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.

SUMMER SONS by Lee Mandelo

Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge.

As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.


Title : Summer Sons
Author : Lee Mandelo
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 384
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ horror/thriller
Publisher : Tordotcom
Release Date : September 28, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Imagine the dynamic from Sakavic’s All For The Game mashed up with a certain dreamer and car-loving scoundrel from Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys but set in the American south and transplanted into an academia-focused horror.

That’s basically Summer Sons.

This was a hard one to sink into because when the story opens up you aren’t quite sure how things were between the main character, Andrew, and the man he’s grieving. Brother? Best friend? Lover? The intensity of his focus, his drive, to prove that Eddie was murdered, that he didn’t commit suicide, is.. well it’s intense. And in some ways it’s uncomfortable because the grief is so big, these feelings so intangible (and many unprocessed), and then of course he’s also being haunted, possessed, stalked, by a presence that he thinks — knows — is Eddie.

Thrown into Eddie’s world, his home, with his roommate, and a new group of friends, as well as new school and a graduate program all hand-picked for him, Andrew is suspicious of everything, and everyone, and trying to recreate Eddie’s last days, weeks, months, in the time they were separated. And it all harkens back to what happened to them as children; a mystery that is slow to be revealed.

The ultimate big baddie reveal isn’t quite a surprise but I guess.. I understood the reasons but not the rationale? Maybe there wasn’t one.

This group of characters are an odd mix of destructive, queer, diverse, and with a splash (or four) of recklessness. But somehow you do sorta fall in love with them. I didn’t like them at first, which I think is purposeful given how off balance Andrew is to be there among them and why, and how they tested him back, but I was compelled by them and then, eventually, well. Yeah, I got it. But on the whole it’s a strange mix of themes, vibes, plots, and aesthetics.

The real delight is the road Andrew travels to look back at his relationship with Eddie and how that shaped so much of him, and how it also held him back. There are two distinct ways he gets to relive some key moments and they are both pretty powerful.

While some of the plot dragged, and we endured some repetition, and to be honest the academia stuff didn’t really interest me as a driving force, it was the characters that kept me glued to the page. And while I did enjoy the atmosphere, and the horror elements, it was their character work that is the main draw for me and why I’ll definitely pick up another read by this author.

KING OF CROWS by Libba Bray


After the horrifying explosion that claimed one of their own, the Diviners find themselves wanted by the US government, and on the brink of war with the King of Crows.

While Memphis and Isaiah run for their lives from the mysterious Shadow Men, Isaiah receives a startling vision of a girl, Sarah Beth Olson, who could shift the balance in their struggle for peace. Sarah Beth says she knows how to stop the King of Crows-but, she will need the Diviners’ help to do it.

Elsewhere, Jericho has returned after his escape from Jake Marlowe’s estate, where he has learned the shocking truth behind the King of Crow’s plans. Now, the Diviners must travel to Bountiful, Nebraska, in hopes of joining forces with Sarah Beth and to stop the King of Crows and his army of the dead forever.

But as rumors of towns becoming ghost towns and the dead developing unprecedented powers begin to surface, all hope seems to be lost.

In this sweeping finale, The Diviners will be forced to confront their greatest fears and learn to rely on one another if they hope to save the nation, and world from catastrophe..


Title : King of Crows
Author : Libba Bray
Series : The Diviners (book four)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 561
Genre : YA fantasy / historical fiction / paranormal
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : February 4, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating :  ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

If not for my respect for the author’s research and unflinching honesty about the history (and horrors) that exist in America (and so many other countries), this would be a one star. She called this a ghost story, and it’s true, because so much of what made up this series was a haunting; a haunting of the forgotten, of what it took to “make” the country; those who were erased in the process, those who continue to be deemed less worthy or overlooked.. there are so many ghosts in that. Many sad, lots of them mad. And Bray never let us forget it.

It was exhausting, sure, but what made it worse were these characters. I’m sorry, I could never find the love, I only ever had brief glimmers of like. What kept me going was the plot. And bizarrely, in this big epic finale, there was almost.. no plot? You would think there would be a big rush to band together, figure out strategy, and confront the Big Bad but.. no. This was some side quest/travel/journey novel from one end of the country to another. With a lot of time just.. passin’ on by. But before we even got to that? We had to survive some stupidity.

“[character x] is killing people for power and has been for years! they are the reason for everything that’s happened! we have to stop them to defeat [big bad villain]!”
“I know! we, a bunch of seventeen year olds, should TALK to this grown adult! I’m sure they don’t know what they are doing!”

[insert “sure Jan” gif here]

This is just one example of the stupid in the early very stages of this book. And maybe it’s naive but after all the stupid in the three books previous (sometimes just the characters being dumb, other times the author making them be stupid for plot reasons) I just.. hoped we wouldn’t still be doing something like this. After everything they’ve been through, everything they now know, and how much character x has done to them personally and others, their first instinct is to drop all other avenues of investigation or planning.. and confront someone for a conversation.

I’m so irritated. Infact that whole scene, and at least one after it, bothered me to no end. And knowing I was only at 14% did not inspire me to continue. But I did. Obviously.

What came after was much slogging, our heroes separated, trying to survive and reunite, only to then just.. hang around on a farm. For some semi-valid reasons, sure, but mostly not. And throughout that time, they were often just so clueless.

So much of the added word count, dare I say filler, never actually feels satisfactorily resolved, either. I’m not even going to touch on how easy the climax/confrontation was to be resolved, after everything, but so many characters who we had been forced to endure, or who had been part of things along the way, are ultimately just.. brushed aside?

Everything about this experience was so strange. So unsatisfying. Which is a strange mix when butted up against my respect for all the elements Bray included and made a point to beat us over the head with.

I cannot recommend the series, part of me even wishes I had my time back (especially for books two and four), but it’s done. And I’ll hopefully never see or hear the words Baby Vamp, Lamb Chop, copacetic, or pos-i-tutely ever again.

This was a pretty disappointing note to end on as I wrap my Five Series to Finish in 2021 goal but. But! I did it. I already have a whole new selection for 2022 (blog post to come!) and I can’t wait to continue to close out more started-but-yet-to-finish-reading series in the new year.

BEFORE THE DEVIL BREAKS YOU by Libba Bray

New York City.
1927.
Lights are bright.
Jazz is king.
Parties are wild.
And the dead are coming…


After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves. 


Title : Before the Devil Breaks You
Author : Libba Bray
Series : The Diviners (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 561
Genre : YA fantasy / historical fiction / paranormal
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : October 3, 2017

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating :  ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

You know those books that have very clear peaks and valleys in enjoyment where you can point out “see that? that’s where I started to hate this” or “this, this was where I felt the story redeemed itself”. Well.. yeah, this is one of those.

What started off slow, quickly (well.. not quickly, this is almost six hundred pages after all) started to prove itself better than its predecessor; and I don’t just mean plot-wise. Because for some of this I was having fun with the characters, too. But of course we can’t have nice things so that took a serious dive (or two!), and we ended things back where we started with me being checked out on character and only here for over arcing plot.

I don’t know if it’s really just me (likely, based on ratings) that can’t connect to these characters or what but like.. it’s not even that they just aren’t likeable. They just have do some questionable, sometimes outright stupid, things. Some can be blamed on the author who has thrown at least one under the bus for the sake of resolving a romance (which.. I’ll get to this in a mo) but the rest just seem to be their personality and, welp, I’m not here for it.

Much like how I wasn’t getting on with the characters, I also wasn’t getting on with the majority of the romances. In fact.. the only ones I liked where the queer pairings? And they didn’t even get much page time. Maybe that’s what saved them. As for what wasn’t saved, aforementioned character and the bus, like.. wow. Harsh. I guess that’s one way to solve a love triangle? Just kidding, no it is not. Curious to see that fall to shit in book four.

And having that said, I don’t understand how in a book with so much happening, much action, much filler, many characters, there were so many scenes that were just.. rushed over? Seemed to have been skimmed? It made the pacing so strange and it made the whole experience frustrating as, again, I was actually liking this more than I wasn’t. Until the last 20%.

Very glad there’s only one more book to go because even though this series hasn’t been a total fail (though it obviously hasn’t been a total win, either) it’s rather exhausting to be trapped in this dreary racist past (as opposed to our dreary racist present) and I find my skin crawls more from the terrible non-magical human characters than it does from the spooky ghosts or horror elements. Imma need something fluffy after this for sure.

WITHIN THESE WICKED WALLS by Lauren Blackwood

What the heart desires, the house destroys… 

Kiersten White meets Tomi Adeyemi in this Ethiopian-inspired debut fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre.

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, Andromeda quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, but leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option. Evil may roam the castle’s halls, but so does a burning desire.


Title : Within These Wicked Walls
Author : Lauren Blackwood
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA fantasy retelling
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : October 19, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Almost any Jane Eyre retelling gets me excited but an Ethiopian-inspired one made me look not once, not twice, but thrice. Having said that, other than some very basic bones of said original, this deviates a lot from the majority of the story — and honestly I think it succeeded because of that.

Andromeda is this version’s Jane who comes to Thornfield, to Rochester — Magnus, in this case — not to be a governess but to exorcise the Manifestations that are haunting the castle, and it’s master, from an inherited curse. I don’t know that I ever fully understood how she was capable of doing this, it involved goggles and a welding pen (steampunky, almost, I guess) to make amulets that were suited to each element of the curse, and then.. voila. She takes this job, what she learns is an impossible job, to guarantee her patronage and recognition as a debtera aka exorcist. But, much like the original, Magnus is often distracting Andi from her job, longing for attention, lonely and entitled, and fascinated by this person who resists him, speaks truths to his face, and is also fiercely capable.

From then on I won’t say which parts are new or true or how it all plays out but honestly other than a few scenes that I think tried too hard to force themselves into the original story.. this was totally captivating. I maybe would’ve liked to see more build up to their relationship, maybe because I enjoyed their earlier prickly interactions so much and didn’t feel as much chemistry after a certain point, but the rest of the story, the world, kept it strong. There was a secondary relationship that I thought was both adorable and also maybe took some focus away from other dynamics I would’ve liked to be stronger but.. it helped humanize, and soften, a character that definitely needed it. And made some later moments perhaps a little more believable.

Vague vagueries, oooh, spooky.

If you want a somewhat dark, atmospheric, yet also occasionally playful, diverse fantasy, that happens to harken back to a well known classic tale, you should absolutely have this not only on your radar but on your TBR. Considering this is Blackwood’s debut, I can’t wait to see what she cooks up next.

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

LAIR OF DREAMS by Libba Bray

The longing of dreams draws the dead, and this city holds many dreams.

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. With her uncanny ability to read people’s secrets, she’s become a media darling, earning the title “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” Everyone’s in love with the city’s newest It Girl…everyone except the other Diviners.

Piano-playing Henry DuBois and Chinatown resident Ling Chan are two Diviners struggling to keep their powers a secret—for they can walk in dreams. And while Evie is living the high life, victims of a mysterious sleeping sickness are turning up across New York City.

As Henry searches for a lost love and Ling strives to succeed in a world that shuns her, a malevolent force infects their dreams. And at the edges of it all lurks a man in a stovepipe hat who has plans that extend farther than anyone can guess…As the sickness spreads, can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld to save the city?


Title : Lair of Dreams
Author : Libba Bray
Series : The Diviners (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 613
Genre : YA fantasy / historical fiction / paranormal
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : August 25, 2015

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating :  ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

Yeesh, we’ve taken a bit of a dip in this series — and by we I mean me — but a brief scan of ratings shows I’m definitely the outlier on this one. So, well. You know the saying.

But let me just take this brief moment to get the snarky out of the way : the main premise/conflict of this second book is that people are falling prey to a sleeping sickness, unable to wake up. And hoo boy was that some powerful mojo because I, too, was wanting to fall asleep while reading this.

Okay, snark over. I hope.

Listen, I’m a big fan of Bray’s obvious dedication to research and setting and, in some cases, the atmosphere. But in addition to this just being so long, and everything taking so much time to sort out, along with all the little side quests that are building the main meat of the series.. well. It just felt a bit much.

And it was all made worse by the fact that this sleeping sickness originated in Chinatown and so, leaning into the racism of the time (hahah we laugh because it isn’t gone.. and also, just wait), it becomes the Chinese Sleeping Virus. With sounds a lot like something else. And oh, they do quarantines, post signs barring certain people from entering establishments, spread propaganda about the hygiene of certain people, there are assaults in the street.. yeah. It was really real. So it wasn’t fun to read about something we’re more or less enduring now despite the century of time difference. So, again, while I appreciated the very real historical relevance of the racism, the segregation, the talk of eugenics.. it was just hard. And butted up against the length of this, the sleepiness of the sleepy sickness, the fact that I still don’t like many characters — and am starting to actively dislike a few — well. We did not have a great time.

About the characters, though. Ling saved this one. And Henry had his moments. I couldn’t give much of a fig about anyone else, though, and if Old Bill doesn’t drop dead soon.. I swear.

Anyway, certainly less thrilled to be reading on in this chonky four-book series but now that we have a solid gang of teens amassed to like.. potentially battle evil, with some still in the closet about it all, things might get more interesting. Maybe. Cautious optimism, it’s to what I cling.

THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray

SOMETHING DARK AND EVIL HAS AWAKENED…

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. Evie worries her uncle will discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer. As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho is hiding a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened…


Title : The Diviners
Author : Libba Bray
Series : The Diviners (book one)
Format : physical
Page Count : 578
Genre : YA fantasy / historical fiction / paranormal
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : September 18, 2012

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating :  ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

Well, here we are. The start of my last undertaking to complete my Five Series to Finish in 2021 challenge. And of course I saved the chonkiest instalments for last.. poor (maybe!) planning on my part but I always intended to save these for spoopy season. And I don’t regret that choice — so far.

This was a reread for me, as I gave up on this series due to extended gaps between releases, but everything on from here will be new. Having said that, I remembered the broad strokes of the plot, and most of the main character’s persona, but not much else. So a lot of this was still surprising. But other than the atmosphere, the vibe, and the setting which lends itself to both very gloomy and also very glittery (1920s), I didn’t.. love it.

This is a long book and hoo boy does it feel long at times. I could more or less lose myself in the anticipation of the reveal and the mystery and the lead-up to the big confrontation but if I paused to take breaks, I didn’t feel inspired to come back to this. Also, at this point, there isn’t a single character who has stolen my heart. Most are fine, or interesting, or tolerable, but perhaps some of my ambivalence is because I just don’t have a favourite. Right now this is definitely a read I’m looking forward to continuing for plot reasons only.

For those of you who don’t know what this series is about, here’s some broad strokes : prohibition, the occult, America, racism, grief, murder, paranormal, spooky vibes, flappers.. and more!

I’ve yet to decide if I’m diving right into book two (I know, shocking! but again.. these are long) or if I’ll divert myself with a palate cleanser. Either way, looking forward to seeing how the rest of this unfolds.

WHITE SMOKE by Tiffany D. Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House meets Get Out in this chilling YA psychological thriller and modern take on the classic haunted house story from New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson!

Marigold is running from ghosts. The phantoms of her old life keep haunting her, but a move with her newly blended family from their small California beach town to the embattled Midwestern city of Cedarville might be the fresh start she needs. Her mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty ten-year-old stepsister, Piper.

The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its . . . secrets. That’s only half the problem: household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone.

But “running from ghosts” is just a metaphor, right?

As the house closes in, Mari learns that the danger isn’t limited to Maple Street. Cedarville has its secrets, too. And secrets always find their way through the cracks.


Title : White Smoke
Author : Tiffany D. Jackson
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA psychological thriller
Publisher : Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date : September 14, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 review

Throughout this read, I was definitely in the ‘like’ camp more than the ‘love’ and had it been the opposite I would’ve been far more disappointed by the ending than I was. But it was still a huge, abrupt, bummer.

This story is half horror and half psychological anxiety fuelled discomfort. It also has a less than fun new blended family dynamic which was grating in a whole different way, too. While I enjoyed this when it was a horror, I was equally horrified by the circumstances that had plagued this town, the violent gentrification that had occurred (and was still occurring) at the expense of others; but at the same time this particular plot sort’ve went off the rails in an unbelievable way (not the criminalizations, that, unfortunately is very believable, but the shady corporate conspiracy and the specifics of what they had set up..? yeah, no) — which, considering I was reading about ghosts and hauntings and potential possession, says a lot.

As a haunted house story, this was great. For someone with an anxiety, reading about Mari’s phobias, it was just as unsettling. Everything else, and the ending.. I don’t know. Equally in the ‘I don’t know’ pile of things is the reluctance for Mari to jump to the very obvious conclusions about what was happening around her. Why she was so slow to pick up on this, to resist it when others were more convinced, I have no clue.

This one gets a cautious recommend out of me, I think. I absolutely don’t want to dissuade you from picking it up but at the same time I’m not going to encourage anyone to read it.. just incase it’s even less a hit for you than it was for me.

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

THE TAKING OF JAKE LIVINGSTON by Ryan Douglass

Get Out meets Danielle Vega in this YA social thriller where survival is not a guarantee.

Jake Livingston is one of the only black kids at St. Clair Prep, one of the others being his infinitely more popular older brother. It’s hard enough fitting in but to make matters worse and definitely more complicated, Jake can see the dead. In fact he sees the dead around him all the time. Most are harmless. Stuck in their death loops as they relive their deaths over and over again, they don’t interact often with people. But then Jake meets Sawyer. A troubled teen who shot and killed sixteen kids at a local high school last year before taking his own life. Now a powerful, vengeful ghost, he has plans for his afterlife–plans that include Jake. Suddenly, everything Jake knows about ghosts and the rules to life itself go out the window as Sawyer begins haunting him and bodies turn up in his neighborhood. High school soon becomes a survival game–one Jake is not sure he’s going to win. 


Title : The Taking of Jake Livingston
Author : Ryan Douglass
Format : eARC
Page Count : 256
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ fantasy/thriller
Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date : July 13, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

Hm. I’m leaving this unrated for now (for good?) because my thoughts are kind of all over the place.

I think, when you’re neck deep in the spooky thrilling creepiness of this story, you’re in it. You’re having a good scary time. The problem is when you pause, put the book down, and start wondering.. why. Why are these things happening, what is this world, what is the history.. and, the biggest most perplexing thing, why did the author choose to go in this direction with the villain.

I honestly think this would make a great movie because the atmosphere and the ambience, though hella confusing, still did a great job at creeping me out. Some of the visuals were, again, sometimes confusing but somehow still managed to be translated into my brain. But so much of this needs more. Yes, the story is short, so I guess a lot of this surface level non-explanation could be blamed on that but.. why was it short? Why wasn’t this longer, more fleshed out, given context? So much could’ve been improved, including the romance.

If you want a short spooky dose of a novel that brushes up against topics of racism and homophobia, without making them the central theme, and that will likely keep you on the edge of your seat, you could probably do worse. I just wish it could’ve done.. not better, maybe, but more.

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

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