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When Darkness Loves Us

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This two-novella collection twists together the beauty and horror underlying the seeming simplicity of small town life. Sally Ann is a bright and bubbling farm girl, still caught in the thrill of a brand-new husband and a shining future ahead. When a careless exploration leaves her trapped underground, she learns to live again in the absence of everything she once knew. Eve This two-novella collection twists together the beauty and horror underlying the seeming simplicity of small town life. Sally Ann is a bright and bubbling farm girl, still caught in the thrill of a brand-new husband and a shining future ahead. When a careless exploration leaves her trapped underground, she learns to live again in the absence of everything she once knew. Even driven by love and light, Sally Ann finds the deepest darkness within herself in When Darkness Loves Us. Beauty Is... - Old Martha Mannes has been a part of Morgan, Illinois since her birth. The whole town knows her as the dim-witted woman who was born without a nose, but Martha's mind wasn't always a blank slate. Unlocking the monster buried deep in her memories may bring back the sparkling child she once was... or it may send those around her crashing down into the nightmares of a little girl gone wrong.


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This two-novella collection twists together the beauty and horror underlying the seeming simplicity of small town life. Sally Ann is a bright and bubbling farm girl, still caught in the thrill of a brand-new husband and a shining future ahead. When a careless exploration leaves her trapped underground, she learns to live again in the absence of everything she once knew. Eve This two-novella collection twists together the beauty and horror underlying the seeming simplicity of small town life. Sally Ann is a bright and bubbling farm girl, still caught in the thrill of a brand-new husband and a shining future ahead. When a careless exploration leaves her trapped underground, she learns to live again in the absence of everything she once knew. Even driven by love and light, Sally Ann finds the deepest darkness within herself in When Darkness Loves Us. Beauty Is... - Old Martha Mannes has been a part of Morgan, Illinois since her birth. The whole town knows her as the dim-witted woman who was born without a nose, but Martha's mind wasn't always a blank slate. Unlocking the monster buried deep in her memories may bring back the sparkling child she once was... or it may send those around her crashing down into the nightmares of a little girl gone wrong.

30 review for When Darkness Loves Us

  1. 4 out of 5

    Grady Hendrix

    Reading horror paperbacks from the 80s is like buying drugs off the street. You wind up with so many bags of oregano that you lose hope, and then, suddenly, you’re clutching the real deal and the top of your head is lifting off and you can’t remember your name, your address, or whether you’re biologically human. But finding the real deal brings its own flavor of depression because it raises questions like, “Why isn’t this author better known?” and “What happened to their careers?” Which is exactl Reading horror paperbacks from the 80s is like buying drugs off the street. You wind up with so many bags of oregano that you lose hope, and then, suddenly, you’re clutching the real deal and the top of your head is lifting off and you can’t remember your name, your address, or whether you’re biologically human. But finding the real deal brings its own flavor of depression because it raises questions like, “Why isn’t this author better known?” and “What happened to their careers?” Which is exactly how I felt when I stumbled across Elizabeth Engstrom’s When Darkness Loves Us and realized I had never heard of them, or their author, before. It made me want to scream to the heavens, “Who’s responsible this???” Read more gushing at the full review which is here.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Char

    WHEN DARKNESS LOVES US gets ALL the stars and maybe even a few planets! I'm going to keep this review short and I'll tell you why. A friend has been telling me for years how great this book is, but I didn't know anything about it, other than it contained two novella length stories. I think "going in blind" is the best way to attack this volume. I had no preconceptions as to what was going to happen, what the stories were about or anything at all, really. I will say the following: both of these tal WHEN DARKNESS LOVES US gets ALL the stars and maybe even a few planets! I'm going to keep this review short and I'll tell you why. A friend has been telling me for years how great this book is, but I didn't know anything about it, other than it contained two novella length stories. I think "going in blind" is the best way to attack this volume. I had no preconceptions as to what was going to happen, what the stories were about or anything at all, really. I will say the following: both of these tales feature women as the protagonists. These women are tough, they're fighters, and they're brave. They make the most of what they have and try not to complain. Which makes it all the more difficult for the reader when the stories turn, as they both do. A word about the writing-it was beautiful at times. Often, it was beautiful and horrific all at once, which must be a hard thing to pull off, because even reading as much as I do, I rarely come across that perfect, vivid style. I'm not usually a fan of flowery writing but I submit this as a perfect paragraph, descriptive but not overly so, resulting in a tight little description of the seasons on a rural farm: "Winter was a mean ogre, dangerous and ugly, yet his reign was oddly cozy and comfortable as they rested during this respite from the sweltering summer. Spring was a baby bunny, soft and warm, but skittish, and able to dash into frantic motion in less than a heartbeat of time. Spring was clean. Then summer again, a paper queen of vivid reds, purples and greens, fading in the sunlight, turning all the colors a sickly yellow while the paper itself became crisp and brittle. Autumn was a deer, beautiful and swift. And winter had come again." This book was like autumn, actually, (at least it is the way Ms. Engstrom described it), beautiful and swift. And horrific and heartbreaking. And all the other words that describe the type of read that never leaves you. I don't know what else to say other than: My HIGHEST recommendation! *Thank you to Valancourt Books for the e-ARC for review consideration. I considered it and said Hell, yeah!*

  3. 4 out of 5

    Justin Tate

    This is a collection of 2 novellas. The first, "When the Darkness Loves Us," is canon horror. Totally bonkers, off the wall creeptastic. I went into it without knowing anything and loved being blindsided. I'd suggest you do the same. Every word is a twist. You will say "WTF!!??!!"at least a dozen times. Could've been longer, but I think Engstrom was smart to end things before the premise got old. The second novella, "Beauty Is...," starts incredibly slow and I struggled to keep up with the variou This is a collection of 2 novellas. The first, "When the Darkness Loves Us," is canon horror. Totally bonkers, off the wall creeptastic. I went into it without knowing anything and loved being blindsided. I'd suggest you do the same. Every word is a twist. You will say "WTF!!??!!"at least a dozen times. Could've been longer, but I think Engstrom was smart to end things before the premise got old. The second novella, "Beauty Is...," starts incredibly slow and I struggled to keep up with the various character inter-connectivity. By the end things did start to click and I felt significantly more engaged, but for the first half I referred to it as my "Ambien" because it put me right to sleep after a few paragraphs. Overall, never bad but I don't think whatever symbolism Engstrom had in mind totally translated to the page. A lacking streamlined vision and too many ideas might have also created issues with the execution. Though the enjoyability is starkly different between these two novellas, the quality of prose is delightful throughout. And "When the Darkness Loves Us" is so outrageously amazing that it more than makes up for the 2nd entry. Thanks again for all involved who made this "Paperbacks from Hell" series possible!!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sadie Hartmann

    Thanks to Grady Hendrix and his coffee table book, PAPERBACKS FROM HELL (published by the amazing Quirk)- horror paperbacks are having a revival. Valancourt Books (who also should get all the praise and props for reprinting older horror paperbacks and giving them fresh, modern covers and a new lease on life) did a spin-off series called "Paperbacks From Hell" in which they reprinted in a cute, throwback mass-market size, five books and charged one low price for all five to be shipped, one a mont Thanks to Grady Hendrix and his coffee table book, PAPERBACKS FROM HELL (published by the amazing Quirk)- horror paperbacks are having a revival. Valancourt Books (who also should get all the praise and props for reprinting older horror paperbacks and giving them fresh, modern covers and a new lease on life) did a spin-off series called "Paperbacks From Hell" in which they reprinted in a cute, throwback mass-market size, five books and charged one low price for all five to be shipped, one a month, to your house. It was the best investment ever. Of course, I signed up and I hear there might be a round two?? Check that out if you have the means. WHEN DARKNESS LOVES US is two novellas in one: The title story and another one titled, BEAUTY IS... Oh my god. Nothing could have prepared me for these two stories. First of all, they are wildly different from each other except that they both have female protagonists who suffer great tragedy. The author, Elizabeth Engstrom must have the most vivid imagination I've ever encountered. I am not likely to run across such unique and detailed events anytime soon. There's something special here. I was completely sucked into the narrative of both stories in a magnetic way. I thought about the stories whenever I was apart from them and while I was immersed in them, my reader's brain was a flurry of activity! Basically, in the first novella, my brain wouldn't shut up. It was repeating the same message: What. The. HELL?! In the second novella, again my brain was a broken record. This time it was shouting, "No! No! No! This is bad!" I don't want to give away any important reading discoveries--I went into these almost blind (I did read the back when I first got it but I didn't remember anything other than it sounded really fucked up). The big catalyst for story one happens right away--so no plot details from me except that this is psychological horror at its finest. I have no idea why I have never heard of this apart from Char (who helps run horror aficionados) recommending this to me. The second story is a build to an insane finish. INSANE. This story has balls, man. It takes courage to write a story about a mentally handicapped woman--it's already so abrasive in the first like 10 pages I was just like, dude. I don't know if I can hang with this. But I did! Because YOU MUST!! So, trigger warnings galore if derogatory/inflammatory words towards the handicapped enrage you (they should) and also trigger warnings of abuse. But the story is compelling and Martha is amazing and these characters that encounter her are so... different. They are all so different. Each one of them in the way they either support Martha or tear her down. Just really great character study, insane tension and an unraveling psychological horror that is completely satisfying in every way. Crazy, crazy stuff.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chrissy

    Book contains 2 stories, the first being the shorter and more compelling of the two. One a claustrophobic nightmare, the other an emotional, heart-wrenching horror. Both original and very disturbing with quality prose.

  6. 5 out of 5

    mark monday

    the darkness loves them both and they will love the darkness back. Sally Ann must make the underground her friend, away from the beauty of the sunlight and the man above; Martha retreats to a mental underworld, all the better to escape cruel reality and the cruel yellow-eyed dog of a man that broke her. darkness traps and keeps, then comforts. they will have their sojourns into the light: Sally Ann will discover the casual, cruel reality of time moving forward; Martha will find beauty and a man t the darkness loves them both and they will love the darkness back. Sally Ann must make the underground her friend, away from the beauty of the sunlight and the man above; Martha retreats to a mental underworld, all the better to escape cruel reality and the cruel yellow-eyed dog of a man that broke her. darkness traps and keeps, then comforts. they will have their sojourns into the light: Sally Ann will discover the casual, cruel reality of time moving forward; Martha will find beauty and a man that will help fix what was broken. and both shall return home, into themselves, into darkness. away from beauty, from cruelty, from light. the two tales face each other: the story "When Darkness Loves Us" and the novella "Beauty Is..." - one tale of a striving and a terrible acceptance, the other of a retreat and a beautiful resurfacing. Engstrom is a magical writer, but this is dark magic, all the better to trap the reader. her descriptions entrance, her metaphors for seasons and for the mind strike strange, resonant chords the likes of which I've seldom heard. Engstrom writes about things in a different way. just as her heroines are themselves quite different from most: tragic victims of terrible fates yet also deliverers of terrible fates to those around them. Sally Ann plays a horrifying game: hide and go seek! Martha plays another game: who's got your nose? shudder! but a shudder full of pleasure as well. this is an original book full of original horrors. Engstrom is an idiosyncratic author whose acquaintance I look forward to deepening. I feel she has much more to show me... and there goes that shudder full of pleasure again.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Janie C.

    The two novellas in this volume are different, but are equally as affecting. Each deals with the horror of existence and of the difficulty of fitting in. The first story is physical in nature, and shows how a pregnant girl trapped underground survives. The effects of years away from light and other people are stunning and blood chilling. The second story is a touching psychological drama that promises hope while human cruelty kills it. The characters are so well drawn that they become solid and b The two novellas in this volume are different, but are equally as affecting. Each deals with the horror of existence and of the difficulty of fitting in. The first story is physical in nature, and shows how a pregnant girl trapped underground survives. The effects of years away from light and other people are stunning and blood chilling. The second story is a touching psychological drama that promises hope while human cruelty kills it. The characters are so well drawn that they become solid and believable. Elizabeth Engstrom has penned a duo of stories that I will not soon forget. Her writing is clear and empathetic, rendering the series of events that occur both poignant and disturbing. Recommended.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tressa

    UPDATED WITH A REVIEW OF THE SECOND NOVELLA, BEAUTY IS... I don't even have a proper GR shelf to put this story in, it's that unique. I found this book (consists of two novellas: When Darkness Loves Us and Beauty Is) on Amazon when I was looking for some Theodore Sturgeon books. He knew the author and wrote the forward to the book. When Darkness Loves Us It's the sixties and Sally Ann is enjoying resting in the sun while her new husband rides a tractor on the family farm. She goes exploring and fin UPDATED WITH A REVIEW OF THE SECOND NOVELLA, BEAUTY IS... I don't even have a proper GR shelf to put this story in, it's that unique. I found this book (consists of two novellas: When Darkness Loves Us and Beauty Is) on Amazon when I was looking for some Theodore Sturgeon books. He knew the author and wrote the forward to the book. When Darkness Loves Us It's the sixties and Sally Ann is enjoying resting in the sun while her new husband rides a tractor on the family farm. She goes exploring and finds some steps that lead to an underground area where she and other children played, although it was deemed to dangerous and now has a wooden door with a padlock on it to keep future children from exploring. But the door is open and she goes exploring--too far in to warn her husband as he's padlocking the door that she's in there. She is two months pregnant when she is lost to the world above her. Her husband and family assume she ran off, and she creates a life for her and her son, Clinton, in the darkness of the caves. There is an underground lake that provides water and they feast on moss, slugs, fish, and the occasional food that is washed in during a heavy rain. Clinton loves the only home he has ever known, but Sallie Ann desires to feel the sun on her skin and breathe fresh air, and, most of all, to see her beloved Michael again. And so she sets out on a journey to find her way back to civilization, where much in her old world has changed. The character development in When Darkness Loves Us is excellent and the menace mixed in with the sweetness of this story makes it hard not to read straight through in one sitting. Unlike a lot of the stories I read, I had no idea where this one was heading. I highly recommend this to anyone who's tired of the same old same-old plot and characterization in their fiction. I will definitely seek out this writer's other works and look forward to reading the second novella in this book. Beauty Is... Beauty Is is the second novella in the book, and it is more beautifully written than the first story, if that's possible. This is the story of Fern, a good woman, mother, and wife who believes she has a gift from God to heal people of their sickness, and her retarded daughter Martha, born without a nose, a despicable act Fern's husband believes is punishment for Fern not letting sickness take its course in humans the way nature intends it to. It's really hard to accurately describe just what this story is about and to explain the beauty of Engstrom's prose. The story is about a simple farm family's life and a couple's struggle to raise the "freak" of the town. Everyday life on the farm and in town is exquisitely revealed in each chapter, but there's a dark sense of foreboding from some of the shiftier characters in the story, like Leon, a young man who offers to help around the farm, and who starts to fall in love with the fiftysomething Martha; Leslie, a bitter, disliked town drunk who feels entitled to take what others work for; and Priscilla, a gold-digging hair stylist who befriends Martha for questionable reasons. The only thing I didn't like about this story is the abrupt ending, which played more like an ending to a horror short story. As much as I like horror short stories, this story rises way above all that and I expected something more than this little shock of an ending that seemed out of place. Why have I never heard of Elizabeth Engstrom before?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Latasha

    i listened to the audio book which is read by Karly Hutchins. She did a great job reading these stories. I enjoyed the writing very much. It pulls you in right a way and doesn't let go. The stories were good, very original and each one different. I can see why Valancourt and Grady Hendrix wanted to reprint this and bring more awareness to this lady. I'm sure glad i bought Black Ambrosia as well. i listened to the audio book which is read by Karly Hutchins. She did a great job reading these stories. I enjoyed the writing very much. It pulls you in right a way and doesn't let go. The stories were good, very original and each one different. I can see why Valancourt and Grady Hendrix wanted to reprint this and bring more awareness to this lady. I'm sure glad i bought Black Ambrosia as well.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    I wanted to read something a little different this October and this two novella collection easily falls into the most disturbing and horrific stories that I've ever read. This is one of a selection of novels that featured in Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hell and been reprinted under that banner. The cover jumped out at me and whilst there's no creepy dolls, the lack of a nose is significant in the second story. Out of the two it was the titular When Darkness Loves Us that contained the most horr I wanted to read something a little different this October and this two novella collection easily falls into the most disturbing and horrific stories that I've ever read. This is one of a selection of novels that featured in Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hell and been reprinted under that banner. The cover jumped out at me and whilst there's no creepy dolls, the lack of a nose is significant in the second story. Out of the two it was the titular When Darkness Loves Us that contained the most horror, this was the most unrelenting with its sick creepy and chilling aspects. The second was more melodramatic and slow burning, taking time to get to know the characters - but the final chapter easily had the most shocking section in the whole book. I loved Engstrom style of prose and happy that another of hers has also been included in this collection. My only gripe would be the order as the first was so quick and intense that I was still thinking about it during the second story. Switching them around would have fit the styles better. When Darkness Loves Us: 5/5 Beauty Is: 4/5

  11. 5 out of 5

    Angus McKeogh

    This book was mentioned in Paperbacks from Hell. Moreover, there was an ironic introduction at the beginning of the book written by the author, it talked about how she knew from the age of 8 that she’d be a published author one day, and then it continued on to note that this first novel of hers was worked over significantly in workshop, and all the other students on the read aloud had concluded that it was brilliant. Well, sure enough, it’s been published. It’s actually two disconnected novellas This book was mentioned in Paperbacks from Hell. Moreover, there was an ironic introduction at the beginning of the book written by the author, it talked about how she knew from the age of 8 that she’d be a published author one day, and then it continued on to note that this first novel of hers was worked over significantly in workshop, and all the other students on the read aloud had concluded that it was brilliant. Well, sure enough, it’s been published. It’s actually two disconnected novellas. And I’ll wrap up this review just by stating that it was terrible. Not scary, no surprises, and I wasn’t able to develop any concern for the main characters. Begs the question how something like this makes it to print.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Stewart

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book is a collection of two novellas, When Darkness Loves Us, and, Beauty Is. When Darkness Loves Us concerns Sally Ann, a newly married farmers wife, who becomes trapped while pregnant in the tunnels under her families land. Miraculously, she survives, gives birth and lives a life in darkness. This occurs all within the first twenty pages of the story, fulfilling the premise. What occurs next is twist after delicious twist that leaves the readers jaw dangling. When Sally Ann eventually fin This book is a collection of two novellas, When Darkness Loves Us, and, Beauty Is. When Darkness Loves Us concerns Sally Ann, a newly married farmers wife, who becomes trapped while pregnant in the tunnels under her families land. Miraculously, she survives, gives birth and lives a life in darkness. This occurs all within the first twenty pages of the story, fulfilling the premise. What occurs next is twist after delicious twist that leaves the readers jaw dangling. When Sally Ann eventually finds a way to the surface she discovers twenty years have past. This is a twist that dominated by another, which is not only has her husband moved on with her sister, but her family want nothing to do with after she has lost twenty years of her life. Sally returns underground to her son, but not before having her revenge upon her selfish family. The second novella, Beauty Is, I found to be the better of the two. I was hooked into it, wanted to spend all my waking hours exploring it. It concerns Martha, a woman who the reader is initial lead to believe is mentally handicapped and disfigured, as she begins to develop mentally after receiving some positive social interaction for once. The theme of the story is what creates a monster, or what is perceived as monstrous. It’s a excellent, riveting tale.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David

    When will GR let us give books infinity stars? Cause that’s what I’d give When Darkness Loves Us if I could. This book, long out of print but brought back by the incomparable Valancourt Books, consists of two novellas and, boy oh boy, do they pack a punch. There isn’t really any way to describe what goes on between these covers without sounding like a lunatic (and I mean it—I tried to briefly run down the plot of the first novella to my family yesterday and they looked at me like I had lost my e When will GR let us give books infinity stars? Cause that’s what I’d give When Darkness Loves Us if I could. This book, long out of print but brought back by the incomparable Valancourt Books, consists of two novellas and, boy oh boy, do they pack a punch. There isn’t really any way to describe what goes on between these covers without sounding like a lunatic (and I mean it—I tried to briefly run down the plot of the first novella to my family yesterday and they looked at me like I had lost my ever-lovin’) but trust me: if you like horror and you like weird and you like exquisitely good writing, then you’ll love this one. Highly recommended!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Vickie

    3.5☆ Still processing this one...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Richard Martin

    Grady Hendrix is the horror gods’ gift to us all. His coffee-table tome, ‘Paperbacks From Hell’ tread where few dare, and gives us the lowdown on literally hundreds of the pulp horror books of the 70s and 80s. Lurid, gory, and mostly terrible, Hendrix read them all and, thanks to his partnership with Valancourt Books, we are being treated to new reprints of the best of these decades-old, forgotten gems. The second book in Valancourt’s recent reprints of lost classics of the era is Elizabeth Engst Grady Hendrix is the horror gods’ gift to us all. His coffee-table tome, ‘Paperbacks From Hell’ tread where few dare, and gives us the lowdown on literally hundreds of the pulp horror books of the 70s and 80s. Lurid, gory, and mostly terrible, Hendrix read them all and, thanks to his partnership with Valancourt Books, we are being treated to new reprints of the best of these decades-old, forgotten gems. The second book in Valancourt’s recent reprints of lost classics of the era is Elizabeth Engstrom’s first book, ‘When Darkness Loves Us’. This is a collection of two novella-length works originally published in 1985. I had never heard of Engstrom before picking up this book and, having read this collection, I’m embarrassed it took me this long and amazed she isn’t better known. The title novella is about Sally Ann, a newly-wed girl of seventeen who lives on her family farm with her husband. Finding herself bored one day, she decides to revisit a favourite childhood haunt of hers; an underground tunnel leading to a set of caverns. When she becomes trapped underground, alone and in the pitch black, becoming increasingly lost and disorientated, she fights to find her way out into the light to save both herself and her unborn child. The above synopsis accounts for barely the first half dozen pages of this first story and less you know about the story going in, the better. Engstrom cleverly sets up expectations and subverts them, and you can never be sure where the story is taking you. The story, clocking in at a slim 65 pages, wastes no time in getting started. The writing itself is equally lean. The style reminded me a lot of the late, great Jack Ketchum, who was a master of writing that seemed simple and straightforward but was incredibly honed with not a single word wasted. ‘When Darkness Loves Us’ pulls this off wonderfully. Much like Ketchum’s work, this story goes to (pardon the pun) some pretty dark places, and without falling victim to the absurd excess mass market horror often embraced. Powerfully bleak and brilliantly unpredictable, you couldn’t wish for a stronger opening statement from a new author. The second, longer story of the two is ‘Beauty Is’ and focuses on Martha, a developmentally challenged woman of middle age, who lives alone after the recent passing of her mother and father. As Martha slowly grows accustomed to her new life on her own, she begins to unlock memories of a childhood that she had blocked out for forty years, and once those memories return her life, and those of the town that watch out for her, will be irrevocably changed. This story had a lot to live up to after such an intense opening story but it managed to exceed even those lofty expectations and was probably the stronger story of the two. The focus here is character, and every person is the cast feels so well realised. ‘Beauty Is’ tells an interwoven story, switching each chapter to focus on Martha, and then her mother, effectively telling Martha’s story from birth by cleverly revealing snippets of Martha’s past that inform her actions, and those of the people around her, in the present. Much like the first story in this book, the story does not go where you expect it to, and being less overtly ‘horror’ than its predecessor, makes the story all the more harrowing when things take a dark turn. The ending will stay with you long after you put the book down. 5 Stars You can read more reviews of new and upcoming horror releases at https://www.myindiemuse.com/category/...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cody | CodysBookshelf

    This is one of those books I knew I’d love, I just struggled with finding time to read it — I always seemed to grab something else off my shelf. I finally decided to give it a go, as it seems to receive lots of hype lately, and I was not let down. When Darkness Loves Us is comprised of two novellas, and while both are strong I certainly preferred the title story: a strange, grimy, more “traditional” horror work with scary monsters (and super creeps!) and that classic horror trope: getting trappe This is one of those books I knew I’d love, I just struggled with finding time to read it — I always seemed to grab something else off my shelf. I finally decided to give it a go, as it seems to receive lots of hype lately, and I was not let down. When Darkness Loves Us is comprised of two novellas, and while both are strong I certainly preferred the title story: a strange, grimy, more “traditional” horror work with scary monsters (and super creeps!) and that classic horror trope: getting trapped. “Beauty Is ...”, the other story in this collection, is longer and I wasn’t sure where, exactly, the story was going for quite a while. What must be commended here is Engstrom’s phenomenal character development, making the horrors of the climax all the more impactful for it. When Darkness Loves Us deserves all the attention and praise it has received as of late thanks to it getting republished as part of the Paperbacks from Hell line. Any fan of thoughtful, carefully crafted horror would do well to check this out.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Audra (ouija.reads)

    “You become the monster, then you justify the monster, then you glorify the monster.” These two novellas, “When Darkness Loves Us” and “Beauty Is . . .” were my first encounter with Engstrom. Thanks to the Paperback from Hell series put out by Valancourt Books, everyone can read this incredible piece of fiction that was otherwise lost. The first story springs from a “what if?” idea: what if a pregnant woman was trapped underground in a cave? The story immediately drew me in, and it is a dark and “You become the monster, then you justify the monster, then you glorify the monster.” These two novellas, “When Darkness Loves Us” and “Beauty Is . . .” were my first encounter with Engstrom. Thanks to the Paperback from Hell series put out by Valancourt Books, everyone can read this incredible piece of fiction that was otherwise lost. The first story springs from a “what if?” idea: what if a pregnant woman was trapped underground in a cave? The story immediately drew me in, and it is a dark and claustrophobic tale about the regression of a young woman who does whatever it takes to survive and provide for her child. The second story is about a developmentally disabled woman who was born without a nose. her disfigurement causes her father to despise her, but later in life, she finds someone who cares for her and teaches her, and she starts to gain her faculties back. Not everyone is so accepting though . . . Both of these stories focus on what “monstrous” might mean, offering moral quandaries. Does Sally Ann (“When Darkness Loves Us”) make her final decision because she actually has become a monster, or just because she knows that’s the way others see her? When Martha (“Beauty Is . . .”) is treated with kindness and humanity she reflects that back—but the reverse is also the same. Who are the monsters in these stories? The women or the people who are cruel to them? Both? In any case, Engstrom is definitely a lost horror talent, and I am also looking forward to reading her novel Black Ambrosia.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ctgt

    I was completely unfamiliar with this author but have seen her name, and this book in particular, bandied about in my horror club. I wouldn't really call this horror but dark fiction, maybe? The title story is about a young mother-to-be who is accidentally trapped in an series of underground tunnels and ends up giving birth and living underground for many years. She adapts with help from the ghost/hallucination of her brother who was recently killed in Vietnam, explores the vast array of tunnels, I was completely unfamiliar with this author but have seen her name, and this book in particular, bandied about in my horror club. I wouldn't really call this horror but dark fiction, maybe? The title story is about a young mother-to-be who is accidentally trapped in an series of underground tunnels and ends up giving birth and living underground for many years. She adapts with help from the ghost/hallucination of her brother who was recently killed in Vietnam, explores the vast array of tunnels, learns what she can eat and drink, learns to survive underground and gives birth to a son. There some exploration of the mother and son bond and later in the story some very interesting family dynamics are brought to the fore when contact is made with those living above ground. 3.5 stars Beauty Is..... the second story broke my heart. Martha Mannes was forty-seven years old when her parents died. The very first line of the story is sad enough, losing both your parents close together but for Martha this is especially horrific. You see, Martha is mentally handicapped and has lived with her parents all her life. She can perform activities of daily living fairly well but needs guidance and direction for anything else. Prior to her death, her mother sets up agreements with the townsfolk to help Martha with monetary issues, taking care of the property and basic needs of living. We jump back in time before Martha was born, when her mother discovered she had the ability to heal injuries. The couple tries to make a life of farming but her father becomes more and more uncomfortable with the healing powers his wife displays. As we switch back and forth between time frames we find out more about Martha's parents and we also learn that Martha wasn't mentally handicapped from birth. She didn't understand a lot of things. Most of all she didn't understand the moments of clarity she had, when the whole world looked sharp, in focus, and her mind understood. It was as if she lived her whole life under water-no, under oil. Greasy oil that coated her whole perception of things, but once in a while, her subconscious would break through the surface, take a roaring gasp of fresh air, and look around while those filmy sheets of grease ran down her eyes. And at those moments, understanding would rock her soul with great heaving sobs of newness. Then she would slide under again, swimming in murky clouds of distortion. I have read reviews that thought the story was predictable and I suppose that is true. There were a few twists toward the end that I didn't anticipate(especially one detail at the very end) but for the most part I could see how the story would end. I could see the main narrative thread from a long way off but that made the story that much more soul crushing. I was pleading with the author not to take the story where I thought it might go but she did. Heartbroken 5 stars There it was, but not an idea-an overpowering feeling, a flooding of emotion, of understanding. The companionship in the bar, the nice Mr McRae offering to buy her bread. Her breath came in short gulps. She wanted more of it; she wanted more people, more talk, more laughter. But she couldn't. She couldn't keep up. She knew she couldn't. A hot, solitary tear of loneliness squeezed out the corner of her eye.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Heather *coffee and flowers*

    I'm always a bit disappointed in horror, yet I really want to love it. This book contains two stories. I enjoyed them while reading, but the endings fell flat for me and put a damper on the journey. As is often the case with me and horror. I did enjoy this as female-centric horror, however, and would like to read more of that. I'm always a bit disappointed in horror, yet I really want to love it. This book contains two stories. I enjoyed them while reading, but the endings fell flat for me and put a damper on the journey. As is often the case with me and horror. I did enjoy this as female-centric horror, however, and would like to read more of that.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    5 stars for WHEN DARKNESS LOVES US, 3 stars for BEAUTY IS. 4 Stars.

  21. 5 out of 5

    rovic

    Paperbacks from Hell #2 When Darkness Loves Us is a collection of two dark and riveting novellas. The first one, the titular story, is a dark (literally) and claustrophobic read. Whereas the second one, Beauty Is, is a more melodramatic story with more well-drawn and fleshed-out characters. Overall, I didn't expect to love this book. I had previously read The Nest as part of my Paperbacks from Hell series, and that one was incredible as well. I can't wait to get through the next of these Paperbacks from Hell #2 When Darkness Loves Us is a collection of two dark and riveting novellas. The first one, the titular story, is a dark (literally) and claustrophobic read. Whereas the second one, Beauty Is, is a more melodramatic story with more well-drawn and fleshed-out characters. Overall, I didn't expect to love this book. I had previously read The Nest as part of my Paperbacks from Hell series, and that one was incredible as well. I can't wait to get through the next of these horror gems!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Monster

    When Darkness Loves Us consists of two novellas by Elizabeth Engstrom, the first being the same title as the book itself and the other called Beauty Is, which is actually the longer of the two stories. The first novella, When Darkness Loves Us, tells the story of farm girl Sally Ann Hixson, who is recently married. While roaming the farm, she accidentally falls down into an underground area that had been sealed off. Sally Ann is trapped underground, her whereabouts unknown. As she adjusts to the When Darkness Loves Us consists of two novellas by Elizabeth Engstrom, the first being the same title as the book itself and the other called Beauty Is, which is actually the longer of the two stories. The first novella, When Darkness Loves Us, tells the story of farm girl Sally Ann Hixson, who is recently married. While roaming the farm, she accidentally falls down into an underground area that had been sealed off. Sally Ann is trapped underground, her whereabouts unknown. As she adjusts to the darkness of the tunnels and creates a new way to live, Sally Ann realizes she is pregnant with child. How will she ever be able to survive down in the darkness, much less give birth to and raise a child there? Beauty Is tells the story of Martha Mannes, and how she is coping with her life since the death of both of her parents. Martha isn't your typical girl, as she was born with a deformity- she has no nose- and everyone in town treats her as if she is retarded. The story has flashbacks to Martha's birth and childhood, and even her parents' life prior to her birth As the story continues, Martha finds the kindness in a few townsfolk and in doing so, gains more confidence in herself. The story starts to unravel a bit at this point, as Martha starts remembering more and more about her past and how it relates to her present. When Darkness Loves Us and Beauty Is are both vivid in detail and beautifully written. I find myself at a loss in determining which story I actually enjoyed more as they were both so entertaining. Engstrom has a way of making readers really get to know the characters, and it almost puts you into the story as one of the extras. Wanting to know what was going to happen to the main heroine of each story made me feel compelled to turn page after page until I knew how things were to end. Strong in both characterization and dialogue, When Darkness Loves Us is a fabulous two-story collection that shouldn't be missed by any reader. It is a book that not only horror fans will enjoy, but readers from other genres as well, if they were to give it a chance. Definitely a great addition to any library collection out there! Contains: Adult Language, Adult Situations, Sex, Violence Review by Rhonda Wilson

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ken Saunders

    Like a fever dream out of WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP, these farm-life fantasies go deep beneath the bucolic and brutal daily life on northern Illinois plains and into the darkest nightmares of sexual awakening and pregnancy. Where exactly is the difference between existing and living? The book opens with a woman who does not want to be seen and disappears, and it closes with a woman who has disassociated from her own existence behind a deformity. These are interesting aspects to consider, but primaril Like a fever dream out of WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP, these farm-life fantasies go deep beneath the bucolic and brutal daily life on northern Illinois plains and into the darkest nightmares of sexual awakening and pregnancy. Where exactly is the difference between existing and living? The book opens with a woman who does not want to be seen and disappears, and it closes with a woman who has disassociated from her own existence behind a deformity. These are interesting aspects to consider, but primarily this book is really entertaining. I loved the slugs, all the over-sexed "muscular" farmers, the things crawling around in wells, and the bloody mess in the barn. A lot of it was so weird, it kept making me laugh. Stories I have never experienced before, written in sentences I have never read anything like, told by a storyteller that made this book impossible to put down. I remember passing up Engstrom's Lizzie Borden book a few years ago and now I am kicking myself ... I am going right back to see if they still have it!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Niki

    Note: I only read one of the two stories contained in this book, "When Darkness Loves Us" (that's the story's name, I'm not parroting the book's title) It was the story I wanted to read from the beginning and why I bought the book. And let me just say, I wasn't impressed. The writing is too simplistic when it should have been evocative and atmospheric as hell, the pacing is weird, and the horror just wasn't there (yes, the idea of Sally Ann's predicament is horrifying, but the actual story has a Note: I only read one of the two stories contained in this book, "When Darkness Loves Us" (that's the story's name, I'm not parroting the book's title) It was the story I wanted to read from the beginning and why I bought the book. And let me just say, I wasn't impressed. The writing is too simplistic when it should have been evocative and atmospheric as hell, the pacing is weird, and the horror just wasn't there (yes, the idea of Sally Ann's predicament is horrifying, but the actual story has a different approach to what you'd expect from reading the synopsis). Only the ending was kinda twisted and interesting, but that was literally the last sentence. I started the second story, "Beauty Is......", but I immediately didn't care for it, and given its length (more than twice the size of "When Darkness.."), I gave up on it. Still going to mark the book as "Read" and not "DNF" since I never wanted to read the second story anyway.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    I was blown away by the two novellas collected in this tightly wound package of horror; When Darkness Loves Us, and Beauty Is..., two novellas of terror which couldn't be any more unique from one another. Darkness Loves Us is a creature feature of sorts with a distinct and disturbing human element. The hallucinogenic and oppressive nature of the story completely envelopes the reader a dangerous underworld where madness lies at the cusp of reality. Pitch perfect horror which will no doubt resonat I was blown away by the two novellas collected in this tightly wound package of horror; When Darkness Loves Us, and Beauty Is..., two novellas of terror which couldn't be any more unique from one another. Darkness Loves Us is a creature feature of sorts with a distinct and disturbing human element. The hallucinogenic and oppressive nature of the story completely envelopes the reader a dangerous underworld where madness lies at the cusp of reality. Pitch perfect horror which will no doubt resonate for a long time to come. Beauty Is... is set across two timelines; the present and the past with both centering around Martha, a 50 plus year old with a learning disability. Whilst the horror is more human, its no less terrifying than When Darkness Loves Us, perhaps not in execution but in tension.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Δημήτριος Καραγιάννης

    The first story of the two is a highly innovative rendition of the Sawney Bean Scottish folklore legend, masterfully translated into modern times and with a strong element of feminism. Extremely impressive, I could not stop reading. The second story though, is a pure masterpiece of art. It invokes emotions that lie dormant in every human heart and simultaneously depicts the raw horror of life in a countryside town, which is multiplied for a person with disabilities and mental issues. Engstrom rea The first story of the two is a highly innovative rendition of the Sawney Bean Scottish folklore legend, masterfully translated into modern times and with a strong element of feminism. Extremely impressive, I could not stop reading. The second story though, is a pure masterpiece of art. It invokes emotions that lie dormant in every human heart and simultaneously depicts the raw horror of life in a countryside town, which is multiplied for a person with disabilities and mental issues. Engstrom really attains the mantle of true authorship through Martha and the world all around her, with the good and the evil in it. Remarkable.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Victor

    Wow this book really packs a punch! I didn’t know what to expect going into this collection of two novellas. Both of these stories had characters that infuriated me especially the second one, Beauty Is. The first story, When Darkness Loves Us, has such a unique plot and it’s one of those situations where you really can’t predict where it’s gonna go. Beauty Is is probably my favorite of the two. It’s longer and more character driven and I liked the supernatural element in the past-present storyli Wow this book really packs a punch! I didn’t know what to expect going into this collection of two novellas. Both of these stories had characters that infuriated me especially the second one, Beauty Is. The first story, When Darkness Loves Us, has such a unique plot and it’s one of those situations where you really can’t predict where it’s gonna go. Beauty Is is probably my favorite of the two. It’s longer and more character driven and I liked the supernatural element in the past-present storyline.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Richard Schaefer

    This book is incredible—painful, mysterious, frightening, and heartbreaking. Given the quality of the writing and the depth of character, I am shocked this book was out of print for so long. Engstrom has a very unique perspective on the world and there is nothing predictable about either novella contained within. The first, shorter novella, “When Darkness Loves Us”, is about a young pregnant woman stuck in a maze of caves. It captures the claustrophobia, alienation, sensory deprivation, and pain This book is incredible—painful, mysterious, frightening, and heartbreaking. Given the quality of the writing and the depth of character, I am shocked this book was out of print for so long. Engstrom has a very unique perspective on the world and there is nothing predictable about either novella contained within. The first, shorter novella, “When Darkness Loves Us”, is about a young pregnant woman stuck in a maze of caves. It captures the claustrophobia, alienation, sensory deprivation, and pain in very believable ways, and goes in a direction you will probably not expect. It’s only about 65 pages long, considerably shorter than the second work, but very satisfying. “Beauty Is...” is harrowing and heartbreaking. I’m not going to say too much about the plot of this one, other than that it is about a mentally challenged woman living in a small town in Illinois. One of the characters feels like the sort of small town bully you’d encounter in most any Stephen King novel, but the work doesn’t suffer for this. Martha and Fern, as well as the other secondary characters, are well drawn out and vivid. A truly sad story that falls more in the Southern Gothic tradition than straight ahead horror, it is nonetheless horrifying and beautiful. I can not recommend this dark, wonderful book enough. It should be considered a classic of dark literature, and I hope this Paperbacks from Hell printing will allow it to be regarded as such. Grady Hendrix’s introduction is enlightening and informative, providing context for Engstrom’s life and putting her work in the context of her literary peers as well.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nate

    All the stars to this collection of two novellas. Expertly written, layered psychological horror at its unpredictable best. I read the first novella, When Darkness Loves Us, and I was stunned in all the best ways. Fluid writing, deft characterization, a motoring plot, and I was so disturbed I had to take a five day break before I read the next one. I thought I was initiated into Elizabeth Engstrom's world and skills after the first novella, but no. Beauty Is... is somehow even more heartbreaking, All the stars to this collection of two novellas. Expertly written, layered psychological horror at its unpredictable best. I read the first novella, When Darkness Loves Us, and I was stunned in all the best ways. Fluid writing, deft characterization, a motoring plot, and I was so disturbed I had to take a five day break before I read the next one. I thought I was initiated into Elizabeth Engstrom's world and skills after the first novella, but no. Beauty Is... is somehow even more heartbreaking, more intense emotionally, and even more layered in its exploration of the human psyche and what horror is. Also an even more gothic touch with some supernatural elements that elevate the story to a near biblical tragedy. This is literature of the finest bent that just happens to be terrifying in its exploration of human psychology and the will to live. Highly recommended.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I loved this book, particularly the second story. (view spoiler)[ "Beauty Is..." was vivid, engaging and viscerally sad. I couldn't stop thinking about it the day after I read it, and it will stay with me for awhile. It reminded me of a supernatural Flowers for Algernon, involving abuse and love, rather than scientific technology, as catalysts for the changes in Martha. Engstrom writes beautifully, giving the reader a great sense of place as well as for the feelings of the characters. Martha's c I loved this book, particularly the second story. (view spoiler)[ "Beauty Is..." was vivid, engaging and viscerally sad. I couldn't stop thinking about it the day after I read it, and it will stay with me for awhile. It reminded me of a supernatural Flowers for Algernon, involving abuse and love, rather than scientific technology, as catalysts for the changes in Martha. Engstrom writes beautifully, giving the reader a great sense of place as well as for the feelings of the characters. Martha's character was absolutely stirring, evoking deep sadness, then hope, pride, and grief. "When Darkness Loves Us", the first entry, was also very good, with a creative story and characters that did not take the turns or make the decisions I imagined they would. Heartbreaking allegories for the choice of self-destruction over the choice to face pain. (hide spoiler)]

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