Sunday, February 28, 2021

Book Review | Alone by Megan E. Freeman

  Alone is middle grade survival story by Megan E. Freeman.

Alone by Megan E. Freeman

When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She’s alone—left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned. With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive on her own. Her only companions are a Rottweiler named George and all the books she can read. After a rough start, Maddie learns to trust her own ingenuity and invents clever ways to survive in a place that has been deserted and forgotten. As months pass, she escapes natural disasters, looters, and wild animals. But Maddie’s most formidable enemy is the crushing loneliness she faces every day. Can Maddie’s stubborn will to survive carry her through the most frightening experience of her life?

I'm back with some more middle grade horror today! I was really excited when I discovered Alone because it sounded dystopian to me, and I couldn't remember having read anything like it. I instantly preordered because I was so intrigued! I didn't realize at the time that Alone was written in verse. To be perfectly honest, I was worried when I found out. I have DNF'ed several middle grade books over the years that were written in verse, but I had absolutely no problems with the writing or the structure of Alone. I think that format enhanced Alone!

I was also excited that the main character had a dog as her companion. (This is one of the reasons that I read Alone this month - Barb is hosting her annual puppy love challenge to read a book in February featuring a dog.)

Overall I really enjoyed Alone. I felt like I was on this survival adventure right along with Maddie. I loved her as a character, and I loved her rottweiler George. The premise is Maddie wakes up to find herself entirely alone in her world. She has to figure out how to gather supplies and survive on her own. I think kids who like survival stories would enjoy this and find it to be quite unique. The first night I started reading Alone, I had nightmares about my youngest child being left behind to survive on his own.

I could really feel Maddie's loneliness while reading Alone. I think being written in verse, it was a perfect vehicle to express a lot of Maddie's emotions. There's a section at the end that includes one of my favorite poems of all times - The Summer Day by Mary Oliver. I think that section is just so beautiful.

As much I did enjoy Alone - I have some complaints. Everyone left in the middle of just one night. Not just in Maddie's town but in the surrounding towns, too. Everyone left their cell phones and all of their pets behind. The only reason was convenience to the plot. I know a lot of my followers have trouble with animal death. These pets were left behind in cages and in homes. There is also a bad guy in Alone, and this is proven via a kitten. Any reason the author could have given for everyone to leave especially without their cell phones or their pets would have been better than the one we got.

When it comes to middle grade horror, I pass any books that I like on to my kids, and I donate the rest. Despite my complaints, I will pass this one on to them. I have no doubts they will have the same issues, but it's still a book that really sucks you in and makes you care. If you have kids in your life or in your class who love survival stories, I still say add this to your collection. They will fall for Maddie and George, and they will likely enjoy the unique way this story is presented through verse.
3/5 stars


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Monday, February 22, 2021

Book Review | Lakewood by Megan Giddings

Lakewood is a debut horror novel by Megan Giddings.

Lakewood by Megan Giddings

A startling debut about class and race, Lakewood evokes a terrifying world of medical experimentation—part The Handmaid’s Tale, part The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

When Lena Johnson’s beloved grandmother dies, and the full extent of the family debt is revealed, the black millennial drops out of college to support her family and takes a job in the mysterious and remote town of Lakewood, Michigan.

On paper, her new job is too good to be true. High paying. No out of pocket medical expenses. A free place to live. All Lena has to do is participate in a secret program—and lie to her friends and family about the research being done in Lakewood. An eye drop that makes brown eyes blue, a medication that could be a cure for dementia, golden pills promised to make all bad thoughts go away.

The discoveries made in Lakewood, Lena is told, will change the world—but the consequences for the subjects involved could be devastating. As the truths of the program reveal themselves, Lena learns how much she’s willing to sacrifice for the sake of her family.

Provocative and thrilling, Lakewood is a breathtaking novel that takes an unflinching look at the moral dilemmas many working-class families face, and the horror that has been forced on black bodies in the name of science.

I read Lakewood with the Ladies of Horror Fiction Goodreads group. I didn't realize Lakewood was being compared to The Handmaid's Tale. I also see now appropriate comparisons to Catherine House. I'm not a fan of either of those works so I want to start out by saying I'm probably not the right audience for Lakewood.

The exploration of medical experimentation and race in Lakewood was chilling, and I loved Megan Gidding's writing style.

I like there to be a strong balance between plot and character development, and I felt both of these were lacking in Lakewood (as well as in The Handmaid's Tale and Catherine House).

If you are someone who likes to focus more on the narrative than on the plot, Lakewood might be the right fit for you. I think this is a strong debut, and I will keep my eye out for Gidding's next release.

3/5 stars


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Friday, February 19, 2021

Book Review | Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon is a middle grade horror novel.

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon

One of our most iconic childhood games receives a creepy twist as it becomes the gateway to a nightmare world.

I went up the hill, the hill was muddy, stomped my toe and made it bloody, should I wash it?

Justin knows that something is wrong with his best friend.Zee went missing for a year. And when he came back, he was . . . different. Nobody knows what happened to him. At Zee's welcome home party, Justin and the neighborhood crew play Hide and Seek. But it goes wrong. Very wrong.

One by one, everyone who plays the game disappears, pulled into a world of nightmares come to life. Justin and his friends realize this horrible place is where Zee had been trapped. All they can do now is hide from the Seeker.

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon absolutely blew me away. Not only is it a scary middle grade novel - this is a straight up MG horror - it has a lot of heart. Friendship, family, terror. You guys have seen me praise a lot of middle grade horror lately, and this is one I highly, highly recommend. Put it in your classrooms, put it in your libraries, buy it for your kids, buy it for yourself. I was an absolute mess reading this book. Books like Hide and Seeker are exactly why I read - and will continue to read - middle grade. I haven't found an adult book with this kind of heart in a long time.

5/5 stars


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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Book Review | Cradleland of Parasites by Sara Tantlinger

Cradleland of Parasites is a horror poetry collection by Sara Tantlinger.

Cradleland of Parasites by Sara Tantlinger

Bram Stoker Award-winner Sara Tantlinger delivers her CRADLELAND OF PARASITES, a harrowing and darkly gorgeous collection of poetry chronicling the death and devastation of one of history's greatest horrors: The Black Plague.

I have fallen upon a few plague novels over the course of the pandemic. It's very surreal to read about plagues, pandemics, the history of harsh and fatal diseases while living through a pandemic. It definitely heightens the works that I have been reading lately!

The poems in Cradleland of Parasites center around The Black Plague. Wow, these poems were dark and brutal and beautiful. Some of my favorites were Second Pandemic, Moral Decay, Death Knell, and An Advanced Society.

Cradleland of Parasites was my first poetry collection by Sara Tantlinger. I read and loved her novella To Be Devoured which definitely had a poetic quality to it. I look forward to checking out more from her in the future!

3.5/5 stars

Review copy provided by author


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Friday, February 5, 2021

Book Review | Thirteens by Kate Alice Marshall

 Thirteens is a middle grade horror novel by Kate Alice Marshall.

Thirteens by Kate Alice Marshall

Neil Gaiman's Coraline meets Stranger Things in a dark and twisted story about a sleepy town with a dark secret--and the three kids brave enough to uncover it.

Twelve-year-old Eleanor has just moved to Eden Eld to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother was killed in a fire. Her birthday, which falls on Halloween, is just around the corner, and she hopes that this year will be a fresh start at a new life. But then one morning, an ancient grandfather clock counting down thirteen hours appears outside of her bedroom. And then she spots a large black dog with glowing red eyes prowling the grounds of her school. A book of fairytales she's never heard of almost willingly drops in front of her, as if asking to be read. Something is wrong in the town of Eden Eld.

Eleanor and her new classmates, Pip and Otto, are the only ones who see these "wrong things," and they also all happen to share a Halloween birthday. Bonded by these odd similarities, the trio uncovers a centuries-old pact the town has with a mysterious figure known as Mr. January: every thirteen years, three thirteen-year-olds disappear, sacrificed in exchange for the town's unending good fortune. This Halloween, Mr. January is back to collect his payment and Eleanor, Pip, and Otto are to be his next offering...unless they can break the curse before the clock strikes thirteen.

I read Kate Alice Marshall's Rules for Vanishing last year, and I loved it. I completely missed the release of Thirteens. I know why. It was marketed as mystery and fantasy instead of horror. I get why publishers do that. I don't like it, but I get it. Unfortunately, those of us seeking horror can easily miss books that should be marketed straight to us. Enough of this rant, though. Let's talk about Thirteens!

I adored this book. It's strange, and it has the perfect amount of unsettling that kids would really understand. There are "wrong things" in this world that parents don't really see. Or if they do, their brains make up for it and make them forget.

There's a huge fairy tale aspect to Thirteens. If you dig dark fairy tales, this is definitely one you should put on your radar.

My burning question is is this a series? If this is a series, I'm really excited to pick up the next one. I can't wait to see what happens next. If this isn't a series, then my opinion on the ending will change completely. While there was an ending to Rules for Vanishing, I had no idea what it meant. It was left up to the reader's interpretation. The ending to Thirteens is either a great setup for the sequel or it's a classic case of cheater, cheater pumpkin eater there's no ending to this one either. Fingers crossed!

4.5/5 stars


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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

They Call It Puppy Love Challenge

Each year Barb over at Booker T's Farm hosts a puppy love challenge that challenges everyone to read a book(s) that includes a dog in it. I try to make sure I'm reading at least one dog book during the month of February, and I have the perfect book this year.

Alone by Megan E. Freeman

Alone is a middle grade post-apocalyptic novel written in verse. It just came out last month, and I'm dying to find out what has happened in this world and to get to know the characters.

You can find out more about Barb's challenge via her Challenge Announcement - They Call It Puppy Love 2021


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Monday, February 1, 2021

Book Review | Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan

Good Neighbors is a horror-adjacent thriller by Sarah Langan.

Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan

Celeste Ng’s enthralling dissection of suburbia meets Shirley Jackson’s creeping dread in this propulsive literary noir, when a sudden tragedy exposes the depths of deception and damage in a Long Island suburbpitting neighbor against neighbor and putting one family in terrible danger.

Welcome to Maple Street, a picture-perfect slice of suburban Long Island, its residents bound by their children, their work, and their illusion of safety in a rapidly changing world.

Arlo Wilde, a gruff has-been rock star who’s got nothing to show for his fame but track marks, is always two steps behind the other dads. His wife, beautiful ex-pageant queen Gertie, feels socially ostracized and adrift. Spunky preteen Julie curses like a sailor and her kid brother Larry is called “Robot Boy” by the kids on the block.

Their next-door neighbor and Maple Street’s Queen Bee, Rhea Schroedera lonely community college professor repressing her own dark pastwelcomes Gertie and family into the fold. Then, during one spritzer-fueled summer evening, the new best friends share too much, too soon.

As tensions mount, a sinkhole opens in a nearby park, and Rhea’s daughter Shelly falls inside. The search for Shelly brings a shocking accusation against the Wildes that spins out of control. Suddenly, it is one mom’s word against the other’s in a court of public opinion that can end only in blood.

A riveting and ruthless portrayal of American suburbia, Good Neighbors excavates the perils and betrayals of motherhood and friendships and the dangerous clash between social hierarchy, childhood trauma, and fear.

This book is bizarre in a Bentley Little sort of way. The town, the landscape, the people. Something is not right on Maple Street.

It took me a while to get into Good Neighbors. It was so far fetched, but a thread of curiosity kept making me pick it back up. Eventually I was hooked, and I was glad I didn't put it down for good.

Oddly enough I grew to care about the people of Maple Street.

Before each chapter there are news articles recalling the events that took place on Maple Street. I loved the perspective of the interviews and the journalists just as much as I enjoyed the actual story. It's easy to see how one's perspective can be skewed in a situation and how one's bias can shape what they want to believe about their neighbors.

If you enjoy domestic thrillers with neighbors pitted against neighbors, I do recommend you pick up Good Neighbors. It was quite the experience.

3.5/5 stars

Review copy provided by publisher


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