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

3

graveyard antemortem

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

Poison City: An Adult Fiction Read-It-If Review

2

read it if NEW BUTTON

After a week of kidlit, I’ve got a grown-up book for you today, full of supernatural menace and shady police work.  We received Poison City by Paul Crilley from the publisher via Netgalley for review and were quite amazed to find out how closely it resembles one of our favourite supernatural police series….at least in the opening chapters.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The name’s Gideon Tau, but everyone just calls me London. I work for the Delphic Division, the occult investigative unit of the South African Police Service. My life revolves around two things – finding out who killed my daughter and imagining what I’m going to do to the bastard when I catch him.

I have two friends. The first is my boss, Armitage, a fifty-something DCI from Yorkshire who looks more like someone’s mother than a cop. Don’t let that fool you. The second is the dog, my magical spirit guide. He talks, he watches TV all day, and he’s a mean drunk.

Life is pretty routine – I solve crimes, I search for my daughter’s killer. Wash, rinse, repeat. Until the day I’m called out to the murder of a ramanga – a low-key vampire – basically, the tabloid journalist of the vampire world. It looks like an open and shut case. There’s even CCTV footage of the killer.

Except… the face on the CCTV footage? It’s the face of the man who killed my daughter. I’m about to face a tough choice. Catch her killer or save the world? I can’t do both.

It’s not looking good for the world.

Poison City is the first in a fantastical new series for fans of Ben Aaronovitch, Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz and Stephen King.

poison city

Read it if:

*you think there should be more supernatural police dramas set in South Africa

*you suspect your dog might have a problem with alcohol

*you wish there was a clever narrative device springing from which, when a favourite character dies, is a cheeky method of slotting them straight back into the story

*for you, diversity in literature means opening up the floor to gods, goddesses, spooks and ghouls from every nation and creed

*you are really just hoping to find a gritty, edgy, funny, violent, unexpected police series that happens to feature vampires, orishas and the Almighty

Poison City was an unexpected find.  Having seen a brief review of it and become intrigued by the possibility of an alcoholic, talking dog, I knew it was only a matter of time before I laid claw on it.  What I didn’t expect was how much it reminded me of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series.  This is one of the Shelf’s favourite series ever (and we can’t wait to receive book six, The Hanging Tree, on pre-order any day now!).  Honestly, the first few chapters of Poison City read exactly as if Peter Grant had moved to South Africa, suffered a great personal tragedy, and taken to hanging out with an alcoholic, talking dog.  While this felt a bit weird to being with, it certainly helped me to ease into the story.

The book features the (mis)adventures of “London” Tau, who works at the police department’s Delphic Division, solving crimes that involve creatures not of this world.  Or at least, not of the human part of this world.  The alcoholic, talking dog is his slightly sub-par spirit guide, who spends most of his time sleeping and generally not being very helpful. I had high expectations for the dog, but I feel he was a bit underused, as Tau spends most of his time, rather unsurprisingly I suppose, solving mysteries with his partner.  Police partner, that is.

The book is far more violent and edgy than the Peter Grant series, with some pretty graphic scenes of gore and hearts being ripped out and so forth.  If that’s not your bag, you probably aren’t going to want to venture into this one.  By the end, I was a bit put off by all the violence, but I have to admit that the last few chapters certainly culminated in some surprising revelations about who was behind the dramas causing headaches for Tau.

Overall, this was a fast-paced, action-packed read, punctuated with humour and twists that I certainly didn’t see coming.  If you are up for a fairly graphic police procedural with an ungodly twist, then I can definitely recommend Poison City as a worthy choice.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

An Indie, MG Maniacal Book Club Review: Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang…

2

manical book club button

Today’s pick from the Maniacal Book Club features a Korean main character, some American bullying and some all-out, strange, generational magic. We received a copy of Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang, the first in an indie series for middle grade readers, from the author, Tim Learn, for review.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Chewy Noh has problems. He was born with them. Two weeks after his birth, the family fortune-teller saw bad things in his future…and she was right. The school bully hates him and will stop at nothing to get rid of him. His mother suddenly can’t get out of bed, complaining of horrible headaches. And worst of all, the secret his grandmother is hiding may be at the root of it all. But why should he worry? He’s a superhero with a power no one’s ever seen before!

chewy noh

Let’s hear what the Book Club have to say, shall we?

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

While many have sought my wise counsel over my many years of existence, I have never been fortunate enough to wield powers like those of the Mu-dang. In this tale, Chewy takes on the power of an ancient spirit and finds the power within himself to change the course of his existence. But is a young boy worthy of such knowledge, such advantage? I would urge caution and prudence should you ever come into a magically-rendered gift of your own, thoughtful reader.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book. There’s some pretty cool witchy stuff though and a whole bunch of people who aren’t really what they seem. I didn’t like the bullies – I wouldn’t mind if they got eaten by a dragon. And the girls were a bit weird too. But Chewy and Clint were pretty cool. Ordinary, but cool. It would have been better if there were dragons. To eat the bullies.

 

Mad Marthamaniacal book club martha

When selecting a secret new power

Be prepared for your gift to turn sour

For with greatest intentions

Magic interventions,

Your best laid of plans, can devour

maniacal book club bruce Bruce

Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang is going to greatly appeal to those young readers looking for something a little different. For a start, Chewy himself is Korean, an ethnicity we don’t often see in middle-grade books and the author has included a host of interesting mythology and magic narrative from that part of the world. Secondly, this isn’t the expected sort of superhero book, where the main character suddenly sprouts an obvious and visible power and has to decide how to wield it.

Chewy is a laid-back every-man sort of a kid and his power is just as understated as he is. Because of this, the story follows the common, new-kid-being-picked-on plot line, with some superpowered antics thrown in. Having said that, the book does have a few features that make it stand out from the norm. There are the references to the Mu-Dang and the storyline related to Chewy’s family and secrets that have been kept that could change who Chewy is and how he thinks about his family. There’s also the fact that Chewy and Clint, although experiencing bullying, are more curious than vengeful toward their bullies’ behaviour.

I did have a few problems with the story. While I enjoyed the supernatural bits, the other parts – in which Chewy and Clint form a friendship and deal with the bullies – was pretty run-of-the-mill. I would have loved to have seen more focus on the magical side of the story. A plotline involving two girls in Chewy’s class also muddied the waters as it just seemed to range all over the place. I couldn’t follow why the girls were behaving as they were or what their motivations might have been and the whole plot line seemed tacked on and superfluous.

Also interrupting my enjoyment of the story was the bugbear of many an indie publication – a lack of hard-core editing. I found that the overall narration lacked a clear voice and that there was far too much unnecessary dialogue and description of mundane things as a result. I had that uncanny feeling that I’ve had before while reading indie works, that I was actually reading a translation, because the words don’t flow as well as one would expect.

Overall, this would be a good pick for middle-graders looking for some diversity in the characters that they are reading about and for those who want an unexpected twist on the superhero genre.

The Maniacal Book Club gives this book:

image image image

Three Thumbs Up!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

 

Mondays are for Murder: Morgue Drawer Four…

0

image

Thank you for joining me for another edition of Mondays are for Murder. Today I have a book that I’ve been stalking for a while, waiting for it to come on special somewhere so I could pounce on it. Obviously that happy day came so I added it to my Kindle with great haste and efficiency. I speak of the first book in Jutta Profijt’s Morgue Drawer series, Morgue Drawer Four. I should also mention that the particular version I read was a translation from the original German, so I feel it is only fair to mention that the translator is Erik J. Macki, because he has done a wonderful job here.

Anyway, on to more murderous things. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Coroner is the perfect job for Dr. Martin Gänsewein, who spends his days in peace and quiet autopsying dead bodies for the city of Cologne. Shy, but scrupulous, Martin appreciates his taciturn clients–until the day one of them starts talking to him. It seems the ghost of a recently deceased (and surprisingly chatty) small-time car thief named Pascha is lingering near his lifeless body in drawer number four of Martin’s morgue. He remains for one reason: his “accidental” death was, in fact, murder. Pascha is furious his case will go unsolved–to say nothing of his body’s dissection upon Martin’s autopsy table. But since Martin is the only person Pascha can communicate with, the ghost settles in with the good pathologist, determined to bring the truth of his death to light. Now Martin’s staid life is rudely upended as he finds himself navigating Cologne’s red-light district and the dark world of German car smuggling. Unless Pascha can come up with a plan–and fast–Martin will soon be joining him in the spirit world. Witty and unexpected, Morgue Drawer Four introduces a memorable (and reluctant) detective unlike any other in fiction today.

morgue drawer four

The Usual Suspects:

Given that Pascha (who also goes by Sascha, for reasons that were fairly obscure to me) was a bit of a shady wheeler-dealer when alive, it doesn’t take much foresight to predict that the usual suspects in this case are likely to be similarly shade-loving. There are sex-workers, car smugglers, petty criminals, and bar owners all thrown into the mix as poor, put-upon Martin risks life, limb and sanity to bring Pascha’s possible murderer to justice. And prove that there was in fact a murder in the first place.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

The investigation is pretty much a comedy of errors as Martin – law-abiding, waistcoat-wearing, three-wheel-car-driving Martin – attempts to question a parade of unsavoury characters without having his face bashed in. In the early part of the book there are very few clues to go on, and the pace dragged a bit, but by the halfway point there are some definite leads – and some extra, unexpected corpses – and the lads begin to unravel the tangled motivations of those involved.

Overall Rating

poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art

 

Three poison bottles for a series opener that has great potential for guts, glory and German comedy

After having anticipated reading this for quite a while, I found myself both gratified and mildly disappointed in this tale. The story didn’t have quite the murder-mystery punch I was hoping for in the actual investigation side of the plot, but it certainly made up for that in the hilarious banter and distinctive, vivid voice of Pascha. The translator really needs credit for bringing across both the meaning and the comedy behind the meaning, because he has brought Pascha from German into English in living, bawdy colour. The relationship building between Martin and Pascha was really at the forefront of this book, rather than the murder, but now that the relationship is established, I am very interested to see how this series will pan out. If you are looking for a murder-mystery series that balances death with a strong, funny character pairing then I’d definitely add this one to your list.

image

*Bruce just ticked another book off Mount TBR*

Until next time,

Bruce

A Super-Spooky, Adult Fiction GSQ Review: Suicide Forest…

2

imageAre you sitting comfortably? Got the lights on? Wearing undies with reinforced gussets? Then you’re all set for today’s jaunt into the particularly creepy, horror novel set in Japan, Suicide Forest by Jeremy Bates. I received a copy of this one from the author for review and it certainly lived up to the series tagline “The World’s Scariest Places”.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Just outside of Tokyo lies Aokigahara, a vast forest and one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Japan…and also the most infamous spot to commit suicide in the world. Legend has it that the spirits of those many suicides are still roaming, haunting deep in the ancient woods.

When bad weather prevents a group of friends from climbing neighboring Mt. Fuji, they decide to spend the night camping in Aokigahara. But they get more than they bargained for when one of them is found hanged in the morning—and they realize there might be some truth to the legends after all.

suicide forest 2The Good

Bates has done a brilliant job here of capturing the natural spine-tingliness of a place in which many have died by theirimage own hand.  The multiple death factor, coupled with the organic spookiness of dark, ancient woodland certainly provide the perfect setting for an unwitting set of hikers to experience nefarious doings. The best parts of this book are the slow build to the really terror-ridden parts of the story, and the dramatic twist toward the end of the book. For the straight horror fan, this book has everything – there’s gore and violence, ghosts, suspicion amongst the group, a potential stalker, and an ever-present, unseen menace hovering over the whole shebang.

Oh, and it’s set against the beautiful backdrop of Mt Fuji.

The Sad

There were only a few annoying niggles in this tome from my point of view, and these generally had sorted themselves out by two-thirds of the way through. Initially, the antics of the main character group had me thinking that I’d imageaccidentally picked up a schlock-horror book for the YA set, as none of the group seemed to be able to act (or think) like an adult. The childish egging on and teasing by some members of the group to convince others to continue further into the forest seemed very YA-like, but more so was the way in which the characters caved in to this teasing. Is this a collection of Marty McFly wannabes, I thought, who lose all sense of reason when someone calls them yellow? It seemed to me that if I didn’t want to go hiking in a suicide forest, being called a pussy would be unlikely to change my mind. Again, this was a small but persistent annoyance during the first half of the book.

Another niggle was the character of John Scott, who appears as a hanger-on and generally brash, buffoon. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with the writing of the character, I just found him to be a pain in the arse to read.

Finally, I had one or two small issues with the plot of the book, particularly when it becomes clear that the group is completely lost and have spent much longer than expected in the forest. This mainly centred around the fact that there were people on the outside who knew where they were (such as their driver Honda and the wife of one of the group) and it seems strange to me that these people wouldn’t have raised the alarm when they didn’t turn up as expected. This is one of those times when I fear I was being too logical though – horror wouldn’t be horror if the pretty girl didn’t descend into the lightless basement on her own now, would it?

The Quirky

There is quite a bit of unexpectedness in this book that raises the level of excitement and interest in the story. First off, imagethe fact that Aokigahara exists at all is pretty quirky, as is the range of opinions held about it by the Japanese characters in the book. These range from general indifference through morbid curiosity to utter terror. The actions of “the suicides” as they are referred to, such as leaving makeshift gravesites and ribbons to mark their places, are an interesting psychological piece that helps both group and reader to connect with the sense that there may be more than just possessions left behind in the forest.

The story also has a fantastic blend of straight, atmospheric, supernatural horror and visceral, violent, injurious horror – I’m generally not a fan of plain violent bloodbaths, and sometimes a plain ghost story can get a bit predictable, so Bates has created a nice balance here that kept me in throes of terror right to the end.

The twist in the tail of the tale certainly took me by surprise, but Bates has gone even further by extending the story of the survivors after their escape from the forest. Just when I thought all the creepiness had crept its last, one final jab made its way under my carefully placed headgear. So all in all, there’s a lot going on in this tale and it will certainly keep you guessing until at least the second-last page.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. “Enjoyed” in the sense that it completely freaked me out and I had to sleep with the light on, grasping one of Mad Martha’s dreadlocks for comfort. I will not deny that I even emitted a little scream when, after having put the book down two-thirds of the way through for the night, the dog snuck into the room, giving the impression that the door was opening on its own. Such is the effect the story had on me.

Recommended for those who want a pervasive and memorable scare.

Until next time,

Bruce