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.

One Size Eats All #2: Rattus New Yorkus – Hunter Shea

“City rats are tough bastards.”

This is a B-grade movie I need to see! Mankind’s infinite wisdom strikes again. This time we’re taking on New York’s rat population, up close and personal with “hand-to-paw combat”.

Dr Randolph “Ratticus” Finch has developed a new rodenticide, Degenesis, that promises results. There are results, just not the ones he was hoping for. These rats are smarter and more aggressive, they’re multiplying quickly and they’re hungry. Exterminators Bennie and Chris Jackson are going to be working overtime on this one.

They were enormous and mangy and looked like the embodiment of animal savagery and disease.

I always have so much fun with Hunter Shea’s books. Although I really enjoyed watching the rats wreak havoc from a safe distance, a couple of the elements I look forward to in Shea’s stories weren’t quite as prominent in this one.

The action was pretty much non stop but my horror book bloodlust wasn’t entirely sated. The rats gnawed their way through the pages but I wasn’t sustained by graphic insides that are now your outsides details like I was in Misfits and Slash. There also wasn’t the time for me to become invested in any specific character’s survival. I was actually on the rats’ side and wanted them to prevail, although I did have my swattin’ pole on hand, just in case.

I’m keen to experience all of the bloody fun that Shea’s novels promise and definitely want to see the mayhem unfold in the other One Size Eats All novellas.

“I think panic is an appropriate response to what we just saw.”

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb


Deep in the sewers of New York City, the rat population is growing. Dr. Randolph Finch is determined to break the cycle. His new rodenticide, Degenesis, doesn’t kill rats. It sterilises them from reproducing. But nothing adapts faster than a New York rat …


City exterminators and soon-to-be divorced Chris and Benita Jackson think they know how these rats think. They know how rats breed. And they fear that Degenesis has only made these rats stronger. More aggressive. More intelligent. And more ravenous than ever …


After a noticeable surge in rat den activity, the Jacksons witness something strange. Without warning, the rats disappear – only to reassemble in a massive lair beneath Grand Central Station. Millions upon millions of them. Working together. Operating as a hive mind. Feasting on the flesh of the homeless below – and planning their all-out attack on the unsuspecting humans above

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.

Kathy Ryan #4: Beyond the Gate – Mary SanGiovanni

The whispers told me awful things.

I love being a fly on the wall while Kathy Ryan works. She’s an occult investigator but her investigations aren’t limited to our world. She’s also instrumental in protecting our world from entities and gods from other worlds and dimensions, and that makes for some imaginative, entertaining and sometimes gruesome descriptions.

Paragon Corp have been sending a group of scientists through a gateway to another world, one they believe is currently uninhabited. Their assumption is challenged when only one member of the Green Team returns, and some of the people who have been involved in the project begin to display strange and potentially deadly symptoms.

“Did you feel that? Can you feel that? It’s all around us. I didn’t really escape. You can’t escape them. They infect you, and … and that infection comes through.”

Kathy is hired to investigate, bring the Green Team back and prevent any unwelcome inter-dimensional guests from hitching a ride to our world. Joining her through the gate are Sergeant John Markham, Officer Carl Hornsby and Dr Jose Rodriguez, a scientist and researcher. Soon they will discover that Hesychia, named after the goddess of silence, is unlike anything they’ve previously encountered. Physics works differently there and shortly after their arrival they learn that they are not alone.

Maybe we feel safer or somehow less invasive if we believe we’re exploring a monument to something long gone rather than the home of something living.

This is the fourth in a series and I’ve been along for the ride since the second book. Although there are references to events that have taken place in previous investigations you could easily jump right into this series at any book and not be lost. I definitely want to read the first book in the series to find out how it all began though.

I love the descriptions of the worlds and creatures that inhabit them in Mary SanGiovanni’s books. In this book I particularly enjoyed reading about the substance of the portal and the pareidolia (characters see faces in wood grain, curtains, etc).

I imagined Dr Greenwood, the project’s lead researcher, as a villain of the “mwahaha” persuasion. I was hoping he’d accidentally get pushed through the gateway and left to fend for himself in Hesychia.

I was disappointed that practically everything the group came across when they first arrived in Hesychia was easily identifiable. A gate. A library. Books. Trees.

“How many people can say they got to visit a library on an alien world in another universe?”

The descriptions did become more what I’d come to expect from this series as the book progressed. I also wished that Kathy had more page time in the beginning (she barely stepped foot in the book until about 20%) but once she began investigating she made up for lost time.

From the ‘I see Ghostbusters everywhere’ file: Naturally when I read, “Are you gods?” my brain automatically went here …


While this book’s survivors get some much needed rest (and therapy) I’ll be sitting here trying to look patient as I wait for Kathy’s next investigation to commence.

Content warnings include mention of rape and murder.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kathy Ryan’s work as an occult investigator often leads her to the outskirts of society, law, and even reality …

Knowing that other dimensions exist is one thing. Venturing into them is quite another. In the course of its experiments, Paragon Corp – a government-sourced theoretical physics research institute – has discovered a supposedly empty alternate world. There is strange, alien flora but seemingly no sentient beings … just a huge, abandoned city that a team of scientists is sent to explore.

Then the scientists disappear. Kathy Ryan is hired to make her first foray into an alternate dimension in order to locate the team, bring them back, and close the gate for good. Instead, she discovers that this supposedly dead city may be nothing of the kind. Her rescue mission has become a terrifying race to prevent the potential destruction of the boundary between two worlds – before mayhem reigns over both …

Kathy Ryan #3: Inside the Asylum – Mary SanGiovanni

What happens when your imaginary friends are no longer satisfied living in the world you created? What if they want to live in yours instead?

When Kathy Ryan interviews a patient at Connecticut-Newlyn Hospital for the Criminally Insane she learns about Henry’s friends. The staff dismiss them as hallucinations but Kathy thinks otherwise.

Henry only survived the horrific abuse of his childhood with the help of Maisie, Orrin, Edgar and the Others. Henry’s friends’ lives started in his imagination and they lived in Ayteilu, the world he created. Unlike your normal garden variety imaginary friends, Henry’s have seriously levelled up.

They’re tulpas, “sentient and more or less autonomous beings brought about by the use of the mind.” If, like me, you haven’t heard of these before, Google can tell you all about them. While I found the entire phenomenon fascinating and Mary SanGiovanni takes this concept much further than I hope is ever possible, I cannot stress this enough: Do NOT try this at home!!!

Kathy’s investigation forces her to interact with her brother, Toby, another Connecticut-Newlyn patient. Awkward! And suitably creepy. I was eager to learn more about Kathy’s history after reading my first Kathy Ryan book, Behind the Door, and my wish was certainly granted in this book. I can handle all the book blood spatter and gore an author throws at me, but this part of the story was genuinely horrifying. It answered my questions from the previous book and was so well done. I hesitate to say that I loved it but it felt right, given what I already knew of Kathy, and it caused a visceral reaction in me.

While I had so much fun reading about Kathy’s previous investigation in Zarepath, this investigation blew me away. I loved the setting, the characters (especially Ernie), the action, the interaction between characters and the imaginative ways Henry’s friends interact with our world.

You do not want to be cast as a character in one of Mary SanGiovanni’s novels. If you actually make it out of the book alive (chances are you won’t and your death will be suitably gruesome) you will not be unchanged by the experience. Nightmares, severe trauma and a massive therapy bill will be amongst your prizes for surviving.

If you are squeamish, this book is not for you. If, however, you love the kind of horror that spills enough blood to make The Shining’s river feel more like a trickle and you want to jump up and down with perverse glee when a horror story character’s insides become their outsides, then this is definitely right up your alley. If you’re not convinced yet, you will also come face to (sort of) face with such awesomeness as a rampaging vending machine and flying lawn mowers!

I wasn’t a fan of the derogatory terms used regarding mental illness in this book by the main character, police officers and some of the staff at the asylum, including crazies, mad, nutjob and loony bin but the majority of the offenders die, so there’s that. Content warnings include mental illness, child abuse, torture, rape and murder.

While this story ends in a way that could be a satisfying conclusion to the series I really hope there’s more to come. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Lyrical Underground, an imprint of Kensington Books, for the opportunity to read this book. Five blood soaked stars from me!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kathy has been hired to assess the threat of patient Henry Banks, an inmate at the Connecticut-Newlyn Hospital for the Criminally Insane, the same hospital where her brother is housed. Her employers believe that Henry has the ability to open doors to other dimensions with his mind-making him one of the most dangerous men in modern history. Because unbeknownst to Kathy, her clients are affiliated with certain government organizations that investigate people like Henry-and the potential to weaponise such abilities.

What Kathy comes to understand in interviewing Henry, and in her unavoidable run-ins with her brother, is that Henry can indeed use his mind to create “Tulpas”-worlds, people, and creatures so vivid they come to actual life. But now they want life outside of Henry. And they’ll stop at nothing to complete their emancipation. It’s up to Kathy-with her brother’s help-to stop them, and if possible, to save Henry before the Tulpas take him over-and everything else around him.

Kathy Ryan #2: Behind the Door – Mary SanGiovanni

There is a Door in the middle of the woods. It’s been there as long as anyone can remember but no one knows who or what “them behind the Door” are. You can use the Door one time and one time only. You need to word your letter carefully, seal it with wax and your blood, and slip it under the door alone at night. You can ask it to do anything at all and three days later you get what you want, “more or less”.

“You don’t always get it how you want it. And there’s no way to take it back, sugar, because rule number one is that you absolutely, under no circumstances ever, open that Door. Once you deliver your letter, it is out of your hands.”

Would you use it? Would you ask it to remove a burden or give you something you’ve always wanted? I asked myself these questions and decided that although there are definitely experiences I wish I’d never had or things that are out of my reach that I’ve always wanted, the risk of using the Door would outweigh any potential benefits for me. In weighing this up though, I know I’m only doing so hypothetically. Who knows what I would do if the Door was right in front of me.

Due to the power of the Door and the amount of people who have used it there were a lot of potential triggers in the content, including suicide, family violence, sexual assault and paedophilia. What probably shouldn’t have surprised me but did was my reaction to certain characters. Once the Door was opened (it had to happen) and all hell started breaking loose I found the way I felt about the characters depended upon the details of the burden they had described in their letter.

I was concerned for the safety of some characters. I was anticipating with unbridled glee the potential comeuppance of others. I hoped for the redemption of some and the extended torture of others. I worked out the connection between a couple of characters early on and had looked forward to being a spectator as the dots were joined; although this wasn’t resolved the way I had hoped I’m not disappointed.

My favourite character was Cicely, Kari’s friend, who I found to be compassionate, wise and down to earth. She was the only character I ended up with a mental picture of and for some still unknown reason she wound up looking and sounding like author Toni Morrison in my head.

Kathy Ryan, a consultant to law enforcement agencies who specialises in the occult and supernatural, is called in to try to contain what was unleashed on this town when the Door was opened. The marketing for Behind the Door told me this was the first in a new series but once I started reading I discovered it’s actually the second, so Kathy’s character joins the story without a great deal of background information.

In Behind the Door you learn more about each of the townsfolk than you do about Kathy and I expect that the scar that’s mentioned several times and her less than perfect family that’s alluded to are explained in the preceding book, Chilled. Yes, I bought that book immediately after finishing this one and am already looking forward to reading it as well as the forthcoming Inside the Asylum.

I really had fun reading this book. There was enough information given about the characters (with the exception of Kathy) for me to become invested in their lives. The consequences of the Door being opened were interesting, with some gore and creepiness, but nothing that turned my stomach or made me want to look away. I enjoyed watching the chaos unfold and loved that I was able to suspend my disbelief as I got swept along for the ride.

There were a few question marks that remained for me after finishing this book, such as why Cecily never appeared to tell Kathy the words her husband had spoken to her, which seemed vitally important at the time. I also wondered about what seemed to me to be an inconsistency; whether the Door could be photographed or not. Kathy uses photos of the Door to help her solve the case yet makes a point of noting that it wasn’t odd that there are no photos of the Door in the Heritage Centre as “Often, such interdimensional oddities negatively affected digital and film media.”

My main niggles with this book were the ending and the limited information provided about “them behind the door”. While there were assumptions made and theories shared about their motivation I really wanted to know more. I also wanted information in the epilogue about how the events affected the individual townsfolk long term rather than how long Kathy stayed in the town after the events. I wanted to know how the resolution affected Cecily in particular as the ramifications for her could have been catastrophic. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll find out what happens to Cecily later in the series.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Some doors should never be opened …

In the rural town of Zarepath, deep in the woods on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, stands the Door. No one knows where it came from, and no one knows where it leads. For generations, folks have come to the Door seeking solace or forgiveness. They deliver a handwritten letter asking for some emotional burden to be lifted, sealed with a mixture of wax and their own blood, and slide it beneath the Door. Three days later, their wish is answeredfor better or worse.

Kari is a single mother, grieving over the suicide of her teenage daughter. She made a terrible mistake, asking the powers beyond the Door to erase the memories of her lost child. And when she opened the Door to retrieve her letter, she unleashed every sin, secret, and spirit ever trapped on the other side.

Now, it falls to occultist Kathy Ryan to seal the door before Zarepath becomes hell on earth …