Kate’s Review: “The Burned House”

48575470._sy475_Book: “The Burned House” (Jonny Roberts #2) by Alexander Lound

Publishing Info: Self Published, November 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The author sent me an eARC

Book Description: Nearly a year after learning that he can speak to the dead, Jonny Roberts has spent much of his time working with his new medium friend, Aaron. Whether it’s reconnecting loved ones with dead relatives, or helping spirits to cross over, Jonny has been happy to help.

That is, until a young boy is found dead, his body impaled with floorboards, sharpened into knife points; and in the same house where a family died seven years earlier, in a tragic fire.

Suspecting that the event might be down to the supernatural, Aaron and Jonny soon investigate. But when the spirit makes it clear that it doesn’t intend to stop at the boy, they begin to wonder if this might be their most dangerous case yet…

Review: Thank you to Alexander Lound for approaching our blog and sending me an eARC of this book!

Halloween has long passed, but there’s always time for a ghost story as far as I’m concerned. So when Alexander Lound emailed me asking if I would be interested in reading and reviewing the second book in the Jonny Roberts series, “The Burned House”, there was really only one way I could answer.

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Honestly I’m halfway convinced that all of my reactions to anything could be summed up by one of the Rose siblings. (source)

If you recall, I enjoyed the first in the series, “The Spirit in the Crypt” as I found it to be an engaging ghost story with likable characters and high stakes. Teenage medium Jonny Roberts is a fun protagonist, and I was eager to see where things went next for him and his girlfriend Cassy, as well as his medium mentor Aaron. Now that we’ve established Jonny as a full fledged medium, that meant that he’d have to delve deeper into his powers, and with that could mean upped stakes and higher tension. And boy oh boy did we go in both those directions.

In “The Burned House”, Jonny has started to come into his own as a medium, helping Aaron with various spirit cases, and while he and his girlfriend Cassy are still happy and in love, the tension with his ‘profession’ has started to come to the surface. And in this story, there is reason to believe that Cassy’s hesitance may be right, as Jonny and Aaron are soon entangled in the death of a boy, whose body was found in a house in which a family burned to death a few years prior. It soon becomes clear that it’s the work of an angry spirit, and the only insight they have is from the surviving family member, a teenage girl named Megan. Jonny, of course, wants to help, but the good intentions he has involve more and more risk. The story is basically Jonny potentially biting off more than he can chew, and how that threatens not only his life, but his relationships. I liked that Lound showed how someone with his abilities would potentially have a lot of difficulties with relationships with ‘normal’ people, and that you can understand why both he AND Cassy have legitimate reasons to feel the way they do about his new calling. It also means that we get some deliciously angsty scenes with teenagers. And as a teenager who was in love with her boyfriend and had to deal with some problems that felt earth shattering at the time, these scenes felt very, very true to life.

The mystery and motivation behind the angry spirit was well plotted out and fun to get through. I cracked the code early on, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was easy to crack. I’ve just been reading these kinds of stories for years, so I know what to look for. And even though I guessed the outcome early, I still enjoyed the journey that we took to get to said outcome. Lound really does up the stakes this time around, with the looming threat of injury and death at the hands of an angry spirit a very real issue. And we don’t pussyfoot around what all of this could mean for Jonny and his friends; on the contrary, there is a very significant loss in this book, one that I didn’t see coming, and one that was a bit of a bummer. But no spoilers here. I just want to hit the point home that we are starting to see the consequences that Jonny has to contend with because he has decided to pursue being a medium.

“The Burned House” was a thrilling and fun follow up to “The Spirit in the Crypt”. It checks all of my favorite boxes of a ghost story and medium story, and I’m eager to see where Jonny Roberts goes next!

Rating 8: Another satisfying YA ghost story, “The Burned House” continues the adventures of Jonny Roberts, and shows the upped stakes that being a medium means, both physically and emotionally.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Burned House” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “YA Novels and Psychic Abilities”, and “Young Adult Ghost Stories”.

“The Burned House” isn’t available on WorldCat as of now, but it will be available for purchase this week. For more information, go to Alexander Lound’s WEBSITE.

Previously Reviewed: “The Spirit in the Crypt”

Kate’s Review: “Doctor Sleep”

16130549._sy475_-1Book: “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2013

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special 12-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky 12-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

Review: Around the time the trailer for Mike Flanagan’s film “Doctor Sleep” dropped, I was texting back and forth with the aforementioned Blake. He told me that he had never actually picked up “Doctor Sleep”, as he’d heard it was middling at best, but wanted to know what I thought. I told him how much I loved it, but admitted that I hadn’t read it for a long time. So when he later told me that he’d picked it up and was, so far, really liking it, I decided that I needed to go back and re-read it. One, so he and I could potentially have a mini-book club over the sequel to the book that started our friendship, and two because the movie was coming out and I wanted to have the novel fresh in my memory. So I picked up “Doctor Sleep”, figuring I’d meander through it at a lazy pace… But then I ended up binging the entire thing in a couple of days. The continuing story of Danny Torrance post-Overlook once again sucked me in. 

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Poor Danny can’t escape the past. (source)

What you need to know about “Doctor Sleep” is that while it’s a sequel to “The Shining”, the tone, feel, and approach are very different. While they both take a look at addiction (though in different ways, as King was in the middle of his during “The Shining” and in recovery during “Doctor Sleep”), “The Shining” is about ghosts, an evil place, and the slow violent spiral of a husband and father because of the influence of the two. “Doctor Sleep”, however, goes in a different direction. Instead of relying mostly on the ghosts and ghouls, at its heart is a story about trauma and coming to terms with your past while finding a hopeful future. And, of course, still dealing with supernatural themes like psychic abilities and monsters. Dan Torrance is now an adult, who has tried to escape his memories of The Overlook and his abilities by falling into a bottle. Seeing Danny all grown up is a very bleak, but realistic, look at what trauma can do to a person, and how sometimes people cope in ways that are incredibly destructive to others and to themselves. You are already invested in Dan because you know he was that little boy at the Overlook, and some of the best moments of dread in this book have less to do with the visions he still has, and more to do with whether or not he is going to fall off the wagon. It just so happens that around the time he decides to fully commit to recovery, he makes a psychic connection with a newborn girl named Abra, whose Shining abilities are above and beyond his own. Abra is a fantastic new character to bring into the story, as her childhood is a reversed mirror image of what Danny went through as a child. She comes from a loving family, she easily makes friends, and her powers are accepted (albeit hush hush and not totally understood) by her parents, while Danny’s powers were cultivated and nurtured in a dark, abusive setting and a lonely childhood. You definitely get the sense that their connection isn’t pure happenstance, but that doesn’t really matter; what matters is that they are both vital to each other’s survival. Abra needs someone who understands her and understands the dangers of her powers, and Dan needs a reason to keep going and to keep his addictions at bay. King captures an authentic and very likable, yet complex, voice in Abra, and her kindness and joy radiates off of the page, just as her own inner darkness rears in relatable and believable ways. Her friendship with Dan brings out the best in both of them, and as they learn from each other and protect each other from impending dangers, you get super invested in their connection, even if you aren’t completely sure as to why it’s happening.

And let’s talk about those dangers, too. King creates a malevolent and wholly original villain group as only he can with the True Knot, a nomadic group of vampirelike beings that feed on psychic energy. They target children with The Shining, as the True Knot can achieve eternal life by extracting their abilities in ‘steam’ form. The leader of the group is Rose the Hat, a charismatic and vicious woman who kills without remorse for the good of her group. Rose the Hat is a top three King villain for me, as she is intimidating, mysterious, and alluring in every sense of the word. You see this group stalk and murder other children, and once their sights set on Abra a slow burn game of cat and mouse begins, with some unexpected surprises for all parties thrown in along the way that up the ante even more. King doesn’t rush this prolonged confrontation, and he sets the pieces into place in very intentional ways that come together seamlessly. But I think that one of the best achievements that King does, at least for me, is that he makes you kind of care about The True Knot as well, at least in some ways. You get a deep dive into who they are and how they function, and by the time things start to go down you find yourself invested, even if you know that they are monstrous and terrible. He gives them, especially Rose, complexity and nuance, and I ended up loving her when all was said and done, even if it was because of what a horrible and terrifying villain she is. 

I think that a lot of people believed that there was no way that King could write a sequel to “The Shining”. And, in some ways, I think they are right. Because “Doctor Sleep” is its own story, its own identity, and while it may be the continuing story of Danny Torrance, it doesn’t feel like a direct sequel. It feels like King achieved a lot more than that, and has expanded a world and a story in ways that only time and experience could have aided. It’s not a perfect book; there are some hiccups, and moments of cloying coincidence or sappiness, but honestly, I love this story so much that I can easily forgive these stumbles. I have high hopes going into the movie, but even if I don’t care for the adaptation, I know that I can revisit this book and find deep, deep enjoyment. “Doctor Sleep” is probably my favorite of the recent King novels. You don’t have to be a fan of “The Shining” to enjoy it.

And with that, we end Horrorpalooza 2019! I hope that everyone has a Happy Halloween and that you get all the scares. And if you don’t want the scares, all the candy!

Rating 10: A deep, emotionally wrenching, and quite creepy follow up to a classic horror story, “Doctor Sleep” examines familiar characters and themes with an eye for trauma, redemption, and hope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Doctor Sleep” is included on the Goodreads lists “Adult Books That Feature Powerful or Magic Children”, and “Creepy Halloween Reads”.

Find “Doctor Sleep” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Shining”

11588Book: “The Shining” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Doubleday, 1977

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

Review: Believe it or not, “The Shining” has a deep, personal meaning for me, and that is because it’s proof that Stephen King books can bring people together. I approached my best friend from high school (and still good friend today) Blake because of this book. He was reading it in the hallway, and as someone who had already read it seeing someone else experiencing it gave me the need to be like ‘I LOVE that book!’ It was the start of an enduring friendship. But on top of that, “The Shining” is a terrifying read that has gone down in literary history as one of the best horror novels of the 20th Century, and really solidified King’s place as a horror author. And the rest, as they say, is history. In anticipation of the film adaptation of “Doctor Sleep”, the sequel to “The Shining”, I decided to re-read both books to see how they held up. So, just in time for Halloween Week, the first up is the original, and I’m finally returning to The Overlook Hotel after all these years of being away.

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Outside of the time I went to the actual Overlook this past summer, aka The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado!

At the very heart of “The Shining” is a gothic ghost story, and while it may not take place on a moor in England, it has all the elements that make the genre great. You have an isolated hotel that cannot be escaped once the snows come. You have three people living in said hotel, and one of them is slowly being driven mad, be it because of the isolation, his own demons, or something else. And you have unique and incredibly scary ghosts and a twisted history that has made the location rotten to the core. King has a variety of bad things at The Overlook, from the decomposing Mrs. Massey in room 217 to visions of a Mafia murder in the Presidential Suite to topiaries that move and fire hoses that act like coiling snakes.  Mrs. Massey is by far the worst, a lurching a rotting corpse that reaches out for those who dare enter her room, but many others are lurking and effective in their own right. While it may seem like the idea of moving animal shaped plants is a little cheesy, it’s not cheesy when a character is being slowly stalked by them in a deranged game of red light, green light. King builds the dread and makes you wonder if what we are seeing is real, a vision (on Danny’s part), or a descent into madness (on Jack’s part), and boy does the tension pull you tight. Even the little things that could just as easily be placed in real life, like the boiler that ‘creeps’, set a scene on a knife’s edge. The Overlook is still one of King’s greatest villains, and the way that King made a place into a character with such malevolence and horror stands the test of time all these years later. 

Danny Torrance is one of the people who sees the Overlook’s horrors, his gift of ‘The Shining’ (or psychic powers) making him incredibly perceptive, but also susceptible, to it’s evils. Danny’s voice is so authentic, as King really harnesses the thoughts, feelings, and actions of a little boy. Danny is endearing, and strange, and as his visions get worse and his father Jack starts to become more and more corrupted, he becomes more vulnerable and yet resilient. Reading this book as a teen I liked Danny enough, but now revisiting it I just loved him. King captures childhood earnestness, captures the innocence that a little boy could still have even though he’s seen and experienced terrible things, and never makes Danny sound juvenile, nor too precocious either. And the things that he sees are filtered through a child’s eyes, which in some ways makes them all the more disturbing. Danny going into Room 217 is still one of the most horror filled moments of this novel, and perhaps of all of King’s bibliography.

But for me, the scariest part of “The Shining” has changed. As an adult, and a new mother to boot and therefore someone with a whole new perspective on parenthood, now the biggest scares come from Jack Torrance and his potential to be a family annihilator, be it due to the hotel’s influence or his own violent tendencies.

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I know King hates this movie, but honestly, it really got Jack right. (source)

Even before The Overlook, Jack’s alcoholism had him spiraling into addiction, emotional instability, and domestic abuse towards his wife and little boy. When we meet Jack he’s been sober for a little over a year, and while it seems that he is on the upswing with Wendy and Danny, there are still violent tendencies that come through and have serious consequences, consequences that make him take this isolating job in the first place, and more vulnerable to the malignant influence of The Overlook. It’s interesting to read this now, knowing that King himself was battling his own addictions as he wrote it, and how his insecurities about how he was as a father and husband come through off the page. Jack’s portrayal is both a villain who could potentially kill those he loves most, and yet a tragic figure who wants so badly to be better, even if he can’t quite achieve it. While The Overlook is certainly a bad influence and its ghosts are certainly helping drive Jack insane, you can’t help but get the feeling that perhaps, even without the ghostly interference, he might have ended up doing something horrible to Wendy and Danny, should he give in to his addictions at any time. It’s a deeply resonant characterization, and knowing that King was struggling as well it gives it even more dour weight and tragedy. I remember that around the time I read this book as a teen I asked my Dad why he hadn’t read it or even seen the movie. And he said that he couldn’t handle the idea of a husband and father murdering those he was supposed to love and care for. I didn’t really get it then. I absolutely get it now. King, once again, shows that some monsters in life don’t have to be supernatural.

“The Shining” isn’t without faults. Wendy, our one female (non ghost) character, isn’t terribly fleshed out or interesting. And as much as I love Dick Halloran, he sure fits into the ‘magical negro’ trope that King still tends to embrace with too much vigor. And, like many King stories, the ending has some flaws and doesn’t QUITE land, at least not completely. But there is a reason that it has endured for so long, and that it’s one of King’s most beloved works. It’s damned scary. I am so glad I went back to it after all these years. And given the influence this book, like all of King’s works, has had on my life, in some ways, like the ghosts at The Overlook, I never really left.

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(source)

On Thursday we’re going to dive in to the sequel, “Doctor Sleep”.

Rating 9: A haunting and deeply scary horror story that melds ghosts, evil, and emotional demons into one entity of terror. Stephen King’s classic is still effective and disturbing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Shining” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ghost Stories”, and “Modern Gothic”.

Find “The Shining” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “His Hideous Heart”

39127647Book: “His Hideous Heart” by Dahlia Adler (Ed.)

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Thirteen of YA’s most celebrated names reimagine Edgar Allan Poe’s most surprising, unsettling, and popular tales for a new generation.

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.

Contributors include Kendare Blake (reimagining “Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morge”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).

Review: I’ve been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe since grade school when I read “The Raven” and “The Tell Tale Heart” in my free time. It was truly the first indication that I was going to shift into full on Goth in high school. His melancholic writings and nerve wracking imagery is still very effective, and while it does have some dated elements it can’t be denied that he has had a huge influence on American Horror writing to this day.

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Super relatable in so many ways too. (source)

I still hold him and his works near and dear to my heart, even if I haven’t read as many as I thought I had. I came to this realization as I read “His Hideous Heart”, a collection of new YA interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous works, edited by Dahlia Adler. I bought this book for my Kindle, as I was so excited to read it I really didn’t want to wait before I could get it in my hands. The group of YA authors selected was really the icing on the cake, as it includes some of my favorites like Stephanie Kuehn and Tiffany D. Jackson. A group of authors coming from lots of backgrounds and experiences to update some of the stories from the OG Creep Master of American Literature? It can’t get better than that! Like with most Short Story collections I am going to talk about my three favorite works, and then give a summation of the collection as a whole.

“Night-Tide” (based on “Annabel Lee”) by Tessa Gratton

The poem “Annabelle Lee” has made me cry many times in my life. It’s about the death of a young woman and her husband who has been left behind to mourn her, and is most likely based on Poe’s own wife Virginia who tied of tuberculosis. Tessa Gratton takes this always upsetting story theme and twists it up in many positive ways. She changes it into a prose narrative instead of a poem, sets in in a historical fiction timeline, and makes the two lovers two young women who are living in a time where gay romance and love is never going to be accepted. Annabel Lee and Jackie have spent summers at the resort of Kingdom by the Sea and became close friends. But the summer she’s sixteen Jackie arrives to find out that Annabel has passed away of illness, and that Annabel’s family blames Jackie because of their ‘close friendship’ and the sin it was. As Jackie tries to come to terms with her friend’s death, and to try to come to terms with the guilt that she is feeling because of it. Like the poem there are no happy endings here, but it makes the sadness of the poem all the more emotional, as Jackie has to live with the guilt that others and society has placed upon here merely because she and Annabel Lee were in love. And, like it’s inspiration, it made me cry as well.

“The Glittering Death” (based on “The Pit and the Pendulum”) by Caleb Roehrig

“The Pit and the Pendulum” is a tense and scary read where a prisoner is being psychologically and physically tortured during the Spanish Inquisition. Caleb Roehrig, however, subverts that into a modern retelling involving a serial killer, a teenage girl, and misogyny. Laura finds herself the newest victim of a murderer called The Judge, who kidnaps and tortures young women for the sins he’s perceived they’ve committed. Laura has to figure out how to survive the situation and escape. This was probably my favorite story in the collection, as Roehrig does a GREAT job of drawing comparisons between his zealous and woman hating serial killer and the forces that were behind The Spanish Inquisition, showing how repression, misogyny, and religious fundamentalism can instigate violence. Laura as a main character was spunky and tough, and the tension of her imprisonment and her plans for escape had me on the edge of my seat. It’s definitely the scariest story in this book, and I thought that it really found the heart of the source material and cleverly applied it.

“Happy Days, Sweetheart” (based on “The Tell-Tale Heart”) by Stephanie Kuehn

One of Poe’s most famous stories is “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and it’s about jealousy pushing someone to murder, and the guilt that drives the murderer insane. Leave it to Stephanie Kuehn to take that and make something totally different, all while finding the deeper themes and applying them perfectly. An unnamed high school girl has been living in the shadow of Jonah, a charismatic but mediocre white guy at their boarding school. She has always worked hard to be the best, but being a bi-racial girl from outside their community has always kept her down. But now she has a plan to finally become number one, to finally get the praise and recognition she deserves. I LOVED how Kuehn took the idea of women (especially women of color) having to work harder and do more to get the same recognition that a white man gets just by existing, and how that frustration can turn into an all encompassing anger. While it’s true our narrator eventually takes it to extremes (as one would have to with the source material), I still felt that Kuehn drew out her motivations in a way that I found incredibly relatable in a lot of ways. Kuehn is one of my favorite authors, and her contribution to this collection knocked it out of the park to be sure.

And there were a lot of other really strong stories that I didn’t mention! “His Hideous Heart” covers a wide range of genres, and most of the segments were all very strong in their own ways. Even the ones that I didn’t end up caring for as much were more based on the genres they fell in as opposed to the content. There are so many strong authors here, and they all did their very best to do justice to Poe’s original works, with many of them succeeding. But wait, there’s even more to sing the praises of! “His Hideous Heart” not only has these thirteen original stories, it also includes the original works by Poe! So if you aren’t familiar with the source material, you have direct access to it. LOVED that!

“His Hideous Heart” was a great short stories collection. If you are a Poe fan you should read it, and if you aren’t familiar with Poe this is the perfect introduction to the original works AND the updates. And hey, it’s almost Halloween. This is just the book to read this time of year.

Rating 8: A well done and well updated collection of stories that pay homage to Poe, “His Hideous Heart” is an enjoyable read and the perfect book for the Halloween season.

Reader’s Advisory:

“His Hideous Heart” is included on the Goodreads lists “Edgar Allan Poe in YA & Middle Grade Fiction”, and “The Unlikable Female Characters Podcast”.

Find “His Hideous Heart” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Ghoster”

31934011Book: “Ghoster” by Jason Arnopp

Publishing Info: Orbit, October 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: Jason Arnopp – author of acclaimed cult hit The Last Days of Jack Sparks – returns with a razor-sharp thriller for a social-media obsessed world. Prepare to never look at your phone the same way again . . .

Kate Collins has been ghosted. She was supposed to be moving in with her new boyfriend Scott, but all she finds after relocating to Brighton is an empty apartment. Scott has vanished. His possessions have all disappeared. Except for his mobile phone. Kate knows she shouldn’t hack into Scott’s phone. She shouldn’t look at his Tinder, his calls, his social media. But she can’t quite help herself. That’s when the trouble starts. Strange, whispering phone calls from numbers she doesn’t recognize. Scratch marks on the walls that she can’t explain. And the growing feeling that she’s being watched. Kate refuses to leave the apartment – she’s not going anywhere until she’s discovered what happened to Scott. But the deeper she dives into Scott’s digital history the more Kate realizes just how little she really knows about the man she loves.

Review: Thanks to Orbit for sending me an ARC of this novel!

Back in 2017 I was flying back from New Zealand and was totally enthralled by “The Last Days of Jack Sparks” by Jason Arnopp. While I am not usually super into nor affected by possession and exorcist stories, the uniqueness and genuine creepiness of this novel completely blew me away and was one of my favorite reads of the year. I waited anxiously for a new book by Arnopp to drop, and when I saw that he had a new book called “Ghoster” coming out, I was ecstatic. I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of “Ghoster”, and once I had finished a couple other books that took precedent, I dove right in. “Ghoster” isn’t a possession story. At least, not in the way that we normally think about them. But it is a story about obsession, and how things can seemingly take you over in unexpected, and dangerous ways. 

Oh, and we once again get some creepy and unsettling imagery that freaked me the hell out.

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Sometimes I just had to step away. (source)

Kate, or protagonist, is a bit of a complex and unreliable character. We know that she has had obsessive issues with social media and romance in the past, and after her lover Scott seemingly disappears on the eve of them moving in together, you wonder if her need to find him is based on worry for his safety, or a dark jealousy that is hinted at from her previous relationships and actions. It’s first person, so we get into her mind and how quirky and obsessive it can be. She is convinced that Scott has left her, or has tricked her, and since it isn’t often that she stops to think that maybe something bad happened to him it makes you question a lot about her mental state. Is she a woman with a legitimate beef, or is she a bit more unstable than she’d like us to think?  It sets a tone that is already uneasy and makes it all the more jarring. I felt bad for Kate, but I also wasn’t sure if I could totally trust her and her perceptions, or the story that she was telling us. It’s true that there were a couple of times where I thought that her strangeness was laid on a little thick, but for the most part it was well done and a great way to make the reader question even more about the story than they already may have been. It also makes it so that when the very strange things start happening, we have to wonder what is real and what isn’t. I wouldn’t say that Kate is likable, but she sure doesn’t have to be. It’s not like Jack Sparks was a likable character, after all, so why can’t Kate also be that way? It didn’t make me any less invested in her story.

The creepy elements and plot of this book aren’t as amped as Arnopp’s previous novel, but they are still there and they are still done in a way that left an impression. As Kate slowly tries to trace Scott’s steps and whereabouts, she finds more and more things that suggest something is afoot. She has his cell phone, and is able to see his browsing history, which implies that he may not have been the person he said he is. There is a missing woman that may have a connection to him. And on top of that, as she stays in Scott’s apartment and her obsession with his phone and social media footprint intensifies, she starts to see things that shouldn’t be possible. I don’t want to go into specifics, but I will say this: one of the things that gets me really freaked out in movies and books are the images and descriptions of people and things moving in ways that they shouldn’t be moving. Be it jerky motions or weird contorted moving, it’s going to mess me up every single time. Arnopp does something like that in this book, and boy did it hit all the nerves. Arnopp has always been very good at describing an incredibly visual medium and making it work on the page and within the reader’s imagination. All that said, I did think that the metaphors about technology and social media having a malevolent hold on people are pretty well played out at this point, so that wasn’t as strong as I had hoped it would be, commentary wise.

“Ghoster” was another satisfying and spooky read from Jason Arnopp. It’s a great one to pick up right in time for Halloween, and now that I’ve read it I’m back to square one and not at all patiently waiting to see what he comes out with next! 

Rating 8: A spine tingling and tense horror story about relationships, social media, and obsession.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghoster” is new and isn’t on many relevant/specific Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Fiction Involving The Internet”.

Find “Ghoster” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “White Tears”

30780283Book: “White Tears” by Hari Kunzru

Publishing Info: Knopf Publishing Group, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From one of the most talented fiction writers at work today: two ambitious young musicians are drawn into the dark underworld of blues record collecting, haunted by the ghosts of a repressive past.

Two twenty-something New Yorkers. Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is glamorous and the heir to one of America’s great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to reach for the future. Carter is slipping back into the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it’s a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.

White Tears is a ghost story, a terrifying murder mystery, a timely meditation on race, and a love letter to all the forgotten geniuses of American music.

Review: There has been a strange narrative that has come out lately that I’ve had a hard time swallowing when it comes to the horror genre, and that is the idea of ‘elevating’ horror. While I think that there has been a healthy respect from creators of newer horror movies that manage to gather more from the story than just jump scares or cliches (Jordan Peele, for example), there are others that seem to think that they can ‘improve’ the genre by being more artistic or surrealistic. For example, while I liked aspects of the new “Suspiria”, I definitely felt like it had a very high opinion of itself, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would because it took itself almost too seriously. It’s not really something you see as much in literature, so I don’t go into horror stories with these worries. But I will say that I was a LITTLE worried about “White Tears” by Hari Kunzru, if only because a few people who I know who really liked it seemed to be saying that this was superior to genre horror specifically because of the literary style. That said, I was definitely interested in the themes of social justice and cultural appropriation and violence, and decided that it was finally time to pick it up. I will admit that the horror elements weren’t very horror based, at least for this fan. But everything else was executed wonderfully.

I will actually start with the weaker points in this review, just to get them out of the way. This is advertised as a horror novel, and while it absolutely has horror themes that involve possession, ghosts, and slow descents into instability, none of these themes or moments really made me feel scared, nor did they instill much dread in me. I think that part of this was the writing style choices that Kunzru made, be it the way the dialog was written or the way that sometimes things would jump around. This made it so that the scares couldn’t build up as much as they might have were the beats written in other ways. I tend to have a harder time with literary horror because of these kinds of things, and while I can appreciate authors experimenting and doing their own thing, it didn’t make the action as exciting or ‘unputdownable’ as I wanted. Even moments that could have felt merely unsettling as opposed to outright scary didn’t quite get to that level.

But honestly, the strengths of this book outweigh those issues, specifically the commentary about cultural appropriation, violence, and racism in American culture and society. Our protagonists are Seth and Carter, two white college students who think that because they study and have a fascination with American Blues that they have ownership over it. Seth isn’t nearly as entitled as Carter, whose wealth and status has really inflated his ego, but Seth definitely shares similar views when it comes to music. It’s an entitlement that is seen in American culture as white audiences consume and repackage facets from Black culture and market it to wider audiences and profit off of it. The idea that these two men think that they create a unique song and performer, only to find out that this person and his music was real, is very reminiscent of this view (even if there is something a bit supernatural about this specific instance within the story). I liked the contrast between Carter and Seth, as while Carter is clearly toxic from the get go, Seth is almost more damaging because he thinks that he is immune to these critiques because he doesn’t think he has the privileges that Carter has. Which is, of course, flagrantly ignoring his White privilege. You see a lot of White entitlement in this story, and when we finally start to see the voices of African American characters, specifically Charlie Shaw, the hypocrisy and scumbaggery of Seth, Carter, and others is highlighted and really punctuates the overall violence that artists like Shaw had to endure. I liked how Kunzru did a good job of applying the ideas of possession and haunting to the idea of cultural appropriation and the damages and injustices that it can foster. This is the kind of ‘horror elevation’ that I greatly enjoy, specifically because horror fiction, be it movies or literature, has always had some political and social commentary elements to it. “White Tears” knows how to weave those messages into this story seamlessly.

While I wish that “White Tears” had done a little bit more to scare me, I really enjoyed it for everything else that it had to offer! I should be more adventurous when it comes to literary horror, because this had some serious chops.

Rating 8: While the story wasn’t as horror centric as I had hoped, the social commentary more than made up for that.

Reader’s Advisory:

“White Tears” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books White People Need To Read”, and “Diversity in Fantasy and Science Fiction”.

Find “White Tears” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Turn of the Screw”

12948._sy475_Book: “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James

Publishing Info: The Macmillan Company, October 1898

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.

Review: I’ve mentioned in the past that I have a huge gap in my literature experience when it come to ‘the classics’. I took a rather unconventional load of English and Lit courses in high school and college, and because of that a number of stories have been left behind. The horror genre is no exception, surprisingly enough. I have had “The Turn of the Screw” in the back of my mind since I was a teenager, and it sat on my Kindle for a few years after I purchased a few old school horror reads that then just sat there. My motivation to finally read this book came from two places; I read “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware and knew I was probably missing less known references, and the next Mike Flanagan “Haunting” series is going to be based on this Henry James ghost story. It was obviously time to dive in and read the tale of terror that has influenced so much of the genre.

“The Turn of the Screw” was one of those game changing tales that pushed the ideas of horror and what you could do within the genre itself. There is no denying that Henry James paved the way for modern haunted house tales like “The Haunting of Hill House” and movies like “The Others” when he took ideas of unreliable narrators and unsettling ghosts vs over the top ghosts and put them on the page. Some of the things that I really liked about this book were because of these tweaks and experimentations. “The Turn of the Screw” takes great Gothic elements and completely acknowledges the influence from Gothic stories, be it references to “Jane Eyre” or “The Mysteries of Udolpho”. Bly is isolated and distant, and the unnamed Governess is left there with two strange children, another servant, and no head of house for guidance or direction. As she falls more and more into physical isolation, so too does her mind fall into mental isolation, which is really what you need for a Gothic theme to really have a punch. I also really appreciate how James wrote this story in a way that makes the Governess a completely unreliable narrator, and that we can’t quite figure out whether or not there are actual ghosts and Bly that want to take the children, or if she is slowly descending into madness and she is the actual threat the whole time. It’s left up to interpretation, and arguments can be made for either scenario. I honestly don’t know where I fall on the ‘was it ghosts or insanity’ argument, James was so convincing of both. And frankly, I don’t know which would be the worse answer, given how the story ends. Along with that, in my mild bit of research into the background of this story, James was one of the first people to write ghosts in an unsettling way as opposed to over the top and melodramatic. And that really stands out in this story, as the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel are more inclined to move through the grounds or appear in dark hallways and merely stand there as opposed to rattling chains and wailing. And for me, that’s far more creepy and disturbing. There were moments of imagery in this book that sent chills up my spine.

giphy-2
Was it a mistake to read this book after dark while my husband was out of town? Almost assuredly. (source)

However, the reason that I am giving “The Turn of the Screw” a lower rating than one might expect from my praise is because of the writing style of the time period. This almost always knocks me off my game and distracts me when it comes to ‘classic’ stories, and “The Turn of the Screw” definitely fell into the trap of a lot of flowery language and slogging scenes with not as much action as I would have liked. When comparing it to another classic haunted house story like “The Haunting of Hill House”, I felt like it didn’t have the kind of pacing where the stakes were being repeatedly raised and the dread was building after every incident. I appreciate how this would have been groundbreaking for the time and how much it has done for the ghost stories that came after it. But for me, it was more of a slog to get through than I would have liked.

I think that reading “The Turn of the Screw” was ultimately a good choice, as I see how it works as a foundation for so many stories that I love. But it’s not one that I see myself revisiting as time goes on, as I might with “The Haunting of Hill House” or other classics like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

Rating 6: A classic horror story that paved the way for many themes within a genre, “The Turn of the Screw” has moments of dread, but sometimes is held back by the style it was written in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Turn of the Screw” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books With Unreliable Narrators”, and “Quick Books”.

Find “The Turn of the Screw” at your library using WorldCat!