My horror picks of 2020
Dark and Scary books I read and enjoyed in 2020 (with reviews)
Slay anthology (release date Oct 13)
The anthology is a brilliant mix of diverse stories about vampires and vampiric entities. As with any collection, some of the stories drew me in more effectively than others and, in Slay, there are some absolute gems. I had two favourite stories in this collection. The first was the beautiful and poignant Encounters by K. R. S. McEntire, which starts with the unforgettable line - “My husband had been dead for twenty years when I saw him at the airport.” Who could resist an opening like that? Not me. I was hooked immediately. The second was a futuristic story. It might sound like a wild claim, but Message in a Vessel by V.G. Harrison reminded me of Octavia Butler’s storytelling in style and characterisation. If these two tales weren’t enough to encourage you to sink your fangs into the pulsing vein of this book, there were plenty of other excellent stories. In all it’s an anthology I would recommend checking out. Many of the authors were unfamiliar to me before reading the collection, but there are some whose other work I intend to search out and consume.
D is for Demons anthology
There are thirteen short stories in this volume and many of them were thoroughly enjoyable. Overall I was impressed by the high standard of writing. Deliciously Devilish, by Molly Thynes is delightful. It’s probably the funniest tale in the book and one of the few where the demon is a protagonist. It’s written in first person present tense, a difficult style to pull off effectively, but it absolutely is the right choice for this story. The narrator is possessed and has beautifully written discussions with the demon who recently took up residence inside her. I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll leave you with a final thought – this single story alone is worth the cost of the book. Personal Demons, by D.S. Ullery built slowly to an explosive ending. Sp cial Scree ing 1 Nite Only (no those aren’t typos) by Bryan Miller is brilliant too. It describes a fascinating relationship between a teenage boy and an old man built on a love of cinema. What the Trees Recall, by Mark Anthony Smith is another story with a demon as protagonist (most of my favourites are). It’s a very short and brilliantly written twist on a creation story. Rabid Rhino Blood, by J. Herrera Kamin was a gore-fest of epic proportions. A serial killer who admires Jeffrey Dahmer experiments with forms of torture and a cornucopia of mind and body-altering drugs. I loved this one. Hats of to Kamin in writing such a wonderfully bizarre story. /rare, by Charles R Bernard is yet another great read. This time we’re treated to a bibliophile’s greatest fantasy full of rare and powerful books, some so powerful and deadly they’re described as poison, and a strong female protagonist with a cruel streak. A great collection and the perfect way to discover new authors.
Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng
It has been compared to "The Lovely Bones", and in some days it has a similar feel. The characters are trapped and desperately unhappy and a teenage daughter dies for a reason the reader cannot fully grasp until near the end. I would argue that if you take out the sexual abuse aspect it reminds me more of "The Diary of Laura Palmer", but it isn't really either of these books and deals with many things the above named books do not touch on. In a nutshell, for me the book was about a family of five who want different lives. They stagger around the house together (emotionally not literally), leave each other bruised at times, but are unwilling or unable to communicate the reasons for their unhappiness. It's set in the 1970s in a small American town. The father James is Chinese. The mother is white, and the children rather obviously are mixed race. For a variety of reasons none of them really fit in to the community, and all of them are lonely in spite of their love for each other. The parents, for reasons that would require a spoiler so shall not be explained here) pour all their energy and hopes into Lydia, the middle child and elder daughter. Hannah is the youngest, born to late to have shared the trauma of her elder siblings, but not immune to its aftermath. She hides, watches and listens, and from clues she picks up along the way sees more accurately than the others the danger the family faces. It's beautiful, poignant and sad. The language is simple enough to appeal to a young adult audience, while the ideas expressed are complicated enough to appeal to mature adults. I loved it.
The Ecstatic - Victor LaValle
Anthony is the ultimate in unreliable narrators. This books is full of surreal scenes, twisted logic, impossible events and a touch of magic, but how much of Anthony’s account can we believe? Sitting here, the day after finishing this astounding book, I struggle to untangle what actually happens in the story. I think Anthony returns to his childhood home where his sister, mother and grandmother live. I think they are afraid for him, certainly in the opening paragraphs it seems he is not capable of looking after himself, and yet, very soon after living with his family he sees himself as taking care of all of them, working numerous jobs, writing a book, searching for love, driving them across states for a beauty pageant, and ensuring both grandmother and Ledric (a friend he may have met at a very weird fat camp) get the medical attention they need. There are other strange characters, including “Uncle Arms”, The President, and a loan shark called Ishkabibble who claims Anthony is his only friend. It’s darkly funny, probably best categorised as magical realism, and it’s a wonderful book.
Stiff - Mary Roach
A brilliant book. Reading it is like hanging out with a very morbid and witty friend. It covers everything you might want to know about corpses including decomposition, how they are used to advance science, investigate aeroplane crashes, improve car and machinery safety, and test weapons; the history of body snatching, modern cannibalism, and the attempted recreation of the Turin shroud. Of course it won't be for everyone, but I lapped it up.
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
The novel is written as a series of letters from the mother of mass murderer Kevin Khatchadourian to her husband. The mother is Eva Khatchadourian, and Armenian-American woman who loves to travel the world and built a business empire from travel books. The letters begin in 2000, two years after Kevin murdered class-mates and school staff in a carefully planned massacre for which he harbours no regret. As the chapters unfold we build a picture of a woman pressured into motherhood by her all-American husband, Franklin. The prose style is indicative of a pretentious and self-involved snob, who thankfully becomes more sympathetic as her story unfolds. It looks at how society blames mothers (but not fathers) for the crimes of their children, and a mother’s generalised fear that any lack of parental skills on their part, might create a sociopath. The story isn’t solely about Kevin. Eva’s dislike of American culture and her complicated relationship with her own mother, and the effect of mass media on our society are all important themes. However, when Eva does write about Kevin she describes a forceful and indignant baby, which she feared even before his birth, and failed to emotionally bond with as an infant. A boy who delighted in torturing his mother, vandalising her study, refusing food, toys and attention. What builds through this constant rejection is an erosion of self that mothers too often experience, but writ large, because Kevin is a terrifying, calculating, lying and abusive boy. Franklin assumes that any failure lies with Eva, and that Kevin is a bright and loving son. She continues begging her estranged husband to believe her two years after their son was arrested. Eva may be vindicated by history, but her fears were ignored or explained away by Franklin, throughout Kevin’s childhood, while Kevin’s dark influence grew more oppressive in Eva’s imagination. A family tragedy involving a bottle of drain-fluid might elevate Kevin to quick-thinking hero in his father’s mind, but Eva finds it easier to believe Kevin is to blame when his little sister loses an eye. A question asked with real life school shootings might be, how did the parents not see it coming? Eva does see something coming, perhaps not exactly what happens, but something unforgivable; the trouble is no one believes her. And this gas-lighting of women’s fears and the assumption that a mother, however accomplished, will put her life on hold for her children is at the heart of this novel. Why did Kevin do it? No one knows, not even Kevin himself
2. Films I've enjoyed in 2020
I haven’t been to a cinema all year, but I have watched some decent horror movies on Netflix this year and some amazing horror shows. Here are my favourites. Have I missed any of the ones you enjoyed most?
Films I would recommend checking out if you have Netflix
A Quiet Place
Await Further Instructions
3. Top TV picks of 2020
My favourite horrorish shows of 2020
Lovecraft Country – I love this show with all my heart.
The Haunting of Bly Manor - I wasn't a fan of the book, but while keeping with the spirit of the story, the TV show manages to be very entertaining while foregrounding the themes of "The Turn of the Screw".
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
The Twilight Zone (Jordan Peele)
and I’m looking forward to watching Rebecca on Netflix. It is released October 21.
Check out these fellow bloggers who are actively blogging this week -