It’s only the haunted VHS that doesn’t get eaten by the VCR. They’re in league.

29. Ring – Koji Suzuki

In the interest of full disclosure, despite my long term horror movie fan status, the US version of this movie scared me. I do not like the idea of some wet dead child violating my TV. So essentially when reading this I was overjoyed to find out that doesn’t happen.

It was still scary and the beginning was tense and creepy and totally made me think that truly terrifying crawling out of the TV deal was still going to be a thing, but, no. It was much better plotted (no surprise, really, since it’s the original, but I had to work backwards because I didn’t know it was a book till 2009) and I have to say I enjoyed the extra medical and research-based angles instead of being given too much opportunity to worry about the survival of the kid and his creepy little proclamations like in the US movie. Sometimes, I worry about how often children are used as pawns and shortcuts to emotions in movies…and in real life. However, I did really like the reveal of what the “child” really was in this book.

Salem is still a bit of a skittish pig, so he would not be up for The Ring or Ringu without several protective blankets and maybe smashing the TV so no wet dead kids could climb out of it.

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Land of enchantment and tentacle enhancement.

71. American Elsewhere – Robert Jackson Bennett

One hundred pages in, I really thought I was going to like this book a lot. There’s a very David Lynch-but-clear style to the beginning. Mona leaves one weird town for another, more 1950s looking town in the middle of nowhere New Mexico aka Wink. She’s kind of a grumpy character and has some unfinished business with her mother…way more than she thought.

Wink is weird for a reason, an otherworldly reason, but it also has a roadhouse and some seriously trippy woods, so I kept getting reminded of Twin Peaks. And to an extent, it would be nice if there was more Twin Peaks than H.P. Lovecraft because maybe things would’ve stayed on the strange and narrow.

I mean, I love a good abandoned lab and a place where the boundaries between worlds are thin, but there was just way too much here. Way too many words and pages and to an extent, characters with tentacles. And I have to say, in the end, Mother was not that formidable of an adversary. She’s definitely not more scary than Mom from Mom’s Friendly Robot Company.

The face of an otherworldly and very weird guinea pig- Finny.

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“A million candles burning for the love that never came”

60. The Silent Women – Sara Blaedel

Online dating leads to brutal assaults that women are blaming themselves for, in part because they put no parameters on what they were agreeing to and they were the kind of women who were targeted because they were more likely to blame themselves for being left bleeding and battered in plastic cuffs, alone.

The main victim even has the issue of her mother having basically suppressed her having any kind of life on her own and so when she does try and rebel and it leads to her being brutally assaulted, it really limits her hope. It was nice to watch the Danish police push this victim into therapy and to not to blame herself, and to encourage her to assert some independence even when it came as a result of an act that requires support to recover from. It was also very familiar to me based on my current work to see that dry resignation that comes from knowing that there are many sides to sharing one’s story in the media, especially when her mother could talk to them too…and her rapist could be closer than she knew.

Just imagine Twiglet and Pammy in rain coats in the dark so they seem more cover appropriate.

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They got in their own way.

93. We Went to the Woods – Caite Dolan-Leach

I thought this was going to be a thriller, so now when I see the phrase “slow burning” and it’s not a movie, I’m now going to be more concerned. For me, this never caught fire. There were just smoldering embers that never went one way or another because the people stoking those embers were too self-righteous and it was all snuffed out before they even kindled a flame. Insecurities don’t burn or really give me much of a thrill and I got tired of listening to them play out like they were supposed to be intriguing. Ooh, look, jealousy. Never seen that in a carefully crafted friend group before.

The narrator, Mack, a woman who has done something horrible in public, is now running from social media critique and finds some rich people who want to go off the grid like it’s some cute Thoreau throwback but better because they’re doing it and they’re so awake to the suffering of the earth and have enough money to pretend the barter system is clever and amusing. The main thing going for Mack is that she’s not as insufferable as the two main persons behind the “Homestead,” Beau and Louisa, but she’s bad enough.

Mack’s desperate to really be included and belong with these rich weirdos who want to artisanally make food and pretend to be polyamorous and do some eco-terrorism, and yet she was the most relatable when she wanted to go home for Christmas. Sure, once she got there she was unable to stop herself from judging her working class family and their iceberg lettuce salad even though she knows that’s what will be there, but, at least she realized she wanted that and also cared about that poor dog. Everyone else was too busy being smug and unrealistic enough to think their “principles” were real and not just a passing phase they’d ditch when it got old – or nature took its revenge on their ideas about going out to terrorize in snowstorms.

Honestly, I wanted to know what happened to the goat. For all the randomly included information about how they were homesteading, nobody mentioned winter fortification for that goat they got. The goat needed a winter bed, did anyone set that shit up? Deal with parasites? Granted, parasites are technically organic, but, seriously, when your bullshit collective is collapsing under the weight of its own pretensions, the goat still needs to be taken care of. The goat didn’t ask for this and is also probably better at terrorizing because goats aren’t bound by human laws.

Snuffy also does not eat iceberg lettuce, but she doesn’t care if you do. She has her blankies and her own treats and is also not bound by human laws.

 

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Mater Tenebrarum

65. Sweetheart – Chelsea Cain

She’s out! She’s got a copycat! She’s hip, she’s cool, she’s 45…maybe not the last bit. She is running around in Portland. In Sweetheart, the pace picks up even more than in Heartsick in no small part because Gretchen the Beauty Killer escapes and has more than enough ability to recapture the allure she had that led to the torturous trauma she laid on Det. Archie Sheridan back in the day. Even while he and Susan Ward, punky but flawed reporter, are investigating a new killer – who left bodies in Gretchen’s old body dumping site (geez). It’s a little less gruesome than Heartsick, but it read faster for me, and just made me keen to continue reading this series. I do like a fast, rainy read.

Merricat was always a snappy little sweetheart. She didn’t murder anyone that I know of though.

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I did wonder what would’ve happened if any of them had been wearing Doc Martens. Those are like indestructible.

31. The Bachman Books: The Long Walk – Richard Bachman

This is definitely one of my favorite Stephen King works. It’s the best of the Bachman books and displays that weird line that he’s so good at skirting between the terrifying and the everyday.

The Long Walk’s title is literal and much more than it seems. In an alternate version of Maine, teenage boys walk and walk and walk. They all have their reasons for participating, they all have different levels of endurance, and as they keep going through blisters and their shoes falling apart and madness the reader learns more about the world they’re currently living in and it made me more and more anxious as I read. It’s a story of endurance and a totally modern horror.

Horace is ready.

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They definitely ate well in this one.

54. Hotel Paradise – Martha Grimes

In Hotel Paradise, the narrator has family around, but is basically seen as underfoot if she isn’t doing her job at the resort, serving her mother’s food to the guests. She becomes obsessed with the death of another 12 year old in the area 40 years earlier and spends the story unraveling what really happened, while also providing a carefully drawn picture of the area she’s in and the people who inhabit it with their weird proclivities and willingness to live in a dying resort town. There were several mentions of tomato aspic. Aspic to me is one of the more confusing things anyone has ever tried to eat, perhaps that’s not a true mystery, but I digress.

The ending isn’t very neat and tidy, and that may have a lot to do with this being the first book in a series. I didn’t know if was part of a series when I read it, so, it just seemed familiar to me as someone else who had to create and solve their own mysteries because no one else was around.

After Merricat passed, Peregrine got choosier about her friend-pigs, and maybe indulged her investigative streak a little more dangerously than one would expect.

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Dark and drizzly

81. Certain Dark Things – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Vampires in a slightly futurized version of Mexico City! I really like this author. I’ve only read two of her books, but she’s absolutely great. The first book of hers I read had very little fantasy element to it but this one is vampire noir and that’s quite a change. However, she builds her world basically seamlessly. I was never taken out of the narrative by exposition or any other aspect of world building and I’ve never even been to Mexico City (just border towns for me thus far). That’s quite a feat when you’re writing about yet another selection of different kinds of vampires, but Moreno-Garcia’s vampires are actually interesting- even to me, who has been reading vampire stories for a very, very long time now.

Some are really classy noir ladies with their ability to push those who care for them away and enlist the help of puppy dog-style humans, like Atl; some sound like someone I used to know who is particularly fond of being sleazy and ravenous for getting what they want, like Nick, whose mouth is also full of really nasty bacteria; and then there’s the super old dude one that lives in a house in the Roma and seems like he looks like Diego Rivera but maybe shorter, Bernardino. Of course, none of these vampires are even supposed to be in Mexico City and there are human perspectives on the various conflicts and details of the rules for vampires as well. And still it doesn’t get boring or wander around in human moral issues or crying or ever get confusing despite how many characters are involved. There’s an underlying drumbeat to the entire story.

Finny would serve as Ozma’s Renfield if they were vampires; but Ozma would make a good noir lady regardless.

 

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Under pressure

98. The Keeper of Lost Causes – Jussi Adler-Olsen

Some people’s careers do not go easily. You can have all the skills in the world and not suck at speaking to people and it can still go badly or be vastly more unimpressive than you intended. Or…you can get shoved in a basement (or working in a basement ends up ruining your career, there’s also that) like Carl Morck. We’re promoting you! To the basement in a new, made up department to get us more money by pretending to give it to you! Department Q for you instead of light duty. Here’s some old, possibly unsolvable cases and a dude you don’t know because your officer friends are either dead now or disabled and you lived – and we don’t particularly like you, even if you’re a good detective.

Ironically, for this sort of story and mysteries from this area of the world in general (Department Q is in Denmark), The Keeper of Lost Causes is quite funny at times. The secondary and tertiary characters are great and Carl is…Carl. His assistant Assad is awesome, and has a background to hopefully be much elaborated on in the other books because he has some skills that seem like the kind that get you demoted to the basement or forced to leave your home country for being too good at certain kinds of things.

The central mystery of The Keeper of Lost Causes involves a kidnapping, some serious pressure, and an absolutely terrifying abscess situation in the usual bleak vein I expect from Scandinavian and Nordic mystery series, so that’s all there too. The gloom is just not all encompassing, which was an unexpected surprise. It can’t rain all the time.

Salem knows quite a bit about having a haunted past, being easily startled, and being unexpectedly funny. He’s never going in a basement though.

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“I instinctively have to get away from you. Bye.”

67. Walk of the Spirits & 68. Shadow Mirror – Richie Tankersley Cusick

Apparently these are the last two novels Richie Tankersley Cusick has published via a major publisher according to at least a few of sources. It was clear to me at the end of Shadow Mirror that might not have been intended to be the case. The thing is, she writes about the ghostly encounters of teens in a small Louisiana town with authorita. And that makes sense, she was born in New Orleans, the only place I’ve been where the signs about apartment vacancies mention whether or not the place is haunted publicly. It’s a Spirit Walk kind of state. And Cusick makes a clear differentiation between the southernness of Florida (where main character Miranda is from) and the southernness of bayou-adjacent Louisiana where both books are set, which makes more sense than anyone who would like to lump all the southern states together would understand, including the person I currently know who seems to think no areas of Florida have grass or snakes. They seemed so delusionally sure of what they were saying.

Anyway, Miranda and her mother move to the tiny town of St. Yvette after a hurricane takes their Florida home away. Miranda’s mom is from St. Yvette but she doesn’t like to talk about it because her father, Jonas Hayes, is the town crackpot. So she kept him from knowing his granddaughter – and she tries to keep Miranda from meeting him by having the both of them live above the garage at Hayes House, where her grandfather lives with the massively popular Aunt Teeta.

Pammy was also massively popular, but not for her cooking and welcoming personality like Aunt Teeta.

Not unlike a vampire series which shall not be named (not the ridiculous Derek the vampire one), Miranda finds an immediate friend group at school by being awkward and silent. Granted, she’s silent because she’s dealing with losing everything she ever had due to a hurricane, but, still. And this friend group is very eclectic and its cobbled-together nature is explained with familial ties. There’s Ashley, the bubbliest of cheerleaders, Parker – her sullenly willful boyfriend who is on the football team and rich, Roo – Ashley’s super-goth sister by marriage, Gage – the one with the dimples who lived next door to Roo and Ashley starting in childhood and who Roo is clearly in love with despite all her disaffected bullshit, and Etienne – who sounds exactly like every Cajun I’ve ever run into and is Gage’s cousin and who is much beloved of Miranda’s Aunt Teeta and grandfather.

One class history project brings them all together and they end up in a beautifully described dilapidated Union soldier cemetery and they meet Miranda’s grandfather being all crackpot-style and then he collapses and only gets to say like a couple sentences to Miranda before he dies. Sheesh.

And then there’s the ghosts. And Etienne showing up at all the right times when Miranda is ready to complain about seeing said ghosts and having a new important thing in her life that’s scary after losing all the other things and pushing him away, but wanting him to stay.

Pammy and Thaddeus’ dramatic recreation of Etienne sneaking into Miranda’s bedroom once she and her mother move into the larger Hayes House.

Somehow, the eclectic band of misfit friends who are all cute and constantly give each other hormonally-based shit manage to be interested – except Parker, who has an even bigger secret than his parents being rich and neglectful – in helping Miranda solve ghost problems, which happens to be what drove her grandfather to look like a crackpot. And they still manage to turn the history project in on time! With students who give a shit about their grades like Ashley and Gage involved, though, that was a given. Someone actually has to do the project while Miranda’s passed out, Etienne’s working offsite, Roo’s smoking, and Parker’s becoming a teen alcoholic. For the most part, the personalities of the teens are very realistic. Miranda’s a bit of a cipher and she does that Cusick thing where she runs from getting useful information a lot, but main characters are never perfect and she of course inexplicably attracts the attention of both Gage and Etienne. To be fair, attracting two southern dudes at the same time (while running from information) is also kind of a Cusick thing, I read Blood Roots.

Pammy was perfect, but, she was a guinea pig, so…a very high bar had already been met.

In book two, the last book thus far of the Spirit Walk series, the cracks in those friendships widen – and it’s all Miranda’s fault with all her fainting and ghost shenanigans, now at a giant plantation. One thing I will mention about this series, it throws in tidbits of southern history in a not beating you over the head with self-righteousness way to remind you it was bad. Everyone is aware it was bad and that “bad” isn’t really a big enough word to cover it. There is a level of living with the history of a place and remembering that more than one culture was there, but also there’s the architecture appreciation because now the ghosts are giving Miranda shit through mirrors at the plantation Belle Chandelle. And they are super sad. And they are pre-Civil War ghosts. Who come with smells at the plantation currently being turned into a bed and breakfast. The whole place, regardless of whether or not that is in quite poor taste.

And Etienne is even more preternaturally aware of when Miranda needs him to sneak in to her room and comfort her about ghosts.

Thaddeus was just like Etienne, apparently surveilling the house while also working like ten outside jobs. Thaddeus didn’t have to do quite as much work to watch out for Pammy.

Anyway, those friendships. Ashley might stop dating Parker, even though this doesn’t entirely go anywhere, it does make them upset and distracted. Roo is still trying to act like she cares more about making pithy innuendos than she does being with Gage, because Gage and Miranda clearly have some level of attraction to each other. Gage does research and is clearly cute, but, Miranda has Etienne after her too, and he’s kissed her and won’t quite holding onto her just a little too tightly when she’s upset or trying not to be embarrassed. And somehow, her sieve of a personality reminds Etienne’s mom of herself, so she gets invited to dinner at their house in the bayou.

I don’t know, maybe they like each other. Maybe. A little bit.

One swamp tour later, they know each other even better than all those secret meetings and shared glances – and then it’s gone because Gage shows up and interrupts dinner and he and Etienne get all angry at each other because they both care about Miranda. Miranda once again gets awkward and then relies on everyone else to save her after she tries to fix the ghost things by herself. She’s not exactly a slayer, we’ll just say that. And she doesn’t seem to know that Etienne is way more interesting than Gage even if he has been previously popular with the ladies…ladies we never hear about because the outside characters who are mentioned are either ghosts or impeding on Ashley and Parker’s relationship.

However, in the end, they can all stay friends for now as long as they have to save Miranda and feelings that were hurt can stay hurt and no one will ever find out how it shakes out because that’s the last book. They were all probably going to break up and be pulled inexplicably back together as a friend group over some ghost friends who didn’t get to go to cotillion or something in the next one.

I don’t know, maybe these two crazy pigs who never betrayed each other are still watching over each other as ghosts, waiting for more series books their sweet little antics can be applied to.

 

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