2014 Murder, Monsters & Mayhem Wrap-up!

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Each year, as Murder, Monsters & Mayhem comes to an end, I always experience bittersweet feelings.  While I love horror and thriller titles, specifically sharing my favorites with you all, I do look forward to the opportunity to read something a little lighter and less…deadly.  With that said, I really had a lot of fun this year and I hope you did as well. Here’s a quick wrap-up of what transpired this month:

 

Did you have a favorite?

Remember to link up your horror/thriller posts on the Murder, Monsters & Mayhem link-up page! I’ll keep this page live for the next several weeks.

Finally, the winner of the “Do You Believe in Ghosts?” ghost story contest is…..Kelly Rochford from A Book and a Beer! In case you missed it, her ghost story is entry #6!

That wraps all up! Again, I really do hope you enjoyed this year’s Murder, Monsters & Mayhem! I’d love to hear your comments (yes, complaints) and suggestions for future celebrations!

Review: The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook and Culinary Survival Guide by Lauren Wilson

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Smart Pop (October 28, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781940363363
  • Source: Publisher

The zombie apocalypse is here. There’s more to survival than escaping the deadly grasp of the walking dead. Your survival will be quite limited if you don’t have a means of sustaining your food supply. Here’s where The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook and Culinary Survival Guide comes in handy.  Chock full of survival tips, including how to pack a survival kit and filter your water, as well as recipes and suggestions on maintaining your food supply.

My boys & I opted to try the recipe for Overnight of the Living Dead French Toast. Despite the gritty and gory illustration, we actually enjoyed this meal!Overnight of the Living Dead French Toast photo

The prep is quite simple. What I really liked about it was this meal can be prepared either out of doors (if the zombies have raided your home) or in the comfort and safety of your own home (if you are one of the rare few who can seek shelter in your home).

 

Bugging In or Nouveau Home Cuisine

The recipes here are quick, simple, calorie rich, and, perhaps most importantly, comforting. Yes, that’s right, they’re the zpoc equivalent of the post-financial-crisis comfort food trend. So get ready for warm, indulgent, and satisfying meals that can be fixed in a jiffy and/or need minimal attendance. These recipes are geared to the first days of the outbreak—when the power is either still running or has just gone out—and so, will focus on perishable ingredients that most people would have on hand in their refrigerators and freezers

 

Overnight of the Living Dead French Toast

Yields: 4 Hungry Survivor servings, 6 Regular Joe servings

 

Welcome to the zombie apocalypse! Tomorrow is a big day: you will be losing your head (hopefully not literally) trying to fend off the newly infected. On top of that, those pesky little weak spots in your fortress will surely present themselves, leaving you overwhelmed with survival and physical defense–focused activities.

Before you go to sleep tonight (if it even seems safe to do so), why not plan ahead for breakfast? Not only will it help use up some of your perishables (milk, eggs, butter, bread), it will also give you a calorie-rich jumpstart to your undead-filled day.

If the power has already gone out, reduce the amount of time you soak the bread to a couple of hours and use an Oven Hack (page 6) to cook this bad boy.

 

Requires:

Chef’s or survival knife and cutting board

1 bread knife

1 small mixing bowl

1 mixing spoon

1 fireproof baking dish (preferably 7″ x 11″)

1 large bowl

1 whisk (or fork)

Piece of foil, to cover baking dish

 

Heat Source:

Indirect, conventional oven or other Oven Hack (page 6)

 

Time:

10 minutes prep

4-8 hours inactive soaking time

35 minutes unattended cooking time

 

Ingredients:

¼ c. (4 tbsp.) butter, melted

½ c. brown sugar

12 oz. bread (challah, raisin, French baguette, Wonder—whatever you got, preferably a mix of several different kinds), sliced into strips 2–3 fingers wide

½ c. dried cranberries or raisins

6 eggs

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 ½ c. milk, cream, or combination

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

½ tsp. ground ginger

Pinch of salt

3 tbsp. rum, orange liqueur, or brandy (optional)

1 c. nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds), roughly chopped and preferably toasted

Maple syrup, to taste

Method:

  1. Mix together the melted butter and brown sugar in a small mixing bowl. Spread the mixture along the bottom of the baking dish.
  2. Put down a layer of bread fingers, overlapping and filling gaps where needed. Sprinkle with dried fruit. Repeat with remaining bread and fruit.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and granulated sugar together until the sugar has dissolved, about 1 minute. Add the milk/cream, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, pinch of salt, and liquor/liqueur (if using). Whisk until incorporated.
  4. Pour the custard over the bread and dried fruit, sweeping back and forth to moisten the whole top layer, filling any nooks and crannies. Cover with foil and let sit for 2 hours (no refrigeration) or at least 4 hours to overnight (in the fridge).
  5. Preheat oven (for perhaps the last time!) to 375°F or set up an Oven Hack (see Judging Temperature, page 7).
  6. Remove foil from the baking dish and sprinkle with the toasted nuts (if using). Drizzle lightly with maple syrup.
  7. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, then cover and bake for another 15 minutes to avoid overbrowning. Check after 20 minutes or so—cooking time will vary widely depending on your setup.
  8. The French toast is ready when the custard at the center feels set (i.e., not jiggly, squishy, or raw). Let stand for 5–10 minutes, then drizzle liberally with more maple syrup before tucking in.

 

Since I had the pleasure of assistance from my two boys, the final product doesn’t look all that pretty (they were all about literally creating french toast “fingers”) but the taste was divine!

PicMonkey Collage

 

Bottom line: whether or not you are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse or not, The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook and Culinary Survival Guide is a handy guide to general, every day survival.  It’s a perfect holiday gift for the outdoorsy type (my two Scouts loved it!)

Highly recommended. We can’t wait to try out another recipe!

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Review: The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition edition (July 15, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781250041272
  • Source: Library copy

Catherine’s life is in shambles. Loss of her previous job forced her to leave London. With a new job, she thought her life was on track, until her boyfriend, Michael, ended their relationship abruptly.  When Catherine is presented with a new project, she’s initially reluctant to take it. Asked to catalogue a collection of antique dolls and puppets, it would require her to take up residence in the eccentric collector’s home. The last thing she needs right now is to be uprooted from her life, but the rare opportunity she’s been granted forbids her from saying no.

Upon her arrival to Red House, Catherine is introduced to Mason’s elderly niece. The eccentric woman shows Catherine her uncle’s collection of preserved and clothed rodents, each depicting a brutal scene from the Great War. As her time at Red House continues, Catherine can’t help but wonder of something darker, and more sinister, resides within its walls.  When the visions and trances that plagued her as a child return, she is haunted by the darkness she thought therapy had erased.  Excerpts of her memory come flooding back, producing a confusion between dreams and reality that threaten her sanity.

If the cover of The House of Small Shadows isn’t chilling enough, the story that resides within will terrify you. Taxidermy, creepy dolls and puppets….I shiver just thinking about it.  Add the stark, cold setting Nevill creates in the Red House and you have the perfect recipe for a truly terrifying horror novel.  It’s not just a scary, haunted house. It has a heaviness and darkness that permeates all senses.

There’s no denying Nevill is a tremendously talented author. Yet what makes his work stand out is how it takes you off guard, completely unsuspecting of what you are about to experience. Going in, I read the synopsis. I was prepared for a spooky house filled with creepy dolls. But Nevill went far beyond that to create a storyline so chilling and terrifying, I still have goosebumps every time I think about it.

The pacing is slow and deliberate, reminiscent of the classic Gothic ghost story. Nevill puts great effort into developing the mood and tone, crafting each word and phrase to create a stunningly terrifying read.  He doesn’t use gore or gruesome scenes to relay terror, instead relying upon the psychological aspects of the fears that reside within us all.

I highly recommend The House of Small Shadows and, frankly, all of Nevill’s work, to fans of horror fiction. He’s an author whose work you will read once and become an instant, enduring fan. Highly, highly recommended.

 

Vote for the Scariest Ghost Story!

As Murder, Monsters & Mayhem nears the end, I was thrilled to see all the entries for scariest ghost story! My initial plan was to select the winner myself, but as the entries continued to come in, I found it difficult to decide! Therefore, I’m opening up the judging to you, readers of this blog.

I’ve included all entries below. I intentionally removed the identities of those who submitted so that won’t be used as a deciding factor. Read all the entries, then select your favorite! There are quite a few entries, so use the scroll bar on the side to view them all!

Rules: You may vote once per day. The winner will be announced on Halloween (of course)! The winner will receive an assortment of books I have featured as part of Murder, Monster & Mayhem.


 

Review: Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: EgmontUSA (September 9, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781606844632
  • Source: Library copy

After her mother passes away, Annabel Lee is summoned from Siam to Philadelphia to live with her father.  Never knowing him growing up, the father/daughter bond has much to be desired.  His physical ailments and secretive line of work forms a wedge in their already struggling relationship.

It isn’t long after her arrival that a rash of murders devastate the city. Her father’s strange behavior forces Annabel to question his involvement. Unaccustomed to the city life, she has very few that she could consider friends. Her father’s assistant, Allan, dotes on Annabel with unabashed kindness.  When he’s not working with her father, Allan dabbles in writing, with hopes of producing volumes of poetry. Allan’s polar opposite is Edgar, a cousin who has an uncanny resemblance to Allan.  As Annabel attempts to learn more about Allan’s brusque cousin, she learns that she is the only one who has ever born witness to his existence.

With strange, late night visitors to her father’s basement laboratory and the victims of murders hitting close to home, Annabel Lee soon discovers that evil lurks nearby. The identity of the brutal killer is more shocking than she could have ever imagined.

In this unique take on the classic Edgar Allan Poe, Verday creates a mash-up of Poe’s classics with that of  Jekyll & Hyde.  A fan of Poe’s work myself, I generally resist reading any retellings of his work. That said, Of Monsters and Madness had a unique enough spin to it that I threw out any misgivings and devoured it as soon as I could get my hands on a copy.

While I enjoyed the unique storyline, I felt myself craving more from the characters, specifically that of Annabel Lee. Her identity and link to Edgar Allan Poe is a given and we are teased with hints to her past, but I wanted to know more. Her character is a strong one; she’s desperate to become a doctor despite her father’s attempts to dissuade her. She is terrified that her father’s obsession with the macabre runs in her blood as well.  Yet, despite all this there is so much we still don’t know about her. She wears a scarf to hide scars on her neck, yet we have no idea what caused them.

 

The fact this is the first in a new series gives me a modicum of hope, but also some trepidation. While I’m thrilled to know Annabel’s story will be continued, I wonder what else there is to tell. I’ll hold further judgement until I read the next book, Of Phantoms and Fury, due out in September of 2015.

 

Week in Review: October 26, 2014

With family in town last weekend, despite my attempts to participate in the readathon I was pretty AWOL from the blog. I have two weeks of posts to catch you up on!  We’re coming in on the last week of Murder, Monsters & Mayhem. I hope you’ve enjoyed the wide range of books I’ve been recommending!

Here’s what happened in the last two weeks on the blog:

 

Brown_ladyAs the end of Murder, Monsters & Mayhem nears, so does your opportunity to submit your ghost story for the “Do You Believe in Ghosts” contest. I’ve received quite a few scary stories, both through email and posted in the comments. Have one to share? If you win, you’ll win a copy of many of the books I’ve posted about this month.

Additionally, everyone who links up a horror/thriller/supernatural post  will win a special “goody bag” for participating.

How was your reading week?

Review: A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson & Jeff Rovin

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon451 (October 7, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781476776521
  • Source: Publisher

When Maanik, the daughter of India’s ambassador to the United Nations, starts experiencing fits of screaming and terror, child psychologist Caitlin O’Hara is called in for consultation. Maanik was recently witness to an assassination attempt against her father and Caitlin is certain the stress  of the attack is the root of the problem.  Maanik’s condition tears her father away from sensitive peace talks between India and Pakistan. Each moment he spends with his daughter threatens any hope of resolution between the two countries; a war seems imminent.

When Caitlin receives reports of other teenagers experiencing strange symptoms,she wonders if something else is responsible for these seemingly unrelated incidents.  A Haitian student drowns on dry land. An Iranian boy intentionally sets himself on fire.  The root cause of these strange occurrences doesn’t appear to be medically based, so Caitlin leans more toward to metaphysical in an attempt to obtain answers.

In this first book in a trilogy, Anderson and Rovin have crafted a techno-thriller that is so unique, it is certain to captivate the most pickiest of readers.  A gamut of storylines and subplots are revealed, expected in book one of a trilogy.  Their connections are quite vague, likely intentionally to spread out the pacing deliberately throughout the trilogy.

What is developed well, and with great detail, are the characters. Caitlin is a hardworking, single mom. Her exchanges with her son, partially deaf, round out her passionate and thoughtful character. It’s obvious that she doesn’t expect anything in her life to come easy, a fact that certainly rings through in this, her most recent of cases.

After reading this days ago, in one sitting, I’m still struggling to wrap my thoughts around my feelings. There is quite a bit to wrap my mind around; I’m hoping the second book will iron out the questions that are riddling my brain. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this novel, for it’s reactions and experiences like this, those that aren’t necessarily automatic or certain, that quantify an excellent novel.

Note that I have yet to make the connection between one of the authors, Gillian Anderson, and X-Files. I intentionally refused to acknowledge the connection while reading this novel. I’m assuming many will do the opposite, for now that I have read it, I did feel it had the supernatural feel of the show. Like the show, instead of answering my questions, I found I actually had more by the end.  Does Caitlin’s character have any resemblance to Anderson’s character Scully? No, not really.  While both were medical doctors, Caitlin is far more open to atypical explanations than skeptical Scully every would have been.  The only comparison I would draw is that both are strong and capable women, desperate to find the answers to the unexplainable.

For all these reasons, this is a book that I would honestly recommend to anyone and everyone. For one, I need someone else to read it so I have someone to discuss it with. Secondly, since it covers a wide range of themes and topic points, It’s certainly a read that will generate discussion and chatter. Highly recommended.

Review: The Penguin Book of Witches, edited by Katherine Howe

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (September 30, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780143106180
  • Source: Publisher

Our country has had a long-lasting obsession with witches, dating back to the infamous Salem witch trials.  The animosity and fear toward witches, however, reaches even further back in time.  The existence of witches appeared several times in the Bible with vague details about their evil presence. They emerged again in medieval England.

In this treasury of historical accounts, Howe has cultivated a richly detailed volume showing the progression of societies terror for this group of individuals.  With excerpts from a witch hunting manual written by King James to transcripts from those accused of witchcraft in Salem,The Penguin Book of Witches is not only a study of our societies fascination with witches but an exploration of how individuals perceived different than the general masses were treated with animosity and horror.  Women were accused of witchcraft for the most minor of offenses, including behaving in a manor that strayed from what society deemed normal and appropriate.

While a good portion of this volume deals with the Salem witch trials, Howe also showcases cases of witchcraft not as familiar or renowned. I cringe to thing how modern women would fare if we were held to the same standards as some of these women. It’s probable that the majority of female society would be deemed witches.  What is most frightening, however, is how our society still considers it appropriate to control the lives, and bodies, of women.

The Penguin Book of Witches is the perfect sort of book to curl up with on a cool, fall day. While I didn’t read through it in one sitting, I found myself picking it up and reading a section whenever I could find a free moment. Howe kept the formatting of the accounts, not modernizing it in any way, so it does take a bit of concentration to become comfortable with the language and style used. All this said, this was a completely mesmerizing read, wholly fascinating and incredibly informative. Highly, highly recommended.

 

Audiobook Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

 

  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Listening Length: 13 hours and 24 minutes
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio (September 16, 2014)
  • Source: Library

Detroit Detective Gabriella Versado is used to unusual cases. Her latest, however, goes beyond anything she’s ever seen. The body of a teen boy is somehow fused to the body of a deer. Unfortunately, this is just the first of a string of unusual deaths.

Layla, Detective Versado’s teen daughter, struggles with her new life. Her parents are divorced and her father now has a new family, with young children, in Atlanta. Before the divorce, Layla always had a parent at home. Now, with her mom working long hours, Layla spends most of her free time with her best friend Cas. Together, the two have created a game of teasing boys they catch on sex sites. When their game leads them to a pedophile, the two wind up in a dangerous game with terrifying consequences.

Thomas Keen, known as TK, is a homeless man who survives by scavenging homes of the evicted. His best friend, Ramón, is the one who gains the most from TK’s scavenging. Both recovering alcoholics, they do their best to get by, day after day, with the hope of a better life.

Jonno Haim recently moved to Detroit from New York, hoping for a new lease on life after a failed writing career. He’s fallen for Jenn Q, a renowned Detroit deejay, and the two launch a Youtube channel surrounding the recent rash of unusual murders.

Clayton Broom is a quiet recluse. An artist, he has worked in a variety of media over the years to create his visions. Something has taken control of him, using his body to create a completely different caliber of artwork.

The Detroit killings bring all five of these characters together into a dark and harrowing hunt for a serial killer. The fact that the reader knows the identity of the killer from the beginning doesn’t detract at all from this quickly-moving, intense storyline.  The dark and bleak setting adds to the tone, creating a truly chilling atmosphere.

Additionally, while it may seem that multiple perspectives would generate a confusing and scattered reading experience, it actually does the opposite. Perhaps, because I listened to the audiobook with five distinct narrators,  the experience awarded me with varying and unique viewpoints of one storyline.  The narrators (Christine Lakin, Terra Deva, Sunil Mohatra, Robert Morgan Fisher, & J. D. Jackson) each had completely unique voices, making the switch in narration smooth and effortless, easily to distinguish one character from another.

What made this novel stand out to me was its uniqueness.  Honestly, I’m not certain what genre it would fall under, for it contains characteristics of multiple genres, from thriller to horror and science fiction.  It’s certainly a novel that a wide range of readers would enjoy.

While I didn’t find the read to be as chilling and terrifying as others had led me to believe, it was still a truly captivating listen. I intentionally avoided reading Beukes work until the praise and buzz had dwindled, but soon realized her popularity might never die down if she continues to churn out novels like this! Highly, highly recommended.

 

Review: Sanctum by Madeleine Roux

  • Series: Asylum
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (August 26, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780062220998
  • Source: Library

Dan, Abby, and Jordan are still traumatized after the summer they spent at New Hampshire College Prep, formerly Brookline asylum.  Despite their attempts to return to their “normal” lives, their experiences still haunt them.  Then, they each receive a letter from Felix, another “survivor” of Brookline, now a patient at a mental institution. Included in his letters are vintage photographs from a carnival.  In a chilling message written on the back of the photographs, Felix insists that the trio’s work at the former asylum is not finished. Desperate to bring an end to the terror haunting them, they return to the former asylum over a weekend for prospective students.

As they arrive on campus, they are shocked to see a carnival on its grounds for the first time in several years. Given sets of coordinates, Dan, Abby and Jordan tour abandoned homes that are linked to the events at Brookline asylum.  They are soon aware that the darkness of the asylum reaches far beyond its walls, into the neighboring town.  A cult, known as the Scarlets, is ever present, following the trio’s every move.  If they are going to stop the terror that plagues them, Dan, Abby and Jordan must find the connection to the warden, ending his reign, this time for good.

When I read Asylum this time last year, I loved the terrifying setting. The photographs added another level of terror and fear to the reading experience. When I heard of this sequel, I was thrilled, hoping for the same or something more terrifying. Not so much. Rather than adding to the tone of the novel, the carnival photographs were disruptive. I didn’t really get the connection of the carnival to the storyline. If anything, it felt forced.  Carnival oddities certainly had the potential to add a haunting feel to this read, but it failed.

Additionally, while I felt I had built a connection with Dan, Abby, and Jordan, the same three characters in this novel felt like they were a mere shell of the characters they were in the previous book. Despite the fact they were supposed to be in their older teen years, their behavior and response to situations felt more like they were in their younger teen years. I wanted to reach into the book and shake them, get them to wake up and face the situation around them. Their emotional response to what was happening was completely inappropriate, brushing violence off as if it were an everyday occurrence.

In my opinion, it would have been best if the author stopped at  Asylum. I don’t feel like I, as a reader, gained much of anything after reading this book. Only a minimal amount of information/explanation was gained. Personally, I feel that a short novella could have relayed this better than a full-length novel.

All this said, I still plan on reading Roux’s future works. I loved the experience I had in reading Asylum, as well as her other books Alison Hewitt Is Trapped and Sadie Walker Is Stranded. This author has tremendous potential; one failed experience isn’t going to shun me away from her future work.