May 14th

Southern Gothic Showdown

Posted in Reviews

Southern Gothic is by and large one of my favorite genres. There’s something irresistible about the dark, atmospheric settings, the nuanced writing, and that slowly creeping sense of something not-quite-right. Fortunately for me, it’s becoming a more widely published sub-genre within YA lit. Today, I’ll be talking about three books that fall within the confines of Southern Gothic YA–Down With the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn, The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude, and Behold the Bones by Natalie C. Parker–all of which were published in 2016.

If Southern Gothic is a genre you’re perhaps not-so-crazy about or you just don’t like to read multiple books with similar feels, I’ve broken down what I liked and disliked about each one.

Down with the Shine
by Kate Karyus Quinn
5 Star Rating

Lennie always thought her uncles’ “important family legacy” was good old-fashioned bootlegging. Then she takes some of her uncles’ moonshine to Michaela Gordon’s annual house party, and finds out just how wrong she was.

At the party, Lennie has everyone make a wish before drinking the shine—it’s tradition. She toasts to wishes for bat wings, for balls of steel, for the party to go on forever. Lennie even makes a wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was murdered six months ago.

The next morning gives Lennie a whole new understanding of the phrase be careful what you wish for—or in her case, be careful what wishes you grant. Because all those wishes Lennie raised a jar of shine to last night? They came true. Most of them came out bad. And once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…

Surprisingly enough, this was by far my favorite read out of the these three books. I use the word “surprising” because I’m not a big fan of humor (I hate laughing, fun, kittens, etc) and this book was hilarious! It was a wild ride and I found myself unable to put the book down until I had finished it. I feel important to note that it is, in many ways, a very dark read. That darkness is offset with fantastic humor. I really loved the Appalachian/rural feel of this book–trailer parks, moonshine-making uncles, small towns and the social politics that come with them.

As you can see from the synopsis above, the concept was pretty original–Lenny, essentially abandoned by the rest of her family, lives with her moonshining uncles in a trailer park. In an attempt to gain some small town social capital, she steals their moonshine and brings it to the biggest party of the year. Things go terribly wrong when she accidentally grants the wishes of almost everyone at the party–and you won’t believe everything that follows. At times emotionally harrowing, at times absolutely ridiculous, Down With the Shine is a roller coaster ride from start to finish. The beginning of the novel hooked me immediately and my attention was held until the very last page.

Read if you like: black humor, magic gone wrong,

May Queen Murders
by Sarah Jude
3 Star Rating

Stay on the roads. Don’t enter the woods. Never go out at night.

Those are the rules in Rowan’s Glen, a remote farming community in the Missouri Ozarks where Ivy Templeton’s family has lived for centuries. It’s an old-fashioned way of life, full of superstition and traditions, and sixteen-year-old Ivy loves it. The other kids at school may think the Glen kids are weird, but Ivy doesn’t care—she has her cousin Heather as her best friend. The two girls share everything with each other—or so Ivy thinks. When Heather goes missing after a May Day celebration, Ivy discovers that both her best friend and her beloved hometown are as full of secrets as the woods that surround them.

The May Queen Murders was a different animal altogether. Where Down With the Shine balanced its darkness with humor, this book was…just dark. I feel that I should preface this review by clarifying that this book is definitely out of my reading comfort zone and that biases my review. It’s very much a serial-killer-style horror story and that’s not something I typically enjoy. I was, however, drawn in by the synopsis on the back of the book. The initial concept was very appealing to me–a small community in the Ozarks, living off the land in a modern world. I did enjoy the folklore and traditions of Ivy’s community. Many of them are recognizable to me and have deep roots in Appalachian culture, where the families who founded the community originated from.

I will warn that right off the bat, there’s an animal death in this story. It’s not the only instance of this, either, and I did find that it made me mildly uncomfortable. As the deaths continue and screams are continuously heard at night by the village, we begin to hear about the legend of the murder Birch Markle. While this is going on, Ivy is experiencing the disintegration of her relationship with her best friend, Heather. There’s elements of mystery in both of these plot lines: what specifically happened with Birch Markle all those years ago, and has he really returned? What is Heather doing behind Ivy’s back?

I found many of the characters in this novel to be irritating to some extent. Ivy is sheltered, inexperienced, and clingy. Heather is her foil: precocious, beautiful, and independent. They clash in very predictable ways. Ivy’s love interest is rather boring as well. The May Queen Murders moves very slowly until the very end of the book, when too much happens too quickly. The question of the murderer’s identity is answered in a very convoluted way and I found myself getting a little confused. I had to return to previous passages in the novel and reread to figure out what was going on.

All in all, The May Queen Murders succeeded in creating a dark, creepy atmosphere. I found that the characters fell short and the plot shifted from nearly slow enough to become boring to way-too-high-gear at the end of the novel. The elements of horror and the gore was at times too much for me–not because it was over the top, but because it simply isn’t something I enjoy.

Read if you like: horror, M. Night Shymalan’s The Village, Winter’s Bone, old fashioned superstitions

Behold the Bones
by Natalie C. Parker
4 Star Rating

Candace “Candy” Pickens has been obsessed with the swamp lore of her tiny Louisiana town for…forever.

That doesn’t mean Candy’s a believer, however. She and her friends entered the swamp at the start of summer and left it changed, but Candy’s the only one who can’t see or feel the magical Shine. She’s also the only one who can’t see the ghosts that have been appearing in town ever since. So Candy concentrates on other things—real things. Like fighting with her mother and plotting her escape from her crazy town.

But ghosts aren’t the only newcomers in Sticks, Louisiana. The King family arrives like a hurricane: in a blur and unwanted—at least by Candy. Mr. King is intent on filming the rumored ghostly activity for his hit TV show, Local Haunts. And while Candy can’t ignore how attracted she is to eighteen-year-old Gage King and how much his sister, Nova, wants to be friends, she’s still suspicious of the family.

As Candy tries to figure out why the Kings are really in town and why the swamp now seems to be invading every crack in her logical, cynical mind, she stumbles across the one piece of swamp lore she didn’t know. It’s a tale that’s more truth than myth, and may have all the answers…and its roots are in Candy’s own family tree

Behold the Bones is a companion novel to Beware the Wild. I’d like to preface this review by mentioning that I absolutely lovedBeware the Wild. It was one of my favorite reads of all of 2015. It’s fair to say that although they both take place in the same town with same folklore and overlapping characters, Parker has succeeded in creating two very different books. Candace is very unlike the former protagonist, Sterling. She is fiercely independent, very book smart, and dead set on getting the hell out of Sticks, Louisiana. She believes in the magic of the swamp solely based on her best friends’ interactions with it and is unable to see or interact with it herself. Feeling left out, Candace attempts to alter this. At this time, a new family moves into their small town: the Kings. The father is the host of a Ghost Hunters-style television show and means to film a segment in Sticks. From the beginning, there are clearly ulterior motives. While much of the town greets this newfound change at fame, Candy and her friends stay skeptical.

Behold the Bones moves slowly at first, but picks up around halfway through. Despite this, there’s no denying that Parker is a fantastic writer. She is brilliant at weaving together together small details that make Sticks such a well-crafted, realistic small town. I’m from a very small town myself and Parker’s attention to detail really resonated with me. Some of my favorite aspects of this book include the creeping, dark magic of the swamp and the wonderful cast of characters both major and minor. Mr. Wawheece, the esoteric owner of the local racetrack; Candy’s matriarchal southern grandmother; Lady Clary, who owns the local store and curates the books of swamp lore sold there. As I said before, the details of this book really make it. You can tell that so much time and effort went into developing this universe.

There’s hints of a love story in Behold the Bones, but it’s by no means a dominant feature of the book. The plot thread involving the new boy in town doesn’t unfold the way you’d think it would, and Candy remains largely independent throughout much of the book. The actual love element mostly comes in towards the end–I did find it to be a little unnatural and rushed. My only other issue with the book was Candace’s treatment of her close friend, Abigail Beale. Abigail is a black lesbian raised by very religious parents. There’s a moment when Candy uses Abigail’s sexuality as a sort of weapon (which is handled relatively well, I think) and another when she reacts sharply to Abigail stating she might not want to leave her hometown (read a piece I wrote this week that addresses that here).

All in all, Behold the Bones was a very good read. Whenever I pick up a book by Natalie C. Parker, I know to expect greatness. I’m extremely hopeful that there will be at least one more book in the series and that Abigail will get her own story.

Read if you like: the deep south, fantastic world building, strong female characters, stories not dominated by romance, family myths

Each of these books was good in its own right. My favorite was Down With the Shine, standing out for its interwoven humor and darkness. Behold the Bones was nearly tied with it, with Natalie C. Parker’s flawless writing bringing it all together. The May Queen Murders did fall short of my expectations in some ways, but the largest impact on my opinion of it is definitely that it’s just not my cup of tea. I hope that you’ve found this breakdown of each book helpful, and that perhaps I can steer you in the direction of your next favorite read!

Have you read any of these books? Have anything to add, or perhaps a different opinion? Comment below and let’s talk!

Southern Gothic is by and large one of my favorite genres. There’s something irresistible about the dark, atmospheric settings, the nuanced writing, and that slowly creeping sense of something not-quite-right. Fortunately for me, it’s becoming a more widely published sub-genre within YA lit. Today, I’ll be talking about three books that fall within the confines of Southern Gothic YA–Down With the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn, The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude, and Behold the Bones by Natalie C. Parker–all of which were published in 2016.

If Southern Gothic is a genre you’re perhaps not-so-crazy about or you just don’t like to read multiple books with similar feels, I’ve broken down what I liked and disliked about each one.

Down with the Shine
by Kate Karyus Quinn
5 Star Rating

Lennie always thought her uncles’ “important family legacy” was good old-fashioned bootlegging. Then she takes some of her uncles’ moonshine to Michaela Gordon’s annual house party, and finds out just how wrong she was.

At the party, Lennie has everyone make a wish before drinking the shine—it’s tradition. She toasts to wishes for bat wings, for balls of steel, for the party to go on forever. Lennie even makes a wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was murdered six months ago.

The next morning gives Lennie a whole new understanding of the phrase be careful what you wish for—or in her case, be careful what wishes you grant. Because all those wishes Lennie raised a jar of shine to last night? They came true. Most of them came out bad. And once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…

Surprisingly enough, this was by far my favorite read out of the these three books. I use the word “surprising” because I’m not a big fan of humor (I hate laughing, fun, kittens, etc) and this book was hilarious! It was a wild ride and I found myself unable to put the book down until I had finished it. I feel important to note that it is, in many ways, a very dark read. That darkness is offset with fantastic humor. I really loved the Appalachian/rural feel of this book–trailer parks, moonshine-making uncles, small towns and the social politics that come with them.

As you can see from the synopsis above, the concept was pretty original–Lenny, essentially abandoned by the rest of her family, lives with her moonshining uncles in a trailer park. In an attempt to gain some small town social capital, she steals their moonshine and brings it to the biggest party of the year. Things go terribly wrong when she accidentally grants the wishes of almost everyone at the party–and you won’t believe everything that follows. At times emotionally harrowing, at times absolutely ridiculous, Down With the Shine is a roller coaster ride from start to finish. The beginning of the novel hooked me immediately and my attention was held until the very last page.

Read if you like: black humor, magic gone wrong,

May Queen Murders
by Sarah Jude
3 Star Rating

Stay on the roads. Don’t enter the woods. Never go out at night.

Those are the rules in Rowan’s Glen, a remote farming community in the Missouri Ozarks where Ivy Templeton’s family has lived for centuries. It’s an old-fashioned way of life, full of superstition and traditions, and sixteen-year-old Ivy loves it. The other kids at school may think the Glen kids are weird, but Ivy doesn’t care—she has her cousin Heather as her best friend. The two girls share everything with each other—or so Ivy thinks. When Heather goes missing after a May Day celebration, Ivy discovers that both her best friend and her beloved hometown are as full of secrets as the woods that surround them.

The May Queen Murders was a different animal altogether. Where Down With the Shine balanced its darkness with humor, this book was…just dark. I feel that I should preface this review by clarifying that this book is definitely out of my reading comfort zone and that biases my review. It’s very much a serial-killer-style horror story and that’s not something I typically enjoy. I was, however, drawn in by the synopsis on the back of the book. The initial concept was very appealing to me–a small community in the Ozarks, living off the land in a modern world. I did enjoy the folklore and traditions of Ivy’s community. Many of them are recognizable to me and have deep roots in Appalachian culture, where the families who founded the community originated from.

I will warn that right off the bat, there’s an animal death in this story. It’s not the only instance of this, either, and I did find that it made me mildly uncomfortable. As the deaths continue and screams are continuously heard at night by the village, we begin to hear about the legend of the murder Birch Markle. While this is going on, Ivy is experiencing the disintegration of her relationship with her best friend, Heather. There’s elements of mystery in both of these plot lines: what specifically happened with Birch Markle all those years ago, and has he really returned? What is Heather doing behind Ivy’s back?

I found many of the characters in this novel to be irritating to some extent. Ivy is sheltered, inexperienced, and clingy. Heather is her foil: precocious, beautiful, and independent. They clash in very predictable ways. Ivy’s love interest is rather boring as well. The May Queen Murders moves very slowly until the very end of the book, when too much happens too quickly. The question of the murderer’s identity is answered in a very convoluted way and I found myself getting a little confused. I had to return to previous passages in the novel and reread to figure out what was going on.

All in all, The May Queen Murders succeeded in creating a dark, creepy atmosphere. I found that the characters fell short and the plot shifted from nearly slow enough to become boring to way-too-high-gear at the end of the novel. The elements of horror and the gore was at times too much for me–not because it was over the top, but because it simply isn’t something I enjoy.

Read if you like: horror, M. Night Shymalan’s The Village, Winter’s Bone, old fashioned superstitions

Behold the Bones
by Natalie C. Parker
4 Star Rating

Candace “Candy” Pickens has been obsessed with the swamp lore of her tiny Louisiana town for…forever.

That doesn’t mean Candy’s a believer, however. She and her friends entered the swamp at the start of summer and left it changed, but Candy’s the only one who can’t see or feel the magical Shine. She’s also the only one who can’t see the ghosts that have been appearing in town ever since. So Candy concentrates on other things—real things. Like fighting with her mother and plotting her escape from her crazy town.

But ghosts aren’t the only newcomers in Sticks, Louisiana. The King family arrives like a hurricane: in a blur and unwanted—at least by Candy. Mr. King is intent on filming the rumored ghostly activity for his hit TV show, Local Haunts. And while Candy can’t ignore how attracted she is to eighteen-year-old Gage King and how much his sister, Nova, wants to be friends, she’s still suspicious of the family.

As Candy tries to figure out why the Kings are really in town and why the swamp now seems to be invading every crack in her logical, cynical mind, she stumbles across the one piece of swamp lore she didn’t know. It’s a tale that’s more truth than myth, and may have all the answers…and its roots are in Candy’s own family tree

Behold the Bones is a companion novel to Beware the Wild. I’d like to preface this review by mentioning that I absolutely lovedBeware the Wild. It was one of my favorite reads of all of 2015. It’s fair to say that although they both take place in the same town with same folklore and overlapping characters, Parker has succeeded in creating two very different books. Candace is very unlike the former protagonist, Sterling. She is fiercely independent, very book smart, and dead set on getting the hell out of Sticks, Louisiana. She believes in the magic of the swamp solely based on her best friends’ interactions with it and is unable to see or interact with it herself. Feeling left out, Candace attempts to alter this. At this time, a new family moves into their small town: the Kings. The father is the host of a Ghost Hunters-style television show and means to film a segment in Sticks. From the beginning, there are clearly ulterior motives. While much of the town greets this newfound change at fame, Candy and her friends stay skeptical.

Behold the Bones moves slowly at first, but picks up around halfway through. Despite this, there’s no denying that Parker is a fantastic writer. She is brilliant at weaving together together small details that make Sticks such a well-crafted, realistic small town. I’m from a very small town myself and Parker’s attention to detail really resonated with me. Some of my favorite aspects of this book include the creeping, dark magic of the swamp and the wonderful cast of characters both major and minor. Mr. Wawheece, the esoteric owner of the local racetrack; Candy’s matriarchal southern grandmother; Lady Clary, who owns the local store and curates the books of swamp lore sold there. As I said before, the details of this book really make it. You can tell that so much time and effort went into developing this universe.

There’s hints of a love story in Behold the Bones, but it’s by no means a dominant feature of the book. The plot thread involving the new boy in town doesn’t unfold the way you’d think it would, and Candy remains largely independent throughout much of the book. The actual love element mostly comes in towards the end–I did find it to be a little unnatural and rushed. My only other issue with the book was Candace’s treatment of her close friend, Abigail Beale. Abigail is a black lesbian raised by very religious parents. There’s a moment when Candy uses Abigail’s sexuality as a sort of weapon (which is handled relatively well, I think) and another when she reacts sharply to Abigail stating she might not want to leave her hometown (read a piece I wrote this week that addresses that here).

All in all, Behold the Bones was a very good read. Whenever I pick up a book by Natalie C. Parker, I know to expect greatness. I’m extremely hopeful that there will be at least one more book in the series and that Abigail will get her own story.

Read if you like: the deep south, fantastic world building, strong female characters, stories not dominated by romance, family myths

Each of these books was good in its own right. My favorite was Down With the Shine, standing out for its interwoven humor and darkness. Behold the Bones was nearly tied with it, with Natalie C. Parker’s flawless writing bringing it all together. The May Queen Murders did fall short of my expectations in some ways, but the largest impact on my opinion of it is definitely that it’s just not my cup of tea. I hope that you’ve found this breakdown of each book helpful, and that perhaps I can steer you in the direction of your next favorite read!

Have you read any of these books? Have anything to add, or perhaps a different opinion? Comment below and let’s talk!

By Oliver Lumpkin

Oli oli oxen-free

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Southern Gothic Showdown

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