Book Review: Your House is On Fire, Your Children all Gone by Stefan Kiesbye

The tiny village of Hermmersmoor has that timelessness that only the smallest ones do.  It’s full of secrets and superstitions, and the locals keep secrets both terrible and mysterious.  The grand manor sits on the edge of town, and the rest of the villagers share rumors about the family who lives there.  In this town, four friends come of age and discover some of life’s most horrific aspects.

There are plenty of reviews that compare Kiesbye’s novel to Stephen King (at his prime, I guess), and while there may be some elements here that are similar to King’s most chilling works, Kiesbye’s voice is far more literary than the comparison hints at.  In this chilling novel, Kiesbye crafts a story that sticks to readers’ ribs and chills them to their bones.  This is not a story that readers will be able to put down and forget about.  It demands to be paid attention to.

Loosely connected short stories told by different people in the village of Hemmersmoor make this a remarkable novel.  Each chapter has different narration and offers a different tale of reminiscence about the weird town the characters grew up in.  Each tale has an underlying tension throughout it, and there’s a feeling of malice on every page, though it’s hard to place at times.  The result is a suspenseful, gripping, wholly terrifying read.

What’s worth mentioning is Kiesbye’s ability to craft a story that is genuinely terrifying without resulting to gratuitous gore.  The stories are mostly bloodless but terrifying all the same, and sometimes even scarier because they’re so removed.  It’s a knockout of a novel, and should work for hardcore horror fans as well as new readers to the genre.  It’s very good.

Your House is On Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye. Penguin Books: 2012. Library copy.

Book Review: Please Remain Calm by Courtney Summers

Rhys and Sloane are on their way to a safe haven when they end up separated after a particularly bad zombie attack.  Although he’s determined to find Sloane–alive–Rhys finds another group of people, and he realizes that he might need them as much as they do him.  Determined to survive and with a newfound hope that he just might make it, Rhys continues to navigate a world where the dead are alive.

Summers’s novella takes place immediately after This is Not a Test, so reading the first book is a necessity for readers picking this one up.  But fans of the first novel will also find that Summers applies the same mastery and enormous respect for the genre here, crafting a genuinely horrifying, moving novel about the zombie apocalypse.  This is a fast read that can (and will) be devoured in one sitting.

Much of what works in this story is the same stuff that worked in the previous book: the balance between truly heart-stopping action sequences and quieter, more emotional moments.  Summers is a well-documented zombie-fan, and it shows here.  She knows her stuff, respects the greats, and still manages to create a world that is uniquely her own.  But she also loves her characters, and the detailed, fully-realized characters who inhabit this world are compelling.

This time, the story is narrated by Rhys, and though readers still get plenty of page time with Sloane, having a new narration offers a fresh perspective.  Rhys’s experiences offer a different take on what has happened and what’s to come, and his fierce devotion to Sloane is palpable.  Summers takes care to build the interpersonal relationships between the characters, which makes it all the more horrifying when they’re in dire situations.

Highly recommended.  This is an ebook only, but it’s well worth the (cheap) price.  This is a great, quick read that should work for horror fans young and old.  It will also leave them clamoring for more.

Please Remain Calm by Courtney Summers. St. Martin’s Griffin: 2015. Purchased copy.


Book Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

In Emily Carroll’s graphic novel, five creepy stories come to life.  These creaking, macabre stories will chill readers to the bone.  “It came from the woods.  Most strange things do.”

Carroll wrote and illustrated all of the stories in this excellent, creepy collection, and her talent for both sparse writing and brilliantly rendered stories shines through in each offering.  Using a combination of techniques to ramp up the tension and the horror, Carroll succeeds on every level, offering readers thrills, chills, and genuine scares.

All of the stories are a bit folk-tale-esque, but each offers a unique and original take on old tropes.  The blend of spare text (all hand-lettered) and brilliant illustrations (mostly done in black, white, and red) makes for a compelling reading experience.  Carroll makes use of visual techniques employed in the best horror movies, too: long passages of silence, sudden extreme closeups, lurking shadows that are almost completely out of sight.  All of this works gorgeously on the page, making it impossible to stop in the middle.

Genuinely scary stories that even the most jaded horror fan will find creepy.  There’s a lot here to unpack, but the stories read quickly, making this a great choice for reluctant readers as well as more sophisticated ones.  Absolutely brilliant and highly recommended.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. Margaret K. McElderry Books: 2014. Library copy.

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Harper Curtis is a serial killer who chooses his victims by selecting girls who have a shining light about them.  He’s straight out of the 1930s, but when he discovers a magical house that can transport him through time so long as he satiates its desire for the deaths of his victims, he travels throughout the decades.  He hunts his victims for years, giving them trinkets and taking them back once he has committed the murder.  But one of his victims didn’t die.  And now, in the 90s, Kirby is determined to find the man who tried to kill her years before.  With the help of a newspaper reporter, Kirby gets closer to discovering the truth about Harper than anyone else has.

Beukes is making a name for herself as an author who can craft a hard-boiled suspense novel, and that reputation is well earned.  In this novel, Beukes continues to work on her craft, writing characters that are both vivid and repulsive.  This is a dark novel, full of wit and emotion, and while it won’t work for all readers (or even all readers of grisly murder mysteries), it will find fans who don’t mind their novels super violent.

The novel is definitely suspenseful, and Beukes makes sure that each page leaves the reader wanting more.  But she gets bogged down a bit in the back-and-forth of Harper’s time travel, which makes sections of the novel kind of a slog to get through.  What’s more is that some of the great writing (there are some incredible sentences here) gets lost in the tedious games that Kirby and Harper are playing in trying to find one another.

These problems in pacing don’t overshadow the novel’s more successful parts, though.  Kirby is a fiery heroine, full of rage and a thirst for vengeance.  She is expertly drawn in contrast to Harper’s deluded ideas of his purpose, and Beukes does well with both of these characters especially.  This is definitely an author to watch.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Mulholland Books: 2012. Library copy.

Recommendation Time: Spooky Reads

In lieu of a review today (I’m just not feeling the reviews this week), I thought I’d do a quick round-up of a few books that hit the spooky bone for me.  That’s a thing, right?  At any rate, here are a couple of reads that are chilling in all sorts of good ways.

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

A dead girl walks the streets, avenging her own murder by killing people who kill children.  A ghost story with a ton of frightening imagery and even more historical lore, this is a must-read this Halloween.  If you like J-horror or a book that reads exactly like a horror movie plays onscreen, this is a great choice.  It’s legitimately scary, and the characters are vivid, memorable, and ground in authenticity.  This is a stand-out horror novel that should work for teens and adults alike.

Read my review here.


Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

Jamie Henry has been living a mostly quiet life dealing with his crippling anxiety while his sister Kate is in juvenile detention.  But then he gets news: Kate is out, and now things around town are going all weird again.  She’s coming for him, and she promises to bring the truth with her.  But just what is the truth, and is Jamie to blame? This one is a different kind of scary: psychologically scary.  It will work especially well for readers who don’t want gore but want a brain-bender of a tale.  What happens when you can’t remember where you were or what you were doing?  One of the best books I’ve read all year.

Read my review here.

Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

“Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the moss…” That’s how the old story goes, at least.  When Cora and her sister go to live with their estranged aunt, she warns them to never wander off.  What the girls don’t know is their aunt is trying to protect them from the evil that lives nearby and has been dormant for years.  An intense read, this atmospheric read is full of excellent writing, truly chilling passages, and plenty of the unknown.  Put this in the hands of readers who like their horror to come from the fairy tale variety and like their novels to be a bit meaty.

Read my review here.

Do you have some horror to recommend? I’m always looking to expand my reading in this area.  Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

Okiku walks the streets, hunting murderers of children.  She finds these murderers and sees the children they have murdered tied to them, and she feels compelled to act.  It has been this way for hundreds of years.  When she meets a strange boy with even stranger tattoos, she discovers that he is not alone, and he is in very real danger.  But can she save him when it’s not what she’s on earth to do?

Rin Chupeco’s novel is a near perfect blend of contemporary YA and supernatural storytelling.  Billed as a mix of The Grudge and The Ring, this is definitely a perfect novel for fans of J-horror. This is a fresh take on horror for teens (and adults), and it’s a standout of a debut.

Much of the novel’s success lies in the narrator’s unique, haunting voice.  Chupeco makes Okiku’s voice very formal and very detached, and the result is compelling.  Her ghostly telling of the story’s events offer readers just enough to understand what’s happening but also encourages the reader to figure out what lies beneath the surface.  As Okiku becomes more embroiled in the life of Tarquin, her voice becomes stronger.  It’s brilliantly done.

An unsettling story, this novel deftly blends many creepy elements: ghosts, spirits, old legends, and super, super creepy dolls.  Readers interested in legends, ghosts, and the like will eat this one up.  It’s bloody without being overly so, and the novel’s suspense is perfectly paced.  It’s a page-turner, and one that horror fans should eat up.  Highly recommended.

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco. Sourcebooks Fire: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.

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.