Kate’s Review: “Illusions of Isolation”

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Book: “Illusions of Isolation” by Brennan LaFaro

Publishing Info: French Press, March 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon

Book Description: Is anyone ever really alone?

When a young man’s wife goes away for the weekend, he lies awake all night wondering what the otherworldly sound in the attic is and why only he can hear it.

After her husband’s death, a mother who interacts with her son exclusively through stationery notes grapples with the strange ways her lost love seems to be haunting them both.

And inch by inch, room by room, a young girl’s home is overtaken by a savage jungle, even while her parents are being gradually replaced by somewhat…wilder housemates.

In this debut collection Brennan LaFaro, the author of NOOSE and SLATTERY FALLS, brings you these stories of creeping dread and much, much more. Contained within are thirteen tales of horror, humor, and heart, (including nine which have never before seen the light of day) and an introduction by the legendary Jonathan Janz.

Is anyone ever really alone? Or are they merely suffering… ILLUSIONS OF ISOLATION

Review: Thank you to French Press for sending me an eCopy of this short stories collection!

One of my favorite things is when a book shows up in my inbox or comes across my path that is unknown, and it catches my eye even though I’m unfamiliar with the author due to the description and hype work done around it. That is really the situation I had with “Illusions of Isolation” by Brennan LaFaro, a collection of horror short stories that were completely new to me. I’m someone who really likes routine and control over many aspects of my life, so taking chances on books, while novel and fun at times, is also a little stressful for me. But reading the description of this book, I knew that I wanted to give it a chance because it just struck me in the right away. And I ended up really enjoying it.

Before we begin, one of the things that I really REALLY loved about this collection is that each story has an author’s note at the end, which provides some context and insight into the story itself. As someone who likes to write for myself on occasion, I always like seeing the process that other authors use when writing their own stories. I found it very enlightening and interesting in this collection, and seeing where LaFaro gets his inspirations and how he crafted these short stories was such a treat. It also provided some good background or thought process information of some of the more disturbing tales (I really liked having it for “Dressed for Success”, the first story in the bunch that has violence within a school setting. It really contextualizes the content so it doesn’t feel exploitative or distasteful). It feels a bit like the author’s notes behind the stories in the “Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark Books” in a way, and I really enjoyed it.

So I’ll tackle this like I do all short stories collections: I will talk about my favorite three stories, and then talk about the collection as a whole.

“Year of the Black Rainbow”: There were a few stories in this collection that used topical issues to help fuel the horror aspects (given that social anxieties influence horror a lot it’s not shock), and “Year of the Black Rainbow” was one of those and my first favorite of the collection. Alex, a non-binary teen whose parents have kicked them out of their home, has found themself alone and living in an unhoused community in an old abandoned hospital. While others have avoided the basement for its strange happenings, Alex has made it their home. But when intruders threaten them, the basement’s reputation comes to the forefront. I love a haunted house story, I love a story about a marginalized person finding a place to call home, and I love a story that has a nice heaping helping of comeuppance for shit heads. And this story has all of that.

“A Shine in the Woods”: Isolation cabin horror is always going to be top notch for me, and if you bring in some really unique elements and I am totally roped in. A family is having a vacation in a winter cabin setting, but something keeps knocking over their garbage cans and making a mess outside. As the snow comes down harder and the unknown threat becomes more pressing, the family starts to wonder if they are going to leave their vacation alive. I’m not going to say any spoilers here, but I LOVED where LaFarro went with this one! I had an idea as to what was maybe going on, but as the tension built and the stakes were raised he went in a completely different direction and I thought that it was so creative and so out there in the best way.

“The Lights”: Break out the tissues for this one folks. A neighborhood nice guy named Gus, known for his kind disposition and his love of the grill, is suddenly rendered catatonic in his backyard chair with a relaxed smile on his face. His wife has kept it secret until neighbors come by concerned, and he only speaks of ‘the lights’. As Gus remains in this entranced state, his wife, and his neighbors, start to realize the impact this quiet but gentle man had on their lives. This one is probably the least horror-esque story in the collection and a bit more Sci-Fi, but I thought that it was so lovely and a glimpse into the way loved ones impact our lives. It’s a bit ambiguous, but the ending is filled with so much genuine, bittersweet pathos that it brought tears to my eyes.

And truly, I thought that all of the stories in this book were pretty well crafted and well imagined. None of them felt like clunkers to me, and I thought that LaFaro really explored a lot of different sub genres and did them justice for the most part. There was definitely something to like about all these stories, and again, the author’s note for EACH story was so, so awesome. The tone could shift from splatter punk brutality to bittersweet pathos and the shift isn’t jarring or distracting. It’s just nice seeing different themes and tonality flowing well in an anthology, especially when there is such a dichotomy and it’s from a single author.

There is definitely something for everyone in “Illusions of Isolation”. I am going to be keeping an eye on Brennan LaFaro going forward, because this collection is filled with lots of goodies.

Rating 8: A well rounded and very strong collection of horror stories that span a number of sub genres and aesthetics, “Illusions of Isolation” really ought to be on any horror aficionado’s radar!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Illusions of Isolation” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on the list “Short Horror/SciFi Collections”.

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire, Vol. 8”

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Book: “American Vampire, Vol. 8” by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Vampires in space? It’s 1965. Pearl and Skinner escaped The Gray Trader with more questions than answers, and their search for clues leads them to … NASA! You’ve never seen vampires like this before!

Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque continue their epic Eisner Award-winning story, as Skinner Sweet and Pearl touch more of the key moments in American history.

Review: It really has been a trip returning to “American Vampire” after I fell off of it a few years ago. And when I was approaching the penultimate volume, “Volume 8”, I was a bit cagey about how I was approaching the end. Partially because I felt like Scott Snyder just introduced a storyline that, to me, seemed like it needs to have perhaps a FEW volumes to wrap it up in a way that didn’t feel rushed. But also because even in the face of this new storyline, there were some hanging threads that we hadn’t addressed (hello James Book as a vampire?). So I was nervous going in, having been burned in the past when a story seems like it had to wrap up really quickly, maybe before it was ready. But I’m happy to report that my hesitance was unfounded, because “American Vampire: Volume 8”, was a stellar entry to the overall mythos!

I remember looking at the cover of this and thinking to myself ‘oh come the fuck on’, but honestly Snyder did a really good job of building up a great narrative to send Skinner Sweet into outer space that I bought hook line and sinker while it mirrors American history. We are now in the mid 1960s, and the Space Race and Cold War is at the forefront. Pearl and Skinner had a nearly deadly run in with the mysterious Gray Trader, a vampire that has power, strength, and influence that neither of them has ever seen, and are now back with the Vassals of the Morning Star, who have tapped them to join up to help try and stop this new foe. This involves satellites, Russian surveillance, and a long sleeping creature called the Tiamat that could awaken at any time and prompt the Russians to send nukes flying to prevent it, even if it means the end of the world, with the Gray Trader actively trying to set the wheels in motion to make it happen. So the VMS, with Felicia Book back in play, want Pearl and Skinner to help prevent nuclear armageddon by keeping the Gray Trader’s movements at bay by working against the satellite surveillance Russia has been using to keep an eye on the Tiamat’s potential reawakening . And it is such a creative way to take on ideas of the Space Race and the Cold War and apply it to this story. It’s really one of the more creative ways that Snyder has approached significant moments in American history and compared and contrasted it within the vampire narrative, and he pulls it off within the story, even if that story ends with sending Skinner freaking Sweet into outer space. I believed the reasoning and I really enjoyed the story arc.

But the most interesting and satisfying aspect of this book is a moment that I have been waiting for since I started “American Vampire” all those years ago: Pearl and Felicia Book finally, finally meet. And not only meet, but are teamed up on their own part of the Gray Trader mission that involves breaking into Area 51. TWO BADASS VAMPIRE LADIES TEAMING UP AT LAST?!?!?!


I love Pearl and Felicia as we all know, and I love how their differences and their differing perspectives and experiences both serve to bring out the best of them as a team. Whether it’s company woman with a lot of experience and leadership strength Felicia, or renegade but compassionate Pearl, there is no sexist bullshitting around with them being mistrustful or jealous of each other. They are very different, but their differences make for a fantastic team dynamic and I loved seeing them both come together and have their own mission. Their thread is the moment that shines the most in this volume and it has been a long time coming to see them together.

I know that the next volume of “American Vampire” is the final one. I THINK that we have pulled things together enough that we could be on the verge of sticking the landing. But at the same time, we still haven’t seen Jim Book in vampire form arrive to meet up with everyone else yet, so maybe I am anxious. Regardless, I liked “Volume 8” and what it did for moving the Gray Trader story along! Let’s see how Snyder wraps this all up!

Rating 8: Interstellar vampire horror with a dash of global peril and deepening conspiracy, “American Vampire, Vol. 8” is setting up a finale that has a lot of, uh, stakes in play.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire, Vol. 8” is included on the Goodreads list “Vertigo Titles: Must Read Comics A-E”.

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “The Salt Grows Heavy”

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Book: “The Salt Grows Heavy” by Cassandra Khaw

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, May 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: From USA Today bestselling author Cassandra Khaw comes The Salt Grows Heavy, a razor-sharp and bewitching fairytale of discovering the darkness in the world, and the darkness within oneself.

You may think you know how the fairytale goes: a mermaid comes to shore and weds the prince. But what the fables forget is that mermaids have teeth. And now, her daughters have devoured the kingdom and burned it to ashes.

On the run, the mermaid is joined by a mysterious plague doctor with a darkness of their own. Deep in the eerie, snow-crusted forest, the pair stumble upon a village of ageless children who thirst for blood, and the three ‘saints’ who control them.

The mermaid and her doctor must embrace the cruelest parts of their true nature if they hope to survive.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I know that my Dad took my preschool self to see Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” in the theater, and while it’s not a top tier Disney film for me, I enjoy it enough (fun fact: it’s my Dad’s favorite Disney movie). I never sought out the original Hans Christian Andersen story, but I am kind of familiar with the general concept and how different and how much bleaker it is than the more palatable for children Disney version. I never really thought about what it would be like to make it even bleaker, but author Cassandra Khaw apparently did, because “The Salt Grows Heavy” takes “The Little Mermaid” and turns it into a full on balls to the wall body horror novella. Like, FULL ON BODY HORROR GORE AND VISCERA. WORK, ARIEL.

Pretend that the water is blood and guts and you aren’t even halfway there. (source)

Now this all sounds super promising, and between that and the cover (I LOVE THE COVER) I had high hopes for this novella. Unfortunately it was a bit of a mixed bag.

But first, what I liked! WHAT AN OUT THERE AND FREAKY CONCEPT! I love the way that Khaw has taken the story of “The Little Mermaid” and twisted it into something so visceral, so splatterpunk, so disturbing and gory. Our protagonist mermaid has fled the kingdom she married into with a mysterious Plague Doctor after her children with the prince have destroyed the city and all who live there. The original tale makes a victimized mermaid a lovelorn waif, while Khaw makes her into a vengeful, held against her will and now broken free with much blood behind her heroine. This story is one of the goriest I have ever read, so graphic that when I was reading it in a public place I had to set it down a few times just to swallow back disgust. In a good way! Body horror gets under my skin, and sometimes it puts me off, but even though this was so gross and nasty and relentless, it really worked well for me.

But what didn’t work as well was how flowery and overwrought the language felt at times. It’s a creative choice and I have to respect it, and I do admit that sometimes there were moments where I really did love the beauty of the language and descriptors that were used. But I have always had a very difficult time with very flowery and complex and ornate language in the stories I read for whatever reason. It makes it easier for me to get lost, and easier for me to find my eyes glazing over. I also think that we jumped in at a point that felt a bit more like the middle of a story versus a clear beginning, and because it’s a novella we had to speed through the place where we were at to resolve everything, which meant that there could have been more world building and more detail. And I do wish that we had spent some time with the mermaid and the horrible prince, to really see a full subversion of “The Little Mermaid” instead of a subversion of what felt more like a sequel to the tale that we know.

So while I was a bit disappointed in “The Salt Grows Heavy”, I had a fun time being absolutely disgusted with some of the body horror stuff in this book. If you don’t have the same hang ups with flowery writing styles that I do and love body horror, this book would probably be a good fit!

Rating 6: I loved the concept, and I really liked some of the creative aspects of twisting “The Little Mermaid” into a body horror gore fest. But the purple prose is a bit much, which is, admittedly, more reflective of my personal preferences.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Salt Grows Heavy” is included on the Goodreads lists “Queer Horror”, and “Horror to Look Forward To In 2023”.

Kate’s Review: “Graveyard of Lost Children”

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Book: “Graveyard of Lost Children” by Katrina Monroe

Publishing Info: Poisoned Pen Press, May 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Once she has her grip on you, she’ll never let you go.

At four months old, Olivia Dahl was almost murdered. Driven by haunting visions, her mother became obsessed with the idea that Olivia was a changeling, and that the only way to get her real baby back was to make a trade with the “dead women” living at the bottom of the well. Now Olivia is ready to give birth to a daughter of her own…and for the first time, she hears the women whispering.

Everyone tells Olivia she should be happy. She should be glowing, but the birth of her daughter only fills Olivia with dread. As Olivia’s body starts giving out, slowly deteriorating as the baby eats and eats and eats, she begins to fear that the baby isn’t her daughter at all and, despite her best efforts, history is repeating itself.

Soon images of a black-haired woman plague Olivia’s nightmares, drawing her back to the well that almost claimed her life―tying mother and daughter together in a desperate cycle of fear and violence that must be broken if Olivia has any hope of saving her child…or herself.

Baby Teeth meets The Invited in a haunting story of the sometimes-fragile connection between a woman’s sense of self and what it means to be a “good” mother.

Review: Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for sending me an ARC of this novel!

The second night in the hospital after my daughter was born, I have a stark memory of calling the nurse in the middle of the night because the kid just wouldn’t stop crying. I wasn’t having any luck with breastfeeding so we were relying on formula to be brought to the room, and they were taking their sweet time while my daughter was in hysterics. Eventually they showed up with formula, and then after she was fed and still screaming they swaddled her up nice and tight, and put on a lullaby, and she was quiet again. Both my husband and myself burst into tears, and this was our WHAT HAVE WE FUCKING DONE? moment of early parenthood. Luckily, it basically only went up from there, as we had an awesome support system in place from our family, friends, and various supportive and affirming medical professionals (never mind that four months later COVID hit and the world shut down, at least it waited until after the fourth trimester was over!). I was having flashbacks to this one vividly awful night as I was reading “Graveyard of Lost Children” by Katrina Monroe, a horror story so evocative and unrelenting and in some ways SO REAL that it overtook me and really, really unnerved me while also breaking my heart. Sure, there are definitely supernatural elements in this book. But it’s also about the horrors of early motherhood and postpartum depression/anxiety/psychosis, which are all too real horrors.

The narrative is told through two different perspectives. The first is that of Olivia, a brand new mother to a baby named Flora, whose own family history involved her teen mother Shannon trying to kill her at four months by throwing her down a well. While Olivia had no contact with Shannon and has found herself in a loving marriage to her wife Kris, Flora’s birth kickstarts a lot of fears and anxieties. The second is the first person perspective of Shannon herself, and follows her pregnancy and the months leading up to Olivia’s attempted murder. Throughout these timelines both women are seeing and hearing visions of a Black Haired Woman, which leads them to self loathing, paranoia, and delusions about their respective babies. I loved seeing both perspectives, and felt like I got to know both women very, very well as their stories went on, so by the time the two storylines were coming together they melded well and I fully believed how they were shaking out. The slow burn of suspense involving the Black Haired Woman, starting with whispers and intuition and evolving into something more visceral and terrifying, was so well done and so effective that it can stand with any of the ghost story titans while being a well done metaphor for postpartum mental illness. There are so many moments that freaked me out, and so many reveals that genuinely surprised me, and Monroe really knows how to create not only a very unsettling ghost/supernatural being, but also how to create very real human characters who have edges, baggage, and many complex sides to them. Every beat hits effectively and perfectly.

But it’s the little things that turn into big things and the cultural and misogynistic things that really set me on edge as I read this book. We see the new mother experiences of Olivia and Shannon as the story goes on, and see the ways that they are chipped away at and torn to shreds even when it ISN’T the Black Haired Woman doing the damage. For Olivia, it’s the constant comparison between her experience and the experiences of other new mothers, as the transition for her is difficult and exhausting when it seems seamless and easy for others. Or it’s the fact that her wife Kris is loving and tries to be supportive, but still has to prioritize work due to a crappy family leave policy and is gone a lot and just doesn’t GET it. Or it’s that breastfeeding for Olivia is awful and painful, but the narrative is ‘breast is best’ makes her feel like a failure and pushes her to push through the pain, even when it’s too much. Or it’s medical professionals who are dismissive and flippant when she raises concerns. And seeing Shannon’s experience as a teen mother in a conservative household in the 1980s, which has her met with outright hostility from her community and even her own mother, and sees the way that OTHER young unwed mothers were treated when she is made to work in a home for unwed mothers, well….. It really shows that this whole idea of ‘motherhood is a blessing’ can be absolute poison to struggling women who aren’t experiencing it as the miracle it is supposed to be. Or, even worse, are punished for it because they did it outside of an acceptable circumstance. The Black Haired Woman is definitely a villainess in this story, but the other villain is the unsupportive culture our society has towards mothers, and how mothers are supposed to just grin and bear it because the baby is more important. And that’s only compounded further if a mother has mental health issues to boot (Andrea Yates comes to mind). The Black Haired Woman is a metaphor for PPD/PPA/PPP, but she thrives in environments that Olivia and Shannon had to live within. And that is what really got to me.

“Graveyard of Lost Children” is outstanding and gut wrenching horror. I absolutely loved it, even as it tore my heart out of my chest. DO NOT SLEEP ON THIS BOOK. Get it, even if the topics are hard to handle.

Rating 10: Searing, devastating, harrowing and scary as hell. “Graveyard of Lost Children” is magnificent.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Graveyard of Lost Children” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward to in 2023”.

Kate’s Review: “We Don’t Swim Here”

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Book: “We Don’t Swim Here” by Vincent Tirado

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, May 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: She is the reason no one goes in the water. And she will make them pay. A chilling new novel for fans of Tiffany D. Jackson, Lamar Giles, and Ryan Douglass.

From the author of BURN DOWN, RISE UP comes a chilling novel told through alternating voices that follows two cousins as they unravel their town’s sinister past, their family’s complicated history, and the terrifying spirit that holds their future captive.

Bronwyn is only supposed to be in rural Hillwoods for a year. Her grandmother is in hospice, and her father needs to get her affairs in order. And they’re all meant to make some final memories together. Except Bronwyn is miserable. Her grandmother is dying, everyone is standoffish, and she can’t even go swimming. All she hears are warnings about going in the water, despite a gorgeous lake. And a pool at the abandoned rec center. And another in the high school basement.

Anais tries her hardest to protect Bronwyn from the shadows of Hillwoods. She follows her own rituals to avoid any unnecessary attention—and if she can just get Bronwyn to stop asking questions, she can protect her too. The less Bronwyn pays attention to Hillwoods, the less Hillwoods will pay attention to Bronwyn. She doesn’t get that the lore is, well, truth. History. Pain. The living aren’t the only ones who seek retribution when they’re wronged. But when Bronwyn does more exploring than she should, they are both in for danger they couldn’t expect.

Review: Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire for sending me an ARC of this novel!

I read “Burn Down, Rise Up” by Vincent Tirado last year, and then I had the pleasure of seeing them speak at ALA Annual last summer. Given that I liked “Burn Down, Rise Up” well enough and really enjoyed their talk on their panel, I was very happy when I was sent “We Don’t Swim Here”, Tirado’s newest YA horror novel that has a small town with secrets premise combined with a healthy fear of water due to a supernatural force. My love for urban legend horror knows no bounds, so I was very excited to read this one. After all, summer is right around the corner and I intend to spend a lot of time at the pool this year, so why not freak myself out about swimming in anticipation?

The most interesting aspect of this book to me was that way that Tirado explores the way that true tragedy can turn into community lore and mythos. Hillwoods is a small town that has what appear to be superstitions and rituals that are in place to appease a supernatural force, the biggest being that swimming isn’t allowed due to a vengeful spirit. But as Bronwyn explores this and pushes against this superstition as an ‘outsider’, the story starts to come to light of what actually happened and how actual historical fact can be twisted and inflated into something else. I don’t want to give anything away as I think that the reveals are worth concealing, but given that many urban legends and local lore probably have some basis in fact, I quite enjoyed the way that Tirado explores that in this book. I also liked the way that they addressed the realities of racism and oppression in a small town community, especially when there are few people of color living there, and how that has manifested over the years in American history.

In terms of the characters and the mystery itself, I thought that Bronwyn and Anais are pretty enjoyable perspectives to follow. They are fairly typical teenagers, and I liked the alternating chapters that shed insight into what it was like for an outsider as well as someone who had lived in the community all her life. That said, I didn’t think that either Bronwyn or Anais were super fleshed out or explored to the degree I would have liked, and their conflicts with each other felt a bit repetitive with Bronwyn seeking answers and Anais refusing to provide any, again and again. There were also a number of references to the various rituals and superstitions of the town that were mentioned in passing, but not really expanded upon. There just felt like there was a lot of potential that didn’t quite get met for me, and while the main thread was entertaining and interesting, there were multiple smaller threads that didn’t really wrap up in satisfying ways.

“We Don’t Swim Here” had enough connections to real life issues and metaphors that the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. I will be very curious to see if Tirado ever goes back to this story with the other rituals and superstitions that were left unanswered. Regardless, YA horror fans should probably check this out.

Rating 7: A horror tale about the crimes of the past and the way that tragedy can be passed down into lore, “We Don’t Swim Here” is entertaining young adult horror, though I would have liked a little more character exploration.

Reader’s Advisory:

“We Don’t Swim Here” is included on the Goodreads list “Latinx Books Releasing in 2023”.

Kate’s Review: “This Delicious Death”

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Book: “This Delicious Death” by Kayla Cottingham

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, April 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Jennifer’s Body fans will clamor for this new sapphic horror standalone from New York Times bestselling author Kayla Cottingham.

Three years ago, the melting of arctic permafrost released a pathogen of unknown origin into the atmosphere, causing a small percentage of people to undergo a transformation that became known as the Hollowing. Those impacted slowly became intolerant to normal food and were only able to gain sustenance by consuming the flesh of other human beings. Those who went without flesh quickly became feral, turning on their friends and family. However, scientists were able to create a synthetic version of human meat that would satisfy the hunger of those impacted by the Hollowing. As a result, humanity slowly began to return to normal, albeit with lasting fear and distrust for the people they’d pejoratively dubbed ghouls.

Zoey, Celeste, Valeria, and Jasmine are all ghouls living in Southern California. As a last hurrah before their graduation they decided to attend a musical festival in the desert. They have a cooler filled with hard seltzers and SynFlesh and are ready to party.

But on the first night of the festival Val goes feral, and ends up killing and eating a boy. As other festival guests start disappearing around them the girls soon discover someone is drugging ghouls and making them feral. And if they can’t figure out how to stop it, and soon, no one at the festival is safe.

Review: Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire for sending me an ARC of this novel!

I read Kayla Cottingham’s debut novel “My Dearest Darkest” last year and enjoyed it due to the tone and the characters. I was also lucky enough to be able to say hello during ALAAC 2022, and she was super awesome and gracious over my awkward fangirling. So when I was offered a copy of her newest horror novel “This Delicious Death”, I jumped at the chance. Partially because I really wanted to see what she followed her debut up with. But also because when I saw that it was about cannibal monster girls going to a music festival, I was fully invested and on board.

Another example of a book that teenage Kate would have been so into. (source)

This was just such a fun read from start to finish. I really liked all of the characters, especially the core friend group of Zoe, Celeste, Jasmine, and Valeria, and I liked the ‘zombie’ (if that’s even the right word) mythos that Cottingham has created for the story. In terms of the characters, our core four feel like a pretty realistic and typical group of teenage girls with the usual insecurities and ride or die friend dynamics, just with a bit of a flesh eating twist to round it all out. While I wasn’t super invested in the will they or won’t they dynamic of Zoe and Celeste, I did like them a lot as friends and really liked how all of these girls have seen some serious shit and are still processing, all while relying on each other. You get to see flashbacks to when all of them were first infected with the Hollowing illness that transformed them into ‘ghouls’ that now can only live on human flesh (synthetically produced now, however), and how they all dealt with that change, that trauma, and how they all came together as friends who are now close as close can be. I loved their banter and their humor, and I loved as they band together to help protect Valeria after she goes feral and kills someone, and how they want to solve what is happening. The gal pal flesh eating teenage gumshoe vibe REALLY worked for me, and you throw that into a conspiracy whodunnit with the backdrop of a Coachella-esque music festival and you have a really, REALLY unique and fun story that will appeal to teens and adults alike. And along with all that, I really really liked all of the representation this book had, with trans characters, lesbian and bisexual characters, characters from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

And now the horror. The references to “Jennifer’s Body” in the description of this book are pretty on point both in theme and tone, but I also felt like we got some “Left 4 Dead” elements with the descriptions of the way that the ‘ghouls’ look (to me, very much like The Witch in those games. If you know, you know!). I really liked how Cottingham thought out of how The Hollowing pandemic and fall out would have worked, from the way information would have spread to how the population would have reacted to how it would have adapted to try and contain it/cure those who were turned into ‘ghouls’. We get sprinkles here and there of outside perspectives beyond our main character flashbacks, and it fills in some of the blanks with a nice blend of genuinely unsettling bits as well as some fun tongue in cheek/cynical moments that would fit right in in a Verhoeven film. Cottingham doesn’t hold back on the gore and body horror elements either, with full on descriptions of gnarly transformations, some cannibalism, and moments so bloody you feel a bit like you’re in a literary splash zone a la “Evil Dead: The Musical”. It really is a blast.

“This Delicious Death” is the perfect horror read for the time of year we are in, with vacations and road trips abound. It makes it all the more perfect given that we are still trying to navigate a pandemic, albeit a potentially waning one, and the messiness that can come with the aftermath. Recommended reading to be sure.

Rating 9: A fun and gory body horror meets girl’s road trip tale, “This Delicious Death” is a must read horror novel for all your summer vacation plans!

Reader’s Advisory:

“This Delicious Death” is included on the Goodreads lists “Queer Horror”, and “Cannibal Books”.

Kate’s Review: “Sisters of the Lost Nation”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  
Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Sisters of the Lost Nation” by Nick Medina

Publishing Info: Berkley, April 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Anna Horn is always looking over her shoulder. For the bullies who torment her, for the entitled visitors at the reservation’s casino…and for the nameless, disembodied entity that stalks her every step–an ancient tribal myth come-to-life, one that’s intent on devouring her whole.

With strange and sinister happenings occurring around the casino, Anna starts to suspect that not all the horrors on the reservation are old. As girls begin to go missing and the tribe scrambles to find answers, Anna struggles with her place on the rez, desperately searching for the key she’s sure lies in the legends of her tribe’s past.

When Anna’s own little sister also disappears, she’ll do anything to bring Grace home. But the demons plaguing the reservation–both ancient and new–are strong, and sometimes, it’s the stories that never get told that are the most important.

Part gripping thriller and part mythological horror, author Nick Medina spins an incisive and timely novel of life as an outcast, the cost of forgetting tradition, and the courage it takes to become who you were always meant to be.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Horror fiction is, for me, a fun way to escape the horrors of the real world whilst also safely exploring emotions of fear and anxiety in a controlled environment. I love getting lost in a horror novel or movie, as it gives me some time away from real life scary shit. But more and more I’ve really come to appreciate horror stories that tackle themes of these real life horrors, especially in times like these where there is so much uncertainty and discord. Give me horror fiction that delves in metaphors for terrible things, especially if it brings awareness to these terrible things. Enter “Sisters of the Lost Nation” by Nick Medina, a new horror novel that involves a young adult Native woman named Anna living on a reservation who works at the local tribal casino. Strange things have been happening at the casino, and while Anna tries to tell herself that it’s nothing, it becomes harder and harder to ignore. Especially when her sister Grace goes missing after being involved with the casino and its shady practices.

I’m actually going to start with the thing that didn’t really work for me as well, just to get it out of the way because it did affect my experience, but not in a way that derailed it. I just think it’s needed context to make my ultimate rating make sense as I’m going to be gushing for the most part. The one aspect that fell a bit flat was the way that the book was structured. There was a lot of time jumping between chapters, in non-linear ways that felt a bit jarring and confusing at times. I did eventually get used to it, and it did eventually settle into a more clear cut timeline, but for awhile I had to keep flipping back on my eReader to remind me where I was in the story arc, and that could be frustrating.

But now onto the good stuff, as there is a lot of it. For one, I really liked the horror elements that Medina creates that come from various Indigenous stories from lots of different groups of Native peoples. The one that stands out the most is a story that has translated into that of a disembodied head that rolls around the (fictional) Takoda Reservation. Protagonist Anna Horn has been terrified of this story as long as she an remember, as her uncle told her the story as a young child and is now a teenager who still lives in fear of it. The weird beats where Anna catches a glimpse of something possibly rolling around, or feels the heat of breath from an unknown source, really creeped me out. But I also liked that her fear and obsession with this story and her belief that it is real also made it so that she was interested in the lore and mythology of her community and people, as it made for a stark contrast to the real life horrors of a casino that may be hiding some really dark secrets and is in some ways turning its back on this history in favor of monetary gain. Anna’s interest in her culture and its stories is a really powerful thread in this tale, and how the power of stories, be they terrifying or not, can play such an important role in a person’s life and their motivations.

And the best aspect of this book for me was how Medina has put such a candid and devastating spotlight on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a terrible epidemic that has reflects the continuing violence, apathy, and racism that Indigenous women face from greater Western society. Anna faces her own sets of victimization and racism at the hands of her peers and those above her at the casino, but she is also realizing that Indigenous women are going off the radar, and being dismissed as either runaways, or merely addicts who are off on the search for a hit. So when her own sister Grace goes missing, and there are few people taking it seriously, it hits close to home, and she begins to notice that there are suspicious things going on at the casino. And that the girls who are disappearing may have ties to the higher ups. I was so deeply invested in where these missing women went, and when it becomes clear that they are quite probably in danger, or being manipulated in other ways, it just makes the story that much more tense and upsetting. Medina sets the tension on edge and really builds it up, and addresses a very real problem against the backdrop of this fictional tribe with very real problems of poverty, corruption, racism, and misogyny. I also really appreciated the author’s note at the end which gives greater context to MMIW, as well as resources he used and information spots for the reader to familiarize themselves with all of it.

“Sisters of the Lost Nation” is a visceral and chilling read. Fans of horror and thrillers need to check it out, but I also think readers of all stripes should do themselves a favor and look into it. It’s wholly unique and talks about very real injustices that need to be paid attention to.

Rating 8: A searing and devastating horror-thriller that not only finds horrors in Indigenous mythology and lore, but also in the all too real Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sisters of the Lost Nation” is included on the Goodreads lists “Indigenous Horror, Thriller, etc”, and “Horror To Look Forward To in 2023”.

Kate’s Review: “The Haunting of Alejandra”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Haunting of Alejandra” by V. Castro

Publishing Info: Del Rey, April 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Alejandra no longer knows who she is. To her husband, she is a wife, and to her children, a mother. To her own adoptive mother, she is a daughter. But they cannot see who Alejandra has become: a woman struggling with a darkness that threatens to consume her.

Nor can they see what Alejandra sees. In times of despair, a ghostly vision appears to her, the apparition of a crying woman in a ragged white gown.

When Alejandra visits a therapist, she begins exploring her family’s history, starting with the biological mother she never knew. As she goes deeper into the lives of the women in her family, she learns that heartbreak and tragedy are not the only things she has in common with her ancestors.

Because the crying woman was with them, too. She is La Llorona, the vengeful and murderous mother of Mexican legend. And she will not leave until Alejandra follows her mother, her grandmother, and all the women who came before her into the darkness.

But Alejandra has inherited more than just pain. She has inherited the strength and the courage of her foremothers—and she will have to summon everything they have given her to banish La Llorona forever.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

I have had a serious, serious fascination with the La Llorona folk tale ever since I stumbled upon it in an American folklore book in elementary school. The idea of a ghostly woman who drowned her children, and now wanders the river banks of the Earth looking for her children, weeping loudly along the way, scared the absolute crap out of me (especially since as a child I lived within walking distance of the Mississippi River). When V. Castro, a Latina horror author who has taken Mexican folklore and written some fantastic horror fiction, said she was writing a La Llorona story, it became one of my most anticipated reads of 2023. I had really high hopes for this book. And man oh man did it deliver.

I am SO excited that V. Castro decided to take on the La Llorona story because of my childhood obsession with it, and given that she’s a fantastic horror writer with a voice that is so unapologetically Chicana it is just the perfect fit. And the way that she applies it to this story to fit real world horrors is just fantastic. It’s told mostly through the perspective of spiraling mother Alejandra, who has started seeing visions of a woman in white during especially trying moments. But then there are the ways that we trace back through the generations of Alejandra’s familial line, and how this presence has been there to torment many of the women through the generations, and whose lives were impacted or destroyed, the trauma passing down and down. Whether it’s an Indigenous woman who is making a dark bargain with this entity to escape her Spanish abuser, or Alejandra’s biological mother who gave her up after becoming pregnant as a teenager (and thought she was doing the right thing, BUT Alejandra was left with a very cold and controlling Evangelical family’s care, that’s a whole other layer to this story that I really thought was well done), or her grandmother with few choices in a marriage with too many children and a philandering husband, the presence of ‘La Llorona’, or whatever it is, serves as the perfect metaphor for the horrors of marginalized women with very few options. I loved seeing all of these women and their stories, and seeing Alejandra be pushed to perhaps try and stop that cycle and to fight against this entity is really, really empowering.

But I also found a lot of the horrors of motherhood aspects of this story pretty relatable. Caveat, I am no means in the same position as Alejandra is, as she is in a loveless marriage with a controlling boob who pressured her into more children than she wanted and discouraged her from working outside the home, while I have a really great romantic and parenting partner and we are one and done with our hilarious but spirited three year old. But all that said, there were so many spot on moments that Castro put in this book, whether it’s the frazzled rush of having to go go go with meandering children in tow, or having to be in charge of schedules and chores and doctor’s appointments and more, or feeling like you really don’t get a break while having to sacrifice so much, and then feeling guilty for feeling like you deserve more. While the supernatural demon/La Llorona bits and the suspense surrounding Alejandra and her women ancestors were super effective and scary, I was more set on edge by the way that Alejandra was being pushed closer and closer to breaking, and what that would mean for her and her children. Because THAT is something that does happen in real life, and the consequences of that can be deadly and devastating. This is just as much a horror story about postpartum depression and psychosis as it is generational trauma, and it is SO well done.

“The Haunting of Alejandra” is harrowing and evocative and everything I could have wanted from a La Llorona story. V. Castro continues to thrill and amaze me, and I am so excited to see how she tops herself next time, as I feel like she is always exceeding my expectations.

Rating 9: A deeply unnerving and scary examination of generational trauma and the unspoken pressures of motherhood, “The Haunting of Alejandra” is another fantastic horror tale by V. Castro.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Haunting of Alejandra” is included on the Goodreads “Latinx Horror/Fantasy”, and “The Female Malaise: She’s Sad, Mad, and Bad”.

Kate’s Review (and Giveaway!): “The Twisted Dead”

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Book: “The Twisted Dead (Gravekeeper #3)” by Darcy Coates

Publishing Info: Poisoned Pen Press, February 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a paperback copy from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Keira is ready for her life to return to normal. Though, to be fair, normal is a tall ask when your ability to see ghosts has landed you the job of groundskeeper in a small town’s cemetery.

When Keira receives an invitation to dinner at Dane Crispin’s crumbling ancestral estate, she knows she can’t refuse. The last living descendant of the Crispin family is reclusive. Keira only met him once…on the night he tried to kill her.

The mansion is steeped in history that is equal parts complicated and bloody. Keira senses the presence of restless spirits the moment she steps through its door. And Dane, waiting for her inside, wants to ask for her help.

Review: Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for sending me a copy of this novel!

We have come to the final entry in my reviews of Darcy Coates’s “Gravekeeper” Series! The most recent book, “The Twisted Dead”, is the third in what I hope is a long running series, and I was very eager to see where Coates was going to take ghost whisperer Keira and her sidekicks Mason, Zoe, and cat Daisy next. I feel like horror is a genre that doesn’t tend to have long running series as much as say romances or mysteries, so I’m quite pleased that we get to spend more time with this merry band of misfits. And “The Twisted Dead” is my favorite adventure yet!

Coates really knows how to balance out the more jovial and lighthearted tone of this series with genuinely creepy supernatural and ghostly moments and mythologies. We have picked up very close to where we left off with “The Ravenous Dead”, Keira having recently freed a shade (or malevolent and rage filled spirit) that had been tormenting the other ghosts in the cemetery, and now she has been invited to the home of Dane Crispin, local wealthy hermit who may or may not have tried to kill Keira, Mason, and Zoe. But instead of revenge or vendettas, Dane is instead needing her help, as he is being tormented by his own ghostly problem. And that is where we get into a new kind of spectral foe: parasitic ghosts that haunt people, not places. I love that Keira is finding new kinds of ghosts and the challenges that their differences present, and there are definitely descriptions and beats here that show how Coates, while doing a bit of a horror lite cozy ghost story with this series, knows how to conjure up some straight up nightmare fuel. And along with the not so friendly spirits, we still get to see the kinder and gentler spirits that Keira sees while in the cemetery, a few of them giving me moments of pure joy as I was reading (and also a moment or two of tears).

And the characters are still very engaging and interesting, and have really grown into their own and beyond their baseline impressions. I still really like Keira and her drive to help ghosts and those that are affected by them, and I like that we are starting to see more insight into the life that she cannot remember. Coates has introduced the mysterious corporation Artec, the group that Keira has been hiding from though she has no memories as to why, and I love that we get a little bit of corporate conspiracy and corruption on top of the supernatural themes. We still don’t REALLY know what the full endgame is for Artec and Keira’s full connection, but Coates has drawn out the suspense without falling into any frustrating traps of milking it too much. We also get to learn more about Mason’s past, and get to go a bit more into his secretive reasons for leaving medical school and coming back to Blighty. And then there’s Zoe, who has gone from making me a little nervous with her conspiracy peddling to being pretty darn endearing and fun without getting into ludicrous ‘quirky girl’ territory. Coates knows how to keep these characters fresh and keeps exploring their potential, and I really like their dynamic.

“The Twisted Dead” is the strongest entry in the “Gravekeeper” Series thus far. And now I am at the point where I have to wait to see what happens next. I can hardly wait.

And now the most exciting part! I’m giving away all three of the “Gravekeeper” Series books I’ve read and reviewed! So you can win not only “The Twisted Dead”, but also “The Whispering Dead” and “The Ravenous Dead”! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only, and runs through April 19th, 2023

Enter Here To Win!

Rating 8: With lots of things coming to light and a group of characters who are fully realized and comfortable in their characterizations, “The Twisted Dead” is the strongest “Gravekeeper” book yet!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Twisted Dead” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward to in 2023”.

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire: Vol. 7”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “American Vampire: Vol. 7” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), & Matías Bergara (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, January 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Writer Scott Snyder (Batman, Swamp Thing) and artist Rafael Albuquerque bring together even more threads to the complex tapestry that is the world of American Vampire.

When we meet Pearl again, it is in 1960’s Kansas, an era fraught with fear of nuclear war, angry demonstrations and vast social change. But what has changed in the years since the V.M.S. attack? And where is Skinner Sweet?

Review: So we are now at the last volume of “American Vampire” that I read until I just kind of let it fall by the wayside. And as I was reading through it, I think I realized that I may not have actually finished “American Vampire: Volume 7” on my first read through, as I did not remember a lot of what I was reading beyond the first section. And I don’t really know why I didn’t keep going with it, because as I was reading this, I found myself really, really enjoying where the story was going. The new beginning was engaging, the stakes were raised, and what I thought was impossible actually came to pass: I. Actually. Liked. Skinner. Sweet.

I, too, was shocked. (source)

We have shifted into a new phase of “American Vampire”, and have entered the ending arc as well, and we start out very strong. It’s now the 1960s in America, about tenish-years after the Vassals of the Morning Star was dealt a big blow by Carpathians, after Pearl’s husband Henry’s death, and after Skinner disappeared after his betrayal. Pearl has returned to her family home in Kansas, and has started taking in runaway vampire children who are hiding from Carpathian vampires, and finds new, hidden homes for them with other vampires in hiding. She’s still connected with Cal, who is still working with VMS, and after getting hints of a man called The Gray Trader, they decide to look into what he is, and how it connects to the vampires. Meanwhile, Skinner has been making moves on the Mexican Border, but he, too, runs afoul something disturbing, so much so that he seeks out Pearl. So we have a new mystery, we have new trajectories for our favorite characters, and we have a new backdrop of the 1960s that was an incredibly restless and fraught era of change, violence, and social upheaval. Once again Snyder has managed to meld themes of America with his vampire mythology, and I was so here for it.

Pearl is still such a wonderful main character. Her grief for Henry still lingers, but she has persevered and has become a beacon of hope for vampire children, fighting off hostile neighbors and making a network of safety, and her reluctance to go back to the VMS is completely understandable. I like that she’s still close with Cal, and I love how she has been able to bring her warmth to the vampire children whilst also being VERY badass when the moment calls for it. And I think that it’s ultimately Pearl that makes Skinner Sweet work for me. It’s undeniable that they have some pretty heady chemistry, which I am always going to enjoy, but what’s interesting about Skinner is that he really does have an affection for Pearl that does seem to go beyond her resemblance to his old ladyfriend. It’s a bit cliché for the bad boy to be tamed by the love of a good woman, and by no means is Skinner redeemed in any way shape or form, but I do like seeing him recognize the help that Pearl can provide, and that he is actually being VULNERABLE and FALLIBLE and not just falling into old bullshit backstabbing that he has ALWAYS done up until now. We also leave him in an interesting state at the end here which raises a lot of questions about where his story is going to end.

And the new vampire lore is pretty interesting. We get some good body horror bits in this volume, some of which was pretty freaking squirm inducing for me and my various phobias/content I can’t handle too well hang ups. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but it’s an even bigger threat than the characters have dealt with, and it’s very imposing and, while a little ridiculous in some ways, is a fresh new villain for the final arc of this series that has gone to so many crazy places. There is a fair amount of set up to be done here, but it’s done quickly and by the end of the volume there’s a solid jumping off point to go forward from. I am a little nervous about the fact we only have two volumes left after this to wrap it all up. Where are Felicia and Gus? What about the reveal of James Book being a vampire hidden away from the world? Will all of this be wrapped up well on top of the new Gray Trader storyline? I guess we’ll have to see. I’m optimistic as of now.

“American Vampire: Vol. 7” is a good start to the end of a sometimes messy but always entertaining series. I regret not finishing it up on the initial run, but now I just have something to look forward to, I guess! Let’s see where Pearl and Skinner go next.

Rating 8: An enjoyable start to a new and final cycle of vampire lore in the heart of American history, “American Vampire: Vol. 7” jumps into the fraught times of the 1960s and shows how fraught its protagonists are.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire: Vol. 7” is included on the Goodreads list “Vertigo Titles” Must Read Comics A-E”.

Previously Reviewed:

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