Book Club Nominees

6 Horror Novels of Women and Payback

by @StephanieAdele, curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for September’s “WAP (Women and Payback)” category

Who doesn’t like books with some juicy WAP (Women and Payback) to close out the month of September? Most of my all-time favourite books feature female characters with questionable morals taking their revenge on those they think have wronged them. Do the characters being punished always deserve it? No. Are these women usually in the right? Depends who’s asking. All I can say is—whether it’s toxic family members, frustrated housewives, or an elk-head woman—these gals will have you rooting for them, even if you shouldn’t be.

Cover of The Amulet by Michael McDowell. Cover shows an amulet on a golden chain. The chain wraps around the bodies of several people.

The Amulet by Michael McDowell

When a rifle range accident leaves Dean Howell disfigured and in a vegetative state, his wife Sarah finds her dreary life in Pine Cone, Alabama made even worse. After long and tedious days on the assembly line, she returns home to care for her corpse-like husband while enduring her loathsome and hateful mother-in-law, Jo. Jo blames the entire town for her son’s mishap, and when she gives a strange piece of jewelry to the man she believes most responsible, a series of gruesome deaths is set in motion. Sarah believes the amulet has something to do with the rising body count, but no one will believe her. As the inexplicable murders continue, Sarah and her friend Becca Blair have no choice but to track down the amulet themselves, before it’s too late. (Goodreads)

I’m a sucker for two things: character-driven narratives and body horror. This book has both in spades. Although this may be one of McDowell’s lesser-known books, it features all of the great things he is most known for. We’ve got a supernatural southern Gothic setting, characters who feel like people you actually know in real life, and lots of blood and guts. In terms of its female characters, it takes the concept of the monster-in-law and cranks it up to eleven.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Bunny by Mona Awad. Cover shows the silhouette of a bunny in pink against a black background.

Bunny by Mona Awad

Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort–a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other “Bunny,” and seem to move and speak as one. But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled “Smut Salon,” and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door–ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies’ sinister yet saccharine world, beginning to take part in the ritualistic off-campus “Workshop” where they conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur. (Goodreads)

This book was pitched to me as The Craft meets Heathers meets The Island of Dr. Moreau, and if that doesn’t do it for you, I don’t know what will. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Kill Creek by Scott Thomas. Cover shows a black and white drawing of a Victorian house against a stark white background. Two people, visible in silhouette only, are perched on the roof.

Kill Creek by Scott Thomas

In Kill Creek, four prolific horror writers are invited to spend Halloween night at a legendary haunted house, a publicity opportunity orchestrated by a preeminent horror website and its mysterious creator. For each of the writers, this invitation presents a much-needed answer to professional and personal woes. But what should have been an easy commitment quickly turns sinister. The writers are guests in a house that doesn’t really want them there… but it’s also a house that’s willing to use their presence in service of a greater goal. Splitting its time between that fateful night in the house and the weeks and months after, Kill Creek leads readers down a twisty and twisted road—one filled with hidden motivations and unforeseen consequences. (Crime by the Book)

When I finished reading this, I was so angry at the fact that I didn’t think of this genius concept first that I felt like throwing the book out the window. Kill Creek is fun, action-packed, and has a twist that genuinely surprised me (which is hard to do). It’s a tongue-in-cheek book by a horror author about horror authors that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I guarantee it will be a riot to read as a group.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones. Cover shows an elk's head and antlers from just below the eyes and up against a black background.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way. (Goodreads)

I hope everyone doesn’t mind me picking such an obscure, unknown book that most people have never heard of before… Just kidding. I’m sure you all know about this one, so let me add my voice to the chorus and say that the hype is truly for good reason. This isn’t only the best horror book I’ve read in the last five years, but probably the best book that I’ve read recently, period. It’s thought-provoking, pulls off the elusive book “jump scare,” and had me bawling like a baby by the time I reached the final page. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Out by Natsuo Kirino. Cover shows an extreme close up of a Japanese woman's face.

Out by Natsuo Kirino

Natsuo Kirino’s novel tells a story of random violence in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works a night shift making boxed lunches brutally strangles her deadbeat husband and then seeks the help of her co-workers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime. The ringleader of this cover-up, Masako Katori, emerges as the emotional heart of Out and as one of the shrewdest, most clear-eyed creations in recent fiction. Masako’s own search for a way out of the straitjacket of a dead-end life leads her, too, to take drastic action. (Goodreads)

This book [redacted because Mordi won’t let me swear] slaps. It is so many things at once. A gritty noir. A psychological thriller. A hyper-violent filleting of patriarchy. All expertly crafted and weaved together by Kirino, who is a master of making you feel things you never wanted to feel. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Cover shows a razor black against a black background.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Someone is killing little girls in Wind Gap, Missouri. Hoping to scoop the bigger newspapers, an editor at the Chicago Daily Post sends reporter Camille Preaker to the tiny town to cover the story. Wind Gap just happens to be Camille’s hometown, the very place she left the first chance she got and never looked back. After her return, Camille slowly comes to realize that the murders and her own hidden horrors are more closely tied than she could have imagined. Sharp Objects is incredibly disturbing, but Flynn’s powerful prose shines a light on the beauty that can rise out of dysfunction. With this novel’s perfectly picked, sinister details (the killer is plucking his victims’ baby teeth) and well-established pacing, readers will find themselves helplessly hurtling towards the haunting conclusion. (BookPage)

Yes, I left the queen of unstable and morally-grey women to the very end. Sharp Objects is a book that makes me smile and feel warm inside just thinking about it, in the same way that Midsommar is one of my comfort films. The sticky southern Gothic atmosphere in this book is incredible and it is led by a powerhouse trio of female characters who will leave you gripped and guessing until the very last page. Flynn is, ultimately, my inspiration for this entire category and my literary hero, mainly because of her ability to “encourage readers to feel disgusted, particularly by her female characters. Her women are externally beautiful, but they revel in their interior filth, and willfully stir up the emotional sludge of those they are meant to love” (Vulture). 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read Bunny by Mona Awad. Join HOWL Society on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021 to begin discussion!

Stevie Edwards is a reader for Uncharted Magazine and lives in small-town Canada with her two beloved wiener dogs. You can find her on Twitter @stephanieadele_

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