I had to have this novel based on DeMeester’s dark story collection, Everything That’s Underneath, that is by turns disturbing and beautiful.
I wasn’t as impressed with Beneath as I wanted to be, but it is still a worthy horror debut that shows strong talent, a great imagination, and that the women of horror are here to make a name for themselves.
What I liked most about the novel was how many different types of horror it manages to weave into the narrative. There is the very real horror of sexual abuse and how that can impact a person emotionally and physically throughout their life. There is the horror of religion gone wrong, when beliefs become skewed toward something that was never intended. There is pure monster horror with gruesome description and cruelly inventive creatures. There is also great body horror, where it isn’t just the monsters outside, but the monsters inside that wreak havoc.
Those were my favorite scenes—the ones where the monsters and the humans were inextricable from one another. DeMeester has a definite skill for vivid and unearthly description of what is going on inside of people’s bodies. You can really feel it, and it is excellent writing and brilliant horror.
For me, the book dragged in the second half, and I had trouble understanding all of the decisions that the two main characters, Cora and Michael, made.
Rather than the characters making decisions that would direct the course of the narrative, it seemed like the narrative of this book was really the one in control. To me, that makes for a more amorphous, purposeless feeling narrative, which, while building on the dreamlike, ethereal quality of the writing (which I loved) left me feeling unanchored and waiting for something to grab hold of.
If you are a fan of strange monster stories, great writing, and body horror, this is a great book to pick up. I definitely recommend her short story collection too!
This novel is really more of an interconnected set of stories, each revolving around a different member of the Turner family and friend group, all African Americans trying to make ends meet during the Jim Crow era.
Each of them has a run-in with this Braithwaite character, a well-crafted and almost too likable villain if ever I met one, and they each battle with strange supernatural (and Lovecraftian!) situations, like alternate worlds, haunted houses, weird cults, oh, and not to mention constant racism and misogyny—but that’s just the horror they deal with every day.
Each chapter is a very distinct story, which threw me at first, as I thought we would continue on with the same characters and storyline from the first story, but eventually all the threads work together in a satisfying way.
This is definitely a great blend of historical fiction, cosmic and weird horror, pulp fiction, sci-fi, and action adventure. All the characters were extremely likable and well-crafted. It was especially big on independent, take-charge women—yes, I am a fan. In particular, I loved Leticia’s headstrong nature and how she dealt in such a no-nonsense way with the strange happenings at her new house.
I think that the point of the book is that as African Americans, the characters are able to take on the strange and fear-inspiring cosmically horrific situations without batting an eye, because once you’ve been under the type of constant scrutiny, vicious intolerance, and just flat-out hate they have, those supernatural things don’t seem like such a big deal anymore. They are pretty badass people. But it definitely makes me ashamed of my country and the lack of tolerance we still have to this day.
Lovecraft the man, in my opinion, is not wholly extricable from his works. But just because he was an overt and outspoken racist doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the stories he crafted, his contribution to the horror genre, and the influence that he’s had on many other influential storytellers. But we don’t want to glorify him either. Like Atticus’s dad explains to him, we need to read with our eyes open, knowing where his words and ideas may have come from.
So this book is a perfect representation of that, paying homage to a great literary contribution but also saying, “Screw you, Mr. Lovecraft.” And that’s just the way it should be.
This is one for the gothic lit lovers.
With a blend of classic and contemporary short stories and poetry all centered around the theme of hauntings, there is a lot to love in the creaking old hallways, dusty bookshelves, and dark corners where sputtering candles don’t quite reach of this anthology.
Haunted house is just about my favorite sub-genre, so I knew I had to get this one when I saw the brilliant cover and some of the great writers featured in the collection. I was also really impressed with how many women horror authors were featured here.
But it isn’t just houses that can be haunted, it can be any and every place we inhabit, down to the very bodies we live in, the paths we take in life (and death), and even the other people we surround ourselves with. Hauntings are everywhere.
And this couldn’t be more evident than in the dark and stormy stylings of these stories. Taking up the mantle of the classic gothic style, I found that these stories and poems were often about relationships, love gone wrong and the haunted nature of human suffering.
Some stories build on classic tales, such as that perennial classic folktale “Bluebeard” or Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Some are set in modern times, some are period pieces, all are wholly original and will shock you with a cold breath of air.
I found the poetry to be a bit weak overall, but the few that worked really worked. The inclusion of this different format of writing was a nice touch, especially in between the stories.
My favorite pieces were:
“The Shadows on the Wall” by Mary Wilkins Freeman, a true gothic work I'd never read before.
"Bloodbuzz of Ravens" by Sara Tantlinger, an evocative and darkly brilliant poem.
“The Call of the House of Usher” by Annie Neugebauer, a nice homage to Poe in style and substance.
“Miss Emmeline’s Mirror” by Catherine Cavendish, it'll make you think twice about mirrors!
Overall, I really enjoyed this collection. If you like gothic works, this is a good way to get a broad scope of modern and classic pieces, and perhaps find a few new authors to love.
An anthology all about the most glorious of holidays for those of us who delight in darkness and revel in terror and frightful stories? You know I’m more than game.
These fourteen all-new stories feature a few writers I was familiar with, but mostly people I’d never read before—which I consider a plus, as one of the things I really enjoy about anthologies is finding new voices to love. I would have liked to see a little more balance between genders: there were eleven stories by men and only three by women in the collection.
This was a very fun-loving (in the darkest way possible) set of stories and I really settled in to reading each story just for the pure fun of it. Each one takes on different ideas about what makes Halloween creepy, from body-snatchers, to serial killers with a thing for decoration, to things that go bump under the bed, to creepy kids, and more.
The stories are not always well-written, often sliding into that “telling” instead of “showing” zone that inexperienced writers fall prey to. I ended up rating each story individually between 3 and 4 stars, which is why the collection as a whole gets 3 stars from me. But what it lacks in sophistication, it definitely makes up for in imagination and pure originality.
All the love seeping off these pages for Halloween is clear and these stories truly evoke the season: carving pumpkins, leaves crackling underfoot, never quite knowing who is behind the masks around you. . . It makes me want to seek out more Halloween-based stories and collections!
My two favorite stories in the collection were “Vigil” by Chad Lutzke—dark and compelling with excellent visuals, and one of the quieter stories—and “Masks” by Lisa Lepovetsky, which really pulled me in from the start and created believable characters and a tense, darkly delicious situation.
I definitely recommend this book to horror and Halloween fans. It is a lot of fun and a very enjoyable read that is perfect to get you gearing up for the big night later this month!
My thanks to Corpus Press and Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi for sending the Night Worms copies of this one to read and review.
“Have you ever noticed how soulless this world has become? How empty and prefabricated? Soulless lives are hollow. We fill the earth with soulless cities, pollute ourselves with soulless albums.”
We Sold Our Souls is like the book version of a movie directed by some strange Frankenstein’s monster mash-up of Edgar Wright’s musical genius and Sam Raimi’s weird, gory humor. And I loved every single second.
At its core, this is an empowering story, one where a woman who once followed her passion has been beaten down at every turn life has given her. She decides to stop taking the shit being shoveled at her and stands up, saying, no more—even if there is a mountain standing against me, I’m going to fight.
And that’s a message that a lot of us can probably get behind right about now.
Yes, this is a book about heavy metal, something that I know little about (despite my brief foray as a teenage punk rock guitarist—it was short-lived, I sucked), have never listened to, and can’t really relate to. But everyone can relate to the angst, depression, and frustration Kris feels as someone who has made mistakes, fallen into a job she hates, and given up on a part of herself that is intrinsic to who she is, who she sees in the mirror raging behind her eyes.
Haven’t we all been there?
There is probably a moment we all can remember from our teen years when we did something that truly sparked us inside. Maybe we’ve lost that childlike joy, that incandescent wonder, that feeling of true boundlessness and infinitude and invincibility that really rocking something and going after it fully—damn the consequences—can bring.
Why do we go through our days not really living, not chasing—full-on sprinting—after whatever it is that we find fulfilling, whatever it is that makes us feel we are more than just a sack of organs and skin and barely-working brain matter?
I might not have the answer to that question, but I can say that this book fired me up. Grady Hendrix has come a long way from Horrorstor, a book I found unique in style but sorely lacking in editorial execution. While Souls doesn’t have the developed character relationships or nostalgic friendship journey that My Best Friend’s Exorcism (to my infinite delight) offered, it is an emotional roller coaster all the same, and one that is perfectly tailored to where we are as a society right now.
This wham-bam-in-your-face book just demands to be read, screams it, in that death metal-y demon screeching way, and I couldn’t get enough.
My thanks to Quirk Books for sending a copy of this one to read and review.
This is my first experience with Megan Abbott and I can definitely say I am a fan.
The focus of this book is on the darkness of the psyche and the relationship between two women in particular. It is interested in how people come in and out of our lives and how they might change everything, mean everything, even with just a few moments.
Told from the perspective of Kit, this story is set in the fiercely competitive boy's world of research science, where Kit and Diane are both paving a way for themselves. When Diane shows up at Kit's lab days before a new team is to be selected for a very prestigious study, everything about their past when they were younger comes flooding back to Kit and fills her slowly with dread and doubt about who Diane really is.
Seeing their entanglements from the past in alternating chapters was a nice technique. They are competitive, but they each push each other to be better. There is a rivalry, but there is a kinship, and on Kit's part a reverential or almost mystical view of Diane and her stark perfection. I thought I was so smart figuring out what Diane's big secret was early on. But there are so many more layers at play here.
The book swings heavily toward the psychological and the fallout that can occur when people are forced into a corner, pushed far past their comfort zone but forced to keep silent about it, and the violence that can bubble up from that. It is about the relationship between two women, but even more than the moments they spent together, it is about how their relationship grew and mythologized in the interim, in the in-between.
My thanks to Little Brown for my copy of this one to read and review.
I love a good slow-burning novel, where the tension really keeps you on edge, not knowing when the lid is going to pop off and all the proverbial you-know-what is going to hit the fan.
This book did not check those boxes for me, try as it might.
The whole premise is based on these strange notes, left on paper, in mirrors, on the side of the house, telling West and his family that they are being watched. But I was so confused, as I spent more than half the book thinking that it was one type of story, and I just didn't understand the way that all of the characters just accepted the grandfather's (lack of) explanation of the notes—all of them just giving in to the fact that there wasn't anything they could do and that they would be stalked and watched no matter what they did.
It is hard to explain my frustration and confusion without potentially spoiling the plot, so this next part is spoiler-y. Skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to read it. Basically, I think you're supposed to think the house is haunted, but none of the characters ever do . . . They all think that it is some group of people. But the way the notes are left—one on the bathroom mirror in the steam while someone is showering, for example—it seems crazy to think that people are doing that. How do they have access to the house? How are they so quiet? ERG. It doesn't make any sense, and neither do those weird messages.
The main thrust of the plot follows West, but the book does switch perspective to his mom and dad and a few other characters, which I found jarring. I wish it could have been contained to one perspective, or the narration could have been smoothed out a little more.
This book also falls into my least favorite storytelling trap, which is that there is no chance that the reader could have solved the mystery. You are not given all the pieces of the puzzle to figure out exactly what's going on until it is revealed to you, with plenty of backstory over-explaining. Snore.
If you're looking for a great book by Hunter Shea, I much preferred Creature and would recommend that one.
My thanks to Sinister Grin Press for sending a copy of this one to read and review.
This is the story of a guy who is really just a grade-A screwup and can't make one good decision to save his life.
Though it offers an interesting enough setup for a thriller—man moves into house, man finds out the guy next door is a real a-hole, man can't move out, turns out the guy next door is probably into some really bad stuff, man has to defend his turf—this one really wasn't for me.
Stylistically, the book just felt reaalllly slooow. It is constantly showing what's going on, and then also telling and explaining and talking about what happened too. We get it—readers can put things together. We don't need every little thing explained and then over-explained.
As it is told from said screwup's perspective, meticulously documenting every little thing he did and every thought that ran through his brain, the reader gets a good idea of what his deal is. And yet, I was so frustrated with him constantly asking him in my head to explain his actions, as they tend to not make logical sense, only forwarding the action of the story, rather than being what any reasonable person would do. This only amps up toward the end.
I don't have anything against unlikable characters. I think they can be very useful. But Ollie is more than unlikable, he is nonsensical, and I really draw the line there.
Between characters who seemed two-dimensional to transparent, the lack of motivation for the actions taken, and a plot that truly plods along, I can't really recommend this one as a book to pick up.
My thanks to Flame Tree Press for sending me an advance copy of this one to read and review.
This book fully captures why I love short story collections.
Geminder is first of all, a brilliantly lyrical and magnetic writer. I couldn't help but be drawn in to her writing every time my eyes hit the page.
With stories weaving together themes about gender, identity, politics, trauma, and more, the focus of the book is on perception and the self: how the world sees us versus how we see ourselves and what comes of those perceptions. Sometimes reality wavers or is more gauzy as in the strange ghostliness of "1-800-FAT-GIRL", and sometimes the harshness of it comes right in your face, like in the more journalistic stories set in other countries.
Each story offers something new that I really had to think about and sit with. This isn't the type of collection you can just breeze through, and you won't want to either. There are so many beautiful sentences to contemplate and savor—a true joy to read.
Favorite stories: "Houses," "1-800-FAT-GIRL," "Coming to," "Edie," and "Dead Girls." And yes, that's half of them! They are so good. It's hard to choose.
My thanks to Dzanc Books for sending me a copy of this one.
This is one of those books that really sticks with you.
It centers on Kate, who has autoimmune diseases that keep her bedridden with intense pain, pumped full of drugs, and at the doctor's office to try out experimental treatments. Her supportive husband, Andrew, is doing his best, but is also pushed to the breaking point between caring for her and working a stressful job.
The book develops these characters and their relationship in such a brilliant way; rarely do characters come off the page so clearly as fully-formed people. You really feel Kate's struggles and her pain—her physical pain, which is described in excruciatingly specific detail, and the emotional pain she feels at constantly putting a burden on the people she loves. The book gets into each of their heads—they aren't perfect, but they are trying their best to show up for each other and make what they can out of each day.
The tension builds as the couple take their dog Button and try to escape to an idyllic lakeside cabin for a few weeks of relaxation. But that's when strange things begin to happen.
I loved the build-up of the story, getting to know the characters, and the strange little happenings that built suspense more than the reveal and the action toward the end. After such a suspenseful and well-built story, the gory action was a bit jarring, and seemed to be overkill for this type of narrative.
But in the end, I definitely recommend this book. It actually has something for everyone: beautifully written characters you will emotionally attach to, suspense, and crazy action and kills. I can't wait to read my next Hunter Shea!
My thanks to Flame Tree Press for sending this one to read and review.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.