Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 30. Audiobook is narrated by the author

Other Possible Prompts: 21. Published by Simon & Schuster, 25. A wealthy character, 29. Over 500 pages long, 37. Set in a rural area, 43. Author who’s published in more than one genre

After listening to Bag of Bones this week it has swiftly become one of my favorite King novels. I love the paranormal aspect, the creepy history, and the depth of this story that becomes more and more realized with each passing page. Aaaand I get to fill the read by the author prompt without listening to a memoir?? Major win.

After the unexpected death of his wife and his subsequent writers block, author Mike Noonan packs up and heads for their summer home just outside of Castle Rock, Maine: Sara Laughs. Just as soon as he arrives, it seems that the home and whatever is growing within it has called out for him personally.

With a chance encounter on the fourth of July, he meets young widowed mother Mattie Devore and her daughter Kyra, who are in the throngs of a custody battle with her millionaire father-in-law, Max Devore. The more time Mike spends with the Devores, the larger the connection grows between them, and the more history he unearths – but despite the haunting that’s creeping in around Mike at Sara Laughs, he knows he can’t leave just yet…

This is a damn good ghost story is what this is. I love a good ghost story, and this one nails it perfectly. Just the right amount of intrigue with a touch of cold air on the back of your neck, and this hits the sweet spot. The story in Bag of Bones is incredibly dramatic and compelling even without the paranormal, but that part of it is just the perfect King touch.

There are some King books that I will simply never read and don’t feel the need to, but I was actually pulled into the idea of reading Bag of Bones after a chance recollection that I had seen the made-for-tv movie of it as a pre-teen. And if you know the subject matter of Bag of Bones, you know it’s not really the kind of scary movie a twelve year old should be watching. My mother found me watching it right towards the tail end, and promptly asked me to turn it off: so I never saw the end of it. Going into this book, I remembered some of the story, especially the more gruesome parts that had haunted me, but I didn’t remember enough to make this book unenjoyable or unsurprising. I really liked this call back and enjoying it at an older age.

I know I’m a frequent proponent of getting King a better editor, but this is one time where I couldn’t get enough of it all. I wasn’t bogged down by the setting descriptions, wasn’t bored by the interspersed dream retellings, certainly wasn’t hating on all the character relationships and dynamics. This is why I really feel like this is one of my favorites. The story carries itself without needing the benefit of being under five hundred pages. King had me from page one to page five hundred forty-four.

I also liked Mike Noonan a great deal more than I like most of King’s men (ha, ha). He’s far more likeable and his relationship with Ky is emotionally compelling. He feels less misogynistic, more thoughtful and caring, even if he is more sharply male in the way King seems to write them, if you know what I mean. Mike was just an alright main character, and I rooted for him in the way I rooted for Mattie and Ky as well.

While I don’t love the background of Sara Tidwell and the Red Top Boys – music/performing as a narrative just isn’t something that interests me, as I’ve mentioned before – their historical importance and the way their presence ties race and racism into the story is masterful. Additionally, having listened to the audiobook, having their jams come through my speakers once in a while was fine by me, too. It becomes more of a theatrical show than a book at that point!

Overall, I think it’s pretty clear that I enjoyed Bag of Bones. It’s definitely going to be one of my new favorite King novels, alongside The Mist and Gwendy’s Button Box. If I liked this one, what others would you recommend? (I’ve read The Shining, It, Carrie, Pet Sematary, all of the Button Box books, Elevation, Cujo, Sleeping Beauties, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and of course, The Mist…I had no idea I’d read that many, to be honest, and I don’t think I would’ve bothered to list them all out if I knew there was that many lol).

Have an awesome week, peeps!

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!

Book List: Spooky Season Reads

Book List: Spooky Season Reads

All who know me, and perhaps all that read this blog, know that spooky season is my absolute favorite. Trips to Salem, horror movies, apple picking, pumpkin spice everything, trick or treating…Halloween is simply my favorite. I couldn’t let the month of October go by without listing some of my favorite reads to get me in the mood.

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkinheads was an absolute treat to read last year. It’s a super sweet fall romance and has the most beautiful fall art to get you in the spirit. Deja and Josie have worked at an epic pumpkin patch (that more captures the entire spirit of fall, honestly) every September and October for three years. Their friendship has blossomed over that time, but they always say goodbye every Halloween and part ways. This year, their senior year and the last year they’ll be able to spend working at the patch, Deja is on a mission to get Josie to talk to the girl he’s been quietly crushing on the whole time – and they go on one epic fall adventure on their very last day to get there. Rowell and Hicks are literal masters, and even better together. No spooks here, though, just sweet fall vibes almost as good as a pumpkin spice latte. Check out my full review here, and get yourself a copy here.

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

The Wicked Deep is a fun and creepy novel with Hocus Pocus vibes written all over it. It’s like if Hocus Pocus was rated PG-13 (which, who are we kidding ourselves…it probably should be right?!). While it didn’t get tons of attention upon release, I think it probably should have. It was a great spin with incredible Halloween vibes to get you in the ~spirit~ (puns 100% intended). I’ve recommended it to tons of friends over the years because it just delivers the right amount of spook. Get a copy for yourself here.

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Another graphic novel, and another absolute delight! Werewolf Tam has returned to their hometown to deal with a mysterious demon in the woods. Teen witch Nova is still around, doing her magic apprenticeship with her grandmas at their magic bookshop. When the pair of childhood friends reunite in their effort to stop an evil force much bigger than they imagined, sparks fly in an adorable romance full of magic and whimsy. This one is perfectly timely when it comes to Halloween reads, and it’s spooky while also being sweeter than pumpkin pie. Check out my full review here, and get a copy of your own here.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Hill House is classically creepy. You may have seen the show of the same name: as much as I LOVE the Netflix original, for all its ghosts and ghouls, it’s nothing at all like the book. The book is unsettling in a whole new way. Four strangers arrive at Hill House looking for evidence of a haunting: the doctor, his assistant, a young woman, and the heir to the home. Creepy things ensue, but something is just not quite right here. It’s hard to truly convey the wild plot of this incredible novel, but one thing is for certain: it’s the way that Shirley Jackson writes her novels that make them truly horrifying. Get your own copy here.

Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer

Nothing says Halloween like the Salem Witch Trials…to me, anyway. My close friends and I make our annual pilgrimage to Salem, Massachusetts in the autumn months and spend time in witchy shops, walking the grounds of the cemetery, and admiring the Salem Witch House. Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem examines the details of the witch trials, the possible causes backed by science, and the social motivations that fueled the fire in Salem. If you’ve never taken the time to really learn about it, it’s a wonderful introduction, small in size but quality in information. Moreover, it pairs even better with a trip to Salem. Get a copy from an indie bookstore here.

Some honorable mentions that didn’t make my list: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton; The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters; The Shining by Stephen King; and My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. If you get to them…enjoy them! Hope you all have the most wonderful spooky season.