The Shadow Land

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova follows a young American woman, Alexandra Boyd,  who lands in Hungary and accidentally steals an elder woman’s bag as she’s getting into a taxi. Trying to return the bag, she turns to the police and another taxi driver. Alexandra and her new taxi friend travel around Sofia and the surrounding countryside desperately trying to find the older couple and their son who lost their bag.

Along the way, the duo gets caught up in the story about the man who’s belongings are in the lost bag, a young violinist who was detained in politically oppressed Bulgaria. Alexandra’s story is interspersed with the tales of Bulgaria from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, spilling secrets that somebody wanted hidden.

There is an old world gothic feel to this story, as if ghosts might pop out of the corner. But the horrors in the real world are more terrifying than any ghost story.

Great novel!!! Read May 2017

The Shining Girls

Lauren Beukes The Shining Girls is weird and absolutely horrifying. A serial killer that travels through time and has his victims picked by a house. There are many time loops where the killer, Harper Curtis, visits his victims years before their death and leaves a memento from a different victim from another time.

Beukes manages the characters and the time line really well and leaves hints and victims as she goes through the story. This was a fantastic read! I really enjoyed the weirdness mixed with the grotesque.

Read February 2016.

Prince Lestat

Almost 20 years ago (20 years after the original release) I read Interview with a Vampire for the first time and I was mesmerized. I was young, impressionable, trying to find my own way in the world and I came across Anne Rice’s vampires in a used book store. Having seen the movie already, I was intrigued by Lestat and how his character came out against Louis in his own self-centered books following the Interview. Over the years, I’ve read most, if not all, the books in the Vampire Chronicles. I would never say they were great literature, but Anne Rice was inventive, dark, and strangely romantic in her telling of the vampires.

I hadn’t read another Anne Rice book in several years and was intrigued when I came across Prince Lestat at the library. I can’t say I had the highest expectations, but I expected to be drawn back to the world that Anne Rice created with these rich, beautiful vampires wandering around the globe.

Unfortunately, this novel disappointed me. There were too many characters and each had their own chapters to tell their stories. It wasn’t until the end when Lestat, oh the enigmatic Lestat, finally came to the front of the story to take his thrown as the Prince of Vampires and the central narrator of the story.

Overall, I love the Vampire Chronicles. This was one of, or the, weakest book of the group. It was hard to get through the first half or 2/3, but once I did, I enjoyed the novel. I believe Anne Rice wrote this for her fans who wanted to know what’s been happening with all the characters and instead of breaking up the tales, she shoved them all under one cover. Oh well, can’t win them all.

Read July 2015

Her Fearful Symmetry

Audrey Niffenegger tells the story of beautiful twins and how twin-ness can consume them. 20 years ago, Elspeth and Edie parted, never to be together agin, when Edie left her twin and England under strange circumstances that no one quite understood. Edie and her husband have twin daughters who are beautiful mirror images of each other, outside and inside. Julia is the strong willed twin and Valentina is more timid and sickly, and both are currently stagnating in their parents house.

When Elspeth receives a terminal diagnosis, she writes her will so her nieces will inherit everything with a caveat being that the girls must live in Elspeth’s apartment for a year and their parents are barred from entering the apartment.

Niffenegger creates a gothic novel with Julia and Velentina living a warped life, totally codependent on each other and their twin-ness. Once they move into Elspeth’s apartment, right next to the famous Highgate Cemetery, Niffenegger begins to show the differences between the 2 girls. Their symmetry and closeness only allows for one personality to thrive but there are 2 of them to contend with.

To add more strangeness to the story, Elspeth, who passed away early on, begins a second life trapped within her apartment walls. While the twins and Elspeth get to know each other, the story about why the mom and aunt are estranged remains a secret.

This ghost story delves into the supernatural and creates a reality that many hope exists, life after death. Although I cannot imagine anyone hoping that when they die they get trapped in their home to watch the next generation of twins living out a replica of their life. This is a strange, compelling story that I had a hard time putting down. And unlike many horror books that lose their audience with the final horrific reveal, in Her Fearful Symmetry, Niffenegger keeps the reader engaged and the story plausible until the end. Creepy as the end is, I still bought it and all the characterization throughout the novel lead the characters to making the choices they made and created the ending.

Great read! Read October 2014.

Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein went through multiple editions and changes, and the version I read is mostly based on the third edition from 1831 and some text from 1818. I learned that this story originated when Mary Shelley was holed up in a vacation home and the group decided to have a contest to see who could write the scariest story. Shelley was inspired to begin the Frankenstein story on that vacation and work at it through her life.

The novel itself was difficult for me to start due to the slow beginning and archaic language, but once we meet Frankenstein the story is fascinating. Shelley skips a lot of the details on how he created the monster just as Frankenstein skips over his responsibility in the creation. The monster, while feared at first, becomes an intelligent being who just wants what most of us want in life: companionship, love, family. The problem being that he’s a hideous creature from whom everyone runs. He wants to be good. He tries to be good. But the nature of man to fear him, changes him and turns him into the monster that everyone already thinks he is.

Its a very interesting story about how science brings man too close to being God-like, and man cannot handle the responsibility of creating life. Frankenstein immediately runs from his creation, beginning the downward spiral of his life. Shelley allows the reader to feel empathy and compassion to the monster, which Frankenstein cannot, by telling his story of what happened once abandoned by his creator.

This novel has survived for so long due to its originality and also because Shelley is questioning man’s role in the world. Should man strive to be God-life, or should he remain ignorant to protect himself. Its an interesting story told during a time of great scientific and medical breakthroughs, but its still relevant today in the discussion of GMOs. When should man stop interfering with the natural order.

Although difficult to read, I chose to read this since its one of the first horror novels written by a woman. This novel may have been heavily helped by her poet husband, Percy Shelley, but the idea and originality came from Mary Shelley. This book took me much longer to read than most others, but it was worth it.

Read October 2014

One Kick

Chelsea Cain’s newest character is not for the faint of heart. She introduces us to Kick Lannigan in One Kick and it is a memorable meeting.

Kick has not had a normal life. She was kidnapped at a young age to be transformed into a child porn starring in her own series of films where she is known by her alter ego Beth. It took a lot of isolation and torture to transform a regular 6 year old into a pedophile’s dream. Now 21, Kick is still dealing with issues from her abuse and dedicates herself to never being powerless again. She is strong and armed, no matter where she goes.

She is recruited by Bishop, who is looking into the recent disappearance of 2 children. Bishop, who has his own messed up childhood, is focused on finding the missing children in a separate investigation from the FBI. He has resources and methods that far exceed the government’s ability and he wants Kick’s memories and instincts to help located the children.

Cain writes of brutalities against children and this might turn off many readers. This is not an easy book to read, especially since so many details of her fiction are reality for some children. It breaks my heart to think that there are children in the world who have experienced Kick’s childhood and many who are never returned home. By having Kick as the main character, Cain explores the psychological response that a child might have to regular life. All the while engaging Kick in an investigation that threatens her life but might help save a child like her.

This is a hard, but great read. Cain is a great horror writer.

Read October 2014

Broken Monsters

I read Broken Monsters after reading an article where Stephen King, the king of horror, recommended it. I was not disappointed.

What a story! Lauren Beukes has a handful of main characters that tell the story of a man succumbing to madness. But no matter who the narrator was, the city held the main stage. The decrepitness of the city, the population fleeing, the artists trying to dress up the crumbling houses, the homeless surviving on what’s left behind by those leaving, the children growing up while the landscape dies. All the characters are essential to this story but it wouldn’t be the same in another city. All the characters are witness to the descent of the city and the madman that is slowly terrorizing it, but they all have their own story to tell as well including single parenthood, failed aspirations, bullying, creating art, friendships, and priorities in life. Life must go on even when it seems like the city is over.

As we learn about how those living in a shrinking city are surviving and sometimes flourishing, we also get glimpses into madness. The madness should almost be its own character since it doesn’t seem to be a man, but something that controls man outside of himself.

This book is dark with an evilness that most novels stay away from. It is so well done and creepy with a ending that holds up and transforms the story. Great read!

Read September 2014.