REVIEW: The Sun Down Motel

One of the books I was incredibly excited about reading earlier this year was Simone St. James’s latest novel, The Sun Down Motel. A mystery novel with a synopsis that had me asking “People or ghosts?”, this was just what I needed to get me out of my reading funk as brought on by my attempt to get through A Little Life.

The story follows a double timeline between Viv in 1982 as she works at a dodgy motel after leaving her home life, and Carly in 2017 as she digs into the past to discover what happened to her long-lost Aunt Viv who went missing thirty-five years earlier. Right away there is tension and suspense to chill your veins and I absolutely loved it from cover to cover.

The way the story jumps around between the timelines is impeccably done as the story unfolds and honestly, I just want to scream about the setup and the characters as both Carly and Viv uncover the mysteries of the Sun Down, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. If you’re also asking “People or ghosts?” about this book in regards to the cause of what’s going on, I’m going to leave you asking.

Forgive me for this short review, but I highly recommend picking up this book.

REVIEW: And The Hippos Were Boiled…

The lives of the Beat Poets are something I’ve been in love with for ages. I just can’t resist the romanticized tragedies of their lives and the film Kill Your Darlings, certainly made me love them even more and tossed me headfirst into reading everything I could find about Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and – of course – Lucien Carr. When I learned that Kerouac and Burroughs wrote a fictional retelling of when Carr killed David Kammerer, I was all over that. I was even more excited when the fancy second-hand book store in my neighbourhood had a first edition copy of that same book.

And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks is the story of Will Dennison and Mike Ryko, the two narrators written by Burroughs and Kerouac respectively, as they go about their bohemian lives in New York and deal with their friends’ troubles. When one of their friends, Phillip Tourian, decides he is desperate to get away from the affections of Ramsay Allen, he and Ryko make a plan to ship out with the war relief and run away to Paris. For those who know what happened in the true story, I don’t need to remind you that this plan doesn’t exactly work out.

What I wanted from this was Kill Your Darlings. I was hoping for more about the murder, more scrambling during the aftermath. I was really hoping for a fun insiders look at what happened even if it was only a functionalization. Sadly what I got was a bunch of drunken youths for 80% of the book and then maybe twenty pages at the end involved the murder.

The writing style was interesting to see because this was written many years before Burroughs and Kerouac truly became famous but published only in more recent years. Knowing how the two authors came to write, it was kind of cool to see how they grew and developed as writers. Honestly though, the best part about this book was the afterword by James W. Grauerholz, who broke down more of the history behind the events of Kammerer’s death. I’m sad to say I was disappointed in it, but I think that might result in being too connected to the original story.

Ginsberg and Carr honestly mean so much to me, so – again – I think that had something to do it with. Either way, I’m happy to have read it and learn even just a little bit more from the afterword.

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.

 

 

REVIEW: Six Degrees of Assassination

Six Degrees of Assassination is an Audible Original drama series, written by M.J. Arlidge and staring incredible names like Andrew Scott and Freema Agyeman. It is a ten-part, fast paced political thriller where everyone is connected and no one is safe from the fallout.

And I loved it.

To give a synopsis, the Prime Minister of England has been shot at a public appearance and now MI5, MI6, and the House of Commons are all working together to figure out who has committed this terrible crime while also fighting to keep parliament afloat. Everyone is an enemy and personal lives are getting pulled into the cross fire. Who shot John Campbell? And why?

All in, this series is around 5-hours long and I honestly marathoned it over the last two days. Any moment I could listen, I did. (Even if I’m supposed to be keeping up with other thing right now…oops…) The entire cast is amazing and the characters they play are very easy to fall in love with. Andrew Scott is a true chameleon of an actor and his portrayal of Alex in voice alone was show stopping.

I know this is probably a one-off series that Audible has done, but I would happily pay for more with Alex Cartwright in the future. A very, very excited five out of five for this one. I implore anyone with an Audible membership go download this.


Six Degrees of Assassination is a free series available only to Audible members. This post is in no way sponsored by Audible.

REVIEW: Spectacle

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of the ARC


I went into this one based on what I was hearing from others who were reading it (and enjoying it) so I was definitely intrigued. The Stalking Jack the Ripper vibes were strong with the description so I was excited at what the story would be like.

Spectacle takes place in the late 1800s in Paris, following Nathalie as she works as in secret as the morgue reporter for a large newspaper. While taking a look at the first of several murder victims killed by The Dark Artist, Nathalie touches the glass separating the viewing room from the display room and sees a glimmer of the girl’s murder as it happens in reverse. Her visions get clearer and more disturbing as the murders themselves violently escalate.

For the most part, I really liked the writing style and Jodie Lynn Zdrok has a really great voice. Spending my disbelief in regards to a 16-year-old girl writing for a newspaper in the 1800s, I still really liked Nathalie (and really, she’s not much different than Audrey from SJTR) and her tenacity to write and be involved in such a grisly task and basically recapping the previously night’s murders. Her friendships seemed really natural and her fear felt real.

I loved the accuracy of her family’s relationship with each other and was also fascinated by the depiction of her aunt’s mental

But here’s where the spoilers in my opinions come in.

My issue with the book was that it had me almost 99% and then they introduced the plot point that Nathalie’s powers made her part of a group known as the “Insighters”. Many of these Insighters got their powers through blood transfusions and the whole “secret society” feel about the reveal just didn’t grab me. I’m sorry to say I cared even less.

I skimmed the next dozen chapters hoping for something good, but it just seemed to drag for the remainder of the book. The last chapter, too, was a not a well done lead-in to the next book and it didn’t feel satisfying at all. It just… ended.

I guess I just went in with my expectations too high and ended up letting myself down. What I will say though, is that even though this might not be a series for me, I’ll still be keeping an eye on Jodie Lynn Zdrok’s future releases because her writing style is definitely worth another chance.

REVIEW: The Perfect Girlfriend

Thank you to the publishers for providing Indigo Books & Music Inc. with an ARC for review as part of the selection process for the January Staff Pick of the Month.

This review does not reflect the views and opinions of Indigo Books & Music Inc. and are my own independent thoughts of the work being reviews.


I love a good domestic thriller, and am always open to supporting a debut author, so I was more than happy to pick up the ARC when I saw it on the break room desk a few months ago back when I was working for Indigo Books.

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton is a domestic thriller following Lily – or Juliette, as she goes by now – as she seeks to get her ex-boyfriend back in a process that gave me a similar feeling to Single White Female. Starting with joining the airline Nate works for as a flight attendant, Lily seeks to convince him how deeply, madly in love with her he definitely must be and get her perfect life back on track.

There are a few other bits that are all tied up in her mission, including wanting to be more successful than a mean girl from her childhood (who happens to be Nate’s sister) as well as still dealing with the death of her younger brother and now her estranged mother. While these added aspects added something akin to depth to the story, they also felt more loose in terms of plot planning and weak justification for Lily’s behaviour.

You have probably guessed that I was not overly fond of this title, and you would be correct. While the writing itself was strong, it felt like a story I already read. As I mentioned above, Single White Female was only one of the films that popped into my head while reading, along with Fatal Attraction and Gone Girl (in terms of the open ending). I usually don’t mind “borrowed” ideas as influence is always going to be in our media, but it just didn’t work with this one.

The novel is told from Lily’s perspective which gave me a hard time since I had a hard time connecting with her. At one point in my life, I was also a badly bullied little girl, but the extremes that Lily went through to not only get revenge but also to justify her behaviour to herself. It wouldn’t be a domestic revenge thriller without murder and even that part had me more rolling my eyes and wondering why no one suspected how out of her mind this woman is. It all seemed just far too over the top for me.

As always, perhaps this book just wasn’t for me. If you like the films/books I’ve referenced in terms of “borrowed” influences, then you might enjoy this book. I hope Karen Hamilton keeps writing and I enjoyed her style enough to give her next book a chance. 2 out of 5 stars from me.


This book is available now at any Indigo, Chapters, or Coles location and has an official release of December 31st, 2018.

REVIEW: Murphy’s Law (Molly Murphy #1)

For the month of December, I wanted some light books to read to help deal with the self-critical state I end up in towards the end of the year. One of those books I picked was the first of the Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen, Murphy’s Law.

This first mystery follows Molly from Ireland to America as she flees her home due to murdering her attempted rapist and then assists a dying woman get her children to New York City where she is faced with the murder of a man she was seen having a falling out with. In order to avoid being found out for her crimes in Ireland and be cleared of police suspicion, Molly – pretending to be a Mrs. Kathleen O’Conner – treks all over New York to find the killer.

What I signed up for was a book I would give my mystery loving grandmother, but what I got was a solid whodunnit with a very serious look at rape culture and the immigrant culture of America in at the very start of the 20th century.

Molly is an incredibly strong woman who has a nose for puzzles but doesn’t suffer from “Sherlock Holmes Syndrome”, as she does make mistakes. Molly is smart, but she is also rather naive which is really what makes her interesting to me as an amateur detective of sorts. I also appreciated how it showed what poor immigrants had to go through while coming to America including being tricked out of their money, their valuables, and essentially their time as constant delays arose even before the murder too place. It goes into the horrific tenement housing and the racism between nationalities and religion. It goes into rampant sexual assault and forced prostitution.

I loved the way Rhys Bowen wrote this novel and I loved the social commentary. It tackled a lot of heavy topics while remaining an easy book to get through and it was a solid whodunnit that kept me guessing which is rare for me.

Trigger warnings for racism, anti-semitism, and sexual assault but this book is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. I look forward to the sequel.

REVIEW: Lying In Wait

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


When I read Liz Nugent’s last novel, Unraveling Oliver, I felt that it was an interesting character study rather than the thriller I was expecting. Much can be said the same for this most recent novel.

The story follows three characters from two families as they come to terms with what has happened to a girl Annie Doyle once she is murdered. Lydia and Laurence are mother and son, and it was Lydia’s husband who murdered the girl. The third character to get POV chapters is Karen, Annie’s sister. Similar to Unraveling Oliver, the narrative is purely character driven and written in a style that reminds me of True Detective (season one, of course).

The way the story moves non-linearly, it reminds me of unreliable witness testimonies that featured into the story telling of True Detective or many true crime documentaries that are on Netflix. It’s a style that greatly appeals to me as it’s an interesting approach to the domestic thriller genre and having all three POVs written in first person also add to the atmosphere of the story. It is very much a psychological story where we really get to know the characters before we see them fall to pieces.

However, as much as I liked how the story was written, it wasn’t my favourite. I had no real sympathy for any of the characters and almost felt that it would have worked better as a novella that ends without resolution rather that a 300-page novel that feels to really drag on in the second act to the point where I almost stopped reading several times. The ending was worth pushing through, but I was disappointed that it felt like work to get there.

While I think her previous novel was more to my liking despite the problematic characters, this is by no means a bad book. If domestic thrillers are your thing, I definitely recommend picking up this book full of bizarre people and their strange lives.

A solid three out of five, in my opinion.