Book Review

This Can Never Not Be Real – Sera Milano

Today, I am reviewing This Can Never Not Be Real by Sera Milano. Many thanks to Sera and Farshore for my copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

FIVE TEENAGERS
WITH NOTHING IN COMMON,
THROWN TOGETHER
BY AN ACT OF TERRORISM,
CAN’T SURVIVE THE NIGHT
WITHOUT EACH OTHER.

A compelling, thrilling yet heartbreaking book for fans of Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Jennifer Niven and Holly Jackson.

In the unremarkable town of Amberside, the unthinkable has happened: Terrorists have attacked a local festival. No one knows why, and no one knows who the attackers are, but that doesn’t matter. What matters first is survival. And what matters after that is survival, too.

In this brilliantly written account of hope, humour and humanity, five ordinary teenagers are caught up in a truly extraordinary situation. It’s a heart-pounding and gripping account of the fight for survival, told from multiple perspectives, as the attackers prowl the festival grounds.

A book for anyone who needs to see that behind the hate that makes the headlines, there is always love.

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REVIEW:

Being the age I am, terror attacks have always been there on the periphery, atrocities you hear about on the news but that could never happen where I live. The thing is, where I live is exactly like Amberside, and it could happen here. As I read This Can Never Not Be Real, this was a very sobering thought that stayed with me throughout.

Writing in the style of testimonials and witness statements, Sera Milano gives real insight into each character and captures the all encompassing terror that each of them was feeling. Being inside each character’s head instead of watching from a distance made my heart beat faster and my body tense.  The short snippets of testimony from each person make this a fast read and add to the feeling of panic and chaos – just a few sentences and then you are with someone else in another part of the attack.

I was so immersed in this book that every time the real world dragged me out of the pages, it took a few moments for me to relax. It is a harrowing read that left me mentally exhausted and emotionally drained. It has been a long time since a book got under my skin like This Can Never Not Be Real did, and it is a book that I will never forget.

This isn’t a story glorifying the violence of terrorism, or of the heroic acts of one person saving countless others and overpowering the terrorists. It is simply a story of people doing what they can to just survive.

 


Book Review

Lies Like Wildfire – Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Today I am joining the blog tour for Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez. Many thanks to Jennifer, and to Penguin, for providing me with a copy of the book, and to The Write Reads for inviting me to be a part of the tour.

BLURB:

An intense high-stakes story about five friends and the deadly secret that could send their lives up in flames, perfect for fans of Karen McManus and E. Lockhart.

In Gap Mountain, California, everyone knows about fire season. And no one is more vigilant than 18-year-old Hannah Warner, the sheriff’s daughter and aspiring FBI agent. That is until this summer. When Hannah and her best friends accidentally spark an enormous and deadly wildfire, their instinct is to lie to the police and the fire investigators.

But as the blaze roars through their rural town and towards Yosemite National Park, Hannah’s friends begin to crack and she finds herself going to extreme lengths to protect their secret. Because sometimes good people do bad things. And if there’s one thing people hate, it’s liars.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

REVIEW:

Just the thought of wildfires terrifies me, even though whenever there is one near where I live they are never anywhere close to the scale of those in America, Australia or mainland Europe. Watching the devastation on the news is utterly heart-breaking. Even before reading the author’s note, it was clear that Jennifer has personal experience of  such fires and that experience really comes through in her description of the fire, and in the emotions that it raises.

Lies Like Wildfire is a fascinating story about how one bad decision can spiral out of control, and how one lie can lead to another, and then another. The comparison between the raging wildfire and the ever increasing web of lies, both forging their own path of destruction, makes for a cleverly constructed novel.

Although each of the characters was hard to like at times, and I found Hannah more than a little annoying, it was absolutely compelling reading waiting to discover where the lies were going to take her and her friends and what the truth really was.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

I received my B.A. in English from the University of California at Berkeley. I’m fascinated by underdogs and power dynamics between groups of people.

I’m the author of LIES LIKE WILDFIRE, a teen thriller soon-to-be published by Delacorte Press, and two middle grade book series, each published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, THE GUARDIAN HERD (a quartet) and RIDERS OF THE REALM (a trilogy). Before this, I self-published a middle grade fantasy called THE PET WASHER.

When I’m not writing, you’ll find me galloping my little black mare through the foothills of Sonoma County or teaching free creative writing workshops to kids and adults at various branches of our local library system.

The Healdsburg Literary Guild selected me as their 2019/2020 Literary Laureate for my work in building literacy in my community. It is an honor I hold dear. I am also the current SCBWI Sonoma County Coordinator and a volunteer on the Sonoma County Library Advisory Board.

I live in Northern California with my husband, three children, and more than my fair share of pets!

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Book Review

The Great Silence – Doug Johnstone

I am welcoming a familiar face back to my blog today, as I join the tour for The Great Silence, book three in Doug Johnstone’s Skelf series. Many thanks to Doug and Orenda Books for providing me with a copy of the book, and to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part.

BLURB:

Keeping on top of the family funeral directors’ and private-investigation business is no easy task for the Skelf women, and when matriarch Dorothy discovers a human foot while walking the dog, a perplexing case presents itself.

Daughter Jenny and grand-daughter Hannah have their hands full too: the mysterious circumstances of a dying women have led them into an unexpected family drama, Hannah’s new astrophysicist colleague claims he’s receiving messages from outer space, and the Skelfs’ teenaged lodger has a devastating experience.

Nothing is clear as the women are immersed ever deeper in their most challenging cases yet. But when the daughter of Jenny’s violent and fugitive ex-husband goes missing without a trace and a wild animal is spotted roaming Edinburgh’s parks, real danger presents itself, and all three Skelfs are in peril.

Taut, dark, warmly funny and unafraid to ask big questions – of us all – The Great Silence is the much-anticipated third instalment in the addictive, unforgettable Skelfs series.

PURCHASE LINKS:

REVIEW:

Having read the previous books in the Skelf series, picking up this third book felt a little like returning home after an absence, and despite all the death and danger, the warmth of the kitchen, filled with the Skelf women, both blood and honorary, felt like a big hug in book form. I love the familiarity of a book series such as this where you can really get to know the characters and watch them develop.

Although The Great Silence is a tense thriller in places, and a dark comedy in others, there is a delicate sensitivity to the tone when writing about the funeral parlour side of Skelf life. The Skelfs are women who care deeply about their clients, putting everything else aside to treat them with dignity and respect, and this is one of the things l love most about this series. It would be all too easy to make this side of the business a source of humour, and I think it says a lot about the the author that he has resisted doing this.

Throughout The Great Silence, there is both heartbreak and danger for each of the women, and it was interesting to see their reactions to this, and how they have all changed since the first book. I particularly enjoyed seeing how Abi has grown up, although her role in this book is particularly upsetting. It was also great to see another side to Archie as he assists in one particular aspect of an investigation this time around.

The Great Silence is a gripping thriller, with some real edge of your seat moments, exactly as you would expect from Doug Johnstone, but it is his creation of wonderfully strong yet vulnerable characters that make the Skelf series stand out from all the other thrillers out there. I very much look forward to seeing what scrapes they get themselves into in the next book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve previous novels, most recently The Big Chill (2020). Several of his books have been bestsellers and three, A Dark Matter (2020), Breakers (2019) and The Jump (2015), were shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions over the last decade – including at a funeral parlour ahead of writing A Dark Matter – and has been an arts journalist for over twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three solo EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.

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Don’t forget to visit the other blogs taking part in the tour to read more about the Skelf women.

Book Review

The Boyband Murder Mystery – Ava Eldred

I am back reviewing my beloved YA today with The Boyband Murder Mystery by Ava Eldred. Many thanks to Ava, and to Penguin Random House, for my copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

‘I have long believed that loving a boyband brings with it a wealth of transferable skills, but I’d never imagined solving a murder would be one of them…’

Harri and her best friends worship Half Light – an internationally famous boyband. When frontman Frankie is arrested on suspicion of murdering his oldest friend Evan, Harri feels like her world’s about to fall apart. But quickly she realises that she – and all the other Half Light superfans out there – know and understand much more about these boys than any detective ever could.

Now she’s rallying a fangirl army to prove Frankie’s innocence – and to show the world that you should never underestimate a teenage girl with a passion…

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REVIEW:

I was a big boyband fan in my younger years, and I think it was feelings of nostalgia relating to this that led me to pick up this book. Social media wasn’t a thing back then though, so it was just me and my friends obsessing in our bedrooms. 

 Although Harri is hard to like at times, I enjoyed her friendship with Jas and can fully understand that feeling of having such a close friendship with someone you have never met and being nervous of not being enough when you finally do meet. The network of virtual friends that form the basis of this book put me in mind of my own posse of kindred spirits from the book world.

The Boyband Murder Mystery is more a story of what we can achieve through strong friendship and love than a real murder mystery but I loved it for that, and it was the characters relationships with each other that really made this book for me. I found it to be a relatively lightweight, fun read, which actually sometimes is exactly what you need to escape from the world.

Book Review

Circus Of Wonders – Elizabeth Macneal

My review today is for the beautiful Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal. Many thanks to Elizabeth, and to Picador, for my copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.

But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.

In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?

Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility. 

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REVIEW:

Weirdly, although I am not a fan of the circus, I can’t resist books about them. I am in love with the idea of the travel, the camaraderie, the glitter in a way that I will never love the reality of the bright lights, loud music and the clowns. What I am a fan of is the musical Barnum, and the film The Greatest Showman, so Jasper’s comparison of his own show and curiosities with Barnum’s added a familiarity that really brought the circus to life for me.

I started reading this book when I really wasn’t very well and I fell asleep about a quarter of the way in – in just that short period, the characters had got so far under my skin that I had a very vivid dream of the story continuing while I slept. It was so real that it was quite disconcerting to pick the book back up and discover that what I thought had happened was actually just my imagination working overtime.

Circus of Wonders is a beautiful book and I loved reading about the friendships that Nell forms as she finds her new place in the world.

The wonder of the circus juxtaposed against flashbacks to the Crimean war and the secret that Jasper and Toby share give this book a haunting beauty, generating similar feelings in me as Robert Dinsdale’s The Toymakers. Anyone who knows me will know that this is extremely high praise as The Toymakers is one of my absolute favourite books.

Book Review

Girl One – Sara Flannery Murphy

Today I am reviewing the thought-provoking thriller Girl One by Sara Flannery Murphy. Many thanks to Sara and Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with a copy of the book, which I received via NetGalley.

BLURB:

Eighteen women down to two, two down to…. Girl One.

The world knows them as ‘The Homestead Girls’. Nine women who raised nine ‘miracle babies’ on an experimental commune in rural America.

But after a suspicious fire at the ranch kills both the doctor behind the pioneering experiment and one of the youngest of the girls, the mothers and their children are scattered across the country, some embracing the media spotlight, others refusing to talk about it.

Now years later, Josephine Morrow, aka Girl One, is studying medicine, following in the footsteps of her beloved mentor, when she is called home to discover that her mother has vanished, while her house has been trashed. If Josie is to find her, and find her alive, she will need to track down her estranged sisters and finally confront the secrets of their dark past – before it is too late.

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REVIEW:

I will admit that I wasn’t too sure what to expect going into this book, the blurb giving an impression that it was part thriller, part sci-fi, and part coming-of-age. That certainly felt like a lot of genres to fit into one book, but Sara Flannery Murphy has somehow managed it.

Girl One tells the story of Josie, a young woman born as a result of a science experiment, as she searches for her mother, and the truth about a series of events that happened when she was a child. The story is interspersed with news articles from the Girls’ childhood and the birthday letters sent to Josie by her “father” Bellanger until he died, and this style had me on edge within a few sentences as it was clear from the outset that there had to be more going on than met the eye, secrets that Josie didn’t know. As Josie reconnects with the other Girls and each shocking revelation about the Homestead and the Girls comes out, life as she knew it unravels around her in ways that I never expected.

The only downside to this book, if you can call it that, is that I wanted more time to get to know each of the girls after their discovery of the truth surrounding their shared history, to see how this changed them, and learn what happened to each of them next. Can it really be a downside to say a book isn’t long enough though? That said, as much as I would love to know more, I suspect a sequel would not work, so perhaps some things are better left to our imaginations.

Girl One is a thought-provoking book examining the power of women, and the increased strength when they come together to support each other and lift each other up. I found the science absolutely fascinating, but it was really the depth of emotion and the ties that bound the Girls together that really drew me into this book.

Book Review

Twisted Roots – A.G. Parker

Today, I am reviewing Twisted Roots, the debut novel by the talented writer and altogether awesome human, A.G. Parker.

BLURB:

Oh, if trees could lick their lips…

White lies and good intentions have paved the way for Laela’s untamed magic to bleed into the land, resurrecting a terrible power intent on vengeance.

Haunted by dreams of a skeletal tree, Laela lives on the outskirts of a village shrouded in secrets. Her mother died hoping to free Laela from a life of duty. Instead, she denied her the chance to know the magic of her bloodline – and the reality of the horrors they were tasked to guard.

When her dark and violent history begins to unravel, Laela must reclaim her magic – and uncover the truth of her origin – before the mist and wickedness destroy everything she loves.

But Laela’s path is steeped in betrayal, and overcoming evil may not be as easy as killing it…

If you enjoyed Aiden Thomas’s Cemetery Boys, Victoria Lee’s The Fever King, and Vylar Kaftan’s Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water, you’ll love Twisted Roots – a dark contemporary fantasy, which weaves together the stories of Laela and her vengeful counterpart, the Witch, in a story of redemption and compassion.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Author’s Shop

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Audiobook

REVIEW:

I have had the privilege to have met A.G. Parker, and to have read their previously published poetry and fiction, and as such I was very much looking forward to reading their debut novel. As a poet, it is no surprise that A.G. Parker’s writing style is wonderfully lyrical, and I was captivated by it from the very first sentence. Twisted Roots is sinister and atmospheric, and at times sent a shiver down my spine. Laela’s dreams, in particular, would be terrifying to experience and not be able to wake up from.

A.G. Parker has created a unique magic system, with no easy answers or quick fixes. Whilst Laela has her Aunt Lorna as a mentor of sorts, most of what she needs to discover she has to do on her own, and I loved this aspect of it. There is a lot more to Laela’s journey into her family history than meets the eye, and the slow peeling back of the layers kept my anticipation levels high and my attention gripped throughout the book.

There are aspects of this book that made me smile, not least of which was a rather impressive cat, and aspects that made my stomach lurch with pain and sadness. It is a thoughtfully written book which entwines important messages about disability and mental health throughout the story. I am very much looking forward to whatever comes next from A.G. Parker.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

George Parker is a London-based author, editor, and Best of the Net nominated poet. Their debut dark fantasy novel Twisted Roots is out now! Their poetry, fiction, and essays have been featured in various publications, including Mslexia, The Feminist Library’s Queer Zine, Ogma, Mooky Chick, The F-Word, Elevator Stories, Gothic Nature Journal, Prismatica, Sufi Journal, Sage Cigarettes, Earth Pathways, A Writer in Morocco, and more. Their craft essay about disability representation in fiction features in Human/Kind Press’ anthology Musing the Margins. They performed their poem Stepping Off the Gender Wagon as part of ELOP’s IDAHOBIT 2021 event and vigil. 

As a pansexual, genderqueer and disabled writer, they hope their work offers readers an inclusive perspective.

They are the English Language Editor for Angeprangert! and a staff reader at Prismatica Magazine. They run A Wave in the Heart: Poetic Connection, and Sacred Anarchy: Writing the Roots, mindful writing workshops that encourages people to explore and develop a connection with Self through creativity. They love spoken word nights, and even a cheeky slam. 

When they’re not writing or teaching, they offer editorial services and mentoring to other authors and poets. Services include structural and content editing, proofreading and submission package editing. If you’re interested in working with George, please get in touch. They’d love to hear from you. 

To unwind, they enjoy hedgewitchery. Will read your tarot for a price.

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Book Review

BElieve in YOUrself (BE YOU) – Lexi Rees & Sasha Mullen

I am welcoming a familiar face back to my blog today as I join the blog tour for BElieve in YOUrself (BE YOU) by Lexi Rees. Many thanks Lexi for providing me with a copy of the book, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the tour.

BLURB:

Want your child to be more focused, feel calmer, and increase their self-belief?

This unique activity book is packed with fun, creative tasks, plus a wide variety of mindfulness strategies including

✓ visualisation exercises

✓ breathing techniques

✓ mindful arts and crafts 

✓ games to improve focus and concentration 

✓ mind and body detective skills

Written by primary school teacher and founder of Mindful Mentors, Sasha Mullen, and best-selling author and tutor, Lexi Rees, this fully illustrated activity book provides children with the essential tools to be their best selves, every single day.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Win 3 signed copies of BElieve in YOUrself (BE YOU), UK only 

https://kingsumo.com/g/tzyozc/mindfulness-for-kids

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REVIEW:

BElieve in YOUrself (BE YOU) is another great activity book from Lexi Rees, and a very timely release coming off the back of an incredibly anxious time for everyone, but perhaps particularly so for children who couldn’t fully process what was happening and why life had changed beyond all recognition. It is also perfectly timed for the summer holidays, and I am looking forward to sharing this book with my friend’s little boys.

Written in accessible language without being patronising, the bold print and illustrations make this a really appealing book, and I loved the colouring pages – I have lots of adult colouring books and find them to be a great mindfulness tool, and I am sure kids will have a lot of fun filling in these pages.

The step-by-step toolkit is fantastic and will be a great aid to making children more able to deal with whatever life throws at them – in fact, I will be adding some of the tips to my own mindfulness toolkit. I particularly liked the breathing exercises, and the fortune teller is a clever take on a game I remember from my own childhood. I am very tempted to make my own lava lamp and kaleidoscope after reading the great, straightforward instructions for these projects.

BElieve in YOUrself (BE YOU) is a really powerful book, and one that I highly recommend. It is quite simply bursting with information and activities to empower children and help them to be comfortable in their own skin.

ABOUT LEXI REES:

Lorraine-16Lexi Rees was born in Scotland but now lives down south. She writes action-packed adventures brim full of witch-doctors, fortune-tellers, warriors and smugglers, combining elemental magic with hints of dystopia. She also writes fun activity books for children. 

Her fantasy adventure, Eternal Seas, was awarded a “loved by” badge from LoveReading4Kids. The sequel, Wild Sky, is available now. 

She’s passionate about developing a love of reading and writing in children and, as well as her Creative Writing Skills workbook, she has an active programme of school visits and other events, is a Book PenPal for three primary schools, and runs a free online #kidsclub and newsletter which includes book recommendations and creative writing activities.

In her spare time, she’s a keen crafter and spends a considerable amount of time trying not to fall off horses or boats.

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ABOUT SASHA MULLEN:

Sasha Mullen-20Sasha has always had a passion for adventure. Be it experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of far flung continents to exploring her hometown of West London. Letting her senses guide her head or heart, she has utilised her personal experiences to gather a kaleidoscope of skills. How to embrace a teaching role in New York- a city so vast and vibrant, how to cope with grief, transition into motherhood. A teacher in primary schools since 2010 has enabled her to see the need for incorporating Mindfulness practice into everyday education. When Sasha is not teaching or enjoying her family or socialising with friends, she is taking an exercise class, and is particularly fond of the child’s pose in yoga, when she can happily have a power snooze!

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Book Review

Say Goodbye – Karen Rose

I am thrilled to be joining the blog tour for Say Goodbye, the third book in Karen Rose’s Sacramento series. Many thanks to Karen and Headline for providing me with a copy of the book, and to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part.

BLURB:

The closer you get to the truth, the more dangerous it gets.

FBI Agent Tom Hunter has been chasing down leads to find the brutal cult that damaged some of his closest friends. They managed to escape to tell their stories, but Eden’s location has always remained a mystery.

Liza Barkley is struggling with her feelings for Tom and wonders if their friendship can survive the secrets they’ve kept from one another. But they may be forced to confront the truth when a chance to help the investigation puts Liza directly in the line of fire. When the perpetrator of an attempted sniper attack on Liza and her friends is discovered to be one of the cult’s leaders, DJ Belmont, it becomes clear that he is out to get revenge on the victims who escaped Eden’s clutches.

But there is one person who has always had control over DJ, and who no one outside of Eden has ever glimpsed: cult leader Pastor. When a serious injury forces Pastor to seek help outside the confines of the Eden, Tom and his team finally have a chance to bring the cult down.

But DJ Belmont has his own plan, and is not going to stop until he gets what he wants…

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Say Goodbye Cover

REVIEW:

I have long been a fan of Karen Rose, and have read all of her books over the years. With a favourite author, there is always the risk that their next book won’t live up to expectations, but thankfully, Say Goodbye delivers on all levels. It is a fast-paced, action-packed read that I flew through, despite it’s fairly large size! I absolutely love the characters in this series, but in particular the wonderfully warm Sokolov family.

Being something of a book series addict, one thing I love about Karen Rose’s books is that although each series is separate from the others, and you don’t technically need to read them in order to follow the story in each book, there are links back to earlier books and series through familial relationships that tie all her books together. This particular series takes us all the way back to her first book, although I must admit it took me a little time to work out why the names were familiar, it being a few years since I read the first book.

Say Goodbye is exactly the type of book I have come to expect from Karen Rose – a complex thriller with a cast of characters that is, at times, mind-boggling. There is a lot to keep track of, but this effort really pays off as the tension builds and builds. By the time I reached the culmination I was a screwed up ball of stress, and it actually took me a while to wind down after reading it, which is just what makes a good book for me.

Say Goodbye is a fantastic read, and one I heartily recommend. Although it can be read as a standalone, you really won’t regret going right back to the start and reading all of Karen Rose’s books. You can find the reading order on her website – there is a link to this further down.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Karen Rose Author PicKaren Rose was introduced to suspense and horror at the tender age of eight when she accidentally read Poe’s The Pit and The Pendulum and was afraid to go to sleep for years. She now enjoys writing books that make other people afraid to go to sleep.

Karen lives in Florida with her family, their cat, Bella, and two dogs, Loki and Freya. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, and her new hobby – knitting.

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