Here's my quick blurb: A beautifully written, chilling haunted house story that is both about the ghosts we create, give life to, and cling to, and the supernatural ones that may find us and use our internal ghosts against us if we are so unlucky.
“I am like a small creature swallowed whole by a monster, she thought, and the monster feels my tiny movements inside.”
This line comes from Shirley Jackson’s beautiful, haunting, classic masterpiece The Haunting of Hill House and it’s an epigraph to Paper Tigers—one that couldn't be more apt.
I’d also like to point out that it’s not a line I’ve seen used before from Jackson, not even one I really remembered. But it’s creepy, deliciously so, and completely puts you in Eleanor’s frame of mind if you’ve read the book. Usually, if you see Hill House epigraphs, you see some bit of the opener about how some places are born evil and all that. A brilliant opening to be sure—I read it over and over not knowing quite what it is—but definitely over-used as an epigraph for haunted house novels. As soon as I read that Jackson quote, I knew the book I was holding in my hands was something special.
Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters is out February 29, 2016 from Dark House Press, a really special independent speculative fiction press. If you try this and like it, go look at their other stuff. You won’t be disappointed. I’ll link to their website below so you can check it out! Editor-in-Chief Richard Thomas is a great writer in his own right, but also has an eye for writers on the fringes, people with interesting ideas and beautiful literary skill whose stuff might not quite fit into the main stream. I’m also just so in love with all their cover and interior art, which I’m told is all done by the same guy, Alban Fischer. What an amazing designer. You simply don’t see speculative fiction covers, especially horror, that look so classy and truly beautiful.
But you’re here for the book, right? Tell me about the book already, you say!
This is the story of Alison, a girl who is disfigured by an accident and left alone with only occasional visits from her overbearing mother and the old photo albums she collects for any comfort. She can’t bear to go out into the world because of the way she thinks people will stare and whisper, so she stays locked inside with her thoughts and hurts and visions of herself as a Monstergirl.
But what happens when one of the old albums Alison finds is inhabited by someone or something? She’s haunted by the album, visited by its real owner and finds herself getting sucked further and further into the paper world. But not all is quite right; Alison is frightened by the power of the album as much as she is enticed by its possibilities.
I felt that this book was an exploration of the split between the internal and the external self. How are those selves actually different? Who is the real me? Does how the world sees me matter? If it does, then does my external self create and mold my internal self to some extent? Alison’s whole life revolves around her disfiguration—she isn’t able to be who she was anymore. In fact, she isn’t allowed to lead any sort of normal existence. But in truth, the only person who is stopping her from this is herself.
Her fear of what other people will think of her external self matters so much to her that it freezes her, keeping her stuck in time, just like all the people in the photo albums that she so desperately clings to. She knows nothing about these people except what the photos show, but I think that they look normal is enough for her. She can imagine their very normal lives, invent things for them, or at least imagine that they weren’t gawked at when they went about.
She knows her life won’t be like that anymore.
That’s why it’s so easy to get sucked into this new album, this awfully, suspiciously dark and evil album that any friend would have told her was bad news bears.
If she’d let anyone come close enough to be her friend anymore.
This book is about transformation and coming to terms with who you are—whoever you are—and accepting that. Not to say that this is any easy task. But in this day and age, I think we have to work towards giving ourselves at least that much.
Being swallowed by the haunted photo album wasn’t Alison’s first problem. Her real issue is letting herself be swallowed by the idea of the Monstergirl and shutting out the world and the people who care about her.
Her only way out may be to accept herself as who she is now, scars and all, even if that means embracing the monster inside.
Do yourself the favor of checking out this amazing author, and this amazing press as well. You won't regret it!
Get your copy of PAPER TIGERS
Find out more about Damien Angelica Walters:
Find out more about the publisher, Dark House Press
Editor-in-chief Richard Thomas' Twitter
There’s nothing new to say about werewolves. Silver bullets, pentagrams on the palm, sudden urges for rare steak, howling, full moon transformations, bloodthirsty beasts rampaging about. We’ve seen it all, right?
Well, think again. As Jones, veteran speculative fiction writer, shows, there’s plenty more to tell, plenty more waiting to burst through to the surface. And some of what we think we know might need to be rewritten.
Of course you don’t believe in werewolves, right? Why would you? But maybe all those stories your grandpa told you weren’t just stories. Maybe he wasn’t just going senile when he talked about shifting and chasing after chickens, coming home bloody-jawed but satisfied. You always kept him talking because it seemed to make him happy, but what happens when all those stories turn out to be true?
Mongrels follows a young unnamed narrator and his aunt Libby and uncle Darren across the southern United States. They don’t have much except for each other and their secret: theirs is a family of wolves. Our narrator is a late bloomer and might never turn into a wolf, though he desperately wants to become a werewolf in order to fit into his little family. He sure as hell doesn’t think he’ll ever fit in anywhere else. In that sense, this is a coming-of-age story more than any other type of story. It’s a boy trying to figure out who he is, where he fits in the world, and dealing with his family and more embarrassingly, his body.
Jones has a very distinct writing style, a bit clipped and direct, and oh, so West Texas. I don’t think he can help himself—it just comes out. This book is definitely literary fiction. Perhaps if you read Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls or William Gay’s posthumously published Little Sister Death you might have a sense of an idea, but Jones is truly one of a kind.
I’ve been watching and reading a lot of werewolf media because of this book and I just keep thinking about how the genre seems a bit dead right now, like no one has anything new to offer. There are some interesting things, just looking at what was released in 2015, I did enjoy the movie When Animals Dream and the book When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord. I should mention I only read this book last week at the urging of Stephen himself, so there you go. I also only saw Ginger Snaps for the first time this past year and I actually quite liked that as well. Glen Duncan’s book The Last Werewolf is great and bears mentioning, while we are on the subject. I just tend to have trouble with werewolf stuff. And this is why.
Werewolves are people, but in the end, they are too much monster, or too much creature, and it seems that they always have to die. I know the ending before I start, so I just tend to stay away. There is a script already written for “werewolf” and whenever someone wants to use it, they just drag it out, dust it off, and copy it.
No? There is another whole set of werewolf movies that don’t deal as much with the internal struggle and are more about the slash-and-grab, but since we are talking about the coming-of-age story, that’s what I’m focusing on.
Let it be said that Mongrels is NOT this! If there really are werewolves wandering around in the twenty-first century, I suspect they fit more into Jones’s model. Moving around a lot, staying away from other people, doing odd jobs, getting mixed up with the cops a little too frequently. Our narrator and his family try to stay out of trouble, but it seems to find them anyways. Finding out that he is a werewolf is really just the beginning. The rest of the book is finding out how to deal with it and keep it all a secret.
The book is really about finding a way to be comfortable with who you are and who your family is, and then being proud of it, even if you can’t share it with the world. What is it that Libby and Darren are really running away from every time they move on? Every time they cause enough trouble so that they have to move on? Wolves don’t seem able to form lasting attachments, but there sure are wounds in their past that cut deep and haven’t healed yet.
In true Jones fashion, this book gets crazy (there is a moment where some dead dogs are piling up, I’ll warn you, it’s graphic), this book gets weird (werewolves are valuable for something I bet you’ll never guess), but mostly, this book gets under your skin—in a good way. Like how werewolf hair sucks back in, it’ll get inside of you and leave pieces of itself behind.
I have the pleasure of knowing Stephen personally and got my advance copy handed to me in person—and signed even, very lucky! Mongrels is out May 10, 2016, and I’m so glad this book is getting released by William Morrow—a great HarperCollins imprint that publishes a bunch of awesome horror/suspense/mystery type books. I can’t wait to see how this book will do. Please, please pick up a copy and give this amazing author a chance. If you like him, he’s written 15 novels and 6 short story collections. I’d be more than happy to point you in the direction of another great read by SGJ if you loved this one!
You can learn more about Stephen, his wolfish tendencies, and his books on his website.
Check him out on Facebook or Twitter.
Check out this book or the books mentioned above:
MONGRELS—Stephen Graham Jones
THE SHINING GIRLS—Lauren Beukes
LITTLE SISTER DEATH—William Gay
WHEN WE WERE ANIMALS—Joshua Gaylord
THE LAST WEREWOLF—Glen Duncan
Find out more about the publisher of Mongrels, William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Perhaps you like books. Hopefully you like reading them. Although maybe you just like to collect them and stare at them on your shelf—no harm in that, books can be art too! In any case, I hope you like books because that's what we're here for, mostly.
I guess I've been meaning to get into this whole blog thing for awhile now, it's not like I just started reading or anything. I post reviews to Goodreads, but here I feel like I'll be able to say more and hopefully someone out there will read it and get it and be as excited about books as I am!
In any case, here's a bit about me: I currently work in academic publishing as an assistant editor in Boulder, Colorado. I live with my boyfriend, a squawky, green parakeet named Cujo, and a six-month-old red goldendoodle puppy named Ouija. I read over 100 books a year in all sorts of categories, but mostly fiction. I love literary fiction and speculative fiction best, especially horror. I love movies, pancakes, going on long walks with my dog, and solving true crime mysteries.
I'll be posting regularly about the books I'm currently reading as well as adding the books I read last year at the same time, updating my thoughts on them here and seeing how they lasted the test of time.
My pup Ouija may also be a frequent guest, though his opinions are limited to how books taste. He is pretty cute though, so enjoy!
I hope you'll be intrigued to read more and discover some new books. I promise I'll let you know about the good stuff, new and old!
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.