Kate’s Review: “Men, Women, and Chainsaws”

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Book: “Men, Women, and Chainsaws” by Stephen Graham Jones

Publishing Info: Tor.com, April 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: Tor.Com | Amazon

Book Description: It’s been two years since Jenna’s ex-boyfriend left her alone in East Texas heartbroken. Now he’s back in town and she wants to payback. One night, she stumbles upon a bloodthirsty Camaro that may be the key to carrying out her revenge.

Review: So I’m highlighting something a little different today for my review. The reason is that I have been picking away at some of the short stories by Stephen Graham Jones, one of my favorite authors, and I found one that is so accessible and such a quick read that I want to spread the word of this awesome author. Seriously if you haven’t read Jones yet, this will make it easy! “Men, Women, and Chainsaws” is a short story that is available on Tor.com! I myself bought it for my Kindle, which is also an option, but above there is a link right to it! And it’s a story about a revenge seeking woman who has the help of a bloodthirsty car! The obvious reference here is “Christine” by Stephen King, but I got more of a “Little Shop of Horrors” vibe from this story and I was one hundred percent here for it.

What do you want from me, BLOOD?! (source)

Our main character is Jenna, a woman who has had to deal with a fair amount of loss in her life, the most recent one being that of her boyfriend Victor, who went to work on oil rigs and sent her a break up letter. Earlier was the death of her bio parents in a tragedy involving a car. Jenna’s last happy moment with Victor was recreating a photoshoot at a local junkyard involving a junked out Camaro and Caroline Williams of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” fame, and when Jenna finds the Camaro later, the same night Victor comes home and her rejection is flaunted for everyone, things take a turn for the supernatural. It involves bloodletting, a rebuilt car, and a scorned lover’s revenge. But it’s also a story of a woman who has suffered some pretty terrible loss in her life, and how a bloodthirsty car not only can help her seek revenge but also closure.

And it’s the sense of melancholy that permeates the pages that made this story one of the more bittersweet tales that Jones has written. Jenna has seen some shit and been through some shit, and I just wanted her to have some kind of happiness, or at least peace. As she finds out some ugly truths about Victor, as well as some hidden truths about what happened to her biological parents, my heart broke for her as she seeks out a connection, seeks out not only the hope of taking out a user and abusive prick, but also the hope of finding a connection to the parents she never knew, and finding not only meaning in their loss, but also perhaps an otherworldly reunion. I’m being a bit vague, and I kind of have to be because the story is filled with emotional beats that are best experienced with no prior knowledge. But on the flip side, there are also some really fun horror moments, and some really awesome homages to horror stories, be it the aforementioned “Christine” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”, as well as the nostalgia of hitting up a scary movie at the drive in. Jones just loves horror stories and he writes them with such a fondness that you can’t help but grin form ear to ear when you read them.

Short stories are generally hit or miss for me, but Stephen Graham Jones is always on point within this format. He knows how to build a world and an arc and make it feel well thought out and explored in less than fifty pages. “Men, Women, and Chainsaws” is weird and emotional, and I really enjoyed it on every level.

Rating 9: Strange and eerie but with undercurrents of pathos, “Men, Women, and Chainsaws” is a delightful short story by one of my favorite authors.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Men, Women, and Chainsaws” is included on the Goodreads list “2022 Horror and Sci Fi Releases”.

Serena’s Review: “Juniper & Thorn”

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Book: “Juniper & Thorn” by Ava Reid

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, June 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: A gruesome curse. A city in upheaval. A monster with unquenchable appetites.

Marlinchen and her two sisters live with their wizard father in a city shifting from magic to industry. As Oblya’s last true witches, she and her sisters are little more than a tourist trap as they treat their clients with archaic remedies and beguile them with nostalgic charm. Marlinchen spends her days divining secrets in exchange for rubles and trying to placate her tyrannical, xenophobic father, who keeps his daughters sequestered from the outside world. But at night, Marlinchen and her sisters sneak out to enjoy the city’s amenities and revel in its thrills, particularly the recently established ballet theater, where Marlinchen meets a dancer who quickly captures her heart.

As Marlinchen’s late-night trysts grow more fervent and frequent, so does the threat of her father’s rage and magic. And while Oblya flourishes with culture and bustles with enterprise, a monster lurks in its midst, borne of intolerance and resentment and suffused with old-world power. Caught between history and progress and blood and desire, Marlinchen must draw upon her own magic to keep her city safe and find her place within it.

Review: Unlike “For the Throne,” this book isn’t a direct sequel to the “Red Riding Hood’ re-telling that came before it. That said, it does feel kind of funny reading two follow-up books to two versions of the same fairytale that I read exactly a year ago. However, this is only a companion novel, set in the same world as “The Wolf and the Woodsman,” and instead focuses on retelling a different, dark fairytale, “The Juniper Tree.” I didn’t know really anything about this original tale before starting this book, so I was curious to see how things would play out!

Marlinchen’s father is cursed to never be full, no matter how much he eats, and to never feel rested, no matter how much he sleeps. And for their part, she and her two sisters are also cursed along with him and he refuses to let them out of his house. Instead, he uses their various magical gifts to support himself and their home. But Marlinchen dreams of more, of going out beyond the gates of her cursed home. And finally, she does it. There she discovers thrills and mysteries, but most especially, she discovers the ballet and its star dancer, a beautiful, charming young man. But something dark also haunts the streets, and as Marlinchen tries to keep secret her growing connection to the ballet dancer, she begins to suspect that this darkness may be coming from her own home.

So, I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, to start with the positives, there is no denying that Reid is a strong, poetic author. She has a knack for turning a phrase in a way that catches the eye and imagination; I re-read several passages throughout the story. She also knows how to unspool a fairytale in a way that feel fresh and new, but still has that undefinable quality that makes it a fairytale at its heart. There’s a balance, always, to be struck between the beauty and pain found in fairytales. But, while she seemed to hit that mark with “The Wolf and the Woodsman,” I’m less sure that the balance is quite right here.

To be fair, on Goodreads this book is tagged as “fantasy” and “horror.” Sometimes these genres can overlap quite a lot, and I generally dismiss the “horror” tag as simply a heads-up that this will be a darker story. And yet, I wasn’t prepared for just how dark this book was. Indeed, it would fully fall under the category of “horror” all on its own. While I’m not typically an avid horror fan, I can read and enjoy it. So it wasn’t the surprising darkness of this book that had me questioning.

Instead, it seemed to be the pointlessness of some of it that bothered me, the sheer shock value for the sake of shock value at the heart of some of the more disturbing scenes. There were more than a few instances when something horrific would happen or be described, but that scene or action never lead to any personal growth, reflection, or even important movement of the plot itself. This is the kind of horror and darkness I can’t get behind. It gives the reader no pay-off for sitting through uncomfortable, dark scenes and instead makes some of it feel performative and ugly in a different way.

To end on another good note, however. I did like the main character and most of her story. Again, there were disturbing aspects of her story that I don’t feel were fully explored or justified to the reader. But, as she does have a distinct arc throughout the story, these I was better able to understand than some of the other horror aspects. The romance, such as it was, felt a bit too insta-love, with the connection forming fast and hard between these two. If anything, it was insta-lust more than love. Again, there was this weird obsession with adding a dirty-feeling shimmer to even the love story.

There’s no denying the high quality of the author’s writing, at this point. But this book did make me question some of her storytelling prowess. I will admit, however, that fans of horror in general might enjoy this more than I did. Fans of the first book may want to check this out, but they should go in with eyes wide open not to take that “horror” tag lightly.

Rating 7: Solid building blocks were undermined by a strange penchant for reveling in the darker aspects of the world, seemingly without much concern for the relevance of such things to the story itself.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Juniper & Thorn” can be found on these Goodreads lists: 2022 Gothic and 2022 Horror Novels written by women.

Joint Review: “What Moves the Dead”

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Book: “What Moves the Dead” by T. Kingfisher

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, July 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+; NetGalley

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying, they race to the ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania.

What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife, surrounding a dark, pulsing lake. Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in strange voices at night, and her brother Roderick is consumed with a mysterious malady of the nerves.

Aided by a redoubtable British mycologist and a baffled American doctor, Alex must unravel the secret of the House of Usher before it consumes them all.

Serena’s Thoughts:

As fans of this blog know, I’ve been on a bit of a T. Kingfisher kick lately, after discovering how much I liked her worked after reading “Nettle & Bone.” So when I saw that she was coming out with a horror novella this summer, I was all on board to read it. And of course we had to have our resident horror expert’s take as well, so I roped Kate into this one.

I haven’t read the original “The Fall of the House of Usher;” frankly, I have read very little Poe altogether. But it was easy enough to guess at the typic of gothic horror story it must have been. So, I can’t say how closely T. Kingfisher followed that story. What I do know is that the author took the liberty of not only creating an original narrating character, but an entire country and culture from which that character originated. With that came one of the most interesting takes on new pronouns that I’ve ever seen. What made it work for me was just how well-thought out the language decisions were. They all made sense in the realm of what we can see in other real languages. But beyond the pronouns, Kingfisher used this culture to highlight the limitations placed on women of the time. But, as the author tends to have a light touch on her prose, it was all done in a humorous, if not any less important, way.

I also really liked the horror aspect of this story. In the author’s note (always read the author’s note!), Kingfisher mentions that she was in the process of writing this book when Sylvia Moreno-Garcia put out her “Mexican Gothic,” another gothic horror with a focus on mushrooms and fungus. I’m glad that Kingfisher wasn’t put off of writing this book, however, because they are ultimately very different stories. The fungus, itself, was very different. Sure, it played for all the spooky horror moments. But it also drew on different emotions that I had definitely not expected. I don’t want to get into it further than that for spoiler reasons, but I was definitely having some surprising reactions to various twists and turns towards the end of the book.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Unlike Serena, I have read “The Fall of the House of Usher”, but it had been, oh… twenty five years since I last read it? I remembered the basics, though I did wonder if I would spot the parallels as well as I would have had it not been a quarter century. But good news! I remembered enough to make the comparisons! But even better news is that T. Kingfisher has made the story unique and able to stand on its own while still harkening to the spirit of the original! That is to say, I definitely enjoyed this book!

A lot of the things I found interesting and unique Serena touched upon, but as the resident horror person I will stick to that aspect of the book. Kingfisher does a really good job of sticking to the Gothic paranoia of isolation and slow mental and emotional decline, while also introducing a really gross and unsettling body horror aspect with the fungal themes. While body horror can be a sub genre that makes me incredibly uneasy, what I liked about Kingfisher’s take on it is that this book rarely goes for deliberate over the top gross outs, and instead relies on unsettling imagery like hares that are behaving oddly, or a sleepwalking woman that just seems off, or the eerie beauty of a lake that glows at night for reasons unknown. We never get to super high levels of horror in this book, as there are plenty of moments of levity as well as a matter of fact tone as the story goes on, but there are plenty of beats that are incredibly creepy that feel like moments in the original tale. It’s a very well done homage and retelling that made me squeamish for all the right reasons.

Fans of the original story should check this out, not only because it’s well done, but also because it’s a good introduction to an author who is doing creative things across genres.

Serena’s Rating 8: A short, spooky tale that introduces a new version of a classic tale, new character and culture included!

Kate’s Rating 8: Unsettling and unique, “What Moves the Dead” is a fun reimagining of a Poe staple.

Reader’s Advisory:

“What Moves the Dead” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Fungus Fiction and Summer of Speculative Reading

Kate’s Review: “From Below”

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Book: “From Below” by Darcy Coates

Publishing Info: Poisoned Pen Press

Where Did I Get This Book: I received access to an eARC via NetGalley from the publisher.

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

Book Description: No light. No air. No escape. Hundreds of feet beneath the ocean’s surface, a graveyard waits

Years ago, the SS Arcadia vanished without a trace during a routine voyage. Though a strange, garbled emergency message was broadcast, neither the ship nor any of its crew could be found. Sixty years later, its wreck has finally been discovered more than three hundred miles from its intended course…a silent graveyard deep beneath the ocean’s surface, eagerly waiting for the first sign of life. Cove and her dive team have been granted permission to explore the Arcadia’s rusting hull. Their purpose is straightforward: examine the wreck, film everything, and, if possible, uncover how and why the supposedly unsinkable ship vanished.

But the Arcadia has not yet had its fill of death, and something dark and hungry watches from below. With limited oxygen and the ship slowly closing in around them, Cove and her team will have to fight their way free of the unspeakable horror now desperate to claim them. Because once they’re trapped beneath the ocean’s waves, there’s no going back.

Review: Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for sending me an eARC of this novel!

Minnesota may not be on any oceans, but we do have Lake Superior, which is so vast and unruly at times that it kind of acts like the sea. Hell, it’s big enough and has enough commercial traffic on it that there have been a fair amount of shipwrecks in its waters, so many that I have a framed poster in our den of the various wreckages on a map of the Great Lakes. I got that poster when I was a tween, so clearly shipwrecks have fascinated me for awhile (fun fact, on a day where the conditions are right, you can see a shipwreck in the waters at the Split Rock Lighthouse, north of Duluth. I ALWAYS try to see it when I go). I was thinking a lot about the shipwrecks in Superior as I read “From Below” by Darcy Coates. But I also knew that, while similar, the wrecks I was thinking of weren’t comparable. The biggest reason is the actual ocean has A LOT more secrets than ol’ gitchi-gami does just by it’s vast unknown depths. The other, more fiction based one is that this shipwreck has some supernatural nonsense going on.

This story is told in two timelines that slowly come together to reveal what happened on the S.S. Arcadia, a ship that disappeared during a voyage sixty years prior and whose wreckage was just discovered way off course. The first timeline is in the present, with a dive team that has been selected to go in and document the wreckage. The other is on that doomed voyage, following the crew and the passengers as things slowly start to go wrong and a strange, choking fog stalks the ship. Which is just the beginning. In the present we have leader Cove and her crew going into the wreckage and finding clues as to what went on…. and as things go from solemn to strange to terrifying, they don’t feel like they can stop because they need the money the dive will bring in. Both timelines build up the dread at a languid pace, tightening the tension bit by bit until things suddenly snap. It goes on a little long and extends a bit more than it needs to, but it has moments of high tension and horror. I enjoyed the present timeline more than the past one, but both use different elements to achieve some well done scares. In the past it’s a frenzy of paranoia and desperation for the crew and passengers as things spiral out of control, and in the modern time it’s a realization that there are things left in this ship that should not be there. Cove is the most interesting character of them all, as she is trying to be a good leader, but also knows that they all need the compensation. It’s a legitimate factor that kept me from wholly disbelieving their choices in staying on (there was another issue near the end that I didn’t buy, but that’s just another byproduct of it going on a little long, which is mostly forgivable).

But Coates doesn’t only rely on the supernatural side of things when it comes to the horror moments in this book. I mean sure, a long lost shipwreck with a mysterious disappearance, and then horrors within, are great themes for a horror novel, and themes I don’t see TOO often (though interestingly enough Serena and I reviewed a novel this year that had those exact themes but in space). And these themes work really well here. But it’s more the real life and realistic moments that had my pulse pounding. Coates goes into some really good detail about deep sea diving, and just how dangerous it is, and a lot of the suspense was built up around a slowly running supply of oxygen, as well as the very real threats of the bends and pressure damage should one try to ascend too quickly. And when you are exploring an underwater ghost ship and find really horrific things inside, how are you NOT going to suck through your oxygen, or try to speed out of there just a little too quickly? Ugh, that really was the stuff that set me on edge. And Coates did a great job of explaining all of it for a layperson so I understood some of the dangers when I may not have initially.

So it seems I may have to go back through Darcy Coates’s catalog to see what else she has written, as “From Below” was super entertaining and definitely freaky. I wasn’t exactly in a rush to go deep sea diving at any point in my life, but this just clinches it.

Rating 7: A claustrophobic and eerie (and at times a bit drawn out) tale of ghost ships and exploration, “From Below” will surely chill horror fans to the bone.

Reader’s Advisory:

“From Below” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward to in 2022”.

Kate’s Review: “The Book of Cold Cases”

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Book: “The Book of Cold Cases” by Simone St. James

Publishing Info: Berkley, March 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

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

Book Description: In 1977, Claire Lake, Oregon, was shaken by the Lady Killer Murders: Two men, seemingly randomly, were murdered with the same gun, with strange notes left behind. Beth Greer was the perfect suspect–a rich, eccentric twenty-three-year-old woman, seen fleeing one of the crimes. But she was acquitted, and she retreated to the isolation of her mansion.

Oregon, 2017. Shea Collins is a receptionist, but by night, she runs a true crime website, the Book of Cold Cases–a passion fueled by the attempted abduction she escaped as a child. When she meets Beth by chance, Shea asks her for an interview. To Shea’s surprise, Beth says yes.

They meet regularly at Beth’s mansion, though Shea is never comfortable there. Items move when she’s not looking, and she could swear she’s seen a girl outside the window. The allure of learning the truth about the case from the smart, charming Beth is too much to resist, but even as they grow closer, Shea senses something isn’t right. Is she making friends with a manipulative murderer, or are there other dangers lurking in the darkness of the Greer house?

A true crime blogger gets more than she bargained for while interviewing the woman acquitted of two cold case slayings in this chilling new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Sun Down Motel.

Review: I am now at the point in my librarian and blogging career that I lose titles that I would normally be super into amongst the books that I want to read. Whether it’s for blog purposes or keeping my RA skills up, I am always looking for books to add to the pile, and then others tend to shuffle through long past their release date. This is what happened with “The Book of Cold Cases” by Simone St. James, and author that I generally like and would normally be putting on my radar earlier than a few months past the release date. Well thank you, Book of the Month Club, because had you not had this book as a selection of that month I probably would have ended up on a hold list and then not gotten to this book until much later. Which would have been a bummer, because “The Book of Cold Cases” combines true crime blogger themes with a 1970s murder case that scandalized a town, as well as a perhaps supernatural presence within the accused murderess’s house. All things that I’m super into.

The story is told through the perspectives of present day Shea, true crime obsessive due to her processing (or not processing) of her own traumatic incident in her past, and past Beth, an accused murderer who was acquitted and who is more than the media and the community sees her as. When Shea meets Beth randomly and asks to interview her for her armchair sleuthing blog, Beth surprises her with a ‘yes’, and then Shea starts to investigate the Lady Killer Murders that Beth seemingly got away with. I liked seeing Shea go on her own investigation and how it is supplemented by the slow reveals of Beth’s past as we see what she was going through during the scrutiny and police investigation/trial back in the 1970s. It’s a device we’ve seen before but St. James does it well. We slowly get more and more information about both women and what their motivations are, and they are both interesting and complex enough that I was invested in finding out what Beth was hiding, and if Shea was going to find herself in trouble as she starts to unravel it all. I found Shea especially fascinating as a character, as while it may have been easy to just paint her as a true crime weirdo, St. James instead brings her own victimization into the formula and makes it less a morbid hobby and more of a coping mechanism (and honestly, I think that for a number of true crime fans there is a bit of anxiety processing and trauma processing that goes into the fascination with the genre). And as for Beth, I liked how St. James picks apart misogyny of the media and society when it comes to the portrayals of women in crime cases like this.

Though there were some things that didn’t really work for me. The problem is, I can’t really talk too much about them here without going into serious spoiler territory. What I will say is that we get a device about half way through the story that made it a bit less interesting for me, as it makes Beth a little less interesting as a whole. And the other issue is that, like other Simone St. James books, there is an element of the supernatural here. I generally like how St. James incorporates ghost stories into her books, and it isn’t that I didn’t like it here, because I did. I think that the problem is that in this story it didn’t really feel like it was needed, and because of that it felt a bit forced into it. It doesn’t make it any less suspenseful, and I still tore through this book over the course of two days. But this time around it may not have been necessary to have that element to it.

At the end of the day, I was supremely entertained by “The Book of Cold Cases”! It’s summer now, and I do think that this would be a great beach or cabin read. It may even send a chill up your spine on a hot summer day.

Rating 7: Though some of the plot choices didn’t hit as hard for me, overall Simone St. James once again puts together a twisted and suspenseful horror-thriller story that I couldn’t put down!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Book of Cold Cases” is included on the Goodreads lists “2022 Horror Novels Written By Women and Non-Binary Femmes”, and “The Most Anticipated Mysteries and Thrillers of 2022”.

Kate’s Review: “Hide”

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Book: “Hide” by Kiersten White

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, May 2022

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

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

Book Description: The challenge: spend a week hiding in an abandoned amusement park and don’t get caught.

The prize: enough money to change everything.

Even though everyone is desperate to win–to seize their dream futures or escape their haunting pasts–Mack feels sure that she can beat her competitors. All she has to do is hide, and she’s an expert at that.

It’s the reason she’s alive, and her family isn’t.

But as the people around her begin disappearing one by one, Mack realizes this competition is more sinister than even she imagined, and that together might be the only way to survive. Fourteen competitors. Seven days. Everywhere to hide, but nowhere to run.

Come out, come out, wherever you are.

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

I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s always kinda fun when Serena and I have an author that we both really enjoy. Partially because it’s interesting to see how we interact with an author’s work as two people with different literary focuses, but also because it usually means an author is good at genre jumping. And while Kiersten White has been more in Serena’s genres of fantasy and historical fiction, she has dabbled in horror now and again. And for her debut adult novel “Hide”, she returns to horror, enticing fans of the genre with an abandoned theme park, adults hoping to play hide and seek for a cash prize, and sinister ulterior motives from the people who are running the contest. I mean come on. I live for all of this, and I really like White as an author. So you know I was really excited to jump into the thick of it.

White already had me with the premise of a high stakes hide and seek game where money is the prize but undisclosed dangers threaten the players. Given that stories like “Hunger Games” and “Squid Game” have appealed to me for a very long time, it was a no brainer that this theme would work for me in this novel. Especially since I enjoy White’s writing and deconstructions of other tropes she’s taken on. And I’m not going to spoil to much here in terms of big details, but the way that White handles this story, with nods to Greek mythology as well as very real issues regarding the idle rich vs an ever more strained lower class, is a well balanced take on all the things she seeks to take on. I really liked the slow build up, as each day passes we see various players start to drop out of the game, with insights into the moments leading up to their ‘loss’ that start innocuous but then turn more and more sinister as the story goes on. I was in the dark for a lot of the plot, until I started to realize just what the broader picture was, influence wise, and once I did I became all the more invested in seeing how it all played out. And the way that she weaves this in with the social aspects of wealthy elites taking advantage of lower income groups for their own gains makes it all the more interesting. Sometimes the dialog of said wealthy elites was a LITTLE on the nose (which was a bit surprising as this is marketed as an adult novel; I tend to expect more of that in YA, but hey, this is White’s first foray into adult audiences and perhaps some old habits die hard), but it was few and far between and never took me too far out of the story.

I also mostly enjoyed the characters of this book. We mostly focus on Mack, who survived a massacre on her family when her father went full family annihilator, but wasn’t able to find her to kill her as well. Mack felt pretty realistic in her personality and her closed-offness, and I enjoyed how we slowly unpacked her trauma as well as how she perceives her role in some of the outcomes. I was a bit skeptical about how White was seemingly giving bits of perspective to EVERY contestant, as boy, that’s fourteen people in only a certain number of pages. But I thought that, for the most part, she gave at least a little bit of a glimpse into all of their psyches, and let us see why they would agree to this strange contest through their motivations and bits and pieces of their backstories. Some felt more contrived than others, but in general the most important players (be it cast wise or game wise) were given a lot to work with. I especially liked Ava, a disabled veteran with whom Mack becomes quite attached to, in spite of her fears of getting attached. Ava has a lot of great lines and some great characterization, and I was very invested in hers and Mack’s relationship as well as their wellbeing.

This foray into the adult reading demographic was pretty successful, which doesn’t surprise me. Honestly, given that White’s YA books have massive crossover appeal to adult audiences, I wouldn’t be shocked if the same can be said for “Hide” appealing to teens. Regardless, I thought it was fun, and it just emphasizes how much I really like White as a dark fantasy and horror author. I hope we get more of that from her in the near future!

Rating 8: A creative and suspenseful story with nods to Greek mythology and social maladies, “Hide” is a fun new horror novel from Kiersten White and a nice crossover to adult horror!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Hide” is included on the Goodreads list “2022 Horror Novels Written by Women and Non-Binary Femmes”.

Kate’s Review: “Parachute”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Parachute” by Holly Rae Garcia

Publishing Info: Easton Falls Publishing, May 2022

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

Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon

Book Description: Angela Rodriguez and her friends aren’t sure what they want out of life now that they’ve graduated high school, but they think there is plenty of time to figure it all out. When a trip to an abandoned elementary school leads to a break-in, they discover an old gym parachute.

Raising the fabric above their heads, the group expects it to balloon out around them like it did when they were younger. But instead, the parachute reveals alternate universes and terrifying worlds.

There’s only one ruleDON’T LET GO.

Review: Thank you to Holly Rae Garcia for sending me an eARC of this novella!

Grade school gym class was never a favorite of mine. This is probably not so shocking, given that I was fairly unathletic and very much an outcast, so there would be MANY reasons to pick me last for the various exercises and games that we would be playing. But there was always one gym class theme that I was super excited for, and that was when we’d walk into the gym and there would be the huge parachute all spread out. That usually meant we were just going to be dicking around as opposed to having to be skilled at sports. So when Holly Rae Garcia sent me the summary of her new novella “Parachute”, I immediately was interested (and definitely let her know that I LOVED the parachute in gym class, which I imagine she has probably heard a lot as of late). A horror novella that makes a gym class parachute into a tool of horror is so out of the box and interesting that I just couldn’t pass it up!

“Parachute” is a novella that takes place during the course of one evening where a group of friends, soon leaving high school behind and feeling a bit lost because of it, decide to break into the old elementary school, and find a gym class parachute. Nostalgia is a huge theme in this story, as not only does it take place during the 1990s (and has many quirks and moments that harken back to my youth), it is about young adults who are nostalgic for a dynamic they are leaving behind. As someone who can’t get enough of nostalgia, especially during trying times, I loved all the 90s references and tidbits. Now I more came of age around the Y2K part of the late 90s, so some of this was a little out of my personal experience wheelhouse, but Garcia made it feel realistic with a little bit of camp value for good measure. I felt like she nailed the time and place, and I thought that I got a good sense of the characters, their group dynamic, and their bravado that also hides insecurity. Of course this group would leap at the chance to play with a relic of their childhoods! Even if that relic is in actuality a portal to other places, dimensions, and supernatural dangers!

But what really sells this tale is how imaginative it is, with alternate dimensions, cosmic and inter-dimensional horrors, chaos, and no true answers to be found. Why can this parachute do this? Where are the places that these teens are being taken to? How many people have fallen victim to this? None of it really matters and I hope you don’t want concrete solutions. And that worked for me, because it adds to the chaotic breakdown of this friend group as one by one they are either lost in time and space, or become victims of the creatures they stumble upon. It really makes the reader have to feel the confusion and terror at the breakneck pace that our characters are feeling, and it amps the anxiety levels up in a way that felt super effective to me. And having the catalyst be an honest to goodness gym class parachute? That’s bananas! We run a gamut from generally unsettling moments of the uncanny to straight up gorefests, Garcia utilizes a lot of horror types and they all work pretty well. It was fun seeing what new weird scary thing Angela et al were going to find with each ripple of the parachute!

“Parachute” is a quick and tension filled horror novella that works outside of conventions in wholly unique ways. It both utilizes and weaponizes nostalgia, and it’s weird and funky. Definitely a fun read.

Rating 8: A quick, scary, and super imaginative read, “Parachute” jumps through time, space, and dimensions, and will make you rethink elementary school gym class activities.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Parachute” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think it would fit in on “Best Reality Warping Fiction”.

Blog Tour, Review, and Giveaway: “Hidden Pictures”

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Book: “Hidden Pictures” by Jason Rekulak

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, May 2022

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

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

Book Description: From Jason Rekulak, Edgar-nominated author of The Impossible Fortress, comes a wildly inventive spin on the classic horror story in Hidden Pictures, a creepy and warm-hearted mystery about a woman working as a nanny for a young boy with strange and disturbing secrets.

Fresh out of rehab, Mallory Quinn takes a job in the affluent suburb of Spring Brook, New Jersey as a babysitter for Ted and Caroline Maxwell. She is to look after their five-year-old son, Teddy.

Mallory immediately loves this new job. She lives in the Maxwell’s pool house, goes out for nightly runs, and has the stability she craves. And she sincerely bonds with Teddy, a sweet, shy boy who is never without his sketchbook and pencil. His drawings are the usual fare: trees, rabbits, balloons. But one day, he draws something different: a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s lifeless body.

As the days pass, Teddy’s artwork becomes more and more sinister, and his stick figures steadily evolve into more detailed, complex, and lifelike sketches well beyond the ability of any five-year-old. Mallory begins to suspect these are glimpses of an unsolved murder from long ago, perhaps relayed by a supernatural force lingering in the forest behind the Maxwell’s house. With help from a handsome landscaper and an eccentric neighbor, Mallory sets out to decipher the images and save Teddy—while coming to terms with a tragedy in her own past—before it’s too late.

Review: Thank you so much to Maris Tasaka of Macmillan for sending me an ARC of this book and for including our blog on the Blog Tour of this book!

I’m the person on here who reads and reviews the graphic novels for the blog, so books with visual components are pretty common in terms of me coming across them. But I always like seeing novels that use the occasional visual component to add to the story. I think of books like “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”, or the more recent (and recently reviewed on here) “Secret Identity”, which use photos or illustrations in regards to what a character may be seeing in the story. Which is why when Flatiron Press reached out to me asking if I’d be interested in participating in a Blog Tour of “Hidden Pictures” by Jason Rekulak I jumped at the chance. I already love a ghost story. But I’m even more interested by a ghost story that has creepy drawings that tie into the ghost story!

In terms of plot, “Hidden Pictures” is straight forward and moves at a fast clip. It’s a relatively long book (almost four hundred pages) but I was basically able to devour it in two evening’s time because it is such a quick read. It’s told through Mallory’s eyes, a new babysitter to a precocious little boy named Teddy who is newly clean off hard drugs and desperate for a second chance. Teddy’s parents have very high standards for his care, and while they are seemingly supportive Mallory feels a little judged by them due to her past and their very elite lifestyle. So when Teddy starts drawing strange pictures and talking about his imaginary friend Anya, and things start to escalate, Mallory has to worry about keeping Teddy safe from a potential unseen force, and not overstepping boundaries that could destroy the progress of a new life she’s made. I liked how Rekulak sets up many good reasons for Mallory to be feeling pretty alone in this as she worries more and more about Teddy, and I liked how she slowly starts to investigate and uncover clues about who could potentially be haunting her charge. The puzzle pieces aren’t overly complicated and they are familiar themes, but they are well placed and timed out. There were a lot of good twists and turns on the way to the ultimate solution, with a lot of really creepy and sometimes downright frightening moments involving a presence whose intentions are not clear. The pacing works really well and I just couldn’t put it down.

In terms of characters, it’s a little bit of a mixed bag. Mallory is probably the most interesting, which isn’t super surprising as she’s our narrator, but Rekulak brings out her layers and her background in ways that made her easy to like and empathize with. I appreciated that Rekulak took care (as far as I could tell? Tell me if I’m wrong please!) to portray her past addiction and the fallouts of that as she rebuilds in a sympathetic light, avoiding stereotypical pitfalls or trying to make a potential relapse a side plot. Her backstory is also treated with care, and it all made sense in how she makes decisions and the actions she takes as the story goes on. In terms of other characters, they were hit or miss. I liked her friend and love interest Adrian, as it was nice having someone in her corner and I liked their chemistry. Teddy was your typical precocious kid who communicates with ghosts, and his parents Caroline and Ted were a right mix of saccharine supportive and perhaps a little untrustworthy (the way they treated Mallory was another well done unease to the story; supportive but conditionally only is one way I’d describe it). Other supporting characters like Mallory’s sponsor, or the ‘eccentric’ (read belligerent and racist, but not really called out enough about it) neighbor next door didn’t work as well. But hey, the strength was Mallory and that’s what you need in this kind of mystery horror story.

And oh boy, let’s talk about the pictures. I loved that Rekulak decided to use both words and images for this book, as while I appreciate using my imagination to create images when I read, I also REALLY love a visual medium that enhances a reading experience. And the pictures in “Hidden Pictures” are awesome, running a full range of realistically five year old aesthetic, to creepy unsettling, to genuinely beautiful and moving. They really added to my enjoyment of the story overall.

With summer just around the corner, you may be looking for a fast and fun read to take on a trip or just to read while hanging around the house. “Hidden Pictures” would be a great choice for such occasions!

Rating 8: A fast and compelling plot, a creepy ghost story, and some truly unsettling artwork make “Hidden Pictures” a fun horror tale just in time for Summer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Hidden Pictures” is included on the Goodreads lists “Anticipated 2022 Horror/Thriller Releases”, and “52 Book Club 2022: A Book With Photographs Inside”.

And as mentioned in the title of this post, I am running a giveaway of the ARC of this novel! So if you think this sounds right up your alley, enter a chance to win! The giveaway is open to U.S. Residents only and will end on May 24th.

Enter The Giveaway HERE!

Diving Into Sub-Genres: Vampire Horror

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We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us with present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.

I have been obsessed with vampires for a very long time. While in childhood I liked vampire stories just fine, it was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in middle and high school that really gelled with me, genre wise. And vampire horror is still a sub-genre that I really love, even if I have VERY picky standards for it. There is so much you can do with vampires, mostly because they are not only iconic in horror, they have so much history in folklore all around the world.

There are so many types of vampire stories to tell. The tried and true Gothic sensibilities with castles and or manors run by monsters. The deeply romantic vampire story with eroticism bubbling over. The feral creatures who are just out to destroy and eat. I’ve read many vampire tales and vetted through the highs and the lows (here’s a tip: if you aren’t into Amish romance, a vampire themed Amish romance isn’t going to do it for you). The books I’ve selected for this list kind of tap into the different themes, and are, to me, stand outs in the genre for various reasons. I could have listed many more but limited myself. Just know these are by no means the only good vampire stories out there! They’re just jumping off points.

Book: “The Vampyre” by John William Polidori

I mean, I’ve mentioned “Dracula” in other book lists, and while “Dracula” is absolutely a great vampire novel (like, the grandfather of the genre, really), I wanted to think outside the box. Instead, let’s talk about “The Vampyre” by John William Polidori, which was one of the influences on “Dracula”. Taken from the short tale that Lord Byron told on that fateful trip with Mary Shelley, Poliodori expanded upon it and created a complete short story that was published (and repeatedly misattributed to Byron, as much as both men tried to correct this misconception). It follows a young man named Aubrey, who travels to London and meets an aristocrat named Lord Ruthvern. They hit it off, and Ruthvern asks Aubrey to travel with him around Europe. As they travel together, people around them start dying in strange ways, namely their throats being torn out. By the time Aubrey has put two and two together regarding his friend, it’s too late. Poliodori was the guy who took the idea of feral creatures of folklore and made them into a predatory, enigmatic, and charming high class man of society who preys upon those around and below him.

Book Series: “The Vampire Chronicles” by Anne Rice

A lot of the sexy and erotic vampire themes we see in today’s vampire stories can be directly traced to the likes of Louis, Lestat, Armand, et al in “The Vampire Chronicles”, Anne Rice’s dreamy, vicious, and subtly steamy vampire series. Starting with a fairly simple “Interview With the Vampire”, in which a vampire named Louis tells his story of becoming a vampire and the way it changed him, and going to stranger realms with “Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis”, we follow a complex mythology and history of a group of vampires and their melancholy, or outlandish, backstories. From 18th Century New Orleans to 1980s America to BCE Egypt, Rice takes her characters to many settings and connects them through time and relationships and blood. Lestat is the clear center of the tale, his vain and over the top personality so much fun follow (seriously. I love Lestat), but with other interesting characters who pop in and out the stories have a lot of influence on today’s vampire mythos. And the simmering sexiness of Lestat and his implied and/or confirmed lovers is PALPABLE. While sexy vampires have always been a thing, Rice tapped into it in ways others had not, and it works. I haven’t read them all (I never went past “Queen of the Damned”), but I wholly intend to keep going. If only because Lestat is such an iconic vampire in literature.

Book: “Let the Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist

If you’re looking for a claustrophobic vampire story involving children, loneliness, friendship(?), and coming of age, “Let the Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist is going to be the one to check out. I read this around the time the film came to America’s arthouse movie theaters, and was immediately pulled in by how it was simultaneously sweet as well as deeply unnerving. Oskar is an isolated twelve year old boy who lives in a Swedish housing complex with his mother. Oskar has no friends at school and is repeatedly bullied, but then a new girl named Eli moves into the building with her father…. Although, he isn’t her father. And Eli isn’t a normal little girl. She’s a vampire who has been around for hundreds of years. Both Oskar and Eli are seeking connections, though their reasons are very different. On the surface this story seems like a lovely tale of friendship found between outsiders, and to some extent it is. But there is also the nagging sensation that Eli has darker motives for wanting a new companion, and taps into the ideas that vampires are, by nature, predatory, and even if they think they can love, they never really can. It hits ya right in the feels.

Book: “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” by Holly Black

I felt a need to have an example of YA vampire fiction on this list, but wasn’t going to highlight “Twilight” (it’s just not my bag, baby). Instead, I turn to Holly Black’s “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown”, a YA vampire story that is less romantic and more thriller and horror driven in its storytelling. Tana is a teenage girl who wakes up at a friend’s house after a raucous party… and finds most of the guests are dead, killed by a vampire. Her ex boyfriend Aidan survived, but looks like he’s been infected by vampirism. And there is a strange vampire boy who claims his innocence, and needs protection. So Tana opts to rescue them all and take them to the nearest Coldtown, a fenced off community where vampires and other creatures can live in sanctuary. But usually when you enter a Coldtown, you can’t leave. So Tana has to figure out how to get around that. This book is fast paced and feels a bit like a YA vampire “Escape from New York”, and Tana is a very enjoyable main character who kicks a lot of ass.

Book: “‘Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King

I’d be remiss if I left my man Stephen King off this list, and “‘Salem’s Lot” is his entry into the vampire zeitgeist. And because it’s King, he brings in not only some good vampire horror, but also some other more ‘elevated’ themes, as elevated as Danny Glick was outside Mark Petrie’s window. Ben Mears returns to the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot, where he spent a good chunk of his childhood, after years of being away. When he arrives, he finds himself in the midst of strange occurrences. Little does he know, at least at first, a new community member named Kurt Barlow is a vampire, and he intends on turning the entire town into a vampire community. So Ben has to team up with other towns people to stop him. So while we have our ‘vampire infiltrating a human community’ story, King also dabbles in the metaphors of homecoming and the darkness and dissipation of small town America.

Book Series: “The Strain Trilogy” by Guillermo del Toro, and Chuck Hogan

And finally, I wanted to tackle a vampire story that has a SUPER unique idea of vampirism and how it comes to pass, and that is “The Strain” Trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. While many modern vampire tales stick to the tried and true ‘vampires sire other vampires’ mechanism, del Toro and Hogan ask ‘what if it was like a parasitic disease?’ When a commercial airliner arrives at JFK and comes to a halt halfway down the runway, with all the communication down and no signs of life aboard, the fear is bioterrorism. So when Ephraim Goodweather of the CDC arrives to check out the threat, he thinks he knows what to expect. But then he boards the plane, and finds everyone dead, he’s horrified. What Ephraim doesn’t know, however, is that this isn’t a bioweapon that anyone can conceive of. What it is is a vampire virus that infects people via parasites, and makes them in the thrall of a master who intends to wipe out humanity. The first book, “The Strain”, is pretty darn good. Admittedly the other two didn’t live up to it, but it’s still super unique and fun to see del Toro play with expectations of the genre.

What are some of your favorite vampire books? Let us know in the comments!

Kate’s Review: “Burn Down, Rise Up”

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Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Burn Down, Rise Up” by Vincent Tirado

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, May 2022

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

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

Book Description: Stranger Things meets Get Out in this Sapphic Horror debut from nonbinary, Afro-Latine author Vincent Tirado.

Mysterious disappearances.
An urban legend rumored to be responsible.
And one group of teens determined to save their city at any cost.

For over a year, the Bronx has been plagued by sudden disappearances that no one can explain. Sixteen-year-old Raquel does her best to ignore it. After all, the police only look for the white kids. But when her crush Charlize’s cousin goes missing, Raquel starts to pay attention—especially when her own mom comes down with a mysterious illness that seems linked to the disappearances.

Raquel and Charlize team up to investigate, but they soon discover that everything is tied to a terrifying urban legend called the Echo Game. The game is rumored to trap people in a sinister world underneath the city, and the rules are based on a particularly dark chapter in New York’s past. And if the friends want to save their home and everyone they love, they will have to play the game and destroy the evil at its heart—or die trying.

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

If I had a dollar for every moment I saw firsthand someone kvetch about the horror genre ‘becoming woke’ or other such nonsense, I don’t think I’d have a LOT of money, but it would be enough to buy me a nice dinner downtown. I do know that people have been complaining about how more and more horror stories seem to be bringing social issues into plots, but that’s just a dumb frustration because horror has always had its political and sociological angles, for better or for worse. I haven’t heard any such beef with Vicent Tirado’s new teen horror novel “Burn Down, Rise Up”, though I wouldn’t be shocked if it was out there. But the political and sociological possibilities in the horror genre are things that I am always on the look out for, so when read the description for this book I was VERY intrigued. This country has a lot to reckon with when it comes to racist policies and ideals, and putting some of those issues within The Bronx at the forefront WHILE mixing in a deadly Internet game horror story was too interesting to miss. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with a solid history lesson for readers of any age. “Burn Down, Rise Up” has that to be sure.

Given that I am a huge fan of Internet Creepypastas that have these urban legend game factors (such as The Elevator Game or Hide and Seek Alone), there was a lot to like about “Burn Down, Rise Up”. I thought that Tirado did their due diligence when it came to inventing an Internet urban legend game, with nods to real life inspirations while still feeling fairly unique and fresh. I liked the rules, I liked the eerie creepiness of the game itself, and I liked how Tirado worked history of racist policy, violence, and destruction of the Bronx into the game. It’s the history of the Bronx and the violence directed towards Black and Latine people that has the most horrors here, as the beings in this Echo are victims of the fires that plagued the Bronx in the 1970s and 1980s and were the result of redlining, inadequate infrastructure, slumlords, and other systemic oppression that made for a dangerous situation in which many buildings burned and many Black and brown people were displaced. Some of the creatures and ghouls that Raquel and her friends meet in The Echo are very clear representations of this, with many burned entities wandering around to a Slumlord antagonist to black mold-esque infections ravaging people beyond the Echo into our world. In terms of actual action and mythos of the Echo, I thought that those points were a bit underdeveloped, with the metaphors being really strong and interesting but the actual supernatural parts being undercooked. I also would have loved a bit more exploration into Raquel’s father’s connections and devotions to Santeria, and more exploration of her own psychic abilities.

As for the characters, I liked Raquel a lot, as she is trying to navigate a sick mother, a despondent friend/crush, and the conflict between her and her best friend Aaron as they both have a crush on Charlize (though he doesn’t know of her feelings). A lot of the obstacles and conflicts she faces of being a teenager, especially an Afro-Latine teenager at that, felt pretty well thought out. Whether it’s anxiety about her feelings for Charlize and whether they are reciprocated or the understandable skittishness of dealing with the NYPD as they investigate Charlize’s cousin Cisco’s disappearance, I knew Raquel as a character and understood her motivations and feelings in the moments of the plot. I was also very interested in one of the entities in the Echo that has been connecting with Raquel referred to as a Man in Corduroy, as while he is creepy and mysterious there is an intriguing essence to him through his dialogue and actions, a morally grey feel that I really liked. Everyone else was serviceable, though perhaps not as well rounded.

All in all, “Burn Down, Rise Up” had some good mythos and some well thought out connections to some dark and racist social history in the Bronx. I liked how Tirado examined this while showing how vibrant and close knit her characters, and the Bronx itself, are. A fun horror that I will definitely be recommending to teens.

Rating 7: A fun horror tale that takes Internet urban legends into politically conscious territory, though some of the supernatural elements are a bit underdeveloped.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Burn Down, Rise Up” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Black Lives Matter”, and “Horror/Thriller Books by Black Authors”.

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