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!

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. 🙂

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After having reviewed The Final Girl Support Group, I realized I had never shared my initial reviews and reactions to The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, which honestly feels like a crime. This book was one of my favorites of last year; I got all my coworkers to read it, and I converted them all to Hendrix fans. It’s a must read and I decided if I can get just one more person to pick it up, it’s worth reviewing in full!

Patricia Campbell’s life on the outside looks like a picture-perfect southern woman’s – but on the inside, she’s terribly bored. The few highlights of her dull existence are the true crime book club she’s a part of, and the new neighbor up the street who mysteriously appears and grabs her attention.

But now kids in town are going missing, and Patricia is desperate to get to the bottom of it – captivated by the growing concern that the same new neighbor may have just brought something terrifying and vicious down on her small town life, threatening everything as she knows it.

This book is SO. GOOD. I have been a prolific reader for maybe ten years now, and every time someone asks me who my favorite author is, I can never tell them. How do you pick a favorite? So many good ones! But after having read The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, I officially have a favorite. And I will tell everyone, screaming from the rooftops: it’s Grady Hendrix. An absolute master of horror.

This is Hendrix’s third novel that I have read, and I’ve loved them all. Every time I pick one up I am absolutely transported to the time and place he writes about; he’s got a great talent for world building that helps you dive deeper into the horror story he’s weaving. Which, speaking of, is some of the greatest horror I’ve ever read. It’s dark and disturbing, and paints some vivid images in your brain…I was reading some of the more gruesome parts of this story in my dark room alone at night, and it makes you want to turn on the light.

The gut-wrenching reaction I have to the way Patricia is treated by her friends, family, and other people in town says a lot about how deep I fell into this story. Reflecting a looking back, this is what I remember most about the reading experience, and what stuck with me. Despite how hard Patricia looks into this concerning disappearance of children, she’s doubted and denied at every turn, called crazy, or straight up ignored. That sense of “What if no one believed me?” is what haunts me the most when I think of this book, even a year after my initial read.

I think Hendrix’s background in 70’s and 80’s horror research helps him spin these incredible webs of stories that you just get stuck in. I feel like I’m living that time in its glory, and I don’t know why we ever left behind this masterful horror storytelling. Hendrix is the most unique horror writer out there today and his work should be praised. It’s original, playful, and still deeply unsettling. Five out of five stars from me, really.

An advance copy of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. PLEASE go pick up a copy for yourself!!

Have a lovely week, everyone!

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hello all! This week’s review is going to be a bit different from my typical reviews – instead of love and romance, we’re talking about some slashers and horror. When people ask, “What do you like to read?”, I’m forced to answer with the very bizarre and worrying, “Oh, romance and horror primarily.” Very strange combination. But they are indeed my favorites, and Grady Hendrix is the master of the genre (and yes, I’m counting Stephen King!).

The Final Girl Support Group follows Lynette, one of six girls who survived a serial killer and is now hashing it out in a monthly therapy appointment. Finals girls fight back, but are left haunted by their experiences and all that comes after. Over the years, the group has begun to fall apart, but the death of one of their members starts in motion a clear attempt on all their lives. Lynette is determined to stop it.

I’m like a Grady Hendrix superfan, to be honest. I’ve read all the fiction he’s put out, and it’s my understanding that his academic study of the horror genre through the 80’s is what makes him so fantastic. This book is no different. Hendrix inspires fear through connection to his characters and their psyche, not through situations. It’s like the difference between seeing a psychological horror movie that leaves you reeling, and watching a slasher film with jump scares – for lack of a better example. Lynette isn’t always loveable, but she’s relatable. You understand and her and what motivates her, which is why this story frightens you to your core (additionally, an anxiety diagnosis may increase fear levels while reading).

One thing I absolutely have to drill into here is Hendrix’s understanding of women. It’s been a privilege of mine to discuss with my fabulous library coworkers what it is to tap into women’s fear, after we all read The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires last year (an absolute must read, if you haven’t). We’re pretty much all in agreement that Hendrix is either the most in-tune man in the world or his books are ghost written by women. And I say this because, horror movies, and really the whole genre (again, looking at you Stephen King) don’t focus on women other than as objects of violence and sexuality. Essentially, many modern horror tales create rape fantasies that romanticize the violence and don’t leave you thinking about women as people, or what comes after this moment on the screen. They are faceless, nameless, and abused by cinema and literature. Think Rob Zombie’s Halloween. While this is still blood-curdling and disturbing for female viewers, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth on the repercussions of this media in the real world, and the minds of its makers. And I think, particularly after reading his two most recent novels, Hendrix gets this, and is dissecting it for us all to watch. These books are terrifying because Hendrix dares to give the women a name and ask “What happens now? What happens after?”…and it’s even more horrifying than meaningless slaughter on a big screen.

Now, the reason this book is four stars and not five, was simply that I liked Southern Book Club’s Guide better. I’ve previously read Final Girls by Riley Sager, which is a completely unfair comparison here, but I think it turned me off to the idea of a Final Girl and the kind of story we’re telling in this book. Southern Book Club’s Guide lived in my head for months after, haunting me with the thought of “What if you knew there was danger, but no one would listen?”…it’s the kind of book where the ideas are part of you now, but it’s not always a happy thought. This one taps into that too, but not in a way I so connected with. I hope others find a different experience, as my issue may be one of personal preference.

The Final Girl Support Group hits shelves next week, July 13, and I highly implore you to grab a copy. I hope you find a new favorite author, and find yourself reading all the way back to My Best Friend’s Exorcism. You won’t be disappointed. A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.