Hello there, GoH friends! This is Dustin here again with another edition of Recent Reads, where I usually share my thoughts on 3 books I’ve recently read. For this one, we’re trying something a little different and added one more book in the mix! I took on Silvia Garcia-Moreno’s buzzy gothic horror novel, Mexican Gothic, then I jumped into cosmic horror territory with Laird Barron’s The Croning, after that, I jumped back into the slasher game I know and love with Brandon Ford’s The Final Girl, and finally Joe Hill’s dark fantasy-mystery, Horns. Let’s get started!
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Garcia-Moreno
First published in 2020, Mexican Gothic is a, well, gothic horror novel from author Silvia Garcia-Moreno. In 1950s Mexico, beguiling socialite Noemí Taboada is tasked by her father to visit her cousin, Catalina after she has sent an ominous letter asking for help. Upon arrival, Noemi meets the Doyle family, which Catalina was married into through her husband, Virgil. Noemi soon finds dark secrets that could cost her her life.
I’m not the biggest gothic horror fan but I did like what the author has done here. She’s married classic gothic horror elements with some elements of Mexican culture into the narrative while offering new twists on the usual ghosts and psychological horror that comprise the gothic genre. Mexican Gothic is quite the atmospheric read that drew this reader in, refused to let go, led by a strong protagonist in Noemi.
Noemí is a socialite in ’50s Mexico yet she is quite the charmer and not without a kind heart. In my opinion, she is the heart and soul of the book. There are plenty of instances where I’d dip and leave if I was in her shoes but she trudges on with a strong will, all in the name of ensuring her cousin’s safety. Silvia Garcia-Moreno’s writing makes it so that Noemí’s decisions seem born from smart thinking, which I liked. Though I so badly wanted her to just leave, she uncovers more of the mystery that gets me hooked.
The house in High Place, where the Doyles reside is a cold and atmospheric abode. The writing is effective in crafting that atmosphere with vivid descriptions. That’s another thing I wanted to touch on. The book is in the third person, though we are following Noemí’s perspective, and we get very clear descriptions of the characters’ appearances and clothes that make it easy to envision them in my mind. That and the character development make them seem like real people.
I also want to tackle just how odd and creepy the Doyle family is. They’re a quiet bunch, eating dinner in pin-drop silence, with Florence Doyle expressing clear disdain for Noemí. Then, there’s creepy and lecherous Virgil, husband to Catalina, who may have his eye on Noemí. There’s also the big bad Howard Doyle that I’ll let you discover for yourself. Surprisingly, there is a member of the family that I found adorable and that’s Francis. He’s so awkward but well-read. I was rooting for the budding friendship, and eventually, something else he had going on with Noemí.
I think Silvia Garcia-Moreno bamboozled me because here I am getting the chills that kill from all this atmosphere and gloom yet I found myself, heart-pounding, anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Francis-Noemí ship!
Amidst the gaslighting and the ghostly specters appearing before Noemí, the big thing behind everything (trying to be as vague as I can so as not to spoil anything!) is also pretty wild and I don’t think I’ve seen that incorporated in gothic horror before. I’ve seen it before from a popular survival horror game franchise yet the writer makes it her own and the way it makes sense of the supernatural events going on is pretty clever.
If there are any criticisms, I felt like there were many characters being juggled at some point that it was hard for me to keep up. That said, it’s not a huge deal that detracts from the reading experience. I just had to double my focus and attention to the details.
Overall, Mexican Gothic is a slow-burn gothic horror novel that’s populated with memorable characters and plenty of chilling atmosphere and moments that make perfect sense once all is revealed.
The Croning by Laird Barron
First published in 2012, The Croning is a cosmic horror novel by author Laird Barron. It tells the story of Don Miller, an intellectual who finds himself in the dark discovery involving his wife and the mysterious events surrounding his past throughout the years.
From the prologue to the main story, this book had me hooked with an intriguing premise, which the author was able to serve the punchline for. The writing trusts the reader to put the pieces together themselves and not have the whole plot spoonfed, only providing the narrative glue that is exposition when absolutely necessary.
What this book does best is dangling exactly what’s happening in front of you but also putting you in the shoes of Don, who may be suffering bouts of dementia, clouding his memories. The book is mostly told through events that happened to him in the past and how those experiences affect his present as an aged person. In the past events, Don gets dragged into some seriously shady circumstances that he can’t quite seem to remember clearly in the present.
This is the hook that I was talking about. As the reader, you know what Don experienced when he was younger. You know the repercussion this has in the present should scare Don but it doesn’t because his memory is being clouded. While I was reading through these sections of the book, I kept my eyes peeled for the details, checking to make sure if what Don is seeing was right because you’d hate for it to be the actual thing he encountered in the past because if so, he is definitely in danger! Laird Barron does a great job at balancing the reader’s intrigue while also keeping things vague enough in Don’s perspective that not all secrets are spilled right away.
Let’s talk about the lore. Like with HP Lovecraft’s works, I’ve read there’s mythos at play here that’s also prevalent with Laird Barron’s other fiction but this is the first book Barron’s that I’ve ever read. Even so, I think the story holds up on its own. There didn’t need to be an extensive background into the occult group at the center of this story for you to enjoy it, though I’ve read that it helps. There’s also an element to it that reminds me of Clive Barker’s works as well but while this does feel like a marriage of Barker and Lovecraft, it ultimately comes off as something that stands on its own rather than relying on those influences.
The only thing I had trouble with was the number of characters. I felt like there were times when there were too many character names to keep in check that I had to re-read a few pages to remember who they were.
Overall, Laird Barron’s The Croning is a must-read for cosmic horror fans. Aside from the other, ahem, unlikable traits in HP Lovecraft’s fiction, I’ve also grown tired of vague, ambiguous descriptions to avoid explanations. Laird Barron does a great job here of whetting the reader’s appetite with details while also leaving room for the imagination.
The Final Girl by Brandon Ford
Author Brandon Ford’s novel of slasher horror, The Final Girl, first published in 2014, tells the story of a group of strangers — all attending the late-night premiere of the remake of a classic slasher film. Each of them has their own journey that brought them there. Who will make it out alive though when someone decides to don the movie killer’s apparel and dish out some gruesome carnage?
Some of my gripes with some slasher films are that they never have enough time to develop their characters before offing them, pushing the audience more towards just cheering on as a masked madman impales someone on a spear. That’s not a problem with this book, however, as Mr. Ford leaves ample room to flesh out his characters without sacrificing the red stuff. The characters of this book are developed enough that there isn’t just one character that you’re clocking as the final girl (or boy). Each of them has their own past and present that they’re trying to get away from or improve on. I liked the variety that this gives the reader. No two characters feel like just clones of one another. We get characters ranging from a movie reviewer who isn’t quite over his latest heartbreak, a woman suffering from a developing condition, two boys sneaking out to see an R-rated movie, etc.
I kind of don’t want to say too much about the kills because they’re part of the fun due to the weapon being used. I will say though that while there isn’t much variety when it comes to the kills, the author makes sure we know every gory detail of how that kill was executed. There are a couple of “off-page” kills too but they don’t really detract from the experience. All in all, let’s just say that there are a lot of empty heads in the book.
If there’s anything I didn’t like about the book, it’s that a lot of the plot threads in our characters’ journeys do get cut short and don’t feel like they get a proper close but it’s also understandable since the threat of a masked killer does take more precedence. One could also argue that the world these people live in is bleak. However, I do feel like there could be a way to show this darkness while also closing the characters’ stories. That said, this didn’t really ruin my experience reading the book but I thought it’s worth pointing out.
Overall, The Final Girl is a cozy slasher read that challenges that coziness with characters that matter while also professing love to this subgenre with a bloody kiss.
Horns by Joe Hill
Joe Hill’s dark fantasy/murder mystery/horror-thriller Horns was first published in 2009. In it, a young man suspected of killing his longtime girlfriend inexplicably finds horns growing from his forehead. He soon learns that they become valuable tools in solving the murder.
Joe Hill has crafted some pretty layered characters here, which aside from the premise of horns mysteriously growing out of a guy’s head, are the best parts of the book. These are layered people. While Mr. Hill makes it clear who are the good guys and the bad guys, there’s no one you can place as morally black or white. Some characters have darker hearts than others but even our main character, Ig, does some questionable stuff in his quest to solve the death of his girlfriend, Merrin. Merrin herself is probably my favorite character in the book. Lesser narratives would place her as the manic pixie dream girl trope yet as the story goes on, we see a three-dimensional character who’s not goody-two-shoes, who’s not a “trophy” for the male characters to attain.
There’s also a character that I loved to hate for how sadistic and twisted they turned out to be. The things they’ve described doing and what they do to manipulate other characters is just so well-written and nuanced. Joe Hill makes this character completely hateable but you also get to know how they came to be the way that they are.
What makes solving the mystery interesting is Ig’s ability to make someone confess their darkest thoughts and desires given by the horns. In these scenes, Joe Hill’s dark humor shines in grossing out the reader with vulgarity and shock that warrants a heads-up to squeamish readers. Speaking of Hill’s writing, I also dug his prose here. It’s easily readable but also pretty poignant. It’s deep without being pretentious.
Overall, Joe Hill’s Horns is an easy-to-pick-up read that surprises with depth and detail. It’s got a sharp edge that’s as sharp as the biting humor within.
This was a pretty satisfying set of recent reads so far! You can find these books on Amazon, Book Depository, or wherever books are sold.
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Dustin is a horror fan and sometimes short story writer who hails from the Philippines. He likes a lot of the horror genre but usually goes for slashers and arthouse/slowburn stuff. Currently, he’s trying to make up for lost time in the horror literature world by digesting as many horror books as he can.