Here are your horror choices for this month. There are six in total, so you can select up to three. We’ll be reading two as usual. Our meetings will take place on October 22nd and November 5th. I’ll close the poll Monday evening.
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Past midnight, Chyna Shepard, twenty-six, gazes out a moonlit window, unable to sleep on her first night in the Napa Valley home of her best friend’s family. Instinct proves reliable. A murderous sociopath, Edgler Foreman Vess, has entered the house, intent on killing everyone inside. A self-proclaimed “homicidal adventurer,” Vess lives only to satisfy all appetites as they arise, to immerse himself in sensation, to live without fear, remorse or limits, to live with “intensity.” Chyna is trapped in his deadly orbit.
Chyna is a survivor, toughened by a lifelong struggle for safety and self-respect. Now she will be tested as never before. At first, her sole aim is to get out alive – until, by chance, she learns the identity of Vess’s next intended victim, a faraway innocent only she can save. Driven by a newly discovered thirst for meaning beyond mere self-preservation, Chyna musters every inner resource she has to save an endangered girl… as moment by moment, the terrifying threat of Edgler Foreman Vess intensifies.
Notable review by Cody
Ask any Dean Koontz fan what their favorite Koontz book is, and the answer you will likely get is Watchers, or maybe Odd Thomas. Exceptions to this exist, of course, but those two titles seem to get the most love amongst his fanbase.
Personally, my favorite was The City . . . Until I read Intensity.
This novel is really quite unlike most everything else by Koontz . . . unlike what I’ve read by him, anyway. There is no cloying sentimentality. No precocious children, no forced romance (Koontz almost goes there in the final chapter, but he redeems himself), no cornball military men or bougainvillea or wacky spirituality or Goldens. Just a sympathetic, kick-ass protagonist and the scariest, most loathsome villain Koontz has put to paper. And the only dogs to appear on the narrative are taken care of in a . . . well, rather un-Koontz-like fashion.
What is on display here is Koontz’s marvelous plotting skill: making a story move this well takes some serious chops. From the first page to the last I was enthralled, horrified. I’m not used to Koontz scaring me so badly, but he did it here.
Okay, enough with my fanboying. I’m just happy, okay? It’s been a while since I last read a Koontz novel I love so hard. I’m kicking myself for being aware of this book for a decade or longer, yet only reading it now.
Paul Sheldon. He’s a bestselling novelist who has finally met his biggest fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes and she is more than a rabid reader – she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.
Notable review by Kate
‘Misery’ is a gruesome story of torture with blood, guts, and a psychopath. It’s a well told tale, the characters are well developed and the fact that there are only two of them never gets boring. It’s a real page turner, in fact I finished it tonight after getting off the subway on the platform before I walked home. But, this book is more than just a thriller, just like King is more than just a pulp writer.
I read an article by the ever optimistic and cheerful Harold Bloom in college about how dismayed he was that young people like Stephen King so much. All the literature crtics I’ve read hate King and it seems like it’s just because people actually enjoy reading his work. Yeah, Bloom, I said ‘work’ just like I would about Tolstoy’s ‘work’ because Stephen King as damned hard worker. Think of all the books he’s churned out over the last few decades. I’d like to see Harold Bloom show enough imagination to write fiction instead of just criticizing it all the time.
I’m actually new to Stephen King’s fiction. I’ve read a few of the essays and articles he’s written and a really great graduation speech he gave at UMaine awhile ago in which he extolled the virtues of our mutual home state, but this is only my 3rd novel by him. I like this guy, and I know why too. It’s not just because he makes me scream and I have a hard time putting his books down, it’s because King loves writing. He has a real and self-aware relationship with what it means to be a writer. He knows he’s not Tolstoy or Faulkner, he doesn’t try to write that way. He knows how to tell a good god damned story and he has a passion for it. I appreciate his self awareness as a writer and the fact that he ackowledges how difficult the whole process is while not making us feel like he’s somehow superior because he’s figured out how to do it.
In ‘Misery’ it’s almost like we get to watch King write this story. He doesn’t just set us up for a crazy story and watch us discover things about his characters, it feels like he actually comes with us and makes the discoveries at the same time we do. That’s what makes a good storyteller. And I don’t give a damn if Bloom likes him or not.
Six months ago, the world watched in horror as we lost an American city.
The Grinder. That’s what the survivors of Tucson called the monster. Just one touch, and they became a part of it. It used their bodies as limbs and as weapons. In just a matter of hours, it became huge, a towering monstrosity made entirely out of tens of thousands of people and animals.
This isn’t behind-the-scenes bullshit from the point of view of the military. This isn’t yet another conspiracy theory about what really happened to Air Force One that night, or about the decision to nuke Tucson.
This is a rare, eyewitness account from someone who was there, in the midst of the destruction. But most importantly, this is the terrifying truth.
Notable Review by Pete Kahle
Body Horror + Kaiju + The Book of Revelations with a dash of a dysfunctional love story. Who doesn’t like that?
I bought this on Kindle in late 2015 and it sat in my virtual TBR pile with over a thousand other books for close to 5 years. Frankly, I don’t know why. Maybe I was distracted by another release or perhaps my “real life” intruded. It happens. Anyone who is an avid reader has been there. Regardless, I was scrolling through my Kindle library at 1am a couple of nights ago for something to distract me during this Coronapocalypse and I decided for no apparent reason to finally dive into this.
Why did I wait so long?
If you’ve ever read Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, you surely remember the story “In the Hills, the Cities”. When I read it back in the late 80s, it was the first example of a collective being created from the bodies of thousands of living creatures that I can recall, and it is one of those visual horror concepts that I have never forgotten. I’ll wager that Matt Dinniman also was inspired by Barker’s vision.
In The Grinding, Dinniman takes this concept, transplants it to Tucson, Arizona, feeds it through a grindhouse filter and cranks the volume up to 11. The death toll in this novel is immense and the gore is described in vivid 5-senses detail, ahat in itself would garner a thumbs up from me, but Dinnaman takes this well beyond your typical splatterfest and gives the characters detailed backgrounds and motivations. No cookie-cutter characterization here.
In short, this is a balls-to-the-wall horror novel that never lets up. I will be recommending this book to anyone who digs this subgenre of horror and this has earned a spot on my “definitely reread someday” list
5 BLOODSOAKED STARS!
Last Days (winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel of the Year) by Adam Nevill is a Blair Witch style novel in which a documentary film-maker undertakes the investigation of a dangerous cult—with creepy consequences
When guerrilla documentary maker, Kyle Freeman, is asked to shoot a film on the notorious cult known as the Temple of the Last Days, it appears his prayers have been answered. The cult became a worldwide phenomenon in 1975 when there was a massacre including the death of its infamous leader, Sister Katherine. Kyle’s brief is to explore the paranormal myths surrounding an organization that became a testament to paranoia, murderous rage, and occult rituals. The shoot’s locations take him to the cult’s first temple in London, an abandoned farm in France, and a derelict copper mine in the Arizonan desert where The Temple of the Last Days met its bloody end. But when he interviews those involved in the case, those who haven’t broken silence in decades, a series of uncanny events plague the shoots. Troubling out-of-body experiences, nocturnal visitations, the sudden demise of their interviewees and the discovery of ghastly artifacts in their room make Kyle question what exactly it is the cult managed to awaken – and what is its interest in him?
Notable Review by Paul Nelson
Last days by Adam Nevill is easily one of the best modern day horror novels I’ve read this year. This story will suck you in, devour your feelings of safety and comfort as you sit reading and nonchalantly spit you out with a wry evil grin, leaving you begging for more.
I haven’t been gripped this tightly since the one occasion I was thrown out of a pub as a young man. Last Days will scare you shitless as Nevill pumps up the tension and terror in a clinical fashion that starts off shredding your nerves to confetti and never lets you recover.
Kyle Freeman is an independent film maker, his films include a canny cross into another of his stories The Ritual, Kyle is beset with financial strife when a job offer lands rather neatly on his table. Wealthy businessman Max Solomon approaches him to make a documentary about Sister Katherine and her cult the Temple of the Last Days. The cult met an infamous and bloody end in the desert of Arizona. Kyle, with Dan the cameraman have a strict predetermined itinerary of interviews with former members of the cult and arranged visitation to the Temples of the Last Days.
The emphasis of the film was to be on the paranormal aspect of the cult as dictated by the boss and the whole makeup of the Last Days was extremely sinister and riveting. Your average Cult usually has a charismatic leader, and ex-prostitute sister Katherine certainly fits the bill. She ran things through seven intermediaries, highly manipulative, she lived in comfort while everyone else lived in squalor. Using favouritism and attachment to keep everyone in line, even from afar, choosing which relationships could prosper, all for a reason of course.
The two filmmakers have 3 sites to visit, 3 people to interview, the first is Clarendon Road, London and the cult’s birth. The whole process and setup of the film felt real and certainly intensified the paranormal element, the first site bought terror to not just Kyle and Dan but damn, you can feel it all, your pulse races it’s that well described. That however pales in comparison to the farmhouse in France, traps still in the long grass, used to stop the cult members fleeing and bodily apparitions blended into the walls. The bed of the cult leader still in place and something else, not a soul has been here since the cult vanished all those years ago and what they bought into this world, the ‘old friends’.
The characters are both believable and well fleshed out, not so much depth but to be honest I really didn’t feel it was necessary. The story is sensational, horror at its most terrifying, we jump through repeated loops of disturbing incidents from the interviews to the site explorations and the overwhelming fear that something is there. Something unthinkable and it slowly bleeds into the filmmakers lives until there’s practically no escape.
The pacing is spot on, even the slight lull in proceedings as we explore the history of the paranormal aspect, the ‘old friends’, was absolutely fascinating. Intrigue and tension intensify almost immediately from the first interview, the history of the cult comes from both the old members and courtesy of the research already done as death starts to follow proceedings, and something it seems has awakened. I can honestly say that I hung on every word and would definitely put this down for a reread sometime in the future.
Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.
Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.
But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she—and her book club—are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.
Notable Review by Emily May
Then she got in her Volvo and hoped Grace was right and this was all just a product of the overactive imagination of a stupid little housewife with too much free time on her hands. If it was, she promised herself, tomorrow she would vacuum her curtains.
I FREAKIN’ LOVED THIS. I loved every single dark, funny, gory minute of this book. I’m in no way qualified to talk about best and worst books, but I can say with absolute certainty that this is my favourite book so far this year.
For the first few chapters of The Southern Book Club, I thought I had it pegged as the easiest, breeziest, sweet tea & pecan pie of a novel. A kind of True Blood, if Sookie Stackhouse was ten years older and ran a book club. Which, don’t get me wrong, sounds utterly fabulous, but it actually ended up being way more than I expected. It goes to some really dark places, so a quick warning to those sensitive to sexual assault and domestic abuse (off-page).
I’m not quite sure how best to describe this. In some ways, it’s a heartwarming and funny story about a – you guessed it – Southern book club. There’s so much female friendship and a good few laughs, but despite how the title and cover look, it isn’t campy like I feared. In fact, as well as being fun, this book made me really frustrated and angry in parts. I hate it (and can’t stop angry-reading) when women are patronized and gaslighted. Reading about gaslighting really makes me anxious, and the way the women in this book are talked down to because they are “silly” housewives made my blood boil.
But that’s the whole point. In the author’s note, Hendrix states that he “wanted to pit Dracula against my mom”. It’s a nod to those women who carry out the majority of the childcare and household chores, as well as shouldering the emotional burden. And, hell, these housewives might vacuum their curtains and freeze 60 sandwiches at the beginning of the month for school lunches, but they have some serious claws.
In every book we read, no one ever thought anything bad was happening until it was too late. This is where we live, it’s where our children live, it’s our home. Don’t you want to do absolutely everything you can to keep it safe?”
Patricia has read enough true crime novels to know a threat when she sees it. So when a mysterious stranger comes to town and threatens their neighborhood and their children, Patrica, Kitty, Maryellen, Slick, Grace and Mrs. Greene are absolutely NOT about to take it lying down. God, I love these women. They’re not the stereotypical “badass heroines”, which makes them so truly, genuinely badass. The book lightly pokes fun at them, but in a warm, good-natured way.
“How’s your ear?”
“She swallowed part of it,” Patricia said.
“I’m so sorry,” Slick said. “Those really were nice earrings.”
Normally I would summarize at the end of my review by saying how “fun” or “intense” or “moving” it was, but I don’t know which angle to go for because this book was all those things. This book made me laugh and it made me anxious and I just loved it. It’s too bad that it ended in a perfect place because I would definitely sign up for a Southern Book Club series.
An unconventional vicar moves to a remote corner of the English countryside, only to discover a community haunted by death and disappearances both past and present–and intent on keeping its dark secrets–in this explosive, unsettling thriller from acclaimed author C. J. Tudor.
Welcome to Chapel Croft. Five hundred years ago, eight protestant martyrs were burned at the stake here. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared without a trace. And two months ago, the vicar of the local parish killed himself.
Reverend Jack Brooks, a single parent with a fourteen-year-old daughter and a heavy conscience, arrives in the village hoping to make a fresh start and find some peace. Instead, Jack finds a town mired in secrecy and a strange welcome package: an old exorcism kit and a note quoting scripture. “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed and hidden that will not be known.”
The more Jack and her daughter Flo get acquainted with the town and its strange denizens, the deeper they are drawn into their rifts, mysteries, and suspicions. And when Flo is troubled by strange sightings in the old chapel, it becomes apparent that there are ghosts here that refuse to be laid to rest.
But uncovering the truth can be deadly in a village where everyone has something to protect, everyone has links with the village’s bloody past, and no one trusts an outsider.
Notable Review by Melissa
I wrote my very first book review a year ago. And over the past 12 months, I have failed to find, from start to finish, a truly satisfying thriller. One that is tightly and expertly written, amazingly entertaining, and not overly ludicrous.
You see, that’s the problem I have with the genre. While the majority of thrillers are, in fact, thrilling, I find so many of them to be absurd, plot-holed, and nonsensical.
But such is not the case with C.J. Tudor’s latest release, The Burning Girls. It checks all my boxes – and it’s absolutely fantastic.
The town of Chapel Croft has a tragic past. Centuries ago, Protestant martyrs were betrayed and burned. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls vanished, never to be found. And within the last few weeks, the local vicar hanged himself inside of the church.
Reverend Jacqueline “Jack” Brooks and her 14-year-old daughter, Flo, arrive in Chapel Croft, intent on starting over. But instead of being warmly received by the townspeople, they are greeted with apprehension, hostility, and an exorcism kit.
Yep. That’s right. An exorcism kit. How’s that for a welcome gift?
As Jack and Flo settle into Chapel Croft, it soon becomes clear the history of the town isn’t just riddled with death and disappearances. It has its fair share of ghosts, too.
When Flo begins seeing burning girls, terrifying visions of young women set aflame, Jack realizes that Chapel Croft’s horrid past no longer wants to be buried – and that it has risen from its grave.
Clearly, The Burning Girls is not your standard thriller. It’s more of a supernatural horror thriller, written very much in the same vein as an old-school Stephen King novel. While reading, it’s almost impossible to not see the similarities to King in both style and tone, and Tudor even gleefully meets the comparison head on by pointedly referencing the beloved author in the narrative.
And Tudor’s novel parallels King in a few other ways.
First off, it’s incredibly entertaining and compulsively readable. I didn’t ever want to put the book down, I was so riveted. And there is never ever a boring, dull moment, with Tudor’s straightforward writing making for a swift and easy read.
Secondly, it’s creepy as all get out and blatantly bloody and gory. The eerie and graphic nature of The Burning Girls makes it not an ideal read for the squeamish and those who dislike being scared. I’m not one to spook easily, but I definitely felt a chill slide down my spine a time or two. Tudor got me, and she got me good.
Thirdly, the novel stars an unforgettable and somewhat quirky lead character. Jack is just . . . so freakin’ cool. She’s a cigarette-smoking, bird-flipping priest who listens to The Killers and has to regularly remind herself to be Christian. She mothers fiercely, and she will unapologetically do whatever is necessary to protect Flo.
I wish I could drink a beer with Jack. We would get along quite well, I think.
And thriller fans – you can relax. Even with its notable King influence, The Burning Girls is still a thriller at heart, and it is filled with non-stop excitement and jaw-dropping twists. It is nowhere near lacking in the thrills department – it simply has chills to go along it.
Which brings me to the one downside of the novel. Tudor too loudly telegraphs her clues to the mysteries. She lays them out in the wide open for all to easily see, requiring only semi-close attention to be paid to find them. Therefore, I successfully solved the big twist and most of the novel’s side puzzles on my own, way earlier than I would have liked.
But it didn’t matter. Suspecting that I had the solution never detracted from my overall enjoyment, and I ultimately found the conclusion satisfying. There were still plenty of surprises for me along the way, and I even think I may have read the novel faster out of urgency to know whether my theories were correct.
And I will say this – those who are lucky enough to not see the big twist coming are in for a shock. The ending of The Burning Girls will knock your socks off.
Bravo, Ms. Tudor. All the stars for you – and my first ever five-star thriller review.
What shall we read next? (Choose 3)
- The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (27%, 8 Votes)
- Misery by Stephen King (23%, 7 Votes)
- The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor (17%, 5 Votes)
- The Grinding by Matt Dinniman (13%, 4 Votes)
- Intensity by Dean Koontz (10%, 3 Votes)
- Last Days by Adam Nevill (10%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 11