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Tis the Spooky Season
Scary book recs for every kind of scare!
Before I dive into the meat (heh) of this week’s newsletter, I want to thank everyone who reached out and took advantage of my back-to-school special! I had a gratifying number of takers, and I hope to be able to run similar specials in the future. Now: on to the scares!
Horror is having a moment. For various reasons, I have never been much of a horror reader, but that has changed in recent years. Now, I love reading a book and settling in to a nice sense of dread. This week I’ve decided to do an October and autumnal roundup of books with different kinds and levels of spookiness in them, as the vibes dictate. To find them all in one place on my Bookshop.org page, click here. Got a favorite horror/scary novel? Share it in the comments!
There is literally nothing in this world I love more than a haunted house story. From the seminal Haunting of Hill House to House Of Leaves, a fictional house with malevolent intentions towards its occupants will always be *chef’s kiss* perfection for me. So if you’ve moved beyond Shirley Jackson and Mike Danielewski and want some evil real estate, look no further than:
The Last House on Needless Street and Mapping the Interior. Last House came out a couple of weeks ago from Nightfire, and is a delightfully creepy story about a family with secrets—both their own and the house’s. Mapping the Interior is an older title, but worth checking out, a work of Native American horror in which a teenaged boy begins seeing the ghost of his father—who died before they left the reservation—in the house he shares with his living family.
The only thing better than a house with an ulterior motive is a town with a secret, and the books in this section are great examples of some communities that have secrets that just can’t be escaped—even if they aren’t all truly evil. The first is a book by a former client, Walter Goodwater: The Liar of Red Valley. It follows Sadie, the daughter of the town’s Liar, as she searches for answers about her mother’s death and grapples with her neighbor’s secrets—secrets she is now in charge of helping them keep. It’s moody, atmospheric, suspenseful, and an absolutely terrific read. Ring Shout by P Djèlí Clark is for fans of Lovecraft Country or Get Out. In Ring Shout the real horrors are the ones society makes for itself and inflicts on the most vulnerable in the population. And Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings is something a little different: a haunted-town, haunted-family story set in Australia. You can’t go wrong with any of these!
This category might look entirely random - a YA with a romance with a bloody cannibalistic serial killer? - but it’s not random to say that the relationships between people make for the most frightening experiences of all. Starting at the fluffier end of the spectrum, Erin Sterling’s The Ex Hex is a supernatural romcom about a woman who, as a young witch, cast what she thought was a harmless curse on her ex that has devastating consequences when he comes back to their hometown as an adult. What’s scarier than the mistakes you make at sixteen coming back to haunt you when you’re 30? The next two, Cackle by Rachel Harrison and A Wicked Magic by Sasha Laurens, are about friendship - the ways it supports us, and the way it can go terribly wrong. A Wicked Magic is The Craft by way of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (full disclosure: I sold this book when I was an agent) and the toxic friendship at the book’s heart is every bit an obstacle for the characters to overcome as the book’s Big Bad. Cackle is about the ways that friendship can blind us to dark truths even as it gives us things we desperately need, and serves major Practical Magic vibes in the process.
A Certain Hunger is again, full disclosure, one of the books I sold as an agent. (Hey, I won’t apologize for how stacked my client list was!) It follows Dorothy, a food critic of a certain age who, after an Eat-Pray-Love style midlife crisis, begins killing and eating her former lovers. But in between her (really very few, and quite tasteful) murders, Dorothy tells us the story of her life in food and New York media, and by the end, you’ll lament the fact that she’s telling you this story from jail—and you’ll be ravenously, inappropriately hungry. (The jail thing is not a spoiler—it’s in the flap copy.)
I don’t normally read tie-in novels, but Alien: The Cold Forge is an exception to the rule. The Alien movies are some of my absolute all-time favorites, even the deranged one with Michael Fassbender, and Alex White’s foray into the Alien universe is suspenseful and surprising. Highly recommend! The Luminous Dead is in the vein of many of my favorite horror or disaster movies: industrial hubris meets extreme environmental peril. Gyre is traveling with false credentials, and when she takes a survey job that turns out to be more dangerous than expected, in an environment more sinister than she could have dreamed, the result is very The Descent meets Annihilation. Space: it’s your final frontier.
In this category, the monster is almost always man. Sometimes it’s “man,” sometimes it’s “one specific man,” sometimes it’s “The Man.” Regardless of where on the range it falls these books deal with people caught up in systems of power they can’t escape. In the deeply creepy The Monster of Elendhaven, one man will destroy the system he’s trapped in, and will kill anyone he has to in the process. Kerstin Hall’s brilliant Star Eater follows a woman enmeshed in an order of nuns and is determined to avoid forced pregnancy, at any cost. Giving the Devil His Due is a marvelous charity anthology of short stories, in which sixteen acclaimed SFF authors explore the various ways that abuse against women can poison lives, minds, and societies. And Flowers for the Sea is described as Rosemary’s Baby meets Octavia Butler: a different kind of pregnancy story, where one refugee on an ark fleeing a dead land must fight for survival against all kinds of threats.
The books in this category, while not strictly body horror, do involve characters dealing with their relationships to their own bodies, to varying levels of horror. Ren Warom’s Coil (I was her agent, full disclosure) follows a mortician in a city where body modification is the highest form of self-expression, to the point where your piercings can be used to ID your corpse. Only someone in the city is killing people and removing their modifications—and that killer may be part of the mortician’s past. Similarly, in The Body Scout, you can have the body you want—if you can pay for it. The Body Scout is a novel that is about genetic modification, murder, and baseball, with a race-against-time into an underworld where body and soul are all for sale. And Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Manhunt reimagines the gender-based apocalypses of Y: The Last Man and its ilk and tells the story of trans people in the apocalypse, fighting for their survival against radical TERFS and more. (This book comes out in February 2022, so preorder this one to make next spooky season extra spooky!)
That’s the list, folks! Again, you can find them all here on my Bookshop page. If you purchase from my Bookshop I get a small commission at no cost to you.
Do you have a question about writing, publishing, books? Is there something you want covered in this newsletter? Do you long for my thoughts on Barstool’s awful CEO’s attempt to buy three premier league hockey teams? Leave it in the comments or in a reply to the newsletter!
THIS WEEK IN HOCKEY
I was meant to go to my first in-person game in years on Monday to celebrate my birthday, but when it came right down to it, I didn’t go. I couldn’t quite bring myself to feel comfortable being in an arena. Who knows, maybe it would have been fine, but with so many people gambling and forgoing the vaccine it felt like a bad idea! In other news, Michal Kempny, the handsomest man on the Capitals, just wasn’t able to get back to his old self during the preseason and has been put on waivers with the hopes of sending him to the AHL. He’s coming off his third major injury to his left leg in three years. Ovi went down with an injury against Philly and will hopefully be fine, and in a move that surprised absolutely no one, was one of the first three players named to Russia’s Olympic team for 2022. Anyway. Here’s Biscuit in a basket:
So, You Want Gong Yoo to Slap You. Now What? by Amanda Rosenberg (Vulture)
And even though you know how humiliating it is to be attracted to a man, here you are, begging for a slap. That psychopath salesman is Gong Yoo, and baby, you’re sold. Right now you’re experiencing what’s known as a Gong Yoo awakening — furiously Googling photos, videos, anything you can get your grubby mitts on to satisfy this unbridled thirst. And I’m here to make it all … a lot worse. Before we start, I want to make one thing clear: This post is for people who are discovering Gong Yoo for the first time via Squid Game. I know Gong Yoo is a well-known Korean actor from Busan who rose to fame in the early 2000s. I know he’s already established himself as a brilliant performer and leading man. I know this because I am a tenured professor of Gong Yoo horniness and did my Ph.D. thesis on how he could absolutely ruin my life. But now is not the time to girlkeep bossgate Gong Yoo. Now is the time to welcome a new wave of wretched whorebags.
Marie Calloway Was Reviled By the Internet. Then She Disappeared. by Scaachi Koul (Buzzfeed)
Then in 2012 came the story that brought her both notoriety and ridicule; “Adrien Brody” was published online by Muumuu House, a small press founded by alt-lit writer Tao Lin in 2008. (The actor Adrien Brody has no apparent link to the piece.) In it, Calloway describes meeting a man online and sleeping with him. He’s significantly older than her, has more power in their dynamic, and has a girlfriend. “I know you said you don’t want me to say this,” “Brody” — a pseudonym seemingly selected because of the absurdity of naming him after someone so famous — tells her at the end of their encounter, “but you will connect with someone one day. It’s just not going to be me.” Amidst the female personal essay boom of the 2010s, the lengthy piece went viral.
This has been A Faster No, a dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond. You can support the newsletter here. If you purchase a book from any of the links to Bookshop.org I get a small commission at no cost to you. I am available for developmental editing and editorial assessment services via Reedsy.