Review: Claire by Liz Sower

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Claire
Author: Liz Sower
Series: Ghosts in the Burbs Book #1
Genre: Horror
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Liz Sower
Length: 4 hours (187 pages)
Publisher: Self
Release Date: September 18, 2018
Source: Audible Library
Recommended for fans of: Ghosts in the Burbs podcast
Content Warnings: death, suicide

SYNOPSIS

I interview my neighbors in our shockingly haunted town Wellesley, Massachusetts and I transcribe their stories for my blog Ghosts in the Burbs. Three women told me a horrific tale from their past and in doing so involved me in their horror. You may have heard part of this story before but I didn’t tell you everything….. This is the complete story of Claire.

MY THOUGHTS

I love the Ghosts in the Burbs podcast, and the stories about Claire and her three friends from high school I personally think are among the most terrifying episodes, so I was excited to hear the “complete story.” However, this book basically just mashed together all the relevant podcast episodes with very little new information. And since I chose to listen to this audiobook, I had literally heard it all before.

I really liked the chapters written from Claire’s POV, and I wanted more of the story to be told like that. I much prefer Liz Sower’s approach with Lilith, where she mostly removed herself from the narrative and elaborated on the experiences of the family, telling it from their points of view.

I’m still glad that I bought this book to support Liz and the show! This tale is very chilling, and it would definitely be five stars if I were hearing it for the first time or in a different way.

Review: Lilith by Liz Sower

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Lilith
Author: Liz Sower
Series: Ghosts in the Burbs Book #2
Genre: Horror
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Liz Sower
Length: 211 pages
Publisher: self-published
Release Date: September 24, 2019
Source: Ghosts in the Burbs podcast
Recommended for fans of: paranormal podcasts, haunted houses, true ghost stories
Content Warnings: demonic possession

SYNOPSIS

There is something very wrong in the Arnold’s new home. And that something is stalking their daughter. Originally released several chapters at a time on the podcast Ghosts in the Burbs, Lilith is a tale of demonic possession, motherhood, and isolation.

MY THOUGHTS

I loved this deep dive into one of the most chilling tales of demonic possession from my favorite podcast Ghosts in the Burbs. Liz is such a talented storyteller, and while I of course hearing all the tales from Liz’s POV, I also love how she imagined all the different POVs involved in this story and tied everything together.

You don’t need to listen to the podcast to enjoy this frightening tale (although you totally should). The complete audio to Lilith is available through episodes of the podcast, or you can find the paperback and ebook on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: NOS4A2
Author: Joe Hill
Genre: Horror
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Kate Mulgrew
Length: 20 hours (694 pages)
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: April 28, 2013
Source: Library (Libby)
Recommended for fans of: Stephen King
Content Warnings: harm to children, addiction

SYNOPSIS

NOS4A2 is a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

MY THOUGHTS

What a wild ride. I read this in a buddy read, and general consensus was that this is an acid trip in a book. This creepy, disturbing, and creative horror was perfect for Christmastime, but it will give you chills year-round.

Kate Mulgrew’s narration on the audiobook was FANTASTIC. Her character voices were spot on and made the story even more disturbing and vivid than the writing alone.

This story is very well written with strong Stephen King vibes. It’s perhaps a bit longer than it needs to be, but I was captivated every minute.

Review: Pet Sematary by Stephen King

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Pet Sematary
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Horror
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Michael C. Hall
Length: 16 hours (374 pages)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Release Date: October 1, 1983
Source: Library (Libby app)
Recommended for fans of: Stephen King

SYNOPSIS

Can Stephen King scare even himself?

Has the author of Carrie, The Shining, Cujo, and Christine ever conceived a story so horrifying that he was for a time unwilling to finish writing it? Yes. This is it.

Set in a small town in Maine to which a young doctor, Louis Creed, and his family have moved from Chicago, Pet Sematary begins with a visit to a graveyard where generations of children have buried their beloved pets. But behind the “pet sematary,” there is another burial ground, one that lures people to it with seductive promises . . . and ungodly temptations.

As the story unfolds, so does a nightmare of the supernatural, one so relentless you won’t want . . . at moments . . . to continue reading . . . but will be unable to stop.

You do it because it gets hold of you, says the nice old man with the secret. You make up reasons . . . they seem like good reasons . . . but mostly you do it because once you’ve been up there, it’s your place, and you belong to it . . .up in the Pet Sematary–and beyond.

MY THOUGHTS

This book was incredible. Stephen King describes this as the scariest book he’s written, and he almost didn’t publish it. I was more scared reading The Shining, but Pet Sematary is disturbing on a deeply psychological level that sticks with the reader long after finishing the story.

King’s writing in Pet Sematary is masterful in his use of foreshadowing, with events gradually growing more and more unsettling, crescendoing into full-on horror. The events felt so real. This book was disturbing, devastating, and horrifying. I read this two months ago, but I am still thinking about the inevitable tragedy of the ending and the chilling sadness it left in me.

Michael C. Hall’s narration for the audiobook was fantastic. Dexter is the perfect voice for this story, bring to life this eerie tale of family, life, and death.

CW: proceed with caution if you are a parent

Review: Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆
Title: Girl of Nightmares
Author: Kendare Blake
Series: Anna #2
Genre: Horror
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: August Ross
Length: 10 hours (332 pages)
Publisher: Tor Teen; Sound Library
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Source: Library (Libby)
Content: suicide

SYNOPSIS

It’s been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can’t move on.

His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they’re right, but in Cas’s eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.

Now he’s seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he’s asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong…these aren’t just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.

Cas doesn’t know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn’t deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it’s time for him to return the favor. 

MY THOUGHTS

Anna Dressed in Blood should’ve been a standalone. I really did not like the character development and the unnecessary teen drama in this sequel. I also wasn’t a fan of the expansion of the paranormal lore.

This book was not as scary as book 1, and it’s difficult to even classify it as horror. The only scene I found truly creep and well-written was the journey through the Suicide Forest.

There were so many different pieces in this book that just did not come together. I think a more effective direction for this series would’ve seen Cas move on to a new case rather than continuing the saga with Anna.

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Series: Anna #1
Genre: Horror
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: August Ross
Length: 9 hours (316 pages)
Publisher: Tor Teen; Sound Library
Release Date: October 17, 2011
Source: Library (Libby)
Recommended for fans of: Supernatural

SYNOPSIS

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

Yet she spares Cas’s life.

MY THOUGHTS

This is basically a YA version of Supernatural. If one of the Winchester brothers had the maturity and sense of humor of Percy Jackson, he would be Cas Lowood. However, the humor and the horror didn’t always mesh successfully for me.

This book started off strong. The hauntings were super creepy and horrific. I really enjoyed Cas’s new friendships and the role of witchcraft in this book. However, I thought the romance was unnecessary and detracted from the effectiveness of the supernatural horror.

Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Genre: Horror
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 182 pages
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Release Date: October 16, 1959
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: gothic horror
CW: suicide

SYNOPSIS

It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

MY THOUGHTS

I went into this book fairly blind. This is my first Shirley Jackson book. I have not seen the Netflix series (yet), but I have heard that it is very scary. I knew the book would be very different from the series, but I expected it to be just as scary. This is not a scary book.

This book is definitely eerie. Under somewhat sketchy circumstances, an eclectic group of people visit Hill House to research paranormal phenomena in the notoriously haunted house. Hill House, unsettling by design, was like a character of its own. The haunting experiences were creepy, and the longer the visitors stayed in the house, the greater the psychological effects of these phenomena. The house singles out one inhabitant in particular, making her feel like she has finally found a place she belongs.

However, some aspects of this book just went over my head. The story had an unreliable narrator, but I still think that most of the hauntings were real. Characters would be terrified by their experiences at night, only to discuss them with a blasé attitude the next morning. I didn’t understand why two new characters were introduced close to the end of the story. Basically, I wanted to be more scared and I just didn’t get it!

This book is odd. I know that classic horror tends to be more psychological and abstract than scary, but my expectations were not in the right place for this one. I would like to reread this someday so that I can appreciate it for what it is instead of what I thought it would be, and pick up on some things that I missed.

Review: The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Ancestor
Author: Danielle Trussoni
Genre: Gothic Horror/Mystery/ Science Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Heather Masters
Length: 11 hours (349 pages)
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: April 7, 2020
Source: Libro.fm credit
Recommended for fans of: Mexican Gothic, Devolution
Content: miscarriage/infertility, suicide

SYNOPSIS

From the New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author of the Angelology series comes a bewitching gothic novel of suspense that plunges readers into a world of dark family secrets, the mysteries of human genetics, and the burden of family inheritance.

It feels like a fairy tale when Alberta ”Bert” Monte receives a letter addressed to “Countess Alberta Montebianco” at her Hudson Valley, New York, home that claims she’s inherited a noble title, money, and a castle in Italy. While Bert is more than a little skeptical, the mystery of her aristocratic family’s past, and the chance to escape her stressful life for a luxury holiday in Italy, is too good to pass up.

At first, her inheritance seems like a dream come true: a champagne-drenched trip on a private jet to Turin, Italy; lawyers with lists of artwork and jewels bequeathed to Bert; a helicopter ride to an ancestral castle nestled in the Italian Alps below Mont Blanc; a portrait gallery of ancestors Bert never knew existed; and a cellar of expensive vintage wine for Bert to drink.

But her ancestry has a dark side, and Bert soon learns that her family history is particularly complicated. As Bert begins to unravel the Montebianco secrets, she begins to realize her true inheritance lies not in a legacy of ancestral treasures, but in her very genes.

MY THOUGHTS

This book weaves together so many different genres: gothic horror, mystery, suspense, and realistic science fiction. The result is atmospheric, haunting, and unsettling, but even the most shocking twists were believable.

When Bert unexpectedly inherits a castle in Italy, it seems too good to be true… and perhaps it is. At her ancestral home in the Alps, Bert is isolated, trapped, and disturbed by the family secrets she uncovers. Her weeklong visit to the castle becomes indefinite, and I wish she had been a bit more vocal about the things that made her uncomfortable.

The book takes a complete 180 about halfway through, transitioning from a gothic mystery into an exploration of genealogy, cryptozoology, and local folklore. It almost felt like two different books, but in the end all the pieces came together to tell a cohesive story about Bert and the legacy of the Montebianco family.

I was lucky enough to be a part of a book club discussion with the author, and it was fascinating to learn about the inspirations for this book and the intense research she completed to make the science feel real. The Ancestor is an accessible type of horror that is not overly scary or graphic, so it should appeal to many readers.

Review: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Rules for Vanishing
Author: Kate Alice Marshall
Genre: Horror
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Jesse Vilinsky, Robbie Daymond, Rob Shapiro
Length: 11 hours (416 pages)
Publisher: Listening Library; Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 24, 2019
Source: Library (Libby app)
Recommended for fans of: found footage horror

SYNOPSIS

In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister–at all costs.

Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her–and who won’t make it out of the woods?

It’s been exactly one year since Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn’t know whether her former friends no longer like her…or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together. When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to “play the game” and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca–before she’s lost forever. And even though she’s hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends–and their cameras–following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side. 

MY THOUGHTS

SO CREEPY! I went into this thinking it was YA thriller, but it was straight up horror inspired by urban legends and paranormal games. It was full of chilling and disturbing imagery and had a few gruesome scenes. I would recommend this for older YA readers since I was scared and disturbed by this story as an adult.

The found footage/documentary-style storytelling alternating between past and present meant that there were always more pieces of the mystery the reader was missing, leading to some satisfying and horrifying reveals. The ending was wild, but the conclusion was a bit too open ended for my taste, and I still have so many questions.

I listened to this on audiobook. It took a little while for me to get used to the format with three narrators, but I should’ve paid more attention at the beginning, and once I got sucked into the story it was so good. Beware reading or listening to this book at night!

Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆1/2
Title: Mexican Gothic
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Horror/Mystery
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 301 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: June 30, 2020
Source: Book of the Month
Recommended for Fans of: gothic horror
Content Warnings: sexual assault, incest, drugs

SYNOPSIS

An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic aristocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets. . . .

From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes a novel set in glamorous 1950s Mexico.

After receiving a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find – her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

MY THOUGHTS

This is my kind of horror. I loved the lush, descriptive writing and the gothic mystery. I am a huge fan of gothic literature, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia did a flawless job infusing the genre with Mexican culture in a 1950s setting.

The story definitely had a slow build, but I loved how what started as an unsettling situation in an old, decaying mansion with a family that seems a little too obsessed with their rules and eugenics developed into something downright creepy with Noemi’s disturbing dreams, the incestuous revelations about the Doyle family, and the mushroom-infested haunted house.

I was at times frustrated with Noemi. She was smart and headstrong and knew that something was off with the Doyles and High Place, but sometimes she spent more time worrying about her clothes and missing high society in Mexico City than planning how to help her cousin get out. So many weird things were happening in the house, including some disturbing sexual scenes, that she should’ve been spurred to action sooner.

I predicted how things would inevitably end, but there were so many surprises along the way, like the truth about why the Doyle family can’t leave High Place, that my prediction built suspense throughout the fast-paced ending. I highly recommend reading Mexican Gothic as we move into the fall season. It’s a great choice to get into the mood for Halloween if you don’t mind a slow building story and a lot of weirdness.