Probably the darkest 12 Dancing Princesses retelling you’ll ever read | House of Salt & Sorrows by Erin A. Craig [ARC]

House of Salt and SorrowsAnnaleigh just wants her sisters to stop dying. There used to be twelve of them but now that Ava, Octavia, Elizabeth, and Eulalie are all dead, there are only eight of them left. As she struggles to mourn the latest death, Eulalie’s, Annaleigh must also find a way to comfort her younger sisters when the town starts theorizing about a family curse. Frustrated that all of the young men are too afraid of “the curse” to court them, the sisters realize they must try to find young men that have never heard of them or their dead sisters. They think they might have found a way, but what will it cost them?

TL;DR – The story of the 12 Dancing Princesses darker than you’ve ever heard it. Part mystery and part fairytale retelling, it comes together better than expected even if a little confusing at times.

Order: Hardcover | eBook

Sometimes I request books on NetGalley and then when it’s finally time to read and review, I’ve forgotten what the book was supposed to be about. I went into this book pretty blind–I didn’t realize at first that it was a retelling until they were buying their “fairy shoes”. With that being said, I love a good retelling and I’ve actually read quite a few retellings of the 12 Dancing Princesses. This one was different. A lot of the ones I’ve read stick to the “secret door in their room that leads to another place” outline. I’ve even read one or two where the princesses are forced to dance against their will. Craig’s take on the story felt a lot more insidious. I think part of it was Camille’s desperation and refusal to let go of this outlet she’d found and part of it was the spooky stuff that was going on with Verity.

Annaleigh was a likable character from the beginning. Her sisters varied in likability depending on what was going on, but they were all enjoyable. The only thing I wished was that we got to see the softer, kinder side of Camille. Annaleigh states that they grew up as best friends, but we never really see that side to their relationship. Camille is mostly just bratty and grumpy the whole book. Craig did a good job of making a lot of the secondary characters feel kind of grey. I wasn’t sure who was supposed to be good and who was supposed to be bad until almost the very end. It seemed like maybe we were getting set up for a love triangle, but the author managed to turn that on its head as well. I wasn’t super into Cassius as the love interest. I mean, he seemed perfect, but (as is often the case) we’re not really given any concrete reasons as to why he likes Annaleigh. He seems like this perfect guy (too perfect) so what exactly does he want with or flawed main character? Authors! We need an explanation for this!

The plot was twisty and suspenseful. I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen next or what the conclusion was going to be until it was upon us. Without giving anything away, I will say that I’m a little disappointed by some character resolutions…I’ll just leave it at that. I thought the religious system could have used a little more explanation. Maybe the author could have started each chapter with a myth or legend about the gods that these people believed in. It’s just that almost nothing is said about their gods in the first 2/3 of the book, and then all of the sudden they start playing this huge role.

Overall, I would recommend this book for people who are looking for darker fairytale retellings. While it has a happy(ish) ending, I wouldn’t say that it’s feel good at all. It was definitely darker and creepier than I had anticipated–I was surprised by the touch of horror! I would definitely say this could be a good book to read in late September or in October to get ready for Halloween.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

5 Horror(ish) Books to Get Through Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has never been my favorite holiday. I mean, I like chocolate as much as the next person, but it’s this holiday that comes with a lot of pressure if you’re in a relationship and can make people feel a little self-conscious if they’re not. I’m sure there will be many lovey-dovey posts today, but I wanted to do something a little different by posting a few horror(ish) recs.

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None of the following books are super scary. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat so I don’t usually read books that are too scary.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

Another plug for a great author, Cat Winters. This book is set during World War I, which is scary in and of itself, but it’s also during the Spanish Flu. People are dying left and right and that creates this really creepy atmosphere. Add to that some spirit photography and maybe some ghosts? I love the main character in this book because she’s tough and smart in a time when it girls were consistently underestimated.

eBook | Hardcover | Paperback

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld

Spill ZoneThis is a two book series of graphic novels by Scott Westerfeld. I don’t know if I’ve read anything else by him besides the Pretties series, but I really enjoyed these graphic novels. They’re so eerie and the artwork only amplifies that feeling. Especially when the main character goes into the spill zone, the colors are absolutely electric. It’s got a post-apocalyptic feel, a mute little girl, and a creepy doll.

eBook | Hardcover | Paperback

The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

The Madman's DaughterI’ve definitely talked about this book on here before. This entire series is amazingly gothic and unsettling. The first book is based off of The Island of Dr. Moreau, the second is based off of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the third is based off of Frankenstein. Each of those would also be a good candidate for this list if you’re interested in a classic horror read. (The eBook for The Madman’s Daughter is only $2.99 right now!)

eBook | Hardcover | Paperback

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The DivinersI’ve read this book most recently of the ones on this list. It’s a long book, so be ready for that, but I really loved the setting. It’s set in the 20’s in New York which proves to be the perfect setting for this ghost story. The main characters are fun and Evie is especially full of life. The last warning I have for this book is that it’s obviously setting up for a series. There are some story lines that don’t quite resolve and characters that don’t seem super important by the end of this book. If that’s your jam, though, I highly recommend.

eBook | Paperback 

Blue is for Nightmares by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Blue is for NightmaresI read this series when I was in high school and it was my first real foray into horror. It’s about a girl who is away at a boarding school (I’ve always been a fan of boarding school books) and she’s having these vivid dreams. At the end of each dream, she wakes up having wet the bed. She’s not sure why this is happening, but she’s had these types of dreams before. Last time, she didn’t listen to them and someone ended up dead. I like that these books have a slight supernatural element to it, but it’s not too heavy.

eBook | Paperback

What do you plan on reading this Valentine’s Day?

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Why is it so hard to just pick a genre? | Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand

Sawkill GirlsGirls have been disappearing from Sawkill for decades, but no one seems to find this suspicious. Except for Zoey. Her best friend Thora disappeared last year and everyone seems to have forgotten. Zoey is positive that Val’s family has something to do with it, but nobody believes her. Marion is new to the island after her father had a tragically fatal accident. She and her sister have no idea that girls have been going missing–and that they might be next.

TL;DR – Ultimately disappointing. I felt like the book was trying to fit into too many genres at once. Overall, it felt like it was trying too hard and lost what it was trying to be.

This book started off delightfully mysterious and creepy with a hint of magical realism and I was so into it. Magical realism is a genre that I tend to really enjoy. I like the subtlety and wonder of it. Several things happen that are completely unsettling and I was ready to figure out what the heck was going on. But then the plot took this turn and there were secret organizations and it turned into this weird amalgamation of sci fi and fantasy and horror. It lost all subtlety and I felt like it cheapened the whole plot.

The characters were fine. I didn’t feel particularly connected to any of them. We have three narrators in Marion, Zoey, and Val, but I honestly wouldn’t have been super heartbroken if any of them hadn’t made it. Secondary characters were okay. Nobody was super developed. I thought Grayson was an exceptionally poor character, though. He literally served no purpose except to conveniently move the plot forward. We need someone to decipher a dead language? Conveniently, Grayson can do it! We need a boat? Grayson’s family has one!

I think a lot of readers will appreciate that all three of our main characters are queer. I appreciate the diversity too, but I’m not sure how it really plays into who the characters are and how they act. It felt like it was just kind of thrown in there so the author could claim diversity? I don’t know, maybe other people feel differently about that.

Overall, I was extremely disappointed by this book. I wanted it to be subtly creepy, but instead I feel like it tried to go too far and do too much and it lost me. I think the author should have stuck to a more subtle magical realism (like Bone Gap).

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Heavy
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Heavy

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Sawkill Girls review

Already Sketchy Boarding School Game Turns Deadly | The Assassin Game by Kirsty McKay [ARC]

The Assassin GameCate would do just about anything to be made a member of the Assassin’s Guild at her boarding school. Every year the Assassin’s Guild plays a game called Killer. Throughout the year, one killer will “kill” other members of the Guild. Whoever can guess who the killer is before getting killed themselves wins. The staff knows about the game, but since it’s usually pretty harmless they let it continue as long as it doesn’t get too out-of-hand or disruptive. This year’s game begins just like any other and Cate is very excited to finally be included. Soon, however, the game starts to take a sinister turn and the Guild will need to figure out if someone’s taking their role as killer a little too seriously or if somebody else has decided to join without an invitation.

This book was originally published in the UK under the title Killer Game. I think I like The Assassin Game as a title better, so I’m glad they changed it. This book is very atmospheric. The boarding school is on an island near Wales and there’s a lot of storming and rain and they’re cut off from the public most of the time because the causeway connecting them to the mainland floods making it impossible to drive over. The weather and the isolation factor really help this book to seem kind of creepy right from the start. In addition to that, some of these characters seem off right away too. Like, the reader’s just not sure who to trust. Even though Cate trusts certain characters I just found myself going, “I don’t know about this person…”. Overall, this book had the same feeling to me of the Blue is for Nightmares series by Laurie Faria Stolarz but without any kind of supernatural element. I read the Blue is for Nightmares series a long time ago, but I just remember the overall feeling of dread that was so prevalent throughout the books–I felt that same feeling with this one as well.

Cate as a main character was just okay. She seemed really kind of needy and weak-willed. The overall sense I got from her is that she wanted to fit in really bad and was kind of willing to do whatever she needed to in order to get that approval from her classmates. At the same time, I never got the sense that she was actually as unpopular as she kept claiming to be. This book might have been more interesting or compelling from another character’s point of view which maybe, as an author, isn’t what you’d want people to think. The secondary characters were okay. I liked that there was a pretty wide variety in personalities, but none of the other characters really had much depth. I kept getting the other girls in the Guild confused with each other. Also there was this character Roger? Maybe he was introduced at the beginning, but then somewhere near the 2/3 mark of the book he’s mentioned again and I just thought, “I don’t remember him. I’ll have to pay more attention to remember who he is” but then he’s literally never mentioned again. Vaughan as a character really kind of creeped me out for a large portion of the book. He just seemed…off and too eager. I felt like something was wrong with him maybe. Towards the end of the book Cate kind of snaps too and gets super weird and hysterical almost–that was less enjoyable to read.

Overall, I thought this book was actually pretty good. It wasn’t everything that I hoped it would be, but I also thought it could have been a lot worse. I liked that it made me feel unsettled and I honestly didn’t see the ending coming though I do wish the ending had been a little different. I feel like the reader really didn’t have enough information to predict how the book would end. I wish the author had given more hints throughout. Anyway, if you’re looking for a nice soft horror book, this could be for you. It’s kind of thriller-esque with just a hint of horror (nothing that would keep me awake at night). Especially if you like reading Laurie Faria Stolarz I’d recommend this one.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Mild (a couple of secondary characters smoke)
Sexual Content: Moderate

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

ANNOTATION: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

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Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Genre: Horror

Publication Date and # pages: May 13, 2014; 272 pages

Plot Summary: There’s something out there that’s making people kill themselves and if you see it, you’re dead. Mal doesn’t believe in this “monster”–she thinks everything’s gotten blown out of proportion by the media. But one day she finds her sister lying on the bathroom floor with a pair of scissors sticking out of her chest. Alone and pregnant, Mal answers an ad from the newspaper. She finds herself with a new group of housemates who are just trying to figure out how to survive in this new world. This story follows Mal and the housemates through those first few months and also gives the reader glimpses of what the world will be like five years later.

Characteristics of Horror: Sense of unease throughout, erratic pacing, haunted/vulnerable characters, supernatural monsters, unresolved ending, moments of surprise

Appeal Terms: Sympathetic characters, nightmarish tone, deliberate pacing, violent

Read-alikes: The Silence by Tim Lebbon; Cell by Stephen King; I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Unknown Sender by Ryan Lanz

Jessica is focused on her schoolwork. She doesn’t have time for boys or partying like her roommate, Aubrey, does. On the one night she does agree to go out, she starts receiving mysterious text messages. They’re benign at first, but become increasingly familiar and creepy. It’s starting to look like Jessica might have a stalker…
Unknown Sender

I don’t generally like horror books, but the creepy stalker kind are something that I can stomach a little easier. Just because there tends to be less gore and because I feel more separated from the story maybe? It’s not like I’M getting creepy stalker texts or anything like that. This book was just the right amount of creepy. I was a little unsettled with what the texts were saying, but I wasn’t “keep the light on all night” scared. I will admit, I didn’t start reading this until my husband started watching a baseball game (I wanted to make sure he was with me in case I got too scared). But that ended up not being an issue.

This book is a fast read! Much faster than I’d originally anticipated. The author described it to me as a novelette, but it’s probably more short story length (I don’t know if there’s really a difference, I just picture novelette’s being around 100 pages whereas this is only 25). It’s good if you only want to feel a little spooked or unsettled because you can get that feeling, but then be done and move to something more lighthearted afterwards if you need that (I needed that).

Okay, now that we’ve established what a scaredy cat I am, let’s move on to actually discussing the book! The characters were interesting. I was surprised with how much I liked Aubrey, the roommate. I expected her to be shallow and slightly demeaning towards Jessica, but she was actually really nice and a good friend. Ricky, Aubrey’s boyfriend, was appropriately creepy. I did not like him (we’re not supposed to anyway).

Plot-wise: Like I said earlier, those texts? Creepy. Then we get to the very end…did not see that coming. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it was almost like the story switched horror genres just for the very end. I’ll admit, at first I was a little confused. But then the author got me the revised copy and I thought about it a little more and then everything clicked. I just had to think about the story (and the narrator) a little differently.

Overall, creepy but the length of the story makes it something even non-horror readers could enjoy.

Overall Rating: 4
Violence: Moderate
Language: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate

Note: I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.