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July 17, 2022

Summer Horror Stories You Don't Want to Miss

by MK French

Whether you are looking for some scary stories to read by the summer campfire or just prefer to read horror novels in the bright sunshine of summer, you will want to add these books to your list. 

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Classic Monsters Unleashed edited by James Aquilone

book cover of horror anthology Classic Monsters Unleashed
July 2022; Black Spot Books;  978-1645481225
audio, ebook, print (443 pages); anthology

Classic monsters and Gothic figures from horror are reinterpreted, reimagined, and paid homage to in this collection of short stories. Such concepts have been done many times before, but we have many authors putting their own spin on them.

We open with a poem, and our first short story invokes the Island of Doctor Moreau. From the sharp, spare words, the expectations we have of the characters are inverted in a twist that had me grinning in delight. Each of the stories here carries that formula, changing what we think we know about them. Horror is about the unexpected, after all, and the slight details of wrongness suddenly made sense. We get the classic monsters of werewolves, vampires, chimeric constructs, sirens, and the like, but now they're transported. Dracula existed at the same time as cowboys, serial killers stalk opera houses, gods of horrible things lurk in dilapidated houses, and family trauma can be overwhelming.

Some of my favorites include Tim Waggoner's "Old Monsters Never Die," JG Faherty's "Beautiful Monster," and Seanan McGuire's "Can Doesn't Mean Should." The stories sucked me in, hinting at a larger picture that I could imagine. (And the mad scientist lecturing the "sane" scientist on proper safety protocol made me laugh.) A great collection overall of stories that are horrifying and chilling in different ways. 

(Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read the ebook for FREE)

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

book cover of horror novel What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
July 2022; Tor Nightfire; 978-1250830753
audio, ebook, print (176 pages); occult fiction

Retired soldier Alex Easton returns to the remote estate of Madeline Usher when he hears she's dying. The actual estate is full of fungal growths and possessed wildlife. Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in strange voices at night, and her brother Roderick has a strange nervous condition. Alex has the help of a British mycologist and an American doctor, and the three must unravel the secret of the House of Usher before it consumes them all.

Alex is a sworn soldier in 1890, meaning birth sex no longer matters, and Alex uses different pronouns. The country ka is from is a small European one that doesn't exist in our world, just as the Usher estate is in Ruravia's countryside, and the American South successfully seceded from the Union. The country of Gallacia has multiple pronouns other than he and she, including the va of children under 12 and ka for soldiers. I found this a fascinating bit of worldbuilding in addition to the altered political landscape. The overbearing gloom of our opening chapters also has the introduction of Denton, the doctor with a year's training before the Civil War erupted, as well as Eugenia Potter, the older self-taught mycologist studying the tarn. While Alex says ka isn't psychic by any means, ka still knows something is incredibly off about the estate and kan childhood friends.

I can picture the moldering, crumbling ruins of the estate, the sickly Usher twins, and the practical people assisting Alex. I also lived the shout-outs that ground this reality as similar to our own even as it's different; Eugenia Potter has a niece Beatrix who is a gifted artist and mycologist as well. (And perhaps also writes about rabbits?) Those who read horror or can connect dots quickly will enjoy the mystery of it; while you can figure out what happened, how, and why are explained over time. This is delightfully creepy, in the sense that it all comes together and makes sense. If I lived there with all of them, I would be just as skittish as they are.

Buy What Moves the Dead at Amazon

What Festers Within by Mark N. Drake

book cover of horror novel What Festers Within by Mark N. Drake
July 2022; Aethos Publications
ebook (330 pages); horror

By December 1922, Josine Young is on the run from the Church of the Celestial Shadow and is back in Manchester. Jack Glennison can try to help protect her, but even Manchester isn't safe. There's unfinished business on Darkisle, which is where they're headed next.

This is the third of the Jack Glennison novels taking place on Darkisle. (The first book is The Gathering of Shadows (read my review) and the second book is Those Under Hill (read my review).) Cosmic horror lives on Darkisle, and each attempt to rid the island of that influence hasn't quite lasted for long. We get a bit of a summary to catch up in the beginning, as well as to outline what Jack and Josine are up to before December comes. Even so, this is still a book that works best after reading the prior ones.

Once Jack and Josine are back on Darkisle, we're plunged back into the oddities that exist there. Now there is an outbreak on top of that, so it might be upsetting for some readers given the pandemic. This one is different, and likely caused by the fallout of the second book; the tubes collected at the end of the last book contained a purple powder, and the thief is the first one ill. The investigation takes Jack and Josine across Darkisle, and we learn about even more creatures. As the doctor works to diagnose and treat the illness spreading through the town, the existence of other creatures and then the corruption of humans into Ourkind begins. From there, the tension rises as there's not only the supposed infection, but the creatures attempting to escape the isle.

It's a wild ride and we have some very convenient explanations at the end. I think this is also the first explicit Chthulu namedrop in the series, so there's bound to be even more cosmic horror in the future. As neatly as it's tied up in the end, we have quite a few losses to mourn and new considerations for future novels.

Buy What Festers Within at Amazon

Haunted Tales: Classic Stories of Ghosts and the Supernatural edited by Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger

book cover of horror anthology Haunted Tales curated by Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger
August 2022; Pegasus Books; 978-1639361977
ebook, print (400 pages); anthology

People often don't think of stories from the 1800s or 1900s as containing many spooky or horror elements, but a lot of that is due to differences in culture and expectations. There are still many macabre tales other than Edgar Allan Poe or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and we have stories in this collection from well-known authors from that era, as well as some forgotten ones that fit the theme of this book very well.

We open with "The Ghost And The Bone-Setter" by Sheridan Le Fanu of Carmilla fame. I hadn't read some of his other books, from which this entry was taken. As with many stories of the period, it's partially epistolary and partially a nested tale within a tale. Bonesetters were doctors of a sort in that period, but what can they do about a haunting? Dinah Mulock wrote about ghosts in "M. Anastasius," a story that even Charles Dickens praised. The language is easier to read, and progresses slowly, giving you the characters' lives before the haunting is explained and deepens with time. Then again, the anachronisms rendered in dialect could have made the first story a bit more difficult to go through, so that by the time you hit the next several stories, your ability to understand the language from a hundred years ago is already set.

Asterisks and crosses serve as footnotes to explain terms in the stories, though the writing in dialect remains. Get accustomed to the rhythms of the language, because there truly are great scenes of emotion and creepiness in these tales. Ghosts come for the promises made and not kept, for the people they left behind. People fear the unknown, and the characters in this collection are no different. It's a macabre and Gothic set of stories, full of ghosts, creatures, and eerie coincidences. Read this with bright lights on, unless you want to double-check that the corners of your room are empty. 

The following excerpt is taken from "The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost" by H.G. Wells.

“I suppose I wasn’t on the landing a moment before he found out I was there. He turned on me sharply, and I saw the face of an immature young man, a weak nose, a scrubby little moustache, a feeble chin. So for an instant we stood—he looking over his shoulder at me and regarded one another. Then he seemed to remember his high calling. He turned round, drew himself up, projected his face, raised his arms, spread his hands in approved ghost fashion—came towards me. As he did so his little jaw dropped, and he emitted a faint, drawn-out ‘Boo.’ No, it wasn’t—not a bit dreadful. I’d dined. I’d had a bottle of champagne, and being all alone, perhaps two or three—perhaps even four or five—whiskies, so I was as solid as rocks and no more frightened than if I’d been assailed by a frog. ‘Boo!’ I said. ‘Nonsense. You don’t belong to THIS place. What are you doing here?’

“I could see him wince. ‘Boo-oo,’ he said.

“‘Boo—be hanged! Are you a member?’ I said; and just to show I didn’t care a pin for him I stepped through a corner of him and made to light my candle. ‘Are you a member?’ I repeated, looking at him sideways.

“He moved a little so as to stand clear of me, and his bearing became crestfallen. ‘No,’ he said, in answer to the persistent interrogation of my eye; ‘I’m not a member—I’m a ghost.’

“‘Well, that doesn’t give you the run of the Mermaid Club. Is there any one you want to see, or anything of that sort?’ and doing it as steadily as possible for fear that he should mistake the carelessness of whisky for the distraction of fear, I got my candle alight. I turned on him, holding it. ‘What are you doing here?’ I said.

“He had dropped his hands and stopped his booing, and there he stood, abashed and awkward, the ghost of a weak, silly, aimless young man. ‘I’m haunting,’ he said.

“‘You haven’t any business to,’ I said in a quiet voice.

“‘I’m a ghost,’ he said, as if in defence.

“‘That may be, but you haven’t any business to haunt here. This is a respectable private club; people often stop here with nursemaids and children, and, going about in the careless way you do, some poor little mite could easily come upon you and be scared out of her wits. I suppose you didn’t think of that?’

“‘No, sir,’ he said, ‘I didn’t.’

“‘You should have done. You haven’t any claim on the place, have you? Weren’t murdered here, or anything of that sort?’

“‘None, sir; but I thought as it was old and oak-panelled—’

“‘That’s NO excuse.’ I regarded him firmly. ‘Your coming here is a mistake,’ I said, in a tone of friendly superiority. I feigned to see if I had my matches, and then looked up at him frankly. ‘If I were you I wouldn’t wait for cock-crow—I’d vanish right away.’

Buy Haunted Tales at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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