REVIEW: Imaginary Friend

Every now and again a book comes around that entirely blows my mind. I don’t mean a five-star rating, I mean that five stars is the most I can give because my feelings can’t simply be expressed with a book rating.

This is one of those books.

In the best way possible, the only thing I can really think to describe my feelings is that this a book that makes me, as an author, feel like I will never write anything even remotely close to this book. It was such an amazing story that made me sad, scared the crap out of me, and left me in awe at the end.

Imaginary Friend is Stephen Chbosky’s first novel since Perks of Being a Wallflower, and other that it being a horror novel, I mostly went into it blind. The story follows the occupants of a small town in Pennsylvania, but focuses primarily on Christopher Reese, a little boy with dyslexia and trauma based around his father’s suicide. Christopher goes missing for six days, putting the town in a panic and when he returns, he is changed. His dyslexia is gone, his math skills are well above his classmates…but he also hears a voice in his head. The voice of “the nice man” who is telling him to do things in order to save the town from a monstrous creature who is set to kill everyone.

As time passes, the town becomes affected by the same things Christopher has dealt with, but with none of the knowledge that he has. It is a rollercoaster of twists that flip the whole story 180° with every few page turns.

If I needed to compare the book to other things, I would have to say Stand by MeStranger ThingsIT, and a little bit of Hansel & Gretel meets Slenderman. It’s a huge mash-up of familiar and incredibly original new-ness which makes the 700+ pages just zip by when things aren’t so stressful I needed to put the book down.

I loved the wide cast of characters. I loved all the context of where they’re coming from. I loved the twist that I only figured out before it was too late. I was desperate to get to the end while also never wanting it to end. Believe me when I say that it was a horrifying thrill ride from start to finish and I will never forget this book. I highly recommend it for people looking for a good scare when they have a good chunk of time on their hands because I promise you that you won’t want to put it down, despite being such a beast of a book.

One final note I will mention about this book is some trigger warnings: this book contains child abuse, suicide, sexual assault of minors (more than implied but nothing happens on-page), domestic abuse, substance abuse, body horror, and lots of general violence.

MANGA REVIEW: Monster (Perfect Edition) Volume 1

I’ve once again fallen victim to a reading slump, but a number of people said that I should try reading a volume of manga or a graphic novel to break it. While I think the slump is still in effect, it does feel lighter.

The manga I chose to read was Naoki Urasawa’s hit Monster, an intense drama that crosses several genres. It’s a series I’ve wanted to read for a long time and I’m so happy I finally have!

Dr. Kenma Tenzo is a prodigy of a neurosurgeon from Japan that is on the up-and-up at a hospital in Germany. With a beautiful fiance and the potential of reaching Cheif Surgeon, Kenma is living the dream life. But when his job as a doctor is being corrupted by the politics of the hospital, he loses it all. Feeling better at the bottom, Kenma has realized his job is about the patients’ success, not his own and has been going about his business. When there’s a triple murder at the hospital, Kenma’s life is flipped around as he is dragged into the crimes as he is the one who has the most to gain from it. But the rabbit hole goes deeper than that, and Kenma has very real choices to make if he has any hopes of keeping anyone alive.

When I was in high school, I was under the impression that this series was a paranormal-hospital drama and oh boy was I wrong. Monster is a hospital drama that morphs into a political drama (given that the setting is in Germany in the 1980s when the Berlin Wall was still up) and then changes again into a serial killer story. The twists are intense and the way the story unfolds is wild, with a ten-year time skip after the first few chapters. I think Kenma is a sweetheart thrust into a horrible situation and I wonder if – with the title of the series – we will get to see him unravel into someone similar to the very monster he is hunting.

The edition of the manga that I read was the Perfect Edition, which I think is a combination edition of the first two volumes and I’m looking forward to reading the rest. The editions feature the proper colour pages and are just gorgeous. Urasawa’s art is so classic and wonderful and his story-telling abilities are on point.

I would recommend this series to fans of Deathnote, Hannibal, or Doubt and Judge. It’s definitely worth checking out.

REVIEW: The Widow of Pale Harbour

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada and Graydon House for providing me with a copy of the ARC.


Attention all Poe fans! Do I have a book for you!

The Widow of Pale Harbour is the second standalone novel from Hester Fox and follows Gabriel Stone – a man on the run from his past posing as a priest – and Sophronia Carver – a wealthy woman accused of murder and witchcraft – as they navigate their way through the puzzles left by a madman terrorizing Pale Harbour by way of Edgar Allan Poe’s twisted works.

I really enjoyed this topsy turvy mystery novel. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Hester Fox’s latest novel, but it was definitely a lot of fun. The mystery itself was well thought out and even with the limited cast of characters, I still had a hard time cracking the case before the end of the book. It was the right balance between an armchair mystery and a horror-inspired thriller, with the mystery itself being on the gruesome side while very clearly knowing where the line was in terms of the descriptions.

The romance plot wasn’t exactly a slow-burn, but it moved at a good speed as the characters unfolded on the pages. We really get to know Gabriel and his dedication to those he cares for as well as Sophronia and her fear of being hurt (emotionally and physically) by those she thinks she cares for.

This is definitely a great book for the upcoming Halloween season and is a good cozy read for a chilly autumn day. If you’re an older reader who enjoyed the Stalking Jack the Ripper series by Kerri Maniscalco, this would be a title I would certainly recommend.

 

 

#countdowntodarkdawn: Godsgrave

Throughout August, I did my best to keep up with the #countdowntodarkdawn event hosted Instagram’s @sammaybereading, @grumplstiltskin, and @amandasnoseinabook. After the weight of the density of Nevernight, I felt a little intimidated by Godsgrave but after a month and a half I finally got through it (with a little help from the audiobook).

Godsgrave picks up a few months after the ending of Nevernight, but does get into it rather quickly. After learning what she’s really up to, Mia teams up with the traitor, Ashlinn, and the two formulate a plan to help further Mia’s want for revenge against Duomo and Scaeva. The plan? To sell herself into slavery in order to fight in a gladiator-style death match known as the Venatus Magni and kill the pair when they declare her the winner.

If y’all thought the first book was not meant to be in the YA section, then this one definitely should never be considered YA. In the most delicious way possible, this book was violent, graphic, and smutty. I loved the way all of it tied together in the most devastating and gruesome ways, showing sex as another kind of chess game in this world of master players. Topping it all off with some of the most wild reveals I’ve ever read, this book had me cheering one moment, and cussing it out the next. Especially towards the end.

Again, this was a rather dense read, so listening to the audiobook in small doses was a big help in getting through it but that doesn’t make me enjoy it any less. I loved the tidbits of more information we get about the darkin even if it’s the most vague nonsense you’ve ever been given. Eclipse and Mr. Kindly were scene stealers amidst the chaos of Mia’s slave life and their little interlude brings up so many questions! I’m like Oliver Twist standing before Jay Kristoff begging for more and knowing full well he’s not going it give more over (and I’m not even mad about it).

I didn’t throw this book across the room once I finished it but that had more to do with not wanting to chuck my phone across the room. While I do need a break before reading Darkdawn, I’m itching to get my FaeCrate hangover kit for it so I can see if I get any of the answers I’m looking for thanks to Godsgrave.

Damn you, Mr. Kristoff.

We love you so much.

The Ghost Collector Blog Tour

Allison Mills’s debut novel, The Ghost Collector, is a middle-grade contemporary novel with a hint of the paranormal. Shelly’s family can catch ghosts in their hair and help them find their way to the afterlife when ready. Using this talent as something of a job, Shelly’s grandmother often takes her ghost hunting as they free the ghosts of animals from homes the owners are convinced are the spirits of horrible people. When Shelly’s mom passes away, the girl needs to come to terms with what real loss feels like and how holding on to what’s meant to be let go of can be more destructive than you may think.

The Ghost Collector is meant for younger audiences but also doesn’t hold back in hitting hard with the feels. It’s a powerful novel for anyone struggling to deal with a loss and I know that it helped give me a bit more perspective on a recent loss in my life. I definitely thank Allison for that.

I really liked Shelly and her relationship with her family. Her grandmother reminded me of mine in so many ways which warmed my heart. Not to mention that I could understand the idea of struggling to make “real friends” like Shelly did. Growing up I considered fictional characters I read about to be more real friends than my classmates or any other kids I met, so her having a hard time connecting with her classmates was incredibly relatable.

Change is so difficult, and change because of loss is even harder. This novel captured all of that so wonderfully. While sad, it was satisfying.

With all of that being said, I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask author Allison Mills herself some questions about this exciting release.


Lucien: First off, congratulations on the release of The Ghost Collector! I’ve seen in another interview you’ve given as well as in the acknowledgements of the advanced copy of the book, that this novel was the result of expanding on a short story (If a Bird Can Be a Ghost) you’ve previously written. What was it about the story that made you want to expand upon it?

AllisonThank you! I’m really happy the release date is finally here. It feels like it’s been a long time in the making, especially if you take the short story that became The Ghost Collector as the starting point. The characters and world of If A Bird Can Be A Ghost—the short story that The Ghost Collector is based on—stuck with me after I finished the story. I kept going back and trying to do something else with them. I have two or three abandoned short stories set within the same world or using some of the same characters. I knew I wanted to expand on the story somehow, and then Claire Caldwell, my editor at Annick Press, approached me about the possibility of turning the story into a novel and it was kind of like the stars aligned. I was really fortunate to get a chance to play in this space again.

How did the experience of writing the novel differ from when you were working with it as a short?

The biggest difference is that I wrote them with different audiences in mind. The short story, although it’s still about Shelly, was written for adults. In writing the novel, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to frame discussions of death and grief for a younger audience—and especially for younger Indigenous readers. As a kid, I read a lot of fantasy books that, when they had an Indigenous character in them, treated them as an archetype more than a person, and it was always really alienating for me. I didn’t want The Ghost Collector to feel like it played into stereotypes. I wanted to write a paranormal story about an Indigenous family that grounded the characters in the modern world, that framed Indigenous peoples as present. I know from experience that it’s easy for non-Indigenous people to historicize us and to romanticize some mystical version of us and our cultures. With that in mind, I tried to be deliberate about the way I wrote the ghosts in the book and to have the characters push back against stereotypes other characters try to apply to them.

Writing a novel was also a chance to spend more time with the characters. Scenes with Joseph and Shelly talking to each other were my favourite thing to write when I was working on the short story, and I got to add a lot more of that when I expanded the story into a novel. Getting to add more scenes with Shelly’s mother was also great. She didn’t get much screen time in the short story, but I wrote it knowing exactly who she was and what her relationship with Shelly was like, so putting more of it down on the page was honestly kind of cathartic.

There are several instances of music being important in describing who the characters are. Where The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees are important to Joseph, what band would you say best fits you?

This is a really hard question. I think it changes week to week, but right now, I’d say I’m alternating between Hozier and Carly Rae Jepsen as musical artists that fit me best.

Does music often play a role of its own in your writing?

It definitely does! I like writing with background noise. I’ll make playlists for certain moods I want to hit in my writing or music that I think is really emblematic of a certain character or story or moment—Joseph and his connection to post-punk/goth is a good example of that. Having music in the background helps me focus on what I’m doing, although it also means that sometimes a song becomes a symbol of a story or characters and is no longer something I can listen to for the sake of listening to it.

Throughout the book, Shelly collects ghosts of several kinds, from people to animals. If you could keep a ghost of someone (or something) would you? If so, what ghost would you keep?

I’m going to be honest, I spent a lot of my childhood really obsessed with ghost stories, but also terrified of ghosts conceptually. Even if my book didn’t focus on the importance of not letting your ghosts linger, I don’t think I’d want to keep one around. That said, there is part of me that definitely sees the appeal of a ghost pet. Cheap, with no clean up required, but you still get the companionship offered by a living pet and you never have to worry about them getting sick! It’s kind of the ideal.

The Ghost Collector is a story of learning to let go and live life the way it is meant to be lived. But it is also a story of grief, especially the grief of a young girl. Were you every concerned about the content being too much for the younger readers who may be drawn to it?

That was definitely a concern I had while I was writing. Some things changed between the short story and the novel because of the shift in audience. I talked about some of that in relation to Indigenous readers already, but more generally one of the things I tried to do when I wrote the book was balance the darkness of Shelly’s grief with moments of lightness, either through humour or by having other characters reach out to Shelly—adding in something to alleviate the tension in the book so that the grief never gets too heavy for the reader to carry.

That being said, grief is a very important emotion to learn about and even learn from when we face it. Is there a reason why you wanted to tackle that lesson by using a ghost story as the basis?

I’ve always had an affinity for ghosts and ghost stories. When I was writing the short story The Ghost Collector is based on, I liked the concept of someone who can see and interact with the dead suddenly not being able to find the one ghost they want to interact with. It seemed like an interesting way to show someone grappling with the realities of loss and grief.

You’ve said that your Ililiw/Cree and settler Canadian heritage has played a part in your love of ghosts and ghost stories, are you able to elaborate on that?

Yeah! It’s kind of a two-fold thing. Part of it is that when I think about ghosts I think about them as manifestations of the liminal—they’re not alive, but they’re not quite gone either. They occupy this boundary space that I really like exploring and am fascinated by. I’m Indigenous, but because I have settler Canadian family too, I’m white-passing and have a lot of white privilege. I spend a lot of time grappling with the complex—at least to me—reality of that so I think part of me liking ghosts so much is that I feel like I exist in a liminal space too.

Less tied to my multiple identities and thoughts about the ways I interact with the world, I also just grew up hearing stories about my great-grandmother Louisa finding bodies for the RCMP in Chapleau, where our band is from and where my grandfather grew up. And, you know, there were plenty of other stories told about her too—like, Louisa really liked the Mary Poppins movie and would watch it whenever she visited when my mom was a kid—but that’s not as sensational as an uncanny knack for discovering missing persons, so it didn’t implant itself in my brain the same way stories about the RCMP coming knocking on the door did.

If there was one thing you hope reader’s take away from The Ghost Collector, what do you hope it is?

The importance of our connections to other people. I think allowing yourself to be known by others—making yourself vulnerable by expressing your feelings instead of bottling everything up inside—can be an incredibly difficult thing to do, but our relationships with one another are what get us through our darkest moments. I really hope that’s something readers of The Ghost Collector will be left with.


I would like to thank Annick Press and Allison Mills for allowing me to be a part of this blog tour and for providing me with a copy of the ARC.

The Ghost Collector is set to be available everywhere on September 10th, 2019.

REVIEW: Red Rising

During July, I tried my best to participate in the FaeCrate #bloodydamnfae Red Rising read-a-long, but sadly was too caught up in other things to finish it on time.

BUT I FINISHED IT NOW AND BLOODYDAMN HELL WHAT

HOW DID IT TAKE ME THIS LONG TO GET INTO THIS SERIES?!

The story follows Darrow, one of the best miners in his colony beneath the surface of Mars. After his wife, Eo, is martyred, Darrow has a choice to give up or fight for what the girl died in hopes of. Darrow is then thrust into a world he isn’t entirely prepared for, fighting fights without rules against those who were ready for all of it.

Immediately, I was hypnotized but Darrow’s distinct narrative style that Pierce Brown brings. There’s a harshness, a bluntness, there that shows the jagged edge of a young man that Darrow has while also melting it all away when he talks about love and family. Darrow is so observant and self-disciplined and it’s incredibly unique. Considering how aggressive and full of rage he is as a character, Darrow is the kind of alpha male that doesn’t suffer from the nonsense that is toxic masculinity.

Thinking of toxic masculinity, Red Rising is such a great example of not only classism and nepotism, but also of privilege in general and how that plays a factor in the toxic behaviour of some of the male characters. For some minor spoiler alerts, as the plot gets into something of a Lord of the Flies situation, the rougher boys turn to horrible acts of mutilation, slave driving, and sexual assault of the girls who are weaker than them. Darrow and a few of the others oppose these actions right away, but the way Darrow earns over the trust of the rest is a thing of beauty. Even as he consults with victims of abuse later in the book, it’s a true look at how victims should be treated.

I’m honestly at a loss for words over this one.

It did get a little slow in the middle while Darrow was in his transformation, this 400 page paperback is such an intense read it goes by in a blink. I love the characters, I love the world, and I want more as soon as humanly possible.

Bloodydamn brilliant.

#countdowntodarkdawn: Nevernight

So as many of you have noticed, I didn’t do any posts for my Throne of Glass read-a-long this month, but that was because I was balls-deep into the #countdowntodarkdawn read-a-long hosted by Instagram’s @sammaybereading, @grumplstiltskin, and @amandasnoseinabook. I have never read a Jay Kristoff work before now and wow am I feeling a lot of emotions here.

Nevernight is the first book in the series, following the rise of Mia Corvere as she stabs her way into a religious institution set on training the most masterful of assassins. Mia’s is a story of violence and vengeance. Having lost her family to the opposing religious community that rules her home and yet also possessing a mysterious ability of the very dark itself, Mia hopes to avenge her fallen loved ones by burying those who took them from her.

It is hard to give a synopsis without spoilers as, like I said, this book is full of emotional turmoil. While I enjoyed the story from cover to cover, it took me a solid month to get through it and I really only finished on time thanks to the audiobook. Kristoff does not hold back when it comes to stomping on your heart with the sole of his boots until there’s nothing more than a bloody smear on the ground, and his unique style of writing is hypnotic. With winding, flowery prose as the regular narrative and then footnotes ripe with history, backstory, and enough sass to rival the author himself. But this also made the book far denser than I was expecting.

I knew going into it that this was not a YA novel, but considering the audience as well as the 16-year-old protagonist, I was expecting something…different. It is not a complaint, but the writing style is wordy as all hell and the footnotes range from single sentence one-liners to several paragraphs of lore that – at times – made reading slow. Given my headspace lately the weight of this book made me not want to pick it up at times, so perhaps that’s a warner that this is the farthest thing from light reading.

The twists and turns legitimately had me gasping and all of the murder came close to turning even my stomach in the best of ways. The word sensual comes to mind in more ways than one if I’m being honest.

When it comes to the characters, I loved Mia. She is a strong little bitch who refuses to be put down no matter how much anyone wants her dead. And yet, Mia makes mistakes. She makes friends. She gets betrayed. It’s nice to see a cold-hearted female character fail and yet still come out on top without it being predictable while also being able to truly care for those around her. Tric was this beautiful, young Jason Mamoa-esque beauty who I will not forgive Mr. Kristoff for. I even loved the nasty characters like Jessamine and Diamo.

But the best character of all, you ask?

Mister freaking Kindly.

I love this little shit of a not-cat and I would gladly kill in the name of Niah to have a not-cat like him pooled in my shadow. He’s the right level of comic relief mixed with wise guide and Kindly stole every scene he was a part of.

Was this book a tough one to push through? Absolutely, and I can 100% understand the reasoning behind the mixed reviews. Was this book worth every second it took to read? Absolutely.

I give Nevernight a four out of five while also being hyped as hell for Godsgrave!