Books & TV: Fungus among us

Having just spent an intensely creepy 80-something minutes watching the series premier of The Last of Us (HBO), I’m now forced to sit here and contemplate just how terrifying fungi can be. If you’re not scared, then you definitely haven’t watched this show… or read any of the books I’m about to talk about!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Let’s start with The Last of Us. This show has been getting tons of hype — well deserved! For those who aren’t familiar with the history, The Last of Us started as a videogame (released in 2013) that was absolutely huge — and which is generally considered a giant step forward in gaming in terms of both graphics and storytelling. (For more on the game and its significance, read here — but note that there are spoilers for the overall storyline). I’m not a gamer, so that aspect doesn’t mean a whole lot to me, but I do love a good post-apocalypse story… and this one is a doozy.

Here’s the official trailer from HBO:

Are you scared yet?

After watching the first episode, I naturally starting thinking about the scary-as-hell books I’ve read over the past several years featuring horrific fungi — and thought I’d share the case of the creeps with everyone else!

If you’re into fungal horror (or want to know what books to avoid at all costs), then check out this list. I’ve provided links to my reviews, in case you’re interested.

The Girl with All the Gifts (and the sequel, The Boy on the Bridge) by M. R. Carey:

The Girl With All the Gifts was my first exposure to zombie apocalypse via fungus, and man, was it horrifying! It’s a great story — and at the time when it was released, the marketing cleverly didn’t disclose what it was actually about. I expected a story about kids with some sort of paranormal abilities, perhaps, and instead… FUNGAL HORROR. So good…

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

This was a 2022 release, and it’s just amazing (and creep-tastic). A retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher, but with fungi! You’ll never look at a rabbit in quite the same way again.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Garcia-Moreno

I almost hesitated about including this one, since the very fact that I’m putting it here is entering into spoiler territory… but it’s a prime example of great fungus-based horror!

The Unfamiliar Garden (The Comet Cycle, #2) by Benjamin Percy

This is the 2nd book in the Comet Cycle trilogy (and I’m eagerly awaiting the release of #3!). In these books, a comet that passes close by Earth has a devastating effect on the world as we know it. The first book, The Ninth Metal, relates one aspect of the story, and here in book #2, we see an entirely different set of effects on the natural landscape, including… you guessed it… horrifying fungi! I tend to describe these books more as sci-fi than horror, although there’s plenty of ickiness too.

Those are the examples from my own bookshelves… but there’s more! If you just can’t get enough of deadly fungi, check Fangoria’s list of movies, TV episodes, and books with fungal horror plotlines.

And if you want to start on a less terrifying note, then there’s always this goodie (available via Amazon and elsewhere):

Wow, this is a cheerful post! So now that I’ve shared my selection of frightful fungal horror, I’ll ask you:

Have you read any other horror books with deadly/disgusting/horrifying fungi taking over the world (or at least a corner of it)?

Please share any recommendations… not that I need any further fuel for my nightmares.

Book Review: Lute by Jennifer Thorne

Title: Lute
Author: Jennifer Thorne
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Publication date: October 4, 2022
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Horror/fantasy/thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

On the idyllic island of Lute, every seventh summer, seven people die. No more, no less.

Lute and its inhabitants are blessed, year after year, with good weather, good health, and good fortune. They live a happy, superior life, untouched by the war that rages all around them. So it’s only fair that every seven years, on the day of the tithe, the island’s gift is honored.

Nina Treadway is new to The Day. A Florida girl by birth, she became a Lady through her marriage to Lord Treadway, whose family has long protected the island. Nina’s heard about The Day, of course. Heard about the horrific tragedies, the lives lost, but she doesn’t believe in it. It’s all superstitious nonsense. Stories told to keep newcomers at bay and youngsters in line.

Then The Day begins. And it’s a day of nightmares, of grief, of reckoning. But it is also a day of community. Of survival and strength. Of love, at its most pure and untamed. When The Day ends, Nina―and Lute―will never be the same. 

In the world of Lute, the residents of this peaceful place truly live in an island paradise. Lute is located in the Bristol Channel, a small place with one little village, a grove of trees, some goats, gorgeous views, and a manor house that’s been occupied by the Treadway family for centuries.

Lute is also a haven from a war-torn world. We’re never told exactly when this story is taking place, but it’s set at some indefinite point in the future when the entire world is engulfed in a devastating war… the entire world except for Lute, that is. While many of Lute’s residents have been drafted or volunteered to serve, the war itself has never touched the island — no invasions, no air raids. All is peaceful.

Nina Treadway, the main character, has lived on Lute for almost seven years, after meeting the son of Lord Treadway on an ocean voyage and then returning to the island with him after his father’s sudden death. After all her years on Lute with her husband and two children, Nina feels settled, but not truly a part of the island community. She doesn’t quite fit in with the townsfolk, and she accepts as quaint tradition the island lore about The Day.

What is The Day? Going back thousands of years, the islanders believe they live under the blessings of the old gods. In exchange for seven deaths on midsummer every seventh year, the island enjoys good weather, good fortune, and mostly importantly, peace. Nina scoffs at the stories, and really doesn’t believe that the good people of Lute actually believe in these stories that they tell.

But this is the seventh year, and as The Day approaches, the mood shifts to one of anticipation and dread. It can’t really be true… can it? These people can’t truly think that seven deaths are inevitable… can they?

Told in chapters that creep forward from three days before, to two days before, all the way through to The Day, which then unfolds pretty much hour by hour, Lute carries a growing feeling of anxiety and fear that’s hard to describe, but so impossible not to feel.

I wouldn’t describe Lute as a horror story — there’s very little in the way of gore or jump scares, and there’s no big bad lurking in corners. Still, I haven’t been this terrified reading a book in quite some time. The quiet creeping dread that builds and builds had my stomach in knots — and while part of me just absolutely did not want to know what was coming, another part simply couldn’t look away.

Lute is a fairly short book, and I think it’s probably best enjoyed in one big marathon read. I wish I’d been able to do that. By having to break up my reading time, it would take me a few beats before feeling immersed again, and that’s not at all the fault of the writing. This is a haunting, absorbing story that I think is best read by just diving in and staying with it to the end.

I’m not sure that I loved the wrap-up in the epilogue, although it does work. I also really did want to know more about the war and what was happening in the wider world… but then that would be a very different book. Those are my only quibbles, really.

All in all, I simply loved this book. The writing is beautiful and evocative and sets such an eerie, otherworldly tone. I loved getting to know the people of Lute, the history of the island, the origin of their legends, and the way the very rocks, waves, and trees seem to bring the mythology of the place to life. The beauty and isolation of Lute is presented as a blessing that comes with a price, and over the course of the book, we come to understand why the people of Lute are willing to pay that price, despite the pain and sorrows that come with it.

Lute is a very special reading experience. I highly recommend it.

Shelf Control #330: Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

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: Pandemonium
Author: Daryl Gregory
Published: 2008
Length: 288 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

It is a world like our own in every respect . . . save one. In the 1950s, random acts of possession begin to occur. Ordinary men, women, and children are the targets of entities that seem to spring from the depths of the collective unconscious, pop-cultural avatars some call demons. There’s the Truth, implacable avenger of falsehood. The Captain, brave and self-sacrificing soldier. The Little Angel, whose kiss brings death, whether desired or not. And a string of others, ranging from the bizarre to the benign to the horrific.

As a boy, Del Pierce is possessed by the Hellion, an entity whose mischief-making can be deadly. With the help of Del’s family and a caring psychiatrist, the demon is exorcised . . . or is it? Years later, following a car accident, the Hellion is back, trapped inside Del’s head and clamoring to get out.

Del’s quest for help leads him to Valis, an entity possessing the science fiction writer formerly known as Philip K. Dick; to Mother Mariette, a nun who inspires decidedly unchaste feelings; and to the Human League, a secret society devoted to the extermination of demons. All believe that Del holds the key to the plague of possession–and its solution. But for Del, the cure may be worse than the disease.

How and when I got it:

I bought a paperback over five years ago, most likely at a library sale.

Why I want to read it:

I think this book initially made its way into my hands based on a friend’s enthusiastic review. And given that she’s both a huge horror reader and someone who knows my tastes, I tend to pay attention when she insists I need to read something.

I love the sound of these possessions, and think it’s hilarious that Philip K. Dick is one of the people possessed in this story! The premise sound weird and original and truly engaging, and I do intend to read this book… now I just need to make time for it.

Pandemonium is author Daryl Gregory’s first novel. I’ve read two other books by this author (We Are All Completely Fine and The Album of Doctor Moreau, both terrific), and I’m very up for reading more. If you’ve read any other of his books, please let me know if you have a favorite!

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!

Shelf Control #328: Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

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: Red Moon
Author: Benjamin Percy
Published: 2013
Length: 544 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

They live among us.

They are our neighbors, our mothers, our lovers.

They change.

When government agents kick down Claire Forrester’s front door and murder her parents, Claire realizes just how different she is. Patrick Gamble was nothing special until the day he got on a plane and hours later stepped off it, the only passenger left alive, a hero. Chase Williams has sworn to protect the people of the United States from the menace in their midst, but he is becoming the very thing he has promised to destroy. So far, the threat has been controlled by laws and violence and drugs. But the night of the red moon is coming, when an unrecognizable world will emerge…and the battle for humanity will begin.

How and when I got it:

I picked up a paperback edition several years ago, most likely through a local used book store.

Why I want to read it:

In case it’s not entirely clear from the synopsis, this is a werewolf book! I remember hearing about Red Moon when it was first released — especially, that this is not the story of a werewolf as an urban fantasy love interest, but a gory, violent, disturbing tale with (if I remember correctly) plenty of political allegory as well. (I could be wrong on that point).

I’ve read all sorts of werewolf stories, from before and after this one was published, and I enjoy a variety of approaches, but the only other truly super dark one I’ve read is The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, which is very, very dark indeed (but also excellent).

I’ve held onto Red Moon for years, and since then, have read several other of Benjamin Percy’s books. He’s a gifted, inventive writer with a flair for telling unexpected stories. I think my favorite of his so far is The Dead Lands (published 2015), which is soooo icky at times but also mesmerizing and unlike anything else I’ve read.

I do think I still want to read Red Moon, but given how long it is and how much time has passed since I added it to my TBR pile, I’m going to really have to talk myself into giving it a try.

In case you want to know more, here are a couple of reviews that I bookmarked for future reference:
New York Times
NPR

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!

Book Review: Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey

Title: Just Like Home
Author: Sarah Gailey
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: July 19, 2022
Print length: 352 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Come home.” Vera’s mother called and Vera obeyed. In spite of their long estrangement, in spite of the memories — she’s come back to the home of a serial killer. Back to face the love she had for her father and the bodies he buried there.

Coming home is hard enough for Vera, and to make things worse, she and her mother aren’t alone. A parasitic artist has moved into the guest house out back, and is slowly stripping Vera’s childhood for spare parts. He insists that he isn’t the one leaving notes around the house in her father’s handwriting… but who else could it possibly be?

There are secrets yet undiscovered in the foundations of the notorious Crowder House. Vera must face them, and find out for herself just how deep the rot goes.

Sarah Gailey’s books are always a little bit out-there, full of surprises and strange situations and characters who take some time to truly “get.” Just Like Home, though, is the first book I’ve ready by them that I’d describe as flat-out creepy… and occasionally pretty gross. Still a great read though!

In Just Like Home, Vera returns to her family home after many years away, summoned by her dying mother Daphne to clean out the house in preparation for her death.

It was the house her father built, and she needed to treat it right.

Daphne is in terrible condition, unable to eat and living on lemonade alone, bedridden, oozing and menacing and strange. Vera and Daphne haven’t seen each other in over a decade, and there’s years-worth of animosity to unpack and tiptoe around.

“I think you have to know someone in order to truly love them, and you have to love someone in order to really hate them. There’s the thin hate we have for strangers. […] And then there’s the thick, true, smothering hate we have for those we know best. And that, Vera-baby, that’s what I had for you. That’s what bubbled up in me and stuck.

The house itself is disturbing, full of dark spaces that connect one to another. And why is the basement door, right next to Vera’s old bedroom door, always locked?

As the book reveals, Vera’s beloved father is the renowned serial killer Francis Crowder, who died in prison several years after his arrest and incarceration. The basement was his murder lair, where he’d chain up his victims and drain them of the “grease” that had built up inside them, turning them corrupt and evil from the inside out. Crowder House is an infamous location, popular with murder tourists and a string of artists who pay Daphne for access, trying to feed their artistic muses on the misery left behind in the house.

But when Vera returns, many of her memories center around Francis. He may have been a serial killer, but to Vera, he was her sole source of love, connection, and nurturing during her childhood. One of the more shocking aspects of Just Like Home is the carefully built portrayal of a daughter who loves everything about her father, even his most terrible deeds.

“I watched you eat up his love like a crab eating a seafloor corpse, one pinch at a time.”

The wording choices throughout the book emphasize the creepy, scary nature of Crowder House as well as how much Vera is not okay.

Vera could feel the question of who would speak next filling up the room like mustard gas in a trench.

At the beginning, she seems like a survivor, someone who’s lived through a horrific childhood but is more or less “normal”. As the book progresses, it becomes clear that Vera is not at all well-adjusted, that her worldview is absolutely dependent on the lessons she learned from her parents, and that her driving motivations and needs are not about moving forward or leaving the past behind her.

There was so much, she was sure, that he’d meant to teach her. Surely he’d seen something of himself in her, something that deserved to be loved and nurtured.

The horror elements become more explicit toward the end of the book, including a supernatural element that I was initially taken aback by, but ultimately found pretty darned cool, actually. The ending is twisted, and I’m not sure I totally get exactly what happened… but it was fascinating and disturbing to read, and I just couldn’t look away.

Just Like Home tells a story of twisted love and the power of home. It’s odd and scary and horrible in so many ways, yet utterly compelling too. If you enjoy chilling reads, check this one out.

Book Review: What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

Title: What Moves the Dead
Author: T. Kingfisher
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Publication date: July 12, 2022
Print length: 176 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From the award-winning author of The Twisted Ones comes a gripping and atmospheric retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

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

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

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

I’m convinced that the coming apocalypse will be the work of killer fungi. There are certainly enough works of horror fiction to back me up! What Moves the Dead further cements my belief that fungi are the creepiest life form there is. Prove me wrong!

What Moves the Dead is a twisted retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. As in the original, the main character is summoned to a dark, disturbing, decrepit mansion located on the shores of a dark, scary tarn (lake), where a childhood friend cares for his dying sister and seeks companionship and support in their looming disaster.

In What Moves the Dead, Poe’s unnamed narrator is replaced by Lieutenant Alex Easton, a retired “sworn” soldier from the country of Gallacia, who once served as Roderick Usher’s officer during wartime, and who even earlier was close friends with Madeline Usher. Alex is shocked and horrified at the sight of the siblings, who appear gaunt, withered, and years older than their actual age. Madeline truly does seem to be on the verge of death, and Roderick appears unwell himself. The entire house and surrounding countryside (and that darned tarn) seem menacing, perhaps even poisonous.

Alex arrives at the house to find an American doctor already in residence, whose brashness eventually gives way to common cause. Dr. Denton doesn’t quite know what’s ailing Madeline either, but she does appear to be on the point of death.

Alex also meets Eugenia Potter, an Englishwoman whose chief passion in life is mycology (and who fumes against the stupid men-only rule of the English scientific societies of the time). Alex, Denton, and Potter all share the belief that something is wrong, not just with the Ushers but with the natural world too. What’s up with all the strangely-behaving hares in the area?

This short work is delightfully, deliciously creepy! The house is moldy, there are awful looking mushrooms all over the grounds, and the lake is stagnant and gross and seems too terrible to want to be anywhere near. I’ve read enough creepy fungi horror stories to have a pretty good sense of where the story would end up, but it was so much fun getting there, and the author still managed to surprise me time after time with all the crazy, strange, awful details.

Beyond the horror plotline, other delights await. Alex’s background in Gallacia is too good to reveal in a review, but trust me when I say that the explanations of how the Gallacian language adapts gender and pronoun formations based not just on biology but also on station in life, age, and other factors is absolutely wonderful and so fascinating. I’d read a whole book just about that!

Miss Potter is a secondary character, but she’s lots of fun, as is the reveal of who her one of her family members is. (I’m not telling!)

When I requested a review copy of What Moves the Dead, it was based on (a) how much I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by this amazing author and (b) the gorgeously creepy cover (*shudder*). I hadn’t realized at the time that this book would be a retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher — I actually didn’t know that until I started What Moves the Dead and happened to finally read the Goodreads blurb.

At that point, I took a small detour to read Poe’s story, which isn’t very long (the edition I read was 36 pages). I’m glad I did. It gave me great context for What Moves the Dead, and made it really fun to compare and contrast the two versions of the story, especially the character portrayals, the explanations, and the outcomes.

Note: The Fall of the House of Usher is easy to find online at no cost! Here’s one resource, and there are free versions available for Kindle too.

What Moves the Dead is an excellent read, perhaps not for the squeamish — but if you enjoy creepy, understated horror, definitely check it out!

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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Buy now at Book Depository – Bookshop.orgBarnes & Noble

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)

halloweentop10

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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