Categories
The Fright Stuff

Horror and History in Burn Down, Rise Up

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

The reason I started adding these sort of “Fright Stuff Book of the Month” newsletters to my monthly roster was to give me the space to focus on one book that I’d read recently that really got to me. Lists are fun, but sometimes I want to sink my teeth into a text, shake it a bit, and see what falls out. Because, as I know you’re all aware, there is some incredible horror being published right now. Particularly by groups whose voices have been underrepresented by the genre in the past. This month’s book pick is one that has stuck with me since I finished it, not just because of all the mold and rot (my favorite), or the sweet Sapphic romance, or that gorgeous neon cover I’m obsessed with.

But also because it’s a vital book, the message and themes of which will always be important and relevant. More so now than ever.

burn down rise up book cover

Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado

Burn Down, Rise Up is the debut YA novel of non-binary, Afro-Latine author, Vincent Tirado. Set in Tirado’s native Bronx, the book introduces readers to fifteen year old Raquel, whose life has just been upended by a violent attack that leaves her mother in a coma, infected by some unidentifiable mold-like substance that is slowly killing her. At the same time, Cisco – the cousin of Raquel’s crush Charlize – disappears and eye witnesses identify him as the person who attacked and infected Raquel’s mother. Along with two other teens, Raquel and Charlize must venture into a world of ghosts and dark histories, chasing a dangerous urban legend that may hold the key to saving their loved ones. But only if the girls can survive the Echo Game.

Sinister urban legends and Sapphic horror are always catnip for me, so obviously I leapt at the chance to read Burn Down, Rise Up. And it was every bit as fantastic as I expected it to be. But what really struck me when I was reading, and stuck with me long after, was Tirado’s use of Bronx history as the backbone of their novel. I went into this novel knowing nothing about the history of the Bronx, and came out on the other side both astounded by my own lack of knowledge and horrified and enraged once again at how much blatant racism and inhumane cruelty can be acted out in a single location.

But then, the whole point of the Echo Game is that there are points in history so terrible that they leave a permanent mark on the world. After all, what else are ghosts.

Tirado’s novel is a scathing indictment of the worst parts of the Bronx’s history, played out by literally walking their characters through a distorted otherworld where an avatar of every Slum Lord who ever left his tenants in rotting houses or burned them out for profit now rules over a scorched land of wraiths and violence. But it’s also a novel about hope, and perseverance as a community. Fighting back as a community.

In a conversation about the history of the Bronx that took place early in the book, Raquel’s father pointed out that in the aftermath of the Bronx burning, it was the locals who brought the borough back to life: “We had to rebuild the Bronx, literally. A few grassroots organizations formed. They taught residents carpentry so we could actually renovate our homes. We took special care of it because it was ours. And we had no one else – only each other.” (77) And when it comes to defeating the Echo Game and saving her mother, Raquel learns for herself how much stronger she is, how much stronger they all are, when they stand together and fight back.

I said in my May new reads Fright Stuff that if you buy one book this month it should be Burn Down, Rise Up and I mean it. There are a lot of amazing books coming out this month, but this one is something really special. It has so much heart and humanity. Tirado took a dark, awful moment in history, shined a light on the consequences of letting hate run rampant, but also showed their readers that out of the worst, bleakest of times, communities can survive and rise together.

“What else does a phoenix do when it’s done burning?” (76)

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

Most of you have probably already seen this Best Horror Books of All Time list from Esquire floating around your social media feeds, but if you haven’t be sure to check it out!

Okay, so not all thrillers are horror, but some are! And I can’t resist a book that embodies the phrase “Be Gay, Do Crimes”. So head over to Novel Suspects for a list of YA Thrillers Featuring LGBTQIA+ Folks Getting Into Trouble.

We have a cover reveal for Cale Dietrich’s forthcoming queer slasher novel Pledge, about a fraternity initiation gone murderously awry!

Hailey Piper was on the Sexy Books Podcast, talking about her fabulous horroromance novel Queen of Teeth, which is as romantic as it is gross (goodbye forever peanut butter).


As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

Categories
The Fright Stuff

May I Offer You A New Horror Release?

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

Happy May, folks! Though I can barely believe it here we are again: it’s new releases day. Time flies when you’re having scary fun! Every month so far this year has been jam packed with amazing new horror books, and May is proving to be no exception. I’ve picked out my top must-have titles for the month, and I can’t wait to share these exciting forthcoming titles with you!

Bookish Goods

Directed by David Lynch pin by LogLadyPins

“Directed by David lynch” perfect as a gift for the twin peaks fan in your life!

New Releases

The Donut Trap by Juliet Tieu

After graduating college and having no job prospects, Jasmine returns home to work in her family’s donut shop. When a rent increase threatens the future of her family business, she turns to Alex, her old college crush, for help. Sparks fly and there seems to be hope of a future romance until a disastrous dinner date shatters preconceptions and puts both sets of parents against the match. Will Julie be able to pull it all together to save her family business and the hope of a future with Alex?

Cover of The Singles Table

The Singles Table by Sara Desai

After a terrible break-up, Zara makes a new rule to only be the matchmaker and not the matched. One wedding, she is sat at the same table as Jay, and they strike up a bargain; if he introduces her to his celebrity clients, she will find him his perfect match. However, as the spend the wedding season together, they begin to wonder if they’re avoiding the happily ever after staring them in the face.

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening

Categories
The Fright Stuff

Mountains Bright and Terrible

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

This week I want to share my love for a recent horror title that not only introduced me to an exciting voice in international horror but also – kind of ironically, given the subject matter – rekindled my love of hiking.

Now I’m a casual hiker at best, but it’s sort of an unavoidable hobby when you grow up in a valley, surrounded by some of the best hiking in your state. (Okay so maybe I’m a little biased). The teachers used to get permission to pull our whole class out of school for a day at least once a year and take us on a “field trip” to one of the nearby peaks for a hike. And though our summits are a LOT shorter than the alpine peaks in this month’s book recommendation, the view was still pretty amazing. Nothing beats standing on an exposed summit, feeling small and infinite at the same time.

But I got older, and we moved away, and I sort of lost touch with my outdoorsy side. This year, however, thanks in part to the little flame of wanderlust that this book set alight in my brain, I’m climbing the walls Exorcist-style waiting for warm enough weather to get out to the mountains. Which is why this month’s must-read horror recommendation absolutely has to be Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s gorgeous, epic mountaineering horror novel, Echo.

cover of Echo by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Echo by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Heuvelt’s novel was originally published in Dutch in 2019, and was translated by Moshe Gilula for its English debut with Tor Nightfire earlier this year. If you’ve read the synopsis, you know that Echo is about a journalist and mountaineer – Nick Grevers – who survives a tragic encounter with a remote mountain, the Maudit. But in the aftermath of the (supposed) accident that killed his climbing partner and left Nick’s face grievously scarred, he begins to suspect that something far more sinister than a fall may have taken place up there on the face of the mountain. Something he cannot remember. Something that might have come home with him.

If you’ve only read the published synopsis, then you won’t yet know about the other main character in Echo: Sam. Sam is Nick’s boyfriend. He’s also the only one who believes that something dark and more dangerous than grief is haunting Nick. Together they journey back to the valley below the mountain, searching for answers to what happened up there, and for a way to save Nick before the shadow of the Maudit swallows him completely.

I have to laugh, because I don’t think the goal of a book about an evil mountain is to leave its readers with the urge to then go climb a mountain. Logically, you’d probably want to do the opposite. Go away from the mountains. Go down in elevation. But Heuvelt’s lush, lyrical prose renders the many alpine landscapes of Echo in such breathtaking beauty that it’s hard to imagine how you wouldn’t be inspired. Which isn’t surprising when you consider Heuvelt’s own background as an avid mountaineer. And in the contrast between Nick’s love of the mountains and Sam’s fear of them, Heuvelt’s descriptions of the mountains in Echo embody the Gothic sublime, detailing landscapes both awesome and terrible at once:

“I hated the way they closed in on us. The way there were leaning over the plane. Tearing right through the storm, jagged like a predator’s teeth.” (15)

“The Zinalrothorn is a splendid peak, a tremendous monolith that, like the ruins of an ancient castle wall, towers above the surrounding glacial basins […]” (47)

But at its heart, Echo isn’t solely about a cursed mountain. In fact, it’s really not about the Maudit at all. It’s the story of two people – two messy, imperfect people who couldn’t be more different – who love each other. Two people caught up in impossible, cosmic forces beyond their control. It’s a story about grief as much as ghosts. I have always preferred my horror to have an abundance of heart. I want to be as likely to cry as I am to get the creeps when reading, and Heuvelt gave me both.

Echo is one of those horror books that’s so excruciatingly gorgeous that it sticks to your memory like glue long after you turn the last page. I think of this book on a weekly basis, at least, and even though I just had the pleasure of reading it for the first time in January, I can already feel the need for a re-read.

So if you’re looking for something unforgettable to add to your Spring TBR, look no further than Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s Echo. Just make sure you have your hiking books ready. You might want them by the time you’re done.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at Audiobooks.com with a free trial!

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

Have you SEEN the cover reveal for Alexis Henderson’s forthcoming novel House of Hunger? It’s so goooooooooooooorgeous.

V. Castro was on Latino Slant the other day talking about her forthcoming novel, Aliens: Vasquez.

Over at Ladies of Horror Fiction, Cassie has some amazing dark poetry collections to recommend based on your favorite horror themes!

Apex Magazine is fundraising for a compilation anthology of all the dark and weird fiction they published in 2021, if you’re looking to throw a little love at an indie publisher.


As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

Categories
The Fright Stuff

April Scares Bring May Nightmares

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

Happy April folks! It’s the first Monday of a new month and that means it’s time for my favorite newsletter of the month: New Releases! Or, in which I do my best to get you all to buy more books so that my book buying habit looks less out of control by comparison.

Not but really, this is turning out to be such an amazing year for fiction, particularly for horror, and I really do enjoy going through my new releases spreadsheet every month and putting this list together. The hardest part is having to choose! So, as always, I’ve tried to squish as many amazing April titles into this week’s Fright Stuff as I can. So have those readings lists handy!

Fun fact: I didn’t realize until I started jotting down dates that most of these books come out at the end of April. Apparently it’s just going to be a really amazing week for new releases!

Cover of Scout's Honor by Lily Anderson

Scout’s Honor by Lily Anderson (April 5)

If you loved the mixed humor and horror of Anderson’s Undead Girl Gang, you will definitely want to add her new novel Scout’s Honor to your TBR. It’s about an organization called the Ladybird Scouts, who masquerade as a proper ladies society when in fact they’re trained monster hunters sworn to protect humanity. Prue is a legacy Scout, descended from a long family history of hunters. Their prey? Mulligrubs, weird interdimensional parasitic monsters who feast on human emotion. Prue walked away from the Scouts when her best friend was killed in a hunt, and she has no intention of returning. But monster slayer is in her blood, and when a heist-esque plan to infiltrate the Ladybirds goes seriously sideways, she finds herself left with only one choice. In order to save her town and everyone she loves, she’ll finally have to confront that past she’s been running from for three long years.

Cover of The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon (April 26)

Opps. Here comes Jessica’s obsession with Frankenstein adaptations. I can’t believe this one almost slipped under my radar! The author of positively chilling fiction, Jennifer McMahon, has a new novel that starts in 1978. Renowned psychiatrist Hellen Hildreth splits her life between her acclaimed work with the mentally ill at her treatment center in Vermont and her role as grandmother and caretaker for her grandchildren Vi (Violet) and Eric. When one day Helen brings home a strange, quiet girl named Iris, the three children soon become inseparable. Together they form a Monster Club, cataloging and hunting the monsters that – according to Vi, are all around them. Fast forward 41 years to 2019, and Lizzy Shelley arrives in Vermont to hunt down a monster responsible for the disappearance of a young girl. She’s the host of a monster-hunting podcast, but her personal history with monsters goes far deeper than simple streaming content.

the fervor book by alma katsu cover

The Fervor by Alma Katsu (April 26)

I try not to double up on the same novels two weeks in a row, but it didn’t seem right to leave such a highly anticipated novel off my list of April new releases! The Fervor is set in a Japanese American interment camp in Idaho during WWII, where Meiko Briggs and her daughter Aiko are being held. Though Meiko’s husband is an enlisted pilot, she and her daughter were still forced out of their home and into the camp as potential threats to the American government. But more than human evil is at work in the camp, as a mysterious disease begins spreading among the prisoners and brings with it a team of suspicious doctors who may do more harm than good. And there’s a demon. A creature from Meiko’s childhood, and if she hopes to save her daughter’s life, as well as her own, Meiko will have to join forces with other inhabitants of the camp in a stand against the evil that threatens them all.

cover of the lighthouse by fran dorricott

The Lighthouse by Fran Dorricott (April 26)

Let’s see. I love lighthouses. Check. Remote isolated islands in the north of pretty much any country. Check. Friends groups that are likely to collapse in mess and ugly ways under pressure (i.e. when people start disappearing). Check. Yeah, suffice to say I am really excited about Fran Dorricott’s The Lighthouse. NOW, technicalities: technically, you can already get The Lighthouse as an ebook. It’s been available since it was released in the UK in February. However, if you are a print lover like myself, the paperback will be available here on April 26th. The Lighthouse is about six friends who travel to a remote island in northern Scotland for a reunion in a stunning, abandoned building with a notorious history of mysterious deaths. (Someone needs to fire their travel agent, frankly.) When one of their party disappears, and then suddenly reappears, terrified and full of secrets about the island he won’t – or can’t – share, their trip takes a very abrupt and dangerous downward turn.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at Audiobooks.com with a free trial!

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

As always, I can only fit so many books in a single newsletter, so if you’re looking for even more April reads, be sure to check out Tor Nightfire’s excellent list of all the new releases they’re excited about in 2022.

Over at Book Riot, Emily Martin has put together a list of 25 of the most influential horror novels of all time.

Publisher’s Weekly considered themes related to the home and the unknown space (et al.) in their list of 2022 Gothic and Horror titles.

There’s an ‘It’ prequel series in the works at HBO Max! No saying for certain yet if it will actually happen, or get hung up somewhere in the process, but I’m still extremely excited!

There’s also going to be a Shining Girls adaptation starring the fabulous Elisabeth Moss!


As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

Categories
The Fright Stuff

Screaming into Spring

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

Someone pinch me, it cannot really be the last week of March already. This was a really fun month for The Fright Stuff, but I honestly don’t know where the time went. My poor TBR stack for Women in Horror month is only half finished. Woe to my good intentions. That being said, spring is finally around the corner for the Northern Hemisphere and I am so ready to get out of the house and take my reading with me! So— lest I let Women in Horror Month slip away from me entirely— I thought we’d celebrate the warming weather with some exciting new horror books by women set to be released in the coming spring and summer months.

Get those readings lists ready!

the fervor book by alma katsu cover

The Fervor by Alma Katsu (April 26)

Alma Katsu is back with what promises to be another enthralling historical horror novel. The Fervor is set in a Japanese-American internment camp in Idaho during WWII, where Meiko Briggs and her daughter Aiko are being held. Though Meiko’s husband is an enlisted pilot, she and her daughter were still forced out of their home and into the camp as potential threats to the American government. But more than human evil is at work in the camp, as a mysterious disease begins spreading among the prisoners and brings with it a team of suspicious doctors who may do more harm than good. And there’s a demon. A creature from Meiko’s childhood, and if she hopes to save her daughter’s life, as well as her own, Meiko will have to join forces with other inhabitants of the camp in a stand against the evil that threatens them all.

siren queen by nghi vo book cover

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo (May 10)

First of all, I am obsessed with that cover. In an Old Hollywood powered by dark magic and fateful bargains, Luli Wei is a young actress desperate to come out on top of the heap. And she won’t be cornered into the sidelined characters and stereotyped parts usually reserved for Chinese American actresses. The price of fame is dear, and it may cost Luli everything, from her identity to the woman she loves. But if she can navigate this treacherous landscape of ancient magics and blood sealed bargains, and avoid the fate of the luckless starlets who came before her, Luli could see her dream’s realized. She could be a star— whatever the cost.

cover of this wicked fate by kalynn bayron

This Wicked Fate by Kalynn Bayron (June 2)

As someone who recently fell madly in love with Bayron’s This Poison Heart, I am so so excited for the sequel to to come out this summer. I mean, that ending! I need resolutions! Delightfully queer and darkly magical, this series is a must read for those who prefer their horror Gothic, overgrown, and full of secrets. Following the dramatic conclusion of the first novel, in This Wicked Fate Briseis is on the hunt for the last piece of the deadly Absyrtus Heart— her only chance at saving her mother. But doing so means relying on blood relatives who are little more than strangers to her, and navigating a whole new world of secret power and hidden enemies. And speaking or beautiful covers, I mean we can just bask for a second in the glow of that gorgeously neon bit of perfection?

the daughter of doctor moreau

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (July 19)

As you might expect, I am beyond excited about the new Silvia Moreno-Garcia book. Obviously I was a huge fan of Mexican Gothic, and I’m picking up so many of the same(ish) vibes from the synopsis of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau. Carlota Moreau lives a safe but sheltered life. Her whole world is the isolated confines of her father’s estate. But beneath that idyllic surface lies the reality of her mad/genius father’s work, funded by the unknown whims of his rich patrons, the Lizaldes. When their son, Eduardo Lizaldes, suddenly appears at Moreau’s gates, his presence proves the unknown variable that threatens to upend Carlota’s tranquil life, and bring the only world she’s know crashing down around her.

Cover of The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean (August 2)

I love the whole premise of The Book Eaters. The idea that you could magically retain all a books knowledge by eating it just resonates with something deep in my bookworm heart. To the book eaters, books are fine cuisine, and each genre and form has its own unique flavor. But the ability to ingest a book’s knowledge by eating loses its shine somewhat when there are limits on what knowledge you are allowed to obtain. Devon, a member of an old and reclusive clan know as The Family, is not allowed to eat the same tales of adventure and daring do as her brothers. Instead, like other book eater women, she’s only permitted to dine on fairy and cautionary tales, leaving her caught off guard when the real world proves to have sour endings and her son is born not with a hunger for books but with a rare and dark appetite for human minds.

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

Over at Book Riot, Nusrah Javed is your guide to the subgenre of social horror.

The Nightfire blog has you covered with February’s best horror short fiction and poetry, Medieval horror books for those of you who need a break from dying in Elden Ring, and an interview with author India Hill Brown about the ghosts of segregation in horror fiction.

And can I get a drumroll for this last piece of news, please, because if you haven’t heard: V. CASTRO IS WRITING AN ALIEN BOOK!!! Castro will be bringing Alien loving hearts everywhere the background of fan favorite Aliens character Jenette Vasquez in Aliens: Vasquez, out October 25th.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must return to screaming.


As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

Categories
The Fright Stuff

Belief, Grief, and The Shadow Glass: An Interview with Author Josh Winning

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

This week I had the absolute joy of of interviewing author Josh Winning, whose forthcoming novel The Shadow Glass (out March 22) is an 80’s fantasy nostalgia dream full of horror and magic that – as someone practically raised on 80’s fantasy films – has stolen my whole heart. I finished that book with so many (admittedly nerdy and obsessive) questions, and I can’t thank Josh Winning enough for indulging me by answering some of them.

The Shadow Glass is about a man who grew up in the shadow of his father’s fame – and infamy – trying to come to terms with the legacy he’s inherited now that his father is dead. But when the characters from his father’s movie suddenly come to life, Jack finds himself in the middle of an impossible battle to save an imaginary world, before both it and his own world are consumed by darkness.

Inside The Shadow Glass

Belief is a key element in a lot of fantasy fiction, and a recurring theme in a lot of the 80’s fantasy films that clearly inspired The Shadow Glass. But even though belief is also a central and critical theme in the book, Jack starts out the story as a sort of non-believer. Or, maybe more accurately, an ex-dreamer who has forgotten how to believe. Why was that journey for Jack – the journey to believe again – the story that you choose to tell?

JW: I think you hit the nail on the head there – Jack has forgotten how to dream. He’s become so cynical and jaded, he lacks any vision whatsoever. It’s crippled him. The idea of belief resonated with me because I think belief and love are interlinked. If you really believe in something — whether it’s a cause, or a TV show, or a certain philosophy — you probably love it, too. You become a fan. And that love is unifying.

There’s no love in Jack’s life, for himself or anybody else. It could be because he doesn’t believe in anything. He has no line in the sand. Nothing to champion and hold aloft as something that defines him. Basically, he has to commit to something, anything, in order to come back to life.

One final thought on that: I think belief is such an adult “problem” – as one character says in the book, when we grow up, we forget how to believe without question. We demand proof and explanation. I think there’s real power in being able to suspend our disbelief, or to believe in something without question. It’s what makes books, movies and TV shows so compelling — they force us to believe!

And of course, The Shadow Glass isn’t just about Jack’s childhood fantasy world coming to life, it’s about all the other people whose lives The Shadow Glass touched. Fandom plays an important role in The Shadow Glass. We’re told that the movie was a critical flop, yet it was the influence and persistence of its small but devoted fanbase that kept the film’s memory alive and raised it to cult status. We also see the dark side of fandom – I mean one of our main villains is basically the epitome of a gatekeeping fandom troll. How did the culture around fandoms and fantasy fans give part of your inspiration for the novel?

JW: It’s funny, I never intended to write about fandom, but fandom has become so huge in the past few decades, mostly thanks to the internet, that it’s sort of omnipresent. It filtered into my writing without me necessarily being aware of it. I think I was interested in exploring just HOW people express their love for the thing they’re a fan of, and how that expression could be interpreted as positive or negative. How it can unite or divide.

In the book, Toby represents the positive side of fandom, while Wesley Cutter represents the (ahem) less positive side. They’re basically there to show Jack the two paths open to him, and the real battle is in him figuring out which to choose: embrace The Shadow Glass or destroy it?

Speaking of people: Bob, Jack’s father is a very complicated, very human character who, despite having died before the story began, is an omnipresent figure in The Shadow Glass. He’s the one who gave Jack the world of Iri when Jack was just a baby and introduced him to magic and the power of belief, but at the same time, he’s the one who darkened Jack’s perception of the world and is, in a way, the reason that Jack stopped believing. So Jack’s grief seems to be as much about the loss of that version of himself as it is about the loss of his father. What made you gravitate towards grief as a theme in The Shadow Glass?

JW: A lot of my writing tends to revolve around grief, I guess because I lost my mom when I was 21, so I know the ripple effects grief can have. And it never goes away. It’s a part of you forever, which is probably why I find it endlessly fascinating.

It’s, sadly, something we’ll all experience at some point in our lives, and we all react to it differently. In a sense, Jack has been grieving his whole life (for reasons that become clear in the book), but he only confronts grief head-on when his father dies. I think grief is one of the biggest catalysts for change. It certainly changed me.

Let’s talk about horror! This is a horror newsletter, after all, and horror is most definitely a component of The Shadow Glass. That scene at the convention? That was horrifying! I’m still cringing. Which of course means I really relished every gruesome little moment. And obviously, given how dark some of those 80’s fantasy films were (I’m looking at you NeverEnding Story, with your Swamp of Sadness), horror is just a natural fit for this story. Was it that history of dark elements in fantasy what made you lean into horror with The Shadow Glass?

JW: For starters, thank you! I hoped that convention scene would pack a gory punch. Also, I love horror! I’m naturally drawn to it and I love coming up with monsters and scary set-pieces.

Luckily, like you said, the genre of The Shadow Glass lends itself completely to darkness — films like The NeverEnding Story and The Dark Crystal never skimped on the scares, and that’s precisely why we love them. There’s REAL peril, IMPOSSIBLE stakes, MASSIVE danger. The really fun part of writing The Shadow Glass was coming up with ways that that type of horror could play out in an “adult” version of those supposedly child-friendly 80s flicks.

Stepping away from The Shadow Glass for a moment, there’s been a lot of talk lately about what kids should and shouldn’t read. And while right now the target is LGBTQ+ stories, there are also a lot of “concerned” adults who believe that kids should be “protected” from stories that they deem inappropriately scary or violent. But a lot of the 80’s fantasy films that inspired The Shadow Glass, beloved films that many of us grew up with, are, as I said, very dark and even frightening. Do you think encountering these darker narratives as a child helped shape you as a writer of dark fiction? And what do you think the importance is, if any, of letting kids have access to dark or “scary” stories?

JW: Those films were 100% my gateway drug to horror. Whenever I think about how fantastically dark they are, I remember Jim Henson saying that he didn’t think children should feel completely safe 100% of the time. I sort of agree. Those movies provided a safe space for us to explore unsettling ideas and situations, where we could experience real peril without having to actually live it.

I don’t have kids so I can’t say who should or shouldn’t be “protected” from dark stories, all I know is that I WAS that kid who watched The Dark Crystal on repeat and I turned out OK!

And to return to your first observation, I think LGBTQ+ rep is SO important in fiction for all ages – I searched for it desperately as a kid and I’m STILL searching now. It’s great that we’re seeing more representation, but the balance is still far from redressed, especially with the persistent hysteria of thinking like, “What if reading gay material turns my teenager gay?!” Look, they’re either gay or they aren’t. It really is as simple as that.

Pop Quiz Finale!

The Shadow Glass is clearly a love letter to 80’s fantasy movies, so which one is your favorite? Your go-to, must-have, desert island pick?

JW: That’s so harrrrrd! For a long time it was Labyrinth, but recently The NeverEnding Story has overtaken it. It has it all — including an absolutely audacious final act that shatters the fourth wall and invites us as viewers into the story. It’s basically a perfect movie.

What fictional world would you let yourself be pulled into/bring to life if you had the chance?

JW: Realistically, Thra is probably a bit scary for me, so maybe Fraggle Rock or that cloud city where the Care Bears live.

Who is your favorite fantasy villain?

JW: The Goblin King in Labyrinth. He has so much going for him! The hair! The voice! The junk! And ‘As The World Falls Down’ is an absolute masterpiece of a song.

How about your favorite 80’s fantasy soundtrack? (The synth-ier the better)

JW: Hands down The NeverEnding Story. So synth, so evocative, so chilling. And the theme tune still slays. But the Willow score is also hugely underrated, I really recommend seeking that one out, too.

Who are you must-read horror authors that Fright Stuff’s reader’s should go check out?

JW: Adam Cesare is a genius (if you haven’t read Clown in a Cornfield, get on it!), and I love Kat Ellis’ YA horror novels, particularly Wicked Little Deeds (Burden Falls in the US). Plus obviously no shelf is complete without Paul Tremblay, Grady Hendrix, and Stephen Graham Jones.

How about the best dark fiction book you’ve read so far in 2022?

JW: All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes is a masterpiece in drip-feed terror. I’m still kind of not OK, three months after finishing it…


This was such a fun newsletter to work on, I hope it brings you some joy as well! The Shadow Glass will be available at your favorite book retailer tomorrow, March 22nd, so if we’ve whet your appetite don’t forget to order your copy!

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

Over at Book Riot we’ve got horror novels where the supernatural takes a back seat, and 10 horror novels set underground.

Neon Hemlock Press has announced their 2022 Novella Series! And as always it looks beyond amazing.


As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm (https://twitter.com/JtheBookworm), where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

Categories
The Fright Stuff

A Magnificently Macabre March

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

If you can believe it, it’s March already! We’re officially in the third month of this year of exciting dark fiction, and I can’t wait to share with you the titles I’ve picked out for this month’s new releases list. As always, this is only a small selection of titles being published this month, but every one of these books is a title I’ve either read and adored, or am highly anticipating!

Also, fun fact: all five of these books are queer reads! Not intentional, but it did work out nicely.

Cover of The Book of Living Secrets by Madeleine Roux

The Book of Living Secrets by Madeleine Roux (March 8)

The first of our March releases is a book that I had the opportunity to read back in February, so I can tell you with complete honestly that I loved this weird, creepy, queer Lovecraft-inspired YA horror. Adelle and Connie are best friends and co-super fans of an obscure gothic romance novel called Moira. So much so that, when offered the opportunity to be transported into the novel and experience the world of Moira for themselves, they decide to take the chance. But inside the pages of Moira, things have gone terribly wrong. Instead of a lush Gothic setting, dripping with romance and velvet, the two girls find themselves surrounded by horrors, entangled with the book’s characters in a desperate bid to save the World of Moira and themselves.

Cover of The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning

The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning (March 22)

I finished The Shadow Glass a few days ago and I’m still riding that sweet sweet emotional high. If you are a fan of 80’s fantasy films (think The Dark Crystal, The Neverending Story, Willow, etc.) you’re going to love The Shadow Glass. Yes it’s probably a bit more fantasy than horror, but it’s dark and delightfully gory. There were times I definitely was like “oooooh that’s not right”, which is always a good sign. It’s a fondly nostalgic riff on a familiar story, exploring the necessity of growing up in a world that isn’t kind to dreamers. It’s about grief, and loss, forgiveness and finding yourself – and I know that sounds a bit heavy but I promise there’s also plenty of killer puppets and humor to keep the story balanced. Jack grew up enraptured by his father Bob Corman’s critical flop turned cult puppet fantasy film: The Shadow Glass. Estranged from his father, it’s only after Bob’s death that Jack, reluctantly, returns to his strange, mouldering childhood home and the memories he buried there. When the creatures that populated his father’s film and Jack’s childhood adventures suddenly come to life and insist that they need Jack’s help in saving their world, he finds himself catapulted into an impossible adventure to save both the fictional world of Iri and the modern world from certain destruction.

Cover of The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

The City of Dusk by Tara Sim (March 22)

Okay, so like The Shadow Glass, The City of Dusk leans more on the dark fantasy side of things than the horror side of things. But you know I can’t say no to creepy bone magic. I’m weak for a hint of necromancy. I see bones, my brain says “horror”. Thrown in some vengeful gods, some body horror, and honestly I’m not going to scrutinize the genre lines too closely. Be forewarned, The City of Dusk is definitely a work of epic fantasy, and there is going to be a lot going on in this first book of the trilogy. Lots of realms (four technically) lots of divinely gifted heirs (also four, actually) and a whole lot of uneasy teamwork trust as they join together to keep their kingdom from being consumed by war. Add into that mess the fact that each heir is also tied to the god of their realm, and attempting to save a world the gods have abandoned is tantamount to apostasy, and it seems unlikely things will end well for our would-be apostates. But the grim portents are half the fun, right?

Cover of Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson

Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson (March 29)

Survive the Dome is a sci-fi thriller with a healthy dose of dark dystopia thrown in for good measure. It’s about a young, aspiring journalist, Jamal Lawson, who travels to Baltimore to document a protest against police brutality. But before the protest can begin, the city is encased in something that authorities are calling the Dome: a brutal countermeasure meant to suppress civil unrest, basically forcing the entire city into lockdown under police control. As the lockdown drags on, and tensions inside the dome rise, Jamal finds himself making unlikely allies with a secretive hacker and an AWOL military recruit in a bid to bring down the corrupt forces controlling Baltimore and free the city.

Cover of My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham

My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham (March 29)

It’s never easy to be the new student, but when you’re recovering from a near-death experience that orphaned you just months before, transferring to an ultra-competitive boarding school on an isolated island can make adjusting even more of a challenge. Finch Chamberlin has been through something unspeakable. Unknowable. As in she literally doesn’t know why she’s not dead like her parents, or what the terrible, ancient being was that kept her alive. But ever since waking up, she’s been drawn to Ulalume Academy. There she meets Selena St. Clair, who feels drawn to Finch even though she doesn’t quite trust her. But no matter Selena’s suspicions, when the two girls and their group of friends accidentally raise a horrible monster whose existence threatens not just their lives but the safety of the whole island, Finch and Selena must work together to defeat the creature before it’s too late.

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

As always, this is only a brief selection of all the amazing horror titles being released this month! So for additional recommendations, be sure to check out Tor Nightfire’s list of all the horror books they’re excited out for in 2022.

Have you checked out the amazing line-up that Erin A. Craig has put together for her Spooky Spring Salon? This is going to be so awesome! Be sure to click play on the trailer for a full list of dates and contributors.


As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

Categories
The Fright Stuff

Exclusive Cover Reveal and Excerpt: Eric LaRocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

This week I’m pushing back my usual first Monday of the month new releases newsletter to bring you something really exciting!

By now you’ve probably heard about, and might have had the chance to read, Eric LaRocca’s amazing horror novella Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke. It went viral on social media, was a #1 bestseller in LGBTQ+ Horror Fiction on Amazon, and is now a finalist on the 2021 Bram Stoker Awards ballot for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction.

Well Titan Books has a really exciting announcement: They’re going to be releasing a GORGEOUS new hardcover edition of of LaRocca’s novella on September 6th! Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes will also include two other never-before-published stories: “The Enchantment” and “You’ll Find It’s Like That All Over” alongside the titular novella, and I get to have the very great pleasure of sharing the stunning new cover with all of you today, right here on The Fright Stuff!

Drum roll please!

cover of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca
Cover image provided courtesy of Titan Books

Voila! It’s so gorgeous, I can’t even stand it. I’m absolutely obsessed with the reds.

For those who haven’t made the acquaintance of LaRocca’s novella yet, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is about the dark, obsessive, sadomasochistic relationship that develops between two young women who meet in an internet chatroom in the early 2000’s. It’s incredibly disturbing in the way that only the best horror can be. It’s also crushingly beautiful at times, which actually manages to make the story even more upsetting and unnerving.

Originally published by indie press Weirdpunk Books, LaRocca’s novella began making the social media rounds and garnering praise from all corners of the horror community for it’s unsettling but unforgettable quality. Now it’s violent beauty is being honored in this breathtaking hardcover collection, one of a two book deal with Titan that also includes a forthcoming premium edition of LaRocca’s collection The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales (2023).

And I’ve got one more treat for you all, thanks to the fab folks over at Titan: an excerpt from the never-before-published story “The Enchantment”! A little something to whet your appetite as we wait out the endless months until September 6th.

From “The Enchantment”

Olive watches as car headlights shimmer through the foyer window, the white light bleeding across the marble floor.

“Shh. He’s coming,” she says.

“Are you ready—?” her husband, James, replies as he ducks behind the foyer’s walnut credenza.

Olive’s ears pin at the noise of car keys jingling, footsteps approaching.

The door unlocks, swinging open to reveal the pockmarked face of a young teenage boy. He shivers, a gust of snow clinging to him as he removes his knitted hat. His hands frisk the wall for the light-switch.

As soon as his fingers find it: lights on.

Olive and James leap out from hiding, shouting in unison, “Surprise!”

Milo lurches back, clutching his backpack.

“Happy Birthday, Milo,” they cheer.

Olive watches her son’s face thaw with a half-hearted smile as he realizes, slowly letting his guard down. She sees his eyes glance up at the giant banner pinned above the entryway – “Happy 16th Birthday, Milo” written in exquisite cursive lettering.

With open arms, Olive approaches her teenage son and swaddles him as if he were a mere child.

“Happy Birthday, dear,” she says. “We love you.”

She senses her son reluctantly lean into the hug, his arms remaining at his side. It wasn’t much, but she couldn’t ask for anything more.

Or perhaps she could.

Quickly thinking, she snatches a green party hat from the nearby table and straps it to her son’s head.

As always, James interferes, ushering Olive aside and passing Milo a small box wrapped in a bright red bow.

“Happy Birthday, son,” he says. “You didn’t think we’d forget about you, did you—?”

Milo stammers, unsure. “I don’t—I didn’t think I’d see you here.”

Milo’s unsureness pains Olive. How could he possibly think his own parents would forget him? Before she can intercede, James pats Milo on the shoulder in the way that all fathers seem to patronize their sons.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he says.

Without another moment of hesitation, Olive swipes the gift from Milo.

“Why don’t we leave the presents for later, dear?” she suggests. “We can have cake first.”

She pulls the mittens from his hands, guiding him further into the house as if he were a mere visitor.

“He’s probably full, Olive,” James says. “Let the boy open his gift.”

As she pulls her son by the hand, she does a quick double take. There’s something wrong.

“What’s this—?” she asks, pulling her son’s hand closer to her face for proper inspection.

She opens his fist, revealing his palm desecrated with a giant black circle as if drawn with permanent marker.

“You’re still doing this?” she asks. “Milo. We talked about this.”

Before she can chastise him any further, Milo slips out of his mother’s grasp and recoils.

“You said he wasn’t doing that anymore,” James says, always eager to argue.

“I thought he wasn’t. I’ve hidden all the markers from him.”

“You don’t think he can find a permanent marker at school?”

“They’re supposed to be watching him,” Olive reminds her husband.

“What sixteen-year-old needs someone to be watching him regularly?”

As they bicker, Milo begins to sneak out of the entryway and away from earshot. Out of the corner of her eye, Olive watches her son as he creeps off. As he ducks into the nearby dining room, he passes a giant oil painting mounted on the wall detailing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

She watches him for a moment, bewildered, as his eyes seem to linger on the nails driven into Christ’s hands and the blood weeping there.

He gazes at the portrait longingly as if it were the first time that he were seeing it, as if it were truly a sight to behold, as if he would give anything to endure such wondrous suffering.

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

Over on the Nightfire blog, author Christopher Golden has curated a list of 13 classic works of isolation horror that you won’t want to miss.

Catriona Ward (The Last House on Needless Street) spoke with The Guardian about her upcoming horror novel Sundial, and the transformative experience of horror.

Stephen King has announced that his next book will focus on Holly Gibney, a character originally featured in King’s Mr. Mercedes.


As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

Categories
The Fright Stuff

Deadly Poisons and Deadlier Secrets

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

I freely admit that I have a slight obsession with poisons. Specifically poisonous plants. Aside from often being beautiful, I just find them fascinating. Their historical uses, the thin line between a useful compound and a deadly one, one part of a plant can be completely benign while another part of the same plant could kill you in the space of a few heartbeats. Like I said: fascinating! So, obviously, Kalynn Bayron’s This Poison Heart was high on my to-buy list when it was published back in June of 2021. Not only is that cover unbelievably gorgeous, but the synopsis promised a dilapidated country estate, dark secrets, familial curses, and garden full of deadly poisonous plants. And wow did Bayron deliver.

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

Briseis is a girl with a gift that at times seems more like a curse. Though her ability to take a plant from seed to full flower with a single touch is a boon for her mothers’ florist shop, the way that every plant Briseis passes tries to uproot itself just to get close to her makes it hard to be out in public. And her abilities frighten those close to her, making friends hard to hold on to. So how, when even her mothers seem nervous about her powers, can Briseis ever explain the other part of her gift? The dark and fascinating ability she can’t help but explore: her strange affinity for and immunity to even the most deadly of poisonous plants.

When a woman claiming to be her Aunt dies and Briseis is suddenly willed the woman’s massive estate in rural New York, it seems too good to be true. Not only will it solve the financial problems plaguing her family, the vast fields and woods around the estate will finally give Briseis a chance to stretch her powers. And maybe even find out how she came by her extraordinary gift. But this unexpected gift comes with dangerous strings attached.

I was never able to predict this book, not for one second. Bayron kept me on my toes the whole time and yet I never felt that as a reader I was being thrown twists just for the sake of unpredictability. Every inch of This Poison Heart’s intricate plot is immaculately laid out; all the pieces to the puzzle there just waiting for Briseis (and the reader) to unlock the secret of who she is and where she comes from. Thank the book gods, however, that the sequel comes out later this year, because that ending had me stressed out. If you’re someone who doesn’t like being left hanging, book two, This Wicked Fate, will be out in June, so you might want to wait and read them both at the same time.

Me, I’ll just re-read and cry my same tears.

I loved Bayron’s inclusion of Greek mythology in her world building. I should have expected it, given Briseis first name and the eventual reveal of her biological family’s surname, but it still took me pleasantly by surprise that it became such a large part of the plot. And though it shouldn’t need pointing out, I also want to express my appreciation for how casually queer This Poison Heart was. Briseis’ two mothers – Thandie and Angie – are amazing. Aside from being the epitome of marriage goals, they’re also a prominent part of Briseis’ journey. A journey which includes Briseis falling for the mysterious Marie – who knows more than she admits about Briseis’ biological family and their secrets – without her sexuality itself having to be part of the plot. She likes Marie, and that’s just a fact. Queer people just are, without anyone having to have a coming out character arc. It’s nice, and frankly Briseis has enough to deal with as it is, what with a dangerous group of unknowns determined to use her in their hunt for a fabled elixir of immortality.

Whether you’re a poisonous plant nerd, a fan of Greek mythology, a lover of cozy apothecary horror (the cozy is more early on, before things get seriously creepy), or looking for more queer fantasy horror by Black women to add to your reading list, I cannot recommend This Poison Heart enough. It’s thrilling, funny, heartfelt, dark, and beautiful.

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

The amazing folks at Ladies of Horror Fiction have put together a list spotlighting horror novels and novellas written by Black women to celebrate Black History Month.

Speaking of Ladies of Horror Fiction, they’ve announced that the book for their March 2022 read-a-long is going to be S.A. Barnes’ Dead Silence! So if you’ve been meaning to read it (and you should, it’s terrifying!), consider joining in on the fun. Be sure sure to check out their announcement post for participation information.

The final ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards has been announced! Congratulations to all the nominees! And hey, if you’re looking for a guide to some must-read horror from 2021, the ballot makes a great reading list!

Orbit Books announced that they’re going to be publishing S.T. Gibson’s gorgeous A Dowry of Blood in hardcover this October! I honestly don’t know that I’ve stopped screaming yet. I don’t usually buy multiple editions of a book but I’m going to have to make an exception!

Autostraddle published their interview with Gretchen Felker-Martin about her new book Manhunt, Martyrdom, and the Unimportance of Being Valid. This is your reminder to pick-up a copy of Manhunt if you haven’t yet! Believe me, you don’t want to miss this one.

By the way, there’s still time to check out our limited edition Wordle-inspired merchandise!


As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

Categories
The Fright Stuff

It’s a Bloodbath, Baby

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

In hindsight, I should have used this topic for the Valentine’s Day Fright Stuff. I mean, what’s more romantic than an extremely attractive woman who may or may not be a vampire but is definitely bathing in the blood of young women and probably seducing them as well? I don’t know what is, but Báthory-inspired horror just makes me think of Valentine’s Day!

As a life-long vampire fan, I have a soft spot in my heart for stories inspired by the dark history of the “Blood Countess.” But let’s be fair here for a second: like most powerful but maligned women in history, much of the gruesome legend that surrounds Elizabeth Báthory is now thought to be little more than slander by her enemies. Just as her crimes were most likely a front used to strip her of her influence and independence. There’s a lack of eye witness evidence that would be alarming by modern standards, and it’s no coincidence either that one of the aspects of Báthory’s punishment for the alleged murders was the removal of all the extremely valuable holdings she gained control of following her husband’s death. (Can’t have that, now can we.)

There aren’t a ton of resources I could find about Báthory that seem at least plausibly credible – one of the downsides of having your legacy defamed by history, apparently, is that your story attracts a lot of oddity and not a lot of scholarly attention. There seem to be a few history books out there that might be worth tracking down, but really it’s slim pickings. This lack of options will also be made apparent later with the books I’ll discuss. Unfortunately, not many of them are written by people of color. If you want to learn more about Báthory, though, I recommend that you check out folklore blogger and podcast host Icy Sedgwick’s fascinating podcast episode debating the truth behind the legend. It was a huge help this week!

Still, despite the likelihood of her innocence, Elizabeth Báthory’s infamy (however fictional) has outlived whatever her true story may have been. And not unlike the historical figure that inspired Bram Stoker’s famous vampire, the fictional version of Báthory is more likely to live forever than the woman who inspired her. The reality of it is a bit sad (and a bit rage inducing), but at the same time, people love a story. And a beautiful murderess who bathed in the blood of hundreds of young women is quite a story.

So while we give a nod to the much defamed historical Báthory, who deserved better than her fate, in this week’s Fright Stuff, we also raise a glass to her bloody fictional legacy. They tried to destroy her, but you can’t keep a bad bitch down. And we’ll be remembering Elizabeth Báthory, in one form or another, long after their names are dust.

cover of Blood Countess by Lana Popović

Blood Countess by Lana Popović

Though history knows her as Anna Darvulia, the Blood Countess’s witch companion, at the beginning of Popović’s book, Anna is just a scullery maid brought on to work in the castle of the glamorous, beautiful Countess Elizabeth Báthory. When Anna catches the Countess’s eye, she finds herself elevated above her station to the role of the Countess’s personal maid and companion. A confidante. Ultimately, her plaything, as Anna soon finds herself drawn deep under the Countess’s influence and isolated from everyone she knows and loves. The prisoner of a murderer. And Anna knows that being Elizabeth’s pet will only spare her life for so long before the Blood Countess eventually turns on her as well.

when I arrived at the castle

When I Arrived at the Castle by Emily Carroll

When I Arrived at the Castle is a brilliant work of Gothic, erotic horror, rendered in Carroll’s favored white, black, and red palette. In this retelling, a young cat-like girl arrives at a dark castle on a story night on a mission to destroy the evil within. Too many girls have come before her, never to be seen again, and the beautiful woman at the castle door hides a monster behind her face. When I Arrived at the Castle is definitely strange and unexpected in the best ways. It’s also queer! In fact, I should point out, that all three of the titles on this list are queer horror.

Caveat: While I was putting this newsletter together, I made the disappointing discovery that apparently When I Arrived at the Castle is out of print. I choose not to take it out of the newsletter because, again, I find Carroll’s work brilliant, and worth the effort to track down. And, thankfully, we have libraries and the glorious power of inter-library loans!

placeholder cover for House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson

House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson (October 4th)

The wait to October is going to be SO long, because I am already dying to get my hands on Alexis Henderson’s new queer, Gothic horror novel, inspired by the Báthory legend. Seeing it as her only means of escaping the city and poverty she was born into, Marion Shaw answers a newspaper listing to be a bloodmaid for a wealthy noble woman in the north. A servant in the infamous House of Hunger, presided over by the seductive and beautiful Countess Lisavet. When Lisavet fixes her eye on Marion, it seems Marion’s fortunes are on the rise, but a string of disappearing bloodmaids throws Marion’s new life into chaos. She finds her self drawn into a dangerous game that may well see Marion numbered among the missing herself.

By the way, there’s still time to check out our limited edition Wordle-inspired merchandise!

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

We have all kinds of horror content for you over at Book Riot, from horror thrillers and the 2022 Summer Scares winners, to fun with fungal horror (oh hey, it’s me!) and recent haunted house novels by women.

Nightfire has some fabulous blog entries for you this week, from a piece on the nostalgia of Reader Beware: The Art of Goosebumps, to the ghost ships that haunt S.A. Barnes (author of Dead Silence).


As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.