Malus Domestica #2: I Come With Knives – S.A. Hunt

DNF @ 24%

I enjoyed the first book in this series so I’m disappointed that I can’t get into this one. Other reviewers have loved it so I feel like I’m missing out on something potentially wonderful.

I think this is either a case of it’s not you, it’s me, or it’s not the right book for me at the moment. Rather than continuing to struggle I’m going to set it aside for now.

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

Once Upon a Blurb

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets Joe Hill in S. A. Hunt’s I Come with Knives, a horror-tinged action-adventure about a punk YouTuber on a mission to hunt witches, one vid at a time.

Robin – now armed with new knowledge about mysterious demon terrorising her around town, the support of her friends, and the assistance of her old witch-hunter mentor – plots to confront the Lazenbury coven and destroy them once and for all.

Meanwhile, a dangerous serial killer only known as The Serpent is abducting and killing Blackfield residents. An elusive order of magicians known as the Dogs of Odysseus also show up with Robin in their sights.

Robin must handle these new threats on top of the menace from the Lazenbury coven, but a secret about Robin’s past may throw all of her plans into jeopardy.

Arachnosaur – Richard Jeffries

DNF @ 29%

quelling the urge to write B+ on her spine in lipstick.

I’m sorry. What???

I was interested in this book because of the arachnosaurs! I thought this would be a lot of fun. However, I have zero interest in getting to know this misogynist sidekick loser.

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

Once Upon a Blurb

After his superior officers are killed in action, Corporal Josiah Key assumes command of the 3rd Battalion, Marine Raiders. In the tiny village of Shabhut, Yemen, while trying to put the blast on ISIS forces, an even deadlier enemy emerges: ancient, unreasoning creatures who tear into both U.S. troops and terrorists without mercy, leaving brutally dismembered corpses in their wake.

They are known as the Idmonarchne Brasieri, giant prehistoric spiders roused from millennia-long slumber by power-mad terrorists. These aptly-named ‘Arachnosaurs’ are hungry. They’re angry. And they have declared war against all of humanity … whose days might just be numbered unless Key and his unit can stop them.

A Wistful Tale of Gods, Men and Monsters – David Ruggerio

DNF @ 26%

I was intrigued by this book’s blurb and was looking forward to a spooky read. The idea of a town that’s inherently evil, with the scares taking place in a graveyard, school and mortuary, sounded like my kind of fun. Unfortunately it’s not working for me at all, which is really disappointing. Even worse, I’m currently surrounded by reviewers who loved this book so I feel like I’m missing out on something wonderful.

I’m finding the story quite disjointed and haven’t been able to form an emotional connection with any of the characters that have been introduced so far.

I acknowledge that I’m reading an advanced copy of this book so hopefully proofreading and editing will fix a lot of the problems I’ve experienced. The punctuation is all over the place. An abundance of commas exist where they shouldn’t and they’re missing where they’re needed. While they could easily be fixed, here are only a couple of the many sentences that frustrated me:

Whether that was Lilly or not, William wasn’t waiting around to find out, he bolted.

That old Ford was a sight for sore eyes, he could now breathe easy.

An extraordinary feeling of happiness and expectations filled the inhabitants, this was their holiday.

I know my punctuation and grammar are nowhere near perfect either, but I’d definitely want someone to clean up my writing if I ever expected people to pay for it.

There was some phrasing that felt awkward:

These were ghosts that were disturbed for keeping evil obsessions hidden.

they were blood-like red in color.

It was an erotic transformation, from a woman of beauty to a fierce beast of uncontrollable hatred for mankind.

This was a horror unlike any before; no man had ever survived such a terror and lived to tell about it.

My jaw dropped (and I almost threw in the towel right then and there) when I found this sentence in the second chapter:

Giving birth was akin to a gang-rape.

Characters have also called one another “homo”, “nuts” and “retarded”.

If the story had grabbed me I wouldn’t have been as focused on typos, including “lightening” instead of “lightning”, as well as the other nitpicks. I hate to admit defeat where any book is concerned but I can’t travel any further with this one.

I’d encourage you to read some 4 and 5 star reviews before deciding if this is the book for you or not. I’m definitely an outlier here.

Content warnings (so far) include death by suicide, child abuse and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Black Rose Writing for the opportunity to read this book.

Once Upon a Blurb

Can a village be inherently evil? Welcome to Brunswick NY, Population 4,941.

On the surface, this sleepy hamlet comes alive in the autumn with picturesque apple orchards, haunted corn mazes, laden pumpkin patches and holiday hay rides. During a snowy Halloween, a young William Willowsby must battle evil forces that have been shielded by the locals for generations. On the outskirts of the town is the abandoned Forest Park Cemetery. All things wicked seem to revolve around the old graveyard. A rarely seen homunculus serves an evil task master. Together they weave a wicked web that attempts to snare the youth of the hamlet. A creepy graveyard, a spooky schoolhouse, an abandoned mortuary and a member of his own family will leave you simply sleepless.

Shadow Frost – Coco Ma

DNF @ 44%

I absolutely hate it when I can’t finish a book. I fell in love with this book’s cover, then the blurb sealed the deal for me. My anticipation grew during the prologue, especially when I came across this little marvel:

This was a gateway to a realm of merciless darkness, of beautiful horrors and bloodthirsty nightmares.

I usually love banter between characters but a lot of it hasn’t worked for me so far. It’s gotten to the point that if a particular character calls the princess a ‘brat’ one more time I’m going to want to throw my Kindle at a wall. I’m also not a fan of all of the flirting, especially when it closely follows a massacre that’s supposed to be devastating.

The language is inconsistent at times, with characters wandering from “brat” to “‘morrow” to “my bad”. It switches between so many points of view that I’ve lost count and although I haven’t read a lot of fantasy book it feels like I already know all of the individual elements in this story too well.

I’m feeling really defeated right now. I know I’m surrounded by so many ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ reviews and I had planned to be writing one of them.

I hope to finish this book in the future but I’m having to slog my way through it at the moment and if I keep doing this I’m only going to be looking for faults that may or may not exist.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the kingdom of Axaria, a darkness rises.

Some call it a monster, laying waste to the villagers and their homes. Some say it is an invulnerable demon summoned from the deepest abysses of the Immortal Realm. Many soldiers from the royal guard are sent out to hunt it down.

Not one has ever returned. 

When Asterin Faelenhart, Princess of Axaria and heir to the throne, discovers that she may hold the key to defeating the mysterious demon terrorising her kingdom, she vows not to rest until the beast is slain. With the help of her friends and the powers she wields – though has yet to fully understand – Asterin sets out to complete a single task. The task that countless, trained soldiers have failed. 

To kill it. 

But as they hunt for the demon, they unearth a plot to assassinate the Princess herself instead. Asterin and her companions begin to wonder how much of their lives have been lies, especially when they realise that the centre of the web of deceit might very well be themselves. With no one else to turn to, they are forced to decide just how much they are willing to sacrifice to protect the only world they have ever known. 

That is, of course … if the demon doesn’t get to them first.

Borderlands Volume One: The Anthology of Weird Fiction – Thomas F. Monteleone

DNF @ 24%

I had never heard of ‘weird fiction’ prior to reading this book’s blurb and was immediately intrigued. I usually enjoy stories that have unexpected twists and turns or cover terrain I haven’t encountered before. I love weird stuff!

So it both surprised and disappointed me that this book wasn’t for me. I did enjoy the first story, The Calling by David B. Silva. It reminded me of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected with its macabre ending, so I had hope for the rest of the stories.

I found the second story so disjointed and jarring that I kept putting off finishing it. I finally decided I had to finish it to get to another story I’d connect with more so I pushed through to the end and then slogged through another three stories. I didn’t like a single one.

Perhaps if I’d read these stories when this anthology was first published in 1994 I would have found them shocking but most of what I read felt either clichéd or bad weird. I acknowledge that I may be missing out on some gems by throwing in the towel at this point (there are some really positive reviews for this book) but I think I can live with that, especially when I read some reviews commenting on the amount of stories featuring women being abused by men.

Whenever I rarely DNF a book I usually feel guilty about it and plan to give the book another shot in the future because I don’t want to miss out on any magic that I didn’t find for whatever reason during my first attempt. I don’t think I’ll be doing that with this book and I’m probably more sad than anything because I was really looking forward to discovering this amazing new (to me) world called ‘weird fiction’.

Thank you to NetGalley and Riverdale Avenue Books for the opportunity to read this book. I really wish I had loved it.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s hard to believe, but this anthology first appeared 28 years ago. In re-reading the stories in this gathering of the weirdest tales, I am also reminded of how strikingly fresh and original the material remains. 

As its title implies, Borderlands contains fiction that resides out there on the edge, on the perimeter of what’s being done in the field of horror, dark fantasy, and suspense literature. When I solicited material for what I hope will be the first of many volumes, I made it clear I didn’t want stories that employed any of the traditional symbols and images of the genre. I wanted writers to expand the envelope, to look beyond the usual metaphors, and bring me something new. 

Some fresh meat, so to speak. 

So, dig in! 

Us People – Maxwell Gruber

DNF @ 35%

I’ve been trying to read this book since 2017. I read the first 20% and gave up in December because I couldn’t connect with any of the characters. I’d been interested in their story based on the blurb but found I didn’t care what happened to them once I started to get to know them. I hate that because I can usually connect with pretty much anything; if a character I like has an emotional connection to a blanket I’ll probably ugly cry if something happens to that blanket.

Since my first attempt I’ve gone back to this book many times and never made it much further. Thinking that surely some time and distance from it would change my mind I’ve tried again. I’m now stuck at 35% and I’m done trying to make this work.

My point of no return was when the main character wakes to a knife in their face and the person holding the knife explaining why:

“Well, when you grabbed that boy and tried to lift him off his feet, that made me feel a certain way. The type of way that makes you feel really, really good inside. So, me not knowing who you were, I wanted to get a better look at you. And let alone, my luck, my chance occurred. You walked right up to me trying to grab some bread. That was when I decided it was meant to be.”

That was when I finally decided that, try as I might, this is never going to be the book for me. I start every book planning on shouting about its brilliance from the rooftops and it always hurts when that’s not the case. I hope other readers do find the connections that I failed to.

Thank you to NetGalley and Clovercroft Publishing for the opportunity to read this book. I’m sorry it wasn’t for me.

Once Upon a Blurb

How far is a person willing to go to escape their own personal demons – the bottle, a drug, possibly a vacation? A past mired with trauma and heartbreak, Sam Case seeks what he believes will be the safety of the streets. A place to escape the demons that once haunted him and tugged at the deepest parts of his mind. Struggling to survive with the aid of his best friend Cam, a mentally unstable veteran, Sam finds solace amongst the chaos. Initially an escape from his past, the horrors of insanity and heartbreak coax him back towards confrontation. Sam must make an impossible choice – a stigmatised imprisonment or the freedom of the streets. 

Bridge of Clay – Markus Zusak

DNF @ 22%

Okay, so maybe I’m just not supposed to read Markus Zusak’s books. I wanted to care, I tried to care, but I don’t care and I’m feeling quite un-Australian about the whole experience. I was interested in the mother’s backstory and probably would have enjoyed this book had she been the focus but I had no interest in her sons. They’re the kind of rough and tumble boys I avoided in high school and it turns out I’m still not interested in their fights or why they think it’s a good idea to steal letterboxes when they’re drunk.

Perhaps if I’d managed to make it to the end of the book I may have found a soft spot for at least one of the brothers but I found getting through each chapter a slog and finally decided that life’s too short to turn yourself inside out trying to like a book simply because you think you should.

From what I can tell from trying and failing to love this book, it eventually boils down to the following sentence:

Clay builds a bridge.

When I raised my white flag it was clear that Clay was going to physically build a bridge with his father and in doing so I’m guessing he also manages to build a bridge over the chasm separating father from sons. I know so many people love this book already and wish I was one of them but I admit defeat. If you read this book I really hope you love it.

Once Upon a Blurb

The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance. 

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge – for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle. 

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome?

Pendle Fire – Paul Southern

DNF @ 80%

First, I want to point out that this book currently has a high proportion of 4 and 5 star reviews so please don’t just read my review and decide based on that alone that this book is not for you. I’d encourage you to read positive reviews as well and then decide for yourself if it’s the book for you or not.

I requested a review copy of Pendle Fire from NetGalley (thank you very much to NetGalley and Bloodhound Books for the opportunity) and I was looking forward to reading it, mostly because I wanted to know about the Hobbledy Man. I loved the sound of the centuries of urban legend coming to life, the question mark over the possibility of witchcraft and a potential apocalypse in the mix. It sounded really interesting and like my type of book. I was aware from the blurb that there’d be an investigation by a social worker into the alleged gang rape of two teenage girls so I expected my review would include content warnings for sexual assault.

However I feel like the book I read about in the blurb and the book I attempted to read over the past ten days were two different books. The blurb was accurate to a point but had it included any of the following information I would have known straight away this wasn’t the book for me:

The Racist, Sexist, Homophobic and Anti-Muslim Parts – There are so many instances throughout the book but I’m not going to quote any of the remarks. Basically you have one group against another group to the point of riots. The escalating riots are actually a large part of the book. I know this is real life and I concede that the author did a good job of showing the escalation of the violence but I’m not personally interested in reading about rioting misogynistic, racist, homophobic, anti [insert any religious belief here] idiots, or corrupt cops for that matter.

The Swearing – I can swear with the best of them but there’s swearing and then there’s utter disrespect. I don’t voluntarily spend time with anyone who calls anyone a c***. I don’t want to read about people who speak to people like that either. Maybe you don’t have a problem with that word but I really do and I’m unapologetic about my disgust surrounding its use. Had I not been trying to read this book to review it I would have stopped reading in chapter 2 when it first showed up and I certainly wouldn’t have still been reading for the subsequent seven (so my Kindle tells me) times it was used.

I tried to connect with the characters, especially the social worker, but none of the people in this story made me need to keep reading to find out what happened to them. Even now at 80% I don’t feel like I need to know how the story ends. It took me a lot longer than it probably should have to realise that there were two characters in the book with the same first name. Yesterday when I was explaining my frustration about this book to someone I couldn’t even remember the name the characters shared or which character one of them was in the book, both of which pointed out to me my lack of investment in this story.

Because this isn’t the sort of book that I’d have started had I known what I do now I can’t tell you how it measures up against others with similar themes. I do, however, want to be specific in telling you that I want to separate the behaviour of the characters in the book from its author. Just because I hated all of the racism, sexism, all the other isms and the disgusting actions of the deplorable characters in their book doesn’t mean that I think for a moment that any of these things should be thought of the author.

This book doesn’t make me want to automatically discount this author’s other books but should I come across another one I’ll be looking at more than the blurb before I decide if it’s for me or not.

Content warnings include sexual assault, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Muslim statements, death of a dog, trafficking, grooming and despicable behaviour by despicable humans on drugged victims.

Once Upon a Blurb

Social worker Johnny Malkin is battling a crippling workload and a hostile local community. That’s on a good day: things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Two fourteen-year-old girls are found wandering Aitken Wood on the slopes of Pendle Hill, claiming to have been raped by a gang of men. With no female social workers available, Johnny is assigned to their case. But what, at first, looks like yet another incident of child exploitation takes a sinister turn when the girls start speaking of a forthcoming apocalypse.

When Johnny interviews one of the girls, Jenna Dunham, her story starts to unravel. His investigation draws him into a tight-knit village community in the shadow of Pendle Hill, where whispers of witchcraft and child abuse go back to the Middle Ages.

One name recurs, The Hobbledy Man. Is he responsible for the outbreaks of violence sweeping across the country?

Is he more than just myth?

Nevermoor #1: The Trials of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

DNF @ 36%

I was so excited about this book but unfortunately I’m in the minority here and couldn’t make it past 36%. There were too many obvious nods to other books so I ended up feeling like I was reading a list of the author’s favourite things. Amongst others, it was as if I were rereading Roald Dahl, Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and possibly rewatching a Gilmore Girls episode, but all mashed up and distorted.

I keep going back to it and can’t move on from where I left it. If I ever manage to finish this one I’ll update my review and will grovel to the author for forgiveness if I wind up loving it. At this point though, I just can’t try any more.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hachette Children’s Books, Australia for giving me the opportunity to read this book.

Once Upon a Blurb

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks – and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organisation: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart, an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests, or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate. 

Ventura Saga #2: The Glow of Fallen Stars – Kate Ling

DNF @ 42%

I really enjoyed The Loneliness of Distant Beings and so I was intrigued to find out what lay in store for our castaways after living their entire lives until now travelling through space with no hope of ever setting foot on land. While I’m allergic to romance I actually thought the forbidden romance between Seren and Dom in the first book was adorable.

Imagine my surprise when after the initial awe of exploring this unknown land along with Seren, Dom and their companions I wound up bored. I would’ve been happy to plod along had it not been for the extremely unbelievable development at 41%. I stopped at 42% because even though it was slow going beforehand the unnamed spoiler took me right out of the book and made me wish the author had left The Loneliness of Distant Beings as a standalone.

Having said that I’m certainly interested in The Truth of Different Skies because I love a good prequel and I’d like to find out how the events in Loneliness came to be. If I enjoy that one I’ll be revisiting this book because I’m hopeful that the prequel gives some sort of explanation that turns my unbelievable stance into an “oh, so that’s why that happened!”. If/When I make it to 100% on this one I will update this review.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hachette Children’s Books, Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Once Upon a Blurb

I longed so hard for all the things that make life life, and I never thought they’d be mine. But now … now they are. Now I have something to lose.

Seren and Dom have fled their old lives on board spaceship Ventura in order to be together. They crash-land on a beautiful, uninhabited planet, which at first seems like paradise.

There is no one to answer to … but no one to ask for help. And with each new day comes the realisation of how vulnerable they truly are.

This planet has secrets – lots of them. Uncovering them could be the key to survival, but at what cost?