I love finding an author that you know when you turn to the first page and start reading, you are in good hands. Is there anything better?
Malfi is like that. From the moment I began his short story collection We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone I knew I had stumbled on something special. (And “stumbled on” really is not the right phrase, as Sadie of @mother.horror has been championing Malfi’s books for ages. I’m just a bit slow on the uptake.)
It’s not just that he’s telling a good story, though he definitely is—more on that later. There is just something so real that resonates through his work, something that makes you lose yourself within the pages when you start reading. Isn’t that why we all read? We want to forget about the background noise and just dissolve into another story for a while, one where things might be falling to pieces, but where there might be a logic, a key, something we can try to figure out before heading back to the mundane reality of our own existence.
That’s why I read, why I’ve always found solace in books. And there is something special about a book that cuts through everything like that, that puts you fully in the story.
As far as the narrative itself, there is definitely something to coming-of-age-in-small-town tales. I have a lot of love for the types of stories that depict ragtag groups of latchkey kids going about on their own and solving some kind of mystery that is far above their pay grade. There is a certain mystique to stories depicting kids in general—I think we all miss those days. And children are in a unique position for horror: they believe easily in the boogyman. Their belief makes them a vulnerable target, but it also makes them able to see clearly enough to fight back.
December Park is about the missing children of Harting Farms in the early 1990s and the mysterious figure of the Piper, whom everyone believes to be a serial killer picking off kids, though only one body has turned up. Angelo and his friends are determined to figure out what’s going on by using what they know about the town, its secret places and shortcuts, and any information they can dig up on their neighbors. Everyone is a suspect.
But this book is about so much more than the investigation. It is about the boys and their personal lives, their aspirations for the future, what they share with each other and their families and what they keep secret. It is about the divide between being a child and being an adult, how they see differently, the trust that is lost, and all the forgetting that you do along the way to adulthood. It is about small towns and the way that horrific crimes impact the people who live there. It is about trauma and how events affect people differently. It is about perception and memory.
Though the investigation into the Piper is the main plot thread, I found myself almost more interested in the characters and their lives, which I think is the key to good writing that most authors ignore. So many mystery/thriller books just seemed shoved through a tube where the plot has to go from A to B to C without letting the story develop naturally.
And I really felt a kinship with the boys—their late-night bike rides, their walkie-talkies, how they caused some mischief and chaos, how they stood up to bullies, how they alternately supported and ragged on each other. Getting to know them and watching them grow throughout the narrative is one of the highlights.
When it gets down to the horror—you won’t be disappointed. I wouldn’t consider this book heavy on action, but it has perfect narrative flow, letting tension ebb and flow and ratcheting up the suspense when necessary. By the last 200 pages, I couldn’t be torn away and had to finish. Malfi has a great descriptive voice and you can see each scene—in all the gruesome detail you could ever hope for.
This is such a phenomenal book. I can’t recommend it more highly. On my shelf, it sits beside other great horror coming-of-age stories like King’s It, McCammon’s Boy’s Life, and Simmons’s Summer of Night. I can’t wait to read more of Malfi’s work.
A short Christmas treat from one of the rising modern horror greats.
DeMeester knows she doesn’t always have to get gory or have everything dripping with blood and monster fangs to scare your pants off. Sometimes it is all in the art of suggestion, in the strange moments of “what if” and supplanting the reader’s expectations.
She fills each short scene of this story with dread, leaving the reader with the impression that at any moment, something horrible could happen. That tension of waiting, not knowing exactly when the horror will drop, is always worse than whatever comes out of the closet—at least in my opinion.
Once you know what the monster is, it’s easier to face it. But, like Ashleigh in the story, if all you have are swirling, amorphous half-memories of a horrific scene from a movie you saw when you were little, it will haunt you until you seek it out, though you might not like what you find.
This slim meditation on childhood, memory, film, and how we let the past haunt our lives. There’s a lot to think about in these few pages.
And that illustration toward the end—that was some stomach-dropping-out, nightmare-inducing stuff. But you’ll have to read it to find out exactly what I mean.
My thanks to Tall Hat Press and the Night Worms for the chance to read and review this one.
These stories and illustrations were created in homage to that classic childhood book series, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. If Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell’s chilling and evocative retellings of folk tales weren’t a part of your childhood growing up, you are not only missing out, I’m pretty sure you were caged in a dungeon your whole childhood. Or maybe these stories were just American kid thing?
All I know is that those books were a rite of passage when I was growing up. The stories are definitely spooky, and there is always that one friend who swears the story is really true, it actually happened to her aunt’s brother’s girlfriend, but really it went a little like this. . .
And don’t even get me started on the illustrations. Nightmare inducing, so say the least. I had horrible visions of the one where the spider is crawling out of the girl’s face. And of course, Harold. Now, I think I’d love to get one of those prints framed on my wall, but that’s the sort of weird creepo I’ve turned out to be.
So here comes Corpse Cold, a new folk anthology of the type of horror tales that don’t really have one origin, or at least one you can pin down. These are the types of stories that nowadays pop up on r/nosleep and creepypasta forums, the type you read about late at night, the glow from your computer screen illuminating your face and making the rest of the room look even darker. It is a different type of tale from the days of my youth—there weren’t any cell phones or other technology that invaded folk tales back then. But now, there’s a whole new realm of possibility for what might be out to get you.
The stories are in definite homage to the original Schwartz tales, though I thought they lacked his style, the panache of his delivery on the punch lines especially. I hadn’t heard of most of these urban legends, so it was nice that most of the content was original to me and I had no idea where the stories were going. Overall, I would probably rate most of the stories themselves (in style and substance) at around a 3.
What really punches up the action on these is the artwork. Chad Wehrle does a fantastic job putting his original spin on something similar to the Gammell style and I can’t even tell you which image was my favorite. They are creepy, dark, and perfectly complement the stories, taking them to the next level.
Also, I wouldn’t say that this book is necessarily for adults—I think teens would also enjoy it and the reading level is fine for younger kids. (If they can handle the original, these stories are fine for them too.)
If you know someone who grew up with the Scary Stories books, this would be an awesome gift to give them a flashback to their childhood.
My thanks to Cemetery Gates for sending me a copy of this one to read and review.
This debut horror novel has it all: beaches, booze, boats, spiders, sex, despicable people whose death you root for, visceral body horror, and even a pug.
It’s obvious that Sodergren has spent a long time steeped in the horror tradition, and as a longtime follower of his Instagram, @paperbacksandpugs, I can say that this is—without a doubt—definitely the case. He knows it all, from the most obscure reference to the pop culture stalwarts. His personal love of the horror genre comes across in the style and substance of this novel, and while it feels like it could be a vintage horror paperback from the 80s paying homage to the video nasties, it is a wholly original tale.
Here’s the setup: two sisters, one boyfriend, and a new guy they just met on holiday in Thailand. They party wildly all night and wind up on a boat headed for an island that seems deserted—but as any good horror hound knows, “seems” is just another way to say that this is where things are about to get crazy.
And crazy is only the start of it.
This is a story I found myself really lost in, the type of book that as you’re reading it, the background falls away and you don’t notice time passing or people trying to talk to you, or even if your house might be burning down.
I appreciated getting to see from the perspectives of a variety of the characters. They were an interesting (and sometimes nasty—in all senses of the word!) bunch and getting into their heads gave each one room to become a more rounded and believable character. It also made me unsure of who was going to make it to the end of the book and who was toast. The characters filled horror tropes without becoming total clichés—not the easiest thing to do.
Ana, the main character, is quite brilliant. I loved how she was an average girl, not super good-looking or skinny, definitely has some bad moments in her past, tends to be insecure, and uses sarcasm to keep people away. Watching her transformation throughout the book is quite great. It’s not like she turns into Lara Croft or anything, but I felt she realistically took on the horrific events around her, adapted how she could, and badassed her way through it. I’d like to think I’d do the same, given the chance.
And the monsters—I think you’re going to like them. The opening scene alone is nightmare-inducing, but what’s worse: not knowing what’s down the dark, black hole or having to confront it face to face and try to stay alive? You’ll have to read on to find out!
I definitely recommend this horror novel to fans looking for something a little different and unique and a lot of blood-spattering, gore-infested (but still character-driven) madness—especially if they have a fondness for vintage horror films and books. There is a lot to love here, and I know this isn’t the last we’ll see from Sodergren (or his pug).
I’m glad they are reissuing Moshfegh’s first work now that her books have found a steady following! This little novella set in 1851 is quite interesting, following the perspective of a man being held for the murder of his friend as he floats back and forth between present events and the past, attempting to remember what happened leading up to his friend’s death.
This novella has shades of Eileen—Moshfegh’s breakout novel—throughout, evoking the dark and brooding atmosphere of that work along with the strange and unsettling narration that digs deep into the mind of a semi-disturbed individual.
Her writing, though sometimes a little difficult to unpack, forces the reader to fully reside in the mind of her character, however uncomfortable that place may be. You aren’t just seeing the world of the character, you are experiencing what they experience, thinking their strange, unconnected thoughts, and in a way, becoming them—it can be scary place.
This novella isn’t perfect, but I definitely saw the shadow of Moshfegh’s writing to come and as a completist, I love to see where authors have been and how their early work threads through their later work.
I’d definitely recommend this as a one-sitting type read. Though it does have chapter separations, there is a flow to the book that almost demands you to live in it, and experience it, all at once. I have a feeling it is the type of read I would see new things in if I read it again, too.
My thanks to Penguin Press for my advance copy of this one to read and review.
This review is part of the blog tour for this book! Please check out the other stops on the tour!
I am always intrigued by time travel narratives and this one has to be one of the more conceptually inventive I've read. It doesn't hurt that it is also a beautiful multitude of stories all featuring female protagonists of different backgrounds—women of color, queer women, those from all different social and geographical backgrounds—and these women make up the main fabric of this book.
So often—in real life and in fiction—the achievements of women have been overshadowed by those of men. But Mascarenhas has her pioneers (the people who invent time travel) all be women, which means their contribution can't be erased. Perhaps that is one reason so many women are drawn to time travel in the book, as there seem to be many more women than men who take up the reigns.
As with any book where you're messing about with time, there have to be rules, and the slow uncovering of how time works and what the time travelers are able to do and not do is one of the true pleasures of this book. There are several time periods and many characters at play between the chapters, but I didn't have trouble keeping the narrative threads straight at all. It felt great to see all the plot points fall into place—some just how I'd guessed and others that truly surprised me. This book is nothing if not expertly plotted and paced.
Yes, this is pitched as a murder mystery, which is definitely true, but it is also a deeply interior and psychological tale exploring the impact that time travel has on people. What can it do to your body, your mind? How might it impact your relationships with your loved ones, with yourself? When you know too much about your own future and those of the people you are close to, how do you cope? There are so many questions that the narrative not only brings up but (in my opinion, more importantly) explores.
The murder mystery segment is definitely an integral part of the forward motion of the plot, being what brings characters together, forces them out of their comfort zones, and makes things happen. But it really isn't the point of the book. I found myself much more interested in the development of the characters, their relationships, how they moved through life and through time, found each other and coped. The mystery is just something that touches all of them and starts raising those important questions.
If you like books about time travel, this one is obviously for you. But I think this feminist and literary examination of relationships, psychology, and science will appeal to many. It's going to be a book I think about for a long time. It's hard to say I've already found a book that might be a favorite of 2019 when 2018 isn't even over yet, but keep your eyes open for this one!
My thanks to Crooked Lane Books for my advance copy to read and review.
The Psychology of Time Travel publishes 2/12/19.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.