Review | The Garden of Blue Roses | Michael Barsa

The Garden of Blue Roses Michael Barsa

Publication Date: 4/17/18

Publisher: Underland Press

Why I Read It: This book was sent to me for free by TLC Book Tours, and was billed as a book suitable for someone interested in gothic fiction, atmospheric horror such as Shirley Jackson, and unreliable narration. Sign me up! 

Page Count: 248

Synopsis: From the publisher-

A car lies at the bottom of an icy ravine. Slumped over the steering wheel, dead, is the most critically acclaimed horror writer of his time. Was it an accident? His son Milo doesn’t care. For the first time in his life, he’s free. No more nightmarish readings, spooky animal rites, or moonlit visions of his father in the woods with a notebook and vampire make-up.

Or so he thinks.

Milo settles into a quiet routine–constructing model Greek warships and at last building a relationship with his sister Klara, who’s home after a failed marriage and brief career as an English teacher. Then Klara hires a gardener to breathe new life into their overgrown estate. There’s something odd about him–something eerily reminiscent of their father’s most violent villain. Or is Milo imagining things? He’s not sure. That all changes the day the gardener discovers something startling in the woods. Suddenly Milo is fighting for his life, forced to confront the power of fictional identity as he uncovers the shocking truth about his own dysfunctional family–and the supposed accident that claimed his parents’ lives.

Opening Sentence: "I was a Greek that night."

My Thoughts: You know the kind of books that immediately make you uneasy? Yeah. Enter The Garden of Blue Roses. I don't often read gothic fiction but the premise sucked me in. The Crane children grew up with a Jack Torrance at the end of The Shining-esque father who believed in fostering big imagination and a healthy sense of fear in his children. (We learn within the first few pages that a hook in their home was once used to hang a human head, you know, for the shock factor). The family grew up in a secluded compound that served both as a writing sanctuary and inspiration for their father’s world famous horror novels. The house and the grounds surrounding it have a personality of their own- but that’s just the house settling, right? Houses don’t have personalities. The Garden of Blue Roses had me questioning everything. You know that Milo is unreliable and damaged from the very beginning. But how could he not be with a veritable madman for a father? He loves to taunt his sister and forces the reader to question how much of his descriptions are skewed. A body is found in woods near their home, and Milo drives himself crazy trying to figure out what could have happened. Barsa was an interesting writing style- it's delicate and the sentences are packed with imagery, but there was enough going on to propel the story forward. All in all, I'm happy I got introduced to this author's debut! 

Read Alike: Season of the Witch, Natasha Mostert 

Quote: “Every now and then she kept up the pretense of mothering by insisting we eat supper together. I’ve never understood this penchant for masticating as a social ritual. We don’t make other bodily functions like defecation or nose blowing into elaborate occasions of forced togetherness.” I love when masticating is used in a sentence.

Rating: 4/5 - A wonderful, unique and haunting debut!

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Review | The Vanishing Season | Joanna Schaffhausen

THE VANISHING SEASON REVIEW | TBR ETC

Publication Date: December 5th, 2017

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Page Count: 288 pages

Why I read it: I'm generally always in the mood to read a book about serial killers. What can I say?

First Sentence: "It's too dark to go out but too hot to sleep."

Synopsis: Ellery Hathaway knows a thing or two about serial killers, but not through her police training. She's an officer in sleepy Woodbury, MA, where a bicycle theft still makes the newspapers. No one there knows she was once victim number seventeen in the grisly story of serial killer Francis Michael Coben. The only victim who lived. 

When three people disappear from her town in three years, all around her birthday—the day she was kidnapped so long ago—Ellery fears someone knows her secret. Someone very dangerous. Her superiors dismiss her concerns, but Ellery knows the vanishing season is coming and anyone could be next. She contacts the one man she knows will believe her: the FBI agent who saved her from a killer’s closet all those years ago.

Agent Reed Markham made his name and fame on the back of the Coben case, but his fortunes have since turned. His marriage is in shambles, his bosses think he's washed up, and worst of all, he blew a major investigation. When Ellery calls him, he can’t help but wonder: sure, he rescued her, but was she ever truly saved? His greatest triumph is Ellery’s waking nightmare, and now both of them are about to be sucked into the past, back to the case that made them...with a killer who can't let go.

My Thoughts: Ellery Hathaway is a survivor. She was abducted as a kid but lived long enough to be rescued. She tries to move on and starts over as a police officer in an anonymous town, but comes to realize she's not as anonymous as she thinks she is- every year, she gets a mysterious birthday card in the mail and someone else in the town disappears. No one believes her when she says they're connected so she enlists the help of FBI agent Reed Markham, the profiler who found her. Her birthday is coming up again so it's a race against time to stop the killer from finding his next victim.

Right off the bat, I could tell this protagonist was written by a woman. She was strong without being too hard headed and believably flawed. I loved the first chapter. I feel like we got to know just enough about her to see where she came from without spoiling everything. Clues about her past were dropped throughout the story until we get the whole picture. The writing was tight and straightforward. It was short of dialogue but long on internal monologue- I enjoyed the author's style. This was not a raging page turner, but I thought the story was compelling and well crafted. There were some plot points that were a little too convenient, but nothing too distracting. My favorite element was the mentor/mentee relationship between Ellery and Reed- it was so fun to read them profiling the criminal. I did finally figure out what was going on but was kept guessing until the very end! 

Favorite Quote: "... Yet if viewing skin flicks could turn a person into a homicidal maniac, the county would be strung with bodies like paper dolls, lined up from end to end."

Read Alike: The Fourth Monkey, Final Girls, In The Woods

Rating: 4.25/5 I like that this didn't go down the traditional cliche route that it could have. Great debut novel! 

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