Mister Lullaby by J.H. Markert

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of Publication: November 21st, 2023

Genre: Horror, Paranormal, Fantasy, Fiction, Thriller, Supernatural, Adult, Mystery, Suspense

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

From J. H. Markert, the author Peter Farris calls the “clear heir to Stephen King,” Mister Lullaby brings our darkest dreams and nightmares to life.

In the vein of T. Kingfisher and Christopher Golden, the boundary protecting our world from the monsters on the other side is weakening—and Mister Lullaby is about to break through.

The small town of Harrod’s Reach has seen its fair share of the macabre, especially inside the decrepit old train tunnel around which the town was built. After a young boy, Sully Dupree, is injured in the abandoned tunnel and left in a coma, the townspeople are determined to wall it up. Deputy sheriff Beth Gardner is reluctant to buy into the superstitions until she finds two corpses at the tunnel’s entrance, each left with strange calling cards inscribed with old lullabies. Soon after, Sully Dupree briefly awakens from his coma.

Before falling back into his slumber, Sully manages to give his older brother a message. Sully’s mind, since the accident, has been imprisoned on the other side of the tunnel in Lalaland, a grotesque and unfamiliar world inhabited by evil mythical creatures of sleep. Sully is trapped there with hundreds of other coma patients, all desperately fighting to keep the evils of the dream world from escaping into the waking world.

Elsewhere, a man troubled by his painful youth has for years been hearing a voice in his head he calls Mr. Lullaby, and he has finally started to act on what that voice is telling him—to kill any coma patient he can find, quickly.

Something is waking up in the tunnel—something is trying to get through. And Mr. Lullaby is coming.

First Line:

Deputy Sherriff Beth Gardner had only been on the job for two weeks when Simple Simon walked inside the station with a chainsaw.

Mister Lullaby by J.H. Markert

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: Mister Lullaby’s pace is fast. The book takes place within a week of Gideon’s arrival home after being honorably discharged from the Army. I was iffy on the pace. The author threw a lot of information at me at the beginning of the book. I had to reread specific chapters. If the pacing had slowed down a little, started at a medium pace, and then amped up, I could have processed the information better.

Trigger/Content Warning: Mister Lullaby has trigger and content warnings. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Mental Illness (graphic, on and off page)
  • Violence (graphic, on page)
  • Murder (graphic, on page)
  • Gun Violence (graphic, on page)
  • Rape (graphic, on page)
  • Grief (graphic, on page)
  • Fire (moderate, on and off page)
  • Bullying (moderate to graphic, on and off page)
  • Racism (minor to moderate, off page)
  • Alcoholism (moderate, on and off page)
  • Anxiety and anxiety attacks (moderate and off-page)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (moderate to graphic, on page)
  • Blood (graphic, on page)
  • Gore (graphic, on page)
  • Body Horror (graphic, on page)
  • Coma (graphic, on page)
  • Dead bodies and body parts (graphic, on page)
  • Loss of autonomy (graphic, on page)
  • Homophobia (moderate, on and off page)

Sexual Content: There is sexual content in Mister Lullaby. It is not graphic.

Language: There is graphic swearing in Mister Lullaby. There is also offensive language used in various parts of the book.

Setting: The Before part of Mister Lullaby is set between Harrod’s Reach, Nebraska, and Lalaland. The Then part of Mister Lullaby is set in Harrod’s Reach and wherever Teddy drove the bus.

Tropes: Chosen One, Emotional Scars, Reluctant Hero, Dark Lord, Good vs Evil, Childhood Friends, Monsters, Humans Can Be Evil

Age Range: I recommend Mister Lullaby to anyone over 21.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

The night Gideon arrives home, his younger brother, who has been in a coma for three years, wakes up and starts shouting names. Why he shouts out names confuses his family until Maddy shows up in town. Her explanation is crazy: Sully is trapped in a nightmare land called Lalaland. There, he is struggling, along with other coma patients, to keep the monsters inhabiting that world from bleeding into this one. But something is wrong, and the king of these monsters, Mister Lullaby, is trying to break through. While trying to process the information he has been told, Gideon and his best friend, Beth, are stunned when prominent figures in the community start showing up brutally murdered. Can Maddy be believed and trusted? What is happening in town? Can Gideon and Beth protect their loved ones and the townspeople from the evil trying to come through? Or will they fail?

Main Characters

Deputy Sheriff Beth Gardner: I didn’t know how to feel about Beth. On one hand, she was a great police officer and rose to the job when the Sheriff was attacked. But, on the other hand, her personal life was a mess. She was friends with Gideon and Jax. But her friendship with both was not equal, and it showed. She sided more with Jax (who was awful in the flashbacks and the present day) than Gideon. Even during the storyline, she didn’t treat Gideon like an equal. The use of his nickname, Giddey Up Gideon, was used as a way of putting him in his place. But she was determined to protect Sully at any cost when push came to shove. What she did at the end of the book was very selfless.

Gideon Dupree: I liked him, but he was so damaged that I thought his character wouldn’t rise to the occasion. He was bullied relentlessly throughout school and beyond (Giddey Up Gideon referenced how he ran). He blamed himself for Sully’s accident even though he had nothing to do with it (it did happen while he was watching him, though). And his Army career left him with even more scars. But, by the middle of the book, I saw something shift in his character. It happened when Maddy came to town, and it evolved. By the end of the book, even though he was still damaged, Gideon had come into his own.

Theodore Lomax (aka Teddy): Teddy’s character sent chills up and down my spine. He was a serial killer who had a very troubled and trauma-filled childhood. He had a voice in his head, called Mister Lullaby, that was instructing him to kill coma patients. Teddy also killed other people for fun. But Teddy realized the voice wasn’t a figment of his imagination until he bought a bus (which he named the Lullaby Express) and started picking up random people. It was real. His end game was to go to Harrod’s Reach and set those random people loose while he searched for the name at the top of his list, Sully Dupree. He was evil personified, and I couldn’t think of a better antagonist for this book.

Maddy Boyle: I liked her character. But I did wonder what her connection to Harrod’s Reach would be and what would happen once she got there. I liked how she was like an envoy to Lalaland (having been there herself). She was able to convince Gideon and then Beth about the dangers that were coming out of the train tunnel.

Simple Simon: I went back and forth on including him as a significant character. I decided to have him as a central character because of his actions in the book’s second half. Simon knew a lot about what was going on with Lalaland bleeding through, and he was a massive factor in the events that went down at the end of the book.

Sully Dupree: The whole storyline is centered around Sully. He was still a powerful force even though he never woke up and talked. I can only get a little into what happens with him because of spoilers.

My review:

Mister Lullaby was one of my most looked-forward-to-read books. I had seen it featured on other blogs and was thrilled when Crooked Lane Books sent me the widget. So, when it was finally time for me to read it, I dove right in. I finished the book liking it but was disappointed by it simultaneously (thus the star rating).

Mister Lullaby has various POVs. Not only that, but the author also split the chapters into Before and Now. The author labeled each chapter with who it focused on and whether it was Now or Before. But I got lost while reading. I would backtrack to determine when the chapter occurred (the who part was obvious). It frustrated me but not enough to DNF.

The main storyline of Mister Lullaby is good, and I find it fascinating. I liked that the author tied his previous books into this one. It made for an interesting read. But, sometimes, I lost sight of the storyline (Sully, the train tunnel, Teddy, Gideon, Beth, and Maddy). There were so many secondary storylines thrown in (some I feel were to fill in empty plot holes) that my head was turned around. Did I need to know why Jax was such a dick? Or why did Beth marry him? Not really (even though it was sad). That stuff could have been left out or mentioned in passing. Another example was the chapter with Chimp and the weird fish. My head was spinning by the end of the storyline, and I couldn’t keep everything straight.

The storyline with Teddy and his collection of serial killers was interesting. Unlike the main one, this storyline was tight and kept to just the storyline. The only time it deviated was toward the end of the book, but even then, it was all right.

The horror angle of the book was well written. I want to warn everyone that it is bloody and violent. I did jump during some scenes, and in others, I had to read gagging.

The end of Mister Lullaby did disappoint me. It seemed very rushed. The final battle was almost anticlimactic (compared to what was happening around them). I also needed clarification on why Beth did what she did. There were storylines left in the air. I also have not received a resolution about what would happen to the town or the aftermath. They might have plans for another book in this universe (or even a sequel). I also have an answer as to why the book’s ending was the way it was. The author explains everything in the acknowledgment section after the end.

Many thanks to Crooked Lane Books, NetGalley, and J.H. Markert for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Mister Lullaby. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Mister Lullaby, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by J.H. Markert

Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of publication: September 26th, 2023

Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Fiction, Thriller, Paranormal, Adult, Halloween, Suspense, Supernatural, Mystery

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A small town is transformed by dark magic when a strange tree begins bearing magical apples in this new masterpiece of horror from the bestselling author of Wanderers and The Book of Accidents.

It’s autumn in the town of Harrow, but something else is changing in the town besides the season.

Because in that town there is an orchard, and in that orchard, seven most unusual trees. And from those trees grows a new sort of apple: Strange, beautiful, with skin so red it’s nearly black.

Take a bite of one of these apples and you will desire only to devour another. And another. You will become stronger. More vital. More yourself, you will believe. But then your appetite for the apples and their peculiar gifts will keep growing—and become darker.

This is what happens when the townsfolk discover the secret of the orchard. Soon it seems that everyone is consumed by an obsession with the magic of the apples… and what’s the harm, if it is making them all happier, more confident, more powerful?

And even if buried in the orchard is something else besides the seeds of this extraordinary tree: a bloody history whose roots reach back the very origins of the town.

But now the leaves are falling. The days grow darker. And a stranger has come to town, a stranger who knows Harrow’s secrets. Because it’s harvest time, and the town will soon reap what it has sown.

First Line:

Calla Paxson, age twelve, lurched upright in her bed, her heart pounding as if the nightmare she’d been having was still chasing her.

Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: Black River Orchard goes between medium and fast-paced. It is medium-paced until Dan loses his ever-loving mind (around the middle of the book). Then, it starts amping up the pace until the pacing is almost frantic. Then it slowed down again.

Trigger/Content Warning: Black River Orchard does have content and trigger warnings. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Violence (on page): This is a violent book right from the beginning. At first, it is subtle violence, but the violence is in your face by the middle of the book. It is graphic.
  • Blood (on page): This is also a bloody book. It is graphic and goes hand in hand with the violence.
  • Murder (on and off page): A murder sets the tone for the book, and the murders continue throughout the book. Some are described, and some are graphic.
  • Animal Death (on and off page): There are scenes towards the middle of the book where an initiation takes place, including murdering baby animals. I am not going to say much more because it is a spoiler. But it is graphic and almost fever-dreamish when described.
  • Homophobia (on and off page): There is homophobia directed at Emily throughout the book. There are blatant words spoken, and there are things done/threatened. There are other instances of homophobia throughout the book.
  • Grief (on and off page): Grief is one of the prominent undercurrents in this book. Dan is grieving the death of his father (years earlier), Calla is mourning the unexpected loss of a loving father, Emily is grieving her loss of self, John is mourning the deaths he caused during the first Gulf War, and Joanie (later on in the book) is grieving about something (I know it is vague but it is a spoiler).
  • Addiction (on page): The entire main storyline centers on the Harrowsblack apple addiction.
  • Suicide (on and off page): There are scenes where Dan remembers finding his father’s body after his suicide. Also, there is a scene where a police officer takes his service revolver and kills himself in front of Calla.
  • Abusive Relationship (on page): Emily’s wife changes after eating the apple and becomes abusive towards her (mentally, verbally, and physically). Dan becomes verbally and physically abusive to Calla.
  • Attempted Murder (on page): Joanie is almost killed by Prentiss in her house. Dan almost kills Calla.
  • Cheating (off-page): Emily cheated on Meg, so they moved to Harrow. Emily remembers it in a flashback, and Meg brings it up several times during the book.
  • Cults (on page): The book shows two different cults formed around the Harrowsblack apples. Since this will be a spoiler, I won’t say anything more.
  • Gun Violence (on and off page): Guns are used throughout the book to subdue and kill people.

Sexual Content: There is nongraphic sexual content in Black River Orchard. The author only gives bare minimum details about orgies. There is the remembrance of a sex scene between Emily and Meg, but it isn’t graphic.

Language: There is foul language used in Black River Orchard.

Setting: Black River Orchard is set almost entirely in Harrow, Pennsylvania. John Compass has a few side trips to New Jersey towards the middle of the book.

Representation: There is Native American representation (folktales, language) and queer representation (bisexual, genderfluid, lesbian, homosexual, and asexual) in Black River Orchard.

Tropes: Humans Can Be Evil, Monsters, Cults and Religious Extremists, Traumatic Past, Defeated Monster Comes Back to Life.

Age Range to read Black River Orchard: 21 and over

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

John Compass is searching for two things. One is a rare apple, the Harrowsblack, and the other is his best friend, who disappeared five years earlier. Careful tracking leads John to the small town of Harrow, Pennsylvania. It also is revealed that his friend had found the Harrowsblack before he disappeared. Meanwhile, in Harrow, a new apple has appeared. So red that it appears black, it is an instant hit at the farmers market. People who eat this apple cannot stop eating it, and they notice that when they eat the apple, they become stronger and heal faster. As John continues his search, the town slowly starts changing. In the middle of everything is Dan Paxson, the orchard owner. What is with the apples? How did Dan get them? What happens when John discovers the truth?

Main Characters

Dan Paxson: I felt for the guy at the beginning. He was determined to clear his father’s name and make something of the orchard that was his father’s. He was a loving father to Calla (almost too permissive, if I am going to be honest) and was somewhat of a pushover. But, the more he ate the apples, the more he changed. I almost hated to see him turn into what he became at the end of the book. It was nothing like he was initially written.

Calla Paxson: Calla is Dan’s seventeen-year-old daughter who wants to get into Princeton and is a wanna-be social influencer. I didn’t exactly like her at the beginning of the book. She came across as selfish and whiny. But she noticed something wasn’t right with the apples immediately. Calla started knowing that the more people ate them, the weirder they got. I liked her character’s development throughout the book.

John Compass: John is a Gulf War veteran haunted by what he did in the Middle East. He is so haunted that he becomes a Quaker (but will use violence to protect himself). John also becomes a hunter of rare apples. He becomes aware of the Harrowsblack apple when his best and probably only friend went missing five years earlier. I liked seeing John’s character progression in the book. But, what I liked the most was reading about the Native American legends attached to the Harrowsblack and seeing John piece everything together.

Emily Price: Emily is new to Harrow. Meg Price’s wife is feeling out of her element in a small town and in her marriage. Emily did something that strained her marriage and caused Meg to move them to Harrow. Their strained relationship becomes abusive after Meg starts eating the apple. So, I thought Emily was whiny, and she wallowed in self-pity until she met John. Then, I saw a side of Emily that I liked. At first, it was just a tiny glimpse, but by the end of the book, the true Emily was shown, and I loved her.

Joanie Moreau: Joanie showed up almost in the middle of the book. She was a character, and I liked her. She had an open marriage, rented her house out for sex parties (indoor only), and enjoyed teasing her neighbor, Prentiss. But things started to change when the Harrowsblack began making its rounds. It was after a specific event that Joanie showed how strong she was. It was also during the events at the end of the book that showed her character.

Secondary characters: The secondary characters in Black River Orchard made the book. They added so much to this book. The plotline was more flushed out, and the storyline had extra depth.

My review:

Black River Orchard was a well-written horror story that has made me never want to eat apples again. I was engrossed (and horrified) by how the storyline progressed. I couldn’t put my Kindle down. I needed to know how this book ended.

The main storyline in Black River Orchard centers around the five main characters and how those apples changed and affected their lives. It was a scary and often disgusting storyline that repulsed me and made me want to continue with the book.

The storyline with John and his search for the Harrowsblack and his friend was interesting. I didn’t know that there were people who went looking for rare strains of apples (so I learned something new). I liked that John wasn’t afraid to stand his ground when looking for his friend. By the middle of the book, John was central to figuring out how the Harrowsblack ended up in Harrow and who was behind it. He also was prominent in the events at the end of the book.

The storyline with Dan and Calla was sad. I hated seeing their relationship suffer the way it did because of the apples. But Calla was right about everything. When things started to change (and Dan started becoming abusive), Calla was right to begin to think things were wrong. I don’t think she realizes how bad it is until almost the end of the book.

The storyline with Emily and Meg was sad. But I did get annoyed with Emily at various points in the book. She was wallowing in remorse and self-pity until the middle of the book. Yes, she cheated, and her wife did something out of character (moving back to Harrow). But in no way did Emily expect what was going to happen. Her friendship with John was a lifeline.

The storyline with Joanie disturbed me. The amount of hate that she faced was unreal. It was that encounter that snowballed into the tragedy at her house. And the hatred by the cops when they came gave me shivers. But Joanie became a haven for Calla and her friends after everything. Even more so at the end of the book.

The horror angle was written perfectly. The gradual morphing into what happened at the end of the book was fantastic. I can’t get the images of those trees out of my head.

The end of Black River Orchard couldn’t have been written any better. The author ended all the storylines in one swoop. It was honestly shocking how he did it. I also liked the epilogue. But it was the very ending that made me go, hmmmm.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey, NetGalley, and Chuck Wendig for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Black River Orchard. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Black River Orchard, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Chuck Wendig:

Under Central Park: The Amulet’s Secret by Diana Wurfbain Spinola


Date of publication: January 10th, 2022

Genre: Middle Grade, Paranormal, Supernatural, Mystery

Purchase Links: Kindle | Kobo

Goodreads Synopsis:

A shy orphan with peculiar eyes in search of his father. A mysterious vanishing. An ancient manuscript filled with strange potions. An underground brotherhood keeping the world safe from a looming horror. A world deep below Central Park where all the answers will be found, and the darkest secret will be revealed.

Join 12-year-old Matt Church as he plunges into a world of dark mysteries where he will face his worst nightmares and discover the truth. Self-belief, friendship, and the unbreakable bond of blood ties are at the heart of this enchanting and gripping saga. Under Central Park, The Amulet’s Secret is the first book of a trilogy. The e-book includes over 30 full-color illustrations.

First Line:

Araotz Zarimutz, his heart pounding furiously, stopped for a few seconds to catch his breath.

Under Central Park: The Amulet’s Secret by Diana Wurfbain Spinola

A shy orphan with a stutter and peculiar eyes, Matt Church is surprised when a renowned professor adopts him. Matt is thrust into a world where his every need is met, and he is not allowed to go outside. Sneaking out at night, Matt meets a young girl, Casseopia, who shares his interest in star gazing. But Matt’s life is soon upended again when his adoptive father disappears. With the threat of being returned to the orphanage looming over him, he tells Casseopia what is happening. Intrigued, Casseopia sneaks Matt into her school. After that, Matt is thrust into a world of secret societies training the next generation to defend the world against evil, a world that he couldn’t have even begun to imagine exists, and both found and biological family. Will the answers to Matt’s questions be answered? Or will more questions be raised?

I have read quite a bit of middle-grade books lately. My youngest child is nine, and I always look for books that interest her. So, when the author emailed me and asked if I wanted to read/review this book, I said yes. I wanted to know if this would be a book she would like, and the blurb also grabbed my attention. I am glad I did say yes to the book because this book was an excellent read. Unfortunately, this book isn’t on my daughter’s radar right now because she’s more into horse books (she is learning how to show jump hunter-style and do dressage and is reading books similar to that), but I will keep it on a short list of books that she can read.

The pacing of Under Central Park: The Amulet’s Secret flowed between medium to fast-paced. It was a good flow for the book. There was a little lag towards the middle of the book (when Matt was with his biological family), but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of reading or the book’s flow. The author was quickly able to get the book back on track.

Obviously, Under Central Park: The Amulet’s Secret is in New York City, mainly in Central Park. I loved that the author took such a prominent area and breathed new life into it. I liked that while nothing changed with the park, the author could add some things, like a secret elevator entrance in a fountain or a private school with a central entrance under a bridge.

The main storyline follows Matt Church, his search for his adoptive father, and his adventures throughout the book. The storyline was easy to follow, and it was a little one-dimensional. For a child, it would be perfect to read. For an adult, it was an OK read. I enjoyed reading about Matt’s adventures and thought that the author did a great job with his backstory (it was sad).

The school storyline was interesting. I got some Harry Potter vibes from it, but that was it, just vibes. I found that storyline fascinating because everything revolved around mushrooms and other fungus. I found the animal bonding storyline fascinating too. Now, that might be a little scary for younger readers (the kids get swarmed by bats, foxes, bees, or snakes to find what they are tuned to). But as an adult, I enjoyed it!!

The storyline that involved Matt’s background was heartbreaking. The author revealed why Matt’s father abandoned him when Matt met his biological family. That whole conversation broke my heart because Matt’s biological father seemed like a great guy, and he truly loved his son. Of course, there is a twist on what happened to him. As for Matt’s adoptive father, I wasn’t surprised that the author chose to go the way she did with that storyline. But I was surprised by what Matt learned about his adoptive father, and what he told the monks at the end of the book will come into play in book 2.

The fantasy angle of Under Central Park was wonderfully written. I loved that the author had a secondary world connected to this one by an elevator. And this secondary world was amazing. I couldn’t get enough from the different races to the social structures. Even the bad guys, who were at the top of the social hierarchy, were written well.

A bonus to Under Central Park was that the author included illustrations of some primary (and central secondary) characters. It was nice to put a face to who I was reading about. I will warn you that the bad guys are a snake/octopus/alien hybrid that creeped me out.

I loved seeing Matt’s character grow throughout the book. Initially, he was a bullied, introverted, timid child with a stutter. But, as the book went on, he started to come out of his shell. While still there, his stutter wasn’t as prominent as it was at the beginning of the book. By the end of the book, that shy child was replaced by a child who had grown in confidence.

The end of Under Central Park was interesting. The author did not wrap up any of the storylines. Instead, she left them open. Not only that, she added more questions to the main storyline. Seeing that this is a trilogy, I expect that any questions I had during this book will be answered in book 2 or book 3.

I recommend Under Central Park: The Amulet’s Secret to anyone over 10. There are no language or sexual situations, and there is mild violence.

Many thanks to D.W. Spinola for allowing me to read and review Under Central Park: The Amulet’s Secret. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

Other books by D.W. Spinola:

The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five Senses by K.N. Smith

Publisher: Two Petals Publishing

Date of Publication: September 15th, 2015

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Adventure, Action, Urban Fantasy, Supernatural, Thriller, Mystery, Contemporary

Purchase Links: Amazon | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

Welcome or unwelcome. Fate has arrived.

A suspenseful incident in a forbidden preserve heightens the senses of five friends. Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell become super-gifts that forever change the world. But furious battles confront the boys as they try to understand their sensory super powers in a race to save mankind. With light beings and mysterious strangers complicating their plight, can the boys defeat the evil Druth before it’s too late? Get prepared for the twisting and grinding of this award-winning, action-adventure story — an edge-of-your-seat narrative for young and mature readers alike.

First Line:

An alluring midnight seeped through the preserve, where huge, wavy leaves dances beneath the moonlight.

The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five Senses by K.N. Smith

Fantasy has been one of my go-to genres to read since I was a child. I remember reading The Hobbit for the first time and thinking, “I like this!” But I wasn’t a contemporary or urban fantasy fan until I was a little older. And when I say a little bit, I mean in my late 30’s, lol. But, once I started reading them, I liked that subgenre. When I was approached to read/review The Urban Boys, I considered how I felt about the genre/subgenre and decided to accept the invite. I am glad I did because this book was a great read.

The Urban Boys had an exciting and somewhat complex plotline. Five boys acquire magical powers that affect their five senses. They also learn that they are responsible for keeping a peaceful alien race secret and protecting the human race from a being determined to enslave them. But it isn’t easy because the boys need to learn how to control their powers and work together. Can they do that? Can they overcome Druth and save the world?

The pacing of The Urban Boys went from fast to medium and back to fast. It didn’t bother me because I could keep up with the shifting pacing. Plus, when it did shift, it allowed me to take a breather (as a reader) and process everything that had happened up to that point.

I loved that there were five teenage boys (all of various ethnic backgrounds) as the heroes/main characters of the book. The author did something I considered difficult and gave each boy a distinct personality. So, if the book shifted to that character, I immediately knew who it was.

As stated, each of the boys acquired a heightened sense that turned them into superheroes (for lack of a better word). They are (in no particular order):

  • Hearing—Jordan
  • Sight—Kinsu
  • Touch—Chase
  • Smell—Rhee
  • Taste—Alex

I enjoyed reading as the boys discovered what had happened to them. It was interesting to read each boy’s response. The responses went from thinking it was cool to wishing they never had it.

The villain in this story was an evil person, but I felt terrible for him simultaneously. He felt neglected by his parents and forgotten by people that mattered to him. But, it doesn’t excuse what he did. He used the powers he was given by the Naculeans and exploited them. He turned that power into a weapon of destruction and used it to hurt countless people.

There were a lot of secondary characters in The Urban Boys. I did have a minor issue keeping them straight until I realized I could make notes of them on my Kindle (and so I did). The main secondary characters were The Dark Stranger, Mason, and Alina Alcaraz Olivas. The other secondary characters consisted of Druth’s main thugs, the Naculeans, the parents/guardians of the boys, and Alex’s girlfriend. They were all well written. Some I wished I had more info on, and others I wanted were more involved in the plotline. But all added an extra depth to the overall plotline. I will say that I wouldn’t have been as cool as the parents/guardians were when they found out the truth.

I do want to mention the Naculeans. I found them and their backstory fascinating. They were genuinely peaceful beings who tried to help humans. But, I liked that the author made them make mistakes. The big one was telling Druth a half-truth about his powers. They realized that and ensured they had the right people (the boys) before they again bestowed the powers.

There is a lot of action in The Urban Boys. It primarily centered around the boys learning about their powers and fighting Druth’s thugs. I did enjoy it because it showed the boys’ growth as people and as a fighting unit.

A substory line was running in the background of The Urban Boys. It involved the parents of a couple of the boys, Druth, Alina, and The Dark Stranger. I was wondering how the author was going to tie everything together. I wasn’t disappointed and was very surprised by what was revealed.

The end of The Urban Boys was interesting. I loved how the author resolved the main storyline. It was a classic good versus evil battle, and I was on the edge of my seat. Of course, there is a lead-in to the next book, which I can’t wait to read.

I recommend The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five Senses to anyone over 13. There is violence, mild language, and some kissing scenes (otherwise, a clean book).

If you enjoy The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Fives Senses, you will enjoy these books;

Such a Pretty Smile by Kristi DeMeester

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: January 18th, 2022

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Mystery, Fantasy, Supernatural, Feminism

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | Google Play | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A biting novel from an electrifying new voice, Such a Pretty Smile is a heart-stopping tour-de-force about powerful women, angry men, and all the ways in which girls fight against the forces that try to silence them.

There’s something out there that’s killing. Known only as The Cur, he leaves no traces, save for the torn bodies of girls, on the verge of becoming women, who are known as trouble-makers; those who refuse to conform, to know their place. Girls who don’t know when to shut up.

2019: Thirteen-year-old Lila Sawyer has secrets she can’t share with anyone. Not the school psychologist she’s seeing. Not her father, who has a new wife, and a new baby. And not her mother—the infamous Caroline Sawyer, a unique artist whose eerie sculptures, made from bent twigs and crimped leaves, have made her a local celebrity. But soon Lila feels haunted from within, terrorized by a delicious evil that shows her how to find her voice—until she is punished for using it.

2004: Caroline Sawyer hears dogs everywhere. Snarling, barking, teeth snapping that no one else seems to notice. At first, she blames the phantom sounds on her insomnia and her acute stress in caring for her ailing father. But then the delusions begin to take shape—both in her waking hours, and in the violent, visceral sculptures she creates while in a trance-like state. Her fiancé is convinced she needs help. Her new psychiatrist waves her “problem” away with pills. But Caroline’s past is a dark cellar, filled with repressed memories and a lurking horror that the men around her can’t understand.

As past demons become a present threat, both Caroline and Lila must chase the source of this unrelenting, oppressive power to its malignant core. Brilliantly paced, unsettling to the bone, and unapologetically fierce, Such a Pretty Smile is a powerful allegory for what it can mean to be a woman, and an untamed rallying cry for anyone ever told to sit down, shut up, and smile pretty.

There was blood in the water–a dull pink bloom–the morning Lila Sawyer heard about the first missing girl.

such a pretty smile by kristi demeester

I am going to be the odd one out with this book. Why? Well, I didn’t care for it. I know (ducking rotten tomatoes and hearing boos echoing across all the platforms I post to), it is not the popular opinion. I wanted to like this book and was pretty excited to read it after all the favorable reviews. Then I read it, and it fell flat for me.

Such a Pretty Smile did have an exciting storyline. The book centers around Lila and her mother, Caroline. In the 2019 storyline, Lila is a teenager dealing with a lot in her life. Her mother has a reputation for creating creepy statues made out of materials she found on her walks. Her father is distant, focusing more on her newborn sister, born premature and with a severe health complication. She is also dealing with peer pressure, a frenemy who alternately bullies and befriends her and questions her sexuality. To top it off, Lila has heard dogs bark, and there is a voice in her head telling her to do things that she usually wouldn’t do. Meanwhile, brutalized bodies of young girls are being found around the Atlanta area.

In the 2004 timeline, Caroline is under an immense about of pressure. Her father is in hospice, and she is drowning under the bills associated with it. Caroline takes a job teaching private art lessons to a homeschooled teenager to make ends meet. But, things are happening to Caroline that she can’t understand. She hears dogs barking nonstop, and she is having delusions. When she talks to her psychiatrist about that, she gets drugged, but that doesn’t stop it. Everything comes to a head when she finds out about her past, which ties directly to the current murders.

When Lila finds out about Caroline’s past, the storylines meet and she runs back to New Orleans to investigate Jazzland. What happens will send shockwaves in everyone’s lives and change them forever.

I did feel bad for Lila. She was smothered by her mother and ignored by her father. On top of that, she dealt with bullying and figured out her sexuality. She was a pressure cooker and was about to blow. Honestly, I was surprised that she waited as long as she did to freak out on Macy, her father, and her stepmother. I did wonder (when she started hearing the dogs barking) if her stress was manifesting. But it wasn’t until she was in the car (sweating her butt off) that I understood what was happening to her was paranormal.

I also felt bad for Caroline. She had a lot on her plate in 2004. She was solely responsible for her dying father’s medical/hospice bills. She was trying to get through art school and launch her career. She had to deal with a fiance who didn’t support her in anything. So, when she started hearing dogs barking and seeing things, she figured that it was because of stress. I wish that she could have had a break in that storyline. But it went from one thing to another when her father told her that she was kidnapped when she was a child. It was then that everything amped up. Her descent into mental illness and how the male figures in her life treated her were awful.

The horror angle of Such a Pretty Smile was well written, but it didn’t do anything for me. I was waiting for some epic battle or at least The Cur getting what it deserved. It didn’t happen. Instead, there was a rail against men and how women were expected to confirm (which we are, and yes, it is unfair). I felt a little let down when the author explained everything at the end of the book. I was left feeling meh.

I did like the solid feminist stance that the book took. But, I did feel that it was a bit much in places—one of the things that made me “meh” about Such a Pretty Smile.

I did enjoy the ending and seeing how Lila ended up after the events of Jazzland. I am glad that she met with people who understood what she went through. I also wondered, with how the final paragraphs were worded, if there was going to be a sequel. Maybe The Cur will get what is coming to it.

I would recommend Such a Pretty Smile to anyone over 21. There is sex, violence, and language.

Ghost Detective (Myron Vale Investigations Series: Book 1) by Scott William Carter

Ghost Detective (Myron Vale Investigations, #1)

Publisher: Flying Raven Press

Date of publication: June 19th, 2013

Genre: Mystery, Paranormal, Fantasy, Ghosts, Urban Fantasy, Thriller, Horror, Paranormal Mystery, Supernatural

Series: Myron Vale Investigations

The Haunted Breadbox—Book 0.5

Ghost Detective—Book 1

The Ghost Who Said Goodbye—Book 2

The Ghost, the Girl, and the Gold—Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | Alibris | IndieBound | Audible | Kobo | Better World Books

Trigger Warning: Death, Drug and Alcohol Use

Goodreads Synopsis:

Everybody dies. Nobody leaves … Award-winning author Scott William Carter returns with his tenth novel, a spellbinding tale of a man who bridges both sides of the great divide.

After narrowly surviving a near-fatal shooting, Portland detective Myron Vale wakes with a bullet still lodged in his brain, a headache to end all headaches, and a terrible side effect that radically transforms his world for the worse: He sees ghosts. Lots of them.

By some estimates, a hundred billion people have lived and died before anyone alive today was even born. For Myron, they’re all still here. That’s not even his biggest problem. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t tell the living from the dead.

Despite this, Myron manages to piece together something of a life as a private investigator specializing in helping people on both sides of the great divide–until a stunning blonde beauty walks into his office needing help finding her husband. Myron wants no part of the case until he sees the man’s picture … and instantly his carefully reconstructed life begins to unravel.

First Line:

The first time I met Karen Thorne, I’d just clicked yes on two tickets to Honolulu for the holidays.

ghost detective by scott william carter

Synopsis Overview:

Ghost Detective had an exciting and somewhat sad plotline. Myron Vale, a Portland Oregon detective, was shot in the head during a robbery. That left him with an interesting side effect after he woke up from his coma. He can see and talk to ghosts. After a bit of an adjustment period, Myron has made peace with his unusual ability. He has also become a PI for the ghosts (use your imagination).

Myron agrees to take on Karen Thorne’s case when she asks him to look into her death and check on her husband. Hoping that her case would be open and shut, Myron is in for a surprise when he sees who her husband is. But obstacles are being thrown in his way by both the living and the dead. But with the help of his deceased wife and with the help of his former partner, Myron is determined to find out if Karen’s death was accidental and find where her husband is.

I enjoyed reading Ghost Detective. I liked that the author took a paranormal mystery and added a different spin to it. There were some parts (and characters) that I didn’t like, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of reading the book.

The book itself was well written with a fast-moving plotline. There were some predictable elements to the book, but those happened mainly at the end of the book. There was a bit of lag in the middle, but the book recovered quickly.

The mystery angel of Ghost Detective was well written. The author was able to keep me guessing at who killed Karen and the motive (which was silly when revealed). Also, Myron’s shooting was tied into that mystery. I won’t tell how but it made that angel very interesting.

There were some things I didn’t like about Ghost Detective. I was not too fond of Billie (Myron’s dead wife), and she drove me batshit crazy for most of the book. I figured out her secret, well, most of it, early on. I felt that she was keeping Myron from moving on with his life. Plus, she knew more about his investigation than what she was letting on, and that drove me CRAZY!!!

I would recommend this book to anyone over the age of 16. It is a clean book (no sex or kissing). There are some scenes with ghosts who died in gruesome ways (scalping, shot, drowned are a few examples).

Do you like paranormal mysteries? If you do, what are your favorites? Let me know!!!

They Mostly Come Out at Night (Yarnsworld: Book 1) by Benedict Patrick

They Mostly Come Out at Night (Yarnsworld, #1)

Publisher: One More Page

Date of publication: June 16th, 2016

Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Dark Fantasy

Series: Yarnsworld

They Mostly Come Out at Night—Book 1

Where the Water Turns Black—Book 2

Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords—Book 3

From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court—Book 4

To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl—Book 5

Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Audible | Kobo | Better World Books

Format Read: eBook

Purchase From: Amazon as Free eBook (not free now)

Trigger Warning: Violence

Goodreads synopsis:

He locked himself away from the dark, but in the Magpie King’s forest nowhere is safe…

Lonan is an outcast, accused of letting the monsters that stalk the night into the homes of his fellow villagers. Now, he will not rest until he wins back the heart of his childhood love and reclaims the life that was stolen from him. However, locked safely in his cellar at night, in his dreams Lonan finds himself looking through the eyes of a young prince…

Adahy has a destiny, and it terrifies him. How can he hope to live up to the legend of the Magpie King, to become the supernatural protector of the forest and defender of his people? But when the forest is invaded by an inhuman force, Adahy must rise to this challenge or let the Wolves destroy his people.

Watching these events unfold in his sleep, Lonan must do what he can to protect his village from this new threat. He is the only person who can keep his loved ones from being stolen away after dark, and to do so he will have to earn back their trust or watch the monsters kill everyone that he holds dear.

They Mostly Come Out At Night is a Dark Fantasy novel from Benedict Patrick’s Yarnsworld series. If you like Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss then you will love this captivating, dangerous world in which ordinary people struggle to find their place in a land ruled by stories.

Start reading today to discover this epic tale of dreams, fables and monsters!

First Line:

Splintered wood, teeth and claws, blood in the night.

They Mostly Come Out at Night by Benedict Patrick

Beginning of Book Impressions:

I was pretty excited to read They Mostly Come Out at Night. Honestly, this has been the most exciting that I have been reading a book in a long time. I couldn’t wait to see what this book would be about. You know what? I wasn’t disappointed!! They Mostly Come Out at Night ended up being what I thought it would be and then some.

The book started fast and kept up the pace until the middle of the book. It took me a couple of hours to get through the first half of the book. That is a good thing seeing that I read before bed. I had to make myself stop reading because I needed to sleep.

Several things are revealed in the first half of the book. I am going to bullet point them with brief explanations. If I wrote paragraphs, this review could get lengthy, and we wouldn’t want that, would we!!

  1. The main characters. Lonan, the village outcast, and Adahy, the heir to The Magpie King’s throne. Out of the two, I liked Lonan the most. Even though the village shunned him, he was a good person. Plus, he was the only person who knew who and what Jareth Quarry was. Adahy, I liked him, but I thought he was weak and not fit to take over The Magpie King’s role.
  2. The Knacks. Everyone in Lonan’s village had a Knack. Everyone, except Lonan. It was another blow and another thing for people to taunt him over.
  3. Adahy’s relationship with Maedoc. Maedoc was Adahy’s whipping boy. If you don’t know what a whipping boy was, click here. To me, it was a warped relationship, but Adahy honestly thought that Maedoc was his friend.
  4. The folklore (fairy tales) that were included instead of regular paragraphs. It gave so much background into The Magpie King and the different Animals that certain groups of people took their names from (Mouse, Owl, Wolf). I liked that the author gave the reader a chance to make up their mind on how much was right with the folk tales.

By the end of the beginning of the book, some details were starting to come out. Lonan wasn’t responsible for anything, and Adahy wasn’t ready to become King. I was still trying to figure out how Lonan and Adahy were connected but was coming up blank.

Mid-Book Impressions:

The pace of the book did not slow down during the middle of the book. It picked up. I was left on the edge of my seat during several scenes.

Again, there is so much going on in this book; I will bullet point it to keep it straight.

  1. Jareth’s campaign against Lonan starts to unravel, and Jareth’s Knack is revealed. Jareth’s hatred for Lonan is also disclosed. I wasn’t surprised at what was revealed. I was saddened, though.
  2. Adahy’s quest to become the next King Magpie. I thought it was nuts. I also thought that bringing Maedoc with him was, well, not well thought out.
  3. The introduction of The Pale Woman. Talk about someone who freaked me out!! A faceless woman who kept the flower that Adahy needed to become the Magpie King. My spidey sense started tingling because Mother Ogma had mentioned her in a previous chapter.
  4. Branwen gradually starting to talk to Lonan again and Jareth’s insane reaction to it. I got why he acted the way he did but still.
  5. The reveal of Lonan’s Knack. I wasn’t surprised at what it was, but I was still confused about how Lonan and Adahy were connected.
  6. Maedoc’s betrayal of Adahy. I should have seen it coming. But I didn’t, and it was a shocking way to end the middle of the book.
  7. There were more folk tales about The Magpie King. But there were also a couple of stories about The Mouse King. Those tales foreshadow what was going to happen between Maedoc and Adahy.

End of Book Impressions:

The end of the book was fantastic!!! I loved that They Mostly Come Out at Night kept up the blisteringly fast pace. There was a twist that I didn’t see coming and one that I did.

I liked how the author brought Adahy and Lonan’s stories together. Any confusion that I previously had gone away when their connection was explained. It made total sense.

The Jareth angle of the book was ended at the beginning of the end of the book. I loved seeing that he got what was coming to him (sorry, not sorry). I also liked that the villagers went out of their way to make things right with Lonan. The only thing that wasn’t resolved was Lonan’s relationship with his mother. I figured that she came around with the rest of the village.

I am not going to go into the rest of the book. All I will say is that Lonan became what he was meant to be. But that came at a high cost. That final scene with Mother Ogma broke my heart.

My Overall Thoughts on They Only Come Out at Night:

I enjoyed reading They Only Come Out at Night. The dual storylines with small chapters of folk tales kept my attention. The lore was fantastic and made me want to know more. The characters were well written, and the plotline was fast-moving. There was no lag.

I would recommend They Only Come Out at Night for anyone over 16. This is a clean book (no sex).

And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich

And the Trees Crept In by [Kurtagich, Dawn]

Publisher: Little, Brown Book for Young Readers

Date of publication: September 6th, 2016

Genre: Horror, Young Adult, Mystery, Fantasy, Paranormal, Fiction, Thriller, Supernatural, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

Stay away from the woods…

When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the manor is cursed. The endless creaking of the house at night and the eerie stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too—questions that Silla can’t ignore: Why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer? Who is the beautiful boy who’s appeared from the woods? And who is the tall man with no eyes who Nori plays with in the basement at night… a man no one else can see?

I stayed up until 1 am to finish reading this book. I had to finish this book because it had such a grip on me. It scared me to death and fascinated me at the same time. It was good when I can’t sleep after finishing a book because it creeped me out.

This book is written in such a different fashion it is hard to explain. In one chapter, you are reading in 1st person, and then you could be reading in 3rd person. I don’t like it when the book jumps around like that, but it worked in this case. There were also excerpts from Silla’s diary that were creepy. I got the chills from reading it.

This book also fucks with your mind. I won’t go into it, but, baby, things are not what they seem in this book!!!

Like I said above, this book is a mind fuck. The huge twist at the end threw me for a loop. I didn’t even see it coming. Not a hint, nothing.

I would recommend And the Trees Crept In to anyone over 21. It is a clean book with no violence and mild language.

If you enjoyed And the Trees Crept In, you will enjoy these books:

Hidden in Shadows (Shadow Court Chronicles: Book 1) by Claire Grimes

Hidden In Shadows: A Fae Vampire Action and Adventure Fantasy Romance (Shadow Court Chronicles: Faerie Series Book 1) by [Grimes, Claire]

Publisher: HotRomanceStory

Date of publication: September 17, 2015

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Vampires, Fae, Romance, Paranormal Romance, Supernatural, Paranormal

Series: Shadow Court Chronicles

Hidden in Shadows—Book 1

Deal for Freedom—Book 1.5

Hunting in Shadows—Book 2

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible |B&N |Kobo

Goodreads Synopsis:

When a beautiful, arrogant Unseelie Princess is forced to flee her family castle on her wedding night, she has to embrace the darkness of the shadow court or risk leaving her young brother trapped in the hands of torture by her husband the devious Seelie Prince.

She never expected love to occur in her arranged marriage. As a princess in the Unseelie Court, she grew up understanding that her life was to serve the people. She walked into her arranged marriage to a Seelie Prince understanding that love was not going to happen. What she did not expect was for her Seelie husband to try to kill her thirty minutes into their marriage with poison.

A bloody coup sends her running with her bodyguard, Kieran, on her wedding night. Now she has to stay one step ahead of her murderous husband as she attempts to gather allies, discover the secrets to claim her birthright and get her much-needed revenge. Thankfully she has some help in the form of a sexy nightwalker, Vincent, as she fights to stay one step ahead of the light to stay hidden in the shadows.

If you love Fae romance stories with Hot Sexy Vampires, this sizzling fast-paced tale is right up your alley. Scroll up and click the Buy Button and discover if Lyssandra is able to resist the sexy nightwalker Vincent who was a slave to her people.

I loved this book but hated that it was a cliffhanger. I hate cliffhangers, and this one ended right when the book was getting good!!!!

There is plenty of violence and action, along with a ton of Fae lore, which I loved. Everything from Celtic mythology, I was in Celtic heaven.

The storyline was great.  I loved Lyssa’s character. When the storyline introduced Vincent, he added sensuality to it. Kieran was a great example of a Red Cap.

If you enjoyed reading Hidden in Shadows, you will enjoy reading these books:

Breathless (Jason and Azazel: Book 1) by V.J. Chambers

Book Cover

Publisher: Punk Rawk Books

Date of publication: November 17, 2013

Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Young Adult, Paranormal Romance, Mystery, Suspense, Contemporary, Supernatural

Series: Jason and Azazel

Breathless—Book 1

Trembling—Book 2

Tortured—Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads synopsis:

What if the messiah and the anti-christ fell in love? Azazel is seventeen and sexually frustrated. Her biggest issue is trying to figure out why her seemingly normal boyfriend won’t sleep with her. Then Jason races into her life. He won’t say where he came from or who’s chasing him. He’s a delicious puzzle, a boy who has no problem using his fists to solve arguments or quoting Plato to justify his actions. Azazel is drawn to him. She’s obsessed with finding out his secrets. What she doesn’t know is that Jason’s secrets are entwined with her own town’s secrets. Her friends and family have conspired to use her as a pawn in a violent scheme. Soon, she will have to choose between protecting Jason and staying loyal to everyone she’s ever trusted. A story about forbidden love, fate, and free will, Breathless is Rosemary’s Baby meets The Da Vinci Code.

My review:

What I liked about Breathless:

  1. It was fast-paced. Very fast-paced. From the beginning, when Jason showed up to the end. I liked books that don’t drag on.
  2. The romance between Azazel and Jason. Considering the circumstances, it was sweet in its way.
  3. The storyline with Azazel. To say I was stunned by the twist in the plot was an understatement.

What I disliked about Breathless:

  1. Azazel, at some points in the book. She is a very horny teenager who crosses sexual lines with Todd, her boyfriend. She also came across as naive and too trusting.
  2. Jason, at some points in the book. He didn’t seem real. Handling a gun from 5? Trained to kill and sent on missions to do that by 17? Not real. And yes, I remember that this book isn’t real.
  3. The whole subplot line and what happened to the characters. While they got what was coming to them, I didn’t agree with how it went. You need to read the book to find out what I am referring to.

If you enjoyed reading Breathless, you will enjoy these books: