Kate’s Review: “Ghost Eaters”

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Book: “Ghost Eaters” by Clay McLeod Chapman

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a print ARC from the publisher at ALAAC22.

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

Book Description: From the acclaimed author of The Remaking and Whisper Down the Lane, this terrifying supernatural page-turner will make you think twice about opening doors to the unknown.

Erin hasn’t been able to set a single boundary with her charismatic but reckless college ex-boyfriend, Silas. When he asks her to bail him out of rehab—again—she knows she needs to cut him off. But days after he gets out, Silas turns up dead of an overdose in their hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and Erin’s world falls apart.

Then a friend tells her about Ghost, a new drug that allows users to see the dead. Wanna get haunted? he asks. Grieving and desperate for closure with Silas, Erin agrees to a pill-popping “séance.” But the drug has unfathomable side effects—and once you take it, you can never go back.

Review: Thank you to Quirk Books for giving me an ARC of this book at ALAAC22 (and for Clay McLeod Chapman for signing it!)!

I had a few books that were must grabs at ALAAC22, and “Ghost Eaters” by Clay McLeod Chapman was on that list. I had read his book “Whisper Down the Lane”, and while I enjoyed it, it set off a bunch of my rage triggers regarding Satanic Panic, so I was more angry than scared as I read it. But when I read the description of this book there were no rage triggers to be found, which meant that I anticipated a more chill experience as I read it. Which, uh, wasn’t super correct. Was I rage filled as I read this book? No. Was it super terrifying and therefore it wasn’t exactly ‘chill’? Hell yes.

So the hype about this book being super scary? Accurate! I started reading this book in the evening, and once it became clear just how creepy it was going to be I made the decision to set it down and proceed in the morning. Which ended up being a good decision, because holy CATS, the ghosts in this book are SO disturbing and scary. You kind of get the gamut of things. You get shadows in corners. You get slow moving creepers closing in on Erin, our protagonist, and only she can see them as she takes a drug called “Ghost”, which allows her to do so. You get descriptions of rotting corpses, of spewed up ectoplasm, of ghost babies crawling around like feral animals, you get it all, and it really, REALLY messes with you. Chapman doesn’t hold back in the nightmare fuel department, as we travel through Richmond, Virginia with Erin as she starts seeing more and more ghosts after ingesting a drug that has this explicit purpose. The problem is, she just wanted to see ONE ghost in particular, that of Silas, her ex boyfriend who had a huge emotional hold on her and their friend group. So as more and more ghosts close in and she takes more and more Ghost in hopes of it finally being Silas, the tension builds and builds until it snaps, and boy oh BOY does it snap.

But Chapman doesn’t stop at making this a mere super scary ghost story. He also explores some very real world themes and horrors, namely that of addiction and the whitewashing of history. Addiction is probably the more obvious of the two, and while I think there could have been potential for it to come off as hamfisted or after school special-esque, Chapman always makes it feel earnest and super, super disturbing. Erin’s sadness and grief and loss and guilt drives her to try Ghost in hopes of finding closure with Silas, and she almost immediately spirals as the drug not only catches hold instantaneously, it also makes her a beacon for lost spirits that are drawn to her. But we also get a great foundation for why Erin is feeling this way over a man who was, by all accounts as seen in this story, kind of a selfish asshole, and the empathy he draws for her in her actions and also, somewhat, for him, makes it all the sadder and therefore all the scarier. And while she is terrified of the spirits, and the drug itself causes moments that cost her almost everything, she keeps coming back because of her need to see Silas one more time. It is the perfect metaphor for addiction, and while the ghosts are truly and incredibly scary, so is watching Erin completely wreck her life in the course of days, as well as seeing the other Ghost addicts as they spiral all in hopes of seeing a lost loved one again (a woman whose child died of SIDS was especially heartbreaking). Along with that, Chapman raises some GREAT points about ghost stories and folklore and how they have, in many ways, been whitewashed and in some ways romanticized. “Ghost Eaters” takes place in Richmond, a city that has been around a LONG time and has had a lot of blood spilled, a large part due to atrocities committed against Indigenous people and Black people. So many of the ghosts that Erin sees aren’t the wandering war widow or the little white girl from Antebellum times, but those of POC who died in horrific ways because of racism, Colonialism, and genocidal violence. As I was reading this book I kept thinking of “Ghostland” by Colin Dickey, which has this as a running theme, and LO AND BEHOLD this book was mentioned in the acknowledgements. What an awesome topic to tackle, and Champman does it with ease.

“Ghost Eaters” is a must read this Halloween season. Go get it, tear through it, and make sure you have the lights on.

Rating 9: Raw, profoundly disturbing, and genuinely scary, “Ghost Eaters” is a story that not only has some supremely fucked up ghosts, but also takes on themes like addiction, and which people are represented in traditional ghost stories.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghost Eaters” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward To in 2022”.

Kate’s Review: “Malice House”

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

Book: “Malice House” by Megan Shepherd

Publishing Info: Hyperion Avenue, October 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a print ARC from the publisher at ALAAC22.

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

Book Description: Of all the things aspiring artist Haven Marbury expected to find while clearing out her late father’s remote seaside house, Bedtime Stories for Monsters was not on the list. This secret handwritten manuscript is disturbingly different from his Pulitzer-winning works: its interweaving short stories crawl with horrific monsters and enigmatic humans that exist somewhere between this world and the next. The stories unsettle but also entice Haven, practically compelling her to illustrate them while she stays in the house that her father warned her was haunted. Clearly just dementia whispering in his ear . . . right?

Reeling from a failed marriage, Haven hopes an illustrated Bedtime Stories can be the lucrative posthumous father-daughter collaboration she desperately needs to jump-start her art career. However, everyone in the nearby vacation town wants a piece of the manuscript: her father’s obsessive literary salon members, the Ink Drinkers; her mysterious yet charming neighbor, who has a tendency toward three a.m. bonfires; a young barista with a literary forgery business; and of course, whoever keeps trying to break into her house. But when a monstrous creature appears under Haven’s bed right as grisly deaths are reported in the nearby woods, she must race to uncover dark, otherworldly family secrets—completely rewriting everything she ever knew about herself in the process.

From New York Times bestselling author Megan Shepherd comes a complex tale of dark magic, family secrets, and monsters that don’t stay on the page.

Review: Thank you to Hyperion Avenue for giving me an ARC at ALAAC22!

It’s October, everyone, and that means that we are officially at the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year in my book: HALLOWEEN SEASON!!! And that also means that it is once again time for Horrorpalooza, in which my focus is on all horror or horror-esque titles for my blog posts through the end of the month! I’m feeling especially good about Halloween this year, as the whole family is vaxxed up, I have a slew of horror content I’m going to devour this month, and my kid is, through no undue influence of mine, FULLY INTO HALLOWEEN! Oh yeah, I’m READY.

As Betelgeuse says, ‘it’s showtime!’ (source)

And we are kicking off Horrorpalooza 2022 with a title that I have been eagerly awaiting for a long time. I first heard of “Malice House” by Megan Shepherd when Chuck Wendig was tweeting about it in a very positive way. Looking into it, it ticked off a lot of boxes that I love in a book: it’s horror based, it has Gothic elements, and it has a book theme within the narrative. I was super lucky that not only did they have ARCs of it at ALAAC22, but that Megan Shepherd was there signing said ARCs. I let it sit a bit, wanting to get closer to the spooky season before I picked it up, and then once I did, it snared me in almost immediately. It was worth the wait.

“Malice House” is just as much dark fantasy as it is a horror novel, and given that the two genres overlap a fair bit perhaps it’s not so much of a surprise that the combination works well. But Shepherd does a marvelous job of not leaning two much on either genre, while also bringing out the best of them both to create a very suspenseful, scary, and also dreamlike tale of loss, creativity, and the secrets kept within families and from those we love. Haven is our main character, who has returned to her father’s isolated old house after his death, her memories of a strained relationship haunting her as she lives in his famed novelist shadow. Haven is a good mix of deeply complex and somewhat unlikable, but Shepherd gives her the space to be these things without making her feel overdone or cartoonish. We get the sense that she is a bit unreliable, as she hid things from her father before his death, and as she starts to try and make movements regarding the lost manuscript she finds in his home, we start to realize that she’s not the only one with secrets and perhaps darker motivations. From locals who knew her father when he was alive to a mysterious neighbor to a barista who loves her father’s work, Haven has a lot of people who seem to be in her corner, but she soon finds out that, like her, everyone has their secrets. Secrets, isolation, a narrator who may not be reliable, oh how Gothic! And Shepherd really nails that tone.

The horror elements of this book are pretty strong, the dread slowly building up as Haven hears things in the walls, or fixates on tales of the demons that her dementia addled father was seeing as his condition deteriorated. And by the time people around town start dying in gruesome ways that may or may not connect to her father’s books, Haven has already fallen into a nightmare scape where things she thought were hallucinations are perhaps living, breathing threats. The various villains range from pretty run of the mill creature feature fare (a hellhound, a weird lobsterlike creature called ‘Pinchie‘), to far more sinister characters that really got under my skin (no spoilers here, but on in particular known as “Uncle Arnold” is not going to leave me any time soon). And that is what I loved the most about “Malice House”; it is not only a creepy and dreamlike supernatural tale, it is also a story about the power of art, and creativity, and how artistic creations can take on lives of their own that can stun even the creator. And sure, this is probably happening in the worst way imaginable in this book, but I thought it was a really, really nifty facet of this horror story that made me love it all the more.

“Malice House” absolutely lived up to my expectations. The ARC I have mentions that this is the first in a series, though I haven’t seen much additional information about that possibility. If it is, though, I am absolutely aching to see where Megan Shepherd takes Haven and the creatures of Malice House next.

Rating 9: Dark, unnerving, and a love letter to the power that art and stories can have, “Malice House” is a fun and chilling dark fantasy horror tale.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Malice House” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Modern Gothic”.

Kate’s Review: “Motherthing”

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Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Motherthing” by Ainslie Hogarth

Publishing Info: Vintage, September 2022

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

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

Book Description: A darkly funny domestic horror novel about a woman who must take drastic measures to save her husband and herself from the vengeful ghost of her mother-in-law.

When Ralph and Abby Lamb move in with Ralph’s mother, Laura, Abby hopes it’s just what she and her mother-in-law need to finally connect. After a traumatic childhood, Abby is desperate for a mother figure, especially now that she and Ralph are trying to become parents themselves. Abby just has so much love to give—to Ralph, to Laura, and to Mrs. Bondy, her favorite resident at the long-term care home where she works. But Laura isn’t interested in bonding with her daughter-in-law. She’s venomous and cruel, especially to Abby, and life with her is hellish.

When Laura takes her own life, her ghost haunts Abby and Ralph in very different ways: Ralph is plunged into depression, and Abby is terrorized by a force intent on destroying everything she loves. To make matters worse, Mrs. Bondy’s daughter is threatening to move Mrs. Bondy from the home, leaving Abby totally alone. With everything on the line, Abby comes up with a chilling plan that will allow her to keep Mrs. Bondy, rescue Ralph from his tortured mind, and break Laura’s hold on the family for good. All it requires is a little ingenuity, a lot of determination, and a unique recipe for chicken à la king…

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

I am very thankful to say that I have a pretty good relationship with my mother in law. I’ve known her since I was a teenager, which probably helps, but she has always been very kind and supportive and has been perfectly fine keeping healthy involvement and boundaries when it comes to the family my husband and I have built. That said, I am always down for some juicy literary drama regarding in laws from hell, and based on the description “Motherthing” by Ainslie Hogarth should have fit the bill. We have a toxic mother in law, a harried wife, and the promise of a funny domestic horror story involving a haunting perpetrated by a terrible woman, with a daughter in law determined to stop it. That is what I thought this book was going to be.

Well. I didn’t think it was most of those things.

We’ll start with the good. It was funny! When we meet our first person protagonist Abby we have a stressed and damaged daughter in law whose mother in law Laura has just killed herself, possibly one last manipulation directed at Abby’s husband Ralph. From the jump it is clear that Abby has a lot of mental and emotional issues, and said issues aren’t just because of Laura. But her stream on consciousness narration is at times incredibly humorous, like laugh out loud so, especially if you are into dark humor. And I also applaud how Hogarth has attempted to tell this story in a unique narrative style, flipping from first person narration, and sometimes to stage directional narration styles, as combined it does get the point across that Abby is becoming more and more unhinged as the story goes, and as she is feeling haunted by her dead mother in law in a literal sense while also being haunted by her neglected childhood and her desire to have a mother figure in her life (as well as have a baby so she can be the perfect mother). All of this worked for me.

What didn’t work for me as much was how everything kind of played out. Unique writing to be sure, but it is also very stilted and very strange. I am sure that it is deliberate and to make the reader feel as disoriented as Abby and to convey her mental state, but I found it aggravating as the story went on, and it felt rather repetitive as well. And to be quite honest, the description of this book makes it sound like we are dealing with a quasi comedic ghost story involving a toxic mother in law and the beleaguered daughter in law who has to play ghostbuster. But instead we get more of an exploration of a woman on the brink of complete mental and emotional breakdown, and boy oh boy does it go to very out there places. I do think that the problem is how it is described as opposed to the actual execution, because if my expectations had been a little more in line with what was presented it possibly would have gone over better. But as it was, I didn’t know what I was getting into and it soured the entire experience. I want to know if something is going to go surreal so I can get in the right mind frame. Going into this thinking it’s a domestic horror comedy isn’t going to manage expectations properly.

“Motherthing” didn’t click for me. If you like weird fiction elements to your horror it may click for you!

Rating 5: While it had some very funny moments, it was a little too weird for me and didn’t really deliver on what it was promising in the description or marketing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Motherthing” is included on the Goodreads list “Birmingham Feminist Book Club”.

Kate’s Review: “Daphne”

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Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Daphne” by Josh Malerman

Publishing Info: Del Rey Publications, September 2022

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

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

Book Description: It’s the last summer for Kit Lamb: The last summer before college. The last summer with her high school basketball team, and with Dana, her best friend. The last summer before her life begins.

But the night before the big game, one of the players tells a ghost story about Daphne, a girl who went to their school many years ago and died under mysterious circumstances. Some say she was murdered, others that she died by her own hand. And some say that Daphne is a murderer herself. They also say that Daphne is still out there, obsessed with revenge, and will appear to kill again anytime someone thinks about her.

After Kit hears the story, her teammates vanish, one by one, and Kit begins to suspect that the stories about Daphne are real . . . and to fear that her own mind is conjuring the killer. Now it’s a race against time as Kit searches for the truth behind the legend and learns to face her own fears—before the summer of her life becomes the last summer of her life.

Mixing a nostalgic coming-of-age story and an instantly iconic female villain with an innovative new vision of classic horror, Daphne is an unforgettable thriller as only Josh Malerman could imagine it.

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

Let me set the scene. It was 2003. I was a senior in high school. One afternoon in the senior lounge during the school day ‘X period’ (aka a free period where clubs could meet or kids could talk to teachers or you could just dick around for a bit), some other girls and I started talking about Bloody Mary. We decided it would be fun to go to the locker rooms by the gym and play, as it had been FOREVER since we all had. I went with this group of girls, none of whom who were my friends, per se, just classmates whose orbits I generally wasn’t around, but bonded by nostalgia for an urban legend. We turned off the lights, said ‘I believe in Bloody Mary’ three times, and expected nothing of it. So imagine our surprise when there was a loud BANG in the darkness of the locker room. We tore out screaming, only to find out shortly thereafter a gym teacher was tidying up and that was the bang, and we had scared her to death with our terrified shrieks. I kept thinking about this story while I read Josh Malerman’s newest book “Daphne”, a horror novel about an urban legend that slasher kills her way through a high school girls basketball team. Mostly because of the urban legend factor. But also because this deeply disturbing horror novel also touches on the undercurrent left unsaid in this memory: that of teetering between youth, and adulthood, and the things we grapple with in between.

First and foremost, yes, “Daphne” is a very unsettling horror story, and I expected nothing less from Malerman. I’ve enjoyed the other books I’ve read of his, and I think that this one is probably the scariest yet for me. He knows how to slowly build a strangling dread as our cast of characters, a group of high school basketball players with WNBA dreams and interests, are picked off one by one by a brutal urban legend called Daphne after her story is told at a sleepover. We mostly focus on star player Kit, a girl who loves her teammates and the game, but is also plagued by her own struggles with severe anxiety, even before she starts obsessively thinking about Daphne and those around her start dying. Malerman does a fantastic job of slowly pacing the tension in this story so that the reader goes through similar beats as the characters. General unease slowly morphs to gear morphs to genuine dread. The characters find themselves thinking of Daphne, and then she comes for them in truly grotesque, slasher-y ways, and I was basically freaking out every time we got to a kill scene. It’s brutal and very splatter-y, but the tension is top notch psychological suspense to give it more oomph. We slowly start to get the real story behind the urban legend, and we start to care about these characters and invest in them even know we know that terrible things at the hands of this ghost, or monster, or SOMETHING are going to happen to them. It’s unnerving as hell and it really got under my skin. I think that I would have liked a bit more come down at the end, as all the tension has to go somewhere and I didn’t feel like there was enough room for it by the conclusion. But ultimately this book delivers on scares. EVEN THE GODDAMN COVER JUST FUCKS WITH MY HEAD.

But along with the scares is the very relatable undercurrent of Kit’s anxiety, anxiety about not only Daphne, but also of the unknown aspects of life itself. I’m someone who has been grappling with anxiety my entire life, and one of the worst times was in high school because of how much was unknown. I had no idea what life had in store after I left the very familiar life I was leading, with my parents and my friends and my family being left behind. As someone who had panic attacks, a good amount of them in late high school, I really, really related to Kit, and I loved that Malerman wanted to explore her mind even beyond that of a slasher killer’s potential victim, but also a girl who is battling her fears of the unknown as they manifest into panic attacks and buzzing dread without obvious cause. Perhaps it doesn’t get to this level for all teens, but Kit battling her mind to try and keep Daphne out is just as much Kit battling her mind to keep fear itself out. It hit home in a way I wasn’t really expecting, and just felt like it really captured that unease about what comes next when you are about to leave the life you’ve known for eighteen years. And really, the way that Daphne creeps up on you until you can’t stop thinking about her, and then completely wrecks you? That’s anxiety in a nutshell. Daphne crushes her victims, just as anxiety crushes those that it affects.

“Daphne” is going to stay with me awhile. It’s deeply fucked but also bittersweet. And like the titular character, I don’t see myself being able to stop thinking about it for awhile.

Rating 9: Disturbing, unnerving, and in some ways bittersweet, “Daphne” is a horror novel that won’t leave a reader’s thoughts for awhile after reading it.

Reader’s Advisory:

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

Kate’s Review: “The Weight of Blood”

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

Book: “The Weight of Blood” by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, September 2022

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

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

Book Description: When Springville residents—at least the ones still alive—are questioned about what happened on prom night, they all have the same explanation . . . Maddy did it.

An outcast at her small-town Georgia high school, Madison Washington has always been a teasing target for bullies. And she’s dealt with it because she has more pressing problems to manage. Until the morning a surprise rainstorm reveals her most closely kept secret: Maddy is biracial. She has been passing for white her entire life at the behest of her fanatical white father, Thomas Washington.

After a viral bullying video pulls back the curtain on Springville High’s racist roots, student leaders come up with a plan to change their image: host the school’s first integrated prom as a show of unity. The popular white class president convinces her Black superstar quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to be his date, leaving Maddy wondering if it’s possible to have a normal life.

But some of her classmates aren’t done with her just yet. And what they don’t know is that Maddy still has another secret . . . one that will cost them all their lives.

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

I’ve reviewed Stephen King’s “Carrie” on the blog before, and in my review I mentioned how much I love that book. Like, I LOVE it and have loved it since I was in middle school. I have also come to love the books of Tiffany D. Jackson, one of my favorite YA authors writing today, as her stories are always rife with well done tension as well as great examinations of social issues about race in the U.S. So when it was announced that Jackson was going to write a book that was a reimagining of “Carrie”, I just about lost my mind with glee. Suffice to say, I had been looking forward to “The Weight of Blood” ever since the publishing notice fell across my Twitter feed. When I finally sat down to read it, I told myself to go slow and savor it… and immediately burned through it in two days time. She’s done it again, folks, and this time she took one of my favorite horror novels along for the ride.

I really, really enjoyed this book, so buckle up for a long review.

First and foremost, this is a “Carrie” re-telling/re-imagining, and Jackson really does a good job of making it her own while still drawing clear connecting lines to the original plot, themes, and characters. But I really love how she takes it a few steps further and bolder and makes it not only a story about bullying, but racial bullying and systemic racism that fosters and creates environments where racial bullying thrives. Maddy is our protagonist, who is a biracial teenage girl that has been able to pass as white in her small southern town, mostly due to her fanatical father and his insistence that she do so. Once she is outed as Black due to a rain storm having a reaction with her hair, her white classmates, already using her as a target because of her social awkwardness, amp up the bullying in ways that become far more vicious. It’s biting commentary and it works really, really well, as plot points from the source material are tweaked to take on more complex meanings. The Prom that Maddy ends up going to (to disastrous results of course) is the first desegregated Prom the high school has ever had. Her tyrannical parent this time is her white father, and his zealotry is as much Christian Evangelism as it is worshiping at the altar of whiteness in America. Our Sue Snell analog, Wendy, is a white girl with a Black quarterback boyfriend named Kenny, and her motives for getting Kenny to take Maddy to Prom are more a white savior complex at work than a nice girl feeling bad about being an accessory to bullying. And so forth. It all feels like “Carrie” but it goes further and feels like a different kind of gut punch as racism is at the forefront, and it works incredibly well.

The story is told through a third person narrative between a few different characters, as well as podcast transcripts, official police reports, and articles and book excerpts, and they all come together in ways to slowly show not only what disaster happened the night of Prom, but also to show the racist history of Springville, and how the town has been fostering racial animosity and inequity up through the events of the book. I really liked learning about the town and the people in it in this way, as it really does drive home the greater point that the the ugly truths about race and racism have rotted the town through, and by the time we get to the story at hand, it all comes to a head on Prom night. Again, a direct line to the story that the book is paying homage to with the transcripts and interviews, but expanding upon it to make the story at hand all the richer.

And finally, and this is probably one of the less important points of this re-telling (mild spoiler alerts here too), but I loved, LOVED that Jackson fully leans into the romance between Maddy and popular quarterback turned prom date Kenny. I have always been a huge proponent of the Tommy Ross and Carrie White romance, as the book and both movies make it clear, at least to me, that had the Prom not ended up with Carrie burning it all down and Tommy being killed by a falling bucket, they absolutely would have ended up together PROBABLY FOREVER, OKAY? So when it became clear that Maddie and Kenny were absolutely falling in love with each other, I was hooting and hollering, and then, of course, preparing for the worst given how the source material ends for them both. Though, all that said, Jackson definitely makes this tale her own in spite of the great homage, and that is all I am going to say about THAT, so….

Did I put my kindle down for a moment during my read just to rewatch the ‘Someone Like Me’ scene in this movie and then cry a little bit to myself? You’re DAMN RIGHT I DID! (source)

“The Weight of Blood” is a great remix of one of my favorite books, and Jackson knows how to draw the comparisons out while making her own points and plot. I really enjoyed this one as a fan of her work, and a fan of “Carrie”. Just stupendous.

Rating 10: A fantastic re-imagining of “Carrie” that takes on social issues of racism and bigotry that are, unfortunately, still all too relevant, “The Weight of Blood” is another page turner from Tiffany D. Jackson!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Weight of Blood” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it would fit in on “Popsugar 2022 #33: A Social Horror Book”.

Kate’s Review: “Suburban Hell”

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Book: “Suburban Hell” by Maureen Kilmer

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, August 2022

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

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

Book Description: A Chicago cul-de-sac is about to get a new neighbor…of the demonic kind.

Amy Foster considers herself lucky. After she left the city and moved to the suburbs, she found her place quickly with neighbors Liz, Jess, and Melissa, snarking together from the outskirts of the PTA crowd. One night during their monthly wine get-together, the crew concoct a plan for a clubhouse She Shed in Liz’s backyard–a space for just them, no spouses or kids allowed.

But the night after they christen the She Shed, things start to feel . . . off. They didn’t expect Liz’s little home-improvement project to release a demonic force that turns their quiet enclave into something out of a nightmare. And that’s before the homeowners’ association gets wind of it.

Even the calmest moms can’t justify the strange burn marks, self-moving dolls, and horrible smells surrounding their possessed friend, Liz. Together, Amy, Jess, and Melissa must fight the evil spirit to save Liz and the neighborhood . . . before the suburbs go completely to hell.

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

I gotta say, back when my husband and I were looking to buy a house (gosh, almost ten year ago), I had a very firm line I didn’t want to cross: we had to stay in the city limits. I wanted to make sure that we were bonafide city dwellers, not living in suburbia and all of the baggage and shady history that comes with it. Well, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that if we wanted an affordable house that was spacious, suburbia it was gonna have to be. And I do love my house and my neighborhood these days, with parks, a library, and a lot of nature within a mile of my house. But the baggage is still there at times, as it’s still suburbia, and sometimes that can feel isolating. Because of this, I was VERY interested in the horror book “Suburban Hell” by Maureen Kilmer. That and the fact it sounded a bit “Desperate Housewives”-esque with a healthy dose of demonic possession.

“Suburban Hell” has a similar aesthetic and tone as “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”, in that it follows some unlikely exorcists who have to do battle with an angry entity that has possessed their friend, all because of unsettled soil due to an in process ‘She Shed’. These suburban women juggle their kids, the neighborhood relationships and the supportive (and sometimes not so supportive) men in their lives, and provide support for each other. Our main character is Amy, an out of work social worker who first realizes that Liz, She-Shed owner and kind nurse, is acting off. The usual fare when it comes to possession novels starts to tick off: weird smells coming from Liz’s vicinity, dead animals popping up unexpectedly, otherwise inanimate objects becoming threatening, all while Amy and friends Melissa and Jess think there has to be a rational explanation, until there just isn’t one. It’s pretty standard and straight forward horror fare, and it’s admittedly pretty light on the scares. That isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable, as I did find it to be a breezy and fun read, even if it wasn’t particularly scary.

The thing that was the most effective for me in “Suburban Hell” was the depiction of suburban ennui and the highs and lows of being a stay at home mom. I loved that between the moments of demon battle and research, we got to see Amy cope with a life that she does love, but doesn’t fulfill her as much as she would like it to. The side comments about the way that her children would get into trouble, or the longing for a return to a life where she was working full time in the city, or the way that her loving and supportive husband just sometimes didn’t GET it, all of it really rang true to me, as did the themes about how important having friends who do get it can be. Lord knows that I have those moments where I will be taking my toddler to the park and having a ROUGH GO of it, but know that my neighborhood friend (also with a toddler in tow) is going to be there and we can commiserate, which makes it a little better. This was the kind of connection that made Amy’s dogged pursuit of trying to save Liz super believable, even when faced with supernatural threat to herself. The friendship at the heart of the book is the good vs evil conduit, and I love seeing a possession story be less about religion and more about the power of inner goodness of anyone from any background.

“Suburban Hell” may not provide the scares that an avid horror fan wants, but it is still very fun and entertaining. I think that it would be a great choice for someone who is looking for a little bit of ‘horror lite’ with the upcoming Halloween season, at certainly for the people in your life who are trying to navigate the intricacies of suburbia and the ‘horrors’ that can be found beneath a veneer of contentment.

Rating 7: Relatable and filled with humor, “Suburban Hell” is lighter on the scares, but still has a lot of fun, devilish moments.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Suburban Hell” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but you would find a solid companion in “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”.

Kate’s Review: “The Honeys”

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Book: “The Honeys” by Ryan La Sala

Publishing Info: PUSH, August 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: Mars has always been the lesser twin, the shadow to his sister Caroline’s radiance. But when Caroline dies under horrific circumstances, Mars is propelled to learn all he can about his once-inseparable sister who’d grown tragically distant.

Mars’s genderfluidity means he’s often excluded from the traditions — and expectations — of his politically-connected family. This includes attendance at the prestigious Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy where his sister poured so much of her time. But with his grief still fresh, he insists on attending in her place.

What Mars finds is a bucolic fairytale not meant for him. Folksy charm and sun-drenched festivities camouflage old-fashioned gender roles and a toxic preparatory rigor. Mars seeks out his sister’s old friends: a group of girls dubbed the Honeys, named for the beehives they maintain behind their cabin. They are beautiful and terrifying — and Mars is certain they’re connected to Caroline’s death. But the longer he stays at Aspen, the more the sweet mountain breezes give way to hints of decay. Mars’s memories begin to falter, bleached beneath the relentless summer sun. Something is hunting him in broad daylight, toying with his mind. If Mars can’t find it soon, it will eat him alive.

Review: Thank you to PUSH for sending me an ARC of this novel!

There is something about bees and horror that just kind of goes together. From the classic horror film “Candyman” to the recent “Umma” (I quite enjoyed this one, I don’t agree with the critics scores), there are things you can do with bee imagery that just work in a scary context. I’m actually surprised I haven’t encountered it more in horror fiction, but luckily we have “The Honeys” by Ryan La Sala to tap into this imagery! I hadn’t heard of this book before it ended up on my doorstep, but the premise was definitely eye catching. It sounded a bit like “Heathers” meets folk and prep school horror, and if that isn’t an interesting combination I don’t know what is.

I will say that “The Honeys” is a little slow to start up and really get going, at least in my reading experience it was. We start with a bang, but then it takes its sweet time to build up the unease and high strangeness that is going on at Aspen, and to explore what it has to do with Mars, Caroline, and the Honeys. It just felt a bit like the pacing was uneven, and it had a hard time holding my attention at first because of it. But I will say that once we got into the thick of it, and stuff started happening, it had an iron grip on my attention and it really picked up. The horror elements to this book are so profoundly unique, and also have some really, REALLY creepy and upsetting imagery that felt straight out of an Ari Aster horror movie (funnily enough I mean that in a positive way, given that I don’t really like Aster’s movies too much, but the guy does know how to deliver on horror aesthetic). There was one moment in particular that practically broke my brain for a few moments and I just kind of froze up.

Like Jesus. What the fuck? (source)

What worked even better for me was how La Sala used this story to take on and deconstruct toxic gender norms within a rigid social setting, as Mars is genderfluid and Aspen, while pastoral and somewhat chill, has VERY stringent gender norms, some okay, others quite toxic. The Honeys themselves kind of break stereotypes of femininity, as they are hyper feminine but don’t meet the preconceived and sexist notions of what that means (aka, just because they’re girly it doesn’t mean they are weak, as femininity isn’t a weakness). On the flip side, the hyper masculine boys group at the school is seeping in toxic masculinity, and Mars being genderfluid makes them a target of animosity, but also a target of those who would prefer they go along to get along, given their prestigious status as the child of a Senator. I liked seeing how La Sala explores this through Mars’s eyes, and how even those who mean well towards them and their social acceptance at Aspen are still putting the onus on Mars as opposed to the people who are being cruel. And I don’t want to give spoilers here, but I will say that even the larger plan at the horror thematic center constrains itself to such societal mores, and it is up to Mars and their allies to take their power back. I thought all of this was well done.

So all in all, a slower start but a unique and worthwhile horror read! “The Honeys” is sure to get people talking in YA horror circles.

Rating 7: Kind of a slow start, but once it gets going “The Honeys” is a twisted and creepy horror novel that takes on corrupt powers that be and toxic societal gender constraints.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Honeys” is new and isn’t included on many Goodreads lists, but it would fit in on “Queer Dark Academia”.

Kate’s Review: “Bloody Fool for Love”

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Book: “Bloody Fool for Love” by William Ritter

Publishing Info: Disney Hyperion, August 2022

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

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

Book Description: Bloody Fool for Love from New York Times best-selling author William Ritter marks the beginning of an all-new series that explores prequel stories about fan-favorite Buffy characters.

Spike just wants to enjoy the spoils of his new badass reputation. He’s now a legendary slayer-killer, and he’s returning to London―the greatest city in the world. Unfortunately, his new abode is far from ideal (mostly a dank basement), and the rest of his strange little “family” is reeling from the fact that their patriarch, Angel, abandoned them. Spike’s love, Drusilla, seems especially heartbroken over the loss and spends her time lost in her tarot cards and planning their next gruesome family dinner when they all can be reunited.

Desperate to break Dru out of her melancholy, Spike vows to steal a powerful relic that will help her focus on their dark future together. It’s the perfect plan―that is until a monster named Gunnar, leader of the demon underworld of London, steals the relic first. Forced to form his own ragtag group of mercenaries, Spike plans an epic heist against a ruthless gang of undead criminals. Confronted with paranormal plots, royal black ops, and tea (they may be abominations, but they’re British abominations, thank you very much), Spike soon realizes that his homecoming is about to get bloody.

This rompy, action-packed novel inspired by one of Buffy’s most infamous bad boys is part Bonnie and Clyde, part Sherlock and Watson, with just a bit more bloodsucking.

Review: Thank you to Disney Hyperion for giving me an ARC of this novel!

When Serena and I were wrapping up our time at the ALA Annual Conference, we were making a last pass at each publisher booth to see if there were any new ARCs to be had. I spotted one at Disney Hyperion called “Big Bad”, which is a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” book that showcases a lot of the villains from the show (we may see that in the near future on the blog, we will see!). I picked it up and said an offhanded remark along the lines of ‘well, if it has Spike in it I HAVE to pick it up’. Spike was my very favorite character on the show. He was funny, sarcastic, a bit of a dork, punk to the bone, and had a very interesting character arc that changed him from throw away villain to hero. I had a MASSIVE crush on him, he was probably my first TRUE teenage celebrity crush, the kind of crush that just sets the scene for a lot of crushes afterwards. So when the rep at the table said ‘We have a Spike book too. Do you want that as well?’, you can probably imagine how I reacted.

I was fifteen again, emotionally. (source)

And that is how I stumbled upon “Bloody Fool for Love” by William Ritter. A historical fantasy-horror heist story featuring Spike, aka William the Bloody, on a quest to get a magical artifact for his fellow vampire lady love Drusilla in early 20th Century London.

[Let’s stop here to talk about an elephant in the room: Joss Whedon. Joss Whedon is an abusive asshole, and I haven’t revisited any of his works in a very long time. Partially because of the newish information about him, partially because of my own frustration with how he wrote some of his shows, partially because there had been whisperings of his terribleness for a LONG time and it had already made me uncomfortable revisiting (like, I’m pretty sure I was aware of the disgusting Charisma Carpenter situation around the time it happened because of rumors online shortly after it all went down). I was super happy to see a lot of “Buffy” actors speak out about the toxic set, including James Marsters, who played Spike, and while I have given up on Whedon’s creative visions with his direct involvement, I want to see what other people do with these characters.]

“Bloody Fool for Love” is, as I said, a historical fiction fantasy-horror heist story, and while I am not SUPER into heist stories, it’s Spike. We established I would probably follow him through a trip to the post office, so I will happily follow him through a heist. Ritter does a really good job of picking up in the show’s lore and setting the right tone that falls between action thriller and tongue in cheek. We have a very specific moment, after Spike has killed his first slayer and after he, Drusilla, and Darla have returned from China, sans Angel. Spike is riding high on his new reputation, while Drusilla is aching for her sire and Darla is having her own existential crisis. The story captures all of these characters pretty handily, and I believed all of them in terms of voice and actions. Spike is such a fun character who, even without a soul at this point, has his moments of being complicated in his actions while still coming off with a swagger and devil may care persona, and Ritter nails it. Having him stupidly attempt to heist an ancient artifact for Drusilla, even though it will surely put a target on his back, is so on point for the character in his impulsivity and his RIDICULOUS loyalty and love for Dru, it just spot on, and I loved seeing him fly by the seat of his pants. Like I said above, Spike could really do anything and I’d be entertained, but Ritter really had a good grasp on the character and all his complexities. I also liked the rag tag group of weirdos that he recruits to help go up against the demon kingpin he’s trying to rip off, from other demons to a werewolf, as they felt like they fit into the story and the universe really well. I could see this plot line being an extended arc on the show it fits in so well.

But what I liked the most about this book, interestingly enough, had less to do with the character of Spike and more to do with the character of Darla. For those unfamiliar with the show, Darla was part of the “Fanged Four”, which included Spike, Drusilla, and Angellus/Angel. Darla was Angellus’s sire, and she served a few purposes during both the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series and the “Angel” series. Darla is always a bit left behind in the stories on the show, even if she was the first of the group. First she was an evil ex girlfriend who basically was killed as a way to prove Angel’s new, reformed ways. Then on “Angel” she was brought back as a human with torment, only to be turned back into a vampire for ANGEL’S torment, and then she was there to be a uterus so Angel could have a son named Connor (and that whole storyline is a SHIT SHOW), who then sacrificed herself for her baby. As one can imagine, I have a lot of notes about all of this, because through the flashback sequences we do see of her throughout the two shows during their “Fanged Four” time, Darla had a LOT of potential to be super interesting, but was instead relegated to a LOT of misogynistic tropes (I reiterate my up-page point: Joss Whedon sucks). But in “Bloody Fool for Love”, Darla has her OWN storyline that gets to explore these complexities, as she is privately reeling from the loss of Angel, and having to be the ‘mom friend’ to Drusilla, a very unstable waif, and Spike, who is, bless him, a reckless dolt. Darla doesn’t want to leave these two far younger and impulsive vampires to fend for themselves, but she also wants to have her life back, and you see the mechanisms and dealings that she is making in hopes of securing a new future for herself, while also keeping her loved ones safe. I loved seeing her interact with various players, as it shows her charm, her diplomacy, her cunning, and her resiliency.

About fucking TIME this badass queen gets the respect she deserves! (source)

I will be very curious to see what other ‘fan favorite’ characters get the prequel story treatment. Spike was the clear winner to start with, as he is such a dynamic and interesting player in the “Buffy” universe, and I think that William Ritter did him right. “Bloody Fool for Love” will probably be most fun for “Buffy” fans, and as a Spike fangirl through and through I had a blast with it.

Rating 8: A truly fun standalone tale with a vampire who means SO much to me, “Bloody Fool for Love” not only brings Spike to life, it also gives another of my favorites a great romp of a story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bloody Fool for Love” is included on the Goodreads list “Best Buffy the Vampire Slayer Books”.

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire (Vol. 2)”

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Book: “American Vampire (Vol.2)” by Scott Snyder & Raphael Albuquerque (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, May 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

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

Book Description: While trafficking in a bestselling sub-genre, American Vampire introduces a new strain of vampire — a more muscular and vicious species, born of the American West.

It’s Las Vegas circa 1935, and Skinner Sweet and our gal Pearl are about to learn the hard way that the bloodsuckers in Hollywood were nothing compared to what awaits them in Sin City.

In just a few short years, young police Chief Cash McCogan has watched his native city of Las Vegas go from cow-town to wild, glittering boomtown. And when the bodies of prominent businessmen start showing up drained of blood, Chief McCogan finds himself facing a threat much darker and deadlier than anything he could have imagined . . . and the only sure bet in town is that Skinner and Pearl are right in the thick of it.

Review: So “American Vampire”‘s second volume was the one I was most apprehensive revisiting, as I remembered not liking it so much on my initial read. So much so that I kind of stopped the series for awhile. I felt that it dove into some stuff that I had a very hard time with, ultimately, and I knew that while I had to read it again for this revisit, I wasn’t looking forward to it. But a completist I am when it comes to this stuff, and ya gotta judge a series but all of it’s canonical parts. So into “Volume 2” I dove. And it was a better experience this time around to be sure, just putting into the context of the greater storyline! But man, I still really hate that Skinner Sweet. And I think he’s getting off a little easy.

Starting with what I do like about this volume, as it does outweigh the negatives, I love how Snyder has taken another snapshot of a moment in American history, this time being the inception of Las Vegas’s reputation as a party town due to the construction of the Hoover Dam, and adds in some vampire touches that could link to real life ills of American society. This time it’s the idea of progress and innovation, as the dam has brought in a lot of workers, and with workers comes a certain rowdiness that Las Vegas Deputy Cash McCogan is wary of. So when high powered backers involved in the dam start ending up dead, drained of blood, he is approached by a mysterious couple of agents, one of whom is Felicia Book, the daughter of previous hero turned vampire James Book. I loved how we slowly peeled back what Felicia’s deal was, and what kind of group she is working for, as well as her ulterior motives beyond the group because of her connection to their target, Skinner Sweet. And of course Skinner has his disgusting claws planted firmly in Las Vegas’s underbelly. I thought that the mythos building in this issue was good, though some of the plot points introduced were very quickly resolved in ways that felt unsatisfying to me.

I think that my biggest qualms partially go back into my previous qualms with my initial read, though I did find more this time that aggravated me, though my overall dissatisfaction wasn’t as pronounced this time. For one, without going into specifics, Skinner Sweet continues to be the irredeemable worst, and continues to not have any interesting growth or nuance. It’s fine when it’s the first volume and we are just getting to know him, but if we are going to have such a focus on him as the story goes on, it would sit better with me if he was more interesting in his badness. As it is in this volume, he’s either exploiting sex workers as the head of a brothel, continuing his spiteful violence, and creating a pivotal turning point in the series for a few characters through a particularly terrible act that disturbed me as much this time as it did the first time reading it. I did like following our ‘heroes’, deputy Cash McCogan, as well as two mysterious agents for the hush hush group, one of whom being Felicia, but on the flip side there is a VERY serious lack of Pearl in this volume. Given that Pearl is the vampire I actually really like in this series, it was a shame she was kind of sidelined, even if it was rewarding in some ways. The lack of Pearl this time was especially galling. She is far more interesting than Skinner freakin’ Sweet.

But Raphael Albuquerque’s art is still pretty great! I like that this time around he gets to play with some vampire designs that think outside the box!

I mean this is just cool. (source)

I liked the expanded mythos of the vampire hunters, but didn’t like the central focus on Skinner Sweet this time around. But I am excited to revisit where things go next, as I remember liking it more than this foray into the storyline.

Rating 7: Another fun deep dive into vampire connections to American history, though it sometimes feels a bit haphazard in introducing and concluding plot points.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire (Vol. 2)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Comic Books to Appreciate and Love”, and “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”.

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Shutter”

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

Book: “Shutter” by Ramona Emerson

Publishing Info: Soho Crime, August 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC of this novel at ALAAC22.

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

Book Description: This blood-chilling debut set in New Mexico’s Navajo Nation is equal parts gripping crime thriller, supernatural horror, and poignant portrayal of coming of age on the reservation.

Rita Todacheene is a forensic photographer working for the Albuquerque police force. Her excellent photography skills have cracked many cases—she is almost supernaturally good at capturing details. In fact, Rita has been hiding a secret: she sees the ghosts of crime victims who point her toward the clues that other investigators overlook.

As a lone portal back to the living for traumatized spirits, Rita is terrorized by nagging ghosts who won’t let her sleep and who sabotage her personal life. Her taboo and psychologically harrowing ability was what drove her away from the Navajo reservation, where she was raised by her grandmother. It has isolated her from friends and gotten her in trouble with the law. And now it might be what gets her killed.

When Rita is sent to photograph the scene of a supposed suicide on a highway overpass, the furious, discombobulated ghost of the victim—who insists she was murdered—latches onto Rita, forcing her on a quest for revenge against her killers, and Rita finds herself in the crosshairs of one of Albuquerque’s most dangerous cartels. Written in sparkling, gruesome prose, Shutter is an explosive debut from one of crime fiction’s most powerful new voices.

Review: Thank you to Soho Crime for giving me an ARC of this novel!

Before I went out to the ALA Annual Conference this summer, I made a list of books that I wanted to look for in potential ARC form. I also sat down and tried to figure out which publishing house was where on the map so I could be the most efficient in finding said potential books. There were some that I put little stars next to, denoting that these were the books I was most excited for, and “Shutter” by Ramona Emerson was one of those books. I had stumbled upon the description of this book online, and it just called out to me. An Indigenous author combining a gritty detective procedural with a story of a woman who can see ghosts at the crime scene she photographs? In Albuquerque, when New Mexico is one of my favorite states?! HELL YES I WANT THIS BOOK! And I was so thrilled when it was available. I finally sat down to read it about a month after the conference, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

The first big thing is that, as we all know, I am a HUGE sucker for stories with people who can see ghosts. I love the idea of a person communicating with the dead, and so help me, if it helps solve a crime and gets tangled up in a procedural setting, I am going to be SO ON TOP OF THAT. And Emerson nails that entire concept here with a really likable medium protagonist, a well established psychic connection to the dead, and how that can both help and hinder her (and it’s mostly hinder her) in her professional and day to day life. I love the idea of the dead not being at all chill about finding someone they think can help them, and then becoming so obsessed with her that THAT is one of the scariest things. In so many stories like this the medium just assists the ghosts because that’s just the right thing to do. In “Shutter”, the ghost in question, Erma, is a complete psychotic asshole who is making Ramona’s life a living hell, and watching it escalate is creepy and scary. I also liked the kinder and gentler interactions between Ramona and ghosts, mostly those from her childhood where her deceased grandfather would come to visit. But along with all that, I also LOVED how Emerson brings an Indigenous perspective to this, and how for Ramona as a Navajo woman seeing the dead is incredibly taboo and something that makes those in her community wary of her, as well as worried for her. Because of this, she cuts herself off from her culture in some ways, and it reflects a lot of the tragic ways that Indigenous people can lose grasps on their identities in a reality that doesn’t involve ghosts.

But this is also a solid procedural thriller, that mixes in gritty detective drama, cartel threats, and a very real and malevolent undercurrent of police corruption that is rotting at the systemic level. While it is true that Erma is a pain in the ass and genuinely creepy at times, the real threat to Ramona is getting too close to not only dangerous drug runners, but also realizing that the supposed ‘good guys’ that she works with can be just and threatening, as law enforcement has its own problems with violent, dangerous people working within it. Emerson also addresses how Rita, as an Indigenous woman, had bad run ins with police as a kid, where she tried to use her powers to help solve a murder, but then was zeroed in on as a potential suspect as opposed to someone with information. Sometimes procedurals get lost in the idea of good police working against the odds, and maybe address a smattering of bad cops here or there while being sure to show that the hero cops are righteous and true. I always kind of like it more these days when stories about law enforcement, even those that follow detectives and police, are more honest about the serious problems law enforcement in this country has in regards to racism and corruption, and “Shutter” addresses it very well.

If you love a good detective story, and if you love a good story about people who talk to ghosts, absolutely pick up “Shutter”. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating 8: Heavy, creepy, and suspenseful, “Shutter” is an awesome horror twist on a procedural mystery.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shutter” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think it would fit in on “Not the ‘Normal’ Paranormal”.

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