Book Review: The Wicked by James Newman


The Wicked by James Newman

David and Kate Little are looking for a fresh start after encountering violence in their hometown of New York City. Moving themselves and their small daughter to Morganville, North Carolina, David and the pregnant Kate hope to put the demons of the past behind them. Unfortunately, Morganville is a small town with something rotten growing within it. As bizarre deaths and behavior sweep across the small town, David and Kate find themselves at the epicenter of a demonic force which seeks to destroy everything they hold dear.

The Wicked is pure, delightful camp. Newman has confessed to being a big fan of the cult horror books of the ’70s and ’80s, and this book is a fun, gruesome ode to the very best examples of the genre. Newman largely leaves tongue outside of cheek, letting the plot develop in all its disgusting, violent glory. But every now and again, a blazing light of self-awareness winks through the story, letting the reader know that Newman knows exactly what he is doing, and he is loving every minute of it.

Fans of cult horror (think Robert McCammon, or early Stephen King) will love this book. Horror fans as well should rejoice that a generally derided genre is getting such a strong new entry. With the rabid popularity of the It movie, and the delightfully funny rise of Grady Hendrix (my review of his delightful Horrorstor can be found here), it seems like the horror genre might well be on the cusp of a renaissance. I, for one, cannot wait to see how all this plays out.

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Book Review: The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

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The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

I got this book as part of the Nocturnal Reader’s Box August haul, and I was so excited to read it. I love me a good haunted house book, and this one promised to deliver something original.

Julie and James are your typical couple, who decide to move from the city to the suburbs after some personal troubles. They come across the perfect house at a too-good-to-be-believed price (I’m sure you can guess where we’re headed from here). The house comes complete with mysterious hidden passages and rooms, a creepy neighbor, strange children playing in the woods, trees that slowly creep up on the house, an unmarked grave, and a rotten spot in the basement that seems to be growing in size. As events spiral out of control, it becomes less clear if it is the house or the people living in it who are haunted.

This book was so so so much fun! I started reading it at night while home alone (a terrible, terrible idea). I had to stop the book, sleep with the lights on, and then finish it the next morning sitting in a pool of sunshine. There are some truly creepy moments in this book, especially for those of us (like me) who recently bought an older house.

The book is told in alternating first-person chapters from both Julie and James’ points of view. Sometimes events overlap, and sometimes what happens seems to be at odds with what the other is experiencing. The tone of the book begins in a fairly straightforward manner, but both Julie and James’ narratives begin breaking down as the story moves along. All in all, the book reminds me of House of Leaves by MarK Z. Danielewski, but without all the superfluous bits that distracted from the story. The Grip of It is a bare bones, scary as hell story.

 

Book Review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Abby has been friends with Gretchen since they were ten years old. Now high school students, they have traded in their ET posters and roller skates for the mall and parties in the woods. After one such escapade, however, Gretchen begins to act strangely. Very, very strangely. With the peculiarities mounting and the weirdness surrounding Gretchen becoming more and more disturbing, Abby must face the truth: Her friend is possessed, and Abby is the only one who can help her.

Grady Hendrix is certainly one of the bright lights (if that phrase is appropriate) in modern horror fiction. His previous book, Horrorstör, was an intelligent, hilarious, and creepy haunted house tale. In My Best Friend’s Exorcism, we find out what would happen if The Heathers also featured demonic possession. Here, Hendrix has again left his unique imprint on the genre, taking us into a friendship sundered by satan and adolescence, which really are much the same thing.

If you’re a horror genre fan, but have been looking for something a bit off the beaten path, something campy and fun while still maintaining creep factor, Grady Hendrix should definitely top your TBR.

Book Box Review and Unboxing: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box – October

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the one year anniversary for The Nocturnal Reader’s Box! This is also their first month without a theme and I’ve been waiting on tenterhooks to see what’s going to be included! Also, look at that box! It’s huge, it’s enormous, it’s . . . really, really big! This month’s box is definitely bigger than in past months, and it’s chock-full of goodies for wicked boys and girls!

First and foremost is always the books, so without further ado . . .

Three books in this box! First up is The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories Volume Two, a collection of short scary stories (which genre I’m really beginning to appreciate). From the Goodreads description:

Valancourt Books has earned a reputation as one of the foremost publishers of lost and rediscovered classics, reissuing more than 400 unjustly neglected works from the late 18th century all the way to the early 21st. In this second volume of rare horror stories, the editors of Valancourt Books have selected fourteen tales – all by Valancourt authors – for this new collection spanning two centuries of horror. This volume features a previously unpublished ghost story by Nevil Shute, a brand-new tale by award-winning author Stephen Gregory, and twelve other tales that have never or seldom been reprinted. 

In this volume, you will encounter tales of ghosts, haunted houses, witchcraft, possession, demonic pacts, and ancient, nameless horrors. Stories of the weird and macabre, of a man tormented by an age-old evil, a corpse returned from the dead, a brutal killer with a shocking secret, a contraption with the power to trap its victims eternally inside a nightmare. With stories ranging from frightening to horrific to weird to darkly humorous, by a lineup of authors that includes both masters of horror fiction and award-winning literary greats, this is a horror anthology like no other. 

Features stories by: Mary Elizabeth Braddon • John Buchan • R. Chetwynd-Hayes • Isabel Colegate • Basil Copper • Thomas De Quincey • Stephen Gregory • Michael McDowell • John Metcalfe • Beverley Nichols • Nevil Shute • Bernard Taylor • Russell Thorndike • Robert Westall

Next up is Valancourt’s reprint of Michael McDowell’s Cold Moon Over Babylon. I’ve just started getting into McDowell’s writing (thanks to Paperbacks From Hell by Grady Hendrix) and I couldn’t be more thrilled to find one of his books in this box! From the Goodreads description:

Terror grows in Babylon, a typical sleepy Southern town with its throbbing sun and fog-shrouded swamps.

Margaret Larkin has been robbed of her innocence — and her life. Her killer is rich and powerful, beyond the grasp of earthly law.
Now, in the murky depths of the local river, a shifting, almost human shape slowly takes form. Night after night it will pursue the murderer. It will watch him from the trees. And in the chill waters of the river, it will claim him in the ultimate embrace.

The cold moon rises, the awful squishing sounds begin…

And finally, What the Hell did I Just Read by David Wong, the third book in his John Dies at the End series. My copy was signed  (YAY!). From the Goodreads description:

NYT bestselling author Wong takes readers to a whole new level with his latest dark comic sci-fi thriller, set in the world of John Dies at the End and This Book is Full of Spiders

John Dies at the End’s “smart take on fear manages to tap into readers’ existential dread on one page, then have them laughing the next” (Publishers Weekly) and This Book is Full of Spiders was “unlike any other book of the genre” (Washington Post). Now, Wong is back with the third installment of this black-humored thriller series.

Dave, John and Amy recount what seems like a fairly straightforward tale of a shape-shifting creature from another dimension that is stealing children and brainwashing their parents, but it eventually becomes clear that someone is lying, and that someone is the narrators. 

The novel you’re reading is a cover-up, and the “true” story reveals itself in the cracks of their hilariously convoluted, and sometimes contradictory, narrative. 

Equal parts terrifying and darkly comedic in his writing, David Wong “will be remembered as one of today’s great satirists” (Nerdist).

Now that I own all three, I feel a binge read coming on.

As always, the extra goodies in the box were utterly fantastic!

Also included were an I [heart] Horror bookmark, a Nocturnal Readers sticker, an Edgar Allan Poe pin, and a patch with everyone’s favorite creepy ghost girl from Ringu 

There was a lovely bit of artwork (now on my wall)

A candle in “Carnival Calliope” scent (raspberry, sugar, and vanilla) inspired by Something Wicked This Way Comes

An Ibis and Jacquel’s Funeral Parlor pint glass from American Gods

And a tote bag for The Long Walk (there was the option for a tee-shirt but I went with the tote).

In all, it’s quite a fantastic haul, and the things they’ve been teasing for November sound just as wonderful. I’d say that their first month without a theme did not disappoint! 

If you haven’t already, go to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box website, and see if you can reserve a slot for the next box!

Book Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I am on a roll recently with reading these classic horror stories! The Haunting of Hill House (also by Jackson) and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill are classics in the genre for good damn reason, and I was hoping to continue the trend with We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Merricat lives in crumbling Blackwood Manor with her sister, Constance, and her Uncle Julian. Once the Blackwoods were an admired and socially prominent family–until someone put arsenic in the sugar bowl. Cutting themselves off from hostile townfolk and overly nosy society ladies, the surviving sisters and their Uncle live a strange, reclusive life. Until (naturally) a distant relative with designs on the rumored family fortune comes to call. The increasing disruption of her ordered life causes Merricat to frantically try to set things right again.

As I said before, this book is a classic for a reason. There are tropes and cliches aplently, but you have to remember that this was one of the books that created those tropes. I especially love the voice that Jackson gives to Merricat, only twelve when most of her family was murdered, and growing up increasingly isolated. Now eighteen, she has developed numerous methods, both mental and magical, of keeping herself and her remaining family safe from a hostile world. There is a 1967 movie called Spiderbaby (which stars a young Sid Haig and Lon Chaney Jr.) which strongly reminds me of this book.

What I like most is how normally Merricat’s abnormalities are portrayed. She has grown up in virtual isolation, with no one but her rather insane uncle and suspected-poisoner sister to raise her. As a result, Merricat seems to perpetually exist in a limbo between adulthood and a child-like state. She is the only one in her family capable of shopping for groceries (and selecting weekly library books), but she also believes in the power of charms (such as buried marbles) to keep herself and her family safe.

This is a very short book, only 160 pages, and the perfect size for reading on some gray, drizzly afternoon (preferably with the autumn wind whistling through the thinning leaves and a hot cup of tea by your elbow). If you haven’t yet read this horror classic, I strongly encourage you to move it up to the top of your to-read list in time for Halloween.

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.

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!