Category Archives: Review

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.

Review: Eat Him If You Like by Jean Teulé

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Gallic Books (October 14, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781906040390
  • Source: Publisher

Alain de Monéys is a twenty-nine year old man who, unlike others in his social class, refuses to buy his way out of military service.  Instead, he plans to join the ranks of Napoleon III’s army and fight against the Prussians. Before he departs, he visits a fair held in a neighboring village. This decision has lasting implications for, moments after he arrives in Hautefaye,  Alain is wrongly accused of supporting the enemy. Within moments, an angry mob attacks him, made up of the very same people he held a casual and friendly conversation with just moments before.

The mob grows in both size and intensity. Their actions are reinforced by comments and accusations not at all related to the current situation. The attack is not brief, instead lasting over two hours covering the area of an entire village. By the end of the attack, the mob has lynched, tortured, burned, and, yes, eaten him.

Teulé has taken an actual historical event and reconstructed it, turning it into a brutal account of mass hysteria. One false accusation has a domino effect, turning an innocent young man into a brutal killer, thereby giving the villagers permission to torture him to death.  Throughout the attack, a few people step forward professing Alain’s innocence. At this point, however, the beatings have rendered him unrecognizable. Rather than stopping the attack, it increases to a horrible intensity.

I’m not going to lie; Eat Him If You Like is a pretty brutal read. Yet, Teulé’s styled prose adds a sort of eloquence and beauty to this brutality.  Additionally, the way the author described some of the scenes made me laugh hysterically, despite the obvious intensity and seriousness of the moment. Through all this, however, a message stands out loud and clear: one small action could have devastating consequences.  Adding a group of drunk, unruly villagers and a small misunderstanding backfires. The plausibility of this situation is not impossible; it has happened in modern times repeatedly.

While there are some pretty graphic scenes that might be difficult to stomach, the message that comes out of this novella far outweighs any negative (or nauseous) feelings.  Additionally, the wide range of emotions this story evokes is wholly unique, never have I been so fascinated and compelled to read something so devastatingly ghastly.

Give it a read. I guarantee it will be unlike anything you’ve ever read before. Highly, highly recommended.

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.

Review: Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; First Edition edition (September 4, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781592408702
  • Source: Publisher

We’re all familiar with Dr. Mütter’s Philadelphia museum of oddities, filled with abnormalities of the human anatomy.  However, very few of us know that Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter was a pioneer in the field of medicine and surgery.

Exposed to tragedy at an early age, Mütter came to be a renowned plastic surgeon in his twenties. Unlike most of his peers, he genuinely cared about his patients, treating them with kindness and sympathy. At this point in medical history, there was no anesthetic; patients were fully conscious during the very painful surgery. Additionally, they were sent home immediately after the surgery was performed; no convalescing in a hospital under the watchful eyes of nurses and doctors. For this reason, the majority of patients died after surgery due to infection and other ailments that would now be considered minor.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels goes far beyond the life of Mütter himself; it’s a well-researched, truly captivating exploration of the history of the medical field in the early 19th century. Despite being a non-fiction title, the prose and flow of the book made it read like nonfiction. While there was some creative liberties taken, the benefit it provided far outweighed any negatives. Honestly, I was completely intrigued by the amount of historical detail the author added to the storyline, truly immersing the reader in the time period.

Scattered throughout this volume are detailed illustrations of Mütter’s patients with their ailments as well as excerpts from Mütter’s personal journals. These multimedia additions add another dimension to this reading experience, giving readers a visual component that truly drives in just how big of a trailblazer Mütter was for the medical profession.

Additionally, the reader is granted a glimpse inside the mind of Mütter himself. Having lost his entire family from various illnesses at an early age, it’s obvious as to why Mütter was so enamored by the medical profession. His eccentricities, like his obsession with clothing rich not only in color and detail but in quality, made him stand out as a truly unique individual.  He was a genuinely captivating person; getting a glimpse of his history and his contributions to the medical profession make me respect him, and his museum, even more. His collection of macabre medical specimens wasn’t created for shock value, instead as a means for Mütter, and the medical profession, to understand human anatomy, and these shocking ailments, even more.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels is a book that will be appreciated by a wide fan-base. It is a book that will remain a part of my permanent collection, a truly unique and rewarding reading experience. Highly, highly recommended.

 

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Review: The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (October 14, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780316220750
  • Source: Publisher

Alix is a high school senior who lives a privileged life.  She has the all the right clothes and attends an prominent private school.  Never once has she questioned the source of her family’s affluence, until an activist group known as 2.0 targets her school.  The school isn’t the target, however.  According to 2.0, Alix’s father, head of a public relations firm, is responsible for countless deaths. The firm, nicknamed the Doubt Factory by 2.0, makes money protecting prominent companies from lawsuits by inspiring a feeling of doubt about the claims against them.  The members of 2.0 not much older than Alix herself, all orphans after their parents died after health warnings about various drugs were covered up by the Doubt Factory. It is the hope of Moses, one of the members of 2.0, that Alix can aid the group in their attempts to bring down her father’s company.

Alix is forced to question everything and everyone around her. Initially, she stands behind her father’s prestige but her resolve is weakened as she begins to do some research. Everything about Alix’s life begins to crumble down around her. Only she can put an end to all the senseless deaths, even if it means bringing down her father with her.

The Doubt Factory is a thought-provoking thriller that forces readers to reevaluate our feelings about big business corporations and the power they wield.  While it’s terrifying to contemplate that a situation like this may reside in our nation, it’s not that far from the realm of possibility.

Bacigalupi has crafted a novel rich with dynamic, well-rounded characters.  Alix’s transformation from snotty, privileged teen to a determined, passionate young woman was quite pronounced. Readers, like Alix, will question everything they know as they embark upon this journey of discovery. Initial opinions about certain characters will shift dramatically, with a multitude of questions not answered until the end. A truly exhilarating read, The Doubt Factory is a novel that will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.  Highly, highly recommended.

 

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Review: Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill

  • Series: Locke & Key (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: IDW Publishing; Reprint edition (August 18, 2009)
  • ISBN: 978-1600103841
  • Source: Library

The Locke family’s life is shattered after their father is murdered by a high school student. The three children – Ty, Kinsey and Bodie- are uprooted, moving to New England to live in Mr. Locke’s family home in Lovecraft.  There, the children are forced to individually deal with the grief that surrounds their father’s death. Ty feels the most guilt, feeling solely responsible for his father’s death. While Kinsey was responsible for saving her younger brother, she feels guilt for not being as brave as everyone assumes. Poor young Bodie misses his father tremendously and is desperate for someone to answer his many questions about his father’s death.

Their new home, Keyhouse, is a dark and mysterious mansion. If you have the right key, the doors will open to something much more than a room.

Untitled picture

There, young Brodie finds a friend with a ghost that lives in a well.

Untitled picture There are many who are interested in gaining access to the keys that will unlock Keyhouse’s mysteries. There is an evil that lurks among the Locke children; an evil that has already resorted to murder once, not likely to stop at just one.

 

When I was planning this year’s Murder, Monsters & Mayhem, I knew I had to feature at least one review of Locke & Key. Now that graphic novels are starting to be noticed  more, this is definitely a series that deserves attention. This series is a must-read for fans of well-crafted horror. Hill’s chill-inducing storyline is further pronounced by the richly detailed and haunting illustrations by Gabriel Rodriguez.  Each character is expertly developed, both visually and in the written word.

Hill takes readers through a path that alternates between past and present, before and after Mr. Locke’s brutal death. This shifting of time adds a starkness to the storyline; the reader is jolted from past to present much like the Locke children were forcibly removed from a “normal” family life to a life far removed from anything and everything they knew.

Rodriquez’s illustrations add to the cold and dreary tone of the storyline. This certainly isn’t an uplifting read and the illustrations compound the dark and haunting move. There are some pretty graphic scenes, limited however as to only induce terror when appropriate.

This volume is a collection of the first six comics in the series. I do recommend holding out and reading the volumes rather than each individual comic issue. Additionally, I’d order the first several volumes for I can guarantee with certainty that this is a series that will capture your attention immediately. The Locke & Key series just proves that Hill’s talent has no boundaries.  Highly, highly recommended.

 

What are some of your favorite horror/supernatural comic/graphic novel series?

 

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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: Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

  • Age Range: 9 – 12 years
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (August 26, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780385371032
  • Source: Publisher

Twelve year-old Gabriel Finley has lived with his Aunt Jasmine in her old Brooklyn brownstone since his father disappeared three years ago. As he gets older, he has increasingly more questions about his father’s disappearance.  As he approaches his thirteenth birthday, his aunt presents Gabriel with his father’s journal in hopes of answering some of these questions.

Called the Book of Ravens, the journal tells of a time when humans and ravens spoke to each other as equals. Partnered for life, humans and their raven partners, known as an amicus, rarely parted ways.   This relationship ended after  group of ravens, enticed by immortality, did the unthinkable and killed their human partners. Now, these evil ravens, known as valravens, were punished with an endless life of darkness and despair.  The only way to tell the evil ravens from the good was to ask them a riddle. Valravens, unable to laugh, would not be able to answer the riddle.

Unbeknownst to Gabriel, he has the ability to communicate with ravens.  Gabriel would never be confused for a super hero. Quiet, with just a few friends, Gabriel suddenly realizes that he holds the power to save his father. Always quite skilled at solving riddles, Gabriel and an unlikely group of allies begin their quest  to a secret world beneath the city in hopes of saving his father.  His nemesis in this journey is his uncle Corax, shunned from his family at the age of twelve. Also skilled with the ability to speak with ravens, Corax’s life took a darker route than Gabriel and his father.

Rich with unusual characters and a fantastical world full of imagination, Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle is a genuinely captivating middle-grade novel perfect for younger fans of Harry Potter or The Hobbit.  The themes of friendship, family, and loyalty combined with the fantastical journey form a well-rounded and enriching read.  That said, there are some darker aspects of this novel that might lend itself to be read with a parent.  I read it with my nine year-old and we found ourselves eagerly looking forward to reading time each night.

Readers will quickly pick up on the novel’s similarities with Harry Potter and its homage to Norse mythology. Beyond this, the author excels at making this book stand out on its own merit.  Hints at sequels have my son & I clamoring for more. 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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