books

Wicked Wednesday: More summer horror/thriller reads

There’s heatwave in London this week. Being a born-and-bred Wisconsinite, I can handle -30 but melt at anything above “warm-ish”. And there’s no heat quite like city heat. Plus a lot less lakes and rivers to sit by in London than in ‘sconsin.

And that’s excuse number 108 why it’s way too hot to turn on the TV and watch a movie. Our PlayStation creates a bonfire’s worth of heat just by looking at it, so sitting next to it with pen in hand is just not happening this week.

But do you know what doesn’t create heat? Books!

This week is the annual Reading Rush reading challenge (formerly BookTube-a-thon). As per the definition of a read-a-thon, I’m going to try and read as much as possible this week. I’ve lined up a selection of graphic novels, shorter books and audiobooks (which by the way, if you’re still not using Scribd you’re behind on life) to indulge in.

But the summer has always been about reading a lot. We don’t need a reading challenge for that. And now that summer is reaching the halfway point, it’s time to talk about some recent (and future) horror reads.

1. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Cailtin Doughty

So this non-fiction entry isn’t “horror” per se. But I guess that depends on how much you enjoy talking about cremation, corpses and death plans.

I’m late to the game when it comes to Doughty. This YouTuber/Mortician/death enthusiast/all-around-goddess first came to my attention only a few months ago. And it’s safe to say that in that short amount of time I’ve become thoroughly obsessed.

Doughty’s debut novel Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells the story of Doughty’s first job working in a crematorium. The stories can be sweet, funny, heart-breaking and informative. She certainly gets you thinking about your own mortality and about what really happens to your fats when you burn.

I particularly recommend listening to the audiobook, which Doughty reads herself. Her voice is fantastic. Filled with great inflection and humour.

2. Shadowland by Peter Straub

For years now I’ve wanted to read something by Straub, but his work is pretty intimidating. Poor Ghost Story has been sitting unloved on my shelf for ages now. But when I was in Wisconsin this summer, I was in the mood for something a bit scary. And who better to reach for than a fellow creepy Wisconsinite?

Well, turns out Shadowland isn’t a straight-forward horror story. In fact, there’s a lot of fantasy in the pages. But if anything, this story is unsettling as all hell. Straub creates vivid dream-like scenes that (to me) are simultaneously terrifying and confusing. It’s heavy with metaphors and imagery – and not at all in a bad way.

Shadowland follows two boys over the course a year. We’re introduced to them at the beginning of their school year before they are whisked away to New England where they spend a summer with a magician. As the boys learn more magic, the power they see becomes more dangerous and surreal.

I’ve never read anything like Shadowland before. And I doubt I will ever again. But I’m so glad I took the risk.

3. We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Last summer, I read my first Grady Hendrix novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism. That book ticked all the boxes for me: 80s references, female friendships, demons. So when he released a new novel about a heavy metal band, I knew this one would be for me too.

We Sold Our Souls is about one woman’s desire to recollect her past. Having been thrown out of her semi-famous metal band decades earlier, Kris Pulaski is washed-up. The frontman of her band is immensely famous, but Kris hasn’t seen any royalties. She starts to suspect that he didn’t get his fame and power on his own. Kris decides traverse the country to put the band (and the puzzle pieces) back together. Though it’s a far more dangerous road than she things, there’s more than one demon along the way.

This is another horror novel that isn’t so straight-forward with its thrills. Really, it’s about how horrible humans can really be to each other in selfish pursuits. It’s about our fears and paranoias, and that’s very scary indeed.

Also, bonus for great music references.

4. Jughead: The Hunger vol. 1 by Frank Tieri

When Archie Comics released a one-shot about Jughead as a werewolf, all was magnificent. Only it wasn’t. There wasn’t enough.

Thankfully the people at Archie heard our lycanthropic prayers and made Jughead: The Hunger an ongoing series. I’m only halfway through the first volume, and it hasn’t really lived up to expectations thus far. But I do love how much fun Archie Comics have been having with their characters in recent years. This is a brand to always love.

5. Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe

This book, much like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, transfixed me as a young girl. Particularly that wonderful cover by Alan Daniel. Never have bunnies been more terrifying. Beware, Anya!

I sneaked this book out of my parents’ house to England wanting to reread this obvious masterpiece. And that reread is happening 100% soon…as in probably tonight.

6. The audiobook mystery thrillers

Upon discovering the Scribd app, I’ve gone a bit audiobook mad. Thankfully, because it’s easy to discard a book after starting it, I’ve been able to dabble in many different books I wouldn’t normally read. This has made create both good and bad outcomes.

I went into Riley Sager’s The Last Time I Lied with really high expectations. I’d heard great things about his other books. Unsolved murders at a summer camp? Yes please. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t care about the story. There was a fun little twist at the end, but it certainly was a lot to slog through for little reward.

Speaking of high expectations… From the summary for Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey, I thought this would be literally everything I wanted: magic school, murders, detective noir. But this was one seriously not-for-me book. I have never not finished a murder mystery. Even if I don’t like the story, I always finish. This was one solid exception to the rule. Yikes.

On a brighter note, I listened to two YA mysteries that I enjoyed: Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson and Little Monsters by Kara Thomas. I highly, highly recommend Little Monsters, even if you aren’t into YA that much. Plus it’s set in Wisconsin, so…


What will you be reading for the rest of the summer? Are you taking part in the Reading Rush read-a-thon? Hopefully you read some winners this year. I know I certainly have.

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American of London’s summer horror reads 2017

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.