I read a book: The Haunting of Ashburn House, by Darcy Coates

This is the book that Book Lovers Cafe chose for October book club. It wasn’t the one that I wanted, so I’ve been reading just about everything else before deciding to start this one. I started this morning and probably would have finished before the work day is over if it wasn’t for an afternoon staff meeting. It is way more interesting than I expected. Fair warning, there may be spoilers in this review.

I’m generally not into ghost stories. Ghosts are one of those things that I have trouble suspending disbelief enough to enjoy. Other monsters are fantastical. No one believes zombies or vampires are real. But there are plenty of people who believe in ghosts, because most religions include some kind of afterlife. I am still nowhere near on board with the whole afterlife thing, but I’m loosening up on my stance on ghost stories. After all, I did love the show Supernatural, including the huge angels vs demons arc. Maybe I can accept ghosts as a fictional monster without considering the real life implications.

That said, (minor spoiler) this isn’t even a ghost story. It’s not a haunting in that sense. Not really. I mean it is, and it isn’t. This is the story of a young woman named Adrienne who inherits an old house in a little town from an old relative she met only once as a small child. Because of the tragic deaths of the family who once lived there (her elderly aunt’s family), the townspeople believe the house is haunted. After a series of strange inexplicable (and terrifying) events, Adrienne learns that the house is in fact haunted, just not in the way she thinks. Things get pretty scary for our heroine for a while. Will the evil forces at work triumph? There were parts that I definitely didn’t see coming. I engaged in discussion before getting too far into the book and a big part of it was revealed to me, which was fine by me because I actually love spoilers. I actively seek them out. This spoiler fueled my interest, because as I mentioned earlier, I’m not big on ghost stories.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. I’m glad I read this book, despite the fact that it wasn’t my first choice. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m happy to see that Darcy Coates has a large catalog and many of her books are available as part of my Kindle Unlimited subscription.

I read a book: Lil Bastard, by Matt Shaw

Just finished one of Matt Shaw’s many novellas. Lil Bastard is told from the perspective of a baby who remembers being being other people and is bitter and angry as fuck. He spends his days plotting to kill, but of course he is a baby so his options are limited. That doesn’t discourage him though. The story takes an unexpected turn, but comes full circle. I laughed out loud at several points. The baby talk translations cracked me up.

⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 read for me. This is not for everyone, but it is for me. If you like extreme horror and dark (really dark) humor, you’ll like this.

You can read lots of Matt Shaw’s work through your Kindle Unlimited subscription, or buy his books on Amazon.

I read a book: Morning Glory Milking Farm, by C.M. Nascosta

I’m starting this review before I’ve even started the book because the difference between the Audible cover, which is the one I saw when I came across this book in a recommendation thread, and the one I got with the kindle download is so striking and just plain funny to me. The one on the left looks like a romantic fantasy. The one on the right looks more like the extreme/splatter stuff I like. It looks raunchy. Naturally, I am intrigued. I need to know which cover is more fitting. And having read some reviews and the description, I need to know how both are accurate, because it doesn’t seem likely.

Here we go.

The first thing that stood out to me was the skillful writing. Sometimes these very specific genres suffer from amateurish writing. That doesn’t bother me if the story is good, but it’s still nice when you don’t have to autocorrect as you read. C.M. Nascosta is great at her craft. It’s kind of amazing how a story about a young lady who takes a job giving handjobs to minotaurs for science turns into something sweet and romantic. I especially appreciate the fact that the minotaur didn’t turn into the kind of alpha personality that is less alpha and mostly just a jerk. I think I finally found that Ruby Dixon vibe I’ve been looking for. We’ll see if this one was a fluke. I’ve got the sequel waiting for me on my kindle.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ star read for me. This was great. The characters were charming and their relationship progressed at a reasonable pace. Their HEA wasn’t mated for life and baby on the way, it was more realistic. New job, new apartment, new dynamic, both retain their independence. I like that.

You can get Morning Glory Milk Farm, by C.M. Nascosta on Amazon in multiple formats. I borrowed it from Kindle Unlimited. If you’re into monster romance, read it.

Monthly roundup – September 2022

September reads. So many good ones, it’s hard to pick favorites…but I will anyway! Uzumaki, Future Skinny, The Obituaries, and Motherthing were soooooo good. Highly recommend them to lovers of all things weird and creepy. Also super excited that the author of one of my September favorites, Peter Rosch, shared my post to his insta story. I write my reviews mostly because it helps me remember the books better, and I like to share the ones I loved. I know most of the time I’m the only one reading my full posts. But I get a little thrill when an author I like takes notice, even if it’s something as minor as a like on my post. Shout out to Peter Rosch, both for his fan interaction and his mad storytelling skills. Anyway, here’s a breakdown of my September reads.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:
Uzumaki, by Junji Ito
The Obituaries Issue #1, by Aron Beauregard, Kristopher Triana, and Daniel J. Volpe

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:
Future Skinny, by Peter Rosch
Motherthing, by Ainslie Hogarth
Flor’s Fiasco, by Ruby Dixon
The Alien’s Mail-Order Bride, by Ruby Dixon
Heartstopper Vol. 2, by Alice Oseman
Like Me, by Hayley Phelan
Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse, by David Mitchell
The Way Back Home, by Courtney Peppernell
The Magpie Coffin, by Wile E. Young
The Creeper, by A.M. Shine
The Librarian and the Orc, by Finley Fenn
Heartstopper Vol. 3, by Alice Oseman
Unknowing, I Sink, by Timothy G. Huguenin

⭐️⭐️⭐️:
Everything else. Well, most of them.

A couple of those ratings are spoilers for reviews I haven’t finished yet. I got distracted for a couple days, then sick for a couple more, and I fell way behind my self imposed review schedule. I may not meet the deadlines I laid out, but I’ll make an effort to catch up before the end of the month. This is the busiest month for my NetGalley queue.

So you may notice that some of my favorites were not top rated. I have to say that most of my 4 star ratings are actually pretty close to 5 stars, but I am sometimes a bit judicious with my stars. Sometimes less so. I mean, splatterpunk and orc porn aren’t exactly highbrow literature, but they make me happy. I guess what I’m saying is take my star ratings with a grain of salt. A 4 today might be a 3 or 5 tomorrow, but I’m not going to go changing my posted ratings every time I think about it. What you get is my initial reaction. Pretty much all of the books on my collage were pretty great. You should read them.

On the agenda for October? Six horror ARCs, one poetry ARC, two book club reads, two more Cool Ghouls books. A deeper dive into the monster romance genre. It’s about to get weirder ’round these parts.

I read a book: Unknowing, I Sink, by Timothy G. Huguenin

I was initially drawn in by the cover art and interesting title. And if I’m honest, Nick Roberts’ blurb calling him a “Southern-fried Clive Barker”. Bring it on.

This was a short read, coming in at a scant 92 pages. But as the saying goes, good things come in small packages. Unknowing, I Sink is the story of a young man named Julian who takes a summer job cleaning the mansion of an old eccentric recluse. The job is strange from the start. Julian performs his job duties while being instructed via intercom. His first in person interaction with his employer is at lunch time, and it is thoroughly strange. He becomes aware of his employer’s mysterious medical condition, but doesn’t really know what’s going on. He’s just happy to get out of that room and back to work. He feels like something is a little off, but he has no idea.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. This book is delightfully creepy. Huguenin really pulls off the whole impending doom thing, as I felt the tension and dread right along with Julian. It checked off a lot of boxes for me. Interesting cover? Check. Well written? Check. Creep factor? Double check. Ick factor? Oh yes, check. I’ll be reading more of Huguenin’s work for sure. I’ve already signed up for his newsletter.

Big thanks to Timothy G. Huguenin and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Unknowing, I Sink on Amazon and begin reading it on October 1, 2022. This will also be available via Kindle Unlimited and Audible.

I read a book: The Librarian and the Orc (Orc Sworn #3), by Finley Fenn

It’s taken me a minute to finish this book. I’m not sure I’m into this series anymore. I really wanted to like this one because the heroine is a librarian and the orc is a scholar named John. Yeah, there are orc scholars and yes some of them have human names. If you consider the fact that these orcs need human women to procreate, it’s a wonder that a larger percentage of them don’t have human names.

So let’s start with our heroine, a young librarian named Rosa who is given the task of reading all she can about orcs and digging up some dirt that will be scandalous enough to spark a peasant rebellion. The nobles don’t want to spend money on a war, so they plot to find a way to make the peasants do all the dirty work without the expectation of a paycheck or supplies. Shortly after receiving this assignment from her creeper of a patron, she encounters an orc named John reading in the back of the library. Because of the peace treaty negotiated in the first book, John has that right and Rosa really shouldn’t ask him to leave, but she does so anyway. They come to a compromise and he is allowed to take his studies to a private room.

Of course that is not the end of it and Rosa continues to push the issue. She sees this as an opportunity to get some insider information, so she turns her negotiation to a more personal nature and offers herself up to John in exchange for information. They come to an agreement that involves some library sex and a field trip to Orc Mountain in which John vows to keep her safe and answer all her questions. The reader knows Rosa is acting as a spy and John’s motivation is unclear, though if what we know about orcs is any indication, he probably wants a mate to bear his sons.

There is a lot that I liked about this book. The relationships between orcs is expanded upon. Because they have no females and gaining the trust of human women is difficult, many orcs choose to take pleasure with one another. In the previous books, the dynamic was more like they were biding their time until they found human women to mate with. But in this book, we learn that some just prefer other orcs and take each other as their life mates. This is all very strange to each of the women we’ve met so far (I guess there are no homosexual humans?) and they are shocked to learn that their orcs have partaken in pleasure with other orcs. We get to witness healing (and sex) between one such couple, a side story that almost overshadows the main story. I know Tristan and Salvi worked things out, but I would have loved for them to have their own book. I also loved the way Rosa solved the Lord Kaspar problem and avoided the war she was assigned to start.

And then there are things that aren’t working for me anymore. The heroine gets so wrapped up in the idea that she’s been lied to when the entire purpose of her visit is a giant lie. The only thing she manages to be real about is the BDSM theme. At first she is scandalized and talks about how shameful it is to want to be afraid and want to be conquered etc. John helps her come to terms with herself and accept her truth. Cool. BDSM isn’t my thing and I am most definitely not the submissive type, so that part of the book didn’t speak to me (or titillate me). Every time she cried and ran off into the dark because she felt he’d lied to her, I rolled my eyes and sighed. Girl, everything about you is a lie. And somehow John and the orcs have known all along and forgive her and welcome her into their clan because she’s redeemed herself with her actions. There’s this big emphasis on how John’s clan does not speak vows because words can be broken and how one should be judged on their actions instead. Which, I guess. I guess I’ve just grown weary of the miscommunication trope. Why doesn’t Jule take aside all the new women and tell them that orcs don’t communicate the way humans do and you can’t expect them to understand if you don’t tell them. And at some point, maybe the women should start teaching unmated orcs how to talk to human women so they can avoid all the bullshit in the first place. I could do without all the cum guzzling though. Seriously, so many mentions of orc seed and Rosa’s amazing deep throating skill. Buckets and buckets of thick white seed. The spicy scenes are not doing it for me at all. And I find myself taken out of the moment anytime modern conversational language is slipped in with the anachronistic language used throughout. It’s a little jarring when you have orcs using words and phrases like naught and I shall and you wished but also phrases like macking on.

Still, this was a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ star read for me. Tristan and Salvi, and Simon to an extent, saved this one. The relationship between Tristan and Salvi was a shining spot in this story. The way Simon listened and learned from them and agreed to talk to his clan to work toward mending clan relations was really nice to read. And I do love a story where the heroine finds her spine (and herself) and ends up saving the day and gets the happily ever after she truly wants. Rosa and John grow individually and as a couple and when it was over, I found myself rooting for them.

That said, I think I’m going to take a break from the orcs. I did check out the next volume from KU, but it’s not a priority. I guess I’m still chasing that Ruby Dixon vibe that’s missing from my monster romance now that I’ve caught up on her entire catalog.

I read a book: Future Skinny, by Peter Rosch

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley and didn’t get around to it until long after it had been published. So I was reading the e-arc and completely engrossed because the idea of someone who can tell the future when he binge eats is such an interesting and unique plot. When I became aware of the up to 85% off everything Audible sale, naturally I looked for this book and bought it.

I’m a terrible reviewer, I know. But in my defense, I try to write honest and thoughtful reviews and I end up buying the audio companions to the ones I loved. This is one such book.

As I often do, I listened to the audiobook as I read along. Quick note about the audiobook, this is my first experience with the narrator T.W. Robbert. His reading is crisp and clear and while not overly emotive, it is just enough to accentuate this story perfectly. His vocal shifts between characters is enough to differentiate them but not so dramatic that it’s annoying. I know a lot of readers love full cast audiobooks or those whose narrators do elaborate voices, but I just find that distracting. T.W. Robbert has a talent that I can appreciate.

This is the story of an anorexic man who discovers future seeing abilities aided by bulimia, binge eating and purging. Eat to see, see to live. The story is told from the points of view of alternating narrators, one in the moment and one as an interview at an institution. We meet Casey Banks and Lylian Ayer (Spanish for yesterday…intentional?) in the middle of a reading. Casey is stuffing his face with fervor, trying to cram more and more because he believes that the more he eats, the more he will see. We learn that Casey and Lylian do readings from time to time to make money. Eventually, the criminal element (who happens to be Lyl’s ex) gets word of his ability and compels him to work for them, to read for them. As expected, things get complicated and weird and I’m here for it.

If descriptions of body dysmorphia and eating disorders are triggers for you, maybe skip this one. I have no experience with either and can’t say if the descriptions are super realistic, but I found this book to be overall well written. The imagery is top notch. I read a lot of extreme horror. Descriptions of blood and gore barely phase me but some of the descriptions of eating and purging scenes are both beautiful and disgusting. As I read, I found myself appreciating the interview sections more and more. I loved getting to dig in Casey’s head. And this is a minor thing, but I appreciate the little Texas references scattered throughout. A quick look at Peter Rosch’s Goodreads profile shows that this is his first novel in a while. I hope it won’t be his last.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ star read for me. The story is original and engaging and layered with surprising depth. There are twists and turns throughout that make this one difficult to put down. If you can stomach the eating scenes, you should read this book.

Big thanks to Peter Rosch, Art Cult Books, and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy Future Skinny, by Peter Rosch on Amazon or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription. Go on now, read it!

I read a book: Like Me, by Hayley Phelan

So let me tell you about this book. But first, let me share a tangentially related tidbit from my life.

The other day, I was munching on some blueberries and came across probably the biggest blueberry I’d ever seen. I actually chose this pint because it had unusually large blueberries compared to the others on the display. I snapped a couple pictures of it and shared them with a friend in messenger, whose response encouraged me to do the thing I felt was probably silly and post it for everyone to see. My big ass blueberry made it to my Instagram and FB and I spent the next half hour looking every time I got a comment or a like. And I thought about this book.

You say you’re a model, it’s evident you’ve never met
A mirror you didn’t love (ooh la la)
You say you’re an angel with your halo and your crown
As you fly up to the sun and melt your wings
It’s not a want, it’s an obsession
You wanna hear the people screaming out your name
Whispers at night in your midnight confessions
You’ll do anything for fame, célebutante, célebutante

At the beginning of this month, Megadeth released a new album. One of the catchier tunes is called Celebutante, which felt like a theme song for this book. Every time I hear this song, I think about Mickey and Gemma and this review that I’m finally getting around to writing. I think about these young women and their melted wings.

Like Me, by Hayley Phelan follows the journey of Mickey, a 19 year old aspiring model as she navigates her way to what she considers success. Her career is pretty much stalled and she is getting desperate to get her moment in the spotlight. We get a glimpse of her superficial friendships and lifestyle choices concerning men and excess. We see her carefully composing her social media posts and then comparing herself to popular Instagram model Gemma. She is obsessed with Gemma to the point that she memorizes her photos and tracks her activities. She knows where to find her at any time of any day. She talks about Gemma as if she knows her and eventually her friends call out her obsession, but in a teasing sort of way. It took a bit for anything to really start happening. According to my notes, it took me until around 36% to be fully invested.

At this point I was speculating different paths this story could take. I felt the tension rising as Mickey got deeper into her Gemma fixation. At first, it just seemed like an innocent celebrity crush thing. But will it become more? Mickey seems the type who could easily go full on stalker. I found myself hoping that would happen. The clues continue to point in that direction. One day she runs into Gemma and her photographer boyfriend in public. It is painted as a chance meeting, but is it really? Anyway, the boyfriend comments on the near familial resemblance between Mickey and Gemma and everything starts to spiral from there.

The day the boyfriend calls Mickey to do a photo shoot is the beginning of the end of life as she knows it. He is a major creep, but like many young girls who are desperate to break into modeling, Mickey leans hard into his creepiness. You’ll do anything for fame, célebutante. His photos prove to be wildly popular, and Mickey is still comparing herself to Gemma and seeking validation by means of a like or follow or anything.

So Gemma goes missing and it’s like Mickey is the only one who notices? Are they actually the same person and this whole story is one of them going through the motions and imagining that they’re watching it happen to someone else? There’s the scene where Mickey is talking to her friends and she keeps mentioning Gemma but they ask her who Gemma is. And the way Benoit and his crew look around awkwardly when she mentions Gemma. Feeling like this whole story is Mickey’s spiraling mental health.

Taken from my notes in Book Lovers Cafe

Solid ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ read for me. Lots to unpack. I found it to be quite relevant to today’s social media focused world and highly relatable, even to those of us who just want people to look at our big ass blueberries. I will say this, if you have access to the audiobook, I highly recommend it. Perfectly cast narrator who effectively portrays the main character’s deteriorating mental health throughout the book. I don’t want to give away the whole book, so I won’t answer any of those questions. It kept me guessing and I think the narrator really added to that experience. One of my guesses was correct. Read it and discover it for yourself!

You can read Like Me, by Hayley Phelan as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription, or buy it for a couple bucks. This was one of Amazon’s First Reads earlier this year.

I read a book: The Creeper, by A.M. Shine

Picture borrowed (stolen) from the author’s website.

Generally my tastes in horror lean toward monsters, both supernatural monsters like zombies and real world monsters like, well, humans. I love my zombies and I love me some extreme horror and splatterpunk. Give me all the gore!

However, every once in a while I pick up a book or one by an author I’ve seen highly recommended in one of the many bookish online communities that I follow. Something thematically different than my usual favorites. A.M. Shine is one such author. You may recognize him from his earlier work, The Watchers, which is also on my staggeringly long TBR.

This one took me a minute to get into, as it is somewhat of a slow burner and I tend to prefer a faster pace. But much like that children’s tale of the tortoise and the rabbit, slow and steady wins the race. This is the story of a pair of researchers, Ben and Chloe, who are hired by an old eccentric to visit the village from which the superstition of a monster called the creeper originates. They make the trip and are warned off, but allowed to stay for one day on the condition that they conclude interviews by dark and leave the following morning. Ben makes an earnest attempt at learning the origins of the story from the village folk and feels like he’s failed due to the villagers’ unwillingness to talk, until he and Chloe are visited by a child as they’re getting ready to settle in for the night before leaving in the morning.

The author was really good about including little details, both about the legend and events as they are happening, to tie everything together. He left no big glaring loose ends. And if you’re a skeptic like Ben and myself, the ending and epilogue are quite satisfying. My one gripe is that maybe the build up was a bit too slow burning. There were some slightly creepy things early on, but it didn’t get truly terrifying for Ben and Chloe until about halfway through the book. By then I was definitely on the edge of my seat, right up until we get to the twist. And at that point, the reader is resigned to their fate same as Ben is resigned to his.

Solid ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ read for me. Before the twist, it would have been one star lower. It is well written, but there are some things my brain just isn’t frightened by. So the ending was pretty satisfying. Was it scary? I didn’t think so. But it was suspenseful and had lots of creepy parts that kept me engaged and rooting for the unlucky researchers. Highly recommend adding it to your spooky season reading list.

Big thanks to A.M. Shine, Head of Zeus, and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy The Creeper, by A.M. Shine on Amazon for a couple bucks, or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

I read a book: The Magpie Coffin, by Wile E. Young

The Magpie Coffin is an unrelenting tale of revenge, with precise brutality and extreme violence – the first in the Splatter Western series from Death’s Head Press.

My first experience with the splatter western genre was a book called Bloodletting, by J.R. Curtis. I thought it was great and decided that I needed more of the author and more splatter western in my life. It’s been a minute since I read that book though, and was finally able to pencil in another splatter western by making it one of the Cool Ghouls Book Club selections. My ever growing unending TBR sometimes demands that I do this to push some books to the top of that list. Cool Ghouls is currently doing a series of 2022 Splatterpunk Award winners. Enter The Magpie Coffin, by Wile. E. Young, winner of Best Novel in 2021.

As I often do, I judged this book by its cover. That amazing cover art helps set the stage for me. It gives off old Clint Eastwood spaghetti western vibes that only got stronger as I read. I imagined Salem Covington carrying himself like every old west Clint Eastwood character, with his outlaw hat tilted low, hiding his trademark snarl and stony gaze. When I was a kid, we had one television in the house and Dad’s beloved copy of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on 2 VHS tapes. I remember him putting it on fairly often, much to my siblings and my chagrin. Even now, old westerns are common background noise in my home. Of course now I love those old movies. And while it might be a weird thing to say about a splatter book, it was giving me all the feels. I was a kid again, watching Clint Eastwood take bloody vengeance on the people who’d tortured and killed his mentor. Covington uses a combination of black magic and his special Gun, which is capitalized to emphasize the fact that it’s not a regular gun. It speaks to him, reminds him of how many souls he owes, and encourages him to kill.

There are some things that I felt were lacking in explanation. Maybe I missed it. That happens. But I never really understood how Covington got into his deal in the first place. Who was the coffin maker? There were mentions of souls owed. But to who? Why? How? We know that he is unkillable by all guns except the one he carries and the one that used to belong to his brother. He learned the way of the People from his shaman teacher, Dead Bear, and there are mentions of how he perverted the teachings to suit him. He picked up other black magic from other teachers. There are questions, but the story flows and wraps up in a way that doesn’t require answers. I’m left wanting more. It has all of the fast sharp brutality I love in a good spatter novel with an old western flair.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ read for me. I want more Wile E. Young. I want more splatter western. This was a great start for Death’s Head Press‘s Splatter Western series and I will be reading more of them.

You can get The Magpie Coffin, by Wile E. Young on Amazon, Godless, or directly from Death’s Head Press.