Category Archives: netgalley

Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alex E. Harrow

A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables, #1)New takes on classic fairy-tales are nothing new.

So for Alex E. Harrow’s new spin on Sleeping Beauty in A Spindle Splintered to feel like it’s exploring an entirely unique take on the classic fairy-tale makes it something special.

Zinnia is approaching her twenty-first birthday and the end of her life. A rare condition that causes protein build-up in her body and rarely sees people live past twenty-one has loomed large over her life for as long as she can recall. So, when her best friend throws her the best birthday party ever for someone whose time is rapidly closing, Zinnia finds herself transported inside her favorite fairy-tale.

Harrow sells this one as Sleeping Beauty meets Into the Spider-Verse and she’s not wrong. But that elevator pitch doesn’t really indicate just how subversive and entertaining this take on the classic story of Sleeping Beauty really is. A great deal of the enjoyment stems from Zinnia’s first-person narration, which is equal parts jaded, cynical, and optimistic. This is a refreshingly new take on the material and one that was a pleasure to read.

In the interest of full disclose, I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Stowaway by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth

The Stowaway

Two years ago, Maria Fontana served on the jury of the suspected serial killer, Wyatt Butler. Ending in a mistrial that set Butler free, Maria’s life has been a whirlwind ever since that time as the world won’t stop hounding the jury, demanding to know who the dissenting vote was. When Maria outs herself as the lone juror who voted not guilty, things only intensify.

After a tell-all book by a possibly unscrupulous writer and being put on sabbatical due to her increasing instability, Maria is ready to get her life back on track with her fiancee and her two children. So, she books a cruise and looks forward to a week away and then entering the real world again. Alas, the two-year nightmare isn’t about to end for Maria. Instead, it’s about to get much, much worse.

A series of mysterious deaths on the ship, all connected to Maria and the trial take place. Could Wyatt Butler be on board and is his final target, Maria?

I’ve read and enjoyed the first couple of offerings from Impratical Joker James S. Murray and Darren Warmouth. Those novels weren’t exactly great literature, but they were still entertaining rides into horror. The Stowaway moves away from the horror genre and into the suspense area — and the result is a book that I couldn’t quite become as invested in. The characters are paper-thin and it feels like the suspense strung out a bit too long for my liking. We spend a long time wondering if Wyatt is on the ship, and, if so, where can he be hiding in plain sight. There are some pretty gruesome deaths in here as well — if you’re triggered by young victims in peril, this one might not be for you.

By the time we get to the final revelations and the twists, I’d pretty much guessed a good share of all of them.

This isn’t necessarily a terrible book. It’s just one that disappointed me.

It’s the literary equivalent of a bag of potato chips.

I received a digital ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Much Ado About Barbecue by Sally Kilpatrick

Much Ado about Barbecue

Sally Kilpatrick’s latest novel, Much Ado About Barbecue should come with a warning label that you’re going to crave some good barbecue. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing — unless you don’t have access to good barbecue, that is.

Emma Sutton and Ben Cates have been rivals all their lives. It started in kindergarten when Ben pulled the chair out from under Emma and continued throughout their educational history, including Emma’s underpants winding up on the school flag pole. So, when Emma returns to town after a series of disappointments in her life, she quickly finds the rivalry resuming thanks to Ellery’s barbecue competition. Both families own barbecue joints in town, each praised and respected for differing ways of cooking the meat. Ben has reluctantly embraced using a smoker, while Emma’s family still does whole-hog pit barbecue.

There is a bit more to the rivalry between Ben and Emma than the competition for who has the best barbecue and juvenile pranks. Emma has repressed large portions of junior high school due and she holds a deep secret about possibly raining on Ben’s dream of playing baseball at the next level. Needless to say, these two are probably the last two people you’d imagine ending up together.

And like the main dish of the book’s title, the potential romantic entanglement is one that roasts slowly, marinating in its own rub of family secrets, long-held resentments, and misunderstandings. Along the way, we meet a colorful cast of characters from Jeremiah, the long-time pitmaster as Emma’s family barbecue joint (and a character I’d love to see get his own novel) to Ben’s sister, Shero.

Between family secrets, the slow-simmering enemies-to-lovers story, and a colorful cast of characters (including several familiar faces from previous Ellery novels), Much Ado About Barbecue proves to be another winner from Kilpatrick. Filled with the types of characters you’d expect to me in a quirky small town, Much Ado works much like the barbecue does — as a satisfying, enjoayble meal that left me fully satisfied and yet somehow wishing I had just a bit more room for another bite or two.

Taking a page from Shakespeare (maybe you’ve heard of him), Kilpatrick gives us her spin on Much Ado About Nothing in her quirky creation of Ellery. As with her other novels, Much Ado About Barbecue is a delightful gem and most likely destined to end up on my list of favorite books I read this year.

Add this one to your to-be-read pile, folks. Just don’t do it on an empty stomach.

Highly recommended.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. No bribing of barbecue was done or needed….

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Review: Together We Will Go by J. Michael Straczynski

Together We Will Go

Over my course of following the creative output of J. Michael Straczynski, one of his strengths has been the creation of diverse characters who form a connection with his audience. So, the highest compliment I can pay his latest offering Together We Will Go is that it continues that trend in the best possible way.

After suffering the latest in a long string of rejections, writer Mark has landed on his next project — an epistolary tale of a dozen strangers who have decided for one reason or another to end their lives. Renting a bus, Mark places an online ad to find people to join him on his final journey across the United States, planning to culminate the trip by everyone driving off a cliff near San Francisco. Riders earn their spot by agreeing to upload journal entries to a central server and occasionally having the audio transcript of dramatic moments archived and uploaded.

What Mark doesn’t count on is the diverse group of people who will join his cross-country trek and the ways various personalities connect and clash. He also didn’t count on the authorities in some of the states he’s crossing having an issue with a group of people on their way to commit suicide. Continue reading

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Review: The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

The Wife UpstairsI’ve never read Jane Eyre, so I can’t speak to how faithful to the original Rachel Hawkin’s updated retelling, The Wife Upstairs is or isn’t. What I can speak to is that sense that this novel never quite connected with me.

Set in Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is on the run from her past. Working as a dog-walker for the city’s elite, Jane meets Eddie Rochester. Eddie’s wife disappeared (along with her best friend) under mysterious circumstances and is presumed dead.

So, of course, these two begin dating and their relationship moves rather quickly from dating to living together to engaged. Jane doesn’t want a big wedding for fear of publicity bringing unwanted questions from her past life, but her old roommate is more than willing to blackmail her to keep those pursuing her at bay. Jane works to keep one step ahead of her past, teasing readers with what it may or may not be for far longer than I had much patience for.

That really sums up my disappointment with The Wife Upstairs. It teases us for far too long (though we know a bit about what Eddie is up to early on) without giving sufficient answers to the questions raised until I’d long since lost most of my interest in Jane. I suppose if I’d cracked open a copy of Jane Eyre at some point in my life, I’d already know a lot of what is revealed in the final third of the book. But that might have ruined some of the “thrill” of discovering all this for myself.

Another issue with The Wife Upstairs is that it attempts to be a domestic suspense thriller without offering much in the way of thrills or suspense. I found myself more relieved to finally be done with the novel than satisfied with the overall reading experience once I turned the final page.

Overall, a disappointment.

I received a digital ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The Bone Maker

Sarah Beth Durst’s latest stand-alone fantasy novel offers a unique magic system, some quirky characters, and a fantasy-take on the “getting the band back together” story.

Years ago, five heroes defeated the evil Elkor and went their separate ways, becoming the stuff of legend. Twenty-five years later, Kreya’s legend has become a bit darker — she lives alone in a tower, keeping alive her husband (who died in the battle) through the use of dark and illegal magics. Increasingly desperate to find a source of human bones to cast the spells and give her just a few more hours with the love of her life, Kreya hatches on a plot that will eventually involve her old crew getting back together.

Of course, there’s a reason some bands break up. And as the band gets back together in The Bone Maker, Kreya come to realize that maybe they didn’t defeat Elkor as utterly as the legends say.

There aren’t many times when it comes to fantasy novels that I wish the author had extended a series. That isn’t necessarily the case with The Bone Maker. While Kreya gets solid character work, the rest of the crew doesn’t feel as deep or as well realized. I kept wondering if Durst might have been better served by making this a duology, allowing us to have a bit more of an investment in the characters.

It would also give us a chance to enjoy her well-realized magical system. I enjoy fantasy where there are limits or consequences to using the magical system and that’s the case with what Durst has realized here.

The Bone Maker offers an intriguing magical system, some dark character takes and is a stand-alone fantasy that left me wanting just a bit more. An overall success and one that has me intrigued to give some of Durst’s other fantastic worlds a try.

I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry

This Will Be Funny SomedayOne of my great literary pleasures of 2020 was discovering Katie Henry’s works. Henry’s young adult novels feature quirky teenage protagonists facing issues and dilemmas that most of us would struggle with as adults. The characters are all frustratingly relatable because, as readers, we can see how they could and should change themselves to make interacting with the world a bit smoother and easier. But, like all of us, they can’t or aren’t ready to make that change just yet.

Henry’s third novel This Will Be Funny Someday may be her best offering so far, which is high praise given how much I enjoyed her first two novels.

Sixteen-year-old Izzy has always felt a bit out of place. In her family, she sees herself as the odd person out when it comes to the matched pairs — her parents and her older twin siblings. At school, Izzy is protected by her relationship with her boyfriend, though even that has come at the cost of alienating her best friend. Izzy has deep-rooted issues when it come to assigning herself value — whether it’s the (misconception) that she ruined her mother’s career when her mom discovered she was pregnant with Izzy or the emotionally abusive nature of her relationship with her boyfriend. Continue reading

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Review: Escape Pod: The Science-Fiction Anthology edited by Murr Laffety and S.B. Divya

Escape Pod: The Science Fiction AnthologyCelebrating fifteen years of original podcast science-fiction, Escape Pod offers up an anthology of fifteen stories from some of the most prominent names in the genre.

I’ve always found short story collections a nice way to sample an author’s work and decide if I might want to wade deeper into their works. This collection contains several authors I’ve read a great deal of what they’ve written (John Scalzi), some I’ve wanted to read for a while but haven’t quite taken the plunge yet (N.K. Jemison) and some that I’m aware of but haven’t picked up something from yet. Overall, it’s a pretty good collection with some interesting introductions by editors S.B. Divya and Murr Lafferty.

Being a Scalzi fan, his story stood out, though I think I’ve read it before. I will admit that Lafferty’s entry felt a bit abrupt, almost as if the author had a word or page count and just stopped writing when it was achieved. The other complaint with that story is that it’s set within the universe of her Hugo-award nominated novel and I felt like I was missing some of the contexts of the story having not read the novel first. It did make me want to seek out the book and finally get it off the to-be-read pile, so I suppose that’s something.

I’m a big fan of podcast fiction and have enjoyed the podcast this collection celebrates. I’ve read these stories were originally presented as episodes of the podcast and halfway through, I couldn’t help but wonder what they might be liked experienced as audio stories. I may have to look around a bit and give that avenue a try.

I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Audiobook Review: Don’t Move by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth

Don't Move

Don’t Move starts off with a gruesome, chilling first chapter and never lets go.

Enjoying a summer evening at the local traveling carnival, Megan Forrester’s life shatters before her eyes when a horrific accident claims the lives of her husband and son. Months later, Megan is trying to get her life back together and overcome the near-paralyzing guilt she feels. A church camping trip seems like the perfect way to ease herself back into the world a bit and start claiming her life.

Little does she or any of the other members of her party realize that what started out as an innocent weekend excursion will soon become a terrifying, deadly fight for survival in an isolated part of the Monongahela National Forest. Continue reading

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Review: The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

The Night SwimAfter two successful seasons of a true-crime podcast, Rachel Krall has found the third season for her show – the small-town trail of a young man accused of rape and its impact on him, the alleged victim, and their community.

Reading Megan Goldin’s The Night Swim, I couldn’t help but wish I’d decided to listen to the audio version of this story. Well, at least that was the case in the chapters when Megan is narrating her podcast. I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something by not listening to Rachel narrate the story as it unfolds.

Rachel’s investigation into the current rape charge brings up some old undercurrents and possibly cover-ups in the small town. The Night Swim doesn’t pull any punches or shy away from examining the implications of the rape on all those associated with it. It’s a hard, eye-opening look and yet, somehow, the novel walks a fine line. The mystery of what happened the nights in question drives the narrative and while I wouldn’t call this a suspense thriller, I will say that I was curious to see where the actual truth would lie in the final pages.

As with many great crime novelists working today, Goldin’s interest isn’t just in solving the central mystery but looking at the impact that mystery has on its characters and society as a whole. Coming away fromThe Night Swim, I found myself thinking about it and pondering those implications long after the final page was turned.

I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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