Posted in Audiobooks, Book Reviews

REVIEW: When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry

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*No Major Spoilers*

Almost everyone in the small town of Splendor, Ohio, was affected when the local steel mill exploded. If you weren’t a casualty of the accident yourself, chances are a loved one was. That’s the case for seventeen-year-old Franny, who, five years after the explosion, still has to stand by and do nothing as her brother lies in a coma.

In the wake of the tragedy, Franny found solace in a group of friends whose experiences mirrored her own. The group calls themselves The Ordinary, and they spend their free time investigating local ghost stories and legends, filming their exploits for their small following of YouTube fans. It’s silly, it’s fun, and it keeps them from dwelling on the sadness that surrounds them.

Until one evening, when the strange and dangerous thing they film isn’t fiction–it’s a bright light, something massive hurdling toward them from the sky. And when it crashes and the teens go to investigate…everything changes.

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First off, I have to say that when I saw the cover of this novel at the library, I fell in love with this beautiful book cover. When I finished reading When the Sky Fell on Splendor, I can say that the story is just as beautiful as the cover.

“How many billions of things had to happen just right to give me this ordinary life.”

Emily Henry, When the Sky Fell on Splendor

I love how the characters were relatable and had depth. Franny and her brother Arthur grew up living in their older brother’s shadow. After the steel mill explosion and their brother Mark ends up in a coma, Franny’s mom and dad divorce and Franny and Arthur continue to live in the background of their depressed dad’s life.

We don’t get much from the other characters other than what is on the surface that Franny has observed. One of the key facets of their friend group is to not talk about emotional stuff. Even though some of the signs of the parents’ issues have clearly effected their kids in subtle ways.

Franny had grown close to one of the other boys in their group, and during an emotional moment he shared about how his mom’s doomsday prepping quickly spiraled into hoarding after the accident. He even took up a job at the local Walmart just so he could support his ailing mom and how he had become the sole breadwinner after his dad died in the accident.

I personally would’ve loved more insight on Sophia. I think she was left out when it came to emotional weight. She was the smartest one of the group and wasn’t an outcast like the others. She wanted to be a lawyer after a weekend with her grandmother watching Law and Order: SVU. She seemed to have a great relationship with her mom, and doesn’t understand why Franny started keeping her at arm’s length.

I read this book being compared to The Serpent King and Stranger Things as well as Super 8. I personally haven’t read or watched any of these, but they seem to have similar themes to When the Sky Fell on Splendor. So if you are familiar with any of these popular stories, I would recommend this novel for you.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Non-Fiction

REVIEW: The Last Book on the Left: Stories of Murder and Mayhem from History’s Most Notorious Serial Killers by Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski

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Since its first show in 2010, The Last Podcast on the Left has barreled headlong into all things horror, as hosts Henry Zebrowski, Ben Kissel, and Marcus Parks cover subjects spanning Jeffrey Dahmer, werewolves, Jonestown, and supernatural phenomena. Deeply researched but with a morbidly humorous bent, the podcast has earned a dedicated and aptly cult-like following for its unique take on all things macabre.

In their first book, the guys take a deep dive into history’s most infamous serial killers, from Ted Bundy to John Wayne Gacy, exploring their origin stories, haunting habits, and perverse predilections. Featuring newly developed content alongside updated fan favorites, each profile is an exhaustive examination of the darker side of human existence. With appropriately creepy four-color illustrations throughout and a gift-worthy paper overboard format, The Last Book on the Left will satisfy the bloodlust of readers everywhere.

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I have been listening to The Last Podcast on the Left for a couple of years now. I love how they talk about these serial killers and rips the curtain mainstream media has placed around them and expose them for who they indeed are.

Years of researching serial killers has revealed that most of these criminals are not the monsters of nightmares they are so often portrayed to be by “true crime entertainment” but are more often huge dorks who couldn’t get anything right in their lives so they turned to murder and mayhem. -Henry Zebrowski of Last Podcast on the Left

However, on their podcast, they talk about more than just serial killers and true crime. They also discuss various paranormal and occult topics. They recently finished up a series about the history of lobotomy, and I found the subject to be fascinating as well as a bit gross.

This collection of serial killer histories is worth the read for any true crime fan, and I feel it’s a great introduction to the podcast itself. Marcus tells the story, and Henry and Ben interject with jokes and humorous comments. Although, when the subject revolves around UFOs and aliens, Henry tends to take over the story and adds pieces of his research.

Overall, if you are looking for a true-crime read that’s not afraid to have a sense of humor, then I would recommend Last Book on the Left. This collection is perfect for fans of the podcast or looking for an introduction to true crime. This story will leave you laughing while double-checking the locks on your doors and windows.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: Columbus Day (Expeditionary Force #1) by Craig Alanson

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*No Major Spoilers*

We were fighting on the wrong side of the war; we couldn’t win. And that was the good news.
The Ruhar hit us on Columbus Day. There we were, innocently drifting along the cosmos on our little blue marble, like the Native Americans in 1492. Over the horizon come ships of a technologically advanced, aggressive culture, and BAM! There go the good old days, when humans only got killed by each other. So, Columbus Day. It fits.
When the morning sky twinkled again, this time with Kristang starships jumping in to hammer the Ruhar, we thought we were saved. The UN Expeditionary Force hitched a ride on Kristang ships to fight the Ruhar, wherever our new allies thought we could be useful. So, I went from fighting with the US Army in Nigeria, to fighting in space. It was lies, all of it. We shouldn’t even be fighting the Ruhar; they aren’t our enemy, our allies are.
I’d better start at the beginning…

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I have been looking for a sci-fi novel that involved first alien contact that didn’t leave the reader with their nose stuck in a military dictionary trying to figure out what was going on. I don’t usually read military fiction because the author can forget that not everyone reading their books may not know all of the military terminologies. Luckily Columbus Day explains all of the jargon and military slang. I like how the main character is telling his story like he’s talking to ordinary people, all of the lingoes is explained, and he explains various types of strategies and the pros and cons of each.

Another thing I enjoyed about Columbus Day is how the main character relates to the enemy as well as their allies. When the Ruhar first attack, Bishop and a ragtag team of military friends abduct one of the enemy soldiers to get intel on the enemy, and one of the other enemy soldiers got hurt by debris. Later, we learn Bishop felt guilty for not being able to check for injuries on the enemy.

“Soldiers are soldiers, whether they have fur, skin or scales. So, logically, the Ruhar lobbed a missile at the most imposing structure in the area, the potato warehouse, and took it out in impressive fashion. I mean, they blew the hell out of it, those soldiers must have had something against potatoes.” – Columbus Day

However, my opinion of the story took a dip when the author introduced Skippy, an all-powerful AI built by ancient beings many millennia ago. I feel like the author hit a roadblock in the story and created Skippy as a way to get the story going again. The author then forces us to read a game of “Pete and Repeat” about everything we had learned up to this point. I felt this dialogue was unnecessary to the overall plot.

I have since gotten used to Skippy helping Bishop and other human soldiers. Once you get over that significant speedbump, the story smooths back out into military space action. Even with Skippy doing a lot of the critical technical aspects of the operation, this doesn’t slow the momentum down.

Overall, if you are looking for a sci-fi space adventure, then I would recommend Columbus Day. I would also recommend this novel if you are a fan of military fiction, space adventures, and just looking for an overall good story. Columbus Day will leave you binging the whole series before the day is over.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: Oscawana: A Monster Novel by Frank Martin

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*No Major Spoilers*

*Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault/Child Molestation*

Located just forty-five miles north of New York City and isolated in the hills of Putnam Valley, Lake Oscawana is the perfect summer getaway. At least, that was what April’s mother told her when she dropped April and her brother off to spend the season at their uncle’s lake house. It wasn’t bad at first. April thought she might’ve finally found someone that made her feel like family and a place she could actually call home. But April grew worried when she found something living in the water. Something strange. Something growing. She wanted to tell someone and sound the alarm, but April would have to learn the hard way that not all monsters lurk beneath the water.

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I found this novel on Twitter, a lot of authors I follow retweet their friends’ works. I thought the premise was unique and I couldn’t wait to jump into Oscawana: A Monster Novel!

I feel that the author did a really good job of making Lake Oscawana seem isolated and far away from civilization even though it is in Upstate New York. I felt like I was in the depths of Canada for as far as April had to travel just to get to the nearest small town.

Early in the novel, April stumbles upon the monster when he’s still small and not threatening. They quickly develop a friendship that grows as the monster, who April named Oscar after the lake he lives in, grows in size.

The build-up to the climax is really slow, we’re mostly following April as she watches Oscar grow into an actual killing machine. Even when April comes to this realization, I found Oscar just as adorable and harmless as when April first found him. Oscar reminded me of a genetically modified dog.

April as a character feels so ingenuine from one moment to the next, more or less for the first half of the novel she is your standard teenager who has been let down by the adults around her. Then after the climax, her motives and reasons flip flop. I can’t go into more detail due to spoilers, but it was frustrating.

Shocked, Brad pulled back from the water and watched in horror as what he assumed to be blood spread out like a blooming flower. The crimson tinge was thick and slimy, bouncing a blinding ray of light in Brad’s eyes. He couldn’t look away, though. Brad stared at the ever-expanding slick of blood as it continued to grow until it completely surrounded the boat. –Oscawana: A Monster Story

I feel the ending to be lackluster, the ending feels like there could have been enough for a sequel or even a short story sequel. The ending left me feeling unsatisfying and left me with a lot of questions. Will April reunite with Oscar? Where did Oscar come from? What will happen to Oscar? Maybe these questions will be answered in some way.

Overall, I have mixed feelings towards Oscawana. I think it’s an alright story. I was expecting more monster action but was disappointed when 80% was about the human characters and their drama. If you’re looking for a quick read, I would recommend this novel. The action was great, and the heart and emotion were as well.

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Posted in Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: The Green Ember (The Green Ember #1) by S.D. Smith

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*No Major Spoilers*

Heather and Picket are extraordinary rabbits with ordinary lives until calamitous events overtake them, spilling them into a cauldron of misadventures. They discover that their own story is bound up in the tumult threatening to overwhelm the wider world.

Kings fall and kingdoms totter. Tyrants ascend and terrors threaten. Betrayal beckons and loyalty is a broken road with peril around every bend.

Where will Heather and Picket land? How will they make their stand?

“All of life is a battle against fear. We fight it on one front, and it sneaks around to our flank.” He paused, looked kindly at her. “Yes, Father. I understand.” “I regret many things I’ve done,” he said, “but most of all I regret those moments when I said to Fear, ‘You are my master.”
S.D. Smith, The Green Ember

If you have even heard of the classic children’s book, Watership Down, then I would add The Green Ember to your “to be read” list! This novel runs in a similar vein to Watership Down in that it’s about displaced rabbits who have to fight for survival. Although not as dark or grim as the classic, The Green Ember tells a story of survival, betrayal, loss, and overcoming obstacles.

The story is mostly told from Heather’s perspective, even though Picket sits in the narrator’s seat from time to time. Heather and Picket’s learning about how the real world for all rabbits really works, and their family history, feels genuine and real.

I enjoyed this story a lot, all of the characters are well developed, and the history for the rabbit colonies was well fleshed out. I could tell the author put a lot of love and care into the mythos of this world. My most memorable character other than the siblings was the wise elderly rabbit, Maggie Weaver. She is a mother/grandmotherly figure to those who live in the community. She is the fastest sewer, and she gives the rabbits a shoulder to lean on when times are rough.

!!This might be a small spoiler, so be warned!!

Near the end of the novel, Ms. Weaver makes an astounding speech to all of the rabbits. Reminding them she is just another elderly rabbit. She doesn’t see herself in this grandiose way that the rest of the colony seem to view her. She lost her husband in the fall of the last king, and she reminds the other rabbits that she is no one special.

This is a children’s illustrated chapter book. However, I listened to the audiobook and the audiobook was just as amazing as reading the ebook. I would definitely say that this novel is appropriate for most ages. The violence is PG, or in video game terms E10+. There is no bad language, so the only thing for parents to worry about is violence.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Green Ember. I would highly recommend it for a nice family read. I would also recommend this for lovers of fantasy, animal protagonists, and of course, rabbits.