Kate’s Review: “Unshod, Cackling, and Naked”

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Book: “Unshod, Cackling, and Naked” by Tamika Thompson

Publishing Info: Unnerving, January 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC.

Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon | Author’s Website

Book Description: A beauty pageant veteran appeases her mother by competing for one final crown, only to find herself trapped in a hand-sewn gown that cuts into her flesh. A journalist falls deeply in love with a mysterious woman but discovers his beloved can vanish and reappear hours later in the same spot, as if no time has passed at all. A cash-strapped college student agrees to work in a shop window as a mannequin but quickly learns she’s not free to break her pose. And what happens when the family pet decides it no longer wants to have “owners?”

In the grim and often horrific thirteen tales collected here, beauty is violent, and love and hate are the same feeling, laid bare by unbridled obsession. Entering worlds both strange and quotidian, and spanning horror landscapes both speculative and real, Unshod, Cackling, and Naked asks who among us is worthy of love and who deserves to die?

Review: Thank you to Beverly Bambury for sending me an eARC of this short story collection!

Even though I am typing this whilst looking at a VERY out of control book pile on my nightstand, I’m not lying when I say that I’m always on the lookout for something new in my reading rotations. Especially if that something new is something horror related. So when I was approached with “Unshod, Cackling, and Naked”, a collection of short horror stories by Tamika Thompson, I was quite interested in giving it a go! I like finding new to me horror authors to check out, and the title alone had a lot of promise. And while it’s true that short stories aren’t always reliable for me, I’ve had luck with them recently, so I was down to try more. And happily, that once again worked out pretty well!

As I always do with short stories collections I will talk about the three that I liked the best, and then talk about the collection as a whole.

“Under the Crown”: This is actually, to me, the least ‘horror’ horror story of the collection, though there are still aspects that make it tread that way. But at the end of the day I found it to be a really satisfying tale of self liberation. A woman has been competing in beauty pageants for most of her life at the behest of her mother, and she is starting to get tired of it. During a really important pageant that she never wanted to do in the first place, the various tricks of the trade to make her look pretty start to take their toll, as the dress itself feels like its biting into her skin. This story is more about the very real pain that some people go through for beauty, be it physical or emotional, and our protagonist has a lot of body horror moments that are rooted in truth (teeth whiteners that burn, a dress that is so uncomfortable it draws blood, and something involving jelly beans that made me cringe). Beauty pageants, beauty standards, and misogyny are all themes in this story and I thought it had some nice moments of dark humor too.

“Mannequin Model”: Way back when during an early season of Top Model one of the challenges was for the contestants to stand in store windows as living mannequins, and my mind immediately went to that when I started this story, but it would be if the contestants then had to endure a psychological torture session (moreso). A woman who is strapped for cash and needs money to support her family in crisis takes a job as a living mannequin at a store, told to stand perfectly still in the store window between two actual mannequins. But as the shift lingers on and on and she has to endure physical pain, the leers of onlookers, and a cruel boss, she starts to hear the mannequins talking to her. This one is very unnerving, a look at objectification, of bad labor practices, of misogyny and racism, and how it can all come together to take a serious toll.

“Abduction Near Knife Lake”: I think that this was my favorite story in the whole collection, and it was the last one so it made the book end with a bang. Remnants of a bridal party and driving in the backroads of Michigan after the wedding when an Amber Alert comes through on their phones, describing the abduction of a young Black girl. When bridesmaid Samiah thinks she sees the car she convinces groomsman and ex-boyfriend Will to try and help her save the girl, as help is far away and missing Black children aren’t prioritized. Their good samaritan choice, however, lands them in unexpected danger. There are so many tension points in this story, between the suspense of whether or not Samiah and Will are going to get caught by the possible abductor, to the tension of being in an isolated wilderness, so things perhaps not being as they seem. It’s a really fun scary story, one that stood out for all the right reasons.

As a collection it’s cohesive and pretty solid! I don’t think there were any stories that didn’t work for me, though some I enjoyed more than others. But overall I found Thompson’s voice and storytelling to be unique and engaging, and given that I tend to be hit or miss with short stories collections I’m always happy when there is a pretty clear ‘hit’.

I think that there is something for everyone in “Unshod, Cackling, and Naked”, so definitely give it a go if you are looking for some enjoyable horror short stories! Tamika Thompson is a fun horror voice, and I will be going back to read “Salamander Justice” this Spring for sure!

Rating 8: A solid horror collection of various sub genres that explore supernatural terrors, as well as the terrors of being a Black woman in racist and misogynistic societies.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Unshod, Cackling, and Naked” isn’t included on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it would fit in on “Horror Short Stories by Authors of Color”, and “Great Reads for Halloween”.

Kate’s Review: “All Hallows”

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Book: “All Hallows” by Christopher Golden

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, January 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: With the 80’s nostalgia of Stranger Things, this horror drama from NYT bestselling author Christopher Golden follows neighborhood families and a mysterious, lurking evil on one Halloween day.

It’s Halloween night, 1984, in Coventry, Massachusetts, and two families are unraveling. Up and down the street, horrifying secrets are being revealed, and all the while, mixed in with the trick-or-treaters of all ages, four children who do not belong are walking door to door, merging with the kids of Parmenter Road. Children in vintage costumes with faded, eerie makeup. They seem terrified, and beg the neighborhood kids to hide them away, to keep them safe from The Cunning Man. There’s a small clearing in the woods now that was never there before, and a blackthorn tree that doesn’t belong at all. These odd children claim that The Cunning Man is coming for them…and they want the local kids to protect them. But with families falling apart and the neighborhood splintered by bitterness, who will save the children of Parmenter Road?

New York Times bestselling, Bram Stoker Award-winning author Christopher Golden is best known for his supernatural thrillers set in deadly, distant locales…but in this suburban Halloween drama, Golden brings the horror home.

All Hallows. The one night when everything is a mask...

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I’m a person who holds Halloween in my heart all year round, so it’s not a huge stretch for me to pick up a Halloween themed novel or movie or what have you any month of the year. But I think that there’s just something that hits different if you read a certain book during a certain season, and boy am I kicking myself for not picking up my eARC of “All Hallows” by Christopher Golden during October. I’m by no means saying to delay reading this book until NEXT Halloween (don’t sleep on this book until then, it’s super enjoyable and horror fans should read it ASAP), but man oh MAN is this just the perfect Halloween book. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel like you can feel the crisp air of an autumn night, or that you can smell the leaves and woodsmoke in the air. It just screams Halloween, and that isn’t just because it takes place on Halloween in 1984. The aesthetic of masked children running around for tricks and treats after dark jumps off the page, and it feels like a love letter to my favorite holiday. Especially since some of these masked children are, perhaps, not what they seem.

Sam would fit right in. (source)

In the description there is a comparison to “Stranger Things”, and I think that that is correct in the sense of “Stranger Things” feeling like a 1980s Spielberg/”Goonies”/”Stand By Me” vibe of kids being realistic kids in the face of danger or adventure. More danger, in this case. I really loved all of the kids in this book, as we’d shift from one perspective to another and see how they are spending this momentous Halloween in which all their lives are going to be changed. Whether it’s punk and closeted lesbian Vanessa, or earnest and serious Rick, or kind and a bit downtrodden Julia, all of the kids out on Halloween are grappling with their own baggage even before mysterious masked children they haven’t met before start infiltrating their evenings, and begging them for help to protect them from ‘The Cunning Man’. The neighborhood kids can kind of tell that something is off with these new kids, whether it’s their weird behavior or their vague pleadings, but they know that kids have to stick together, and it makes for a camaraderie that may or may not be a good thing. I loved all of the neighbor kids and got a good feel for them, and I liked the building unease surrounding the stranger children, and not knowing just what their deal was. It did feel like a nostalgic take on childhood friendships at the precipice of everything changing, and I really liked how that affected how we cared about these characters.

The other big component of this book that I really liked was the way that Golden focused in on the ennui, dissatisfaction, and toxic aspects of 1980s suburban life. While the kids are running around on Halloween night, encountering strange masked children, the adults are so focused in on their own dysfunction brought on by their troubled lives and relationships that they are a bit distracted during a dangerous time. Whether it’s Barb, whose husband Donnie is a drunk and a philanderer and whom she has just thrown out, or Tony and Alice, who run the neighborhood haunted attraction and are about to lose their home due to financial issues, to the mysterious Zach and Ruth who are the only childless couple and seem… off, Golden has created some suburban drama that fits in the story’s greater themes of how adults can fail the children in their communities and the consequences that can bring. You could just see how this was all going to come to a head and it was very unnerving.

And finally, the more supernatural horrors. Golden really knows how to create creepy moments, characters, and aesthetics. We don’t know just what the Cunning Man is, and we don’t know why he wants these mysterious children who have just appeared, and as we slowly learn more and more we get some very disturbing and scary beats here and there. And even when we think we know something, Golden will pull the rug out from under us and it will be something else completely. I do think that I could have used a little more world building, or at least mythos building, when it came to the supernatural forces at work. I definitely liked how Golden created a scenario that could so easily be turned upon its head through misdirection and clever hints here and there, but once we did get one of the more surprising reveals thrown out there, I felt like we didn’t really focus too much on what exactly the driving force was and how we got to where we were. I know this sounds strange, but I do want to be vague because I don’t want to wreck or ruin anything, plot wise. It’s worth having all the tricks that Golden is hiding revealed in their own time! I just wanted a bit more explanation on some things.

“All Hallows” is a very twisty horror story that will surely send chills up a reader’s spine. Maybe break out some candy and a Fall themed candle to set the mood while reading it, as it will give you all the Halloween feels and everything that implies.

Rating 7: Creepy and nostalgia driven with some pretty good surprises, “All Hallows” has tricks and treats in store.

Reader’s Advisory:

“All Hallows” is included on the Goodreads lists “Horror To Look Forward To in 2023”, and “Recommended by Seanan McGuire”.

Author Q & A: Kendare Blake

We have a really, really exciting post today, dear readers. We are so grateful and honored that Kendare Blake, author of “In Every Generation”, the upcoming “One Girl In All the World”, “All These Bodies”, “Anna Dressed In Blood” and so many more amazing horror and dark fantasy novels, has agreed to participate in a Q and A. Kate has been loving her new “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” books, and in anticipation of the newest “One Girl In All the World” we have some fun questions and answers about horror fiction, historical influences, and, of course so many things “Buffy”. A special thanks to Kendare Blake for being willing to do this, and to Hanna Lindsley for arranging it all!

Q: What first got you interested in the dark fantasy and horror genres?

A: I don’t know, actually! My favorite fantasy movies as a kid were “The Neverending Story” and “The Last Unicorn”, which both have some dark themes/moments, so that probably had something to do with it. Also the fact that I loved Freddy Krueger on sight and picked up my first Stephen King book at age 10.

Q: In other YA horror books you have written, you have used influences from historical events to shape some aspects of the story (The Countess Bathory in “In Every Generation”; Starkweather and The Clutter Murders in “All These Bodies”). What is it like melding historical fact with horror fiction during your writing process?

A: I have a thing about re-examining women in history who I think may have gotten a bad rap. Caril Ann Fugate, who was Charlie Starkweather’s hostage or accomplice, who served as inspiration in my novel “All These Bodies”.  Cassandra of Troy, who I used in my “Antigoddess” series. And Countess Bathory in “In Every Generation”. Of course sometimes in my re-examining I end up making things worse, like making the Countess a Big Bad in Sunnydale. But I hope I made her a fabulous big bad, and I did want to make sure that someone mentioned the possibility that she was historically completely innocent, and the claims against her were invented to get her out of the way for those who wanted her lands and titles.

Q: Besides “Buffy”, what other vampire lore and stories have influenced you in your work?

A: Besides “Buffy”, the vampires of my youth were Anne Rice’s, and that 80s hair band of vamps from “The Lost Boys”.

Q: What was it like writing new characters for “Buffy” and having them interact with some well-loved characters from the source material? Did you find it challenging to bring them together for the story you are trying to tell?

A: Haha, sometimes scenes would get crowded. Like, I felt the weight of the TV writers, who need to have everyone in the scene for story purposes but then also have to give the actors something to do? Like, I felt pressure to give everyone a good, quippy line or something. 

At first, I was worried how the new Scoobies (Noobies?) would fit in with the OGs, but as it turned out, Hailey and Sigmund felt like they were Scoobs from way back. And of course Frankie and Jake felt like Scoobies by virtue of their last names alone. 

Q: Who has been your favorite “Buffy” character to write in your books so far? Has that lined up with a favorite character from the series?

A: When I first watched the series, Willow was my favorite. But she’s surprisingly hard to write! Alyson Hannigan does A LOT with her facial expressions, and the tempo and cadence of her voice. And even beyond that, Willow is a complex character with a lot of layers and a weighty past. She and I had some growing pains together as we tried to figure out her new role as a slayer’s mom, and a John-Wick-witch-coming-out-of-retirement. 

But one character who has been a complete delight has been Spike. Thanks to the range of James Marsters, Spike can do anything. He can go from the heights of clever insightfulness to the basement of whiny baby-man in the space of a page and it’s all in character. I wish there’d been more page time to give him more of an arc–I had wishes for arcs for all of the OGs–but these books were for Frankie and the New Scoobies, and unfortunately some of that just had to be cut.

Q: What is your favorite “Buffy” episode?

A: An impossible question! Band Candy. No. The musical. No. Life Serial. No. Becoming, parts 1 and 2! No. Band Candy! No. Something Blue. No–

Q: Are there any other classic fantasy or sci-fi series you would love to write new stories for?

A: Not really? There are very few properties that I feel like I have the street cred to write for. “Buffy” was one. “Gargoyles”, might be another. And they might be the only two. 

A deep and heartfelt thanks again to Kendare Blake for taking the time to answer these questions! Look for Kate’s Review of “One Girl in All the World” next week, and take a look at her previous reviews of “In Every Generation” and “All These Bodies”!

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire: Vol. 6”

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Book: “American Vampire: Vol. 6” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), et al.

Publishing Info: Vertigo, March 2014

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: This volume of American Vampire collects eight amazing stories set in the world of American Vampire, with “lost tales,” new characters and old favorites. Don’t miss these stories brought to you by series creators Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, as well as other awesome comics talent like Becky Cloonan (Batman), Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon (Daytripper), Jeff Lemire (i>Sweet Tooth), Greg Rucka (The Punisher, Batwoman), Gail Simone (Batgirl) and many more! Also collected here is the stand alone tale of Fan-favorite character Travis Kidd–the vampire hunter who likes to “bite them back”.

Review: So during my first read-through of “American Vampire”, there is a clear shift that I remember that kind of started after “Volume 5”. I looked into “Volume 6”, saw that it was a short stories anthology, and decided that I was going to skip it. After all, I wanted more plot. I wanted to see the aftermath of Pearl losing Henry, and the aftermath of Felicia and Gus going up against the Carpathians. I didn’t want a bunch of short stories that didn’t seem to progress anything. But since I’m doing the full read this time around, I got myself a copy of “Volume 6”, and figured I’d just grin and bear it. But I was such a fool, guys, because I actually ended up really liking the anthology series that is “American Vampire: Volume 6”.

While it’s true that these stories don’t really progress the main plot forward after the huge changes and aftermaths of the previous collection, it actually ended up being nice to have a breather after all the things that happened. It also serves as a way to see some more explored characterizations of some familiar faces, while also introducing characters from the past who end up tying into characters that we recognize, and how vampires have touched the family lines decades or even centuries previously. Since this is a short stories collection, I will do my usual thing of talking about my favorite three in depth, and then expanding upon the collection as a whole.

“The Long Road to Hell” by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.) : This is another Travis Kidd offshoot story, and while Travis hasn’t ingratiated himself TOO much into our main characters timelines as of yet, I thought this was not only a good way to show another, more empathetic side of him, while also showing the inherent tragedy of some vampires. Young lovers Billy Bob and Jolene are in love and running scams of unsuspecting people, when they are targeted and turned by a vampire gang in hopes of using their thievery skills. But Billy Bob and Jolene run, and are desperate to find a cure of their new conditions. On the road they pick up a transient little boy who can read people’s personalities, and try their best to keep their monstrous nature at bay. Then they run afoul Travis Kidd, vampire killer, and they have a choice to make. I loved how tragic this one was, with two really likable and scrappy lovers just doing their best in a world that has kicked them down, only to be doomed because of bad luck. I just adored Billy Bob and Jolene, and seeing Travis have to reckon with the fact that not all vampires are soulless killers was some good growth for him as well.

“Bleeding Kansas” by Rafael Albuquerque and Ivo Milazzo (Ill): Albuquerque shifts roles from illustrator to author, and while I didn’t REALLY like the art design, I really loved the concept of the story. Gil and Marie Jones are a young married couple with abolitionist ideals, hoping to move to Kansas to help build a new state that shares their dreams for social justice and equality. But when they arrive to find a hostile town filled with slave owners and sellers, who are hiding other secrets about themselves. I HIGHLY enjoyed the references to the future pro-slavery vs abolitionist violence and conflicts that were going to come up in Kansas later, the most famous probably being John Brown, and I liked seeing some of Pearl’s ancestors (grandmother and grandfather I believe) having to go head to head with the kinds of creatures their granddaughter would ultimately become.

“Essence of Life” by Gail Simone and Tula Lotay (Ill): This is my favorite story in the collection, and it centers of secondary antagonist Hattie, Pearl’s old roommate turned femme fatale vampire. In this story we get to see the life she was living in Hollywood before she met Pearl, where she is so desperate for stardom that she trusts in the wrong people. She’s now writing a letter to Pearl to explain why she did what she did, and to tell her that she felt like she really had no choice after everything she’d been through. I love that Gail Simone was the author for this one, because she does a stupendous job of turning Hattie from simple backstabbing jealous bitch into a somewhat sympathetic, but still very vile, villainess. It’s hard not to feel for her when you see the horrible crap that happened to her, just as it’s hard not to let out a shout of ‘GOOD FOR HER!’ when you get to the rage-filled and cathartic conclusion.

Forgive the bad photo, I needed this one specifically. (source: Vertigo)

The other stories have their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t really feel like I ever need to know more about Skinner Sweet (I’m still on the anti-Skinner train!), so I kind of skimmed his stories. But I did like seeing other villains get some background, as well as more explorations about race, class, and American violence. All in all, it’s a solid collection!

Don’t make the same mistake I did, friends! If you are reading “American Vampire”, don’t skip over “Volume 6”! It expands things in ways that make the story richer.

Rating 8: This is a pretty solid set of tales within the “American Vampire” universe, with some expansions on character connections, characterizations, and general vampire lore and history inside the universe.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire: Vol. 6” is included on the Goodreads lists “Vampire Anthologies”, and “Best Comics Series Since 2000”.

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “How To Sell a Haunted House”

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Book: “How To Sell a Haunted House” by Grady Hendrix

Publishing Info: Berkley, January 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received and eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Every childhood home is haunted, and each of us are possessed by our parents.

When their parents die at the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic, Louise and Mark Joyner are devastated but nothing can prepare them for how bad things are about to get. The two siblings are almost totally estranged, and couldn’t be more different. Now, however, they don’t have a choice but to get along. The virus has passed, and both of them are facing bank accounts ravaged by the economic meltdown. Their one asset? Their childhood home. They need to get it on the market as soon as possible because they need the money. Yet before her parents died they taped newspaper over the mirrors and nailed shut the attic door.

Sometimes we feel like puppets, controlled by our upbringing and our genes. Sometimes we feel like our parents treat us like toys, or playthings, or even dolls. The past can ground us, teach us, and keep us safe. It can also trap us, and bind us, and suffocate the life out of us. As disturbing events stack up in the house, Louise and Mark have to learn that sometimes the only way to break away from the past, sometimes the only way to sell a haunted house, is to burn it all down.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

It has been a little bit, but the time that many horror fans have been waiting for has arrived! Grady Hendrix has another horror novel out! “How To Sell a Haunted House” has been on my radar for quite some time now, as I have been a fan of Hendrix for years now, ever since my old boss handed me “Horrorstör” from our New Materials delivery and said ‘is this something you may like?’. I’ve been reading his books ever since as he takes on various horror sub genres with humor, heart, and well done scares. And guys, the time I have been waiting for has finally arrived: this one is a haunted house story.

But of course it has a twist. It’s Grady Hendrix, after all! (source)

Excited is an understatement. And by the time I did sit down to read it, I was happy that it was a holiday weekend, because I pretty much tore through this thing whenever I had down time. It’s a top 3 Hendrix book for me, to be sure.

Hendrix is kind of known for cheeky and quirky horror stories that do have legitimate scary foundations, and “How To Sell a Haunted House” continues that streak, this time giving his take on a haunted house story. We have Louise and Mark, estranged siblings who have to come together after their parents are killed in a car accident and leave behind their childhood home and all their possessions. As the bitter siblings try to sort through the house and all the things, weird noises start to come from a nailed shut attic, and memories of strange moments from their childhood start coming to the surface. I’m going to keep things kind of vague with the specifics, but Hendrix combines some genuinely creepy and scary moments of horror and dread that build at a great pace with super funny moments. He is always able to combine two different tones without giving too much distracting weight to one or the other. The scary moments aren’t negated by the humorous bits, just as the really funny bits don’t feel out of place or unwarranted because of the scary stuff. Hendrix knows how to make the balance hit just right. He’s SO good at that.

The portrayal of dysfunctional family dynamics and generational trauma is really well done in this book (this has kind of been a theme in the books I’ve been reading lately, but hey, I’m down for metaphors!). We go into this story from Louise’s point of view, who has left her childhood home of Charleston for California, and who is returning due to her parents’s deaths. Her relationship with her brother is strained at best, and the usual tension in the wake of a sudden loss is exacerbated by the fact they seem to hate each other. I went in fully expecting to hate Mark due to the way he was acting and how Louise was reacting, but this is the thing about Hendrix, by the time we had gotten through the book I was rooting for both of them in all of their complicated, nuanced and imperfect selves. As mentioned above it isn’t like the idea of using family trauma and dysfunction as horror is a very new idea in the genre, but Hendrix really sells it because of the compelling characters, be they two antagonistic siblings, quirky relatives, or a free spirited woman who performs exorcisms on dolls. Hendrix always comes through with the characters in his stories, and it was because I cared about them so much in this one that I felt the stakes were super high, and that makes for high tension horror as two damaged people try to stop harmful family cycles before they damage the next generation. Watching this very messy sibling relationship go through ups, downs, and evolution was emotional as hell, and Hendrix nails all of the complex feelings and actions between Louise and Mark.

I can once again say that Grady Hendrix has knocked it out of the park. “How To Sell a Haunted House” is freaky and funny and emotional, and I really, really enjoyed my time with it.

Rating 9: A fun and at times quite scary horror novel about how houses aren’t the only things that can be haunted, “How To Sell a Haunted House” is another triumph from Grady Hendrix.

Reader’s Advisory:

“How To Sell a Haunted House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Architectural Horror/Fantasy”, and “Horror to Look Forward To in 2023”.

Kate’s Review: “Episode Thirteen”

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Book: “Episode Thirteen” by Craig DiLouie

Publishing Info: Redhook, January 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A ghost-hunting reality TV crew gain unprecedented access to an abandoned and supposedly haunted mansion, which promises a groundbreaking thirteenth episode, but as they uncover the secret history of the house, they learn that “reality” TV might be all too real — in Bram Stoker Award nominated author Craig DiLouie’s latest heart pounding novel of horror and psychological suspense.

Fade to Black is the newest hit ghost hunting reality TV show. It’s led by husband and wife team Matt and Claire Kirklin and features a dedicated crew of ghost-hunting experts.

Episode Thirteen takes them to Matt’s holy grail: the Paranormal Research Foundation. This crumbling, derelict mansion holds secrets and clues about the bizarre experiments that took place there in the 1970s. It’s also, undoubtedly, haunted, and Matt hopes to use their scientific techniques and high tech gear to prove it. 

But, as the house begins to slowly reveal itself to them, proof of an afterlife might not be everything Matt dreamed of

A story told in broken pieces, in tapes, journals, correspondence, and research files, this is the story of Episode Thirteen — and how everything went horribly wrong.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Back in college, when I first had access to cable TV, I was profoundly fascinated by the ghost hunter reality shows that you could find here and there. I’m a person who is very much a Mulder who ‘wants to believe’ (I even have the sticker of that poster on my bedside water bottle), so for a bit I was very into the likes of “Ghost Hunters”, “Paranormal State”, and “Ghost Adventures”. It became pretty clear pretty quickly that they were all pretty silly and staged, but I still have a fondness for the concept of ghost hunting reality shows, goofy as they can be. So obviously when I read the description of “Episode Thirteen”, an epistolary novel about a reality show ghost hunting crew going into a notorious house and finding something terrifying, I really, really felt the need to give it a whirl. Do it for Jason and Grant, Kate!

This book is bursting with creativity, there is no denying that. You get a little bit of reality TV manipulative nonsense, you get some MK-Ultra-esque conspiracy shit, you get unnerving epistolary segments, it’s quite the mix and I thought that it came together pretty well. I liked that DiLouie thought outside of the box when it comes to a run of the mill haunted house/ghost hunters story, and I liked the small homages to classic tales like “The Haunting of Hill House”. It’s a strange brew but for the most part it works. I also really liked the overall ‘found footage’ structure of it, be it emails and text messages between members of the ghost hunting crew and family members or executives at the network, and I liked how they would sometimes be in direct contradiction of the ‘public’ archives like the website promotions. I also thought that DiLouie was pretty adept at writing out descriptions of what one would be seeing on camera and on the screen, and given that this can be a tricky thing to pull off I was very happy to see that it felt natural as well as descriptive. It read like footage from a television show or footage from behind the scenes, very visual and very easy to translate to the minds eye. And I also felt like we got to know most of our characters on the ghost hunting crew. Whether it’s true believer Matt, who needs to prove that there is, in fact, an afterlife, or his skeptical wife Claire who wants to support him but is deeply rooted in her physics background, or crew member Jessica who merely wants to break it big in the industry, I felt like I really understood who these people were, for better or for worse.

The one downside, at least for me, is that by the end we started stretching our genres out into something more metaphysical and downright trippy, and then it kind of lost control of itself. As the climax speeds up and our players start to descend into pure chaos as the final pages unfold, I started to lose the ability to really sense out what was happening, and got a bit muddled with the spiraling narrative. I definitely get the sense that it’s supposed to feel crumbling and out of control, but I think that for me it just got a little too fraught and unhinged. I understand that the goal is to feel the disorientation of it all, but it never came together for me as a reader in a way that felt taut. I’m not sure if that’s a personal taste thing or not.

But having said that, overall I found “Episode Thirteen” to be a solid take with a weird and creepy twist on a ghost hunt gone wrong.

Rating 7: Creepy and trippy, and a fun epistolary tale with some unique storytelling devices, “Episode Thirteen” is a solid new entry into the found materials genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Episode Thirteen” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Fictional Books About Found Footage”.

Kate’s Review: “Bad Cree”

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Book: “Bad Cree” by Jessica Johns

Publishing Info: Doubleday Books, January 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: In this gripping debut tinged with supernatural horror, a young Cree woman’s dreams lead her on a perilous journey of self-discovery that ultimately forces her to confront the toll of a legacy of violence on her family, her community and the land they call home.

When Mackenzie wakes up with a severed crow’s head in her hands, she panics. Only moments earlier she had been fending off masses of birds in a snow-covered forest. In bed, when she blinks, the head disappears.

Night after night, Mackenzie’s dreams return her to a memory from before her sister Sabrina’s untimely death: a weekend at the family’s lakefront campsite, long obscured by a fog of guilt. But when the waking world starts closing in, too–a murder of crows stalks her every move around the city, she wakes up from a dream of drowning throwing up water, and gets threatening text messages from someone claiming to be Sabrina–Mackenzie knows this is more than she can handle alone.

Traveling north to her rural hometown in Alberta, she finds her family still steeped in the same grief that she ran away to Vancouver to escape. They welcome her back, but their shaky reunion only seems to intensify her dreams–and make them more dangerous.

What really happened that night at the lake, and what did it have to do with Sabrina’s death? Only a bad Cree would put their family at risk, but what if whatever has been calling Mackenzie home was already inside?

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I’ve said to so many times, but we are living in a great time for horror literature. We have so many great authors out there right now, with so many awesome ideas and so many different experiences and truths, and I am hoping that we just keep getting more. The book that has reminded me of how hashtag blessed we are this time around is “Bad Cree” by Jessica Johns, the story of a Cree woman named Mackenzie who, after leaving home in the wake of older sister Sabrina’s tragic death, is drawn to return after she starts having strange dreams that she can pull things out from. I mean, come on, if that description alone hasn’t sold you, I don’t know what to tell you! And while I had a feeling that this was going to have some hard emotional beats, I wasn’t totally ready for what was to come. In a good way!

The actual horror elements in this one, supernatural wise, have some well done horror imagery and moments. They are rooted in Indigenous folklore, whether it be the powers of dreaming and melding the dream world with the corporeal world, or the spectre of the monstrous wheetigo, and the stakes are high as these Cree women need to come together to try and save themselves from the same fate as Sabrina. Johns creates some truly haunting and visceral moments in this book, and by rooting the horror within Mackenzie’s culture it makes her connections to her family members all the more important and all the more dread building as they hurtle towards danger in hopes of finding answers and safety. I loved some of the moments that Johns puts on the page, whether cold dream scapes or flashes to the past or conflicts with monsters that wish to do harm.

And it’s probably no surprise that this story is also dripping with metaphors, and Johns makes it seamless. We have a family torn apart by trauma and grief, a trauma and grief that has been direct but also handed down just by way of being an Indigenous family in a racist society. With Mackenzie fleeing her pain guilt and therein disconnecting from her roots, we have a woman who is adrift and adding to a splintering of a family line, and who is literally haunted by this. We also have the themes of the wheetigo, a cannibalistic monster that feeds upon its victims, but also serves as the way that people can be all consumed by their trauma and grief and how that can pass down through generational trauma. There are also the greater implications of monsters that take and take and take and how that can apply to Imperialism and Colonialism, which adds to the cycles of trauma (and which is why it feels especially ghoulish when this folklore is appropriated by non-Indigenous artists). It all comes together to form a very emotional horror story about the many things that haunt us.

“Bad Cree” is a well done debut from an author I am very eager to follow. Definitely seek this one out.

Rating 8: Haunting and visceral, “Bad Cree” explores a woman haunted, not only by bad dreams, but by generational trauma and grief.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bad Cree” is included on the Goodreads lists “All Indigenous Peoples List 3”, and “Horror To Look Forward To in 2023”.

Kate’s Review: “Bound Feet”

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Book: “Bound Feet” by Kelsea Yu

Publishing Info: Cemetery Gates Media, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Find This Book: Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: On the night of the Hungry Ghost Moon, when spirits can briefly return to the living world, Jodi Wu and her best friend sneak into Portland’s Chinese Garden and Ghost Museum. Kneeling before the pond where Jodi’s toddler drowned one year before, they leave food offerings and burn joss paper—and Jodi prays that Ella’s ghost will return for the night.

To distract Jodi from her grief, the two friends tell each other ghost stories as they explore the museum. They stop at the main display, a centuries-old pair of lotus slippers belonging to a woman whose toes were broken and bound during childhood. While reading the woman’s story, Jodi hears her daughter’s voice.

As Jodi desperately searches the garden, it becomes apparent that Ella isn’t the only ghost they’ve awakened. Something ancient with a slow, shuffling step lurks in the shadows

Review: It has become more and more clear that ever since I became a mom that I have a harder time with stories and movies and what have you that involve endangered or dying children. Or hell, even moments where parents have to grieve or mourn or see the deaths of their older progeny. I cannot watch the opening scene of “Scream” anymore once Casey’s parents arrive home, in the middle of her being murdered. I had to step away from watching “Cujo” when Terror Tuesday had it as the feature, telling my friends I’d return to the keyboard eventually. So maybe me deliberately picking up “Bound Feet” by Kelsea Yu seems like an odd choice, given that right in the description it talks about a mother trying to connect with the ghost of her dead toddler. Well, I never said I was a reasonable person when it comes to exposing myself to this kind of stuff. But “Bound Feet” was a very worthwhile read, even as I was sobbing on and off as well as being VERY freaked out by ghostly imagery.

The story centers around Jodi and her friend Sarah, who have decided to break into the Portland Chinese Garden and Ghost Museum. It is during the Hungry Ghost Festival, when it is said that spirits are more likely to reach out from the spirit world, and Jodi is hoping to connect with her daughter Ella, who drowned in that very garden a year prior. The setting is already fraught and tense, as they are there after dark, illegally, with a deep personal trauma at its center. As Jodi hopes to get closure with Ella, the restlessness of the garden awakens other threats, and Yu really nails the slow tension of the suffocating grief as well as the ghostly imagery of a vengeful spirit. There is lots of built up dread that has a great pay off as the weird turn to the outright horrifying, and the descriptions of the ghosts and the things that they do really got under my skin. I also really liked some of the cultural aspects that Yu brought to the tale, be it the Hungry Ghost Festival itself, the Chinese folklore that the story takes a lot of inspiration from, and the dark realities of what it meant to be a woman in the past and the awful shit they would sometimes have to do to survive.

But the grief aspects were the strongest part of the narrative for me. I went into “Bound Feet” able to emotionally prepare myself for the themes of losing a child, which was good, because even with the preparedness I had it was still a bit of a gut punch. Jodi’s grief and her desire to see her dead child again is a theme that has been tapped into a number of times in horror literature’s past (“Pet Sematary” is the one that comes to mind for me), and Yu does it in the length of a novella while still being able to explore it well and thoroughly in the limited pages. There were moments that just killed me, but they also felt necessary and not overwrought so that we could get into the true motivation of this mother who is making a lot of CRAZY choices that are getting her and her companion into deeper and deeper danger. It’s a more realistic layer of horror that drives our protagonist but also makes her, at least to me, all the more relatable and understandable. Even when there was a very uncomfortable finale that set my teeth on edge, I still, in a basal part of my soul, understood. There is also a very personal Afterword section by the author that I found to be really, really powerful and enlightening. Do not skip that section.

“Bound Feet” is a quick, emotional, and scary read. I definitely recommend it, but steel yourself. It’s not the supernatural that left this story lingering in my head after finishing, but the very real horrors within its pages.

Rating 9: A genuinely terrifying and emotionally gut-wrenching horror novella about grief.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bound Feet” isn’t included on any relevant Goodreads lists as of now, but it would fit in on “Horror Novellas”.

Kate’s Review: “In Every Generation”

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Book: “In Every Generation” by Kendare Blake

Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, January 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eBook from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Frankie Rosenberg is passionate about the environment, a sophomore at New Sunnydale High School, and the daughter of the most powerful witch in Sunnydale history. Her mom, Willow, is slowly teaching her magic on the condition that she use it to better the world. But Frankie’s happily quiet life is upended when new girl Hailey shows up with news that the annual Slayer convention has been the target of an attack, and all the Slayers—including Buffy, Faith, and Hailey’s older sister Vi—might be dead. That means it’s time for this generation’s Slayer to be born.

But being the first ever Slayer-Witch means learning how to wield a stake while trying to control her budding powers. With the help of Hailey, a werewolf named Jake, and a hot but nerdy sage demon, Frankie must become the Slayer, prevent the Hellmouth from opening again, and find out what happened to her Aunt Buffy, before she’s next.

Get ready for a whole new story within the world of Buffy!

Review: Thank you to Disney-Hyperion for sending me an eBook copy of this novel!

It’s so funny, when the shows “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” ended I never really went back to revisit them. I wrote a hell of a lot of fan fiction about my favorite characters, but I don’t think I’ve ever done a full rewatch. This is odd because “Buffy” is a show that had a huge impact on me as a teen for a litany of reasons, but between dissatisfaction with some of the way the stories ended and the fact that Joss Whedon is a massive prick, actually getting back into my “Buffy” love has been pretty much sidelined until the past year or so. Whether it was watching “Cobra Kai” and seeing striking parallels between bad girl Tori and my favorite dark slayer Faith, or getting books at ALAAC that were part of the “Buffy” universe, 2022 kind of brought back some of that love. So when I was approached to read Kendare Blake’s new Buffy books, starting with “In Eery Generation”, I went in with an open mind, because I like Blake as an author and I’ve been feeling extra nostalgic. That said, I was not prepared for how much I was going to enjoy “In Every Generation”, the first book in her Frankie Rosenberg series. Guys. I REALLY LIKED THIS BOOK! I was transported back to when the whole family would watch “Buffy” and then my high school best friend Blake would call to dissect the episode!

Queen. (source)

There is always a bit of a risk when a franchise is rebooted for a new generation, and given that “Buffy” ended almost twenty years ago (oh GOD I’m getting old) it may have seemed odd that suddenly we are getting a lot of new content that stems from our favorite vampire slayer. It doesn’t really help that Buffy Summers’s creator Joss Whedon has been exposed as a total shithead in recent years. But Blake takes a job that could have been VERY difficult and makes it seem so easy, in that not only does she effectively capture the pure snarky, heartfelt, and very 2000s essence of “Buffy”, but she also creates new characters that feel real, believable within the world, and makes them just as likable and able to hold their own against old favorites. I really, really loved Frankie Rosenberg, the daughter of Willow who has been awakened as the first Slayer-Witch after an attack on a gathering of slayers that may have left Buffy, Faith, et al dead. We have familiar call backs to Buffy’s own original journey through Frankie and her new group of Scoobies (such as her best friend Jake Osbourne, teen werewolf and cousin to Willow’s ex-boyfriend Oz, and Hailey, a human girl with a missing slayer sister), but Frankie is wholly different from Buffy and really feels like a well thought out person and character. I wholly believed her as an awkward teenage girl who grew up around some of Sunnydale’s best and brightest combatants against evil, and also liked that there was a certain Gen Z flair brought to her character I also liked how Blake taps into vampire lore beyond the “Buffy” stuff, as Frankie may or may not be gearing up to fight against Countess Elizabeth Báthory, notorious Hungarian murderess who, in this, may or may not be a vampire. Blake has used historical events for inspiration before in her horror fiction, vampire fiction no less, and I really liked how it worked here too. It makes the stakes (hurr hurr) higher and it feels more interesting than just having it be Dracula or something (yes, that is a read, if you know, you know). Frankie is just so likable, her friends are adorable too, and I am wholly eager to follow then through this trilogy.

But here is the thing that really sold it for my elder millennial self: BLAKE HAS BASICALLY SHOWCASED A FEW OF MY FAVORITE CHARACTERS FROM THE SHOW AND MADE THEM EVERYTHING I EVER WANTED THEM TO BE! We all know what a big Spike fan I am thanks to my review for William Ritter’s “Bloody Fool for Love”, and I have very high standards and expectations and hopes for any interpretation of my favorite snarky ensouled vampire. Blake has made him SO, SO EXCELLENT!! She has his voice down, she gives him a lot of really fun things to do, and she really knows how to tap into his more vulnerable sides by making him Frankie’s Watcher (with full school librarian aspects and everything, much to his chagrin) and making him care for her like a daughter. I also really loved Willow in this, as she is very much Willow but with a motherly bent, but also a woman who has been thrust back into a magical role that she had been limiting because of her past with dark magic getting out of control. And the one that surprised me the most but also made me SO happy was seeing that Oz is here!! This surprised me a bit because he left in Season 4 and was barely ever mentioned again, but I always had a soft spot for him because Seth Green was the reason I started watching “Buffy” in the first place. Blake expertly taps into the Willow and Oz connection without erasing the fact that Willow is a lesbian, but still keeps their care for each other feeling very real even if platonic. Honestly, everything Blake did with these characters, be it their interpretations or the backstory she built to get from the “Angel” finale to here (I’m fine with erasing the comics canon), made it feel so, so perfectly “Buffy”. Hell, she even limited Xander’s role, and as someone who has never liked Xander (don’t even get me started, I could do a TED talk) but understands why he kind of needs to be here, I was very okay with the part he did play. If Faith shows up as the series continues, I will be on cloud nine. I WANT TO SEE WHAT SHE DOES WITH FAITH. And I, of course, want to see Buffy. But I appreciate that Blake is holding off a bit. Frankie needs to grow into her own thing without THAT weight on her shoulders, so I will bide my time for Buffy to show up. Because she has to.

Overall I super, super enjoyed “In Every Generation”. I am SO amped to see where we go from here, and I am so happy that Kendare Blake has taken on a universe near and dear to my heart and continued it so well. “Buffy” fans old and new need to seek it out.

Rating 9: Boy did this hit every single “Buffy” note that I ever hoped for. So good to see an old favorite in good hands.

Reader’s Advisory:

“In Every Generation” is included on the Goodreads lists “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and “Countess Elizabeth Báthory – Fiction and Non-Fiction”.

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire: Volume 5”

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Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “American Vampire: Volume 5” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), & Dustin Nguyen (Ill.)

Publication Info: Vertigo, March 2013

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: In the first story, series mainstays Skinner Sweet, Pearl and company return to Hollywood in the ’50s during the Red Scare. In a time where America was on the lookout for the next Communist threat, was the real danger something far more insidious? A major turning point in American Vampire lore begins here!

In the second tale, familiar face and vampire hunter Felicia Book is “retired” from vampire hunting when she gets called back into action to track down and kill the most powerful vampire of all time. The hunt takes our heroes through post-war Europe, behind the Iron Curtain and into the heart of Russia to track this deadly enemy

Writer Scott Snyder (Batman, Swamp Thing) and artist Rafael Albuquerque bring together even more threads to the complex tapestry that is the world of American Vampire.

Review: When it came time to pick up “American Vampire: Volume 5” for this re-read, I remembered that I liked this volume a lot the first time I read it, but didn’t really remember why. So I was wondering if taking it on again almost ten years later was going to be a different experience, as lord knows I’ve already had some perspective shifts in the first four volumes. But almost immediately upon jumping in I realized that there was a reason I liked this volume so much, and it was pretty evident that was going to be the case once again.

Our first big story is set in 1950s Europe, with Felicia Book and her son Gus (both living more normal lives due to the supposed ‘cure’ for vampirism she got at the end of her last major arc) spending their time in France. When Felicia is approached by her former VMS boss Hobbes asking her to help the group track down a stolen Dracula (yep, THAT Dracula, the long dormant leader of the Carpathian vampires) she gets pulled back into a job she left behind because Gus is now being compelled by the notorious Count. Felicia continues to be my favorite character in this series, and I loved seeing her fight tooth and nail to keep her son safe, while also feeling lots of resentment about being pulled back into the Vassals at behest of her old friend and boss. I also think that Snyder did a good job of bringing in Dracula without making it hokey or, frankly, stupid. It’s certainly not the first time a modern vampire story has brought Dracula into the fold, but it’s a successful way to bring him in because it feels unique but also rooted in the source material, but also doesn’t overwhelm. Watching Felicia, Hobbes, Gus, and other unlikely allies track down Dracula in ways that mirror the way Dracula is tracked down in the original novel is just fun (I especially like the way that they bring in a Renfield character as well as substituting Soviet soldiers for glamored peasantry), and it all leads to a significant shift in Felicia’s and Gus’s storyline. I’m always happy to spend time with Felicia and Gus, and this really puts them at the forefront of their lovely mother/son relationship.

The other big story is back in the U.S. and has Pearl and Skinner (gag) at the forefront, and brings them back to her origins as an American Vampire in Hollywood. Now it’s the 1950s and Hollywood is undergoing the Red Scare, and Pearl and Sweet are recruited to investigate studio execs and other power players who may be harboring vampires. Pearl, however, is also contending with her husband Henry’s coma, as his attack at the end of her last arc has left her worried that she’s going to lose him. The relationship between Pearl and the absolutely sweet and wonderful (but mortal) Henry has been such a mainstay in this series, but time has been aging Henry while Pearl has stayed youthful, and his mortality is oh so very clear right now. I have always loved Pearl and Henry, and as the series has gone on Snyder has subtly addressed the elephant in the room of how she will ultimately have to say goodbye just due to the reality of their situation. I couldn’t give less of a fuck about how Skinner fits into all of this, though I do admit that I DO enjoy seeing a sire and his fledgling team up, especially after she believed she killed him during WWII. On my first read of this I remember really resenting the fact that Skinner is actually kind of tolerable in this arc, but because it’s mostly due to Pearl and their connection I guess I’m going to allow it. That said, he’s still so static and boring in his malevolence. It was just nice seeing Pearl be able to deal with the baggage there at least a little bit, while also revisiting the trauma that started it all back in Hollywood and the cesspit it is. The women continue to be the shining stars of the series, and, like Felicia, Pearl finds herself at a crossroads by the end of this volume. But hers is far more melancholy.

This was the best volume yet. Snyder both brings things to proper ends, but also opens new doors with more possibilities on the horizon. Keep Pearl and Felicia in the spotlight, “American Vampire”. They continue to be amazing in their complexity and resilience.

Rating 9: The strongest volume yet, with many things coming to conclusions and other things just beginning.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire: Volume 5” is included on the Goodreads lists “Vertigo Titles: Must Read Comic Books A-E”, and “Best Adult Vampire Books”.

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