My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a nostalgia-packed excursion into the life of adolescent girls in the 1980s. We meet Abby and Gretchen when the girls are in fourth grade, as Abby attempts to celebrate her birthday party at a roller-skating rink. Alone with her family, Abby fears no one will show up, but the strange new girl from school appears. What begins as an awful experience for the birthday girl develops into the best friendship either of them could hope for.
We’re provided with snapshots of the friendship between these two girls throughout the narrative, the bulk of the story devoted to character development.
The meat of the story picks up when the girls are in their Sophomore year of high school at the prestigious Albemarle private school. They’re near the top of the class, and they have bright futures ahead of them. That’s when everything changes. Abby finds herself helpless as she watches Gretchen changing into someone she no longer recognizes, and everything becomes a dizzying nightmare of lies and manipulation that she struggles to navigate while learning that there’s more going on than she can easily comprehend.
As a story about friendship and coming-of-age, it’s pretty fantastic, really delving into what it means to be best friends from childhood. As a horror or thriller story, it falls well short of the mark. I have the same issue with this Hendrix novel as I had with The Final Girl Support Group, in that the story grows tedious before it truly begins to get to the point where anything is happening that propels the narrative forward. Much like that novel, when this story starts getting good, it gets great, but it takes an awfully long time getting there. There are points when it appears to be picking up speed, only to revert to a meandering, detail-filled exploration of Abby’s day-to-day life, and it was challenging to make it through those intervals.
The narration provided by Emily Woo Zeller brings this story of youth and friendship to life in a way that it desperately required. Her performance of the various girls, notably Abby and Gretchen, was terrific. The voice provided for Christian (The Exorcist) was amusing and captured the absurd, muscle-bound character in such a way as to make him almost feel real. The audiobook edition of this novel made an otherwise unsatisfactory experience a much better one, and that is due entirely to the quality of the narration provided.

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix, Narrated by Adrienne King

The Final Girl Support Group is Grady Hendrix’s addition to the meta-slasher subgenre of literature. In some ways, this book succeeds in breaking new ground and adding a unique voice and commentary, though I couldn’t help but find the overall story disappointing. While I found the writing/narrative style of The Last Final Girl jarring and occasionally disruptive to my enjoyment, I would recommend either that or My Heart Is a Chainsaw, both by Stephen Graham Jones, over The Final Girl Support Group. If you’ve already read and enjoyed those two books, there’s no harm in checking this one out.
The best element of this novel is the commentary on slasher fiction provided by the author. Hendrix infuses the narrative with critiques on the latent misogyny involved in slasher films, the unhealthy obsession with serial killers, violence in society, and the psychological effects of trauma.
Shared via the unreliable narration of Lynette Tarkington, the survivor of the Silent Night Slayings (think Silent Night, Deadly Night), the narrative leads us along in a stuttering, stumbling adventure. We experience a world where alternate versions of the slasher flicks that defined–and redefined–the genre were based on real people and events. The survivors of these massacres make up the titular Final Girl Support Group; Adrienne (Friday the 13th), Marilyn (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Dani (Halloween), Heather (A Nightmare On Elm Street), and Julia (Scream).
After Adrienne’s murder and an attempt on Julia and Lynette’s life, Lynette finds herself unable to remain in the false safety and security of her life of isolation, obsession, and paranoia. She was never as safe as she believed herself to be, and she’s convinced that her sister final girls are in danger as well. But will anyone listen to her? Is there a conspiracy to slaughter all of the final girls, or is Lynette jumping at shadows that exist only in her traumatized mind? Will the truth be revealed before it’s too late?
The twists are nothing readers won’t see coming, whether by design or not. Readers will find themselves wanting to shout at the pages–or along with the audiobook–the same way viewers shout at the screen, screaming for Lynette to put the pieces together correctly as we helplessly watch her fumble and chase red herrings.
The audiobook was narrated by Adrienne King, the final girl from Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. There perhaps couldn’t have been a better choice of narrator, as one of the first final girls of film history and someone who experienced real-life horror in response to that role. King brings Lynette to life in a way no other narrator probably could as well as successfully tackling the voices of the supporting characters.

Howls From Hell: A Horror Anthology from HOWL Society Press

Howls From Hell was a thoroughly refreshing anthology to read. Filled, as it was, with names largely unfamiliar to me from my extensive reading, I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this ARC of the book.
The stories are as diverse as a horror anthology can be, with tales that entertain, unsettle, or force the reader to question what they’ve just read.
The foreword provided by Grady Hendrix took me back to my teens in a way I enjoyed. Though I must admit that my friends and I never played a game quite like “rehash” and I’m not sure I could have convinced anyone that it was a game worth playing, no matter how hard I might have tried. The theme of that foreword is one many–perhaps all–horror fans will find familiar, the way the films and literature of our youth provide us comfort as adulthood takes its toll, and we often find ourselves returning to the unconventional things that help to reinvigorate us and, at least temporarily, return us to those golden years of our youth.
It was no surprise, after reading that, to find the fantastic selections collected in this anthology. These were horror stories written by those who deeply and unabashedly adore horror in the way one does when it was one of their first loves.
There isn’t a bad story to be found in this book, but there were some that stood out more for me than others, so I’ll focus on them.
The infernally-oriented urban fantasy of J. W. Donley’s “The Pigeon Lied” paints a fascinating picture of a Seattle underground that puts the underground music scene there to shame.
“She’s Taken Away” by Shane Hawk is an entertaining and disturbing take on the evil twin tale.
The surreal, horrific folklore underlying Solomon Forse’s “Gooseberry Bramble” reminded me of the late 19th and early 20th-century horror stories of the American gothic authors.
“Possess and Serve” by Christopher O’Halloran blends a bit of Philip K. Dick’s “The Minority Report” with Richard K. Morgan’s “Altered Carbon” to produce a near-future mystery/suspense tale that kept me focused on the screen of my tablet until the end.
Finally, “It Gets In Your Eyes” by Joseph Andre Thomas showcases an eye infection from hell…something I found personally disturbing because I’ve got a bit of a phobia centered around eyes and injuries associated with the eyes.
These were just my favorites, your favorites might be different. You’ll have to read the book to find out for yourself.