novels

The Death of Addie Grey

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The Death of Addie Grey

Accessed as an Ebook

Amy Cross

237 pages

$0.99 at time of writing

 

I am always a little skeptical (okay, critical) going into a piece knowing that it depends on children to push the plot forward. Done well, children in horror can be terrifying. Done poorly, the results are a little hysterical and eye rolling.

While Addie Grey has a few eye rolling moments (I’m not a fan of over the top parents in horror-this led to an, uh, interesting thread on my Facebook wall about why parents in horror insist on referring to themselves in the third person), the book is actually pretty solid. Falling somewhere between true haunting and true possession horror, with something of a time travel (but not quite) thrown in, the story line manages to cover a lot of traditional ground with enough new ideas to keep the plot from seeming stale. However, if you’re looking for a ‘true’ bump in the night haunting novel or a ‘true’ demonic or possessed child plot, this is probably not the book for you.

The plot does have a few bumpy places-like I said, the characterization of the parents manages to come across as a little wooden (the mother cares just a little too much and the father cares just a touch too little). There’s a little too much resistance in the plot to the reality of their situation (which, admittedly, would probably slightly less interesting as a book if they were a little more willing to involve outside aid). And there’s a comment about how the reality of the thing hits home due to a change in vocabulary-but I’m not sure the entity that’s involved would be someone that would use that language either (there’s an issue with age, but I’m not sure the spirit involved would be of that age either).

Addie Grey is a child who, after a long period spent in a coma, comes back to consciousness…different. After a series of escalating events her parents are forced to accept that the spirit inhabiting her body may not be the child that they knew prior to her accident. When her mother finally accepts that her child is no longer her own-both she and Addie are forced to confront a series of challenges potentially larger than what they ever would have thought possible. By the end of the ordeal, her mother is convinced that everything has returned to normal-but the suggestion is made that the door has not been shut all the way.

The thing is, the novel is -good-. Not awesome, not amazing, not top of the pile for quality. But it is easy to read, the plot moves well, most of the characterization is solid. There’s a few plot twists that aren’t overused and even the ‘monsters’ such as they are are generally sympathetic (as in, you can understand why this is taking place on an emotional level). You can certainly read a lot worse in this genre. But it’s sort of the horror version of a beach read-this isn’t going to be a classic in genre but if you just want entertainment, you’ll find it.

Those Across the River

Those Across the River

Christopher Buehlman

368 pages

Accessed as an audiobook

When I started this book, I was working under the assumption that this would end up being a review for August-August is Ghost Month.

I am always excited when I completely misread a plot and end up somewhere else entirely. The way that Buehlman invokes Black Shuck should have said something to me, but it didn’t, and I love him for it. This is not a ghost story in the traditional sense.

Except that it almost is. I think that this is one of those gothic horror pieces where the meat of the plot, the whole of the details that make up the majority of the action but not necessarily the main push of the novel, are the best aspect of the book. This is definitely firmly in the realm of war horror-but from the angle of what war does to a man more than the war itself. Frank’s main battle is with himself and there are hints that it could easily become as dangerous and potentially fatal as whatever is going on outside of him. World War I never really ends for him, and everything that he does (and I do mean, everything) is tinted by his war experiences. He is as haunted by his own past as whatever it is he’s found in his new home.

There is a lot of folklore running through this piece-and it’s arguable that the symbolism here may be deliberate (maybe it’s not the pigs the town should have given up-maybe it’s Frank that should have given up the sacrifice of the people he left during the war). It doesn’t cross the line into full folkloric horror and it doesn’t stray too far into the realm of monster fiction. I have read reviews that argue the piece is Lovecraftian and I honestly have to say that I don’t see it-not that it’s a weakness to the book by any means.

It’s hard to give away too much of this plot, but at the same time maybe not-the book is heavily driven by the interpersonal politics in a small Southern town. Frank Nichols moves his partner Dora to the family homestead in Georgia with the intention of writing the history of his family-including the infamy of their slave ownership. There are rumors of something in the woods and Frank’s experiences makes him wonder if the rumors aren’t accurate. However, he couldn’t have possibly foreseen what is actually out there.

In terms of classic monster fiction, this is much more enjoyable if you fall on the Dog Soldiers end of the spectrum as opposed to the Universal Wolf Man. But I do love me some Dog Soldiers

The Halloween Host

The Halloween Host

S. M. Barrett

209 Pages

Accessed as an Ebook

$0.99 on Amazon at time of writing

I am actually annoyed with myself for not having written this review sooner, as I actually dearly loved this book and will gladly give it one of my strongest recommendations thus far on this blog.

This isn’t horror, though there are some eerie aspects to it and it falls a little too far into magic for true magical realism (I suppose then that the genre answer here is seasonal fantasy). This isn’t even fully creepy, though again, some of the imagery is a little dark. But truly just a little.

In all honesty this is probably one of the ‘lightest’ pieces of fiction I’ve covered on this blog, but it’s a beautiful book, especially if you’re a deep lover of Halloween. I am. Technically falling within the range of YA fiction the book is actually full of a dense, rich imagery of a type that a horror fan will find appealing-even if the imagery itself isn’t horrifying. One of the aspects of the book I do find most endearing is the use of traditional but often overlooked seasonal imagery, things that are most definitely Halloween appropriate but get overlooked in modern media in favor of gore and jump scares (and which does make this book older child safe-there is discussion of death but nothing graphic throughout the novel).

Arthur Brim has failed his son, and through failing his son, has failed the whole of Halloween. He one day finds a guest in his kitchen who informs him that he now holds a debt to the holiday, and will pay that debt off by hosting the October Senate, those beings most closely associated with the holiday. Brim slowly rekindles his love of the season-and heals his bond with his son-through hosting the senators and learning deep, though admittedly seasonally appropriate, life lessons from each of them.

A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts

Paul Tremblay

309 Pages

Accessed as an Ebook

$11.99 at the time of writing

This book is one of those genre spanning books that can be so slippery and hard to pin down that you end at dark fiction and call it good.

With some novels that becomes a burden-the reader is forced to wade through so many style changes and tropes that it becomes almost more work than what the pay off is worth. However, in this case, it works for the plot and in a lot of ways the plot throws side way glances at genre, like the way that Tremblay pulls from so many genres is the point of the entire thing.

Tremblay doesn’t give us a true academic horror novel, but there’s enough depth here to keep a reader who needs complexity in their horror happy. The book is meta, but stays within the bounds of mainstream fiction enough to not require too much thought-up until the last chapter (and arguably the last 10 pages or so of the book) when the reader is forced to confront who, or what, the driving force of the novel has been the entire time.

I am not using the word conflict here deliberately. At its core, the book centers around the tensions of the Barrett family when the family patriarch, John, decides to approach his elder daughter Marjorie’s mental illness as a possession-and then decides to use reality television as the site of her healing. The plot is narrated by Merry, the younger daughter, both as an adult in the near future and as her 8 year old self at the time of the possession in what is roughly now.

The possession plot is actually solid enough that if the novel were less complex (and again here the complexity isn’t forced or overly dense or artificial), the book would still be interesting. Tremblay manages to find several rather novel additions to the demonic possession subgenre, enough that it doesn’t feel like a replay of the Exorcist or other possession classics (though in one of the meta zones the novel questions its own ability to avoid that). However. It is truly the end of the book that forces the reader to sit up and question who or what was the real villain or force at play here-because the ending of the novel is both disquieting and a touch confusing in all the best ways, and certainly forces a perspective change on everything that has come before.

December is [Still] for the Shining

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Last year’s Horror Confession regarding my tradition of reading the Shining in December. And it still holds true, I’m about a quarter of the way through this year’s reading after starting it on the train on Sunday. It was actually a little odd-I hadn’t reloaded it, but it was the first book on my Kindle when I opened it. It had to be an update to the file, but it still made me sit and stare for a few seconds.

I just downloaded The Shining back onto my Kindle.

I’m not telling you this just for blog fodder. If I wanted to just talk, I’d tell you about the week I’ve been having-because while the net result is positive, it’s been eventful (including discovering the length of my kitchen pipe has been cracked for who knows how long and dumping into the basement).

Next month is December, and December is for The Shining.

There are certain books I read at certain times-the big two being American Gods in May and The Shining in December. I don’t really have a good relationship with winter, though I think that may change this year. I don’t know why I say that other than a lack of my normal brooding angst headed into the month.

Somehow The Shining has come to stand for all of my darkness towards winter. Maybe you’d have to live in Buffalo to get it, I don’t know. The only other book that may touch it would be Storm of the Century. I don’t know what it is with Stephen King and snow. There is also something about the madness that runs through the novel. I don’t want to say that I recognize it…but maybe I do.

I just walked in on Mid watching the Kindle light go on and off when he closed the cover, like when you discover that the fridge light goes on and off when you close the door. He might have been standing in a dark bathroom at the time.

Maybe this madness really is a Buffalo thing.

Sharcano

Sharcano

Jose Prendes

420 Pages

Accessed as an Ebook

4.99 at the time of review

I have to be completely honest with you, I have no idea why I have a copy of Sharcano, and I really wasn’t expecting much.

I’m not necessarily cheating with my 52 in 52 Challenge, but I might be picking books that are easy reads on the bus. When I found Sharcano I couldn’t really figure out why I have have it (I have a massive shark phobia, for one) and it’s not really a genre I read frequently. I’m not a monster or a natural disaster girl.

To get the main weakness of the novel addressed up front: if you’re the type of person who needs a tight writing style you’re not going to into this novel. This book reads more like the way that my coworkers and I talk to each other than a book, it feels like a conversation with a lot of very casual narration. However, Prendes is capable of presenting a story that’s surreal and paced fast enough to overcome the slightly unconventional story telling technique.

And the story really is surreal-sharks, volcanoes, mythical beings…the narrative is actually goofball enough to be entertaining while being just grounded enough to be so unbelievable as to not be readable (the fact the characters are consistently stopping and asking, wait, what? helps; I don’t know if I could handle this book if everyone were wandering around saying, ok, I’m completely on board with this). It’s hard to describe this novel without giving away too much of a plot twist that I honestly didn’t see coming. Other readers may have seen it coming, but I have to admit I didn’t.

It is 2014 and volcanoes are erupting out of nowhere-volcanoes that have been quiet for thousands of years. People are dying and no one knows why-and there are reports that people are being eaten. But by what? And why is the Vatican so interested?

Not a traditional monster novel, or a disaster novel, or an end of the world novel, the book is actually highly enjoyable. There are a few aspects that read like plot holes, but Sharcano is the first in the trilogy so hopefully they are addressed in the rest of the series.

 

Asylum: 13 Tales of Terror

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Asylum: 13 Tales of Terror

Matt Drabble

Accessed as an Ebook

260 Pages

$2.99 on Amazon at time of review

I don’t really have a system in how I review books.  I generally go for ebooks over paperbacks just because if I have my Kindle with me, I have my library with me (I’m sorry, paperbacks-and-those-waiting-for-me-to-review-them). I normally honestly just read whatever’s next on the first page of my Kindle.

I pick up a lot of indie and indie type horror on Amazon and then it stews there until I get a chance to read it-which means often the books I’m reading are new/newish to me by the time I get there. So I’m saying that when I started this book I really had no idea anymore what I was sitting down to read.

This is one of the better books that I’ve read this year. Not really a ‘ghost story’, but one with a ghost at its core and several of the stories within it do center around ghosts and hauntings so I’ll count it for Ghost Month anyway. An anthology in the loose sense of the word, Asylum walks both the reader and the main character through Blackwater Heights, a private mental hospital reported to be haunted somewhere in England (the location is sort of murky). The book proceeds to tell the tales of 13 of the patients along with the original owner of the estate.

The book felt very much like the first and second season of The Twilight Zone. The stories are on the shorter side, but there is enough movement and development that they don’t feel cut off or rushed. And they are legitimately creepy-which is high praise for me. It is very rare for me to get a fear reaction out of a book, and while these are not ‘scary’ they definitely pack a punch, especially for their length. Ranging from traditional revenge horror to shapeshifters and hauntings, they also move enough through the sub genre to not feel like Drabble sat in one place or played favorites with themes

This is also one of the ‘cleaner’ books that I have read this year. While it plays with the normal darker horror themes, including violence, it’s not full of heavy profanity usage or sexual content. Drabble is pretty direct with language, but not to an extreme level, meaning that this book is probably pretty accessible to younger horror fans as well-obviously with guidance.