11 Mar
Marie Antoinette, 2006

As winter’s grip weakens and the days stretch ever so slightly longer, I haven’t been over here hibernating –  far from it! Instead, nights (and mornings, and a few minutes here and there during workday Team meetings, if I am being honest) have been lit by the flickering glow of my Kindle and the pages of some unforgettable stories. From spine-tingling chills to pulse-pounding thrillers, and speculative fiction that will make your reality wobble at the edges, this reading stack for the past few months has been brimming with treasures that I am, of course, compelled to share.

This, my fellow bookworms, marks the glorious return of Stacked for 2024! So, grab a steaming mug of something fortifying, settle in by your preferred source of illumination, and let’s delve into all the things I have read in January, February, and the first few weeks in March.

 My Husband by Maud Ventura In this slice of life domestic thriller, a woman suspects her husband does not love her as much as she loves him, and punishes him accordingly. I was a cohost over at the Midnight Society Bookclub over on YouTube for this one a few weeks ago, and we get into a more in-depth discussion about it if you want to hear more! Plus I am wearing a very great and cozy cardigan which I think deserves its moment in the spotlight because it is SO good.

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield The ocean floor holds its secrets close, and Leah, returned from the abyss silent and strange, carries them with her whole being.  Miri, adrift in the wreckage of their love, desperately grasps for answers, but the truth might be more monstrous than the silence. This was a shimmeringly unsettling read that drowns you in more questions than answers really; I find those to be my favorite stories.

Mona by Pola Oloixarac Haunted by the specter of her unfinished second novel and the tantalizing possibility of a prestigious literary award, Mona, a Peruvian writer with a penchant for self-invention and self-destructive recklessness, embarks on a journey from sunny Californa to the chilly lakeside of a Swedish literary festival.  Along the way, she encounters a surreal cast of characters, both vibrant and unsettling. (PS horny warning)

Useless Magic by Florence Welch There’s really not much to say about this one, it’s just a beautiful book of song lyrics and poetry. I read a digital version from the library, and I think I missed out on having a physical copy in my hands. There were photographs and loads of beautiful scraps of snippets of imagery, with many pages embellished by William Morris designs and motifs, lots of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and similar things in that vein–even a Vali Myers portrait! Which gave me an idea. If anyone amonst you know a way to get in touch with Florence Welch or her people …I would love to send her copies of all three of my books! Is that a bit cheeky? I don’t know. But I think she would appreciate them.

Midnight on Beacon Street by Emily Ruth Verona In Emily Ruth Verona’s debut novel, the night of October 1993 unfolds into a heart-stopping ordeal of terror. Cool single mom Eleanor leaves her children, Ben and Mira, in the care of anxiety-ridden babysitter Amy. As the night progresses, seemingly innocent activities spiral into a chilling nightmare—unexpected visitors, mysterious calls, and a shocking discovery with young Ben standing in a pool of blood. Drawing inspiration from classic horror films, Verona crafts fun twists,  and keeps readers on edge, but the heart of this thriller is a tale of responsibility to those in our change as well as the profound strength of familial bonds.

The Eyes Are the Best Part by Monica Kim Ji-won’s descent into darkness–fueled by twisted cravings and a simmering rage against a world that’s crumbled around her– is as thrilling as it is disturbing. I questioned my own morals while squirming deliciously in my seat as I devoured this unsettling exploration of family, identity, and monstrous hunger. (via NetGalley)

Love Notes From the Hollow Tree by Jarod K. Anderson  More poetry from the Cryptonaturalist! I mostly really enjoy his musings on the mysterious and extraordinary in the natural world and affirmation of our place in a wild universe through a unique love-lettered lens…although sometimes I do feel it meanders down a schlocky Rupi Kaur path. Still, even if the delivery doesn’t always work for me, I always appreciate the sentiment.

Stay Close by Harlan Coben Suburban facades reveal a festering underbelly where Megan, Ray, and Broome – each burdened by a shadowed past and tangled webs of secrets- find their paths colliding. Soccer moms and psychopaths and hidden depths in seemingly ordinary lives. I think maybe Harlan Coben writes the same story over and over and not only do I keep reading them, I keep watching the Netflix adaptations as well. Somebody, please stop me.

Revelator by Daryl Gregory In the Appalachian backwoods,  a bootlegger named Stella wrestles with the weight of her lineage as she returns home to confront a chilling legacy –an ancient entity called “Ghostdaddy.” This haunting blend of Southern Gothic mystery and simmering family drama was one of the first things I read this year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Even as I type these words, I realize how very out of order this list is.

Mothman Apologia by Robert Wood Lynn Dive into the twilight of the Shenandoah Valley with poet Robert Wood Lynn, where the cryptid of legend becomes a poignant symbol of grief, love, and the echoes of loss resonating through a community grappling with addiction and its far-reaching, deeply troubling scars.

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee A historical epic with a few operatic twists, more than several dashes of intrigue, and a heroine who sheds identities as often as normal people change their underwear, this book of a farm girl’s journey to Parisian courtesan and iconic opera star somehow took me four months to read. The prose was lush, the protagonist cunning and captivating, and overall I can say that I had a good time with the book, but for some reason I couldn’t sit with it for very long on any single occasion? Was it too intense? I don’t think it was that. I can’t put my finger on it. I’d be curious to hear what you thought of this one, if you read it.

The Husbands by Chandler Baker If you ever felt your blood pressure about to explode after watching The Stepford Wives or any adjacent material, this might be the book for you. In The Husbands, attorney Nora Spangler’s exploration of the seemingly utopian community within an exclusive neighborhood takes a dangerous turn as she delves deeper into a lawsuit that might involve murder while also trying to ingratiate herself into the HOA and buy a home and then finds herself in the midst of the hidden secrets and power struggles. Oh, and of course, she is doing all of this while being a wife and mother and taking care of a home and holding down a full-time job, and all of the ceaseless, thankless struggles that accompany those roles! As Nora unravels the mysteries surrounding the community’s dynamics, she finds herself entangled in other people’s business to a degree she could not have foreseen–and that business turns out to be much more bizarre –and perilous– than she could have possibly anticipated.


Interview with a Vampire, 1994

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen If you liked the bleak humor and outsider perspective of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Loga Tokarczuk, I think you’ll enjoy Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch  where a 17th-century herbalist accused of witchcraft navigates small-town paranoia and the absurd logic of witch trials with a sharp wit and wild wisdom.

Dead Silence by SA Barnes Dr. Ophelia Bray, a psychologist specializing in a space-induced psychosis known as ERS (and who is also burdened by its looming specter in her family history) joins a small crew tasked with a seemingly routine exploration of an abandoned alien planet. However, beneath the mission’s scientific veneer lurks a sinister agenda, and Ophelia soon finds herself entangled in a web of secrets held tight by her motley band of untrustworthy crewmates. As they investigate the mysteries of the derelict planet and its buried civilization, tensions rise, a crew member meets a gruesome end, and Ophelia’s worst nightmare unfolds as she puzzles with whether this is the descent into madness she has long feared or is there something far more sinister at play? Ghost Station was a gripping sci-fi horror adventure much like the author’s previous offering, and what elevated it, in my opinion, was that though it skirted around a burgeoning romantic element, it thankfully did not involve as much of that sort of thing as Dead Silence did. (via NetGalley)

The Main Character by Jaclyn Goldis Rory is gifted with a lavish trip on the Orient Express through Italy, a reward from literary diva Ginevra Ex for her participation in her unorthodox writing process. But there’s a twist – she’s not the only one aboard. Her brother, best friend, even her ex-fiancé – all Ginevra’s guests, all harboring secrets and agendas. Each among the quartet is given drafts of the author’s forthcoming book, for which they were all interviewed extensively, as part of Ginevra’s rituals for fleshing out her “main character.” We experience the trip through each of their perspectives, and as the train rolls along, the intrigue picks up as we realize that even the secrets we thought we were privy to begin to twist in unexpected ways and lead to new revelations. Rory increasingly supects that she is much more than a mere muse to Ginevra and that no one, even those she loves dearest, are being honest with her. I thoroughly enjoyed this thrilling romp filled with history, glamorous travel, and juicy family drama. (via NetGalley)

Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead by Jenny Hollander There was a lot about this story, as well as the characters and their behaviors, that just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but overall, I thought this was a real page-turner of a thriller in what is fast becoming one of my favorite trashy genres, let’s call it “annoyingly successful and attractive 20-somethings perfect lives disrupted by that whoopsie of a decade-old university murder and how you can’t forget/self-medicate/bury/whatever the past.” (via NetGalley)

BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels and Ben Passmore Last year I read Out There Screaming, Jordan Peele’s anthology of Black horror, and while I really loved most every story included, my favorite was by a writer named Ezra Clayton Daniels. I forget what the particular story was called, but there was a man who was visiting his family, and some shit quietly started to happen. I know that’s not a great description, but I can barely remember the details of a story I read yesterday, let alone six months ago. Anyhow, I wanted to find some more things this author has had a hand in, and that’s how I found BTTM FDRS, a gross, grisly, but also funny and goofy, and at times poignant graphic novel about an urban haunting but also gentrification, hip hop, and cultural appropriation.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam A weekend getaway for Amanda and Clay’s family curdles into a nightmare when Ruth and G.H., the owners of the luxurious rental, return with news of an unseen apocalypse. Huddled in the opulent yet isolating house, the lines between host and guest, privilege and precarity, blur as fear simmers and tensions fester. Crackling with tension and a suffocating atmosphere, where the unknown outside isn’t the only threat, we confront uncomfortable truths about power, class, and the fragility of our constructed realities.

How to Restore a Timeline: On Violence and Memory by Peter Counter Peter Counter’s world shatters on a Costa Rican pier, his father’s blood staining a family vacation, and his own memory fracturing. Trauma becomes a kaleidoscope, where pop culture fragments mingle with the shrapnel of personal tragedy and, in some instances, rend the very fabric of time. “How to Restore a Timeline” is a gut punch of a memoir and not always a comfortable read, but I always thoroughly enjoy Peter Counter’s excellent writing on pop culture and horror and the parallels he draws or connections he makes between those things, and trauma and grief, or social issues, and or philosophical notions—these tangled musings are very much my cup of tea. Even so, I did not expect to find a chapter about Dragonball Z, an anime series I have literally not seen a single episode of, as poignant and inspiring as I did. That’s the hallmark of an incredible writer, I think. To make you give a shit about things you previously never spent a single second thinking about.

Everyone Is Watching by Heather Gudenkauf   Five contestants have received a mysterious email and an invitation to compete on the new game show, One Lucky Winner (think Big Brother meets Squid Game, but the contestants don’t know that yet!) The Best Friend. The Confidante. The Senator. The Boyfriend.The Exec. This seemingly randomly chosen quintet will compete for a prize of $10 million after a series of challenges–live-streamed to millions and millions of viewers around the world. Gathered together at a secluded estate in Northern California, the five embark on a series of challenges that test their fortitude and capabilities, both mental and physical–and in the course of these battles of wits and prowess, it soon becomes clear who among them is willing to be ruthless, even murderous, and that for all of them perhaps–it’s a fight for their lives. But who is the mastermind behind the show, what are their motivations, and to what end is this game being played out? The dramatic reality show element, along with the complex character dynamics, made for a riveting, fast-paced mystery that I couldn’t put down. (via NetGalley)

Penance by Eliza Clark In Penance, we descend with ghoulishly unscrupulous journalist Alec Z. Carelli into a Yorkshire town scarred by the immolation of Joan Wilson, a monstrous act perpetrated by her classmates.  A decade later, he unearths the story: witness accounts, broken families, and chilling exchanges with the perpetrators. Clark dissects dark truths about gender, class, and power, and the relationship between truth and the media’s true-crime obsession. As compulsively readable as it is horrific, what I find even more fascinating is how Penance explores the digital age’s grip on these teens, the online pressures shaping their lives, and blurring their real selves with their projected online personas. A chilling reflection of our hyper-connected world, “Penance” forces us to confront the dark intersection of real crimes and the digital shadows they cast. Readers who tend to skip long passages of extraneous-feeling information, take note–there’s a lot of journalistic diving into the history and lore of the town, socially and geographically, that might trigger your “ok, we’re done here” page-turning finger.

The Mobius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone is a collection, and I am being lazy by taking this straight from the Amazon description, which “takes place in a burlesque purgatory,” a sort of labyrinthine underworld where the poet confronts and investigates complicated family relationships “in the hopes of breaking the never-ending cycle of grief.” It’s a clever idea that works sometimes until it doesn’t; it feels more like a creative concept that’s getting old, but the poet committed to it, so they are gritting their teeth and powering through. I found the poems that didn’t hew so closely to the strip club idea were the ones that affected me most profoundly.

Pet by Catherine Chidgey  Justine, like everyone else in her class at school in 1980’s New Zealand, loves their glamorous new teacher Ms Price, with each and every one of them longing to be class pet.  A 12-year-old girl who is dealing with epilepsy, mourning the relatively recent death of her mother, and trying desperately to fit in and be liked, Justine is particularly susceptible to Ms. Price’s charms.  But something…isn’t quite right, and everyone’s favorite teacher isn’t quite what she appears to be. Everything about this book–Justine’s coming-of-age story, her flashbacks as an adult, the oppressive atmosphere of manipulation and corrupted power –is just told so perfectly. The ending might have been wrapped up a little too neatly, but as I say all the time, if I’ve had a good time with a book, I can overlook a misstep with the ending.

The Gathering by CJ Tudor: I already hit “publish” on this blog post and realized I didn’t mention The Gathering, which was definitely an oversight because I actually really liked it! A detective is sent on an assignment up in Alaska to investigate a murder that possibly (probably) is vampire-related. In the world of this story, vampires are a part of society…which doesn’t mean that humans like them or accept them, but they are there to stay. And, of course, this causes a lot of tension. If you enjoyed this latest season four of True Detective, I imagine you will like the frozen isolation of this small-town supernatural murder mystery. (via Netgalley)

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