Some Spooky Shorts for your Halloween: The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories…

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The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories by Susan Hill. Published by Allen & Unwin, October 26, 2016. RRP: $24.99

Any self-respecting fan of contemporary ghost story writing will immediately notice the vintage creepy charm of a cover design style that is synonymous with Susan Hill.  Having read and enjoyed The Small Hand a number of years ago, I decided to put Hill’s work on my radar and so was happy to receive a copy of The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories from Allen & Unwin for review, just in time for Halloween.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

From the foggy streets of Victorian London to the eerie perfection of 1950s suburbia, the everyday is invaded by the evil otherworldly in this unforgettable collection of new ghost stories from the author of The Woman in Black.

In the title story, on a murky evening in a warmly lit club off St James, a bishop listens closely as a paranormal detective recounts his most memorable case, one whose horrifying denouement took place in that very building.

In ‘The Front Room’, a devoutly Christian mother tries to protect her children from the evil influence of their grandmother, both when she is alive and when she is dead.

A lonely boy finds a friend in ‘Boy Number 21’, but years later he is forced to question the nature of that friendship, and to ask whether ghosts can perish in fires.

This is Susan Hill at her best, telling characteristically flesh-creeping and startling tales of thwarted ambition, terrifying revenge and supernatural stirrings that will leave readers wide-awake long into the night.

If this was the first Susan Hill book I had encountered and I read this collection in the traditional fashion (that is, from front to back), I might be forgiven for discarding this book halfway through as sub-par in quality.  As this is not my first Susan Hill book, I persevered and am very glad I did so because oddly enough, the final two stories of the four far outshine the first two in psychological creepiness and general paranormal entertainment.  But let us address each of the stories in turn, in the traditional fashion; that is to say, from front to back.

The collection opens with The Travelling Bag, a  story of professional betrayal and revenge told from a third person’s perspective and set in Victorian times.  This one certainly felt like it was going to be a spine-tingling paranormal winner, with a mystery immediately set up and the listener (as well as the reader) left in suspense for a spell.  The actual reveal felt a bit light for me though and I didn’t contract any of the sense of fear that the main character was supposedly feeling.  Overall, this story had a strong build-up, but petered off at the end.

Next up is Boy Twenty-One, which I thought I might enjoy the most, but ended up completely forgetting about as soon as I’d read it.  The story is set in a boarding school and centres around the friendship of two lonely boys.  This one felt as if it was either unplanned or unfinished – as if the author had a number of options with how to link the threads of the story together, but couldn’t decide which would be best and so ended up finishing the story abruptly with no real answers and no particular sense of mystery.  I literally did find this story so forgettable that I couldn’t remember anything about it before writing this review even though I’d only just finished the book a day or two ago and I had to go back and flick through it again.

Happily, the third story, Alice Baker, finally employs some good old-fashioned creep-factor with a ghostly, mind-twisty traditional sort of tale about the workers in a women’s typing pool (or similar).  This story has more of what you would expect from the term “ghost story” with obvious clues left about for clever readers, a slow build and the inevitable abrupt shock and reveal.  The ending probably won’t be much of a surprise to anyone who has ever read (or heard) a ghost story before, but there is something deliciously delightful about being drawn along with a character on a path toward certain fright.

The final story, The Front Room, was far and away the best of the lot in my opinion, employing psychological twists, and playing on familial and religious themes in all the right places to evoke the shiver-down-the-spine effect.  In this story, an ordinary family are inspired, after hearing their pastor’s weekly sermon about charity, to invite the husband’s elderly step-mother to live with them.  The tale takes the stereotypical “evil stepmother” trope to a whole new level, ending with a surprise and a lingering feeling of ickiness that will have you reconsidering inviting anyone to your place ever again.

On the whole, the final two stories of the collection really saved this one for me and with the first being passable, I’d have to say that this is another enjoyably scary offering from Susan Hill.  Others may have different opinions about Boy Twenty-One (and I’d love to hear your take on it if you’ve read it!), but if that story had been left out or replaced, this is definitely a book I would rave about.  As it stands, if you are looking for a suitably quick and frightening story to get you in the mood for Halloween, you should find what you are looking for in The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Deathly Dangerous Double Dip Review: Cell 7 and Circus Werewolves…

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If you are hankering after a book-sized snack with a dangerous flavour, then I’ve got just the thing for you today.  Two things in fact – one YA suspense tale and one MG horror comedy (horromedy?), so let’s jump straight in!

First up I have the fourth book in indie (yes, I know I said I wouldn’t, but I love this series too much), middle grade scary humour series, The Slug Pie Stories: How to Protect Your Neighbourhood from Circus Werewolves by Mick Bogerman.  We received this one for review from the author.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The circus is in town, and Mick Bogerman has a fail-proof plan to sneak inside the adults-only Macabre Pavilion. But there’s something weird about the A. Linville & Purnima Bros. Circus this year. Angry parents and crying kids exit early by the carload. Maybe it’s the clowns. Yes, they wear the standard stark-white faces and red bulbous noses, but underneath their painted smiles, there’s something not quite right. What’s more, after the full moon rises . . . they howl.

When Mick and his friends rescue a caged boy from the clown’s clutches they set off a series of disasters that threaten their entire neighborhood. Can Mick become the leader his neighbors need and protect them from the pack of hungry predators infiltrating their town?

Dip into it for… circus-werewolves

… fast-paced adventure, escaping death by the skin of one’s teeth and improvised werewolf deflecting weaponry.  It’s no secret that I love the originality of this series as well as the salt-of-the-earth narration from Mick Bogerman himself.  There are no frills to Mick – he’s a boyish boy with a strong sense of justice, a stronger sense of humour and a fierce protective streak for his younger brother Finley.  In this offering, Mick, Finley and their friends are excited to visit the circus, as they do every year, but are also wary of the reports they’ve been hearing about clowns that are far scarier than clowns have any right to be.  After the boys make a split-second decision to rescue a boy trapped in the “freak show” tent, they discover that they will now have the opportunity to see the clowns up close and personal.  

Don’t dip if…

…you’re a wussy wussbag.  Each of the books has a (possibly tongue-in-cheek!) warning to parents at the beginning, noting that the books are not for the faint-hearted and should only be read by kids of a strong constitution.  Otherwise, there’s nothing not to like.

Overall Dip Factor

The best thing about this series is that it is evolving with every book.  In this book a collection of Mick’s friends are integral to the action, and Mick and Finley’s globe-trotting Uncle George makes an important (and life-saving!) appearance.  The addition of so many extra characters gave the story a fresh energy, and as each of the characters is a bit quirky and unusual, the group of friends has quite a collection of unexpected skills and resources to hand, which is lucky when terrifying monsters seem to pop up around every corner. This book, like the others, is a reasonably quick read and the clever pacing means that there is no time to sit on one’s hands, as the action unfolds so quickly.   I’d highly recommend this one, especially to male readers of middle grade age.  Did I mention that you can also vote for the plot of the next Slug Pie Story by visiting their website?  I don’t want to get too excited, but the story featuring GARGOYLES is at the top of the rankings right now!! You can check it out and cast your vote here.

Go on, I’ll wait.

Now that that’s sorted, if you haven’t read the others in this series, you really should rectify that as soon as possible.

Next up we have Cell 7 by Kerry Drewery, a YA tale of suspense, privilege, choices and reality TV set in a speculative near-future.  We received a copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Should she live or die? You decide

An adored celebrity has been killed. Sixteen-year-old Martha Honeydew was found holding a gun, standing over the body.

Now Justice must prevail.

The general public will decide whether Martha is innocent or guilty by viewing daily episodes of the hugely popular TV showDeath is Justice, the only TV show that gives the power of life and death decisions – all for the price of a phone call.

Martha has admitted to the crime. But is she guilty? Or is reality sometimes more complicated than the images we are shown on TV?

Dip into it for…cell-7

…an intriguing take on the mob mentality and the ways in which mass media, entertainment and critical thinking intertwine in today’s society.  In a near-future that doesn’t look too far different from our present, courts have been abolished and the fate of prisoners is decided over a seven-day public voting period.  The motto “an eye for an eye” is the driver behind the TV program Death is Justice, and the viewers feel that they have a personal stake in dealing out deadly justice to perceived wrong-doers.  This book is a bit unusual in that it flicks between a number of points of view – Martha, from the inside of her death row cell; and Eve, her counsellor, in particular – as well as employing flashback scenes and running scripts from the Death is Justice television show.  This variety of style actually kept me more interested in the story than I otherwise would have been because it allows the situation in which Martha finds herself to be explored from a number of angles, and exposes the motivations of various characters.

Don’t dip if…

…you are hoping for a pacey story.  This book takes its time in giving the reader the full picture, although the information that is held back at the start of the novel does provide for an interesting mystery.

Overall Dip Factor

There was something about this book that screamed “high school set text” to me because it is such an issues-focused book, with justice, fairness and power being the issues under examination.  It was obvious from the beginning that there was more to Martha’s case than initially meets the eye, and it seemed to take quite a while to get to the crux of the issue.  I did enjoy the final few chapters of the book, when the flaws of the public voting system become apparent for all to see.  This part of the book was faster-paced than the earlier sections, and the impending and inevitable sense of danger added a bit of excitement to proceedings.  Because this did feel a bit didactic to me as an adult reader, I was a little disappointed to find out that there is a second book in the works.  I was quite satisfied with the ambiguity of what might happen to the characters given the events of the ending and I think it would have been a stronger conversation-starter if the story was left there.  Whatever the case, you should probably give it a read and let me know what you think!

After all that danger and daring, you could probably do with a cup of tea and a good lie down, so I’ll let you go, but do let me know which of these books takes your fancy.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Surprise! It’s an Indie YA Horror: In the Graveyard Antemortem

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Now I know I said that I wasn’t going to be reviewing any more self-published titles for a while, but I decided to make an exception for In the Graveyard Antemortem by Stephen Stromp.  I had reviewed his earlier novel Cracking Grace a couple of years back, and since I enjoyed it I thought I’d give this one a go too.

And I’m glad I did.

In the Graveyard Antemortem is nothing at all like Cracking Grace, but it is a super-fun mix of murder-mystery, ghost story, creepy family drama and gory hack-fest.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

*Winner of Amazon’s reader-powered Kindle Scout program.*

Seventeen-year-old Lisa Jacobs is determined to solve her father’s gruesome murder. But before she can investigate in her own small town, she is forced to spend the summer with her Uncle Clayton, the owner of Grand Hallow—a massive funeral and mortuary operation the size of a small city.

Her move to Grand Hallow only deepens the mystery as she begins to suspect the strange and chilling occurrences there are linked to her father’s death.

With the help of her acid-tongued best friend and deadbeat brother, Lisa must unravel the secrets of Grand Hallow—before it’s too late.

In the Graveyard Antemortem is a mystery/suspense novel with a healthy dash of horror.

The first thing you need to do before reading this one is suspend your disbelief.  This is meant to be entertainment, not a reflection of reality.  It took me a few chapters to realise this and early on I was thinking, “But that wouldn’t really happen!” and “Why would she behave like that?”  and so on and so forth.  After I twigged that this wasn’t meant to be an actual, reality-reflecting murder investigation type book, I suspended said disbelief and things got a whole lot more fun and engaging really fast.

It’s no secret that I love books about cemeteries and morticians and the death industry in general, and this book features an absolute cracker of a cemetery.  It’s enormous and labyrinthine and you just know there are at least a few shady goings-on hidden amongst the viewing rooms and mausoleums and morgues.  Ned, the assistant manager character who initially brings Lisa to Grand Hallow (in a hearse, obviously), became my favourite by the end, in no small part because he reminded me so much of the “Yes” guy on the Simpsons:

Tina, Lisa’s potty-mouthed friend, also became one of my favourites, simply for the colour and life that she brings to the story, as well as her forthright manner.

The story has a few distinct parts to it – or at least they felt distinct to me as I was reading.  The first focuses on the murder of Lisa’s father and the unexpected intervention of her estranged Uncle Clayton.  The second part really makes a feature of Grand Hallow and we start to see that all is not as it appears at this vast necropolis.  After that there is a section in which Lisa doesn’t know who she can trust – I found this to be quite a suspenseful part of the story with lots of action, although….the next bit blows all that to pieces and turns the story right on its head as some rather unsavoury practices are brought to light and the murder is finally solved. HA! BUT IS IT REALLY SOLVED?!  You’ll have to read to the end to tie up all the loose threads – and this final part of the story features most of the gore and horror action in a satisfyingly exuberant fight to the death.

If you are looking for a YA book that contains an absorbing mystery (well, more than one actually), a good dose of atmospheric suspense, some twists that you won’t see coming (and will probably make you go “Ew”, when you get to them), and a solid helping of supernatural tumult, then I would highly recommend giving In the Graveyard Antemortem a crack.

I received a copy from the author for review, but you can pick it up at either of these two Amazon sites:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HN4DJ9E

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01HN4DJ9E

Now don’t take this to mean that I’m reviewing self-published tomes again, because I’m not.  This was an enjoyable aberration and my policy still stands for now.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Hatching: A Great Expectations Review…

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The cover of today’s book carries a warning that it is “the most terrifying thriller you’ll read this year”, which is a pretty big call in my opinion.  Nevertheless, I was prepared to take The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone at face value and had major expectations for the scariness of the reading journey on which I was about to embark.  With a nod of thanks to Hachette Australia for providing the shelf with a copy of the book, we immediately turned to Goodreads to find out more about the story:

A local guide is leading wealthy tourists through a forest in Peru when a strange, black, skittering mass engulfs him and most of the party. FBI Agent Mike Rich is on a routine stakeout in Minneapolis when he’s suddenly called by the director himself to investigate a mysterious plane crash. A scientist studying earthquakes in India registers an unprecedented pattern in local seismic readings. The US president, her defence and national security advisers and her chief of staff are dumped into crisis mode when China “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb on a desolate region of its own country. As such unsettling occurrences mount, the president’s old friend (and her chief of staff’s ex-wife), spider expert Melanie Guyer, receives a box at her lab at American University that contains an ancient egg unearthed at a South American dig.

So begins The Hatching, the hair-raising saga of a single week in which an ancient, frighteningly predatory species of spider re-emerges in force. When the unusual egg in Melanie Guyer’s lab begins to vibrate and crack, she finds herself at the epicentre of this apocalyptic natural disaster. Working closely with her ex-husband and his very powerful boss, she has to find some way to stem the brutal tide of man-eating arachnids.

the hatching

What I Expected:

*the most terrifying thriller I would read this year

*an overwhelming sense of creepiness exuding from the sounds, sights and … more sounds…of thousands of spiders and their equally numerous and leggy offspring, intent on devouring humanity

*an almost unbearable level of suspense and a plot that rolled along at breakneck speed

What I Got:

*spiders that didn’t seem nearly as scary as those we currently have living in our houses here in Australia

*a ridiculous level of detail regarding characters’ sex lives and relationships

*a remarkably slow story, told from multiple viewpoints in a narrative style that could only be described as “mostly filler” and a reasonably predictable ending

So you may have noticed from the above that I wasn’t particularly riveted by The Hatching.  Far from being the most terrifying thriller I have read this year, it didn’t even make it into the “most terrifying thriller I’ve read this WEEK” spot, which was taken by YA post-apocalyptic, plague-fest, Remade.  All the elements were there for a really monstrous story – Killer spiders! Global panic! Governments turning on their own citizens! – but the execution was ham-fisted and unimaginative and I couldn’t get over the feeling that this type of story has been done numerous times before and that this offering didn’t add much to the killer animal/insect genre of horror.

One of the biggest problems I had with the book was the amount of unnecessary detail throughout.  The story is told from multiple alternating viewpoints – a style I normally enjoy – but we are subjected to enormous amounts of back story, mostly related to the sex lives of the characters, bizarrely, which seemed to have little or no relevance to the matter at hand – namely, escaping from ravenous spiders.  There is a real undercurrent of unnecessary smut going on in this book and I just couldn’t figure out why the editor let it all go through.  Almost every single character is engaging in some sort of sexual escapade – the professor sleeping with her student, the tour guide hoping to cheat on his girlfriend (who is cheating on him) with one of the supermodel concubines of a big fat rich man using his services….there’s even a couple called…wait for it…Fanny and Dick.

I kid you not.

I find it hard to believe that NO ONE else noted all these weirdly misplaced sexy goings-on during the editing of this book.  I’m no prude (well, I’m a bit of a prude to be honest), but I could not for the life of me figure out why all this relationship stuff was included in what was supposed to be a thriller, because it did nothing for me but slow the pace and distract away from the main premise – killer spiders!

The only characters seemingly not embroiled in some kind of sexual fiasco is a group of doomsday preppers, but once again, their sections of the story really didn’t add much to the whole shebang, given the fact that they are safely holed up in their doomsday bunkers.  In fact, most of the characters were so fundamentally unlikeable that I wouldn’t much have minded if the spiders won the day.

***MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT FOR THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!!!***

Despite my initial dislike for the story, I pushed on and eventually came to the end – and even that cheesed me off.  There is a point at which a whole bunch of dormant spiders have set up shop in a stadium and someone suggests the obvious solution – consigning the whole structure to the cleansing breath of hot, melty fire.  Strangely enough, the protagonists decide NOT to go with the whole “burn it down” solution and instead decide to watch for a while to see what happens.  And that, my friends, is why we are going to be burdened with a sequel to this not-particularly-well-constructed “thriller”.

***SPOILER ALERT OVER – NORMAL SERVICE ABOUT TO RESUME!***

As you can probably tell, I was massively disappointed with the execution of what could have been a really chilling tale.  Coming, as I do, from a spider-infested continent, I am well aware of how terrifying spiders can be (especially when they unexpectedly show up on your windscreen while you’re driving), but the amount of distracting filler in this book rendered any sense of suspense or fear non-existent for me.

Clearly, this was not the most terrifying thriller I will read this year, but do not let my cranky rantings put you off having at it if you’re keen.  You might find it scares you right out of your pants!  If so, you’ll be in good company, as most of the characters in this book seem to spend quite a bit of time engaging in pants-free activity.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A YA Double Dip: Lurking Monsters and Hidden Treasures

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You might want to select a snack that can be eaten on the run for today’s Double Dip review, because one of these books might have you dashing for safety.  Or perhaps you’d like to choose a snack that reminds you of home; some comfort food to ease you into the mood for today’s second YA offering.   We received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.

First up we have Nightfall by Jake Halpern and and Peter Kujawinski.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

On Marin’s island, sunrise doesn’t come every twenty-four hours—it comes every twenty-eight years. Now the sun is just a sliver of light on the horizon. The weather is turning cold and the shadows are growing long.

Because sunset triggers the tide to roll out hundreds of miles, the islanders are frantically preparing to sail south, where they will wait out the long Night.

Marin and her twin brother, Kana, help their anxious parents ready the house for departure. Locks must be taken off doors. Furniture must be arranged. Tables must be set. The rituals are puzzling—bizarre, even—but none of the adults in town will discuss why it has to be done this way.

Just as the ships are about to sail, a teenage boy goes missing—the twins’ friend Line. Marin and Kana are the only ones who know the truth about where Line’s gone, and the only way to rescue him is by doing it themselves. But Night is falling. Their island is changing.

And it may already be too late.

Dip into it for…  nightfall

…a broody, moody atmosphere that invites the reader to satiate their curiosity over what happens during Night on the island of Bliss.  There are a lot of questions raised during the early parts of the book – why do the villagers have to rush to leave the island? What’s so important about leaving the houses “without stain”?  What is this year’s worth of isolation for Marin all about? – and not all of these are fully answered by the end.  I didn’t feel bereft by the fact that some of the questions I had were left hanging, and I’m not sure if this is a standalone or a series opener, but the ambiguous ending worked effectively here either way.  I really felt drawn in by the writing in the first half of the book as I struggled, along with the protagonists Marin, Kana and Line, to make sense of the tension and odd ritual behaviour of the islanders before the fall of Night.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting a full on horror experience.  This definitely wasn’t scary in the traditional sense, but there are a few twists that I didn’t see coming.  I actually felt slightly less interested in the book once the secret of the Night was revealed, but for three quarters of the story I was deeply engaged.

Also, there is at least one gaping plot-hole that is never addressed, namely, why on earth would this group of people live on an island that they have to move away from every fourteen years, when there are clearly other places they could live?  I found this issue a niggling annoyance throughout the book, particularly when the frenzy of leaving is going on.

Overall Dip Factor

For the first three-quarters of this story, I would allocate 4 stars.  For the remaining quarter, 2.5 stars.  So overall, I did enjoy this book greatly, but my level of excitement and curiosity dipped considerably before the end.  The set up to the story was fantastic in that it really does make you want to find out what is behind the odd behaviour of the islanders, and as Night rolls in and the tide rolls out, the author has included some super cool twists that will ignite the imagination.  All in all, this was an unusual story and an engaging read for the most part.

Next up we have historical fiction novel The Search for the Homestead Treasure: A Mystery by Ann Treacy.  Here’s the blurb fom Goodreads:

Aunt Ida would boil him in the laundry cauldron if she knew where he was. On the long wagon ride to the old homestead, she warned them about the Gypsies they’d encountered, and now here he was, ducking into a colorful caravan with Samson, a Gypsy boy he had met . . . underwater. And it was the best thing to happen since they’d moved from Stillwater to this lonely, hard place to try to reclaim the decrepit family farm.

Missing his friends and life as it was before his brother’s accident and his mother’s silent grief, fourteen-year-old Martin Gunnarsson is trying to hold his family together on the homestead where his ancestors died of diphtheria in 1865. The only one who had survived was his father, a baby found in the arms of his older sister Cora. But somehow rumors of a treasure on the farm survived, too, and when Martin discovers Aunt Cora’s journal in a musty trunk in the hayloft, he thinks it might give him a clue. But what exactly is he looking for?

Reading Cora’s diary in secret, and just as stealthily becoming fast friends with Samson and his Roma family, Martin slowly begins to see his new surroundings, and himself, a little differently. But only when he recognizes that his small sister, for so long a mere pest, holds the true key does Martin start to understand where the real treasure might be found.

Dip into it for…  cover4

…an engaging family drama and historical fiction piece featuring friendship, hardship and one boy trying to connect to his past in order to secure his future.  The book opens at the close, so to speak, as we are privy to the final chapter of the life of Martin’s aunt Cora, and the events that lead to Martin’s father being raised by another family.  Soon enough we are introduced to Samson, a traveller boy and the first friend Martin makes in his ancestral home.  The story revolves around Martin’s efforts to save the family farm from foreclosure on behalf of his father, who has met with an accident.  The book flicks between Martin’s actions in the present and the nuggets of information that Martin can glean from Cora’s diary, which may offer the key to solving Martin’s problems.

Don’t dip if…

…you are hoping that the titular mystery and homestead treasure are going to play a big part in the story.   Rather than chasing after the elusive family treasure that may or may not be hidden on the farm, Martin devotes most of his time to doing more sensible things to save the farm, like engaging in hard work and asking for help from his new friends.  I couldn’t help but feel that this book was deliberately misleading in the title, to make it sound a bit more adventurous than it actually turned out to be.  This doesn’t mean it was a bad book, just not what I was expecting from the title.

Overall Dip Factor

I found this to be an engaging and interesting historical story featuring strong themes of friendship, the benefits of effort, loyalty and teamwork and the links between families that run through generations.  If you ignore the homestead treasure part, this is still a solid story that stands on its own merits, with characters that are well developed and a storyline that will appeal to young readers interested in tales of history and friendship.  Overall, while not exactly what I expected, I still found this to be a worthwhile read.

I will leave you at that, replete, as you are, with a repast of absorbing stories to digest.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

An Adult Fiction Spookfest (and Giveaway!): Hex…

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Bruce's Pick

I know they’ve been coming thick and fast this last few months, but today I have another Top Book of 2016 pick for you – and I enjoyed this one so much that I think that it’s vying for the top spot of my Top Book picks for 2016 with Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club.  We received an ARC of Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt from Hachette Australia (thanks!) and then we received a finished copy of the book (also from Hachette Australia – again, thanks!) so that means I have one print copy of the book to give away! Hooray!  Details on how to enter are at the end of this post.  But let’s get on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. So accustomed to her have the townsfolk become that they often forget she’s there. Or what a threat she poses. Because if the stitches are ever cut open, the story goes, the whole town will die.

The curse must not be allowed to spread. The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break the strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into a dark nightmare.

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Hex is a real psychological creeper of a tale. I should mention that the final chapters of this one had me mentally running in circles shrieking gibberish, so it’s the perfect pick for fans of creepy, urban horror.   Essentially, a town is held hostage, so to speak, by the presence of a ghostly witch in their midst.  Anyone who leaves town for too long develops compelling urges to commit suicide.  Strict rules are in place regarding curfews for visitors to the town.  Residents are required to report the witch’s whereabouts when they see her, using the town’s very own witch-spotting app.  But for the most part, the people of Black Spring get along just like everyone else.  Until, of course, they don’t.

I won’t spoil the plot for you by going into too much more detail, because this book relies heavily on the slowly unfolding, cumulative effects of the behaviours of certain townsfolk.  And you will get to know the townsfolk, with all their vices, foibles and motivations, as the story flicks between the characters throughout.  There’s the thin blue line of “police” who monitor the town’s many CCTV cameras to ensure the witch isn’t in danger of being discovered by outsiders, the group of teenagers who want nothing more than to throw off the shackles of the witch and have access to unrestricted internet, the local shopkeeper with a difficult past and a soft spot for the witch and a supporting cast that run the gamut of humanity in all its best and most base forms.  At its heart, putting the supernatural aspect aside, Hex is an absorbing exploration of motivations and regrets that will resonate with anyone who has ever wondered what they might do in certain situations when their loved ones are in danger.

One of the interesting things I discovered about this book after finishing it is that not only is it a translation from the original Dutch (I already knew that bit), but the setting has been changed for the English language edition, from a village in Holland to a town in the USA.  While I have mixed feelings about the need to do this, I have to commend the translator, author, editor and whoever else was involved in creating the switch in setting, because the town itself, its environment and history, is such an enormous part of the story.  The setting really drives a lot of the backstory of the witch, so I’m surprised and impressed at how thoroughly the change in setting, and its execution, was managed.

This is one of those stories that, even when it’s creeping you out completely, you still feel compelled to read.  Add to that the fact that I actually slept with the light on once I’d finished reading it and you’ll have a fairly good idea of how deeply this one got under my stony facade.  If you are a fan of books with a pervading atmosphere of latent menace and enjoy the type of horror story in which guessing the ending is almost impossible, then you should definitely get your hands on Hex.

AND TO AID YOU IN GETTING YOUR HANDS ON A COPY, HERE’S A GIVEAWAY!

I am giving away one print copy of Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, thanks to the generous folk at Hachette Australia.  The giveaway is open internationally and will run from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight on Wednesday the 18th of May (Brisbane time).  To enter, all you have to do is comment on this post and answer the question…

What is the most unexpected place that a witch could pop up?

The winner will be chosen using a random number generator from the pool of eligible comments.

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

An Odd TBR Friday and Fi50 Reminder…

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Before we kick off with another TBR Friday, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for April opens on Monday, with the prompt…

born to...

(You fill in the blank!)

To participate, just create a piece of poetry or prose in fewer than 51 words and link it up or post it in the comments of the Fi50 post on Monday.  For more detailed instructions and future prompts, just click here.
TBR Friday

I feel so productive on TBR Fridays!  I’m knocking another one off the enormous, ever-growing pile today and I feel this one counts double as it is a collection of short stories.  In fact, Oddest of All by Bruce Coville is the third in a series of short story anthologies from the aforementioned Bruce Coville.

oddest of all

Ten Second Synopsis:

This tome comprises nine short stories that all feature a bit of oddity.  All but one have a fantastical or sci-fi twist to them and the subjects range from werefrogs to unicorns to ghosts to doing what you’re told.

**Side note: I have just noticed something super weird – the cover in the image above says “Eighteen Odd stories” but the book I have in my hand (ostensibly the EXACT SAME edition), says NINE short stories…Odd indeed!**

Time on the TBR Shelf:

I can’t remember exactly, but I know I acquired this one in the dying months of 2015.

Acquired:

From the Cystic Fibrosis charity bookshop at Nundah that sells off all the books withdrawn from the BCC library’s collection.

Reason I Haven’t Read it Yet:

No particular reason except that other shinier newer books have taken my fancy.  It was one of those books that you pick up on a whim knowing that you won’t get to it immediately.

Best Bits:

  • The stories are all reasonably quick reads, with only one or two that stretch out a bit longer.  This is great because you can dip into a story here or there before sleep without too much difficulty.
  • Most of the stories had a humorous element to them so the collection reminded me of reading Paul Jenning’s brilliant anthologies as a mini-fleshling
  • My favourite stories in this collection were The Thing in Aunty Alma’s Pond, The Mask of Eamonn Tiyado and Herbert Hutchison in the Underworld because they all had a slightly creepy twist to them
  • Some of the stories here are shorter versions of a larger series, such as The Ghost Let Go, so there is scope for readers to continue the adventure in a longer reading experience

Less Impressive Bits:

  • I did feel that I had seen some of these stories before…not the actual stories of course, but the themes and plot twists.  I suspect this is because I have read quite a few short story anthologies aimed at this age group, especially from people like Anthony Horowitz and Neal Shusterman, who have covered similar topics

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Considering it was only $2, yes.

Where to now for this tome?

It will go to the permanent shelf at least until I decide I need more space or find someone who would really enjoy it.

That’s one more handhold grasped on my way up the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block!

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce