[Read-Only: A Collection of Digital Horror] Caitlin Marceau and M. Regan

This is a short anthology by two authors who have put together a series of stories connected to our use of––and obsession with––technology. It’s horror, but few of the stories deal with gore. Instead the authors focus on the horror that can be hidden behind screens and underneath casual words. Most of the stories are in prose form, but there are a few that are in a text or forum style, which made me read them more quickly and provided suspense that built to the end of the exchange.

This is a book that’s slightly out of my comfort zone because of the word horror on the cover. But the idea of digital horror was intriguing so I was glad to be given a copy by one of the authors.  I’ve read M.Regan’s work before but Caitlin Marceau was a new author for me. While both authors are similar in that they’re focusing on a theme, their writing styles are different in ways that set them apart from one another.

Regan tends to focus on the lyrical, her writing producing images both beautiful and grotesque, depending on the situation. I love alliteration, so I was pleased with her use of it. I think there’s an amount of intelligence in her work that keeps the reader on their toes intellectually, meaning that you have to pay attention to what’s going on instead of reading through quickly. I think that her stories are packed with potential and they went in ways that I couldn’t always predict. I liked how she led her reader down certain paths and left hints for them to unravel.

As for Marceau, she puts us in the minds of her characters immediately. Whether they’re looking for the one or looking for the next 100 likes, they’re vividly created in a short amount of time. Her stories are longer than M. Regan’s in this anthology, which allows her to meander as she builds the setting and creates the tone of the story. I found her stories to be the perfect blend of real and what if?, making her stories spookily possible. I enjoyed reading her work, the stories pertinent to our digital age and obsession. They were well thought out and plotted. I do wish that tildes and asterisks weren’t used as section breaks, though. 

I’ve decided that I’m going to individually review the stories and then give an overall rating of the anthology itself. If you’d like to see my final thoughts on the anthology and my rating, please scroll to the end.

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Kinda Stuck

M. Regan

This is the first story in the anthology and I think it works really well. It introduces a text element immediately, which sets the tone for the rest of the anthology. I found the use of repetition to be delightfully creepy. The suspense is created in just a short amount of time and it was very effective. While I enjoyed this story, there was a point where I couldn’t suspend my disbelief that multiple people would fall into the same trap within the story.

4 stars.

This is also the story that watchmojo decided to create a video on, so if you’re intrigued by what this anthology is about, check it out.


M. Regan

Honestly I’m not sure how I feel about this one. I enjoyed the idea of it, but there’s a lot happening in a short amount of time. I would have liked to have been given more details in order for the buildup to the end to be more satisfying. I was disappointed that it ended when it did because I feel like it’s more of a beginning of something rather than a short story. I liked the idea of technology going after people (at least that’s how I read it!) and I wanted to see more. It seemed like the idea could have blossomed into a longer story.

3 stars.


Caitlin Marceau

The obsession in this one was insane. And highly relatable, which was kind unsettling. Most everyone has some form of social media today; most everyone is cruising for those likes or little hearts. If you look to the side of your screen, you’ll see that I do it on bookstagram. There have been times when I’ve had to remind myself to step away from the screen because I find myself thinking What more can I do? and it’s very disheartening. Such is the feeling that Ava has when she manages her social media account. She is desperate for those likes, to the point where she considers a potentially dangerous app that is said to make you extremely beautiful. I didn’t like the amount of woman on woman hate, particularly when it was against her supposed best friend. But I did think the execution and pacing of this story was done really well, despite the predictability of the ending. This was my favorite of Marceau’s stories.

5 stars.


M. Regan

This was my favorite short story in the whole anthology. I enjoyed the references to mythology as well as the subtle notes that led the reader to the end of the story. I also liked the idea of a character who learned everything from the internet. Honey is a great example of horror happening in the everyday. Technology took a backseat as Regan focused her story on the conversation happening between two friends. It was very much the familiar being tainted with the feeling that something isn’t as it seems, which made me feel unsettled as I followed where the story was leading me. The pacing was superb in this one. It was a great short story that had me chuckling at the reveal, happy that I had properly guessed the ending. The addition of the third character, a daughter, gave the story Hitchcock and Poe vibes in my opinion. I’d like to know what will happen to the daughter in the future.

5 stars. Continue reading


[Starstruck] S.E. Anderson

Starstruck is the first book that I received through The Book Robin Hoods, a group of authors and reviewers started by M.C. Frank. More information on my own involvement may be found here and here.

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Sally’s life is not going according to plans. A college dropout, she’s barely able to hold down a steady job and keep a roommate to help pay the rent. When Sally loses her job, it seems like everything is going from bad to worse––culminating in her hitting someone with her car. But it’s not just any someone. He happens to be an alien. She beyond relieved when there seems to be no lasting damage, and she thinks this weird encounter is the last of it. But when he calls her to bail her out of jail, she realizes that hitting him with her car was only the beginning. Starstruck is a fun and fast-paced read that keeps the reader engaged in the story as Sally tries to figure out where she fits into this larger universe that’s suddenly open to her.

Zander is the other main character in Starstruck, and the main cause of Sally’s woes. Although Zander looks human, he still has a lot to learn about being human. I really enjoyed the chaos that he caused in Sally’s life because of that; I loved reading how she had to teach him how to wear clothes properly and the socially accepted way of bathing. It was entertaining to read. I liked that he didn’t instinctively know what to do.

Was there a handbook that could tell me what to do next? There were thousands of books that taught parenting; I was pretty sure there wasn’t a self-help book about alien roommates. If there was, it was probably about abductees, not subletters.

S.E. Anderson’s writing was great. I felt like the humor was genuine and I enjoyed the mixups that sometimes occurred between Sally and Zander. The words and the story flowed together nicely, giving the reader a fully coherent story that had me curious about the larger world contained but not explained. It looks like the next books in the series will be about this world that S.E. Anderson created. I was glad that the book was focused like this. It made the book more detailed because it focused on one place instead of focusing on it all at once.

I thought that S.E. Anderson created a really good protagonist in Sally. She had a great voice and personality that I enjoyed following. The way that the story was told was also slightly different than what I’m used to; it was a combination of Sally looking back on her past, asides to the reader, and current events in the novel. Sally’s earnestness made the story really enjoyable. She was very grounded in her reality even when the world was becoming more complicated.

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[Tash Hearts Tolstoy] Kathryn Ormsbee

Tash hearts Tolstoy. Like, a lot. So much so that she’s created a web series about Anna Karenina called Unhappy Families with her friend Jack. They’ve been filming for awhile and have a few loyal followers, but nothing too big. They’re both happy that they’re getting the experience for future projects and for college–which is looming on the horizon. Toying with the idea of fame is fun, of course, but they know that it will never happen…until it does.  When they’re thrust into the internet limelight, Tash and her friends are suddenly dealing with followers in the tens of thousands. No longer an obscure web series, dealing with their sudden fame is both exhilarating and terrifying. Being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Tash and Jack need to find a way to deal with both the good and the bad if they’re going to make it through.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy was a cute contemporary read. I loved that it was about producing a web series and what happens when your dreams are realized. Ormsbee did a good job about giving filming details without allowing the book to be bogged down with too many; it allows us to be in the world of web series but not be bored by it. I wish that Unhappy Families existed outside the book! It sounded really interesting. While the focus is on how the web series becomes famous, the book is about so much more.  At its core is a coming of age story. I liked that Tash’s “coming of age” wasn’t about one specific thing. They’re all struggling to find their place in the world and learning how to navigate the messy reality of friendships and family where lines sometimes cross.

Because the book focuses on Tash and Unhappy Families, there’s a lot of focus on her friendship with Jack and her brother, Paul. These are two people who have been in Tash’s life for a long time and who know her in a certain way. I appreciated how Ormsbee explored their friendship and the expectations they’d placed on one another. Friendships change as you get older and as you’re moving to a different part of your life,  and I liked how that was shown against this backdrop of blossoming and distracting fame.

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[Siege and Storm: The Grisha Trilogy II] Leigh Bardugo

Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.

I came off of reading Shadow and Bone, the first novel, feeling decidedly unimpressed. It was a good novel; I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t quite something I was raving about despite the impressive amount of love there is for it. Siege and Storm is so much better. I think it helps that the novel is longer. Bardugo is able to explore her world a bit more, showing readers the corners that hadn’t yet been introduced fully.

Keith Thompson is one of my favorite illustrators. I didn’t realize that he was the one who created the maps! So talented.

After defeating the Darkling on the Fold, Alina has been running and hiding. She and Mal have been trying to make a life for themselves in a strange land, but as the days pass, it becomes more and more difficult for Alina to hide who she is. When she discovers that the Darkling survived against impossible odds and is now more powerful than ever, Alina realizes that she’s going to have to face her past and confront the Darkling and his allies.

Alina came into her power in the first book, which meant that she finally is a character I like in this second book. I found her pretty annoying in the first book, a standard heroine that whines about her powers (or lack of) while doing little to advance herself. Obviously that had changed toward the end of the novel, but I still wasn’t sure of her and the Grisha series. Now I’m pretty eager to finish the series.

 I am a soldier. I am the Sun Summoner. And I’m the only chance you have. 

One of the best things about Siege and Storm was how much Alina struggled. She had been told by the Darkling that Mal, an otkazat’sya–someone without powers–would never understand her and her power. As much as she tried to ignore his words, they stuck with her, barbs that keep pricking at her heart even as she gets closer to Mal. The resulting inner conflict that Alina goes through makes her a much better character. I felt far more invested in her this time around because I wanted to see how she would overcome–or succumb to–this inner darkness that seems to have been planted in her by the Darkling. As the book progresses, Alina realizes that she maybe can’t blame the Darkling for all of the negative thoughts, greed, and thirst for more that has grown in her. I loved that. I loved that she owned up to her feelings instead of blaming someone else for it. She has all of these pressures on her that are personal and political, and sometimes they become too much for her.

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[Aftercare Instructions] Bonnie Pipkin

Ever since the death of her father, Genesis has had to take on more than the average seventeen-about-to-turn-eighteen girl should have to. When her mother fell into a depression after her father’s death, Genesis took on the responsibility of taking care of her family. She can’t just leave her mother to her grief. But then Genesis gets pregnant. It’s not how she expected her year to go–pregnancy in high school was never her plan. She and her boyfriend, Peter, decide that getting an abortion is the only option for them because they’re seventeen and not ready for a child. After the procedure, Genesis expects to find her boyfriend waiting for her in the lobby of the Planned Parenthood. Instead she discovers that Peter abandoned her there. She’s alone. It’s something that she hasn’t really addressed before.

The girl and her escort have the same wild hair and deep-set eyes. This has to be her mother, and I try to imagine my own mother helping me out, escorting me. But I can’t conjure the faintest image of this. Not anymore.*

What follows is a heartfelt exploration of first loves, friendship, and understanding that your–and others’–actions may not be so black and white.

While Aftercare Instructions puts an abortion at the forefront of the novel–and indeed the opening scene takes place at the clinic–it’s very decisively after: it focuses on what Genesis is going through after the abortion and after the realization that her boyfriend has abandoned her. She needs to learn how to move on from both events and figure out how they’re going to change her. Genesis doesn’t always address everything, but since the chapter titles deal with aftercare and details about what your body goes through after an abortion, the reader is constantly reminded of where the novel started and what Genesis will eventually have to come to terms with.

I thought that Bonnie Pipkin did a good job of showing Genesis’ processing; she goes through an array of emotions from betrayal, to second guessing, to wanting to forget, all while trying to hold herself and her family together. She’s very much a girl who thinks that she has to keep it to herself to protect others, even her best friend. I think there’s an important release when she’s able to confide in others. I also think it’s equally important that she wasn’t shamed for having an abortion. Instead we were shown female relationships where there was only concern.

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[Patchwork] Karsten Knight

Patchwork is said to be like several popular young adult novels, which is something that often bothers me. I feel that it can set up the book to be a failure if it doesn’t meet my expectations–made higher by people touting it as the next Game of Thrones or Gone Girl. It may perhaps be lucky that I haven’t read any of the books that this one is said to be similar to, because for once I don’t have that complaint. In Patchwork, Karsten Knight takes the myth of the Phoenix and puts it in a modern setting, blending past and present in a time-traveling book that sends Renata Lake into her memories for a chance to change a moment. Her power comes to the surface after an attack at prom kills all of her friends and classmates. Suddenly she has a new power that she doesn’t understand. What she doesn’t have is time–Renata must try to figure out how to use her powers to discover who is after her and her friends before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed the world of Patchwork. Knight created a world based on Renata’s memories of the past, knitting together her reality and the mythos of Patchwork. I hesitate to say more because I don’t want to have heavy spoilers in my review. Patchwork functioned as a way for Renata to time-travel, allowing her to walk through memories to find a point in her past that she could try to change, but she can never go back to the original point where her powers manifested: the attack at prom. She can continue going backward to try to save her friends and discover the assassin, but it erases her future. She has to make new memories from whatever point she stops at. Fortunately, she remembers everything. Unfortunately, no one else does. I think that everyone wishes at some point in their life that they could go back and change something, but they maybe don’t consider what would happen if they could change a moment but then they’re stuck and have to start over from there. I thought that Knight did a great job of portraying this by using Patchwork and Renata’s reaction to it. I’ve read a few time-traveling books before, but I thought that this was a unique way to portray it.

The one very slight problem I had with Patchwork was the blending of Greek and what I see as Egyptian mythology, namely the choice of Osiris. There’s an Amaranthine Society, the Minotaurs, and Daedalus, which are decidedly Greek. I love that Greek mythology was woven throughout the story because it’s always been something I’m interested in. The inclusion of Osiris, an Egyptian god of the afterlife, really confused me. I did some research (i.e. read the Osiris myth on wikipedia), and apparently the myth of Osiris traveled to Greece with the worship of another goddess, Isis. The Osiris myth was also written about, where Greek writers viewed the Osiris myth with a Greek philosophy lens. So it does technically fit with the Greek mythology aspect of Patchwork. Even still, I would argue that Osiris is well-known as an Egyptian god with most people being unaware of the connection to Greece. Ultimately, my only quibble is that I wish Knight had chosen another name.

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[The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women] Kate Moore

Radium: the wonder element. It was used to battle tumors, which meant that it had health-giving elements. It was a cure-all, treating cancer, gout, constipation…it even was said to restore vitality. This “liquid sunshine” couldn’t possibly be bad…

I went into The Radium Girls with absolutely no knowledge of what I was in for other than the vague sense of dread that the synopsis gave me. I have never studied this particular part of history, though I have studied other parts of the same time period. During World War I, women were toiling away at factories where they painted the luminous dials of watches that were used by troops abroad. The substance glowed in an otherworldly, magical way, lingering on the girls’ skin, their hair, their clothes, a light that marked them as special as they shone faintly in the dark. They were on top of the world doing a job that paid better than most jobs they could get at the time and the substance made them beautiful.

Some of the products you could order that had radium in them.

Kate Moore tracks them from 1917 up to 1938 with mentions of World War II; the three parts of the novel follow them as they begin work, as they begin to develop strange illnesses, through their attempts to get justice, and finally the end result. The girls–for some of them began work when they were fourteen–and women take on form through research–letters, newspaper accounts of the time, and legal documents–as well as interviews with descendants. This is extremely well researched. I could feel the depth of the research, even the pieces that likely didn’t make it into the end product. Moore took a vast amount of information about these cases and the history surrounding them and made it readable for the layperson. As someone who hadn’t know about the Radium Girls, it was very informative without losing the heart of this real story. There were so many women that it would be impossible to focus on them all, but by focusing on a small group of them, Moore was able to craft a narrative that was engaging and emotional.

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