Grace isn’t exactly thrilled when her newly widowed mother, Jackie, asks to move in with her. They’ve never had a great relationship, and Grace likes her space—especially now that she’s stuck at home during a pandemic. Then again, she needs help with the mortgage after losing her job. And maybe it’ll be a chance for them to bond—or at least give each other a hand.
But living with Mother isn’t for everyone. Good intentions turn bad soon after Jackie moves in. Old wounds fester; new ones open. Grace starts having nightmares about her disabled twin sister, who died when they were kids. And Jackie discovers that Grace secretly catfishes people online—a hobby Jackie thinks is unforgivable.
When Jackie makes an earth-shattering accusation against her, Grace sees it as an act of revenge, and it sends her spiraling into a sleep-deprived madness. As the walls close in, the ghosts of Grace’s past collide with a new but familiar threat: Mom.
I read this author’s debut novel, Baby Teeth and had enjoyed some aspects of it – so I wanted to try out another novel of hers. Mothered is a case study of pandemic life and how it is to cope with your life dramatically changing as the world outside was full of uncertainties and how a mother/daughter relationship completely deteriorates towards the end. Grace and Jackie have been estranged for many years but now during the pandemic, Grace has allowed her recently widowed mother Jackie to move in with her. The two haven’t had the best relationship since Grace took the burden of taking care of her disabled twin Hope growing up while her mother worked – being a single parent. I wasn’t particularly fond of the protagonist Grace, so I actually found her behavior more offputting than her mother’s. My biggest gripe with the novel is that the majority of the horror happened in dream sequences and since I could easily tell when Grace was dreaming – reading the horrible gory dream weren’t as frightening because I knew that nothing truly happened in the waking world. I know the novel took place mostly at home due to the pandemic, but it still made me feel restless and I couldn’t wait for it to be over (especially since we already knew what was going to happen since the prologue gave it away). Overall, the book was well written but I’m weary of Covid and reading about it was such a chore. I recommend the book if you like protagonists with mommy issues – don’t mind a Covid plot, and are okay with slow burn thriller with no clear resolution.
*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Shawn is a scientist developing the formula for a drug that may cure blindness by stimulating another area of the brain that controls perception. When he surreptitiously tests the drug on himself, he accidentally accesses a neural pathway that appears to allow him to communicate with a complete stranger through telepathy instead. When Shawn finally discovers the significance of their connection and of the drug’s true effects, it is too late to stop the damage their intimate friendship has set in motion to unfold.
A genre-bending sci-fi horror that will have you turning pages into the night. Shawn is a scientist on the quest to cure blindness – he has invented a pill that should offer such a respite – and decides to be the guinea pig for his own invention. Slowly, Shawn begins to hear a voice – is it an auditory hallucination induced by the drug, a ghost, or something else? The mystery behind the voice and how the protagonist soon finds himself smitten by the female he can only hear in his head proves to be an interesting love story, albeit a strange one. The writing is fresh and evocative – with realistic dialogue, and a plot twist that will have you questioning everything you’ve read up to that point. You don’t want to miss this one out – especially if you love your spooky to come with a side of body horror.
Short Q & A with Author
What inspired this novella?
I’m not a fan of science fiction traditionally, but two things pushed me to write Optic Nerve. During the pandemic, I found that a number of my friends—all of them were my age: 40s and early 50s—discovered increased strains on their personal relationships. Some ended up separating from their partners. The isolation and the stress of lockdown acted like steroids in an already anxiety-prone time of their lives, middle age. Most of my characters tend to be in their thirties, or early forties at most; I wanted to write about someone middle-aged for Optic Nerve, to address that anxiety head-on. At the same time, I started to experience a marked decline in my eyesight, and that was, and still is, terrifying to me. I’m an English teacher by day and an editor and writer by night: my eyes are my most utilized tools, so the experience of losing them is a true horror.
You’re a very prolific writer, often appearing in various anthologies. How do you stay motivated as an author?
I used to think I was alone in this approach, but I am the kind of writer who doesn’t sit down and create something unless she hears a line of it in her head, and the line usually comes out of nowhere. The experience is as close to having a muse as I can imagine. When I talked about this in another interview, a few authors reached out to me to say they, too, function that way. I wish I could say that x, y, and z motivate me to write, but the truth is, when a sentence appears in my head, I go with it. Sometimes I go months without writing anything because the lines just don’t appear; other periods, I churn out story after story. Someday, the lines may stop appearing altogether. I hope that isn’t the case, but it’s certainly a possibility.
I think we’ve all had an unconventional crush like Shawn, and usually, these unconventional crushes don’t always result well in the end. Are you a fan of unconventional crushes and love stories?
As a general rule, I’m jaded about romantic storylines. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because I’m a realist at heart and I think Hollywood too often idealizes relationships. Whenever I stumble upon a saccharine movie on television, I have to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head. On the other hand, when authors capture the high we feel when we do make that unique connection with someone, it’s poetry. I think unconventional love stories are often the most realistic. Zora Neale Hurston described falling in love as a “soul crawl[ing] out from its hiding place,” and I think that’s spot on, but I don’t think those moments are as ubiquitous as Hollywood presents them. Those moments are rare and precious, and maybe I’m jaded specifically because of the fiction that dumbs them down.
Tell us about any other projects you’re currently working on right now or will be releasing soon.
My weird horror boogeyman-centered novelette Shagging the Boss just dropped this summer, and I had a great time writing it; it’s still one of my favorite projects. I’m proud to have stories in upcoming anthologies releasing this fall, too, including Sinister Smile Press’ Institutionalized, Omnium Gatherum’s In Trouble (100% of proceeds benefit the National Network of Abortion Funds), and Night Terror Novels’ Nerve-Janglers. In early March, my next edited anthology American Cannibal releases; it’s historical horror fiction and the stories are flat-out phenomenal. It’s like nothing else out there right now, and readers are going to be blown away.
What’s the horror book you always find yourself recommending?
I find myself returning to Joyce Carol Oates’ The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror over and over. It’s creepy and hypnotic. I’m a fan of unreliable narrators and Oates does them like no one else. (laughs) And there isn’t one sentimental romantic tale in the bunch!
A windswept private island off the coast of Massachusetts. A hungry ocean, churning with secrets and sorrow. A fiery, addicted heiress. An irresistible, unpredictable boy. A summer of unforgivable betrayal and terrible mistakes.
Welcome back to the Sinclair family. They were always liars.
We Were Liars – a book published in 2014 became a TikTok phenomenon in 2020, shooting it up to the bestseller’s lists. Since I received an ARC of the prequel – I ended up reading We Were Liars in a day, after the author warned that the prequel contained a major spoiler for book one. Now, I breathlessly tread through book one – We Were Liars. The mystery, the allure of the Sinclairs – it all aided in me needing to know answers right away. The prequel is set in the 80s and we meet the aunts as teens.
Although this book had more twists and secrets than the first one, I somehow wasn’t as compelled to rush read – but I still enjoyed the journey and spending time with the very wealthy but dysfunctional family Sinclair. I’d love to see another book but from another Sinclair, Yardley, the cousin whose family eventually falls out of touch with the rest of the Sinclairs in the first book.
If you loved We Were Liars, then you’re going to love Family of Liars. It has the same type of writing style and mystery and it’s basically just a very fun, dark time.
*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
The car rolled into view, the lit decals on the dashboard letting Eli know that her driver was typical: working for all the rideshare services at once.
Gotta hustle, she thought as she quickened her pace away from the airfield. She hoped he hadn’t been waiting long.
“Elizabeth?” He seemed bored, not even bothering to turn around.
“That’s right. I go by Eli, though.”
“Sure,” he said, tapping his phone.
She settled in, her satchel beside her. “Thank you.”
The car was air conditioned against the cushion of heat that pressed against its tinted windows, and as they headed toward the freeway, she finally began to relax. She was grateful the driver didn’t seem to want to talk. She was tired of talking from the event, and her throat was dry and sore.
“There is a cold drink there in the cup holder. Down in the door.” His voice was low, a raspy baritone.
“Oh, cool, thanks.” Eli reached down and felt the blessed condensation on a plastic bottle. She pulled up a blue Gatorade and wrenched it open, suddenly very thirsty. She drank half of it in huge gulps, disliking the weird, salty taste of the electrolyte mixture but unable to stop herself. It felt good, after hours of talking and the dry air of the flight. She breathed deep and drank again, coming close to finishing it off.
Must be the heat, she thought. That and the two miniature bottles of Jack Daniel’s she’d had to calm her nerves on the plane.
Her phone vibrated in her pocket in an unfamiliar cadence and she slid it out to check.
Her notification from the rideshare app blared BRENDA HAS CANCELED THE RIDE FOR REASON: NO-SHOW. YOU HAVE BEEN CHARGED A CANCELLATION FEE OF $5.
Eli frowned at her phone. Had she summoned two cars by accident?
She unlocked it with her facial scan and checked. The app showed only one ride: a black Prius driven by Brenda, which had arrived five minutes ago and canceled four minutes after that.
It wasn’t a busy day at the airfield. It certainly wasn’t curbside pickup at SFO, but it was still possible that she had gotten in the wrong car.
But he had known her name.
She leaned forward to get the driver’s attention. “Hey, just clarifying—you’ve got my info, right? I just got a cancellation from another driver, and I’m worried that I got someone else’s ride.”
The driver tapped his phone and his eyes darted between it, the rearview mirror, and the road. “Elizabeth Grey. Headed to the Sheraton, right?”
The phone displayed a highlighted blue route along the freeway. It was a map program, rather than the rideshare’s software, but Eli had seen drivers toggle between those before. She glanced up at the rearview mirror, but his eyes were on the road and he had put on a pair of dark glasses.
“Right,” she said. “Huh. Wonder what happened.”
Eli settled back into her seat. She stared out the window and thought of home, of the deep grey fog rolling down over the hillsides and the wind coming in, salty from the Bay. She was homesick. Even in the same state, the air felt wrong on her skin. Los Angeles had been an endless parade of palm trees against a blameless sky, and the tacos were so good she could barely stop shoveling them in, but the traffic had left her feeling exhausted upon every arrival.
And then there was the way that people looked you over in Los Angeles, deciding whether you were famous or fuckable or useful in some other way before sliding on to the next thing. Her audiences had been lively and engaging but draining, and after each of her events, she’d wanted nothing but some dinner, a hot bath and sleep. Maybe a couple fingers of bourbon over ice.
Traveling always left her wrung-out and unmoored. It didn’t help that the sun was so all-encompassing outside the car it could have been anywhere, any time of day, the hot, white light blinding. She couldn’t look at a surface other than the black asphalt without squinting. Living in San Francisco gave her what she had thought was a passing acquaintance with the sun, but the glare as the 10 freeway led out of Los Angeles county and into the high desert landscape was just too much.
How are people here not dog-tired all the time? Doesn’t the heat suck all the life out of them? How do they ever leave the house? Christ, it’s March. Imagine later in the year. I gotta get some sunglasses.
She set the phone beside her on the seat to avoid pawing it in and out of her jeans. She belatedly buckled her seatbelt as they picked up speed. Out the window, the freeway was sliding past, one unfamiliar mile blending into the next.
The driver turned his radio on. It annoyed her at first that he had not asked, but then she reminded herself that he probably spent the whole day in his car. She wasn’t talking; he was probably both lonely and bored. Let him have his Oingo Boingo.
He changed lanes to get into the faster flow of traffic and the motion of it made her feel a trifle ill. This heat had produced all kinds of new feelings. She ignored it, drinking the last swallow of the Gatorade.
She looked around for a polite place to deposit the bottle. The motion of her head made her dizziness worse and she tried to blink it away. “Do you have a spot for trash?” she asked him. As the words slid out of her mouth, she realized she was slurring like she was very, very drunk. She was horrified to realize she was drooling, too.
Eli tried to get a hold of herself. She pushed with her palms and worked to sit up straight but found that she could not. Her head felt far too heavy for the wet noodle of her neck to have ever supported. Her abs were slack and her spine was a worm. She sagged against the seat; the seatbelt the only thing keeping her from sliding to the floor.
“Whass going on?” The words seemed to take a long time to reach her ears.
Oh shit, I’m having a stroke. An old classmate of Eli’s had had a freak stroke event a week shy of her thirtieth birthday. Frantically, she tried to recall the diagnostic that the woman had posted on Facebook right after. She couldn’t speak clearly. She couldn’t lift her arms at all. Her hand flopped uselessly in the direction of her phone.
“Ooogoada tachme to ahspital,” she slurred at him in molasses-thick nightmare slowness. “Shumding wruuuuunnnnng.”
“Relax,” he said clearly, his voice less deep than before. “You are fine.”
With her last spasm of strength, Eli pulled at the door handle, intending to tumble out of the car. The child safety lock held her in place.
I’m not fine, she thought with her last clear and lucid moment. As her eyes fell closed like heavy curtains, she finally registered that they were going the wrong way. The steely spike of panic that stabbed at her heart was almost enough to counteract the soporific effect of whatever was wrong with her, but not quite. Fighting, terrified, she slipped out of consciousness.
When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying, they race to the ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania.What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife, surrounding a dark, pulsing lake. Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in strange voices at night, and her brother Roderick is consumed with a mysterious malady of the nerves. Aided by a redoubtable British mycologist and a baffled American doctor, Alex must unravel the secret of the House of Usher before it consumes them all.
This novella is a retelling of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, and let’s just say that the author blew it out of the park. Everything that made the original creepy is expounded on and one can’t help but like the protagonist, Easton who finds themselves at the house because an old childhood friend wrote them about this sister’s slow demise. The book is moody and dark, and you’re quickly wrapped up in the mystery and eeriness. However, there are moments of comedy when Eugenia Potter, a British mycologist is in the scene. She was by far my favourite character, and couldn’t wait for her to show up. If you love Poe and love dark gothic mysteries, then do yourself a favour and read this now!
*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor Nightfire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Haunted homes are one of my favourite tropes both in horror movies and books. Here are three books with haunted homes that are bound to give you chills!
THE LITTLE STRANGER BY SARAH WATERS
One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.
THIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED BY JOHN BOYNE
This House Is Haunted is a striking homage to the classic nineteenth-century ghost story. Set in Norfolk in 1867, Eliza Caine responds to an ad for a governess position at Gaudlin Hall. When she arrives at the hall, shaken by an unsettling disturbance that occurred during her travels, she is greeted by the two children now in her care, Isabella and Eustace. There is no adult present to represent her mysterious employer, and the children offer no explanation. Later that night in her room, another terrifying experience further reinforces the sense that something is very wrong.
From the moment Eliza rises the following morning, her every step seems dogged by a malign presence that lives within Gaudlin’s walls. Eliza realizes that if she and the children are to survive its violent attentions, she must first uncover the hall’s long-buried secrets and confront the demons of its past. Clever, captivating, and witty, This House Is Haunted is pure entertainment with a catch.
KILL CREEK BY SCOTT THOMAS
At the end of a dark prairie road, nearly forgotten in the Kansas countryside, is the Finch House. For years it has remained empty, overgrown, abandoned. Soon the door will be opened for the first time in decades. But something is waiting, lurking in the shadows, anxious to meet its new guests…
When best-selling horror author Sam McGarver is invited to spend Halloween night in one of the country’s most infamous haunted houses, he reluctantly agrees. At least he won’t be alone; joining him are three other masters of the macabre, writers who have helped shape modern horror. But what begins as a simple publicity stunt will become a fight for survival. The entity they have awakened will follow them, torment them, threatening to make them a part of the bloody legacy of Kill Creek.
It’s been three months since The Night on the Bathroom Floor–when Lily found her older sister Alice hurting herself. Ever since then, Lily has been desperately trying to keep things together, for herself and for her family. But now Alice is coming home from her treatment program and it is becoming harder for Lily to ignore all of the feelings she’s been trying to outrun. Enter Micah, a new student at school with a past of his own. He was in treatment with Alice and seems determined to get Lily to process not only Alice’s experience but her own. Because Lily has secrets, too. Compulsions she can’t seem to let go of and thoughts she can’t drown out. When Lily and Micah embark on an art project for school involving finding poetry in unexpected places, she realizes that it’s the words she’s been swallowing that desperately want to break through.
This was a gut-wrenching journey that vividly depicts the difficulty of dealing with an anxiety disorder while also dealing with people in your life that have attempted suicide. Lily’s world isn’t the same ever since her sister Alice slit her veins – but she’s trying her best to keep up a happy facade at school. But it all quickly crumbles the moment Alice returns home from rehab. In the midst of all this, she meets and falls for the new boy Micah – who also stayed at the same rehab center that Alice did after he tried to take his own life.
The reader can’t help but cheer for these very broken souls and yearn so much to see them heal and find some solace in the darkness.
Told from Alice’s POV and her poetry, this was a very emotional read that I simply couldn’t put down, in fact, I read it in two days. I highly suggest this book if you want to read a very raw yet ultimately uplifting story. However, there are many trigger warnings for those who suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and anxiety.
*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
The Teen Killers Club is on the brink of destruction, with one faction pitted against another in a deadly game of survival. Erik and Signal are part of the group who’ve had their “kill switches” disabled, and the others are under orders to hunt them down—or meet their own demise. Now, Erik and Signal have to find a way to neutralize the others’ switches and clear Signal’s name. In the middle of a manhunt that is going viral and turning them into an internet-age Bonnie and Clyde.
Erik and Signal are both Class As—the most dangerous and manipulative criminal profile—but Erik is the ultimate Class A, with ten kills to his name and a secret in his past that will change everything.
As if being hunted down wasn’t enough, Erik is determined to get Signal admit that she loves him. But Signal is hellbent on crushing her own growing attraction.
It’s a race against time to save the Teen Killers Club from its worst nightmare—having to kill the friends they need more than ever.
I’m not gonna lie – I loved the first book of this series because it had such an interesting plot – teen killers sent to a camp of sorts to learn how to better fight and kill so they could be used as human weapons. Plus I really loved the characters Signal, Erik, and Nobody. So of course when book two dropped I absolutely had to read it. Now, while I enjoyed book two because I simply love the characters, for some reason I couldn’t get that motivated by this book’s plot. I don’t know if this was because of uneven pacing where it was fast-paced for so long and then suddenly stalled at the climax. But I found reading this sequel felt a bit like a chore. I don’t know how I feel about the ending – as it seems like there might be another sequel, and I will read it solely based on my love for the characters, but I really hope that the plot will have better pacing and hold my interest more than this one did.
*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Amy Foster considers herself lucky. After she left the city and moved to the suburbs, she found her place quickly with neighbors Liz, Jess, and Melissa, snarking together from the outskirts of the PTA crowd. One night during their monthly wine get-together, the crew concoct a plan for a clubhouse She Shed in Liz’s backyard—a space for just them, no spouses or kids allowed.
But the night after they christen the She Shed, things start to feel . . . off. They didn’t expect Liz’s little home-improvement project to release a demonic force that turns their quiet enclave into something out of a nightmare. And that’s before the homeowners’ association gets wind of it.
Even the calmest moms can’t justify the strange burn marks, self-moving dolls, and horrible smells surrounding their possessed friend, Liz. Together, Amy, Jess, and Melissa must fight the evil spirit to save Liz and the neighborhood . . . before the suburbs go completely to hell.
If you love your horror with a pinch of comedy, then Suburban Hell is the book for you. Written in a manner that’s evocative of Grady Hendrix, the pace is fast and hella funny. Amy is convinced her good friend Liz is possessed after a hole in the other woman’s yard unleashes a foul odor and brings about unexplained incidents. The possession is slow, and at times one can’t tell whether it’s true or if Amy is overreacting, as she herself questions if she’s jumping the ship like in the 80’s Satanic Panic. But after a pivotal incident, Amy now knows that something sinister and supernatural has overtaken their suburban lives and she is dead set on proving her suspicions to her friends Melissa and Jess. Often while reading the book I wasn’t sure what was more hellish, having a possessed friend living next door to you or dealing with the ridiculous suburban wives that Amy had to deal with on a daily basis. The writing flows well and is pressed on a fast tempo, only slightly slowing down for a few moments to only pick up right away. The winning point of this novel is that sure, it’s a fun read, but when the horror sets in, it doesn’t disappoint, as it is dark and extremely creepy!
I recommend this book if you love your horror to have a dash of comedy to it. This book is a mashup of The Exorcist and Desperate Housewives.
*Thank you so much to NetGalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
The first story Selma Blair Beitner ever heard about herself is that she was a mean, mean baby. With her mouth pulled in a perpetual snarl and a head so furry it had to be rubbed to make way for her forehead, Selma spent years living up to her terrible reputation: biting her sisters, lying spontaneously, getting drunk from Passover wine at the age of seven, and behaving dramatically so that she would be the center of attention.
Although Selma went on to become a celebrated Hollywood actress and model, she could never quite shake the periods of darkness that overtook her, the certainty that there was a great mystery at the heart of her life. She often felt like her arms might be on fire, a sensation not unlike electric shocks, and she secretly drank to escape.
Over the course of this beautiful and, at times, devastating memoir, Selma lays bare her addiction to alcohol, her devotion to her brilliant and complicated mother, and the moments she flirted with death. There is brutal violence, passionate love, true friendship, the gift of motherhood, and, finally, the surprising salvation of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis.
In a voice that is powerfully original, fiercely intelligent, and full of hard-won wisdom, Selma Blair’s Mean Baby is a deeply human memoir and a true literary achievement.
Memoirs are a tricky thing, they can either be fascinating or they can fall short. I’ve watched several movies that Blair has been in, and just as though she felt like an outsider looking in when it came to Hollywood, the same can be said of the characters she has portrayed. Initially, I bought this memoir as an attempt to better understand the illness (MS) that has afflicted both a friend of mine and Blair. But as I tried to relate with my friend, I discovered that there was so much that I could relate with Blair. There are dark moments in Blair’s life that one wouldn’t readily imagine considering the positive image I personally had of her and wasn’t aware of the amount of darkness she actually had for many years.
She talks about heavy topics like alcoholism, suicide, and sexual assault. Her writing is honest, raw, and never tries to sugar coat even the worst moments. But the memoir isn’t only about darkness, but rather finding the light in the dark, and there are a lot of fun 90’s anecdotes. Blair talks about the time she convinced Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon that she was indeed friends with Puff Daddy as a way to impress them, or how she used to greet people with a bite until Kate Moss bit her back and made her lose the quirky habit.
There’s a lot to unpack in this memoir, and I recommend it, especially if you like reading about a time in Hollywood when actors still had an air of mystery to them prior to social media and the internet. Blair is an inspiring role model of fortitude and persistence, and I look forward to reading any of her future books.