A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman

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A House at the Bottom of the a Lake
Josh Malerman
Goodreads

Both seventeen. Both afraid. But both saying yes.

It sounded like the perfect first date: canoeing across a chain of lakes, sandwiches and beer in the cooler. But teenagers Amelia and James discover something below the water’s surface that changes their lives forever.

It’s got two stories.

It’s got a garden.

And the front door is open.

It’s a house at the bottom of a lake.

For the teens, there is only one rule: no questions. And yet, how could a place so spectacular come with no price tag? While the duo plays house beneath the waves, one reality remains:

Just because a house is empty, doesn’t mean nobody’s home.

Review:

Like Bird Box, the other book written by Josh Malerman, this is a very atmospheric book.  It relies a lot on the sights, the sounds, the feel of the world around James and Amelia, the two main protagonists, to set the scene and drive up the tension.  It’s not entirely successful but it doesn’t fail either.  The concept of the book was supremely creepy and I was eager to get into it but it provided to be a little more bark than bite.

The book revolves around two teenagers, James and Amelia, discovering a perfectly pristine house at the bottom of the lake.  An impossible house where nothing is affected by the water surrounding it and no knick knack or item is out of place.  Everything is situated exactly as it should be in a house and thus, this is the atmosphere that we’re thrust into.  The darkness of the house, the impossibility of its existence and that nagging, creeping sense that it’s not right but it’s too fantastical to question.

James and Amelia become obsessed, spending all their time in diving gear, exploring the house.  They lose their virginity there, fall in love there and when the house is taken away, they lose each other.  They can’t exist with each other without the specter of the house.  It should be sad but I was more confused than anything.  Malerman has a penchant for doing this, making his books ambiguous so the reader can come to his own conclusions.  I would have liked to have a little more on the house but alas, it did not come true.

I think the crushing, horrible blackness of the dark was done better in Nick Cutter’s The Deep but this book wasn’t bad.  It was short, moved well, and was creepy in points but it just didn’t cross the line to really freak me out.  Still worth a few hours of time.

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Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

19364719Slasher Girls & Monster Boys
April Genevieve Tucholke (Editor)
Goodreads

For fans of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Lois Duncan, and Daphne Du Maurier comes a powerhouse anthology featuring some of the best writers of YA thrillers and horror

A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.

Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

Review

(Note: This is an old review I pulled from my Goodreads!)

4 stars evened out between the really great stories and the just okay stories. Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is a fantastic anthology, featuring some current popular YA writers coming together to write a bunch of horror stories. And it’s fantastic. I had high hopes for this, and though there’s always one or two short stories in an anthology that can bring the book down, I thought each story here did well. Some weren’t as good as others, but only one was a true clunker for me.

Fun side note: each story is based on some form of pop culture – films, stories, poems, etc. Some I realized right away, and others I didn’t know until I checked the footnotes. It became a sort of game for me to see if I could spot the reference.

The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma – 5/5
Teenage girls know more than we’re given credit for.

Nova Ren Suma writes some fantastic teenage girls, and Birds features a great snapshot of them. Three teens (among others) have dealt with the long stares and thinly veiled longing from their older male neighbor, but of course the parents believe he’s completely harmless – he’s a wonderful baker, after all. The girls deal with his mostly harmless leering until the night they see him bring a young girl home…and the weirdness begins.

The reveal is easy to see pretty early on, but it didn’t detract from the impact of the ending one bit. Nova Ren Suma knows how to pack a punch in such a short time frame, and it’s obviously a very strong start to the book.

Spot the reference: Didn’t catch this one as I read.

In the Forest Dark and Deep, by Carrie Ryan – 5/5
I’m giving this one a full five stars for how deeply fucking unsettling it was. Donnie Darko meets Alice in Wonderland in this one, and Donnie Darko has given me a life-long fear of man-sized rabbits. (Fuck you, Frank.) The moment I read the description of the March Hare I had to turn on the lights in my bedroom to finish the story.

Spot the reference: Pretty obvious right from the start.

Emmeline, by Cat Winters – 3/5
One of the shorter stories, Emmeline is a story that would sound really fantastic around a campfire late at night. It has some good atmosphere, but it felt a little too obvious as the story went on. The reveal didn’t have as much weight as it should have, but I’m still not sure if it was meant to be a twist/reveal as such, or only the obvious conclusion to the story being told.

Spot the reference: Apparently three different ones, none of which I got.

Verse Chorus Verse, by Leigh Bardugo – 2/5
I was a little surprised that the story I found one of the weakest was by Leigh Bardugo. I enjoy her Grisha series, but there was little I liked about this one. It focuses too much on the life of a pop starlet and the supernatural isn’t clear at all. Ultimately the ending left me dissatisfied.

Spot the reference: Not one I got, and a surprising one.

Hide-and-Seek, by Megan Shepherd – 3/5
Annie has to win a game against death, and death never loses. Taking place over the span of 24 hours, Hide-and-Seek is a story that is an adrenaline rush, moving from moment to moment with very little time to breathe. I was captivated for the first few scenes, but it quickly became difficult to stick with my suspension of disbelief as thing after thing after thing kept happening. I’m not quite sure I liked the ending, but the story accomplishes what it wants very well.

Spot the reference: Did I mention I was pretty bad at this? Also, very surprising.

The Dark, the Scary Parts and All, by Danielle Paige – 3/5
I spent the majority of this story wondering where it was going, then when I got to the end, I laughed. I don’t think laughter was intended by Danielle Paige. [SPOILERS, highlight for easier reading] When it’s revealed that Damien is actually Hades’ (or the Devil’s?) son and he just wants to claim Marnie, it reads two ways for me. First, it’s a basic creepy ending, all oh no, whatever will she do, she can’t escape him!. Second, every step of the way, Damien reminded me of SO MANY YA LOVE INTERESTS that all I could think of was this story as a scathing indictment on the mysterious, super gorgeous and deep love interest trope. Yeah, Damien is deep and has a mysterious past – he’s the fucking devil. DON’T FALL FOR THE DEVIL, GIRLS. [/SPOILERS]

Spot the reference: Well, one is actually mentioned in the story, so sure, I got it.

The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh, by April Genevieve Tucholke – 3/5
I rated this pretty highly because I really love how April Genevieve Tucholke evokes a mood right from the start — that feeling of being on the cusp of high school and college, when your life is finally changing and every plan you’ve been making is coming together. Except something brings it all crashing down.

The actual plot of the story is really good, but…it comes crashing down with the ending. Very dissatisfying.

Also, the narrator is a dick.

Spot the reference: Finally got another one!

Fat Girl with a Knife, by Jonathan Maberry – 4/5
So, I was very dubious about this one thanks to the title and how it starts, but damn if Jonathan Maberry didn’t make me fall in love with Dahlia. While the length constraints don’t leave much of her to be fleshed out, what Maberry does include makes for a very clear picture of who Dahlia is in this snapshot of a moment in her lifetime.

Oh, and some other stuff happens that’s pretty rad. This one has the least creep factor of all the stories, but I really enjoyed it.

Spot the reference: Hell yes.

Sleepless, by Jay Kristoff – 2/5
I was very unsure about this story for a majority of it, since a huge part of it takes place in IM format, which drove me nuts. Pretty sure nobody really uses txt spk when having online conversations these days. Anyway, it was a very real, very grounded, and very…unimpactful story, especially compared to the others. I didn’t even really enjoy the resolution the way I think we’re intended to.

Spot the reference: One of them, and I thought the ending was a reference to something obvious, but apparently wasn’t.

M, by Stefan Bachmann – 1/5
I was flying through the book and then I got to M, which brought my momentum to a grinding halt. The initial set up of a blind girl being “witness” to a crime was interesting, but I didn’t quite like most of the story, and I didn’t like where it went. I really wanted something to happen with the creepy children, but that wasn’t meant to be.

Spot the reference: Nope.

The Girl Without a Face, by Marie Lu – 2/5
Eeehhhh? This had promise, but then the reveals started to happen and I lost interest very quickly.

Spot the reference: Nope.

A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow, by McCormick Templeman – 2/5
Not a great stretch of stories here. I was a bit confused as to where the story started out, and found the characters felt more like cardboard cutouts than anything. Mysterious girl, sympathetic guy, his menacing brother, etc. I enjoyed the ending a bit.

Spot the reference: No, but I googled the film and I’m totally interested in watching it.

Stitches, by A.G. Howard – 4/5
Ohhh hell yes. This was so strange and it starts off with an in your face bang. I enjoyed the atmosphere, the reasoning behind what was happening, the sheer creepiness and horror of the reveal. This was the only story in the entire book that made me gasp “oh SHIT!” out loud. Fucking body horror, I love it and love to hate it.

Spot the reference: Oh yes, it’s very obvious.

On the I-5, by Kendare Blake – 2/5
A very disappointing finish to the book, which surprises me as I really loved Kendare Blake’s previous novels. The real intentions of the character are shrouded too much to make her all that interesting, and it isn’t until the reveal that my interest perked up. I liked the idea behind the story, but the part I liked was only a couple pages at the very end.

Spot the reference: Nope!

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

18498558Bird Box
Josh Malerman
Goodreads

Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

Interweaving past and present, Bird Box is a snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

Review:

There was a lot I liked about this book.  It was short which meant the plot had to be tightly unfurled and didn’t have any chance to go off on tangents or introduce characters that had no bearing on the book.  Everything was concise, efficient and unspooled in a way that, while not as detailed as some books, rocketed the tension up to make it a page turner in spots.  There were several areas where I wanted more and more, wanted to see what happened and how it happened.  Malerman’s writing is very spare, using words as weapons to really drive a point home or using the sparse and stripped language to paint a picture of a world torn apart.

I thought the book was building to finally revealing the antagonists that had been so feared and so talked about the entire book but that didn’t happen.  So, that was a bit of a let down, a bit of tension yanked away.  While I get what the author was going for in keeping things ambiguous, the previous pages had made me want to know more.  But, the climax is open ended, leaving the reader to imagine what might happen in the future to Malorie and her kids.

It’s an interesting book.  It’s short enough that I’d recommend because it won’t take you long to finish but I did wish for more because I felt like the end fell flat.

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

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Hex
Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Goodreads

Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a 17th century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters your homes at will. She stands next to your bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened.

The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting, but in so doing send the town spiraling into the dark, medieval practices of the past.

Review:

I really enjoy books that make the setting an additional character. Black Spring the place was just as freaky as the Black Rock Witch. That ratcheted the tension up even higher, making certain parts of the book suffocating and overwhelming in intensity.

There were some slower parts of the book, parts that could have been cut out to make the book a bit shorter and tighter but they were few and far between. The characters, while not very memorable, played their parts well but they were really the backdrop for the town and the witch herself.

The only other quibble was that the author had quite the obsession with mentioning nipples, both men and women. I don’t know why or what’s behind it but dude really likes to describe nipples.

The Deep by Nick Cutter

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The Deep
Nick Cutter

A strange plague called the ’Gets is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget—small things at first, like where they left their keys…then the not-so-small things like how to drive, or the letters of the alphabet. Then their bodies forget how to function involuntarily…and there is no cure. But now, far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Marianas Trench, an heretofore unknown substance hailed as “ambrosia” has been discovered—a universal healer, from initial reports. It may just be the key to a universal cure. In order to study this phenomenon, a special research lab, the Trieste, has been built eight miles under the sea’s surface. But now the station is incommunicado, and it’s up to a brave few to descend through the lightless fathoms in hopes of unraveling the mysteries lurking at those crushing depths…and perhaps to encounter an evil blacker than anything one could possibly imagine.

Review:

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That was basically me during the entire reading of this book.  It’s incredibly creepy with some triggering scenes of body horror but it’s also fascinating and engrossing as all get out.  It made me so, so tense and when it ended, I was both relieved because my heart got a break but also sad because I did want to see more of the story.