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Plot Summary

In Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam’s newest publication, a married couple and their children head into the New York countryside to have a family vacation – a reprieve from the daily city life they typically are a part of. Before they know it, their vacation has been turned upside down when the owners of the vacation house they are renting show up, bringing news that everywhere else in the surrounding areas have no power or cell service.

While their cabin continues to have power, neither of the couples have cell service, internet, or any way to contact the outside world or find answers to what is going on, how widespread the outages are, or whether the answer is to travel back into the city. As the couples navigate what feels like a post-apocalyptic world, they experience sensations that leave even the reader in awe: a flock of flamingoes show up to bathe in their swimming pool and many more. Events that seem meaningless become spooky in the technology-less world that Rumaan Alam creates in Leave the World Behind.

The Verdict

This novel is understated horror, a tale of living without knowledge of what has happened around you. The couples – one black, one white – must lean on each other and overcome not only racial differences, but the skepticism that comes along with surviving a catastrophe with a complete stranger. Alam’s prose style leaves a bit to be desired in places and there are overly descriptive sexual scenes that the book could have lived without; however, the novel explores such internal terror in nuanced ways. The reader can begin to feel uneasy as the characters do, exploring this uncharted territory with a couple they do not know at all. The unsettling nature of the children add to the dimensions of the plot as well, as they wander into the woods around the cabin throughout the novel.

The Ideal Reader

The characters are top notch, multi-dimensional and riveting. The scenario is one of intense questioning and empty gaps. The reading experience of this novel is one of unsettled unknowing. If you are looking for a scary novel with clear answers, this is not it. But if a creepy, atmospheric novel that strives to give you goosebumps is what you’re looking for, this is the one. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you want to buy it via Amazon, check out the links in this post or right here (we do get $ if you buy!)

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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 @crystalsnovelnook.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Court Court

    January 28, 2021 at 10:20 pm

    Yes! I just finished this recently and loved it!

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Book Reviews

Beyond the Witching Hour: a review of J. Pagaduan’s Tales from 3 AM

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J. Pagaduan’s Tales from 3 AM is a collection of wonderfully witchy wisdom and wit that touches on eerie energies, fairy fickleness, and supernatural spirits. Building on very human concerns about life, love, and death, the subjects of these twenty-two haunting tales find themselves in a myriad of mayhems, beffudled by unseen and inscrutible magics all around them. Lured by fae, ghosts, mermaids, and other mysterious presences, we journey with the protagonists as they wade through doubt, grief, and uncertainty. Recurring themes of death and drowning take special roles in this collection, speaking to the overwhelm of longing and love, internal, external, and even otherworldly.

The Humanity

For a book prominently featuring supernatural sentimentality, Tales from 3 AM expresses worldly triumphs and tribulations in very human ways. The mystical meanderings serve to provide a more intimate glimpse into our own nature. The focus is actually on us, not the unknown, which comes and goes to offer glimpses of our true being. The supernatural makes manifest our yearning, to be with our loved ones who have passed, to find peace, to belong… It casts both light and darkness on our utmost desires, good and bad.

The Flip Side

Many of these Tales from 3 AM drift into and out of being, without clear beginning or ending points, as if you’ve only stepped into the scene long enough for a brief glimpse into a larger situation. The spirit realm can only provide so much insight before releasing you to the world once again. I personally like the fluidity of this writing style, because it doesn’t feel so contrived as when a story just falls out in a neat bundled package, but if you are a reader who wants more clearly defined circumstances then you may feel unfulfilled, as many of these musings end rather abruptly.

I give this book 3.75 Cthulhus.

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3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

My biggest takeaway from Tales from 3 AM is that it reflects on life in all of its misshapen muddled messes. Though at times awkward and forthright, the concepts and explorations are genuine and heartfelt. More surreal and magically mysterious than terrifying, the mirror to our human vulnerability is nonetheless haunting, laying bare our fears, hopes, and hurts.

Similar Sentiments

Tales from 3 AM has similar appeal to the Obsolete Oddity, with its nostalgic sentimentalty for days of yore and haunting tales of woe and wonderment. I find this book to be more inclusive as it features less melancholic misanthropy (which can seem misogynous, with so much attention paid to the wanton murders of women). And I think it is a bit more accessible than the YouTube channel which comes across as overly melodramatic at times. Regardless both would be right at home in death-obsessed Victorian life. So if you’re into that sort of reminiscent rumination, it’s well worth a read.

The book can be found here through books 2 read on various platforms. You can read more about the author on their web page here. jpagaduan.com

J. Pagaduan Tales from 3 AM book cover
J. Pagaduan Tales from 3 AM book cover

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Book Reviews

Holly

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Published in September of this year, Holly is the latest novel from the undisputed king of horror, Stephen King.

I was excited when I heard that Holly was getting her own book. If you’re not familiar with the larger body of King’s work, she was a secondary character in the Mr. Mercedes trilogy. She was also a secondary character in The Outsider, though that was called Holly Gibney #1. Holly Gibney #2 was If It Bleeds, part of a short story collection by the same name.

While you don’t have to read any of this before you read Holly, it will help you get some of the references.

The Story

When our story begins, Holly is mourning the death of her mother. Her partner Pete is in the hospital with Covid, and she is not supposed to be working.

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But when a woman named Penny Dahl calls, asking for Holly’s help finding her missing daughter, she can’t ignore the plea.

As Holly searches the last place Bonnie Dahl was seen, she starts to learn of other missing persons cases. The cases don’t have anything in common, and neither do the victims. Except that they all had an interaction, however small, with a married couple named Rodney and Emily Harris.

Retired, Rodney and Emily are suffering from the usual but heartbreaking ailments that come along with age. Arthritis, sciatica, failing memories. But they believe they just might have found a miracle cure. One that most people would refuse. At least, we hope they would.

While Holly digs deeper, her friend Barbara Robinson is seeking a poetry mentor. This search brings her dangerously close to the two killer professors.

What worked

The reason I was excited about this book was to spend more time with Holly. She was easily the best part of The Outsider and inspired me to read the Mr. Mercedes trilogy.

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And she was just as wonderful in this book. She was clever, insightful, and kind. Holly manages to be innocent and very aware of how the world works at the same time. She’s fiercely loyal to her friends and has a strong grasp of right from wrong. I sincerely hope that there’s a Holly #4 in the works.

I also loved the way this story was told. Through the course of the book, we see the story from different points of view. We see flashbacks to each victim and their terrible ends. We see Holly hunting a poor lost woman. And we see Barbara circling dangerously close to the true killers. The tension this built was incredible. It was hard not to shriek, watching all the pieces come so close to being together, only to be blown away and come together again.

What didn’t work

That being said, this was not a perfect novel. For one thing, there was an inordinate amount of attention to Covid 19.

Honestly, there were three killers in this book.

And I get it. Covid continues to be a terrible thing. It’s just one of many horrific world events we’ve suffered through, and yet another that is going to leave a scar on everyone who experienced it.

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I don’t need to tell you about the fear, and supply chain issues. The deaths and medical professionals stretched to their limits. The mass graves. The horrific reality that there were people who just did not care to take it seriously, even as people were dying.

I don’t need to tell you, and neither did King on almost every page. And it was on almost every page.

Yes, Covid took over every part of our lives. It didn’t need to take over every part of this story.

My other irritation with this book is one more difficult to explain without giving away the ending. Forgive me if I ruin anything for you, it’s not my intention.

I wanted something terrible to happen to the antagonists. I wanted them to suffer. And they didn’t suffer nearly enough.

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Finally, I wish we’d gotten some sort of closure for Holly over her mother stealing all of her inheritance from her. I understand that sometimes in life people die and we don’t get answers that we’d like from them. But this is fiction. We, and the characters, are supposed to get some sort of closure.

Is Holly my new favorite Stephen King novel? No, not really. It isn’t as good as The Stand, or From a Buick 8. But it was a good story. It was suspenseful, exciting, and a little sad. It was everything you’d want from a thriller.

Holly appears to be King’s new Castle Rock. He keeps coming back to her, over and over. And I couldn’t be happier about that.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Monastery Series 3: a Book Review

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The time has come for another installment of our resident mystery novel Monastery. We continue to follow our set of characters trying to uncover the secrets of their grandfather’s murder. Too bad members of their family are going to great lengths to stomp their efforts. Anyway, enough rambling, let’s begin! 

Plot

We start this part of Monastery with our crew coming to a simple conclusion – they must seek answers wherever possible. What better place to find them than visiting Albert’s sister? It’s a shame they’re not going to the Old Farm, there would definitely be some answers there. Francis’s character development is quite intriguing to me. He’s clearly uninvolved in the cover-up and yet there seems to be a lot of understated trauma. One can only wonder if it will all boil to the surface. 

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While I know some people don’t enjoy flashback sequences, Albert’s trip down memory lane provided some nice characterization for me. It’s his story after all, and even though his and Cassandra’s relationship is far from #goals, it’s complex and interesting. I also enjoyed his commentary on selective memory, I feel like that applies a lot to our daily lives. 

David and Nicole’s dynamic is also explored more. The pairing bond over their taste in music and share a kiss after he helps her recover from a werewolf attack (yes, you heard that right, and I want to know more immediately). Tensions between them rise further to the point where she actually considers breaking up with Fred. That is, until he pulls a grand gesture (something David was advised to do). While I don’t condone cheating or flirting with someone to make your partner jealous, those are all love triangle tropes and this one is in full swing. 

Things escalate further at the town’s raffle draw party when Aunt Doris shows up and gets paid off by Cassandra. While I’m not certain how I feel about her character, she does provide the group with valuable information – Albert’s cause of death was faked. Of course. 

We end this installment of Monastery on a bit of a harrowing note. Cassandra abuses her own son in front of Henry, who is left completely traumatized. This stuck out to me as a change in tone and I wonder how much darker it will get. We’ll find out soon… 

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Overall thoughts

This part of Monastery focuses a lot on Albert’s youth and the love triangle between David, Nicole, and Fred. While some people would say it’s unnecessary, I think the additions, especially the romance, both keep the pacing so we don’t fly through the mystery too quickly and lighten the mood a bit. Not to mention there is some interesting characterisation brought to light because of this. The questions are still piling up and I can just feel we’re on the cusp of things hitting the fan. I can’t wait for more. 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Read further for some insight from the author himself:

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  1. 1. Last time I asked you how you integrate comedy into your writing. How about romance? How do you pick the moment that feels right to sprinkle some spice into the story without turning it into a full-blown chick flick? Do you have a personal preference of who you would like Nicole to end up with (if you can share)? 

Funny you should ask about picking the right moment because David originally kissed Nicole in episode 1, but it felt rushed then, so I ultimately moved it to this third episode. I always knew there would be a romantic triangle, trite though it may seem, because at its heart this story is very soapy. As for when the right moment is, the story itself always tells me that, but have no fear, the murder mystery will always be at the center of everything.  

Also, who do I think Nicole should end up with? I think she needs to work on loving herself a bit more. It may seem she loves herself a bit too much, at surface level, but do read on. 

2. There is no doubt Cassandra is a bitch and a murder accomplice (if not the murderer). However, you are showing the readers layers of her character (such as her being abused as a young woman). Is this something that will be relevant in the story later on or just a device to provide her character with some humanity? 

Relevant. So, so relevant. There are many glimpses of Albert’s past throughout the series, but the events surrounding St. John’s Party in 1976 compose the main flashback thread. I want to believe there is great re-read value to my story, as there are so many clues and little elements spread throughout, things you might only catch on to when you have the full picture. I mean, the werewolf’s identity is revealed in every episode they feature in – it’s just a matter of knowing where to look for it! As for Cassandra, in my opinion, she is the best character, and I am so excited for people to dive into her story. 

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