Review: YOU LET ME IN by Camilla Bruce (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Trigger warning for gore, violence, child abuse, murder, disembowelment, dismemberment

Cassandra Tipp left behind an unfinished manuscript a year after her disappearance. In it, she tells the truth of her fairy tale life, which is more Hans Christian Anderson than Disney.

The ferocity and violence of the fairies in this one is something to behold. The entire book operates under the question of how much of her violent life is grounded in reality and how much is the work of fairies. As alluded above, they are not friendly. Pepper-man is as much nemesis as he is friend, but he is never friendly. The narration to the reader proved really effective, and many of the texts that exist within the book felt like real books.

The details in this work are very much inspired by nature and do not shy away from grim realities and gory details. It is easy to see how Cassie found solace with the fairies, but giving those around her who couldn’t see the fairies the correct dubiousness. I highly recommend looking at the trigger warnings before diving into this one.

Uneasy and a must-read for people who want to read more murdery fairy instead of simply the mischievous kind.

 

Review: WALK AMONG US by Genevieve Gornichec, Cassandra Khaw, and Caitlin Starling (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror Novellas
Year Release: 2020
Source: Libro.fm

Content warning for suicide ideation, blood consumption, gore, violence, manipulation

Genevieve Gornichec’s “A Sheep Among Wolves” performed by Erika Ishii
A college student looks for companionship and finds it in the unlikeliest of places. I really appreciate how Gornichec approached the recruitment strategy, and laid out a solid framework for that final reveal. The mental health aspect of it was also relatable, plus the general loneliness that comes with being in college. Very atmospheric.

Cassandra Khaw’s “Fine Print” performed by Neil Kaplan
Of the three, I think this one might have been the grossest. Khaw takes the approach of food insensitivities and the paperwork that goes into  becoming a vampire. It also tackles individual interpretations of privilege that are both incisive and has you rooting for the antagonists in the best way. Sometimes the vampires are the good guys.

Caitlin Starling’s “Land of Milk and Honey” performed by Xe Sands
The setpiece of a verfiable blood farm was exquisite in this work. Leigh just wants to have an ethical source of vampire food, and nearly compromises the Masquerade in the process. If you’re looking for some sapphic pining, this novellas also has plenty of that to go around. The women are complex, and the attention to detail regarding animal husbandry is particularly good.

A must-listen for people needing more vampire stories in their life.

 

Review: THE GOOD HOUSE by Tananarive Due (2006)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2006
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warning for suicide, sexual assault, violence, body horror, emetophobia

This book was so good, I got myself a hard copy upon completion. In this horror novel taking place in the Pacific Northwest, a Fourth of July party goes horribly wrong and homeowner and lawyer Angela Toussaint works to find out what led to her son’s suicide, as other acts of violence take place.

The structure of The Good House absolutely blew me away. Where many novels build up to the absolute worst thing, this one starts with it. But the horrors don’t stop there—a father drowns his son, a starlet winds up dead, and other happenings make Angie’s journey a race against time. The attention to the reactions steep the reader in the loud horror that is this novel. Due does not pull any punches with this one, so if you’re squeamish or prefer quieter terrors, this book might not be for you.

Much attention is taken to round out each and every one of the characters.  The attention to intergenerational “sins” in a framework that’s not based in Christianity was something new to me, and I loved how seamlessly integrated it was into the more immediate problems of suspicious stomach aches followed by violence. The evil here doesn’t exist in a binary, which is what makes this story so immersive. There were definitely points at which I wished I could have looked away, but Due takes her time exploring the lead-up and consequences. The attention to detail is astounding. Even on a sentence level, the language in this work is so precise. No metaphor or simile is wasted and draws a straight back to the plight of the POV character.

A harrowing haunted house story with so many layers and a fascinating structure about a lawyer trying to do right by her family.

Review: INK AND BONE by Lisa Unger (2016)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2016
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning for child abduction and violence primarily against children

Few things are scarier to parents than losing a child. This horror novel really delves into both the experiences of a child abducted, her parents who are dealing with the loss, and the private investigator intern who is trying to solve the mystery.

This book is deeply atmospheric and has a very clear idea of the tone it’s going for. Few aspects weren’t totally upsetting, but I did really appreciate and the admire the commitment to depict frank family interactions. Finnley worked so well as an ornery protagonist, and the tension between what she wants and what her family expects versus the relative she clung to resonated with me. The ghosts themselves were scary, but as in most ghost stories, the living are far scarier. The sense of danger as it relates to Abby’s POV, especially the gaslighting and forced change in identity, chilled me. The way the different sections were interwoven instilled an acute sense of rescue being possible but so far.

An emotional read taking place in the haunting and haunted woods of upstate New York.

 

Review: WHITE TEARS by Hari Kunzru (2017)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2017
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning for police violence

This book raced up my TBR when I saw it compared to Jordan Peele’s Get Out. This book follows the perspective of two newly-graduated young men, Seth and Carter, who take an interest in collecting records, focusing especially on Black genres and trying to take ownership of the music they claim to appreciate.

Kunzru cleverly immerses the reader in the mindsets of one of these privileged main characters. What really worked here was how they didn’t make any mistakes typical of the horror genre, and weren’t painted to be particularly unintelligent. Things are odd when the refrain of a legendary record repeats throughout the narrative, but the ride doesn’t truly go off the rails until the end. The most effective part? The boys are shitheads, but not particularly unintelligent, which makes what happens later on that much more harrowing and effective when Seth’s understanding of the world and those around him becomes thoroughly upended. It’s a fantastic indictment of privilege and the things money can protect and buy.  In addition, it expertly illustrates how appropriation works with a cathartic ending that I cannot go into because the book sticks its landing.

An eerie ghost story that’s somewhat about collecting vinyl records but mostly about privilege and appropriation.

 

Review: UPROOTED by Naomi Novik (2015)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2015
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning for body horror and parents slapping their children

Uprooted takes place in an Eastern-European world, much like Spinning Silver, but this time focuses on a young woman named Agnieszka who is chosen to live with the Dragon, a one-hundred-year-old magician, while a forest of brutal beauty and magic encroaches on the things she holds dear.

The relationship between Sarkan and Agnieszka rings to me more like Studio Ghibli’s interpretation of Howl and Sophie rather than a Hades and Persephone thing, which made it all the better. The way these reluctant housemates come to care for each other is particularly compelling. Moreover, I really liked how Agnieszka’s personality stayed consistent from start to finish, despite her proving herself a very capable magician herself. She’s still clumsy and loves her friends and family. That, for  me, worked really well.

This world is clearly inspired by Poland and Russia, with international tensions that reminded me a lot of conflicts familiar to fairy tales. The way magic works and rebels against the world shared with both nobles and villagers alike felt particularly compelling to me.

Though much simpler in scope than Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik’s first fairy tale is a must-read for those who like enemies-to-lovers and watching people come together to take down a common enemy.

 

Review: THE FACELESS OLD WOMAN WHO SECRETLY LIVES IN YOUR HOME by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult paranormal
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Of the three Welcome to Night Vale books so far,  this book is the furthest from the spirit of the podcast in the best way. We get a full a thorough backstory on an iconic and terrifying character, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home.

If you’re expecting the regular eerieness of the desert town, you won’t find any here. Instead, you’ll be in fictional and real countries all across Europe on a swashbuckling adventure of crime and vengeance. It’s a lot of fun to watch the different and intricate plots play out as the (Not Yet) Faceless Old Woman tries to get revenge on the man who killed her father. The twists are something out of a classic like The Count of Monte Cristo or a Shakespeare play.

There are flashbacks to the present, where she terrorizes a man named Craig. The second person perspective in these snippets are effective and instill in readers a genuine fear of our protagonist.

An entire book dedicated to a backstory which had me enraptured from start to finish.

Review: IT DEVOURS! by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor (2017)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult paranormal
Year Release: 2017
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

It was to return to the world of Night Vale, even if just one contained arc of a story. In the desert town of Night Vale, various rumblings might actually be the work of the Smiling God. A tale of science and religion in a race against time to stop Night Vale’s certain demise.

As mentioned above, this book feels far more self-contained than the first. There is little, if anything, you need to know about the lore of Night Vale to get into this book. However, you may want to read the first to get context for some of the characters. Largely these reintroductions worked on their own.

The romance between Nilanjana and Darryl worked really well to both drive the plot forward and show different facets of folks at Night Vale. Nilanjana had not even considered her a citizen, while Darryl seemed to be more established. The tension between logic and belief played a big role, but true to Night Vale’s form, enough strangeness goes on that defies either line of thinking.

Joyfully (and unsettingly), it devours.

Review: SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik (2018)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning for physical abuse and descriptions of antisemitism

Part Rumpelstiltskin, part Persephone and Hades, all Eastern Europe fantasy with its world-building, characterizations, and societies, Spinning Silver is an enchantment from start to finish. We have Miryem who takes her family’s money-lending business from her father, Wanda her assistant, dukes’s daughter Irina, and the cursed prince Minatius.

The way Novik nimbly balances so many POVs throughout needs to be witnessed. Each one had enough voice and their own unique motifs and struggles to be distinct, but all worked together towards a common goal which doesn’t become salient until past the book’s middle. Otherwise, we are fully steeped in their interconnected, but separate struggles, and I found myself interested in how it all comes together as much as I had been interested in the outcomes.

In addition, the world-building and placement is so specific. There are attitudes, biases, etc. that can only be placed in Eastern Europe. The cross-cultural misunderstandings between humans and other-worldly beings were also carefully crafted. Throughout, there necessarily wasn’t a “right” and a “wrong,” only difference and the morality stemmed from reactions to those differences. It was great to read a European fantasy from the perspective of Jewish characters that focused on joys and traditions, rather than oppression (though it isn’t ignored in the text).

If you love resilient female characters, fairy tales, and non-Christian fantasies, definitely pick up Spinning Silver.

 

Review: CATCH AND KILL: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow (2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warning for descriptions of sexual assault, rape, stalking, and gaslighting, and for audio from a sound bite of Harvey Weinstein propositioning someone

I had been glued to this audiobook from the very first minute. Told by the journalist himself who tried to break the Harvey Weinstein story, Farrow finds himself at odds with NBC and eventually followed by operatives of Black Cube to make sure he didn’t succeed.

Farrow expertly weaves together a narrative that not only covers . At times, it read more like a fiction thriller because of how many layers of deceit and cover-up there had been. It is outrageous and insidious in a way that cannot be crafted. The apparent integrity, however, keeps the story firmly grounded. So many risks had beent aken to get this story of decades of sexual predation out to the public. But it was the level of corruption and mutual cover-up which really got my blood curdling. The scope is nigh unfathomable, but Farrow takes the reader on an unforgettable and harrowing journey of investigative journalism.

The stories of harassment and assault, however, as handled with much necessary empathy and sensitivity. That being said, however, I would not recommend anyone read or listen to this book if that is a trigger.