Daughter by Kate McLaughlin – Review

Scarlet’s life is pretty average. Overly protective mom. Great friends. Cute boy she’s interested in. And a father she’s never known – until she does.

When the FBI show up at Scarlet’s door, she is shocked to learn her father is infamous serial killer Jeffrey Robert Lake. And now, he’s dying and will only give the names and locations of his remaining victims to the one person, the daughter he hasn’t seen since she was a baby.

Scarlet’s mother has tried to protect her from Lake’s horrifying legacy, but there’s no way they can escape the media firestorm that erupts when they come out of hiding. Or the people who blame Scarlet for her father’s choices. When trying to do the right thing puts her life in danger, Scarlet is faced with a choice – go back into hiding or make the world see her as more than a monster’s daughter.

Kate McLaughlin’s Daughter is a novel about trying right deadly choices that were never yours to begin with.

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for the invitation to read this chilling release from one of my favorite authors! I fell head over feet for Kate after reading an ARC of ‘What Unbreakable Looks Like’, and the raw emotion I found there did not relent in this reading experience. Kate knows exactly how to weave striking tales around sensitive subjects that others are either too afraid to touch, or are usually seen from a totally different perspective. This one, specifically, calls to those who have grown up watching true crime shows– but is a love letter and a release for the victims of said crimes. Even more than that; it puts a special spotlight on the ones who’ve survived and must carry the name with them. Daughter explores the weight someone else’s shadow can put on you.

The daughter in question is Scarlet Murphy, who– up until a duo of FBI agents show up– has been living a normal life. She is in high school, has a group of girlfriends, and has just gotten a chance with the boy she likes. Then she learns she is actually Britney Lake; the only child of serial killer Jeff Lake. Everything falls down around her as she struggles with this news, finding out her mother has been lying to her for her entire life– but also seeing who her true friends and allies really are. Scarlet is given the chance to speak to her father, and she agrees. Despite who he is and how shocked she is, Jeff has told the FBI he will give his daughter the names of the girls he was never convicted for. Scarlet hopes to give the families peace– and that includes herself and her mother. 

I related to this novel in many ways, and I think that speaks to how intricate the themes are within it. On the surface, it is a shift in perspective– assuring that readers focus on the marks instead of the predator– but it takes only a scratch to reveal what’s underneath. We have Scarlet, raised by a single mother. She’s told all her life her dad left, and when she meets him, she wishes it were only so simple. There’s no denying how much it hurts feeling like you weren’t wanted, like you weren’t good enough for someone. What may be even worse, however, is knowing that the person who is supposed to love you, to be there for you… only has use for you when it benefits them. Despite that trauma, Scarlet finds first love, finds a dream, a purpose. This daughter’s story reminded me that my own is not over. In fact, both are just beginning.

5/5 stars

Full Flight by Ashley Schumacher – Review

Everyone else in the tiny town of Enfield, Texas calls fall football season, but for the forty-three members of the Fighting Enfield Marching Band, it’s contest season. And for new saxophonist Anna James, it’s her first chance to prove herself as the great musician she’s trying hard to be.

When she’s assigned a duet with mellophone player Weston Ryan, the boy her small-minded town thinks of as nothing but trouble, she’s equal parts thrilled and intimidated. But as he helps her with the duet, and she sees the smile he seems to save just for her, she can’t help but feel like she’s helping him with something too.

After her strict parents find out she’s been secretly seeing him and keep them apart, together they learn what it truly means to fight for something they love. With the marching contest nearing, and the two falling hard for one another, the unthinkable happens, and Anna is left grappling for a way forward without Weston.

A heartbreaking novel about finding your first love and what happens when it’s over too soon. Ashley Schumacher’s Full Flight is about how first love shapes us—even after it’s gone.

Thank you to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for inviting me to read this beautiful tale of first love– the kind that leaves a handprint on your heart for the rest of your life, be it for better or for worse. Ashley has a penchant for writing prose that will absolutely rip your beating heart out of your chest, as shown by the powerful debut of Amelia Unabridged, and she has not broken her streak here. Full Flight is a Happening. It is a four-wheeler ride on a country road. It is a call-and-answer duet where readers will hear the plaintive song of Anna and Weston, and add their song to the melody.

We find ourselves caught up in the life of the band kids in Enfield, Texas. It is rife with high school drama; be it failing grades, rumors, or new kids. In the midst of it all is Anna James. She has been given the opportunity of a lifetime– a standout duet with her saxophone, accompanied by the mellophone prowess of one Weston Ryan. He is Enfield’s ‘bad boy’: divorced parents, leather jacket, and the mouth of a sailor. Anna is the only one who isn’t deterred by the whispers surrounding him, and as such, she asks him to help her nail the duet. Through this interaction, Anna and Weston both find something in the other that they’ve been missing. They become each other’s safe space, even if Anna has to lie to her parents in order to continue seeing him. However, the truth always prevails, and as their love story seems to be rushing to a rapid ending, the pair change for the better.

There are themes in this novel of loneliness, grief, and self-discovery that I think readers of all ages can relate to. I for one have been drowning in the former for a long time now, and Anna’s musings in her journal as well as out loud to Weston made me feel like I had found a buoy of safety in the vast ocean I was lost in. It is also very obvious how much of herself that Ashley pours into her work– both Anna and Amelia have her lifeblood running through them– and in Anna’s escape into capturing her positive memories so that they can chase the shadows away, I see her creator. As such, it is a raw and genuine tale that will pull you in, hold you close, and remind you that we’re all under the same sky. It is as comforting and exhilarating as hearing the long extinct tune of someone just like you.

5/5 stars

It Will End Like This by Kyra Leigh – Review

For fans of The Cheerleaders and Sadie comes a psychological thriller that reminds us that in real life, endings are rarely as neat as happily ever after. A contemporay take on the Lizzie Borden story that explores how grief can cut deep.

Charlotte lost her mother six months ago, and still no one will tell her exactly what happened the day she mysteriously died. They say her heart stopped, but Charlotte knows deep down that there’s more to the story. 

The only person who gets it is Charlotte’s sister, Maddi. Maddi agrees—people’s hearts don’t just stop. There are too many questions left unanswered for the girls to move on.

But their father is moving on. With their mother’s personal assistant. And both girls are sure that she’s determined to take everything that’s theirs away for herself.

Now the only way to get their lives back is for Charlotte and Maddi to decide how this story ends, themselves.

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Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC of this unrelenting take on the Lizzie Borden mystery. I was totally expecting it to be a closer tie to the infamous story, a la ‘See What I Have Done’ or ‘Miss Lizzie’, but I was pleasantly surprised with what turned out to be an exploration into what may have been Lizzie Borden’s mindset at the time of the crime, as well as the open-ended whodunnit that has stumped investigators and interested parties for decades. These focuses created a narrative that was so addictive that I absolutely could not put it down. I’ve had a hard time reading this year– but I think It Will End Like This has reignited my passion.

We begin the journey into madness by meeting Charlotte and her sister, Maddi. Their mother recently died, but even before that, the family had been falling apart. The stress of a miscarriage caused the household to fall into grief, but none more than the matron of the house. The girls were told that her heart had just stopped– but neither one believed it. Charlotte fell into a deep depression after her mother’s death, and she quit therapy, school, and herself. It caused a sort of split in her mind; one that Maddi tried to glue together. When she was finally able to pull her back out into the real world, the two began to find clues that led them to believe their mom may have not died from natural causes at all. They suspected murder.

It is in this vein that this twisted and heartbreaking view into a broken home continues. There is no one to trust; not the sisters’ friends, not their dad, and definitely not their mom’s personal assistant who has now taken up her role in the household. Paranoia runs rampant, and the stress wears down on both Charlotte and Maddie. The mental exhaustion manifests differently in both, and we get an honest look on how tragedy alters life. And at its climax, we are left wondering what truly happened to the matriarch– and also who penned the grisly end of this tale. I was impressed with the amount of raw emotion poured onto these pages, and how easily I was sucked into the dark mystique. This is well worth the read, not only for any follower of Lizzie’s story, but also for those searching for an honest look at just how messy human lives (and deaths) can be.

5/5 stars

You’d Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow – Review

From the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces comes a breathtaking story about a town, its tragedies, and the quiet beauty of everyday life.

For all of Emory’s life she’s been told who she is. In town she’s the rich one–the great-great-granddaughter of the mill’s founder. At school she’s hot Maddie Ward’s younger sister. And at home, she’s the good one, her stoner older brother Joey’s babysitter. Everything was turned on its head, though, when she and Joey were in the car accident that killed Candy MontClaire. The car accident that revealed just how bad Joey’s drug habit was.

Four months later, Emmy’s junior year is starting, Joey is home from rehab, and the entire town of Mill Haven is still reeling from the accident. Everyone’s telling Emmy who she is, but so much has changed, how can she be the same person? Or was she ever that person at all?

Mill Haven wants everyone to live one story, but Emmy’s beginning to see that people are more than they appear. Her brother, who might not be cured, the popular guy who lives next door, and most of all, many ghostie addicts who haunt the edges of the town. People spend so much time telling her who she is–it might be time to decide for herself.

Inspired by the American classic Our Town, You’d Be Home Now is Kathleen Glasgow’s glorious modern story of a town and the secret lives people live there. And the story of a girl, figuring out life in all its pain and beauty and struggle and joy.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley for the eARC of this novel! I have devoured Kathleen’s other two works, and they have absolutely ruined me in the best way. So, when I saw this one up for request, I jumped at it, knowing that I needed her raw lens of the world right now. I connected to Girl in Pieces because of the self-harm aspect, as well as the protagonist’s need to figure out who she was and gain her agency back. I related to How To Make Friends With The Dark because I too have needed my family and friends to help me out of the all-consuming darkness I was facing. I wasn’t sure how this particular novel would speak to me, but it may have hit harder than the other two combined.

I saw myself in Emory, this soul longing for connection. I have felt her invisibility, her instinct to hide and pretend. I have been that girl who chased after boys who ultimately wanted nothing from her in the same way that she wanted from them. I threw myself into theatre in college and it was an undeniable escape. Watching Emory do the same as her life was crashing around her, whether she took it voluntary or not, took my breath away. Simon, the theatre director, tells her that she’s ‘invincible in someone else’s skin’, and that in itself is a kind of addiction. Which, as you may have guessed by the cover, is the driving force of this story. It mainly follows Emory’s brother, Joey, and his dependency on opioids– but the inhabitants of Mill Haven are riddled with their own vices if you know where to look. Emory’s dad struggles with alcoholism. Her mom, with power, money, and control. Luther Leonard with revenge. Gage Galt with secret rendezvous. The list goes on and on and on.

This is a powerful story that shows you just how many ways one can grapple with this life that we’ve been thrust into. Life is not always that happy song– it is sometimes a slow and menacing dirge. Some of us find healthy ways of coping, but others are not as fortunate. If you are only able to take away one thing from Emory’s tale– I hope it’s the plea to be kind to the homeless person on the sidewalk. The kid who wears a scarf indoors and in any sort of weather. The girl who made a mistake with a boy that she thought saw her. The brother who tried his best but still fell short. Kathleen’s novels are hard to describe, but what I do know is– they shy away from sugar-coating and are more genuine than any other novels I’ve ever read. I highly recommend this book.

5/5 stars

The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl – Review

Sonia Hartl’s The Lost Girls is laced with dark humor and queer love; it’s John Tucker Must Die with a feminist girl gang of vampires.

When Elton Irving turned Holly Liddell into a vampire in 1987, he promised her eternal love. But thirty-four years later, Elton has left her, her hair will be crimped for the rest of immortality, and the only job she can get as a forever-sixteen-year-old is the midnight shift at Taco Bell.

Holly’s afterlife takes an interesting turn when, she meets Rose McKay and Ida Ripley. Having also been turned and discarded by Elton—Rose in 1954, and Ida, his ex-fiancée, in 1921—they want to help her, and ask for her help in return.

Rose and Ida are going to kill Elton before he turns another girl. Though Holly is hurt and angry with Elton for tossing her aside, she’s reluctant to kill her ex, until Holly meets Parker Kerr—the new girl Elton has set his sights on—and feels a quick, and nerve-wracking attraction to her.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley for the eARC of this gore-geous and sapphic vampire novel with serious bite! I fell in love with the cover at first glance and was instantly reminded of the movie of a similar name but different gender– and it turns out that was a stellar play; the novel gives us Holly, who was made into a vampire in 1987 at the young age of 16 years old. Her crimped hair tells the story of another lifetime as she slaves away in her nightly food service job, giving us a less glamorous view into the life of the turned and the unfamous. Unlike her media counterparts, Holly is straight up not having a good time. That is, until she forms a revenge plot with the other victims of her sire.

Elton, a gaslighting and cradle-robbing bloodsucker, left a trail of scorned women in his wake. Holly, Ida, and Rose team up to save the girl he has now set his sights on: Parker. Before her, Holly had reservations about taking the soulless being she once loved out. But suddenly, feelings develop between the human girl and the vampire. This was so exciting to me as a pansexual in a f/f relationship; vampires have always been my favorite supernatural creature, and most novels about them form romances between two members of the opposite sex– a la Twilight. This is the kind of gay horror representation I’ve been looking for, and it was a thrilling and bloody ride. The story unfolded like a train without a conductor, and it was absolutely impossible to put down.

A beautiful mix of John Tucker Must Die with a tantalizing Buffy twist; The Lost Girls is a YA romance novel for a new generation. It shines with its dark humor, quirky nature, and intelligent characters– not to mention a slow burn connection that is absolutely to die for. Sonia also did a beautiful job of exploring what it is to be in an abusive relationship, and how important communicating with your loved ones is in that situation, be it found family or blood relation. Isolation gets pretty lonely, especially in thirty four years. Holly would be more than happy to tell you that. Her growth mirrored some of my own, and it was a complete delight to experience.

5/5 stars

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer – Blog Tour Book Review

The Synopsis:

“A young girl who is empowered, capable, and smart…the Enola Holmes book series convey an impactful message that you can do anything if you set your mind to it, and it does so in an exciting and adventurous way.”–Millie Bobby Brown

Enola Holmes is back! Nancy Springer’s nationally bestselling series and breakout Netflix sensation returns to beguile readers young and old in Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche.

Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of her more famous brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft. But she has all the wits, skills, and sleuthing inclinations of them both. At fifteen, she’s an independent young woman–after all, her name spelled backwards reads ‘alone’–and living on her own in London. When a young professional woman, Miss Letitia Glover, shows up on Sherlock’s doorstep, desperate to learn more about the fate of her twin sister, it is Enola who steps up. It seems her sister, the former Felicity Glover, married the Earl of Dunhench and per a curt note from the Earl, has died. But Letitia Glover is convinced this isn’t the truth, that she’d know–she’d feel–if her twin had died.

The Earl’s note is suspiciously vague and the death certificate is even more dubious, signed it seems by a John H. Watson, M.D. (who denies any knowledge of such). The only way forward is for Enola to go undercover–or so Enola decides at the vehement objection of her brother. And she soon finds out that this is not the first of the Earl’s wives to die suddenly and vaguely–and that the secret to the fate of the missing Felicity is tied to a mysterious black barouche that arrived at the Earl’s home in the middle of the night. To uncover the secrets held tightly within the Earl’s hall, Enola is going to require help–from Sherlock, from the twin sister of the missing woman, and from an old friend, the young Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether!

Enola Holmes returns in her first adventure since the hit Netflix movie brought her back on the national bestseller lists, introducing a new generation to this beloved character and series.

My 5/5 Star Review:

Thank you to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for the advanced copy of this brilliant installment in the Enola Holmes series, and inviting me to join the blog tour to celebrate its release! As luck would have it, this was my introduction into Nancy Springer’s work, though I had heard the buzz about the novels as well as the accompanying film. At first, I was worried that I would feel left behind starting in on the 7th volume, but that fear was immediately quelled in the very prologue! Sherlock Holmes himself provided a letter giving a run-down of his sister’s exhaustive exploits– doing an amazing job of catching up a new reader as well as outlining the relationship between Enola and her family. I felt attached to the characters in a way I didn’t expect, especially being only a few pages in!

In this way, Sherlock brings us up to speed and melts into Enola being called for by Dr. Watson to pull her brother out of one of his ‘tempers’. While she is there, a distressed woman named Tish walks into his office asking for help, and Enola jumps at the chance. This twin tearily tells the young sleuth she had received word from her sister’s husband that she had died from a mysterious, contagious illness that necessitated her body to be cremated afterward. Tish refuses to believe this as truth, and insists that she would have felt it had something happened to Flossie. Enola’s compassionate heart goes out to the pair in an instant, and her enthusiasm for the case also rouses her brother into action.

The trio (along with Dr. Watson and friends) set out to investigate the Lord of Dunhench– running into many obstacles along the way that made for excellent plot twists– but really showcasing the strength and empathy of the titular character as she outsmarted the men who, in this day and age, believed her to be much more incompetent and fallible than she was. Enola is such a likable person, and as someone who never felt drawn to any Sherlock Holmes novels despite having a healthy interest in mysteries, I was reassured by the fact that I related to her and enjoyed the life her snarky wit brought to this world. Thank you so much to Nancy for giving girls and women everywhere a smart mind to look up and aspire to.

The Author:

Nancy Springer is the author of the nationally bestselling Enola Holmes novels, including The Case of the Missing Marquess, which was made into the hit Netflix movie, Enola Holmes. She is the author of more than 50 other books for children and adults. She has won many awards, including two Edgar Awards, and has been published in more than thirty countries. She lives in Florida. Stay up to date with her and Enola’s upcoming adventures on Twitter: @NancySpringer

An Exclusive Excerpt:

Sleeping Around by Morgan Vega – Review

The Synopsis:

Hard-hitting yet humorous, this young adult contemporary following a teen’s transition from foster care to college by debut author Morgan Vega is perfect for fans of What I Carry by Jennifer Longo and Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour.

Foster care always promised her a bed. Now she doesn’t even have that.

Coralee (Corey) Reed can’t wait to trade her current foster house for Harmony Hall, the dorm for music majors. Corey arrives at Borns College with her pawn-shop violin and a borrowed duffle bag, ready to leave her foster care baggage behind.

But Corey’s first day on campus starts on a sour note. She runs into her archrival violinist Dylan Mason, then her name’s not on the dorm’s roster. Worst of all, Corey can’t live at Harmony Hall. Period. Because she’s not yet accepted into the music program. Instead, Reslife shoves her into a temporary triple with two unsuspecting (and beyond different) roommates.

When one of her roommates does the unforgivable, Corey starts sleeping around campus—from air mattresses to random couches—while waiting for an open room. But how can she beat Dylan for first chair if she can’t keep her eyes open? How can she pass her finals without a good night’s sleep? Will college, the place she thought would launch her dreams of becoming a professional violinist, be the place her dreams end all too soon?

My 5/5 Star Review:

Thank you so much to Morgan Vega for reaching out to me via my bookstagram, @UnabridgedBren , and giving me the opportunity to review this inspiring and emotional debut novel! The title is just as suggestive as some of Coralee’s (also known as Corey) music definitions– some of my favorites including ‘g-string’ and ‘f-hole’– but it is revealed to have a much more devastating meaning. Corey is a foster kid; one in the system so long that she has lost hope in most people– keeping her Violin closer than anything else in her life. We follow her journey as she takes off to college, excited about the prospect of actually being independent and having her musical talent recognized. Things soon fall apart beneath her, starting with the revelation that she did not get accepted into the music program.

Corey’s childhood trauma comes back in full force as she learns that she has nowhere to live– an error unnoticed by the college management. She does, however, make a friend named Emma who invites her to stay in her dorm; tensions in this situation rise as the two butt heads with Emma’s assigned roommate, Harper. Feeling unwanted and unmoored, Corey starts to have flashbacks to her former foster homes, her grades begin to slip, and her relationships falter. Though her knee-jerk reaction is to keep trudging through on her own– she slowly realizes that maybe she needs and deserves the support system that has been trying to get through to her all along, and that she doesn’t have to be perfect in order to have value. She allows herself to learn, and therefore truly grow– not only within understanding herself, but also being more empathetic toward the struggles of others.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that this story will speak to kids and adults alike that have been through foster care. That was not my experience growing up, but that did not lessen the reading experience here for me. I know well what it’s like to try to handle things on my own; not trusting the helping hands reaching for me. I will never forget what I was told in therapy– “We’re pack animals. The human species is not meant to go without interaction”. Of course, this was offered advice about the stressors of the pandemic, but it also applies here. I think this is a beautiful book about coming into your own but accepting the help of others who have your best interests at heart. Doing this very thing saved my life, and I think it completely turned Corey’s around. The best thing is that it’s never too late to do so. Whether it be when you’re 18 or 29, you can always build that foundation of support that will keep the house of your life from completely collapsing.

The Debut Author:

Morgan Vega earned her BA in English from Bridgewater College and MA in Writing, Rhetoric & Technical Communication from James Madison University. She worked in higher education for seven years before transitioning into the publishing industry. Morgan interned at Kore Press, worked as an editor at Scarsdale Publishing, and now does marketing for No Starch Press. Morgan grew up and lives in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. When she’s not writing, Morgan’s freelance editing and talking about books on social media. Sleeping Around is her debut novel.

Website: https://morganvega.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/morganvegawrite/ 

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/MorganVega 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/morganvegawrite 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MorganVegaWrite/ 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/morganvega

An Exclusive Excerpt:

Rave Reviews:

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones – Review

In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.

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

Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called “a literary master” by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and “one of our most talented living writers” by Tommy Orange.

Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw “a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre.” On the surface is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.

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.

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Thank you to NetGalley for this Advanced Reader Copy of one of my most anticipated 2021 releases! I read ‘The Only Good Indians’ and became absolutely entranced by Stephen’s work– and I knew I had to have more. Not only that, but the premise for this novel sunk its hooks into me; not unlike a wicked puzzle devised by Jigsaw himself. I grew up with horror– was raised by Laurie Strode and Pamela Voorhees, cut my teeth on Candyman and Hellraiser, and found my own Bay of Blood in A Nightmare on Elm Street. In short, I knew I would feel a kinship with Jade. I went into this story with high hopes, and Stephen didn’t let me down.

We meet our protagonist, Jade, in the midst of a life that has never felt solidly hers. Her mom left, her dad treats her like shit, and no one quite understands her at school. That is, except for her history teacher. It is under his guidance that she is allowed to explore the background and meaning of the slasher films she loves so much– detailing what makes up the specific sub-genre and chronicling the progression of the films from its black and white iterations to the newer, fruit-punch-blood soaked offerings. In horror, Jade finds meaning and structure. So, when a body washes up in her town of Proofrock, she recognizes her chance to finally be in the slasher she’s been dreaming of for years. However, she decides she is not the final girl, and sets out to prepare a newer inhabitant of the town to take the role before it’s too late.

Jade’s journey is not only a wild ride of references, dead bodies, and missteps, but also one of healing. This is akin to Stephen King’s IT in that it is a coming of age story that happens to be set within a bloody tableau. Jade is not only the product of a broken home, but is one of the few Native Americans in Proofrock, which only sets her further apart from her peers. It is amazing to watch her come into her own as this tale unfolds; with each point added to the body count, her spirit grows and her courage manifests in a way that could rival that of an angry mother bear. There are many times in life where we don’t feel like the hero of our story, but if this book teaches us anything, it’s that we will all rise to the occasion when it presents itself. I really recommend this book for any horror lover, any outcast searching for meaning, and of course– any Native American hungry for representation.

5/5 stars

Trouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin – Review

A queer YA #MeToo reimagining of Thelma & Louise with the aesthetic of Riverdale, for fans of Mindy McGinnis, Courtney Summers, and Rory Power.

When Trixie picks up her best friend Lux for their weekend getaway, she’s looking to escape for a little while, to forget the despair of being trapped in their dead-end Rust Belt town and the daunting responsibility of caring for her ailing mother. The girls are packing light: a supply of Diet Coke for Lux and her ‘89 Canon to help her frame the world in a sunnier light; half a pack of cigarettes for Trixie that she doesn’t really smoke, and a knife—one she’s just hanging on to for a friend—that she’s never used before.

But a single night of violence derails their trip and will forever change the course of the girls’ lives, as they go from ordinary high schoolers to wanted fugitives. Trying to stay ahead of the cops and a hellscape of media attention, the girls grapple with an unforgiving landscape, rapidly diminishing supplies, and disastrous decisions at every turn. As they are transformed by the media into the face of a #MeToo movement they didn’t ask to lead and the road before them begins to run out, Trixie and Lux realize that they can only rely on each other, and that the love they find together is the one thing that truly makes them free.

In rushing, powerful prose Julia Lynn Rubin takes readers on “a blistering, unapologetic thrill ride” (Emma Berquis) that will leave them haunted and reeling. Trouble Girls is “a powerful, beautifully-written gut punch” (Sophie Gonzales).

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Thank you so much to Wednesday books and NetGalley for the eARC of this absolutely haunting YA release. When we meet best friends Lux and Trixie, their lives are limited to the small town they grew up in; Blue Bottle. Lux dreams of being a photographer and Trixie yearns to be herself– someone who is hopelessly in love with her friend. However, this feels impossible where they reside, so she instead settles for stealing happy moments with her whenever she can. The two plan a small escape from the town and from school; a secret camping trip. However, they stop by a bar on the way out, and the unthinkable happens. In one fell swoop, the girls become fugitives, runaways.

So their Thelma-and-Louise-esque journey begins; an unplanned and dangerous getaway to take Lux to the ocean. They lay low as much as possible, and the reader feels the mounting tension as they enter a world without social media, without parents, and without rules. From snippets of news playing in diners or think pieces on library computers, we learn of the aftermath of the girls’ violent act. It gives a very clean view of the two divided sides of the fight– women who have had enough, and the men who want to see them silenced forever. Though I’m not a teenager anymore, I related to this story in the way that all females will. There is something deemed inferior about us from the moment we’re born, and we spend our lives trying to break through that.

In this way, this novel is a mallet to the heart. These girls have seen too much in their young years, but their feats of defiance rally other hurt women to speak out. Lux and Trixie do questionable things, but their saga inspires a floodgate to open up. I am proud to live in a world that is slowly changing every day– that people like our protagonists are starting to feel comfortable sharing their stories. Only in honesty can we be healed, and no one should have to keep their pain to themselves. This book is a story of love, of mistakes, and one of the impact a life can make on the world. It reminds the reader that they are important– even if they don’t know it.

5/5 stars

Small Favors by Erin A. Craig – Review

Ellerie Downing lives in the quiet town of Amity Falls in the Blackspire Mountain range–five narrow peaks stretching into the sky like a grasping hand, bordered by a nearly impenetrable forest from which the early townsfolk fought off the devils in the woods. To this day, visitors are few and rare. But when a supply party goes missing, some worry that the monsters that once stalked the region have returned.

As fall turns to winter, more strange activities plague the town. They point to a tribe of devilish and mystical creatures who promise to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand and impossible, for just a small favor. But their true intentions are much more sinister, and Ellerie finds herself in a race against time before all of Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves go up in flames.

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Thank you so much to Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read an eARC of this second novel from Erin, whose prose I fell in love with after also receiving an ARC of her debut book– House of Salt and Sorrows. Let me just say right up front that if you enjoyed that retelling, you will LOVE Small Favors. Erin has a penchant for taking fairy tales and unraveling them, taking the bones hidden inside and building a whole new beast out of them; not unlike the twisted creatures encroaching upon Amity Falls. I would not have even known this was a Rumpelstiltskin re-imagining until the climax of the novel if I hadn’t seen hype for it on Twitter. THAT’S how effective and unique this author is. She has crafted a stunning world all her own in this work.

We are introduced to Ellerie Downing and her family. They live in a small, rule-driven town surrounded by forests and completely cut off from civilization. The Downings’ role in this town revolves around their bees– her father is an apiarist, and her mother creates treats and other crafts with the wax and the honey. They are closely tied (for better or for worse) to the other families in the town, and adhere to the restrictions set by the Elders of the settlement. However, things start to fall to pieces quite quickly– the author wastes no time bringing in the conflict while still showcasing the characters and their personalities. A supply run is laid to waste by strange animals with deformities, hunters come across impossible game that they can’t explain, and all the people in Amity Falls start to feel mistrust towards their fellow man as things go missing, are destroyed, or are revealed.

After a horrific accident, Ellerie is left in charge of her two sisters. Even with the crippling weight of seeing her family through the hardest winter she’s ever seen– Ellerie starts to fall for a mysterious trapper who opens her eyes to the luck (both good and bad) surrounding her. As things escalate in the town, Ellerie has to summon all of her strength and ingenuity to figure out what supernatural forces are at work before all of Amity Falls goes up in flames. It is a thrilling roller coaster ride, and has so much to offer. It’s a story about family, love, and aplomb. In addition, it is a STUNNING dark fantasy– guaranteed to make your hair stand on end and look for silvery eyes staring back at you from the forest, and the absolute body horror will bring the utter devastation and unheard of malformations in your nightmares; Erin is a master of description, bringing stags with too many horns and colts with exposed spines to life in haunting detail.

Honestly, I am already foaming at the mouth for Erin to release another novel in this vein. It hits so many particular story-telling kinks for me, and in a time where it’s been a struggle to make myself relax enough to enjoy reading– this book was something I always looked forward to at the end of the day. It really and truly transported me to the tainted atmosphere of Amity Falls, and it was hard for me to put it down. These books (including House of Salt and Sorrows) fill a specific niche in the YA community that I consider sorely missing– because though there are an infinite amount of retellings, (art is either plagiarism or revolution) most are not as imaginative and intrepid as I find these. I want so much more YA horror, and I hope we are lucky enough to get more of it from Erin.

5/5 stars