Hey there GoH fam! Dustin here again with another edition of ‘Recent Reads’, where I dive into my thoughts on three books I’ve read lately. For this edition, I do some pretty intense reading with history-based horror books, Red X and Ring Shout, while having some lighthearted fun with Broken Hearts. Let’s check ’em out!

Red X by David Demchuk

Red X is the latest horror novel from author David Demchuk, freshly published from the year 2021. Men from the queer community in Toronto’s gay village are disappearing, whisked away without a trace except for the items on their person before they disappeared. This goes on for decades amidst the changes — for better or for worse — the LGBTQ+ community has experienced. What happened to the missing people? What has taken them?

Interspersed in this story is author David Demchuk’s personal history. A history lived in the unfolding narrative that blurs the lines between reality and fiction.

This novel was quite the unusual reading experience and I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like this. The story is told without a single central character, rather it’s the story of a community through the years. The lonely, the abused, the abandoned, the closeted, the sick, among many others are targeted by this entity — snuffed seemingly out of existence. The discrimination against the setting’s LGBTQ+ community aiding in how easy it is for this creature to make them disappear. David Demchuk’s novel deals in creeping dread and unfolding tapestry of loss in lieu of graphic blood and violence.

As mentioned, there is no one main character in the book, rather it follows several characters in several vignettes from generation to generation. While it took some time for me to adjust to this way of storytelling, once I got the hang of it, it was smooth reading from then on. I was racing from page to page to find out what happened next. What exactly is taking people? How can it be stopped? I think I actually did the book a bit of a disservice as it’s more of a slow-burn tale. There’s plenty of details in the book that connects the vignettes together including recurring characters that that anchor the reader.

Not to say that the non-recurring characters don’t leave an impact, they do. The author is pretty good at leaving plenty of intricate details that help readers connect with our characters in the short amount of time we spend with them. Again, it did take some time for me to adjust to this and I struggled at times when references are being made but that’s on me. On the other hand, this makes the book re-readable. It’s easy to read through but I reckon a subsequent reading will reveal new connections.

I also wanted to mention that this one’s part novel and part memoir. The memoir portions tell of author David Demchuk’s life experiences mirror the thematic elements of the fictional narrative, sometimes blurring the line between the two. Combined with the dark subject matter, it makes for a trippy and intriguing reading experience.

Overall, David Demchuk’s Red X is an unsettlingly dark story that knows how to get under the reader’s skin, particularly those who share the LGBTQ+ experience. It is sprawling, it is tragic. It is trippy, creepy, and rich in history — both good and bad.

Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts by R.L. Stine

Part of the famous teen horror books by acclaimed author R.L. Stine, Broken Hearts tells the story of a group of friends who receive deadly Valentine greetings after an incident affects one of their own. Who is stalking them and what are they capable of?

First things first: this is light reading of the highest order, and I don’t mean that as an insult. This book was a lot of fun in a leave-your-brain-at-the-door kind of way. Thematic depth who? It’s what it says on the tin: a Valentine’s Day-themed whodunnit. The characters aren’t memorable but they serve their purpose of getting the story from point A to point B.

Eventually, people do start dropping dead. While most of the kills are off-page, there some gruesome moments that would unnerve some young readers uninitiated to horror. Don’t expect this to be the gorefest the Netflix adaptations are but they’re welcome when they do happen.

One of the aspects I loved in the book is the wintery February setting. I love horror stories set in the snow as they make for great atmosphere, and it’s no different here. While the book is aimed at a younger demographic, the foreboding atmosphere of a chilly climate, characters cooped up in claustrophobic houses with a potential murderer got me giddy. I don’t think I’ve ever scene February in horror getting wintery except for the movie The Blackcoat’s Daughter, so this was also a pretty unique aspect to the story.

Final verdict: while this installment in R.L. Stine’s Fear Street: Super Chillers isn’t a heavy read, he’s shown here that he knows how to tap into what his target audience wants. As for me reading this as an adult with no nostalgic attachment to the Fear Street books, this was quite the enjoyable read. Perhaps adult-aimed horror novels left me wanting a bit more flavor but that’s on me, though I’m beginning to find the Fear Street books like this one as warm and cozy popcorn reads.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Author P. Djèlí Clark brings us this dark fantasy and cosmic horror book about a young woman, Maryse, tasked with battling the Ku Klux Klan, which is secretly comprised of monsters wearing human skin, figuratively and literally. With a powerful sword by her side she must overcome traumas from the past and the present, and gather strength in taking down her enemies. However, there’s more to them than meets the eye.

This is a pretty quick read but it packs a punch. We get action right off the bat from our characters, Maryse and her crew, as they hunt down these Ku Kluxes. I liked that it’s rooted in real history but the author is able to build off of those events in terrifying and thrilling ways, while maintaining the integrity of such serious affairs. The Ku Kluxes are portrayed as these nasty, gross cosmic horror creatures that the main character has to take down. These creatures are rooted in hate. Most of them start out as humans but because they’ve been so consumed by that hate, it allows them to be possessed by entities that feed on bigotry and transform them into these monsters.

The author injects the book with so much historical detail and culture in a fresh way that is also accessible to readers. The monsters are gruesome and the villains are despicably evil yet the readers aren’t bombarded with hurtful dialogue. It’s a tough act to balance that but I think P. Djèlí Clark nailed it. Maryse is the main star for sure but other characters are also fleshed out such as Chef, the lesbian war veteran who’s got a lot of tricks up her sleeve, and Sadie, who’s really good with a gun. There were definitely plenty of creepy moments with the supernatural environment Maryse and co have to go through but I don’t think scares were the main focus. As I mentioned, I did get a dark fantasy vibe as it’s more thrilling, suspenseful, and action-packed but it was still quite the rollercoaster ride.

I mentioned before that the author does a great job fleshing out the characters, and that includes the complexities of Maryse as well as the trauma that she must overcome to rebuild the strength that gets taken away from her by our baddies. Her journey brought a tear to my eye, it was easy to jive with her through her highs and lows.

Overall, the book has a lot to say and says it successfully in such a short span of time. It took me a few days to finish this because of the wonders of work fatigue but altogether, it felt like “reading” a feature-length film and it was easy to envision it as such in my head, so props to the author for this one. I know P. Djèlí Clark already has several works out so I’m keen to check those out, and any further horror-tinged works he comes out with.

And that’s it for this round of Recent Reads! Red X was a pretty creepy blend of fact and fiction, Broken Hearts was an atmospheric yet lighthearted read. Ring Shout was a authentic, kickass blend of cosmic horror with dark fantasy.

Locally, I got these books from Shopee and Lazada, but they’re also available on Amazon, Book Depository, and wherever else most books are sold.

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