Book Review: Scowler by Daniel Kraus

Ryan Burke’s father is a monster.  That’s why he’s rotting away in some prison, far away from their home.  Meanwhile, Ry, his mother, and his little sister are struggling to eek out a living on their failing farm.  Ry can’t escape the horrible memories of his father’s abuse, and when a meteorite falls, change is inevitable, and danger is near.  Ry uses his childhood totems to help defend himself against the evil threatening to take his family away: Mr. Furrington, Jesus, and Scowler.

Daniel Kraus’s novel is a taut, tense horror novel that will either entrap readers or scare them away.  A weird, mostly compelling story about a boy coming-of-age with the very real fear that he is a monster like his father, this one is overly long and gets bogged down in its own attention to detail.  Still, it’s a successfully scary story.

Definitely on the weird side, this story doesn’t pull any punches.  Ryan’s life is pretty crappy, even now that his horrendous, psychopathic and violent father is locked up.  He’s constantly haunted by the abuse his family suffered, and he feels trapped as the man of the house.  This is enough to lend the novel its tension, but the countdown to the meteorite crash and the subsequent terror of the return of his father ramps up the suspense.

Unrelenting and sort of brutal, this isn’t a title that is going to work for all readers.  Fans of horror novels that take their time and set the scene will find something here to love.  Those who want a whip-fast pace will be slightly less thrilled with the book’s meticulous attention to detail.  The book has literary quality for sure, which isn’t what all readers of horror are looking for.

Recommended for mature horror readers who are looking for a good bridge book to adult titles.

Scowler by Daniel Kraus. Delacorte Books for Young Readers: 2013. Library copy read for the 2013 Cybils.

Waiting on Wednesday: Snowblind by Christopher Golden

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Snowblind by Christopher Golden

Expected Release Date: January 21, 2014

The small New England town of Coventry had weathered a thousand blizzards…but never one like this. Icy figures danced in the wind and gazed through children’s windows with soul-chilling eyes. People wandered into the whiteout and were never seen again. Families were torn apart, and the town would never be the same.

Now, as a new storm approaches twelve years later, the folks of Coventry are haunted by the memories of that dreadful blizzard and those who were lost in the snow. Photographer Jake Schapiro mourns his little brother, Isaac, even as—tonight—another little boy is missing. Mechanic and part-time thief Doug Manning’s life has been forever scarred by the mysterious death of his wife, Cherie, and now he’s starting over with another woman and more ambitious crimes. Police detective Joe Keenan has never been the same since that night, when he failed to save the life of a young boy . . . and the boy’s father vanished in the storm only feet away. And all the way on the other side of the country, Miri Ristani receives a phone call . . . from a man who died twelve years ago.

As old ghosts trickle back, this new storm will prove to be even more terrifying than the last.

(summary via Goodreads)

I actually heard about this one while doing collection development work for the library, but it’s something that is right up my alley. Snow storms are one of my weird fears, and when you add in mysterious beings and disappearances, well…things are going to get scary and intense.  But it’s getting a lot of good buzz, and I could do with a good scare in book-form.  So I’m definitely looking forward to getting my hands on this one (and then maybe purchasing it for the school library, too).

What are you waiting on this week?

Waiting on Wednesday: Insanity by Susan Vaught

 

 

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

 

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Insanity by Susan Vaught

Expected Release Date: February 18th, 2014

Never, Kentucky is not your average scenic small town. It is a crossways, a place where the dead and the living can find no peace. Not that Forest, an 18-year-old foster kid who works the graveyard shift at Lincoln Hospital, knew this when she applied for the job. Lincoln is a huge state mental institution, a good place for Forest to make some money to pay for college. But along with hundreds of very unstable patients, it also has underground tunnels, bell towers that ring unexpectedly, and a closet that holds more than just donated clothing….When the dead husband of one of Forest’s patients makes an appearance late one night, seemingly accompanied by an agent of the Devil, Forest loses all sense of reality and all sense of time. Terrified, she knows she has a part to play, and when she does so, she finds a heritage that she never expected. 

With her deep knowledge of mental illness and mental institutions, Susan Vaught brings readers a fascinating and completely creepy new book intertwining the stories of three young people who find themselves haunted beyond imagining in the depths of Lincoln Hospital.

(summary via Goodreads)

Is there anything scarier than a mental institution?  I’m pretty sure there’s not.  I don’t know why they’ve always fascinated and terrified me, but they have.  Probably this is leftover scarring from when I watched MTV’s Fear and they had to stay overnight in that abandoned mental institution.  HORRIFYING.  At any rate, this one looks like it might be a lot of scary, good fun.

What are you waiting on this week?

Waiting on Wednesday: Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Expected Release Date: August 20, 2013

Asylum is a thrilling and creepy photo-novel perfect for fans of the New York Times bestseller Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, New Hampshire College Prep is more than a summer program—it’s a lifeline. An outcast at his high school, Dan is excited to finally make some friends in his last summer before college. But when he arrives at the program, Dan learns that his dorm for the summer used to be a sanatorium, more commonly known as an asylum. And not just any asylum—a last resort for the criminally insane.

As Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they soon discover it’s no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. Because the asylum holds the key to a terrifying past. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.

Featuring found photos of unsettling history and real abandoned asylums and filled with chilling mystery and page-turning suspense, Madeleine Roux’s teen debut, Asylum, is a horror story that treads the line between genius and insanity.

(summary via Goodreads)

Okay, so I actually briefly went to college with Roux.  It’s sort of bizarre to recognize an author’s name as someone you knew when you were 18, but there it is.  At any rate, the novel doesn’t even begin to try to pretend that this is a great choice for fans of Miss Peregine, because it’s mentioned in the first sentence of the novel’s summary.  That being said, the photos in Rigg’s disappointing novel were the best part for this reader, so I can’t wait to see how Roux utilizes the same sort of narrative trick.

This looks like it could be a fun, creepy novel to finish off the summer with.  I’m eager to see how it all pans out.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: 172 Hours on the Moon by John Harstad

When NASA decides to hold a lottery for eligible teenagers to win a chance to go to the moon, the world pays attention.  It’s been decades since a human set foot on the lunar surface, but now NASA is hoping to drum up publicity for the space program.  Three teens are picked to spend a week on a station on the moon, and it’s certain to be a life-changing event.  The problem is that no one realizes just how life-changing it will be.  There’s something on the moon, and it’s not human.

This tense horror-suspense novel grabs readers from the start and doesn’t let go until the last page. A science fiction novel light on the science and heavy on the fiction, this one will keep readers up late into the night.  Part taut Scandinavian thriller and part straight-up horror novel, this is a story you’ll remember.

Harstad’s prose (translated from Norwegian by Tara F. Chace) is accessible, sparse, and tense.  This is a plot-driven novel, so readers looking for characters with a great deal of depth should look elsewhere.  Although the novel alternates between the three chosen teens’ perspectives as well as a few other characters, it becomes clear early on that this is Norwegian teen Mia’s story.  Tight pacing, especially in the last quarter, helps build the story to a thrilling climax and twisty, surprising conclusion.

Readers shouldn’t go into this one expecting much in the way of plausibility.  The mere fact that the story’s premise involves teenage astronauts should give you all the clues you need for whether or not the story is realistic, but once you get sucked into the horror, it doesn’t matter any more.  This is great suspense, and nothing else matters.

A good twist at the end will satisfy readers.  This is interesting, original, and extremely accessible.  There’s widespread appeal here, and the book’s simple prose makes it accessible to readers across many reading levels.  Recommended for those looking for a good suspense novel with some great thrills and chills.

172 Hours on the Moon by John Harstad. ATOM: 2012.  Borrowed copy.

On Re-Reading a Series: Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris

In lieu of a review today, I thought I’d talk a little bit about what it’s like to re-read a series.  I think I’ve talked about re-reading before, and how your relationship to a book can change over time, but I’m speaking very specifically about a particular series right now: The Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris.

With the start of the new year came a fresh reading rut for me, and it’s one that I’m still struggling to crawl out of.  I’ve had a great deal of changes in my personal and professional life over the past several months, and reading has taken a backseat to the demands of my life (see: graduating from a master’s program, applying for jobs, moving in with boyfriend).  It doesn’t help that I’ve felt listless whenever I’ve picked up a book.

Which is why I’ve started re-reading books in search of comfort and something that holds my attention.  I’m still reading new stuff when I’m on  the treadmill, and I’m enjoying a lot of it, but there’s nothing like something you know you like to bring you that cozy feeling.

Re-reading Charlaine Harris’s Sookie series is interesting, because I’ve grown as a reader since I started reading it.  I first read Dead Until Dark years ago, way before TrueBlood became a TV show and before the vampire craze went nutso.  I liked it, but it was definitely out of my wheelhouse.  Here was a mystery featuring a plucky heroine who spends much of her narrative in the minutiae of her life.  There is so much detail about how Sookie spends her time in really unremarkable ways that it’s astounding.

That being said, there’s something comforting about reading about Sookie’s small-town life as a telepathic barmaid who sometimes has really great sex with supernatural creatures.  I’m finding that I’m enjoying the series in a different way: it’s not particularly well-written or well-paced, but there’s enough detail about small-town life and Sookie is a nice enough narrator (for a while, at least) that it’s kind of fun.

Plus, I’m determined to finish the series.  I haven’t read the last few books because they’re so bogged down in the story’s mythology that it’s kind of like drowning.  But I have to finish the series and see if I’m right.

The bonus? Sookie’s clothes, especially in the early books, are HILARIOUSLY bad.  Seriously, why hasn’t someone started a Sookie clothing blog yet?  COMEDY GOLD.

Have you ever read these books?  What do you think?  How do you feel about re-reading series from start to finish?

Book Review: Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

“Beware of Long Lankin…” is an old English song that warns of a sinister creature who seems to have a penchant for eating babies.  When Cora and her younger sister Mimi are essentially dumped on their elderly aunt in a very isolated village in England, they don’t feel very welcome.  Aunt Ida is absolutely rigid in her house rules, and the girls feel stifled and desperate to get back to London.  They don’t understand their aunt’s fear, and when Cora and some village boys begin to uncover the evil that lurks in the town’s history, she begins to understand what her aunt dreads so much.

Barraclough’s novel doesn’t waste time in setting up the creeping feelings it lends its readers.  From the instant Cora and her sister Mimi are dumped with their Auntie Ida, the girls feel unwelcome.  Their aunt tells them in no uncertain terms that they are to keep the doors and windows locked at all times, no matter how hot it gets inside the cottage.  They aren’t allowed to explore the house or go down to the marshes–especially when the tide is out.  All of this helps to set the stage for the stifling, restrictive feeling the book puts its characters and readers through.

Of course, kids being kids, the rules get broken, and with the help of some local boys looking for summer distractions, things go quickly awry.  Barraclough has multiple points of view narrating the story, and they all work exceedingly well, but this is especially true in the case of Auntie Ida.  As frustrated as Cora and the reader are with Ida’s unwillingness to talk about what’s happening or why she is the way she is, her narrative pieces help unravel the hard, awful life she’s lived.

So many elements of the book work together to create a truly memorable, creepy read, but it’s worth noting that Barraclough keeps her prose tight and her narrative authoritative.  Even though the actual horror isn’t fully exposed until well into the second half of the book, most readers won’t mind: the suspense is that good.

This is a creeping horror story for sophisticated readers looking for something to really sink their teeth into (please, ignore the pun).  Barraclough’s dark, atmospheric novel runs a little long, but the building suspense and vivid characters help to carry the plot towards its chilling conclusion.  Many reviews have already said it, but it bears repeating: be prepared to read the last 100 pages all in one sitting).

Recommended.

Long Lankin by Lindsay Barraclough. Candlewick: 2012. Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Add MediaAnother Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn

Expected Release Date: June 11, 2013

On a cool autumn night, Annaliese Rose Gordon stumbled out of the woods and into a high school party. She was screaming. Drenched in blood. Then she vanished.

A year later, Annaliese is found wandering down a road hundreds of miles away. She doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know how she got there. She only knows one thing: She is not the real Annaliese Rose Gordon.

Now Annaliese is haunted by strange visions and broken memories. Memories of a reckless, desperate wish . . . a bloody razor . . . and the faces of other girls who disappeared. Piece by piece, Annaliese’s fractured memories come together to reveal a violent, endless cycle that she will never escape—unless she can unlock the twisted secrets of her past.

(summary via Goodreads)

I’m not exactly sure what it is about this one that seems so appealing.  It’s going to be a tough read, I think, but it also looks really original and out of the norm for me, so there’s some appeal there for sure.  It doesn’t feel like a June release, as this one would be more apropos for October, but I’ll definitely be devouring it when it’s published.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Bad Hair Day by Carrie Harris

Kate Grable has scored an internship shadowing the county medical examiner as part of her school’s pre-med program (we’re assuming that high schools have pre-med programs, I guess).  When he’s arrested for murder, she’s left with the bodies.  Then her brother Jonah finds a dead gamer girl, and Kate starts to realize that someone is killing kids–and whoever is doing it is really, really hairy.  Is it a werewolf?  Kate’s skeptical, but if she doesn’t solve the mystery, kids are going to keep dying.

Harris’s follow-up to the frequently funny Bad Taste in Boys starts where the first one left off.  In this very short, very entertaining novel, readers are treated to more of Kate’s geeky science-nerd desire to know what is going on.  Readers also get more time with Kate’s funny younger brother and Kate’s eclectic group of friends.  There’s a lot of the same stuff here, and when it works, it works well.  This is fun, frothy horror-humor.

The novel is definitely campy, but its tongue-in-cheek approach makes readers aware of the fact that the novel knows just how campy it is.  The plot starts rolling right away and doesn’t let up, which should keep even the most reluctant reader hooked.  There aren’t a ton of other titles like this for contemporary YA fans, so this one should stand out in that respect.

Funny, smart, and accessible for younger readers, this one should work for fans of the first in the series and anyone looking for a lighter side to their humor.  The novel is so fun that even the fact that the plot is far-fetched doesn’t really matter.

Bad Hair Day by Carrie Harris. Delacorte Press: 2012. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.

Book Review: Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

Cas Lowood can’t get over the fact that the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to hell and sacrificed herself to save him and his friends.  He can’t move on, even though his friends urge him to do so.  He begins to see Anna everywhere, and it starts to mess up his work as a ghost-hunter.  It’s like living in a nightmare, and Cas can’t do anything to help Anna.  Or maybe he can.  With the help of a mysterious and ancient cult, Cas might be able to cross over and help Anna find peace, once and for all.

Blake’s follow-up to last year’s successful and smart horror novel Anna Dressed in Blood offers a satisfying ending to Cas and Anna’s story.  Blake’s smart, sharp writing is infused with wit and a clever self-awareness.  A few pacing problems plague the novel, especially in its middle, but fans of the first book should find this one to be just as much of a page-turner.

Never short on suspense, Blake manages to hook the reader from the beginning and create the very real sense that Cas and his friends live in mortal danger.  Her writing is pitch-perfect, managing to straddle the line between humor and horror without ever going too far in either direction.  The suspense in the story is some of Blake’s best work, and readers will be on the edge of their seats as they wait to see what will happen.

Cas’s voice continues to be consistently authentic.  Blake manages to create a deeply-flawed character whose predicament is unique to say the least: despite the fact that Cas is in love with a gruesome, murderous ghost, readers are sympathetic and maybe even understand his desire to be with a girl who is dead.  It doesn’t have any of the campy feel of so much of the other paranormal offerings out there, because Blake doesn’t shy away from the fact that Anna is more than kind of nasty.

The book starts to feel overly long about the time Cas and Thomas head off to the UK to search for answers.  Although there are still some great thrills after their arrival, something about the novel stalled out there for this reader.  Most readers won’t have the same problem, though, and will be all too happy to keep reading about Cas’s journey.  It would’ve been nice to have a little more of Anna’s presence, though.

Funny, sharp, and well-written, Blake is an author to watch, no matter what she decides to do next.  This is great Halloween-season reading.  Recommended.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Tor Teen: 2012. Library copy.