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My Throat an Open Grave

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Member Reviews

If you are a fan of dark, gothic, horror, and the classic 80’s movie The Labyrinth, this may be a good read for you. Leah wants nothing more than to be a “good girl” and for her mother to love her. She goes to church on Sundays, and when she isn’t at school, she takes care of the house and her brother while her mom is working. However, there is a folklore tale which permeates the town of Winston; if she isn’t good and perfect, she will be taken by the Lord of the Woods. With the way she is treated, I ( as the reader) wonder if it wouldn’t be a better life.

There is quite a bit of emotional neglect and abuse as Leah received almost no level of support from anyone around her except her best friend. When her brother, Owen, goes missing on her watch, she is sent into the woods to either return with him or to not return at all.

At some points this was a hard book to read only for the fact Leah was so broken by the way the town of Winston treated her, that she could not see when she deserved more than the bare minimum when it came to attention, care, and affection. I thought it was well paced and I think the atmosphere was perfect for a cold winter day. I want to thank NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me an advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest review. I give it about 4.5 stars for keeping me engaged and for triggering those memories of one of my favorite films.

I will also be posting a video review on my Youtube channel: Coffee, Books, and Rain

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My Throat an Open Grave
by Tori Bovalino
Pub Date: 20 Feb 2024

My Throat an Open Grave” by Tori Bovalino is a YA horror novel set small town of small town of Winston, Pennsylvan
Winston, Pennsylvania is a deeply religious community that is heavily involved in systematic gender inequality.
We follow seventeen year old Leah who’s home life is troubled. She finds herself in a constant struggle to maintain the unattainable standards that have been placed on women in her small community. The responsibility of taking care of her little brother lays heavily on her shoulders.
When a terrible thing happens when Owen’s crying is inconsolable and Leah wishes her brother away. She finds herself tasked by the religious authorities to rescue her little brother from the clutches of Lord of the Wood. But not everything she was told is true about the lord of the Wood and she is surprised by what she actually finds.
A moving folk horror tale that had me glued to the pages. I was easily able to connect with the MC Leah, and the writing was solid. The found family is always one of my favorite troupes. I highly recommend this book to those looking for a great cottage core tale with a deeper meaning strung through out the storyline.

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I had to try My Throat an Open Grave by Tori Bovalino when I heard that it was based on The Labyrinth movie, and I'm glad I did!

This YA novel is darker and more violent than the movie, but follows the theme of a young women owning her power. Leah is battling deep religious trauma and parental emotional/verbal abuse. I enjoyed watching her grow as she battles to find her baby brother.

This really shows how harmful and hateful some religions can be, and how twisted the followers and leaders of these religions can be.

The graphic portrayals of animal death and gore were a bit much, so definitely check the trigger warnings for this book, but Leah's triumph will have you so excited!

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Combining whimsy, darkness, and acute emotional depth, this narrative has the power to delve into your soul, tighten its grip, and comfortably settle within. Not to mention - the title is most definitely on POINT!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC!

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Book Review

Title: My Throat an Open Grave by Tori Bovalino

Genre: Fantasy, Horror

Rating: 3.5 Stars

The opening of My Throat an Open Grave was interesting and while not necessarily intriguing it presents a creepy premise. We are introduced to Leah Jones who lives in the town of Winston which seems to be cursed/haunted by something called the Lord of the Woods. The Lord of the Woods steals children from the town and being the religious zealots they seem to be, the town sends those responsible for the loss of the children after them but none have ever returned.

We can see that Leah doesn’t have a good home-life since something happened in her past which drastically altered her relationship with her family and the town. I believe this event also made her social as she thinks about it more than once. One night while she is caring for her baby brother he is taken while Leah is sleeping and her mother is furious when she finds out. At dawn Leah is taken to the Pastor and cleaned before being sent into the woods. Even at this point I had ideas that the evil is in the town not the woods as there are creepy vibes from several men that Leah has encountered so far but I don’t really know what is happening. During the cleansing it seems Leah is transported to an alternate dimension where the Lord of the Woods lives. Upon entering the woods she walks for hours without encountering anyone but soon meets a boy Tristan who takes her to where she needs to go. Upon arriving she is cleaned again before being presented to the Lord of the Woods at twilight and he is Tristan.

Tristan explains that he didn’t steal Owen but he was offered by Leah and now she wants him back which means she has to bargain. Leah offers to write him a song in exchange for Owen which he accepts, the terms of the deal give Leah one moon cycle to complete her end of the bargain but it isn’t going to be simple. If she doesn’t complete the task she will be bound to Tristan’s realm which she agrees to. During her first few days there, Leah tries her best to begin composing her song but nothing seems to come easy to her as she tries to understand the world around her but nothing makes sense. After Tristan takes her to see Owen for the first time since her arrival, it brings the truth rushing to Leah that she offers Owen to Tristan and he was unable to resist even though he tries staying away for months before eventually giving in to the compulsion.

It seems that Tristan’s land and Leah’s exist on different planes of time meaning when she crosses the river back to her world she is essentially a ghost and ghosts or echoes also exist in the forest. One goat Leah encounters is Maria, another girl sent into the forest but she learns that Maria completed her bargain and returned but it was never enough. Given everything we have learnt I’m thinking that Maria returned home with her baby but she was murdered by the people of Winston before her baby was given to someone else to raise. Even at halfway through I have so many questions about the different worlds, the things that happened in Leah’s past and the suspicious number of references to death, dying and suicide. I do have to say though that the pace of this book is much faster than The Devil Makes Three which had a slow start but it is equally compelling.

Honestly at this point I don’t think the novel knows what it wants to be since until this point it has been a version of labyrinth with some darker elements and some very slight religious ones. Now it has huge religious theme, the labyrinth tale and a potential murder mystery all thrown together with little cohesion between them. From Bovalino’s first book I think her speciality lies in her simplicity and this is definitely too complex of a narrative for her writing style to really shine. I think if it had just been a labyrinth story or a paranormal mystery then it would have been better and I also could have done without the heavy religious elements unless there’s actually a point to it. We still aren’t even close to getting any answers to the mountains of questions I have which has me concerned since there are only 100 pages left. To round this book off nicely it will have to be an outstanding ending that blows me away to get anywhere above a 3 stars.

The ending actually helped redeem some of the book especially where the confused plot was concerned as it finally made sense by religious, fantasy and horror were all coming together but I still felt the book didn’t know what it intended to be until the end. I wish that the elements surrounding the murder mystery were brought in earlier as well as understanding the relationship between Leah and Owen as that would have helped understand Leah as a character. Overall, it was a good book with some important message but I’d still recommend The Devil Makes Three over this.

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Haunting, atmospheric, and beautifully written, MY THROAT AN OPEN GRAVE is a fantastic tale that blends folk horror, romance, spooky forests, and cult vibes, all of which I adore. I loved the small town Pennsylvania setting and the belief that if girls don’t adhere to the town’s strict standards, they’ll be taken by the Lord of the Woods. ⁣

The religious aspect was wonderfully written and I loved the toxicity and the cult-like feel it gave me. This particular sect of religion is dripping with misogyny, with the female population being held to a much higher standard than the male population. This is a tale spooks and thrills, but there’s also a lot of life lessons hidden in the tale. ⁣

Leah was such a wonderfully relatable character, and I loved how much she grows from beginning to end. I adored her journey, both literally and figuratively — she’s on a quest to find her brother, and she manages to find herself along the way. This is very much a dark tale, but the addition of romance between Leah and a certain someone really helped to brighten things up just a little. I’m on a recent hot streak with 5 star reads, and I’m thrilled to add this one to that streak. Definitely pick this one up if you’re a fan of:⁣

⁣⁣⁣➽ Gothic, atmospheric reads⁣
⁣⁣⁣➽ Folklore and folk horror⁣
⁣⁣⁣➽ Cottagecore vibes ⁣
⁣⁣⁣➽ Spooky woods⁣
⁣⁣⁣➽ Eerie small towns⁣
⁣⁣⁣➽ Cult-like religion ⁣
⁣⁣⁣➽ Coming of age tales

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𝘐’𝘮 𝘥𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘞𝘪𝘯𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘯, 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘢 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳-𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘢𝘸𝘦𝘧𝘶𝘭 𝘵𝘰𝘸𝘯 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘴𝘦𝘦𝘴 𝘮𝘦 𝘢𝘴 𝘢 𝘣𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘬 𝘩𝘰𝘭𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘐 𝘯𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘮𝘦.”

Leah is from the small town of Winston which has high standards for those living there. As much as she tries to live up to those standards by going to church, school, working and taking care of her baby brother, she still feels like an outcast. It is said that if you aren’t good, the Lord of the Wood will come take you, like so many girls before had. One night after her baby brother won’t stop screaming, she wishes her baby brother be taken away by the Lord of the Wood. And he does. Leah is then forced to cross the river into the Lords domain, to bargain for her brothers return. Once there, she realizes the Lord is not what he has been made out to be, and terrible secrets about her hometown are uncovered. Leah then has to come up with a plan to unearth these buried horrors, and expose those which are involved.


I was immediately enveloped in this books darkly atmospheric world. The first half of the story reminded me of a few other tales I have read- Lakewood, For the Wolf, Spinning Silver and Wintersong, but then it took on a spin all of its own. There was a religious cult, a memory garden, alterations in time, dark fantasy themes, cottagecore, romance… I just ate it up like candy! I was pleasantly surprised with where the story went and found it to be very entertaining. Leah’s character was very well written and I definitely felt for her. Overall I really enjoyed this one 🙌.

I give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 💫

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It reminds me of the beauty that [author:Cat Winters|5351847] creates in her story mixed with the folkloric elements of newer books like [book:Before the Devil Knows You're Here|128686527] and [book:Bittersweet in the Hollow|78292413].

But it's also so much more. From the start I was captivated by the myth of the Lord of the Wood and the mood that was created. Then when Leah meets Tristan, it's all over. I was swept up in the magical romance between the strong connection between the two- Tristan who seemed a somewhat reluctant leader and Leah, whose negative self talk ingrained in her from her pastor, family, and community needed to find an avenue of release to find herself again.

The revelation wasn't earth shattering though it was pivotal. I don't typically read a book to figure out the secrets right away, but this one was strategically revealed and provided the foundation for EVERYTHING that the book stood for. Bovalino's creation is breathtaking. The way Jess, her friend, came for her. What Leah had to do to confront her mother. To what it was like living on the plane of time that was the woods was all interwoven with whimsy, hardship, and the slightest of hope to come out unscathed or to have grown from the experience. And that's what happened.

What I value the most is that the plot moved along without extraneous details or scenes. A tight, dark, romantic novel works well. The reader doesn't need everything spelled out for them like those 400+ page stories. I was transfixed and the movie played in my head because Bovalino is a crafty author who had the vision and executed it flawlessly. I am taken! Take me away!

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This was such an amazing and sad read. I’ll definitely want to reread it so I hope there will be an audiobook and I can read it again. Or take it out of the library once it’s on one of mine. Because I very much want to read it again.

This was such an atmospheric read, I didn’t want to stop reading. I wanted to stay in the world, read slower, but also I couldn’t stop reading. So I was quite sad when I finished because I couldn’t stay with them. I loved everything about it (well, except most of the town members).

I love weird forests and weird things happening in them and this turned out to be different than what I was expecting! I liked that the Lord of the Wood wasn’t what Leah thought he would be. Which I gathered early on but I liked how they showed it. I’m a sucker for a guy who’s supposedly a big baddie but really he’s very sweet and caring. I’ll take this trope in any genre. He was definitely that guy but not in that typical Alpha Male way. The Lord of the Wood was only perceived to be bad but I’m glad we almost immediately saw him to be different.

Leah isn’t your traditional strong female main character but she sort of has that quiet strength that’s actually quite nice to see as there’s a lot of strong fmcs in books. Specifically in fantasy and a bit in paranormal, which I guess this book straddles those two genres. I liked that she was a bit lost in what she wanted to do but she knew she didn’t want to stay in the town. My heart hurt for her (and wanted to hurt her mother a lot).

I was surprised to see mentions of TV and phones and such because I think when I read the synopsis and started reading the book it reminded me of The Village (the M. Night Shyamalan movie). They had the same vibes – small town, something creepy in the woods, mounds of secrets piling up. So I expected the village and the book to be in a total fantasy world, not like, I don’t know, an hour’s drive from a McDonald’s. Since I love The Village, I immediately started to like it. And then it changed and very much wasn’t like the movie – but it was great because it went above and beyond (my expectations).

I liked that the book showed early that most of what the church and town say and believe in are wrong. In small towns like these, I think it’s quite easy for religion to have a foothold and dominate over others. If you’re not going to church, well… Everyone knows where everyone else stays. Of course not all churches are good; quite a lot of them have lost the light or reason why they started up. In here it was interesting to see what the church was doing – even though they were utterly in the wrong – but obviously nobody would tell them too. Also makes you wonder that these types of things are… surely happening but there’s no Lord of the Wood to receive them.

I liked that, of course, the plot wasn’t something that could be avoided – like she had to get her brother back, and that might be difficult (when she thought The Lord of the Wood to be all bad). But she still managed to sit and smell the roses, start to realise she’s not the person the town’s painting her out to be. Which I really liked!

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My Throat An Open Grave (ARC)
Tori Bovalino @toribovalino

Pub Date: 2/20/2024

⚠️ kidnapping, murder, animal sacrifice (ish, not really)

I totally judged hard with the cover when I requested this. I hoped the plot was going to be as good as the cover and it did not disappoint. Now granted I did expect it to be waaaay darker than what it actually is. This book is so fast paced, it's quick and easy to read and has more of a YA feel. The vibe is more cult-y. I was immediately annoyed how the FMC's town operates. There's this mystery that hangs over the whole plot. What did the FMC do that was so bad that she needed to pay for it? As I read on, the "other" village revealed more things, there's more magical and creepy things happening. But midway through, I kinda thought this whole book was more charming than scary. Not something I expected from the cover and the title. Yes there's romance. But there's also darker things that came about, and not at all related to the other wordly beings there. I had some suspicions about who to fear and it wasn't a surprise when it was revealed. There also were some revelations that completely caught me offguard. The writing style initially felt more juvenile (which I personally didn't mind) but it got progressively better! I enjoyed this one so much!

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This book started off strong. The main character, Leah’s, baby brother is kidnapped and taken by the Lord of the Wood. Leah has to get her brother back and no girl has ever returned once leaving the town. This small town is led by these religious zealots and the whole vibe of the town is creepy af. I was definitely getting The Village vibes in the beginning of this story. I was hoping this would be a mysterious, horror-filled book, but it ended up being way too romance/crush/googly-eyes heavy and I just didn’t care what happened to any of the characters by the end. There were some paranormal moments that I liked, but overall, this was a disappointing read for me. I do think a fantasy loving teen or fans of Labyrinth will devour this book though.

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With the description of labyrinth and folk horror how could I resist this book?! Thank you to Netgalley and Page Street Publishing for this ARC.
I’m a fan of an original plot and this definitely had it. While I think it’s barely barely horror it still had a great mystery, and surprisingly the romance was a good addition.

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Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read this book in advance .. I loved it ❤️
My reviews are below!

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“My Throat an Open Grave” by Tori Bovalino is a YA horror novel set in a town inhabited by a very religious community filled with hatred, superstition, and misogyny.

This book follows the life of Leah, a seventeen-year-old girl who lives in a household with a mother that doesn’t love her and a little brother to look after. Leah spends her entire existence trying to be the perfect “good girl”, seeking to achieve the unreachable standard that the people in Winston has set for its women. A goal that leaves Leah alone, fragile, and always ready to reprimand herself.
Everything changes when the fearsome Lord of the Wood kidnaps Leah’s brother, Owen, and she is forced by the entire town to cross the river and go find the baby at the cost of her own life.

The plot has captured my attention since the first chapter. It was so easy to get lost into these pages and emphasise with Leah, who was such a well-deepened, relatable character. I quickly started to root for Leah, hoping to see her happy and to discover more about her past.
Leah is destroyed. I don’t think there’s a better word to describe her at the beginning of her tale. She was a girl bearing a burden that was slowly and painfully drowning her. Leah tells her story to the reader as the plot proceeds and it’s impossible not to be angry and sad during the entirety of this novel.

This book touched a sore spot. Reading about this people who didn’t even blink at the sacrifice of a young and frightened girl to a supposed evil entity made me scream in utter rage. The hatred seeping through the pages and Leah’s desperate need to be appreciated and loved went straight to my heart. The misogyny engraved in the community of Winston, the hopelessness felt by girls like Leah who were meant to be stuck in a town like that, and the wrath filtering through the truth of their fate is real and sickening.

I can only praise Tori Bovalino’s prose for it gave the right intensity to the book and the choice of first person narration has ensured that Leah could pierce through the reader’s soul and leave a permanent mark.
The revelation at the end of the book didn’t feel like a twist because the author leaves some clues throughout the novel, but it was equally shocking and it broke my heart in countless pieces.

I can’t talk about certain aspects of the novel because it would be spoiler, but I prefer that the plot remains a mystery to you as it was to me. Many things were unpredictable and made me want to read even quicker just to know what was about to happen.
I craved to read more about Leah and the other characters. The ending felt too rushed, it lost a bit of the pathos it had during great part of the book, yet it led to the right bittersweet ending I had envisioned.

“My Throat an Open Grave” will forever haunt me. Leah and her story will remain a part of me and I’m quite certain this kind of anger will never leave her (or me) either.

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I don’t even accurately know how to describe this book without accidentally spilling the beans on half the plot twists but imagine if Labyrinth was written in a true crime lens? But was like, also really romantic in an unconventional unconditional deep down nitty gritty way? I think that’s all I can safely say. That being said, I LOVED THIS. It’s a heavy read, especially if you suffer from depression. There was a lot of times our FMC said something that felt like a knife to my own heart BUT she was so incredibly steadfast when she needed to be and I think that truly speaks to that particular struggle in the most beautiful way. There were so many routes this book could have ended on that would have left me unsatisfied, especially as a woman living in today’s climate, but honestly? It was perfect. Is it cheesy to say a horror novel is profound? Because when you peel away the spooky scary skeletons of it all, the message you’re left with is an important one.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tori Bovalino for this eARC!

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Ahhhh, this was SO good. So much so that I read it in one sitting. When I saw this book compared to Labyrinth, I knew I had to read it.

Plus,I will always read a book set in Pennsylvania, even if it does take place in a small, made-up religious town on the other side of the state.

My Throat an Open Grave was dark and atmospheric, sad and tense. I am always fascinated by stories set around religion and the toxic outlook many communities, especially small ones, have towards woman. The pain Leah was feeling through the book while her story was being revealed was palpable.

The relationship between Leah and Tristan hurt my heart at times. Him, so understanding and full of compassion. Her, feeling so undeserving and like she required punishment.

The author did such a good job with this story and its nuances.

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Tori Bovalino is an auto-read author for me for a reason and My Throat An Open Grave cements that status even further.

Bovalino never fails to astound me. This Labryinth-sque tale of expectations, religion, and the bonds we forge in life was gorgeously written, with a tang of blood and death staining every page. Some of the phrasing has not left my head since reading. Here, the writing was just stunning yet again, with a menacing hint of dread permeating every page. The way ghosts are used as a device within this story is impeccable. Ghosts are commonly used as resounding echoes of trauma, personal or societal, but Bovalino adds an extra element to the trope here that makes them more devastating. I always adore how Bovalino’s books deliver horror with a twist—it feels very fresh and distinctive. They’re societally conscious and stunningly written, reclaiming, and challenging old narratives to shape them into something new. The violence here is visceral and the meaning behind it is so much worse. Horror has the ability to bring a mirror to our lives and Bovalino delivers blows that shatter Leah’s illusions here deftly.

This is very much a character focused book as we follow Leah’s journey. She starts the book as a somewhat naïve girl, who follows the restrictive and misogynistic ideology of her upbringing. Her determination to save her brother is commendable, but this motivation can start to be questioned early on. Really, this is a coming of age narrative through a fascinating prism. It is a corruption narrative, but through an entirely different lens that you might be useful. Bovalino challenges what family, love and loyalty really mean—as well as unpicking some fundamental ideas of Leah’s society and impressing just how important it is to challenge your worldview. There are some fairly clear parallels to our society, which are gut-wrenching and Bovalino’s author note really hit home for me. In particular, she takes at religious fanaticism and the trauma religion can bring, particularly through a gendered lens. This is a nuanced take—especially for what faith can mean to an individual before it is twisted and manipulated. It makes for compelling and complex reading.

Throughout the book, there is a wonderful mystery at play too. This is so well plotted and has some fantastic twists and turns. I particularly loved how emotionally devastating most of the twists were, because it fed into the character development and overall arcs of the stories. They are not just shock value twists, they have heart and a tragic sense to them. For Leah, the stakes are clear and extremely high. You are aware of the blood permeating every page and the lives that have been lost to terrible decisions and a twisted mindset. Bovalino makes the horrors human, as well as including some supernatural elements that are wonderful additions. The entire community of the Lord of the Wood’s domain is a fascinating and richly written place. There feels like so much more to explore within this world and I would love for Bovalino to return here. It all encapsulates the theme of looking beyond appearances, but also continues the theme of this fairytale like influence on Bovalino’s writing. It is dreamy and fantastical, but has a real sense of violence and death surrounding it. These are stories with bite and cores of steel.

My Throat an Open Grave is a wonderful, introspective and incredibly chilling read that draws closely to our own reality, leaving you with a fire in your heart and a shiver on your skin.

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When I learned that this was to be a Labyrinth adjacent, folk horror YA romance, I was ALL IN. I got actual butterflies when the arc showed up in my Kindle. I was ready to be swept away, and I was surely that. But what I wasn’t prepared for, was the delicious battering my poor soul would take as I journeyed through the pages, or the depth of my emotional attachment to our 17 year old heroine, Leah.

Leah is real, messy, imperfect and wonderful, in all of the ways that a girl on the brink of adulthood should be. At every turn, she’s suffocated by her responsibilities, and the constraints put on her by the misogynistic, antiquated expectations of her small town. A town that has forever been shrouded in mystery, bowing to the age old tale of the Lord of the wood: the evil entity who will snatch away babies, and young women who fail to fall into line. When Leah‘s baby brother is taken, it’s up to her to bargain with the Lord to get him back.

Leah embarks on a heartbreaking, visceral journey of self discovery, as she traverses the domain of the Lord of the Wood, and learns that he is not the monster that the town has made him out to be. Together, they unravel secrets that have long been buried. The connection that they form is beautiful, and tragic, and I found myself utterly mesmerized as I followed along, desperate for the next page.

Yes, this falls under the YA umbrella, but don’t let that label fool you. It’s dark and gritty, raw, riveting and emotionally potent, and written in utterly poetic prose. It shredded my heart and my nerves, with a beautifully balanced mix of mystery, sorrow, angst and horror, and I adored every damn minute of it. This was my first book by this author, and will definitely not be my last.

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I really liked that I read of this -- the concept is great, I love the critique of religious institutions, and the writing was lovely. Unfortunately, the EPUB wouldn't let me change the font and I found the publisher's choice a bit too difficult to read. I decided to DNF this one but I plan to read it once it's published and I can purchase a copy or borrow it from my library.

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This is one of my favorite reads of 2024 so far! Creepy folklore horror is always a win for me, especially with the addition of religious trauma and manipulation. The theme of women paying for men's sins hits so hard and is so visceral through Leah's experiences, that it made it hard to read at times in the best way. Tori Bovalino's haunting, atmospheric writing was perfect for this kind of story and added such weight to every step that Leah took on her path to acceptance.

Though this book is creepy, dark, and gory at times, at the core, it's a story of redemption, honesty, love, and forgiveness. The romance and platonic love aspects are healthy and heartfelt, but in the end, this is Leah's story of escaping the horrific life she's been doomed to once she realizes she's worthy of happiness.

If you're a fan of complex female journeys, emotional reveals, cottagecore horror, dark atmosphere, religious oppression, and facing your fears, pick up this book.

Endless thanks to NetGalley for sending me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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