ARC Review: THE DEEP by Alma Katsu (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult historical horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: Edelweiss

Read an eARC off Edelweiss

Having loved Katsu’s previous historical horror, The Hunger, I had high expectations for her second. The Deep is a fictional take on the events of the Titanic and the Britannic, ships which had sunk in very different circumstances, but shared a few passengers, including main character Annie Hebbley.

Katsu has such a knack for managing several timelines and points of view in one narrative. In addition to the great historical tragedies, Katsu delves deeply into one personal tragedy which spans both ships’ journeys. The one that carries the story—the Fletcher family consisting of Caroline, Mark, Ondine, and the late Lilian Notting—was particularly compelling. It features the promise of better, jealousy, terrible choices, and redemptive arcs which try to right the wrongs of the past. Katsu also narrows in on the stories of other passengers, like the Astors, Guggenheim, and more. The depth of research simmers on page, maintaining immersive dread.

Much like in The Hunger, each character gets ample page time. The supernatural, folkloric scares in this one work so well because this narrative is so character-driven. The ships simply serve as a backdrop and madness thrives independent of its majesty. Personal sins and tragedies haunt everyone every step of the way, making for yet another heart-wrenching narrative.

Once again, I found myself the kind of upset in a way that makes me say thank you.

Review: THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Paul Tremblay (2018)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult horror
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

When a young family escape to the woods for a summer retreat, the last thing they expect is a quartet of cultists to invade their cabin. They give Eric and Andrew an ultimatum: pick one of them to sacrifice else the world ends.

If you really enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane, this book is perfect for you. This single-setting story works so well because of how character-driven it is. The world-building in this contemporary setting is largely unnecessary. So much of the tension comes from what is true, what is perceived true, and the facts. The world could actually be ending but also maybe not! No one is level-headed enough to be honest from start to finish. This book does get violent and gory, so if that’s not your thing, watch out.

I also really liked how real the family felt. Wen read to me like a seven-year-old who just wanted to have a happy summer collecting grasshoppers with her two dads. Her two dads clearly had chemistry and history, but also an authentic sense of responsibility that (hopefully) comes with parenthood. There wasn’t a single character in this entire narrative that I didn’t end up caring about (even Leonard, of all people).

Tensely character driven exercise in the choices people make under the circumstances. That being said, if you are someone who cannot handle bad things happening to young child, put this down and read anything else.

Review: THE TWISTED ONES by T. Kingfisher (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult horror
Year Release: 2019
Source: Audible

Listened to the audiobook

Going to grandmother’s house turns into eldritch horror as Mouse is tasked by her father to clean the place out after grandma’s death. Armed with freelance work, helpful townsfolk, and a very good dog named Bongo, Mouse must face haunted woods, a creepy, prophetic journal, and her step-grandfather’s own descent into madness.

The concept of rifling through the deceased’s items can be uncomfortable enough. Mouse’s grandmother, however, had also been a hoarder on top of a generally terrible person. I really liked all the coping mechanisms Kingfisher presented during this cursed clean-up job: diving into edits, reading an old-timey journal as if it’s another editorial gig, listening to NPR, going on walks, and more. None of this, however, distracts from the creeping dread. It starts with a pedestrian kind of weird, i.e. the room of dolls, to something ripped out of Bloodborne’s design works.

Though immersive and character-driven in a way that makes the dead feel as alive as the living, the pacing of the story could have been a bit more consistent. I think I understood the intention of the normalcy, but when the ending came, it felt so abrupt. Perhaps that had been the point.

That being said, I will always appreciate a work which starts by “spoiling” the ending, but continues to deliver on the terror. We know Mouse and Bongo are telling us the adventure at grandma’s house after the fact. It doesn’t make the monsters any easier to look at or the mantras any less disturbing.

Unsettling in a way that makes rocks absolutely horrifying, a must-read for fans of folkloric horror and very good boys.

 

Review: THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER by Theodora Goss (2017)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult fantasy
Year Release: 2017
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Do you like mash-ups of gothic horror like Penny Dreadful but wish it had the camp of the Robert Downey Junior Sherlock Holmes and starred an all-female cast? Look no further. The Athena Club consists of the daughters of monstrous scientists teaming up to solve murders in White Chapel.

The remix and reconstruction of classic tales like Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde were absolutely spot-on. This book serves more as an introduction to our five main heroines. The original stories had been updated enough to fit a new narrative, but familiar enough to even feed where the mystery was going. Goss clearly had much fun in crafting the world, with its secret societies and monstrous experiments, and that enthusiasm carries from the first page until the very end.

London is particularly gloomy in these installments, and Goss has such a handle on the atmosphere. This tome simply felt like it came out of a different time, right down to the dialogue choices, and it worked so wonderfully. I cannot wait to venture beyond England to follow the next excursion of The Athena Club.

Perfect for people who love cross-over novels and who have a special fondness for the Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law Sherlock Holmes films.

 

 

Review: THE HUNGER by Alma Katsu (2018)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult historical horror
Year Release: 2018
Source: Audible audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

This book has been on my mind ever since I learned the story of the Donner Party over at Last Podcast on the Left. Having survived a horror read like The Devil in Silver, I figured I dive in with this historical horror.

Dear reader, I found something far more upsetting.

Come for the rumors of cannibalism, stay for a story of human error, loyalty, and fear of the unknown as a wagon train falls under a series a mishaps. Could it be the witch, Tamsen Donner? Could it be the scoundrels of John Snyder and Lewis Keseberg? Could it be biting off more than you can chew when trying to escape your tragic past, a la Charles Stanton? The book answers these questions and more.

Katsu expertly navigates several points of view while trying to humanize the members of the Donner party. After finishing the book, I think the tragedy came from an unfortunate concoction of error, fear, and interpersonal conflicts. From the outset, it’s hard to decide whom to trust and the morality there is kept so gray. If you know the story, then you’ll know who the villain is. Worry not, there’s no sympathy given there.

This read left me equal parts nauseated and the crying kind of upset in a way that makes me say thank you.

 

Review: THE DEVIL IN SILVER by Victor LaValle (2012)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult horror
Year Release: 2012
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Victor LaValle’s works have consistently capture New York City on page in ways not often seen in other forms of media. There’s the variety of characters from all walks of New York life, and the nature and spirit of the city is as much a character as the characters, especially in this bottle episode of a book taking place in an asylum in Queens. Pepper, our trouble-making protagonist, finds himself at New Hyde Hospital following an altercation. When he’s kept there for more than the initial 76-hours of monitoring, he makes unsettling discoveries. Like the devil living in one of the wards, the one the orderlies and doctors don’t believe exists.

The way LaValle captures helplessness against a system is superb. At every turn, the doctors manipulate records, dosages, etc. to eliminate knowledge of the Devil, even though the patients all believe each other. The relationships are rocky, but there are some moments of sweetness to violent encounters. The morality here is a bit gray, as patients have different definitions of survival. Throughout, there is a profound feeling of abandonment, a system that doesn’t care about the very real danger stalking the halls.

In addition, this book takes its time cultivating that sense of helplessness. Digressions span different histories, from Van Gogh to silver mining, highlighting various groups who have been abandoned in the name of advancement. It is masterfully pulled off, even as you’re terrified of things going bump in the night and what those medications are actually doing.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with very loose allusions to mythology, Victor LaValle artfully adds layers to horror tropes in this earlier work of his.

 

Reading Recap: October 2016

rrocto2016

I had such a cool concept for this month’s Reading Recap: I wanted to read only horror books and then do an exploration of why they were so scary. Graduate school felt like my own edition of survival horror at its finest, so I’ll simply be sharing the books I caught up on this month.

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