Music Macabre by Sarah Rayne


cover171122-mediumResearching a biography of the composer Franz Liszt, Phineas Fox uncovers evidence of a brutal murder – and finds his own life in danger.

Music researcher Phin Fox has been enjoying his latest commission, gathering background material for a biography of Franz Liszt. But although he has – as anticipated – uncovered plenty of scandal in the 19th century composer’s past, matters take a decidedly unexpected turn when his investigations lead to Linklighters, a newly-opened Soho restaurant built on the site of an old Victorian music hall, and unearth evidence of a possible murder involving the notorious music hall performer known as Scaramel.

Just what was Liszt’s connection to Scaramel … and, through her, to the infamous Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper? As he delves further, Phin’s enquiries uncover clues to a fascinating and extraordinary story – and plunge his own life into jeopardy.

I have never been disappointed in a Sarah Rayne book, but this time she has outdone herself!

Books about Jack the Ripper abound and I’ve read most of them, so I was not expecting the shaken-to-the-bone experience Rayne delivers here. She continues with the same convention of a mystery unraveling in the present tied to the actual events in the past.  We watch Phin try to solve the mystery of Scaramel and a strange, macabre song associated with the nightclub where she performed. At the same time, we follow the story of Scaramel and her lady’s maid Daisy as they live the history that Phin is researching.

Rayne has an uncanny ability to instill real fear in her readers. It’s been a very long time since I felt my heart racing as I read a passage as terrifying as Daisy’s encounter with Jack in the ghost river. Rayne is just as skilled at fleshing out her characters, and gives us a larger-than-life Scaramel, a saucy but respectful Daisy, tweedy academics, caring sisters, and colorful ordinary people. I also enjoyed the continued development of Phin, Arabella, and Tobey.

I would adore this series adapted for television. Netflix or Acorn TV, are you reading Sarah Rayne? If not, you should!

Publication Date: December 3, 2019
Published By: Severn House Publishers
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill


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“If John Irving ever wrote a horror novel, it would be something like this. I loved it.” —Stephen King

Noah Turner sees monsters.

His father saw them—and built a shrine to them with The Wandering Dark, an immersive horror experience that the whole family operates.

His practical mother has caught glimpses of terrors but refuses to believe—too focused on keeping the family from falling apart.

And his eldest sister, the dramatic and vulnerable Sydney, won’t admit to seeing anything but the beckoning glow of the spotlight . . . until it swallows her up.

Noah Turner sees monsters. But, unlike his family, Noah chooses to let them in . . .

Yes, this book is as creepy and shivery as the description above implies and this will appeal to fans of psychological as well as anthropomorphic horror.

I confess. I am an end-reader. If I get halfway or more through a story and am a) getting bored with it, or b) *have* to know what happens to a certain character, etc. I will flip to the end and read the last chapter. What happens to Sydney about 1/3 of the way through is what made me flip to the end; what I found there sent me back for more.

The mark of an exceptional book is if, after reading the end, if I go back and finish the book.

Cosmology of Monsters is an *exceptional* book.

Initially, I read the story through the lens of mental illness, considering the action happening to the family as part of a struggle with serious illness and not flesh & blood “monsters.” As I progressed and the story “got real” I was so taken with the complex relationships built between Noah and his family, friends, and the monster that the mental illness aspect drifted to the background. This book is pure imagination. It takes the horror of Lovecraft and the psychological terror of King and blends them into this gorgeous, creepy, frightening slurry of human (and non-human) emotion. All the elements of a good story are here – primarily the hero with a quest – and Shaun Hamill steps confidently into the circle of horror masters. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden


cover165699-mediumFrom the Publisher: Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire. Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the Smiling Man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE.

Horror for kids is not an easy genre, but with this second book featuring Ollie, Coco, and Brian, Katherine Arden cements her place as the Queen of Shivers for middle grade readers. Picking up a couple months after the events of Small Spaces, we find our plucky trio trapped in a remote ski lodge by a doozy of a snowstorm. As the action progresses, the three find their courage and friendship tested again by the Smiling Man and a gaggle of ghosts.

Arden is adept at creating an atmosphere that will leave you shivering and glancing over your shoulder at every little sound. She makes this old ski lodge seem like the creepiest, scariest place ever, and that’s before she opens another dimension. The horror is countered by the solid friendship enjoyed by Coco, Ollie and Brian, and by the growing affection between Coco’s mother and Ollie’s father.

Arden also focuses the action on the kids using their brains to think their way out of the scary situations. Coco and Ollie especially rely on deductive reasoning to ultimately defeat the Smiling Man.

With this second entry in the series, Katherine Arden takes her place on my scary story bookshelves with Mary Downing Hahn, R.L. Stine, and Patricia Clapp. Recommended.

Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Published By: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Ghost: 13 Haunting Tales to Tell by Blaise Hemingway and Jesse Reffsin


9781452171289A finger against the inside of a mirror. A wood where the trees look back. A basement door blocked by a brick wall so thick, it stifles the screams from below. This original collection of chilling poems and tales contains the only true ghost stories in existence (as the book itself will tell you). Accompanied by striking illustrations and building to a truly spine-tingling conclusion, this haunting book will consume the imagination and keep readers of every age up long past their bedtimes.

This collection of ghost stories will most certainly send chills up and down your spine. I had to read it in chunks because it gave me the creeps. The stories cover typical ghost story situations, but the format itself is very clever, with an unexpected 13th story. While most of the stories will frighten you, I was especially repulsed by The Widow in Black, and am actually shivering while writing this and remembering the story!

The format of the book is fabulous. A tactile cover features dimensional footprints leading up to a slippery ghost-like figure. Opening the book, you are treated to very 1960s-ish, dark, blotchy, and suggestive illustrations enhancing the text. The introduction features two boys sneaking out of their camp (of course) to trek across a marsh (what else) to hear ghost stories from Old Man Blackwood (who else). The stories he tells vary from narrative to verse and all are shivery masterpieces.

A little research uncovered the origins of this book in a kickstarter campaign by Illustratus, a design studio owned by Jeff and Kit Turley. The illustrations were done by Chris Sasaki, who designs for Pixar Studios and has worked on Monsters University and Inside Out. The original stories and poems were written by Jesse Reffsin and Blaise Hemingway. No matter how this book ended up published, it is just plain beautiful. Creepy, but beautiful. Get your hands on a copy, lower the lights, and prepare to be spooked!

Publication Date: August 2019
Published By: Chronicle Books

 

January Micro-Reviews

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devouringThe Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman – This creepy, eerie, and imaginative story grabbed me by the back of the neck and held on from first to last page. The plot is a refreshing take on the “monster in the woods” trope and features some sassy, kick-ass characters. The premise of four founding families (shades of Hogwarts, anyone?) isn’t new, but the relationship of the families to the monster and to the town they protect is pretty darn original. The author does a good job of making teens sound like teens, although the adults are portrayed as bullies or dopes. The plot flowed easily and kept my attention. It looks like this will be the beginning of a series, which makes me happy. It would also make a helluva TV series in the vein of Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Recommended.

Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Published By: Disney-Hyperion
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

prosperThe Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken – How did I miss this book when it first came out? It has everything I love about middle grade fantasy – hip and likable characters, clever humor, a multi-faceted villain, a surprise twist at the end, and a superb story. Here, the likable characters are Prosper and Nell and the villain (one of them!) is Alastor, a fiend who has waited hundreds of years for revenge on the family that bound him. The competing themes of revenge & betrayal and friendship & love can lead to some interesting discussions about relationships. The nods to some of my favorite classic stories (The Crucible and Doctor Faustus) only made this more enjoyable. Bracken successfully delivers what appears to be a prologue to some serious world-building, as she prepares to publish the sequel to this in February. The twist at the end was one of the best I can remember and set up the sequel beautifully.

lastThe Last by Hanna Jameson – This title has been sitting in my To Be Read queue for months and I finally opened it last night out of guilt. Holy smokes! I read it in one sitting, resulting in a foggy day spent at work today! I am not, as a rule, a fan of dystopian fiction which is probably why it took me so long to open this one. However, when dystopian fiction is blended with a tautly plotted, inventive mystery it becomes a book I cannot put down. The author has done everything right here – good dialog, evocative description, memorable characters, and an unusual plot. I’ll be recommending this a lot in the coming months.
Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Published By: Atria Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

arloArlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon by John August – I am late to the Arlo Finch party, having missed the first in the series. However, this second-in-the-series stands pretty sturdily on its own. August explains enough about the Long Woods and the Rangers so a reader new to the series can follow along, although the characters are cool enough that I will definitely go back and read the first in the series. Here, Arlo and his fellow Rangers Wu and Indra, along with other Rangers, find themselves facing some really weird experiences as they head into their two weeks of camp. There are the usual suspects – the trio of friends who overcome great evil, the obligatory bully, the hip adults, and the scary monsters – all stirred up into a stew of steady action and hair-raising adventures. Kids who enjoy imaginative adventures will thoroughly enjoy Arlo Finch, in all his books. Recommended for middle grade readers.

Publication Date: February 5, 2019
Published By: Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

May Micro-Reviews


28A02E25-07BA-4CBD-B1E0-6AEE24541D0DThe Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser – The Vanderbeeker kids are back in another charming story about generosity, being a good neighbor, and growing up. This is one of those gentle, feel-good stories where nothing much happens, except real life. The kids witness a beloved neighbor having a stroke, they struggle with their own emotions, and they learn that even kids who appear to have it all often don’t. The Vanderbeekers are definitely “free range” kids, and their adventures in their Harlem neighborhood are the stuff of dreams. The kids are all written beautifully and the family dynamics are definitely something to emulate. This is not a particularly special story in that it’s something “new” but it will be enjoyed by early to middle grade readers who just like to read about other kids.

Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

657A0259-7343-412B-A674-DF6D9DD31EA2In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey – Bailey checks all the boxes in this supernatural, psychological thriller of a book: a couple whose marriage is in trouble, a dead child, a mysterious English manor house, a spooky forest, intimidating & creepy manor staff, a past tragedy…and more. Charles, Erin & Lissa are the seemingly perfect family whose life is turned upside down by a truly horrible accident. The psychological strain of that experience coupled with the gothic-horror experience of Hollow House makes for a top-notch, nail-biting, check-under-the-bed thrilling novel. For fans of English folklore, horror, and suspense. Recommended.

Publication Date: October 9, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

994C1041-BFDE-4E07-9D99-917BC0590A95Bluecrowne by Kate Milford – As a diehard Greenglass House fan, I eagerly anticipated this prequel to the series, and I am not disappointed. Kate Milford introduces us to a whole new cast of colorful characters who are every bit as entertaining, clever, and quirky as Milo and company. Lucy Bluecrowne is a character for the ages, and I look forward to following her adventures as she grows up. Liao and Xianming are also so intriguing that they deserve another book as well. Milford is well on her way to creating a world in Nagspeake that is every bit as magical and real as J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts. Her writing is full of lovely descriptions, clever and thoughtful dialogue, and plenty of mystery, suspense, action, adventure, and magic. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Childrens Books Group; Clarion Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

97EB1610-2008-4809-8637-BEB706E2DBEF Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster by Brian Regan – It seems that creating monsters to distract people from real issues is not something unique to 21st century politics. As a longtime but amateur student of cryptozoology, I am always open to reading new accounts of legends and monsters, so I was eager to learn more about the infamous Jersey Devil. The origin story of Mother Leeds giving birth to an evil, horrifying “monster” that flew up the chimney certainly has its roots in European folklore and fairytales. Those tales were often created to make people do things – e.g. Peg Powler and Jenny Greenteeth were invented to keep children away from rivers and streams, thereby keeping them safe from drowning. In this book, Regal and Esposito take the Jersey Devil out of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and link it to political intrigue and opinion-shaping. What better way to get people to do what you want than to scare the crap out of them? I suppose it’s somewhat comforting to know that such political maneuvering has been going on for hundreds of years without the world ending, which suggests that the current version of the Jersey Devil (immigrants/Muslims) will eventually be replaced with something else. This is not light reading, however, so I will recommend for those who enjoy non-fiction related to politics and history.

Publication Date: March 1, 2018
Published by: Johns Hopkins University Press
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

06FD49B1-679B-46B2-80F7-D50D936D72F1Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson – Leonardo da Vinci has always fascinated me, so this new biography of possibly one of the greatest humans ever to live was something I had to read.  Isaacson delivers a well-crafted look not only into da Vinci’s life but into the culture of the time which certainly shaped his world view and supported his curiosity. It was da Vinci’s insatiable curiosity about everything that first attracted me to him so many years ago, and Isaacson provides a laser view into the mind that envisioned flight, surgery, and so much more. Highly readable, well written, and meticulously researched, this is very much recommended.

Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

 

 

 

 

31 Days of Halloween Reading

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Halloween is my favorite holiday and October my favorite month, so I thought I’d compile a list of some of the scariest stories out there for my readers to enjoy this season. These shivery treats were compiled from my own favorites and recommendations from fellow lovers of ghosties and goblins. Scroll down past the images for links.

  1. Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
  2. This House is Haunted by John Boyne
  3. ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  4. Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs
  5. The Changeling by Victor LaValle
  6. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
  7. Asylum by Madeleine Roux
  8. The Terror by Dan Simmons
  9. Jane Emily by Patricia Clapp
  10. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  11. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft
  12. Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite
  13. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  14. Took by Mary Downing Hahn
  15. The Fireman by Joe Hill
  16. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
  17. Hell House by Richard Matheson
  18. The Collected Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson (especially Room in the Tower)
  19. Carmilla by J. Sheridan leFanu
  20. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
  21. Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
  22. I am Legend by Richard Matheson
  23. Ghost Story by Peter Straub
  24. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  25. Psycho by Robert Bloch
  26. It by Stephen King
  27. The Death Chamber by Sarah Rayne
  28. Tales of the Uncanny and the Supernatural by Algernon Blackwood
  29. A Thin Ghost by M.R. James
  30. The Shining by Stephen King
  31. Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

I hope you find something in this list that makes you shiver. Happy Halloween!