Finally, Part 2! My July… Er, August Reading List

If you remember last month’s book review post, I had planned on spending all of July reading books by Catriona Ward and Joe Hill. I did not meet my reading goals, so August was a catch-up month. I even managed to add books to the list that were not by either author! So, let’s dive right in because we have a lot of books to cover

The Girl From Rawblood by Catriona Ward:

It’s unfortunate that I left this story as the last of the Catriona Ward books in my collection because this was my least favourite. Overall, it was more of a gothic romance than a tale of Gothic horror – and I was not looking to read a romance.

Some characters and their story arcs were interesting enough to make me want to keep reading, but there were so many overlapping stories and characters that at times the story was messy. And although I liked the ending, it felt like a less refined version of the reveal of the Bent-Neck Lady from The Haunting of Hill House (2018).

The Nox by Joe White and Catriona Ward:

Ward only wrote a few of the chapters in what was more of an audio drama than an audiobook. Like the audiobook for Carmilla, this story had a full cast. And like the audiobook for The Woman in Black, there were plenty of sound effects and accompanying musical scores.

Were I to read this as a physical book, it likely wouldn’t be the strongest because a lot of the story relied on the sound. That being said, this was an entertaining experience and I binge listened to it, finishing the audiobook in about a day (I was running lots of errands).

Unfortunately, once the big reveal happened and there was no longer a sense of mystery and a constant worrying about what was real and what wasn’t, the story was much less interesting. But the tension in the earlier chapters more than made up for the weak finale.

Horns by Joe Hill:

I watched the movie a few years ago, and have had the book in my collection for years before that, so I am ashamed at how long it took me to actually read this one.

Although it is much stronger than the movie, I still wouldn’t call this Hill’s best work. It’s fun, tongue in cheek, and I appreciate all of the pokes and prods at religion. I do not love the characters though. They’re not terrible, but now that I’ve read so much of Hill’s work, they are not his most developed. But since this is one of his earlier works, I’ll give him a pass. Even I look back on what I published two years ago and know that I could do better now.

I’m glad I’ve seen the movie and read the book, but I likely won’t revisit either of them again.

20th Century Ghosts (aka The Black Phone Stories) by Joe Hill:

When I watched The Black Phone (2021) I got the feeling that the movie was attempting to stretch out a much shorter story. I felt it would have been a more effective adaptation if it had been an episode in a mini series, rather than a whole movie. And when I read the short story itself, it was even shorter than I expected it to be!

But despite it’s length, “The Black Phone” and the other short stories in this collection packed a punch. My absolute favourite story in the collection is “Pop Art”. It’s not horror, per say, but there are moments of fear and anxiety. And it’s such a quirky and unexpected story that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it.

Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez:

When Mark and I watched the tv show, he had read the comics before it’s release and made sure to tell me about all of the ways in which the show was different. Even with that preparation, I still wasn’t expecting how much darker the comics are than the show. In fact, we stopped watching the show two episodes in to the most recent season because we found the tone too upbeat.

These comics are dark, gritty, and definitely more in the realm of horror compared to the more fantasy oriented tv show. I can’t wait to read other comics by Joe Hill!

Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez:

Personally, my favourite stories in the series came from the second half. It got darker, the stakes were raised, and beloved characters were shown no mercy. Not only is there physical horror, but the psychological torment the Lockes experience at the hands of Dodge adds to the tension and discomfort.

Volume 4 is, in my opinion, the strongest of the whole set. And given the fact that volume is stamped with a seal of an award win, I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez:

While I read the comics, I listened to the audiobook! And Like Carmilla and The Nox, this was an audio drama with a full cast. As I jumped back and forth between the comics and audiobook, I decided that this production had the superior cast (compared to the tv show).

It was also a good choice to make this story a full audio drama because it’s an adaptation of a comic series. Since comics are such a visual medium, there’s some stuff you just can’t convey with a standard audiobook. Having the sound effects and extra descriptions thrown in helped to keep the integrity of the stroy.

My only complaint is about the transitional music between chapters and scenes. It was too damn long! I don’t need over a minute of transitional music every time. If they had cut down the music to no more than 10-20 seconds, it might have shaved an hour off the audiobook runtime!

The Fireman by Joe Hill:

It was wild reading the opening chapters of this book. I kept having to turn back to the front to check what year it was published (2016, by the way). Some of the descriptions of the chaos in the early days of this fictional pandemic reminded me of what we went through in the early days of the very real pandemic in 2020.

Since Hill is the son of Stephen King, it’s hard to read his work without comparing him to his father. As a result, I found myself comparing this to one of my favourite King books, The Stand. Like in his father’s work, the horror in this story does not come the virus that infects people, but rather the people who live in this infected world. We learn early on that the Dragonscale is not necessarily something to be feared. Instead, it is the horrors that human beings are capable of in moments of stress and hardship that bring the fear and tension in this story.

The characters are well written, and there were villains I loved to hate. But the Dragonscale was a little too fantastical for me. I like the concept of the virus, but some of the things it allowed it’s hosts to do felt like they belonged more in a fantasy realm and not a piece of post-apocalyptic fiction.

The Meg by Steve Alten:

This book made it to the list shortly after I saw The Meg 2 (2023) in theatres and someone informed me that the movies were based on books. Learning that the first book was included in my audible membership meant that reading it ASAP was a no brainer.

Given that the movies are campy, B-grade killer shark fun, I was not expecting this book AT ALL. I was shocked as I listened to each chapter to hear that it was well written and, most importantly, well researched.

I like to joke around with Mark by pointing out all of the scientific inaccuracies in bad shark movies, and the Meg movies are no exception. So imagine my surprise when I find Alten throwing around terms like ampullae of Lorenzini and using them correctly!

As much as I love the movies we have already, can I please get a faithful film adaptation of this book?

Sharks: Rulers of the Deep by National Geographic:

If you saw my Instagram post from a month ago, you’ll know I bought this for myself as a treat for doing a very big business thing (that I still can’t really talk about). And of course I had to read it right away the moment I finished The Meg audiobook.

The best way to describe this is Shark Week as a magazine. It’s filled with interviews with scientists and photographers. And, best of all, there are pictures of sharks on every page!

The Little Book of Bees by Vicki Vrint:

I threw this little book onto the list because it was a quick read and was a nice add-on after reading the magazine on sharks.

This pocket sized non-fiction book is, well, a little book of bees. It’s an intro to all things bees, from history and anatomy to conservation. I read up on thigs I already knew, but I also learned new bee facts.

There were some topics where I wished Vrint had gone into more detail, but I had to remind myself that this was a little taste to get readers interested. With a book like this, the goal is to pique your interest enough so that you go off and do more research. I recommend starting with this book if you’re curious about bees and want to learn more.

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