Audiobook Review: We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

The hardcover edition

Title: We Sold Our Souls
Author: Grady Hendrix
Narrator: Carol Monda
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: September 18, 2018
Print length: 336 pages
Audio length: 9 hours, 1 minute
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was poised for breakout success — but then lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom as Koffin, leaving his fellow bandmates to rot in rural Pennsylvania.

Two decades later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski works as the night manager of a Best Western – she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Everything changes when she discovers a shocking secret from her heavy metal past: Turns out that Terry’s meteoric rise to success may have come at the price of Kris’s very soul.

This revelation prompts Kris to hit the road, reunite with the rest of her bandmates, and confront the man who ruined her life. It’s a journey that will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a Satanic rehab center and finally to a Las Vegas music festival that’s darker than any Mordor Tolkien could imagine. A furious power ballad about never giving up, even in the face of overwhelming odds, We Sold Our Souls is an epic journey into the heart of a conspiracy-crazed, paranoid country that seems to have lost its very soul…where only a girl with a guitar can save us all.

As the book’s back cover proclaims:

METAL NEVER RETREATS. METAL NEVER SURRENDERS. METAL NEVER DIES.

We Sold Our Souls is about horror and metal and creativity and determination. It’s a little crazy, pretty freaking dark, and has some really icky moments… and yet, I found myself just loving this audiobook.

And hey, I’m not even a metal fan! But reading this book made me wish there was a soundtrack to go with it.

In We Sold Our Souls, we meet middle-aged Kris Pulaski — broken down, hopeless, leading a dead-end life. Once upon a time, she was a rising star along with her bandmates in Dürt Würk. But that was a long time ago, and she hasn’t even picked up a guitar in six years. But when Kris spots a billboard proclaiming the return of Koffin for one last tour, everything changes. Fired up by rage, Kris sets out to reconnect with her old bandmates and reclaim a piece of her past.

For Kris and the rest of Dürt Würk, success was once within reach. They were opening for Slayer, finally moving from seedy dive bars into the world of arena rock concerts — but then their lead singer Terry Hunt betrayed them all, convincing them all to sign contracts that guaranteed his own mega stardom but left them all in the dust. The problem is, Kris can’t quite remember what happened on “contract night”, and neither can anyone else. What really went on during the hours they all lost that night?

The answer is right there in the book’s title, but how they got there and what happens next makes this book so entertaining and hypnotic.

Dürt Würk’s mythology as Terry Hunt’s failed first band includes the story of their never-released album Troglodyte, rumored to have been a masterpiece yet supposedly destroyed and buried forever. As Kris sets on a quest to stop Terry and the evil fueling his success, it’s the music and lyrics of Troglodyte that give her the strength and courage to keep going, and she’s convinced that Troglodyte holds the key to finally getting back what was stolen from her.

I loved reading about Kris’s musical journey, from teaching herself guitar in her basement as a teenager, playing until her fingers bled, through building a band and launching their career. We really get to feel the rush of finding oneself in music, feeling the emotions and rage and beauty pour out through their songs.

The book is sprinkled throughout with the lyrics to the Troglodyte tracks, and hearing them recited in the audiobook (alas, not sung or with music to go with) made the experience a total treat. It’s dark, dark, dark, but oddly fascinating.

Black Iron Mountain is cold, cold, cold
The language they speak is old, old, old
And their lies are made of gold

Iron rain is falling
On the bodies of the slain
The Blind King keeps calling
Trapped inside a coffin made of pain

There are a few scenes that made me want to squirm right out of my body, being very gross and disturbing (and boy is that weird to listen to), but on the whole, the horror is more often expressed through slow builds and unseen terror than through outright gore (although there’s that too). Needless to say, maybe not a good choice if you’re squeamish.

The narrator’s voice comes across as raspy and a bit damaged, kind of how I’d imagine Kris would sound after all those years of hard living. The plot zips along, cleverly intercutting radio interviews about Koffin and Dürt Würk with scenes following Kris’s journey toward either vengeance or redemption.

I admit to being a tiny bit confused by a few things toward the end, but that’s okay. Overall, this book cast a spell on me and completely sucked me in. And look, I’ll never be a metal fan, but I am very much a fan of Kris Pulaski, guitar goddess extraordinaire!

We Sold Our Souls is a lot of fun — I’ve had a copy on my shelves for a few years now, and I’m glad I finally gave it a chance.

The paperback cover – so awesome that I want this edition too!

Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Title: The Last House on Needless Street
Author: Catriona Ward
Publisher: Nightfire
Publication date: September 28, 2021
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street is a shocking and immersive read perfect for fans of Gone Girl and The Haunting of Hill House.

In a boarded-up house on a dead-end street at the edge of the wild Washington woods lives a family of three.

A teenage girl who isn’t allowed outside, not after last time.
A man who drinks alone in front of his TV, trying to ignore the gaps in his memory.
And a house cat who loves napping and reading the Bible.

An unspeakable secret binds them together, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, what is buried out among the birch trees may come back to haunt them all.

The Last House on Needless Street is going to be a tough one to review. Before delving into the subject matter, I’ll recap my reading experience. I was confused at first. I quickly became turned off and repulsed. Then baffled again. I thought about putting the book down and walking away. Then I wanted to know if what I’d guessed was at all accurate. Then I wanted to know what actually happened… and ultimately, I saw it through all the way to the end, barely able to look away for the final third. But it’s not an exageration to say that for most of the book, the question of whether or not to continue was constantly on my mind.

This has to be one of the most disturbing books I’ve read in the last few years. It’s practically impossible to get a good grasp on what’s happening. The story involves a missing child, as well as a main character, Ted, whose behavior is creepy and suspicious from the get-go… yet we know that he was investigated years ago when the child disappeared, and no evidence was found to link him to the supposed abduction.

So is Ted a kidnapper, abuser, and a murderer? If so, how has he gotten away with it? How does he manage to keep his daughter Lauren hidden away? Why does his cat seem to love him, even though she has a rich inner life of her own?

I can’t say too much for fear of getting into spoilers, and trust me, you do not want to know anything further about the plot if you’re considering reading this book.

For about the first half of the book, if you’d asked me for a rating, I’d have said two stars, maybe three at a stretch. And even here, having finished the book and settling on 4.5 stars, I’m still not certain that really reflects my reading experience.

On the one hand, I have to give endless kudos to the author, who concocted a complicated and utterly creepy and confusing story, and yet manages to make the pieces fit together by the end. The story as a whole is masterfully woven together — a truly impressive feat.

On the other hand, this was probably the least enjoyable reading I’ve done in ages. There’s absolutely nothing fun or pleasurable about reading this horrifying tale. I’ve read my fair share of horror and psychological thrillers, and even at their most disturbing or gruesome, most of them are still books that I’ve enjoyed reading, one way or another. I can’t say that I enjoyed even a little bit of The Last House on Needless Street.

And yet… I have to recognize that this book is incredibly well crafted and tells a twisty tale unlike any other I’ve read. Do I recommend it? Yes and no. Yes, it’s fascinating and, after a certain point, oh-so-hard to put down. But it also wrecked my mood this weekend by forcing me to spend time in the truly dark places the story explores.

Your mileage may vary. This book will not be for everyone, not by a longshot. But I do have certain friends whose taste in books is basically — the grimmer, the better… and for them, this might be perfect.

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Happy Halloween! Let us now celebrate the joy of A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny.

Title: A Night in the Lonesome October
Author: Roger Zelazny
Publication date: 1993
Length: 290 pages
Genre: Fantasy/horror… Halloween!
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

All is not what it seems . . .

In the murky London gloom, a knife-wielding gentleman named Jack prowls the midnight streets with his faithful watchdog Snuff – gathering together the grisly ingredients they will need for an upcoming ancient and unearthly rite. For soon after the death of the moon, black magic will summon the Elder Gods back into the world. And all manner of Players, both human and undead, are preparing to participate.

Some have come to open the gates. Some have come to slam them shut.

And now the dread night approaches – so let the Game begin.

“The last great novel by one of the giants of the genre.” George R.R. Martin

“A madcap blend of horror tropes and fantasy. . . There aren’t many authors who would set out to write a novel in which the Wolfman and Jack the Ripper were the two heroes . . . And I’m not sure anyone else could have made it work.” Science Fiction Chronicle

“Sparkling, witty, delightful. Zelazny’s best for ages, perhaps his best ever.” Kirkus Reviews 

All the hail the absolute delight that is reading A Night in the Lonesome October during the month of October!

In this, science fiction great Roger Zelazny’s final novel, a cast of weird characters gather together to prepare for a secretive ritual known as the Game. Our guide to this world is Snuff, a watchdog who’s much more than just a dog — he’s an active participant, a keen observer, and a meticulous calculator of the intricate variables that determine the location and possible outcome of the Game.

Participants include Snuff’s companion, Jack, a knife-wielding gentleman whose necessary ingredients include grisly remains of fresh kills and cemetery finds; the Count, who resides in hidden crypts and has a bat for a companion; the good cat Graymalk and her witchy companion Crazy Jill; the mad monk Rastov and his snake; and so many more. The Great Detective shows up to poke around and confound the players, and there’s also the Good Doctor, with his lightning-struck house and experiment man to consider. All may be players… or not. And part of Snuff’s job is to determine if they’re in the Game, and whether they’re openers or closers.

Snuff conducts his investigations with the help of the other animal familiars, all of whom have special gifts and abilities. The humans are in the background — it’s Snuff and his friends (and foes) who really matter and who narrate and guide the action.

One of the beauties of this October gem is that the chapters correspond to the days of the month. For many devoted readers, it’s become an annual tradition to read along throughout October, reading each day’s chapter according to the calendar, and ending with a bang on October 31st. For the first time, that’s what I did this year. Such fun! The chapters themselves are mostly short, and it’s easy to keep up and track Snuff’s progress in the build-up to the Game.

I took Jack his slippers this evening and lay at his feet before a roaring fire while he smoked his pipe, sipped sherry, and read the newspaper. He read aloud everything involving killings, arsons, mutilations, grave robberies, church desecrations, and unusual thefts. It is very pleasant just being domestic sometimes.

The writing is very funny and unusual, and the book features great illustrations by Gahan Wilson. Altogether, an October treat that shouldn’t be missed! I can’t say for sure that I’ll make this book an annual reading tradition, but I’ll certainly come back to it in future Octobers as often as I can.

Check out this piece on Tor.com for more: https://www.tor.com/2021/09/30/a-night-in-the-lonesome-october-is-a-perfectly-tricky-halloween-treat/ (and it made me giggle to realize the writer of this piece chose the same paragraph to quote — great minds and all that…)

It may be too late to get the full experience this year, but be sure to track down a copy before October 2022!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween freebie — Ten horror books on my TBR list (2021 edition)

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Happy Halloween!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is a Halloween freebie! I didn’t have enough time to really brainstorm a topic, so I thought I’d just update a theme I did a few years ago — horror novels on my to-read list that I really do need to get around to reading! Some of these are upcoming new releases, and some are books that have been around a while:

Have you read any of these? Which one should I read first?

What’s on your Halloween TTT this week? Share your link, please, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

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Book Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Title: The Final Girl Support Group
Author: Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: July 13, 2021
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

The Final Girl Support Group is set in our contemporary world, but with one key change: Remember all those slasher movies of the 80s and 90s? The ones where seemingly unstoppable madmen stalk groups of victims through the woods or at summer camps, using increasingly bizarre weapons to kill and kill and kill? In the world of The Final Girl Support Group, those movies are film adaptations of real-life murder sprees. The surviving Final Girl of each horrific act of murder sells her franchise rights, and the film versions make them into pop culture superstars… and highly scrutinized attractions for all sorts of stalkers and murder fans and other dangerous folks.

As the book opens, the support group is meeting, although after 16 years, it’s unclear to some of the members why they continue to meet. Nothing changes, and they devolve into bickering, yet they all need the group in their lives. For the women in the group, their lives after their incidents have taken different paths, yet none can be said to be truly healthy or normal. One woman is a junkie, one married for wealth and lives a pampered life surrounded by security walls and cameras, one, confined to a wheelchair, is a political activist, and our narrator Lynnette lives a life of absolute paranoia and devotion to safety. Only Dani, living in a long-term relationship on a remote ranch, and Adrienne, who runs a camp for victims of violence at the same site where she was once a Final Girl, seem to be anywhere close to living truly fulfilled lives.

When Adrienne fails to show for group the day after news coverage shows a new massacre at her camp, the group is fearful and soon learns the worst — Adrienne has been tracked down and murdered. They all flee, each seeking some form of safety. For Lynnette, she knows in her bones that nowhere is truly safe. She has countless escape routes and backup plans, but when all fail her, she has to go on the run and start to rely on people besides herself, something she’s never been willing to do.

The Final Girl Support Group is a horror story in which we learn, in bits and pieces, about the horrific scenes of violence that each of these women survived as young girls. It’s also a story of escape, with a road trip thrown in, and a story of friendship and connection, as this group of women — who have only their victimhood in common — are thrown together despite mistrust and even outright dislike to try to defeat the ultimate bad guy.

I tore through the book pretty quickly, but I’m not sure that it truly worked for me. The story is somewhat disjointed — we learn about each woman’s particular horror story over the course of the novel, but having the details doled out as they were kept me from truly understanding their experiences as we meet them. I never felt particularly connected to some of the characters, and actually found it confusing to keep them all and their particular traumas straight.

Lynnette is fascinating, although being inside her mind can be exhausting. I wish we’d learned more about her awful history earlier in the book as well. There seem to be a lot of barriers before I could feel like I had a good grasp on who she is and, more importantly, what happened to make her the way she is.

The book includes media snippets in between chapters, talking about the Final Girl movie phenomenon or including excerpts of articles about the girls or pieces of their police interrogations. These are fun, but again, something about the pacing and the way information is included made the overall narrative feel confusing to me.

I did really like the overall concept — that slasher movies are basically depictions of real events, and that certain franchises get sequels because in their real lives, the bad guys keep coming back, over and over and over. For a Final Girl, it’s never really over.

The Final Girl Support Group builds to a fast-paced, dramatic sequel that feels worthy of a scary slasher movie scene all its own.

I’ve read most of Grady Hendrix’s other novels (there just one I still need to read!), and I’ve loved them all so far. He writes bizarre, quirky, weird horror, and it’s usually right up my alley. The Final Girl Support Group didn’t quite work for me the same way his other books have. I got caught up in the story, but always felt like I was missing something. I recommend it, but not quite as much as, for example, Horrorstor or The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.

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Book Review: Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses by Kristen O’Neal

Title: Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses
Author: Kristen O’Neal
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: April 27, 2021
Print length: 383 pages
Genre: YA/horror/contemporary
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Teen Wolf meets Emergency Contact in this sharply observed, hilarious, and heartwarming debut young adult novel about friendship and the hairy side of chronic illness.

Priya worked hard to pursue her premed dreams at Stanford, but a diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease during her sophomore year sends her back to her loving but overbearing family in New Jersey—and leaves her wondering if she’ll ever be able to return to the way things were. Thankfully she has her online pen pal, Brigid, and the rest of the members of “oof ouch my bones,” a virtual support group that meets on Discord to crack jokes and vent about their own chronic illnesses.

When Brigid suddenly goes offline, Priya does something out of character: she steals the family car and drives to Pennsylvania to check on Brigid. Priya isn’t sure what to expect, but it isn’t the horrifying creature that’s shut in the basement.

With Brigid nowhere to be found, Priya begins to puzzle together an impossible but obvious truth: the creature might be a werewolf—and the werewolf might be Brigid. As Brigid’s unique condition worsens, their friendship will be deepened and challenged in unexpected ways, forcing them to reckon with their own ideas of what it means to be normal.

For a book with such a cute, light-hearted cover, Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses touches on some heavy and important topics — and it works amazingly well.

Main character Priya sees her premed dreams yanked away after becoming debilitated by Lyme disease. Her illness and constant pain force her to take a leave of absence from Stanford and move back home, where she has to deal not just with her illness and treatment, but also with living in her parents’ home again and her loss of independence. She’s depressed by how she feels physically and by her doubt that she’ll ever be able to become a doctor, knowing her levels of exhaustion, pain, and brain fog will prevent her from being able to put in the hours and study needed. She misses her college friends, and wonders if any of them even think about her anymore. It feels like life has just passed her by in a big way, and meanwhile, her painful joints and lack of stamina are here to stay.

Luckily, she has her on-line friend Brigid and a group of other people with chronic illnesses, who form a virtual group (called, adorably, “oof ouch my bones”). The group share stories about their diagnoses, treatments, and fears, but also plenty of laughs and unconditional support. Priya and Brigid are particularly close, and when Brigid fails to show up for a scheduled chat, Priya decides to step way out of her comfort zone and go check on her.

As you won’t be surprised to learn at all, since it’s all right there in the book’s title, Brigid’s chronic illness is lycanthropy. Once a month, she changes into a big, scary, hairy, teeth-y creature — and normally it’s under control, because she locks herself into the basement ahead of time. But lately, her changes have been coming more frequently and with no advance warning, and Brigid fears that before too long, she won’t be herself at all anymore.

Priya decides to help Brigid, and the two embark on a quest to find out why Brigid turns and if there’s a cure. Along the way, they’re joined by the cute local animal control guy who helps Priya when wolf-Brigid gets loose and terrorizes her small town. Hijinks ensue, naturally… but would you believe me if I told you that Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses is also very empathetic and touching?

Through Priya and Brigid’s experiences, as well as through the conversations with the online group, we are shown first-hand what chronic illness can do to a person’s life. Priya is a wonderful point-of-view character, and the author lets us inside Priya’s heart and mind, letting us witness her fears, pain, disappointment, and stress.

As the parent of someone with a chronic illness, I felt that so much of Priya’s experiences rang true. The author really captures the way a chronic illness diagnosis can feel like a life’s been upended and derailed, and how the knowledge that the symptoms and risks will linger a lifetime can feel overwhelming, like nothing will ever be the same. I really felt for Priya, who at the beginning feeling hopeless and that her life will have no greater purpose, and was really cheered when she slowly starts to discover that living with a chronic illness may mean that she has to adapt her dreams, but not abandon them.

Of course, the werewolf escapades are quite fun, and Priya and Brigid’s friendship is wonderful. So much of their communication is online, through texts, blog posts, and group chats, and it’s all very quirky and cute, and often very, very funny.

I’m so grateful to Quirk Books for approving my ARC request! I’m not sure that I would have stumbled across this book without seeing it on NetGalley, and I’m so, so glad that I read it!

Tiny little grumble: Because of the formatting of the texts, chats, etc, I read this ARC in PDF format rather than on my Kindle, and while I thought I was highlighting great lines and funny passages, apparently none of my highlighting stuck. So… sorry for not being able to share quotes, but trust me, this book has plenty of seriously funny ones!

I enjoyed this book so much. Don’t miss it!

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Buy Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Book Review: Near the Bone by Christina Henry

Title: Near the Bone
Author: Christina Henry
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication date: April 13, 2021
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A woman trapped on a mountain attempts to survive more than one kind of monster, in a dread-inducing horror novel from the national bestselling author Christina Henry.

Mattie can’t remember a time before she and William lived alone on a mountain together. She must never make him upset. But when Mattie discovers the mutilated body of a fox in the woods, she realizes that they’re not alone after all.

There’s something in the woods that wasn’t there before, something that makes strange cries in the night, something with sharp teeth and claws.

When three strangers appear on the mountaintop looking for the creature in the woods, Mattie knows their presence will anger William. Terrible things happen when William is angry.

There is a menacing, eerie feel to Near the Bone right from the start, and the cover absolutely nails it. Near the Bone is the story of Mattie, a 20-year-old woman living in isolation on a snowy mountain with her husband William. Mattie cooks, cleans, checks the snares — always under William’s watchful eye. Every night, she does her other wifely duties, because as William reminds her each day, a man has to have sons.

The plot bursts into action when Mattie finds the body of a fox on a trail near their cabin. It’s been killed and mutilated, but not eaten. What predator would do such a thing? When Mattie explains her find to William, he takes her with him to explore further, and they find tracks and claw marks huger than anything a bear might leave behind. What new animal has shown up on the mountain?

As they soon discover, it’s something other, not just a monster. It’s enormous, dangerous, and sentient. It has rituals and territories, and seems to have left them a warning to stay away.

But as the author so deftly illustrates, the creature isn’t the only monster on the mountain.

I should pause here for some content warnings, which I tend not to include, but feel like it’s essential for this book.

Content: Includes kidnapping, rape, assault, emotional and physical abuse. And yes, those are all human actions.

When it comes to the creature, we see horror-story elements such as eviscerated and dismembered bodies — but honestly, if you read horror, this isn’t going to be the most shocking part of the story. Gross, yes, but not terrible the way the human-induced horror is.

The arrival of strangers on the mountain escalates the action. Mattie knows that she’ll be punished if William thinks she’s been talking to the strangers. They’re a trio of college friends exploring a “sighting” of a “cryptid” that they’ve read about online. They think this will be fun — but Mattie feels compelled to warn them away.

Meanwhile, memories start to return for Mattie — memories of her childhood, an earlier life where she had a mother and a sister and was happy. With the help of the outsiders, who recognize her from news coverage, she’s able to piece together the awful truth of the last twelve years of her life, and begins to plan her escape. But can she get off the mountain when there are two dangerous predators hunting her down?

I feel like I could talk about this book for hours, but at the same time, I’m already skating at the edge of spoiler-ville and don’t want to go too far. Near the Bone is incredibly upsetting and scary and utterly enthralling. I tore through this book in about a day and a half — I felt so personally invested in Mattie’s story and absolutely had to know if she’d find safety.

The story of her life with William and the ongoing abuse — captivity, control, beatings, sexual assault, withholding of food — is very, very hard to read. It does have a ripped-from-the-headlines feel, bringing up memories of the recent cases in the news of women escaping their captors after many, many years. Mattie considers herself a mouse, weak and powerless, but over the course of the novel, as her memories return, she finds an inner strength and determination that helps her finally take action.

This book is not going to be for everyone. As I said, the more traditional horror elements aren’t the parts that were hardest for me to read. It’s been a couple of days since I finished, and I still can’t get Mattie’s story out of my head.

I think the only thing that leaves me a touch unsatisfied is the lack of clear explanation of the creature. By the end of the book, there have been glimpses, but not a full look, and we’re left not knowing exactly what it was. I know this is intentional, but I wanted to know! There’s a message there about heeding warnings and staying away from places you shouldn’t go — my impression is that the creature only went after the humans when they disturbed its territory, and then of course there was hell to pay.

Ultimately, the true monster on the mountain is William. We can understand the creature as “other”, with behaviors and patterns that make sense for it, even though they’re deadly to whoever crosses its path. William, though, is human, and we’re left with a picture of evil that’s hard to shake.

Near the Bone is a fantastic read, very disturbing but impossible to put down. Mattie is someone to root for, and while I felt enormous sympathy and sorrow for her, I also was left with high admiration for her ability to survive, help others, and keep going in the face of terrible circumstances. The book ends on a high note, despite all the horror, and I was happy to be able to leave the books with a sense of hope after all the awful things that occurred.

I strongly recommend Near the Bone, but with the caveat that the content won’t be for everyone.

Book Review: Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman

Title: Whisper Down the Lane
Author: Clay McLeod Chapman
Publisher: Quirk
Publication date: April 6, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Psychological thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Inspired by the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, the critically acclaimed author of The Remaking delivers another pulse pounding, true-crime-based horror novel.

Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday—but Sean does . . .

Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table . . . and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbor, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favorite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation—and Sean and his mother are left holding the match.

Now, thirty years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies. 

If you’re of a certain age, you remember hearing about the McMartin preschool scandal of the 1980s, in which the staff of a family-run preschool was accused of hundreds of counts of abuse and of participating in Satanic rituals with the children in their care. It was horrifying, gross… and untrue. All of the accused were acquitted… but do we remember the acquittals? Or do we remember the accusations? I think the answer is self-evident.

In Whisper Down the Lane, Richard is an elementary school art teacher, newly married to another teacher, and hoping to adopt the stepson who’s also one of his students. Richard comes across as kind but a little odd when we first meet him, with his mind often wandering away, not really fond of small talk or collegial chitchat with coworkers.

Richard is also Sean, but his memories of being Sean have been repressed down to nothingness. As Sean, at age five, he first confirmed his worried mother’s suspicions about his kindly kindergarten teacher, and eventually became the star witness in the hugely publicized case against several teachers accused of horrifying abuse and Satanic practices. And as in real-life, the case eventually fell apart, but the damage done to those accused was indelible.

Richard’s memories of Sean start creeping back after some weird, unexplainable incidents begin to occur around him, starting with an eviscerated bunny on the school field and escalating from there. Finally, as Richard himself faces accusations of abuse, we readers have to wonder whether the tightly sealed borders between Richard and Sean have finally eroded enough to push Richard over the edge into madness and unspeakable acts.

There is a lot going on here, and plenty to challenge and disgust the book’s readers. As the Sean pieces of the narrative make clear, the children who provided witness testimony during the Satanic panic were pushed and manipulated by the adults in their lives — parents, police, and psychologists — to deliver the answers the adults were looking for. The author skillfully places us inside Sean’s mind, so we can see how his desire to please his mother led to statements later used to condemn his teacher in the court of public opinion.

It’s horrible, pure and simple, to see the lives destroyed, and equally horrible to see how these young children were introduced to topics well beyond their ability to digest, being spoon-fed details that led them to confirm drug-fueled orgies, sacrifices, graveyard rituals, and more.

As Richard’s memories intrude into his daily life, he does act in ways that would appear crazy and even dangerous to those around him. As I read the book, I couldn’t see how there could possibly be another answer but that Richard had had a breakdown and was actually responsible for the events happening around him… and I won’t say whether I was right or wrong!

I did go into Whisper Down the Lane expecting a horror story, and while there are elements that shade in that direction, this book is more a story of psychological terror than out-and-out horror. I thought the ending was clever and surprising, and I did not see it coming.

That said, because I expected horror, I felt a little let down by parts of the story and the solutions to the central mysteries, but that may be due more to the marketing and positioning of the book than any fault of the book itself.

Certainly, Whisper Down the Lane is a fast, compelling read. Once I got started, I just could not stop. The jumps back and forth between Sean and Richard are so disturbing, and the recounting of the Satanic abuse case and Sean’s role in it is truly awful to read about — even more so knowing it’s based on real cases from the 1980s.

Whisper Down the Lane is a creepy tale that’s impossible to put down or stop thinking about. Be prepared for a dark, sleep-interrupting read. Highly recommended, but not if you’re looking for light entertainment!

Shelf Control #259: Wayward Pines trilogy by Black Crouch

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Book 1: Pines (2012; 303 pages)
Book 2: Wayward (2013; 298 pages)
Book 3: The Last Town (2014; 294 pages)

What it’s about (synopsis for Pines – via Goodreads):

Wayward Pines, Idaho, is quintessential small-town America–or so it seems. Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrives in search of two missing federal agents, yet soon is facing much more than he bargained for. After a violent accident lands him in the hospital, Ethan comes to with no ID and no cell phone. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but sometimes feels…off. As days pass, Ethan’s investigation into his colleagues’ disappearance turns up more questions than answers

WHY CAN’T HE MAKE CONTACT WITH HIS FAMILY IN THE OUTSIDE WORLD? WHY DOESN’T ANYONE BELIEVE HE IS WHO HE SAYS HE IS? AND WHAT’S THE PURPOSE OF THE ELECTRIFIED FENCES ENCIRCLING THE TOWN? ARE THEY KEEPING THE RESIDENTS IN? OR SOMETHING ELSE OUT?

Each step toward the truth takes Ethan further from the world he knows, until he must face a horrifying fact—he may never get out of Wayward Pines alive…..

How and when I got it:

I grabbed the entire trilogy during a Kindle price drop a few years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I never watched the Wayward Pines series while it was on TV (two seasons) and was only vaguely aware of it, but after reading Blake Crouch’s fabulous Dark Matter in 2016, I knew I needed to read more by this author. The Wayward Pines books sound eerie and mysterious. What is going on in this town? Why is it cut off? I love how sinister (and potentially King-like) the plots sound, and I’ve really been looking forward to reading the books.

This could be another series to add to my goals list for 2021!

What do you think? Have you read these books or seen the TV adaptation?

Please share your thoughts!



__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Shelf Control #257: Thinner by Stephen King

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Thinner
Author: Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)
Published: 1984
Length: 188 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Billy Halleck, good husband, loving father, is both beneficiary and victim of the American Good Life: he has an expensive home, a nice family, and a rewarding career as a lawyer…but he is also fifty pounds overweight and, as his doctor keeps reminding him, edging into heart attack country.

Then, in a moment of carelessness, Billy sideswipes an old gypsy woman as she is crossing the street–and her ancient father passes a bizarre and terrible judgement on him.

“Thinner,” the old gypsy man whispers, and caresses his cheek, like a lover. Just one word…but six weeks later and ninety-three pounds lighter, Billy Halleck is more than worried. He’s terrified. And desperate enough for one last gamble…that will lead him to a nightmare showdown with the forces of evil melting his flesh away. And away. And away…

How and when I got it:

I picked up a used copy about a year ago.

Why I want to read it:

Sooner or later, I want to read everything by Stephen King! I remember hearing about Thinner for years and years, and after reading King’s more recent book Elevation, I saw a lot of reviews comparing it to the concepts from Thinner. I need to see what I’ve been missing all these years!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!