Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Review: Suburban Hell by Maureen Kilmer

Dig that groovy cover, y'all!
(But please ignore my thumb.)
Suburban Hell by Maureen Kilmer 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars*
*3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

About the book:

A Chicago cul-de-sac is about to get a new neighbor...of the demonic kind.

Amy Foster considers herself lucky. After she left the city and moved to the suburbs, she found her place quickly with neighbors Liz, Jess, and Melissa, snarking together from the outskirts of the PTA crowd. One night during their monthly wine get-together, the crew concoct a plan for a clubhouse She Shed in Liz’s backyard—a space for just them, no spouses or kids allowed.

But the night after they christen the She Shed, things start to feel . . . off. They didn’t expect Liz’s little home-improvement project to release a demonic force that turns their quiet enclave into something out of a nightmare. And that’s before the homeowners’ association gets wind of it.

Even the calmest moms can’t justify the strange burn marks, self-moving dolls, and horrible smells surrounding their possessed friend, Liz. Together, Amy, Jess, and Melissa must fight the evil spirit to save Liz and the neighborhood . . . before the suburbs go completely to hell.

*    *    *


What I liked:

+The dry, subtle humor Kilmer uses in portraying the banality of suburban motherhood. (Some have called it "campy"--I do not think the word means what they think it means. "American Horror Story" is pretty dang campy. This feels a little more like an affectionate spoof, in the vein of "Hot Fuzz," kinda.)

+The emotionally touching bits, which enhanced the story but were not maudlin. They illustrated what motivates the POV character, Amy, to fight the good fight (which many in her shoes would not).

+Amy's relationship with her husband, Mark, which shows mutual caring and teamwork (even if more of the household stuff falls to her while she's a SAHM). Mark really listens to his wife, even when what she's telling him beggars belief (not saying he automatically agrees with her conclusions, but he supports her nonetheless, which makes for a refreshing change from some horror spouses).

+How innocuous home and garden tools, as well as kids' toys, proved threatening, even dangerous. (Beware your robot vacuums, folks!)

What didn't work for me:

+This is supposed to be about demonic possession, but certain bits seem to point to an uneasy spirit/ghost. Which is it? If a demon, or demons, caused the family tragedy that took place on the land on which Amy and her BFFs live, that connection wasn't successfully established, IMO.

+For someone who professes to be a big horror movie buff, Amy makes some rookie mistakes (using a ouija board to try resolving a case of demonic possession? really??? c'mon, Ames...).

+We get to know Amy pretty well, her friends Jess and Melissa a little less so but still better than Liz, the one who gets possessed pretty much at the start of the story. I'd have liked a little more about Liz and her home life before things went to hell. (As it were.)

+The ending seemed a bit rushed and lacked the debriefing Amy likely gave Mark, considering she's often shown expressing the developments regarding Liz's condition to him throughout the novel.

Some have complained that "Suburban Hell" doesn't match the level of the books to which it's been compared, namely Grady Hendrix's "My Best Friend's Exorcism" and "The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires." The ways in which this novel compares to those are superficial, in that it's about friendship and using unorthodox deliverance methods to save a friend in serious spiritual trouble (like MBFE) and a group of suburban moms going toe-to-toe against eeeeeeeeeviiiiiiiiil (TSBCGTSV). I enjoyed both of Hendrix's books--he's a masterful storyteller--but have to say there's an authenticity to the voices in "Suburban Hell" that can only come from one who's lived the life of a suburban mom. I believe Kilmer's writing (which, to me, shows a lot of promise) will grow as rich as Hendrix's, over time.

I rounded up to 4 stars because I wolfed this book down over 3 days and had a great time with this cozy, comedic horror. I recommend this for folks who want some light scares with their summer cocktails, or just a fun, quick read for Spooky Season.

Content Warnings for: death related to drug use (discussed but not shown), children in peril, disturbing imagery, and a jerk husband. While the doggies survive, some other critters don't. Also, quite a bit of alcohol consumption occurs throughout, as well as mean-girl type nastiness, so if either of these perturb, you may want to give it a pass.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Tuneage ~ Cannons

Cannons has been around for a little over a decade but they're relatively new to me. Allmusic's Marcy Donelson describes their sound as a "...blend of shimmery electro-pop and sultry dance-rock," which pretty much nails it. As Cannons formed in L.A., it's apt that their music conjures up images of twilight drives on California's Pacific Coast Highway.

The first Cannons tune I recall hearing is Bad Dream, from their album Fever Dream. If the hypnotic beat weren't enough to capture my attention, the lyrics were:

I been living in a bad, bad dream
Sleepwalking through a sad scene

I mean, #relateable.


One of their earlier offerings, Fire For You from Shadows, slows the pace to share the pain of a love gone wrong, with possibly the sexiest groove in which heartache's ever been conveyed.

Cannons' most recent album, Heartbeat Highway, gives us the more upbeat Loving You, with simple lyrics that nevertheless resonate with my battered, nyctophilic heart:
Waiting for the night to come
Cus I been hiding from the sun
#StoryOfMyLife. #Srsly.

So if you're feeling world-wearied and in need of some sonic soothing, or if you just want some chill tuneage to vibe to as you work on...well, whatever it is you're working on, give Cannons a try--they deserve to "blow up," as the Youth say. 

Here's one more for the road...

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Review: The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste

The Haunting of Velkwood

The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

About the book:

From Bram Stoker Award­–winning author Gwendolyn Kiste comes a chilling novel about three childhood friends who miraculously survive the night everyone in their suburban neighborhood turned into ghosts—perfect for fans of Yellowjackets.

The Velkwood Vicinity was the topic of occult theorists, tabloid one-hour documentaries, and even some pseudo-scientific investigations as the block of homes disappeared behind a near-impenetrable veil that only three survivors could enter—and only one has in the past twenty years, until now.

Talitha Velkwood has avoided anything to do with the tragedy that took her mother and eight-year-old sister, drifting from one job to another, never settling anywhere or with anyone, feeling as trapped by her past as if she was still there in the small town she so desperately wanted to escape from. When a new researcher tracks her down and offers to pay her to come back to enter the vicinity, Talitha claims she’s just doing it for the money. Of all the crackpot theories over the years, no one has discovered what happened the night Talitha, her estranged, former best friend Brett, and Grace, escaped their homes twenty years ago. Will she finally get the answers she’s been looking for all these years, or is this just another dead end?

Award-winning author Gwendolyn Kiste has created a suburban ghost story about a small town that trapped three young women who must confront the past if they’re going to have a future.

*    *    *

I won an uncorrected Advance Reader Copy of this book from Saga Press, via Goodreads Giveaway--thanks so much! Here are my thoughts:

I congratulate Kiste on conjuring a unique type of haunting--not a house, not a thing, but a whole dang neighborhood! And I don't know whether "Talitha" has ever been a common given name but I suspect that its appearance here, when it was famously used in the gospel passage in which Jesus brings a dead girl back to life and says, "Talitha koum," (“Little girl, I say to you, arise!”), is not coincidental. (Please note, however, that this is not a religious story.)

From page one I was engrossed and creeped out. The build-up toward the protagonist's return to her abandoned phantom block was suitably worrisome and nerve-wracking. Her arrival there is heartbreaking and utterly chilling, as are the consequences of that and repeated visits. The mood is somber throughout which, coupled with how difficult things become for the protagonist the more time she spends in the shadowy realm, ratchets the tension up exponentially.

I felt the pacing was somewhat sluggish in the second act. As well, I found the writing style a bit immature in places--I know this is an uncorrected copy but I think the author uses a certain kind of repetition for emphasis, or to snare the reader emotionally, and this not likely to be "corrected." (And maybe it's not something requiring correction but just something not to my taste--whatever the case, those moments took me out of the narrative.) I will say this, though: the climax of the story is so violently satisfying that I cried, and I honestly can't remember the last time a book affected me that way.

"The Haunting of Velkwood" engaged me so strongly that I practically inhaled it over the course of four days, and I'm definitely interested in reading more by this author. Recommended for fans of the Channel Zero series (which, if it hadn't been cancelled, would've been an excellent adapter of this story.)

The Haunting of Velkwood is due to come out on March 5, 2024.

Friday, December 4, 2020

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)*

One frigid December night, about three years ago, I exited the office I worked in at the time, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was waaaaay past quitting time, and I was wiped out and starving, and I just wanted to get my commute over with so I could get home and collapse with copious quantities of comfort foods, already. But across the way, something caught my eye. I went toward the colorful motion and about a long block later found myself in front of the ABC building. The ground level lights were all off. In one glass wall was mounted a monitor and speakers so passersby could enjoy whatever ABC was currently airing--and in that moment, it was about ten minutes into A Charlie Brown Christmas. For the next twenty minutes I stood outside in the freezing cold, smiling through the program and the memories of when I was a kid watching it on CBS. (OK, and maybe I sniffled a little during Linus' monologue near the end.) The only thing that could’ve made that night better would’ve been the right man’s hand holding mine as we shared those chilly twenty minutes...and maybe some spiked hot chocolate.

Well, there probably isn’t a “right man” for me, and ABC no longer holds the rights to the special, so it won't be airing on network TV this year. But I can make myself a spiked hot chocolate whenever I want (I've concocted a fabulous recipe), and you can click here to learn where you can tune into the magic of Christmas (spoiler alert--PBS for the win!).

*This is a slightly expanded crosspost from my tumblr blog.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Spook Out! Day 31-ish ~ Stayin' Spooked

Youse guys, I had a blasty-blast doing the blogfest this year--I hope you enjoyed exploring the new, the old, and the outright bizarre with me.

But I just hate saying goodbye to Spook Out! So long, have a nice year, maybe see you next October, if I survive till then. Wham, bam, spook off, ma'am. So callous, so cruel. Can't bear it. So here are a few other fun things that can help keep you feeling spooky after all the Halloween candy's gone...

On the Netflix
I wasn't too impressed with Netflix's movie offerings, but they've got some great series for horror fans. In no particular order, I highly recommend:

Hannibal (2013 - 2015) ~ "This drama series focuses on the early years of the relationship between FBI criminal profiler Will Graham and homicidal cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter." Among the prestigious of prestige TV, this 3 season series is a masterpiece and veritable feast for the eyes. But some images may prove disturbing to more sensitive types.

Dracula (2020) ~ "An unconventional nun helps a tormented lawyer piece together the details of his doomed business trip to Count Dracula's castle." Brought to you by the same twisted minds responsible for the Sherlock reboot, this is not your dad's Dracula. With three feature-length episodes, this cheeky adaptation goes in some interesting directions. It's been a while since I've watched it, though, so I'm not sure how gory it is...although, vamps, so there's likely to be a good amount of blood!

The Order (2019-2020) ~ "Out to avenge his mother's death, a college student pledges a secret order and lands in a war between werewolves and practitioners of dark magic." With rule-lovin' snarky witches and hard-drinkin' wiseass werewolves, two seasons of The Order make for a fun supernatural romp. Yes, I said romp!

Crazyhead (2016) ~ "Bowling alley worker Amy and nonconformist Raquel kick some serious demon butt while also facing their inner demons as they navigate their early 20s." There is, alas, but one season of this horror comedy, but don't let that stop you from watching it! Girl powah!

On Hulu
The Huluween collection provides hours and hours of frightful fun, including my following faves:

What We Do in the Shadows (2019-2020) ~ "A look into the daily lives of four vampires who've been together for hundreds of years; after a visit from their dark lord and leader, they're reminded of their purpose in coming to New York City over a century ago." These two seasons are a spinoff of the excellent mockumentary film of 2014 and funny af.

Zomboat! (2019) ~ "Sisters Kat and Jo realise there's a zombie apocalypse in Birmingham, but gamer Kat has a plan: zombies can't swim - water is the safest option, and narrowboats move just marginally faster than zombies." It's utterly ridiculous and a ton of fun! As well, it stars one of the leads from the aforementioned Crazyhead, who seems to keep getting herself into these fixes...Whatevs--more girl powah!

Stan Against Evil (2016-2018) ~ "172 demons have been unleashed on the residents of Williard's Mill as payback for a massive witch-burning hundreds of years ago. Evie, the new sheriff in town, needs to work with the former sheriff, Stan Miller, who was forced to retire." Starring the incomparable, irascible, and irrepressible Dr. Cox John C. McGinley, you've got three seasons of wackadoodle demon-killing to dive into, so what're you waiting for, an engraved invitation???

Bob's Burgers ~ Given the year we've all had, sometimes you just want jump into your jim-jams, cuddle up with your pillows, and enjoy some very light-hearted scares. And this animated series has about eight Halloween specials for your pleasure (not including this year's, which has yet to air as of my writing this post):
  • Full Bars (S3E2)
  • Fort Night (S4E2)
  • Tina And The Real Ghost (S5E2)
  • The Hauntening (S6E3)
  • Teen-A-Witch (S7E3)
  • The Wolf Of Wharf Street (S8E3)
  • Nightmare On Ocean Avenue Street (S9E4)
  • Pig Trouble In Little Tina (S10E4)

OK, I reckon that's enough to keep you entertained for now. If you've already seen any of these, or if you think there are some shows I might enjoy that aren't mentioned here, please let me know in the comments!