Cackle by Rachel Harrison

Cackle by Rachel Harrison

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 35. From the villain’s perspective

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 6. Household object on the cover, 14. A character with superhuman ability, 37. Set in a rural area

I have some thoughts on Rachel Harrison. And some thoughts on Cackle. Some thoughts. And I’m going to say before anything, this is probably going to be my most spoiler-filled review ever, because there’s just no way to talk about the meat and potatoes of this story without ruining some of it for you – so if you plan on reading this at some point, bookmark my review and come back to it once you’ve finished this book.

After a breakup from a relationship that lasted ten years, Annie is forced to up and move from NYC to a remote town upstate called Rowan, where the townspeople are nice and the shops quaint, and take a new teaching job there. Luckily, as she’s settling in, she manages to befriend a sweet and welcoming woman of indeterminate age by the name of Sophie.

As Annie’s life becomes more droll and depressing, more chaotic and hard to deal with, her friendship with Sophie remains a constant. The women care for each other, Sophie dotes on Annie, and the mansion Sophie resides in becomes a harbor against the storm for Annie and her inner turmoil over her breakup. But weird things are adding up, and the townspeople’s original niceties begin to twist into something more like suspicion, until Annie’s not sure who the “good guy” is anymore.

So I guess my biggest thing with this is that in The Return, which obviously, I absolutely adored, there is some weird, ew, uncomfy feelings about the the main character’s relationship to others in the story. And I don’t mean that to come off as questionable romantic relationships. I’m actually referring to their friendships…Elise of The Return and Annie of Cackle both come from these dark pits of despair when they walk into the story. Whether it’s feelings of guilt or loss or both, they walk into our set stage just absolutely miserable. And I think, after reading both books, this is what makes them susceptible to the weird. To the horrific. What desensitizes them and draws them into it. The series of events that transpire before Rachel sits down to write these books perfectly positions them to accept the horrors of these toxic relationships.

Because that’s what Annie and Sophie are…a toxic relationship. Sophie is domineering and bossy, and a bit frightening. She uses gifts and showing constant, overbearing attention as a way to keep neglected, broken Annie coming back for more. Even when the signs could not be clearer that something is wrong, Annie convinces herself of Sophie’s goodwill in favor of being alone, or not being liked by someone as much as Sophie seems to like her. And it is Annie’s behavior and attitude, above all, that ruined this story for me. With the two of them like this, and Elise and Julie from the last novel like that…I can’t help but ask myself whether this is conscious or unconscious on Harrison’s part. Does she know she’s writing toxic relationships, or is she living them? That’s concerning in the way it comes out in her writing, in the way it’s romanticized, and in the way it plays out so horrifyingly.

Not to mention, this book is not nearly as scary as The Return. The Return scared the bejeezus out of me, kept me up at night! Cackle got me a few times with good jump scares, but nothing like it needed to be. Those jump scares are also never tied – there’s something missing from the end of this book that prevents it from being finished with a neat little bow. It didn’t do it for me in the horror capacity, and the story was lacking in that sense as well.

Clearly, there’s a point to this story. The not-so-subtle messaging about women, relationships, and power are center stage in this book, especially in the latter half. Obviously, being pop culture of a witchy nature, those themes are bound to come up, but I think they were meant to carry the novel in a way they just, *didn’t*. To some more inclined to think women can’t be truly wicked, I’m sure this novel is full of frights. To most who know the truth, this is nothing more than a revenge story turned empowered.

I wanted to like this. I wanted to LOVE this. But I just don’t, I can’t. Annie ruined it for me, and while I think Sophie was meant to be endearing to start, to persuade you like to her and follow Annie’s line of thinking, I disliked her from the first. It really surprised me just how much I didn’t care for Cackle when I absolutely loved Harrison’s debut and this one was supposed to be even better. Well. Can’t win them all.

My advice would be to skip this one, but I’m not against Rachel Harrison just yet. I will give her next release the good ol’ college try.

Have an awesome week, pals.

Cujo by Stephen King

Cujo by Stephen King

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What a major disappointment! I’ve had Cujo on my list for quite a while – I love Castle Rock, and I had heard good things about this one, but I did not dig it. It had some classic Stephen King problems, alongside the classic Stephen King vibes.

After a 200-pound Saint Bernard is scratched by a bat, he goes rabid and torments a poor side of Castle Rock and a small cast of characters. All of them seem to feel personally attacked by said dog; they each have reasons they think they’ve been targeted by Cujo’s wrath, almost as if Cujo is more than just a rabid dog…

Before I say anything else constructive, I absolutely need to say that Tad is one of the most annoying characters, maybe ever. While I own the physical copy, I elected to listen to it from my local library (Libby for the win, friends!) and the narrator gave him this shrill voice reminiscent of the kid in The Babadook. If you know, you know. So maybe his incessant whining and cries for mommy are less annoying if you read them off the page, but if I heard him say “I want Daddy!” one more time, I was going to get to him long before Cujo was.

Moving on, this book had some of that classic King rambling. I think of Pet Sematary and how the guy went on about a deadfall for like 100 pages. There are a lot of storylines in here that I actually don’t feel are crucial or helpful to telling the story, like the Sharp food company problem with Raspberry Zingers. It doesn’t actually do anything for the problem or the resolution, but it sure as hell takes up a lot of page space, and the only logical reason I can see for King doing that is to further expose the misery and current backstories of his characters. But it’s just done in so, so much detail.

I also fail to see too many “horror” moments in this book. Cujo is a good problem, I’ll give him that, but relatively speaking he doesn’t get a lot of screen time (or page time?). I think this novel could’ve been infinitely better if we had expanded on that. Every time we were actually following or facing Cujo, the story improved tenfold. And in particular, it could’ve been better if he had expanded on the connection to Frank Dodd. Frank Dodd was a deputy in Castle Rock who was actually strangling women years prior to Cujo’s reign in town, and at the beginning and at some point near the end, they almost allude that he has possessed Cujo, not that he is rabid (though he does test positively for rabies…?). I’m not doing outside research on this piece of the puzzle prior to writing this expressly because I want to relay it as I interpreted it, which is to say that it was not included much at all, to my disappointment. If that was his aim, it misses its mark.

Cujo feels merely like a fill-in story to further express the misery that grips Castle Rock. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, and it’s far from what I would consider good horror unfortunately. I’m curious about others’ thoughts, if you’ve read it!

Have a great weekend, friends!

Devolution by Max Brooks

Devolution by Max Brooks

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 27. Includes a map

Other Possible Prompts: 30. Audiobook is narrated by the author, 37. Set in a rural area

Well, that was fun. Not my favorite horror by a longshot, but just good enough to make it hard to sleep at night as I read it. The scenes of terror and the monstrous creatures that haunt the pages had me checking my door lock a few extra times than usual.

Devolution is told as a researched account of a volcanic eruption in Washington that brings a small green tech community called Greenloop a particularly terrifying problem. After the eruption, the extremely small community is cut off from communicating or leaving, no food, no internet…and while they are safe from the eruption, they’re not safe from what the eruption drove right toward them.

Kate Holland and her husband Dan had moved into Greenloop just a few days prior to the eruption, and now they are thrust into a story of survival both from themselves and the predators lurking just outside. Devolution is primarily told from Kate Holland’s perspective, as these are her recovered journal entries found at the abandoned Greenloop community months after Rainier’s eruption. Supported by articles, radio shows, and interviews with first responders, Kate’s story of the Rainier bigfoot massacre unfolds.

I could not have dragged this book out any longer: I started Devolution back in October and then kept putting aside, only to discover upon the release of The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge that it was my only book with a map in it – so I held on to it and waited to finish it in the new year. And here we are! I finished it mid-January but you won’t be reading this until February…I’m sure you’ve been dying to know when you’d finally get to read this very review! And I’m glad I finally got to it: I’m not sure if it was everything I wanted it to be, but for a horror novel about sasquatch, it kind of rocked. It was violent and gory, and deeply disturbing for the *hint* of humanity that plagued it.

The structure of this story and the way Brooks built it out adds more insight and horror to it that it definitely needed. Kate’s journals are the meat of the story, but the supporting interviews and information that accompany it inform the tale and our enemies. I loved the way it was set up, and I thought the audiobook, performed by a full cast, was impressive and interesting to listen to. That said, I didn’t love Kate’s perspective too too much at any given point in the story. Some parts were objective and important, but Kate’s character herself goes from one extreme to another throughout the story, and neither are enjoyable people. However, I think this change was really necessary to the conclusion, and I applaud Brooks for that transition through trauma. It was wildly interesting.

And actually, none of the characters were all that likeable. Even with my feelings about Kate, I think she was still my favorite (didn’t really realize it until I went to talk about these other characters!). The kinds of people that ended up in this Greenloop community all go from one extreme to another; as you meet them, they are mostly normal, likeable people, if not a little quirky and pompous, but devolve (pun intended!) into these angry, broken versions of themselves as the story goes on. So yes, you may not like the characters very much…but it illustrates Brooks’ point very well.

Also, while this is unrelated to the meat and potatoes of this review, I thought Greenloop’s community was an incredible idea and a wonderful work of the green imagination…until the isolation started. Greenloop is almost entirely self-sufficient, with solar power, methane gas based heating systems, each home specifically designed to harness the power of the earth. Their groceries would be delivered by electric drones and vans. They were hours from Seattle should they need the city, but the idea was that they had all their earthly comforts dropped into this idyllic PNW forest. I think something like this made widespread would be amazing for climate change and the planet, but Brooks’ interpretation doesn’t exactly make it sound desirable! What an interesting take on going off the grid, that hopefully doesn’t deter us from all doing the same down the line…since it definitely didn’t work out for Greenloop, lol.

I think that about does it. I don’t have a ton to say, mostly because I don’t want to ruin the plot for you! This was kind of a curveball, not entirely unexpected but much more intense than anticipated. I would definitely recommend Devolution; it’s not a super long read, but definitely don’t read it in on a camping trip! 😉

Have a great week friends!

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 39. A Middle-Grade Novel

Other Possible Prompts: 14. A Character with Superhuman Ability, 15. A Five-Syllable Title, 22. An Unlikely Detective, 37. Set in a Rural Area

I feel like my “Other Possible Prompts” section always looks the same…I appear to read some very similar stuff, haha. I picked up 100 Cupboards to fill my middle-grade novel prompt, but there’s also a backstory here! This novel was not a random choice, nor just one that sounded interesting…I’m pretty familiar with what’s popular in middle grade novels from my work at the library, but 100 Cupboards has additional meaning to me.

Henry York’s parents are missing, so he’s being sent to live with his Uncle Frank and Aunt Dottie for the summer in Henry, Kansas. Summer with his cousins is finally helping him taste some sense of normalcy from his own life, and letting him be a kid – but better yet, he’s discovered cupboards buried under the plaster in his attic bedroom. Slowly, painstakingly, scraping and picking away at the plaster, Henry and his cousin Henrietta discover ninety-nine cupboards that seemingly help them enter other worlds. The cupboards are doorways to somewhere else…but the thing about doorways is that things can come back through them, too – and that’s where the trouble begins.

When I was twelve, my grandparents gave me 100 Cupboards as a Christmas present. We almost always got at least one book for Christmas in those days, and N.D. Wilson’s novel was mine. I love the creepy cover and the horror look in its coloring. I recall reading it in the sixth grade and just absolutely loving it – this was roundabout the time I was finally becoming a reader, for real, primarily because I was picking up good books like this one instead of that weird regurgitated garbage we feed kids, ie. “sad animal story”, or “magic animal story where they’re weirdly human”, or “girly drama about a boy that reminds you about true friendship”. There’s nothing wrong with reading those and enjoying them, but I think they became so much of a fad when I was in school that I forgot to just try to read things I actually enjoyed. And oddly enough for a kid with anxiety, I loved horror. Now an adult with anxiety, I still love horror! And I think this is one of the first books that got me hooked on that.

I really enjoyed completing this prompt, and not just because the book was pretty decent. I think this one really gave me a blast from the past, and made me evaluate where my reading tastes originally derived from. I recalled very little of the story, so as it unfolded for me nearly ten years later, I enjoyed it just as much the second time. I thought it was so interesting to see one of those pivotal turns in my reading taste.

I did remember, however, this book being much scarier to twelve-year-old me than it was to twenty-one-year-old me. I found very little of this book truly frightening, but I can see why it may have felt ghostly and horrific to a younger version of myself. And that said, I still really enjoyed it. This is a good yarn, if you will, and I would actually love to know what happens next. I may try to squeak both sequels into my reading for the rest of the year, just to see what happens.

This book is also more fantasy than I typically read, in keeping with my last two reviews! I think you should always expect some fantastical element of something when reading a middle grade novel, but the depth of this fantasy also went much deeper than I recalled. Even as a kid I didn’t read a lot of fantasy; I never read Harry Potter and I wasn’t into the Warriors series…I was more likely to pick up science fiction, or realistic fiction. This novel held a much higher rating in my head prior to me getting to the last quarter of the book or so, actually, because it was about then that it got really wild and a little harder to follow. They’re trying to get you to read the sequel…but really they lost me quite a bit when it started developing further. It was just an interesting observation for me. As a child, I never read the sequels – so clearly I was not so entranced at that age either.

And as much as I enjoy reminiscing about my childhood reading habits, I’m writing this review as a twenty-one year old bibliophile, so not all of this should come from my twelve year old self. And as an adult, I have to say, this book is stellar. It’s well written, it’s got well-rounded characters, and there’s just enough to it to keep the pre-teen following the plot and the adult pretty interested. There’s just little specks of suspense here and there that I was absolutely living for.

I had so much fun with this prompt and reading this book, so I was really excited to share this one. I hope I didn’t bore you too much with my nostalgia!

Have a great week, friends!

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King & Owen King

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King & Owen King

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

With this, my last review of the year, I was really feeling some Stephen King vibes. I have a love/hate relationship with King’s writing that almost entirely centers on him being a genius, but one who must not have met a real woman in his whole life. Every time I read his books I am struck with just how badly he writes women – but Sleeping Beauties is the anomaly. With the addition of Owen King as a writer, I was absolutely struck by the brilliance and beauty of this work as a horror fantasy novel.

Sleeping Beauties follows the town of Dooling, a small town containing a women’s prison, and the lives of the people within it as a virus named Aurora spreads through the nation. Aurora afflicts only women, spinning them into cocoons they can’t wake up from as soon as they fall asleep. Dooling struggles to stay awake and deal with the aftermath of losing an entire town (and an entire world) of women in just a few days…but meanwhile, the men’s search for the solution grows dangerous.

This is easily one of my favorite King novels now. It’s right up there with The Mist, which for sure hits different in the middle of a pandemic (for real, read it and tell me that wasn’t the entire United States locked in that grocery store). But Sleeping Beauties taps into a different fear, I think of both men and women, of losing the other sex. I was fascinated by the responses of each, of the drama that unfolds, and the sacrifices they make. Because this story is so focused on women, I think it absolutely could have flopped with King. When I read things like Carrie, I’m disturbed by how poorly he understands girls and women, what motivates them, and how they act in real life. Carrie almost certainly would have been a very different story if it was written by a woman, if you think about it. I had the same fear for Sleeping Beauties – but it is truly evolved from his original works, and I tend to wonder if that’s Owen’s magic.

As incredible as the action and drama of this book is, what really had me invested by the end was these personal relationships and bonds formed between characters. When it comes down to the climax, the turning point, and the ultimate choice for our characters, I was bawling. You come to respect the positions and reactions of each character to this cataclysmic event, even if you don’t like them all that much. Even characters I disliked (and there are so, so many…but incredibly, by the time your halfway through or so, you know them all like the back of your hand) felt redeemed to me in their search for justice, or their search for the women lost in their lives.

I think the premise of this book, and the lesson it teaches through the horror it’s driving at, is extremely important – and it was especially important when this book came out, in 2017. I’ve had it on my shelves since that time, but I wish I had read it then (even though, reading it now, I have much more perspective on this). These women were abused, ignored, continuously beat down physically or emotionally by men, or were in their current situations (like a women’s prison) because of men. The heart of this story is that many of these women felt a relief from Aurora – and that’s a terrifying prospect, to wish to sleep permanently over continuing down your current path. If you think back to 2017 or even 2016 when this book was coming to fruition, I think you can see where this fear of losing the backbone of our society really stemmed from. And just like Carrie, I think this story would look very different if it was written – or even just finished – by a woman. And that, my friends, is why I was really crying at the end of this book.

Overall, this is what I have always craved from a Stephen King work: complex women. They’re the crucial missing piece for me when people claim King is a master of the craft. I don’t disagree, and I never have. His words on the page are absolutely art… but art can still be problematic. Our favorite artists, too, can still be problematic. But Sleeping Beauties is a redemption. Sleeping Beauties has shown me that the master understands his shortcomings and is prepared to grapple with them. And for that reason, I’m highly recommending Sleeping Beauties to anyone who will listen these days.

And so marks my very last book review of 2021! This was an awesome note to end on. It takes me awhile to work up to committing to a King novel, but I’m never disappointed when I do. He captures a vibe that not other author on my radar ever can.

I can’t wait to share with you my 2022 reads and work through The 52 Book Club challenge with you!! Enjoy the new year, and stay safe friends!

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Hello y’all! I’m back again with yet another spooky read. Unfortunately, all the books I read around Halloween time won’t hit your feeds until later in the season. At the time I’m writing this, Nothing But Blackened Teeth is being really hyped up in my bookish circles. I was told haunted house. Reuniting friends. Creepy. Expected something larger (this book is a mere 128 pages). That’s not what I got. Let’s jump into it!

Nothing But Blackened Teeth follows five friends (or acquaintances, really) reuniting for a wedding between two of them. Talia has always dreamed of getting married in a haunted house, so old flame Phillip uses his inheritance to make it happen for her and her fiance, Faiz. Troublemaker Lin joins the party late, but he knows from the start what a bad idea this is. And from the second our narrator Cat enters the house, she’s hearing voices and seeing things.

I just have so many feelings about this tiny little novel. Let’s start from the top.

This book starts out hella slow. Which is a problem, when there’s only 128 pages to capture my attention. The events of this book take place solely inside the house, and the backstory and relationships unravel as we move through the haunting. So when we jump right in and pretend the reader knows everything about everyone in the book, it’s not only annoying, but makes me have to go back several times over to reread. Very, very slow start. And I felt like the language was really trying too hard, especially at the beginning.

Next, the relationships in this book are so fake and unreal it hurts. No one has this level of drama. I felt like every person had beef in some capacity with everyone else there. Or maybe that was just Cat? Maybe Cat was causing beef? I’m honestly not sure, but I can tell you you couldn’t pay me enough to go spend a night in a *very* haunted house with frenemies. This cast of characters all learned that lesson, too. Regardless, I just felt that even if you’re relationship with someone is strained, if they’re truly your “friend”, you aren’t narrating this story like Cat does.

Onto the Japanese words! Now, I don’t want this to sound uncultured, idiotic, or even rude. But, I’m going to say it anyways, as my job is to critique, and I hope you hear me out to the end. This book is literally filled with unnecessary words in Japanese. Yes, I understand it’s based on Japanese folklore! 100%! Some of these words, terms, or figures are extremely necessary to tell the story, and I understand that. But the issue I take with them here is not only their extremely repetitive use, but their lack of explanation (I think the only one I knew straightaway was the tanuki!). I know nothing about Japanese culture or folk tales. This was all new to me, and you’d think with the amount of times Khaw said yokai she might tell me at least once that is. Instead, I read most of this book armed with Google Translate. I have no problem with incorporating other languages and cultures into novels and bestsellers like this one, and no problem parking Google next to my hardcovers. My issue here was that they were so overused and under-explained that it felt like the author was trying to prove a level of knowledge to us, instead of focusing on their importance to the story. Because they really didn’t have any true importance to the story. Like I said at the beginning, this book is getting really hyped in my area. But I don’t think the wider horror audience is the ideal audience for this book, given these problems with it.

Which brings me to my last point: this book is far from horror. Far from truly scary. At no point was I afraid, only mildly confused and kind of annoyed. I would call this book more of a drama with a backdrop of Japanese folklore. The scariest thing about this book is the cover (seriously, that artist is impressive… shoutout to Samuel Araya). Everything that happens within its pages would’ve happened whether they were at this haunted Japanese mansion or at an Airbnb in Alaska. And I just didn’t dig that, especially given what my expectations were going in (see above!).

I’m still giving this two stars. I have no idea why. I guess some part of me must’ve enjoyed it just a little or I wouldn’t have allowed it that extra one, but I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t just give a singular star.

Skip this one, people! I hope I could save you from the hype before you picked this sucker up.

Hope you all have an incredible Thanksgiving with your family and friends. ❤

The Return by Rachel Harrison

The Return by Rachel Harrison

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This. Book. Freaked. Me. Right. The. Hell. OUT!

I don’t normally give horror like this five stars, as you usually can’t get me with jump scares when it comes to reading. But oh my god, this book reads just like an incredible blockbuster horror flick, and I’m living for it.

Elise’s best friend, Julie, went missing. After days and weeks pass, her friends Mae and Molly are convinced Julie is dead, but Elise can’t shake the feeling that she’s just biding her time to come back. She can’t even cry at her funeral. And then, she does reappear: just over two years later, she shows up on her own porch like nothing happened.

The friends reunite over a weekend at an inn in the mountains, but they’re all put off by this changed version of Julie. Their previously vegetarian friend is now eating meat like it’s the only food left. She’s losing teeth. And she just doesn’t look right… not to mention, the hotel is giving them all the creeps.

This boooooook, y’all. I can’t EVEN. The suspense building is absolutely masterful. This is why I say it translates like a true horror movie: I’m met with the same nail biting anticipation and worry as watching a jump scare on a big screen. Towards the end of my reading, I literally had to take breaks. From a BOOK. To calm down from the scares. Nate was forced to remain awake so I didn’t get murdered. (By what, you ask? It was unclear at the time but I definitely felt like we were headed in the direction of murder.)

This is a sleep-with-the-lights-on kind of read. I purchased Cackle last week, and a lot of people were commenting on how the story was solid, sure, but the vibes? Incredible. And I kind of feel that way about The Return as well. Harrison sets an impressive scene at the Red Honey Inn. I loved the way she sets it up to sound cool (at least to nerdy old me), but somehow leaves you feeling like someone has their eyes on the back of your neck. It is deliciously creepy, and I can’t wait to read Cackle as well.

This book kept me guessing up until the very end. I literally couldn’t come up with any logical, regular horror solution to all of the creepy evidence stacking up against Julie and this hotel. Which made sense, once you got to the end, but I loved that there was no rhyme or reason to any of it, and you just literally had no clue what horrifying event might take place next. There was literally jump scares. In a book. Like you’d just be going along normally, and then all of a sudden, BAM. Scared AF. This book would make an excellent movie with little to no changes to the entire plot and dialogue. This is a director’s dream. Blumhouse, where you at??

Horror aside, I loved the well-rounded characters. At just under 300 pages, The Return is actually a relatively short novel, but I have to give credit where credit is due: these characters had more content and thoughtfully curated personalities than most books that I read. They were not only consistent, but they fit together like puzzle pieces to tell this story absolutely perfectly. The four friends just fit, and you can feel their vibe, as well as how Julie’s changes mess with that vibe and that level of comfort with one another. It is so WILDLY interesting, for real! The book had depth and the memories that were told, the dynamic, spoke to the horror and what we might be missing. I just thought this was really well done.

I honestly don’t have a single bad thing to say, guys. I mean, I didn’t love the main character, Elise, but her story and her plot were the way that they were for a reason, and they informed the ending and everything that came before. Whether I liked her or not, she was necessary and well written. This book is five star horror from me, y’all. Please check out The Return, and don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for my review of Cackle, probably coming very soon!

Have an amazing week!

Petrified Women by Jeremy Ray

Petrified Women by Jeremy Ray

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

WOW. Petrified Women was a seriously pleasant surprise that I absolutely devoured, y’all. This novella is delightfully creepy and takes some seriously good twists.

Harley has a surprise in store for her boyfriend, Aiden. Aiden’s been a joker ever since they started dating, but his surprises tend to be scarier – as marked by the list of top scares on his fridge (including a fake pregnancy, and a stint pretending to be bigfoot). But she’s going to get him this time.

But waiting in the closet for him to arrive, Harper sees something she shouldn’t have. Aiden at his worst might be a bit more than Harley had bargained for.

I’m keeping this description ominous and vague on purpose, as I don’t want to spoil anything, but I hope it draws you in all the same. The description for sure drew me in, when Jeremy Ray himself asked if I’d like to take a look at this ~masterpiece~. I’m not usually inclined to do that sort of thing if it’s not up my alley, but Petrified Women‘s description hooked me instantly!

I feel like we need to acknowledge the gaslighting here. This book focuses on domestic violence and sexual assault. It’s riddled with emotional manipulation, and the remnants of having been emotionally manipulated. And while it’s terribly disturbing to read, Ray captures it perfectly and transfers that self doubt, that confusion, and that deep sense of dread to his readers. I, as the reader, felt gaslit by Aiden. And I think that’s an impressive feat as a writer – it totally added to the horror that I couldn’t tell which way was up. My stomach was tense with every turn of the story.

Harley’s story resonated with me not because of personal experiences but because of the experiences of my friends. The gaslighting, abuse, and that idyllic version of the person you’re with are disturbing to see the other side of. The psychological horror of this novel is commendable but so terribly realistic in the way Harley’s brain functions and works around her own experiences, to rewrite her present. I encourage you to reader’s Jeremy’s author’s note when you start this novella, if this is not something you can relate to on your own.

The only thing I didn’t absolutely love was the very bizarre fantasy turn this book took at the end – and not because it was bad, actually. I think it’s perfectly befitting to the story. I just totally wasn’t expecting it. Nothing in the description gave me the indication that this book was anything other than grounded in reality, but I think that turn into the fantasy realm helped to more symbolically illustrate the point of Ray’s story. Again, I don’t wish to spoil anything, but there’s power in survivors banding together; speaking up and standing against when you can is pivotal; and don’t underestimate women.

I’m incredibly grateful that Jeremy reached out to let me know that his story sounded like something I’d enjoy, as it totally was. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a creepy story one rainy afternoon. A copy of Petrified Women was provided to me in exchange for an honest review, and you can get a copy of your own here. Have a wonderful week, friends. 🙂

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This book took me by surprise. Mexican Gothic drew a lot of attention when it first released, I believe, because it was a choice for Book of the Month. I grabbed a copy then, but it’s just been sitting on my shelf (my recent theme is kicking my TBR’s ass…oh, waiting on me to read you for several years, have you? *Cracks spine*) . My friend read it last year and didn’t care for it, but told me I would probably like it. She was correct: this is good stuff friends.

Noemí Taboada is a strong willed socialite. After her cousin Catalina sends a confusing and concerning letter to her father, Noemí is forced to leave behind her life of parties in Mexico City for High Place, to check on Catalina. There, she finds an intriguing cast of characters in her in-laws, the Doyles, a long forgotten wealthy family of mine owners, and their home surrounded in silver and rot.

It doesn’t take long for things to start going awry. Catalina’s behavior is far more concerning in person. The Doyles have many rules, and won’t seek the proper medical attention for Noemí’s cousin. And Noemi has begun to sleep walk again…something is wrong at High Place, and Noemí would die to find out what it is.

I had a lot of expectations for this book just based on what people had *told* me it was about, but it blew them out of the water. My biggest expectation was that it would be along the lines of a Shirley Jackson novel. Anyone that regularly reads my blog sees me compare things to Shirley Jackson, or preach my love for her, on a fairly regular basis. She’s a genius and a visionary, not appreciated in her own time. While Moreno-Garcia’s writing did have a similar tone and darkness to it, I think what was most missing from my expectation was the ambiguousness. Jackson tends to leave a lot up to the imagination. Moreno-Garcia, in contrast, wrote with rich and colorful detail, so much so that I could practically see High Place in my mind. I could picture the characters, their quirks, everything in striking color. Which is good, because it seriously adds to this book to have all that.

The story within this novel is wild and fanciful. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting; it kept me guessing right up to those very last chapters. I don’t want to give too much of it away, but it was so delightfully creepy and horrifying, and all the characters so perfectly malicious. This is the exact kind of horror I love to read, that requires that extra level of depth and thought.

I discovered, upon gathering my photo for this post, that THIS BOOK IS GOING TO BE A HULU SHOW!!! If done well, it’s going to be truly incredible to watch on screen. I think of it akin to The Haunting of Hill House show… if a good troupe of actors plays these incredible characters, it should be an absolute delight. They truly made the story, and I think any good visual representation of it will require some damn good acting.

Since it took me so long to pick this one up, I’m dying to know…have you read Mexican Gothic? What were your thoughts? Did you love the story, or get bogged down in the details? My friend felt personally that the writing style was too similar to Jackson, and because she didn’t care much for Jackson, she had to drag her way through it.

Overall, if your tastes are anything like mine, I highly recommend Mexican Gothic. Grab a copy. Seriously!

I hope you all have an amazing week as we head into fall!

The Shadows by Alex North

The Shadows by Alex North

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Good lord, why did I put this one off?!? I have had this book sitting in my to-read pile for easily, a whole year, maybe longer! And YET! I think I completely forgot just how much I had loved The Whisper Man, how much it sucked me in and gave me the creeps, and The Shadows did the very same. The Shadows is a disturbing and eerie read that’ll have you shocked at the twists and turns, as well as checking over your shoulder every few minutes with the feeling of being watched.

Paul Adams experienced tragedy as a teen. Wrapped up in a toxic friendship with other boys, he remembers a year of lucid dreaming, manipulation, dark woods, and a murder he was very nearly implicated in. He returns now to the village he grew up in to care for his mother as she lays dying, and gets wrapped up in a very similar mystery happening miles away in another small town: Detective Amanda Beck is looking into the story that started it all in attempt to solve the murder that’s just rocked Featherbank.

But something is still lingering in this town. Someone is lurking in the woods, delivering memories of a time Paul would rather put behind him. And something needs to be done about Charlie Crabtree…

This is one of those books I just know I’m going to do a horrible job describing, because there are so, so many pieces to put together and you also don’t want to spoil anything for the reader. I encourage you to read the full description of the novel, which does a far better job explaining than I can.

This book is complicated in the very best way. I love how intricate the details of this story are. There’s so much substance to it, which I guess made me realize there hasn’t been tons of substance to what I’ve been reading lately. I picture North writing this book with a huge wall in front of him, connecting characters and plots by strings and pushpins. If you’re in the mood to go “Whaaaat…” and “Oh my god noooo”, boy do I have the book for you. Around three-quarters of the way through the book, I was laying in bed listening to the story trying to figure out where the hell the curveball I’d just been thrown had even COME from (loudly), and my boyfriend leaned over and asked, “Crazy book stuff?”. Yeah, crazy book stuff.

The characters make this book. They are so well rounded – so very real to the reader, which makes it even crazier the farther you read (gosh, I am really walking the line of spoilers today, aren’t I??). There’s so many of them but they all play a really important role in this story. It’s an incredible small town tale, and everything is important: don’t write off any little detail.

My only complaint, and it’s not even really a complaint, was that some of the language is very repetitive. I think North does it on purpose to draw attention to the importance of certain statements and their bearing on the story, but after a while I felt like saying “Yeah, man, you just said that”. Other than that: the language is beautiful. Incredible. Sophisticated, even, for a horror novel, in a way that brings it up a notch in my book.

Soooo, I actually received a copy of The Shadows in exchange for an honest review by the publisher through NetGalley…approximately a year ago. Whoops. I finally got to it! At least I have great things to say! Naturally, The Shadows is already available for purchase…and I highly recommend reading it. Grab a copy if you’re looking for something to blow your mind. 🙂

Have a great week friends!