#ScifiMonth Friday Face-Off: Red

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:

“Red skies at night”
~ a cover that is RED

The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson

Friday Face-Off is back for Sci-Fi Month and finding a red cover that fit the theme was actually more challenging than I thought! But this week, let’s just keep things simple with the sci-fi horror The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson, published by Saga Press. This is the hardcover edition versus the paperback:

Saga Press Hardcover (2020) vs. Paperback (2021)


This is actually the first time I’ve seen the paperback edition, and I think it’s awesome! Definitely more interesting than the hardcover edition, which is bold but lacking in the detailed and complex imagery of the paperback version. The silhouettes of the characters really draw the eye, not to mention how the title font also calls to mind Stranger Things.

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

#ScifiMonth Book Review: Wrath by Sharon Moalem and Daniel Kraus

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

Wrath by Sharon Moalem and Daniel Kraus

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Union Square Co.

Length: 320 pages

Author Information: Sharon Moalem | Daniel Kraus

Told in a similar vein to books by Michael Crichton or technothrillers that feel like they can be made into summer blockbusters, Sharon Moalem and Daniel Kraus’ rat-infested collaboration Wrath is a contemplation of the ethics behind animal testing as well as the unquenchable thirst for science advancement—and what happens when everything goes wrong.

In the not-so-distant future, a popular biotech company is changing the way we own pets. After the successful introduction of its glow-in-the-dark goldfish, Edited Pets had promised to expand its ever-growing menagerie of genetically modified pets available to the public, but after a string of disastrous new launches, founder and CEO Noah is desperate for a win. His next big idea? Sammy. This genetically altered rat is engineered to be pocket-sized, extremely adorable, and gifted with the intelligence to be able to understand and interact with humans.

Noah has poured nearly all his company’s resources into developing Sammy, hoping to unveil the rat at an upcoming world pet expo. Unfortunately, his genetics team has recently run into a snag. None of his scientists have been able to solve the problem of Sammy’s rapidly growing brain and the failure of his tiny rodent skull to accommodate it. As a result, all early iterations of Sammy have been met with painful, premature deaths before they could be fully grown.

The Sammy project would appear to be over before it has even begun. That is, until Noah’s friend and lead scientist Sienna comes up with a brilliant plan to overcome their obstacles. It’s not a permanent solution by any means, but at least it will allow Sammy to debut at the pet expo. What no one expected, however, was just how intelligent their creation as become—intelligent enough, for example, to devise an escape plan from his confinement to the lab into the outside world, where his biological drive to breed will put the entire human race under threat of being overcome by a vengeful army of rats just like him.

First things first: you’re going to have a hard time getting through this novel if you have a fear of rats, but also if you’re disturbed by harsh depictions of animal experimentation and the resulting injuries and deaths. Noah and Sienna are both POV characters, but the story does not treat them kindly, the former being the archetypal smug tech CEO elitist whose only concern is his reputation and bottom line, the latter being so caught up in her own good intentions that she loses sight of the dangers of playing god. It’s almost enough to make you sympathize with Sammy, the rat. Believe it or not, he gets his own POV too, and even though he’s the one wreaking all the havoc, it’s hard to fault this poor abused little creature who was an innocent in all this until the dastardly humans decided to mess with his genes.

What I also liked about Wrath is how accessible it was. You don’t need to be a science geek to understand what Noah and his team at Edited Pets was trying to do, and the descriptions of the genetic modifications process were just detailed enough without being overly mired in the techno lingo. That said, the science behind the premise is going to feel a bit far-fetched, but that’s the reality with a book like this where there’s always an expectation that things will get a little over-the-top. Characterization isn’t exactly a priority either, as the plotline places more emphasis on keeping up the action and a snappy pace, much like a screenplay of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Still, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and go with the flow, enjoying Wrath shouldn’t be a problem. Just as long as you don’t have musophobia, or this sci-fi thriller is going to feel a lot more like horror.

#ScifiMonth Waiting on Wednesday 11/02/2022

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

Rubicon by J.S. Dewes (March 28, 2023 by Tor Books)

“J. S. Dewes, author of The Last Watch and The Exiled Fleet, returns with a new science fiction space opera that melds elements of Scalzi’s Old Man’s War with Edge of Tomorrow.

Sergeant Adriene Valero wants to die.

She can’t.

After enduring a traumatic resurrection for the ninety-sixth time, Valero is reassigned to a special forces unit and outfitted with a cutting-edge virtual intelligence aid. They could turn the tide in the war against intelligent machines dedicated to the assimilation, or destruction, of humanity.

When her VI suddenly achieves sentience, Valero is drawn into the machinations of an enigmatic major who’s hell-bent on ending the war—by any means necessary.”

*  All SciFi Month artwork courtesy of Simon Fetscher.

Get Ready for #SciFiMonth 2022!

It’s that time of the year again! November is upon us, which means so is Sci-Fi Month! Hosted by Lisa of Dear Geek Place and imyril of There’s Always Room For One More, the event enters its tenth year in 2022 and once more The BiblioSanctum will be participating.

Starting today, we’ll be joining other bloggers, authors, and readers in a month-long celebration of everything science fiction. But that doesn’t mean we’ll stop covering all our other favorite genres! You will most definitely continue to see our usual reviews, weekly memes and features, spotlights, and all that other fun stuff. The only difference is, some of our reviews and posts will branch off from the usual to encompass the various mediums of science fiction.

The organizers have also arranged for some pretty exciting features like giveaways, readalongs, and a whole lot of other fun activities. So if this is something you’re interested in taking part of, head on over to the Google form to sign up.

Also, the great thing about Sci-Fi Month is that it’s a casual, low-pressure event. It has no deadlines, no specific challenges or quotas to meet–just a month of fun to enjoy, discuss, and share everything science fiction. Sci-Fi Month is whatever you make it, and you are welcome to join anytime.

As for my plans, I’ll most likely be playing things by ear. Unlike the last couple of years though, I have made a reading list already, and have even gotten started on a few of these books! Here’s what I hope to be covering this month, a mix of new releases and catch-up titles from earlier this year:

I’ll also be doing my best to keep up my regular features like Waiting on Wednesdays and keep them sci-fi themed, and who knows, I may even get some time to tackle an event challenge or two! Just look for the posts tagged with “SciFi November” or containing the SciFi Month images and hashtags to see how I’m getting involved.

So what are you waiting for? Grab the #SciFiMonth banner (created by artist Simon Fetscher) and come explore the wonders of science fiction with us! Also be sure to follow the event on Twitter @SciFiMonth so you won’t miss a thing. In the meantime, feel free to let us know:

How long have you been a fan of science fiction?

Why do you like sci-fi and what is your favorite thing about it?

What are your favorite books/games/films/TV shows in the genre?

What are your plans for Sci-Fi Month?

Audiobook Review: Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi

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

Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi

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

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tantor Audio (October 11, 2022)

Length: 12 hrs 58 min

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Novellas and short stories are not my preferred format so I don’t often read them, but there are some authors for whom I will make an exception, and one of them is Ronald Malfi. Although I am still somewhat new to his work, his books Come With Me and Black Mouth have already rocketed up my list of favorite horror novels, and when I found out about Ghostwritten—anthology or not—I knew I had to read it.

This collection contains four separate self-contained stories, but they all take place in the same shared world and are united by the common theme of books, storytelling, and the written word!

The Skin of Her Teeth

This opening story was my second favorite of the collection. It begins with talent agent sitting down with her colleague to discuss one of her screenwriter clients who has gone MIA. Davis McElroy had been tapped to adapt a bestselling book for the big screen, but it seems he hasn’t been heard from in weeks. With deadlines looming, our agent decides to go check up on him and is shocked by what she finds. There’s a reason why no screenwriter has ever successfully adapted this particular novel and those who’ve attempted it have all met disturbing fates.

The tone of this one gradually gets darker and more ominous as it progresses, a horror story through and through. Still, as an avid reader and a booklover, I was tickled pink by the themes raised by this tale. We’ve all heard the saying, a good story sometimes takes on a life of its own. Or how about, an author pours his or her entire heart and soul into writing a book? The Skin of Her Teeth takes these idea to a whole new level.

The Dark Brothers’ Last Ride

This one was riveting but also downright weird, which might explain why I enjoyed it but didn’t love it. It follows two brothers, Danny and Tommy, who are part of a smuggling operation. For their latest job, they are instructed to deliver a book to a very particular buyer whose demands are strange but simple: don’t touch the book, and don’t talk to anyone about what they’re transporting. The brothers are also given a time-consuming and circuitous route to their destination, but they’re told it’s of the utmost importance not to stray from this specific path.

Needless to say, someone breaks the rules, leading to fatal results. This story started out strong but eventually devolved into a fever dream of bizarreness. Stylistically this story just wasn’t for me, but others may enjoy it more.

This Book Belongs to Olo

For me, this one ranked about the same as the previous story. At the heart of this tale is boy named Olo, who isn’t like the other neighborhood kids. The child of two writers, he lives in an imposing mansion where he often plays alone, talking to mannequins on the front lawn and running around in a creepy clown mask. He’s also great with papercrafts, creating a pop-up book that replicates the labyrinthine house in which he lives. Then one day, he makes his way down to the playground to invite all the local kids to his birthday party, because his storybook needs some new friends, you see…

This was one of the more harrowing tales in this collection but also on the stranger side, reading like a drug-induced hallucination or nightmare. It also dragged on a little too long without adding much to the plot. I did love the atmosphere though, as well as the inventive twist on the creepy old house concept. Plus, the characterization of Olo was amazing. This is one kid you won’t ever want to cross.

The Story

And speaking of inventive twists, this last novella treats us to a horrifying take on the classic Choose-Your-Own-Adventure tale. As the story opens, a journalist receives tragic news from an old colleague. One of their mutual friends whom they used to work with on a supernatural themed podcast has killed herself. Finding some the circumstances behind her death obscure and suspicious, our protagonist decides to do his own digging into the project she was working on before she died, uncovering an urban legend about a story on the darknet that is different for everyone who reads it. Very soon, he becomes drawn into his own story, and as fiction warps into reality and vice versa, the wrong choices he makes will have deadly consequences.

I was glad to see the anthology end on a strong note with a story that’s pure horror with some mystery thrown in. This one had a bit of everything—interesting premise, suspenseful plotline, deep character development. I felt for the protagonist, his complex feelings for his late friend, his determination to get to the bottom of her apparent suicide, and then the fearful desperation and paranoia as his reality began to unravel. The terror and dread of this shook me to my core.

Ronald Malfi fans, do yourselves a favor and pick up Ghostwritten, and don’t let the short fiction anthology format put you off. The tales in here are a good example of his talent for storytelling and why he has so quickly become one of my favorite horror writers.

Audiobook Comments: A bit of a missed opportunity here to use multiple narrators for the different stories to reflect the diverse personalities and backgrounds of their respective main characters, but in spite of that, Joe Hempel made it all work. He delivered a great performance, and I would highly recommend the audiobook edition.

Bookshelf Roundup 10/30/22: 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!

Huge thanks to Minotaur Books for sending me finished copies of a couple of mystery thrillers. Blackwater Falls by Ausma Zehanat Khan is the first book of a new series starring Detective Inaya Rahman. I’ve read the author’s fantasy, and now I’m curious to check out her work in another genre. Desolation Canyon by P.J. Tracy is also part of a series, the second of the Detective Margaret Nolan sequence. I actually recently got an ARC of the third book, so I’m thinking I should start here first.

Earlier this month I was also super excited to receive an ARC of The Cradle of Ice by James Rollins, with thanks to Tor Books. It’s the second book of the Moonfall series, and it’s huge! I had a really good time with the first book so I’m really excited. And speaking of excitement, from the amazing team at Ace Books I received a review copy of Raven Unveiled by Grace Draven. The next book in her Fallen Empire world, this is one of my most highly anticipated books this year.

Also thanks to the kind folks at Penguin Workshop and Wunderkind PR for a review copy of Area 51 Interns: Zoned Out by James S. Murray and Carsen Smith. This is the second book of the middle grade series, which I hadn’t realized until I looked it up, but I believe it can be read as a standalone. At least my daughter hasn’t been complaining; she actually started the book earlier this week and seems to be enjoying it. And with thanks to Saga Press, I also received an ARC of Loki’s Ring by Stina Leicht, described as an intergalactic space adventure about a starship captain on a quest through space to rescue the robot she loves as a daughter.

Thank you also to Penguin Random House Audio for my listening copies this week, a nice trio of horror titles: Five Survive by Holly Jackson, All the Blood We Share by Camilla Bruce, and Sign Here by Claudia Lux.


Little Eve by Catriona Ward (4 of 5 stars)
Lute by Jennifer Thorne (4 of 5 stars)
A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson (3.5 of 5 stars)
One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig (2.5 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

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!

Book Review: A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

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

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror, Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of A Dowry of Blood

Publisher: Redhook (October 4, 2022)

Length: 304 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

After I finished A Dowry of Blood, I went to look up the book on Goodreads and was not surprised to see that the ratings for it were all over the place. Because this one is very much a niche book. I have a feeling it will strike the perfect note for some, while for others it will fall flat on its face. Stylistically, you could tell author S.T. Gibson was going for a certain vibe, and whether it’s a vibe that appeals to you will depend on your personal tastes.

A Dowry of Blood reimagines the story of Dracula, though the classic figure is never mentioned by name, referred only to as “My Lord” by our narrator, Constanta.  This is the tale of how she became the bride of her vampire master and lived for centuries by his side, eventually helping him add two more members to their immortal family as they migrate across Europe.

The book opens upon the site of a massacre, with our protagonist barely clinging on to life while the rest of her family lay dead around her, slaughtered by a group of armed men. Like a vulture attracted to the carnage, the vampire lord suddenly appears before her and offers her salvation and a chance to live forever. Filled with desperation and in awe of the power of her savior, she accepts—and becomes reborn as Constanta. And her first act as a vampire? Exacting revenge on her family’s killers, reveling in her newfound powers.

As the years pass, the obsessive love for her master continues to consume Constanta, until they arrive in Spain and meet Magdalena, so beautiful and full of life—the perfect addition to their clan. Gradually, Constanta’s jealousy of the other woman turns to admiration, respect, and then love. And later, when the trio end up in Russia, the young artist and actor Alexi also awakens a protective instinct in Constanta after he joins their family, forcing her to face some difficult truths about her relationship with her lord.

If you enjoy retellings from a different angle, ones that are a little unconventional, then A Dowry of Blood might provide you with what you are looking for. But although the novel may reimagine the character of Dracula from the point-of-view of his “wife”, it also makes several nods to the original classic which inspired it. The entire tale is told in second person epistolary format, addressing her words to her vampire master. I also feel that the prose is written in a way that brings to mind the works of Anne Rice, with dramatic language that at times is almost too flowery.

The results, however, are quite effective. It’s as though Constanta is speaking directly into your mind, creating an atmosphere that feels both immediate and immersive. The mood is thick with seduction and gothic vibes, as the narrative takes us through the darkest parts of history including times of plague and war. Yet at the same time, it’s not all just filth and blood and death. We’re also treated to the imposing backdrops of resplendent castles and the bustling theater scene and nightlife of cities at the prime of their power.

But for all that, the scope of this story feels small. The overall plot is also uncomplicated and linear. Remove all the paranormal and fantastical dressings, and what A Dowry of Blood boils down to is a story about our main character struggling to break free from an abusive relationship. In that sense, there’s really nothing sexy and romantic about this book.  Whatever we get to see is constrained by Constanta’s limited experience within the sphere of influence strictly enforced by her husband, and she freely admits she knows little of the world outside of their little family.  And unlike Magdalena and Alexi who are a little more willing to test their master’s limits, Constanta herself displays little motivation to go against his wishes for most of the book.

Still, simple plot or not, the point is that our protagonist does eventually find the emotional strength to break that vicious cycle to protect those she loves. It was an epic journey, in its own way, of Constanta’s centuries-long awakening from the spell cast upon her by her so-called beloved.

Bottom line, A Dowry of Blood is a gothic vampire novel filled with dark and sexually charged vibes—not so much “horror” in the traditional sense, but more designed to fill you with a sense of unease. As I said, I believe the response will be mixed on this one due to its niche appeal. Not so sure that it was really for me, but nevertheless I was quite impressed by the way it was all put together.

Book Review: Little Eve by Catriona Ward

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

Little Eve by Catriona Ward

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Nightfire (October 11, 2022)

Length: 271 pages

Author Information: Twitter

Originally published in the UK in 2018, Catriona Ward’s award-winning Little Eve has been republished by Nightfire Books, and compared to my first experience with her work The Last House on Needless Street, I have to say this one was definitely more my speed.

On the Isle of Altnaharra, just off the coast of Scotland, lives Little Eve and her family of six headed by her “Uncle”. On a cold winter day in 1921, the local butcher making his usual delivery of meat to their crumbling castle makes a horrific discovery when he notices the front gate open. On the altar of the nearby church, he finds five bodies laid out in the shape of a star, each with their right eye gouged out. More shocking yet, one of victims still lives—a girl named Dinah. All other family members are accounted for—all except Eve. It’s believed that she is the one who committed this atrocity.

The story then flashes back in time to 1917 where readers get to the world through Eve’s eyes—a dreary and secluded existence created by Uncle for her and her “sisters” whom he controls with draconian force and cruel punishment. Anyone to step out of line would be subjected to days locked in the dark cellar without food or water, for example. Uncle also fills his family members’ heads with a number of strange “truths” and forces them all to participate in his rituals to prepare for the end of the world, all the while maintaining a semblance of normalcy to the outside world so that one will come around asking difficult questions—though of course everyone in town already has their suspicions.

One of these outsiders is Chief Inspector Christopher Black, who has long known things are not as they seem at the castle on Altnaharra. After the massacre of 1921, he has also taken upon himself to get to the bottom of the case.

What Catriona Ward has deftly created here is a chilling tale of horror with the classic trappings of a cult story and old-school gothic vibes, but she has also added some of her own flair and resonating twists. Alternating between the earlier and later points in the story, the author plays with the flow of time leaving her readers feeling disoriented and adrift—but this is all by design. Rest assured everything will come together in the end.

And speaking of disorienting, Eve’s narrative itself is the very definition of unreliable, leaving you constantly guessing and wondering, but in the best way. The very confusion is what creates the sensation of uneasiness and dread, the specter of the other shoe waiting to drop. We explore her childhood through her relationship with her family members, especially Dinah, the lone survivor of the 1921 massacre. As young girls, they were almost inseparable, and brainwashed together by Uncle’s manipulative ways. Eve came to be in all on the dubious religion he preached, believing in snake gods rising from the sea to bring ruin to the earth, and that she would be the chosen one to succeed Uncle and inherit his powers. Some of the things Eve describes makes it difficult to discern whether what she witnessed was real or simply the product of her delusions. Or perhaps, could there be an actual supernatural element at play here?

Ward’s writing also shines with a story like this. All the ingredients are there for her to turn Little Eve into a delectable gothic horror mystery, from the setting of the dilapidated castle by the stormy sea to the shocking opening scene with the gruesome discovery. A dark pall hangs over the entire story—again, by design. This complements the cult elements well, casting a oppressive, gloomy and almost hopeless shadow over all the novel’s characters and events, which was most keenly felt in the sections that take place at Altnaharra.

All told, Little Eve is a haunting gothic tale drenched with terror and atmosphere. Twisted and cleverly plotted, this story is crafted to mess with your mind and keep you guessing. Recommended for horror fans who enjoy exceptional characterization and complex motifs.

Waiting on Wednesday 10/26/2022

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

Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward (April 11, 2023 by Nightfire Books)

Be on the lookout for my review of Little Eve tomorrow! It worked a lot better for me than the first book I ever read by Catriona Ward, and has made me curious to check out more of her work.

“Unsuccessful author Dickie has returned to the lonely cottage on the New England coast where years ago he wrote his first book, never published. Here, he intends to write his last — his masterpiece.

Dickie’s protagonist is based on his nemesis, Sky, now dead. After the publication of Sky’s first novel, Looking Glass Sound, Sky’s fame and ego drove them apart. Dickie’s last book will be a thinly veiled account of their friendship, and later, their enmity — a poisonous, New England Brideshead Revisited. This is Dickie’s revenge.

As he writes, the lines between fiction and reality slip. Events in the manuscript start to chime eerily with the present. Dickie discovers notes in Sky’s handwriting in the cottage, written in his favorite green ink, making crushing comments about Dickie’s writing and broken heart. Is Sky haunting Dickie? Has Dickie murdered Sky — or the other way around?

As Dickie goes deeper into the work, a terrifying suspicion arises — that he himself may be an entirely fictional character, being written by Sky the novelist. Which version of the cottage, the sound — and which version of Dickie — is real?”

Book Review: Lute by Jennifer Thorne

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

Lute by Jennifer Thorne

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Nightfire (October 4, 2022)

Length: 274 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

There’s no place on the planet quite like Lute, an idyllic little island off the British coast. And for the last seven years, protagonist Nina Treadway has been happy to call it home. An American, she moved here after getting married to be with her husband Hugh, whose family has been the island’s protectors for generations. Now the mother of two young children, Nina can’t imagine a more perfect and beautiful place to raise them, especially with another world war raging out beyond Lute’s peaceful shores.

But all that happiness and harmony demands a price. There’s a reason why Lute is said to be blessed with good fortune, why the weather is always mild and none of its residents have ever been lost to war. As wife of Lord Treadway, Nina has heard of The Day, of course, but she has always dismissed it as a myth or local legend. On the face of it, it just sounds too outlandish to believe. As the story goes, every seventh year on the summer solstice, the island claims the lives of seven random people as sacrifice. On this day, the people of Lute, normally so warm and welcoming, become highly unsettled and extra careful—for no one knows who will die, only that by The Day’s end, there will be seven fewer among them. No more, no less.

As the book opens on the eve of The Day, Nina is still ever the skeptic, watching as everyone around her prepares to hunker down. By this same time tomorrow though, she will learn for herself the truth of the island and be horrified and humbled by the weight of the Treadway title and the responsibilities that come with it.

The novel Lute is named for the island obviously, which is quite appropriate considering the setting is as much a character as the humans. I very much enjoyed author Jennifer Thorne’s descriptions of Lute, a haven untouched by the violence and strife in a world ravaged by brutal fighting. While the major powers at large are waging war over resources, our eponymous island has everything it’ll ever need, seemingly in a separate existence than everything else. The resulting impression is of a tiny pocket of civilization forgotten by time, which might explain how, at first, I actually thought this book was a historical, when in fact it takes place in modern times or perhaps in a not-too-distant dystopia future.

I also believe this had a lot to do with what made Lute so effective as a horror novel. Thorne builds up the island as a peaceful and safe refuge, when in reality it is anything but. As we get to the parts where The Day starts claiming its first victims, initially I found the sudden bloodbath difficult to square away with my first impressions of the island. It made the brutality of the deaths feel starker and more ominous.

As a character Nina was particularly well developed, especially her transition from a doubting outsider to a full-fledged islander who finally understands what she is up against, going through the full gamut of emotions ranging from uncertainty, disbelief, confusion, guilt, and finally acceptance. The various side characters are also well written, namely the handful of close friends Nina has made since arriving on the island, the way they have adopted our American protagonist as one of their own even though the United States was on the wrong side of the war.

In fact, my only criticism of this novel was everything outside of the scope of the characters and happenings on Lute. That is, the entire background of the resource war was not very well explained or developed, and to be honest, all of it—the war, Nina’s American roots, etc.—came across as rather unnecessary, as in the story would have worked just as well without any of that. There was also a quality to the backdrop which felt tacked on, like the author decided to throw in the dystopian aspect only after the fact, or perhaps this book initially began as a World War II story before she decided to update the setting and create conditions for a new war (which might also explain the aforementioned historical vibes I got from this). After a while, I even learned to tune out the world outside Lute as nothing more than a distraction to the more immediate terrors and tragedies unfolding on the island.

All in all, Lute was not without its flaws, but as a horror novel, its premise was intriguing and the execution of it was solid. Highly recommended if you’re looking for an atmospheric read which embraces the simple pleasures of the genre.