Guest Post: “My Favourite Creepy Children” by Tim Major

Today we’re very happy to present a very special treat! Earlier this year saw the release of Hope Island by Tim Major, a novel described as a thought-provoking exploration of family, identity, and community. Nina is a workaholic mother struggling to keep everything in her life together after her partner Rob walks out on her, traveling to a beautiful but remote island with her teenage daughter Laurie in order to reconnect with family. But once there, they find a world full of mystery, strangeness…and creepy children. And on this subject, Tim has very graciously written us an awesome guest post that I hope you will find as fascinating and fun to read as I did! Hope you’ll enjoy it, and be sure to check out Hope Island, available now from Titan Books.

MY FAVORITE CREEPY CHILDREN
by Tim Major

My favourite creepy children are my own two sons. What I’m saying is that all children have the capacity to be creepy. When they were younger one or the other of them might shout in the night, and when I’d enter their room they might be standing upright in their cot, staring in the darkness, and then scream at me to leave.

My novel, Hope Island, is about an island community off the coast of Maine, where the children are behaving decidedly creepily. British mother Nina Scaife is only a visitor to the island, but once her daughter, Laurie, befriends the group of children, it’s inevitable that Nina will become embroiled.

I had fun writing these children. A kind of fun, anyway. The scratching of an itch. I worked through a bunch of my parental anxieties.

For this article I’d initially intended to present a survey of creepy children in fiction, particularly films. But last night I tried to watch the 1980 Troma film The Children, featuring atomic children who kill by hugging, and recently I attempted a viewing of the 1894 adaptation of Stephen King’s Children of the Corn, but couldn’t manage to sit through either of them, and I couldn’t even get hold of a copy of The Bad Seed (1956).

So this is not comprehensive list. Consciously or unconsciously, these are some the fictional children I (probably) drew upon while writing Hope Island.

The Midwich Cuckoos

I read John Wyndham’s 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos when I was about 11 years old, just after reading his The Day of the Triffids and H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. As with other Wyndham novels, there are two phenomenon vying for centre stage. At first, the mystery is that the entire population of the village of Midwich have fallen asleep spontaneously. The xenogenetic pregnancies, and the identical children produced, come later. Being identical, there’s little characterisation of the children of Midwich. Their creepiness is the product of this eerie similarity, synchronised movements, and their burgeoning ability to control minds. I saw the 1960 film adaptation, Village of the Damned, much later, but I like it very much. Less so the sequel, Children of the Damned (1964), but it still has its moments.

 

Who Can Kill a Child?

This 1976 Spanish horror film (original title ¿Quién puede matar a un niño?) featured in Mark Gatiss’ 2010 documentary series A History of Horror, which is where I learned about its existence. Retrospectively it was a huge influence on Hope Island, featuring as it does English tourists already out of their depth even before they encounter the inexplicably feral children. A couple of scenes from the film are particularly striking, including a high-angled shot of the children in a bay, which, now that I think about it, probably explains why the first dead body in my novel is discovered in similar circumstances.

 

Dark Season and other horrific children’s fiction

Still, in my opinion, Russell T Davies’ finest hour, the first story in this short-lived 1991 Children’s BBC serial featured schoolchildren brainwashed by computers gifted to them by a mysterious company. I was 11 at the time and, after reading The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross and Grinny by Nicholas Fisk (both in whole-class readthroughs – my primary-school teachers had no qualms about terrifying us at a young age), I was primed for paranoia and a deep mistrust of both adults and my fellow classmates. The first Doctor Who episode I ever saw was the first episode of Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988, in which an unbearably creepy schoolgirl who chants nursery rhymes as she skips through the playground of Coal Hill School, and then murders people indiscriminately. You could say I was predisposed to channel all these early experiences of fictional horror, and that it was only a matter of time before I wrote Hope Island.

 

The Omen

Probably my first experience of truly adult horror featuring creepy children. Actually, no – my first horror film was Poltergeist (1982), and little Carol Anne’s possession and “They’re here…” announcement is genuinely unnerving. But The Omen (1976) was a particular milestone, shifting my attitude to horror films from an ordeal to endure to an ordeal in which to delight. My sister and I started watching The Omen when it was screened in a late-night TV slot, and it was horrific, and then she decided to go to bed, leaving me alone and terrified. I don’t think I’ve really recovered. Now, it’s the scenes at the beginning of the film of Damien’s fifth birthday party that linger in my mind – his superficial cuteness, his malign influence on his doomed nanny. Only Don’t Look Now (1973) challenges The Omen for terror, though the creepiness of the young girl in that film is due to her absence.

 

The Lord of the Flies

It’s now clear to me that my personal cornerstones of creepy children in fiction relate to experiences during my school years. William Golding’s 1954 novel The Lord of the Flies was another book that I first read at school, around the age of 13. And it’s horrific, of course. What were my teachers thinking? While there are no supernatural goings-on here (—and are there supernatural goings-on in Hope Island, I hear you ask? There may well be), the cruelty of children towards fellow children is front and centre, and of course the island location is key to the scenario. And I’m sure that I wasn’t the first reader to fear for the safety of the British naval officers who arrive at the island at the end of the book to discover these feral, warlike children…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Major is a writer and editor from York, UK. His love of speculative fiction is the product of a childhood diet of classic Doctor Who episodes and an early encounter with Triffids.

Tim’s earlier novels and novellas include SnakeskinsYou Don’t Belong HereBlighters, Carus & Mitch, the YA novel Machineries of Mercy, the short story collection And the House Lights Dim, and a non-fiction book about the silent crime film, Les Vampires. His shorts have appeared in InterzoneNot One of Us and numerous anthologies including Best of British Science Fiction and The Best Horror of the Year.

Find out more about Tim at www.cosycatastrophes.com or on Twitter at @onasteamer.

Waiting on Wednesday 07/22/20

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

Red Widow by Alma Katsu (March 23, 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

I’ve only known author for her historical horror, so Red Widow sounds very different but interesting to me! Not to mention I’m really into thrillers these days.

“An exhilarating spy thriller about two women CIA agents who become intertwined around a threat to the Russia Division–one that’s coming from inside the agency.

Lyndsey Duncan worries her career with the CIA might be over. After lines are crossed with another intelligence agent during her most recent assignment, she is sent home to Washington on administrative leave. So when a former colleague, now Chief of the Russia Division, recruits her for an internal investigation, she jumps at the chance to prove herself once more. Lyndsey was once a top handler in the Moscow Field Station, known as the “human lie detector” and praised for recruiting some of the most senior Russian officials. But now, three Russian assets have been discovered–including one of her own–and the CIA is convinced there’s a mole in the department. With years of work in question, and lives on the line, Lyndsey is thrown back into life at the agency, only this time tracing the steps of those closest to her.

Meanwhile, fellow agent Theresa Warner can’t avoid the spotlight. She is the infamous “Red Widow,” the wife of a former director killed in the field under mysterious circumstances. With her husband’s legacy shadowing her every move, Theresa is a fixture of the Russia Division, and as she and Lyndsey strike up an unusual friendship, her knowledge proves invaluable. But as Lyndsey uncovers a surprising connection to Theresa that could answer all of her questions, she exposes a terrifying web of secrets within the department, if only she is willing to unravel it…”

2020 Mid Year Book Freak Out Tag/Mid-Year Roundup

I’m not really in the habit of doing book tags (too many reviews to write, too little time!) but for this one I decided to make an exception. For one thing, I think it serve as a great jumping off point for a mid-year roundup post, featuring some pretty interesting categories that are fun to think about.

So here we go!

Best Books I’ve Read So Far

Oof, this is a tough one. I’m limiting each category to three books, so I’ve narrowed it down to these…

Best Sequels I’ve Read So Far

…and good thing I can spread the love by giving sequels their own category!

New Releases I Haven’t Read (But Want To)

Ha, take your pick from my huuuuge list of new books I want to read but haven’t gotten to yet! So I’m just going to pull the top three from the past month or so.

Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of the Year

Another tough category! Using the UK Rhythm of War cover as a placeholder until Tor releases theirs.

Biggest Disappointments

This is a list I never like to make, but I can’t deny there were more than few books this year that didn’t live up to my expectations.

Biggest Surprises

On the flip side, these are some of the books I didn’t have many expectations for, but they ended up blowing me away!

 

Favorite New Authors

Some more authors to add to my must-read list.

Favorite Characters

Since I don’t do fictional crushes, I’ve changed these next two questions to favorite characters/least favorite characters. Favorite new characters: Roberto from Cries From the Lost Island, and Noemí Taboada from Mexican Gothic, Alessandra from The Shadows Between Us.

Least Favorite Characters

Least favorite new characters: Jelt from Deeplight, Frances from The Age of Witches, and Audrey from Follow Me (great book, but the protagonist was an annoying idiot).

Saddest/Emotionally Heavy Books

This category was originally “Books The Made Me Cry” but since nothing has met the requirement so far this year, I modified it slightly.

Authors With a Great Sense of Humor

Again, this category was modified from “Books That Made Me Happy” because I don’t think anything this year I’ve read can be classified pure “happy happy joy joy” books. But the following authors have a great sense of humor, and you see a lot of that energy transferred to their books as well.

Media Tie-Ins/Books I’d Love To See Made Into Movies

This category is originally “Best Book To Film Adaptation”, but I don’t get to watch TV or go to the movies as much as I would like to these days…but I do read a crap ton of media tie-ins and there are quite a few books I’d like to see adapted.

Favorite Post

Hmm, I mostly write reviews on this blog, along with the odd meme and update, so I don’t know if I really have a favorite post. I did, however, have a lot of fun putting together those “A-Z” type lists! Here’s Favorite Books A-Z, Favorite Science Fiction A-Z for Sci-Fi Month, and also Top Ten Tuesday: One to Ten!

Prettiest Books I Received This Year

Feast your eyes!

Books I Need to Read By the End of the Year

A lot! Too many to name here, really. But if you want to see a complete list of 2020 must-read releases I’ve got my eye on, you can always check out my “Most Anticipated” posts. Here’s the one from January to March, the one from April to June, and the one from July to September. I do plan on trying to read most of them! 😛

Overall it’s been a good first half of 2020, considering. I’m glad I got to highlight a lot of books!

Audiobook Review: Obliteration by James S. Murray with Darren Wearmouth

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

Obliteration by James S. Murray with Darren Wearmouth

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Horror

Series: Book 3 of Awakened

Publisher: HarperAudio (June 23, 2020)

Length: 9 hrs and 12 mins

Author Information: James S. Murray | Darren Wearmouth

Narrator: James S. Murray

Although I’m glad I got to finish the Awakened trilogy, it is unfortunate to see the quality go down with each book. To be fair, the authors probably weren’t aiming for anything more than a mindless action-packed thriller, but still, when you compare the first book with Obliteration, the differences between the two are quite telling. Gone is any attempt at creating suspense or atmosphere, as the focus shifts entirely to cramming as much action into as little time possible.

In terms of the plot, Obliteration picks up shortly after the end of The Brink. To get the most out of it, you do have to be caught up with the previous books, so be aware there may be possible spoilers in this review for what came before. As the story begins, our big baddie Albert Van Ness has been stopped and is currently serving time in a high-security prison for his murderous crimes against humanity. It was only thanks to the efforts of Tom Cafferty that millions more did not die in the name of Van Ness’ fanatical crusade against the ancient bloodthirsty creatures that have emerged from their underground nests. The world can finally catch its breath and begin rebuilding, now that it’s safe from both monster attacks and total nuclear annihilation by a madman.

But is it really over? Tom isn’t so sure. He knows there are more creature nests still out there, and he won’t rest until he finds and destroys them all. On his latest mission with his team out in the Nevada desert though, he is shocked to arrive on the scene of a purported creature stronghold to find it completely empty. Realizing too late what it means, Tom races back up to the surface to find the world in chaos. Across the globe, cities are being overrun by the monsters who have emerged from their lairs to launch a coordinated attack all at once, killing everything in their path. Within moments, the United States loses every single one of its major urban centers, including Washington DC. Left with no choice, the President orders Tom to turn to his archnemesis, Albert Van Ness. He may be an evil maniac, but Van Ness has also dedicated his entire life to annihilating these creatures, and if anyone knows what to do now, it would be him.

This was a fun book, perfect for a bit of escapism. And had I not known the authors are capable of so much more, that would have been perfectly fine. Except I have read this series starting from Awakened, and the difference going to this one reminds me of when movies get straight-to-TV sequels. While Obliteration still delivers rapid-fire cinematic action, it does smack of going through the motions. The plot is all flash and no substance, all bloodbath and no subtlety. An army of super-soldiers just appearing out of nowhere? Hey, whatever, it’s not like the audience actually cares about explanations!

Well, except I kind of care. At the very least, I wanted more development of these characters I’ve spent three books following. What we get is pretty shallow at best, though, and it’s even more lacking for the new POVs presented. I’m also disappointed that the atmosphere was a casualty in the trade-off for more action and thrills. Looking back at my review for Awakened, I praised the book for giving me serious flashbacks to the Alien movies, as well as for its claustrophobia-inducing intensity and edge-of-your-seat suspense. That’s all been thrown to the wayside apparently, and it’s actually been happening since The Brink, sad to say.

Overall, I guess there’s something to be said about the entertainment value in a book like Obliteration, but can’t say I really enjoyed myself all that much. That said, I’m glad I saw this series through to the end, even if I can’t it remaining in my memory too long. It’s a shame, because the first book started out quite strong, but unfortunately the rest of the trilogy just wasn’t able to continue the same levels of interest or momentum.

Audiobook Comments: To his credit, James “Murr” Murray once again did a great job narrating his own book. He’s clearly experienced from his TV work, and being intimately familiar with the story and characters also helped. While I wasn’t too crazy about the book itself, I thought the narration and audio production values were well done.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Awakened (Book 1)
Review of The Brink (Book 2)

Audiobook Review: Night Train by David Quantick

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

Night Train by David Quantick

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Mystery

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing

Length: 8 hrs and 50 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Eilidh Beaton

It’s interesting that on the cover of this one there is a blurb from Neil Gaiman, because Night Train actually feels like a story Gaiman could have written and that his fans would like. And I definitely mean that as a compliment.

However, despite the wildly imaginative concepts in this darkly eccentric horror, the style was simply not for me. To put it plainly, this book was just straight-up weird. So weird, I wouldn’t even know how I would go about summarizing the story, but here goes nothing. As the novel opens, a young woman wakes up on a train surrounded by corpses. She can’t remember who she is or how she got there, but decides to adopt the name Garland based on the name patch stitched to the uniform-like clothing she finds herself wearing.

As the train continues to hurtle through a nightmarish alien landscape, Garland soon discovers the presence of other passengers, who are just as frightened and confused as she is. As a group, they all decide to work together to make sense of their situation, beginning their exploration of the train by going from car to car. But instead of answers, they only find more strangeness, like bizarre creatures and pocket worlds of surreal and impossible environments. There is no rhyme or reason to the things they experience, as everything on their mysterious train seems to defy the laws of the real world.

I think I realized fairly early on that Night Train wasn’t for me, but I persisted anyway, hoping the story would start making sense. And in a very surface-level way, a rough framework of a plot did begin emerging after a certain point, but unfortunately, the disjointed and abstract structure of the book didn’t change one bit. Needless to say, I felt untethered and lost amidst all this ambiguity, and I struggled as a result.

That said, I will give this book some major points for humor, which was an element I did not expect in this strange dark tale. Clearly, the author used the laughs to emphasize the surrealism of it all, and I have to say he did with great effect. We mostly have the characters to thank for this, as well as the crackling dynamics that resulted from throwing together a group of confused strangers on a train from hell. The characters themselves were well-written, even the couple of those with personalities that were deliberately exaggerated or over-the-top. It made for some hilarious dialogue and lighter moments that left me howling.

But while the humor might have alleviated some of the frustration I felt from the confusing storyline, I couldn’t say I really enjoyed the book overall. In addition to the muddled plot, the overall mystery also dragged somewhat, ironically because the author kept ramping up the chaos by dropping our characters into increasingly crazy and nonsensical situations without giving up any solid answers. Bottom line, I can only put up with being left in the dark and going in circles for so long until I begin to lose my shit.

Ultimately, Night Train was not the book I expected, though I’m glad I plowed on if nothing else to experience the humor. But as a story, it simply felt too fragmented and confusing, leaving me lost for most of the time. That being said, I’m sure the book will find an audience. If you’re a fan of postmodern dark horror with a good dose of the weird and surreal, you may enjoy this.

Audiobook Comments: The narrator has a rather strong accent, one which made me listen the audio of Night Train on a slower speed setting than normal, at least until I could get used to her voice and pronunciations. But other than that, I found no issues with narration or production, had a good listen.

Bookshelf Roundup 07/18/20: 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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Hey everyone, I hope you’re all having a great summer and staying safe! Before I continue on to my usual roundup, I actually have a few updates. Tomorrow I’ll be off on a family trip and I have no idea if I’ll have reliable internet or time to get online, so for the next week I probably won’t be as regular in visiting your blogs or replying to comments. That said, I’ve left a bunch of posts scheduled in advance so the blog will still have content, but next Saturday might be roundup-less depending on when I get back. Either way, I look forward to catching up on everything upon my return!

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!

I think a lot of publishers are resuming their regular mailings again, because activity in my mailbox has been picking up. With thanks to Saga Press, I received a finished copy of Savage Legion by Matt Wallace. I’ve read and enjoyed some of his Sin du Jour novellas, which makes me super excited for this! The publisher also sent along this beautiful hardcover of Live to Tell the Tale by Keith Ammann, who also authored The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, a compilation of villainous battle plans from his Dungeons & Dragons blog. This one can be seen as the players’ answer to that, providing them the tools they need to fight back!

Next, I’d also like to thank Orbit Books for sending me a finished copy of Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler. I started this one a few days ago, and even though reading has kind of stalled, I’m actually enjoying it a lot. The epic fantasy genre being what it is though, the story is just really rich and dense, and unfortunately my concentration this week has been all over the place. I’ve been alternating in some quicker reads in the meantime, but will definitely be done with this one by the end of the month and will hopefully have a review up soon after.

My thanks also to Subterranean Press, from whom I received a box earlier in the week containing these lovely gems. Dying With Her Cheer Pants On by Seanan McGuire sounds like a total blast, a collection of stories about the physical challenges and dangers of cheerleading starring the supernatural members of the Fighting Pumpkins squad. Next is The Best of Michael Marshall Smith, a mammoth anthology containing the author’s classic tales as well as his previously uncollected fiction. And finally, Comes A Pale Rider by Caitlín R. Kiernan is the second collection of short stories featuring Dancy Flammarion, considered to be one of the author’s most enduring creations. Readers will follow the character across the country as she continues to battle monsters in her never-ending holy war against darkness and evil.

Some exciting new audiobooks in this digital haul this week. With thanks to Harper Audio, I received listening copies of Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay and The Bright Lands by John Fram. My TBR has certainly been seeing an influx of horror titles lately!

From Simon & Schuster Audio, I also received a review copy of Every Sky A Grave by Jay Posey. It’s been years since I read his book Three, and I’m so excited to dive into his newest project.

I was also thrilled to receive a listening copy of Incursion by Mitchell Hogan. Huge thanks to the author for offering me the opportunity! This book is also a contestant in this year’s SPFBO, so I’ve been seeing it around a lot and wanting to check it out!

Reviews

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters (4.5 of 5 stars)
Malorie by Josh Malerman (4 of 5 stars)
Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim (4 of 5 stars)
The Half-Sister by Sandie Jones (3.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

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: Holding An Object

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:

HOLDING AN OBJECT

Mogsy’s Pick:

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies might not have completely won over my heart, but I do have to give it credit for a most intriguing opening line: “I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me,” begins our protagonist Jovan, whose family the Oromanis have long been entrusted to serve a sacred duty. Their job can be likened to that of Secret Service, keeping Chancellor Caslav and his nephew Tain safe from unseen threats, though recognizing signs of poison is their specialty. From a young age, both Jovan and his sister Kalina have been trained by their uncle, the spymaster Etan, to identify all kinds of harmful substances, which sometimes involved being poisoned themselves in order to learn and become inured to their effects. But one day, the unthinkable happens. Caslav falls to a powerful poison, one that is unknown even to Jovan and his extensive records of poisonous substances. Tain is called upon to take up his uncle’s mantle, despite the heir being young and untried. The Oromani siblings subsequently pledge to become his protectors, all three of them stepping dutifully into their new roles.

Only two covers to go head-to-head today, but both feature an object being held:

Tor Books (2018) vs. Bantam Press (2018)

Winner:

I’m going with the Bantam Press edition for this one. The Tor edition is nice too, but it’s also pretty generic, as “holding a weapon” covers are pretty ubiquitous in fantasy. In my opinion, the Bantam Press cover also has more to do with the story, what with the focus on poisons and all, plus the colors are just so rich and gorgeous I can’t help but be drawn to it.

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

 

Thriller Thursday Audio: The Half-Sister by Sandie Jones

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

The Half-Sister by Sandie Jones

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

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (June 16, 2020)

Length: 10 hrs and 12 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Kristin Atherton

Sure, The Half-Sister might feel more like a family drama with some mystery and excitement rather than a true psychological thriller, but I still had a great time with it. In fact, Despite it being less pulse-pounding and breathtaking as the last Sandie Jones novel I read (The First Mistake), I might have actually enjoyed this one more, because nothing makes me turn the pages than juicy lies, gossip, and scandal.

The story alternates between the POVs of two sisters, Kate and Lauren. Older by a couple years, Lauren is more down-to-earth, introverted, and practical—even more so ever since getting married and having three kids. In contrast, Kate is bolder, more hot-headed and ambitious, which has served her well in her career as an investigative reporter always hunting for the next big story. However, Kate also has a secret pain: for years now, she and her husband Matt have been desperately trying to have a baby, but without success. She envies her sister and her big happy family. Despite her lucrative job and glamorous life, Kate would give it all up if it meant being able to hold her own child in her arms.

But what Kate doesn’t know, is that that her sister is actually deeply unhappy. Lauren is married to Simon, a total cad who has become more abusive and controlling as the years go by. She had to put her own career on hold in order to take care of their three children, and wishes her life was as carefree and glitzy as Kate’s. Needless to say, the sisters don’t really have the best relationship. In fact, they haven’t been close since they were children, and the gulf has only widened since their father Harry died a few months ago. Kate, who was especially close to him, took his death hard. Still, the two sisters decided to continue keeping the tradition of meeting at their mom’s house every Sunday for dinner. Except during their most recent get-together, their meal was interrupted by an unexpected visitor. A young woman, introducing herself as Jess, claims to be Harry’s daughter and Lauren and Kate’s half-sister. Plus, she insists she has the DNA evidence to prove it.

Ever loyal to their father, Kate refuses to believe he could have fathered a secret child outside of his marriage. She thinks Jess must be mistaken, or trying to pull some scam on them. But Lauren, who doesn’t remember Harry through rose-colored glasses like her sister does, actually thinks it could be possible. While she might not have been as close to their father, Lauren knew things about him no one else did—and what he was capable of.

Although I enjoyed this one, I can see it not working out for a lot of thriller fans. Truth be told, calling it a thriller might even be a stretch. The pacing wasn’t fast (though to be fair, it wasn’t slow either) and I think the overall mystery was a bit forced, considering the matter could have been put to rest with a simple solution. The characters’ actions also felt contrived, written to create conflict rather than to reflect their actual personalities.

Still, the book was fun to read. And fast, despite sections of repetitiveness watching Kate and Lauren go back and forth on what to do about Jess. It’s a mystery that sucked me in as well, I confess. Kate is an especially talented sleuth, putting her investigative journalism skills to good use digging up anything she can find on the woman claiming to be her half-sister. She’s definitely the stronger of our two POVs, both in terms of personality and her storyline. In contrast, most of the interest in Lauren’s POV felt manufactured, like her chance encounter with an old flame, or her surreptitious outings with Jess.

But one thing I will say for the story is that it ended well. While it may have been sudden, for what the resolution required, I think it wrapped up with just the right tone. Sorry for being vague, but that’s the nature of the genre.

In conclusion, The Half-Sister is not without its flaws, but it did its job. If what you’re looking for is true thriller, it might not be as satisfying, but as a gripping tale about one family coming to terms with its dark history of secrets and lies, it kept me entertained.

Waiting on Wednesday 07/15/20

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

Persephone Station by Stina Leicht (January 5, 2021 by Gallery/Saga Press)

All right, I’ll admit it, I’m a bit obsessed with anything to do with The Mandalorian, so when I saw the blurb for this I automatically took notice. And I mean, who doesn’t love a space Western? I’ve also been curious about Leicht’s work for a long time, so maybe I’ll finally be able to give her a try.

“Hugo award–nominated author Stina Leicht has created a take on space opera for fans of The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop in this high-stakes adventure.

Persephone Station, a seemingly backwater planet that has largely been ignored by the United Republic of Worlds becomes the focus for the Serrao-Orlov Corporation as the planet has a few secrets the corporation tenaciously wants to exploit.

Rosie–owner of Monk’s Bar, in the corporate town of West Brynner, caters to wannabe criminals and rich Earther tourists, of a sort, at the front bar. However, exactly two types of people drank at Monk’s back bar: members of a rather exclusive criminal class and those who sought to employ them.

Angel–ex-marine and head of a semi-organized band of beneficent criminals, wayward assassins, and washed up mercenaries with a penchant for doing the honorable thing is asked to perform a job for Rosie. What this job reveals will effect Persephone and put Angel and her squad up against an army. Despite the odds, they are rearing for a fight with the Serrao-Orlov Corporation. For Angel, she knows that once honor is lost, there is no regaining it. That doesn’t mean she can’t damned well try.”

Audiobook Review: The Dead Girl’s Club by Damien Angelica Walters

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

The Dead Girl’s Club by Damien Angelica Walters

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tantor Audio (June 30, 2020)

Length: 10 hrs and 38 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I know, I know, I should have read this book a long time ago, but it had fallen off my radar and only popped back on it recently when the audiobook was released. And I’m so glad! Thinking it was going to be your typical run-of-the-mill thriller suspense mystery, I picked up The Dead Girls Club for some reliable entertainment but discovered it to be about so much more.

Like so many other novels of its kind that I’ve read lately, the story is told via dual timelines. In the present, our protagonist Heather Cole has a successful career helping troubled teens and is happily married to the love of her life. But one day, she receives a mysterious package that suddenly brings all the chilling memories of her past rushing back. Inside the innocuous envelope is an item she knows well from her childhood: a cheap metal half-heart pendant friendship necklace which used to hang around the neck of her best friend Becca, and that was also where Heather saw it last—the day the other girl died, almost thirty years ago. Unnerved, Heather tries to convince herself that it must be some sick prank. Might it even be possible the perpetrator is Becca’s mother, who was convicted for murdering her daughter? The woman did recently get released from prison, after all. Surely, no one else but Heather knows what really happened that night?

In the second timeline, we find out exactly what happened to Heather and Becca that fateful summer when they were both twelve years old. Following them and two other friends, Gia and Rachel, who together made up the Dead Girls Club—so named because the four of them would get together every week in an abandoned old house to share stories about true crime and serial killers—we flash back to 1991, when everything between them was still easy and carefree. But the trouble begins when Becca shows up to a meeting one day wanting to tell a very different kind of story. Through her reading, Becca claims to have found a record of a woman known as the Red Lady, executed centuries ago by her village on suspicion of witchcraft. Fascinated, the other girls demand to know more, thinking it is just a story, but Becca seems to believe the Red Lady was real, and not only that, her spirit also still haunts the real world and speaks to those who want to make contact. As Becca sinks deeper into her obsession, a crack develops between her and Heather’s friendship, becoming wider by the day as the stories about the Red Lady become increasingly more disturbing, growing wildly out of hand.

What began as a suspenseful mystery with eerie undertones ultimately transformed into full-blown horror as things got underway. And yet, I think the book did a good job maintaining that hybrid balance, featuring plenty of thrills along with the creeping supernatural dread. It’s hard to decide which timeline I enjoyed more; they both brought their strengths to the plot, keeping momentum and interest high as we alternated between the two threads. In the present, Heather is stricken with fear and paranoia as the ominous arrival of the friendship necklace is followed by other surprises in the mail, along with signs that she may be being stalked. Gradually, readers also get to learn the reason for Heather’s anxiety, as her past unfolds the “Then” timeline—revealing that our protagonist isn’t exactly the innocent victim she appeared to be. The paranormal element is also stronger in this past timeline, making you question what’s real and what’s not. It doesn’t help that Becca likes to play mind tricks, getting into the other girls’ heads. In addition, Heather is not the most reliable of narrators, especially in the present, where it is unclear if she is experiencing fugue states and her memory is repeatedly questioned.

Unfortunately, this resulted in some holes in the story that didn’t make sense—not big ones, but they were enough to prevent the book from getting the full five stars. Ironically, I think the author may have tried too hard to definitively tie everything together with explanations when leaving some vagaries out there may have been more advantageous, allowing readers to use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions.

However, this doesn’t change my positive impression of Damien Angelica Walters. While I’ve had her books on my TBR for ages, this is the first time I’ve actually read her work. And I will say right now, it will most definitely not be the last. I just love her style and the way her prose hooks you from the very start. And on a personal note, I also discovered while reading this book that she is a local author, from the way she incorporated the areas of central and northeast Maryland in her setting. I had a chuckle at the way she described the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, because it is just so darn true, and it also felt pretty neat to recognize a lot of the cities and towns mentioned, being able to say, “Hey, I know where she’s talking about” as the character traveled from place to place.

Overall, I’m excited to finally say I’ve read Damien Angelica Walters, considering how often her horror has been recommended to me and how long I’ve had her work on my reading list. The Dead Girls Club ended up being a screaming good time and an absolute spine-tingling joy to read!

Audiobook Comments: Fantastic performance by Devon Sorvari, who gave Heather a realistic down-to-earth voice while still keeping a high level of tension in the tone of her narration, keeping me on my toes at all times.