Things Got Messy… My June 2023 Reading List

The theme of my June reading list is one I was really looking forward to. Based entirely on reviews, cover art, book descriptions, and the reputations of the authors, I put together what I thought would be the most horrific theme yet. For the books of June, I present to you: Fucked Up Shit.

Woom by Duncan Ralston: The reputation of this book is notorious on TikTok. And yet, I still was not prepared for just how far it went. This was the perfect way to start the month, and I will even admit that some scenes made me a little nauseous. If you cannot stand graphic descriptions of sexual depravity, body horror, and what-the-fuckery, I advise you to skip this one. Woom is a wild ride from start to finish. The seemingly unrelated short stories within the larger narrative culminate into a final scene I doubt I will ever forget. Reader discretion is advised.

The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco: There is nothing worse than reading a disappointing book immediately after a great one. Based on the title and cover art, I was expecting something along the lines of the Ring franchise. And the first chapter did deliver, but it all went downhill from there. This was closer to YA horror, and yet failed to deliver on some of the standard/expected YA tropes.

But what made this messy, and hardly cohesive, story difficult to get through was the lack of character development. The two dimensional characters did next to nothing. And as one Goodreads reviewer pointed out, the titular character does nothing but watch. Personally, I feel her reasons for not jumping into the action sooner are unclear, so it is frustrating (and boring) that really all she does is watch and comment on the lackluster events of the novel.

Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito: Admittedly, I have less experience with Ito’s work than I would like and I need to add more of his manga to my reading list. However, based on his reputation alone, I knew I was in for a treat when Mark brought this home for me from The Comic Book Shoppe.

This short story collection is filled with all things weird and horrific, with each story touching on a different kind of horror. Although “Blackbird” and “Whispering Woman” were my favourites, the sheer strangeness of “Wooden Spirit” makes that one the hardest for me to forget. This collection is absolutely worth a re-read in the future.

Dark Matter Presents: Human Monsters edited by Sadie Hartmann and Ashley Saywers: After following Mother Horror on Instagram for so long, I’m glad I’ve finally read something she’s had a hand in.

With so, so many stories about horribly monstrous humans, there is something for everyone in this collection. There’s a variety of styles, tropes, subject matter. It’s hard to pick just one favourite out of the 35 stories. As I write this, the one that sticks out in my mind the most is “7 P.M. Awards Ceremony, Followed by Girl Scout Auction at 8.” It was delightfully twisted and campy.

Husk by Corey Redekop: The three acts in this unconventional zombie story are so distinct that this could almost be a trilogy wrapped up into one story.

The twists, turns, and changes in style and pace kept me intrigued the whole way through. Between the comedy, the gore, the unexpectedly endearing love story, and the moral philosophizing on the existence of zombies, I was enamored with this quirky/gory novel the whole way through. And the unexpected addition of cosmic horror at the end was a nice touch.

I highly recommend this one.

Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica: This was a brutal, yet beautiful, book to read. Although it’s a shorter novel, it took me longer to get through because I needed a break after some of the more heartbreaking chapters.

This bleak dystopia is so well constructed, and every chapter elicited an emotional response from me. I knew the ending would be dark and unhappy, and I spent much of the novel theorizing as to how it would end. However, I was still unprepared for the gut punch the final scene brought. It hurt to read. But the story is so well written that I couldn’t be mad about it.

Medical Mysteries Across History by Roy Benaroch: When I’m mentally or emotionally struggling, no matter the situation, I find it relaxing to turn to non-fiction. But given the subject matter of the books/documentaries on nature, medical facts, or dark history, my husband has wondered how relaxing this could possibly be.

In keeping with the theme of the month, I hope I would learn some horrifying medical facts from the past with this series. However, this was not the case. This was more like a mystery story than anything else. Each patient was described only in terms of their symptoms, as well as certain key details about their personal/professional lives. With that information, the goal is to guess who the famous historical figure is and what their illness was.

Not what I was expecting, but still fun!

Medical Mysteries Volume 2 by Roy Benaroch: Now that I knew what to expect, I came into Volume 2 wearing my thinking cap. It became a source of pride if I could correctly identify the historical figure early in the chapter.

And perhaps that’s where the Fucked Up Shit comes in. No one should ever be that excited to think: “It’s AIDS! It’s gotta be AIDS! I know I’m right!”

And Then I Woke Up by Malcolm Devlin: Given the cover art and subject matter, I was expecting this one to be much darker than it actually was. But rather than focus on the horrors, this story focused primarily on how narrative (and false narrative) can affect one’s world view. I find the topic very interesting given the current “fake news” era. I just wish this story had gone for more of a gut punch.

Don’t get me wrong; when you stop to think about what the characters have done, it is disturbing. However, this was glazed over and rushed through. Rather than telling readers about the gaslighting, that scene should have been drawn out to show the mental anguish and suffering of both characters involved.

The Salt Grows Heavy Cassandra Khaw: Khaw’s writing is so beautifully poetic that after reading Nothing but Blackened Teeth I knew I had to seek out more of her work.

Although I enjoyed this newest story, it did have its problems, which took away from the experience for me. I felt that the last chapter, which was written as a prequel to the events of the book, would have made for a stronger opening scene. And the love story between the Plague Doctor and Mermaid was too forced. A strong bond of friendship was believable, but not romance. Perhaps if the story had not been so rushed, Khaw could have spent more time developing that relationship. In fact, had the final chapter been moved to the front of the book, even that would have helped the romantic plot because of the way it depicted the past encounters between these two characters.

Relationship problems aside, the subject matter was delightfully dark, and the scenes of vivisection and other surgical atrocities were a delight to read. I believe I said this after reading Blackened Teeth as well, but this novel should have been twice as long.

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