Kate’s Review: “When the Reckoning Comes”

Book: “When the Reckoning Comes” by LaTanya McQueen

Publishing Info: Harper Perennial, August 2021

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

Book Description: A haunting novel about a black woman who returns to her hometown for a plantation wedding and the horror that ensues as she reconnects with the blood-soaked history of the land and the best friends she left behind.

More than a decade ago, Mira fled her small, segregated hometown in the south to forget. With every mile she traveled, she distanced herself from her past: from her best friend Celine, mocked by their town as the only white girl with black friends; from her old neighborhood; from the eerie Woodsman plantation rumored to be haunted by the spirits of slaves; from the terrifying memory of a ghost she saw that terrible day when a dare-gone-wrong almost got Jesse—the boy she secretly loved—arrested for murder.

But now Mira is back in Kipsen to attend Celine’s wedding at the plantation, which has been transformed into a lush vacation resort. Mira hopes to reconnect with her friends, and especially, Jesse, to finally tell him the truth about her feelings and the events of that devastating long-ago day.

But for all its fancy renovations, the Woodsman remains a monument to its oppressive racist history. The bar serves antebellum drinks, entertainments include horrifying reenactments, and the service staff is nearly all black. Yet the darkest elements of the plantation’s past have been carefully erased—rumors that slaves were tortured mercilessly and that ghosts roam the lands, seeking vengeance on the descendants of those who tormented them, which includes most of the wedding guests. As the weekend unfolds, Mira, Jesse, and Celine are forced to acknowledge their history together, and to save themselves from what is to come.

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

One of my favorite places to visit on a semi-regular basis (at least in the beforetimes) is Savannah, Georgia. It’s such a funky historic town, and I really enjoy staying in the historic area, walking around the squares, and doing haunted pub crawls and ghost tours. I also try to go on historic house tours, as there is a lot of interesting history there, but I almost always found it hard to really enjoy because so many of the tours would completely white wash the slavery aspect of said history. That isn’t to say that doesn’t happen in Northern historical institutions: as someone who has worked at historic sites before, one of which had a significant tie to Dred Scott, it happens up North too (admittedly, the sites I worked at did try to start the conversations, they just also didn’t give us tools to handle the visitors who would meet those conversations with either derision or flat out hostility. THE STORIES I HAVE.). Horrors of some of our historic sites can get lost, and a lot of the time it’s because of the fact America hasn’t really faced those horrors yet. “When the Reckoning Comes” by LaTanya McQueen takes this idea, and makes it into a full blown vengeful ghost story, and boy does it work.

In terms of ghostly plots, we have a little bit of everything. Childhood friends Mira and Celine have grown apart, but Mira returns home for Celine’s wedding at a rural plantation house that may or may not be haunted. We see this story unfold in a few ways. The first is the present, as Mira attends the wedding celebrations in spite of her very understandable discomfort. But that discomfort isn’t just because of the terrible things that happened to Black people on that land (and Celine deciding to have a lavish party there in spite of that), but also because of another timeline we see: when they were kids, Mira and hers and Celine’s friend Jesse went onto the land when it was run down and abandoned, as the rumors of ghosts were intriguing. But what they both saw and experienced on that visit changed their lives. For Mira, she saw things that she couldn’t explain, but for Jesse, the mysterious death of a white local on the property led to him being suspected of murder due to his proximity, but mostly his race. All of these things come to a head during Celine’s wedding celebrations, but there is also the aspect of the vengeful ghosts that want to take out any descendants of those who brutalized them in life… who happen to be a lot of the wedding guests and wedding party members. The ghost aspects of this book hit all the marks I wanted them to hit: they have VERY legitimate reasons for being angry, there are a lot of creepy moments with imagery and pacing, and we have Mira who just can’t quite believe that she is seeing something supernatural, even as it becomes more and more clear that something strange is happening. McQueen knows the beats to hit for an effective ghost story, and she hits them pretty well.

But this ghost story, while absolutely having creepy ghost moments, is also about the way that history and trauma can haunt for generations. The metaphors are rich in this book, the ghosts of America’s sins being a huge theme, and characters like Mira and Jesse who have to reckon with them, while characters like Celine don’t feel like they have to. Mira and Jesse bear the brunt of American racism in different ways, be it Jesse being accused of a crime he didn’t commit because of his race, or Mira internalizing that racism and trying to be an ‘ideal’ Black woman in a society that is fueled by white ideals and supremacy. For them to be invited by white childhood friend Celine to her LITERAL plantation wedding, and for her to not see what the problem is with it and to dismiss how fucked up it is, is truly a perfect set up for this kind of story. Celine is a bit more than the caricature that she could have been, in that you do see her complex friendship with Mira for both the bad and the good. You do see how she, too, had a hard time growing up in their community as someone who was poor. But you also see that she always, ALWAYS, falls on the side of her whiteness, even when it is on the side of those who mistreated her for other things, and how insidious whiteness can be because of that. It’s heavy stuff, and McQueen lays it all out expertly. And really, the true horror story moments are moments of interlude that are from the generalized POV of the ghosts of the slaves, who tell their experiences in all of their devastating truths. It is so hard to read, but it is very important to do so. We have so much reckoning to do still.

“When the Reckoning Comes” is certainly a horror story, but it’s the horror story of the disgusting legacy of chattel slavery in America. And it’s long past time we face that horror head on.

Rating 9: Lots of suspense and scares, as well as on point commentary, “When the Reckoning Comes” is a seething and scary horror story!

Reader’s Advisory:

“When the Reckoning Comes” is new and not on many Goodreads lists, but I think it would fit in on “Diverse Horror”.

Find “When the Reckoning Comes” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Dead and the Dark”

Book: “The Dead and the Dark” by Courtney Gould

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, August 2021

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

Book Description: Courtney Gould’s thrilling debut The Dead and the Dark is about the things that lurk in dark corners, the parts of you that can’t remain hidden, and about finding home in places―and people―you didn’t expect

The Dark has been waiting for far too long, and it won’t stay hidden any longer.

Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV’s ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before, but the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there’s more secrets buried here than they originally let on.

Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she’s felt his presence ever since. But now that the Ortiz-Woodleys are in town, his ghost is following her and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who—or what—is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness.

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

Given that I am a HUGE sucker for the ‘small town with terrible secrets’ trope, I am always on the lookout for books and stories that showcase it, and showcase it well. In the past few years there have been books that have hit the mark and missed the mark, and when I requested “The Dead and the Dark” by Courtney Gould I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that it was a YA horror novel that not only had that highly enjoyable theme, but it also had a sapphic romance to go with the scares. Since I was a bit let down by a previously hyped book with these themes, I was hoping that this one would give me what I wanted, and for the most part it did!

“The Dead and the Dark” is told through two third person perspectives. The first is that of Logan, a teenage daughter of Brandon and Alejo, the hosts of the ghost hunting show “Paraspectors”. Her Dads were raised in Snakebite but never fit in, and Logan has a strained relationship with Brandon that she hasn’t been able to really figure out. Ashley, on the other hand, is a local teenager who is basically a member of Snakebite royalty, but ever since her boyfriend Tristan disappeared she’s felt like something is off. When Logan’s dads are suddenly suspects in Tristan’s disappearance, Logan and Ashley have to work together to try and figure out what happened, and what secrets the town is hiding. Both characters were well explored and given depth, and I found myself eager to get to each perspective as the book went on. They are both good characters on their own, but Gould is sure to make their interactions as they become allies, then friends, then maybe something more, enjoyable. But Gould doesn’t stop there, as the supporting characters are also interesting and do more than just furthering the plot that Logan and Ashley work within. I liked getting to know Brandon and Alejo, as well as the other teens in the town who range from helpful to downright hostile. Snakebite as a town is also well explored, as the small town with a secret theme has layers of small town angst and pain for outsiders that come to the surface.

As for the plot and the horror elements, “The Dead and the Dark” did some new things that I really liked. I don’t want to give too much away, as there are definitely things here that I want readers to discover without the potential for being spoiled. But, like many good horror stories, there is thought and purpose behind the dark fantasy and horror elements. As Logan and Ashley start to find clues to the evil that is hurting local teens, they also start seeing the every day rot, be it due to sexism, or homophobia, or just plain resentment of anything different from what is known. This ties into the big reveal as to what is going on, and then another reveal within that reveal that legitimately caught me off guard. And it was done in a way that built it up, made it believable, AND socked me right in the feels. So much so that I found myself crying a bit, and I’m not really used to crying while reading YA horror novels.

I had a really good time reading “The Dead and the Dark”. The horror elements were creepy, the sapphic elements were very satisfying, and I will definitely be checking out what Courtney Gould has to offer the genre in the future!

Rating 8: A creepy and suspenseful YA horror story with enjoyable characters and a small town with secrets setting, “The Dead and the Dark” is a fun read with a nice romance to boot.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dead and the Dark” is included on the Goodreads lists “2021 Sapphic Releases”, and “Monsters and Magic Society”.

Find “The Dead and the Dark” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Book of Accidents”

Book: “The Book of Accidents” by Chuck Wendig

Publishing Info: Del Rey, July 2021

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

Book Description: A family returns to their hometown—and to the dark past that haunts them still—in this masterpiece of literary horror by the New York Times bestselling author of Wanderers.

Long ago, Nathan lived in a house in the country with his abusive father—and has never told his family what happened there.

Long ago, Maddie was a little girl making dolls in her bedroom when she saw something she shouldn’t have—and is trying to remember that lost trauma by making haunting sculptures.

Long ago, something sinister, something hungry, walked in the tunnels and the mountains and the coal mines of their hometown in rural Pennsylvania.

Now, Nate and Maddie Graves are married, and they have moved back to their hometown with their son, Oliver. And now what happened long ago is happening again . . . and it is happening to Oliver. He meets a strange boy who becomes his best friend, a boy with secrets of his own and a taste for dark magic. This dark magic puts them at the heart of a battle of good versus evil and a fight for the soul of the family—and perhaps for all of the world. But the Graves family has a secret weapon in this battle: their love for one another

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

After reading Chuck Wendig’s post-apocalyptic tome “Wanderers” back in 2019, I told myself that I wanted to give him another go, even if there were bits of that book that didn’t work for me so well. After all, while I had my issues with the book, I ultimately liked the writing style that Wendig has, as well as a few of the characters that he created. So when I found out that his next novel, “The Book of Accidents”, was being touted as straight horror with a creepy house on the cover, I was absolutely game to hop right back into one of his stories. Sure, I was a little nervous about having issues with the story overall again, but definitely was willing to take the risk. And hey, as it turns out, that risk mostly reaped rewards this time around!

“The Book of Accidents” is touted as a horror novel by a lot of people, and while it definitely has horror elements, I would say that it’s also a bit of a dark fantasy. These genres can happily coexist, and Wendig combines them into something pretty unique. While there are elements of a haunted house story to be sure, we also have magic, inter-dimensional timelines, and a little bit of cosmic horror to top it all off. It’s a lot to cover, thematically, and you can see that in the length of the novel. It’s a bit of a double edged sword, because while I do think that Wendig did a good job of balancing all of it, it also made the read to be a little long at times. But a slight case of bloat aside, I found “The Book of Accidents” to be rewarding in all of the marks that it hits, and it still felt like a fast read overall when I got past some of the laggy parts. Wendig has a good sense for intricate plotting and build up, and he lays out clues that come to fruition and make sense when joined together. He also knows how to create a creepy scene, be it because you know that someone has ulterior, dangerous motives, or because he is putting you in the shoes of someone who has experienced something that is unsettling, or simply unexplainable, even if it isn’t immediately horrifying. It was moments like these that hit hardest as I was reading, and I found them to be pretty darn effective.

But what I liked most about “The Book of Accidents” is the family at the heart of it, Nate, Maddie, and Oliver. I felt that Wendig really developed all of these characters with care and meticulousness, and I found myself adoring all of them in similar amounts, something that doesn’t happen too often for me in books with multiple perspectives. Sure, I could like all of them, but there would be one stand out, and yet Nate, Oliver, and Maddie all had sections and moments that I was always chomping at the bit to get to. Wendig makes you care for all of them, and while he makes sure that they all have their flaws or bits that are rough around the edges, it’s easy to relate to all three. It’s easy to invest in this family, so when they find themselves in grave danger, the stakes for all of them are high and you need to know what happens to them. There were supporting characters who also stood out (I’m thinking mostly of Fig, Nate’s partner in the Fish and Wildlife Department, who is no nonsense and really enjoyable), but the heart is definitely the Graves family. The villainous characters are a little less drawn out (I found Oliver’s friend/foe Jake in particular to be a little cartoony), but in the case of this book I wasn’t too put off by that if only because so many of the others were well done.

“The Book of Accidents” is enjoyable and creepy! It’s a great choice if you are looking for horror with some kind of unique elements to the genre. Chuck Wendig has officially landed on my ‘gotta read what he comes out with next’ list with this one.

Rating 8: An entertaining horror/dark fantasy novel with enjoyable characters, “The Book of Accidents” is a quick read with some great unsettling scares.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Book of Accidents” is included on the Goodreads lists “Horror To Look Forward To In 2021”, and “Celebrate Horror 2021”.

Find “The Book of Accidents” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Giveaway: Omnium Gatherum Mini Reviews/Prize Package

Hello horror fans! It’s been awhile since I’ve run a giveaway on the blog, and I am coming back to the giveaway game with a very fun prize package! Omnium Gatherum is an indie press that has a focus on horror and dark fantasy stories, and they were kind enough to send me a few titles that have lots of scares and bumps in the night! And not only that, I want to share them with a lucky winner! So let’s talk about the titles for the Omnium Gatherum Prize Package!

Book: “Bergdorf & Associates” by Thomas C. Mavroudis

After a suicide attempt, Abe has been working for Bergdorf & Associates, beings that are otherworldly and similar to djinn. They ask him to retrieve items or to complete tasks, and he doesn’t pry too deeply. But when a fellow contractor named Rayne manipulates him, takes his quarry, and puts him in serious danger, Abe has to find a way to complete his task. So he turns to the help of his twin nieces who seem to be telepathic, and a friend named Cruz who knows a little magic of his own. This novella is unique and strange, but Abe is a fun character to follow and his nieces are both adorable and a little creepy! Also, while Rayne is absolutely an antagonist, she has a very fun personality and at one point wears a delightfully geeky geology shirt that I won’t spoil here. It’s a quick and fun read, and one that dark fantasy fans will probably enjoy.

Book: “Entangled Soul & Other Stories” by Gene O’Neill and Chris Marrs

This is a bit of a hybrid collection, in that it features short stories from authors Gene O’Neill and Chris Marrs, as well as a novella collaboration that is the title piece. My favorite story by O’Neill is “Surfing Is My Life: Fear and Loathing on the Northern California Coast”. A reporter tags along with a surfer girl who is planning on entering a competition, and hopes to write a gonzo column about it for Rolling Stone. But while he has seen a lot of strange things during his writing, nothing can prepare him for what he encounters on this assignment. As someone who LOVES Hunter S. Thompson, this homage to one of my favorite writers is both well done, as well as unsettling in a way that sneaks up on you. For Marrs, I enjoyed “Paper and Pencil Skin and Ink”. A woman in an abusive relationship meets a mysterious man with strange tattoos all over his body, and she realizes that the tattoos aren’t just normal tattoos. The dark fantasy elements with ties to historical mysteries really worked for me, and I thought that it was properly mysterious and strange. And their collaborative novella, “Entangled Soul”, tells the story of a down and out boxer and an agoraphobic woman who are separated in many ways, but realize that their souls and consciousnesses are overlapping. They blend their voices together very well to tell this story, which feels part Sci Fi ‘what if’, and possession tale. I got a good feel for both their styles in this collection, and the collaboration is a nice way to finish it off.

Book: “Night Terrors & Other Tales” by Lisa Morton

This collection of short stories by Stoker Award Winner Lisa Morton span decades in her career, and were personally picked by her. From monsters to medical horror settings to magic, there is a little something for every horror fan. The two stories that really stood out for me were “Sparks Fly Upward”, a dystopian tale of a woman living in a Colony with limited resources. When she finds herself pregnant, she knows that she has to have an abortion, as a second child would tax the community. But when she and a party venture out to the abandoned clinic, zombies of former anti-abortion protestors still roam the property. This story is both a cathartic tale about the lingering obsession of the anti-abortion crowd, but also a bittersweet story about a person who may want another child at some point, but at the moment literally cannot afford to have one. I really, really loved it. The second story that grabbed my attention was “Black Mill Cove”, the tale of a man who goes searching for abalone and other creatures in tide pools, leaving his wife behind. But then he finds a human arm…. And realizes that this isn’t just a hunting ground, but a dumping ground as well, for a different kind of hunter. The tension in this one really builds, and I will definitely say that the end had me saying ‘oh SHIT’. I will say that there are definitely some stories in here that need content warnings, specifically “Poppi’s Monster”, which has depictions of child sexual abuse.

And here is a chance for you to get your hands on these fun books from Omnium Gatherum! It may be a little ways before Halloween season, but these books will give you a lot of spooky material in the mean time! Thanks again to Omnium Gatherum for sending these books my way!

The giveaway is open only to U.S. residents and ends on July 26, 2021.

Enter The Giveaway Here

Kate’s Review: “The Final Girl Support Group”

Book: “The Final Girl Support Group” by Grady Hendrix

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, July 2021

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

Book Description: A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.

In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?

Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.

But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

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

I’ve mentioned it many a time before, but I really enjoy slasher movies. They’ve been my jam since I was a middle schooler who was way into the likes of “Scream”, “Friday the 13th”, and “Halloween”, and as time has gone on I’ve explored many a franchise, many a slasher killer, and many a Final Girl. It’s a trope that’s a bit rooted in sexism and misogyny, as the virginal ‘good’ girl is usually the one to live to the end, though that’s been subverted a number of times in the past couple decades (“Scream” was probably the first to really do it right). Problematic or not, I do love a good Final Girl. A few books in the past few years have decided to explore what life would be like for a character like this after the monster movie has ended, and the newest foray into such exploration is Grady Hendrix’s “The Final Girl Support Group”. Because no one can deny that any Final Girl who survives a slasher killer, sometimes over multiple movies, would undoubtedly need therapy.

So much therapy…(source)

“The Final Girl Support Group” has a number of members, all of whom are middle aged women who have survived horrific, traumatic attempted murders that were then turned into film franchises. While the characters are technically original characters by Hendrix, all of them are clear analogs for some of the most popular Final Girls ever seen on screen (and their first names are usually the same as the actresses that portrayed these characters, with a couple subversions. It’s super, super fun). Marilyn (the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” analog) has married rich and dove into charity work; Dani (the “Halloween” analog, though a reference to Danielle Harris in later movies as ‘Jamie’ would probably be too on the nose) has become a gun hoarding hermit whose only companion is her wife, Michelle; Heather (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) has dived deep into conspiracy theories and addiction, as no one believes that her monster is, indeed, supernatural; Julie (“Scream”- another name change but her last name is Campbell) is wheelchair bound and now an activist; and Adrienne (“Friday the 13th”) has turned the summer camp of her trauma into a mental health wellness organization for women who have been affected by violence. But our first person protagonist is Lynette, who survived an attempted murder by a man whose dark obsession with Santa Claus drove him to kill people while wearing a Santa Suit (a la “Silent Night, Deadly Night”), and she is the one who probably needs the group more than the other members. When the other group members are wanting to disband, Lynette clings to the group, and when Adrienne is murdered she immediately believes that they are all in danger. It was an interesting choice to have our protagonist be Linnea Quigley’s character from “Silent Night, Deadly Night”, as technically, she isn’t a final girl- in the movie, she doesn’t survive, much less fight back against her would be killer. So in this, as a ‘real world’ version, Lynette has been kind of thrown to the wayside since she was too incapacitated to earn her Final Girl stripes. But it opens up a wealth of possibilities, and it makes Lynette somehow more vulnerable than the others in her insecurities and need to belong since she isn’t seen as a ‘fighter’. And in turn, that makes the story and the desperate choices she makes as they all try to survive once again compelling and frustrating, as well as very, very sad in some ways. While I think that Hendrix could have done more with her, and perhaps it would have been more interesting to follow another of the Final Girls (honestly, I want an entire book about Marilyn. I LOVED her), it felt correct that Lynette was the one we got, because she’s almost the one we could trust the least (outside of Heather. DAMN, poor Heather).

In terms of the plot as Lynette tries to figure out how to keep herself and her group mates alive, and to figure out who is targeting them, I was able to predict a few things here and there. I wasn’t as invested in that aspect of the story, as it’s pretty run of the mill. What makes this book work is that Hendrix has penned both a love letter to slasher movies, and found a way to deconstruct them and take them down a few notches without being smug about it. The slasher genre absolutely has problems with sexism and exploitation, and Hendrix makes us confront that by seeing just how incredibly messed up and traumatized these women are. Final Girls are seen as heroic in the movies because of their resilience and ‘goodness’, but in this book all of these women were basically brutalized by men, and then their lives were ruined because of it. However, that point doesn’t make it any less fun to see him play with these characters, and leave in all the fun easter eggs and treasures for readers who love the movies that their characterizations come from. I was grinning ear to ear throughout a lot of this book. And Hendrix, while making our Final Girls a little tragic and traumatized, also makes a few of them VERY funny. Marilyn had me in stitches half the time, and Heather has some hilarious snipes and sarcastic moments. Hendrix is still having fun, and the reader knows that you are allowed to have fun as well as confronting what the actual fallout of this kind of character would have be face.

“The Final Girl Support Group” was a really fun read for this slasher movie fan! It’s horror with heart and humor, and fans of the genre really need to check it out.

Rating 8: A fun love letter to one of my favorite horror movie genres, “The Final Girl Support Group” will be a blast for fans of slasher movies everywhere!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Final Girl Support Group” is included on the Goodreads lists “Slasher Fiction”, and “Horror To Look Forward To in 2021”.

Find “The Final Girl Support Group” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Children of Chicago”

Book: “Children of Chicago” by Cynthia Pelayo

Publishing Info: Agora Books, February 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: This horrifying retelling of the Pied Piper fairytale set in present-day Chicago is an edge of your seat, chills up the spine, thrill ride. ‪ When Detective Lauren Medina sees the calling card at a murder scene in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, she knows the Pied Piper has returned. When another teenager is brutally murdered at the same lagoon where her sister’s body was found floating years before, she is certain that the Pied Piper is not just back, he’s looking for payment he’s owed from her. Lauren’s torn between protecting the city she has sworn to keep safe, and keeping a promise she made long ago with her sister’s murderer. She may have to ruin her life by exposing her secrets and lies to stop the Pied Piper before he collects.

Review: There were, of course, many disappointments that came with the pandemic, and one of the biggest sub groups for me was of the cinematic variety. Not only do I really miss going to the Alamo Drafthouse for throwback movie nights, there were a number of movies I was very excited to see in the theater, that either had to be released on demand, or were bumped back by a year. One of those movies was the reboot of “Candyman”. For the unfamiliar, the premise is that if you say ‘Candyman’ into a mirror five times, he will come out of it and brutally murder you. I really enjoy the original, as not only does it tick my boxes of urban legend based horror and social commentary, it’s also an awesome deep dive into the city of Chicago and all of its darker realities (and seeing that I’m vaxxed now, if the numbers are looking good by the time this new movie comes out, maybe that will be my triumphant return to the movies…. fingers crossed?). Lucky for me, I randomly stumbled upon “Children of Chicago” by Cynthia Pelayo on Twitter, and after looking into it, lo and behold: it’s a horror story in Chicago, involving a mysterious game and the fairy tale of the Pied Piper, the man who steals children away when he isn’t compensated. OH MAN, THIS IS WHAT I WANT IN MY HORROR STORIES!

“You were not content with the stories, so I was obliged to come.” (source)

There are certainly comparisons to be drawn between “Children of Chicago” and “Candyman”, but Pelayo has created a horror story that feels wholly unique because of the themes and twists that she throws into it. The Pied Piper story turned urban legend is a great premise, as the fairy tale on its own is horrifying. When you bring it into a modern setting, and add in elements of “Bloody Mary” like kids games and Slenderman stabbings, it becomes something new and even more sinister. As our protagonist Detective Lauren Medina investigates the deaths of kids in Chicago, we find ourselves in a modern fairy tale with elements that suit both the horror genre and the genre it’s paying homage to. Pelayo has a stellar mystery of what the Pied Piper is, how he connects to Lauren, and how he’s involved in not only the deaths of teens in her jurisdiction, but also that of her younger sister, who was found drowned in a lagoon in Humboldt Park when Lauren was a child. As she investigates and starts to piece together what is going on, the tension builds and the terror creeps up. I loved how Pelayo took the original story and applied it to the present, bringing in modern horrors and anxieties to create something twisted and new. Sometimes things got a bit muddled, or I would feel like it was lagging a bit in terms of pacing, but mostly I was hooked and wanted to keep going.

Pelayo also has a lot of really fun tidbits about Chicago’s history, both that of the innovative and joyful city, and that of the darkness and violence that has plagued it since its inception. I know a little bit about Chicago, given that I’m from the Midwest and it is the biggest city in our region, but I feel like I learned more about it and its history as I read this book. Pelayo has a special focus on the systemic racism that has caused so many problems and damaged so many lives, and how Chicago has a lot of death surrounding it because of its history and because of the ills that still plague it. You get the sense that Pelayo loves Chicago, and wants it to be the best that it can be, while still acknowledging how dark it is in some ways.

But what struck me most about “Children of Chicago” is that our protagonist, Lauren Medina, is not exactly a hero. She carries a lot of baggage from her past, from the disappearance of her mother to the death of her sister, to trying to live up to the Medina name as her father was a highly respected police officer in his own right. There is also the very pesky fact that Lauren has a pretty serious pattern of discharging her weapon on suspects, and while in one case it’s possibly justifiable, in a number of other cases it isn’t. I feel like in cop stories where a cop or detective or what have you is trying to hunt down someone monstrous, more often than not if they ARE a ‘renegade’, it’s portrayed in a way that makes their behavior seem justified (though recently we saw a bit of a challenge to this in Stephen King’s “Later”). Not so in “Children of Chicago”. Lauren is a renegade and it is a serious problem, in that it damages her credibility, it damages the credibility of her department, and it causes damage to innocent peoples lives. It’s just one more layer of darkness to this tale, and getting into the mind of Lauren and peeling back the elements of her character is just as disturbing as some of the other aspects of this book.

Horror fans, you should definitely go read “Children of Chicago”. And I’m on board with whatever Pelayo comes out with next.

Rating 8: Dark and twisted, as well as a biting character study, “Children of Chicago” is a love letter to a complicated city, and an urban legend scary story sure to delight horror fans.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Children of Chicago” is included on the Goodreads list “2021 Horror Releases”.

Find “Children of Chicago” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Lost Village”

Book: “The Lost Village” by Camilla Sten

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, April 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The Blair Witch Project meets Midsommar in this brilliantly disturbing thriller from Camilla Sten, an electrifying new voice in suspense.

Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened. But there will be no turning back.

Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice: They are not alone. They’re looking for the truth… But what if it finds them first?

Review: Awhile back I was perusing the titles on NetGalley, and I kept stumbling upon a book called “The Lost Village” by Camilla Sten. Every time I would see it I’d ask myself ‘why haven’t I looked into that?’, but then I’d look again and the description was the key. You have me at “Blair Witch Project”, but you lose me at “Midsommar” (sacrilege? Maybe. I just didn’t like that movie). But eventually I decided that I needed to give it a go. So I bought it, and as soon as I started it I never should have waited as long as I did.

Me contemplating the time I wasted. I dislike the movie, but love this meme! (source)

“The Lost Village” is a slow burn horror story that (absolutely) has similar elements to “The Blair Witch Project” and “Midsommar”, but stands very well on its own. The story is told through various channels. The first and most prominent follows Alice and her film crew in the modern day, as they start to explore the abandoned village of Silvertjärn. Alice’s grandmother was a resident who had left before the disappearance, and who lost her entire family. Alice is obsessed and determined to make a documentary about the town in hopes of getting answers, but there is tension in her crew due to messy histories and secrets. In this timeline strange things start happening, and the crew slowly starts finding themselves in danger. The second channel follows Elsa, Alice’s great grandmother who is seeing her town slowly become seduced by a new pastor, whose zealotry is manipulating everyone and leading them down a dangerous path. The third is through letters between Elsa’s daughters Margareta and Aina, which slowly shows Aina becoming more and more entranced with the new leader. All of these pieces come together to tell a well thought out horror story that slowly builds the dread and terror. I liked the back and forth through the narrative, as each storyline contained clues about the others, and the ultimate fate of Silvertjärn. The strongest was the modern day perspective, as not only did it have some of the scariest moments, it also had the most interesting characters. Alice is a flawed but interesting protagonist, and her interactions with her compatriots (particularly with Emmy, an ex-friend that Alice harbors some bitter resentment towards) are realistic as the situation turns from intriguing to dire. I found myself invested in them, so when the stakes are raised, the fallout has true weight. Sten makes you care about these characters, and that ultimately amps up the horror aspects.

And let’s talk about the horror aspects. Because they are spot on and very, very disturbing. The more obvious is that of the feeling that the crew is being watched in the abandoned town, and the slow build of paranoia as strange things start to happen, and one of the members of the crew starts acting strange as well. Some of the images that Sten brings forth in the narrative really messed with me in this regard, from descriptions of a corpse on a post to a shadowed silhouette staring towards Alice and her crew in the dark. The other horror, of course, is set firmly in the past storyline, as a town of generally decent people start to form a cultish devotion to a sociopathic con artist who twists religious fervor to suit his own needs. You eventually kind of see where this is all going, knowing that eventually Silvertjärn’s population just vanishes without a trace, but it still made me tense and completely horrified as people fell under his spell and terrible things came about because of it. The horrors of real life are put on perfect display here, and boy oh boy does it pack a wallop.

Fans of horror stories absolutely need to read “The Lost Village”. I cannot, CANNOT wait to see what Camilla Sten comes out with next.

Rating 9: Tense and ultimately horrifying, “The Lost Village” is sure to disturb any avid fans of horror in all the best ways.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lost Village” is included on the Goodreads lists “Haunting Reads”, and “Books Set in Sweden”.

Find “The Lost Village” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Other Black Girl”

Book: “The Other Black Girl” by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Publishing Info: Atria Books, June 2021

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

Book Description: Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

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

Satire and horror go together like cheese and crackers as far as I’m concerned, and I’m always looking for some good commentary in the horror stories that I consume. When I came across “The Other Black Girl” by Zakiya Dalila Harris on my Twitter feed, I was immediately interested. Described as a mix of “Get Out” and “The Devil Wears Prada”, I went to see if I had access to a copy on NetGalley, and downloaded it post haste. I’m always one for workplace drama thrillers, but even more important it’s always great to see more diverse voices have space in genres that can feel very white a lot of the time. And if you’re going to say “Get Out” as a descriptor, well, I’m almost certainly in.

“The Other Black Girl” definitely lives up to the pop culture descriptors, though I would also throw in the horror movie “Bad Hair” as well, as “The Other Black Girl” takes on not only racism and microaggressions, but specifically Misogynoir in a work place that doesn’t think it has a racism problem, and weaponized tokenism. Our main character is Nella, an editorial assistant at the prestigious Wagner publishing house, and is the only Black woman in her department. Her job is exhausting enough on its own, and having to maneuver a work place that is filled with seemingly well intentioned white people who are constantly tossing microaggressions her way just makes it all the more isolating and tiring. Harris does a really good job of establishing the work environment and culture of Wagner, and how it bogs Nella down. Nella is a sympathetic and relatable protagonist, who is really hoping for success at Wagner, but is also insecure in her wants and needs to be accepted by a workplace that doesn’t really give her a chance. From the jump, you understand Nella, and her characterization is drawn in a way that her choices down the line make sense.

So when Hazel is hired on, Nella’s relief and excitement is palpable that she may at least have a companion in this difficult sea to navigate. Of course, nothing is ever that easy, and what seems could be a racist and sexist industry making two Black women feel like they have to be pitted against each other, is actually something far more insidious. What that is, we don’t know, but Harris is more than happy to slowly unpack and reveal darker and more far reaching dangers for Nella, all of it satirizing and critiquing white industries and how they treat their Black employees, and how these power structures can in turn make these employees feel the need to outgun each other, or conform to racist mores in order to succeed. Especially if those employees are women. And while these themes may be taken to outlandish places within this story (I’m holding this all close to the vest, though, as I think you need to go in with little idea of where Harris is going to take you), as satire is works really, really well.

And as a thriller novel, I’d even go so far as to say horror novel, “The Other Black Girl” is completely effective. I was totally sucked in right away, wondering who was trying to intimidate Nella, wondering what Hazel’s motivation was, and wondering how everything connected. Especially since early one, we see that there are other players who are a part of this story, some of whom we don’t know how they connect to Nella’s situation. I loved how Harris slowly established settings, timelines, and players, and then carefully and slowly brought them together. While sometimes the structure could be a little confusing (there were moments where we’d go into an extended flashback in the middle of an action point, which caused a little whiplash), overall I felt that all the pieces fall into place when they need to. On top of that, there is also a lot of humor in these pages, most of which comes from Nella’s close friend Malaika, who is a bit more confident and willing to give Nella some hard truths with wit and sarcasm. All of these things make this book not only a biting social commentary, but also super entertaining and a page turner until the very end.

“The Other Black Girl” is a buzz worthy and propelling horror-thriller that has a lot to say about Misogynoir and racism. If you like satire in your horror like I do, absolutely do not miss this.

Rating 9: A suspenseful an satirical horror-thriller about race, identity, and the workplace, “The Other Black Girl” has bite and hard truths, as well as some genuinely funny moments.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Other Black Girl” is included on the Goodreads lists “Well-Read Black Girl Book Suggestions”, and “Horror/Thriller Books by Black Authors”.

Find “The Other Black Girl” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Later”

Book: “Later” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Hard Case Crime, March 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine – as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.

Later is Stephen King at his finest, a terrifying and touching story of innocence lost and the trials that test our sense of right and wrong. With echoes of King’s classic novel IT, Later is a powerful, haunting, unforgettable exploration of what it takes to stand up to evil in all the faces it wears. 

Review: I’ve spent twenty plus years of my life reading Stephen King, and I imagine that I will keep on going for another however many years he continues to write. He rarely lets me down (even when I come across the occasional clunker I still feel like it was generally worth my time), and it’s even MORE exciting when he tries out other genres beyond his usual horror fare. This brings us to “Later”, his most recent work and also his most recent title he’s done with Hard Case Crime, an imprint which tends to focus on gritty crime fiction. Hey, sign me up regardless, but one thing that I can count on when it comes to King is that he is probably going to throw SOME kind of supernatural spin into most of his books. “Later” is no exception, and King melds the hard boiled crime and supernatural horror paths seamlessly.

“Later” is a fast paced crime tale told through the perspective of Jamie Conklin, a young man who has had the ability to see and speak to ghosts ever since he was a kid. This story focuses on his youth, from how he first realized he had this power (told in a gruesome scene involving a dead bicyclist), to how his power scared but also helped his single mother Tia, to how it was exploited by Liz, Tia’s onetime girlfriend and NYPD detective. King has always had a true talent for capturing the minds and personalities of kids, and while narrator Jamie is an adult, the story is his childhood, and boy does it feel realistic in its voice. Like other kids in King’s works, Jamie is slightly precocious but not too forced, and his childhood interactions with his mother, his friends, and the ghosts that he sees range from the charming to the heartbreaking to the terrifying. I’m a true sucker for any story that has to do with people who can speak to the dead, and Jamie’s story really hit all of the notes that I like in this trope. I also liked how we get to know Tia through Jamie’s eyes, with King throwing in enough details about her that their relationship is well thought out and quite lovely. Our antagonists, primarily Liz and a spectre named Therriault (maybe a sly reference to Roch Thériault? SUPER creepy if so!), are menacing in their own ways. For Therriault it’s the obvious, being a malevolent spirit that has started to harass Jamie whose stalking and description will surely send chills up anyone’s spine. But Liz is far more insidious, as she is a corrupt cop who uses her power, her charm, and her authority to manipulate, and hurt, those around her. Her renegade nature could have been used to prop her up as an anti-hero, as some hard boiled detective stories do. But King just shows us what so many of these ‘renegade’ cops are: super, super dangerous.

And as we’ve learned, King has a real delight in calling back to some of his previous works (and also the works of his son, Joe Hill, those easter eggs are especially fun to spot). For some people this may seem hokey, but I eat it up and revel in it whenever it happens. And this time, King pulls out a heavy hitter, one that I didn’t expect from a story that has been published with a crime imprint. SPOILER ALERT HERE!!! Skip to the last paragraph if you don’t want to know! I won’t go into TOO much detail, but if you know, you know (and thanks to a certain recent film franchise, you probably know): One of the characters asks Jamie if he’s ever heard of something called “The Ritual of Chüd”. THIS IS IN THE “IT” UNIVERSE, FOLKS!!!

I can assure you, the amount of excited screeching I did was copious. (source)

Like I said, I don’t want to give too much away, but King takes a concept that feels like it couldn’t work outside of “It”, and applies it to this story without it feeling too forced or hackneyed. I mean, he made a revisit to “It” work in “11/22/63”, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he made it work here as well. And none of this is to say that you have to have read “It” for this entire aspect to work. You don’t. King gets you caught up to speed quickly, and it feels like its own thing in these pages. It totally works.

If there is a qualm I had with this book, there is a quick curveball thrown in at the end that made me go ‘wait, WHAT?’. It doesn’t derail anything or totally throw the entire story out of whack, but it was a momentary blip that felt unnecessary. Superfluous may be the better word. But overall, I found “Later” to be enjoyable and unsettling. For a fast read with a kid who can talk to ghosts, this is the book to check out!

Rating 8: A fast paced and at times very creepy thriller, “Later” has a hard boiled feel to it while harkening back to one of King’s most beloved stories.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Later” is included on the Goodreads lists “I See Dead People”, and “Books About People with Strange Powers”.

Find “Later” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Distant Early Warning”

Book: “Distant Early Warning” by Elizabeth Hirst

Publishing Info: Renaissance, April 2021 (originally published 2014)

Book Description: Canada is in crisis. Global warming has taken hold, and amid the flooding and the super storms, another horror has risen, more devastating than the rest. The dead begin rising from the ground at night, screaming out strange gibberish songs that terrify and entrance anyone who hears them. With people dying and fleeing all around, the north quickly becomes a wild west, without the west.

Felicia “Denny” Dennigan lives far from the crisis, with a good job at the university and a roof over her head, but her life is far from perfect. A perpetual loner, she relies on sporadic visits from her Dad as her only lifeline to friends or family. So, when Dad doesn’t return one fall day, and his dog, Geoff, shows up without him, Denny is concerned for his safety. The last postcard he sent her was from Sudbury, on the edge of the chaos up North…

Denny’s worst fears are confirmed when she sees Dad on TV, dead, and screaming. Desperate to end his suffering, Denny gives up her job, buys supplies, and heads out with Geoff to discover the truth behind her father’s death, but truth always comes with a cost. What Denny discovers in the wilds of Northern Ontario will shatter all of her assumptions about her life, and what lies beyond.

Review: Thank you to Renaissance for sending me an ARC of this book!

It’s been a bit since I delved into a zombie tale, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m zombied out, or if I just haven’t been seeing as many lately. Whatever the case may be, I haven’t been hanging with the undead as of late. But when I was approached by Renaissance to read and review “Distant Early Warning” by Elizabeth Hirst, I was immediately interested, for a couple of reasons. 1) It sounded like a new take on a zombie tale, which I’m always down for, and 2) it’s a story set in the wilds of Canada! As a Minnesotan, I feel a deep kinship with our neighbors to the North, so I absolutely am game for any tale that takes place there. If you got a horror story on top of it, that sounds like a party!

And let me tell you, once international travel is safe again, I intend to go visit! (source)

Overall, I enjoyed about “Distant Early Warning”. I really liked Denny as our main character. For one, I thought that she was wry and funny, and I liked her scrappy spirit and her determination to figure out what happened to her father. She has a lot of relatable moments, and I liked that she is described in ways that feel not really of the norm from what you’d expect from a zombie story heroine. I loved her connection to Geoff, her father’s dog, and I liked seeing her slowly come into her own as she goes on her journey into the wild. And yes, I’m that sucker who liked the slow building relationship between her and Wayne, a man she meets under suspicious circumstances, but someone who she comes to rely upon for companionship (as he too relies upon her). Denny was easy to invest in, and was easy to root for. And the complicated relationship she had with her father is a journey that slowly unfolds and has a lot of pathos to it.

In terms of the zombie story themes, I thought that the Screamers and some of the ways that they functioned were pretty cool and original. They could range from the general menace to more of a boss fight in a video game, but what made it even more intriguing was that (without giving much away) Denny has the skills to counteract them in ways that hasn’t been seen in stories like this before. There are also clear moments of ‘the humans are the real monsters’ within the narrative, and we get the realization that 1) climate change that is man made has really screwed up everything else on top of the whole Screamers thing, and 2) it’s hard to know who you can trust when you stumble upon humans in these lawless areas. The climate change aspect felt pretty unique to me, even if the humans as the real threat has been done many times over in zombie tales. But I also liked the fact that there just kind of had a bit of hopefulness tinging the story as we go forward, from Denny finding strength that she didn’t know she had, to her being able to actually open up to people in face of hardship and loss.

In some ways “Distant Early Warning” keeps to well treaded paths of a zombie tale, but in other ways it has uniqueness to it that I enjoyed. It’s entertaining, has a great heroine, and a cute dog. What more could you want?

Rating 7: An at times unique take on a zombie tale with some mild eco-horror thrown in, “Distant Early Warning” is entertaining as well as hopeful in the face of the unknown.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Distant Early Warning” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think it would fit in on “Eco Horror Books”, and “Horror Novels Set in Canada”.

Find “Distant Early Warning” on the publisher’s website!

ALSO, before I end this post, I want to share some links to organizations and groups that are collecting donations for Daunte Wright’s family members during this awful time, as well as the community of Brooklyn Center. Daunte Wright should be alive. Black Lives Matter.

Brooklyn Center Mutual Aid

Donations to Chyna, Daunte’s girlfriend and mother of his son, through a local health organization

A GoFundMe Campaign set up by Duante’s family

Emergency Housing Resources for families who live in the apartment buildings across from the police station (as tear gas and flashbangs have been going off right outside their home)