I love a good slow-burning novel, where the tension really keeps you on edge, not knowing when the lid is going to pop off and all the proverbial you-know-what is going to hit the fan.
This book did not check those boxes for me, try as it might.
The whole premise is based on these strange notes, left on paper, in mirrors, on the side of the house, telling West and his family that they are being watched. But I was so confused, as I spent more than half the book thinking that it was one type of story, and I just didn't understand the way that all of the characters just accepted the grandfather's (lack of) explanation of the notes—all of them just giving in to the fact that there wasn't anything they could do and that they would be stalked and watched no matter what they did.
It is hard to explain my frustration and confusion without potentially spoiling the plot, so this next part is spoiler-y. Skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to read it. Basically, I think you're supposed to think the house is haunted, but none of the characters ever do . . . They all think that it is some group of people. But the way the notes are left—one on the bathroom mirror in the steam while someone is showering, for example—it seems crazy to think that people are doing that. How do they have access to the house? How are they so quiet? ERG. It doesn't make any sense, and neither do those weird messages.
The main thrust of the plot follows West, but the book does switch perspective to his mom and dad and a few other characters, which I found jarring. I wish it could have been contained to one perspective, or the narration could have been smoothed out a little more.
This book also falls into my least favorite storytelling trap, which is that there is no chance that the reader could have solved the mystery. You are not given all the pieces of the puzzle to figure out exactly what's going on until it is revealed to you, with plenty of backstory over-explaining. Snore.
If you're looking for a great book by Hunter Shea, I much preferred Creature and would recommend that one.
My thanks to Sinister Grin Press for sending a copy of this one to read and review.
This is the story of a guy who is really just a grade-A screwup and can't make one good decision to save his life.
Though it offers an interesting enough setup for a thriller—man moves into house, man finds out the guy next door is a real a-hole, man can't move out, turns out the guy next door is probably into some really bad stuff, man has to defend his turf—this one really wasn't for me.
Stylistically, the book just felt reaalllly slooow. It is constantly showing what's going on, and then also telling and explaining and talking about what happened too. We get it—readers can put things together. We don't need every little thing explained and then over-explained.
As it is told from said screwup's perspective, meticulously documenting every little thing he did and every thought that ran through his brain, the reader gets a good idea of what his deal is. And yet, I was so frustrated with him constantly asking him in my head to explain his actions, as they tend to not make logical sense, only forwarding the action of the story, rather than being what any reasonable person would do. This only amps up toward the end.
I don't have anything against unlikable characters. I think they can be very useful. But Ollie is more than unlikable, he is nonsensical, and I really draw the line there.
Between characters who seemed two-dimensional to transparent, the lack of motivation for the actions taken, and a plot that truly plods along, I can't really recommend this one as a book to pick up.
My thanks to Flame Tree Press for sending me an advance copy of this one to read and review.
This book fully captures why I love short story collections.
Geminder is first of all, a brilliantly lyrical and magnetic writer. I couldn't help but be drawn in to her writing every time my eyes hit the page.
With stories weaving together themes about gender, identity, politics, trauma, and more, the focus of the book is on perception and the self: how the world sees us versus how we see ourselves and what comes of those perceptions. Sometimes reality wavers or is more gauzy as in the strange ghostliness of "1-800-FAT-GIRL", and sometimes the harshness of it comes right in your face, like in the more journalistic stories set in other countries.
Each story offers something new that I really had to think about and sit with. This isn't the type of collection you can just breeze through, and you won't want to either. There are so many beautiful sentences to contemplate and savor—a true joy to read.
Favorite stories: "Houses," "1-800-FAT-GIRL," "Coming to," "Edie," and "Dead Girls." And yes, that's half of them! They are so good. It's hard to choose.
My thanks to Dzanc Books for sending me a copy of this one.
This is one of those books that really sticks with you.
It centers on Kate, who has autoimmune diseases that keep her bedridden with intense pain, pumped full of drugs, and at the doctor's office to try out experimental treatments. Her supportive husband, Andrew, is doing his best, but is also pushed to the breaking point between caring for her and working a stressful job.
The book develops these characters and their relationship in such a brilliant way; rarely do characters come off the page so clearly as fully-formed people. You really feel Kate's struggles and her pain—her physical pain, which is described in excruciatingly specific detail, and the emotional pain she feels at constantly putting a burden on the people she loves. The book gets into each of their heads—they aren't perfect, but they are trying their best to show up for each other and make what they can out of each day.
The tension builds as the couple take their dog Button and try to escape to an idyllic lakeside cabin for a few weeks of relaxation. But that's when strange things begin to happen.
I loved the build-up of the story, getting to know the characters, and the strange little happenings that built suspense more than the reveal and the action toward the end. After such a suspenseful and well-built story, the gory action was a bit jarring, and seemed to be overkill for this type of narrative.
But in the end, I definitely recommend this book. It actually has something for everyone: beautifully written characters you will emotionally attach to, suspense, and crazy action and kills. I can't wait to read my next Hunter Shea!
My thanks to Flame Tree Press for sending this one to read and review.
Take one look at the cover of Kill Hill Carnage and you have a pretty good idea of what you're in for.
This book doesn't pull any punches and it isn't afraid to genre-blend and wonder "what if" before throwing the reader into the dark, gooey, deep-end filled with who knows what.
The book centers on a mysterious factory on Kill Hill and its nefarious inner workings. What is going on up there? What are they making and what might be getting loose?
There is a lot going on in this book, switching between a 90s era summer camp where something has gone horribly wrong and in the present day, a hitman with one last job and a group of teenage friends out for a little camping trip on what couldn't have been a worse weekend.
With slasher-like tropes—the summer camp, horny and delinquent kids in the woods—and mutant-monster madness, this really is a high-octane, gory romp that horror fans will have a lot of fun with.
One of the only things that I stuck on as I read was the dialogue, especially of the teen girls. It didn't feel realistic to me how they spoke to each other. I think I would have been more on board if everyone talked the same way, because a heightened reality would have fit right in with the insanity of this book, but as it stood, the girls felt a little fake.
Overall, the pacing, action, and originality of this book definitely make it a worthwhile and amped-up horror ride.
My thanks to Sinister Grin Press for sending a copy of this one to the Nightworms to read and review!
In this Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day (or more aptly Happy Death Day?) escapade, there is a large cast of characters, a remote and crumbling estate, and more than a few secrets, unsavory characters, and murderous intentions to go around.
Turton has crafted an immensely complex and exquisite mystery with an added layer of the supernatural. It isn't enough that the main character is attempting to solve a murder; every morning he wakes up in someone else's body, repeating the day of the murder again, attempting to use what he already knows and what he can glean from this new perspective to put together the pieces of an intricate and twisted plot years in the making.
The first fifty pages or so are a bit difficult as the reader is as swamped as the main character is trying to grasp the situation while being constantly pushed adrift into the strange machinations of a day already progressing according to multiple plans set in motion. But you really just have to keep pushing, because this book becomes such a joy to read.
In true Christie fashion, what really matters in this book is plot. The characters are necessary or course, but this isn't a character-driven story leaning on the emotional drive of people's needs, pasts, and traumas any more than to wonder how they will influence the forward motion of the narrative and how they might be exploited. In this way it is truly a classic mystery.
I will warn you, this is a difficult book to put down. I read this 500+ page book in two sittings. For one, there are so many plot threads and characters, and details that I didn't want to forget anything. For another, it is just so compulsive! The chapters are fairly short, so you don't get bogged down by too much information in each one, but at the same time, you just need to keep reading!
I would be interested if there are any readers out there who were able to solve this mystery on their own before the final conclusion was revealed. I wonder if it's possible, if there are enough clues sprinkled throughout that you could put it all together. Anyone?
I truly applaud Turton for this exquisitely crafted beauty of a book. I can't imagine the strange timeline diagram with string connecting all the characters and important moments he must have had dominating his workspace as he worked on this book—to keep all of this information straight obviously takes a true master of the craft. Perhaps Christie has found a true heir in Turton.
My thanks to Sourcebooks for my copy of this book to read and review.
Real hauntings, metaphorical hauntings, skeptics, murder, conspiracy theories, sex maniacs, backstabbing, creepy kids—this book has it all.
A haunted house story is just about my favorite thing. I can't get enough of them—I think it's probably the most interesting setting for a book. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.
Janz ups the ante in this book because not only are we dealing with a (potentially) haunted house, but main character David is also haunted by his past.
David is a sort of haunting debunker who writes books about his (lack of) experiences in supposedly haunted places. When his buddy Chris asks him to come check out the notorious Alexander House, he accepts, but the Virginian peninsula the house sits on holds more than a chilling past, it also holds bad memories for David, as it is where he last spent time with his girlfriend Anna before he broke her heart. Soon after she killed herself and he's always blamed himself for her death.
That is really just scratching the surface of everything that's going on in this book—you have to read it to get the full effect!
This is one of those books I found myself thinking about when I wasn't reading it. I wanted to know what was going to happen next and I was definitely trying to figure out the twists and turns, which is always fun.
Sometimes the book has too much going on. Between multiple ghosts, a side plot of crazy neighbors next door (that does end up tying in satisfyingly), a potential love interest, having to explain the backstory and historical parts, run-ins with the cops, and everyone seeming to turn on David, I felt there were places that the plot could have been streamlined for easier reading. There was one scene with an entity toward the end (sorry to be vague—trying to be spoiler-free!) that felt especially unnecessary and I really didn't see the point of; it felt like filler at the end of a story that had already concluded.
The chaos doesn't detract that much from the book; somehow Janz is able to keep most of the plates spinning throughout this wild story. He is great with dialogue (minus some cheese that felt unrealistic in the flirting scenes). The suspense and tension built throughout the scenes in the creepy house are really fantastic and gave me that creeping sense of dread I really love. Janz also knows how to break up the tension with moments of comedy, even absurdity.
There are also really horrific scenes of multiple types. The horror of what people do to each other and those they are supposed to care for and about, as well as supernatural horror and gore. I enjoyed it all.
A great horror read, and it should definitely be on the list for haunted house enthusiasts. This is my second book of Janz's (the first being Children of the Dark) and I am definitely on board for whatever else comes next.
My thanks to Flame Tree Press for sending an advance copy of this one to read and review.
This is one of those otherworldly sort of books that constantly slips through your fingers as you read it. But keep grabbing at it because what a remarkable book.
Separated into three parts, each narrated by a different character, the story revolves around a small, remote place called the territory. It's one of those towns where everyone knows everyone else's business, but things are a bit weirder here, as is slowly revealed throughout the first part.
The central figure is one Billie Jean Fontaine, but she's gone missing. The first part is narrated by her daughter, Pony, the second by her loyal dog, and the third by a boy nicknamed Supernatural, a boy all the girls in the territory have their sights set on.
The book is a tangle of the past and present, everyone's memories colliding with what is currently happening to bring about a picture of Billie Jean that's fuzzy around the edges—the only person we don't hear from is her. From her mythic entrance to the territory, to how she never fully fit in, to the secrets of her long past and not so long past, the blank edges of a woman are filled in through the thoughts, memories, and opinions of those who were close to her.
It goes back to what I said about the book slipping through your fingers. Billie Jean's ephemerality makes her difficult to grab hold of, but that's the point. And underlying all the character-driven narration, there is the place, the territory. Where is it? How did it come to be and why do they all seem to take it for granted that the way they are living is life as it should be?
It is definitely worth mentioning that the narration by the dog is some beautiful, weird, and deeply original writing. Dogs know our deepest secrets, see everything inside us and yet are silent. What if they could speak, eloquently, release their thoughts, their deep observations about us, the world, the history and the connections of how things came to be? What a brilliant concept and so wonderfully executed in this book.
The writing style reminded me a lot of Stephen Graham Jones, a literary horror author I adore, so if you enjoyed this, I recommend checking out some of his work, like Mongrels or the novella Mapping the Interior.
My thanks to Random House for sending me a copy of this one to read and review.
The space between right and wrong isn't always delineated by a hard line.
This book deals alternately with a killer hunting sickos and a team of FBI agents hunting the killer, deftly switching between the narratives. The fast-paced structure kept me reading, never quite knowing where it was going to turn next. Even as the plot became more entangled, I never felt lost in the narrative, so the book does a great job of laying out the story and fully immersing the reader in each different section.
What is most interesting about this book is the strange ethical dilemma at play. Yes, there is a serial killer hunting down people and murdering them, but the people he is killing happen to be pedophiles and rapists. The killer is fed up with the slow and sometimes ineffectual way the FBI goes about catching these indecent scum-of-the-earth people and takes matters into his own hands, perhaps saving many future victims from harm.
Do they deserve what they get? Or is the vigilante justice going too far? Also, how does he know he isn't killing any innocent people? And where will it end?
Some of the character arcs were fairly rote and I could see how their stories were going to play out, but the story also managed to surprise me in its final act. I also liked how this book didn't lean heavily on plot or on character to drive it; there is a nice balance between getting to know the characters and the advancement of the action.
The Highwayman is a compulsive police procedural/thriller with more than a few splashes of horror—it's got something for everyone! It kept me reading, trying to figure out who was good, who was bad, and who to trust.
My thanks to the author for providing me with a copy to read and review.
The Bone Mother is a very unique set of interconnected short stories. Each story begins with an old (and often haunting) portrait or illustration and each is told from the first person.
The stories have a dark aura, but often the true depth of the darkness isn't uncovered until the very end. Demchuk certainly has a flair for making the reader feel as though they've missed a step in the dark—feeling that strange plummeting of your stomach, the truth of what you though you knew ripped out from under you.
While I liked the interconnected structure, I felt that the world of the stories could have been explored more. The stories are so short, most of them just a couple pages, that I never really felt attached to any of the people or their specific narrative. But at the same time, each story didn't seem to further the world-building enough that I felt I had a full picture of this place, the timeline between characters, or the events that happened there by the time I finished the book.
Though the writing is captivating and there are some truly scary moments, I felt this narrative was just too scattered for me to really connect to it, which would have been fine if it were just a short story collection, but as they are meant to be linked, it left me wanting more cohesion and finality.
I would definitely be interested to read more writing by this author. He has a strong and unique voice, and I love that he decided to shine a light on Russian folklore and history in this way.
My thanks to Chizine Publications for sending copies of this one to the Nightworms to read.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.