An Adult Fiction Haiku Review: Nyctophobia…

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Welcome, seekers of the light, to a spooky haiku review with me, your host, Mad Martha.  Today’s book focuses on a fear common to fleshlings and sock-creatures alike: the fear of the dark.  Light your candle/gas lamp/super-powered LED torch and let’s creep quietly down the darkened corridors of Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler.

Callie hasn’t had the easiest of journeys so far in life, but since marrying older, dark, handsome Spaniard Matteo, things have been looking up.  Giving up work as an architect, Callie moves with Matteo to Spain and is immediately drawn to the remote and mysterious Hyperion House, with its strange architectural style that keeps the majority of the house in direct sunlight for the greatest part of the day.  After moving in, Callie begins to research the history of the house in an attempt to discover the reasons behind some its more bizarre features; apart from the lack of shadows in the main living area, the back of the house appears to be built into a cliff, rendering it into almost total darkness, and the servants quarters seem to be built as an exact replica of the main house, but at a third of their size.  As Callie digs deeper into the house’s secrets she becomes convinced that there are “others” living in the locked, dark servants’ quarters – others that wish to do her family harm.  As Matteo is increasingly absent due to work and Callie has no one to turn to but his nine-year-old daughter Bobbie, things become very confusing for Callie very quickly.  But perhaps some secrets are best left buried: for if we do not heed the lessons of history, we may be doomed to repeat them.

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Noises in the walls

are the least of her worries

What price, happiness?

This is not your typical gory, deaths-aplenty horror story (although there are a few deaths here).  Nor is it your run-of-the-mill ghosts in the attic story (although there are indeed ghosts inhabiting various rooms also).  Nyctophobia is instead a psychological, mess-with-your-head, things aren’t what they seem (or are they?) type horror story, and as such, Christopher Fowler has done a very thorough job at creating an atmosphere of confusion and secrecy throughout the book.

If you enjoy haunted house stories, you’ll probably enjoy this.  While defining it as a “haunted house” story is a major simplification – this is a complex book that layers traditional motifs with Spanish history, familial history and episodes of mental illness – it is Hyperion House itself that is the star of the tale here.  I love the idea of a house built specifically to cater to those who are afraid of the dark – for in this story, the original builder of the house designed it with his nyctophobic wife in mind, to ensure that not one shadow penetrated the facade.  The bizarre architectural quirks add interest to the tale and provide Callie (and the reader) with hours of fun as she tries to figure out why they were built and why they are kept perpetually locked and in darkness.

The story has a well-thought out twist in the end that I didn’t see coming.  I won’t give you any clues as to what it might be, but it really threw everything that had happened before into a new light (pun intended!) and had me re-thinking earlier parts of the story.  The twist was nicely handled in that it was revealed matter-of-factly and the realisation of the implications of the twist were allowed to slowly percolate through Callie’s head (and the readers’!) before a slightly ambiguous ending.

The one problem I had with this book is that it felt to me like a hefty, dense read.  It’s only 320 pages, but it seemed to take a long time to really get into the meat of the “horror” elements – in fact, Callie’s first really frightening encounter with the suspected “others” doesn’t take place until chapter twenty-two, and for some people I suspect that’s going to be too long a wait.  If you are in the market for a ghostly, psychological thriller that takes a few Spanish siestas here and there, Nyctophobia could well be the book for you.

Until we meet again, may your torch batteries be ever inserted the right way round,

Mad Martha

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley *

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A Read-it-if Review for lovers of Spookiness: Shiverton Hall #2 The Creeper…

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Morning horror-lovers! Today I have a particularly creepy and fun read for you.  I’m pretty excited to be bringing it to you, because this second installment in the Shiverton Hall series by (the intriguingly named) Emerald Fennell has cemented the series as one of my new favourites.  Today I will present to you book two in the series, subtitled The Creeper.  I stumbled upon this series a few months back and was immediately drawn into the thrillingly chilling exploits of Arthur Bannister and his friends at the boarding school Shiverton Hall. Obviously then, when this one popped up on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer to request it – and I’m so happy I was approved because it is possibly even better than the first book and ensured that my heebies were thoroughly jeebied!

shiverton hallFor those unfamiliar with the series, I’ll give you a little overview before jumping into reviewing this new installment.  In Shiverton Hall, we meet Arthur Bannister, a young lad who experienced some trouble at his previous school and finds himself the recipient of a mysterious scholarship to the (slightly run down) boarding school, Shiverton Hall.  When an ex-pupil bursts into the principal’s welcome address, screaming at the students to beware their imaginary friends, Arthur begins to realise that Shiverton Hall is not all midnight feasts and play up, play up and play the game.  As a number of students begin to succumb to some strange behaviour, Arthur, along with his friends, ghost-story loving George and voice of reason Penny, attempt to figure out the mystery of the imaginary friends before anyone else is subjected to some supernatural and not-so-friendly behaviour.

You can read my (5 star!) review of the first book at Goodreads, here.

In book two, Arthur is all set to return to Shiverton Hall armed with some new knowledge about the hall itself and how he fits into it.  But before he leaves, Arthur is accosted by a horribly burned man in a hood who warns him not to return to school.  Arthur, though shaken, ignores the warning and is soon reunited with George, Penny, Jake, Xanthe and (unfortunately) the Forge triplets.  With an eccentric new art teacher and compulsory Wednesday afternoon activities assigned by principal Long-Pitt, Arthur has plenty on his plate without having to think about crazy warnings from creepy strangers.  After a few lessons with Mr Cornwall however, the students uncover the legend of the Creeper – a mysterious painted figure, whose absence from his painting usually indicates that a child is about to go missing.  The story sounds easy to discount – except when you consider that a young boy has recently gone missing from Grimstone without trace.  Through his Wednesday afternoon visits to an elderly lady in Grimstone, Arthur finds out more about the strange and violent history of the town and Shiverton Hall.  On investigating the missing boy himself, Arthur also finds out about an old book that may have played a part in the disappearance.  With danger closing in all around, and more encounters with the burned man, it looks like Arthur’s second year at Shiverton Hall will be just as eventful as his first!

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Read it if:

* you’ve ever thought that returning to school for another year might be a bad idea (with or without assistance from a horribly burned stranger)

* you (like me), can’t go past a book that has stories within stories…particularly if the stories within are even scarier than the story without

* you believe that a psychic medium must be real if he goes by the name Alan

Right, so as I mentioned, I really like this series and I will be buying the first two very soon to be placed reverently on my “special” shelf, so clearly I will be singing its praises in this review.  Allow me to get a few little niggles out of the way first.  The main problem I had with the book was the fact that this installment seemed to have a number of similarities to the second book of the Harry Potter series.  There’s the warning to the main character not to return to school, there’s a sinister book involved in the plot and there’s the sudden appearance of a vain, eccentric new teacher with very little teaching talent.  Admittedly, these are all resolved in very different ways to the Potter series, but those few commonalities (especially as they happen fairly early on in the book) may be enough for some people to put this down as a rip-off of that more famous set of books.  They would be foolish to do so, in my opinion, but I felt I should put the warning out there, because even I was having a few qualms as I was reading.

But onto the good (awesome!) stuff.  One of the reasons I love this series so, is that Fennell has deftly woven a bunch of original short horror tales into the main plot of the story.  In the first book it is mainly George who is the narrator of these tales, and in this book they mostly come from Arthur’s elderly friend Mrs Todd, but much like Chris Priestley’s Tales of Terror series, these stories add immensely to the pacing and creepiness and spine-tingly-dingliness of the main plot.  They’re like little islands of terror dotted off the mainland of Arthur’s adventures.  I would never consider myself to be a lover of horror stories, but I must be of the closet variety, because I LOVE these scary snippets – being chilled to the stone by the likes of Skinless Tom and Grey Mary just adds to the reading experience of this series.  My favourite of these mini-stories was Husband and Wife – what a ripper! – that features some utterly strange strangers that you would be well advised to avoid, should you bump into them in the (shadow) street.

Another thing I love about the series is the banter between George, Penny and Arthur.  George has some classic one-liners thoughout both books and Fennell has a wonderful, dry sense of humour (the best kind!) that includes unexpected and hilarious interjections and extremely colourful and giggle-worthy descriptions.  One of my favourites of this book was the description of George’s self-portrait, in which we are told that while George attempts to paint himself in a suit of armour, the end result turns out looking more like a potato draped in ferrets.  Oh, the imagery!

Overall, the characters are strong and believable, the tales and back-story surrounding Arthur and Shiverton Hall are thorough and detailed, and the writing is highly engaging and filled with humour, as well as creepiness.

If you like a rollicking mystery that also contains true look-over-your-shoulder scariness, this is the series for you.  Shiverton Hall: The Creeper is released on June 5th.  Get on it, my friends.

I’m off to drape a potato in ferrets,

Bruce

*I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review*

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Read it if…..: Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling

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Today I’m bringing to you some good reasons to pick up Michael Boccacino’s first effort (and a pretty darn impressive effort it is!) at a full length novel, Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling.  It is a delightfully different hybrid of ghost story, science fiction and Victoran gothic, but comes together in a very satisfying and spooky fashion.

Read it if…..

* you like books authored by people whose name resembles a tasty foodstuff (in this case cheese, but really, it could be any foodstuff)

* you have ever had a dream about a lost loved one and wished that it (a) could go on a bit longer or (b) make some sense

*you enjoy a spooky, traditional ghost story that seamlessly integrates creatures that could have escaped from HP Lovecraft’s imagination

*you enjoy stories in which Death appears as a cheerful and amiable chap

*you’re a sucker for a plucky young governess who is drawn into events beyond her wildest imaginings and somehow finds the strength within herself to fight back

This is a great little read – I finished it in just a few sittings and was drawn in from the very first page.  Boccacino delivers some startlingly good prose here and I’ll be keeping my eyes out for any further efforts on his part.  So do yourself a favour and wrap your suckered tentacles around Charlottel Markham and her quirky, creepy, deadly adventures.

Until next time,

Bruce