Published June 2, 2023 by Macfarlane Lantern Publishing A cynical twentysomething must confront her unconventional family’s dark secrets in...

Review || Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison


Published June 2, 2023 by Macfarlane Lantern Publishing

A cynical twentysomething must confront her unconventional family’s dark secrets in this fiery, irreverent horror novel from the author of Such Sharp Teeth and Cackle.

Nobody has a “normal” family, but Vesper Wright’s is truly…something else. Vesper left home at eighteen and never looked back—mostly because she was told that leaving the staunchly religious community she grew up in meant she couldn’t return. But then an envelope arrives on her doorstep.

Inside is an invitation to the wedding of Vesper’s beloved cousin Rosie. It’s to be hosted at the family farm. Have they made an exception to the rule? It wouldn’t be the first time Vesper’s been given special treatment. Is the invite a sweet gesture? An olive branch? A trap? Doesn’t matter. Something inside her insists she go to the wedding. Even if it means returning to the toxic environment she escaped. Even if it means reuniting with her mother, Constance, a former horror film star and forever ice queen.

When Vesper’s homecoming exhumes a terrifying secret, she’s forced to reckon with her family’s beliefs and her own crisis of faith in this deliciously sinister novel that explores the way family ties can bind us as we struggle to find our place in the world.




As a fairly recent newcomer in the horror scene, Rachel Harrison made her debut with The Return in 2020. The subsequent releases of Cackle in 2021, and 2022's Such Sharp Teeth and Bad Dolls have made it abundantly clear that she doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon. Zombies, witches, werewolves, possessed dolls, and magic 8-balls have all been story fodder so it only seems natural that her next step would be Black Sheep's cult.

Having left her intensely religious family and community, Vesper is attempting—with questionable resultsto make it on her own. The night she's fired from her waitressing job, she discovers an envelope at her door containing an invitation to the wedding of her cousin and childhood best friend, Rosie, to Brody, the only guy she ever loved. When Vesper left the church six years ago, she was told she would essentially be dead to them and could never return. Understandably stunned and unsure of who sent the missive or their motives, she makes the decision to go to the wedding, mostly out of spite for the couple. 

Going back home is a perplexing experience for Vesper. Not only does she have to grapple with her emotions about the marriage and the couple, but she also has to confront her unconventional family and community. Her cold disapproving mother is a scream queen idol that never showed her affection. Her father, whom she adored, abandoned her at a young age when all she wanted was someone to love her. Being home, she is confronted again with these things, as well as her skepticism about religion and her disdain for the seemingly mindless religious devotion of those around her.  

While there's no denying given the subject matter that horror is Harrison's genre, her stories lean heavily on a first-person narrative as they navigate complex relationships and emotional trauma. Black Sheep is no different. Harrison renounces the superficial female archetype and instead constructs strong, memorable, and relatable protagonists. Her characters are refreshingly raw and authentic. Unrestrained and sometimes even ugly, we gain a front-row seat to their motivations, perspectives, and, most significantly, their apprehensions and insecurities. If Vesper's irreverence and quick wit doesn't instantly charm you, hang in there; building genuine characters takes time.

Along with her protagonist being so well-fleshed, Harrison creates an uneasy atmosphere that gets more and more ominous, even if you aren't yet quite sure why. As Vesper revisits her childhood home and reconnects with her past, she can't help but notice the stark distinction between the memories of her youth and the present. Through a mix of humorous and sobering observations, she slowly pieces together the truth about her family and the place she once called home. She is forced to confront the ugliness of her past which ultimately leaves her with a frightening sense of clarity and understanding. Once all the pieces lock into place, you can't help but rally around Vesper before it all comes crashing down. 

Having previously described Harrison's Such Sharp Teeth as "cozy horror", I would say that this entry is equally approachable for those that like their horror spooky but not too dark. However, seasoned horror enthusiasts may find the time spent on character development, the slow start, and the minimal blood and guts too mild. Although I enjoyed reading Black Sheep, I must admit that I was hoping for some unforeseen revelations or turns in Harrison's story. If you plan on reading Black Sheep when it's released, I would highly recommend going in blind, which is why this review is relatively vague. Even though I predicted the twist, I don't want to ruin the experience for readers who may not.   

With the ability to take clich├ęd tropes that have been used countless times before and infuse them with fresh and invigorating energy, I can't wait to see what subject Harrison tackles next. Overall, Harrison's newest horror entry Black Sheep is a compelling and entertaining read—a delightfully diabolical contemporary horror and another win for Rachel Harrison.


Published  June 2, 2023 by Macfarlane Lantern Publishing A  village abandons all they knew in search of water. A man covets the last roses o...

Review || Once Upon a Summer: A Folk and Fairytale Anthology





Published June 2, 2023 by Macfarlane Lantern Publishing

A village abandons all they knew in search of water.
A man covets the last roses of summer and pays the price in blood.
Two young monsters seek a peaceful life by the seaside.
A scorching prophecy threatens to destroy all that a princess holds dear.


Once upon a time stories travelled from place to place on the tongues of merchants and thieves and kings alike. Around a crackling bonfire beneath a sky that never grew dark they were shared, and traded, and altered, until every corner of the globe had their own collection of tales.

In the spirit of these age-old stories comes Once Upon a Summer , a seasonal anthology of folk and fairy tales from 15 authors across the globe. It covers everything from summer romances to eco-terror to seaside ghost stories, and features both intriguing twists on classic tales and exciting original stories.

The second of four planned seasonal anthologies from Macfarlane Lantern Publishing, Once Upon a Summer is sure to have a story for just about everyone. Grab your copy in time for the solstice today!

Inside this
The I Scream Van by Caroline Logan
What Big Geese You Have by Adie Hart
The Forest at the End of the World by Josie Jaffrey
It Is Written by S. Markem
These Burning Bones by Laila Amado
Vespertine by Elanna Bellows
The Last Roses of Summer by Kate Longstone
Love, Pride, Virtue and Fate by Bharat Krishnan
Juniper and the Upside Down Well by Ella Holmes
Love in the Time of Volcanoes by Jake Curran-Pipe
Bluebeard’s Beach House by Jenna Smithwick
The Knucker of Lyminster by Katherine Shaw
Summer Dreams by R. A. Gerritse
The Witches of Dogtown by A. J. Van Belle
Contract with a Mermaid by M. J. Weatherall


Add to Goodreads
 

My love for fairytale retellings is no secret here. Having previously read, Once Upon a Winter (You can read my review here.), I was excited to dive into the summer. I wasn't able to spend as much time with this anthology as I wanted but I did jump in on a couple of the stories. What I read, I loved! Most are cute and fluffy, while a few are dark, which is exactly what I wanted. 

Bluebeard’s Beach House by Jenna Smithwick was the story I most wanted to read, given its' darker origin story. Bluebeard, or La barbe bleue was written down by Charles Perrault—who also authored Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Little Red Riding Hood. The story begins with a wealthy nobleman wanting to remarry after the death of his SIX previous wives. Red flag much? Of course, it is, which is why after much debate (mostly due to his ugly blue beard and NOT the dead wives), one of the daughters of a neighbor agrees to marry him,  He leaves, but before he does, he gives his new wife the keys to all his treasures. Strangely, given all that he is giving her free access to, she is forbidden, upon severe punishment, to open one particular closet. While he's away she has her sister and family over for a party and her curiosity gets the best of her. When she enters the closet, she finds the previous six wives' bodies laying there! She drops the key in the blood on the floor, and no matter what she tries, she can't get the blood off. When the husband arrives home, seeing the blood on the key and knowing what she saw, he is going to kill her. She asks for one last prayer with her sister, Anne. After stalling, she goes downstairs to her fate, but right before she's killed, her brothers show up and stab Bluebeard to death. She inherits the estate and remarries, giving her a happily ever after...hopefully.

**Spoilers ahead**

In Smithwick's story, the new wife Josephine, is preparing in full 50s housewife magazine style for a dinner party. The magazines came from wife #2, Danielle. In her version of the story, Henry, our clean-shaven Bluebeard, is a little less rich, and the dinner party is to charm prospective partners. Josephine wonders if wife #2, felt the way she feels having to live up to Henry's expectations of his first wife. She has a certain amount of resigned jealousy seeing their portraits hanging still from their place of honor at the top of the stairs. She feels inadequate in the face of his previous marriages and under constant disapproval from Henry. Thinking she sees the portrait move, she drops the glass she's holding, a wedding gift of Henry and Mary's, and cuts herself in the process of cleaning the shards up. Pleading illness, Henry goes alone to the party but warns her not to rummage in the attic. After a ghostly vision of Mary urging her to give in to temptation, Josephine grabs the key and heads upstairs. The first thing she experiences is the smell, and there are weird skittering and scratching sounds, there's blood on the neck of a dress, and are those...feet? She stumbles over a dollhouse, a complete miniature of the house she's in, and inside the attic room, there are two dolls—Mary and Danielle. Blood from her cut hand gets on the white dresses of the dolls and she knows Henry will know she's been in the attic. She calls her sister in panic, who comes over. Henry arrives home and threatens her, Anne smacks him with a cast iron pan, and Josephine locks him in the attic, and sets the place on fire. Her happy ending comes with building a new house on the land, one that is airy and comfortable, and while there may be a new love interest there, it's not dependent on a man. 

This was such a great story! The buildup of tension and the creepy atmosphere were perfect! I loved the changes that Smithwick made to the classic story: the ghostly visitations/visions that Josephine had of the two previous wives, how they are actually warning her, and how Josephine, in the end, releases them from the house. Even though there aren't bloody bodies laying in a closet, I thought that the dollhouse was a very effective way of linking back to the origin stories. I especially loved the twist at the end of Josephine's little girl playing with the dollhouse, saying that Daddy is being mean, and how Josephine picks up the doll that looks like Henry, puts him in the attic, and shuts the door. This is exactly how you take a fairytale and give it a contemporary twist. 

Be sure to go back and check out the other stops on the tour! 





 Get ready to pad your TBR, here are just a few of June's new releases!  If you've missed the previous lists ( January ,   February ...

This Month in Horror || June 2023



 Get ready to pad your TBR, here are just a few of June's new releases! 

If you've missed the previous lists (January, February, March, April, May), you can still check those out. And if you are looking for what's still to come, you can see the whole list for 2023 here.


If you have a book releasing this year and want to get on the list, click here and I'll get you added!


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Maeve Fly by C.J. Leede

Expected publication: June 6, 2023 by Tor Nightfire


By day, Maeve Fly works at the happiest place in the world as every child’s favorite ice princess.

By the neon night glow of the Sunset Strip, Maeve haunts the dive bars with a drink in one hand and a book in the other, imitating her misanthropic literary heroes.

But when Gideon Green - her best friend’s brother - moves to town, he awakens something dangerous within her, and the world she knows suddenly shifts beneath her feet.

Untethered, Maeve ditches her discontented act and tries on a new persona. A bolder, bloodier one, inspired by the pages of American Psycho. Step aside Patrick Bateman, it’s Maeve’s turn with the knife.






All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby

Expected publication: June 6, 2023 by Flatiron Books


Titus Crowne is the first Black sheriff in the history of Charon County. A former FBI agent and security expert, Titus came home to take care of his father and look out for his troubled younger brother. He ran for Sheriff to make a difference, especially in the Black community, which has so often been treated unfairly by the police.

But a year to the day after his election, a school shooting rocks the town. A beloved teacher is killed by a former student, and as Titus attempts to deescalate and get the boy to surrender, his deputies fire a fatal shot.

In the investigation, it becomes clear that the student they shot had been abused by the dead teacher, as well as by unidentified perpetrators. The trail leads to buried bodies—and secrets. While Titus tries to track down a killer hiding in plain sight, while balancing daily duties like protecting Confederate pride marchers, he must face what it means to be a Black man wearing a police uniform in the American South.






Everything the Darkness Eats by Eric LaRocca

Expected Publication: June 6, 2023 by CLASH Books


An insidious darkness threatens to devastate a rural New England village when occult forces are conjured and when bigotry is left unrestrained.

After a recent string of disappearances in a small Connecticut town, a grieving widower with a grim secret is drawn into a dangerous ritual of dark magic by a powerful and mysterious older gentleman named Heart Crowley. Meanwhile, a member of local law enforcement tasked with uncovering the culprit responsible for the bizarre disappearances soon begins to learn of a current of unbridled hatred simmering beneath the guise of the town’s idyllic community—a hatred that will eventually burst and forever change the lives of those who once found peace in the quiet town of Henley’s Edge.

From the Bram Stoker Award®-nominated author of the viral sensation, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, Everything the Darkness Eats is a haunting supernatural thriller from a new and exciting voice in genre fiction.






Hymns From The Dirt by Joshua Marsella

Expected publication: June 13, 2023 by Cold Hands Press







Suffer the Darkness by Yolanda Sfetsos

Expected publication: June 18, 2023 by DarkLit Press


Kae Roscoe's daughter went missing in the woods sixteen months ago but when she returns, she's not the same person. She hardly speaks, doesn't eat, responds with extreme violence, and things get worse when she's released from the hospital. There's definitely something very different about Molly, and her reappearance is making strange things happen to everyone around her.



Open House by Nico Bell

Expected publication: June 15, 2023 by PsychoToxin Press

Caleb is a Realtor on his way to becoming a self-made millionaire. He has worked hard to leave his troubled youth in the rearview mirror. Enter a mysterious woman with her own wicked agenda. She shows up at his open house asking all the right questions, but something feels off. Before Caleb can pinpoint what it is, he finds himself locked in the home and at her mercy. To be set free, he must battle his inner demons, but Caleb isn't as innocent as he looks. The deadly truth will come out and someone is going to pay.


Night's Edge by Liz Kerin

Expected publication: June 20, 2023 by Tor Nightfire



Liz Kerin’s Night’s Edge is a sun-drenched novel about the darkest secrets we hide and how monstrous we can be to the ones we love most.

Having a mom like Izzy meant Mia had to grow up fast. No extracurriculars, no inviting friends over, and definitely no dating. The most important Tell no one of Izzy’s hunger – the kind only blood can satisfy.

But Mia is in her twenties now and longs for a life of her own. One where she doesn’t have to worry about anyone discovering their terrible secret, or breathing down her neck. When Mia meets rebellious musician Jade she dares to hope she’s found a way to leave her home – and her mom – behind.

It just might be Mia’s only chance of getting out alive.







The Wicked Unseen by Gigi Griffis

Expected publication: June 20, 2023 by Underlined

The new girl in town is having trouble fitting into a community that believes there's a secret Satanic cult conducting rituals in the woods. When her crush goes missing, she starts to wonder if the town's obsession with evil isn't covering up something far worse. Perfect for fans of Fear Street!

To say sixteen-year-old Audre doesn't fit in would be the understatement of the century. She's a city kid who's found herself in a rural town. The only girl at school who'd rather kiss a girl than a boy. Not to mention that the whole town believes there's a secret Satanic cult conducting rituals in the nearby woods--and Audre is a born skeptic.

When the preacher's daughter and Audre's secret crush, Elle, goes missing on Halloween weekend, the town is quick to point fingers--in Audre's direction. While they harass Audre's family for being newcomers and nonbelievers, Audre realizes she might be the only person here who can find her friend.

The deeper she goes, though, the weirder it gets. What happened to Elle--and is the evil this town is hiding really what Audre thinks it is?


Those We Drown by Amy Goldsmith

Expected publication: June 27, 2023 by Delacorte Press 


An ocean-drenched, atmospheric horror debut! Liv's best friend disappears on their first night aboard their dream semester-at-sea program—but is he really sick, like everyone says, or is something darker lurking beneath the water?

It should have been the trip of a lifetime.

When Liv lands an all-expenses-paid opportunity to study aboard luxury cruise ship The Eos for a semester, she can’t believe her luck. Especially since it will offer her the chance to spend time with Will, her ex–best friend, who’s barely spoken to her since the night their friendship changed forever.

But as soon as she steps on board, Liv realizes just how far in over her head she is. With Will, with the rest of the Seamester students—including the brittle and beautiful Constantine, who may be hiding his own ties to The Eos—and most of all, with the Sirens, three glamorous and mysterious influencers who seem to have the run of the ship.

Liv quickly discovers that the only reason she was invited to join the trip is because another girl disappeared shortly after enrolling—and no one seems to know what happened to her. When further disappearances rock the ship and strange creatures begin haunting Liv's dreams, she wonders: Is The Eos hiding a dark secret in its watery depths?

The truth will come at a price . . . only, how much is Liv willing to pay?