Sunday, June 18, 2023

Review: The Spite House by Johnny Compton

by Johnny Compton
Release Date: February 7, 2023
2023 Tor Nightfire
Kindle Edition; 261 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250841414
Audiobook: B0B64F1RSR
Genre: Fiction / Horror/ Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Eric Ross is on the run from a mysterious past with his two daughters in tow. Having left his wife, his house, his whole life behind in Maryland, he’s desperate for money–it’s not easy to find safe work when you can’t provide references, you can’t stay in one place for long, and you’re paranoid that your past is creeping back up on you.

When he comes across the strange ad for the Masson House in Degener, Texas, Eric thinks they may have finally caught a lucky break. The Masson property, notorious for being one of the most haunted places in Texas, needs a caretaker of sorts. The owner is looking for proof of paranormal activity. All they need to do is stay in the house and keep a detailed record of everything that happens there. Provided the house’s horrors don’t drive them all mad, like the caretakers before them.

My Thoughts
The Spite House drew me because of its cover and because it was labelled southern gothic horror. I am unashamedly attracted to stories about haunted houses, curses, secrets, and ghosts.  To be honest, I was looking forward to a creepy kind of story, something for which I was in the mood, but this is not really what I got.  Personally, I think this was more in the nature of a paranormal fiction story with a bit of mystery, and I while I enjoyed to a point, I did start to lose interest around the halfway mark as the story slowed down and meandered along its merry way without a lot of tension or suspense.  
At first, I found the characters interesting as I didn't know a lot about them other than they were running away from a situation in Maryland.  I admired Dess, the older daughter, who was developing a bit of a rebellious streak, tired of running away, but understanding the stakes nonetheless, wanting not to help out her dead with their financial situation.  Stacy, who was having some paranormal episodes, was also interesting, as I figured a lot of what was happening must be centered around her. Both Stacy and Dess were complex and well-developed, one of the reasons I continued reading. I also liked their family dynamics, how they took care of each other, and how they made decisions together knowing how much of an impact those decisions would have on the other. The reader however, didn't really have a full understanding of what was happening for quite a while, something I didn't mind as I dislike it when an author has to feed you everything; I like trying to figure out what is happening as I am reading.
At first, the plot sounded quite interesting. Live in a haunted house for a year, make a lot of money, and record what you see and hear. My kind of thing.  In fact, I would like to know where those jobs are as I would want a job like that.  This is where the story started to get bogged down. Personally, I wanted more action inside the house, more descriptions of the house, more of the house.  Yes, we get a lot of history about the house, and although it was interesting, I wanted more suspense, terrifying suspense of the house, and I didn't really get that.  The super creepy stories and suspense surrounding the house did not morph into anything super creepy or scary in the story. 

The Spite House had a lot of potential as the house itself was pretty creepy and it was surrounded by a lot of secrets and elements that should have added layers of suspense.  However, while the main characters were well-developed and complex, I didn't feel the same way about the secondary characters, and I thought the plot meandered quite a bit, lowering the tension and the suspense to the point where I was losing interest.  And while I like the idea of a haunted house with a history like this, I would never take my kids there to live, and knowing the secret that Erik carried about his family, I am not sure why he would even choose to do something like that, it just seems implausible. I do think this is a book that you need to read for yourself to see what you think. As for me, while I did think there was a lot of potential for a bad-ass book here and it definitely had its moments, a meandering plot with a lack of tension and suspense did not quite do it for me.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Review: What Stays Buried by Suzanne Young

by Suzanne Young
Release Date: March 7, 2023
2023 HarperCollins
Kindle Edition; 272 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063257122
ASIN: B0B397R89P
Audiobook: B0B357PJ8Y
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Ghosts / Juvenile
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Twelve-year-old Calista Wynn will lose her ability to speak with the dead on her thirteenth birthday.

And with only a few weeks left, children have started going missing.

When Calista meets The Tall Lady—an angry spirit with a grudge against Calista, her family, and the entire town—she knows she’s found the ghost responsible for the disappearances.

It’s up to Calista, the only one who can see The Tall Lady, to stop her. If she doesn’t, Calista won’t just lose her powers… she’ll lose everyone she has left.
My Thoughts
What Stays Buried was a fun, emotional paranormal book that I would have definitely loved as a kid.  Calista Wynn, soon to turn thirteen, will lose her ability to speak with ghosts, something that will have a huge impact on her for reasons that are explained in the book and for which I don't want to give away. It added an emotional impact for which I wasn't prepared, as I was expecting simply a ghost story, a paranormal adventure, but this little emotional side story added a lot of depth to the story that I loved. 
Calista was a fun character to get to know and I loved her spunk and her protective nature as her little sister started to gain her own powers.  With a curse on the family stretching back decades, Calista knew she was going to lose her powers when she turned thirteen, something that was terrifying, especially as a new case lands in her lap just weeks before her birthday. I love how Calista is unsure of herself, but enters each situation at full speed, knowing she has to protect her family and her friends, no matter what. When children begin disappearing, and she starts seeing those children as ghosts, she fears the worst. Knowing she can't work alone, she teams up with an unexpected ally, and I loved how the friendship develops throughout the story.  The characters were fun, with a depth to them I wasn't expecting and I enjoyed getting to know them all.
The plot was interesting and flowed very well.  I thought it was intricate considering this is a juvenile fiction novel, and it was definitely on the scarier side. My favourite genre is horror, so I am a bit biased when it comes to that genre as I never think it is scary enough, but I do think the young reader will find it scary, with ghosts appearing, demon possession, children being kidnapped, a curse, and murderous ghosts.  Some of the settings were downright creepy, including the marsh.  Some people do get injured, but because it's not the humans doing the injuring, I do think young readers will be more understanding of the events and why things are happening. The story flowed very well, and it was never boring; in fact, I read the book in one sitting as I couldn't put it down. 
What Stays Buried was a lot scarier than I thought it would be, but that was what I loved about this book.  However, I wasn't a fan of the ending as I am one for emotional endings even if I did enjoy the emotional way the whole ghosts thing resolved itself. I thought that was enough, but it continued right to the end, something I thought was out of step for the rest of the book which was actually spookier than I thought it would be, to my pleasant surprise.  I know some reviewers took issue with the unsupervised summoning of dead spirits, something to do with occult practices, but I don't care about any of that.  Gosh, how many people tried to summer Bloody Mary in the mirror when they were ten-years-old and had to hide under their blankets for a week? That is the fun of reading this stuff, so enjoy!!


Sunday, June 11, 2023

Review: A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong

by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: May 31, 2022
2022 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 342 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250820006
Audiobook: B09GGZ3HLN
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fantasy / Mystery

3.75 / 5 Stars

May 20, 2019: Homicide detective Mallory is in Edinburgh to be with her dying grandmother. While out on a jog one evening, Mallory hears a woman in distress. She’s drawn to an alley, where she is attacked and loses consciousness.

May 20, 1869: Housemaid Catriona Mitchell had been enjoying a half-day off, only to be discovered that night in a lane, where she’d been strangled and left for dead . . . exactly one-hundred-and-fifty years before Mallory was strangled in the same spot.

When Mallory wakes up in Catriona's body in 1869, she must put aside her shock and adjust quickly to the reality: life as a housemaid to an undertaker in Victorian Scotland. She soon discovers that her boss, Dr. Gray, also moonlights as a medical examiner and has just taken on an intriguing case, the strangulation of a young man, similar to the attack on herself. Her only hope is that catching the murderer can lead her back to her modern life . . . before it's too late.
My Thoughts
A Rip Through Time is the first book in this series and I quite enjoyed it.  Perhaps because there was little romance to speak of as Mallory is literally ripped through time after being attacked in Edinburgh and dumped in the past, thoroughly confused as to what happened and why she was there, so that was a bit plus in my eyes.  Furthermore, she is not in her own body, but in the body of a housemaid, Catriona, who has kind of a nefarious past. I thought the contradictions between Mallory's life and Catriona's were fun and enjoyed watching Mallory navigate an entirely different world trying to piece together what happened to her.
Mallory was an interesting character, somewhat uptight and a bit of a workaholic in her present-day life. When she is hurtled into the past, she is forced to depend on the people in her new household for help even if they don't quite understand what is happening to her, leaving them to assume it's the after-effects of the attack. Mallory discovers she works for a brother and sister who are a bit unusual for the time period, the brother being a funeral director who sort of works as an undercover coroner while his sister has a huge interest in the sciences and is, sort of, a chemist.  This fascinates Mallory and she is hard-pressed to keep her modern-day knowledge to herself as she insinuates herself into their affairs.  
The brother and sister do become suspicious, and I definitely loved this aspect of the book, as I think it is impossible for someone from the future to travel to the past and be inconspicuous, especially someone who is trained in criminology like Mallory. I enjoyed seeing Mallory navigate the events around the myrders, squirm around the destruction of crime scenes, and rack her brain trying to remember historical lessons of when fingerprinting and other such techniques were developed. Because she knew too much for a simple housemaid, even the criminal investigator was suspicious of her actions.  Mallory's navigation of how much she should tell, how much she should lie, how to navigate around Catriona'a life, was very entertaining.

For me, the weakest part of the novel was the actual reason for why Mallory was attacked in the first place. While I did enjoy the murder mystery and thought it was nicely plotted, I did feel like the whole time travel aspect, and the consequences, was simply ignored. Rules for time travel do have to be established, and I feel like the author glossed over all of these things in this book.  There is no concern about paradoxes, or about a Canadian fitting into nineteenth century Scotland. Yes, she may look like Catriona, but her phrasing is all her own and she would have stood out like a sore thumb.  

A Rip Through Time is an intriguing time travel/historical mystery.  I thought the characters were well-developed and the plot was interesting. There is a lot of set-up in this book, and the author did gloss over the time-travel impact and consequences, something that did not really sit well with me, but I am looking forward to seeing what happens next for Mallory and wondering if she will ever return to modern-day Edinburgh.


Saturday, June 10, 2023

Review: All Hallows by Christopher Golden

by Christopher Golden
Release Date: January 24, 2023
2023 St. Martin's Press
Kindle Edition; 325 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250280299
ASIN: B09Y4632Q1
Audiobook: B0BRYNJTMM
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher
3/5 Stars
It’s Halloween night, 1984, in Coventry, Massachusetts, and two families are unraveling. Up and down the street, horrifying secrets are being revealed, and all the while, mixed in with the trick-or-treaters of all ages, four children who do not belong are walking door to door, merging with the kids of Parmenter Road. Children in vintage costumes with faded, eerie makeup. They seem terrified, and beg the neighborhood kids to hide them away, to keep them safe from The Cunning Man. There’s a small clearing in the woods now that was never there before, and a blackthorn tree that doesn’t belong at all. These odd children claim that The Cunning Man is coming for them...and they want the local kids to protect them. But with families falling apart and the neighborhood splintered by bitterness, who will save the children of Parmenter Road?
My Thoughts
All Hallows is one of those books that I was hoping would get better as I went along, but unfortunately this had a story line that meandered too much for my liking, destroying any tension that built up. Not only did it do this once, but several times throughout the story, leaving me a bit disappointed in the overall experience.  It's not that it was boring and I definitely didn't dislike it by any means, but scary? No. Full of tension? No. Full of tingles and shivers? No. 

First of all, the nostalgic feeling of the 80s was something I loved about this book. At first, I thought it was going to be one of the strengths of the book, that whole neighbourhood feeling when everyone got together to enjoy a night full of fun and escapades.  The Barbosa's always put on an epic Haunted Woods and this was to be their last one so they wanted it to be a good one, while the Koenig's were getting ready to host their after-Halloween party. Fun, right? It was until the author decided to bring all this neighbourhood drama into the story about a philandering alcoholic husband who created chaos with a number of friendships; I am not usually opposed to this drama, but the focus on it took away from the unfolding drama that was supposed to be the highlight of the story, the return of the Cunning Man. 
When the slasher stuff finally starts to happen, I was already starting to lose interest in the story, about two-thirds into the book.  Children dressed in these vintage clothing, a clown, a Raggedy Ann, and a scarecrow, would not really have drawn that much attention in 1984 even though I remember Madonna and Michael Jackson being hugely popular costumes as well as Star Wars.  There was always someone dressed as a clown.  But I did appreciate all of the 80's references to remind people of the time line.  
As a result of all this, the plot is the weakest point of the novel, with the Cunning Man and the creepy children sort of running in the background, and once in a while they show up to deal with some neighbourhood kid, but the whole story becomes disjointed because of all the other stuff going on. When the Cunning Man and the kids should have been absolutely terrifying, the author had already lost me with the other drama, enough hat I didn't really care about what was happening.  And on a side note, I did have an issue with one of the relationships, although not the relationship itself, but the openness of it. This was 1984, and I do have an issue when modern sensibilities and thinking are put on the past for as teen growing up the 80s, exploring all forms of sexuality was not really acceptable.  We are talking about the time of the AIDS epidemic when fear mongering was quite high, so teenagers were definitely not encouraged to openly explore their sexuality. And furthermore, a lot of people left their doors unlocked during this time period and would definitely not have been thinking someone is a pedophile the moment they saw someone, especially in a small neighbourhood like this, especially not kids.    That is current-day thinking. Small things, but they were jarring nonetheless. 

All Hallows had a lot of potential, but the over-focus on the neighbourhood drama which included everything from infidelity to alcoholism to job loss to abuse, affected the overall story and rendered the Cunning Man and his children to the background.  Unfortunately, instead of the eerie and creepy, I got disjointed and...weird.  I did really appreciate the nostalgia and the creepy forest and would love to have had a haunted forest like that while I was growing up, but it was not enough to save this book for me. 

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Review: The Secrets of Hartwood Hall by Katie Lumsden

by Katie Lumsden
Release Date: February 28, 2023
2023 Dutton
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593186923
Audiobook: B0B94HZ1ZQ
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

It's 1852 and Margaret Lennox, a young widow, attempts to escape the shadows of her past by taking a position as governess to an only child, Louis, at an isolated country house in the west of England.

But Margaret soon starts to feel that something isn't quite right. There are strange figures in the dark, tensions between servants, and an abandoned east wing. Even stranger is the local gossip surrounding Mrs. Eversham, Louis's widowed mother, who is deeply distrusted in the village.

Lonely and unsure whom to trust, Margaret finds distraction in a forbidden relationship with the gardener, Paul. But as Margaret's history threatens to catch up with her, it isn't long before she learns the truth behind the secrets of Hartwood Hall.
My Thoughts
The Secrets of Hartwood Hall had a lot of components I enjoy in a historical Gothic novel: the creepy house, secrets galore, tensions between characters, strange figures in the house, an abandoned section of the house, and the list goes on. But while all the elements were there, the characters were pretty one-dimensional and the story itself was disjointed, to the point where I got wrenched out of it pretty much destroying any tension that had been built up to that point.  
I didn't mind Margaret's character and I liked how she tried to figure out what was happening. She wasn't satisfied with the answers she was receiving and couldn't understand why the villagers were treating everyone in the house with antagonism. Having grown to enjoy her time at the house, she was growing concerned that something was not right either with the house or the people in it.  Margaret turns to Paul, the gardener, for answers to her questions.  I enjoyed Paul's character as well as he was down-to-earth; he listened to what Margaret had to say about the happenings in the house, but he was not necessarily willing to take everything at face value, something I liked.  And although I liked the characters, especially little Louis, I didn't really see much development and they were pretty much one-dimensional throughout the book. They did however, hold up the book.
As for the plot, well, this is where I had some issues.  I liked the first third as there were mysteries to solve and I didn't really know what was going on, ut then it started to drag, and some things that I thought weren't really all that important tended to go on and on while other events that would have added to the story happened quickly and moved on. And the dialogue didn't always flow well with what was happening, something that was jarring and threw me right out of the story, interfering with the tension and suspense that had slowly, and I mean slowly, been building up.  And while I suspected what was happening quite early, the last third happened quite quickly, with the denouement happening too rapidly, but it effectively destroyed any suspense that had been building up yet again and I finished the book feeling disappointed, but happy the story finally ended.  Yes, that lovely Gothic style does reveal itself in parts, and it's too bad the author didn't focus on allowing that skill to shine through the entire book.
The Secrets of Hartwood Hall definitely had some moments that were interesting, and you could see the Gothic style coming through in certain sections of the book. Unfortunately, the plot and the character development were a bit lacking and I was not a fan of how quickly the author sped through the mysterious elements and focused on elements that did not add that lovely suspense or tension to the story. I do feel there is work to be done on character development as some of Margaret's actions seemed to be contrary to the person to whom we were introduced for most of the book when we got to the end of the book; I didn't hate the conclusion, but felt it didn't match who she was throughout the book.  I will definitely read another novel by this author however, as I enjoyed her writing style and thought there was a lot of potential in this one.