Doomed Legacy by Matt Coyle – Review

A sinister private detective agency, a shady shell corporation, and a dead friend—Rick Cahill is on his most dangerous mission yet

Private investigator Rick Cahill has been running from his past and chasing the truth his whole life. But his past is relentless—and so is his CTE, a disease caused by repeated head traumas that has attacked his body and his mind. As his CTE progresses, he realizes that the disease not only threatens his life but also endangers his family’s wellbeing.

As Rick struggles to keep his family together, he does a favor for Sara Ansari, a business contact. Then, Sara is murdered, and the police believe her to be yet another victim of a serial rapist who has been terrorizing greater San Diego. But Rick has reason to question their theory. Determined to find the truth at any cost, and against his wife’s warnings, he investigates on his own.

Along the way, he bumps up against a sinister private investigative agency and a shady shell corporation that may be hiding more than company secrets. As Rick digs for the truth about Sara’s death, he risks his own life and the lives of countless innocents caught in his relentless crusade. Ultimately, Rick must decide if his quest is worth the risk of losing his family forever.

Thank you so much to Swell Media and NetGalley for the eARC of the ninth novel in Rick Cahill’s legacy– doomed as it well may be. This was my first introduction to the detective’s story, and I felt as though I could slip into the narrative like a snug pair of pajamas. This is very much a series where you can just jump in; and the author does a masterful job of catching you up in a way that does not feel like a ton of boring exposition. I learned so much about Rick even in the first chapter.

We meet the private detective as his personal life is taking a nosedive. He has Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), caused by many head traumas from things like football as he was growing up, and the disease has progressed to a point where it makes him incredibly hotheaded over small things. Rick has decided not to tell his wife how bad the condition is getting; therefore, she had no idea why he was having random outbursts– and one night, it was too much. On the other side of things though, his professional life started ramping up when a past contact is murdered… and he finds the body.

So, Rick is juggling this case and his own ailments, and it makes for a very interesting plot where the detective goes out on his own to solve both the case and his tense home life. It is a very fast-paced tale with a feeling of desperation that will keep you up at night; unable to put the book down. I definitely want to go back and read the rest of the saga now– because Rick is a character that you will inexplicably root for. He has a dogged determination and truly cares about people, which is hard to find in this world. If you like gritty noir stories– this one is for you!

5/5 stars

Into the Forest by Lindy Ryan (editor) – Review

A collection of new and exclusive short stories inspired by the Baba Yaga. Featuring Gwendolyn Kiste, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Mercedes M. Yardley, Monique Snyman, Donna Lynch, Lisa Quigley, and R. J. Joseph, with a foreword by Christina Henry. Deep in the dark forest, in a cottage that spins on birds’ legs behind a fence topped with human skulls, lives the baba yaga. A guardian of the water of life, she lives with her sisters and takes to the skies in a giant mortar and pestle, creating tempests as she goes. Those who come across the baba yaga may find help, or hinderance, or horror. She is wild, she is woman, she is witch—and these are her tales.

Edited by Lindy Ryan, this collection brings together some of today’s leading voices of women-in-horror as they pay tribute to the baba yaga, and go Into the Forest.

Thank you so much to Black Spot Books and Netgalley for the eARC of this horrifically inviting anthology series starring the Baba Yaga. I am currently playing Wild Beyond the Witchlight, a Wizards of the Coast Dungeons and Dragons adventure, and it features Baba Yaga and her daughters quite heavily. As such, I was already excited to dive into all of these stories, but I had no idea the creativity and magic I’d find between the pages. Each story was a completely unique look into the witch, the grandmother, the crone that is Baba Yaga. 

Every girl is born with teeth and with claws. Society demands that we trim the latter and hide the former, and as such, we are stripped of our ferocity. Baba Yaga is a cautionary tale because she was able to escape; keeping her feral nature and becoming a figurehead of horrific deeds– likely due to those who cannot handle unbridled female spirit. However, there are many sides to the Baba Yaga– and those are all displayed beautifully in this collection of stories. We do see the child-eating, soul-stealing, and ruthless woman whose ugly exterior matches her blackened insides. We also see the matronly savior of wayward girls, the voice of the forest, and the reluctant harbinger of doom.

Every side of a lady, stunning or frightening, can be found while reading Into the Forest. It is not just a deep dive into the fairy tale of Baba Yaga, but into womanhood. We are all Baba Yaga in our own ways– just waiting to run into the forest and never come back. I loved these tales, told by women and for all those that care to heed the cautionary tales of not respecting the fairer sex. Each story was lovingly chosen and readers will be able to see the heart that went into crafting each one. I very much recommend this book, both as a woman myself and as a horror aficionado. You will fall in love with Baba Yaga’s sharp grin and clawed embrace.

5/5 stars

Hidden Pieces by Mary Keliikoa – Review

He has nothing left to lose but this case. Can he rescue a young victim before there’s another death on his conscience?

Sheriff Jax Turner is staring down the barrel of his broken past. On the brink of ending it all, he feels like a failure following his daughter’s tragic passing and his subsequent divorce. But when a schoolgirl vanishes and her backpack is found in a sex offender’s backseat, the weary lawman drags himself into action and vows to nail one last sociopath.

Shocked to discover the missing preteen’s aunt had lost her life in an abduction years prior, the devastating outcome that he’s taken personally, Jax believes the killer has returned with a vengeance. But as the desperate cop frantically hunts down a mysterious relative in search of a suspect, the girl’s time keeps ticking away…

Can the jaded sheriff take down the culprit and bring the poor youngster home alive?

Thank you so much to Level Best Books and NetGalley for the advance copy of this surprising and coiled mystery. There are so many twists and turns that actually kept me guessing, and I can honestly say I never saw the ending coming! Mary Keliikoa has given us a protagonist that is so relatable and easy to root for– and when I saw this was the first in a series I was so excited to know his story wasn’t ending!

We meet sheriff Jax Turner as he is quite literally staring down the barrel of a gun. He has lost his daughter, is burdened by the mistakes of crimes unresolved, and has a strained relationship with the town he has sworn to serve and protect. Jax is done… until he isn’t. He receives a call that a teenager has been abducted and instantly feels the call to right the wrong of another missing (but found dead) teen years ago. The plot thickens as Jax learns of connections between the two cases, and he suddenly finds himself dredging up the past– including his own personal ties that he thought were severed forever.

Jax encounters many misdeeds throughout Misty Pines in his search for Allison. His leads come up with nothing truly substantial until he is joined by psychiatrist Elena Massey. Her connection to the crisis opens the investigation wider and wider until both of them are swallowed into it. The chase into the dark becomes a race against time as Allison’s hours away from home mount. This detective (well, sheriff) story turned psychological thriller is sure to grab your attention and keep you hooked until the case is solved!

5/5 stars

Ferryman by Claire McFall – Review

Dylan has escaped a horrific train crash unscathed.

Except she hasn’t.

The bleak landscape around her isn’t Scotland. It’s a wasteland haunted by wraiths searching for human souls. 

And the stranger waiting for her isn’t an ordinary boy. Tristan is a Ferryman, tasked with transporting her soul safely to the afterlife, a journey he’s made a thousand times before. 

Except this time, something’s different.

Torn between love and destiny, Dylan realises she can’t let Tristan go, nor can she stay with him. Eventually, inevitably, the wraiths would capture her soul and she would be lost forever. 

Can true love overcome the boundaries of death?

Ferryman is a thought-provoking and truly original story of a love that refuses to be limited by death. This stunning, award-winning debut novel is being reissued to coincide with the publication of the eagerly-anticipated sequel, Trespassers.

Thank you so much to Edelweiss for the copy of this rerelease, which is the first in the Ferryman series! When I started the novel, I had no idea there would be a continuation, but I am so excited to see where these characters go next. Ferryman has the potential to be a Twilight for the new age of readers– what with the ageless Tristan and the born-again Dylan. Their love story crosses planes and will leave you absolutely breathless. 

We meet our protagonist, Dylan, as she goes about her life– though it’s all about to change. She has recently found her birth father and has made plans to go and meet him. However, when she gets on the train to make it to him; it crashes. At first, she wakes up and walks out, thinking she is a survivor. Dylan meets Tristan and he tells her to follow him and she does, assuming he’s taking her toward help. It doesn’t take long for her to realize something is very wrong. Not only are they trekking through what looks like the Scottish countryside with no other humans in sight, but dark, howling figures follow the two travelers when night falls. Dylan finally acknowledges the fact she’s dead and then interests herself in her caretaker, who turns out to be a ferryman for the dead.

Through their journey, Dylan falls deeper and deeper for the boy who has transferred so many lives to the other side. What’s more– Tristan finds himself falling for this ‘pure soul’ that makes him feel human for the first time. What ensues is an engrossing tale about how far one will and can go for a love that transcends life, death, and in-between. Readers will find themselves unable to set this book down; needing to know what Dylan will do next. In addition, the sneak peek of the second in the series will whet their whistles for the fate of Tristan. I recommend this book to any fan of Stephanie Meyer or Cassandra Clare. You’ll come for the romance but stay for the absolutely unique lore!

5/5 stars

I’m the Girl by Courtney Summers – Review

The new groundbreaking queer thriller from New York Times bestselling and Edgar-award Winning author Courtney Summers.

When sixteen-year-old Georgia Avis discovers the dead body of thirteen-year-old Ashley James, she teams up with Ashley’s older sister, Nora, to find and bring the killer to justice before he strikes again. But their investigation throws Georgia into a world of unimaginable privilege and wealth, without conscience or consequence, and as Ashley’s killer closes in, Georgia will discover when money, power and beauty rule, it might not be a matter of who is guilty—but who is guiltiest.

A spiritual successor to the 2018 breakout hit, Sadie, I’m the Girl is a masterfully written, bold, and unflinching account of how one young woman feels in her body as she struggles to navigate a deadly and predatory power structure while asking readers one question: if this is the way the world is, do you accept it? 

Thank you to NetGalley for the copy of this evocative, mysterious, and clandestine eARC. I have read all of Courtney Summers’ work up to this novel, and she has never disappointed. It seems as though with every release, the subject matter gets more and more raw, and readers can absolutely feel every emotion within I’m the Girl as though they’re living it themselves. A spiritual sequel to Sadie (even having a nod to the novel in passing), this work is a long and hard look at manipulation, its consequences, the forms it comes in, and its aftermath. The narrative is a warning, but also a testament of the strength required to overcome.

Our protagonist here is Georgia Avis, who has had a lengthy and varied history with the road that leads to Aspera, a local lodge. When she was young, she came across the owner, Matthew Hayes, there– who told her she was beautiful. It was the first time she had heard such and believed it. This refrain played in her head for the rest of her life, prompting her to aspire to be a model; an endeavor that would leave her broken and bruised on the same fateful road… this time not alone. Georgia discovers Ashley James’ lifeless body, and even as her life gets indescribably complicated, her dreams begin to come true. She is found by Matthew’s beautiful wife, Cleo, and winds up on the radar of Ashley’s alluring sister, Nora.

As Georgia attempts to unravel the puzzle of Ashley’s untimely demise with Nora and rises in the ranks at the Aspera with Cleo at her back– she also struggles with her burgeoning lust and love for both women. The queer aspect of this novel hits home for me as a pansexual woman, and so did hearing the line ‘the sight of a beautiful woman could be more for me than anyone’. Georgia being so scared to use her own power at first also invoked a kinship between myself and the protagonist; especially as she was being instructed as follows: “Don’t put a ceiling on what you’re meant to receive, Georgia.” By the end of the book, Georgia has seen the way the world is and is unafraid to push the limits of her place in it. I would recommend this book to anyone in need of empowerment, all lovers of whodunnits, and especially to young women finding their way in life.

5/5 stars

Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade by Nancy Springer – Review

Enola Holmes, the much younger sister of Sherlock, is now living independently in London and working as a scientific perditorian (a finder of persons and things). But that is not the normal lot of young women in Victorian England. They are under the near absolute control of their nearest male relative until adulthood. Such is the case of Enola’s friend, Lady Cecily Alastair. Twice before Enola has rescued Lady Cecily from unpleasant designs of her caddish father, Sir Eustace Alastair, Baronet. And when Enola is brusquely turned away at the door of the Alastair home it soons becomes apparent that Lady Cecily once again needs her help.

Affecting a bold escape, Enola takes Lady Cecily to her secret office only to be quickly found by the person hired by Lady Cecily’s mother to find the missing girl—Sherlock Holmes himself. But the girl has already disappeared again, now loose on her own in the unforgiving city of London.

Even worse, Lady Cecily has a secret that few know. She has dual personalities—one, which is left-handed, is independent and competent; the other, which is right-handed is meek and mild. Now Enola must find Lady Cecily again—before one of her personalities gets her into more trouble than she can handle and before Sherlock can find her and return her to her father. Once again, for Enola, the game is afoot.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the eARC of the delightful and intriguing second installment of the brand new Enola Homes series. Just like the first, it is an empowering and feministic view of the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes’ time. Through Enola’s eyes, we see the progression of women as the series goes on; such as with clothing or securing employment. Despite this, there’s a long way to go, but our protagonist pays no mind to the difference. She is bound and determined to make her way in the world, and help everyone she can while she’s at it.

In this novel, we follow the plight of Enola’s best friend, Cecily. She has been imprisoned by her own father in her family home, and once the young detective learns of her predicament– Enola breaks her out. What ensues from there is a sibling rivalry (with Sherlock having been contracted by Cecily’s mother to find her), the mystery of the ever flighty lady (as Cecily runs from the prospect of being thrown back to her father), and questions regarding Cecily’s mental health.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is as follows: “My dear lady, to be oneself is not misbehavior, unless one is criminally inclined.” Sherlock recites this to Cecily as she fears being left-handed will cause her to be reprimanded. Because of this panic, the lady’s mind splits, but her support system works hard to find a way back to normalcy. It’s a heartwarming tale about finding and being yourself, and taking every avenue to do so– no matter who stands in your way. Told from Enola’s spunky narration, readers will enjoy laughs as well as tenderness. I can’t wait for the next in the series!

5/5 stars

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

Trick or Treat, Alistair Gray by Lindy Ryan – Review

Award-winning picture book now an award-winning animated short film featuring narration by Mister Sam Shearon.
Alistair Gray loves Halloween.
When Alistair Gray attends his school Halloween carnival, he is disappointed to see his favorite night of the year has turned more silly than scary—all treats and no tricks.
But when he wanders alone into the dark the night before Hallow’s Eve, Alistair meets a spooky new friend that teaches him the holiday is about fun and fright…and that there’s more than one way to celebrate Halloween.

Thank you so much to Black Spot Books for offering me this eARC in exchange for an honest review, and to Edelweiss for providing me with a copy! I am well past my childhood days and have not had children of my own yet, but these factors did not hinder my enjoyment of Lindy Ryan’s spooky prose and Timea Gazdag’s haunting illustrations. I’m as much of a lover of Halloween as Alistair is, and often feel his pain once the season arises and the cutesy fall decor of hobby shops overwhelm the scares supplied in Spirit Halloween. It’s easy to forget that everyone celebrates differently, and sometimes it takes a lumbering specter with a jack o’ lantern for a face to remind you of it.

Alistair is taken aback by the many princesses and fairies roaming the halls of his school’s Halloween carnival, and begins to feel stuffy in his mummy attire. He wants the creepy vibes in his heart to be seen and realized on this day that feels like home to him. I relate to his plight; I have always been the ‘weird kid’ who enjoyed horror movies and gore, and was dressed as a vampire in elementary school for five years while all the girls around me were cheerleaders and humanoid cats. I saw my young self in Alistair, and this is a story that I hope to share with the younger generation to show them that it’s okay to be different– and more than okay to accept everyone else’s ways of being.

This tale winds the spine-tingling landscape of a Tim Burton work and the elegiac lyricsms you would expect to find under Lemony Snicket’s pen– making a story that children and adults alike can enjoy. I love the repeating of the phrase “fun AND fright”, reminding us all what Halloween… and LIFE… is about. I can’t speak enough good things about Alistair, and I will treasure the experience of reading it for a long time to come. Thank goodness it’s already August, because I am desperate for October’s coming.

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

Home Field Advantage by Dahlia Adler – Review

In this sweet and funny new f/f romance from the author of Cool for the Summer, a cheerleader and the school’s newest quarterback are playing to win, but might lose their hearts in the process.

Amber McCloud’s dream is to become cheer captain at the end of the year, but it’s an extra-tall order to be joyful and spirited when the quarterback of your team has been killed in a car accident. For both the team and the squad, watching Robbie get replaced by newcomer Jack Walsh is brutal. And when it turns out Jack is actually short for Jaclyn, all hell breaks loose.

The players refuse to be led by a girl, the cheerleaders are mad about the changes to their traditions, and the fact that Robbie’s been not only replaced but outshined by a QB who wears a sports bra has more than a few Atherton Alligators in a rage. Amber tries for some semblance of unity, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s only got a future on the squad and with her friends if she helps them take Jack down.

Just one problem: Amber and Jack are falling for each other, and if Amber can’t stand up for Jack and figure out how to get everyone to fall in line, her dream may come at the cost of her heart.

Dahlia Adler’s Home Field Advantage is a sparkling romance about fighting for what – or who – you truly want.

Thank you so much to NetGalley for the eARC of this beautiful novel that puts the cheerleader/quarterback romance trope on its ear. There is nothing I love more than taking cliches and bringing them into the now– and Dahlia Adler succeeds so well with Jack and Amber. There are so many issues that come with this relationship, and the homophobia and misogyny that runs rampant in small Southern towns is heartbreakingly represented here. Even so, Dahlia managed to weave a lighthearted and captivating story through the perspective of our two protagonists. It is captivating and exciting, and gives me ‘I Kissed Shara Wheeler’ vibes but in Florida and with the teenage highs and lows of sports.

We meet Amber McCloud as she enters into her junior year of high school. She has high hopes to become captain of her varsity cheerleading team; a support for the football team who has just suffered an unspeakable tragedy. They lost their current quarterback in a car accident, so they have moved in a new one– Jack Walsh. To Amber’s (and the rest of the school’s) surprise, Jack turns out to be a girl. This knowledge causes chaos, and the cheerleaders and football players both rebel against her. Amber must then make a choice– does she riot with the rest of her team even if she doesn’t believe in what they’re rebelling against, or does she stick up for the compelling and adorable Jack? The sparks fly instantly between them, but can they rise above the teen drama so that their love can blossom?

I really loved this groundbreaking novel. It was amazing to see a girl on an all boy football team as someone who grew up in a small town in Alabama, always wondering why the guys were supposedly better than her. I wanted to have Jack’s confidence as a teenager, and her struggle to rise above all the red tape that stands in her way is utterly inspiring. There is so much representation in this book– not just for the LGBTQ+, but for anyone who has suffered from a miscarriage… AND frank conversation about sex and masturbation, which I think is incredibly important for YA readers to see. It doesn’t just normalize all these things– Dahlia writes them as they should be: just a part of life. We need more books like these, and I hope to read it in more of Dahlia’s work.

5/5 stars