Tag: horror

Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (InfoSoup)

Released October 20, 2015.

Kady picked the worst time possible to break up with Ezra: just as their planet was attacked. The two of them manage to survive and are taken into space on two different ships in the fleet. The fleet must keep moving in order to escape the final ship from the attacking forces. As they travel, Kady becomes a hacker, looking at files and documents that only the commanding officers of the fleet would usually see. Ezra becomes a pilot, manning a small spaceship in battles. The two of them can only communicate through texts with one another and when communication between the two ships is shut down, it is up to Kady to reconnect them using her hacking skills. But connecting with each other may be the last thing on their minds as a combination of a deadly plague and an insane artificial intelligence threatens all of them.

This brilliant novel uses documents that recreate the events on the fleet, the hacking of Kady, the piloting by Ezra, and their communications with one another. They are documents from an investigation that takes place afterwards, piecing together what happened to the people aboard the ships. The documents are an amazing mix of different formats which keeps the long novel fresh and fast moving. The documents create a story of mysteries and then horror as the plague takes effect. Horrible and devastating choices must be made that have consequences for many, the tension is tremendous throughout the book and just grows even more ferocious as the novel continues. It’s diabolically plotted in a wonderful twisted way.

The design of this book is gorgeous. Pages loop with text as missiles and space ships weave and fight. Other pages for heartbeats, images made of words. For me, the best part of the book is the artificial intelligence after it has been damaged. It is beyond human, smarter than us all, asking questions that an AI should not be posing, and feeling things that no AI should feel. It is death, life and wonder rolled into one. Brilliance and darkness at the same time.

A glorious science fiction read for teens, this book has romance yes, but at its heart it is a dynamic horror story set in the vacuum of space. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Alfred A. Knopf.

Review: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Steve’s new baby brother isn’t healthy, so his parents keep having to meet with doctors and specialists to see if they can help. Steve struggles with worries much of the time and now it is getting worse. He worries about the baby, about his parents, about his little sister, about the odd man who drives the knife sharpening cart, and about the wasps. Steve doesn’t like wasps and when he is stung out in the yard one day, he discovers that he is allergic to them too. So Steve has to carry an Epi-pen to keep safe. As the summer continues, Steve begins to have weird dreams. It seems that the queen of the wasp nest outside under the eaves is communicating with him. And she is steadily explaining something horrible and tantalizing, promising that she can help his little brother by fixing him. But it takes Steve saying “yes” and helping them get the new baby in the house. As the pressure mounts, Steve is told by his doctor that dreams are only in his head and not reality. But what happens when your dreams actually start coming true?

Oppel has written a spectacular horror book, combining a fear of bees and wasps with the myths of changelings. The way that Oppel incorporates the science of reason and has adults dismissing Steve’s dreams and concerns makes for a horror book that uses parents and polite adult sensibility as the way the main character is isolated. This benign busyness of the parents though they care deeply will be something that most modern children will recognize. It’s far more effective than having no parents at all.

The queen wasp in the story is a brilliant villain, attractive and kind. She offers Steve attention when he is getting none, plenty of praise, and the sweetness of power in a situation where he has no control. It is an irresistible mix and a trap that Steve realizes far too late. Readers too will tell themselves that this is all in Steve’s head, just pretend, only a dream. But Oppel does not let that happen, taking it all the way through to its horrific conclusion.

Frightening, magical and impossible to stop reading, this horror novel for older elementary children is one of the best. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Simon & Schuster.

Review: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

cuckoo song

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Triss wakes up feeling very strange, surrounded by her worried parents and a doctor. As she starts to feel better, she struggles to recognize even family members and her own home. Everything seems strange, even herself. At night, Triss finds herself ravenously hungry and eating windfall rotting apples off of the ground outside. Her younger sister Pen is terrified of her and her parents are worried. Cutting their vacation short, the family returns home but Triss doesn’t get any better. She does start to investigate other strange things happening at their home. There’s a desk drawer filled with letters from her dead brother that seem to be written after his death. There’s Pen making calls on the phone that leave no trace with the operator. Triss follows Pen to a strange movie theater where she discovers a man called The Architect who has made a dark deal with Pen with promises to save her family. Triss has to piece together her own role in what is happening to her family and see what she can do to save them all.

Hardinge writes with such strength and beauty. Her prose is lush and exquisite even in her descriptions. She manages to tell readers about the setting with details that expose the horrors happening right below the surface, the result is unsettling, eerie and gorgeous. Here is how she describes The Grimmer, a waterway that Triss was rescued from at the beginning of the book:

With every step the Grimmer grew closer and clearer, black as perdition and narrow as a half-closed eye…Over its waters the willows drooped their long hair, bucking in the gusts as if with sobs. Against the dark surface she could make out the white waterlily buds, like small hands reaching up from beneath the surface.

Readers know immediately that they are in a horror book, one that nods towards gothic but also stands firmly in faerie land too. At the heart of the book is Triss, a sickly girl with a younger sister who despises her. She focuses mostly on her own hunger, her own desires, but as things reveal themselves so does Triss’ real character and she grows into a gutsy and selfless heroine. The transformation is less about Triss changing and more about revealing what was already within her but hidden. It’s a book of slow reveals, layers being removed, truth being exposed. And it is vicious, dangerous and treacherous to the extreme. In other words, it’s a dazzling dark read.

Wild, terrible and hauntingly beautiful, this children’s fantasy novel is a delight thanks to its dark heart and strikingly unique heroine. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

Review: The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

bunker diary

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

The controversial winner of The Carnegie Medal in 2014 has arrived in the United States. It is the story of Linus, a teenager living on the streets who is kidnapped and placed in a bunker. The bunker has six bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. In the kitchen are six plates, six cups, six sets of plastic utensils. Each room has a Bible and a notebook and pen. There is is no hot water, only cold. Linus is there alone at first but then others start to arrive. Someone is watching them through the vents in the ceiling, even in the bathroom there are cameras and microphones. That someone responds to written requests for food and supplies via notes sent in the elevator. Until someone does something wrong, then the food stops and the real horror begins.

Brooks has crafted an intense and horrific story here. It could have descended into pure hate and the proof that people are inherently evil. But something else happens here. There is hope, there are dreams, there are memories of human connection, and new connections are forged too. At the same time, there is no denying that it is bleak and desperate and frightening. It is a book that asks what you would do in this circumstance, who you would become. It is a book that challenges, that doesn’t offer easy answers and that is beautifully terrible.

While Linus is the narrator of the book with the story told in his own writing in his notebook, the story is also that of the others in the bunker with him. They are all just as well crafted, their responses to their kidnapping entirely personal and appropriate for who they are, and there are at least two of them who are heroes of the story too. They are the ones that imbue it with humanity and make the book worth the endurance needed to finish it.

Powerful, compellingly written and achingly human, this novel is challenging and exquisite but certainly not for all readers. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Penguin.

Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

through the woods

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

This graphic novel is haunted by authors like Neil Gaiman and the Brother Grimm.  The tales here are gruesome in the best possible way, frightening and oozy and delightful.  Our Neighbor’s House is a strange tale of a family that disappears one by one into the frigid snow following a man in a wide-brimmed hat until there is only one girl left.  A Lady’s Hands Are Cold tells of a women married into a loveless marriage who begins to hear voices calling from the walls and floors of the house.  His Face All Red is a story of murder and the undead. My Friend Janna tells of what happens when fakery of the occult becomes real and dangerous.  The Nesting Place will have your skin crawling, or perhaps it’s what lurks behind your skin.  Each story is a gem, strange and beautiful and entirely horrific.

Carroll does both the stories and the art here and they are married together so closely that they could not be extricated.  Though they are all clearly done by one person, the art changes from one to the next, definitively showing that you are entering a different place with different people.  There are old stories with coaches, horses and corsets as well as more modern tales too. 

Yet though they are clearly different, you start each one with that unease in your stomach that Carroll seems to be able to generate through her use of colors and the way that her characters gaze from the page.  Something is wrong in each of the stories and you can’t finish until you figure out exactly what it is.  The effect is haunting, haunted and wildly exhilarating.

A true delight of a read, this graphic novel for teens is completely disturbing and filled with horror.  In other words, it’s perfection for horror fans.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from McElderry Books.

Review: Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

rules of summer

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

Enter the surreal world of two brothers with a picture told in few words and many pictures.  The book takes place in the previous summer and explains what one of the brothers learned that summer.  The lessons are strange, but the images are even wilder.  The first lesson is “Never leave a red sock on the clothesline.”  It is accompanied by a wonderful and magnificently creepy image of a huge rabbit the size of a house with a red eye staring over the wall as the two brothers cower on the other side.  As the pages turn, the world gets odder and odder, forming a cohesive world but one that surprises, horrifies and delights.

As Tan blends humor with his frightening images, one starts to see a world that is beyond our own and yet strangely parallel.  These brothers live in a different world, one with its own rules and laws but one that is hauntingly familiar to our own.  Perhaps my favorite series of images is the series of pictures for “Never wait for an apology” where the younger brother is padlocked in a small steam engine with smoke pouring from the smokestack.  Black birds fly past.  Since all of the other images were done as single picture, I didn’t expect to turn the page and see the image continue from farther away.  It all evoked so brilliantly the loneliness, the trapped feeling, the isolation of waiting for an apology. 

Tan continues to surprise and delight in this new picture book.  While not for everyone, there are some children who will adore this skewed world that speaks to our own.  Appropriate for ages 6-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

Review: The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

night gardener

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

A book sure to create some shivers, this is a thrilling gothic horror book for children.  Molly and Kip are two Irish children abandoned by their parents as their family fled to England due to the Great Irish Potato Famine.  No one will hire Molly as a servant until a man hires them to work for his family at their isolated and decrepit mansion.  It quickly becomes apparent that things are not what they seem in this family.  Molly finds a painting done of the family a year earlier, and they have changed considerably with their hair turning black and dull to their skin losing all color.  Perhaps it has something to do with the locked green door in the house, a door that Molly yearns to find out what is behind.   But opening that door unleashes a terrible force, one that answers your wants but destroys you in the process.  How can two children stand up to a centuries old curse?

Auxier’s storytelling skill is incredible.  He weaves a world of darkness, creeping misery and despair so cleverly that readers will feel the chill on their skin before it reaches their thoughts.  The children are steadily drawn into the strangeness surrounding the house and family, succumbing to the temptation of safety, the illusion of a home, and not seeing the proof around them of what is happening.  For the reader, this is a book that steadily builds and builds as the tension mounts and the nights get more frightening.  It is a wonderfully creepy read, one that simply can’t be put down.

The themes of the book are beautifully crafted.  The book speaks to the importance of love and family, but even more so it is about what happens when greed becomes consuming, literally.  It also is about the power of storytelling and stories, the way that they can teach, terrify and soothe.  And finally about the terror when a story comes to life right in front of you. 

An extraordinary horror novel for children, this book will be enjoyed by young readers but maybe not right before bed.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet.