Book Review: The Guest by Emma Cline

Alex drained her wineglass, then her water glass. The ocean looked calm, a black darker than the sky. A ripple of anxiety made her palms go damp. It seemed suddenly very tenuous to believe that anything would stay hidden, that she could successfully pass from one world to another.”

PLOT SUMMARY:

Summer is coming to a close on the East End of Long Island, and Alex is no longer welcome.

A misstep at a dinner party, and the older man she’s been staying with dismisses her with a ride to the train station and a ticket back to the city.

With few resources and a waterlogged phone, but gifted with an ability to navigate the desires of others, Alex stays on Long Island and drifts like a ghost through the hedged lanes, gated driveways, and sun-blasted dunes of a rarefied world that is, at first, closed to her. Propelled by desperation and a mutable sense of morality, she spends the week leading up to Labor Day moving from one place to the next, a cipher leaving destruction in her wake.

GRADE: C-

REVIEW:

First of all, this book was beautifully written and it’s no surprise since it’s from the author of The Girls, which I never read, cause I don’t like cults or Charles Manson – but I do know it was a bestselling novel. Now to talk about this book, The Guest centers around Alex – a young woman in her early 20’s who becomes a grifter for a week when her older boyfriend breaks up with her after a dinner date gone wrong.

I usually love unlikeable characters and I was invested in Alex’s plight and the ways she uses people for her benefit. But at the end of the day, I don’t get the point of this book. This book abruptly ends at its climax – so everything that has been building up to a certain moment ends up not being resolved and this truly irked me a lot. Especially since not much else happened in this book.

I meandered between boredom and secondhand embarrassment for Alex and yes, Emma Cline can write but does that necessarily make for an engaging plot? Sadly no. I’d forgive this book if it was all vibes and no plot, but it’s no vibes and no plot.

This is a pass for me.

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

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Spotlight: Perpetual West by Mesha Maren

When Alex and Elana move from smalltown Virginia to El Paso, they are just a young married couple, intent on a new beginning. Mexican by birth but adopted by white American Pentecostal parents, Alex is hungry to learn about the place where he was born. He spends every free moment across the border in Juárez—perfecting his Spanish, hanging with a collective of young activists, and studying lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) for his graduate work in sociology. Meanwhile Elana, busy fighting her own demons, feels disillusioned by academia and has stopped going to class. And though they are best friends, Elana has no idea that Alex has fallen in love with Mateo, a lucha libre fighter.

When Alex goes missing and Elana can’t determine whether he left of his own accord or was kidnapped, it’s clear that neither of them has been honest about who they are. Spanning their journey from Virginia to Texas to Mexico, Mesha Maren’s thrilling follow-up to Sugar Run takes us from missionaries to wrestling matches to a luxurious cartel compound, and deep into the psychic choices that shape our identities. A sweeping novel that tells us as much about our perceptions of the United States and Mexico as it does about our own natures and desires, Perpetual West is a fiercely intelligent and engaging look at the false divide between high and low culture, and a suspenseful story of how harrowing events can bring our true selves to the surface.

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Excerpt: Just the Nicest Couple by Mary Kubica

PROLOGUE

I gasp and stagger backward. My hand goes to my mouth, bear- ing down.

My brain screams at me to run. Run.

I can’t at first. Shock and fear hold me captive. They keep me from moving, like a ship that’s dropped anchor. I’m moored to this spot, my eyes gaping in disbelief. My breath quickens and I feel the flailing of my heartbeat in my neck, my throat and in my ears.

Run, my brain screams at me. Go. Fucking run.

There is movement on the ground before me. The sound that comes with it is something heathen and raging, and some part of me knows that if I don’t go now, I may never leave this place alive.

I turn away. It’s instantaneous. One minute I’m unmoving and the next I’m moving so fast that the world comes at me in vague shapes and colors, streaks of brown and blue and green. I barely feel the movement of my legs and my feet as I run. I don’t feel the impact of my shoes colliding with the earth, moving quickly across it. I don’t look back, though I want more than anything to steal a look to know that I’m alone. That I’m not being followed. But I don’t look. It’s too risky. Looking back would cost precious seconds that I don’t know that I have. If I do, those seconds could be my last.

Sounds come, but I’m so disoriented that I don’t know where they come from. Is it only my pulse, the rush of blood in my ears?

Or is someone there?

I feel something tangible against my hair and then my spine. My back arches. I jerk away, pitching forward, landing hard on my hands and knees.

The world stops moving.

I have only two thoughts in that moment: staying alive, and that this isn’t the way it was supposed to happen.

Christian

Lily is sitting on the leather chair in the family room when I come in. Her back is to me. I see her from behind, just her long brown hair spilling down the back of the chair. She stares toward the TV on the opposite wall, but the TV is off. It’s just a black box, and in it, I see a murky reflection of Lily on the screen, though I can’t tell if her eyes are open or shut.

“Hey,” I say, coming in through the garage door, closing it quietly and stepping out of my shoes. I set my phone and keys on the counter, and then ask, “How was your day?”

It’s getting dark in the house. Out the window, the sun is about to set. Lily hasn’t bothered with the lights, and so the in- side of the house is colorless and gray. We face east. Any pretty sunset is the other way. You can’t see it from here, if there even is one to see.

Lily says nothing back. She must have fallen asleep, sitting upright in the chair. It wouldn’t be the first time. She’s been extremely tired lately. The pregnancy is getting the best of her, not to mention that she’s on her feet teaching all day. These two things in combination exhaust her. It used to be that Lily would be in the kitchen, cooking dinner when I got home, but these last few weeks, she comes home from work ready to drop. I don’t mind that she’s not cooking. I’ve never been the kind of person to need a home-cooked meal after work, but that’s the way Lily was raised. Her mother did it for her father, and so she thinks she should do it for me. She’s been apologetic that she hasn’t had it in her to cook dinner, but she’s been queasy, too, and the last thing she needs to be doing is cooking for me. I called from the car and ordered takeout already; it will be here any minute.

I step quietly into the family room. I come around to the other side of Lily to face her. Lily isn’t asleep like I thought. Her eyes are open but her expression is blank. Her skin looks gray, washed-out like the room, and I blame the poor lighting.

Lily’s head turns. She looks up at me as if in slow motion.

“Hey,” I say again, gently, smiling. “You okay? Did I wake you?”

I flip on a side table light, and she winces from the bright- ness of it, her eyes taking time to adjust. I apologize for it, realizing that her pale face had nothing to do with the lack of light.

In the warmth of the lamp’s glow, I see that Lily’s hair is wet. She wears maroon-colored joggers and a sweatshirt. She’s showered and changed since coming home, which is more than she usually does. Usually she falls flat on the couch and doesn’t leave until it’s time to go to bed.

I drop to my knees in front of her. I reach forward and run a hand the length of her hair. “You look exhausted, babe. Do you want to just go to bed? I can help you up. Takeout should be here soon. I’ll bring it up to the room for you when it gets here.”

Lily blinks three times, as if to clear the fog. She finds her voice. It’s husky at first, dry, like after a day of shouting at a football game, which is not that different than a day of teach- ing rowdy high school kids math. “No,” she says, shaking her head, “I’m fine. Just tired. It was a long day.”

“You sure? I wouldn’t mind dinner in bed myself.” I had a long day too, but it doesn’t seem right to compare them when only one of us has another human growing inside of them.

“That sounds messy,” she says.

“I promise I’ll be neat.”

Lily smiles and my heart melts. I love it when she smiles at me. “When are you ever neat?”

“Never,” I say, feeling better if she can still poke fun at me.

I’ve done my research on pregnancy and childbirth. I’ve read that the fatigue women feel during the first trimester is maybe the most tired they’ll feel in their whole lives. Growing a human is exhausting. Caring for one is too, but we’re not there yet.

“You need anything?” I ask, and she shakes her head.

Takeout comes. I convince Lily to come sit on the couch with me, where we both fit. We watch TV and, as we do, I ask her about her day and she asks me about mine. She’s quieter than usual tonight. I do most of the talking. I’m a market research analyst, while Lily teaches high school algebra. We met in college over of our shared love of math. When we tell people that, it makes them laugh. We’re math nerds.

When it’s time for bed, Lily goes up to the room before me. From downstairs, I hear the sink run as she washes up. I clean up from dinner. I throw the takeout containers in the trash. There is a package waiting on the front porch. I step outside to get it, where the night is dark, though the sky is clear. It must be a new moon.

Lily is standing at the top of the stairs when I come back in. She’s there in the upstairs hall, standing in the dark, backlit by the bedroom light. Gone are the maroon sweats she wore ear- lier. She has on my flannel shirt now. Her legs are bare, one foot balanced on the other. Her hair is pulled back, her face still wet from washing it.

“Don’t forget to lock the door,” she says down over the rail- ing, patting her face dry with a towel.

I wouldn’t have forgotten to lock the door. I never do. It’s not like Lily to remind me. I turn away from her, making sure the storm door is shut and locked, and then I push the front door closed and lock the dead bolt too.

Our house sits on a large lot. It’s old on the outside, but has a completely revamped, modern interior. It boasts things like a wraparound porch, beamed ceilings, a brick fireplace—which Lily fell in love with the first time she laid eyes on the house, and so I knew I couldn’t say no despite the price—as well as the more modern amenities of a subzero fridge, stainless steel appliances, heated floors and a large soaker tub that I was more enthusiastic about. The house is aesthetically pleasing to say the least, with an enormous amount of curb appeal. It practically broke the bank to buy, but felt worth it at the time, even if it meant being poor for a while.

In the backyard, the river runs along the far edge of the prop- erty, bound by a public hiking and biking trail. We were worried about a lack of privacy when we first moved in, because of the trail. The trail brought pedestrians to us. Strangers. People just passing by. For most of the year, it’s not a problem. The leaves on the trees provide plenty of privacy. It’s only when they fall that we’re more exposed, but the views of the river are worth it for that small sacrifice.

“Done,” I tell her about the locks, and she asks then if I set the alarm. We’ve lived here years and hardly ever set the alarm. I’m taken aback that she would ask.

“Is everything okay?” I ask.

Lily says, “Yes, fine.” She says that we have an alarm. We pay for it. We might as well use it. She isn’t wrong—it’s just that she’s never wanted to before.

I set the alarm. I make my way around the first floor, turning off lights. It takes a minute. When I’m done, I climb the stairs for the bedroom. Lily has the lights off in the room now. She stands at the window in the dark, with her back to the door.

She’s splitting the blinds apart with her fingers and is looking out into the dark night.

I come quietly into the room. I sidle up behind Lily, setting my hand on the small of her back and asking, “What are you looking at?” as I lean forward to set my chin on her shoulder, to see what she sees.

Suddenly Lily reels back, away from the window. She drops the blinds. They clamor shut. I’ve scared her. Instinctively, her hands rise up in self-defense, as if to strike me.

I pull back, ducking before I get hit. “Whoa there, Rocky,” I say, reaching for her arms.

Lily’s hands and arms remain motionless, suspended in air.

“Shit, sorry,” she says, knowing how close she came to im- pact. The realization startles us both.

“What was that?” I ask as I gently lower Lily’s arms. Lily isn’t usually so jumpy. I’ve never seen that kind of reaction from her.

She says, “I didn’t know it was you.”

“Who did you think it was?” I ask, as a joke. She and I are the only ones here.

Lily doesn’t answer directly. Instead she says, “I didn’t hear you come up the stairs. I thought you were still downstairs.”

That doesn’t explain it.

“What are you looking at?” I ask again, gazing past her for the window.

“I thought I heard something outside,” she says.

“Like what?”

She says that she doesn’t know. Just something. We stand, quiet, listening. It’s silent at first, but then I hear the voices of kids rising up from somewhere outside. They’re laughing, and I know there are teenagers clowning around on the trail again. It wouldn’t be the first time. They never do anything too bad, though we’ve found cigarette butts and empty bottles of booze. I don’t get mad about it. I was a stupid teenager once. I did worse.

I go to the bed. I pull the blankets back. “It’s just dumb kids,

Lily. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Come to bed,” I say, but, even as she turns away from the window and slips under the sheets with me, I sense Lily’s hesitation. She’s not so sure.

Excerpted from Just the Nicest Couple @ 2023 by Mary Kyrychenko, used with permission by Park Row Books.

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Out Now: Girl That You Fear by Azzurra Nox

You cannot exorcize revenge.

I’m so proud to announce that my feminist horror novel GIRL THAT YOU FEAR is finally out! You can order through my publisher’s website, Black Bed Sheet Books, Amazon, or Google Play!

Plot Summary:

It’s the fall of her Senior year and Spencer Torres, next in line for valedictorian of Sacred Heart High, has a perfect life. That is, until her idyllic existence is shattered when a visit to the infamously haunted steamship The Queen Mary causes her to become possessed by an evil demon who encounters her there. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill demon—Dever is cunning, attractive, and manipulative. Somehow, this possession causes memories of an earlier horrible trauma to resurface.


Nothing will stop Spencer from seeking the truth embedded deep within those memories and most importantly, vengeance….even if it means losing herself completely to the demon’s clutches.

Comp Titles: The Exorcist, Come Closer, and My Best Friend’s Exorcism

If you’re a bookblogger/bookstagrammer/booktoker and wish to receive an ebook copy of the book for a review, just hit me up in the contact section!

EXCERPT:

Madame Zella began to place the five cards accordingly. Spencer watched with curiosity as she recalled the placements of the cards for a book of tarots she and Fallon had read years ago and their significance. The first one at the top was to symbolize the potential, then three cards below that one. The card to the left indicated her past, the middle her present, and the one to her right the future. Madame Zella then placed a final card below the three cards, pointing to reason. Spencer studied Madame Zella’s movements intently as she slowly uncovered the cards, one by one. But as she did, something strange occurred. Each card was dripping with blood as Madame Zella shook her head, frightened.

“What’s going on?” Spencer inquired.

Isla grabbed Spencer’s hand and squeezed it, and she sensed that her sister was just as afraid as Madame Zella was.

“A dark force! It has hold of you!” Madame Zella said, her accent evident with each word. “Too late! Too late!”

“What do you mean? What dark force?” Isla interrupted.

Madame Zella suddenly got up from the table, and the chair fell back with a crash. She stared directly at Spencer and screamed like she was Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. It was raw and terrifying. Spencer couldn’t believe what she was seeing. The cards were drenched in blood now, dripping down the table. The table began to shake violently. They both got up from their seats, not understanding what was going on until Spencer looked beyond Madame Zella’s shoulders and saw that behind her was a tiny mirror. In the mirror, she could finally see what the woman was seeing. A dark shadow hovering over her shoulder, its fangs glittered menacingly. No, no, no. She spun to look at Isla, but from her position, she couldn’t see the mirror, couldn’t see if what Spencer was seeing was real.

“You let him in!” Madame Zella told her. “Get out! Get out of here! And don’t come back!”

Isla yanked on Spencer’s wrist pulling her away from the tent. But she couldn’t move, she was transfixed by the blood dripping from the cards, the shadow in the mirror, and that familiar scent of night flowers and musk. Then the cards burst into flames and she snapped out of her fixation as they both hurried out of the tent.

She could still hear Madame Zella’s cries from inside.

“TOO LATE! TOO LATE! YOU’RE DOOMED!” She heard the tarot reader shout from the tent. Spencer looked up at the sky and it seemed to turn into a hideous shade of blood red before, once again, she was struck with a nosebleed and then fell limp against Isla’s arms.

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Book Review: Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones

I mostly know horror stories….

PLOT SUMMARY:

Four years after her tumultuous senior year, Jade Daniels is released from prison right before Christmas when her conviction is overturned. But life beyond bars takes a dangerous turn as soon as she returns to Proofrock. Convicted Serial Killer, Dark Mill South, seeking revenge for thirty-eight Dakota men hanged in 1862, escapes from his prison transfer due to a blizzard, just outside of Proofrock, Idaho.

Dark Mill South’s Reunion Tour began on December 12th, 2019, a Thursday.

Thirty-six hours and twenty bodies later, on Friday the 13th, it would be over.

GRADE: A+

REVIEW:

I fell in love with Jade Daniels in book one, My Heart is a Chainsaw. Although the sequel begins with Jade going as Jennifer and wanting to put all her slasher movie days behind, yearning for a fresh start. Only Leda Mondragon, the girl Jade thought was going to be the final girl in the first book has now taken her scepter, analyzing slasher movies and trying to get Jennifer to return to her days of Jade and Bay of Blood.

As with any good sequel, we have both old and new characters, but as any successful slasher sequel knows, it needs to be bloodier than the first film, and SGJ completely delivers on the bloodier deaths and the higher body count. If book one had most of the deaths happening in the latter portion of the book, Reaper begins with blood and ends in blood. Not to mention that this time our beloved characters have to also deal with nature, ie. blizzard.

I absolutely LOVED this book. There’s something about Jones’s writing and the fact that he’s a huge slasher fan that just makes the inner slasher fan in me squeal in dark delight anytime I catch any reference to a slasher that many aren’t aware of (in this case, Curtains). Maybe if you’re not a slasher fan you can’t enjoy that part of the book as much as someone who is, however, the novel on its own packs such a punch that you can’t help but wonder what will happen in book three and how much damage the survivors of book two will take into the following book.

If you love slashers, the supernatural, serial killers, folklore and much more more, then you will love Don’t Fear the Reaper as it has a bit of everything to satisfy even the pickiest of horror readers. Honestly, I can’t wait to dive back into Proofrock and see what else is going to haunt them next time around.

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

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Excerpt: Someone Had To Do It by Amber & Danielle Brown

BRANDI

I had a ton of illusions, vivid fantasies of what it would be like to score a coveted internship at Van Doren. Deluded old me thought I would be strutting around the stunning tri-story headquarters in single-soled heels, flitting from design concept meetings to on-location photo shoots, living my best fashion-girl life. Instead, I’m in the back corner of the two-thousand-square-foot ready-to-wear samples closet scrubbing fresh vomit from a slinky gown worth double my rent during my lunch hour.

Italian Vogue’s current cover girl borrowed the hand-sewn dress for a red-carpet event last night, and apparently getting it back on a rack without ruining it was too much for one of the other interns to handle. She was so hungover when she came to the office this morning that she vomited all over the dress before making it out of the elevator. But of course this dress needs to be ready for another model to wear to some big extravaganza tonight, and since I’m the designated fuckover intern, I have to clean it by hand because the satin-blend fabric is too delicate to be dry-cleaned.

This is what it takes.

I chant this to remind myself why I’m here as the lactic acid builds up in my biceps. Working for Van Doren has been on my proverbial vision board ever since I reluctantly gave up the idea, in middle school, that I could be Beyoncé. It’s a storm of hauling hundreds of pounds of runway samples around the city and sitting in on meetings with the sketch artists. A glorious, next-to-holy experience when I’m on duty at photo shoots and one of the stylists sends me to fetch another blazer, not a specific blazer, which means I get to use my own vestiary inclinations to make the selection. Which has only happened once, but still.

Just as I get the stain faded by at least seventy percent, I hear the sharp staccato of someone in stilettos approaching. I turn around and see Lexi. Lexi with her bimonthly touched-up white-blond hair and generous lip filler that she’ll never admit to having injected. When she steps closer in her head-to-toe Reformation, I am grateful that I remembered to put on a few sprays of my Gypsy Water perfume. The one that smells like rich people. But the way she’s staring at me right now, it’s clear that no matter how much I try, I am still not on her level. I do not fit in here. She does not see me as her equal, despite the fact that we are both unpaid, unknown, disposable interns. It’s become glaringly obvious that at Van Doren, it’s not actually about what you contribute, but more about how blue your blood is. Lexi doesn’t even know my name, though I’ve been here a solid nine weeks and I’m pretty sure I’ve told her at least a dozen times.

I’m already on edge because of my assignment, so I jump in before she can ask in her monotone voice. “Brandi.”

“Right,” she says, like she does every time yet still forgets. “Chloé wants the Instagram analytics report for last week. She said she asked you to put it together an hour ago.”

Which is true, but completely unfair since Jenna from marketing also asked me to run to Starbucks to buy thirty-one-ounce cups of liquid crack for her and her entire department for a 9:00 a.m. meeting, an effort that took three trips total, and technically I’m still working on the data sheets I promised Eric from product development. Not to mention the obvious: getting rid of the puke from the dress.

“I’m still working on it,” I tell her.

Lexi stares at me, her overly filled brows lifted, as if she’s waiting for the rest of my excuse. I understand her, but also I’m wondering how she still hasn’t realized this is not a case of Resting Bitch Face I have going on, that I am actually intolerant of her nagging.

Normally, I am not this terse. But nothing about today has been normal. Since this week is my period week, I’m retaining water in the most unflattering of places and the pencil dress I’m wearing has been cutting off the circulation in my thighs for the past couple of hours, and being that I’ve spent most of my break destroying the evidence of someone else’s bad decisions, it is not my fault that I’m not handling this particularly well.

“I’ll send it over as soon as I’m done,” I say to Lexi so she can leave. But she doesn’t.

“HR wants to see you,” she says with what looks like a smirk.

My mouth opens. I have no idea what HR could want, and although I’m still new to this employee thing, I know this can’t be good.

“Like, now,” Lexi barks and pivots away in her strappy, open-toe stilts.

I hang the sample next to the door, and before I leave the room I pause to briefly take in the rest of the dresses stuffed on the racks, each one in that chic, elevated aesthetic that is the cornerstone of Van Doren. This is my favorite part of the day, the chaotic nature of this room a little overwhelming but also inspiring, and I can’t wait for the day that this is my world, not just one I’m peeking my head into. A world in which I command respect.

I cross through the merchandising department, where everyone has their own private office with aerial views of Hell’s Kitchen, Soho and the Garment District, and then move through the maze of the sprawling suite in a mild sort of panic until I remind myself that I have done nothing wrong. Ever since spring semester ended, I’ve been putting in more hours than the sun. I slip in at six-thirty when the building is dark and vaguely ominous, my eyes still puffy with sleep, and when I finally drag myself into the elevator at the end of the day, it’s just as black and quiet outside. I religiously show up in current-season heels despite the blisters, albeit mass-produced renditions of the Fendi, Balenciaga and Bottega Venetas the other summer interns casually strut around in, and mostly stick to myself. I am careful about raising my voice, even if I vehemently disagree with my neurotic supervisor. I keep my tongue as puritanical as a nun’s, even when fucking incel or coddled narcissistic bitch are on the tip of it. I’m not rude or combative. I stay away from gossip. I complete all my tasks with time to spare, which is usually when I check Twitter and help out some of the other interns, even though I’d rather FaceTime Nate in the upstairs bathroom with the magical lighting. I even entertain the gang of sartorially inclined Amy Coopers in the making who insist on obnoxiously complaining to me about all of their first-world, one-percenter problems. I’ve done nothing but consistently given them reasons to think I am a capable, qualified, talented intern who would make an exceptional employee.

I have nothing to worry about.

When I knock on the door to Lauren’s office, she looks up from her desk and waves me in through the glass. I have a feeling this will not go my way when I see that my supervisor, Chloé, one of the more amiable assistants, is also here, fiddling with her six-carat engagement ring in the corner and avoiding eye contact.

“Have a seat, Brandi,” Lauren says, and I tell myself to ignore that her bright pink lipstick extends above her lip on one side.

There is no small talk. No hello or how’s it going? Under alternate circumstances, I would feel slighted, but because I’m growing more anxious by the second, I’m grateful for her smugness.

As I sit down, Chloé shifts in her chair, and I speak before she can. “I’m sorry. The Instagram report is at the top of my task list. I’ll definitely have it to you before I leave today. I just—”

“That’s not why you’re here, Brandi,” Lauren interjects.

“Oh.” I pause, and as she glances down at her notes, I try to make meaningful eye contact with my supervisor, but she is still actively dodging my eyes.

Lauren begins by throwing out a few compliments. My work ethic is admirable and I have great attention to detail, she says, and the whole time my heart is pounding so loud, I can barely make out most of her words. Chloé jumps in to effusively agree, then Lauren finally stops beating around the bush and looks me directly in the eyes.

“We just don’t feel like you’re fitting into the culture here at Van Doren.”

Every word feels like a backhanded slap across the face, the kind that twists your neck and makes the world go still and white for a few disconcerting moments, like an orgasm but not like an orgasm. It’s obvious what they mean, yet can’t quite bring themselves to say.

They just don’t like that I’m black.

They don’t like the way I wear my braids—long and unapologetic, grazing my hips like a Nubian mermaid.

They don’t like that I’m not the smile-and-nod type, willing to assimilate to their idea of what I should be, how I should act.

Culture.

That’s their code for we-can’t-handle-your-individuality-but-since-we-don’t-want-to-seem-racist-we’ll-invent-this-little-loophole.

Black plus exceptional equals threat.

“If we don’t see any improvement in the coming weeks, we’re going to have to let you go,” Lauren says with no irony, her mouth easing into a synthetic smile.

I blink. I cannot believe this is happening right now. It wasn’t supposed to go like this, my internship at Van Doren, the one fashion company whose ethics align with mine. I wasn’t just blowing smoke up Lauren’s ass when I interviewed for this job, though I was looking at her sideways, wondering why she had not a stitch of Van Doren on. I’d splurged on a single-shouldered jumpsuit from this year’s spring collection that I couldn’t really afford just to impress her, while she hadn’t even felt the need to represent the brand at all as she shot out all those futile questions interviewers love propelling at candidates, I’m convinced, just to see them squirm. Even minuscule amounts of power can be dangerous.

This is bullshit, being put on probation, and I’d give anything to have the balls to call them on it. As I sit here paralyzed, Lauren’s words reverberate in my head and I rebuke them, want to suffocate and bury them.

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Spotlight: Factory Girls by Michelle Gallan

It’s the summer of 1994, and all smart-mouthed Maeve Murray wants are good final exam results so she can earn her ticket out of the wee Northern Irish town she has grown up in during the Troubles. She hopes she will soon be in London studying journalism—away from her crowded home, the silence and sadness surrounding her sister’s death, and most of all, away from the violence of her divided community.

As a first step, Maeve’s taken a job in a shirt factory working alongside Protestants with her best friends. But getting the right exam results is only part of Maeve’s problem—she’s got to survive a tit-for-tat paramilitary campaign, iron 100 shirts an hour all day every day, and deal with the attentions of Handy Andy Strawbridge, her slick and untrustworthy English boss. Then, as the British loyalist marching season raises tensions among the Catholic and Protestant workforce, Maeve realizes something is going on behind the scenes at the factory. What seems to be a great opportunity to earn money turns out to be a crucible in which Maeve faces the test of a lifetime. Seeking justice for herself and her fellow workers may just be Maeve’s one-way ticket out of town.

Bitingly hilarious, clear-eyed, and steeped in the vernacular of its time and place, Factory Girls tackles questions of wealth and power, religion and nationalism, and how young women maintain hope for themselves and the future during divided, violent times.

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Book Review: #thighgap by Chandler Morrison

Once he’s gone, I return to my mirror. It is my altar. My cheekbones, my xylophone ribs, my flat stomach, my thigh gap–these are my sacraments.”

PLOT SUMMARY:

Los Angeles fashion model Helen Troy wasn’t always skinny. Drastic weight loss has given her everything–money, confidence, attention, respect. Being thin has legitimized her, and starvation has become an addiction.

Following an encounter with a seemingly “perfect” rival model who destabilizes Helen’s shaky self-confidence and shatters her fragile illusion of control, she’s sent into a tragic tailspin that will take her to the lowest depths of hell. Nightmarish versions of herself begin materializing in mirrors, and her tried-and-true coping mechanisms stop working. Reality comes apart at the seams as Helen’s disease manifests in increasingly self-destructive fashions, forcing her to ask herself…

What does perfection look like, and how much would you sacrifice to obtain it?

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

We follow Helen Troy, a beautiful model living in Los Angeles in this dark novella that explores beauty and love. Helen used to be overweight, and the world despised her appearance when she was. Now – in her new emaciated and attractive body she is despised for her beauty and thinness but also adored for those very same reasons. Life is going great for her until she meets a thinner and prettier model at a photo shoot, which quickly has her derailed into obsessive perfectionism as she tries to become thinner and more beautiful. All this while she’s haunted by the images of her former self (a slug-like abomination) and her possible future (a corpse girl).

The author perfectly depicts the malaise and boredom of LA youth – where parties feel more like funerals and no one really sees you because they’re too busy scrolling their Instagram feed. The characters that inhabit this novella live in their sunglasses as though they wish to hide from the world and people around them because all that matters is youth and material possessions are the only way they feel fulfilled since even the sex depicted is lackluster and boring.

Helen’s descent is harrowing and dark – and not for the faint of heart.

Pick this up if you’re a fan of fatally flawed beautiful people en route to self-destruction.

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

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Book Review: Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes by Eric LaRocca

“What have you done today to deserve your eyes?”

PLOT SUMMARY:

A whirlpool of darkness churns at the heart of a macabre ballet between two lonely young women in an internet chat room in the early 2000s—a darkness that threatens to forever transform them once they finally succumb to their most horrific desires. 

A couple isolate themselves on a remote island in an attempt to recover from their teenage son’s death, when a mysterious young man knocks on their door during a storm…

And a man confronts his neighbour when he discovers a strange object in his back yard, only to be drawn into an ever-more dangerous game.

Three devastating, beautifully written horror stories from one of the genre’s most cutting-edge voices.

What have you done today to deserve your eyes?

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

I read the titular novella when it first came out and you can read my review of it here along with the author interview. This novella is what launched LaRocca’s writing career and with good merits, as it’s dark and seductive and with a bold ending.

The second story, “The Enchantment,” was absolutely riveting. A couple decides to live on a remote island after the death of their only son. One day they’re visited by a stranger and soon you’re left unsure whether he’s a harbinger of good or evil.

The third and final story, “You’ll Find It’s Like That All Over,” delves into the trouble one gets into when attempting to stay civil even when your gut tells you to leave because the circumstances feel so off. This was tense and very dark.

Overall, these tales explore the need for human connection in a way that is dark and fascinating but can also be deadly. I recommend this collection if you’re a reader of dark literature.

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

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Book Review: Jackal by Erin E. Adams

It’s watching.

PLOT SUMMARY:

Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward, passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the couple’s daughter, Caroline, disappears—and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood.

It’s taking.

As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: A summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in Liz’s high school, walked into the woods with a mysterious man and was later found with her chest cavity ripped open and her heart removed. Liz shudders at the thought that it could have been her, and now, with Caroline missing, it can’t be a coincidence. As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls.

It’s your turn.

With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.

GRADE: A+

REVIEW:

I’ve always been wary of the forest – in fact, when we lived in Sardinia and our villa had a forest behind it, I always stayed out of it. Even at four years old I had a gut feeling that whatever noise I heard in the forest I should ignore it, and never investigate its origin. Liz returns to Johnstown for her best friend’s wedding, only for her goddaughter Caroline to go missing. But every year for thirty years young Black girls have gone missing – always in the same spot in the forest. This novel is rich with history, terror, and what it means to return home to a place that has never quite felt like your own. The writing is rich and the protagonist Liz is flawed but hopelessly determined. I love folklore and the author masterfully crafted a thriller mystery that weaves folklore with history in a way that you’re left racing through the pages attempting to escape the darkness and rush towards the light. I loved this book, there’s so much one can learn from this about race, class, and history. Read this book even if it scares you, actually read it because it will.

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

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