Book Review: The Ostermann House by J.R. Klein

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The Ostermann House by J.R. Klein

Michael and Audrey Felton just want to get away. They want a place of their own where they can escape the hustle and bustle of academia in Houston, and simply relax in peace and quiet. Their search for a second home in the country seems to be at an impasse until their realtor shows them a fixer-upper farmhouse going for a song. After moving in, they find they may have gotten more than they bargained for. A walled up room in the basement is discovered, complete with a mysterious nine-sided coin. Strange lights and sounds defy explanation, and someone, or something, seems to be toying with them. Investigating the history of the property, Mike and Audrey learn that the local townspeople seem to regard the house with suspicion bordering on hatred. With events escalating, Mike’s mental state begins to deteriorate. Unable to trust anyone, even himself, he must get to the bottom of the mystery before it is too late.

I really enjoy haunted house stories, and this one had a solid start. From the prologue (reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House), to the first look at what lies behind the bricked-in basement wall, to our first encounters with  . . . something, this book delivered quite a few suspenseful, creepy moments.

From this strong beginning, however, the book seems to lose focus. Klein provides plenty of fodder for paranoia and creepiness. The shifting stories of the townspeople, and the mysterious behavior of the local sheriff are poised to make Mike Felton, and the reader, question everything that has come before: is everyone around him lying, or is some outside force messing with reality? Unfortunately, these revelations are treated perfunctorily, reversals of evidence treated in a matter-of-fact, oh-by-the-way manner, and a lot of potential for suspense is lost.

So too, with later encounters with the mysterious presence in the house. Without spoilers, I can say that at one point, Audrey and Mike are both trapped inside the house by a storm, with full knowledge that whatever or whoever has been invading their home is in there with them. This was a supreme opportunity for some truly creepy stuff to go down, but the whole scene is over in just a few paragraphs. This scene and others like it seem rushed, as though the author was barreling along with the plot, and did not take the time to build up the requisite creep factor of the genre.

I also feel that the ending goes a bit off the rails. I pride myself on giving spoiler-free reviews, no I will provide no details. Suffice it to say that exploring outside the bounds of a set genre can lead to unexpected and awesome results, but if not done carefully it can quickly veer into the ludicrous. I found the ending of the book to be a bit absurd, with not one or two but four twists coming in rapid succession. By the final chapters it was hard to recognize the book I was reading as the suspenseful, creepy one I had started with such enthusiasm a few days earlier.

In all, this book started out great and showed a lot of promise. Even with some of the scarier and paranoia-inducing scenes seeming rushed, I still enjoyed reading it quite a bit . . . until the ending. Genre fans who want to read something a bit different might think about picking up this book; I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book’s ending (maybe it’s just me)!

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: It by Stephen King

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It by Stephen King

This is one of Stephen King’s iconic books. And it’s one you could kill a small child with. Literally. The book is a whopping 1153 pages long. The book is huge, but the story King tells is also huge.

The major part of the story focuses on seven friends in the summer of 1957. In the midst of a spate of disappearances and murders of local children, the kids discover that an unnameable and evil entity is at work under the streets of Derry, Maine. Whats more, the adults in town seem to be unwilling or unable to acknowledge what is underneath their noses (or, more appropriately, their feet). The kids fight and defeat the monster, but twenty-seven years later It comes back, and they must defeat It once and for all, but as adults, the fight is going to be all the harder.

That is the barebones of the story. Hell, that story could probably be told in a normal-sized book. But what Stephen Kings gives us in It is much broader and deeper. In The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson toyed with the imagery of a house that is so indefinably wrong that it is actually insane

Hill House,not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it has stood for eighty years and might stand eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

In It, Stephen King presents us with an entire town that is wrong, that is rotten, and that is insane. As such, the story is as much about the town as it is about the protagonists. There are interludes within the book, histories of atrocities and massacres that occurred over the preceding centuries. And the sickness isn’t just in the town. it’s in the people as well. Murders, bullying, sadism, and abuse all seem to run rampant in Derry; but is the town (and the thing living under it) making people act so horribly, or does the dark hum of evil simply bring to the surface a reciprocal evil that is hidden in all of us?

The book is more of an epic than a straight-up novel. Fortunately, despite the 1000-plus page count, there are few places where it drags. I also liked how the horror came from both the monster and from its all-too-human counterparts. While there were some scary parts, I have to say that I found The Shining to be more flat-out scary. It also delves into the weird, and there is one part (just before the 1100 page mark) that was a bit, well, what-the-fuck-were-you-thinking!?!

In all though, there is a good reason this book is considered one of King’s masterpieces, and I’m glad I’ve read it. If you’re a Stephen King fan and haven’t read this book, and/or you want to do your homework before the new movie comes out, then get cracking (and don’t drop it on your feet or on any small children)!

Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I am on a horror kick recently (I blame the Nocturnal Reader’s Box) and The Haunting of Hill House is a book that has been on my TBR forever! I am a bit ashamed to admit I’ve seen The Haunting (you’re in trouble when even Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta Jones can’t save a movie), but I’ve never read the book that inspired it! Fortunately, now that I’ve gotten a bit of breathing room between books I’ve pledged to review, I can dedicate some of my time to working through my personal TBR.

Eleanor Vance, a lonely young woman recently cast adrift by the death of her elderly mother, is invited by researcher Dr. John Montague to spend a summer at notoriously haunted Hill House in an attempt to scientifically study paranormal phenomena. Once at the house, she is joined by one of its heirs- ne’er-do-well Luke Sanderson, and Theodora, an artist and another potential “sensitive.” Once at the house, strange and mysterious incidents begin to pile up. Disconcertingly, these incidents seem more and more to focus upon Eleanor.

Hill House is considered THE classic haunted house book, and for damned good reason. Though less than 200 pages long, Jackson was able to pack an amazing amount of creepiness within a small space. The buildup begins with Eleanor’s trip to the infamous house itself. Jackson paints a picture of a rather surreal journey both through the decaying countryside and through Eleanor’s vivid imagination. Once we arrive at Hill House itself, the air of unease and dread grows. The house, built to be slightly off-square by it’s eccentric owner, seems to echo Eleanor’s own slightly off-kilter nature. As events in the house continue to escalate, the reader is left to wonder if what is happening is true supernatural phenomena, whether one of the other people in the house has targeted Eleanor, or whether Eleanor herself is the source of the disturbances. We like Eleanor, we sympathize with her, but at the same time we feel as though she is not entirely trustworthy as a narrator.

Any one who is a fan of horror and/or suspense should read this book. Let us keep in mind that most of the terror is left out of view; there are no jump scares or flying body parts here. but the book works subtly on the mind, giving the reader’s own imagination free rein. I expect the final conclusions drawn about what actually happened at Hill House will be as varied as the readers themselves.

 

Book Review: Horrorstör by Grady Henrix

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Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

This is one of those books I decided to try because of an intriguing cover and a gorgeous Instagram photo (you should check out@sadie_reads_them_all, her stuff is brilliant!). I am a total sucker for a great looking book. The intriguing blurb and the fact that another of Grady Hendrix’s books, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, has been on my TBR for a bit cemented the impulse buy.

Welcome to Orsk, Cleveland. This superstore offers pressboard furniture with clean lines and wallet-friendly prices. The massive showroom winds through setups of perfect living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms, all decked out exclusively in Orsk dressers, mattresses, tables, and couches. But something is wrong in this store; escalators run backwards, furniture is broken and vandalized in the night, and mysterious graffiti continues to show up in the bathrooms. In order to find out the cause of the vandalism, three employees stay overnight to monitor the store. What they encounter defies their worst nightmares, and it will be a miracle if they survive the night . . .

This book was a great take on the haunted house genre. Anyone who has been in a big box store in the dead of night knows just how creepy the place can be. There’s something about a location, normally bustling and loud with activity, echoing with the steps of a few 2am shoppers that works on the nerves. And anyone who has had to work an overnight shift (especially if by yourself) knows how much you seek out the well-lit and normal looking portions of the building to spend the night.

The horror is more psychological than flat-out gory (though there is gore, never fear). The store shifts and moves, entrapping the unfortunate employees in an increasingly sinister maze. The book reminds me a lot of House of Leaves, but without the dead spaces where nothing happens. Events ramp up quickly in Horrorstör and continue at a breakneck pace throughout the book.

I also enjoyed the portrayal of a more subtle horror: working in retail. The inanity, the amplification of petty annoyances, and the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped on a hamster wheel of fake smiles and interior screaming should be very familiar to any who has ever worked the other side of the cash register.

Horror fans will enjoy this book immensely. I’ve always enjoyed haunted house stories, and having one set in a thoroughly modern situation is refreshing. I will say, however, that reading the book gave me a paradoxical desire to go hang around the local Ikea . . .

Book Box Unboxing/Review: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box June – All Hail the King

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I’ve probably said it before, but I look forward to this book box all month. I was super excited for June (which the sadistic folks who run the box have been teasing us with for two months) – the theme for this month is “All Hail the King” and the box is full of Stephen King themed goodies!

First off the books. there are always two books for each box. This month’s new release is Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar.

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What makes this even cooler is that the cover is an exclusive variant only made for this box! I feel like this is such a wonderful idea, and I’m so happy that they were able to make it happen! Any how, the Goodreads description of the story says:

The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told… until now.

There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.

At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.

One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: “Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me.”

On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat…

Journey back to Castle Rock again in this chilling new novella by Stephen King, bestselling author of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and Richard Chizmar, award-winning author of A Long December. This book will be a Cemetery Dance Publications exclusive with no other editions currently planned anywhere in the world!

So . . . . squeeeeeee!

The previously released book is Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub

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Here’s the Goodreads description:

When a graduate student with a passion for jazz arrived in New York to discover that a legendary saxophonist he had assumed long dead is not only still alive but playing in an East Village club, he spends night after night in awe-struck attendance.And when the legend grants him an interview on Halloween, he jumps at the opportunity. What unfolds is an endless night filled with an extraordinary story told by a dying master: a story centered upon the Halloween night of his eleventh year, a white woman screaming in a shanty town, a killer and an unidentified man fleeing with a strange bundle in his arms.

I enjoy Straub’s books, and I’m really looking forward to reading this one!

And of course, in addition to the books, there’s a whole bunch of goodies in the box as well. As always, we get an art print

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And some fantastic looking tea (I may be slightly ridiculously fond of tea)

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There’s also a host of King-related pins, stickers, and patches (and a bookmark, of course!)

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And yes, the pin does feature King’s autograph, you jealous yet?

And fresh from my read of It, I absolutely loved the magnet that came in the box

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Oh, and have you noticed the lovely back ground for all these pictures? That would be a Gunslinger-themed bandanna you’ve been subconsciously admiring

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So as always, I’m fantastically happy with this month’s box, and now I’m waiting on tenterhooks for July’s box (the theme is “Feast”, yipee!)

If you haven’t yet, you should take yourself to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box website and check them out!

Book Review: The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

Jude Brighton is missing, and only his ten-year-old cousin, Stevie, seems concerned. Most of the town regards Jude as merely trouble, and write him off as a likely runaway. But Jude isn’t the first disappearance from the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon. Pets have long gone missing from backyards, and years ago another young boy went missing, found weeks later torn to pieces . . . The adults in town seem determined to avoid thinking about these mysteries, and it seems that Stevie may have to take matters into his own hands.

It has been a while since I’ve read a true horror novel, and I came away from The Devil Crept In with a renewed love of the genre. Ahlborn has an excellent sense of suspense, and fills the narrative with enough background menace to keep the reader on edge throughout the book.

In addition, Stevie, our narrator, seems to be suffering from some schizophreniform disorder, adding a delicious uncertainty to everything about the book. Stevie is the ultimate unreliable narrator, and we can never be sure if the things that happen are real, or a product of his mental illness.

Ahlborn is a rare female voice in a genre nearly completely dominated by men. Fans of Stephen King, Nick Cutter, Joe Hill and other giants of the genre would do well to read her work. Ahlborn is clearly able to set her own bloody stake near the top of the hill of horror writers.

Book Review: I am Providence by Nick Mamatas

I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Colleen Danzig is an aspiring writer of Lovecraftian fiction. While attending the biggest gathering for Lovecraftian literary types: The Summer Tentacular in Providence, Rhode Island, she finds the hardcore fans more than a little off-putting. When her roommate–a widely admired and equally despised writer named Panossian–is murdered and his face surgically removed, Colleen finds that she is the only one who seems to care about Panossian’s death. Deciding to start her own investigation, she delves into the underbelly of the Lovecraftian fandom, a place where racism and sexism merge with mystical thinking, and more than one convention goer seems to be searching for a book bound in human skin . . .

This is a meta-fiction, a Lovecraft book about Lovecraft folks. There are no cosmic horrors here, though, just the banal horror of truly terrible people. I do like the split narrative between the well-meaning and frustrated Colleen and the dead, decomposing, but still conscious Panossian, which did give the book a touch of Lovecraftian horror. the tone of the book is bitter and snarky, focusing on the trouble that arises when you have too many socially-backward folks in one place. Despite the occasionally sour-grapes-esque tone, Mamatas does bring forward some legitimate problems both with Lovecraft himself and with a subset of his fans (see previous: racism, sexism, etc.).

The plot of the book stumbles at times, switching viewpoints or segueing with little warning. In addition, the various secondary characters tend to be a bit one dimensional, which occasionally makes it difficult to keep these players straight.

The book is quite funny at times, but I would recommend it more for the serious Lovecraft fan, and not a casual reader.

Book Review: The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

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The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Okay, I shouldn’t have to say this, but: Beyond this point are MAJOR spoilers for the first two books in The Strain Trilogy. If you haven’t read the first two books, you should click on the link in the last sentence.

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On with the show.

The Strain series started off great. In the first book, the authors recreate the classic Dracula scene with the death ship Demeter, but in this century, its a Boeing 777 dead on the tarmac, and naturally we nowadays are less concerned about a plague than about terrorists. The build up in the first two books as Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Jones of the CDC, the Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian, the exterminator Vasily Fet, and others slowly learn the scope of what they are facing, and just how insurmountable their odds are, is great. You grow to love these characters. And, in a change from most vampire books, you have no sympathetic feelings towards the monsters themselves (making the vampires overlarge human ticks who shit while they eat certainly helps forestall any tender feelings).

So bring on the final installment! We come in two years after the events of The Fall. The Master has brought nuclear winter down upon the earth, humans have been herded into blood camps or forced to work to support the continuation of the series. The vampires have won.

And Ephraim is lost. We find Eph, now basically a drug addict hobo, spending a night in his ex-wife’s old house, feeling depressed about not knowing where his son, Zack, is (let’s remember that Kelly, the ex-wife in question and vampire, kidnapped Zack in the last book). Little does he know that Zack is being groomed by the Master to be his new vessel. Meanwhile, Nora, Fet, and a few others are trying to continue to fight. That is, when they’re not being screwed over by Eph’s unreliability.

So basically, the human race has lost. Setrakian is dead, Ephraim Goodweather is falling apart, Nora, Fet, and the others are left to try to pick up the pieces of the revolution as best they can, but things look grim. Only a really, really, REALLY desperate final plan has a chance to destroy The Master and save the human race.

So far I’m enjoying this. I always like a post apocalyptic spin, and Ephraim Goodweather’s fall from grace is a logical progression of his flawed character. I also like how the other characters continue to grow in the third installment. After all, this series is really about family (Seriously, forget about the vampires, everything everyone does in this book ties back to their family in some way). Even the vampires with their “dear ones” fall into the family theme.

At some point, however, the book goes off the rails. The action is gripping, the suspense nail-biting at times, the ick factor is still present, but as the group seeks out the origins of The Master in order to destroy it, the plot up and takes itself way off the reservation. I like to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible, so I’m trying to decide on the best way to describe this without giving anything away. Suffice it to say this: that apparently having vampirism as a disease or literal wormy parasite is no longer cool or creepy enough. When we learn where The Master comes from, the authors threw in a huge curveball, and I, for one, was unimpressed. I found it way better when the explanation was “nature is a fucked up bitch sometimes.” The thought that there didn’t need to be an origin story, that this horrible thing arose from some primordial soup and was hurled against us by the forces of nature we’d prefer to ignore, THAT was scary. Because something like that could happen. By taking things where they did, the authors lessened the visceral fear that some monster plague (figurative) could come sweeping out of the sky in the form of a Boeing 777 and presage the end of the human race.

Ah well. In all, if you read the first two books of the series, you should still read this one, if only to complete the trilogy. But I’d lay odds that you’re going to come away a bit disappointed. There were a lot of good things in this book, but the origin story they ultimately came up with for The Master is disappointing enough that it more or less overshadows everything else in the book. If you haven’t read the series, and are reading this review anyway (shame on you), don’t let this review stop you from picking up the first two books in the series. They’re some of the best vampire fiction to come out in the past few years (no one sparkles, bonus!).

 

 

Book Review: Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

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Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

Fair Warning: This book is the second in the Borden Dispatches series, and so this review will unavoidably contain spoilers for the first book.

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Thirty years have passed since the events of Maplecroft. Emma Borden is dead, as is the good doctor Seabury. The town of Fall River is quiet and peaceful, and Lizzie Borden (now going by Lizbeth Andrew) has settled into quiet infamy with a great many cats.

But a new celestial threat is rising in Birmingham, Alabama of all places. A shadowy group calling themselves The True Americans, supported by a strange new church known as Chapelwood, is looking to cleanse Birmingham of its undesirables, namely blacks, Jews, Catholics, and those who don’t want to see the world end screaming in the tentacles of an Elder God.

Called in by her old aquaintance Inspector Simon Wolf to help solve the murder of a local priest, which may or may not be tied into the nighttime activity of an ax-murderer known as Harry the Hacker, Lizzie Borden must shoulder her ax once more to defeat a cosmic evil growing strong in the dark southern soil.

I began this series because I could not say no to a Lizzie Borden-Cthulhu mashup (who could?). The first book in the series was enjoyable (though with some tweaks to the mythos and to geography that irked me a bit). The second in the series is weaker, less cosmic horror, more plain old crappy human beings. I will say, however, that I enjoyed the Ku Klux Klan as despotic bringers of the elder god apocalypse angle. That part of the story was done quite well, and should resonate with anyone who’s been following American politics recently. Though I will say that it made this book a bit of a dud when it comes to escapist fiction (but not entirely in a bad way).

In all, if you enjoyed the first book, this one is a different creature altogether, but still worth your time. New comers to the series should definitely start with the first book, both because that one is a bit more in the Lovecraftian style, and because you will be thoroughly lost if you try to start this series in the middle.