Review: Mina and the Undead by Amy McCaw

Mina and the UndeadMina and the Undead by Amy McCaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up **

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Shortly after arriving in New Orleans, 17-year old, Mina, can already tell it will be a summer she’ll never forget.

She’s there to visit her estranged sister, Libby, who moved from their hometown, Whitby, in England, to New Orleans the prior year.

After their mother abandoned them, Mina and Libby went to live with their uninterested Aunt. When Libby left as well, Mina felt completely alone.

Mina is hoping that this summer with give the two of them a chance to talk about everything that’s happened and repair their relationship. After all, sisters are for life.

Their first stop is the Horror Mansion at which Libby works. The good news is, Libby has gotten Mina a chance to audition for a job there as well.

Fairly quickly after that, Mina is introduced to all of the people in her sister’s new life. Her girlfriend, Della, roommates, Jared and Lucas and her boss, Thandie.

At the conclusion of her audition for a position in the interactive walking tour of the Horror Mansion, Mina tries to find the girl she is supposed to hand her costume off to.

Mina discovers the girl’s very dead and mutilated body in the attic of the Mansion. She screams, chaos ensues.

When Libby becomes a suspect for that murder and others, Mina teams up with her new crush, Jared, to try to clear her sister’s name.

The two discover a dark underworld around them that ties to some of New Orleans oldest and scariest legends.

This was such a fun, nostalgic treat for my horror-loving heart! The vibe is campy, teenage horror, like Buffy, or The Lost Boys.

I live for that kind of story, as it takes me back to a time when life was simple, hair was big and vampires were real.

This story is full of classic horror tropes and 90s-pop culture. If you are looking for a light, easy, nostalgic read, I definitely recommend picking this one up.

While it’s not a perfect story, I think if you are in the right head space, it can be a hell of a good time. It certainly was for me!!

So, grab your butterfly clips, your VHS tapes, your wooden stakes and pick up a copy today.

I am really excited to see what Amy McCaw comes up with next! This is a super solid debut!!

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Review: Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

Harrow LakeHarrow Lake by Kat Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes the truth is scarier than the nightmare.

When Lola Nox was just 5-years old, her Mom ran off, abandoning Lola to be raised by her famous, Horror movie director father, Nolan.

They have a strange, strained relationship. Lola often feels like a bird in a cage; a pet, for Nolan to trot out to impress industry people and the press.

As Lola becomes a teenager, she begins to battle more against Nolan’s strict control over her life.

Their relationship is contentious, but when Lola returns to their NYC apartment one evening and finds Nolan bleeding out after a brutal attack, she is devastated.

She needs him to be okay. He’s all she has. Adding to her stress, Larry, her Father’s long-time assistant tells her it would be best for her to go stay with her maternal grandmother while Nolan is in the hospital recovering.

Lola can’t believe it. She’s never even met her Grandmother; she doesn’t want to go stay with her, but Larry is insistent that it is what Nolan would want. And Nolan gets what he wants.

Thus, Lola is shipped off to Harrow Lake, her Mom, Lorelei’s, hometown.

It also happens to be the town where her parents met. The town where her father shot his most iconic slasher film, Nightjar, in which her Mom played the starring role of Littlebird.

Immediately upon arrival at her Grandmother’s, the story transforms in vibe into an atmospheric, suspenseful and eerie tale.

I was constantly on edge, waiting for the truth of Harrow Lake and Lorelei to be revealed.

This felt like a classic-80s Horror flick. It had one of my favorite tropes, with the main character ending up in a small town where everyone is acting strangely and they are stuck there.

The town lore and traditions were super messed up, but nobody but Lola seemed to notice. Even the friends she made there seemed untrustworthy.

But is Lola trustworthy? I was scratching my head the entire way, definitely anxious for the conclusion.

I liked this a lot. It was fun and had some pulse-pounding, creepy as heck moments. I can see that this story won’t be for everyone, but I think die hard fans of this genre will have a good time with it.

I definitely plan to pick up more books by Kat Ellis! Well done.

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Review: Later by Stephen King

LaterLater by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stephen King’s writing is like coming home for me. I absolutely adored Jamie Conklin’s story.

Later is a coming of age tale with a supernatural twist, following a boy, Jamie, and his struggling single mother, Tia.

Jamie first discovered his ability when he was really young. He can see things others can’t and sometimes it can be really scary.

But it is an unchangeable part of himself and he learns the rules of it, as well as how best to live with it.

His mother knows what he can do, but she doesn’t like to talk about it. It scares her too and she urges Jamie to keep it a secret from everybody.

However, when she is backed against a wall, Tia asks Jamie to use his ability to help her. This event exposes Jamie’s gift to Tia’s police officer girlfriend, Liz.

After their relationship sours and the women call it quits, Liz continues to circle Jamie like a shark. She knows what he can do and eventually plans to use him for her own gain; legalities be damned!

Since this is Stephen King, it does go a lot darker than I am making out here, but it’s a short story; one best discovered for yourself.

I loved Jamie so much. The narrative is like you are sitting down with him, having a cup of coffee, or a whiskey, and he is telling you his story. It’s natural, heart-warming, occasionally frightening, funny and whip-smart.

I also really appreciated the depth of Jamie’s relationship with his mother. It was beautifully explored in my opinion. King excels at complicated familial relationships and this is no exception.

He also is a master at writing from the perspective of children and young adults. Great character work overall, but I always love his kid characters.

I absolutely recommend this to anyone who loves a Horror-based coming of age story.

Chef’s kiss for days!!!

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Review: The Unleashed (The Haunted #2) by Danielle Vega

The Unleashed (The Haunted, #2)The Unleashed by Danielle Vega
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

**Please note, as this is the second book in a series, some mild spoilers are contained in this review. Proceed with caution.**

After the devastating events of The Haunted, Hendricks and friends are trying to return to normal. Not an easy task with Eddie gone and Raven remaining in a coma.

Hendricks, Portia and Connor, received intense group therapy and in some ways, it did help. However, Hendricks is still having a really hard time letting go of Eddie.

In fact, she believes his spirit still remains in Drearfield and with the right method, perhaps she’ll be able to reach him.

She looks to Ileana for help. With Ileana’s guidance, they gather a circle of seven and perform a seance with the hopes of summoning forth Eddie’s spirit. The seance is of course performed on the grounds of Steele House.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t go as planned.

Soon thereafter, Hendricks begins to experience hauntings quite similar to before. However, they are no longer restricted to just being within her home. Now evil entities seem to be everywhere; no place is safe.

The high school itself seems to be a hotbed of activity, with ghost girls in the hall and phantom music being played.

With prom on the horizon, Hendricks has been spending extra time there, as she agreed to the join the planning committee with Portia.

When Portia becomes the victim of a supernatural attack, Hendricks knows they didn’t bring Eddie back. They brought back something else, and it’s angry.

They need to redo the ritual and hopefully send this malevolent spirit back from whence it came.

This was a strong continuation from the first book.

Personally, I was devastated by the ending of the first book and honestly, that pissy mood sort of carried over into this one. I missed my favorite character too much.

With that aside, I did enjoy this. The first half especially. I loved how the characters involved in the seance were willing to help Hendricks out, even though some of them thought she was bat shit crazy.

I also really enjoyed the horror imagery. Vega definitely excels at that.

It did start to lose my towards the end. There was a great scene, that as far as I am concerned, could have been the final scene, but it continued on.

After that point, I was sort of out of it. It went way over the top after that and took away a bit of the seriousness of the earlier parts of the story.

Overall, this is a solid Teen Scream duology and I am very happy that I read it.

I would definitely consider picking up future releases from this author!

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Review: The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

The Lost VillageThe Lost Village by Camilla Sten
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

In 1959, it was discovered that all the residents of the defunct mining town of, Silvertjarn, Sweden, had mysteriously disappeared.

Well, all but the woman found hanging, stoned to death in the town square, and an infant located in the local school.

For decades, the mystery has gone unsolved.

Aspiring documentary filmmaker, Alice Lindstedt, has become obsessed with The Lost Village, as her Grandmother’s entire family were among the disappeared. She decides to tackle the mystery as her first solo documentary project.

She plans to travel to the remote village, along with a small crew, to search for the truth of what happened to the residents. She does have some information on the town based on letters from her Grandmother’s little sister, Aina.

Together with her friend, Tone, who also has a connection to the village, her ex-best friend, Emmy, an experienced production manager, Emmy’s technician and significant other, Robert, and the financial backer of the film, Max, Alice is finally able to reach her destination: Silvertjarn.

The plan is to shoot on location for six days. That’s all the time they have with their rented equipment. The project is low budget to say the least, but could be life-changing for Alice if the documentary is received well.

They travel to the town with just enough supplies to last through the six days. The location is quite remote; they won’t be bothered by anyone and should be able to focus and hopefully get enough good footage to kick the project off.

From the very start, the town has an ominous feel. It’s creepy being in an abandoned town. The houses and buildings still hold all of the belongings in place like time capsules. It seems the residents got up one day, walked out and never returned.

What could have happened here? All of the crew feel uneasy about the location, but decide to put their heads down and just work through it.

Tension is running high and some bickering ensues. The team seems to be coming apart before they’ve even started, but Alice is willing to do anything to salvage what time they have left.

Everything begins to spiral though and soon some on the crew suspect they are not alone in the village after all.

Together with the present day timeline, we get a past timeline as well, told from the perspective of Alice’s Great-Grandmother, Elsa, in the days leading up to the mass disappearance.

This past timeline ultimately concludes with the truth about the town and its dark secrets being revealed.

The Lost Village is an interesting story. While it started out slow for me, it did pick up quite a bit after the halfway point.

I enjoyed the overall mystery of the village and the alternating timelines; although I actually enjoyed the past timeline more.

In the present timeline, the characters and some of their choices were aggravating to me. I found the petty bickering annoying and some of the relationships didn’t make sense to me.

With this being said, it didn’t overshadow the other content too much. I was still able to enjoy the journey to the conclusion.

The ending definitely toed the line of eyeroll territory for me. I was shaking my head a bit, if I’m being honest.

Overall, though, this story has a lot of strong points. The atmosphere and overarching mystery were both very good; as well as the idea of a documentary film crew trying to unravel the mystery on location. I loved that.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Minotaur Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity to provide my opinions!

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Review: The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

The Drowning KindThe Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sisters, Jax and Lexie, the x-girls, were fairly close when they were growing up. They spent every summer at their Grandmother’s property in Vermont and have a lot of great memories from that time.

Lexie, the older of the two, was different than Jax, however, in a lot of ways. Lexie was more like their father, flighty, free-spirited and at times, manic.

The older the girls got, the more apparent the differences in their personalities became. It was clear that Lexie’s mental health was not well. She struggled to remain rooted in reality. It became a real problem for her.

Jax was always the more grounded of the two. She followed the rules, excelled in school and became a social worker. Over the past year, she’s also been estranged from her sister.

When Jax receives nine calls from Lexie one night, none of which she answers, she assumes her sister is just having another one of her episodes.

The increasingly frantic messages Lexie leaves don’t even make sense. Jax isn’t dealing with it. Not her problem.

The following day Jax receives news that Lexie is dead; drowned in the pool on their Grandmother’s estate, Sparrow’s Crest, which Lexie had inherited.

Jax is shocked. Why didn’t she pick up the phone when Lexie called? Heart-broken and full of regret, Jax makes the journey to Vermont to bury her sister and settled up her affairs.

Once there, reunited with family, including her Aunt and Father, Jax discovers that Lexie had been researching the history of their family and the property.

It turns out Sparrow’s Crest has a dark past and it could possibly be linked to Lexie’s death. Jax dives into the research herself, mostly centering around the property’s infamous pool and the natural spring it is fed from.

As with Jennifer McMahon’s other stories, The Drowning Kind follows two timelines. The present, mentioned above, and then a historical perspective focusing on the history of the property.

The more the Reader learns from the historical perspective, the more the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place for Jax. It is such a spectacular format. The pace is excellent!

I have found that sometimes when an author tries this dual timeline format, one of the perspectives will be more interesting than the other. Because of that, you rush through one perspective in order to return to the other.

That is definitely not the case here. Both the present and past timelines are equally foreboding and intriguing. I was fully committed to both.

Another aspect of McMahon’s work that I always enjoy is her sense of place. Sparrow’s Crest is a character. It is so well developed, you can almost hear it talking to you.

The idea that places remember, that pieces of history live on through the land and the structures upon them. I love that whole concept and it is tangible within this story.

In short, this is a phenomenally constructed multi-generational ghost story that will stick with me for a long time.

The ending, chills. Exceptionally well done. I can certainly say I didn’t see it coming!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Simon & Schuster Audio, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I highly recommend it and cannot wait to see what McMahon comes up with next!

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Review: The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

The Burning GirlsThe Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

After a scandal at her church, unconventional vicar, Jack Brooks, and her teenage daughter, Flo, are relocated to the village of Chapel Croft.

This is quite a shift from their life in Nottingham, but they are both determined to make the best of it.

The location is peaceful and remote. It feels a million miles from their old life. Upon arrival, they are a little surprised by the untidy condition of the old chapel and their new residence, but still determined to make it work.

They also discover that Chapel Croft, like many small towns, has a dark past that lies not far from the surface. Five hundred years ago, eight Protestants, including two young girls, were burned at the stake for their beliefs.

This incident has shaped the town in many ways and the descendants of these original martyrs are still held in high regard.

They also have a slightly disturbing tradition of making little stick dolls in memory of The Burning Girls; a few of which Jack and Flo stumble upon shortly after arriving in town.

More recently, the village has been plague by other unfortunate events, like the disappearance of two teen girls thirty-years earlier.

In fact, just two months ago, the previous vicar took his own life. A fact Jack was unaware of when she accepted the position.

The people of the village have been through a lot. Secrets and suspicions abound amongst the residents, and when outsiders move in, it tends to cause quite the stir.

Flo unfortunately runs into the local bullies fairly soon after arriving in town and they latch on to her as their newest target. She also makes a friend, Lucas Wrigley, who because of a neurological disorder, finds himself bullied as well.

For her part, Jack is doing her best to learn what she can about her new congregation and ingratiate herself to its people.

Jack knows establishing strong personal relationships is key. She needs these people to trust her, if this placement is going to last.

However, some folks are easier to appease than others and Jack happens to be hiding a few secrets of her own, including the circumstances surrounding her departure from her former church.

The Burning Girls was such a fun read. It’s a slow burn, but once Jack and Flo are settled in their new home, disturbing occurrences begin happening with more regularity.

From there, the pace continues to increase through the jaw-dropping finale.

There’s some interesting subplots, where I wondered how it was all going to connect. Once the puzzle pieces fell into place, I was absolutely chilled.

I loved how Tudor brought this all together and honestly, didn’t see it coming!

Additionally, I loved the overall atmosphere. Chapel Croft came to life within these pages. It felt ominous; that feeling where you know something is not right, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

There was a tremendous cast of characters. It felt like Jack and Flo against the world, which really increased the intensity. I just wanted them to pack their bags and move!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Ballantine Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I had an absolute blast with it and can’t wait to pick up more of Tudor’s work!

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Review: The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

The Ghost TreeThe Ghost Tree by Christina Henry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

The town of Smith’s Hollow has suffered quite a few tragedies over the years. The eerie part is, no one seems to remember.

When two girls from out of town are found slayed in a backyard, literally cut to pieces, it does grab everyone’s attention. At least momentarily.

Lauren has grown up in Smith’s Hollow and now, just shy of her Freshman year in high school, she begins to sense something is severely wrong with their quiet town.

For one thing, her father was murdered in the woods just last year. His heart cut out of his body.

When she hears about the murdered girls, she doesn’t hold much hope for the police finding the culprit. They never solved her Dad’s murder.

Everyone just seemed to move on, but Lauren remembers and she wants to get to the bottom of it.

The thing I loved the most about this story was the atmosphere. The setting of Smith’s Hollow, that eerie small town vibe where you can instantly tell something is off.

Additionally, I found Lauren to be a likable character and the relationships within her family were interesting.

Since her father passed, her mother has been struggling and seems to take a lot of her frustrations out on Lauren. Nothing she ever does is right, her mom is always nagging at her.

Then there is Lauren’s little brother, Danny, who she loves dearly, but he’s a strange kid. He seems to know things he shouldn’t and he says the oddest things.

When Lauren begins to have visions as well, of a horrible monster and the murdered girls, she starts to investigate.

What is going on in Smith’s Hollow and what is her connection to it? Her first stop is her Grandmother’s house and boy, does she have a tale to tell!

There’s witches, there’s curses, there are sacrifices that need to be made.

Lauren sees it as her job to put an end to the madness. Along with a friendly policeman, a cute next-door neighbor and a roving reporter, Smith’s Hollow had better watch its back.

Throughout this story I was reminded of other stories. I felt Sawkill Girls, Strange Grace, The Devouring Gray and The Wicked Deep all rolled into one.

It was fun, I’m glad I read it. I love how Christina Henry’s mind works, but this isn’t my favorite of her books.

Lauren’s best friend, Miranda, drove me batty. I was hoping she would be the first victim, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

Also, there were some subplots I wasn’t as interested in and I found those portions dragging for me. I think I could have enjoyed it a lot more if those had been shaved back a bit, including the racist neighbor.

Overall, this is a solid story. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy a dark atmosphere with some gruesome deaths steeped in mystery.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Publishing, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I adore Christina Henry and will continue to pick up anything else she writes!

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Review: The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones

The Last Final GirlThe Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

I am really torn on the rating for this. My heart says give it a 5, while my brain says, 4-stars is more accurate.

After contemplation, I’ve decided to slice it right down the middle for this ode to Teen Slashers.

I grew up watching all things Horror. I had two older siblings, who both enjoyed the genre, so I was exposed to it at such a young age. Honestly, I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t watching Horror movies.

From the years of being so freaked out by Poltergeist I couldn’t sleep in my own bedroom for 3-months, to watching The Gate on repeat because I had an 8-year old’s crush on Stephen Dorff, Horror movies have always been a positive part of my life.

In The Last Final Girl, Stephen Graham Jones brings the spirit of all that is great in Slasher Horror to the page.

The format of this story is unconventional, to say the least. It’s written in the style of a screenplay, with the narrator setting our scenes and describing characters actions, the POVs switch quickly and often, and there is a lot of rapid fire dialogue.

You really need to pay attention if you want to catch it all!

I listened to the audiobook and thought the narrator did a phenomenal job. I had a huge grin on my face the entire time.

I loved what SGJ did here. It was like he made a list of all things important to that genre, including movie names, characters, actors within those movies, fictional towns, tropes, themes, the well-known rules of Horror and then connected them all with an actual coherent story.

It was amazing and so fun. I could picture every scene because it was like I had seen it all before. The river, the discarded Halloween masks, the mysterious figure standing in the corn, characters like Lindsay, Izzy and Crystal, the scenes at the high school, the final showdown; I loved it all!

I would definitely recommend the audiobook if you are interested in this one. Having read some other reviews, it doesn’t sound like people who read the hard copy had quite the same experience with this that I did.

SGJ definitely took a risk with this one; it’s really for a niche market of die hard fans of this type of movie. If you are, as it appears SGJ is, a student, if you will, of the genre, this is an absolute delight.

Every reference had me giddy and there are a lot. I love SGJ’s edgy style and always appreciate his nods to the classics. I will continue to pick up his work. This was certainly a fun ride for me!

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Review: The Haunted by Danielle Vega

The Haunted (The Haunted, #1)The Haunted by Danielle Vega
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up **

Hendricks and her family move to Drearford to escape a dark chapter in her young life.

Her parents purchase a dilapidated old house to renovate and for her part, Hendricks is hoping to lay low and heal her scarred heart.

Unfortunately, Steel House, their new home, has other things in mind.

Unbeknownst to them, they have inadvertently moved into the most infamous house in Drearford, with a frighteningly violent history.

While at school, Hendricks is quickly accepted into the popular crowd, even catching the eye of a local heartthrob, at home she is harassed and terrified.

It doesn’t take long for the house, and the spirits trapped there, to express their deep-seeded need for vengeance.

This is a classic haunted house story, with a well-executed Teen Scream element.

I enjoyed Hendricks as a character, as well as her new friends. They were all fun to get to know, especially Eddie, but we’ll get to him later.

I was pleasantly surprised, and impressed, by the imagery of the horror elements. I was seeing everything Hendricks was seeing and I’ll tell you, some of it really creeped me out.

Even though it seems initially that the major site of the paranormal activity is located in the cellar, eventually it permeates through the entire house. Nowhere Hendricks goes is safe. I was genuinely afraid along with her.

Hendricks knows she has to get to the bottom of the haunting, or else risk the lives of everyone in her family.

Along with her brooding neighbor, Eddie, who has his own dark ties to Steel House, the two band together to try to exorcise it of its demons.

It all builds up to an epic showdown that kept me glued to the pages.

There were a couple of details towards the end that I wish hadn’t been included. They sort of pushed it pass the line of solid paranormal into eyeroll territory.

With this being said, however, I did enjoy this enough that as soon as I finished it, I ordered the second book.

I need to know what happens to Hendricks next. I want so much more time with her character. Well played, Danielle Vega. Well played.

Original:

Synopsis:
YA’s answer to Stephen King…

That’s a fairly lofty statement, but I’ll bite.
Plus, my 80s-loving heart feels the vibe of this cover.

Let’s do this.

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