The Haunted Heart of America – Logan Corelli

Between you and I, I thought Peter Venkman was telling a furphy when he said he had a PhD in parapsychology, but that’s the exact qualification the author has. I knew from watching American TV growing up that American colleges and universities have much more interesting subjects than we do in Australia, but parapsychology? I definitely would have studied at least one subject in that field if it had been on offer.

So, besides his PhD in parapsychology, the author has a doctorate in metaphysics and is also an ordained reverend (yes, his bio confirms he’s performed exorcisms, although there are none in this book).

This books provides some basic historical background for some well known American haunted locations, including Waverly Hills Sanitarium and the Myrtle Plantation. Then the author gives their impressions of each time they’ve investigated them.

If you were to ask me if I’m a Mulder or Scully, I’d tell you I’m both. I want to believe but I also want the science to back it up. Considering that to label something paranormal means that current scientific knowledge doesn’t have an answer for it, I’m fully aware that I want to have my cake and eat it too, but I’m okay with that.

Without fail, I wanted to scream, ‘Have you not studied Horror 101?’ every time the group of investigators decided to split up. I also may have groaned each time someone got an impression, a “feeling of unease” or “a strange sensation”.

I got a playful, innocent feeling at times and a scared, threatened feeling at others.

Vibes weren’t exactly the kind of evidence I was looking for.

Speaking of evidence, there were some times the author said they recorded voices and said what they heard. At other times, though, it was claimed they recorded … something, but never specified what. Then there were the times someone heard a voice but no one else did, or someone heard a voice but it wasn’t picked up by the recorder. I would have loved to have been given a link so I could listen to these recordings myself.

There were some photographs included in the book that were said to be showing a ghostly face or other spooky occurrences. The quality of the photos in the copy of the book I read weren’t good enough for me to decide one way or the other. The photo I most wanted to see but was not included was the one that showed a disembodied eye.

I never felt like I knew anything significant about any of the other investigators. Most were only introduced by name, although some of the early introductions included a brief description. We had an “experienced and innovative” investigator and a “mysterious” one, but “talented” Michelle was also “the most beautiful investigator I had met at the time”. I didn’t know whether to be offended on Michelle’s behalf for having a label attached to her that had nothing to do with her skills. I also wondered, yet at the same time didn’t care, who now holds the title of most beautiful as it’s implied Michelle has been demoted.

I did appreciate that the author was willing to say that at times nothing happened or, if something did happen, there was no way to prove that it was supernatural. The writing style, though, was very dry. There was a lot of ‘this happened, then this happened, then this happened and then we went to bed’. The emotion that you’d expect to accompany occurrences like feeling someone was tugging on your shirt or voices coming from nowhere weren’t evident in the writing.

It was frustrating when the author said they saw or heard something significant but they didn’t have any equipment with them to record it, or when they witnessed something while in a group but decided for whatever reason not to mention it to anyone at the time.

If it was me, I’d be asking everyone around me if they saw or heard it too. I’d want the confirmation that I wasn’t hallucinating. I’d also want someone to freak out with. Believe me, if I ever witness something supernatural, no one will be able to accuse me of being casual about the experience.

Because everything was written in such a matter of fact way, it was difficult to become invested in each suspected haunting. At no time was I caught up in the atmosphere, so I was comfortable reading late at night in the dark. I never felt the need to look over my shoulder or turn the lights on.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Llewellyn Publications for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

An ironing board jumps off the wall and flies straight toward an investigator’s head at the famous Villisca Axe Murder House. Shadow figures rise out of the ground and run between the gravestones of a haunted cemetery. The mischievous spirit of a deceased child pulls the blankets off an investigator, humming a song from the other side the whole time.

Featuring investigations of famous paranormal hotspots like Waverly Hills, Myrtles Plantation, and The St. James Hotel – as well as many lesser-known though equally fascinating locations – this riveting book details years of creepy stories, hair-raising experiences, and intriguing physical evidence from one of the heartland’s most experienced investigators.

The World’s Most Pointless Animals – Philip Bunting

It’s no secret how much I love books that tell me a whole bunch of fun facts about animals. My favourite facts in this book are:

  • Leeches have 32 brains.
  • Elephant shrews “are typically 15cm long, but can jump almost a metre in the air”.
  • An axolotl can regenerate its body parts when it’s injured.

I’m not sure how well this book will work with its target audience (one website says 4+, others say 5 to 8 years). I didn’t find the humour funny, although kids may. I think some references will go straight over the heads of many kids. Have kids that age even heard of The Beatles?

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Terms that adults would understand could confuse younger readers, especially without a glossary to refer to. A quokka is said to be a “pseudo-roo”. About the myotonic goat: “Somebody should teach them about the fight or flight response.” Do you want to explain to your 5 year old what it means for a stick insect to be “amorous”?

The illustrations are colourful and the animals are cute. I particularly liked the platypus and sloth.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Happy Yak, and imprint of Quarto Publishing Group – Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The World’s Most Pointless Animals is a witty, quirky, colourfully-illustrated book featuring fascinating facts about some very silly animals … who we find are perhaps not so pointless after all.

From familiar animals like giraffes (who don’t have any vocal cords) through to those that surely should not even exist, such as the pink fairy armadillo (absurdly huge front claws, super tough protective shell in baby pink, particularly susceptible to stress), our planet is full of some pretty weird and wonderful animals. For example:

  • Koalas spend up to 18 hours a day asleep!
  • Pandas are born bright pink, deaf, and blind.
  • Dumbo octopuses flap their big fin-like ears to move around.
  • A Narwhal’s tusk grows through its upper lip – ouch!

With hilarious text throughout and bright, contemporary illustrations, this guide to absurdly awesome animals contains funny labelled diagrams and some excellent made-up Latin names (N.B. The jellyfish’s scientific name is not actually wibblious wobblious ouchii).

Carrying an important message of celebrating diversity and differences, The World’s Most Pointless Animals inspires a drive to conserve our amazing planet and the creatures we’re lucky enough to share it with.

The Loop – Jeremy Robert Johnson

There was the world behind them, and the world ahead of them, and all of it wanted them dead.

Lucy, Bucket and Brewer are about to have a really bad couple of days. IMTECH, a medical supply manufacturer that employs most of their classmates’ parents, have been working on something new. Even the workers who have contributed pieces to this puzzle haven’t been told what the final picture will look like. All these teens know is that there’s been a recent string of tragedies in their usually quiet desert hometown of Turner Falls: a murder-suicide, a day to end the school year unlike any other and now a missing teen.

“We are all going to be okay.”

I’m having trouble figuring out what to say about this book and that’s not a problem I usually have. The thing is, for much of the first quarter I was dragging myself through the pages, tempted to DNF every time anything that I’ll politely call ‘locker room talk’ happened. I found the way that specific girls were spoken about, as if it was funny and as if it was appropriate to say at all, was disgusting. Call me a prude if you want but detailing derogatory sexual behaviour is not something that I want to see flimsily disguised as banter.

Then there’s the body horror, which is pretty intense in this book. If the thought of anything touching your eyes makes you squeamish, prepare yourself for exposure therapy on steroids. Most of the time the crunching bones and gallons of blood that no longer live inside veins belonged to humans. I’m personally all good with this type of horror, when the victims are human. However, not all of the casualties in this book were human and I am never going to be okay with reading about the abuse of animals, even in fiction.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who can help us.”

The overall feel of the book gave me ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’ vibes so it may be helpful if you don’t decide on a favourite character. Chances are pretty high that you’re going to see what their insides look like at some point. I didn’t connect with anyone so I wasn’t invested in anyone’s survival.

Class and racism were both mentioned throughout the book. The action remained fairly constant, although I didn’t experience the dread of the classroom scene anywhere else in the book. The descriptions of the bloodshed were easy to imagine and I liked the inclusion of the podcast transcripts.

Content warnings include abuse of an animal, alcoholism, body horror, bullying, drug use, graphic deaths of animals and humans, and racism.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Stranger Things meets The X-Files in this heart-racing conspiracy thriller as a lonely young woman teams up with a group of fellow outcasts to survive the night in a town overcome by a science experiment gone wrong.

Something sinister lurks beneath the sleepy tourist town of Turner Falls nestled in the hills of central Oregon. A growing spate of mysterious disappearances and frenzied outbursts threaten the town’s idyllic reputation until an inexplicable epidemic of violence spills out over the unsuspecting city.

When the teenage children of several executives from the local biotech firm become ill and hyper-aggressive, the strange signal they can hear starts to spread from person to person, sending anyone who hears it into a murderous rage. Lucy and her outcast friends must fight to survive the night and get the hell out of town, before the loop gets them too.

A Turtle’s Guide to Introversion – Ton Mak

It’s a well established fact that I’m an introvert. Besides my lived experience, I have also found multiple books that could have been written about me.

I found myself on almost every page of Debbie Tung’s Quiet Girl in a Noisy World. If my introversion was ever in doubt (it wasn’t), the perfect score I achieved on Jenn Granneman’s signs I might be an introvert in her book, The Secret Lives of Introverts, was a big ‘I told you so’ to any naysayers out there.

If you’re a kindred introvert, you’ll probably get some validation and a reminder that you’re fine just the way you are from this book. If you’ve already read books that talk about introversion on any detail, it’s unlikely you’ll find any new information in this book.

This gift book has cute illustrations. However, I found the colours jarring. I read this book on an iPad; maybe the colours would look better on a different screen. It’s also possible, because I’m mindful that I read an advanced copy, the colour scheme could change prior to publication.

Thank you to NetGalley and Chronicle Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A Turtle’s Guide to Introversion is a delightful illustrated gift book that celebrates the wonderful qualities of introverts through the everyday adventures of a turtle.

Being an introvert comes with numerous advantages and the occasional woe, and no animal knows that better than the humble turtle hiding in its shell. This book celebrates introverts and their many wonderful, often-underrated qualities. 

Perfect for introverts and extroverts who are secretly introverts. And for those who likes turtles.

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