Summer is rough for me. Always has been. I know it is for a lot of people. From mid-June until late August, I feel like the human equivalent of a rotten, infected belly button, and the mere act of existing feels like an enormous effort.

As we’re getting into the part of the year when the seasonal ennui really gets its grip on me,  I’ll let you know that this installment of Stacked is very half-assed. Why bother at all, you might wonder? I’m wondering that as well. But if I don’t follow through on at least something, I will feel like an even lousier rotten belly button, so here we are.  While I’ll make sure to share all the titles of everything I read from April through June of 2023, not all of those books will get a review.

Here’s where I try to explain my process, how some of these things have reviews, and some don’t, even though some of them might actually have been more exciting or compelling reads. I try to be diligent about recording my thoughts pretty quickly when I finish a book I’ve read for NetGalley (I don’t want my rating to go down, hee hee!), and so once I’ve written it for Netgalley, I just put it in a draft here to hang out on the blog. But library books or items from my personal collection that there’s no urgency to review right away? If they are exceptionally blah, I’ll forget them in a day or two. And if conditions are right, like, say, I’m hot and tired and miserable? I’m apt to be forgetting the really good ones, too. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of Netgalley ARCS in this blog post, though it’s possible some of those ARCS are published now.

You might wonder how I grow my “To-Read” lists or where I get my recommendations. I was going to start that sentence, “People often ask me…” but that’s a total lie. No one ever asks me that. Sadie Hartmann has loads of horror suggestions over on Instagram, and on YouTube, Elizabeth has tons of thrillers and horror reviews at Reading Wryly, and Jen Campbell’s channel brims with lists of speculative and literary fiction as well as poetry.

When I was in elementary school, in the sixth grade, I was a bookworm. Are you shocked?? I hope you were sitting down for that!  I never really thought of myself as a nerd, though. Until popular mean girl Mary Josenhans told my sister (also named Mary), “Your sister reads ALL the time. She’s a NERD.” First of all, I don’t know why sixth-grade Mary J. was talking to my fourth-grade sister. Stay in your lane, kid! Secondly, she said “nerd” like it was gross, dirty, or bad. Like it was something to be ashamed of. Like my sister should have been ashamed of me.

I don’t think my sister ever was, but from that day forward, I harbored a fierce, fiery hatred in my heart for Mary J., for trying to make my sister feel something ugly about me. It was worse than making me feel directly bad about myself, see? And those feelings of shame and ugliness and uncoolness were wrapped up for me in nerdery and book wormery for the longest time. Not that it ever stopped me from reading or loving the things that I loved, but it sure put the kibosh on ever getting a sense of feeling …”cool” for loving any of it at all?

(Also, for the longest time, I dreamed about walking up to Mary J. and straight up punching her in her mean, stupid face.)

But yesterday, while exchanging book recommendations via Instagram DMs with one of the very coolest humans I know, it occurred to me…wait a second. This person is COOL AS HELL. And we are talking about books. One of my favorite things in the world. We are having a cool conversation about a cool thing. AM I A COOL PEOPLE???

Oh, fuck off, Mary Josenhans. Go read a book.



Linghun by Ai Jiang The grieving families who inhabit the neighborhood of HOME will go to unspeakable lengths for the opportunity to move into houses which *may* possibly be haunted by their loved ones. That’s what Wenqi’s parents are hoping for, the chance to connect with the spirit of their son, Wenqi’s older brother. Wenqi herself, as do many characters in this story, suffers from heartbreaking neglect– her parents and the other mourners are so obsessed with communicating with the dead and those they’ve lost, that they’ve nothing left to give the living.  An aching meditation on the unclimbable mountain, the unhealable wound of grief, and how the melancholy of loss makes for dolorous ghosts among the living, Linghun will surely haunt my heart for some time to come.

This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno is another book about grief and loss, but this one gets really freaky, glitchy, and hallucinatory. Thiago tells us of his late wife Vera, her funeral, the day she died, the life they shared, the…haunted, or possibly possessed, or possibly interdimensional cosmic horror entangled smart home device Vera ordered and installed before her tragic demise. Anyway. Grief fucks you up.

A Good House For Children by Kate Collins is a spooky, spellbinding contemporary gothic haunted house story, following Orla, a former artist/current mother who acquiesces to her husband’s wishes that the family pick up and move to a grand old house in a small village by the sea. The villagers hint at the house being “bad,” and a string of deeply unsettling things begin to occur in past and present timelines. A feminist ghost story with a haunted house where time isn’t quite fixed or linear, A Good House For Children is gorgeously creepy with many marvelously cozy elements, and the writing was lovely & soothing like the author also writes about knitting & baking in their spare time.

Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward Looking Glass Sound lulls you with the setting and circumstances of a coming-of-age experience that takes place among three friends over the course of an ill-fated summer in the late 80s. It’s one of those stories that softly strangles with a fraught, undefined sense of doom and vague, looming dread that has nothing to do with horror but rather the sweetly unbearable, eerily desperate poignancy of the passage of time, how hope and youth and friendship and loyalty will never feel the same again after you cross a certain threshold. It becomes a kind of fever dream, turned around and bewildering, where the people and their stories keep changing, moving, slipping from your grasp; nothing’s as you thought, and maybe you never properly understood the stakes of the story to begin with–or even whose story it really was. Circuitous and labyrinthine in its leading one towards and away from the truth, depending on whose truth it was, Looking Glass Sound left me with the most breathtakingly frustrating and beautiful ache in my heart, and honestly, it’s all I could want in a book by Catriona Ward.

Spin a Black Yarn; Novellas by Josh MalermanIt’s not enough to say this collection of stories was “weird.” I read a lot of weird stuff. I genuinely can’t say, story or theme-wise, if this collection was any more or less weird than anything else. I guess I mean to say it was a bit weird in tone and consistency. These five stories were at turns sinister and suspenseful, with two tales that actually elicited a proper goose-fleshed shiver, but then two other stories were a bit of a slog. The good: a nice balance of haunted house eerieness, cosmic horror mental deterioration, and creepy deathbed confessions. The not-as-good: a horrible couple gets what they deserve, and Russian brothers avenge the murder of their sibling. This last story read almost like something by Dostoevsky, with all the suffering, nihilism, intensity, and tedium I recall from Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov. I will always read a new title from Josh Malerman. Will I always love them? Probably not. And I can’t say that I loved this one, but the three stories I enjoyed in this collection were particularly good.

No Child Of Mine by Nichelle Giraldes I typically enjoy ghost stories with haunted houses and family curses, but this story of a couple’s unraveling after moving into a new house and learning of their unplanned pregnancy really missed the mark for me. It wasn’t the dual timeline element; I really enjoyed learning of Essie and Sanjay’s relationship in the present day, as well as Ana and Isabel’s beautiful bond in the past; it wasn’t the slow-burn pacing, I can appreciate taking the time to thoughtfully build a story up. No, I think what was missing is that the circumstances which connected these two couples across time was a more complicated situation than the author ultimately addressed, and I think the whys and hows of it even occurring at all needed more exploring. I get that the mystery of the paranormal should leave something up to the reader’s imagination, but I think, as a reader, I needed just a little bit more to work with.

The Sight by Melanie Golding Faith has grown up in the Harrington Carnival and loves her life with the performers–but they haven’t always loved her family back. A strain of divinatory curse seems to afflict some of the women in her clan, and the rest of the circus seems to think having death-predicting soothsayers hanging around is extremely bad luck and probably not great for business. Her grandmother Daisy was more or less banished when she spoke of a tragedy she foresaw, and Faith, having acquired the same “gift” as a child, has experienced similar visions –and their consequences in terms of being ostracized from her carnival friends and family. Now a pariah with no income, Faith must find a way to pay for her terminally ill mother’s home care, and along with her best friend Betsy, they hatch a scheme to capitalize on Faith’s gift. But what happens when in one of her “Oracle of Death” visions, it is Faith herself who is seen wielding the knife responsible for a stranger’s death? This is a fairly straightforward thriller with a hint of the supernatural and a twisty bit that I will admit I saw coming about 3/4 of the way through, and I won’t say what it’s about or who it pertains to, but if you’re paying attention to what’s there in front of you–and maybe what’s not actually there–it will fall into place for you as well. I thought this was a fairly compulsive read weaving together ideas of fate and destiny, family and tradition, and death and loss.

The Stranger Upstairs by Lisa Matlin Social media influencer and self-help author/therapist Sarah Slade thinks she’s hit upon a great idea–buy a notorious murder house, make renovations while documenting the whole thing and hopefully getting lots of likes and follows along the way, and then sell the restored home for a tidy profit. Right away, things seem a little weird; her husband barely wants to sleep in the house, no one local wants to do any work on the place, not only do the neighbors refuse to interact with them, but someone is actively trying to drive them away with threatening notes and dead rats, and even Sarah’s cat, Reaper, is acting off. The house, however, is the least of Sarah’s problems. The glossy social media facade hides a failing marriage, a past scarred by secrets, and, as it turns out, a host of mental, emotional, and pathological personality issues; Sarah is not the person her clients and employers believe her to be and for all of these reasons and more, she is probably not the best choice for providing anyone any therapy or counseling. As we watch as Sarah becomes ensnared in the house’s grip, we wonder if it’s the house itself or Sarah’s spiraling mental decline (and if you’ve read enough haunted house books in the past decade, you may have some other theories.) I enjoyed this story for its atmosphere and tension, and I loved the bones of the story itself. I even loved the *idea* of Sarah. I am not sure that I loved how the character herself was handled, especially all the wine-drinking. Far be it from me to say how characters suffering with substance abuse issues should be written, but something about Sarah’s drinking feels sloppily approached. Then again, alcoholism is kind of a sloppy thing to deal with (my family is full of them, so I feel like I can comment on this somewhat.) And this could just be a me-problem. But I found those portions of the book very uncomfortable to read. Otherwise, The Stranger Upstairs was pretty solid.

Dark Corners by Megan Goldin So a lot of this murdery thriller following a true-crime podcaster took place around Daytona Beach. And as a more or less lifelong resident of the place (I moved away last year), I was curious to see if they could convey the true and utter nastiness and skeeziness of the shitty little town I grew up in. I don’t want to give the author too much of a hard time or focus on the wrong thing here. but a major plot point was an “influencer convention” that was being held at a hotel in Daytona, and the main character was unable to find a room anywhere because there were IT, energy, and medical conferences being held in town at the same time, and all of the hotels were full. Yeah…no. No one will ever have an IT, energy, medical, OR influencer convention in Daytona Beach, FL. Bikeweek? Sure. NASCAR? Of course. Anything that requires a few more IQ points is most assuredly not going to happen in Daytona. And the influencer convention would have to take place somewhere much more glamorous than the sandy cesspool of Daytona could offer. All that aside, the story of this podcaster getting pulled in by the FBI to find a missing influencer was compelling enough to tear through it in a few days, and I will say that reading about social media influencers is a lot of fun, like reading about rich people is always a hoot. It’s a trip to see how the other half lives. And technically, while I found the writing and the language to be pretty plain and simple, no bells or whistles, the pieces of the story came together in a satisfying way in the end.

Mister Magic by Kiersten White Is there anything weirder and eerier than a childhood mystery recalled through an adult lens? Something you may have done or experienced or been a part of that, in retrospect, as an older person, just seems so surreal and farfetched and bonkers that there’s no way that could have happened, you must have dreamed it or imagined it? That’s how a swath of internet users of a certain age feel about an eccentric show called Mister Magic that mysteriously disappeared from the airwaves many years ago and which, strangely, one can now find no evidence of having existed. There are no producers, transcripts, camera people, or records of the show online–the blog posts and message boards even speculating about it seem to vanish without a trace. But the child stars who were at the heart of the show are quite real and are being gathered together for a podcast interview, which may, in fact, be heralding a reboot of the show. Once reunited, the characters start to feel pieces of themselves clicking back into place, it feels like being home–but at the same time, something strange is happening, and the reconnecting that’s happening is more than just lonely adults reunited with old friends. Wounds are being reopened, and traumas are surfacing. There is so much from their past with this tv program that has been repressed or that they never realized the truth of, to begin with, and there is more at stake with the reboot than they could possibly know. The author seems to be exorcizing some intensely personal demons with the book–which once you think about the locale and start putting pieces together, you guess it before the story gets there. But whether you relate to or have experiences with that kind of trauma or not, this was a great read, and I tore through it in less than a day.

Maeve Fly by CJ Leede Oh my god. Imagine a love letter to Los Angeles, written by a savage, sociopathic Weetzie Bat; a Takashi Miike film inspired by a series of Lana del Rey songs; a main character who is a Disney Princess channeling Patrick Bateman. Imagine there is also a reference to “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” in these pages. You guys–the perfect book really does exist.

All the Dead Lie Down by Kyrie McCauley I really connected with our main character Marin. Always anxious, with a perpetual pit of dread in her belly, constantly fretting at how things can go wrong, a permanent state of caution and worry. And a perfect foil to Evie, the beautiful eldest sister to the girls Marin has been charged with nannying after her mother has died, and she has accepted an invitation to live with the Lovelace family at their secluded New England estate. Evie is bold and brash, and beautiful, and Marin is instantly intrigued. But the sisters are hiding something, and strange, unsettling things are happening in the old home and on the spacious, increasingly spooky grounds, and as Marin and Evie’s romance blossoms, a sinister decay deepens. I didn’t realize this was YA before I read it, but I found it to be the perfect balance of cozy-creepy atmosphere and charming love story, with some delightfully disturbing surprises.


Bluebeard’s Castle by Anna Biller So you take the Bluebeard story and give it a contemporary setting by way of a heroine obsessed with gothic romance tropes and 1950s Hollywood glamour and wrap it up in Anna Biller’s exquisitely packaged campy ambiance that borders on satire (but is it satire, or is it a very genuine homage?) as well as her very specific feminist philosophies revolving around catering to the male gaze and misogyny as a form of agency and empowerment, throw in some sketchy ghosts, family trauma, toxic friendships, terribly chic fashion, and salacious food porn and you have this head-scratcher of a book that you can’t seem to put down even though you find this brand of feminism too uncomfortable to either contemplate or participate in.

The Chateau by Jaclyn Goldis Four friends convene for a girl’s trip at a luxurious French estate, the ancestral home of grande dame Seraphine, who has called the women together for reasons of her own. There are tensions between the group from the start, and it’s not an entirely comfortable visit, despite the opulent accommodations. A shocking murder delays Seraphine’s revelations, however, and the four work mostly separately and against each other to unravel the mystery of the brutal crime–and why they were summoned to the chateau in the first place. Much in the way of secret, scandal, drama, and tragedy tangles these women together, and they’re not the most likable bunch, so it’s tough to know who to root for with these unpleasant characters. Despite that, this is definitely the sort of summertime twisty suspense r that I’m always happy to find and immerse myself in over the course of a June or July evening.

You Can Trust Me by Wendy Heard I had such a good time with this one! At first, as the story and the characters were being built up, I didn’t quite know where things were headed. Summer and Leo are two kindred spirits who found each other at just the right time in their lives. Summer is unbearably lonely having lived off the grid, with virtually no identity for her entire life, and gets by on her clever thievery and pickpocketing skills. Leo is a young woman who experiences a terrible tragedy, leaves home and winds up desperately panhandling in the streets of L.A. Their paths crossed, Summer took Leo under her wing, and they now live a free-spirited, nomadic lifestyle, stealing from clueless strangers and scamming bored rich men. And then, having come upon what she thought was a major score, Leo unknowingly targets the wrong billionaire and disappears somewhere on his luxurious private island. Frantic to reunite with her one true friend, Summer uses every trick up her sleeve to scam her way onto the island during an investor’s retreat so that she can get to the bottom of everything and bring Leo home safely. Despite being a somewhat twisty thriller, I loved how the themes of friendship, found family, and long-term effects of grief and loss were woven into the fabric of this story, and overall, I thought it was a really good time (which I always feel weird saying about murdery books, but eh, you like what you like.)

The Only One Left by Riley Sager The anticipation for a new Riley Sager book is exciting and nearly overwhelming. The plots, usually consisting of a woman realizing she’s in a strange/perilous/weird/haunted situation and trying to get to the bottom of things while staying alive, are the sorts of tales, written in Sager’s relatable (but never “basic”) voice and propulsive storylines, that immediately hook you and leave you breathlessly tearing through the pages. And then you get about 3/4 of the way through the book and realize, “Huh. Riley Sager’s done it again. I’m gonna hate how this ends, aren’t I?” The Only One Left, the story of a 30-something caregiver with a troubled past put in charge of caring for an old woman long suspected of murdering her entire family in an enormous crumbling cliffside mansion, is another one to add to the list. The stories sail along so thrillingly and adroitly, you can’t imagine how they’ll be wrapped up in a clever bow at the end…and that’s the thing. They never are. They always go off the rails in the most head-scratchingly unsatisfying way. This one plays out the same way. I know reviews are for readers, not authors, but Riley Sager, if you ever read this–I do actually love your books quite a bit, and I will be chomping at the bit to read every single new one you write. I don’t love how most of them end, but honestly, that’s a minor complaint. If I’ve enjoyed the journey–and I always do, Riley Sager– the ending isn’t the most important thing.

My Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon If you’ve been looking for the Hallmark Christmas movie cozy-times version of an “is it family trauma or is it demonic possession?” horror novel, Jennifer McMahon’s My Darling Girl is everything you’ve been pining for. And you might think I’m saying that in a snarky, sneery way, but you know what? I am totally not. My advice? Save this for December when the wooly socks, hot chocolate, and twinkle lights come out of storage, and have a good time with it.

Her Little Flowers by Shannon Morgan Prickly middle-aged loner Francine lives with her occasional lodgers and her full-time ghosts in the relative isolation of her family’s crumbling estate. She spends her days tending her garden, immersing herself in herbal lore and the language of flowers, and silently communing with the various spirits on her property. Francine’s sister Madeline comes home to stay for a spell after the death of her 7th (!!) husband, and with Madeline’s arrival–which happens to coincide with the arrival of a handsome new lodger– there is no small amount of sudden and terrifying upheaval. Francine’s small world, kept so quiet and well-guarded, explodes around her in a whirlwind of long-kept secrets, terrible tragedies, and ghostly heartbreak. I found this story to initially be a bit meandering, but it picked up near the final chapters, and near the end, I was weeping uncontrollably.

The Fetishist by Katherine Min This book was an unexpected jolt, a startling “zjzjzjzzttt!!” metal fork to the socket of my reader’s soul. I had no idea what it was meant to be about other than a philandering Asian fetishist of a mediocre white man–but really, that’s just dumb Daniel, and that’s not even the whole of him, and he’s not even the half of it. There’s dazzling, dizzyingly passionate, and talented Alma, the love of his life, but whose orbit he felt eclipsed by; brittle desperate Emi whose affections he spurned; and furious, grief-stricken Kyoko–Emi’s daughter, hell-bent on vengeance, for she is convinced her mother died by suicide after Daniel ended their affair. Tackling themes of classism, racism, colonialism, and exploitation, as well as of regret, revenge, and redemption, and motifs of art and music and beauty, and language and imagery that is at turns bleak and playful (a passage in which comatose Alma, her coma toes, coma tossed comes to mind, hee!) these characters are full of surprises and The Fetishist is a singular and extraordinary book.


Malice House by Megan Shepherd Bamboozles and bonkers! I began reading this book because I thought it was one thing but it veered in a weird and wild direction and has become something else entirely! Is there a specific term/phrase/genre for the kind of book where everything goes along all normal-like, and then the story just veers sharply and becomes super weird and crazy? I am not talking about speculative fiction or magical realism. Have you read this book? Can you talk to me about what I’m getting at here. I also thought it was kind of funny that the character name-dropped Kelly Link (well, she mentioned Get in Trouble) and Victor LaValle.

Upgrade by Blake Crouch (audio book)Who knew being preternaturally smart could be so annoying?

Station Eleven by Emily Saint John Mandel People, patterns, the passage of time. Humanity, the interconnectedness of it all, this beautiful, lonely planet. This story is not at all what I thought it was going to be.

Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan A suburban neighborhood turns against a new family in a series of flashbacks and have never had a book make me feel so distressed and uncomfortable.

The Wanderers by Chuck Wendig in which I finally read a Chuck Wendig book and learn I am perhaps not a Chuck Wendig fan. Was this the wrong book to start with? It left a horrible taste in my mouth.

Carmilla: The First Vampire by Amy Chu this was an interesting adaption of Sheridan Le Fanu’s story, but is it weird to say that I wish that beautiful sofa had featured more prominently in the plot?

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling was my first DNF of the year. I had to read 74 titles before I found one I couldn’t force myself to read; that should give you an idea of how patient I can be. I had my suspicions about it but gave it a go anyway. It turns out that I truly hate love stories. I got about a quarter through the book when I realized I was just wasting my time and could/should be reading something I enjoyed. Shortly thereafter, I had to do the same with The Quiet Stillness of Empty Houses by L.V. Russell (which sounds like something I should have enjoyed from the title, so I’m still a little sad about that one.)

Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire A really beautiful YA (?) thriller (?) about a school for children who tumble through doorways or portals to fantasy lands but who are cast back into the real world and who are now unmoored and adrift. The boarders at the school begin dying in brutal ways, and they must solve the mystery of what’s happening. I think this is a series?

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage Psychopathic Hannah terrorizes her mother because she wants her papa all to herself. It was an interesting premise, but I found Hannahs’s machinations remarkably sophisticated for a seven-year-old? I think I might have really enjoyed this book anyway.

Such Pretty Flowers by K.L. Cerra In investigating her brother’s gruesome death, Holly cozies up to (and with) his shady girlfriend Maura, a florist, who lives in an amazingly atmospheric gothic apartment, which was almost a character itself. And that’s…all I remember. I really loved the idea of that apartment, though.

The Island by Adrian McKinty Against her better judgment Heather, a young, new stepmother, goes on a side trip with her bratty stepkids and her husband to a remote Australian island, and not long into their jaunt, they meet a strange pair of brothers, part of the larger clan that owns the island, and a terrible tragedy occurs. Poor choices and bad decisions worsen things, and Heather and her family soon realize they may not make it off the island alive. I had a weird time with this book. Half the time, Heather annoyed me, I thought every time she opened her mouth, she made the situation worse, and yet she really was a great character, and this book had some unexpectedly beautiful writing, far more gorgeous than you’d think a story like this might have called for.



Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

The Night Shift by Alex Finlay

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

Creeping by Mike Richardson

The Decacon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji

We Had To Remove This Post by Hanna Bervoets

The Marigold by Andrew Sullivan

…again, just because I don’t have anything to say about these books doesn’t mean they weren’t good, or even great (looking at you, The Marigold!) My head’s just not in it at this point. Anyway, that’s it for this quarter!


If you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?




Autumn Ware says

This: I was going to start that sentence, “People often ask me…” but that’s a total lie. No one ever asks me that. 🤣 I'm bookmarking this page for when I need a new book to read. I haven't read any of these. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

S. Elizabeth says

I'm always tempted to qualify whatever I'm about to share with something like "people asked me about this!" Like I need an excuse to share something! Like it can't be enough for me to think "hey this is interesting, maybe other folks will think it is interesting too, I should share it!" I am trying not to feel like I always need to justify what I'm saying but it's a struggle :P

Emera says

I just picked up All the Dead Lie Down from the library on your recommendation, and can't wait to start. It looks delicious!

S. Elizabeth says

I'll definitely be interested in your thoughts! I really had no expectations for it, and so even it it wasn't entirely my cup of tea, I still had a good time with it!

Add Comment

Your comment will be revised by the site if needed.

Discover more from Unquiet Things

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading