City of Ghosts & Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

Genre: Middle grade horror
Secondary genre: fantasy/paranormal
Format: hard back, audio
Series: Cassidy Blake vol. 1 & 2
CW: child death
Rep: mixed race
Ratings: 5/5 & 4/5

Cassidy stand in between the living and the dead. When she was eleven, she nearly drowned and was saved by a ghost. Now, a year later, the ghost is her best friend and she continually finds herself facing situations and people that shouldn’t exist–at least not in this time, on this plane.

Just to make things better, her parents are paranormal investigators. When they are offered a chance to film an international show about hauntings, they decide to take Cassidy–and by extension, the ghostly Jacob–with them. Now the Blake family is traveling the world in search of it’s most haunted locations.

Book one is set in Edinburgh, where Cassidy meets Laura, a half-Indian girl who is also stuck “in between.” Laura teaches Cassidy more about her powers and how to use them–both the good and the bad. But Laura’s help might not even be enough when Edinburgh’s most dangerous spirit sets her sights of Cassidy.

All I can really tell you about book two is that it deals with the catacombs of Paris, and involves an extremely powerful poltergeist.

I really liked this series. I love Cassidy and her quirky family. Jacob is a sweetheart who tries so hard to keep Cass on the straight and narrow, but it doesn’t usually work. She’s a clever girl who keeps getting herself into dangerous situations, but she’s always trying to help people, and she’s very brave.

I loved these books and really look forward to a third book in the series.

If you love history and a good ghost story, you’ll probably love these books, too.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Genre: Mystery
Secondary Genre: Historical
CW: Violence, abuse, sexual assault

This dual-timeline novel was not what I was expecting when I saw the name Simone St. James, but it definitely lives up to her reputation.

The book follows Fiona, a journalist in modern day New England. Years before her sister was murdered on the grounds of an abandoned boarding school. When she finds out the school has a new owner who plans to restore and reopen the property, it sets her on a quest to uncover the history of the place–and she soon discovers one murder isn’t enough for the creepy old place.

The second timeline features five students in the 1950s, just before the first murder occurs. Through research and interviews, the past and present begin to intertwine, and Fiona gets the first lead on her sister’s unsolved murder in 20 years.

This book is dark, visceral, and disturbing. It was very hard to read in places, and delved into some very dark subjects (see content warnings above; I don’t want to give too much away here). The girls at the school are “trouble makers” with no where else to go. Some of them don’t have families; some of them have been cast off by their families due to mental or physical health issues. In most cases, the girls are paying for the crimes of their parents and family members, and the teachers and community make sure they know it.

The Broken Girls is both drastically different from St. James previous books, while still holding true to her brand. If you have the mental fortitude to handle the issues mentioned above, it is well worth a read.

Ghostly Tales

Genre: classic lit
Secondary genre: paranormal
Format: hard copy
CW: mental illness/hallucinations, mentions of suicide

Authors: M.R. James, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, F. Marion Crawford, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Amelia B. Edwards.

I received this anthology as a gift, and was super excited to read it. I love classic lit, and ghost stories, and I had no idea that Elizabeth Gaskell had even written a ghost story.  I’m usually not a big fan of anthologies or short stories in general, but this one was quite a good read. I think the stories got better–and creepier–the further I got into the book. The Screaming Skull was by far my favorite.

If you’re looking for some lesser known works by some of the 19th century’s most famous writers, then this is definitely a good book to pick up–and read on a dark and stormy night by the fire, with a cup of tea and a nice fuzzy blanket. Just don’t turn out all the lights.

The Bell Witch: An American Haunting

Genre: Paranormal fiction
Secondary genre: historical
Format: audio
CW: child molestation, cruelty to animals, racism, victim blaming, pedophilia
Rating: planchet-3

A word of warning about this book: While inspired by historical events, this is a novel. However, not everyone seems to realize this. My library listed it as nonfiction in Overdrive, it’s listed as both fiction and nonfiction on Goodreads, and the introduction makes it sound like nonfiction. I finally visited the author’s website for confirmation that yes, it is indeed a novel.

Needless to say, my expectations when I started reading were quite different from what I actually got. If I’d been expecting fiction, I might have rated this as 4 stars, but I doubt it, just because of that long list of content warnings. There were a few points where I wanted to throw my phone across the room due to the content.

If you aren’t familiar with the Bell Witch, take a moment to go look up the Wiki. I’ll wait.

The  novel is from an outsider’s perspective, that of a man come to investigate the haunting. Honestly, if I were going to write the book, I would have made it from Betsy’s POV, but the detached outsider looking in is a hallmark of the era; so many books were written this way that it adds to the feel that this is an actual account of the mysterious events.

While it was well written and the author did a good job of making it feel like a historical account, I can’t say this is high on my recommendations list. Why does it always come down to pedophilia?

The Shining by Stephen King

Genre: Horror
Format read: ebook
Content warnings: alcohol abuse, violence, emotional abuse, gaslighting
Rating: planchet-3

**This review contains spoilers**

Jack Torrance has not had a good year, but that’s about to change. After a year “on the wagon,” he finally has a new job. It’s not as good as his old one, teaching English at a prestigious prep school, but it’s enough to keep his family afloat, and give his old bosses time to cool off. By the time his contract is up in May, they’ll be begging him to come back.

Or so he hopes, as he loads his wife, Wendy, and their 5-year-old son, Danny, into their failing Beetle for the drive to the secluded Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains. It’s just a few months. Just a few months of easy work as caretaker for the hotel during the office season, when it’s closed to the public. It will do them all good to get away for a while.

But there’s something lurking in the hotel, and it wants Jack–badly. Optimism turns to desperation and resentment. His curiosity about the hotel’s storied past of murder, sudden death, mysterious events, and gangland ties turns into an obsession as the spirit of the hotel claws deeper into his brain.

But it may not be Jack it wants, after all.

I don’t want to dive too deep into the summary of this book since it is pretty famous. You can read about it here, on Goodreads. 

That being said, I went into it knowing nothing except it was about a haunted hotel (Yes, please!) and it’s Stephen King, The Master of Horror. I’d never seen the movie. In fact, I’d never read any Stephen King at all, or seen any movies based on his work. So I figured it was time to change that.

I honestly didn’t care for most of this book. I hated Jack with a passion. I found his family situation triggering due to the emotional abuse he puts his family through and the alcoholism.

Also, apparently a trait of King’s writing is to introduce the story, then do several chapters of backstory, and then get back to the current timeline. I thought the backstory was very slow and it did not endear me to any of the characters except Danny.

His wife, Wendy, came across whiny and annoying for the first 2/3 of the book, and for a woman in her situation, that should not be the case.

Once I got to the last 30% or so of the book, things got really intense and I enjoyed it more, but I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when Jack died. He’s the first literary character I have actively wanted to die.

Part of me wants to say that this book had good rep for POC, because Dick Halloran, a black man, is arguably the hero of the piece, who comes to rescue Danny and Wendy when thinks look particularly grim. He’s a total badass, and I loved him from the first page he appeared on. However, there are also racial slurs thrown about in the second half of the book in particular, so I’m not comfortable calling it “good rep” as a white woman–I think a person of color would have to be the one to make that call.

All in all, it was a decent book, but I feel like I’ve met my King Quota. From what I’ve heard from other reviewers, the issues I had with this book (the triggering aspects, the pacing, and the racial language) are all hallmarks of Stephen King. If you think I’m wrong, leave a comment and tell me which one of his books I should read to change my mind!


Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Genre: Horror
Secondary genre: Mystery/comedy
Format read: audio
Content warnings: mental health including mentions of suicide, disturbing imagery
Positive rep: POC (Hispanic and Native American), LGBTQIA, mental health*
Rating: planchet-5

This book has been on my radar since it came out, but while it made an initial splash, I feel like it was largely unnoticed by readers. That’s a shame, because it was my first 5 star book of 2019.

13 years ago, Andy, Nate, Karri, and Paul were middle-school aged kids solving mysteries during summer vacation with Kari’s trusty pup. Aftering breaking up sheep smuggling rings, finding lost items, and uncovering sabotage, the quartet are faced with their toughest case yet: a so-called haunting at a mysterious abandoned mansion on Sleepy Lake.

While their child-selves managed to uncover the suspect–a man in a mask searching for hidden gold, who would have gotten away with it, too, if not for those meddling kids–the case has far reaching repercussions, and haunts them into adulthood.

Peter, the defacto leader and eldest of the group, goes on to become an actor, but takes his own life just as his career is taking off.

Kerri, the brain, has washed out of grad school and is tending bar. Handy, since she’s also an alcoholic trying to deal with terrifying nightmares.

Nate has been in and out of mental institutions since high school in an attempt to get control of his hallucinations–like seeing Peter’s ghost.

And Andy, wanted in at least two states, with a dishonorable discharge from the air force and a few assaults under her belt, is trying and failing to get a handle on the episodes of blinding rage she’s been dealing with.

Sick of running from her demons, Andy decides it’s time to get the gang back together and face the monsters head on. It’s time to find out if the man in the mask was really the one pulling the strings, or–as they all once suspected–there’s something supernatural afoot in Sleepy Lake.

This book balances grit with goofy, horror with humor. At first, I wasn’t sure it was my kind of book, but I kept reading for the one liners. By chapter two or three, however, I was hooked.

While Andy seems to be the main focus of the book–most of the narration is centered around her–it’s Nate that really makes the story for me. A nerd to the core, he’s the one with the mythical knowledge that allows them to move forward with their investigation. I’m a sucker for characters that make me laugh, and Nate definitely does that.

A cross between Scooby Doo and H.P Lovecraft, it calls back to the ensemble mystery novels of the early-mid 1900s, with some fantastical horror thrown in and some early ’90s nostalgia to boot.

*The mental health content in this book involves depression and hallucinations and may be triggering for some readers