The Getaway

Black teen's face in shadow with blood red background and lettering. His eyes and mouth are gruesomely stitched closed.It’s the very near future and the US has been devastated by wildfires, drought and floods. Food shortages and riots have become the norm, with very few places designated as safe cities. Karloff Country Resort  offers the very wealthy an escape from this broken world. It is “the funnest place around,” according to the owners. Once inside the walls of Karloff Country’s theme park, nothing in the outside world matters. The staff – all BIPOC – live onsite in an area separate from the guests and consider themselves lucky. They live and breathe the Karloff Country motto, “service and joy.”

Teens Jay, Zeke and Connie work and go to school there. Seychelle Karloff is part of their friend group. Despite being heir to the Karloff empire, she is more connected to the teens than her family. She has always been treated like an outsider. She’s biracial and her grandfather never forgave her mother for bringing a half-Black child into the family.

Things start to get troubling when Jay and Zeke notice some of their neighbors are going missing. At the same time wealthy families are moving into the Karloff vacation mansions but aren’t leaving. Guests become more demanding and treatment of the staff becomes more callous. Jay tries to find logical answers, while Zeke follows conspiracy chat rooms and realizes they might be on to something. Seychelle uses her Karloff family connections to get more information. As the three friends uncover the startling truth, they work together to find a way out.

It’s clear early on that things aren’t quite right; but as the story progresses, the intensity ratchets up quickly, in a frighteningly believable way. Horror stems from the world the Karloffs and their peers created both inside and outside the walls of Karloff Country. The teens’ relationships aren’t without conflict but each in their own way uses their skills and resources to help each other out.

The most frightening thing about The Getaway is how many storylines in the book are playing out in our world right now.

Clear your calendar because once you start this book you will not be able to put it down. And can we talk about that cover? The book is scary before you even open it!

Find The Getaway at your local bookstore

The Weight of Blood

Black teen girl wearing tiara and Prom Queen sash drenched in blood, set against a black background.A bullied teen, her unhinged parent, a prom and telekinesis. You may think you know where this horror novel is going but trust me, you do not.

A true crime podcast host is looking to uncover the truth about a tragedy that struck a small Georgia town years before. Does the blame really rest on one teen girl, Maddie Washington? Going back and forth in time, the narrative spools out the story in the podcast’s current day interviews with survivors and experts, woven with the events as they happened.

Maddie and her white father live in a small Georgia town where even in 2014 the community continues the tradition of hosting segregated proms – one for white students, another for Black students. Maddie is biracial but has been passing for white her whole life. No one ever knew her mother. Her abusive father keeps her terrorized at the thought of anyone finding out she is part Black.

To make matters worse for Maddie, her father has recreated a 1960’s era world in their home with no cable tv or internet. All Maddie sees are videos of “Father Knows Best” type television shows, old movies and whitewashed history lessons. It’s reminiscent of people today who try to recreate a world  where white men rule and no one else matters.

Maddie’s secret is revealed when an unexpected rainstorm sends her hot comb straightened hair back to its naturally coily state. One classmate, Jules, starts launching pencils into Maddie’s hair; other classmates joyfully join into the abuse. A video of the incident goes viral, bringing their school and community unwanted attention. What the video doesn’t show is Maddie begging them to stop. As she gets more and more upset, classroom lights break, windows shatter, and the floor heaves. The viral video causes things to escalate in this divided town, coming to a horrifying climax on prom night.

Each character in this story brings a different point of view, adding complexity to the narrative. Kendrick, the Black football star is  accepted by the white kids because of his talent, but has to live with that pressure and his tenuous relationship with other Black students. Kendrick’s sister Kali founded the school’s Black Student Union and isn’t afraid to stand up against the daily racism Black students endure. Jules, who started the bullying, feels victimized when called on it, blaming Maddie for this new experience of suffering consequences for her actions.  Wendy, Kendrick’s white girlfriend, believes dating Kendrick makes her a good person and will not stand for anything that gets in the way of her self-image.

Tiffany D. Jackson is an incredible writer who skillfully blends issues of racism, pseudo-allyship, entitlement, police brutality and the supernatural into a compelling story. This horror novel asks what’s more frightening, otherworldly powers or the impact of racism on Black people’s everyday lives?

Find The Weight of Blood at your local bookstore.

Artie and the Wolf Moon

ArtieGet ready for a horror story with a heart.

Eighth grader Artemis “Artie” Irvin is one of the few Black people at her school. She gets picked on but doesn’t care. Artie immerses herself in her favorite activity, old school film photography, a hobby she picked up from her late father. She wants to go out at night and take pictures under the full moon, but her mother Loretta says no, worried about Artie’s safety. Of course, Artie sneaks out any way. She sees a wolf and runs home, terrified. The wolf ends up at Artie’s door – and transforms into her mother! Artie demands answers. Loretta explains that yes, she’s a werewolf. Being a werewolf is an inherited trait, but since Artie’s late father was human (making her bi-mammalian), Loretta isn’t sure if Artie will become one. Artie is excited about the idea that she could become an apex predator, but her mom warns her – werewolves are not the scariest things out there.

When Artie’s abilities do emerge she and her mother go to a nearby community of werewolves where Artie learns more about her heritage and how to manage her powers. Finally, she’s in a place where she fits in and is accepted. She even finds romance with Maya, a werewolf she meets there. Things get complicated and scary when Artie learns secrets about her family’s past and how vampires threaten not just the werewolf community, but Artie’s family in particular.

The narrative weaves deftly through time – from the origins of werewolves during slavery, to Artie’s parents’ courtship, to Artie’s coming of age in the werewolf community. Artie and Maya’s queer romance is sweet. The conflicts between werewolves and vampires are dramatic and scary. The art integrates with the story beautifully; color is used skillfully to set time, place, and ominous moods. The werewolves are all Black and the vampires are light skinned.

I enjoyed this graphic novel so much! The narrative and art successfully blend heritage, horror and love into a compelling story.

Find Artie and the Wolf Moon at your local bookstore or comic book shop.

 

Bitter Root

Sometimes the monsters are right next door.

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Set during the Harlem Renaissance, Bitter Root tells the story of a New York City beset by monsters known as Jinoo, and the African American Sangerye family, the only people with the skills and knowledge to fight them off. It seemed the monsters had been put to rest but recently they have been rising again. This time it’s more difficult for the Sangeryes; the family is divided over methods, as well as who can fight the Jinoo. Even worse, a new creature, more powerful than they’d ever seen, has emerged. The Jinoo themselves used to be human. Their souls were corrupted by racism and violence, turning them into monsters; once turned they infect others. As we get deeper into the story, the battles facing the Sangeryes get more frightening. On the face, this is a good horror story. Looking deeper, the powerful narrative shows how people can allow themselves to be poisoned with hatred to the point where they lose their humanity. The art, in style, tone, and use of a deep, moody color palette, evokes a feeling of ever present danger.

Like the film Get Out, or much of Octavia Butler’s speculative fiction, the events in this reimagined reality provide a different way to examine real world issues. Three issues of this knockout comic series have been released as of this writing. Normally I would wait until the whole series, or possibly the trade version (one volume containing all the issues), had been published, but this comic is so good I couldn’t wait to talk about it.

Head out to your local comic book shop and pick it up! Not sure where your local comic book shop is located? Find it here!

 

Scary Creatures, Scarier Humans

Sometimes the humans are just as threatening as the creatures.

27414411This chilling sci-fi horror story brings together Tuck Drake, who woke up from a 400 year stasis and realized he was one of the only non-mutated human survivors on his ship, and Laura Cruz, a hacker aboard a ship which just crashed into Tuck’s. Laura is part of a crew of  shipraiders, archeologists who search the cosmos for  remains of Earth so they can build sustainable life on a new planet. Tuck’s ship holds what’s left of Yosemite National Park; these seeds of new life are exactly what Laura’s team needs. In trying to protect the remains of Yosemite, Laura and Tuck have to fight off  some of the scariest creatures I’ve ever read about, avoid being destroyed by rogue technology, and even scarier, defend themselves against a rival family who go to alarming lengths to undermine their efforts.  Latinx characters – by description, language and cultural references – are center stage, a welcome change from standard sci-fi fare. Characters are well constructed, and the scary, intriguing narrative delivers some interesting plot twists. The fear this book delivers is unrelenting.  If this were a movie it would be too scary for me to watch, but as a book…yesss!!

Pitch Dark, Courtney Alameda, Feiwel & Friends

Love and Soul reaping

Did I mention I also love comics and graphic novels?

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Kim Reaper: Grim Beginnings is a sweet, queer love story that manages to be funny and creepy at the same time. Becka has been crushing on Kim and one day decides to ask her out. As Becka approaches her, Kim disappears through a portal, which Becka is then sucked into. She lands in a house and discovers Kim at her part time job – she’s a grim reaper. Understandably Becka is freaked out so Kim calmly explains she’s not a murderer, she just shepherds souls into the afterlife.  Kim is still new at the job and is only allowed to harvest animal souls; things get complicated when she decides to harvest a human, and has to face the consequences. Kim and Becka have a sweet relationship; Kim introduces Becka to the cool things about being a reaper and Becka shows Kim how much fun it is to work in a bakery.  They do their best to grow their relationship in the midst of reapings, possessions, zombie uprisings and dealing with Kim’s reaper bosses. They have their ups and downs but they come through for each other. The colorful art’s somewhat whimsical style supports the story well, easily being both charming and disturbing. The narrative around the relationship keeps the focus where it belongs – on the relationship itself, not their sexuality or culture. We get to see how two people can enjoy a life together – even if that life involves soul harvesting.

Kim Reaper: Grim Beginnings, Sarah Graley, Oni Press

These Undead Give Me Life

Dread Nation is the book I really can’t shut up about. 30223025

The Civil War is interrupted when, instead of fighting each other, soldiers find themselves having to fight the dead rising up from the battlefield. Given the times, African/African-American slaves and Native Americans are forced to become the zombie killers. Young female slaves are sent to special schools to become Attendants, trained in defending young white women from the undead – and the untoward intentions of young men. The premise is exciting and very well executed. This book stands above others because the issues surrounding the premise – racism, colorism, sexism, classism – bring the plot to life completely organically.  The zombie battles and other supernatural elements play out in creepy detail. A particularly pleasing element is the cover – unlike covers which whitewash or have little to no connection to the story, this one is a beautiful rendition of the young zombie killer in all her brown-skinned, scythe wielding glory. This one belongs on the top of your “to be read” pile.

Dread Nation, Justina Ireland, Balzer + Bray