DEAD SPACE by S.A. BARNES
I’m not usually a fan of sci-fi, but when I heard Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes described as “Haunted Titanic in space”, I just had to grab it, and for the first half of the book, I was really glad I did! Claire Kovalik and her repair crew respond to a deep space distress signal and end up on the Aurora, a luxury space liner that vanished decades ago. The atmosphere aboard the ship was tight and tense, the characters, while a bit archetypal, bounced well off one another, and I was all in for uncovering the mystery of the Aurora‘s violent end.
Unfortunately, after about the halfway mark, the story stalled for me. It veered from space horror into a corporate thriller that lacked a lot of what made the build-up to that point so good. Claire herself also became something of a chore to sit with, leaning a little too heavily into the unreliable narrator trope. Ultimately, by the end, I was left very underwhelmed and didn’t think the twist did justice to the very creepy start. Despite my disappointment in the reveal, Barnes is a great author and it was her writing style that kept me engaged enough to see it through. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from her. While this one wasn’t quite for me, I’d still recommend it for fans of sci-fi looking for an intriguing mystery set amongst the stars.
BELOW by LAUREL HIGHTOWER
It’s no secret that I’m a huge Hightower fan (and if it is, hi, where have you been?), so when she said she was releasing a creature feature involving isolated country roads, a lone woman protagonist, and Mothman, I knew I had to get my grubby little hands on it. Below follows Abby on her first solo road trip, and she’s bringing lots of baggage. A chance meeting with a trucker (who admittedly, I found a bit overly-aware of boundaries to a distracting degree) ends with him guiding her via radio through a mountain pass, which soothes her frazzled nerves…until things go downhill, literally.
Hightower knows how to keep your attention. You feel how cold that lonely mountain road is, you worry if you turn around, something pale and half-hidden in the shadows will be behind you, you cheer when…well, just know you’ll cheer. It’s a fast paced descent into Mothman’s dark domain and Hightower doesn’t let you go until the very end. While I wish we’d had more time to flesh things out, like what was in the back of the truck and who the trucking crew really were, and that Mothman played a more central part, I very much enjoyed my dive into the deep end and would recommend it for those interested in what lurks Below.
CIRQUE BERSERK by JESSICA GUESS
Jessica Guess’ Cirque Berserk is a time-hopping tale that takes readers between events in 1989 and 2019 at the titular carnival grounds. It follows two groups of teens; one the typical group of slasher genre fodder, and the other with a darker purpose. What begins as a fun night of teenage mischief, which includes breaking into the reportedly haunted Cirque, ends in blood, sweat (because Florida…and all the running for their lives), and tears.
If I had to describe this book in a single word, I think it would be “Fun”. Though layered with heavier topics of abuse and, well, murder, Guess maintains a sense of sinister delight across the story. Though I didn’t always find the characters particularly believable, it was hard not to have a good time following their bloody antics. I do wish the Cirque had been established as a creepier setting – it never rises above standard carnival backdrop – and that more time had been spent developing the How behind the murderous ghosts, this was an easy, quick read that I read over a few nights before bed. Guess has established herself as another author I’ll be watching out for. I’d recommend this book for fans of slashes and final girls with unique twists.