horror

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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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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Birds by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories

Published April 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Birds all about?:

The Birds, immortalised by Alfred Hitchcock’s infamous film tells the story of a family who are trying to protect their house from a nationwide epidemic of aggressive birds that seek to maim/kill all humans at different points in the tides.

What did I think?:

I don’t think I even need to mention again how big a fan I am of Daphne du Maurier’s work – oops, just did! I have previously reviewed all her short stories in the fantastic collection The Breaking Point previously in my Short Stories Challenge (for reviews on these please see my archive) and I immediately knew I wanted to pick another short story collection from the author as I have a few on my Kindle all ready for my eager little eyes to peruse. I’ve been familiar with the story of The Birds for a little while, like others having seen the famous Hitchcock film but I wasn’t actually aware that the film is a little different to the original story, although still an excellent piece of work.

The story follows a family – Nat, his wife and their two children, Johnny and Jill. It starts out like any other night until at some point during the evening, the weather turns all of a sudden to the most bitter winter our characters have ever experienced. Coinciding with this turn in the weather, Nat and his wife are disturbed by a consistent tapping on the window that turns out to be a bird, immediately attacking Nat when he goes to the window. A little while later, they hear screams from the children’s room and a whole host of birds (about fifty) are in there, maliciously going for the children until Nat manages to subdue i.e. mostly kill all of them, hurting himself in the process.

The rest of the story follows the family as it turns out that the problem of the birds seems to be a nationwide epidemic and all individuals are being urged to stay indoors and strongly board up and protect their houses from the winged onslaught. The epidemic becomes so terrifying that the radio stops transmitting the news and government planes crash and burn as they try to deal with the millions of birds determined to wreak utter havoc. And yes, once again, Daphne du Maurier writes a classic tale of fear and tension, from that very first tap on the window to the suicidal instincts of the birds in order to gain entry to properties and the sheer determination to be aggressive and cause as much damage as possible.

I loved every moment of it and was utterly gripped by the horror of the situation that our family found themselves in, especially when during a respite from the birds, as the tides ebb, they visit a neighbouring farm for supplies and see the full extent of the birds reign of terror. This is a story from an author who is at the peak of her writing abilities and it had such a dramatic effect on me. I have to laugh, I live in a beautiful area in the countryside and can often hear birds chirping just outside my library where I blog. While I was reading this story however, I couldn’t help but turn to look out the window and worry a little bit….who would have known a tiny little sparrow could seem so malevolent?!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Double Room by Ramsey Campbell from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page

Published March 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Double Room all about?:

Double Room focuses on an older man who after losing his wife begins to hear strange and disturbing things in the hotel room next to him.

What did I think?:

I’ve only come across the author Ramsey Campbell once before and it was another short story, Getting It Wrong from the collection A Book Of Horrors. I did enjoy what I read there and was delighted to discover on opening a brand new short story collection, The New Uncanny, that the first story was penned by him. Like his previous short story, the author has a real knack for making the reader feel supremely uncomfortable word by word, page by page until the very satisfying and ominous finale.

As I mentioned, this is a new short stories collection for my challenge, after completing a previous book, Vampires In The Lemon Grove by Karen Russell in 2016. All my reviews for the short stories there if you’re interested can be found in my archive, available on the main page under the author’s name. Back to The New Uncanny though – I have to admit to feeling a thrill when an editor of a collection does a little introduction at the beginning of the book. This one, edited by Ra Page was especially fun to read and he does an excellent job of describing the uncanny:

“…the uncanny is that which may be familiar, or ordinary, but somehow disturbs us, makes us uncomfortable, and in some cases gives us the full on willies.”

Double Room is a brilliant example of the uncanny and uses a trope often employed by those writing horror stories, that is the double or doppelganger that our main character finds himself confronted with. His name is Edwin Ferguson and he’s a man recently bereaved after losing his beloved wife after a long illness. When we first meet him, he’s trying to get off with a couple of girls in a hotel bar and is instantly unlikeable for the reader. However, when he goes upstairs to bed, our attitude might change to pity when he starts to experience a queer thing. Every move he makes, word he speaks etc appears to be mirrored by the same behaviour/sound in the adjoining room to his own. At first, it seems like a coincidence but it is not long before the echo of his own voice begins to terrify him and he alerts hotel staff who show him that the room is clearly empty (*shiver*).

I don’t want to say too much about the plot but it is safe to say that his guilt over his wife’s death (more specifically, his internal reaction to it when her death happened) is playing on his mind and becoming tortuous. The words that are being repeated back to him from the doppelganger, as they are muffled, could be mis-interpreted as something else and seems to suggest that Edwin was relieved for her eventual death. By the end of the story, I had done a complete revolution of my feelings against the main character and just felt terribly sorry for him. The mocking echo of your own “double,” was quite a frightening aspect to read about and I think the author did a phenomenal job with both the plot and the creep factor which certainly gave me a few goosebumps along the way.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY CHALLENGE: The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published February 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Raft all about?:

The Raft is about four college students who decide to celebrate the end of summer by swimming out to a raft on a remote lake. Unfortunately they come across a monstrous entity that puts an end to summer in a way they never could have expected.

What did I think?:

So, it’s Stephen King. If you haven’t been here before, I’m a bit of a fan. However, I like to think that I am perfectly honest when I think he hasn’t written a brilliant story – case in point, The Wedding Gig, also from this collection which I gave a shocking two stars. Luckily, Stephen King was back on top form with this latest story from Skeleton Crew, The Raft, which has to be one of my all time favourites of short fiction that he has written. It has everything you could ever want from a horror story and this is definitely where he gets his (often not accurate) reputation as a horror writer as this story is truly horrific. Not for the weak of stomach, I wouldn’t recommend this story for anyone who gets queasy at the thought of elaborate death scenes.

We have four college students – Randy, Deke, Rachel and LaVerne who are all drinking and having a good time at the end of summer. After a bit too much booze, they decide it would be a great idea to drive to a remote lake nearby and swim out to a raft placed in the middle of the lake. The boys are both having a relationship with the girls and a lot of it is posturing and ego but in the end, all four decide it would be a good idea even if Randy (whose perspective we hear from the most) is starting to regret the decision. Well, wise old Randy was right to be tentative because as the teenagers strip down to their underwear and one by one swim out to the raft, he notices a strange dark puddle in the water. It’s almost like an oil slick with a rainbow of colours amidst the darkness.

This is no ordinary oil slick however. It appears to malevolently come after the girls as they are swimming towards the raft. Of course, Randy’s fears are laughed at by the rest of the group but not for long as Rachel, transfixed by the colours in the darkness is compelled to topple into the water and is immediately gobbled up, albeit very slowly, limb by limb by the “oil slick.” This is now very dangerous territory for the group. They cannot swim to the shore as the oil slick is too fast and would engulf them. They cannot call for help as they are in a very remote area with little likelihood of someone coming by. They cannot even look at the oil slick for too long as the colours seem to have a hypnotic effect, inducing them to fall into the water and face certain death. This story is not likely to end well!

The Raft is Stephen King at his absolute greatest. As always with his writing, it’s not just a horrific event occurring. He really delves into the relationships between the members of the group – the bro-mance between Randy and Deke and the suggestion that ladies man Deke is also making a play for Randy’s own girlfriend which puts their friendship on very shaky grounds. As if they didn’t have enough to deal with coping with a carnivorous oil slick!! I did mention before though that the death scenes are incredibly graphic and I must emphasise that again. Anybody who doesn’t like too much blood and gore is definitely not going to get on well with this story. Strong stomach required! The only part that didn’t sit well with me is near the end of the story where Randy and LaVerne, overwhelmed with emotion, have sex with each other on the raft while the oil slick lurks nearby, awaiting its opportunity to strike. It didn’t strike me as realistic or necessary at all and made me roll my eyes slightly – for shame, Stephen King! It is my only gripe with the story mind you, but because of that, I sadly can’t give it the full five star treatment (otherwise it certainly would be) 🙂

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Short Stories Challenge – The Haunter Of The Dark by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Published November 20, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Haunter Of The Dark all about?:

The Haunter Of The Dark follows a male protagonist as he becomes obsessed with an old church which he can see from his own lodgings not far away. Of course, in typical Lovecraftian style, there is something evil within the church that leads our main character to a bit of a sticky ending.

What did I think?:

I think it’s fair to say that the Lovecraft stories I have read in this collection have been a bit hit and miss for me. Sometimes I can see the excellence in the writing, sometimes the stories are a bit eerie and give me a few shivers, then… there are other times that I find myself irritated by the over-flowery vocabulary and too many similarities between the stories. With The Haunter Of The Dark, I’m afraid I found myself of the latter opinion and didn’t really enjoy this tale too much.

The Haunter Of The Dark is famous for being the last-written of the author’s known works and is part of the Cthulhu Mythos (which I guess explains the similarities between other stories?). This is a shared fictional universe of Lovecraft’s where other authors have contributed work that can stand alone but may also fit into the development of the plot, characters or general world. I am in no way, shape or form an expert on this world from the few stories I have read that describe the creature Cthulhu or its genesis/development and must confess to feeling slightly confused over the whole thing – if any Lovecraft experts would like to explain, I’d be very grateful for some explanations!

As with many of Lovecraft’s stories, we focus on a male protagonist – Robert Blake, a writer and painter with an interest in the occult. He becomes intrigued and then rather consumed by an ancient church that he can see from his rooms in Providence, Rhode Island. Determined to investigate the old building, despite warnings from the superstitious locals he ends up releasing a primeval being and discovering the sinister history of the church, connected to a cult known as the Church Of Starry Wisdom. The being is kept constrained within the building by the lights of the town and can only work its mischief when there is complete darkness. So, of course the town undergoes a power cut during a thunderstorm, releasing the demon with severe consequences for our male lead.

Okay, so positive things about this story. The thought of an ancient (and evil) being that can only carry out its dastardly deeds under the cover of darkness is very creepy I grant you. It plays on on your old childhood fears of the dark, what might be under your bed or that panicky moment when the lights go out if you’re not expecting it. Apart from this, I have to admit I struggled with The Haunter Of The Dark. The story seemed so formulaic, there was nothing special or different about Robert as a character and, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t have to write this review. We know it doesn’t end well when the beginning of the story opens with our main character’s death (which was probably the most exciting few sentences of the entire narrative). Hugely disappointing, I’m very much hoping that the next H.P. Lovecraft story I read will be a pleasant surprise!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Hogmanay Homicide by Edward Marston from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7