Mini-Reviews: White Smoke + Small Town Monsters

I meant to take care of any outstanding reviews I had from October/November before the year ended, but ended up only posting one review in December and just kind of forgot I had these in my drafts. As a result, these are both horror books. It may be early in the new year, but who says horror is only good during Halloween season? Certainly not I.

Title: White Smoke Author: Tiffany D. Jackson Series: N/A Pages: 384 Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books Release Date: September 14th 2021

TW: anxiety, drug addiction, drug overdose, death of a child, ableism

"The Haunting of Hill House meets Get Out in this chilling YA psychological thriller and modern take on the classic haunted house story from New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson! Marigold is running from ghosts. The phantoms of her old life keep haunting her, but a move with her newly blended family from their small California beach town to the embattled Midwestern city of Cedarville might be the fresh start she needs. Her mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty ten-year-old stepsister, Piper. The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its . . . secrets. That’s only half the problem: household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone. But 'running from ghosts' is just a metaphor, right? As the house closes in, Mari learns that the danger isn’t limited to Maple Street. Cedarville has its secrets, too. And secrets always find their way through the cracks."

Mari and her new mixed family are given the opportunity to move to Cedarville when her mother is given a residency in an up-and-coming neighbor. But when they arrive, their neighborhood is nothing like they imagined. Dilapidated homes are the norm and their neighbors look at them with suspicion. If that wasn’t bad enough, their new house has come with a few surprises of its own. As Mari tries to reestablish herself in this new world, to erase her own questionable history, she begins to learn more about her new town’s nefarious origins. One thing I love about Tiffany D. Jackson’s novels is how layered her stories are. You can approach any of her books from several different angles and White Smoke is no different. On its surface, White Smoke is a haunted house story. It has all the classic elements like unexplained paranormal activity. Doors open and close on their own, objects go missing, furniture is moved, shadows move about at night. All this sets the lead character, Mari, on edge as well as the reader. But Jackson always has readers delving deeper as Mari begins to investigate why the town of Cedarville is so run down, why the Sterling Foundation seems to have its hands in every corner of the Town’s renovation, and why their neighbors aren’t the most welcoming to her and her family. It soon becomes clear that a haunted house is not the only thing Mari needs to worry about. From gentrification to the prison-industrial complex, White Smoke weaves a myriad of nefarious real world issues into an unforgettable horror story.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Small Town Monsters Author: Diana Rodriguez Wallach Series: N/A Pages: 336 Publisher: Underlined Release Date: September 7th 2021

TW: death of a parent, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide

"Vera Martinez wants nothing more than to escape Roaring Creek and her parents' reputation as demonologists. Not to mention she's the family outcast, lacking her parents' innate abilities, and is terrified of the occult things lurking in their basement. Maxwell Oliver is supposed to be enjoying the summer before his senior year, spending his days thinking about parties and friends. Instead he's taking care of his little sister while his mom slowly becomes someone he doesn't recognize. Soon he suspects that what he thought was grief over his father's death might be something more...sinister. When Maxwell and Vera join forces, they come face to face with deeply disturbing true stories of cults, death worship, and the very nature that drives people to evil."

Diana Rodriguez Wallach’s Small Town Monsters delivers plenty of scares with a death-worshipping cult at its center, bent on taking over a town. Vera Martinez has always been the odd girl out. Her parents’ unconventional vocation as demonologists have made her and her family the target of gossip. But when popular jock, Maxwell, begins noticing his mother’s strange behavior, he seeks out the one person who won’t turn him away if he suggests his mother might be possessed. With dual POVs, Rodriguez Wallach ramps up tension as Max’s mother slowly becomes unrecognizable while Vera begins to realize getting too close may put her in the same kind of danger. Max is at the end of his rope. He is trying to make sense of his mother’s behavior including her late night strolls through the house and her incoherent ramblings involving death. But at the top of his priority list is keeping his little sister safe. Vera is dealing with complex feelings of isolation. On one hand, her parents are the reason why her classmates whisper about her, but on the other, she secretly wishes she could share their gifts. It’s a desire built out of loneliness and the need to be closer to her often absent parents. Because of this, I wish Vera’s parents had been a bigger presence in the book. Their absence is needed in order to drive the storyline forward, but as a result Vera’s character development suffers. There are a few hackneyed tropes in this one and if you can forgive the cliché romance, Small Town Monsters is an enjoyable horror novel that at its core is a story about grief. Many of the characters who fall prey to the cult’s influence have lost loved ones and are just looking for a way to ease the pain. In the end, this pain is a necessary step in the grieving and ultimately healing process.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Title: Grown
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: September 15th 2020

TW: sexual abuse, rape, assault, child abuse, kidnapping, addiction, grooming, emotional abuse, suicide

      “Korey Fields is dead.
      When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.
      Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.
      Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?
      All signs point to Enchanted.”

swirl (2)

“Trying to reclaim your life is a lot like drowning. You attempt to stay above water as waves of new information hit you sideways, carrying you further into the unknown. People throw life preservers, but the ropes can only reach so far, and once a riptide catches you by the ankle, all you can do is wonder why you ever thought you’d be OK jumping into the deep end, when you could barely manage the shallows.”

Tiffany D. Jackson delivers another riveting story with Grown, shining a light on predatory relationships and society’s complicity when it comes to disbelieving victims, especially when it comes to Black girls and women. Enchanted Jones is a talented singer, but knows the odds of being discovered aren’t in her favor. That is until Korey Fields, famous singer and heartthrob, takes notice of her at a competition. Drawn into his world, Enchanted can’t quite believe someone like Korey would take an interest in her musically and personally. He might be eleven years older than her, but no one seems to get her quite like he does. But his attention takes a dark turn and soon Enchanted isn’t sure how to escape this relationship. When Korey ends up dead, Enchanted becomes the obvious suspect. Proving her innocence won’t be easy when she had more reason than anyone to want Korey dead and can’t remember exactly what happened the night of his murder.

Grown is not an easy book to read. Told through Enchanted’s perspective, what feels like innocent flirting to this seventeen-year-old feels much more sinister to the reader. Enchanted is quickly enamored with Korey. His attention feels special, he makes her feel heard and in his eyes, she feels beautiful and more mature. He subtly manipulates her, first getting her to trust him and then using this trust as a weapon when she thinks about pulling away. As an adult, Korey already holds a lot of power over Enchanted, but when you couple this with the power he has in the very industry Enchanted is hoping to break into, his influence over her becomes almost unbreakable.

Tension builds as Jackson shifts between past and present timelines. As a reader, you watch as Korey’s attitude toward Enchanted slowly changes. He becomes irrationally possessive, threatening her, and isolating her from her friends and family. Korey’s death is not a surprise, you know it’s going to happen. And as he begins to continually abuse Enchanted, you begin to want it, to hope for it in order for her ordeal to end. But this is not the end for Enchanted. The present timeline begins with Enchanted discovering Korey dead and no memory of how it happened. Afterward Enchanted is further victimized by her peers and adults who slut-shame her behind her back, placing the blame of this relationship on her rather than the adult in the situation. The police are much more interested in building a case against her than hearing her story even when it becomes clear that Korey has a pattern of abusing underage girls. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent just how complicit those around Korey are. People like Korey cannot get away with what they do without the people around them turning a blind eye.

Grown is a gut-punch of a novel that will have the readers holding their breath from its bloody opening scene to the gradual exploitation of its protagonist and the final scenes where the truth of what happened to Korey Fields is finally revealed.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Can’t-Wait Wednesday: Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson


Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Tressa @ Wishful Endings where bloggers share which upcoming releases they’re most looking forward to. Join us every Wednesday and watch your TBR list multiply.

Tiffany D. Jackson has a talent for leaving me speechless with her books. Grown, her upcoming novel, sounds like it is full of twists and turns and I just know no matter how good a guesser I think I am, Jackson is going surprise me. This one comes out next week and I am eagerly awaiting my preorder. Cover is linked to Goodreads.

Title: Grown
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: September 15, 2020

      “Korey Fields is dead.
      When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.
      Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.
      Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?
      All signs point to Enchanted.”

Are you participating in Can’t-Wait Wednesday or Waiting on Wednesday? Is this book on your TBR? Be sure to leave a link to your post in the comments and I’ll visit!

Can’t-Wait Wednesday: Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson


Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Tressa @ Wishful Endings where bloggers share which upcoming releases they’re most looking forward to. Join us every Wednesday and watch your TBR list multiply.

Tiffany D. Jackson’s Let Me Hear a Rhyme sounds so different from her previous two novels (both of which pulled the rug right from under me), but I’m really curious to see what she does with this story. And this cover is so dynamic, I can’t wait to see it in person. Cover is linked to Goodreads.

 width=Title: Let Me Hear a Rhyme
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: May 21, 2019

      “In the next striking and vibrant standalone novel by the critically acclaimed author of Allegedly and Monday’s Not Coming, Tiffany D. Jackson tells the story of three Brooklyn teens who plot to turn their murdered friend into a major rap star by pretending he is still alive.
      Biggie Smalls was right. Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are okay letting their best friend Steph’s tracks lie forgotten in his bedroom after he’s killed—not when his beats could turn any Bed-Stuy corner into a celebration, not after years of having each other’s backs.
      Enlisting the help of Steph’s younger sister, Jasmine, Quadir and Jarrell come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: The Architect. Soon, everyone in Brooklyn is dancing to Steph’s voice. But then his mixtape catches the attention of a hotheaded music rep and—with just hours on the clock—the trio must race to prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.
      Now, as the pressure—and danger—of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only each has something to hide. And with everything riding on Steph’s fame, together they need to decide what they stand for before they lose everything they’ve worked so hard to hold on to—including each other.”

Are you participating in Can’t-Wait Wednesday or Waiting on Wednesday? Is this book on your TBR? Be sure to leave a link to your post in the comments and I’ll visit!