I’ve been a horror movie/scary story junkie since I was a little kid. For those of you who might not know, I was actually adopted by my father, and – well, to put it simply – he didn’t really know how to act or treat little girls. Luckily for me, that meant that I got away with murder and with a lot that my mother wouldn’t tolerate. And it just so happened that Dad was the one who initiated my love for horror. He, like me, lives off the stuff. If there’s a scary movie out, he’s the first to watch it. If Stephen King has a new book out, he’s preordered it. That meant that, even though I was a little six year old girl, I’d watch murder, gore, and monsters with him, a grin plastered all over my face. And, subsequently, would crawl into bed between him and Mom when I grew scared at night.
Needless to say, the horror genre has really helped my father and me to bond over the years and we still watch movies – even go to midnight premiers of horror flicks – together. Sure, letting a first grader watch IT probably wasn’t the best of ideas and it resulted in me being absolutely afraid to shower for a long time, but I was a happy girl nonetheless.
So, naturally, when I saw this horror anthology, I was on board. For the scary story aspect, yes, but mostly because it had Leigh Bardugo’s name attached and anything by her is a must read for me. Moreover, there were a ton of authors I’ve never heard of or read and getting the chance to “taste test” their work is a nice way to gauge whether or not I’d pursue their other works. It’s one of the reasons I like anthologies so much. Like the last anthology I read and reviewed (My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories), I’ll be covering those short stories I liked the most and those I felt were more lackluster. If some short stories aren’t mentioned, that meant that I enjoyed them, but there was nothing about it that really stuck out to me as awesome or problematic.
1.) Hide-And-Seek by Megan Shepherd – This was one of the highlights of the stories for me, simply because the premise deals with old folk legends, this one focusing on the Appalachian legend of Crow Cullum – death’s harbinger. The main character of the story, Annie, is the victim of murder and when Crow Cullum shows up to collect her soul, she challenges “death” to a game. In the legend, if the person wins the game against death, they get to keep their soul and live. As the title indicates, Annie chooses Hide and Seek and if she can successfully hide from death for twenty-four hours, she wins. I also LOVED the ending of this short story. In a lot of the stories in this compilation, the MCs weren’t really memorable, but Annie proves that she’s smart and resourceful, even – literally – in the face of death.
2.) Stitches by A.G. Howard – I’ve never read Howard’s Splinter series, but I’ve heard very good things about it, so I was interested to dive into this short story and see if her writing was for me. This story is a reimagining of Frankenstein, with the protagonist being a rural tom-boy named Sage. She has a twin sister, younger brother, and a drunkard father. Their mother, however, mysteriously disappeared one stormy night. In an attempt to change his ways and to pay bills, her Pa gives up his body parts to a person named The Collector, in return for cadaver body parts, whom an eclectic doctor claims are from a “good person” and would help to make him a better person, too. It’s Sage’s job to saw off his body parts one by one and stitch on his new ones. The procedure seems to work, as her father once more returns to the kindly, caring person the kids knew, but things come to a head when Sage discovers The Collector isn’t who she thinks and – more importantly – when she discovers who the cadaver body parts came from. This is one of the few stories in the books that actually had a pretty “nice” ending, in that it wasn’t particularly spooky or sinister. More thought provoking, really, and this story really captures the essence and message that the original Frankenstein story was trying to get across.
3.) Sleepless by Jay Kristoff – This story was based off the hit movie Psycho, so you can probably guess about how it played out: young man who’s a loner has an overbearing mother that just won’t give him any peace. But the clicker for this story, though, it that the guy, Justin, is chatting with a girl he likes over the internet, named Cassie. They’ve really seemed to make a connection and, when the young woman runs away from home, she calls her buddy up to see if she could stay with him, just like they had talked about in all their past chats. But things don’t play out like Justin would expect… What was so memorable about this story is simply the epic twist at the end. I actually didn’t see it coming until it was revealed to the MC, which is pretty awesome. It takes talent to build up such suspense in a short story! Too, the IM aspect of the story was fun, seeing as we got to know the characters through their dialogue rather than through prose. Creepy, surprising, and compelling this story was an excellent modern day interpretation of a horror classic. Definitely my favorite out of the whole book!
1.) Verse Chorus Verse by Leigh Bardugo – I know, I know. I was surprised, too. The MAIN reason I picked up this book was for Bardugo’s story, but it actually turned out to be the one that frustrated me most, not because it was badly written or anything, but because I felt like I was set up for a creepy, awesome story, only to be rewarded with little payout. Bardugo’s story is about a young pop singer named Jaycee who, after a DUI incident, ends up at a rehab center that – incidentally – used to be an insane asylum. And, naturally, it isn’t long before Jaycee starts to hear rumors of how it’s haunted. I agree, not the most unique of premises, but who the hell doesn’t love haunted insane asylums? I was soooo down for a good ghost story, but the story ended SO abruptly and right at the climax. I felt like I was sat down at an exquisite dinner then told I couldn’t eat it! I wanted hauntings. I wanted gore. I wanted grisly details, but ended up with a very lousy payoff. Loved the writing, but I definitely felt cheated when I finished it.
2.) Emmeline by Cat Winters – Overall, this story was nicely written, with great imagery and suitable tone for a story set in the past. (It was actually one of only two that were set in the past.) It was pretty interesting getting to see the history, as it was set during World War I, particularly from a French point of view. The pacing was good and I found the main character, Emmeline, sympathetic. But the biggest drawback from this story was how predictable the “twist” at the end of the story was. Perhaps I’m just easily able to detect them from watching horror all my life, but the ending was definitely underwhelming.
And that’s just about it! Many of the other stories were good, too, but I only touched on those I thought really needed to be spoken about. Overall, this is certainly an anthology that would tickle any horror junkie’s fancy. If you’re needing something spine tingling to curl up with at night, this is it!