Book Review: The Ruins

Worst. Vacation. Ever.

Good afternoon, friends and foes! I’m back again with another book review. It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these because… it’s been a while since I finished a book. Between a string of DNF’s and a brief obsession with trying to finish my current work in progress (spoiler alert: I did not finish it), I just wasn’t in the reading mood.

Did The Ruins improve my reading mood? …The short answer is no. Let me explain!

Scott Smith has only written two novels; 1993’s A Simple Plan and 2006’s The Ruins. He’s also written a handful of short stories and screenplays (including the screenplay for the film adaptation of The Ruins!) and he’s the showrunner of Amazon TV’s The Peripheral. But enough about him.

Let’s talk about The Ruins. I picked up this book because I was going to watch the film version around Halloween and, as a serial enjoyer of the novel more than the film, I wanted to read the book first. As it turns out, I never even watched the film because I didn’t care to see an adaptation of this book. Not because it was bad. Just because I’m too squeamish and I didn’t feel like trying not to barf for an hour and a half.

What’s interesting about the film adaptation is that Smith sold the film rights before he even finished the novel! According to The Miami Herald, “Smith was two-thirds done with the book when Ben Stiller’s production company, Red Hour Films, bought the screen rights based on an outline. ‘They told me they wanted me to write the screenplay, too,’ Smith says. ‘So while I was writing the last third of the book, I already knew I’d be adapting it for the movies.'” It currently has a 48% on rotten tomatoes and has several reviews citing too much gore, not enough plot.

The novel follows a group of four friends on a vacation to Mexico with intentions of lounging on the beach and getting drunk. Eventually they befriend some fellow travelers and all seems right in the world. Until one of their new friends goes missing. They make the keynote horror mistake of venturing into the Mexico wilderness to look for him and… well, it’s all downhill from there. Actually, uphill. Literally. They get stuck on a hill.

Basically, there’s a hill covered in gorgeous green vines that is (allegedly) the site of an archaeological dig where the missing traveler is said to have gone. But when the tourists step onto the hill, the indigenous people make sure they do not escape. Threatened with arrows and guns, the tourists have no choice but to climb the hill. They don’t know why the indigenous population is so keen on making sure they don’t leave the hill, but they’re about to find out.

No spoilers! But I will say this; if you are not a fan of gore, this book is not for you. It’s a slow start (slow all the way through, actually), but when the evil of the hill starts to have its way with the tourists it’s just a disgusting mess.

My thoughts on The Ruins are pretty simple. I’ve summed them up with the below points:

Stephen King blurbed it (and Smith’s other novel) and sang its praises. This is not surprising, as The Ruins reads super similar to a Stephen King book. Which, of course, is not a bad thing per-say. It’s just (in my HUMBLE opinion) an unmistakable similarity).

There are no chapters, just separated passages as the tourists’ POV’s cycle through. I found this pretty disorienting and a little hard to keep track of each tourist’s distinct personality, but it also made the book a faster read than I anticipated. I was tricked into waiting for the next chapter break to stop reading when – SURPRISE!- there wasn’t one.

There are too many mentions of (pardon my language) peeing! It became so distracting while reading. There were upwards of a dozen mentions of going to the bathroom in the first 50 pages alone. And it just keeps coming up again and again and again. I guess there are two ways to write survival horror in regard to bathrooms; either address the fact that characters have to do it and add to the discomfort / disgusting atmosphere, OR not mention it at all or in passing (i.e. “they dug a latrine” and that’s the last you hear of it). It was actually distracting. Which reminds me a lot of Stephen King.

All in all, I thought the book was a gross survival horror read that has pretty well stood the test of time since its publication over fifteen years ago. I can see why horror fans appreciate Smith’s slow-burn (like, super slow-burn…) horror. He paints such a dour and hopeless picture of these clueless tourists that asks the impossible question; would you venture into the Mexico jungle to search for a traveler you’ve only known for a few days, having only minimal supplies and no idea how to navigate or speak the language? And, once in the jungle, would you drink your own pee?

2 stars overall, 3 stars on the scare scale.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison


Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

Rodriguez, Rene (4 April 2008). “The Ruins: Scott Smith’s Novel Comes to the Big Screen”. The Miami Herald. Miami: The McClatchy Company. p. G6.

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Book Review: The Perfect Place to Die

A teen takes on America’s first serial killer!

Hello, friends and foes! I’m back at it again with another book review. This one isn’t unlike the last (Check out The Corpse Queen book review here) as it’s a YA historical horror, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite sub-genres.

Bryce Moore released The Perfect Place to Die in 2021 and just recently published another YA historical horror (this time about the axe-man of New Orleans), Don’t Go to Sleep. The covers are pretty similar and they’re both about 17 year old girls fighting against a historical bad-guy. If this is Moore’s brand moving forward, I won’t complain.

This book follows 17 year old Zuretta of rural Utah. She and her sister live at the hands of their abusive father and, in the middle of one fateful night, her younger sister Ruby escapes. Ruby sends letters about her new life in Chicago, and the sights and sounds of the incredible World’s Fair. She even met a man- a man she plans to marry! When Ruby’s letters stop coming, Zuretta decides to pack up and go to the big city to find her. Even if it means facing a monster on her own.

Zuretta takes a job as a maid in a questionable hotel called The Castle, where girls are said to be disappearing. It was Ruby’s last place of employment. Perhaps the last place she was seen alive. If Zuretta can survive her harrowing job and three (or four?) bosses, she might just solve the murder of what happened to her sister. Even if the Pinkerton Guard won’t help her.


Okay. So I’ve been sitting on this review for a while because I wanted to be fair. I don’t like to give negative reviews (if the book was really terrible, I usually just leave a goodreads star rating and move on with my life), but I felt like I had to get something off my chest with this one.

If you know who H.H. Holmes is, then there’s honestly no point in reading this book. Let me explain.

Evan Peters as James March in American Horror Story: Hotel

Maybe it’s because I’m kind of a history nerd (or maybe I just watch too much History Channel in general), but I’ve been hearing about H.H. Holmes and his death-trap of a hotel for YEARS. Hell, American Horror Story even had Evan Peters play a caricature of him in Season 5, AHS: Hotel. We follow Zuretta on her quest to find her sister which leads her directly to H.H. Holmes’ doorstep. Like, literally, H.H. Holmes. No fake name for the man proclaimed to be America’s first serial killer.

Then we’re made to question who the killer is out of multiple people. Zuretta doesn’t know which of the several strange men who work at The Castle is the killer but she presumes it’s one of them. And she shouldn’t know, because Holmes hasn’t been ousted as a murderer yet in American History.

But the reader knows. At least, some readers will know.

So the whole plot of Zuretta trying to solve the mystery of the strange hotel and the strange owner and trying to figure out who killed her sister is a moot point. You’re sitting there after the first quarter of the book already knowing who killed Ruby, and who will try to kill Zuretta next. There are some smaller plot “twists” in between but all in all, if you know who H.H. Holmes is in real life, you know who the murderer is in the book.

I think Moore made the choice to use Holmes’ real name rather than making up a new name because the book is supposed to be an alternate version of true history. And if you didn’t know who Holmes’ actually was in real life, then the plot twist and finding out who the murderer is would probably a much more thrilling experience.

I wonder what if it would have been more interesting for the story to be told with a different goal: so the goal isn’t to discover who the murderer is (as in, is it Holmes or one of his henchmen) but perhaps who he’s trying to kill next? Or trying to stop him before he’ll kill again? If the entire plot wasn’t centered around discovering WHO the murderer was, it would have been a more exciting read.

Also, the back of the book made me think the World’s Fair would be more of a part of the plot but Zuretta only visits it one time. It could have been the perfect backdrop for a dramatic chase or some spooky scene but… it kind of fell flat in my opinion.

All in all I feel like the book was entertaining and a quick read. I just wish I didn’t already know the story of H.H. Holmes and have the entire plot ruined for me by real life (I hate when real life does stuff like this).

2 stars overall, 1 star on the scare scale

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

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Book Review: The Corpse Queen

A different brand of body snatchers…

Hello, friends and foes! It’s time for another book review! I post about one of these a month because I read about one book a month. At least, one spooky book that’s fit for the blog. Shockingly, I do have other literary interests outside the macabre.

I finished Heather M. Herrman’s sophomore novel The Corpse Queen in about a day and a half. One of those, “if I put this book down right now it’s all I’m going to think about for the next few hours so I might as well just not put it down” type of reads. It was fast-paced, witty, topical (who knew we would still be facing the same sexism in modern day as we were in 1855!!), and just the right amount of gritty and gory. I’m a sucker for a period piece, and this book about an 1850’s orphan in Philadelphia was exactly what I needed to quench my thirst for something I could only comp as Jack the Ripper x Body Snatchers x grave robbers.

We meet down on her luck orphan Molly at a strange time in her life. Her best friend Kitty has just been murdered, presumably by the young doctor-in-training with whom she had recently fallen in love. Molly doesn’t think she has any family left to claim her – but she’s wrong. A long-lost aunt brings Molly to her rich, gated estate in high-society Philadelphia. Molly is shocked at a member of her family having so much wealth when all she has ever known is poverty. How could someone from the same roots as her family be so rich??

By robbing graves and selling the corpses to medical schools. That’s how.

Molly joins the family business and does her best to collect the bodies alongside practiced grave-robber Thomas. But she learns more from her strange aunt than just how to steal. Molly learns the true value of a corpse, and in turn the value of the person they were when they were living. Every body gives the medical students a chance to make impressive scientific and medical discoveries. Every day they come closer to uncovering the great biological secrets of mankind. It wouldn’t be possible without the work of Molly’s aunt and her system of grave robbery.

But Molly’s aunt isn’t the only person in Philadelphia with a liking for the dead. There’s a killer on the loose, somehow connected to Molly’s family business. There’s a menacing figure called the Tooth Fairy who, you guessed it, takes only the teeth from found cadavers. There’s love and drama and intrigue and a mystery that culminates into a final grave being dug, once and for all – and if Molly can outsmart all those who told her she was worthless, the grave won’t be her own.

I loved 99% of my reading experience with this book. I found Molly’s character to be a bit stand-offish (in the best way – like how would you act if you found out your long lost aunt made a fortune scavenging dead bodies?) but very intelligent. It was rewarding to watch Molly grow from a grief-stricken and penniless orphan into a confident young woman who wants to break free of the grave-robbing business and study to become a doctor – an incredible feat for American women of the time.

The plot had some super interesting twists and turns that held my attention from beginning to end. No spoilers (because we don’t do spoilers here) but the BIG REVEAL was, like, HUGE. And very well executed, in my humble opinion.

I don’t tend to write negative reviews (if I don’t like a book I just don’t review it but I will still mention it in my Twitter thread here ). I actually don’t even tend to mention the negative qualities of books I’ve read because, overall, I really really liked them. I’m pretty quick to DNF a book I’m not into.

All this is to say that there was only one aspect of The Corpse Queen that threw me off – the mad dash rush to the end. Maybe it’s a YA thing, maybe it’s a me thing, but I felt like there was such a massive push to explain everything and get as much last minute action as possible in the last four or five chapters that just left a weird taste in my mouth. The Epilogue set that taste right again, however!!! It was very good and, in my opinion, very necessary and satisfying. Maybe I have to do some of my own soul-searching and think about why I just don’t like the rushed and dramatic endings of some of my recent reads.

In any case, I’m 100% happy I read this book and would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for an eerie and bloody read about a girl, her family, and some dead bodies. And a deranged doctor, some guy named the Tooth Fairy, and a Vaudeville performer/prostitute with a pet duck.

4 stars overall, 3 stars on the scare scale

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison


Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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Book Review: Clown in a Cornfield

As if being the new girl in town isn’t hard enough already!

Two scary subjects are the backbone of this blog. If you’ve been around for a little while, you’ll know how much I love a good exorcism/possession story. What you might not know (because I haven’t finished my History of Clowns post yet) is that I LOVE clowns. They’re funny, they’re scary, they’re a symbol of the vaudeville days of yore. If you also love clowns- and slashers and mysteries and cornfields, all wrapped up in entertaining YA prose- then this is the book for you.

Adam Cesare is no stranger to the horror space. He boasts a long list of shorts and novellas along with several acclaimed horror novels, perhaps most notably 2014’s The Summer Job. Cesare is a Bram Stoker Award winner, graduate of Boston University, and (certainly least notably) my mutual on Twitter. Clown in a Cornfield has been praised by the likes of Clive Barker (yeah, that Clive Barker), Paul Tremblay (!!!!!!!), and Madeleine Roux (author of the Asylum series). And I can see why. This book was such an unsettling and deeply entertaining read that I couldn’t put down.

The novel follows plucky main character Quinn Maybrook as she navigates being the new girl in a small town, new friends (and new enemies), and potential new crushes. Oh, yeah, and a deranged factory mascot named Frendo. Quinn and her father moved to Kettle Springs at an odd time in the town’s strange life. The teens of the town are blamed for everything; vandalism, arson, the death of big-shot Arthur Hill’s daughter. The adults of the town are fighting to keep their beloved traditions in tact; Make Kettle Springs Great Again, if you will. Frendo’s homicidal return from obscurity is just confetti compared to the turmoil that’s already brewing.

Quinn and her newfound clique (think Breakfast Club but with cell phones) are quickly wrapped up in the whirlwind of Frendo’s return. Strange happenings culminate on the night of a major party in the cornfield where the deadly truth is eventually revealed.

We don’t do spoilers on the blog (for the most part) so that’s all you get for now. Except for my trademark vague praise, that is.

And I have a lot of vague praise for this book. It’s a funny and bloody high school slasher- like a movie in a book. It was like reading Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, or like a really scary Mean Girls where Pennywise is the new girl in town. Rumor has it (I actually got this information from Wikipedia) Clown in a Cornfield has been optioned onto the silver screen! Someday we’ll have an actual film version of this dope slasher book and, personally, I can’t wait.

The beginning of the book is like every classic horror flick- we watch Quinn and her dad move into their new house. We watch Quinn meet her new clique of friends. Then, slowly, things start to get weird. A clown sighting here, an ominous adults-only town hall meeting there, and suddenly WHAM!: a murder. The pacing was on par with a film experience (in my unprofessional opinion) and, I think, that’s what I appreciated the most. A lot of horror books I’ve read lately really relish in the slow, slow, SLOW build up. A lot of atmosphere, a lot of suspense. Clown in a Cornfield has a different kind of suspense. A special, fast-paced suspense that comes from characters being hunted (like, literally) by a homicidal maniac clown.

And it was scary, sure, but in a really enjoyable way. The gore was… actually kind of surprising. You can get away with some crazy stuff in YA, apparently! But it fit the narrative and really drove home the fear- for Quinn et. al and for the reader.

It wasn’t all just fun and scares, though. There’s an undercurrent of politics between the blossoming friendships and killer clowns. That hostility between teens and adults isn’t just manufactured for good dialogue and tension. It’s a mirror image of what’s going on in the world today. Tradition vs modernity. Town hall meetings vs livestreams. Boomers vs Gen Z. And, most importantly, a homicidal clown vs gun-wielding teens.

All in all, I’ll be recommending Clown in a Cornfield to anyone who asks for a read-in-one-sitting, can’t-put-it-down, bloody-good YA horror book.

I’ll also be waiting for a casting call for extras in the movie. 27 is the new 17, right guys?? … Right guys?

5 stars overall, 3 stars on the scare scale.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

Spoiler Alert: Frendo Lives! Clown in a Cornfield 2 coming August 23rd!

Buy Adam Cesare’s books here !


Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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Book Review: Hide

Hide and seek like you’ve never seen it before!

Abandoned fairground? Check. Game of hide and seek with fourteen strangers competing for a cash prize? Check. Ominous feeling that this game isn’t as innocent as it seemed in the beginning? Check.

Why the actual hell have I never read anything by Kiersten White? She’s a New York Times best seller and Bram Stoker Award winner and, according to her website, has a pet tortoise named Kimberly (which is all I need to know, everything else is just confetti).

Hide is White’s brand new Adult horror debut that I bought on a whim (and because creepy carnivals/fairs/clowns are my favorite) but she has a crazy impressive bibliography to back it up: the MG Sinister Summer series, right now with one installment aptly titled Wretched Waterpark (anyone else getting Edgar & Ellen vibes?), the wildly successful YA Camelot Rising trilogy, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (which is apparently being made into a TV series!), and so many more.

I read this book in two days. It would have been one day but I got too scared to read it before bed. Hide made my skin crawl, it made me check around shadowed corners, it made me feel like I was being watched. Sought. Hunted.

The novel follows a troubled young woman named Mack into a game of hide-and-seek. Mack doesn’t have much to lose; lost and sort of hopeless, haunted by a horrific and violent childhood, and self-admittedly really, really good at hiding. Like her life depends on it. Mack and thirteen strangers- a wounded veteran, an FLDS castaway, a failed social media influencer, etc.- are brought to an old amusement park that was abandoned after the tragic disappearance of a child decades earlier. Some competitors are in it for the money, some are in it for the fame that could come from vlogging their success, and some have no idea why they agreed to take part in the competition at all. They were all invited, individually. Like they were all meant to be there. Like they were all, in some way, important to the game.

The objective is simple- hide for seven days among the rusted and dangerous amusement park rides. Two competitors get out each day until only one remains. The competitors ask questions; like, who’s seeking? why don’t our cell phones work? why two people per day? why is this amusement park set up in such a maze? what’s with the giant fence and scary-looking gate? They don’t get any answers. Not really, anyway.

And that’s it. We get to watch the game unfold. We get to watch as competitors are taken from the competition. Tensions rise. Alliances are forged and betrayed. Bonds are made and severed. Blood is shed.

It’s hard to dive any further without spoilers and- as seasoned readers of this space know- I don’t do the spoiler thing. Not usually. And definitely not with this book. You just have to BE there. You have to read it. You have to neglect all your other responsibilities to turn the page and cover your eyes and sit on the edge of your seat and gasp for breath when each new chapter brings a new horror and new answer to the competitor’s questions. It’s hard to describe the book other than creepy, tingly, whip-smart, socially relevant, and just damn scary. It’s not about the creepy amusement park. Not really. It’s about the horror of people, capitalism, entitlement, family secrets. …and a little about the amusement park. I mean, it was built for a reason, right?

If my vague praise isn’t enough to get you excited for this book, the dope cover art and inside-cover art should do the trick. The map of the amusement park is such a cool feature, and chock full of Easter eggs and hints and strange declarations.

In the end, I guess, Hide is about the games we play to get through life. Social climbing, social media, the bonds we make with family and friends. The horrific things people will do to get ahead, in life or in a simple game of hide and seek. What would you do for a cash prize? What would you do if you couldn’t afford to lose?

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Five stars overall, four stars on the scare scale.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

Buy Kiersten White’s books here !


Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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Book Review: The Boatman’s Daughter

The Devil All the Time Feat. Baba Yaga

Do you love southern gothic? Do you love Baba Yaga? Do you love being inexplicably spellbound by a book with as many twists and turns as a Texas swamp? Then this is the book for you! Andy Davidson has created a dreadful, sticky, muddy atmosphere so demanding of attention you won’t be able to put it down. The Boatman’s Daughter is a masterpiece of southern gothic horror and the dark magic of Slavic folklore.

Not much is known about author Andy Davidson (or I need to brush up on my investigative skills). He resides in Georgia with his wife and a bunch of cats (the real question here is- how many cats make up a bunch?)

His debut novel In the Valley of the Sun (2017) was a finalist for the Bram Stoker award for superior achievement in a first novel. Davidson has been hailed for his writing chops by the likes of Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and fellow renowned horror writer Stephen Graham Jones.

The Boatman’s Daughter, too, has been drowned in praise since its 2020 release. Paul Tremblay said the novel “…put an arrow through my head and heart.” Same.

For all its twists and turns and dripping sweat, this book is… weird. At its core, it’s a wild ride down the river on a little metal boat, trying to outrun some great and vaguely biblical evil. A weird and wild and wonderful ride. Oh yeah, and like really, really scary. That creeping dread scary, that something-lurking-in-the-shadows scary, that can’t-see-in-the-murky-water-of-the-bayou scary. The heat of the bog suffocates you, the greatness of the earth and its ancient magic overwhelms you, the journey of Miranda Crabtree and the family she finds along the way tears your heart in two and stitches it back together with a needle and thread.

Many POV’s run through this book – Miranda Crabtree, a strange boy named Littlefish, a Slavic witch named Iskra who has ties to the land older than time itself.

Miranda Crabtree is the boatman’s daughter (they said the name of the book in the book!!!!!) and she runs illegal errands for a corrupt police officer and a mad preacher. The bog is her river Styx and she – after the bizarre death of her father – is Charon. Well… so to speak. Her father’s death, left behind in fractured memories seen through a child’s eyes, has haunted Miranda for all the years she has lived in the bog on Iskra’s secluded island.

An errand must be run that Miranda can’t complete, and thus begins (or rather, continues) this strange tale through time and dreams and fractured beliefs. It’s tough to dig deeper without spoiling anything, but just know the pieces may seem tattered… until they come together in a tangled web of sins and death and southern heat.

I clung to this book for two days, reading as fast as I could because I literally had to know what Miranda was going to do to vanquish her foes of Slavic folklore, biblical proportions, and evil, gun-wielding men. She finds family and love despite the gloom of the bayou, and this, I propose, is the heart of the book. Family ties, blood running thicker than murky swamp water, secrets tying strangers together in ways they can’t fathom until they’re brought into the burning light of day.

The family relationships reminded me a lot of Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky. Strange little kids wrapped up in – and in some cases at the center of – the grand, evil schemes of adults. Kids are closer to other worlds, people say. They can see what grown-ups can’t. Creepy little things. My mouth was hanging open when The Boatman’s Daughter revealed the family secrets lurking within its pages. Like, literally, hanging open as I was reading in my garden. I think I swallowed a fly.

At its core, The Boatman’s Daughter is a beating heart of family, love, and loss. Gaping wounds are left behind when our loved ones leave – and even more so when they are ripped away by strange forces beyond our control. How far would you go to heal those wounds? What would you do to fill the metaphorical graves of those you lost along the way? Miranda’s tale – and Iskra’s, and Littlefish’s, and the mad preacher’s, and the dwarf named John Avery’s – is a creeping tale of love growing in the strangest of places. Tangled roots of lies and sins, meeting beneath the ancient earth in a pounding, beating heart.

And also nightmarish beasts of Slavic folklore, drugs, fire, and lots and lots of murder. Not for the faint of heart. But damn, is this book awesome.

Five stars overall, three stars on the scare scale.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison


Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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Book Review: Brother by Ania Ahlborn

Bloody horror in the Appalachian wilderness. Groovy.

Have you ever seen the Wrong Turn movies? That fun-to-binge horror film franchise with 10 sequels about a cannibalistic family in the hills of West Virginia? Those films have nothing on the mind of Ania Ahlborn, and the bloody Appalachian horror she created in 2015’s Brother.

Ahlborn hails from Poland but currently lives in South Carolina with her family. She’s a prolific horror and thriller writer with an impressive bibliography – her 11th title is soon to be released. Other popular works of Ahlborn’s include The Bird Eater, I Call Upon Thee, and Within These Walls. She began her career as a self-published author with 2011’s Seed, which eventually reached #1 in Horror on Amazon and landed the author a multi-book deal. And thanks to that deal, we were given Brother.

The Morrow family lives a simple life in rural Appalachia – if you consider kidnapping, dismembering, and eating young women as ‘simple’. Michael is a normal teenager, wondering if there is more to life than his gruesome reality. Movies, girls, Big Macs. His overbearing, tyrannical mother and domineering bully of a brother make sure he rarely sees life beyond their personal hell. His attachment to his little sister Misty Dawn makes him weary about running away to see for himself… if he could outrun his brother, that is.

Michael’s been told time and time again that there’s nothing in the world for him outside of the Morrow way of life. No one wants him but the Morrow’s – and even with them, he’s on thin ice.

Why does Michael’s brother Rebel hate him so much? Why is he such a relentless bully, reminding Michael of how worthless and unloved he is? That’s one of the greatest mysteries of this family story, and Ahlborn expertly plants the seeds leading to the reveal of why Rebel has hated Michael for the majority of his life. When the truth of Michael’s origins and Rebel’s disdain for him is revealed, the shock is palpable. The reader is left breathless, hopeless, utterly disheartened. But, don’t worry. It gets better. Rebel takes Michael out into town. Rebel lets Michael talk to girls, see a movie. Get a Big Mac. And then, things get worse. Oh, holy hell, do they get worse.

If you want to feel dirty, grimy, hopeless and lost, this book is for you. Sick and bloody imagery aside, it’s a roller coaster of emotion right up until the insane, movie-worthy finale. Dread truly drips from every page as you wait for the other shoe to drop. What will be Rebel’s breaking point? When with the Morrow’s killing end? Will Michael ever find happiness away from the only wretched life he has ever known? Only one way to find out.

If I’m being 100% honest (which I always am), I almost DNF’d this book because of the overwhelming despair alone. I love horror movies (even the Wrong Turn franchise), and I love horror books, but Ahlborn paints such a gruesome and tragic picture of a rural hellscape that truly left a rotten taste in my mouth every time I closed the book. I had to talk myself into finishing it because I was rooting for Michael, silently begging for him to escape his miserable existence. It’s also toeing the line of splatter horror (think torture-porn films like anything Eli Roth has ever made, Hostel, etc.) which is totally not my gig, at all. Most of the gore is subtle but Ahlborn throws in a sick detail every now and then that just makes you say “ew”, or “Oh my God”, or “time to read Goosebumps to cleanse my palate and fend off the nightmares”. And, when I finished the book, the rotten taste in my mouth remained. For days. But… no spoilers.

Horrifying, thrilling, and truly mind-blowing when all of the nasty pieces come together, Brother showcases the depths of human depravity and just how thick blood is when compared to water.

3 stars overall, 4 stars on the scare-scale.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison



Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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Book Review: A Head Full of Ghosts

Another day, another exorcism.

Hello, friends and foes! Today we’re reviewing Paul Tremblay’s 2015 novel A Head Full of Ghosts. And this should come as no surprise. If you’ve been kicking around the blog for a while, you know I love exorcism horror. Movies, books, television – anything about the Devil himself. (You can read my review of Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism here: Plus, the reviews for this book are killer. “A Head Full of Ghosts scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.” – Stephen King. “… A Head Full of Ghosts generates a haze of an altogether more serious kind: the pleasurable fog of calculated, perfectly balanced ambiguity.” – New York Times Book Review. ‘Ambiguous’ is the perfect word for this book. Confusing, foggy ambiguity. And it’s absolutely amazing.

I’d heard the name Paul Tremblay around the horror literature world for a while before I picked this book up. And, turns out, that was for good reason. He’s won a Bram Stoker Award, British Fantasy Award, and a Massachusetts Book Award. His bibliography boasts seven novels and numerous anthologies, essays, and published short fiction. Fun fact! He has a master’s degree in mathematics. Now there’s a horror story. His first published novel was The Little Sleep in 2009. Right now, his 2018 book The Cabin at the End of the World is all over horror lit social media; it won the 2019 Locus Award for Best Horror Novel. I’d love to see this guy’s trophy case. And, both A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World are in film production.

Trigger warning for potential readers: this book is rife with discussion of mental illness and self harm. Now, let’s dive in.

First we meet a grown-up Meredith (who goes by Merry) as she’s being interviewed by a writer in her abandoned childhood home. You know something catastrophic happened there – but you don’t know what. Then, we meet Karen and her pop culture blog. She’s making commentary on a documentary TV show, The Possession, that was made about Merry’s family; particularly her older sister, Marjorie. Finally, we meet eight year old Merry, living through her sister’s… sickness, and the eventual filming of the TV show in real time.

These three intertwining narrators tie the story together as they tell it, each with their own personal anecdotes and additions. I think the addition of the blog-style commentary is one of many things that sets this book apart. To watch the events unfold through the eyes of eight year old Merry, then to be given an unabashed and seemingly impartial recap of the TV show episode recreating those events does an exceptional job of casting doubt upon the narrators – all three of them. And it does my favorite thing when it comes to exorcisms – it debunks them. Well, not entirely. Some things just can’t be explained.

Karen does an exceptional job of addressing the hypocrisy of a monetized exorcism and the exploitation of “possessed” (or mentally ill) persons for capital gain. To get that take smack dab in the middle of a story about the horrors of possession and exorcism is unequivocally self aware. And, in my opinion, necessary.

Marjorie is 14 when she starts acting strangely. She’s withdrawn, moody, and seeing and hearing terrifying things. The bedtime stories she creates with Merry grow increasingly bloody as the visions and voices overwhelm her. Her father jumps to possession before her mother does, but eventually a priest is involved, and then an entire camera and production crew. I mean, how does that happen? How is a young girl tortured and exploited on television? That, reader, is the worst horror of all.

Even the “possessed” Marjorie knows that exorcisms shouldn’t be a spectacle (literally – the Pope said so), and the priest ignores her. Her father ignores her. Everyone ignores her, as men have ignored young women for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And they all pay dearly for it.

You don’t know what to believe between young Merry, grown Merry, and the blog posts. Even Merry admits that it gets fuzzy and embellishments slowly turn to truths, even though she lived through it all herself. It’s a disorienting account that leaves a pit in your stomach as you’re desperately trying to decide what happened, what was real, and why dozens of adults sacrificed a child for greed.

A Head Full of Ghosts is as heartbreaking as it is horrifying. It speaks to the confusion and mystery of mental illness, and the lengths one might go to in order to appear sane – or the opposite. It’s a hate-filled homage to the media’s obsession with exploiting people in need and while they’re at their lowest. A psychological thriller and religious think piece, at times bloody and at others downright gruesome. It’s not the Devil that leaves you scared – it’s the exorcist. The “good guys”. If you ask me, they’re damn near evil.

5/5 stars overall, 4/5 on the scare scale.

Am I biased because I love exorcism stories? Who cares! It’s my blog, and I can do what I want.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison


“Home.” Paultremblay,


Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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Book Review: The Grip of It

A haunted house with a twist!

Hello, friends and foes! Today I’m reviewing Jac Jemc’s 2017 horror novel, The Grip of It. The grip of what, exactly? Well, I read the book in a day (literally one day – I could not put it down) and I’m still not quite sure. This little book took me on an anxiety-ridden roller coaster ride that I’m still recovering from, days later. An unassuming young couple, the perfect house, a quiet town… until all Hell breaks loose. Let’s talk about it.

There’s not much to find online about Jac Jemc. She seems to be as mysterious as this little book. Her website is streamlined and offers some updates and bits of info (linked below). Her works follow everyday people experiencing everyday horrors, most with terrifying, breath-stealing twists. Her first novel, My Only Wife, was published in 2012 and won the Paula Anderson Book Award. She has also released two haunting story collections; A Different Bed Every Time in 2014 and False Bingo in 2019, both critically appraised. She’s also the author of an abundance of short stories published in various magazines. Currently, she teaches creative writing at UC San Diego.

Refreshingly, Jemc has a page on her website for her story rejections – short stories she’s submitted to publishers that were turned down for whatever reason. She has received four as of her latest post in July, 2021. As a querying author, I’m familiar with the sting of rejection and find it endlessly charming that Jemc is transparent with what it means to be an “author”. It’s not all easy once you have a successful book out (or, in her case, four – and one more slated for 2022).

In The Grip of It, we meet young couple Julie and James. They flee their old life in the city for a quiet home in a small, peaceful town. James’s gambling addiction and lack of impulse control seemed to spur the move, and Julie is trying her best to forgive him and rebuild the trust in their relationship. They find a house near the forest and a lake on a quaint street, with a mysterious and grouchy elderly man in the home next door. As their fractured relationship begins to heal, the very home they are living in insists on tearing it apart.

It starts off small; a leak here, a strange noise there, a black mark on the wall that definitely wasn’t there when they moved in. Then Julie starts getting strange bruises, mirroring the black, graffiti-like marks along the freshly painted walls. The house becomes unfamiliar, shifting and re-shaping itself, doors leading suddenly to nowhere and staircases missing from where they once stood. The noises turn from whispers to groans to shrieks. And then, in the most terrifying moments, there is nothing at all- leading Julie, James, and the reader to wonder if it ever happened in the first place. Julie and James experience different phenomenons within the house and sometimes struggle with understanding and believing each other. Often, this leads to lying. Gaslighting each other while the house is gaslighting them both.

When Julie and James turn to neighbors and townspeople, asking for information about who lived in the house before them, they get no straight answers – more often, no answers at all. Julie’s bruises draw attention and judgement from those outside the house, and there are only so many lies you can tell before people begin to suspect something awful is going on at home (and their minds don’t go straight to haunted house).

The lingering distrust from their fractured relationship, coupled with lying to each other about what they’ve seen or found or experienced in their ever-changing home, begins a slow and diabolical descent into madness for the once lovely young couple. Their once so beautiful relationship is crumbling due to factors they can’t control, and this is arguably one of the most terrifying aspects of the whole book.

On top of the horrors within their haunted house, Julie and James are sucked into a strange family mystery involving their perpetually grouchy neighbor and a disappearance that was never solved. They try to work together to solve the mystery while simultaneously lying to each other about everything… because they don’t even know what’s real.

I definitely shouldn’t have read this book while house hunting. The Grip of It had me on the edge of my seat, waiting impatiently until I could turn the page to find out what happened next. It left me wondering about the strength of a loving marriage and what lengths one is willing to go to to believe the other, or to be believed themselves. Overall, it was a tantalizing and terrifying read, though I wasn’t a big fan of the ending. Despite that one blip (that’s entirely subjective, anyway), I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone that loves haunted houses and gripping, psychological terror.

Was it scary? Yeah, I think we’ve been over that. It’s stomach-twisting, anxiety-inducing, waiting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat scary. You’re side by side with Julie and James, angry when they find no answers and disturbed and disgusted when they do. It’s a disorienting ride through a haunted house with no haunting – there’s no murderer, no vengeful ghost. Just pure evil. It’s chaotic and confusing (in a good way). A true whirlwind of haunts, gripping fear, and a strange, moldy mystery…

4/5 stars overall, 4/5 on the scare scale.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison



Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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Book Review: Imaginary Friend

“Old people and kids are invisible to the rest of the world… It makes us unbeatable at hide-and-seek.”

There’s a typo on the first page of this book. At least, that’s what I thought. I thought, “How weird that there’s a typo on the very first page in the very first line of this New York Times bestselling novel”. I kept reading, and there was no immediate answer. I even Googled it. “Imaginary Friend misprint”. Nothing. So, I kept reading. And, eventually, it all came together. But before it came together, it fell terribly and tragically apart.

This is the front cover art for the book Imaginary Friend written by Stephen Chbosky. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher or the cover artist.

I bought this book after seeing it in a book TikTok. A BookTok, if you will. The reviews were all incredibly promising; TIME, New York Times Book Review, and Emma Watson all sang its glowing praises. Though I haven’t read Chbosky’s smash hit The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I know enough about it through osmosis to know that Imaginary Friend is an epic (and terrifying) departure.

Stephen Chbosky is arguably best known for his 1999 coming of age novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He also wrote and directed the 2012 film version, starring Emma Watson (remember her from the book reviews earlier?) and Logan Lerman. He wrote the screenplay for 2005’s film adaptation of the musical Rent and the 2021 film adaptation of the musical Dear Evan Hansen. I was also surprised to learn that he wrote the screenplay for the live-action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I was surprised because, well, 2019’s Imaginary Friend is nothing like anything I’ve listed above. It’s not perky, it’s not a musical, and it sure as Hell isn’t Disney.

Imaginary Friend introduces us to a wide cast of characters, each with their own struggle in life. We meet the main character Christopher, a young boy with dyslexia and a hard time making friends, and his mom Kate. They are on the run from Kate’s abusive boyfriend and eventually take refuge in a quiet-seeming town in Pennsylvania. Kate gets a job and enrolls Christopher in a good public school, where he makes a small but loyal group of friends. Then we meet Mary Katherine, a devout Christian high schooler trying to juggle her faith and emerging sexuality. And Ambrose, an elderly army vet whose eyes are being “taken by clouds” (cataracts), and whose kid brother went missing a long, long time ago. And the sheriff, plagued by nightmares of a young girl he could not save. There are other POV’s, too- not as in depth as those listed above, though just as important. That’s a big theme with this book – everything and everyone are connected, no matter how seemingly brief or unimportant.

One day, Christopher goes missing in the Mission Street woods. He’s gone for six days. When he returns, Christopher claims “The Nice Man” saved him and helped him escape the woods, though the sheriff can find no sign of anyone else being involved. As Christopher adjusts back to life as he knew it, he knows at once that he has changed. He knows things. Awful things. Most importantly, he knows he must build a tree house in the Mission Street woods before Christmas, or the world will end. Through the tree house, Christopher can access another world- like ours, but different. It is terrorized by a monstrous woman Christopher calls “The Hissing Lady”. The Nice Man tells Christopher that he must defeat The Hissing Lady before the end of the world.

There’s a lot going on in Imaginary Friend. Much more than I can succinctly summarize (and, as a querying writer, I shudder to think of the synopsis and query letter Chbosky had to put together for this!). Multiple POV’s entwine in different plots and subplots and character arcs, and everyone’s actions effect the rest. It’s a whirlwind of nightmarish imagery and secret messages and hidden worlds that culminates into an extravaganza of tear-jerking endings (yes, I cried), horrors, and the redemption in new beginnings.

And damn, did this book hurt. It hurt my heart and soul. It made my skin crawl, it made my heart ache, thinking of helpless children in horrific nightmare sequences, facing truths and fears they should never have to face. And everything is important! How amazing it is, how the smallest actions can have the largest chain of consequences. Things you read and don’t think twice about are suddenly the most important thing that’s happened over the course of the 600+ page book. You second-guess yourself, you second guess what you read, and it’s achingly chaotic and bizarre and beautiful. There’s a confrontation of the loneliness of being too young and too old. You’re young and you want to know everything, then you’re old and you forget and you want to know everything you used to. And the power of imagination and wonder that we lose when we grow up. “Adults are bad at remembering how powerful they can be because somewhere along the line, they were shamed for their imagination.”

Underneath all the horror of this book is the pulsing strength of a mother’s love, and the perfect way children see their parents, even with all their faults. Could a mother’s love defeat The Hissing Lady, or the end of the world, or God and the Devil and everything else? Only one way to find out…

Speaking of God and the Devil, Imaginary Friend packs a bit of a religious punch. Despite it’s nightmarish imagery and body horror and general terror, there’s an underlying theme of Christianity, and what it means to have faith, and what it means to believe. “To kill in the name of God is to serve the devil.” It’s not overwhelming, though it becomes more prevalent in the last quarter of the book, and it’s thought provoking for someone like me, who was raised in religion and is now… well, this isn’t about me. Chbosky tackles big, human issues through the lens of a child stuck in what seems like a never-ending nightmare. When I finished reading, I sat and stared at the ceiling and wondered what I believe. And I’m still wondering today.

Anyway, anyway, anyway. Was this book scary? I’d say absolutely yes. It has gore, body horror, and nightmare sequences that made my skin crawl and toes curl. Children with their eyes and mouths sewn shut, literal Hellish punishments inflicted unto sinners for all eternity, torture, etc. The tension of the building plot among the different POV’s, then when they overlap and the codes become clear, the puzzle pieces align – I couldn’t put it down until I knew the end. And even then, I wanted more.

“Everyone gets an ending. Whether or not it’s happy is up to them.”

Five stars overall, three stars on the scare scale.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison


Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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