Tag Archives: Horror Blog

Book Review: The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson

4 Stars. Trigger warnings for violence against women, self harm, assault, sexual assault, lots of blood and gore.

Image from Goodreads

Do you like action? Brooding? Cults? Women highly skilled with a bow and arrow? Ancient swamp magic? REVENGE?? I’m sure your answers were all ‘yes’, and so I highly recommend to you The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson. This book is a thrill ride with plenty of bloody action, terrifying folk magic, and beautiful found family vibes. It feels like Winter’s Bone meet Beasts of the Southern Wild, and it’s amazing.

Miranda Crabtree is an orphan and has been since her father disappeared in the bayous of Arkansas when she was eleven. The only evidence left behind was a shotgun shell and a baby Miranda could have sworn was dead when her father and an old witch took it deep into the woods. Miranda barely escaped that night with her life. Something in the bayou wanted her.

That night, Miranda lost the last of her family, but she gained a new brother in the abandoned baby and a new grandmother (Baba) in the old witch, who found her and nursed her back to health. To keep them safe, Miranda aligns herself with bad men: an unstable and washed up preacher/cult leader, a weed grower, and a corrupt and murderous constable who tries to hurt her in more ways than one. Luckily, Miranda knows how to handle herself. When the preacher and constable start making some dangerous moves, Miranda finds herself having to fight for not only her life, but the lives her brother, her Baba, and a new arrival who turns out to be more significant to her family and the people of the bayou community than Miranda realizes. The balance of the ancient magic in the swamps depends on it.

Turning to her learned survival skills to defend herself and her family, Miranda also has to turn to a darker more dangerous power. Her Baba is a true witch, a woman deeply connected to the spirits of the bayou and the spirits brought over from her homeland. Her power and magic has deep roots in Slavic folklore, and they seem to feel just as at home in the American South as they do in Europe. But this power does not come without sacrifice and pain (and blood). And even with those sacrifices, these spirits are not in the business of customer satisfaction, if you know what I mean. Miranda must take this risk and call on the power of the bayou, unsure of if and how it will answer.

The Boatman’s Daughter is over 400 pages long, but the writing sucks you in and seamlessly ushers you through the split narratives. Davidson’s writing is so vivid, you can feel the sticky heat of the bayou as you read. He handles extreme and graphic situations with a kind of beautiful fluidity. This book is not without its gore and trauma on the page, and yet Davidson has a skill for making it feel significant and real without over sensationalizing.

The characters are rich and inventive, and some of them are absolutely terrifying. I will also give Davidson credit for writing what I thought was a wonderful female character. Miranda is strong, vulnerable, and competent. She’s incredibly skilled, but woe to the first person to tries to call her a Mary Sue. I loved reading her and going on her journey.

I would absolutely classify this book as horror, but it’s an interesting blend of subgenres that make it feel different from a classic horror novel. The real world horrors are front and center through most of this one. And while there is a heavy dose of paranormal creeps, most of those elements appear at the end. So if you like slashers and thrillers, I would definitely recommend picking up The Boatman’s Daughter.

This was my first experience reading Andy Davidson and I can 100% say that I will pick up anything else he writes in the future.

Published 2/11/20. Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux / MCD x FSG Originals and NetGalley for providing an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com.

Book Review: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

4 Stars. Trigger warnings for hoarding, death of a loved one.

42527596._SY475_
Image from Goodreads

A few years ago, I went with my Mom to stay with her and my Aunt at my aunt’s new cabin on a kettle lake in upstate New York. Kettle lakes look like ponds, but they were formed by ice blocks melting many a year ago. Bloody Pond, the kettle lake my Aunt has her cabin on, is spring fed so the water is crisp and clear. It’s very refreshing! My Aunt’s cabin is set deep among some pines, and it feels very bewitching to be there.

We had a lovely weekend in her adorable cabin, swimming, reading, eating, and drinking. There was, of course, an amazing campfire, and we stayed up late talking and laughing. But the later we stayed up (and the more red wine I drank), the more I couldn’t stop looking out into the pines. It got really creepy. What could be in those pines? Were there creatures watching us? What kind of creatures?

I was also raised on a very healthy dose of creepy folklore. My family has a lot of Scottish and Irish blood, so stories of changelings and brownies and selkies etc. were very common. I’m convinced my mom is in good with some faeries. I think it’s because of all of this that I loved T. Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones so much. I think I love folk horror best now.

Mouse lives in Pittsburgh (heyo, local gal!), and she doesn’t see much of her immediate family. Her Aunt raised her after her Mom died, but she talks to her Dad every week on the phone. Her Grandma lived in rural North Carolina (I also have family in North Carolina…too many coincidences), but now that both she and her Step-grandpa are dead, their house is just sitting vacant. Mouse’s Dad calls her up and asks a huge favor…would she please go down and clean the house out so they can decide what to do next with it? She can’t say no.

The house is a disaster. Her Grandma was at hoarder status before her death, and Mouse knows it’s going to take forever to get through the piles she left behind. But she’s got a radio and her lovable (if doofy) coon hound Bongo by her side. She also has her Step-grandpa’s old journal for reading material, and boy is it a doozy! He talks about carvings on stones, twisting about like the twisted ones, laying down like the dead ones, poppets, not being able to sleep, and of course how generally awful Mouse’s Grandma was.

Mouse gets hooked on the journal and begins searching for a book that her Step-grandpa keeps referring to, but as she hunts the stuffed house for this missing book (or anything related to her Step-grandpa’s ramblings), things go off the rails. I don’t want to spoil anything, because the plot is so twisted and fun, but Mouse and Bongo soon learn that they are in a place where the veil between their world and a different, more ancient and magical one, is very thin. The woods behind the house are a dangerous place. There are monsters out there, and Mouse’s Step-grandpa knew it. The monsters knew about him too, and now they know about Mouse.

I blew through The Twisted Ones! T. Kingfisher’s writing is so entertaining and juicy. The imagery is rich and shocking, the characters are well developed and a ton of fun, and the lore is fascinating. As a piece of folk horror, I found it gripping and compelling. When you take old-country stories and beliefs and you bring them into stark contrast with the modern era, sometimes the juxtaposition itself is unsettling. This book goes way beyond unsettling, however. There is one image that I will never get out of my head. Now, when I stare out at a sea of dark, damp pines at night, I will think about that image and probably run screaming back into a well-lit house.

But The Twisted Ones isn’t a beat-you-over-the-head scary book. It’s full of creeping dread, and there are some horrific images (as mentioned above), but it’s mostly a well told adventure with some solid scares and a well developed setting. Something I appreciate the most about it is its sense of humor. Mouse is hilarious, and the neighbors she makes friends with at her Grandma’s house are so fun you find yourself wanting to have dinner with them yourself.

The Twisted Ones is a well-rounded novel for those who are intrigued by the darker side of things. It’s steeped in old-timey lore and family secrets, with a healthy dose of humor and adventure. If you enjoyed The Ritual by Adam Nevill or The Blair Witch Project, you’re sure to enjoy The Twisted Ones. But I recommend this book to both horror and non-horror readers alike! It’s truly a romp of a story.

Published 10/1/19. Thank you to Gallery / Saga Press and NetGalley for providing an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com.

Book Review: The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring

3 Stars.

Image from Goodreads

I say with no exaggeration that Sara Faring’s The Tenth Girl contains the biggest twist and flip I have ever witnessed in fiction. This book is a slow burn that ends in the most unexpected way. In my wildest dreams, I could never have predicted what happens at about 80% of the way through. I can’t even truly review it because I don’t want to spoil anything!

A split perspective narrative, The Tenth Girl bounces back and forth between Mavi, a young woman in 1970s Argentina beginning work as an English teacher at a secluded prestigious boarding school in Patagonia (such a stunning place on this earth), and Angel, an American teen in the 21st century (I think) suffering from the loss of her family. Through a series of  events, Angel’s spirit finds itself at the very same boarding school as Mavi, and she soon learns that other spirits are hunting and feeding from the residents of the school.

Angel and Mavi make an unlikely connection but strong, and together they decide to fight the seemingly paranormal forces bent on destroying everyone and everything around them. These forces seem linked to an old indigenous Zapuche (mapuche) legend, where the tribes attempted to protect themselves and their lands by inviting back the spirits of their departed, but instead opened the floodgates of hell. The only way to quell The Others, as these destructive spirits are called, is to sacrifice a young girl.

If it seems like I’m being cagey here with details, it’s because everything I thought I knew about this book through 3/4ths of it is a lie. One of the biggest twists I have ever experienced in a book (perhaps even bigger than Gone Girl), occurs with only a fourth of the narrative to go, and from there on out it completely defies genre and expectations.

Up until that twist, I felt like The Tenth Girl was really dragging, lacking in character development, and uninventive with its plot. Most of the book, and it’s not a short book, is rather dull. After the twist, those potential faults are explained away, but I honestly don’t know if I like it any better. I wish the twist occurred sooner, and we got to spend more time acclimating to the new reality of the situation. And what Faring explores in the last ten percent of the book is more fascinating than anything that happened in the preceding ninety. I desperately want her to write THAT book, exploring the events that lead us to the conclusion and after.

Faring’s writing is beautifully descriptive, but it can drag in places. The Tenth Girl is written for a Young Adult audience, but it contains some very dark creepy moments. As I mentioned, it is hard for me to nail down an actual genre for this book, but predominantly I would say it’s a YA psychological thriller with elements of horror and historical and science fiction.

The Tenth Girl is Faring’s debut, and while I only rated it a 3/5 stars, I would definitely pick up another of her books in the future. She intrigued me with this one, and her sensational end saved it for the most part. Once you’ve read it, I’d really like to know what you all think!! It’s really frustrating to not be able to talk about the most interesting part of this book.

Published 9/24/19. Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com.

Book Review: The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

Book cover for The Monster of Elendhaven
Published 9/24/19. Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and NetGalley for providing an ARC. Review originally published on jocelyniswrong.com. Trigger warnings for child abuse, sexual abuse/assault, murder, violence, family death.

This is a nasty little book, brutal and beautiful. To call it simply atmospheric would be doing it a great disservice. Jennifer Giesbrecht’s debut novella The Monster of Elendhaven is absolutely phenomenal. In a short 160 pages, Giesbrecht paints a world of cold, dark filth. It drips with pain and sorrow. The characters are wretched but fascinating and fully developed. I use these descriptors not as a way to dissuade you in reading it, but to let you know what arena you’d be playing in. The characters are wretched, yes, but you love to follow them in their dastardly plots. The setting is stark and harsh, but you will not be able to look away. And while the story is creepy and gory, it has moments of true tenderness and humor.

In The Monster of Elendhaven, a superhuman man named Johann stalks the dark and seedy streets of Elendhaven, acting as the city’s own Jack the Ripper of sorts. There’s something unique about Johann though: it appears he can’t be killed. He’s tried. Multiple times. When he encounters Florian, a man from one of Elendhaven’s oldest families, he sees a kindred spirit. Soon they team up, Johann acting as the strong arm for Florian’s dark revenge fantasies. But even the best laid of evil plans can experience some hiccups. Someone is hunting Florian, and they mean to kill.

Magic plays a huge role in this book, but it’s the kind of magic that you need to look at out of the corner of your eye. Sorcerers and magic used to fill the world, but as time passed it became dangerous to be a sorcerer. It was punished, shunned, and bred out of society…but not entirely. Elendhaven, being a fantasy mirror of a Germanic/Nordic country, has old magic and old lore that does not forget the truth behind the universe. It is a place where fantastical things can still happen. I love settings like this, that exist in the spaces between the modern mundane world and an older magical world.

What Giesbrecht does in such a short space is so impressive. She gives us a fully realized story, equipped with rich characters, a visceral setting, a deep mythology, and a satisfying end. And while we only get a fragment of the lore this world contains, it is robust and offers the appropriate support to the tale at hand. I could read a whole series based on these characters or set in Elendhaven or its surroundings.

The Monster of Elendhaven is like if Tim Burton and Rob Zombie collaborated on a film together. It’s a Dickensian tale on crystal meth. It will chill you to your core but leave you wanting more. I wait in eager anticipation for whatever Giesbrecht publishes next!