October Books

The spookiest month has come and gone.  Farewell, October.  However, before we fully move on, let’s take a moment to review the books I read over the last 31 days.  The scares came in all shapes and sizes this month.  Along with the traditional ghosts, demons, and monsters, I also encountered a number of other terrifying situations: secrets that eat people from the inside, kidnapped children, girls learning to navigate a man made world, children rotting their minds with technology, and the fear of not being the hero the world thinks you should be.  Spooky!  Scary!  Literary!

Books will be rated on a 1 – 5 star scale with 1 being bad and 5 being excellent.  If you enjoy what you see and don’t want to wait until the next book post, please follow us on Goodreads.  We’ll stay consistently updated there before compiling our month’s reading and thoughts here.

The comics I have read will also be included at the end of the post.  Those will just be listed and not officially reviewed.  However, if you ever want to hear about any specific comic in particular or want my thoughts, don’t be afraid to ask.  I enjoy discussing everything I read. 

Let’s go!

Secret Life of Secrets by Michael Slepian: 2.5/5 Stars

In his book, Secret Life of Secrets, Michael Slepian explores secrets from every angle.  What are they?  Why do we keep them?  When do we start keeping them?  How do they affect our lives, well-being, mental states, and relationships?  Slepian shares his finds in order to help us better understand ourselves and those around us.

Slepian utilizes a mix of research and stories as he examines and dissects the concept of secrets.  His writing is clear and approachable, so readers should have no issue investing in and understanding his findings.  Slepian does a good job of keeping his book interesting by adding to the official research interesting stories he has come across and tales from his own life. 

Unfortunately, while Slepian’s findings themselves can be quite interesting on a deeper level, they also often come off as confirmation of the obvious.  We keep secrets to hide things. They can weigh on us emotionally, with a number of side effects.  It’s good to share our secrets when appropriate and often they mean more to us than to others.  This is obviously an oversimplification of the book, but these statements still capture the broad strokes of Slepian’s findings.

The feeling of obviousness can sometimes make the already short book feel like it’s spending too much time on simple observations that don’t need further explanation.

Secret Life of Secrets is a good and deep examination of humanity’s relationship with secrets.  Readers will enjoy Slepian’s annotdotes and appreciate his research, but may leave feeling like they’ve only gained further confirmation of what they already expected about the nature of secrets.

Hide by Kiersten White – 4.5/5 Stars

Fourteen desperate people are brought together in an old abandoned amusement park.  They face off in a competition for $50,000.  All they have to do is hide and not get caught.  It’s a strange game of hide and seek that starts to reveal its dark edges as people start disappearing.  This is a supernatural thriller that isn’t afraid to explore what’s wrong with people on the individual and societal level.

Hide succeeds on multiple levels.  As a thriller it stays consistently gripping and the slow plot reveals feel worth the weight and like excellent payoffs (though there is definitely a tonal shift between the first and second half of the novel).  The story works as a simple tale of horror and suspense, but it also does its best to share insights into humanity as well.  The novel mostly nails its expressions and messages, even if it does come off as a bit heavy handed at points and the narrative does slow down in pace a little too much by the end.

Where White truly excels is through her third person perspective that excellently weaves in and out of characters’ stories.  While the characters that survive longest get the most narrative build and depth, White does an excellent job of portraying each of them as individuals with their own thoughts, motivation, traumas, and hopes.  Her narrator builds tension well while never overshadowing the characters that are the heart of the story.

Mack, the survivor of a previous hide-and-seek tragedy, is clearly the story’s main character, but that never keeps the other characters from having their own moments in the spotlight and their own turns as driving forces.

Only so much can be said about Hide without giving too much away, but it’s well worth a read.    

Glow Kids by Nicholas Kardaras – 3/5 Stars

Nicholas Kardaras explores how the use of screens and technology impact the behavior and development of children.  He uses his own experiences and numerous studies to examine the epidemic of screens in our society and their effects on children.  

Glow Kids contains a lot of good information, history, and data about how technology is changing how children think, behave, and learn.  Overall, this is a great reminder of what we as a society are sacrificing in exchange for the ease and fun of electronic devices.  Karadaras truly wants people to understand the toll constant connection is taking on children and what we may need to do as a society to prevent further damage.  These aspects of his book are all well-appreciated.  

However, there are portions of  Kardaras’ book that are built on fear mongering and stretched logic.  When staying factual and practical, Karadras shows wonderful insights and provides important information.  When using scare tactics, the book starts to hinge on extreme outlier cases, false equivalences, and slippery slopes that can be hard to take seriously.  Kardaras’ research and findings would have been strong enough arguments already, so it’s too bad that he decided that he needed to push people through less savory tactics.  

It should also be noted that this book was first published in 2016.  While many of the deeper insights stay relevant, a lot has happened since 2016, including advances in technology, changing social media habits and uses, virtual learning during a pandemic, and more.  Due simply to the natural passage of time, aspects of Kardaras’ work has become dated.  That is something to consider for new readers.

In general, Glow Kids is a great look at some of the impact technology can have on developing minds and a good reminder to parents and caregiver that children have needs beyond being connected digitally.  Any reader should be prepared to take Kardaras work with some cation as he will delve into fear mongering occasionally and some of his information will come off as a bit dated.   

Bastille vs. The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson – 4/5 Stars

In the final book of the Alcatraz vs The Evil Librarians series, the narrative duties are handed from Alcatraz to Bastille, the guardian and fellow adventurer to the Smedry family.  This novel reveals the fallout of novel four’s major events and pits the heroes against the founder of the evil librarians final big plan.  Bastille will see if she can push through self doubt, overcome Alcatraz’s weakened emotional state, and figure out how a book is written properly in order to come out on top.

After waiting for so long, it’s hard to believe that I’ve had the joy of reading the final Alcatraz book after years of assuming that there would never be one.  A lot has changed over the decade plush since I read the first Alcatraz book, but Brandon Sanderson remains a strong writer and the world established previously continues to be extremely fascinating and hilarious.

The final book of the series does a lot to capture the feel from the earlier series, but also has a style that is very much its own.  This is probably due to the changing perspective of the character (Bastille is unique from Alcatraz), the real world time that has passed, and that Janci Patterson has stepped in as a co-writer for the final book.  Overall, I really like the book but it was tough to miss out on Alcatraz’s personality and to have his sort of sidelined for a large chunk of the book.

Those looking for humor, adventure, silliness with the structure of how a book is presented, and a unique style of story delivery should be pleased with what they find here.  While Bastille vs The Evil Librarians might not be the strongest of the series and may not have stuck the landing perfectly, it is still a great conclusion to the series and well worth reading.  In fact, people should just go ahead and read the entire Alcatraz series.  It’s good stuff. 

Dance with the Devil by Jason Brannon – 2.5/5 Stars

Dance with the Devil is a mystery thriller that takes place in Valley Falls, the home of many of Deadbolt Mystery Society’s puzzle games.  Valley Falls is also the home of Solomon Sharpe, a private detective who is struggling through life but knows that one big case may be all it takes to turn things around.  Unfortunately for Solomon, he may be in over his head when someone called The Devil tasks him with catching a serial killer known as the Angelmaker.  As if that wasn’t enough, if Solomon fails at his task or doesn’t act fast enough, his daughter’s life may be in danger.

With his novel, Dance with the Devil, Jason Brannon does a good job of creating an intriguing premise and a solid main character that readers should find easy to get behind.  Solomon sharpe fits the classic role of tough investigator working in an even tougher city.  Sharpe is humanized through his desire to do whatever it takes for his daughter and by his clear struggles throughout the case.  Solomon often feels like while he has the knowledge and skills his challenge will take, making it to the end of his journey isn’t going to be easy.

Beyond the main character and set up for the premise, Dance with the Devil gets a bit more shaky.  The biggest flaw with Dance with the Devil is that Brannon wants to squeeze a lot into a relatively short novel, only 178 pages.  

While the normal of characters included in the novel feels normal, Brannon clearly wants each character, even ones with smaller parts to play, to be memorable through his use of interesting quirks and details.  However, they usually fly by or are easily forgotten outside of the main cast members.  It may have been better to pour more effort and time into the story’s more important characters.

Brannon also squeezes in a lot of details, information, and events in his novel.  A plethora of twists and turns are to be expected, but many aren’t given enough room to breathe before the story rushes to what needs to happen next.  Brannon clearly has some great ideas and plot points, but it may have been better to develop and strengthen them a bit more.  

Overall, Dance with the Devil doesn’t quite stand out compared to other novels in its genre, but it can be a quick and interesting read for those who do get their hands on it.  The novel seems like the setup and foundation of what could be an intriguing series, but may not do enough to justify a string of cases for Solomon Sharpe.  If Dance with the Devil ever does spawn a true sequel, it would be interesting to see what could be done with more time devoted to the story and less time spent on establishing Sharpe’s world and status quo.    

Midnight in the Graveyard by Kenneth W. Cain (Editor) – 4.5/5 Stars

Midnight in the Graveyard brings together scary stories from over a dozen authors.  There is a lot of meat to his collection as it takes readers on a journey filled with ghosts, demons, monsters, monstrous people, and the unexplainable. 

Anthologies of stories can always be hard to judge due to the large variety of plots, themes, writing styles, and flavors throughout.  Midnight in the Graveyard’s stories also carry a large range of what can be found, but thankfully, the vast majority of the stories and the collection as a whole ring with quality.  Reflecting on the collection, and trying to think back on my favorite stories, so many fight for prime position because most stand out as memorable and well written.  

While not every story may be for everyone, it’s hard to imagine most not be enjoyed by lovers of the scary, dark, and twisted.  With twenty-five stories on offer, Midnight in the Graveyard touches on a little bit of everything and isn’t afraid to let its authors delve into their dark imaginations.

Though none of the stories absolutely terrified me, so most gripped me and so many had me going “oh no.”  If you’re looking for a collection of horror stories, it would be hard to go wrong with Midnight in the Graveyard.  It’ll give you the scares you need and introduce you to a large list of authors to keep an eye out for.

The Quarry Girls by Jess Lourey – 5/5 Stars

It’s the 1970s.  Heather and her friends are making the tricky teenage transition from childhood to womanhood.  With all that confusion and excitement also comes danger.  Heather sees something terrible one night, which will cause her trust in her small town community to unravel.  Again and again, Heather will discover that secrets permeate every part of her world.  Soon, one of her friends is abducted, the second girl in a week, and Heather is unsure where to turn.  Authorities seem uninterested in investigating, her family has problems of its own, and friendships seem shaky.  Heather needs to figure out what is happening and how to keep herself, her friends, and her sister safe before it’s too late.

The Quarry Girls is a fantastically written novel which perfectly creates a young, female protagonist full of character.  Heather represents the struggle that young women face in a world not made for them.  Her quest is filled with uncertainty and fear, and yet she knows giving up is not an option.  She is a proactive character, but she still reads like a child who is simply doing her best and taking on too much responsibility due to circumstances out of her control.  It’s easy to feel for Heather and to want to root for her as well.

Further more, Lourey weaves together a tense atmosphere that will keep readers on their toes throughout the story.  She has a way of depicting this small town as a den of secrets and danger.  Like picking up a rock and discovering all the dirt and bugs hidden away, Pantown’s exposure to readers should get them squirming over the dangers slowly bubbling under the surface.

The plot of The Quarry Girls moves along at a great pace.  Based on real life tales of serial killers and the murder of young women, this novel is hard to put down as dangers grow and hope seems to narrow, but Heather refuses to give in completely.  The Quarry Girls is a great read and fully recommended.

Comics Read:

Amazing Spider-Man Beyond vol. 4 by Kelly Thompson, Saladin Ahmed, and Zeb Wells

Heroes Reborn: America’s Mightiest Heroes by Jason Aaron

Heroes Reborn: America’s Mightiest Heroes – Companion vol. 1 by Ryan Cady, Marc Bernardin, Jim Zub, Steve Orlando, and Cody Ziglar

Heroes Reborn: America’s Mightiest Heroes – Companion vol. 2 by Ethan Sacks, Paul Griest, Ed Brisson, Tim Seely, and Vita Ayala

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