Review: Just Like Mother by Anne Heltzel

cover of Just Like MotherJust Like Mother by Anne Heltzel
Tor Nightfire (May 17, 2022) 
320 pages; hardcover $26.99, e-book $13.99
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

The Stepford Wives meets Rosemary’s Baby in Anne Heltzel’s adult debut Just Like Mother. 

On a GoodReads list, “Get Creeped Out With These 33 New and Upcoming Horror Novels,” I discovered Just Like Mother.

Heltzel’s novel became a haunting, inescapable image in my brain, with a wonderfully lurid cover featuring…. a baby doll. Continue Reading

Review: The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

cover of The HaciendaThe Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
Berkley (May 2022)
352 pages; $20.99 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

Lost to the wilds of war, death, and deceit, The Hacienda ensnares readers in its malevolent maw.

In Isabel Cañas’ debut novel, dread and unease snake up the spine of both the reader and characters in a tone as haunting as the mothers of gothic stories like Elizabeth Gaskell and Daphne du Maurier. Continue Reading

Review: Lust Killer by Ann Rule

cover of Lust Killer by Ann RuleLust Killer by Ann Rule 
Berkley (May 2022)
288 pages; paperback $12.00; e-book $6.99
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

“In the face of cruel madness, calm, sane steps must be taken.” – Ann Rule

Ann Rule once again proves she is the exemplar of true crime books. After reading Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story, one of her most famous and intimately written true crime tales, I knew I had to read more of her work.Continue Reading

Review: Horror Hotel by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren

cover of Horror HotelHorror Hotel by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren
Underlined (February, 2022)
224 pages; $8.49 paperback, $9.99 kindle
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

Sometimes they want to hurt you. Sometimes they want you to help them stop hurting.

Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren are an award-winning coauthor duo specializing in edgy rom-coms and horror stories laced with romance, friendship, and movie references.

With this formula, mixed with ghosts, psychics, and inspiration from the infamous Cecil Hotel, the pair breed a spine-tingling tale for young adults in this suspenseful horror debut. Continue Reading

Review: The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

cover of the paperback edition of The Burning Girls by C.J. TudorThe Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor
Ballantine Books (February 2021)
352 pages; paperback $17; hardcover; $19.79; e-book $11.99; audiobook $28
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

Even though it’s not fully dark outside and all the lights are on, the cottage always feels full of shadows.

I read C.J. Tudor’s The Burning Girls right after Adam L.G. Nevill’s Cunning Folk. Both have made me as obsessed with folk horror as their protagonists are with their town’s lore.

And readers can’t help but sense an ominous feeling of following hypnotic sinister shadows to their own entombment as they tear through this bloody mystery.

Following an entanglement of tragedy for protagonist Jack Brookes, Tudor takes readers to Chapel Croft, an insular village with a gruesome, twisted history built on the burning of religious martyrs, missing girls, and a series of questionable/unsolved deaths.

Here, Jack becomes Chapel Croft’s new vicar after her predecessor’s untimely and bizarre death. Jack envisions a fresh start for her and her teenage daughter Florence — Flo, for short — but quickly finds her heavy conscience and nagging trauma only adds fuel to the town’s ever-burning flames of chaos and suspicions.

What starts as misfortune and a labyrinth of smoke and mirrors becomes life and death for Jack and Flo. Haunted by headless, armless, burnt figures — the burning girls, which, according to the town lore, means something bad will befall them — Jack and Flo unveil a trail of conspiracies and buried secrets.

Tudor weaves a classic haunting tale for a new generation with imagery that felt like a revival of The Wicker Man and the brilliant pairing of horror and heart leveling up to Stephen King in Pet Sematary.

As Tudor always does, The Burning Girls exceeded my expectations. It’s like following a path of steps into an inkblot of darkness. The wind blows, and the warning sign of smoke is in the air. Yet, you have to see the spectral for yourself because you know, deep in your bones, it’s not a trick of the light.

Tudor’s The Burning Girls is my favorite novel from the author yet. Its unfurling chills and brilliant depiction of the ghost of grief and guilt seared together with burning questions of disappearances and murder made this one of my favorite reads of the year.

Tudor has made a life-long fan out of me. Fans of Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass and Cunning Folk by Adam L.G. Nevill, this one’s for you.

Review: The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass

cover of The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan DouglassThe Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass 
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (July 2021) 
244 pages; hardcover $14.39; $10.99 e-book; $35 audiobook (or 1 Audible credit) 
Reviewed by Haley Newlin 

It seems impossible to turn something so pretty so ugly, but it’s not. Everything turns ugly after it’s dead.

? Ryan Douglass, The Taking of Jake Livingston

I stumbled on The Taking of Jake Livingston through one of my favorite YouTube channels, BowTies & Books. According to the channel host, BookTube collectively held its breath for the release of this YA horror story.

And I can see why. Continue Reading

Review: I Hear the Clattering of the Keys by Jamie Stewart

cover of I Hear the Clattering of the KeysI Hear The Clattering of the Keys by Jamie Stewart 
Blood Rites Horror (November 2021) 
175 pages; $7.99 paperback ; $2.99 ebook
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

In the past, when I’ve read horror short story collections, I’ve found them a bit insular; they’re always too fast, and the payoff isn’t consistent.

I Hear The Clattering of the Keys is a horrific web of tragedy, love, and the supernatural — a complete antithesis of what’s turned me off to short stories in the past. Continue Reading

Review: Sister Funtime by Spencer Hamilton

cover of Sister Funtime by Spencer HamiltonSister Funtime by Spencer Hamilton 
Nerdy Wordsmith (November 2021)
140 pages; $9.99 paperback; $2.99 e-book 
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

There’s an old saying that water can wear away stone, but only over hundreds of years. In a classic Stephen King novel, Christine, a characterargues that people are not stone, but mortal.

Spencer Hamilton’s Sister Funtime untethers this phrase from such limitations and instead strangles it into a festering devout, sinister power — something inhuman and hungry for flesh. Continue Reading

Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

posed bookstagram photo featuring The Last House on Needless Street
Photo: Haley Newlin

The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward 
Tor Night Fire (September 2021)
352 pages; $24.79 audiobook,  $19.29 paperback, $14.99 ebook
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street promises a serial killer, a kidnapped child, a religious cat, and falsities scattered in every direction — one misstep and the trap snaps.
The main character, Ted, carries childhood trauma, a strange attachment to his abusive mother, and a dangerous, twisted side that reminds me of the real-world serial killer, Ed Gein, who went on to inspire characters like Norman Bates and Thomas Harris’ Buffalo Bill.

Review: Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

cover of Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-GarciaVelvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Del Rey (August 2021)
288 pages; hardcover $14; paperback $20.48; e-book $13.99
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

They were both angry at the world, that was why this was happening. It was a kiss of scorpions, both heavy with poison.

Once again, Silvia Moreno-Garcia exhibits the versatility of her eloquent storytelling in her noir/pulp fiction novel Velvet Was the Night.Continue Reading

Review: Cunning Folk by Adam L.G. Nevill

cover of cunning folk by adam nevillCunning Folk by Adam L.G. Nevill 
Ritual Limited (Sept. 13, 2021) 
336 pages; paperback $15.99, ebook $4.99
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

I immediately knew Adam Nevill’s writing style, and storytelling was for me within the first few chapters of Cunning Folk.

Nevill opens with a horrific scene of a man which readers can only guess spells misfortune for the protagonist, Tom, and his family (wife Fiona and daughter Gracey).

Nevill then takes us to present day, where Tom‘s family arrives at their new home in rural Southwest England. The property is a massive but ruinous-looking house, one in which the tragic history and condition made affordable.

Continue Reading

Review: Yours Cruelly, Elvira by Cassandra Peterson

cover of Yours Cruelly, Elvira, by Cassandra PetersonYours Cruelly, Elvira by Cassandra Peterson
Hachette Books (September 2021)
305 pages; $22.99 hardcover, $14.99 ebook, $29.65 audiobook (or 1 audible credit)
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

Q: If your new memoir Yours Cruelly, Elvira is adapted into a movie, who would you want to play you?
A: Dolly Parton! We have the same…uhm.. assets.

Quote from Barnes & Noble Virtually Presents: Cassandra Peterson Celebrates Yours Cruelly, Elvira (Sept. 21, 2021).

I had the immense pleasure of reading Cassandra Peterson’s new memoir, Yours Cruelly, Elvira, and attending a live event celebrating the release.

Two opportunities I know I’ll never forget. I mean, it’s damn near impossible to forget the cheeky, tassel-twirling queen of Halloween.Continue Reading

Review: The Potted Plant by Thomas Gloom

cover of The Potted Plant by Thomas GloomThe Potted Plant by Thomas Gloom 
Gloom Publishing (October 2021)
134 pages; $7.99 paperback, $2.99 Kindle, $6.08 audiobook (or 1 Audible credit) 
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

Thomas Gloom’s eco-horror novella, The Potted Plant, immediately pulled me in with a cover that:

1) sneaks in an animation of Gloom’s author persona, who is never without his shades — and which I’m sure also depicts the narrator of the tale; and

2) parallels what I imagine was a lot of fans’ gateway into the horror genre — Little Shop of Horrors. Continue Reading

Review: Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

cover of the book Nightbitch sitting alongside a plate of bloody meat
Photo by Haley Newlin

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
Doubleday (July 2021)
256 pages; $20.49 hardcover; $12.99 e-book
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

“Too much power makes a woman dangerous. And that was her project, creation and power.” — Rachel Yoder

Rachel Yoder’s Nightbitch is a horrifically brilliant mirage of Jekyll and Hyde meets the estranged relationship of women and society. The story follows a stay-at-home mother, aka Nightbitch (we never get her real name), who spends her days resenting the role she feels trapped in as a constant caregiver. She longs for the simplest of things — a shower, a glass of wine, to return to her artwork. Instead, Nightbitch plays trains with her son, cleans up his strand of messes in the house, and deals with his tantrums.

On top of it all, Nightbitch develops a thick coat of hair at the base of her neck, not to mention a matching tail.

In her transformation, Nightbitch finds an animalistic, protective connection to her son — who she begins to see as a pup — she hadn’t had before, and an odd sense of individuality.

Nightbitch is one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever read. And yet, it’s among the most intelligent stories, alluding to the style of Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, and Franz Kafka.

Without outright belonging to the horror genre, Yoder lines the pages of Nightbitch with bloodthirst and an unsettling craving for carnage. And the best part, these animalistic qualities are all woman, or, rather, a grim and poetic depiction of the unspoken rage, exhaustion, and longing crashing the joys of motherhood.

While reading, I constantly felt torn between liberation and questioning Nightbitch’s sanity — a complicated and wildly entertaining tug-and-pull.

Nightbitch is certainly not for everyone, and it has a heavy philosophical weight. Though I enjoyed the literary qualities, I’d definitely have to be in the mood for such an interpretive read.

I wish more universities, particularly those studying feminist literary theory, would share this book with students. It’s a hell of a metaphor for modern femininity and the accompanying pressures.

I recommend Nightbitch for readers who enjoy literary fiction with dark fantasy and horror elements, such as monsters or the combination of lore and philosophy.

Review: Take Your Turn, Teddy by Haley Newlin

cover of Take Your Turn, Teddy by Haley NewlinTake Your Turn Teddy by Haley Newlin
New Degree Press (December 2020)
382 pages; $18.04 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

Haley Newlin’s Take Your Turn, Teddy is a dark, psychological horror story exploring the manifestations of early childhood trauma. Newlin uses themes of domestic violence, anxiety, and isolation to create a provocative landscape, The Shadow, for her characters to encounter and battle. A disturbing glimpse of how a broken spirit can unleash powerful demons of the soul. Absolutely captivating, I couldn’t put it down.Continue Reading