Spooky Season! My October reading.

I thought I might post individual reviews throughout the month, get back into the swing of things, but after I hate-reviewed Madam Crowl’s Ghost and Other Stories at the beginning of the month, I was too busy reading nine other things to stop and write about them.

So, here it is. I finally sat down and forced my (often very emotional) thoughts into coherence. Here’s my reviews of my spooky season reading:

Greywaren by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I laughed out loud, I cried a little, I cheered, I loved it. I was not prepared for this series to be over, and this book is both wonderful and not nearly enough. (I will never get over Matthew asking Bryde if he’d ever read about clinical depression; Declan trying so hard to hold it together and making the worst, most reactionary choices because he’s just at the end of his rope; Adam confessing to Ronan that he felt like he’d killed so many other versions of himself to become the version who went to Harvard and then found it all lacking; Ronan remaining fundamentally the same while fundamentally changing as he discovers his truest self and comes to terms with it.) What deeply drawn, deeply felt, deeply satisfyingly, gloriously messy and messed up and tragic and hopeful people these characters are. I will miss them and enjoy visiting them again and again.

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome by Stephen Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picked this up for authors I already knew I liked (Tanith Lee, Angela Slatter, Garth Nix). Didn’t really find any new-to-me writers that had me adding things to my to-read list. Enjoyed the interstitial Grimm originals and several of the adaptations and interpretations, but only found it somewhat memorable on the whole. Am already forgetting most of the stories and will certainly have lost most of this anthology within another month. Rated 4 stars because the stories I did like, I really liked.

The Dark Magazine, Issue 71: April 2021 by Sean Wallace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Only read “Forward, Victoria” because I’m a big fan of Carlie St. George’s short fiction. Gym listen. Brought to mind Seanan McGuire’s Ghost Roads books with the exploration of how legends change over time and ghosts are bound by rules. Was drawn in by the relentlessness of Victoria’s attention to revenge, for petty slights or serious sins.

Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great fun from Cherie Priest, introducing a not-very-impressive psychic and a non-skeptical detective. Good balance between the murder case and the characters’ personal lives and concerns. I would go to a bar to watch Leda sing Klairvoyant Karaoke, and I am looking forward to seeing more of Grady and his daughter in future books.

The Sandman: Act II by Dirk Maggs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

More little stand-alone stories, less meta-plot than Act One, but still 100% delightful, even when it’s awful and disturbing and you remember this is a horror story. The quality of this as an audio drama is stellar.

Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ll admit, I didn’t fall in love with Jade in book one. I liked her, I felt for her, I rooted for her, but I don’t remember loving her. I only remember loving that last image, that last moment.

This book made me love her. The first thing Jade does when she returns to Proofrock, a town full of people who turned their backs on her, is embrace a traumatized young woman. The identity explorations, switcheroos, mother-daughter parallels, and connections between unlikely people had me cheering and guessing and crying and wanting. I was as desperate as Jade for things to work out in her favor, for the people she cared for to survive and care for her back. I wanted to cry when Jade made a sacrifice play at the end, again, but I’m glad she’ll be back. The slasher references came thick and fast, and I haven’t watched enough of the genre to follow it very well, but ultimately it didn’t matter. Stephen Graham Jones redefines “compulsively readable” prose for me. This is a banger of a novel.

Thanks to Gallery/Saga Press and Netgalley for the ARC!

Slow Burn by Laura Blackwell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Picked this up because I enjoyed a shorter piece by Blackwell in Nightmare Magazine. Loved the quiet horror, the weird and creeping dread and sense of wrongness, loved the unlikeable-ness of Anne, but didn’t love the whole of the story. I wish there’d been less of an explanation at the end. Rather than leave me with a sense of future dread or larger horror, it deflated the story for me. Oh well. Might be someone else’s perfect read.

Revenge by Yōko Ogawa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not at all what I was expecting from the cover and title, but I loved it. Sparse, elegant prose. Not a word out of place or overwritten. Hit all the quiet horror and gothic buttons, and linked all the stories together. I was in heaven.

Everything is slightly off. Circumstances have characters questioning their own perception of reality. People behave strangely in ways that can be dismissed until they can’t. Ogawa moves us so slowly from the mundane to the bizarre to the murderous we don’t feel the transition until we’re in the middle of something deeply and overtly disturbing. Brings to mind Daphne du Maurier.

Great Ghost Stories by John Grafton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Utter whiplash to read this on the heels of Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge. Too many over-written stories by men, only one by a woman. Almost noped out when Bram Stoker named his character Malcolm Malcolmson in “The Judge’s House.” (Not gonna lie, I skipped that one.) Things improved a little bit with Ambrose Bierce and the other early-20th century writers, but only to the point that it was a tolerable read. I just lost all patience for 18th and 19th century prose, it seems, and I was so worn out by it by the time I got to the 20th century, it soured the whole book for me. No great loss: I picked it up at the beginning of the month at a used book sale and left it in a little free library earlier today for someone else to enjoy.

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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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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.