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”.

Kate’s Review: “Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror”

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

Book: “Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror” by Joh F.D. Taft (Ed.)

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, March 2022

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

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

Book Description: Dark Stars, edited by John F.D. Taff, is a tribute to horror’s longstanding short fiction legacy, featuring 12 terrifying original stories from today’s most noteworthy authors, with an introduction by bestselling author Josh Malerman and an afterword by Ramsey Campbell.

Created as an homage to the 1980 classic horror anthology, Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley, this collection contains 12 original novelettes showcasing today’s top horror talent. Dark Stars features all-new stories from award-winning authors and up-and-coming voices like Stephen Graham Jones, Priya Sharma, Usman T. Malik, Caroline Kepnes, and Alma Katsu, with seasoned author John F.D. Taff at the helm. An afterword from original Dark Forces contributor Ramsey Campbell is a poignant finale to this bone-chilling collection.

Within these pages you’ll find tales of dead men walking, an insidious secret summer fling, an island harboring unspeakable power, and a dark hallway that beckons. You’ll encounter terrible monsters—both human and supernatural—and be forever changed. The stories in Dark Stars run the gamut from traditional to modern, from dark fantasy to neo-noir, from explorations of beloved horror tropes to the unknown—possibly unknowable—threats. It’s all in here because it’s all out there, now, in horror.

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

“Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror” was a long time coming! As has been a theme for some books in the past two years, it was initially supposed to come out at one time, then got bumped back by a number of months due to various issues. It had been on my radar for awhile, as it was sporting the names of a number of my favorite authors (Caroline Kepnes and Stephem Graham Jones, what’s up?), AND was set up as an homage to horror anthology collections over the years (the title alone harkens to “Dark Forces”, a horror anthology from 1981 that is considered a game changer for horror short fiction in many horror circles). Those two things alone were enough to make me shrug off my nervousness about tackling a short story collection, when my experiences with such things are mixed. Granted, lately I’ve had a pretty good run with short story anthologies, but as a pessimist I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop!

I’ll break it down first with the stories I liked best. And the ones I’m picking are a mix of the obvious but also something new.

“The Attentionist” by Caroline Kepnes

Kepnes is one of my very favorite authors, so no duh she ends up as a top story in this collection. “The Attentionist” is a story that has a huge focus on sisterly rivalry, with a heavy dose of the original 1970s “Black Christmas” thrown in for good and horrifying measure. Maeve and Reg are teenage sisters, both desperate for the attention and approval of boys. They both have fantasies about being swept off their feet and live vicariously through each other, especially when Maeve gets a phone call that Reg answers and it leads to a fantasy about a potential boyfriend… But when Maeve picks up the phone, it isn’t a dream boy, but a threatening stalker, who keeps on calling, much to Maeve’s horror… and excitement. Kepnes is so damn good at making creepy and disturbing content go down with ease thanks to snark, sarcasm, and satire, and I was both very unsettled by this story while also being highly entertained. I liked the pacing, the turn on a dime reveals, and the way that Kepnes easily shows the consequences of her teenage girl characters being so deeply warped by society’s message about male approval at any cost.

“All the Things He Called Memories” by Stephen Graham Jones

Another favorite author makes it to my favorites list from this collection! And he did not disappoint, which isn’t surprising. “All the Things He Called Memories” is a blend of a few kinds of horror themes: isolation, the unknown, and the fear of not knowing a person you think you know. Jones sets his tale during the height of the first year of COVID-19, with married couple Bo and Marcy not leaving their home and trying to find ways to pass the time, Marcy suggesting they talk about their fears and the scariest thing they can remember from their lives. Bo talks about the feeling of always being watched whenever he was alone in his house, and feeling a presence around him…. And then, that presence starts to creep back into his psyche. But is it something supernatural, or a symptom of COVID restlessness.. or something worse? This story, like many Jones stories, has a deeply human element to it, with relatable characters and a slow build of creepiness that set my teeth on edge, and as Bo tries to figure out what is going on, Jones lays out many possibilities, only to have a very unsettling outcome that is going to stay with me for awhile. As someone who also has a terrible irrational feeling of being hunted while on the steps in my house, afraid of what may or may not be in the dark, this one was a home run for me.

“Challawa” by Usman T. Malik

I hadn’t read anything by Usman T. Malik until this short story collection, so I really didn’t know what to expect going in, but “Challawa” was fantastic. Karima and her husband Ed have travelled to India, with Karima interested in folklore and history of a small town that was the location of an English backed match factory during the Imperial occupation of Britain. As Karima learns of the folklore and mythology of the region, she is also dealing with her husband’s infidelity, the stillbirth of their child, and how their relationship has been reeling because of it (and other issues). As Karima gets closer to her guide and the lore, the history of violent colonialism bleeds in and leads up to a terrifying realization. This one was probably my favorite in the collection as a whole, as Malik not only has some great South Asian monster lore he’s working with, but also very real horrors of misogyny, racism, colonialism, and the traumas that all come with it. I’m reluctant to use this comparison because this is very much an Eastern story and shouldn’t have to have Western analogs, BUT, there are definitely similar universal themes that made me think of “Midsommar”. But given that I didn’t like “Midsommar”, I’m not going to say that “Challawa” is akin to it in all ways. It stands on its own as something unique and SUPER scary.

And while there were standouts from a couple more authors (I do want to acknowledge Alma Katsu’s story “The Familiar’s Assistant”, because man did that nail vampire themes!), the rest were mixed. There were some that were okay, or at least kept my attention, and there were others that really didn’t work for me, be it because of strange style choices, scattered narratives, or some slight to expansive appropriation of Indigenous cultural stories and themes. That last point aside, I’m sure that the variety of story types and subgenres means that there will be something for everyone in this collection, but as someone who is already wary of story collections the number of misses merely confirmed my wariness. There are certainly gems here, as you can see above, but having to get through the stories that weren’t as interesting was a bit of a chore.

If you are a horror person who really enjoys short story collections (and I know a few!), “Dark Stars” is a pretty good example of that. I’m always happy to find more authors I connect with, and that is something that this book provided for me.

Rating 7: A third really stood out, a third were okay, and a third were not for me. All in all, a mixed collection.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward to in 2022”.

Kate’s Review: “Mestiza Blood”

Book: “Mestiza Blood” by V. Castro

Publishing Info: Flame Tree Press, January 2022

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

Book Description: From the lauded author of The Queen of the Cicadas (which picked up starred reviews from PW, Kirkus and Booklist who called her “a dynamic and innovative voice”) comes a short story collection of nightmares, dreams, desire and visions focused on the Chicana experience. V.Castro weaves urban legend, folklore, life experience and heartache in this personal journey beginning in south Texas: a bar where a devil dances the night away; a street fight in a neighborhood that may not have been a fight after all; a vengeful chola at the beginning of the apocalypse; mind swapping in the not so far future; satan who falls and finds herself in a brothel in Amsterdam; the keys to Mictlan given to a woman after she dies during a pandemic. The collection finishes with two longer tales: The Final Porn Star is a twist on the final girl trope and slasher, with a creature from Mexican folklore; and Truck Stop is an erotic horror romance with two hearts: a video store and a truck stop.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this short story collection!

I wrapped up 2021’s Horrorpalooza with a review of V. Castro’s “The Queen of the Cicadas”, and while I thought it had some great moments I found myself wanting more. So when I saw that Castro had a new collection of short horror stories coming out called “Mestiza Blood”, I was more than willing to jump past my hot and cold relationship with short story anthologies to give her another chance. And I’m glad that I did, because “Mestiza Blood” had a lot of really great stories that cover a huge variety of horror themes! I’m going to do the usual format I do with short story collections, by showcasing my favorite three stories first, and then doing a wrap up of the collection in general (but I MUST say that I had a hard time choosing just three favorites… Yep, that’s how strong this collection is).

“Donkey Lady Bridge”

The set up grabbed me from the jump: A woman named Jackie is walking home drunk from the bar, and finds herself crossing a notorious local bridge that has the urban legend of the Donkey Lady attached to it. A deformed and screaming spectre, the Donkey Lady has a lot of potential origin stories, and lots of people who hope to see her. Jackie has never believed in her…. until she has an encounter with The Donkey Lady that changes the course of her life. I’m a huge sucker for urban legend horror as we all know, and there was one particular moment in this story where I said out loud ‘Jesus CHRIST’ because it was so unsettling and scary. Castro’s descriptions of the Donkey Lady are terrifying and disturbing, and the story goes in a direction that I totally didn’t expect. For me this was probably the scariest story in the book.

“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

Christmas wasn’t so long ago, and I found myself relating a LOT to this story about a stressed out mother during the holidays who finds herself propositioned by a demon to make her life easier. At a price, of course. This past Christmas was a stressful one for me, between getting back together with family, taking on a number of cooking tasks, and having to coordinate rapid testing to keep my ineligible to be vaccinated kid as protected as possible in a sea of uncertainty about Omicron. So yeah, I REALLY felt how the Mother in the story would be tempted by a demon who promises lofty things. There are also a lot of really funny moments in this tale, as well as vulnerable ones that really nail how hard motherhood can be during a time of year where everything has to be magical. This story definitely feels more heartwarming than I expected, which fit pretty well since it’s a Christmas story. Even if it looks at Christmas like it’s the flawed and high stress holiday that it is.

“The Final Porn Star”

A little bit of a ‘cabin in the woods’ tale, a little bit of Mexican folklore, and a lot of slasher fun come together to make “The Final Porn Star”. Thalia Sanchez is a well loved and popular porn star who is nearing retirement, hoping to spend more time with her daughter and to settle into a less harried life. Her last shoot is in a large, glamorous house in the middle of nowhere, and it seems like a standard shoot with colleagues she loves. But then they start finding mutilated animals on set. And it becomes clear that none of them are safe from a creature that is stalking them. I loved Thalia as our protagonist, and I loved seeing the cast and crew slowly realize that they are in danger as something hunts them. Castro hits a lot of fun slasher tropes but makes them feel fresh by using La Lechuza, a monstrous bird with the head of a crone, as the monster in the tale. It’s bloody, it’s fun, it’s sex positive, and it achieves everything it wants to.

And as mentioned above, there were lots of great stories to pick from! Even the ones that didn’t quite connect (there were only two or three at most) were more because of the genre choices as opposed to the storytelling itself. Castro has a really diverse collection here that truly has something for just about any horror fan.

“Mestiza Blood” is a lot of gory and scary fun. If you are a horror lover and haven’t looked into V. Castro yet, this may be the moment to do so.

Rating 8: A varied and creepy collection of stories that range from scary to funny to touching, “Mestiza Blood” is an enjoyable compilation by V. Castro.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Mestiza Blood” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror To Look Forward To in 2022”.

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

Kate’s Review: “Corpsing”

Book: “Corpsing” by Kayleigh Marie Edwards

Publishing Info: Sinister Horror Company, July 2017

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

Book Description: Kayleigh Marie Edwards has been entertaining and chilling audiences with her own eclectic mix of horror and comedy. Now, for the first time, this popular author has collected her works together, reviewing and revising each one to bring you the definitive versions of her unique tales.

From murderous children to nightmarish trips to an ill-fated zombie apocalypse, Corpsing will send you running for the light switch, but smiling as you do it. Featuring the stories: Bitey Bachman, Bits and Bobs, Siren, Now You See Them, Skin, ‘S’ Day, Barry’s Last Day & ’Twas The Night Before Christmas.

Review: Thank you to Kayleigh Marie Edwards for reaching out and sending me an eBook of this novel!

Since I’ve had a pretty okay run with short stories recently, there may not be a reason for me to do a disclaimer, but I’m going to do it anyway. Short stories or anthologies as a format for a book is VERY hit or miss for me. While there are definitely collections I’ve enjoyed, a good number in recent years, I still tend to stay away of my own volition unless it’s an author I REALLY love. But when Kayleigh Marie Edwards approached our blog about her short story collection “Corpsing”, I wanted to give it a shot, because the info I found out about it made it sound like it was going to be a treat. And let me tell you, when the first story in the collection had MANY “Rocky Horror Picture Show” references, I knew that I had made the right call.

One might say it makes me wanna take Charles Atlas by the hand. (source)

“Corpsing” is a very fast collection, clocking in under one hundred pages, so was able to finish it in an evening. But that isn’t to say that the stories within it feel rushed or incomplete in any way. On the contrary, Edwards has crafted some creepy, grotesque, and sometimes quite funny tales that make up this collection, all of them feeling well thought out with clear arcs. As per usual, I shall talk about my favorite stories, and then tackle the collection as a whole.

“Siren”

By far the scariest story of the bunch, “Siren” is about a girl named Lucy who moves to a new home with her mother, her father staying behind as their marriage has fallen apart. Lucy is resentful and bitter, but then she looks out her window overlooking a lake and sees a girl who appears to be floating on the surface. Lucy gets to know Alice, a ghost who is convinced that they are going to be the best of friends. “Siren” has so many creepy moments, from imagery to interactions to an unsettling feeling as the story progresses, and it is probably one of the most serious stories of the bunch just because of how bleak it feels. You get Lucy’s isolation and resentment, and she feels like a very realistic tween girl who doesn’t quite get the full consequences of her actions or the actions of those around her, and as she depends more and more on Alice the dread builds more and more. And again, back to the imagery I mentioned: holy shit. There was one moment in particular that made me shiver.

“Barry’s Last Day”

As someone who has felt resentment towards a job, I thought this was a pretty fun one. Barry has worked at his company for many years, only to be passed over in his promotion for a young and smarmy man named Todd. As he’s leaving his job, he wants to take revenge on those he feels wronged him, but it may not go to plan. “Barry’s Last Day” isn’t really a scary story per se, but it definitely falls into the suspenseful ‘will this work out for him, and if it does, what does that mean?’ realm. Barry isn’t particularly likable or sympathetic, but I feel like lots of people could relate to him in his frustration. And I laughed out loud at the dark gallows humor throughout, especially once everything shakes out in the conclusion.

“‘Twas The Night Before Christmas”

Jim has taken his sons Dan and Nathan out to chop down a Christmas tree, but the only one they can find is growing in an animal cemetery, and hadn’t been there the year previously when they buried the family cat. Jim brings it home anyway, as what could possibly go wrong? This one was such a creative concept, and I don’t really want to spoil it, but I feel like this one was the best in the collection in terms of combining true horror with the funny. And again, I don’t want to spoil anything. But the last line made me laugh out loud and clap. I see what you did there, Kayleigh Marie Edwards, and I APPROVE.

In terms of the other stories, I think that were I more into visceral splatter horror and body horror I may have enjoyed them more, so while a couple didn’t click with me, it is probably because the subgenres aren’t my jam for the most part. But they were still engaging and quick reads, so those who do like more body horror things and want a quick collection will probably be right at home with them. And yes, the dark humor is there for those who like that mixed in with their scares. Edwards does it well and captures a well balanced tone when they do mix.

“Corpsing” was a fun and fast read! Definitely seek it out if you’re looking for something quick with wit and gore.

Rating 7: A quick and nasty (in a good way!) collection of short stories that is sure to have something for everyone, “Corpsing” is a fun collection with a couple stories that really stood out for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Corpsing” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Spooky Short Story Collections”.

Find “Corpsing” at your library using WorldCat, or at sinisterhorrorcompany.com!

Kate’s Review: “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge”

Book: “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge” by Holly Rae Garcia and Ryan Prentice Garcia

Publishing Info: Close to the Bone, October 2020

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

Book Description: US Army Veteran Henry Miller embarks on a hunt at the edge of the Black Forest, but strays from the path and finds himself too close to the East Cascade Mountain Range.

Something lurks in the forest on the other side of those mountains. An ancient race of Bigfoot that have kept to themselves for centuries, until one of them defies the warnings and roams too far from the safety of their home.

When these two intersect, alliances are broken and events set in motion that will leave residents of the town of Easton Falls, Washington, fighting for their lives.

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

Back when I was a kiddo, along with my supernatural and ghost obsession I was also very into cryptids and cryptozoology. I would check out books from my school library about The Loch Ness Monster, The Abominable Snowman, and, of course, Bigfoot. As time went on my fascination with such things waned, but I’m still game to talk about weird cryptic stories if anyone else is (especially if we are talking about my boi Mothman!). I haven’t really dabbled into much creature feature horror in my book repertoire. Enter Holly Rae Garcia reaching out to me asking if I would be interested in reading and reviewing the novella “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge”, which she wrote with her husband, Ryan Prentice Garcia. I was taken with the description, and said yes, yes I would. It’s been awhile since I last did a stint with some Bigfoot lore.

Nuff said. (source)

“The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge” is a bloody, tense, fun horror novella in which humans have to contend with the wrath of Bigfoot, and let me tell you, I had a blast reading it. The authors do a fantastic job of fitting in relationship angst, small town drama, and a sense of foreboding and isolation, all while building up to a gory and unrepentant gore-a-thon where a couple Bigfoots enter a small town’s city limits and fuck shit up. There is a little background given to the area (being the Pacific Northwest, Bigfoot Central U.S.A.), as well as hints dropped about how the Indigenous people who had been there before connect to the Bigfoot lore. While I’m always a bit skittish when it comes to Indigenous belief systems and mythology being used in fantasy and/or horror media, I will say that in this book it wasn’t trotted out repeatedly or focused upon too much (that said, as a white woman, I can’t speak for Indigenous People). Along with a solid setting, we have some pretty solid characters too. Our protagonist, Henry, has a tough backstory which gives him a pall of sadness, and there are enough fraught and messy aspects to him and his relationship to his lover Kate that make you connect and feel for both of them. You also get a good sense about the town and how the people function within it, and how their relationships grow, change, and sometimes turn toxic. All of this is accomplished in a short novella, and I was impressed that so much was explored in the number of pages we had to work with.

And now the Bigfoot stuff. Fun as hell. I don’t want to give many spoilers, of course, but just know that the reasons behind the ‘revenge’ aspect that is promised in the title is pretty understandable. While I could sympathize with Henry, and certainly the townspeople that we encountered, ultimately I was here to see Bigfoots take out a bunch of humans, because humans are the WORST. And this book certainly delivers that. The descriptions of the various death scenes, and the aftermaths, are gruesome and over the top, and absolutely feel like they could be those you’d find in a B-schlock horror creature feature from Troma. Which makes the read super entertaining.

Halloween may be just behind us, but if you’re like me and always looking to extend the season by a hair, you should definitely consider picking up “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge”. And hey, if you live in the Pacific Northwest, just be careful when you wander into the woods. You never know what you could find!

Rating 8: A quick bit of creature feature horror for cryptid enthusiasts especially, “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge” reads like a cheesy horror movie in all the best ways possible!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge” isn’t featured on any Goodreads lists as of now, but I think it would fit in on “Sasquatch Books”, and “Cryptids”.

Find “The Easton Falls Massacre: Bigfoot’s Revenge” at the authors’ website!

Kate’s Review: “Ring Shout”

49247242Book: “Ring Shout” by P. Djèlí Clark

Publishing Info: Tor.com, October 2020

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

Book Description: Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns with Ring Shout, a dark fantasy historical novella that gives a supernatural twist to the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror.

D. W. Griffith is a sorcerer, and The Birth of a Nation is a spell that drew upon the darkest thoughts and wishes from the heart of America. Now, rising in power and prominence, the Klan has a plot to unleash Hell on Earth.

Luckily, Maryse Boudreaux has a magic sword and a head full of tales. When she’s not running bootleg whiskey through Prohibition Georgia, she’s fighting monsters she calls “Ku Kluxes.” She’s damn good at it, too. But to confront this ongoing evil, she must journey between worlds to face nightmares made flesh–and her own demons. Together with a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter, Maryse sets out to save a world from the hate that would consume it.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novella!

I have said it many a time, the horror genre can be so effective at symbolism and social commentary wrapped up in a creepy and spooky tale. You’ve seen it with such films as “Night of the Living Dead”, “Get Out”, “Candyman”, “Dawn of the Dead”, the list goes on and on and on. Books, too, do this very well, with recent titles like “Lovecraft Country” and “The Devil in Silver” being two that come to mind for me. I always love some horror that has more to say about society than just ghosts and ghouls, and “Ring Shout” by P. Djèlí Clark is a new title that scratches that itch. Sure, it looks like it’s a book about demons, demon hunters, and black magic. But it’s also a story of the very real horrors of American Racism.

I am usually nervous when I’m about to start a novella that seems like it has a lot of distance to cover and a lot of complicated themes, as it’s hard to fit all of that into limited pages. But even though “Ring Shout” clocks in at less than two hundred pages, Clark does a great job of developing his characters, building an alternative American history with mystical themes, and hitting the metaphors out of the park with biting satire and, in some cases, dark humor. We follow Marys, Sadie, and Chef, three Black women who, in post WWI America, are fighting against demons summoned by dark sorcerer D.W. Griffith that have fed upon white people’s racism and led to a resurgence of the KKK. There are Klans, who are white racists whose hate for Black (and other non-white groups) has been amplified, and Ku Kluxes, actual demons disguised under the robes. Maryse, Sadie, and Chef, with the help from a Gulluh woman with magic and insight and other freedom fighters, are hoping to stop the end of the world fueled by racism, and Maryse may hold the key to it all. What I liked best about this story was that the three main characters are Black women, and they are given a whole lot of agency, motivation, and unique characterizations that make them all very enjoyable and fun. Maryse especially has a lot of complexity, her anger and determination pushing her forward. Clark gives all of them unique voices, but Maryse’s in particular stands out.

The social commentary has a lot to work with her. While it could have been easy to just say ‘demons are the problems behind the racism in the Jim Crow South’ (something you kind of saw in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” with vampires and chattel slavery), Clark doesn’t let racist white people off the hook here. While it’s true that the demons are part of it, those who are influenced already had hate in their hearts. That hate was just used to help the demons gain power. There is also a less obvious but just as powerful metaphor in this story through the magical system regarding these demons that Clark puts in. The only people who can see the demons in their true forms are people from marginalized groups (this is mostly Black people, but there is a Jewish character in the group fighting against the Ku Kluxes that can see them as well); white people cannot. It’s a clever way to call out white people’s ‘I don’t see color’ hypocrisy, as well as a metaphor for the microaggressions that have a blind eye turned to them even when marginalized groups who are affected by them say that they are, indeed, there. I greatly enjoyed that part of the mythos.

And Clark pulls all of this together in a cohesive and engaging story in less than two hundred pages! With some pretty gnarly Lovecraftian imagery and body horror thrown in for good measure (there’s also a nod to this extremely problematic horror icon in this story, which was super fun to see). It made for a bite sized horror treat that I was able to read and enjoy in one sitting, the perfect quick tale for this Halloween season!

“Ring Shout” is a new social commentary horror classic in the making! Treat yourself to something a little more complex this ghostly season, you won’t be disappointed.

Rating 8: Steeped in sharp and biting satire and commentary, “Ring Shout” is a story of demons, heroines, and American racism.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ring Shout” is included on the Goodreads lists “Beyond Butler: Spec Fic by Authors of Color”, and “ATY 2020 – About Racism and Race Relations”.

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

Book Club Review: “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings”

35430013._sx318_We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Around the World”, in which we each picked a continent and had to match a book that takes place there and/or is written by an author from that continent or of that continent’s descent.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman (Eds.)

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, June 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Continent: Asia

Book Description: Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings: these are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.

Sixteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.

Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman—who both contributed stories to this edition, as well—the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renée Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong.

A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place.

From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures and Ameriie’s New York Times–bestselling Because You Love to Hate Me.

Kate’s Thoughts

I read the short story collections “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” back when it first came out in 2018, and for being a short story collection I greatly enjoyed it! I felt like there was a hearty mix of genres and perspectives in its pages, and was more satisfied than not with the tales that were derived from various Asian folklores and mythologies. When our Book Club picked it, I was eager to re-read the stories, but didn’t expect to feel any differently. But what I discovered as I re-read the book was that my own perspectives changed, and my old favorites either had new depth, or completely shifted out in favor of new ones.

The two stories that remained favorites for me were “Olivia’s Table” by Alyssa Wong and “The Land of the Morning Calm” by E.C. Myers. “Olivia’s Table” is about a young woman who has inherited her mother’s job of ‘exorcist’ for a small ghosttown in the Southwest, in which actual ghosts of the area congregate during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Olivia makes them a feast that helps them cross over. “The Land of the Morning Calm” is about a teen whose mother’s ghost is seemingly trapped inside an MMORPG based upon Korean folklore. I mean, of course stories about ghosts are always going to float my boat, so it’s probably no surprise that those were still near and dear. But both of them had some very touching themes about mother/daughter relationships, grief, and moving on which were incredibly touching and emotional. But as mentioned above, this time around I had stories move up in my rankings upon a second read. The best example of this was Julie Kagawa’s “Eyes Like Candlelight”, which takes the Japanese fox spirit mythology and puts it into a short story about love, loss, and vengeance. A fox spirit falls for a man whose village is being taken advantage of by tax collectors, and after tragedy strikes she takes her revenge on those who wronged her and her lover. I don’t even know why this one didn’t catch my eye the first time around, because this time I REALLY liked the tone and storytelling.

And the best thing about all of the stories in this book is that at the end of each of them, there is an author’s note about the original mythology or folktale that gives it context and allows the reader to see how the stories have been adapted for this collection. I love me an authors note with historical factoids, and having that at the end really enhanced the experience for me. As someone who hadn’t been familiar with a lot of the story origins on my first read, I found this to be super helpful. This time around it was nice just having the reminder, as I hadn’t retained all of the information after two years. It’s just a great idea to have this kind of thing in general. On top of context, this is such a varied collection of all different type of genres, I feel like it has something for everyone. There’s mild horror, modern teen hijinks, romance, Sci-Fi, “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” shows the vast creativity of these authors, and it has encouraged me to read more of a few of their works.

“A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” is engaging and varied, and if you are looking for a short story collection with a vast range of tastes, this is a great choice.

Kate’s Rating 8: A varied and well rounded selection of stories with influences from the Asian Diaspora, “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” is a well done collection with something for everyone.

Book Club Questions

  1. Did you have a favorite story in this collection, or any that particularly stood out to you? What was it about this story that caught your attention? How about a least favorite?
  2. How familiar were you with the folklore in this book?
  3. What did you think of the interpretations of some of these myths and folktales and how they were re-told within their new stories or genres? Were any of the genre choices surprising to you?
  4. Had to read any of the authors whose works were in this collection? If not, did this collection inspire you to pick up their other works?
  5. Who would you recommend this book to?

Reader’s Advisory

“A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” is included on the Goodreads lists “Modern Mythologies”, and “Alternative Summer Reading List”.

Find “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “The BreakBeat Poets Vol.4: LatiNext” by Felicia Rose Chavez, José Olivarez, and Willie Perdomo (Eds.).

 

Kate’s Review: “If It Bleeds”

46015758._sy475_Book: “If It Bleeds” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller The Outsider.

News people have a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.

Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog – and on her own need to be more assertive – when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realizes there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins ‘If It Bleeds’ , a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling The Outsider featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case – and also the riveting title story in Stephen King’s brilliant new collection.

Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this ‘formidably versatile author’ (The Sunday Times) – ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’ and ‘Rat’ . All four display the richness of King’s storytelling with grace, humor, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author’s Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer’s unparalleled imagination.

The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.

Review: Quarantine has been hard, but books have been helping me get through. And I’m very thankful that Stephen King happened to have his new book “If It Bleeds” arrive right when I was most needing a helping of my favorite author. True, short stories collections are things that I tend to be wary of, but King hasn’t failed me yet, so I jumped into this collection of four novellas without much trepidation. For me, King’s works and adaptations are like pancakes. Even when they aren’t as good, they’re still pretty enjoyable.

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Me during this Stephen King New Golden Age of Content. (source)

“If It Bleeds” is a collection of thriller and horror tales, the tried and true genres that King does best. I’m going to talk about all four, and then try to pull it all back together at the end. Bear with me, as this may get long.

“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”: We start off with an age old story about being careful what you wish for, as well as the wholesome bond between a young man and an elder in the community. Mr. Harrigan is an isolated rich man living in a small town, and he asks a boy named Craig to come read to him every week. Their friendship builds, and eventually Craig gets Mr. Harrigan connected to the Internet world with an iPhone. After Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig will call his phone to hear his voice again, and leave a message when he’s feeling down. But then Craig starts to wonder if he’s getting through to Mr. Harrigan beyond the grave… and what the consequences of that may be. This felt the most like an old school and straight forward Stephen King tale, with ambiguity, a bit of humor, and a coming of age tale laced with a bit of malice. It wasn’t really reinventing the wheel, and it also felt a lot like King’s story “Obits”, but it was a fun enough read.

“The Life of Chuck”: I had to go back and reread this one, as it’s definitely the most experimental of the stories within this collection. It’s not horror, and it’s not thriller. It’s more of a meditation on life, death, and the unknown impacts that our lives, and deaths, have. It was also a difficult one to read during the COVID-19 pandemic, as one of the big themes was about the end of the world. People are dealing with the end of the world, as a man named Chuck is dying in a hospital. We see Chuck’s life in reverse, starting with his death, and ending near the beginning. After reading it a second time I fully grasped what King was doing, and this story was neither scary, nor was it a thriller. It was a very quiet, meditative tale, one that added a more tender edge to this collection.

“If It Bleeds”: This was the story I was most looking forward to, as it brings us back to Holly Gibney, Jerome Robinson, and the world of the “Mr. Mercedes” Trilogy and “The Outsider”. Holly has been a top tier King character of mine ever since her debut in “Mr. Mercedes”, and seeing how she has grown and flourished through other tales has really been rewarding. So it’s probably no surprise that I greatly enjoyed “If It Bleeds”. After a middle school is bombed in a supposed terrorist attack, Holly starts to fixate on a good samaritan on the scene. This leans more towards “The Outsider” than the Bill Hodges Trilogy in terms of genre, but it still reads like a thriller at the heart of it, even Holly is once again after something supernatural. I was admittedly a little nervous that Holly may have a harder time carrying a story on her shoulders, since she does sometimes edge a bit towards King’s idea of a quirky savant. But Holly really has grown and edged out since her first adventure, and seeing her on her own tracking down something malevolent was suspenseful, poignant, and fun. And along with that, both Jerome and Barbara Robinson are back and are given some good things to do. King could keep coming back to all of these characters and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of them.

“Rat”: This felt the most like an old school Stephen King short story, as it has everything I’ve come to expect of that. A troubled writer, a secluded cabin, danger, and a potentially talking rat that can grant a wish at a great cost. Drew is an author who think that he is on the brink of another great novel, and since it’s been awhile since his last hit, he’s desperate to make something of it. He isolates himself in a remote cabin, and begins his work. But when a storm comes through and Drew is felled by illness and isolation, he turns to a talking rat who says that it can guarantee his book will be a hit… if he makes a sacrifice. It’s your usual Faustian deal, but it’s what led up to it that was the most interesting. As a storm rages and illness messes with Drew’s perceptions of reality, you get the suspense and questions as to how sound his mind is in that moment, and if he’s going to ultimately sacrifice everything for his craft. I also liked how King brought in how a marriage can suffer when one person is more dedicated to their own dream and ego than they are to those that care about them.

Overall, “If It Bleeds” was a solid collection from King. None of the stories blew me out of the water, but they all connected with me on one level or another. And right now, I just liked having the familiarity of my favorite author to help me get through.

Rating 8: A well done and comfortable collection of thriller stories, and a new story for a favorite character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“If It Bleeds” is included on the Goodreads list “Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2020”, and would fit in on “Great Dark Short Stories”.

Find “If It Bleeds” at your library using WorldCat, or at your local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “His Hideous Heart”

39127647Book: “His Hideous Heart” by Dahlia Adler (Ed.)

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Thirteen of YA’s most celebrated names reimagine Edgar Allan Poe’s most surprising, unsettling, and popular tales for a new generation.

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.

Contributors include Kendare Blake (reimagining “Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morge”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).

Review: I’ve been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe since grade school when I read “The Raven” and “The Tell Tale Heart” in my free time. It was truly the first indication that I was going to shift into full on Goth in high school. His melancholic writings and nerve wracking imagery is still very effective, and while it does have some dated elements it can’t be denied that he has had a huge influence on American Horror writing to this day.

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Super relatable in so many ways too. (source)

I still hold him and his works near and dear to my heart, even if I haven’t read as many as I thought I had. I came to this realization as I read “His Hideous Heart”, a collection of new YA interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous works, edited by Dahlia Adler. I bought this book for my Kindle, as I was so excited to read it I really didn’t want to wait before I could get it in my hands. The group of YA authors selected was really the icing on the cake, as it includes some of my favorites like Stephanie Kuehn and Tiffany D. Jackson. A group of authors coming from lots of backgrounds and experiences to update some of the stories from the OG Creep Master of American Literature? It can’t get better than that! Like with most Short Story collections I am going to talk about my three favorite works, and then give a summation of the collection as a whole.

“Night-Tide” (based on “Annabel Lee”) by Tessa Gratton

The poem “Annabelle Lee” has made me cry many times in my life. It’s about the death of a young woman and her husband who has been left behind to mourn her, and is most likely based on Poe’s own wife Virginia who tied of tuberculosis. Tessa Gratton takes this always upsetting story theme and twists it up in many positive ways. She changes it into a prose narrative instead of a poem, sets in in a historical fiction timeline, and makes the two lovers two young women who are living in a time where gay romance and love is never going to be accepted. Annabel Lee and Jackie have spent summers at the resort of Kingdom by the Sea and became close friends. But the summer she’s sixteen Jackie arrives to find out that Annabel has passed away of illness, and that Annabel’s family blames Jackie because of their ‘close friendship’ and the sin it was. As Jackie tries to come to terms with her friend’s death, and to try to come to terms with the guilt that she is feeling because of it. Like the poem there are no happy endings here, but it makes the sadness of the poem all the more emotional, as Jackie has to live with the guilt that others and society has placed upon here merely because she and Annabel Lee were in love. And, like it’s inspiration, it made me cry as well.

“The Glittering Death” (based on “The Pit and the Pendulum”) by Caleb Roehrig

“The Pit and the Pendulum” is a tense and scary read where a prisoner is being psychologically and physically tortured during the Spanish Inquisition. Caleb Roehrig, however, subverts that into a modern retelling involving a serial killer, a teenage girl, and misogyny. Laura finds herself the newest victim of a murderer called The Judge, who kidnaps and tortures young women for the sins he’s perceived they’ve committed. Laura has to figure out how to survive the situation and escape. This was probably my favorite story in the collection, as Roehrig does a GREAT job of drawing comparisons between his zealous and woman hating serial killer and the forces that were behind The Spanish Inquisition, showing how repression, misogyny, and religious fundamentalism can instigate violence. Laura as a main character was spunky and tough, and the tension of her imprisonment and her plans for escape had me on the edge of my seat. It’s definitely the scariest story in this book, and I thought that it really found the heart of the source material and cleverly applied it.

“Happy Days, Sweetheart” (based on “The Tell-Tale Heart”) by Stephanie Kuehn

One of Poe’s most famous stories is “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and it’s about jealousy pushing someone to murder, and the guilt that drives the murderer insane. Leave it to Stephanie Kuehn to take that and make something totally different, all while finding the deeper themes and applying them perfectly. An unnamed high school girl has been living in the shadow of Jonah, a charismatic but mediocre white guy at their boarding school. She has always worked hard to be the best, but being a bi-racial girl from outside their community has always kept her down. But now she has a plan to finally become number one, to finally get the praise and recognition she deserves. I LOVED how Kuehn took the idea of women (especially women of color) having to work harder and do more to get the same recognition that a white man gets just by existing, and how that frustration can turn into an all encompassing anger. While it’s true our narrator eventually takes it to extremes (as one would have to with the source material), I still felt that Kuehn drew out her motivations in a way that I found incredibly relatable in a lot of ways. Kuehn is one of my favorite authors, and her contribution to this collection knocked it out of the park to be sure.

And there were a lot of other really strong stories that I didn’t mention! “His Hideous Heart” covers a wide range of genres, and most of the segments were all very strong in their own ways. Even the ones that I didn’t end up caring for as much were more based on the genres they fell in as opposed to the content. There are so many strong authors here, and they all did their very best to do justice to Poe’s original works, with many of them succeeding. But wait, there’s even more to sing the praises of! “His Hideous Heart” not only has these thirteen original stories, it also includes the original works by Poe! So if you aren’t familiar with the source material, you have direct access to it. LOVED that!

“His Hideous Heart” was a great short stories collection. If you are a Poe fan you should read it, and if you aren’t familiar with Poe this is the perfect introduction to the original works AND the updates. And hey, it’s almost Halloween. This is just the book to read this time of year.

Rating 8: A well done and well updated collection of stories that pay homage to Poe, “His Hideous Heart” is an enjoyable read and the perfect book for the Halloween season.

Reader’s Advisory:

“His Hideous Heart” is included on the Goodreads lists “Edgar Allan Poe in YA & Middle Grade Fiction”, and “The Unlikable Female Characters Podcast”.

Find “His Hideous Heart” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Full Throttle”

43801817Book: “Full Throttle” by Joe Hill

Publishing Info: William Morrow, October 2019

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

Book Description: In this masterful collection of short fiction, Joe Hill dissects timeless human struggles in thirteen relentless tales of supernatural suspense, including “In The Tall Grass,” one of two stories co-written with Stephen King, basis for the terrifying feature film from Netflix.

A little door that opens to a world of fairy tale wonders becomes the blood-drenched stomping ground for a gang of hunters in “Faun.” A grief-stricken librarian climbs behind the wheel of an antique Bookmobile to deliver fresh reads to the dead in “Late Returns.” In “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain,” two young friends stumble on the corpse of a plesiosaur at the water’s edge, a discovery that forces them to confront the inescapable truth of their own mortality . . . and other horrors that lurk in the water’s shivery depths. And tension shimmers in the sweltering heat of the Nevada desert as a faceless trucker finds himself caught in a sinister dance with a tribe of motorcycle outlaws in “Throttle,” co-written with Stephen King.

Featuring two previously unpublished stories, and a brace of shocking chillers, Full Throttle is a darkly imagined odyssey through the complexities of the human psyche. Hypnotic and disquieting, it mines our tormented secrets, hidden vulnerabilities, and basest fears, and demonstrates this exceptional talent at his very best.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending my an eARC of this book!

Happy Horrorpalooza 2019 everyone! As you may know, in October I try to stick to books that have horror based or Halloween-y themes, as this is absolutely my favorite time of the year and I like to inundate myself with all things scary and spooky. So how lucky are we that we get to kick off the month with a book from one of my favorite horror authors, Joe Hill. Hill is one of those authors that I will always swear my devotion to, and so when I found out that he had a new short stories collection coming out I was stoked as heck. Granted, I had already read a few of the tales in “Full Throttle”, his new collection, as they had been published previously with other collections or in collaboration with his father, Stephen King. But a majority of the tales were new to me, and I couldn’t wait to tackle them all. As per usual with short stories collections, I’ll talk about my favorites, and then give an overall review of the series as a whole. And I have lots to say about my favorites.

“Dark Carousel”

This story is one of the most blatantly horror-centric tales in the collection, and it has a good amount of winking and nudging towards well loved tropes and stories in the genre. With nods towards “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, I took great delight in this creepy tale. Four friends attend a carnival and take a ride on the carousel. After they accuse the carousel operator of wrongdoing, they decide to have some fun and take their revenge on him. But little do they know that they are being watched by non-human eyes, and that their misdeeds will have dire consequences. I really, really loved this story, from the characterizations of our protagonists to the slow build of dread at the carnival and afterwards, and the come down that has ambiguity and a sense of inevitability. The loving references to “Something Wicked This Way Comes” were fun to spot, and the overall wrongness of the carnival and the carousel made for an eerie and unsettling, yet never over the top, scary story. The story isn’t terribly complicated, but it is very effective in what it is trying to achieve. The best horror story in the collection for me, hands down.

“By The Silver Waters of Lake Champlain”

This was one of the stories I had read previously before picking up this book, but given how much I loved it the first time I was excited (and apprehensive) to read it again. But on a second go through, my love for the story only grew, and it is probably my favorite story in the collection. Friends Gail and Joel are visiting Lake Champlain on vacation, and one lazy Sunday morning the two of them find the body of what looks to be a plesiosaur-like reptile. Convinced it’s the famed lake monster Champ, they have dreams that their discovery will make them rich and famous. But instead of fame and glory, they have to confront the hard truths of growing up, loss, and mortality. I first read this story a few years ago, and it blew me away and left me crying. Reading it this time and knowing how it all ends made the experience all the more bittersweet. Hill has the ability to capture tween and teenage voices in authentic ways, and he also knows how to give hints to his characters realities without being explicit. We can surmise that Gail and Joel are both a bit lonely at home, and that their parents, at least during this story, are more focused on nursing vacation hangovers than on their children and what they are getting up to on a foggy morning by the lake. Gail and Joel are probably friends more based on circumstance than anything else, but that doesn’t make their friendship any less valid, nor does it cheapen the ultimate ending this story has. They are connected by interest in the Lake Champlain Monster as well, and honestly anything that shows weird and funny friendship obsessions with cryptids is going to resonate with me, given my past (and present) fascinations with similar topics. But on top of that, for me this is one of the most emotionally charged stories in the bunch (one of the others will be addressed in a moment). Hill is so good at writing grief and trauma, and the last paragraphs are still haunting and incredibly emotional. This is a story that I would LOVE to see expanded into a novel, where Gail goes back to the lake to try to get answers and closure. And even on the second read through I was left a bit emotionally compromised. Nay, extremely emotionally compromised.

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Actual footage of my emotions at the end. (source)

“Late Returns”

I will wholeheartedly own up to the fact that as a librarian I was no doubt going to be biased towards this story. A new librarian, trying to escape his own grief and loss, takes over the Bookmobile job in hopes of spreading the love of reading to people who can’t necessarily make it into the actual library. As he makes the rounds, he starts to encounter people from other times, who may need to read books that were published after their deaths in order to feel complete. This is one of the less creepy or scary stories from the collection, and the unabashed love of reading and the testament to the power of a book is so sublime and wholesome. Hill also tinkers and plays with the idea of time and space continuums in this story in really unique ways. For example, should one of these ‘late returns’ (the name given to the out of time patrons) pick up a book that was published after their death, it may be indecipherable to them if they shouldn’t be reading it. But it will also morph it’s design to fit the design of the era the person was from. It’s little details like these that feel original and incredibly clever. On top of that, we get more emotional moments for some of the characters, from our protagonist processing his own grief to one late return whose son is fighting in Vietnam, and she doesn’t know if she will ever see him again. Again, while I love the scares and thrills that Hill creates, it’s how he taps into the human condition and all its complexities that makes him stand out.

As for the rest of the collection, most if the stories are strong in their own ways. The two collaborations with his Dad show how well they work together, though I will say that “In The Tall Grass” (another I’d read previously) sort of makes me feel like they were trying to one up each other in the shocks department (and I ultimately didn’t really care for it when all was said and done). It is a good balance of a number of genres, and they all fit together even if they aren’t explicitly connected. At the end he has little background notes about how each came to be written, and I thought that gave them even more context which enhanced the reading experience.

“Full Throttle” is a perfectly compiled collection of Hill’s various offerings, and if you want a taste of what he can do, you have a smorgasbord to choose from.

Rating 8: A solid collection of horror, thriller, and dark fantasy, “Full Throttle” has scares and heart and confirms Joe Hill’s prowess as an author of many genres.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Full Throttle” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward To in 2019”.

Find “Full Throttle” at your library using WorldCat!

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