The Winter People

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m going to try to switch my review posting date from every other Saturday to every other Sunday. It seems like I have been finishing up books on the weekends, so this gives me an extra day off of work to finish reading and write up a review. It feels weird since I have uploaded on Saturdays for years, but let’s see how it goes! Hopefully I will miss less upload dates this way.

Now, to the review of The Winter People. There are two timelines in this book. One timeline takes place in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s following Sara Harrison Shea. Sara shares her perspectives on the people and events in her childhood and during her young married life through her journal. However, Sara’s death was very odd. Some say she went mad after the death of her daughter, and in Sara’s journal she claims that her daughter came back from the dead. Sara’s journal was published and became part the area’s local legend. In the present day, 19-year-old Ruthie stumbles upon Sara’s journal after her mother disappears, which leads Ruthie down a rabbit hole of other mysteries. As Ruthie and her little sister, Fawn, search for their missing mother, they uncover family secrets and discover things that perhaps would be better left buried.

The characters didn’t do a lot for me, sadly. Sara and Ruthie (arguably the main characters though there are sections from a few other characters’ perspectives as well) were just fine. I preferred reading from Sara’s sections because I found her childhood and adult experiences more interesting. As a side note, I think I might have also enjoyed a book solely based on Sara’s life. Since we read from Sara’s journal, it makes you wonder just how reliable she is as a narrator, which is something I often enjoy. And with a few chapters from her husband’s perspective mixed in, this adds to the reader questioning Sara’s stability. Ruthie and the present day sections were interesting enough, and they add a whole other layer to Sara’s story, but I didn’t find the present-day characters or storyline quite as engaging. There are a few other women tangled up in the mystery of Ruthie’s missing mother, but I found them forgettable beyond their role of advancing the plot.

For me, the best parts of the book were the plot and atmosphere. Sometimes multiple perspectives and timelines can make a plot feel muddled or confusing, and sometimes one timeline/perspective is clearly stronger or more interesting, which makes the narrative feel unbalanced and/or makes the reader bored with one side of the story. I liked the way they were integrated here though. Despite having a preference for Sara’s perspective, the alternating timelines built tension, and when one gave me a new answer about something, it would often raise more questions, which made the book a very fast read. The twists are fun, but I guessed several reveals in the latter half of the novel. The author is quite good at setting up tense moments. I read this via audiobook though, so the narration probably also helped increase the tension via tone and pacing. I was hooked until the end, yet I don’t think that I will remember this book a year or two from now.

In the end, I gave The Winter People 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was a quick, entertaining read that made me think about grief and loss, but in my opinion, it didn’t do enough to set itself apart from other, similar stories I have read.

Stiletto (The Chequy Files #2)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I don’t usually review sequels (I feel like I’ve said this before/recently…), but I’m reading very slowly lately, so I don’t have anything else to post about this week. If you haven’t read the first book in this series, I recommend that you do so because it is a lot of fun, but I promise I won’t spoil anything about it.

I read and reviewed the first book in this series, The Rook, in 2018, which really doesn’t seem like it was that long ago… Anyway, I really loved The Rook. To briefly summarize it, it takes place in England and follows the Chequy. The Chequy is a sort of supernatural police force– supernatural in that the members themselves were born with powers and that they also protect normal people from supernatural beings and happenings. The Rook mainly follows one character, Myfanwy Thomas, who wakes up on a park bench surrounded by dead bodies with no memory of what happened or who she is. The book is filled with twists, it’s pretty funny if you like dry humor, and it has very interesting world building. I would say that The Rook is a slightly stronger book overall, but I enjoyed Stiletto.

Ok, enough about book one. Stiletto features many of the characters from the first book, and I enjoyed seeing some familiar faces and getting to know my favorites even better. This second book also expands the world building a lot more. There is an enemy faction from the first book that is explored much more in the sequel, but this also leads me to the downside of this novel. While I enjoyed learning about the “supernatural history” of the British Isles, and I love how the author weaves in real-world events by giving them supernatural causes, there were a few sections that were a bit too focused on these things. For example, the novel is told in a few perspectives from different characters, but there were chapters in which the main plot is put on hold to tell some history or to tell a side story. Though these sections add to the plot and character development, I found myself getting a little impatient about returning to what was happening in the present. This book is about 100 pages longer than the first, and I have to admit that I feel like it could have been a tighter story if it had dropped those extra pages. Still, I am torn because I enjoyed learning more about everything, but I think there could have been a better way to concisely add those details without pages and pages of being “out of the action.”

The characters development is still great. Like I said, I loved seeing familiar faces. I found myself missing being so close to Myfanwy since the first book was so focused on her, but I liked many of the new characters too. The different perspectives all felt unique and genuine. The author is very creative with how he designed the different powers they all have, the actions scenes, the political intrigue, and the enemies and creatures that are encountered. I’m a big fan of stories that include the “hiding in plain sight” aspect, which is what the Chequy organization and its operatives do. The humor is also right up my alley and is in the same vein as the first book, but of course that type of humor may not be for everyone.

I really can’t think of any other cons. This was a really solid sequel, and even though there is going to be a third book, I don’t feel like this one was an unnecessary bridge between book one and three, like some second books can be. Overall, I’d give Stiletto four out of five stars.

Knight in Paper Armor

Rating: 4 out of 5.

***Thank you to the author, Nicholas Conley, for providing me a copy of his novel in exchange for an honest review.***

Holy reading slump, Batman! March was a rough month for me. I’m finishing up a graduate certificate program, trying to learn some more marketable skills to change careers, and ultimately getting rejection after rejection from companies I have applied to. I’ve been busy, yes, but when I do have time to sit down and read, I don’t really want to because I do so much reading all day at work, which has made me even more sad. I can always tell when my depression is spiking because I tend to not read at all. But! That certainly wasn’t this book’s fault. In fact, I would say that this book started to pull me out of my reading slump because I was very motivated to keep turning the page once I got into it.


This book takes place in a dystopian future of the 2030’s in which the U.S. has split into 179 different states. Propaganda and conspiracy theories have made for a very unstable political climate, and one company, Thorne Century Inc., runs many aspects of the country, making everything from cars to pharmaceuticals. Billy Jakobek and his family have struggled with his strange psychic powers and visions since he was a baby. Billy can sense others’ feelings by being near them, and when he touches other people, even stranger things happen. When a representative from Thorne Century Inc. knocks on his family’s door one day, Billy’s life takes a drastic turn. After being taken into custody, Billy is moved to the industrial city of Heaven’s Hole so that he can experience a “normal” teenage life while still being under the company’s thumb. While Billy begins to make friends, and even experiences a budding romance, he also finds out that the company’s plans for him and his powers extend far beyond what he or anyone else could imagine.

Billy Jakobek is Jewish, and since the author is also Jewish, this can be considered an “own voices” novel. And I have to say, I am so glad to see a novel, especially a speculative novel, from a Jewish author with a Jewish main character. I’ve only read one other novel from an author with a Jewish family history that wasn’t a historical fiction dealing with the Holocaust (which was The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin). I’m definitely not knocking Holocaust novels, but it is just so nice to see something different being published. That isn’t to say that the Holocaust isn’t mentioned in Knight in Paper Armor, because it is still a major part of Billy’s family history, but there are so many other issues and dimensions to both the story’s plot and Billy’s characterization. The novel as a whole approaches a plethora of tough topics and current events, like the rise of Nazism in the U.S., immigration and discrimination against immigrants, predatory capitalism, workers’ rights, media manipulation, and it even mentions effects of climate change, to name a few. Despite the characters being older teens, there are a lot of other tough topics and possibly triggering scenes. There’s violence, anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, death and serious injury, abuse/explorations of immigrant workers and children, planned terrorism, and probably other things I’m forgetting!


First up, the characters. I liked our two main characters, Billy and Natalia, quite a bit. Billy struggled a lot with his inner emotions and guilt, but it was easy to tell that he had a very good heart. Natalia Gonzales was a very headstrong Latina, and although I didn’t always agree with her actions, I thought that they fit her impulsive and passionate nature. I also thought that both Billy and Natalia’s cultures were well incorporated into the novel. The author mentions in the acknowledgements that he had cultural sensitivity beta readers critique his representation of Natalia and her family, so that has probably helped the novel be more faithful in how Natalia’s undocumented family issues and Mexican roots are presented. At times the teenaged dialogue felt a little off, but it’s often hard to get that right as an adult writer.

There were also several very diverse side characters, which made sense because Heaven’s Hole was said to be a town with many immigrants who worked at the factory. The villain was very evil, and though there was a backstory about this character, I think why they were so very evil could have been fleshed out a bit more. My favorite side characters were Billy and Natalia’s grandmothers, because I love some strong-willed, outspoken grannies! One aspect of the main characters that I didn’t like was how quickly Billy and Natalia’s romance happened. On one hand, it makes sense that Billy felt an attraction so quickly because of his psychic powers, but Natalia seemed more attracted to Billy than he was to her at the start. Something happens shortly after they meet that brings them very close together, but I just prefer more of a slow burn. One thing I will say is that the author had no mercy for his characters. No one had plot armor, and no one came out completely unscathed, which was actually quite refreshing, if heartbreaking, to see.


Regarding the plot, I enjoyed it overall. The story surprised me a few times too. The experimentation and kids with powers reminded me a bit of Stephen King’s The Institute or even Firestarter as well as a bit of Stranger Things the TV show, which was what made me want to review this novel in the first place. There was definitely a similar vibe, but I don’t think I’d classify the story as horror– dark sci-fi might fit. Parts of the narrative take place in an “other world” that has some very surreal imagery. Some of it appears to be inspired by the dybbuk of Jewish folklore as well as imagery based on Nazi concentration camps. I wish that Billy’s powers and some of the surreal scenes were described in more detail. I had a little trouble picturing some scenes, but I also just really enjoy lengthy, flowery descriptions. (I know that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.) I also think that there is some suspension of realism needed for how Billy’s powers were going to be used since that wasn’t explained in detail, but hey, it is a speculative novel. It just depends on how much of a realistic explanation you need for this kind of thing.

My main issue with the plot was the pacing. There was a lot of action, and sometimes it felt like the characters didn’t have enough time to process the losses or emotional strain that they experienced. They had to bounce back fairly quickly because there was always something else going wrong that they had to respond to. This is addressed to some extent because the chapters are written in limited third-person perspective, with individual chapters from the view of one character, but there could have been more exploration of the characters in regard to what they experienced because, as I said, there’s a lot of stuff that just goes horribly for everyone. I quite liked the book’s ending though. There is a good payoff at the end and some light at the end of the dark tunnel the characters went through.


I would give Knight in Paper Armor 3.75 stars if I’m being very specific. However, I’m rounding up to 4 on many platforms because I think that the book does a lot of things right. I definitely think it deserves more attention than it has been getting, and I look forward to seeing what else this author comes up with in the future because this was certainly a unique reading experience from a cultural perspective you don’t see much of in sci-fi/fantasy.

Series Review: The Daevabad Trilogy

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I reviewed the first book in this series, The City of Brass, in 2019. I was pleasantly surprised by the mix of fantasy, mythology, history, and the Islamic faith in the first book, and my interest carried over the second and third books. For the first time in a while, I was very excited to read the final book in a series. Though I wouldn’t say the series is perfect, and it isn’t one of my favorite fantasy series of all time, I had a really good time reading the trilogy. It helped me get out of a reading slump and escape into another world.

The trilogy takes place in Egypt as well as parts of the Middle East, and there is a mix between the real world and the world of djinn, magical humanoids who live alongside humans but are invisible to them. Nahri is an orphan from Cairo who makes her living by stealing, telling fortunes, and using her strange healing affinity. One night she is ambushed by creatures she thought were only in myths. She is saved and whisked away to a mythical city by another being she thought was only a fairytale, a powerful djinn named Darayavahoush (Dara for short). Dara introduces Nahri to the city of Daevabad where she finds out more about herself and her family, but she also gets entangled in political struggles and centuries-long feuds between the djinn. In books two and three she meets many more mythical beings and finds out secrets about herself and her new friends. Ultimately, Nahri must choose between a future in Cairo and a future in Daevabad.

That description really simplifies what happens in the trilogy, and it doesn’t really do the series justice. The worldbuilding is probably my favorite aspect of these books. The books combine Middle Eastern history and myth as well as the Islamic faith to create a vast, rich world. For example, the real-world political struggles in Egypt in the 18th century are also included in the story. Though it isn’t a main plot point, I found that it grounded my view of the magical world and was a good parallel to some of the problems in Daevabad. Daevabad itself has a long history, and I love when a there are elements of a fantasy world’s history that have been skewed or covered up past leaders and when there are long-held secrets under the surface. There are also different tribes of djinn with unique histories and cultures too. I would actually like to see more books set in this world, perhaps centering on the other djinn tribes. You can read about the world on the author’s website to get a feel of it before reading. I don’t think there are any major spoilers, but read at your own risk!

I enjoyed many of the characters in the novels. Nahri is headstrong (sometimes to the point of annoyance), but she sticks to her morals and is loyal to her friends. Alizayd al Qahtani, the youngest price of Daevabad, is devout to his Muslim faith and must deal with his family’s tumultuous past. I enjoyed the moments with Alizayd and his siblings, and I wish that we had had even more time exploring his siblings’ personalities, especially in the third book. And though it may be an unpopular opinion, Dara was my favorite character, though he wasn’t always respectful or kind to Nahri. Dara battled with his own terrible past and had a very complex emotional relationship with those close to him. Ultimately, I wished that some of the side characters got more time on the page just because I liked them, but many characters were well developed. I was not a big fan of the romance in the book, and there is a bit of a love triangle. It was obvious to me from book one where the love story was going, so I was disappointed that this aspect was largely predictable.

However, I did not find the plot predictable. There are several good twists, turns, and reveals throughout the trilogy. I wouldn’t say that the books are heavy with tropes, and the world building breathes fresh air into what some might consider a traditional fantasy storyline with chosen ones, alliances with enemies, or epic battles. The plot is filled with political maneuvering, action, and challenges to morality. The pacing of the novels was okay for me, but some might find book one slow as there is a lot of traveling. I also found the final book to be a little longer than necessary. At around 800 pages, I felt that at least 100 could have been edited down. Still, I really enjoyed all of the time I spent with the novels.

If you’re looking for a solid fantasy story that tries to do something a little different by incorporating history, myth, and cultures that aren’t often written about in this genre, I would recommend The Daevabad Trilogy. I rated the entire series four out of five stars.

Burial Rites

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Burial Rites has been on my bookshelf for a little while. I kept saving it for the winter because I felt that it would fit the season, but then I also thought that it would be a sad book, so I kept putting it off because I wasn’t in the mood.

This novel is set in Iceland in the 1820’s. Agnes Magnúsdóttir, Fridrik Sigurdsson, and Sigrídur Gudmundsdóttir have been accused of murdering an herbalist and another man and setting the herbalist’s home on fire in an attempt to hide the crime. Agnus awaits her execution in the care of nearby family, who are less than thrilled to host a murderess in their home, but Agnus grows closer to her hosts as she comes to terms with her fate. The novel is based on a true story.

I wouldn’t read this book if you are not in a good mental headspace because it is emotionally intense. The setting is also very harsh and bleak, and the writing and story reflect the setting. Agnus’s fate is decided, so she spends her days thinking about her past and awaiting her death. I came to sympathize with her and her story. Her hosts are understandably uncomfortable with her presence in their home, especially because they have two impressionable daughters, but I enjoyed seeing the supporting cast grow to care about and respect Agnus as I did. The book’s chapters are rather long, but they are broken into sections. The perspective that you read from changes throughout the chapter, which took some time for me to get used to. Some sections are in Agnus’s first-person perspective. Other times the perspective is in third person with a focus on either the host family or the reverend that is tasked with soothing Agnus’s soul.

The author did a great job of fleshing out the village and its people, the valley’s gossip and rumors, and the truth behind the murder. The plot is not action packed. Most of the story involves Agnus sitting down with other characters and her telling her backstory to them. Only a small portion of the action is set in the present. I really enjoyed the novel, but I found it a bit too predictable. Since it is based on the true story of the last execution in Iceland, the ending is not a surprise. But I also guessed a few of the major plot events as well as the truth behind the murder. The writing is beautiful and very introspective, and as I said it fits the setting very well. There is a lot of symbolism and themes/discussion on feminism, the patriarchy, justice, etc., but for some reasons I wasn’t overly impressed by what I read.

I gave Burial Rites four out of five stars, which is an excellent rating, but it just wasn’t a favorite. However, I enjoyed the atmospheric writing and the emotional depth of the novel very much and would recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

Fingersmith

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fingersmith is a historical fiction novel set in Victorian England and filled with twists, devious plots and people, betrayal, and a female/female romance. Sue Trinder was raised on the harsh side of London by a house of thieves. Her mother figure buys and sells orphans, her father figure is a fence for stolen goods, and her friends are all swindlers of some sort. One night a family friend called Gentleman enters Sue’s home and offers her a partnership. He plans to seduce a rich heiress with Sue’s help. Sue is to become the heiress’s maid and help convince her to marry Gentleman, then he will claim that the heiress is insane, put her into an asylum, and split the girl’s money with Sue. The plot gets complicated when Sue finds herself falling for the heiress and when some long held lies start coming to the surface.

I’ve read a couple other novels by Sarah Waters, so I am definitely a fan of her work. Each novel I have read is unique, character driven, and even if the plot is rather “quiet,” I still find her books difficult to put down. Fingersmith was no different. Many readers may find the book slow. A lot of time is spent with Sue and the heiress, Maud. The girls slowly become friends, and maybe something more, but you can tell that both girls are also hiding parts of themselves. This is one reason that I could not put the book down. I really wanted to know what was going on between the characters and their pasts. Both Maud and Sue are heavily developed throughout the novel and many secrets are revealed in time. Side characters are also given a lot of care, and it is the side characters that are integral to many of the plot’s twists. I won’t say too much about this, but no one is who they appear to be.

Plot-wise, again, the novel could be a bit slow for some readers. There isn’t a lot of action in the first half or so, and the main setting is in Maud’s uncle’s manor with a very structured daily routine. The novel begins with Sue’s perspective. We see Gentleman’s plot through her eyes up until the plan is complete. Sue’s perspective ends on a huge cliffhanger, but the next section is in Maud’s perspective, leaving the resolution of the cliffhanger up in the air for quite some time. Much of Maud’s past is talked about, but what I found most interesting about Maud’s section of the book is that we see many of the same events from Sue’s section through Maud’s eyes. This allows the reader to see inside both of their hearts and minds. For example, Sue’s perspective may make it sound like she has kept a cool head during an event, but when reading from Maud’s view, Maud actually noticed that Sue was not as calm as she appeared. I really love when authors show two sides of the same event like this. The latter half of the book has more action, intrigue, and satisfying reveals. And I adored the ending.

I would highly recommend this book if you are looking for a slow burn female/female romance that has a twisting and complex plot that is just as important, if not more important, than the romance itself. I gave the book a perfect score because even though I don’t tend to like romance, I like when romance is done like this.

Locke and Key Vol. 1-3

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As 2020 comes to a close, I have found myself in a reading slump. I haven’t read a full novel in several months now. Luckily, I read a lot more during the spring and summer and had several reviews scheduled ahead throughout the year. This has been my worst reading year since I got back into reading in my 20’s, so as I struggle to meet my 50 book reading goal, I have turned to graphic novels. (If you’re struggling to read even 1, 2, or 3 books this year, I’m not putting you down of course. Everyone has different goals!) But that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I have been wanting to watch the Locke and Key series, but I wanted to read the graphic novels first, so it worked out.

Locke and Key is about the Locke family. After tragedy upends the family’s life, they move to an intricate New England manor called Keyhouse. The youngest son begins finding strange, magical keys throughout the manor, and what the family thinks is just a heinous crime turns out to have occult origins. The Locke kids must combat supernatural forces as well as the more normal trials of growing up and surviving trauma.

To begin, the series does deal with tough topics and disturbing scenes, like murder, alcoholism, and abuse. It is a horror graphic novel, though the kids are the main characters. Speaking of the kids, there are three Locke children, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode. I’m usually not a fan of child characters, but I like this group. They all have well developed characterization. They feel like realistic children, but they aren’t grating or annoying. Tyler, the oldest, puts on a brave face and carries a lot of guilt and pain, but he is the rock of the family in a lot of ways. Kinsey is just becoming a teen and is struggling with fitting in and knowing herself on top of what her family has gone through. She would rather repress or remove her pain and fear than confront it, but I wouldn’t call her a coward. Bode, the youngest, still has childlike wonder and immerses himself in the mysteries of the house. He takes a lot of the craziness and dysfunction in stride, but his family doesn’t always listen or have time for him. Other characters, like their mother and uncle, are also fleshed out well and will likely continue to develop as the series progresses. I love good character development, and I think this series delivers.

Plot-wise, I found the first volume to be very cohesive and engaging. The next volumes meander a little, and I wasn’t sure where the series was going, but were enough twists and mysteries to keep me interested. The concept of the different magical keys is very interesting too. Some keys open doors where crossing the threshold turns one into a ghost, while others can open up a person’s mind. I wouldn’t say that the use of the keys made anything too convenient, and I don’t think (so far) that they are over used as a plot device, which was a concern of mine. By volume three I am wondering just how everything will come together in the end, but I trust Joe Hill as an author since I’ve loved several of his novels. I have high hopes for the series as a whole.

So, if you’re like me and need something quick, short, and satisfying to read, I would recommend this series. I don’t find it scary as much as sad or slightly disturbing or unsettling at times. Overall, I would rate the first three volumes four out of five stars. The overall plot could be tighter, but I still enjoy the side plots that develop the characters and expand the world. The artwork is also very colorful and creative, and I enjoy the art style more than many other graphic novels.

The Umbrella Academy Vol. 1-3

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It’s rare for me to watch TV series, but I fell head over heels for The Umbrella Academy on Netflix. I didn’t realize that it was adapted from a graphic novel until I finished season 1, so of course I had to go read the series after finishing season 2. I usually prefer to read the source material before watching an adaptation, but in this case I didn’t even know it existed. However, had I read the graphic novel series first, I might not have bothered to watch the TV show. I won’t spoil the series or the TV show, but I will compare aspects of the two in this review.

The premise of the graphic novel is that several children around the world were born with extraordinary powers, and a rich, eccentric man named Reginald Hargreeves was able to adopt and train seven of them to become a team of superheroes. However, over time, the children grew up and parted ways. The siblings reunite when Hargreeves dies to save the world again.

From the book to movie/TV show adaptions I’ve read and seen, generally the written material has more plot and character depth, while the film adaptions favor more action and often cut out some of the slow moments in the books. This wasn’t the case for the The Umbrella Academy. I love character development, and I love the characters on The Umbrella Academy TV show so, so much. They are funny, very flawed, and the siblings have complex relationships with each other. They have a lot of trauma, communication issues, and big egos. The graphic novel does not portray the siblings’ relationships and personalities well at all. There’s very little chemistry between them, the banter is stilted, and they just lack emotional depth. I only saw a few flashes of who the characters are in the show. For example, Luther’s, Allison’s, and Diego’s struggles are hinted at but not focused on in any depth. Vanya was very underdeveloped compared to her TV portrayal, Klaus and Five are nowhere near as interesting or charming, and other side characters from the show are either entirely absent or only mentioned in passing. The TV show utilized the characters, their personalities, powers, and backstories much more effectively.

My feelings for the plot are much of the same. The plot in the graphic novels is often unclear or shallow. I often wondered why we were fighting an enemy, and many aspects of the world went unexplained. I wasn’t sure what was happening or why, and the dialogue and illustrations didn’t clear up much of my confusion. I will say that the illustrations are nicely done, but the writing and perhaps how the panels themselves were planned out just didn’t work well for me.

The graphic novel has so many of interesting elements, characters, and ideas, but nothing really comes together well. When I watched The Umbrella Academy I thought the weakest point was the plot, because at times it was unclear or had moments that were too convenient and probably there just to move the plot along, but I actually have more respect for the show’s writers and the actors now. They were able to take the disjointed story and flat characters in the graphic novels and put together something that made much more sense and explored the characters and the setting in engaging detail.

So, unfortunately, I gave The Umbrella Academy‘s first volume 3/5, the second volume 2.5/5, and the third volume 2/5 stars. If you really love the show, it is interesting to see the source material, but it just doesn’t stand strongly on its own.

The Turn of the Key

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It has been a quite while since I read a thriller, but I usually get in the mood for them around this time of year. A couple of years ago I read Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. I certainly didn’t hate that novel, but I thought it had some imperfections that bothered me. Since then I have heard many people rave about Ware’s other books, so I thought I would take a second look at the author’s work by reading one of her newer books that appealed to me.

The Elincourts purchased Heatherbrae House, an old home in the Scottish countryside with a violent and mysterious history. They have used their architectural and technological knowledge to make it into a “smart home.” All they need now is a reliable nanny to take care of their four children while they are busy with their demanding careers. They have actually had several nannies, but each one has made a hasty exit after experiencing odd, possibly supernatural, experiences within the home. With the high salary and a chance at a new life, Rowan Caine decides to apply to be their newest nanny. What could possibly go wrong?

The novel opens with Rowan writing to a lawyer who might be able to get her out of prison. She is in prison because she has been accused of killing one of the Elincourt’s children, but she claims she is innocent. Throughout the novel she narrates her tenure as the family’s nanny. If you do not enjoy an epistolary format, don’t worry. It is very easy to forget that Rowan is writing the story for someone else. She only addresses the lawyer by name a few times in the beginning and a handful of times throughout the rest of book.

I love a good haunted house story, and not only does Heatherbrae House have a mysterious history but it being a smart house makes for even more unsettling situations. The rooms being filled with security cameras, everything being controlled by a phone app, and being able to talk to people in different rooms via the speaker system all lead to many crazy and creepy happenings. In my opinion, the best parts of this novel were the atmospheric and suspenseful scenes. The author is talented at drawing you in and making you question everything, including the narrator herself.

However, as with The Woman in Cabin 10, I sometimes got annoyed at the main character’s decision making. Admittedly, Rowan isn’t nearly as frustratingly stupid as The Woman in Cabin 10‘s lead, but there were still a couple of instances that made me angry at Rowan. I also noticed that both main characters in Ware’s novels turned to alcohol or made mistakes because of alcohol, which sometimes felt like a lazy plot device in my opinion. Maybe just don’t drink on the job?

Anyway, one other thing I disliked was the way the novel wrapped up. I’m a big fan of thrillers where it is unclear if a supernatural force is really there or not, and I actually love when the novel doesn’t answer whether it is there or not at the end. This novel makes a clear distinction about the cause of the strange occurrences, which is fine, but the twist is somewhat easy to guess and wasn’t a twist I particularly liked. I didn’t quite understand Rowan’s motivation for taking the nanny position by the end, and I felt that the conclusion wasn’t as interesting as the journey. I know that is rather vague and subjective, so I definitely encourage you to pick up the novel and form your own opinions.

Despite my gripes, this was a fun, atmospheric, and fast-paced book that I ultimately enjoyed reading. Three and a half stars out of five for The Turn of the Key.

The Only Good Indians

This was an extremely unique read. I went in knowing that it was written by and about Native American men, specifically Blackfeet, and that there was a killer elk after several of the characters. Honestly, that was more than enough to interest me. I mean, seriously, have you ever heard of something like that before in traditional publishing?

Ten years ago, Lewis, Ricky, Cass, and Gabe went hunting where they were not supposed to be. Like anyone who is young and stupid, they thought they wouldn’t get caught. What happened was much worse than they imagined. They survived the hunting trip, grew up a little, and some moved off of the reservation. Ten years later Ricky is standing outside of a bar miles and miles away from the reservation. Not long after that moment, he is dead. The reports claimed that he was beat up in a bar fight, but when strange things begin happening to Lewis, he questions the media’s mundane narrative.

So, let’s start with the pros. This is a super unique premise with characters you don’t see very often in fiction in general, let alone in horror. I really enjoyed the characterization in the novel. All of the Blackfeet men were well written. I got a clear sense of each one’s personality and what they cared about. The story is told in a few different perspectives, but each voice felt different. The book went by quickly because I kept wanting to turn the page and figure out what was happening. It was gripping for sure, but there was ample time to get to know everyone. I also really liked the writing style itself. It was almost conversational or casual in tone. It felt like the story was being told to me instead of me actually reading it. I didn’t check out the audiobook, but if it is read well, I think that the writing would lend itself really well to that format.

I’ll admit that what I didn’t like was all up to personal preference, so there’s a good chance that you might disagree with my small “cons” list. I usually go into my books pretty blindly without wanting to know too much. So, though I usually don’t mind some gore, there was quite a bit in this novel. If you don’t like descriptions of blood, guts, and dead animals (dogs, if that bothers you), you might not want to read this. There was just a bit too much gore description for me, personally, but I could have easily looked up the amount of gore or trigger warnings if I hadn’t wanted to go in without knowing anything. The was creepy and tense, but I wouldn’t call it scary, and I think that the imagery would be great for a slasher movie. However, what I found the scariest, and what hooked me and made finish the rest in one sitting, was one character’s decent into madness and how the other characters heard about and interpreted the subsequent events.

So, to sum it up, if a Blackfeet-inspired slasher sounds like something you’d like this spooky season, don’t hesitate to read this!