Review: It Watches in the Dark (Eek! #1) by Jeff Strand

It Watches in the Dark (Eek!)It Watches in the Dark by Jeff Strand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It Watches in the Dark is a fantastically-tense Spooky Middle Grade story, and the first book in the all-new Eek! series by veteran Horror author, Jeff Strand.

I was immediately drawn to this book because of the cover. How devilishly-divine is that scarecrow!? It’s giving me all the Autumnal vibes that I cherish in my every day life.

Jumping into this one, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I ended up enjoying it so much. The writing is fluid and engaging, with eerie Horror imagery throughout. I loved how quickly it kicked off, and never let up.

In this story, we follow twins, Trisha and Oliver. At the start of our tale they are on a canoe trip with their Dad, which is something they do often. On this particular trip through, they hit a series of unexpected rapids and their Dad is injured, knocked unconscious.

Not knowing exactly what to do, the kids tie up to the first dock they find and go ashore in search of help.

They end up coming across a tiny town in the woods, Escrow, population 999. Everything about the place seems a little odd, but beggars can’t be choosers, right? The twins seriously need to find their Dad help.

They meet a few townspeople, who though strange, seem to be willing enough to help, and they’re adults, they have to know what they’re doing.

Their Dad is retrieved and taken to the local medical center, but from there the kids are kept away from him. Germs and all that. Oliver and Trisha are left to their own devices and the more time they spend in Escrow, the more their senses tell them to beat feet out of there.

Perhaps it’s the enormous creepy scarecrow sitting sentinel in the town square that’s giving them that feeling. It seems to be watching them and the townspeople are obsessed with it, talking about it like it’s a living being.

As dark approaches, the kids are feeling panicked. They want to leave. They do not want to spend the night in Escrow, but they can’t move their Dad on their own.

The townspeople become more threatening and it suddenly feels imperative to escape. Will the kids be able to figure out a way to rescue their Dad and flee Escrow together, or will this be the end of the road for one, or all, of them?

It Watches in the Dark is a super solid Spooky Middle Grade read. I would definitely recommend this to any Reader who enjoys Middle Grade Horror.

It does have a sort of Goosebumps charm to it, but was creepier than that, really. Especially the initial chapters. I appreciate how Strand set-up this spooky town. It was definitely getting under my skin.

The more the kids interacted with the residents of Escrow, the more tense and stressed out I felt. I just wanted them to run away, but they couldn’t after their Dad was taken to the medical center. They didn’t want to abandon him, of course, and they were still wanting to trust these adults so much.

Oliver and Trisha were great too. I liked that they worked together and appreciated each others strengths, instead of just fighting all the time, as siblings tend to do in fiction.

Overall, I found this extremely entertaining. I think Strand did a great job of making this punchy, with plenty of action and spookiness on every page. I already have an early copy of the next book in the series, Nightmare in the Backyard and I’m excited to get to it!

Thank you to the publisher, SOURCEBOOKS Kids, for providing me with a copy to read and review. This was such a fun read; very well done!

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Review: Her Lost Soul (Detective Maria Miller #2) by Helen Phifer

Her Lost Soul (Detective Maria Miller #2)Her Lost Soul by Helen Phifer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Her Lost Soul is the 2nd-installment to Helen Phifer’s Paranormal Mystery series, Detective Maria Miller.

As the name suggests, this series follows Detective Maria Miller and her partner, Frankie Conroy, as they investigate possible paranormal cases, in and around NYC.

I really enjoyed the first book in the series, The Haunting on West 10th Street, so was looking forward to being reunited with Maria and Frankie.

Just to be clear, this is actually a Paranormal Mystery series. I know a lot of Readers enjoy the feel of, is it paranormal, is it not, but then when it comes right down to it, they don’t actually enjoy a paranormal conclusion, or explanation.

This isn’t a Scooby-Doo situation, where the mask is pulled off at the end to reveal the old librarian, who has been tricking everyone with mirrors and lighting effects.

The case in this novel is the disappearance of 17-year old, Riley Holt, daughter of a local Sheriff, who went missing while exploring an abandoned asylum with some friends.

Inspired by media such as Ghost Adventures, the four teens entered the asylum to explore and have some fun. Things start getting creepy though and in a sudden panic, they all flee, only noticing once they are outside that Riley is no longer with them.

Since the asylum is believed to be haunted, and after vigorous searching, no signs of Riley are found, Maria and Frankie are called in to take over the case.

As known experts in all things unexplainable, they seem like the right people for the job.

Maria and Frankie are forced to dig into the dark history of the asylum, leaving no stone unturned in their desperate search for Riley.

As with the first book in the series, this one also contains a historic perspective that is in some way connected with the current investigation.

In this case, we follow a patient at the asylum in 1960. We go back and forth between her experiences at the asylum, including the people she interacts with, and Maria and Frankie’s investigation.

I did really enjoy this. It didn’t hit as hard for me as the first book, I think because I didn’t find the mystery as creepy as that first one.

Also, it almost felt too short. I would have enjoyed a longer build-up to the final showdown and some more explanation as to how this was all resolved. I know what the results of the resolution are, but am unclear how we got there really.

With that being said though, I still found the back-and-forth perspectives intriguing and loved learning more about Maria. She’s a fun protagonist. I feel like I can relate to her and I enjoy the chemistry that she has with Frankie.

I am absolutely planning to continue on with this series. I hope there are a lot more future installments. They’re fun, light reads, that can help you forget about life for a while. Finally, two thumbs up for the audiobook format.

Thank so to the publisher, Storm Publishing and Dreamscape Select, for providing me with copies to read and review. I am looking forward to more Maria Miller!

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Review: Rolling in the Deep (Rolling in the Deep #0.5 by Mira Grant

Rolling in the Deep (Rolling in the Deep, #0.5)Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rolling in the Deep is the prequel to Mira Grant’s sensational killer mermaid story, Into the Drowning Deep.

I read Into the Drowning Deep in February of 2020 and absolutely LOVED it. There’s something about Aquatic Horror that I find so disturbing. Maybe it’s the fact that I live on a island…

Regardless, in that book we follow a ship crew sent out on a mission to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the crew of the Atargatis. The events of the Atargatis had occurred 7-years prior and one of the main characters had a sister who was part of the Atargatis crew.

You hear a lot in that story about the Atargatis, of course, but this novella covers the full story of that crew, their goals, actions and interactions leading up to their disappearance.

I love Grant’s use of mixed media to tell both of these stories. It makes it feel surprisingly realistic. I also feel like Grant excels at including science-based content in her stories. Both of these books are so well written.

I wish this would have been a full length novel. I know that wasn’t the point, but I just love these stories so much, I wanted more!

I definitely recommend these books to any Horror fan who hasn’t had the chance to get to them yet. You’ll never think of mermaids the same way again.

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Review: My Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon

My Darling GirlMy Darling Girl by Jennifer McMahon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had the pleasure of Buddy Reading My Darling Girl, the latest from Jennifer McMahon, with my fabulous niece, Lyss.

Having both loved earlier McMahon works, we were stoked to get to this one. Happily, it didn’t disappoint. I found this to be wickedly atmospheric. McMahon sure knows how to deliver the creep-factor I desire.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I’m an Atmosphere Girlie first and foremost. That’s what I am looking for when I open the pages of a book. I want to be transported and I want to be unsettled by it.

In this novel, we mainly follow Allison, an artist and children’s author, who lives with her husband, two daughters and family dog in a cozy farmhouse in Vermont.

As Christmas approaches, Allison receives a phone call that’s about to shake things up.

Allison’s estranged mother, Mavis, also an artist, is gravely ill with cancer. Mavis is expected to live for only a few more weeks and she has requested that she spend her last days in hospice care in her daughter’s home.

Allison is surprised her mother would make this request. Their relationship has been troubled for many, many years, to say the least. Perhaps her mother wants to repair their bond prior to her death?

Allison’s husband knows about his wife’s traumatic childhood and he’s a little worried her mom’s presence could trigger her, but he also feels like it could be very important to her healing process.

After a family discussion, Allison agrees. They’re going to do it. They’re going to open up their home to Mavis, providing her a safe and loving space for her last days.

Shortly after Mavis is settled in though, mysterious things start happening. Things Allison can’t explain. Mavis is barely recognizable to Allison, her behavior is so different.

What is going on here? She’s being nice to the girls, particularly the youngest, Olivia? Is Mavis suddenly a nurturing old woman who wants to spend time with her grandchildren and daughter, or is this all a deception?

Allison feels it, she knows something is off, but what?

This story was so enjoyable to watch unfold. It begins with a little section, set 27-years in the past, that sort of provides the building blocks for Allison’s relationship with Mavis. That section took my breath away. It freaked me out.

It was so unsettling. I needed answers. That sense of unease that McMahon captured there, in those first few pages, never left me. I never got that scene out of my head and it truly set the stage for this entire story.

I feel like McMahon has a knack for setting an ominous tone. I’m frequently scared and I don’t even know of what. I absolutely LOVE that feeling!

As mentioned in the synopsis, Allison suspects demonic possession and the way McMahon played with that idea and allowed it to evolve in the story was fantastic. Possession stories are one of my favorite subgenres of Horror, so I was intrigued and elated to read that idea explored here.

There are some sections from Mavis’s perspective, reflecting back on her life and earlier relationships. The back-and-forth was interesting and definitely helped to build out the overall narrative in a pleasing way.

The events in the second-half of the book definitely accelerate in speed. Before you know it, you’re racing towards the conclusion, and what a conclusion it is.

There was a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming and it made me ridiculously giddy. I loved it. McMahon continues to slay. You know I will be picking up all future works.

I definitely recommend this one to anyone who has enjoyed McMahon’s work in the past. Also, to anyone who loves a overriding feeling of dread that lasts throughout the story. Finally, to anyone who enjoys a dark and creepy atmosphere. This one is for you!

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Review: Goosebumps: Attack of the Graveyard Ghouls (Classic Goosebumps #31) by R.L. Stine

Attack of the Graveyard Ghouls (Classic Goosebumps #31)Attack of the Graveyard Ghouls by R.L. Stine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Attack of the Graveyard Ghouls is the 31st-book in the Classic Goosebumps reprint series. I read this one in a couple hours after receiving it for Christmas.

I am happy to report it’s definitely one of the fun ones. It’s not perfect, but as Goosebumps go, it’s pretty darn good. A great way to pass a relaxing afternoon.

In this story we meet Spencer and he’s a little awkward, not necessarily one of the popular boys. He gets picked on a bit, made worse when he is forced to read an essay he had written aloud to the class and his teacher has nothing but praise for him.

How dare she!? But when the teacher notices the kids turning on Spencer, she doubles down. Spencer’s story involved the local graveyard and the teacher comes up with the idea to take a field trip there the very next day.

In absolute Goosebumps logic, that’s exactly what they do, pre-planning and permission slips be damned!!

Her idea is for the kids to do some grave rubbings and she’ll ultimately turn it into a local history lesson, if nothing else.

As the kids are exploring the graveyard, Spencer accidentally knocks over an eerie-looking tombstone. After that, all heck hits the fan for poor Spencer.

This story involves graveyard ghouls inhabiting bodies and wrecking havoc on the town. Spencer does have one good friend, Audra, and she’s fairly involved in the action as well.

I fully expected this to be one of the stories where Stine strings you along, all to discover at the end that it was a dream, or prank. I’m not saying that that didn’t happen, but I did give it 4-stars, so…

There were a couple details that progressed the plot that I wasn’t necessarily crazy about; mostly involving animals. Overall though, that didn’t affect my enjoyment too much.

I did think that the ending was super fun. It left a sinister little smirk on my face. OMG, Stine, you tricky bugger.

I would recommend this one to Goosebumps fans. It definitely has that classic formula that made me nostalgic for the horror stories of younger years. I’ll never stop reading these books. It’s just part of who I am. Well done by Stine!

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Review: The Night House by Jo Nesbรธ

The Night HouseThe Night House by Jo Nesbรธ
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Blinded by another stunning cover…

Sadly, The Night House was a complete flop for me. I get it. The format, and certain aspects, were creative and I give props for that, but in order to get there, it had to utilize certain plot devices that are a huge turn off for me.

It hurts me to rate this low, but I rate based on my reading experience and this was not a good one.

In this story we meet 14-year old, Richard Elauved, who moves in with his Aunt and Uncle after his parents pass away in a tragic house fire.

As if the loss of his parents wasn’t bad enough, the move puts Richard in a new school, and at 14, it’s not comfortable to be the new kid. Ballantyne is a small town as well, and since Richard is from a city, its a big change for him.

Although he is an outsider, Richard does make a couple of friends. Unfortunately, one of these friends, Tom, goes missing after he and Richard are hanging out one afternoon. Richard claims Tom got sucked through an old phone receiver, but of course, no one believes him.

Except for Karen. One of the few other friends he has made. Karen is an outcast as well and instead of laughing at Richard’s story, she encourages him to pursue it, and to hunt down the clues the police refuse to investigate.

After another classmate disappears after spending time alone with Richard, it’s more important than ever for Richard to prove he’s innocent. Richard would never hurt anyone, would he?

This story could essentially be broken down into three parts. For me, the first most closely resembled what I thought I had signed up for and although I thought Richard was a jerk, some of the plot developments were interesting.

By Act II, I was sort of ticked that it took a particular sharp turn, then by Act III, I was over it completely.

Needless to say, I can appreciate the thought that Nesbรธ put into the construction of this story, and I do feel like it is a bit of a clever take on some classic themes.

It does feel like Nesbรธ’s read some R.L. Stine. If he hasn’t, I would be surprised, because this does mirror some of the early Goosebumps tone quite a bit in the first section. From there it gets progressively more Adult, but I digress.

In spite of the fact that this wasn’t a hit for me, I know a lot of Readers will have fun with it. If the plot devices suit your tastes, you could end up loving it. I encourage everyone who thinks it sounds interesting to give it a go.

Thank you to the publisher, Knopf, for providing me with a copy to read and review. Regardless of the outcome, I’m glad I gave it a shot!

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Review: The Gift by Freida McFadden

The GiftThe Gift by Freida McFadden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Gift is a very fun short story by beloved author, Freida McFadden. It is a Christmas story and if this doesn’t get you in the mood for the season, I’m not sure what will!

I’m not going to say anything at all about the story itself, as it’s only 53-pages. I will say, this is my first taste of Freida McFadden’s work, but it will not be my last.

It’s tense, engaging and delightfully devious. I was impressed with how easily McFadden was able to draw me into the story and how much she packed into so few pages.

There are times when short stories can be unsatisfying, but that’s not the case here. This was really well done.

Thank you to the publisher, Dreamscape Select, for providing me with an audiobook to read and review. I am definitely looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Review: Everlost (The Skinjacker Trilogy #1) by Neal Shusterman

Everlost (The Skinjacker Trilogy)Everlost by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Everlost, the first book in Neal Shusterman’s Skinjacker Trilogy was originally published in 2006. I was in grad school at that time and wasn’t doing much free reading, so missed it.

In 2020, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers re-released the entire trilogy with beautifully-redesigned covers. Like the publisher’s dream that I generally am, I promptly bought them all and they’ve been sitting on my shelves ever since. Staring at me, begging to be loved.

On a recent whim, I decided to finally dive in. In this story we follow Nick and Allie, who right at the beginning of our story die in tragic car accident. Unfortunately, their souls don’t get where they need to go and now they are stuck in a limbo land known as Everlost.

Everlost is like an eerie, distorted image of our own world. It’s filled with things, including places, that no longer exist in our world. There’s also a lot of other souls trapped there.

At the beginning, navigating their dangerous new circumstances, Nick and Allie meet a lot of people who help to teach them about the functioning of Everlost.

There’s bands of roaming kids and a girl named Mary, the self-proclaimed queen of lost souls. Nick is taken by her, but Allie refuses to believe in the fate that Mary is trying to sell her. Refusing to live for the rest of time trapped between two worlds, Allie begins investigating ways to make a change.

This was a solid start to a trilogy and actually, the more I have thought about it since I have finished, the more I have come to appreciate the depth of the story.

I feel like if I would have read this years ago, when it was released, I would have been crazy, mad, nuts about it, but it did feel a little dated in some sections, as far as the writing style is concerned.

However, with this being said, I still really enjoyed the world-building and will be continuing with the second book in the series next month. I’m very interested in digging further into some of the concepts Shusterman explored.

I was impressed with how quickly this kicked off. We’re immediately dropped off where we should be, there’s no time wasted digging into character’s lives prior to Everlost. Perhaps that will come into play later in the series, but as far as this first book, I feel like that was a great choice.

I also enjoyed the atmosphere and eerie nature successfully carried throughout. It made me think of many darker fairy tale elements; like the kids as Lost Boys, the Peter Pan ones, not the vampire ones, as they have a bit of a feral nature. Also, Mary as a bit Queen of Hearts. Then I also picked up low-key Wizard of Oz sort of vibes.

Overall, I found this premise intriguing, the plot fast-paced and I think it’s a great base to continuing building out this world. I’m really looking forward to continuing on with the characters and seeing where it goes from here!

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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: 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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