Review: The Haunting on West 10th Street (Detective Maria Miller #1) by Helen Phifer

The Haunting on West 10th Street (Detective Maria Miller, #1)The Haunting on West 10th Street by Helen Phifer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Haunting on West 10th Street is the 1st-book in the Detective Maria Miller Police Procedural Mystery series by Helen Phifer.

In this story we follow Detective Miller and her partner, Frankie, as they investigate a brutal crime in the attic of a Greenwich brownstone, where decades earlier a beautiful actress was murdered in the same way. The detectives are puzzled by the disturbing similarities between the crimes occurring in this house.

How could they be connected? Do they just have a sadistic copycat on their hands, or something more sinister?

Immediately upon entering the brownstone, Maria feels something dark. It’s a tickle in her senses; unpleasant and unsettling. The dramatic staging of the crime scene only enhances these feelings.

In both the past and present cases, body parts were removed from the victims and not recovered. Additionally, evidence of satanic rituals have been found. Who could possibly want to recreate something so evil?

This story is told using a dual timeline. We follow Maria and Frankie in the present, but we also get a historical perspective featuring the events leading up to the previous murder in the house. Lastly, we do get a modern perspective from an unknown individual, who appears to be our baddie.

I enjoyed getting the multi-perspectives, as well as the history. Although I did find the past sections a little slower-paced than the modern perspectives. With this being said, I still enjoyed the fact that it was told this way and I feel like it gave a lot of needed insight into the property and the characters involved.

The brownstone on West 10th feels like a haunting presence in this story. It becomes a character unto itself and I always appreciate when an author can provide us with such a vivid sense of place.

There is quite a bit of focus on the partnership between Maria and Frankie. They’ve been together for a long time and you can tell that they both care deeply for one another, but with Frankie’s marriage failing, could there be something more?

I know some Readers won’t care for the slight romance plot that’s woven throughout this story, but for me, I found it made the characters feel more realistic.

When you’re working with someone as closely as these two are, over a number of years, there’s bound to be some types of complicated feelings intrinsic to that relationship.

I didn’t feel like the author overplayed that, or let it overshadow the investigative aspects of the story. For me, it was blended in well and felt natural.

I did have the chance to listen to the audiobook for this one and I definitely recommend it as a format for this story. The back-and-forth between the timelines was handled well and the narration is fantastic.

Overall, this was super entertaining. I vibed well with Maria as a character and am definitely looking forward to going along on future investigations with these detectives. The ending was such a great set-up for the continuation of the series. I can’t wait to see what will come their way next.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys darker, Police Procedural Mysteries. Particularly, if you are a Horror fan like me, this may work really well for your tastes. Phifer definitely has a knack for incorporating some paranormal aspects into her mysteries.

Thank you to the publisher, Storm Publishing, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I can’t wait to continue on with this series!

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Review: Under the Smokestrewn Sky (Up-and Under #4) by A. Deborah Baker

Under the Smokestrewn SkyUnder the Smokestrewn Sky by A. Deborah Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Under the Smokestrewn Sky is the 4th-installment of Seanan McGuire’s, writing as A. Deborah Baker, Up-and-Under series. A magical Middle Grade series loosely-connected to McGuire’s Alchemical Journeys; an Adult SFF-mindblower.

While technically this is classified as Middle Grade Fantasy, it is actually perfect for Readers of all ages, containing quite a few philosophical and science-based elements.

Speaking of elements, each book in this quartet is constructed around one of the four classical elements: earth, air, fire and water. The first book was earth, the second, water, the third, air and then in this one, we feature fire.

The series follows two children, Avery and Zib, the A-to-Z of our tale, who upon a normal commute to school one day encounter a giant wall where it shouldn’t be. Together they decide to go up and over this wall, thus finding themselves in a magical world, known as the Up-and-Under.

Each story follows the kids as they journey through different lands in this world, journeying along the improbable road, trying to find their way home.

After a short recap at the beginning, we slip back into the story where we left off. It had a bit of a slow start for me and did seem more philosophical in nature, as far as the conversations between the various characters went.

Personally, I could have used more action, but Baker’s writing, per usual, was intentional and fluid. Every detail is there for a reason and I would love to go back at some point and read all four of these back-to-back.

I feel like I forgot so much about the functionality, history and politics of the Up-and-Under in between books, that I wasn’t able to appreciate the over-arching story as much as I could have. I would also love to reread Middlegame after I do so, to see if I can pick up more details in that as well.

And I guess this is it. I actually wasn’t sure if this was going to be the conclusion to this series, but it certainly felt like it. I’m sad to see these characters go. It’s hard not to grow attached to them after all we’ve been through.

I also have some thoughts regarding this series and a possible, or maybe even existing, connection to the Wayward Children series…

I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a fantastical Middle Grade Adventure story, or anyone who has enjoyed previous works from Seanan McGuire, including the Wayward Children series.

I feel like the concepts are similar to that and now that you can read the entire series at once, all the better. With likable characters, suspense, magic and intrigue, this series is sure to be a hit with Readers of all ages.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor and Macmillan Audio, for providing me copies to read and review. This is a great series and will live in my heart for a long time to come!

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Review: Christmas Presents by Lisa Unger

Christmas PresentsChristmas Presents by Lisa Unger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

This was solid. I definitely enjoyed it light-years beyond Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six, so that’s a plus and makes me open to picking up more from this author.

I wish this could have been a little longer, honestly. I felt a little clipped. I would have enjoyed learning even more about this group of characters. Maybe their stories will be continued, or elaborated on, at another time?

In this story, we are following a few different characters. Madeline Martin is a bookshop owner in Little Valley, who in her teen years survived a brutal attack that left her best friend, Steph, dead. Madeline has been living with the shadow of that night looming over her ever since.

Harley Granger is a True Crime Podcaster, who arrives in Little Valley looking to speak to Madeline about the night she would just as soon forget.

It seems Harley has been in contact with Evan Handy, the man convicted of murdering Steph and plans to explore these crimes on his Podcast. Since Evan’s conviction, three other women have disappeared, casting doubts on whether or not he worked alone.

Finally, we follow Lolly, an exotic dancer who gets thrown into the drama unfolding in the small town. Even though we do get Lolly’s perspective, Madeline and Harley are definitely the stars of this show.

The story is comprised of current day sections, as well as glimpses into the past, in particular surrounding Madeline’s life and the night of the crimes.

I listened to the audiobook for this, and while I enjoyed it quite a bit, I do feel the story could’ve been better served by having two, or even three, different narrators. This is personal preference though, but I think it could have helped to delineate between perspectives.

With this being said, I did think the content and set-up were very interesting. The characters were well-developed and easy to follow.

At the same time, since this was so short, I feel like I could have been even more connected, and enjoyed it even more, if it had been a tad longer. That way, all facets could have been taken a little futher. For what is here though, it is well done and I think a lot of Readers are going to really enjoy it.

An added bonus was the setting. The Christmasy-Winter-feel was great and it definitely put me in the mood for some colder weather reads!

Thank you so much to the publisher, HighBridge Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I definitely recommend this one to Unger fans, or anyone looking to try her work for the first time. I think this one would give you a great feel for her writing style.

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Review: Slappy Birthday to You (Goosebumps Slappyworld #1) by R.L. Stine

Slappy Birthday to You (Goosebumps Slappyworld, #1)Slappy Birthday to You by R.L. Stine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Slappy Birthday to You is the first book in the Goosebumps Slappyworld series by R.L. Stine. This book was first published in 2017 and features Stine’s iconic ventriloquist dummy character known as Slappy.

I decided to pick this one up because ventriloquist dummies, well actually, all dolls scare me. I wouldn’t be able to sleep in a room that had a doll in it, for example. That doll would find themselves shoved in a closet on the far side of the house. Preferably, a closet with a lock on it.

In this story, we meet Ian Barker, who is gifted Slappy on his 12th-birthday. He has wanted a ventriloquist doll for a few years now and can’t believe he finally has his very own.

We get the story behind Ian’s fascination with the dolls and then we follow what it’s like for him as the proud new owner of Slappy. Spoiler Alert: it doesn’t go well.

What do we know about Goosebumps? It’s nostalgic, it’s formulaic and it can be a lot of fun.

I decided to listen to the audiobook for this story and I do recommend that option. Slappy provides the Introduction, the Epilogue and some fun little observation sections in between. His voice is really well presented on the audio. It definitely sounds like it could be him.

It’s eerie and high-pitched and if I ever saw and actual doll talking I would die and then be resurrected so I could die again. So, thank goodness, so far, that has never happened.

Unfortunately, for me, Slappy is more slapstick than scary at this point. He tries to be witty and snarky, but mainly his bad puns and ill-timed one-liners are anything but funny.

That’s the thing that sort of irks me about this. I love the humor in Children’s and Middle Grade stories, and I feel like it is something that those stories in general should have. Stine’s humor just feels so out-dated and frankly, not good.

I’m not trashing him. He’s a freaking icon and we cherish Goosebumps, Fear Street and basically anything else he has touched over his decades-long career.

However, perhaps he should have someone help him with the jokes, cause these aren’t landing.

There were some fun, creepy moments in this and I did genuinely enjoy the ending. I thought it was clever and definitely gave me a little lift of the brow. It was good.

I will probably be picking up the next couple books in the series, there are 19 total, just to see if they get more engaging for me. I am actually interested to see how we transition into the next tale as far as Slappy’s character goes.

I would recommend checking out this series for hardcore Goosebumps fans, if you haven’t gotten to it already. For newbies, I recommend starting with the original series.

I could be biased, formulating opinions based solely on nostalgia, but so far, nothing touches those originals for me. Overall though, I always have fun picking up a Goosebumps books and will continue doing so for years to come!

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Review: We’ll Never Tell by Wendy Heard

We'll Never TellWe’ll Never Tell by Wendy Heard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though Wendy Heard and I have had a bit of a tumultuous relationship, after reading the synopsis for We’ll Never Tell, I knew I would have to read this one.

With a plot that sounded right up my alley, I decided on a whim to pick it up via audio from my local library. I’m so happy that I did. Not only is it fitting for this Spooky Season, it was also fast-paced and highly engaging.

This YA-story, set in Hollywood, California, follows a group of teens whose viral YouTube channel, We’ll Never Tell, features them trespassing into some of Hollywood’s most notorious locales.

The group of four, Casey, Zoe, Jacob and Eddie, run their channel anonymously and they each bring their own special skills to the table. Their videos are a bit dangerous, but they’re all passionate about it and their channel’s popularity is skyrocketing.

With their Senior year coming to a close, and everyone heading in different directions, they decide to end their journey together with one final banger of a video.

Their last video will feature their exploration of the infamous Valentini Murder House, home to a tragic murder/suicide in 1972.

As the teens are exploring, they’re getting some great footage, when suddenly the alarm is tripped. Knowing the police will be on their way, the teens flee as fast as they can, but unfortunately only three make it out.

Jacob is found in the home, having been stabbed numerous times. Jacob is in rough shape, barely clinging to life and he is rushed to the hospital.

The other three, concerned with getting into trouble if the police know they were there, decide to lie to everyone and tell them that Jacob must have gone there by himself.

The story follows the three remaining teens as they investigate what happened that night, as well as if it could be connected to the crimes of the past. There’s a lot of scrambling, lies and cover-ups, but feeling they have no choice, they plod on as best as they can.

I thought this was quite entertaining. I was hooked by the initial set-up and loved the Hollywood setting. That’s not generally something I would gravitate towards, but I feel like Heard did it so well and brought some of the mystery of old Hollywood glamour to the page.

The characters are highly dramatic and they make terrible decisions, but actually, it was pretty believable. I know I made some dumbass choices as a high school Senior. Don’t tell my parents…

Anyway, yeah. I got invested in this quickly. The mystery was fun. I wasn’t sure who I could trust, including our main girl, Casey. I also really loved the overall is it supernatural, is it not supernatural vibe Heard brought to the page.

I also enjoyed the use of mixed media. It’s not too heavy, but there were some newspaper articles, interviews, etc., that helped build up the intrigue and sense of reality.

The audiobook was fantastically narrated as well, and I would definitely recommend that format for anyone who has easy access to audiobooks. This story plays out quite well in that medium, helping to bring the characters to life.

I definitely would recommend this one to fans of YA Thrillers focusing on a tight-knit friend group and featuring local lore/mysteries. If you love those things, I don’t think this one will let you down!

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Review: Starling House by Alix E. Harrow

Starling HouseStarling House by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**


Starling House is darkly enchanting. A perfect October read!

If you’ve read my review of The Ten Thousand Doors of January, you already know that Harrow and I didn’t get off to the best of starts.

I could see glimmers of greatest, but that story just wasn’t for me in anyway. In spite of that, I never write an author off after just one try, so have picked up other works from Harrow since then.

I had a ton of fun with her Fractured Fables novellas and was ready to try this one out upon its release.

This story is set in the small town of Eden, Kentucky, known for being the home to a reclusive 19th-Century author and illustrator, who mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind her gorgeous gothic estate, Starling House.

We follow a young woman named, Opal, who hasn’t had it easy. She cares for her younger brother and works hard every day to try to make ends meet. She wants a better life for him and sacrifices a lot.

Through a series of interesting events, Opal ends up with a job offer to work at Starling House. She’s to become the regular housekeeper for the estate; trust, a full-time job.

Opal knows better than to mess with supposedly haunted houses, but regardless of her trepidation, she sort of needs this. Bonus, the house-cleaning position offers her the chance to get to know the last heir to the estate, the handsome, yet prickly, Arthur Starling.

The story involves a lot of history of the house, the property, the Starling family, as well as the growing relationship between Opal and Arthur.

I enjoyed learning about all that. Harrow made it so interesting. I just wanted to know more. I will note, there are footnotes utilized in telling this story, and although generally I am fairly ambivalent about their use, I felt here they worked quite well for providing the Reader with extra information needed to truly connect with this story.

Starling House includes a trope, or maybe it’s more accurate to call it a theme, that I have seen pop up recently in quite a few other novels. Most memorably, Hide, These Fleeting Shadows and Episode Thirteen.

If you have read any of these, you may know the concept I’m referring. For me, this is BY FAR, the best that idea, or concept, has been brought to the page recently. I haven’t enjoyed it in any other case, but there was something about the way Harrow told this story that just worked for me.

I loved how dark and whimsical this felt, almost like a Dark Fairy Tale, but while also containing an ‘our world’ modern feel. It was almost a story out of time. It made me think about that television show, Once Upon a Time. Not because of the content, but just the overall vibe.

I became quickly invested in this. Early on I was hooked. I loved how Harrow chose to tell and build out this story. It was easy to get invested in the characters and while I wasn’t at the edge of my seat, I still didn’t want it to end.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys Adult Fiction with dark undertones. If unsettling atmosphere, potential whimsical monsters and dark fairy tales are your jam, you have to check this one out.

I’m so glad that I continued to pick up Harrow’s work and encourage every Reader to give authors a second chance. Delightful reads like this could be just around the corner.

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Review: Fox Snare (Thousand Worlds #3) by Yoon Ha Lee

Fox Snare (Thousand Worlds, #3)Fox Snare by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Fox Snare is the third book in the Thousand Worlds series, Yoon Ha Lee’s Middle Grade Space Opera. This series has been published as part of the Rick Riordan imprint.

If you are unaware, the mission of this imprint is to provide a stage for diverse voices to tell stories based upon the myths, legends and folklore of their cultures. I’ve read quite a few books from this imprint and they’ve all been fantastic.

I recommend checking them out, if you haven’t already.

This series began with Dragon Pearl, which was my favorite Middle Grade book of 2019. In that story, we meet 13-year old Min, a fox spirit.

We follow her on a rollicking space adventure to clear her brother, Yun’s, name. The world-building was incredible, the writing was fluid and engaging and the sci-fi elements were top notch.

The second book, Tiger Honor, followed Sebin, a tiger spirit, who goes on their own journey to clear a hero’s name.

I really enjoyed it as well, although I didn’t connect with it quite like I did with Dragon Pearl. That one would be really hard to beat. Nevertheless, it’s still a high quality Middle Grade story, full of action and heart.

In this third book, we get alternating perspectives between Min and Sebin, and I did like how that aspect made it feel like the series has come full circle; that everything connected for this finale in a big way.

Yoon Ha Lee’s writing, as always, was spectacular. His ability to create beautifully-constructed settings, all while adding in well-fleshed out characters and high-stakes action is truly impressive. I think any Middle Grade Reader who picks up this story will absolutely be a Sci-Fi fan for life.

I did find the perspective shifts a little hard to track initially. This could have been because I was listening to the audiobook and it was a single narrator.

While their narration was fantastic, bringing the story to life, it wasn’t quite as easy to differentiate between Min’s character and Sebin’s. I sort of wish they would have used dual narrators to add that level of distinction and clarity.

With this being said, I still feel like this is a super solid conclusion to this trilogy. I definitely feel like I felt these characters grow, mature and really come into their own over the course of this series.

I actually would love to see Yoon Ha Lee carry this world, and maybe even these characters, over into a YA, or even Adult, series. I seriously do not want this to be the last I see of the Thousand Worlds, Min, or Sebin.

Thank you to the publisher, Disney Audio and Rick Riordan Presents Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. This is a great series, start-to-finish.

It’s definitely one I would recommend to anyone who loves a fast-paced, big-hearted space adventure!!

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Review: The London Seance Society by Sarah Penner

The London SΓ©ance SocietyThe London SΓ©ance Society by Sarah Penner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The London Seance Society is a Historical Mystery following Lenna Wickes, a young woman looking into the untimely death of her younger sister, Evie.

Lenna is an apprentice for acclaimed spiritualist Vaudeline D’Allaire in Paris. Vaudeline is summoned to London, after the death of an old colleague, which provides Lenna the perfect opportunity to investigate Evie’s final days, as she was living in London at the time of her death.

We also get the perspective of Mr. Morley, the Vice President of the London Seance Society, a secretive men’s club.

Mr. Morley is looking into a murder of this own, that of his friend and fellow Seance Society member, Mr. Wolckman. Incidentally, both Evie and Mr. Wolckman were killed on All Hallow’s Eve. Dun, dun, dunnnnn.

I really enjoyed the opening of this. The vibes that Penner created in the beginning, as we met the two main characters and discovered the dual mysteries, that pulled me in right away. I enjoyed learning about the Seance Society and Vaudeline’s work as well.

By five or six chapters in though, I realized we weren’t just shifting perspectives, we were going back and forth in time as well. I had no clue prior to that. Then I was wondering if I knew what I think I knew…

I think part of that issue for me was that I was listening to the audiobook. Though fabulously narrated, I wasn’t able to refer back to the beginning of each chapter to check the date, so if something I wasn’t sure about happened, there was no quick way to reference where I was in time.

In spite of that, at that point, I was still finding the story itself quite intriguing. Around the middle it did begin to drag for me a bit and I felt myself thinking about other things while reading. In other words, it was a mixed bag.

I think in the middle there were also aspects, particularly surrounding a romance, that I didn’t care for. It felt unnecessary to me and I wished that certain characters could have just been two people working together towards a common goal, instead of wanting to jump each others bones.

Obviously, I am being a little blunt about it, but that’s how that relationship made me feel. However, with my mini-rant out of the way, I did enjoy this. It’s a good book.

Overall, it was entertaining and I definitely enjoyed the atmosphere and mystery elements Penner included. I’m interested in checking out more of her work.

The ending got twisty and I did enjoy some of the things that were revealed. I would say my interest started hella strong and slowly went down as the story continued.

I wish I could have enjoyed this one a bit more, but I am definitely in the minority opinion. There are many glowing reviews and I’m happy that so many people loved it and connected with it.

If you haven’t read it yet and the synopsis sounds intriguing to you, I recommend you give it a go. You could find a new favorite book. It’s especially a great selection for this time of year; quite Autumnal in feel.

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Review: You Always Come Back by Emily Smith

You Always Come BackYou Always Come Back by Emily Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Nine years ago, July Weaver’s younger sister, May, was the first victim of a serial killer in rural Georgia, dubbed the Pacific Lake Killer.

After July’s own testimony puts her father away for the crimes, she decides she’s had enough. She flees her family home to try to make it on her own in Nashville.

Struggling with addiction and not necessarily achieving all her dreams career-wise, July finds herself in a bit of a rut. Then she gets a call from her family.

Ughhh, just when you think things can’t get any worse…

It appears her younger brother, Dec, who also struggles with substance abuse, has had a major setback and may even have tried to take his own life.

It’s one of her older brothers who reaches out to her and he insists that July comes home. They need to fix this as a family. Begrudgingly, she agrees and heads home for the first time in nine long years.

July heads home expecting an uncomfortable family reunion, what she’s not expecting is to discover new evidence that will make her question everything; her Dad, her choices and her sister’s death.

Is it possible the wrong man went away for the crimes? Is the Pacific Lake Killer still out there? And if they are, is there any way for July to make it right?

You Always Come Back was such a delightful surprise. I had no idea what to expect going into this debut, as far as quality goes, and I’ll tell you, I’m tickled pink.

I listened to the audiobook and recommend that as a format for people who have access to it. The narration brought this story to life and drew me in immediately.

I loved the overall tone of the story. It brought to mind a sort of hillbilly noir quality that I always enjoy. Fans of The Familiar Dark and Out of the Ashes should sit up and pay attention. This one is good!

I really enjoyed the way Smith told this story. The back-and-forth between past and present, as a way to develop the family dynamics and history, was so intriguing.

I found both perspectives equally fascinating and for me, the pace never slowed down once July got back home.

I do adore the trope of an MC returning to their hometown after many years away, looking into a mystery, or digging into something they have questions about. In that regard, this story fit my tastes to a tee.

In addition to that though, I just feel like this is great storytelling, start-to-finish. Interesting characters, an intriguing mystery and some unsettling atmosphere. What more can you want?

I am so happy to have read this and to have a new Mystery/Suspense author to fangirl over. I’m looking forward to reading Smith’s next novel!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Crooked Lane Books and Dreamscape Media, for providing me with copies to read and review. This one exceeded all my expectations!

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Review: Scarewaves by Trevor Henderson

ScarewavesScarewaves by Trevor Henderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up **

The small town of Beacon Point has a long and lurid history of eerie local phenomena. People disappear on the regular and creepy creatures are sighted just as regularly.

The adult residents of the town prefer not to talk about these unpleasantries, so they tend to turn the other way, or sweep unsavory incidents under the proverbial rug.

Regardless of the adults lack of action. over the course of several increasingly scary nights, a group of the local kids are forced to work together to try to find out the truth about their town. They need to put a stop to the horrors, before the horrors put a stop to them.

With fast-paced, intense chapters following the kids, as well as excerpts from a local radio show relaying the past spooky history of the town, Scarewaves is a wildly-entertaining read!

I had the pleasure of listening to the audiobook for this one and cannot recommend it highly enough. The production is so well done. It had me giddy!

I particularly enjoyed the sections from the radio show. The narration of the show host, Alan Graves, was so convincing. I would frequently forget what I was listening to, it sounded so much like a creepy podcast. Also included, fantastic sound effects that made those parts extra fun.

I really enjoyed the initial set-up to this one as well. We have a new girl in town, a social outcast, and other kids becoming friends with a cause, and an urgency. They need to figure the mystery of their town out and they learn to rely on one another rather quickly because of that.

I was also so impressed with the horror imagery that Henderson brought to the page. I mean, I know I shouldn’t have been surprised by that, as it is what he does. If you are familiar with Henderson’s illustrations, you know he has an incredibly dark and vivid imagination. We love to see it!

As far as Middle Grade Horror goes, this definitely is top shelf work. There are legit scary moments in this. I would have been obsessed with this as a kid. Heck, I’m almost obsessed with it as an adult!

An absolute monster of a debut for Henderson. I definitely recommend if you are a fan of Spooky Middle Grade that you add this one to your TBR immediately.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Scholastic Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review. This was an darkly delightful read!

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