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Well folks, it’s July: we’re now halfway through this year. These past few days I’ve been reminiscing through some old travel photos (peep my old friends from the Sedlec Ossuary above). Since traveling is a bit out of the question right now – at least for us living here in the United States – I decided reading is the second closest thing to it. I now present you with a list of summer recommendations to read the hot days away. These ten books are just a few of my scary favorites.

The Between by Tananarive Due

“Hilton was seven when his grandmother died, and it was a bad time. But it was worse when she died again.”The Between pg. 1

If you’re not reading Tananarive Due, you need to get on it. The Between is her debut novel, and an astounding one at that. She has been and continues to be a pivotal voice in horror, using it to scrutinize and condemn racism and oppression that often dwell in the genre. In the Between, we follow Hilton, a thirty year old man haunted by death, nightmares and unnatural realities. When his wife, Dede, receives racist threatening letters from a man she once prosecuted, Hilton makes it his mission to find the man terrorizing his family. But what if the truth is not even from this world?

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

There is a lot of South American horror we need to keep our eyes on, and Things We Lost in the Fire is one of them. Translated in English by Megan McDowell, Mariana Enriquez takes us to Argentina with eerie stories of black magic, ghosts, history, violence and political deceit. This short story collection, infused with different aspects of horror from cosmic and gory to gothic and psychological, is a force to be reckoned with.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

The Farm is dystopian thriller about race, families and capitalistic control. The story takes place in a fictional facility called Golden Oaks, aka “the Farm,” where women live as surrogates for wealthy clients. Once the women enter the facility, they belong to the Farm and all their autonomy is gone. The novel follows four women in the facility, and Ramos details their experiences in suspenseful and jarring prose.

Poso Wells by Gabriela Alemán

This is a fast-paced feminist eco-thriller. Women in Poso Wells continue to disappear. But the political leaders of the settlement couldn’t care less; their only concern is the upcoming election. When the leading presidential candidate and his posse are electrocuted, dark mysteries and secrets unveil an even more horrifying reality. Translated from Spanish to English in 2018, this book uses elements of horror, sci-fi and humor to tell a tale just as relevant now as it was when Alemán wrote it in 2007.

Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s edited by Kier-La Janisse and Paul Corupe

The Satanic Panic, one of the world’s many moral panics, was a tumultuous time that impacted much of the English speaking world. While parents feared D&D and heavy metal, lies and misinformation ruined the lives of countless people, including young adults (e.g. the West Memphis Three) and teachers. Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s is a collection of visual and written accounts from various people who experienced this unforgettable era. Photographs and essays of horror movies, Christian comics, board games and religion are just the cusp of this extensive anthology.

Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sara Takeda

Monstress is a beautifully illustrated steam punk horror-fantasy comic series. There are currently five volumes, but here’s a simplified plot: Set in 1900’s Asia, Maika struggles with the trauma of war while fighting to control her psychic link to a powerful monster. The story is filled with an array of magical creatures, demons, humanoid wolves and talking cats with big personalties. There is so much to love about this dark and inventive comic. I couldn’t put it down.

Preacher (Complete Collection) by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

The entire Preacher series is difficult to describe in only one paragraph, so I’m going to do it in two. In short, the story is about preacher Jesse Custer, Tulip O’Hare and Irish vampire Cassidy, all on a mission to literally find God and ask him, “Hey God! What’s the big idea? Why’d you dip out when a demon and angel procreated a creature named Genesis? The world is kind of a crapshoot right now, man. Thanks for nothing, you piece of shit.” (Okay not verbatim but you get the idea.) But that’s only the big, vague picture. Preacher is encapsulated with fantastical story arcs and virtually everything you could ever want in a comic book series: sibling cannibals, Arseface, serial killers, political Vatican cults, Jesus on a bicycle.

Now, how you feel about religion may impact how you feel about Preacher. From a religious perspective, the best way to describe the series would be “blasphemous.” If you’re like me, blasphemy might be one of the reasons you love it (where are all my lapsed Catholics at?). Preacher is by no means a perfect comic – at least by my standards – as there are some themes and moments that are… problematic. But then there are many times where the series was well ahead of its time, sometimes even a little progressive given that it was published from 1995 to 2000. But my most favorite part of all is the art. Even when the dialogue goes a bit on an endless tangent, Dillon’s illustrations always make up for it. They are detailed, colorful, exciting and wonderfully disgusting. Preacher is just so damn fun to read, and reread, and rereread… I recommend you join the fun.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Get in Trouble is another fantastical short story collection by Kelly Link. In this collection, she creates magnificent worlds filled with ghost boyfriends, demon lovers, pocket universes and microchipped teenagers. While every story is a standout, my favorite is “I Can See Right Through You,” a story filled with Ouija boards, movie stars and murder. Exhilarating and spooky, Get in Trouble is unforgettable.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Machado shows just how incredible of a writer she is in her 2017 debut. Her Body and Other Parties is the winner of both the Shirley Jackson Award and National Book Award. The collection consists of eight stories, each encapsulating elements of body horror, magical realism, apocalypses and science fiction. In haunting prose, Machado illuminates the outlandish, yet very authentic, realities that strike women’s lives and their bodies.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Shining Girls is the story of a time traveling serial killer named Harper Curtis. When Curtis finds a House in 1930’s Chicago, he travels through centuries to destroy the lives of shining girls. With limitless ability to escape the scenes of his crimes, he’s never been caught. But when one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, escapes, it’s now Harper’s turn to fear for his life.

Beukes has a knack for writing serial killers. Shining Girls is a genre bending exploration of fantastic histories and a condemnation of violence against women.

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Happy reading!

What are you reading this summer?

Tell us in the comments, we want to know! And while you’re at it, make sure to check out more of what we’re reading here at Haunted MTL.

*Cover photo and final photo taken by CourtCourt, May 2019.

*Book photos screenshot from Goodreads

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CourtCourt is a writer, horror enthusiast, and may or may not be your favorite human-eating houseplant.

Book Reviews

A Misfortune of Lake Monsters: a Book Review

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As summer approaches, there’s nothing quite like reading a book with warm campy vibes. It’s especially true if you’re lying on a sunny beach. Nicole M Wolverton’s A Misfortune of Lake Monsters matches that picture perfectly. It’s described as a creature feature with a Stranger Things-esque friend group.

Although set in modern times, I found the story felt like something out of the 80s (in a good way). Character dynamics reminded me of The Goonies and IT while the narrative combined just the right amount of adventure, romance, and horror to bring out nostalgia and comfort at the same time. Anyway, let’s dive (hehe) in! 

Plot

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Lemon Ziegler has one aspiration in life – to become a vet. Unfortunately, that would involve leaving her hometown, which is a problem as she is obligated to continue the family business. While such a situation is not out of the ordinary, the business itself definitely is. Lemon must impersonate Old Lucy, the town monster (a nice homage to the Loch Ness myth). 

The decades-old legend about this creature swimming around in the lake is keeping tourism in the town alive. Because of this, poor Lemon has no other choice but to follow in her family’s footsteps. She keeps this secret from everyone, including her best friends, Derrin and Troy. The latter is harbouring feelings for Lemon that are stronger than friendship. As he is a teenage boy though, he is too afraid to make a move (much to Darrin’s enjoyment). 

Things take an unexpected turn when a real monster shows up, hungry for blood. As one could guess in these kinds of stories, no one believes Lemon at first. This only allows the creature to claim more victims (and yes, I feel the saddest about the poor dog). Once the adults finally decide to do something, it alerts the FBI, which makes the situation more difficult for our gang. Unsurprisingly, they are the only ones who can stop the monster from wreaking move havoc.

In the midst of the riveting adventure, we also see Lemon go through a character arc. She stands up to her grandfather, allowing him to see her as an adult for the first time ever. There’s also the blossoming of her and Troy’s romance. The pair awkwardly navigate the transition from friendship to romance in an adorable way. At its heart though, this novel is about family, blood or otherwise, and how strong connections can sometimes be the only way to save your life. After all, who could defeat a multidimensional monster by themselves?

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Overall thoughts

I had a blast with A Misfortune of Lake Monsters as it combined all the components of making an effective adventure story with enough heart to make you care about what happened to the characters. They are sympathetic yet entertaining and their relationships feel organic down to the dialogue that, while a tad cheesy, is oozing with charisma.

The reasons I am giving it four stars are more individualistic. I tend to go for a darker type of thriller/horror and this story, although not short of gore, ultimately steers in a more heartwarming direction. It’s something I anticipated knowing the age range and found fitting with what the narrative was going for.

I also would have liked a slightly different as I feel the story entered more of a sci-fi subgenre in the last third. While that’s fine overall, it is not my first choice of horror. Considering these things are more down to my personal preferences as a reader, I would absolutely recommend this book. I’m excited to see what the authors does next!

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Monastery Series 8: a Book Review

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Dear readers, the time has come for some answers. At least, that’s what the teaser for the new installment of Monastery says. As usual, it delivers what it promised and more as we untangle the past and its connection to the present. Without any further ado, let’s talk about it, shall we? 

Plot

We start the episode with a blast from the past. Cassandra and Celeste (Nicole’s aunt and Arthur’s lover for those with short-term memory) are in the hospital because of Celeste’s pregnancy complications. Cassandra promises her former best friend that she will ruin her all the while we find out Francis’s real parentage. The picture is finally starting to come together. 

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As we are back in the present day, our group is more scattered than ever. Thomas is his father Walt’s prisoner while David is still running around looking for Rocky. Fred on the other hand is just looking for any place to crash, homelessness and all. Our dethroned beauty queen Nicole is hiding away from everything – including her shame. Last but not least, little Henry is spending his time taking care of Nana Beth. Guessing that is his redemption for trashing all the evidence of Albert’s murder gathered so far. Although frustrating, his actions are understandable – the poor kid is traumatized and just wants some peace. 

George Turner’s murder is still an active investigation. It is obvious that this cover-up wasn’t nearly as successful as Albert’s. I sure as hell hope that Francis gets his comeuppance sooner rather than later. Not particularly because Turner didn’t deserve it but so the rest of the characters would be safe from him. Although as I’ve said before, his clear descent into sociopathic tendencies is kind of fascinating to watch. 

We also get an interesting development in what so far has been a tiny background detail, which is the Monastery Werewolf. As the creature comes to visit Rocky, we find out our resident star dog considers it family. Not going to lie, it took me a few reads to understand what this means. Now I’m getting all sorts of ideas as to how the supernatural ties into the rest of the story. 

Speaking of the supernatural, it is none other than Madame Witch who frees Thomas from his captivity. Well, her contribution is indirect as she sends his best friend Alfie to help instead. Although I’d say currently the two should set their dynamic status to ‘it’s complicated’. As soon as he’s free, Thomas is immediately back in his detective mode. For arguably the first time he gets some real answers as we find out the whole backstory of Albert/Celeste/Cassandra triangle. I won’t go into details as that trio deserve their own article but let’s just say it gives Cassandra a big ass motive for killing her husband. Not to mention the way she took Francis from Celeste was quite brutal to read. 

We reach the lead-on for the grand finale as David and Henry are coming to free Rocky. This naturally comes with a condition – they must hand Francis the key they found during the investigation. Little do they know Nicole is already there being held at gunpoint. Oh, and Fred should also be around somewhere as he was sleeping there the night before. Thomas might be a little late to the party since he and Alfie are held a knifepoint by Rick (seems like a running theme here). Nothing good can come from this. 

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Overall thoughts

This episode does a perfect job of setting up the big finale. It reveals everything we need to know except the main question – who killed Albert? At this point, while it of course still matters, this story is so much more than that. It’s about all the mess that this family has got themselves into, how with each mistake they kept digging deeper, and how it took a whole new generation for all of that to come up to the surface. I can only hope our investigative gang will make it out alive…  5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

More thoughts from the author:

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1. Although a minor character in comparison, Walt strikes me as someone who’s there to represent the themes of Monastery – someone who will do horrible things in the name of family. What was your intention with his characterisation, especially considering he works for justice (aka the police?)

This is why I will always defend my decision to have a large cast, as opposed to most books – when you get even the slightest sense of fleshing out a minor character, it feels so rewarding. Walt, to me, takes the crown of “father of the year”, even if he does it by locking his son up in the bedroom. He is protecting his wife’s secret, protecting his son’s innocence, and doing so by going against his core ideals – i.e., a detective covering up a murder. He’s also based on a favourite uncle of mine, so it makes me happy to give him his moment to shine.

2. Something I thought of while writing this review – the cover up of George Turner’s murder seems to be a kind of juxtaposition as to how neatly Albert’s was since the police keep discovering evidence left and right (and how Francis doesn’t particularly seem to care). Was this intentional on your part?

It all adds up to plot convenience, and I have no shame in admitting that – Albert’s murder was so neatly covered up because I needed it to go unsolved for 14 years, whereas the reader knows who killed George, so there is no need for the cover-up to be well done.

As for Francis’ reaction to the murder, he started out anxious and paranoid after the fact, but he has grown into a state of not caring, which further depicts his descent into darkness – he knows he’s close to his goal (of finding the money and leaving his family), so there is a sense of invincibility taking over. He is stepping into his main villain energy and we are here for it!

3. Alfie has been yet another background character until now and yet he is the one who rescues Thomas. To me he seems like the friend who genuinely cares for Thomas and who gives him that reality check he sometimes needs to get out of his own head. Was that at least partially why you chose to bring him in for the grand finale?

Fun fact: Alfie was originally a series regular. However, halfway through writing the series, I realised I wasn’t using him as much as I’d wanted to, so I bumped him down to recurring. But the original plan always saw him and the other regulars coming together for the big climax, which is why he is in the fold. Alfie is someone who keeps Thomas grounded (if not humbled), since Thomas has the slight tendency to, well, think he’s better than everyone else. What’s coming up for them is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever written about.

4. Lastly, it’s not so much a question but rather a well done for how you crafted the Albert-Celeste-Cassandra dynamic! I was very invested despite knowing the outcome. Weirdly enough, while hating Cassandra for how she handled it, I sort of understood why she thought that Celeste deserved it? Either way, congrats for managing to craft these love stories in the midst of all the murdery goodness.

Thank you so much. As I’ve said before, romance is not my strong suit, but I do love a soapy triangle – and if it ends with gun violence, even better! The reveal of this mystery is probably my favourite sequence in the series so far.

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Book Reviews

Maeve Fly: A Horror Novel Review

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The evils lurking Los Angeles are unveiled in CJ Leede’s 2023 debut novel, Maeve Fly. The novel is a gruesome love letter and ode to Los Angeles and horror icons, centering on the titular character, Maeve Fly. She is, in short, a Disney Princess and serial killer.

Below the Depths of Anaheim

By day, Maeve Fly works as a princess in “the park.” It is is never named, but obviously Disneyland as depicted by Maeve’s vibrant descriptions of the princesses, furry costumed animals, and movie-themed rides. She plays a Scandinavian princess (Elsa) and genuinely loves the job and her coworker, Kate. In her personal life, Maeve tends to her sick, comatose grandmother, former starlet Tallulah, and her grandmother’s cat.

A stock photo of Los Angeles

Maeve has an ordinary personal life, including going out with Kate and takes biweekly, afternoon trips to a Tiki bar in which she, a man who may or may not be Johnny Depp, and the bartender are the only patrons. Her interests include the macabre and all things horror and Los Angeles history, her love for the city a central theme throughout the novel. When Maeve meets Kate’s brother, Gideon, Maeve’s sense of self unravels.

Mirroring Fiction

The problem with Maeve’s sense of self, however, is that she has no idea who she really is. She adopts the personalities of literary characters, from Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground narrator to those in James, Kant and Milton novels.

Maeve is selfish, antagonistic, and very selective of the people she lets in her life. She is an unreliable narrator with an unpredictable temper and ultraviolent tendencies.

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Leede’s prose and writing of Maeve invites a new narrative to the genre. Maeve is persistent in her disgust with how often villains need a tragic backstory as excuse for their monstrous behavior, especially when the villains are women. Leede dismantles that trope and provides Maeve with no reason for her treacherous behavior. It is simply who Maeve is.

An Ode to Horror

Maeve Fly is everything I love in a horror story. It is an unpredictable slasher with comedy and heart. Leede has displayed her talent for writing horror. She has created a story that pays its dues to the genre’s long iconic history — one example is the references to Pyscho or American Psycho — but is wholly unique in it’s own form. From captivating dialogue to visceral depictions of horror history and Los Angeles’ sites, like the La Brea Tar Pits, the novel sucks you in until the very last, bone chilling sentence.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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