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 Box Review and Unboxing: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box September: Monster Mayhem

So by now you don’t need me to sing the praises of this fantastic box, so let’s just dive right in to all the goodies (and allow me to show off my absolutely sickening collection of books about monsters)

So let’s jump right in to the meat of the box, the books!

I received a signed copy of The Wicked (yay!). Here’s the Goodreads description:

AN ANCIENT EVIL RISES…BURNS…KILLS…

After a fire consumes the Heller Home for Children, the residents of Morganville, North Carolina thought they knew evil…

They were wrong.

Unaware of the turmoil in their new hometown, the Littles–David, Kate, and seven-year-old Becca–are moving from New York City to Morganville in hopes of repairing their own lives, which were recently shattered by an act of sexual violence.

Before long, David realizes that his family’s troubles are worse than he could ever have imagined.

An ancient demon lurks beneath the town of Morganville, an unholy creature conjured into existence by the Heller Home tragedy.

Its name is Moloch.

It is hungry for the souls of the townspeople.

But most of all, Moloch wants the children. It will not rest until it has them.

All of them.

The other book is called Greener Pastures, a collection of short stories by Michael Wehunt. From the Goodreads description:

In his striking debut collection, Greener Pastures, Michael Wehunt shows why he is a powerful new voice in horror and weird fiction.

From the round-robin, found-footage nightmare of “October Film Haunt: Under the House” (selected for The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror) to the jazz-soaked “The Devil Under the Maison Blue” (selected for both The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror and Year’s Best Weird Fiction), these beautifully crafted, emotionally resonant stories speak of the unknown encroaching upon the familiar, the inscrutable power of grief and desire, and the thinness between all our layers. Where nature rubs against small towns, in mountains and woods and bedrooms, here is strangeness seen through a poet’s eye.

They say there are always greener pastures. These stories consider the cost of that promise.

And now, the goodies. Still yourself, the Cthulhu Funko Pop is mine, but the box did contain a Michael Jackson Thriller styled magnetic bookmark, an essential oil scent called “Sandman’s Despair”, and a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde pin.

There was also a small journal featuring cover art from The Howling.

And a water bottle with the crest of Miskatonic University  (mine, all mine!)

Of course you’ll need a tote bag to hold all this epic swag! This bag featuring Frankenstein’s monster is fantastic!

And let’s not forget this wonderful bit of artwork, now framed and hanging proudly on my wall!

Like I said before, you don’t need me to tell you how much fun this book box is. I will, however, tell you that you should get yourself over to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box website and get yourself subscribed.

Book Review: Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub

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Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub

A graduate student with a passion for jazz finds out that the legendary “Pork Pie Hat,” far from being dead as previously presumed, is alive and well and playing at a dive bar in the East Village. The student goes down to see him play, and the mysterious “Hat” soon becomes an object of fascination. As the compulsion to see him play begins to push aside his coursework, the student manages to snag an interview with the strange and reculsive saxophonist. On Halloween night, Hat tells the student a story from his childhood, of screams in a dark and lonely wood, of mysterious and menacing men in big black cars . . .

I had no idea what to expect when starting this book. At a mere 175 pages, it really qualifies as a novella (or extra-long short story) rather than a true novel. The shorter length, however, is perfect for devouring in one sitting (which I highly recommend).

This is my first time reading something by Peter Straub, but I knew he had written with Stephen King in the past, so I felt like I had some idea of what I was getting into. Pork Pie Hat both confirmed and defied my expectations. Straub’s style in this book is vaguely Lovecraftian (even if the subject matter is not), and overall the book is a creepily atmospheric tale, even if it is given more to “all monsters are human” than the supernatural (but hey, being black in the South in the early part of the 20th century would have been terrifying a;ll by itself).

So, if you’re looking for a quick bite of a story to get yourself into the Halloween spirit, this is a great book for you. Straub does a wonderful job putting you in Pork Pie Hat’s shoes on a dark Halloween night so long ago.

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: The Gunslinger by Stephen King


The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Can you believe I’ve never read any of the Dark Tower Series by Stephen King? I picked up The Gunslinger in high school (back in the stone ages), and got about halfway through before being distracted by something or another. The poor book has languished on my TBR ever since. Now, though, with The Dark Tower movie coming out, What better motivation to read through the series at long last?

The Gunslinger introduces us to Roland, last of the gunslingers. Roland is pursuing the mysterious and sinister Man in Black across a blighted land. The land is at once alien and hostile, but strangely familiar. Ragtime versions of “Hey Jude” ring out from western-style taverns, and remnants of an all-too-familiar society blight the landscape.

This is one of the first major things Stephen King ever wrote, and you can feel the rawness of it. Reading The Gunslinger, you can see glimmers of King’s talent for allowing the horror of his story to creep off the page and run down your spine. Still, as the first book in the series, there is always some awkwardness in balancing setting the scene and introducing the characters without sacrificing pacing and plot. King sets us down in the middle of the chase and provides background information in small morsels.

 In all, I have to say that this isn’t the best of King’s books. But, as it’s the first of the series and one of his first works, I feel like he gets plenty of leeway. I’m excited to read the next book in the series, and see not only how Roland and the others evolve, but also how King’s writing grows over the course of the story.

P.S. – Thank you to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box for the gorgeous Dark Tower series themed bandana (from the June “All Hail the King” box)!

Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Another long-timer in my TBR down! Obviously after reading The Haunting of Hill House, this was the next logical step.

Arthur Kipps, up-and-coming young lawer, is sent to tend to the estate of recently deceased widow Alice Drablow. Upon arriving at the small village of Crythin Gifford, Kipps finds that the locals regarded Mrs. Drablow and her isolated manor, Eel Marsh House, with a wariness bordering on fear. Feeling rather superior to what he regards as uneducated superstition, Kipps resolves to stay overnight at Eel Marsh House, the better to complete his work efficiently. Once at the house, however, and trapped by the tide, Kipps discovers that the residents of Crythin Gifford feared the old woman and her house for good reason.

This was a truly creepy book. I’m very glad we’re into the springtime here; reading this book in the dark of winter would have been terrifying. As it was, I found myself thoroughly creeped out on more than one occasion. Hill does a great job at providing us with an unforgettable and menacing location in Eel Marsh House. The grand, ancient manor, sitting high in a desolate landscape, unreachable and inescapable during the high tide is claustrophobic and vividly unnerving. The Woman in Black herself, with her skeletally thin and bone white face, and unceasing aura of malevolence and hate is a figure out of a nightmare.

Horror fans: this is a must read! There’s an excellent reason The Woman in Black is considered a classic in the genre. Any one looking for a quick, creepy read need look no further.