Tag: horror

Review – The Only Good Indians

Posted May 14, 2022 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham JonesThe Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones

Horror is usually not my thing, but I like trying things and broadening my horizons, and the blurb of this made it sound like it had some crossover with fantasy (a genre I do read a lot of). There’s a lot of gore and violence in this, which was a little much for me (though to be honest, not worse than some of the fantasy I’ve read), but the mystery does have a supernatural side.

To me it seems like a fairly predictable plot: four Blackfeet hunters kill elk they’re not supposed to, and years later, strange things start to happen as it seems that they’re each being hunted in their turn. I won’t say too much more about the exact plot — it’s not too surprising, I think, with that basic summary… but still, there are some grey areas and things that you’d want to read through without being prejuced by another reader’s take on them.

The characters are not exactly sympathetic, except in that they’re everyday fuck-ups like the rest of us (some of them more than others). It does a really good job of making them people, for sure: I can believe in Cassidy and Lewis and Gabe Cross Guns and Ricky Boss Ribs.

For those side-eyeing the title or the themes, the author is of the Blackfeet Nation; obviously, being Welsh this isn’t remotely my history or culture, so I can’t comment on how respectful he’s been or how accurately he’s portrayed things, but I think in this case that doesn’t matter — he’s mostly portrayed people and the things individuals believe, and individuals can be wrong.

I found the ending a tiny bit predictable; it wouldn’t have been out of place in any of the genre novels I read, which is probably why.

In the end, it’s still not for me, and I’m wavering about the rating to give it. In terms of personal enjoyment, it’s probably less than this, but that’s probably unfair to the book because I knew what I was getting into, and also despite this really not being my preferred genre, I read the whole book in just a few days. So I’ve split the difference a bit.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Wylding Hall

Posted February 7, 2022 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Wylding Hall by Elizabeth HandWylding Hall, Elizabeth Hand

Wylding Hall uses Fairport Convention’s real history as a starting point: the tragedy (a suicide in this book, two deaths in a car crash in real life), the music and style, and the time spent at an old house in the countryside (Wylding Hall in the book; Farley Chamberlayne for Fairport Convention)… and then Hand takes it off into imagination. It’s not really about Fairport Convention, just using them as a jumping-off point, but if you’re into their music you can’t help but think of them while you read. (Though this time I was thinking about Siobhan Owen’s version of “Scarborough Fair”, as well. There’s something wistful and otherworldly about her voice that makes a good accompaniment to this book.)

The format is of interviews with the remaining members of the band and some other people who got involved in the story — as if it’s a documentary, long after the fact. Slowly, each character contributes what they saw, heard and felt, building up a picture of something eerie and chilling, but indeterminate. Hand is very careful not to reveal the horror until near the end.

I think the Neolithic barrow with Julian’s watch in it and the final photo of the girl are probably actually a bridge too far — it takes the book from being haunting and eerie, lightly touched by something ancient and unknowable, and gives it a moment of horror that doesn’t quite sit with it. It doesn’t spoil the book, but it’s a slightly discordant note. Then again, without that finality, it’d feel like the story just tails off. So maybe that’s the best ending, after all.

The book was a reread for me; not something I’d have predicted myself rereading, but the book does have something special, that restless strangeness at its heart that doesn’t have a satisfying answer. It came back to me all of a sudden when someone was talking about a different book written in interview format, and I suddenly had to read it again!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Flowers for the Sea

Posted December 29, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. RocklynFlowers for the Sea, Zin E. Rocklyn

Received to review via Netgalley

I’m not certain why I originally requested this on Netgalley, because it is very much not my thing. It’s set on an ark, in a world where water has swallowed the land, and the main character is pregnant when others on board have all lost babies, died in childbirth, etc. Slowly, we get some details about the world before the ark, while it becomes obvious that it’s no ordinary pregnancy.

It’s a very visceral book, ripe with details about scents (most of them awful) and sensations (again, most of them awful). Much of it is body horror, which is extra specially not my thing.

It’s beautifully written, which is most of what kept me turning the pages. I sometimes felt that the dreamlike narrative got in the way of me understanding quite what was happening — mostly in the memory sections, and in the relationships between the characters. It probably didn’t help that it was so very much not my thing, as well: I can’t say I was paying my best attention to the details while cringing!

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Plain Bad Heroines

Posted July 11, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Plain Bad Heroines by emily m. danforthPlain Bad Heroines, emily m. danforth

In some ways, I guess it’s a surprise I picked this up, since it relies heavily on horror tropes and on the reader recognising horror tropes and horror movies and sly little references. That’s never really been my thing, though one or two authors have tempted me into that realm, or interesting concepts, etc. Anyway, the blurb tempted me in despite my total wussiness, and actually, I can’t say I was ever really creeped out.

It follows three women in the present as they make a movie about events of the past, when a girls’ school seemed cursed and some girls died in weird and unpleasant ways. It starts to seem like maybe the curse is real, because weird things keep happening around these three women now in the present. Or is it just the movie getting under their skins?

The book plays with that ambiguity throughout, and it feels like it’s building toward something explosive and genuinely frightening — there is a real tension and weirdness to it, but for me it never quite came off. The revelations that happen actually diminish the climax of it: now you know what’s going on, it seems much more mundane, even when weird stuff is still happening. It didn’t hold onto enough of the unknowable weirdness to really be unsettling. In the end, you get some answers, and for me at least, it was too many answers. It never managed to reach the fever pitch it was trying to build — I didn’t get even a little bit unsettled.

One thing that did work is the charge between three of the female characters — and the love between two of the characters in the past/flashback portions of the book. Those relationships work very well, and the way those relationships are far from idyllic, but sometimes capture moments of bliss, really works out for me.

Rating-wise, I feel like 2 is pretty fair. I didn’t DNF it, so there was stuff that kept me hanging on… but it was 600+ pages of waiting for it to live up to the promises it was making, and for me, it didn’t.

Rating: 2/5

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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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