Hooray for Saturday!!! After another looooooong workweek, I never thought the weekend would come. I don’t know about y’all but the summer workweek doldrums are a real thing. I need a vacation STAT! Thankfully, I have plenty of books to transport me to far and distant lands—dark and spooky places filled with ghosts, werewolves and the occasional sparkly vampire! What more could a girl ask for? I ask you!
Here, CeeCee has rounded up some of our most recent spooktacular reads—some good, some not so much. Listed below are our hits and misses from our June/July reading list!
The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait by Cleo Coyle
Cozy fans—you can’t go wrong with any of Cleo Coyle’s books, especially her Haunted Bookshop series! I just love the humorous quips among the leading lady Penelope Thornton-McClure and her two neurotic sidekicks Seymour and Professor J. Brainert. There’s also a hint of a romance brewing between the bookish sleuth and her resident ghost Jack Shepherd, a sultry PI from the ‘40s whose death is a mystery all unto itself! This is a rather welcome departure from the amateur sleuth/detective love-hate plot device that has been done to death in the cozy mystery genre. As for the story itself, I rather enjoyed the mystery of the cursed portrait—and how it was all tied to a cold case involving the untimely demise of a pulp fiction cover illustrator. Albeit, cold case mysteries can be rather dull, yet there were some rather suspenseful moments when our intrepid sleuth closed in on the case of the murdered book/art collector who fell prey to the cursed portrait! Oh how I love mysteries shrouded in deadly curses—such fun!
The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon
Let me start off by saying Jennifer McMahon is becoming one of my most favorite horror writers! She consistently churns out extremely creepy, slow-burning ghost stories that are often steeped in urban legends. This latest title did not disappoint! The story surrounds two sisters who spent their summers at their reclusive grandmother’s house, where they spent much of their time swimming in a pool filled with mystical—dare I say cursed—water. Adding to the creep-factor, their aunt drowned in that very pool due to mysterious causes. The author masterfully ratchets up the suspense by time-skipping from the girls’ early childhood to their present-day reality, to a time long ago when a happy couple moved to that property and fell victim to mysterious forces surrounding the “healing” spring waters. It all comes together in the end in the most horrific way possible! You know you’ve read something good when fellow readers post a “Please discuss your feelings about the ending” thread in a Facebook reading group. Hats off to Ms. McMahon for pulling the rug out from under me yet again!
Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
As expected, this fourth installment of the Eleanor Wilde mystery series did not disappoint! This is absolutely a cozy mystery–but yet it is a welcome departure from the tried-and-true formula that makes this sub-genre tiresome. Eleanor, our leading lady, is unlike the typical sweet and lovable “Mary Sues” of the cozy mystery scene. She’s a wise-cracking charlatan who cons people into believing she speaks to dead people. Hey, sometimes you have to go to extremes to make a buck these days! In her defense, she resorted to this unsavory line of work to pay for her dying sister’s medical bills, so she can’t be all that bad. To be honest, I rather prefer a protagonist with some real flaws instead of the cliched “flaws” attached to female characters to make them “relatable,” such being a perennial klutz or a carb-fanatic. Is this really the only way women can relate with other women? Strange. Either way, I digress. Eleanor is a fantastic protagonist with some really fun sidekicks including magical cats (aka familiars) and some ghostly spirit guides. In this mystery, she’s vacationing at a posh hotel in a quaint coastal English village. Ahh…such bliss. The mystery begins when she and her brother witness a man being pushed off a boat by two shadowy perpetrators. Adding to the mystery, there’s a jewel thief afoot! Could the two crimes be connected? Will the salty head detective ever take her seriously? Could all of these wrongdoings be tied to Eleanor’s ex partner-in-crime and current blackmailer? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
The Lost Village by Camilla Sten
I’m sorry, but no. This book was such a dud, and I am kicking myself yet again for getting suckered into the “Blair Witch meets Midsomer” sales pitch. The only thing commonality between this book and the Blair Witch Project is the incessant bickering among the feeble-minded characters. As for Midsomer (not such a great horror flick, in my opinion), the only link I can think of is that both stories are set in Sweden. What else is thee? I ask you! Either way, the false advertising and provocative book cover lured me in like a catfish to a plastic worm. The characters were all horrible, especially the flat-as-a-pancake leading lady. She kept so many secrets from the group for no apparent reason, and she kept moving forward with the documentary—or I should say pre-documentary photo shoot—when she should have been taking an injured member of the crew straight to the emergency room. There’s very little action other than the crew creeping around dark and gloomy buildings. The only hint of a ghostly presence in a sporadic shadow person just kind of hanging around…blarg. Everything about this book was sorely disappointing. I honestly don’t know how it received so many raves on GoodReads, but to each their own.
Goblin by Josh Walerman
Again, I fell prey to a gorgeous cover. I mean look at this thing! The Alice in Wonderland motif set against the backdrop of a looming haunted mansion is like catnip! And then there’s the glowing review from none other than Stephen King, so this had to be a surefire hit, right? Wrong! Well, I guess for some people who like weird Twilight Zone-esque short stories, this is a winner. I, however, want a classic ghost story that will make me want to recheck my door locks and turn on all the lights. Aside from the first really spooky short story (or prelude? I’m not sure since I didn’t make it to the end), I could not get into the novellas that were just disorienting and strange. Even though the stories were relatively short, they felt long and rambling. Also, I should warn all my fellow dog lovers, and animal lovers in general, that there are some triggers in the “Man in Slices” and “Happy Birthday, Hunter!”. Some stories I wish I could just unread…sigh. Either way, this was a no for me, dog. DNF pile, all the way.
The Maple Murders by Micol Ostow
Admittedly, I have not watched the show, so it took a while to get a grasp on the many, many characters. There are so many problems, I don’t even know where to begin. Ok, for starters, the book lacks a main character—making it impossible to connect with anyone or anything. Each chapter is narrated by a different member of the super duper diverse and inclusive Riverdale clique, and I am not digging any of them. Also, the characters and storylines are sooooo far removed from the Archie and Jughead comics, so why bother with this whole gimmick in the first place? I’m guessing that without this throwback, another random teen melodrama TV show couldn’t stand on its own two legs…am I right? I went into this book hoping for a good YA murder mystery about ghosts coming back to haunt a cursed town, but it seemed that all took a backseat to chapters upon chapters of mundane teenage crap. Some chapters teeter off into sub-plots that had zero ties to the story—like a lesbian love affair road trip to LA or a fruitless excursion to a gay bar. None of these little side trips had anything to do with the actual plot, but they did let all the readers know that this story is WOKE AF! I embrace diversity in mainstream fiction, but when it seems to be shoehorned in there with the sole agenda of check-marking all the boxes, I get a little annoyed. That said, this was a dud with a major let-down of an ending. By the time I got to the final chapters, it seemed very apparent that the author realized “Oh, whoopsies, I need to tie up this mystery, too.” At least she got her main message across.
Into the Pit by Scott Cawthon, Elley Cooper
I’ve been eyeing this Fazbear Frights series for quite some time now—again with the alluring book covers! Sometimes even middle-grade horror stories can be rather spooky, so I figured why not give it a go? All I can say is this is no R.L. Stine—not even close. All the little stories in here are life lessons for the kiddos in the guise of horror stories—cautionary tales like don’t take your parents for granted, don’t be a crummy, social-climbing friend, don’t fat-shame yourself and others, blah, blah, blah. What’s wrong with just writing a horror story with the sole intention of scaring the pants off of little children? Why can’t a story be just a story without an agenda? Either way, this is the first and last book I’ll read in this series.