Tag: horror

Review – The Animals at Lockwood Manor

Posted March 22, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane HealeyThe Animals at Lockwood Manor, Jane Healey

The Animals at Lockwood Manor follows Hetty, an assistant at the natural history museum, elevated to supervisor due to the beginning of World War II and the loss of the men of the department to enlistment. Hetty’s in charge of the evacuation of key parts of the museum’s collection, including invaluable type specimens, to a house in the country: Lockwood Manor. At first, the site seems close to ideal, but almost immediately there are issues: valuable items disappear, things are moved around when Hetty isn’t looking, and something sinister seems to be happening which makes her begin to doubt her sanity.

It’s all very Gothic and a little spooky, with brief interlude chapters from the point of view of Lord Lockwood’s daughter, Lucy, who is clearly haunted by the wild behaviour of her mentally ill mother. Throughout, there’s a sense that either there’s some serious gaslighting going on, or Hetty and Lucy are truly haunted — even as they become close and start a romantic relationship, clinging to one another amidst the awfulness of the seeming haunting and of Lord Lockwood’s dalliances with women younger than his own daughter.

On the one hand, I couldn’t point to anything special about the book — nothing I thought stood out, or particularly made it worth reading. On the other hand, I read it practically all in one go: there’s something about it which is gripping, helped along by the connection between Hetty and Lucy (at its best before they say a thing to one another, laying tension into each scene) and the fact that I am interested in Hetty’s job and the work she’s described as doing. It was enjoyable, though not outstanding; I may not even think of it again, but it certainly whiled away a few hours entertainingly.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Leviathan Wakes

Posted November 11, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. CoreyLeviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey

The opening of Leviathan Wakes is just pure horror. Julie Mao has been trapped in a storage locker for days, during a takeover of her ship. When her need for food, water and other relief overcomes her caution, she bursts out… to find the ship empty and almost dead. She works her way to engineering to find —

Well, I won’t spoil that moment for you, even though it’s at the start of the book. The horror aspect recedes for quite a while, leaving more generic (but fun) space opera and a touch of noir. One side of the narrative follows James Holden and his tiny remnant crew after the destruction of their ship, the Canterbury, as they acquire a new ship (the Rocinante) and attempt to find (and hurt) whoever blew up the Cant.

The other side follows Miller, a halfway-decent cop who is melting down a bit after being ditched by his wife, and who fixates on a job he’s asked to do — to find Julie Mao, daughter of a rather famous family, and ship her back home. The two sides converge, of course, juxtaposing Holden’s righteousness against Miller’s almost amoral tendencies and making both of them look like assholes in the process. (Though in most ways I’m on Holden’s side, and Miller’s just kinda really creepy sometimes.)

The horror comes back in the middle, for sure, and threads through the rest. There are some epic fight scenes, some great character moments, some horrible revelations… and for my money, it all comes together really well. It’s pretty breathless, for me; for all that’s ~550 pages long, I didn’t often put it down. It was a reread for me, and it stood up to the memory. I’m looking forward to rereading Caliban’s War, too.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Mexican Gothic

Posted November 5, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-GarciaMexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I’ve been meaning to read this forever, and in fact I originally had an advance copy of this. As often happens when I get a much-anticipated book as an advance copy, I actually bought it as soon as it came out, since it didn’t feel fair to read the ARC anymore. So… Mexican Gothic follows Noemí Taboada, a girl from a rich Mexican family, living in the city and hoping to go on to study more, enjoying her life as a socialite. Her cousin recently married, but it seems that something odd has happened to her — she sent home an almost incoherent letter, raving about the awful things happening to her — and Noemí’s father decides to send her to see what’s happening.

Noemí goes, partly out of affection for her cousin, partly out of curiosity, and partly to prove herself. She immediately finds that Catalina’s new family are rather odd, with oppressive rules and a rather awful house. And Catalina is ill: tuberculosis, the doctor says, and yet Noemí doesn’t think it seems to fit. When she snatches a moment along with Catalina, her cousin sends her to get a remedy from a local woman, and yet it seems to make her even more ill…

I won’t say too much more about the plot: it settles in to be nicely Gothic and weird. I don’t know if it was because of the books I’ve been reading lately (I shouldn’t name them, in case it’s too much of a spoiler), but I figured a good chunk of the plot out through noticing a recurring motif. I found that I wasn’t as riveted as I’d hoped to be, because it took me time to really connect with Noemí — – her confidence in her own intelligence, beauty and charm was a bit too much toward overconfidence, and though I can’t say that I’d fall in with the traditions of Catalina’s new family(!), it also seemed weird that she was so unwilling to respect simple things that are asked of her as a good guest, like not smoking in the bedroom. (Sure, different era and all, but… being a good guest hasn’t changed that much.) She just seems quite entitled.

However, as we got to see more of Francis, and as Noemí worked things out, it started to work a lot better for me — and the last third/quarter of the book, ish, is pretty nail-biting. Naturally, it doesn’t end in a terribly comfortable way, leaving a few questions and horrible possibilities hanging…

Really enjoyable, all in all, though I didn’t get into it as much as I’d expected to until later.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Threshold

Posted July 7, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Threshold by Jordan L. HawkThreshold, Jordan L. Hawk

Threshold takes Whyborne, Griffin, and their friend Christine to a mining town, after Whyborne’s father (who has a large stake in the company) asks him to investigate the strange rumours coming from the town. It’s time for more horrors, some amateur spellcraft on Whyborne’s part, and an awkward meeting with one of Griffin’s former coworkers. They investigate the mystery — and the mysterious changes of personality from a prominent member of the company — while Griffin and Whyborne trip over their relatively-new relationship and their insecurities.

The relationship stuff is… a bit frustrating to me, mostly, because I felt that it was somewhat contrived. We can’t have them be too settled in themselves, so Whyborne has to be jealous and Griffin has to be hiding something, and no one can just talk about it and tell the truth. They figure themselves out without it being dragged out too long, but Whyborne’s huff with Griffin felt very similar to his reaction in the last book, and that… bothers me. Like, can you ever just sit down and listen to Griffin’s explanations? Maybe trust him a little?

I really hope this will not continue to be a theme of these books, because it’s one that I’ll get tired of pretty quickly… and otherwise it’s a lot of fun! And it’s not that I don’t want to see any conflict between the leads, but I’d prefer it not to be something that is so thin and well-worn. I’m still enjoying this series a lot, but one more book of this kind of lack-of-communication will quickly start turning me off. Here’s hoping some more trust develops between Whyborne and Griffin!

All that aside, I tore through the book. The mystery and its explanation are perhaps a little obvious, but some of the details come as a gruesome surprise, and there are some genuinely horrifying moments. Christine is amazing throughout, and I have a feeling that — support Whyborne though she does — she’d concur with my second paragraph completely. She’s a joy, and a breath of no-nonsense fresh air.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You

Posted April 14, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You by Scotto MooreYour Favorite Band Cannot Save You, Scotto Moore

This book started out promisingly for me: a music blogger finds a new track on Bandcamp by a band that seems to have come out of nowhere. Once he listens to it, it’s life-changing: it’s the best song he’s ever heard, a full-body experience of bliss. And there’s going to be 10 more tracks, one released each day…

It’s likely that it’s best to know as little as possible about this one before going in, but to some extent I found that people saying that made me expect more of a mystery than there actually was. I was hoping for more buildup, more mystery; instead, this book is way more in your face than that. And that’s where it kind of lost me: I didn’t want it to come straight out and tell me what it was going to be so soon. I felt like the concept of this music was good enough it needed to be strung out for a good long while, teasing the reader.

The places it goes are fun, but it wasn’t what I thought I was settling in for, and it felt a bit too… well, like I said: it felt in-your-face. It said the quiet bit out loud. Consequently, it kind of lost me and I didn’t buy in for the rest of the ride.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Hekla’s Children

Posted November 11, 2019 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Hekla's Children by James BrogdenHekla’s Children, James Brogden

I saw some really glowing reviews about Hekla’s Children, and particularly about its originality, so I picked it up despite some reservations about the story as presented by the blurb. There are some kids, check. They vanish mysteriously, apart from one kid who is found a few days later, in a condition as though she is starving — even though she wasn’t missing long enough for that to have been the case. And then a bog body is found in that rough location, yet one of the leg bones — dated to the right period — is nonetheless found to have been pinned to heal from a break using 20th century medical techniques… And this bog body was supposed to protect against some awful horror, which may now be free to terrorise people.

I’m afraid I found it really predictable from the start, and as in another recent read of mine (In the Night Wood), I wasn’t impressed by the stock male character who had his romantic prospects dashed (he was sleeping with a woman who was engaged to be married to someone else, but woe is him, she chose the other guy). Sympathy with him is rather key to the whole thing working and to not seeing the twists coming, so perhaps that’s part of why it didn’t work for me at all.

There were some aspects I felt positive about — there’s a section in the otherworld where a main character gets into a homosexual relationship, and that’s dealt with carefully and sympathetically in a way that works. But otherwise… no, fairly meh.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Dread Nation

Posted August 12, 2019 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Dread Nation, Justina Ireland

I can’t remember who I spoke to who thought this might be rather like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, just a sort of awkward shoehorning of zombies into a historical period in a fairly superficial way. That’s not how this comes across — I’d compare it more closely to Mira Grant’s Feed and sequels in terms of the way it’s built into how society works — and it does seem to me to reflect the era of history fairly well. Set after zombies rose during the American Civil War, this book follows the fortunes of Jane, a black girl who has been sent to a combat school in order to learn to kill zombies (along with all other non-white children of her age). No longer slaves, but definitely second class citizens, black people bear most of the burden of fighting zombies, leaving white people living in luxurious safety.

For the most part, anyway. Maybe things aren’t safe as they seem. But as soon as Jane starts to poke around into that even a little bit, she’s caught and carted off to a new settlement, a place that’s meant to be safe from zombies — safe because it’s guarded by a vast perimeter wall and the endless patrolling of people like Jane. Naturally, there’s all kinds of nastiness — in terms of race, class, and just plain horribleness — and a whole mystery into which Jane must dig.

I enjoyed her character on a superficial sort of level, though I found her somewhat contradictory. One minute she hates Katherine, another girl from the school, and the next she does her a favour with the thinnest of reasoning. (Tit for tat doesn’t work if you don’t like or trust the person covering your back if you cover theirs, especially if the stakes are rather different between the two of you.) Katherine’s the same, one minute despising Jane and the next relying on her. The interpersonal stuff just never quite adds up for me.

The setting works well, and I believe in the way Ireland has tweaked history and changed things up. What she changes makes sense, as far as I understand history, and the social consequences are all too easy to imagine. The story ticks along well, action following action rather than getting stuck — it certainly keeps the pages turning. In the end, though, I just wasn’t in love with it. It wasn’t bad, but nor do I feel any pressing need to read the sequel when it arrives.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Atrocities

Posted April 17, 2018 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Atrocities by Jeremy C. ShippThe Atrocities, Jeremy C. Shipp

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 17th April 2018

I really liked the sound of The Atrocities right up front; I did expect something horror/Gothic ish in tone, but kind of expected something maybe less dramatic than this turned out to be. It starts out with great atmosphere and that uncanny feeling, but even after thinking it over for a few days, I’m not entirely sure what I make of it as a whole. Once things started being explained, it didn’t feel quite satisfactory to me, and by the end I was a little confused about what was real. The main character is probably meant to be unreliable, given the recounting of her dreams as almost seamlessly integrated into the text, but it didn’t quite work for me — it just felt confusing as in I couldn’t figure out what was going on, not in not being able to figure out what’s true, if you see the difference there. It started feeling rather rushed, too.

However, I’m generally not a horror fan, so it’s very likely I’ve missed some aspects of the shape of the narrative — the ending felt familiar from seeing the ends of a few horror movies over my wife’s shoulder, at least. So it might be that someone more into the genre would appreciate it more. I did love the atmosphere and the whole first scene, with the entrance to the estate, was perfectly uncanny and discomforting.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Wanderer in Unknown Realms

Posted February 23, 2018 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Wanderer in Unknown Realms by John ConnollyThe Wanderer in Unknown Realms, John Connolly

I don’t quite know what to make of this book. It starts off well, and throughout it’s atmospheric and leaves me curious. The bit about the power of books is creepily powerful, and there’s some great description in the most uncanny bits. The main character is handled well, too, in my opinion: he has a past which he never has to elaborate on, but which nonetheless colours everything he does and says. But then you get to the end of the book and it suddenly… stops. As my wife pointed out to me, the ending is pretty classic horror stuff, with no closure, but… Then you’ve got the narrator, telling his story. To whom? How? Why? That aspect all rather broke my engagement with the story, because I like there to be a reason.

If you’re a fan of John Connolly or of creepy crustaceans in horror novellas, this might be your thing, but I don’t think I’d recommend it in general.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Twilight Pariah

Posted November 9, 2017 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey FordThe Twilight Pariah, Jeffrey Ford

I am a total wuss. Complete and total. So I expected to have the pants scared off me for picking up a horror novella, and it didn’t really happen. There were a few creepy moments, but mostly I found myself wondering why it felt like an episode of Scooby Doo. (Considering Scooby Doo on Zombie Island gave me nightmares as a kid, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be scary, but… I don’t know.)

The actual haunting part seemed solid and interesting. It was the characters and the way they went about tackling the problem that didn’t work for me — it just all felt totally unreal, and like set-up for the three main characters to set up like the Winchester brothers or the Mystery Gang. It felt truncated and just too easy, and some of the action scenes just made me go… “Really??”

If you’re looking for something scary, then this isn’t it, I think. There is a good story somewhere in here, but mostly it didn’t work for me.

Rating: 2/5

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