Book Review: Don’t Tell A Soul by Kirsten Miller

People say the house is cursed.
It preys on the weakest, and young women are its favorite victims.
In Louth, they’re called the Dead Girls.

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Release Date: January 26, 2021

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Price: $17.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

All Bram wanted was to disappear–from her old life, her family’s past, and from the scandal that continues to haunt her. The only place left to go is Louth, the tiny town on the Hudson River where her uncle, James, has been renovating an old mansion.

But James is haunted by his own ghosts. Months earlier, his beloved wife died in a fire that people say was set by her daughter. The tragedy left James a shell of the man Bram knew–and destroyed half the house he’d so lovingly restored.

The manor is creepy, and so are the locals. The people of Louth don’t want outsiders like Bram in their town, and with each passing day she’s discovering that the rumors they spread are just as disturbing as the secrets they hide. Most frightening of all are the legends they tell about the Dead Girls. Girls whose lives were cut short in the very house Bram now calls home.

The terrifying reality is that the Dead Girls may have never left the manor. And if Bram looks too hard into the town’s haunted past, she might not either.

Grade: A-

Review:

I’ll be honest, I was tempted to DNF this book because it was sort of slow moving and it wasn’t really compelling until 40% in the book and then BAM did the novel really shift its gears and started to become unputdownable! I love the book Rebecca and this book was advertised as a retelling of sorts loaded with snowy creepiness and mystery. I must say that I started to like the protagonist Bram way better once we got a chance to really know her better. I really couldn’t tell where the story was going and that’s good! I like the element of surprise and figuring things out alongside the protagonist.

I love that we as readers, just like the protagonist, are wary of all the characters we encounter, because it gives you this feeling that nothing is sacred and you can’t trust anyone. I must say that I really enjoyed this book a lot and am glad that I went against my initial feelings to put it down, and decided to give it a chance.

This book is ideal for readers who love twisty thriller/mysteries or Gothic influenced thrillers with unrealible side characters.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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COMING SOON! Tainted Love: Women in Horror Anthology

I’m very proud to announce that another Women in Horror Anthology will be coming out next month! This is the third Women in Horror Anthology that I’ve edited, but the first one that I’ve edited with fellow Inkblotter Erica Ruhe, so it may have a different feel than the others (since we both selected stories and agreed which ones would make the cut).

I’ve always been a fan of stories where love goes wrong, because a part of me is a huge romantic and the other part of me is hugely attracted to the sinister so this embraces both things very well.

An artist soon discovers how dangerous it is to paint her muse.

A young boy finds out how deadly a birthday wish can be.

A young woman plagued by nightmares will find out what they really mean with deadly consequences.

A woman visits her sister only to discover of her new macabre hobby.

These and many other stories make up the twisted world of TAINTED LOVE, a collection that exalts and explores the many ways love can go wrong, may it be romantic relationships, friendships, or familial bonds, sometimes, love can become deadly or scary. Here you have fourteen chilling tales of love and the wounds it leaves, sometimes metaphorical sometimes literal. Love kills, and these authors expertly wield the knife in this anthology that you don’t want to miss!

These are the short stories you will find in the anthology:

When The Mask Drops by Hillary Lyon

Vanitas by Azzurra Nox & Erica Ruhe

The Wait by Kathleen Halecki

They Want to Talk by Rachel Bolton

Chronic Chills by Hudson Wilding

Make A (Death) Wish by Melissa Burkley

The Flagship by Phoebe Jane Johnson

Of Guys and Dolls by Stella B. James

Prey by Erin Lee

Sleep by Marie Anderson

Hunter’s Moon by Marnie Azzarelli

Unborn by Alexandra Bay

Unfinished Business by Joni Chng

My Lady Bathory by Mandy Burkhead

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY!!!

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Book Review: Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica

Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans—though no one calls them that anymore.

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Release Date: August 4, 2020

Publisher: Scribner

Price: $14.40 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.

Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.

Grade: A-

Review:

This book had Under the Skin vibes, and that was exactly why I chose to read it. If you can’t handle brutal acts of violence, then this book won’t be for you. But if you love dystopian societies then you may want to check this one out. We’re introduced to Marcos, who’s in the business of slaughtering humans ever since a virus has contaminated all the animals and can no longer provide humans the protein they once did. In fact, in this new world, all animals have been destroyed, and the world is silent. Marcos is still reeling from his son’s death, and only continues to work at the slaughterhouse because it’s what he’s best at, and needs the money to keep his dad who’s afflicted with dementia in a retirement home. But, he’s never consumed the new “special meat” himself. In fact, when he’s gifted a female head (as humans that are raised to be livestock are called), he begins to see her humanity.

This book can be triggering for some people (especially if you hate violence directed towards animals and can’t stomach descriptions of people eating humans). I enjoyed the book (although enjoyed probably isn’t the right term cause that’s going to make me sound like a sociopath), but I did like that the author pushed boundaries and made you question what exactly makes us decide that certain animals are deemed worthy of consuming and which ones are considered worth saving.

This is a brutal book, read it if you can deal with violence and triggering events, or you enjoyed Under the Skin.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Scribner for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Top Ten Books I Read in 2020

I should begin this by stating that this isn’t a list of books that were released in 2020, but books that I read in 2020 and enjoyed, which goes to say that some may have been released before this year, during this year, and some will be released next year. Having stated that, WHEW! I’ve survived 2020, thankfully, still healthy and somewhat mentally intact, although I must admit that finding solace in books and my writing has been a saving grace for me. This book list are the Top Ten Books I loved reading this year, and as you can tell the titles span across genres. Many of these titles I reviewed so this post will be filled with lots of links if you’re interested in learning more about them!

ONE. THE LIVING DEAD BY GEORGE A. ROMERO & DANIEL KRAUS

This was my absolute favourite book of the year! And not because it was about zombies or had horrific gore (it had both) but mostly because of the humanity and characters I found in this novel that I haven’t found in other books before. I loved everything about this book, and am saddened that George A. Romero passed away before he could see it in print.

TWO. TIGERS NOT DAUGHTERS BY SAMANTHA MABRY

I love, love, loved the Torres sisters! The book had the vibes of The Virgin Suicides but with a ghostly slant to it. I can’t recommend this book enough. I was lucky enough that I not only read an early ARC of this book, but the publishers then sent me a hardcover copy.

THREE. OPEN BOOK BY JESSICA SIMPSON

I’m not a fan of Jessica’s music, nor was I a fan of her reality show on MTV, The Newly Weds, however, I do enjoy Jessica as a clothes designer, and now after reading the book, even as a person. If you’re going to read a celebrity biography, I totally recommend this one, especially if you were a teen in the late 90’s since she talks about all the celebrities that were en vogue back then. Spoiler alert: John Mayer has always been a jerk.

FOUR. THE VINYL UNDERGROUND BY ROB RUFUS

This is another book that had a TON of soul. The setting is during the Vietnam War and now, in modern times we know how futile that war is so the fact that our protagonist has already lost a brother to the war and he himself may be drafted too, makes the reader feel this sense of unease throughout the whole novel. I loved the friendships in this book, they were credible and filled with so much heart.

FIVE. SURVIVOR SONG BY PAUL TREMBLAY

In a year where we’re still battling with a pandemic, Temblay’s novel about a virus may not seem like the best book to read in 2020. However, what’s amusing is seeing that the way he thought some humans and politicians would react to a pandemic, were a little too spot on at times.

SIX. THE BLACK KIDS BY CHRISTINA HAMMONDS REED

The year is early 90’s during the Rodney King riots. In 2020, it would’ve thought that such things would’ve been past us, however, after George Floyd’s death sparked worldwide protests and invigorated the Black Lives Matter movement, you soon feel like some things haven’t quite become past yet, and are still our present and must be dealt with.

SEVEN. THE PROJECT BY COURTNEY SUMMERS

A survivor of trauma collides paths with an enigmatic and charismatic cult leader, and soon neither of their lives will ever be the same again. This book will tear you apart.

EIGHT. INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH BY CYNTHIA PELAYO

If you’re a fan of true crime, then you might want to pick up this poetry collection where each poem is dedicated to a girl that has gone missing. Some of these girls have been missing for more than forty years while others have recently gone missing. Reader take caution, this book will gut you open.

NINE. DARLING ROSE GOLD BY STEPHANIE WROBEL

If you loved The Act, that chronicled the life of Gypsy Rose, then you’re going to love this novel. A mother and daughter with a conflicted relationship, mirrors the one depicted in The Act, only on steroids. It’s a fun ride.

TEN. UNBOXED BY BRIANA MORGAN

A v-logger gets tempted by the dark web, only to find out that the mystery box he has ordered will bring about sinister things. A fast-paced fun read!

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Book Review: We Are Wolves – A Horror Anthology

Once upon a time, there was a woman, and she was tired.

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Release Date: December 4, 2020

Publisher: Burial Day Books

Price: $13.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Tired of pushing. Tired of being pushed. Tired of feeling alone. Tired of so much.

So she gathered together a pack of wolves, a band of mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, partners, friends, lovers, survivors, victors and brilliant, shining things, and she told them to sing.

And sing they did.

Grade: A-

Review:

From the very beginning this anthology packs a punch. Gemma Amor’s introduction is both brutally honest and harrowing but gives the reader insight into what they’re going to expect from the stories found within this anthology. Many new talents from the horror community are found within its pages, and if you follow the new voices, you’ll be pleased by what they have to offer. The stories range from murder, revenge, sci-fi, and body horror, but what they all have in common is the will of the protagonists to rise above their adversaries and take hold of their narrative. I really enjoyed this collection and the proceeds of the sales go to charities involving survivors of sexual assault and abuse, so essentially it’s a win-win situation.

Standouts: The Black Wall Paper by Cynthia Pelayo, Though Your Heart is Breaking by Laurel Hightower, Angel by Gemma Amor, A Key For Any Lock by S.H. Cooper, and Doll House by Red Lagoe.

I recommend picking this book up if you’re a fan of horror and women-driven stories, you won’t be disappointed.

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Book Review: Those Who Prey by Jennifer Moffett

Be careful of who you befriend….

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Release Date: November 10, 2020

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Price: $16.39 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

College life isn’t what Emily expected. She expected to spend freshman year strolling through the ivy-covered campus with new friends, finally feeling like she belonged. Instead, she walks the campus alone, still not having found her place or her people so far away from home. But then the Kingdom finds her.

The Kingdom, an exclusive on-campus group, offers everything Emily expected out of college and more: acceptance, friends, a potential boyfriend, and a chance to spend the summer on a mission trip to Italy. But the trip is not what she thought it would be. Emily and the others are stripped of their passports and money. They’re cut off from their families back home. The Kingdom’s practices become increasingly manipulative and dangerous…

And someone ends up dead.

Grade: B-

Review:

The first half of the novel had me really captivated and interested in wanting to know exactly how someone gets sucked into a cult without knowing it until it’s too late. Emily is lonely, and it isn’t until she meets members of the Kingdom, does she finally feels like she belongs. I know a lot of people mention the fact that the other half of the book takes place in Italy as being interesting, but honestly, the characters barely come into contact with any Italians and stay cooped up in an old villa the whole time, that they might as well have been anywhere in the world, the location didn’t really matter.

Now, for the cult leader, we only got to meet him once and we don’t know much about him at all. In fact, we don’t even know if he’s the one spinning the lies or if it’s his followers as we never see him again. Secondly, two people end up dead in this novel and we don’t ever get full closure about them as their deaths are classified as accidental (yet the circumstances are so fishy that the reader knows it was murder but we can only suspect who it is but never get a definite answer).

The last portion of the book was the least interesting to me. Without the cult and the cult members with her, Emily was a dull character.

I do appreciate the book for being a cautionary message to teenagers facing living alone for the very first time and trying to fit in and thus should be wary of the people they befriend. I remember seeing a lot of Christian based groups in college trying to recruit more members (and maybe some of these groups are cults) but I never got involved as I try to steer clear of people who seem unhinged when it comes to religion.

I do recommend the book and maybe you may enjoy it more than I did, but I was left with a bitter taste since none of my questions never got answered and I don’t know if that was due to the author trying to keep it a mystery or if was due to lazy writing. Either way, it didn’t bond well with me.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Atheneum Books for Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

“Let me tell you something….there’s nothing nice about Southern ladies.”

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Release Date: April 7, 2020

Publisher: Quirk Books

Price: $15.29 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Patricia Campbell’s life has never felt smaller. Her husband is a workaholic, her teenage kids have their own lives, her senile mother-in-law needs constant care, and she’s always a step behind on her endless to-do list. The only thing keeping her sane is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime. At these meetings they’re as likely to talk about the Manson family as they are about their own families.

One evening after book club, Patricia is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbor, bringing the neighbor’s handsome nephew, James Harris, into her life. James is well traveled and well read, and he makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in years. But when children on the other side of town go missing, their deaths written off by local police, Patricia has reason to believe James Harris is more of a Bundy than a Brad Pitt. The real problem? James is a monster of a different kind—and Patricia has already invited him in. 
 
Little by little, James will insinuate himself into Patricia’s life and try to take everything she took for granted—including the book club—but she won’t surrender without a fight in this blood-soaked tale of neighborly kindness gone wrong.

Grade: B+

Review:

Vampires are hands down, my favourite undead creature there are. But because they’re my favourite, I also tend to be very picky when it comes to books or films that feature them. If I hadn’t previously read Grady Hendrix before and thoroughly enjoyed his books, I probably wouldn’t have given this one a chance, simply because I am that picky with the vampire genre. However, I am glad that I dove into this vampire novel, as I loved the crazy journey. The horror doesn’t immediately begin, and James Harris is a very enigmatic but handsome vampire. Perhaps it’s because the novel begins in the 80’s but I got a very Fright Night vibe from it. I do like the protagonist Patricia, a housewife and voracious reader of true crime novels. I know a lot of people have complained about the women in the novel being housewives and that Hendrix shouldn’t have written them as though it were the 1950’s. But…having grown up in the 80’s, I can only think of one mother I knew of what worked, all of my other friends’ mothers were housewives as well as my own mother. So for me, that part didn’t seem that far-fetched from reality.

If you’re read other Hendrix novels, then you’ll know he’s got a morbid fetish with rats causing havoc and blood. The book spans many years (it ends in the late 90’s). My only issue with it, is that the vampire per se, isn’t very visible. Sure, the protagonist obsesses about him (she’s convinced he’s a vampire but knows how absurd that notion is to share with her family and friends), but after the initial introduction, we rarely have moments with James Harris, and that’s a shame, because in the very beginning he was charming and interesting and I would’ve liked to have known more about him.

The only downfall the novel had was when the women banded together to take down the vampire. In some regards, the vampire appeared almost a weakling that the reader can’t help but think, if it was THAT easy to take him down, why didn’t they do it before?

Apart from that, the novel provided an interesting take of the genre, but I can’t say it’s my favourite vampire novel.

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Book Review & Author Interview: The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

“First a memory: the hillside set ablaze….”

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Release Date: August 4, 2020

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Price: $15.05 (hardback)

Plot Summary:

Los Angeles, 1992

Ashley Bennett and her friends are living the charmed life. It’s the end of senior year and they’re spending more time at the beach than in the classroom. They can already feel the sunny days and endless possibilities of summer.

Everything changes one afternoon in April, when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids.

As violent protests engulf LA and the city burns, Ashley tries to continue on as if life were normal. Even as her self-destructive sister gets dangerously involved in the riots. Even as the model black family façade her wealthy and prominent parents have built starts to crumble. Even as her best friends help spread a rumor that could completely derail the future of her classmate and fellow black kid, LaShawn Johnson.

With her world splintering around her, Ashley, along with the rest of LA, is left to question who is the us? And who is the them?

Grade: A-

Review:

The Black Kids is a timely read that spares no emotional punches. Ashley is a sassy, funny, rich girl who has always attended private school with her rich white friends. She doesn’t know exactly what reality less fortunate black people actually live through day in and day out. Sure, she sometimes has dealt with racism, if even subtle by her own friends, but she’s never had to live in dire circumstances like her own cousins. But when the Rodney King riots set the city of Los Angeles ablaze, Ashley can no longer ignore the flames of injustice. For the first time in her life, she has to confront her past, what it means to be a black girl, and figure out who her true friends are. I enjoyed this book because Ashley’s POV was no only blunt but hella funny. I like that Ashley’s character isn’t free of faults, she does some pretty questionable things within the course of the novel but ultimately she tries to make amends where she can and where it counts.

I don’t know if the author has intentions of writing a sequel, but I wouldn’t be against one. Especially if we were to get a book written in LaShawn’s POV (he’s a secondary character in the novel, a black kid who attends the rich kids’ private school because of his sports scholarship). Out of all the characters in the book, he was ultimately the star (much to Ashley’s dismay, since in the beginning of the novel she kinda resents the fact that he’s both smart and charismatic and is going to her dream college).

Pick up this book for timely issues and 90’s nostalgia, you won’t be disappointed.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Photo by: Elizabeth T. Nguyen

Short Q&A With Author:

I read that you started writing the novel The Black Kids five years ago. How does it feel that the subject matter of the book is now more timely than ever?

So it’s funny, I actually originally started thinking of the idea for The Black Kids as a thesis film when I was in grad school back in 2010, and ultimately decided against it. When I took a break from screenwriting in 2016, I decided to return to my first love of writing fiction and the short story version of The Black Kids just poured out of me. It felt more imperative than ever given the rise of Black Lives Matter and the fact that smartphones had made it such that we were seeing the effects of unequal policing first hand, literally in our hands and on our televisions. I had no idea that it would feel as timely as it does 2020, which is frustrating, but I also take comfort in the fact that now more than before, non-Black people seem to be trying to seek out and understand Black voices, and to actually be not just passive allies, but advocates for change in meaningful ways.

Female friendships are sometimes difficult. Ashley and Kimberly were childhood friends, but many times we outgrow out childhood friends. Do you think women are more likely to feel an obligated sense of loyalty towards a childhood friend despite not having anything in common with them anyone as they grow older?

I do think women are more likely to push to maintain friendships because women are more likely to have actively nurtured those friendships for years and years. Plus female friendships are so powerful when you’re younger, there’s an almost romantic fervor to them that’s only intensified by the fact that you’re experiencing all these major life changes together in such a relatively short time. When you write “best friends forever” in gel pens in a yearbook, or across each other’s arms in marker, you mean it, and many of us actively work to maintain that promise even when those friendships are toxic, or no longer serve us.

Music played a major role in the novel (or at least Ashley was always listening to songs in many scenes). Were you listening to any artist in particular when working on The Black Kids?

Almost all of the songs that made it into the book were songs that I was listening to as I was writing to transport myself back to the era. Also, randomly, I was listening to a lot of Frank Ocean, especially the songs “Super Rich Kids” and “Sweet Life” which I think are really evocative of the first few chapters before the riots begin. I was also listening to a lot of SZA and Lorde to get myself in the headspace of what it feels like to be a teenager/young woman. A lot of Hole and N.W.A. to capture Jo’s defiance in my head. Also, randomly a lot of Bowie, and Seu Jorge’s Bowie covers. In my head, they actually speak to Ashley’s feelings of not quite fitting in or feeling unmoored in some ways throughout the book. Each character definitely has their own soundscape.

Your novel sheds a light on racism, what lesson do you hope your young readers will take away from reading this novel?

I really view this novel first and foremost as a coming-of age-novel. It’s about Ashley making huge mistakes and learning from them how to be a good daughter, friend, sister, and person. I purposefully wrote her to be super flawed because I think that’s important for young readers and adults alike, especially, when it comes to issues around race. It’s ok if we don’t have all the answers immediately, if we do or say the wrong things, so long as we learn and grow from those mistakes and resolve to move through the world being better, more thoughtful, and more empathetic.

What books do you recommend to your readers if they’re wanting to support Black authors?

First and foremost, I would say that Black authors are authors, period. There are Black authors doing great work across genres, some of which engage with questions of race, some of which don’t. So to those of my readers who are non-Black, diversifying your reading really means just stepping outside your comfort zone within your particular genres of interest to make space for other voices. Don’t dismiss something as written by an author of color as something you won’t relate to. Most of us aren’t women in 19th century Britain in love with a brute with his mad wife in the attic. And yet, people don’t use that to dismiss Jane Eyre. Also, to paraphrase what my friend Nic said in an article – don’t only read books about Black people being oppressed, but also read about our joy.

All that said, Queenie by Candice Carty Williams is really great if you’re looking for something literary, but really funny. It also packs an unexpected emotional punch and delves into mental health issues. Luster has gotten a lot of deserved attention for putting a fresh spin on the struggling millennial in New York story. I really love Zone One by Colson Whitehead, and The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle. Zone One is a literary zombie apocalypse book and The Devil in Silver is slow burn literary horror that takes place in an insane asylum. Both are nerve-wracking. Lot by Bryan Washington is a beautiful collection of short stories by a queer young Black man from Texas. We Love You Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenridge, is a not easily characterized, but it’s a coming of age story involving a family and a chimp in an institution in Massachusetts, and explores scientific experimenting in the recent past as it relates to historical scientific experimenting on Black bodies. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson is an amazing non-fiction work about the Great Migration. The middle grade book The Only Black Girls in Town, I think actually shares a lot in common with my novel. And YA right now is an absolute treasure trove of Black voices across sexual orientation, religious and gender identities.

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Book Review: The Remaking by Clay Chapman

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.

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Release Date: September 15, 2020

Publisher: Quirk Books

Price: $9.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

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 . . .

Grade: B

Review:

The novel starts off with an exciting premise, two witches, a mother and a daughter duo are burned after a herbal remedy gone wrong and endangers the life of one of the villagers. Now, the town of Pilot’s Creek, Virginia is haunted by the ghosts of these two witches. The novel begins to be very repetitive when it introduces us to Amber Pendleton, the young girl that is going to play Jessica Ford’s ghost in the making of the horror movie, Don’t Tread on Jessica’s Grave. Initially, I found the repetition annoying, but once I realized that the author was purposely using repetition as a means to express the spiraled cycle that began with the witches and continues with Amber even as an adult, it made artistically sense and I wasn’t as annoyed by it. The author was trying to create the feeling of an ouroboros with the cycle going on and on, without a break.

I really enjoyed the first few chapters when we get to know Ella Louise Ford and Jessica Ford, the two witches. I love urban legends, so a town that is haunted by this legend (whether it’s true or not) was really fascinating. I also enjoyed the social commentary the author made about child stars and actresses in horror films.

Overall, this was a spirally horrific ride that’s just what anyone needs right now for the Halloween season.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quirk Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Excerpt: The Wrong Kind of Woman by Sarah McCraw Crow

Chapter One

November 1970 Westfield, New Hampshire
OLIVER DIED THE SUNDAY after Thanksgiving, the air heavy with snow that hadn’t fallen yet. His last words to Virginia were “Tacks, Ginny? Do we have any tacks?”
That morning at breakfast, their daughter, Rebecca, had complained about her eggs—runny and gross, she said. Also, the whole neighborhood already had their Christmas lights up, and why didn’t they ever have outside lights? Virginia tuned her out; at thirteen, Rebecca had reached the age of comparison, noticing where her classmates’ families went on vacation, what kinds of cars they drove. But Oliver agreed about the lights, and after eating his own breakfast and Rebecca’s rejected eggs, he drove off to the hardware store to buy heavy-duty Christmas lights.
Back at home, Oliver called Virginia out onto the front porch, where he and Rebecca had looped strings of colored lights around the handrails on either side of the steps. Virginia waved at their neighbor Gerda across the street— on her own front porch, Gerda knelt next to a pile of balsam branches, arranging them into two planters—as Rebecca and Oliver described their lighting scheme. Rebecca’s cheeks had gone ruddy in the New Hampshire cold, as Oliver’s had; Rebecca had his red-gold hair too.
“Up one side and down the other,” Rebecca said. “Like they do at Molly’s house—”
“Tacks, Ginny? Do we have any tacks?” Oliver interrupted. In no time, he’d lost patience with this project, judging by the familiar set of his jaw, the frown lines corrugating his forehead.
A few minutes later, box of nails and hammer in hand, Virginia saw Oliver’s booted feet splayed out on the walk, those old work boots he’d bought on their honeymoon in Germany a lifetime ago. “Do you have to lie down like that to—” she began, while Rebecca squeezed out from between the porch and the overgrown rhododendron.
“Dad?” Rebecca’s voice pitched upward. “Daddy!”
Virginia slowly took in that Oliver was lying half on the lawn, half on the brick walk, one hand clutching the end of a light string. Had he fallen? It made no sense, him just lying there on the ground like that, and she hurtled down the porch steps. Oliver’s eyes had rolled back so only the whites showed. But he’d just asked for tacks, and she hadn’t had time to ask if nails would work instead. She crouched, put her mouth to his and tried to breathe for him. Something was happening, yes, maybe now he would turn out to be just resting, and in a minute he’d sit up and laugh with disbelief.
Next to her, Rebecca shook Oliver’s shoulder, pounded on it. “Dad! You fainted! Wake up—”
“Go call the operator,” Virginia said. “Tell them we need an ambulance, tell them it’s an emergency, a heart attack, Becca! Run!” Rebecca ran.
Virginia put her ear to Oliver’s chest, listening. A flurry of movement: Gerda was suddenly at her side, kneeling, and Eileen from next door, then Rebecca, gasping or maybe sobbing. Virginia felt herself being pulled out of the way as the ambulance backed into the driveway and the two para- medics bent close. They too breathed for Oliver, pressed on his chest while counting, then lifted him gently onto the backboard and up into the ambulance.
She didn’t notice that she was holding Rebecca’s hand on her one side and Eileen’s hand on the other, and that Gerda had slung a protective arm around Rebecca. She barely noticed when Eileen bundled her and Rebecca into the car without a coat or purse. She didn’t notice the snow that had started to fall, first snow of the season. Later, that absence of snow came back to her, when the image of Oliver lying on the bare ground, uncushioned even by snow, wouldn’t leave her.

Aneurysm. A ruptured aneurysm, a balloon that had burst, sending a wave of blood into Oliver’s brain. A subarachnoid hemorrhage. She said all those new words about a thousand times, along with more familiar words: bleed and blood and brain. Rips and tears. One in a million. Sitting at the kitchen table, Rebecca next to her and the coiled phone cord stretched taut around both of them, Virginia called one disbelieving person after another, repeated all those words to her mother, her sister Marnie, Oliver’s brother, Oliver’s department chair, the people in her address book, the people in his.
At President Weissman’s house five days later, Virginia kept hold of Rebecca. Rebecca had stayed close, sleeping in the middle of Virginia and Oliver’s bed as if she were little and sleepwalking again, her shruggy new adolescent self forgotten. They’d turned into a sudden team of two, each one circling, like moons, around the other.
Oliver’s department chair had talked Virginia into a reception at President Weissman’s house, a campus funeral. In the house’s central hall, Virginia’s mother clutched at her arm, murmuring about the lovely Christmas decorations, those balsam garlands and that enormous twinkling tree, and how they never got the fragrant balsam trees in Norfolk, did they, only the Fraser firs—
“Let’s go look at the Christmas tree, Grandmomma.” Rebecca took her grandmother’s hand as they moved away. What a grown-up thing to do, Virginia thought, glad for the release from Momma and her chatter.
“Wine?” Virginia’s sister Marnie said, folding her hand around a glass. Virginia nodded and took a sip. Marnie stayed next to her as one person and another came close to say something complimentary about Oliver, what a wonderful teacher he’d been and a great young historian, an influential member of the Clarendon community. And his clarinet, what would they do without Oliver’s tremendous clarinet playing? The church service had been lovely, hadn’t it? He sure would have loved that jazz trio.
She heard herself answering normally, as if this one small thing had gone wrong, except now she found herself in a tunnel, everyone else echoing and far away. Out of a clutch of Clarendon boys, identical in their khakis and blue blazers, their too-long hair curling behind their ears, one stepped forward. Sam, a student in her tiny fall seminar, the Italian Baroque.
“I—I just wanted to say…” Sam faltered. “But he was a great teacher, and even more in the band—” The student- faculty jazz band, he meant.
“Thank you, Sam,” she said. “I appreciate that.” She watched him retreat to his group. Someone had arranged for Sam and a couple of other Clarendon boys to play during the reception, and she hadn’t noticed until now.
“How ’bout we sit, hon.” Marnie steered her to a couch. “I’m going to check on Becca and Momma and June—” the oldest of Virginia’s two sisters “—and then I’ll be right back.”
“Right.” Virginia half listened to the conversation around her, people in little clumps with their sherries and whiskeys. Mainframe, new era, she heard. Then well, but Nixon, and a few problems with the vets on campus. She picked up President Weissman’s voice, reminiscing about the vets on campus after the war thirty years ago. “Changed the place for the better, I think,” President Weissman said. “A seriousness of purpose.” And she could hear Louise Walsh arguing with someone about the teach-in that should have happened last spring.
Maybe Oliver would appreciate being treated like a dignitary. Maybe he’d be pleased at the turnout, all the faculty and students who’d shown up at the Congregational Church at lunchtime on a Friday. Probably he wished he could put Louise in her place about the teach-in. Virginia needed to find Rebecca, and she needed to make sure Momma hadn’t collapsed out of holiday party–funeral confusion. But now Louise Walsh loomed over her in a shape- less black suit, and she stood up again to shake Louise’s hand. “I just want to say how sorry I am,” Louise said. “I truly admired his teaching and—everything else. We’re all going to miss him.”
“Thank you, Louise.” Virginia considered returning the compliment, to say that Oliver had admired Louise too. Louise had tenure, the only woman in the history department, the only woman at Clarendon, to be tenured. Lou- ise had been a thorn in Oliver’s side, the person Oliver had complained about the most. Louise was one of the four women on faculty at Clarendon; the Gang of Four, Oliver and the others had called them.
Outside the long windows, a handful of college boys tossed a football on a fraternity lawn across the street, one skidding in the snow as he caught the ball. Someone had spray-painted wobbly blue peace signs on the frat’s white clapboard wall, probably after Kent State. But the Clarendon boys were rarely political; they were athletic: in their baggy wool trousers, they ran, skied, hiked, went gliding off the college’s ski jump, human rockets on long skis. They built a tremendous bonfire on the Clarendon green in the fall, enormous snow sculptures in the winter. They stumbled home drunk, singing. Their limbs seemed loosely attached to their bodies. Oliver had once been one of those boys.
“Come on, pay attention,” Marnie said, and she propelled Virginia toward President Weissman, who took Virginia’s hands.
“I cannot begin to express all my sympathy and sad- ness.” President Weissman’s eyes were magnified behind his glasses. “Our firmament has lost a star.” He kissed her on the cheek, pulling a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, so she could wipe her eyes and nose again.

At the reception, Aunt June kept asking Rebecca if she was doing okay, and did she need anything, and Aunt Marnie kept telling Aunt June to quit bothering Rebecca. Mom looked nothing like her sisters: Aunt Marnie was bulky with short pale hair, Aunt June was petite, her hair almost black, and Mom was in between. Rebecca used to love her aunts’ Tidewater accents, and the way Mom’s old accent would return around her sisters, her vowels stretching out and her voice going up and down the way Aunt June’s and Aunt Marnie’s voices did. Rebecca and Dad liked to tease Mom about her accent, and Mom would say I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t sound anything like June. Or Marnie. But especially not June.
Nothing Rebecca thought made any sense. She couldn’t think about something that she and Dad liked, or didn’t like, or laughed about, because there was no more Dad. Aunt Marnie had helped her finish the Christmas lights, sort of, not the design she and Dad had shared, but just wrapped around the porch bannisters. It looked a little crazy, actually. Mom hadn’t noticed.
“Here’s some cider, honey,” Aunt June said. “How about some cheese and crackers? You need to eat.”
“I’m okay,” Rebecca said. “Thanks,” she remembered to add.
“Have you ever tried surfing?” Aunt June asked. “The boys—” Rebecca’s cousins “—love to surf. They’ll teach you.” “Okay.” Rebecca wanted to say that it was December and there was snow on the ground, so there was no rea- son to talk about surfing. Instead she said that she’d bodysurfed with her cousins at Virginia Beach plenty of times, but she’d never gotten on a surfboard. As far as she could tell, only boys ever went surfing, and the waves at Virginia Beach were never like the waves on Hawaii Five-0. Mostly the boys just sat on their surfboards gazing out at the hazy- white horizon, and at the coal ships and aircraft carriers chugging toward Norfolk.
“You’ll get your chance this summer—I’ll bet you’ll be a natural,” Aunt June said.
Things would keep happening. Winter would happen. There would be more snow, and skiing at the Ski Bowl. The town pond would open for skating and hockey. The snow would melt and it would be spring and summer again. They’d go to Norfolk for a couple of weeks after school let out and Mom would complain about everything down there, and get into a fight with Aunt June, and they’d all go to the beach, and Dad would get the most sunburned, his ears and the tops of his feet burned pink and peely…
“Let’s just step outside into the fresh air for a minute, sweetheart,” Aunt June said, and Rebecca stood up and followed her aunt to the room with all the coats, one hand over her mouth to hold in the latest sob, even after she and Mom had agreed they were all cried out and others would be crying today, but the two of them were all done with crying. She knew that the fresh air wouldn’t help anything.

Excerpted from The Wrong Kind of Woman by Sarah McCraw Crow © 2020 by Sarah McCraw Crow, used with permission by MIRA Books/HarperCollins.

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