The Better Liar, by Tanen Jones

Short Take: She’s a good liar, but not quite good enough.

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Good morning, my marvelous nerdlings! I hope that everyone is enjoying the preparations for whichever mid-winter holiday (or holidays) you celebrate, with a minimum of stress and unexpected expenses!

Oh, who am I kidding, we all know that the traditions of stress and financial delirium in December are the green cherries in the fruitcake  We don’t know how they came about, or why, or if they should even exist, but we all just accept it because it’s what we do and have done for as long as we can remember.

And, you know, alcohol.

Speaking of questionable life decisions, meet Leslie. She’s your typical middle-class working wife and mother to a year-old son, suffering from the typical malaise that often accompanies  those cliches. So when her father dies, leaving a hundred thousand dollars to be split between Leslie and her sister Robin, it’s a chance for Leslie to breathe a little. 

There’s one catch though: in order to claim the money, the sisters, who have been estranged for a decade, have to appear together to sign the paperwork. And when Leslie goes to Vegas to track down Robin, she instead finds Robin’s dead, overdosed body.

But fate (or alcohol) intervenes, as it tends to do. Leslie decides to not report Robin’s death, and instead have a drink or twenty-seven. And that’s when she meets Mary – cocktail waitress, stalking victim, and Robin’s doppelganger. In a plan borne of desperation (and maybe alcohol), Leslie persuades Mary to come home with her for a few days and pretend to be Robin long enough to sign the paperwork, at which point they can both go their separate ways, fifty thousand dollars richer.

It seems easy enough, right? But we all know that you should probably not trust your future to that stranger you got drunk with that one time, especially when both of you have secret motivations and plans of your own. And of course it all becomes a Cat And Mouse Game as they plot against each other and the stakes grow well beyond the cash.

The Better Liar ALMOST nails it. The characters are fun in that infuriating way that all thriller readers are familiar with – we have no idea why they are doing the things they are doing until All Is Revealed. There’s some meaty subtext on the pressures women face in society to be a certain kind of wife or mother or homemaker, and how suffocating those roles can be, and the idea that tradition doesn’t necessarily mean “good thing” (green cherries, I’m looking at you). 

But I feel like Ms.Jones dropped the ball on the plot somewhat. To be a little more specific without spoilers, there was one reveal that I think was supposed to be a major twist that was telegraphed early on, and so the second half of the book wasn’t as exciting as it should have been. I mean, it could just be me, I’ve read so many of these things that my twist-figuring skills are LEGENDARY. (Ok ok ok, maybe closer to slightly above average, but my point stands.)

So in the end, The Better Liar is an OK-bordering-on-meh-level mystery, but a great look at two very well-drawn female characters living with or trying to escape from the choices they’ve made.

THE NERD’S RATING: THREE HAPPY NEURONS (and a few festive cocktails, and what the heck, toss a few green cherries in there. Happy holidays!!)

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The Kill Club, by Wendy Heard

Short Take: Here, have a supersize twist, with a side order of twist, and an extra scoop of twist on the top.

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Greetings nerdlings! I come to you from the great frozen north…. Err, some bit of Appalachia which is currently freezing its tiddlywinks off for no particular reason. It looks like a snow globe outside, which, while pretty, means that I am not leaving the house for any reason. So it’s vodka o’clock, right? 

Ok, maybe it’s still just a teensy bit too early in the day for booze, but it’s ALWAYS a good time for a revenge fantasy, and believe me when I say that my fevered little nerd-brain always has a few of those kicking around. We’ll start with gathering up all the girls who bullied me in high school, shaving them all bald, and forcing them to work for an MLM for the rest of their lives….. 

Sorry, got distracted there for a second. 

The truth is that just about everyone has a name in mind when they hear “The world would be better off without…”, and in Wendy Heard’s latest, there’s a shadowy someone who can make your wish come true. An abusive parent, a dangerous stalker, an ex who cheats the system in family court – anyone can be targeted, and there’s not even any money involved. It’s a very simple setup – your tormentor will be killed, and in return, at a later date, you’ll kill someone else’s. 

For Jazz, the voice on the other end of the phone seems like a godsend at first. She’s been struggling to get custody of her little brother Joaquin from their horrifically abusive, religious-fanatic adoptive mother Carol. Jazz agrees to kill another abuser in exchange for Carol’s death, but if home renovations have taught me anything, it’s that nothing is ever as simple as it first appears. 

Complications arise and multiply, and I’m not going to elaborate on what those complications are, because The Kill Club is best experienced with as much surprise as possible.

And oh, my darlings, what delicious surprises they are! Even though some of the plot elements are a bit outlandish, the characters are so richly drawn (especially Jazz, my god, she’s so damaged and imperfect and real), the tension is so relentless, I was all-in. And the most awful/amazing trick in the author’s arsenal this time out is the too-mundane ways in which we humans are terrible to each other: A parent abusing a child. A man who will take by force what he wants from a woman. The guy in the office who eats chips with his mouth open. Revenge isn’t a new idea, someone being driven to murder by the callousness of another isn’t a new idea, but a person or persons quietly organizing those crimes so that victims are given justice without ever being directly tied to the death of their tormentor…. Now that’s just brilliant.

And more than a little scary, if I’m being honest, because of how attractive the idea is. It’s kind of a good news/bad news thing, I guess, that in real life, eventually there’d be one moron to bork the whole thing and bring everyone down, as anyone who’s ever had to do a group project at work can attest. 

Which is why even when The Kill Club veers into the implausible, it still works perfectly because I think deep down we all believe that people who have been hurt should get their pound of flesh, and the bad guys deserve to be sent straight to hell. Or an MLM.

The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS (and a few shots of Fireball, let’s get some heat in here!)

Loved this book!!

The Dead Girls Club, by Damien Angelica Walters

Short Take: Have I mentioned that pre-teen girls are terrifying? Because THEY ARE.

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(*Note: I received a copy of this book for review.*)

Happy Sunday my sweet nerdlings! I come to you from the depths of post-Halloween malaise and an unrelenting chocolate hangover. I don’t know about all of you, but I am not a fan of the “Halloween is over, bring on Christmas now now now!” thing that’s been taking over November for the last few years. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, but I would kind of like to catch my breath and maybe have Thanksgiving in there somewhere? 

So what I’m saying is that I’ve been working myself into a righteous funk and the only cure for that, as we all know, is a delicious book. So it tickles me right down to the giblets that The Dead Girls Club landed in my lap.

Heather Cole is a child psychologist, going about her usual daily routine, when she gets an unexpected delivery in the mail – half of a “Best Friends” necklace that was worn by Becca, Heather’s preteen BFF. But Heather hasn’t seen Becca since they were twelve, and never expected to hear from her either, because Heather killed Becca way back then.

(This is not a spoiler by the way, it’s revealed very early in the book. Feel free to complain about anything else I say however, I can be pretty irritating.)

From there, the story flips back and forth between present-day Heather, who keeps getting unwanted souvenirs of that last night with Becca, and almost-adolescent-Heather, who doesn’t quite grasp all the undercurrents in her friend’s life or why Becca is so obsessed with morbid stories. What starts as Becca, Heather, Rachel and Gia getting together to give themselves the giggly shivers talking about gruesome crimes becomes something much darker when Becca fixates on the story of the Red Lady, a woman killed for witchcraft whose vengeful spirit still works spells but always exacts a horrific price. As Becca’s obsession deepens, fear and friendship are the irresistible force and immovable object – pulling tighter together even as they destroy each other, leading up to that final, tragic night.

The Dead Girls Club is a fun, twisty, tightly-plotted exploration of a society-wide phenomenon that almost nobody talks about: we are all fixated on dead girls. If you look at some of the most sensational news-making cases, from JonBenet to Laci to Nicole, there’s usually a girl or young woman with a sunny smile at the heart of it. Look at our fascination with serial killers like Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy who gleefully destroy female bodies.  And let’s not forget the cop procedural shows that almost always open with an artfully framed shot of a female corpse – manicured fingers tinted blue, a hint of thigh with a carefully centered scrape, full lips and perfect teeth being gently pulled open by gloved fingers to reveal a clue.

Even our undead, like the most recent incarnation of The Mummy or any and all vampire or werewolf movies that include the fairer sex make them WAY fairer – perfect bodies, skimpy clothes, long glossy hair, a kind of dark allure that signals seduction far more than terror.  

So is it any wonder that young girls fixate on the morbid? Deep down, they internalize from a very early age that being a Dead Girl is something special. They’ll be forever beautiful and young and immortalized in a dozen different ways in the media, a weird form of celebrity. Never mind that everyone remembers the names of the killers but rarely the victims. 

(There’s also a whole dissertation to be written on the idea that by venerating Dead Girls we’re conditioning young women to accept violence toward themselves as inevitable and even glamorous, but I just don’t have the intestinal fortitude to look too closely at that one this morning.)

Going back to the book (I swear I’m making some kind of point here), Becca’s single minded obsession with the Red Lady – victim-turned-victimizer – is beautifully, tragically, hauntingly perfect.. As the girls chant her name and their lives grow stranger, as Heather-of-today sees everything important in her life being threatened by the stalker who knows her darkest secret, well, let’s just say Vincent the cat is feeling somewhat neglected as I couldn’t focus on anything until I finished reading.

And oh duckies, the final twist left me speechless, for reasons that had nothing to do with the Milk Duds I was eating at the time. I’m not going to elaborate, but WOW. 

I did have one complaint.  I’m not sure if it would be considered a spoiler, so I’m just going to say that young girls are not always reliable narrators, and I found some of their story problematic. But overall, Ms. Walters delivered.

The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and some mini Twix bars, I need to get the rest of this Halloween candy out of here to make room for pumpkin pie!)

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The Dead Don’t Sleep, by Steven Max Russo

Short Take: The ghosts of the past are the REALLY terrifying ones.

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(*Note – I received a copy of this book for review.*)

It’s Halloween, y’all, and I am PUMPED to take the nerdling out tonight, despite a forecast calling for cold, rain, and possibly snow. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not usually an outdoor person even when the weather is ideal, but, well, there is candy involved, and I will do a lot of things outside my comfort zone for a pile of candy.

No, not that, you sickos.

ANYWAY.

This is the time of year when most reviewers are jumping on the supernatural horror train, but let’s be honest here – I read that stuff all the time, so while it would probably be appropriate to post a review of something demonic, it’s a little too on the nose for me. So instead, I’m going to talk about the scariest monsters of all: human ones who not only enjoy killing, but have been trained to do it very, very well.

When Bill Thompson’s elderly Uncle Frank loses his wife of forty-five years, Bill does what any loving nephew would do. He invites Frank to take a break from his houseful of memories and never-ending stream of well-meaning casserole-bearing neighbors in Maine to come and visit Bill and his family in New Jersey for a few days. It’s a nice-enough visit (given the reason), but when they go to a firing range for a few hours of target practice, Frank runs into a fellow Vietnam vet with whom he shares a horrific history.

Although both men are now in their seventies, Jasper recognizes Frank immediately, and just as quickly, decides to get revenge for what Frank did fifty years ago. 

Now, you might think this would play out like Grumpy Old Men, but you would be very, very wrong. Because Frank and Jasper were both part of a very deadly, very secret unit back then. So when Jasper rounds up a couple of the other “All-Stars” (what they called themselves in Vietnam) and goes on a little hunting trip to Maine, what ensues is not funny AT ALL. 

This is where I usually give a hilarious summary of my feelings on a book, but I’m going to break in with a serious bit of personal info for a minute. My father was a Vietnam vet (RIP Pappy), and I think that Mr. Russo did a spot-on job of describing how vets shove their experiences down in order to relate to civilians. I grew up hearing funny stories of pranks and drunken shenanigans and one particular family legend involving a ring he bought for my mom getting dropped through a fence, and a skinny Vietnamese kid being bribed to climb through and get it. To hear dad tell it, the war was one big party, and I loved, loved LOVED that Frank was the same way. I found myself nodding along with his thoughts more than once, and chuckling at my own memories right along with Bill’s.

So on that deep character and relationship level, The Dead Don’t Sleep works perfectly. And as an action-y cat & mouse tale with lots of guns going boom and bad guys doing bad things, it’s definitely fun. 

But the pacing was just a little bit off. Scenes of characters getting ready for something exciting seemed to linger just a few beats too long, and to someone like me who doesn’t know an M-16 from an AK-47, the many, many gun descriptions were wasted space. Mossberg and Fox and Glock probably mean something to a lot of readers, but it was all gibberish to this pacifist nerd.

Another thing that bugged me was that we have four guys in their 70’s, a couple of which are heavy drinkers with lousy diets, and they are all soldiering around the forest in winter like it ain’t no thing. Nobody has arthritis or a bad knee? No blood pressure stuff or even acid reflux? No breaking a hip while diving behind a tree? 

Finally, The Dead Don’t Sleep is well-written, but it has a slightly dated, hyper-macho-80’s-action-movie vibe. Frank is compared to Rambo a few times, and it’s supposed to be a compliment, but Dad HATED those movies – something about a draft-dodger pretending to be a war hero rubbed him wrong. It cheapens Frank as a character, making him less human, and more alpha-male fantasy. 

But for all its flaws, I couldn’t put it down. There’s something compelling about the everlasting invisible wounds of war, and I don’t think enough people appreciate the courage it takes for combat veterans to live an ordinary life, to deal with things like mortgage payments and washing dishes when they feel like they’ve lost part of their soul. 

And I really, really need to start jogging or something, yikes.

The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and a huge pile of candy, I’ll start working out tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. Happy Halloween!!!!)

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Through the Doors of Oblivion, by Michael G. Williams

Short Take: That’s it, I’m moving to San Francisco.
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(*Note: I received a copy of this book for review.*)

Hello my beloved nerdlings! I’ve been in a bit of a funk on the reading/reviewing front lately. Do you ever get that feeling, where you’re craving a certain kind of food, and nothing else sounds good, but you just can’t put your finger on what the one tasty thing will be, so you try a bite of this or that, open and close the fridge fifteen times, maybe brush your teeth or get something to drink, but nothing is what you’re looking for? I’ve been like that with books for the last little bit, but after a weekend spent with friends and family, cooking, cleaning, carving pumpkins and laughing ourselves silly, I’m BACK, darlings!

I settled in with a big bowl of salty pumpkin seeds (I wait ALL YEAR for those things) and Mr. Williams’ new novella, and a few hours later, I am still not entirely sure what just happened, but I loved it. This book is WEIRD, y’all. 

So, say you’re a witch, living in modern-day San Francisco with your non-binary partner who’s also a witch, and it comes to your attention that the city is in danger of being destroyed by a demon whose vice of choice is greed. Sure, being a witch, you should obviously just cast a spell or two and shut the whole thing down, but let’s take it a step further: The components you need for a spell powerful enough to save an entire large city are pretty much impossible to get, namely, at least one item which was destroyed in the massive earthquake & fire that nearly killed the city in 1906.

Well then you OBVIOUSLY summon the ghost (or maybe just the idea?) of a great historical figure who can travel through time to get what you need, duh.

Enter His Imperial Majesty Joshua Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, and not to pile on the accolades, but also one of the most entertaining characters I’ve come across in a hot minute. Although Oblivion is a work of fiction, from everything I’ve read of Norton, Mr. Williams captured him perfectly. His imperiousness, occasional befuddlement (as when confronted by a nonbinary person or a flashlight for the first time) quickly followed by acceptance, and genuine compassion for the downtrodden combine to create a charisma that jumps off the page. He’s the hero we didn’t know we need.

From there, the story is a fast-paced romp back and forth in time, with a couple of great cameos by other historical figures, but this is no Bill & Ted adventure. For a slender urban fantasy to be so rich in philosophy, social commentary, humor, and evil tech bros is not something I’ve encountered in my decades of reading out-there stuff. Not to mention what a brilliant love letter to the city of San Francisco this book is.

Because Oblivion is only the first in a planned series, it remains to be seen if Mr. Williams will be able to keep the fun (especially with Emperor Norton, good gravy he’s marvelous) without the slightly manic energy of this introduction becoming tiresome.

But I definitely want to see where it goes.

Loved this book!!

American Homemaker, by John Kaine

Short Take:  Finally! Proof that a messy house is a sign of a healthy psyche.

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Hello, my duckies, from the land of Finally Fall! The leaves aren’t quite ready to change, but the temperature is finally below “the air is lava” and you guys know what that means, right? Halloween is coming, and I for one am all about horror movie marathons and shamelessly exploiting my adorable progeny for lots and lots of candy.

Speaking of shamelessly exploiting people, let me introduce you to American Homemaker.

Kim Loomis Has It All. She’s a successful-enough businesswoman (in a small town like Montpelier, the three competing funeral homes only get so much business), always dressed perfectly in the latest most expensive clothes, and president of the Homemakers Association of Vermont.

The last accomplishment isn’t quite as prestigious as it sounds, as the HAV only has three other members at the moment, but Kim has big plans. Of course, with such a small group of women, a certain amount of jealousy and gossip is bound to ensue, but seriously…. How DOES Kim afford the clothes, Mercedes, and everything else with such a limited client base? The more Kim glosses over the truth of her lifestyle, the more determined club member Megan becomes to unearth her secret.

In another state (and really, another world) Melody Morgan has a thriving career, because let’s face it: As long as spouses leave crumbs on the counter and toothpaste in the sink, there will ALWAYS be a market for contract killers. She can’t exactly show off her wealth or brag about her skills, and she has to keep her social circle small, of course. After the job that was supposed to be her last Goes Horribly Wrong, Melody finds herself in the crosshairs of some very, very bad people.

And back in scenic, quaint Montpelier, a twelve year old boy has gone missing, and a whole lot of horrific long-buried truths might be exposed to the light at last.

Y’all, this one is BANANAS. For 370-ish pages, there’s an insane amount of story. We get the perspectives of not only Kim & Melody, but also the kidnapped Evan and his best friend Corey, Corey’s dad, at least one particularly murderous member of a ruthless drug cartel, and all of the ladies of the club. Virtually all of the women in this story are egocentric, obsessive, and unlikable, and not-coincidentally, tremendously entertaining. 

And, my beloved nerdlings, do you really need me to tell you that twists and turns abound? Because they do, oh, do they ever. But in American Homemaker, it’s not so much about the twisty plot or crazy-sudden outbursts of violence. No, this one is all about the characters, and how bad people can do good things and vice versa, and how notions like good and bad can always be contorted into each other to the point that they don’t matter anyway. Not to mention a uniquely American strain of image-conscious sociopathy that seems to be taking over the world.

(Let me briefly interject that I seem to be immune to that one, I’m quite comfy in my slovenly skin, thank you very much, and I have zero desire to “curate” anything ever.)

There’s so much discussion to be had, so many twists within turns and ugly secrets within outward perfection that I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of a single facet of a priceless gem.

Which is why the ending was such a shock. Of course this will always be a spoiler free zone, but after spending so much tension-filled time with a main character, it was a bucket of ice water to the sensitive parts when the camera cut away from them.

To Mr. Kaine’s credit, American Homemaker doesn’t have the cash-grab sequel-setup feel that I have come to loathe, and most of the major plotlines are wrapped up in perfectly fulfilling ways, but the ambiguity of that one person’s fate still doesn’t sit quite right. The best stories leave you wanting more, but this one just left me feeling a bit deprived. Granted, it’s easy enough to imagine what happens next, but it’s just not the same.

Definitely still worth the ride though.

The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and a bucket full of Reese’s cups, because if Walmart can start Christmas right now, I can start Halloween.)

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Dark Tides: A Charity Horror Anthology

Short Take: You should absolutely immerse yourself in this.

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(*Note: I received an advance copy of this book for review. Also the link above goes to indiegogo, not amazon this time.*)

Good morning, my lovely nerdlings! I’m bringing you something a little extra-special today. You all know that I have a deep affinity for the twisty, the bump-in-the-night-y, the creepy and the kooky, the mysterious and spooky (ok, ok, I’ll stop), but this time, I’m reading my favorite stuff for a wonderful cause. In the Dark Tides anthology, a whole lot of my long-time favorite authors and a few marvelous up & comers contributed stories, with all proceeds going to the families and victims of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach (which happens to be one of my favorite places), with all of the stories having a watery-depths theme.

And oh my darlings, what an eclectic treasure chest this book is! There truly is something for everyone – Cthulu-ish cosmic horror, ghosts and zombies, serial killers and witches, mob hits, makeout sessions, the past, the future, children, the elderly, and of course, everything aquatic.

If you want a quick overview, as a whole, I can tell you that Dark Tides is one of the most solid anthologies I’ve ever read. I’m a salty (heh) old nerd, so generally, when I read a collection, about a quarter of the stories are fantastic, half are enjoyable enough, and the final 25% is a firm meh-to-bad. I’m thrilled to report that this one has no clunkers. I’m also concerned that I might be losing my famously impeccable taste. 

That said, there were a few stand-outs, and those ones have stars next to them in the list below. If I had a gun to my head & were forced to choose a favorite, I’d have to go with Hanson Oak’s “They Came From the Sea. They Went To the Stars.” because even though it didn’t feature water or the beach as much as the others, it was a mind-bending blend of horror, love story, mythology, and a lot of Alice In Wonderland hallucinogenic weirdness. 

Although it’s probably a tie between that one and Widow’s Point, because my heart is always in haunted houses, and that one is so freakin’ innovative. And legit creepy. 

Because Dark Tides is a leviathan-sized collection of 30 gems, I can only devote a few words to each of them.  Let’s dive in (heh), shall we?

Terror From the Briny Depths, by Elizabeth Massie – Say you’re a young bride-to-be in the 1950’s, on a beachfront vacation with your somewhat-overbearing fiance, when you happen to notice an enormous monster beneath the waves. And it knows your name. Wait, what??

Pockets Full of Rocks, by Justin M. Woodward – On the worst day of a young man’s life, he meets an old man on the beach who has some very strange things to say to him.

Old Bastards, by Tony Bertauski – Thomas wakes up on a deserted island with no memory of how he got there. Fortunately, there’s someone else in his head who can give him all kinds of helpful information – how to treat his wounds, what to eat, where to hide, and most importantly, how to sabotage what needs to be sabotaged.

** Flange Turner, by Gene O’Neill – Ian’s been let go from the waterfront factory where he worked for 20-odd years. But his job isn’t the only thing in his life that’s fading away. A creepy story that’s a brilliant portrayal of a dying rust belt town.

** NIGHTSWIMMING: A Creepy Little Bedtime Story, by William F. Aicher – A rebellious teenage girl convinces her boyfriend to go skinny-dipping in the pool of a closed-up mansion. Surely nothing terrible could happen. 

By the Seaside, by Kevin J. Kennedy – When it rains on their beachside vacation, little Sarah and her parents decide to spend an evening inside, telling scary stories. But no matter how creepy the story is, it’s just pretend, right?

The Burdens of the Father, by Mark Matthews – In a not-too-distant future America, air is rationed, and any citizens deemed not worthy of their share are eliminated. Everything is carefully controlled by the government, but Janis’s wife is secretly pregnant, and a strident street preacher seems to be openly flouting all the rules, with no consequences. And that’s just the start of the strangeness of his day.

Black Mill Cove, by Lisa Morton – When Jim kisses Maren and leaves their camper to hunt for abalone in the pre-dawn dark tidal pools, he finds something completely unexpected. And horrifying. And then things get REALLY bad.

** Down to a Sunless Sea, by Neil Gaiman – A mother’s heartbreaking lament, lyrical and haunting, a shocking amount of story in very few words. 

** Devourer, by Andrew Lennon – When Pete persuades his cousin’s grown-up boyfriend to take him on a jet-ski ride, he thinks it’s the coolest thing ever. Until it isn’t. Sidenote: I am never again swimming where I can’t see the bottom. No way.

A Quickee, by John Skipp – A moonlight tryst is not what it seems.

Dark Skies, by Jason Stokes – Trying to walk home in a hurricane is a bad idea. Getting lost in a hurricane is bad luck. Or maybe it’s something worse.

** Cycles, by Chad Lutzke – A young man decides to face his (well-deserved) fear of the ocean while on his date with the girl of his dreams. What could go wrong?

** They Came from the Sea. They Went to the Stars. By Hanson Oak – Oliver, nearly destroyed by the loss of his wife and sons, goes into the graveyard to mourn them and ends up somewhere entirely different. Beautiful and strange.

Night Surf, by Stephen King – A classic, moody piece in which the world ends not with a bang, but a sniffle.

** Anniversary, by John R. Little – Jimmy and Gail really love the ocean, and each other. My heart can’t take this one, y’all.

Beneath the Tides, by Kelli Owen – After a painful breakup, Trevor rents a beach house for a quiet weekend of reading & relaxing. And then the screaming starts.

Eternal Valley, by John Palisano – In 19th century Missouri, there’s no Medexpress. So when little Jesse becomes deathly ill, his father has to look elsewhere for a cure.

** Widow’s Point, by Richard Chizmar & Billy Chizmar – found footage (yes, I know it’s a book, just go with it) piece in which an author spends a weekend in a haunted lighthouse. I’m a sucker for haunted houses, and this one is superb

Messages, by Mark Allan Gunnells – A grief-stricken man who doesn’t really believe in anything finds and replies to a message in a bottle. Probably not the best idea.

Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave, by Todd Keisling – It’s been four years since Glenda died, and something amazing and terrifying happened during the first big rainstorm afterward. Now, another massive rainstorm is due to hit and Jonathan is ready for it.

Come Tomorrow, by John Boden – A man mourning the loss of his wife and daughter decides that a quiet afternoon of fishing might help, but he’s not prepared for what he catches.

** A Night at the Lake with the Weird Girl, by Ray Garton – Tom’s new in town, and Mina is, well, weird. But Deepshadow Lake takes strange to new levels. Also, weird girls are the best and everyone should appreciate them more.

Alone, by Taylor Grant – Jess has lost everyone and everything she loved, and really just wants to be alone with her thoughts. But then she hears the voice from the water.

The Cerulean Tide, by Somer Canon – Ok, but hear me out: toilet bowl cleaner on a planetary scale. 

Night Dive, by F. Paul Wilson – Safety, schmafety. Sometimes a wealthy man just wants to go diving alone, is that so wrong?

The Abalone Thief, by Matthew V. Brockmeyer – Theodore is a marine biologist studying abalone populations off the coast of California. But when a large number of the shellfish disappear, his investigation turns up something much crazier than he expected.

In the Shadow of the Equine, by Kenneth W. Cain – A father & son duo, along with a couple of dozen others go camping on an island famous for its wild horse population. But instead of beautiful manes and shaggy coats, they get an old man ranting a bunch of religious-ish gibberish. It couldn’t get much worse than that, right?

Thicker Than Water, by Paul Kane – Naomi’s life has been sad and solitary, until she meets Gerry, The Perfect Guy. She just has to meet and win over his family. 

Walking With the Ghosts of Pier 13, by Brian James Freeman – Visiting the place his brother always loved, Jeremy is haunted by more than memories.

So you see, this is one must-have collection. And if you’re on the fence about buying it just for the stories, (what kind of fan are you???), then you should absolutely consider picking up a copy to support the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund. And if your shelves are as overstuffed as my Thanksgiving pants, you can donate to the victims directly here: 

https://unitedwayshr.org/vabeach/

The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS (and some abalone, because I’ve never tried it, but apparently, it’s really really good.)

Loved this book!!