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.

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: Final Girls by Riley Sager

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Final Girls by Riley Sager

Quincy Carpenter is a survivor. Ten years ago, she was the only survivor of a horror movie-style massacre and joined the ranks of the “Final Girls.” A term given to two other women who survived similar massacres. Quincy has determinedly put the past behind her. She can’t remember much of what happened that night, and she has moved on, courtesy of Xanax and an obsession with baking. All she wants is to be “normal,” and not to be identified solely as a victim.

But her carefully constructed house of cards falls down when Lisa, one of the Final Girls, is found dead, her wrists slit. Soon the only other Final Girl, Sam, arrives on her doorstep. Sam’s method of dealing with her past is an exercise in self-destruction, and her presence sends Quincy spiraling down into instability. When the police investigation of Lisa’s death reveals that she was murdered, Quincy finds herself in a position where she can trust no one around her; not even her own memories.

This book surprised me. I went in expecting something leaning more towards the horror genre, and ended up with a tense little psychological thriller. I really enjoyed this book, and read it straight through in one sitting. The novel is told from Quincy’s point of view, and we get a first hand look at the rituals she holds herself to in order to maintain her grasp on normalcy. It is all too easy for the rampaging presence of Sam to knock these habits into disarray, and Quincy’s mental state with them. Interspersed between the chapters dealing with the here-and-now are chapters flashing back to the night of the massacre that Quincy survived as a college freshman. As both stories unfold, we must call into question everything we had learned before.

Sager does a brilliant job keeping the suspense going in this book. Her use of false leads and red herrings is masterfully done. Sager uses twists subtly telegraphed to hide other plot twists you will not see coming. We think we have guessed at a character’s hidden secret, only to have that secret be revealed as surface clutter to a more cunningly hidden depth.

Fans of Lisa Unger, Ruth Ware, or Karin Slaughter will likely enjoy this book. Anyone looking for a unique and riveting take on the horror genre should also pick up this book.

An advanced copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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 Only Child by Andrew Pyper

The Only Child by Andrew Pyper 

Dr. Lily Dominick is a forensic psychiatrist. She has dedicated her life to evaluating and understanding the worst people humanity can produce. When she is called in to evaluate a John Doe arrested after brutally mutilating a man, her carefully ordered life begins to unravel. The man claims to be over two hundred years old, and to have inspired the most infamous gothic monsters of the eighteenth century: Dracula, Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein’s monster. When the man escapes, he draws Lily into a twisted game of cat and mouse. Lily must unravel the truth of this dangerous man’s past, and uncover his link to her own shadowed childhood.

This was an interesting take on the standard gothic horror motif. The dangerously supernatural intrudes into the life of a woman determined to be so mundane she is nearly invisible. At the same time, we feel an undercurrent of some unnamable strangeness lurking just beyond Lily’s conciousness. As the novel progresses, we are forced to wonder how much of what is happening is real, and how much might be some repressed part of herself coming to the surface at last.

I will say that some aspects of the novel verge into ridiculous territory. At some points Michael (the monster/madman) is genuinely creepy and terrifying, and at others he seems to lean toward emo-hipsterishness (I was a murderous, blood sucking maniac before it was cool. Also, I’m the one who made it cool). But really, as a gothic villain (and this is a gothic horror at heart) he really has no choice but to wallow in such self-centered psychosis.

In all, this is a good choice for fans of the genre. The writing is a bit flowery at times, which I know can turn some people off, but I personally feel that it fit well with the overall feel of the book. If you like your gothic horror with a fair dose of Silence of the Lambs, then this book is a good fit for you.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Box Review and Unboxing: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box – May – Corporate Overlords

Well, after a whole lot of delivery company drama, my May Nocturnal Reader’s Box has finally arrived (yay!). I’ve been looking forward to this one since the twisted souls who put the box together every month dropped some hints about what would be included for May. (And those same evil people have been teasing the June box for about two months now, and I am actually  salivating)

So let’s get down to business. The featured book this month is Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. 

Here’s the Goodreads description:

In a ruined, nameless city of the future, a woman named Rachel, who makes her living as a scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic, despotic bear. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free. Driven insane by his torture at the Company, Mord terrorizes the city even as he provides sustenance for scavengers like Rachel.

At first, Borne looks like nothing at all—just a green lump that might be a Company discard. The Company, although severely damaged, is rumoured to still make creatures and send them to distant places that have not yet suffered Collapse.

Borne somehow reminds Rachel of the island nation of her birth, now long lost to rising seas. She feels an attachment she resents; attachments are traps, and in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet when she takes Borne to her subterranean sanctuary, the Balcony Cliffs, Rachel convinces her lover, Wick, not to render Borne down to raw genetic material for the drugs he sells—she cannot break that bond.

Wick is a special kind of supplier, because the drug dealers in the city don’t sell the usual things. They sell tiny creatures that can be swallowed or stuck in the ear, and that release powerful memories of other people’s happier times or pull out forgotten memories from the user’s own mind—or just produce beautiful visions that provide escape from the barren, craterous landscapes of the city.

Against his better judgment, out of affection for Rachel or perhaps some other impulse, Wick respects her decision. Rachel, meanwhile, despite her loyalty to Wick, knows he has kept secrets from her. Searching his apartment, she finds a burnt, unreadable journal titled “Mord,” a cryptic reference to the Magician (a rival drug dealer) and evidence that Wick has planned the layout of the Balcony Cliffs to match the blueprint of the Company building. What is he hiding? Why won’t he tell her about what happened when he worked for the Company?

Sounds pretty cool, right? Oh, and did I mention that the book comes with a signed bookplate?

The second book is Normal by Warren Ellis

From Goodreads:

Some people call it “abyss gaze.” Gaze into the abyss all day and the abyss will gaze into you.

There are two types of people who think professionally about the future: foresight strategists are civil futurists who think about geo-engineering and smart cities and ways to evade Our Coming Doom; strategic forecasters are spook futurists, who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare and ways to prepare clients for Our Coming Doom. The former are paid by nonprofits and charities, the latter by global security groups and corporate think tanks.

For both types, if you’re good at it, and you spend your days and nights doing it, then it’s something you can’t do for long. Depression sets in. Mental illness festers. And if the “abyss gaze” takes hold there’s only one place to recover: Normal Head, in the wilds of Oregon, within the secure perimeter of an experimental forest.

When Adam Dearden, a foresight strategist, arrives at Normal Head, he is desperate to unplug and be immersed in sylvan silence. But then a patient goes missing from his locked bedroom, leaving nothing but a pile of insects in his wake. A staff investigation ensues; surveillance becomes total. As the mystery of the disappeared man unravels in Warren Ellis’s Normal, Dearden uncovers a conspiracy that calls into question the core principles of how and why we think about the future—and the past, and the now.

Doomsday seems a bit close for comfort lately, but I’m always up for some speculative fiction! 

And now we come to the goodies! As ever we get a pin (velociraptor, sweet!), and this month’s box includes two bookmarks, one from The Dark Tower series and one from The Southern Reach trilogy, which was also written by this month’s featured author, Jeff VanderMeer. 

Also included was charcoal soap from  the Paper Street Soap Co., in “Tyler Durden” scent (I was a bit nervous at first, but it’s quite pleasant)

A journal (Yay! What? I don’t have a problem, I swear) in a Southern Reach theme

And, as always a lovely custom art print, this one from The Dark Tower (now framed and hanging proudly in my house)

But the last two items really made my day:

A set of Ingen branded socks (I still love rereading Jurassic Park!)

And (squeeeeee) a towel with “Don’t Panic” embroidered on it!

Which, clearly, will have to start traveling with me. You know, just in case.

So if you haven’t already, you really should go to http://www.thenocturnalreadersbox.com/ and check out The Nocturnal Reader’s Box for yourself. I have to say that by far, this is one of the most consistently satisfying book boxes I’ve tried. Can’t wait for next month!

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.