BOOK REVIEW: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond

Title: Suspicious Minds

Author: Gwenda Bond

Book Length: 304 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Read Start Date: December 9, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 24, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A mysterious lab. A sinister scientist. A secret history. If you think you know the truth behind Eleven’s mother, prepare to have your mind turned Upside Down in this thrilling prequel to the hit show Stranger Things.

It’s the summer of 1969, and the shock of conflict reverberates through the youth of America, both at home and abroad. As a student at a quiet college campus in the heartland of Indiana, Terry Ives couldn’t be further from the front lines of Vietnam or the incendiary protests in Washington.

But the world is changing, and Terry isn’t content to watch from the sidelines. When word gets around about an important government experiment in the small town of Hawkins, she signs on as a test subject for the project, codenamed MKUltra. Unmarked vans, a remote lab deep in the woods, mind-altering substances administered by tightlipped researchers . . . and a mystery the young and restless Terry is determined to uncover.

But behind the walls of Hawkins National Laboratory—and the piercing gaze of its director, Dr. Martin Brenner—lurks a conspiracy greater than she could have ever imagined. To face it, she’ll need the help of her fellow test subjects, including one so mysterious the world doesn’t know she exists—a young girl with unexplainable, superhuman powers and a number instead of a name: 008.

Amid the rising tensions of the new decade, Terry Ives and Martin Brenner have begun a different kind of war—one where the human mind is the battlefield.

My Review: I have loved the show Stranger Things since it premiered. I am waiting eagerly for the next season to drop, which by all accounts might not be for a while. When I was in Nashville for a girls weekend, I visited a book shop of course, because well, I am addicted to books. As I was perusing the shelves, I saw Suspicious Minds and was instantly intrigued. I hadn’t known there was a book — actually there are several!

Suspicious Minds is a prequel to the events of Stranger Things. Even though this book is set in the world of the Netflix show, there is a whole new cast of characters (99% of whom we have never met before) and so if you have never seen the show (stop reading this blog and go watch it now!), you will still be able to read the book and enjoy it. The three characters from the show are Dr. Martin Brenner, the head of the highly classified “research” Project at the Hawkins laboratory in Indiana, Terry Ives, the mother of Eleven, and Eight (as a child in the book), one of the test subjects who exhibit special powers. In Eight’s case it is the ability to make people see illusions/what she wants them to see.

It’s 1969 (14 years before Season 1 of Stranger Things) and Terry Ives, a college student and waitress, takes her roommate’s place at a government sanctioned (paid) test program. Terry needs the money — and she is more than a little intrigued. Terry is currently involved in a relationship with another college student named Andrew, who is luckily not eligible for the draft as he falls under the college exception. I liked how Gwenda Bond included the history and politics of the era (namely the Vietnam war), so this book not only takes place at the lab, but also out in the larger world, with all the angst, protests and sentiments of that time in US history.

While the show eludes to the testing that Terry Ives had undergone at the hands of sinister Dr. Martin Brenner, the book really goes into the details of what happened to her, and really showed that the indifference to human life that Brenner exhibited in Stranger Things is a character trait he has been exhibiting for some time. We never learn why Brenner is performing these tests or for what purpose though, so this was a little disappointing.

The show also never mentioned that Terry and Kali (Eight, who we meet briefly in Season 2 of Stranger Things) knew each other or had such a prolonged interaction. However, in the book, the relationship between Terry and Kali is very important to the plot. There was also never any mention of the other test subjects in the show and I liked learning about them in the book.

While I definitely liked this book, I came away from it with more questions than answers. Yes, now we know the origin story of Eleven and how she came to be in the clutches of Brenner. We know the backstory of Terry Ives. However, the book ends with the birth of Eleven, but we don’t really meet Eleven in the Netflix show until she is basically a teenager, and in later seasons, they show her as a young child (maybe around 8 years old?). What happened from her birth until then? What happened to the other test subjects?

We learn in the book that Alice (one of the test subjects) when given LSD and electroshock therapy, could see into the Upside Down (and into the future), and that Brenner becomes aware that such a place exists. However, we never learn whether this was the catalyst for what happened with Eleven, or whether it was merely a coincidence. In other words, what did Brenner actively do with this information?

I guess if you read this book without watching the show first, these same questions may not pop up and your experience of the book might be different. It might just add to the mystery of the story, rather than prompting more questions.

I know there are other Stanger Things books out there, but I don’t think they are a sequel to Suspicious Minds. I want to know what happens between 1970 and the start of the show! We need another book! Universe, please work on this!

At the moment, this book has only a 3.61 rating on Goodreads, which I feel is not a true reflection of my experience. I tried to find other reviews on WordPress, but found only one (and great) review from G does Films.

While I think that anyone can read and enjoy this book, I think that it definitely helps if you are already a fan of the show.

BOOK REVIEW: Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Title: Rosemary’s Baby

Author: Ira Levin

Audiobook Length: 6 hours and 9 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Thriller, Paranormal

Read Start Date: November 27, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 28, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Suppose you were an up-to-date young wife who moved into an old and elegant New York apartment house with a rather strange past.

Suppose that only after you became pregnant did you begin to suspect the building harbored a diabolically evil group of devil worshippers who had mastered the arts of black magic and witchcraft.

Suppose that this satanic conspiracy set out to claim not only your husband but your baby.

Well, that’s what happened to Rosemary… Or did it…?

My Review: I read this book 10 years ago and saw it for rent as an audiobook at the library and figured why not. This book is one of those classics that never seems to get old (except that some of the language used in the book, while it may have been normal in the 1960’s when it was written, did not age well.) Mia Farrow is the narrator of the audiobook which is a nice touch (she played Rosemary in the movie in 1968).

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse jump at the opportunity to move into a recently empty apartment at the Branford–an elegant apartment building. The apartment is just fantastic, and a perfect size for the eventual family the couple wants to have. A stay-at-home-wife, Rosemary slowly adjusts to life at the building, befriending a woman of a similar age in the laundry room. Terry, a now sober drug addict pulled off the streets by the Castevets (Rosemary’s neighbors), wears a strange bauble around her neck containing a foul smelling “tannis root”, given to her by the Castevets for “luck”.

When Terry suddenly plummets to her death, things at the Branford start to take a terrifying turn. From odd chanting and flute playing coming from the Castevets apartment, to the horrible dream Rosemary had of being raped by a demon with yellow eyes, things at the Branford aren’t looking rosy as they once had. Except Guy all of a sudden starts getting bigger and better acting roles, and Rosemary finds out she’s pregnant. Was her dream really just a dream?

The book is great if you remember that it is a period piece written and taking place in the 1960’s. There are lots of elements of the story which would not work today in 2022…and it is these elements which add the tension to the story. In 2022, Rosemary would be able to search the internet, she would likely have a job, have more access to friends with whom to speak about her constant abdominal pains while pregnant. Her OBGYN’s instructions “not to read books or talk to friends–because every pregnancy is different” would probably go over as well as a cockroach in a bowl of cherries.

Rosemary seemed very isolated in the story. Her one friend, Hutch, mysteriously fell into a coma after telling Rosemary of the sordid history of the Branford. I don’t think this isolation would have been the same had the story taken place in the present day.

But somehow that is part of the appeal and charm of Rosemary’s Baby, and other books from decades ago. You don’t need the big thrills or “gotcha” moments like today’s horror (okay, maybe this is mostly in movies). The horror in this book is subtle, it creeps up on you like lions hiding in the tall grass. It builds and builds, and finally climaxes in an ending that is expected, yet somehow not at the same time.

I’m glad I read this again and I recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

BOOK REVIEW: Wraith by Mark Wheaton

Title: Wraith

Author: Mark Wheaton

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 49 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Thriller, Gothic, Mystery

Read Start Date: October 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 3, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: After witnessing the death of her mother at a young age, Cecily LeClercq grows up hiding herself away in the remote Carolina wetlands. When a stranger arrives from Paris saying a distant, elderly relative is desperate to see her before she dies, Cecily travels to an old chateau deep in the French woods. There she learns of an ancient curse that has consumed generations of her ancestors, personified by a vicious, ghostly wraith who emerges from the forest when the death of a LeClercq is near…

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The book opens with the death of Cecily’s mother under strange circumstances. Although everyone has always tried to tell Cecily that her mother drowned in the severely bad hurricane, Cecily cannot escape the memory of the ghostly figure a.k.a the wraith, whom Cecily believes was responsible.

When we next see Cecily, she is an adult and works as a botanist (?) in Charleston, South Carolina. A man from France (Rene) approaches her and informs her that the great-grandmother Cecily had never known about, wants to see her urgently. By the time they reach France, however, she is already dead, and seemingly she has taken the information she wanted to tell Cecily with her to her grave.

Cecily stays on in France for a little while longer, learning about the alleged LeClercq curse i.e., that when the wraith comes for you, you have 2 options: kill yourself or the wraith will take the lives of those around you instead. Now that Cecily has seen the wraith, can she unravel the curse before the wraith takes vengeance on Cecily and those she cares about?

While I generally liked the story, I found it to be a little slow going at times, leading to a conclusion that was somewhat unsatisfactory. Even though billed as “horror”, I didn’t find it scary. I didn’t really feel any edge of my seat tension either, to be honest. I thought it was more of a mystery / thriller with a ticking clock (i.e., Cecily only had a certain amount of time to solve the mystery before the wraith got her).

That being said, the story line is interesting and the book was well written. Coming in at a rating of 3.57 on Goodreads at the time of this review seems about right. Some people are more enthusiastic than others and it seems to be split down the middle in terms of those who liked it and those who didn’t.

SPOILER ALERT: By the end of the book we find out that a LeClercq hundreds of years ago was a giant monster who basically stole land and killed a bunch of people. The wraith is the tormented spirit of one of those murdered people. Since the LeClercqs have benefited from this theft and murder, the wraith comes to ruin the lives of the descendants and/or kill them. Cecily ends up solving the mystery and puts everything to rights — but at the end of the book, the wraith is still following her around.

Why was the spirit not satisfied? This was just annoying to say the least. I think that I would have given the book 4 stars had it not been for the ending. Because honestly, if the curse wasn’t lifted by solving the mystery and putting things right — then what was the point of the book?

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Snow by Ronald Malfi

Title: Snow

Author: Ronald Malfi

Book Length: 311 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Sci-fi, Folklore-Monsters, Paranormal

Read Start Date: October 23, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 29, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Todd Curry wants nothing more than to spend Christmas with his son. But when a brutal snowstorm cancels his flight from Chicago to Des Moines, Todd and a few other stranded passengers decide to rent a Jeep and make the trip on their own.

During the drive, they pick up a man wandering through the snow, who claims to be searching for his lost daughter. He is disoriented and his story seems peculiar. Strangest of all are the mysterious slashes cut into the back of the man’s coat, straight down to the flesh…

When they arrive at the nearest town, it appears deserted. Windows dark, car abandoned, fired burning unattended. But Todd and the rest of the travelers soon learn the town is far from deserted, and that they are being watched…

My Review: I LOVED THIS BOOK. I couldn’t wait to crawl into bed so that I could read it again, and that rarely happens.

Todd Curry is traveling to Des Moines to see his young son. HIs connecting flight in Chicago is cancelled due to a bad snow storm, but he is anxious to get home. He promised his son that he’d be there by morning. Todd and his son’s mother are separated, and he rarely sees the boy, so it’s important to keep his promise. Todd has the idea to rent a car and drive to Des Moines. Storm be damned.

The woman in front of him at the rental car counter gets the last SUV. Kate Jansen, a woman Todd had met at the airport bar while waiting to hear the fate of his flight, offers to give Todd a lift. He accepts gladly. Fred and Nan Wilkinson, a “silver-haired couple in their late sixties”, are also stranded at the airport. They decide to join Todd and Kate and together all 4 set off to Des Moines, with Todd at the wheel.

They have barely left the city, when they encounter a strange man in the middle of the highway, alone in the snow storm. “Suddenly, the figure was in the middle of the road, only a few yards in front of them as if he had materialized out of thin air.” Todd crashes into a snow bank and wrecks the SUV. They climb out of the car, to find a lone man standing in the road. The man’s name is Eddie Clement and his daughter, aged eight, is lost somewhere in the storm.

Something isn’t right about Eddie, or his story. “Kate put a hand on Eddie’s broad flannel back and led him to the Cherokee. Todd noticed two rips in the fabric of Eddie Clement’s flannel coat, one at each shoulder blade, each one perhaps five inches long. The fabric around each slit looked frayed.”

They four-some in the vehicle are skeptical. A man out in the bitter cold, alone, looking for his daughter for who knows how long…how isn’t he a popsicle? Why would his daughter run off in this weather? Nothing seems to make sense. As a reader, you get the feeling that something is terribly off with Eddie and it adds a layer of tension to the story. At this point, we are only 39 pages in, and the tension only increases with each page.

Seeking shelter, they walk to the nearest town. What they find there would change their lives forever, if they manage to survive that is.

By page 69, we learn that the town is virtually deserted. Where did everyone go? And then they encounter someone:

“A man was standing directly behind Nan, no more than five feet away. His clothes hung off him in tattered ribbons and were splattered with blood. The man’s eyes were dead in their sockets, his face as expressionless as an Egyptian mummy.” …

“The sound of the rifle fire was almost deafening.

In the street, the man’s head evaporated into a red mist. The body sagged forward, then dropped straight to the ground, its legs folded neatly beneath it.

Nan screamed and Fred cursed. Kate clawed at the back of Todd’s neck, gripping a fistful of hair.

Then something else happened. The headless body in the street bucked once, twice, three times. Hot blood spurted from the abbreviated neck and coursed like an oil slick across the ice. There was the impression of levitation, although the dead man never actually left the ground; rather, something from within the man’s body was rising up, up. For one insane moment, Todd actually believed he was witnessing the dead man’s soul vacating the body.

But this was no one’s soul. What rose up was a hurricane swirl of snow, funneled and compacted so that it was nearly tangible. It held the vague form of a human being, though as it continued to withdraw itself from the man’s body, Todd could see its arms–or whatever served as arms–were nearly twice the length of a normal person’s. It had no definable characteristics beyond the vague suggestion of humanity. And as it peeled away from the corpse–from out of the corpse–it hovered briefly above the body, nearly solid and comprehensible, before it dispersed into a scattering of snowflakes and was gone.

The silence that followed was thundering.”

Snow by Ronald Malfi, pages 68-69

I got chills reading that again — soooo good! At this point in the story, I was already hooked, but this entrenched me in the story further.

This book is probably one of the best horror stories I’ve read this year. I would give it 10 out of 5 stars (if that were possible). The writing is fantastic. I love the way Malfi paints the picture. The monsters were super cool, the storyline creepy as hell. I had a hard time putting this book down. A must read.

BOOK REVIEW: Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi

Title: Ghostwritten

Author: Ronald Malfi

Audiobook Length: 12 hours and 56 minutes and Book Length: 400 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Short Stories, Novella, Paranormal, Suspense

Read Start Date: October 11, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 17, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Four brand-new horror novellas from “a modern-day Algernon Blackwood” all about books, stories, manuscripts – the written word has never had sharper teeth…

From the bestselling author of Come with Me, four standalone horror novellas set in a shared universe!

In The Skin of Her Teeth, a cursed novel drives people to their deaths.

A delivery job turns deadly in The Dark Brothers’ Last Ride.

In This Book Belongs to Olo, a lonely child has dangerous control over an usual pop-up book.

A choose-your-own adventure game spirals into an uncanny reality in The Story.

Full of creepy, page-turning suspense, these collected novellas are perfect for fans of Paul Tremblay, Stephen King and Joe Hill.

My Review: I received this first as a book from Netgalley, but by the time I was ready to read it, there was also an audiobook version available, so I received that from Negalley also. I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ronald Malfi is fast becoming one of my all time favorite horror authors. Ghost Written is the second book by Malfi I have read (the first being Blackmouth (you can find my review here)). I really liked the book in both mediums (book and audiobook format).

I’m a voracious reader (I have read about 85 books so far this year, which is pretty typical for me), so the theme of cursed books was intriguing to me. I was not disappointed!

In The Skin of Her Teeth, a cursed novel will stop at nothing to remain unedited and unchanged, even kill! I really liked this one alot — it was actually probably my favorite of the bunch. The book in this story took on a monster quality and seemed to have a mind of its own. I really liked the ending (but I won’t spoil it).

In The Dark Brothers’ Last Ride, two guys have to deliver a package, a book — should be easy right? The problem: the delivery comes with certain instructions, ones that the brothers decide not to follow. This novella has elements of alternate realities / dimensions and I really liked it!

In This Book Belongs to Olo, Olo is the child of rich parents — his only problem is that he has no friends. With his magical pop-up book at his side, he decides to get friends any way he can, even if that means trapping them forever. This was not my favorite story. I would have liked to know how Olo came to have this book and/or how he came to have the power to make this book magical.

Lastly, in The Story, a journalist is investigating the apparent suicide of his ex-girlfriend. What he finds is a strange dark web choose-your-own-adventure story. Could this be the reason for her death? Reading this story via audiobook was a little confusing because sometimes the POV would switch to the characters in the adventure story. I think this one might be better read than listened to.

I love this author, so I can’t recommend his books enough!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Hell Spring by Isaac Thorne

Title: Hell Spring

Author: Isaac Throne

Book Length: 374 pages

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror

Read Start Date: July 31, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 30, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: In the twilight of March 21, 1955, eight people take cover in their local general store while a thundering torrent and flash flooding threatens life and livelihood alike. None of the eight are everything they claim to be. But only one of them hungers for human souls, flesh, and blood.

An overflowing waterway destroys their only path of escape. The tiny band of survivors is forced to confront themselves and each other when a peculiar stranger with a famous face tries to pick them off one by one.

Can the neighbors survive the predator in their midst as well as the 100-year flood that drowns the small town of Lost Hollow?

Or will they become victims of the night the townsfolk all remember as Hell Spring?

My Review: I received this ebook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The description of the book was so great that I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I just finished writing my first novel, so I know how much work and effort goes into something like this, but Hellspring just wasn’t resonating with me enough to say that I loved it. I did like it though!

The first chapter was a little strange to say the least and was almost a complete turn off for me. I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but I found it to be a little disgusting.

In short, we find ourselves in a cavern of sorts where hell hound type creatures live and dine on the souls of the damned. In the center of the cavern is a giant engorged penis (yes, that’s right) that is leaking ejaculate and is ready to blow its load (yes, you read that correctly). We get multiple sentences / images revolving around the penis and ejaculate. For example: “The gigantic head flattened on top as it engorged with the juice it would eventually spill over the arena and all within it.” And “A geyser of milky yellowish goo suspended inside a sticky transparent gel spewed high into the orange sky above the arena. It separated in mid-air and rained down globs upon all within.” I can’t think of a more appropriate time for the barf emoji.

At the end of the first chapter, a hell hound escapes the ejaculate into the “real world”, where she takes on the form of Marilyn Monroe. The year is 1955, and the biggest storm of the century is about to erupt. Marilyn is hungry and she needs to feed. But where can she find the sin riddled souls she is used to eating?

Beginning in Chapter 2 we start learning about the characters who eventually end up in Beard’s General Store (they are trapped there by the flood with Marilyn). Once we are in the general store, we do not leave for the rest of the book — all of the main aspects of the book take place there while the flood waters are rising outside. Many of the characters have committed recent “sins” for which they feel guilty, which gives Marilyn exactly what she needs.

The book is descriptive and well written, especially the scenes of the horrible acts committed by Marilyn. As the reader I somehow felt trapped along with the characters in the General Store and just wanted out. What it lacked however was the tension — the characters didn’t feel this either. After a character was devoured by Marilyn, the memories of that person were erased from the mind of the remaining people. Therefore, the characters never felt the rising tension of “will I be next” because none of them knew what was going on.

This book is extremely character driven, and usually for books like that to catch my attention, the characters have to be great — they have to be people you can really root for and whose story you are invested in. What I liked about the character development was that Isaac Thorne spent time on each person and really fleshed out the characters. Unfortunately, I just didn’t find any of the characters in Hell Spring to be all that particularly interesting — I didn’t love them enough to really be invested in their fate — would they make it out alive? Would they be eaten by the Marilyn hell creature?

The above being said, other people really loved this book. In her blog Mullen Crafts, it is stated: “Time is taken to really detail each event that occurs, drawing out the horror to the maximum. Yet for all its horror, for all the loss, for all the lies, shame, evil and deceit, the struggle in the fight between good and evil, the story ends on an unexpected note. I have not read anything by Issac Thorne before, but this piece of excellent writing will definitely send me looking for more. An excellent horror read which will leave you questioning your human decency and how you would measure up!”

I also really like what Kay Hanifen has to say about the themes of the book and Peter’s character progression. “Fundamentally, Hell Spring is about shame and the fear of being judged. All these characters harbor guilt within them for things that they don’t necessarily need to feel guilty about, particularly guilt related to sex. 

Though there are several main characters, the story is more Peter’s than anyone else’s, and I loved the way he grew and changed throughout the story, going from someone broken by self-loathing to an evangelical believer in a false prophet to a hero at the end. Though the trajectory of his arc places him as both the hero and a villain at points, his shift between these roles does not feel forced because it all ties together and culminates in a way that fits the character. He more than earns his ending.”

I gave this book 3 stars, however Hell Spring has an overall rating on Goodreads as of the writing of this post of 3.81, with 53% being in the 4 star range and 18% being in the 5 star range. It seems therefore that my assessment of the story falls a little below the average and maybe then I am an exception rather than the norm and/or maybe I haven’t given the book its due credit. You should read it and judge for yourself :).

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: A Haunted History of Invisible Women by Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes

60098288._SY475_Title: A Haunted History of Invisible Women: True Stories of America’s Ghosts

Author: Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes

Audiobook Length: 10 hours and 44 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, History, Paranormal, Horror, True Crime

Read Start Date: September 25, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 27, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: From the notorious Lizzie Bordento the innumerable, haunted rooms ofSarah Winchester‘s mysterious mansionthis offbeat, insightful, first-ever book of its kind explores the history behind America’s female ghosts, the stereotypes, myths, and paranormal tales that swirl around them, what their stories reveal about us–and why they haunt us…

Sorrowful widows, vengeful jezebels, innocent maidens, wronged lovers, former slaves, even the occasional axe-murderess–America’s female ghosts differ widely in background, class, and circumstance. Yet one thing unites them: their ability to instill fascination and fear, long after their deaths. Here are the full stories behind some of the best-known among them, as well as the lesser-known–though no less powerful.

Tales whispered in darkness often divulge more about the teller than the subject. America’s most famous female ghosts, like New Orleans voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and Bridget Bishop, the first person executed during the Salem witchcraft trials, mirror each era’s fears and prejudices. Yet through urban legends and campfire stories, even ghosts like the nameless hard-working women lost in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire –achieve a measure of power and agency in death, in ways unavailable to them as living women.

Riveting for skeptics and believers alike, with humor, curiosity, and expertise, A Haunted History of Invisible Women offers a unique lens on the significant role these ghostly legends play both within the spook-seeking corners of our minds and in the consciousness of a nation.

My Review: I received this audiobook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I thought this book was well done, but I found it to be more informational than scary. Despite the “horror” classification on Goodreads, I personally do not think that this book fits into that genre. The authors told the tales of female ghosts, but in the context of how women were / are societally perceived, and how this perception spawned such ghost stories. So, for me, it was more a book about the history of ghosts and the societal reasons why ghost stories are created, rather than a compilation of ghost stories.

I hadn’t ever thought to much into how ghost stories came about. It was very interesting to get the authors’ take based upon the historical evidence.

As of the writing of this review this book has about a 3.8 average rating on Goodreads, with about 111 ratings overall. Honestly, this is surprising to me and seems a bit unfair. Most of the lower ratings are from people who say the book is to “feminist” for them, or rag on the authors for not collecting interviews from people who have seen these ghosts, or for not sharing their own personal ghost stories. But I don’t think this was the point of the book. This book wasn’t about the stories themselves per se, but how these ghost stories were formed and how said stories have shaped society in the retelling. It is an interesting and unique perspective to these ghost stories, one which I had never read before.

Therefore, I would recommend this book, especially for those people who like history and ghosts.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

18045891Title: Sharp Objects

Author: Gillian Flynn

Book Length: 321 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Horror, Contemporary

Read Start Date: September 4, 2022 

Read Finish Date: September 17, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the unsolved murder of a preteen girl and the disappearance of another. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

My ReviewCamille Preaker, now a reported living in Chicago, is sent to her childhood hometown Wind Gap to cover the story of two child murders. To say that Camille had a troubled childhood would be an understatement. The tag line on the cover of the book I rented from the library states: “This family isn’t nuclear. It’s toxic.” That’s a mild way to put it.

Adora, the family matriarch and Camille’s mother is beloved by the small town of 2,000 residents. The Preaker’s are old money, and own the biggest business in town: a hog farm and butchery. When Camille was thirteen, her sister Marian died after a long bout of illnesses. Marian, the more loved child. The more adored child. Camille had always been second best. Soon after, Camille started cutting words on her body until only a small patch of skin on her back was unmarred. By the time she was an adult, she was also an alcoholic.

At the age of 30 she went to rehab for 6 months, a place for girls who cut. Her mother only visited once. “Then, inevitably, came the stories of Marian. She’d already lost one child, you see. It had nearly killed her. Why would the older (though necessarily less beloved) deliberately harm herself? I was so different from her lost girl, who — think of it — would be almost thirty had be lived. Marian embraced life, what she had been spared. Lord, she had soaked up the world — remember, Camille, how she laughed even in the hospital? I hated to point out to my mother that such was the nature of a bewildered, expiring ten-year-old. Why bother? It’s impossible to compete with the dead. I wished I could stop trying.”

Despite this horrible relationship and past, Camille, fresh out of rehab is heading back to the place where her demons grew up — to stay in the very house where they were created. Wind Gap was “the place where [her] sister died, the place [she] started cutting [her]self. A town so suffocating and small, you tripped over people you hated every day. People who knew things about you. It’s the kind of place that leaves a mark.”

For the first time in a long time, Camille sees Amma, the half-sister she knows very little about. “My mother said she was the most popular girl in school, and I believed it. Jackie said she was the meanest, and I believed that, too. Living in a swirl of Adora’s bitterness had to make one a bit crooked. And what did Amma make of Marian, I wondered? How confusing to live in the shadow of a shadow. But Amma was a smart girl — she did her acting out away from home. Near Adora she was compliant, sweet, needy — just what she had to be, to get my mother’s love.”

Gillian Flynn paints the picture of a bleak town in Nowheresville, America, where you are either a winner or a loser. “Old money and trash,” as Camille puts it. Now, two young teenagers are dead, strangled with their teeth pulled out. By all accounts these girls had their troubles — sometimes they were even bullies, but who would do such a heinous thing? Suspects abound, the police seem a tad incompetent, or at best overwhelmed / out of their league. Will the killer be caught before the next girl goes missing?

The mystery keeps you in it’s grip until the end.

I also really love Gillian Flynn’s writing style. Here are some examples:

“I rang the doorbell, which had been a cat-calling screech when I was very young, now subdued and truncated, like the bing! you hear on children’s records when it’s time to turn the page.”

“I drank more vodka. There was nothing I wanted to do more than be unconscious again, wrapped in black, gone away. I was raw. I felt swollen with potential tears, like a water balloon filled to burst. Begging for a pin prick. Wind Gap was unhealthy for me. This home was unhealthy for me.”

This book was published back in 2006 — wow already 16 years ago — so chances are you might have already read it. In case you haven’t yet, please do. This book is just fantastic.

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon

59431951._SY475_Title: The Last Storm

Author: Tim Lebbon

Book Length: 368 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Post Apocalyptic

Read Start Date: May 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A gripping road trip through post-apocalyptic America from Tim Lebbon, New York Times bestseller and author of Netflix’s The Silence.

Struck by famine and drought, large swathes of North America are now known as the Desert. Set against this mythic and vast backdrop, The Last Storm is a timely story of a family of Rainmakers whose rare and arcane gift has become a curse.

Jesse stopped rainmaking the moment his abilities became deadly, bringing down not just rain but scorpions, strange snakes and spiders. He thought he could help a land suffering from climate catastrophe, but he was wrong. When his daughter Ash inherited the tainted gift carried down the family bloodline, Jesse did his best to stop her. His attempt went tragically wrong, and ever since then he has believed himself responsible for his daughter’s death.

But now his wife Karina––who never gave up looking for their daughter—brings news that Ash is still alive. And she’s rainmaking again. Terrified of what she might bring down upon the desperate communities of the Desert, the estranged couple set out across the desolate landscape to find her. But Jesse and Karina are not the only ones looking for Ash. As the storms she conjures become more violent and deadly, some follow her seeking hope. And one is hungry for revenge.

My Review: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This book took me so long to finish because the first 20% or so was a little slow going. But wow, after that it got really good, and I ended up finishing it in only a few days. The Last Storm follows the POV of several characters: Jesse, a Rainmaker. Katrina, Jesse’s wife. Ash: Jesse’s daughter, who is also a Rainmaker. Cee, a woman who befriends Ash, and Jimi, a son of a murdered man out for revenge against Jesse.

I loved the characters in this book. Jesse, a Rainmaker who gave it all up when his gift accidentally killed three people. To make rain, Jesse plugs himself into an “apparatus” of his own construction, transporting him to what seems to be an alternate reality. From this reality, the rain is brought to our reality through Jesse, as though he were a conduit of some sort. In his last attempt it all went wrong, and creatures came with the rain. He tried to teach his daughter in the ways of Rainmaking, to avoid the same mistakes, but when she started to bring down creatures, just as Jesse had, he became afraid. “What if it got much, much worse than anything [he] was ever capable of? What if she did that in a city?”

Jesse injected her with a serum, trying to suppress her rainmaking abilities. “She was far more dangerous than me, even at that young age. What happened to me was worse than anything my mother brought down, and her father before her. It’s a pattern, a degeneration that seems to follow what’s happened here to the climate. The effect we’ve had on the world. I believe it was reflected in my place, the Shore. Maybe Ash’s Skunkville is even more affected. And no on can control that.”

Mistaking it for attempted murder, Ash ran away — and did not come back. For nine years Jesse lived alone, apart from other humans, tortured with the guilt that he had killed his daughter. His wife, Katrina left in search of Ash, and followed her without success for nine years. Hardened by her time of the road, Katrina is barely recognizable to Jesse when she appears on his doorstep. Ash is trying to assemble another apparatus to start bringing down the rain again, and her parents must find her before its too late. Will they succeed? Or will Ash bring down unimaginable terror with the rain?

Rainmaking is in Ash’s blood and the storm is calling for her. When she’s trapped in the tumult she blacks out for days, weeks, months at a time, finding peace only in the eye of the internalized storm. Ash needs to get it out, but at what cost? She thinks she can control it with the help of Cee, a woman she finds on the road, but she will soon realize that the storm is just too dangerous.

Jimi, the son of the one of the three people Jesse killed all those years ago, thought that the Rainmakers were gone. When he finds out that Ash is alive, he seeks her out to exact his revenge of her and Jesse.

As the character’s paths come closer and closer to crossing, the tension mounts, making for a fantastic page turner.

I also loved the world building in this book  — near future US where climate change has reduced parts of the country into desert — basically wastelands where only the most hardened of people can survive. I also really loved the alternate reality, different for each Rainmaker. A place of tumult and creatures, waiting to use the Rainmakers as a gateway into our world. Will Ash be the Earth’s salvation, bringing only the rain? Or will she instead bring destruction?

I highly recommend this book.

10 Book Reviews

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

Title: Dead as a Doornail

Author: Charlaine Harris

Book Length: 295 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Mystery, Horror

Read Start Date: July 17, 2022

Read Finish Date: August 26, 2022

Number in Book Series: 5

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Small-town cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse has had more than her share of experience with the supernatural—but now it’s really hitting close to home. When Sookie sees her brother Jason’s eyes start to change, she knows he’s about to turn into a were-panther for the first time—a transformation he embraces more readily than most shapeshifters she knows. But her concern becomes cold fear when a sniper sets his deadly sights on the local changeling population, and Jason’s new panther brethren suspect he may be the shooter. Now, Sookie has until the next full moon to find out who’s behind the attacks—unless the killer decides to find her first…

My Review: Surprisingly, Sookie doesn’t really have a love interest in this book, so it’s mostly mystery and thriller. A sniper is going around shooting shifters, and of course the cops don’t know the connection between the victims. Jason, now a werepanther, is suspected by the Hot Shot community, even though he is dating one of them. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, Hot Shot is a community of (inbred) shifters who mostly turn into panthers. In the last book Jason was held captive by a Hot Shot resident who bit him numerous times (hence why Jason is not a werepanther).

Unfortunately, Sam is shot, and Sookie is sent to Eric to request a favor….someone to fill in for Sam at the bar. Introducing Fangtasia’s newest bartender, Charles Twining, a pirate vampire. Yes, that’s right. A vampire who used to be a pirate — and he still dresses the part. Now we know something is going to be up with this guy as the bartenders at Fangtasia always have something going on and usually end up dead.

Lucky thing Charles was staying with Sookie (she had a vampire hidey hole left over from when she was dating Bill) because he managed to kill the arsonist that tried to burn down Sookie’s house. Claudine saved Sookie from the fire. There’s something odd going on with this fairy godmother business but we don’t know what yet. For the most part Sookie’s house is okay, except for her kitchen, which in hindsight is great, because now no one will be able to find any forensic evidence from when Sookie killed Debbie Pelt (in self defense, of course).

Why was Sookie targeted? Does it have something to do with the shifters being attacked? Will they find the killer before he kills again?

In other news, Alcide is back in the story as the son of the next potential pack leader. (Colonel flood died). Sookie is dragged into werewolf politics, even though she doesn’t want to be. Things with Alcide get slightly complicated for various reasons that I will not give away, except to say that one of the reasons is that he finds out that she killed Debbie (Alcide’s ex girlfriend who he excommunicated from the pack).

And as if that wasn’t enough, Tara is in trouble, as she’s currently dating a dangerous vampire. To set matters straight, Sookie has to call in a favor from Eric, who requires in exchange for Sookie to tell him what he’s been after: the truth about the time they spent together when he had witch induced amnesia. Now that Eric knows they had a sexual relationship, and that Eric was willing to leave everything behind to become Sookie’s full time lover, how will their relationship progress and/or change?

Wow. So much happened in just one book! As always Harris spins a fun tale of mystery and fantasy that you shouldn’t miss.

I can’t wait to read the next installment.

Other Books in this Series

Book #1: Dead Until Dark:

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Until the vampire of her dreams walks into her life-and one of her coworkers checks out….Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn’t such a bright idea.

See my review of Dead Until Dark here.

Book #2: Living Dead in Dallas:

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse is having a streak of bad luck. First her co-worker is killed, and no one seems to care. Then she comes face to-face with a beastly creature that gives her a painful and poisonous lashing. Enter the vampires, who graciously suck the poison from her veins (like they didn’t enjoy it).

The point is: they saved her life. So when one of the bloodsuckers asks for a favor, she obliges – and soon Sookie’s in Dallas, using her telepathic skills to search for a missing vampire. She’s supposed to interview certain humans involved, but she makes one condition: the vampires must promise to behave and let the humans go unharmed. But that’s easier said than done, and all it takes is one delicious blonde and one small mistake for things to turn deadly….

See my review of Living Dead in Dallas here.

Book #3: Club Dead:

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Things between cocktail waitress Sookie and her vampire boyfriend Bill seem to be going excellently (apart from the small matter of him being undead) until he leaves town for a while. A long while. Bill’s sinister boss Eric has an idea of where to find him, whisking her off to Jackson, Mississippi to mingle with the under-underworld at Club Dead. When she finally catches up with the errant vampire, he is in big trouble and caught in an act of serious betrayal. This raises serious doubts as to whether she should save him or start sharpening a few stakes of her own ..

See my review of Club Dead here.

Book #4 Dead to the World

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Sookie Stackhouse is a cocktail waitress in Bon Temps, Louisiana. She has only a few close friends, because not everyone appreciates Sookie’s gift: she can read minds. That’s not exactly every man’s idea of date bait – unless they’re undead; vampires and the like can be tough to read. And that’s just the kind of guy Sookie’s been looking for. Maybe that’s why, when she comes across a naked vampire, she doesn’t just drive on by. He hasn’t got a clue who he is, but Sookie has: Eric looks just as scary and sexy – and dead – as ever. But now he has amnesia, he’s sweet, vulnerable, and in need of Sookie’s help – because whoever took his memory now wants his life.

See my review of Dead to the World here.