The Fright Stuff

Whatever Walked There: 62 Years of Hill House

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

62 years ago, in October of 1959, Viking Press published the first edition of Shirley Jackson’s quintessential ghost story The Haunting of Hill House, a novel now so familiar to horror readers that I’d be willing to bet most of us can quote at least part of its iconic opening paragraph from memory. I was on a plane back from the West Coast the first time I read Hill House. I spent the first half of that flight so consumed that I forgot I was even on a plane, and by the time I was done I’m pretty sure those opening lines were permanently tattooed on my brain. 

cover of the haunting of hill house by shirley jackson

In Laura Miller’s introduction to the 2006 Penguin Classics edition, she describes classic ghost stories like Hill House as being traps for their protagonists, luring them in by virtue of their own curiosity (ix). I mean, how many times when watching a horror movie have you caught yourself shouting at the main character to stop opening all the damn creepy doors? Right? It’s because we know. We know that if you give in to the nervous impulse to open door after door, drawn on by the “what if”s— “what if there’s something there”, “what if that sound I heard was real”, “what if that little voice in the back of my head was right”— the haunting in the house will pull you in too deep. Because you have to know! You have to know all the bad things that might be behind the door, because if you don’t find them then you know they’ll find you first. So it’s just “what if” over and over, door after door, until you’re trapped. Until none of the doors you left open behind you lead out. 

On my first read through, I picked up on the anxious, trapped feeling that permeates The Haunting of Hill House (it’s hard to miss), but at the time I didn’t make a connection to my own struggles with anxiety over the years. I just knew that I deeply empathized with Eleanor, and the struggle against the pull of Hill House which ultimately consumed her. Eleanor was a dreamer, insulating herself in fantasy against the threat of “absolute reality,” keeping the world at bay with dreams to escape from her fears and anxieties from the trauma of being emotionally abused and neglected by her own family for years. But Hill House, as we are told, is “not sane.” It cannot dream. It is an amphitheater of absolute reality with an entrance like a lobster trap; one way in, no way out. Poor Eleanor and her dream world never really stood a chance.

Whether you choose to believe that the house is haunted, or that, as Miller suggests in her introduction, Eleanor may herself be the “whatever” haunting in Hill House, is a matter of opinion left up to the individual reader. The novel is open ended enough to let us make our own decisions. I think it’s a bit of both. I’ve always believed that Hill House is “not sane”, as we’re told, but that the only ghosts within its walls are those its visitors bring with them. Amphitheaters are designed to amplify, after all. So the “what if” you find behind the closed door is more likely to be a phantom of your own making than a ghost in the literal sense. 

Speaking from personal experience, “whatever walked there, walked alone” is pretty much exactly what the inside of my head feels like when I’m panicking. Haunted but alone, caught in the echo chamber of my own anxieties. But then, Shirley Jackson was very well acquainted with what it feels like to live with anxiety. So if Hill House‘s claustrophobic tension bears an echo of that oh so familiar tight, twisting in the chest and throat that a particularly good spike of anxiety can cause, well, rightly so.

But that’s the beauty of horror, isn’t it? We talk often about the catharsis of watching or reading horror, the way that just the right book or movie can help us cope with the horrors of real life or the monsters in our own heads. However, re-reading The Haunting of Hill House recently reminded me that horror is also the way in which we communicate our fears to others to see if perhaps those fears and anxieties are shared. Whether as an author putting their story out into the world, or a reader recommending their favorite books to other readers, we want to share the things that frighten us, and find others who feel the same. I mean, it makes sense! When it comes to haunted houses, ghosts, monsters, or masked killers, there’s always strength in numbers.

So a very happy 62nd birthday, to a genuinely frightening book whose horrors never fade with age! The Haunting of Hill House permanently transformed the haunted house narrative, and for that this anxious horror reader is eternally grateful.

For more on The Haunting of Hill House, check out these excellent articles: 

Speaking of Laura Miller, you can read part of her introduction on LitHub!

Annika Barranti Klein at Book Riot wrote a fantastic deep dive into the first line of the novel (2019), and Lee Mandelo explored the novel’s queerness, and the theme of isolation which runs throughout, for Tor (2016).

Also for Tor, but a bit more recently, last September Anne M. Pillsworth and Ruthanna Emrys included Hill House in their Reading the Weird series, and wrote a series of responses to the text, the first of which is linked here (2020). Beware of spoilers if you haven’t read the book yet! Each response begins with a summary of the portion of book being discussed. 

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

Nightfire’s “Out for Blood” Queer Horror Panel, featuring Cassandra Khaw (Nothing But Blackened Teeth), Zin E Rocklyn (Flowers for the Sea), and Lee Mandelo (Summer Sons), is this Thursday the 21st! If you have a chance to tune in at 7PM (ET), you definitely should. All three of these books are amazing.

Tananarive Due wrote an article for Novel Suspects “On Horror and the Creations that Shape Us”, in which she discusses Black Horror, how she developed her love of horror, and the recent reissue of her novel The Between.

Last but definitely not least, Margaret Kingsbury has put together a list of 21 must read new and upcoming horror novels for Buzzfeed, so get out those reading lists and a pen, people!

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm (, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening. 

The Fright Stuff

If You Go Down in the Woods Today…

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

One of my favorite tropes in horror is evil toys. Demonic Doll? Please. Haunted Toy House? I’m all in. Possessed Jack-in-the-Box?

No, too scary. Not cool, Dave.

they threw us away by daniel kraus cover

But have you ever wondered what would happen if you found yourself on the other side of the “evil” toy invasion, and it turned out that things maybe weren’t exactly what they seemed? That maybe the toys didn’t think they were evil, but were in fact lost, not sure of their identities or why they had been abandoned? That’s a whole different kind of horror, isn’t it? And it’s the idea at the heart of one of my favorite 2020 middle grade horror titles: Daniel Kraus’ charming but alarming, They Threw Us Away.

Confession: I knew I was going to buy this book the moment that I saw the cover. Rovina Cai’s distinctive artwork struck me as adorable, heartbreaking, and a tad bit creepy all at once. Three slightly scruffy teddy bears stand upon a mountain of trash – the last place a beloved teddy bear should be. And so begins a sweet, scary, sad but hopeful tale about a pack of teddy bears, led by a bear called Buddy, who wake up in a dump one day and have to band together to find their way back to the toy store and in to the arms of children who will love them.

Now when I say that They Threw Us Away is scary, I mean it. In the spirit of Watership Down, this book is determined to stress you out. The horror ranges from atmospheric, to monstrous, to one sudden and very upsetting moment involving teddy bear eyes that I think may have scarred me for life. I will be sending Kraus my therapy bills. This middle grade horror takes the idea of the animate toy, which in horror is often the villain of the piece, and turns it on its head. We’re on the side of these poor, determined bears! We’re rooting for them as they waddle their way through a hostile world!

But should we be?

Our poor bears may be trustworthy, brave little adventurers, but They Threw Us Away gives us plenty of reasons to be wary of the other Furrington Teddies. Yes, you know I’m thinking about Mad – the terrible, many-in-one bear in the donation box which Rovina Cai captured in a chilling illustration of too long, wiggly arms and a horrific, patchwork belly. But I’m also thinking of an earlier scene, the one that first made me wonder how the Furrington teddies had gone from being beloved to being trash in the dump. And whether maybe there was a reason they were being destroyed. I’m talking, of course, about the toy store Manager and the dumpster full of shredded bears.

The dumpster itself was upsetting enough! But when the Manager peered over the edge at the still living teddies, and said “I don’t know how you four got through […] But it won’t happen again, not on my watch.” (160) a chill went down my spine. Not just because Buddy and the other teddies were in trouble, but because the Manager was implying that these were not the first living teddies he had seen. And his horror and anger at seeing them alive makes me wonder: just what happened to cause the Furrington massacre? What did the teddies do?

Is it possible that we’ve been on the side of the evil toys all along?

I supposed we’ll have to wait until January to find out!

If You Liked They Threw Us Away

cover of hide and seeker by daka hermon

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon

If there’s one thing you can always count on, it’s that horror will find a way to make all your childhood memories terrifying. And we all know that there’s already something innately creepy about hide and seek. But if you ever wondered just how wrong one game of hide and seek could go, you need to add Hide and Seeker to your reading list. Justin’s friend Zee went missing, and came back wrong. Though Justin can’t figure out exactly what about Zee is different, he knows that something has changed and not for the better. Then a seemingly harmless game of hide and seek at Zee’s welcome home party takes a terrifying turn as the players start to disappear and Justin finds himself trapped in the nightmarish world of the Seeker.

Cover of The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkhaf

Lots of kids have an imaginary friend. It’s normal, and definitely not cause for concern! Until, that is, your kid’s “imaginary” friend turns out to be not so imaginary and far from benign. Now, technically Suraya’s friend, Pink, isn’t imaginary. She’s a pelesit, a spirit companion gifted to Suraya by her grandmother, and the two are the best of friends. But pelesits aren’t entirely benign – they have a dark side which Suraya knows nothing about. One which could destroy them both.

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

Looking for more MG horror? The Ladies of Horror Fiction publish a list of new YA and MG horror titles at the ended of every month. September’s list went up a few days ago, and October’s should be up just in time for Halloween book shopping. That’s how we “treat” ourselves in this apartment, people!

October is a month full of exciting book releases, which of course means it’s also a month full of exciting book events! Up next is Copper Dog Books’ Oct 14th “Art of the Novella” panel, featuring Catherynne M Valente, Zin E Rocklyn, Cassandra Khaw, and Adrian Tchaikovsky

Let the horror party continue! Whether you’re in the mood for some horror comedy, a Shirley Jackson fan on the hunt for a read-alike, or ready to design your perfect monster team to find your next horror read, we’ve got screams a plenty over at Book Riot.

Speaking of Book Riot, we’re celebrating our 10th Anniversary this year! And for the month of October only we’re offering some fantastic limited edition clothing and assorted Book Riot swag. Take a look!

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

The Fright Stuff

The Season of Scares is Upon Us!

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

Hello and welcome to the creepiest month of the year, our month, our happiest darkest holiday season: It’s October, Witches. Lets party! This year’s been a lot, right? I mean the last two years, really, but as we enter the last final quarter of 2021 I’m sort of torn between horror (ha) that it’s already October and delight that at least, after all this shit, it’s finally Halloween. The lights are up, the decorations are out, the candy bar is stocked. All that’s missing are the books!

Cover of The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling (October 5th)

Oh my god I can’t believe that this book is finally almost here. I can’t wait to put this monstrous, gorgeous book in my eyeballs. It’s peak Gothic goodness and, surprising absolutely no one, I am living for it. When Jane Shoringfield makes a calculated choice to marry a stranger to ensure her security and independence, wooooow does she bet on the wrong horse. I mean sure, Augustine Lawrence seems like the perfect choice. He’s wealthy, he’s charming, and best of all, he’s a recluse who doesn’t even want her to set foot in his house. What could be better? Until Jane ends up stranded on his doorstep on their wedding night and what she finds inside Lindridge Hall throws all her careful planning into disarray. So much for best laid plans, because there is something very, very wrong in Lindridge Hall.

cover of cackle by rachel harrison

Cackle by Rachel Harrison (October 5th)

I honestly don’t know if we can get more “perfect Halloween read” than Cackle, folks. I have been counting down the days until October when this book and it’s gorgeous cover would be released upon the world. Tired of her ordinary, safe life in Manhattan, Annie abandons everything in exchange for a teaching position in a small village in upstate New York, a picturesque town almost too good to be true! Even her apartment is Instagram ready – except of course for the spiders. Still, even a persistent eight-legged infestation can’t put a damper on what looks like a shining start to her new life. Especially once Annie meets beautiful, charming, and independent Sophie, who wants to help Annie to finally start living her life. If the townsfolk seem a little frightened of Sophie, so what? It’s not like witches are real. Right?

The City Beautiful cover

The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros (October 5th)

Can I offer you some (more) queer horror in this trying time? This new YA horror by Aden Polydoros takes place in 1893 Chicago during the illustrious World’s Fair. But while most of the city is caught up in the glitter and whirl of the fair, Alter Rosen is hunting a killer. Alter came to America to make a better life for himself, and a future for his mother and sisters still living in Romania. But the violent murders of several young Jewish men, the most recent of which was Alter’s best friend Yakov, have brought Alter’s American dream to a halt. Now Yakov’s dybbuk is possessing Alter, threatening his very existence, and leaving Alter no choice but to team up with a dangerous boy from his past and find the killer before the killer finds him first. Or Yakov’s dybbuk takes him over entirely.

Nothing But Blackened Teeth

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw (October 19th)

This novella, people. It’s so full of rot, and mold, and gore! A perfect, weird, delightfully horrifying ghost story. When a group of friends descends upon an abandoned, reputedly haunted Heian-era mansion for a wedding, things quickly go sideways when a scary story told in a dark room resurrects the vengeful spirit of the house. My favorite part of this was definitely Khaw’s descriptions of the house as just seething with rot, as though the whole thing were a decomposing corpse in its own right. If you love watching groups of people crumble as external terrors expose and put pressure on the cracks between them, you’re going to love Nothing But Blackened Teeth.

Cover of Flowers For the Sea by Zin E Rocklyn

Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn (October 19th)

Rocklyn’s forthcoming post-apocalyptic cosmic horror novella is one of those books that really sticks to you after you put it down. It’s gorgeous – and definitely a bit gross in places (but in the best horror way, of course) – and the amount of worldbuilding that Rocklyn fit into 112 pages puts some 300 pages novels I’ve read to shame. Survivors of a flooded land exist in isolation, fighting for their continued survival on an ark. Supplies are dwindling, terrifying sea monsters circle, and Iraxi, locked away deep in the hold of the ark, is heavily pregnant with a child she does not want. A child that may not even be human. In a society in which Iraxi’s people are reviled, but her ability to bear a child when so many others cannot is revered, she straddles a strange line between outcast and idol. But there may be an even darker and more powerful fate awaiting her.

Cover of Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood (October 19th)

Be still my Brontë loving heart. Within These Wicked Walls is Gothic, it’s creepy, it’s romantic, so of course I enjoyed every minute of it. I mean I’m a simple girl. Give me a room full of blood and I’m content. Jane Eyre fans will recognize a few beloved lines and familiar scenes, but even when paying homage to her source text, Blackwood has created something wholly original and unique. Andromeda is a debtera without a license, making her little better than an eternal apprentice in the eyes of the world. If she wants to continue to work, she’s going to need a patron. So when Magnus Rochester hires her sight unseen to cleanse his house of the Evil Eye, despite her lack of licensure, Andromeda decides to take her one chance at a future and run with it. But she could never have predicted the degree of horror lurking inside of Magnus’ home, nor the youth and charm of her new employer. With both her life and heart in danger, Andromeda will have to work fast if she hopes to save Magnus from the curse that threatens to tear them apart.

Cover of Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente

Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente (October 26th)

I have been absolutely DYING to talk to you about this book. For real. I had to put a big old moratorium on it in my head so that I wouldn’t write about it too soon and risk being run out of town for spoiling a genuinely upsetting reveal that had me gasping out loud. Sophia knows nothing but the reality of her perfect, sheltered, beloved life behind the safe walls of Arcadia Gardens. Her husband is her whole world. She was made to be his little darling, and she’s never once questioned that. That is, until the perfection of her life begins to crack around the edges, letting in a strangeness that just might lead her to the truth behind the only life she’s ever known. A truth perhaps lurking in the locked basement of their home, where Sophia is never, ever to go.

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

As always, if you’re looking for yet more October horror new releases, I absolutely have to refer you to Nightfire’s list of their most anticipated 2021 horror titles.

Speaking of Nightfire, you are not going to want to miss their Out for Blood: Queer Tales to Tell in the Dark panel on October 21st at 7PM, featuring Cassanda Khaw, Lee Mandelo, and Zin E. Rocklyn!

Beloved Horror Host, Queer Icon (!), and Mistress of the Dark, Elvira, has hit number 4 on the New York Times Best Seller List for her recently released biography Yours Cruelly, Elvira! And somebody ring the shame bell, because guess who still has not picked up her copy.

We’ve got a full compliment of new scary content for you at Book Riot! From horror comedy reads to the best horror manhwa and manga, to the depth-haunting terrors of the ocean.

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

The Fright Stuff

This one’s for you, Mistress of the Dark

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

Well, folks, I played myself. I usually delight in providing you with lists of books and then hearing from folks about which titles they just had to buy. Relishing the long distant cries of broken book bans everywhere. Such a sweet sound. Only this week, it’s my poor bank account begging me to cease and desist. I have discovered my self-control (shelf-control?) kryptonite: sapphic spec fic. All other things I can resist except, apparently, sapphic protagonists and either epic world building or chilling horror. Or both, obviously. Both is good.

I’ve shared my love of sapphic horror before on The Fright Stuff, particularly titles from the pantheon of well known reader favorites. But this week I really wanted to spotlight some other recent sapphic horror titles that are well worth having on your reading list!

Cover of To Break a Covenant by Alison Ames

To Break a Covenant by Alison Ames

So hot off the presses that the ink’s barely dry, Ame’s To Break a Covenant is about an ex-mining town capitalizing on its haunted past to bring in the tourism money that’s keeping the town alive, and a group of girls determined to discover the mystery behind the strange phenomena that plague their town. Moon Basin’s haunting supposedly stems from the violent deaths of sixteen people the day the mine exploded and touched off an underground fire that burns still. Now only New Basin is left. Clem and Nina, best friends since childhood, and on the verge of being something more, are joined by Lisey and Piper as they journey deep into the abandoned mines of Moon Basin in search of the truth.

Cover of The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado

The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado

I love Machado’s work, so I was beyond excited when I found out she would be contributing to the 2020 Hill House comic series! Her graphic novel, The Low, Low Woods, is about two teenagers, El and Octavia, who are best friends that grew up in the tiny town of Shudder-to-Think, Pennsylvania. A strange forgetting illness has begun to affect the inhabitants of the town, stealing their memories as horrors stalk the streets of a town on fire. Its long burning coal mines abandoned but still aflame (sense a theme here?). When El and Octavia are infected, the two take it upon themselves to investigate the dark mysteries of their town before they loose themselves forever.

Cover of Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

This one probably sways the most towards dark fantasy, rather than being more fully horror. Our heroine Jessamyn hears the voice of her estranged grandmother, now a mysterious deity who is determined to make use of Jessamyn to settle a vengeful score. With that, plus the existence of a whole strange world full of danger, gods, ghosts, and secrets, I think there’s plenty here to keep dark fiction readers intrigued. And while I freely admit that I haven’t read Black Water Sister yet, the reviews I’ve seen suggest there might even be a few scenes that are down right, graphically scary. Cho described Black Water Sister as “A stressed zillennial lesbian fights gods, ghosts, gangsters & grandmas in 21st century Penang”, and I mean honestly what better inducement can I offer?

Cover of Dead Lez Walking by G Benson

Dead Lez Walking by G. Benson

I will never miss a chance to include zombies on absolutely any list where I can fit them. Particularly these days, when zombie apocalypse novels have taken on an additional shade of emotional significance. There’s something extra cathartic about a plague with a physical manifestation that you can actually fight. I doubt that comes as much a relief to Taren and Joy, though, as the hospital they work at is suddenly overtaken with the living dead. With a soured “almost romance” hanging between them, the two find themselves unable to avoid one another, trapped in the hospital with a group of other survivors. Their only way out is to work together and fight their way free. Which makes this a bit of an awkward time to find themselves falling in love. Did I specifically make room for this book because I am absolutely obsessed with the idea of the horror romance? Pfft. Of course I did.

Cover of This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

So this one might also fall more under the umbrella of dark fantasy, but it has plenty of creepy, Gothic goodness to sate horror readers. In This Poison Heart, Briseis finds herself spending the summer at the dilapidated estate of her dead aunt, surrounded by its vast gardens. There, Bri hopes that she will learn to control her extraordinary gift: the ability to grow plants from seed to full bloom with just a touch of her hand. But the estate is old, and dark, and one of its gardens is comprised of nothing but the world’s most deadly plants. As she falls into creating tinctures and elixirs for those who come to the estate seeking help, Bri meets Marie, a young woman keeping dark secrets, who knows more about the estate than she is letting on.

Fresh from the Skeleton’s Mouth

Speaking of queer horror in general, that wonderful terrible book that ruined my life (yes I’m talking about Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo) comes out next week and Unabridged Bookstore will be holding a virtual event to celebrate on Monday the 27th! That’s tonight folks!

October 19th TorDotCom Publishing is hosting an event to celebrate the publication of Zin E. Rocklyn’s fantastic cosmic horror novella, Flowers for the Sea!

It’s finally fall, which means Book Riot is ramping up its production of creepy good fun to make sure you’re Halloween reading seasons are well supplied. For shiny new YA horror to haunt your nights, check out this list by Kelly Jensen or stock up on indigenous horror with a little help from Ann-Marie Cahill.

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

The Fright Stuff

Happy Birthday, Stephen King!

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

If you’ve been reading The Fright Stuff for a while, you might have noticed a somewhat conspicuous lack of Stephen King. It’s not that I’m not a fan! I am, and what’s more, I’m pretty sure that being both a Mainer and a horror fan compels me to bow to one of the unquestioned kings of the genre. But, everyone knows who Stephen King is. His books are bestsellers before they even leave the shelves. At the end of the day, Stephen King doesn’t need any additional accolades, he’s doing just fine. So I prefer to spend my limited word count here shining a light on all the other amazing authors and book in the horror genre. People without the advertising budget of King’s publisher, but who still have incredible stories to tell.

However, one day a year I have to make an exception and take a Monday to say: Happy Birthday, Stephen King! Thank you for all the joy and twice as much for the terror.

Since you hardly need me to extoll for you the virtues of King’s many novels and short stories, I thought we’d indulge in a little fun retail therapy instead. You can’t buy Stephen King a birthday gift, but you CAN buy yourself or someone in your life a gift to celebrate the unofficial holiday that is the birthday of the King of Horror!

Felt doll of Stephen King holding a copy of Pet Semetary made by DeepCutCreations on Etsy

Stephen King Doll with Customizable Book

I’m sorry, I just can’t with how adorable this little felt Stephen King doll is. Whether you’re buying it for you, or for another Stephen King fan in your life, it will definitely make a memorable gift. It’s 12.5”, handmade in Vermont, and it’s customizable! Per the creator’s description, the book that Tiny Steve is holding can be swapped out for your favorite King title. He’s the cutest thing, and he’d look perfect standing (or sitting) guard over your personal Stephen King collection.

A Folio Society hardcover edition of Misery by Stephen King

The Folio Society Edition of Misery

So I was going to do an entire section of Stephen King special editions for those of you who desperately crave fancy hardcover, but funny story: they vanish faster than a clown down a drainpipe. There have been many gorgeous special editions in recent years from publishers like Subterranean Press, or Cemetery Press, but they tend to be limited editions and from the minute they’re announced they’re going, going, gone. Which kind of put a damper on my plans. BUT! I did manage to find one, oh so beautiful special edition available for sale: The Folio Society’s edition of Misery, illustrated by Edward Kinsella.

Stephen King Still Gives Me Nightmare Mugs

Stephen King Still Gives Me Nightmares Mug

Up all night remembering why your favorite Stephen King novel used to be kept in the freezer behind a bag of peas? Don’t worry! This 15oz ceramic bad boy can fit SO much life restoring caffeine in it, drink up and get ready to face the day nightmare free. The bright red lettering will let everyone know why you have eye bags darker than your coffee. The designer of this mug also has several variations of this theme, as well as a bunch of other mugs that feature different horror books and films, so be sure to check out the whole collection!

Overlook Hotel Sweater Stephen King The Shining

Overlook Hotel Sweater

I’m sorry, did you think we’d get through this whole list without a sweater? People! The time of sweaters and cool, cozy scary movie nights is nearly upon us! The hard part was just picking one. I finally settled on this gorgeous Overlook Hotel (The Shining) sweater. I love the print. I love the graphic of the hotel. I love that it looks like the kind of sweater you’d pick up on the hotel gift shop on like your second day there when it’s hideous outside and you’re getting ready to hole up with some room service and some scary movies. You know, in an alternate universe where maybe the Outlook is haunted but not like “gonna kill you now” haunted. Maybe “share your damn french fries” haunted.

Wall Print of Derry from Stephen King's It

Annotated Map of Derry Poster

I love maps. I just like the way they look. I like imagining where I’d go, and what I’d do. Maps are full of unlimited potential! And, sometimes, killer clowns. Yikes. Seriously though, how gorgeous is this city map of Derry, complete with annotations by our favorite scrappy band of Losers. If IT has a special place in your heart, this print would make a wonderful addition to your wall. If you were looking for more IT swag, check out this list by Courtney Rodgers over at Book Riot.

Visit Salem's Lot T-Shirt Stephen King

Visit Salem’s Lot T-Shirt

This t-shirt makes me laugh every time I look at it. I don’t know if it’s Barlow standing in the background looking like he’s waving at you? Or the quote underneath. Or the fact that every small town general store I’ve been to in this state has “visit” t-shirts with that exact same font and it’s just so perfect while also feeling delightfully gift shop tacky. I love it. Visit Salem’s Lot Blood drives year round. All our windows are vampiric child-proof.

Fresh From the Skelton’s Mouth

Emily Martin over at Book Riot has a list of 2021 horror novels to keep you well stocked with scares!

Janelle Janson interviewed Stephen Graham Jones about his most recent book and slasher tribute novel, My Heart is a Chainsaw, for Nightfire.

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

The Fright Stuff

In Which Marsupials Are Generally Terrifying

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

I don’t know about you, but with everything going on right now my brain feels like mush. Screaming mush in a constant state of existential crisis. And every single topic I almost settled on for this week’s Fright Stuff felt “too real” to be fun. I know that horror is about catharsis, but sometimes I look at the various fires, literal and figurative, around me, then at the book in my hand riffing on the same themes, and I am just out. It all feels so heavy.

Which is why it’s time to play my favorite, joy-sparking horror game of all time:


I was wracking my brain for something fun and deeply entertaining, but still horrific(ally delightful) to talk about this week, and what can I say? I am always a sucker for killer animals and animal-like creatures, with sharp claws, vicious horns, or entirely too many teeth. I really wanted to focus on books that pit people against beasts/monsters, duking it out for survival in an amped up variation on that classic human vs. nature theme. If it had fangs, fur, or scales, I wanted it, and gosh have I got some recommendations for you!

Cover of The Roo by Alan Baxter

The Roo by Alan Baxter

This was The First book that I thought of when I decided on this topic. In fact I’m pretty sure that that cover has permanent residence in my subconscious (and my nightmares). Right next to that terrifying video of that real life kangaroo trying to get into some guy’s house that’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life. The claws! Why does it have claws?! Basically: Kangaroos are terrifying. Which means that they make for perfect foil for some classic creature horror in Alan Baxter’s The Roo in which an evil kangaroo menaces a remote little town, taking out the inhabitants one by one. The locals are going to have to join forces if they want to survive this hippy-hoppy menace from hell.

Cover of Near the Bone by Christina Henry

Near the Bone by Christina Henry

I didn’t get acquainted with Christina Henry’s work until this year, but I’m definitely well on a way to becoming a fan. She’s got fantastic range, and having Near the Bone be the first book of hers I read was a good life choice. It’s also a book that I wanted to include on this list because there is a genuinely creepy wolf/bear/monster/thing in this book, capable of snatching a grown man clean off his feet in the blink of an eye. But, it’s not the only, or the biggest monster in this book. Yes, Mattie and the cryptozoology enthusiasts trying to rescue her from the mountain are trying to make it to the bottom without getting monster snatched. But they wouldn’t be trying to rescue her in the first place if it weren’t for William, the real monster in this book, who has kept Mattie captive on the mountain since she was child. The monster was scary, but it was definitely William I wanted to stab.

Cover of Playing Possum by Stephanie Rabig

Playing Possum by Stephanie Rabig

Okay, so, technically this is a were-possum (omg that just make’s me so happy) book, but aside from poor Tiffany’s sudden marsupial evolution, Playing Possum is really about a small town being pitted against, and I quote, an army of “ravenous furry hell-beasts”. So it qualifies. It also gets bonus points for being queer horror! Tiffany’s life was going pretty well before her late night encounter with the possum of doom, she was even saving up to buy an engagement ring for her partner. Let’s just hope Vanessa doesn’t mind dating a were-possum, because ever since that parking lot run in, Tiffany’s been acting a bit… odd. I love this book so much. We have a delightful small town ensemble cast, including our leads, a deadly (cuddly) army of killer possums, and I honestly ask you: what else do you need?

Cover of The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Two words: Elk. Monster. One more word: Antlers. Listen, antlers are one of the gnarliest accessories in nature. Putting aside what they can do to us and all our vulnerable organs if applied correctly, have you ever seen an elk or a deer shed its velvet in the fall? Look it up, it’s amazingly disgusting. Now here’s were I admit that I hesitated to add The Only Good Indians to the list because technically the Elk Head Woman isn’t really an elk/animal/beast-thing. Not all the time, anyway, and not entirely. But I solemnly swear that this book will make you look sideways at every antlered animal that crosses your path, possibly for the rest of your days. And you didn’t even do anything to make the elk lady angry! But the four male leads of the novel did, and she will not stop until she has exacted her revenge on each one of them in as violent a manner possible.

Cover of Up From the Deep by Vaughn A Jackson

Up From the Deep by Vaughn A Jackson

Confession: my only real exposure to kaiju is the 1998 Godzilla movie, which I grew up with. Which I love, fight me. But I love the idea of giant creatures doing whatever it is kaiju… do? Knocking over buildings, eating some people, you know. The norm. Anyway! Ancient creature that’s basically a giant crocodile-thing from the Mariana Trench with a mouth full of teeth that are probably as long as I am tall? Yes, please. Awakened by a covert operation gone awry, this sleepy lizard baby is not happy that someone woke it up before its alarm, and it’s ready to wreak some havoc. The detective responsible for waking the creature finds himself teaming up with a couple of “Kaiju groupies” in an attempt to bring it down before it can cause anymore damage. But they’re up against not just the creature itself but also the shadowy criminal organization determined to harness the creature’s power to conquer the world.

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

The 2020 This is Horror Award winners have been announced! Get ready to load up those TBRs for the long winter ahead.

Ready to make the jump from creatures to full-blown monsters? Anne Mai Yee Jensen has a fantastic list of horror books about monsters for you over at Book Riot. Or if you prefer (mostly) human monsters, make sure to check out K.W. Colyard’s list of the slasher novels!

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

The Fright Stuff

Hello Horror, Goodbye Shelf Space

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

It’s my favorite day of the month once more, it’s new releases day! Since the first Monday in September is a holiday and your usual Fright Stuff newsletter will be MIA, we’re jumping into September’s forthcoming scares a little early. But you know me! I never hesitate to herald in the fall just as soon as I possibly can. Particularly when the season is as packed with new releases as this one promises to be. My bank account weeps, and my TBR carts will be o’er burdened but wow are we in for some amazing horror.

This list is just a sampling of the books set to be released next month, but features some of the titles I’m looking forward to most!

New Cover of Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (September 7)

I have been looking forward to Certain Dark Things ever since Nightfire announced that they were going to re-release it. The new cover is a neon dream, and you can never go wrong with vampires! In Mexico City, street kid Domingo is just trying to survive when he meets vampire-on-the-run Atl. Atl is the descendent of Aztec blood drinkers, on the run from a rival vampire clan. Their meeting happens by chance, but as time goes on the two find themselves working together to escape the dark streets with their lives (life and un-life?) intact. I’ve heard that Moreno-Garcia’s vampire worldbuilding is really unique, and I’m excited to get to read it with my own eyes!

Cover of The Haunting of Leigh Harker by Darcy Coates

The Haunting of Leigh Harker by Darcy Coates (September 7)

I just recently finished the excellent haunted house story by the Queen of Extremely Suspect Realty herself, and let me tell you, if you are looking for a clever, creepy take on the classic haunted house narrative, The Haunting of Leigh Harker needs to be on your radar. Something is living in Leigh’s house, stalking her every move. But the more that she fights back, determined not to be locked out of her own home, the more strange and unexpected things become. Something is deeply wrong with the door beneath the stairs. The very house around her seems to sicken and rot, and if Leigh can’t find out why she may be next.

Cover of The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw

The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw (September 7)

I know I’ve been talking this book up higher than the starry firmament it’s set in, but I am a simple girl. And this simple girls likes space, scary things, and scary things in space. And I just know that Khaw is going to deliver. Starring a cast of former criminals, as broken as they are dangerous, The All-Consuming World pits its unusual band of protagonists against a universe ruled by powerful, evolved AI who will do anything to maintain their control. The answer to defeating them and regaining control of the universe lies with the secret at the heart of a plant called DImmuborgir, but between their own traumas and a fleet of something called “sapient ageships” (just contemplating what that might mean is conjuring up some horrible potential concepts) the odds seem insurmountable.

White Smoke cover image

White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson (September 14th)

You’ve seen White Smoke on Fright Stuff before, more than once, and now it’s finally almost release day for one of best haunted house stories of the fall. For Marigold, recently arrived from her California hometown by the sea, Cedarville is supposed to be a new beginning. But there’s something sinister lurking beneath the renovated facade of their new house. Things move on their own, doors open, lights turn off. Marigold sees shadows, hears voices, and there’s a bad smell inside that house that no one else seems to notice. The more she learns about the house, the more she realizes that the danger isn’t contained just within its wall. All of Cedarville is haunted by secrets from its past that will no longer be contained.

Cover of Slewfoot by Brom

Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery by Brom (September 14)

This book was so not what I expected, in the very best way, and I cannot wait to hold a finished copy in my hands and read it all again. Fantastical and horrifying, Slewfoot is a dark, magical story about how monsters, and witches, are made. And listen, if you are an aesthetics person, or a book collector, you are going to want this gorgeous, semi-illustrated hardcover. When Abitha is widowed suddenly by a suspicious accident, she finds her self desperately trying to hold on to her freedom in the midst of a pious and patriarchal society that would rather see her tucked neatly under the thumb of another man. Enter Slewfoot, a newly woken spirit who, like Abitha, is searching for his place in the world for good or for evil.

Cover of Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo (September 28)

I feel like that Elmo fire gif. Just throwing my arms up like “IT IS TIME”. But listen, if you like your horror gothic, queer, and critical of the institutional academia, Summer Sons needs to be on your September list. Andrew and Eddie have always been inseparable, ever since they were kids. Until Eddie dies suddenly, just days before Andrew was supposed to join him for their grad program at Vanderbilt. He leaves Andrew a car, a small fortune, a house, a pile of secrets, and a haunt that clings to Andrew’s shadow, dropping hints that Eddie’s death was not all that it seems.

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

As I said, the titles on this list are just a small selection of the amazing books being released this September. So if you’re looking for even more horror to add to your fall reading lists, make sure to check out Nightfire’s list of all the horror books they’re excited about in 2021!

Speaking of horror content, over at Book Riot we’ve got 8 of the Best Horror Books To Creep You Out This Fall, and 10 of the Best Horror Novels Featuring Cults. Which, I mean, I am always down for creepy cult times. Anyone else?

There’s an excellent essay on the Tor blog about the Gothic! Don’t miss “Becoming the Thing That Haunts the House: Gothic Fiction and the Fear of Change”

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

The Fright Stuff

A Gilead for a New Age

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

Few horror readers would argue that we are absolutely awash in amazing horror books these days, but every once in a while I read ond of those books that really stops me in my tracks. Makes me think. Makes me criiiiiiiiiiiinge in the best and worst ways. I had the pleasure of reading Polly Ho-Yen’s Dark Lullaby earlier this year and it certainly falls into that category.

Cover of Dark Lullaby by Polly Ho-Yen

Set in a bleak future in which the world’s population has shrunk dramatically due to widespread infertility, the remains of society are clustered together in highly regulated, closely managed pods of urban existence. Resources are at a minimum, and the larger portion are allotted to those who choose to have children, leaving the willingly childless scraping around the edges. And it’s not just resources like food and square footage – promotions, financial incentives, cars, every possible privilege is withheld for those who choose to go through Induction, a dangerous and difficult process of conception that kills women nearly as frequently as it succeeds in impregnating them.

If you are picking of strains of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, you’re not far from your mark. But what fascinated me as I read Dark Lullaby wasn’t the chilling similarities between these two books, but rather the differences that separate them. They share a fundamental core of themes and anxieties, and a critical examination of how our society treats things like fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood. But whereas Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a stark depiction of a deeply dystopian society that bears little resemblance to life as we know it, Ho-Yen has buried her horror a little deeper in Dark Lullaby. Comparatively, the world in Dark Lullaby is only softly dystopian. People are still free to lead what seem to be, on the surface, ordinary lives. The only thing that appears to be out of place are matters relating to children. The world that Kit inhabits is a modern, evolved, tolerant world! No one is hanging people who don’t conform from walls in the center of the city. People aren’t being exiled to death colonies. And the only people disappearing are the children – and that’s only because the Office of Standards in Parenting (OSIP) just want to be sure they’re reared in safe, supportive, nurturing homes that meet their exacting standards. For their own good.


If the very name of that very insidious organization did not make your stomach twist a bit, just give it time. Because the further you read into Dark Lullaby, the more you begin to realize what the “freedom” people in Kit’s world possess is little more than an illusion. Especially those unlucky enough to have uteruses. Pressured to undergo dangerous Induction procedures, knowing that if you survive that and your pregnancy, you will then face the almost inevitable pain of losing your child, because OSIP’s standards of perfection are nearly impossible to meet. Lose your child to OSIP? That’s okay! You can try again! The data shows that second time parents are much less likely to lose their children! Choose not to play the baby lottery a second time and say goodbye to the nice house they gave you when you got pregnant – houses with space and lawns are only for families.

Chose not to get pregnant? “Outs” as they’re known in the media, certainly have that right. Though they do risk being labelled as “selfish, egotisitc maniacs, who are sabotaging the survival of our species”. (35)

The Handmaid's Tale Book Cover

Atwood’s classic was inspired by the rise in power of conservative religious and political forces at the time she was writing, and the world she presented was the extreme (but not entirely impossible) end result of increasingly restrictive repression of women’s rights and reproductive freedoms. But while both Atwood and Ho-Yen created world where a half of society is reduced only to the value of their uteruses, Dark Lullaby’s world is, to me, the more frightening one because the oppression is so much more subtle. It’s resemblance to our own world is at times uncanny, and as far as futures go it feels terrifyingly possible. Its heart isn’t religious conservatism, but rather a critical look at what might happen if society’s anxieties about diminishing birth rates and people with the ability to have children deliberately choosing not to, collided at full speed with a toxic “mommy culture” that idealizes a certain type of mother and passes judgement on mothers who don’t meet their standards (even though these standards often disregard important factors like class or cultural differences). It’s hypercritical mommy blogs turned public policy. It’s Motherhood/childbearing wielded like a cudgel in a society that pretends to be enlightened and modern.

When all is said and done, all that really separates The Handmaid’s Tale and Dark Lullaby is time. The Handmaid’s Tale was very much an accurate, terrifying product of its time, and Dark Lullaby is a product of all that has happened since. In the differences between the two we can see a roadmap of how far we’ve come, and in some ways, how little we’ve gained.

Fresh from the Skeleton’s Mouth

Have a new horror reader in your life? Addison Rizer has a guide to Horror Books for Beginners over at Book Riot.

The 2020 Shirley Jackson Award winners have been announced!

Need more stabby slasher books? (Trick question, you always need more stabby slasher books.) Sadie Hartmann put together a TikTok of recommendations just for you!

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

The Fright Stuff

“Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

Lately, I’ve found myself haunted by a recurring thought while reading. One that won’t let me be. I suppose it could be because of the books that I’m choosing, or the stories that I find myself drawn to, especially as fall closes in. It first appeared when I was reading The Scarlet Letter last month. Then it subsided for a little while, only for me to get to the end of Plain Bad Heroines the other day, and there it was again. Alright, I thought, well that’s not surprising. It takes place in New England, after all, and centers independent, queer women.

Then, just a few nights before sitting down to write this week’s newsletter, I read Sarah Orne Jewett’s “The Foreigner” for the first time, as part of the same New England Gothic reading project that had me picking up The Scarlet Letter. And low and behold, as I neared the thick of the story, there again comes that same old thought:

“It always comes back to this.”

The this, in this case, being witchcraft. Or, more accurately, the accusation thereof against someone living outside the mold of society, in one way or another. I’ve found that a witch panic is one of those things that I never build up a resistance too. It is always consistently upsetting when the whispering starts, and the dread begins to build, and you know – because we all know – how ugly it’s going to get once the word “Witch” finally manifests. And I guess that’s what makes it such good horror. One of the genres strengths is taking things that frighten or disturb us in real life, amplifying them, and giving us a safe place to deal with what they make us feel.

What they make me feel, specifically, is rage. The incandescent sort of rage that I often feel when I look at what’s going on in the world around me. The difference being that bad things happen to judgmental, persecutory puritans in fiction. Every cruelty they visit upon the victims of their witch panic is returned to them in full. Whether their targets were already witches, or whether the violence and fear visited upon them made them turn to witchcraft in search of justice, evil reaps what evil sewed. And there’s something delightfully cathartic about that cosmic comeuppance. Don’t you think?

So this week we’re celebrating books that flip the cauldron – so to speak – on the human-shaped monsters that hunt down “witches”, only to realize that they have bitten off much more than they chew. So light the fires, and get ready to dance! Let’s conjure a little vengeance.

Cover of The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Immanuelle Moore is an outcast. Among the pious, obedient people of the lands of Bethel, where the word of their Prophet is law, she is viewed as an aberration despite her best attempts to submit and conform. Nothing that Immanuelle does, or doesn’t do, will ever erase her mother’s shame, no matter how obedient or devoted she tries to become. But when a mishap lands her in the terrifying Darkwood that surrounds Bethel – a places of witches, spirits, and evil – leads Immanuelle to unexpected answers about her mother, and about the dark truth behind the Church of Bethel, she finds herself faced with a difficult choice. Bethel is her home, whether she “belongs” there or not, and it is being threatened by forces not from the Darkwood, but from within the walls of Bethel itself. Immanuelle may hold the key to saving the people from themselves, if she wishes. Or she can leave them to their grim fate.

Cover of Boneset and Feathers by Gwendolyn Kiste

Boneset and Feathers by Gwendolyn Kiste

Odette knows the danger of crossing path with the witchfinders. Her entire family is gone, executed for witchcraft, and she was lucky to escape with her life. No amount of magic was enough to save her mother and sister, and now Odette is alone, living in an exile of her own choosing. She lives deep in the woods outside her village, swearing off magic and hoping only for peace. But she ought to have realized that in a world of superstition and witch-hunts, peace was too much for a known witch to ask. When her magic begins to spin out of her control, menacing the village, it summons the return of the witchfinders. And this time they will not stop until Odette is dead, leaving her no choice but to defend herself. By any means necessary.

Cover of Slewfoot by Brom

Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery by Brom

Abitha is already betrothed to a stranger when she arrives at the Puritan colony that is to become her home, only to find herself widowed almost as quickly as she became a bride. Now she stands alone, trying to keep hold of her sudden freedom in the midst of a pious and patriarchal society that would rather see her tucked neatly under the thumb of another man. Slewfoot is a newly woken spirit who, like Abitha, is searching for his place in the world, for good or for evil. When suspicious deaths in the colony give rise to rumors of witchcraft, and Abitha and Slewfoot must decide who they will be and how they will survive in a world determined to see them hang.

Fresh from the Skeleton’s Mouth

This Nightfire essay on the use of Killer Color in Mexican Gothic is amazing! I totally nerded out, and now I need a re-read so that I can circle every mention of color inside of High Place. Obsession INTENSIFIES.

Make sure you head over to Book Riot and add some terrifying YA graphic novels to your reading list for the fall!

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening

The Fright Stuff

Life Eternal? No Thank You, I’m Tired

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

I have always loved vampires, and even when I shifted away from reading horror for several years, vampires were the one thing I held onto. But I would not want to be one.

I mean sure, on the surface being a vampire seems like The Best. You get to see the world, living for hundreds of years means getting to do all the things that your short mortal lifespan suggested you’d never get to do, and you’ll finally have time to read all those books in your TBR that you’ve been staring at for years. (Oh. Self-burn.) But the older I get the more I realize: yeah, a vampire never needs to sleep. They get to travel the world. They’re too strong for anyone to fuck with, and they no longer have to fear death or the ticking clock.

But wow they must get tired.

Look, I can barely make it to Friday most weeks. Live forever? Maybe I’ll just take a nap. I love vampires, and I love to read about vampires, but like a lot of things in horror (I see you, evil clowns), vampires are definitely a lot more fun when they’re fictional. So let’s toast to the fangy friends we love the most in this week’s Fright Stuff, as we explore some truly tasty vampire reads.

Cover of A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

Oh, hey, it’s me, once again begging you to read A Dowry of Blood, because I am obsessed with this book. It’s the perfect vampire book; it’s gorgeous, romantic, dark, violent, and polyamorous! A Dowry of Blood is the story of Dracula’s brides, told from the perspective of Constanta, the first of three brides whom Dracula creates to be his companions over the course of the novel. It is written as a farewell letter to the man she loved and hated in equal measure, detailing a hundred lifetimes of tenderness, abuse, and the unexpected love that develops between she and her fellow brides.

Cover of Mina and the Undead by Amy McCaw

Mina and the Undead by Amy McCaw

If you’re looking for a fun, creative, somewhat creepy vampire book for your TBR, you want Mina and the Undead. It’s a love letter to the 90’s vampire craze, and you know I love my nostalgic retro-horror reads. 17-year-old Mina travels from England to New Orleans to visit with her estranged sister Libby, excited to explore a city as steeped in vampire literary references as her home town of Whitby. But Mina gets more than she bargained for when she becomes embroiled in a series of violent murders that all seem to point to Libby. Technically, Mina and the Undead has only been released in the UK, but you can still order a copy through Book Depository, and you definitely should!

Cover of Vampires Never Get Old anthology

Vampires Never Get Old

I always love a good anthology, but this anthology in particular was one of my favorite books of 2020. Vampires Never Get Old, and vampires also never go out of style, but there’s no denying that for a while there they did fall somewhat out of favor. So I was super excited for Vampires Never Got Old, and the resurgence of my favorite undead. Authors with stories in the anthology include Samira Ahmed, Dhonielle Clayton, Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker, Tessa Gratton, Heidi Heilig, Julie Murphy, Mark Oshiro, Rebecca Roanhorse, Laura Ruby, Victoria “V. E.” Schwab, and Kayla Whaley, which is quite a line up! And one of the things that I love best about this collection is that it runs the gamut of vampire fiction, from the genuinely creepy to the romantic. But whether scary or dreamy, each of these stories pays homage to the vampire stories and myths we love so much.

New Cover of Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (September 7)

One month to go, people! One month and I will finally get to read Certain Dark Things, with it’s drop dead (ba dum tish) gorgeous new cover in its shiny new edition from Tor Night Fire. Of the vampire books on my to-read list, this one has been sitting right at the top for ages, and I’m so glad that it’s finally going to be back in print. In Mexico City, street kid Domingo is just trying to survive when he meets vampire-on-the-run Atl. Atl is the descendent of Aztec blood drinkers, on the run from a rival vampire clan. Their meeting happens by chance, but as time goes on the two find themselves working together to escape the dark streets with their lives (life and un-life?) intact.

Cover of The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl

The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl (September 14)

See, the joy/danger of writing these newsletters is all the new books I discovered that would have otherwise slipped under my radar! Which would have been terrible, considered that The Lost Girls is 100% everything I could possibly want in a book. Elton Irving is a serial vampire maker. He prays on teenage girls, promising them eternal love then abandoning them when the shine wears off his newest toy. Holly Liddell was one of Elton’s victims, turned in 1987 and now she’s stuck at sixteen forever, in a dead end job with no future and no end in sight. But things get interesting the night she meets Rose and Ida, two of Elton’s previous victims, who want her help to finally destroy him before he can harm another girl. Holly may be angry with Elton, but she’s not sure she’s angry enough to kill until she finds herself unexpectedly falling for Parker, Elton’s next victim.

Fresh from the Skeleton’s Mouth

Speaking of vampires, did you see Rin Chupeco’s recent announcement!?

Over at Book Riot we have some stellar Horror coverage going on, from bookish references in the Fear Street trilogy, to horror books that will have you definitely reconsidering your next camping trip.

And Gwendolyn Kiste is serving up some scary fairy tales for you on the Nightfire blog!

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening