I know that summer is typically when people consume garbage books, but summer doesn’t have to equate to the mind-numbing. Life is too short to read shit books on purpose.
Increasingly I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed reading horror novels in the summertime, especially when I go home to Wisconsin. There is something unknown about the forest around my parents’ house that fills my imagination with spooky ideas.
As August is giving us its final, dying breath before autumn mania takes over, I thought I’d chat about the horror stories I’ve read this summer.
1. My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
This was one joyful read. A glorious throwback to a horror golden age. It surprised me, made me laugh aloud but most all — creeped me out quite a lot. In My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Gretchen and Abby are the best of friends. They’ve been together through their fair share, but they meet ultimate test when Gretchen becomes possessed.
I’ve never read anything else from Hendrix, but his book Paperbacks from Hell: The twisted history of ’70s and 80s paperbacks is out in September, and that’s a definite “yes please” from me. Hendrix built such a great, convincing story around his main characters’ friendship, that I think I’ll be reading anything he writes from here on out.
And quick note, this book sat on my TBR shelf for nearly a year until I saw the paperback edition and had to buy it immediately. I mean, look at it – it’s incredible.
2. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
This is a bite-sized thriller about a group of kids who accidentally kill their English teacher (spoiler alert). Like many of Duncan’s novels, the teens have to learn to accept responsibility for their actions or deal with what happens to you when you’re a nasty little liar.
I mentioned this in my review of the made-for-tv adaption, but I picked up this Lois Duncan novel in a used book store. I’ve been interested in reading Duncan’s novels for a while and I quite enjoyed this. Duncan was fantastic at building up feelings of suspense and guilt. A disturbing little read.
3. Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell
It’s rare to get excited about any books that come through our office at work, but when I heard co-workers talking about creepy dolls and needles stuck in a boys’ eyes, I knew I had to get my greedy little hands on this book. It took almost two years to do it, but I finally read it!
Frozen Charlotte isn’t likely to blow anyone away who’s familiar with the genre, but there is plenty of atmosphere that is rather chill-inducing. It follows the story of Sophie, a girl who goes to stay in Scotland with some family after the supposed suicide of her best friend. It’s immediately clear to Sophie that not all is well with her family or the weird dolls she finds everywhere.
There’s a prequel novel out in September. The first novel was good enough for me to gladly read the second.
4. “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood
I listened to Algernon Blackwood’s short story “The Willows” on Chilling Tales for Dark Nights’ YouTube page, which you can listen to here. Peter Bishop does a fantastic job with the narration. They do a number of stories on their page, and its well worth a visit if you enjoy audio books.
“The Willows” follows two men as their make their journey down the Danube. They stop for the night on an island filled with willow trees. The men begin to have explainable supernatural experiences as their situation becomes increasingly dire. It’s a story that slowly unfolds, and dramatically. Blackwood was absolutely fantastic at creating a chilling story.
I definitely want to read more of this man’s stories in the future.
5. The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison
Not strictly “horror” this one. The Butterfly Garden is more thriller, but the two often go hand-in-hand. This book, to me, is in the same realm of something like The Silence of the Lambs, which also treads the line between thriller and horror.
The story follows two FBI agents as they interview a girl who has been held in a greenhouse known
as the Butterfly Garden for years. Her captor is the Gardner, a twisted man who mutilates his victims by tattooing them with butterfly wings. The story changes POV between the interview with the girl, Maya, and Maya telling her side of the story.
I found this a difficult one to rate. In many ways, it’s very good – I felt scared, I cried, I was sickened. But also, I think Maya was meant to feel like an unreliable narrator but I believed everything she said. There’s no real twist here. It’s either guessable or given away by the synopsis. Not exactly what you want in a thriller.
6. The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch
It’s been a rather Lynch-filled summer. With the return of Twin Peaks I’ve been living in the Lynch World since April (when we started re-watching the original show leading up to the The Return). So I was very pleased when I got this book for my birthday from my co-workers.
And…wow. What a saucy book.
Laura Palmer’s diary is certainly very shocking. Unfortunately, Jennifer isn’t anywhere as good as her father in building characters, but she does know how to write terrifying and sickening scenes. One day I want to sit with all of the pieces of the Twin Peaks puzzle and see if I can put any of them in place.
7. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
I’m a very slow reader. So when I received my copy of The Witching Hour in the mail, I nearly wept. IT IS SO LARGE. I managed to read this beast in about 24 days, but boy I’m still not certain if it was worth it.
The Witching Hour is an epic in every sense of the word. While there is one main plot line, much of the story is filled with the history of every Mayfair Witch. For the first 400 pages, I was so into it. Rice has such an alluring style of writing. But the lady cannot be described as brief. Do readers really need to know every detail of a house? And when I say every detail, I mean I could draw you a picture of this thing.
Despite it being simultaneously devious and tedious, I found myself actually wanting to read the other books in this series (of which there are two more). Damn you, Anne Rice.