Book Review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Abby has been friends with Gretchen since they were ten years old. Now high school students, they have traded in their ET posters and roller skates for the mall and parties in the woods. After one such escapade, however, Gretchen begins to act strangely. Very, very strangely. With the peculiarities mounting and the weirdness surrounding Gretchen becoming more and more disturbing, Abby must face the truth: Her friend is possessed, and Abby is the only one who can help her.

Grady Hendrix is certainly one of the bright lights (if that phrase is appropriate) in modern horror fiction. His previous book, Horrorstör, was an intelligent, hilarious, and creepy haunted house tale. In My Best Friend’s Exorcism, we find out what would happen if The Heathers also featured demonic possession. Here, Hendrix has again left his unique imprint on the genre, taking us into a friendship sundered by satan and adolescence, which really are much the same thing.

If you’re a horror genre fan, but have been looking for something a bit off the beaten path, something campy and fun while still maintaining creep factor, Grady Hendrix should definitely top your TBR.

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Book Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne


A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

The Six Kingdoms have existed in tentative harmony for generations, each country kept safe by a “kenning” or magical ability, each one specific to a certain kingdom. The peace is shattered when an invading fleet of pale, nine foot tall warriors, called Bone Giants, run rampant over the coastal cities, slaughtering everyone they come across. The kingdoms, reeling from the attack, must race against time to ensure their survival. But surely the world will never be the same again.

I really enjoyed his book, but I have to say that it probably would have been a dud if written by a different author. This book is, in essence, a 600 page flashback. A novel-length world building tome. Yet it works. It’s crazy, but it works.

When the story opens, the invasion is months in the past. The book follows Dervan, a scholar set the task of writing down the tale of Fintan, a bard. It is the bard’s duty to tell the story of the invasion and the subsequent retaliation by the Six Kingdoms. Every night, Fintan stands on the wall of the refugee city and tells another part of the tale. His bardic gifts let us hear the story from devious politicians, poor hunters, forest dwellers, scholars, and soldiers. Intermixed in all this are the gifted, the lucky (cursed?) few able to control one of the kennings.

The book is huge, the story is epic in scope, and the world beautiful and terrible in all its detail. Hearne has created something incredibly ambitious, and he does it well. As I said, the format of telling the story in a series of flashbacks is odd, and it took me a bit to get into it, but I was hooked soon enough (though I have to say I do hope we get some more direct action in the next book). The plot would tend towards Game of Thrones-level darkness at times if it weren’t for Hearne’s sardonic sense of humor shining through. The brief moments of levity are enough to offset the horror of invasion, betrayal, and mass slaughter.

Any one looking for a new epic fantasy series to dive into (I’m looking to you, Game of Thrones folks!) should invest some time into this book. Fans of Hearne’s Iron Druid series will also likely enjoy this book, though it is certainly a different creature from that fantastic urban fantasy series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Quackery by Lydia King

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Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia King

In Quackery, Lydia King provides a hilarious look at some of the most outrageous medical practices throughout history. Teething baby? Mercury cream will calm them right down. Want a pill you can take and still hand down to your kids? Try antimony tablets! IPA too bland for your tastes? Strychnine will provide the bitter buzz you crave! From cocaine tooth drops to lobotomies to irradiated water to tobacco smoke enemas, this book covers an amazing amount of snake oil, some touted by the medical minds of their day and some not.

The book is incredibly entertaining and liberally sprinkled with photos and drawings (some truly nightmare inspiring). This is one of those science books you can read and not even realize how much information you’re learning. Want to find out which cutting edge medical treatment contributed to the deaths of Byron, Mozart, and George Washington? Which animal’s testicles you should wear around your neck to prevent pregnancy? Or why corn flakes are part of an anti-masturbation diet? Look no further!

Any one who likes a good dose of humor with their nonfiction will enjoy this book. If you like Mary Roach‘s writing, Unmentionable by Therese Oneill, or any other books in that vein, this book was meant for you.

An advanced copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

“Heroic medicine” is well named. Prior to the advent of anesthetics, patients were awake and aware for surgical procedures. The pain and horror of feeling a surgeon cutting into your body is something we now associate with a nightmare. Going through asurgery was nearly as likely to kill you as not receiving treatment at all. With the discovery of ether, surgeons no longer had to restrict their operations to procedures which could be completed in minutes. With the field of surgery becoming ever more ambitious, post-surgical infections became the chief danger to patients. In a time before germ theory was accepted, opinions and practices used to treat or prevent infections (laudable pus, anyone?) varied widely, and with little success. In the 1860s, Quaker surgeon Joseph Lister set about trying to determine scientifically the causes of post-surgical infections, and how to best prevent these deadly conditions.

Lindsey Fitzharris gives us a great view of Victorian medical practice, and of the scientific and medical theories and traditions that made the prevention of nosocomial (hospital-induced) infections so difficult. The Butchering Art is both a history and a biography. The book earns a place next to The Knife Man by Wendy Moore (about contemporaneous surgeon John Hunter) and The Ghost Map by Stephen Johnson (about Dr. John Snow, who helped trace a cholera outbreak in London to a single water pump).

Any history buff interested in the history of medicine will enjoy this book. More casual readers will likely also find this book to be entertaining and accessible. Beware though, Fitzharris provides several very accurate and vivid descriptions of Victorian-era surgeries, so the book is decidedly not for the faint of heart.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Box Review and Unboxing: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box – October

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the one year anniversary for The Nocturnal Reader’s Box! This is also their first month without a theme and I’ve been waiting on tenterhooks to see what’s going to be included! Also, look at that box! It’s huge, it’s enormous, it’s . . . really, really big! This month’s box is definitely bigger than in past months, and it’s chock-full of goodies for wicked boys and girls!

First and foremost is always the books, so without further ado . . .

Three books in this box! First up is The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories Volume Two, a collection of short scary stories (which genre I’m really beginning to appreciate). From the Goodreads description:

Valancourt Books has earned a reputation as one of the foremost publishers of lost and rediscovered classics, reissuing more than 400 unjustly neglected works from the late 18th century all the way to the early 21st. In this second volume of rare horror stories, the editors of Valancourt Books have selected fourteen tales – all by Valancourt authors – for this new collection spanning two centuries of horror. This volume features a previously unpublished ghost story by Nevil Shute, a brand-new tale by award-winning author Stephen Gregory, and twelve other tales that have never or seldom been reprinted. 

In this volume, you will encounter tales of ghosts, haunted houses, witchcraft, possession, demonic pacts, and ancient, nameless horrors. Stories of the weird and macabre, of a man tormented by an age-old evil, a corpse returned from the dead, a brutal killer with a shocking secret, a contraption with the power to trap its victims eternally inside a nightmare. With stories ranging from frightening to horrific to weird to darkly humorous, by a lineup of authors that includes both masters of horror fiction and award-winning literary greats, this is a horror anthology like no other. 

Features stories by: Mary Elizabeth Braddon • John Buchan • R. Chetwynd-Hayes • Isabel Colegate • Basil Copper • Thomas De Quincey • Stephen Gregory • Michael McDowell • John Metcalfe • Beverley Nichols • Nevil Shute • Bernard Taylor • Russell Thorndike • Robert Westall

Next up is Valancourt’s reprint of Michael McDowell’s Cold Moon Over Babylon. I’ve just started getting into McDowell’s writing (thanks to Paperbacks From Hell by Grady Hendrix) and I couldn’t be more thrilled to find one of his books in this box! From the Goodreads description:

Terror grows in Babylon, a typical sleepy Southern town with its throbbing sun and fog-shrouded swamps.

Margaret Larkin has been robbed of her innocence — and her life. Her killer is rich and powerful, beyond the grasp of earthly law.
Now, in the murky depths of the local river, a shifting, almost human shape slowly takes form. Night after night it will pursue the murderer. It will watch him from the trees. And in the chill waters of the river, it will claim him in the ultimate embrace.

The cold moon rises, the awful squishing sounds begin…

And finally, What the Hell did I Just Read by David Wong, the third book in his John Dies at the End series. My copy was signed  (YAY!). From the Goodreads description:

NYT bestselling author Wong takes readers to a whole new level with his latest dark comic sci-fi thriller, set in the world of John Dies at the End and This Book is Full of Spiders

John Dies at the End’s “smart take on fear manages to tap into readers’ existential dread on one page, then have them laughing the next” (Publishers Weekly) and This Book is Full of Spiders was “unlike any other book of the genre” (Washington Post). Now, Wong is back with the third installment of this black-humored thriller series.

Dave, John and Amy recount what seems like a fairly straightforward tale of a shape-shifting creature from another dimension that is stealing children and brainwashing their parents, but it eventually becomes clear that someone is lying, and that someone is the narrators. 

The novel you’re reading is a cover-up, and the “true” story reveals itself in the cracks of their hilariously convoluted, and sometimes contradictory, narrative. 

Equal parts terrifying and darkly comedic in his writing, David Wong “will be remembered as one of today’s great satirists” (Nerdist).

Now that I own all three, I feel a binge read coming on.

As always, the extra goodies in the box were utterly fantastic!

Also included were an I [heart] Horror bookmark, a Nocturnal Readers sticker, an Edgar Allan Poe pin, and a patch with everyone’s favorite creepy ghost girl from Ringu 

There was a lovely bit of artwork (now on my wall)

A candle in “Carnival Calliope” scent (raspberry, sugar, and vanilla) inspired by Something Wicked This Way Comes

An Ibis and Jacquel’s Funeral Parlor pint glass from American Gods

And a tote bag for The Long Walk (there was the option for a tee-shirt but I went with the tote).

In all, it’s quite a fantastic haul, and the things they’ve been teasing for November sound just as wonderful. I’d say that their first month without a theme did not disappoint! 

If you haven’t already, go to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box website, and see if you can reserve a slot for the next box!

Book Review: Gwendy’s Button Box by Richard Chizmar and Stephen King


Gwendy’s Button Box by Richard Chizmar and Stephen King 

Welcome back to Castle Rock, Maine, home to numerous Stephen King stories. Clearly nothing bad is going to happen here. Gwendy is twelve when she meets the man in the little black hat. A slightly pudgy girl, Gwendy is determined to slim down before school starts up in the fall. The Man in the little black hat seems to know all about her, and he offers her guardianship of a strange little box with multicolored buttons. The Man explains that the box controlls everything. And while it will give her what she needs, it can also take things away.

This is a perfect little book, only 175 pages, but Chizmar squeezes a hell of a lot of stuff into this book. We see Gwendy grow up, and the relationship between her and the mysterious box grows and changes with her. The box is almost like a character in and of itself, a constant, lurking presence suffusing the entire story with a subtle menace. Gwendy herself is a fully realised character, complex and sympathetic.

I know most people either love or hate short stories and novellas, but if Gwendy’s Button Box is an indication of what the genre can do, then bring ’em on! 

Book Review: Waiting for the Punch by Marc Maron


Waiting for the Punch: Words to Live by from the WTF Podcast by Marc Maron

Marc Maron started the WTF Podcast 8 years ago, interviewing celebrities in his garage. The former stand up comedian went from the brink of failure to producing a wildly popular show. Maron has hosted people like Robin Williams, Norm McDonald, President Obama, Dan Harmon, Louis CK, Al Gore, and more. His laid-back, informal method of “interviewing” his guests has led to his being able to have something more akin to a conversation, rather than a pat question and answer session. This style has allowed his guests (and Maron himself) to open up and approach topics honestly. Sometimes painfully so.

Waiting for the Punch is a compilation of excerpts from various interviews, broken up by chapter into subjects such as success, failure, addiction, relationships, sexuality, and more. The folks featured in the book run the gamut from comedians to politicians, drag queens to musicians. While some of the excerpts are laugh-out-loud funny, many are truly moving, as the guests talk about trauma or troubles from their past.

In the end, the book has something for everyone. I especially love the way so many guests seem willing to talk openly about struggling with addiction, mental illness, or childhood trauma. The excerpts from Robin Williams always struck an especially poignant note with me. If you’re looking for a comedic-leaning book about dealing with life, this is a great, inspiring read.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson


Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson

This is the seventh book in the Josephine Tey mystery series. There’s probably going to be spoilers in this review for the previous books in the series.

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Detective Archie Penrose is called to the scene of a most unusual murder. A man has been found buried alive in a crypt in Hampstead Heath. The look of terror and the ravaged fingers of the dead man speak to hours, if not days, of torment trying to escape the crypt. Tracing a clue about the murder to Cambridge, where writer and friend Josephine Tey has recently taken up residence, Penrose finds the local constabulary overwhelmed trying to stop a series of increasingly violent rapes in the small town. When a second body is discovered, Penrose realizes that he is dealing with an incredibly intelligent, and unspeakably ruthless murderer, and his list of victims is only going to grow.

I have not read the previous books in the series, but fortunately, for the most part the book is able to stand on its own merits. There were a few instances where I felt like a reference was passing me by, or that I had missed some subtle reference, but all in all the back story is well explained without becoming laborious.

This is an interesting (and frankly creepy) mystery. The gothic elements of the main murder series, and the more visceral horror of the serial rapist combine to make the town of Cambridge feel distinctly unsettling. Upson deftly keeps the suspense high with atmospheric writing. Her portrayal of a idyllic small town in the grip of an unknown monster is well done.

The literary aspects of the mystery were especially intriguing. I had never read anything by M.R. James, but after his inclusion in the plot, I found myself a collection of his ghost stories and am looking forward to reading them now that autumn is at hand.

Fans of period mysteries (and, I’m presuming, fans of the series thus far) will find a lot to like in this book. I was surprised that a book in a series featuring a female protagonist is told mostly from the male detective’s point of view, I’m not sure if this is a departure from the regular tone of the series or not. Either way, Upson is able to craft a compelling mystery, one that will keep the reader on his or her toes.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The House at Bishopsgate by Katie Hickman

The House at Bishopsgate by Katie Hickman

This is the third book in The Aviary Gate series, so there’s going to be spoilers in here for the first two books in the series.

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Merchant Paul Pindar and his wife, Celia (recently rescued from slavery in a Turkish harem) are moving back to England from Aleppo. Thrust suddenly into English high society (foaming at the mouth due to rumors of Celia’s past and a huge fortune in gemstones owned by Paul), Celia finds old traumas and anxieties reemerging, and finds herself relying on the widowed Lady Frances Sydenham to help her manage the household and reintegrate into society. As the woman becomes more and more indispensable to the household, her power over both Celia and Paul grows. What game is she playing, and what are her plans for the household and its inhabitants?

I was unaware when I started this book that there were others in the series, and let me tell you now, this is not a book you can really read on it’s own merits. There is a lot of backstory here, and as you read further and further you become aware that you have missed out on more and more.

Hickman does a great job with period detail, working in the tiny things that make a scene complete. Her descriptions of 17th century Aleppo and England, and the people who inhabit them, are well crafted and historically accurate. The story builds off of several threads, which weave together into a slow burning suspense.

So, if you’ve read the previous two books and enjoyed them, then The House at Bishopsgate is for you. If you’ve not yet started the series, then you should really go back and start from the beginning on order to get the full experience of this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald


Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Ryhalt Galharrow is just trying to get by. In ages past, the Deep Kings — immortal, evil, god-like beings — marched on the land, wreaking devastation wherever they went. Then, a group of powerful wizards called The Nameless blasted the world apart and created the Misery, a twisted wasteland of renegade magic and grotesque monsters, but their actions kept the Deep Kings at bay. Now, Galharrow makes his money as a mercenary for hire tracking and killing minions of the Deep Kings. Unfortunately, Galharrow has also pledged his sword to Crowfoot, one of the Nameless. When Crowfoot delivers an urgent order to save a mysterious noblewoman, Galharrow is plunged into a far-ranging conspiracy whose roots threaten to destroy civilization itself.

This is the first book in a series by debut author Ed McDonald, and it is something to behold. McDonald tosses the reader right into the Misery on page one, and keeps up a relentless pace throughout the book. Unlike quite a few “first in series,” Blackwing has avoided the awkward “getting to know you” phase that breaks up the flow of so many books. We learn about our hero and our setting in bits and pieces; enough to make sense of the plot, but little enough to leave us wanting more. The tone of the book combines the best elements of dark fantasy, steampunk, post-apocalyptic brutality, and 1930s detective noir.

McDonald has created an interesting and flawed hero in Ryhalt Galharrow, and provides enough secondary characters to allow the series to mature and expand with future books. Likewise, the setting seems like something out of a Robert E. Howard story, all dark recesses and horrifying sorcery. McDonald does a fantastic job of building this world up without sacrificing the pace of the plot, no mean feat. In fact, the only thing I have to complain about in this book is that any romance-related dialogue is awkward. I mean, Attack of Clones, George Lucas awkward. Fortunately, there’s not too much of this, so it doesn’t really impact the quality of the story.

In all, fans of darker fantasy will probably love this book. Fans of Lovecraftian stories, or the Conan and Solomon Kane stories by Howard should also check out this series. If Blackwing is the author’s debut work, then I can’t wait to read the next in the series!

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.