Book Review: Worst Laid Plans
Everyone loves vacation. The chance to escape, to do something different, to go places only dreamed about. But what happens when those dreams turn to nightmare?
My worst vacation experience amounts to nothing more than sunburn, missed opportunities, and that end-of-the-week readiness to return home. But you hear stories of vacations gone wrong. Missed flights, unfortunate accidents, disease, and untimely death.
And then you have Worst Laid Plans, a collection of bad vacation stories that are even more insidious in nature.
SUMMARY: A fateful family trip to an amusement park. An island movie theater that takes more than the patrons’ cash. A cross-country drive with an unexpected encounter. A family man hellbent on making great time, no matter the cost. Fourteen horror authors share terrifying and twisted tales of summer vacation gone wrong.
Like with all anthologies, there are some that fall short of the mark and others that knock it out of the park. On the whole though this collection really works. I think there was only one story I didn’t really care for. I also really appreciated the variety of vacation locales, from the typical beachfront resorts and cross country road trips to less common places like
Here are my brief thoughts and individual rating for each story, without giving away any spoilers.
“You’ve Been Saved” by S.E. Howard
Chris and Ethan are old friends using a cross-country trek to reconnect and catch up. Along the way they meet an elderly couple in a “HONK if you’ve been SAVED” RV but something seems a little off about them. I enjoyed the quick pacing of the story and the crazy twist ending I didn’t see coming. I also liked the banter between the two leads, their shallow remarks and deeper reminiscing on jobs, loss, and life.
“Summers With Annie” by Greg Sisco
Told from the perspective of an older man thinking back on a series of strange events from his life, all involving a particular movie theater playing a particular movie. As someone who loves cinema I enjoyed all the references to movies and film history. I also thought it was written in an interesting style, with lots of jumping around in time and switching between 3rd and 1st person. I was a little confused about some of the events, but overall it was fun.
“Expertise” by Asher Ellis
A rich, recently divorced lady is taken on a snorkeling trip with a younger man and during the swim they notice a massive red barracuda following them. I love how the danger was introduced immediately and how the story stayed tense, building towards a twist that I did NOT see coming.
“Unkindly Girls” by Hailey Piper
A dad and his daughter are in the last days of their beach vacation. The dad in this story is a total creep, and it’s even more unsettling because it’s being told from the daughter’s point of view. Then halfway through things turn from creepy to outright sinister. The story is disturbing on several levels, and the writing is amazing (the choices of tone and diction work well to create those ominous vibes).
“Deep in the Heart” by Waylon Jordan
A group descends into a cavern for a tour, but there are hungry things living in the dark below ground. The story is told from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy who is infatuated with the tour guide. There are a few creepy moments and then things get gory.
“Peelings” by Kenzie Jennings
The family is on vacation, but mom isn’t having a great time. Her husband is overbearing, and her daughters clearly appreciate their father more than her. Feeling entirely hurt and unimportant, the mom gets a strange sunburn and then things start to change…I found the dynamic between the characters frustrating, but that’s also because I hated the dad and felt bad for the mom. Some weird moments in the second half save the story though.
“The Difference Between Crocodiles and Alligators” by Malcolm Mills
A group of (what do you call the reptile version of furries?) are on an annual retreat, where they dress up like crocodiles and have weird orgies. One of their friends has disappeared and a newcomer has taken his place. Then everything goes wrong when they take a boat tour. Reading this story is like taking a bad trip on psychedelics. The events, the imagery, the syntax, the pacing, the atmosphere – all are trippy, confusing, and unsettling. This works for the story in some ways, but it also makes it frustrating in other ways.
“The Cucuy of Cancun” by V. Castro
Told from the perspective of an ancient creatures who preys on unsuspecting tourists. Yes it’s very straight forward, but it’s also a lot of gory fun.
“Taylor Family Vacation ’93” by Jeremy Herbert
Another family on vacation, this time with a dad who is obsessed with his video camera. The obsession turns into anger and fear when he replays the footage each morning to see someone is coming into their room and messing with the camera during the night. There are definitely some hair-raising moments, and I enjoyed the parts that read like found-footage movie. But there’s also a lot of technical video camera language and numbers that I could have done without, and the twist ending left me very confused.
“The Penanggalan” by Scott Cole
As soon as I finished this story I messaged the author to thank him for writing it. Ever since coming across the “penanggalan” online (a floating disembodied woman’s head, with its trailing organs still attached, from Malaysian folklore) I’ve been waiting to see it in a story. This tale is told in a travel writing style (and indeed is based on a trip the author actually took), about a guy and his wife traveling to Malaysia and coming face to face with this disturbing creature.
“Sex With Dolphins” by Chad Stroup
It’s a strange love story to be sure, but it’s also kind of sweet in a Creature from the Black Lagoon or Shape of Water type way. Some haunting and beautiful moments. I was split on the writing though. Half the time it was a masterclass in style and alliteration (“swallowed by seawater,” “perished in paradise,” etc), but then it also veered into superfluous territory (ex. drinking wine became “swapping spit with a fermented friend”).
“Caught a Glimpse” by Patrick Lacey
Definitely got some strong Rear Window vibes from this one. It’s basically about a guy who lied to his wife about a work trip and took a working vacation instead. One day while looking out the bathroom he notices a beautiful woman next door. She hooks his attention, but he’s never seen her without her dark sunglasses and something seems off. It’s great because you know something is wrong during the story, but it’s not until the huge twist at the end that you realize just how crazy things are.
“Good Times in the Bad Lands” by Laura Keating
This story definitely has me scared about taking trips when my 4 and 2 year olds get older. The behavior of the kids, the attitude of the parents, and the family dynamics in general had me stressed out. During their drive home from vacation their dad decides to take a detour no one wants to see the bad lands. Using an old map he accidentally takes a wrong turn and leads them to a strange new world. Things go from normal to bizarre at the drop of a hat, and the ending is unsettling and somewhat ambiguous. But I was down for all of it!
Overall this collection of stories was a lot of fun. I like books and movies set in exotic locations or about vacations gone wrong, so it was neat to get a bunch of snapshot stories in this vein. And while some were less than spectacular, most I really enjoyed. Special thanks to Off Limits Press for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️