REVIEW – When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen

“It’s hard to live with certain truths of this world, so we ignore what we can. Choose not to look. We have to do it because otherwise we have to deal with the burden of knowing.”

Combine Kindred with Get Out and you’ll get When the Reckoning Comes – a short but impactful read about the reverberations of the past. The ghosts aren’t what to be afraid of here. There’s a gritty layer of dread and forboding smeared all over this story. Although this was a middle-of-the-road read for me, McQueen has an incredibly promising future.

Thank you Bibliolifestyle and Harper Perennial for the free book!

CONSTANT READER REVIEW – Revival by Stephen King

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions…And lit with electric lights.”

My feelings about Revival are…complicated, to say the least. The premise is promising. The execution is so-so (the villain? He’s just not…BAD enough. He’s misguided and desperate and full of himself, but…)

“People have many ways to be lousy to one another, you’ll find out when you’re older, but I think that all bad behavior stems from plain old selfishness.”

Is this horror? I don’t know. It leans a bit more into the literary or commercial fiction realm, with some touches of sci-fi and a few horrific scenes. (And really, what IS horror? Is it a genre or a feeling? Both?) We have a “villain” who is obsessed with electricity. SERIOUSLY obsessed. He spends his life chasing…something (the reveal isn’t as terrifying as his dedication to it, trust me).

Jamie is a relatively likable main character, and although we only get bits and pieces of his life (primarily in relation to good old Reverend Jacobs…or whatever you want to call him) you can tell that he’s mostly a good man who has just made a lot of mistakes.

And this is one of those books where you can’t help but wonder if King has just been too mean to his characters – there’s a lot of tragedy and heartache and horror (the real-life kind) tucked into these pages and it can seem a bit heavy-handed at times. However, that writing can be SO good.

Should you read Revival? It’s a must (in my opinion) if you consider yourself a King fan. But if you’re more of a casual Constant Reader? Stick to the classics.

REVIEW – Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

“He understood that the ghost existed first and foremost within his own head. That maybe ghosts always haunted minds, not places.”

I read NOS4A2 a few years ago and loved it. I’ve since accumulated a few Joe Hill books and they’ve just sat, neglected, on my shelves. I FINALLY picked up Heart-Shaped Box and I regret not reading it sooner! You can tell that this is a debut novel, but that doesn’t make it any less impactful or terrifying or memorable.

Judas and Georgia are great characters – for a book that focuses so much on just two people (with some supporting characters sprinkled throughout) they really anchor the story. You’re rooting for them. They’re flawed, and they can be frustrating, but they feel very real. At its heart, this is a FANTASTIC revenge story.

“Is it cold there? I bet it’s cold. It’s going to get a lot colder before he’s through.”

I don’t scare easily (at least, when i’m reading!) but this has some CREEPY scenes in it. Ghosts appearing at random times in your house will always be terrifying and Hill nails it with Craddock. He’s super creepy (even his NAME is creepy. Craddock. Why…WHY?) and I really shouldn’t have been reading this right before bed, in a dark room, with just my book light for illumination.

The end of this book really pushed it into 3.5/4-star territory for me. I’d highly recommend this for horror fans. I certainly won’t wait years until I pick up another Joe Hill novel.

CONSTANT READER REVIEW – Cujo by Stephen King

“Everything in Cujo’s life should have been right, but somehow it wasn’t. He just didn’t feel good at all.”

Let’s get this out of the way: Cujo would have been way better if it had been a short story. The book is short-ish (at least by King’s standards) but it’s just overstuffed with storylines that you cease to care about once the real action kicks in. However, there’s definitely a reason why this is one of King’s most well-known books. But Cujo (the dog) might be one of the saddest characters in modern literature. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to get snippets of Cujo’s thoughts as he slowly descends into madness and rabies takes control of his brain.

Is it horror? You betcha. King hints at a supernatural element at some points, but that’s an unnecessary part of the story. A gigantic dog (a good boy) tragically gets bit by an infected bat. He slowly loses his mind. In the meantime, a mother and her VERY young son get caught up in the terror and it’s…something. If anything, this book is incredibly claustrophobic and hopeless. Now, i’ve seen the movie (a long time ago, when I was probably way too young) so I knew how the story went. But the reading experience is jarring. The bad parts are…terrible. But the good parts? Incredible.

If you’re an animal lover, this book will rip your heart out (especially one paragraph at the very end…oof). For the record: Cujo was a GOOD BOY. But rabies is a bitch.

REVIEW – The Residence by Andrew Pyper

“It was the dead who did it. The house was full of them.”

Something terrifying is happening in the White House (I mean, the jokes just write themselves at this point…) But seriously. Not long after Franklin Pierce is elected president, his son dies in a horrific train accident. When Franklin and his wife, Jane, move into the White House, that’s when the real terror begins.

PHEW. This book is a doozy. It’s definitely creepy but, more importantly, it’s incredibly sad. It’s hard enough reading about grieving parents, but when you add some really terrifying, demonic elements to that, it’s gut-wrenching. The opening especially is just chilling and heartbreakingly sad.

You see, Jane accidentally summoned some sort of malevolent presence when she was a young girl, and this presence has been tormenting and influencing her ever since. Is it responsible for the tragedy in her life? Probably. This presence seems to feed off of terror and grief and sadness. The book does seem a little repetitive at times (especially the scenes in the boy’s staged bedroom) but there are some parts that will stick with readers long after they’ve left the White House.

Also I would HIGHLY recommend reading the Author’s Note at the end! It’s absolutely terrifying and makes the book that much better. I mean, is it really hard to imagine that the White House is actually haunted?

Content warning: death of a child, suicidal thoughts

Thank you Gallery Books / Skybound Books for the finished copy!

REVIEW – The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

“I wanted to pit Dracula against my mom. As you’ll see, it’s not a fair fight.”

Full disclosure: this is only the second Grady Hendrix book i’ve read. However, I can confidently say he’s perfected the balance of campy, fun (and funny!) horror with some pretty dark and creepy stuff. This book follows a group of “respectable Southern ladies” in the late 80s and early 90s who enjoy “trashy” true crime novels. When a stranger moves in down the street, things get…weird (i’m sure from the title, you know where this is going).

This book has some GROSS scenes, but they’re balanced with laugh out loud moments. However, one scene in particular was absolutely terrifying and played to exactly a specific scenario that gives me major anxiety (and it was done PERFECTLY). Obviously, as with a lot of horror, content warnings abound.

If you’ve been thinking of reading some Grady Hendrix, what are you waiting for?

REVIEW – Standalone by Paul Michael Anderson

“What you want and what existence needs are sometimes two different things.”

I had so much fun reading Standalone! I would recommend going into this one as blind as possible – there are some fun little Easter eggs here that will delight horror movie fans. There’s a LOT of plot and action packed into such a short little book, but it makes for a fun, quick read. This is definitely more sci-fi than it is horror (at least in my humble opinion) but there’s definitely some creepy, gory imagery that will shock and delight readers.

It’s worth noting: there’s a bonus story at the end of this book that expands on what the reader learns while reading Standalone. Don’t skip it!

REVIEW – The Bright Lands by John Fram

“We inherited this town. We all did. That don’t mean we have to love everything about it.”

The Bright Lands is…something different. It’s marketed as sort of a thriller/horror, and there’s for sure a Stephen King vibe at work here. Told from multiple perspectives, The Bright Lands is a slow burn that eventually leads to something pretty horrific (and, much like in King novels, the most horrific things could be entirely feasible in real life, at least to a point).

Joel has returned to his small hometown in Texas after some concerning text messages from his younger brother, Dylan. You see, Dylan is the quarterback for the local high school football team. The most promising athlete to come out of their tiny town, with the NFL being a very real possibility in his future. But Dylan doesn’t want to play football anymore, and he says a few things that remind Joel of why he left Bentley ten years before.

I won’t spoil too much, but i’ll give you a basic overview: Dylan goes missing. His friends and teammates seem to know more than they let on. Some of the adults are super shady and a little too involved with the lives of the local high school kids. I’ll let you guess what happens from there, but I doubt you’re right.

Some parts of this book are incredibly uncomfortable to read – it’s one of those books where you’re dying to know what happens but you’re relieved to finish the book because the atmosphere is so creepy.

Content warning: racism, homophobia, sexual assault, hate crimes, drug addiction/abuse, the list goes on…