Cover Image: Children of Chicago

Children of Chicago

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Fairytales have permeated our lives forever. We grow up hearing about them, watching them in movies and reading re-tellings in so many shapes and forms. 

While many of us have only heard of Walt Disney’s version of the stories we sometimes forget that Disney too just adapted his own stories from other storytellers like the Brothers Grimm. 

Children of Chicago is a spooky and thrilling at times book that delves into the dark side of fairytales namely, the tale of the Pied Piper

. Homicide Detective Lauren, is a woman whose grown up with her own share of demons and when the nightmares of her past begin to intermingle with the present... she must look deep within her memories if she is to solve the gruesome murders of several teenagers before any more murders. 

I definitely liked this book more than I thought I would. It delved so much into the folklore side of fairytales and it reminded me so much of being in college & taking a folklore course. A definite must read!
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This book was a decent read. I give it a solid three. Taking something that we’re all raised on--fairy tales--and making them darker is one of the things I love best. And this book does it pretty well. With children dying and someone leaving behind the tag of “Pied Piper” Lauren knows she has to put a stop to this and knows there’s not a lot of time to do it. 

Lauren is a solid character but there were times where she came off a little flat. She’s all about her job to the point of ruined relationships. She does know the history of Chicago really where but that’s kind of a weak point in the book. 

There's a lot of history given in the book. Any time a landmark is mentioned we get the entire historical context of the item there on the page. It was tiring to read because after a point it took away from the story and bogged down the pacing quite a bit. And it happened a few times.

There are a few side characters we get introduced to and that’s another area of flatness. None of them stand out very strongly. They have a purpose to serve and it’s always very short. 

There’s one side character that had a very narrow job. He was there to be a thorn in her side and pry into her history, nothing else and he comes off very one dimensional as a result. He was more of an annoyance to read because of his flatness than his actions on page for me. All of the side characters are like that. 

I actually couldn’t see how the story was going to wrap up but it was interesting the way it did. I’m not sure if there’s a sequel planned but it sort of leans that way with the ending.
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A masterful blend of horror, crime fiction and mystery, "Children of Chicago" is also a love letter to the city of Chicago and a clever reinvention of the fairy tale. 

Grounded in a wonderfully complicated protagonist, Lauren (cleverly nicknamed "Lore"), this book isn't afraid to walk into the shadows. It's got tons of surprises, some of them downright shocking, and  a cinematic sensibility that made me hopeful we'll see this one on our screens one day. 

It's a fast-paced read, and worth every minute.
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Kids are killing kids with increasing frequency in Cynthia Pelayo's grim Children of Chicago. What sets their crimes apart from the gangland shootings, though, is the presence of graffiti giving credit to the Pied Piper, a diabolical entity most commonly known from the pages of a Grimms' fairy tale. Within a single centuries-old collection of these stories is a single black page with an English poem that provides instructions for contracting the services of the Pied Piper, who will kill other children for a price.

Although billed as a crime novel, Children of Chicago is a horror book through and through. While much of the story is relayed through the eyes of a corrupt and abusive homicide detective, Lauren Medina, and does contain some street-level procedural elements as she works to build the case and get to the bottom of what's happening, it also contains plenty of vividly gory imagery and an unrelentingly dark atmosphere, in addition to plenty of supernatural scares that wouldn't be out of place in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Medina herself is a fascinatingly complex and deeply troubled antiheroine, distrusted by both her fellow police officers and the public at large. Many cops can go an entire career without discharging their firearm, but Medina has been involved in an usually high number of officer-involved shootings. Pelayo makes it plain that this character is little more than a thug with a badge, one who goes to great lengths to use people to further her own ends. That Medina still has her badge is an indictment of modern law enforcement standards, and in an era where police can, largely, kill Black Americans with impunity is hardly an exception, but seemingly the rule itself these days. It's an indictment of not just the police but of the cities that allow such cancers to thrive unimpeded.

As a Chicago native, Pelayo clearly knows and loves her city, warts and all. Yes, Chicago is a deeply troubled city, but also one with an intensely rich and storied history. This city is practically a fairy tale all its own, with its beginnings as a collection of steel towers in the middle of a prairie - an Oz-like visual that served as inspiration for L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But despite the mythologizing and magic of this man-made city, it also has a dark and troubled underbelly of serial killers, gangs, and mobsters. Through Medina's eyes, Pelayo makes the case for why Chicago is the perfect place for fairy tale horror, infusing the story with the city's own rich history. As a bit of a history nut, I found a lot to appreciate in Pelayo's asides to Chicago's past, but at times these factoids did feel a bit forced and overbearing, even as they help showcase this city as a character in its own right. And make no mistake, Chicago itself is every bit as central a character as Medina herself; the two are deeply interwoven and mirror each other perfectly with their darkness and hidden joys.

Children of Chicago is an intensely bleak and thoroughly compelling work of horror, one that twists and expands the Pied Piper myth into a compelling 21st Century monster with shades of Freddy Krueger and Candyman. But like some of the best monster stories, the most inhuman horrors are the people themselves.
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After all the hype, I found it rather disappointing. There are genuinely creepy moments, but constant info-dumps about Chicago irked me and disrupted the flow of the story (subjective). All told, an ok read but I won't remember any of it in a month.

ARC through NetGalley
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I decided to dive into Cynthia Pelayo’s Children of Chicago with no notion of the plot summary. I recently had read her harrowing true-crime poetry collection, Into the Forest and All the Way Through, as well as her short stories featured in the female driven anthology she edited with Gemma Amour and Laurel Hightower, We Are Wolves, and decided that I would take a leap of faith. I never could’ve been happier with my choice. I’m an avid reader of fairytales and the fact that Children of Chicago expertly weaves the fairytale of The Pied Piper and giving it a Candyman angle, made it a very intriguing read. The writing is both lush and concise, allowing the reader to be emerged in the Chicagoan city life as well as the dark realms of the fairytale forest. It’s a deep dive into darkness and for readers of horror, you will love this.

We follow homicide detective Lauren Medina who’s tasked with trying to figure out who is killing the teens of Chicago, in a city, notorious for its bloody past and violent present. Reality fuses with the supernatural and the reader is never certain if we’re witnessing true events or if the characters are simply victims of a mass hysteria.

The novel is part police procedural and part supernatural horror with hints of magical realism all coming to head with a very explosive truth about the protagonist that will leave readers reevaluating everything that’s happened throughout the novel. Fast-paced and eerily dark, Children of Chicago is the perfect winter read.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Agora Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
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**4.5 rounded up 

Lauren Medina is a homicide detective in Chicago following in the footsteps of her recently deceased father. Lauren is no stranger to tragedy, her little sister died when she was a child and the case was never really solved. Her stepmother committed suicide after the death of her sister, so her father was the only family she had left. 
But several people have been found dead in Humboldt Park, where Lauren’s little sister was also found, and the tag “Pied Piper” is graffitied near the scenes. 
Lauren knows what the mysterious “Pied Piper” is and it’s up to her to face her demons and stop things before the deaths continue to pile up. 

I’m usually not the biggest fan of crime books that are in the perspective of police, just because I find the procedural aspects to be boring and not really up my alley. However, I didn’t really mind that aspect of this book. 
I think it has to do with the fact that the fairy tale aspect is so unique and fresh. I really enjoyed the whole fairy tale/horror crossover. I think it’s really different and it intrigued me the entire time. I’m very interested in the darkness of fairy tales and I really loved that mixture of that in this story. 
Lauren is a very very unlikeable character. She’s a cop, but she’s doing things that are very illegal and immoral. The whole point is for her to be unlikeable though, which is not a rare thing in the horror genre. Not every single main character will always be “good,” not all people are good, that’s real life. 
I think my one issue with the story was involving all the information and background on Chicago. You can tell Cynthia Pelayo is very knowledgeable on Chicago history and she does a great job at informing the reader. However, I did go into information overload at some points, it just became a bit too much after awhile. 
The ending was great, I loved seeing everything unfold finally and fully being able to understand everything that had been going on and see it come to some sort of conclusion. I highly recommend this one, especially if you love fairy tales and the dark nature of them.
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I just want to say that I absolutely love Children of Chicago. Cynthia does a great job creating a pretty creepy setting. I had to know what was going to happen in this story and where exactly it was going to go. This book does cover a fairytale that I'm not really familiar with mostly because I'm the type of person who isn't really going to know about unless Disney covered. However, I do know about the Grimm fairytales even though I haven't read through them yet. But Cynthia does a great job bringing an old Grimm Fairytale to a modern day time and incorporating it in the story.
The only thing I wish was different is that Detective Lauren Medina had a little bit more depth. I found myself not really being able to sympathize with her. But I do like how strong of a woman she is. She's smart on top of that too. I just hope with that ending that there's going to be another book!
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3.75 

Cynthia Pelayo's new novel follows homicide copy Lauren Medina, who followed in her father's footsteps after the tragic death of her sister and stepmother. Several bodies have turned up with a "Pied Piper" tag at the crime scene, Lauren knows what has been unleashed on Chicago, and it's a race against time against this ancient force. She has come to terms with her own relationship to the Pied Piper many years ago. 
.
As someone who went to college near Chicago (but spent a lot of time there), it was great to see a story that featured the city so much. I enjoy a good procedural, so that part of the story was interesting. Lauren is such an interesting character who has a lot going on. I don't think she's meant to be likable and that's okay. There were some great horror scenes that felt cinamatic in the best way. Pelayo writes from a place of expertise and while that shines through in this book, it also had parts that were a bit info-dumpy. It slowed down the pace of the story in certain parts. Overall really liked this,  a great modern horror fairy tale story
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I totally wasn't sure what to make of this novel when I began reading it - it's dark and twisted in the best sort of way...which I know sounds a little off but bear with me.  The setting of the novel, Chicago, is an interesting backdrop to the plot, with a Pied Piper story being utilised to explain the disappearance/murders of young people.  The murders were detailed and, I will admit to being a little jumpy at certain parts of the book, which, for me, highlights how pulled into the writing I was.  The only fall down for me were the use of a lot of characters - I felt these could have been trimmed down slightly - but, all in all, a great contemporary, horror retelling of the Pied Piper story.
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After finishing Into the Forest and All the Way Through, I was approved for a Children of Chicago ARC and was so excited to start!

Children of Chicago is a crime/horror/thriller story that follows Lauren Medina as she struggles with her personal life as well has her professional life. She’s a rookie homicide investigator in Chicago, and she’s being thrust into a new set of possibly serial murders with the tag ‘Pied Piper.’

The Pied Piper part of the story was amazing. I love how Pelayo took that simple story and made it raw and bloody. There were little clues all throughout the story of the man hiding in the shadows, ready to receive his payment.

The timeline had me pretty confused, but by the end I was able to piece together the pieces and find parts that fit together to give me the overall narrative. The ending was very bleak, and even maybe hinted at a possible sequel, or leaving it open ended. I’d be interested to see where Lauren has to go from here.

I loved learning about Chicago (I’ve never been but I’d love to go), but the little tidbits felt unnatural in the conversations. I definitely looked up some of the locations while reading in order to give me a better picture!

Overall, I enjoyed the story, but it felt a little jolted and disjointed. The timeline went back and forth between past and present, leaving me a bit confused. I feel that Cynthia’s beautiful writing got a little bit lost in the confusion. I still plan on reading more from her, as I see tons of potential here!
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Many of us grow up hearing fairy tales, some used at bedtime and others used to potentially scare us, but that's the thing; many of these stories originated from something much grimmer than what we could possibly imagine. Cynthia Pelayo has crafted a story that takes a deeper dive into fairy tales and the sinister implications commonly left unspoken, because, in reality, we've only begun to scrape the surface; with translations loosely depicting the true meaning of the story. This tale is equal parts horror and crime fiction.

Something malevolent is at work, and its darkness looms around every corner of The Windy City. Children of Chicago should be marketed as a haunting tour guide, every depiction and the wealth of knowledge that Cina displays, transports readers to the history-rich streets of Chicago; not to mention the scares, which Cina wastes no time in turning up the heat.

Lauren Medina is a detective with a disturbing past, one filled with grief and loss. Her past causes issues in her career, as well as any relationship that she tries to form. She is haunted by the memories that she can't seem to remember, but they are there and they eat away at her very being. Her intuition tells her that she knows what's happening, and her determination pushes her to prove that she is right. After all, she is our MC, and despite her past, she's a badass detective, who doesn't stop until she's got her guy. As humans, we all have our own ways of compartmentalizing trauma but is that what this is, or is there something more to Detective Medina's ability to look past it and keep pushing forward? 

My favorite lines that I encountered while reading really stood out to me, I took a second and put the book down just in awe, they're different in their own ways but damn.

"I will pick the remnants of your milky eyes from between my teeth with my claws..." p.114

"...taste the earth in the wind, acidic and bitter, where she could hear the creaking of branches, and rustling, rooting and scrabbling of critters among the leaves and where she could breathe in deeply, wild mint and rotting wood." p.159

The second line alone should speak volumes about the imagery riddled through this book. This was my first experience with Cina's work, and to say the least, I'm impressed. When the pandemonium ensues it's safe to assume that others will be as well. 

A huge thank you, to Cina, I lucked out and responded to a tweet that lead to me receiving an ARC.

And a thank you also to NetGalley, who provided an e-ARC of Children of Chicago prior to me receiving the physical copy.
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A series of teen deaths at Humboldt Park has the neighborhood on edge. New graffiti by someone calling themselves the Pied Piper keep popping up. And more kids might be in danger... Detective Lauren Medina throws herself into the case with her entire mind, body, and soul, all the while trying to keep her past in the past. 

*Children of Chicago* straddles various genres, and Cynthia Pelayo gathers influences from crime thrillers, horror, and folklore to weave a compelling narrative. Unfortunately, I think the novel is a little overly ambitious, and bites off more than it can chew without devoting the level of attention and care this procedural-cum-supernatural plot requires.

To put it simply, the plot wanders too much; we bounce between Lauren's perspective and a few others, but not with enough regularity. The narrative is occasionally interrupted by encyclopedic information about Chicago that doesn't mesh with the rest of the prose, and when characters introduce information through dialogue, it doesn't feel believable. The writing could have been much, much tighter, perhaps even shortened to a novella, and I think Pelayo could have leaned into the mystery elements by leaving more to the reader's imagination, rather than spelling things out for them. One particularly egregious example of this is towards the beginning of the novel, when Lauren explains her tragic backstory to her therapist in particularly unbelievable dialogue, infodumping the reader and failing to allow the reader to glean aspects of Lauren's past as the novel unfolds. 

The plot is also hard to track, and it's hard for the reader to get invested. The main mystery that we're following is who the Pied Piper is, and why he's killing children, but the reader finds out all there is to know about this plot point long before the ending and there isn't additional intrigue to keep the book moving along. Lauren herself doesn't do the book any favors either; an unlikable narrator can be a super interesting element of a book, but the reader needs to be able to appreciate their voice without necessarily relating to them. Lauren falls flat; there's no movement in her character—positive or negative—and she doesn't end up having a lot of agency. Sure, she tries to work on the case and discover things on her own, but in the end, her motivations for doing so are unclear and most of the plot simply falls into place around her. 

But enough of the negative; this book may have been middle-of-the-road for me, but there were good aspects of it, and I never considered putting it down. It's clear that the author has a strong affinity for the city, and I'd definitely call this book something of a love letter to Chicago, even while it highlights some of Chicago's negative aspects. And although Lauren wasn't perfectly developed, she's a train wreck that the reader can't quite look away from, and waiting to see whether she'll finally win over the Pied Piper really pushes you through to the end. I am really enjoying the rising trend of paranormal crime thrillers, and this was definitely worth the read for more of that.

If you enjoyed Leigh Bardugo's *Ninth House* I think this would be a perfect book for you to pick up, and I also think fans of Seanan McGuire's *Wayward Children* series would find elements here that they'd enjoy. If you need a happy ending or books with at least one redeemable main character, I'd give this one a skip, but if you're looking for something chilling and morbid this would be a perfect read.

**Review link will be live at 7am on February 9
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"Once upon a time" and "...they lived happily ever after" are two phrases we all grew up hearing. Whether it was in stories we read or movies we watched, fairy tales are ingrained in us at an early age. Then as we get older, we learn that's not the way the world works; happy endings are a lot harder to come by. In this horror-filled crime fairy tale, you might be lucky to even make it that far.

As a detective in Chicago, Lauren Medina knows about the darker details. She lost her sister to the darkness when she was younger and when another teenager is killed in the same place her sister was found years ago, she'll have to face her past and hope that she can solve the mystery of the Pied Piper before they strike again.

While the majority of the story is told from Lauren's POV, the main character of the novel is the city of Chicago. It's obvious that Pelayo loves the place and has gone to great lengths to familiarize the reader with the Windy City; locations and their historical significance are described in detail as well as what they mean to Lauren. The rest of the cast doesn't get quite as much love as the city and Lauren do, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment. She's not really the most likable character, but she's been through a lot. There are reasons she's the way she is.

While I found the the details about Chicago and fairy tails fascinating, the way the information is presented brought me out of the story a little bit. For example, Lauren sees a flag in an office. We then get a paragraph or two about what everything on the flag means. This happens with landmarks, parts of the city, historical facts about fairy tales, etc... It's not constant, but it happens a lot. The strength of the writing pulled me back in each time, and I found the added information very interesting.

As Lauren follows the sinister trail of breadcrumbs through Chicago and her past, we find out more about what she's facing and what's at stake. Without spoiling anything, there's a lot happening here. Is it supernatural? Magic? Just terrible people doing terrible things? All is revealed in time and I didn't see it coming. Make no mistake, this is a horror novel first and foremost and there are some gut-punch moments and realizations that I really...enjoyed? Is that the right word? Even if it's not, this book made me a Cynthia Pelayo fan and you should check it out.
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3.5⭐

Children of Chicago is the newest horror novel from Cina Pelayo, and I enjoyed it! I have a hard time with procedurals, but this one had so much more going on, and it was easy to stay invested in the overall plot.

There's a great story here, but it was often buried by an information overload. The historical sections were dry, and the rest was more emotional, so it's a little jarring at times. They weren't woven into the story in a way that felt natural, and I found myself skimming them more than I had hoped. I think it could have used some more editing. I loved the rest of the book, but I really struggled with this aspect. 

You might have some questions / concerns about the main character like I did, and I want to encourage you to read the whole book. The character is meant to be unlikeable, and that's okay. 

This book has some solid creepy scenes, and I enjoyed the plot overall. There's more that I want to say, but can't without going into spoiler territory, so just know that it's a good horror read & you should add it to your list. If there ends up being a sequel, I'll definitely be on board.

CW - death of a parent, civilian murdered by cop, death of a sibling, mention of suicide, mention of police brutality
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I requested this one because it might be a 2021 title I would like to review on my Youtube Channel. However, after reading the first several chapters I have determined that this book is not my tastes. So I decided to DNF this one rather than push myself to finish it only to give it a poor review.
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**3.5 stars**

This was an interesting, fast-moving, horror-crime drama hybrid.  The author slowly divulged a little bit more of Lauren’s past throughout the story, finally revealing all at the end.  I was saddened by part of the ending but overall a good ending.

Lauren is the youngest homicide detective in Chicago’s recent history. She has a dark family history where her mom and sister both died close together and many dislike her for her temper and for thinking she got her job only because of her Dad.  Teenagers  start dying with graffiti close to them saying “pied piper”, and our story begins. 

There were some genuinely creepy parts in this book.  Also, you can tell the author loves her city by the amount of historical detail and knowledge she includes.  I recommend this book if you like creepy stories, crime stories, family tragedy, and folklore horror. 

Thanks to the publisher, author, and to NetGalley for the e-arc I received. #NetGalley #childrenofchicago
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I struggled with writing this review and let it really bake in my head before putting it in words. I am a fan of Cynthia Pelayo's poetry and INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH made my Top 20 of 2020 list after it broke my heart. With those same emotions carrying me into my venture of her fiction, I am saddened and disappointed to report, this didn't work. 

What I liked:
The idea that Pied Piper was real as a tulpa like entity that acted in ways similar to the fairytale.

What went wrong:
I am not going to point out every issue I had but I will touch on the big ones. First, the dialogue was stiff. I was constantly getting slapped with the uncomfortable awkwardness every time characters interacted.  It became very distracting. Second, the main character wasn't just unlikeable, she was hateable. After the events of 2020, I suggest all authors proceed with caution when creating a problematic law enforcement officer character. We got the cliche overworked and emotionally distant detective, but we also got some blatant human rights violations that were skimmed over as being justified. Third, the narrative was chunky especially when it came to explaining Chicago history and the connection between the fairytale and Lauren's case. I feel many times I was told it was connected rather than shown how it was connected.

I feel as if I was given the chance to beta-read a first draft and can see so much glowing potential in this story.  Then I am highly disappointed that this will be the final cut as I feel it isn't representative of Pelayo's talent. My decision was hard, but after much thought and a huge HIPAA violation, I DNF CHILDREN OF CHICAGO at chapter 16. I want to know who the Pied Piper is and if he will be stopped, but I do not care to struggle to find out.  

For the potential I can see in this even though I DNF, I gave CHILDREN OF CHICAGO 2 stars.
Thank you NetGalley, Polis Books/Agora Books, and Cynthia Pelayo for a gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Oh...what to say about this book...

I was excited to be able to read ARC, especially this title has received tremendous buzz for the past several months. It's all well deserved by the way. 

This is a tragic reimagining of the old Pied Piper tale and it's going to both stop and break your heart. 

Despite the main character Lauren nearly ruining the book for me, something that I typically don't mind(as in sometimes I hate to love them or love to hate them) I just couldn't with Lauren. But you know that's okay because Pelayo's storytelling was just that damn good. 

Plus the Chicago setting was just as much a character in this novel if that makes sense.

Overall if you are looking for a fresh horror tale with a side of crime you should buy the book. I liked it enough that I'm planning to check out Pelayo's other books, especially her true crime themed poetry.
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Children of Chicago is dark, gut-wrenching, emotional, and highly relatable at its core. After having heard Pelayo talk on several panels and podcasts, I know the deep affection she has for Chicago, having grown up there herself. It is clear that Children of Chicago is another tribute to this world she holds so close, and this affection bleeds out and touches readers. Pelayo writes about painful realities with a patina of folklore. The sociological connections between fairy tales, folklore, urban legends, and reality are fascinating, if you look into that research, and the ways that the plot of Children of Chicago connect to events like the Slender Man killings really brings those concepts together. It's an example of old folklore and fairy tales being communicated through urban legend and interpreted through new technology to cause real harm. But Children of Chicago is much more than that. It's a look at real violence in real communities and the darkness that stretched across generations, across centuries, that causes it. And it's about a beautiful, complicated city, which feels a lot like a stand-in for our society at large. Pelayo's skill as a poet is very apparent in her prose. I enjoyed her style of writing, especially for this dark fairy tale retelling. It had something like an affectation to it, which I felt added necessary atmosphere to the plot and characters whether it was intentional or not. Her characters felt very present on the page. I also really enjoyed Pelayo's mixture of genres, adding a bit of crime, mystery, horror, and dark fantasy. Children of Chicago is dark and can be pretty terrifying at times. I recommend it to fans of authors like Tana French and Christina Henry, shows like The Killing and The Fall, and anyone who is interested in dark secrets coming home to roost.
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