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review 2020-04-11 19:29
The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig
The Unsuitable - Molly Pohlig


Paint it Black Square: The cover is black except for the embroidery shears.


Trigger Warning: Cutting, or self-harm, drives the whole plot.


Iseult lives with her father in London and has been in mourning her entire life. Her father keeps her dressed in black to remember her mother. The mother Iseult shouldn't know because Iseult's mother died as Iseult was being born.


But Iseult does know her mother. Her mother is inside of her, a constant, suffocating presence. Iseult can't help talking to her, or trying to make others understand, so she has never had close friends or anybody to talk to except her father's housekeeper.


Iseult knows of only one way to silence her mother, however temporarily, and that is to wound herself, either in her scarred shoulder (from a broken collarbone at birth) or any other convenient place.


The book is fairly disgusting on that point. The reader understands that Iseult has no other recourse, but the amount of blood and the description of her injuries turns this book into body horror as opposed to the gothic ghost story with a twist that's advertised. This is supposed to be some kind of commentary on Our Current Cultural Moment, but I didn't see it. Maybe you will.


I got to the end because I felt obligated to, under normal circumstances I would have stopped when Iseult starts plunging scissors into her shoulder and snipping.

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review 2020-02-01 20:24
Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
Things in Jars - Jess Kidd


Serial/Spree Killer Square: Bridie Devine, in looking for an abducted child uncovers a world of medical curiosities, myths come to life, and a lot of dead bodies.


This was a fun book to read but, for me, a slow starter. The rich writing kept me going. Bridie Devine is an independent woman in the Victorian era, denied a license to practice medicine, she freelances odd investigations for a friend in Scotland Yard and does her own investigations on the side as well. Her last case ended badly, a child she was meant to recover died, and in that mood she approaches a new case where a mysterious child has been stolen from a remote country estate.


It doesn't help that in the course of investigating a lead she finds herself stuck with the ghost of a recently deceased boxer, domestic assistance from a seven-foot housemaid, and is possibly seeing things due to the odd tobacco blends she's consuming.


'Things in Jars' is set in the 19th century in Bridie Devie's present and in her childhood. The writing is beautiful, which combined with the unusual elements of this world, reminded me of 'The Essex Serpent'. If you loved that book you will enjoy this one. If you thought it was a bit indulgent...well, steer clear maybe.

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review 2019-11-30 02:49
Kill Creek by Scott Thomas
Kill Creek - Scott Thomas,Bernard Setaro Clark

Audience: Adult

Format: Audiobook/Owned


"No house is born bad."

- first sentence



I listened to this book for Halloween Bingo at the end of September. I've been swamped with school, work, and trying to get settled in my new house so I haven't had time to write any reviews.


I enjoyed this book. It was a slow build and I kept thinking something was going to happen, but the story kept taking unexpected turns. After all this time, that's all I have. *shrugs*

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review 2019-11-15 12:18
"Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill,Stephen Lang

Perhaps the most surprising thing about "Hear-shaped Box" is that, in a novel filled with violence, fear, child abuse, self-harm, and maiming and with the overwhelming presence of a truly evil spirit, the real focus of the story is how a man in his fifties gathers his courage to confront who he has become.


It's that focus on character, on the person's history, the choices they've made, the grief they carry, the things they don't challenge about themselves but which make them miserable, that gives this novel its power. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Joe Hill comes up with a truly sinister, evil and believable ghost that is bent on murder and that he doesn't flinch from taking his character to dark and terrible places.


In the beginning, the plot seems simple: complacent, rich goth-rock star, Judas Coin, buys a ghost on the internet that turns out to be the real thing and which seems intent on harming him but even at the start it's clear that the plot is not the story. The story is about the self-discovery of Judas Coin.

Judas Coin is a man who doesn't like himself much but who also doesn't feel a need to do anything about that. He's built a comfortable, unchallenging, mostly empty life for himself and is happy to roll with it. Until the ghost arrives and brings his life into focus.

At the start of the book, we're given the take-it-all-for-granted it-is-what-it-is view of Coin's life. Yet, even then, things snagged my attention. Coin has lived with a string of young goth women half his age. He shares that he has trouble remembering their names so he names them after their State of origin. He calls his current bedmate Georgia. He knows the women don't like this because most of them want to forget where they came from but he does it because it's easy and because they let him. Even on a first pass, this made me think Coin was an asshole. As the story progresses and Coin's fate becomes linked to a Florida, a young woman he threw away when he was done, it finally occurs to Coin that he's behaved like a shit, just because he can.


The slow shift in Coin's self-perception is skilfully done.

The ghost, which arrives in the form of a dead man's suit is deeply menacing. I loved the way Joe Hill slowly builds the ghost from a joke purchase on an Internet auction site into an apparently unstoppable supernatural threat. At the beginning, while I was fairly sure the ghost was really there, I was willing to go with the idea that Judas Coin voices, that says, perhaps ghosts live only in the heads of the haunted. Either way, it was clear from the start that Coin was set to suffer. My initial reaction to that was, "Well, he deserves it."

Of course, Joe Hill made me revise my opinions. The ghost became horribly real and Judas, who was originally named Justin, became someone I was less willing to write off.

The book is told mostly from inside Justin's head, giving the reader the chance to watch how Justin's perception of himself and what's happening to him changes. Identity is at the heart of this novel. The main challenge is who Justin is going to choose to be.

At the start of the novel, he's definitely Judas Coin. When, as a young man, Justin created his Judas Coin persona, Justin transformed himself from an abused farm boy to a rock star. He set himself free. Except, now that he's a man in his fifties, he's been wearing the Judas Coin persona for so long it has become the self he recognises when he looks in the mirror, the one he thinks he will offend if he does something that rubs against the grain because it's inconsistent with who he is. We are told that Judas/Justin believes that:


"His own identity was his first and single most forceful creation. The machine that had manufactured all his other successes. Which had produced everything in his life that was worth having and that he cared about He would protect that to the end."

This is Justin's central problem: he wants to protect Judas. Yet Judas was the one who betrayed with a kiss. The one who placed pragmatism and survival ahead of love and hope. The one who ultimately couldn't live with himself. It was as Judas that Justin has been so careless with his own life and the lives of those close to him that he is now surrounded by nothing but wreckage. It's Judas that the ghost wants to kill.

If Justin wants to avoid the ghost's silver razor on the gold chain, wants to erase the dark scribbled across his eyes that the spirits of dead he sees wear, it seemed to me he'd have he to throw Judas under the bus.

The resolution that Joe Hill comes up with is both cleverer and truer than that. The man Justin is by the end of the book hasn't repudiated Judas Coin, he's just not in the driving seat anymore.

As I listened to the "Heart-Shaped Box", I found that the scary bits - the ghost with the scribbled over eyes, the compulsion to self-harm, the sight of things that aren't there but which still make you sweat with fear - rolled over me. I could see that they were well done, original, powerful, deeply envisioned, but it was like a polished sex scene about an orientation or fetish I don't share. I could see it, admire it, but I didn't feel it.

Yet when Joe Hill got me into people's heads, when Judas Coin is honest with himself, when Georgia opens up and shows the person she'd like to be and how dragged down she feels by the person she's been so far, THAT I felt. It felt true. It felt real. It made me hungry for more.


Stephen Long does a great job reading the "Heart-shaped Box", although I would have enjoyed it more if Harper Audio had resisted the urge to add music. 



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review 2019-11-12 11:25
"Bird Box" by Josh Malerman - highly recommended
Bird Box - Josh Malerman

Josh Malerman knows where our fear lives. 


It's not in the gushing splatter of arterial blood or in staring into the eyes of a predator ready to pounce or in fighting for your life with something monstrous. These spike our adrenalin, call on us to fight or flee and then they are gone.


Real fear, the kind that eats at you with the slow relentlessness of rust, comes from living with a threat you cannot fight or run away from. Real fear, the kind that hunkers down in your mind and stays there, comes from being vulnerable and helpless for long periods of time, from knowing the threat is there but not when it will strike, from understanding that surviving the last hour doesn't lessen the threat of the next.


In "Bird Box" Josh Mallerman has created the perfect situation for extended exposure to deep, corrosive fear. He creates a world were seeing something, no one knows what, will make you kill others and then yourself. Where sight, the sense we all depend on most, becomes a threat, not a defence. Where anyone, including you, can become an enemy in an instant. Then he locks a group of people house that at first seems like a haven but slowly becomes a cage, and lets the fear fester and the tension build until threat is a constant unwelcome companion.


Early in the book, there's a scene with one of the men from the house fetching water from the well. He's blindfold but he's done this many times before. He's has a rope around his waist, held by a housemate. There are sticks to mark his path. He tells himself that if he follows the routine, he'll be safe. Then he thinks he hears... what? who? how close?


Malerman turns that walk to the well into a scene more heart-thumping than a face-to-face confrontation with the nightmare creature of your choice.


This goes straight for where our fears live. 


I won't reveal the plot but I will say that I stayed up late to finish "Bird Box" because I couldn't go to sleep without knowing how the book ended.


If you haven't read it already, I recommend it to you. It's as close to perfect as a horror book can get. The tension is almost unbearable. The fear is visceral. The people are real. The events, well they're a perfect mix of heartbreak and hope.

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