Book Review: The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman

Title: The Remaking
Author: Clay McLeod Chapman
Publisher: Quirk
Publication date: October 8, 2019 (paperback publication 9/15/2020)
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Inspired by a true story, this supernatural thriller for fans of horror and true crime follows a tale as it evolves every twenty years—with terrifying results.

Ella Louise has lived in the woods surrounding Pilot’s Creek, Virginia, for nearly a decade. Publicly, she and her daughter Jessica are shunned by their upper-crust family and the Pilot’s Creek residents. Privately, desperate townspeople visit her apothecary for a cure to what ails them—until Ella Louise is blamed for the death of a prominent customer. Accused of witchcraft, both mother and daughter are burned at the stake in the middle of the night. Ella Louise’s burial site is never found, but the little girl has the most famous grave in the South: a steel-reinforced coffin surrounded by a fence of interconnected white crosses.

Their story will take the shape of an urban legend as it’s told around a campfire by a man forever marked by his boyhood encounters with Jessica. Decades later, a boy at that campfire will cast Amber Pendleton as Jessica in a ’70s horror movie inspired by the Witch Girl of Pilot’s Creek. Amber’s experiences on that set and its meta-remake in the ’90s will ripple through pop culture, ruining her life and career after she becomes the target of a witch hunt. Amber’s best chance to break the cycle of horror comes when a true-crime investigator tracks her down to interview her for his popular podcast. But will this final act of storytelling redeem her—or will it bring the story full circle, ready to be told once again? And again. And again…

Are you ready for a ghost story? How about a ghost story within a ghost story within a ghost story?

Welcome to the weird and chilling world of The Remaking, now out in paperback, in which an urban legend refuses to die, no matter how many times the story is retold.

In 1931 in the lumber-rich town of Pilot’s Creek, Virginia, a mother and her nine-year-old daughter are burned at the stake by vengeful townspeople (men, of course). For years, it’s been an open secret that Ella Louise Ford can cure what ails you, and her young daughter Jessica appears to be even more gifted. But witches living in the woods can only be tolerated for so long, and when Ella Louise’s treatments are suspected of causing a tragedy, the men of the town want the witches to pay.

In 1951, an old man tells ghost stories around a campfire, always coming back to the story of Jessica Ford, the Little Witch Girl. Ella Louise was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere deep in the woods, but little Jessica was buried in hallowed ground, in a reinforced coffin with cement filling in the grave and a fence of crucifixes to keep her in. Now, legend has it that the Little Witch Girl wants out, and she just needs someone to help her find her mother.

In 1971, a man who heard the ghost story as a child is determined to make a movie about Jessica — a shlocky horror film called Don’t Tread on Jessica’s Grave, filled with standard horror movie tropes, and starring an eerily perfect young actress named Amber. But something happens on set, and it’s the legend behind the movie that makes this a story that becomes a horror cult classic.

In 1995, Amber is a drug-dependent has-been who never had a career after her early disaster, but who instead has found fame of sorts on the horror convention circuit. When an up-and-coming director decides to make a remake of Jessica’s story, Amber seems like the perfect choice to play Ella Louise — until on-set tragedy strikes again.

And finally, in 2016, a podcaster who debunks urban legends decides to tackle the story of the Little Witch Girl and prove it’s a hoax once and for all… but is he ready for what he’ll find in the woods?

I realize I’ve just outlined the entire book, but trust me, you have to read it to get the full creepy experience. The story of Ella Louise and Jessica starts with tragedy. Ella Louise is different, a disgrace to her society parents, and it’s implied but never explained that she became pregnant with Jessica as the result of a sexual assault on the night of her debutante ball. But rather than being supported as a crime victim, she’s shunned by her parents and the town, and makes a new life for herself and her daughter, out in the woods where no one can harm them.

I had a hard time getting over the origin story of Ella Louise and Jessica, because it’s so harrowing and awful. But from there, we see how the tale takes on a life of its own… and how something that may be just a story has doomed the town and everyone connected with it. Is it truly a witch’s curse, or is it the story that haunts the town and brings destruction to everyone who encounters it?

Amber’s tale is chilling in very different ways. Forced into pursuing her big break by a mother who never realized her own dream of stardom, Amber is way too young to be able to handle the horror of shooting Don’t Tread on Jessica’s Grave. From the movie’s storyline to seeing herself transformed through makeup and prosthetics into a burned corpse, this is clearly something that will scar her forever — and that’s before she has a nearly deadly encounter in the woods.

Jessica had become a cinematic ouroboros. A serpent devouring its own tail, coiling round and round for an eternity. The longer I imagined that snake infinitely spinning, the more its scales slowly took on the shape of celluloid frames. The sprocket holes along either side of the film strip formed scales. When this snake shed its skin, the translucent husk would be fed through the projector. The images trapped within each scale caught the projector’s light and made their way to the big screen. Jessica filled that vast canvas, reaching her hand out to me.

This film would never end. It continued to play on its own endless loop. Jessica’s story would be told over and over, forever now. She found a new audience.

Fresh blood.

That was exactly what Jessica wanted.

To find new blood.

A ghost story, a consideration of urban legends, a look at the need to endlessly remake movies into something new for each generation — The Remaking provides so much to think about, even while being a chilling, creepy, intensely haunting read.

Much like the endless remakings and retellings of Jessica’s story, The Remaking will be sticking with me for a long time!

And now, if only someone would make a movie version of The Remaking, so Jessica’s story could live on…

The Remaking was released in paperback this week. Check out this perfect cover:

Also, be sure to listen to this interview with the author for insights into the origin of the Little Witch Girl:

NPR: The Remaking interview

Two new releases from Quirk: An Obama/Biden mystery and some cute fuzzy aliens

I’m delighted to share some thoughts on two upcoming releases that Quirk Books was kind enough to send me (thank you, Quirk!). When the publisher’s name is Quirk, you know from the start that their books will be fun and a little off-beat. I’ve loved so many of their books in the past, and these two new ones definitely live up to the Quirk brand!

Hope Rides Again by Andrew Shaffer (release date July 9, 2019): The 2nd book in the author’s Obama Biden Mystery series is a (dare I say it?) quirky, engaging, light-hearted romp starring everyone’s favorite crime-fighting duo and bromantic pairing Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Following up on the joyfully funny Hope Never Dies, this new book has Obama and Biden back together for an action-packed adventure in Chicago, where they engage in high-speed chases, sneak around speakeasies and freight yards, and get up to all sorts of mischief while solving a potentially gang-related shooting.

Meanwhile, Joe is deciding on whether to run for President, fishing for intel on whether Oprah is getting in the race, hitching rides with Michelle, and applying his old boxing skills — all in a day’s work!

What can I say? Either you’re utterly charmed by the concept, or this book just isn’t for you. Reading these books is like having all those Obama/Biden bromance memes come to life. You can just picture Obama shaking his head or covering his eyes every time he says “Joe…”

 

And for my 2nd Quirk read this week:


We Are Here Forever by Michelle Gish (release date July 30, 2019): 

A hilarious graphic novel in which the human race has been supplanted by a sweeter, kinder, happier species…but are they as innocent as they seem? In this post-apocalyptic comedy, it’s survival of the cutest!

After the most adorable apocalypse ever, the human race has vanished from the earth, replaced cute, innocent, playful purple creatures called the Puramus. In this hilarious and epic graphic novel, short interlocking stories follow the purple pals as they explore their new home, form a mini-monarchy, and develop a modern society on par with 21st-century humans. A final act pulls us across time and space in the search for clues to the origins of the Puramus. Along the way, humor and intrigue abound: Can King defend his village when nobody understands what war is? Will Jingle work up the nerve to read her poetry at open mic night? Will Puff Puff ever stop floating? Based on the viral Tumblr comic that gained 18,000 followers in just one year, We Are Here Forever is for fans of post-apocalyptic sci-fi blended with dry comedy and undeniable cuteness. Colorful and cartoony art will you rooting for these cute critters through their absurd adventures. But where did they come from, and what happened to all the humans?

These little purple aliens are adorableness on four feet. They’re funny, they laugh a lot, they eat rocks and flowers and whatever else comes their way, they like to play… but what are they doing on Earth, and what happened to all the people? I was totally charmed by this sweet and funny book… and maybe a teensy bit weirded out by the ominous (but still cute) ending.

This book had its origins as a web comic — check out the author’s site, here.

I mean, come on! It’s purple adora-cuteness! You know you want to!

 

Once again, a big huge THANK YOU to Quirk for sending me these awesome books, which have totally helped me start my summer off in just the right way!

Highlights from two favorite publishers: Orbit & Quirk

Orbit Books is celebrating their 10th anniversary…

… and they’re making it fun for all of us! Today is the last day to get special price breaks on some of their bestsellers:

Click here to connect to the page with the actual “buy now” links. And for more info, check out this awesome timeline of 10 years of Orbit from the B&N blog.

Over at Quirk Books, they’re launching a two-week series of events called…

Book Pop!

They have all sorts of online activities (and prizes) on tap, including:

WEEK ONE

Monday, 7/31:
Digital Cosplay Contest semi-finalists are announced
Q&A with Sam Maggs on SuperSpaceChick
Quirk Books blog: Fred Van Lente (Ten Dead Comedians) — Sponsored by Loot Gaming from Loot Crate

Tuesday, 8/1:
Facebook Live: Fred Van Lente and Grady Hendrix, 2pm ET — Sponsored by Loot Crate
Q&A with Paul Krueger on Hollywood News Source
Quirk Books blog: Sam Maggs (Wonder Women)

Wednesday, 8/2:
Twitter Takeover: Sam Maggs, 2pm ET —Sponsored by Loot Anime from Loot Crate
Quirk Books blog: Kim Smith (The X-Files: Earth Children Are Weird)

Thursday, 8/3:
Instagram Live: Kim Smith, 2pm ET

 – Sponsored by POP Classics
Q&A with Ashley Poston on Forever Young Adult
Quirk Books blog: Cindy Wang (Literary Yarns) and Bonnie Burton (Crafting with Feminism)

Friday, 8/4:
Facebook Live: Rick and Blair, 2pm ET – Sponsored by Cards Against Humanity
Q&A with Bonnie Burton on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Quirk Books blog: Ashley Poston (Geekerella)

Full Book Pop! Schedule

What are your favorite books from Orbit and Quirk? Let’s share the love!