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horror reads 2021

Looking for the year’s most twisted tales, f’d fiction, and hardcore horror reads? The hosts of Not Your Final Girl podcast have you covered!

We (Candace and Ariel) normally talk about horror movies (in public anyway), and you’ve hopefully heard a lot of great genre film talk if you listen to our podcast, Not Your Final Girl, a proud part of the Morbidly Beautiful Podcast Network. However, as much as we love horror movies, we also enjoy our fair share of fucked up books! Together, we compiled a list of some of our favorites from 2021, forming a joint list of six stellar reads — plus two upcoming books we can’t wait for. 

Of course, we couldn’t include all the books we loved. We certainly agonized over leaving off Stephen Graham Jones, but he was threatening to take over the whole list. Thus, we had to exorcise him entirely — but not from a lack of love.

What we’re left with, however, is a really solid list of books we heartily recommend if you’re in want of something to keep you up at night.

1. Queen of Teeth by Hailey Piper (Candace’s Pick)

Vagina dentata? I’m listening. A pink-tinged sci-fi body horror story set in a corporate dystopia, with a messy queer romance at its center? Yeah, sign me up. Piper makes her three protagonists feel painfully real (even as one is growing out of another) and paints a toxic, desperate future that feels too close for comfort. 

2. Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark (Ariel’s Pick)

Set in 1920s Georgia, Clark’s novella mixes genre with historical fiction for a bloody mashup centering three kickass women fighting the KKK and the demonic powers feeding off their hate. I laughed, I cried, I actually cheered aloud, and I can’t remember the last time I had this much sheer fun reading a book. Special shoutout to the audiobook narrator Channie Waites for really getting into the delivery of character voices. 

3. Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca (Candace’s Pick)

That the title of this novella conveys the exact sense of creeping dread the story is about to flood you with is a testament to Eric LaRocca’s skill as a writer. From when the chilling true-crime style introduction gives way to a seemingly innocuous email exchange about an antique apple peeler, every chapter pulls some newly raw, rotten, maggot-infested premise into the light — and you’re gonna look, like the little creep you are. I only wished there was more filth to wade through.

4. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (Ariel’s Pick)

The flesh may be tender but the subject matter is anything but. Marcos blandly moves through his life working for a human meat processing facility after an infectious virus has rendered the meat of animals toxic. In the course of this depraved, nasty little book, our fearless protagonist loses what meager humanity he has left and that pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you ending is one you won’t soon forget. In fact, much like after smelling something rancid, upon finishing you’ll want to pass it to the person nearest you and say, “Here. Check this out.”

5. Earthlings: A Novel by Sayaka Murata (Candace’s Pick)

This one is actually from 2020, but listen: It’ll fuck you up enough for two years. I’m not sure there’s a way to describe the plot of this book that quite does it justice. An imaginative, lonely, perceptive young girl is hurt in ways that are both unthinkable and gut-wrenchingly mundane, then through a whimsical haze of trauma, looks into the cold churning gears of society and finds… transcendence? Ruination? You’re going to have to read it (consider looking up trigger warnings first if you’re at all in doubt). 

6. Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo (Ariel’s Pick)

Dark, Southern gothic academia. Queer yearning. GHOSTS. This coming-of-age story has it all. Andrew and Eddie grew up together, and just as Andrew prepares to follow in Eddie’s footsteps and join him in grad school, he receives news of his best friend’s apparent suicide. Not knowing what else to do (and suspecting all is not as it seems), Andrew packs his bags and heads to Nashville to uncover the truth. Strong character development and a slow burn with a big payoff make this one of 2021’s horror standouts.

Most Anticipated Reads: 

Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin (Candace’s Pick)

I’m in love with Gretchen Felker-Martin’s prose and her incisive takes on/impeccable taste in film and culture, so it’s hardly surprising that I’m impatiently waiting for 2/22/22 when her post-apocalyptic body horror novel about a group of trans women navigating a zombie plague world comes out and my preorder ships. In the meantime, the first chapter is available on Macmillan’s website. It’s very good.

Piñata by Leopoldo Gout (Ariel’s Pick)

I know nothing about the author or this title except that the cover art (designed by João Ruas) is cool as fuck, and sometimes that’s more than enough to reel you in. Throw in mentions of disturbing possession, gentrification, and comparisons to Hereditary and I’m more than sold. Piñata is set to come out November 1st, 2022, and is published by Tor Nightfire.

Ariel Dyer and Candace Sluder co-host Not Your Final Girl, a horror movie podcast where they cover horror double features and interview guests with humor, insight, and video-store employee burnout vibes. You can catch episodes wherever you listen to podcasts and follow them on Instagram and Twitter @NYGPod or Facebook at Not Your Final Girl.

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