Book Review: Happiness and Other Diseases by Sumiko Saulson

Content Warnings: Explicit sexual content, dubious consent, gore, death, suicidal ideation, self-harm, torture, mental illness

Happiness and Other Diseases

Flynn has had a rough run of it. His life was never great, but lately, his nightmares have been so bad that he’s on the brink of collapse. With few options, he checks into a psychiatric hospital. There he meets Charlotte who tells him that his dreams are oh so very real… and she wants to be a part of them.

Charlotte is a somnali… well, technically, a demi-somnali. She can traverse the dreamworld and mold the dreams of mortals. Her father—a godlike being named Brash—wants her to give him a grandchild, which would allow him and the other somnali to cross into the world of the living. To do that, she needs Flynn.

Together they explore their fantasies, cope with reality, juggle friends and otherworldly relatives, and find what it means to be happy—even if it’s not what people consider “normal”.

Saulson weaves a deep and fascinating world, blending Greek mythology into the modern Bay area. The complicated history of the somnali is made accessible to the average reader. Their characters are multifaceted. No one is entirely good or evil, or even stable. This realism in Saulson’s writing was appreciated, especially with regard to thier treatment of mental health.

While the story showcases healthy communication—both in relationships and in BDSM—sometimes these interactions seem stilted. The story features some seriously disturbing scenes (things I’m not even sure how to tag), but if you go in with an open mind, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how touching this tale of doomed love really is.

If you’re interested in Greek mythology, dreams, BDSM, or just the crazy ups and downs of new love, Happiness, and Other Diseases is a good pick for you.

Book Review: Love and Zombies by Eric Shapiro 

Review by Hailey Knoblock

Content Warning: Brief Mentions of Rape 

Imagine going on an adventure to Las Vegas in the midst of the zombie apocalypse on the hunt to find a girl that was just recently bitten by a zombie so that she can be used in an upcoming porn film?  

Love and Zombies by Eric Shapiro is a humorous, gory, and quick read. Henry, a filmmaker, gets a call one day from his friend Sam Kranson. Sam has a mission for Henry and himself to go out to Las Vegas to find a girl who has been recently bitten by a zombie and to bring her back to a man named Anthony Christopher, the son of the sharks’ casino owner in Vegas. However, Anthony Christopher and the rest of the casino’s intent is to use the girl that is slowly turning into a zombie to be used in a porn film. As well as the mission, Henry also has an addiction to going to strip clubs, so his girlfriend Teresa, is quite anxious for him to be going on a trip alone to Las Vegas. Sam and Henry will be compensated though, if they complete the mission

I really liked how the main character, Henry, kept having flashbacks the whole time of his girlfriend, Teresa, who he had to leave behind to go on the mission with Sam to Las Vegas. The whole time, while the zombie apocalypse is happening, Henry has this internal struggle of thinking about if Teresa still likes him, or if she has left him for someone else. I like how this deep internal struggle that Henry has contrasts with the humor of Sam and Henry’s relationship and the funny situations that Henry gets himself stuck in throughout the novel. 

Another aspect that I really liked about this book was all of the gore that was involved and the violence. The best part is that Eric Shapiro would take a scene full of gore and violence but also make the situation absolutely hilarious.

There is a brief mention of rape in the novel that I would like to point out, but it is only mentioned for a moment in the story. 

The book was enjoyable and hilarious except for the mention of rape. It was fast, fun, and full of gore and violence. The writing was simple and effective and also easy to understand. The storyline was interesting and after the first page, I was hooked. 

I would recommend this book to anyone that likes gore, violence, a little bit of romance, and humor. 

Review Written By: Hailey Knoblock 

Book Review: Unknowing, I Sink by Timothy G. Huguenin

Julian takes a summer job cleaning the house of Mr. V, a notorious recluse in his small West Virginian town. He soon discovers that the sickly old man is far weirder than the rumors say. Julian tells himself that the money is worth it so he can get a car and impress the girl he likes. But when his crush asks Julian to sneak her in to see the mysterious Mr. V, Julian puts much more than just his job at risk.

Because Unknowing, I Sink is a novella, there’s no room for excess in the plot. The story is tight, keeping the action fast. There is no unnecessary fluff. Still, Huguenin manages to build dread organically, keeping the horror in the back of your mind for most of the book. He does an excellent job of making the reader create their own worry. Something is going to happen, something is right around the corner. The pay off is worth the wait.

Unknowing, I Sink features a small cast of characters, but each are inundated with flavor and personality. Julian just wants to impress the girl he likes. He’s barely spoken to her before, but he’s sure that if he could just get money for a good car, it will be enough to get her attention. Huguenin wrote Julian as a flawless teenage character, annoying enough to be realistic, but not so much that I threw the book across the room (it’s happened before).

Mr. V does more than just hide in shadows. Huguenin imbues him with vibrant personality while still keeping him shrouded in mystery. The unearthly visage created by the many screens and umbilical of electrical cords only foreshadows the true horror.

Huguenin also went the extra mile in filling out his background characters. Stacey—who initially only appears in Julian’s imaginings—comes roaring to life off the page, defying Julian’s expectations and blazing a trail for objectified girls in fiction everywhere.

Huguenin has always expressed a strong desire to write stories imbued with the spirit of West Virginia. From the tone, to the characters, to the town, I feel he succeeds. Setting steps to the forefront throughout Unknowing, I Sink. The house is a character in its own right, with cameras and intercoms that turn it into an extension of Mr. V.

Huguenin has a grounded style of writing that makes the story incredibly accessible. You’re immediately pulled in by the description and character voice.

I consider Unknowing, I Sink one of the most literary horror books that I’ve picked up in the past year. Huguenin takes a subtle hand in guiding the reader through the story, letting tension build organically, before punching them in the gut with the reveal. I hope Unknowing, I Sink is in consideration for a Stoker Award next year. It would be well deserved.

If you’re looking for creeping horror with a satisfying twist and excellent writing, pick up Unknowing, I Sink. Also check out Huguenin’s other books.

Timothy G. Hugunin was a contestant in the Next Great Horror Writer Contest here at HorrorAddicts.net. Check out this interview with him!

Book Review: The Bonecarver (The Night Weaver Series) by Monique Snyman

Review Written by Matt Marovich

Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Threats of Rape

Before I begin I need to admit that when I chose The Bonecarver to review I wasn’t aware that it was book two in a series and, if I had, I wouldn’t have picked it up having not read the first. While this book doesn’t rely too heavily on the plot from the book before, recurring characters and their past history with the main character might have resonated and made more impact if I had their complete backstory.

The Bonecarver is the story of Rachel Cleary, a teenage girl attending Ridge Crest High in the small New England town of Shadow Grove. Despite its small and sleepy nature, the town of Shadow Grove is one of mysteries that hide a darkness beneath the surface, where terrible events happen but are covered up by those in charge. Only recently recovering from an encounter with a being called the Night Weaver, responsible for the deaths and disappearances of several children, Shadow Grove has moved on in its silent fashion, ignoring the strangeness and tragedy that had befallen it.

We are introduced to Rachel as she is attempting to take her SATs when a panic attack forces her outside, abandoning the test. While in the bathroom to calm down with a small amount of privacy, she helps save her classmate Mercia Holstein from an epileptic seizure. During this encounter, Rachel finds a small, carved figurine of bone in Mercia’s likeness, her pose and expression identical to her in the midst of her seizure. After this, more terrible things begin to happen to people around the town, each preceded by the appearance of a bone carving of the victim in the midst of an accident. After the discovery of a boneless corpse at her school and a frightening encounter with a strange fae, Rachel’s investigation of the threat takes her into the Fae world in search of allies and, when she returns home, she finds Shadow Grove in chaos as she confronts the creature known as the Bonecarver.

The parts of The Bonecarver that I enjoyed most were some of the descriptions. Monique Snyman does a good job of painting pictures of what she would like you to see and experience, often using all five senses to bring you into the scene. Settings are vivid, movement and action are easily imagined, and her take on classic fae like the Sluagh are memorable. The final climactic scene between Rachel and the Bonecarver is particularly theatrical.

That said The Bonecarver didn’t work for me in several ways. The first half of the book felt slow and stilted, taking quite some time to get going (although the second half of the book flowed much more quickly and felt like the actual story she wanted to tell). Discoveries felt awkwardly placed rather than organically made as if Rachel were stumbling through everything by luck, rather than any kind of skill.

While descriptions were vivid, they sometimes didn’t make realistic sense. For instance, we are told that the highschool was originally a “tiny schoolhouse with three classrooms and an outhouse” but has grown into a large, U-shaped building complete with bell tower, auditorium, cafeteria, indoor swimming pool, and enough classroom space to accommodate three thousand students, all of which were made possible by donations from generous alumni. However, despite the influx of money that made such expansion possible, large portions of the school have fallen into disrepair and “quickly [became] forgotten” because they aren’t used (for instance, Rachel notes that the pool was not filled at any point since she started attending high school). Why would a town waste money expanding a school in such a way without the population to warrant it, only to let it become decrepit? If the town received enough money to expand in such a way, did the money then dry up so that they couldn’t afford maintenance on it? Later the story takes us to the local hospital whose parking lot is full of cars placed there by the town council to make the hospital look busy, only they have begun to rust and fall apart, giving the parking lot more of a junkyard feel. Why is the hospital being busy important? How does the decision to fill the parking lot in such a way, when there are no people to accompany those cars, actually do anything to reach the stated goal of appearing “busy”?

The impression I received reading The Bonecarver was that there were often certain settings and scenes that Snyman wanted and so came up with explanations for them regardless of how much sense those explanations made. In order to have a long, protracted chase scene through the highschool, the highschool has to be large enough to accommodate it (including a ventilation system large enough for people to crawl through), despite a small New England town theoretically not needing a school that big. Rachel finds the boneless corpse in the boiler room of the old school house, which is described equally as being part of the physical structure of the modern high school but also considered a distinctly separate part of the high school because of its disuse, but why would the original school house have a boiler room when it had no plumbing? These are just two examples but this felt like a problem throughout.

Another main issue I took with the book was the almost casual use of sexual assault and threat of sexual violence. While in the Fae world, Rachel is sexually assaulted when a soldier sneaks up and grabs her from behind, fondling her breast in the process, before explaining how he’s going to rape her. She’s able to free herself and escape but the whole scene lacks any emotional punch; the fact that a high school girl was able to extricate herself from an adult, professional soldier with a single backwards thrown elbow makes it seem like the scene was written more to provide Rachel a horse to ride to advance the plot. In that case, threatening to have her raped feels like a cheap gimmick to up the danger of the scene that could have had as much gravitas without it.

We also encounter Nova, a king in the Fae world and brother to Orion, the ally that Rachel goes in search of. While he is present in the book, we learn that he has threatened to rape her in the past but despite this they almost have a cordial interaction when she helps him search for something he lost. However, when confronted with his brother, Nova sexually assaults Rachel in front of him by licking the side of her face and telling Orion what he wants to do to her, using this threat of sexual violence to force Orion to agree to leave the Fae world. Again, this feels like this happens because of the math that if violence is bad, then sexual violence must be worse, when it was completely unnecessary for the scene.

It does make a certain amount of sense when you consider that Rachel Cleary and The Bonecarver definitely fall into that subrenre of dark fantasy YA fiction characterized by Twilight, of the young female protagonist who doesn’t know her own attractiveness but most male characters desire. If Rachel’s worth stems from her unrealized beauty and physical body, then it makes sense that threats to her would be based around the thing being valued. Ultimately, this is the main conflict of The Bonecarver and the primary impetus for why the threat of the Bonecarver exists, which is a sad commentary on why these male characters find her to be important.

Ultimately The Bonecarver didn’t work for me but if you’re a fan of YA dark fantasy focusing around a female protagonist meant to be strong, overcoming challenges and defeating threats, then it may be for you.