Inspired in part by true events, Death by the River by Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor [Vesuvian Books, October 2018] is the kind of skin-crawling, queasy-feeling-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach story that needs to be told and demands to be read.
Twin sisters Leslie and Dawn might share the same dirty blonde hair and blue eyes, but that’s where their similarities end. Leslie is sharp-tongued and quick-witted, dating a sweet boy named Derek from the other side of the tracks that her mother doesn’t approve of. Meanwhile, Dawn is living every small town, Southern girl’s dream: she’s head of the cheer squad and the girlfriend of the high school’s star quarterback—who also happens to be rich, handsome, and with a pedigree that has the whole town eating out of its palm. Unfortunately, all of Dawn’s dreams are about to come crashing down, because Beau Deveraux is not the catch of the generation. He’s a misogynistic, sadistic psychopath with some serious anger issues and a deep hatred of women—but that’s just the sort of thing his father has spent a lot of good money on keeping quiet.
Beau might be Dawn’s boyfriend, but it’s Leslie that is the object of his infatuation. When his plan to woo Leslie by keeping her sister close doesn’t go according to plan, Beau’s frustration finds temporarily—and increasingly violent—reprieve in punishing other women as stand-ins for the one girl “crazy enough” to not be interested (eye roll). Beau’s progression from manipulator, to rapist, to murderer is a journey through psychosis that begins with terrorizing his own mother and ends with more than one dead body floating in the Bogue Falaya River near the ruins of the abandoned St. Francis Seminary where high school students like to party on the weekends and where wild dogs—and a spectral lady in white—are said to only appear when death is near.
This story is, admittedly, not for the faint of heart. It's violent and comes with a trigger warning on sexual assault with scenes in the book that range from subtle verbal abuse to full-on rape. Nevertheless, Weis and Astor capture Deveraux’s deplorable misogyny and psychotic tendencies with a delicate grace that makes the story captivating while still coating you in that icky feeling that doesn’t wash off in the shower. The guy doesn’t have a single redeemable bone in his body, but that doesn’t make him an unrealistic antagonist. In fact, it might be just what makes him feel so damn familiar. Every woman has known a man like Beau Devereaux, and if you haven’t…well, it’s probably because you didn’t know you did. This reviewer certainly has, and everything from Beau’s subtle exploitations to his overt sexism ring painfully true.
Readers may not appreciate Beau’s increasingly erratic descent into madness or the fickleness of teenage fidelity—and there’s nothing about this story that makes it a heartwarming read—but that doesn’t stop Death by the River from being a book that every teenage girl should read. As Weis states in her endnote: Beau’s victims keep quiet for the same reason many young women do today—fear of reprisals, humiliation, peer pressure, and lack of trust in a system that largely ignores or blames them. While this truth doesn’t make Death By the River a pleasant read, it does make it an important one--the type of cautionary tale that keeps you alive by reminding you that sometimes the biggest horrors aren’t the monsters hiding under the bed or the ones that exist somewhere else in the world, but the ones hiding in plain sight. And the best way to beat them? Bring them out in the light and expose them.
Note: Death by the River contains extreme sexual violence and may be triggering. Read with caution.
Some truths are better kept secret.
Some secrets are better off dead.
Along the banks of the Bogue Falaya River, sits the abandoned St. Francis Seminary. Beneath a canopy of oaks, blocked from prying eyes, the teens of St. Benedict High gather here on Fridays. The rest of the week belongs to school and family—but weekends belong to the river.
And the river belongs to Beau Devereaux.
The only child of a powerful family, Beau can do no wrong. Handsome. Charming. Intelligent. The star quarterback of the football team. The “prince” of St. Benedict is the ultimate catch.
He is also a psychopath.
A dirty family secret buried for years, Beau’s evil grows unchecked. In the shadows of the ruined St. Francis Abbey, he commits unspeakable acts on his victims and ensures their silence with threats and intimidation. Senior year, Beau sets his sights on his girlfriend’s headstrong twin sister, Leslie, who hates him. Everything he wants but cannot have, she will be his ultimate prize.
As the victim toll mounts, it becomes crystal clear that someone has to stop Beau Devereaux.
And that someone will pay with their life.
For Sam Geisler, the titular character in Cassondra Windwalker’s new murder-mystery series, Sam Geisler: Murder Whisperer, the path to redemption is one forged through darkness. Preacher Sam, the first installment of Windwalker’s latest experiment in the beautiful, sometimes redeemable depravity of the human experience arrives from Black Spot Books in September 2019, and at one-part cozy murder mystery and one-part psychological thriller, well, the Preacher is ready to hear your confessions.
Sam Geisler used to be an upstanding member of his community—the town pastor, doting husband, supportive brother and uncle, and in possession of an ear you can’t help but whisper secrets into. But despite his good deeds, Sam was crippled by a seedy addiction that ultimately cost him the things he loved most, namely all the previous. Now, he’s starting over—jobless, on the verge of divorce from his estranged wife, and living an intentionally technology-free life as penance while he eeks out the days working in his sister Dan’s café/bookshop, being a stand-in for a father for his young nephew, and toiling away his--er—tensions in late-night gym sessions. But, out of all the punishments Sam is experiencing, perhaps the worst is that which he has imposed upon himself: a hefty dosing of guilt, both about what he cannot change and that which he failed to.
While Sam’s quest for redemption effectively and voluntarily ostracizes from his community, it nonetheless also pivots him into a critical—and somewhat blissfully removed from his previous obligations with the church—role when one of his former parishioners is suddenly arrested for the murder of another. Amanda has seemingly murdered her best friend, and she’s not interested in speaking to anyone about her role in Amy's death—not even her husband, her defense, her children, or even her new pastor. She is, however, willing to speak with Sam, though she even withholds the whole story from him, seeking not absolution but instead forgiveness for a crime it is obvious to everyone she didn’t commit. The only other person she's talked to from behind prison bars is, ironically, Clay, Amy's widowed husband, something that only fuels speculation about what really happened that night in the small fabric store that the two women had owned together. Amanda’s involvement in Amy’s murder is not the most scandalous part of the crime, though, it’s in the greater evil that she was trying to prevent—a ferreting out of darkness that, hopefully, will perhaps help Sam to find his own way to salvation, both in his eyes and everyone else’s.
If you’re ready for more Sam (and Dani, too) there’s a Geisler story called “Feeding the Dog” published in the Roanoke Review as well as another mention for Sam in Cassondra Windwalker’s contribution to the upcoming winter-themed Black Spot Books Anthology, A Midnight Clear (available November 5, 2019).
No one is more qualified to understand the blackest hearts than a disgraced, porn-addicted former preacher who is still in love with his estranged wife. Floundering for direction and beset by the needs of his well-meaning but aggravating atheist sister and her seven-year-old son, Sam Geisler is trying to put his past behind him when the murder of one of his former parishioners by another drags him back into the world he left behind.
Sam may not be Broadripple’s favorite son, but his peculiar gift for listening has earned him the moniker murderer-whisperer, and the police need his help on what should be an open-and-shut case. Fighting for his marriage, fighting with his sister, and fighting against his own demons, Sam may be the only one who hears what the real murderer is all but shouting—but will it be enough to drive back his own darkness?
When the end of the world is here, turn to a crow.
The Hollow Kingdom tells the story of a zombie apocalypse (think The Walking Dead, or, perhaps more aptly, 28 Days Later) from the perspective of those left behind—this time not of human survivors, but of animals—wild and domesticated alike—who once again have the chance to thrive…if they can survive the wake of what humanity has left behind. Narrated primary by S.T., a domesticated crow who’s simultaneously naïve about humans and in possession of a brutal sense of humor about them, in Kira Jane Buxton’s debut novel it is animals who are left to remind us about the beauty of a world without the (often disastrous) impact of mankind.
Set in Seattle, S.T. and his canine companion—a dosey bloodhound by the name of Dennis—must venture out into the wild unknown when their owner, Big Jim, succumbs to the technology-induced plague that has wiped out humans. Along the way, S.T. must accept and come to know the part of himself that he has long ignored—the fact that he is a wild-thing himself—and shake free the “clipped wings” of his life as a pet to find his place in a very different new world. Along the way, S.T., Dennis, and a series of pawed, clawed, and tentacled companions come to rediscover a much-changed Seattle, one where the natural order of things has broken free of humanity’s shackles: zoo animals bring the wild to pets who’ve escaped alive; the trees speak with renewed voices (“Life is not the same once you’ve learned just how deeply a tree can feel.”); and we witness firsthand both the glorious and the gory of what happens when Mother Nature is free to flourish without interference. “When the spirit of a species leaves us, it doesn’t go easily.” (The story is also speckled with Seattle landmarks, pop culture references, and some really interesting animal biases. Sorry, penguins.)
Buxton's story about the collapse of mankind—a consequence of our ongoing and generally unhealthy love affair with technology—though based around the extinction of man is not your average zombie story. It's less a story about the end of the world as we know it, as it is a call to liberate ourselves from our own domestication, much like that which S.T. and his companions face. It’s a critical look at the impact the human ego has had on the environment and the cost we’ll leave to future inhabitants, human or otherwise, to pay. And, it’s told from the perspective of a life force we’ve caged as wholly as we’ve caged ourselves, making it a poignant portrayal of the beauty we fail to see around us on an everyday basis as well as a stark glimpse of the future we are already carving out for ourselves.
For all its sharp edges and gritty no-punches-pulled humor, Hollow Kingdom is a remarkably tender story that manages to make you feel just a tiny jealous of the resilient cast of characters that have survived humanities apocalypse. It’s a magnum opus on environmental degradation, an expose on the impact of technological dependency, and—above all else—a testament to the bizarre and indelicate beauty of rewilding. (And, I would be remiss without adding, it is the single most beautiful ode to the infallible and unconditional companionship of dog I might have ever read.)
S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle's wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®.
Then Big Jim's eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn't quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies--from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim's loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis--fail to cure Big Jim's debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity's extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education.
Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted, and boundlessly beautiful romp through the apocalypse and the world that comes after, where even a cowardly crow can become a hero.
Simultaneously refreshing and deeply unsettling, The Night Weaver weaves together small-town horror with an intricate otherworldly fairytale to deliver a blend of horror and fantasy that captures the essence of young adult terror seasoned with the stuff of grown-up nightmares.
Children in Shadow Grove are going missing—spirited away into the forest by an unknown presence as if lured into the darkness by the Pied Piper himself. But that’s not the worst part. Nobody is looking for them—in fact, nobody seems to even acknowledge they’re missing at all. There’s no missing posters, no search parties, no frantic parents. This isn’t the first time something tragic has happened in Shadow Grove, either. The town's history is peppered with the strange and the horrific, from poisoned school lunches to devastating factory fires—all events that have been glossed over in the town’s history with startlingly bland recall. The only people who seem concerned about the newest calamity are the kids that have not yet been taken.
Rachel Cleary’s family, along with her neighbors the Crenchaws, harbor a clandestine, multigenerational obligation: to guard the perimeter of the forest at the edge of Shadow Grove, maintaining an uneasy peace with the magical beings who live in the forest. It’s not so much a matter about keeping things out of the forest but keeping other naughty nighttime beasties in. And for years, it’s worked—a delicate, if tenuous, balance has been more-or-less kept, even if the occasional shadow does slip through the bounds. But now it seems like something nastier than usual has made its--her-- way through the cracks: “There’s something wrong with the forest. It’s waking up.”
In addition to the recent slew of missing children, the adults of Shadow Grove are acting….very Stepford…but Rachel suspects there’s a deeper link to the strange events in Shadow Grove—and this new darkness is not only far from over, but it may be deep enough to swallow the town whole. With the help of her eccentric, elderly neighbor, a Scottish hottie, a childhood friend turned handsome socialite, and a super hot fae prince, Rachel discovers that the dark presence lurking around the edges of the forest of Shadow Grove belongs to the Night Weaver. Modeled off the Black Annis, a blue-faced, iron-clawed, child-gobbling bogeyman in English folklore, the Night Weaver doesn’t only prey upon the flesh of children, but on grief, fear, and pain—making her both the monster under the bed in a scared child’s bedroom and a fitting personification of the dark shadow that lives in the back of the mind of anyone who has experienced tragedy. If Rachel wants to save the missing children and the adults of her Shadow Grove, she’ll have accept that the small town she’s grown up in is anything other than normal, and that sometimes nothing is as it seems—and that the only way to find your way out of the darkness is to move toward the light.
Though at times the story moves perhaps a little too quickly and is not entirely free of YA tropes, The Night Weaver is nonetheless a well-laid dark fantasy and a clear entrance into a new series that will invite in a new generation of horror readers.
SHADOW GROVE IS A PERFECTLY PLEASANT TOWN...
Shadow Grove isn't a typical town. Bad things happen here. Children disappear, one after the other, and nobody is doing anything about it. Parents don't grieve, missing posters don't line the streets, and the sheriff seems unconcerned.
Seventeen-year-old Rachel Cleary lives on the outskirts of Shadow Grove, next to the creepy forest everyone pretends doesn't exist. Usually the forest is filled with an eerie calm, an unmistakable graveyard solemnity. But the trees have started whispering, forgotten creatures are stirring, and the nights feel darker than ever.
Something is stalking the residents of Shadow Grove, changing them into brain-dead caricatures of themselves. It's up to Rachel to stop the devouring of her hometown before all is destroyed and everyone she loves is forever lost.
Hell hath no fury like Amanda Grey.
In the second installment of Shades of Hell by Bronx-native Alcy Leyva, Amanda Grey is back and better than ever. Well, sort of. She’s dead now, having died in the apocalypse that she accidentally started, and trapped in Hell. Much to her simmering, rage-filled disappointment disgust, Grey discovers that none of the promises made to her by the angel-ish beings Ada and Bill were honored, no one knows what happened to Donaldson, and Petty has been kidnapped by the devil (?). And, all of this Pales in Comparison to the fact that she just woke up to find none other than Gaffrey Palls—yeah, the guy who tried to kill her and roped her into this whole waking nightmare to begin with—waiting for her on the Other Side.
Oh, and she’s wearing a dress. Being dead really sucks for Amanda Grey.
Luckily, Grey isn’t the sort to let this kind of thing get her down, and waking up in Hell isn’t going to stop her from finishing what she started, either. Asserting her characteristic snark and unyielding pessimism, in And Then There Were Dragons Grey will traverse the Nine Circles of Hell to rescue her sister. Along the way, she'll be joined by unsettling newcomers and many of the characters we love…or hate…or love to hate (whatever): Cain, the sexy, sadistic former-Angel of Death; Palls; even D, the ex-roommate literal-demon boyfriend you never knew you wanted so badly. Grey will take a horrifying trip down Memory Lane, be forced to eat at the underworld version of Olive Garden, read--er—see “tweets” in the most obnoxious way possible, and be stretched far, far outside of her comfort zone, not that she ever had a particularly large one to begin with.
It’s not all fire and brimstone, though, in And Then There Were Dragons. Leyva’s twisted fairytale—and that’s exactly what it is: the most horrible version of Alice in Wonderland you’ve ever read (sorry, Mr. Carroll) with a healthy dose of Dante for good measure—digs back to its roots, providing snapping social commentary on everything from consumerism, social media addiction, and—of course--fake news. After all, a good fairytale is one that doesn’t shy too far away from being a cautionary tale, and Alcy’s version Hell (demons and devils and all other weirdness aside) doesn’t look too much different from the world we are living in today. It’s more Idiocracy meets Zombieland than Orwell’s 1984 and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s accurate and frightening AF just the same. Still, its no match for Amanda Grey—a ballsy, socially-anxious chick from Queens who would love nothing more than to be left the hell alone.
The penultimate entry in the series, Dragons is markedly shorter than its predecessor, which is probably a good thing for those readers who might need to take this mixture of gore-and-hilarity in small doses. But, if you thought Leyva outdid himself in bizarro horror and nightmarish versions of reality in And Then There Were Crows, then buckle up, Dollface, because it’s only going to get weirder here on out. After all, the only thing worse than Hell for Grey is what comes next: Heaven.
For Amanda Grey, stopping the all-encompassing Apocalypse fated to plunge our entire existence into never-ending darkness ... just kind of sucked. Sure, she had managed to capture every demon set loose on New York City. And yes, she ended up thwarting an evil angel's plans to destroy humanity. But she also lost her sister, her apartment, and—oh yeah—Amanda Grey totally died and got her soul banished to hell as a result.Luckily, she's not the type to take that kind of thing lying down.AND THEN THERE WERE DRAGONS thrusts Amanda Grey into a whole new world of weird as she ventures out into the fiery wastelands, decrepit cities, and Olive Gardens of the afterlife in search of her sister and her own redemption. As the penultimate entry in the Shades of Hell Series, Amanda will be coming face-to-face with the truth behind the demon Shades, as well as a destiny she sure as hell didn't ask for.
In the new Audible audio academy production Heads Will Roll, Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live, Ghostbusters) lends her voice as Queen Mortuana, a “psychopathic tyrant with a kingdom on her shoulders” who, along with her delightfully ditzy minion—a former princess named JoJo (voiced by Emily Lynne) who was cursed to become a raven on her sixteenth birthday—must try to preserve her kingdom, and her rule, from the threat of a peasant uprising.
It starts in much the way that many fairytales do: with the issuance of a deliciously mundane and vague prophecy that promises Mortuana’s eventual overthrow. Peasants are planning a revolt, and the evil queen must find the mystical “Shard of Acquiescence” that will subvert their plans so she can get back to things like enjoying her —er— boyfriends and lopping off anyone’s head who offends her (“No, and fuck you for asking. Off with your head….and put her heart in a box as well”). Of course, its not a fairytale without a quest. Mortuana and JoJo must not only find the shard, but must do so navigating bad romances, weird fetishes, sexual tension with unlikely gods, strange creatures, calls from mothers, and even managing fake news and a political uprising led by Bernabus Fanders (ahem), a “120-year-old tub of whitefish salad.” Fanders has, unlikely as it seems, risen up to lead a rebellion against Queen Mortuana on a platform of equality and basic human rights (“Like he’s ever seen the business end of a bathtub—strop trying to convince us that you’ve bathed”)—an outrageous and yet shockingly accurate look through the magic looking glass at today’s often-zany political climate. Naturally, Bernabus (and any resemblance of reason) is quickly dispatched as the ongoing rebellion descends into the kind of shenanigans and celebrity endorsements we’ve come to expect in media coverage today.
A fairytale for adults that is ripe with both quintessential storybook elements but with enough tongue-in-cheek social critique and witty punning (There are medieval infomercials! Bards! Probably virgins! Support groups for the recently cursed!) to make it distinctly modern, Heads Will Roll is an auditory masterpiece fit for (an evil) queen. But be warned: this isn’t a fairytale you want your kids to hear. Featuring a sketch comedy-vibe and an ensemble cast that includes the voice talents of Meryl Streep, Tim Gunn, Peter Dinklage, and Carol Kane, Heads Will Roll is an adult comedy. Not only is the subject matter itself mature, but the humor is also rather crude, running the gamut from what might be chuckle-worthy after a glass of wine to what will have you struggling to draw breath between guffaws around the bottom of the rum barrel. Still, above all else, this is a tale about sisterhood, about power and powerlessness, and about friendship—and, of course, with something of a happy ending.
Heads Will Roll is an Audible Original from Saturday Night Live star Kate McKinnon and her cocreator/costar (and real-life sister) Emily Lynne. Produced by Broadway Video, this is not an audiobook - it's a 10-episode, star-studded audio comedy that features performances from Meryl Streep, Tim Gunn, Peter Dinklage, Queer Eye's Fab Five, and so many more.
Queen Mortuana of the Night Realm (McKinnon) and her ditsy raven minion JoJo (Lynne) receive a prophecy about a peasant uprising. Together, they must journey to find the "Shard of Acquiescence", which will put down the rebellion and save the throne. Will their friendship survive sensitive generals, chatty sex slaves, whiny behemoths, princes with bird fetishes, and the notion of democracy?
This raunchy satire also includes the wicked talents of Andrea Martin, Carol Kane, Audra McDonald, Aidy Bryant, Alex Moffat, Heidi Gardner, Chris Redd, Steve Higgins, Bob the Drag Queen, Esther Perel, and more. So, hold on to your head, and let the bad times roll.
Please note: This content is not for kids. It is for mature audiences only. This audio comedy features sexual content, adult language and themes, and violence against peasants and hobgoblins alike. Discretion is advised.
Oh,A post-apocalyptic fairy tale featuring a biracial, bisexual, axe-toting kickass handicapped woman who’s not about to be a victim to any big bad wolf? Sign. Me. Up.
It all began with the Cough, an infectious, air-borne disease that could kill even the healthiest person in twenty-four hours flat. Like any good world-ending virus, the Cough spread quickly, decimating the modern world and quickly pivoting humanity’s few survivors—mostly those immune or who’d somehow managed to hide, literally, from the virus—into a new world where resources are scarce and survival is contingent on one’s ability to find enough food and shelter to stay alive, all the while avoiding both infection and the worst of all monsters: other humans. It’s a post-apocalyptic fairy tale set in the new future, though for Red the dangers lurking around the corner are ones that have plagued mankind for centuries: intolerance, fear, hubris, power-seeking, and various other destructively antisocial behaviors. (There’s a monster, too, but its existence somewhat pales in comparison.)
Cordelia—or as she prefers to be called, Red—is a biracial, bisexual survivalist with a penchant for science fiction and horror, and a prosthetic leg. She’s also the sole survivor of her family—her white father, black mother, and older brother all having been…lost…to various consequences of the Cough that hit a little too close to home to be entirely fiction. Come hell, high water, or copious amounts of treacherous hiking, Red is determined to make it to her grandmother’s house—which waits three hundred short miles away—without being gobbled up by any wolves, literal or figurative, along the way. She’s determined and resilient, without being unapproachable or unrelatable. In fact, quite the opposite, Red persists as the embodiment of all the better parts of humanity that have disappeared in the wake of the Curse. She’s fierce, but fair. Strong, but compassionate. And she’s always, always prepared. In fact, if there’s another woman I’d want to be traipsing through the apocalypse with, you bet your picnic basket it’s Henry’s Red Riding Hood.
An author with a special knack for refitting classic fairytales into modern tales, Christina Henry’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in The Girl in Red reads as dreamily as the fairytale it was inspired by, but takes a poignant look at some of today’s most pressing social issues—racism, women’s rights, and even the power of government in a world where the balance between control and protection is as razor thin as the sharp edge of Red’s axe. It’s a fable fit for the current age, when the space between science fiction and reality is often blurry, and the monsters we fear most are the ones waiting within ourselves for a chance to pounce. Oh, and it's badass as hell.
Releases June 18, 2019 from Berkley.
Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for the ARC.
When a Scottish businessman’s corpse is dredged from the bogs of the Thames, so begins the unfurling of the seedy underbelly of Victorian London, replete with all the depictions—both trope and true—of murder, corruption, and sexual fetishes that marked the period.
James Miller is dead, his body dumped in the river in an area of London which plays host to no respectable gentlemen and is the stomping ground of prostitutes, thieves, and other no-good types, all strung along the fishy quayside that is bordered in dark, dank water. When Miller’s untimely death is labeled a suicide, his daughter, Catriona, refuses to believe her father would have taken his own life and sets out instead to discover the truth about the true cause of his demise, as well as what he might have been doing in the London slums. Her investigation treks along two diverging and equally unsavory paths: one in which she discovers her father to be perhaps the most revolting of all the no-goods who she crosses on her journey further and further down the staircase of filth and despair of London’s darkest rabbit holes, and the other, which leads her to an even stranger and most ghostly end. Indeed, the story moves from murder mystery to ghost story when Catriona comes face to face with the Darkwater Bride herself, a woman who committed her soul to the murky water if she could live to exact vengeance on the men who’d put her there—men like Catriona’s father.
The narrative itself is somewhat stale and rambling, with a heroine that is often difficult to root for. Catriona spends a significant portion of her narrative trying to convince everyone—perhaps even herself—of her feminism, while her romantic interest (it’s almost unthinkable to imagine romantic interest in a story that bounces between child mutilation, sexual abuse, rape, and bizarre fetishes, but it’s there—as well it should be, as only when confronted with the worst evils of humanity might we crave the comfort of another), rookie detective Culley, mostly bumbles about, torn between his sense of duty to his commanding officer and the siren lure of the young woman he is driven to help. Unfortunately, even poor Culley’s good intentions don’t do him much good in the end. In fact, none of the characters are terribly likeable with the exception of the Darkwater Bride herself, which is a powerful device on its own: We turn our favor away from the innocent, stick our noses up at the obvious antagonists, and, in the end, pledge our loyalty to a woman with a fatal kiss and a drowning vengeance, because of all the darkness in this book, hers is perhaps the most recognizable—the most relatable to our own.
If you can overlook Catriona’s constant whinging and Culley’s cringe-worthy naivety, as well as moments of deep and utter grossness, there is a strangely astute depiction of the contrary nature of sexual empowerment and entrapment lurking between the lines of The Darkwater Bride. From brothel prostitutes and madams to the women who perform in the clubs, to even Catriona and the Darkwater Bride herself, theirs is the story more compelling than that of a hedonistic, repulsive man who meets his worthy end. Instead of a ghostly murder mystery, The Darkwater Bride might be better suited as a tiptoed traipse down the thin line women walk between being predator and prey when they are left with nothing other than their bodies to defend themselves. It’s not a story of death and decay, but one of survival.
At times distasteful and never for the faint at heart, The Darkwater Bride is a bit wobbly, though punctuated by passages of delicate prose so exceedingly beautiful and haunting that it makes a sharp juxtaposition against the rougher parts of the story. What truly elevates the tale, however, is the quality of the production. Dark, gritty, and atmospheric, this Audible production is filled with deviances the likes of which this reviewer hasn’t seen since Karen Moline’s Belladonna (1998). Regardless, the production is simultaneously so disturbing and oddly intriguing that at the end you’ll definitely need a shower, but you’ll listen eagerly for the full six hours before finding the will to pull yourself (somewhat guilty) away from the speaker. It’s horrifying and yet bizarrely invigorating—a story that is as powerful as it is visceral, so that in the end, the reader—like Catriona—might stand defiantly against the darkness and wait in the night like a single white flame against the dark, the very essence of The Darkwater Bride.
In this Audible Original, an epic audio drama fresh from the UK, a cast of skilled actors—including Adrian Scarborough (The King's Speech), Freya Mavor (Skins), Claire Corbett (Eastenders), and Jamie Glover (West End's Harry Potter and the Cursed Child)—bring to life a mystical, terrifying world that combines a classic Victorian mystery thriller with a spine-chilling supernatural twist.
In late Victorian London, James Miller, a respected Scottish businessman, is pulled, dead and cold, from the Thames. Heartbroken and perplexed by his sudden death, his daughter, Catriona, is drawn into a mystery that soon reveals a dark underworld of secrets and corruption. She pairs up with local detective Culley for an investigation that stems deep into the grim, ghostly legends of England—particularly, that of The Darkwater Bride...and the power of her fatal kiss.
Arriving just in time for Novella Month, with a diverse and LGBTQ cast of characters, is debut-author Dalena Storm’s The Hungry Ghost, a chilling tale of love, lust, and desire and the often blurred line between them.
In The Hungry Ghost, a woman named Sam is caught between her alcoholic (and rather pathetic) ex-husband Peter; her young and determined would-be paramour, Madeline; and her own trepidations over letting anyone else inside her heart (or her newly-earned freedom, for that matter, being only six months out from a divorce). She’s been stretched too thin for too long, caught between obligations to her family, lovers, and work that are painfully familiar. The details of Sam’s life are vague and inconsequential, but it’s her condition that’s all too common. Who hasn’t felt bossed around, pushed around, and heaped upon when all they really want is space to breathe? Who hasn’t been faced with the uncomfortable position of having to navigate expectations thrown upon them by someone else—most particularly those who’ve claimed to love us—when they haven’t even fully come to terms with themselves? There is something insidious about that context--a darkness that lingers on the edges of your mind worrying over not only whether we are “good enough?” but “good enough to be desired?” and hints that the consequences of such desire may be more destructive than simply being enough.
There is a nagging loneliness that permeates the pages of The Hungry Ghost, beginning in its first chapter as Sam dresses for a date with Madeline and persists in every page of what is a quick, paper cut-like read--sharp, stinging, and unrelenting. When an accident puts Sam in a coma, she is pushed out of her own body by a hungry ghost, a mainstay in Tibetan Buddhism (Storm has a degree in Asian Studies) that represents beings who are driven by intense emotional needs in an animalistic way. Sam, meanwhile, finds a new emotional and physical security in the body of a newly-born kitten in a pet shop helmed by an African American orphan-turned-business owner with a big dose of magical predisposition and a tendency to name his cats after music’s greats—Macy Grey, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson. Those who ‘love’ Sam—Peter, Madeline, and her mother, Bianca—are forced to face the garish reality that the woman who Sam has become is not the woman they desperately wanted her to be—a realization as literal as it could be figurative, while Sam has to learn to let go of…well, everything. It’s a fight for Sam’s humanity in possibly the most disturbing way possible.
With her limited role in her own story, as a protagonist Sam is something of a stand-in for each of us—a mirror reflection that gives us an opportunity to get outside of our own heads and come to terms with the weight of the world around us. At turns chilling and always-haunting, The Hungry Ghost is an essay on modern love and the dark side of desire that gives us the chance to reconsider the balance between our own needs and desire—whether it is “them” who are the hungry ghosts, or if, instead, it is us.
Coming from Black Spot Books 6.11.19 (learn more).
With Thanksgiving (finally) behind us, it's time to settle into the end of the year and get cozy with a good book (or six). I usually take December off from writing to catch up on some reading, and while others are enjoying heart-warming holiday romances I am - as usual - erring on a bit more of the darker side. Be it a Yuletide fantasy, a dark romp with Krampus, a little holiday irreverence, or some holiday screams, here is what I am reading (and in some cases rereading) this December.
The Winter Riddle by Sam Hooker
I've been looking forward to this one all year. An antisocial winter witch teams up with a less than jolly Santa? Yes, please. It also helps that it's written by my friend and fellow author, the always brilliant and ceaselessly hilarious Sam Hooker, responsible for the Terribly Serious Darkness books. Review to come. Get your copy.
Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom
I love the myth of Krampus, and what I heard of this book last year when my husband read snippets of it aloud (between his fits of laughter), so decided to give it a go myself this year. If you're looking to pitch Santa back up to the North Pole, or otherwise want to terrify your kids, consider Krampus. Review to come. Get your copy.
Hark! The Herald Angels Scream by Christopher Golden
I'm a big fan of short story anthologies, and bought this when it released in October. As noted by the anthology's editor, there is darkness at the heart of the season, and we've long been telling ghost stories about it. I cannot wait to dig into this. Review to come. Get your copy.
A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor
What's better than a slow-burning holiday tragedy penned by a curmudgeonly author? Nothing. This is one of those stories I read every year - a wonderful farce delivered only as a storyteller as masterful as Garrison Keillor could spin. (#protip: Listen to a few back episodes of A Prairie Home Companion so you can get your narration voice straight before cracking this one open). Get your copy.
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
Another annual read, this story speaks to my inner Luther Krank--someone who is over the holiday insanity and just wants to go relax on a beach somewhere. The book that inspired the film Christmas with the Kranks, if you've ever just gotten sick of holiday madness, this one will make you giggle and still manage to give your Grinchy heart a little boost, too. Get your copy.
Old Christmas by Washington Irving
Stay in your lane, Charles Dickens, and leave Olde English Christmas to Washington Irving, the author who brought us The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. If you've not read this true Christmas classic, it's time to leave Scrooge to count his coins and read this oft-forgotten classic instead. (#protip: Get the illustrated version.) Get your copy.