REVIEW: Nightb*tch

The synopsis for Rachel Yoder’s debut novel, Nightbitch is as follows:

One day, the mother was a mother but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else…

At home full-time with her two-year-old son, an artist finds she is struggling. She is lonely and exhausted. She had imagined – what was it she had imagined? Her husband, always travelling for his work, calls her from faraway hotel rooms. One more toddler bedtime, and she fears she might lose her mind.

Instead, quite suddenly, she starts gaining things, surprising things that happen one night when her child will not sleep. Sharper canines. Strange new patches of hair. New appetites, new instincts. And from deep within herself, a new voice…

Despite what you make think based on this alone, I promise you that this is not at all what you will expect. Despite the marketing pitching this book more towards “dark literary fiction” but that definitely leads away from the mind-numbing, reality-bending rollercoaster of a story it contains. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, myself, as I got ready to crack the cover. Was it going to be a contemporary thriller with hints of the surreal? Was it leaning more towards horror? If it was horror, what subgenre? Even after finishing the book, I still don’t think I know the answer to any of these questions, but I decided to approach it from the horror standpoint since that is where I personally felt the story best sat.

As our mostly nameless protagonist (the mother, later known as Nightbitch) slowly sinks into her reality the story becomes both unsettling and uplifting at the same time. Yoder really blew me away with her ability to make me feel so much rage at useless spouses while feeling reminded and validated in being able to demand what you need in life. The way the hopelessness of the women of this story is portrayed, showing both sides of the “stay at home mother”, was so well written and so important for all genders to see. Just because a parent – but especially cis-female mothers – stays home, it does not mean that they have an easy life. Childcare is no joke. Managing the household is no joke. In the context of this book, these women have given up their very successful careers and dreams of the future of those careers to care for their children. They struggle with this sense of resentment towards their children, their husbands, towards themselves for giving in. It’s a side of womanhood that I don’t think enough people, in general, consider when passing judgement.

Reading this book as a transman has been complicated. I have related a lot to how Nightbitch feels, wanting to go absolutely feral over truly unfair situations and seeing people I know in the depiction of her husband. I’ve seen my own single mother in these pages and seen fears I had as a child coming from a single-parent household. I felt a weird sense of validation emotionally from this book while also feeling uncomfortable at the idea of motherhood in relation to myself.

The un-reality of this book was also incredibly trippy. Was Nightbitch really becoming a dog? Was her husband really on board with everything? Was her son? I love a good “what’s real” story and I’m still unsure of several moments and what they meant. But that isn’t at all a bad thing. This book is amazing but I am also unsure of if I liked it if that makes sense. Regardless though, this is not a book soon forgotten and I’m definitely going to be reading it again in the future.

The other thing I want to say as a bit of an afterthought though is in regards to the book being optioned for a film adaption:

According to Deadline, Amy Adams is set to star in this film and I think that’s a horrible decision. I already sense that the film is going to be marketed to the world as “ooh spooky thriller for stereotypical homebound mommy” and that is not what this book needs at all. As a huge fan of psychological horror that seeks to intentionally make viewers uncomfortable, I feel like that’s the route this adaptation should be heading towards. An adaptation that would end up on some list-article of “Top Movies That Made People Collapse At Cannes”. If this book came out ten years ago, I would give anything to see Lars Von Trier as the head of the adaptation starring the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg. It screams of the aesthetic of AntiChrist and deserves a proper horrifying, ban-worthy film adaptation.

If I haven’t scared you off with this review, do just be aware of some potential trigger warnings including animal abuse/mutilation, mild body horror, fixation on appearance, hypochondriac behaviour.

Murakami Double Feature: Piercing & Audition

Note: both of these works by Murakami Ryuu contain intense levels of violence, gore, self-harm and references of sexual trauma and child abuse.

One of the most well known Japanese horror films is Audition from the incredibly director Miike Takashi. To be perfectly blunt (so excuse my language here), that movie is one hell of a mind-fuck that is not only confusing but so incredibly nasty, I don’t ever recommend it to anyone even though it’s a move that completely captivates me. A few years ago, I found out that this classic of a film was actually based on a book by “the other Murakami”, the twisted mastermind, Murakami Ryuu.

However, Audition wasn’t the first book of his that I read. Late in 2020, I read through Piercing during a 12-hour shift at my day job, and absolutely fell in love with it. Adapted into a film more recently (but far too white and far too different to be worth watching, save your time for better movies), the only thing I knew about Piercing is that it was graphic. But wow did that book hit me in ways I was certainly not expecting. Both Piercing and Audition are incredibly intense books but I’m so pleased to have finally read them. Now to get onto the reviews!

Piercing is about a man struggling with violent urges from his childhood that are once again plaguing him as an adult and about a young sex worker unable to manage her childhood trauma. As both find themselves in a situation where they are equally trying to kill each other, the realisation of being cut from similar clothes leads to a strange ending that will not be what one expects.

The graphic violence in this book borders on extreme that may be off putting for many readers, even ones who enjoy horror. Murkami’s horror is on a different level than most to say the least.

Given how short this book is (and the same goes for Audition) I don’t want to give too much away, but when it really boils down to it, Piercing is a story about broken people. Both lead characters have been abused, the trauma of their youth bleeding into their adult lives. As the cat vs cat (because neither of these people are the mouse) game continues onward over the course of the night, the realisation hits just how much their individual trauma resonates with the other’s. To me it was a book about accepting your baggage as much as accepting that you can’t be responsible for other people’s baggage. It’s a complex narrative that I felt really hit the nail on the head when it comes to trauma and dealing with trauma in unhealthy ways. As horrible of a visual this novel gives, I felt uplifted by it. As weird as that sounds…

Audition is a very different novel when compared to Piercing. It’s quieter, softer around the edges, while still addressing the harsh violence that comes with unhealthy trauma processing. It follows a man who misses his deceased wife, who’s son suggests he settle down again. Though middle-aged, he follows his skeezy friend’s idea to hold a fake audition to find a refined young woman to settle down with.

It’s not his fault that things go sideways.

Fans of the film will be familiar with the gruesome torture scenes, the implied sexual violence, and of course, the piano wire. But much of what Miike put in the film doesn’t actually occur in the book, and I would probably be more likely to recommend the book to people within my circles than I would be to recommend the movie.

The flashback sequences of what Asami went through, the visits to her apartment and the restaurant where he were. Visceral scenes that are signature to Miike’s film style that were entirely made up. While the film is somewhat non-linear and full of drug induced hallucination scenes, the book is more linear and straight forward (and also far less graphic until the infamous ending). That being said, I found the film added far more to Asami’s character, making her more alluring while also more terrifying. The book, while more palatable and easier to follow, felt like it was missing some greater threat while it built up to the ending. I felt it needed more to really suck someone in.

That being said, as a huge fan of the film, I am incredibly happy I was still able to read the source material in English. It’s a must read for fans of the movie.

Murakami has a very distinct style that is visceral and gut-wrenching while somehow simultaneously being quiet and tender. He writes messy stories about messy people, most of them just wanting to live their lives as best they can manage. He reminds me of Chuck Palahniuk in some ways if I’m being honest. I really hope that as 2021 continues, I’m able to read more of his translated works (especially Coin Locker Babies since Miike was in talks to adapt that one before the project was cancelled).

ARC REVIEW: Nothing But Blackened Teeth

Thank you NetGalley and Tor Nightfire for providing me with the eARC

The second I saw this book’s cover floating around on social media, I just knew that I needed to get my hands on it. Not to mention that I’m a sucker for Japanese horror, so a haunted house thrill ride in Japan? Count me in.

Note: trigger warnings for intense gore

Nothing But Blackened Teeth is the story of a group of five “friends” (I use the term very loosely here) as two of them are getting married. Faiz and Nadia are set on having a borderline sacrilegious wedding ceremony in a haunted house so when the trust-fund friend, Phillip, fronts the money for everyone to go to a decrepit old mansion in the middle of nowhere, Japan, it’s all perfect. When the story’s narrator, Cat, presents a main source of tension and her friend, Lin, as well, things go from zero to one hundred really fast. This is a house that yearns for blood.

After reading this novella in a single sitting, though, I found myself a touch disappointed. Perhaps I went in with my expectations set to high but the weirdest thing about my mixed feelings is that I want both more and less out of it.

Cassandra Khaw has a meticulous style that is flowery and explicit simultaneously. In some places, she has the most on-point descriptions of yokai, ghosts, and gore. In other’s the wordiness detracts from the story, the terms requiring google definitions (and this from someone who thought he had a pretty large vocabulary…) to understand what was being said. I loved the descriptions of the house itself and of the ghost, but what was majorly lacking was context. What happened to Cat that locked her away? Why is Nadia so hateful towards her? Why does no one like Lin if he seems just as successful as Phillip? How are any of these horrible people friends?

I’m all for messy people being messy, but the depth was lacking and the book turned into more of an 88-minute horror film one watches with friends while drunk and everyone tries to guess who dies first simply to move things along.

Will I read more of Khaw’s work? Absolutely. Sadly this one was just most of a miss from me.

REVIEW: The Sun Down Motel

One of the books I was incredibly excited about reading earlier this year was Simone St. James’s latest novel, The Sun Down Motel. A mystery novel with a synopsis that had me asking “People or ghosts?”, this was just what I needed to get me out of my reading funk as brought on by my attempt to get through A Little Life.

The story follows a double timeline between Viv in 1982 as she works at a dodgy motel after leaving her home life, and Carly in 2017 as she digs into the past to discover what happened to her long-lost Aunt Viv who went missing thirty-five years earlier. Right away there is tension and suspense to chill your veins and I absolutely loved it from cover to cover.

The way the story jumps around between the timelines is impeccably done as the story unfolds and honestly, I just want to scream about the setup and the characters as both Carly and Viv uncover the mysteries of the Sun Down, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. If you’re also asking “People or ghosts?” about this book in regards to the cause of what’s going on, I’m going to leave you asking.

Forgive me for this short review, but I highly recommend picking up this book.

MANGA MONDAY: The Promised Neverland #1

Thank you to NetGalley and VIZ Media for providing me with a review copy.


The Promised Neverland is one of those series that looks super cute but you can just tell that it is going to get really messed up, really quickly. I’ve got to say, I was not wrong with my prediction of this one.

The story mainly follows Emma and her friends, Norman and Ray, at their picture perfect little foster home where they and about thirty other children are being taken care of by a woman named Isabelle (but they all call her mom). The children do daily tests of intelligence and treat one another like they’re all family, and every two months one of the children is lucky enough to be adopted and gets to leave the house by way of the gate that the children are forbidden from getting close to. The only other rule is that they aren’t to cross the fence line in the forest that surrounds them. When one of the children being adopted, forgets her favourite plush rabbit, Emma and Norman learn the dark secret being kept from them…

While this first volume didn’t go too deeply into the horror that I’m sure is to come the further I read into the series, it definitely did a good job at setting up the tone of what’s to come next. I loved the heart in the story, though, and the way it captured the innocence and love shared between children while also keeping the advanced intelligence of Emma, Norman, and Ray still within believable range. The art work is very stylistic and cute, with all of the children having the most squishable little baby faces.

With the way this volume ended, I’m intrigued enough to keep going and giving a better judgement of the series off of subsequent volumes. But over all I thought this was a really great way to start a series like this, especially with the artwork being so cute only to get all murder-y. A solid four out of five.

(LATE) MANGA MONDAY: No Longer Human

On Monday, I mentioned I was swapping things around and doing a regular book review so that I could share my review of the manga adaptation today.

The book in question is Dazai Osamu’s novel, No Longer Human, but adapted to the manga format by Japanese body horror king, Junji Ito.

Before I continue, this review contains trigger warnings for suicide, infanticide, violent imagery, and sexual assault.

So similarly to the novel (the review of which you can read here), this was a difficult one to get through. While I am very familiar with the content and the story of No Longer Human, Ito took this one to a whole other dimension. The story, itself, is heavily inspired by Dazai’s own life and there were certainly more elements of truth in the manga as well as far more fantastical horrors.

Unlike Ito’s other major works, his adaptation of No Longer Human was less focused on body horror and far more tuned into the psychological trauma that comes with the tortures Yozo faces. What was merely implied in the source material, was presented without apologies in the manga, and I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good thing or not. The sexual assault in the beginning and even throughout the story was intense and felt like it was too much given the format of the storytelling, however the ways Yozo is consistently taken advantage of is still so important to his story arc and the way his relationships (or lack thereof) are formed.

On top of that, there was far more death, far more suicide, and a lot heavier darkness. Dazai was not a happy man, and it can be seen throughout his short life by reading his novels and his stories. But the way that Ito really needles out the underlying sadness and turns it into something so solid and real it’s impossible to ignore as he beats you to death with it. Again, I’m conflicted by the emotions this manga drew from me because on the one hand it was a lot to process and manage, but on the other hand, it felt so real when it comes to how dangerous unchecked mental illness can be. It shows how important it is to really care for those who are suffering.

I loved the inclusions of Dazai himself as a character. I loved Ito’s artwork as I always do. But this was a rough one. Junji Ito is one of those mangakas who I rarely recommend because of how tricky it can be to navigate horror tolerance thresholds, but if you’re already familiar (and unbothered) with his work this is one to check out for sure.

 

REVIEW: Imaginary Friend

Every now and again a book comes around that entirely blows my mind. I don’t mean a five-star rating, I mean that five stars is the most I can give because my feelings can’t simply be expressed with a book rating.

This is one of those books.

In the best way possible, the only thing I can really think to describe my feelings is that this a book that makes me, as an author, feel like I will never write anything even remotely close to this book. It was such an amazing story that made me sad, scared the crap out of me, and left me in awe at the end.

Imaginary Friend is Stephen Chbosky’s first novel since Perks of Being a Wallflower, and other that it being a horror novel, I mostly went into it blind. The story follows the occupants of a small town in Pennsylvania, but focuses primarily on Christopher Reese, a little boy with dyslexia and trauma based around his father’s suicide. Christopher goes missing for six days, putting the town in a panic and when he returns, he is changed. His dyslexia is gone, his math skills are well above his classmates…but he also hears a voice in his head. The voice of “the nice man” who is telling him to do things in order to save the town from a monstrous creature who is set to kill everyone.

As time passes, the town becomes affected by the same things Christopher has dealt with, but with none of the knowledge that he has. It is a rollercoaster of twists that flip the whole story 180° with every few page turns.

If I needed to compare the book to other things, I would have to say Stand by MeStranger ThingsIT, and a little bit of Hansel & Gretel meets Slenderman. It’s a huge mash-up of familiar and incredibly original new-ness which makes the 700+ pages just zip by when things aren’t so stressful I needed to put the book down.

I loved the wide cast of characters. I loved all the context of where they’re coming from. I loved the twist that I only figured out before it was too late. I was desperate to get to the end while also never wanting it to end. Believe me when I say that it was a horrifying thrill ride from start to finish and I will never forget this book. I highly recommend it for people looking for a good scare when they have a good chunk of time on their hands because I promise you that you won’t want to put it down, despite being such a beast of a book.

One final note I will mention about this book is some trigger warnings: this book contains child abuse, suicide, sexual assault of minors (more than implied but nothing happens on-page), domestic abuse, substance abuse, body horror, and lots of general violence.

REVIEW: The Omen

I love scary movies, especially old ones. However, when it comes to The Omen, I’ve shamefully only seen the 2006 version with Julia Styles and Liev Schreiber (dir. John Moore)…

When browsing the small horror section at my favourite local used bookstore (Westside Stories, yes that is the real name of the store), I spotted this sweet movie-tie in edition of The Omen, but the 1976 tie-in! I couldn’t say no when I also found the second movie tie-in as well, so I picked them both up. Perfect timing on my part, as my internet was down for the majority of the weekend, giving me some distraction free time to sit down and get some real reading done. Given the slump I’ve been in lately, this was the perfect book to pull me out of it.

For those unfamiliar with the story, The Omen follows the lives of the Thorn family after a grief fuelled decision changes everything… for the worst. As their son, Damien, seems to draw disaster after disaster, death after death, to the family, Jeremy Thorn is faced with a dark choice of murder or mayhem before more people die.

As mentioned, I have only seen the remake of the film and never want to watch it again as the [spoiler alert] death of Kathy is one of the most horrifying things I have ever seen on screen. Despite my strong feelings towards it, the 2006 film is also one I consider strangely cast and more on the cheesy side. This original novel (and by original, I mean the novelization that was released prior to the 1976 film as a marketing shtick) is so much more. The atmosphere of The Omen is so thick and eerie, it drew me in immediately and did not hesitate to fill me with anxiety.

While there are significant differences (obviously) between the book and what I remember from the remake, I found myself absolutely loving the book. It was horrifying, fast paced, and brutal. When I first started reading, I felt the reveal of Damien’s birth came early, and I was worried for the sake of the pacing to come, but I was pleasantly surprised that there was still so much to learn about where the boy came from. The violence was graphic without going overboard and still more or less realistic when it comes to demonic horror. This is definitely a book where you want to yell at the characters for being stupid while also seeing that these characters aren’t stupid, they are conflicted people given a choice to tell a small lie to make their lives better overall. These characters are human. Even if that makes them flawed.

Given that this novelization is written by David Seltzer, himself – the screenwriter for the 1976 film – I do want to watch the film and actually get an eyeful of what he served on the page.

Bring on the Devil.

4 stars out of 5.

REVIEW: Moon of Crusted Snow

Ever since I was a kid I have loved learning about the different cultures of Indigenous people across Canada and as I’ve grown up, I’ve become more and more heartbroken by the hardships those who live on the rez have had to deal with. A few weeks ago I stumbled upon an interview with author Waubgeshig Rice about his new release, Moon of Crusted Snow. In the article, Rice describes how he “wanted to offer up the perspective of people who had experienced apocalypse already” and pay “an homage to the everyday people on reserves across Canada”.

Right from the get-go this book had me hooked. The Anishinaabe community of the novel is full of a wide range of characters, both likeable and not, prepping for the coming winter when all of their utilities go out. No electricity, no satellite, no cell service. Having never had reliable services from the get go, no one thinks twice… until two of their own return from the city and tell them what’s really going on.

On it’s own, the story is a terrifying concept alone, but the stakes are truly raised when an intimidating, survivalist, white man manages to make his way to the community and kicks them all when they’re down.

What I enjoyed most about this story is that not only is it an incredibly atmospheric end-of-the-world story, but it is a great framing of how hard life is for those in Native reserves as well as the racism First Nations peoples still face. The character, Justin Scott, even goes as far to say “the white man saves the day” as he is clearly taking advantage of the hospitality of the community.

Mixed into the everyday narrative are dream sequences and stories from the elders of the community that bring in warnings and foreshadowing from the tribe’s folklore adding an extra layer of intensity and knowledge.

This is definitely an incredible story with so many layers behind each sentence that I truly hope people pick it up and learn something from it. I look forward to the movie deal that Rice should definitely be offered for this novel.

REVIEW: The Saturday Night Ghost Club

I have not read any Halloween brand spooky books this month and I’m so disappointed in myself for that. But better late than never, I picked up The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson looking for some scares. Although I didn’t get what I was expecting at all, this is still quite a ride of a story.

The novel follows Jake, now an adult and a neurosurgeon, as he reminisces about the summer spent ghost hunting with his Uncle Calvin. His eccentric uncle takes Jake, his friend Billy, and Cal’s best friend, Lex, on several tours of the Niagara region looking for the sad, the spooky, and the haunted. But, as always, things aren’t always as they seem.

Normally I am not a fan of books that heavily mention exact locations of things. I find it takes my out of the story a lot of the time (especially in American novels) but in Canadian stories it comes across as “overly Canadian” and kind of lame. However, I am so familiar with the tourist trap strips of Niagara Falls and the neighbouring areas, that I felt comforted and at home with all the street names and locations. It made it feel like home and added to the tone and the context of the story, especially since I’ve been twelve and bored and hot and stuck in Niagara Falls on more than one summer camp trip.

Here’s where this review might get a little spoilery so stop here if I’ve already got you wanting to read the book.

Although the gang of misfits do visit one or two truly haunted locations, what they are really doing is seeing how a brain injury has effected a man who doesn’t even remember getting hurt in the first place. A la 50 First Dates, the townspeople who know what happened to Calvin pretend it never did for his own well-being and that’s what Jake is bearing witness to on that fateful summer when he was twelve.

I went into this book really hoping for ghosts and demons to fill the need of something scary in October, but what I got was a story about how people care for each other and I almost thing that’s the better way for this book to have gone. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the Strangers Things comparison being marketed in regards to Davidson’s novel, but I would completely agree with the strong Stand By Me vibes that it gives off.

A wonderful story with one of the best covers I’ve seen this year.

Happy Halloween, everyone.