The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude

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Genres: Young Adult, Thriller, Mystery, Horror, Romance
Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 3rd 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“In nature, ivy and heather never grew together. They couldn’t because ivy liked shade, whereas heather required sun. They did better apart because, side by side, one withered.”

In a small town called The Glen, people have their own ways of doing things. They’re simple folk. They grow their own food, care for their animals and look out for their neighbours. And they never go in the woods. Everyone knows that Birch Markle has been hiding in the woods ever since he killed that girl – and he might just kill again.

The characters of this book were sort of a mix. Milo and Emmie Entwhistle are complex and fascinating characters. I’m in love with them and their relationships with other characters. Rook, Briar, Ivy’s parents, Violet and Dahlia are similarly interesting. On the flip side, I didn’t really find Ivy or Heather particularly good characters. They both fit a rigid archetype and sort of stick to it. They are perfect opposites, Heather is a sun and Ivy is cloudy. Unfortunately this doesn’t make them really interesting.

This book is creepy, and atmospheric. Jude has done a fantastic job at really detailing the little community that Ivy lives in. It’s absolutely vivid. The romance, while not the main focus of the book, is surprisingly well done. The sex scenes were written with care while not being explicit, something YA rarely accomplishes.

The superstitions Ivy has, the relationship between the townsfolk and the outsiders, and the mystery all pile on to make the meat of this book deliciously juicy. It was definitely not a fast-paced mystery, but it kept me guessing. Milo’s plotline was definitely the one I enjoyed the most and I feel he was a bit underused for such an interesting character.

The ending of this book is a bit of a mess to be quite honest. That’s not to say that it isn’t exciting and full of emotion, it’s just that so much is suddenly thrown at you. So many secrets revealed all while the characters are fighting for their lives. It’s quite a lot to take in during the last fifty pages and it left me reeling.

There were certainly a few unexpected twists which is always nice, but I think the ending being so convoluted dampened my enjoyment of the book a little. It had such good build up that a single twist ending would have worked brilliantly and satisfied readers. The multiple twist ending just feels like it’s trying too hard to shock you and some of the reveals had little to no foreshadowing which is always a disappointment.

This book is a slow burn and a true southern gothic, but the ending didn’t need to be quite as dramatic as it was.

 For Fans Of: We’ll Never Be Apart

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The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Genres: Horror, Dystopia
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: January 14th 2014

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“…you can’t save people from the world. There’s nowhere else to take them.”

Melanie loves classes, especially when her favourite teacher is there. She likes school days much better than the weekends when she has to take chemical showers and spend all day in her cell. Whenever soldiers come to strap her into her wheelchair for transit she tries to be friendly. She tells them that she won’t bite, but for some reason, no one ever laughs.

Though the blurb teases mystery, there is none. Melanie’s world becomes very clear within the first twenty pages and you aren’t left guessing as to why her childhood is playing out so strangely. This was, I feel, the biggest loss to the book. Dragging out Melanie’s and the reader’s ignorance might have made for a more intriguing start to the novel. Instead, it’s very obvious what’s going on and it makes you wonder why the blurb bothered to be vague at all.

Onto the positives, The Girl with All the Gifts is an has an incredibly unique plot, even if the world feels done before. The first half of the book is absolutely brilliant. The layout of Melanie’s small world and the horrors that reside within it will keep readers on their toes. As the plot continues on though it gets to be more stock. Tropes and scenes from every thriller begin to fall in and a lot of the tension is lost to predictability.

The book is more interesting when it’s examining the “hungries” and what they are. Caldwell’s chapters are particularly interesting for this reason. The characters (particularly Melanie) grow on you and make you love them. It’s heartbreaking. The ending is successfully bittersweet and hopeful. The tone and ideas in the ending are very clever and will make readers think.

But it’s not enough. Far too many pages are spent on walking and pointless travel filler with no development. The book never felt frightening or shocking once outside of the cellblock. Well written characters and several creative ideas were not enough.

Carey should have focused fully on the aspects of his story that made it unique, instead we get a novel which reads, for the most part, like standard zombie/apocalypse thriller with the nagging thought that it could have been more.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Walking Dead

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Genres: Childrens, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 30th 2008

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“It is neither fair nor unfair, Nobody Owens. It simply is”

After his family is murdered a babe is adopted by the spirits of a graveyard. He is christened Nobody Owens. The book follows his adventures while growing up in a graveyard and facing the dangers of the world outside.

The book covers a large portion of Bod’s life. It starts when he is an infant and follows him throughout his childhood. It might seem like this would mean the book is fast-paced and focuses on only Bod’s most exciting moments; but unfortunately the book is aggravatingly slow. It was especially hard to get through the first half.

The chapters are excruciating. Chris Riddell drew very few images for this book because there are very few chapters. It is a shame that we do not get to see more of his fascinating imagery. At one point a chapter dragged on for 73 pages, and keep in mind the entire book is not quite 300. A few more chapter breaks might have made the book feel a bit quicker and less like a slow trudge.

Aside from Silas, Nobody and Jack. the characters feel a bit tossed together. Scarlet in particular feels misused. She pops in and out of the story whenever it is convenient. I suppose real life is like that but in the novel it just feels a lot like she was rushed and Gaiman wasn’t quite sure where to end her.

The book could have been much improved if things were a little more explained. It feels as though Gaiman has this wonderful world in his head, but didn’t bother to put it on paper. The nuances of the world are barely touched upon, things seem to happen with no explanation. There are monsters and different sorts of people but Gaiman barely brushes over that and by the end of the book it’s still not quite clear what’s what. The world-building was weak despite the fact that the ideas were obviously there.

It is a book about growing up and moving on, and in that respect it performs quite well. It does have a slightly nostalgic feeling and touches on what it’s like to grow up. It’s whimsical and at times fun but overall it just is. It’s not outstanding or terrible. It’s unremarkable and inoffensive, a slow start but a good enough read. Not Gaiman’s best work but certainly not his worst either.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Darkest Part of the Forest

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Genres:  Anthology, Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 3rd 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I wonder, Are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself, Should they be safe places?”

A collection of stories by Gaiman meant to upset, disturb and prompt deeper thought from readers. Trigger Warning explores the darker parts of life. Explores things that create disquiet in the soul, the things that make us what we are.

There is no shortage of oddities in any of these stories, unfortunately that doesn’t stop many of the stories from falling flat. A lot of the short fictions Gaiman has included are just odd, but not in an interesting way. At times stories just feel like they’re dragging on even though nothing much is happening.

Collections are tricky, very rarely can an author include twenty or more great stories. The problem then becomes that the middle stories between the masterpieces feel weaker in comparison. Neil Gaiman is an excellent author, but by putting all the stories back to back it’s easy to see which are the stars and which are the padding.

“Orange”, “The Case of Death and Honey”, and “Nothing O’Clock” stand out as the three most captivating stories. “Orange” is written in a refreshing and unique questionnaire style and tells a strange, slightly off-putting tale. The other two tales are based off of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who respectively and would fit in nicely with the original material. “The Sleeper and the Spindle” was perhaps my favourite, but I have reviewed that previously.

Despite Neil Gaiman’s reputation for producing unforgettable work, Trigger Warning is forgettable as a whole. It does contain a few diamonds in the rough but as a whole the book averages out to just that: average.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

Genres: Adult, Horror, Anthology, Thriller
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: November 3rd 2015

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

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“But there’s something to be said for a shorter, more intense experience. It can be invigorating, sometimes even shocking, like a waltz with a stranger you will never see again, or a kiss in the dark, or a beautiful curio for sale laid out on a cheap blanket at a street bazaar.”

Published 35 years after his last anthology Nightshift this book is long overdue. A collection of short stories by King, previously published and entirely new. Each is introduced with a short anecdote or explanation as to how the story came to be. A wonderful collected of 20 covering a variety of different genres, but all with King’s trademark sprinkles of horror.

I think that an essential part of horror is the strange and unfamiliar. Of course this doesn’t mean a proper novel can’t be good, I just find short stories more effective. Stephen King isn’t well-known for no reason. Each of the stories have well-fleshed out characters and a compelling premise.

These stories, like most of King’s work, are not clean-cut horror. They brush along several other genres. They look into human nature and are hilarious, tragic and sometimes even a touch romantic. Even the intros to each story are brilliant, and perhaps the best part of the book.

Ur was the standout story for me. That’s not to say that they other stories weren’t fantastic (they were), but Ur’s plot was absolutely brilliant. While it was definitely meant to be a short story I could have read an entire series of novels on the brilliant premise King presents.

Some King fans might be disappointed as the new content is definitely outweighed by older stories, but it works well as a collection. Many reviewers go through and rate each story individually but I believe part of an anthology is how the stories work together. In this book’s case it worked incredibly well. The themes of human nature, morality and mortality echo in every story. From the end of the world to the end of one life it is a collection that will make you think.

Well it may not be an absolute hit for every reader there’s at least one story in this book for everyone.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Mystery, Horror
Publisher: Quirk
Publication Date: September 1st 2012

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.”

Sometimes life is split into before and after. Jacob’s before is life as a rich kid, working part time and expecting to inherit part of his uncle’s business. When his grandfather dies everything becomes after. After losing his paranoid grandfather, after seeing that thing in the woods, after going crazy. In an attempt to find some realistic explanation behind his grandfather’s last words he goes to the island from his grandfather’s childhood. It’s not long before Jacob finds out that his grandfather’s stories might not have been so fanciful after all and everyone is in very real danger.

The concept for this novel is absolutely brilliant. The photos inside are quirky, mysterious and just a little bit spooky. Unfortunately the story that they’ve been woven into feels less like a horror and more like an adventure novel. With such a wealth of old vintage photographs this book could have woven a great scary story but the monsters are very so-so and the tension comes from worrying for the characters not actual fear. It feels like some massive opportunity to make a story about spooky children was missed in favour of another story of special children along the veins of Percy Jackson and Maximum Ride.

The story that is told in the novel feels half-baked. The author glosses over establishing an incredibly complex and fascinating world. There are so many things left unexplained, but instead of leaving me wanting more it left me slightly annoyed. Statements like “only birds can manipulate time” are given and then never elaborated on. Things are given extra layers of complexity without the author ever delving into the topic. Why write a seven layer dip if you’re going to let your readers skin the top and then toss the rest out. It leaves a lot of the story feeling convenient because there’s no real logic as to why anything in this story happens or exists.

The romance was perhaps the final straw. Despite being completely unnecessary and wasting pages that could be spent on developing the world, it was weird. The book briefly examines how weird dating a grandfather’s girlfriend would be but then decides to go ahead with it anyway. It’s uncomfortable, awkward and not to mentioned poorly developed.

The book was not objectively bad, but I did go into it with higher hopes than I should of. This series has built up a level of hype that it could never live up to. Despite the brilliance of the vintage photography within, the story is absolutely average.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Maximum Ride

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Genres: Childrens, Fantasy, Horror, Illustrated
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 2002

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“’Because,’ she said, ‘when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.’”

The locked door leads straight into a brick-wall, or at least it did until Coraline opened it again. On the other side is a world much like her own, populated by her other mother and her other father. They’re nearly the same as her real ones, save for the fact they have black button eyes and are much more exciting. It’s a nice place to visit, but Coraline doesn’t think she’d want to stay. Her other mother has other plans. She wants Coraline to stay. Forever.

A short book with a small cast which Gaiman has written fantastically. Coraline manages to be heroic without ever seeming too old. The other mother and her creations are all fabulously twisted. The cat is just as a cat should be, mysterious, aloof and just slightly affectionate.

The world Gaiman spins is whimsical, but not large. The book is simple and straight forward (as children’s books often are) but that didn’t damage it’s pleasantness. It’s fast pace both helps and hinders the tale. While there is barely time for a dull moment so much is left unanswerd and unexplored. What is the Other Mother, what is the tunnel. Gaiman has set up a world and left a great portion of it a mystery. A few more explanations, or even a more clear-cut ending would have made the book quite a bit more enjoyable.

Delightfully creepy if a bit of a bare-bones tale. As stated before the characters ARE wonderful, but some are barely fleshed out. Coraline has depth but even her real parents don’t feel quite real. The story was also rather predictable. It would have been nice to see a bit more flourish to create depth in Coraline’s real world, and perhaps a bit more mythology to support the tale. As it is the story was exciting but feels slightly hollow at the end.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Alice in Wonderland

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys (selected) by April Genevieve Tucholke

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Genres: Anthology, Short Stories, Horror, Young Adult
Publisher: Dial Books
Publication Date: August 18th 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Somehow it didn’t surprise Dahlia Allgood that the world would end on a Friday.”

This anthology combines several stories to spook you, unsettle you and generally keep you up at night. Each story takes elements from classic horror films or novels.

Like many anthologies this book has highs and lows. Some stories were a bit of a slow read, while others were rewarding and spooky. There were so many strong, diverse female characters, in a genre that usually only rewards clumsy virgins. Some stories were gory, others just plain spooky but I was a little disappointed by the fear factor. Disappointed in the fact that it wasn’t really as strong as it should have been. A few stories fail to eve be spooky at all, however the stories almost all share one thing. Vengeance. Many of the stories feature victims beating down their monsters, or a victim becoming a monster, and something about that is so supremely satisfying. Some of the authors seem to have only a tentative grasp on horror as a genre. Several seem more like mystery or crime stories. Some are just sort of boring plot lines with every cliche possible tossed in but the book rounds itself out with the few authors who wrote excellently.. Not for the excessively weak-hearted but those with the heard of a house cat instead of a lion should be just fine.

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READ THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN OF: Creepypasta

Missing Era: The Emergence by A.O. Khalil

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Genres: Adult, Paranormal, Horror
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Publication Date: May 19th 2015

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

“…we are truly and devastatingly alone .”

Disclaimer: A free copy of the book was received from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Jay and Jule lead a fairly normal life, well as normal as they can considering seven percent of the world population is missing. Bad turns to worse and the couple is forced to leave their home, desperate to find their families and a way to survive. Will they be able to fight whatever is making everyone go missing?

This is a man’s adventure, make no mistake. There are women characters but they’re written as slightly irrational and not capable of defending themselves. Jay is constantly telling his wife “Babe you need to stay here,” while he heads out with men and boys to fight. Jule is described as tough, and does get a little action proving it which only makes her treatment for the remainder of the book all the more disappointing. In fact every character but Jay seems to exist either to praise how brave he is or to show how great he is by comparison.

The book does have a unique premise, but things are only slightly explained near the end of the book. An end which is far too open. There’s no closure, in fact it seems to end right during the climax. There is an intended sequel but the first book should have at least tied up some ends instead of cutting off abruptly. There were definitely some very original ideas with loads of potential but the writing failed to realize them fully. The cast of characters was too large to be handled and almost none of them get any proper development (ex. the lead realizing he’s a control freak and a jerk and deciding to change but completely forgetting next chapter). The writing also bloats with just dialogue the last few chapters. These ideas have potential but they needed to be better executed and nourished a bit more.