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Pretty Marys All in a Row

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You’ll find her on a lonely highway, hitchhiking at midnight. She calls herself Rhee, but everyone else knows her by another name: Resurrection Mary. And when she’s transported home each night to a decrepit mansion on a lane to nowhere, she’s not alone.

In the antique mirror, call her name three times, and Bloody Mary will appear. Outside, wandering through a garden of poisonous flowers is Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary, a nursery rhyme come to gruesome life. Downstairs is another jump-rope rhyme—Mary Mack, forever conscripted to build her own coffin. And brooding in the corner with her horse skull is the restless Mari Lwyd.

They are the Marys, the embodiment of urban legend and what goes bump in the night. Every evening, they gather around the table and share nightmares like fine wine, savoring the flavors of those they’ve terrified.

But other than these brief moments together, the Marys are alone, haunting a solitary gloom that knows them better than they know themselves. That’s because they don’t remember who they were before—or even if there was a before. And worst of all, they don’t know how to escape this fate.

That is, until a moment of rage inspires Rhee to leap from the highway—and into the mirror with Bloody Mary. Suddenly, the Marys are learning how to move between their worlds, all while realizing how much stronger they are together.

But just when freedom is within their reach, something in the gloom fights back—something that isn’t ready to let them go. Now with her sisters in danger of slipping into the darkness, Rhee must unravel the mystery of who the Marys were before they were every child’s nightmare. And she’ll have to do it before what’s in the shadows comes to claim her for its own.

94 pages, Paperback

First published November 28, 2017

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About the author

Gwendolyn Kiste

103 books520 followers
Gwendolyn Kiste is the three-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, Reluctant Immortals, Boneset & Feathers, and Pretty Marys All in a Row, among others. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in outlets including Lit Hub, Nightmare, Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vastarien, Tor Nightfire, Titan Books, and The Dark. She's a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and her fiction has also received the This Is Horror award for Novel of the Year as well as nominations for the Premios Kelvin and Ignotus awards.

Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, their excitable calico cat, and not nearly enough ghosts. Find her online at gwendolynkiste.com

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 69 reviews
Profile Image for Richard.
981 reviews354 followers
February 14, 2018
Mary Mack. Mistress Mary. Mari Lwyd. Resurrection Mary. Bloody Mary. They’ve been the subjects of terrifying legends or strange nursery rhymes for ages. Have you ever wondered what’s beyond their creepy songs and sightings? In her haunting new novella, talented, on-the-rise author Gwendolyn Kiste aims to explore their stories more, not necessarily their origins mind you, because that’s boring, but explore where they go and what they do when they’re not disturbing us.
Once upon a time, the darkness stole my life from me. Now it's stealing my hereafter too.
Kiste uses the same twisted fairytale style that I loved in her fantastic debut collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, to tell a story of the Mary’s as a reluctant family of spirits who must feed on the fear of the living for sustenance and what they attempt to do to break their curse. She twists these urban legends in a new way and once again gives us a memorable story wrapped in lovely prose and potent imagery. The action and resolution in the book might be a bit vague, but its emphasis is more on mood and atmosphere and it has that stuff in spades!
The voice will be there again in the ballroom, my unlikely partner as I dance to music no one else can hear. And I won't run from it. I'll stand here, firm and stubborn against the night. If the darkness wants me, I'll make it wait.
Profile Image for Mindi.
798 reviews264 followers
August 26, 2018
I have officially found a new favorite author. Gwendolyn Kiste has a gift for fantastic storytelling, and I'm over the moon to have found her.

I absolutely adore the way Kiste takes fairy tales, urban legends, and nursery rhymes and weaves them into her own dark tales. In Pretty Marys All in a Row the five Marys are phantoms who live together in a rundown mansion at night, feeding each other the fear they have collected in order to stay vibrant and retain their traditional roles. Resurrection Mary, or Rhee, hitchhikes the same lonely highway every night. Bloody Mary appears in your mirror if you dare to whisper her name three times. Mary Mack all dressed in black is forever building her own coffin, while Mari Lwyd (a Welsh folklore Mary) carries the skull of a horse with her everywhere. The last Mary, Mistress Mary, is quite contrary and acts as the matriarch of the group, when she isn't tending her garden. They all consider themselves sisters though, and feel a strong connection to one another. However, some of the Marys are falling into obscurity, and they are starting to rely on Rhee and Bloody Mary to keep them going. And now there is a shadow presence who threatens all the Marys, and only Rhee knows about the threats that he whispers to her in the dark.

I love how Kiste takes all these women from old nursery rhymes and urban legends and breathes new life into them. Sadly, a number of these Marys are becoming obscure in real life, as these old chants and nursery rhymes fall out of use. I had to look up Mari Lwyd, who was a wassailing folk custom in South Wales. At Christmas men would carry a horse skull under sackcloth and sing at the doors of houses, much like caroling. The tradition has declined though, and that makes her part in the story even more relevant. I remember chanting about Mary Mack during a clapping game as a child, but my husband had never heard of her. The stories and the traditions around each Mary are slowly becoming obscure, and Kiste uses this to craft an enchanting story that blends horror, fantasy, and folklore all into one. I'm so in love with her stories, and the way she rewrites old stories and legends with such a fresh and invigorating voice. I cannot wait to read more from Kiste.
Profile Image for Jack.
Author 4 books126 followers
July 19, 2018
One of the shortest and most frustrating reads of 2018 for me, Pretty Marys all in a Row really had the potential to be something truly amazing. But though the initial concept is quite unique (and just damn cool as well), author Gwendolyn Kiste just couldn’t quite stick the landing. And that was where the frustration came from; I really really REALLY wanted this book to deliver on the awesome premise. And damn, just look at that cover!

The highway, my forever companion, is a trimming of black satin before me, and I stand perfectly still at the center of it, the soles of my heels resting on the solid yellow lines.

The odd thing with PMAIAR is that it starts out quite good, but loses focus as it goes. This is one of the only books I recall reading that doesn’t get better as you progress through it. Most of the time, a book takes a minute to really get going, as the author has to find the right balance of plot and character building. Then, a few chapters in, everything coalesces and the book takes off. Sadly, the opposite is true here. Gwendolyn Kiste starts everything off perfectly, with some beautifully composed sentences and a tight and intriguing narrative, but then she either tried to rush to the ending or simply didn’t have much of a plan for where to go after her characters were introduced. Whatever the case may be, the ending just feels incomplete and too simply resolved.

As with all of my reviews, if at all possible, I will keep spoilers to a minimum. If it’s not mentioned in the official book synopsis, I will do my level best to avoid mentioning it here.

But regardless of my personal nitpicks, make no mistake, this is absolutely my kind of book. Dead & tragic girls haunting the living and literally feeding off their fear? Check. A little bit of supernatural mystery? Check. Bizarre rules for the afterlife (even without a Handbook for the Recently Deceased)? Check! I thoroughly loved what was established here, and I wanted much more of it. But though we are given a great setting and characters with some solid built-in backstory potential, none of it is explored in a satisfying way.

Though Bloody Mary features in the book, she is not the main character. That honor is reserved for Resurrection Mary, who haunts a lonely stretch of mountain highway, terrifying those foolish enough to offer her a ride. She is our only POV character, so the rest of the undead Marys are seen and explained through her viewpoint. Each Mary has a neat defining trait, but sadly aren’t developed much past that. Resurrection Mary is a decent enough protagonist; she cares for her ghostly sisters, she has a yearning and tragic love for a mortal man, and she has a love/hate relationship with scaring the living. I liked that she refused to just accept her ghostly status, and kept trying to push the boundaries and rules, even though she rarely knows what they are. Sadly, because this book is so short, we really don’t get to know much more about her.

He wanted a make-out session, but I guess I’ve never kissed quite the way the boys like.

That goes for her “sisters” as well. Other scary Marys from history (real or otherwise) are present, but they are barely fleshed out (so to speak). Bloody Mary gets the most page time (though she is trapped behind a mirror and can’t actually physically interact with anyone) as she and Resurrection Mary are friends. But we also have Mary Mack (perpetually working on a coffin), Mistress Mary (always working in her garden, and with the visage of a plant), and Mari Lwyd (carrying a horse skull and far too petulant for her own good). And aside David (Resurrection Mary’s mortal love interest) and his daughter, these are the only characters we really get. Sure, there are few of the folks that the various Marys haunt, but they are only present for a few pages.

We still breathe, though our lungs take in no air. Our bodies are skilled at make-believe, carrying out the sacraments of lives we lost long ago. It aches inside me how close we are to existing yet how agonizingly far away.

The story’s antagonist is also a missed opportunity, which is a shame, as he had potential. His whole reason for keeping the Marys tethered to the one house was something that should have been expanded on, as it could have provided more depth and danger than it actually did. Much like the various Marys, because this book was so short, we barely have time to feel the threat from the villain before the big confrontation. I say big, but it actually really wasn’t. He goes down rather easily, which is especially strange given how strong he is supposed to be. It’s really a case of evil for the sake of evil, and that never bodes well for a villain.

For a story about ghostly spirits that haunt the living for their sustenance, there really isn’t much actual scaring going on. These are pre-teen level scares at best. Again, so much potential, but not enough pages actually dedicated to said potential. Unfortunately, that seems to be just how the book is. So many cool things that are not explored, or introduced but never built upon. We never know why anything is, it just is because it is.

Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary. How does your garden grow? Not with silver bells and cockle shells, that’s for sure. More like barbs and venom and insults.

What gets the most page time by far is the doomed love between Resurrection Mary and David. Though I rarely like how love stories are handled in books, I actually really enjoyed this tragic little love dynamic, even though David is married and has a child, not to mention that he’s alive and Mary isn’t. I liked that he and Mary had a history, and that neither of them was unable to let go, even though they knew nothing could come from their attraction. It came across as innocent and heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time, which is how love really feels. I also like that it doesn’t quite play out like you think it will. So kudos to Gwendolyn Kiste for NOT taking the easy road with that part of the story.

The shadows reveal the deep grooves around his eyes and the sunspots speckling his cheeks. Peaks and valleys, the topography of a life. He ages, but I do not, and we both envy the other for it.

Ultimately, I feel that this is one of those books that would be perfect for a re-write and expansion. It’s one hell of a cool world that has been established, and everything could be fleshed out and expanded upon to give much greater impact. Gwendolyn Kiste obviously has the chops; she just needs to let her story breathe and grow.
Profile Image for Eddie Generous.
637 reviews74 followers
November 15, 2017
Unnerving Magazine Review
Mary is a name synonymous with ghosts, the kind of lurking visages that come when called and scare with presence rather than action. This is a tale that explores these Marys trapped in ghastly duty, and, damn, what an intriguing idea.
It’s interesting in a way beyond a single note and the progression of the story is unpredictable, impressive. This probably in part because it’s a topic I’ve never considered, but now am thinking about, wondering the how and why of the name and the games we as humans play to trick and scare ourselves. This is a notion that occurs the world over: summoning Mary.
Pretty Marys All in a Row has a noticeably Bradbury feel to its somewhat whimsical and yet bleak tone. Gwendolyn Kiste is a writer with style and voice and she shows this once again here. This story is curious and at times riveting and suspenseful. It visits the idea that attention breeds power and skews it into a strange, supernatural, grim mystery, packed neatly into just fewer than one hundred pages. 
Strong visuals and emotional demands snug up nicely to the clean and quick prose. There's something real and understandable about that stretch of road imprisoning the hero and Kiste does a fine job of exploiting the sensation. Another impressive outing.
Profile Image for Robert Vanneste.
197 reviews21 followers
January 9, 2019
3.5 . An original story or to me anyway . It was inconsistent in places but overall an easy read .
Profile Image for Orrin Grey.
Author 86 books302 followers
January 23, 2019
One part Candyman, one part Final Girls, stir until it's something that feels like you could play it as a World of Darkness expansion, and you've got an idea of Gwendolyn Kiste's brilliant little novella. Four of the five Marys may be drawn in broad strokes, but they're drawn so as to always leave you wanting more, especially Mary Mack, perpetually building her own coffin, and petulant Mari Lwyd, quaffing mead from her horse skull.

Short enough to be read in an evening but expansive enough that it feels much bigger on the inside than it is from without, Pretty Marys is a breezier and ultimately more empowering read than you may be used to from the horror corner, but no less potent a cocktail for its lack of depressants. Like the book's human supporting characters, Gwendolyn Kiste knows that it can be fun to be scared. So light some candles and settle in front of the mirror and let her conjure up a shivery little ghost story for a summer night.
Profile Image for Yolanda Sfetsos.
Author 69 books176 followers
January 7, 2019
I first heard about this novella on Twitter, where several people mentioned how good it was. So I picked up a copy late last year with the intention of reading it in 2019.

Resurrection Mary. Bloody Mary. Mistress Mary Quite Contrary. Mary Mack. Mari Lwyd. We all know the names from urban legends, nursery rhymes and old myths, but no one knows how they spend their afterlives when they're not haunting.

Well, this is that story.

Rhee spends her time haunting a stretch of highway and grieving over her lost love. Red waits inside a mirror until she's summoned. Mistress plagues the garden with her poisonous plants. Mack is always in the basement building her own coffin. And Lew, from the forgotten Welsh story, carries the skull of her horse with her and drinks too much.

These five Marys live in a house together. They've become sisters and share the fear they've collected from the living at the dinner table. But something strange is happening. There's a darkness seeking them out. One that will surely destroy them...

Wow. This is such a great story!

Not only is the concept amazing--I'm a sucker for urban legends and myths--but the writing style hooked me in from the very beginning.

The story is told by Rhee, and her voice is so haunting and interesting that I got caught up in this unique ghost story so deeply my fingers itched to grab my Paperwhite so I could read a little bit more. To squeeze in another chapter between doing stuff... until I read the last half in one sitting.

I love stories like these. The ones that feature tormented girls and are told in a whimsical manner full of horrific imagery, narrated in such a lyrical way that it becomes eerily beautiful. Tales of forgotten girls, lost and damaged girls, victims of violence so often forgotten. This story captures ALL of that and so much more.

I'm so glad I've finally read this awesome book. I definitely have to read more books written by this author.

And btw, I LOVE the cover.
Profile Image for Roman Tilcer.
Author 47 books59 followers
July 9, 2021
Ne že bych si z toho vyloženě sedl na zadek, ale je to dobře napsaný, napětí drželo až do konce, bylo o čem přemýšlet. Zároveň to působilo mile, skoro až rozkošně. A řekl bych, že je to naprosto ideální materiál ke zfilmování. :-)
Profile Image for Amie's Book Reviews.
1,502 reviews163 followers
November 22, 2017
In a dilapidated country house with "... trim around the windows the shade of old urine, the faded stonework as dejected as first love" resides a very unusual family."

"We're a house brimming with Mary's, the mortar bursting at the seams with urban legends and deranged nursery rhymes. We don't know how we got here, and we don't know how to leave." 

Thrust together in an afterlife that not a single one of them asked for, are five women, all named Mary.

Each Mary is a ghost and each has their own mystique. For example, most readers have heard of the legend of Bloody Mary and that if you look into a mirror and say "BLOODY MARY" three times, she will appear; dripping blood.

Each night the Marys separate and  head out to haunt people in the style required by their respective legends.

The Marys return home after haunting each night, they gather together around the dining room table and share the night's adventures, just like families everywhere sit together at their kitchen table for supper every night.

The Marys are reasonably happy - as happy as five dead women can be, but their happiness won't last much longer. Something is coming for them and unless they find a way to fight it, they are doomed to an existence where no one can see or hear them - a fate much worse than death.

The storyline is spectacular. Although this novella is only 94 pages long, or perhaps because of its length, no unnecessary scenes are included. This means the action is non-stop and readers will not want to put this book down - they will feel compelled to find out what happens next.

The author has done a superior job of character development and it becomes impossible for the reader to feel negatively toward the Marys. In fact, they become sympathetic characters. Readers will be rooting for the Marys. It may seem strange to empathize with a ghost, but you will understand when you read this book.

Those who enjoy tales of ghosts and of unrequited love will enjoy this book.

I rate PRETTY MARYS ALL IN A ROW as 5 out of 5 Stars. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

To read more of my reviews, enter great giveaways, or to learn more about this author, visit my blog at http://Amiesbookreviews.wordpress.com

Also follow me on Instagram @Amiesbookreviews
Author 9 books33 followers
July 14, 2018
This was an absolutely engrossing read! The original premise is what piqued my interest- a houseful of ghosts, the various Marys of urban legend, leave nightly for hunts and join back together at suppertime to quell their perculiar appetites, a spectral existence of routine- until something comes to disrupt their little "family." An extremely creative take on the folklore. A lovely, meloncholy, thoroughly engaging ghost story.
Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
967 reviews497 followers
July 19, 2019
This book had such promise and I would love to see this premise explored as full novel.

It started off really well the. Just sort of flatlined (pun intended) and became really rushed in the last couple of chapters.

I loved all the Mary’s we were introduced to; some I had never heard of before.
Profile Image for Kasey Ashton.
192 reviews6 followers
February 19, 2019

What a fun and amazing novella! I loved the concept, the writing, the characters, and story. I would love to revisit this world again in another story!
Profile Image for Michael LeSueur.
Author 3 books11 followers
January 13, 2019
Fantastic read. Hauntings, explorations of famous female myths/urban legends, and creative takes on said figures? What is there not to love? Looking forward to reading more of Gwendolyn's future work!
Profile Image for Morgan.
Author 11 books6 followers
August 6, 2018
Part of the reason American Gods works is that it offers a kind of reward to folk lore mavens and religious study majors. Do you have a working familiarity with obscure Northern European mythologies? Are you able to describe what Neil Gaiman got right and what he fudged a bit in terms of the Egyptian religion? Then the guessing games of that novel - just which Middle Eastern Goddess is this? - magnify its other charms.

"Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste (released by Broken Eye Books), is a novella for people, like me, who are waiting impatiently for the next season of Bryan Fuller's show. It's not set in that universe, certainly, but approaches the question of folklore from a similar perspective. Namely, that myths have a definite, physical explanation and your knowledge of such things will expand your enjoyment of the work. In the case of Pretty Marys, the stories are urban legends and nursery rhymes about young women. The main character, Rhee, is named after Resurrection Mary, a famous 'vanishing hitchhiker' ghost from the Midwest and her 'sisters,' Mistress, Red, Mack and Lew, all come from similar sources.

Having read many of Kiste's stories and counting myself an ardent fan, I can happily report that Kiste's craft and artistic ambitions are all very much in top form here. This is the first long-form fiction of hers I've read but it will not be the last. Her wit and polished style scale up nicely and added up to a read that ended much too soon.

The mechanics of the Mary's afterlife have a pleasing ambiguity to them. I'm reminded of "Archivist Wasp," by Nicole Kornher-Stace, a post-apocalyptic ghost tale from a couple of years back. Like Kornher-Stace, Kiste adopts certain tropes of ghost tales only to subvert them later. Rhee is certainly dead and insubstantial, and her habit of terrifying those unlucky enough to encounter her fit the bill for a phantom. However, in ways both small and large, a reader sees Rhee's fate is not a 'natural' state but rather the product of a sinister trap. Even though she is dead, she still needs to eat. Terrorizing random drivers gives her sustenance that must be shared with her 'family.' Not all of the Marys have the same ability to wrench psychic pain from mortals and the ability of the Marys to scare people is clearly waning. As much as Rhee might like to escape her home, a shadowy mansion located outside of the physical world, she feels obligated to help and care for her sisters.

A chance encounter with a person from Mary's her life pre-resurrection awakens her to an understanding that although she is dead, her half-life as a shade is drawing to a close. Already, a new generation of Marys are being groomed to take their place in the Mansion.

What fascinated me about the story is the relationship between Rhee and the legend to which she becomes bound. Rhee is not simply Resurrection Mary. The same myth that sustains the Marys' twilight existence also chains them to hungers of a much more powerful and frightening force. A very clear line is drawn between how the roles the characters inhabit in the afterlife - maiden, mother, matron, mourner, and monster - seduce and enlist the next group of Marys. The stories they are unwitting participants in produce more storytellers eager to tell them. As Rhee's struggles to free herself and her sisters, she struggles to rewrite our culture's most pernicious fables, the ones so sweet and ubiquitous, we don't even realize why they were written.

Reviewer's Note: I received a PDF version of the novella for the purpose of reviewing the work.
Profile Image for Sarah Budd.
Author 19 books73 followers
October 4, 2017
Its been a long time since I've been really excited to read a book. This one in particular. For those unfamiliar, Gwendolyn Kiste is a rapidly rising star on the indie horror scene. Over the last few years she has published many, many stories in all the top horror and speculative fiction magazines such as Black Static, Interzone, Nightmare Magazine, Lamplight, Shimmer and Sanitarium Magazine.

Recently she published her first collection of short stories with JournalStone, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe which contained previously published stories as well as a few originals. Upon release it instantly garnered high praise from many reviewers and readers all over the world. Since then she has written her first novel The Rust Maidens which will be coming out 2018 with Trepidatio Publishing. There is also a novelette in the works which she has co-written with Emily Cataneo who also has a great collection out with JournalStone, Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories.

And her is her first novella, All Pretty Marys in a Row from Broken Eye Books
Pretty Marys All in a Row focuses on the famous Marys found in our modern urban legends and ancient folklore. Are they really as harmless as they seem? Made immortal in childish nursery rhymes and creepy campfire tales they are brought back to life in this tale.

So let's meet the Marys...

"We don't know how we got here, and we don't know how to leave."

First we have Resurrection Mary, a young girl who haunts the highways at night hitchhiking her way with fear. There's Bloody Mary who will appear in a mirror if you say her name three times, next we have Mistress Mary Quite Contrary, Mary Mack who endlessly builds her own coffin and finally Mari Lwyd.

Each evening they gather to feast, not on food but on fear which they hunt for. Apart from that they are mostly solitary creatures carving out an existence not knowing who they are, forgetting what they were and how they came to be here. They adhere unquestioning to strict rules and regimented routines from which they never deviate.

That is until their way of life is threatened. They are no longer alone, there is a voice in the darkness. Rhee aka Resurrection Mary fights back and soon begins to question her entire existence. Who has imposed these rules on them and are they more powerful than the Marys? Soon they realise they are stronger together than apart but is their power enough?

Pretty Marys All in a Row is a ghost story mingled with folklore and urban legends. It really delves into the life of a ghost and what it means to be alive and free. Again, like with all her stories the writing is wonderful, dark with a literary edge. She adds beauty to dark stories. Her masterful command of prose is deeply evocative you really feel like you are there with Rhee standing on the highway.

I love the thinking behind the story, its really out there offering a really fresh perspective on tales we all take for granted. Pretty Marys All in Row is deeply moving. It is a story of survival after tragedy, of never giving up and finding the strength within you.

It is also a very haunting tale, of not knowing what is out there beyond our mortal world. This is a tale you will want to read again and again. After reading this, I simply can't wait for more tales from Gwendolyn Kiste!

Pretty Marys All in a Row will be released in Auntumn/Winter 2017 by Broken Eye Books

Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 30 books109 followers
December 24, 2017
Legends of deadly ghosts and mythical entities have been around since the dawn of time. However there are several myths about various paranormal entities named Mary, and in author Gwendolyn Kiste's book Pretty Marys All in a Row a new story about the infamous Marys arises, and it's a whirlwind story that fans of horror and speculative fiction will love. Here's the synopsis:

You’ll find her on a lonely highway, hitchhiking at midnight. She calls herself Rhee, but everyone else knows her by another name: Resurrection Mary. And when she’s transported home each night to a decrepit mansion on a lane to nowhere, she’s not alone.

In the antique mirror, call her name three times, and Bloody Mary will appear. Outside, wandering through a garden of poisonous flowers is Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary, a nursery rhyme come to gruesome life. Downstairs is another jump-rope rhyme—Mary Mack, forever conscripted to build her own coffin. And brooding in the corner with her horse skull is the restless Mari Lwyd.

They are the Marys, the embodiment of urban legend and what goes bump in the night. Every evening, they gather around the table and share nightmares like fine wine, savoring the flavors of those they’ve terrified.

But other than these brief moments together, the Marys are alone, haunting a solitary gloom that knows them better than they know themselves. That’s because they don’t remember who they were before—or even if there was a before. And worst of all, they don’t know how to escape this fate.

That is, until a moment of rage inspires Rhee to leap from the highway—and into the mirror with Bloody Mary. Suddenly, the Marys are learning how to move between their worlds, all while realizing how much stronger they are together.

But just when freedom is within their reach, something in the gloom fights back—something that isn’t ready to let them go. Now with her sisters in danger of slipping into the darkness, Rhee must unravel the mystery of who the Marys were before they were every child’s nightmare. And she’ll have to do it before what’s in the shadows comes to claim her for its own.

I have to say, this is one of my favorite reads of 2017. I love creative new takes on myths and legends, and this book had a fantastic use of a new spin on several legends. The friendship and sisterhood between the Marys, especially Bloody Mary and Resurrection Mary, was such a fantastic twist to the tale. Seeing these characters bond and become so much more than their dark haunted history is a breath of fresh air to the legends, and although this book was short, it had a big impact in such a short amount of time.

The writing was spectacular. The vivid imagery used was so creative and painted an incredible picture in my mind as I read it. The character's were the definite highlight of the book, while the complex narrative told a unique story that brought a new light to the darkness surrounding these legendary characters.

Overall this was a wonderful story that you guys need to read. The characters alone are worth the purchase, but the incredible story and smart writing showcases the fantastic command author Gwendolyn Kiste has over the speculative fiction genre. If you haven't yet, be sure to pick up your copies of Pretty Marys All in a Row today!
Profile Image for Maria Haskins.
Author 47 books121 followers
October 29, 2017
Dark, twisted, strange, eerie, and moving, all at the same time, this is a beautifully written ghost story with a twist (or two, or three... or more). Because while most ghost stories are told from the perspective of the living being haunted by the dead, Kiste's novella is told from the point of view of a ghost: Rhee, who haunts a stretch of highway and delights (at least sometimes) in frightening those driving down that road. She lives in a strange world between the living world and the afterlife, a world she shares with her family of sisters - a fabulous collection of original ghost-characters.

There is darkness gnawing at the edges of Mary's world - regret, longing, loneliness - but also a physically present darkness that seems intent on threatening Rhee and her ghostly family's already precarious existence.

I love this story: it's gripping and kept me turning the pages eagerly, and the sadness and longing beneath the darkness and the horror really resonated with me. I've been a fan of Kiste's short fiction for a while, and this novella is just further proof of what a wonderful and talented author she is.
Profile Image for Cassie Daley.
Author 8 books202 followers
December 20, 2019
Full review: https://letsgetgalactic.com/2018/10/2...

“Our bodies are skilled at make-believe, carrying out the sacraments of lives we lost long ago. It aches inside me how close we are to existing yet how agonizingly far away.”

This was my first book by Gwendolyn Kiste, although I also own AND HER SMILE WILL UNTETHER THE UNIVERSE, which has also been widely recommended by my bookstagram friends. I’m in love with her writing, and with the way she’s been able to create such a unique new world for so many old characters, many of whom I remember from my own childhood.

There are five Marys in the story – Resurrection Mary, Bloody Mary, Mary Mack, Mistress Mary, and Mary Lwyd. They live together in a house that exists somewhere in between worlds (or planes…? It isn’t really explained in detail), and although they’re all dead, they require sustenance in the form of the fear that they get from scaring people. This part felt a little Monsters Inc. to me, which I love, so having a more adultified version of it was lots of fun! Unfortunately, not all of the Marys are as widely feared as the others, and the lack of remembrance of some of these girls is causing them some trouble.

I remember being terrified of the concept of Bloody Mary as a child, and having her written the way she is in this story shows a side to her that I never considered. Mary Mack & Mistress Mary were two that I remembered from nursery rhymes – and didn’t remember being scared of them, although they definitely creep me out a bit more now! I looked up more about Resurrection Mary & Mary Lwyd, and realized I’d heard of both of them – but didn’t remember their names!

Although they share a name, each Mary retains a uniqueness that is completely her own. The story is told from Rhee’s point of view – that is, Resurrection Mary. She wanders a stretch of highway late at night, hitchhiking and terrifying those that are kind enough to pick her up. I liked her character, and her relationship with David – a guy she’d scared when he was a teenager, who has kept coming back to see her despite that they’ll never be able to be together. I normally don’t care for romance bits to be thrown into my horror stories, but this was done really well and I loved the way it ended up for them.

Although this was a really quick read, it managed to pack a lot within its pages. Kiste’s prose is sharp, and the unpredictability of her plot kept me on my toes until the very end. I’m even more excited to read her short story collection now, and I’ll absolutely be picking up THE RUST MAIDENS when it releases next month!
Profile Image for Christa.
Author 28 books158 followers
April 29, 2018
I can distinctly remember the delicious dread that hung over a great many sleepovers when I was ten years old or so, waiting to see if someone would utter the words that meant the evening’s activities were about to take a dark and potentially hair-raising turn: “Do you want to play Bloody Mary?”

Gwendolyn Kiste’s ‘Pretty Marys All in a Row’ perfectly captures the shadowy ambiance of the urban legends that colored so many childhoods, the ghost stories that followed us into adulthood, and continue to haunt and fascinate us. The concept of Kiste’s novella is itself overwhelmingly inspired; not only does she explore the legends of Resurrection and Bloody Mary, but three other fear-inspiring ladies of the same moniker: Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary, Mary Mack, and Mari Lwyd.

In a recent interview for Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi’s ‘Oh, For the Hook of a Book’ Women in Horror month interview series, author Calvin Demmer asked Kiste about the selection process used in choosing which stories to include in her Bram Stoker Award-nominated collection, ‘And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe.’ Kiste subsequently discussed some of her favorite themes to tackle within her work: “body horror, fairy tales, sisterhood, twisted romantic relationships, and of course, otherness and the role of the outsider in pushing back against the confines of society.” From the descriptions of Bloody Mary in her mirror, with blood seeping from her eyes and running down her face, to the use of the urban legends themselves, to the bond among the five ghostly women, to the longing between Rhee and her ever-patient and kind David, to each Mary’s struggle to navigate their afterlife, eliciting scares for nourishment, forging connections with their most loyal pursuers, and ultimately, determining who they are in relation to the stories that define them, ‘Pretty Marys...’ explores these themes Kiste is not only fond of, but quite masterful at portraying.

I highly recommend Gwendolyn Kiste’s ‘Pretty Marys All in a Row.’ This Broken Eye Books novella includes effortlessly-developed, fully fleshed out characters the reader will absolutely root for in their race against the darkness, Kiste’s signature, beautiful prose, and a taut, suspenseful ghost story that is poised to become as oft-pursued as the legends that inspired it.
Profile Image for Matt.
189 reviews3 followers
December 12, 2017
Any fans of Neil Gaiman absolutely needs to own this novella. Gwendolyn Kiste shows us what four urban legends do when they are not haunting a highway, mirror, funeral home, or rural homes. It's something I never really thought about, but love the idea of seeing them all live in a house together, feeding off of fear before being called back away to their infamous haunts. Rhee, the main character, is Resurrection Mary, haunting a stretch of highway, and happens to have a little more power than anyone knew. She has to use this power to save her family, who happen to be losing their touch of haunting people.

I loved this book. The characters are charming and weird. The descriptions of how they haunt, their home life, and interactions with living people are great. The story moves at a great pace to keep you glued to the book, and there is enough of a mystery to keep you guessing.

Like I said, if you are a fan of Neil Gaiman, you'll love this. Kiste did a lot of research on the urban legends and gives you just enough detail to entice you to know more. The interactions between the Marys feel like they are coming straight out of American Gods or Good Omens. I highly, highly recommend you check this out.
Profile Image for Catherine Griffin.
Author 9 books20 followers
January 1, 2018
A ghost story told from the ghost’s point of view.

Trapped in the afterlife, five ghosts named Mary find solace in each other’s company and in curious relationships with the living. But with some of the ghosts fading, can Rhee — otherwise known as Resurrection Mary — free them from the dark force controlling their existence?

While this is a short story, it’s well written, well edited, and rather good. I’m not keen on ghost stories generally but this combines an interesting premise with good characters and dark humour, making an enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Brian Steele.
Author 39 books89 followers
August 29, 2018
Simply put, this is the most utterly fantastic ghost story I’ve read in years. Told from the POV of the dead, it tells the tales of the “Marys.” Some of these Marys you may have heard of before, their names famous in folklore or nursery rhymes, names like Bloody Mary or Resurrection Mary. But despite what you think you know, this story has something else in store. The novella weaves its own mythos, full of twists, and enough emotional depths that I couldn’t read fast enough. I know I gasped out loud twice - it’s that good.
Profile Image for Kevin Lucia.
Author 85 books296 followers
April 14, 2018
Wonderful ghost story - a modern rendition of T. M. Wright at his best. Full review on CDonline soon.
Profile Image for C.E. Clayton.
Author 13 books244 followers
July 31, 2018
Can ghosts die? What turns a ghost into one of the fabled hauntings that eventually become legend? That is the core of what “Pretty Mary’s All In A Row” is about. 5 Mary’s of legend—Bloody Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, Mari Lwyd (who I didn’t know), Mary Mack, and Resurrection Mary—all occupy the same house, going out each night to haunt and return with the fear of their marks in order to feed and sustain their ethereal existence. The problem? 3 of the 5 Mary’s can’t seem to scare anyone anymore—maybe because they aren’t actually ghosts, but I’ll get to that later, and no, it’s not a spoiler. As they begin to fade, something waits in the dark to take them away forever. Basically: an even badder ghost/demon waits in the dark, terrorizing the ghosts themselves. So much haunting, so little time.

When I first started reading this novella, I realized I didn’t know enough about half the Mary’s in it, so I felt like I was missing something that would make this read a bit creepier, which is what I was going for. I love good ghost stories that make my skin crawl! But outside of getting Mary Mack’s nursery rhyme stuck in my head for the next 18 years, there isn’t really a ghost story or haunting attached to Mack, Lwyd, or Mary Quite Contrary. They are nursery rhymes and practices of old that have murky origins at best, but none of my research could find a haunting attached to it. But if I missed something, please let me know! What Kriste attributes to the other Mary’s is pretty interesting and certainly has a higher level of creep factor than the original rhymes—especially Mary Mack!—but the only two “real” ghosts are Bloody Mary and Resurrection Mary—or Rhee, who is our main character.

Kriste’s prose in this novella is incredible. It’s so lovely and heartbreaking that, while the ghosts never scared me or unsettled me the way I wanted, Rhee becomes so tragic and touching that I had all the feels for her and David throughout this short read. All the ghosts are tragic figures, but as we are presented the tale through a first person perspective via Rhee, she became the most heartrending. The stars of this tale are not the hauntings, or even the monster lurking in the shadows waiting for the Mary’s, but the longing and loneliness that Rhee presents with her relationships with David and Red. If you are looking for a pretty light paranormal read that has some eerie imagery but not an overabundance of it, then this novella may scratch that itch for you. But if you are looking for a more traditional ghost story in that you want to be scared and the ghosts feel more like, well, ghosts and less like people you can’t touch, then this may not be the haunting tale you’re looking for.

Ultimately that was the thing that disappointed me about this otherwise well written and lovely read. I have never read Kriste’s full-length novels, but I just may because I really did love the amazing imagery and prose Kriste uses throughout the novella. But I wanted something that was going to leave goosebumps on my skin at night before going to bed. For a bunch of ghosts who feed off fear, very little scaring was going on. Most of the ghosts just seem to be hanging out with friends; they felt like clients the Mary’s visited, not mortals having the crap scared out of them. There is all this potential for the story with this mysterious shadow figure and the various Mary’s that never got explored and it just felt like a missed opportunity that, as the book progressed, became all the more evident. It had such a strong start with all these threads being presented to the reader, but it kind of loses focus and the story never got much better than the beginning. Which is, again, too bad because the writing is perfect for this kind of story. There was just too much going on that didn’t get enough page time due to the short length which made characters feel rather flat when they didn’t need to be. I don’t think there’s enough here for a full novel, but cutting some of the emphasis on Rhee and David to focus on the hauntings or the mysterious shadow figure may have helped.

This interesting take on hauntings of legend is brimming with promises and cool concepts—that never really delivered for me. Again, the writing is great and that cover is just the best there is, but I needed those cool concepts and interesting, tragic characters to be explored more. I needed more actual haunting to satisfy that hair-raising factor I was hoping for. But, like I mentioned, if you want something that is a bit light on the paranormal and scary side, this might be your perfect ghost story novella! I know I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on the author, though, for she is quite the talented writer. But this particular story is a very strong 3.25 stars for me, and thanks to the publisher for providing me a copy for review!
Profile Image for Alexis.
348 reviews26 followers
September 23, 2020
I think I'll challenge myself next year into picking up more work from indy publishers, especially with how hard the entire industry has been hit the last few months.

This author first got on my radar with Rust Maidens (which I still haven't read, but I saw one of my friends post about and the concept seemed interesting), so when Pretty Marys All in a Row showed up on sale on Kobo, I jumped at it.

There's some interesting stuff here. Our main character, Rhee, is actually nicknamed, since she's Resurrection Mary and she shares a haunted house with four other "Mary" urban legends, and life without nicknames would get awfully confusing awfully fast. So Rhee's "sisters" are Bloody Mary, Mistress Mary (Mary, Mary, quite contrary), Mary Mack and Mari Lywd. If you aren't familiar with that last one, don't feel bad. I had to look it up too.

The sisters wake up at night to haunt the living and feed of the fear they inspire. Except now things are starting to get weird. For the first time, the Mary's are able to visit each other's haunts. The barriers are breaking down. And there's an ominous voice in the darkness creeping closer every night.

Having monsters be the horror story victims is actually an interesting idea and the story was fun to read.

The first half was fantastic and I loved the little hints of mystery as Rhee tries to figure out who she was before she ended up haunting a lonely stretch of blacktop. I thought the suspense with the ominous voice was great. The threat felt real.

It lost a bit of steam as we got close to the end though.

There are a few things that I wish had been explored in more detail, because I think it would have made the story feel like it was building naturally as opposed to being directed. You're never really clear on what the Darkness is. Likewise, why are the Mary's able to jump in between haunts?

In terms of where this falls on the horror spectrum, expect mildly creepy. It still reads as kind of lighthearted.
Profile Image for Michelle.
169 reviews14 followers
October 30, 2018
Such a short but beautiful story!

"Five Marys in one house are bad enough, but five Marys without nicknames are downright confusing.

But these days, we don't feel like five Marys anymore. We barely feel like anything at all."

Resurrection Mary. Bloody Mary. Mistress Mary. Mary Mack. Mari Lwyd. Five Marys, embodiments of five legends, living together as a family, as sisters, would. Every night they go on their haunts and return to have dinner together before sunrise and sleep. Time passes differently for the Marys, but something else appears to be lurking and waiting, making the here and there crack, dissolving the walls between realities. The darkness wants the Marys, and it's up to Rhee (Resurrection Mary) to figure who they were so the shadows can be pushed back.

I love stories that take legends and put their own spin on them! I also like learning about legends/rhymes I'd never heard of before, like Mari Lwyd and Mary Mack. This story goes deeper than another legend retelling, though. There is a constant undercurrent of love and family and the distances one crosses for those they love. It's a feel good story that isn't all sugary sweet. There's still sadness and a little bit of creep factor in places. I would love if this was a bit longer, as I was left wanting a bit more to the story. Still great though!
Profile Image for Wendy.
Author 10 books14 followers
October 19, 2018
Beautiful writing with great atmosphere. The Marys were interesting characters and I loved the concept. It’s a short, satisfying read.
Profile Image for Dani.
485 reviews23 followers
October 11, 2022
What happens to the monsters that haunt us when they become the hunted.
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