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“Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe. Assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already know the awful secret behind the universe, feel free to skip ahead.”

– pg 1, John Dies at the End, Jason Pargin

John Dies at the End is a 2009 novel written by Jason “David Wong” Pargin and published by Thomas Dunne Books. The book is the first of four in the John, Dave, and Amy series of which the most recent addition was published in late 2022. John Dies at the End was Pargin’s debut novel and resulted from the compilation of his internet postings under his pen name, David Wong. 

The book is from the perspective of David “Dave” Wong, a college dropout living in podunk Illinois. After he and his friend John, take the wrong drug they are able to see other-dimensional beings. However, those beings may be looking back, and they are major assholes. John and Dave team up to save the world, kill some monsters, and make plenty of puns. In tone, the story is a dark comedy with themes of Lovecraftian cosmic horror and stoner humor.

This series is one of my all-time favorites. I adore Pargin’s wit, which comes across beautifully on every page. The story is gripping, descriptive, horrifying, and hilarious. Additionally, all the characters feel complicated and realistic which drives the story forward naturally. Pargin is a master at mingling the unexpected through comedy and horror.

My biggest warning about reading John Dies at the End is that you need to be able to separate author from narrator in order to have the most enjoyable experience. The character David Wong is deeply flawed which results in ignorant thoughts and actions. However, it is a testament to Pargin’s writing that despite his characters’ flaws, they are still compelling, easy to connect to, and interesting to read. As another warning, there are a fair amount of slurs sprinkled throughout the book, which may make some uncomfortable.

Overall, I love this book and can’t recommend it enough to those who enjoy dark comedies. Even if you tend to enjoy more traditional horror or comedy stories, the humor leaves something for everyone and the horror elements are also widely accessible. 

4.7 out of 5 stars (4.7 / 5)

Daphne (she/her) grew up in a game store in Indiana and hasn't stopped playing ttrpgs, video games, board games, and card games since. She is a self-proclaimed horror weenie but loves both campy and cosmic horror. Her favorite horror properties are Mars Attacks and Jason "David Wong" Pargin's books. When she is not writing or gaming she is being a microbiologist, teacher, or student. She can be found on Instagram @daphne.writes.

Book Reviews

What Have We Done: Alex Finlay Produces Another Hit

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  • Jenna: A stay at home mom with a secret assassin past
  • Donnie: An alcoholic rock star
  • Nico: An executive producer of a reality television show

They all have a past, but who is out to get them?

The Plot

Jenna, Donnie, and Nico share a troubled past. They were all orphans who lived at Savior House — which is much less savior, much more terror. When their friend Benny, a famous judge, is murdered and the FBI comes looking, Jenna, Donnie, and Nico must race against the clock to figure out who is targeting them.

The Verdict

From the author of The Night Shift, which I reviewed here, I would expect nothing less than what Finlay has delivered. Finlay notoriously creates stories with palpable thrill and spine-tingling revelations.

I particularly enjoyed the character of Jenna. She is a reformed assassin living a normal life as a new stepmom. When she is called in to make a hit and her family is threatened, she goes badass mom on ’em. While I still thought Donnie and Nico as characters were engaging, it was nothing for what I felt for Jenna.

Also, major props to Finlay for creating a character that kills with a very unique weapon. Read it to find out more!

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Book Reviews

“The Writing Retreat” Gone Bad: Julia Bartz’s Debut

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Keeping it all in the family, Julia Bartz’s The Writing Retreat is the debut novel of the sister of Andrea Bartz, author of We Were Never Here, which I reviewed here.

I was much more impressed with The Writing Retreat than I was We Were Never Here.

The Plot

Five up and coming female writers under 30 are invited to a writing retreat hosted by the reclusive and acclaimed horror writer Rosa Vallo. Rosa reveals the details of the retreat: each writer must complete a full length novel from scratch over the next month. The best novel wins a multi-million dollar publishing deal with Rosa.

Suddenly, the retreat turns into a nightmare when one writer goes missing in the snowy terrain outside.

The novel hinges on friendships in turmoil and has a focus on LGBT+ representation as well as interpersonal female relationships. The novel explores the dark publishing world and the search for fame and the Great American Novel.

The Verdict

This novel is atmospheric and intellectual, page turning, and the English major’s required reading. I absorbed this novel and found Julia Bartz’s writing and conceptual chops to be leagues above her sister’s.

Ths novel releases on February 21, 2023 and it should be in your cart right now.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Buy it here!

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Book Reviews

A Murder in Reverse: “Wrong Place Wrong Time”

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The Plot

“A brilliantly genre-bending, mind-twisting answer to the question How far would you go to save your child?”  — Ruth Ware, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jen watches her son murder a stranger. Stab him to death. She and her husband, Kelly, watch as their son Todd is taken into custody.

The next morning, Jen wakes up and it’s yesterday. Jen knows that at the end of the night, her son kills someone. She is determined to stop it.

Jen goes further and further back in time trying to discover why Todd murdered a stranger and how to stop it.

The Verdict

This book is twisty. Right when you think you know the ending, something else is there to prove that the story is more multifaceted than that. While the premise of the novel is simple, Gillian McAllister elevates a simple concept with deep, dark twists.

It is best that you don’t know too much going into this one. For fans of Blake Crouch, this is such a good thriller with time travelling vibes.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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