Review

Review: The Dagger in the Desk (Lockwood & Co #1.5) by Jonathan Stroud

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I’m never sure about reviewing novellas and short stories. Sometimes I don’t feel I have enough to say about them, or that I will have developed enough of a sense of the book in such a small number of pages. Luckily, I am already familiar with the universe of Lockwood & Co having absolutely loved the two books written by Jonathan Stroud so far, and The Dagger in the Desk just leaps straight into the action.

What I didn’t realise until after I’d read the book is that it was written over six days, with help from members of the Guardian newspaper’s children’s website, who voted on the name, location and the ghost. My initial thought, before reading this, was that it would most likely appeal to the target audience even more, due to being set in a school. It’s definitely something that would have appealed to me when I was younger, having to miss school due to a haunting!

Despite the very short nature of the book, Jonathan Stroud proves that he is a master storyteller by building up the tension in only a few pages. What I’ve always found surprising about this series is that despite being aimed at Middle Grade and above, it is actually genuinely creepy in some places – and this novella was no exception. Even though the case is over and done with rather quickly, Stroud provides some eerie moments and a memorable ghostly foe.

The book was even shorter than expected, with a handy guide to the ghouls Lockwood, George and Lucy encounter through the series, as well as a sample of The Screaming Staircase. Definitely worth checking out for fans of Lockwood & Co who just can’t wait for book number three – such as myself!

Review

Review: Revival by Stephen King

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Revival was a lovely surprise from the people at Hodder, who actually sent me two copies of the book – so I passed one onto a friend, and we ended up reading the book at the same time. It’s always fun being able to discuss a book with someone who is also reading it, or has just read it. I don’t know if this is what motivated me to pick up my reading speed (read in three days, compared to how it’s been for most of my time during my Masters so far, that is SUPER quick), or whether it was just because the book completely and utterly drew me in.

At first, Revival didn’t feel like your usual Stephen King novel. It didn’t quite have that sense of sheer creepiness, only perhaps a slight sense of unease. And then suddenly, one horrific event, told in full King style gory bits and all, turned it all around. It jumped back and forth in time, throwing shocks in my face and then only explaining them chapters or hundreds of pages later.

Whilst definitely a unique story that explores how one small incident can change so many lives, for better or for worse, as well as being a pretty thorough character story, I felt that Revival didn’t quite deal what was promised. The blurb claims that “This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written”, and whilst I agree that it is rich and disturbing, it was definitely not a terrifying conclusion. It was, quite frankly, just very, very odd. Odd is something that Stephen King does very well, but apparently not this time. Everything was over a little too quickly, and overall it just didn’t satisfy me.

Despite that, I am more than happy to give this book a five star rating. The build up of the story, the characters (particularly the protaganist, Jamie), the tension – definitely all worth it. I had a lot of fun trying to guess what Jacobs was up to, and what Jamie’s part in it would be. And whilst it’s not creepy and horrific in the style of The Shining, for instance, it is yet another fine example of why Stephen King is so popular – boy, can he write.

Past Features

Turning Off The TV #26: Horror October Special Edition

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Welcome to my regular Thursday feature, Turning off the TV! In this feature I recommend books similar to TV shows or films you may have enjoyed, both series and specific episodes. This is a special Horror October edition of the feature, with lots more recommendations under a general theme. Obviously, the theme is horror (surprise, surprise!), but I’ve separated the books out by the main element of the story and suggested a film for each one. Each cover leads to the Goodreads page for the book.

Haunted houses e.g. Poltergeist

The Haunting of Hill House Amityville Horror The Vanishing by Wendy Webb

Experimentation e.g. Splice

The Madman's Daughter Broken The Heavens Rise

Ghosts e.g. Paranormal Activity

Anna Dressed In Blood The Turn Of The Screw The Graveyard Book

Werewolves e.g. The Howling

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy Shiver Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar

Terrifying beasts e.g. Trollhunter

The Terror The Ruins Snowblind

Vampires e.g. Nosferatu

Carmilla Interview with the Vampire The Historian

Do you have any recommendations to add? What are some of your favourite elements or tropes of the horror genre?

Misc.

Horror October: Horror Books Read This Year

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For today’s Horror October post, I wanted to share the books I’ve read this year that fit the theme – some are horror, others more thrillers, others just plain creepy!

Doctor Sleep (The Shining #2) by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep is definitely one of my highlights of the year! I’d been anticipating this sequel to The Shining ever since I first read about it, before the cover was even released. Hodder sent me a review copy earlier in the year, and it was definitely worth the wait. If you’ve already read The Shining then hurry up and read this!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is not so much a traditional horror, it is really a thriller, but it shows just how horrific humans can be to each other. It’s hard to say much about this book without giving anything away, so I won’t! I’m looking forward to seeing the film of this one too.

  • My rating for Gone Girl: [simple-rating stars=”four-stars”]

The Three by Sarah Lotz

The Three by Sarah Lotz

The Three by Sarah Lotz was an interesting read. It was told entirely from interviews, newspaper articles and other sources of media. Unfortunately its format meant I had no connection whatsoever to any of the characters, and the ending was just incredibly frustrating.

The Quick (The Quick #1) by Lauren Owen

The Quick by Lauren Owen

The Quick was also another unique novel: wonderfully Gothic and rather slow paced. I took a while to read this one for various reasons so I think it might need a re-read at some point, but I enjoyed it a lot. I also had the privilege of meeting the author, Lauren Owen, in April, and definitely made a fool of myself. Oops.

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy had me super excited – it was a werewolf novel with a twist and had such wonderful reviews. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t agree with them. The writing was wonderful but the story just felt… lacking. Also it promised me a good scare and just didn’t deliver!

Midnight Crossroad (Midnight #1) by Charlaine Harris

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris was another disappointment. I really love her Southern Vampire Mysteries series (or the True Blood books if you prefer), even if the last few just felt like a chance to make some easy money. So I was hoping a new series would be a new start, and whilst Midnight Crossroad wasn’t bad, there was nothing special about it.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black is another one that’s had great reviews, but I just didn’t get along with. Too many vampires and falling for the bad boy, ugh… The concept of the Coldtowns was original, but vampires? So overdone right now… It does have one of the most horrific opening scenes I’ve ever read though.

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse #1) by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse #1) by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey is hard to explain in terms of the horror genre without giving away some big plot points. I definitely wasn’t expecting the horror element when I started reading it, and it’s definitely a memorable part… I read it with my Goodreads book group and it was pretty well received!

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co #1) by Jonathan Stroud

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co #1) by Jonathan Stroud

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud is one of my stand-out books of the year. I wasn’t expecting to love it so much, but it pulled me right in. It may be aimed at younger readers but it is SO amazing. Think a mix of Sherlock and Supernatural, with teenage protaganists.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? Do you have any horror recommendations based on what you’ve read this year?

Top Lists

Horror October: Top Ten Horror Books On My TBR List

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Today’s Horror October post features the top ten books on my ‘to be read’ list that I want to read most urgently. I’d love to know if any of you have read them, and what you thought! I’ve linked to each book on Goodreads underneath the picture. These are a mix of books from Netgalley and Edelweiss that I still haven’t gotten round to, as well as my own purchases.

TBR Horror

This House Is Haunted by John Boyne, Amity by Micol Ostow and The Haunting Season by Michelle Muto

TBR Horror

The Furies by Mark Alpert

TBR Horror

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

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The Troop by Nick Cutter

TBR Horror

A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley

TBR Horror

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes and The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

TBR Horror

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

Review

Review: The Whispering Skull (Lockwood & Co #2) by Jonathan Stroud

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I first encountered this series at the beginning of the year, the first book being The Screaming Staircase and absolutely loved it. There was no question about whether to request the second book from Netgalley or not, regardless of my ridiculous pile of books to review! And luckily, The Whispering Skull definitely lived up to my expectations.

Set six months after the previous book, The Whispering Skull leaps straight into the action: Lockwood & Co have had a run of successful jobs and things are looking up. More and more clients are approaching them for help and for once they don’t feel like they have to compete with other agencies. That’s until a strange and powerful Source is stolen, and Lockwood, Lucy and George are back in competition with the other agencies, as well as in a race against time, to retrieve it. As before, some scenes were actually genuinely creepy and gave me the chills – but combined with the wonderful sense of humour that I’ve come to expect.

A fast-paced read, the writing just flows off the page – although that may be something to do with the intended younger audience – and the exciting moments just keep coming. I felt that the story was perhaps less atmospheric than The Screaming Staircase, but much of the atmosphere of the first book was created by setting up the story and the changes from the world as we know it.

The publisher describes this book as aimed at ‘middle grade’ readers, but as someone in my twenties I have to say I absolutely LOVE this series. It’s a fabulous mix of ghost novel and detective story, with characters you’ll just love. Lockwood is still an enigma, very much a Sherlock type character, and I can imagine him being a bit of a heart-breaker when he gets older. Lucy is the witty and occasionally sarcastic narrator, with George as the brains but also the comic relief. Were I actually within the age range for this book, I can definitely say that the idea of these teens running their own agencies and living alone, without adults, would be a high point!

If you’re looking for something a little bit creepy, but don’t feel quite ready to delve into some serious horror novels, I would definitely recommend giving Lockwood & Co a try.

Review

Review: Doctor Sleep (The Shining #2) by Stephen King

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Ever since I heard that Stephen King was writing a sequel to The Shining, I knew I would have to get my hands on a copy somehow. And then, lo and behold, the wonderful Hodder sent me a copy to review! I apologise for how long it took for me to finally get around to reading and reviewing it, but it was most definitely worth the wait.

If you’re not familiar with The Shining, I would definitely advise reading it before moving on to Doctor Sleep. Whilst it’s not necessary to have read it and I think you would have no issues following the story, it adds so much more depth. Echoes of moments in The Shining, similar scenes and lines come back to haunt the reader. Despite there being over thirty years between the events of the first book, and the final events of Doctor Sleep, the two books felt so interconnected in many ways.

This is definitely one of those books that’s difficult to review, in that you don’t want to stop and make notes – you want to just keep on reading. One of my best friends mentioned that it was one of those books she just couldn’t stop reading and there wasn’t a dull moment – when someone says something like that you know you have to check for yourself, and she was definitely right. Although I didn’t find it as creepy as The Shining (it was the topiary that got me last time), there was a constant eerie undertone and real sense of danger, to both Abra and Dan.

Speaking of Abra, she could have been a precocious and annoying little kid, with these strange talents to show off, but instead she was witty and mature, if a little naive at times. But that was good, it kept her grounded and reminded the reader that she was just a child. And as for Dan, I felt the book was a really interesting exploration into a character who was created over thirty years ago and not necessarily intended to have a sequel.

Considering that I haven’t been making much time for reading lately, this was definitely the right book to get me back into the swing of things. With a highly original concept, creepy undertones and some great characters, it definitely deserves five stars in my book – but could we expect anything less from Mr. Stephen King?

Review

Review: Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

From the blurb alone, you wouldn’t necessarily know this was a book featuring werewolves. You may be able to guess from the title, but it’s not immediately obvious. And the reason that I say a book featuring werewolves, rather than a werewolf book, is because there is so much more to the story than the fact that werewolves exist in this world. It’s less about the paranormal elements, and more of a commentary on the state of the world, how judgmental people can be when they find out someone is a little ‘different’, even if they treated that person with kindness and respect before.

To begin with, the reader is made aware that lycans are common knowledge. Everyone knows they exist, and in a Big Brother style move, the government decrees that they must all be listed on a register, for anyone to look up. Registered lycans must also undergo regular blood tests to make sure they are taking ‘Volpexx’, the drug that controls the change. So whilst at first it may seem that it’s not all that bad – many people are tolerant if not accepting – it soon becomes clear that lycans are second-rate citizens, not considered human despite the fact that they could be your friends, parents, siblings, grand-parents, anyone you know.

Only a few pages in, I had already come to the conclusion that I really loved Benjamin Percy’s writing style. It flows so smoothly and is wonderfully descriptive – but unfortunately, the story really slowed down about halfway through and almost seemed to drag in places. This is where the descriptive writing became more of a hindrance; I just wanted things to progress. However, in some places the slow pace worked really well where it was interspersed with sudden shocking moments and jumps, but I was never really scared. From a lot of the quotes on the inside cover, I expected the book to be pretty terrifying and was fully prepared to have to sleep with the lights on. However, but for a few eerie moments, it just didn’t do it for me in terms of a good scare.

There are three main characters within the story, although the book does skip around and follow a couple more, and I think it was the sudden changes as well as the fact that even the main characters didn’t feel massively fleshed out that meant I didn’t particularly care for them. Claire probably had the most interesting story, although I don’t think she developed much as a character.

Despite the fact that the conclusion was rather unsatisfying, I did enjoy this book – just not as much as I expected. Whilst it’s beautifully written and clever, it was just far too slow for my liking. And not at all scary – surprising, considering that Stephen King found it terrifying!

Review

Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

The Three is unlike any book I’ve ever read. It’s a fictional non-fiction book (!) comprised of eyewitness accounts, interviews, IM chats and transcripts. Focusing around an event known as ‘Black Thursday’, where four planes crashed at the same time all over the world for unknown reasons, it is a book within a book. Between the four crashes, there were only three survivors: all young children, who don’t quite seem themselves after the event. You would think this not usual, considering what they’ve been through, but various people latch on to different theories about what ‘The Three’ might be. These range from the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse to aliens, to possession and many other crackpot theories. What’s immediately clear is that something isn’t quite right…

It is certainly a unique way of telling a story, and despite the size of the book (close to five hundred pages), definitely one to be read quickly. It keeps you drawn in, every page reveals new information whilst keeping you guessing. I mean, this is a book that managed to draw me away from the Steam sales and all my shiny new video games so that’s got to be something, right? 😉 As I read more of the story, the creepier moments began to appear – suddenly and completely out of the blue, exactly as they should be! However, I don’t feel the book was ever quite as ‘terrifying’ as several reviews have claimed.

Unfortunately, there were two major things that pulled the book down a rating for me. The first was that I felt an utter lack of connection to any of the characters, because of the way the book was written. It felt very detached and impersonal, with all these interviews and eyewitness accounts – although they were following the same people, there was no room for character development or even really getting to know any of them. Even with the ‘author’ of the book within the book, and her sidenotes – absolutely no connection to the character. I would have loved more information about ‘The Three’ before the crash: although we’re told by friends and relatives that they’re different post-Black Thursday, we don’t know how. The reader has no real idea what any of the children were like before the event, so the creepiness of the change is rather toned down.

The second reason was the completely open and ambiguous ending. I actually felt really frustrated at this, and in a way it sort of felt like the author just couldn’t be bothered to come up with an explanation for the events. When I read a thriller, I like to try and guess why something has happened, what is causing it, who is behind it etc – it’s quite satisfying to get it right! But as there were no answers or explanations for the past four hundred odd pages, I felt a bit cheated.

In conclusion, a read that draws you in and grips you – and is thoroughly enjoyable – but doesn’t quite deserve the ‘horror’ tag. Perhaps if there’d been some explanation or a proper conclusion, it would have been worthy of five stars in my eyes, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite cut it!

Review

Review: The Quick (The Quick #1) by Lauren Owen

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

This is going to be a fairly short review for two reasons: one, it’s hard to write about this book without giving much away, and two, I didn’t want to break away from the story by taking lots of notes, considering I had a huge break from reading it part way through.

My first impression was that I loved the setting. Starting in a big manor house in the Yorkshire countryside, The Quick is a modern work that echoes stories of the Victorian era. It’s evident that Lauren Owen knows her stuff (she has a Masters degree in Victorian Gothic Literature), and she skilfully creates a rather dark and foreboding tone, even during the early scenes of James and Charlotte’s childhood. The setting moves briefly onto Oxford and then London, all the time retaining the feeling that there is something around the corner, some big shocking moment just waiting to happen. And when the twist does appear – well that’s when the story begins to get very dark. It is wonderfully gloomy and Gothic, I had no trouble at all imagining the London streets filled with smog on a chilly night. Unfortunately I can’t explain much more without spoilers, so I will refrain from explaining myself further!

As for the characters, there is a big reveal to do with James about one hundred pages in that I just did not expect. It has you worrying about what the consequences might be for James, in this society that does not yet understand. One of my favourite parts of the book was the back story of Shadwell and Miss Swift, in itself a wonderful little Gothic story that really helped to build up the characters.

Unfortunately I ended up taking quite a long break (three or four weeks) between reading the first 25% or so, and the last 75% of the book. For the first week of that I just didn’t read at all, and when I got back to reading I moved on to some other books that had closer publication dates. It does make me wonder, if I had read the book all in one go, would I have rated it even more highly? I really did enjoy the story, but I think that because of the break I took in the middle, it felt like it dragged a bit. However, I most definitely cannot fault Lauren Owen’s gorgeous writing style, very evocative of the period in which it is set, and her skill at creating and weaving together multiple stories – the result of which is one beautifully Gothic novel that certainly keeps its secrets well hidden.

I also had the privilege of meeting the author, Lauren Owen, back at the end of April.