***Warning, mild spoilers for The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires***
Vampires are my favorite monsters. I love how they represent a dangerous, alluring mixture of lust, power, sin, and death. I cannot get enough of how they are compelled by their desperate thirst even as they leverage human weaknesses to seduce victims.
Likewise, I’ve always appreciated author Grady Hendrix’s nuanced understanding of monsters and horror tropes. He possesses an uncanny ability to tap into pop horror elements, investigate how they work, and map them onto our lives. He did it in Horrorstör and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, both of which I loved. So, when I heard that Grady Hendrix, author of some of my favorite horror novels of the past few years, I was stoked.
I wasn’t disappointed—not only was The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires worth the wait but it is now my favorite Grady Hendrix work. As a longtime fan, I find it his most mature, compelling, and satisfying work. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires represents a new level of his craft, where he has successfully dissected the vampire archetype, crafted compelling and realistic characters, and breathing new life into an old story. And he didn’t sacrifice any of his trademark dark humor or his love for gross-out scenes.
The majestic peak of Alto del Perdón, also known as the Mount of Forgiveness, overlooks one of the most idyllic and picturesque countrysides in all of Spain. Located on the storied Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, between Pamplona and the town of Puente la Reina, Alto del Perdón basks in brilliant sunshine. An eye-catching metal sculpture, erected to honor past, present, and future pilgrims, sits at the top of the mount. The pilgrimage route itself leads to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, where Catholic lore states that remains of the Apostle Saint James the Great lie. The Camino is always filled with pilgrims determined to complete the 500-mile journey to on foot. It appears to be no more than a chalky and rocky dirt trail. But the trail itself is revered as a spiritual journey, one that will open the pilgrim’s heart and mind to some long-awaited truth.
Alto del Perdón does not, at first glance, seem like the kind of setting in which to open a traditional ghost story. But C.S. O’Cinneide did not set out the write a traditional ghost story with her debut novel, Petra’s Ghost, out now from Dundurn Press. Though O’Cinneide draws upon both travel tales and ghost stories for her debut, Petra’s Ghost is a refreshing spin on both of these classic narratives. (You can learn more about O’Cinneide’s inspiration for her novel by checking out the interview I conducted with her.) The result is an engrossing, creepy tale of the people who run away from the dark secrets haunting them and seek forgiveness on the Camino.
When I saw the trailer for Pet Sematary (2019), with John Lithgow as Jud Crandall, I felt excited. I’m usually skeptical of remakes, but since I liked the remake of IT (2017) with Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the clown, I’m kind of hopeful for upcoming horror remakes. And then it occurred to me: I hadn’t read the book. I’d seen the 1989 film more than 20 times – sometimes just playing it in the background at home while I did chores. I really like the movie, but I didn’t know what I was missing until I soaked up the novel.
In case you don’t know, Pet Sematary is a story about the Creed family, who moves to Ludlow, Maine, and into a house beside the town’s pet cemetery (misspelled “Sematary” by local children who made the sign). Strange things occur as Louis Creed discovers what lies beyond the Pet Sematary – breaking his grip on sanity and morality.
I had some traveling ahead of me, and I wanted to make sure I read the book before the remake hit theaters. So the night before I headed off to Austin, Texas, for SXSW, I kicked off the Pet Sematary audiobook on my way. As soon as I began the audiobook, I was hooked. I listened during my drive. When I stopped for gas, I didn’t linger so I could finish the next chapter. After a few hours, when I rolled into Austin, I could already tell there were differences between the novel and the 1989 film. But I turned off the audiobook and began live-music-binging.
I don’t know about you, but every year I make a resolution to read more horror novels. I experience varying levels of success each year (because life happens). Not that it stops me from buying more and more horror novels and adding to my already out-of-control horror novel collection.
Sigh. There are just too many intriguing horror novels out there, and so little time.
But I feel optimistic about this year! Really, I do. I am making a concerted push to read more in general, especially when it comes to my beloved horror genre. Just as I saw in 2017 and 2018, this year will see the publication of a ton of cool horror novels and novellas, so I certainly won’t have any problems finding good options. Choosing among them will be a different story, however.
All in all, there are 15 horror novels that have caught my eye so far, with something for everyone. Specifically, I’m interested in Caitlin R. Kiernan’s latest haunting short story collection, The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan; Josh Malerman’s new dystopic vision, Inspection; the gothic-inspired nightmare PEtra’s Ghost by C.S. O’Cinneide; Grady Hendrix’s delightful-sounding My Mom’s Book Club Killed Dracula; and the arresting A Lush and Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs.
One of my favorite things about the horror genre is how versatile it is. From films, television shows, books, and art, horror can triumph with the right story and the right talent. And this is particularly true for the horror comic.
It’s a very different experience for horror fans—horror comics have the cinematic qualities of movies with the immersive elements of books. The most effective horror comics take the best aspects of comic book storytelling with stunning artwork, creating unique and deeply disturbing aesthetics that suck in readers and stick with them for days afterward.
With the success of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, I’ve decided that more people need to know about the horror comic, which reboots the bubbly Sabrina The Teenage Witch series with a decidedly darker angle. And while we’re at it, let’s discuss a small portion of the staggeringly good horror comics the medium has to offer.
When I first heard about Grady Hendrix’s novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism, marketed as a cross between Heathers and The Exorcist, I just knew I had to read it. I love 80s nostalgia as much as the next person (since I am just barely a child of the 80s). I also love making fun of the 80s, what with the awful clothes and hair, the rampant and self-conscious conservatism, and the general tackiness.
And sure enough, My Best Friend’s Exorcism pays homage to this decade as much as it pokes fun at it. More than that though this novel is heartfelt and creepy, treading into the well-worn territory of fraught adolescent relationships. The result is a book whose nostalgia runs deeper than the pop culture references it deploys throughout.
*Mild spoilers for The Outsider*
Like any horror fan (and latchkey kid raised by TV), I love Stephen King. The prolific master of horror has done so much to entertain and terrify readers for over forty years. I’ll never forget what it was like to read Carrie for the first time or to tackle It, and his books have influenced much of my own storytelling. While not every King novel is a success, I learn something new from everyone I read. Accordingly, when I heard about his latest novel, The Outsider, I didn’t think twice about including it on my list of most anticipated horror novels of 2018 to eagerly await its publication. Continue reading
Sometime later this year, Netflix will release a television series adaptation of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a horror comic that completely reimagines Sabrina Spellman of Archie Comics fame. It will star Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men, The Blackcoat’s Daughter) as the titular Sabrina. And much like the famous TGIF show Sabrina the Teenage Witch, this version of Sabrina will focus on her struggle to balance her witchy powers and duties with her yearning to belong with mortals. However, unlike the TGIF show, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina promises to be “worlds away” from the TGIF show and treat the story as “a dark coming-of-age story that traffics in horror, the occult and, of course, witchcraft.”
As a horror fan who firmly believes we need more witch stories, I could not be more stoked about this series. I love witches, almost as much as I love vampires. I love the recent witchy horrors, like American Horror Story: Coven, The Witch, A Dark Song, Hereditary. I love classics like Drag Me to Hell, The Witches, The Craft, Suspiria, Rosemary’s Baby, The Skeleton Key, and Black Sunday. The more witches, the better, as far as I’m concerned.
Recently I found the time to finally read one of my most anticipated novels of 2017, The 20 Days of Turin by Giorgio De Maria. This novel was hyped as a cult classic, a prime example of Italian weird fiction that had finally been given the treatment owed to a cult classic and translated into English. Reviews and publisher blurbs hailed it as a horrifying tale that, despite being published almost forty years ago, had proven just as timely and significant as ever.
With such endorsements, I didn’t really know what to expect, since I have never read any Italian weird fiction, and the closest thing to Italian horror I’ve read was Dante’s Inferno. But the synopsis was intriguing, the cover was creepy, and I thought, what the heck?
The 20 Days of Turin turned out to be more complicated than I had anticipated. It’s part Lovecraftian horror story, part political allegory, part mystery thriller, and part sublime nightmare. This novel is a very good example of the kind of horror that focuses less on jump scares and more on weaving an insidious scheme to ensnare its reader.
Ensnare me it did. The 20 Days of Turin didn’t scare me in a way that forced me to make sure my doors and windows were locked. But it burrowed its way under my skin, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
One of my personal favorite parts about Halloween is that my friends and family really like to get into the spooky spirit. I am always in a spooky mood, and it brings my cold black heart joy to see my loved ones come visit me over here on the dark side. They ask me for recommendations for movies, TV shows, and books, the latter of which I absolutely love to give since I am a huge lit nerd.
I’ve done this before in my Classic Spooky Read post from last Halloween. If you are interested in picking up am iconic horror masterpiece like Frankenstein, or Dracula, or The Haunting of Hill House, now is the perfect time! But if you want something newer, a little fresher and more contemporary, then you should check out my list of 12 modern horror novel favorites.