horror

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Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill

Published August 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sooner or later the dead catch up.

When Judas Coyne heard someone was selling a ghost on the internet, there was no question. It was perfect for his collection of the macabre: the cannibal’s cookbook, the witch’s confession, the authentic snuff movie. As an ageing death-metal rock-god, buying a poltergeist almost qualifies as a business expense.

Besides, Jude thinks he knows all about ghosts. Jude has been haunted for years… by the spirits of bandmates dead and gone, the spectre of the abusive father he fled as a child, and the memory of the suicidal girl he abandoned. But this ghost, delivered to his doorstep in a black heart-shaped box, is different. It makes the house feel cold. It makes the dogs bark. And it means to chase Jude from his home and make him run for his life.

What did I think?:

Regular visitors might be aware of a teeny weeny love (obsession?) I have with Stephen King. Well, Joe Hill happens to be one of his children and I have had his debut novel on my shelves for the longest time, putting it off and then putting it off some more. Why did I do this? I have no idea when this book is just so damn GOOD! All I can think is that I had huge expectations and that’s really not fair to him as an author, his novels stand on their own as brilliant (occasionally terrifying) works of fiction. He shouldn’t be compared to his father in any way, shape or form and I’m not going to even go there. I’m just going to talk about how fantastic HE is.

Heart-Shaped Box is a dark, twisted little tale about a middle-aged rock star, Judas Coyne who has a fancy for the quirky, more unusual items out there on the web and his head is turned by someone selling a ghost in a heart-shaped box. However, purchasing it has to be one of the biggest mistakes in his life. Within the box is an old suit that contains the spirit of a very vengeful, very nasty man called Craddock McDermott that has a bone to pick with Judas. His step-daughter committed suicide after being in a relationship with Judas, a relationship that ended quite acrimoniously and obviously led her to taking her own life. Now Craddock is back from the dead, apoplectic with rage, determined to avenge his step-daughter and for Jude and anyone who stands in his way there’s going to be hell to pay.

Great premise right? With a synopsis like that, I was expecting great things and Joe Hill delivered on every single level. The plot was fast, exciting and ever so gritty and at points, the twists and turns that this narrative took and the things Craddock subjected Jude and his girlfriend Georgia to were truly hideous and terrifying in equal measure. I also loved the creation of the characters who weren’t necessarily the easiest people to like – frankly, I despised Jude at the start and found Georgia irritating and a bit of a brat… but Joe Hill completely changed my mind round and I found myself championing both of them until the bitter end. Craddock was also an amazing villain – insane, petrifying, disgusting, all these things but utterly, completely brilliant. Some reviewers are not so keen on this book as I am and praise Joe Hill’s later books – Horns, NOS4R2 and The Fireman more than this, his debut novel. Well, all I can say is if this isn’t his best, boy am I in for a treat when I read his next book! (P.S. I have already read his second novel, Horns – review coming soon and spoiler alert, it’s completely fantastic!!)

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Mini Pin-It Reviews #12 – Four Random Books

Published August 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four random books for you – please see my pin it thoughts below!

1.) City Of Thieves – David Benioff

What’s it all about?:

From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival — and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.

By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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2.) Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) – Jeff VanderMeer

What’s it all about?:

Winner of the 2015 Nebula Award.

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

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3.) Beyond Black – Hilary Mantel

What’s it all about?:

Alison Hart is a medium by trade. But her ability to communicate with spirits is a torment rather than a gift. Behind her plump, smiling and bland public persona is a desperate woman. Her days and nights are haunted by the men she knew in her childhood, the thugs and petty criminals who preyed upon her hopeless, addled mother, Emmie. And the more she tries to be rid of them, the stronger and nastier they become.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

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4.) How To Be Both – Ali Smith

What’s it all about?:

Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith’s novels are like nothing else. A true original, she is a one-of-a-kind literary sensation. Her novels consistently attract serious acclaim and discussion—and have won her a dedicated readership who are drawn again and again to the warmth, humanity and humor of her voice.

How to be both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a Renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real—and all life’s givens get given a second chance.

A NOTE TO THE READER:
Who says stories reach everybody in the same order?
This novel can be read in two ways and this book provides you with both.
In half of all printed editions of the novel the narrative EYES comes before CAMERA.
In the other half of printed editions the narrative CAMERA precedes EYES.
The narratives are exactly the same in both versions, just in a different order.

The books are intentionally printed in two different ways, so that readers can randomly have different experiences reading the same text. So, depending on which edition you happen to receive, the book will be: EYES, CAMERA, or CAMERA, EYES. Enjoy the adventure.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

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COMING UP NEXT TIME ON MINI PIN-IT REVIEWS: Four YA Novels.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Possum by Matthew Holness from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Published August 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Possum all about?:

Possum follows a disgraced puppeteer as he is forced to return home and confront certain things from his past.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, what on earth did I just read?! The short story Possum is from an author I had never come across before, Matthew Holness who is actually a well respected comedian and actor here in the UK. This is why I feel so bad about writing this review – this story was unequivocally not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a story with a bit of an edge, horror is definitely my bag and anything that leaves me in the slightest bit uneasy I will usually praise to the heavens. However, not this story. I left it feeling disgusted, a bit dirty (and a little bit nauseous if I’m completely honest). I was a bit surprised to be feeling this way, I’m not easily shocked or grossed out by fiction and pride myself on my strong and (I thought!) immovable stomach. Well, it turns out that there is a limit to what I can take and I’m afraid Matthew Holness just found that level and took it to dizzying heights.

Our narrator is returning home we think, in disgrace after an incident at one of his puppet shows. His favourite puppet called Possum is an absolute monstrosity. Most of it is quite canine in appearance – the body, long protruding tongue, bull terrier eyes but the head is undeniably human. It is made of wax and possesses a startling resemblance to our narrator when he was younger, acne scars and all. The tongue is coated with flypaper and over the years has amassed a number of bluebottles, now dried up and tending to fall out whenever the tongue escapes the mouth of the puppet. We don’t really learn too much about our narrator’s past, a lot of things are merely implied or suggested but we understand that he has been through some terrible experiences that are still affecting him as an adult. He takes out all his emotions about his past on Possum the puppet, attempting to drown it, bury it alive tear it apart, burn it etc yet it still returns each time to haunt him making him believe that he will never be able to confront the ghosts of his past and indeed present situation in life.

So, positive things about this story. The whole idea of it (whilst being completely warped) was hugely imaginative and intriguing and although I personally didn’t get on with the narrative, I was completely gripped to finish the story and see how it all panned out for our main character. Beware however, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a strong stomach is definitely required if you want to read this story. Some parts are so hideous and so nauseating that I actually groaned out loud. It takes a lot to repulse me (or so I thought!) and this piece of fiction certainly takes the ick factor to brand new levels that I never anticipated. If the object of the story was to make you feel as uneasy and as disgusted as possible, (which I have to say does seem to be the point when you consider the title of this particular collection) the author has one hundred percent succeeded in his objective so all kudos to him. I just never ever want to read this again!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

Gather The Daughters – Jennie Melamed

Published July 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For fans of Emma Cline’s THE GIRLS and Emily St John Mandel’s STATION 11, this dark, unsettling and hugely compelling story of an isolated island cult will get under your skin.

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

What did I think?:

Tinder Press are fast becoming one of my favourite publishers, they are bringing out some outstanding books this year so thank you so much to them and to Caitlin Raynor for sending me an advance copy of this unbelievable dystopian story in exchange for an honest review. Gather The Daughters is released today and believe me, you simply must get your hands on it because the narrative and indeed, the world that Jennie Melamed has created is truly stunning and you won’t regret a second you spend reading it.

The story is set on an island which is quite isolated from the rest of the world both physically, separated by a band of water and literally as the way of life experienced by the islanders is not exactly conventional. The society is patriarchal and there are very clear rules about what women can and cannot do, say, be exposed to etc according to “the ancestors,” whose strange rules are law and should never be questioned or disobeyed. There are strict guidelines about not touching daughters in the families until they have entered their summer of fruition i.e. got their first period. It is after then that they are married off and treated as little more than breeding machines with the sole purpose of increasing the population of the colony. However, every summer, the children are let loose on the island to run wild, play, have fun, fend for themselves and enjoy the small freedom that they have before entering a life of drudgery. It is during this one summer that one small girl, Caitlin witnesses something shocking happening on the island and from then on, nothing will ever be the same again.

Wow. Just wow. I could already tell when I read the synopsis that this was a book I simply had to get my hands on and I was over the moon when it surpassed my already very high expectations. The writing is wonderfully sublime, the world-building one of a kind and the characters – like a dream come true. We hear from multiple daughters of the island including Caitlin herself, and the brilliant Janey whose actions when she hears what Caitlin has seen have huge consequences for everyone on the island. Some of the things that happen in this novel are truly horrific, others are nail-biting and it makes for the most amazing debut piece of fiction that I have read in a long, long time. Jennie Melamed has created such a frightening dystopian society that makes you think, gets deep under your skin and has a unique style and voice all of its own. This is an author to watch out for I’m certain and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next – I’ll be first in the queue to read it although I might have to fight for my place when everyone else reads this too!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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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):

four-stars_0

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