Category Archives: Horror

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: 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: 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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#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: 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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Review: Party Games: A Fear Street Novel by R. L. Stine

 

  • Grade Level: 7 – 12
  • Series: Fear Street
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (September 30, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781250051615
  • Source: Publisher

When Rachel Martin is invited to Brendan Fear’s birthday party at his family’s home on Fear Island, she can’t resist. Despite her friends’ warnings, her crush on Brendan clouds her judgement and she readily accepts the invite. Brendan’s infamous parties are known for their unusual party games.  This time, however, the party games turn deadly. One by one, the guests begin dying, their means of death mimicking childish games. As their hopes for escape vanish, Rachel and the other guests quickly realize they are stuck on this remote island with a killer.

Who doesn’t love the Fear Street novels? Like many others my age, many of us grew up reading these terrifying teen horror novels.  When a new book in the series was announced I was thrilled beyond measure. Unfortunately, however, Party Games didn’t really live up to my expectations.

Without revealing too much about the plot, there is definitely a supernatural vibe to this book. Isolated, mysterious island, hints of brutal deaths and possible haunting.  Unfortunately, Stine decided to take a pass on this and instead opted to go the path of a mysterious masked killer.  This was quite unfortunate as I tend to think Stine fans (young and old alike) tend to prefer his novels with a supernatural edge. Additionally, I felt the ending was wrapped up a little too quickly, almost as if Stine ran out of ideas and decided to end it quickly.

My devotion toward the Fear Street novels is so strong that I would still recommend this novel despite my complaints. Perhaps I’m too old to appreciate them? Or perhaps Stine does have a contingent of fans that would read and enjoy anything he’s written.  Like with his adult novel last year, Red Rain, perhaps my expectations are just too high? I’ll let you decide.  Have you read Party Games? What did you think?

 

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.