Category Archives: Horror

Review: The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom

Title: The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom
Publisher: Talos
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense, Horror
Length: 296 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

A young musician receives an unusual offer from a wealthy stranger in this haunting story of psychological horror.

Bent is a jazz pianist living gig-to-gig in a dark city of dead-ends. With no family, and no friends, he has resigned himself to a life of quiet desolation. That is, until the night he meets the enigmatic Leonard Fry.

After accepting an invitation to his countryside mansion, where Leonard resides on his own, Bent is offered a deal of Faustian proportions.

“There is a room in this house. There’s only one way in and one way out . . . There’s one lock on the door, and only one key to that lock. Now, what I’m going to ask may seem strange to you. I don’t necessarily need you to understand, but what I do need is for you to agree to help me.”

Disillusioned with his life of excess, Leonard has decided to explore the final frontier of his existence, the margins of his mind, by locking himself in a small room in his mansion for a year. In exchange for Bent’s assistance, everything Leonard owns will be Bent’s for the duration of his self-imposed imprisonment.

But there are two sides to every locked door. As the days go by, and Leonard’s true intentions become clear, Bent will find himself venturing beyond the one terrifying boundary from which he can’t be sure he’ll ever return . . . the boundary of his own sanity.

Review:

The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom is an unusual novel with an intriguing but rather convoluted storyline.

Raised by a single mother who died when he was a teenager, Bentley “Bent” Croud is a talented jazz pianist who plays in local bars a few times a week and lives in a rundown apartment he has dubbed the “Crack Radisson”.  Learning of his barely recalled father’s death, he receives a bit of a puzzling inheritance.  Not long after hearing this news, he is offered a hefty sum to perform at weekend party on Leonard Fry’s large estate.   After the weekend is over, Fry has another proposal for Bent which is rather bizarre. In exchange for access to all of his possessions for the next year, Bent agrees to serve Fry three meals a day after he locks himself in a room in his mansion.  At first enjoying his luxurious accommodations, things take a rather odd turn after Bent meets Leonard’s friend, Jolene.

Bent is an interesting character who does not seem overly unhappy with his life when he first meets Fry. He has a passing acquaintance with his neighbors  and although the bars where he plays piano are not high end, he is comfortable with the bartenders and patrons. Bent agonizes over his decisions to Leonard’s two very different proposals, but in the end, he is curious enough to agree to his benefactor’s somewhat peculiar propositions.

The Inside Out Man is well-written and at first the storyline is engaging and interesting. However, the novel quickly takes a very strange and dark turn and readers will have a difficult time knowing whether or not Bent’s experiences are real.  Fred Strydom brings the confusing novel to a twist-filled conclusion that is somewhat ambiguous and rather unsatisfying.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fred Strydom, Horror, Rated C, Review, Suspense, Talos, The Inside Out Man

Review: The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

Title: The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Horror, Supernatural
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

An unforgettable horror novel from bestselling sensation Ania Ahlborn—hailed as a writer of “some of the most promising horror I’ve encountered in years” (New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire)—in which a small-town boy investigates the mysterious disappearance of his cousin and uncovers a terrifying secret kept hidden for years.

Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.

That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.

Review:

With a possibly unreliable narrator, supernatural elements and a mysterious disappearance of a  twelve year boy,  The Devil Crept In is the latest eerie and somewhat creepy horror novel by Ania Ahlborn.

Ten year old Stevie Clark is best friends with his twelve year old cousin Jude Brighton and when Jude goes missing, he is the only person in town who takes his disappearance seriously.  Due to his stutter and overactive imagination, Stevie is a bit of a social pariah in town which makes his friendship with Jude that much more important to him.  Everyone in town considers Jude a troublemaker so it is little surprise that the general consensus is he has run away from home.  Stevie knows without a doubt that his cousin would never voluntarily abandon him, so Stevie gathers his courage to help search for Jude.  A grisly discovery indicates Jude might be the victim of foul play so Stevie decides to investigate his best friend’s disappearance in earnest.  Deciding to venture to the spooky house that Jude is so fascinated with, Stevie is frightened by what he sees, but Jude’s sudden reappearance puts an end to any further investigation.  At first relieved his best friend has returned unharmed, Stevie becomes frightened by the differences he notices in Jude.  Although no one seems aware that anything is amiss, Stevie is determined to understand what happened to Jude in the woods but will anyone believe him once he uncovers the truth?

Told in three parts, part one delves into Jude and Stevie’s somewhat tragic childhoods and follows Jude’s disappearance and Stevie’s search for his cousin.  Stevie is an incredibly sympathetic ten year old boy but his various problems make him an unreliable narrator.  At one time a happy, normal child, he inexplicably began stuttering and experiencing night terrors and hallucinations.  His home life worsened dramatically following his father’s abandonment and his mom’s involvement with an abusive and volatile man who does not hesitate to mete out corporal punishment.  Although always rambunctious, Jude essentially turned into a surly juvenile delinquent after this father’s death.  The two boys are now inseparable and Stevie is quite forgiving after he occasionally becomes the object of Jude’s mean streak.

The second part of the story provides the backstory of Rosamund “Rosie” Aleksander, an emotionally damaged recluse once married to a local doctor.  Rosie is inconsolable after a tragic loss and her attempt to escape her pain leads her to a stranger and a mysterious retreat. Returning to her beautiful home in the woods, Rosie’s deepest wish comes true but in a particularly cruel twist of fate, her dream soon turns into a horrific nightmare that tests her deepest bond.

Part three is where the two storylines come together with a terrifying supernatural twist that will put even the most ardent horror fan on the edge of their seat when evil is unleashed in the aftermath of Jude’s disappearance.  Stevie finally uncovers the ghastly secret about the strange occurrences that have happened in and around town over the last several years.  Just as he is piecing together the events that have plagued the town, Stevie also learns the stunning truth about what happened to Jude and in the aftermath of his discoveries, his life goes in a very shocking direction.

Although initially a little slow-paced, The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn catapults to an adrenaline filled and sinister conclusion.  An imaginative and suspense-laden novel that I highly recommend to fans of the horror genre.

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Filed under Ania Ahlborn, Contemporary, Gallery Books, Horror, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Supernatural Elements, The Devil Crept In

Review: Unlocked by Margo Kelly

Title: Unlocked by Margo Kelly
Publisher: Merit Press
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Horror, Mystery, Supernatural Elements
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Hannah is losing it. Everything. Her friends, her life, and probably her mind. Bugs crawling over her hands made her wreck the car and cause her friend’s death, but…were the bugs even real? Is someone moving Hannah’s things around, or is she imagining it? Why does her brain feels as though she’s not controlling it? She’s probably headed for a useless life in and out of the locked ward, like her dad. In desperation, she reaches out when the school’s self-proclaimed “occult” expert offers to help, and, through this supposedly weird kid, Hannah discovers shocking news that could mean she really is going crazy, or that someone misusing a terrible power.

Review:

Unlocked by Margo Kelly is a young adult mystery with supernatural elements.

For their last outing before their senior year begins, Hannah O’Leary, her boyfriend Manny and her friends enjoy a night at a local fair.  At the urging of best friend Lily Sloane, the teens not only attend but participate in a hypnotist’s demonstration.  Almost immediately afterward, Hannah begins experiencing strange visions, auditory hallucinations  and creepy sensations that no one else seems to see or hear.  On the way home from the fair, she crashes her car which leaves one of the teens dead and two others seriously injured.  When school begins, Hannah is ostracized by her friends but she befriended by a group of misfit teens who help her get to the bottom of her increasingly bizarre behavior.

Hannah is one of the most popular kids in her class with a bright future ahead of her.  All of that changes after the car accident and as she begins acting completely out of character, she becomes more and more isolated and frightened by the eerie things she is seeing and hearing.  Finding unexpected allies in classmates Eugene, Nick and Kyla, she tries to maintain her relationship with Manny, but he is not very understanding of her inexplicable behavior.  In the aftermath of another horrifying incident, Hannah can only count on her new friends to assist her as she tries to uncover the truth about what is happening to her.

Due to her family history, Hannah’s mom believes her daughter is suffering from schizophrenia.  Hannah is initially uncertain what to believe but as her life continues to spiral out of control, she begins to think the diagnosis might be correct.  On the other hand, Eugene is convinced there is a much more malevolent reason for what is happening to her and their research into the occult offers a plausible explanation for some of her experiences.  However, Hannah and her friends soon discover there is much more going on than they previously imagined and she is in serious danger.  Will Hannah escape from this nightmare before it is too late?

With a well-rounded cast of characters and an imaginative storyline, Unlocked is a fast-paced and engaging young adult novel.  Expect the unexpected as Margo Kelly incorporates both horror and supernatural elements into this thrilling mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the pulse-pounding and suspenseful conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Horror, Margo Kelly, Merit Press, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Supernatural Elements, Unlocked, Young Adult

Review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Title: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Quirk Books
Genre: Historical (80s), Horror, Supernatural
Length: 337 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A heartwarming story of friendship and demonic possession. The year is 1988. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade. But after an evening of skinny-dipping goes disastrously wrong, Gretchen begins to act…different. She’s moody. She’s irritable. And bizarre incidents keep happening whenever she’s nearby. Abby’s investigation leads her to some startling discoveries—and by the time their story reaches its terrifying conclusion, the fate of Abby and Gretchen will be determined by a single question: Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil? Like an unholy hybrid of Beaches and The Exorcist, My Best Friend’s Exorcism blends teen angst, adolescent drama, unspeakable horrors, and a mix of ’80s pop songs into a pulse-pounding supernatural thriller.

Review:

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix is a spellbinding and suspenseful novel about a friendship that is strong enough to withstand just about anything, including demonic possession.

Despite coming from completely different backgrounds, Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang have been close friends since the fourth grade.  Abby’s family has struggled financially ever since her father went on strike during the air traffic controller strike in the early ’80s while Gretchen’s family is wealthy.  Abby is on her own a lot but Gretchen’s über religious parents closely monitors her activities.  Despite a few fights along the way, their friendship is closer than ever when, after experimenting with LSD one evening, Gretchen disappears overnight and although she returns the next morning, she soon begins acting very strangely.  Abby knows something is very wrong with her friend, but cracks soon begin to appear in their relationship when Gretchen’s parents blame Abby for the changes in their daughter’s behavior.

The first half of the story follows Abby and Gretchen’s friendship from its inception through junior high.  Abby is well aware of the socioeconomic differences between them and because of the girls’ close friendship, she included in several of the Lang family vacations.  Since Abby’s family is less strict than hers, Gretchen takes full advantage when she is away from her parents’ watchful eyes to experience the movies, TV shows and music that are popular in the 80s.  In junior high, Abby is shocked and stunned by Gretchen’s mom’s extreme reaction when she catches her daughter emulating a popular musician of the day.

By their sophomore year,  Abby is well aware of the risk Gretchen is taking as they begin pushing the boundaries as they while away their summer days drinking and sunbathing with their friends. With the rest of the group eager to experiment with LSD, Gretchen reluctantly agrees to join in only after Abby promises to take care of her. When the girls are disappointed  their “trip” never materializes, they decide to go swimming late at night but Gretchen quickly disappears in the surrounding woods.  Abby refuses to leave without trying to find her, but after she stumbles across a ramshackle building, she is too frightened to continue her search.  When Gretchen returns relatively unharmed the next morning, Abby drops her off at home then goes about her day.  However, trouble begins later that evening when Gretchen begins experiencing terrifying and unexplainable phenomena.

As Gretchen’s behavior begins to alienate her classmates and her other friends, Abby desperately tries to help her. With each horrifying incident, the gulf widens between the girls but Abby refuses to give up trying to understand what is happening.  Her appeals to the adults around her fall on deaf ears and as the situation continues to escalate, Gretchen’s parents turn on Abby.  Even when Gretchen appears to have finally recovered for her ordeal, Abby remains suspicious but no one believes her when she tries to convince them something is gravely wrong.  As the situation continues to deteriorate, Abby is ostracized by her friends and classmates but she refuses to stop trying to uncover the truth about what is wrong with Gretchen.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a compelling novel that is takes a rather tongue in cheek approach to demonic possession.  This aspect of the storyline is very well written and while it is not overly scary, it still manages to be a quite creepy. It is not until the exorcism takes place that the scenes become graphic and even then, Grady Hendrix takes a very unorthodox approach to casting out Gretchen’s demon. A highly unique and extremely engaging novel that horror fans are sure to enjoy.

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Filed under Grady Hendrix, Historical (80s), Horror, Quirk Books, Rated B, Review, Supernatural Elements

Review: Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett

blood and saltTitle: Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett
Blood and Salt Series Book One
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Supernatural, Horror, Romance
Length: 346 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

Romeo and Juliet meets Children of the Corn in this one-of-a-kind romantic horror

“When you fall in love, you will carve out your heart and throw it into the deepest ocean. You will be all in—blood and salt.”

These are the last words Ash Larkin hears before her mother returns to the spiritual commune she escaped long ago. But when Ash follows her to Quivira, Kansas, something sinister and ancient waits among the rustling cornstalks of this village lost to time.

Ash is plagued by memories of her ancestor, Katia, which harken back to the town’s history of unrequited love and murder, alchemy and immortality. Charming traditions soon give way to a string of gruesome deaths, and Ash feels drawn to Dane, a forbidden boy with secrets of his own.

As the community prepares for a ceremony five hundred years in the making, Ash must fight not only to save her mother, but herself—and discover the truth about Quivira before it’s too late. Before she’s all in—blood and salt.

Review:

Blood and Salt is an engrossing and rather creepy young adult romance with supernatural elements. This debut novel by Kim Liggett centers on Ashlyn “Ash” Larkin, a centuries old family curse and a mysterious spiritual commune in the middle of a cornfield in Quivira, Kansas.

The history of Quivira is rather convoluted, goes back centuries and features a love triangle between Katia Larkin, Alonso Mendoza and Spanish explorer Coronado. Katia’s quest for immortality results in betrayal and death and the Larkin women are called upon to carry out their fate in Quivira as Katia’s “vessel”. Nina Larkin escaped from Quivira before giving birth to twins Ash and Rhys seventeen years earlier. The family now lives in New York, but just before the summer solstice, Nina returns to Quivira to fulfill her destiny as a vessel for her ancestor Katia. Desperate to find their mother, Ash and Rhys travel to the eerie cornfield to save their mother from what they consider to be a religious cult. However, unbeknownst to Rhys, Ash’s lifelong visions of a hanging girl have increased in frequency and she soon realizes these images are memories of events that occurred centuries earlier. Upon arrival in Quiriva, these horrifying images take an ominous turn and Ash quickly becomes increasingly concerned for their safety.

Modern day Quivira clings to the traditions of the past and Ash figures heavily into their quest for immortality. She and Rhys are aided by Beth, a “seer” whose visions once foretold the future before a severe head injury quieted her gift. Ash is immediately enthralled by Dane, a charismatic young man whom she is forbidden to love due to his mixed bloodlines. The rest of the villagers seem mostly harmless but Ash quickly senses evil when she meets their current leader, Spencer Mendoza.

Ash is swiftly drawn into the rituals of Quivira and despite Rhys’s pleas to leave, she is determined to rescue their mother. With her visions becoming more and more frequent, she realizes the hanging girl seems to be trying to tell her something. With Dane at her side to protect her, Ash eagerly allows the hallucinations free rein and she soon realizes the horrifying truth. But is it too late to stop the diabolical plan that Katia has unleashed?

Blood and Salt is a suspense-laden horror story that is full of unexpected twists and turns. The novel is fast-faced and quite riveting and Kim Liggett easily captures the reader’s attention with the inventive storyline. Thundering to a dramatic and completely unexpected conclusion, this first installment in the Blood and Salt series will leave readers impatiently awaiting the next book in this ingenious series.

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Filed under Blood and Salt, Blood and Salt Series, Contemporary, GP Putmans Sons Books for Young Readers, Horror, Kim Liggett, Rated B, Review, Romance, Supernatural Elements, Young Adult

Review: Alive by Chandler Baker

aliveTitle: Alive by Chandler Baker
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Supernatural, Horror
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Summary:

Stella Cross’s heart is poisoned.

After years on the transplant waiting list, she’s running out of hope that she’ll ever see her eighteenth birthday. Then, miraculously, Stella receives the transplant she needs to survive.

Determined to embrace everything she came so close to losing, Stella throws herself into her new life. But her recovery is marred by strange side effects: Nightmares. Hallucinations. A recurring pain that flares every day at the exact same moment. Then Stella meets Levi Zin, the new boy on everyone’s radar at her Seattle prep school. Stella has never felt more drawn to anyone in her life, and soon she and Levi are inseparable.

Stella is convinced that Levi is her soul mate. Why else would she literally ache for him when they are apart?

After all, the heart never lies…does it?

Review:

Fans of horror stories are absolutely going to love Alive by Chandler Baker. This young adult novel starring seventeen year old Stella Cross is a deliciously eerie and spooky thriller with supernatural elements. It is an utterly outstanding debut novel that I recommend to readers of all ages.

Stella’s two year wait for a new heart has finally ended and she has successfully undergone transplant surgery. Although fully recovered from the surgery, she is plagued by a searing pain in her chest that occurs every day at the same time, but all of her tests have come back normal. Ready to get back to regular life, Stella returns to school where she begins dating new student, Levi Zin. Much to her surprise, when she is with Levi, the horrendous pain in her chest disappears. However, her friends’ begin to grow concerned about her when she begins acting out of character, but it is their observations about Levi’s behavior that worry her. It is not until her bizarre hallucinations start coming true that Stella becomes truly frightened. She then turns to her good friend, Henry, and they uncover shocking information about Levi.

Stella handles most of the changes in her life with grace but once she meets Levi, she slowly becomes obsessed with him. In the beginning, she wants to spend time with him because of their strong attraction but then she realizes when they are together, she is blissfully pain free. Stella does not question this strange phenomena too deeply especially since Levi opens her up to new and exciting experiences. While she feels twinges of guilt over how badly she is treating her friends, she becomes deliberately hurtful when they try to talk to her about Levi. It is not until she attends a party with Levi that Stella realizes that her friends have been right all along and at long last, she delves into Levi’s past.

Stella has an amazing set of loyal friends who easily forgive her despite how badly she treats them. Brynn is no nonsense and honest to a fault. Henry is the only guy in the mix and while their feelings for one another run a little deeper than friendship, the timing has never been right for their relationship to turn romantic. They share a love of all things paranormal and Henry is the logical choice for her to turn to when she needs help getting to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Levi.

The supernatural/paranormal aspect of Alive is extremely well written. Stella’s bizarre experiences are initially easy to discount because the visions are so fleeting. Her hallucinations become more vivid and frightening but they are still infrequent enough that she continues to ignore them. It is not until her visions start coming true and she is plagued with nightmares that Stella is forced to confront her growing fear that an otherworldly influence might be responsible for what is happening to her. After her investigation hits a dead end, she turns to Henry for help and together, they learn the horrifying truth about Levi and her connection to him.

Alive by Chandler Baker is a riveting young adult novel with a unique and well-written storyline. The characters are multi-faceted and superbly developed. The supernatural element is brilliantly executed and fans of the genre are going to love how this aspect of the plot plays out. An positively marvelous debut that I highly recommend to anyone who loves reading horror stories.

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Filed under Alive, Chandler Baker, Contemporary, Disney Hyperion, Horror, Rated B, Review, Thriller, Young Adult