Last year I discovered the awesome world of magic, demons, and sentient spirit-imbued weapons in Seth Skorkowsky’s Dämoren, so when I was offered a chance to read the sequel, I didn’t hesitate.
Hounacier builds on the first book, which introduced us to an order of modern-day knights called the Valducan. All the monsters or the world are actually human beings possessed by demon, and the type of demon in turn determines the type of monster and the transformation into werewolf, ghoul, lamia, wendigo, etc. A Valducan knight makes it his or her life’s work hunting and killing these demons, with the help of a holy weapon which the knight is bonded to with their whole heart and soul.
Book two expands upon these themes, but the story is also very different. For one thing, we have a change in protagonist. While Dämoren follows the life of a rogue demon hunter named Matt Hollis, Hounacier instead features another Valducan knight named Malcolm Romero. Dämoren was a jet-setting action/adventure thriller that took us on an ass-kicking demon hunt across the globe, while Hounacier takes place mostly in New Orleans and the story reads more like a mystery. The pacing is thus slower, but this is a good thing because it also sets the book up nicely for a heavier and more macabre horror vibe.
This dark fantasy series just got even darker, which is how I like it! Eleven years after he faced his first demon and became apprenticed to a Voodoo priest, Malcolm receives news about the grisly murder of his mentor. Now he returns to New Orleans to in order to catch the killer, armed with his holy weapon, a machete named Hounacier. As the investigation deepens and the details surrounding it becomes more disturbing, Malcolm finds himself betrayed. With his soul violated and his holy blade stolen from him, Malcolm is plunged into a nightmarish existence of violence and terrible dark magic. Seth Skorkowsky kept me on my toes the whole time, and it’s such an intense and brutal tale that I couldn’t even begin to guess how everything would turn out.
In many ways, the scope of Hounacier is smaller than that of its predecessor; we’re mainly in a single setting, there aren’t as many characters, and we also don’t see a big variety of demons in this book. Still, the narrower focus serves an advantage here, because it immerses us deeply into the culture and traditions of Voodoo magic. The author has clearly done a lot of research in order to make his portrayal of it as authentic and accurate as possible.
We also get to know the protagonist a lot better. Malcolm was a side character in Dämoren, one of the lead knights who gave Matt Hollis a hard time because the Valducan believed Matt was demon-touched. So in the first book, Malcolm was painted as this huge asshole and admittedly that’s how I remembered him too. Imagine my surprise then, when I read Hounacier and realized how much I liked him and sympathized with him. Malcolm is awesome – he’s interesting, deep, and conflicted, and this makes him an engaging character to follow. I think I ended up liking him even more than Matt Hollis. The powers granted to Malcolm by the mystical properties of his weapon are also unique and new. Matt Hollis may have his blood compasses, but Malcolm Romero has his magical tattoos, including one that can see through your soul to tell if you’re pure or tainted by a demon. Very cool stuff.
I would consider these Valducan books to be Urban Fantasy, but there’s also a great deal of Horror thrown into the mix. The horror element is even more prominent in Hounacier, as we follow the trail of a murderer and then come face-to-face with a werewolf demon. The werewolves here are the savage, psychotic and bloodthirsty variety, with the monster in control rather than the human. More than once, the terrifyingly gruesome scenes in here evoked a visceral reaction from me. If you like your UF dark, brutal and completely unflinching about the fact, then Valducan is the series for you.
One final thing I’m grateful to Mr. Skorkowsky for is that these books can be read as stand-alones. Hounacier has some connections to Dämoren, like Matt Hollis showing up near the end to team up with Malcolm, etc. but for the most part both novels are self-contained stories. Pick up either one (they’re both good!) and read away. Highly recommended....more
If you recall in my review of Harrison Squared, I described that book as a fun, adventurous mystery which strikes the perfect balance for teen and adult crossover appeal. Well, nothing could be further from my experience with We Are All Completely Fine. Rather, try descriptions like “traumatic”, “disturbing” and “mature audiences only”.
Don’t get me wrong, though; I’ve developed a taste for horror fiction in recent years, and I loved this book. But what surprised me was just how completely different this it from Harrison Squared, which is actually its prequel. In fact, that was what prompted me to pick up We Are All Completely Fine, after finding out how the two books were related, and because I wanted to read more from Daryl Gregory.
The teenaged Harrison whom I first met in Harrison Squared is presently a man in his mid-thirties. Not that he was a jolly personality even at aged sixteen, but as an adult he has become even more gloomy, jaded and world-weary. He’s a famous author now, known for his “Monster Detective” childrens’ stories starring the boy hero from Dunnsmouth named Jameson Jameson, AKA Jameson Squared (things are getting kind of meta here). He’s also seeing a psychiatrist, which is how he eventually landed in a support group with four other members – Stan, Barbara, Martin, and Greta – led by the psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer.
Some reviewers have remarked on the strange quirk in the narrative style, specifically how at the beginning of each chapter in this book an unknown narrator appears to be speaking in the first person, though the usage of the pronoun “we” suggests he or she would be part of the support group. However, after a few paragraphs the narration will invariably shift back to the third person. As strange as it sounds, this style immediately brought to my mind the movie The Breakfast Club. Director John Hughes used a slightly different but similar “breaking the fourth wall” technique with voiceover narration at the beginning of the film, explaining to the audience what’s going to happen and why all the characters were there. This creates a kind of “reflection to the past” effect which helps us gain a slightly better understanding. In the case of this book, it tells you that despite the horror that is coming, you know that at least some members of this group managed to survive and come through intact. Well…mostly.
And perhaps comparing this book to The Breakfast Club isn’t so absurd, if you think about it. Instead of five teenagers who have little in common with each other, all trying to fit in amidst the crushing pressures of high school life, you have five likely-insane adults who have little in common with each other, all trying to get by in their normal day lives without the crushing fear of appearing completely unhinged. The characters in The Breakfast Club find themselves in detention, where none of them want to be. The characters of We Are All Completely Fine find themselves in group therapy, where none of them want to be. Despite their differences, the teens in TBC realize they are more than their individual stereotypes, and band together against a common enemy, Principal Vernon. Despite their differences, the strangers in WAACF realize they are more than their individual fucked up pasts, and band together against a common enemy, an ancient all-devouring evil from another world entirely.
All fanciful comparisons to classic 80s movies aside though, this was a fantastic book. It’s the characters that make We Are All Completely Fine – mainly because they are all so completely not. Everyone in Dr. Sayer’s support group is there because they have experienced something terrifying and traumatic…but also unexplainable. No one would believe them if they told their stories of what really happened to them. Unraveling each group member’s mystery is therefore the first step of this hair-raising journey, and my favorite part of the novella. How does Stan handle his minor celebrity status, after being abducted by a family of cannibals a la The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and emerging as the sole survivor? What message did the Scrimshander leave on Barbara’s bones twenty years ago, when he bound her, drugged her, and carved up her flesh with his knives? Why doesn’t Martin ever want to take off his sunglasses? And Greta, what awful inconceivable secrets must she be hiding behind her silence?
However, the biggest mystery of all – at least to me – was what on earth happened to the Harrison Harrison that I thought I knew from Harrison Squared?
It does make me wonder now, how I would have felt if I hadn’t read that book first before this one. We Are All Completely Fine reveals no major spoilers but does refer to many of the significant events from Harrison Squared, especially those relating to the nightmarish creature called The Scrimshander. It’s made me rethink everything I read in the prequel novel. How much of it was glossed over, played down for “a story for kids?” Mind you, I want to make it clear that reading this in no way diminished my experience with HS, but I am now looking at it in a whole different light. It’s that meta thing again. In a weird trippy way, the two books actually complement each other very well.
Well, now I realize I’ve gone about this review in a very roundabout way. Partly, it’s because I don’t want to spoil too much of the story. We Are All Completely Fine is an average-sized novella, a very quick read, and yet it is just so densely packed with goodness. It just begs to be experienced firsthand. True, it might not be an easy read at times, with its disturbing themes and bone-chilling violence, but I did also find it tremendously addicting. Needless to say, I highly recommend this book and author. It’s a good place to jump on board if you love the horror genre, or if you’re curious about checking out Daryl Gregory’s work. I for one am looking forward to more from his pen....more
I’m always on the lookout for good Lovecraft-inspired horror, and so when I stumbled upon the description of Daryl Gregory’s new novel Harrison Squared I just knew I had to check it out.
When Harrison Harrison (nicknamed Harrison Squared by his scientist mother, because geek humor is the best kind of humor) was a toddler, his family’s boat was capsized by a giant tentacled sea monster. Officially, the authorities said that it was a sharp piece of metal that claimed Harrison’s leg, and that the storm was what drowned his father, but Harrison knew he did not imagine or hallucinate what he saw that terrible day.
Now sixteen years old, he travels cross-country with his mother to Dunnsmouth, Massachusetts, a quiet seaside town where everything seems creepy as hell. His school is like a labyrinth out of myth, the teachers don’t seem to care whether he shows up to his classes or not, and the other students are like the Children of the Corn. The first night in town, his favorite comic book gets stolen by some weird fish-boy. Then tragedy hits when Harrison’s marine biologist mom goes missing at sea. Refusing to believe she’s dead, Harrison goes investigating. Pretty soon he’s gathered about him a group of unlikely allies to battle the nightmarish Scrimshander, an ancient Dunnsmouth legend come to life.
Why do I love the Lovecraftian subgenre so? For the atmosphere, of course. As a setting, Dunnsmouth perfectly embodies the rural, insular feel of Lovecraft country, belying the terrible secrets kept under wraps by its townsfolk. The horror featured in these stories tend to involve cosmicism and the occult, which is psychologically so much more effective. Daryl Gregory delivers all these aspects, combining both fantasy and horror elements in a neat little package. There’s no small amount of weirdness in the plot, which is usually something I can’t tolerate, but Gregory somehow renders it into a conceivable, real-world everyday kind of weird that his protagonist Harrison takes in stride…so I did as well.
The book will also do well with both adults and teens, striking the perfect balance for crossover appeal. On the surface, Harrison seems to be like a lot of other kids his age, struggling with a volatile temper and his desire to fit in at a new school. But gradually, the reader will learn that he’s also not your typical teenager. Harrison is very well written and convincing; his quiet resourcefulness both charmed and intrigued me, and I sympathized with his fear of the ocean and felt for him when his mom was reported lost at sea. So much of his life has been shaped by the boating accident when he was three years old, and unraveling the mysteries behind his character ended up being as much fun as keeping up with the story itself.
Gregory also rounds out the cast with several fantastic secondary characters, including Lydia, a fellow classmate from school; Lub, the half-human-half-fish boy; and last but not least, the most memorable of all for me was Harrison’s Aunt Selena who arrives in Dunnsmouth from New York City to take care of Harrison after his mom goes missing. Breezing into town in a flurry of silks and designer clothes, Sel was not at all what I expected, but it sure made me wish I had more relatives like her.
I had a great time with this book. It’s not a heart-pounding tale of horror, but rather a well-paced delectable mystery that’s also a fun adventure filled with lots of unexpected twists and turns, while exuding an eerie vibe. I enjoyed uncovering the secrets of Dunnsmouth with Harrison and his strange but really cool group of friends, and hopefully there will be some sort of follow-up to this book and that we won’t have long to wait for it....more
Horrorstör scratched a really great itch. When it comes to the Horror genre, I’m an unabashed fan of ghost stories and books about hauntings. Thing is, because so many of them follow the same formula and use the same familiar tropes, it’s really hard find something that truly stands out. I was therefore quite excited about this novel, which is a memorable and real quirky take on your classic haunted house story.
Protagonist Amy is a disgruntled employee of furniture superstore Orsk, which is essentially a clever parody of our real world IKEA (the author has nailed it all down, everything from the proprietary magic tool to the delicious meatballs in the cafeteria). There’s something strange about this particular Orsk store though. Every morning store partners arrive at work to find damaged and vandalized goods, not to mention the creepy “HELP” messages that randomly shows up on everyone’s cellphones.
To get to the bottom of this mystery once and for all, store manager Basil recruits Amy and fellow employee Ruth Anne for an overnight shift. Expecting to find some innocuous and mundane reason for all the strange things going on, they are totally unprepared for the horrors awaiting them on showroom floor in the dead of night.
I really enjoyed this book, and its story is one that will stay with me for a very long time. After all, how often does one come across a haunted house story that takes place in a big box chain store? Old mansions are typically your go-to settings for these kinds of stories, but before I read this book it has never really occurred to me how creepy a place like your local Best Buy or Home Depot can be after store hours when all the customers have gone home and the lights go off. I certainly wouldn’t want to be locked inside all alone.
And while I’ve had experience in retail, they were all gigs in small businesses or independently owned establishments. I have never worked in a big box chain store so I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure (or misfortune, depending on your outlook) of experiencing that kind of unique environment or culture. Still, I don’t think you have to have worked in that capacity to recognize some of the “retail-speak” that gets poked fun at a lot in this novel (“It’s not just a job, it’s the rest of your life”, “communicate knowledge to visitors with maximum sales competence”, “contribute to an environment where Orsk culture is a strong and living reality” and other such gems), some of which are just downright hilarious especially through Amy’s jaded eye.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the core selling points of the physical copy of Horrorstör – the fact that it comes published in the shape and size of a glossy mail order catalog, along with product illustrations and descriptions, “coupons”, order forms and other such documents. Sound like a gimmick? Yeah, probably. But hey, it works. I give this packaging decision 10/10 for presentation and creativity.
Because of how the book looks, along with its spoofy nature, I admit I went into this thinking it would be more humor than horror. My mistake. This is a horror novel through and through. Yes, the story has its lighthearted bits and funny laugh-out-loud moments, but things quickly turn grim and spooky once the plot gets moving. There were parts that seriously gave me the heebie-jeebies and freaked me the hell out. And I confess, I loved being caught off guard like this.
What more can I say, but Horrorstör is a great addition which would add a little fun and eccentricity to any Horror lover’s library. I also think it would make a rather unique gift, especially if the recipient knows nothing about the book beforehand. The whole IKEA catalog look of it will no doubt lead many to believe it’s a joke/humor book, but what a surprise they’ll get when they crack open the cover and give it a read. Definitely a novel that will give you more than you bargained for....more
Despite the modest page count and a fascinating premise about what the zombie apocalypse would look like if meth heads were the only survivors – which, I have to say, is a pretty awesome social thought experiment – it still took me a long time to read this book, the reason being I could only take it in small doses on account of how incredibly obnoxious it was.
It wasn’t even so much the nihilistic and transgressive-like style of storytelling, or the fact that the drug-addled characters are so infuriatingly unlikeable down to the very last person. At the end of the day, while being in the mind of a junkie might not be all sunshine and lollipops, I actually thought Peter Stenson did a fantastic job painting a very vivid and realistic perspective.
No, the real reason I had such a hard time is because I’m a big fan of punctuation. Quotation marks are our friends! But anyway, Fiend begs to differ. I can’t say I’m thrilled with the lack of punctuation or the continuous stream-of-consciousness writing style, and yet I’m also not such a stickler for it that I would dismiss the whole book because of it. Did it affect my enjoyment of the novel though? I tried not to let it, but to a degree it did. If anything, it was because trying to read this book for prolonged periods of time would inevitably give me a massive headache.
I’ll give it this, though: at no point did I ever consider throwing in the towel. The story was just too addictive, if you would pardon the borderline tasteless pun. It marries one unpleasant subject (drug abuse) with another (zombies) and the results are pretty interesting in that hideous-but-I-just-can’t-stop-looking way. The end of the world is at hand. Everyone just went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up in the morning, and some of those individuals have reanimated to become the walking dead. For whatever reason, the only survivors are people like Chase Daniels, a long time meth addict. Chase was so high that for days he hadn’t even known the zombocalypse had arrived, and he actually thought his first exposure to it – a little girl in his front yard tearing out the throat of a dog and eating it – was a drug-induced hallucination.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a junkie. I won’t even pretend to know. But just to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here, Chase and his friends are the kind of people who would sell their own mothers for a hit, so you can only imagine the world we’re left with, with him and his fellow addicts being the only survivors. There’s no trust, no morals, no self-control, and hence no chance in hell of society ever rebuilding. Add to that, the characters discover that continuing to do drugs it the only way to stay alive and keep from turning into the monsters. There you go: survival and self-destruction, two sides of the same coin. Kinda puts an interesting spin on your typical zombie story, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed with the ending. To be fair, given the nature of the story, I would have been surprised if I would have gotten a satisfying conclusion, but it was still very abrupt and left things hanging – and that’s a big pet peeve.
To sum up: fascinating book, offering a different approach to zombies and the end of the world. I found Chase Daniels and his narration intensely off-putting, but I also see that as a testament to the author’s skill to write a believable, meth-addicted anti-hero type protagonist. The only things that kept me from enjoying this novel more was the writing style (though admittedly it worked very well for the story and character) and the ending. I would still heartily recommend this one to zombie fiction enthusiasts and those who are interested in checking out a unique take on the genre....more
It’s been a while since I read a good horror novel. Broken Monsters proved to be just the thing I needed, turning out to be a cross-genre piece with mystery and thriller elements as well. Also, high time I read something from Lauren Beukes, and looks like I’ve been missing out all this time.
Of course, the best part is the paranormal elements. I’m a big fan of the supernatural or the otherworldly in my horror; to me they make the story more interesting by often ramping up the creep factor. From the outset, however, and actually for much of the novel, Broken Monsters presents itself as a police crime mystery, opening with the bizarre and grisly find of a body. Apparently the disturbed killer had taken the top half of a boy’s corpse and the bottom half of a deer’s corpse and somehow fused the two together. This is definitely not a safe and cheery read, and the squeamish reader should be aware of some scenes in here that are just downright twisted and weird.
An atmosphere of gloom and despair settles like a shroud over the story, taking place in the economically hard hit city of Detroit. We follow the events of the investigation through the eyes of a handful of characters – the hardened and experienced Detective Gabriella Versado who has the role of lead investigator on the murder case morbidly codenamed “Bambi”; her daughter Layla, a precocious teenager who nonetheless finds herself tangled in different kinds of trouble while her mother spends most of her time on police work; Jonno, a journalist desperately trying to make a name for himself and getting lucky by stumbling upon the case while covering the underground art scene in Detroit; Thomas Keen AKA T.K., a vagrant with a good heart who just wants to forget his checkered past and stay clean going forward. And of course, every now and then we also get glimpses into the mind of the killer himself, and those snippets sure aren’t pretty.
What is the connection between a teenager and a homeless man? Or the link between an upstart journalist and a Detroit detective? Thing is, everyone has a role to play in this novel, and half the fun was watching the lives of these disparate people unfold and seeing how it all comes together. Broken Monsters is about the hunt for a deranged serial killer, to apprehend him before more badly mutilated bodies turn up, but it’s also about so much more. Beukes goes in depth for each of her characters, going into their pasts and digging up their deepest secrets and own personal monsters. By painting her characters in this naked and blunt realism, the author in turn adds another layer to her gritty, chilling tale.
I really like these kinds of psychological thrillers, the ones that seek not to bombard you with blood and gore. Even though there are some graphic scenes in Broken Monsters, they are not gratuitous. Instead, the story worms its way down to unsettle the reader at a deeper level, stirring up a sense of dread that doesn’t go away as you’re reading. I always find these horror novels to be more effective, because experience tends to stay with me longer. Once the spell is cast, it wraps around you and doesn’t let go very easily.
Like I said, there is a paranormal element here but it doesn’t come into play until quite late in the novel. Personally speaking, that is perhaps the only less-than-ideal factor, but it’s by no means a disappointment. I enjoyed the police procedural-type style of storytelling when it came into play, and also took everything else – like Jonno’s journalistic ventures or Layla’s teenage shenanigans – in stride. I loved the feeling of being held in suspense, wondering who might be the next victim or when the police might make a breakthrough. The ending was really what made Broken Monsters for me, when everything came to a head in the most uncanny and freaky way imaginable.
If you’re looking for a horror-thriller that’s a bit different, I would highly recommend this book. Characters, setting and themes all came together very nicely to deliver one hell of an experience. I’m definitely going to be reading more of Lauren Beukes after this....more
Horror in Young Adult fiction is tricky territory, so whenever I see a novel getting some buzz, I can’t help but take notice. Shutter ended up surprising me. While it probably wasn’t the book I was expecting, there’s absolutely no denying that Courtney Alameda has delivered a high-octane read that’s at once superbly written and full of interesting new ideas. This is the first YA novel in months to stand out for me. That’s not to say there weren’t a few areas that I thought could have used improvement, but I’m impressed especially given how this is the author’s debut.
Shutter introduces us to Micheline Helsing – yes, she is indeed a descendent of that Helsing – a tetrachromat girl whose ability allows her to identify different types of undead by the color of their auras they give off. Her family along with other such illustrious lineages like the Stokers and Drakes have always sworn to hunt and destroy monsters, and in time their organization has grown to occupy an entire island off the coast of San Francisco, complete with itsown medical and research buildings, training yards, and other such facilities. This means that besides her powers, Micheline and her pals are also armed with state-of-the-art monster hunting tech and equipment, all the better to do their jobs. Mundane firearms are usually enough to bring down the corporeal baddies, but dealing with the spiritual undead sometimes requires a bit more finesse.
As such, Micheline never goes anywhere without her camera, her weapon of choice when it comes to fighting ghosts. By capturing their “ghostlight” on film, she can steal their energy bit by bit until they are gone for good. Until now, her trusty SLR has never failed her. But then a run-in with a particularly nasty entity leaves her and her team cursed and marked by soulchains, and Micheline has seven days to figure out how to exorcise the entity or else they will all die. With her relationship with her father already on the rocks since the deaths of her mother and brothers, Micheline is forced to go on the run in order to save herself and her friends.
One of the favorite aspects about this book is how seamlessly Alameda has managed to incorporate the Reapers into the modern world. With the Helsings being in the open and publicly known as the go-to guys for all your ghost and monster problems, we avoid the kinds of pesky problems that arise when authors try to construct a believable scenario around a secret society. But while I am sold on the Reapers and their place in the world, I also thought the book stumbled on providing some of the finer details. Take the mechanics behind the use of mirrors and camera lenses to exorcise ghosts, for example. It scores major points with me for being a new and innovative idea, but at the same time the explanation behind the process is rather touch-and-go. To be fair, I do tend to feel this way about a lot of concepts in YA novels, and I can be excessively critical when it comes to world-building elements. I wish the camera-as-a-weapon idea had been more robust and better developed (no pun intended), especially since it so central to the book, but I was also fine for the most part just going along with it.
However, when it comes to the writing, I have nothing but good things to say. It’s hard to believe this is Courtney Alameda’s first novel. Her writing style is wonderful and easy on the eyes, and she keeps such a fine consistency on her character’s voice as well as pacing behind her storytelling, it honestly led me to believe she’s been doing this for ages. Another observation is that despite its categorization, I wouldn’t exactly describe Shutter as horror. Generous amounts of blood, gore and guts aside, there’s simply none of that atmosphere behind it, though I don’t doubt Alameda could have managed it if she wanted to. There are definitely traces of Horror elements in the plot, but quite simply, I got the feeling she was more interested in telling an action-thriller, and she certainly succeeded in that. Sure, there are parts that are predictable (mainly who the big bad entity was, as well as the identity of the mastermind pulling the strings behind the scenes), but I could not spot any lulls or breaks that hindered the flow of the story.
There are things I wish could have been different – Micheline’s character, for example, is the typical YA heroine ruled by emotional impulses, who leaps into dangerous situations without thinking about the consequences and insists on taking matters into her own hands even though she makes a bigger mess of things in the end. Not long ago, I also read an insightful guest post by another author about friendships between strong female characters, and ever since then I have become more aware of how many YA female protagonists are kickass, smart-talking girls who are inevitably surrounded by only male companions, with other girls in the story only serving as rivals or someone getting in the way and/or someone for the heroine to protect. I really think this trend has to change. To its credit, at least this book had a romantic side plot that was not convoluted or poisoned by a love triangle or any such nonsense, and the relationships between the characters, particularly the one between Micheline and her father, reached me on a deeper level.
The strengths, most notably the strong writing and the fast-paced, action-oriented plot, overcame all the minor weaknesses and made reading this novel worth it, though. Sure to appeal to fans of supernatural/horror themed TV shows and books, you won’t regret picking this one up....more
I confess, I’m not very good when it comes to pulling information out of book descriptions. But all I know is, when I first heard about The Girl with All The Gifts, it piqued my interest right away. Here you have a story about a bright young girl named Melanie, who for some reason everyone seems deathly afraid of. Being held at gun-point while being strapped into a wheelchair just to go to class? Judging by level of paranoia with which she’s treated, you’d think little Melanie was Hannibal Lecter. The book jacket may be a little scarce on details, but there’s definitely something strange going on.
So it really shouldn’t have surprised me when this book turned out to be Horror, and yet it did. Finding out about the genre, however, just made me even more excited to read it. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, OH HELLO, THEY DO!
By now, I gather it’s pretty safe to explain why I had myself a personal little freak-out when it hit me just what I was in for with this story. After all, the revelation comes very early on in the novel and is hardly a spoiler, not to mention the book has been out in the UK for months now and the cat is out of the bag. But avert your eyes now if you would prefer to know absolutely ZIP about the book going in. Anyway, my excitement levels exploded when I realized that The Girl with All The Gifts…has zombies.
And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. What makes this a great zombie book – a great book, PERIOD – is the science. Ah, gotta love science. Like I always say, if you want to see some scary stuff, look no further than Mother Nature. Heck, some of the most frightening, bone-chilling things I’ve ever seen in film aren’t in horror movies, but are in those dang Planet Earth documentaries. Who could forget the “Jungles” episode and the importance of fungi as illustrated by the life cycle of Ophiocordyceps unilatertalis? Oh, the sheer horror of watching the parasite take over an ant’s brain before the fruiting body explodes out of the back of its victim’s head, all while Sir David Attenborough goes on calmly narrating in those smooth, dulcet tones. That sequence was beyond traumatizing – but also fascinating. I remember being obsessed with the idea, thinking to myself, holy crap, someone pleeeeease write a zombie book based around this!
Well, even though the video game The Last of Us might have done it first, M.R. Carey ended up granting me my wish. And he does it in such a spectacular way, wrapping this fantastic idea around a story filled with mystery, action, and lots of gut-wrenching heartbreak. The Girl with All The Gifts is everything I look for in a zombie book – tight, energetic pacing with all the savagery, suspense and tension – but it’s also so much more. For me, this book is the next step in zombie fiction, delivering on the survival and post-apocalyptic elements we all know and love, while pushing the envelope with new ideas and deep characterization.
Due to its nature, it’s not surprising that the zombie-apocalypse survival subgenre tends to feature ruthlessness and characters with hard hearts who show no pity. But seeing the themes of mercy and compassion enter into the equation here is a nice change of pace. A lot of this is due to Melanie. If you also guessed from the description that there’s something different about her character, you’d be correct. Melanie is definitely a special little girl, and she’s part of what makes this book such an exceptional, atypical zombie novel and such a joy for me to read.
Even though I can probably go on for another couple pages about why I loved this book, I really don’t want to give too much away. There are lots of surprises, including an unpredictable ending that truly stunned me. I loved this book to pieces. Haunting, powerful and poignant, The Girl with All The Gifts is a novel I would recommend highly and without reservation. ...more
To some, The Voices is going to be just another haunted house ghost story. To others, it will be one of the most terrifying books you’ll ever read. I’ll admit I came very close to not reading this, simply because the novel’s description made it sound much too scary. As a parent of a toddler, I had a feeling this one might cut to close for comfort and give me nightmares. But true to form, in the end I just couldn’t resist a good horror.
The year is 1976, the hottest summer in the United Kingdom since records began, and Christopher Norton and his wife Laura and baby girl Faye had just moved into their a grand old Victorian era home in the desirable neighborhood of Hampstead. A composer by trade, Christopher spends much of his time in his attic studio recording music, and before long he starts to hear strange voices on his tapes. Around the same time, Laura beings to notice knocking sounds from the baby monitor and baby Faye seemingly to babble at something unseen…
Haunted houses have long been a horror fan favorite, and whether you love it or hate it, they’re here to stay. The reason why certain tropes tend to stick around is because they’re so effective – if you can’t feel safe in your own home, then where can you? – and though I’ve read plenty of books and seen many more movies based around this idea, I don’t seem to be tired of it yet. It’s interesting because the narrative structure of The Voices actually reminds me so much of watching a movie, with regards to the use of familiar themes or the way particular events have a very cinematic quality to them. The book is also intensely atmospheric, heightening the creep factor and delicious sense of dread.
In truth, The Voices is a rather uncomplicated novel. But the author, being a clinical psychologist, knows just what to say to make you squirm. Tallis builds his story around a very believable, very flawed couple, giving them a depth of emotion not often found in characters in this genre. Christopher and Laura might not be parents of the year, but their thoughts and reactions towards the strange happenings in their house are so realistic you just can’t help but feel a connection. There were a couple scenes that really shook me up, because 1) they involved a baby, and 2) I know how awful it feels to worry for your child. There were things here straight out of my worst nightmare.
But the haunting is also just one single aspect of The Voices, a piece of a larger story with a complex web of relationship dynamics. I liked that there was more substance to this novel than just the horror elements, and in fact, my only complaint is that these minor plot threads weren’t more cohesive and connected to the overall picture. There were a lot of other things going on with Christopher and Laura’s lives outside their creepy old house, and while I got the feeling they were all relevant to the story, I just couldn’t figure out how. A little more direction would have probably made for a tidier conclusion, but I was still overall very impressed at the well-roundedness of the novel.
If you’re in the mood for a good ghost story or a classic haunting, The Voices is a very good choice. It’s one of the more memorable and chilling horror novels I’ve read of this type, and a genuinely freaked me out in more than a couple instances....more
To tell the truth, Dämoren didn’t start off high on my priority list of books to read when I received it for review, though it did hook my attention when I was told there would be wendigos (seriously, more books need wendigos). The cover, while very pretty, also did nothing to draw me in, showing a partial image of a bladed revolver. Hey, gunblades are neat and all -- but that also tells me very little.
Then a couple weeks ago, while trying to choose my next read, I was struck by a sudden surge of spontaneity and decided to pick up Dämoren and give the first few pages a shot. An hour later, I realized with a jolt that I was still reading, and that I was already almost a third of the way in. The weird thing about that hour, is that it honestly felt like a mere few minutes. Dämoren simply took me by surprise. I’ve read my fair share of stories about demon slayers and monster hunters, so admittedly I wasn’t expecting this first book of Seth Skorkowsky’s new urban fantasy/horror series to be that much different.
Once again, I am sorry to have underestimated the dark fiction of Ragnarok Pub. Rest assured Dämoren will satisfy all your needs in the action and thrills department, but what I was most impressed with was the world building and unique body of lore Skorkowsky has created, which offered a fresh new take on the angel/demon mythos.
Central to the novel is the concept of holy weapons. In the world of Dämoren, these weapons are sentient entities that if you’re not careful you may actually grow to care for them and even start thinking of them as characters themselves! Somehow the author has managed to imbue unmoving, unspeaking objects with personalities of their own. For when these holy weapons form a bond with a wielder, he or she becomes irrevocably aware that their weapons are alive and that they speak to their souls. No one knows how a holy weapon comes to be, but they are the only way to kill a demon. And the love a wielder feels for their weapon can be even more powerful than any attachment to another human being.
It is so with Matt Hollis, the main protagonist and owner of Dämoren, the name of his holy sword pistol. As a child, Matt was the only survivor of a wendigo attack on his family, making it out alive thanks to a man named Clay Mercer who killed the monsters and rescued the young boy. The former wielder of Dämoren, Clay had resigned from a secret order of demon hunters called the Valducan, and left his holy weapon to Matt after he died. But many years later, the Valducan leadership has taken an interest in Matt’s activities and asked him and Dämoren to rejoin their ranks, due to a sudden influx of coordinated monster attacks and attempts to destroy holy weapons. Unfortunately, this was not a decision welcomed by all, as some of the Valducan see Matt as corrupted. For while Matt had survived his childhood wendigo attack, he was also bitten by one of the creatures.
So, get this: In the world of this novel, all monsters – everything from werewolves to vampires, ghouls to lamia – are all essentially humans, but possessed by the souls of the different kinds of demons inhabiting them, giving rise to their physical and characteristic traits. A bite is how a demon “marks” a person, making them an available vessel to possess if or when their old body perishes. Now you can see why the other Valducans might be giving Matt the shifty eyes.
The book is just filled to the brim with cool ideas like these, not to mention the fact Matt’s special condition gives him some rather handy powers (blood compasses! Can you say awesome?) or the sheer variety of terrifying monsters, both new and familiar, that you’ll come face to face with within these pages. There’s certainly no shortage of action. I also classified this book as an urban fantasy, but in reality the plot will take you to many places across the globe, from the wilds of western Canada to the outskirt villages of Florence. So not only does it take place in variety of environments, Dämoren is a truly international adventure.
Although it will read perfectly fine as a self-contained novel, I was also happy to see that it is a “book one” implying that there will be more in the future. When the Valducan Order expands, one thing I'd love to see is more kickass female knights like Luiza. As one of the only two major female characters, I wasn't surprised that the role of "love interest" fell to her as well, but more to the point, I think the special relationship between a holy weapon and its owner is one of the most intriguing aspects of Dämoren and I would love to see this uncanny bond further explored with an even greater diversity of characters. Really looking forward to see what else Seth Skorkowsky has in store for us. ...more
I didn't think I was going to enjoy this book at first. Thank goodness I was wrong! Still, can you really blame me for having my doubts? After being inundated in recent years with the dozens upon dozens of movies, TV shows, video games etc. all featuring the same mindless gory battles against the shambling, moaning hordes of the undead, my initial thought was: been there, done that, now what more can this zombie book offer?
Well, this is the review where I happily eat my words! I should have known better anyway, because Ragnarok Publications has never let me down. As it turned out, Those Poor, Poor Bastards had a lot more to offer than I'd anticipated, in addition to that charming little title. The book did contain some of the usual trappings you'll find in a lot of zombie stories, but there were some twists as well, and I loved how the authors took the familiar and created something new. Also, while I haven't read enough of the Weird West sub-genre to consider myself a fan, a description like "Zombie Western" wasn't really something I could resist.
It is 1868, in the Sierra Nevada. The book begins with Nina Weaver and her father Lincoln riding into Coburn Station only to find that everything has gone to hell in a chuckwagon. The "Deaduns" have arisen and are sowing bloody carnage all over town, forcing the living to band together in order to survive. In typical fashion, you end up with a large, diverse ensemble cast. And like watching The Walking Dead, you just know before you even begin that many of them are going to end up zombie food before this whole thing is over.
Put a big group of people with disparate personalities into a stressful situation and you'll also inevitably get your clashes and alliances within the ranks. There are the good folks like Nina and her pa, the priest Father Mathias as well as the charming James Manning. On the other side of the fence you have the less savory types and troublemakers like the Daggett brothers or the scummy Mister Strobridge. Then there are those caught in the middle who just aren't sure. With tensions this high and a swarm of Deaduns at the door, it's the perfect set up for explosive conflict. Emphasis on explosive.
So far, with the exception of the western setting, things might be sounding rather familiar. But then, the authors work their magic and you suddenly realize there is way more to this story. Bucking tradition, we're actually given an explanation into the Deaduns and how they came to be. Their origins and motives, not to mention the actual reveal itself, were so unique that it completely threw me for a loop -- in a good way! I have to say this ended up being a delightfully fun read, in all its blood-splattered glory.
Those Poor, Poor Bastards also taught me something important about myself -- that I will never be too old or too jaded for a good ol' zombie story! What a fast-paced, crazy wild book. I think I'll just end this review with a suggestion to the potential reader: there are a lot of characters, so definitely try to tackle this novel all in one go if you can, ensuring that the dozen or so identities will always remain fresh in your mind. Besides, it shouldn't be too difficult -- because once you start reading, you just might find it hard to stop!...more
This is the first time I’ve ever read anything by Jeff VanderMeer, and I’ll admit at first I had my misgivings. I’d picked up this book because of the great things I’ve heard about it, and also because the premise sounded fascinating. However, VanderMeer is also best known for his contributions to “New Weird”, a literary genre that’s been hit or miss with me – but mostly miss. Still, I looked at the modest page count of Annihilation and figured, what the hey. Even if it didn’t tickle my fancy, at least it would be a quick read.
Man, and am I glad I gave this one a shot.
Yes, the story is weird and a bit surreal – two descriptive terms for a book that would normally make me take off for the hills – but what I didn’t expect was how thoroughly atmospheric and intense it was. If Annihilation were to be made into a movie (actually, I believe that’s already in the plans), my dream director for it would be Ridley Scott because I think his particular approach would be perfect for the overall tone and visual requirements of this novel. It’s got those Alien or Prometheus vibes.
And really, I say Annihilation is "weird" but it’s really not that weird. I mean, I was able to follow along, so there’s hope for me yet. Still, how to explain this utterly unique and uncanny novel to the uninitiated (geez, that’s way too many “U” words in a sentence)? You don’t even get names for any of the characters. The story is narrated by a woman simply known as “The Biologist”. She goes on an expedition to a place called Area X with the other members of her team, the Psychologist, the Anthropologist, and the Surveyor, to see what they can find in this chunk of land that has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. I think this idea of a scientific mission was a big part of the appeal for me; Anthropology and Biology are fields that fascinate me, and I’m all about stories about treks into the wilderness for the sake of science.
The team also has the task to find out what happened to the expeditions that came before, and here’s where thing get a little eerie. All those involved in the previous eleven attempts to investigate Area X have ended up dead in some way. With the second expedition, all the members committed suicide. Everyone in the third died because they turned on each other with their guns. Members of the eleventh expedition, the one that came before the Biologist’s, came home from Area X as ghosts of their former selves before all dying of cancer several months later. What we find out later on is that the Biologist’s husband was one of them.
This book is strange and unsettling, which satisfied my appetite for horror. But while I’d been prepared to be a little creeped out, given what I knew of the plot from the description, what I didn’t expect was the feeling of heart-wrenching melancholy that came over me as I was reading about the Biologist’s memories of her husband. There’s a tragic, haunted quality to her narration during these parts, and the lonely and isolated environment that is Area X merely served to emphasize this. Knowing that the character is a rather quiet, antisocial and withdrawn woman, the sincerity and forthrightness of her confessions touched me, but at the same time it was also a source of anxiety. Why would she be telling us all this unless she believed something awful and unthinkable was about to happen? An ominous air of mystery surrounds this story like a shroud and its secrets are revealed only bit by bit, compounding the reader’s feeling of dread as the plot line advances towards the conclusion.
Truly, I am surprised by this book. And seriously impressed. I took to VanderMeer’s writing faster and more comfortably than I expected, but then he also makes it easy with his elegant prose. I was right that this was a quick read, and it was even quicker because I enjoyed it so much. Now I’m really looking forward to picking up Authority, the second book of the Southern Reach trilogy....more
Luna Masterson is an odd girl who sees demons. Reed Taylor is an odd guy who hangs around with an angel. And when girl meets guy, things get pretty crazy. This is probably THE thing I love best when it comes Mercedes M. Yardley's stories, the fact that when she gets two people together, you know you're not going to get just any old boring relationship!
I must say I learned that lesson well with Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu, Yardley's not-quite-horror-not-quite-romance love story novella that I read last year. What amazed me most about that book was her treatment of her two outcast characters, the way she gave them each a purpose and emotional depth even though as serial killers they are far from deserving of any admiration or sympathy. The characters in Nameless are perhaps not quite so extreme, but I likewise experienced some of those same vibes from Luna and Reed Taylor -- two very unique individuals who find in each other a kindred spirit...so to speak. I had a feeling I was going to be in for something special, and I was right.
So how does a girl deal with being able to see things that nobody else can? Luna's never had many friends, and the only people close to her are her brother Seth and 1-year-old niece Lydia. Perhaps this is why she comes across to me as socially awkward, sometimes doing and saying strange things or acting like she can't make up her mind. At the same time, I had to admire the brave and positive face she puts on. The way she takes the "Luna the Lunatic" comments in stride or shrugs off the weird looks she gets when she's talking with the demons only she can see, all that just makes me want to cheer her on. So as to whether or not you'll form a connection to her character, I think it can go either way.
But if there was one thing that really touched me, it was Luna's devotion and love for her niece. When Lydia is kidnapped by the worst sort of demon, Luna's anger and desperation felt so raw and close to the surface that it was practically palpable. As the mother of a Sweet Baby Girl myself, at times it was almost gut-wrenchingly difficult to read about Luna's distressing search for Lydia, simply because every one of her fears was like a piercing knife to my heart. In my opinion, this part of the book was done very well. Not only did it make Luna feel more real for me, it also made me care about this story and want to see it through.
The overarching plot is quite good too, even if at times it felt a bit rushed. If books had remote controls, imagine that someone has pressed the fast forward button through some of the scenes in this novel. Perhaps the book could have been a little longer, giving me more information and letting some of the major happenings sink in. The way Luna's narration sometimes zipped from one event to the next didn't give me enough time to digest some of the things that went on, especially when it came to her meeting and subsequent relationship with Reed Taylor. Regardless, their love story was an interesting one to say the least! I think the impact of the story would have been even stronger if there had been more time to let those feelings deepen.
But in the end I was very happy with the way things turned out. Well, okay, maybe a little gutted by the ending, but still happy! Yardley's brand of storytelling and writing style is tremendously addictive and her characters are a treat, I'd looked forward to reading more of her work ever since I got my first taste. Nameless left me very impressed, especially as a full-length novel debut for the author and the first installment of a planned trilogy. I can't wait to see what's coming next....more
Why do people read Horror? I’m sure there are many reasons, but I’ll tell you why I do. Few other genres give me that adrenaline rush. I love that growing sensation of dread as the suspense builds, the sound in my ears of my heart pounding faster and faster, that tingling feeling that runs up my arms and spine. I enjoy that in a good horror/thriller novel, and sometimes I go deliberately looking for a good scare.
That’s what initially drew me to The Three. To understand why, you also have to know that for years now, I have been struggling with a fear of flying. I can get on a plane, but not without experiencing a lot of anxiety. Hearing or seeing news about plane crashes fills me with crippling panic and visceral terror.
And well, you know what they say about fear and fascination going hand in hand? Yeah. When I saw the description for this book, I just knew I HAD to read it.
The Three is about four plane crashes that changed the world. They all happened within hours, on the same day, on four different continents. Terrorism and environmental factors are ruled out. In three out of the four catastrophic incidents, a single child survivor is found in amidst the wreckage. Reeling from the news of the disasters, the world struggles to come to terms with this. It shouldn’t be possible. No one could have survived those terrible crashes. People are calling “The Three” a miracle, while others are also coming up with all kinds of conspiracy theories. Some fanatical rapture cults are even calling this the End of Days, claiming that the children represent three out of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Reports of the children’s behavior becoming increasingly disturbing aren’t helping matters, nor are the rumors of strange things happening around them.
Ah, so it’s not just about plane crashes either. There’s also creepy children! It’s like this book was specially designed to push all my right buttons! And I know what you’re thinking now, because I also thought the same thing: “Three children? Wait, what about the fourth plane crash?” Just one of the many questions running through my head when I read the book’s description, giving me the heebie jeebies as I played at speculation. It is why I like the UK cover a lot too, once I got a closer look at it.
In addition to being an epistolary novel, The Three is also a book within a book, called "From Crash to Conspiracy" authored by the fictional investigative journalist Elspeth Martins. As its title indicates, Elspeth’s book documents the series of tumultuous events over the period of several months following the day of the four air disasters. Told through a collection of interview narratives, book and website excerpts, news articles, voice transcripts, emails, chat history, other forms of correspondence, etc. the book is a disturbing look how quickly fear and panic can make a society spiral out of control. The format proved remarkably ideal for this novel, considering the number of character perspectives involved on an international scale. Stylistically, Sarah Lotz’s decision to tell the story this way also adds an additional layer to the creep factor, due to the implication that some of her narrators are unreliable, including the “author” (Elspeth) herself, whose professionalism is questioned in places where she is accused of cherry picking quotes or misrepresenting a viewpoint in favor of her own biases or for the purpose of creating sensationalism.
That said, I normally chafe at ambiguity in my stories. But somehow, The Three makes it work. The way the book is structured, we catch glimpses of the lives of the three children through the eyes of their respective guardians – all of whom have lost someone in one of the plane crashes. There will be mystery and some uncertainty. Did the strange things they report really happen, or are they nothing more than a symptom of shock, guilt and grief? The multiple and varied narratives will keep you guessing and make you desperate to read on for answers, even if the developments are downright spine-chilling. The character Paul Craddock’s (the uncle of one of The Three) first “dictophone chapter” shook me up so badly I almost couldn’t bring myself to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night because it meant having to walk through the house in the dark. Curse this novel for being so engrossing that it made me stay up until 3am reading!
If it had been my goal to find a novel that truly scares me, clearly it appears I might have been a little too successful. Granted, I was probably more affected because I am a flight-phobic person; if there is a downside to reading this one as someone scared of flying, it’s that this book will feed your fears. But the upside? THIS BOOK WILL FEED YOUR FEARS. Classic horror paradox; sometimes it’s fun to be scared. I can’t think of the last time I came across a horror novel that unnerved me so deeply. Without a doubt, The Three is one of my top reads this year and deserves to be a huge success....more
Having wanted to read a book by this author for a while, I initially debated either tackling 7 Wonders or the Empire State series, but then I found out about his upcoming title Hang Wire. After reading the description, I decided right then and there that I wanted it to be my first Adam Christopher novel.
Immortal gods, pagan rites, a serial killer on the loose...is there anything this book doesn't have? And what's this, a circus too? If anything, it was this last one that sold me. Hang Wire looked to me like an unconventional urban fantasy that is also a fusion of paranormal, horror and mystery. There's even some mythology thrown in to stir things up even more, in what is arguably already a quirky mix.
In present day San Francisco, a blogger named Ted goes out to dinner with his group of journalist friends to celebrate his birthday, only to have a fortune cookie blow up in his face. Physically unharmed, Ted nonetheless starts experiencing odd things ever since the incident. Recently, the city has also been held in fear by a killer known as Hang Wire, who brutally strangles his victims before stringing them up in public places.
Meanwhile, the circus is in town with a new high wire act plus a Celtic dance group whose performances have been garnering lots of praise. But tension is mounting behind the scenes, especially with rumors that the carnival is cursed, and the frequent fights breaking out between the creepy circus manager and the workers are putting everyone on edge. There's an ancient evil lurking, and as it turns out, everything has to do with a handful of gods who walk among us. And one of them is a scruffy but devastatingly handsome beach bum named Bob, who gives free ballroom dancing lessons at the aqua park by the sea...
Right, I don't think I need to go further to let you know just how bizarre this book is. But then, I liked it. I didn't think I would at first, simply because of the sheer amount of information the story throws at you right off the bat. As you can see from my brief summary, there's a lot happening in this book, and while trying to figure out what's going on, things can feel a tad overwhelming. Not to mention, the numerous time jumps near the beginning can add to the sense of disjointedness.
I was loaded up with so many questions at first. Most of them involve the circus manager Joel. Who is he and why are we seeing him in all these places across the country, and at these very different times? He's obviously hunting something, but what is this strange power allowing him to know exactly where to be? Where is it coming from? A lot of these questions were answered to my satisfaction at the end, but there were still many points that I felt could have been expanded. I bring this up because for a book with so many threads and topics, the world building is surprisingly on the light side. I enjoyed what I saw, but also felt like there should have been more.
However, I am amazed at Adam Christopher's creativity and the vision for this novel. I especially loved the mysticism and the darkness. Take the Hang Wire killer, for example. This was one of many developments in the overarching story line, but admittedly it was also the horror and mystery of it that eventually grabbed my attention and drew me in. And in fantasy, you usually see circuses depicted as magical places filled with whimsy and wonder, but here the circus is a cursed, creepy place suffused with pure evil where the carnival attractions themselves hunger for blood. I found it all deeply enticing.
So then, my first Adam Christopher novel turned out to be quite the offbeat experience, but I wasn't disappointed. All in all, this was a highly original read packed with all kinds of strange and fantastical elements, and that's how I like it. There may be a lot to take in at first, but everything comes together eventually, once the story gets going and builds momentum. ...more
One of the most common things you'll hear about books these days is that everything seems to be a series. I know I myself have talked about series burnout on more than a few occasions and expressed a desire to see more stand-alones. However! Every once in a while the news of an unexpected sequel will make me jump up and down for joy! And this is most definitely one of those times.
Murder can be seen as the follow-up to Mayhem, the chilling paranormal horror novel by Sarah Pinborough that was published last year from Jo Fletcher Books. Sort-of-but-not-really about Jack the Ripper, the book and its clever combination of historical fact and fiction intermixed with supernatural elements quickly vaulted it onto my list of all-time favorites.
I should probably mention too that Mayhem works perfectly well as a stand-alone, but that I was also thrilled when I found out about Murder for reasons beyond the fact I am such a fan of its forerunner. Sarah Pinborough clearly had a lot more in store for Dr. Thomas Bond, the protagonist in these books. It should be noted that the real Dr. Thomas Bond was a very important figure in British crime history, best known for his work as the police surgeon on a lot of the Whitechapel murder investigations between 1887-1891. I’ve always believed that the best horror stories are rooted in reality, and being aware of the shocking turns in Bond’s career and later years also made me really excited to see what the author would do next.
Once again, Sarah Pinborough succeeds in bringing life and depth to her characters, several of whom were figures from history. A lot of the gruesome events described in this novel also actually happened, even the line in the description about bodies of children being pulled from the Thames (see the Victorian England baby farm murders). Pinborough flawlessly weaves a thread of supernatural into the story, but even then things can sometimes get too real. I think that’s why historical horrors are often so effective at terrifying me!
So now I’ll try my best to explain why I simply adored this book without giving away any spoilers for Mayhem: First, I love how these books aren’t about any one killer or murder case. Rather, all that serves as a backdrop in order to focus on something a lot more otherworldly and evil. Malevolence has settled upon London, and Dr. Thomas Bond is inextricably linked to it. Try as he might, he can’t escape the pull of the past. Because of this, Bond becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator, and having been familiar with his steadfast pragmatism up until this point, his downward spiral only makes the situation even more disconcerting. Like in Mayhem, Bond’s chapters are the only ones written in the first person, while others are in the third person. This point-of-view switching allows us to see a fuller picture, and it works even better here since our main protagonist’s credibility has been severely compromised.
Ms. Pinborough doesn’t hold anything back. Despite the kind of person Bond becomes, I felt for him; I really did. But clearly the author knows what needs to happen, and she carries out the plot with a cold eye and sees it all through mercilessly. And honestly? It made for an amazing book. There were some truly unexpected turns in the plot. At times, I couldn’t even believe it. You’ll be appalled and filled with hatred. Your heart will break. And you’ll also marvel at the amazing things the author has accomplished here with character development.
This book was just so good. Dark, disturbing, and full of tension -- just the way I like my horror. It was not a fast-paced book, and yet...the story had this way of worming into my mind. This is definitely the kind of book you'll find yourself thinking about even when you’re not reading, and hoping that it won’t be long until you can pick it up again....more
Ragnarok Publications is a publisher newly founded in 2013, but I'd heard of them prior to receiving a copy of Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love. These are the amazing folks behind the Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters anthology Kickstarter, which was successfully funded this fall and quite possibly one of the coolest projects I've ever backed! It was thus an honor and a pleasure to be offered a chance to read and review their inaugural title by Mercedes M. Yardley.
Don't let the quirky title fool you; this is one dark and disturbing tale of supernatural love and horror...because after all, even killers and monsters can fall in love. Montessa Tovar, an exotic dancer who has only known a life of hurt and abuse is abducted one night while walking home by Lu, a serial killer whose unusual power has led him to be labeled a demon. But in time, the victim becomes the accomplice. As the two continue to form the deepest of connections, Lu leads Montessa on a cross-country tour of blood and vengeance.
Have you ever asked yourself if you believe in the concept of soulmates? Of finding that one person out there who completes you? This is the idea explored in the book, though if you find the notion utterly romantic, be sure to brace yourself because the author does not do it in a conventional way. It is far from idyllic; characters are depicted in extreme or frightening situations, and there is blood and violence and killing aplenty. It is, however, still a love story, and everyone knows how much I enjoy those. Most surprising of all is that in the darkness, there is also a heart-wrenching beauty.
Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu is one of the most interesting and deliciously twisted takes on soulmates I've ever read, and I think it perfectly embodies what the publisher is going for. The reader may never truly come to sympathize with the pair of lovers/killers, but I looked at their heinous crimes separately from the depth of feeling which the author has created. It is the storytelling that matters, and Yardley has accomplished something truly impressive by writing about a love that feels convincingly powerful and real at the same time, all in the short span of a novella. One thing's for sure: it will be hard for me to forget this tale between two horribly damaged people, who somehow find that the pieces of their broken souls fit and complete each other....more
The Remaining is a great zombie book. Originally self-published in 2012, it quickly became an internet bestseller before being picked up by Orbit, and there’s a damn good reason for that. By now you’ve probably seen a lot of the positive reviews it has garnered, though I’m willing to bet few of them have praised this story for being terribly original. But does that make this a bad book? Heck no. In fact, I would argue that its devotion to the classic zombie survival-horror tradition is a massive part of the appeal.
The Walking Dead fans, this one would be right up your alley. No joke. The “zombies” in this book might not be the traditional mindless shambling hordes we’re used to seeing – the victims of the FURY plague are still capable of talking and strategizing up to a point before the virus degrades their brains (which makes them even more terrifying) – but the overall spirit and style of the narrative is still the same. It’s not out to knock you off your feet with any new or unusual or experimental ideas, but if its goal is to provide a fast-moving, action-packed and entertaining zombie story then I must say it has succeeded rather swimmingly.
Here’s what you basically need to know: the main character of The Remaining is a US Army captain named Lee Harden, who as part of a secret government program is sequestered in his bunker after the sudden outbreak of a new deadly and infectious virus. It’s not the first time this has happened. Lee and about four dozen other soldiers like him (one for every state) are placed in their bunkers every time the country experiences an emergency of national crisis. If the government falls, their job is to come out after the bunker, take stock of the situation and try to gather survivors in order to rebuild. But things in the past have never gone so far or gotten this bad before. When the lockdown period passes without an all-clear or any further instructions from his superiors, Lee emerges from the bunker and prepares to start his mission.
As a character, Lee took a while to grow on me – but he did. Strangely, the moment came when I was finally able to appreciate his faults. To understand, you must realize the few chapters really tried my patience. The entire lockdown period featured Lee being in denial, going back and forth between his decisions and second guessing his instructions. And then there were those long and wearying paragraphs about his guns. The deadline came and went. I kept tapping my foot waiting for him to stop describing the contents of his impressive arsenal, get his waffling butt out there and actually put all that stuff to good use on some hapless Infected.
Then I realized, I was being too harsh. Dude is stuck in a bunker. Not knowing what’s going on because he’s cut off from all communication. No human interaction at all because it’s just him and his dog. If the world outside has indeed gone to hell in a hand basket, he’s probably also scared to death of the responsibility waiting for him on the other side of that tunnel.
So maybe I was being a tad unfair to poor Lee. And really, what a shame it would have been if he was just another archetypal action hero, full of empty bravado rushing out headfirst to save the world? Lee is more realistic this way, even if he did end up doing some questionable things. But then, who wouldn’t make a mistake in the middle of a zombie apocalypse? Contrary to what all the zombie survival guides want you to believe, there's no instruction manual for stuff like this. Wrong decisions or no, Lee has to make some pretty tough calls as well. The guy has a good heart, but he's sure as hell also capable of showing no mercy to those who don’t deserve it. I love that in his character.
Bottom line, if you’re a fan of type of zombie apocalypse survival movies that Hollywood does so well, this is that in book form. After a relatively sedate start, the novel picks up and will not slow down, with always some kind of disaster or new setback waiting around the corner for the characters to overcome. No other bells and whistles or fancy-schmancy embellishments, just pure zombie fiction fun. ...more
Nightlife takes readers to a New Harbor, Connecticut on Halloween night, where deep within its depths, an ancient breed of predator prepares to rise. The city's outcasts, the forgotten and the homeless are the first victims, but the creatures' hunger only grows. At New Harbor's popular nightclub, Beth Becker arrives for her job as a bartender on one of her busiest days of the year, unaware that her life is about to be changed forever.
After that night, several people go missing, including Beth's best friend Zoe. But when the police ignore her concerns, Beth decides to take things into her own hands. However, her investigations lead her to more questions than answers, to ominous tales about the "Night Angel", and other horrors she never imagined possible. And when she encounters a mysterious stranger named Jack, Beth has to make a choice. New Harbor is about to fall to a new terror; will she run while she can, or stay and fight?
This was a request for a review that I immediately and enthusiastically accepted as soon as I read the description for the book. I think it was the idea of an "urban fantasy-horror" that first hooked me, because while something like that would naturally seem like the perfect combination of genres, I don't think I've actually read anything like it! And as it turned out, I wasn't disappointed at all. Now that I've finished this book, I think it at once delivered everything I expected but also gave me a lot of surprises as well.
But not surprisingly, the highlights for me are the characters. The story itself takes a bit of time to build up in the beginning, but meanwhile I was kept interested by Beth and the other perspectives we're given in this first part of the novel, not to mention the clever and snappy dialogue. I've read books where it takes a long time for me to get a good sense of the protagonist, enough to see them as a real person, but Beth felt like a well-defined character almost from the get go. More importantly, I liked her.
Plus, there's also the nature of the creatures preying upon New Harbor. I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say the author takes a familiar concept in urban fantasy and paranormal, and adds his own twist and flavor of horror. This isn't at all like like the books where humans and supernatural beings coexist in a tentative balance; instead, the Beth and Jack are pitted against something savage, primal and inhuman. I liked some of the theories presented here about them, especially the biological ones, because...let's just say salt and those garlic sprays you can get for your garden make a lot of sense.
And finally, even though overall tone of the novel is quite dark, there are some fun parts as well. There's the aforementioned humor in the dialogue, as well as Jack reminding me a bit of a low-tech Batman with his badass attitude and arsenal of jury-rigged weapons and gadgets he keeps on his person.
I would have liked to learn more about him, seeing as there's a whole other side to this story that's presented but mostly left up in the air, such as the mysterious organization Jack appears to be running from as well as his link to the homeless and self-professed prophet Gil. At times, these sections actually feel disconnected from the overall plot, but they also leave much for the next book to explore. I'm looking forward to it!
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review....more
This is going to be less of a review, and more of a list of my thoughts on why I just couldn't get into this book. I try generally to finish every booThis is going to be less of a review, and more of a list of my thoughts on why I just couldn't get into this book. I try generally to finish every book I start because I'm way too obsessive-compulsive not to, but I have to say it was so tempting to put this one aside. I did end up finishing it, but not without much zoning out and skimming.
- I remember really liking Ashes, the first book of this trilogy. It was, in my opinion, a zombie survival story done well. We had a great beginning, an intriguing cause of the disaster in the form of the mysterious "Zap" that started it all and turned everything upside down. I liked the main character Alex and how she met up with Tom and Ellie, I wanted to see more of them and what they would do to make it through the apocalypse.
- But somewhere along the way, this zombie survival story became bogged down with too much character drama. Alex used to be the main focus, which was fine with me; I liked her and her whole backstory about her illness and the death of her parents. But ever since Rule came into the picture, Alex started showing up less and less; other characters I didn't care for were getting more attention. There were way too many players involved already, but Monsters added even more.
- This book really could have been edited down further, with a lot of filler cut out. I heard it was originally around 800 pages long, but even now at around 600, there's still too much exposition and unneeded detail, like aimless dream sequences and a lot of redundant repetition.
- I did not like how it seemed the author felt every chapter needed to end in a cliffhanger. It very quickly became unbearable when we would follow one character's perspective, stop at a point of suspense, go to follow another character in a very different place, stop at a point of suspense for them, and repeat this pattern back and forth. This excessive ping-ponging between perspectives was even more tedious when all of it would sometimes happen within the same chapter.
- No big picture, no explanations or answers to questions. We don't get to find out more about the Zap, the Changed, or any of the other strange things that have been happening to our characters. The action scenes felt thrown in perfunctorily whenever we needed a break from the soap opera drama.
- Disappointing end to a trilogy that really started out quite strong. I'd really hoped for it to pick up, but instead, it spiraled further away from the spirit of what made me like the first book so much. I think the departure had already started happening at the end of Ashes, but it only got worse in the second. I didn't like the direction in which the series was headed in Shadows, and I liked it even less in Monsters. ...more
Interestingly enough, well before this book came into my life, I'd happened to be browsing through the many publishing-related newsletters in my email inbox one day when a deliciously creepy animated gif banner in one of them caught my eye. In fact, it was an announcement for this very title, bearing the tag line:
"Jack the Ripper is terrorizing London. Now a new killer is stalking the streets, the victims' bodies are dismembered and their heads are missing...the killer likes to keep them."
It gets even more intriguing than that. The book's blurb also describes it as a supernatural thriller, and given my penchant for historical horror novels (particularly those featuring a paranormal angle) I just couldn't resist. So you can imagine my excitement when I received Mayhem for review from Jo Fletcher Books, and remembering that banner with its promise of a hunt for a serial killer in Victorian London, I needed little convincing to start this right away.
Still, Mayhem isn't really a story about Jack the Ripper. Between 1888 and 1891 there were a series of murders in or around the Whitechapel area, and the modus operandi of some of these were different enough that investigators theorized that they could have been committed by another person other than Jack. The idea of a separate "Torso Killer" in these "Thames Mysteries" is what forms the basis for this book, and in Sarah Pinborough's version of the events, he takes his victims' heads as trophies.
Though Jack the Ripper doesn't take center stage in Mayhem, his name and his crimes are referred to frequently, and his terrifying hold over East London is part and parcel to the creation of the setting. Establishing that there's the possibility of not just one but two killers stalking the streets creates this sense of dread that is pervasive throughout the novel. Because of the way the plot is set up, even when nothing suspenseful was happening on the page, the book always had me steeling myself in apprehension for something horrible to come along -- that's what a good horror novel does to me.
The supernatural aspect also helps in this regard; as I've said before in my past reviews, I like a touch of that in my horror. In Mayhem, it adds a whole new dimension to the story, making it a lot better than if this had been just a straight-up hunt for an ordinary mundane killer.
In spite of this, much in this book is rooted in reality. The author did her research, and even included events like the true instance of a reporter's dog used in finding a severed leg during the Whitehall Mystery. Also, a couple of the book's chief characters, like those involved with the investigations, were actual historical figures -- the police detective Henry Moore and the British physician Thomas Bond, for example. The latter comes closest to being our main protagonist, with his chapters being the only ones written in the first person, while the others are in the third person. Initially, I found this point-of-view switching to be quite bizarre, but ultimately it worked for me.
Reports from news articles about the killings are also interspersed between the narratives, which not only establishes the timeline but also provides historical context. A work of fiction this may be, but the book never lets you forget that the Whitechapel murders, their victims and their grisly circumstances (especially in the case of Mary Jane Kelly) had really occurred, that at least one insane and very real killer had actually once terrorized London's East End, and I think that's what unsettled me the most as I was reading.
This was a very dark tale, chilling and disturbing without being overblown or excessive. The atmosphere of tension is subtle and builds gradually, but things peaked for me during that terrible scene at the dinner table involving Dr. Bond's revelation. I didn't realize until then that I was just like him -- bracing myself for the inevitable macabre conclusion. This is highly recommended for those who like historical mysteries and crime fiction, particularly if you don't mind a little paranormal thrown into the mix. ...more
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! I love delving into the horror geThank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! I love delving into the horror genre every now and then, and I have to say the description on The Troop sold me right away. Something about being stranded in an isolated area like the woods or on a lonely island just invokes a primal kind of fear in my heart, the idea that no one can hear you scream when the stuff of nightmares comes to life around you.
Of course, for me the icing on the cake is that this book is written by a Canadian author (Nick Cutter is the pen name of Craig Davidson, according to the copyright details) and takes place in Canada, in a sleepy town off the coast of Prince Edward Island to be exact. A bucolic maritime province, P.E.I. is known for its fisheries, tourism and potatoes, and I'll always remember it in my mind as a place of lush landscapes and gorgeous coastlines. That said, the contrasting effects created by juxtaposing this setting alongside the horrific things that happen in this book is probably what made it even more terrifying.
When I'm reading, there are two parts to being scared. First, there are the descriptive details that appeal to my senses -- the sight of gore, the smell of blood, the taste of vomit on the back of a frightened character's throat, etc. Also known as the gross-out factor, I think I can safely say that this book did that very well. Still, I find many authors are able to write very descriptively, but simply making me feel nauseous and disgusted is only half of the picture.
This is where the second part comes in, which is more abstract and subjective. For me to be truly creeped out, there has to be that factor of suspense; the horror novelist has to strike me with that sense of dread which makes me want to keep turning the pages and not want to at the same time. I'm happy to report that The Troop succeeded in this as well, artfully combining the two parts to make this reading the book a truly unnerving horror experience.
A big part of this is of course the idea behind the story -- a Scoutmaster and his troop of five scouts being abandoned on a small deserted island to fend for themselves against an unknown infection. Reading about the boys and their interactions, I can't help but be reminded of Stephen King and the easy camaraderie he usually has between the adolescent characters in his stories. I always think it's so much more disturbing when a horror novel stars teenagers, because their behaviors are that much more unpredictable. The boys' minds have not reached full maturity, and this leads to a lot of unsettling things happening, especially given the wide range of personalities present in The Troop. Being kids and scouts, their first inclination is to help others in need, and the fact this natural drive is exploited by the contagious threat is what made the book even more chilling.
You can kind of tell that the author delights in doing this to the reader as well, as the writing in the horror scenes seem to come off more naturally and elegantly than the other parts. Believe it or not, the introduction was the toughest section for me to get through, since the narratives of the Scoutmaster and the boys felt very awkward, rough and unfocused before finally smoothing out after the first few chapters. It's like the book doesn't settle into its groove until the horror parts are underway, but once it does the momentum just builds and builds and doesn't stop! I was on pins and needles right up to the end....more
Oh boy, I've always adored horror novels that incorporate paranormal elements or a touch of the fantastical, and considering my enjoyment for such typOh boy, I've always adored horror novels that incorporate paranormal elements or a touch of the fantastical, and considering my enjoyment for such types of books written by Stephen King, it's a wonder to me why I waited so long to check out something by his son, an acclaimed author in his own right.
Why I thought this was a great book, reason the first: it succeeded in creeping me out. Honestly, why else would I pick up a horror novel? I mentioned before how much I appreciate having fantasy in my horror, because rather than dulling my fear by being "less realistic", a story with supernatural aspect actually accentuates it. In NOS4A2, Joe Hill manages to balance the "world of reality" and the "world of imagination" perfectly, sometimes blurring the lines.
In this way, a tale about a predator named Charles Manx who snatches children from his vintage Rolls-Royce becomes even more frightening when you think about how in this world of mystical powers, secret places and hidden roads, anything can happen. Manx's powers are even more disturbing, when you find out that his Wraith car has the ability to transport its riders beyond the veil to a place called Christmasland, which at first sounds like a wonderful place, except every moment a child spends there they lose more and more of themselves. Knowing that this villain uses his young victims' love of Christmas against them makes this book even more chilling.
Which brings me to another reason why I found this book so effectively unsettling: the fact that this is, in a way, a story about the loss of childhood innocence. Like Manx, our protagonist Victoria McQueen also has a power, which she discovers at 8 years old, when a rickety old covered bridge appears whenever she rides her bike, always leading her to exactly what she's looking for. Years later and seeking trouble as an angsty teenager, the bridge leads Vic to her first traumatic encounter with Charles Manx.
The events in Vic's past will remain with her forever, but all powers also have their costs. As she grows into adulthood, her memories and power change her life, her personality, her relationships with the people close to her. Her struggles with these changes are a big part of why I felt drawn to her character, because it's easy to sympathize with her desire to be a good person and do the right thing, even if it means facing her greatest fears and returning to the worst time of her life.
Joe Hill builds Vic up to be this fully-realized person, so that her fears became my fears, what she cared about became what I cared about, and what she wanted became what I wanted, too. Indeed, it's not just the thrills and suspense that got me into this novel, but also the factors involving Vic's emotions and relationships with her parents, Lou, and her son.
It takes a very good storyteller to frighten their reader but to also move them, and in this way Joe Hill's writing reminds me a lot of Stephen King's work. This is one seriously talented family. While NOS4A2 may be the first book I've ever read by Joe Hill, it certainly won't be the last.
In this novel we follow two stories, going back and forth between one and another. One features Gordon Black, whose birth into a world much like oursIn this novel we follow two stories, going back and forth between one and another. One features Gordon Black, whose birth into a world much like ours heralds the beginning of the end. Society makes its descension into the "Black Dawn", an era marked by environmental and economic collapse, poverty, starvation, and anarchy. The second story takes place hundreds of years later, focusing on Megan Maurice, a girl living in a future where humanity's level of technology has effectively reverted back to the dark ages.
Both characters are linked by a connection to the mysterious figure known as The Crowman. Gordon and Megan each undertake their own journey in their own time, struggling to discover more and understand their roles in determining the world's fate.
This book started out very strong, and I liked the development of these characters, even though I preferred Gordon story line. We are there from his birth, getting a better glimpse of his life growing up with his family. This made me feel a keener sense of sadness while following his tale as he experiences his losses, fears, and despair at what he perceives to be his personal failures.
Megan's story was interesting as well, but I just didn't feel as connected to her world or her character. While her future setting is admittedly a very unique and imaginative one, I couldn't help but feel the details lacked a certain cohesiveness, making it a challenge to wrap my head around concepts like the nature of her magic or Keeper's duties. Maybe a greater emphasis on Gordon was intended for this novel, but in my opinion the author did a much better job with his character over all, developing him and building his world.
Anyway, I wish the book could have continued its momentum for me all the way through, but around three-quarters of the way in, my attention started waning. The climax, if I was indeed correct in identifying it as such, left me cold and wasn't as engrossing as I'd anticipated, and I ended up mostly zoning out through the rest. I admit this might have cast a shadow upon my final thoughts, which is unfortunate, because this wasn't a bad book and I really enjoyed the beginning. Somehow, it'd just lost its steam for me towards the end, but I will say I'm still very much looking forward to the next book to see how things turn out....more