Bookshelf Roundup 09/26/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

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Received for Review

My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!

First, with thanks to the kind folks at Subterranean Press for an ARC of The Best of Walter Jon Williams, a huge anthology of short fiction drawn from the author’s career spanning four decades, including some stories that have never been collected before. This one’s due to release sometime next year, though I am having trouble finding more information about it at the moment, not even on the publisher’s website.

Up next, with thanks to Blink and the team at Kaye Publicity, I also received surprise copy of A Curse of Gold by Annie Sullivan, which was completely new to me. Only when I looked it up did I discover it is a sequel, the second volume in the A Touch of Gold series, making it less likely I’ll be able to read it anytime soon unless I can get my hands on the first book. The premise sounds interesting though, so I’ll be keeping this one on my TBR!

Also huge thanks to Tor Books for sending me a finished copy of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab earlier this week. I’ve already started reading this one and will probably be done by the time this drafted post goes live. I have to say, the story and the characters are very enjoyable so far, and the writing is just incredible.

   

In the digital haul this week, I made one e-galley request for A Stranger in Town by Kelley Armstrong and was approved with thanks to Minotaur Books. This is the sixth installment in the Rockton series featuring protagonist Casey Duncan, and I just love this series so much I couldn’t resist.

In the audiobook pile, I also received a listening copy of The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky with thanks to Macmillan Audio. It’s been a while since I last read the author, so I’m pretty excited to check this one out. My thanks also to Penguin Audio for The Nesting by C.J. Cooke audiobook which I’ve been waiting not-so-patiently for, and I’m thinking this one will be a perfect October read. Next, with thanks to Hachette Audio I also snagged None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney, a YA thriller described as The Silence of the Lambs meets Sadie. Even though the book came out earlier this month, it was brought to my attention only recently. It sounds pretty damn awesome though, so I figured why not! And finally, thank you to Brilliance Audio for a listening copy of Keep Your Friends Close by Janelle Harris. I’m always on the lookout for good psychological thrillers, and the description of this caught my attention.

Reviews

The Residence by Andrew Pyper (4 of 5 stars)
To Sleep in A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini (3.5 of 5 stars)

This Week’s Reads

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

Friday Face-Off: Detailed

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

~ a DETAILED cover

Mogsy’s Pick:

 The Legends of the First Empire Series by Michael J. Sullivan

This week’s topic was officially “A very busy cover full to bursting with detail,” but the moment I read the description only one book came into my head: Michael J. Sullivan’s Age of Myth. While I wouldn’t actually say it’s all that busy, it certainly does contain a lot of detail. To me, this is the kind of fantasy cover that  screams “EPIC!” The rest of the books also happen to feature covers are just as gorgeous, all created by artist Marc Simonetti, so this week I decided I would do a straight-up showcase of the covers in The Legends of the First Empire series rather than a traditional face-off. Enjoy!

Waiting on Wednesday 09/23/20

Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor (February 9, 2021 by Ballantine Books)

Another psychological thriller from C.J. Tudor? YES, YES, YES.

An unconventional vicar moves to a remote corner of the English countryside, only to discover a community haunted by death and disappearances both past and present–and intent on keeping its dark secrets–in this explosive, unsettling thriller from acclaimed author C. J. Tudor.

Welcome to Chapel Croft. Five hundred years ago, eight protestant martyrs were burned at the stake here. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared without a trace. And two months ago, the vicar of the local parish killed himself.

Reverend Jack Brooks, a single parent with a fourteen-year-old daughter and a heavy conscience, arrives in the village hoping to make a fresh start and find some peace. Instead, Jack finds a town mired in secrecy and a strange welcome package: an old exorcism kit and a note quoting scripture. “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed and hidden that will not be known.”

The more Jack and daughter Flo get acquainted with the town and its strange denizens, the deeper they are drawn into their rifts, mysteries, and suspicions. And when Flo is troubled by strange sightings in the old chapel, it becomes apparent that there are ghosts here that refuse to be laid to rest.

But uncovering the truth can be deadly in a village where everyone has something to protect, everyone has links with the village’s bloody past, and no one trusts an outsider.”

Book Review: The Residence by Andrew Pyper

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Residence by Andrew Pyper

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Skybound Books (September 1, 2020)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Although I was a big fan of Andrew Pyper’s The Damned, after a less-than-stellar experience with his next two novels, I was seriously on the verge of parting ways with the author once and for all. But then all of a sudden, The Residence came along and made me glad I decided to give his work one more try. Unlike The Homecoming or The Only Child, whose stories gravitated heavily towards mystery and thriller-driven themes, I felt this one was a return to classic horror with an emphasis on atmosphere building and creating the perfect mood for a good old-fashioned haunting.

Indeed, The Residence is a ghost story, but it is also a historical novel about one of American history’s most overlooked presidents. Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States, held office from 1853 to 1857 during a period of growing tensions between the North and the South—tensions that would eventually lead to the Civil War. However, his own personal life at the time was also fraught with emotional turmoil, as just weeks before his inauguration, he and his wife Jane witnessed the violent, gruesome death of their 11-year-old son Benny in a train accident. Losing their last surviving child was a blow from which Franklin and Jane never recovered, and their move into the White House was overshadowed by a pall of grief and sorrow.

Still, it didn’t take long for the couple to notice strange things happening within the halls of their new home. And it’s not just the sound of disembodied voices echoing through the walls or the mysterious noises emanating from the ceilings. Jane was the first to see the child, a young boy so much like Benny, and wonders if the prayers in the letters she wrote to her dead son have been answered. Deeply devout and spiritual, she had also called upon the services of the Fox Sisters, the most famous mediums of their day, to help investigate this shadowy apparition and other mysterious occurrences. In doing so though, they may have inadvertently summoned an unwelcome guest.

As you can imagine, The Residence is a broody horror whose inherent eeriness is only rivaled by its constant sadness and despair. Because of its subject matter, this one presented a challenge to read at times, especially the intro detailing the horrific death of 11-year-old Benny Pierce. Few things in this world are more heartbreaking and difficult for me to read about than a mother’s pain at losing her children, and it was clear from the narrative that Jane felt the last light of her happiness leave the world with her son.

Speaking of which, I had originally expected Franklin to be at the center of this tale, thus discovering Jane’s prominent part in it came as a bit of a surprise, her role at times even overshadowing that of her husband’s. Still, I was glad we got so much of the story from her point of view. While Franklin dealt with his grief by throwing himself into the work of running the country, Jane took the route of quiet seclusion, and I thought it was brilliant the way Pyper handled both their responses. There were also flashbacks to the couple’s past, including certain disquieting moments and experiences in Jane’s childhood which were particularly revealing.

Subsequently, this set the stage for the White House hauntings, and the gloominess that had been established earlier on also helped to accentuate the horror and tensions, making what happens next feel even more dreadful and disturbing. Indeed, one aspect of the writing I enjoyed was the handling of the horror elements, which the author applied sparingly and with a light touch, giving just enough to pique the reader’s imagination.

Suffice to say, I spent most of my time reading The Residence feeling like I was on pins and needles. Arguably, the book contains minimal value as a historical novel, but as a ghost story, it sure raises the gooseflesh and sends chills up the spine. After all, there have long been tales and reports told throughout history of specters and spirits haunting the halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Andrew Pyper has succeeded in writing a novel that supplements this body of mythology while offering additional insights into why these kinds of stories continue to captivate and enthrall us.

Audiobook Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (September 15, 2020)

Length: 32 hrs and 29 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Jennifer Hale

Best known for his YA fantasy Eragon, Christopher Paolini has taken a massive leap with To Sleep in A Sea of Stars, venturing into the world of adult sci-fi, and I won’t lie, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about the book. I believe this would be his first full-length novel in almost ten years following the end of The Inheritance Cycle, and I do emphasize full-length because this sucker is nearly 900 pages long in print, a whopping thirty-two and a half hours in audio. I mean, trying his hand at a completely different genre is one thing, but that’s also a pretty big ask from readers in terms of time and emotional commitment.

So how did it all work out? Well, I think the answer to that would depend on whether or not this is your first Paolini, and to a greater extent, how much experience you have with the science fiction genre. Speaking for myself, I’ve never read any of The Inheritance Cycle books so I went into this as a complete newcomer to the author’s work, and I have to say I enjoyed his storytelling style and writing. On the other hand though, I am also a voracious reader of sci-fi, and I couldn’t help but notice a lack of originality and depth to the plot and themes of the book, which encompasses and rehashes a lot of genre elements that will feel very familiar.

To Sleep in A Sea of Stars follows Kira, a xenobiologist stationed at a research facility on a far-flung moon with a team of her fellow scientists, which includes her boyfriend Alan. Upon the completion of their assignment, Kira and Alan have plans to get married and join a group of colonists sponsored by their employer to settle on a new world and start a new life together, but before those dreams could come to pass, disaster strikes. While doing a final run-through of the system before they leave, Kira notices the remnants of a strange alien relic on the planet and decides to investigate. At her touch, however, something ancient is awakened, causing the dust to swirl about her and cover her entire body in a mysterious black substance.

Kira loses consciousness, and when she wakes up again, much time has passed. She finds out that her team had rescued her, but they too are at a loss as to what happened. What’s clear though, is that the alien “suit” has become a part of her, and she can no more get rid of it than she can rid herself of her skin. To her astonishment, it is also sentient, forming a connection with her mind and calling itself “The Soft Blade.” Without revealing too much, all I’ll say is that what comes next doesn’t end well for Kira or her friends. Soon, our protagonist finds herself hunted, presumably by the alien species alerted by her discovery of the symbiont. Drawn into a galactic war, Kira has no choice but to take a stand and defend humanity from its enemies on all sides.

As I said, there’s nothing too groundbreaking about the novel’s premise, and after a promising start, the plot ultimately settles into a comfortable pace while remaining safe within well-trodden territory, becoming a rather pedestrian space opera. It pretty much has all the tropes, from alien invasions to out-of-control AI. Still, to his credit, Paolini does have some cool ideas which include interesting world-building concepts related to alien worlds and technology. Yet perhaps what’s most significant of all about To Sleep in A Sea of Stars is the fact that it is a labor of love. In the author’s afterword, he pours his heart out on the writing process behind the book, which was years in the making, and needless to say, that kind of enthusiasm is very catching especially when you can sense that passion for his creation in every word.

That being said, it would be a lie to claim that every single page of this doorstopper of a novel provided non-stop engagement. It helped that the focus of the story was mostly on Kira, removing the need to divide my attention between multiple perspectives, but that didn’t mean the plot didn’t meander or drag on at times. In fact, given the book’s length, it was probably inevitable. There’s no sugarcoating it; there was a lot of bloat, and sections where not much seemed to be happening. Paolini also tends to focus all of his attention on Kira and everything that is immediately around her, and so while I cared a lot for her as a character, I couldn’t really say the same about most of her supporting cast. Of course, there were exceptions, like Falconi, and I particularly enjoyed the slow-burn build-up to the romance between Kira and the roguish captain. Unfortunately though, many more secondary characters fell to the wayside, drifting in and out from the periphery without making much of an impact.

In sum, To Sleep in A Sea of Stars was my first book by Christopher Paolini, and maybe it’s because I listened to the audiobook, but I found that his writing style flowed well with an assessable quality that made it easy to get into. The problems I had were mainly in the storytelling and pacing—like an overreliance on timeworn sci-fi tropes, underdeveloped side characters and an uneven plot. And yet, although this was not a perfect novel, I was impressed with its scope and the sheer amount of love and effort the author obviously poured into it.

In the end, should you read this book? Well, I personally thought it was worth the read—or in my case, the listen. Given the novel’s length, I’m sure not everyone will feel the same way, but I especially enjoyed my time with the audiobook edition of To Sleep in A Sea of Stars. I confess I chose to review this format specifically for the narrator, the amazing Jennifer Hale, whom I adore for her voicework in video games. The end of the audiobook edition also includes a brief but fantastic interview between Paolini and Hale, which was very illuminating. For one thing, I did not know this was her first time narrating an audiobook, but considering her years of experience in voice acting, I was not surprised at the phenomenal quality of the performance that she delivered, and her heartfelt reading simply made the hours fly by because I could listen to Commander Shepard talk at me forever.

Bookshelf Roundup 09/19/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

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A small haul this week, but it’ll give me the much needed time to catch up! Here are the new books added to my library…

Received for Review

My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!

Huge thanks to Saga Press for a finished copy of The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson. A mix of science fiction, horror, and thrills, the synopsis of this one sounds so insane! Really looking forward to checking it out. And also thanks to Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for an ARC of These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong, described as a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai. Holy crap, this looks amazing!

After two weeks of massive hauls in the my digital review pile, only a couple new listening copies to add to the TBR this week, whew! But they’re both seriously awesome and exciting, starting with Battle Ground by Jim Butcher with thanks to Penguin Audio, as well as The Original by Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal with thanks to Recorded Books

Reviews

The End of Her by Shari Lapena (4 of 5 stars)
Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare (4 of 5 stars)

This Week’s Reads

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Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!:)

Friday Face-Off: Minimalist

Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

~ a MINIMALIST cover

Mogsy’s Pick:

 The Feed by Nick Clark Windo

We’ve all heard the cautionary tales involving social media, about the dangers of being constantly plugged in. Nick Clark Windo’s dark thriller debut takes this idea even further, imagining a future where people are permanently connected via implants so that access to everything is instantaneous as well as continuous. This is “the Feed” that the novel’s title is referring to—a new tech that humans have become so dependent on, and so addicted to, that society can no longer function without it. And so, when the Feed collapses one day, the results are predictably catastrophic. Some of the most basic skills and knowledge are lost to the digital abyss as everyone must now learn how to survive offline and fend for themselves in this Feed-less new world. Now the minimalism of some of these covers is starting to make a bit more sense.

From left to right:
William Morrow (2018) – Headline (2018)

Portuguese Edition (2018) – Serbian Edition (2018)

Winner:

My favorite this week was definitely the Portuguese edition because I just love that style of art!

But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Thriller Thursday: The End of Her by Shari Lapena

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The End of Her by Shari Lapena

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Mystery, Suspense

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books (July 30th, 2019)

Length: 335 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

The End of Her is my third Shari Lapena novel, and while I didn’t think it was her best, it nonetheless hooked me and fed my addiction for her stories. The plot follows several seemingly unrelated groups of characters, whose connections will be revealed later, but the main focus is on Stephanie and Patrick, a young couple from upstate New York who have just welcomed twin girls. Unfortunately, both babies are colicky, crying from evening until late into the night. A stay-at-home mom, Stephanie feels she is at her wit’s end, and Patrick, a partner at an architectural firm, also finds his work performance suffering due lack of sleep.

The last thing this poor couple needs is even more trouble, but that’s exactly what turns up in the form of Erica, the best friend of Patrick’s first wife Lindsey, who had died years before in a tragic accident. But now, Erica has tracked Patrick down with the intent to extort him, claiming to know what really happened. Unless he paid her, Erica has threatened to go to the police with the story that Patrick had in fact murdered his first wife, making it look like an accident. Knowing that Erica is an expert on manipulation, Patrick is terrified, having no doubt that she can make it sound convincing. Of course, it doesn’t help that he had put out a life insurance policy on Lindsey just before she died— or the damning fact that he and Erica had been sleeping together at the time. This last tidbit, Erica promises to tell his current wife if Patrick doesn’t pony up the cash, and remind Stephanie that “once a cheater, always a cheater.”

To head off the disaster, Patrick decides to come clean to Stephanie himself, preemptively telling her about the affair. However, on the death of his first wife, Patrick is adamant that it was an accident, insisting that it was all part of the lie made up by Erica to get at their money. Disappointed in her husband for his past involvement with this crazy woman, Stephanie is nonetheless supportive of him, believing his side of the story. But after refusing to pay, neither of them was prepared for Erica to actually follow through on her threat, getting the police to reopen Lindsey’s case. Suddenly, all of Patrick’s past indiscretions are laid bare for everyone to see, jeopardizing his career and the life he has built. Devastated that her husband has been keeping secrets from her, Stephanie’s trust in him is also eroding. She knows Patrick isn’t perfect and he’s made plenty of mistakes, but could he really be capable of murder?

The End of Her asks the same question that many other domestic suspense thrillers about married couples do: Just how well do you know your spouse? In Stephanie’s case, apparently not very well. An absolute terror of a woman storms into her life, blowing to hell the notion that she and Patrick have the perfect marriage. But while readers are meant to despise Erica with a passion, and to sympathize with the protagonists whose lives she is trying ruin, Shari Lapena isn’t about to let Patrick off the hook either. Sure, he may seem sincere, and come on, how many people can honestly claim they’ve not made any dumb choices in the past? And yet, as the lies start piling up, you can’t help but start to wonder. Either Patrick has got to be the unluckiest person in the world to be caught up in all these coincidences that make him look hella suspicious, or quite simply put, he is hiding something. And for all that Erica is an evil conniving bitch, she genuinely believes she is doing Stephanie a favor by outing Patrick as a murderer, so there appears to be a part of her not solely motivated by the money. In the end, readers are torn back and forth between whether Patrick might be guilty or innocent, and I loved the way the author kept this part of the mystery going until the very end.

In terms of criticisms though, the plotting was kind of a mess. That’s because Erica, disgusting piece of human scum that she is, is also running a racket on two other couples at the same time (related to the main storyline, but I won’t say how) and every so often there would be these other perspectives randomly inserted into the narrative. Certain developments also felt too convenient, not to mention the moments where I felt the characters were deliberately written to be the stupidest people on the planet in order for them to miss the obvious solutions dangling in front of their faces. And then there was that ending. Ugh. I’m sure in the author’s mind it was a fiendishly clever example of poetic justice meant to be her mic drop moment, but in reality, it just came across as horribly contrived, leaving me feeling cheated. After all, endings are so important when it comes to thrillers, and I hate to say it, but this one just didn’t stick the landing.

Still, right up to that point, this was a rocking good book. The End of Her may have had its hiccups, but nevertheless it kept me engaged and turning the pages through the whole thing. I’m still a huge fan of Shari Lapena, who remains on my must-read authors list, and I can’t wait to check out what she writes next.

Waiting on Wednesday 09/16/20

Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick

Forget Me Not by Alexandra Oliva (March 2, 2021 by Ballantine Books)

Described as a combination of genres including futuristic sci-fi, action adventure, and psychological thriller, Forget Me Not is the second novel by Alexandra Oliva since her impressive debut The Last One. Given the twists and surprises in that one, this should be interesting!

She was born for all the wrong reasons. But her search for the truth reveals answers she wishes she could forget in this suspenseful and deeply moving novel from the author of The Last One.

What if your past wasn’t what you thought?

As a child, Linda Russell was left to raise herself in a 20-acre walled-off property in rural Washington. The woods were her home, and for twelve years she lived oblivious to a stark and terrible truth: Her mother had birthed her only to replace another daughter who died in a tragic accident years before.

And then one day Linda witnesses something she wasn’t meant to see. Terrified and alone, she climbs the wall and abandons her home, but her escape becomes a different kind of trap when she is thrust into the modern world—a world for which she is not only entirely unprepared, but which is unprepared to accept her.

And you couldn’t see a future for yourself?

Years later, Linda is living in Seattle and immersed in technology intended to connect, but she has never felt more alone. Social media continually brings her past back to haunt her, and she is hounded by the society she is now forced to inhabit. But when Linda meets a fascinating new neighbor who introduces her to the potential and escapism of virtual reality, she begins to allow herself to hope for more.

What would it take to reclaim your life?

Then an unexplained fire at her infamous childhood home prompts Linda to return to the property for the first time since she was a girl, unleashing a chain of events that will not only endanger her life but challenge her understanding of family, memory, and the world itself.”

YA Weekend Audio: Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Young Adult

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: HarperAudio (August 25, 2020)

Length: 8 hrs and 43 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Clown in a Cornfield was certainly different from the usual run of YA I’ve been reading—a very good, exhilarating kind of different. But first, readers should be forewarned this one falls squarely in the “slasher horror” category, and that it can get pretty brutal. Because I was a child of the 90s, the closest association I could make with regards to the bloody gorefest I found in this book was to movies like Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer, which took my preteen years by storm. Needless to say, I was struck by a keen sense of nostalgia when it hit me the kind of story I was in for, and quite honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun.

As for what the book is about, I’d say it’s pretty self-explanatory. We’ve got creepy cornfields and killer clowns, and of course, a group of dumb teens to be used as murder fodder. The story stars Quinn Maybrook, who has come to the small, sleepy midwestern town of Kettle Springs with her dad to start a new life. It’s very different from the big city where she grew up, but it’s a change Quinn feels they need, after the tragic death of her mom. Little does she know though, Kettle Springs is not as peaceful as it seems. The town is slowly dying, as its major employer, the Baypen Corn Syrup Factory, has recently shut down, taking the town’s economy with it. A group of local high school kids, bored and irreverent, have also taken to harassing the residents of Kettle Springs by livestreaming their silly pranks and other dangerous antics to social media.

With no inkling of any of this, Quinn unwittingly falls into this clique of troublemakers, roped into their inner circle. And just like that, the “new girl” has also painted a target on her back, for a town already stretched to its limits can only take so much. Someone has finally gotten fed up with the problems caused by the raucous teens, deciding to take matters into their own hands. Dressed as Frendo, the Baypen clown mascot with the creepy mask and pork-pie hat, this homicidal maniac starts picking off the kids one by one, with the intent to rid Kettle Springs of their scourge once and for all.

What more can I say, but what you see here is what you get. The story is ridiculous, the premise laughable, and the body count is astronomical, but I’ll bet you already knew all that. For crying out loud, the book is called Clown in a Cornfield, and like I said, the story draws inspiration from the iconic slasher films of the 80s and 90s, though the setting itself has been modernized with the usual accoutrements like cellphones and social media to give it an updated feel. That said, it’s clear author Adam Cesare was going for that classic throwback vibe (I mean, just look at that cover), which without a doubt is the novel’s best and most notable aspect. At the end of the day, everybody knows it’s not really about the characters or the plot; it’s all about the experience, and because of that, the book was able to get away with a certain degree of cheesiness and a crap ton of genre tropes.

I also enjoyed the dynamic of the novel’s conflict. As the story gradually unfolded, it became obvious that there was a lot more going on beneath the surface besides a murderous rampage featuring a killer clown and his hapless victims. The truth, as it turns out, is more complex than that. Kettle Springs is a battleground for another hidden struggle, one between the older generation and the younger one, each trying to gain more influence and power in the culture war. It certainly helped that the adults were no more likeable or unpleasant than the teens, so you actually had reason to root for Quinn and the spoiled, snarky, moronic kids at her school and not cheer when Frendo starts going through them like a meat grinder.

Sigh…okay, to be fair, I guess they weren’t all bad. I liked Quinn, who was competent and smart, our level-headed anchor on this blood-soaked journey. My favorite, however, was Rust, a real salt-of-the-earth character whom I was glad the author didn’t turn into another walking cliché like they do in so many of those “big city girl moves to the backcountry where everyone she meets is a witless yokel” type stories. Heck, maybe even the adults had a tiny bit of depth, despite their motivations being as transparent (and flimsy) as cellophane. The point is though, you’re not really meant to get attached to any of these characters anyway when most of them are doomed to be slaughtered in the middle of a cornfield, so just sit back, break out the popcorn, and enjoy the ride.

I know I had a great time with Clown in a Cornfield, which pretty much met all of my expectations—something I haven’t been able to say for a lot of my reads lately, so that in itself was a refreshing change on top of the heady shot of nostalgia. This book is basically everything you could ever want from a retro-style horror with scenes could have come straight out of a teen slasher flick, just written out on paper. And as long as you understand that’s what you’re signing up for, I think you’ll find this one to be a fun, disturbing, and satisfying read.

Audiobook Comments: Maybe there’s a slight bit of overacting on narrator Jesse Vilinsky’s part, which might have made Quinn sound less capable than she was meant to, but overall I can’t say it affected my listening experience too badly, and I still enjoyed this audiobook very much.