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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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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