‘You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight – Kalynn Bayron

Pure pulp, and I loved it! 

If you know horror, you know the rules. For Charity, her role as the final girl in a simulation based on a well-known slasher movie has clearly defined elements. Playing her part well keeps the money rolling in, and prevents her having to spend time at home. It helps that she keeps finding ways to refine her craft to give the guests the terrifying thrill they seek.

Unfortunately, this season things don’t go quite to plan.

Charity is struggling to keep the act going as three of the staff have left without warning. There’s threats from a woman who lives in the woods and the local sheriff is unconcerned by their reports. It’s down to Charity and her friends to try to survive the night when they realise they really are playing the game.

From start to finish this was pacy, full of knowing nods to the genre and included a lot of gore. The whole story behind it was even more creepy, and I found myself surprisingly fond of Charity’s final opportunity to resolve matters.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this before publication.

‘Thin Air’ – Michelle Paver

Grimly atmospheric, haunting and deeply unsettling.

Thin Air is told through the eyes of Stephen Pearce, the late addition to an expedition to try and be the first party to climb Kangchenjunga in 1935. Following in the ill-fated footsteps of an earlier party, we journey with the group as they travel to the foothills of the mountain and then attempt their challenge.

I’ve never been anywhere this high or remote, but Paver brings the experience to vivid life for us. She captures the beauty and menace of the mountains, showing us how easy it can be for someone to succumb to fears in the face of their own humanity.

The superstitions held by the local climbers play a large part in this book, and we are never certain whether the group are indeed haunted by something lurking in this dangerous wilderness or whether we are watching the gradual deterioration of men pushed to their physical limits. 

It’s hard not to be captivated by the exhilaration of the climb and the descriptions of the journey. Of its time, the attitudes shown by the English travellers were nothing to be proud of. The climax occurred quite unexpectedly and didn’t focus on the character I thought was most affected by the journey.

‘How to Sell a Haunted House’ – Grady Hendrix

How to Sell a Haunted house takes us on a journey that forces us to confront our fears. While there is an emphasis on horror – with some scenes horribly visual – I felt the primary focus of this book was to examine grief and how we deal with it.
Louise is called to her parents’ home when they are both killed. Forced to interact with her brother, Mark, we quickly see that this family has been used to keeping secrets. Though neither wants to admit it, they need each other if they are to be in with a chance of selling the house.

When Louise returns to her childhood home she has to confront her fear of her mother’s puppets. Taking up every spare space these puppets remind her of all the elements of their relationship that she disliked. There is one puppet however that needs to be dealt with if they are ever going to free themselves of the things hanging on. This puppet seems vengeful and determined to punish them. The question is, can they survive the experience?

How to Sell a Haunted House was not a book I could say I enjoyed reading. The puppet element unsettled me, and the sad history of the family made it very clear that so much of the horror they faced was of their own making. Whether you are terrified by the graphic events as they fight this spirit will be decided by the extent to which you believe the concept is feasible. Regardless, you cannot help but be affected by the way this family are touched by grief.

‘She is a Haunting’ – Trang Than Tran

I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this prior to publication. It was a very different reading experience for me, focusing as it did on Vietnamese culture and it required quite a lot of focus to keep track of who was who at key moments. There were some formatting issues which leads me to believe some elements were rather lost.

Even after finishing, I’ll confess to not being entirely sure how to talk about this book. It was truly a book that unsettled me and the content definitely made me a little squeamish on occasion. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it, but it evoked such a reaction that I feel it’s a book I may return to.

The basic story focuses on Jade being manipulated into spending the summer with her father in Vietnam so that he will support her university costs. Upon arrival, her discomfort in this environment is evident. However, little details given then indicate that her discomfort may have a more supernatural element. Her father’s home seems to be haunted.

As we follow Jade through this experience, we see that her relationships with family are at the heart of the story. The haunting also serves as a timely way to introduce talk of colonisation and to explore attitudes to race and culture. While I have to say I know little of this era/place, it was certainly a fascinating read.


‘The Weight of Blood’ – Tiffany D. Jackson

Carrie for the modern era, and what a read!

Maddy is a biracial teenager who has lived her life following the rules of her deeply religious father. She passes as white, but when she is caught in a storm during cross-country, her peers learn the truth about her identity. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but in their town it is.

The ingrained racism was tough to read about. This was a town where students were educated together, but any attempts to challenge racial stereotyping are ignored and separate events are held for teens of different backgrounds. While Maddy’s secret caused a fuss, it’s the bigger secret that she’s kept from everyone that is going to cause more of a scene.

Those familiar with Carrie will know the plot. Those who aren’t, may have to suspend their disbelief for the paranormal elements…but this was a solid retelling of a much-loved story.


‘Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match’ – Sally Thorne

Oh, how I needed this book. The Frankenstein story, humour and a romance that you can’t help but become entranced by…all add up to a fantastic read.

Our focus is Victor and Angelika Frankenstein, orphaned at an early age, but determined to pursue their scientific endeavours. Thorne borrows heavily from the Frankenstein story, but with the addition of Angelika and a cast of characters (including Belladonna the love struck pig) this becomes – dare I say it – the story that Shelley might have told if she were writing much later.

Angelika is twenty four, passionate and unorthodox. She wants a husband, but those around her think she’s strange. So, instead of reconciling herself to a life of spinsterdom under the care of her brother, she helps him in his experiments…and makes herself her ideal man.

Fourth time lucky, Angelika and Victor manage to resurrect their experiments. Unfortunately, Victor’s creation runs away and a goodly part of the book focuses on trying to get him to return to their care. Angelika, however, is shown to be just as capable and her experiment survives, stays with her and is cared for.

Will, as he is named, enters into an unorthodox relationship for the times, but the spark between them all was wonderful. There were so many moments between these two that I couldn’t pick a favourite. Even the love triangle served to strengthen their bond. There were worries as Angelika and Will try to uncover the truth of his previous identity, but even this encouraged deeper thought about the role we play in our community and how religion serves us.

I’d started recommending this before I’d finished, and now that I have I shall be even louder in my praise. Huge thanks to the author for this, and to NetGalley for granting me access prior to publication.


‘The Book Eaters’ – Sunyi Dean

The Book Eaters takes a fascinating premise – people who can survive by eating books, each with their own distinctive taste – and evolves it into a dark urban fantasy. We see the depths people will go to in order to protect those they love, and there’s no escaping the dangers inherent in people’s obsessive need for power over others.

Devon is a member of one of the old Book Eater families. Raised on a diet of fairy tales her life is, as she recognises, one of constraint. A princess, but one who cannot escape. Destined to be wed twice, for the sole purpose of creating and raising an heir, Devon hates how the expectations of others challenges her own primal bond.

The story opens by plunging us into a world that makes little sense. Devon is in Newcastle with her son, Cai, who needs to feed regularly to survive. No ordinary child, he needs to eat minds to live. She spends her days hunting for good people to let her son feed, and the talk of knights and dragons following them is confusing.

As the story unfolds we switch back to the past and so get the details that explain the current situation. Forced into a dangerous predicament, there’s no disguising Devon’s determination to get the best for those she loves. Necessity dictates that only one child is focused on during this time, but I like the fact that her daughter was still very much in her thoughts.

The mind-eating element of this story really was quite unpleasant. However, it was interesting to see how those who were regarded as different were treated by those in control. Challenges were made, and it clearly doesn’t offer much hope for change overnight, but I wonder whether this concept was meant to get us thinking about events/attitudes in our present.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this before publication in exchange for my honest thoughts. I haven’t made mention of it yet, but that cover is a beauty!


‘These Fleeting Shadows’ – Kate Alice Marshall

Due for release early August 2022, thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication.

Touted as Knives Out meets The Haunting of Hill House, this was always likely to be a book that perplexed and entertained. With clear nods to the Gothic, this was a story that started oddly and just got stranger.

When her grandfather dies, Helen Vaughan goes with her mother to the ancestral home (known as Harrow). She learns that she is due to inherit millions and the property on the condition that she lives in the house for a year and is not rejected.

From start to finish we never know who to trust. Helen grows sick and starts to see things that make little sense. She is determined to get to the bottom of these visions, but we soon see that this could be a more dangerous scenario than envisioned.

I loved the fact this was based on a story that sounds even weirder and creepier than the one Marshall delivers. Deftly blending horror and mystery, this was a story that both puzzled and entertained.

‘Insomnia’ – Sarah Pinborough

Insomnia is, usually, linked to periods of high stress but its effects can be awful. For our main character Emma, a successful lawyer approaching her fortieth birthday, her inability to sleep after she wakes regularly at 1:18am hints at a potential problem. Though she doesn’t remember precise details, her family have been plagued by issues around sleep and she fears history repeating itself as she approaches the age her mother was incarcerated after trying to suffocate one of her children.

The family history is revealed bit by bit as we follow Emma through the days leading up to her fortieth birthday. The tension created by Pinborough is well-depicted and as we learn about the stresses in her life we start to question to what extent Emma might be responsible.

From start to finish I found myself caught up in this. In turns frustrated by Emma but also empathising with her, I couldn’t help but get bogged down in the extraneous details about her present life that seemed to muddy the waters as we try to work out just what is going on.

As with some of Pinborough’s more recent books there is a dependence on something unnatural, which might not adequately explain events for some readers. While I’m not wholly convinced by it, the actual revelation as to what was happening and the motive for it made sense. Extreme, and it definitely made me reassess some of the earlier interactions between the characters concerned, but this book was a tense depiction of someone being pushed to their limits.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this before publication.


‘My Dearest Darkest’ – Kayla Cottingham

Our story begins with talented musician Finch Chamberlain heading to the prestigious Ulalume Academy for an audition. The audition goes well, though Finch finds herself making trouble for student Selena St Clair. She is desperate for acceptance and expresses the view she’d do anything to get in. Next thing we know, a stag with eight eyes appears on the road in front of them, her father crashes the car and Finch and her parents are plunged into the river.

With our main character dying in the opening chapter, and then starting at the Academy, it was clear from early on that this was not going to be an ordinary read.

Finch hears a strange voice, her hair has turned white and she quickly finds herself wandering the tunnels below the academy where she seems to conjure a spirit known as Nerosi.

Suspend your disbelief. The girls at this school are ultra competitive, so for them to make their own deal with the devil in exchange for their heart’s desire makes sense. Initially the demands are fairly straightforward. The girls get flawless skin and increased popularity. Of course, it doesn’t take long for the demands to become a little harder to fulfil.

Much of the book focuses on the strange entity known as Nerosi, and the links between her appearance and strange events that took place in the town decades earlier. Finch and her new friends start to grow wary of exactly what is being asked of them and we soon see something evil has been unleashed…again.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this in advance of publication. Some of the background characters felt undeveloped, and Finch’s questioning of her sexuality felt like a means to shift the plot forward. However, it was an intriguing idea and I enjoyed the links between the respective storylines.