Book Reviews: The Institute & Baby Teeth


Hello HAHC Blog readers!  I’m back with a couple more book recommendations that I’m 99.95% sure you’ll love!  First up is The Institute by Stephen King.  This is a book I added to my Goodreads list awhile ago, and I finally got around to reading it.  The book jacket for The Institute says it’s “as psychically terrifying as Firestarter…with the spectacular kid power of It.”  I never read Firestarter but enjoyed the movie, and I was underwhelmed by It.  I never found it to be as scary as the world claimed.  But I can see the comparisons with The Institute.  This book is about a bunch of kids with telekinetic and/or telepathic powers who are kidnapped and basically imprisoned by a bunch of absolutely horrible adults who experiment on them for some super-secret purpose.  The Institute (like Firestarter) is more sci-fi than horror, but the way the adults treat the kids is pretty horrific.  This was a fun read that actually opens with a drifter character who lands in a small town before turning to the story of the kids and the “institute.”  I was a bit surprised by this opening since the book jacket description did not mention anything about this drifter, so it was very interesting to see how this story unfolded and how everything tied together.  The Institute is a little over 500 pages, so it’s no small feat.  But I didn’t really come across any slow parts. The kid characters were interesting and well-written with unique and non-annoying personalities, and the adults in the institute made for some great villains.  All in all, a great turnout for King!


My next recommendation is one I am truly excited about and it’s Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage.  This was another book that had been on my Goodreads list for awhile, but I never got around to buying it.  But thankfully, Craig gave me the book as a Halloween present and I’m glad he did because I probably would’ve continued to procrastinate.  This debut thriller from Stage was AMAZING and I absolutely loved it! The blurb on the cover of my paperback copy from Entertainment Weekly says, “We Need to Talk About Kevin meets Gone Girl meets The Omen.”  I mean, how could this description not spark your interest?  Baby Teeth is the tale of Hanna, a seven-year-old who doesn’t speak, and her mother Suzette.  Hanna is the apple of her father’s eye – he adores her and she adores him. But Hanna hates her mother.  And she doesn’t hesitate to make this perfectly clear over and over, all the while hiding her sinister side from her father.  The story plays out by going back and forth between the third-person narratives of Hanna and Suzette, and it was truly creepy to see how Hanna’s mind worked.  I never really had that maternal side that every woman supposedly has, and Baby Teeth definitely didn’t help with that.  But it did help me to discover a new voice in horror fiction!  Her next book, scheduled for release in June 2020, is called Wonderland.  From the publisher’s website, “If Shirley Jackson wrote The Shining, it might look like this novel.”  I’m in!

Happy Reading!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’

Book Review: The Five



Jack the Ripper.  A name immediately recognizable that calls to mind the dark, dirty, and dangerous streets of London in the late 1800s.  When I think of Jack the Ripper, I think of one of the most notorious serial killers – a well-dressed man with a top hat roaming the streets of Whitechapel killing prostitutes.  A quick Google search will turn up all kinds of Jack the Ripper goodies – coffee mugs, shirts and hoodies, jewelry, artwork, even baby onesies and bibs. Seriously. There’s even a Marvel villain named Jack the Ripper, a parasitic creature who first took over a man in 1888 and caused him to murder five prostitutes.  Jack the Ripper – the killer of prostitutes. Or was he? The book I’m recommending is called The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold.  As you can tell from the title, this book is not about Jack the Ripper and his brutal murders.  Actually, very little of Jack the Ripper is discussed. Rather, Rubenhold deep dives into the lives of the canonical five women killed by Jack the Ripper – Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine “Kate” Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.  It was eye-opening for me because I admit that the mystery of Jack the Ripper’s identity and the details of his murders have been of greater interest to me than the lives of his victims. But I now I have a whole new outlook on the Ripper murders because now I think less about Jack and more about The Five.

Rubenhold does a great job of putting together the lives of The Five from their childhoods to their deaths.  At times she has to speculate as to their actions or the actions of others, which is expected given that numerous records and details have been destroyed, distorted, or lost over the years and this was well-before the age when people documented their every move for the world to see.  However, it is clear that a great deal of research went into The Five, and Rubenhold provides numerous resources in support of her claims.  I was surprised to know that Mary Jane Kelly was the only one of the five who regularly engaged in prostitution.  Elizabeth Stride briefly turned to prostitution but only after severe mistreatment by the Swedish police left her unable to find work.  The reason for her mistreatment – getting pregnant out of wedlock. The other ladies were not prostitutes. I also learned that Annie Chapman at one time lived on a grand estate as part of her husband’s employment, and that Kate Eddowes was an extremely smart child who attended a good school before her parents died and she was shipped to unknown relatives who put her in factory work.

My biggest takeaway from The Five was that these women were from working-class beginnings and good families.  But in the 1800s in London, the working class knew little to nothing about contraception.  What little money was made had to take care of numerous children and as these children got older they were expected to immediately find work to support their ever-growing families.  It becomes easier and easier to see how the five could end up in the deary setting of Whitechapel, not because they turned to a life of prostitution, but because their lives were full of so many hardships and setbacks.  One of their biggest hardships was being born a woman in 1800s London. The Five shows that a system was definitely not in place to help the working-class, and particularly working-class women, succeed.

Rubenhold also does a great job of being respectful to the canonical five.  She does not go into any details of their murders, and she does not include any photos of their bodies.  These details are well-known, and as Rubenhold’s title states she is letting the reader in on the untold lives of these women.  Also, at the end of the book, Rubenhold includes a list of all the belongings found on the bodies of the Ripper’s victims.  This really brings home that these ladies were not just mere details in the mystery of Jack the Ripper. These ladies were daughters, mothers, and workers whose lives, unfortunately, led them to Whitechapel.  Before reading The Five, I would think of these women and how they died.  But now that I know them a little better, I will think of how they lived.

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’


Horror Comics: Farmhand

By: Kia McClain


Story and Art by: Rob Guillory

Colors by: Taylor Wells

Letterer: Kody Chamberlain

Publisher: Image Comics

So, here’s a fun story.  Craig and I live together in a nice house in one of those neighborhoods where people are really, really into their yards – which is fine with me because it makes the neighborhood look great.  Well, awhile back we had this really interesting-looking plant growing in our front yard. It grew tall and strong, and we thought it looked amazing – like a plant from another world! We looked on it with awe and pride.  Until our next door neighbor came up to Craig and said, “You know that’s a weed, right?” Nope. We did not. Well, I’m happy to report that the weed is gone, but I still don’t have a green thumb. And I’m okay with that. Gardening and growing things from the earth never really appealed to me (which doesn’t bode well for my apocalypse survival skills), and thanks to Farmhand that probably won’t change anytime soon.


For the podcast listeners, I’ve recommended Farmhand before.  It’s written and drawn by Rob Guillory, whose artwork you might be familiar with from Chew.  Well, Guillory doesn’t disappoint with his own comic creation.  Farmhand tells the tale of Ezekial Jenkins who returns to his hometown with his wife and two kids only to discover that his father has discovered a seed, called the Jedidiah Seed, that allows for the harvesting of some very interesting crops – body parts to be exact.  If you need a new nose, new boobs, or a kidney transplant, well this seed can just grow it for you. And there will definitely and absolutely be no horrible side effects whatsoever. Right? Farmhand starts off as a fun story of a man returning to his childhood home and finding that…things are different.  But then it evolves into just straight body horror with some great artwork from Guillory showing, unsurprisingly, just how horrific and disgusting body parts grown in dirt can be.  And an added bonus with Guillory’s art is that his drawings have little Easter eggs, so it pays to take a minute to stop and enjoy the scenery. But more than the artwork, Guillory has also created a very interesting cast of characters that really brings Farmhand to life.  We have the drama of the Jenkins family, but we also have spies, a psycho politician who has some not-so-good ulterior motives for the Jedidiah Seed or the Jenkins family, and a host of body part recipients that are less than enthusiastic about their results.


Finally, an extra, extra bonus is that if you keep up with the single-issue comics, you’ll notice on the back of each one a calendar schedule letting you know when the next issue will be released.  Guillory mentioned (I believe in the first issue) how aggravating it is for him as a reader when comics are not released on a consistent schedule, and I couldn’t agree more. A good example of this for me is Bitch Planet, a comic that started out strong in my opinion but that I quickly lost interest in because of the extremely inconsistent release dates.  So Guillory’s calendar is a breath of fresh air!


Happy Reading!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’

Horror Comics: Ice Cream Man


By: Kia McClain


Story by: W. Maxwell Prince

Art by: Martín Morazzo

Colors by: Chris O’Halloran

Publisher: Image Comics

Rocky Road.  Cherry Garcia.  Mint Chocolate Chip.  Moose Tracks. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.  Delicious right? Well, I wouldn’t know because I’ve never had any of these.  My ice cream of choice will forever be Cookies & Cream (preferably the Mayfield brand).  But whatever your personal favorite is, ice cream is a wonderful treat! Or is it? Let me introduce you to one of my new favorite comics – Ice Cream Man.

Ice Cream Man, written by W. Maxwell Prince with art by Martín Morazzo, immediately made me think of The Twilight Zone.  From the Image Comics website, Ice Cream Man is a “genre-defying comic book series featuring disparate ‘one-shot’ tales of sorrow, wonder, and redemption.”  Except unlike The Twilight Zone, the stories in Ice Cream Man are connected  by a sinister being, the friendly neighborhood ice cream man who doles out sweet, sugary treats with heaping sides of mischief and misery.  The stories also seem to be focused in one place, the town of St. Generous, and there’s some recurring characters, including a detective who’s investigating some of the strange happenings.  So while the stories in Ice Cream Man are described as one-shots, there’s definitely a sense that there’s an overall story here.  And without spoiling too much, this sense is further pushed by the ice cream man’s own personal boogeyman – a man named Caleb who reminds me of the Saint of Killers character from the Preacher comic.


Also, I must mention the colorist for Ice Cream ManChris O’Halloran.  Usually what attracts me to a comic is the coloring before the pencils and inks, and I love the colors in Ice Cream Man.  Fittingly for the title, they’re nice and bright but also in a way muted – basically they look like ice cream.  The colors aren’t glaring, and I didn’t notice any super rich or saturated tones. Rather, the colors are varying and soft.  One of my favorite stories in Ice Cream Man, “Strange Neapolitan,” makes great use of coloring.  The story begins with a man who buys Neapolitan ice cream and then proceeds to show three different paths his life choices take him.  There’s no dialogue. Instead, the three story lines are told through three vertical strips spanning several pages and each colored to represent chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla – the three flavors of Neapolitan ice cream – with each flavor representing a different path!  It’s very cleverly done and was definitely a standout for me! So if you like a little bit of creepiness with your ice cream, you can’t go wrong with Ice Cream Man.

Happy Reading!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’



A Tale of Two Sabrinas

A Tale of Two Sabrinas: Kia takes a look at Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the new Sabrina the Teenage Witch comics.

Hello readers and welcome back!  I’ve been doing these blog posts for awhile.  I’ve written about and recommended (or not recommended) several books, and it’s all been fun, games, and good times!  But now it’s time to stop being polite and start getting real. This is a story of heartbreak, abandonment, and feeling like you’re just not good enough.  It’s that age-old story – girl meets boy, boy woos girl, girl falls in love, boy meets prettier and more exciting girl, boy dumps first girl. It happens all the time.  Some girls bounce back. Others fall to pieces. Well, this is my story of how I bounced back. This is the story of how I loved and lost Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.


A few years back, I discovered that Sabrina, the teenage witch we all know and love, was getting a makeover.  Her story was going to be much darker than the earlier comics and 90’s TV show, and that was evident right off the bat with the new title of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  It was to be written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa with art by Robert Hack.  Admittedly, when I first saw the artwork, I wasn’t sure that I liked it. However, once I started reading the comic and saw just how dark it was, I realized that the artwork was a perfect fit.  I loved this comic! I loved that it was so unlike the TV show I had watched as a kid; that Sabrina’s aunts weren’t just spinsters that happened to know a few spells; that Sabrina’s high school experience and social life were more Buffy the Vampire Slayer (especially the later seasons) and less Sweet Valley High.  Sidenote: I’m not shading Sweet Valley High.  I read Sweet Valley High, Sweet Valley Twins, and Sweet Valley University, and yep I watched the TV show.  But I prefer my supernatural entertainment to fall a bit on the darker side.  So after reading the first trade of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, I was very excited to see how the story would continue.  I waited and waited and waited patiently, and then I waited and waited and waited not so patiently.  Until I saw that there were new single issues that had come out but then had prematurely stopped. And then I learned that Netflix was doing a Chilling Adventures of Sabrina show.  “Okay, that could be cool” I thought.  I wasn’t threatened – the comic and the show could both exist at the same time and the comic would obviously be the source material for the show.  But no – that’s not what happened. Instead, the comic was basically abandoned. I saw social media messages from readers asking when the next comic issue would come out only to be completely ignored.  And then during a run to my local comics shop, I learned that a new Sabrina comic was coming out.  And there it was. I, along with other fellow readers, had been dumped for a much more attractive love interest – a television audience.

Now don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed the first season of the Netflix show and, I’m looking forward to checking out the second season (I’m a little late, I know).  But I definitely watch the show with a bit of bitterness in my heart because I don’t understand why the show and the comic can’t both exist in the same universe. I don’t think it’s been officially stated that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is done, but I would imagine that it is, especially since a new Sabrina comic has already hit the shelves.  So let’s talk about that.


The new comic is under the Archie Forever banner and is simply called Sabrina the Teenage Witch – back to the basics.  It’s written by Kelly Thompson, who brought us the very entertaining Jem and the Holograms comic, with artwork by husband-and-wife team Veronica Fish and Andy Fish.  I’m not familiar with Andy’s work, but I like the work Veronica did for the relaunched Archie comic.  When I heard who would be writing and drawing the new Sabrina comic I was looking forward to it, but I also knew that it would probably be a much more light-hearted take.  And after reading the first issue I see that I was right. The artwork is much brighter. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is very dark – a lot of blacks and oranges.  It just screams Halloween. The new Sabrina is very bright and colorful, which is a style I actually really like, but it lets me know that this comic is going in a different direction.  Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is rated “Teen+” for violence and mature content.  The new Sabrina is just rated “Teen.”  Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was done under the Archie Horror imprint, while the new Sabrina is not.  That being said, I enjoyed Sabrina #1 and look forward to checking out where the series goes.  I even added it to my subscription box at my local comics shop.  It’s a fun read with great artwork, and the potential is definitely there for it to go to some dark (or at least shadowy) places.  But Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will always be the comic that got away, and I would’ve loved to see where the story went.  Maybe I’ll get some answers on the Netflix show, but us comic readers know that there’s a whole lot you can get away with in a comic that just won’t fly on a television show.  But, despite my bitterness, I’ll still watch the Netflix show because it’s really good. And I’ll still read the new Sabrina comic because it’s really good.  But I’ll miss reading Chilling Adventures of Sabrina because it was really great.  Until next time!

Kia is a co-host of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 


Book Reviews: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein & The Butchering Art


Hello blog readers!  And (I hope) book readers!  I’m back with a couple more recommendations to quench your horror thirst.  The first is The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White, the author of Slayer (which I recommended in my last entry).  The second is The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris.  You know the saying “truth is stranger than fiction?”  Well, The Butchering Art shows that truth is not only stranger than fiction but far more disgusting than you could imagine.  So let’s get to it!

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White is a retelling of Frankenstein.  Before I started reading, I thought that the story would take place in modern times but was pleasantly surprised to see that it seems to be set in the same time period as Frankenstein.  This time, the story is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza (the love interest of Victor Frankenstein in the original novel and Henry Frankenstein in the 1931 film adaptation).  In The Dark Descent, Elizabeth is “adopted” as a child to live with the Frankensteins and basically keep a young, troubled Victor in check.  Through her perspective and flashbacks, we get to see not only how Victor becomes the monster creator we all know and love but how Elizabeth’s relationship with Victor colors how she sees herself.  The Dark Descent is a very enjoyable book from a storytelling standpoint.  White does a great job at painting the world in which our characters live and giving the reader some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming.  I also really enjoyed the character of Elizabeth- she’s multi-layered and complex. I was initially unsure of how I felt about Elizabeth but, just like real life (at least some of the time), I grew to like her the more I spent time with her.  But aside from the storytelling, my main takeaway from this book is the idea that we’re all “creations” of something or someone – we’re all influenced by things and other people – and vice versa. The hard part is figuring out who you are apart from those influences and defining yourself the way you want.  At least, that’s what I got from this book. Maybe you’ll read it and take away something different. Or maybe you’ll just enjoy it! That’s fine too.

My second recommendation, The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris, contains a lot of anecdotes that could be considered torture porn.  Except they’re all true and took place during an unfortunate period of history before anesthesia and surgical sanitation.  This book might make you rethink your answer if you’re ever asked what other time period you would like to live in. I definitely wouldn’t say The Butchering Art is an enjoyable read, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be.  There’s nothing enjoyable about the conditions under which people had to endure surgeries pre-1900s.  Can you imagine undergoing removal of a tumor from your jawbone – a twenty-four-minute procedure that involved slicing off pieces of the tumor and jawbone – without anesthetic?  Or having a surgeon operate on you using the same blood and pus-covered instruments as he used during a previous operation and without washing his hands or changing the sheets soaked with another person’s blood?  It’s completely disgusting and unbelievable and yet exactly how things were done for a very long time. As a result of the unsanitary conditions, infections after surgery were widespread and common, and it was a widely held belief that people were actually safer being treated at home than in the hospital.  But thanks to Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, the idea of sterile surgery eventually became the way of the world. Fitzharris’s The Butchering Art is vivid, detailed, and well-researched and at times hard to read thanks to the stomach-churning anecdotes.  Next time I go to a doctor’s office or hospital and look around at the (hopefully) clean and sterile environment, I’ll definitely be thinking of Lister.  I usually like to recommend fun reads within the horror genre, but those authors have to get their inspiration from somewhere. There’s a great deal of inspiration in The Butchering Art.

Happy Reading!

Kia is a co-host of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

Book Reviews: Vicious & Slayer


Hello again!  It’s been awhile since my last blog entry, and my plan was to pick up again with my Back to Fear Street series.  However, I was starting to get a bit burned out, and I had some not so enjoyable experiences revisiting the series and checking out the new books.  So, I decided that I would go back to reading whatever I want. I’m off to a pretty good start – I’ve read seven books so far this year which is pretty good for me, and there’s a couple I’d like to recommend.

The first is Vicious by V.E. Schwab.  This book came out in 2013, so I was tardy to the party but better late than never.  Vicious is the story of two college roommates who discover a way to develop super powers.  But then something goes horribly wrong, as things tend to do when super powers are involved, and the two friends become enemies.  Think Professor X vs. Magneto. I loved Vicious and gave it 5/5 stars on Goodreads.  If you enjoy reading comics, I think you’ll find this book to be right up your alley.  But even if you don’t, it will still be a great read! Schwab does a fantastic job at world-building without being overly complicated, and her characters are complex and well-developed.  A sequel to Vicious entitled Vengeful was released in 2018.  I haven’t read it yet but definitely planning to.  I also read that the rights to a film adaptation were purchased, so maybe we’ll be seeing this story on the big screen.  But if not, it’s definitely worth a read!

My second recommendation is Buffy-related, which if you listen to our podcast will come as no surprise. Slayer by Kiersten White is a 2019 release about…a slayer.  But not the one we all know and love. There’s a new slayer in town, and her name is Nina.  There’s just one tiny complication – she’s also part of the Watchers, an organization that works to protect the slayers.  Before Nina even gets a chance to adjust to her new calling, a host of demons and monsters show up, and her powers as a slayer and her duties to the Watchers are put to the test.  I LOVED this book and gave it 5/5 stars on Goodreads. I think a newcomer to the world of Buffy would enjoy Slayer because it’s just a lot of fun if you’re into supernatural fiction.  However, as an OG fan of Buffy, this book was truly rewarding. Talk about Easter eggs!  If you loved the movie, TV show, AND the comics, you’ll definitely get a lot out of Slayer.  There’s so many references that aren’t necessarily key to the plot but that just add so much to the story because this book very much so takes place within the Buffyverse.  But in addition to the references, we also get some visits from some much beloved characters who do factor into the plot. I won’t reveal any surprises because if you’re as big a Buffy fan as me, the payoff is worth the wait.  I read on Goodreads that this will be a duology, but I would love for it to go on and on. It’s obvious from both the story (and from the acknowledgements at the back of the book), that the author is an OG Buffy fan herself. She wrote Slayer with a lot of respect to the original material and gave us a host of new complex characters and adventures to enjoy.  I highly recommend this book if you’re a fan of supernatural fiction, and it’s a must-read if you’re a fan of Buffy!

Hopefully I’ll have more recommendations soon!  There’s a lot to read out there, and a lot of it’s on my many bookshelves.  So on to my next adventure!

Kia is a co-host of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’