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“Violence always left a fingerprint.”Saffy, page 222, Notes on an Execution

The Plot

Ansel Packer murdered three girls as a teenager and Saffy sought out proof for decades. Ansel is now on death row awaiting lethal injection.

The story is narrated through the eyes of the women surrounding Ansel: his wife Jenny, his mother Lavender, his niece Blue, the police officer Saffy. What I love about this novel is that it does not romanticize Ansel and gives voice to the women in his life devastated by his actions.

Saffy is determined to get answers for the three girls Ansel murdered as a teen. Saffy remembers Ansel from their days at boarding school together. She especially remembers the night that Ansel left a dismembered fox in her bed. Saffy fights for resolution as Ansel remains out of her grasp for most of the novel while we also flash forward to Ansel in prison awaiting his death. The back and forth of the timeline really works here.

“A searing portrait of the complicated women caught in the orbit of a serial killer. . . . Compassionate and thought-provoking.”–Brit Bennett, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Half

The Verdict

There is no villain. Ansel Packer is a murderer, and no forgiveness is in his future. However, Ansel’s human qualities make us see that we all have good and bad inside of us. Ansel just decided to handle his bad in an unsavory way. Repentance does no good for Ansel and only death is the method of payment for Ansel’s sins.

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However, Kukafka presents a social issue interpretation in this novel that we don’t talk about enough. We romanticize serial killers and they live forever because of their evil deeds while victims become forgotten. Kukafka makes a lot of social conceptual ideas come to life in the telling of Ansel’s story.

“Lavender knew, then, that the world was a forgiving place. That every horror she had lived or caused could be balanced with such gutting kindness. It would be a tragedy, she thought – inhumane – if we were defined only by the things we left behind.”Lavender, page 270, Notes on an Execution

Is anyone ever just all good or all evil? Kukafka makes you question how you may have answered this question before reading this book versus after.

Bring The Right Expectations

Readers need to know that this is not a gory book and not your standard novel about a serial killer. This text exists on a deeper plain, making you question what we know about and how we react to serial killing. This is a literary novel about a serial killer and definitely not a thriller. I expected a faster pace going into the text, but quickly readjusted my expectations when I realized this is a thoughtful, sprawling literary text rather than a race-to-the-end one.

“Ansel was bad, and he would die for it – but Saffy knew, along with Blue, that he was other things, too.”Saffy, page 279, Notes on an Execution

Bring suitable expectations and slowly devour each word in Note on an Execution and you will leave feeling emotional and full. For fans of more thoughtful literature, this book merges serial killing with philosophy and sociology. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Interested in reading Notes on an Execution? Check it out below:

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Sarah Moon is a stone-cold sorceress from Tennessee whose interests include serial killers, horror fiction, and the newest dystopian blockbuster. Sarah holds an M.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing. She works as an English professor as well as a cemeterian. Sarah is most likely to cover horror in print including prose, poetry, and graphic forms. You can find her on Instagram @wellreadredhead18.

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Book Reviews

Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review

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“In the distance, she heard her husband in the backyard call for her , but she was not that woman anymore, that mother and wife. She was Nightbitch, and she was fucking amazing. It seemed she had been waiting for this for a very, very long time.” -pg 89, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Nightbitch is the debut novel of Rachel Yoder about a stay-at-home mother coming to terms with the loneliness and brutality of motherhood. The main character, only referred to as The Mother, begins to undergo a frightening change as she sinks deeper into a depressive state. She transforms into Nightbitch, an animalistic creature full of anger, bloodlust, and freedom. The Mother must utilize the help of a strange book and a group of multi-level marketing mommies to harness her newfound strength before she loses herself or her family.

The novel is a stunning commentary on the everyday violence of motherhood centered within the context of werewolf and mystical woman mythos. The Mother spends much of the book contemplating her future and the abandonment of her dreams. Specifically, she grapples with the loss of her ability to create art, her longtime passion. On a larger scale, Nightbitch examines how many women are asked to stop being individuals after having children and only become mothers–existing only in the presence of their child. The message is clear, poignant, dark, and at times, hilarious. The prose and structure of the book are abnormal, however, it works with the overall messaging and plot. 

As far as negatives go, Nightbitch was pretty ambiguous. This was by design, and created an aura of magical mysticism around many of the characters and events. The Mother is the definition of an unreliable narrator. However, towards the end of the book, I would have liked a little more clarity in what certain characters knew. 

Nightbitch is a must read for any parent. As a non-parent, I highly recommend it for those interested in feminist horror or more avant-garde approaches to horror narratives. Those who don’t like books with heavy introspection or ambiguous storytelling may enjoy something else, however I still think it is an interesting read nonetheless. 

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4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review

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“Dread washed over me. Had she been sitting there, watching me sleep, the whole night? Her skin gleamed like candle wax in the light; then she grinned and whatever color her eyes had been before, now they turned red. In an instant, her skin transformed, dried and desiccated into leather, and her teeth grew long and needle sharp.” -pg 214, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

The Hacienda is a gothic horror novel by Isabel Cañas set in the wake of Mexico’s War for Independence. The debut novel by Cañas, it delivers a classic haunted house tale with a twist of Mexican high society. Recently made homeless by the execution of her father, Beatriz marries Don Solórzano to escape her cruel treatment by her relatives. However, once she joins him on his estate, she finds that the promise of a new life holds dark secrets and darker spirits. She enlists the help of a priest, Andrés, to uncover both. Together, they find the home has more dangers than they bargained for. And more threats both supernatural and far too material await every corner.

I adored The Hacienda from start to finish. Cañas’s prose was accessible but full of deep imagery. While told from the perspective of both Beatriz and Andrés, neither outweighed the other. The perspectives were interesting and the transition between the two was well executed throughout the novel. I usually don’t seek out romantic books, but I loved the romantic and sexual tension between the two main characters. Specifically since the romantic tension developed within both perspectives, the relationship’s “will-they-won’t-they” felt both plausible and full of stakes. And of course, The Hacienda was spooky! I loved the way the spirits manifested and the impact that had on the characters.

My only minor criticisms would be the resolution was fairly quick and mostly offscreen. Though maybe I’m just saying that because I wanted to keep reading, even after the book ended! I also found myself slightly annoyed at the characters for not picking up on some of the more obvious clues to what had happened in the house. 

A thoroughly enjoyable gothic (and dare I say, romantic) novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, I highly recommend The Hacienda. If you enjoy haunted house tales, you will enjoy this book. 

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4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)


Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!

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Book Reviews

“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%

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Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?

The Plot

Harry, short for Harriet, is a British writer gaining popularity after the publishing of her first novel. She meets Edward, a member of the widely known Holbeck family, and the two strike up a relationship. The Holbecks are high powered executives, running family businesses that bring in massive amounts of wealth. When Harry learns she is pregnant, the couple decide that it is finally time for her to meet the family.

During her first meeting with the family, Edward’s father, Robert gives Harry a vintage tape that he says holds a story that he’d like her to listen to. As Harry listens to the tape, she begins to believe that the Holbecks have done some very bad things.

As she continues visiting the family, their strange traditions are revealed to her. The games that they play traditionally involve darkness and fear. Can Harriet find out the truth about the mysterious Holbecks?

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The Verdict

Catherine Steadman outdoes herself in The Family Game. She creates such a mysterious family in the Holbecks and their dynamics are intriguing. Readers will follow Harry as she tries to determine the truth about Robert’s misdoings. The cast of family characters are a wonder to watch. We’ve all always wondered what the extremely rich live like. Harry shows us their virtues and misdeeds.

The novel really remarks on the power of wealth and the wealthy’s ability to commit audacious crimes and pay for them to go away. Robert, as the patriarch of the family, is a prime example of such. As Harry begins to discover that Robert may be confessing to a series of murders on the cassette tape, she must decide how to proceed. She knows that the power that Robert holds cannot be taken lightly.

As Harry navigates potentially deadly Christmas traditions, she races for the truth, unable to forget once she finds it. Harry is such a compelling character – a developing mother willing to risk life and limb to protect her unborn baby. Harry is brave and unapologetic and is a true testament on how to write a female main character.

It was very difficult for me to decide between 4 and 5 Cthulus, so we will call it 4.5. This is a novel I highly recommend thriller lovers check out. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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