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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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!

Shelf Control #255: Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

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: Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook
Author: Christina Henry
Published: 2017
Length: 292 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a familiar story with a dark hook—a tale about Peter Pan and the friend who became his nemesis, a nemesis who may not be the blackhearted villain Peter says he is…

There is one version of my story that everyone knows. And then there is the truth. This is how it happened. How I went from being Peter Pan’s first—and favorite—lost boy to his greatest enemy.

Peter brought me to his island because there were no rules and no grownups to make us mind. He brought boys from the Other Place to join in the fun, but Peter’s idea of fun is sharper than a pirate’s sword. Because it’s never been all fun and games on the island. Our neighbors are pirates and monsters. Our toys are knife and stick and rock—the kinds of playthings that bite.

Peter promised we would all be young and happy forever. Peter lies.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy via Book Depository about a year ago.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve read three books by Christina Henry so far. My first was The Girl in Red (a re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood), which I loved. Then I read The Mermaid, and I loved that too. I immediately ordered a few earlier books, including Alice and Lost Boy.

Unfortunately, I lost a bit of steam after reading Alice, which I didn’t enjoy. The story was too messy and violent for my taste, but I think one obstacle to my enjoyment is that I’ve just never gotten into Alice in Wonderland stories (and there are lots of retellings out there). And if you don’t enjoy the original story story, how can you enjoy a remix?

This is why I’ve been a bit hesitant about reading Lost Boy. I’m just not a bit fan of Peter Pan, and I’ve picked up and then put down a couple of retellings over the years too. Still, I know I’ve really liked the author’s writing and approach to storytelling in other books — and I do like the idea of telling the Peter Pan story through Captain Hook’s perspective.

What do you think? Have you read this book? Would you want to?

And how do you feel about Peter Pan stories in general?

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: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Title: The Only Good Indians
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication date: July 14, 2020
Length: 310 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A tale of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Best friends Ricky, Lewis, Cassidy, and Gabe grew up together on a Blackfeet reservation. Then, in their 20s, they went their separate ways, after an even they refer to as the Thanksgiving Classic. One week before Thanksgiving, the friends went hunting in forbidden territory and illegally brought down many elk, before getting caught by the game warden and being forced to throw away all the meat they’d claimed as their prize.

Now, ten years later, strange events begin to occur. First, Ricky is killed in what the newspapers call a bar fight, but it’s much more involved than that. Next, Lewis appears to have a mental breakdown, in which he seems to be hallucinating visions of an elk in his living room and experiencing violent episodes that he may or may not be responsible for.

Up to this point, I wasn’t sure whether the characters were actually having supernatural experiences or if Lewis in particular was having some sort of psychotic break. But, it soon becomes clear that this is not all in their minds. Cassidy and Gabe are also soon the victim of a vengeful spirit coming back to punish the men for their part in slaughtering a vulnerable member of the herd.

The Only Good Indians is both a terrifying horror tale and a sad, straightforward look into the lives of Native Americans on their reservation as well as the lives of those who leave. (I can hear Gabe laughing right now — to him, “Native American” is an affectation of the younger generation. He considers himself Indian.)

It’s really questionable whether any of these men deserve what happens, and there are certainly some innocent victims as well — although to the elk spirit, I suppose none of the two-leggeds who hunt the herds are actually innocent. We get inside the spirit’s head as well as the main characters, and it’s all quite sad and disturbing.

One of the best characters in the book, in my opinion, is Gabe’s daughter Denorah, a middle school basketball star who takes over for the final section of the book, and is pretty astounding with her skill and courage.

I don’t feel like I’m capturing how powerful this book is, yet I don’t want to disclose too many details. The writing is evocative, sometime funny, and the characters are sharp, well-drawn, and memorable. Be warned that there are some very violent and gruesome aspects to the story, so if you shy away from books with blood and guts, this might not be a good choice for you.

Tammy at Books, Bones & Buffy wrote one of the best reviews of this book that I’ve seen, and I think she says it all better than I do! Check out her review (here), which is what convinced me that I needed to read this book.

I’m so glad my library hold finally came through! I’ll definitely want to read more by this talented author.

I never considered elk scary before… but I’ll never look at them the same way again.

For more, check out this NPR interview with the author:

Visit the author’s website at https://www.demontheory.net/

Book Review: The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie

Title: The Children of Red Peak
Author: Craig DiLouie
Publisher: Redhook
Publication date: November 17, 2020
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Craig DiLouie brings a new twist to the cult horror story in a heart-pounding novel of psychological suspense.

David Young, Deacon Price, and Beth Harris live with a dark secret. As children, they survived a religious group’s horrific last days at the isolated mountain Red Peak. Years later, the trauma of what they experienced never feels far behind.

When a fellow survivor commits suicide, they finally reunite and share their stories. Long-repressed memories surface, defying understanding and belief. Why did their families go down such a dark road? What really happened on that final night?

The answers lie buried at Red Peak. But truth has a price, and escaping a second time may demand the ultimate sacrifice.

Reading The Children of Red Peak gave me serious chills — but I’m not sure whether this story needed the horror/supernatural element to have that effect. How can a story about childhood survivors of a death cult be anything but horrifying?

In The Children of Red Peak, we meet the three main characters — David, Beth, and Deacon, at the funeral of their childhood friend, Emily. Emily has committed suicide, leaving a note that says simply “I couldn’t fight it anymore”.

Fifteen years earlier, these four people, plus David’s older sister Angela, were the sole survivors of a brutal yet mysterious mass suicide out in the desert at a location known as Red Peak. A religious congregation, led by their pastor, endured weeks of starvation, hard labor, and mutilations before finally drinking poison (and murdering those who balked) — all with the goal of gaining eternal life in heaven, leaving behind the rest of the world to suffer the end times.

The survivors were all teens at the time, and after their rescue and extended psychological treatment, they eventually went their separate ways and made lives for themselves. But none are truly happy, and none can really explain what happened on that terrible day at Red Peak.

Through chapters that alternate between Beth, David, and Deacon’s perspectives, we learn about their varied current lives — Beth is a psychologist, Deacon an up-and-coming rock star, and David a cult exit counselor. We also see the characters start to allow their memories to resurface, so we get the backstory of the Family of the Living Spirit, its road to ruin, and the events of the final day in bits and pieces, until they eventually add up to a disturbing, terrible whole.

While there is a mysterious supernatural (religious?) element that comes into play, for me the true impact of this book lies in the description of the Family of the Living Spirit’s trajectory toward destruction. When we’re introduced to this community, they are a peaceful, religious, spiritual group living off the land on a small farm, devoted to the worship of the Living Spirit, but also living a joyful, celebratory life.

It’s only when the pastor discovers a miracle in the desert that the group’s emphasis on gaining eternal life kicks into high gear. With growing fervor for the apocalypse and their crossing over, the congregation evolves quickly into a doomsday cult. Choices are removed, blind obedience is emphasized, and increasingly destructive behaviors are held up as testaments to faith. It’s horrible, especially as we see these events through the eyes of people who were children at the time.

I’m not sure that I loved the climax and conclusion of The Children of Red Peak. The story of the cult and its destructive power is the true horror — for me, the addition of a supernatural element seems almost beside the point. Yes, it’s all very scary and horrifying, but even if this story were just about the delusions and failings of a group of brainwashed people, it would be just as scary and horrifying.

Maybe even more so?

The ending gives us a way out, so to speak. It allows for the possibility that the group’s beliefs might actually have had some sort of fulfillment, in its own awful way. And truly, there are no excuses. Whether the events were the work of a supernatural or divine being, it still resulted in suffering, death, and the permanent psychological damage done to the children who survived.

The Children of Red Peak is thought-provoking and utterly devastating. I came to really care about the characters, and found the entire story and the characters’ various endings heart-breaking and tragic.

This is a powerful read, and I just wish I had someone to talk about it with! Craig DiLouie is a gifted writer, and I will gladly read whatever he writes next.

For more by this author, check out my reviews of:
One of Us
Our War

Book Review: Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Title: Plain Bad Heroines
Author: Emily M. Danforth
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: October 20, 2020
Length: 608 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The award-winning author of The Miseducation of Cameron Post makes her adult debut with this highly imaginative and original horror-comedy centered around a cursed New England boarding school for girls—a wickedly whimsical celebration of the art of storytelling, sapphic love, and the rebellious female spirit.

Our story begins in 1902, at The Brookhants School for Girls. Flo and Clara, two impressionable students, are obsessed with each other and with a daring young writer named Mary MacLane, the author of a scandalous bestselling memoir. To show their devotion to Mary, the girls establish their own private club and call it The Plain Bad Heroine Society. They meet in secret in a nearby apple orchard, the setting of their wildest happiness and, ultimately, of their macabre deaths. This is where their bodies are later discovered with a copy of Mary’s book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. Less than five years later, The Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever—but not before three more people mysteriously die on the property, each in a most troubling way.

Over a century later, the now abandoned and crumbling Brookhants is back in the news when wunderkind writer, Merritt Emmons, publishes a breakout book celebrating the queer, feminist history surrounding the “haunted and cursed” Gilded-Age institution. Her bestselling book inspires a controversial horror film adaptation starring celebrity actor and lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing the ill-fated heroine Flo, opposite B-list actress and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants opens its gates once again, and our three modern heroines arrive on set to begin filming, past and present become grimly entangled—or perhaps just grimly exploited—and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.

A story within a story within a story and featuring black-and-white period illustrations, Plain Bad Heroines is a devilishly haunting, modern masterwork of metafiction that manages to combine the ghostly sensibility of Sarah Waters with the dark imagination of Marisha Pessl and the sharp humor and incisive social commentary of Curtis Sittenfeld into one laugh-out-loud funny, spellbinding, and wonderfully luxuriant read.

This 600+ page book almost defies description, but I’ll give it a shot!

“I wish some one would write a book about a plan bad heroine so that I might feel in real sympathy with her.” – Mary MacLane

Plain Bad Heroines is a story-within-a-story book, with interlocking characters and motifs that center on the (supposedly) cursed and/or haunted grounds of the Brookhants School for Girls — an early 20th century institution for the education of society girls, located on a wooded estate in upper-crust Rhode Island.

Mary MacLane

In 1902, students Clara and Flo are inspired by the writings of (real-life) Mary MacLane and form a secret society, the Plain Bad Heroines, to celebrate her work and her life. Clara and Flo are in love, but after a disastrous trip home and a ride back to school with her judgmental cousin, Clara storms off into the woods to meet up with Flo, only for both girls to meet a ghastly end by being attacked by swarms of yellow jackets.

In our own timeline, the events from 1902 gain new notoriety after Merritt Emmons publishes The Happenings at Brookhants at the age of sixteen. Now years later, the book is being made into a film by an edgy director, with superstar “celesbian” Harper Harper committed to star as Flo. Merritt is on board as a producer, and she’s not pleased when Audrey Wood, a B-list actor who bombed her audition in a major way, is cast as Clara.

As the production cast and crew settle in to film on location at Brookhants, weird things start to happen, and there’s much more going on than can be easily explained. Is the place truly haunted? Or is this Hollywood manipulation at its most devious?

The plot weaves backward and forward in time, cutting between the modern-day movie storyline and the complicated relationships between Harper, Merritt, and Audrey, and the timeline that includes the aftermath of Clara and Flo’s deaths and the impact on Libbie, the school headmistress, and her lover, Alex (Alexandra).

There’s so much more to both pieces of the story than is readily apparent, and the author carefully layers on more and more hints and explanations, constantly deepening the story and shifting its direction and meaning.

Plain Bad Heroines is proudly, unabashedly queer, and its (plain, bad) heroines make no attempts to follow anyone’s rules but their own. They love as they please, and take inspiration from Mary MacLane’s own bold pronouncements when they need courage. The relationships are intricate and shifting, in both timelines, and the character refuse to be cookie-cutter types — author Emily M. Danforth does an amazing job of managing such a large cast and making sure each individual character has a life and personality of her own.

This book is BIG, and it takes concentration, but I could not stop reading once I started. The writing style is clever and filled with footnotes and commentary that are snarky and funny and informative. There are also dire and tragic happenings — and this IS a horror story too, with plenty of creepy, spine-tingling moments.

Black and white illustrations throughout the book add to the overall mood and make reading this book feel like an experience.

Yellow jackets are scary anyway, but now, having read Plain Bad Heroines, I’m pretty sure I’m terrified of them. Read the book — you’ll see what I mean.

I really only have two complaints about Plain Bad Heroines, and the first is not with the story itself but with the layout. Whoever picked the typeface for this book should have paid more attention to the asterisks that lead to the footnotes — I almost never saw them (they’re tiny), and had to constantly go back and search the page to see where the footnotes connect to.

My second complaint is a larger one, which is that I wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending. It leaves a bunch of unanswered questions, and I’m a little frustrated that certain elements didn’t get more clarity and resolution.

Still, this is overall a marvelous and unique book, and I laughed and shivered my way through it. The final scene takes place at the Cannes Festival premiere of The Happenings at Brookhants, and all I could think was, damn! I wish this was a real movie, because it would be fascinating to see how it all worked out.

Plain Bad Heroines is a terrific read. Don’t miss it!

To learn more about the real Mary MacLane, visit The Mary MacLane Project.