Nettle & Bone – T. Kingfisher

Once upon a time, there were three princesses. The youngest of these, who’s “almost a nun and barely a princess”, is on a quest. 

Accompanying her are a dust-wife, a former knight who’s also a diplomat and a fairy godmother. Rounding out this ragtag bunch are a chicken with a demon, a highly motivated chick and quite possibly the best dog ever. 

Their mission? Kill the prince. Don’t worry; he definitely deserves it. 

“It’s a fool’s errand and we’ll probably all die” 

I’m always keen to spread the word about books I love but every so often a read comes along that tips me over into book evangelism. This is one of those books. I want everyone to adore it as much as I did. 

If you encounter me in the wild in the foreseeable future, I’m going to be recommending you read it and if you don’t love it as much as I did, you may notice me looking at you a little strangely. This will be my silently judging you for not getting it look.

How can you not love a book that brings the intrigue, the weird and the need to know everything in the first two sentences? 

The trees were full of crows and the woods were full of madmen. The pit was full of bones and her hands were full of wires. 

This book has everything I need in my life right now. The lengths you will go to for family, even the ones that don’t particularly like you. A found family who shouldn’t gel so well, but they do. A reminder that you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. Making the impossible possible. A quest that’s born from a need for justice. Bonedog.

Bonedog is one of my favourite characters of all time. I either need to permanently borrow him from Marra or beg ask her really nicely if she would pretty please make a sibling for him and allow me to hang out with Bonedog II forever.

Content warnings include domestic abuse and miscarriage.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for introducing me to Bonedog and the rest of my new found family.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra – the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter – has finally realised that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.

Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince – if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.

On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.

The Tangleroot Palace – Marjorie Liu

While I’d already well and truly fallen in love with Monstress, I hadn’t read anything else by this author. After being wowed by this collection, I will now be working to rectify this egregious mistake.

Sympathy for the Bones

Clora works with bone needles and thread. She doesn’t make mistakes. 

Fear of a hoodoo woman was natural. Fear was how it had to be. 

The Briar and the Rose

In this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, we meet the Duelist who, on Sundays, is called Briar. While six days a week are devoted to violence, the seventh contains love. 

The Duelist had learned, long ago, that oppression could be defeated only through study; like a sword, the mind must always be tended to if it was to aim true. 

The Light and the Fury

Superheroes, war and crystal skulls. 

“Can you be what they need?”
“No,” she said quietly. “But I can try.” 

The Last Dignity of Man

His mother named him Alexander Lutheran. Wasn’t it inevitable that he would aspire to become Lex Luthor? 

And he has lived up to that name, in more ways than one. 

Where the Heart Lives

This story takes place in the Dirk & Steele universe, well before the events of the first book in the series. Although I tend to stay as far away from romance novels as possible, I’m intrigued enough to want to dive into the first book. 

“We all have our homes,” she said quietly. “The ability to choose yours is not a gift to take for granted.” 

After the Blood

Amish vampires! A sequel to the novella, The Robber Bride, which I now need to read. 

Only so long a man could keep secrets while living under his family’s roof. 

Tangleroot Palace

When Sally’s father arranges for her to be married to the Black Knight of the Poisoned Cookies (not his real name), she decides to turn to the Tangleroot forest for help. It’s not like she’s got anything to lose.

Bonus points to the raven in the tree next door that believes in book-life symmetry, waiting to caw until the exact moment the raven in the story did. 

“Most people, when they have questions, ask other people. They do not go running headfirst into a place of night terrors and magic.” 

It is rare for me to love a short story collection more than I love the idea of it but this one exceeded my expectations.

The Light and the Fury was the only story I wasn’t immediately captivated by. The rest, I adored, but none more so than The Last Dignity of Man

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, death of animals, miscarriage and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to fall in love with this collection.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

New York Times bestseller and Hugo, British Fantasy, Romantic Times, and Eisner award-winning author of the graphic novel Monstress, Marjorie Liu leads you deep into the heart of the tangled woods. In her long-awaited debut collection of dark, lush, and spellbinding short fiction, you will find unexpected detours, dangerous magic, and even more dangerous women.

Briar, bodyguard for a body-stealing sorceress, discovers her love for Rose, whose true soul emerges only once a week. An apprentice witch seeks her freedom through betrayal, the bones of the innocent, and a meticulously plotted spell. In a world powered by crystal skulls, a warrior returns to save China from invasion by her jealous ex. A princess runs away from an arranged marriage, finding family in a strange troupe of travelling actors at the border of the kingdom’s deep, dark woods.

Concluding with a gorgeous full-length novella, Marjorie Liu’s first short fiction collection is an unflinching sojourn into her thorny tales of love, revenge, and new beginnings.

Dark Stars – John F.D. Taff (editor)

Horror is something like black taffy these days, enough elasticity to stretch across any room (even the word “room” feels a little confining while discussing the modern state of horror: Is it a room actually? Could be something else), and you’ll find that elasticity here in the pages of this book. 

The Attentionist by Caroline Kepnes

Reg and Maeve really want Tony to call. Naturally, he’ll have a friend so the sisters will be able to go on a double date. 

The phrase you learn in school is fight or flight. As if those are the only choices. As if we’re all so quick to throw a punch or make a run for it. Some of us are slow. We just need a minute to think. 

A Life in Nightmares by Ramsey Campbell

When past and present, reality and nightmares collide. 

“I don’t know why I should dream about the past” 

Papa Eye by Priya Sharma

When Ravi goes to the island, they see life and death in a whole new light. 

“We’ve been struggling with how to explain it. Now you can see for yourself.” 

Volcano by Livia Llewellyn

A new job, a new colleague, a pervasive darkness. 

It still bothers me that I can’t remember last night. 

All the Things He Called Memories by Stephen Graham Jones 

When you’re quarantining with your partner, a research scientist, who wants to discuss your greatest fear. You know, besides the pandemic. 

“Because our minds are puzzle boxes,” Marcy said, obviously. “You can twist them this way, that way, and, if you’re really lucky, maybe once in a while you unlock one of them.” 

Trinity River’s Blues by Chesya Burke 

Jazz, a murder of crows and a woman who sees dead people. 

“This here … this is longing. Its power manifested. You don’t understand who you are and so you let your fears and insecurities control you.” 

The Familiar’s Assistant by Alma Katsu

Eric has spent weeks tracking him down. Now he’s standing at the vampire’s door. 

You can’t accept a monster in your life and think that you’re safe. That you’ll be able to control him. 

Swim in the Blood of a Curious Dream by John F.D. Taff 

Peter just wants to drive his son to their new home. The weather has other ideas. So does Peter’s dead wife. 

Because, as I’ve learned, separation doesn’t diminish the love a child has for their parent.
Nor does death. 

The Sanguintalist by Gemma Files

The blood speaks to Lala. 

Tell me now. Show me, if you can’t form the words. Let me see it.
Let me see it all. 

Mrs. Addison’s Nest by Josh Malerman

This all started in detention fifteen years ago. It ends now. 

REMEMBER WHERE YOU ARE 

Challawa by Usman T. Malik

Karisma returns to Pakistan with her husband. While she’s there, she plans to do some research. 

“Challawa. A mercurial creature that shimmers and is gone. A mirage that evaporates when you get close to it.” 

Enough For Hunger and Enough For Hate by John Langan

Michelle is trying to track down her brother’s killer. And his body. 

“There was nothing I wanted more than to spend every waking second with her.” 

Usually when I pick up an anthology, it’s because there’s one particular author’s story I need to read. This time around, that author was Stephen Graham Jones. 

With anthologies, I always find the stories are a bit of a mixed bag. I love this because there’s usually something for everyone. I also dread this because I know it’s just as likely I’ll encounter stories that I’m not so keen on.

My horror preference is the “would you like more blood with that?” variety. I actively seek out reads where I have the overwhelming urge to look over my shoulder and question whether it’s safe to turn out the lights, as well as my decision to eat before reading. I’m not as comfy with ambiguity so some reads here didn’t work as well for me. 

I enjoyed many of the stories but they didn’t elicit fear in me. The most horrified I felt was when I realised I’d finished more than one story with no way of explaining what it was about because I had no idea.

One of my favourite things about anthologies is the opportunity to find authors whose books have somehow flown under my radar. While I loved the story I came here for, I was also introduced to two authors whose books I definitely need to investigate in the near future: Priya Sharma and Usman T. Malik.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, domestic abuse, miscarriage and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Created as an homage to the 1980 classic horror anthology, Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley, this collection contains 12 original novelettes showcasing today’s top horror talent. Dark Stars features all-new stories from award-winning authors and up-and-coming voices like Stephen Graham Jones, Priya Sharma, Usman T. Malik, Caroline Kepnes, and Alma Katsu, with seasoned author John F.D. Taff at the helm. An afterword from original Dark Forces contributor Ramsey Campbell is a poignant finale to this bone-chilling collection.

Within these pages you’ll find tales of dead men walking, an insidious secret summer fling, an island harbouring unspeakable power, and a dark hallway that beckons. You’ll encounter terrible monsters – both human and supernatural – and be forever changed. The stories in Dark Stars run the gamut from traditional to modern, from dark fantasy to neo-noir, from explorations of beloved horror tropes to the unknown – possibly unknowable – threats.

It’s all in here because it’s all out there, now, in horror.

The Shadow Glass – Josh Winning

‘In a forgotten time, in a forgotten world, deep within a forgotten chamber few have ever seen, the Shadow Glass sees all.’ 

Bob Corman’s 1986 feature debut, The Shadow Glass, was a flop at the box office. The “puppet-animated fantasy adventure” has since gained a cult following but Bob’s son, who was one of The Shadow Glass’ first super-fans, wants nothing to do with it. 

Jack’s childhood, once a magical place brimming with imagination and joy, darkened when his father morphed from his hero to someone he barely recognised as his obsession with Iri (pronounced eerie) and its inhabitants consumed him.

Returning to his childhood home after his father’s death, Jack discovers the characters, born in his father’s imagination, are very much alive. And they need Jack’s help.

Now erplings Bobson, a Melia, fanboy Toby and the Guild must join forces with kettu Zavanna and Brol if they have any hope of saving Iri from imminent destruction. 

‘Are you friend or food?’ 

The Shadow Glass is a love letter to the 80’s films that infused themselves into my very core and it’s about fandom: the obsessive, possessive fans that make it creepy (‘why else do you think they call us fanatics?’) and those whose love and dedication keep franchises alive. It’s about family, the ones we’re born into and the ones we form along the way. Above all, this is a hero’s journey. 

‘What is a hero but a normal person overcoming their own failings to defeat the demons of their soul?’ 

I primarily identify as a book nerd so it’s a rare week that passes without me needing to book evangelise the most recent treasure I’ve discovered. This book, though… I haven’t had this much fun reading since Dan Hanks’ Swashbucklers.

Both books major in 80’s nostalgia. Swashbucklers was the Ghostbusters/Goonies mashup I didn’t know I needed. The Shadow Glass had me reminiscing about borrowing and reborrowing The Dark Crystal and The NeverEnding Story from my local video store.

There’s no shortage of action in this book and the characters became so real to me it felt like I was fighting alongside them. I don’t know how it’s possible to feel nostalgia for a movie I’ve never seen and doesn’t exist (yet) but here we are. What’s going to stay with me the most, though, is this book’s heart. 

I related to Bobson as he navigated his complicated family legacy, while figuring out who he is and what he stands for. I was fangirling alongside Toby as his passion for Iri made him practically glow from within. Occasionally I empathised with Cutter, as his pain distorted something that was once pure.

There’s so much to lub about this book. I lub the erplings. I lub kettu. I lub lubs. I even lub Kunin Yillda.

It’s fairly common for me to finish a book and immediately want to see the movie adaptation of it, whether it currently exists or not. I need a movie of this book but I also need Bob Corman’s original 1986 movie in my life. 

‘It’s real and scary and it’s not safe.’ 

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to fall in lub with Iri.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Jack Corman is failing at life. Jobless, jaded and facing the threat of eviction, he’s also reeling from the death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, but the film flopped on release and Bob was never the same again.

In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying childhood home, where he is confronted with the impossible – the puppet heroes from The Shadow Glass are alive, and they need his help. Tipped into a desperate quest to save the world from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with an excitable fanboy and a spiky studio exec to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy and ignite a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do Bob proud.

The Phantom of the Opera – Cavan Scott (Adapter)

Illustrations – José María Beroy

This graphic novel is an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, itself based on Gaston Leroux’s novel. While I would have loved to have been able to indulge in a scene by scene replication of the entire musical, that would have been a much larger volume. The scenes that were adapted still clearly told the story that I know so well, and I sang along (in my head, of course, so I didn’t frighten the neighbours) with all of the song excerpts. 

The illustrations were gorgeous, evoking the feel of the scenes, from the bright, colourful masquerade to the leaching of colour when the Phantom appears in Christine’s mirror. 

description

I spent much of the 90’s obsessed with this musical, having travelled to Melbourne for the best school excursion ever. I’d never imagined that a musical could be so immersive; we gasped and pointed each time we saw the Phantom appear off stage and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I really thought that chandelier was going to hurt someone. 

It was even more exhilarating the second time I witnessed the chandelier fall, in Sydney many years later, as our seats were directly beneath its arc. I also got to watch the conductor do their thing and all of the musicians warming up prior to the performance. It was like being able to sneak a peek behind the scenes and it was breathtaking.

My Nan and I listened to the double cassette tape (back in the 90’s here) so many times I’m surprised we didn’t destroy it; we’d get up and dance, with much abandon but little rhythm, around the room each time a new song began. We became so familiar with the entire musical that we’d recite it to each other as it was playing.

While not many of my childhood belongings followed me into adulthood, I still have two Phantom keyrings, the coffee mug where the Phantom’s face glows when you add hot water (it still works!) and the program I bought in Melbourne in the 90’s. I also have all of the piano sheet music and yes, I do intend to finally get around to mastering at least one of the songs one day.

I’m always going to be biased where the Phantom is concerned but I absolutely adored this adaptation. It made me wish I could walk out the door and straight into a performance of the musical. Since that’s not currently possible, I’m going to do the next best thing … reread this graphic novel and indulge in some nostalgia.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Comics for the opportunity to fall in love with this graphic novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the original libretto of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s world-famous, multi-award-winning musical that has been playing continuously around the world for over 33 years comes this fully authorised graphic novel adaptation.

In 1881 the cast and crew of a new production, Hannibal, are terrorised by the Phantom of the Opera, a mysterious, hideously disfigured man who lives beneath the Paris Opera House. Hopelessly in love and obsessed with one of the chorus singers, the Phantom will stop at nothing to make her the star of the show, even if that means murder.

Nothing But Blackened Teeth – Cassandra Khaw

“I think this is all a mistake. Us coming here. Us being here. I think we’re going to regret it. That’s all.” 

Five twenty somethings have travelled to Japan for a wedding. Most of the group have dated one another at some point and although this is supposed to be a joyous occasion, the ‘friends’ spend much of their time re-examining past wounds. 

The Heian mansion where they’re staying is rumoured to be haunted. The story goes that a groom died on his way to their wedding and the bride’s response was to ask her wedding guests to bury her alive. Totally normal request. The guests obliged her because … reasons? But the story doesn’t end there; some unlucky lady is sacrificed each year to keep her company. 

“Like, this feels unholy.” 

I loved the concept and was really interested in exploring some Japanese folklore. Given this is a novella, I had hoped the horror would be flinging itself at me from all angles but I spent most of the read wishing the characters would stop bickering amongst themselves so ghost girl could get on with her haunting. 

I anticipated feeling dread or the need to look over my shoulder. Instead, I was frustrated to be spending time with characters I couldn’t connect with and confused as to why they were choosing to spend time with one another.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A group of thrill-seeking friends in search of the perfect wedding venue plan to spend the night in a Heian-era mansion. Long abandoned, and unknown to them, this mansion rests on the bones of a bride, and its walls are packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

Their night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare, as the house welcomes its new guests. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

The Devil Makes Three – Tori Bovalino

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“I think we summoned the devil”

One of the most important things I can tell you about this book is that most of it takes place in a library. Sure, there’s a resident devil, but don’t let that put you off. This is a library with seven floors of books, including countless grimoires, and a secret passageway. I’m pretty much ready to move in.

I liked Tess’ ability to come up with creative insults and her dedication to her younger sister. I was really looking forward to seeing how her experience with ghosts, having “grown up under the watchful presence of a host of ghosts that haunted her family’s central Pennsylvania farmhouse”, was going to come into play. Unfortunately, while I definitely saw opportunities for some helpful chats with the recently deceased, this remained firmly in fun fact territory.

I also liked Eliot, who made an indelible impression on me when he requested 147 books from the library at once. My kind of bookworm. His love for his mother made me like him even more. It also didn’t hurt that he smells like pages and vanilla.

While I liked both Tess and Eliot, I never really connected with either of them. The emotion wasn’t there for me and the one scene that I was expecting would ramp it up happened off page.

There is an actual devil in this book but the Big Bad for me was Eliot’s father. He’s absolutely detestable.

I liked the story and wanted to know what was going to happen but this wasn’t the compulsive read I had expected.

Content warnings include mention of bullying, emotional abuse, physical abuse and self harm (either unintentional or for blood magic). Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with one scene.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Tess and Eliot stumble upon an ancient book hidden in a secret tunnel beneath the school library, they accidentally release a devil from his book-bound prison, and he’ll stop at nothing to stay free. He’ll manipulate all the ink in the library books to do his bidding, he’ll murder in the stacks, and he’ll bleed into every inch of Tess’s life until his freedom is permanent. Forced to work together, Tess and Eliot have to find a way to re-trap the devil before he kills everyone they know and love, including, increasingly, each other. And compared to what the devil has in store for them, school stress suddenly doesn’t seem so bad after all.

My Heart is a Chainsaw – Stephen Graham Jones

A lot of people’s insides are about to start being on the outside.

Meet Jade Daniels, my new favourite outcast.

“Town reject, nice to meet you.”

Jade’s exterior is basically armour covered in spikes but beneath the surface there’s, well, more sharp, stabby things. But beneath that is someone I want to be friends with. She even reminded me a little of me, the weirdo who word vomits about their obsession to everyone in the vicinity, not that anyone asked.

Despite having an encyclopaedic knowledge of slasher films, Jade lives knowing that she can never be a final girl herself. She’s simply not pure enough. This doesn’t stop Jade from desperately wanting a slasher to turn her hometown red, though.

Real final girls only want the horror to be over. They don’t stay up late praying to Craven and Carpenter to send one of their savage angels down, just for a weekend maybe. Just for one night. Just for one dance, please? One last dance?

Finally, she sees the signs that her dream may, in fact, be coming true. Although her current slasher theory may very well be right, Jade has a reputation in this town, so for the longest time she might as well be Cassandra. After all, who’s going to take the “weird horror chick” seriously?

It’s been four weeks since I finished this book and I’m still thinking about Jade on a daily basis. I want to tell you all of the things I loved about her but I loved everything about Jade, from her resilience to her ‘stay away from me’ vibe to her enthusiasm about all things horror. Jade is over the top in the best possible way.

She’s gonna be there front-row, shoving popcorn in, maybe wearing a clear poncho and goggles against all the blood.

It took me about a chapter to get used to the writing style but, even as I was adjusting, I felt a great big hook pulling me along for the ride. I looked forward to Jade’s Slasher 101 essays, which made me want to sit down and have an extended discussion with her (and her creator).

To put it in conclusion, sir, final girls are the vessel we keep all our hope in. Bad guys don’t just die by themselves, I mean. Sometimes they need help in the form of a furie running at them, her mouth open in scream, her eyes white hot, her heart forever pure.

With one of the most bingeworthy list of movies ever included in a single novel, I’m convinced a movie night with the author needs to be on my bucket list.

“Want to go to a horror movie with me?”

This is my first Stephen Graham Jones read but this is only the beginning for me. I can’t wait to catch up on everything I’ve missed.

Content warnings include alcoholism, attempted suicide, self harm, and sexual assault.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Jade is one class away from graduating high-school, but that’s one class she keeps failing local history. Dragged down by her past, her father and being an outsider, she’s composing her epic essay series to save her high-school diploma.

Jade’s topic? The unifying theory of slasher films. In her rapidly gentrifying rural lake town, Jade sees the pattern in recent events that only her encyclopaedic knowledge of horror cinema could have prepared her for. And with the arrival of the Final Girl, Letha Mondragon, she’s convinced an irreversible sequence of events has been set into motion.

As tourists start to go missing, and the tension grows between her community and the celebrity newcomers building their mansions the other side of the Indian Lake, Jade prepares for the killer to rise. She dives deep into the town’s history, the tragic deaths that occurred at camp years ago, the missing tourists no one is even sure exist, and the murders starting to happen, searching for the answer.

As the small and peaceful town heads towards catastrophe, it all must come to a head on 4th July, when the town all gathers on the water, where luxury yachts compete with canoes and inflatables, and the final showdown between rich and poor, past and present, townsfolk and celebrities slasher and Final Girl.

When Things Get Dark – Ellen Datlow (editor)

This anthology features short stories from some of my favourite writers, including Seanan McGuire. It also introduced me to some writers whose work I hadn’t read before. All are paying tribute to Shirley Jackson.

Like any collection of short stories, there were some I absolutely loved. My favourites in this anthology were those by M. Rickert, Elizabeth Hand, Seanan McGuire, Joyce Carol Oates, Josh Malerman and Kelly Link.

Although the other stories were well written, I often failed to connect with either the main character or the plot. Some I enjoyed, until I realised I’d run out of story before the thing I felt was missing showed up. I don’t expect to love every story in an anthology, though.

Usually when I review anthologies, I’ll include a short quote and a sentence to describe each story: what it’s about, its theme, or what I loved or didn’t love about it. I started doing that here but then abandoned the idea. There were some stories that I couldn’t explain in a sentence without spoiling them for you.

There were others that I couldn’t explain because, quite honestly, I need someone to explain them to me. Perhaps a reread will help me find the missing puzzle pieces. Maybe what I perceived as deliberate ambiguity was actually the literary equivalent of a joke’s punchline going over my head. I may read the review of someone smarter than myself and when they explain it, the lightbulb will finally turn on above my head.

So, instead of giving you an explanation and a quote, I’m only providing a quote here.

Funeral Birds by M. Rickert

The truth was she rarely went to the funerals. Delores was special.

For Sale By Owner by Elizabeth Hand

“That’s trespassing.”

“Only if we get caught,” I replied.

In the Deep Woods; The Light is Different There by Seanan McGuire

She moved here for a haunting, and even if the house refuses to be haunted, she fully intends to be.

A Hundred Miles and a Mile by Carmen Maria Machado

It’s strange, the knowing-not-knowing. It twitches like something that won’t die.

Quiet Dead Things by Cassandra Khaw

“We’re going to die for what happened.”

Something Like Living Creatures by John Langan

“You saw something!” Samantha said.

“Did you?” Kayla said.

“Yes,” Jenna said.

Money of the Dead by Karen Heuler

On one side, life; on the other, death. It was almost, sometimes, as if they could see across the divide, or hear a furtive, melancholy whistle.

Hag by Benjamin Percy

“Without you, the island starves.”

Take Me, I Am Free by Joyce Carol Oates

“Just sit here. Don’t squirm. I’ll be watching from the front window.”

A Trip to Paris by Richard Kadrey

Why won’t you stay dead?

The Party by Paul Tremblay

“I do get into the spirit of my themes. Perhaps too much.”

Refinery Road by Stephen Graham Jones

It was just the three of them, same as it had always been. Same as it would always be.

The Door in the Fence by Jeffrey Ford

“Some people, when they get old, all they can think about is dying. Some, on the other hand, find freedom.”

Pear of Anguish by Gemma Files

The past is a trap and memory is a drug.

Memory is a door.

Special Meal by Josh Malerman

“Do you really not know what today is?” Dad asked. “It’s okay if you don’t.”

Sooner or Later, Your Wife Will Drive Home by Genevieve Valentine

Never be stuck on the road alone, that was the rule.

Tiptoe by Laird Barron

Trouble is, old, weathered pictures are ambiguous. You can’t always tell what’s hiding behind the patina. Nothing, or the worst thing imaginable.

Skinder’s Veil by Kelly Link

Skinder may show up. If he does, DO NOT LET HIM IN.

While I didn’t find any of the stories scary, there were some that were accompanied by a growing sense of dread. Others were unsettling. Then there were those that left behind confusion in their wake. But that’s the beauty of anthologies; there’s usually something for everyone. The times where a question mark appeared over my head? Those stories are probably someone else’s favourites.

Content warnings include child abuse, death by suicide, domestic abuse, mental health and self harm.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A collection of new and exclusive short stories inspired by, and in tribute to, Shirley Jackson.

Shirley Jackson is a seminal writer of horror and mystery fiction, whose legacy resonates globally today. Chilling, human, poignant and strange, her stories have inspired a generation of writers and readers.

This anthology, edited by legendary horror editor Ellen Datlow, will bring together today’s leading horror writers to offer their own personal tribute to the work of Shirley Jackson.

Featuring Joyce Carol Oates, Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, Richard Kadrey, Stephen Graham Jones, Elizabeth Hand, Cassandra Khaw, Karen Heuler, Benjamin Percy, John Langan, Laird Barron, M. Rickert, Seanan McGuire, and Genevieve Valentine. 

The Final Girl Support Group – Grady Hendrix

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Someone always wants to kill us. It’s never over.”

Dr Carol Elliott has been conducting regular group sessions with final girls for sixteen years. Our final girls are:

  • Marilyn Torres, who won’t let leather touch her skin
  • Adrienne Butler, who was a counsellor at Camp Red Lake
  • Dani Shipman, whose babysitting job didn’t quite go to plan
  • Heather DeLuca, who faced off against the Dream King
  • Julia Campbell, whose experiences were turned into the Stab movies
  • Lynnette Tarkington, who tells the story.

These women have watched friends and family members being butchered by “monsters” but they survived the unsurvivable. Many have even survived sequels. Their stories have been made into successful movie franchises, some have attended conventions and then there are the superfans to contend with.

No one except another final girl can truly understand what it’s like to live with the impacts of this type of trauma. Their scars are both physical and psychological. And it’s really hard to try to move on because there’s never any certainty that the past will stay in the past. These monsters have a habit of not staying dead, after all.

We get subjected to sequels. That’s what makes our guys different, that’s what makes them monsters – they keep coming back.

The final girl support group has been the one constant in the lives of many of these survivors but it’s no longer safe. Someone has been planning their deaths and it’s time for them to fight for their lives. Again.

“This is the sequel or a crossover, or I don’t know what.”

This book was so much fun! I was delighted to discover that the atrocities these women have survived were based on some of my favourite horror movie franchises. Between them, these women have survived Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jason and Mrs Voorhees, Ghostface, and Billy and Ricky Chapman. I have never seen the Silent Night, Deadly Night movies but I’ve binged all of the others many times. Some details have changed but the basic plots remain the same.

I loved picking up on the similarities and differences between the backstories of these women and the movies I know so well. The chapter titles are spot on: The Final Girl Support Group’s New Nightmare, Season of the Final Girls, The Final Chapter, The Final Chapter II.

Even the names of the characters are perfect. For example, the woman whose story represents the Scream movies is called Julie Campbell. Neve Campbell, Scream’s final girl, played a character called Julia in Party of Five. Details like that really stood out to me.

After the trauma they have all experienced, it’s not surprising that the final girls live with a variety of long term impacts. I particularly appreciated that there was no ‘one size fits all’ approach in this book. While they all experienced living nightmares, these women cope with their trauma in individual ways. Their different personalities, their support systems (or lack thereof) and their individual strengths and weaknesses all play a part in what their lives look like now.

“Are those guys really that scary?” he asks.

“Scarier than you can ever imagine,” I answer.

In between the blood spatter I started thinking about serial killers. The names of those who commit heinous crimes are usually burned into our brains but how well do we remember the names of the people they murdered? I know the names and predilections of so many infamous serial killers. I often know in detail what they did to their victims but I’d be hard pressed to tell you the names of their victims. I think it’s time for me to rectify this.

Because I’m me, I tested out the address that a character in the book receives emails from. As usual, I was disappointed to get an automatic response saying my email was undeliverable. One of these days an author or marketing person is going to set up the email address that’s included in a book and I’ll finally get a real response. I’m hoping for an exclusive short story, a personal message from the character that I’ve emailed or even a treasure hunt or details of a competition where I can win a signed copy of the book. One day…

I own every single one of Grady Hendrix’s books. I knew I’d love them but somehow they made it into my Kindle’s black hole of good intentions so this is my first Grady Hendrix read. Believe me when I say it will not be my last!

Content warnings include addiction, alcoholism, mental health and suicidal ideation.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Ever wonder what happens to those Final Girls? After the cops eliminate them as suspects, after the press releases their brace-faced, pizza-cheeked, bad-hair-day class photos that inevitably get included on the cover of the true crime book? After the candlelight vigils and the moments of silence, after someone plants the memorial shrub?

For Lynette Tarkington, it’s been a support group. Her, five other final girls, a therapist. Close to twenty years. Today’s the last day for group, but Lynne doesn’t know it yet. It’s also going to be the last day for one of the group. And maybe the final day for all of the final girls, because someone’s been planning a nasty surprise for them for a long time.