My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley for a free e-ARC of this book in exchange for a review.

Paranoid and claustrophobic, but in Jones’s compulsively readable style, making for a read both difficult and enjoyable, as horror should be.

Poor Jade just can’t catch a break. Even her moments of triumph set her up for further hardship and misunderstanding. She’s a great character, though. She fights hard for her agency in a town full of people that do nothing but squash it, some with ill intent, others with good intentions, but both insistent on ignoring not only her observations about a rapidly unraveling situation, but the most basic of requests to use her preferred name. I rooted for her even as I wanted to cover my face with my hands and look away, yell at her to let it go and look out for herself.

Excellent for fans (or folks who want to become fans) of the slasher genre. Made me realize that what I liked most about Jone’s other novel I recently read, The Only Good Indians, wasn’t the slasher nods but the ghost/spirit stalking. This book didn’t check as many of my boxes, but Jones absolutely nails the ending. Weeks later and I’m still thinking about those final lines.

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Nightmare Magazine, issue 94

Nightmare Magazine, Issue 94 (July 2020)Nightmare Magazine, Issue 94 by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carlie St. George’s “Spider Season, Fire Season” is the stand-out story of this issue for me – the intersection of domestic violence, ghosts, spiders, and setting operated together in some serious spooky action. Adam R. Shannon’s “We Came Home from Hunting Mushrooms” is a tight slice of tragedy. I’ve never really read Joe R. Lansdale before, and was surprised how much I liked the creepy thrill of the classic horror chase in “The Folding Man,” when I usually avoid stories about inexhaustible relentless pursuit. Ama Patterson’s “Hussy Strutt” was too real to read, and oh so important for the same reason. I’m glad it ended with empowerment, and I’m sad that Patterson is gone.

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Readercon 30

I spent the weekend soaking in books, writing talk, and friends at Readercon 30 in Quincy, MA. Check out this beautiful souvenir book, with Charles Vess cover art:

souv book

Both guests of honor—Stephen Graham Jones and Tananarive Due—are horror writers, so the programming was heavy on horror. I attended panels on ambiguity and vagueness in horror, haunted houses, cultural hauntings and African American history, and horrors of being female.

I went to readings by Sonya Taaffe and Stephen Graham Jones, and I attended Stephen’s Guest of Honor interview. He’s a treasure, deploying a cunning sense of wit while saying outrageous and true things.

Other panels I attended (and enjoyed!) include “Old Punks Read New Punks,” “Outgroup Reviews of #ownvoices Work,” “Lloyd Alexander, Existentialist,” and the delightful, “I Don’t Know Why I’m on This Panel,” where the Readercon 30 programming committee put five panelist together and didn’t tell them why, and they spent the hour hilariously searching for commonalities and connections. I attended because I liked all the panelists as people, liked their work, or both. At one point, they trash-talked the “greats” (like Heinlein and Lovecraft) they thought were worthless, and that three minutes made the panel. Jeffrey Ford is sassy and sarcastic; he said about Lovecraft, “I can’t even get to the moral outrage because I fall asleep before I get there!” I’m excited for next year already, because he is Guest of Honor alongside Ursula Vernon.

I bought 8 books

books I bought

and I’m 15 pages from the end of Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching already. But the book I was most excited to find is this pristine hardcover of Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose:

Briar Rose hardcover

I read this book twice when I was young, first when I was about 10 or 11, and again two or three years later, because it haunted me. I didn’t remember anything about it except how it made me feel. In the intervening 20 years, I’ve again forgotten nearly everything about the story except those sad and haunted feelings. When I spotted this hardcover with a flawless dust jacket, I wanted it immediately. The dealer had already told me the price was reduced because it was the last day of con, so I flipped it open to see how much this would cost me:

cost of book

Not bad, I thought, especially with a discount. And its signed! I flipped forward to look at the signature on the title page. When I saw the inscription, I knew I wasn’t leaving the convention without this book:


I don’t recall exactly when I read this book for the first time, but it was likely 1994 or 1995. Jane Yolen signed this to another Elisabeth in another time, but the book came to me yesterday with a message I need, at a time when the country I call home is setting up concentration camps for a different people but with the same outcome.

This time—I promise you, Jane—I’ll remember.

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction – Grady Hendrix

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror FictionPaperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I saw Grady Hendrix on a convention panel, was immediately captivated by the thought of all the things I didn’t know about horror fiction, and then entered (and won) a giveaway for this book. It took me a year and a half to read it, picking it up and putting it down as my desire to study the subject waxed and waned. It’s a lot to take in all at once, but it makes for a great bed- or couch-side read.

The text is tightly-written, witty and smart, devoting time to the subgenres of horror as they rise and fall, the books themselves and their writers, the cover artists so rarely named or lauded for their work, strung along a thread of the boom and bust of the publishing houses putting all these books into the hands of the masses. That anecdotal balancing act kept the book from feeling repetitive (“oh, and then this novel, and then this one, and this one . . .”). It delivered what was promised: a history of the books, their stories, cultural context, and the business and people behind and around them.

You may walk away from this book with a reading list to keep you busy for years. You may, like me, enjoy knowing more about that period of horror fiction and its echoes down the years than feel any great desire to read the greatest hits of decades past. I didn’t get really excited and start looking up authors and books until I got to the last section, about the psychological and genre-crossing horror of the early nineties under Dell’s short-lived Abyss imprint, edited by Jeanne Cavelos. If nothing else about this book appeals to you, it makes a great coffee table book for the wealth of full-color cover images, ranging from stark and iconic to bizarre and lurid.

I recommend this to anyone discovering (or re-discovering) an interest in horror fiction who isn’t quite sure what parts of the horror spectrum appeal to them. This book is also wonderful for anyone who enjoys knowing the history of genres and publishing, or just wants to read clever and sarcastic essay-reviews about older books.

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