Horror

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Word Processor Of The Gods by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Published July 22, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Word Processor Of The Gods all about?:

Richard Hagstrom receives a birthday present from his recently deceased nephew of a word processor that Jon has built himself from scratch. This isn’t an ordinary piece of machinery however – it has the potential to change Richard’s life.

What did I think?:

Ah, Stephen King. How I do love you! The master does it again with this phenomenal short story all about a rogue word processor with magical but deadly properties. This is one of King’s relatively shorter stories in the collection but it packs as much of a punch as his longer ones, particularly when you get to the end which I’m not going to spoil, don’t worry! Of course, no writer is perfect and I have found myself slightly disappointed with a couple of the author’s short stories in this collection but on reflection of the ones I’ve read so far (as I find myself pretty much halfway through) the majority of them I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and are so haunting and original that they have stayed in my thoughts.

Word Processor Of the Gods is another excellent example of the genius that is Stephen King. It’s about a man called Richard Hagstrom, husband to a disaffected wife, Lina and a disgruntled, ungrateful teenage boy called Seth. When we first meet Richard, he is installing a word processor in his study which was a gift from his nephew, Jon. Richard often feels that Jon is the son that he should have had and the fact that he built this machine himself, using multiple scraps and various different electrical components warms his heart. Sadly, Richard’s brother Roger, his wife and Jon were killed in a horrific car accident (his brother had been driving drunk) so the gift is even more bitter-sweet and tinged with grief and regret.

Of course, if you’re reading a Stephen King story and thinking this is just an ordinary word processor, you’d be very wrong. Richard is shocked to discover that the machine made out of so many different bits and bobs, whilst emitting a strange sound and smoking ever so slightly actually works – but perhaps it works a bit too literally. When Richard types a particular command onto the screen and presses either the EXECUTE or the DELETE button, things actually happen…..or disappear. How would you deal with this kind of power? What would you change if given half a chance? What would be the consequences if you had the opportunity to permanently alter your life?

I have to admit, this story started of kind of slow and considering it was fairly short, I was slightly concerned that I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much as I had hoped. However, after Richard turns on the word processor for the first time, all doubts I had were immediately blown away by how action packed the narrative ending up becoming. I loved the idea, became fascinated by the characters and their motives and was completely floored by that ending. If you’ve never read any Stephen King before, I recommend this story as a fantastic place to start. It shows off his unique style perfectly and will certainly have you wondering what you would do if you found yourself in similar circumstances.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Hot Dog Stand by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Broken Branches – M. Jonathan Lee

Published July 21, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘Family curses don’t exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don’t think so.’

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to publisher Hideaway Fall for sending me a copy of this fascinating novel in return for an honest review when I contacted them and expressed my interest in working with them. Hideaway Fall are a new independent publishing company based in Yorkshire and aim to support local and Northern based authors who write kooky, unique and astonishing fiction. Broken Branches is the first novel that they have brought out and if their future projects are anything like this, I’m so excited for their future and am honoured to have the opportunity to be part of it all, giving a little bit of attention and publicity to novels like this that fully deserve to be read and enjoyed.

Broken Branches is the extraordinary and incredibly eerie story of Ian and Rachel Perkins and their young son as they inherit Ian’s old childhood home, the aptly named Cobweb Cottage after a family tragedy. The novel is told from two different time periods, the “present” Ian and Ian when he was a younger boy, growing up in the cottage with his mother, distant and gruff father and older brother, Stuart. The reader finds out quite quickly that for generations, there is thought to have been a curse on the Perkins family which all began with an incident involving an imposing sycamore tree outside the front of the house and has led to multiple past deaths and terrifying incidents.

Ian is attempting to investigate the so-called “family curse” by re-tracing his family tree, accumulating documents related to his family and attempting to piece together what has actually happened in different generations of the family. As the project becomes more overwhelming, he becomes more obsessed and determined to crack the mystery and, as a result, his marriage suffers with both partners becoming relative shadows of themselves. To add to their woes, Ian is experiencing strange things within the cottage – hallucinations and strange noises, increased awareness of an alien presence and a very real sense that something is very wrong and dangerous within his home. As Ian scrambles to find out as much information as possible, things continue to spiral downwards for the family and we start to really wonder how much of what is happening is real and how much is just pure superstition?

I had read a few wonderful reviews of Broken Branches before contacting Hideaway Fall and they all made it obvious that this was a book I just had to read. I was fairly prepared for it going to some dark places and dealing with some tough issues but what I hadn’t realised is the extent of the murky depths that it would take me to. We see grief, loss, depression and pure horror in all their guises and not only did the author explore these themes with real panache but he also put a lot of heart and soul into what can be a very tricky and emotive subject matter. I certainly was not equipped to deal with the creepy, superstitious side of this novel and at quite a few points in the narrative, I was a bit loathe to turn out the lights! Finally, I love going into a story thinking I know what it’s going to be about and then the author does something to throw me off, surprises and delights me and has me looking at certain events, characters etc in a completely new light. In fact, when I finished this book, I immediately wanted to go back to the start and read it in light of new information that was revealed. If you like fiction that chills you, moves you and makes you want to keep turning the pages you should definitely try Broken Branches, I’m sure you won’t regret it!

Broken Branches is released by Hideaway Fall publishers on the 27th July 2017.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Published June 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth all about?:

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is one of those classic H.P. Lovecraft stories where there are strange goings on in a small town being investigated by a unnamed narrator who becomes horrified with what he discovers.

What did I think?:

It’s no lie that the H.P. Lovecraft stories I’ve read so far for my Short Stories Challenge have been decidedly hit or miss. It’s got to the point now where I approach the next story extremely tentatively as I’m never sure exactly what I’m going to get! In some ways, the author is completely predictable. Take the synopsis for instance, so many of his short stories (or the ones I’ve read so far) seem to be based in small towns that have other-worldly happenings/inhabitants. In this way, The Shadow Over Innsmouth is exactly what I expected from H.P. Lovecraft. However, I did enjoy the small twist in the tale at the end which was slightly less predictable and therefore much more appreciated.

The town of the moment is called Innsmouth and, as usual, we have an unnamed narrator fascinated with the history of the town, the reasons why so many people avoid it if they possibly can, the hostility of the native townspeople and, most importantly, the odd events that have been occurring for many years now that have resulted in the local populace having a very strange “look.” Our narrator decides to visit the town, curious to be face to face with the surroundings and the peculiar people that live there. He even meets up with one of the local drunks and after loosening his tongue with some whiskey, begins to find out many things that may make him wish he had never asked in the first place. Rumours of alien, sea creatures that demand human sacrifices, strange jewellery that both disgusts and intrigues him in equal measures and the consequences of man’s greed when they make deals with malign, evil creatures.

Of course (perhaps predictably) the bus that is supposed to take our narrator out of the town that evening breaks down and he is forced to stay in the local hotel. You can probably guess at what happens. He hears, sees and witnesses a number of crazy and frightening things that leads to him running quite literally for his life in desperation to escape the town and its alien inhabitants. It’s true we always know he’s going to escape successfully otherwise how would he be telling us the story? Yet, there was something right at the end that did surprise me and that I wasn’t expecting which made me look back on the story with perhaps different eyes than I would have done. Obviously, the narrative is flowing with Lovecraft’s flowery, explosive and over-descriptive vocabulary which is always quite fun to mull over but for me, the creepiness of the creatures never really worked. They are described as frog-fish beings (and at one stage while chasing our narrator they HOP) which I’m sorry to say just had me in hysterics rather than having the effect I’m sure was intended. Oops! However, I do rate this story higher than others in the collection for the idea behind it and the unexpected ending.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Fruits by Steve Mosby from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Alice Through The Plastic Sheet by Robert Shearman from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Published June 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Alice Through The Plastic Sheet all about?:

Alan and Alice have problem neighbours – they play the music too loud, they leave rubbish in the garden, they’re plastic and inhuman.

What did I think?:

Sigh. You know when you have high hopes for a story and go in feeling all excited just to feel bitterly disappointed at the end? This was the case with Alice Through The Plastic Sheet for me. From an author that I haven’t come across before with such a plethora of awards to his name (The World Fantasy Award, The British Fantasy Award, The Shirley Jackson Award…) I was expecting great things and was, unfortunately completely let down.

It’s the story of Alan and Alice, a married couple with a young son that when the story opens, seem to have a sedate, peaceful sort of life with seemingly perfect neighbours, Barbara and Eric living alongside them. Then after her husband’s death, Barbara puts the house up for sale and leaves the area, leaving Alan and Alice rather concerned about what neighbours they may be getting as replacements. They are right to feel tentative as when the new neighbours eventually move in their lives become hell on earth. Loud Christmas music is played at random points during the day and night, their dog barks constantly and viciously but when Alan attempts to go round and address the situation, he finds that their new neighbours aren’t at all what he expected. After this, their lives start spiralling out of control. Alan has troubles at work, their son becomes obnoxious and rude, their dog becomes sick with the stress of it all and his relationship with Alice starts to crumble. Are the new neighbours responsible for everything that is occurring? Or were the shaky foundations that their family is based on always fragile and liable to collapse?

Okay, positive things about this story (Yes, there are some!). I found that I absolutely had to read to the end. It was intriguing and I really couldn’t figure out what was going on so I was determined to finish it. You might know that I love a story with a bit of a quirky edge and this certainly has quirkiness – in bucket loads but I wonder was it too peculiar even for the likes of me? I think I understand what the author was trying to do by exploring relationships on the brink, the thin line between insanity and sanity and how easily you can be toppled into madness and also the aspect of the unknown, the things that make you feel uneasy but you can’t put your finger on exactly why they do. The creepiness of the neighbours unnerved me perhaps at one particular point in the narrative but I have to admit otherwise I was left pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. I didn’t have any strong feelings towards Alan or Alice as characters which left me feeling generally quite apathetic about what happened to them by the end of the story and, to be perfectly honest, just led to more confusion than resolution in the end.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Thorn In My Side by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published May 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Thorn In My Side all about?:

It could have been just any night, and they could have just been any two brothers — but it wasn’t, and they weren’t. The scene is an Atlanta bar. The music is loud and the dance floor is packed. The good-looking brother picks up a girl. But when dark deeds ensue out in the parking lot, what happens next can only be described in two words: vintage Slaughter.

What did I think?:

Okay, so I think regular visitors to my blog are aware that Karin Slaughter can’t do much wrong in my eyes and I always get a little bit excited when one of her short stories rolls around on my Short Stories Challenge. As the synopsis suggests, “vintage Slaughter,” is perfect terminology to use as what happens during this story is shocking, compelling and disturbing, everything I’ve come to expect from the author and yet she still manages to surprise me, every single time.

This very dark, twisted little tale involves two brothers who have a very interesting relationship with each other and a are a bit different from the norm. I do want to veer away from spoilers as I really enjoyed the surprise myself when the reader finds out what makes them special but it might make writing this review quite tough, apologies for any vagueness! The brothers are called Kirk and Wayne and are as different as chalk and cheese. Kirk is the more confident, wise-cracking, brash brother that has a bit of an eye for the ladies and Wayne is the softer, more unassuming, shy brother of the two which causes its own problems for Kirk for reasons I simply cannot divulge. However, one night they pay a prostitute to ahem… service Kirk in the back of their van at a club and things go very badly. This is the tale of the relationship between a very unique set of brothers that has been simmering just below boiling point for so long, but one catastrophic set of events tips things right over the edge and changes both brothers lives forever.

Doesn’t sound too very shocking in the grand scheme of things? Think again. There’s a lot of things I’m not able to say in this review for fear of ruining the shock factor that I myself felt when I realised the direction Slaughter was taking the narrative. She has a fantastic way of writing the most loathsome characters, like Kirk, the self-assured yet incredibly dangerous brother who I loved reading about but made my skin crawl with his actions and the decisions he makes. The author describes it herself on GoodReads as a bit of a departure story for her from what she usually writes and there are a couple of lower starred reviews that may reflect this. For me however, I thought it was a disturbing yet intriguing read with many of her classic trademarks that I appreciated. Maybe it’s not a story for everyone sure, especially the more sensitive or easily offended but personally, I think she’s knocked it out of the park once again.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Drowned Village by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

The White Road – Sarah Lotz

Published May 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A cutting-edge thriller about one man’s quest to discover horror lurking at the top of the world.

Desperate to attract subscribers to his fledgling website, ‘Journey to the Dark Side’, ex-adrenalin junkie and slacker Simon Newman hires someone to guide him through the notorious Cwm Pot caves, so that he can film the journey and put it on the internet. With a tragic history, Cwm Pot has been off-limits for decades, and unfortunately for Simon, the guide he’s hired is as unpredictable and dangerous as the watery caverns that lurk beneath the earth. After a brutal struggle for survival, Simon barely escapes with his life, but predictably, the gruesome footage he managed to collect down in the earth’s bowels goes viral. Ignoring the warning signs of mental trauma, and eager to capitalize on his new internet fame, Simon latches onto another escapade that has that magic click-bait mix of danger and death – a trip to Everest. But up above 8000 feet, in the infamous Death Zone, he’ll need more than his dubious morals and wits to guide him, especially when he uncovers the truth behind a decade-old tragedy – a truth that means he might not be coming back alive. A truth that will change him – and anyone who views the footage he captures – forever.

What did I think?:

First of all a huge thank you to Veronique Norton at Hodder and Stoughton books for sending me a copy of this amazing novel, the first I’ve read from Sarah Lotz in exchange for an honest review. I just have to say, I’ve been really lucky recently with books, the last couple I’ve read have been absolute blinders and that includes The White Road which I can’t recommend highly enough. I have a copy of the first book in Sarah’s duology which begins with The Three on my shelves and I was unsure when I was going to get to it. However, after reading the stunning piece of work that is The White Road, it has certainly jumped up a few places on my TBR! It was a thrilling, white-knuckle ride of a novel that will be hard to forget and I’ve already started recommending it to friends and family, I was that blown away.

Our main character is Simon, who runs a website with his friend, Thierry that mainly focuses on him having to complete dangerous challenges. When we first meet him, he is exploring the Cwm Pot caves which have been forbidden to adventurous cavers for a while but Simon manages to find a rather eccentric and quite mentally unstable guide to show him down there so he can get some video footage for his site. Unfortunately, Simon barely escapes with his life but the footage he does manage to get is phenomenally successful and paves the way for another mad-cap idea – climbing Mount Everest. He has heard that there are many dead bodies up on the mountain that are never removed because of the dangers of doing so and he believes if he can get some evidence of this, his site can finally end up making a lot of money.

What I found most wonderful about this story is that we also get the perspective of a seasoned mountain climber, Juliet who is attempting to achieve her dream and climb Mount Everest amidst many of her own personal demons. This section is made all the more special by the fact that we get her diary entries that follow each day on the mountain, information on her past and why she is so determined to succeed and worst of all, the terrifying state of mind that she gets into when she believes she is not alone on her journey which leads to multiple crossings out in her diary, paranoia and hallucinations.

I’m not going to say too much more for fear of spoilers but I must urge everyone to read this book, honestly. I would have been perfectly happy if the story had been all about Simon who, although rather unlikeable and cock-sure in the beginning, really drags the sympathy out of you as you witness his struggles and, indeed abject terror when he finally realises what he has got himself into. Yet then Sarah Lotz hits it out of the park with a wonderful second perspective, narrated some years earlier of another climber, Juliet and how her experience of climbing Mount Everest affected her life. Whatever you think this book is going to be, let me guarantee you it’s not. It’s terrifying, chilling, gorgeously written and so beautifully descriptive I just kept reading certain passages over and over again. At times, I felt I was on that mountain or in that cave with Juliet and Simon. I felt their fright, their despair. I saw what they saw (or didn’t see?) and I felt cold and cramped with them when the going got tough. Please – if you read one book this year that I’ve written a review about, let it be The White Road and then come and talk to me about it as I’m still reeling from the whole experience.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

Published May 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Haunting, gripping and gorgeously written, SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt is a re-imagining of the unsolved American true crime case of the Lizzie Borden murders, for fans of BURIAL RITES and MAKING A MURDERER.

‘Eerie and compelling, Sarah Schmidt breathes such life into the terrible, twisted tale of Lizzie Borden and her family, she makes it impossible to look away’ Paula Hawkins

When her father and step-mother are found brutally murdered on a summer morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden – thirty two years old and still living at home – immediately becomes a suspect. But after a notorious trial, she is found innocent, and no one is ever convicted of the crime.

Meanwhile, others in the claustrophobic Borden household have their own motives and their own stories to tell: Lizzie’s unmarried older sister, a put-upon Irish housemaid, and a boy hired by Lizzie’s uncle to take care of a problem.

This unforgettable debut makes you question the truth behind one of the great unsolved mysteries, as well as exploring power, violence and the harsh realities of being a woman in late nineteenth century America.

What did I think?:

First of all, the biggest thank you to the lovely Georgina Moore from Headline and Tinder Press who were kind enough to send me a copy of this astounding debut novel in return for an honest review. To be honest, I’m not sure where to start with this book – I have so much to say and it invoked so many different feelings in me that I’m wary of this review turning into an incoherent gush fest! See What I Have Done is unlike any novel I’ve read before and will probably ever read. The characters, the structure of the plot and especially the stunning writing style all completely blew me away and I still find myself thinking about it days after finishing.

Sarah Schmidt has chosen to focus on a real and rather shocking event that played out in the late nineteenth century involving a young girl called Lizzie Borden who was the main suspect in a double murder of her father and his wife, her stepmother Abby Borden. You may be familiar with the old schoolyard rhyme:

“Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”

Now in reality, Lizzie was actually acquitted of their murders. Apparently it was thought that the killings were so brutal that no well brought up, middle-class young lady would have been capable of such an act. Sarah Schmidt has chosen to fictionalise Lizzie’s story from a number of perspectives that is, from the point of view of her sister Emma who was not present in the house at the time of the killings, the Irish maid Bridget who at the time had an uneasy relationship with Mrs Borden, a mysterious young man called Benjamin and from Lizzie herself. Each perspective is startlingly honest and intimate and we get a fantastic insight into the strained relationships between different family members, the sadness and frustration of living in a house with difficult and occasionally spiteful parents and the innermost thoughts of a troubled mind.

See What I Have Done is a raw and disturbing read that instantly draws you in with its delicious (yet at the same time disgusting) imagery forged by beautifully descriptive writing and fascinating character studies that have you questioning everybody and everything. It seems like everyone has motive for killing the Borden’s but which one of these individuals had the strength and audacity to wield the axe at the end? As a reader, we’ve got an idea of whom as we draw towards the conclusion but the author will still have you thinking of alternative things that could have happened if others were in the vicinity at the right time. What did I love most about this novel? Apart from the writing style which I could wax on about for days, I enjoyed how she explored the relationship between Lizzie and her older sister Emma which was terribly co-dependent on Lizzie’s part, despite the fact she was supposed to be in her thirties. Her child-like voice, the decisions she made, and the actions she chose added the creep factor to the proceedings and made her an utterly mind-blowing character to read about.

Even the simple act of several characters eating a pear sent shivers down my spine, it was written in such a crystal clear way that played on each one of your senses to the extreme where you could smell the sickness in the house, taste the mutton soup and swallow the pear. If I could sum up my feelings on See What I Have Done (which would be tricky!) I would say: I was nauseated and amazed, disgusted but filled with awe, taken aback but hugely delighted and urge everyone with every fibre of my being to READ THIS BOOK. Sarah Schmidt has a new, ardent fan right here that has “seen what she has done,” loved every minute of it and simply cannot wait to see what she does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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