The Bone Magician (Tales From The Sinister City #2) by F.E. Higgins

March 7th 2008)

Pin Carpue is on his own in the world. His mother is dead and his father is missing after being labeled a suspect in a rash of murders. Pin finds a job working for the local undertaker as a body watcher, making sure people are really dead before they’re buried. The body he’s supposed to be watching tonight is currently surrounded by three people engaged in a most unusual ceremony. An old man, a bone magician, and his young female assistant are waking a woman so her grieving fiancé can have one last goodbye with her. Pin can’t believe it will work, but then the dead woman sits up and speaks.

Pin is determined to discover how the magic works. He cannot believe they are raising the dead. He cannot believe his father is a murderer. Then Pin himself nearly becomes the killer’s next victim.

As this mysterious tale unfolds with delicious creepiness, Pin will learn more about the bone magician, the girl Juno, and a hideous creature called the Gluttonous Beast that is kept in a local tavern where people pay for a glimpse.

My Thoughts

The Bone Magician (Tales From The Sinister City, #2)The Bone Magician by F.E. Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“A corpse on the cusp of putrefaction could hardly be considered the most entertaining company on a winter’s evening, but Pin Carpue didn’t do what he did for the conversation. He did it for the money”

I’m being slightly generous by giving this 3 stars but I did enjoy the author’s sense of humour and it’s a fun read.

The plot relies too much on coincidences to push the mystery forward. Sure, it’s a children’s book and maybe they won’t notice? But personally, I think children deserve a bit more respect and a plot that’s better thought out.

It’s the second in a series, I think maybe the first one explains some of the things in this book that go unexplained. This can read as a stand-alone but I wasn’t entirely sure what the story was supposed to be about – Pin’s father’s murder, the silver apple killer, or the bone magician. I think some parts of the plot could be explained by reading the first book and I wouldn’t have been wondering the whole time when it would be explained. Because I hadn’t there was too much going on and it felt like it kept jumping back and forth between two or three completely different stories. I don’t know why I didn’t read the first book first, I even have it on my shelves somewhere.

Anyway, this ended up not being about the bone magician at all, despite the title. He’s barely in it.

I didn’t like the journal entries, they felt out of character for Pin, too mature and too posh. Also, they were really hard to read because they are all in italics with a dark background! I got really irritated by them.

It’s clearly heavily influenced by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and his Ankh Morpork city. This is not a bad thing, and F.E. Higgins manages to bring the sense of silly in the right way humour that’s needed and even put her own spin on it. She brings her city to life, I especially loved the descriptions of the river!

But it delights in being ghoulish and light-hearted and fun and that makes up for a lot. There’s a lot of the macabre in the story – Pin works in an undertakers and his job is to watch the corpses to make sure they are really dead.

Lots of interesting characters keep it all moving and the plot is lively and fun even if it is crammed with too much. It kept me entertained for a while and it’s not hard to read.

Give this a go if you are looking for a ghoulish and fun children’s book, but don’t expect too much from it.

The Bone Magician
Tales From The Sinister City
F.E. Higgins
Children's Fantasy
March 7th 2008)
Paperback
304

Strain of Resistance by Michelle Bryan

strain of resistance cover

I was 12 years old when the world ended. For eight years I’ve survived in this craphole once known as earth. Fighting the alien parasite that mutated most of the population into blood-thirsty freaks, while the rest of us became the lunch special on their alien menu.

Now things are changing, and not for the better. The parasite is evolving. Becoming smarter, stronger and deadlier.

They’ve already stolen everything from me. My home. My family. Even the man I loved. It’s time for this bullshit to end once and for all.

My name is Bixby and I’m the resistance.

My Review of Strain of Resistance

Strain of Resistance (Strain of Resistance #1)Strain of Resistance by Michelle Bryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A twist on the new adult genre and zombie fiction

Strain of Resistance is a new adult story set in a zombie infested post-apocalyptic world. The zombies in this story are a bit different from the normal, run-of-the-mill zombie. In Strain of Resistance, these zombies have worm / slug-like creatures that grow out of their mouths and have taken over their brains. These worms were implanted in their bodies by a strange fog that settled over the world one morning.

Bixby is one of the few survivors, people that seem to be immune to the fog. She has taken refuge with a group of people living in what was once a five-star hotel and she spends her days risking her life to go out into the zombie-infested world and hunting for supplies.

Now, I kinda hated Bixby. She’s mean, arrogant and generally just unpleasant to everyone around her. But, that also kinda made me love her too. It gets tiresome to read book after book where the heroine is self-sacrificing, cares about everyone and only risks her life to help others. It’s also fun to read a character that doesn’t care about upsetting anyone and just does what she wants.

The plot is fun and well paced. The action is constant and the story and the tension ramps up throughout the book. A little more character growth would have fleshed it out a bit, the relationships between the people in the story are explained very briefly. Just enough to set the scene really.

Interestingly, the main action and conflict at the end don’t come from what is the actual conclusion to the storyline; it happens in what is almost a side plot at the end. A brave choice, but changing things up like this worked well and stopped it being predictable.

Strain of Resistance is fun and exciting and I’ve already put the sequel on my TBR list!

Strain of Resistance
Strain of Resistance
Michelle Bryan
Sci-Fi
March 1st 2016
Kindle
208

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

heartshaped box cover

Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals…a used hangman’s noose…a snuff film. An ageing death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can’t help but reach for his wallet.

I will “sell” my stepfather’s ghost to the highest bidder…

For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn’t afraid. he has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts–of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What’s one more?

But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It’s the real thing.

And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door, seated in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang, standing outside his window, staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting–with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand.

My Review of Heart-Shaped Box

Heart-Shaped BoxHeart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first 100 pages or so were creepy and made me not want to turn the light out but then the tension faded away and after that, it was not scary at all.

I don’t think it’s really supposed to be a ghost story, it’s more about a not particularly nice man becoming a better person.

Judas Coyne is an ageing rock star on a self-destructive downward spiral. He purposefully pushes people away and has lost all interest and joy in his music. The ghost starts to destroy his quiet hideaway and Judas has to go on a journey physically and mentally to fight for his life.

The women in the book feel like they are present just to suffer through traumatic events so that Judas can feel all the emotions and grow as a person. By helping them he ends up saving himself, coming to terms with the childhood abuse he suffered and dealing with the death of his bandmates, and he learns how to form proper, caring relationships with the people left in his life.

I feel a bit cheated because it’s sold as a ghost story but it’s really not. In itself the story is interesting and it held my interest to the end but I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care about Judas, he seems a generally unpleasant person.

It’s not a bad book but it’s kinda predictable and the ghost isn’t anywhere near scary enough.

Heart-Shaped Box
Joe Hill
Horror
February 13th 2007
Paperback
406

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed #2) by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents Cover

Octavia Butler tackles the creation of a new religion, the making of a god, and the ultimate fate of humanity in her Earthseed series, which began with Parable of the Sower, and now continues with Parable of the Talents.

The saga began with the near-future dystopian tale of Sower, in which young Lauren Olamina began to realize her destiny as a leader of people dispossessed and destroyed by the crumbling of society. The basic principles of Lauren’s faith, Earthseed, were contained in a collection of deceptively simple proverbs that Lauren used to recruit followers. She teaches that “God is change” and that humanity’s ultimate destiny is among the stars.

In Parable of the Talents, the seeds of change that Lauren planted begin to bear fruit, but in unpredictable and brutal ways. Her small community is destroyed, her child is kidnapped, and she is imprisoned by sadistic zealots. She must find a way to escape and begin again, without family or friends. Her single-mindedness in teaching Earthseed may be her only chance to survive, but paradoxically, may cause the ultimate estrangement of her beloved daughter.

My Review of Parable of the Talents

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2)Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant and disturbing, this is a far too realistic look at what the future could be.

In the first book, Parable of the Sower, the American economy had broken down, the climate was heating up and oil was running out. People were competing for the basic necessaties of survival and the police were corrupt and unreliable. Anarchy ruled and everyone lived in danger of gangs taking everything they have.

Despite all this chaos Lauren Olamina managed to create a community, a band of people working together to protect themselves and build a safe and suistanable life.

Parable of the Talents with things getting better. Lauren’s community, Acorn, is starting to grow and expand. But Andrew Jarret, a fundamental Christian, is running for president. He blames the countries problems on the lack of true Christian religion and encourages his followers to persecute and murder those of other faiths.

Lauren’s community is built around a religion she has started called Earthseed and it soon comes under attack from Jarret’s followers.

I didn’t like the strong religious tone running through the book. Lauren is trying to start up a new religion to stop people fighting and tearing each other down and to convince them to start up communities and work together to create a world where everyone supports each other. The way she starts out trying to create communities does seem sensible, but she seems to become more and more of just a preacher throughout the book and by the end it starts to feel like she is setting up a cult.

To be fair the book does a good job of not presenting Lauren as perfect, it shows her faults as much as it shows the good things she is doing. She manipulates people, and is well aware of doing it. Nothing is more improtant to her than spreading the word of Earthseed.

What I did like is the way it shows that when people treat each other as equals, work together and educate each other then they can not only survive but they can build something better.

A lot of it was very hard to read, I had to keep putting it down and switch to a different book for a while. The men that attack Lauren’s community belive that women should be silent and don’t allow them to speak. They treat the women like they are worthless, work them to the bone and sexually assault them at night. They are hypocrites that think they need to reeducate anyone that is not a “good christian”.

In the context of the current climate it is even more scary. Jarrett is very similar to Trump, with his habit of blaming all the countries complex problems on anyone that doesn’t meet the mould of white christian male. Jarrett’s slogan is “make America great again”. Women are treated as chattels and expected to be pure and not tempt the men.

Parable of the Talents is a frightening look at what the future could be. It does not make for pleasant reading but it is compelling and I wish that more people would read it. It’s a warning but hopefully not a prediction.

Parable of the Talents
Earthseed
Octavia E. Butler
Sci-Fi
1998
Kindle
424

Tanglefoot (The Clockwork Century #1.2) by Cherie Priest

Stonewall Jackson survived Chancellorsville. England broke the Union’s naval blockade, and formally recognized the Confederate States of America. Atlanta never burned.

It is 1880. The American Civil War has raged for nearly two decades, driving technology in strange and terrible directions. Combat dirigibles skulk across the sky and armoured vehicles crawl along the land. Military scientists twist the laws of man and nature and barter their souls for weapons powered by light, fire, and steam.

But life struggles forward for soldiers and ordinary citizens. The fractured nation is dotted with stricken towns and epic scenes of devastation–some manmade, and some more mysterious. In the western territories, cities are swallowed by gas and walled away to rot while the frontiers are strip-mined for resources. On the borders between North and South, spies scour and scheme, and smugglers build economies more stable than their governments.

This is the Clockwork Century.

It is dark here, and different.

My Review of Tanglefoot

Free to read online, Tanglefoot is a short steampunk story set in The Clockwork Century universe. It’s standalone so you don’t need to have read the first book in the series before you read this.

Edwin is a young boy living in hiding in a sanitarium, in the basement lab of an elderly inventor. As the inventor slowly slides into dementia, Edwin becomes more and more lonely, eventually building himself a robot friend that he names Ted.

But robot Ted isn’t as friendly as Edwin hoped it would be.

I love Cherie Priest’s books, and this atmospheric and creepy short story is a good starting point for the Clockwork Century series.

You can read Tanglefoot online for free.

Tanglefoot
The Clockwork Century
Cherie Priest
Steampunk
34

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark Matter Cover

January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely, and desperate to change his life, so when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it.

Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year, Gruhuken, but the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice: stay or go.

Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return–when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible.

Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark.

My Review of Dark Matter

Dark MatterDark Matter by Michelle Paver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of the expedition to the Arctic is interesting and the descriptions are brilliantly done. The characters felt real to me, and I cared about what happened to them.

But I didn’t get enough of a feel for the the isolation or the darkness. Jack is never alone for long, then when he is he’s busy. I liked the journal format and I think it worked, but when Jack writes in it he condenses his day to the interesting bits and the long lonely hours aren’t included.

I did read it in the middle of summer, which didn’t help the atmosphere. I think this book would benefit from being read on a cold, dark evening. If you’re on your own, even better.

The important question: was I scared? Well, sort of, but not really. There was a nice build up, but it went on for too long. The reveal of how the ghost was created was creepy and very dark but felt a bit rushed and crammed in at the end. It feels like the book ends just as the scary things get going.

As a ghost story it falls a bit flat, but as a story about an Artic expedition with some dark, creepy elements then it works really well.

Dark Matter
Michelle Paver
Horror
September 1st 2011
Paperback
288

Cthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone

Cthulu and Other Monsters

Short tales of horror regarding the Old Ones and their minions by master horror scribe Sam Stone.

Cthulu and Other MonstersCthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always love getting my hands on a new Sam Stone book! This one is a collection of short horror stories about monsters and Cthulu.

One thing I like about Sam Stone is that she skips between and combines genres without it being jarring. The stories in this collection are all horror stories but they also combine other genres too. Some are a bit steampunk, and some are more sci-fi, some set in the past and some in the present. She’s clearly full of ideas and there’s a lot of originality in these stories.

My favourites are the steampunk tinged stories. There is one about Arabella, a Victorian lady who moonlights as a thief, and another where Lucy goes down into the sewers to hunt a monster plaguing the city. I loved both of these and I really wanted to see more from these characters!

This is a very adult collection, there’s lots of gore and a fair bit of sex. Things don’t always end well so you’re kept guessing right up to the end.

My only complaint is that sometimes the conversations are there more to give information to the reader than for the characters to communicate with each other. There’s a fair few “as you know” expositions that are thrown in there that feel like they don’t fit the story, and sometimes the characters can be overly formal and stilted. I feel like it could use a good editor as there are a few errors in the text. But it’s a minor complaint and it didn’t stop me enjoying reading this.

I found all of the stories creepy and interesting, and there weren’t any that I didn’t really enjoy. I feel like the author had a lot of fun writing them.

It’s a great little collection of horror stories and it’s just right for the long nights that are approaching.

Cthulu and Other Monsters
Sam Stone
Horror
April 2017
Paperback
287

Wylding Hall Playlist

Wylding Hall Cover

Wylding Hall is a book I reviewed a couple of days ago. It’s a spooky haunted house story about a folk-rock band that decamp to an old hall to make an album. Set in the 70s the book has a fantastic atmosphere, and the music is a big part of the book.

It’s just right for a Halloween month read, and I put together this playlist to make it even more atmospheric 🙂

If you have any suggestions for songs please comment below, I must admit I don’t know much about 70’s folk rock! Enjoy xx

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand

Wylding Hall Cover

When the young members of a British acid-folk band are compelled by their manager to record their unique music, they hole up at Wylding Hall, an ancient country house with dark secrets. There they create the album that will make their reputation, but at a terrifying cost: Julian Blake, the group’s lead singer, disappears within the mansion and is never seen or heard from again.

Now, years later, the surviving musicians, along with their friends and lovers—including a psychic, a photographer, and the band’s manager—meet with a young documentary filmmaker to tell their own versions of what happened that summer. But whose story is true? And what really happened to Julian Blake?

My Review of Wylding Hall

Wylding HallWylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Following a horrible tragedy a 70’s folk band decamp to a large old country house in the middle of nowhere to write their second album. Through interviews with the members of the band and their entourage who were there at the time, we are told the story around the unexplained disappearance of one of the band members.

I loved the 1970s summer setting, with the hippie folk musicians trying to write an album in an old country house. I think the author got the vibe just right, and the supernatural elements were sufficiently creepy, but not overdone.

The interview format worked well, but some of the characters voices blended into each other, I found it was hard to keep them straight. The main characters though were unique enough to be recognisable.

I read the book in two goes. The first half I found creepy and chilling. I didn’t want to turn out the light when I went to bed that night! But when I came back to it the next day a lot of the atmosphere had gone. I don’t know if I rushed through it too fast, or if it was because I read it in the busy canteen at work, but it just wasn’t as creepy anymore. I’d recommend reading it all in one go if you can.

It’s well-written, and I enjoyed reading it, it could have done with being just a bit more of a ghost story towards the end.

Wylding Hall
Elizabeth Hand
Horror
February 17th 2015
Kindle
176

Wake by Elizabeth Knox

Wake Cover

On a sunny spring morning, the settlement of Kahukura in Tasman is suddenly overwhelmed by a mysterious mass insanity. A handful of survivors find themselves cut off from the world, and surrounded by the dead.

As the group try to take care of one another and survive in ever more difficult circumstances, it becomes apparent that this isn’t the first time that this has happened, and that they aren’t all survivors and victims – two of them are something quite other. And, it seems, they are trapped with something. Something unseen is picking at the loose threads of their characters, corrupting, provoking, and haunting them.

Wake is a book that asks: ‘What are the last things left when the worst has happened?’ It is a book about extreme events, ordinary people, heroic compassion—and invisible monsters.

My Review of Wake

WakeWake by Elizabeth Knox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inventive, original, dark and disturbing. Wake takes what has become a common story – a small group of people survive while everyone around them dies, and makes something unique out of it.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it, and really you just need to read it yourself, but Wake is a mix of horror, thriller and drama, with a touch of sci-fi added in.

Wake has a cast of 14 characters and a large part of the book is about how they interact, how they work together, and how they cope with what happens. With so many of them, a few of them inevitably get a bit lost and don’t feature very much. The action mostly focuses on a core group, these characters are done very well and are believable in the way they act based on their different personalities. I ended up losing track of some of them though and I couldn’t keep who was who straight if they weren’t in the core few.

Sam was by far my favourite character. I didn’t find many of the others likeable, except I did like William, the American, – maybe because he was just honest and open from the start? But Sam was lovely and I think the author did a really good job with her story. Learning about her was my favourite part of the book.

I like the way Elizabeth Knox writes, but I found it more practical and brutal than beautiful or poetic. I know a lot of other reviewers disagree with that though so maybe I just didn’t really understand her style? Sometimes I had to re-read a sentence a few times before I understood what was happening.

The world building was brilliant, and the whole thing was very readable, a few times I only meant to read a chapter then realised an hour had passed without me noticing.

My favourite thing about the book is the sci-fi bit. I wish that was developed a bit more but it wouldn’t be realistic or fit in with the story so I can forgive it.

The way it ended made me happy. I don’t really like when I have to make my own mind up about what is happening in a book, I always feel like what was the point of actually reading the book if I don’t find out what’s going on. There are enough answers in Wake to satisfy me and I like the way it’s revealed slowly with enough pointers that I could try to work it out for myself if I wanted to.

Wake is original and disturbing, and it is a must-read for anyone that likes survivor horror stories.

Wake
Elizabeth Knox
Horror
November 1st 2013
Paperback
443