ARC Review: The Mystery of Rufford Abbey

Let me tell you about this fever-dream of a book I was lucky enough to receive an ARC for on Netgalley:

The Mystery of Rufford Abbey is creative and ambitious. With multiple points of view and timelines, the book shifts from medieval primary source translation occurring in the academic world to a suspense-ridden police investigation to other plot twists that I didn’t see coming but won’t tell you about because it could ruin the experience if you want to read this novel.

This book may be for you if:

  • You like plot-driven novels;
  • You like alternative timelines;
  • You do not need your story to be believable;
  • You are looking for a story to read and enjoy without thinking about it too much.

I didn’t particularly care for the characters or the writing style, personally. But I did appreciate the creativity and that there are a lot of readers out there who will freakin’ love this book. Looking for a wild ride that doesn’t necessarily add up but enjoys itself as it twists around curves, dives down into the water, and leaves you a little dizzy and slightly dazed when done, as you wonder what exactly you just experienced?

Look no further.

My Reading Year in 2022

Courtesy of Goodreads

In 2022, I read 66 books and 20,460 pages, or an average of 310 pages per book. In comparison to 2021, my reading decreased by 10 books and 3,104 pages, and the average number of pages per book remained exactly the same.

The shortest book I read in 2022 is We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I did not enjoy this novel as much as Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, although it is a well-known and renowned story and is so for a reason. As someone who aspires to writing, myself, I do find it commendable that Jackson is able to accomplish so much through the novella, and think it is can be a lesson for all writers out there that writing shorter works does not mean writing lesser works.

The longest book I read is The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn. This book featured great writing and good characterization… but I didn’t enjoy it was much as I was hoping. This book is well written, but sad. Read when you’re in the mood for a sad book.

In comparison to 2021, Jackson’s work is 44 pages longer than Hannah Lee Kidder’s Starlight, and Quinn’s work is 48 pages longer than Tana French’s The Witch Elm.

The most popular novel I read is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. In my opinion, worth the hype. Flynn is a great writer, her characters are fascinating and terrible and purposefully unreliable. I devoured this novel, and would recommend it to anyone and everyone. The movie is also decent – Rosamund Pike is an excellent Amy, Ben Stiller is a meh Nick, but Carrie Coon does an impeccable job as his sister. Plus, Missi Pyle is in it, and y’all know I like Missi Pyle. Like many works, however, the book is better.

The least popular novel I read is The Wake and the Manuscript by Ansgar Allen. This one was an ARC I received through Netgalley, and I think it is well done for what it is, but it’s not for me. It’s very stream-of-consciousness, philosophical, unreliable narrator. If you don’t mind meandering through the inner workings of someone else’s mentally unhinged mind, this one may be for you, though! Of the people who have read it, most who have rated it on Goodreads have enjoyed (this book actually has the highest rating on Goodreads of everything I read in 2022).

My average rating for 2022 is 3.4 stars. So I liked the shit I read this year .1 stars more than last year.

The first book I reviewed in 2022 was Marion Meade’s biography on Dorothy Parker, titled Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This? I really enjoyed this one.

The last book I reviewed in 2022 is Carrie Adams’ The Godmother. I didn’t much care for it.

Overall, I read a lot more than I should have, wrote a lot less than I wanted to, and feel pretty mediocre about 2022. Let’s hope 2023 is better.

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5-Star Reads in 2022

Honestly, 2022 was not a great reading year for me. There were only five 5-star reads, one of which was a re-read, one of which is considered a classic literary read, and two of which are by well-established authors.

  • Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch – A re-read. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s utterly delightful book about armageddon. The physical book is good. The audiobook is good. If you haven’t read this one yet… you should.
  • Boy: Tales of Childhood: A memoir of Roald Dahl – Roald Dahl, writer of amazing children’s books including James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Witches, BFG, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and, of course, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, has a fascinating background. Did y’all know he was a spy in WWII? This book is before all of that – it details Dahl’s pretty difficult boyhood, including the time he almost got his nose sliced off, the horrors of English schools and their reigns of caning terror, told with a matter-of-factness that displays a pragmatic lens through which to view life that is refreshing and will probably make you feel like you’re at least a little bit of a wimp.
  • The Haunting of Hill House – I don’t know why it took me so long to read Shirley Jackson’s Hill House, but this book was absolutely beautiful. The dialogue does feel a bit dated (which the book is, having been penned in the late fifties), but the story and the writing still shines. The book’s influence on horror is evident and astounding. In short, Jackson was a genius, and thus far, this is the best work of hers that I have read.
  • Autoboyography: This book kind of snuck up on me. The publisher was allowing readers to download e-reader copies around Halloween, and I picked this one on a bit of a whim. And it was sweet and funny and charming and sophisticated, and I loved every single bit of it. It’s a YA, coming-of-age love story set in Salt Lake City. LGBTQ+ elements, parental and religious expectations factor into the storyline, and while I didn’t grow up Mormon, I also had a fairly Midwestern religious background and the feeling of community that can so quickly be taken away was still recognizable.
  • Book of Night: I have enjoyed Black’s work since her debut novel Tithe, which I grabbed a copy of when it first came out. Holly is an amazing writer. This novel is her considered her first “adult” novel, and it. Is. Fantastic. Fantasy is not one of my go-to genres, but when I read it, this novel is the type of fantasy novel I enjoy. The beautiful writing would make it a commendable book no matter what, but on top of that, the book includes a magical world that is quickly and easily graspable, it is peopled with characters who are too cool for me but a shitload of fun to spend time with, and the storyline is bracing. It goes at a quick pace, and keeps that pace throughout the novel, and I truly enjoyed every bit of this novel (except for the last few pages) so very, very much.
Holly Black signs a book for a fan at the National Book Festival, September 3, 2022. Photo by Elaina Finkelstein/Library of Congress.

Those were my five-star reads for 2022 – what were yours? I would desperately like 2023 to be a more enjoyable reading year, so please give me potential additions for my TBR! (I also hope your 5-star list is bigger than mine!)

Drown the Positive

Polly Tremaine has spent 30 years trying to avoid the drama that came from her short stint at childhood stardom, but in a matter of days, forced to do an assignment she doesn’t want, she will realize that it doesn’t matter that she changed her name, changed her career, altered her appearance and moved to another country – once she’s set foot in L.A., she’s once more surrounded by death as something, or someone, seems out to get her. Will Polly be able to Burn the Negative, or is she destined to become a victim herself…?

Josh Winning’s Burn the Negative is campy good fun. Written in homage to the seventies, eighties and nineties horror books and movies that were not always well done but were usually enjoyable to certain stans (you know who you are), this book is for the fans. With a style reminiscent of My Best Friend’s Exorcism, this book is delicious – the beluga caviar of horror novels. It’s rich and full, and you should pay your $27 at the bookstore, and sit back and enjoy the twists and turns Winning throws at you.

If you do not like older horror films, don’t know what a Final Girl is, and are not a fan of gore — this book’s not for you, and I don’t want to go so far as to say that you definitely will not enjoy it, but I also cannot guarantee that you will. This book was written by someone who stared Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason and his mother in the eyes through a pre-Roku TV, felt a thrill in his heart, and decades later, took that thrill and weaved it into a novel. This book is for those who secretly wondered, just a tiny bit, in the dark recesses of their being, if they were taunting a serial killer by losing their virginity. This book is for the people who understand that of course Alex had to kill all of the kids who thought they were his friends on Prom Night, because he knew what they had done and they didn’t even feel sorry for it.

I truly enjoyed this book, and if you are a fellow retro-horror stan, I highly recommend, as I think you will too.

Ravenfall: ARC Review

Have you been on the hunt for a new middle-grade series featuring supernatural elements, the inception of life-long friendship, and wholesome family values? Kalyn Josephson’s Ravenfall may be the book for you! Released in early September, and presumably intended for the Halloween crowd, spookiness is not relegated to the early autumn months, so why limit yourself?

Ravenfall has a fairly authentic (i.e.: somewhat annoying*) female protagonist, and a less authentic (i.e.: less annoying*) male protagonist. These kids have seen some shit – to be more specific, they’ve given Haley Joel Osment a run for his money. HJO may have gotten the opportunity to act opposite the hunky Bruce Willis, but these kids get to live in a knock-off Encanto house and flaunt their supernatural abilities in life-threatening ways that will make anyone who is a parent reading this novel shudder.]

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

At the end of the day, of course… this is a middle grade series, with the expectation for some form of continuation. But the annoying and the less annoying characters become friends, engage in dangerous shenanigans that endanger their lives, and these high stakes are resolved in some form. There’s also a helpmate that looks like a cat, creepy psychic twin sisters, warm cider, and a showdown at a raging Halloween party.

It was not the best thing I’ve ever read, but it was pretty good. Recommend!

*Don’t pretend middle school aged children don’t annoy the shit out of you. I see you, and more important, Santa Claus sees you. & you can bet your ass he lets the Elf off the Shelf to take a shit in your stocking when you lie, because you’ll assume it’s coal and what the fuck are you going to do with coal other than throw it in the trash or light it on fire anyway? So unless you want elf shit all over your footwear, you should be real with me. Also, this metaphor got super weird, and a little out of hand…

ARC Review: Killing Me

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to be abducted by a serial killer? Well, Amber Jamison doesn’t have to wonder, because it has happened to her before the beginning of Michelle Gagnon’s cozy-ish mystery Killing Me.

Amber had always prided herself on her street smarts… but feels distinctly less smart after she is abducted by a killer who first turns his fetish-female type into Pokemon doppelgangers before slicing and dicing.

She narrowly makes her escape, with the help of a gorgeous woman, who could be her savior… or something darker altogether.

Peopled with a cast of colorful characters, Gagnon’s Killing Me will keep you interested, keep you guessing, and keep you on your toes as you continue to read to discern whether Amber and all of her friends will manage to survive.

Slated for release May 2023. Trigger warning: It does primarily take place in Las Vegas, so… if you’ve done shady shit in Vegas you don’t want to be reminded of, this book probably won’t help.

Writing Treat: ARC Book Review

After NaNoWriMo, your self-imposed writing retreat;

Is over, whether you win or have to admit defeat

Never fear, Julia Bartz will appear,

it is clear,

in bookstores February of next year.

The Netgalley gods have been smiling upon me a bit lately, including recent bestowal of Julia Bartz’ The Writing Retreat. Slated to be published in February 2023, in case you ignored my poorly crafted poem above, this novel was a treat.

The novel follows protagonist Alex, who is struggling through the sludge that is her life, including a massive case of writer’s block, in the opportunity of a lifetime. Joining 4 other talented young female writers at a month-long retreat in the reclusive home of one of her favorite authors, Alex wonders if she will be able to work through her writer’s block… and then things get weird.

This novel is a thriller encapsulated in an isolated setting (possibly haunted mansion in Northeast America) in February (cue the snow) with writers (meaning everything is open to interpretation and could possibly be hallucination, fictionalization, or enmeshment between the author’s work and the author’s life). The characters are a bit flat, which makes them harder to read in what is most certainly a plot-driven novel. Leave your own writing insecurities at the door, and follow along with Alex and the other lovely lady novelists, who will most likely experience these insecurities for you! I had no idea what was going to happen in this rollercoaster of a novel where extreme highs or lows could be around every curve of the tracks.

Highly recommend! And am now craving more great books featuring writers… so if you have one, please let me know in the comments below, so I can add it to my neverending TBR.

Creative Ways to be #1

For some people, being #1 is all that matters. I don’t think I’m one of those people, but I will say I get a small thrill of dopamine when I manage to achieve supreme status – even for things that don’t matter (which, come to think of it, is most things that I have gotten first place in #thingsthatdontmatter).

Like recently, I have been publishing the first story in my Love is Hell re-write on Wattpad, which has gotten negligible views and no votes (how unexpected that no one wants to rant-rewrite an anthology that’s like 15 years old with me, right? #notbeingesoteric). Yet, through the power of creative hashtags (which I mostly make because I think they’re funny and part of me secretly hopes someone else will notice them and agree, or better yet, search for the darn thing because they have created a story with the same hashtag and a small part of them desperately wants to find someone with the same ridiculous sense of humor), I am in fact the #1 (and only) story in the following categories:




This is my peacock moment. Revel in my ridiculousness with me, and please, share your unique hashtag of creative way of being #1 in the comments below.

If You Want Something Done Right…

Ok, I’m just going to be a bitch for a minute – I recently read the YA short story collection Love is Hell, which managed to fall short of my expectations in pretty much every way possible with the exception of Justine Larbelestier’s tale “Thinner than Water.” The rest of the collection was comprised of work that felt unfinished, unpolished, and at times, just downright poorly written. I have to assume this collection was a cash grab, that the editor, if there was one, fell asleep when he was supposed to be working and didn’t actually do his job. What should have been a collection of smart short stories featuring supernatural YA romantic horror are instead a sloppy mish mash of stories, sometimes supernaturally related (one of them is just sci-fi).

I am a bit angry, to be honest – the authors who theoretically wrote (I’m not going to rule out that there could be ghostwriting) the stories in this collection have careers and make a living by writing when something this mediocre is associated with their name is… baffling.

So my response?

I want a decent collection of YA romantic horror short stories, so for all of the stories in this collection that I don’t like, I’m going to re-write them.

… care to join me? Use the tag #loveishellrewrite if you also want to re-write at least one of the atrocious stories in this disappointing anthology, or leave a comment below if you have similarly done a re-write of something that had a promising premise that was, unfortunately, not fulfilled, so I can check out your rage re-write.

What it looks like when stream-of-consciousness analyzes an unfinished book

I did not know what I was getting myself into with Samantha Hunt’s The Unwritten Book: An Investigation, but I am so very glad that I was lucky enough to receive a Netgalley ARC. Hunt’s writing is thoughtful, interesting, intelligent, wandering… and in my opinion, well worth the read.

Although Hunt is probably best known for her fiction work, such as Belletriste’s pick The Dark Dark, this book is mostly nonfiction. I say “mostly” because interspersed throughout the book are excerpts of Samantha’s deceased father’s unfinished book. In addition, this book reads more like a collection of loosely related essays/musings than a more traditional narrative non-fiction book where each chapter builds on what came before. Hunt’s book could literally be read in any order, except for the excerpts of her father’s book. This book, which analyzes the writing from the partial book that Papa Hunt left behind, experiences Samantha had with both her father and her own experiences parenting her children, and general musings/information, is interesting. It feels like spending time with a friend — a very educated, empathetic, slightly lost friend. This friend is trying to navigate her way through losing a parent, being a parent, and being a person.

And really… aren’t we all? I highly, highly recommend.