Author Archives: jcodner

New Coming-of-Age Horror for Your Fall TBR

One of the most beloved horror tropes is the coming-of-age story. Admit it. You love the Losers Club, Stand By Me, Monster Squad, The Lost Boys…anything that reminds you of that last summer before high school when you were biking (or in my case, rollerblading) around town with your best buds, sneaking into movie theaters, staying up all night in your forts or around campfires, and learning new and potentially upsetting truths about the world. Horror pairs so well with this kind of story because many times our real life coming-of-age anecdotes are horrific in one way or another. At the very least it was a significant transition, and those can be tough. Horror stories can act as a catharsis, a way to feel control, or a fun way to play out nostalgia and revisit some important and potentially fond memories with your best friends before the world made you an adult.

Lucky for us, this fall is seeing a handful of books that could plug that nostalgia hole in your heart! I want to highlight five today. They range from middle-grade to adult and hit on a wide range of subjects.

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Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones (9/1, Tor.com): As always, Stephen Graham Jones delivers an inventive and mind-blowing story that both completely disturbs and delights. Sawyer and his best friends are growing up. The end of high school is looming, and they’ve long since stopped playing games like they did as kids. But when they decide to prank one of their own at her job in a movie theater using an old mannequin they used to play with, Sawyer feels like they’re kids all over again. But then the mannequin stands up and walks away by itself, and only Sawyer sees it happen. Shortly after, people start dying. This novella has quite a few twists and a campy B horror vibe, but overall it’s a tight plot with a heartbreaking end. Night of the Mannequins is a delusional and demented coming-of-age story with Jones’ distinct tone (lighthearted and fucked up, pleasantly mixed together). Adult audience. Trigger warnings for mental illness, violence/murder, death of a close friend.

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The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry (9/8, Berkley Books): Holding on to her dark fantasy roots, Christina Henry delivers a brutal dose of nostalgia with her 1980s throw-back small town horror novel The Ghost Tree. Lauren is about to turn 15, and her life has been difficult lately. Her mom has been on her case about every little thing, her best friend Miranda is more interested in boys than hanging out at the Ghost Tree in the woods like they used to, and, oh yeah, Lauren’s dad was brutally murdered in those same woods a year ago. But her life is about to get a whole lot harder when the dark curse that has a tight hold on their small town of Smith’s Hollow starts to go off the rails and things get even more dangerous and terrifying than they already were. The Ghost Tree felt a bit like Stephen King’s IT in that Lauren is faced with the dark events of her childhood and her coming of age. And the way that hate works as an infection and a tool of dark supernatural forces throughout the town feels a lot like Pennywise to me (in the best way). And I feel I must mention that fans of Stranger Things will surely enjoy this book. This was my first Christina Henry read, and I cannot wait to dig into her other series! Adult audience. Trigger warnings for death of a loved one, racial violence, murder and gore, inappropriate relationships between an adult and a minor.

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The Last Halloween by Abby Howard (10/06, Iron Circus Comics): This horror comedy comic is technically YA, but adults will find lots to love here. Mona is a ten-year-old left to her own devices on Halloween night when she’s attacked by…a monster? Fleeing to find help, she runs into a motley crew of…entities? And is taken back to their…mad scientist guardian? While with her new friends, Mona learns about how there is one monster for every human, and the only thing usually keeping the monsters at bay is a human who seems to have been killed. So now the monsters are free to roam and murder to their hearts’ content. Well, you know what this means. It’s now up to Mona and her new friends to try to save humankind and the world as they know it! But Mona, who is wise and sassy beyond her years, is really annoyed that she’s stuck with the job. Why couldn’t they get ahold of Kurt Russell? The Last Halloween is funny, gruesome (definitely for older teens and above), action-packed, and full of heart and found family vibes. Young Adult and up audience. Trigger warning for gore.

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For Better or Cursed by Kate M. Williams (12/15, Random House Children’s, Delacorte Press): Originally slated to come out September 15th, it looks like the publication date has been bumped to December 15th, but I’m still gonna talk about it. This is the second installment in the Babysitter’s Coven series, which follows Esme Pearl and Cassandra Heaven during their adventures as Sitters: monster fighting, dimension defending, supernaturally skilled badasses who also sometimes babysit. The first book was an absolute delight and definitely deliver that coming-of-age vibe with a side of teen drama and a large helping of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In this next installment, Esme is finally getting used to her new reality, but something is off with Cassandra and she can’t quite figure it out. Even more stressful…they have been called to a once-in-a-generation conference (for lack of a better descriptor) by the Sitter’s governing body to basically train up and meet others in the organization. But despite this opportunity, Emse can’t stop feeling like something is wrong. Young adult and up audience.

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Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry (9/1, HarperCollins Children’s Books): This is less about coming of age and more for readers who might be experiencing their own coming of age right now. This middle-grade horror and dark fantasy anthology is jam-packed full of amazing stories by some of the hottest names in horror fiction, including Tananarive Due, Josh Malerman, R.L. Stine, and more. This collection, as it says in the subtitle, is a tribute to the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series that many of us loved growing up and had a profound effect on who we are now as adults. It even includes creepy illustrations. That seems worth a shout out in a coming-of-age round up to me! If you have any spooky kids in your life, this would make a great Halloween gift. Middle-grade audience.

Full reviews of some of these books are on the way and will be published when the books are. Which are you most excited to get your hands on? And what are your favorite nostalgic horror reads? Let us know in the comments, and happy reading!

Thank you to Netgalley and all listed publishers for providing ARCs for review.

Are We All Reading The Stand Right Now?

Book covers of The Stand from Goodreads

Whether you picked it up just before lockdown or were inspired by real life events to crack open this Stephen King tome, it sure does feel like we’ve all found ourselves reading The Stand during a gosh-darn pandemic! At least, that’s what Bookstagram and several horror podcasts have led me to believe. And I myself am actually working my way through the unabridged edition. I picked it up months before COVID-19 reared its ugly head in my city.

People have had interesting and strong reactions to current events when it comes to content consumption. Some people are understandably terrified enough by life as it is and have no interest in picking up a plague book or pressing play on Contagion or Quarantine. But some of us have been gobbling up plague content like it’s the last Thanksgiving before humanity ceases to exist as we know it! Hello, I am one of those people.

I feel comforted by The Stand in ways I normally feel comforted while reading King, and in some surprising new ways! I love his story and character work, and despite the subject matter of this over 1,400-page book, I find myself getting caught up in the tale. My mind is taken away from the real life horrors outside for a little while. I also have enjoyed saying to myself, “Well, at least that’s not happening…yet.” And that makes me feel better! I clearly am not alone.

So if you’re taking comfort in The Stand right now and want to feel a bit more like part of a community, check out the recent content currently being made that you can enjoy!

Castle Rock Radio Podcast: Hosted by Max Booth III and Lori Michelle, this podcast focuses on the world of King and all he touches. So naturally, they’re reading their way through The Stand! Listen to their recaps mixed in with other regular episodes.

The Company of the Mad, The Stand Podcast: Hosted by Jason Sechrest and featuring author Tananarive Due, director Mike Flanagan, and journalist Anthony Breznican. They’re reading and talking their way through The Stand as a group, throwing their personal expertise into the conversation along the way.

Books in the Freezer Podcast Patreon: Books in the Freezer is a delightful horror book podcast hosted by Stephanie (Htat’s What he Read on Booktube***), and as part of their $5 “Malevolent Spirit” Patreon membership, you can access bonus episodes including a new episode series featuring Stephanie and her husband as they read their way through The Stand.

Check out the first look at the new The Stand miniseries hitting CBS All Access (release date still unannounced) on Vanity Fair: “Exclusive: Stephen King’s The Stand Comes to Life Again”

Have yet to experience the glory that is The Stand? Read or listen along by borrowing an ebook or audiobook copy from your public library via Hoopla, Libby, or whichever lending app they use! Not sure how all that works? Give them a call to ask what’s available to you digitally while their doors are closed due to our own lil pandemic over here. Librarians would be happy to get you started on your King adventure. Join us!

Book Review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

5 Stars. Out 7/14/20. Trigger warnings for body horror, animal killing, gore.

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The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones is a literary horror novel to take all literary horror novels. It’s an open, bleeding heart, beating with the force of broken families, old traditions, and bad decisions made by young men that have the unfortunate power to shape their futures. This book has been described as Peter Straub’s Ghost Story set on the rez, and it absolutely has that vibe.

A decade ago, four young Blackfeet men decide to hunt where they shouldn’t and kill more than they need. Ten years later, a vengeful spirit rises up to settle the score. The men must face their pasts and their identities in a bloody reckoning. But the spirit won’t stop with them, it must turn to their loved ones as well.

I have never read a more inventive story, which is saying a lot because I’ve said that about at least two other books in 2020 prior to this one. Jones has blended many literary influences, Native cultures and beliefs, and applied unique formatting to The Only Good Indians. Once I began reading it, I could not put it down.

Anyone who reads Stephen Graham Jones knows that his work is so much deeper than just a horror story. Horror has the beauty of speaking real truths when treated correctly, and Jones wields that power often in his novels. Jones’ messaging in The Only Good Indians about tradition, respect, perseverance, resiliency, and family are powerful, as is his heartfelt assertion in the acknowledgments that all Native women should stay alive to thrive and flourish.

The Only Good Indians is bone-chillingly frightening, shockingly thrilling, viciously bloody, and full of an enormous amount of heart. Jones really killed it with this one.

Thank you to Netgalley and Gallery / Saga Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig

5 Stars. Trigger warnings for self-harm, postpartum depression, suicide, infanticide, family trauma, abuse, untreated mental illness, and probably more I’m not realizing.

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Iseult is odd: awkward, nervous, strangely pale, and has a huge scar where here collarbone broke during her delivery, killing her mother. But that’s ok, because her mother now lives in that scar and talks to her, telling her what to do and how to live. In fact, her mother won’t leave her alone! The only thing that calms her mother’s voice and makes Iseult feel normal is cutting.

Iseult’s father keeps trying to marry her off, but she’s a bit of an old maid, not terribly pretty, and says very strange things at the worst times. She has no interest in getting married, but she also has no interest in living with her father either. Iseult’s father is cruel to her and can’t wait to be rid of her. Once it becomes painfully clear that Iseult will never willingly marry and leave his house, he arranges a marriage.

When he introduces Iseult to Jacob, a man with silver skin, it appears that things could maybe change for the better. Jacob is kind to Iseult, and Iseult starts to have hope. But her mother does everything she can to manipulate Iseult in ways that are confusing and selfish. Iseult must battle with herself, her father, and her mother’s voice to try to find happiness.

Most of this book is about Iseult and her mother struggling with each other. It’s full of horrible things happening to Iseult. Lies, betrayals, unnecessary cruelties. It does not end happily, but you do get some closure.

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the most disturbing. There were moments when I had to set it down for a second to catch my breath, but I never wanted to stop reading it. It’s just so good! I think “beautiful nightmare” describes it well. Do not read this book if you have any of the triggers attached below. They are extreme.

The Unsuitable is so beautifully written. It’s upsetting but also exciting and fascinating. You love and care for Iseult, which makes it even harder to read her tragic journey. I will buy anything Molly Pohlig writes in the future.

The Unsuitable was published 4/14/2020. Thank you to Henry Holt & Co. and Netgalley for providing an ARC. Review originally posted to @jocelyn73c Bookstagram account.

Book Review: The Return by Rachel Harrison

5 Stars. Out 3/24/20. Trigger warnings for eating disorders, body horror.

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Elise’s best friend Julie was missing for two years. Their friends Molly and Mae were certain she was dead. They had a funeral for her. And then Julie came back with no memory of the time she was gone.

Trying to get life back to normal, the four women decide to go on a girls trip to a trippy boutique hotel in the Catskills. But when they all get there and see Julie for the first time since her return, they realize something is very very wrong. And yet, no one can bring themselves to talk to Julie about it, not even Elise. Not until it’s too late.

The Return by Rachel Harrison is an amazing book, scary and thrilling with well crafted characters. Harrison blends absolute terror with humor and humanity. There are well-placed moments of levity, and even the most frightful scenes are injected with meaning beyond just a good scare.

This book an excellent examination of female friendship, especially with groups of women who have known each other for a long time–the history you bring up and the history you agree to forget; the wrongs done to each other that can build up; the resentment, the judgement, but also the deep love. What do you owe your closest friends? What do they owe you? What does it mean to really be there for each other? While this is obviously a horror novel and exists in the realm of the fantastic, it is very likely you have been in Elise’s situation before…trying to figure out how to help an old friend who is clearly having problems and could use support, but perhaps the baggage between the two of you is getting in the way.

In asking these questions and tackling these problems, The Return does that thing that I love best about horror, which is shine a light on real life struggles. I really loved The Return and recommend it to anyone who enjoys books about female friendship, the movie Jennifer’s Body, and/or folk horror (yup, there’s a bit of that in there).

Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

4 stars. Trigger warnings for child neglect, torture, death of a parent, graphic violence.

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I’ve been blessed lately with books that feel like they’ve come right out of The X-Files, and as a massive X-Files fan this is obviously great for me! I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bent Heavens, but I knew Daniel Kraus’ impressive track record. Despite not having read any of his work in the past, I felt like I could trust him. That trust was in great jeopardy for a lot of this book, but by the end Kraus found himself in the camp of authors that I will automatically read no matter what.

Liv Fleming’s father is gone. He disappeared one day, for the second time, but this time he didn’t come back. Was Lee Fleming right? Did aliens truly abduct him to conduct brutal experiments? Or did he just go crazy? One thing was clear, he was very unwell. Liv has done her best to move on: she has new friends and participates in new activities, but her past refuses to leave her. Her mom is an alcoholic trying to hold down two jobs and her old childhood friend, Doug, will not let her father go. He dutifully follows Lee’s instructions, confounding as they are. Every week Doug and Liv check the traps Lee built to keep them safe from the beings he swore took him.

Liv can’t find it in her to cut Doug off, to tell him she won’t play along anymore. But right when she feels herself about to break free, she finds something in one of Lee’s traps…something that looks startlingly extraterrestrial. What happens next, what she and Doug do and what Liv discovers, is so horrific and heart-breaking. This book comes to its horror designation honestly.

Doug falls down a horrific and all too real rabbit hole. He does research on “enhanced interrogation techniques” from the Bush era and makes it his mission to go through each technique with the creature. At first it was to force information out of the creature about what happened to Lee Fleming. But that flimsy excuse goes out the window fast, and it soon becomes solely about the torture.

This goes on for at least a third of the book. It felt like they were torturing a dog. I was about to give up. It was so brutal and hard to read. But just in time, Liv decides to dig a little deeper and break out of Doug’s rageful gravity. What she discovers, however, only compounds the horror of her and Doug’s actions.

I think it’s important to mention here that the afterword is a note from Daniel Kraus concerning the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, which makes the purpose of the book and the actions of some of the characters painfully clear. This book is a statement against torture. It is a brutal and honest look at what governments have sanctioned under pathetic if not fully false pretense. Humans have a lot of evil potential inside of us, and it doesn’t take much to let that flourish. But we also have a lot of good, powerful enough to conquer that evil.

This book feels a lot like The X-Files in many ways: the “something strange in a small town” vibe and the science fiction twist, but most importantly the conspiracy aspect. The reminder that a healthy distrust of authority is critical. It’s a poke in the side to remind us that the truth is out there, and we need to be brave enough to shine a harsh and unforgiving light on it. That is the only way to let the good in to conquer the evil. Sometimes that can take extreme bravery and courage. This in no way condones irresponsible conspiracy theory rhetoric and behavior. There is definitely a line between “healthy distrust” and harmful nonsense.

I can’t say Bent Heavens ends happily, but it does ends satisfyingly. The strongest moments are definitely in the beginning and later portions of the book. I know that Kraus is making a point with his extended focus on torture, but to me those scenes were the weakest.

In addition to the intense plot and excellent twists that Kraus works in throughout Bent Heavens, the writing itself is really great. You get swept up in it and carried through all manner of horrors and action. Kraus also captures the sensations and experiences of grief wonderfully. Liv struggles through the entire book with the trauma of losing her dad in such a public way and without much closure. It colors everything she does, every decision she makes. Putting her actions up against her friend Doug’s (who also viewed Lee as a father) is a wonderful way to compare what grief can do to individuals.

While Bent Heavens is classified as a Young Adult novel, I would only recommend it to older teens. It’s a bit of a roller coaster and will surely have readers divided. But despite struggling through a chunk of the book, I found that it was worth it in the end.

Published 2/25/20. Thank you to Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) and NetGalley for providing an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com.

Book Review: The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson

4 Stars. Trigger warnings for violence against women, self harm, assault, sexual assault, lots of blood and gore.

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Do you like action? Brooding? Cults? Women highly skilled with a bow and arrow? Ancient swamp magic? REVENGE?? I’m sure your answers were all ‘yes’, and so I highly recommend to you The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson. This book is a thrill ride with plenty of bloody action, terrifying folk magic, and beautiful found family vibes. It feels like Winter’s Bone meet Beasts of the Southern Wild, and it’s amazing.

Miranda Crabtree is an orphan and has been since her father disappeared in the bayous of Arkansas when she was eleven. The only evidence left behind was a shotgun shell and a baby Miranda could have sworn was dead when her father and an old witch took it deep into the woods. Miranda barely escaped that night with her life. Something in the bayou wanted her.

That night, Miranda lost the last of her family, but she gained a new brother in the abandoned baby and a new grandmother (Baba) in the old witch, who found her and nursed her back to health. To keep them safe, Miranda aligns herself with bad men: an unstable and washed up preacher/cult leader, a weed grower, and a corrupt and murderous constable who tries to hurt her in more ways than one. Luckily, Miranda knows how to handle herself. When the preacher and constable start making some dangerous moves, Miranda finds herself having to fight for not only her life, but the lives her brother, her Baba, and a new arrival who turns out to be more significant to her family and the people of the bayou community than Miranda realizes. The balance of the ancient magic in the swamps depends on it.

Turning to her learned survival skills to defend herself and her family, Miranda also has to turn to a darker more dangerous power. Her Baba is a true witch, a woman deeply connected to the spirits of the bayou and the spirits brought over from her homeland. Her power and magic has deep roots in Slavic folklore, and they seem to feel just as at home in the American South as they do in Europe. But this power does not come without sacrifice and pain (and blood). And even with those sacrifices, these spirits are not in the business of customer satisfaction, if you know what I mean. Miranda must take this risk and call on the power of the bayou, unsure of if and how it will answer.

The Boatman’s Daughter is over 400 pages long, but the writing sucks you in and seamlessly ushers you through the split narratives. Davidson’s writing is so vivid, you can feel the sticky heat of the bayou as you read. He handles extreme and graphic situations with a kind of beautiful fluidity. This book is not without its gore and trauma on the page, and yet Davidson has a skill for making it feel significant and real without over sensationalizing.

The characters are rich and inventive, and some of them are absolutely terrifying. I will also give Davidson credit for writing what I thought was a wonderful female character. Miranda is strong, vulnerable, and competent. She’s incredibly skilled, but woe to the first person to tries to call her a Mary Sue. I loved reading her and going on her journey.

I would absolutely classify this book as horror, but it’s an interesting blend of subgenres that make it feel different from a classic horror novel. The real world horrors are front and center through most of this one. And while there is a heavy dose of paranormal creeps, most of those elements appear at the end. So if you like slashers and thrillers, I would definitely recommend picking up The Boatman’s Daughter.

This was my first experience reading Andy Davidson and I can 100% say that I will pick up anything else he writes in the future.

Published 2/11/20. Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux / MCD x FSG Originals and NetGalley for providing an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com.

Book Review: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

4 Stars. Trigger warnings for hoarding, death of a loved one.

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A few years ago, I went with my Mom to stay with her and my Aunt at my aunt’s new cabin on a kettle lake in upstate New York. Kettle lakes look like ponds, but they were formed by ice blocks melting many a year ago. Bloody Pond, the kettle lake my Aunt has her cabin on, is spring fed so the water is crisp and clear. It’s very refreshing! My Aunt’s cabin is set deep among some pines, and it feels very bewitching to be there.

We had a lovely weekend in her adorable cabin, swimming, reading, eating, and drinking. There was, of course, an amazing campfire, and we stayed up late talking and laughing. But the later we stayed up (and the more red wine I drank), the more I couldn’t stop looking out into the pines. It got really creepy. What could be in those pines? Were there creatures watching us? What kind of creatures?

I was also raised on a very healthy dose of creepy folklore. My family has a lot of Scottish and Irish blood, so stories of changelings and brownies and selkies etc. were very common. I’m convinced my mom is in good with some faeries. I think it’s because of all of this that I loved T. Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones so much. I think I love folk horror best now.

Mouse lives in Pittsburgh (heyo, local gal!), and she doesn’t see much of her immediate family. Her Aunt raised her after her Mom died, but she talks to her Dad every week on the phone. Her Grandma lived in rural North Carolina (I also have family in North Carolina…too many coincidences), but now that both she and her Step-grandpa are dead, their house is just sitting vacant. Mouse’s Dad calls her up and asks a huge favor…would she please go down and clean the house out so they can decide what to do next with it? She can’t say no.

The house is a disaster. Her Grandma was at hoarder status before her death, and Mouse knows it’s going to take forever to get through the piles she left behind. But she’s got a radio and her lovable (if doofy) coon hound Bongo by her side. She also has her Step-grandpa’s old journal for reading material, and boy is it a doozy! He talks about carvings on stones, twisting about like the twisted ones, laying down like the dead ones, poppets, not being able to sleep, and of course how generally awful Mouse’s Grandma was.

Mouse gets hooked on the journal and begins searching for a book that her Step-grandpa keeps referring to, but as she hunts the stuffed house for this missing book (or anything related to her Step-grandpa’s ramblings), things go off the rails. I don’t want to spoil anything, because the plot is so twisted and fun, but Mouse and Bongo soon learn that they are in a place where the veil between their world and a different, more ancient and magical one, is very thin. The woods behind the house are a dangerous place. There are monsters out there, and Mouse’s Step-grandpa knew it. The monsters knew about him too, and now they know about Mouse.

I blew through The Twisted Ones! T. Kingfisher’s writing is so entertaining and juicy. The imagery is rich and shocking, the characters are well developed and a ton of fun, and the lore is fascinating. As a piece of folk horror, I found it gripping and compelling. When you take old-country stories and beliefs and you bring them into stark contrast with the modern era, sometimes the juxtaposition itself is unsettling. This book goes way beyond unsettling, however. There is one image that I will never get out of my head. Now, when I stare out at a sea of dark, damp pines at night, I will think about that image and probably run screaming back into a well-lit house.

But The Twisted Ones isn’t a beat-you-over-the-head scary book. It’s full of creeping dread, and there are some horrific images (as mentioned above), but it’s mostly a well told adventure with some solid scares and a well developed setting. Something I appreciate the most about it is its sense of humor. Mouse is hilarious, and the neighbors she makes friends with at her Grandma’s house are so fun you find yourself wanting to have dinner with them yourself.

The Twisted Ones is a well-rounded novel for those who are intrigued by the darker side of things. It’s steeped in old-timey lore and family secrets, with a healthy dose of humor and adventure. If you enjoyed The Ritual by Adam Nevill or The Blair Witch Project, you’re sure to enjoy The Twisted Ones. But I recommend this book to both horror and non-horror readers alike! It’s truly a romp of a story.

Published 10/1/19. Thank you to Gallery / Saga Press and NetGalley for providing an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com.

Book Review: The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring

3 Stars.

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I say with no exaggeration that Sara Faring’s The Tenth Girl contains the biggest twist and flip I have ever witnessed in fiction. This book is a slow burn that ends in the most unexpected way. In my wildest dreams, I could never have predicted what happens at about 80% of the way through. I can’t even truly review it because I don’t want to spoil anything!

A split perspective narrative, The Tenth Girl bounces back and forth between Mavi, a young woman in 1970s Argentina beginning work as an English teacher at a secluded prestigious boarding school in Patagonia (such a stunning place on this earth), and Angel, an American teen in the 21st century (I think) suffering from the loss of her family. Through a series of  events, Angel’s spirit finds itself at the very same boarding school as Mavi, and she soon learns that other spirits are hunting and feeding from the residents of the school.

Angel and Mavi make an unlikely connection but strong, and together they decide to fight the seemingly paranormal forces bent on destroying everyone and everything around them. These forces seem linked to an old indigenous Zapuche (mapuche) legend, where the tribes attempted to protect themselves and their lands by inviting back the spirits of their departed, but instead opened the floodgates of hell. The only way to quell The Others, as these destructive spirits are called, is to sacrifice a young girl.

If it seems like I’m being cagey here with details, it’s because everything I thought I knew about this book through 3/4ths of it is a lie. One of the biggest twists I have ever experienced in a book (perhaps even bigger than Gone Girl), occurs with only a fourth of the narrative to go, and from there on out it completely defies genre and expectations.

Up until that twist, I felt like The Tenth Girl was really dragging, lacking in character development, and uninventive with its plot. Most of the book, and it’s not a short book, is rather dull. After the twist, those potential faults are explained away, but I honestly don’t know if I like it any better. I wish the twist occurred sooner, and we got to spend more time acclimating to the new reality of the situation. And what Faring explores in the last ten percent of the book is more fascinating than anything that happened in the preceding ninety. I desperately want her to write THAT book, exploring the events that lead us to the conclusion and after.

Faring’s writing is beautifully descriptive, but it can drag in places. The Tenth Girl is written for a Young Adult audience, but it contains some very dark creepy moments. As I mentioned, it is hard for me to nail down an actual genre for this book, but predominantly I would say it’s a YA psychological thriller with elements of horror and historical and science fiction.

The Tenth Girl is Faring’s debut, and while I only rated it a 3/5 stars, I would definitely pick up another of her books in the future. She intrigued me with this one, and her sensational end saved it for the most part. Once you’ve read it, I’d really like to know what you all think!! It’s really frustrating to not be able to talk about the most interesting part of this book.

Published 9/24/19. Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com.

Book Review: The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

Book cover for The Monster of Elendhaven
Published 9/24/19. Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and NetGalley for providing an ARC. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com. Trigger warnings for child abuse, sexual abuse/assault, murder, violence, family death.

This is a nasty little book, brutal and beautiful. To call it simply atmospheric would be doing it a great disservice. Jennifer Giesbrecht’s debut novella The Monster of Elendhaven is absolutely phenomenal. In a short 160 pages, Giesbrecht paints a world of cold, dark filth. It drips with pain and sorrow. The characters are wretched but fascinating and fully developed. I use these descriptors not as a way to dissuade you in reading it, but to let you know what arena you’d be playing in. The characters are wretched, yes, but you love to follow them in their dastardly plots. The setting is stark and harsh, but you will not be able to look away. And while the story is creepy and gory, it has moments of true tenderness and humor.

In The Monster of Elendhaven, a superhuman man named Johann stalks the dark and seedy streets of Elendhaven, acting as the city’s own Jack the Ripper of sorts. There’s something unique about Johann though: it appears he can’t be killed. He’s tried. Multiple times. When he encounters Florian, a man from one of Elendhaven’s oldest families, he sees a kindred spirit. Soon they team up, Johann acting as the strong arm for Florian’s dark revenge fantasies. But even the best laid of evil plans can experience some hiccups. Someone is hunting Florian, and they mean to kill.

Magic plays a huge role in this book, but it’s the kind of magic that you need to look at out of the corner of your eye. Sorcerers and magic used to fill the world, but as time passed it became dangerous to be a sorcerer. It was punished, shunned, and bred out of society…but not entirely. Elendhaven, being a fantasy mirror of a Germanic/Nordic country, has old magic and old lore that does not forget the truth behind the universe. It is a place where fantastical things can still happen. I love settings like this, that exist in the spaces between the modern mundane world and an older magical world.

What Giesbrecht does in such a short space is so impressive. She gives us a fully realized story, equipped with rich characters, a visceral setting, a deep mythology, and a satisfying end. And while we only get a fragment of the lore this world contains, it is robust and offers the appropriate support to the tale at hand. I could read a whole series based on these characters or set in Elendhaven or its surroundings.

The Monster of Elendhaven is like if Tim Burton and Rob Zombie collaborated on a film together. It’s a Dickensian tale on crystal meth. It will chill you to your core but leave you wanting more. I wait in eager anticipation for whatever Giesbrecht publishes next!