Book Review: The Sleepwalkers by J. Gabriel Gates

11290495Title: The Sleepwalkers
Author: J. Gabriel Gates
Genre: Horror, Supernatural, Thriller, Young Adult
Publisher: HCI Teens
Publication Date: October 3rd 2011
Rating: 3,5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon (Kindle) | Book Depository

Privileged and popular Caleb Mason is celebrating his high school graduation when he receives a mysterious, disturbing letter from his long-lost childhood playmate, Christine. Caleb and his jokester friend Bean decide to travel to his tiny hometown of Hudsonville, Florida, to find her. Upon arrival, they discover the town has taken a horrifying turn for the worse. Caleb’s childhood home is abandoned and his father has disappeared. Children are going missing. The old insane asylum has reopened, and Christine is locked inside. Her mother, a witch, is consumed with madness, and Christine’s long-dead twin sister whispers clues to Caleb through the static of an a.m. radio. The terrifying prophesies of the spirits are coming to pass. Sixteen clocks are ticking; sixty-six murdered souls will bring about the end of the world. As Caleb peels back layer after layer of mystery, he uncovers a truth more horrible than anything he had imagined, a truth that could only be uttered by the lips of the dead.

Caleb has seemingly got it all. A hot girlfriend, a goofy but trustworthy best friend, excellent grades and a wonderful future waiting ahead of him. Yet when he receives a card from Christine, an old childhood friend of his, Caleb realizes that sometimes the past cannot be forgotten. He travels back to the town of his youth only to realize that it looks nothing like the home he remembers. For starters, his father is missing. His childhood home is abandoned, but it looks like his father had to leave in a hurry…Caleb can’t begin to understand why his father would leave all his files, food and other things of that kind behind. Moreover, the amount of people who have gone missing in this small village is anything but ordinary. And whatever is going on in the Sleeping Center, where Christine is at, all Caleb knows is that it’s not a harmless sleeping experiment, like the center indicates…It’s something darker and more disturbing…

The Sleepwalkers stands out from other YA horror books because it’s…well, it’s horrifying really. Like it’s not enough that children are being abducted, they also turn into “sleepwalkers” and commit one horrible crime after another while asleep. The thought that an entire community just stands by and lets this happen is very unsettling, but it’s exactly what happens. I wasn’t too fond of the inclusion of the prophecy – I would’ve been just as happy had the entire event been random, because that would be even more terrifying, but I can understand why the author wanted to put some purpose behind it all. Also, the fact that Caleb supposedly plays a central part in all of these events didn’t sit right with me either. This story could’ve been much more terrifying had Caleb actually nothing to do with whatever was happening and if he was an innocent bystander who just happened to get caught up in these unsettling events because of sheer bad luck. But alas, we can’t have it all.

What we do get, is very satisfying though. Strong characters with intriguing personalities thrown together in the battle ofa lifetime. J. Gabriel Gates does not sugarcoat readers: the violence is real, horrifc and sometimes even deadly. A main character can just as easily die as a minor character. The author’s writing style is fast and fluent and simply sucks you into the story. Once you start reading The Sleepwalkers, there’s really no way to turn back. The events just have you so horrified, the story is so enthralling that you can’t do anything other than enjoy it. And look behind your shoulder every once in a while to see whether or not you’re being terrorized by little kids sleepwalking.

The suspense drops with the addition of reasoning behind why everything is going on, and trust me when I say you probably won’t spend the night tucked underneath your blanket screaming for your mommy. But for as long as it lasts, the suspense is intriguing and will make your heart beat significantly faster. I recommend this book to all young adults who enjoy a good horror novel once in a while. It’s decent and scary enough, but it won’t give you nightmares.

Book Review: Red Winter by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays

12983470Title: Red Winter
Author: Clark Hays, co-author Kathleen McFall
Genre: Horror, Supernatural, Western, Novella
Publisher: Pumpjack Press
Publication Date: August 13th 2011
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Smashwords | Author’s Website

The year is 1890. Sheriff Early Hardiman has seen a lot of bad things in his life, but nothing could have prepared him for the first Vampire to visit the Old West. Fans of The Cowboy and the Vampire know that LonePine will see its share of Vampires in another 120 years. But in 1890, no one had yet imagined the kind of terror Jericho Whistler brings with him to Wyoming when he hunkers down for a long winter of feasting on humans.

Red Winter is an eBook novella set in the universe and time period of the first published novel of writers duo Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays: The Cowboy and The Vampire. It’s perfectly readable as a stand-alone book as well, the way I did it. I’m planning on reading The Cowboy and The Vampire as well, because I thoroughly enjoyed this novella, but time issues are currently holding me back. Anyway, let’s get going with the review!

At roughly 30 pages, Red Winter is a fast read, but it’s definitely not an easy read. The authors have a large vocabulary at their disposal, and they’re not afraid to use complicated words when necessary. Also, they have mastered that typical western-language perfectly and it shows in this novella. You feel like you’re thrown right back to the time of cowboys, Billy the Kid, Lucky Luke and who ever else wanders around in that era. They catch the vibe of the era so perfectly that I felt ready to go find my rifle and kill some vampires.

I can’t give you much background story without giving away the entire plot, but I’ll give it a shot. We meet Sheriff Early who is asked to go take a look at a dead body. Now, dead bodies are pretty common in the far west, but this one looks particularly gruesome. Back at home with his wife Grace, Early meets a stranger named Jericho Whistler. They play a game of cards until Early is told there has been another murder. This time a hooker was slaughtered in her bedroom, the corpse so heavily mutilated even Early has trouble not spilling the contents of his stomach. The town’s people are certain now: there is a murderer in their midst. All strangers are suspects, and Early gets an especially eerie feeling from Jericho Whistler. Then Jericho attacks Grade, Early’s wife…

Since it’s a short book this review will be pretty short as well. I liked the characters. Sheriff Early was like this typical western hero and Jericho was an excellent villain with no remorse whatsoever. There isn’t much character development, which is common in a book this size. The book is mostly plot-driven as well, and I liked the plot. There were definitily some unexpected twists and turns that had me gasping in awe. The writing is superb as well.

If you like vampires, you should try out Red Winter. It’s a short but eerie and gruesome story that fits right into the horror category. Gone are the silly sparkly vampires, back is the vampire who scares even the bravest souls. I will certainly read The Cowboy and The Vampire after reading this eBook novella. My only complaint? I wanted to read more about this, so I would’ve liked Red Winter to be longer! In any case, definitely recommended for everyone who likes vampires the way they should be – cruel, vicious, mean and deadly.

Giveaway

This contest is open to US citizens only.



Book Review: The Voice of Waterfalls by Natasha Salnikova

12824882Title: The Voice of Waterfalls
Author: Natasha Salnikova
Genre: Supernatural Thriller, Drama
Publisher: NAS
Publication Date: October 6th 2011
Rating: 3,5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon
Review copy provided by the author.

Inga manages to escape from a “house of terror” where she was held as a sex slave along with other girls who were kidnapped. She is chased into the woods and runs onto the road, almost falling under the wheels of an approaching car. She thought, it would be better to die that way than to return to her captors. The driver of the car, to her surprise, saves her. He brings her to his house and introduces her to his family: his mother, his father and his younger sister. He gives Inga a key to a separate room and brings her food. She appreciates his help and calls him her knight from the road. All she needs now is a phone to make a call to her mother. Her savior, Alman, says they don’t have one in the house. He’s also not in a hurry to take her from his house in the woods to the town where she can talk to police. And Inga began to doubt the noble intentions of her savior. After some time she starts to think this house is worse than the one she was imprisoned in before, if that was possible…

You would think that, after escaping from being held as a sex slave, life would look up for Inga. I mean, how much bad luck can one person get? A lot, apparently, as Inga is thrown from one disaster into another. As she runs away barefooted from the very people who kidnapped her, locked her up, raped her, beat her and threatened to kill her whenever she did something wrong, she is rescued by a young man named Alman. Although he appears friendly enough and offers her a place to stay for the night with the promise that she can call her mother first thing in the morning, Inga soon learns that something is totally off about Alman. And it’s not just Alman whose acting strange – it’s his entire family.

What if the secret Alman and his family are hiding is something worse than all the things she experienced in that house of terror alltogether? What if, in reality, this is the true house of terror? Alman and his family start acting more and more peculiar with every passing day, she can’t leave the premises and why does she keep on hearing terrifying screams in the dead of night? When she makes a run for it and ends up at the sheriff’s office, who promptly returns her to Alman and his family, Inga begins to realize that whatever is going on, the entire town of Quiet River seems to be involved. Who can she turn to from help? Whereto can she escape if everyone and everything is against her? Help may come from an unexpected corner in the form of Anthony, a too-successful lawyer, travelling to the town of his youth to escape his own guilt.

Natasha Salnikova has a writing voice that’s excellent for storytelling. She gives just the right amount of attention to detail, but doesn’t waste any time starting the action as well. From page one, you’re tumbling into the story head on, like you’re on a rollercoaster of events and the only way to get out is to jump. After Inga’s escape from the house of terror, the tension builds up gradually. The author presents the eerie and spooky atmosphere of the town of Quiet River perfectly, and she also describes the rising tension inside Alman’s family home in a believable fashion. Everything and everyone is against Inga. Where can she escape if the only route left is through a looming forest, possibly filled with boobytraps and other monsterous things as well? What can she do if the local sheriff is not to be trusted and her savior turns out to be an even more terrifying monster than her previous captors? This sense of being captured, being stuck, having nowhere to go, is palpable from the very beginning of the story, and it only expands in proportion as the story continues. The tension is overwhelming and omnipresent, and I occassionally caught myself gasping for air, feeling equally as trapped as Inga felt in the novel.

The way Inga is portrayed is excellently done as well. Inga is a very likable character, probably because we see her in the role of unwilling victim from the start. As a reader, you instantly feel sorry for her for two main reasons: 1) she’s being used as a sex slave, 2) she mentions how much she misses her mother. That touched a soft spot with me, and made me like her right away. Then, when she escapes, I cheered her on, hoping that she would somehow end up somewhere better, although the book synopsis had already told me that wouldn’t be the case. And when Alman turned all savior-new-captor-like on her, I felt like shooting him through the head with his own hunting riffle. It’s very easy to be on team Inga, both because you instantly feel sorry for her, and secondly because she seems to have a nice, caring personality. Maybe she’s not the brightest one out there, going to a shady-looking audition in the big city, but that could happen to all of us. And maybe she’s not the most courageous and brave person ever either, but that makes her all the more human. Those heroines looking for weapons to bash in the heads of their captors immediately are interesting, I give them that, but they’re not real. Some people might be like that, but most of us would be scared to hell in the face of possible murderers, and we would cower and do as we were told as well. Inga is an excellent example of this, and it shows her flaws and humanity, and makes her all hte more likeable.

In terms of originality, I have to say The Voice of Waterfalls scores quite high as well. I’ve heard about crazy people living in remote towns near the forest before – a lot of times, actually – but the author adds her own original spin on it, which I enjoyed immensly.

Giveaway

Author Natasha Salnikova was generous enough to offer an eBook copy of The Voice of Waterfalls to six lucky readers! If you feel like participating, simply fill in the form below and leave a comment.



Book Review: Dead Sky Morning (Experiment in Terror #3) by Karina Halle

12322385Title: Dead Sky Morning (Experiment in Terror #3)
Author: Karina Halle
Genre: Paranormal Romance, Supernatural, Horror, Ghosts
Publisher: Metal Blonde Books
Publication Date: October 13th, 2011
Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads | Smashwords | Amazon (Kindle) | B&N | Author Website
Review copy provided by the author.

With the Experiment in Terror show finding some success, amateur ghost hunters Perry Palomino and Dex Foray embark on their most terrifying investigation yet. A tiny, fog-shrouded island in the rough strait between British Columbia and Washington State has held a dark secret for decades: It was a former leper colony where over forty souls were left to rot, die and bury each other. Now a functioning campground, Perry and Dex spend an isolated weekend there to investigate potential hauntings but as the duo quickly find out, there is more to fear on D’Arcy Island than just ghosts. The island quickly pits partner against partner, spiraling the pair into madness that serves to destroy their sanity, their relationship and their very lives…

I’ve previously reviewed the first two books in this series. You can read my review of Darkhouse or read my review of Red Fox, or take a look at my interview with author Karina Halle.

Do me a favor, and join me in this thought-experiment. Imagine you’re on your own in the dead of night in a haunted lighthouse with the ghost of the last resident, who was allegedly crazy, following your every move? Scared already? Good. Now, imagine that you’re on a remote farm in the Navajo desert where a couple is tormented by strange noises and animals going berserk. Some of the people you meet turn out to be Shaman shapeshifters ready to kill you at first sight. Shivers running down your spine? Excellent. Now…imagine that you’re sailing off to an abandoned island. Said island was previously used as a leper colony, and it was the sight of a lot of pain, despair and death. Sort of like Las Vegas for ghosts and troubled spirits. Additionally, you can’t go home whenever you want to, because the lake surrounding the island can be vicious and threacherous as well. Briefly put: you’re stuck on an abandoned island with god-knows how many spirits and there’s no way to escape. Meanwhile, the island tries to drive you crazy in a way that puts the producers of Lost to shame. There is no place you can run, because everything on the island is out to get you, from the ghosts of the lepers, to the mysterious specter of a young woman named Mary to the mischievous spirit of a little girl. Feeling ready to hide in your little corner and cry for your mommy? I know I certainly would.

And this is exactly what happens to Perry and Dex, ghost hunters extraordinaire, as they depart on their next mission in Dead Sky Morning. Like battling inhumanly strong shapeshifters isn’t quite dangerous enough, Dex manages to pick the one location that might very well destroy him and Perry both, and everything they ever shared. This island might just be able to turn them against each other, as loyalty is tested, the limits of their relationship are explored, and they must figure out whether or not they can truly trust each other. And on top of that, there is ghosts, blood, horror, coffins washing ashore, and a tension in the atmosphere that practically drives you crazy from page one, but doesn’t once let you relax until you’ve finished the entire book. The sense of foreboding is palpable from the very beginning, but Karina Halle takes her time to present us with the first real signs that something is terribly off on the island. The tension built-up is phenomenal and when the horrors are finally released…well let’s just say, it ain’t pretty.

Perry and Dex’s relationship is, once again, in the center of it all, reminding me – not for the first time – of Mulder and Scully’s strange relationship in the X-files, always on the borderline between just being friends and being something more. Whereas Mulder and Scully spent the majority of their time tracking down aliens, Perry and Dex battle ghosts in a way that would make even the Ghostbusters feel proud of them. I’m telling you, if it were me stuck on that freaking island of doom, I’d run for it. Dive into the water and make a swim to the other shore, rather than stay another night on a campground located directly above a graveyard. Especially if the things resting in said graveyard refuse to stay dead. But Perry and Dex, driven forward by a courage I cannot help but admire, and relying on each other for help and support, don’t make a run for it. They stay and fight in what is, without a doubt, the biggest challenge they’ve faced so far. Meanwhile, the tension between the two of them runs high, and their relationship is tested over and over again. Will they still be friends when all of this is over? Or will they be something more? I won’t tell you, because I’m not giving out spoilers freely. Go read the book to find out!

In all honesty, I thought I was done being amazed. I loved the first two books in the Experiment in Terror series, and I fully anticipated to enjoy Dead Sky Morning as well. But I wasn’t prepared to be blown away by the atmospheric descriptions, the palpable sense of foreboding and danger and the horrors that awaited Perry and Dex. Dead Sky Morning goes above and beyond what happened in Red Fox and Darkhouse, and it delivers a horror novel ready for the big screen. Without giving too much away, let me tell you that I had to look behind me every five to ten minutes as I was reading this book, and that I continously felt shivers running down my spine. I always tell people I don’t scare easily, and I’d like to uphold that statement, but Dead Sky Morning certainly had me frightened.

If you enjoyed Darkhouse and Red Fox, you simply can’t miss out on Dead Sky Morning. Karina Halle’s writing style gets better and better with each book, the characters Perry and Dex grow both as individuals and as partners and the events occuring in this book are even more terrifying than in the previous two. This series hasn’t ceased to amaze me, and I’m looking forward to book four, Lying Season.

Giveaway

This is your chance to win a complete set of all three books currently released in the Experiment in Terror series: Darkhouse, Red Fox and Dead Sky Morning. Two lucky winners will each receive a complete eBook set of all three these books. If you’re feeling lucky, you can participate by filling in the form below and leaving a comment on this post.



Book Review: Snow Escape by Roberta Goodman

12795635Title: Snow Escape
Author: Roberta Goodman
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Drama
Publisher: White Words, Inc.
Publication Date: September 29th 2011
Rating: 3,5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon (Kindle) | Publisher’s Website | Author’s Website

Set against the backdrop of a historic snowstorm, Snow Escape is the story of one woman’s innocent foray into the world of online dating turned deadly.
Allegra Maxwell is a 30-year old, single school teacher looking for love. Having chosen to use the Internet to meet the opposite sex, she encounters an articulate, prospective beau on the night the biggest blizzard in history is blanketing the Big Apple. Their pleasant conversation soon turns sinister when she discovers that “Charles” has been stalking her for weeks and claims he lives in her building. With threats of destroying her little by little are made, Allegra must stay one step ahead of the mind games. Turning to neighbors for help, tragic consequences ensue.
When her sanity is questioned, because the online evidence her stalker exists disappears, Allegra must prove he does exist and she isn’t losing her mind. When a power outage thrusts her into darkness, will she be able to overcome the helplessness she feels? Placed in a situation that’s spiraling totally out of her control, while trapped in her apartment building with no escape, will she survive until the authorities can reach her?

Snow Escape begins by introducing us to Allegra, a single woman in her thirties who works as a teacher and spends her spare time hanging out with friends or looking for possible dates on an online dating site. Ever since things didn’t work out with her ex-boyfriend Danny – he wanted to keep things simple, while she was convinced they had an actual relationship – things in the love department haven’t been working out for Allegra. She went on a couple of dates, but none of those guys sounded relationship material to her. Now, with a historical snow storm coming her way, Allegra finds herself stuck home on a friday evening with nothing better to do than grade homework and watch a movie, or reply to some of the mails she got from potential dates.

However, when Allegra gets a mail back from a man named ‘Charles’ and starts chatting with him online, the conversation grows eerier with the second. Not only is Charles supposedly living in her building, he also has some unsettling plans for her…Allegra’s panic increases with the minute as Charles not only is able to tell her exactly how many minutes she was asleep, indicating that watched her, but also threatens to harm her. Panicking, Allegra goes to her neighbours for help. However, not all of them believe her so willingly, and some might even be involved in the foul play…The clock is ticking mercilessly, and it’s up to Allegra to find out who she can trust and who she can’t, especially with the power falling out, clothing the building in unforgiving darkness. With a stalker and potential killer on the loose, who can Allegra turn to for help? And how well does she really know the people she’s called her neighbors for the last couple of years?

Snow Escape has an excellent premise, and it certainly delivers. The novel is captivating from the start, building tension slowly and gradually until you as a reader feel you might just be buried underneath the same amount of tension and despair as the main character.That being said, Allegra does make an interesting protagonist. The way she is being portrayed by people differs greatly. There seems to be a category of people who think she was obsessed with her ex-boyfriend and stalked him up to the point he was forced to leave town (Miguel, ex-boyfriend of one of her best friends, is one of those who seem to think that way) whereas others, including me, think that account is greatly exaggerated. From what I gathered from Allegra’s brief interactions with her friends, some of them really don’t threat her right, or have no insight in human psychology whatsoever. Allegra, honey, you definately need to find yourself a new set of friends. And stop dating on the internet.

Anyway, I found it intriguing to see how different some people can think about the same events, and how much opinions can vary. The residents in Allegra’s apartment building all hold secrets of their own as well, and it’s up to Allegra (and the reader) to find out what exactly they’re hiding and whether or not they’re the culprit. The first part of this novel is simply amazing. As I said, it’s a build-up of tension, anticipation and fear. But then the novel takes a different direction with the arrival of police officers and two detectives, and the constant feeling of dread vanishes. It’s as if this book miraculously transforms from an outstanding, nailbiting thriller into a mystery novel featuring two detectives who have to solve a crime.

I wasn’t too fond of this twist of events, but I did like how the officers had to put a timeline together and decipher who was telling the truth and who was lying in order to find out who really stalked Allegra, or if her supposed stalker was, as some of the tenants suggested, imaginative. I found this thought-process interesting to say the least, but it did drop the pace of the story significantly and all the tension that had been building up from page one simply dissapeared. The twist at the ending was unexpected and interesting, but it didn’t make up for the lack of tension in the previous chapters. Especially the fact that the detectives seemingly repeat everything that has just happened not once, but twice is a bit annoying. I would’ve preferred it if this novel had stayed with its original starting point, as a fast-paced, frightening thriller. The second part seems to belong to another book alltogether.

Solid characters with intriguing personalities offering a look at humanity in total, and on how perspectives can differ a lot from one individual to another. A nailbiting thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat for more than the first half of the story and then changes into a mystery novel with two detectives taking the front row. I enjoyed Snow Escape, and I read it in one sitting, desperate to know who was stalking Allegra this entire time, but it could’ve been better had the pace not dropped significantly in the second part, hence why only the 3,5 rating rather than a 4. But all in all, for a debut novel, Snow Escape has an intriguing premise, it’s well-executed, the characters are intriguing and Roberta Goodman’s fluent writing style makes up for a lot of the flaws in the second part. I would definately recommend it to people who are fans of thrillers like Night Stalker by Carol Davis Luce. The novel is intriguing and captivating, and I certainly enjoyed reading it. I’m looking forward to reading more works by this author.

Giveaway

In the spirit of Halloween, author Roberta Goodman wants to give away 3 eBook copies of Snow Escape to 3 lucky winners!


Book Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

10209997Title: The Night Strangers
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Genre: Horror, Psychological Thriller, Witches, Ghosts
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication Date: October 4th 2011
Rating: 4,5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon (Hardcover) | Amazon (Kindle) | B&N | Book Depository | Author Website

In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.
The home’s new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight 1611 die on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village – self-proclaimed herbalists – and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?
The result is a poignant and powerful ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply.
The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.

Although The Night Strangers is the first book by Chris Bohjalian I’ve ever read, I did hear a lot about this author earlier on. Even after the first few chapters of this book, I understand why that’s no surprise. From all the authors I’ve read for the very first time this year, Chris Bohjalian is without a shadow of a doubt the most talented one. He has a writing style that is both gripping and enthralling, both mesmerizing and mysterious, and draws you in from page one. It’s a writing style I connect to the horror genre almost instantly, and which reminds me of certain masters in the genre like Poe, Faulkner and Stephen King. Chris Bohjalian fits right up that alley. I wonder if his writing style is similar in his other works, which aren’t situated in the horror genre, but in any case, it fits this genre perfectly. The narrative voice is both distant and eerily familiar, both disfigured and logical, and that all adds up to the twisted, demented feeling you get while reading The Night Strangers.

The most intriguing part about this novel is that it’s based partially on reality. Well of course the horror parts are imaginary, but some parts of this novel are actually based on things that really happened to the author. As he admits in this article on CNN, Chris Bohjalian got his inspiration from two random occurences. For starters, when he purchased a Victorian townhouse, he found a sealed door in his basement. Nailed shut, actually. Curiosity killed the cat, and it forced Chris Bohjalian to open up that door and enter what can only be described as a crypt or closet of some kind. Secondly, a plane crashed in The Hudson River nearby, adding him the second part of inspiration he needed to create this book. Eerie, especially that door. I wonder what it was really used for…well, in any case, Bohjalian offers a plausible although creepy solution in his book.

The Night Strangers tells the story of Chip and Emily Linton and their twin daughters Hallie and Garnet. By moving to the small town of Brethel, they hope to escape the trauma that has ruled their lives after Chip was forced to land his airplane – he is an airplane pilot, or well, he was one – in Lake Champlain on August, 11. Thirty-nine passengers died that day, and although it isn’t Chip’s fault per sé, he does suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and a severe case of survivor’s guilt. Convinced that they have to start over somewhere new, the family moves into a Victorian townhouse with quite the chilling history. As legend has it, a young boy killed himself in that very house when he was twelve years old. His mother went crazy afterwards and was convinced that someone – or something – was after her and her family. The depths of her madness are only discovered by the Lintons when they find three curious objects hidden in places all around the house: a crowbar, a knife and an ax. Why would someone hide these objects in their own house? And what are they so afraid of?

Like it’s not worse enough that the previous owner of their house was a raving lunatic, Chip also discovers a small door in their basement. This door is conveniently nailed shut with thirty-nine long nails. Thirty-nine. The exact same number as the passengers who died during the planecrash. In an attempt to discover what is hidden behind that door, Chip destroys it with the ax and discover a small cabinet of sorts. The room is so small that an adult probably couldn’t stand up straight in it. And it’s definately not a coal chute, like everyone wants to believe.

Moreover, the longer Chip spends in his new house, the stronger and more frequent his visions and hallucations become. At first, he only dreamt about the people who died in the planecrash and occassionally suffered from flashbacks. However, the longer he spends in Brethel, the more vivid these hallucations, until he can actually see three of the people who died in the crash: a young girl named Ashley, her father Ethan and a young woman named Sandra. It soon becomes clear to Chip – with a little help and encouragement from Ethan – that Ashley really deserves some friends in the afterlife. These thoughts only add to Chip’s insanity, as he spirals down into madness.

But wait, you thought that was it? The combination of survivor’s guilt, PTSD and some ghostly visions? Wrong. Chris Bohjalian clearly isn’t done yet. Because in the town of Brethel, not everything is at it seems. The local women, who are all conveniently called like herbs – Anise, Reseda, Sage, etc. – have a dark secret of their own. They call themselves herbalists, and each of them has a greenhouse much like the one standing in the Linton’s backyard, but somehow they don’t seem as harmless as they would like others to believe. When they develop an uncanny interest in Chip and Emily’s twin daughters for the sole reason that they’re twins, Emily is the only one who can still save them. And is there a connection between the town’s herbalists, the suicide of that twelve-year-old boy, her husband’s increasingly strange behavior and that door nailed shut with exactly thirty-nine nails?

As you can gather from this synopsis, The Night Strangers is a lot more than just a ghost story. Although that was definately my favorite part of the book, it focuses on a lot of other things too. It focuses a lot on how Chip deals with his PTSD and his increasing hallucinations, and how he slowly but definately descends into madness. It’s a psychological journey that is both mesmerizing and terrifying, and Chris Bohjalian’s excellent and engaging writing style makes it all the more real. The real question at the end of this book, is what’s more terrifying. A town where half of the population is driven by egoistic, animalistic reasoning? One man’s increasing insanity because he cannot deal with the guilt of what he did? Ghosts who are stuck in a world inbetween? It’s up to the reader to decide and I for one, have a hard time deciding what exactly scared me the most. Perhaps a combination of everything, because the way the author combines these different parts and turns them into one fluent, enthralling story is flawless.

The narrative switches between a third-person narrative from either Emily’s, Hallie’s or Garnet’s viewpoint, and a second-person narrative from Chip’s viewpoint. Let me say a thing or two about this second-person narrative. That’s the ‘you’ form, and it’s rarely used in literature, although it’s one of the easiest ways to compell a reader into a story, because as an author you’re continuously talking to the reader himself basically. It goes like this: “When your airplane hits the flock of birds, the passengers in the cabin behind you feel the jolting bangs and the aircraft rolls fifteen degrees to its starboard side.” (taken from page 3). Notice how that you-form simply draws you in, as if you’re really an aircraft pilot and your plane really is going to crash soon? Well, at least it did that for me. I enjoyed the you-form especially as it made it a lot easier for me as a reader to relate to Chip, and to follow him as he slowly descended into madness. I think it’s something psychological, because that ‘you’ points to the reader directly and immediately makes them part of the story, makes them become the character. Eerie, to say the least, but so is the rest of this book.

To classify The Night Strangers as a horror novel, seems a bit one-sided. This book just offers so much of everything. It’s a drama, in which the main characters need to deal with their traumas, it’s a story of coming-to-age for the two young twins Hallie and Garnet as they each develop from children into puberescent teenagers, it’s a ghost story, a psychological thriller when we view Chip’s side of things and there’s event hints of a mystery: what’s going on, and who is the real bad guy here? I personally think it’s nothing short but a masterpiece. I can already see this book being compared to other classics in the genre and not coming short at all. Bohjalian’s characters are rich and compelling and I especially liked Garnet. She just had this vibe around her that told me there was more to her than meets the eye. And guess what…I wasn’t mistaken. Another bonus is that from point one, you’re continuously wondering what’s going on, what’s the explanation for this and that, but you have to wait till the very last chapters to hear the entire story, which means you’re literally sitting on the edge of your seat for over three hours. As a bonus, scary things can happen all the time, and you have to be prepared for it from start to end, meaning that those shivers running down your spine never cease until you’ve turned the last page.

Additionally, it’s clear that Chris Bohjalian put a lot of time and effort in writing this book and investigating things like aircraft, botanica and New Age rituals. I always love it when an author takes the time to put genuinely interesting information in his books, and once again, Bohjalian doesn’t dissapoint. This author has got me completely hooked. This is the kind of horror movie that would make excellent film material, although the film would probably be well over two hours. The madness, the weird and distant but compelling writing style, the interesting characters, the countless secrets and the ghostly apparitions make The Night Strangers into the perfect Halloween novel. I, for one, am absolutely hooked.

Giveway

One lucky winner will receive a paperback copy of The Night Strangers, sponsored by yours truly. Please fill in the contest form below and leave a comment to participate.


Book Review: Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman

10772903Title: Those Across The River
Author: Christopher Buehlman
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Supernatural, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Ace Hardcover
Publication Date: September 6th 2011
Review copy received from the publisher through Netgalley.
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon (Hardcover) | Amazon (Kindle) | B&N | Book Depository | Author Website

Failed academic Frank Nichols and his wife, Eudora, have arrived in the sleepy Georgia town of Whitbrow, where Frank hopes to write a history of his family’s old estate-the Savoyard Plantation- and the horrors that occurred there. At first, the quaint, rural ways of their new neighbors seem to be everything they wanted. But there is an unspoken dread that the townsfolk have lived with for generations. A presence that demands sacrifice.
It comes from the shadowy woods across the river, where the ruins of Savoyard still stand. Where a longstanding debt of blood has never been forgotten.
A debt that has been waiting patiently for Frank Nichols’s homecoming…

Frank Nichols is a veteran of the Great War, a failed academic and a hopeless romantic. His girlfriend Eudora, was actually married to his college professor before he met her and they fell in love at first sight. Traumatized not only by his failing academic career but also by losing his best friend on the battlefield, Frank is determined to start anew with Eudora, somewhere far away from their old life. And what better place to start anew than in the city of Whitbrow, where his ancestor’s estate, the Savoyard Plantation, still lies in ruins but could give Frank enough inspiration to write a book capable of putting him back on the university payroll.

However, once they arrive in the Canary House in Whitbrow and get to know the town’s people, Frank and Dora soon discover the continous feeling of dread wavering over the community. The people in Whitbrow are friendly enough, but they are often unkind to strangers, and they warn Frank occassionally not to venture to the forest beyond the river. But Frank can’t help himself and armed with only a camera, he crosses the river, only to find himself being followed by a strange puberescent boy who throws rocks at him. Although strangely unsettled by the entire experience, Frank tries to hide it from his wife upon arriving back home. But he certainly doesn’t feel like going into those woods any time soon…

Things take a turn for the worst soon enough. When the local community decides to put an end to the monthly tradition of releasing pigs into the woods because of the failing economy, it seems like something from the woods is after the town’s people. It begins by a traumatizing experience in the local school, expands with the gruesome murder on a young boy and ends with the creatures from across the river preying upon the entire village. Frank and his fellow town’s men realize they have to do something against the threat from the woods – but what can they do to save themselves from these monsters?

I have to admit that as soon as I read the premise from Those Across The River, I was intrigued. Usually, monsters hidden in woods or cannibals hidden in hills (The Hills Have Eyes, for example) don’t scare me. More often than not I find myself laughing at this type of horror movies, because they’re so over the top and make the story sound so absolutely unbelievable that I cannot help but laugh. However, this wasn’t the case with Those Across The River, and I realized that from as soon as I opened up the book. The constant feeling of tension and dread is immense and overwhelming, and starts from page one. The entire time while I was reading this book, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for something unsettling and scary to happen. It certainly didn’t dissapoint. The built-up is amazing, and the climax is even more earth-shattering.

This isn’t the slash and kill kind of horror, and I think it could probably be best described as Southern Gothic Horror. Christopher Buehlman has a way with words and prose that both creates a distance between the written word and the reader, making the text sound sometimes distorted and strange – which is always excellent when writing horror, in my opinion, because it adds to the mystery surrounding the why, how and what is attacking the town, in this case – and manages to pull the reader in from page one. It actually takes a long while before we actually find out what is hiding in those woods as a reader: cannibals? werewolves? witches? an ancient tribe? ghosts? But even when the mystery is solved, and we know what exactly is preying upon those poor souls living in Whitbrow, the horror is far from over. In fact, it’s only just begun…

Buehlman’s main characters are strong and well-developed. Frank Nichols is a person with a complex personality: he seems like a brave enough fellow, especially when during a treck to the forests across the river he chooses to stay whereas others chose to leave, but he also suffers from his own less-than-positive views about himself. He doesn’t regard himself as being very much at all, and he often fears Dora will leave him for a better man, a wealthier man or a more educated man. Although his self-confidence is lacking and he often shows a mistrust in humanity in general, he’s also an intelligent, straight-forward and good-natured person eager to help others. Dora is an interesting character as well, although she clearly isn’t as well-developed and complex as Frank. I liked her for her kindness of heart, her ability to feel along with the victims of the assaults and the fact that she could put up with a lot more than I first gave her credit for. I like it when a character surprises me, and Dora definately succeeded in that department.

Those Across The River takes places in 1935 during the great Depression, in the interbellum between the two wars that have ripped the entire world to shreds. Christopher Buehlman portrays this time period excellent and with an eye for detail that is most astonishing. This author really is a master of language, and he’s confident enough in his own abilities to take the time to describe scenes in full detail when necessary or adequate for the story. He also uses a far broader vocabulary than half the horror authors out there, another something I should congratulate him for. As a not-native English speaker, I had to occassionally consider what a certain word could mean, and test the boundaries of my knowledge frequently, which I found exciting to say the least.

Don’t let the soft, cheerful beginning of this novel, with Frank and Eudora settling into their new home as a happy-go-lucky couple fool you. Don’t be mistaken by the good-heartedness of their neighbors and their will to help each other, even through the dark days of the Depression. At its core, Those Across The River is a full-blown, brutal, terrifying and masterfully written horror novel that will keep you thinking about it for days, even after you’ve long finished it. I would not be surprised to see this work somewhere on the list of classics along with Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. If Christopher Buehlman continues to amaze me with his excellent writing skills, eye for detail and understanding of historical events, I will have to name him as my favorite horror author ever. For now, I’m eagerly anticipating his next work, and hoping that it will sweep me off my feet as much as Those Across The River has. Recommended to all horror fans, but not to the faint of heart.

Giveaway

I’m offering an eBook copy of Those Across The River to one lucky winner! This contest is open internationally. If you’d like to participate, fill in the form below and leave a comment on this post!



Book Review: Crave by Melissa Darnell

11164626Title: Crave (The Clann #1)
Author: Melissa Darnell
Genre: Fantasy, Supernatural, Witches, Vampires, Young Adult
Publisher: HarlequinTEEN
Publication Date: October 18th 2011
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Rating: 2 stars
Review copy received by the publisher through Netgalley.

Savannah Colbert has been shunned all her life by the kids of the Clann. And when she undergoes some drastic changes after a strange illness, Savannah learns secrets about the group and about herself—dangerous secrets. For the Clann are powerful magic users, and Savannah herself is half Clann and half vampire—a forbidden, unheard of combination. Falling for Clann golden boy Tristan Coleman isn’t just a bad idea—it could be deadly if anyone finds out. But her attraction to Tristan—and his to her—isn’t something either of them can resist for long.

Crave is one of those books that left me with mixed feelings and the constant urge to hit my keyboard with my head. The latter is not advised by the way, not because it could hurt your head, but mostly because your keyboard will probably not appreciate it. And if there’s one person/thing you don’t want to mess with, then it’s your keyboard. Especially not if you want to play WoW later on, write a review or even write some assignments for university. The reason why I have mixed feelings about this book is because I liked two things about it: 1) the synopsis and 2) the cover. Let’s admit it once and for all, covers are important, even if we all claim that they’re not and that we’re intellectual beings who are not persuaded by superficial things like cover art. I know that sometimes the greatest stories are hidden behind the ugliest covers imaginable, but still I get excited when I see a gorgeous cover. However, the opposite is true equally as many times as well, and sometimes you can find one of the most boring and unoriginal stories behind the most gorgeous cover imaginable. Don’t believe me? Try out Crave.

I have to add that Crave isn’t that bad. If you haven’t read a ton of YA fantasy/vampire fiction books already, then you might actually enjoy it. On the other hand, if you’re as familiar with the genre as I am, then you’ll be astonished by the amount of clichés author Melissa Darnell manages to put into one book. Let’s talk about the main character, Savannah first. Savannah holds a lot of resemblences to our dearly hated and well-known Bella Swan. Not appearance-wise, but personality-wise. I always go on and on about how Bella Swan could be replaced by a cow or another animal and the story wouldn’t even change, because she has the personality of a cardboard figure and is just about as interesting as watching reruns of Dawson’s Creek for the seventh time. Savannah Colbert, main character of Crave, is a Bella Swan in disguise. Although she pretends to be halfway interesting by being a vampire (big deal…), in all honesty she isn’t. She hasn’t got a single personality trait that makes her special or unique or even remotely interesting. Why she has friends to begin with is a giant mystery to me. She has no spine, no backbone, no real hobbies besides going to school, nothing at all that makes her anything more than a standard cardboard figure. I couldn’t help it, but I didn’t like her at all. That’s not to say that I didn’t try. But the endless descriptions of how ridiculous she supposedly looks (carrot-orange curly hair that she can’t do anything with, pale skin) obviously served as a replacement for any actual personality traits she might have had. Quite frankly, I couldn’t care less if Savannah was a gorgeous blonde with a flawless tanned skin or a redhead with zits, pimples and glasses the size of Timbuktoe. I care about who people are, not what they look like.

However, that’s not where the author’s obvious preferences for superficial qualities ends. She goes through great lengths to describe Savannah’s crush, Tristan as being the prince of Jacksonville, the typical hot sportstar every girl swoons over. Yes…Let’s disregard the fact that he’s also the biggest jerk walking around school, a total pushover who does everything his parents tell him to do, has absolutely no leadership qualities whatsoever and has the emotional level of a baby. Seriously, Tristan, you have to grow a pair. Excuse me for stating it so bluntly, but that’s basically the only way I can describe it. Tristan is apparently once of those people who’s still stuck in kindergarten even though he’s in highschool. He supposedly has feelings for Savannah and has had these for a while now, but because the Clann told him to stay away from her, he happily obliges. Yeh…That would really make me swoon all over him. Not. Apparently for Savannah it’s no biggie though. Although this is the guy who she was best friends with until fourth grade and who turned his back on her from one day on the other without even giving an explenation, she continues to fantasize about him and convince the readers every once in a while of how hot he actually is. Yes, well I’m unconvinced. He could be looking like Ian Somerhalder (my favorite actor at the moment) and I still wouldn’t go for him, because he has the personality of a zebra. Really. One day he’s black and all ‘must follow clan rules’, the other day he’s white and all ‘I love Savannah nanananana’.

But hey, it’s not over yet. Suddenly Savannah meets a guy named Greg who is supposedly the best boyfriend material anyone could wish for. He’s the kind of guy your mother would approve instantly – not an easy task to accomplish. Not only is Greg polite, kind, generous and caring, he’s also good-looking, intelligent and has a nice sense of humor. Brilliant, right? By now every person in their right mind would have jumped on the Greg bandwagon in a heartbeat. Not Savannah though. No, because Greg doesn’t threat her like crap, doesn’t ignore her whenever he feels like it, and isn’t one big push-over. He’s just not Tristan, she occassionally muses. Ofcourse he’s not. He’s about one million times better than Tristan, but Savannah fails to see that. By now, I felt like throwing my entire laptop at that girl and knocking some sense into her.

Hold your horses. The fun isn’t over yet. Remember how I told you that Savannah is supposedly a vampire? Well in fact, she’s a half-vampire, a dhampire if you want. And she’s also a half-witch. In any other book that would mean insane superpowers, the ability to save the world from the apocalypse or the destiny to fulfill some ancient prophecy. Hahaha, but not in Crave! We were wrong all along, ladies and gentlemen, because the number one superpower you get by being a half-vampire/half-witch hybrid? You grow boobs overnight! Yes, you can go from a size A to a size C in just one night! Isn’t that bloody amazing? And you know what happens when these boobs just miraculously appear? You get male attention, all of the sudden. Yes. Tons and tons of horny teenage boys come knocking on your door because HEY you got boobs now! Isn’t that amazing? It’s like the coolest superpower ever! Spiderman and his spider senses can go screw themselves, here’s Superboob to protect the world from harm…and to turn all teenage boys into horny sex slaves!

Yes, I used a lot of sarcasm in the previous paragraph, but you have to admit how stupid it sounds. If the only thing I initially got from being a hybrid was to grow two boobsizes overnight, I would be anything but amused. It gets worse though. Savannah can now enchant boys just by looking at them and turn them into drooling stalkerzombies. Although the concept seems hilarious it’s more enervating than anything else.

And what about Tristan and Savannah’s love affair, you ask? What can I say about it except that it’s the most unrealistic unbelievable crap since Twilight. Savannah never even questions why Tristan didn’t talk to her for well over seven years, it’s left unexplained why the sportstar shows interest in the freak girl all of the sudden (why not three years sooner, for example?) and Tristan never grows the backbone needed to be an actual asset to this relationship. They’re such a mismatch that they’re worse than Luce and Daniel from the Fallen series, Bella and Edward from Twilight and Elena and Stefan from The Vampire Diaries together. There is nothing that could explain why they’re drawn to eachother, no mutual interests whatsoever, except this strange, unexplainable love they cannot deny. Been there, done that, it never works out well, not even in fiction. I would love it if a psychiatrist could get his hands on Tristan and Savannah and finally knock some sense into them.

As you probably realized by now, Crave is just one cliché on top of the other until it forms a giant mountain of clichés that even the best writing skill in the world couldn’t undo. The book isn’t totally bad though. Melissa Darnell has an interesting and enjoyable writing style, and I’d like to see her write something else but using the same style. If she managed to step away from the clichés and write about a believable, interesting romance then she really has potential. The pace was fast through-out the entire novel, but sometimes it dropped significantly and seemed to drag on a bit. However that’s to be expected from the first book in a series so I didn’t really mind it that much. Overall the premise of this book was intriguing, and it could have been a real success-story had the characters been less like cardboard figures, had their romance been more believable and if the book had a more promising plotline overall. It started out promising enough but near the end when nothing major or apocalyptic-like had happened, I sort of felt dissapointed. If you write an entire book with as only goal to bring two characters together and you don’t even manage to do that right, then you’re obviously doing something wrong. I always enjoy it when something else is going on in the background, like some epic battle with the entire world at stake or something along those lines, but here there was…well, nothing.

I expected a lot more from Crave and in all honesty it delivered very little. The only characters worth mentioning where Anne (now she has some personality!) and Greg. Please make these two the main characters of the next book in the series, and I might believe in The Clann series again. For now, I do believe in Melissa Darnell’s writing skills and that she could write a magnificent piece of fiction one day, but only if she steps away from clichés and works a lot on adding actual personality traits to her characters. For now, I’m not sure if I would recommend this book to anyone. However, a lot of people on Goodreads rated it highly, so it must have something that works for some people. You’re free to give it a shot, but don’t come knocking on my door with an angry mob if you don’t like it or if you ruin your keyboard by smashing your head into it while reading this book. I do believe the author has a lot of potential, and I wish her good luck with her future works. This book just wasn’t for me.

In My Mailbox (19) / Mailbox Monday (28)

mailbox

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. (Library books don’t count, but eBooks & audiobooks do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page, who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here). This month it is hosted by Bluestocking.

In My Mailbox

   

   

Waiting on Wednesday (8): Nameless by Kyle Chais AND Giveaway

waiting_on_wednesday
Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme run by Jill from Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

I’m waiting for…

Title: Nameless
Author: Kyle Chais
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy, Angels
Publisher: Karen Hunter Publishing (S&S Imprint)
Expected Publication Date: January 10, 2012

They are the Nameless; names are for those with masters and they have none. They live in the Nameless realm, awaiting their inescapable execution.
From the beginning of man, they have witnessed the blackest crimes committed. Witnessed the crops of Earth watered with crying blood spilled by man, woman, and child. But there is something that torments them. It is the simple logic that grips the back of their throats and will not let go. No matter how much they beg, no matter how much they pray, they will be one day be executed by God, but humans will remain forever.
The Nameless and the Human world collide. One nameless meets Aurick Pantera, a sleazy drunk about to be murdered by a gang over his debts. One who is condemned for his supposed wickedness feels compassion, possesses the body of Aurick and saves his life.
Soon he discovers the delights for the smell of roses, touch of seashells, and the taste of women. With the belief that any bad situation can be flipped into good, he uses Aurick’s body to live life to the fullest- become a rock star, have a successful psychiatric practice, and pursue superstar journalist Helena Way.
Three years of living the good life, in a twisted turn other nameless take notice of his impossible achievements and begin appearing to Aurick. They give him the opportunity of a lifetime. To take back the eternal life they felt they were cheated out of. They prepare for a war not even their Creator could imagine. Aurick stands at the center of it all. Does he join the ranks to return to former divine glory jeopardizing the lives he has come to love or can he accept execution to protect them? Faced with this impossible choice, does a third option exist?

Giveaway

The author of Nameless, Kyle Chais, is giving out an autographed copy of the book as soon as he hits 500 followers on Twitter. Follow @NamelessTheBook by 10/16 for a chance to win!