist, YA author, and editor who has worked everywhere from MTV News to Rolling Stone. She resides in New Jersey with her husband Morgan and their two cats, Nimbus and Hazel. She enjoys horror movies and romcoms in equal measure.

Killing Time is out this week from Inkyard Press!

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Curfew by T.M. Logan

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Compulsive Readers tour for T.M. Logan's latest thriller, The Curfew

Andy and his wife trust their kids. Their daughter, Harriet, is a whiz at all things computers and their teenage son, Connor, is out of school after exams. 

But after a post exams party, Connor misses his curfew. And it's not until the police call that his parents realize it. 

It started with a frantic call from Andy's brother. His son, Zac, was missing. Had Connor seen him? Andy wasn't sure because Connor had been sleeping when he left their house to take the dog for a walk. And when he returns, he finds out it wasn't Connor asleep upstairs at all. It was Zac. 

Now the police have Connor in custody and another teen is in fact missing, the daughter of a local sort of celebrity. No one has seen the girl since the night of the party and Connor is the prime suspect. 

Andy thought they could trust their son, but now that trust is being pushed to the limit. Connor isn't talking, but it's clear both he and Zac know something. And everyone knows that the first 48 hours in a missing persons case are key. 

Whoa! I probably shouldn't have read two books themed around parents' worst nightmares back to back!

And that's what this is: a parent's worst nightmare!

There was a party, that led to another smaller party in the woods. Five were in attendance but only four made it home. 

Andy would like to believe his son had nothing to do with a girl's disappearance, but it's starting to look like he barely knows his son at all. And it doesn't help that the police and other parents in the community are suspicious of Connor. 

The book does alternate between various POVs with Andy as the main narrator. But we're also given snippets of the period immediately before the girl's disappearance, which makes it very clear that there's much more to the story. 

You know I love a fast-paced read and this is that in spades! 

The Curfew is officially out March 17 from Zaffre. Be sure to pre order a copy or mark your calendars because you definitely won't want to miss this one!

Friday, March 4, 2022

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

Happy Friday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Lucy Foley's latest thriller, The Paris Apartment!

When Jess arrives in Paris to visit her brother, she knows it's not the best time. He even said so. But she needs a break and he's the only family she's got. 

He'd said he'd be there. He left her a message. But when she arrives and no one answers the buzzer, she isn't immediately worried. 

It's not until she manages a way in (breaking into his apartment, actually) that she realizes his wallet and keys are still there. And that message—it broke off seemingly mid thought. 

As she searches for her missing brother, Jess soon realizes that the other tenants at the fancy apartment building are all hiding things. But did one of them harm her brother? Could her poking around make her the next target?

If there's one thing you can always rely on with a new book by Foley, it's that it's going to be an absolute, no holds barred, page turner of a read!

Jess has left England quite suddenly. And we know from the start that it wasn't under great circumstances. She's jobless, just about broke, and with nowhere to turn except her brother, Ben. 

But Jess and Ben aren't exactly close. After their mom died, they were split up: Ben was adopted by a well off family and eventually went into journalism. Jess was bounced around in foster homes and has been eking by working at a dive bar. 

And to say that Ben was less than enthusiastic about her plan to go to Paris is a definite understatement. 

But he wouldn't have abandoned her! In fact, he clearly said he would be there. Besides, who leaves their keys and wallet behind and doesn't arrange for someone to take care of their cat?!

Jess's queries with the other tenants are met with frosty responses, but behind closed doors none of them seem to be fans of Ben. And now it's up to Jess to find out what's going on. 

With quick chapters and fabulous pacing, Foley spins a tale that's highly readable and intense! If you haven't read her, you probably need to be warned: if you start this at bedtime, be prepared! You will not be able to put this down until you've finished!