Darling by Mercedes M. Yardley – Review

Darling has its demons.
Cherry LaRouche escaped the claws of Darling, Louisiana at sixteen. When she is forced to return after her mother’s death, Cherry and her children move back into her childhood home where the walls whisper and something sinister skitters across the roof at night.
While Cherry tries to settle back into a town where evil spreads like infection, the bodies of several murdered children turn up. When Cherry’s own daughter goes missing, she’s forced to confront the true monsters of Darling. 

Thank you so much to Black Spot Books for the ARC of this novel that gives new meaning to the phrase ‘you can’t go home again’. Darling is anything but– and I mean this in the vein of the story as well as the town it’s named for. What Mercedes has created is an evocative peek into monstrous people and the places that make them. In these pages, we meet characters that pull your heartstrings; including some of the best representation I’ve seen for autistic children. We encounter broken people trying their best, and some who are trying to drag others down with them. There’s bullies, first loves, mysteries, killers, and bystanders. At the center of it all, there’s Cherry.

We meet our protagonist as she has received a haunting phone call from the city she grew up in, letting her know that her mother has passed away. This fact leaves Cherry unchanged; her maternal figure was unkind to her in her youth and they had not had a close relationship in some time. However, the news that Iris had left her daughter her childhood home rocked her world. Cherry has two children, and the house in Darling has been paid for in full (including all the bills) until five years time. She can’t say no to this prospect of giving her kids a better life as they are barely scraping by. Cherry runs into old friends, old enemies, and haunting memories once she’s back in Darling. The dark of the town doesn’t take long to seep into every nook and cranny of her home as children are going missing from all over– and one night, Cherry’s daughter joins them.

This whirlwind of a tale has so much heart and ferocity. Cherry has teeth and claws, and it is her strength that drives the plot. She endures so much between these pages, and it is a testament to a mother’s love, and the survival of spirit in the midst of trauma. Darling, the namesake, is a snapshot of how suffering can effect a person. Some, like Cherry, grow tougher for it. Others yearn for the taste of blood and to continue the cycle of hurt. In the end, it is those types that are the true fiends. I think that’s what Darling, the book, showcases best. You are not your anguish, but your reaction to it. The infection doesn’t waste any time infecting those around you.

5/5 stars

Classic Monsters Unleashed by James Aquilone – Review

Stories of famous monsters in a new horror anthology edited by James Aquilone and featuring Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Ramsey Campbell, and many others.

Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Moreau, the Headless Horseman, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, the Wicked Witch of the West—they’re all here, in this collection of horror short stories that reimagine, subvert, and pay homage to our favorite monsters and creatures.

Written by the biggest names in the genre—including Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Morton, Owl Goingback, Richard Christian Matheson, Seanan McGuire, Maurice Broaddus, Dacre Stoker, Linda D. Addison, Alessandro Manzetti, Tim Waggoner, John Palisano, Mercedes M. Yardley, Lucy A. Snyder, Gary A. Braunbeck, Rena Mason, and Monique Snyman.

And monstrously illustrated by Colton Worley and Mister Sam Shearon.

Thank you so much to Edelweiss and Black Spot Books for the eARC of this compilation of classic horror villains! I have to say, this was so much up my alley that I knew just from the title alone I would enjoy it. I didn’t know very many of the authors listed, but that was a feature and not a bug! It was so fun getting to know these storytellers in how they represented the monsters we all know and love! There are twenty-nine stories and one poem included in this novel; each with their own quirks and accomplishments.

The reader will find gender-swapping, modern issues, and many more surprises waiting in these retellings. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Headless Horseman lead the pack here, but there’s so many more spooks waiting in the wings. If you’re a horror fan, I recommend it with the utmost confidence. The art alone will keep you up at night! I don’t want to spoil anything about this anthology, so my review will be brief and succinct. It is a well-fleshed out collection, however, I was saddened by the low count of female authors. It could have used much more representation, especially in the stories with female leads.

Despite that, the included writers did an impeccable job with the source material. As someone who was a fan of these tales before– I understood what each section was meant to be– but for the enjoyment of less horror-obsessed readers, an introduction of the original story may have been a good idea. Even so, I think these readers will enjoy the tropes and characters; they will just be new content to them. Halloween is shortly coming up, and I think this novel will be a fun one to read by the fireside in the dead of night. Overall, I say this endeavor was a rousing success.

5/5 stars

Little Bird by Tiffany Meuret – Review

The skeletons in the closet have nothing on the one in your backyard.
Freshly divorced and grieving the death of her father, Josie Lauer has caged herself inside her home. To cope with her losses, Josie follows a strict daily routine of work, playing with her dog, Po, and trying to remember to eat a decent meal—and ending each night by drinking copious amounts of vodka. In other words, she is not coping at all.
Everything changes when Josie wakes to find a small shrub has sprouted in her otherwise dirt backyard the morning after yet another bender. Within hours, the vine-like plant is running amok—and it’s brought company. The appearance of the unwieldly growth has also heralded the arrival of a busybody new neighbor who insists on thrusting herself into Josie’s life. The neighbor Josie can deal with. The talking skeleton called Skelly that has perched itself in Josie’s backyard on a throne made of vines, however, is an entirely different matter.
As the strangely sentient plant continues to grow and twist its tendrils inside Josie’s suddenly complicated life, Josie begins to realize her new neighbor knows a lot more about the vines and her bizarre new visitor than she initially lets on. There’s a reason Skelly has chosen to appear in Josie’s suddenly-blooming backyard and insists on pulling her out of her carefully kept self-isolation. All Josie has to do is figure out what that reason is—and she has only a few days to do it, or else she might find herself on the wrong side of catastrophe.
LITTLE BIRD is a story about found family, no matter how bizarre.

Thank you so much to Black Spot Books for reaching out to me about the release of this short and captivating sophomore novel by Tiffany Meuret. I had never read anything by her before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the premise and the promise of a twisted fairy tale got my attention. It didn’t take long for me to be completely engrossed by the unique story and endearing characters, and I finished the novel in a span of a few hours. It was so hard to put down and I don’t think I took a conscious breath the entire time!

We enter Josie’s life just before it goes completely awry. She has a routine, a dog she loves, and a life that doesn’t take much effort. It couldn’t be said that she’s happy, but she’s making it along as best as she can. That is, until Skelly shows up. Josie notices a small shrub sprouting in her lawn one day, not thinking much of it. It isn’t until the vines that grow from it have completely taken over and brought a very odd visitor that our protagonist takes a secondary glance. An animated skeleton has taken up residence in Josie’s backyard, and it wants something from her. Skelly tells Josie she wants a story that she has never heard before told to her in three days… or else. Josie recruits the help of her new neighbor, Sue, and learns all she can about Skelly while also diving deep into her own mind. It is there that she finds the answers she seeks.

This book was a powerful read for me, as it dealt with the presence of trauma and the way that we cope with it. Josie, after her divorce and the death of her father in quick succession, had resigned herself to the life of a hermit. She hardly ever left the house; only ever speaking to Po (her chihuahua) and keeping the company of bottles of alcohol. With Skelly’s appearance, Josie has to take a hard look at herself– stripping down to her own vulnerable bones. She recounts the ultimatum her husband gave her before he left, the unanswered text that she sent her father after both men were gone, and how soulless her vocation makes her feel. Despite these things, she has arisen like a phoenix from the ashes and became everything her ex had asked of her– but for herself. Josie earned the nickname ‘Little Bird’. She was shoved from her nest and survived, but just needed to be taught how to fly. The once buried skeleton brought them both out of the shadows and into the light; making this the oddest and most beautiful found family novel I’ve read yet.

5/5 stars