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.

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Genre: Historical mystery
Secondary genre: paranormal
CW: mental health
Rep: violence against women, mental health

One thing I love about Simone St. James’ work is that all of her book, though stand alone, are set in the same world. There are often references to other books or events.

In this particular volume we follow Joanna, a dejected war widow who has no choice but to work for her husband’s selfish, horrible relatives. Officially she’s Dot’s companion–her husband’s aunt–but later transitions to being more of a secretary. Dot treats everyone like garbage, probably because her husband is a horrible man who hates her and she’s the type of person who takes it out on everyone around her.

Anyway, it’s not until returning to the family home that Joanna learns Dot’s mentally unwell daughter died several years earlier, by “jumping” off the roof (it’s never specified what she suffered from, but it’s implied she was a high-support autistic). In the nearby village, however, rumor fly ranging from murder to an aborted German invasion during the war, to all sorts of paranormal explanations, including a ghostly dog that can be heard howling in the woods at night.

It would seem that her ghost has a message for Jo, and she keeps appearing at the most inopportune times. Already near an emotional breakdown, Jo is half convinced she’s going crazy.

While this wasn’t my favorite Simone St. James novel, I did really enjoy it. I love how atmospheric her books are, but she does definitely have a type when it comes to heroines: poor, lonely, and depressed. But that is one thing I really love about them–they start at rock bottom and always find their strength through the book. It did mean I found this book a bit predictable, but I still enjoyed the reveals.

Miss Violet and the Great War by Leanna Renee Hieber

Genre: historical
Secondary genre: paranormal/war
Format read: audiobook
CW: violence
Rep: mental health

Leanna’s books are so hard for me to review, because I know her personally. We attend the same con, work on the same panels, chat over Twitter, and exchange the occasional letter or email. I love her personality, her vibrancy, and the messages she includes in her work.

That being said, we have vastly different storytelling styles, and while I like the broad strokes she paints, the line-by-line details aren’t really my cup of tea, mostly because I keep thinking about how I would edit the book differently (this is a hazard of being an author; it’s hard to read for pleasure without thinking about how you would change a book).

Set on the eve of the WWI, Violet represents the third generation in the Hieberverse. Her parents fought evil and won. Time for the happily ever after, right?

But since childhood Violet has been plagued by horrible nightmares of men in pits, explosions, and gunfire. It’s not until war breaks out between England and Germany, however, that she realizes these dreams are her calling: to stop the evil her parents defeated from leaking back into the land of the living, she must travel to France and the epicenter of the fighting and attempt to put it to rest once and for all.

Filled with a host of characters readers will recognize from her earlier novels, Miss Violet and the Great War is a part stand alone and part sequel. There’s no need to read the previous books, but you will get more out of this one if you are familiar with the Percy Parker series.

My biggest complaint when reading this was the winding path it took. I’m more action oriented in my books, so I thought, being a war book, this would be a lot punchier from the start. If action isn’t your thing, though, you’ll enjoy the emotional arc of this story as it works through Percy’s childhood, up through the war.

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?

Real Ghost Stories by Brad Steiger

Genre: nonfiction
Secondary genre: paranormal
Format read: hard copy
Rating: planchet-3

This is a hard book to rate, because it has literally hundreds of stories in it, and some of them are better than others.

Some of them are traditional ghost stories. Others are personal experiences gained through interviews, newspapers, or the internet. Most of them are from the US, but there are stories from England, Germany, Australia, and other parts of the world as well.

My favorite section was the one on death bed apparitions and moment of death appearances. The chapter on possessions freaked me out and I skipped the one on “ghosts from outer space” entirely because few things freak me out more than aliens.

The two things I disliked the most were the author’s penchant for defending pseudo science, and the photos sprinkled through the book, most of which had absolutely no connection to the stories they were inserted in. I wish the stories had been presented without the author trying to justify them. I wish the photos that didn’t have stories were just in their own section, as some of them were pretty freaky and could sneak up on me when I was reading, like the bookish version of a jumpscare (which I hate).

It was a very interesting read, however, so if you are looking for a good ghost story or twelve (or a thousand) you might try to track this one down.

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

Genre: Contemporary
Secondary genre: paranormal
Format read: audiobook
Rating: DNF

**This review contains mild spoilers**

Lara is in a lurch. She quit her job to start a company with her best friend, only to have said friend elope to another country. Her business is failing, her family is disappointed in her, and even worse, her wealthy relatives keep rubbing it in her face. To top it all off, her boyfriend dumped her.

And now she’s seeing ghosts. Well, a ghost. Of her great-aunt Sadie, whom she’s never met, but whose funeral she’s expected to attend.

The sad service–no flowers, only seven guests, and no one who’d ever actually met Sadie–is a huge disappointment on many levels, until suddenly Sadie’s ghost, circa 1927, swoops in and starts screaming about a lost necklace. And Lara’s the only one who can hear her.

This book should have been a home-run for me: Ghosts! The 1920s! A broke millennial finding her way in the world!

But no. I was cringing within the first five minutes.

Lara as a character is a wet noodle. She’s clingy, calling her ex so often he changed his phone number. She routinely put people in her life (like said ex, and her absentee best friend) who take advantage of her. This isn’t entirely surprising, considering her family  is a cluster of assholes. From a psychological standpoint, she’s drawn to what she knows.

Then we have Sadie. Sadie, of the screechy voice, the “look at me!” personality, and a complete lack of respect or consideration for the people around her.

The two of them butt heads from the first, and I couldn’t stand either of them. They were both extremely annoying. Just when I would start to feel sympathy for Sadie, she would go off and do something annoying again.

And Lara’s method of dealing with Sadie is to tell lie after lie…to the police. I’m not talking little white lies that might be funny later. I mean things like “I think someone at the nursing home murdered my aunt!” (shouted in desperation when Sadie pesters her to stop the funeral and subsequent cremation).

The fact that she would a) purger herself and b) put other people at risk without even thinking sent me so far over the edge that I DNFed this book at around 25%. It was a disappointing thing to do, especially after reading Finding Audrey and loving it so much. I don’t think I’ve ever read an author with both a 5 star read and a DNF before. But I just couldn’t stand listening to the two of them bicker, or watching as Lara sent her train wreck of a life straight over a cliff.

Maybe others find the things I dislike funny, but this one definitely didn’t hit the sweet spot for me.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Genre: adult supernatural
Secondary genre: historical
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: violence, sexism, racism
Rating: planchet

In this twisted historical, Grahame-Smith re-imagines history with one slight change: vampires. Vampires are the power behind the politics that run pre-Civil War America, and when Abe Lincoln, then only a child, discovers their dark secrets, he dedicates his life to hunting them down and destroying them after they kill his mother, and later, his fiance.

Beginning as an itinerant vampire hunter, wandering the Mississippi River Valley, Abe is somewhat aimless until he meets the mysterious Henry, a vampire who takes him under his wing…to teach him how to hunt vampires.

Disgusted with the way his kind treats humanity, Henry feeds Abe information on where to find the most dangerous vampires, and the best way of dispatching them.

As the tensions between North and South begin to rise, however, Abe realizes that his best bet for defeating Vampires, and the slavery that supports them, is from within America’s political system.

At first I was super excited for this book. Vampires! Civil War! Lincoln! All of my favorite things, wrapped up into one great audiobook.

Alas, for me, it did not live up to expectations. The story is bookended by bits set during modern day, in which Henry delivers Lincoln’s journals to a writer for apparently no real reason. The story itself is the “biography” the author writes based on these notes, and it reads like it–like a very dry, very boring biography. The action scenes were dull, and even the deaths of Lincoln’s first girlfriend and his sons were barely a blip. The author completely missed the emotional beats of the story.

In addition, it’s rife with passive racism and sexism. I don’t think any of the women in Lincoln’s life had more than a single line of dialogue. I don’t know about you, but I can’t fathom Mary Todd Lincoln keeping her mouth shut for more than five minutes, let alone 200+ pages.

But the part that really got me was the fact that Grahame-Smith completely cut Kate Warne from the Baltimore Plot. Not only was she the one who uncovered it, but she was the one who came up with a way to save Lincoln’s life. She was with him the entire time. Additionally, she would have made an excellent fellow vampire hunter.

There’s been a lot of debate over the years about Lincoln’s position on race. While he was an abolitionist, he wasn’t as forceful about it as many of our history books would lead us to believe. He supported freeing slaves and sending them back to Africa, rather than allowing them to be free in America.

Somehow, though, the author manages to make Lincoln both more racist and a stronger abolitionist. He looks on slaves as inferior humans who are fit for little else, but at the same time calls slavery a stain on humanity, primarily because slave auctions are essentially the 1850s version of fast food for vampires. He seems to think of slavery as a necessary evil, however, until Henry reveals the vampire plot to enslave whites, as well. This is what prompts him to present the emancipation proclamation, not any sort of empathy or egalitarian leanings.

All in all, I was hugely disappointed in this book. I kept reading in the hopes it would get better, but I think I just wasted 10 hours of my life instead.

Osgood as Gone by Cooper S. Beckett

Genre: mystery
Secondary genre: paranormal
Series: The Spectral Inspector vol 1
Format read: ebook
Content warnings: alcohol and RX abuse
Positive rep: LGBTQIA, polyamory, POC (SE Asian)
Rating: planchet-3

I received an ARC of this book in exchanged for an honest review.

Prudence Osgood has had it rough. A car accident left her with chronic back pain and debilitating headaches. Her ambition and willingness to please her old boss destroyed her hopes of having her own ghost-hunting television show–not to mention her relationship with her co-host and then girlfriend. To top it off, her polyamorous relationship with a married couple has hit a wall, leaving her shut out.

All this to say that most of her time is spent laying on the floor in varying states of not-sober, while her podcast, the Spectral Inspector, languishes in the bowels of the internet.

That all changes with a mysterious text message. After enlisting her tech-expert best friend, she tries to track down the unknown sender and decipher the cryptic message.

What she finds sends her on a mythical quest into ’90s rock music, a series of missing persons cases, and a reunion with Catherine Frost, her former co-host and ex. They’ll have to put aside their differences if they want to bring the missing home–including Catherine’s sister. Or stop the end of the world.

This book starts out as a hard-boiled detective novel, then delves into 90s nostalgia, music fandom, and finally takes a sharp left into Cthullhu-esque mythos.

I enjoyed all aspects of this book, though I do wish the supernatural had been sprinkled throughout the book, rather than just exploding at the end. It’s hinted at through Osgood’s dreams, but when I picked up the book I was expecting more of a ghost story than an end-of-the-world, old gods bent on destruction kind of story.

Still, I really loved the layering of the clues though music and hidden messages, and the chemistry and tension between the characters. If you’re looking for an indie book in the vein of Meddling Kids, then this is a good one to pick up.