Vox – Christina Dalcher

Imagine a world where, if you’re female, you are only allowed to speak one hundred words a day. When you utter word one hundred and one, your wristband will shock you. The more you exceed your quota, the greater the shock.

Not only that, you are no longer allowed to work. You’re no longer allowed to read. You’re not allowed to own a phone, computer or anything that connects to the internet.

Your child’s education is no longer educational; they will learn how to become a submissive housewife but that’s about it.

Welcome to Jean’s world. Run as fast as –

And that’s already one hundred words. Now you’re silenced for the rest of the day. Your wristband’s counter will reset to zero at midnight.

I’ve become a woman of few words.

In Jean’s world, the word count may be small but the indoctrination is big. People saw this coming. Some protested. Others sheltered behind denial, sure that something like this couldn’t actually happen. It did.

They didn’t think it could get any worse. It could.

“This would never happen. Ever. Women wouldn’t put up with it.”

“Easy to say now,” Jackie said.

I was hooked for the first half of the book but the second half seemed to unravel. Some things were a bit too convenient. The ending was a bit too rushed and seemed to go against the message of the book up until that point. I didn’t connect with the characters.

Still, this book made me think about the things I consider to be rights and how easily they can be removed. It made me angry every time I thought about how easily this fiction, or something similar to it, could become fact.

Reading just a few reviews has made it obvious how divisive a read this book has been. It’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer but it made me think so it did its job.

Think about what you need to do to stay free.

Content warnings include mention of abortion, animal experimentation, death by suicide, homophobia, physical abuse and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and HQ, an imprint of HarperCollins, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, Vox is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed to speak more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial – this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

Savage Woods – Mary SanGiovanni

Every time I read a Mary SanGiovanni book I remember how much I love them. I’m also reminded of how fun it is when she introduces something I’ve either never heard of or know very little about, generating enough interest in me that I decide I need to become an expert in whatever the something is.

In Inside the Asylum, this was tulpas. I’d never heard of them but by the end of the book I’d read everything I could find about them. Years later, they came up in some random TV episode. The person sitting next to me asked if I knew what that word was. Naturally, I proceeded to tell them all about tulpas, including some handy hints for how to make one if they were so inclined.

While I was trying to find my way out of the Savage Woods, I began reading about tree spirits. When I wasn’t busy trying to pronounce Kèkpëchehëlat.

This is my first Mary SanGiovanni read that isn’t a Kathy Ryan book (note to self: read the rest of Mary’s books!). I kept thinking that the subject matter was right up Kathy’s alley and loved that her research had a cameo, even though she didn’t.

Brothers Todd and Kenny decide Nilhollow is the perfect place for their camping trip. They don’t believe the “clichéd stuff about cursed grounds, unexplained hiker deaths and disappearances, lights in the sky, that sort of thing.”

They’re also dismissive about the reports of the missing people “turning up inside-out and hanging from trees”. What brothers Todd and Kenny don’t realise is that they’re first chapter characters and, as such, they’re almost certainly destined to stop breathing before the main characters show up.

Something about Nilhollow was just … all wrong.

Which brings me to Julia Russo, who’s trying to escape her abusive ex-boyfriend, Darren. Darren, who clearly doesn’t understand the purpose of a restraining order, decides to run Julia off the road. In the wrong part of the woods.

Officer Pete Grainger, a New Jersey state trooper, knows Julia’s situation well and has developed some not especially professional feelings for her. Of course, when he learns she’s in trouble, Grainge responds. So do a whole gaggle of law enforcement corpses in the making.

This book is an absolute splatterfest and I loved every squishy, crunchy, rending moment. I flew through it, cheering on the trees as they painted the woods red. I’m more convinced than ever that I need to read everything Mary SanGiovanni ever writes.

“You need to warn the others that whatever slept in these woods is awake now, and it wants blood.”

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic abuse, stalking and suicidal ideation.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Lyrical Underground, an imprint of Kensington Books, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nilhollow – six-hundred-plus acres of haunted woods in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens – is the stuff of urban legend. Amid tales of tree spirits and all-powerful forest gods are frightening accounts of hikers who went insane right before taking their own lives. It is here that Julia Russo flees when her violent ex-boyfriend runs her off the road … here that she vanishes without a trace.

State Trooper Peter Grainger has witnessed unspeakable things that have broken other men. But he has to find Julia and can’t turn back now. Every step takes him closer to an ugliness that won’t be appeased – a centuries-old, devouring hatred rising up to eviscerate humankind. Waiting, feeding, surviving. It’s unstoppable. And its time has come.

The Fervor – Alma Katsu

Two words: spider demon!

Meiko and her twelve year old daughter, Aiko, have been at Camp Minidoka, an internment camp in Idaho, for two years when an unidentified illness begins to spread through the camp.

Archie is a preacher with a past that haunts him.

He’d thought he’d outrun it, but all this time Hell had been waiting for him with its mouth wide open.

Fran is a journalist who’s on the verge of uncovering the story of her career.

You’d think the spider demon would be the scariest thing about this book, but it’s not. The real monster in this story is fear of the other and the hatred it spawns.

This story is mostly set in the 1940’s and, although I’d love to be able to say otherwise, it could easily have been written about today. The racism and xenophobia are incredibly difficult to read about because, although this book is fiction, the interactions between the characters are all too real, and that’s terrifying.

I loved Aiko, an outcast wherever she goes because her mother is Japanese and her father is white. She’s resilient, she’s resourceful and she spends her free time drawing demons.

The demons, Aiko said, knew everything.

I wish more time had been spent with the jorogumo but Google has answered my outstanding questions and shown me some decidedly creepy artwork so I’m all good. For now. I need more Japanese mythology in my life.

The world is rarely what it shows you.

I definitely want to read more books by this author.

Content warnings include death by suicide, miscarriage, physical abuse, racism and xenophobia.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

As World War II rages, Meiko shares eerie childhood stories, of yokai and malevolent demons, with her daughter, Aiko. These stories hold them together as they must confront the horror of being shipped to an internment camp in the Midwest. Never mind that Aiko is American, that her father is in the US Navy. They are Japanese. 

As Meiko and Aiko learn to live in captivity, a contagion begins to spread in the camp. What starts as a cold quickly becomes fits of violence and aggression, even death, and soon a government medical team arrive, more sinister than the illness itself. 

Meanwhile strange things are happening outside the camp. Wrecked weather balloons and tragic explosions draw Fran, a German expat journalist, and Archie, a widowed minister, into a world of conspiracy and creatures in the shadows. 

As the world tears itself apart, it falls to Meiko, Fran and Archie to lay their country’s demons to rest.

Wayward Children #8: Lost in the Moment and Found – Seanan McGuire

Illustrations – Rovina Cai

Every Heart a Doorway remains my favourite book of all time and I can’t imagine a day when Wayward Children won’t be my favourite series. I look forward to January every year so I can renew the search for my own door.

But … a little piece of my heart breaks every time I’m introduced to a wayward child. I can never forget that childhood trauma connects every wayward. After all, if everything in their lives was unicorns and rainbows, they wouldn’t need a door.

“Some children need to escape from places that will only hurt them, or grind them away until they’re nothing. And some children need to go somewhere else if they’re ever going to grow into the people they were meant to be. The Doors choose carefully.”

It’s safe to say that I hurt for every wayward but Antsy’s story broke me in a way that no other has.

That was the fourth thing she lost: the belief that if something made her unhappy or uncomfortable, she could tell an adult who loved her and they would make everything better.

I didn’t run soon enough. I don’t have words to explain how relieved I am that Antsy did. Not that there wasn’t a cost.

Doors always comes with a cost. Maybe you age out of the world where you belong or you accidentally break a rule and it kicks you out. Antsy’s experience with doors is unlike any we’ve been granted access to before and the cost is similarly unique.

When you consider the reason Antsy found her door in the first place, you’ll realise how appropriate the cost is. People who have experienced trauma that’s a similar shape to Antsy’s will likely have seen this cost play out in their own lives. Maybe not as visibly as in Antsy’s story but it’s still recognisable on the inside.

I doubt we’ll ever walk through Seanan’s door and I don’t think we should ever ask that of her because doors and the worlds that lie behind them are personal. However, between the dedication and the existence of cat-people, I’m pretty sure we’ve never been closer to it.

I would never expect anything different from Rovina Cai but I need to say that the illustrations in this book were practically perfect in every way.

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I was absolutely delighted to discover that a couple of my favourite Door-touched people had cameos in this book.

Favourite quote:

“If an adult hurt you, that’s on them, not on you. Being bruised doesn’t make you bad, unless you’re a peach, and even a bruised peach is good for making jam.”

I’m thinking of starting a petition to name every month January so I don’t have to wait so long to go on my next not a quest with a wayward.

Content warnings include emotional abuse, gaslighting, grief, grooming and physical abuse.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Welcome to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go.

If you ever lost a sock, you’ll find it here.
If you ever wondered about favourite toy from childhood… it’s probably sitting on a shelf in the back.
And the headphones that you swore that this time you’d keep safe? You guessed it…

Antoinette has lost her father. Metaphorically. He’s not in the shop, and she’ll never see him again. But when Antsy finds herself lost (literally, this time), she finds that however many doors open for her, leaving the Shop for good might not be as simple as it sounds.

And stepping through those doors exacts a price.

Lost in the Moment and Found tells us that childhood and innocence, once lost, can never be found.

The Merry Dredgers – Jeremy C. Shipp

Phina is dressed as a princess when she learns her sister has joined a cult. Eff has written her a letter on a series of postcards, assuring Phina that she most definitely hasn’t joined a cult. As you well know, this means Eff has absolutely, positively joined a cult. Phina agrees.

Right now, all I know for sure is that my sister definitely joined a cult, and I need to find a way to save her.

Before she can come up with a rock solid plan to extricate Eff, Phina learns that her sister has come into contact with some solid rocks. Eff has been in an “accident”, if you think a cult member falling into a quarry soon after telling a family member that they’ve joined a not cult isn’t suspicious.

Phina goes into investigation mode, deciding that the only way she’ll be able to narrow down the list of suspects is to join said cult.

Eff always likes to talk about the crossroads moments in a person’s life, and this definitely feels like one of those.

Welcome to Goblintropolis, home of the Merry Dredgers. Side bar: If your cult wants to recruit me, it would help your cause considerably if your commune’s located in an abandoned amusement park.

This was one of those books that I flew through, wanting to know what was next even as I asked myself what on earth I was reading. I had a similar experience with this book as I did with The Atrocities, absolutely loving it until the very end.

I was hooked until the final couple of pages, when an element of the story that I’d hoped would drag on for a while resolved almost instantaneously. I have a few unanswered questions but am mostly okay with having those linger.

Sometimes the banter between Phina and Nichelle seemed a bit forced but this could be explained by Phina’s need to fit in quickly with the Merry Dredgers.

I want to visit Goblintropolis. I’m most looking forward to seeing the eyeball tree. I love that someone’s trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

New favourite insult:

“She’s nothing but a spud-brained charlatan.”

Content warnings include mention of domestic abuse.

Thank you so much to Meerkat Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Seraphina Ramon will stop at nothing to find out the truth about why her sister Eff is in a coma after a very suspicious “accident.” Even if it means infiltrating the last place Seraphina knows Eff was alive: a once-abandoned amusement park now populated by a community of cultists.

Follow Seraphina through the mouth of the Goblin: To the left, a wolf-themed rollercoaster rests on the blackened earth, curled up like a dead snake. To the right, an animatronic Humpty Dumpty falls off a concrete castle and shatters on the ground, only to reform itself moments later. Up ahead, cultists giggle as they meditate in a hall of mirrors. This is the last place in the world Seraphina wants to be, but the best way to investigate this bizarre cult, is to join them.

Such a Pretty Smile – Kristi DeMeester

Lila’s mother, a famous artist, keeps her past a secret from her daughter.

Tell me. Tell me about before.

Thirteen year old Lila wants more freedom but her mother refuses to give it to her.

Caroline is haunted by her past. She’s convinced that The Cur is back and wants to protect her daughter from experiencing what she has.

“There are things that I’ve seen … Things I can’t ever forget.”

Told by Lila in 2019 and Caroline in 2004, this is a story of fear, nightmares and accidental art. It’s the past intruding on the present, it’s patronising men, it’s equating being good with being safe, it’s about what happens when we refuse to be silenced.

I was interested in the relationship between this mother and daughter. I wanted to find out what had happened in Caroline’s past. Some of Caroline’s art fascinated me.

As I read about Caroline’s sculptures, I could see them. There was some repulsion attached to them due to some of their components but I could imagine myself finding treasures from nature, random leaves and branches (not some of the other objects Caroline uses), and attempting to create art from them.

I expect this will be a polarising read. I finished reading this book over a month ago and still don’t really know how I feel about it. Where this book lost me was the ending. After having me hooked until that point, I just didn’t buy the explanation. Maybe I missed something and a reread will fill in some blanks for me.

Content warnings include mental health, murdered and mutilated children, mutilated dog and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There’s something out there that’s killing. Known only as The Cur, he leaves no traces, save for the torn bodies of girls, on the verge of becoming women, who are known as trouble-makers; those who refuse to conform, to know their place. Girls who don’t know when to shut up.

2019: Thirteen year old Lila Sawyer has secrets she can’t share with anyone. Not the school psychologist she’s seeing. Not her father, who has a new wife, and a new baby. And not her mother – the infamous Caroline Sawyer, a unique artist whose eerie sculptures, made from bent twigs and crimped leaves, have made her a local celebrity. But soon Lila feels haunted from within, terrorised by a delicious evil that shows her how to find her voice – until she is punished for using it.

2004: Caroline Sawyer hears dogs everywhere. Snarling, barking, teeth snapping that no one else seems to notice. At first, she blames the phantom sounds on her insomnia and her acute stress in caring for her ailing father. But then the delusions begin to take shape – both in her waking hours, and in the violent, visceral sculptures she creates while in a trance-like state. Her fiancé is convinced she needs help. Her new psychiatrist waives her “problem” away with pills. But Caroline’s past is a dark cellar, filled with repressed memories and a lurking horror that the men around her can’t understand.

As past demons become a present threat, both Caroline and Lila must chase the source of this unrelenting, oppressive power to its malignant core. Brilliantly paced, unsettling to the bone, and unapologetically fierce, Such a Pretty Smile is a powerful allegory for what it can mean to be a woman, and an untamed rallying cry for anyone ever told to sit down, shut up, and smile pretty.

Weyward – Emilia Hart

Altha – 1619

Altha is on trial, accused of being a witch.

Night had already fallen for me.

Violet – 1942

Violet’s father is appalled by her behaviour (climbing trees is most inappropriate) and is threatening to send her to finishing school so he can marry her off to an eligible young man. Violet wants to be a scientist. She would also like to be allowed to wear trousers. No one understands her “insect obsession”.

‘Is there something wrong with me?’

Kate – 2019

When Kate leaves her abusive relationship, she goes to Weyward Cottage, which was owned by her great-aunt. It is here that she will come to terms with her past and discover her heritage.

I am the monster.

The first Weyward child is always a girl. This is the story of three of them, centuries apart yet connected.

Although each Weyward is given a voice in this story, Altha’s is the only one told in first person. I found something to like about all three women. In particular, their affinity with nature endeared them to me.

Be aware that on page violence against women is part of the story in every timeline. The graphic nature of some of this abuse may be triggering for some readers. Thankfully, women reclaiming their power and having the courage to be themselves was also part of the story.

Favourite no context quote:

Perhaps one day, she said, there would be a safer time. When women could walk the earth, shining bright with power, and yet live.

Content warnings include abortion, domestic abuse, mental health, miscarriage, physical abuse of an animal, racial slur, sexual assault, stillbirth and suicidal ideation. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and The Borough Press, an imprint of HarperCollins UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kate, 2019
Kate flees London – abandoning everything – for Cumbria and Weyward Cottage, inherited from her great-aunt. There, a secret lurks in the bones of the house, hidden ever since the witch-hunts of the 17th century.

Violet, 1942
Violet is more interested in collecting insects and climbing trees than in becoming a proper young lady. Until a chain of shocking events changes her life forever.

Altha, 1619
Altha is on trial for witchcraft, accused of killing a local man. Known for her uncanny connection with nature and animals, she is a threat that must be eliminated.

But Weyward women belong to the wild. And they cannot be tamed…

Weaving together the stories of three women across five centuries, Weyward is an enthralling novel of female resilience and the transformative power of the natural world.

Bizarre – Marc Dingman

I’m fascinated by why humans do the strange things we do. This book answered some of the questions I’ve had, as well as some I didn’t have until I started reading.

While I have an interest in neuroscience, I don’t have a scientific background so am usually hesitant to dive into books that explore it. The blurb made this one sound like it would be accessible without a bunch of prior knowledge so I took a chance. I loved it so much that I practically inhaled it.

I have so much more appreciation for the complexities of the brain and how much we still don’t know about how it works. Given how many of its parts are involved in tasks that we often do without a second thought, it’s astounding that we function at all.

Just speaking a simple sentence, for example, requires the successful execution of operations such as word retrieval, the application of syntax (i.e., the rules used to properly arrange words in a sentence), coordinating the activity of the muscles involved in speech, sprinkling in appropriate changes in tone and pitch, and so on. Each of these tasks might require the contribution of different parts of the brain, causing language to be reliant on a large number of functioning brain regions for it to be fully operational.

This book explains how the different parts of the brain work but I’m also much more aware now of the many ways that things can go wrong. Illness, trauma and other unexpected bumps in the road that affect even one part of the brain can have life changing consequences.

Each chapter covers a different area of behaviour: identification, physicality, obsessions, exceptionalism, intimacy, personality, belief, communication, suggestibility, absence, disconnection and reality.

There are so many disorders and syndromes covered in this book, some I’d already heard of but others that were new to me. There’s Cotard’s syndrome, where you’re convinced you’re dead or have lost organs, blood or body parts, and Capgras syndrome, where you believe people close to you have been replaced by imposters. There’s clinical lycanthropy/zoanthropy, pica, hoarding, objectophilia, dissociative identity disorder, the placebo effect, folie à deux, agnosia, alien hand syndrome, Alice in Wonderland syndrome and more.

Despite how strange some of them may seem, they often just represent the extremes of the spectrum of normal human tendencies – and they are not completely foreign to us.

A lot of the stories will stay with me but probably none more so than that of Kim Peek, who had a condition called an encephalocele, “where an incompletely developed cranium allows part of the brain to bulge outside the skull – potentially twisting, distorting, and damaging brain tissue in the process.” Despite considerable brain damage, Kim was able to do something extraordinary.

He eventually could read a page in 8 to 10 seconds while memorizing all the information on it. He even began reading and comprehending the right and left pages of a book simultaneously (with his right and left eyes).

By the time he died in 2009 at the age of 58, Kim had read – and memorized – more than 12,000 books.

Morbid curiosity may make you want to read this book but, thanks to the author’s approach, you never lose sight of the fact that these are real people you’re reading about, people who have often suffered greatly as a result of what’s happening in their brain.

This book did what I’m always looking for in non-fiction. I learned plenty of interesting new things. It held my attention. It made me think. It made me want to learn more.

Content warnings include domestic abuse, gun violence, mental health, self harm, sexual assault and suicidal ideation. Readers with emetophobia may have some trouble.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Nicholas Brealey Publishing, an imprint of John Murray Press, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The human brain is an impossibly complex and delicate instrument – capable of extraordinary calculations, abundant creativity and linguistic dexterity. But the brain is not just the most brilliant of evolutionary wonders. It’s also one of the most bizarre.

This book shows a whole other side of how brains work – from the patient who is afraid to take a shower because she fears her body will slip down the drain to a man who is convinced, against all evidence, that he is a cat, and a woman who compulsively snacks on cigarette ashes.

Entertaining though they are, these cases are more than just oddities. In attempting to understand them, neuroscientists have uncovered important details about how the brain works. Bizarre will examine these details while explaining what neuroscience’s most unusual patients have taught us about normal brain function -ideal both for readers seeking a better appreciation of the inner workings of the brain and those who simply want some extraordinary topics for dinner party conversation.

The Time Tider – Sinéad O’Hart

Time and Tide May Wait for None; But They Will Wait for You.

Twelve year old Mara and her father live their life on the road. Mara doesn’t know what her father’s job is, only that it keeps him perpetually busy. When she sees her father disappear before her very eyes, Mara’s casual curiosity about what her father’s work entails becomes more urgent.

“People don’t just vanish, do they?”

What she discovers will cause her to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about her father and the way they live. She’ll also gain a greater understanding of the soft places she’s been able to find for as long as she can remember.

When her father is kidnapped, Mara will need to learn his secrets in order to find him. Time and the fate of the world depend on it.

Because Mara has grown up isolated with a father whose paranoia may or may not be warranted, she doesn’t know who she can trust. This makes the introduction of new characters unsettling as Mara’s distrust is contagious.

I loved Mara. She’s feisty, intelligent and brave. She also broke my heart.

“I’m used to stuff not being safe. I’ve never been safe. Not ever.”

This book explores how fear can isolate you and grief can be all encompassing, causing you to spend so much time focusing on what you’ve lost that you don’t pay attention to what you still have. There are a lot of moral questions raised, primarily about power and its ability to corrupt, and the lengths you’d go to for someone you love.

I’m not the hugest fan of characters being able to use their abilities flawlessly the first time they try. I much prefer to anticipate the payoff that comes when heroes persevere despite their initial struggles. Because I liked Mara so much, I was able to cheer her on even as I bristled at her ability to do what seemed impossible straight away. I doubt the target audience will have any problems with her innate talent.

I loved the excerpts from The Time Tider’s Handbook at the beginning of each chapter. They gave information about how Warps work and the role of the Time Tider, and oftentimes they gave clues as to where the chapters were heading.

A Time Tider’s work is secretive, unsung and solitary, but know this to be true: they are all that stand between humanity and its destruction.

Content warnings include gun violence.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Little Tiger, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Mara and her dad have lived in their van for as long as she can remember. Whatever her father does to scrape a living has kept them constantly moving and Mara has never questioned it. That is until she uncovers a collection of notes addressed to ‘the Tider’, an individual responsible for harvesting lost time from people whose lives were cut short.

But before Mara can question her father he is taken by a dangerous group who want to use his power for evil. With the very fabric of time and space at stake, it’s down to Mara and her new friend Jan to find him before it’s too late…

Gothic – Philip Fracassi

Spoilers Ahead (in purple)

Tyson Parks, once upon a bestselling author, is struggling both creatively and financially. He’s already spent the advance he received for the book he was supposed to be writing and his agent isn’t exactly thrilled that the work in progress Tyson presents to him doesn’t even remotely resemble the pitch. Sent away with an impossible deadline and strict instructions to write the book he was supposed to be writing, Tyson feels defeated.

Sarah, Tyson’s partner, goes all out for his birthday, buying him a one of a kind antique desk. They both hope this will give Tyson the boost he needs to get back in the game.

Now, instead of completing the historical horror novel he wanted to write, Tyson finds himself embroiled in a real life historical horror, one that’s almost three hundred years in the making.

I found this book easy to get into and I was keen to see how the history of Tyson’s desk impacted on his present. Almost immediately I started comparing Tyson to Jack Torrance. It was hard not to. The author even references Jack, and adds a few other King references in for good measure.

I was completely on board until the on page rape scene. I love so many types of horror: body horror, slashers, supernatural horror, gore, psychological horror, monster horror… This rape scene, though? It seemed to me that it was only there as a plot device, showing the reader that the desk is influencing Tyson to act in a way that he never would without it. There are so many ways you can show me that someone is morphing into a bad guy without using rape to do it. Sexual assault has its place in fiction but not when there’s no sensitivity given to the material.

But here’s the reality: when you are joined with someone for over a decade of life, and when that decade has been a good decade – a litany of loving moments, shared compassion and consistent, unflagging support – you build a level of trust, a balustrade of understanding, of love.

Of forgiveness.

This just made me mad. Oh, and then there’s this.

It was up to Sarah to decide now. Was their story over, or had the future already been written? Sarah let out a held breath, her shoulders slump and she leans forward, her forehead to his chest.

She allows him to give himself back to her, and she to him.

Tyson, Sarah might forgive you for brutally raping her but I don’t.

If it wasn’t for this scene, I probably would have continued to enjoy this read. It coloured everything I read after it, though, and I never made it back to my initial enjoyment.

Because I really liked the way this novel started, I’d be interested in trying another book by this author. I’d definitely check out the reviews first to make sure I chose one that’s right for me.

Content warnings include domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Cemetery Dance Publications for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On his 59th birthday, Tyson Parks – a famous, but struggling, horror writer – receives an antique desk from his partner, Sarah, in the hopes it will rekindle his creative juices. Perhaps inspire him to write another best-selling novel and prove his best years aren’t behind him.

A continent away, a mysterious woman makes inquiries with her sources around the world, seeking the whereabouts of a certain artifact her family has been hunting for centuries. With the help of a New York City private detective, she finally finds what she’s been looking for.

It’s in the home of Tyson Parks.

Meanwhile, as Tyson begins to use his new desk, he begins acting… strange. Violent. His writing more disturbing than anything he’s done before. But publishers are paying top dollar, convinced his new work will be a hit, and Tyson will do whatever it takes to protect his newfound success.

Even if it means the destruction of the ones he loves.

Even if it means his own sanity.