I read a book: Popsicle, by Christa Wojciechowski

This book is weird and wonderful. I love it. We meet the main character, Andre, gnawing on a man’s face with his pants down in a sewer. He doesn’t know what he’s doing or how he got there, or even who the man is, but he knows something is terribly wrong and he needs to figure out how he ended up in this predicament. He finds something implanted in the guy’s neck and realizes that he has the same implant. In an effort to piece together the events that lead to this moment, he starts going through his internet history and social media posts.

The implant. Have you ever read The Murderbot Diaries? You know how everyone is connected to a network via tech and Murderbot hacks his way through the universe and so on? The implant in Andre’s neck is sort of like an alpha tester of that kind of device. We learn that he is participating in the testing phase for a big fat paycheck. At this stage, no one is hacking security systems. They’re mostly vegging out doing internet things like googling shit and participating in social media.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Popsicle is exciting and well written. Wojciechowski’s writing makes the reader feel like they’re a part of Andre’s journey. The pacing fits the novella length and the author leaves out no details. Sometimes novellas of this length move too quickly and leave a lot of gaps, but that is not a problem present in this one. The story is imaginative and absurd and full of dark humor that matches my own sense of humor.

Big thanks to Christa Wojciechowski and BookSirens for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy Popsicle, by Christa Wojciechowski on Amazon for a couple bucks.

I read a book: Her Orc Warrior (Black Bear Clan #3), by Zoe Ashwood

This is the third book in the Black Bear Clan series by Zoe Ashwood. Normally I wouldn’t start a series at book 3, but this is an ARC and I’m on a deadline. That said, books in this series read well on their own. While there are references to characters from other books, the stories stand alone fine.

As I’ve mentioned in most of my monster romance reviews, I read Ruby Dixon’s entire catalog over the course of a year and have been chasing that vibe ever since. I’m looking for well written stories with cinnamon roll male main characters and interesting female leads. They can be grumpy. They can have issues they need to work through. In fact, I prefer it. But I don’t like the whole alphahole trope that seems to be wildly popular. That extreme possessiveness and jealousy just doesn’t do it for me. I don’t want to read about men who are unkind to women, even if they don’t mean to be. I have come across that with other orc or alien series and didn’t continue beyond the first books of those series. It’s so nice to come across orcs that are kind and loving but still fierce warriors bent on protecting their own. Ashwood’s Black Bear Clan checks off a lot of boxes for me.

This is the story of a woman (Hazel) who grabs her young child (Wren) and runs in hopes of escaping her life of crime and abuse and sparing her daughter of the same. They hide in covered wagon, hitching a ride out of town unnoticed by her gang boss and authorities. She is not unnoticed by the driver though, an orc named Vark. Naturally Hazel is frightened and plans to run from him as soon as possible. She only knows orcs by the stories she’d grown up hearing and none paint orcs in a positive light. It takes her a while to trust the orcs, especially after Vark tells her that she is his fated mate, but she gives it a chance.

I loved most of the characters. Hazel is strong and independent. She finds herself attracted to Vark but doesn’t jump straight to the HEA. She struggles with her feelings. Vark is kind and attentive in all things. He is also dealing with his own feelings of inadequacy. He knows that she is his mate but does not push her. He never tells her that this is how it is and she has to deal with it, as is often the case in other fated mates type stories. He and the other orcs slip into caregiver roles for Wren naturally. There is no big conversation about it, it just happens. Hazel and Wren need help and the orcs take them in happily. Vark is drawn to Hazel by the fated mates thing, but there is never any condition on her to cooperate in exchange for their safety. I also liked that it doesn’t end in pregnancy. A fated mate that isn’t all about popping out more babies is my kind of HEA.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I really liked this book. It left me feeling happy and hopeful and that’s the best way to feel after reading a romance book. I’ll be going back to read the first two and following the series as it moves forward.

Big thanks to Zoe Ashwood and Booksprout for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Her Orc Warrior on Amazon and begin reading it on November 11. This will also be available as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

I read a book: Musical Tables, by Billy Collins

I picked up this book because of the cow on the chair and the color scheme of the cover art. The muted green adds to the serenity of the cow seated with its legs tucked beneath its body, looking comfortable like a cat in loaf mode. Billy Collins is a familiar name to me, but I hate to admit that it is only the barest familiarity.

“Whenever I pick up a new book of poems, I flip through the pages looking for small ones. Just as I might have trust in an abstract painter more if I knew he or she could draw a credible chicken, I have faith in poets who can go short.”

Billy Collins

I admit I do the same when I pick up a book of poetry at a bookstore. I flip and read a couple of the shorter poems, and if they make me feel things, the book comes home with me. This method rarely fails me and I have loved nearly every book chosen in this way.

Unfortunately I don’t think the short form works so well as a complete collection. Most of these poems are a couple lines long, mere quips rather than fully formed thoughts. Some are amusing and made me crack a grin. Others are more heavy hitting. Some of my favorites are Headstones, The Code of the West, Teenager, A Small Hotel, Jazz Man, Divorce, and Carpe Diem.

No more heavy ball,
just the sound
of the dragged chain
with every other step.

Divorce

⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. This wasn’t my favorite, but there are some real standouts that make it a worthwhile read. Billy Collins is a former United States Poet Laureate and prolific writer and I don’t believe this is representative of his work, so I will be reading more to get a better feel for him. If you like short form poetry that isn’t haiku nor limerick, you’ll enjoy this.

Big thanks to Billy Collins, Random House Publishing Group, and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Musical Tables on Amazon and begin reading it on November 15, 2022.

Monthly roundup – October 2022

Spooktober was filled with mostly great reads. I read horror year round, so this month wasn’t really different except that I hosted two Book Lovers Cafe group reads because my first choice didn’t win. My insistence on exposing the masses to extreme horror (and doing 31 days of horror movies) did get in the way of my usual schedule, so I didn’t get to everything I had planned. However, I did get to a bunch that have been on my tbr for a while (and they were amazing!) so I consider it a win.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:
A Soul to Keep, by Opal Reyne
Full Brutal, by Kristopher Triana
The Troop, by Nick Cutter
Gyo, by Junji Ito
The Girl on the Glider, by Brian Keene

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:
The Tooth Fairy, by Davide Tarsitano
The Haunting of Ashburn House, by Darcy Coates
Lil’ Bastard, by Matt Shaw
The People Look Like Flowers at Last, by Charles Bukowski
Morning Glory Milking Farm, by C.M. Nascosta

⭐️⭐️⭐️:
Against the Lockers, by Aiden E. Messner
Jokes to Offend Men, by Allison Kelley, etc
When the Dark Spoke to Me, by Christabelle Marbun
Heartstopper Vol 4, by Alice Oseman

The rest kinda sucked. Two were Halloween themed monster romances that are actually pretty well liked on Goodreads. They just didn’t do it for me. One was straight up bad. Honestly don’t even remember how I came across the Hucow stuff. I don’t think I’ll do that again. And the last one was Little Women, but with vampire references woven in. I was not impressed.

Pictured but not rated: Island of the Dead, by Brian Keene. This is not actually a book, it is a Kindle Vella series. The story was interesting, but I kinda hate the serial format.

All of my four and five star reads have been on my tbr for a while and all were amazing. Several of those authors were already on my insta-buy list and now the rest are as well. Beyond that, the only one I’m interested in reading again is Messner. I feel like they’re gonna be one of those writers who just gets better. Time will tell.

On the agenda for November? One book club read (thriller), two Cool Ghouls books, the backlog of loaners from my enabler, the next Duskwalker Bride book, and hopefully several from my NetGalley shelf. I have a few Thanksgiving themed horror books and movies to share. Holiday baking. Dragonflight! Lots of fun stuff coming up.

I read a book: The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On, by Franny Choi

If the title sounds familiar, that’s because the titular poem of those collection was published in Poetry Magazine December 2019 issue. That said, I was not familiar with Franny Choi’s poetry before picking up this book. I chose it based on the title alone because I think that the idea of constantly feeling like the world is ending but then carrying on is something we can all relate to. It felt like words I’d spoken myself. My kiddo likes to ask me how it feels to live through big life changing events every time something happens (another school shooting, pandemic, war, racial injustice and protests, political attacks on basic human rights for marginalized people) and I always tell her that the world has been ending my entire life. I was her age when the shooting in Columbine happened, a little older for 9/11, and there’s a different outbreak every other year. Certain lawmakers and special interest groups have been working hard at erasing social progress for years. How do you know so much about such and such, she’ll ask. And I’ll respond, because it’s not a new fight.

Every once in a while I read a book that makes me want to go back and read every word the author has ever written. This is one such book. I don’t usually read collections of poetry in order, or even in full, but this one is something else. Choi covers a lot of hard hitting themes in ways that don’t make you feel like you’ve read these poems before. Lots of people write about things like war and race and social justice, but not everyone gets it right. There’s also the idea of where one fits in and togetherness strung throughout. Who are we? Who am I?

Lord, I confess I want the clarity of catastrophe but
not the catastrophe.
Like everyone else, I want a storm I can dance in.
I want an excuse to change my life

Catastrophe is Next to Godliness

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Poetry can be difficult to rate because it doesn’t follow the same structural and grammatical rules as novels. There is no plot to follow, no twists to surprise you. So I rate poetry based on how I feel when I’m finished and how often I find myself thinking about it during and going forward. Topics are both relatable and timely. I truly enjoyed this collection.

Big thanks to Franny Choi, Ecco, and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Book The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On directly from the publisher, or on Amazon in multiple formats and begin reading it on November 1, 2022.

I read a book: Zombie Makeout Club Vol 1: DeathWish, by Peter Richardson

I’m not entirely sure what I expected going into this, but it’s not what I got. Zombie Makeout Club sounds like something out of Tina Belcher’s erotic friend fiction. What I learned, after reading the entire manga and then doing some googling, is that Zombie Makeout Club is a brand of clothing sold at places like Hot Topic and Spencer’s, catering to fans of manga and Junji Ito. The story itself is called DeathWish.

The art is cool, but the plot is lacking. This is a horror manga, so of course it has its share of gore and violence. There’s no world building. This is the first volume, so I expected a little more of that. It’s about a teenager who is brought back to life after committing suicide. The description of this book states that she is piecing together her fragmented memories and trying to find out why she was resurrected, but if I hadn’t read the description, I would not have gotten that from reading the book. The characters kept referring to a backstory that isn’t included in the book.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. I found myself lingering between pages just exploring the art. Fans of Junji Ito are not going to be impressed. If you’ve ever read his work, you know his imaginative storytelling and artwork are on another level. However, I think it would be right at home in the hands of the folks who love the clothing brand.

Big thanks to Peter Richardson, Diamond Book Distributors/ABLAZE, and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Zombie Makeout Club Vol. 1 on Amazon in multiple formats and begin reading it on November 22, 2022.

I read a book: The Tooth Fairy, by Davide Tarsitano

Today’s theme is dentophobia. Earlier I watched a movie called The Dentist. Now I’m finishing up my review of The Tooth Fairy, by Davide Tarsitano.

Remember that episode of Ren and Stimpy where Ren has a toothache and ends up grinding his teeth and waking with broken shards that shatter and fall out completely, leaving behind stinking gum holes? Listen, I don’t really fear dental work, but I have had that dream. The one where your teeth all fall out. You know the one.

The Tooth Fairy is the story of two people from different worlds who end up crossing paths, both getting more than they bargained for. Johnny Hawk is trying to get a fresh start after finding his wife with another man. He gets his business partner to buy him out so he can go road tripping until he figures out how he’s going to start over. Somewhere along the way, a niggling tooth pain becomes a big deal and he needs a dentist asap. He meets Wendy and things start looking up for him. What he doesn’t know is that she is a deeply disturbed woman with a dark past that is threatening to resurface. When he sees through her facade, he finds himself drugged and strapped to a dentist chair. I could tell you more, but where’s the fun in that.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. This was a pretty good read. I was a little worried that it was going to be some kind of supernatural story with a tooth fairy boogeyman but it’s actually a psychological thriller humans are the monsters type horror story, and I love those. I look forward to Tarsitano’s future work.

Big thanks to Davide Tarsitano and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy The Tooth Fairy, by Davide Tarsitano on Amazon for a couple bucks or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

I read a book: Little Vampire Women, by Lynn Messina, Louisa May Alcott

Christmas won’t be Christmas without any corpses.

If you’ve read Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, you basically know what this book is all about. This is a retelling of the classic book, only the main characters are vampires and they talk about eating creatures like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Which, I suppose, in their world it is.

There isn’t a lot to say about this one that hasn’t already been said. It was published in 2010, a year into the the monster mashup trend, but is being re-released on October 25, 2022 for…reasons? It’s kind of a fun idea, but not particularly well executed. I mean, anyone can grab a book whose copyright protection has expired off Project Gutenburg, copy the text in its entirety, and stick in a vampire reference here and there.

⭐️⭐️ for me. Meh. Are all of the monster mashups like this? Maybe I don’t need to read them, no matter how entertaining they seem in theory. This wasn’t for me, but if you already like the genre, you’ll probably like this one.

Big thanks to Lynn Messina (and Louisa May Alcott?), Potatoworks Press, and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Little Vampire Women on Amazon and begin reading it on October 24, 2022.

I read a book: Jokes to Offend Men, by Allison Kelley, Danielle Kraese, Kate Herzlin, and Ysabel Yates

A modern, feminist take on the classic joke book to amuse and empower readers who are tired of being the punchline…A cutting, cathartic spin on the old-fashioned joke book, Jokes to Offend Men is a refreshing reclamation of a tired form for anyone who’s ever been told to “lighten up, it’s just a joke!”

If you go into this expecting funny hahas, you will be disappointed. While it is formatted like a joke book, the jokes are not funny. It’s mostly sad observations of the differences between how men and women are treated in different circumstances. Much of it is relatable, but I wish it wasn’t. And I guess that’s the point.

Some of the jokes tickled my dark funny bone. Why did the dad cross the road? Because the neighbor called him a chicken and he just couldn’t let it go. While my dad doesn’t care about someone calling him a chicken, he doesn’t let things go. Particularly when it comes to the neighbors. What did the “lady killer” grow up to be? Ted Bundy. What did Ted Bundy grow up to be? Played by Zac Efron. Isn’t that something.

Courtney Love, anyone?

⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Decent read. Not particularly funny, but I think that’s intentional. Nothing groundbreaking, but sometimes it’s nice to know that you’re not alone in your experiences.

Big thanks to the authors, Andrews McMeel Publishing, and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Jokes to Offend Men on Amazon and begin reading it on October 25, 2022.

I read a book: Motherthing, by Ainslie Hogarth

I knew almost immediately that I was going to like this book. I enjoyed it immensely. As usual, I judged this book by the cover before hitting that request button on NetGalley. I mean who wouldn’t be drawn in by that cover? It’s grayscale on Kindle, of course, but the physical cover is boldly colored and resembles a comic book.

Because I hadn’t finished reading this book before the publishing date, I picked up the audiobook during the last Audible sale and read along with it. Top notch performance from narrator Adina Verson.

Content warning: suicide, depression, mental illness. Probably others, but those are the big ones.

I have heard of the dreaded monster-in-law, but having never been married (and not met many past partners’ mothers), I have not had the (dis)pleasure of experiencing one. This book takes that concept and expands it beyond the grave. That said, this is not a horror book as I expected. This is more a psychological horror, the monsters being grief, depression, and trauma. The story follows the lives of Ralph and Abby Lamb, who move in with Ralph’s mother to care for her just before she commits suicide. Naturally Ralph is consumed by grief and falls into a deep depression, all the while insisting that his mother is still alive and in the house. There are some disturbing scenes, plenty of weirdness, and lots of laugh out loud moments. But that may just be my dark sense of humor.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. This was my first Ainslie Hogarth book, but it won’t be my last. I love her writing style. It’s easy to read, flows well, and I love the dialog. The book is full of these little conversations between the main character and her husband and they’re just delightful. Then again, I tend to read more extreme horror and my sense of humor is a little warped, so the idea of a conversation about brown eyes resembling pools of diarrhea seems natural and fun.

Big thanks to Ainslie Hogarth, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy Motherthing, by Ainslie Hogarth on Amazon or any major bookseller.