Books Read in 2020: Four-Star Horror
My dog is too fat. I mean, we think she's a Chonky Thicc Queen(TM), but she's small, and chihuahuas and chihuahua mixes have issues with their knees, and we want her to be healthy. And we control her food intake entirely, so it should be easy, right?
DAMN, turns out it's really hard getting your dog to lose weight when you have your own weight issues. We already aren't terrible with giving her table scraps - Matt's mom used to give her dogs so many treats I couldn't believe they weren't perfectly spherical. But the vet wants her to try to lose a pound, which is a lot when you only weight about fifteen. They got us to buy some expensive weight-loss dog food (I KNOW SHUT UP) and said it was both palatable and would keep her feeling full for longer. Eve and I were skeptical because dogs like to eat like people like to eat, and it does not remotely always have to do with actual hunger. Well, they were partly right - she fucking loves the food, which has made her begging worse instead of better. Last year around Christmas was the first time she figured that she could stick a paw in her empty ceramic food bowl and start pushing it around on the ceramic floor making noise until we noticed and she could try to telepathically force us to give her more food. This year around the same time is when she figured that, after we put the empty food bowl up on the counter, there's still another bowl there. It has water in it, so she's hesitant to fling it around with the same alacrity, but you can tell it's coming.
The good news is, I now feel guilty eating in front of her while refusing to feed her more, so maybe we'll both lose weight. Conversely, I can just buy a baby carrier and carry my fat dog around in it so her knees don't hurt.
House of Echoes by Brendan Duffy: Synopsis from Goodreads: In this enthralling and atmospheric thriller, one young family’s dream of a better life is about to become a nightmare. Ben and Caroline Tierney and their two young boys are hoping to start over. Ben has hit a dead end with his new novel, Caroline has lost her banking job, and eight-year-old Charlie is being bullied at his Manhattan school.When Ben inherits land in the village of Swannhaven, in a remote corner of upstate New York, the Tierneys believe it’s just the break they need, and they leave behind all they know to restore a sprawling estate. But as Ben uncovers Swannhaven’s chilling secrets and Charlie ventures deeper into the surrounding forest, strange things begin to happen. The Tierneys realize that their new home isn’t the fresh start they needed . . . and that the village’s haunting saga is far from over.House of Echoes is a novel that shows how sometimes the ties that bind us are the only things that can keep us whole.
This doesn't happen often to me anymore, but I got about a quarter of the way into this, went to enter it on Goodreads and discovered that I had apparently read it before. Even then I had zero memory of it, so I don't know what the heck happened. Anyway, it was just what I wanted at that point. It's a pretty classic gothic horror and does exactly what it sets out to do. Creepy old house? Check. Adorable nuclear family with a source of tension between the mom and dad? Check. A secretive small town with a possible deep dark secret? Check. I kind of feel like Swannhaven could have just had the one 'n', but that's a quibble.
The Possession by Michael Rutger (Michael Marshall): Synopsis from Goodreads: Still recovering from the shocking revelations they uncovered deep in uncharted territory in the Grand Canyon, American myth and legend investigator Nolan Moore and his team take on a new mission, investigating a rumored case of witchcraft and possession. Nolan hopes their new case, in a quaint village in the middle of the woods, will prove much more like those he and his team investigated prior to their trip to Kincaid's cavern. But as the residents accounts of strange phenomena add up, Nolan and company begin to suspect something all too real and dangerous may be at play.A force that may not be willing to let them escape the village unscathed.
This is the second novel by the third iteration of one of my favourite authors - unsure why he has to be so many Michaels, but whatever turns your crank, bro. He writes about strange crap in a variety of genres, with energy and originality. The plots are always fascinating, and I enjoy his often-bitter, disaffected middle-age male protagonists who, often-reluctantly, get swept up in events that force them to become less bitter and disaffected. Also, I wrote one of the very few fan letters I have ever written to authors to him and he answered me very nicely, so you should all buy some of his books.
We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix: Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
|I really enjoyed this. Considering one of the author's previous novels was a horror set in an IKEA-type store, I was expecting it to be more horror-comedy, but it's actually a really solid horror thriller. I'm not hugely into heavy metal, but I love the description of what it means to the people who love it, and it was written so that I actually felt like I was in an audience being deluged with deafening chords. Kris is a really great flawed protagonist. |
Wanderers by Chuck Wendig: Synopsis from Goodreads: A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world's last hope.Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead. For on their journey, they will discover an America convulsed with terror and violence, where this apocalyptic epidemic proves less dangerous than the fear of it. As the rest of society collapses all around them–and an ultraviolent militia threatens to exterminate them–the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.
Obvious comparisons to The Stand, but stands (ha ha) well on its own. Like The Stand, it digs satisfyingly into the stories of several characters on both sides of the conflict, and builds nicely to the conclusion. There's a good illustration of how religion and faith can be used to control and corrupt suggestible people. Good characterization and writing. It's long (the audiobook takes 32 hours to listen to!) but doesn't feel draggy.
Before the Devil Fell by Neil Olson: Synopsis from Goodreads: “Equal parts engaging and creepy, this twisty tale deftly examines how secrets and regret can continue to reverberate through generations. A suspenseful story that examines how families haunt each other in life and death; possibly too creepy for late-night reading.” — Kirkus ReviewsWill Connor returns to his hometown, a village north of Boston, to care for his injured mother. He’s kept his distance from the town since high school, but once home he finds himself reexamining a horrific incident that took place during one of his mother’s “spirit circles.” His mother had embraced the hippie generation’s fascination with New Age and the arcane, but the unexpected death of a close friend put an end to the meetings of the modern-day coven.Or did it? As Will looks deeper into his family’s history he discovers that her practices weren’t so much a passing fad but the latest link in a long tradition of New England witchcraft, which still seems to hold a strange power over the town. Will hopes that unearthing the facts about the death will put his questions to rest, but there are those willing to resort to violence to keep those secrets buried.
This was delicious. I feel like I've talked about small towns a lot this year - small towns are great for horror, aren't they? But so are big cities. Focus, man, focus. I should probably take a break. Okay, I'm back. I still can't think of what to say, even though I remember the book very well. There's the disorientation of coming back to your childhood home when most of the memories aren't happy. There's reconnecting with an old lover, with an angry ex in the mix. There's a heavy atmosphere of menace and dread, and a satisfying payoff that is not formulaic. Like all my favourite horror, it is less gross and gory than heavy with intimations of mortality and regret.
Full Throttle by Joe Hill: Synopsis from Goodreads: A little door that opens to a world of fairy tale wonders becomes the blood-drenched stomping ground for a gang of hunters in “Faun.” A grief-stricken librarian climbs behind the wheel of an antique Bookmobile to deliver fresh reads to the dead in “Late Returns.” In “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain,” two young friends stumble on the corpse of a plesiosaur at the water’s edge, a discovery that forces them to confront the inescapable truth of their own mortality . . . and other horrors that lurk in the water’s shivery depths. And tension shimmers in the sweltering heat of the Nevada desert as a faceless trucker finds himself caught in a sinister dance with a tribe of motorcycle outlaws in “Throttle,” co-written with Stephen King.
After loving Hill's early stuff and being disappointed by some more recent writing, I'm back on the bandwagon with this one. I've never done the thing where you rate every story because I'm too lazy and usually don't have the book in front of me, but right now I do, so might as well.Introduction: Who's Your Daddy - ****
Throttle (with Stephen King) - ***1/2 - I'm not really into stories about motorcycle riding and truck driving, but for what it is, it gets the job done
Dark Carousel - ***1/2 I kind of respect how when Hill is derivative, he's really up front about it. Major echoes of Ray Bradbury, but good in its own right.
Wolverton Station - ***1/2 Trippy and cool.
By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain - ***1/2 Bittersweet.
Faun - **** Both resonant and original.
Late Returns - ***** Beautiful, bittersweet, melancholy, moving, wonderful.
All I Care About is You - ***** Imaginative and unexpected and sharp.
Thumbprint - ***1/2 Gritty and dark with an impressive anti-hero.
The Devil on the Staircase - **** Majorly creepy.
Twittering from the Circus of the Dead - **** Read this one before. Fun take on Twitter stories.
Mums - **** Brilliant in a horrible, vaguely nauseating kind of way.
In the Tall Grass - ***1/2 Read before and remembered it being unsatisfying, liked it more this time.
You Are Released - ***** Wow. I wish I could describe how reading this felt. It's like the very thing a short story should be - sketches a few scenes and conjures an immensity of feeling that makes you feel like you've just woken up from an insanely realistic dream.
Ghoster by Jason Arnopp: Synopsis from Goodreads: Jason Arnopp - author of acclaimed cult hit The Last Days of Jack Sparks - returns with a razor-sharp thriller for a social-media obsessed world. Prepare to never look at your phone the same way again . . . Kate Collins has been ghosted. She was supposed to be moving in with her new boyfriend Scott, but all she finds after relocating to Brighton is an empty apartment. Scott has vanished. His possessions have all disappeared. Except for his mobile phone. Kate knows she shouldn't hack into Scott's phone. She shouldn't look at his Tinder, his calls, his social media. But she can't quite help herself. That's when the trouble starts. Strange, whispering phone calls from numbers she doesn't recognise. Scratch marks on the walls that she can't explain. And the growing feeling that she's being watched. Kate refuses to leave the apartment - she's not going anywhere until she's discovered what happened to Scott. But the deeper she dives into Scott's digital history the more Kate realises just how little she really knows about the man she loves.
I put about a half dozen dark mystery/fantasy/horror books on hold at the library in early January and somewhat surprisingly they all turned out to be really good. This was fast-paced, smart, topical and different. A few reviews mention that it reads a bit like an episode of Black Mirror, and they're not wrong. It's an old-fashioned ghost story tied to modern technology, internet addiction and its multiform iterations, and online dating. I really liked the flawed main character and I sort of suspected what was going on but didn't quite get it all the way until the end, which is how I like it.
The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor: Synopsis from Goodreads: From the acclaimed author of The Chalk Man comes an unputdownable psychological thriller about a man who returns home to settle old scores—and uncovers a secret darker than he could have imagined. Joe never wanted to come back to Arnhill. After the way things ended with his old gang—the betrayal, the suicide—and what happened when his sister went missing, the last thing he wanted to do was return to his hometown. But Joe doesn’t have a choice, not after a chilling email surfaces in his inbox: I know what happened to your sister. It’s happening again . . . Lying his way into a teaching job at his former high school is the easy part. Facing off with onetime friends who aren’t too happy to have him back in town—while avoiding the enemies he’s made in the years since—is tougher. But the hardest part of all will be returning to the abandoned mine where his life changed forever, and finally confronting the horrifying truth about Arnhill, his sister, and himself. Because for Joe, the worst moment of his life wasn’t the day his sister went missing. It was the day she came back.
Densely atmospheric (almost too oppressive to read in February in Canada) British mystery with a hint of the supernatural. Viscerally disturbing with a couple of stinging barbs in the tail.Driving home one night, stuck behind a rusty old car, Gabe sees a little girl's face appear in the rear window. She mouths one word: 'Daddy.' It's his five-year-old daughter, Izzy. He never sees her again. Three years later, Gabe spends his days and nights travelling up and down the motorway, searching for the car that took his daughter, refusing to give up hope, even though most people believe that Izzy is dead. Fran and her daughter, Alice, also put in a lot of miles on the motorway. Not searching. But running. Trying to keep one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them. Because Fran knows the truth. She knows what really happened to Gabe's daughter. Then, the car that Gabe saw driving away that night is found, in a lake, with a body inside and Gabe is forced to confront events, not just from the night his daughter disappeared, but from far deeper in his past. His search leads him to a group called The Other People. If you have lost a loved one, The Other People want to help. Because they know what loss is like. They know what pain is like. They know what death is like.There's just one problem . . . they want other people to know it too.
This author seems to get stronger with every successive book. This is dark with secrets and obsession. Again, I would wait until lockdown is over before tackling any of these.
The Three by Sarah Lotz: Synopsis from Goodreads: Four simultaneous plane crashes. Three child survivors. A religious fanatic who insists the three are harbingers of the apocalypse. What if he's right?The world is stunned when four commuter planes crash within hours of each other on different continents. Facing global panic, officials are under pressure to find the causes. With terrorist attacks and environmental factors ruled out, there doesn't appear to be a correlation between the crashes, except that in three of the four air disasters a child survivor is found in the wreckage. Dubbed 'The Three' by the international press, the children all exhibit disturbing behavioural problems, presumably caused by the horror they lived through and the unrelenting press attention. This attention becomes more than just intrusive when a rapture cult led by a charismatic evangelical minister insists that the survivors are three of the four harbingers of the apocalypse. The Three are forced to go into hiding, but as the children's behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing, even their guardians begin to question their miraculous survival.
|I enjoyed this quite a lot. I generally enjoy this format, as in Carrie and World War Z, of selections of books, interviews, transcripts and different points of view. The creep factor was good, the writing was good, and I didn't mind that it wasn't all tied up neatly. That said, I don't really feel the need to read the sequel.|
|Another fine Datlow anthology. I read it very slowly, and usually when I went back to it I happily reread the ones I had already read. Standouts were Must Be This Tall by Seanan McGuire (roller coasters, deals with the devil sort of), The Puppet Motel by Gemma Files (sometimes a home just feels wrong), The Unwrapping by Terry Dowling (if you're ever invited to a Mummy Unwrapping, DON'T GO) and Natalia, Queen of the Hungry Dogs by John Langan - usually when I suddenly find that I'm on the last extra-long story of an anthology I'm a little disappointed, but the Langan story was perfect. I had a Twitter exchange with Ellen Datlow herself about this and she thought it was weird that I felt like this, because I should be happy that I was getting a novella with even more room to explore the horror theme in question. I'm not happy that the Anthology Queen thinks I'm weird, but I don't know what to tell you, short stories should be short!|
For a while I heartily disliked Bev Vincent. Let me explain: After I finished my master's degree Matt and I lived in Dundas Ontario for two years or so while he finished his master's. Before I got hired at the audio publisher I was at loose ends, and sometimes I'd go in to the lab with him and fool around on the computer while he was annihilating positrons. For a while I was into message boards about musicians and authors. Not for long, because these things are ten percent fun and ninety percent the most annoying people that humanity has to offer. I enjoyed discussing the finer points and possible meanings and nuances of my favourite books or stories, until people started arguing who understood it more, or who had read more, or who was more telepathically connected to the author. Bev Vincent has actually co-edited stuff with Stephen King and has written an authorized companion book to the Dark Tower series and occasionally he'd drop in on the King message board and oh my god the monumental ass-kissing that went on. People sometimes called him The Mighty Bev. Yes, this is a really stupid reason not to like someone, it was a weird point in my life. Anyway, apparently he's also written some short stories, I haven't read any, they might be good, whatever. I've told you all this because I remember zero about this book other than that I liked it. Also, as Steph noted, there's not a lot of diversity. I blame Bev.
Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman: Synopsis from Goodreads: A retelling of the Snow White fairy tale from the point of view of the "wicked stepmother." This version was a chapbook compiled by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and sold at Comic Con 2008 and on the BPAL website with all proceeds going to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
This was a dirty, dirty comic book! I mean, this seriously put the graphic in graphic novel. I don't generally love graphic novels. I find it difficult to know if I'm supposed to look at the pictures or read the words first when there are speech bubbles (I know this doesn't really make any sense, I just can't process it comfortably and it makes me feel like I'm reading a comic book, which I used to love and read by the thousand, so again - inexplicable that it puts me off). This had little boxes instead of speech bubbles, which worked better for me. You guys know I'm always up for a twisted fairy tale. And my goodness, the illustrations are knock-your-eye-out gorgeous.
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher: When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods.When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother's house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be? Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself. Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale. From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher.
Slow burn, but overall terrific. I like horror novels where the character has a solid and rich backstory. The neighbour characters added a nice dimension, rather than having a single isolated protagonist. The passages in the grandfather's journal are extremely creepy, and when she heads into the woods, a whole new world of scare opens up. And the dog. LOVED the dog.
Beautiful, character-driven ghost story and mystery. The stories of the girls at the school were haunting and harrowing, and I enjoyed the attention paid to the way girls and women are marginalized and dismissed in the past and the present. I was completely engaged by the stories in both time periods, and the conclusion was completely satisfying. I will be reading more by this author.
If It Bleeds by Stephen King: Synopsis from Goodreads: If it Bleeds is a collection of four new novellas —Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, The Life of Chuck, Rat, and the title story If It Bleeds— each pulling readers into intriguing and frightening places.
A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to The Outsider.
News people have a saying: 'If it bleeds, it leads'. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.
Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog - and on her own need to be more assertive - when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realizes there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins 'If It Bleeds' , a stand-alone sequel to The Outsider featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case. Dancing alongside are three more long stories - 'Mr Harrigan's Phone', 'The Life of Chuck' and 'Rat' .
The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.
It is indeed dark and suspenseful. A lot of great elements - insular small town, father with small eerily-precocious son, urban legend from the father's childhood, characters that are either imaginary or supernatural.
Tide of Stone by Kaaron Warren: Synopsis from Goodreads: The Time-Ball Tower of Tempuston houses the worst criminals in history. Given the option of the death penalty or eternal life, they chose eternal life. They have a long time to regret that choice.
I once called Kaaron Warren's work "twisted" on Twitter and she liked it. Sometimes it's cool to read something that is just really different. Sometimes it's hideously disturbing also, but in a good way. Kind of. Seriously, don't go here unless you want something really fucked up.
Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar: Synopsis from Goodreads: The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told... until now. There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside. At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game. One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: "Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me."On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat... Journey back to Castle Rock again in this chilling new novella by Stephen King, bestselling author of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and Richard Chizmar, award-winning author of A Long December.
I kept seeing this title and avoiding it for the ridiculous reason that I hated - like, HATED - the name 'Gwendy'. It sounded like it should be the name of an evil pimp, not a plucky twelve-year-old. Then I got over myself, and I really liked it. It has the deceptive simplicity of a fairy tale and some spiky musing about power, and decisions. It's drenched in sunshine until it's not.
The Girl in the Green Silk Gown (Ghost Roads #2) by Seanan McGuire: Synopsis from Goodreads: The second book in the Ghost Roads series returns to the highways of America, where hitchhiking ghost Rose Marshall continues her battle with her killer--the immortal Bobby Cross. Once and twice and thrice around, Put your heart into the ground.Four and five and six tears shed,
Give your love unto the dead.
Seven shadows on the wall,
Eight have come to watch your fall:
One’s for the gargoyle, one’s for the grave,
And the last is for the one you’ll never save.
For Rose Marshall, death has long since become the only life she really knows. She’s been sweet sixteen for more than sixty years, hitchhiking her way along the highways and byways of America, sometimes seen as an avenging angel, sometimes seen as a killer in her own right, but always Rose, the Phantom Prom Date, the Girl in the Green Silk Gown.
The man who killed her is still out there, thanks to a crossroads bargain that won’t let him die, and he’s looking for the one who got away. When Bobby Cross comes back into the picture, there’s going to be hell to pay—possibly literally.
There’s only one way to know for sure.
I mean, when you think about it, why aren't all horror novels about high school football? This was excellent - plays on the very worst parts of stultifying small town corruption and toxic masculinity, and extends them to the extreme logical conclusion if, you know, we lived in a Lovecraftian universe.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones: Synopsis from Goodreads: Seventeen-year-old Aderyn ("Ryn") only cares about two things: her family, and her family's graveyard. And right now, both are in dire straits. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have been scraping together a meager existence as gravediggers in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a harsh and deadly mountain range that was once home to the fae. The problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren, though, is that the dead don't always stay dead. The risen corpses are known as "bone houses," and legend says that they're the result of a decades-old curse. When Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker with a mysterious past, arrives in town, the bone houses attack with new ferocity. What is it that draws them near? And more importantly, how can they be stopped for good? Together, Ellis and Ryn embark on a journey that will take them deep into the heart of the mountains, where they will have to face both the curse and the long-hidden truths about themselves.
A really lovely Welsh tale that I stumbled on while looking for books to read for Spooky Season, with a kick-ass female gravedigger protagonist. Everything in this worked for me - Ryn's respectful care for the dead, the description of the restless bone houses (walking dead), her relationship with her siblings, the mythology, the romance which is not remotely insta-love but a steadily growing friendship. The beautiful descriptions of the forest. And the bone goat - god, I loved the bone goat. There is sadness here, like in all the best horror, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this, even now.