Category Archives: Horror

Review: Mary: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan

  • Age Range: 12 – 18 years, 7-12th grade
  • Series: Bloody Mary
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (September 2, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781423185192

Everyone is familiar with the Bloody Mary urban legend. Teenage friends Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna have researched the rules.

Positioning mattered. Salt mattered, too, because it purified against evil. Water mattered. Hand-holding mattered. Even the number of girls mattered.

The first time they summon Mary, what follows is terrifying.

The mirror filled with fog, like condensation after a hot, steamy shower. But the fog was on the other side. The wrong side. Droplets of water streamed down the glass, cutting black rivulets through the gray. . .

Yet once is not enough for Jess and she demands that her friends join her in summoning Mary again. This time, however, the consequences are dangerous: their summoning circle is broken and Mary comes through the glass in the mirror. Shauna barely escapes Mary’s murderous grasp, scratches from Mary’s nails down her back serving as evidence. They think they are safe from Mary but quickly learn that once Mary has tasted blood, there is no escape.

Mary can appear in any shiny surface, including windows, picture frames, and glasses. Her wrath is inescapable and the girls find themselves in a battle for their lives. Their friendships are torn apart as it becomes apparent that Jess’s motivation to evoke Mary’s spirit are personal.  With the guidance of survivor of Mary’s wrath, the girls must  learn what sparked Mary’s murderous rampage if they have any  hopes of ending it.

What a chilling read! I’ve been a fan of horror since I was a teen and I thought I was able to handle most anything. Apparently not!  This book had me terrified from the beginning. Monahan has created a cast of characters so real, their behavior and friendships so genuine it was easy to become invested in this group of teen girls.

The author uses letters from the “original” Mary to her sister to share the story of how Mary came to be this terrifying urban legend.  The actions that led up to her evolution into an urban legend are quite chilling. The monster Monahan creates in Mary is so chilling, leaving me terrified to be in the presence of mirrors after dark or to read this novel if I was home alone.

While many of the questions behind Mary’s creation were answered, there were many unanswered questions by the end of the book. That said, it is my understanding that this is but the first book in a series. Cue happy dance!

Fans of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike will be thrilled to know that this title evokes the same terror as these horror greats. I had flashbacks to my teen years, reading Fear Street in the dark, with only a flashlight to guide me. A must read for horror fans of all ages, this is a book that will definitely be making the rounds this Halloween season. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; First Edition edition (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN: 0316278157
  • Source: Publisher

Melanie is a unique girl. She spends most of her day locked in a cell. When she is moved, she is restrained in a wheelchair, her arms and legs shackled to hinder movement. She looks forward to going to “school” and, in particular, her teacher Miss Justineau. She has hopes for her future and life as an adult; unfortunately Melanie cannot comprehend why that will never happen. Like any child her age, she craves attention and affection, both of which are forbidden.

There are other children similar to Melanie, studied by a doctor at the facility. Some leave and never return.  Melanie seems to be the only one of the children who contemplates this; the others seem oblivious and go on with their routine.  Then…something happens, throwing off this routine and sending Melanie’s world into an uncontrollable spiral of change.

Set in a post-apocalyptic society, The Girl with All the Gifts alludes to something not quite being right in the world. Rather than being unveiled immediately, small tidbits of information are relayed to the reader as the characters themselves experience it.  This review is intentionally vague because the reader must experience the revelations on their own, free of spoilers or hints of what is to come.

Melanie, the main character, is a truly unique young girl. This novel is a coming-of-age of sorts, as Melanie undergoes quite a transformation mentally and emotionally as she learns what makes her different from those around her. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for her as she undergoes these revelations.  It will tear at readers heartstrings, for Carey so eloquently portrays the feelings Melanie is experiencing in her “transformation.”

The secondary characters are highly involved in Melanie’s transformation, from Miss Justineau, her sympathetic and caring teacher to Dr. Caldwell, who sees the children as merely test subjects, and finally the guards around her. As they each experience Melanie outside the confines of the facility, they each form a better understanding of what, and who, she really is.

The world the author builds is dark and chilling, difficult to fathom at times but chillingly realistic at others.  I have no doubt that this novel stands on its own as a truly unique spin on a seemingly common storyline.  The cover makes the tone of the book apparent; there is no avoiding the fact that this is a taut, intense thriller.

The Girl with All the Gifts is a must-read for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, particularly those novels that force you to contemplate your own situation, or your response to the situation at hand.  While this review is so vague as to what transpires, trust me to know that the anticipation and revelation will make it well worth it in the end. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books (July 1, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780316254465
  • Source: Publisher

Hannah’s family has been hiding from a horrific monster that has haunted them for generations. The monster is a shape-shifter, able to take on the appearance of another in a matter of moments. Desperate to seek revenge for an act centuries ago, this monster, referred to as Jakab, haunts the women of Hannah’s family.  The string diaries (journals held together with pieces of string) are passed from one generation to the next, survival guides offering a small beacon of hope in this unending chase.

Beginning in Hungary at the turn of the century and spanning to Oxford of the 1970s and present-day, The String Diaries follows the path of the man who started it all, a wealthy young with the ability to assume the shape and life of anyone around him.  Thwarted in the ways of love, he now tracks down descendants of his first love, forcing her descendants to face his deadly wrath.

Yet when he begins to pursue Hannah and her family, he meets a more challenging match.  After he takes everyone near and dear to Hannah, she refuses to relinquish the last person left in her life: her young daughter, Leah. Hannah and Leah were both raised to be prepared for this inevitable battle.  What makes Hannah different than those before her is her refusal to let this nightmare continue. She will stop at nothing to put an end to this curse, sacrificing everything, including her own life, to guarantee her daughter’s future.

The String Diaries is a truly unique blend of a host of genres, including thriller to horror and the supernatural, all with a taste of historical fiction. I’m a fan of classic horror, and was particularly pleased with the ties to folklore. There’s nothing that frustrates me more than a novel with no backing and was therefore pleased to read of Jakab’s chilling story of origin.

While I had little to no connection to the characters from earlier generations, I did quickly bond with Hannah and her young daughter. They lost so much, yet they faced each day with a new determination to overcome this creature that has haunted their family for generations.  The pain they endure is incapacitating, yet they draw on that, along with their love for one another, in order to persevere.

Without giving anything away, the only thing I didn’t enjoy was the ending.  At times it felt far-fetched, others it felt too convenient.  All that said, the pros of this truly outstanding, yet simultaneously chilling, debut novel clearly outweighed the negatives. I can’t wait to hear more from this author; I’m thrilled to see a sequel is already in the works. Highly recommended.

Review: Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Permuted Press/Gallery Books (May 20, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1476739633
Source: Publisher

One day, suddenly, children die. Not just some children, all children, across the globe. The only warning is a headache and comments of strange smells. Then darkness.  Medical authorities name the disease Herod’s Syndrome, named after Herod the Great, the man who ordered the deaths of all boys of the age of two and under in Bethlehem.  Only children who have not yet reached puberty. The town is devastated. So many children die, funeral homes run out of space. Getting a typical burial is a premium,  there just isn’t enough space for them all. Instead, they are all buried in gruesome mass grave sites.

Then a few days later, the unthinkable happens. The children return. They have memories of what has transpired, memories of their passing. Quickly, a mere hour after their return they begin to weaken…and ask for blood. Without blood, they “sleep,” dying once again. A pint of blood keeps them animated for roughly an hour. Parents are desperate, asking friends and love ones for donations. Blood banks are emptied; no one is donating enough blood to sustain them. Each time the children go to sleep, it is as if their body is experiencing a stroke, so each time they awaken, they are less and less the child they used to be. Citizens, parents, are doing whatever it takes to keep their children alive, even if it is just for brief time…no matter the cost.

Ok, ok, I know this sounds gruesome and gaudy. I’m not going to lie, Suffer the Children is a pretty difficult read, whether you have children or not. I can’t imagine losing my children over and over again, the only way to sustain their life is by giving them a part of mine.  All this said, what made this novel, and others like it, truly outstanding was that it is not only a story of an apocalyptic event but also a character study into how we, as a society, react to such a horrific event. Although the act that transpires is devastating, it isn’t the act that brings the horror. It is society, our response to the situation. Slowly, yet steadily, even the strongest individuals transform into monsters.  You won’t find gratuituous violence in this novel; everything is expertly crafted is drawn out in order to demonstrate the effect this devastation has on society.

Additionally, DiLouie doesn’t quickly gloss over what happens, the transformation society takes in response to Herod’s Syndrome. Instead, readers follow a handful of families and their children, we watch how they slowly decline into shell of human beings. This…this is what makes me love and appreciate the horror genre. Well-done horror makes you think, dwell, on a subject. It has a lasting effect, not because it is gruesome and gory, but because of the impact it makes on your soul. When we hear the term vampire, we instantly picture a horrible, blood-sucking monster. What if that monster was a child, your child? Would we have the same desire to destroy them?

I can’t recommend this novel to everyone for obvious reasons, but if you are looking for an intellectual piece of horror fiction, this is the book for you. Highly, highly recommended (with warning)!

Check out this interview with DiLouie with other horror greats about his motives for writing Suffer the Children.

 

 

Frightful Friday: Code Zero: A Joe Ledger Novel by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured title is the audiobook production of Code Zero: A Joe Ledger Novel by Jonathan Maberry:

  • Listening Length: 16 hours and 3 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio (March 25, 2014)
  • Source: Personal copy

*Note: This is a review of the sixth book in a series. Please proceed with caution if you have not read/listened to the previous books in this series*

 

Joe Ledger and the other members of the Echo Unit of the Department of Military Science (DMS) have had their share of interesting experiences. From battling the zombie plague to designer viruses, they’ve seen it all. Any remnants of these weapons have been stored in a remote and isolated location known as the Locker. Until now…

After other units of the DMS are decimated in attacks, the DMS is spread thin. Weapons they thought destroyed or locked up are appearing in public locations. Their new nemesis, Mother Night, has managed to break into the DMS’ impenetrable super computer system, Mindreader, gaining access to knowledge that shouldn’t be made available to the public. Even worse, she broadcasts a video of a rescue mission in which a team went in to put an end to a plague of zombies. The same plague the DMS thought they conquered and destroyed. Before doing so,  she dubbed over the sound to make it appear as though the individuals being shot upon are citizens begging for their lives.

This isn’t the first time the DMS has been under fire. The timing, however, couldn’t be worse. The must put an end to Mother Night and her league of rogue “soldiers” before she can unleash something more dark and devastating than before. In doing so, they realize that the individual responsible for their actions isn’t a stranger to the DMS. Her identity shatters the tough exterior of the DMS. Rather than weakening them, however, it makes them stronger, more dedicated and determined to put a stop to Mother Night.

Told in a series of flashbacks to the time Joe Ledger originally joined DMS, Maberry takes readers (or in my case, listeners) on a path through the history of the DMS and Ledger’s existing unit.

Maberry’s Joe Ledger series is one I rush to listen to as soon as it is released. Not only are they truly outstanding novels filled to the brim with action and less than natural enemies, but they contain truly outstanding characters that have grown tremendously since the culmination of the series. Joe Ledger, on the surface, is a mean, brusque, no-nonsense kind of guy.  Yet in the past several novels, Maberry has slowly unveiled a softer, more vulnerable side of Joe.  To me, this has created a more dynamic, more genuine character in Joe Ledger.

Fans of Maberry’s writing will appreciate the return of characters from the past (as well as one from another series). I’ve been a fan of this series from the beginning and have to say, without a doubt, this is the best one yet.

As with the other titles in this series, I listened to the audiobook production of this title. I don’t see myself ever “reading” them.  That’s not to say that the writing doesn’t stand on its own, it genuinely does. Yet Ray Porter’s narration has captivated me. To me, he is the voice of Joe Ledger and the other cast of characters. He completes the package for me, his narration capturing the essence of Joe and the rest of the cast of characters.  I won’t say I wouldn’t enjoy reading the titles, it would just feel different, not complete. If you are new to this series, I highly recommend going with the audio.  Some of the best out there!

I know this goes without saying, but this, and other Ledger novels, come highly, highly recommended.

Other titles in the Joe Ledger series (in order):

Patient Zero
The Dragon Factory
The King of Plagues
Assassin’s Code
Extinction Machine

 

Frightful Friday: The Seeker by R. B. Chesterton

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured title is The Seeker by R. B. Chesterton:

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus (March 6, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1605985007
  • Source: Publisher

Seeking remote solace to work on her dissertation, Aine Cahill travels to Walden Pond, the location of Henry David Thoreau’s own solitary place of retreat. When she uncovers a journal implicating a secret relationship her aunt had with Thoreau during his stay at Walden, Aine knows she has discovered the perfect topic for her dissertation.  Yet as she reads further, she releases something so powerful and dangerous, an evil that has plagued her family for generations.

Something is lurking on the woods of Walden Pond. A figure, clad in red, that darts from tree to tree, making her existence known to Aine. The evil that resides in Walden Pond isn’t new, it has lurked there, silently, for centuries. Terrible tragedy hits the village and Aine struggles to understand how her family’s dark and sordid past is related to what is transpiring at Walden Pond.  Further challenging Aine’s quest is proving her own mental stability. Haunted by a history of mental disease the Cahill family has battled a family curse for years. Now, Aine is its victim, the evil residing in the wood is determined to bring her life to an end, taking her as prisoner, like so many before her.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that The Seeker sent chills down my spine. Be it the cold chilling setting, the evil young “child,” or some combination of the two, I found myself reading this novel only by the light of day.  The author delved in to the world of madness, leaving the reader unsure of who, or what, to believe. Aine’s character, too, questions this as well: Is it madness, or something supernatural that has plagued her family for generations?

Admittedly, there was a lot going on in this novel, from the Cahill Curse to Aine’s aunt’s connection to Thoreau and an ever-pervasive Moby Dick theme (the allusive white whale). That said, I think the author greatly succeeded at pulling it all together. The ending (no spoilers) leads me to think that there will be a sequel…or perhaps this is just wishful thinking. There is no finite conclusion, no neatly-wrapped up storyline, to this dark and terrorizing tale. That may infuriate some, but for me, it simply fuels my desire to read more! I sincerely hope that this is not the last we hear of Aine and the Cahill curse. Highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: The Troop by Nick Cutter

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured title is The Troop by Nick Cutter:

 

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (February 25, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1476717710
  • Source: Publisher

Scoutmaster Tom Riggs leads his scouts on an annual trip to the Canadian wilderness.  On this trip, he leads a group of five young men to Falstaff Island, PEI.  The boys: Kent, Ephraim, Max, Shelly, and Newton, have known one another all their lives.  The camp out is relatively short; a boat will pick them up the following day to take back to the mainland.  Or so they think.

Their peaceful tranquility is severed when a strange man shows on the island. Emaciated, he appears to be quite ill. Riggs attempts to keep the strange man away from the boys, for his medical expertise tells him there is something very strong with the man. The man’s body is emaciated, he begs for food with an uncontrollable hunger raging within him. This hunger is endless and Riggs is stunned as he watches the man pick up anything he can getting his hands on and devouring it.  The troop is completely unaware that the military is hunting this man, aware of the bio-engineered horror residing within his body.

Riggs and the boys assume help will come the next morning. They don’t know that the military has established a no-fly zone over the island, the small island quarantined from the mainland just minutes away. Their hope for help is futile, only they alone have control over their survival.  Yet as the sickness spreads and the hierarchy within their group begins to collapse, they are faced with unimaginable terror, fighting for survival from not only the parasite that ravages the body of victims but also one another.

Using journal entries, magazine interviews, and military reports, Cutter provides readers with insight that the scouts themselves don’t have access to. The reader gets a unique glimpse about what is going on on the mainland, off the island, while they are fighting for their lives. A great deal of time is spent relaying  information on the science experiment gone wrong, the source of this terror, all  at the hands of a Dr. Clive Edgerton. Combined together, a novel that is so gruesome, yet so thrilling and addictive, those that have a strong stomach won’t be able to tear themselves away!

While the plot of the story alone had me sold on this book, the added dimension of the crumbling of the boys’ social structure and hierarchy added a completely unique element. The reader is an observer, watching the boys lives fall to pieces. A true story of a survival of the fittest, the conclusion left me completely stunned.

I most certainly won’t recommend this to the weak of stomach (and it would probably be best to avoid eating pasta of any sort while reading this), I would highly recommend it to fans of classic horror. Stephen King himself said “The Troop scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down. This is old-school horror at its best. Not for the faint-hearted, but for the rest of us sick puppies, it’s a perfect gift for a winter night.”

In my opinion, the plausibility of such a scenario is what makes this novel so terrifying. Science is scary, people! Nevermind the fact the first time I read this novel, about six months ago, my own fourteen year old was away on a camping trip with his Scout troop. I don’t think I slept a wink until he returned!

If you are looking for classic, terrifying horror, this is the novel for you. Highly recommended…with warning :)

Frightful Friday: Snowblind by Christopher Golden

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.  This week’s featured title is Snowblind by Christopher Golden:

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition edition (January 21, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1250015316
  • Source: Publisher

Twelve years ago, the small new England town of Coventry was hit with a deadly blizzard.  People walked out in the snow, never to be seen again.  Now another blizzard is on the way and the small town is fearful of the past repeating itself.

Three “survivors” in particular are mindful of the looming storm. Jake was just a kid when his little brother, Isaac, was killed. Isaac kept warning of icy figures dancing out in the snow. No one believed him…except for Jake.  Now another young boy is missing. 

Doug Manning was out in the blizzard, drunk, when his wife Cherie was killed. He’s mixed up in a whole new series of crimes. Now dating someone who reminds him so much of his beloved Cherie, Doug doesn’t listen to the warnings of others about staying indoors when the blizzard hits.

Joe Keenan was relatively new on the police force when the first blizzard hit. Now a detective, he can’t forget the night he was unable to prevent the death of a young boy and the disappearance of his father, just feet away.

The impending blizzard brings with it the ghosts of those lost in the previous blizzard, awakened by the powerful storm.  The terror they bring proves to be more terrifying and deadly than before. 

In Snowblind, Christopher Golden has produced a chilling supernatural tale rich with all the aspects of classic horror. A dark and terrifying setting, vulnerable characters, and a small town with a deadly past. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about a blizzard that is absolutely horrifying. Beyond the obvious, is it the quiet that it brings down around it, the feeling of darkness and desolation, of abandonment that comes with being snowed in?  All of these characteristics are expertly combined producing a truly chilling read. Perfect to curl up with on a cold winter’s day (just don’t let the drafts get in!). Highly, highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.  This week’s featured title is Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough:

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books (January 14, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1623650860
  • Source: Publisher (egalley)

The detectives of Scotland Yard are already immersed in the hunt for Jack the Ripper when another serial killer, dubbed the Torso Killer due to his practice of leaving behind a headless body, makes his presence known. The police surgeon, Dr. Thomas Bond, is so overwhelmed with horrific images of the dead that he turns to opium for some relief.

It is in an opium den that Bond meets a Jesuit priest, searching for someone…or something. The priest gives Bond a chilling and unbelievable explanation for the deaths and the identity of the Torso Killer. Something supernatural and horrific is at force. At first, Bond is quick to dismiss him but as the bodies begin to pile up, he begins to wonder of the priest is correct in his claims.  The more he investigates, the more Bond believes that he knows the identity of the Torso Killer, an individual quite close to his circle of friends.

Based on an actual series of killings that took place during the reign of the Jack the Ripper killings (but obviously didn’t receive nearly as much coverage!), Mayhem is a brilliantly executed blend of crime procedural and supernatural fiction. I’ve been intrigued about the Jack the Ripper killings for as long as I can remember so it’s no surprise that this book grabbed my attention.  There are quite a few portions of the book in which the reader must suspend disbelief, but this is to be expected in a novel of this sort.

Mayhem is certainly not a book for the weak of heart (or stomach), but fans of Victorian crime fiction and the supernatural are certain to be enamored by Pinborough’s truly skilled writing. She so expertly captures the essence of Victorian London, making it quite easy for readers to slip right into the rich atmospheric setting.

I’ve been a fan of Pinborough’s writing for some time, particularly her Dog-faced Gods Trilogy, largely due to her ability to combine two of my favorite genres: crime fiction and supernatural/horror.  Her writing introduced me to a whole host of talented UK horror writers and for this I am forever thankful.  If you have not checked out her books I highly encourage you to do so! Highly, highly recommended!

Mini-Review: Ex-Purgatory by Peter Clines

  • Series: Ex
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (January 14, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0804136610
  • Source: Publisher

George Bailey is your average, everyday kind of guy. During the day, he works as a handyman at a local community college. His nights, however, are filled with magnificent dreams in which he’s a super hero, battling hordes of zombies. In his dreams, he sees other individuals with similar powers, including an armored robot and a woman with stealth ninja-like moves.

One day George is stopped by a young, pale girl in a wheelchair, Madelyn Sorenson.  Madelyn tells George about the existence of another world, one in which he is one of the last remaining heroes.  In this world, society has fallen victim to a zombie plague. George, and the other heroes, are its only salvation.

It isn’t until his two worlds start colliding that George finally believes what Madelyn has been telling him. The sudden realization that this life, the only life this George has known, is all a facade is startling, to say the least. With the help of Madelyn, George locates the other heroes in an effort to bring down the individual responsible for what has transpired.

Although Ex-Purgatory is the fourth book in the Ex series, it could definitely serve as a standalone.  Cline once again manages to combine the very best qualities of zombie fiction and science fiction into a beautifully executed and highly transfixing novel.  Fans of Marvel comic series and The Walking Dead are in for a treat! If this is your first taste of Clines’ Ex-series I guarantee it will not be your last. Highly, highly recommended.