ARC Review: Clowders by Vanessa Morgan

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Clowders

Author: Vanessa Morgan

Category: Adult Horror

Date: 1 March 2018

Edition: eARC



Clervaux, Luxembourg. This secluded, picturesque town in the middle of Europe is home to more cats than people. For years, tourists have flocked to this place – also known as “cat haven” – to meet the cats and buy cat-related souvenirs.

When Aidan, Jess and their five-year-old daughter, Eleonore, move from America to Clervaux, it seems as if they’ve arrived in paradise. It soon becomes clear, though, that the inhabitants’ adoration of their cats is unhealthy. According to a local legend, each time a cat dies, nine human lives are taken as a punishment. To tourists, these tales are supernatural folklore, created to frighten children on cold winter nights. But for the inhabitants of Clervaux, the danger is darkly, horrifyingly real.

Initially, Aidan and Jess regard this as local superstition, but when Jess runs over a cat after a night out in the town, people start dying, one by one, and each time it happens, a clowder of cats can be seen roaming the premises.

Are they falling victim to the collective paranoia infecting the entire town? Or is something horrible waiting for them? Something unspeakably evil.

Aidan and Jess’ move to Europe may just have been the worst decision they ever made.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for cat death, human death, gore, car accidents, physical violence, and toxic relationships.

This book was a mixed bag for me because while I thought the premise was fascinating and thought that the horror aspects of the book were really good and creepy, I felt frustrated with much of the rest of the book. To start with, I could not stand Aidan. After the move to Clervaux he almost immediately started cheating on Jess, whom he dragged to a different continent with him. (I also had a LOT of issues with the woman that Aidan was “seduced” by being a Latina-coded, stereotypical homewrecker. She was the only person in the book that was coded as a person of color, and that felt very icky to me because OF COURSE the cheating isn’t the white man’s fault…) His tone was also irritating and he was overall pretty boring. Jess was a little better, but not by much; it was clear that she cared about her child and her relationship, but her behaviors bothered me a lot and she was also difficult to read.

I also had issues with literally every other character in this book that was not either a child or a feline… Eleonore was fine and didn’t bother me because she acted like a small child could be expected to. Everybody else got on my nerves at all times. What frustrated me the most, I think, was how literally no one bothered to even try to explain to the newcomers (Aidan and Jess) why the town had rules against killing cats. This was written off as “too difficult to do” by one of the characters, but it just seemed silly because it’s written in the book description and telling someone a legend should not be that difficult. This really weird aversion to actually explaining what was going on to these characters was an okay mystery at first, but it got really tired really quickly and made the pacing feel very off.

I did enjoy the legend itself and the cats and the horror aspects of the book, but these didn’t really shine through because so much effort was put into masking these elements and making the book feel more like a mystery than a horror story. I think I would have liked this book a whole lot better if all humans were removed from the book and it was just the cats. With this town’s luck and history, it seems like this could be something that happens eventually anyway.

Final rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Dark Screams: Volume Ten edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Dark Screams: Volume Ten

Editors: Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Category: Adult Horror Short Story Anthology

Publisher/Date: Random House (Hydra)/13 March 2018

Edition: eARC



Simon Clark, Clive Barker, Heather Herrman, Wrath James White, Marc Rains, Lisa Tuttle, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch unleash the terrifying truths behind love, loyalty, and obsession in a sextet of twisted tales presented by preeminent horror editors Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for violence, war violence, death, child death, gun violence/shootings, and homomisia.

After really enjoying the ARC of Dark Screams: Volume Nine a while ago, I was really looking forward to this one. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as I’d enjoyed the previous volume in the series. I feel like this was largely because the first story of the anthology, “Bastion” by Simon Clark, took up a full 50% of the length of the entire anthology, and I didn’t care for it at all. It felt under-developed for its size, and I thought that a lot could be cut out of it without harming the story at all. If it really wanted to be something of a longer length, it could have gotten made into a novel with deeper character development and more worldbuilding. For its size, that story fell really flat with me — I couldn’t connect with any of the characters and there wasn’t enough explanation behind the war that was going on that these children were fighting for me to care. If a story is going to take up a full half of an anthology then it really needs to be something that shines, and this one didn’t do it for me.

I did enjoy several of the other stories; “The Woman in the Blue Dress” by Heather Herrman was a standout for me that was really creepy and connected with me really quickly. Likewise, “Seven Years” by Wrath James White was hard-hitting and powerful, and I really enjoyed it.

I didn’t run across any stories in this anthology that I truly disliked, but there were more stories that I felt ambivalent about than ones that I really enjoyed, and that was a bit disappointing. This anthology is a pretty quick read, and there are several stories that I would recommend. If you don’t like Simon Clark’s story, though, you might feel a bit disappointed with this one.

Final rating: 3 of 5 stars

State of the King Address: My Stephen King Reading Quest

Though I haven’t talked about it a ton, I am on a quest to read every Stephen King novel. While I’m not at all sure about how likely it is, I’d like to be able to finish this quest by the end of 2018. I’m a good chunk of the way through it already, which is good, but there are still a LOT more for me to read. Additionally, some King books are more dense for me than others (I swear it feels like it took me ages longer to get through Dreamcatcher than it did for me to get through Under the Dome…), so it’s hard to estimate how long one of these books will take me to read until I’ve actually started it.

Here are all of Stephen King’s published novels in alphabetical order (with The Dark Tower listed in chronological order) — the bolded titles are the ones I have read so far and the italicized titles are ones I still need to get to.

Salem’s Lot
Bag of Bones
Black House
The Colorado Kid
Cycle of the Werewolf
The Dark Half
The Gunslinger
The Drawing of the Three
The Wastelands
Wizard and Glass
The Wind Through the Keyhole
Wolves of the Calla
Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower
The Dead Zone
Doctor Sleep
Dolores Claiborne
Duma Key
End of Watch
The Eyes of the Dragon
Finders Keepers
From a Buick 8
Gerald’s Game
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
The Green Mile
Lisey’s Story
Mr. Mercedes
Needful Things
Pet Sematary
Rose Madder
The Shining
Sleeping Beauties
The Stand
The Talisman
The Tommyknockers
Under the Dome

According to this list, I have read 27 of King’s 49 novels, and I still have 22 left to read. This is a lot, but on the other hand at least I am more than halfway through the list. I am hoping to prioritize those 22 books in 2018 — I’d really like to get through the rest of these!

My partner is currently finishing up the Dark Tower series and wants me to start it too, so The Gunslinger is going to be one of my next few reads. I’m excited to start finishing up this quest I started so long ago!

Have you read all of King’s novels? Which ones are your favorites? Have you gone on your own quest to complete all of a different author’s works? Tell me about it in the comments!

ARC Review: Dark Screams: Volume Nine edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Dark Screams: Volume Nine

Editors: Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Category: Adult Horror Short Story Anthology

Publisher/Date: Random House (Hydra)/9 January 2018

Edition: eARC



Kelley Armstrong, Stewart O’Nan, Taylor Grant, Jonathan Moore, Peter Straub, and Lee Thomas weave six hair-raising yarns proving that appearances can be deceiving—and deadly—in this horror anthology assembled by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Overall, this was a great anthology! I love a good horror short story, and there were a bunch of them here. My three favorites:

  • “Invitation to the Game” by Kelley Armstrong was a VERY strong start to this anthology. The pacing was perfect, and the use of power imbalances was extremely powerful. I am so glad they put her story first in this collection.
  • “The Dead Years” by Taylor Grant was just creepy. It’s a story of lost love and doppelgängers that ends up being somewhat sweet with a huge dose of terrifying.
  • “Torn” by Lee Thomas tells the story of the aftermath of a young girl’s disappearance. This story was a bit longer and more of a slow burn, and it’s engaging through every page. (This story debatably has a “punishment for being gay” aspect to it; I don’t believe any homomisia was intended, and I still haven’t quite decided how I feel about this particular part of the story, but it could potentially be off-putting for other queer readers. There were also a couple of racial microaggressions; they didn’t feel that big to me while I was reading, but because I’m white I am not in a position to make that call.)

Overall, this was a solid anthology with some great stories that are worth reading.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars.

ARC Review: Reading Stephen King edited by Brian James Freeman

Image of book cover from GoodReads
Image of book cover from GoodReads

Title: Reading Stephen King

Editor: Brian James Freeman

Category: Nonfiction Essay Collection

Publisher/Date: Cemetery Dance/November 2017

Edition: ARC


Cemetery Dance:

Stephen King has inspired millions of readers with his writing for more than four decades , and this special volume of essays gathers together some of his high-profile fans to discuss why they love reading the works of Stephen King.

Many of these fans are acclaimed authors of fiction in their own right. Some of them have written insightful books about Stephen King’s work, exploring how King’s natural storytelling gift has allowed him to create stories that reach people in every language around the world. A few of them have even written, produced, and directed movie adaptations of King’s most acclaimed works.

In this book you will join Clive Barker, Stewart O’Nan, Richard Chizmar, Frank Darabont, Stephen Spignesi, Justin Brooks, Tony Magistrale, Michael R. Collings, Rocky Wood, Robin Furth, Kevin Quigley, Hans-Ake Lilja, Billy Chizmar, Jack Ketchum, Bev Vincent, Mick Garris, and Jay Franco as they discuss their love of reading Stephen King…

I read an ARC of this book before it released, but I also pre-ordered a copy before I knew I was getting an ARC, and then I ended up with another copy from a grab bag box. So now I have an ARC, a signed hardcover, and a regular hardcover. Oops.

How has Stephen King affected your life? For me, he first dropped into it when my partner sent me this photo back in high school:

A pile of approximately 45 various Stephen King books.

I distinctly remembered replying to that text with “0.o That’s a lot of Stephen King books…” He had ended up with his mother’s collection, and by doing so he brought King into both of our lives. We went from that one pile to almost two full sets of King’s novels (my collection is a bit bigger, but we’re more than happy to share with each other so we can buddy read the ones we both have or pass back and forth the ones we don’t). We’re still working our way through them; he’s going through The Dark Tower series, and I’m going to be reading Under the Dome next. These books, both the ones we like and the ones we don’t, have led to some of our stranger conversations, and we’ve bonded over them.

Questions like this one are the kinds of questions that the essays in Reading Stephen King were based on. Each essay tells the story of a writer’s own interactions with King and his work, and I loved reading all of them. A few highlights:

  • “Sometimes You Go Back” by Stewart O’Nan opens the collection by bringing in the feeling of nostalgia from a person’s first King books, and as someone who clearly relates to this I felt like this was an excellent way to open up the book.
  • “Disappearing Down That Rabbit Hole” by Justin Brooks starts with the line “Let’s get it all out there in the open: collectors are a weird bunch.” After reading this essay, I’m more than a little inclined to agree. This is a look into the world of collecting King’s work from a variety of perspectives; with all of the smaller pieces and lost work that’s out there in the world, it’s not as easy as you might think at first. My eyes kept getting wider and wider as I read this, and after I finished this essay I had to stare off into space a bit to digest all of the complexities involved.
  • “Reading the Lost Works of Stephen King” by Rocky Wood discusses a bit more narrowly that notion of reading all of King’s work by focusing on a few certain pieces that are unavailable to the general public and yet not entirely unattainable. Another excellent look at reading deeper into King’s work.
  • “Being a Non-US Stephen King Fan” by Hans-Áke Lilja was probably my favorite essay in the whole collection because while many other essays focused on work that wasn’t generally readable by people, this essay focused on just how hard it can be to get ahold of books when you’re not in the country the author lives in or you can’t read in English, and it involves a lot of waiting. This is something that gets forgotten far too often, and reading Lilja’s perspective was something I greatly appreciated.

I loved this essay collection overall, and I think it’s a wonderful treat for any King fan.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

#ReadersCrossing “Set in the Wilderness” Read: The Wilderness Within by John Claude Smith

Image of book cover from GoodReads
Image of book cover from GoodReads

Title: The Wilderness Within

Author: John Claude Smith

Category: Adult Psychological Horror

Publisher/Date: Trepidatio Publishing/6 October 2017

Edition: Paperback


The forest is alive. 

While visiting fellow writer, Frank Harlan Marshall, Derek Gray senses a palpable dread within Frank’s house and the forest that surrounds it; a subtle, malignant sentience. What should be a joyous event, as they await the surprise arrival of a long-lost friend, comedian “Dizzy Izzy” Haberstein, is fraught with unease Derek does not understand. 

Derek’s confusion is upended by the chance meeting with musician Alethea, formerly of Dark Angel Asylum, a band that dropped out of sight once the leader, Aleister Blut, ended up in an insane asylum. As their relationship blossoms, Derek’s disorientation at the hands of the forest manifests as his world turns sideways…and one of Frank’s fictional creations—a murderous monster named Average Joe—gains foothold in the surreal, psychological terrain. 

As the worlds of reality and fantasy meld, what transpires bounds from deeply profound to pure madness. 

As much as I love horror, I tend to be skeptical of a lot of psychological horror stories because it’s all too easy to make them veer into ableist territory — there are SO many stories out there that rely on a character being “cr*zy” or “m*d” or “ins*ne” in order for there to be any story in the first place, and this book was no exception to that. In fact, this book plays into that ableist trope on multiple occasions, and it’s tiring. The characters were rather flat and had little substance, and I just didn’t care.

In addition to the ableism, there were multiple racist comments, sexist comments, homomisic jokes that the main character actually took the time to explain to the reader why he laughed at, and fatmisic comments, and the further I read the more angry I got. None of these things were central to the book at all — they were just the personalities of these characters. They weren’t in-your-face lines, but they certainly bothered me while I was reading. I felt myself distancing myself from the narrator and not really caring what happened to him because I didn’t like him as a person.

***If you don’t want to read spoilers or anything weird about penises, skip here!***

The climax of the novel was just disgusting, and it was literally a climax. The narrator starts turning into a tree while he is having sex, and his erect penis is literally what’s keeping him rooted into the ground. Are you kidding me? Honestly, if I’d have known that this graphic sex scene was what was going to end up being the high point of the novel, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered reading. The last thing I need is a sexist pig making this much of a big deal out of his erection. No, thanks.

***End spoilers and penises***

While I was reading this book, it felt most of the time like there was just nothing happening. Coupling that with my apathy for the characters, I ended up really bored by this book. It wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but I didn’t care for it at all and I can’t say I’d recommend it.

Final rating: 2 of 5 stars

So, clearly my first book for #ReadersCrossing was a flop. It happens. This was the book I was most worried about not liking, so now that I’ve gotten it out of the way I can read the books that I think I might like a bit more!

How is #ReadersCrossing going for you? Have you read any good books for it yet?