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.
The Bone Mother is a very unique set of interconnected short stories. Each story begins with an old (and often haunting) portrait or illustration and each is told from the first person.
The stories have a dark aura, but often the true depth of the darkness isn't uncovered until the very end. Demchuk certainly has a flair for making the reader feel as though they've missed a step in the dark—feeling that strange plummeting of your stomach, the truth of what you though you knew ripped out from under you.
While I liked the interconnected structure, I felt that the world of the stories could have been explored more. The stories are so short, most of them just a couple pages, that I never really felt attached to any of the people or their specific narrative. But at the same time, each story didn't seem to further the world-building enough that I felt I had a full picture of this place, the timeline between characters, or the events that happened there by the time I finished the book.
Though the writing is captivating and there are some truly scary moments, I felt this narrative was just too scattered for me to really connect to it, which would have been fine if it were just a short story collection, but as they are meant to be linked, it left me wanting more cohesion and finality.
I would definitely be interested to read more writing by this author. He has a strong and unique voice, and I love that he decided to shine a light on Russian folklore and history in this way.
My thanks to Chizine Publications for sending copies of this one to the Nightworms to read.
This is an important collection, and a hugely successful one in my opinion. I have already been sharing my love for it and will definitely be recommending it to people who want a good horror anthology, are interested in trying out some new authors they might not have heard of, or just can't get enough of the ladies of horror fiction!
One of the main reasons I was itching to get my hands on this book is because of the King curated collection of the same theme that didn't feature a single female author. Well, Amber Fallon was like, we don't need any smelly invitation to be in your collection, we will just make our own. And so she did. BAM.
There are some women who have already made a name in the horror community in this collection as well as some I'd never read before. I loved the diversity of the stories, the different styles, settings, and voices that were brought to the table.
These three were my favorites:
Damien Angelica Walters's story that opens the collection, "The Floating Girls: A Documentary"—someone remind me to go buy her new book IMMEDIATELY. What a brilliant, inventive story, one I will definitely read again.
"Wilderness" by Leticia Trent has major Shirley Jackson vibes mixed with Trent's effortless prose. Creeping dread levels high!
Nadia Bulkin's "And When She Was Bad" has me moving her books up on my TBR list. I've not yet read any of her books and if this story is any indication, I need to get started!
I am grateful, impressed, and overjoyed that Fallon curated such a great collection. In social and political times like what we are currently going through, it is even more important than ever to support artists, especially women. Writers get to the truth. Stories show us our fears, our weaknesses, and how we might persevere.
The horror genre tends to be male-dominated, but this is an in-your-face reminder that ladies have something to say too, and it's just as badass and downright terrifying as anything that men are bringing to the table.
I can't say enough good things about this book. It is one that horror fans should definitely collect and take note of—these writers are damn talented and I can't wait to uncover their backlists and see what they might come out with next.
My huge thanks to WordHorde for sending me a copy of this one to read and review.
A gorgeous, unnerving, and supremely masterful novel.
". . . to plunge a viewer into a state of terror meant to take away their compass, their tools for navigating the world, and to replace it with a compass that told a different kind of truth. The trick was ensuring the viewer was so consumed by fright that they didn't even notice this exchange was being made; it was a secret transaction between their imagination and the film, and when they left the theater, those new truths would go with them, swimming like eels under the skin."
In a slim package, van den Berg delves into a wealth of topics, each one adding another layer to the narrative. The layers interact, conflict, and entangle to create something altogether spellbinding, a phantasmagoria of grief, marriage and relationships, travel, horror tropes, film, memory and the psyche, and ultimately, the search for self.
The writing is so easy to get wrapped up in, and even though it is a slim book under 200 pages, it took me almost a week to get through it because I was so invested in reading every word; sometimes I read sentences multiple times. The author writes with such precision and strength of voice that it was easy to sink into the story, while at the same time, I was constantly finding wonderful sentences that I needed to mark to revisit later.
The story doesn't go where I thought it would at all, it is a much more quiet and introspective examination of the self, the past, and how one's own life can be unrecognizable and completely familiar all at once. But it is perfect, and I very much enjoyed every minute of Clare's journey. It is in the space in between what we know and what we don't know that true exploration begins. But most people are too afraid to go there because maybe that's where the monsters live too.
"Horror films had taught her that a person could will a thing into existence, but once it was outside their consciousness, the consciousness that had been busily inventing simultaneous possibilities, it became a force unto itself, ferocious and uncontrollable."
While I can't say that this is a horror novel, perhaps it could be horror-adjacent. The references to horror movies and elements of horror analysis throughout prove that van den Berg is knowledgable about the genre, and they are more than just lip service to fans. Concepts from horror, like the final girl, play an integral part of Clare's journey, in both how she begins to see the world through a different lens and how she begins to see herself—past and present—through different eyes even as she spirals downward.
I think horror readers who are into literary fiction will quite enjoy this. It has the dreamlike propulsiveness of Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, but with more narrative flow, like Neil Gaiman's psychologically dreamlike and haunting The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
My thanks to FSG for sending me a finished copy of this book to read and review.
I love a short story collection that shows cohesion even though the stories are all distinctly separate, living in their own dark worlds. DeMeester's short tales have that kind of versatility, where they are interested in unpacking similar themes but never follow the same fanged rabbit down the same twisted hole twice.
Many of these stories, some just a page or two, some closer to twenty pages, center around the idea of transformation, of the liminal quality of the body and the different ways it might be consumed, broken, corrupted, or altered. Sometimes this is a triumphant change, sometimes it is unwanted.
That liminality, that disorienting threshold to transformation that DeMeester has mastered in these stories, often seemed a metaphor for how women's bodies and selves are not quite theirs to inhabit but rather the world's to use or enact violence upon. Here, women take control, becoming the ones who inhabit, who consume, who enact violence.
I loved the intense darkness of the stories and the startling (though strangely beautiful) descriptions of body horror were quite effective. The book is not overtly terrifying, but is unsettling and carries a certain dread that weighs you down as you read—very intense and wonderful.
I definitely recommend this unique collection. I can't wait to read her novel, Beneath!
What a world we live in.
Just this year, there have already been over 20 school shootings in the United States. If that isn't enough to make you start seeing that there is something horribly wrong in our society these days, I don't know what will.
What if there were a place you could go, a place to live away from all the chaos, the news feeds, the violence, the technology? A quiet back-to-nature sort of society of like-minded individuals who just wanted to reboot and get back to what really matters, like spending time with family? Would you give up all the modern conveniences to know you'd be safe and far away from potential man-made disasters?
That's the idea behind the island community of Halcyon. But this book is so much more than that.
This is an intricate multi-perspective book that seems almost disparate in the beginning, jumping from one plot thread to another that is completely unrelated (but also totally captivating, I might add). But hold on. Because the more you learn, the more you (almost) wish that you could have stayed in the dark just a little bit longer, dreaming of that perfect place.
But everyone has their darkness, and everywhere has its flaws. Eden doesn't exist in Halcyon—at least not once you scratch the surface.
There is so much that I loved about this novel. I wouldn't call it a slow burn, because although it does take a while to get to the island itself, there is so much going on in the plot that I really stayed invested in the characters, their individual stories, and the mystery behind putting together the missing pieces.
And the pacing really does not let up. Though at some points I could definitely see where the story was headed, I was propelled through the pages by the writing and the characters. The only weak link of the characters to me was Shirley, the older sister, who felt underdeveloped at times and was used as a device to move the plot toward its inevitable conclusion rather than a person making decisions of her own.
As I have been thinking through why we read (and need) horror a lot recently, I think this book offers a great argument for exactly why horror is so important. It touches on real-world issues, fears, and frustrations about the state of our society and then imagines what if?
That "what if" spins a lot of different directions, but most memorably for me, in the mind of young Edith. Suffice to say that she reminded me a bit of some kids from King novels.
I went into this book not really knowing what to expect, and I was totally blown away. Youers has a great talent for story and I would love to read another of his books!
My thanks to St. Martins Press and the author for sending copies of this one to the Nightworms to read and review!
What makes a good story? I’m not talking horror, but just a good story. Characters who feel real, a unique and moving plot, some sort of social significance, just plain old good writing? Here’s the thing haters, horror stories have those things too.
As horror fans (and I know that’s who I’m mostly talking to), we’ve all had that moment (or those moments) when we profess our love for the genre and you get that reaction, eyes sort of creasing, mouth thinning into a line, their entire body shifting back from you. A literal visceral reaction to the word horror. And the immediate response of “I hate scary things,” “I can’t read those books,” or “why do you like that?”
I am 100 percent for everyone doing their own thing, liking what they like (and who they like for that matter!) but I do wish people would give horror more of a chance. Horror is so much more than that first impression, and while it is making a waves recently due to crazy amazing hits on screens big and small like Stranger Things, It, Get Out, and real-life happenings like our current (and seemingly always escalating and never-ending) political situation, the craze for true crime, and so on, there is still a lot of ground to cover.
So why horror fiction?
Well, I guess that brings me around to the point. Why horror fiction? Writers like Paul Tremblay is why.
On the face of it, The Cabin at the End of the World has a simple set up. A little girl and her two dads taking a vacation at a secluded cabin by a lake. Four strangers converge on the family and they want something—and it’s not good.
But it’s also not what you expect. This isn’t The Strangers. This is bigger than that. Or is it?
This book is a white-knuckle one-sitting type of read. Though told in third person, it switches perspectives between the characters, giving the reader brief insights into each of their psyches and feelings. I really liked this technique; it felt cinematic to me, but in a three-dimensional kind of way because it was like I was really seeing the story through each of their eyes in turn, feeling the emotional pulses of the story, rather than just being an outside observer.
This is my third Tremblay book (I’ve read A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock too) and I’m noticing a trend of his. He loves the fantastic, that suspension of the story between reality and the supernatural. He’s always holding the reader on a string throughout his books making us wonder what exactly is going on. Is there a rational explanation—can we keep our feet firmly on the ground? Or, is something supernatural at play and we’ve left the known world behind, we’re untethered, an astronaut floating through the dark stillness of space alone with only his own breath—and the monsters. Tremblay pulls us back and forth along the string of the fantastic, leaving us to wallow in that moment of hesitation, that catch of breath between the known and unknown.
And what a delicious place to live.
Cabin is also taking on underpinning themes of the current state of the world and our society today. Though perhaps not in your face, I think these themes of environmental and also social downfall are definitely an important part of this book. And it brings me back to my original point about why horror.
Horror shows us a way through the darkness.
It shows us characters in situations that we (hopefully) never have to deal with, but reading about how others struggle—whether they win, lose, live, die, become a zombie, stake a serial killer, or just deal with the darkness within—helps us negotiate our own struggles and process our traumas in our daily life and those in the world at large too. Horror is cathartic and all the many different strands of it are worth investigating.
I am hesitant to say this is Tremblay’s best because I know there’s more coming. And we’re ready to read it when it gets here.
My thanks to Mindi (Instagram: @gowsy33 Goodreads: Mindi Snyder), who is a horror reader and reviewer extraordinaire for sending me her extra copy of this book!
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.