It recently occurred to me that over the years I’ve consumed a fair number of movies, games, comics, television shows etc. featuring retellings or re-imaginings of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – but never a novel. Huh. Suffice to say I was pretty shocked by this realization; after all, there are quite a few high-profile titles out there.
Christina Henry’s Alice therefore had the distinction of being my first “Alice retelling novel”, and I’m actually quite happy about that. Of the many different versions of Lewis Carroll’s classic that I have experienced, my favorite ones were typically those considered “dark” or “twisted” – and to be honest, those are the types I’m mostly interested in. There’s just something about the original tale that lends itself to the creepy or macabre treatment.
In any case, dark was what I wanted and dark was what I got. Henry’s retelling is definitely not for the faint of heart, and readers should also beware that themes of sexual violence and abuse feature heavily in this novel. This is Alice’s Adventures told through a horror lens, as vicious and sharp as a butcher’s knife wielded unflinchingly in your face, and all the whimsy and magical light-heartedness is warped here into a horrible nightmare of savagery and pain. If you enjoy close adaptations or would prefer to see the fanciful nature of the original story preserved, this book is not for you. But if, on the other hand, you know what you’ll be getting into and would like to see a refreshing new take on creative retellings, then this one could very well be right up your alley.
Alice begins with an introduction to our eponymous protagonist, a young woman who has spent the last ten years in a hospital ward for the insane along with the city’s other undesirables. She can’t remember the events that precipitated her imprisonment, and only knows what she’s been told – that as a girl she went missing, and then was later found again beaten and broken, one cheek slashed open and blood running down between her legs, gibbering nonsensically about “the Rabbit”. Now Alice finds herself mostly forgotten by the world, and her only friend is another prisoner called Hatcher, a multiple murderer who talks to her through a mouse hole in the wall connecting their cells.
One night, a fire breaks out in the hospital allowing Alice and Hatcher to escape, but the two of them are far from free. A shadowy monster known as the Jabberwocky is on the hunt, and it has their scent. The only way to be rid of the beast is to slay him with a magical blade, forcing Alice and Hatcher to seek it out in the heart of Old City where they will face monsters of a different sort – for this is where the magician crime lords rule, feeding off the fear and misery of the populace. Within their ranks are the men known as Cheshire, Caterpillar, the Walrus…and to Alice’s dismay, her old enemy the Rabbit.
As I was saying, if you like your Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland retellings dark and twisted, you’ve come to the right place. Christina Henry doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to filling her world with brutal violence and death. Her protagonists are troubled and broken people, haunted by traumatic pasts and memories. It’s not a happy book. And yet, beneath all the horror and disturbing themes, I’m impressed by the author’s sheer imagination and creativity. I like how she’s taken the familiar elements from the original story and reworked them into her version, making Alice one of the most unique retellings I’ve ever read.
Still, as much as I enjoyed this novel, I couldn’t help but feel like it was missing something vital. In spite of its relatively short length, Alice took me an inordinate amount of time to finish due to the numerous occasions where I got distracted or drifted off while reading. I liked the book a lot, but it just didn’t grip me the way it ought to have, even though the characters had purpose and the plot maintained a steady momentum. I wanted to stay connected but at times it was a struggle, almost like the darkness in the story was a massive black hole that sucked all life from its surroundings. To be clear though, it wasn’t the brutal nature of the story that affected me, but rather the hollowing effect it had on the characters. Both Alice and Hatcher felt distant to me, and whether or not this is by design, it had an impact on my experience.
Nevertheless, I’m still a fan. Alice is unconventional and rather fascinating in its uniqueness. This book is certainly not for everyone, but I can see it scoring a hit with readers who enjoy strange and dark retellings. Themes like sexual abuse and psychological trauma makes this one a disturbing read, but I feel they are handled with a complexity that’s not just there for shock value and cheap thrills. While Alice features a self-contained story, the end does leaves things somewhat open for a future installment. If that’s the case, I definitely wouldn’t mind reading more!...more
After hearing about this book from so many people, I just knew I had to experience it for myself. And now that I’ve read it, When We Were Animals may well be the most interesting book to hit my shelves this year. I’m still finding it difficult to categorize this unconventional coming-of-age tale, which combines elements from a variety of genres including mystery, paranormal and horror.
Most of the story is told in retrospect, as protagonist Lumen Fowler looks back on her childhood growing up in a small, quiet Midwestern town with a big, dark secret. For a few nights every month during the full moon, the town’s teenagers run naked and free through the streets like animals, seized by a mysterious and uncontrollable urge known as “breaching”. Every resident of this town has gone through it and know to also expect it in their children, which typically coincides with puberty and lasts about a year. Breaching is just something everybody goes through, an unavoidable and natural fact of life about growing up in this town.
But is it really inevitable? Lumen hardly remembers her mother, who died when she was very little, but she is intrigued by the stories her father tells, about how Lumen’s mother never went breach. Always the good girl, the high achiever who never gets in trouble or gives cause for worry, Lumen makes a promise to her father that she will never breach either, determined not to succumb to the call of her baser instincts and join her peers in the unrestrained orgies of sex, violence and wild abandon during the full moons.
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to figure out When We Were Animals is an allegory for growing up, specifically for the tumultuous period when a young person transitions from adolescence to adulthood. What fascinated me is the story’s ability to illustrate a range of perceptions towards the concept of breaching. Residents seem both proud and ashamed that such a phenomenon is unique to their town, and parents of breaching teenagers treat it with a mixture reverence and trepidation while children both dread and look forward to the day when they too will be called. It is beautiful and magical, but also messy and frightening. What everyone in Lumen’s hometown can agree on though, is that breaching is an important rite of passage – once you enter and emerge from the other side, childhood ends and the journey to adulthood begins.
What singlehandedly made this book so great was the character of Lumen, whose personality gives this coming-of-age story an even more unique spin. Small and unassuming, our protagonist isn’t someone who would stand out in a crowd. At school, she would be the one hanging out on the edges of a group, the girl you don’t really notice is there. Ironically, the fact that she’s different from the other kids just makes her even more invisible, and being a late bloomer doesn’t help either, widening the divide between her and her peers.
Lumen’s introspective nature means that this is a very personal narrative, light on plot but heavy on character. She loves to read and learn, and her very unusual way of looking at things made it so that I hung on her every word. This story isn’t the kind where a lot of things happen, and instead emphasizes internal dialogue over action. But I was captivated by it nonetheless. In Lumen, I saw not only a teenager struggling to find her identity, but also a girl trying to reconcile her desires to fit in and yet still stand out from the rest. It’s a motivating factor in all that she does, whether it’s asking her dad for stories about her mom or looking up definitions of her peculiar name. It shines a new light on her determination not to go breach, which becomes more than just a way to connect to the mother she never knew. Not breaching ultimately becomes something she hopes can define her, an achievement she can call her own and make a part of herself.
I was completely charmed by Lumen, who is now an adult in a new town with a new name with her own family, telling us about her past. This is what made the audiobook such a pleasure to listen to. The only downside was sometimes not knowing whether we’re in the past or present, since the transitions weren’t always obvious in the audio, but the narration was simply fantastic. My praise goes to narrator Suehyla El Attar bringing Lumen to life. Her voice became the character’s voice, and after that it was just a matter of letting go and allowing the story to transport you to another time, another place.
At times eerie and unsettling, at others powerful and heartwarming, When We Were Animals has a lot to say about topics like independence and teenage rebellion and peer pressure. There are the moments that disturbed and horrified me, many of which are related to the descriptions of what goes on when the teenagers were breaching, but there were also scenes that touched me, especially those featuring the closeness between Lumen and her father. This an absolutely fantastic and well executed story about the stark realities of human nature and growing up. I’m still reeling from the rollercoaster of emotions....more
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
I’ve been dreading the thought of writing this review for a while, because I know it’s going to be a doozy. For one thing, I just know I’m going to come off sounding way more negative about this book than I mean to – which just kills me because there’s actually a lot to like here. Sadly, I just can’t talk about any of it. None at all. Yes, you heard that right; most of the good stuff is spoiler territory, so you’re all just going to have to bear with me.
You know how everyone has been saying that the less you know about Alive before going in, the better? Listen to them; they’re absolutely right. The best part about reading this book was being wrapped up in the mystery, slowly gaining more answers the farther into the story you get. However, this does make for a pretty rough beginning, and a fair bit of patience and investment is required to get to the payoff.
First of all, the book starts off sounding like it was written by a twelve-year-old. However, I’m not sure if this even counts as a criticism. Yes, it was maddening, but at the same time also very appropriate. Alive is told through the eyes of a girl who wakes up on her twelfth birthday, but she has no recollection of who she is or what her life was like before she went to sleep. She finds herself in darkness, trapped in an enclosed space that feels disturbingly like a coffin. After breaking out, she realizes something feels seriously wrong. She is supposed to be twelve, but her body looks like it should belong to someone older, like a woman in her late teens or early twenties. She then finds a plaque engraved with her name at the foot of her coffin – M. Savage.
Dubbing herself “Em”, the girl looks around the room and sees it lined with dozens more coffins like hers, but only a handful of them contain other survivors. All of them look physically like young adults, but they also say the same thing as Em – today is their twelfth birthday, and none of them can remember how they ended up in their coffins. In the end, only six of them emerged; everyone else is dead and shriveled in their receptacles or lying on the ground in piles of bone and ash. Because she was the first to break out and wake the others, Em assumes the role of leader of their little group. Now she bears the responsibility of their survival, but they’ll first have to learn to trust each other and work together if they’re all going to make it out alive.
So, probably the most trying part of the book was the first hundred pages or so. It was a little like reading Lord of the Flies except we’re in a labyrinth-like setting and the characters are all pre-teens trapped in the bodies of Abercrombie & Fitch models. Em cannot seem to go five pages without remarking on how strikingly beautiful every one of her companions are, and as a leader she keeps making one terrible decision after another. Like I said, mentally Em is only twelve years old. I’m still not sure how to judge her language, thoughts and actions when they are probably consistent with what the author thinks a tween girl should sound like. Still, I think the writing style will be the biggest hurdle for some readers, since Em also strikes me as an especially petulant and somewhat naïve child with her constant obsession to be in charge.
In spite of it all, the book grew on me. After the midway point, the story gets substantially better as we find out more about the survivors’ situation. I can’t say more without giving too much away though, which is always every book reviewer’s quandary (I’m ever striving to keep my reviews spoiler-free anyway, but in this case Scott Sigler even has a whole afterword imploring readers not to spoil anything via the internet, so I’ll take extra precautions and simply avoid talking anymore about the plot). Suffice to say, in time we do get enough information to piece together some answers. And it ends up being pretty cool.
I discovered afterward that Alive is apparently part of a series called the Generations trilogy. Even so, it could work as a self-contained novel. In light of everything that happened in this book though, I don’t think I can bring myself to stop with just one. I’m very curious to find out what will happen next, so I will most definitely pick up the sequel....more
Sarah Lotz topped my 2014 Horror/Thriller list with her book The Three, terrifying me with a story about four deadly plane crashes and three mysterious child survivors. This year she’s set to dominate my Best-Of lists again with her new book Day Four.
Thing is, The Three may have scared the living daylights out of me, but hey, I was already afraid of flying.
Day Four, however, may have just ruined cruising for me as well.
This is the story about the Beautiful Dreamer, a cruise ship carrying just under 3000 souls on board for her four-days-fight-nights voyage through the Gulf of Mexico. It’s New Year’s Eve on the final night and everyone’s ready to party and usher in a fresh new start, when the unthinkable happens. The ship suddenly stops dead in the water – no power, no radio, no cellphone signals. The much prayed for rescue never comes, and as the days go by, things get worse – the toilets stop running, food starts spoiling, and all over the ship, reports are coming in about passengers and crew members seeing and hearing some strange, impossible things…
Before this book, I’d never considered how much we take for granted on a cruise. If you’ve ever been on one, then you know the drill. From the moment you board to the time you disembark, everything is organized and planned for your pleasure and convenience. Your luggage is brought to your stateroom, where your excursion tickets await. Your dining times are scheduled, unless you wish to hit up the buffet where more food than you could ever imagine is piled in mountains on the serving tables. Everything works like a well-oiled machine, despite the hoopla of hundreds of guests all crammed into staterooms on multiple decks along the long narrow corridors that span almost the entire length of the ship.
But when the engines stop and the lights go out, how cheery do you think a cruise ship is then? Without power and the ability to cook or keep food fresh, what good are the all-you-can-eat buffets? When the infrastructure starts to break down, the crew overworked and sick of the abuse from irate passengers, the entire system falls apart. A cruise ship is like a floating city, after all. When order fails on a ship, you can expect to see the same kind of uncontrolled spiral into chaos. And I have to say Sarah Lotz has perfectly envisioned and captured this descent into pure anarchy.
On top of that, compared to The Three which was more of a suspense/thriller, Day Four reads more like a horror novel in the traditional sense. We’re exposed to some disturbing things right off the bat, even if the horrors are the more mundane kind to start with. For most of us, cruise ships mean vacation and relaxation, plenty of fun in the sun. However, beneath the glitzy façade lies the dark truths no one likes to talk about. Slovenly and rude passengers. Inclement weather and unstable seas. The risk of norovirus and infectious diseases. Sexual predators and assault. There’s plenty in the secret world of cruise ship problems that can turn a fun-filled vacation into a nightmare, I’m sure.
The day after the Beautiful Dreamer breaks down, when it’s clear that no rescue is coming and the captain is hiding the truth of the problem, that’s when the real creepy fun begin. Several passengers start exhibiting strange behavior, the superstitious crew insist on seeing visions of the Lady in White who haunts the belly of the ship, a child is spotted darting around the lower decks even though it is an adults-only New Year’s cruise, and a dead body of a young woman is found in her stateroom with rumors saying that she died just before the ship stopped. Imagine all that going down in the middle of the ocean stranded miles from civilization, tempers and tensions high with full-blown panic not too far behind. Oh, and throw in an open bar, because alcohol is sure to make any bad situation better! Right?
No surprise that in a short time, the Beautiful Dreamer turns into a floating hell. Amidst the paranormal eeriness that pervades the story is added stresses of the passengers and crew, and Sarah Lotz does an incredible job showing that people can be driven to all sorts of ugliness when they are feeling frightened and trapped. More than once, I entertained the thought of the ship sinking and everyone going down with it on this voyage of the damned, and realized I probably wouldn’t even feel too bad if that happened. What amazes me is that so much goes on in this book, but everything is tied together in some way. The story is told through the perspectives of about half a dozen people whose lives are all linked, showing all sides of the narrative. All of it forms a picture of the kind of dread that’s both awful and claustrophobic, and the writing puts you right there on the Beautiful Dreamer in the middle of that craziness.
I didn’t think it would be possible, but I think I enjoyed Day Four even more than The Three. It’s a real page-turner and an easier read in many ways, written in a more traditional style versus an epistolary format. The book is advertised as a sequel to The Three but really it is a stand alone novel that can be enjoyed on its own, and I’d even say pick this one if you had the choice between the two, though both books are fantastic and worth reading.
Highly recommended, with just one warning: you probably want to avoid Day Four if you have a cruise planned in the near future! I love cruises and the vibrant atmosphere of a cruise ship, and despite what I said at the beginning of my review, I doubt this book would be enough to turn me off cruising…but I probably won’t be planning my next one until the memories of this terrifying story are out of my system!...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
Another excellent Young Adult novel from Pyr, the first of what I hope will be Hexed series featuring more of heroine Luci Jenifer Ignacio das Neves – Lucifer for short. Based on the author’s comic of the same name which I’ve actually not read before tackling this book (but you can be sure it’s on my to-read list now), Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown has made me a new fan of Michael Alan Nelson.
The story begins with a Bloody Mary game gone wrong. What should have been a harmless prank ends up getting a high school girl snatched away by monstrous haggish creature. Her father, a police officer, goes to Lucifer for help after hearing that the young thief possesses supernatural talents that would help him get his daughter Gina back. Unable to bear the cop’s grief, Lucifer decides to help. After her initial investigations at the missing girl’s school, Lucifer ends up with some promising leads as well as a new sidekick – Gina’s handsome and popular boyfriend, David.
A great mix of action and humor with just a dash of horror, Hexed is an entertaining paranormal YA novel featuring a story that feels new and fresh. With a plot that’s fast-paced and addictive, this book is truly something special. I took to our kickass protagonist right away, charmed by her resourcefulness and laugh-out-loud wit. Lucifer is simply hilarious! I really enjoyed following her as a main character, even if I do find her name and the reason behind it (she was named for her two grandmothers, and she “honors” them by combining their first names like that) a little dubious, but I guess when it comes to her brand of dry dark humor, that’s probably as good an example as any. I like Lucifer too because she manages to pull off that take-no-crap attitude without coming off as a belligerent little brat. She may have a strong personality, but her kind heart and good intentions come through on every page.
I also love the secret mystical underworld of Hexed. As Lucifer is so fond of reminding us, she possesses no inherent magical power, but the tools she uses often do. She carries around a trick bag full of magical – and sometimes dangerous – gadgets and thingamabobs which she whips out whenever she needs a problem solved, and finding out what each object does is half the fun. Through some very intense scenes, we’re also introduced to what appears to be a very intricate spell system involving runes and symbols, used for anything from activating mirrors to other dimensions to exorcising demons from their hapless victims (bet you’re dying to know why Lucifer’s holding a stuffed bunny on the cover!) The supernatural baddies here can be pretty terrifying, like the filcher demons, witch-hounds, and the witches themselves, but they’re also fascinating. Lucifer’s harrowing journey to find and rescue Gina from the dead realm of Witchdown is not without its disturbing moments, but I couldn’t help it – I found myself utterly captivated by the whole story.
There are just a couple of issues I have to bring up; one is minor, while the other can be a deal breaker depending on your personal preferences. The first is something that struck me as unnecessary, which is the constant reminder that Lucifer is something “separate” and apart from the normal real world. Every few chapters is another wistful comment from her regarding high school life in general, how all that is out of reach for her but she still wants it badly. The other issue is the romance, and not just any romance. As Lucifer and David work closely together to get Gina back, feelings start to develop between them, despite David already being unmistakably, indisputably, irrefutably spoken for. This particular story arc did make for a pretty startling twist at the end, but just a heads up if you find the idea of dallying with a taken guy unappealing.
Lucifer is not your typical teenage girl, nor is Hexed your typical YA. It was a very enjoyable, quick and fun read, and best of all it is not necessary to have read the graphic novel before diving in this one. You do get a feeling that there’s an incredibly rich back story there though, one that I’ll definitely have to go back and check out one of these days now!...more
The Fold is an amazing book. I couldn’t put it down, which is not something I normally write in reviews because it sounds so much like a cliché. In this case, however, it’s absolutely true and no exaggeration. This book even caused a moment of blustering indignation at one point, because it was 4:30 in the morning but it still wasn’t letting me close it up and get some sleep. And that is the story of how I finished this almost 400-page book in a little more than a day.
Needless to say, I was already feeling beyond excited when I first learned that Peter Clines was going to have a new book out this summer. I’m a big fan of the author and his genre-mashing stories and writing style, after having read his novel 14 and gobbling up every book in his Ex-Heroes series as they are released. So when The Fold finally landed in my grubby little hands, I could hardly wait to get started. What does it have in store for me, I wondered, if it wasn’t another Ex novel about the zombie apocalypse versus superheroes?
Well, my excitement only grew when I started reading and discovered that The Fold is actually kind of a “side-quel” to 14. And while the novel’s protagonist Leland “Mike” Erikson might not be a superhuman, with his powerful eidetic memory and the ability to perfectly recall anything he has ever heard or seen in his life, he may as well be. This part is really cool: Mike visually pictures all his memories as bits and pieces in his head, carried by a swarm of ants all constantly seething with information and interpretation. The ants allow him to take in the sights and sounds, and organizes them with his thoughts. He can put together graphs and statistics, even overlay them in 3D representation if he wants, all in a blink of an eye. Captain America or any movie that’s ever been made can be instantly replayed in his head whenever it pleases him, as long as he’s seen it before. Man, what I wouldn’t give to have a gift like his.
But then, there are the downsides. Mike can never forget anything, which includes bad memories. Traumatic experiences stay with him forever and with awful clarity, like they only happened five second ago. Between that and the overwhelming, all-consuming way his ants seethe and swarm when he lets them out to do their thing, I can understand why the guy just wanted to fade into obscurity and teach high school English in the-middle-of-nowhere, Maine. It’s a safe place without any great challenges to tempt the ants. It’s a place where he can just be normal.
All that changes one day, when his best friend Reggie drops in on him with a job offer, one that he knew Mike could never refuse. Out in the California desert, a team of DARPA scientists have figured out a way to transport matter in a mode that is effectively as good as teleportation. By “folding” across dimensions, their invention called the Albuquerque Door makes the difference between point A and point B almost negligible, so that the subject can simply travel across that distance with a single step. The Door works. And it’s safe. Those are facts no one can dispute. However, the scientists are refusing to go public with it for some inexplicable reason. On top of that, Reggie can’t shake the hunch that something about the project just feels wrong, so he sends Mike out there to scout things out and report back to him before the government approves funding for another year.
What follows is riveting and unique genre-mashing experience, taken to a whole new level. After all, that is what Peter Clines does best. The Fold starts off reading like a Michael Crichton novel, with 100% more pop culture and geek references. Despite its nature as a sci-fi thriller-suspense mystery, the book is surprisingly easy to enjoy without the reader feeling inundated with heavy science and tech terms – an impressive feat, considering how so much of the premise deals with topics like quantum physics or cosmological theory. Information was doled out in unobtrusive ways which often meshed neatly with the plot, like during the course of a funding review, or in casual conversations between characters over drinks at a bar.
Though the writing style isn’t anything special, the smooth flow of the prose almost makes reading this book like watching a movie. Mike is like a modern Sherlock Holmes, gathering clues with his photographic memory to build a framework of evidence to bring back to Reggie and DARPA. There’s always an air of suspense just hanging over your head, especially in the beginning when you don’t know what’s going on, and the scientists’ strange attitude towards Mike can’t be explained away by simple hostility. Even when nothing much is happening in a scene you can still feel the increasing tension and expectancy, which makes it really hard to stop (in case you’re wondering, this is how yours truly got in trouble and ended up being awake even five hours past her bedtime).
There’s a marked difference in the second half of the book, when the story take a turn for the creepy before arguably veering into horror territory. If you’ve read 14, you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about. It actually surprised me how pleased I was to see the green cockroaches in The Fold, as that was the first hint that the two books were connected. In fact, The Fold reads a lot like 14; the two books share more than just the same world, as they are also similar in tone, style, as well as structure (though ultimately I think Clines handles the themes and pacing much better here). And just like my review of 14, I can’t really go into the second half of The Fold without giving too much away, though I will say everything reaches critical mass in a significant, explosive way.
The Fold is hands down my favorite Peter Clines book to date. It’s got everything – mystery and suspense, humor and horror, science fiction and the paranormal – all perfectly blended together with a bizarre twisty ending that will keep you saying, “Just one more page…” A fun and enjoyable read all around....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