stories, poems, and essays by angel hench

Book Review Rating System

When I am asked to rate a book, I always feel like 5 stars or even 10 half-stars are such limiting options.  Let’s say, I love the unfolding of the story but the ending was terrible (Girl on the Train).  I’d still give it 5 stars.  Or, what if I love, Love, LOVE the book and will tell all my friends that they should read it but it’s not for everyone because it is extremely sad (A Little Life) – yep, 5 stars.  How about Grady Hendrix’s really scary and inventive, My Best Friend’s Exorcism?  Really good scary story, but is it really on par with Toni Morrison’s Beloved?  You see what I mean?

So, I’m going to try something different and see how it goes.  I’m going to use a 100 point scale.  Just like grading papers.  Here’s the rundown:

1-20:  I will probably try to forget that I read this book.

20-40: Passable effort, but overall did not care for this book.

40-60: Either the story, the idea or the writing is good, but there are major flaws.

60-80: Now we’re getting somewhere; liked it; may recommend to friends.

80-90: Loved this book and will recommend it to friends.

90-99: I probably will not be able to shut up about this book.

100: (Not sure this is an achievable score – we’ll see.)


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The Broken Girls – a book review in 200 words

The Broken Girls

by Simone St. James


The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is a well-written, fast-paced, thrill-soaked ride told in (at least) two timelines.

The book opens with a young girl being followed by someone or something in the very dark on a deserted road. Who is she? Where is she? When is she?

In 1950, four troubled girls (Katie, CeCe, Roberta and Sonia) are staying at Idlewild Hall, a home for the worst troublemakers. Each has a secret that slowly unfolds as the pages are turned. Each secret is worse than the last.

In 2014, local journalist Fiona cannot let her sister’s murder go. She can’t sleep and she can’t leave the small town where the unthinkable happened. Her sister’s murder has stopped time for both herself and her father until Fiona hears rumors that Idlewild Hall, the site of the murder, is being renovated.

Woven into all of this (as though it was not enough!) is the threat of a visit in both timelines by Mary Hand, the resident woman in black and the ghostly creature who supposedly haunts the hallways, classrooms and grounds of Idlewild.

Between the two timelines, murders, disappearances and strange happenings abound. What a fun and utterly readable book!

Rating: 92/100

Buy this book when it comes out (today! 3/20) at Barnes & Noble | Amazon | IndieBound

The Chalk Man – a book review in 200 words

The Chalk Man
by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man, C.J. Tudor’s debut novel, is told in two timelines: the first by 12-year-old Eddie; the second, by the same narrator, only 30 years older. There are multiple mysteries in both timelines and the author uses the time-switching device effectively to escalate suspense and dole out clues to you, the wary reader.

The 1986 story has a maiming, a drowning, some extremely brutal bullying and a murder. All the while, there is a big story involving the adults happening just outside the periphery of the children’s attention.

Fast forward to adult Eddie in 2016 who is dealing with a life he didn’t expect. With the reappearance of old friends, another drowning and some other strange goings-on, Eddie has no choice but to re-examine his discovery of a headless body in the woods in ‘86.

There are so many great themes in this book – the powerlessness of children, the pull of childhood friendships, growing up and not having the life you thought you’d have. Add to all of that, strange chalk drawings, an albino, an abortion doctor and a hell-fire spouting preacher and you have a weird, wild ride where you can’t take anything for granted. What a thrill!

Thanks to Crown Publishing for the ARC!

Rating: 88/100

BUY IT NOW at Barnes & Noble | Amazon | IndieBound

Southern Reach Trilogy – a book series review in 300 words

Southern Reach Trilogy

(Annihilation, Authority & Acceptance)


Jeff VanderMeer


The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer is beautifully written. And, well, weird.

I very rarely buy books at full retail price anymore. But after multiple recommendations from people I trust, I decided to buy Annihilation and give it a try. (Plus, those covers – hard to resist!)

Annihilation follows a group of “explorers” as they go into an area in the southern United States called Area X. No one knows what Area X is exactly, even though it has been part of the landscape for over 30 years. Sometimes people come back from their expeditions, sometimes not. There’s a lighthouse, lots of suspicious behavior and loads of crazy developments. The book could be read as a stand alone, but there is also a cliff-hanger, so…

Immediately upon finishing Annihilation, I bought Authority and then Acceptance. Full price, at my local bookstore. Each book is written in a different style and from different character points of view. I can only say that reading these books is like an intense and beautiful fever dream. (I know I’m not giving you much of an idea about plot, but I’m not sure I could do it justice or that I fully understand what happened yet. So unhelpful.)

If you enjoy experimental fiction, alternate realities, strange events, science fiction, mysteries, really excellent writing, conspiracy theories, monsters and/or unexplained phenomena, and if you are totally okay with stories with no definitive ending or an absolute explanation of what has happened, you will enjoy this trilogy! And even if you don’t currently like these things, you should still try this out – just for fun!

When you are done, you can go join the conversation online about what really happened and what you actually read. Also, look for the movie when it is released later this year.

Rating: 90/100


Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman – a book review in 200 words

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman



“Over these many years, I have observed both profound folly and breathtaking wisdom among humankind. They balance each other like dancers in the throes of a passionate tango.” – The Thunderhead

I don’t remember ever loving the second book in a series more than I love this one. The world that Shusterman introduced in Scythe is taken to an entirely different level in Thunderhead.

The continued adventures of Scythe Lucifer (Rowan) and Scythe Anasthasia (Citra) have incredible consequences for the Schythedom and the rest of North Merica. All of the characters from the first book have returned; and the introduction of a new character, Greyson Tolliver, and the Thunderhead as an actual “character” in the novel changed my perspective on this entire near-future Earth – in a way I could not have anticipated.

What happens when the world is threatened but humanity is too complacent to pay attention or even care about what is happening? You will see.

This smart, thoughtful, action-packed series will make you think about your place in the world. If you believe there is not tremendously great teen fiction out there, this series will change your mind. Unfortunately, the third in the series does not even have a name yet – so I will wait in frenzied anticipation for the wrap-up to this story. Hurry up, Neal Shusterman, I need to know how this ends!

(A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.)

Rating: 92/100

Buy it January 9, 2018, at Barnes & Noble | Amazon | IndieBound


A Killer Harvest – a book review in 200 words

A Killer Harvest

by Paul Cleave


In A Killer Harvest, Paul Cleave writes the most exciting and memorable opening chapter for a thriller that I have had the pleasure to read. Without giving anything away to kill the pleasure of discovery, two police officers go to arrest a man they are sure is responsible for the brutal death of a young woman found along the side of the road. A chase ensues and a couple of bone-chilling deaths, as well.

These deaths mean that a young man receives the gift of sight from a relative; you must assume that someone else receives the eyes of a serial killer. Whatever your opinion of the cell-memory phenomenon (memories and changes to personality transplanted along with organs to recipients), Cleave makes you believe for the length of his story.

This book also has at least one jaw-dropping surprise and a couple of twists that I did not see coming. In hindsight, they make perfect sense and I feel like this, more than any other quality, is the mark of a great thriller. Cleave tells a great story, is unafraid to kill characters to further the suspense and surprises even the most jaded reader. You should probably read A Killer Harvest.

Rating: 80/100

Buy it now at Barnes & Noble / Amazon / IndieBound

An Echo of Murder – a book review

An Echo of Murder


Anne Perry


I cannot believe I have never read a William Monk mystery before! There are over 50 Anne Perry books and An Echo of Murder is the 23rd book in the Monk series. A fact for which I am incredibly grateful now.

Anne Perry’s William Monk series is set in Victorian London and really, reminds me of the BBC show, Ripper Street. (Or more accurately, Ripper Street reminds me of Anne Perry.) The central character is the sensitive and tough Commander Monk who is aided by his street-smart second-in-command, Hooper, and his brave wife, Hester, who worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War. Monk is also surrounded by an eclectic collection of supporting characters ranging from a reformed shyster to an unlicensed doctor and, of course, a beloved street urchin.

In this installment of the series, the Thames River Police, headed by Monk, must rely on the Hungarian community’s own people for access to and legitimacy in the immigrant neighborhood where a terrible murder has taken place. When it becomes obvious they are dealing with a serial killer, the Hungarians are equal parts suspects and victims.

“We’re not taking people’s jobs. You’ve got to make them see that. We’re just taking care of ourselves, like everybody. We’ve got a right to do that. Englishmen have gone all over the world, where they had no business. Can’t they make room for us here?”

Two themes emerge quickly after the discovery of the first victim: the plight of the immigrant and the home life of soldiers after wartime. Both of these topics are particularly relevant right now and it is both interesting and disheartening to realize how little we have learned throughout history when it comes to both subjects.

“There are things you can’t share, except with those others who were part of it. The people at home don’t want to know. They can’t take it away from, they can only feel useless. There are not words created to describe the horror of some things. and why would you want to burden them with it anyway? They cannot help, and they cannot carry it for you.”

I actually read a second book in the Monk series over the weekend and found it just as enjoyable. And, now I have a third Anne Perry book waiting for me on my shelf! If you are a fan of serial mysteries or just really good fiction, you should try this series.

Rating: 89/100

Buy this book at Barnes and Noble | Amazon | IndieBound

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