Category Archives: Murders, Monsters, & Mayhem

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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Mx3 Review: Brood by Chase Novak

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books (October 7, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780316228008
  • Source: Publisher

Twins Adam and Alice are reaching their teenage years.  Normal children would be joyful of this monumental change in life, but not Adam and Alice. With the start of puberty also comes the likelihood that they will become victims of the very fertility treatment that created them, turning them into feral savages.  In foster care since their parents untimely and brutal deaths, their aunt Cynthia takes them into her custody, returning them to the nightmarish home that was the scene of such brutality. While the home has been renovated, it still carries memories of its nightmarish past.

With promises to inundate her niece and nephew with unconditional love in an attempt to rectify and repair the horror they were dealt, Cynthia struggles to give Adam and Alice a normal life. Meanwhile, the twins starve themselves, hoping that the malnutrition will prevent the onset of puberty. They are aware of their fate, simultaneously drawn to and terrified by their future.

Meanwhile, a group of children who were also the result of this terrifying fertility treatment have already become feral. They sell their blood, a veritable fountain of youth, to the highest bidder. Unfortunately,  users become some enamored by the effect that they ingest it in increasing volumes. Along with the increased libido comes uncontrollable rage, inciting incidents of rage and murder.

The feral children will stop at nothing to bring Alice and Adam back into the pack. Love can’t stop their wrath; nothing is stronger than the blood that rages through them.

In this long-awaited sequel to Chase Nowak’s  Breed, I was hoping for more of the classic horror that I so appreciated in the previous novel. While there is certainly terror, unfortunately it doesn’t live up to its predecessor.  Perhaps this is intentional, perhaps Nowak wanted us to get inside the minds of Alice and Adam, this novel serving as a character-builder that will culminate in a third book that will exceed each and any hope and expectation of terror I may  have. I certainly hope so.

There is so much potential in this storyline, so many routes to potential greatness. So, while this wasn’t a jaw-dropping, chill inducing read, it was still enjoyable simply because of its ingenuity. Recommended.

 

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Announcing: 2014 Murder, Monsters & Mayhem (Mx3)!

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Halloween is here! Well, almost! Anyone who has followed this blog for any significant period of time understand just how much I love Halloween (and Fall in general)! To celebrate my obsession with the macabre, each year I host a month long feature in October called Murder, Monsters & Mayhem (Mx3). For the entire month, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite horror and thriller titles, both new and old.

Want to participate alongside me? Feel free to include your sign up link below or, if you don’t have a blog, just mention your interest in participating in the comments below.  Your sign-up post can be simple, just indicate you are participating, maybe mention a few books you look forward to reading!

At the start of Murder, Monsters & Mayhem (October 1) I will post a link-up post so everyone can see what spooky books other participants are reading! Also, I’ll have some giveaways for participants throughout the month!

Happy Reading!

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2013 Murder, Monsters & Mayhem Wrap-Up

2013MX3Yet another year of Murder, Monsters & Mayhem has come to an end! Its always a lot of worth but well worth it in the end!  This year I introduced a new series of guest posts, The First Book to Terrify Me and I truly loved reading all the submissions!

So, in case you missed it, here is a wrap-up of the 2013 Murder, Monsters & Mayhem!

There are still quite a few giveaway items available! All you need to do to be entered is comment on one of the above posts or submit your own link to the link-up page!

Even though Murder, Monsters & Mayhem has come to an end, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything new and exciting coming up!  Once again, I will be hosting Thankfully Reading Weekend, an excuse to curl up with a book (or two or three) during the Thanksgiving holiday. Also, in early December, I will be hosting Cozy Mystery Week once again.  Sign-up posts for both will go up in the next week.

I hope you have enjoyed Murder, Monsters & Mayhem as much as I have! If you have any comments, suggestions, etc.  I would love to hear them! I’m always looking at ways to improve it!

#Mx3 Guest Post: The First Book to Terrify Me (The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs)

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I know, I know. Halloween is over! That said, I received so many great contributions to The First Book to Terrify Me! series that I couldn’t turn them away! I will continue to feature them over the next few Saturdays!

Today’s guest post comes from Belle from Ms.Bookish.com!

Middle Grade Shivers: The House with a Clock in Its Walls, by John Bellairs

 

the-house-with-a-clock-in-its-wallsIt was a dark and stormy night. And actually, it really was a dark and stormy night the night I first read John Bellairs’ The House with a Clock in Its Walls – or at least, that’s what my memories tell me.

I was sitting in my special armchair in the living room. It wasn’t really my armchair, but I liked to sit there to read, with an apple or two by my side. In those days, I was always munching apples while I read – totally unaware of how good they were for me, of course.

I pulled The House with a Clock in Its Walls out of the big duffel bag I used just for library books. I was ten at the time, and that duffel bag – I can see it now, with its beige canvas and brown leather straps – was nearly as wide as I was tall. It was a big bag. Because I needed a big bag. Even back then, going to the library was like going on a a really good treasure hunt. I never knew what I’d find, but I did know I’d find a lot.

That day, one of the treasures was The House with a Clock in Its Walls. I remember reading the tagline on the cover: “The thing was ticking away, marking off the minutes until doomsday”. And the cover itself! It was probably the scariest cover out of any book I’d ever read up until then.

Even now, so many years later, I can remember being deep into the book, barely breathing, as I read about Lewis, who’d been orphaned and had come to live with his eccentric Uncle Jonathan in Uncle Jonathan’s big old mansion, with its secret passages and all those rooms. I can remember the shivers of delight when I discovered that Uncle Jonathan was a wizard, as was Mrs. Zimmermann, his neighbor and best friend.

I loved the zany whackiness of Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann, the way they sniped at each other good-naturedly, the way they both cared about Lewis. I loved Lewis, too – on the plump side, shy, eager to fit in – and his new best friend, Rose Rita, who was spunky and brave and maybe a little too headstrong sometimes.

And then there was Isaac Izzard, the dark warlock who had owned the house before Uncle Jonathan had bought it. Old Izzard made such a very creepy, scary bad guy. I can remember reading this book and being scared to go down our dark hallway to go to the bathroom. It was a fun, scared feeling, though – not the stuff of nightmares, just enough to make you feel deliciously frightened.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls was also my first introduction to the illustrations of Edward Gorey. There are delightful pieces by Gorey throughout the book, and Gorey’s style is a perfect match to the tone of the story.

I read and reread The House with a Clock in Its Walls so many times after that first read. And being a true reader even then, I sought out as many of John Bellairs’ books as I could find. Lewis and the gang appeared in some of them, others were populated by different sets of characters. I eventually read them all, and I loved them all.

But out of all of Bellairs’ tales, The House with a Clock in Its Walls will always hold a special place in my heart. I reread it earlier this year, after a long hiatus away from it, and sadly (but inevitably), the scare/suspense factor wasn’t there any more. I still loved the characters and the relationships, though, and the wave of wonderful memories that accompanied my re-read more than made up for the loss of the scariness.

Woooooo! That is a spooky cover!  Thank you, Belle, for your contribution!  Come back next Saturday for another edition of The First Book to Terrify MeI

#Mx3 Guest Post: The First Book to Terrify Me (Pet Sematary by Stephen King)

2013MX3I am really excited to share today’s First Book to Terrify Me guest post!  This one comes from Jennifer Connor of Literate Housewife.  When Jennifer indicated an interest in participating in this series, she opted to face her fears and do a reread of the first book to terrify  her, Pet Sematary, in preparation for her post.  I’m so proud of her for taking on this mission!

 

When I was in junior high, Pet Sematary was the book to read. It was published in 1983 and by the time I was in the 8th grade, it was readily available at the library. I remember the Saturday I road my bike to the library and found it sitting there on the shelf waiting for its next reader. I can still it sitting on that shelf although it’s been a good decade since I’ve been to that library.

I brought Pet Sematary with me to my babysitting gig across the street the following Saturday night. My goal was to finish the book that night. Finish it I did, amidst the creepiest house noises you’d ever want to hear.  They were real enough to make me feel as though I’d better check on those innocent sleeping babies, but it took every ounce of courage in me to get up off the couch and walk back down that darkened hallway. I was waiting for an evil cat to jump out at me the entire time. No cats appeared, but the creaking floor boards were just as terrifying. Care to imagine what the sound of the garage door opener did to my heart that night? It was with relief that I greeted the neighbors and told them how angelic their babies were. I wanted to go home and jump into my own bed in my own room.

There was one small problem. I had to walk home by myself and it was after midnight. There is no more than a football field’s distance between my parent’s house and the house where I was babysitting. There is a street light nearby so it wasn’t completely dark. It was by far the longest walk of my life. I was terrified of some resurrected entity popping out between houses. Surely pets had to be buried all over the place. I wanted to run, but I could barely move. I had to be a site to see shuffling across the street and then bounding up the steps to nearly hug the front door in relief. To this day, that night is one of the strongest reading memories I have.

There was no question I would write about Pet Sematary for this series. I realized, however, that what I remembered about that book was that trip to the library and the feelings I had that night. I couldn’t remember anything beyond the most basic plot (basic as in what could be told by looking at the cover). I decided to make this guest post an experiment and I bought a copy to read, curious to see how I would react to the book today.

The sections that frightened me at 13 or 14 still scared me today, but the underlying themes that would have gone over my head in junior high are what gave me tiny bouts of insomnia and more anxiety dreams than I have had in a very long time. It occurred to me that at the root of real horror, at least for me, are my responsibilities. Suddenly I’m a little nervous taking the wheel for fear of hitting a jogger. The tiniest worries about my children’s safety and their schedules kept me up at night. As the book progressed and Louis did what he did in the cemetery, I was horrified. Not really because of the way exhuming a grave feels or smells, but it was the thinking about how I would handle my own baby lying dead in the cold ground that put me over the edge. I wanted to vomit with Louis for fear of having to live through that experience. What was real and could happen to any parent is what scared me to death while I was reading Pet Sematary the second time around. I very much see why Stephen King, in his introduction, finds this to be his scariest book. Crossing that street in in the mid-1980s I had absolutely no concept of the true horror I’d just read.

I learned that I am still a big old chicken when it comes to horror. I quickly nixed the idea of recreating that terrifying walk. My neighborhood today is much more rural than where I grew up and I’m no fool! Scary books don’t necessarily get less scary as you reread them or as you leave childhood behind for the adult world. It is a testament to Stephen King’s writing and storytelling that a chilling junior high dare of a book can make your heart pound even harder in adulthood. Although I’ll never regularly read horror, there’s nothing quite like the reading experience.

Thank you so much for contributing, Jennifer!  Although since today is technically the last day of October and should be the end of Murder, Monsters & Mayhem, I still have quite a few posts like this to share. Stay tuned!