Stacked! Late Spring/Early Summer
There are nearly 20 books in my reviews below, but I’m afraid that I have a physical copy of only one of them. So our Stacked feature photo is not exactly a “stack” but it’s a very good book, so we’ll just have to be okay with it!
An Arrow to the Moon by Emily XR Pan. I do so love a re-imagining of age-old mythologies and I especially love magic woven throughout a contemporary, real-world story, so for these reasons alone, I was already poised to love this story of star-cross lovers Luna Chang and Hunter Yee, born on the same day and bestowed with inexplicably mystical gifts. Along with the silvery, expressive gorgeousness of Emily XR Pan’s writing and the beautifully bittersweet story arc of secrets and struggles and moon-struck mysteries, I adored Luna and Hunter’s journey together even more than I thought possible.
I can’t count the times my jaw dropped when reading Catriona Ward’s Sundial, a seemingly domestic drama of a novel comprised of secrets between mothers and daughters, the fierce and fearsome bonds of sisterhood, and the visceral, chilling effects of generational trauma.
Rob, a suburban housewife just trying to live a normal life despite her toxic relationship with her odious husband, senses with growing horror a chilling and evolving darkness and in her eldest daughter, Callie. Desperate for a solution for her child with whom she struggles to connect and doesn’t actually even like very much, Rob journeys with Callie to her childhood home, Sundial, in the middle of the Mojave desert. Shocking secrets are revealed gradually, nothing here is as it seems or as you expect, and once you think you’ve got the story straight, your expectations are subverted and turned upside down and inside out. This is an intensely brilliant, brutal, breathless tale that kept me guessing right up until the end.
A powerful and propulsive historical horror novel following a mysterious outbreak in a Japanese American internment camp during the fraught nationalist days of World War II, The Fervor explores a supernatural threat inspired by the Japanese yokai and the jorogumo spider demon. Meiko Briggs and her daughter, Aiko, were taken from their home in Seattle and forcibly relocated and incarcerated in an internment camp in Ohio while they await the return of husband and father Jamie, an airforce pilot stationed in the Pacific. A strange contagion spreads among those in the isolated camp, with minor illnesses evolving into episodes of aggression, violence, and death. After a sinister team of doctors arrives, Meiko and her daughter unite with a gutsy newspaper reporter and grieving missionary widower to investigate. Alma Katsu’s stories are always fiercely fascinating affairs and this does not disappoint.
It Will Be Just Us by Jo Kaplan. I haven’t been so simultaneously immersed in and wonderfully creeped out by a book in a long time. In brooding, labyrinthine Wakefield Manor, phantom images of the houses’ past events and inhabitants perpetually loop through the rooms and corridors. But history can’t hurt you, no matter how dreadful, right? Sam, who lives there with her mother and sister, begins to glimpse what she believes is a faceless spectre from the present, a vicious entity bent on brutality– one who is able to move through time. Though its identity and motives are unclear, its intent is horrifically, and murderously apparent. This family thought themselves safe from the past, but can they protect themselves from madness and violence from the future?
Motherthing by Ainsley Hogarth. WOW. I am putting this book at the top of the list of the best things I have ever read. It’s sad and funny and disturbing and weird as hell. I love authors who can capture and articulate the disjointed strangeness and disconcerting intimacies of our inner monologues, those thoughts we’d never say aloud, and yet we recognize so much of ourselves in them when we get to listen in on someone else’s interior conversations. Hogarth also does a tremendous job of navigating and revealing the aching weirdness of relationships–both in the heartburstingly good and fun ways and the heartrendingly tragic and traumatizing ways. Dead moms and complicated mothers are a huge theme in this book, so if that’s a triggering topic, be wary. What is a mother’s love? Who deserves it and who does not? What happens when we’re deprived of it and in striving to be everything our mother was not, are we not also becoming that shadow, as well? In this story, Abby has found her true-love soulmate in Ralph and hopes to create a family with him, giving their child everything positive and good as a parent that neither she nor Ralph experienced as children. In the wake of Ralph’s cruel and emotionally controlling mother’s suicide, Ralph is succumbing to a deep depression and is also insisting that he is seeing his mother’s ghost. More troubling still, Abby is beginning to sense a presence as well. Feeling her dreams threatened and her fragile sense of self crumbling, Abby becomes …quite desperate. Motherthing is released in September, but I acquired an advance copy through Netgalley.
The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes. In The House in the Pines, we are following Maya, a young woman who is going through klonopin withdrawals and dealing with her insomnia by applying a liberal amount of alcohol. Still grieving the shocking loss of her best friend Aubrey who died–suddenly and in strange circumstances– seven years prior, Maya sees a YouTube video recording a recent death that occurred in a diner. A death that seems terribly familar to her friend’s. Sitting across from the dead woman just happens to be the man that was also with Maya’s and Aubrey on that tragic day seven years prior. Frank–the man that Maya had begun dating and found herself falling for. And who, despite having no proof, she suspected was responsible for Aubrey’s death. Frank, of whom though her memories of their time together are strangely hazy, she vividly and violently dreams of every night. At times both swiftly-paced as well as a bit of a slow-burn, The House in the Pines was a compelling and thought-provoking read, engaging the reader in explorations of loss and regret, of memory and madness, and how the past can sometimes offer deceptive and dangerous refuge. I think I see the weird, uncommon stuff embedded in a story long before I see more basic motives and logistics, so I didn’t find this twist especially twisty but appreciate its inclusion and it provided an interesting angle. This title will be published next January; I acquired a copy through Netgalley.
Billy Summers by Stephen King. I read this book about an assassin with a heart of gold who pretends to be dumber than he really is so that people will underestimate him should the shit hit the fan one day (which it does) but I don’t want to talk about it. The more I read Stephen King as an adult the more I question my deep and abiding love for him, which bloomed when I was a much younger person. I find this all deeply depressing to contemplate.
The Lost Village by Camilla Sten. In the late 1950s, the small Swedish mining town of Silvertjarn saw its entire population of about 900 disappear overnight. In the present day, Alice, a budding documentary filmmaker, travels with her crew to the abandoned town to begin gathering research and footage for her project on the town’s fate and what actually happened there. As the group begins exploring, strange and sinister things start to happen, threatening the project and endangering the crew. As things fall apart for Alice and her group of friends, the pieces of this mysterious and frightening puzzle start to come together. I think if you watched the supremely unsettling horror film Yellow Brick Road, you will probably appreciate The Lost Village.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. A deeply troubling but extremely readable story about a 15-year-old private school student’s relationship with her 42-year-old teacher. I’m a little bit grossed out (at myself) by how quickly I tore through this book, but there you go.
The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson. I read this while I was traveling and anxious, so I barely remember it, but I do recall that it was a quick read with characters I was really rooting for, and where some really gross stuff happened. A kind of weirdness and horror overtakes a small Oregon town as a government experiment fails and its manmade nightmares escape containment. Conspiracy theories and science gone wrong and hormonal high school friendships and surprisingly disgusting body horror, wheee!
Dead Silence by SA Barnes. I don’t typically read a lot of sci-fi space horror and this claustrophobic Event Horizon-esque novel has me questioning why. As we enter the story, Claire and her crew of workers are wrapping up a maintenance project in deep space when they unexpectedly pick up a distress signal from the Aurora… a luxury liner that disappeared under mysterious circumstances twenty years prior. Even dumb babies know that answering distress calls from ghost ships in the dead of space is never a good time, but Claire, the sole survivor of a tragic event from her past, is no stranger to ghostly visitations and wants to check it out.. Madness, infection, corporate politics, and pandemic themes abound in this tale of dread and despair, and there’s even a bit of romance (I could have done without even a hint of romance, tbh.) So I guess need more horror in space on my shelves?
The House Across The Lake by Riley Sager. Actress Casey Fletcher is having a rough time of it. Grieving her husband’s accidental drowning at their beloved lake house, she’s coping by applying a liberal amount of alcohol to the wound. Her drinking and depression spiraling out of control, Casey’s subsequent behavior instigates a fairly incendiary streak of bad press, and at her stage-actress mother’s behest, she retreats from the public eye to the relative quiet of her family’s lakeside home. There she meets one of her new neighbors, Katherine, when she saves her from drowning and a fast friendship begins to form– but is swiftly cut short when Katherine soon after that goes missing. Casey, whose rest & retreat habits include drinking from sunup to sundown as well as spying on her neighbors in their glass house across the water with her late husband’s high-powered binoculars (you can see craters on the moon with them, he marvels) observes some strange happenings over there and is growing suspicious that Katherine’s intensely controlling husband has done her in. Riley Sager has introduced a supernatural facet to his typical woman-in-peril psychological thriller and through the book’s twists and turns it becomes apparent that whatever you think you know, you probably don’t. Or even if you do know it…you still don’t! Ultimately, I’m not sure that this is one of the author’s strongest offerings, as the believability factor is a bit iffy, though I think if he’d perhaps built up more story and local lore around the weird bits, he might have pulled it off. Still, it was pretty binge-able –I read it in a day!–and a solid spooky summer read. This title will be published in June; I acquired a copy through Netgalley.
And boy howdy have I read a lot of women-in-peril (and adjacent) books lately. I’ve found that, at least at this stage in life, they’re the best things for me to read when I want to just turn my brain off and let it snack on junk food. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware was probably my favorite among her books thus far. Sort of had an olde-timey golden age mystery gothic feel to it, with mysterious letters and mistaken identities and fortune-tellers and weird family dynamics A Slow Fire Burning by Paul Hawkins, well, take heed of the title. It’s a slow burn. There is a death and three different women connected to the victim. I heard someone say about this book on YouTube, “I just can’t get into books with old people as the main characters,” so I read this out of spite. It was okay. The Guest List and The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley, were both fun stories that I read over the course of an afternoon or two. In The Guest List, a luxurious destination wedding goes sour on a creepy island where everyone is keeping secrets, and The Paris Apartment follows the down on her luck Jess as she goes to stay with her half brother in a posh Parisian apartment, and discovers not long after she arrives that he has gone missing. In her investigations to find out what has happened to him, she discovers the building’s dysfunctional occupants are the least of her worries. Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty were probably my favorites from among this stack of mysteries and thrillers. These are the first books I have read by Liane Moriarty, and man, her writing is so goofy and charming. I love that. Both feature vulnerable people going through their own stuff in the scheme of the larger story, but often the individual characters’ stories interlink in interesting ways as well. Both of these books have been turned into television series, so I won’t bother getting into the plot, but if you want something a bit more light-hearted than a Ruth Ware or Paula Hawkins, but still kinda murdery, Liane Moriarty books are adorable.
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