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THE LUMINARIES by Susan Dennard

Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.

Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.

Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.

But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.

Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.


Title : The Luminaries
Author : Susan Dennard
Series : The Luminaries #1
Format : eARC
Page Count : 305
Genre : Fantasy/Horror
Publisher : Daphne Press
Release Date : November 1, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Outcasts
Creepy forests and creatures
Reading ease

I found The Luminaries incredibly easy to get into and stay connected through. This was an world that was understandable and a main character that was engaging and that I felt on side with. Alongside all this was some delicious creepy forest with some less delicious chilling creatures.

Winnie and her family as outcasts seemed to have been given a hard and unfair ride thanks to the actions of her father. Her mum was an interesting character and somewhat weak considering she was supposed to be a renowned hunter; that didn’t quite add up even at the end of this first book. Her brother I liked and Jay also had me intrigued.

Winnie’s friends however…nope; I’m here not to forgive and forget. I loved the trials (not over extended build up or delivery) and any hunting practice or action. The nightmares lived up to their names on the whole.

I can’t finish this review without making reference to the fact that I felt a Vampire Academy vibe all the way through this book. I mean that as a complement rather than a criticism.

Thank you to Tor UK/Panmacmillan for the eARC.

THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD by Tiffany D. Jackson

Author Tiffany D. Jackson ramps up the horror and tackles America’s history and legacy of racism in this YA novel following a biracial teenager as her Georgia high school hosts its first integrated prom. 

When Springville residents—at least the ones still alive—are questioned about what happened on prom night, they all have the same explanation… Maddy did it.

An outcast at her small-town Georgia high school, Madison Washington has always been a teasing target for bullies. And she’s dealt with it because she has more pressing problems to manage. Until the morning a surprise rainstorm reveals her most closely kept secret: Maddy is biracial. She has been passing for white her entire life at the behest of her fanatical white father, Thomas Washington.

After a viral bullying video pulls back the curtain on Springville High’s racist roots, student leaders come up with a plan to change their image: host the school’s first integrated prom as a show of unity. The popular white class president convinces her Black superstar quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to be his date, leaving Maddy wondering if it’s possible to have a normal life.

But some of her classmates aren’t done with her just yet. And what they don’t know is that Maddy still has another secret… one that will cost them all their lives.


Title : The Weight of Blood
Author : Tiffany D. Jackson
Format : ARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA horror / retellings
Publisher : Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date : September 6, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

This might be one of the first instance where the inclusion of the podcast-about-the-event shtick hasn’t been a win for me. I enjoyed the interviews, the snippets, but the podcast itself? Not really. I would’ve liked more story instead, actually, as I felt the interruptions broke too much of the tension instead of adding to it.

But so much of this was good. Fun to read about? Of course not. But there were so many varied discussions about racism, colourism, segregation, and what it means to be “Black enough”, and each time it actually had meaningful relevance to the story and characters, without feeling awkwardly shoehorned in — like many stories often do. This was also one of the few YA stories, at least that I’ve read recently, where the villains weren’t caricatures. They had nuance, they acted appropriately in ways that befit their beliefs and feelings, and — in one particular case — were committed to that right to the bitter end. IYKYK.

Speaking of characters though I’ll admit that I don’t think I liked Maddy, our main character, or the love interest all that much. I could feel for them, absolutely, and want the best for them, but oddly I think my favourite character might’ve been Wendy. And no, I won’t be taking questions at this time. But on the whole? I couldn’t put this down.

A lot of this story is going to be familiar as this is an homage to Carrie but I still think there will be a few things to surprise you along the way. And, again, I really enjoyed how Jackson added to the narrative and fleshed it out in a new way while still keeping true to the essence of it all.

If this is on your radar, definitely give it a go.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

A DOWRY OF BLOOD by ST Gibson

This is my last love letter to you, though some would call it a confession. . .

S.T. Gibson’s sensational novel is the darkly seductive tale of Dracula’s first bride, Constanta.

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things.

Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets. With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

This beautiful hardback edition will include a bonus short story featuring characters from A Dowry of Blood, titled ‘An Encore of Roses’.

Title : A Dowry of Blood
Author : ST Gibson
Format : Physical
Page Count : 304
Genre : Fantasy Horror
Publisher : Orbit Books
Release Date : October 6, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis reviewed an earlier edition here

Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Suffocating control
Unconventional relationships
Co-dependent vampires

This was a lush read of decadence mixed with something rather hideous underneath the trappings of ‘love’. I found this book totally captivating and uncomfortable but I couldn’t look away. I devoured it over 24 hours. I really enjoyed the first person narrative, it worked so well for this tale.

Told over centuries that felt like decades, the story unfolded from Constanta’s point of view but it centered on him, her sire, her lord, he who had to be obeyed. This was an utterly complex relationship between these two main characters, initally built on being saved, through to a besotted and an unreal kind of love, then into something deeper but kind of icky.

The story moved into having more key characters and more to the relationships. The sire’s truer colours came to light and this tale was one of darkness, dependency and blood.

It was so good to have the bonus short story and I’m wholly excited for more from this series and the characters.

We are children of the same rotten family, survivors of the same intimate war.

HOUSE OF HUNGER by Alexis Henderson

WANTED – Bloodmaid of exceptional tasteMust have a keen proclivity for life’s finer pleasures. Girls of weak will need not apply.

A young woman is drawn into the upper echelons of a society where blood is power, in this dark and enthralling gothic novel from the author of The Year of the Witching.

Marion Shaw has been raised in the slums, where want and deprivation is all she knows. Despite longing to leave the city and its miseries, she has no real hope of escape until the day she spots a peculiar listing in the newspaper, seeking a bloodmaid.

Though she knows little about the far north–where wealthy nobles live in luxury and drink the blood of those in their service–Marion applies to the position. In a matter of days, she finds herself the newest bloodmaid at the notorious House of Hunger. There, Marion is swept into a world of dark debauchery–and at the center of it all is her.

Countess Lisavet, who presides over this hedonistic court, is loved and feared in equal measure. She takes a special interest in Marion. Lisavet is magnetic, and Marion is eager to please her new mistress. But when her fellow bloodmaids begin to go missing in the night, Marion is thrust into a vicious game of cat and mouse. She’ll need to learn the rules of her new home–and fast–or its halls will soon become her grave. 


Title : House of Hunger
Author : Alexis Henderson
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 304
Genre : historical fiction / horror / LGBTQIAP+ / fantasy
Publisher : Ace Books
Release Date : September 27, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

When the need for a spoopy vampire book to fit a spoopy-themed readathon prompt was required, this was (maybe oddly) the first to come to mind.

I had heard good things about the author’s witchy debut, which I have yet to read, and this cover really caught the eye. And while it did start off well, I will admit that the characterization of the lead character took too sharp a turn at a certain point and I felt the emotional impact and motivation just didn’t measure up. In fact, in general, I just didn’t find her convincing at all. Too forthright, too pushy, all from the get-go; and considering her position in life, before and after being a bloodmaid, it just didn’t really fit. I would’ve liked to see her come into that as a result of her change in circumstances instead of already possess it. Much like I would’ve liked to see more of what drove her to feel devotion, desire, and more, instead of it just seeming to happen. And likewise, her unique blood aside, she didn’t seem to inspire it in others, despite what we were told.

This wasn’t a long book and we had time for so much more. Not just Marion’s character development but more of the other Houses, the history, the politics. So much of this felt too much like set dressing; interesting at first glance but too static and without depth. Even Lisavet, for all her hunger, felt a little too two dimensional.

Having said all that, though this wasn’t a win, I may try to pick up The Year of the Witching during this autumnal spoopy time, after a few other changes in pace, to see if maybe that’ll be more my vibe.

SPELLS FOR FORGETTING by Adrienne Young

‘There were tales that only the island knew. Ones that had never been told. I knew, because I was one of them.’

Emery Blackwood’s life was forever changed on the eve of her high school graduation, when the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her best friend, Lily. She’d once dreamt of running away with August, eager to escape the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and chase new dreams together. Now, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence among this tight-knit community steeped in folklore and tradition, ruled by the seasons and ancient superstitions.

But when August returns after fourteen years to bury his mother’s ashes, Emery must confront her first love and the reason he left so abruptly. But the town wants August gone again. And as the island begins to show signs of strange happenings, the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises threatens to reveal the truth behind Lily’s death once and for all.


Title : Spells For Forgetting
Author : Adrienne Young
Format : Physical ARC
Page Count : 364
Genre : Fantasy Horror
Publisher : Quercus Books
Release Date : September 27, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Atmospheric and lamenting
Mysterious
Nature’s grumblings

This book blew me away with it’s haunting vibes, mystery and return to historical events on the Island of Saorise. The whole story just bled atmosphere and gave a sinister chill as you read. Told in present and some past narrative (not overused), the lives of four high school graduates on this small island was brought into the now of over a decade later. Murder, fire and conspiracy were afoot in this tale and the incredible prose kept me devouring the pages.

At the centre of this book were Emery and August with their two best friends in their orbit. That was back then…now there were three. Saorise was a place that was a lore rather than law to itself. The island spoke through the land, the trees, the weather and wildlife and the residents listened.

Sometimes the signs were subtle, like a fleeting shadow or an echo in the trees. Other times, the island wasn’t gentle with her words.

The mystery surrounding Lily, the orchard and August’s departure and return were completely compelling but so was the young romance between August and Emery. I was so invested in how that would end, even though it was often in the background. There’s so much to keep reader’s invested in this story.

Adrienne Young’s storytelling was quite beautiful. I highlighted a lot and her writing captivated my imagination. This is the perfect autumnal read but really I’d recommend it anytime.

We’d had no beginning, I realized. We just always were.

Thank you to Quercus Books for the review copy.

SMALL ANGELS by Lauren Owen

A wedding in a small English village attracts a malicious spirit, forcing deep secrets to surface–a hypnotic tale of sisterhood, first love, and hauntings.

As a teenager, Kate found a safe harbor from her parents’ constant fighting in the company of the four Gonne sisters, who lived with their strict grandparents next to Small Angels, a church on the edge of dense green woods. The first outsider to ever get close to the sisters, Kate eventually learned the family’s secret: The woods are home to a capricious, menacing ghost whom generations of Gonnes had been charged with stopping from venturing into the village itself. But as the sisters grew older, braver, and more independent, bucking against the family’s burden, the bulwark began to crack, culminating in a horrifying act of violence that drove a terrible wedge between the sisters and Kate.

Chloe has been planning her dream wedding for months. She has the dress, the flowers, and the perfect venue: Small Angels, a charming old church in the village where her fiancé, Sam, and his sister, Kate, grew up. But days before the ceremony, Chloe starts to hear unsettling stories about Small Angels–and worse, she begins to see, smell, and hear things that couldn’t possibly be real.

Now Kate is returning home for the first time in years, for Sam and Chloe’s wedding. But the woods are coming alive again, and Kate must reconnect with Lucia, the most troubled of the sisters and her first love, to protect Chloe, the village, and herself. An unforgettable novel about the memories that hold us back and those that show us the way forward–this is storytelling at its most magical. Enter Small Angels, if you dare.


Title : Small Angels
Author : Lauren Owen
Format : Physical
Page Count : 480
Genre : Contemporary/Gothic Horror
Publisher : Tinder Press/Headline Books
Release Date : August 2, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Creepy gothic horror wrapped in the now
A small village
Legend meets reality

I got an invite to Chloe and Sam’s wedding thanks to the team at Headline, I will be sending my apologies because the wedding that brought the old tales to life in this story scared the life out of me at times. I have been dipping my toe into more creep and mild horror this year and Small Angels really did test my mettle in terms of what I could cope with.

The story is told from a range of POVS, but they’re slowly and gradually introduced; they’re not overwhelming and easy to follow. The idea of the Gonnes, the tales of the past, the church and eventually the things that Chloe experienced had my hairs on the back of my neck on end.

Kate was something of a pivotal character, building from small beginnings into the centre of how things evolved. She had a tight connection to the Gonne sister. Her role in the plot was crucial and atmospheric. How Kate’s character linked with Laura, then Harry kept me reading and the reveals eventually came.

The blurb for this book says come if you dare and I would second that statement, only if you dare!

Thank you to Headline books for the exceptionally beautiful arc.

3.75 stars, rounded up.

KATZENJAMMER by Francesca Zappia

From acclaimed author Francesca Zappia, American Horror Story meets the dark comedy of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis as Cat searches for a way to escape her high school. Katzenjammer is a tale of family, love, tragedy, and masks—the ones others make for us, and the ones we make for ourselves. Eerie and thought-provoking, this novel will haunt fans of Chelsie Pitcher’s This Lie Will Kill You and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. Features illustrations by the author throughout.

Cat lives in her high school. She never leaves, and for a long time her school has provided her with everything she needs. But now things are changing. The hallways contract and expand along with the school’s breathing, and the showers in the bathroom run a bloody red. Cat’s best friend is slowly turning into cardboard, and instead of a face, Cat has a cat mask made of her own hardened flesh.

Cat doesn’t remember why she is trapped in her school or why half of them—Cat included—are slowly transforming. Escaping has always been the one impossibility in her school’s upside-down world. But to save herself from the eventual self-destruction all the students face, Cat must find the way out. And to do that, she’ll have to remember what put her there in the first place.

Told in chapters alternating between the past and the present, Francesca Zappia weaves a spine-tingling, suspenseful, and haunting story about tragedy and the power of memories. Much like the acclaimed Eliza and Her Monsters, Katzenjammer features black-and-white illustrations by the author throughout the novel. Fans of Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends and Karen McManus’s One of Us Is Lying will lose themselves in the pages of this novel—or maybe in the treacherous hallways of the school.


Title : Katzenjammer
Author : Francesca Zappia
Format : ARC
Page Count : 276
Genre : YA contemporary / horror / fantasy
Publisher : Greenwillow Books
Release Date : June 28, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ .5


Hollis’ 1.5 star review

Welp, this decides it. I’ve gone from loving Eliza and Her Monsters, my first experience with this author, to being perplexed and uncertain of how I felt (Made You Up) to truly actively disliking everything else (Now Entering Addamsville and, of course, this one). I think Zappia and I have to part ways.

First off, the list of triggers for this book are rather plentiful, so please go find a full list. But in broad strokes we have violence (various types, including gun violence), body horror and gore (again, a variety), bullying (you guessed it, various kinds), and more.

I expected, from the pitch, that this was to be all kinds of strange and dark and surreal but after a certain reveal.. I feel even stranger about the whole experience. I don’t think books with heavier subject matter or darkness need a happy ending but sometimes there’s something. For this book? Don’t expect anything.

While it is doubtlessly creative and sometimes the weirdness was.. winsome, even almost endearing, on the whole I just don’t know what to do with this whole experience. Normally my one-stars are very distinctly in the “I hated this” category but this didn’t inspire hate. It just didn’t work. And it’s not for me.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

DEAD SILENCE by S. A. Barnes

Titanic meets The Shining in S.A. Barnes’ Dead Silence, a SF horror novel in which a woman and her crew board a decades-lost luxury cruiser and find the wreckage of a nightmare that hasn’t yet ended.

A GHOST SHIP.
A SALVAGE CREW.
UNSPEAKABLE HORRORS.

Claire Kovalik is days away from being unemployed—made obsolete—when her beacon repair crew picks up a strange distress signal. With nothing to lose and no desire to return to Earth, Claire and her team decide to investigate.

What they find at the other end of the signal is a shock: the Aurora, a famous luxury space-liner that vanished on its maiden tour of the solar system more than twenty years ago. A salvage claim like this could set Claire and her crew up for life. But a quick trip through the Aurora reveals something isn’t right.

Whispers in the dark. Flickers of movement. Words scrawled in blood. Claire must fight to hold onto her sanity and find out what really happened on the Aurora, before she and her crew meet the same ghastly fate.


Title : Dead Silence
Author : S. A. Barnes
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 343
Genre : sci-fi horror
Publisher : Tor Nightfire
Release Date : February 8, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Hoo boy, fam, if you enjoy the thrilling sensation of feeling like you’ve seen something out of the corner of your eye, the certainty that something is hiding underneath your bed, combined by the terror and unpredictability (not to mention darkness) of space, you will love this book. Conversely, if you loved Serenity or The Illuminae Files, there are elements in here you might appreciate.

I will admit, there was a scene or two that really got me going. I had to set the book down and take a breath.

But beyond the suspense and gruesome parts, the beauty of this story is in the narrator’s uncertainty of what is real and what isn’t. Which adds to the scary. For reasons you’ll learn about, Claire is already an unreliable narrator. And it only gets worse as she tries to piece together what happened after she and her crew dock with a decades-long missing ship.

I had such a good time reading this, both because of the thrills and for following along to figure out the what of it all. The ending did surprise me, and I can see some people maybe not enjoy it for a few different reasons, but it landed fine for me.

Obviously, due to the horror — gore, violence, all that jazz — this isn’t one I can recommend to just anyone, but if the themes and synopsis seem to be in your wheelhouse, I would definitely give it a try. This is Barnes’ debut, under this penname at least, and I will definitely pick her up again.

ECHO by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

It’s One Thing to Lose Your Life
It’s Another to Lose Your Soul

When climber Nick Grevers is brought down from the mountains after a terrible accident he has lost his looks, his hopes and his climbing companion. His account of what happened on the forbidden peak of the Maudit is garbled, almost hallucinogenic. Soon it becomes apparent more than his shattered body has returned: those that treat his disfigured face begin experiencing extraordinary and disturbing psychic events that suggest that Nick has unleashed some ancient and primal menace on his ill-fated expedition.

Nick’s partner Sam Avery has a terrible choice to make. He fell in love with Nick’s youth, vitality and beauty. Now these are gone and all that is left is a haunted mummy-worse, a glimpse beneath the bandages can literally send a person insane.

Sam must decide: either to flee to America, or to take Nick on a journey back to the mountains, the very source of the curse, the little Alpine Village of Grimnetz, its soul-possesed Birds of Death and it legends of human sacrifice and, ultimately, its haunted mountain, the Maudit.


Title : Echo
Author : Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Format : Physical
Page Count : 416
Genre : Horror
Publisher : Hodder Books
Release Date : February 3, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Just get past the prologue
Shivers, fear and birds
This couple were goals, strange ones, but still goals

I am a no-time horror reader but the climbing element of this book made me sign up. I read the prologue and quite frankly, I was petrified. It plunged the reader into a kind of relatable nightmare but I can say that post-prologue it relented on that level of adrenaline scare. The plot of this story was exceptional in my opinion. The sinister feels, the unthinkable being real had the ability to really capture my attention.

What you get with Echo is a consistent feeling of tension, a background of looking over your shoulder (was that something in your side vision?) and strange happenings following one of the protagonists around. Nick had been involved in a climbing accident that had caused a major injury and his partner Sam found himself plunged into a test of the strength of their relationship.

I really admired Sam, this story was a representation of how we might behave if we found our partner changed by injury. Sam was definitely not sure if he could be up to the task but he tried really hard. I loved how Sam believed Nick, even if he wasn’t sure if this was delusion, psychosis or something more sinister. Nick was difficult to fathom as a person after the Maudit, but he was such an interesting character. I was cheering for them, even though I didn’t have much hope.

I have to make a serious nod to the author for the authenticity of the climbing in this book. An amateur climber myself and as someone who has devoured endless climbing expedition non-fiction, the detail and accuracy made this read something extra. Non-climbers might have to look up some technical words occasionally but google is your friend.

As I look at the Maudit, I realize this mountain’s soul is old and dangerous. I see it as an evil, dark blot. A cancer spreading over the valley. I suddenly become dead scared.

Overall, I will sleep tonight after finishing, which is more than I did after reading that prologue but please do remember I am a 10 on the wuss-scale so this was a read out of my comfort zone. I enjoyed this so much that I might dip my toe into another of Heuvelt’s books, which is something when I never seek out horror.

Thank you to Hodder Books and Pride Book Tours for the review copy.

NEAR THE BONE by Christina Henry

A woman trapped on a mountain attempts to survive more than one kind of monster, in a dread-inducing horror novel from the national bestselling author Christina Henry.

Mattie can’t remember a time before she and William lived alone on a mountain together. She must never make him upset. But when Mattie discovers the mutilated body of a fox in the woods, she realizes that they’re not alone after all.

There’s something in the woods that wasn’t there before, something that makes strange cries in the night, something with sharp teeth and claws.

When three strangers appear on the mountaintop looking for the creature in the woods, Mattie knows their presence will anger William. Terrible things happen when William is angry.


Title : Near the Bone
Author : Christina Henry
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 336
Genre : horror / paranormal?
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : April 13, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I picked this up thinking it would satisfy the part of me that wanted something wintry with the part of me that was still wanting spookier or thriller-y type reads. And it gave me both of those things for sure. But did I like it? Eh.

In addition to a horror, with possibly some kind of paranormal aspect, Near the Bone is about.. other things. That may actually be very spoilery, now that I’ve read the synopsis. Ahem. Anyway, it’s a very isolated and claustrophobic kind of story, for all that it’s set in the woods, and there is a horrific reason why Mattie is there in the first place. Which, again, I won’t spoil. I just wish.. well, I kept waiting for a “why” for the whole thing and I’m left unsatisfied because there wasn’t a good why. But maybe that’s realistic. Maybe that’s the whole point. And yet, still, unsatisfied.

This is unsettling and disturbing for a whole host of reasons and in hindsight both of the main conflicts and reasons for disturbance are kind of just things that happen, or have happened, and we go along with them without ever getting true explanations. Again, maybe that’s the whole point, maybe that’s supposed to make it all scarier. I definitely needed more, though.

This isn’t my first read by this author and I think to some degree I’m always left feeling a bit like this after reading her books (though the ones I’ve read before were some of her dark retellings) so I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.

Definitely wouldn’t recommend but due to the thrilling nature, and how everything comes to light for Mattie, it does make it a fast read, so. There’s that.