Misery by Stephen King

Misery by Stephen King

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 34. An author’s photo on the back cover

Other Possible Prompts: 8. Involving the art world (literature), 37. Set in a rural area, 43. Author who’s published in more than one genre, 49. Book title starts with the same letter as your first name

I feel like I’ve been contemplating reading Misery for a very long time, but I’ve only just now gotten around to it. I wasn’t missing much. I know this is considered one of his scariest works, but I just didn’t love it like I thought I would.

Bestselling author Paul Sheldon is celebrating the completed manuscript of his latest book with a trip to Colorado when he crashes in a snowstorm, left to die, if not for Annie Wilkes – his number one fan who happened to be driving by at the time of the crash. Unfortunately for Paul, he’s just killed off Annie’s most favorite character, Misery, in his novels. Now, she “nurses” him back to health following several broken bones in the accident, while he whittles away at a new novel that brings Misery back to life, just for her.

I don’t think much explanation is required on this front, as I think most people know enough about the Misery story to infer what I mean by “nursing”. While Annie Wilkes has medical training, it is never her intention that Paul be healthy enough to leave the room and home she keeps him captive in. This novel, naturally, is an extremely gory one for that reason.

So gory, in fact, that I was physically sick reading some of it. Some of it is just so horrifying. And while super gross, that’s kind of what keeps my rating from being much lower. At least these parts venture into horror; I know a lot of people are absolutely terrified of Annie Wilkes, but her manic moods just weren’t as alarming to me. She’s definitely scary. Uncontrollable. But she wasn’t the villain of my nightmares.

I think part of the problem there might be that I think of the Annie Wilkes from Castle Rock, too. I love Castle Rock, the Hulu show. The Annie Wilkes of that show (season two) is definitely unstable, but the actress plays her well, as mentally ill but not unfeeling. She experiences blackouts. She has manic moods. But she still appears somewhat well-meaning or her intentions clear. I think the Annie of Misery is supposed to appear more malevolent and truly evil at her core, but I could only see a mentally ill woman that people would rather shut out than help. And yes, (*spoiler alert*) I know she killed a crap ton of people…but my point still stands. She got no help, and no justice for her crimes, either.

So, this book kind of drags, waiting for the next horror to be inflicted or escape attempted. I also don’t really care for the interspersed pieces of Sheldon’s novel that he’s writing in captivity. It eventually comes full circle to be relevant to the current reality, but I don’t think it’s necessary and I don’t think it added much to my reading experience. Another case of “King could use a better editor”. Like me. Hire me Stephen.

I have to say that the ending actually made me gasp out loud. I will not spoil the ending…but if you’ve read it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Audible gasps as I read Annie’s fate. That gave it like, at least one more star in my book. It was a good ending and not at all like the King endings I’m used to that often feel real but unsatisfying.

I think that will about do it for me. I’m dying to hear other opinions on this one! I think for most people it’s like a formative horror story, and it can do no wrong, but having read quite a bit of King I just don’t think this is his best.

Have a great week!

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. 🙂