7 Jun
2024

The Book of Love by Kelly Link Three schoolmates are returned from the dead and are tasked with finding out why in this marvelously absurd, weirdly beautiful debut novel from Kelly Link, who writes in the strange, dizzy, poetic, just-on-the-verge-of nonsense language of someone trying to describe their dream to you while they are still, in fact, in the middle of the dream. This is an author who writes like no one else today–or ever!– and when I finished the story, I found myself furiously weeping, thinking, take me back. I want to go back. (provided by NetGalley)

Thirst by Marina Yuszczuk. The streets of nineteenth-century Buenos Aires thrum with the throes of transformation as a vampire fleeing from Europe seeks refuge amidst the burgeoning chaos; centuries later, a woman grapples with her own mortality, her mother’s impending death a constant shadow. Through lush, exquisite prose reminiscent of Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier, Yuszczuk navigates themes of fear, loneliness, and the haunting allure of immortality, and as the two women’s lives intertwine, desires ignite, and fate plays out in interesting and unexpected ways. Thirst is a captivating exploration of female agency and the stories that happen in the shadows between life and death–and I thoroughly look forward to exploring this darkness further with this incredible, new-to-me author. (provided by NetGalley)

Incidents Around The House by Josh Malerman is one of the freakiest books I have ever read in my life. I found myself forgetting to breathe as I read it and often realized I was literally crying because it freaked me out so badly. I will give a very, very brief summary. It is written from the POV of a child about a thing in her closet that’s been paying her visits. It wants to be “let inside” her heart. Soon, she begins seeing it in other parts of the home. And then, it is not confined to the walls of the family’s house…and eventually…other people can see it too. It’s a book that reminded me what it was like to be a child, and honestly, I felt being a child was very difficult. The overwhelming thing I recall from ages 3-10 is 100% “what the fuck is even happening right now?” And never knowing what’s next or, worse, what’s expected of me. And that’s freaky. I felt that way every second of my little life, and that made for a nervous, anxious childhood. To be fair, that’s how I feel as an adult, but now I’ve had nearly 50 years of experience acclimating to it. Reading this child’s story took me back to that unsettling place of vast uncertainty; sitting with the echoing reverberations of that anxiety through the lens of a monster/haunted house/demon story/possession story, rendered those feelings doubly alarming. I didn’t actually parse in the end what was happening/what had happened, and that’s fine. That’s perfect, actually. I feel like those alarming feelings of WTFery as a story is amping up are so infrequently sustained throughout the course of a book and all the way through the end– and Malerman has executed it masterfully. Isn’t it funny, though, how those things we fear so dreadfully, eventually become those fascinations that delight us? As a child, I hated never knowing exactly what was going on, and yet, as an adult, that’s the hallmark of some of the most excellent stories for me. (provided by NetGalley)

The Scent Trail by Celia Lyttelton whisks readers away on a sensory odyssey that crisscrosses continents and cultures, driven by her extravagant quest to concoct a signature perfume. Over two indulgent years, Lyttelton flitted through France, Italy, North Africa, India, Turkey, Yemen, and Socotra, cherry-picking ingredients with painstaking precision. The book teases with snippets of her personal journey but predominantly plunges into the intricate alchemy of perfume production, merging time-honored craftsmanship with modern techniques, and immersing readers in the rich tapestry of history and cultural significance behind each component. For a perfume aficionado, this tome is a spellbinding and exquisite delight, yet it remains jaw-droppingly unrelatable. It’s nearly impossible not to harbor an intense hatred towards this almost obscenely privileged woman.

Midnight Feast by Lucy Foley Perched on the precipice of the summer solstice, heiress/influencer/It Girl Francesca Woodland is poised to make certain the whole world knows about her newly renovated, ultra-luxurious resort, where the wealthy escape to get their chakras aligned, fondle energetic, vibe-rich crystals, drink local organic free range gluten-free juices and all sorts of other nonsense that gullible people with more money than sense are into. Her doting architect husband, Owen, is at her to side to ensure everything runs smoothly and continue work on the property. Despite their best efforts to present a perfect facade to the guests and the public, unsettling and disturbing things are happening around the resort. Is it the enigmatic stranger, possibly from Francesca’s past, who is slyly disguised as just another guest, ready to exact vengeance for some mysterious event that occurred 15 years prior? Could it be the villagers who were unhappy that Francesca had begun construction in the woods, taking down trees that were sacred to the community and part of their local legend and lore? Could it be Owen himself, who we soon learn is hiding secrets of his own? Told from multiple perspectives and dual timelines, we read as Detective Walker tries to piece together how the posh resort came to be a smoking ruin, with several dead in the fire. What strangeness happened on that solstice evening, and how does an incident from a decade and a half ago fit into this narrative? There’s not a single character in this story who is not keeping a secret–from the absolutely awful Francesca to her not-quite-what-he-seems husband, from vengeful Bella to the intrepid detective, to the hotel support staff to the villagers to the haunting entities in the woods–everyone here is a bit of a riddle, has an agenda, and fits into the puzzle in different ways. One of Lucy Foley’s finest stories yet.  (provided by NetGalley)

The New Couple in 5B by Lisa Unger Rosie and Chad, cash-strapped newlyweds, inherit a dream apartment in the opulent Windermere. But the glamour fades fast. Haunted by a spectral boy and plagued by the watchful eyes of the unnervingly knowledgeable doorman, Rosie delves into Windermere’s past – a grisly tapestry of deaths, accidents, and a history built on the embers of a burned-down church. The residents, initially welcoming, become threatening ciphers with hidden, possibly occult agendas. Rosie, already a bit of a haunted character herself, begins to lean into the past she’s been running from as she unravels the truth. I enjoyed the story right up until some key things were revealed; I don’t want to say anything potentially spoilery, but for all the supernatural buildup, the motives of the people behind the nefarious shenanigans are terribly, disappointingly mundane. (provided by NetGalley)

The Devil and Mrs. Davenport by Paulette Kennedy Paulette Kennedy’s The Devil and Mrs. Davenport  explores the quiet terrors of 1950s America through the eyes of Loretta Davenport, a young mother whose life spirals into a supernatural mystery. Set in Missouri, 1955, the novel intricately details Loretta’s struggle against societal expectations and her own emerging psychic abilities, which surface following a local girl’s murder. Supported by parapsychologist Dr. Curtis Hansen but opposed by her controlling husband Pete, Loretta’s journey is a riveting tale of self-discovery and empowerment amid haunting messages from the beyond.

The Drowning House by Cherie Priest  Two childhood friends return to their hometown upon hearing of the death of their beloved Mrs. Culpepper. Weirdly, the third of their trio, who had been the one to call and inform them of the old woman’s passing, has now mysteriously disappeared. And an old house has washed up on the beach! The fright is undoubtedly what killed Mrs. Culpepper, but the history of the house wreck and the circumstances surrounding its shocking reappearance is even stranger and scarier. The Drowning House starts strong with a storm-tossed mystery, and the childhood flashbacks add intrigue, weaving a connection between the house and a dark past. However, the characters, despite their history, felt flat, and the suspense didn’t quite hold throughout. I generally really enjoy Cherie Priest’s stories, but this one, even with its unique premise, didn’t work for me.(provided by NetGalley)

Poor Things by Alasdair Gray is a darkly comedic Frankenstein remix that injects irreverence and absurdity into the classic tale. Meet Bella Baxter, a captivating yet unconventional creation with a child’s whimsy, a woman’s wishes, and an absolute wild streak. The narrative unfolds through a dual lens: the pompous Dr. Archibald McCandless and Bella herself, offering a multifaceted exploration of female agency, societal constraints, and the battle for autonomy wherein Gray gleefully skewers Victorian propriety, taking aim at everything from class structures to scientific advancements.

Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper plunges you into the dark underbelly of LA’s glitz, where our morally compromised protagonists, Mae and Chris, find themselves embroiled in a dangerous game. Mae, a fixer for a PR firm, uncovers a scandal involving a high-profile client, while Chris, an ex-cop turned private investigator, gets entangled in a case with connections to a powerful crime syndicate. As they dig deeper, they realize their cases are intertwined, leading them into a labyrinth of corruption and deceit.

Rainbow Black by Maggie Thrash blends a chilling murder mystery with a moving coming-of-age narrative, all set against the backdrop of the 90s Satanic Panic. The novel follows Lacey, whose world is turned upside down when her free-spirited parents are wrongfully accused of satanic ritual abuse involving the children at their home-run daycare. With her parents thrown in jail, Lacey leans on her badass sister Eclair—until Eclair is brutally murdered. Thrust into the foster system, Lacey’s only solace is her friendship with Dylan. After years apart, they reconnect as teenagers, only to face another murder,  forcing them to flee to Canada. Fast forward several years, Lacey and Dylan, now under new identities and thriving in their careers, live in constant fear of being discovered.

The Invisible Hotel by Yeji Y. Ham A slow burn that transcends genre (though it is labeled as horror) The Invisible Hotel gives us glimpses into the surreal dreamscapes of an infinite hotel through the windows of Yewon’s suffocating reality. Yewon’s life is a tapestry woven with family distress: a mother fixated on ancestral bones, a brother stationed near a tense border, and a sister wrestling with her own demons. The cryptic hotel bleeds into her waking hours, forcing her to confront the unspoken traumas that have haunted generations. Yewon’s dreamlike haze can be frustrating to navigate, but I think it amplifies the story’s unsettling undercurrent. This isn’t quite traditional horror, but a queasy, uneasy exploration of grief, and the legacy of war on a family and community, and the fragility of self and identity in the face of these traumas. (provided by NetGalley)

How To Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis offers gentle, compassionate guidance for anyone overwhelmed by the chaos of everyday life, and looking to get a handle on things. Davis’s approach is empathetic, emphasizing self-kindness and practical strategies over perfection. Even if you’re not suffering from severe depression or have an ADHD diagnosis– maybe let’s just say you are easily overwhelmed and sometimes the world feels like it’s all too much–her insights create a nurturing space to redefine your relationship with housekeeping, making it an act of self-care rather than a source of stress.

The Angel of Indian Lake by Stephen Graham Jones I honestly don’t remember much about this final chapter of the Lake Witch trilogy, except holy hell–has ever a character endured more than Jade? I recall thinking more than once that this poor woman is so physically messed up and scarred that I don’t think her body could make it into another book, that would be even more unbelievable than more ghosts and monsters.

Diavola by Jennifer Marie Thorne Anna, a fed-up, burnt-out millennial with nothing left to lose, joins up with her family’s for their annual vacation, this time in the picturesque yet foreboding backdrop of a remote Italian villa.  As eerie nocturnal noises and unsettling local whispers unsettle the family dynamics, Diavola becomes a riveting exploration of loneliness, belonging, and the enduring power of family shittiness, in this ghost story blending dark humor with Gothic intrigue.

The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo Luzia, hiding her identity as a witch, struggles to remain unnoticed while working in a middlingly-grand household. Her quiet life is disrupted when she inadvertently uses her powers in front of her mistress, who thinks she can use this for some kind of social-climbing scheme–which draws the attention of both allies and enemies. As she becomes entangled with the brooding Santángel, a forbidden romance blooms. God, I hate romance. This book was not great.

The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai Tucked away in a Kyoto backstreet lies the Kamogawa Diner where Koishi and her retired detective father, Nagare, act as “food detectives,” unraveling the mysteries locked within forgotten recipes. With each bite, they conjure memories, mend broken hearts, and unlock the secrets to a happier future. This is a formulaic, but quick, fun read.

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock  A parade of grotesques populates this Southern Gothic nightmare: from Willard Russell, a war veteran clinging to twisted faith, to the depraved couple, Carl and Sandy Henderson, who find their thrills in murder. Pollock doesn’t shy away from nastiness; his characters revel in it, leaving a trail of violence and broken lives in their wake. Yet, a strange poetry emerges from the darkness, making this exploration of humanity’s underbelly utterly horrifying and strangely beautiful.

A Better World by Sarah Langan The promise of a utopian escape in a near-future America lures the desperate Farmer-Bowen family to Plymouth Valley, a seemingly idyllic community. Initially snubbed by the townsfolk, the family eventually finds a tenuous “in” and begins to settle, but Linda is profoundly uneasy about her neighbors, the locale, and their traditions. As she delves deeper, unsettling truths about the community’s rituals emerge, leaving the family to question if this “better world” is worth the soul-chilling secrets it harbors or if the chaos of the crumbling world outside might be a preferable nightmare.

 

The Sleepwalkers by Scarlett Thomas Honeymooning on a storm-battered Greek island, Evelyn and Richard have the most desperately awful, toxic relationship I think I’ve ever encountered. I don’t think I will say more than that.

Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy In the scorching summer of 1976, sixteen-year-old Nif and her family seek solace in a secluded Welsh village following her sister’s tragic drowning. As grief grips their lives, Nif turns to collecting talismans from the sun-starved land, delving into her own form of witchcraft. As they grapple with their loss, the village’s eerie atmosphere and its peculiar inhabitants seem to hold unsettling secrets. Amidst this haunting landscape, she crosses paths with Mally, a mysterious boy with his own secrets to unveil. This is described as Shirley Jackson-esque folk horror, and I would also add if you enjoyed Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall, you’d probably like this one as well.

While We Were Burning by Sara Koffi Elizabeth’s seemingly perfect life shatters after her best friend’s mysterious death, leaving her floundering and leading her to hire Brianna, a poised and perceptive Black woman, as a personal assistant to help keep her sane and get her shit together. What starts as a professional arrangement evolves into an exploration of power dynamics and societal injustices as both women confront their own secrets and grief.

We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz Imagine this: your annual bestie trip takes a horrifying turn when a violent incident in Chile leaves you entangled in a deadly cover-up. Sounds familiar? Probably not. Except it is for Emily, the protagonist–this is the second year in a row such a nightmare has unfolded. After fucked-up vacation number two, a distance is growing between Emily and the increasingly volatile Kristen, as Emily begins questioning everything – her memories, her sanity, and the very foundation of their bond.

The Resort by Sarah Goodwin Mila and Ethan, a seemingly perfect couple, find themselves stranded in a deserted, snow-blanketed resort after a wrong turn on their way to Mila’s sister’s wedding celebrations. Mila, desperate to not let her sister down yet again, soon realizes that her absence at the festivities will be the least of her worries, after a night sleeping in a frozen, dilapidated cabin…only to wake up and realize Ethan has disappeared.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark A nightmarish vision of the Deep South, where the white hooded figures harbor a sinister secret – they’re not just racists, they’re demonic vessels who thrive on hatred, using D.W. Griffith’s infamous film “The Birth of a Nation” to fuel their malevolent agenda. Maryse Boudreaux is a resistance fighter with a magic sword, a foot in the spirit world, and some seriously badass, brave friends, and she is truly unrelenting in her dedication to hunting these monsters and stamping out their wickedness.

Jackal by Erin E. Adams Liz Rocher reluctantly returns to her hometown, only to be ensnared by the sinister disappearance of a young girl in her charge during a wedding celebration. As Liz tears into the dark woods and the town’s unsettling past, she uncovers a harrowing pattern of missing Black girls, casting an eerie shadow over her own childhood memories.

Look in the Mirror by Catherine Steadman Nina, adrift in grief after her father’s passing, inherits a stunning vacation home in the Caribbean. But this windfall comes shrouded in mystery. The house itself, a gleaming glass and marble marvel, whispers secrets of her father’s hidden life. Meanwhile, Maria, a world-trotting nanny lured by the allure of wealth, takes a new position caring for a child in this very same paradise. As Nina peers deeper into her father’s past, and Maria encounters unsettling peculiarities in the opulent home, both women find themselves entangled in a weird and dangerous web of deception and shady business. (provided by NetGalley)

The Wishing Pool and Other Stories by Tananarive Due I was probably crying before I even finished the first page of this eerie collection; Tananarive Due just does that to me. Due’s stories are imbued with a profound sense of humanity, intertwining the supernatural with poignant explorations of loss, love, and the enduring power of hope. The Gracetown and the Nayima sections of the collection bring back locations and characters that readers will recognize from the author’s other works.

 

GORE-GEOUS by Alex West I already had a huge crush on Alex West from listening in to her discussions with Andrea Subisatti (on whom I also have a major crush–my capacity for crushing on brilliant people is boundless) on the Faculty of Horror podcast. But when I read these words in her recent book, GORE-GEOUS, my love for her grew to probably insane proportions: “Horror is a haven for me when the world feels too obtuse, moronic, or basic.” GORE-GEOUS is a profound exploration where personal essays intersect with film criticism to challenge societal norms of beauty, worth, and acceptance, wherein she adeptly observes, “Having narratives about the function of beauty shoved down our collective throats and having these ideas sold to us through endless products and treatments in a mindfuck.” In these pages, regarding issues of self-perception, self-worth, and internalizing toxic beauty and wellness culture, Alex confronts incredibly personal and also very relatable fears — which is a highly vulnerable and, I think, ultimately, empowering move– and examines it all through a horror movie lens. With raw vulnerability and incisive analysis, she weaves together personal anecdotes, film criticism, and cultural commentary to unpack the harmful messages we receive about beauty and how horror films can serve as a space to challenge these norms. I can’t recommend GORE-GEOUS enough.

Joyland by Stephen King College student Devin Jones seeks solace from heartbreak in a North Carolina amusement park. Aided by a psychic child and haunted by the park’s shadowy corners, Devin delves into Joyland’s dark past. This book had not even been on my radar, but the good people at Bad Books For Bad People had recently discussed it, and I was intrigued. My enjoyment of it was tempered, as it always is as the years go on, by thinking how old Stephen King is and how heartbroken I will be when he dies.

The Hunter by Tana French I love Tana French, but I have found her “Cal Hooper” series to be somewhat forgettable. In this second chapter, we return to the eccentric Irish village of Ardnakelty, where the American ex-cop Cal finds his newfound peace disrupted by the arrival of two outsiders. Johnny Reddy, half-feral teenager Trey’s long-absent father, rolls back into town like he owns the place, along with a stranger. Between them, there seems to be some sort of get-rich-quick scheme, and the rest of the town is soon suckered in on it. It was fine. I have already forgotten most of it

Society of Lies by Lauren Ling Brown When Maya returns to Princeton for her sister’s graduation, a celebratory weekend curdles into chilling suspicion. Naomi, it seems, has been entangled with the alluring yet enigmatic Sterling Club, and the whispers surrounding their exclusive inner circle hint at something far more sinister than scholarly pursuits. Maya’s investigation leads her back to a shadowy exclusive club and a past she desperately tried to bury. Brown weaves a tale of legacy, obsession, and the price of belonging, leaving you to wonder just what lurks beneath the polished veneer of campus life and also maybe glad that you decided on living at home and working part-time while going to community college. It may have taken you ten years but at least your ass didn’t get murdered. (provided by NetGalley)

Mystery Lights by Lena Valencia  is everything I want from a collection of short stories. Imaginative stories written in beautifully straightforward language (I want to say “plain language,” but that’s not quite it, I think what I mean is an “economy of prose” where every word is exactly what it should be, nothing more, nothing less.) Eerie vignettes in the American Southwest, stories with sinister intent, with menacing undercurrents –it’s not outright horror, but it flirts with it, it skirts the edges. A young girl gets separated from her family during a cave tour and doesn’t come back quite herself; a woman attends an influencer retreat along with other zealous obsessives deep in the desert; another woman is chased on a hot day by wild dogs, only to wind up in a creepy stranger’s car. These stories are haunting and uncomfortable, but only just–which is to say that they are definitely both those things, but they are handled so skillfully they almost seem like passing conversation, no big deal. These situations are not tied up with a neat bow, it’s almost as if we get a glimpse into these character’s lives for a moment, perhaps an afternoon or a series of weeks, just enough to become immersed in their strange, uneasy or distressing situations, and then the curtains are closed in our faces, as if the author is saying “well now, that’s all you get.” Well done. I think that’s just as it should be.(provided by NetGalley)

Worry by Alexandra Tanner  Set against the backdrop of Brooklyn’s urban ennui, it follows Jules and Poppy, two sisters mired in their privileged angst and neurotic crises. With its dry wit and supposed insights into modern life, the novel spins tales of aimless scrolling, pet dramas, and familial dysfunction. I felt profoundly disconnected from these sisters’ mundane dramas and longed desperately for a supernatural or speculative element, any sort of intrigue or mystery really, that could elevate the narrative beyond a novel-length AITA post.

Here One Moment by Liane Moriarty A seemingly ordinary domestic flight turns extremely weird when passengers learn the exact time of their deaths from a mysterious woman dubbed “The Death Lady.” As these predictions begin to unfold with disturbing accuracy, six passengers grapple with their own mortality. The story is a comedic exploration (but think delightful grandma humor) that gets into questions about fate, free will, and how we choose to live with the knowledge of our own finitude, while gradually unraveling the mystery surrounding The Death Lady herself. Liane Moriarty’s stories can feel a bit …saccharine at times? Or maybe what I mean to say is tied up too neatly with a bow at the end? But I think of her works as sort of an antidote to stories like Worry with all that hip, trendy millennial malaise– a vibe that is starting to feel really gross and profoundly boring. (provided by NetGalley)

 

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James R. says

Just read Ring Shout last week. Great read. I hope Clark does one day produce the encounter with Lovecraft that the ending teases...

Emera says

I love these posts so much, and I have so many responses to this one!

So excited that you were so moved by the new Kelly Link.

Fun thriller author trivia: Andrea Bartz is the sister of Julia Bartz, who wrote The Writing Retreat (in case you didn't already know).

Diavola is on my nightstand since I saw you posting that killer cover art on IG - very excited to start it.

Tana French: I just made the leap from the Dublin Murder Squad to The Witch Elm, and didn't love it, so I'm further crestfallen to see you didn't love the Searcher/Hunter duo, either. But I'm going to try it anyway, because I just love French that much... I did also enjoy the pitch for The Hunter as being a crossover between a Western and a detective novel.

Sleepwalkers - This had been on my list since I saw it showing up on summer release lists, but now I'm intimidated by your description of record-setting couple toxicity...

S. Elizabeth says

I did NOT know that about the sisters Bartz! But you know...it did cross my mind to wonder about it!

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