BOOK REVIEW | The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

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3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
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.

My thoughts:
Ania Ahlborn takes the dysfunctional family to new heights with her latest book, The Devil Crept In. She explores the lengths that a mother would go to to protect her child, while delivering just the right amount of mystery to keep you flipping the pages.

Stevie is a bit of a weird kid: he has a speech disorder, a couple missing fingertips, and no friends except for his cousin, Jude. With an abusive drunk for a step-father and an older brother who wants little to do with him, Stevie depends on his relationship with Jude for escape. Jude, who developed behavioral problems after his father’s death, is known to be aggressive and is often in trouble. When Jude goes missing, most people chock it up as Jude acting out again. Stevie knows that Jude didn’t just run away and is determined to find him, even venturing out into the woods to search for him on his own. Stevie is a great unreliable narrator; he’s constantly on edge and questioning every shadow he sees while trying to find answers. Suddenly Jude returns – but, it’s not the Jude that Stevie knew: he’s unresponsive and blank, with peeling, itchy skin.

The story is told in three parts, and is a bit slow to get going. I really enjoyed the middle section when we are introduced to Rosie and her struggles. Rosie’s longing and self-consciousness are relatable, and in a strange way I understand the choices she made. You’ll have to read the book to understand what I mean! The action picks up in the final third, and it’s a brutal and gruesome as I hoped it would be. I could have done without the epilogue, as I wasn’t crazy about how it capped off some of the story lines. Ahlborn really shined in her capture of Stevie’s childhood, and I completely believed I was in the mind of a ten year old boy. I also loved the big brother / little brother dynamic between Dunk and Stevie – Ahlborn totally nailed this relationship. It’s hard to read a story like this and not be reminded of the King; I can certainly feel Ahlborn’s influence, and fans of his will likely enjoy this book.

My only complaint with this book is that it just wasn’t scary enough – I didn’t feel a foreboding sense of dread. . Creepy? Definitely. Disturbing? Heck yes! This was a great read, but not one that kept me up at night.

BOOK REVIEW | The Shining by Stephen King

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4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

My thoughts:
Man, Stephen King can tell a story like no one else. The Shining was a (creepy and terrifying) pleasure to read. It has been so much fun working through the King’s catalogue!

The world’s a hard place, Danny. It don’t care. It don’t hate you and me, but it don’t love us either. Terrible things happen in the world, and they’re things no one can explain. Good people die in bad, painful ways and leave the folks that love them all alone. Sometimes it seems like it’s only the bad people who stay healthy and prosper.

Jack Torrence is a recovering alcoholic and down on his luck. He’s lost his teaching job, but needs to take care of his family. A friend sets him up with a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, and he quickly accepts. Jack moves into the hotel with his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny. Danny has always been special – he can shine. His ability to shine means he can read people’s thoughts and you guessed it – see dead people. Shortly after arriving at the Overlook, Jack discovers details of the hotel’s history and some of the crimes that occurred there. Many presences haunt the Overlook, and the hotel slowly begins to manipulate Jack, ultimately turning him against his family.

Jack is a fantastic villain – I didn’t know if his words were his own, or a part of the hotel’s manipulation. It always sort of felt like a combination of both, that the hotel brought out his inner demons, rather than completely overtaking him. Nothing is scarier than the devil you know, right?

I’d love to know what happens to Danny, so may jump right in to Doctor Sleep!

BOOK REVIEW | Brother by Ania Ahlborn

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Deep in the heart of Appalachia stands a crooked farmhouse miles from any road. The Morrows keep to themselves, and it’s served them well so far. When girls go missing off the side of the highway, the cops don’t knock on their door. Which is a good thing, seeing as to what’s buried in the Morrows’ backyard.

But nineteen-year-old Michael Morrow isn’t like the rest of his family. He doesn’t take pleasure in the screams that echo through the trees. Michael pines for normalcy, and he’s sure that someday he’ll see the world beyond West Virginia. When he meets Alice, a pretty girl working at a record shop in the small nearby town of Dahlia, he’s immediately smitten. For a moment, he nearly forgets about the monster he’s become. But his brother, Rebel, is all too eager to remind Michael of his place…

My thoughts:
It’s been a while since I read a horror novel that got under my skin, leaving me utterly terrified and disgusted. Enter Ania Ahlborn’s Brother. This is the horrific story of an Appalachian family bound together by a disturbing practice. Readers be warned – this one is twisted, depraved, gory, violent, and so so brutal. I loved it.

Michael has never really fit in with his family. He gets along with his sister, Misty, but couldn’t be more different than his brother, Reb (short for Rebel). The relationship with father seems non-existent and his mother is cold and unloving, but needs Michael around to make good use of his…unique…skill set.  On a trip into town with Reb, Michael meets a girl named Alice who works at the local record shop. Alice dreams of a better life for herself; she is a talented comic artist who fantasizes about getting out of West Vigninia and making something of her work. As their relationship develops, Michael starts to imagine a life with Alice and away from his family.  Tension builds from this point on, as you wonder how Michael would be able to bring someone into the folds of his offbeat family unit. Reb is quick to remind Michael that family is everything. As the story unfolds blood is spilled and horrific secrets are revealed. The final pages left me so upset I was almost in tears.

Here’s something I’ve never said before: this book would make an amazing graphic novel. As soon as we learn that Alice draws comics, I started picturing this book in panels. I’m not a huge graphic novel reader, but I couldn’t shake this the entire time I was reading it. It would be SO GOOD!

Ahlborn is clearly a huge fan of 80’s music and classic horror movies; a woman after my own heart. The music references are a ton of fun (Ania also thanks The Cure in the book’s acknowledgements – one of my favourite bands), and I can’t help but wonder if naming her central character Michael is a subtle nod to one of my all time favourite scary guys, Michael Myers.

If you’re a fan of horror, you must read this book – it gets 5 starts from me for shocking me right to the end.

BOOK REVIEW | N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

My thoughts:
Everyone…lives inside the world inside their own head. An inscape, a world of thought. Emotions are as real as gravity. Dreams are as powerful as history. Creative people, like writers and Henry Rollins, spend a lot of their time hanging out in their thoughtworld.

This is my third Joe Hill read, and I am 100% sold now – this book is fantastic. Yep, I’m going all in. I need to read everything he’s written, and will be first in line when he releases something new. Joe’s books are consistently imaginative and a bit over the top, and this one takes the cake in the best way possible. This is the story of Vic McQueen, the perils of motherhood, the loss of childhood innocence, and the power of imagination. Oh yeah, there’s a totally terrifying bad guy too.

As a child, Vic McQueen discovers that she has a special gift – she is a strong creative who utilizes her bicycle to conjure up a bridge that she can cross to find misplaced objects. She meets a librarian named Maggie who helps her to understand her gift; she also warns her about someone named Charlie Manx. Charlie possesses the same gift, and uses it to kidnap children  and take them to a place where they can be eternally happy, Christmasland. Vic and Charlie eventually meet, and let’s just say the encounter does not end well.

Years later, Vic is an adult with a son named Wayne, and a complicated relationship with Wayne’s father, Lou. She appears to be descending into madness as a result of her childhood encounter with Charlie, but lovable Lou stays by her side and believes her story without question. Before long, Charlie returns.

This book reads like a movie – I was able to perfectly picture every character and every scene thanks to Hill’s engrossing prose. Hill has created a world where the impossible seems possible, with a flawed but completely kick-ass main character, and one of the best villains that I’ve read. Charlie Manx is way more interesting than your run of the mill bad guy, he truly believes he is helping children by bringing them to a place where they will experience nothing but joy. As it turns out, even kids need to work through unpleasant emotions and life disappointments – less they turn into tiny gleeful killers.

I leave you with one of my favourite moments from the book, an exchange between Lou and Wayne:

I think you’re suffering from the human condition.
Can you die from that?
Yeah…it’s pretty much fatal in every case.

BOOK REVIEW | The Good House by Tananarive Due

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
The home that belonged to Angela Toussaint’s late grandmother is so beloved that townspeople in Sacajawea, Washington, call it the Good House. But that all changes one summer when an unexpected tragedy takes place behind its closed doors…and the Toussaint’s family history — and future — is dramatically transformed.

Angela has not returned to the Good House since her son, Corey, died there two years ago. But now, Angela is finally ready to return to her hometown and go beyond the grave to unearth the truth about Corey’s death. Could it be related to a terrifying entity Angela’s grandmother battled seven decades ago? And what about the other senseless calamities that Sacajawea has seen in recent years? Has Angela’s grandmother, an African American woman reputed to have “powers,” put a curse on the entire community?

My thoughts:
Angela Toussaint’s Fourth of July party began well enough, but no one would remember that because of the way it would end. That’s what everyone would talk about later. The way it ended.

Why isn’t Tananarive Due a superstar in the horror genre?! She should be way more popular than she is – she is a master of her craft. I absolutely loved Due’s My Soul to Keep (book 1 of her African Immortal series), and The Good House is just as amazing. Her stories are sweeping and full of depth, with interesting historical elements. They are dramatic and fantastical, yet somehow so realistic. More than anything, her books are fun to read.

We follow Angela Toussaint as she returns to her hometown 2 years after a personal tragedy. We learn about her past though flashbacks, and begin to put the pieces of the tragedy together along side her. There’s mystery, voodoo, and a ton of tension.

It’s been said before, but fans of Stephen King must read this book. Like King, Due creates vast and complex stories with well rounded characters that you truly care about. Even her supporting characters have enough depth for the reader to get invested in. The Good House reminds me so much of King’s Bag of Bones, though the stories are completely different. There is a mysterious house that the protagonists return to in both, but it’s the eerie atmosphere that felt strikingly familiar. In both stories, of course, terrible things happen.

Next time you’re in the mood for something spooky, pick up one of Due’s books (if you can find one – they aren’t easily accessible in bookstores), and enjoy submerging yourself into her world.

BOOK REVIEW | The Other by Thomas Tryon

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Holland and Niles Perry are identical thirteen-year-old twins. They are close, close enough, almost, to read each other’s thoughts, but they couldn’t be more different. Holland is bold and mischievous, a bad influence, while Niles is kind and eager to please, the sort of boy who makes parents proud. The Perrys live in the bucolic New England town their family settled centuries ago, and as it happens, the extended clan has gathered at its ancestral farm this summer to mourn the death of the twins’ father in a most unfortunate accident. Mrs. Perry still hasn’t recovered from the shock of her husband’s gruesome end and stays sequestered in her room, leaving her sons to roam free. As the summer goes on, though, and Holland’s pranks become increasingly sinister, Niles finds he can no longer make excuses for his brother’s actions.

My thoughts:
Niles, look at me…You have a secret. Tell it to me. Tell it to Ada.

This is the sort of book that makes you want to start reading it again as soon as you’ve finished the last page. I went into The Other expecting a quick read, and ended up getting more than I bargained for. This is the dark tale of twin brothers Niles and Holland; a story full of plot twists and chilling imagery. Reading keeps you wondering if things are things what we think they are, or if we are at the mercy of a disturbed mind? As with many works that centre around disturbed children, expect some animal violence as well.

As Dan Chon mentions in his Afterword in the NYBR edition, The Other calls to mind works by Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith – not bad company to be in for Tryon. While this was a bit slow in pace, I really enjoyed it and loved reading the final chapters on Halloween!

BOOK REVIEW| Revival by Stephen King

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
A dark and electrifying novel about addiction, fanaticism, and what might exist on the other side of life.

In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs—including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of thirteen, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties—addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate—Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.

This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written.

My thoughts:
This book is the definition of a page turner! I blasted through it and loved every second.

We follow Jamie from age 6 into his early 60’s, enduring his highs and incredibly dark lows along side him. All the while Pastor Jacobs, a constant in Jamie’s life, his fifth business, decends deeper and deeper into his obsessions.

King is notorious for taking a bold stance on controversial topics, and this book is a poignant statement on organized relgion and how it can be used to exploit hopeful believers.

Religion is the theological equivalent of a quick-burn insurance scam, where you pay your premium year after year, and then, when you need the benefits you paid for so – pardon the pun – so religiously, you discover the company that took your money does not, in fact, exist.

King is an absolute master of suspense – the final chapters were so intense as we wait to discover Pastor Jacobs has planned. I could feel my heart beating in my chest as I raced through pages into the startling conclusion.

There was a little missing for me in regards to character development. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t fully connect with Jamie. I really enjoyed following him through his life, but somehow I wasn’t completely wrapped up in his story.

Revival was pure, creepy fun – I look forward to re-reading this one again!