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.

 

Review: Red Hill by Jamie McGuire

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (October 1, 2013)
  • ISBN: 9781476759524
  • Source: Personal copy

When an outbreak hits without warning, everyday people are forced to do the extraordinary if they are going to survive.

Scarlet is a divorced, single mom to two girls. After sending her daughters to spend the weekend with their father, she’s off to work at the local hospital. She is one of the first to see the outbreak when it hits. Initially, they believe that an outbreak of rabies is responsible for the strange behavior. Then, when the dead awaken with an insatiable hunger they realize it is so much more.  Scarlet barely escapes the hospital unscathed, desperate to be reunited with her daughters.

Nathan hears of the outbreak and rushes to pick up his daughter from school. His marriage is a failure, becoming even more obvious when he returns home to find that his wife has left him.  Determined to protect his daughter, he flees town in search for a place of safety.

Miranda is a college student traveling with her sister and their significant others. Her VW may not be much, but it saved them from the attacks of the hungry walkers.  She’s desperate to reach Red Hill, site of her father’s cabin and hopefully, salvation.

These three individuals converge at the cabin at Red Hill. Individually, they are quite different. Yet one goal is common: to stop at nothing to save and protect their loved ones.

I know, I know. Another zombie outbreak novel. Yet Red Hill has the qualities of a novel much more than “just” a zombie novel. Yes, there are zombies, but they aren’t the focus of this novel. Instead, the concentration is on the survivors and how they react to a horrifying and traumatic experience:

Scarlet is a fierce, no-nonsense woman. Despite all odds, she’s determined to be reunited with her daughters. She willingly risks the lives of those around her, including her own, on this mission.  It was easy for me to connect with this character. Having two children myself, nothing would be able to stop me from finding them.

While Nathan has his daughter beside him, he’s still searching for something in life. His marriage wasn’t a loving one, so the outbreak gives him a reason, an excuse, to seeks something more out of his life.

Miranda is a bit more complicated. She’s accustomed to taking what life throws at her, taking control, and dealing with it. Since the outbreak, her lack of control is devastating and she must adjust to her new life in a completely different manner.

I’ve owned a copy of this book for some time now. Unfortunately, it’s often the case that I buy a book, put it on my shelf, and forget about it for a while. This is exactly what happened in this case.  I discovered it again when I was planning my posts for Murder, Monsters & Mayhem. What better excuse to give it the attention it deserves? I’m thrilled to know that it exceeded my expectations. We all know I’m a huge fan of zombie fiction & movies. Not for the gore or the killing, but because they, like so many other pieces of horror fiction, are about far more than the monsters that inhabit them. In most cases, they are an exploration of our society and how we, as human beings, respond to unbelievable situations.

Red Hill is the perfect example of this. Yes, there are zombies. Yes, there are killings. Yet they are minor in the overall outlook and intent of this novel.  The character study McGuire provides is intense and terrifying, yet genuine and provoking.  Honestly, I don’t know how I would react if their fate was dealt to me; I hope I have a modicum of their determination and survival skills.  Yes, there are some overly optimistic scenes, but we all need a bit of hope & happiness in our lives (especially in the midst of a zombie apocalypse)!

Red Hill is a perfect read for fans of The Walking Dead who tend to shy away from gore. The violence is minimal, never overdone or exaggerated. The people are the key to this story.  Highly recommended.

Murder, Monsters & Mayhem Contest: Do You Believe in Ghosts?

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My teen son turns fifteen next week (!!) and we’re in the midst of planning a ghost-hunting adventure for his party. It’s generated oodles of questions from his friends and their parents about the existence of ghosts.  I do (obviously) believe in ghosts and often reflect upon my own experiences with those who have passed.  So, for this year’s Murder, Monsters & Mayhem contest, I want you to share your experiences with me!  The story or photograph or video that terrifies me the most will win all the books I will feature as part of Murder, Monsters, & Mayhem! Here’s just a small sample of what that includes:

 

 

To submit your ghostly experience, share it in the comments below or send me an email at jennsbookshelf@gmail.com. Having a chilling photograph or video to send? Feel free to email it!

The winner will be announced on Friday, October 31. The winning entry will be posted on this blog, so make sure you are comfortable with this information going public! I’ll accept entries through October 31, the winning entry posted as part of the Murder, Monsters & Mayhem wrap up!

Good luck to all who enter!

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Audiobook Review: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio; Unabridged edition (June 3, 2014)
  • Listening Time:14 hrs and 22 mins
  • Narrator: Will Patton
  • ISBN: 9781442371347
  • Source: Personal copy

Hundreds of unemployed, desperate for job placement, line-up in the predawn hours for a job fair.  A driver in a Mercedes plows through the unknowing crowd, killing eight and wounding fifteen. The killer is never apprehended.

Months later, that horrid day still haunts now-retired Detective Bill Hodges. His retirement has been less than thrilling; he spends his days contemplating his own suicide. Then he receives a letter by a main claiming to be the “Mercedes Killer,” eluding at another mass tragedy. Determined to prevent another attack, Hodges awakens from his retirement and once again immerses himself in the mind of the brutal killer.

Brady Hartsfield is the Mercedes killer. He still fantasizes about the rush the killing gave him. Living with his alcoholic mother in his childhood home (the same home where his younger brother met his demise) and working two unrewarding jobs, Brady doesn’t have much else to look forward to than experiencing that rush again.

In this classic tale of good versus evil, it is quite apparent early on that Hodges is the only person who can bring Hartsfield to justice. The attention of the police is elsewhere; they recently apprehended a brutal serial killer. So, using his keen detective skills and his continued law enforcement connections, Hodges risks life and limb to bring Mr. Mercedes to justice.

Using alternating points of view, readers get a glimpse inside the mind of both Hartsfield and Hodges. While this isn’t technically one of King’s horror novels, the demented mind of Brady Hartsfield, to me, is more terrifying than an horror character King has created (yes, even more terrifying than Pennywise).  Filled to the brim with plot twists that will having you yelling expletives, I personally found myself pausing the audiobook and taking a deep breath to absorb it all.  While this isn’t the standard size King novel of 800 pages, it has the tremendously developed characters and details of a much longer novel. Fans of King know that he doesn’t cut corners in his writing; every single word is intentional and has meaning.

A note on the narration: I don’t need to tell you how outstanding a narrator Will Patton is. His voice has the edge required to narrate the voice of a deranged killer and also that of a heartfelt, well-intending retired police officer. I honestly can’t imagine anyone else narrating this book.

So, if you are looking for a Stephen King fix until Revival is released next month, Mr. Mercedes is a must read/listen for you! Highly, highly recommended.

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#Mx3 Review: The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (October 7, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781250057150
  • Source: Publisher

Nearly three years ago, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan nearly drowned in the ocean. As a result of this near-death incident, Jack Peter is deathly afraid to leave the safety of his home. Trips to the doctor are filled with stress and anguish; his parents must wrap him tightly in a blanket just to get him inside the car. With his activities limited due to his phobia, his only connection to the outside world is his one and only friend, Nick, also present at Jack Peter’s near-drowning.

Jack Peter spends most of his time drawing elaborate pictures of monsters. Soon, however, the pictures begin taking on lives of their own. His parents, Holly and Tim, begin having strange experiences. Tim sees a white apparition running down the street or across the dunes on the beach. Holly hears voices and other unexplainable sounds coming from the ocean.  Caught up in these experiences, they don’t realize that Jack Peter’s drawings are connected to what is happening around them. Only Nick understands the power of the drawings.  Jack Peter’s imagination is manifesting right before their eyes. When Jack’s parents are finally able to embrace the impact of their son’s power, it overwhelms them with heartbreaking, emotional clarity.

Keith Donohue is one of those authors whose work I follow obsessively. With each and every novel he produces, he never fails to overwhelm me with his brilliance. The Boy Who Drew Monsters may be my favorite of all. I’m not going to lie; this was a truly terrifying read.  It’s a psychological horror like none other, for the monsters that we attempt to contain within us are often more terrifying than those in the world around us.  We all remember our childhood and our fear of monsters. Our imaginations ran wild and rampant with thoughts of what lurked under the bed or in the closet. Often, we found that our imaginations went far beyond the believable and we were finally able to understand that nothing so terrifying could actual happen. Young Jack Peter didn’t share that same fate.

Additionally, the setting of this novel is wholly terrifying in itself. The ocean, just feet from their home, was the scene of a horrific shipwreck, bodies never recovered still lying at the ocean floor.

All of these characteristics together culminate into a truly outstanding piece of fiction. If you haven’t read any of Donohue’s work (!!) I do encourage you to start. I promise you won’t regret it. Highly, highly recommended.

Other books by Keith Donohue:

Angels of Destruction
Centuries of June
The Stolen Child

 

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#Mx3 Review: No Time to Die by Kira Peikoff

  • Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Pinnacle (August 26, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780786034895
  • Source: Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc.

Zoe Kincaid isn’t your typical college student. Despite being in her twenties, Zoe’s body still resembles an early teen; her growth halted at age fourteen.  Though her maturity has grown with time, her parents still treat her like child.

Frustrated with the constraints her parents put on her, Zoe reaches out to doctors to find the cause of her stunted growth. Fearful she is dying of some undiagnosed disease, Zoe racks up thousands of dollars in medical bills without her parents permission. Her only ally is her grandfather. Unlike Zoe he is aging; the thought of losing him terrifies her.

When doctors discover that her stunted growth is due to a genetic disorder, Zoe goes against the wishes of her parents and agrees to work with a group of scientists working on technology to eliminate aging in the human race.  This technology is controversial, for obvious reasons.  Those against it are so determined to put an end, even if that involves murder. Zoe must abandon her friends and family, risking her own life in the process.

No Time to Die is a truly chilling, thought-provoking read. Don’t let the page count sway you; once you start reading this novel you will be swept away in a terrifying, adrenaline-filled reading experience.  What makes this book hit home is that it’s totally plausible.  We read news of breakthroughs in medical science every day; genetically altering a gene to stop aging isn’t that far-fetched.

Additionally, Peikoff successfully accomplished the difficult task of introducing medical information in a way that was easily readable and captivating, rather than overwhelming and dull. This, combined with her expertly crafted prose and dynamically developed characters all add up to a truly intense medical thriller.  I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel, DIE AGAIN TOMORROW, due out next year!

No Time to Die is a must-read for fans of well-crafted medical thrillers.  The impact of this one is lasting, forcing you to rethink your beliefs and what you would do in the characters’ positions.  Highly recommended.

 

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