Stephen Graham Jones

Top 5 recent horror reads

I have always loved thrillers, mystery and horror books. But lately, it seems that I can’t devour the stories fast enough. My Audible library is teeming audiobooks from Valancourt Books and my pre-order list for this summer’s releases is maaaybe just a little too long.

But what else do I have to do with my time but consume stories? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

And there’s certainly been a lot of crud that I’ve read. That’s for sure. But instead of talking about everything I’ve recently read, here are the shining lights from the last six months.

Top 5 Horror/Thrillers from the first six months of 2020 in no particular order because I hate ranking things:

1. I’ve gone on about this book already, so I’ll keep it short. But When Darkness Loves Us by Elizabeth Engstrom is a dark and twisted pair of novellas from Valancourt Books’ Paperbacks From Hell series. 

It’s been said in many reviews, but it’s a sin that Engstrom’s name is not mentioned more in the list of great horror writers. “When Darkness Loves Us” is a visceral and stomach-churning tale of revenge. And “Beauty Is” is the magical realism horror that tackles misogyny that we all need. 

2. So I wrote an entire short story about my love for Christopher Pike’s The Midnight Club. Magically it was deleted, and I will hate WordPress forever for it. But this is another one I’ll keep to the point.

This was my first foray into Pike’s work. I love me some early teen horror. So I really was expecting a ghoulish tale of ghosts and children up to no good (probably me just associating the title with the Midnight Society). 

Instead I was slapped in the face with a poignant story about reincarnation and accepting death. This probably shouldn’t be classified as a horror novel. There are no ghosts. There are no mysterious figures arriving to deliver punishment. Just a group of four young adults in a hospice coming to terms about the end of their lives.

I felt out ugly sobbed at the end of this book. It really just hit me in all the right places. It’s been announced that Mike Flannagan is going to be directing an adaption for Netflix. Given how he handled the themes of death in The Haunting of Hill House, I couldn’t pick a better man for the job. 

3. I struggle with anthology novels. The stories are often forgettable, surrounded by one of two memorable pieces. I’ve read a small handful this year so far, and not many of them were impressive. The one that stood head-and-shoulders above the rest was Stephen Graham Jones’ After the People Lights Have Gone Off.

First of all: THAT TITLE! 

But more importantly, Jones has a wonderful style that’s vividly descriptive. I read it via audiobook, but I bet reading it physically is something entirely more visceral (remind me to buy my physical copy). Because I don’t have the book and I read the physical book a month ago. I can’t name my favourite stories. And that, kids, is quality content! 

4. There’s something slightly shameful about admitting how much I loved revisiting Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. It’s been very difficult getting to the reason why

Is it because it’s salacious? Are stories by women more inherently less worth-while if they tackle themes of sex, guilt and desire? God knows. But if loving Flowers in the Attic is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

If you’ve been living under a rock your entire life, Flowers in the Attic follows the tragic story of the four Dollanganger siblings. Following the death of their father, their mother moves them into her parents home. Only the children are soon locked up in a room to be kept as a secret. They’re promised their release will be in a matter of days. But the nightmare emerges when the children’s stay turns from days into months and into years. 

It’s wild in the best sense of the word. But it’s more than just a story about incest. It’s about Cathy and the horrible women in her life. Gillian Flynn’s piece on the book sums it up better than I ever could. If you like her stories, you’ll certainly love the Dollangangers and their secrets. 

5. And finally. The pièce de résistance. The book I haven’t shut up about in months: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying.

It’s always intimidating starting a book you’ve been looking forward to for so long. Even if the author has impressed you time and time again, there’s always a chance that the next book will be the disappointment. 

So when my copy of Grady Hendrix’s latest novel arrived (over a month late, mind), I almost didn’t want to pick it up. But holy shit am I glad I did. Hendrix has a way of taking the most camp-sounding plots and turning them into something so worthwhile and meaningful. 

Patricia is a good housewife in her town in South Carolina. She tries her best to be the good wife and mother to her family. But she’s also a member of a true-crime-loving book club. When a new neighbour moves in, Patricia is suspicious of the man. And while she’s adamant that something more is going on, the rest of her town, including her book club, turn on her. 

Sure. This is a book about a vampire and the group of housewives wanting to take him down. But it’s also about the silencing of women (particularly black women) within a community, class and the complexities of motherhood. 

Though don’t worry. There’s still plenty of gore and horrible scenes of disgusting rats!

I haven’t reread a book in years. But I think Hendrix’s last three novels have “reread” written all over them.