Book Review: My Heart Is A Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

“Some girls just don’t know how to die….”

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Release Date: August 31, 2021

Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press

Price: $17.29 (hardback)

Plot Summary:

Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.

Grade: A+

Review:

The book opens with a very dark and creepy prologue – but I’ll admit that I wasn’t crazy about the two foreign tourists and was happy to meet the actual protagonist, Jade Daniels. Now Jade is everything a horror lover as myself loves, in fact had we been in high school together we would’ve had slasher sleepover parties. Jade is cool in the way that girls that love gore are – meaning her styling choices are questionable, her social skills nonexistent except when she’s spouting slasher speak and slasher trivia – and honestly I ADORE HER FOR IT.

We follow Jade – a recent high school graduate as she slowly begins to believe that a slasher film is unfolding in her very town. This convinces her to see beautiful rich girl Letha Mondragon as a potential final girl – and ultimate savior. For a slasher fan as myself I reveled in the slasher speak and pop culture references. I know many have mentioned this in other reviews, but the only fault this novel has is that it’s a slow burn.

Honestly, if Jade weren’t such a compelling character I don’t know if I would’ve enjoyed the journey so much but Jade is a total badass and I know that Jones’ delivers when it comes to horror and gore – so I patiently waited for the bloodbath. To say that Jones’ doesn’t disappoint is an understatement – if this were a movie, Jones’ budget would’ve blown just on the fake blood expense because there is SO MUCH OF IT & I AM HERE FOR IT. I mean, I directed a short where we used almost ten gallons of corn syrup, because I literally wanted to be drenched in it. And by the time you’re finished reading the gory, batshit crazy final pages you’re going to feel like you just waded in ten gallons of blood too.

Don’t walk but RUN to buy this book if you’re a fan of all 70’s & 80’s slasher flicks, cause you will LOVE this. Also, have I mentioned how awesomely badass Jade is? Go on, you know you want to get to know her! This book is fucking brutal and a wild ride.

*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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Book Review & Author Interview: Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca

Sadomasochism. Obsession. Death.

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Release Date: June 1, 2021

Publisher: Wierdpunk Books

Price: $11.37 (paperback)

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.

What have you done today to deserve your eyes?

Grade: A-

Review:

This dark tale begins with Agnes looking to sell an antique apple peeler and Zoe contacting her to buy said peeler. I know, I found the way the two protagonists virtually met strange for a horror novella, but it was very intriguing how their bond slowly grows. As the days go by the two women forge a tight relationship which slowly descends to sadomasochism and careens to absolute horrific madness.

The writing is very engaging and very vivid, creating a visceral rollercoaster that will leave you wondering WTF did you experience. It’s told in epistolary format of email exchanges and IM’s, making the reader feel that extra layer of voyeurism that ramps up the creepiness factor. I recommend reading this book in one sitting – it’s much more impactful that way as the tension and dread increases with each passing page.

The ending is a masterclass of true horror and one that readers won’t easily forget. Read this novella for a violent, wild ride full of debauchery and horror.

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

SHORT Q & A WITH AUTHOR

What inspired you to write the novella in the format that you did?

I’ve always been fascinated by books with unconventional formatting. I admire any opportunity to tell a story in a way that might be unique for the reader. The reason I chose this particular format for the novella was because I wanted the reader to feel voyeuristic in their reading, as if they were reading something they knew they shouldn’t be reading. That’s profoundly unsettling to me as a highly desensitized lover of horror. I shudder when I think of accidentally stumbling upon something that wasn’t meant for me to see—something horrible, something truly disturbing. I’ve been dabbling in unconventional formatting for many years now and this novella seemed like a natural progression for me and my work.

The novella establishes that the two protagonists are women – but the internet being the internet I was suspicious whether one of them or both were being truthful about their identities and their genders since it was commonplace in the 2000s to find men trying to pass off as women in lesbian chatrooms. The fact that the two protagonists never see each other through webcam nor exchange photos kind of makes you wonder if one of them is being catfished. Was it a conscious decision to create that suspicion in the reader?

That’s a fascinating reaction to the work. I actually had never considered that before and I’m quite disappointed in myself for not thinking of it first. I approached this concept quite literally when I first wrote it. In my head, they were always two women interacting with one another across the infinite gulf of the internet. As I was working on this piece, I definitely wanted there to be a sense of suspicion—a sense of distrust in the reader when considering the two main characters. Who can you trust? Who is telling the truth? Which one of them is the real monster? Of course, Zoe is less than savory for asking Agnes to perform such horrible acts. However, is Agnes a monster as well for being so agreeable?

What are your current fave horror books that you recommend?

Oh, so many to list. I’ll try to be brief. Lately I’ve been recommending Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk quite a bit to fellow readers. I’ve read that book several times and it always unsettles me. I also heartily recommend Gwendolyn Kiste’s phenomenal The Rust Maidensif you’re looking for truly poignant body horror. Lastly, I usually recommend I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Ian Reid. Such an inspiring tale of existential dread.

Do you have any other projects that you’re currently working on and are going to be released soon?

I’m currently at work on a bunch of different writing projects. Most of them involve contracts, so unfortunately I’m unable to share full details until the publisher makes the official announcement on social media. I’m so happy to report that I’ll have work being consistently published over the course of the next few years and I certainly hope my readers stick with me as I continue to release new material.

Honestly, this is too good not to ask but what have you done today to deserve your eyes?

Nice try, Zoe . . . Just kidding. But seriously. Kindness. The answer is always kindness. Whether it’s showing kindness to another living thing or receiving kindness gracefully, that should be our priority as human beings every day we’re on this planet.

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Book Review: The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis

“Vengeance, forevermore.”

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Release Date: February 23, 2021

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Price: $14.61 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Tress Montor’s family used to mean something—until she didn’t have a family anymore. When her parents disappeared seven years ago while driving her best friend home, Tress lost everything. The entire town shuns her now that she lives with her drunken, one-eyed grandfather at what locals refer to as the “White Trash Zoo.”

Felicity Turnado has it all: looks, money, and a secret. One misstep could send her tumbling from the top of the social ladder, and she’s worked hard to make everyone forget that she was with the Montors the night they disappeared. Felicity has buried what she knows so deeply that she can’t even remember what it is . . . only that she can’t look at Tress without feeling shame and guilt.

But Tress has a plan. A Halloween costume party at an abandoned house provides the ideal situation for Tress to pry the truth from Felicity—brick by brick—as she slowly seals her former best friend into a coal chute. Tress will have her answers—or settle for revenge.

Grade: A

Review:

Ever since I read The Female of the Species years ago, Mindy McGinnis has easily become an auto-buy for me whenever she drops a novel. It doesn’t matter what genre or subject she tries to tackle, I know that it’s going to be one wild ride, as McGinnis has this unique way of creating crazy plots where it’s impossible to truly know where the story is going to go. And I think it’s probably because McGinnis may be more of a pantser author as myself than one who outlines the whole plot.

The Initial Insult sees McGinnis exploring Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado with a Tiger King twist. Two ex-bestfriends Tress and Felicity find themselves at the same party their senior year. Years ago, when the two were younger, the girls were inseparable, then one night whilst Tress’s parents were driving Felicity back home, something occurred. Tress’s parents mysteriously disappeared whilst Felicity was found on the riverbanks alone with no knowledge of what happened that night. Tress has lost everything because of her parents’ disappearance, and she’s convinced that Felicity knows the truth of what happened that night and she’s going to do anything to get her to speak, even if it means slowly walling her alive, brick by brick.

This novel is told in the dual points of views of both Tress and Felicity, which helps amp up the tension and build the thrills. This is a crazy ride and as always, McGinnis’ characters are gritty and strong even at their most vulnerable. Sadly, this novel is only Part I, and seeing how it ended, it’s going to be so hard to have to wait one year to read the sequel!

I recommend this book if you’re a fan of McGinnis and Poe (you’ll love all the references).

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Book Review: Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman

Inspired by the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, the critically acclaimed author of The Remaking delivers another pulse pounding, true-crime-based horror novel.

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Release Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher: Quirk Books

Price: $18.30 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday—but Sean does . . .

Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table . . . and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbor, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favorite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation—and Sean and his mother are left holding the match.

Now, thirty years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies.

Grade: B

Review:

This is my second sampling of Clay’s writing and I must say that I really enjoy how strong his novels begin. This novel is steeped in reality as it’s based off of the 80’s Satanic Panic that made people suspect of anyone in getting caught up with witchcraft. In the 80’s a California preschool was in the news for the teachers were accused of being Satanists. Obviously, it all ended up being one big lie, and this book explores what happens when a little boy delivers a lie that changes not only his life but that of many people. Sean is five years old when he accuses his kindergarten teacher of worshiping the devil. Years later, we see how that lie comes back to haunt him.

Some parts of the book were creepy (I really enjoyed the Gray Boy) and some of them were kinda slow. I liked how it explored the Satanic Panic craze as I was too little to recall any of it when it was happening, not to mention that since my parents weren’t the crazy types, they never thought that Cabbage Patch Kids or The Smurfs were “Satanic.”

I did enjoy the dual narratives between Sean in 1983 and Richard in 2013 as it amped up the mystery of what happened and trying to figure out what exactly what went on. The imagery was dark and creepy and I was compelled to keep on reading as more and more of the mystery began to unravel. I liked how the book ended but it felt like the novel began to drag towards the end, so I would’ve preferred a more tightened end, but I did like how we were left with a question rather than all answers.

*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 Review: My Name Is Margaret Moore by Hannah Capin

“I am a girl. I am a monster, too.”

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Release Date: October 12, 2021

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Each summer the girls of Deck Five come back to Marshall Naval School. They sail on jewel-blue waters; they march on green drill-fields; they earn sunburns and honors. They push until they break apart and heal again, stronger.

Each summer Margaret and Rose and Flor and Nisreen come back to the place where they are girls, safe away from the world: sisters bound by something more than blood.

But this summer everything has changed. Girls are missing and a boy is dead. It’s because of Margaret Moore, the boys say. It’s because of what happened that night in the storm.

Margaret’s friends vanish one by one, swallowed up into the lies she has told about what happened between her and a boy with the world at his feet. Can she unravel the secrets of this summer and last, or will she be pulled under by the place she once called home?

Grade: B-

Review:

Margaret Moore loves her Deck Five girls – every summer she goes to Marshall Naval School and the summer is the only time she feels alive. But something happened the year before with a boy and that has changed the dynamics of the new year. The writing is a lyrical punch in the gut – and ever since I read Foul Is Fair last year I fell instantly in love with Capin’s writing style. However, this novel didn’t keep me as engaged as her previous one. Not because I didn’t enjoy the story or the protagonist, because I did. And there’s a huge twist towards the middle of the novel, and maybe it’s because I anticipated the twist or maybe because the ending happened way too long after the twist that the novel began to feel a tad repetitive.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because once you know the twist, you’ll understand why there’s the repetitiveness to it. And yes, this novel too is filled with ferocious friendships and violent revenge, but I suppose since reading her previous novel that was far bloodier, I was expecting a bit more?

If this is your first time reading Capin, you may love this book more because it’s got a group of friends you will root for, a protagonist that is both relateable and someone you can feel empathy for, and again, the writing is both razor sharp and poetically beautiful. So there is much to love in this novel if you’re a new reader.

I recommend this book if you love feminist revenge stories with strong female friendships.

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Book Review: Snow White’s Shattered Coffin by Cynthia Pelayo

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Price: $17

Plot Summary:

Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery is the resting place of thousands of people, and as many myths and legends. When a little girl attends a funeral at the cemetery she discovers some myths and legends refuse to die, and will remain with you, like an infection, unless you can find an escape.

Grade: A

Review:

My obsession for fairytales began at a very young age (3 or 4) and since I was living in Sardinia as a child, it meant that the fairytale books I was read from weren’t Disney-fied but rather literal translations of the original Brother Grimms. Snow White was one of my faves because in the versions I had, the stepmother is forced to wear shoes with burning coals in her soles – and thus has to dance to keep her feet from burning – ultimately resulting in her dancing herself to death. The image is very horrific and if that weren’t gory enough the book’s artist provided an actual visual. Is it any surprise that I grew up being drawn towards the dark and the macabre?

In this collaboration with It Came From Beyond the Pulp, Cynthia Pelayo returns with another fairytale retelling – and you guessed it – this time she tackles Snow White.

The short story is loosely inspired by the legend surrounding Inez Clark, a young girl that died and is buried at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. The protagonist of the story finds herself becoming the victim of a curse when curiosity draws her towards the glass coffin of Inez. The coffin is littered with lady bugs (folklore stating that they bring good luck, but can also bring bad luck if you kill one). Much to the protagonist’s dismay she accidentally kills fifteen of them. This sparks Inez’s ire to start haunting the protagonist and having her befall horrendous things. The short story slowly builds up to the horror part, creating this suffocating sense of dread that hovers over the reader like a machete ready to strike. And when it strikes, it’s bloodshed.

The drawings that accompany the short story are Gothically horrific and capture the mood and horror found within its pages.

I recommend this book for all of those that love fairytale retellings and for those who love old school horror books that come with terrifying drawings that are just as nightmare-inducing as the story itself.

*Thank you so much to the author and It Came From Beyond the Pulp for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Later by Stephen King

“Sometimes growing up, means facing your demons.”

Release Date: March 2, 2021

Publisher: Hard Case Crimes

Price: $9.62 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine – as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave. 
 
LATER is Stephen King at his finest, a terrifying and touching story of innocence lost and the trials that test our sense of right and wrong. With echoes of King’s classic novel ItLATER is a powerful, haunting, unforgettable exploration of what it takes to stand up to evil in all the faces it wears.

Grade: C

Review:

It’s no secret Stephen King is a veteran when it comes to the craft of writing and being such means that he can spin any tale and make it seem effortless. His newest novel is in the series of Hard Case Crimes. A few years ago I read Joyland and enjoyed it very much. Later was part of the Night Worms Book Club subscription and since it was short I decided to quickly dive in.

The premise is very much The Sixth Sense – a young boy sees dead people and with it comes good and terrible things. King is a master storyteller so he quickly reels you in – but nothing too interesting happens in Later that hasn’t already been seen in previous King novels – along with giving the novel one of the most God-awful endings of all time.

Although not particularly original – the story was entertaining although it references so many of his past works. But what really soured the experience for me was the end. Just terrible. I could go into details but that’s something for another time. Maybe, later.

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Excerpt: “Boys of Summer” by Azzurra Nox

The Lost Boys has been my favourite movie ever since I watched it for the very first time at 8 years old. The film has everything I love – vampires, rock music, and a combo of humour and horror. In light of my adoration for The Lost Boys and the fact that I spent most of 2020 writing so I wouldn’t have to deal with the stresses of a global pandemic – I decided to write a short story inspired by The Lost Boy, entitled, “Boys of Summer.”

My only gripe about The Lost Boys was the fact that the whole movie had only TWO female characters – so in my take – I made women the protagonists while I sidelined the boys into the background.

Here’s an excerpt of that story – it drops today and can be found in Little Demon Digest Volume II. You can pick up a copy HERE.

I was halfway into the cave when the drugs finally hit, and I regretted my decision. The scent of mildew, seawater, and copper hit me smack in the face before I had a chance to see the carnage. Before I had an inkling of what was to become of me too. Bugs pirouetted as I tripped over a bone. The candles scattered throughout the cave gave me tiny glimpses of a world that up to that point I never realized existed. The boys behind me laughed, their teasing casual as though I hadn’t just fallen on the remains of a decaying corpse. I screamed as I tried to move away from the maggot-infested body but unable to because the older boy with the bleached mullet and leather trenchcoat placed a hand on my shoulder to stop me.

“They’re only worms, Ashley. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” He laughed.

The others joined him. They were all in on the sick joke except me.

I blinked and saw that the body was gone and my hands weren’t dirty with blood as I thought. As the cave came into clearer view I realized that it was only seaweed tangled in my fingers and seasnails on a broken piece of surfboard ravaged by time.

The blond offered me his hand with a sheepish grin to remind me that they were just teasing. That I was in good company. That I was safe.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about all the vacant expressions of those girls whose photos were plastered all along the boardwalk. I was haunted by the words in bold hovering over their images, HAVE YOU SEEN ME? Only two weeks ago a crazed fan had shot and killed Rebecca Schaeffer, rising star of the popular sit-com My Sister Sam. Natalie and I would always watch the crazy adventures of Sam and Patti curled on the couch with Doritos and slurping Cherry Coke. A sudden dread overcame me as I saw myself as those boys saw me. Petite, lanky, unable to put up a good fight. My mouth felt dry as the aftertaste of chalk lingered on my tongue.

I know I shouldn’t have followed them there. Isolated from the rest of the world. And an isolated girl was always in danger. But I was aching for adventure. I yearned for a little thrill.

Standing up, I looked up at the blond’s unnaturally pale face.

“You never told me your name,” I whispered.

The other boys laughed and mocked me. “Go ahead, tell her your name.”

But he merely smiled without answering me. Instead, he handed me a jewel-encrusted bottle and said, “Drink.”

I knew that I shouldn’t have. But I was thirsty. Anything to rid myself of that awful taste. So I did as I was told.

The faint notes of Madonna’s hit song echoed in the night like a siren luring me back out into the world. Life is a mystery.

A misstep was made. I was never supposed to survive the night. Yet, I did. Life may be a mystery but there’s no greater mystery than death. Those who defy it are basically divine. Or possibly evil.

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Book Review: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

 

certaindarkthings

“We are our hunger.”

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Release Date: September 7, 2021

Publisher: Tor Nightfire

Price: $17.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized.

Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.

Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?

Grade: A

Review:

I understand there was vampire fatigue when this novel was initially published and that’s a shame because Certain Dark Things resuscitates a very dead genre into something exciting and innovative. I love vampires, but I am highly selective when it comes to watching or reading about them.

First of all, I simply loved the fact that there were subspecies of vampires stemming from various cultures and mythologies in this novel.

The protagonist Atl is a vampire that’s descendent of the Aztec goddesses, meaning she’s a vampire that laso has bird-like wings and feeds with a stinger rather than fangs. What I loved about the novel is that although the vampire and human friend, Domingo have feelings for one another, the author never forgets what would truly happen between a vampire and human.

My fave character was a revenant called Bernardino that gives Domingo the best advice ever when it comes to dealing with vampires, “We are our hunger.” Meaning that vampires will kill you even if they love you because their hunger is stronger than their love.

This isn’t your typical vampire story, this book is packed with violence, loyalty, and what it means to truly love someone.

I highly recommend this to anyone who loves the undead and who wants a vampire story that isn’t the same old rehashed a thousand times.

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Books to Read During Black History Month & Women in Horror Month

Since both Black History Month and Women in Horror Month coincide in February, I thought that I’d incorporate both in this blog post. I’ve decided to focus on these two authors because I haven’t seen them on any recent lists and I’ve made similar posts in the past and don’t wish to repeat myself in recommending the same books over and over.

These two novels in particular (but I totally recommend checking out their other books as well!) showcase creepy dread and extraordinary talent.

WHITE IS FOR WITCHING BY HELEN OYEYEMI

There’s something strange about the Silver family house in the closed-off town of Dover, England. Grand and cavernous with hidden passages and buried secrets, it’s been home to four generations of Silver women—Anna, Jennifer, Lily, and now Miranda, who has lived in the house with her twin brother, Eliot, ever since their father converted it to a bed-and-breakfast. The Silver women have always had a strong connection, a pull over one another that reaches across time and space, and when Lily, Miranda’s mother, passes away suddenly while on a trip abroad, Miranda begins suffering strange ailments. An eating disorder starves her. She begins hearing voices. When she brings a friend home, Dover’s hostility toward outsiders physically manifests within the four walls of the Silver house, and the lives of everyone inside are irrevocably changed. At once an unforgettable mystery and a meditation on race, nationality, and family legacies.

DEVIL INSIDE BY KENYA MOSS-DYME

Kenya Moss-Dyme presents a page-turner about a young woman’s harrowing journey through cancer treatment at the hands of a beguiling nurse who gives her more than the normal care. The tormented patient morphs into something unrecognizable, as the mystery unravels and she unleashes a surprise of her own for the twisted nurse upon her return.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE BLACK FEMALE HORROR AUTHORS? LET ME KNOW!

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