Women in Horror Reads Week 1

The first week of Women in Horror Month is at its end, and I’ve finished my first read for the month.  This week’s review:  Apart in the Dark by Ania Ahlborn.

From the Publisher:  

Now available for the first time in a print edition—two terrifying novellas from bestselling author Ania Ahlborn, “a great storyteller who spins an atmosphere of dread literally from the first page” (Jeff Somers).

THE PRETTY ONES
New York, 1977. The sweltering height of the Summer of Sam. The entire city is gripped with fear, but all Nell Sullivan worries about is whether or not she’ll ever make a friend. The self-proclaimed “Plain Jane” does her best to fit in with the girls at work, but Nell’s brother, Barrett, assures her that she’ll never be like them. When Nell manages to finally garner some much-yearned-for attention, the unthinkable happens to her newfound friend. The office pool blames Son of Sam, but Nell knows the awful truth…because doing the devil’s work is easy when there’s already a serial killer on the loose.

I CALL UPON THEE
Maggie Olsen had a pretty ordinary childhood—swimming and sleepovers, movie nights and dad jokes. And then there were the other things…the darker things…the shadow that followed her home from the cemetery and settled into the corners of her home, refusing to let her grow up in peace. Now, after three years away from the place she’s convinced she inadvertently haunted, and after yet another family tragedy strikes, Maggie is forced to return to the sweltering heat of a Savannah summer to come to terms with her past. All along, she’s been telling herself, it was just in your head, and she nearly convinces herself that she’d imagined it all. But the moment Maggie steps into the foyer of her family home, she knows. The darkness is still here. And it’s been waiting for Maggie’s return….

Those of you who follow this blog know the story of how I discovered Ania Ahlborn a few years back.  For those of you who don’t know, I will share again, because I have found a lot of great books by using this technique.  I was skimming the bookshelves, the week’s book money burning a hole in my pocket.  All you book lovers out there know that when you have a weekly book buying ritual, there is no way that you are leaving the bookstore without a book.  So, I did what I always do when I’m stuck….head to the horror section, start with the A authors, and buy the first book I haven’t read, sight unseen.

In my case, I was lucky enough that the book I ended up with was Brother by Ania Ahlborn.

I was hooked.

Apart in the Dark is the latest print publication by Ania Ahlborn, though these two novellas were previously available as e-books.  Because I’m stubborn and have never gotten into the trend of reading on a screen, preferring my books in the physical form, I hadn’t yet come across these.

They were fantastic!  This author has a way of really drawing you in to the story, and even when you can guess what is going to happen next, you are dying to see how it will all unfold. The writing is just that good.

The Pretty Ones is a story that I think a lot of people will be able to relate to.  That is, until the bloodshed.  Anyone who has ever felt like the odd duck or ugly duckling in a group will relate to Nell’s shifts in mood, from sad, to excited, to raging, and back.  The setting was also smart, as the 70s were an even more oppressive time for women, and a single woman with no friends was a double outcast, almost like those around them were afraid of being infected.  Nell’s story unfolds with a chilling matter-of-factness, barreling toward an ending that will leave you reeling. Fast-paced and relentless in its tension-building, this is a story that you won’t soon forget.  I don’t even want to say too much for fear of spoilers, but fans of slasher films, take note.

I Call Upon Thee is a story about a girl who leaves home after a death drives her remaining family apart.  Called back for a more recent tragedy, Maggie finds herself re-examining the events of her childhood.  This is a powerful story rooted in family tension, grief and guilt.  The supernatural element and the family drama are equally engaging, which is difficult to accomplish in horror novels at times.  It is easy for a horror author to focus on one and neglect the other, but Ania Ahlborn is, as always, deft in handling both and making them equally important to the story.  The relationships are well-drawn, and characters are presented as layered, and not stereotypes.  For instance, Arlen, the eldest sister, is presented at first as a control freak, and a perfectionist who can be demanding and overbearing.  But the cracks start to show as her kids scream and her husband never seems to be at home.  If you are a fan of a great Ouija board story, definitely check this one out.  You’ll wish you could be there to scream “DON’T DO IT!!!” when they bust that board out.

Stay tuned for my next Women in Horror Reads review!  I am just starting Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami.

What are you reading for Women in Horror Month?

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