Posts tagged ‘Horror’

Slade House

Warning: This review contains things that some may consider minor spoilers.

Slade House.jpgTitle: Slade House
Author: David Mitchell
Narrators: Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues
ISBN: 9781101923672 (audiobook), 9780812998689 (hardcover)
Discs/CDs: 6 CDs, 7 hours
Pages: 238 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015.

Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door. Down the road from a working-class pub, along a narrow brick alley, you just might find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the residents of Slade House extend an invitation to someone who’s different or lonely; a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside? For those who find out, it’s already too late… (back cover)

I don’t think I could have more efficiently summarized the plot or the tone of this novel which is why I quoted the back cover rather than reveal any of the details that are slowly spooled out. David Mitchell’s story is masterful and I need to add him to authors that I need to read more often. The suspense and intrigue are palatable, as readers slowly gain knowledge of how Slade House works. In the first chapter, we meet Nathan Bishop and his mother, and every subsequent story builds on the first. That I think is the first mistake, as the connections between the events every nine years spiral outward.

Narrators Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues invoke an appropriately eerie mood and captures the unique personalities with equal skill. Judd’s younger Nathan Bishop has the naiveté of a young man, possibly with Asperger’s, who doesn’t understand social cues and probably makes him the most humorous character:

“The next three windows have net curtain, but then I see a TV with wrestling […] Eight house later I see Godzilla on BBC2. He knocks down a pylon just by blundering into it and a Japanese fireman with a sweaty face is shouting into a radio. Now Godzilla’s picked up a train, which makes no sense because amphibians don’t have thumbs. Maybe Godzilla’s thumb’s like a panda’s so-called thumb, which is really an evolved claw.” (5)

Detective Inspector Gordon Edmunds is the stereotypical English “copper”, with clipped, no-nonsense, jaded sarcasm who takes his job seriously, even if it’s just to avoid his boss. Chloe Chetwynd’s voice is also appropriately whispery and tentative. Rodrigues’ is tasked to provide not only the majority of the book, but also has her voice slightly modulated to provide voice to electronic recordings. Between Sally’s confusion, Freya’s trepidation, and the cautious professionalism of Marinus, she showcases an impressive range. The shift in narrators for each chapter is understandable but the choice in narrator for the last chapter is jarring and questionable until the chapter progresses, and especially when you get to the last page and fresh goosebumps arise at the ending’s implications.

The only quibble I have is that the nature of Slade House necessitates huge revelations of information in the guise of investigations, by both amateurs and professionals. It’s like watching a spider weave its web around the prey, and then gloating about how easy it was to catch the fly in the sprung trap. The reason these summaries don’t grow boring is that new information is always provided, leading readers to a nesting dolls affect where each layer is unveiled. Readers are yelling at the victims the entire time to get out, watch out, and just when you think you have it figured out, the next layer is revealed. While I was slightly disappointed by how that last chapter progressed and the new information that explained everything seemed slightly contrived, that previously mentioned last page almost makes up for the easy out. When you get to the end, you realize just how much foreshadowing has been sprinkled like breadcrumbs through the entire novel, and you want to go back and identify the clues. I predict this might end up on Adult Books for Teen Readers lists. There’s definitely appeal for those intrigued by the mysterious, spooky, and unexplained horror found in the plot.

After Dark

After DarkTitle: After Dark
Author: James Leck
ISBN: 9781771381109
Pages: 252 pages
Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press Ltd., c2015.

I lowered my hand toward the opening and eased the tweezers into the patient. When I was sure that I had a firm grip on the heart, I took a deep breath and began the extraction. A drop of sweat slipped down my left temple. A hush fell over the room. The patient’s heart was more than halfway out when the door flew open and the lights came on.
“What is going on in here?”

Fifteen-year-old Charlie Harker’s first day of summer vacation starts poorly when his mom announces that they, along with Charlie’s twin sister Lilith and older brother Johnny, are moving to Rolling Hills (population 1251) to renovate his great grandfather’s inn. It gets even worse the first night at the inn, when town crier Miles Van Helsing comes running up to them seeking sanctuary from the “humanoid creatures” supposedly chasing him. While the UFOs Miles has claimed to have seen never materialized, Charlie has to admit there are some weird things happening in town, including people with superhuman strength who avoid the sunlight and wear huge sunglasses even inside. Is Miles’ paranoia spreading to Charlie, or are the headaches and lethargy plaguing the town mysterious symptoms of something worse to come?
This is a page-turner by all standards! When I read The Undertakers by Drago way back in 2012, I mentioned the dearth of realistic zombie novels, wanting more Walking Dead then Warm Bodies. Some readers might be disappointed by the lack of a body count, but the tension and action is strong enough to warrant adding it to the short list. It encompasses sarcastic quips and thrilling chase scenes along with real danger of being changed into … well into whatever the residents are becoming.

Look Miles, it doesn’t matter if they’re crazy, on drugs, or if they’re vampires –“
“More like zombies,” he said, cutting me off.
“Vampires, zombies – call them zompires for all I care!”
“Zompires? That’s a ridiculous name.” (111)

The book reads like a script for a movie, with lots of action and tense scenes after the set-up of the very normal family (or at least, as normal as you can be with a superstar brother and martial arts trained sister) assuming the role of newcomers to an almost abandoned stretch of a small town. The crazy kid’s vigilance is vindicated and then he’s forced to confront what he was always imagining existed but never dreaming he’d have to face on his own. The characters are typecast but recognizably relatable, with Charlie’s mother becoming more exasperated at the antics of her son and this noisy, nosy neighbor kid. There’s a rational explanation for everything they claim to have seen, which prolongs the plot and anticipation. Readers and Charlie and Miles know better, but convincing everyone else is going to take time, quite possibly more time than they have until they too are assimilated. The technology is current without name dropping, with not a single Apple iPhone 6, only cell phones and surveillance videos, which get dropped, damaged, and discarded over the course of the plot. Is the ending convenient, yes, (thank you Kirkus review for reminding me of the term deus ex machina) but in the same way the movie Red Dawn ends conveniently, and that became a classic and an updated remake. Just when you think everything has been resolved, the twist ending sends new chills down your spine and has you looking over your shoulder. Read this as one last homage to the scary Halloween season, or put it on your list for next year.

The Nest

NestTitle: The Nest
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
ISBN: 9781481445474 (ARC), 9781481432320 (hardcover)
Pages: 244 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, c2015.
Publication Date: October 6, 2015 (TODAY!)

This review and quotes for this review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher.

With every rung I got angrier. My parents couldn’t even deal with the nest. I was allergic, but they were too busy. They were busy with the baby and would be for the rest of their lives, so I had to do it. I didn’t know if these wasps were really from my dreams, but I wanted them off my house. I wanted them out of my dreams. That nest was coming down. […]
First swing, and the bristles gently raked the bottom of the nest. The broom kept going. Grunting, I brought it back and tried again. It hit a little harder this time, and I saw some papery bits waft down.
The wasps came. In a rush they dropped from the bottom of the nest and swarmed around the bristles of the broom. I gripped the very tip of the handle and was preparing to give it a big upward shove, when I was suddenly aware of a single wasp on my left hand, then a second on the knuckles of my right. I froze. (90-92)

Steve’s parents are preoccupied by the health issues of their newborn baby, which doctors seem unable to diagnosis. Even Steve’s reaction to a wasp sting, which seem to be everywhere that summer, garners only minor attention. Steve dreams that the wasps can help the baby, so long as he agrees to help them. But are the wasps from his dream real, and if so, are their plans for his little brother really something he wants to happen?

This is a disturbing book, perfect for horror fans and those intrigued by Kafka’s metamorphosis. But really, how many middle school aged children are familiar with Kafka? It’s an unsettling story because readers, like Steve, are never quite sure what is real and what isn’t. Klassen’s black and white, blurry illustrations cast a further shadow over this dark story. Upon further review, instead of written numbers the chapters are designated by the number of wasps at the start of each chapter, with one of the final ones showcasing a swarm of undistinguishable quantity, a very subtle but ingenious design feature. I could possibly give this to kids who have outgrown Goosebumps, as it gave me goosebumps reading it. Not a story that you’ll easily forget, but also one that is not easy to recommend unless you are familiar with the reader. A definite departure from his previous title The Boundless, this one is sure to keep you up at night until you come to the somewhat predictable and thankfully happy conclusion.

What There is Before There is Anything There

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

What There Is Before There is Anything There LiniersTitle: What There is Before There is Anything There (originally published as Lo que hay antes de que haya algo)
Author/Illustrator: Liniers
ISBN: 9781554983858
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Original edition c2006 by Pequeno Editor, Buenos Aires, Argentina,
Text and illustrations c2006 by Liniers
English translation copyright c2014 by Elisa Amado, First published in English in Canada and the US in 2014 by Groundwood Books

This enigmatic story features a young boy being put to bed. As soon as the lights are turned off, the ceiling disappears, a varied assortment of silent “they” descend from the sky, and a dark that extends tendrils towards him follows. Racing to his parents’ room, they allow him to crawl into bed with them, where the beings resurface as soon as the parents are asleep and the lights are out. Is this proving that fears are not so easily conquered? All sorts of questions remain unanswered. While definitely strange in their appearance, the creatures (for lack of a better word) seem quite innocuous, although the boy doesn’t stick around to prove one way or the other. Daylight readings are recommended, because children may catch this nightmarish fear from the protagonist.

Squickerwonkers

SquickerwonkersTitle: The Squickerwonkers
Author: Evangeline Lilly
Illustrator: Johnny Fraser-Allen
ISBN: 9781783295456
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Titan Books, a division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd., c2013.
Published: November 2014

Selma, a spoiled girl with blonde pigtails, wonders into a wagon like structure. A laundry list of limericks introduces Selma to a marionette troupe, with each one assuming an undesirable trait that harkens back to the seven deadly sins, except there are nine marionettes and lust isn’t one of their traits (thank goodness). When she climbs onstage and the puppets pop her balloon, Selma threatens her grandfather will make them pay. But the grandfather is also a puppet and turns Selma over to the troupe to be made into a puppet.

Am I the only one left scratching my head trying to comprehend this heavy-handed moralistic plot meets Coraline? The only proof of Selma’s spoiled nature is the narrative. I feel like she has a right to be upset about creepy dolls popping her balloon. The introductions are so cursory that we have a name and an adjective, like those old camp pneumonic devices (Abigail’s Apple, Bobby’s Ball, etc.). There is an appropriately creepy setting and ending, but no discernible path on how we got there, no characterization, no plot. The simplistic and clunky rhymes leave me questioning how much of this is the book she originally wrote when she got the idea as a 14-year-old experimenting with Seuss like wordplay. It’s the first of a series of 18 BOOKS!? These should have been published as a collection of short stories, not individual volumes. No plot and no point. Please get better, quickly!

Through the Woods

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Through the WoodsTitle: Through the Woods
Author/Illustrator: Emily Carroll
ISBN: 9781442465954
Pages: unpaged (208 pages)
Publisher/Date: Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2014.

When I was little I used to read before I slept at night. And I read by the light of a lamp clipped to my headboard. Stark white, and bright, I dreaded turning it off. What if I reached out… just past the edge of the bed and SOMETHING, waiting there, GRABBED ME and pulled me down, into the DARK. (introduction)

Less is more in this eerily spooky collection of graphic short stories. Sparse narration and vivid drawings bring the chilling tales to life. There are vague connections to folk tales and fairy tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood, but Disney fans will be severely surprised, and possibly horrified. Each story has its own color palette that is used to the fullest extent, with white space (or in most cases black space) conveying the mood. The attention-grabbing blood red pops out of the page. Read it again to appreciate the striking illustrations, and while they “are rendered in ink and graphite on Bristol board and then digitally colored”, the beginning and end papers left me thinking of relief printing. Definitely recommended, just not for those prone to nightmares. This brings horror to a new high and the stories with open-endings will leave behind feelings of “could this happen to me”.

The Undertakers

Title: The Undertakers: Rise of the Corpses
Author: Ty Drago
ISBN: 9781402247859
Pages: 465 pages
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks, Inc., c2011.

Pratt was the neighborhood grouch. Somewhere in his seventies, he lived alone, kept to himself, and got pissed off more often and with less reason than anyone I’d ever met.
“I’m talking to you, Ritter!”
I tried to speak–I really did–but no sound came out. When you turn around expecting to see something familiar–not particularly pleasant but familiar–and instead see something else altogether, it takes a little while for your brain to catch up with your eyes. Some people might call it shock. I call it the holy crap factor.
Ernie Pratt was dead–very dead–which didn’t make much sense because as far as I knew, dead men didn’t get pissed.
He was wearing what he usually wore in the mornings: a white terry-cloth robe and slippers, except the skin inside the slippers had gone as dry as old paper. His face was gray and pulled tight around his skull. One of his eyes was hanging out of its socket, dangling by a short length of thick, corded tissue. The other one, looking milky and sightless, nevertheless stared at me. His lips were gone, receded, revealing a black-gummed mouth with only half the teeth it should have had, and even those were as yellow as old eggs.
Which is also how he smelled. (4-5)

Twelve year old Will Ritter wakes up one morning and realizes that his next-door neighbor has become a walking corpse. His day unfortunately goes from bad to worse when Will escapes on the school bus, only to realize when he gets to school that his assistant principal and math teacher are less than alive as well. After being rescued by classmate Helene (pronounced like it has three a’s) , Will becomes involved in a secret organization of kids called the Undertakers who are among the few people able to identify these Corpses. Will is less than pleased about being drafted into their organization, but soon realizes that there are few other options. As the organization is forced to consider switching their tactics from defensive to offensive, Will just might be the recruit they need to tip the scales in humanity’s favor.

My coworker and I were very intrigued when this book came in to see a zombie book for middle schoolers. How many other zombie books are out there for this age group? The cover is appropriately creepy and blood-red toned, which definitely adds to the appeal in my opinion.

The story itself rises to the occasion as well. The zombies–excuse me, Corpses–are described in gruesome detail. In the dedication, the author thanks his son “who read it and offered helpful (and often profound) insight into the realities of his age, his culture, and his mysterious language.” It definitely shows, with the text riddled with mild cussing (crap, hell, pissed, etc.) that is definitely warranted and rings true to the horrific, scary, and adventurous outings that the teens experience. Will’s pleas for his mom at one point is also unique, because so many times in children’s books the main character is just thrust in their world saving position and blindly accepts their new role. Will doesn’t, and is really reluctant to joining this group and getting involved, and his actions realistically reflect what some scared tweens would be feeling. I really appreciated that aspect of the story. Another realistic aspect of the book: people die. Books where no one dies in an end of the world preservation fight really annoy me, and the fact that the characters were affected and mourned the loss of their fellow fighters is even more authentic. The fighters solve their problems with ingenuity, technology, physical confrontations, and a little bit of luck. Okay, in some cases a LOT of luck, with people coming to the rescue just in the nick of time on more than one occasion. But Ty Drago (even the author’s name is cool!) does an admirable job explaining these last-minute saves, and it works without any trepidation crossing your mind as you’re reading.

It’s a fast paced, high energy novel that should get readers invested in the story. I could definitely see myself book talking this title to tweens and teens, especially around Halloween. There are twists and turns that readers don’t see coming, and although the ending is satisfying, it’s also open-ended enough to leave people excited about the sequel, Undertakers: Queen of the Dead which is coming out in October 1st (perfect again for Halloween!) AND there’s apparently a third one in the works too!

UPDATE: I did book talk this to fifth and sixth graders during my summer reading visits, and they wanted to get their hands on it immediately, especially the boys.

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