Halloween Carnival Volume 5 – Brian James Freeman (editor)

I’ve been dragging my feet on this anthology series for years now. I was so excited to sink my teeth into some Halloween scares but they consistently disappointed me so I gave up. Now it’s Halloween month again and with one volume to go, I decided to dive back in and hope for the best.

Devil’s Night by Richard Chizmar – 🎃🎃🎃🎃

The newspapers reported the story of what happened that night but that’s not the whole story.

Halloween may be a night for make-believe ghosts and goblins, but you’d better be sure to turn on all the lights and lock your doors on Devil’s Night. Because that’s when the real monsters lurk …

The Last Dare by Lisa Tuttle – 🎃🎃🎃

The tower house is still there, all these years later. Going inside was the last dare between childhood best friends.

“Tell us the story about the tower house”

The Halloween Bleed by Norman Prentiss – 🎃🎃🎃

An interview with a difference.

“What if Halloween … bleeds into other days? It doesn’t matter when the story is written, or when you read it. What matters is that it has an effect on you. It casts its spell.”

Swing by Kevin Quigley – 🎃🎃🎃

Death follows love. Every time.

Most thought she was dancing because she was free, but I knew the real Jessica. She danced because she was trapped.

Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub – 🎃🎃🎃

Hat, a story from his childhood and all that jazz.

“Most people will tell you growing up means you stop believing in Halloween things – I’m telling you the reverse. You start to grow up when you understand that the stuff that scares you is part of the air you breathe.”

While the stories included in this anthology were okay, I didn’t get the Halloween horror vibe I was looking for. I didn’t find any of the stories scary at all. I’m glad I finally made it through to the end of this series and there were some decent stories along the way, but overall I remain disappointed.

Content warnings include death by suicide.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hydra, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this anthology.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Richard Chizmar, Lisa Tuttle, Norman Prentiss, Kevin Quigley, and Peter Straub unmask monsters hiding in plain sight in an anthology of heart-pounding short fiction assembled by horror author and editor Brian James Freeman.

DEVIL’S NIGHT by Richard Chizmar
You’ve read about what happened that night. What you don’t know is the true extent of the damage. The papers got it wrong – and the truth is so much worse than you thought.

THE LAST DARE by Lisa Tuttle
Elaine hasn’t been back to her hometown in years. The house she lived in is gone. The tower house isn’t – nor are the stories of the fate that befalls whoever dares to go there.

THE HALLOWEEN BLEED by Norman Prentiss
People think there’s some sort of mystical power that allows enchantments and witchcraft to come to life on Halloween night. But real magic obeys no calendar – and true evil strikes whenever it’s least expected.

SWING by Kevin Quigley
In Hollywood, everyone lives forever. At least that’s what I used to think … before Jessica. But no one seems to live long when they’re around me.

PORK PIE HAT by Peter Straub
When it comes to jazz, there are players, and there are legends. “Hat” was a legend. His real name didn’t even matter. Still, he had his secrets – secrets best left buried in the past. 

The Babysitter IV – R.L. Stine

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

So, I’m back to see if Jenny finally got an answering machine. At this point it feels like I’m a glutton for punishment. This series really should have finished three books ago.

Jenny has just been released from hospital, where she’s been during the entire year since the events of the third book. Dr Schindler has been replaced with Dr Simonson. Fair enough, really. Dr Schindler, nice guy that he seemed to be, hadn’t exactly helped Jenny transform into a success story.

“I’m not afraid of anything now.”

Well, Jenny, let’s just see about that.

Yeah, okay. There were five whole paragraphs between that declaration and the next time Jenny is scared so she’s making progress. Sort of.

Naturally Jenny can’t say ‘no’ to a babysitting gig.

“Go away now, Jenny. Go away, or you’ll die, too.”

It’s weird; I don’t remember a single instance in this book where Jenny answered a creepy phone call. Considering those phone calls were pretty much the entire reason this series existed, it didn’t feel right.

So, how was Jenny receiving the threatening messages in this book? Ghosts. So silly, right? There hadn’t been any supernatural elements in the first three books so to suddenly go there in the fourth didn’t sit right with me. It was obvious from the start of the haunting that that’s what it was but it didn’t make sense. A ghost has the strength to lift Jenny but was somehow incapable of opening a door for ten years. Huh?

So, we’ve finally made it to the end of the series. Has Jenny learned any valuable life lessons from her adventures in babysitting and years of therapy?

“I might want to baby-sit again someday. It’s a lot more exciting than you think.”

Oh, Jenny.

My verdict? I enjoyed listening to Jenny scream in the first book. It was a fun blast from the past, although I can’t believe I ever thought it was scary. I probably could have done without watching the series devolve though.

And she still doesn’t have an answering machine!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Don’t live in the past, they say. And Jenny’s trying to forget all of the horrible babysitting experiences that landed her in the hospital last year. Now Jenny lives in a new neighbourhood, and the neighbour has asked her to babysit. If only she could say no. Because someone is watching Jenny – someone who hates babysitters.

The Babysitter III – R.L. Stine

My burning questions at the end of Jenny’s second babysitting gig were:

☎️ Does Jenny really need to go through this a third time?

☎️ Is anyone going to buy the poor girl an answering machine so she can screen her phone calls?

☎️ Is Jenny going to finally get a job other than babysitting since it’s not going so well for her?

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The answers are maybe, no and yes. I’m pleased to report that Jenny’s latest job is not a babysitting gig! Instead she’s got a summer job at The Doughnut Hole. Great work, Jenny! I would like one of everything please.

Two years after her first brush with death, Jenny is still attending therapy sessions with Dr Schindler. Given the events of the second book I imagine that would have been quite awkward for a while. I’m not entirely sure how well therapy is working for her as Jenny’s still pretty likely to scream at any given moment and her nightmares haven’t let up, but she’s trying and you’ve got to give her credit for that.

Her mother and psychiatrist both agree it would be good for Jenny to have a change of scenery so instead of serving me donuts (like we planned) she’s going to visit her cousin, Debra, over the summer. Jenny’s moody boyfriend, Cal, isn’t so impressed (he must have wanted donuts too). Jenny is pretty good at picking boys that go from easygoing to pouty or angry in an instant.

Debra, whose main interest seems to be tossing her long blonde hair, also needs some assistance in the dating department. Her ex, Don, seems to think it’s entirely acceptable to show up unannounced in her bedroom. Who let him inside the house in the first place? Who knows?!

Of course, Debra has a regular babysitting job and thinks nothing of bringing Jenny along with her.

“Jenny, come on,” Debra urged. “It’ll be fun.”

Does she really not know about her cousin’s babysitting curse?

It turns out that when you have a curse attached to you it follows you, even when you visit your cousin. Only this time it’s Debra who’s getting the creepy phone calls. Maybe the curse is genetic? Or transferrable?

“I just don’t understand why he called you

It almost sounds like Jenny is jealous of the attention her cousin is getting.

Big spoilers are included in this book for Jenny’s two previous starring roles as Girl Most Likely to Scream so beware of those if you haven’t already experienced those screams.

One thing I have to say about this series: there’s not much of a resolution for anyone. While I’m curious about a couple of characters, there’s one in particular who needs more page time. I would have liked Maggie’s story to have had some kind of ending rather than me wondering if she was ever going to get what was hers, whatever that was.

My main question mark relating to this book is pretty insignificant but it’s bugging me nonetheless: How did Cal know where Debra was babysitting?

The reveal simply didn’t work for me this time. I understand where Stine was going with it and, let’s face it, child me would have had to pick their jaw off the floor. However, adult me needed more depth to the characters and storyline to buy it. It should make for an interesting opener for the fourth book though, where hopefully someone will finally buy this girl an answering machine!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Jenny just wants to forget the man who murdered all the baby-sitters. The man who almost murdered her.

He’s dead now.

And Jenny’s gone to visit her cousin Debra.

But Debra has a baby-sitting job. And now she’s getting those phone calls, too. Just like the ones Jenny used to get:

Hi, Babes. I’m back.

Company’s coming …

Dark Screams Volume Seven – Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar (editors)

I was disillusioned by some horror anthologies last year but October is calling to me, so here I am again. I’m not sure what it is about horror short stories but I don’t find them scary and would rarely even classify their content as horror. While all of these stories are okay, I didn’t find any scares amongst them.

My favourite was James Renner’s A Monster Comes to Ashdown Forest (In Which Christopher Robin Says Goodbye).

Lizardman by Robert McCammon – 🎃🎃🎃

The lizardman has been searching for Old Pope for a long time. Tonight he will find him.

Oh, yeah, the swamp had teeth. Eat you up, bury you under. That was how it was.

A Monster Comes to Ashdown Forest (In Which Christopher Robin Says Goodbye) by James Renner – 🎃🎃🎃🎃

You’ll never see Winnie-the-Pooh the same again.

“Sometimes the bad things take up the most room in your heart. Don’t they?”

Furtherest by Kaaron Warren – 🎃🎃🎃

Those boys died in the dunes but there’s more to the story.

“So don’t go into the dunes, kids. You never know who’s lurking in there.”

West of Matamoros, North of Hell by Brian Hodge – 🎃🎃🎃

This is the photoshoot from hell.

“Everybody’s got a plan until the knives come out.”

The Expedition by Bill Schweigart – 🎃🎃🎃

Nazis vs. the wolf.

Had they known then of the chest and the doom that awaited them all, Bruner would have chosen prison.

Snow Shadows by Mick Garris – 🎃🎃🎃

A man and boy are haunted by the death of a woman.

“Did you love her?”

Content warnings include death by suicide.

Thank you to NetGalley and Hydra, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Robert McCammon, James Renner, Kaaron Warren, Brian Hodge, Bill Schweigart, and Mick Garris reveal sinister secrets and unsavoury pasts in a haunting anthology of short stories collected by acclaimed horror editors Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.

LIZARDMAN by Robert McCammon
The lizardman thinks he knows about all the mysterious dangers of the Florida swamps, but there are things lurking in the bayou that are older and deadlier than his wildest dreams.

A MONSTER COMES TO ASHDOWN FOREST (IN WHICH CHRISTOPHER ROBIN SAYS GOODBYE) by James Renner
Although every child dreams of visiting Hundred Acre Wood, only one has ever actually frolicked in that fabled forest – and survived.

FURTHEREST by Kaaron Warren
She’s been going to the beach since she was a child, daring the other kids to go out past the dunes where those boys died all those years ago. Now she realises that the farther out you go, the harder it is to come back.

WEST OF MATAMOROS, NORTH OF HELL by Brian Hodge
After the success of their latest album, Sebastián, Sofia, and Enrique head to Mexico for a shoot under the statue of Santa Muerte. But they have fans south of the border who’d kill to know where they get their inspiration.

THE EXPEDITION by Bill Schweigart
On a quest to bring glory to the Führer, Lieutenant Dietrich Drexler leads his team into the ruins of the Carpathian Mountains. But the wolf that’s stalking them is no ordinary predator.

SNOW SHADOWS by Mick Garris
A schoolteacher’s impulsive tryst with a colleague becomes a haunting lesson in tragedy and terror when he’s targeted for revenge by an unlikely, unhinged rival.

Creature Files: Dragons – L.J. Tracosas

This book begins by asking if dragons were real (of course they were!) and exploring some of the commonalities between tales of dragons around the world. Twenty dragons are included in this dragon bestiary.

Information is provided about them, including the region, time period and habitat they were said to have lived, as well as whether they could fly or breathe fire. Attention is also given to their teeth and any special beliefs associated with them. Some were believed to be dangerous, while others were more benevolent.

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At the end of the book you’ll find some examples of animals that share some traits with dragons, like the dragonsnakes of Indonesia, which have scales and a mysterious nature.

The illustrations are quite detailed. Some children may find some of the pictures scary. There wasn’t as much information as I would have liked but it would be enough to whet the appetite of young readers. Some of the fonts used were difficult to read.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and becker&mayer! kids, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Whether they were real or myth, Creature Files: Dragons shows you the folklore of twenty dragons from around the world and what the people believed about them.

Do you believe dragons are nothing more than the scaly stuff of myths? Or do you think they really existed? Whatever side you’re on, this collection of twenty fascinating creatures is sure to spark your imagination.

In Creature Files: Dragons, you’ll take a tour through the world of fire-breathing, gold-hoarding, three-headed monsters and discover where and how these magical creatures came to be. Learn the unique folklore of cultures around the globe, from China to Russia to Eastern Africa, and see how people envisioned these otherworldly beasts through lush and evocative illustrations.

Included are many meaty facts to gnaw on – like which dragon had too many teeth to count, and which dragon had teeth as big as an adult’s arm – along with a realistic dragon-tooth necklace! And science lovers will also find something to sink their teeth into: facts about real-life dragons that exist today. These dragons may not breathe fire, but they share some of the same traits as their mythical brethren. 

The Remaking – Clay McLeod Chapman

If you get too close to this urban legend, you risk becoming part of it.

The residents of Pilot’s Creek always knew there was something strange about Ella Louise Ford. Rumoured to be a witch, she became an outcast, but that didn’t stop the townsfolk from visiting Ella Louise’s apothecary shop to seek cures for what ailed them. Naturally, Ella Louise pays the price for being different.

Tonight, they were going to burn a witch.

Ella Louise is buried in an unmarked grave. Her daughter, Jessica, who was rumoured to have been twice as powerful as her mother, is buried in the town’s cemetery. Jessica’s reinforced steel coffin is filled with concrete. Then there’s a layer of gravel and if that wasn’t enough, there’s a fence of crucifixes surrounding her grave. That little girl scared those men so much they wanted to make sure she would never escape her grave.

If you ask me, those two aren’t done.

Not with this town.

I love urban legends and ghost stories. I was even more invested when I learned Ella Louise and Jessica’s story was inspired by the real double murder of Mary Louise Ford and her daughter, Mary Ellen, which has become its own urban legend.

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Image source: Scary for Kids

I was captivated by the story of this mother and daughter in Part One, but was disappointed when their story was subsumed by that of Amber Pendleton, a child actress. The rest of the story follows Amber, who played Jessica in a B grade movie. Later there is a reboot and finally a podcast, each delving into the urban legend but ultimately focusing more on Amber than the Fords. I really wanted Ella Louise and Jessica to be given more space in this story.

I didn’t find this story scary although, to be fair, I’m not easily scared by fiction. As the story progressed it began to feel more like a social commentary: on child actors and overbearing stage parents, horror movies, their reboots and sequels, horror fans, the victimhood of women, and the injustice of the justice system.

My main niggle was the reliance on repetition in this book. I don’t generally have a problem with repetition, but here it was overdone. It seemed like every other page I was finding passages like:

It’s only a movie …

Only a movie …

Only a movie …

Only …

I’m going to take you back home.

home

home

home

Keep it spinning. Spinning.

Spinning.

Spinning.

Spinning.

Content warnings include mention of alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, drug addiction, immolation, lynchings, mental health, miscarriage and physical abuse.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quirk Books for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Inspired by a true story, this supernatural thriller for fans of horror and true crime follows a tale as it evolves every twenty years – with terrifying results.

Ella Louise has lived in the woods surrounding Pilot’s Creek, Virginia, for nearly a decade. Publicly, she and her daughter, Jessica, are shunned by her upper-crust family and the local residents. Privately, desperate characters visit her apothecary for a cure to what ails them – until Ella Louise is blamed for the death of a prominent customer. Accused of witchcraft, Ella Louise and Jessica are burned at the stake in the middle of the night. Ella Louise’s burial site is never found, but the little girl has the most famous grave in the South: a steel-reinforced coffin surrounded by a fence of interconnected white crosses.

Their story will take the shape of an urban legend as it’s told around a campfire by a man forever marked by his childhood encounters with Jessica. Decades later, a boy at that campfire will cast Amber Pendleton as Jessica in a ’70s horror movie inspired by the Witch Girl of Pilot’s Creek. Amber’s experiences on that set and its meta-remake in the ’90s will ripple through pop culture, ruining her life and career after she becomes the target of a witch hunt.

Amber’s best chance to break the cycle of horror comes when a true-crime investigator tracks her down to interview her for his popular podcast. But will this final act of storytelling redeem her – or will it bring the story full circle, ready to be told once again? And again. And again

Metamorphosis #1: The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass – Adan Jerreat-Poole

Eli is a girl of hawthorn and glass. Literally. Her body consists of other substances as well but she’s a made-thing. She’s the perfect assassin, created by a witch to kill ghosts.

Eventually she would turn back into the parts the witch had used to make her – a girl stitched together out of beetle shells and cranberries and a witch’s greed.

Eli and her seven blades have never failed before but something goes wrong this time in the City of Ghosts, and she’s terrified of being unmade.

Seanan McGuire says The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass is a “unique, gripping, engaging book by a voice that the genre has been waiting for.” Anyone who knows me knows Seanan is my favourite author so if they enjoyed it, then logic says I will as well. I loved the concept and this series has so much potential. Amongst other goodies, there’s magic, witches and a labyrinth.

“What’s the magic word?”

“I was trained to kill?”

“Good enough for me.”

You know those photomosaic jigsaw puzzles where each piece is its own tiny picture, but when you finish the puzzle you see the big picture? That’s the image I get when I think about the world building in this book, except the big picture isn’t complete. It’s like I was given a bunch of beautiful, strange little pictures, some that read like poetry. However, I didn’t get enough of them to form an overall picture.

I can see part of the Labyrinth, part of the library and the door of Circinae’s house but I can’t imagine the City of Eyes as a whole. I also couldn’t get a clear picture of what Kite looked like.

I wanted to delve deeper into the history of the City of Eyes. Eli, as a made-thing, wasn’t privy to that information herself so it made sense for the reader to go in blind. We learn a small amount of background information when Eli does. If I’d either been given a history lesson earlier or had the opportunity to interact with more of the Coven, I‘m certain I would have been more invested in the story.

As it was, for most of the book, the Coven’s motivation was unknown. Other than some limited interaction with Circinae, the adult inhabitants of this world remained fairly mysterious. Not an alluring kind of mysterious, though. It was more of an ‘I don’t know who these characters are’ mystery. There were also some scenes where I still don’t really know what happened.

I’m pretty sure I stumbled into a couple of plot holes although, to be fair, there is a forthcoming sequel that could fill them. I’d be interested to see how the story concludes in The Boi of Feather and Steel.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Dundurn Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Even teenage assassins have dreams.

Eli isn’t just a teenage girl – she’s a made-thing the witches created to hunt down ghosts in the human world. Trained to kill with her seven magical blades, Eli is a flawless machine, a deadly assassin. But when an assignment goes wrong, Eli starts to question everything she was taught about both worlds, the Coven, and her tyrannical witch-mother. 

Worried that she’ll be unmade for her mistake, Eli gets caught up with a group of human and witch renegades, and is given the most difficult and dangerous task in the worlds: capture the Heart of the Coven. With the help of two humans, one motorcycle, and a girl who smells like the sea, Eli is going to get answers – and earn her freedom.

The Mall – Megan McCafferty

Cassie has her life all planned out. The plan consists of a summer job in the mall with her boyfriend of two years, followed by moving to New York together to attend colleges across the road from one another. The plan did not include her getting mono, missing prom and graduation, her boyfriend breaking up with her or losing her job.

Taking place almost exclusively within the mall during the summer of 1991, there are plenty of 90’s references, from 90210 to Nirvana, from big hair to lycra. This was a quick and easy read, and I enjoyed the nostalgia. I adored the cover design and absolutely loved the “90210 Scale of Parkway Center Mall Employment Awesomeness”, where Dylan McKay is obviously the coolest.

“There’s a fortune hidden somewhere in the mall,” Drea said, “and I’m determined to find it.”

While I liked the concept and was thrilled when the quest for hidden treasure made its way into the story, overall the story fell flat for me. I wanted to get to know two of the characters better, Zoe and Drea, as they had an edge that interested me. Most of the other characters were fairly generic.

Along with the drama of teenage friendships and boys, there’s also slut-shaming, a revenge makeover and a catfight. The list of people Cassie needs to avoid in the mall grows fairly steadily as the story progresses.

Cassie is quite elitist, knowing full well that she’s never going to be one of the mall’s lifers, as she’s destined for bigger and better things in New York. Although she is unarguably book smart, she’s not as mature as she seems to think she is. Often she behaved as though she was closer to 13 than 17.

Something that gave me pause: on the copyright page the author’s name appears after Alloy Entertainment, a book packaging company. It made me wonder how much creative control the author had when they were writing.

Thank you to NetGalley and Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The year is 1991. Scrunchies, mixtapes and 90210 are, like, totally fresh. Cassie Worthy is psyched to spend the summer after graduation working at the Parkway Center Mall. In six weeks, she and her boyfriend head off to college in NYC to fulfill The Plan: higher education and happily ever after.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans …

Set entirely in a classic “monument to consumerism,” the novel follows Cassie as she finds friendship, love, and ultimately herself, in the most unexpected of places.

Mayhem – Estelle Laure

“Don’t you want to know what’s really going on, Mayhem?”

Mayhem and Roxy, her mother, have recently moved in with Elle, Roxy’s twin sister, and her foster children. Roxy always swore she’d never return to Santa Maria but Mayhem doesn’t know why. It turns out there’s a lot she doesn’t know about being a Brayburn.

This book covers a lot of ground: family legacies, the secrets we keep from ourselves and others, the impacts of trauma and the ways we try to reclaim our power.

I was only three. Lyle saved us. That’s the story.

The portrayal of what it’s like for a child living in a home where domestic violence is the norm was painfully authentic. I could feel what it was like for Mayhem as the abuse was happening to both herself and her mother, the impacts of which were evident throughout the story.

I particularly appreciated the fact that once there was some physical distance between the abused and abuser, life didn’t automatically become sunshine and roses. The abuse wasn’t sensationalised but it also wasn’t sugarcoated.

Roxy doesn’t cry. Neither of us do. We don’t talk about it, even to each other, like if we never say it out loud, it will stop.

There were some sentences that resonated with me so much that I had to reread them immediately and then pause while I absorbed them. I anticipate these quotes will be staying with me for quite a while:

“Don’t let the idea of people overshadow truth.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to hear things, because then you have to admit other things and the story you’ve been telling yourself unravels so fast you can barely handle it.”

I found the names of several businesses in the story absolutely delightful. I’d stop reading when I came across those as well, but only long enough to say to the nearest person, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’. My favourite was We’ve Got Issues, a comic book store. Brilliant!

Then there were the parts of the story that hovered over my head, just out of reach. In particular, I wasn’t always entirely sure what was happening during the scenes where magic happens. There often wasn’t enough detail given to allow me to ‘see’ what was going on.

There was one scene involving the serial killer where this was especially evident; I didn’t even know what happened until I was given more information a few pages later. Incidentally, I had hoped the serial killer would have more page time than they did. The resolution of their part of the story was much too quick and easy for my liking.

I began to read some reviews to find out if I was the only one who wasn’t always getting it. Plenty of reviewers have mentioned the similarities between this story and The Lost Boys. I’ve never seen that movie and I’m still not sure if it was an advantage or disadvantage coming into this book uninitiated.

It has made me wonder if some of the more magical components of this story were written using a kind of shorthand, where if you were familiar with the movie you’d know exactly what the author was talking about without needing the additional descriptions that would have been beneficial for me.

The person I most wanted to get to know was Neve but she remained somewhat of a mystery to me. I wanted to find out more about her life before she lived with Elle but I only caught a couple of glimpses.

“They do not mess with us,” Neve murmurs, almost to herself. “For good reason.”

I’ve never been a fan of insta-love although sometimes it grows on me as a story progresses. It didn’t here. I also became frustrated as the story never really came together for me, even though there were plenty of elements that I should have loved.

Aspects of the story didn’t have the depth I was looking for and neither did some of the characters. I wanted to come away having a detailed understanding of the way the magic worked but I could only explain it to you in vague terms. I don’t even really know how to explain it but it was like I got a taste of many things but never the entire experience.

“People want to keep secrets from you, but it’s not right. You need to know everything.”

Content warnings include addiction (alcohol and other drugs), child abuse, death by suicide, domestic violence, emotional abuse, murder, physical abuse and sexual assault. Further information can be found on the author’s website.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else. 

But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good. 

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost. 

Where the Veil is Thin – Cerece Rennie Murphy & Alana Joli Abbott (editors)

So, here I am again, having read an entire anthology just because there’s a contribution from Seanan McGuire. I always think this is a brilliant idea when I first stumble across the book but my excitement generally turns to dread when I remember that short stories and I have a love-hate relationship. I love some and I hate some. Sometimes the love outweighs the hate but more times than I can count it’s the other way around.

Taking on faeries (“Yes, but we don’t like to use that word.”) are fourteen authors. Included in the mix are stories of love and betrayal, a unicorn named Kevin, changelings and a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure that knows when you’re cheating.

The Tooth Fairies: Quest for Tear Haven by Glenn Parris

Night always invited wayward blood thirst in one form or another.

Glamour by Grey Yuen

“The door! We saw the door. I swear it! It had a mouth and it screamed!”

See a Fine Lady by Seanan McGuire

“It’s always so much easier to do our shopping when someone can see us.”

Or Perhaps Up by C.S.E. Cooney

“Family does not pull family under. We pull each other out.”

Don’t Let Go by Alana Joli Abbott

“You shouldn’t have seen that.”

The Loophole by L. Penelope

“Seems like my last meal isn’t agreeing with me.”

The Last Home of Master Tranquil Cloud by Minsoo Kang

“Even as we speak, the fate of the man who has done me wrong is being sealed.”

Your Two Better Halves by Carlos Hernandez

“Your choices are your opportunities.”

Take Only Photos by Shanna Swendson

“What else that’s supposed to be imaginary is actually real?”

Old Twelvey Night by Gwendolyn N. Nix

It happened the same way every time.

The Seal-Woman’s Tale by Alethea Kontis

Ah, humans. My guilty pleasure, my fatal flaw. They were always just so … fun.

The Storyteller by David Bowles

“Would you like to hear a story?”

Summer Skin by Zin E. Rocklyn

It would be nice to be noticed.

Colt’s Tooth by Linda Robertson

“You’re not going anywhere ‘til I get those teeth!”

All of the anthologies that came before this one are now collectively pointing at me and sneering, ‘Have we taught you nothing about yourself?’ While this book already boasts multiple five star reviews, I wandered through it underwhelmed. I’d encourage you to read some of these five star reviews before deciding whether or not this is the book for you.

I loved Anna Dittmann’s cover illustration but unfortunately I didn’t come away with any favourite stories.

Content warnings include mention of assault, murder, self harm, sexual assault and torture.

Thank you to NetGalley and Outland Entertainment for the opportunity to read this anthology.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

These are not your daughter’s faerie stories …

Around the world, there are tales of creatures that live in mist or shadow, hidden from humans by only the slightest veil. In Where the Veil Is Thin, these creatures step into the light. Some are small and harmless. Some are bizarre mirrors of this world. Some have hidden motives, while others seek justice against humans who have wronged them.

In these pages, you will meet blood-sucking tooth fairies and gentle boo hags, souls who find new shapes after death and changelings seeking a way to fit into either world. You will cross the veil – but be careful that you remember the way back.