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My Dearest Darkest

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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? Finch Chamberlin is the newest transfer student to the ultra-competitive Ulalume Academy... but she's also not what she seems. Months before school started, Finch and her parents got into an accident that should have left her dead at t 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? Finch Chamberlin is the newest transfer student to the ultra-competitive Ulalume Academy... but she's also not what she seems. Months before school started, Finch and her parents got into an accident that should have left her dead at the bottom of a river. But something monstrous, and ancient, and terrifying, wouldn't let her drown. Finch doesn't know why she woke up after her heart stopped, but since dying she's felt a constant pull from the school and the surrounding town of Rainwater, like something on the island is calling to her. Selena St. Clair sees right through Finch, and she knows something is seriously wrong with her. But despite Selena's suspicion, she feels drawn to Finch and has a sinking feeling that from now on the two will be inexplicably linked to one another. One night Finch, Selena, and her friends accidentally summon a carnivorous creature of immense power in the depths of the school. It promises to grant every desire the girls have kept locked away in their insecure hearts―beauty, power, adoration―in exchange for a price: human body parts. But as the cost of their wanting becomes more deadly, Finch and Selena must learn to work together to stop the horror they unleashed, before it consumes the entire island.


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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? Finch Chamberlin is the newest transfer student to the ultra-competitive Ulalume Academy... but she's also not what she seems. Months before school started, Finch and her parents got into an accident that should have left her dead at t 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? Finch Chamberlin is the newest transfer student to the ultra-competitive Ulalume Academy... but she's also not what she seems. Months before school started, Finch and her parents got into an accident that should have left her dead at the bottom of a river. But something monstrous, and ancient, and terrifying, wouldn't let her drown. Finch doesn't know why she woke up after her heart stopped, but since dying she's felt a constant pull from the school and the surrounding town of Rainwater, like something on the island is calling to her. Selena St. Clair sees right through Finch, and she knows something is seriously wrong with her. But despite Selena's suspicion, she feels drawn to Finch and has a sinking feeling that from now on the two will be inexplicably linked to one another. One night Finch, Selena, and her friends accidentally summon a carnivorous creature of immense power in the depths of the school. It promises to grant every desire the girls have kept locked away in their insecure hearts―beauty, power, adoration―in exchange for a price: human body parts. But as the cost of their wanting becomes more deadly, Finch and Selena must learn to work together to stop the horror they unleashed, before it consumes the entire island.

30 review for My Dearest Darkest

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lex Kent

    3.50 Stars. This was a fun and entertaining read. It seems like ever since Power’s Wilder Girls, there has been this renaissance of horror/paranormal queer YA stories, and I’m so here for them. It is such a fun genre to read and this made for a good Marchoween read. However, this is a debut and it did have some newbie bumps. I think overall this was about an average or slightly better than average book for this genre. A lot of people have been comparing this to The Craft, but coming from someone 3.50 Stars. This was a fun and entertaining read. It seems like ever since Power’s Wilder Girls, there has been this renaissance of horror/paranormal queer YA stories, and I’m so here for them. It is such a fun genre to read and this made for a good Marchoween read. However, this is a debut and it did have some newbie bumps. I think overall this was about an average or slightly better than average book for this genre. A lot of people have been comparing this to The Craft, but coming from someone that watched the original movie dozens of times, I don’t really agree with that comparison. Yes, they are both dark and about young women in high school, but that is almost it. If anything this had more of a Mean Girls feel as the group is popular and privileged (unlike in The Craft) and some of them take the new girl in, even when her other friends warn her not to get too close. For me this had much more of a feel of Mean Girls meets the book To Break a Covenant (by Alison Ames). This book had two main storylines going on, the horror part, and the teenager part. The creepy horror part is where I think the book really shined. There were some really gross scenes, and there was one part in particular that was scary enough that I was mad at myself for reading the book at eleven at night instead of during daylight. It seems like a lot of horror these days is either gross or scary and I was really happy that this had a good mix of both. When it came to the teenager storylines, this was where the book was lacking a bit for me. I didn’t think these parts were as strong and there seemed to be no adult supervision or even just worry when kids were missing. It wasn’t like the teenager storyline was bad, but there was nothing new here and I felt like Cottingham concentrated more on the horror instead. I did think the sapphic relationship was pretty cute, I just wished that it wasn’t wrapped up in another “panic because I realize I’m gay” storyline. TLDR: An entertaining horror/paranormal book. This was well done for a debut, but there were some obvious bumps like too much “telling” in certain parts, and the teenager storyline not being as strong as the horror one. I won’t give away what the “evil” being is, but it was well imagined and felt unique and not like a being that is often overdone in horror stories. I think this is the tale of two books and I would read it if you are looking for horror that was entertaining and done well. If you are looking for more of a queer teenager tale, than another book would probably be a better choice. I had fun with this book and I think it would make a good Halloween read too. A copy was given to me for a review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    ellie

    While all towns have their ghosts, Rainwater’s were special. sapphic horror inspired by Jennifer’s Body?? i mean, what more could a girl want? the moment i read the author’s dedication to herself, i knew this was gonna be a winner, honestly: To my fifteen-year-old self—I hope you’d be proud of what your idea became. And not too surprised by how much gayer it is. and by the end of the first chapter, i was hooked. honestly, the more i read, the more this reminded me of The Devouring Gray. While all towns have their ghosts, Rainwater’s were special. sapphic horror inspired by Jennifer’s Body?? i mean, what more could a girl want? the moment i read the author’s dedication to herself, i knew this was gonna be a winner, honestly: To my fifteen-year-old self—I hope you’d be proud of what your idea became. And not too surprised by how much gayer it is. and by the end of the first chapter, i was hooked. honestly, the more i read, the more this reminded me of The Devouring Gray. not that they’re the same or anything, just a similar vibe? i think both stories nail the creepy vibe without making it convoluted. they both execute perfectly that quiet, subtle creepiness which constantly hangs over the characters’ heads and just always has you slightly on edge. it was fantastic. so, if you loved that duet then id imagine you’d enjoy this too! “I saw you walking with her earlier and you were staring up at her like she paints the stars in the sky every night.” bitchy ballerina gf x soft pianist gf??? a trope i didn’t know i needed🥺 Finch Chamberlin   my darling, Finch. ilysm. she was so lovely and gentle, awkward and broken. she made me tear up a few times. i was instantly rooting for her, especially after everything she’d been through. any time Finch made a new friend or came out to someone, i smiled so damn big. she was so sweet and deserved the world. i wanted to give her the biggest hug ever. this just felt like her story more than anyone else’s and i wouldn’t have it any other way, honestly. she was just really endearing to me, while others might regard her as meek and timid, i just found her to be a bit broken but so gentle and kind. she’s had a hard time of it (i honestly wished we’d gotten more of her trauma since she didn’t talk about it nearly enough, imo) and reacted accordingly. but she also had a bite to her and when her claws came out??? omg i was living my best life. her verbally beating the shit out of Kyra added an extra five years to my life span bcos seeing my girl flourish like that? the way she grew into herself and backed herself 100%? its what she deserved. she was the star of the show for me🥺 Selena grinned. Even just seeing her here, like this, with her too-big school uniform and a pencil still stuck behind her ear made Selena’s chest ache with warmth. Selena St. Clair it took me longer to warm up to Selena. she was icy cold, quite the bitch if you will, but had a heart of gold. and once some of that icy exterior cracked and began to melt, i liked her a lot (not as much as Finch, mind you, but still enjoyed her character so much). but in particular, her character development. there were times she was mean and i genuinely didn’t like her. but there were just these little things she did and said that had me kicking my feet bcos it was just so cute. she really was a big ole softie deep down. like Selena still not liking Finch but hearing a song and thinking of her????!!! sorry i lost my mind. “Anyway, enough about Kyra. I was listening to music while I jogged last night and I thought Hey, this song makes me think of Finch, so I went looking for a piano cover and I found one.” then Selena teaching Finch ballet??? i passed away. Finch stood like a statue, the warmth of Selena’s hands sinking into her skin until it seemed as if her entire body were flaring with pink. She laughed nervously, unsure of what else to do. Selena’s warm, minty breath tickled her cheek. Finch’s skin was typically so cold, but now she was on the verge of breaking a sweat. She almost didn’t realize Selena was lifting her until she spun her around. Finch shrieked, half in terror, before dissolving into giggles. Selena making a playlist for sad Finch?? i was a goner. that was it. i was officially obsessed with the book AND the couple. the soft crumbs were enough to keep me fed until the next one was dropped. bcos i would 100000% classify this as a slowburn but it was executed so well! it didn’t feel as agonising as it sometimes can bcos the plot filled the gaps whenever the romance was put on pause. ngl though, any time the girls were right on the cusp of having a “moment” or confessing their feelings only to be interrupted, i wanted to launch my phone across the room fr. it was so frustrating... but in a good way? bcos, like i said, those moments where then replaced by the plot which was just as riveting to me. so i was equally invested in the plot and the romance. For a moment, they just looked at each other, still grinning and warm, studying each other’s faces. Finch’s gaze involuntarily fell on Selena’s lips, faintly parted and painted berry-red. Warmth blossomed in her chest. Selena’s eyes, typically so sharp, softened. so, the plot... i actually liked it a lot! i can admit there was some “convenient” situations, you know where the right character at the right time knows the right information the MCs need? that sorta thing? but there wasn’t any info-dumping, nor was the plot OTT convoluted, or basic and predictable. the lore of the story was easy to keep up with. it was the perfect balance to keep me riveted without distracting me from Finch and Selena. bcos my babies... my whole attention span was hooked on them lol. but any time they group got together to do some investigating and the like, this gif was on repeat in my head: ... it was in my head the whole damn book, if im honest. it was just so damn gay and i adored it. i loved the realistic portrayal of teens. instead of being ethereally beautiful to the point it’s inhuman, the characters had acne, under-eye bags, hair frizz, botched dye jobs, bitten hangnails... i mean, Finch Google’s if she’s gay or not💀 if that’s not an accurate teen depiction, idk what is. in turn conversations around sexuality were *chef’s kiss* loved it. Selena telling Finch there’s no rules that say she needs to be attracted to boys, or to anyone at all was lovely. so was this perfect? no. but for a debut novel this was amazing. there are certainly little niggles that i have regarding the story but nothing significant enough to dim my enjoyment. im wondering if there’s gonna be another book?? it could remain as a standalone for sure but there are still so many questions i have and some ambiguities i want clearing up... even the final words were a little mysterious. id totally be down for a sequel😌 Selena was already laughing, tugging Finch closer to her and smiling wider than Finch had ever seen. She kissed her on the mouth, then all over her face, hands all over her at once as she laughed through each kiss.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kayla

    Listen, I'm a little biased, but I think this book is rad as hell and I worked really hard on it. Also, for anyone interested, here's a list of content warnings for MY DEAREST DARKEST: • Abusive relationships • Alcohol consumption by minors • Anxiety • Blood & gore depiction • Body horror • Burns • Coming out themes • Cults • Dead bodies/body parts • Death of a parent • Death of a friend • Depression • Drowning • Emesis • Emotional abuse • Grief & loss depiction • Hallucinations • Loss of autonomy • Mind control Listen, I'm a little biased, but I think this book is rad as hell and I worked really hard on it. Also, for anyone interested, here's a list of content warnings for MY DEAREST DARKEST: • Abusive relationships • Alcohol consumption by minors • Anxiety • Blood & gore depiction • Body horror • Burns • Coming out themes • Cults • Dead bodies/body parts • Death of a parent • Death of a friend • Depression • Drowning • Emesis • Emotional abuse • Grief & loss depiction • Hallucinations • Loss of autonomy • Mind control • Murder • Outing (mentioned) • Panic attacks (mentioned) • Physical injuries & wounds • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder • Biphobia (mentioned) • Racism (mentioned) • Recreational drug use (marijuana)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alexis Hall

    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 lit 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Madison

    SAPPHIC HORROR - popular bisexual x nervous lesbian slowburn romance - cults, sacrifices, eight-eyed deer - body horror, eye horror - boarding school in Maine (cliff setting) - exploring sexuality/coming out - fans of The Craft, Wilder Girls, The Luminous, Teen Wolf - a best dude friend who reminds me of Stiles Stilinski and one of the MCs has Lydia vibes

  6. 4 out of 5

    charlotte,

    On my blog. Rep: lesbian mc, bi mc, sapphic side characters, Arab hijabi side character, Black side character with ADHD CWs: gore, eye horror, outing Actual rating 2.5 Galley provided by publisher My Dearest Darkest is, in the nicest possible way although it probably doesn’t sound it, quite clearly a debut. There was definite promise—most clearly in the plot—but it lacked a kind of tautness to the storytelling and the characters were somewhat shallow. But as I said, it has promise. There are autho On my blog. Rep: lesbian mc, bi mc, sapphic side characters, Arab hijabi side character, Black side character with ADHD CWs: gore, eye horror, outing Actual rating 2.5 Galley provided by publisher My Dearest Darkest is, in the nicest possible way although it probably doesn’t sound it, quite clearly a debut. There was definite promise—most clearly in the plot—but it lacked a kind of tautness to the storytelling and the characters were somewhat shallow. But as I said, it has promise. There are authors I’ve read who’ve had worse starts with their debut novel for me, who I’ve later gone on to really like so. Nothing about this book says I won’t come to like Kayla Cottingham’s later releases. This is a convoluted start, so let me take a moment to explain what about this book did work for me. Firstly, in general, I enjoyed the plot. The end of the first chapter, with its hints about what exactly happened to Finch but nothing really definite. So you’re hooked onto the mystery of it all from there. Then, you steadily get dripfed more information as the plot progresses, about the creature they have apparently summoned and how she ties into a years-old disappearance. Yes, there were points that were a little… underdeveloped, perhaps. Points that made me think …what (I mean… tentacles??). But on the whole it was readable and kept my attention throughout. I also liked the character arcs of the mains, particularly Finch’s and how she went from being unsure she was a lesbian, to being able to say it proudly. Since the word lesbian is so little used in positive contexts in YA lit, the fact that it’s used so more than once in this book was a breath of fresh air. It’s a very solid horror story, in all. Creepy when it needs to be, with a growing sense of unease over it all. I also liked the way everything started to escalate as the sacrifices the characters made grew more and more extreme. But while this is what I liked, there were also aspects I liked less, chief among which was probably the writing. When I said that this was clearly a debut, I mostly meant the writing. It seemed somewhat unpolished overall—though it must also be said that this is very possibly a result of the fact I read an ARC, and I read it very early on—and didn’t conjure up the atmosphere nearly so effectively as I might have liked. That shallowness did also make its way to the characters too, in both a writing sense and also a personality sense. I actually couldn’t tell you a whole lot about any of the characters—none of them really stuck out but for a handful of characteristics—and this was especially true of the side characters (and even more so of the antagonist, who was little more than a mean girl). Add onto that the fact that they were, for want of a better word, seduced by this creature they’d summoned through promises of… looking pretty? It was, to be blunt, more than a little inane. But please don’t let me put you off reading this one! As I said, there’s a lot to like about it and, hey, I could just easily be not quite the right reader here.

  7. 5 out of 5

    A Book Shrew

    It has everything I wanted, yet somehow I still needed more. Full review and more at A Book Shrew Thank you very much to Raincoast Books for the ARC! Full disclosure: I paused reading this book halfway through to inhale a highly anticipated release I received, and when I returned I was far less enchanted with this. Do with that what you will. I was really looking forward to this book and was quite excited when I received an early copy of it. Eldritch is absolutely one of my favourite words and any It has everything I wanted, yet somehow I still needed more. Full review and more at A Book Shrew Thank you very much to Raincoast Books for the ARC! Full disclosure: I paused reading this book halfway through to inhale a highly anticipated release I received, and when I returned I was far less enchanted with this. Do with that what you will. I was really looking forward to this book and was quite excited when I received an early copy of it. Eldritch is absolutely one of my favourite words and any time I see that in a summary I must get my grubby little hands on it. So, needless to say I'm a little confused by how a book with sapphic romance, eldritch monsters and dark academia combined could fall so short in execution. This has everything I wanted to read, but it just doesn't hit the right notes for me. From start to finish, I found myself simply wanting more. More atmosphere, more monsters, more darkness and scares. As far as a horror novel goes, this certainly has its moments. The body horror ones in particular. There were a few pages that were downright chilling and gruesome. There just wasn't any sort of consistency for me to really declare this a proper horror novel. The eight-eyed stag, Nerosi, the body horror--those scenes felt far and few in between, which was disappointing to me. The book's summary was quite misleading as a result, as what they summon was sort of a blink and you miss it type deal, done almost by mistake. There was a sense of urgency lacking as well. Like guys, there is a questionable eldritch being in the tunnels under the school requesting teeth and fingernails in exchange for favours and no one is really batting an eye. And too much of the folklore came too late to matter to the story as a whole. The dark academia angle was better done. An all-girls boarding school set on a foggy, east coast island where ghosts are said to appear out of nowhere and cryptids are rumoured to roam the woods? The atmosphere was definitely there when it counted. Add in a few students murdered in the past and some janky tunnels beneath the entire property, and we're good. I do have questions about the living situation though. A bunch of girls just randomly live on campus in a lighthouse, and no one questions it, but I did. So many questions about how on earth that even works. I honestly think the best part of this was the romance. While yes, Finch and Selena are sort of attracted to each other right from the start, their relationship was a great and satisfying slow burn. Selena is bisexual, while Finch comes to understand that she is a lesbian. The journey of self-discovery for Finch is quite rewarding, actually, and built out her character very well. The pair have a really good conversation about Finch's sexuality and what she's coming to feel and understand that I think a lot of people will relate to and appreciate. As far as the writing goes, I don't think this is the last we'll see of Cottingham, and I certainly intend to read whatever else she wants to put out.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ashley (ashley's little library)

    Featured in this reading vlog: https://youtu.be/vqOGP4QhXV8 A YA sapphic, gothic, dark academia, supernatural horror?! Say no more!! This had all the good spooky wholesome goodness I love in YA horror. It read a bit “younger” than I’m used to for YA horror, but I still had a great time. Featured in this reading vlog: https://youtu.be/vqOGP4QhXV8 A YA sapphic, gothic, dark academia, supernatural horror?! Say no more!! This had all the good spooky wholesome goodness I love in YA horror. It read a bit “younger” than I’m used to for YA horror, but I still had a great time.

  9. 5 out of 5

    RivetingReads

    Thank you so much to Kayla Cottingham and Sourcebooks for providing me an arc in exchange for an honest review. I absolutely loved reading this book! First of all, it has one of my favorite tropes in books: dark academia. There is just something magical reading about gothic campuses that sets such a great tone for thriller and horror novels. This story is not only a horror novel, but also a sapphic love story. I usually am not someone who enjoys romantic elements in books but this romance was do Thank you so much to Kayla Cottingham and Sourcebooks for providing me an arc in exchange for an honest review. I absolutely loved reading this book! First of all, it has one of my favorite tropes in books: dark academia. There is just something magical reading about gothic campuses that sets such a great tone for thriller and horror novels. This story is not only a horror novel, but also a sapphic love story. I usually am not someone who enjoys romantic elements in books but this romance was done in such a way that made me invested in the character's relationship. The horror imagery was extremely haunting and the ending was extraordinarily intense. I am a reader who struggles sometimes with visualization so I had to slow down while reading at times to fully picture the imagery that was being presented; however, it really paid off. This novel had a bit of a slow start but once I reached the halfway point, I flew through the rest. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves academic atmospheres, appreciates lyrical writing, and loves a horror novel with romantic elements. 4.5 stars from me!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sam Maggs

    I love a book that isn’t afraid to say the word lesbian (and make a U-Haul joke), but I’d give this book every star just for the Mass Effect reference alone <3333 Excited to see more from this debut author!!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Janna

    really enjoyed it!! full review to come soon i post about queer books here: instagram / tiktok /twitter really enjoyed it!! full review to come soon i post about queer books here: instagram / tiktok /twitter

  12. 5 out of 5

    alaska

    gay horror is a separate genre and you can't convince me otherwise. thanks for blessing me with a sapphic YA one, arc gods!! gay horror is a separate genre and you can't convince me otherwise. thanks for blessing me with a sapphic YA one, arc gods!!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    I upped it to 3 stars (because I felt like being generous), but my actual rating is 2.5 stars. The ending went full Lovecraftian horror, and I loved it! The problem is, the rest of the book doesn't match that energy. It's more...kinda The Craft?...Honestly, there were a lot of plot holes and inconsistency that never made sense or really added up. That's probably because the book was too long and it kept switching back and forth between ideas on what Nerosi was supposed to be/represent. There's a I upped it to 3 stars (because I felt like being generous), but my actual rating is 2.5 stars. The ending went full Lovecraftian horror, and I loved it! The problem is, the rest of the book doesn't match that energy. It's more...kinda The Craft?...Honestly, there were a lot of plot holes and inconsistency that never made sense or really added up. That's probably because the book was too long and it kept switching back and forth between ideas on what Nerosi was supposed to be/represent. There's a lot of good ideas here, but the executing was lacking and took it into more cheesy horror territory. Although I have to give Cottingham props for including some decent body horror and gore. I loved the sapphic elements in this book. However, the writer went a little overboard with inclusion. Almost all the characters ended up being queer which made the narrative less believable and took away from the specialness of Finch and Selena's relationship IMO. The dialog was also very Gen-Z, but clearly written by someone who isn't Gen-Z...I hope that makes sense! This was a decent story. It didn't blow me away. It was clearly a debut effort, but I'd read another book by Kayla Cottingham in the future.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    Thank you Raincoast Books for an ARC copy for an honest review. This was an excellent YA queer mystery thriller. If you’re not already intrigued by that alone, there are potential cult elements, a mysterious band disappearance from almost 20 years ago, a queer girl coming to terms with her sexuality, and a weird thing in the tunnels beneath the school that can grant wishes. The writing style was really good. It was super easy to follow, and the author developed the creepy and unsettling atmosphe Thank you Raincoast Books for an ARC copy for an honest review. This was an excellent YA queer mystery thriller. If you’re not already intrigued by that alone, there are potential cult elements, a mysterious band disappearance from almost 20 years ago, a queer girl coming to terms with her sexuality, and a weird thing in the tunnels beneath the school that can grant wishes. The writing style was really good. It was super easy to follow, and the author developed the creepy and unsettling atmosphere really well. I was completely sucked into this story, and I didn’t want to put it down. It did feel a little slow at times, but I enjoyed the mystery aspect and also the relationship aspect. Finch has lived a pretty sheltered life, but after her parents death, she starts at Ulalume. She and Selena are drawn towards each other, and I enjoyed seeing Finch come to terms with her crush on Selena. Their relationship was really good, and I liked how it developed over the course of the book. Finch is also drawn down into the tunnels beneath Ulalume where she accidentally pulls something into existence in their world. Selena was also a good character. I liked her confidence and how she owned her identity, and I really felt for her when we learned how she’d suffered before getting to this place where she could own it. Her toxic friendship/relationship with Kyra was very unsettling, and Kyra only became worse as the book progressed. Selena is drawn not only towards Finch, but she’s also pulled into the mystery of the thing in the tunnels when Kyra discovers it and gets her friends involved. This got pretty dark at times, and the ending was really intense. I really liked the friendships that developed in the book, the romance, and the creepy mystery. CWs: violence, murder, death, death of parents, animal death, outing someone, depression, talk about human sacrifice, mention of suicide

  15. 4 out of 5

    alerleees

    it was a gay horror... what more can a girl want?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kirsty Carson

    Finch Chamberlin is the newest transfer student to the ultra-competitive Ulalume Academy... but she's also not what she seems. Months before school started, Finch and her parents got into an accident that should have left her dead at the bottom of the river. But something monstrous, and ancient, and terrifying, wouldn't let her drown. Finch doesn't know why she woke up after her heart stopped, but since dying she's felt a constant pull from the school and the surrounding town of Rainwater, like Finch Chamberlin is the newest transfer student to the ultra-competitive Ulalume Academy... but she's also not what she seems. Months before school started, Finch and her parents got into an accident that should have left her dead at the bottom of the river. But something monstrous, and ancient, and terrifying, wouldn't let her drown. Finch doesn't know why she woke up after her heart stopped, but since dying she's felt a constant pull from the school and the surrounding town of Rainwater, like something on the island is calling to her. Selena St. Clair sees right through Finch, and she knows something is seriously wrong with her. But despite Selena's suspicion, she feels drawn to Finch and has a sinking feeling that from now on the two will be inexplicably linked to one another. One night Finch, Selena, and her friends accidentally summon a carnivorous creature of immense power in the depths of the school. It promises to grant every desire the girls have kept locked away in their insecure hearts—beauty, power, adoration—in exchange for a price: human body parts. But as the cost of their wanting becomes more deadly, Finch and Selena must learn to work together to stop the horror they unleashed, before it consumes the entire island. I’m normally not one for sapphic horror, especially teen sapphic horror but this was a tense and enthralling read. Right from the start I was entranced by Finch and the enigmatic mean girl, Selena and irregardless of the crazy demon lady trying to escape from the tunnels (by munching on the offerings of naive and gullible teens) I was invested in their relationship and wanted to read on to see where it went. This novel gave me Pretty Little Liars meets Cruel Intentions vibes married with just the right amount of horror and spookiness to keep me interested. Young audiences will def enjoy this one and I think Cottingham has created a cast of characters that she could definitely utilise again in future stories.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tanvi Berwah

    This book is best described as sapphic The Craft meets Stephen King's IT, which means it's perfect. Set in a boarding school in Maine, it's as atmospheric as it is fun. This may be the first YA book I've read in a while that really reminded me of the kind of YA I grew up reading, the ones that were firmly in category where teens were actually teens and not spilling into NA. Also, it has the scariest fking monster, ever. Like seriously, wtf was that, Kayla? This should be on every horror lover's TB This book is best described as sapphic The Craft meets Stephen King's IT, which means it's perfect. Set in a boarding school in Maine, it's as atmospheric as it is fun. This may be the first YA book I've read in a while that really reminded me of the kind of YA I grew up reading, the ones that were firmly in category where teens were actually teens and not spilling into NA. Also, it has the scariest fking monster, ever. Like seriously, wtf was that, Kayla? This should be on every horror lover's TBR!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex Nonymous

    Thanks to the publisher for providing an eARC of My Dearest Darkest in exchange for an honest review. Listen. LISTEN. Is the narration here (particularly at the beginning for some reason? Either I got used to it or it fixes itself fairly quickly) a tad messy? Yeah. Does it go way off the deep-end into cheesy horror way to quickly? Also yes. But this felt like the sapphic equivalent of cult classic halloween movies and I loved it for that.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    "You understand how wild that sounds, right? A strange glowing woman in the tunnels wants to grant our wishes?" Summary Ever since Finch survived an accident that should have killed her, she has felt drawn to the island of Rainwater, where her new school Ulalume Academy resides. Serena St. Clair can tell that something is off with Finch, yet feels drawn to her nonetheless. One night Finch, Serena, and their friends accidentally summon a mysterious creature of immense power. It promises to "You understand how wild that sounds, right? A strange glowing woman in the tunnels wants to grant our wishes?" Summary Ever since Finch survived an accident that should have killed her, she has felt drawn to the island of Rainwater, where her new school Ulalume Academy resides. Serena St. Clair can tell that something is off with Finch, yet feels drawn to her nonetheless. One night Finch, Serena, and their friends accidentally summon a mysterious creature of immense power. It promises to grant their wishes, in exchange for seemingly small parts of themselves, until it starts asking for more and more. Review This was such a good horror book that had me on the edge of my seat! I loved the slow burn romance between Finch and Serena. I also loved how Serena was the popular girl at the school, but was able to let down her defenses and show her real self to Finch. The horror element to this book was chilling. Nerosi slowly pulled the girls in to her web of lies and used their own insecurities and selfishness against them. She was able to convince them that what they were doing was justified. There was also an intertwining mystery from the past that propelled the plot forward. I liked the balance of the creepiness and horror elements with a bit of mystery. Overall, this was a really solid debut and great sapphic horror novel!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Margot Lissens

    4.25* My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham is a YA sapphic horror and that is honestly all I need to hear to want to pick up a book. Luckily My Dearest Darkest also delivered on all the aspects it needed to deliver. The book is about Finch who starts at the very competitive Ulalume Academy. A few months before she transferred there, she and her parents were in a car crash which killed her parents and should have killed her too. One night at the academy Finch and a few other girls accidentally s 4.25* My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham is a YA sapphic horror and that is honestly all I need to hear to want to pick up a book. Luckily My Dearest Darkest also delivered on all the aspects it needed to deliver. The book is about Finch who starts at the very competitive Ulalume Academy. A few months before she transferred there, she and her parents were in a car crash which killed her parents and should have killed her too. One night at the academy Finch and a few other girls accidentally summon a creature who promises to fulfill all of their desires, but a price needs to be paid for that… The paranormal elements in this book are *chef’s kiss*, and they’re also very original. My Dearest Darkest definitely also deserves some recognition for how diverse it is and how it deals with the diverse characters, for example every characters’ skin tone gets mentioned, white or poc. Which is not something you see often, most of the times it is only mentioned when a character is non-white, so that’s always a nice breath of fresh air. My Dearest Darkest is also a very fast paced book, it’s one you can easily read in one sitting, or under 24 hours. Unfortunately there were a few minor flaws about the book. One of those being that some things just happened too conveniently. When a character was looking for something it almost always ended up being found within a few sentences. Next to that the main character sometimes really acted out of character to a point where you question whether you’re still reading about the same character or not. However, overall this is a very good YA horror for anyone who wants to dip their toes into the genre or anyone who already loves the genre! Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with an e-arc!

  21. 5 out of 5

    ً

    it's my fault for having high hopes for this book. i really enjoyed the plot and i found it interesting which was why i decided to be generous and give this book three stars. the biggest problem with this book is the characters (especially their dialogue). first of all i don't understand how the author unironically uses "sus" in this book and expects people to take her writing seriously. the way the characters talk to each other made them and this book so ANNOYING it's like the author never had it's my fault for having high hopes for this book. i really enjoyed the plot and i found it interesting which was why i decided to be generous and give this book three stars. the biggest problem with this book is the characters (especially their dialogue). first of all i don't understand how the author unironically uses "sus" in this book and expects people to take her writing seriously. the way the characters talk to each other made them and this book so ANNOYING it's like the author never had a real conversation irl before??

  22. 4 out of 5

    Carrington (ctonreads)

    "While all towns have their ghosts, Rainwater's were special. The island had a habit of keeping things long after they were gone. And when Finch Chamberlin stepped foot into Rainwater, Maine... it decided to keep her." I have to admit, it took me a while to really get into "My Dearest Darkest." I didn't find the plot to be as clear it could have been, there seemed to be a lot of directions we were going in that never got elaborated on. I wasn't hooked until our two main characters, Finch and Se "While all towns have their ghosts, Rainwater's were special. The island had a habit of keeping things long after they were gone. And when Finch Chamberlin stepped foot into Rainwater, Maine... it decided to keep her." I have to admit, it took me a while to really get into "My Dearest Darkest." I didn't find the plot to be as clear it could have been, there seemed to be a lot of directions we were going in that never got elaborated on. I wasn't hooked until our two main characters, Finch and Selena, were acquainted with one another. This is when the plot really began moving and it got a little clearer where this was going. There were several things that I assumed would be brought up at some point, but never were. I could overlook most of them, but one that seemed a bit glaring to me was the reveal of Finch's... current state? Trying not to be spoilery here. On one hand, I found it to be really predictable (didn't mind that though) but also a really huge deal that deserved more explanation and a sound ending. There are some other plots I thought got left underdeveloped as well, such as Kyra's interactions with Nerosi and Nerosi's past with former Ulalume Academy students. This didn't make me dislike the book by any means, but I think this book could have been much longer if these (several) loose ends had been tied up, and I would have gladly read all of it. I'm honestly wishing this had been about as long as "Plain Bad Heroines" (another great sapphic horror). The strength of this book is definitely found in the characters. Finch and Selena are very well-written and they have amazing chemistry. I am also so happy they were not victims of an insta-love plot that I find to be plaguing the YA genre lately. I wouldn't go as far as calling them a slow-burn, but they had great development that I loved reading. The side characters are also wonderful, specifically Simon and Sumera. Sumera in particular is a character I wish we had actually gotten a little more from. I think that the cover of this book (and some of the marketing) presents "My Dearest Darkest" as more of a mystery/thriller, but this ended up being way more of a horror book. Horror books don't really ever have an impact on me, but I actually found this to be pretty creepy and unsettling. Though, I think that the horror of the final act got a little lost by being over-the-top. It seemed a little too ambitious for what the rest of the book had been. The horror elements were best when Cottingham took a more subtle approach, letting the eeriness creep up on you. Overall, I had a lot of fun with this, though it took me a bit to get there. And with that ending, I can see Cottingham choosing to turn this into a series! I would be thrilled to read more in this world, especially following these great characters to Boston and maybe finding some spooky stuff there? I'm feeling a dark academia horror! I highly recommend this to any mystery/thriller/horror readers, any sapphic lit. readers, or anyone wanting to dabble in paranormal fiction! This is a great one to start with. Also, great for any fans of "The Grimrose Girls." Kayla Cottingham is an author to watch! Pros: Sapphic yearning Creepy Great cast of characters Cons: Predictable Underdeveloped/Loose ends Underwhelming final act "My Dearest Darkest" - 4/5 Stars

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kera’s Always Reading

    What would you do if your wishes were granted? What would you give to have your dreams come true? Welcome to Rainwater, Maine where Ulalume Academy sits. After an audition to land a spot in the competitive school, Finch and her parents get into an accident, plunging them into a watery grave. But Finch doesn't die. Instead, she arose something ancient. In saving her, this ancient monster has awakened and Finch will never be the same. My Dearest Darkest was an eerie and vivid story about a group of What would you do if your wishes were granted? What would you give to have your dreams come true? Welcome to Rainwater, Maine where Ulalume Academy sits. After an audition to land a spot in the competitive school, Finch and her parents get into an accident, plunging them into a watery grave. But Finch doesn't die. Instead, she arose something ancient. In saving her, this ancient monster has awakened and Finch will never be the same. My Dearest Darkest was an eerie and vivid story about a group of friends who uncover a mysterious black eyed girl in the sea caves. She seems like a godsend, offering them favors out of kindness. Only they soon realize she isn't acting out of kindness, but offering gifts born from sacrifice. And what she wants is more than anyone bargained for. Finch has this really strong, but unwanted connection to the girl, Nerosi and the more she starts to understand the connection, the more she fears for this group of girls... and herself. Selena and her friends have all bargained with Nerosi and as she starts digging into the ancient history surrounding the girl, the more it becomes clear that they never should have dealt with Nerosi in the first place. But one good thing has come from all of this. She is utterly smitten with the new girl, Finch. Together, they will have to figure out what is really going on and attempt to stop this all from happening again. I really enjoyed the creepy factor in this book. Cottingham dis a really good job of painting a horrific and unsettling picture. I read some of this at night in bed and I actually started freaking myself out... I love that! I also really loved the lesbian and bisexual rep in this book. I loved the maneuvering through a mutual attraction while neither girl is aware that the other is interested. It was cute! I also really enjoyed the monstrous element in this book. I thought the idea behind Nerosi was really scary and well written.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    2.5 Stars I really went back and forth over whether this should be 2 or 3 stars, but I rounded up because I really liked the idea behind the book - it was just the execution that didn't really do it for me. The book opens with Finch pretty much dying after seeing this mysterious figure in the road causing her father to crash their car. We don't really know all that happened that night because right after Finch fades to black, we jump ahead in the story. I get this is for mystery purposes so I wen 2.5 Stars I really went back and forth over whether this should be 2 or 3 stars, but I rounded up because I really liked the idea behind the book - it was just the execution that didn't really do it for me. The book opens with Finch pretty much dying after seeing this mysterious figure in the road causing her father to crash their car. We don't really know all that happened that night because right after Finch fades to black, we jump ahead in the story. I get this is for mystery purposes so I went with it. However, as the book went on and the idea stayed interesting, the characters did not. In fact, I actually didn't really like the characters at all (mostly the "cool kids" clique). This clique of girls were pretty much horrible - even Selena who I think we were supposed to care about. Not too mention, they were just flat out dumb. Actions have consequences so I didn't feel sorry for them when all the shit came tumbling down. I can definitely see where The Craft references came into play. A new loner girl comes to town and meets the popular clique. Soon everyone wants to be them and they all start mysteriously changing (aka getting hotter) but then OMG EVIL! And let's talk about the Evil in this book. Like what exactly was it (she?)? We get a brief explanation before the ending and we're just supposed to be satisfied with this? Where's her backstory? Where did she come from? How did she get there? I was really missing the leg work for the mystery - you know the part in the movies where they get their research on and give exposition. So much just seemed glossed over with the big bad as if to just get to the showdown. Idk, it was an okay debut for me. A lot of people loved it though, so please definitely check it out for yourself if you like horror.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for allowing me to read this ARC! Content Warning: death, murder, violence/gore, homophobia, biphobia, forced outing (mentioned), racism, body horror, anxiety/panic attacks (mentioned). Ulalume Academy is highly competitive, home to only the country's best of the best. Finch Chamberlin is the newest transfer student, musically-talented and hoping that perhaps she'll be able to start fresh at a new school. Months before school starts, however, Finch gets Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for allowing me to read this ARC! Content Warning: death, murder, violence/gore, homophobia, biphobia, forced outing (mentioned), racism, body horror, anxiety/panic attacks (mentioned). Ulalume Academy is highly competitive, home to only the country's best of the best. Finch Chamberlin is the newest transfer student, musically-talented and hoping that perhaps she'll be able to start fresh at a new school. Months before school starts, however, Finch gets into a horrible accident -- one that takes the lives of both her parents. Afterwards, Finch isn't the same... and it isn't just PTSD and grief that's the problem. Something brought Finch back from death, deep beneath the mysterious waters of the Peninsula that Ulalume rests on. Something ancient, and hungry. While she's struggling to figure out what exactly happened, she meets Selena St. Clair, a privileged mean girl who has it out for Finch after an unfortunate incident. But when Selena and her friend group get involved with the being Finch awakened, it inadvertently brings Selena and Finch together -- and the rest of them onto a collision course they're desperately trying to escape. This beautiful debut, in spite of its rather dark subject matter and sometimes gory content, felt like getting a warm hug. It reminded me of all things I loved growing up, and in many ways, this book is like a dream for a sixteen-year-old version of myself. There's everything you could want: a sapphic romance, an elite boarding school, eldritch monsters, and a storyline that kept me eagerly reading. It's pitched as being a mixture of the Wilder Girls meets The Craft, but I'm not sure either of those comparisons really fit the tone of My Dearest Darkest. Tonally, it's a combination of humor and darkness, and to me, has a hint of lightness in it that keeps you filled with hope throughout the entirety of the novel. Cottingham's writing style really brought it all together for me. Although it's simplistic, there are some truly beautiful similes peppered throughout, and I was so relieved to see that it was in third-person, past-tense. I'll admit that the young adult genre hasn't been my favorite these last few years, particularly because of the navel-gazing, painfully dry style that's taken over, and so for me, this was like a breath of fresh air. We also get both Finch's POV and Selena's as well, and I found that this helped me to stay engaged with the story (seeing as they are often going through similar, but different circumstances) and to really find myself connecting with both of them. Speaking of, I loved both Finch and Selena, and I also loved the way that their relationship played out. It never felt rushed, which I was concerned about -- they start out as enemies, and although I would say they end up becoming friends rather quickly, the rest of their romantic attraction develops in a way that feels totally and completely natural. There was something truly genuine about their interactions, and I particularly liked their discussions that centered around sexuality, emotions and love. This is a book that proudly allows its protagonist to say she is a lesbian, which is often treated as a dirty word, specifically in YA books. Selena, too, is pretty much entirely open about her bisexuality, and I can't emphasize enough how much I enjoyed the representation here! The side characters did feel a bit more one-dimensional, but I think that probably has something to do with the focus and centering on Finch and Selena. I do wish that they had gotten a bit more character development, but I liked them all -- especially Risa, a Japanese transfer student who is a member of Selena's pretty, talented, bad bitch clique. She was rife with potential, and I would love to see a book dedicated entirely to her! My other favorites were Kyra (who I loved to hate) and Simon, who reminded me a bit of myself with his ADHD hyperfixation on cryptids. All in all, in spite of the fact that I felt they lacked a bit of history beyond their stories on the page, they helped to make the story feel more well-rounded and whole. The inclusivity in the story was wonderful, casual and excellently rendered. As for the plot, it was engaging, quick, and in my opinion, nicely paced with the rest of the story. The horror aspects were chilling and fascinating, the atmosphere enough to send a shiver down my spine. All in all, it's both simplest and truest to just say that this novel captivated me from the very first page, and it quickly made its way onto my favorites list. Very, very highly recommended, and I cannot wait to see what Cottingham will come up with next!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    My Dearest Darkest hooked me early on with a Jennifer’s Body quote on page one (the ever iconic “hell is a teenage girl”) but never really lived up to this high watermark. I admire the commitment both to getting this book published -a 10 year journey is no small feat- and I loved how queer and body horror centric the final act was, but the execution just wasn’t there for me. I felt like I was watching the action unfold from on high rather than immersed in the folklore small town horror show. The My Dearest Darkest hooked me early on with a Jennifer’s Body quote on page one (the ever iconic “hell is a teenage girl”) but never really lived up to this high watermark. I admire the commitment both to getting this book published -a 10 year journey is no small feat- and I loved how queer and body horror centric the final act was, but the execution just wasn’t there for me. I felt like I was watching the action unfold from on high rather than immersed in the folklore small town horror show. The dialogue was so stilted that I was even further taken out of the action. It very much had a Steve Buscemi “Fellow kids” meme-like quality to it. (To those of you who get that reference, let’s be friends!) All told, the final action sequence was pretty fun, and I loved all the subtle nods to Jennifer’s Body including: the band engaged in cultish activity on a desperate quest for fame, the scene set at the abandoned swimming pool, and of course a glorious succubus monster in full demonic rage mode. But at the end of the day, I’d much rather hit play on the Kusama/Cody underrated masterpiece for my millionth rewatch than spend more time on this review :)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karen Barber

    Our story begins with talented musician Finch Chamberlain heading to the prestigious Ulalume Academy for an audition. The audition goes well, though Finch finds herself making trouble for student Selena St Clair. She is desperate for acceptance and expresses the view she’d do anything to get in. Next thing we know, a stag with eight eyes appears on the road in front of them, her father crashes the car and Finch and her parents are plunged into the river. With our main character dying in the open Our story begins with talented musician Finch Chamberlain heading to the prestigious Ulalume Academy for an audition. The audition goes well, though Finch finds herself making trouble for student Selena St Clair. She is desperate for acceptance and expresses the view she’d do anything to get in. Next thing we know, a stag with eight eyes appears on the road in front of them, her father crashes the car and Finch and her parents are plunged into the river. With our main character dying in the opening chapter, and then starting at the Academy, it was clear from early on that this was not going to be an ordinary read. Finch hears a strange voice, her hair has turned white and she quickly finds herself wandering the tunnels below the academy where she seems to conjure a spirit known as Nerosi. Suspend your disbelief. The girls at this school are ultra competitive, so for them to make their own deal with the devil in exchange for their heart’s desire makes sense. Initially the demands are fairly straightforward. The girls get flawless skin and increased popularity. Of course, it doesn’t take long for the demands to become a little harder to fulfil. Much of the book focuses on the strange entity known as Nerosi, and the links between her appearance and strange events that took place in the town decades earlier. Finch and her new friends start to grow wary of exactly what is being asked of them and we soon see something evil has been unleashed. Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this in advance of publication. Some of the background characters felt undeveloped, and Finch’s questioning of her sexuality felt like a means to shift the plot forward. However, it was an intriguing idea.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Other Rachel

    Before Finch Chamberlin died, she made a wish. Now she's somehow alive and a student at the prestigious Ulalume Academy. The secret to her survival? It's connected to the urban legends about an eight-eyed deer and a long-gone band. Something is wrong, something is repeating... Cottingham starts her debut strong by setting the scene and mood. A rain-drenched boarding school, a car falling into the water, a desperate plea. While it takes time to build up the suspense with two storylines, Finch's i Before Finch Chamberlin died, she made a wish. Now she's somehow alive and a student at the prestigious Ulalume Academy. The secret to her survival? It's connected to the urban legends about an eight-eyed deer and a long-gone band. Something is wrong, something is repeating... Cottingham starts her debut strong by setting the scene and mood. A rain-drenched boarding school, a car falling into the water, a desperate plea. While it takes time to build up the suspense with two storylines, Finch's investigating her new abilities and former mean girl Selena watching her friends make a deal with a demon, there are plenty of clues in the background to satisfy readers. Side characters do a great job, especially Simon, of asking critical questions about the horror genre and help advance the plot. The vague sense of ease is balanced well with the budding queer romance between Finch and Selena, but Cottingham's real strength is establishing the history. The details of the monster's victims and the resulting investigation by Finch, Serena, and Simon have to be my favorite parts. This is where the author's knowledge of horror comes into play the most, drawing on familiar tropes from classic cult films like The Craft. Whereas the horror was present and fun, the storyline dragged with the antagonists' shallow personalities. I would have loved to see more of their struggle, the narrative asking them why they wanted more power. With so much of the local history seeped in monsters and demon deals, I was also expecting some of the school's perfect glamor to fade. There had to be more people in the past making deals with Nerossi... Nonetheless, My Darkest Dearest is a bloody fun debut full of messy teenage girls and dead things. It is perfect for fans of The Craft and early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer due to the school setting and excellent use of horror tropes.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Siofra

    Hello, new favourite darker read! This is a must for all spooky, dark lovers to buy and add to the Halloween reads! Thank you to Sourcefire Books and NetGalley for allowing me early access to this book and allowing me to review it before its release on March 29th, honestly! With the classic cult vibes of the Craft, Jennifer's body and Supernatural (the darker seasons, 1-3), My Dearest Darkest is a seductively good read when you want a mixture of supernatural and moral horror! Even worth a small b Hello, new favourite darker read! This is a must for all spooky, dark lovers to buy and add to the Halloween reads! Thank you to Sourcefire Books and NetGalley for allowing me early access to this book and allowing me to review it before its release on March 29th, honestly! With the classic cult vibes of the Craft, Jennifer's body and Supernatural (the darker seasons, 1-3), My Dearest Darkest is a seductively good read when you want a mixture of supernatural and moral horror! Even worth a small body part or two... The beginning of this book was something to get into, but by chapter 6, you are in for the long haul. The story grips you as these girls spiral into their desires and fall prey to a manipulative wish granter. I loved how the girls were all suspicious, but you could see how it waved when they were desperate OR when the holds of the creature got to them. The flashbacks and echoes from the last folks to fall prey to the creature added to the urgency and questioned how easy it was to give in. It was just a well-designed and intertwined story. I loved the effortless LGBTQA+ representation and honest complexation of the characters from their first introductions to their end scene (Finch has a great character arc, and so did Selena), AND we got an excellent callout about white privilege and assumptions. All in all, a fantastic read, Staff pick for sure!

  30. 4 out of 5

    I'm All Booked Up YA

    Rating: DNF Unfortunately, we had a lot of trouble getting into this book. The writing felt distant and too many characters were introduced at once. This book just wasn't for us. Blog | Twitter | Instagram Rating: DNF Unfortunately, we had a lot of trouble getting into this book. The writing felt distant and too many characters were introduced at once. This book just wasn't for us. Blog | Twitter | Instagram

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