Cover Image: My Dearest Darkest

My Dearest Darkest

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Member Reviews

I love a good thriller and this one hit the mark! The spooky cover is pretty great too! Thanks for the opportunity to enjoy it!
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Although Kayla Cottingham’s debut had its moments My Dearest Darkest failed to convince, perhaps I have read too many YA novels sat in posh boarding schools? And even though boys were around, they were mere wallpaper and this was yet another YA horror novel solely seen a female perspective and there was nothing to distinguish it from the pack. Proceedings open with Finch Chamberlin auditioning for a place in prestigious arts school Ulalume Academy, on the way home there is a crash and both her parents drown after seeing a ghostly stag on the road. Finch survives, (or does she?) and when she later takes up her place at the school is very pale and has a weird supernatural entity connected to the school which lurks in the caves under the buildings and seems to have the ability of granting wishes (but at what cost?)

The supernatural story failed to convince me and the balance between this and the ‘mean girl’ type situations did not click particularly well.  The second narrative takes in Selena St. Clair, who is one of the post popular and bitchy girls on campus, after a music project pairs them together the two slowly click and a romance develops. Considering the two girls were very different, I was surprised that the bisexual Selena was attracted to the mousy and quiet Finch. There was a fair bit of sexual angst tension in the story, underage drinking, partying and the supernatural story bubbling in the background. AGE RANGE 13+
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4/5 stars.  To be released 2022. 

This book had a rocky start for me, but it grew on me as the story progressed.  I felt like the writing got better and better as the book went.  Some of the final scenes were super well written and vividly descriptive.  A lot of creepiness/spookiness set at a boarding school makes for a fun ride.
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I didn’t fully realize I signed up for a sapphic New England boarding school Eldridge horror, but wow, what a ride! 

Yes, buying a lighthouse for your daughter and her friends to live in while attending a fancy boarding school is the bougiest thing I’ve ever heard of, but damn does it make a great setting. I would kill to live there! Plus the underground tunnels on campus are SO cool and spooky. A+ setting.

Each of the girls (plus Simon) feel fully brought to life by the writing. Watching Finch and Selena catch feelings for each other was super cute <3

The story immediately hooks you in with our main characters running into not one, but TWO cool cryptids. Plus there’s a missing band and a cult! For a while I was pretty sure I knew where this was going. It feels like a typical ghost story for maybe the first half, but that final confrontation brings in some surprise cosmic horror elements that really takes this story to another level. 

5 out of 5 stars
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A smart, Craft-esque sapphic horror, this book held my attention from the beginning. It goes very hard in the cosmic horror space and is sure to delight horror fans.
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Loved it!! 

This story starts fast and does not stop. Kayla does a fabulous job setting the scene. The school was richly described which made it feel like I was at Ulalame with Finch and Selena. The characters also felt like real teens, which is sometimes lacking in YA. 

The alternating POV was helpful, but of course I had a favorite and that was Finch. I was drawn to her character struggle from the beginning. I connected with her the most about wanting a new life, but being haunted by the past. 

The Interpersonal struggles made the story richer, especially with Selena’s relationships and Finch grief. 

The selling points: Vivid gothic setting, diverse array of characters, spook factor on 10 (monster in the tunnels?!), Music school twist on dark academia. SAPPHIC. Dark Magic. What more could you want?
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I didn’t like this book. I found the plot to be cringey and the main characters to be annoying to me. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the author’s writing style and will definitely read more books by them in the future.
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Source of book: NetGalley (thank you)
Relevant disclaimers: I work for the same publisher (Casablanca imprint, not Fire) as this author; no other contact
Please note: This review may not be reproduced or quoted, in whole or in part, without explicit consent from the author.

I think I might have gone into this book with the wrong expectations. I’d got sort of sapphic and gothic and dark academia vibes, so I’d assumed a sort of slow burn. But, no, everything is one fire from the get-go. I mean in literally the first chapter, the heroine, Finch, is wishing she would do anything to get a scholarship to Ulalume Academy and then her parents drive their car over a bridge into a river and die, while an eight-eyed stag with bloody velvet on its horns watches Finch fight her way out of the water filled vehicle before, uh, dying herself. And then getting resuscitated, only to be permanently afflicted with sluggish heartbeat, white hair, and cold, pale skin. 

What’s extra weird about this is that the heroine of the book is basically … a zombie? From chapter 1 and it’s not really a big deal to anyone. Nor is the fact that a weird ghost girl appears in the depths of the school and starts granting wishes to anyone who asks in return for increasingly horrific favours. Oh, and in 2004, five kids mysteriously died after forming a abruptly successful rock band. And probably I am maintaining the wrong expectations for this book, but, like, I think about all the paperwork, and song and dance, and safeguarding sessions, and interventions from the PTA we get if a kid stubs their toe. Imagine if FIVE OF THEM DIED. How is Ulalume Academy still functioning? 

Anyway, I think get what Dearest Darkest was shooting for: balls-to-the-wall horror meets teenage social commentary. Honestly, it feels like it should be two great tastes that go great together (since is not peer pressure not its own horror, ahhhhhh) except while I felt the horror mostly hit the mark, the teen life didn’t so much. At least, not for me. Finch is a zombie (?) musical prodigy who has been mostly homeschooled and spends most of the book with everybody being incredibly nice to her, despite the fact that—and I’m quoting the villain here, who I broadly agreed with on most things—she has all the charisma of a wet cracker. Selena, by contrast, is a bisexual mean girl who fought her way to queen bee status in order to protect herself from the social stigma she experienced when she was outed by her ex-girlfriend.

Except, to me, Selena never seemed that mean? Finch is actually sort of more hurtful, in her … whole physically recoiling and running away from people because she’s not comfortable in the discovery she’s gay. There’s a fair of bit of sexuality-oriented angst in here and, if I’m honest, it felt a bit … disconnected to me? Like sexuality is treated as inherently a source of anxiety and/or shame, when usually it’s context that creates the shame, you know? Whereas there’s nothing about Ulalume Academy that seems to suggest it’s not accepting of queer identities: in the very first party Finch attends, there are boys kissing in a corner and the mean-girl villain is herself queer. Yes, Selena was outed (and I am not saying being outed is not horrific—and, in fact, I wish it wasn’t a plot point in so many queer books) but it was less her identity that caused the problem, so much as the villain telling everyone that Selena was treating sex like a scoresheet. And I know, I know, you don’t have to have rational reasons for being fearful of elements of yourself not finding acceptance, so realising you’re queer is scary even in the most liberal of environments, but since both protagonists struggle so much with their sexuality over the course of the book I wish there’s been more depth and detail to this struggle instead of it just being centred on generic bad gay feels.

To be honest, I think depth and detail is where My Dearest Darkest didn’t quite deliver for me in general. The blurb compares the book to The Craft but … okay. The thing about The Craft is that the teenage girls turn to magic to address their own sense of powerlessness, both in their lives and amongst their peers. Sarah has lost her mother, Nancy is looked do for being “white trash”, Bonnie has her scars, and Rochelle is suffering racially-charged bullying. They’re outsiders in a hostile world (the school world they inhabit, with indifferent teenagers, and boys only too eager to exploit them) and a broader world that is not kind to young women in general (Nancy’s mother is in an abusive relationship, none of the girls really have parental figures they can turn to—Sarah, in the end, ends up turning to a random shopkeeper, that’s how lost these characters are). 

Selena and her cronies are rich, powerful, mean girls: yes, they use random ghost monster in the basement to cement that power, and there’s an aside about one of them struggling academically, but they kind of rule the school already? And the school is a nice, full of respectful boys, and an almost absurdly diverse student body. The thing about the devil—or devil-like figures—is that the devil is a confidence trickster. He offers deals to the desperate, that only the desperate will take. I didn’t believe any of these girls were desperate for anything really beyond more of the teenage cachet that they already apparently have? And even that sense of wanting teenage cachet I was drawing by implication from other books about teenage girls behaving badly (like Pretty Little Liars) rather than from this book specifically.

Ack, this all sounds more negative than I wanted it to. In the book’s favour, I did enjoy the writing (there are some one-liners that made me literally cackle), the relationship between Selena and Finch is charming once it actually starts happening and there are so many good ideas in here. I think that for many readers the strength of those ideas, the juxtaposition of walls-to-the-wall B-movie horror and teenage girls trying to figure out who they are and what they want, will carry them past the places where, for me, the execution just didn’t quite make it. As a debut, My Dearest Darkest doesn’t lack for panache. I just think it could have had benefited from more thematic cohesion: it’s kind of low-light academia at best, and I think the horror would have landed better emotionally speaking if the school had been a bit more Catherine House and a bit less Mallory Towers.
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Yay! A Sapphic Horror story that genuinely scared me! This book has such a clever premise and is creepy throughout, with its dark academia vibes and sinister deals made with the monster lurking in the tunnels under the school. I loved the cast of characters, the diversity rep, and the mental health discussions that are had in this book(instead of just glossing over trauma, depression, or anxiety--it's addressed). Well done, Kayla Cottingham!
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This book is fine.  I would still recommend it to younger readers, but it was hard to suspend disbelief the entire time.  I know that it was fantasy and horror mixed together, but the characters were flat, and the writing was stilted.  Also, everyone was so on board with a spirit living under their school..?  I, as the reader, can suspend some disbelief, but these girls were all like, "Okay!  Cool!"
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A sapphic horror story! Dark academia set in a boarding school in Maine. 
Finch is a newly orphaned piano prodigy hoping to make friends and fit in her new school. She inadvertently creates a enemy in the most popular girl, Selena St. Clair. 

As the two warily circle each other after assigned a school project, when a late night provides an opportunity to be granted their greatest wishes. The problem is what they need to feed this spirit. Will they or won't they make peace? More importantly who or what is this spirit and what should they do?

At times, complete cornball horror but quite enjoyable and a smart and quick ya story. If you like YA, horror stories,   dark academia and of course sapphic love, then this is a book for you!   #sourcebooks #sourcebooksfire #Mydearestdarkest #netGalley
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An interesting read for sure! 4/5 stars. This journey takes us through the eyes of Finch and Selena in alternating chapters at a private/prep school. Things start to get dark fast as weird stuff starts happening. With the inclusion of cults and scary magic, you’re sure to keep getting surprised until the very end. I will admit the first 1/4 of the book was a bit confusing, but once you get past that, the rest is enjoyable. I loved the inclusion of queer identities and relationships, something you often don’t read in other books.
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Thank you to Sourcebooks and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham is a YA sapphic horror debut novel that will appeal to fans of The Coldest Touch or Plain Bad Heroines.  The story revolves around Finch, who is arrived at the elite boarding school Ulalume Academy for the first time.  Selena, a popular mean girl, and Finch start off as enemies, but they soon join together when they realize that something's wrong at their school.  A monster is granting students impossible wishes and taking body parts in exchange.  Will they be able to stop this monster or will it take over the entire town?

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1 that introduces the gothic campus:

""Terrible-­looking campus, huh?” her father said, meeting her eyes in the rearview mirror. He nodded up at the soaring spires of Ulalume Academy as they came into view beyond the trees.
“Oh! I…I think it’s pretty,” Finch defended, looking down at her shoes.
“He’s joking, sweetie.” Finch’s mother shot him a sharp look. “It’s lovely.”
Ulalume’s towering, gothic campus rose out of the fog-­shrouded trees. The peninsula Rainwater rested on was just under forty square miles, vaguely crescent-­shaped, with a rocky coastline and the occasional pebble beach. A single causeway led in and out."

Overall, My Dearest Darkest is a YA horror novel that will have you spooked out of your mind.  One highlight of this book is the creepy gothic setting: an old boarding school, as well as the dense woods in the town.  I made the mistake of reading this book too close to nighttime, and at points, I felt chills up and down my spine.  If I had to complain about 1 thing, I would say that the actual monster paled in comparison to the spooky setting  If you're intrigued by the excerpt above, or if you're a fan of horror, I recommend that you check out this book when it comes out in April!
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If you ever read any H. P. Lovecraft and decided what it needed was to be crossed with Pretty Little Liars and Mallory Towers, and to be made 100 percent more sapphic, then Kayla Cottingham has the book for you! 

Finch finds herself the newest student at the prestigious Ulalume Academy (a great literary reference to Poe!) on a music scholarship. Unbeknownst to most of her classmates, however, is the tragedy from months ago that completely derailed her life.

Surrounding her are a cast of rich, talented, and sometimes mean teen girls, though she finds solace with her friendship with new roommate, Sumera. Unfortunately, she gets on less well with popular girl Selena, who Finch accidentally got into trouble during her  audition at the school months before. 

What none of the students realise at first, though, is that something terrible and ancient has been awakened in the surrounding area, a terrible power that could potentially cost them everything.

Throughout the book, Finch and Selena are both pulled into investigating not just the newfound entity that can grant them wishes - for a price - but also the disappearance of a band decades ago that was rumoured to be part of a cult. Through their investigations they build a friendship and then a romance, all against the backdrop of Selena's strained friendship with manipulative ex girlfriend Kyra and the growing threat that could cost them all more than they bargained for.

This book strikes a lot of familiar notes for anyone familiar with the cosmic horror genre, but the unusual setting and the vibrant, diverse cast of characters gives the book a fun, fresh twist that sets the bar for what contemporary cosmic horror stories can be.
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Finch had the opportunity of a lifetime and was known to be a prodigy, she had an audition to the ultra-competitive Ulalume Academy. Unfortunately on the way home from the audition she and her parents were in an accident leaving her the sole survivor. 
So being if being the new transfer student at the school was not enough, she is not what she seems. 
On the day of the unfortunate accident something in the river would not let her die, and while something is definitely wrong with her Selena is still drawn to her completely. 
Now this book has all the makings of a classic horror story, but with a definite twist! There is the slow burn romance, cults, sacrifices, the boarding school, the coming out/exploring sexuality, death, and of course a monster that was summoned by teens. 
This is definitely one that horror lovers should read, the creepy factors alone this is a must-read! 
Thank you Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the extraordinary opportunity to read and review this one! I definitely enjoyed it!
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“Hell is a teenage girl.” - Diablo Cody, Jennifer’s Body

Two girls, a god, and making deals with the devil. Finch Chamberlin is shy and awkward and is the newest transfer student to the competitive Ulalume Academy. On the day of her audition she accidentally meets Selena St. Clair, a gorgeous popular mean girl with more secrets. On the day of her audition on the way back home Finch and her parents get into an accident and finch dies at the bottom of the river... until she is back. Finch was declared dead but has somehow made it back alive but her parents did not. As Finch begins her school year at Ulalume, right after a traumatizing and horrific event in her life, she is fragile and just trying to make it through the year. However she finds herself being pulled to a mysterious ghost like creature in the cave that goes by the name of Nerosi... It also doesn’t help that Finch ends up paired with Selena who seems to see right through Finch. Selena and her friends accidentally run into a cave and meet a creature named Nerosi who offers to give them whatever they want in exchange for something else... and as Selena’s friends begin asking for more things and the sacrifices get bigger and bigger Selena will have to find a way to save them before it’s too late and the only person she knows that can help her is in the form of the girl who she can’t seem to stay away from, Finch. Finch and Selena soon find that they share a connection besides Nerosi, and must help each other stop this mysterious creature before it’s evil is unleashed on everyone and destroys everything. On top of that they’re complicated feelings for each other are growing and bodies will start dropping soon. This was such a fun read! It mixes in mystery, romance, friendship, fighting demons/creatures, and everything in between. It was a thrill from beginning to end and getting to know Finch and Selena was a joy! I definitely recommend this book!!! This definitely fits the " Wilder Girls meets The Craft in this Sapphic horror debut that asks: what price would you be willing to pay to achieve your deepest desires?" and IT IS EVERYTHING.
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I  didn’t love this but the creepy stuff was all well written and very descriptive, and I liked all the Boston/New England stuff, so I’ll definitely give her next book a chance too!
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This will keep you up all night turning pages of the book as fast as you can. One of those where you just have to know what’s on the next page even though you are still reading the previous page kind of books.
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“Queer feminist horror was not a genre I knew I needed to be reading, but after this book I am here to stay! This book has it all love, ghosts, monsters, gods, secluded scary school on an island, literally everything. The happiest and the worst day of finches life were the same day, but something brought her back to life, but she had no idea what the price she was going to pay was. Nerosi lives in the darkness, but she needs things from the living in order to survive. This book is dark, creepy, and all together fabulous.
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After finishing this book, I'm going to give it a 3.5/5. I think I might have hyped this one up a bit too much in my head that it didn't fully live up to my expectations. That saying it wasn't bad, I'll definitely recommend it to my students who are mystery fans.
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