The plot of The Night in Question is tangled enough that attempting to give a solid synopsis will only result in unraveling it, so if you’re intrigued at all by a cab driver who has information about a crime but doesn’t exactly do the right thing with it, you might want to check this one out.
This thriller plays on the reader’s expectations, making you second guess who is the bad guy all throughout—is it the famous man Paula dropped off? Is it someone else in the apartment where she left him? Is it Paula herself? As the story develops, you find out you really can’t trust anyone, which definitely keeps you reading.
For me though, that’s not really enough—especially for a thriller. It needs to be amazing, to go to the edge and then over it into territory I’ve never explored with a book before. I found this narrative pretty run-of-the-mill as far as thriller fare goes.
I found the alternating chapters from Detective Puhl’s perspective that were tucked in between to be distracting. This seems like a small detail, but I read through a bunch of other reviews, and the detective character isn’t mentioned in one of them. She is a partial narrator but not important enough to call out in the description of the book (from the publisher) or in reviews? It seems strange that she would seem so insignificant, but her stereotypical characterization and lack of real action to move the plot forward made her forgettable. The only reason the chapters from her perspective were in the book at all was to give the reader information that we couldn’t have gotten from Paula’s unreliable perspective, and it just felt like sloppy writing to me. Maybe the book just should have been written from third person omniscient, instead?
The final twists and turns of the book were a bit confusing to me—I felt that everything should have been apparent to Paula much sooner. And of course, the narrative itself hides crucial information until it feels the need to share, which I find unfair as a reader.
How are we supposed to solve the mystery if we aren’t given all the clues? Isn’t that the whole point of reading a thriller? You want to put together all the pieces before the characters, figure out whodunnit and why. If the narrative doesn’t offer the opportunity to do that, I feel it is, at least in part, a failure.
My thanks to Sourcebooks for sending me a copy of this one to read and review.
There are books you read and then there are books you feel—ones that get under your skin and become a part of who you are. Gwendolyn Kiste is a writer like that, one who creates stories that live and breathe, and when they shift into strange darkness, you go with them willingly, almost not realizing you’re leaving reality behind.
The Rust Maidens is set against the backdrop of a small Cleveland neighborhood in the 80s and the slow but inevitable decay of the factories that are the lifeblood for the families who live there. Told through the lens of the girl who saw it all and never recovered, this is the story of five girls who began to rust and inexplicably transform into something not entirely human.
Young girls, just graduating from high school, should have their entire future ahead of them, ready to face the world head-on and seize their dreams. That isn’t really the way it works for the girls from this town, a town where everyone knows everything about you and there isn’t a whole lot of room to breathe without someone gossiping about it. This is the kind of town you get stuck in, marry a mill worker, have kids young, and become your parents.
These girls don’t really have a chance, don’t really own their futures—or their bodies. And what’s the point, anyway, when the town is dying around them? So their bodies take things into their own hands, as it were.
So what is The Rust Maidens about? To me, it’s about choice. It’s about coming of age as a girl and facing every obstacle—no matter how difficult, horrific, or even close to home—to remain true to yourself.
The weaving of supernatural elements is effortless throughout and fuses all the elements of the plot, which is important to me; this isn’t craziness happening for no reason. Instead there is a deeper meaning to every strand of the story. And it will drag you under its spell.
Kiste also has a chilling and entrancing style: extremely atmospheric and unsettling yet with a strange compelling beauty that constantly pulls you in. I loved finding her unique voice when I read her collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, and this novel only develops on her strengths.
Kiste is a welcome voice on the horror shelves, the soft beauty of her words mesmerizing, beckoning you to come closer and see, but when you get too close, she smiles and opens wide—and the darkness swallows you whole.
I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
For fans of the modern stylings of Haruki Murakami, Etgar Keret, Carmen Maria Machado, Karen Russell, and Kelly Link, comes another uniquely brilliant voice in short fiction, and one we are lucky to have.
Most of the stories here center around themes of gender and power dynamics, as well as the problems, loneliness, and loss of true feelings and intimacy that can go along with being in relationships.
Motoya has a strangely specific ability to find a very realistic situation, like a married couple losing touch with each other, and turning it on its head, introducing a completely absurd component that shifts the story into the realm of heightened realism, or even all the way to magical realism.
I loved every story.
There is something really special about the way Motoya focuses on the women in her stories. Mostly, her protagonists are women who are stuck in some type of situation—unhappy in their marriage, with their life, with who they are becoming, with how the past is affecting them. They very clearly see how the problems are rooted deep in the threads of their daily lives, but it is shaking the issues that prove difficult.
How do you get back to a relationship with you husband when he doesn’t notice that you’ve become a bodybuilder, insane muscles rippling over your body? How do you stay independent and keep your life separate from your life as a couple when you notice that day by day your face is beginning to look more and more like your husband’s? What about if as a boyfriend, you only wanted to spice up your relationship and instead your girlfriend challenges you to a duel?
These are the types of stories where you just have to let the weird wash over you. I love becoming immersed in these other worlds where at any moment, the strangest things might happen—people can fly away using umbrellas, turn into flowers, cry blood.
My favorite three stories in the collection for me were: “The Lonesome Bodybuilder,” “An Exotic Marriage,” and “The Women,” though I really loved them all. I would adore to read a novel from Motoya!
My huge thanks to Soft Skull Press for sending me this one to read and review, and I also want to thank them for their continued commitment as a company to publishing unique and brilliant voices.
Short fiction isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure, any old monkey can bang out a couple thousand words and call it a story, but to make characters breathe, worlds come alive, and themes resonate is no short order. And flash fiction: to create a well-rounded story— beginning, middle, and end—in so few words is even more impressive. This slim volume of horror tales does all that, and at the end of each story, you’ll feel your heart pumping, getting that great rise of tension and release that we all come to horror for. I was more than impressed.
His stories dive right in, pulling the reader into a place and a character’s mind. They don’t meander; they get right to the point—and then, BAM! A curveball. Most of the stories swerved to places I didn’t expect, wrenching the knife in at the last minute and really getting to the dark depths of human nature, myths and lore, and creatures you’ll never see coming.
Each one was truly a treat, a delicious vision, a fully-realized story that I found myself wondering about and wanting to spend more time with. That’s how you know short fiction is doing its job and really getting to you.
If I had one nit-picky thing to say, I think the stories were sometimes a bit overwritten—too many unnecessary adjectives and over-explaining of easy things (sometimes you can just say, “he walked down the street” and it actually works better than a flowery, pretty sentence).
I definitely look forward to whatever Demmer writes next. He has a lot of talent as a writer and a great mind for horror. What a treat!
My thanks to the author and Unnerving Press for sending me a copy of this one to read and review.
Reading a Laird Hunt novel is always an immersive experience. His writing is something that latches on and doesn't let go easily, so if you're sitting down with one of his books, you might just consider your afternoon and evening booked.
Though I think there is definitely a clear narrative to this story, I feel that this book is more about the journey, reading through the main character's experiences and fully coating yourself with the strange and unsettling rhythm and mystery of the words.
There are elements of fairy tale and magical realism in this fiercely lyrical fever dream of a tale; it is the historical reality of strait-laced Puritan New England coming up against the dark and tangled lore of witches and the woods. And it is a darkly empowering delicious journey.
Also, I can't write a review of this one without commenting on the amazing cover art—one of my favorites of the year—and the interior design too. A book can be a piece of art on multiple levels, and this one is definitely a masterpiece.
My thanks to Little Brown for sending me a finished copy to read and review.
If the first chapter of this book doesn't draw you in, I'm not sure what will. It is a great set-up that immediately throws you in to an action-packed slasher sequence that could be straight out of a 90s horror film.
From there, the story, told from the first person perspective of an anxiety-ridden teenager, goes on to be a very different type of story, one with lots of slow-burn buildup and not so much to show for on the payoff side of the equation.
I also thought there were too many narrative threads going on. For example, I found the title and even the back cover copy, to be confusing, as the "reading buddy" part of the story was a minimal one. Though the narrative attempted to weave in this thread more, it got stuck on all the other story threads and the "reading buddy" really got lost. Which is a shame, because as the title of the book, you sort of expect that to be what the book is about, and I personally found the misdirection off-putting.
What really took this book to 2 stars for me was the ending. To be as vague as possible, it uses a technique to explain the events that set off the novel that I really find unfair and infuriating as a reader.
What I will say for this book is that the author definitely has natural talent as a writer. I found the book to be clean and well-crafted throughout. I think its main issue is that the narrative needed some ironing out and trimming.
My thanks to the author for sending copies of his book to the Night Worms to read and review.
My thanks to Flatiron Books for my advance copy of this book to read and review.
This is only my second run-in with Moriarty and Big Little Lies blew me away, even though I was really skeptical of it. I am one of those people who tend to shy away from those books that everyone is trying to get you to read. I tend to roll my eyes a bit, thinking, it's just a fad, it can't possibly be that good. But dang it if BLL wasn't everything and more that I wanted from a good book.
So I went into this one with my expectations raised.
I definitely loved the way it started. Moriarty is talented at juggling a large cast of characters, getting you inside each of their heads, and creating a bunch of personalities that you are just itching to see interact with each other. She knows how to set up a story, and I really didn't know where it was going to go.
Once all the characters got to the health resort and settled in, I waited for everything to start going down. And I waited. And waited some more.
Yep. That's where it went downhill for me. I really felt that nothing was happening to move the plot forward in a meaningful way. Everything that was taking place felt very rote, and Masha, the owner of the spa who is supposed to be so mysterious and charismatic felt the most transparent to me—and the most flat.
I was so surprised at how the characters really went nowhere, just letting the machinations of the plot drag them along aimlessly, for such a loooooonnnngg time. This isn't a short book y'all!
I was really disappointed by the whole last third. The ending sequence didn't feel appropriate based on the build-up of the story and I was not surprised at all by the final reveals. If I'd read this book before BLL I might not have tried another of her books because it really is just such a mediocre book, which is such a shame because she obviously has a lot of skill as an intricate plotter and great character writer.
I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of her books, but I won't be recommending this one.
I read a lot of Halloween-centric books this season and this one definitely tops the list. Lisa Morton is not only a great writer, but her intricate knowledge of the holiday, the myths, creatures, and then the pure imagination she spills onto the page makes this a perfect treat for the season we horror fanatics look forward to (and to be honest, celebrate) all year long.
Each of these stories goes deeper than your average tale of Halloween night. These are stories steeped deeply in the lore of traditional Halloween—where it originated, the different lore associated with different places and their Halloween night traditions, and what it has all come down to today. Where it really gets interesting is how she mixes that lore with today's Halloween, and what comes out is this strange, terrifying, and darkly magical confluence of legend and truth.
My favorites were "The Samhanach," "Summer's End," "Sexy Pirate Girl," and "The Enchanted Forest," but I don't think there's a dud in this collection. I really enjoyed them all and wanted to live in them as long as I could. I found the stories to have great empowering characters who succeeded, lost, and truly felt. And I felt along with them.
Halloween can't come soon enough again!
So choose your treat—fun size or full size—that is, if you're brave enough to walk up the sidewalk, past the grinning jack-o-lanterns, skirting the dark shadows. Or maybe you'll just get a trick instead...
I can't wait to read one of Morton's nonfiction books and learn more about Halloween. That's my goal for next year!
This is the type of book that begs to be read in one sitting. It draws you in not with a Michael Myers stabs-his-sister sort of scene that instantly shocks, but with a whisper around a crackling campfire, a story told in a low voice that makes you draw your jacket around you tighter, sit closer to the flames, and try not to think about what might be watching in the dark behind your back, beyond that bright ring of safety.
I really don’t know why I’ve never heard of this book before! I was completely enamored with the style, which I thought moved seamlessly between second and third person in a way that showed a clear talent for writing that is not as easy to find as you’d think.
It is also the perfect book for the Halloween season.
I loved the way the narrative took pieces of pre-existing legends, some classic Halloween tropes, and creepy small-town vibes and mixed them together to create something entirely new and original. The way the story builds to the ultimate reveal is paced so well and that makes it all the more thrilling and heartbreaking—I truly loved every page.
What I found most compelling about the book was the way the characters grew and shifted throughout the book. You begin the book thinking about everyone one way, putting them all in one specific box, but by the end, it’s all twisted around and no one was exactly who they appeared to be on the outside. I really like that as a storytelling and character-building technique.
This will probably become a seasonal re-read for me. There is just something so evocative about the setting and the characters—it is everything I want from horror and from a damn fine story, and I’ll definitely be searching out more of Partridge’s work.
Also, wouldn’t this make a great movie? Dang, I would watch this.
Thanks to Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi and Sinister Grin Press for sending the Night Worms copies of this one to read and review!
I am not against a good monster romp, but I think it might be one of the most difficult types of stories to really get right. Sure, they can be “fun” and “gory” but to me, it takes a lot more to fully be a horror story, and more importantly, a good story.
How do you get the reader to feel for characters who they know are going to end up as cannon fodder? How do you use story tropes without falling into stereotypes and clichés? How do you create an original monster that will be compelling on the page, make readers really see it and cringe and create a memorable experience?
They Feed didn’t make the cut for me.
If you like reading horror for those moments of just getting down and dirty in a gorefest, people’s skin coming off, eyes gouging out, screaming and running with a high body count and lots of weirdness—this book will probably hit your horror sweet-spot. And there isn’t anything wrong with that. One reason I love horror is how wide-ranging the definition can be. But I guess what I’m learning is that all that sideshow fluff, however grisly and gruesome isn’t enough for me.
I still want a good story, with characters who matter. Ones who aren’t just falling into the most obvious stereotypes and seem only to be in the story at all to increase the body count.
And I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but it does make me a little peeved when the twist turns out to be something that the reader couldn’t have guessed—not because they didn’t pick up on all the subtle hints and clues, but because the book obfuscated the truth or outright lied (as I’d argue this book does) to the readers about the intent and knowledge of the characters.
I can’t get through a review of this without mentioning how I was constantly distracted by the strange and off-putting metaphors and descriptions the author used throughout the book. And in talking with my other Worms, I know I wasn’t the only reader who felt that often, the examples the author used to describe what was going on were not only fairly repellent (not necessarily a bad thing by itself) but also wildly off-base to the point that they startled me out of reading rather than assisting my imagination with the scene.
All in all, this wasn’t a book for me. Jason Parent seems to have a pretty good fan base for his books, and I applaud that. I’m glad that there are horror fans who dig this, who want more of it—this is what makes us a great and unique bunch of weirdos. But if you’re looking for more story, with characters who will really make you feel something, this isn’t the place to get it.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.