A New Day at Midnight by Michelle Hiscox

I wrote this review for the LibraryThing Early Review program.

First, the good things: The book is a quick read. The writing is, generally, of a good pace and pleasant flow. Also, the romance wasn’t rushed, which is a particular annoyance of mine. This is not to say the romance was perfect (my objections will come below), but the author did give the relationship time to develop. The sex scenes were some of the better writing in the book – her efforts showed especially in depictions of physical sensations/situations (both positive and negative). The author also did a very good job talking about saving a life by turning someone into a vampire when the victim is unable to consent, and the morality and power dynamics in a such situations. This is a point that I feel is often skipped over in vampire narratives (there’s plenty of angst, but very little discussion of responsibility/consent), and I appreciate that she took the time to explore the nooks and crannies of that particular aspect.

Unfortunately, those were not enough to redeem the book. This book has the triple threat of racial violence, domestic abuse, and man-pain (the function in entertainment by which a female character is hurt/tortured/kidnapped/killed as motivation for a male character to act) all within the first few chapters. Needless to say, my motivation to finish the book was scant. But finish I did! I cannot say I was particularly pleased with the results.

This book shows a stunning lack of imagination. This is not to say that the author wrote a boring world. She did not. However, the world she wrote was filled with stereotypes and poor (or no) research about the complex society in which the main characters spend most of their time – Romani society. A quick internet search would have made this book MUCH better because the portrayal of the Romani would have been so much more nuanced and wouldn’t feel appropriative. I was HORRIFIED to read, multiple times in the first few pages, the racial slur generally used for the Romani people. There are better ways to portray ignorance of a culture or prejudice against it. Taboo racial slurs are an unimaginative shortcut and tell the reader this character is prejudiced/ignorant rather than SHOW it. However, my horror was NOTHING compared to the disgust I felt when after a Romani character corrected the ignorant use of the slur by the main character with, “We prefer Romani,” that the main character CONTINUED TO USE IT for a few more chapters. Also, the word was still peppered through the script. Also, the text is full of micro-aggressions (like the surprised exclamation “You speak English so well!”) and fetishizing of the Romani. Not to mention, when using Romani mythology, she mixed it with another mythological tradition to the point that the original legend was nearly obscured. Everything about the treatment of the Romani felt extremely squicky.

Women in this story tend to be acted upon rather than act themselves. It’s a frustrating thing to read. Especially the sister, Anya, who seemed completely there to be acted upon, rather than act. The main character swung between two poles: completely inactive to amazingly decisive. It was awkward and inconsistent. In the main, however, she was a body acted upon and I very much so dislike a main character who has little agency. So, while the romance wasn’t rushed, it was almost entirely on the male character’s terms, which made the pace of the thing feel less like a victory. SPOILER: A slave falls in love with their master! That’s so very gross and never ONCE did the novel even think to address the power dynamic there. If you absolutely MUST use that trope, at least bother to do it with a LITTLE respect. Considering that the author did an extremely good job of addressing the power dynamics of being a vampire faced with a dying person, this lack was BAFFLING. The book felt a lot like a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast is my favorite faerie tale and while the book recognizably follows the sense of the story, it does so without ever capturing the true spirit and intent of it.

I could not get a sense of time period, because there were language functions that felt very 1800’s and some that felt very 1900’s. This is what broke the pleasant flow of the narrative the most. I was thrown out of the novel several times when the language changed from older usage to more modern usage (especially when the characters swore – the usages felt much more modern). Also, bride prices and slaves were a thing, making a case for the older time period, but again the language felt very modern.

I also believe that much of the errors in the novel were editorial mistakes. Some of them were convoluted sentences that needed a firm hand, some were formatting errors, but none of these did an already flawed novel any favors. Frustration on top of disappointment makes for an unsatisfying reading experience. This is not the first time I have read a book published by Bookkus and have felt similarly dissatisfied with the editing. I think this author’s book could have been much better, had she had a little more editorial guidance.

A note of confusion: I’m not sure I understand the origin of the title. Maybe I missed it, but I’m not sure the title is appropriately descriptive of the book. At the same time, there is something of the “new beginnings” feeling in the book. It’s not a bad title, but it doesn’t quite do it for me either.

D (Pacing and flow generally satisfying, romance not rushed, depictions of physical acts well-written, addresses vampire aspects often dismissed; appropriation of culture, time period inconsistencies, poorly discussed power dynamics, female characters lacking in agency, poor editing)

Lucky’s Girl by William Holloway

I reviewed this book for LibraryThing Early Reviewer’s Program.

To begin, I must admit that this is NOT my genre. But, I have received many books through LibraryThing which are not my genre and still been able to give them honest, favorable reviews, if unenthusiastic. So, when I got a horror novel, I was prepared to maybe not appreciate the content, but still be able to appreciate the writing (if it proved appreciable).

But, this is not a horror novel, this is torture porn. I was sick at reading it. And, worst of all, the writing was NOT good, so there was really nothing that saved it for me. This only gets a half star because I do have to give some sort of number of stars for it to be counted in the review average.

First, the trigger warnings, for those who are considering reading the novel. You REALLY should know what you’re getting into. So, here goes: rape, gang rape, statutory rape, other coerced sexual acts, incest, child grooming, juvenile sexual activity, violent sex, emotional manipulation, cult behavior, mind control, racism (specifically toward Native Americans and Koreans), sexism, murder, bestiality, ‘devil’ worship, live evisceration of people, live evisceration of animals, torture of people and animals, cultural appropriation. These are the ones I remember. Honestly, I wish I didn’t. Every time I thought the author had written content as sick as it could get, he added on another layer. That did not contribute to the piece, though it seemed to be the goal. So, the goal was accomplished, but be aware that acknowledging that the author’s goal is accomplished is not the same as me complimenting the completion of it. I think it a dreadful SHAME that might have been the goal in the first place.

Now, as I said, the content was NOT my thing. If that’s what does if for you, now you know this is a book for you. BUT, when it comes to the writing, I was sadly disappointed as well. Repetitive descriptors become repetitive scenes. I literally could jump forward two pages and Lucky would be repeating the same things in practically the same wording and the scene would not have moved on at all. There were supposed to be several narrative voices – chapters came from many perspectives – but they weren’t distinct. I often had to double check context to figure out who was talking because the voices were all of the same vein. The characters were static, all the character arcs were small circles: if there was progression at all, there was always a retreat to the original status. There was racism and cultural appropriation, there were seriously harmful attitudes about women all over the manuscript (including that old gem, “she asked for it” TIME AND TIME again), and there was NO COUNTERPOINT. While I truly believe that this book is NOT indicative of the author’s predilections and inclinations (because, hello jail time if it were an indication), there was no narrative or character counterpoint. I’m not talking about moralizing or the perfect character – I understand this is intended to be a horror novel. But you can have people in a horror novel with a different flavor of horror than racist and sexist a**holes. And because there was no balance of character viewpoint, it made Lucky’s onanistic DRECK that much harder to read. And the plot suffered because of this static state of the characters’ arcs and attitudes: it literally had nowhere to go. Yes, there was a story, but it very one note and predictable. The most unpredictable part of the story was what new horrific act would the author come up with to add into an otherwise boring plot. This story relied on sensationalized violence to carry interest, not good story or character work.

As a side note: I question, seriously, the choice of title. The multitude of characters referred to as “Lucky’s girl” in the narrative are also the characters with the LEAST agency in the narrative and therefore are the least interesting characters. If this is the focus of the narrative, it only serves to make the book even MORE disappointing as all we do, when focused on these women, is look for something – ANYTHING – interesting.

I was prepared to try something new and give it a shot. I went in hoping to find a book to enjoy from a genre I don’t typically read. Instead, I found a poorly written book that had such terrible content that I cannot imagine picking up another horror novel at this point. “I know a slaughterhouse when I see one,” and I have NO DESIRE to step foot in one again.

F (sensationalized content in exchange for plot, lack of character arc, repetitive writing