The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James- ARC Review

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For more than two centuries, Winterbourne Hall has stood atop a bluff overseeing the English countryside of Cornwall and the sea beyond.

In 1947, Londoner Alice Miller accepts a post as governess at Winterbourne, looking after Captain Jonathan de Grey’s twin children. Falling under the de Greys’ spell, Alice believes the family will heal her own past sorrows. But then the twins’ adoration becomes deceitful and taunting. Their father, ever distant, turns spiteful and cruel. The manor itself seems to lash out. Alice finds her surroundings subtly altered, her air slightly chilled. Something malicious resents her presence, something clouding her senses and threatening her very sanity.

In present day New York, art gallery curator Rachel Wright has learned she is a descendant of the de Greys and heir to Winterbourne. Adopted as an infant, she never knew her birth parents or her lineage. At long last, Rachel will find answers to questions about her identity that have haunted her entire life. But what she finds in Cornwall is a devastating tragic legacy that has afflicted generations of de Greys. A legacy borne from greed and deceit, twisted by madness, and suffused with unrequited love and unequivocal rage. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on March 17th, 2020.

Eerie and compelling, this is a perfect rainy day read. I had a hard time putting this book down; I was so completely immersed in the odd, spooky story of the Winterbourne women.

This book took place in two separate times, with the narrative switching easily back and forth. Alice went to the Winterbourne estate in 1947 to become a governess (why is it always a governess in spooky stories?), the previous governess having vacated the position abruptly. Alice immediately falls in love with everything about Winterbourne, from the two children she nannies to the widower who also lives there. However, all is not idyllic. Something is off, and things start to spiral out of control.

In many ways, this made me think of The Turn of the Screw. At times, I wasn’t sure whether Alice was the most trustworthy of narrators. As she descended into madness (or did she?), it became more and more difficult to discern what was really happening. The changeable nature of both the book and Alice were fascinating.

The other part of the narrative took place in present day and followed a woman named Rachel. She learns that she’s inherited Winterbourne, as well as a host of unanswered questions about who her relatives were. I didn’t connect with her character at all; in fact, she really annoyed me for a good chunk of time. I didn’t like that she was so wishy-washy. The parts with her in it were less interesting to me than the parts about Alice.

The atmosphere of the book was excellent. There was something about the way it was written that conveyed tension and a sense of wrongness, without ever overdoing it. Each word was placed with care and used to great effect.

My big quibble with the book is that the female characters had terrible taste in guys, every last one of them. I really couldn’t understand what the draw was to the widower, in particular. He was a world-class jerk. However, the rest of the book was excellent.

I highly recommend this one.

The Night Country (Hazel Wood #2) by Melissa Albert- ARC Review

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                                            ****Spoilers for Hazel Wood below!***

                   In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Wood was just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.

With Finch’s help, Alice escaped the Hinterland and her reclusive grandmother’s dark legacy. Now she and the rest of the dregs of the fairy tale world have washed up in New York City, where Alice is trying to make a new, unmagical life. But something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors―and she suspects their deaths may have a darker purpose. Meanwhile, in the winking out world of the Hinterland, Finch seeks his own adventure, and―if he can find it―a way back home… (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on January 7th, 2020.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. Unfortunately, I can only muster a like. The thing that originally drew me to The Hazel Wood was the creepy, dark feel of the fairy tales (I’m still dying to know the story of Twice-Dead Katherine). This book didn’t have that feel for me. The sense of something lurking just outside of view wasn’t there. While there are some messed-up story characters, they were much more straight-forward, which lessened their impact for me.

The plot is interesting, continuing with a new threat to the Hinterland, and the ex-stories who have left the Hinterland behind. Alice is one of the few ex-stories who has managed to eke a normal human life for herself, and many others resent her for that. Also, there’s a small matter of some ritualistic-looking deaths, and no-one knows who is responsible, or who will be next.

If you have read my review of The Hazel Wood (which you can find here), you’ll know that my biggest complaint was that the relationship between Alice and Ellery felt a little one-note. Again, in this book, the relationships fell a little flat. I think that’s just a character development issue that will improve as Melissa Albert continues to write, which I hope she does. Even though I didn’t love this book, Melissa Albert is a creative voice and I look forward to seeing what else she comes up with.

 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

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Before saying anything about this book, or my thoughts on it, I have to point out the brilliant cover. It’s absolutely perfect! There. I’ve gotten that off my chest. Now to move on to my actual review.

This little book is an eerie delight. It wasn’t at all what I expected, although I really couldn’t say why.  I guess maybe I expected more of a gothic atmosphere. I actually thought the book was more entertaining than creepy.

Mary Katherine lives in the family house with her uncle Julian, and her sister Constance. Everyone else in her family is dead, poisoned during a meal. Because of this, everyone in town understandably views them with suspicion and more than a little fear.

Constance won’t leave the house, and Julian can’t, but a visitor shows up in a see-through attempt to woo Constance and find the fortune everyone thinks is hidden in the house. Things build to a crescendo, which I won’t give away.

Merricat (as Mary Katherine is called) has a hateful, spoiled personality, which makes her a fun narrator. Constance is fearful and Julian is a blast to read. His odd quirks make for fun interactions.

I enjoyed this book. It’s a short one; pick it up if you’ve got a few hours to fill.

Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe

It wouldn’t be October if I didn’t talk about Bunnicula. This was one of my favorites growing up, and I’ve passed the enjoyment down to my oldest. I’m looking forward to the day when my youngest reads them too.

Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery is an easy chapter book. It’s told from the point of view of Harold, a pet dog. He’s shaggy, lovable, and rather gullible. He lives with his family, the Monroes, and a well-read cat named Chester. One night the Monroes go to a late-night showing of Dracula and bring home a surprise: a rabbit they name Bunnicula. Chester is convinced that Bunnicula is a vampire, sucking the juice from vegetables, and that only he can save the world from the evil machinations of the vampire bunny.

This series, of which Bunnicula is the first, is very special to me. I read it with my sister when we were younger and it was a wonderful way for us to bond. We’re still very close to this day, and we talk about those Bunnicula books from time to time.

This book is hilarious. I have no idea how the authors managed to come up with so many funny situations, but it had me in stitches when I read it, and my son reacted the same way when he read it. He’s reread the entire series several times, and will probably read them again this month.

This book is perfect for reading aloud (maybe a chapter or two a day?), or for readers just gaining confidence in their skills. My oldest and I took turns reading pages aloud the first time he experienced Bunnicula. It is one of my favorite memories. There are illustrations every few pages, but they are few enough that children are required to paint the pictures in their minds. I highly recommend this book, and October is the perfect time for a not-spooky “spooky” read. Enjoy!

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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This is the story of a governess who, upon taking charge of two young children, finds herself worrying that something malevolent is after them. She begins to fear that two deceased former employees are haunting the house.

I’ve read this creepy little story before, but it’s been quite a while, so I figured the time was ripe for a reread. I’m pleased to report that it’s just as eerie the second time around as it was the first.

While the pacing is excellent, building tension slowly, it’s the uncertainty of everything that stands out to me. Are the children really haunted, or is it all the product of the governess’ imagination? I love that it’s up to the reader to decide.

The characters are surprisingly well-developed, considering the shortness of the story. At barely over a hundred pages, this is easily read in a day. It’ll take a lot longer to mull over, though.

I quite enjoyed this spooky tale. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth giving a go. Henry James is a fantastic author, and this story is engaging and thought-provoking.

If you’ve read this book, what was your takeaway? Were the hauntings really there? Was the governess hallucinating?

Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories edited by Ellen Datlow- ARC Review

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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion.

This collection is good, spooky fun! The fact that no one story felt like another is incredibly impressive in and of itself. From feeling like eating s’mores while reading, to getting a shivery feeling, this book has it all. A few stories even came across as Scary Stories to Read in the Dark for adults (Must Be This Tall to Ride by Seanan McGuire comes to mind) , which was awesome.

This book contains so much that I’m going to just mention a few of the stories that stood out to me.

* A Hinterlands Haunting by Richard Kadrey was one of the shorter stories in this collection. It was also one of the most fun ones. Not in the least bit spooky, it was funny and absolutely unique. Maybe funny isn’t the right word to use when discussing things that go bump in the night, but I laughed.

*The Surviving Child by Joyce Carol Oates: Sad and introspective, this was undoubtedly one of the most well-written in the collection. I loved it.

*Must Be This Tall to Ride by Seanan McGuire definitely had a “scary stories around a campfire” vibe to it. Short and fun, this one stood out to me.

*His Haunting by Brian Evenson was the one that felt the most eerie to me. It was something in the way it was told, I think. While none of the stories actually scared me, this one came the closest.

This is a good collection, especially with Halloween in a couple of months. Pick it up and tell me what you think!

Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich

Before the birth of time, a monk uncovers the Devil’s Tongue and dares to speak it. The repercussions will be felt for generations…

Sixteen-year-old photography enthusiast Zoey has been fascinated by the haunted, burnt-out ruins of Medwyn Mill House for as long as she can remember–so she and her best friend, Poulton, run away from home to explore them. But are they really alone in the house? And who will know if something goes wrong?

In 1851, seventeen-year-old Roan arrives at the Mill House as a ward–one of three, all with something to hide from their new guardian. When Roan learns that she is connected to an ancient secret, she must escape the house before she is trapped forever.

1583. Hermione, a new young bride, accompanies her husband to the wilds of North Wales where he plans to build the largest water mill and mansion in the area. But rumors of unholy rituals lead to a tragic occurrence and she will need all her strength to defeat it.

Three women, centuries apart, drawn together by one Unholy Pact. A pact made by a man who, more than a thousand years later, may still be watching…(taken from Amazon)

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say: I did not finish this book. However, since I made it over two hundred pages in before calling it, I’ve decided that I’m an expert on the subject of this book. Okay, maybe not, but I’m still about to spew my opinion. You have been warned.

This book reminded me of a less mature version of Penny Dreadful (basically, the author adios-ed the nudity) smashed together with The Blair Witch Project. It did not work for me at all.

First of all, the present day part of the story bored me. I couldn’t find it in me to care one iota about Zoey, or her friend. The whole video diary thing is been there, done that. I’m assuming that if I finished the book, there would be some reveal about who she is and how she’s involved in the hauntings (I’m assuming she’s related to Roan, one of the main characters from the 1851 storyline), but…so what?

The 1851 storyline, involving Roan, was so choppy that there were several occasions where I was convinced I’d skipped pages, only to find out that I hadn’t. There was one part where Roan told a character she needed to speak to him as all the other characters left the room, only for that talk to not happen until much later.

The switches between the different timelines were done in a way that felt very odd to me. Chapters didn’t seem to end naturally, as much as just stop almost mid-thought. Don’t get me wrong, the premise was interesting. I just didn’t enjoy the execution at all.

After I decided that there was no reason for me to continue reading a book that is most definitely not for me, I read the author bio in the back. It turns out that she’s the author of another book that I did read all the way through, and didn’t care for. So, I guess it’s just a matter of her writing style not working for me. And that’s okay. But, seeing as all the reviews I’ve read of this book are raves, I thought I’d post my flip-side thoughts, just to see if anyone else had the same experience.

Have you read this book? Did you think it lived up to the hype?

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The Whispered Tales of Graves Grove by J.S. Bailey, Mackenzie Flohr, Elise Manion, D.M. Kilgore, et al- ARC Review

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Graves Grove isn’t your ordinary town…

Nestled within the folds of the Canadian Rockies, Graves Grove probably isn’t the picturesque place you’d like to stay for long. Peculiar things happen here. The citizens seem normal superficially—they function well enough. But each one is deeply disturbed, wrapped in secrets and neuroses which drive them to strange behaviors.

And then there are all the missing children. And why is everyone afraid of that sycamore tree?

The Whispered Tales of Graves Grove is an anthology of stories taking place throughout the history of this mysterious town, from its founding to its future. Read them…if you dare. (taken from Amazon)

                    This book was provided by Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. It will be available on October thirteenth.

If Twin Peaks had a more horror-based neighboring town, Graves Grove would be it. Bizarre and creeptastic, this shiver-inducing collection of short stories is a blast to read. I love reading stories that have a common thread, but still showcase each author’s individual style. That’s what this collection did: while all the tales were part of a larger narrative, each one was individualistic and creative.

There were many stories that I loved, and just a few that were “meh”. A couple of them mentioned fairies which didn’t seem to jive with the rest of the book, but they were still interesting even though they felt a bit disjointed.

I loved Where’s Matheson Lam and The Flash in particular. The both left me with that feeling of what if?, which is so much fun in supernatural and horror books. I also loved that there’s a distinct lack of over-the-top gore.

This book collection was a lot of fun. I highly recommend it.

The Somnambulist by Johnathan Barnes

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“Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It’s a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in dreadfully pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and willfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.”
                                                                                                                                  -The Narrator

I don’t think I’m smart enough for this book. It’s set in London, in the late Victorian era. It’s about Edward Moon, a has-been magician and amateur detective. Together with The Somnambulist, a huge, silent man who doesn’t bleed when stabbed, Edward Moon sets out to solve what may be their last big case.

It starts as a simple murder, but soon evolves into a complicated morass that is simultaneously interesting and incredibly confusing. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this book. There are good things about it- like the unreliable narrator-, but there are also things I really didn’t like (there are a ridiculous amount of unimportant characters to try to keep track of). I’m not entirely sure I even understand the ending, although that might be because I was sick and groggy when I finished the book.

Usually, I love ambiguous endings, but this book left so many threads dangling, that I’m left unsure as to whether or not it actually ended. There is a sequel, but it was written many years later. I wonder if it was written specifically to answer some of the many questions remaining.

Regardless, the author is very talented. Whether you end up enjoying the book or not, you will be unable to deny that it is one of the most original out there.

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky- ARC Review

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available to purchase on October first.

As soon as I started this book, I was presented with a problem: Do I read it as quickly as possible to see what happens next? Or do I drag it out as long as I can, enjoying Stephen Chobsky’s fantastic writing? I’m sure you, reader, have been in this position before. Ultimately, the choice was made for me; I couldn’t put this book down.

I’ll start with the characters. They were wonderfully three-dimensional, every one of them. Christopher was such a sweet little boy and I absolutely loved his mom. She was a fighter in every sense of the word. With the many characters this book had, the fact that they were all well developed and had distinct personalities was impressive, to say the least.

In this book, Christopher goes missing for several days. He shows up again, thanks to “the nice man”, whom no-one else has seen. He’s not the same, though. He has a friend that no one else can see. Thanks to this friendship, Christopher learns that he has a very important job that only he can complete. If he doesn’t finish by Christmas, all hell will break loose.

Normally at this point in a horror review, an excellent writer will be called “the next Stephen King”, or some such thing. I can’t do that, though. Chobsky’s writing is so unique that there’s no comparing it to anyone else. His book was very cerebral. To be honest, it got under my skin. He has a knack for knowing exactly what wigs me out. There are layers upon layers in this book, and it kept me fascinated from start to finish.

I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say this: this is a horror book and some people do horrific things. There might be things that would trigger some, so be aware of that as you read. Normally, some of the things touched upon would really bother me, but it was written in a way that I was able to handle.

For those who haven’t recognized the name, Stephen Chbosky is the author of the absolutely incredible The Perks of Being a Wallflower (if you haven’t read it yet, you really need to rectify that problem. I’ll wait). The fact that he is able to write such disparate genres speaks highly of his ability to weave a tale. He also somehow managed to make me tear up at parts, then scare the living daylights out of me a chapter later. He is a master in his craft.

Read this book.