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

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

I Am Margaret Moore by Hannah Capin – Review

Lyrical and haunting, Hannah Capin’s I Am Margaret Moore is a paranormal thriller that tests the hold of sisterhood and truth.

I am a girl. I am a monster, too.

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for the eARC of this haunting, sorrow-driven narrative. What I am coming to realize about Hannah and her work is that she gives a voice to downtrodden and wronged women everywhere. With ‘Foul is Fair’, it was a revenge story. It was nails on a chalkboard, it was a scream in the dead of night. Margaret Moore took a softer approach, but no less distressing. Margaret is a stifled cry for help, an unrelenting icy cold grip on your wrist. I could not put this story down; it went from a bond between friends, to a budding first love, to finally– a belated look in the proverbial mirror and seeing oneself for the first time.

When we meet Margaret Moore, she is reminiscing about her summers with her best friends at camp. The links between the girls are tested as Margaret gets closer and closer to one of the boys at the barracks. Margaret’s heart is taken advantage of, and soon she becomes one of the tragedies surrounding Marshall Naval Camp. As she attempts to unravel what happened the summer that changed her forever, Margaret found the voice that she lost in the storm of life. She speaks for the girls whose innocence were taken from them too soon, for those that have loved and lost, and the rest of the tongues that have been tied by families with money. The entirety of Deck Five is haunted by the mystery of Margaret, but not a one of them as much as her friends. Eventually, however, Flor, Rose, and Nisreen all move on; but Margaret never leaves.

It is with Hannah’s signature poetic prose that this tale of a girl’s life shattered as finitely as a wherry on rocky, choppy waters is woven into a truly devastating tapestry. I can’t stand to think of the young girls who are given no choice but to grow up too quickly. Hannah handles these plots with care, but with an overwhelming amount of venom that will course through your veins and make you want to act. I loved the supernatural twist in this book– it gives such a stunning twist to this already thrilling drama. I can’t wait to see what the next endeavor from Hannah will be. One thing I do know is that it will turn the tables on every masculine trope you’ve ever read.

5/5 stars

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