Hot, Hungry, and Haunting: Reviewing Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

Hi everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I am coming to you, yet again, writing a review instead of sleeping. I can either read a book in a month or in a day; there is no in-between. I am not sure if I have ever said this before but I am a fan of American Gothic/Southern Gothic literature. It is a very underrated genre, in my personal opinion. When I found Summer Sons while browsing Amazon, I quickly saved it to my list. Now that I have finished the book, it’s time to get spooky (yet again) and talk about it.

Andrew’s life is turned upside down by the apparent suicide of his closest friend, Eddie. Having known each other since childhood, Andrew thought he knew everything about him. That is until Eddie left him abruptly to attend graduate school. Now, Andrew must sift through the remains of his dearest friend’s life, only to discover a horrifying phantom that latches onto him. Desperate to be free of this curse, Andrew recruits Eddie’s enigmatic friends to help him discover the truth behind his death and lay him to rest once and for all.

If you are looking for a book that is part Southern Gothic horror with a touch of dark academia, then look no further than Summer Sons. Maybe I am a bit biased towards this novel because it reminds me of the early seasons of Supernatural (which Mandelo lovingly references), but I loved the way that Mandelo captures the atmosphere and aesthetic that is so crucial to crafting a Southern Gothic novel. Some people may find the attention to detail to be a bit too much, but I enjoyed how visceral this particular version of a haunting was in the novel. What I particularly liked was the way that Mandelo blends together the human elements with interesting drama and the inherent tension of a lurking supernatural threat. I personally would recommend this book if you are looking for a fresh take on the Southern Gothic genre with the welcome addition of LGBTQ+ representation.

A Focused Kind of Madness: Reviewing The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Hello everybody! I am here, writing this review, instead of sleeping. I have always been a bit of a night owl anyways. Besides, who among us hasn’t stayed up to finish a good book? I may or may not have mentioned this before but I am actually quite a big fan of horror literature. Weirdly enough, I don’t like horror movies, though. I will happily read gory details but won’t watch anything with blood. I feel like that is a “me” problem, though. Let’s get into my latest spooky read, The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling.

Jane Shoringfield is a practical and quiet young woman with a fascination for numbers who knows the best way to secure her future is through marriage. She approaches the timid Dr. Augustine Lawrence with her unusual proposal for a marriage of convenience. He agrees but with one condition: she must never stay in his family home of Lindridge Hall. Jane agrees, but a freak storm leaves her with no choice but to stay in the crumbling manor. On that night, she has a frightening encounter with Augustine and quickly realizes that he is not the man she thought he would be.

This was a lovely homage to the gothic romances which I have studied over the years. I loved Caitlin Starling’s elegant, yet gruesome, take on the horror genre. The novel slowly becomes something that I absolutely did not expect and I enjoyed every twist and turn. Jane is a captivating heroine who utilizes her strengths in the face of the unknown. Like I said, I loved Starling’s unflinching look at some of the gorier moments of the novels and how they are not just bloody for the sake of blood. With that being said, if you do have a weak stomach then this novel might not be for you. If you are, however, looking for chilling experience then I would definitely recommend The Death of Jane Lawrence.

What is hell but the life I had lived?: Reviewing The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home by Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor

Hi everyone! I hope February is at least a slight improvement over January for you all as well. I am continuing to cope with stress by reading books in rapid succession. When I am not reading or working, I am most likely napping. Thankfully, I have two little dogs who love to take naps. That has nothing to do with this review, though. Let’s talk about The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home: A Welcome to Night Vale novel.

The faceless old woman who secretly lives in everyone’s home has been a longtime resident of Night Vale. Her current fixation is on a man named Craig, who she sabotages and loves in equal parts. She was not always this not – ghost, however. Before coming to Night Vale, she was a girl who rose from tragedy to the top of a criminal empire. Now, the faceless old woman reflects on the swashbuckling adventures and twisted paths over the decades that eventually took her to Night Vale where she has discovered her true purpose.

Much like the podcast this novel was based off of, I never knew what to expect and that was probably the best part of this novel. Each chapter was a completely new experience. I love an adventure based – novel and this delivered. It was also an excellently crafted tale of revenger with some heart to it. It certainly delivered on the existentialism and overall weirdness that is a trademark in anything related to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. I don’t want to spoil anything so I will simply give my most sincere recommendation of this book if you are a fan of Welcome to Night Vale.

Something Severed and Something Joined: Reviewing The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Hi (again) everyone! Wow, another book review so soon after the last one. I’m not sure how that happened but, sometimes, determination wins. There’s nothing that gets me quite like the drive to finish a book when I have other things that need to be done. You know that whole struggle. This book has been sitting with me for a while now and I have wanted to finish it so badly. I have also wanted to discuss it so let’s talk about The Essex Serpent.

After the untimely death of her husband, Cora Seaborne decides to journey to the Essex coast. While there, she begins to hear rumors that the legendary and fearsome Essex Serpent has returned. Cora become determined to find proof of the creature’s existence with the help of the skeptical vicar, William Ransome. As the two search for the truth behind the legend, they find themselves drawn closer together and, soon, Cora must make a difficult choice as her past catches up with her.

For a while, I have been looking for a good historical fiction novel and this one definitely fit the bill. Perry’s writing is an ode to authors like the Brontes. It is a loving ode to Victorian era literature while also subverting many of the tropes. The novel certainly carries feminist undertones and rebels against how Victorian society is normally depicted while also being historically accurate. The novel is about human connection overall, which I greatly appreciated. I was pleasantly surprised by The Essex Serpent and would definitely recommend as a slow burn read for the cold weather.

All Desperate and Dark Things…: Reviewing The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Hi everybody! So here’s the thing: I can either finish a book in a day or it takes me several months to read a book. There is no in-between. I am sure a good majority of you can relate. This is not because I don’t like the book or anything, but it is simply because my brain is just weird like that. I am always, however, a sucker for a good mystery novel. They rarely fail me. If you want to, you can check out my review of Stuart Turton’s first novel, The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Now, I shall review Turton’s sophomore novel, The Devil and the Dark Sea.

It’s 1643 and Arent Hayes, former mercenary and soldier turned bodyguard, is about to board a ship that may or may not be leading to his friend, Samuel Pipps’ execution. Arent is determined to prove his friend’s innocence and save Pipps’ reputation as the world’s greatest detective. Among the other passengers is Sara Wessel, a noblewoman determined to escape her cruel husband. As soon as the ship sets sail, strange events begin to occur. A demonic symbol begins to appear all over the ship, a leper stalks the crew, and passengers claim to hear an evil voice. Once people begin to die mysteriously, it is up to Arent and Sara to unravel the mystery themselves and come face to face with evil, from both past and the present.

I love mystery and I love historical fiction, so this book was a perfect combo for me. Though the novel is rather long, the pace is fast. The writing is atmospheric and every chapter leaves you wondering what the heck could possibly happen next. I love the way Turton endears you to the characters so quickly. The stakes are high right from the beginning, which only makes the read that much more satisfying when you get to the end. The book, fortunately, did not become too convoluted as some mystery novels tend to do. If you need a good mystery to hunker down with as the weather gets chilly, I would definitely recommend this one as it is very difficult to put down.

Half Pleasure and Half Pain: Reviewing The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

Hi everyone! I promise that I’m still doing my best to bring you book reviews but life keeps interfering. You all know how it is. I wish I could just shut the world out and read and read and read, but I have things to accomplish. You all don’t need me to ramble any more so let’s talk about The Betrayals by Bridget Collins.

Leo Martin was once a promising student at Montverre, a prestigious academy with a long history involving the grand jeu. The grand jeu is a complex game involving art, math, philosophy, among other subjects, which Leo excelled at until tragedy struck. After his career in politics is ended by a small action, Leo is forced to return to Montverre only to find that his once beloved school has changed. The most highly sought out position is now held by the first woman, Claire Dryden, who resents Leo’s presence. As the Midsummer Games approach, Leo must come to terms with the tragedy that befell him so many years ago and face an even more uncertain future.

Even as I am writing this review, I am still not entirely sure how to feel about this novel. It took a while for me to properly enjoy it but that is merely my opinion. From a technical standpoint, Collins crafts an intricate world with as many moving pieces as the grand jeu which takes center stage. This is very much a character centric novel and I certainly did feel that emotional pull. The world around them, though, I had a hard time truly appreciating. This book might take me another try for me to fully appreciate it. I found the pacing to be slow but that worked towards the overall plot. It was certainly dramatic, though, and I did enjoy that. I would definitely argue that this is a “dark academia” kind of novel. Though this was not my new favorite, I did certainly enjoy the drama and the aesthetics of The Betrayals.

The Shape of Things Could Not be Defined: Reviewing Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno – Garcia

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well and staying cool this summer. Remember that there is no such thing as bad reading weather. This particular book has been on my radar for a while now and for no real reason other than it sounded intriguing. In case you didn’t know, I am a huge fan of Gothic novels and I love seeing it translated by different authors from different cultures. I find it all so interesting how so many of these tropes and trademarks are almost universal. Before I rewrite my entire thesis, let’s talk about Mexican Gothic.

Noemi Taboada is a socialite who spends her days attending lavish parties and studying anthropology in Mexico City. She is drawn away from her carefree life when she receives a distressing and cryptic letter from her beloved cousin. Suspecting her cousin’s new husband is behind this, Noemi travels to the remote estate of El Triunfo. While there, Noemi is plagued by visions of death. With the help of the youngest son of the family, Noemi must uncover the dark secrets that lie within the manner before she too falls victim to something terrible.

The main reason why I loved this novel was that it gave me similar vibes to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Charlotte Perkins- Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. Moreno – Garcia does an excellent job creating suspense as the setting is so claustrophobic for the characters and the reader. It is so atmospheric, which is something I always love to see when I’m reading. The novel takes some wild turns and I mean that in the best way possible. Visually speaking, the descriptions are equally gruesome and beautiful. The build up to the end absolutely pays off in the best way possible. I really enjoyed Mexican Gothic as it presented a fresh and interesting take on the horror genre in a way that I never expected when going into the novel

(Content Warning: The novel does contain mentions of assault, attempted assault, body horror, gore, and violence. Just a heads up in case you are not comfortable with the aforementioned topics)

In my mind are all the tides…: Reviewing Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Hello everyone! Instead of sleeping, I have decided to write this review because I simply could not wait to talk about this book. One of my favorite things is picking up a book at random and having no real expectations, only to have the book take you aback with its quality. This is exactly how I felt reading Piranesi and I want to share my thoughts with you.

Piranesi lives an an infinite house, filled with gorgeous statues and countless corridors, hallways, and other rooms. Within the house, there is an ocean which Piranesi loves deeply for its power and beauty. He spends his days exploring his house and relaying his information to The Other, a mysterious man who uses Piranesi’s evidence for his pursuit of A Great and Secret Knowledge. Piranesi’s solitary and peaceful existence begins to fall apart when he uncovers evidence to a darker truth that lies within the infinite house.

I am a huge fan of surrealist literature that involves magic and Piranesi fit the bill in every way. The book is written in an almost fairy tale – like way that draws you into the world with each paragraph. Even though the novel is fairly short, it has a rich world that you only want to know more and more about. I love novels that have rich aesthetics, which Clarke creates in her writing. I also loved the mystery element that lies at the heart of the novel. It made it all the more un-put-downable. It was definitely reminiscent of Neil Gaiman and Erin Morgenstern, both of whom I love. This was an absolutely fantastic read I will absolutely be re-reading over and over in order to fully absorb every detail of Piranesi.

Bloody, Bold, and Resolute: Reviewing If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Hello everyone! I have officially survived my final semester of grad school and tomorrow I will have officially have a Masters degree. Needless to say, I am equal parts exhausted and excited. I am mostly looking forward to being able to read what I want for the foreseeable future. In all my excitement, I am going to give you my review of If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. (Side note: Many of the books I’m reading I found on the book side of Tik Tok or Book Tok).

Oliver Marks is one of seven eager Shakespearean actors attending the prestigious Dellecher Classical Conservatory. Their days are filled with friendly, but fierce competition as they rise above the ranks and get the leading roles. Each member, though, plays their own role in the group that reflects the characters they play on stage. As tensions begin to rise and the competition turns fierce, a mysterious tragedy strike the group. Now, Oliver and his fellow thespians must uncover what happened and use their skills as actors to convince everyone else of their innocence.

As a fan of Shakespeare (and theater in general) and dark academia, this book had my name written all over it. I also loved a good whodunnit mystery. If We Were Villains is a perfect combination of all of those elements. Rio does an excellent job combining the prose and play narrative structures while also emphasizing the richness of theater and the sketchy reality of prestigious university. You all may know that I am a huge fan of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and this novel is very much in the vein of that genre. Overall, I thoroughly enjoy the way this novel unfolds and I would consider it essential for any fan of dark academia novels.

Most things aren’t. Most events haven’t: Reviewing It Devours! by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Hi everyone! We have officially left 2020 in the rearview and 2021 is ahead, uncertain but hopeful. I wasn’t expecting to get a book review out this soon, but I fell into one of those wonderful reading spells where you just don’t want to put down the book. In this case, the book is another one based off of my favorite podcast, Welcome to Night Vale. You can check out my review of the first novel inspired by the podcast, which has the same title. Now, let’s get into It Devours!

As an outsider, Nilanjana navigates her strange new home of Night Vale with logic and reasoning. Working with fellow outsider and Night Vale’s most handsome scientist, Carlos, she is sent to investigate the giant sinkholes appearing around the town. This leads Nilanjana to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, where she meets and develops feelings for one of its members, Darryl. The two must question their beliefs as they realize that there is something darker beneath the surface that could mean the end for Night Vale.

As for anything related to Welcome to Night Vale, I really didn’t know what to expect with this novel. I did, however, love the way it expanded on the already bizarre world of Night Vale. It was equals parts profound, bizarre, and romantic as the novel explored complicated topics like religion and science. There was also plenty of tension and action that made this such a compelling read. I love how Fink and Cranor put so much care into their world building. It’s somehow realistic among the trademark weirdness that one would expect. Any Night Vale fan in guaranteed to love this novel and, if you haven’t listened to the podcast, you may still be able to appreciate what the novel is saying.