The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town.

Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man―one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to.

Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Caitlin Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished. (taken from Amazon)

I had high expectations for this one. I’m a sucker for a good haunting, and The Death of Jane Lawrence promised to be something new. The novel follows Jane, a practical woman who decides to marry as a business arrangement: respectability in exchange for a fair amount of autonomy. She decides the reclusive Dr. Lawrence is the perfect candidate. He has zero expectations and his only request is that she stay away from his dilapidated family estate. Of course, that is the one thing she doesn’t do. When Jane finds herself stranded at the manor late one night, it sets in motion events both strange and haunting.

I have to admit that I didn’t end up loving the book the way I thought I would. I struggled to really become invested in the characters or to really care about what happened to them at all. I felt Dr. Lawrence had potential, but instead he became simply a cutout-version of a stereotypical martyr. He seemed determined to give in to his “fate” without a fight, despite there being no reason for him to do so. Long-suffering characters such as that tend to grate on me pretty quickly, so I wasn’t a huge fan. Meanwhile, Jane sort of confused me. She seemed to be constantly angry but forgiving, even if no apology was offered. She is lied to, but decided it’s okay because so-and-so is compassionate toward others. Someone tries to kill her, but it’s okay because they weren’t themselves. Information withheld leads to extreme danger, but it’s okay because the person felt ashamed about it. I wanted to shake her for a good chunk of the book. I suppose the author did get me invested enough that I was almost constantly irritated at Jane’s character, so that is something.

The house itself was the perfect blend of intimidating and lonely. It felt like entering the house caused one to surrender their grip on reality. It was mysterious and dark, and wonderfully atmospheric. The descriptions of the apparitions gave me delighted shivers and the dark, rainy weather was used to great effect. Ultimately, the house sort of became a character in its own right.

The way the book unfolded didn’t quite work for me. I felt that some parts were needlessly drawn out, while other important moments were rushed. It was very odd. I could never quite get a hold on the pacing. However, that disjointed pacing could have been intended as a way to keep the reader off balance and to add to the feeling of “wrongness” that pervaded the story.

I could balance out what I liked and didn’t like about the book, but at the end of the day, The Death of Jane Lawrence just wasn’t for me. Have you read this one? What did you think?

Spooktacular Books for all Ages

I suppose October is when all the ghosts and ghoulies come out to play. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been big on Halloween. More power to people who are, but it’s just not my jam. I am a fan of a good spooky book, though, and my youngest went through a phase when he loved all things Halloween related (it was an odd choice for a three year old, but…okay?)

Here’s a roundup of some spooky and not-so-spooky books for fiends of all ages. Enjoy!

For little monsters:

Spooky Pookie


It’s Halloween! What will little Pookie decide to be this year? Pookie tries on costumes one by one, but somehow can’t find just the right thing. The resolution to Pookie’s dilemma will delight toddlers and their caregivers alike. Told and illustrated with Sandra Boynton’s celebrated charm and pizzazz, Spooky Pookie has all the makings of a beloved Halloween classic. Boo! (taken from Amazon)

Most parents are familiar with the Sandra Boynton books. There are about a million of them, all with cute little critters and fun storylines. The number of times I sang the Pajama Time song with the kids is truly astonishing! Spooky Pookie is another sweet little story, this time about a pig who can’t figure out what costume to wear. It’s great for three years old and under.

The Ghost-Eye Tree

One dark and windy autumn night when the sun has long gone down, a young boy and his older sister are sent to the end of town to get a bucket of milk. As they walk down the lonely road, bathed in eerie moonlight, all the boy can think about is the ghost-eye tree.

Oooo…
I dreaded to go…
I dreaded the tree….
Why does Mama always choose me
When the night is so dark
And the mind runs free?

What will happen when they come to the tree? Can they run past it or will it reach out and grab them? (taken from Amazon)

This book scared the snot out of me when I was young! This is a perfect cuddle-up-and-read-aloud kind of book, and the illustrations are amazing.

The Monster at the End of this Book

Carve out family time for this Halloween read as Grover begs you not to turn the page — because there is a monster at this end of this book!

Lovable, furry old Grover is distressed to learn that there’s a monster at the end of this book! He begs readers not to turn the pages, but of course kids feel they just have to see this monster for themselves. Grover is astonished–and toddlers will be delighted–to discover who is really the monster at the end of the book! (taken from Amazon)

This has all the trappings of a good horror book: monsters, tension, a twist at the end! All it’s missing is the spookiness. Instead, it has something better: a great sense of humor. This one is so much fun! It’s one I think all parents should read with their littles.

For older elementary ghoulies/ middle grade ghosts:

Bunnicula

Beware the hare!

Harold the dog and Chester the cat must find out the truth about the newest pet in the Monroe household—a suspicious-looking bunny with unusual habits…and fangs! Could this innocent-seeming rabbit actually be a vampire? (taken from Amazon)

I love this book so, so much! The Bunnicula books are a blast! They are clever and creative, full of some of the most memorable pets in print. I have fond memories of this book and I loved reading it with my oldest for the first time a few years ago.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

This is a new edition of the complete original book. Stephen Gammell’s artwork from the original Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark appears in all its spooky glory. Read if you dare!
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a timeless collection of chillingly scary tales and legends, in which folklorist Alvin Schwartz offers up some of the most alarming tales of horror, dark revenge, and supernatural events of all time. (taken from Amazon)

Ah, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I think every adult of a certain age read these when they were young. This is the sort of book that begs to be read while eating s’mores.

The Beast and the Bethany

Beauty comes at a price. And no one knows that better than Ebenezer Tweezer, who has stayed beautiful for 511 years. How, you may wonder? Ebenezer simply has to feed the beast in the attic of his mansion. In return for meals of performing monkeys, statues of Winston Churchill, and the occasional cactus, Ebenezer gets potions that keep him young and beautiful, as well as other presents.

But the beast grows ever greedier with each meal, and one day he announces that he’d like to eat a nice, juicy child next. Ebenezer has never done anything quite this terrible to hold onto his wonderful life. Still, he finds the absolutely snottiest, naughtiest, and most frankly unpleasant child he can and prepares to feed her to the beast.

The child, Bethany, may just be more than Ebenezer bargained for. She’s certainly a really rather rude houseguest, but Ebenezer still finds himself wishing she didn’t have to be gobbled up after all. Could it be Bethany is less meal-worthy and more…friend-worthy?

This book is such fun! It reminds me of nothing so much as a lighthearted, kid-friendly take on The Picture of Dorian Gray. The characters are delightfully nasty, the Beast is brutally entertaining, and the illustrations are a perfect addition. Plus, there’s a sequel coming before too long! Review

For Young-adult vampires:

House of Hollow

A dark, twisty modern fairytale where three sisters discover they are not exactly all that they seem and evil things really do go bump in the night.

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. They have insatiable appetites yet never gain weight. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful, and inexplicably dangerous.

But now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school on time–something her two famously glamourous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues as to what might have happened, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her though. As they brush against the supernatural they realize that the story they’ve been told about their past is unraveling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home. (taken from Amazon)

If you’re looking for eerie, this dark fairy tale/ horror is for you. It actually creeped me out a little, which is not an easy feat. I didn’t love the wrap-up at the end, but the rest of the book was great. Review

Tales from the Hinterland


Before The Hazel Wood, there was Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland…

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans alike, Melissa Albert’s Tales from the Hinterland features full-page illustrations by Jim Tierney, foil stamping, two-color interior printing, and printed endpapers.

Tales from the Hinterland is a creepy and clever book of shorts stories that take place in the world of author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood. While I didn’t like the final book in the Hazel Wood duology (at all), this collection of fairy tales that take place in that world are fantastic. You don’t need to read the original series to understand or enjoy this book at all, which makes it even better. Review

The Devouring Gray

After the death of her sister, seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders finds herself dragged to Four Paths, New York. Violet may be a newcomer, but she soon learns her mother isn’t: They belong to one of the revered founding families of the town, where stone bells hang above every doorway and danger lurks in the depths of the woods.

Justin Hawthorne’s bloodline has protected Four Paths for generations from the Gray—a lifeless dimension that imprisons a brutal monster. After Justin fails to inherit his family’s powers, his mother is determined to keep this humiliation a secret. But Justin can’t let go of the future he was promised and the town he swore to protect.

Ever since Harper Carlisle lost her hand to an accident that left her stranded in the Gray for days, she has vowed revenge on the person who abandoned her: Justin Hawthorne. There are ripples of dissent in Four Paths, and Harper seizes an opportunity to take down the Hawthornes and change her destiny—to what extent, even she doesn’t yet know.

The Gray is growing stronger every day, and its victims are piling up. When Violet accidentally unleashes the monster, all three must band together with the other Founders to unearth the dark truths behind their families’ abilities…before the Gray devours them all. (taken from Amazon)

Uncanny happenings, monsters, and townsfolk who are not who they seem make The Devouring Gray a fun-filled, creepy book. It’s a quick read too, which makes it a great palette-cleanser after a heavy book. Review

For adult zombies:

Meddling Kids

In 1977, four teenagers and a dog—Andy (the tomboy), Nate (the nerd), Kerri (the bookworm), Peter (the jock), and Tim (the Weimaraner)—solved the mystery of Sleepy Lake. The trail of an amphibian monster terrorizing the quiet town of Blyton Hills leads the gang to spend a night in Deboën Mansion and apprehend a familiar culprit: a bitter old man in a mask. 

Now, in 1990, the twenty-something former teen detectives are lost souls. Plagued by night terrors and Peter’s tragic death, the three survivors have been running from their demons. When the man they apprehended all those years ago makes parole, Andy tracks him down to confirm what she’s always known—they got the wrong guy. Now she’ll need to get the gang back together and return to Blyton Hills to find out what really happened in 1977, and this time, she’s sure they’re not looking for another man in a mask.

A mad scientist’s concoction of H. P. Lovecraft, teen detectives, and a love of Americana, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a story filled with rich horror, thrilling twists, outright hilarity, and surprising poignancy. (taken from Amazon)

Meddling Kids is a love letter to the Scooby Gang, the Goonies, or the Hardy Boys. It’s a mystery-meets-supernatural book that answers the question: what happens when those meddling kids grow up and return home to solve one last case?

In the Garden of Spite

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive. (taken from Amazon)

I think books about serial killers fall into the “spooktastic” category. I was enthralled by this book from page one. I knew nothing about the Widow of La Porte before reading this and I was shocked to learn that it was based on a real person. Yikes! Review

Nothing but Blackened Teeth

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding.

A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested.

But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

Effortlessly turning the classic haunted house story on its head, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a sharp and devastating exploration of grief, the parasitic nature of relationships, and the consequences of our actions. (taken from Amazon)

While this never managed to flat-out scare me, Nothing but Blackened Teeth was nonetheless an interesting read. It had a bit of a Shirley Jackson vibe (though with gore). Review

Creepy Classics:

The Lottery

A cautionary short story about the dangers of unexamined traditions and the dark side of human nature.

I read this for the first time not all that long ago and holy crap! I still find myself uneasily examining it. It is engrossing and thought-provoking. It’s also believable, which makes it even more unsettling.

Frankenstein

If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!

The idea of a reanimated corpse was famously conceived by an 18 year old Mary Shelley on holiday with her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron near Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The three were tasked with writing a ghost story, which resulted in one of the most famous novels to come from the 19th century. Published anonymously in a three volume series, Frankenstein instantly set the standard for a true literary horror and its themes led many to believe it was the first true science fiction novel. In 1831 and after much pressure, Mary Shelley revised the text to be more fitting to contemporary standards. Presented here by Reader’s Library Classics is the original 1818 text of Frankenstein.

Young scientist Victor Frankenstein, grief-stricken over the death of his mother, sets out in a series of laboratory experiments testing the ability to create life from non-living matter. Soon, his experiments progress further until he creates a humanoid creature eight feet tall. But as Frankenstein soon discovers, a successful experiment does not always equal a positive outcome. (taken from Amazon)

Of course I had to have Frankenstein on this list! There’s nothing quite so scary as watching a human play God.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

A morality tale or a cautionary tale against the dangers of excess and vice? In the Picture of Dorian Gray, the protagonist sells his soul for youth and eternal beauty. While Dorian lives a decadent and deceitful life, only his picture portrait is affected by the traces of his wickedness and decadence. Oscar Wilde’s only novel offended the moral sensibilities of most of England in 1890 and over a century later, the story endures as one of the most popular classics of the gothic horror genre. (taken from Amazon

I generally prefer thought-provoking gothic horrors to gore-fests, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the best examples of a smart gothic horror that I’ve read. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I highly suggest you do.

There are many other great spooky reads that didn’t make this list, mainly because it would be way too long if I added everything. What are some of your favorite spooktastic reads?

Remnants edited by Stephen Coghlan

Strange clouds on the horizon herald the coming of the swarm. The undulating masses of the hoard cannot be stopped. Terrifying creatures roam the Earth, seemingly with no aim but to devour all that stands before them. Experience the end of the world as we know it with these fourteen tales of horror, survival, and hope. The world ends in a frenzy of death and miasma of terror, but what will become of the remnants of humanity?
Fourteen tales of post-apocalyptic survival horror! (taken from Amazon)

Remnants is a collection of stories about a world ravaged and left for dead, with only a few leftovers- remnants, if you will. Instead of focusing on the horrific monsters that have violently changed life as humans know it, these tales focus mainly on how the few survive and who they become. The stories showcase tenacity, an unwillingness to lay down and die, and the best- and very worst- of humanity. Although, in some cases, humanity has long since left the building.

The concept behind Remnants is not a new one; post-apocalyptical stories like this have been created before. However, where this anthology is different is in its execution. Instead of full stories, there are short vignettes, brief glimpses in time. Some stories are touching, others incredibly brutal. Like humanity itself, the stories have a sliding scale of morality, with some unwilling to cross boundaries that other characters don’t even see as existing.

I found the examination of humanity to be fascinating. Like most anthologies, some stories worked better for me than others, but this was a collection that I consistently enjoyed. While some readers might wish for a little bit more focus on the monsters themselves, I really liked that following the survivors were the main event. Although in some cases, I could argue that not all the characters alive had actually really survived.

Each story added something to the overall atmosphere of the book. The first story, “Resistance” by Stephen Coghlan, set the tone for Remnants. It’s also a good lead-in, preparing the reader for stories that range from bizarre to emotional to disturbing or almost grotesque. The main storyline might be centered around one event, but the way each author tackled it was completely unique. I was never in danger of losing interest at all.

There were a couple of stories that were really unique in their telling. “Heatwave” by Aaron Lee takes a rather coldblooded look at the fallout, in which there is a blog that keeps tracks of death “statistics”, that the blogger utilizes to try to understand the nightmare that they’re living in. I thought this one was both fascinating and chilling.

“First Swarm” by J.D. Sanderson followed two photographers and their experiences, which left me mulling over whether viewing something through a camera lens helps expose truths otherwise denied, or if it allows the photographers to separate themselves from the reality of what they’re seeing. Short yet powerful, this was one of my favorite stories in the collection. The creativity behind both “First Swarm” and “Heatwave” are what elevated them above some of the other stories in this collection, although they were all well written.

Remnants is one of the stronger additions to post-apocalyptic fiction that I’ve read recently, with the grimdark and horror aspects working incredibly well. Thought provoking and just flat-out cool, this is not a collection to miss. I highly recommend it.

Review originally published in Grimdark Magazine, found here.

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

A dark, twisty modern fairytale where three sisters discover they are not exactly all that they seem and evil things really do go bump in the night.

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. They have insatiable appetites yet never gain weight. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful, and inexplicably dangerous.

But now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school on time–something her two famously glamourous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues as to what might have happened, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her though. As they brush against the supernatural they realize that the story they’ve been told about their past is unraveling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home. (taken from Amazon)

House of Hollow is one of those rare books that actually managed to creep me out a little. Oddly enough, it’s technically not a horror novel. Or is it? There are definitely elements of horror and it has a fairy tale feel- and really, what are the original fairy tales if not a little bit horrific?

The book follows three sisters: Grey, Vivi, and Iris (I’m not going to lie: I found their names to be a little bit much). When they were young, they disappeared without a trace, only to be found weeks later with no memories of where they were or what happened to them. That’s scary enough on its own. Add to that the fact that they were changed and the hints of creepiness start to sneak in. Ten years later the unthinkable happens, and one of the sisters disappears again, leaving the other two- Vivi and Iris- to try to figure out where she is and how she got there. To do that, they will need to figure out what really happened to them all those years ago.

Interestingly, House of Hollow starts out seeming like an unsolved mystery that will turn into a thriller. However, what came next completely surprised me. Suddenly, I was thrown into an incredibly eerie story, one that was unsettling and disorienting. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. They threw me off balance and left me wondering whether to cheer them on or hope they failed in their search. This is the sort of book that made me wonder if the main characters were actually the villains. It was delightful.

The descriptions added to the creepy atmosphere of the book and some of the details were seriously messed up. The fact that I didn’t expect the book to go in that direction when I picked it up definitely added to the dark atmosphere.

I didn’t particularly care for the add-on to the ending, mainly because it didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story the author was telling. The rest of House of Hollow was a spooktastic blast, though. This would be a great late-night October read, if you go for unearthly books around Halloween.

Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding.

A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested.

But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

Effortlessly turning the classic haunted house story on its head, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a sharp and devastating exploration of grief, the parasitic nature of relationships, and the consequences of our actions. (taken from Amazon)

Brooding and dark, Nothing but Blackened Teeth drew me in and kept me off-balance. Always on the precipice of scary, it never quite tipped over. Instead, it stayed an eerie book, one that has crawled its way into my head. I’ll be thinking about it for a long while, reliving bits and pieces of the creepy story.

Nothing but Blackened Teeth follows a group of friends who decide to rent a Heian-age mansion for an odd sort of wedding celebration. The thing is, they’ve heard it’s haunted. That’s the draw for them: they’re hoping to experience the otherworldly and the disturbing. Well, wish granted.

The story goes that originally a woman’s fiancé died on his way to marry her at the mansion. She decided to be buried alive so that she could wait for her husband like one does, I suppose. Women continued to be sacrificed, one per year, so that the buried bride wouldn’t be lonely. In all honestly, the origin story for the haunting is the part that I found to be the weakest. It just didn’t inspire that anticipatory shiver that I was hoping for.

None of the characters are particularly likable and at first, I found myself viewing them through the slasher-film lens. You know: this one will die first because they sleep around, this one next because they don’t believe in the danger, etc. However, such was not the case. The tropes became jumping-off points for complex, multi-faceted characters, each with their own flaws and fears. Half of the fun of Nothing but Blackened Teeth was watching the complicated relationships fray and slowly dissolve as the characters’ pasts caught up to them.

The story begins with Cat, a woman who is still coming to grips with an unspecified mental illness. It has affected her past and she is still in the midst of learning to cope with it. There’s Phillip, the charismatic and super rich sponsor of the mansion rental. There’s Faiz and Talia, the engaged couple. Cat and Talia have beef, and their issues with each other add to an already tense situation. Last, there’s Lin, who is a master pot-stirrer. It’s these tangled relationships and hidden emotions that really elevate Nothing but Blackened Teeth to the fascinating tale that it is.

Author Cassandra Khaw played with motifs of relationships and mental health in ways that felt a little reminiscent of Shirley Jackson (if Jackson had a penchant for gore). There were times when I wondered what was happening and what- if anything was being imagined by one character or another. Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a riveting book, perfect for fans of creepy tales with a little extra bite.

This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find that here.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

I just want to warn everyone that there will be major spoilers below. I’m sorry about that, but I need to discuss this disturbing little story somewhere. I am really hoping for comments on this one because I would love to hear other ideas on “The Lottery”. I need to be able to unpack this thing! This is my first read-through and, knowing Shirley Jackson, I really should have expected it to be disquieting. It completely sucked me in and I can’t stop thinking about it.

——HUGE SPOILERS BELOW——

“The Lottery” takes place in a small town, the sort of place where everyone knows each other. It follows the story of a lottery which the reader finds out is drawn annually, the winner ultimately being the loser, as they are stoned to death. I found it to be unsettling and engrossing, easily the best Shirley Jackson work I’ve read, and one that’s kept me thinking. There are themes of casual acceptance of violence and apathy toward change or improvement, which are chillingly still applicable today.

In the beginning of “The Lottery” the tone is almost lighthearted. The reader is given no clue that the story will end in such an upsetting way. The men talk about their crops; the children talk about school and eventually even start playing. The story says that “Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones” . With the picture the author has painted of a lighthearted ceremony, I wondered at first if the boys are grabbing stones to skip across a lake, or to use as a fort. Only at the end is it revealed that those very stones gathered by the children were to be used to stone someone to death- possibly even one of the very children who gathered the stones. The lottery has taken on a familiar feel to the participants, and almost seems to signal the beginning of a season. Certainly, no one seems to be upset or even reluctant to participate.

Despite the chilling violence that has taken place for years and years, no one questions or objects to the sacrificing of a life. In fact, when one woman points out that some places have stopped having lotteries, a man claims that there’s “nothing but trouble in that”. This is where I started to see a little beyond the surface, and felt rising tension. This “turn”, so to speak, is one that has served Jackson well in her other works, and it worked wonderfully here. The villagers accept the violence without argument, even encouraging their children to participate. There is almost a duality shown in the neighbors. They can talk about doing dishes one moment, and plan on stoning someone to death in the next. However, the ultimate protest of the person who has “won” the lottery, coupled with the relief of those who have not, shows that no one is quite comfortable with the situation. Not one of them steps in, says anything against it, or even foregoes the chance to throw a stone, though. This shows an apathy and unwillingness to take steps to change or improve. The keeping of tradition is the most important thing, no matter that the tradition is violent and wrong. Even the disheveled state of the lottery box, which has not been fixed, shows a stoic acceptance and indifference- perhaps even an active resistance- to changing or stopping the violence.

“The Lottery” isn’t just a creepy little tale: it’s a commentary on the acceptance of violence, and an unwillingness to question the status quo. This unwillingness to change anything, or even examine whether change needs to happen is still echoed today. Seen through that lens, “The Lottery” becomes at once both fascinating and disturbing. Can you see why I can’t stop thinking about it?

Have you read “The Lottery”? (I kind of hope so, if you’ve read this post, seeing as I posted spoiler after spoiler). What did you think? Did you get the same things out of it that I did?

Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Before The Hazel Wood, there was Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland…

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives. (taken from Amazon)

The funny thing about The Hazel Wood (and its sequel) by Melissa Albert is that, for me, the best parts weren’t the main storyline. Nope. The best parts were the undeniably eerie fairy tales come-to-life that bled through into the pages of the books. I told my husband that if a collection of Hinterland tales was every published, I’d be super excited to read it. So, of course I had to snag a copy of Tales from the Hinterland!

These completely original fairy tales were about characters that crossed over from the fictional world into the real one in The Hazel Wood books. And they were as creepy as it gets without descending into full-on horror. Let’s just say that the majority of them did not end well for the “hero”. In fact, most of them didn’t have a hero per se. What they did have was a ton of creativity and a darker tone that sent shivers down the spine.

One thing that stood out to me was that the main characters were all female. There were naïve females, clever ones, even evil ones. But males were always in a supporting role. It was an interesting choice. It didn’t change my enjoyment of the book, either positively or negatively; it was just something I noticed.

Another thing that I really liked was that not a single tale seemed even remotely like an existing fairy tale. There were no Beauty and the Beast retellings, and Little Red Riding Hood didn’t make an appearance. The stories were 100% original. It was refreshing to see entirely new ideas (not that I mind a good fairy tale reimagining).

There wasn’t a single story that felt lesser than or out of place. My main complaint, in fact, is that the tone was similar in several tales. I am not even sure if that should be a complaint: that the stories fit well together. Hmm…something to think about.

There were three stories that stood out to me. One was The Door that Wasn’t There, which was equal parts creepy and sad. It’s about two sisters who were locked in a room to starve and what one of them does to survive (no, there’s no cannibalism. Ew!). The feeling that Melissa Albert created in this story was a little bit gothic and a whole lot of unearthly.

The second story that kept me enthralled was The Mother and the Dagger. This felt like your usual tale told to scare kids into coming home before dark- but with a twist that was uncanny and creeptastic. The way this one was written, like someone is talking to you, stood out from the other stories and drew me in. I loved the ending, which had an abrupt finality to it.

Finally, was Twice-Killed Katherine. That character was one of the bits of fairy tales that showed up in The Hazel Wood, and the one that I found the most intriguing. While the story didn’t go the way I expected, it was nonetheless fascinating and really cool to see the backstory the author had for her. That one also felt different in that what was left unsaid could have been stretched and expanded on to create an entirely separate novel in its own right.

Tales from the Hinterland was by far my favorite book that takes place in the Hazel Wood universe (so to speak), even though it’s not a straight-through narrative. It was eerie and intelligent, and definitely not a book to read alone at night. I wouldn’t necessarily call it horror- maybe horror-adjacent. Either way, it was really stinking good.

The Common Tongue: A Dark Fantasy Literary Magazine

Thank you to the editor for providing me with the first issue of The Common Tongue magazine in exchange for my honest opinion. Issue number one will be available on March 31st. Please be aware, readers, that while my review is appropriate for everyone, this is a horror and dark fantasy magazine. As such, younger readers might not be suited to its content.

Wow, this is a strong first issue! The tone of the magazine was well established from the first story, and it continued in a consistently creepy vein throughout. Every story brought its own brand of chilling (up until I got to the nonfiction pieces). I was very impressed at the variety of entries. Not only was there fiction; poetry and nonfiction opinion pieces also made an appearance.

While I thought every piece was very well written, there were three that stood out to me. Deeper Into Darkness by J. Porteous was incredible. It had an eerie vibe to it, and a tension that made me almost hold my breath. It followed a Beastman, a monster hunter, who was sent to a small town to catch and kill a vampyre. The story was told with enough detail to paint a vivid picture of a small place peopled with terrified folk demanding an answer, while equally scared of the one sent to provide it. I loved the way the ending cut off after giving just enough information for the reader to know what happened next. It was skillfully told.

“Everdeath” by Qril was brilliant! A poem that basically describes a total party kill from the perspective of the demon that did the deed, it was phenomenally told. I loved that it rhymed without feeling forced. Each member of the deceased fantasy party (cleric, minstrel, wizard, etc) had their own stanza. It was witty, dark, and altogether a great read. Absolutely genius.

Last, but most certainly not least, I was fascinated by the editorial piece “Differences in Dark Fantasy Subgenres”, written by Kade Draven. I was actually discussing dark fantasy, grimdark, and horror with a friend the other day and how the lines between them can get a little blurred. I really liked reading Kade Draven’s knowledgeable and well researched take on it. It was also a really smart addition to a magazine that will feature a little bit of each subgenre. I’ll be gnawing on this piece for quite a while.

The Common Tongue will be a great magazine for those who enjoy a macabre read, who appreciate that darker area and the things that often lurk in it.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Hendersen

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her. (taken from Amazon)

This is going to be a very odd, convoluted review. I have very mixed thoughts on this one, so of course I’ll be unable to do much but blather. You have been warned.

The Year of the Witching felt like a mash-up of The Crucible and M. Night’s The Village, with some Anne Rice thrown in for good measure. It was haunting and I won’t forget it in a hurry.

The first thing I noticed was the author’s incredible ability to make a small, simple setting seem ominous and fraught with peril. The book takes place in a small, puritanical village. Women are seen as secondary to men and the Prophet controls everything. He uses fear and years of tradition to keep his cult in line. It was uncomfortable to read, but also fascinating. It got me mulling over the differences between obedience through faith and obedience through fear.

The book follows Immanuel, an illegitimate child of a woman who cheated on her betrothed with an Outskirter, a man of a different race and religion. That union does not end well, and Immanuel is raised by the family her mother was supposed to marry into. Immanuel tries to be subservient, the way women are supposed to be in this society, but instead is drawn in the Darkwood, a place of witches and curses. Something is started that only she can stop, if anyone can.

The characters themselves were interesting. The Prophet gave me major ick vibes (he’s supposed to), and at times it became too much. He legitimately scared me because he was utterly believable. In fact, the entire book got under my skin. It borrowed in deep and ended up really unsettling me.

I’m not sure entirely what was so disturbing about this book. I definitely think the overcontrolling patriarchy was part of it, as were the witches themselves. Nothing was overdone; Hendersen kept a balance between the “everyday life” of the book, and the creepiness that slowly bled into that. The curses themselves were set in motion in a way that just really bothered me.

That being said, the book is absolutely engrossing. The slower buildup complimented the claustrophobic feel of the town, and Immanuel’s discontent with the religion and fear of her disobedience being discovered just added to that. Despite being incredibly unsettled, I wanted to know how it ended. I don’t know if I would necessarily recommend this book to every horror reader, but if you like subtle atmospheric horror, this will suit you.

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

As soon as I started this book, I was presented with a problem: do I read it as quickly as possible to see what happens next? Or do I drag it out as long as I can, enjoying Stephen Chbosky’s fantastic writing? Ultimately, the choice was made for me; I couldn’t put it down.


I’ll start with the characters. They were wonderfully three-dimensional, every one of them. Christopher was such a sweet little boy and I absolutely loved his mom. She was a fighter in every sense of the world. With the many characters this book had, the fact that they were all well developed and had distinct personalities was impressive, to say the least.

In this book, Christopher goes missing for several days. He shows up again, thanks to the “nice man”, whom no-one else has seen. He’s not the same, though. He has a friend that no one else can see. Thanks to this friendship, Christopher learns that he has a very important job that only he can complete. It he doesn’t finish by Christmas, all hell will break loose.

Normally at this point in a horror review, an excellent writer will be called “the next Stephen King”, or some such thing. I can’t do that, though. Chbosky’s writing is so unique that there’s no comparing it to anyone else. His book was very cerebral. To be honest, it got under my skin. He has a knack for knowing exactly what wigs me out. There are layers upon layers in this book, and it kept me fascinated from start to finish.

I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say this: this is a horror book and some people do horrific things. There might be things that would trigger some, so be aware of that as you read. Normally, some of the things touched upon would really bother me, but it was written in a way that I was able to handle.

For those who haven’t recognized the name, Stephen Chbosky is the author of the absolutely incredible The Perks of Being a Wallflower (if you haven’t read it yet, you really need to rectify that problem. I’ll wait). The fact that he is able to write such disparate genres speaks highly of his ability to weave a tale. He also somehow managed to make me tear up at parts, then scare the living daylights out of me a chapter later. Chbosky is a master in his craft.

Read this book.