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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10 New Horror Movies to Check out During Spooky Season

From Torn Hearts

2021-2022 have been filled with so many thrilling new horrors. From creepy child abductors, to finding strange large eggs in the middle of the woods or trying to escape crazed killers wielding chainsaws yet again, here are a few of my favorite new horror movies that I enjoyed that will get you in the mood for Halloween!

The Black Phone (Peacock)

X (Showtime)

Fresh (Hulu)

Hatching (Hulu)

Orphan: First Kill (Paramount +)

The Sadness (Shudder)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022 (Netflix)

The Yellow Wallpaper (Prime Video)

Hellraiser 2022 (Hulu)

Torn Hearts (Epix)

From Hatching
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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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3 Realistic Horror Movies That Will Give You Nightmares

Sure, ghosts and demons can be very frightening, but what are the chances that they will happen to us in our lifetime? Some horror movies are scary because the chances that they could actually happen are high. Here are three realistic horrors that will chill you to the core.

THE STRANGERS

Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are expecting a relaxing weekend at a family vacation home, but their stay turns out to be anything but peaceful. First, a mysterious and dangerous woman arrives at the door while James is out on an errand. When he returns, he accidentally kills his friend Mike (Glenn Howerton), mistaking him for an intruder. And then real danger does show up — in the form of three masked torturers, leaving Kristen and James struggling for survival.

Scare Factor: 10/10 Home invasions are scary, and sadly very probable!

SPEAK NO EVIL

On a vacation in Toscana, a Danish family instantly becomes friends with a Dutch family. Months later, the Danish couple receives an unexpected invitation. It doesn’t take long before the joy of reunion is replaced with misunderstandings.

Scare Factor: 9.5 – strangers that turn out to be crazier than anticipated is very frightening and makes you understand why summer friends should never be seen outside of holidays.

WOLF CREEK

A chilling, factually based story of three road-trippers in remote Australia who are plunged into danger when they accept help from a friendly local. Kristy, Ben and Liz are three friends in their twenties who set out to hike through the scenic Wolf Creek National Park in the Australian Outback. The trouble begins when they find that their car won’t start and they run into a local bushman named Mick Taylor.

Scare Factor: 10/10 Who doesn’t like to hike? And who doesn’t find themselves enthralled by the help of friendly strangers? This movie will make you wary of strangers forever.

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Book Review: The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro

The creature stalked in the shadows….

PLOT SUMMARY:

A woman is haunted by the Mexican folk demon La Llorona as she unravels the dark secrets of her family history in this ravishing and provocative horror novel.

Alejandra no longer knows who she is. To her husband, she is a wife, and to her children, a mother. To her own adoptive mother, she is a daughter. But they cannot see who Alejandra has become: a woman struggling with a darkness that threatens to consume her.

Nor can they see what Alejandra sees. In times of despair, a ghostly vision appears to her, the apparition of a crying woman in a ragged white gown.

When Alejandra visits a therapist, she begins exploring her family’s history, starting with the biological mother she never knew. As she goes deeper into the lives of the women in her family, she learns that heartbreak and tragedy are not the only things she has in common with her ancestors.

Because the crying woman was with them, too. She is La Llorona, the vengeful and murderous mother of Mexican legend. And she will not leave until Alejandra follows her mother, her grandmother, and all the women who came before her into the darkness.

But Alejandra has inherited more than just pain. She has inherited the strength and the courage of her foremothers—and she will have to summon everything they have given her to banish La Llorona forever.

GRADE: A+

REVIEW:

Anyone living in Los Angeles is familiar with the lore of La Llorona, mostly because people claim that oftentimes at night, they can hear her crying. So of course when this novel popped up on my radar I knew that I simply HAD to read it. Castro’s novel is part Mexican lore and part generational curse and WOW anyone who’s a woman can relate to Alejandra’s plight as she tries to keep a happy exterior as marital pressures and her own dissatisfaction come to a head when La Llorona begins to haunt her. The novel explores the trials and tribulations that span across generations and how each woman has been affected by their encounter with La Llorona. The novel was both creepy and difficult read as women can easily see how often in marriages they’re expected to be mothers and wives first and foremost and to leave all sense of self behind. Alejandra finds herself at a crossroads when the haunting begins – she’s so unhappy with her life that death seems the only way out. I enjoyed learning more about the lore and Mexican history – that’s so rich, diverse, and oftentimes devastating. La Llorona was very terrifying in her descriptions that pale to any Hollywood version of her ever made. This book was riveting, terrifying, and utterly timely. I recommend it if you love your horror with a feminist edge.

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

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Book Review: Full Immersion by Gemma Amor


God, I’m tired of myself…..

PLOT SUMMARY:

What can you do when you’re reeling from trauma but you’ve tried it all? Counselling, yoga, pills, meditation, art, healthy living… none of it makes a dent. What’s left?

Magpie is out of ideas. She’s desperate enough to try anything. Just when she thinks her life can get no worse, she discovers herself, or rather her own dead body, partially buried in the mudbank of a river. A man stands by, a familiar stranger. What does he want? And why can’t she remember getting here? Why can’t she remember anything?

Unbeknownst to her, two pairs of eyes watch from behind an observation screen, in a room filled with computers and sensors. An experiment is unfolding, but is Magpie the subject, or practitioner? Reality becomes a slippery concept. And beyond the glass is something worse still: a hint of an outline, shaped in darkness…

Magpie realises all too soon that her journey has transformed from healing to survival. She must become the hunter rather than the hunted, with her missing memories the prey.

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

Gemma Amor’s sci-fi horror novel perfectly blends the horrors of postpartum depression with supernatural/sci-fi horrors. Magpie is desperate to escape her suicidal ideations and finds herself penning a letter to an experimental group in hope that they can fix her. The only issue is that the researchers aren’t prepared for Magpie’s fear to manifest in a true identity ready to devour and destroy everything that comes in its way. This book expertly describes the malaise that often comes with motherhood and how still today many women face these same issues alone drenched in shame. This was an emotional and scary ride – kudos to Amor for having the balls to write something so deeply personal and share it with the world. But I feel like the world is better with such an important book like this available. I recommend this book if you love horror and sci-fi genre blends and seek horror with a ton of heart and soul.

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

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Book Review: Mothered by Zoje Stage

What made a human being turn monstrous?

PLOT SUMMARY:

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.

GRADE: B-

REVIEW:

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!

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3 Horror Movies I Can’t Wait to See

Spooky season is almost upon us and there are already a few movies coming out prior to October. Here are my top three that I can’t wait to see!

PEARL

If you haven’t checked out X yet, then do it now! Pearl is a prequel to X and explores the titular villain from the first film. Set in 1918 during the era of the Spanish Flu pandemic and World War I. The events take place prior to the previous film and explore how the cabin where the massacre of X takes place was once used as a boarding house during the war. Pearl feels trapped at the isolated family farm, and she’s tasked with attending to her comatose father and dealing with her cruel mother. But she lusts after a glamorous life she’s seen depicted in Hollywood movies, and her yearning sets off some devastating events.

TERRIFIER 2

The first movie was deliciously gory in all the best ways possible! After mutilating sole survivor Victoria Heyes and committing suicide upon police confrontation. Art is resurrected by a sinister being a year later and begins to hunt for two unsuspecting siblings on Halloween night.

MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM

I loooove Grady Hendrix novels because they’re both terrifying and hilarious. One can already see from the trailers that the movie is gonna be faithful to the book as much as possible and I’m here for it. The year is 1988. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade. But after an evening of skinny-dipping goes disastrously wrong, Gretchen begins to act…different. She’s moody. She’s irritable. And bizarre incidents keep happening whenever she’s nearby. Abby’s investigation leads her to some startling discoveries-and by the time their story reaches its terrifying conclusion, the fate of Abby and Gretchen will be determined by a single question: Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

What movies are you looking forward to?

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Book Review & Author Interview: Optic Nerve by Rebecca Rowland

Every love story is a ghost story…..

Purchase the book on Amazon!

PLOT SUMMARY:

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.

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

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!

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