Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Who Says Women Can't Write Horror?

Who says women can’t write horror?

Maybe the same person who says men can’t write romance.

Both statements are equally fatuous.

In fact, the first statement can be discounted with one name. One of the earliest and most original horror writers whose most famous novel is a timeless classic. I am talking about (of course) Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

(By the way, it is equally easy to blow the second statement out of the water as well.Thomas Hardy? Leo Tolstoy?)

Mary Shelley has been ably succeeded by a number of greats – Shirley Jackson and Anne Rice immediately spring to mind – but there is a wealth of exciting talent out there, ensuring that women remain represented by some of the most creative and original voices in horror today. To celebrate Women in Horror Month, I just want to share some of the recent novels and novellas I have read which have all earned 5 star reviews from me for their quality of plot, characterisation, pace and style. In no particular order (because they are all great)

About the book:

Lucy A. Snyder's latest collection features a spellbinding mix of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Her stories will carry you away to the sinister heart of the Deep South, the mind-bending reaches of outer space, and the terrifying desolation of Carcosa.

My review:

A fabulous collection of short stories from multi Stoker Award winner Lucy A. Snyder. The influences of Lovecraft abound but these stories are not derivative. The author has the skill to create fantastic other-worlds where terror and fear reign supreme but, at the same time writes stories of great tenderness and ghostly sadness. Of these, perhaps The Stillness of Passing Cars was my personal favourite, although each new story brought an enjoyable surprise.

This author shows how a mix of horror, fantasy and sci fi can be made to work so that fans of each genre are left feeling satisfied and entertained. I loved her characters, plots and the excellent crafting of each story into a mini masterpiece.

About the book:
Find the vampire’s next victim. Or be the vampire’s next victim.

Lenore has such a good time hanging out with Paul that she almost forgets he isn’t her friend. He’s a vampire. And she’s his next victim—unless she’s willing to find an alternative. 

But when Lenore gets cold feet during her first hunting expedition, Paul doesn’t carry out his threat. He snags Sam for dinner instead, a young man they encounter on the ride home. And while Paul is receptive to Lenore’s pleas to keep their new prisoner alive, his motives aren’t entirely altruistic. Sure, Lenore’s willing to die for Sam. The real question is, how long before she’s willing to kill for him?

My review:

I loved the first book in this series – Donor – and wondered whether the author would be able to continue the momentum she had created there. It turns out she can. Bait carries on Lenore and Paul’s story brilliantly. Paul is a vampire, but if you think you’ve heard it all before, think again. I like the originality of the character Elena Hearty has created. Lenore is a seriously messed up young woman, addicted to cigarettes and Xanax. She has low self-worth, but as the story progresses, the arrival of a new character – Sam – serves to fire up a new resolve in her and reminds her that although Paul may seem to be her friend, he is still capable of turning on her at any time he chooses, as indeed can his partner in crime, Richard. She is still their prisoner. For Sam, the situation is even worse, as his fate is already sealed and Lenore knows it.

The fact that Lenore’s role is to enable Paul to find his next victim appalls her, but if she fails to do that, how long will it be before she finds herself once again on the menu?

The tension and suspense starts on page one and the author does a great job in maintaining the pace and holding the reader’s attention for the entire book. The relationship between Lenore and Paul – while complex – is fascinating. Strong on dialogue, as was Donor, I felt thoroughly engaged in the plot for the entire story. Bait also works well as a standalone novel for any reader who hasn’t first read Donor, but I would recommend reading them both simply because the continuing story is so enjoyable. Elena Hearty is now firmly established on my list of ‘must read’ authors.

About the book:

She’ll pay. With her body...and soul!

“Find a penny, pick it up, the rest of the day you have good luck!” “A penny saved is a penny earned...” But what if that penny is the price of your soul?

Cora hoards pennies, and why not? Pennies have been obsolete in Canada for years so to find one is rare. Unfortunately, Cora’s obsession has conjured a demon who requires payment for the deals he can make for her. Cora rises up through the business world, as promised, but at what price? There’s a special place in hell for some people, and Cora’s spot has been reserved.

My review:

Sephera Giron knows how to write horror. She also knows how to write erotic stories. Put the two together and you have a sizzling, demonic feast. The penny saved of the title refers to the pennies Cora keeps finding. They just appear. Strange, as pennies have not been legal tender in Canada for some years. Cora becomes intrigued. She’s also ruthlessly ambitious, and when she discovers that the pennies are directly linked to a powerful demon, she finds out the real price of her soul. The demon helps her rise to dizzy heights at work, but his price must be paid. At night, she enjoys the pleasure and pain of her Master and the debauchery of hell.

The author’s unique take on her chosen subjects make her an author whose stories I always look forward to reading. ‘A Penny Saved’ is a worthy successor to her earlier work. Highly recommended adult reading.

About the book:

The dead are coming back.

Ten naked people walk from a cemetery into artist Sean Casey’s backyard: ten Spore People who used to be dead. One, Mindy, stays with Sean while trying to reclaim her life, but her ex would rather she return to her grave. Sean struggles to protect Mindy and other Spores while battling his recurring—and worsening—nightmares. Meanwhile, the media feeds a panicked frenzy that leads both the hopeful and hateful to Sean’s front door.

As the Spore fungus spreads, so does the fear. When mutilated children match Sean’s nightmares, he realizes his own worst terror may be closer than he thinks.

My review:

Although Spore is indeed about the dead returning, this is NOT a book about zombies. Constant rain has led to unusually wet conditions and one day, one after the other, ten people emerge, naked. They are confused. They don’t know what has happened to them, and they wander into Sean Casey’s yard. From then on, his life will never be the same again.

Sean himself has not had an easy time of it. Plagued by screaming nightmares, he’s an artist, responsible for a graphic horror series that isn’t likely to make him wealthy anytime soon. Sean has a loving partner whom he adores but, like anyone else, he has his fair share of struggles just to make ends meet. What he doesn’t need is hordes of people bringing the dead bodies of their loved ones and pets to bury in his back yard in the hope they will also be ‘resurrected’.

Panic spreads, and with it, fear of those who return. Then Sean’s nightmares start to find their echo in reality.

Spore was a fantastic, compulsive read, full of characters I felt I knew. Sean’s is not the only main focus here. One of the women who returns – Mindy – is also a major and thoroughly likeable character. In fact, possibly my favourite of them all as she undergoes transformation not just of a physical but a psychological kind.

Tamara Jones handles the science like the pro I believe she is. She makes this story so credible you begin to wonder if it could indeed happen. If it does, then let’s hope for some divine intervention! I loved the twists and turns, the revelations, pace, characters, premise and plot. A five star, stunning read.

About the book:

Sometimes evil looks like a fuzzy teddy bear.

Still grieving the untimely death of his dad, ten-year-old Josh Leary is reluctant to accept a well-worn stuffed teddy bear from his new stepfather. He soon learns he was right to be wary. Edgar is no ordinary toy...and he doesn’t like being rejected. When Josh banishes him to the closet, terrible things begin to happen. 

Desperate to be rid of the bear, Josh engages the help of a friend. As the boys’ efforts rebound on them with horrifying results, Josh is forced to accept the truth—Edgar will always get even.
My review:
What is it about some toys? They are made of soft, plush material or plastic, loads of stuffing, plastic eyes, sewn or stuck on mouths... but some of them at least seem to be more than the sum total of their parts. Many of us will remember the toy from our childhood that wasn't as comforting as the others. Maybe it was brand new, or maybe it was a hand-me-down, but there was something in the expression. It challenged or threatened, its eyes followed us around the room. It seemed to be watching us.

J.H. Moncrieff has taken this basic premise and written a story that grabbed me and creeped me out from the beginning. The story is told from the perspective of a ten year old boy, Josh, who is still mourning the loss of his beloved father who dies two years earlier. His much loved mother has married again – a sinister and sadistic undertaker called Michael, who gives Josh a battered panda bear with a malevolent expression and yellow eyes. It soon becomes clear that Edgar (the bear) is far more than just an ugly face. Although it is told from a child’s perspective, I should stress this is NOT A YA book. This is adult horror.

This novella is one of four winners of Samhain Publishing’s latest Horror anthology award, under the generic title ‘Childhood Fears’. It succeeds on all fronts and chilled and thrilled in all the right places. I loved it. One word of caution though, if you still possess a toy that unnerved you as a child, be very careful how you dispose of it…

 About the Book;

They do more than frighten birds. Much more.

Early one morning in the fall of 1964, Robert searched for his missing six-year-old daughter, Cathy. He found her asleep in a nearby cornfield, covered in blood and holding a small axe. A few feet away lay the mutilated body of her classmate Emily.

Assumed guilty of murder, Cathy lived in a hospital for insane children. She always gave the same account of what happened. She talked of murderous scarecrows that roamed the cornfield on moonlit nights. Her doctors considered her delusional. The police, her neighbors and the press thought she was dangerous. And so she remained incarcerated. No one believed her. That was a mistake.

My review:

This great story is one of four in the Samhain Horror 'Childhood Fears' anthology. All four books will be collected in print later this year, but at present, I'm working my way through the individual ebooks - and loving my journey! I am someone who, in common with many I suspect, finds scarecrows unnerving in a similar way to clowns. Scarecrows stand, absurdly perched on their timber frames and pegs, wearing Worzel Gummidge hats, their tattered, empty sleeves and trouser legs flapping uselessly in the breeze but, at dusk, or in uncertain light, they can appear to be moving. A quick shot of imagination and you can just see them lurching off across the cornfield, scaring more than the crows. Another reviewer has remarked on the multi-layered quality of this novella and I would echo that. It evokes childhood night terrors in its depictions of the creatures with murder on their minds, but it does much more than that. The harrowing experiences of the lonely child, Cathy, her afflicted only friend, Jimmy, the twists and turns, the 'Did she? or Didn't She?' question that runs throughout the story... All of this makes for a fascinating and unnerving tale. Excellent

About the book:

A beautiful house – with a dark and deadly secret.

When Freya inherits her mother's childhood home, she sees it as an opportunity. A chance for a new life with her best friends, as they convert the crumbling mansion into an exclusive hotel.

Instead, they'll be lucky to escape with their lives.

As the first hammers tear through the bricked up entrances, a dark, terrible and ancient evil stirs beneath the house. An evil that has already laid claim to Freya and her companions' souls.

My review:

This is definitely one that will keep you up at night - in a good way, of course! Angel Manor is the debut novel of a writer I am going to be looking out for from now on. She creates a wonderful sense of atmosphere - dark, brooding, sinister - along with a quirky cast of characters, creeping menace, suspense and full on scarifying horror. This book had everything a horror reader could want. The nuns were terrifying, so were the statues. The sense of dread was palpable. Each chapter finished on a cliffhanger, so you simply had to read on (hence the late nights!). The ending was perfect.

Finally, a shout-out to an author from whom we simply don't hear enough - horror writer, Julia Kavan, whose short story, Dreaming, Not Sleeping, comes highly recommended:

About the story:
 When night falls we can venture into danger within the safety of our dreams – where nothing can really touch us... or can it? One woman’s insidious fantasy threatens everything, but some nightmares are simply too good to resist. 
My review:
This may be short but it punches way above its weight and is a spooky story that stays with you long after you've finished it. Well written and highly recommended. Be careful if you read it just before you go to sleep...

So – with all these great authors out there, who would dare to say women can’t write horror?!


  1. Aw, thanks for including me on your list, Catherine! I really need to read more horror written by women - there's so many both you and Greg have mentioned that I haven't read.

    It's a ridiculous notion that we can't write horror, and I hope it will soon be something we'll look back and laugh about.

  2. Thanks, J.H. Keep on writing those great stories!

  3. Thank you so much for including me Catherine!