A debut novel of taxidermy and finding oneself by Kristen Arnett
5/5 Star Review
It’s the beginning of September, the start of a month-long anniversary celebration for The Ladies of Horror Fiction. This lovely team is celebrating their first full year of spotlighting the amazing ladies of horror! If you would like to join in the festivities, there is a read-a-thon taking place for the entire month and it features five different reading challenges – check out this link for more details!
Why am I mentioning the read-a-thon on this review? One of the five challenges is to read a book by an LGBTQIA+ Author. While Mostly Dead Things is not horror, it does contain graphic details of a suicide and animal gore – things some might consider horror adjacent, a little macabre. This is not a title for those sensitive to, let’s say, the process of creating taxidermy.
Having said that – you absolutely need to read this book! It is an unputdownable story about a family finally beginning to understand each other a year after the suicide of the family patriarch. Jessa Morton has been groomed to take over the family’s taxidermy business since she was a young girl. A year after her father’s death, she is now a young woman trying to keep the business afloat and her family together. Her brother, Milo, has never recovered from the heartbreak of his wife running away with another man – nor has Jessa. Milo’s former wife was the only true love of Jessa’s life and she abandoned them both without so much as a note. Jessa’s mother is dealing with her grief in a way that no one understands – making sexually explicit dioramas out of the taxidermy in the shop’s display window. Told through flashbacks and current happenings, Arnett brings these characters to life and makes them relatable and so human – if you are not one of these characters, then you know someone just like them.
The other character in this book, the one that Arnett truly brought to life for me was Florida. Everything about this town was so real. There are a lot of authors who write novels set in Florida, but it’s a contrived reality – it’s theme parks, it’s beaches, or it’s full of over-the-top Florida Man-esque characters. As a central Florida native, I saw my home in this novel. I saw the small town people trying to get by, I saw the lakes and alligators, I saw the remnants of the Florida Cracker life that still exists. If you want a novel that’s real Florida – this is it.
Highly recommended! I absolutely can’t wait to order her short story collection, Felt in the Jaw!
My final read for February, and for Women in Horror Month, was the darkly humorous and enjoyable My Sister, The Serial Killer.
Oyinkan Braithwaite is an author from Nigeria and this is her first novel published in the United States. She is yet another international author that I hope to read more from in the future.
My Sister, The Serial Killer follows older sister, Korede, and her younger sister, Ayoola. Korede is a respected nurse in a local hospital and her sister designs clothing and has a habit of killing her boyfriends in “self-defense.” Korede always gets the call and helps Ayoola clean up. Korede begins to question her loyalty to her sister when Ayoola starts to date the handsome, young doctor that Korede is secretly in love with. What’s a girl to do when your serial killer sister is moving in on the man you love?
Korede and Ayoola both share different naivetes when it comes to men and social graces. Ayoola understands what men want – even seemingly good-hearted men and tries to make Korede understand. Korede tries to make Ayoola understand that it’s poor form to SnapChat days after your boyfriend has gone missing.
Braithwaite’s use of political and culture satire is masterful and makes this novel work in a way that makes you sympathetic to these otherwise unlikable characters.
Highly recommend this quick read to horror and thriller fans – especially for those who enjoyed the early Dexter books.
I requested this title for one reason: Antarctica. I am endlessly fascinated by the icy, desolate continent and will devour any books – fiction or non-fiction – that are set there. There is something in the isolation that I find both alluring and utterly terrifying.
Night Shift proved itself to be an enjoyable whodunnit that contained all of the fear and paranoia of John Carpernter’s The Thingmixed with the almost cozy quality of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
I don’t want to give too much away, but the basic premise is this: Anders Nordvelt is sent to the Australis base in the Antarctic as a last-minute replacement for their head of security. He joins a team of twelve others who have been working together for the last six months – each with a specific skill set geared toward the success of their mission. Anders arrives as the base is being locked-down for the winter. They will be self-sustaining for the next six months with no shipments going in or out. As the night shift begins – everything starts to fall apart.
For me, Night Shift read as a character-driven mystery more than it was a horror or science-fiction novel – although it did contain elements of both. There is an almost casual world-building element that introduces a near-future, dystopian society where most of the world is controlled by a single, governing body – The Company. I appreciate that the author did not overly saturate the novel with dry details and instead chose to divulge a little bit at a time. It allowed you both the time to slowly acclimate to the world and to crave more knowledge of it.
Every character in this novel was fully fleshed out and not a one was wasted, or served as a throw-away character. Overall, this was a mature first novel and thoroughly enjoyable. I read that this is the first of a planned trilogy and I hope that is the case – I would love to read more novels set in this new world.
As a note, I received Night Shift as a galley from Flame Tree Books in exchange for an honest review.