Review: The Forest Demands Its Due by Kosoko Jackson

The Forest Demands Its DueThe Forest Demands Its Due by Kosoko Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

❤️💚🖤❤️💚🖤❤️💚🖤❤️💚🖤❤️💚🖤❤️

The first thing that attracted me to The Forest Demands Its Due was the stunning cover. It’s 100% my go-to aesthetic.

The colors, the imagery, even the font, I had to know what it was about. After reading the synopsis, I wanted it ASAP.

In this story, set in Winslow, a small town in rural-Vermont, we follow Douglas Jones, a recently enrolled student at the prestigious Regent Academy.

Douglas differs from the other students. He’s there because his Mom works there and he got in a bit of trouble elsewhere. He’s a scholarship kid. He’s not rich like the other kids, and really doesn’t expect to get the same experience out of Regent as they do.

Douglas simply wants to keep his head down and quietly make it through the year. Unfortunately, some of his peers are bound to make that goal challenging.

Douglas is on edge at Regent as it is, but after the mysterious death of a fellow student, one which only he seems to remember, Douglas is more sure than ever that something is off at the ivory-towered school.

When he meets Everett, the groundskeeper’s son, and discovers that Everett remembers the murdered boy too, Douglas decides he needs to find the truth. What in the heck is going on at Regent?

In his search for answers, Douglas uncovers a giant horde of secrets kept by the locals. Not only that, he’s awakened the horrific entity hiding at the heart of the forest surrounding the school.

Will Douglas be able to harness his inner power and defeat this formidable enemy before all of Winslow is destroyed?

He doesn’t know, but he’s certainly going to try and his new friend, Everett, plans to be with him every step of the way.

This isn’t a perfect book, but I did enjoy a lot of what the author created here. Douglas was great MC to follow and learn about. I loved his narrative voice. Additionally, the ideas behind the Horror elements were strong.

I enjoyed the blending of Social Horror with the Folk Horror-evil forest elements. The private school setting was well done and Jackson successfully set an ominous tone from the start. I think this truly deserves a higher overall rating, which is why I decided to round up.

At the beginning, it was giving me heavy We Don’t Swim Here vibes, which I enjoyed a lot, so that really helped to grab my attention early. The way Douglas was noticing things at Regent that other people either weren’t noticing, or weren’t admitting to noticing, was hella intriguing.

It felt menacing and heavy. What was going on?

I will admit, some of the plot was hard to track, particularly towards the end when the pace increased. I think some of the confusion came from the magical elements. I never felt like I had a full grasp on the magic system.

Overall though, I felt like the characters and setting were well done, and I enjoyed thinking about the different social topics explored.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys YA Social Horror, or Haunted Forest stories. Also, if you are looking for a Diverse, or Queer YA Horror read, this is a strong recommendation.

Thank you to the publisher, Quill Tree Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I am looking forward to reading more from Kosoko Jackson.

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Review: The Watchers by A.M. Shine

The WatchersThe Watchers by A.M. Shine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A.M. Shine’s The Watchers kicks off quickly, with the opening section following a husband and wife, who seeking an adventure, go for a drive through the wickedly-enchanting lands of Connemara, in the West of Ireland.

The events of that drive set the tone, and also the stage, for the rest of the story. Needless to say, I was hooked.

We then meet our MC, Mina, who along with an unusual copilot, a beautiful Golden Conure, also goes traveling through those same wild lands.

Mina’s trying to make a quick buck. It should be easy, delivering the parrot safely to its new owner. When her car breaks down on the abandoned road though, her task suddenly becomes anything but easy. Mina exits her car, bringing the bird with her, as she searches for help.

The woodlands are eerie enough, but the screams make it all so much worse…

With no cell phone reception, or clue as to where she is, Mina has to keep going. There’s no telling how long it could take another car to come along this way.

Eventually she comes across a woman, shouting at her and waving for her to enter a concrete bunker. Scared out of her wits by the woods, Mina does as she’s told and enters the shelter. From there, she becomes captive to that seemingly safe space. A hostage of what’s lurking in the woods.

If you’re expecting answers quickly, don’t be. Part of the success of this story is the way that Shine builds that sense of uncertainty and unease. My thoughts were swirling as Mina entered the shelter.

What the heck was going on? The other residents of the shelter, Madeline, Daniel and Ciara, all seem like they’ve been there for a while, but just how long is unclear? And what is watching them? What are they afraid of?

I will say, about a third of the way through, it did start to slow down for me. We focus more on the characters at that point, and their forced interactions in the tiny shelter.

Part of me feels like that may have been intentional by the author. Perhaps as a way to lull the Reader into a bit of complacency, because just as you forget how much danger these characters are in, it rears its ugly head again and that fear and suspense is back.

Even with this pace change though, I was still intrigued and invested in finding out what the truth was.

This ultimately went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and there were a few reveals, as the conclusion approached, that I found to be so clever and disturbing.

I was definitely impressed with the atmosphere and horror concepts that Shine delivered here. This type of unsettling Folk Horror is something I tend to enjoy and this one will now live rent-free in my brain for a long time.

I recommend this to any Horror Reader, particularly if you enjoy unsettling atmospherea and Folk Horror that can get under your skin and stay there. I would also recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Pines by Blake Crouch, or Bird Box by Josh Malerman.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. The Watchers is a very solid story of Irish Folk Horror. I found it disturbing in the best ways. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author!

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Review: Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology, Edited by Shane Hawk & Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.

Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction AnthologyNever Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology by Shane Hawk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Attention Dark Fiction fans: if you only read one anthology all year, it should be this one; an amazing collection!!

Never Whistle at Night is exactly what the subtitle says, an Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology. From the moment I heard about this release, I was stoked for it.

The synopsis sold me. I was also so excited to see the incredible group of authors contributing and that there would be an introduction by one of my all-time faves, Stephen Graham Jones!

I love all things Dark Fiction. It’s definitely my comfort zone and I truly enjoy exploring Dark Fiction inspired by cultures other than my own. I just love learning about the different dark lore/stories that various cultures around the world tell, or incorporate into their broader fictional narrative.

I am no writer, so I’m probably failing miserably in explaining what I mean, but hopefully you get the gist of why I was so excited for this particular anthology.

After the introduction from Stephen Graham Jones, the deep storytelling vibes are set and it’s time to dive in. I was immediately impressed with the variety and depth of the stories included. I had chills by the time I had finished the first story, always a good sign.

Anthologies and short-story collections are always a little hard to rate highly, as it’s very rare to vibe with all the stories included in a 5-star way. You’ll always have some you enjoy a lot and maybe a few that aren’t to your taste.

While I would say that is also true here, overall, for me, this was definitely a 5-star reading experience. Even though not all the stories were tailored to my particular tastes, I could still appreciate just how well they were written, and how each author truly brought their heart and their A-game to this collection.

If you are curious, some of the stand-outs for me in this collection were: White Hills by Rebecca Roanhorse, Quantum by Nick Medina, Snakes are Born in the Dark by D.H. Trujillo, Scariest. Story. Ever. by Richard Van Camp, The Prepper by Morgan Talty, Sundays by David Heska Wanbli Weiden and Collections by Amber Blaeser-Wardzala.

My favorite story of the collection was actually written by one of the editors, Shane Hawk. The story is titled Behind Colin’s Eyes and follows a boy and his Dad embarking on what should be a regular day of hunting, but ends up being anything but that. This one creeped me the heck out. It gave me chills and the whole thing is seared in my brain now. I won’t unsee this. Great work!

Overall, there is so much to love about this collection. There’s definitely something for everyone in here. As mentioned before, the stories cover a wide-range of topics and you can tell that these authors took a lot of care with the stories they were sharing.

Never Whistle at Night is a must read for anyone who enjoys Dark Fiction. Available now!!!

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Review: The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro

The Haunting of AlejandraThe Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Haunting of Alejandra is a slow burn. One which, I’ll be honest, initially, I wasn’t sure was going to be for me.

I am happy to say that this slow-burner is well-worth the wait. It ended up really grabbing me. It is such a powerful story; so much more than a pretty cover.

In this story we follow, Alejandra, wife, mother and homemaker. When we meet her, Alejandra is struggling. She feels trapped, like she has no control over her life. She feels judged by her husband, used by her children and overlooked by the rest of the world.

Alejandra has no close family for support either. She was adopted when she was just a baby, by a super-religious family, she has since broken ties with.

She has found and contacted her birth mother though and was starting to build a relationship with her. Unfortunately, due to her husband’s work, they had to move and now her bio-mom lives far away.

Alejandra is having visions. She is depressed, in a black hole she sees no way out of. It’s difficult to read at times. I could definitely see her side, but man, was it bleak.

This is a story of generational trauma as well, so even though Alejandra doesn’t know a lot about her ancestors, or their lives, we get to follow some of them through different historical perspectives.

I did enjoy this. Some of these perspectives were more interesting than others, but where they really succeeded was in shining a light on the similarities of these women’s lives.

No matter how far they were separated in time, they all struggled with the same issues. The largest being, lack of choice and a battle for personal autonomy.

The Horror elements in this stem from Alejandra’s haunting by a spirit appearing as La Llorona, the Mexican Folk Demon, seemingly attached to Alejandra’s family.

This is the first novel I have read by V. Castro and I was impressed with the level of Horror imagery brought to the page. Toe-curling in some sections, visceral and biting, it definitely made me cringe.

Additionally, I loved how tied the haunting was to Alejandra’s culture. As mentioned above, she didn’t know a ton about her heritage initially, but believe it or not, I felt like what happened to her inspired her to learn more; to be more in touch with that part of herself.

Overall, I am so glad that I stuck with this one. It was a little tough to get through at first, but Castro made it worth it. There was a plan behind it all and it paid off big time. This will stick in my mind for a long time.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Del Rey, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I am looking forward to reading more from this author!

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Review: Churn the Soil by Steve Stred

Churn the SoilChurn the Soil by Steve Stred
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤

Churn the Soil kicks off with a bang and doesn’t let up; not once. In the beginning we have a murdered young girl, mutilated in a somewhat sacred area at The Border.

Basco PD officers get alerted to the gruesome crime and travel to The Border to investigate. At this point, you may be asking, what the heck is The Border?

The Border is an area outside of Basco and the border with the Yukon territory. There is a community of people there that have chosen to cut themselves off from the rest of society. They’re none too trusting of authority, particularly the local police.

When Officers Brown and Reynolds arrive, the Border dwellers are less than forthcoming about the dead girl. Luckily, Officer Brown actually was a resident at The Border when he was child and still has one friend within the settlement, a woman named, Nancy.

Nancy wants to help. She realizes something is off with the general flow of life at The Border. This type of thing hasn’t happened in recent memory. She wants to get to the bottom of it as much as the next guy.

Little do they know, it’s about to get worse. Wayy worse.

Churn the Soil is a high octane Horror story. Stred somehow seamlessly blended an Action movie with Folk Horror and a good old fashioned Police Procedural into one work. I’m not sure how he did it, but he definitely pulled it off.

I am not going to say too much more about the plot, because frankly, I feel like it is best going in knowing next to nothing, as I did. This story is full of surprises.

I will say one little thing for Readers who have tastes close to mine. There is a dog in this story. The most perfect Cane Corso that the world has ever seen. He is a K9 police officer named Bruiser and he plays a significant role.

If this concerns you, if perhaps animal content is triggering for you, please read the following: (view spoiler)

I was impressed with how quickly Stred hooked me. There’s no unnecessary build-up, or silly filler, and I was really digging his writing style from first few pages. I am looking forward to picking up more of his stories.

Additionally, this is one of those cold-weather Horror stories that will have you adding an extra layer to your wardrobe while you’re reading. I feel like Stred really succeeded in building-out a powerful setting. The backdrop of this landscape gets under your skin.

I’m not going to lie, this gets wild. W-I-L-D. The threat feels real. In fact, it almost seems hopeless. These characters are up against an incredible evil. I definitely wondered how anyone would make it out alive.

Overall, this story kept me up well into the night. It’s a creative and creepy Horror tale. Solid work from new-to-me author, Steve Stred. This was a lot of cringe-worthy, run-faster, don’t look behind you, fun!!

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