Meowder Mondays: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Shout out to Netgalley and Macmillan for providing a free ARC in exchange for an honest review! This book will be hitting the shelves this September.

In short: We’ve got a handful of unreliable narrators who are more than what they seem: Ted, a reclusive, grossly unhygienic oddball who may or may not be a psychopathic kidnapper; a cat named Olivia who’s on a mission from God to rescue Ted; a little girl (age unknown) with anger issues who may or may not be the little lost girl from the lake: and then there’s Dee, the new next-door neighbor who’s on a quest to avenge her missing sister.

What I liked: First of all, this cover is nothing short of masterful! I’m a sucker for haunted houses and cats, so count me in! Aside from that, this book is definitely a departure from anything else I’ve read in the horror genre. I was in a constant state of disorientation and had no idea where the story was going until I reached the final chapters and got pummeled with a flurry of bombshells. I can’t say anything more without giving away spoilers, but I will say that you will be deceived…multiple times. So yeah, if you love those M. Night Shyamalan plot twists, this book’s for you.

What I didn’t like: I, for one, do NOT like being deceived. I’m sorry, y’all, but I didn’t much care for the big “this isn’t so scary” surprise ending of “The Sixth Sense.” Don’t even get me started on “The Village.” So yeah, I’m not all too jazzed about how this book shaped out when the hundreds of questions finally got answered. When I pick up a horror paperback, I expect the author to deliver on the promise that it will indeed be a scary story. To be fair, there were some scary elements weaved into this psychological thriller–Ted’s childhood flashbacks, in particular. His mother was downright terrifying. And then there’s the creepy vibe happening in the woods, where “The Gods” are always watching. To be fair, there’s a lot of spooky buildup, so readers are likely to get creeped out…well until they get slapped in the face with the big reveal.

Character development: All of the characters, cat included, were indeed complex with fascinating backstories, but here’s the problem: they are all unreliable and strange. I want to feel a connection with at least one character, but that’s impossible when there’s clearly something very off and you don’t get the full story.

Overall: I think this is one of those books readers either love or hate. Judging by all the glowing reviews, this book is a big hit, so maybe give it a go and see what you think. This unreliable narrator stuff just isn’t for me, but it seems to be a growing trend and a clever way for authors to pull the rug out from under you with a big ol’ “FOOLED YA!” at the very end. Nope, not my cup of tea.

Four Paws up for Ghosts of New York by Jim Lewis

I have to be honest with you. Pretty much all the New York-themed books I’ve read involve man-chasing, Manolo Blahnik-obsessed shopaholics. When I think of Manhattan, I envision Broadway shows, enchanting parks lit up with fairy lights and fashionable women strolling arm-in-arm down bustling sidewalks. I have since grown out of this chick lit genre, but the glossy veneer of New York life still lives long in my mind.

As you have probably surmised, I have never been to the Big Apple. Yet after reading Ghosts of New York, I feel like I’ve been given a tour by a local. To be clear, this isn’t a whimsical romanticized depiction of the city, but an unfiltered slice-of-life look into the people who live in the nondescript outlying neighborhoods, the studio apartments, the walk-up Brownstones. Told by an all-omniscient—in some cases prophetic—narrator, the chapters contain vignettes about troubled New Yorkers who are facing some serious blows—from losing everything to bankruptcy, to falling in and out of love, to realizing you can never come home again. The latter hits home with me, big time.

And therein lies the beauty of this book. So many of these stories are relatable to readers because the characters (Caruso excluded) are much like you and me. They’re not on a quest to vanquish evil sorcerers or to solve a whodunnit—they’re just making their way through this game of life the best they can. Needless to say, this isn’t a light read, but it was definitely worth my while because sometimes it’s good to lean into life’s dirty, gritty underbelly. Sometimes it’s good to feel these raw emotions and to know others have felt them too.

Deep stuff, I know. But hey, it’s good to go outside your comfort zones and read what I like to call “Intellectual Fiction,” not just for the stories themselves but for the beautiful prose. Hats off to Mr. Lewis for taking the art of writing to stratospheric heights! Most books I read are heavy on the dialogue, but this is mostly narration—a rather bold move for an author, but it works because it casts a voyeuristic effect. Some reviewers knocked a few stars off for this rather unorthodox story structure, but I rather liked it. The mystery of time was also an interesting, albeit disorienting, effect. Some chapters were told in the future tense, others in the past, but it’s anyone’s guess which decade we’re in. If I were to go out on a limb here, I’d say this was a nod to the “ghosts” theme of the book…because time and space is always a big question in the Great Beyond, isn’t it?

This review is turning into a novella, and I give you snaps for making it this far! There’s so much more to say about the poetic metaphors, the complex characters, my many questions about the mysterious virus and so on, but I’ll stop right here before giving away any spoilers. Even if this genre isn’t your cup of tea, I encourage you to venture off into uncharted territory and read something that stretches your thoughts about life, existence and the hereafter a little further.

Well done, Mr. Lewis! Keep ‘em coming!

ARC Review: The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters

the river has teeth by erica waters Note: I received and ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The book hits the shelves this July!

The Gist: Two girls, Natasha and Della, forge an unlikely friendship whilst searching for Natasha’s lost sister. More girls go missing in the cursed river bend, and a bloodthirsty shapeshifting madwoman is afoot! It’s up to Della and Natasha to vanquish the monsters of the bend before it’s too late!

What worked: I enjoyed the spooky atmosphere surrounding the bend and all of its enchanted winged creatures. The mystery of the missing sister was well spun, leaving me with so many questions the moment they found her abandoned car out in the woods. I do enjoy a good whodunnit—especially one with magic and shape-shifting monsters lurking in the woods. There’s also another mystery within the mystery involving Della’s mother, her dead aunt and some woo woo magic—such fun!

What irked me: Female empowerment is great, and I love that it’s becoming more of a trend in pop culture. That said, the “we don’t need men in this world” message in the final chapter of this book didn’t sit well with me. I like to think of myself as a left-leaning feminist, but I’m not down with misandry.

Overall: Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this one. If this becomes a trilogy, I may give it another chance since there’s so much more to Natasha’s story nowt that she knows a bit more about herself and what’s fueling her deep-seated rage. Also, I’m interested to see what else is lurking in the cursed bend!

Happy Caturday! Four Paws Up for Nala’s World

Nala's World I’m sure most of you fellow animal lovers have seen the Dodo video of Nala and Dean’s moment of insta-love when he found her lost, desperate and abandoned on some rocks somewhere in the Bosnia wastelands. If not, you must drop everything (unless if you’re holding a cat) and watch it right now!

As with most attention-challenged social media viewers, I watched the short video, swooned and then moved on to the next new sparkly thing in never-ending feed of Tick Tock video nothingness…talk about wastelands. Social media, man. It’s a blessing and a curse, isn’t it? Without it, Dean’s story wouldn’t have gone viral, and the world wouldn’t know his story—and the story of so many other hurt and abandoned animals he helped along the way with some crowd-funding assistance from his massive online fan club! Yet, it’s rather disturbing that my mind instantly flitted off to the next Dodo video, and I forgot about this epic rescue story in a nanosecond. All I can say is THANK GOD FOR BOOKS!

When I discovered this memoir existed, I immediately downloaded the audiobook so I could listen to it on my long MS150 training rides. This was a good call because the book is narrated by a Scottish voice artist with a fantastic brogue! Oh how I love the Scotts! It was such a pleasure taking this journey alongside Dean and his newfound kitty soul mate Nala as he pursued his “One Bike, One World” expedition that unexpectedly turned into an animal rescue mission. Not only did he save little Nala, he also rescued some stray pups and used his massive social media following to help out fledgling rescues and sanctuaries. Needless to say, this is a man after my own heart! Also, he’s a globe-traversing cyclist, which in and of itself is fascinating!

As for Nala, oh my goodness—I’m in love! This little girl knew she found her person the instant she meowed at him. She refused to let him pedal away and used all of her cute powers to land herself right into his little handlebar bag—where she happily stayed throughout his quest. It’s amazing to me how animals magically know they found their person—and refuse to let them go. This happened in another book I read called “Finding Gobi,” in which a fiercely determined tiny dog (also a Dodo video star) ran alongside an ultra-marathon runner in the blistering heat of the Gobi desert. That story—and Nala’s story—will always have a place in my heart. I’m just so glad both of these big-hearted animal rescuers wrote books so the world can connect with these stories in a way that just can’t be done in a 30-second flash-in-the-pan video.

SPOILER ALERT! The cat lives in the end. So don’t let that completely understandable fear stand in your way. In fact, I’m hoping there will be a Part II installment because Dean’s worldly biking adventure was cut short by this blasted pandemic! He and Nala have many, many more miles to go, which makes me and my Lil Bootz purr with delight! Oh and you can watch their adventures unfold in real time (#OneBikeOneWorld) on all the social media channels!

Meowder Mondays: Without a Brew

Let me start off with OMG YASS! This is a new cozy mystery book theme that I never knew I needed in my life! I’ve never met a microbrewery I didn’t like, and now I am yearning to fly to the Bavarian tourist town of Leavenworth, WA and sample all of the delicious IPAs!

Naturally, I decided to read this during dry January because I love to torture myself. I do not advise this! I actually extended my torture into the first week of February since I cheated here and there. But hey, January was a tough month, so I give myself a little slack!

But I digress. Let’s get back to mystery, shall we? It all begins when Sloane (the nano-brewery/B&B manager) finds herself in the middle of a simmering bar brawl between a mysterious woman named Liv and an overgrown frat boy from Hell named, what else, Brad. Liv’s dead body turns up on a river bank the very next day and more suspects come out of the woodwork.

I quite enjoyed puzzling out this beer-infused mystery and was pleased that it had nothing to do with nefarious real estate developers. That plot device is getting old in these cozies. Just sayin! Most of all, I loved, loved, loved the setting and all of the little bits of beer-brewing knowledge. Adding to the intrigue is a mystery on top of the mystery involving Sloane’s mysterious past. Growing up in foster care, she knew nothing about her mother–and why she was abandoned. Somehow, her former in-laws seem to know a lot more about her biological mother than they’re letting on. I won’t give anything away, but I will say there’s more to this mystery that will unfold in the next book. Way to dangle that carrot, Miss Alexander!

I only have a couple gripes. Firstly, this book is devoid of animals. That’s a problem. Also, Sloane is…well how should I put this? Personality-free, might be the best description. She always has that customer service hat on and is as pleasant as can be, but she could use a few quirks. Maybe throw in a few jokes here and there and get a little sloppy? She’s the kind of person who intentionally blends into the crowd and clutches those cards close to her chest. Not the most relatable or likable, in my opinion.

Other than that little gripe, I’m down with this series and am already starting on the first book so I can learn more about Sloane’s early beginnings at Nitro Brewery, and how all the drama went down when she walked in on her husband–ex-husband, I should say– doing the deed with the beer wench.

Overall, this is a quality cozy for beer enthusiasts such as myself who miss frequenting microbreweries amidst this unending social-distancing way of life. When this pandemic is over, I’m going on a long-overdue Hill Country beer crawl!


Lil Bootz’s Book of the Month: A Curse So Dark and Lonely

I don’t normally read fantasy books, but my dad randomly gifted me with this gorgeous paperback, and he usually knows what he’s doing when it comes to book selections. We tend to read the same things, especially Texas noir and anything from BookPeople’s horror aisle, so this was somewhat of a surprise coming from him! In all honesty, I think it was the cover that did it.

At first, I was intimidated by the size of this thing. A 470-page tome is a commitment, y’all! Turns out, this was a super-fast read that I was able to knock out in a weekend. I was hooked right from the beginning when the kidnapped Harper landed in Emberfall, a fantastical land of lush forests, evil sorcerers and enchanted castles. It’s basically Fantasyland…only with lots of bloodshed and a man-eating beast.

This really is a creative spin on the Beauty and the Beast cannon. The main character is a departure from the book-toting, ball-dancing Belle. She has cerebral palsy and lacks the ballerina-esque grace and ethereal beauty that all the Disney princesses posses. She’s scrappy, street-smart and impermeable to the prince’s charms. I must gives the author snaps for keeping up with the times and giving the readers what they want: a tough-as-nails anti-princess protagonist! Move over, Prince Rhen, and leave it to the women to save the land of Emberfall! Ya Ya!

I also love how the author deviates from the Disney tale while also keeping with some of the themes. The prince is in a race against time (sans the falling rose petals) to save himself and his kingdom from doom. The trapped “Beauty” must rescue the kingdom and her family back at home. Inanimate objects take on a life of their own–only instead of singing teapots and candelabras, there’s wind instruments that relentlessly play the same songs day after day after day, and so on. If that’s not enough to throw myself off the highest castle turret, I don’t know what is!

Either way, this is a fantastic reimagining of and old tale that so many of us just can’t get enough of–myself included! I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched the animated classic. Only in this newest iteration, the beast is a tad more frightening than that fluffy, overgrown Chow dog looking thing in the movie.

Needless to say, I’m excited to dive into the next installment of this series. This is the perfect break from reality that I need these days. I couldn’t’ think of a better way to spend a Sunday than in Emberfall, where I can sword-fight with hot guardsmen and ride through the forest on a magnificent steed. Such fun!

Celebrating MLK Day With ‘The Sword and the Shield’

Happy MLK Day!!! After all that the horrors and atrocities we witnessed at our nation’s capital, I’m hoping more people—especially the lily white folks such as myself—will take this day to reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and this hard-won civil rights victory. And what better time than now for us all to be cognizant of the past and present struggles for racial equality? If our latest dark chapter in American history didn’t hit home, let me paint a couple of scenes that highlight glaring hypocrisy and double standards in law enforcement.

Exhibit A: Masses of Black protestors marching in the streets holding signs with images of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Trayvon Martin and many others Black Americans murdered by cops. They’re shouting with their fists held high, demanding justice and equality amidst clouds of pepper spray and an armada of police. Red faced, angry talking heads on Fox News are labeling them as “looters” and “crybabies.” Millions of Americans nod their heads to this rhetoric and pledge their allegiance to Trump and his promise to “Make America Great Again,” whilst  people fighting for Black lives get shoved in police cruisers, mowed down by angry drivers and shot with rubber bullets.

Exhibit B: Thousands of enraged, entitled white people storm our nation’s capital with weapons, Confederate flags, American flags (that incidentally double as weapons), zip-ties and, Molotov cocktails and pepper spray. Their cause? To hijack the democratic process and overturn the election. Basically, they’re throwing a big hissy fit because their demagogue didn’t win. They storm the front gates–beating down the few policemen who got in their way- and break into what should be a highly secure building. Why? Because they can.  Hell, some even stopped to take selfies with the police who were helpful enough to move some of those pesky barricades. They had a grand ol’ time of it running amok in the Senate Chamber and trashing offices  All of Trump’s stormtroopers except for one managed to avoid death-by-cop.  In fact, they filed out of there like a crowd of people casually exiting a movie theater, taking selfies all the way. Such fun!

Now imagine if these rioters were all Black people. I’ll just leave that right there since there’s no need to spell it out.

That said, our nation continues to be rife with systematic racism and discrimination. True, we did have a Black president, but we are far, far, far away from living in a just society. If anything positive could be taken away from our recent turn of events, it’s the heightened awareness that Black lives STILL don’t matter to millions of white people in this country. After our latest presidential election, the divide is very clear.

So I asked a bunch of college students (I work in higher ed) to tell me how white people can be better allies. They all agreed that the first step is to read up–and that means credible, researched sources, not memes, y’all! Next, you have to sit down and listen to all the viewpoints—even from your crazy MAGA hat-wearing uncle. Really listen and think carefully before responding. Another tip, don’t just post a black square on social media and call it a day. Sorry, that’s just lazy.

“The Sword and the Shield” is an excellent source for building your knowledge base on the lives of our great civil rights visionaries, Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I’m sure you can easily translate the sword and shield metaphors, yet this book tells a different story that shows a lot of gray area around MLK’s peaceful, non-violence stance and Malcolm’s radical Black Power ideology.  As you read further into it, you’ll see they were anything but one-dimensional, despite what you read in textbooks.

I dog-eared the heck out of this book and narrowed down a few take-aways to share with you all as we all celebrate this great man’s birthday. You can also go to UT’s book blog to read my Q&A with the author!

Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. recognized how deeply institutionalized racism threatened the hopes, dreams and lives of Blacks living in America. They each brilliantly diagnosed flaws within the American democracy, yet they embraced different strategies for Black liberation at this point—with King maintaining faith in legal and political solutions to combat racial injustice and Malcolm relying on the growing strength, political sophistication and worldliness of the Black community as the true measure of power.

King’s visit to Ghana and Europe, where he marveled at the resilience of ordinary Africans and paused to consider the vastness of a rapidly crumbling British empire, found him firmly in the camp of Black internationalism, a political ideology shared by Malcolm X. Malcolm’s thirst for radical Black dignity and King’s quest for Black citizenship most comfortably met on the world stage.

On the tenth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s death, King published an editorial arguing humanity faced a choice between “non-violence” and “non-existence.” He was confident in the ability of Christianity’s love ethic to spur social transformation across whole societies, regions, nation-states, and, eventually the entire world. He would begin by confronting Southern racial mores that viewed Black subjugation as the divine right of whites, who blissfully attended segregated churches, wept at Billy Graham’s religious crusades and prayed to God to maintain a way of life based on Black misery.

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. would never meet in a formal debate; however, both of them were acutely aware of one another. More than that, they were building—both consciously and unconsciously—a public persona that served in response to each other.

King believed that racial justice required more than new laws. The birth of a new American age required the transformation of hearts and minds, a quest that king now embarked on to teach to the president, the attorney general and the entire nation the depth and breadth of an unfolding “social revolution” that he endeavored to remain at the center of.

If King sought to persuade the highest bastions of white power of the worthiness of Black citizenship, Malcolm remained convinced that Black people needed to recognize the strength of their own humanity before they could rightfully expect others to do so.

I could add more, but I’ll stop right here so you can download this book or—gasp!—purchase an old school hardback and dog-ear your own favorite passages. The hardback is gorgeous, so go ahead and splurge! At that, I’ll leave you with these words that perfectly encapsulate the largely unknown truths about Dr. King.

King would not recognize himself in the uncomplicated, largely timid figure that much of the nation and the world celebrate today. The Radical King who gathered an army of the poor to descend upon the nation’s capital in defiance of critics, is airbrushed from history. The risk-taking King who defied a sitting president to protest war, is missing from our popular memory. The revolutionary King who marched shoulder-to-shoulder with garbage workers, locked arms with Black Power militants, and lived in Chicago ghettos in an effort to stimulate social change, is forgotten. The King who proclaimed that America’s greatness remained “the right to protest for right,” has all but vanished, replaced by generic platitudes about freedom and justice.

I’m sad the march isn’t happening today, but we can all look back at my favorite MLK Day oratory speech contest winner circa 2016. This little guy is fierce and on point!

Furbidden Fatality by Deborah Blake

Furbidden Fatality book In true cozy mystery fashion, this story follows a single, unlucky-in-love gal who is at a crossroads in her young, 30-something life. Now for the twist! She just won the lotto and has millions of dolla dolla bills to spare! When an adorable homeless kitten crosses her path, she discovers a rundown animal rescue in the midst of closing down furever—oh no! So of course she has to buy it and save all the homeless doggies and kitties that have nowhere else to go—not even the city pound, which is underfunded and over capacity. This is sadly the case in the real world, and I speak from 12 years of experience as a seasoned dog rescue volunteer who got chewed up and spit out by the F****D-up system. I’ll stop right here before I get up on my soapbox. Trust me, you don’t want that!

The mystery: This is a fun little whodunnit involving nefarious vandals, shady townsfolk and one sadistic animal control officer who seems to have it in for one particular dog (a pit bull, of course). Kari’s efforts to spruce up the rescue gets thwarted when she stumbles across his dead body on her property—making her suspect No. 1! Why was he shoveling a hole in her dog yard? Who’s smashing her windows and leaving misspelled threats on her doorstep? Why is the police department so pitifully useless? Well you’ll have to read the book to find out!

What I liked: The protagonist Kari Stuart is living my dream of running my very own animal rescue/sanctuary, providing a safe place for all the sweet doggies that get turned away from the so-called “No Kill” (aka Slow Kill) rescues. Might I just add that the term “No Kill” is a misnomer because these shelters are indeed killing dogs. It’s a numbers game and no dog is safe—especially at the most beloved shelters (*cough* Austin Pets Alive *cough*) where dirty, dirty politics are at work. A dog’s chances hinge upon their level of popularity with politically-savvy volunteers and the “dog behaviorists,” whom by the way have zero dog-training certification credentials and just use a one-size-fits-all method of punishment-based methods—including shock collars that they like to call “remote collars.”

Oops…did I just get on my soapbox a bit? Sorry y’all! Ok, back to the book. So Kari is a girl after my own heart, and I appreciate her willingness to eschew a luxurious life in Tuscany with her riches to answer the call of duty—hoorah! I especially love her cute little black kitty sidekick who magically knows how to warn her when danger is near.

What didn’t work: Kari is clearly a passionate cat lover, but I didn’t really sense much of a connection with dogs. I’m not sure how much research was put into the making of this book, but I think it would have behooved the author to watch an entire season of Pit Bulls and Parolees. If anyone can embody the passion—the spirituality even—that goes into a dog rescue operation, it’s Tia Torres and her two daughters. I think this may have been more believable if Kari was running a cat rescue, but dogs…not so much. I really hope this develops further in the next book, and I have faith that it will because I’m rooting for Kari!

This review is in honor of Brindle, Goldman and Dennis (aka Denny Bear). All three died at the shelter this year. 

Overall: This is a fun little mystery that is sure to please animal lovers—especially us crazy cat ladies! I applaud the author for bringing more attention to our nation’s overburdened and underfunded animal centers. It seems like you’d have to be a lotto winner in order to start a new rescue facility in a society that places very little priority on animal welfare. Sorry—had to throw in one last soapbox zinger.

Shoutout to NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Book and a Movie Night! Turn of the Screw Vs Haunting of Bly Manor

Turn of the Screw Book I’m embarrassed to say that it took me a few episodes to realize the Haunting of Bly Manor was a loose reimagining of Henry James’ seminal classic, “The Turn of the Screw.” It’s pretty how long it took me to put it all together–the disoriented nanny, the two haunted children, the apparition in the tower–before I finally sat up and yelled at my husband, “Holy crap! It’s the Turn of the Screw!”  What can I say? I’m a little slow up on the uptake these days.

Naturally, I had to download the audiobook narrated by the lovely Emma Thompson to revisit this uncanny tale. In retrospect, it would have been a better idea to read the hardback instead of following a dramatized narration because the writing is DENSE, and it’s easy to get lost in the ambiguity of, well, everything.

In a word, this book can best described as ambiguous. Nothing is straight forward; it’s all just hints and euphemisms. My best advice is to read this very slowly and in small doses because the flowery writing is crazy-making! Also, it would be fun to turn this into a drinking game and take a shot every time the word “prodigious” appears in the governesses’ long, convoluted ramblings about innocence and corruption. Henry James clearly loved that word.

Did the Netflix series do the book justice? Hmm…yes and no. The show beautifully captured the isolated Bly Manor homestead and the overall sense of isolation and doom. It also followed the storyline of Bly Manor’s resident spirits: two former employees who may or may not have been having—gasp—sex! Of course, those words were never spoken, but the subversive text certainly indicates they were very much “corrupted.” Makes me want to clutch my pearls!

This is where I ran into problems with the book. It was hard to figure out what exactly was going on since nothing is fully explained. I think it’s safe to assume the resident ghosts were doing the nasty and the nanny took it upon herself to shield her wards from corruption. In doing so, she makes matters worse, thus turning the screw into madness and destruction.

I could only get on at all by taking “nature” into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.

The problem with the show, however, is that there’s very little guesswork. Sure, the governess seemed nutty at first, but you come to realize in further episodes that the house is indeed haunted. I suppose this works better for the mass audience, but I’m more creeped out by the notion that all the craziness that went down in Bly Manor was all in the nanny’s head.  I mean, really, do we need everything spelled out for us these days? The imagination is so much more fun!

As expected, the book is by far better—and it’s definitely worth a read for fans of the show. Of course, you don’t get to look for the surprise ghosts (aka “Easter eggs”) in every scene. But trust me, there are plenty of Easter eggs in the form of symbols and themes. One, which I particularly enjoyed, is the mentioning of a ship lost at sea. It perfectly encapsulates the feeling you have while following the Governess’s journey into madness. With her at the helm, we’re helplessly drifting off into craziness at every turn, rolling with the waves into a wasteland of nothingness. The mansion in itself feels like a sinking ship, which is masterful foreshadowing for the impending tragedy.

No; it was a big, ugly, antique, but convenient house, embodying a few features of a building still older, half replaced and half utilized, in which I had the fancy of our being almost as lost as a handful of passengers in a great drifting ship. Well, I was, strangely, at the helm!

Spoiler alert! The literary version doesn’t end well for the young boy named Miles, who was kicked out of boarding school for reasons unknown. All we know is that he relished being bad, and it bothered the governess to no end! She took it up on herself to save the children, believing that she was the only one who could save them. This calls into question the destructiveness of the hero-complex, and the motives behind incompetent fools who feel they can protect others from inevitable forces.

As you can see, there is a LOT packed into this book—and it’s up to you to tease apart all the subversive ramblings about innocence, corruption, the downfall of heroism, and many, many more themes. Is it scary? Eh, depends on how you look at it. To some, it’s a ghost story; to others, it’s a story of a misguided woman descending into madness. Either way, it’s an interesting ride that goes from 60 to zero in a matter of seconds. The abrupt ending still leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment…but I do have some theories. As for the TV series, the mystery is tied together in a neat little bow, which I’m sure appeals plenty of people who need a clear resolution. As for me, I relish the intrigue of a good unsolved mystery.

Lil Bootz’s Friday Flop Day: The Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

The premise of this book and the glowing reviews of it being as creepy as the Blair Witch Project really suckered me into checking it out (thankfully for free via Libby), but boy was I disappointed. I tried, y’all. I really did. I got as far as 50% through the audiobook when I decided to hit the “return early” button. Here’s where it went all kinds of wrong:

The premise it great–a bunch of teenage explorers lost in the woods whilst experimenting with an urban legend in search of a missing girl. My hopes for this story quickly dissipated when I met the main character, Sarah and her slew of friends via tedious direct message threads. Note: these long text conversations do not translate well on audio. Needless to say, I did not enjoy their snarky dialogue, nor did I care much for their personalities in general. The lack of character development is where this book went horribly wrong. We really don’t get under the surface with any of these kids–and there’s way too many of them. It’s like watching a classic teenage B-grade horror movie that makes the audience root for the monsters. The only character with a semblance of depth is Sara, and she’s a real Gloomy Gus. I mean, yeah it’s sad her adopted sister went missing and that she was scorned by her girl-crush, but it was even more sad for me to have to endure her emo attitude. But hey, if you’re into Sylvia Plath, you may enjoy Sara. To each their own.

And then there’s this false promise that this book channels the Blair Witch Project. Sure, there’s a bunch of bickering kids lost in the woods, but that’s the only connection. The genius of the Blair Witch Project is the building suspense of an unseen force that may or may not exist, leaving everything up to the imagination. This book, however, is full of zombie people, ghosts and gates to multiple otherworldly dimensions. Sure it was disorienting, but in a bad acid trip kind of way.

To be fair, I only got halfway through this thing, but from what I could tell, this book was missing a very important element: A villain, either physical or supernatural, that ties the whole legend together. There’s a bunch of rules to follow in order to survive the cursed woods, but what overarching power is casting this spell? What’s the actual “Ghost of Lucy Gallows” legend here? Somewhere before reaching the midpoint of this story, the characters should have figured this out. I mean, it’s good to know what they’re up against, right?

With all the gates to different levels, I felt like I was inside a video game on a mission to capture the damsel in distress from the evil castle troll. But hey, if you’re into that, maybe this book is for you. I’m just not really into fantasy and sci-fi, so it’s not my cup of tea. I’m more into gothic ghost stories and psychological thrillers with supernatural twists.