Friendly City Books

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

This collection is sharp, strong, and emotional. I found myself incredibly moved by these stories about Black women who refuse to settle for lives dictated by insecurity, family tradition, or religious dogma. And despite being a white woman who will never truly understand the depicted experiences, I saw pieces of my own story reflected in the characters’ struggles to make their own space within and outside of an overbearing religious community, in the yearning for a love that defied familial expectations, and in teenage heartbreak. I saw glimpses of people I’ve known. That personal connection took this book from good to great for me – it got me totally invested. The women in these pages are vibrant and magnetic – they immerse us in their stories and make us feel the pulse of their lives. They also remind us that we have to truly see each other – that making the effort to connect and understand each other is vital to changing the national and global narrative of “everyone for themselves.”

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (List Price: $18.99, West Virginia University Press, 9781949199734, 9/2020)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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The Lost Village by Camilla Sten, Alexandra Fleming (Trans)

The Lost Village is a mystery, a survival story, and a dark homage to haunting – not just the haunting of abandoned mining village Silvertjärn, nestled deep in the forest of Sweden, but also how we find ourselves haunted by the past, our ancestors, and our own minds.

Alice, a filmmaker whose single goal is to solve the mystery of Silvertjärn, brings a documentary crew to the village to try and discover why all the residents disappeared in 1959. They quickly realize they aren’t alone and end up fighting for their lives against evil forces that still lie in wait.

The haunted house/haunted town idea isn’t new, but Camilla Sten makes it feel fresh. Strong characters with complex inner lives drive the story – the weight and context of their individual histories creates wonderfully compelling tension between them. As we learn why each crew member came to Silvertjärn, we also see the mystery unfold piece by piece as the story alternates between past and present until both converge in a horrifying face-off. I actually yelled out loud at the big reveal, which is all I want from a good horror story.

In fact, the buildup of tension was one of the best parts of the whole experience. Slowly but surely you’re pulled into the village, pulled into the mystery, pulled into the characters’ secrets and fears and nightmares until suddenly your heart races as you run with them from danger, run to escape the village, and instead find yourself face to face with the horror of Silvertjärn. I couldn’t put it down! It made me feel things. It creeped me out. I yelled in public (the highest praise I can give). Grab a copy and see if you can survive The Lost Village!

The Lost Village Camilla Sten, Alexandra Fleming (Trans.) (List Price: $26.99, Minotaur Books, 978125024925, 3/23/2021)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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The Dark Half by Stephen King

Thad Beaumont is an author whose most popular work was written by someone else. Or was it? Nightmares of his life destroyed, mysterious headaches, a horrifying revelation from his childhood, and the appearance of someone who knows Thad better than he knows himself all lead to a choice between saving his family and the life Thad has built for himself, or giving in to his darkest impulses. An electrifying exploration of the love of (and sometimes obsession with) writing, The Dark Half held me captive. I ached and feared and rejoiced with Thad as he faced his worst fears supernaturally made manifest. I read nonstop, unwilling to break the story’s rising tension. This book absolutely wrung me out in the best way. At one point, I sat through three pages of Thad trying to accomplish a task in the midst of sheer panic and it felt so real I found myself shaking. That’s how immersive the story is, “[d]own here in Endsville, where all rail service terminates.”

The Dark Half by Stephen King (List Price: $18.00, Gallery Books, 9781501144196, 2/2016)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite by Zoraida Cordova, Natalie C. Parker

These stories are well-written, fresh, and compelling – they explore what it means to consider and consent to becoming a vampire; how human bodies, with all their imperfections and different abilities, are and aren’t changed by vampire magic; and how individual identity might be enhanced or overridden by the new identity of Vampire. I think the introduction says it best:

“Of the vampires in our collective imagination, which is admittedly Western-focused, nearly all resided in stories about power. Despite rampant queer subtext and outstanding nonwhite examples like Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories, the vampires were predominantly men, white, cisgender, straight, and able-bodied, and we were ready for stories that reimagined that default.”

This collection doesn’t seek to negate the appeal and influence of classic vampire stories – I think, instead, it reworks some of those ideas with sharper, more politically and socially aware eyes. And the book as a whole feels like the beloved creation of people who just love vampires – love the idea of them, love the lore, love the good and bad of them, the romantic and the frightening. To me, the sheer joy of everyone involved just shines through each page.

Vampires Never Get Old : Tales with Fresh Bite by Zoraida Cordova, Natalie C. Parker (List Price: $17.99, Imprint/Macmillan, 9781949199734, 9/22/2020)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

This collection is sharp, strong, and emotional. I found myself incredibly moved by these stories about Black women who refuse to settle for lives dictated by insecurity, family tradition, or religious dogma. And despite being a white woman who will never truly understand the depicted experiences, I saw pieces of my own story reflected in the characters’ struggles to make their own space within and outside of an overbearing religious community, in the yearning for a love that defied familial expectations, and in teenage heartbreak. I saw glimpses of people I’ve known. That personal connection took this book from good to great for me – it got me totally invested. The women in these pages are vibrant and magnetic – they immerse us in their stories and make us feel the pulse of their lives. They also remind us that we have to truly see each other – that making the effort to connect and understand each other is vital to changing the national and global narrative of “everyone for themselves.”

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (List Price: $18.99, West Virginia University Press, 9781949199734, 9/2020)

Reviewed by Rachel Derise, Friendly City Books in Columbus, Mississippi

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