Review: 88 Names by Matt Ruff

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John Chu is a “sherpa”, a paid guide to online role-playing games like the popular Call to Wizardry. For a fee, he and his crew will provide you with a top-flight character equipped with the best weapons and armor, and take you dragon-slaying in the Realms of Asgarth, hunting rogue starships in the Alpha Sector, or battling hordes of undead in the zombie apocalypse.

Chu’s new client, the pseudonymous Mr. Jones, claims to be a “wealthy, famous person” with powerful enemies, and he’s offering a ridiculous amount of money for a comprehensive tour of the world of virtual-reality gaming. For Chu, this is a dream assignment, but as the tour gets underway, he begins to suspect that Mr. Jones is really North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, whose interest in VR gaming has more to do with power than entertainment. As if that weren’t enough to deal with, Chu also has to worry about “Ms. Pang,” who may or may not be an agent of the People’s Republic of China, and his angry ex-girlfriend, Darla Jean Covington, who isn’t the type to let an international intrigue get in the way of her own plans for revenge.

What begins as a whirlwind online adventure soon spills over into the real world. Now Chu must use every trick and resource at his disposal to stay one step ahead—because in real life, there is no reset button.


Between the very popular novel Lovecraft Country and the sequel, Destroyer of Worlds, Matt Ruff published a novel about video games. 88 Names follows John Chu, a “sherpa” who has a group of gamers that help players complete challenges for a price. In open world online video games, this is something that people with a great deal of money but no time hire to have a fun time in the video games without doing the hours of character building and rough work. John makes money by helping them with the video game experience, and this is also how he gets his accounts banned. Fortunately he has several accounts, several characters that he can draw from at any moment. When he gets a job from a mysterious player named Mr. Jones, he finds himself deeper into a thriller than he expected when he started playing a game. 

88 Names is readable and somewhat interesting, but as a whole, the plot seems pretty bland. The only thing that keeps this somewhat interesting is the variations on the games that John Chu plays online. We do not get a ton of repetition of John playing the same game over and over. In fact we barely get the same thing twice. Instead we get a bunch of different games, including a Star Wars like war game, a Grand Theft Auto like heist game, and even a text based circus/carnival game. The games are varied enough to where I kept reading the book, but in the end, the overarching plot falls kind of flat. The one thing that did get me through the novel was that I thought it was pretty funny. There is times when the trolling between characters is amusing, but maybe this is something that those who do not play games online do not experience. I can see some readers having zero connection to this world or the characters, thus making for a miserable reading experience.

I did like Lovecraft Country, and I am excited to read Destroyer of World, but this novel does not do much for me. It really does not feel up to the same standards as much of the rest of Matt Ruff’s collected work. Even though the idea of a VR, video game novel seems like a fun time, 88 Names is not as fun as it promises to be.

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Review: Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar

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The New York Times bestselling coauthor of Gwendy’s Button Box brings his signature prose to this story of small-town evil that combines the storytelling of Stephen King with the true-crime suspense of Michelle McNamara.

In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small Maryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumor begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. Law enforcement, as well as members of the FBI are certain that the killer is a living, breathing madman—and he’s playing games with them. For a once peaceful community trapped in the depths of paranoia and suspicion, it feels like a nightmare that will never end.

Recent college graduate Richard Chizmar returns to his hometown just as a curfew is enacted and a neighborhood watch is formed. In the midst of preparing for his wedding and embarking on a writing career, he soon finds himself thrust into the real-life horror story. Inspired by the terrifying events, Richard writes a personal account of the serial killer’s reign of terror, unaware that these events will continue to haunt him for years to come.

A clever, terrifying, and heartrending work of metafiction, Chasing the Boogeyman is the ultimate marriage between horror fiction and true crime. Chizmar’s writing is on full display in this truly unique novel that will haunt you long after you turn the final page.


Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar has an excellent premise. This book is billed as a fictional account of a serial killer but is supposed to present like a true crime book. There are even photograph inserts like true crime books, photographs of victims, crime scenes, and major players to the plot. The setup seems like this could be one of those fantastic books that changes everything. But it’s not. 

I read the first 100 pages of this novel when it first came out in August 2021. Then I put it down. For almost two years. I borrowed an audiobook version of it from my local library, and this was really the only way that I could get through it, by being stuck in a car for hours, driving and listening.

The initial idea is so promising, but instead of writing a book that resembles a true crime nonfiction book, Chizmar writes a novel that reads like Stephen King Lite.

 Stephen King writes horror novels with an undercurrent of nostalgia. His down home, “aww shucks” attitude peppers all of his stories. King can pull it off because he is good at it, but also because  he is so prolific with such a fan base, that those fans who do not really care for his deep moments of nostalgia still read and write glowing reviews of his novels. King’s plots can outshine the writing. Chizmar tries to do the same thing, but his moments of nostalgic passages fall a little flat. His main character, a younger version of himself named Richard Chizmar, comes home from college to start his magazine, Cemetery Dance. The crime spree just happens to take place between him buying hot dogs and Slurpees and eavesdropping on the old timers talking at the local 7-Eleven, writing short stories in his room, getting these stories rejected, and reading the newspaper every day with his parents. Chizmar, as a main character, is a pretty boring guy, and this makes the parts that are loosely based on his life boring as well.

This is a great concept, but I did not care much for the execution. Most of it is because the chapters about Chizmar and the things that he is doing after college really distracts from the reason why we were drawn to this book in the first place, trying to catch a killer. Maybe my expectations were wrong. I was hoping for a novel that read like a true crime book, objective and a step or two removed from the action, maybe even returning to town to investigate these cold cases instead of tampering with an active investigation. Chasing the Boogeyman is a novel that reads like a novel, and most of the parts that focus on the life of the main character keep this from being a great book.

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Review: Lone Women by Victor LaValle

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Blue skies, empty land—and enough room to hide away a horrifying secret. Or is there? Discover a haunting new vision of the American West from the award-winning author of The Changeling.

Adelaide Henry carries an enormous steamer trunk with her wherever she goes. It’s locked at all times. Because when the trunk is opened, people around her start to disappear…

The year is 1914, and Adelaide is in trouble. Her secret sin killed her parents, and forced her to flee her hometown of Redondo, California, in a hellfire rush, ready to make her way to Montana as a homesteader. Dragging the trunk with her at every stop, she will be one of the “lone women” taking advantage of the government’s offer of free land for those who can cultivate it—except that Adelaide isn’t alone. And the secret she’s tried so desperately to lock away might be the only thing keeping her alive.

Told in Victor LaValle’s signature style, blending historical fiction, shimmering prose, and inventive horror, Lone Women is the gripping story of a woman desperate to bury her past—and a portrait of early twentieth-century America like you’ve never seen.


I love Victor LaValle and I look forward to everything that he writes. It is no surprise how excited I was to learn that the following up novel to The Changeling was going to be a historical horror novel set in the American west. I know that westerns and horror have been popular lately (see Death Head’s Press’s Splatter Western series), so I was really excited to see what LaValle would bring to the table.

I thought of the movie Airheads when the title was revealed, the 90s comedy starring Brendan Fraser and Adam Sandler. Their band was called the Lone Rangers, and someone made the comment of how can they be “lone” if there are three of them? I started this book with this same question in my head. How could they be “lone” if the title refers to “women”? It is discovered that “lone women” refers to homesteaders in Montana, particularly single or widowed female homesteaders who traveled to Montana to cultivate the land. Adelaide Henry shows up from California to stake her claim, carrying nothing but a steamer trunk that is almost too heavy to move. There are secrets inside the trunk. secrets that Adelaide and her family have spent her lifetime trying to hide. Now that she is out in a land of endless isolation and wind, the only thing that she can do is face her past and her secrets.

LaValle might be talking about “lone women” being those single homesteaders who are working the land to make a life of their own, but the “lone women” element also refers to the differences between Adelaide as an African-American homesteader and the way the white women in the nearest town of Big Sandy treat her and the other few minority women. The Reeds own the opera house and the entire town. Jerrine Reed leads the Busy Bees social club, and one of their commitments is promoting female ran businesses. One of the businesses is a new laundry service by Mrs. Metta Sterling and her son. The thing about this is the town already had a female ran laundry service, but the person in charge of that, Fiona Wong, happens to be Chinese. There is a fissure between the white women and the minority women in town. The minorities become their own faction, not only because they are are pushed away from the other women in town, but also because they do not seem swayed by the influence of the Reeds. These outcasts turn into “lone women” and band together to form their own close knit group. 

Lone Women does have enough different elements in it that keeps the story moving and interesting. This story is a fresh mix of not only horror but of mystery, adventure, and politics, but the freshness is heavily steeped in so many elements that are classic to horror. I love all of LaValle’s novels. This is not my favorite one, but it is enjoyable and a very solid western horror.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Monument Maker by David Keenan

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David Keenan is one of today’s most exciting, fearless, and entertaining writers. Monument Maker is his most daring book to date.

Is it possible for books to dream? For books to dream within books? Is there a literary subterranea that would facilitate ingress and exit points through these dreams? 

These are some of the questions posed by David Keenan’s Monument Maker, an epic romance set in an eternal summer, and a descent into history and the errors of the past; a novel with a sweep and range that runs from the siege of Khartoum and the conquest of Africa in the 19th century through the Second World War and up to the present day, where the memories of one summer and an unforgettable love affair unravel. 

A book within a book within a book, a meditation on art and religion, and on what it means to make monuments. A hallucinatory epic and a forward-looking history of the world, Monument Maker was written over the course of ten years and represents the apex of Keenan’s project to create books that are themselves teeming with organic life. 

“I sometimes think David Keenan dreams aloud. His prose has the effortless enigmatic, unsettling quality of dream.”—Edna O’Brien


I received Monument Maker as an ARC from Europa Editions in exchange for an honest review.

When I reviewed David Keenan’s last Europa Edition release, Xstabeth, I thought it was an interesting way to tell a story. The author is a dead person who is writing about a girl who might be dead or alive and this confusion is compelling, complete with asides about science and language that only make sense metaphorically. After spending many hours reading Monument Maker, David Keenan has swept me into an even bigger story, one that not only shares the same universe as Xstabeth, but one that is much bigger than even the story on the pages told here. A story that is as endless and timeless as art, science, and the galaxy.

The basics of the story is the telling of Pierre Melville’s life, an artist who lives with Maximilian Rehberg and writes science fiction novels under the pen name Paimon. But this is not right. The real basics of the story is a third of their party, Frater Jim, who is a time traveler and tells the story in a World War II camp about how he got a face transplant, in the future, from Nazis wearing monkey suits, but returned back to the camp to tell how he got this procedure done. Frater Jim is a Janusist, one who lives forward and backward at the same time. But this is not right either. The real basics of the story is the exploration of art and the way that it changes and moves throughout the years and how all art is like religion, where every piece of art, every stone, every writing, painting, song should be studied and worshiped and those who make it should be seen as gods. Every piece of art needs a monument made for it, and David Keenan is the monument maker.  

Monument Maker is a mosaic with hundreds of little pieces that can be put together in any order because the picture will be up for the reader’s interpretation anyway. One of the smallest of passages close to the end of the novel brings this to light:

Suddenly I was struck by a terrifying thought. Was it possible for books to dream? Could it be that every time a book was closed it fell into a deep slumber wherein it dreamed itself as something else? I considered myself an erudite man, well read, able to discourse at length on the classics. Could it be that I was simply a victim of fancy and fate? That all I had remembered and studied and was able to quote at length, all that I had in fact lived by, was nothing but the night-time reveries of books dreaming themselves? In that case the history of literature was nothing but a phantom; no one had ever read the same book.” (pgs. 619-620)

This feels like an thesis of the entire novel. Books are a fluid thing and even when we close the pages, when we open them again, the novel has dreamed and has changed. It is not the novel itself, the words have turned into something else, but us, as the readers have changed, even if is just slightly. Within a few minutes of taking a break, we are not the same person that closed the book earlier. We might have forgotten a small detail. We might have made up the true synopsis of what we think Monument Maker may be about but changed it while taking a shower or cutting the grass, only to return to reading with filtering the story now through a different lens. Books are constantly changing because the reader is constantly changing. We change our feelings and interpretation all of the time, and the idea that “no one has ever read the same book” is one hundred percent accurate. 

There are so many things I have been thinking about since finishing Monument Maker, and one of them is how important art and artists are to David Keenan and his writings. In both of the novels I have read by him, he has focused on an obscure artist and the people who surround these artists and worship them, turning their following into a small cult. This group, sometimes 20 or 30 people worldwide, are devoted to these artists, even when these said artists really have not released a massive amount of work, sometimes just one obscure book. In Keenans’ world, if someone writes a slim novella or someone paints a few canvases, there is a potential that a group of people will follow this artist, try to learn everything about them, and will obsess over every move that the artist makes. This devotion to the artist, regardless of obscurity, seems to be one of those things that Keenan likes to fantasize about, like how every single little piece of art has the potential to make someone a devout to the artist and his life. This exhibits a sincerity to the value of art in David Keenan’s life, otherwise this phenomenon would not continue to be a major plot in his novels. 

As a whole, Monument Maker is a huge and difficult book. I say this in the most loving way possible. I enjoy it because I enjoy the way David Keenan writes, but it is not for everyone. His novel is nonlinear, metaphorical, and really has made me think a great deal about the meaning behind his choices. Some of the sentences are pages long, some of the little details turn into pages of falling down a rabbit hole of information (like the idea that Goya should paint what might possibly be on the flag that is planted on the moon if we were to land in a joint world effort and why). There is not really an imbalance in this book because there is never really much balance. Book Four is far removed from Book One, and the appendixes are just as important to the novel as the four parts, including the science fiction story by Paimon. In the end, it is one of those books that I enjoyed the journey and the difficulty, like I really feel like I accomplished something serious by finishing it and mulling over the multiple meanings. If you are hesitant to read Monument Maker check out Xstabeth first, to get a taste for the way that David Keenan constructs his universe. But who knows, maybe you should just start with Monument Maker. Maybe the book that you read will be completely different than the one that I read. That is how books dream, right? 

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Review: #thighgap by Chandler Morrison

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Don’t read with the lights on…this is My Dark Library.

A collection of novellas curated by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann to represent her favorite themes, tropes, and subgenres in horror fiction today.

BOOK TWO: #thighgap by Chandler Morrison –

Los Angeles fashion model Helen Troy wasn’t always skinny. Drastic weight loss has given her everything–money, confidence, attention, respect. Being thin has legitimized her, and starvation has become an addiction.

Following an encounter with a seemingly “perfect” rival model who destabilizes Helen’s shaky self-confidence and shatters her fragile illusion of control, she’s sent into a tragic tailspin that will take her to the lowest depths of hell. Nightmarish versions of herself begin materializing in mirrors, and her tried-and-true coping mechanisms stop working. Reality comes apart at the seams as Helen’s disease manifests in increasingly self-destructive fashions, forcing her to ask herself…

What does perfection look like, and how much would you sacrifice to obtain it?


Chandler Morrison’s novella, #thighgap is about a young woman, Helen Troy (her stage name), who moves to Los Angeles and becomes a semi-famous model after she loses a bunch of weight through starvation and drug use. This book covers some severe body dysmorphia and eating disorders, so if this is a subject that you struggle with, you might want to skip this one. 

#thighgap has characters with serious problems. Morrison has built a world where nobody is really engaged with anything besides themselves. One of Morrison’s previous books is titled Dead Inside, and that could be the name of this novella as well. All of these characters are dead inside and not even interested in connecting to anyone in a meaningful way. Many scenes have sentences about people wearing sunglasses. Even sex scenes where people are still wearing their sunglasses. This is really to hide the total numbness that every single person in this world feels and displays. The only thing that most of the characters in this novella care about is how they look, where the next party is, where to get more drugs, and how skinny they are compared to everyone else in the room. This superficial wasteland that Helen and her circle of acquaintances (I can’t say friends because no body is a friend here) live in makes the maintenance of being part of the group a struggle. This causes more and more drastic measures. In the few moments that Helen does reach out to get help for her disorders, she is met with people who really do not care. The most irritating of these people is her actual therapist, who basically tells her that she is doing good and wants her to go to his comedy show, talking to her the whole time from behind sunglasses while scrolling Instagram. 

I know that body dysmorphia and body acceptance are serious subjects. Many people are trying to change the culture by advocating for more body acceptance, and I know that our society has gotten a little better, but really we are doing the bare minimum. When it comes to modeling and acting, there is still less acceptance of those who looks like normal people versus a person who is very skinny. Chandler Morrison chooses #thighgap to highlight this problem, but there is no real proposed solution. This novella and these characters ring true because we treat people like Helen Troy like celebrities. Until we stop hiding our dead eyes behind sunglasses and start to really examine our culture and it’s priorities, nothing much will change. We will continue to be like the people who tip one dollar to waitresses simply because they are told to tip. The true culture will not change. #thighgap highlights these truths in a story that might be hard for some people to read. 

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Review: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

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Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.

Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.


Alex Michaelides’s follow-up to his best selling novel, The Secret Patient, starts with Mariana getting called to Cambridge University by her niece Zoe because Zoe’s roommate has been found murdered. From the very beginning Mariana suspects Edward Fosca, the professor of Greek tragedies who also surrounds himself with a group of girls he has nicknamed “The Maidens.” Of course the murder that takes place is one of the maidens so she instantly thinks that he is the killer and has a singular vision on how to get him arrested before she becomes the next victim.

There are two types of thrillers. One type is when you do not know who the killer is so you are investigating along with the characters. The other is when you know the killer from the beginning, and you’re waiting for the characters to catch up. The Maidens does not work very well on either account. The plotting and story is pedestrian and a little boring, and Mariana, the psychotherapist who is convinced that Professor Fosca is killing his students, is pretty flat and uninteresting. Periodically she gets into a psychological rant that does nothing but attempt to show off her work skills without give her very much added depth. I do like the idea of the Greek cults and the Maidens following in that tradition, but the actual story and plot just does not win me over.

Most of this is because I did not like or care about any of the characters. Every single one of the men are written in a way that makes them predatory and creepy. Fosca has his harem of college girls, Mariana has a patient named Henry who does not know boundaries and keeps showing up in a stalker kind of way. Even Fred, the pseudo-love interest she meets on the train from London to Cambridge at the beginning of this investigation keeps showing up, professing his love, and saying that they will get married, even after she tells him that there is no chance of this ever happening. There is not a trustworthy man in this whole story, and this might be to try to draw suspicion on all of them. Mariana is surrounded by all of these dodgy people, but she only wants to pursue one person with murder charges. Her vision is so singular, she is blinded to the creepiness of the other men in her life.

In the end, this is a middle of the road book. There is not much to say about The Maidens that goes either way. I am happy to have read it, but I am not enthusiastic about passing it along or rereading it. I might have to try The Secret Patient to see if this book is just a sophomore slump.

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Review: Stringers by Chris Panatier

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Knowledge can get you killed. Especially if you have no idea what it means.

Ben is NOT a genius, but he can spout facts about animals and wristwatches with the best of experts. He just can’t explain how he knows any of it.

He also knows about the Chime. What it is or why it’s important he couldn’t say. But this knowledge is about to get him in a whole heap of trouble.

After he and his best friend Patton are abducted by a trash-talking, flesh-construct alien bounty hunter, Ben finds out just how much he is worth… and how dangerous he can be. Hopefully Patton and a stubborn jar of pickles will be enough to help him through. Because being able to describe the mating habits of Brazilian bark lice isn’t going to save them.


Stringers is the adventures of Ben, a seemingly normal guy who works at a bait and tackle shop, follows a diet where healthy food cancels out the sweets, gets high with his best friend, Patton, and builds a huge Lego sculpture in his apartment while sucking down rows of cookies. He also knows way too much about the mating habits of insects, wrist watches, and something called the Chime of Jecca. He does not know how he knows this but he does. It also makes him valuable to intergalactic bounty hunters. 

The story is decent. Ben is kidnapped by string hunters who will sell him to the highest bidder. Ben and the other kidnapped stringers do not want this so they try to escape. The kidnappers have a way to dig into their mind for information, and Ben is of particular interest because he knows the location of the Chime of Jecca, and this Chime can destroy the universe. He has to escape from the hunters, find the chime, and destroy his memory of it so that nobody else can find it. 

I did not care much for this novel, mostly because I did not like the characters enough to carry the story. Ben is pretty insufferable, and I did not care about anyone in the universe that he was trying to save. The only decent person in the whole novel is Patton, and this is because he kind of reminds me of one of my friends growing up. He has a deep loyalty to Ben, even when Ben is not loyal in return. Besides the relationship between Ben and Patton, there does not seem to be much that is interesting about any of the other characters. The jokes are mostly unfunny, juvenile, and immature, and it makes almost all of the scenes unbearable. The worst part about Stringers is the slew of completely unnecessarily footnotes scattered throughout the novel. These are absolutely pointless and nothing but a nuisance. I actually stopped reading the footnotes about twenty pages in because they were not adding anything to the story but distracting my reading. The book starts fairly interesting, but it was a chore to get through the second half. I did not care about the characters or the story enough to really be interested in the outcome.  The best part about Stringers is the awesome cover art.

I received this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Like Real by Shelly Lyons

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In Shelly Lyons’s debut novel, LIKE REAL, Vic Moss—kenjutsu hobbyist and clueless Lothario—lets vanity dictate his decision to acquire an experimental new-tech prosthesis that promises to evolve into a seamless, realistic looking hand. Instead, it tears from his body, transforms into his clone, and pursues a relationship with the same woman Vic has in his crosshairs—forcing Vic to kill or be replaced.

This mind-bending body horror rom-com is a rollicking Cronenbergian gene splice of Idle Hands and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. It’s freaky. It’s fun. It’s LIKE REAL.


Like Real is the story of Vic Moss and his missing hand, well not missing, but surgically removed, and not exactly the whole hand but all but his thumb and part of his palm. Before this, he lived a pretty normal life, enjoying Star Trek, Japanese katanas, watching game shows, and using dating apps to meet girls. When his hand needs to be removed, it pretty much ruins his life, so he has to get it fixed. In comes Like Real and Doctor Cord, who makes prosthetics that look real. When Vic receives his new hand, his life turns into a jumble of bizarre and horrific events. I science and body horror, so this novel is right in my sweet spot. This is why I received Like Real from the author at my request, in exchange for an honest review.

There are many things to like about this novel. Even though the main character Vic is a little bit of a bro who thinks he is overachieving my doing more than the goals that he sets low for himself, he surrounds himself with good, decent people. His friends and neighbors are willing to help him at any turn. His friend Norman helps him with whatever he asks, has a brain filled with self help quotes that he rattles off at any given moment, and lets Vic borrow his car whenever he asks. His next door neighbors, Cozy and Mamie, are two middle aged women who spend most of their lives out by the pool. They also clean Vic’s apartment while he is away, invites him to every gathering that they have by the pool (even after he has been a nuisance to them), watches his dog, and lets Vic borrow their car whenever he asks. Even the love interest, Tanya, is a benefit for Vic. She does have an agenda, trying to get the scoop on his story while bribing hospital people for information with petty cash and homemade cookies, but she is still a good person. Deep down, she is concerned about him, regardless of the terrible mistakes that he makes. There seems to be a wholesomeness in the cast of characters that end up helping Vic along with his journey.

The writing is clever and very funny. The scenes and chapters are well constructed, and the writing decisions that Shelly Lyons makes mostly work out. We are given a coherent story, even when there are some high concept things happening. This story has many moving parts, and it could have very easily turned into a train wreck. We could have gone on long journeys with Tanya to find information for her articles, or we could have been navigated through the long corridors of the Like Real building. We could have fallen into some technical scenes about the procedures and the life and work of Doctor Cord. These things did not happen. The novel is written in third person omniscient, but it does not get far enough away from Vic that we forget what is going on with him.

I loved the last third of this novel. This is when the story starts to really turn, and we learn the fate of Vic and other the Like Real patients. The first two-thirds are good, but I would have been interested in seeing the book if started at the last third. The first part is very much developing the story and the characters, helping us understand the nature of the situation and almost lulls us into a feeling that we might know what is going to happen next, but the final third is really where the action picks up and the pages start to fly by. This is where all of Vic’s neighbors, coworkers, and friends really gather to get their friend through his tough situation with his hand that is just like real. As it is, by the time the last third arrives, we do feel like we have a good understand of Vic and his friends and why they fight so hard to help him.

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Review: The Trees Grew Because I Bled There by Eric LaRocca

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A beautifully crafted, devastating short fiction collection from the Bram-Stoker finalist and author of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes.

Eight stories of literary dark fiction from a master storyteller. Exploring the shadow side of love, these are tales of grief, obsession, control. Intricate examinations of trauma and tragedy in raw, poetic prose. In these narratives, a woman imagines horrific scenarios whilst caring for her infant niece; on-line posts chronicle a cancer diagnosis; a couple in the park with their small child encounter a stranger with horrific consequences; a toxic relationship reaches a terrifying resolution…

Originally published under the title The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales, this is a much-praised collection of deeply unsettling, painfully dark tales.


In 2021, Eric LaRocca published two books. One was the novella Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and one was a short story collection called The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales. Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke became a viral hit, and the little novella from WeirdPunk Books made Eric LaRocca a hot new author, and a household name in horror fiction. Titan Books picked up the rights to both of these 2021 releases. Last year saw an expanded edition of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Spoke, and this year sees the rerelease of The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales as The Trees Grew Because I Bled There. 

When I started to see the hype about Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, I decided to read it, and I was a little underwhelmed, like the hype was bigger than the story. I did find the novella well written and some of the scenes were very creepy, but the story did not do much for me. I knew at that time that Eric LaRocca is very talented and so I decided to try again with The Trees Grew Because I Bled There. This collection showcases the great talent in Eric LaRocca’s writing. All of the best elements of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke are here but with stories that I enjoyed more. There is so much style and so much daring storytelling that I could not wait to see what adventure the next story was going to put me through. 

Almost every story could be my favorite story, depending on my mood “Bodies Are For Burning” is about a woman who is watching her niece and cannot stop thinking about burning things, including her niece. “You’re Not Supposed to Be Here” is about a deadly game of telling the truth. “The Trees Grew Because I Bled There” is about a love affair that is much more intense and terrifying than Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke. This entire collection is like one of those albums that you can listen to over and over again without skipping any of the tracks. It is just that good.

I think that my favorite today is the original title story, “The Strange Thing We Become” about a person who is asking for advice on an online forum. This story reminded me of Dennis Cooper’s novel, The Sluts, and honestly reading through this collection, I can see Eric LaRocca’s writing being compared to Dennis Cooper. Both of them write deeply disturbing stories that really stick with you when you are finished, and both of them deserve all of the readership in the world. The Trees Grew Because I Bled There is the book that has made me a huge Eric LaRocca fan, and I will be following their career as they continues to grow into a horror superstar.

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Mothered by Zoje Stage

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A claustrophobic psychological thriller about one woman’s nightmarish spiral while quarantined with her mother.

Grace isn’t exactly thrilled when her newly widowed mother, Jackie, asks to move in with her. They’ve never had a great relationship, and Grace likes her space—especially now that she’s stuck at home during a pandemic. Then again, she needs help with the mortgage after losing her job. And maybe it’ll be a chance for them to bond—or at least give each other a hand.

But living with Mother isn’t for everyone. Good intentions turn bad soon after Jackie moves in. Old wounds fester; new ones open. Grace starts having nightmares about her disabled twin sister, who died when they were kids. And Jackie discovers that Grace secretly catfishes people online—a hobby Jackie thinks is unforgivable.

When Jackie makes an earth-shattering accusation against her, Grace sees it as an act of revenge, and it sends her spiraling into a sleep-deprived madness. As the walls close in, the ghosts of Grace’s past collide with a new but familiar threat: Mom.


This is my third Zoje Stage novel, and I have had nothing but praise for the first two books I read by her. I loved Baby Teeth and Getaway, and I recommended them to everyone I see (I still share a link with all of my reader friends when Baby Teeth is on sale.) Her latest book, Mothered, is a pandemic book, and I realized quickly that books about Covid-19 and isolation are going to irritate and anger me. 

The story starts in the middle of the shutdown, with Grace losing her job and spending most of her time talking to her friend, Miguel, and a group of girls that she is catfishing on the internet, using male avatars to make these girls feel attached to her. (She has also skewed her thinking that she is doing these girls a favor by catfishing them because all she is being charming and trying to help them with their lives.) When Grace’s mother, Jackie, convinces her that she can move in to help with the house while Grace is unemployed in the middle of a lockdown, things quickly turn. There are memories of Grace’s childhood, and her twin sister, Hope, and the reason why Jackie has been distance from Grace since Hope’s death. 

Zoje Stage has written another Mother/Daughter/Sisters codependency book. This is okay, but the setting is what bothered me the most, the actions that Grace in particular takes. I know that the lockdown was difficult for almost everyone, and many people struggled. Getting outside did not bother me. Them sitting on the porch is a nice way to get out of the house. Even walking around the neighborhood as long as Grace avoided contact with someone. These are solutions that could help Grace cope with the things she was feeling. When Grace thinks about calling an ambulance and checking herself into the hospital or having her mother go to the hospital just to get away from her, this is when I have my biggest problems with her. There are times when she is supposed to be quarantined because she is exposed but wants to go to the grocery or the drugstore to get something. Even though Stage has written Grace as someone who is careful about spreading Covid, there are moments when it feels like she is not very careful at all. The passages about her contemplating going to the hospital as a solution to her problems made me want to throw the book across the room. I am a frontline health care worker who watched hundreds of people slowly die on ventilators and throughout the hospital. The hospital is never a place she would ever want to be, especially because she is fighting with her mother.

I did not like these characters. I did not like the situation. I did not understand the point of the throwaway prologue and epilogue, but I still like Zoje Stage and her novels. Maybe this one hit too close to me, and I tried very hard not to nitpick about the character’s pandemic behavior, but I found myself growing more and more irritated with Grace and her life decisions as the book progressed. 

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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