Book Review: Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

22609323Title: Within These Walls
Author: Ania Ahlborn
Genre: Horror, Dark Fiction
Age Group: Adult (but can be read by YA and older)
Rating: 3,5 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

From indie horror author and bestselling sensation Ania Ahlborn, this brand-new supernatural thriller questions: how far would you go for success, and what would you be capable of if the promise of forever was real?
With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed up crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback. So when he’s promised exclusive access to notorious cult leader and death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the opportunity is too good to pass up. Lucas leaves New York for the scene of the crime—a split-level farmhouse on the gray-sanded beach of Washington State—a house whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners; runaways who, thirty years prior, were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. Lucas wants to tell the real story of Halcomb’s faithful departed, but when Halcomb goes back on his promise of granting Lucas exclusive information on the case, he’s left to put the story together on his own. Except he is not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.

Within These Walls is my first read by Ania Ahlborn, apparently a bestselling sensation (which I didn’t know when I picked up this book – I did that solely based on the description) but I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last. The book offers enough interesting twists, and the characters are intriguing enough to warrant reading another book by this author.

Lucas Graham, our main character, is a true crime writer who’s been struggling for years. First, with his career. He wrote a major bestseller decades ago, but ever since, he hasn’t quite reached that fame. His marriage is as good as over, with his wife even having an affair with another man. His daughter is angry about her parents breaking up, and about him moving her from New York to a small, beach-side village in Washington State. But Lucas has no choice: he got an offer he simply couldn’t refuse. An offer that could turn his nightmare of a life back into a beautiful dream, that could repair his career, mend his relationship with his wife, and basically, change everything.

Jeffrey Halcomb, leader of a cult popular in the seventies, agreed to do an interview. Halcomb has never allowed anyone to interview him before, so if Lucas gets to do the interviews and writes a book about it, he’s guaranteed a spot on the bestselling list. There’s only one catch. Lucas has to move into the property Halcomb and his followers lived in, before they committed suicide and Halcomb killed a girl and her unborn baby. Right in the living room of the house Lucas and his teenage daughter are about to live in.

The book combines psychological and supernatural terror, and does so rather well. The author takes a long time to set the scene, almost too long. I don’t mind giving the reader ample time to get to know the characters, but here the plot almost dragged on, especially toward the end when I just wanted to know what would happen and when the big climax would be. The book also has several flashbacks, which gave an interesting perspective on the events that unfolded with Halcomb and his followers thirty-something years ago.

If it wasn’t for the pacing being so slow, I probably would’ve enjoyed this more. Also, when the horror hits, somehow it never reaches the level of terror I’d anticipated and hoped for. It’s all rather bland at the end. Jeffrey Halcomb is by far the most interesting of all characters, yet he doesn’t get a POV, although Lucas and his teen daughter, Vee, do. The ending had a few surprises though, and I ended up with a rather pleasant feeling about this read. I wasn’t scared – not in the slightest – but it was entertaining and offered nice twists on some common tropes (like the Satanic cult, enigmatic cult leader, Satanic rituals, house haunted by crimes of the past, and so on).

If you like horror that combines the psychological and supernatural, and you don’t mind a slow pace, I’d recommend this one. The plot and characters make for an entertaining read, but you might struggle through some of the 400+ pages.

Book Review: The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie and Alyssa B. Sheinmel

24997279Title: The Haunting of Sunshine Girl: Book One

Author: Paige McKenzie and Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Paranormal

Age Group: Young Adult

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Sunshine Griffith and her mother Kat move from sunny Austin, Texas, to the rain-drenched town of Ridgemont, Washington. Though Sunshine is adopted, she and her mother have always been close, sharing a special bond filled with laughter and inside jokes. But from the moment they arrive, Sunshine feels her world darken with an eeriness she cannot place. And even if Kat doesn’t recognize it, Sunshine knows that something about their new house is just … creepy.
In the days that follow, things only get stranger. Sunshine is followed around the house by an icy breeze, phantom wind slams her bedroom door shut, and eventually, the laughter Sunshine hears on her first night evolves into sobs. She can hardly believe it, but as the spirits haunting her house become more frightening, and it becomes clear that Kat is in danger, Sunshine must accept what she is, pass the test before her, and save her mother from a fate worse than death.

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl is a fun paranormal read. It’s apparently based on a popular YouTube channel, but I’ve never seen it – although I might be tempted to check it out now – so my review is based on the book alone, and I have nothing to compare it with.

Sunshine and her mom moved halfway across the country to the small town of Ridgemont, Washington. They changed the sun for the clouds, and Sunshine’s mood seems to have plummeted along with the weather. They moved because her mom, Kat, got a new job at a local hospital. All seems to go well, right until they arrive at their new home. Sunshine tries to look on the bright side, but has trouble finding anything bright about her new home, which seems infested with a creepy, eerie feeling.

And the longer they spend in the house, the more Sunshine grows convinced it’s haunted. Her mom doesn’t believe it, being a practical person, so Sunshine starts to gather evidence. While the ghost grows more powerful, slamming doors, sobbing in the bathroom, and even playing games with Sunshine, her mom still won’t believe her. Up until something frightening happens, and afterward, Kat doesn’t even remember.

Sunshine realizes it’s up to her to solve the mystery of the ghost’s identity before her mom gets hurt.

I loved the relationship Sunshine and Kat have. Sunshine is adopted, but they still have a real bond, a real connection. They’re very much like a real mother and daughter. Sometimes they bicker, but they’re there for each other, and they’re best friends. You don’t often see that in YA, and it’s great when it happens. Unfortunately their bond deteriorates when Kat doesn’t believe her daughter, which drives a wedge between them. But even though, it was still interesting to see what this did to their relationship, and how it estranged them.

The second POV that pops in occassionally was confusing at first, and I could’ve done without. I wanted to read the story of Sunshine and Kat, and the second POV didn’t add to the tension, but instead diminished it.

Sunshine was a loveable character, quirky and fun. Unfortunately she doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends, not even at her new school, and I found it a little hard to believe that even after being there for longer than a month, she only ever mentioned one person from school, one friend.

The ghost part worked well, and the suspense is high from start till end. There’s some build up, but from the moment Sunshine first hears the ghost, the suspense just keeps on going. The writing was spot on, with Sunshine sounding like a teenager without jumping to clichés. Some of the descriptions were plain beautiful.

This is a promising start to a new series, with a few exciting twists to the usual ghost story. It left me pleasantly surprised, and I look forward to reading more about Sunshine and her adventures in the sequel. Can’t wait.


Book Review: Sunblind by Michael McBride

22699416Title: Sunblind

Author: Michael McBride

Genre: Horror, Supernatural Horror, Dark Fiction

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 4,5 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

When U.S. Border Patrol Agent Christian Rivera discovers the body of an undocumented alien in the middle of the vast Sonoran Desert with three enigmatic words carved into her flesh, presumably by her own hand, it triggers a frantic search for the remainder of her party, a group of twenty-five men and women who have inexplicably vanished into the desert.
Aided by two of the agency’s best trackers, Rivera follows the woman’s trail into the brutal heart of one of the hottest and most unforgiving landscapes on the planet, where nothing can survive for long. As more bodies turn up, Rivera and the others begin to realize they may be up against an enemy far deadlier than the desert, an unseen adversary that will stop at nothing to take from them what it needs to survive. A mythical evil that may not be myth at all, but horrifically real, could very well be stalking them, and their only hope of surviving the same fate that befell the missing party lies in deciphering the clues to their disappearance before it’s too late. If it isn’t already…
From Michael McBride, bestselling author of Burial Ground and Snowblind, comes Sunblind, a thrilling new novel of terror and action that will take you on an unforgettable journey from the desperate streets of Mexico, through the deadliest corridor in the world, to a place where mankind was never meant to tread.

Sunblind is an intense book, with the suspense railing high right from the start. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Christian Rivera runs into the body of an illegal immigrant, with a sinister message carved into her chest. She’s on the verge of death, but the message, and the pictures on her camera, lead Rivera to suspect the rest of her party, a group of twenty-five men and women, may still be alive, and vanished somewhere in the desert. He follows the woman’s trail into the heart of the desert, aided by two of the best trackers. As more bodies turn up, Rivera starts to suspect the unforgiving desert may not be the only thing he’s up against.

At the same time, we take a trip back in time, and followw Mayra, the immigrant woman, as she joins a group of people heading into the desert, and the horrors she goes through while being there. At some point, the author describes the thirst and hunger of the characters so well that I almost felt physically ill. Michael McBride has the uncanny ability to make readers care almost too much about his characters – I know it’s horror, but still I cared for Mayra so much that I didn’t want her to die, or even to get hurt. Although the other characters sometimes remain unnamed, instead being referred to by their characteristics, I still cared for them. The back story of Mayra and her party members was the most interesting of both storylines, but toward the end, they both collide nicely in a fascinating climax that I won’t forget any time soon.

Rather than horror – although the book has its horrific moments – it’s more like the kind of read that just leaves you like a total wreck. Mayra’s life has been horrible from the start, with what happened to her sister and than to her, her ordeals in the desert, and you just want her pain to end, want her to get one lucky break. You cannot feel anything but sympathy for a character who goes to impossible lengths to survive, who beats all odds and still continues on, and that’s what Mayra does, and what makes her so sympathetic and so tragic at the same time.

The book has it all: from supernatural horror to the realistic horror (which in my opinion, is even scarier) like the trip through the desert – God, I’m never looking at a desert the same way again – amazing characters and extraordinary writing. One of the best horror novels I’ve ever read.

Book Review: Probably Monsters by Ray Cluley

23228995Title: Probably Monsters

Author: Ray Cluley

Genre: Short Stories, Dark Fiction, Horror

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 5 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

From British Fantasy Award-winning author Ray Cluley comes Probably Monsters-a collection of dark, weird, literary horror stories. Sometimes the monsters are bloodsucking fiends with fleshy wings. Sometimes they’re shambling dead things that won’t rest, or simply creatures red in tooth and claw. But often they’re worse than any of these. They’re the things that make us howl in the darkness, hoping no one hears. These are the monsters we make ourselves, and they can find us anywhere. . . .

Probably Monsters is a delightful collection of spine-chilling horror and dark fiction stories by author Ray Cluley. I read a lot of short story collections in the horror genre, and I have to be honest: this is one of the best collections I’ve ever read. So if you want to crawl under a blanket and enjoy a chilling night, I would highly recommend this book.

The first story, “All Change” reminded me of classics like Poe’s stories. The protagonists finds himself battling more monsters than he wanted to take on. While a delightful read, it didn’t quite have the same amount of horror as other stories in the collection. However, it set the town nicely, and already displayed to the reader that author Ray Cluley is a master of words, and knows how to create an eerie atmosphere. The second story, “I Have Heard The Mermaids Sing” is scarier than the first, and relies heavily on atmosphere to get the horror punch across. At the same time, the story also focuses on some very real issues, and manages to describe another culture. Although a short story, by the end of it, I felt like I’d known the protagonist half my life. One needs to be a master at writing in order to achieve such a thing.

Next up was “The Festering”, and oh my, how I loved this one. It’s about a girl who has a drawer where she pours all her secrets in, and more I won’t say, but it was creepy, yucky, and intriguing at the same time. “At Night, When The Demons Come” is a tough story to read – it’s just so raw, so dark, so bleak, but at the same time it packs a powerful message, and it shows the author’s almost limitless creatviity. This was one of my favorite stories from the collection.

“Night Fishing” is a sad story more than anything, dark fiction rather than horror, and it is simple yet powerful. “Knock Knock” turns your usual ghost story upside down, providing an interesting perspective on the matter. I liked the twist toward the end. Once again, the characters came across as very realistic, like real people. “The Death Drive of Rita, Nee Carina” was wow. Just wow. I have no other way to describe it. It’s a horrible story, dark and twisting, yet the way the author tells it, one feels almost sympathetic toward the protagonist. The end seemed weird, almost too strange, but from the POV of the character, it made perfect sense.

“The Man Who Was” is haunting. Of all the stories, I think this one will stick to me the most, because at the end, well it’s just gut-wreching really. The kind of scene that stays with you longer after reading, the kind of pain and terror that crawls into your skin and doesn’t let you go. “Shark! Shark!” was a welcome reprieve after the more emotionally-loaded stories I’d just mentioned. It’s basically a story about people shooting a shark film, and the narrator is hilarious. It’s still dark, but it made me laugh out loud, so it’s not bleak or depressing, instead it’s a fun, wicked story.

“Bloodcloth” offered so much originality that my mouth hung open the entire time I read it. Seriously, I’d never read anything like it, especially with the “bloodcloth” (I won’t explain what it is, just read the story for that). Tanya, the protagonist, was a delightful character, and I was sad to see the story over. “The Tilt” is about Carcassonne, which I’ve wanted to visit since forever, so naturally, I enjoyed it too. It’s a bit more mainsteam than the other stories, but I liked it nevertheless. I’m not sure if it’s the originality of these stories, or the author’s flawless writing style, but I have trouble finding one story I didn’t like.

Next up, “Bones of Crow”. I liked the metaphores here, how the story remains vague, having an open interpretation. Had it been more straightforward, I probably wouldn’t have liked it so much, but now I could interpret it in different ways, and I always enjoy that. “Pins and Needles” was creepy because of how ordinary the story is. The way it started out, it could’ve happened to just about anyone, and that’s what really brought chills to my spine. But the ending, well, I still have nightmares about that. The creep factor is high n this one.

“Gator Moon” was all right, but again, more traditional. I didn’t find it as inspiring and scary as the other stories. “Where The Salmon Run” was another solid story, and managed to add in some cultural perspectives too, about the Kamchatka track, about the lives of people who look for salmon. It wasn’t scary as much as it was dark and depressing, but stil enjoyable.  “Indian Giver” was another scary read though, and I liked the way the story was told (a story retold from one man to another, rather than the reader actually witnessing it happening). It was a nice change, and allowed for the main character’s thoughts to be analyzed too. Next up, a short one, “Mother’s Blood”. Now, this one might’ve been a bit close to home. I can understand the perspective from the main character so well that it almost scares me. Luckily, these thoughts remain in stories, not real life, and I’m certain most people, once they think it through, will be able to relate to what the protagonist is going through.

“The Travellers Stay” was an all right read. It was slightly familiar (everyone knows a horror story about a motel, I’m sure) but still, the author managed to pack enough character development and original twists to make it entertaining. “No More West” was a bit vague, and I had to read it twice to fully understand what had happened. A more traditional story, but still good. The book ends on a high note, with “Beachcombing,” one of my favorites from the collection, and while not scary, certainly leaves one in a thoughtful, dark mood.

The collection as a whole is intriguing and powerful, and it features so many different protagonists – other collections sometimes offer more generic protagonists, the standard stereotypes, but here you’ve got a whole cast passing by, from people struggling with their sexuality, to little children, to girls who want to grow up too soon, to people who have gone through terrible ordeals. The writing is excellent, and I would recommend it to just about everyone who likes horror.

Book Review: Doll Face by Tim Curran

24486813Title: Doll Face
Author: Tim Curran
Genre: Dark Fiction, Horror
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 2 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Six friends are returning home from a night out when they end up in a town called Stokes. They discover they are trapped there, as Stokes does not really exist. The actual town had burned to the ground more than fifty years ago. The Stokes they are in is a nightmare version of the former town, engineered by a deranged and undead mind, a supernatural machine of wrath that will destroy them one by one….unless they submit to its dominance and become living dolls.

In Doll Face, after going out one night, six friends return home and when one of them decides to take a shortcut, they end up in a town called Stokes. The driver, Chazz, accidentally runs someone over, and an argument ensues – will they drive forward, or will they stop to help? Eventually they get out of the car, and check how the man is doing – except, he’s not a man at all. He’s not human, but a mannequin, a doll that walked just seconds ago. They call an ambulance, but the operator says no town named Stokes even exist. Or well, it existed, but completely burned down in the 1960s. Soon, the six of them realize they’re trapped in a grotesque version of 1960s Stokes, a village inhabited by dolls and mannequins, and the Spider-Moth, a despicable creature with hundreds of doll legs and faces that chases them through town. All of it seems centured around the factory just out of town, but will they ever reach it? With Stokes turning into a maze, and each road leading to the same road, and while being chased by murderous dolls, not all of them might make it out alive.

So, the premise for this book, is you just read my summary above, is amazing, right? Well, it certainly sounded amazing to me. Abandoned town? Check. Creepy dolls? Check. I was thinking this would be like Silent Hill, but with creepy dolls rather than Pyramid Head. And the book did start out with a bang. We’re introduced to our group of six. The cast isn’t that diverse – they all seem like they’re losers or at least regard themselves that way. But we’ve got Chazz, who is a controlling idiot, and who always wants to be in charge, yet doesn’t know how to take responsibility. Then we’ve got Ramona, Chazz’s girlfriend. Although she might have what it takes to be the brave heroine this book so desperately needs, she has one major character flaw: she’s too self-critical, always blaming herself for what the men she loves do wrong. If Chazz acts rude toward her, it must be her fault somehow. If he cheats on her, she must’ve done something wrong. She does gradually shed this part of her as the book progresses, but it’s hard to like a character who is that self-critical.

Next up, we’ve got Lex and So-Lee. They’re the first ones who felt the weird vibes of Stokes, and the first to break through an illusion, but apart from that, the reader doesn’t know much about them – who were they before they ended up in Stokes? What did they do? – and it’s hard to connect with them. We’ve also got Danielle, who is so shallow and useless she doesn’t even get a POV, so connecting with her is next to impossible. And then there’s Creep, who has moments when a reader might feel sympathetic toward him. He’s a loser too, or at least sees himself that way, and he’s not very brave, but he comes across as the most realistic of all the characters, and sometimes, I sympathized with him. Not a lot though.

The trouble with this book, first and foremost, is the lack of sympathy one feels to the characters. They all seemed like the different shades of the same color. All slightly different, yet at their core, remarkably the same. Ramona and Creep at least had some moments where the reader could connect with them, the other characters didn’t. As such, I didn’t much care what happened to any of the characters.

The writing is haunting and atmospheric, and the image of the Spider-Mother won’t leave my mind soon. But the writing is also repetitive. The characters split up, and each of them faces off against a different cast of mannequin dolls – but still, each scene plays out the same way. Characters runs into monster, then runs away from it, and narrowly manages to escape. Repeat. It’s boring and gets repetitive, and this book could’ve easily been turned into a novella if some of the repetitive scenes got axed.

Now, the good parts of the book, becaause it has a few. As I said, the writing is good, and the descriptions are pure gold. The atmosphere is creepy, and the town of Stokes feels very claustrophobic. But because the creep-factor rises to the highest level almost right away, the suspense dies out quickly. If it had more build up, the book might’ve been better, but it was as if all monsters got unleashed all at once, and rather than terror rising, it just stays at the same level throughout. But because we grow accustomed to this level, the suspense dies out. Toward the end, I had to force myself to continue reading.

Doll Face isn’t too bad, but I wouldn’t call it good either. The concept and premise are great, and the writing works too. It’s just that it’s too long, too repetitive, and none of the characters are easy to sympathize with. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but other horror fans might enjoy it.

Book Review: The Lurking Season by Kristopher Rufty

23715811Title: The Lurking Season

Author: Kristopher Rufty

Genre: Horror, Dark Fiction

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The legends were true. The creatures were real. And now they’re back!
People have whispered about the tiny humanoid creatures in the woods and cornfields of Doverton for decades. Three years ago a wildfire devoured much of the rural village, but as the ashes were cleared, more questions were uncovered—including abandoned houses, missing people and dead bodies. Since the fire seemed to wipe out the majority of the town’s woodland acres, the murmurs about the creatures have gone quiet. The residents have begun to rebuild their lives, trying to forget about the tragedy that nearly killed them all. Yet the mysteries remained unsolved.
Now a group of people will go there with good intentions, venturing into the dead heart of Doverton, thinking it’s safe. But they will find out that the legend was only sleeping. Now it’s awake. And ready to kill again.

It was only after starting The Lurking Season, I figured out it’s a sequel to a previous book, called “The Lurkers”. I haven’t read the previous book, but I had a good enough grasp of the book to decide to continue reading either way. Besides, I enjoyed the story (at least the start of it) and wanted to read what happened next. In retrospect, if I’d read “The Lurkers”, maybe I’d have a better understanding of this book. Most of it seemed straightforward though, so I don’t think it’s a necessity, but maybe I would’ve enjoyed it more had I read the first book.

Anyway, I liked the premise of the book, and it started out with a bang, introducing us to Brooke, and then followed by a gruesome scene, kind of like the opening scene of a slasher movie. The story slowed down after that, introducing us to the other characters as they make their way to Doverton. We get some background information about the background story. Three years ago, most of Doverton was destroyed by wildfire, but afterwards, authorities discovered more questions than answers, with abandoned houses, unexplained dead bodies, people missing who never turned up. Local residents tried to forget what happened and rebuild their lives, and forget all about the local legends of tiny humanoid creatures stalking the nearby woods, but now a similar murder has happened as the murdering spree they went through years ago, the locals start to wonder if their nightmares have returned. And for the newcomers, they might find themselves running straight into a nightmare.

The villains here, the Haunchies, are perhaps the only thing I found particularly interesting about the book. When you read tiny humanoid creatures, you don’t exactly get the chills. Let’s just say that after reading, they did give me the chills. At the same time, I didn’t understand much of their motives (if they had any).

That’s the problem with most of the book. The characters are flat. We get so many characters passing by, and the POV then switches from one character to another per chapter, and it’s hard keeping track of all of them, let alone connect with them. I couldn’t connect with a single character, not even Brooke, who was probably the most sympathetic of all of them. The dialogue was stiff and dull, and didn’t feel realistic. The violence was over the top and gross, and while I usually don’t mind that, it didn’t seem necessary at all here. I mean, the book practically lived on gore, like those slasher movies, and I never really found them intriguing anyway. If there’d been more lore, more interesting characters, then I might’ve been able to root for them, and want them to survive. Now, I didn’t feel much when one of them perished, and I actually started doing a count down.

The book is also incredibly long. I wouldn’t have minded, if the pacing had been okay. But as it stands now, we had chapters where next to nothing happened (especially the middle part was oh-so-slow) and then suddenly everything happened at once. I didn’t feel scared or surprised, in fact I felt more bored than anything. I can say this was a little dissapointing. The writing worked though, so I’m sure the author is talented and can craft a great horror book, except that this just wasn’t it for me.

Book Review: Exorcist Road by Jonathan Janz

20663898Title: Exorcist Road
Author: Jonathan Janz
Genre: Horror, Dark Fiction, Novella
Age Group: Adult
Rating: 4 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Possessed by a demon…or by the urge to kill?”
Chicago is gripped by terror. The Sweet Sixteen Killer is brutally murdering sixteen-year-old girls, and the authorities are baffled.
A seemingly normal fourteen-year-old boy has attacked his entire family and had to be chained to his bed. His uncle, police officer Danny Hartman, is convinced his nephew is possessed by a demon. Danny has sent his partner, Jack, to fetch the only priest in Chicago who has ever performed an exorcism.
But Jack has other plans tonight. He believes the boy isn t possessed by a demon, but instead by an insatiable homicidal urge. Jack believes the boy is the Sweet Sixteen Killer. And he aims to end the reign of terror before another girl dies.”

At a relentless pace, Exorcist Road introduces us to the cast of characters ready for the most haunted night of their lives. From start to finish, this book keeps up the same, speedy pace, yet although it’s fast, we do get all the things you’d come to expect from a horror novella: characterization and development, a suspenseful plot, and a sense of terror slowly seeping into your bones.

Father Crowder is a young priest who gets summoned one night to perform an exorcism. Having never done one before, Crowder is naturally worried, but he can’t say no when officer Danny Hartman knocks on his door. When the officer takes him to the house of his brother, where fourteen-year-old Casey has attacked his entire family and appears to be possessed by a demon, Crowder starts to fear this night might change his life forever.

Jack, Danny’s partner, doesn’t believe Casey is possessed by a demon. He believes the boy to be the Sweet Sixteen Killer – a murderer who targets sixteen-year-old girls and has left the police baffled so far. Crowder has no idea what to expect: a boy possessed or a murderer in disguise?

This is no subtle horror book – the horror is right in your face, from the murders to the demon throwing poor Casey’s body around or shouting in unearthly voices. Usually, that kind of horror doesn’t manage to scare me, but here the true terror is not in the demon’s actions, but in his words. The demon knows the killer’s identity, and he spills clues all night, and turns all of the cast against one another in a sick, twisted power game.

The author is obviously very talented, especially when he combines the two storylines and it still ends up being believable (well, in as far as demonic possession is believable when so extreme). The result is an entertaining, suspenseful book that manages to be creepy at times without overdoing it.

Book Review: Stillwater by Maynard Sims

23715788Title: Stillwater

Author: Maynard Sims

Genre: Ghost Story, Horror, Dark Fiction

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A modern ghost story.
Life was good for Beth, once. Now a car crash has left her confined to a wheelchair. To help her recuperate and rebuild her life, she’s leased Stillwater, a house with a lake in the countryside. But her dreams of peace and quiet are thwarted when she realizes she’s not alone. A girl who once lived at Stillwater—until she drowned in the lake—has never left, and she does not seem pleased by Beth’s presence. Beth sets out to solve the mystery of Stillwater. But can she find a strength she doesn’t know she possesses as she fights the fury of the dead girl, and tries to establish herself as the true mistress and keeper of the Stillwater house and lake?

Stillwater is a great ghost story – not too scary, but it definitely provides a good paranormal mystery, and it did give me some chills. The story is reminiscent of classic ghost stories, yet original enough to be entertaining.

Beth, the main character, used to have it all. She had a successful career as a bestselling author, for one. Now she’s bound to a wheelchair, she hasn’t been able to write a new book in ages and her entire life is turned upside down. When we first meet her, she arrives at her new home, a rental for which she only rents the downstairs floor. The house has been altered to fit for her, but still it’s a struggle to get used to not being able to walk again. Yet as she settles in, she finds a routine, and starts writing again.

But as time moves on, Beth learns she’s sharing her house with ghosts. It starts out subtle, but grows increasingly threatening. The locals tell her a story about a girl who once lived at her house – Stillwater – and drowned in the lake. It seems the girl’s spirit still haunts the house, and has a message she desperately wants to tell Beth. Curious by nature, Beth sets out to solve the mystery of Stillwater, and to find out what really happend all those years ago.

The atmosphere is haunting from the start, and tension increases with every page. While not particularly scary, it definitely had it’s spooky moments, and ultimately, the book tells a strong, entertaining story. Beth is an amazing heroine. She has tremendous strength, and never backs down from a challenge. She’s very likeable, and I loved getting to know her better.

This is an atmospheric, creepy story and ideal for fans of ghost stories.

Book Review: Conduits by Jennifer Loring

22744876Title: Conduits

Author: Jennifer Loring

Genre: Horror, Supernatural Horror, Novella, Dark Fiction

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Mara is a Japanese-American girl with a history of personal tragedy. Though she still cuts herself to quell the pain, she thought the worst was behind her. But her boyfriend’s sudden death, and a visit to one of the most haunted places in Washington State, sends her into a spiral of madness, landing her in a psychiatric ward.

Already suffering from dreams of a strange, ghost-infested house in the woods, Mara begins to question the very existence of reality. She is forced to confront the truth about her older sister’s death and the reason the ghosts have chosen her as their conduit.

“An evocative journey into the darkest realms of a troubled psyche. Part ghost story, part psychological suspense, Conduits is an astonishing debut from a bold new voice in horror. Don’t miss it!” —Tim Waggoner, author of The Way of all Flesh

Conduits is a tale of Japanse horror, mixed with outstanding writing and an atmospheric, haunting setting. One of the best works on Darkfuse’s list this year, if you ask me.

Mara is a Japanese-American girl struggling with a dark past. She tries to stop the pain by cutitng herself, but ever since her boyfriend passed away, the pain hasn’t subsided, even when she cuts herself. Then she visits the most haunted place in Washington State, and what follows is a spiral of madness that lands her in a psychiatric ward. Her dreams are haunted by a strange house in the woods, inhabited by ghosts.

As Mara’s vision of reality crumbles, she’s forced to confront what happened to her older sister, and why the ghosts have chosen her as a counduit.

As I mentioned, the writing is great. However, the book would’ve been better if it had been slightly longer. A lot of things happen, and not everything is explored with the same level of detail. Overall, the story is great though, dark, hypnotic almost. It reminded me of “A Tale of Two Sisters”, a Japanese horror move that I absolutely loved, and that was creepy without adding gore, or anything of the sort.

Anyone who is a fan of Japanese horror, should definitely check out Conduits. Excellent writing, atmospheric story – I can’t wait to read more books by this author.

Book Review: MARY: The Summoning (Bloody Mary #1) by Hillary Monahan

17661402Title: MARY: The Summoning (Bloody Mary #1)

Author: Hillary Monahan

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Ghosts, Gothic Horror

Age Group: Young Adult

Rating: 5 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

There is a right way and a wrong way to summon her.

Jess had done the research. Success requires precision: a dark room, a mirror, a candle, salt, and four teenage girls. Each of them–Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna–must link hands, follow the rules . . . and never let go.

A thrilling fear spins around the room the first time Jess calls her name: “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. BLOODY MARY.” A ripple of terror follows when a shadowy silhouette emerges through the fog, a specter trapped behind the mirror.

Once is not enough, though–at least not for Jess. Mary is called again. And again. But when their summoning circle is broken, Bloody Mary slips through the glass with a taste for revenge on her lips. As the girls struggle to escape Mary’s wrath, loyalties are questioned, friendships are torn apart, and lives are forever altered.

A haunting trail of clues leads Shauna on a desperate search to uncover the legacy of Mary Worth. What she finds will change everything, but will it be enough to stop Mary–and Jess–before it’s too late?

It’s hard to review a book you’ve fallen in love with, and I’ve absolutely fallen for the plot, characters, and the sublime writing that is hidden in the pages of MARY: The Summoning. This is one of the best YA gothic horror novels I’ve read in my entire life – and I’d recommend it to just about everyone.

Shauna’s best friend, Jess, is obsessed with summoning Bloody Mary. But whereas Shauna thought it was just a stupid, silly party game, it turns out to be so much more. Once Mary is correctly summoned, and not in the clumsy way most urban legend stories say you have to summon her, then…well, the shadow creeping along the mirror, and the bony fingers reaching out from the afterlife, are sufficient to give Shauna nightmares for the rest of her life.

For Shauna, Kitty and Anna, one encounter with Mary is sufficient for a lifetime, but Jess demands they summon her again. And again. Until their circle gets broken, and Mary is freed…

Mary’s ghosts starts to haunt the four friends, appearing in mirrors, any reflecting surface – which is just about anymore – and trying to grab them and pull them into the afterlife with her. Shauna, the main target of Mary’s attack, needs to find out more about Mary’s history in order to stop the vengeful ghosts. Loyalties and friendship are tested, and what is revealed, may be shocking to all of them…

Shauna is one kick-ass protagonist. At the start, I thought she was a little passive, willing to follow Jess, no matter what she did, but she soon grew a backbone and started to stand up for herself. I disliked Jess with a passion, but that’s not at all surprising considering what happens in the book. If you want to know what, you’ll just have to read it for yourself, though.

Just about everything about this book is perfect. The writing is great, and at times the descriptions were so creepy I nearly crawled into my closet to hide. The characters each have distinct personalities, and it’s easy to keep them apart. The mystery about Mary was intriguing too, highly supsenseful, and not at all what I expected.

But the best part? This book was deliciously creepy. Creepy in a way I didn’t expect – the kind of fear that crawls under your skin and makes you look over your shoulder every once in a while, expecting to see Mary’s ghost. That fear, the gothic horror fear that not a lot of books manage to convey. This one does, though.

Highly recommended, especially to people looking for a solid gothic horror novel, and well, for everyone who wants a good scare.