Kate’s Review: “The Rust Maidens”

40874196Book: “The Rust Maidens” by Gwendolyn Kiste

Publishing Info: Trepidatio Publishing, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.

It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.

Review: I honestly couldn’t tell you where I heard about “The Rust Maidens” if you asked me. I THINK that it was on a Goodreads list at one point, but I can’t tell you what the theme of said list would be. Probably horror, but still. All I know is that it came in for me at the library, and when I picked it up I thought to myself ‘oh yeah….’ The reason I say that I only think that it was probably on a horror list but am not certain is because “The Rust Maidens” is one of the most unique horror stories I’ve read in the past year or two, based on the themes that it decides to take on along with some good old fashioned body horror you might see in an early Cronenberg film.

“The Rust Maidens” is a tale of decay, both the decay of the human body and the decay of a once prosperous part of Americana. In Cleveland, Ohio in 1980 Phoebe is a working class teenager living in a working class neighborhood. The community has put on a face of togetherness and wholesome American values, while the livelihood of a number of the men, the mill, has been experiencing more and more uncertainty. Phoebe’s story is told during the summer of 1980, and also almost thirty years later when she has to return to the neighborhood after years of grief and guilt. Spunky and rabble rouser Phoebe of 1980 is a stark contrast to the jaded and affected Phoebe of later life, and the changes over the years, which seemed to catalyze with the Rust Maidens, are now very apparent in her old neighborhood. The fact of the matter is that “The Rust Maidens” is a story of degeneration, not just of the afflicted girls, but of the community around them, and the decay of the American Working Class once the 1980s hit. While the Rust Maidens are slowly wasting away, Denton Street and the blue collar workers who live there are facing yet another potential strike at the mill. Phoebe’s family and neighbors believe that the promise of that job will always be there for them, even as the union gets continuously beaten down and the specter of the upcoming Reagan years lingers. Decay takes on many meanings in this book, and Kiste isn’t afraid to point out that when people are scared, scapegoats are sought out. And the Rust Maidens are the perfect scapegoats. It’s fully intentional that Kiste made the neighborhood turn on a bunch of scared and ‘sick’ teenage girls, given that they had already turned on Phoebe before for daring to not conform. The aggression comes from all sides, from deadbeat boyfriends to angry old men to women who think that girls should be and act a certain way. The metaphors are real, and the feminism in this horror story is angry and apparent.

And on top of the themes, the body horror is VERY real. The descriptions of the Rust Maidens as their bodies start to change and wither away/transform is unsettling at best, and revolting at it’s worst. But on top of that, it’s also very upsetting on an emotional level to see these girls be maligned and feared, and to see how some of them react to the revulsion towards them. Being extra sensitive to such things right now, one of the Rust Maidens is a new mother, and her child whisked away from her because of her condition. She is constantly drawn to the baby, who is placed with the father and his family even though he’s a complete lout. The descriptions of the mother’s pain, even when she was starting to become something else, had me crying pretty handily, so thanks for that, Gwendolyn Kiste!

“The Rust Maidens” is a unique and fascinating horror novel. Those who like their body horror with a little bit of metaphor should check it out post haste!

Rating 7: A bleak and angry examination of decay and the expectations of teenage girls, “The Rust Maidens” serves body horror and feminism in heaping, scathing doses.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Rust Maidens” is included on the Goodreads Lists “Best First Novels: Bram Stoker Award Winners”, and “2018 Indie Horror Book Releases”.

Find “The Rust Maidens” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Twisted Ones”

42527596._sy475_Book: “The Twisted Ones” by T. Kingfisher

Publishing Info: Gallery/Saga Press, October 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods.

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.

From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher. 

Review: Of all the horror genres, folk horror tends to be one of the few that I have a hard time sinking my teeth into. While I love the movie “The Wicker Man” (and “The Blair Witch Project”, if you can classify it as such? I feel like maybe you could?), I still haven’t seen “Midsommer” and don’t feel a huge draw to do so. I’ve read a few folk horror novels, and none of them really stood out to me as particularly engrossing or engaging. But I am always wanting to give the subgenre a chance. Because of this, I wanted to read “The Twisted Ones” by T. Kingfisher. After all, while it was described as ‘folk horror’ by some reviewers, the idea of monsters in the woods slowly creeping up was too good of a premise to pass by.

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Have I been burned by this premise before? Yes. Yet I keep the faith that I won’t be frustrated every time I pick up such a book. (source)

“The Twisted Ones” starts out with a lot of promise. A woman named Mouse (our first person narrator) has gone to her grandmother’s house (along with her dog Bongo) to clean it out after she has died. Mouse and her grandmother didn’t get along, as her grandmother was a TERRIBLE human being, but Mouse was close to her stepgrandfather, Cotgrave, and as she’s cleaning memories of her time with him bubble up. At night she has to contend with her grief and guilt regarding Cotgrave, her anger at her grandmother, and strange noises she hears outside that Bongo just won’t leave alone. As one might guess, the noises aren’t just harmless nature sounds, and soon Mouse finds herself being drawn into stories of ‘twisted ones’, and stumbling into landscapes that shouldn’t be there. Throughout all of this, I was definitely enjoying this story and the slow burn that Kingfisher was putting forth. I liked how through Mouse’s narration we are tuned in with her own initial skepticism (and delightful snark), though we have a dread in our gut that the noises and the weird blurs of animals running around in the dark aren’t just run of the mill North Carolina fauna. As it slowly becomes clear that Mouse and Bongo are dealing with something sinister and threatening, the tension is so tightly wound that the reader will potentially look out their own dark window at night and worry about what they will see. The building tension is grand, as are the supporting characters that Mouse meets while she is in the cabin in the woods. From Foxy the eccentric woman down the road to Tomas the helpful handyman, Mouse and the cast of characters feel real and sympathetic, to the point where you care about them and what happens to them.

All that said, once we get to the heart of the horror and find out what these creatures are any why they are here, the fear and scares immediately departed for this reader. I think that when it comes to ‘monsters in the woods stories’, I am only interested until the monster is revealed. The terror and dread is the unknown, the strange noises in the woods, the blurs in the moonlight. When we get to portals and interactions with the actual beings face to face, and the other revelations as to what they may or may not with Mouse, my interest was completely lost. But I think that has more to do with a lot of my own folk horror tastes, which are firmly placed more towards ambiguity and the unknown. I am far more taken in by an unseen Blair Witch who may or may not be stalking a group of filmmakers in the woods, than I am by a reveal of ‘monsters in the woods aren’t real but used to control the town’ two thirds of the way through the narrative. You have me when it’s ambiguous in folk horror. The moment you explain it, my interest wanes.

This is very much an instance of my own personal tastes getting in the way of the story, and that shouldn’t dissuade ride or die folk horror fans from checking it out. “The Twisted Ones” has some tense moments and scary themes regardless of how I felt about the last third of the book. So don’t take my word for it. Give it a go if this sounds like a book that will keep you up at night and out of the woods.

Rating 6: This had some tense moments and a fun and snarky narrator, but the big reveal was a bit of a let down. That said, it could be just me, and not the book itself.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Twisted Ones” is included on the Goodreads lists “A Walk in the Woods”, and “Best Supernatural Books, No Romance, No Series”.

Find “The Twisted Ones” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Monster, She Wrote”

44594661Book: “Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction” by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Weird fiction wouldn’t exist without the women who created it. Meet the female authors who defied convention to craft some of literature’s strangest tales. And find out why their own stories are equally intriguing.

Everyone knows about Mary Shelley, creator of Frankenstein; but have you heard of Margaret Cavendish, who wrote a science-fiction epic 150 years earlier? Have you read the psychological hauntings of Violet Paget, who was openly involved in long-term romantic relationships with women in the Victorian era? Or the stories of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, whose writing influenced H.P. Lovecraft? Monster, She Wrote shares the stories of women past and present who invented horror, speculative, and weird fiction and made it great. You’ll meet celebrated icons (Ann Radcliffe, V.C. Andrews), forgotten wordsmiths (Eli Coltor, Ruby Jean Jensen), and today’s vanguard (Helen Oyeyemi). And each profile includes a curated reading list so you can seek out the spine-chilling tales that interest you the most.

Review: Even though horror is hands down my favorite literary genre (or genre of any kind of consumable media), that doesn’t exclude it from my general lack of experience with ‘the classics’. Sure, I’ve read books like “Frankenstein”, “Dracula”, and “The Turn of the Screw”, but in general I have kept my horror experiences fairly solidly in the 20th century and beyond. On top of that, a lot of what I’ve read has been fairly male dominated. So when I saw that “Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction” was a book that was coming out, I decided that I needed to educate myself about horror classics, specifically those written by women, and to expand my ‘to-read’ list to fit the recommendations made within this book.

And boy are there many recommendations! “Monster, She Wrote” gives us a list of female authors of horror and speculative fiction, gives a comprehensive but succinct biography of each of them, and explains the importance and significance of a few of their works, or at the very least gives us the plot and lets us suss out the significance for ourselves. Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson are sure to cast a wide net throughout the genres, covering a number of different authors and subgenres within the genres. Each section is divided based on the subgenres, which I liked because it made is so I could give extra focus on the kinds of stories that really tickle my fancy and to hone in on the authors that perfected the stories. While they, of course, cover some of the heavy hitters like Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson, they also are sure to bring in diverse perspectives, including women like Toni Morrison and Helen Oyeymi, so that the texts discussed and recommended aren’t incredibly white in nature (side note, I loved that “Beloved” was included in this book and Morrison by association. It’s one of my favorite books and at it’s heart it is, indeed, a very effective ghost story). I also got to learn about a number of authors who I had either only heard of in passing, or had never heard of, and because of this I now have added people like Edith Wharton and Anne Radcliffe to my list of ‘must reads’, as well as modern voices like Oyeymi (I will be talking to my Mom so I can borrow her copy of “Boy, Snow, Bird”). Finally, at the end of each biography we get a handy dandy list of books to try out, split into three categories, labeled ‘Not To Be Missed’, ‘Also Try’, and ‘Related Work’. These suggestions are stories by the authors themselves, as well as other stories and tales by different people whose themes are either direct call backs or similar in tone. How great to have a curated and well put together list of suggestions!

It’s also important to note that throughout all of these biographies and personal histories of these women authors, there are hints and senses of the difficulties and obstacles that many of them faced or face as women living at their respective times in their respective societies. These hardships could be due to gender, class, or race, and Kröger and Anderson, while never focusing on it, absolutely acknowledge it and make the reader realize that women voices in the genre have been very important and formative, and yet have been downplayed or, in some cases, almost forgotten (there were a few instances in which an author’s ‘Not To Be Missed’ work was noted as being out of print. How incredibly upsetting).

Any horror or speculative fiction fan ought to do themselves a favor and read “Monster, She Wrote”. You will undoubtedly get some new reading ideas, or gain new appreciation for authors you already love, or authors you have yet to discover.

Rating 8: And informative and expansive history of significant female voices in horror and speculative fiction, “Monster, She Wrote” has a lot of reading ideas and a lot of fun and interesting facts about an array of authors.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Monster, She Wrote” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of now (why?), but it is included on “Best Books About Genre Fiction”.

Find “Monster, She Wrote” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Dead Girls Club”

45701350Book: “The Dead Girls Club” by Damien Angelica Waters

Publishing Info: Crooked Lane Books, December 2019

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

Book Description: A supernatural thriller in the vein of A Head Full of Ghosts about two young girls, a scary story that becomes far too real, and the tragic–and terrifying–consequences that follow one of them into adulthood.

Red Lady, Red Lady, show us your face…

In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.

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

I’ve spoken before about how my childhood was distinctly lacking in spooky urban legends about my community and neighborhood. I don’t know if that’s just larger city living or if I was surrounded by people who didn’t have time for such nonsense, but I do feel a little sad that we had a serious lack in fun, innocent creepy stories (and instead contended with actual creepy stories, like the flasher who’d jump out at joggers on the path by our house). I think that because of this I am especially drawn to stories with scary local folklore themes, and that was the main draw of “The Dead Girls Club” by Damien Angelica Walters. Well, that and the description of a group of teen girls who liked to talk serial killers for funsies. I wish I had that kind of friendship as a teenager. I went into “The Dead Girls Club” with high hopes and expectations that it would meld teenage girl angst with the supernatural, and for awhile I thought it had succeeded. Until it didn’t.

But before we talk about my frustrations, I want to emphasize that “The Dead Girls Club” was a pretty fun ride for the majority of the story. It hops between timelines, that of the present day, and that of the early 1990s. Our focus is mostly on Heather, a woman whose childhood best friend, Becca, was killed one fateful summer, after telling tales of a supposed witch called The Red Lady. Becca, Heather, and their friends were part of a secret club that liked the creepy things in life, but Becca’s obsession with the Red Lady urban legend starts to take over all of their lives. Especially when it seems that this made up story may have some truth to it. In the present we see Heather have to confront this summer when she starts getting secret messages from an anonymous someone (or perhaps something) that hints to knowing the truth about what actually happened to Becca, and what role Heather played in it. We see her try to discern who is stalking her, and see how her lingering fear of The Red Lady starts to take it’s toll on her life and psyche. This is interspersed with flashbacks to when Becca first started telling the stories, and we get to see the slow burn and build up of a deteriorating friendship and what exactly happened between the two girls, which left Becca dead.

I thought that the biggest strengths in this book laid in two factors: the first was the mythology and ambiguity of The Red Lady. Walters gives us enough evidence on both sides of the coin to make the argument that The Red Lady is real, or that The Red Lady is a combination of a lonely child’s imagination run amok and the hysteria shared between friends that are looking to freak themselves out. I do think that the narrative falls on one solution eventually, but I did like that a lot of left up to interpretation for a majority of the story. The other strength was in how Walters portrayed the complicated nature that some teenage friendships can have, specifically between two girls. I know this complexity and complication pretty well from my own experience, and seeing how Becca and Heather both start to grow apart and yet still cling desperately to each other was well written and completely believable. Hell, the Red Lady story itself was a fun and scary one, with smatterings of feminist revenge and all the best ghost stories that come with it. Walters also peels back the motivations for both Heather AND Becca, and once you get to the cores of both of them the spectre of tragedy is just as heavy as the spectre of the Red Lady. They are both sympathetic and frustrating characters, and I think that is the only way they could be written.

But the reason this gets bumped down a few ratings is because, unfortunately, Walters decided to throw in one big and out of left field twist that, for me, derailed the entire story. I won’t spoil it, as I think this is still worth the read, but by the time one of the big reveals came to be I rolled my eyes and muttered a frustrated but not terribly surprised ‘seriously?’ Again, I am not a hater of well done twists. If you can set it up effectively enough that in the moment you have a ‘but of COURSE’ epiphany based on small clues that came before it, I’m going to sing it’s praises forever. But in this case it just felt like a twist for the sake of a twist, and not one that was earned. You gotta earn those twists, people. That’s the only way to stick that landing.

“The Dead Girls Club” is a creepy and unsettling story that didn’t live up to its potential. It’s still worth taking a look, and I am definitely putting Damien Angelica Walters on my radar. But it could have been stronger.

Rating 6: A creepy thriller with a fantastic urban legend at its heart, but it gets derailed by a frustrating twist ending.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dead Girls Club” is new and not included on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Mysteries Featuring Urban Myths/Folklore”.

Find “The Dead Girls Club” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Burned House”

48575470._sy475_Book: “The Burned House” (Jonny Roberts #2) by Alexander Lound

Publishing Info: Self Published, November 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The author sent me an eARC

Book Description: Nearly a year after learning that he can speak to the dead, Jonny Roberts has spent much of his time working with his new medium friend, Aaron. Whether it’s reconnecting loved ones with dead relatives, or helping spirits to cross over, Jonny has been happy to help.

That is, until a young boy is found dead, his body impaled with floorboards, sharpened into knife points; and in the same house where a family died seven years earlier, in a tragic fire.

Suspecting that the event might be down to the supernatural, Aaron and Jonny soon investigate. But when the spirit makes it clear that it doesn’t intend to stop at the boy, they begin to wonder if this might be their most dangerous case yet…

Review: Thank you to Alexander Lound for approaching our blog and sending me an eARC of this book!

Halloween has long passed, but there’s always time for a ghost story as far as I’m concerned. So when Alexander Lound emailed me asking if I would be interested in reading and reviewing the second book in the Jonny Roberts series, “The Burned House”, there was really only one way I could answer.

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Honestly I’m halfway convinced that all of my reactions to anything could be summed up by one of the Rose siblings. (source)

If you recall, I enjoyed the first in the series, “The Spirit in the Crypt” as I found it to be an engaging ghost story with likable characters and high stakes. Teenage medium Jonny Roberts is a fun protagonist, and I was eager to see where things went next for him and his girlfriend Cassy, as well as his medium mentor Aaron. Now that we’ve established Jonny as a full fledged medium, that meant that he’d have to delve deeper into his powers, and with that could mean upped stakes and higher tension. And boy oh boy did we go in both those directions.

In “The Burned House”, Jonny has started to come into his own as a medium, helping Aaron with various spirit cases, and while he and his girlfriend Cassy are still happy and in love, the tension with his ‘profession’ has started to come to the surface. And in this story, there is reason to believe that Cassy’s hesitance may be right, as Jonny and Aaron are soon entangled in the death of a boy, whose body was found in a house in which a family burned to death a few years prior. It soon becomes clear that it’s the work of an angry spirit, and the only insight they have is from the surviving family member, a teenage girl named Megan. Jonny, of course, wants to help, but the good intentions he has involve more and more risk. The story is basically Jonny potentially biting off more than he can chew, and how that threatens not only his life, but his relationships. I liked that Lound showed how someone with his abilities would potentially have a lot of difficulties with relationships with ‘normal’ people, and that you can understand why both he AND Cassy have legitimate reasons to feel the way they do about his new calling. It also means that we get some deliciously angsty scenes with teenagers. And as a teenager who was in love with her boyfriend and had to deal with some problems that felt earth shattering at the time, these scenes felt very, very true to life.

The mystery and motivation behind the angry spirit was well plotted out and fun to get through. I cracked the code early on, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was easy to crack. I’ve just been reading these kinds of stories for years, so I know what to look for. And even though I guessed the outcome early, I still enjoyed the journey that we took to get to said outcome. Lound really does up the stakes this time around, with the looming threat of injury and death at the hands of an angry spirit a very real issue. And we don’t pussyfoot around what all of this could mean for Jonny and his friends; on the contrary, there is a very significant loss in this book, one that I didn’t see coming, and one that was a bit of a bummer. But no spoilers here. I just want to hit the point home that we are starting to see the consequences that Jonny has to contend with because he has decided to pursue being a medium.

“The Burned House” was a thrilling and fun follow up to “The Spirit in the Crypt”. It checks all of my favorite boxes of a ghost story and medium story, and I’m eager to see where Jonny Roberts goes next!

Rating 8: Another satisfying YA ghost story, “The Burned House” continues the adventures of Jonny Roberts, and shows the upped stakes that being a medium means, both physically and emotionally.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Burned House” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “YA Novels and Psychic Abilities”, and “Young Adult Ghost Stories”.

“The Burned House” isn’t available on WorldCat as of now, but it will be available for purchase this week. For more information, go to Alexander Lound’s WEBSITE.

Previously Reviewed: “The Spirit in the Crypt”

Kate’s Review: “Doctor Sleep”

16130549._sy475_-1Book: “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2013

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special 12-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky 12-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

Review: Around the time the trailer for Mike Flanagan’s film “Doctor Sleep” dropped, I was texting back and forth with the aforementioned Blake. He told me that he had never actually picked up “Doctor Sleep”, as he’d heard it was middling at best, but wanted to know what I thought. I told him how much I loved it, but admitted that I hadn’t read it for a long time. So when he later told me that he’d picked it up and was, so far, really liking it, I decided that I needed to go back and re-read it. One, so he and I could potentially have a mini-book club over the sequel to the book that started our friendship, and two because the movie was coming out and I wanted to have the novel fresh in my memory. So I picked up “Doctor Sleep”, figuring I’d meander through it at a lazy pace… But then I ended up binging the entire thing in a couple of days. The continuing story of Danny Torrance post-Overlook once again sucked me in. 

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Poor Danny can’t escape the past. (source)

What you need to know about “Doctor Sleep” is that while it’s a sequel to “The Shining”, the tone, feel, and approach are very different. While they both take a look at addiction (though in different ways, as King was in the middle of his during “The Shining” and in recovery during “Doctor Sleep”), “The Shining” is about ghosts, an evil place, and the slow violent spiral of a husband and father because of the influence of the two. “Doctor Sleep”, however, goes in a different direction. Instead of relying mostly on the ghosts and ghouls, at its heart is a story about trauma and coming to terms with your past while finding a hopeful future. And, of course, still dealing with supernatural themes like psychic abilities and monsters. Dan Torrance is now an adult, who has tried to escape his memories of The Overlook and his abilities by falling into a bottle. Seeing Danny all grown up is a very bleak, but realistic, look at what trauma can do to a person, and how sometimes people cope in ways that are incredibly destructive to others and to themselves. You are already invested in Dan because you know he was that little boy at the Overlook, and some of the best moments of dread in this book have less to do with the visions he still has, and more to do with whether or not he is going to fall off the wagon. It just so happens that around the time he decides to fully commit to recovery, he makes a psychic connection with a newborn girl named Abra, whose Shining abilities are above and beyond his own. Abra is a fantastic new character to bring into the story, as her childhood is a reversed mirror image of what Danny went through as a child. She comes from a loving family, she easily makes friends, and her powers are accepted (albeit hush hush and not totally understood) by her parents, while Danny’s powers were cultivated and nurtured in a dark, abusive setting and a lonely childhood. You definitely get the sense that their connection isn’t pure happenstance, but that doesn’t really matter; what matters is that they are both vital to each other’s survival. Abra needs someone who understands her and understands the dangers of her powers, and Dan needs a reason to keep going and to keep his addictions at bay. King captures an authentic and very likable, yet complex, voice in Abra, and her kindness and joy radiates off of the page, just as her own inner darkness rears in relatable and believable ways. Her friendship with Dan brings out the best in both of them, and as they learn from each other and protect each other from impending dangers, you get super invested in their connection, even if you aren’t completely sure as to why it’s happening.

And let’s talk about those dangers, too. King creates a malevolent and wholly original villain group as only he can with the True Knot, a nomadic group of vampirelike beings that feed on psychic energy. They target children with The Shining, as the True Knot can achieve eternal life by extracting their abilities in ‘steam’ form. The leader of the group is Rose the Hat, a charismatic and vicious woman who kills without remorse for the good of her group. Rose the Hat is a top three King villain for me, as she is intimidating, mysterious, and alluring in every sense of the word. You see this group stalk and murder other children, and once their sights set on Abra a slow burn game of cat and mouse begins, with some unexpected surprises for all parties thrown in along the way that up the ante even more. King doesn’t rush this prolonged confrontation, and he sets the pieces into place in very intentional ways that come together seamlessly. But I think that one of the best achievements that King does, at least for me, is that he makes you kind of care about The True Knot as well, at least in some ways. You get a deep dive into who they are and how they function, and by the time things start to go down you find yourself invested, even if you know that they are monstrous and terrible. He gives them, especially Rose, complexity and nuance, and I ended up loving her when all was said and done, even if it was because of what a horrible and terrifying villain she is. 

I think that a lot of people believed that there was no way that King could write a sequel to “The Shining”. And, in some ways, I think they are right. Because “Doctor Sleep” is its own story, its own identity, and while it may be the continuing story of Danny Torrance, it doesn’t feel like a direct sequel. It feels like King achieved a lot more than that, and has expanded a world and a story in ways that only time and experience could have aided. It’s not a perfect book; there are some hiccups, and moments of cloying coincidence or sappiness, but honestly, I love this story so much that I can easily forgive these stumbles. I have high hopes going into the movie, but even if I don’t care for the adaptation, I know that I can revisit this book and find deep, deep enjoyment. “Doctor Sleep” is probably my favorite of the recent King novels. You don’t have to be a fan of “The Shining” to enjoy it.

And with that, we end Horrorpalooza 2019! I hope that everyone has a Happy Halloween and that you get all the scares. And if you don’t want the scares, all the candy!

Rating 10: A deep, emotionally wrenching, and quite creepy follow up to a classic horror story, “Doctor Sleep” examines familiar characters and themes with an eye for trauma, redemption, and hope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Doctor Sleep” is included on the Goodreads lists “Adult Books That Feature Powerful or Magic Children”, and “Creepy Halloween Reads”.

Find “Doctor Sleep” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Shining”

11588Book: “The Shining” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Doubleday, 1977

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

Review: Believe it or not, “The Shining” has a deep, personal meaning for me, and that is because it’s proof that Stephen King books can bring people together. I approached my best friend from high school (and still good friend today) Blake because of this book. He was reading it in the hallway, and as someone who had already read it seeing someone else experiencing it gave me the need to be like ‘I LOVE that book!’ It was the start of an enduring friendship. But on top of that, “The Shining” is a terrifying read that has gone down in literary history as one of the best horror novels of the 20th Century, and really solidified King’s place as a horror author. And the rest, as they say, is history. In anticipation of the film adaptation of “Doctor Sleep”, the sequel to “The Shining”, I decided to re-read both books to see how they held up. So, just in time for Halloween Week, the first up is the original, and I’m finally returning to The Overlook Hotel after all these years of being away.

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Outside of the time I went to the actual Overlook this past summer, aka The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado!

At the very heart of “The Shining” is a gothic ghost story, and while it may not take place on a moor in England, it has all the elements that make the genre great. You have an isolated hotel that cannot be escaped once the snows come. You have three people living in said hotel, and one of them is slowly being driven mad, be it because of the isolation, his own demons, or something else. And you have unique and incredibly scary ghosts and a twisted history that has made the location rotten to the core. King has a variety of bad things at The Overlook, from the decomposing Mrs. Massey in room 217 to visions of a Mafia murder in the Presidential Suite to topiaries that move and fire hoses that act like coiling snakes.  Mrs. Massey is by far the worst, a lurching a rotting corpse that reaches out for those who dare enter her room, but many others are lurking and effective in their own right. While it may seem like the idea of moving animal shaped plants is a little cheesy, it’s not cheesy when a character is being slowly stalked by them in a deranged game of red light, green light. King builds the dread and makes you wonder if what we are seeing is real, a vision (on Danny’s part), or a descent into madness (on Jack’s part), and boy does the tension pull you tight. Even the little things that could just as easily be placed in real life, like the boiler that ‘creeps’, set a scene on a knife’s edge. The Overlook is still one of King’s greatest villains, and the way that King made a place into a character with such malevolence and horror stands the test of time all these years later. 

Danny Torrance is one of the people who sees the Overlook’s horrors, his gift of ‘The Shining’ (or psychic powers) making him incredibly perceptive, but also susceptible, to it’s evils. Danny’s voice is so authentic, as King really harnesses the thoughts, feelings, and actions of a little boy. Danny is endearing, and strange, and as his visions get worse and his father Jack starts to become more and more corrupted, he becomes more vulnerable and yet resilient. Reading this book as a teen I liked Danny enough, but now revisiting it I just loved him. King captures childhood earnestness, captures the innocence that a little boy could still have even though he’s seen and experienced terrible things, and never makes Danny sound juvenile, nor too precocious either. And the things that he sees are filtered through a child’s eyes, which in some ways makes them all the more disturbing. Danny going into Room 217 is still one of the most horror filled moments of this novel, and perhaps of all of King’s bibliography.

But for me, the scariest part of “The Shining” has changed. As an adult, and a new mother to boot and therefore someone with a whole new perspective on parenthood, now the biggest scares come from Jack Torrance and his potential to be a family annihilator, be it due to the hotel’s influence or his own violent tendencies.

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I know King hates this movie, but honestly, it really got Jack right. (source)

Even before The Overlook, Jack’s alcoholism had him spiraling into addiction, emotional instability, and domestic abuse towards his wife and little boy. When we meet Jack he’s been sober for a little over a year, and while it seems that he is on the upswing with Wendy and Danny, there are still violent tendencies that come through and have serious consequences, consequences that make him take this isolating job in the first place, and more vulnerable to the malignant influence of The Overlook. It’s interesting to read this now, knowing that King himself was battling his own addictions as he wrote it, and how his insecurities about how he was as a father and husband come through off the page. Jack’s portrayal is both a villain who could potentially kill those he loves most, and yet a tragic figure who wants so badly to be better, even if he can’t quite achieve it. While The Overlook is certainly a bad influence and its ghosts are certainly helping drive Jack insane, you can’t help but get the feeling that perhaps, even without the ghostly interference, he might have ended up doing something horrible to Wendy and Danny, should he give in to his addictions at any time. It’s a deeply resonant characterization, and knowing that King was struggling as well it gives it even more dour weight and tragedy. I remember that around the time I read this book as a teen I asked my Dad why he hadn’t read it or even seen the movie. And he said that he couldn’t handle the idea of a husband and father murdering those he was supposed to love and care for. I didn’t really get it then. I absolutely get it now. King, once again, shows that some monsters in life don’t have to be supernatural.

“The Shining” isn’t without faults. Wendy, our one female (non ghost) character, isn’t terribly fleshed out or interesting. And as much as I love Dick Halloran, he sure fits into the ‘magical negro’ trope that King still tends to embrace with too much vigor. And, like many King stories, the ending has some flaws and doesn’t QUITE land, at least not completely. But there is a reason that it has endured for so long, and that it’s one of King’s most beloved works. It’s damned scary. I am so glad I went back to it after all these years. And given the influence this book, like all of King’s works, has had on my life, in some ways, like the ghosts at The Overlook, I never really left.

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(source)

On Thursday we’re going to dive in to the sequel, “Doctor Sleep”.

Rating 9: A haunting and deeply scary horror story that melds ghosts, evil, and emotional demons into one entity of terror. Stephen King’s classic is still effective and disturbing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Shining” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ghost Stories”, and “Modern Gothic”.

Find “The Shining” at your library using WorldCat!