Book Review: The House by Simon Lelic

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

The House by Simon Lelic is … not what I expected. It is about a couple, Jack and Syd, who move into what they think is their dream home. After all, the house is in a great location and has plenty of space for a family in the future. However, this all changes when Jack and Syd discover something grisly in the attic. Then, at night, Jack thinks he can hear people moving around inside. Then, someone is murdered right outside their home.

It took a while for me to get into this book.

The House begins with some first-person diary entries from both Jack and Syd. Seemingly, they share a diary because both characters write entries which consist almost entirely of quips and squabbles to their partner, as well as references to their partner’s other entries. Personally, I thought this format was a disappointing and confusing to begin a book. I didn’t learn anything in particular – apart from the fact that something bad had happened – and that Jack and Syd must enjoy writing argumentative messages for the other to read.

Then, the story finally begins.

Jack and Syd move into their new home and start finding odd things around the house, or hearing strange noises. Furthermore, they learn the owner was extraordinarily keen to sell his house but the real estate agents refuse to explain why. I liked this section because it created mystery and intrigue, and the house itself was very well described as dark, gloomy, and foreboding.

However, The House suddenly shifts completely in tone and genre from a potential paranormal or Gothic horror to a crime thriller. I don’t know if this was intended to be a shocking plot twist or not, but it just came across as a complete change in direction for seemingly no reason.

I still liked the crime thriller half of the novel. Some interesting things happened and, although I wasn’t completely blown away, it was enjoyable enough.

Ultimately, the main disappointment I had with The House was that I expected it to embrace the Gothic genre further, and it just didn’t. I don’t think these expectations were unfounded either.

The book is called The House yet, despite a title which is reminiscent of other Gothic works such as The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, the house in Lelic’s novel is really not that significant. Admittedly, there are some mysteries within to be uncovered but, really, the house seems more like a backdrop for the crimes and murders committed, rather than a place of immense significance by itself.

The cover of The House also emphasises the interior of Jack and Syd’s home, which contains rickety stairs and bare floorboards, both of which are classic conventions of a haunted house. Additionally, quotations featured on the cover of The House such as ‘terrifying’, ‘creepy’, and ‘spooky as hell’ all lead you to think and expect to read a haunted house story – or at least a story which hints at and embraces the paranormal – when, in reality, The House isn’t terrifying, creepy, or spooky at all – because it is a crime novel, not a Gothic novel. This didn’t feel like a clever twist, it felt like false advertising.

Overall, The House is a reasonable crime thriller, so if you’re a fan of that genre, you will probably enjoy this too. At least you’ll know what to expect, unlike me.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith

This post was last updated in January 2020

Halloween Book Review: The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

The Lost Ones is a historical ghost story set in the aftermath of World War One. Gripped by grief from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham goes to stay with her sister Madeleine. On arrival, Stella finds her sister in a constant state of terror and unease, and strange things begin to happen. Stella hears a child crying in the night and footsteps on the stairs, but the staff insist no children have lived in the house for years. Determined to prove the existence of the supernatural, in the hopes she might reconnect with her fiancé, Stella decides to investigate the house and makes a tragic discovery.

My Photo [The Lost Ones]

I really liked The Lost Ones, and I particularly enjoyed the choice of historical setting and Frank’s descriptive, immersive narration.

As Stella stays longer at the house, more and more disturbing things start happening. Voices can be heard, doors open and close on their own, and things go missing. This was all enjoyable build-up which emphasised that the house is well and truly haunted. I also thought the fact Stella was a nurse in the war was an interesting part of her character, as her warnings that the house isn’t safe are dismissed by almost everyone, on the grounds that she is a delicate woman – grieving, mentally unstable, and struggling with PTSD. I could feel her frustration when no one would help or believe her, and so I was keen for more ghostly things to happen that would convince the others!

If it wasn’t already obvious, I love ghost stories and haunted house stories! The Lost Ones fits the bill almost perfectly.

However, when I was about 80% of the way through, the book’s focus suddenly switches from ghosts and the paranormal to family gossip and rumours. Admittedly, I did like finding out more about the house and the family, and receiving an explanation for the paranormal activity. However, from this point onwards, the book devotes almost all of its time to various characters confessing or revealing secrets, one after the other. This was a somewhat dull and unsatisfying way to reveal everything and piece together the puzzle which had been hinted at from the beginning. Personally, instead of these confessional scenes, I would have preferred a malevolent and vengeful ghostly confrontation which would have not only forced the sceptics to believe in the paranormal, but would have revealed the secrets and lies in a more exciting, horrifying, and shocking way.

Despite this, I still really enjoyed The Lost Ones and would definitely recommend if you’re looking for a new ghost story to read.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and HQ, which is an imprint of Harper Collins UK.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith

This post was last updated in January 2020

Halloween Book Review: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

Hex is a supernatural horror novel by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, set in the modern American town of Black Spring, which is cursed by the presence of Katherine van Wyler. Katherine, an alleged witch, was put to death in the 17th century, but has haunted Black Spring ever since. Her eyes and mouth are sewn shut. She wanders through the town, entering people’s homes at will. She prevents anyone from escaping. The townspeople are instructed to avoid her as, if they get too close, Katherine begins to whisper, and bad things begin to happen.

“Her name is Katherine Van Wyler, but most of us call her the Black Rock Witch.”

I had to work really hard to write a clear, succinct plot summary of this book because personally, once I started reading, I found it really difficult to understand what Hex was about. The descriptions were unclear and they made it hard for me to imagine the town of Black Spring at all. Initially, I thought the book was set in the 17th century and it wasn’t until WIFI and CCTV systems were mentioned I realised this was not the case.

In fact, the first few chapters were such a struggle to read and understand, I considered putting Hex down – a great shame, as I generally try to persevere with books, even if I’m having a bit of trouble.

This is because Hex begins by immersing the reader in a world we know nothing about, following characters who are already accustomed to life in Black Spring with Katherine, and so nothing is explained or described to the reader. We have to wait until chapter 6 to receive exposition about Katherine van Wyler, why she has cursed the town, and why it’s such a terrifying place to live.

I think the opening of Hex could have been much better had it began differently. For example, we could have followed Burt and Bammy Delarosa from the start, a new family who, later in the novel, move to Black Spring.

Opening Hex with the Delarosas’ move, despite the desperate pleas of the townspeople for them to live elsewhere, would puzzle and intrigue both them and the reader, leading us to wonder what could be so terrible about Black Spring. Then, as the Delarosas begin adjusting to their new life in the town, they would notice the curiously high number of surveillance cameras. They would notice that Black Spring is incredibly closed off and hostile to outsiders. This would pique both their suspicions and ours; what is wrong with Black Spring? Then, Katherine could appear in their home – terrifying both the Delarosas and us.

Unfortunately, this is not how Hex begins, so you must make it past chapter 6 in order to understand and enjoy the narrative as, once we know more about Katherine and Black Spring, the book immediately gets much scarier and creepier.

After this moment, I was drawn to keep reading – I had no idea what was going to happen next or when things were going to happen, and this filled the book with such exciting unpredictability. The townspeople interact more with Katherine and, as a result, Black Spring devolves into a savage, violent, and dangerous community.

Then, towards the end, Hex becomes disappointing and confusing. The narrative is filled with dream sequences that make no sense and abhorrent violence, with no real resolution. The protagonist (if there is one), Steve Grant, suggests Katherine has been innocent all along, and that it is the people of Black Spring who are really at fault; they have corrupted themselves with evil.

Unfortunately, I am not convinced by this at all. Throughout the book, we see Katherine bewitch, attack, and even kill people. Admittedly, some extreme or violent actions committed by the townspeople are not caused by Katherine, but are caused by the people of Black Spring allowing their fear and anger to transform them into lawless savages. However, to suggest Katherine is entirely innocent and Black Spring would have been corrupted anyway, even if she had never existed is just wrong. Katherine has clearly had a negative influence over some of the townspeople, and this exacerbated and escalated the cruelty, violence, and savagery which takes place.

Overall, I was disappointed by Hex.

I almost stopped reading after the first few chapters, and I couldn’t make sense of things. Then, it suddenly became really good – it was exciting, interesting, and engaging. Yet, by the ending, I was left puzzled, cross, and disappointed again.

Sadly, I don’t think I could recommend this book.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars 

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith

This post was last updated in January 2020

Halloween Book Review: Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie is a Hercule Poirot murder mystery in which Poirot is called to investigate the murder of a young girl at a Halloween party – she is found drowned in the apple-bobbing bucket.

This is not the first Agatha Christie novel to be mentioned on my blog, as I often enjoy her work – particularly her Hercule Poirot stories.

Yet, with Hallowe’en Party, I found myself disappointed.

Firstly, it wasn’t particularly scary. In fairness, I hadn’t expected it to be – it’s not a Gothic horror novel, after all. However, I had hoped for some more gory details, or even a slightly more Gothic atmosphere – thunder and lightning crackling outside as Poirot turns up to investigate a child murder in a dark and sinister country house. Perhaps that’s slightly too cliché but, given the book is set at Halloween, it might have been fun for Christie to include those tropes. Instead, she depicts Halloween in a rather quaint and, dare I say it, dull way. Even the fact a child has been murdered is glossed over somewhat.

Secondly, there weren’t any characters I strongly liked or disliked – mainly because because there weren’t any memorable, distinctive, or developed characters. Even Poirot didn’t really seem like Poirot. Each character felt incredibly two-dimensional, which was disappointing. As a consequence, I didn’t find the murder mystery engrossing, gripping, engaging, or indeed any other synonyms you can think of. This was quite a significant issue for me because isn’t the whole point of a Poirot story to solve the mystery in an interesting and engaging way? Throughout the book, as Poirot uncovers clues, interviews suspects and, even at the end of the book, when he reveals all, I didn’t feel satisfied in the slightest. I didn’t feel like I’d learnt anything about the characters, and I didn’t feel surprised or shocked. More than that, though, I didn’t even care.

Overall, Hallowe’en Party is a much weaker novel of Christie’s than any I’ve ever read, and I have no idea why this is the case. I would not recommend.

However, if you are interested in reading some entertaining and fascinating murder mysteries (that is, if my review here hasn’t put you off Agatha Christie’s work entirely!), you can read some more of my Agatha Christie reviews and blog posts here:

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars 

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith

This post was last updated in January 2020

Halloween Book Review: Human Flesh by Nick Clausen

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

This is a book review for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Human Flesh is the third book by Nick Clausen I’ve reviewed this year – clearly, I enjoy his work.

Human Flesh is a narrative formed from fictitious evidence from a murder case. The suspect, Otha’s grandfather, is a man who behaves strangely whenever winter descends. This is somewhat understandable; winter reminds him of losing his wife. Yet, Otha’s grandfather adamantly refuses to admit how she died – almost as if he has something to hide.

As I’ve been reading more of Nick Clausen’s books, I’ve found I really enjoy the many ideas he has for horror stories. Human Flesh is no exception. The story is inspired by legends of the Wendigo, a cannibalistic creature or spirit which lurks in Northern America. I really enjoyed following this mysterious murder case, and I was drawn to keep reading. It’s definitely a creepy little story.

However, when I say little, I do mean little.

Human Flesh is very short. On the one hand, this could tie nicely to the fact the book is meant to be a collection of police evidence and, consequently, a small amount of evidence could reflect the mystery behind the story and how much is still unknown. On the other hand, practically speaking, when I read it, I was disappointed the story ended so soon.

I did like Clausen’s choice to present the narrative as a collection of evidence from the past though, adding some realism because it treats the Wendigo and the mysterious deaths as real crimes. Furthermore, it leaves the reader in the dark, as we have no idea who has survived the ordeal and who has not until the end of the book. However, I do have some constructive feedback about this choice of narrative style too.

Firstly, as Human Flesh largely consists of informal evidence such as blog posts and text messages, the story was also informal. As a result, I thought that in places, the story lacked detailed or literary narration and description. I partly understand this, as the bulk of the narrative is from a teenager’s perspective, which is bound to be more informal. Yet, it also felt a shame that some opportunities for fantastically scary or Gothic language and descriptions were missed.

Secondly, I’m not convinced an e-book was the best format for Human Flesh; at present, it is only available to buy as an e-book. I appreciate it can be harder to publish physical copies of a book but, in this instance, I think a physical book would have lent itself to the format. For example, the pages could have been designed and printed to look like an email browser, a police report, or a text message exchange. It would have looked like a more convincing scrapbook or folder of collected written evidence. In an e-book, however, it is very obvious that you’re not actually reading a text message, for example. I know this is a nit-picky comment to make, and I know the story itself is fictitious – but when the narrative partly relies on convincing you, the reader, of the realism of the situation, I found that this format pulled me out of the story a little.

These comments may sound a little critical, but I only mean them in a constructive way. I still genuinely enjoyed Human Flesh and, in general, I particularly like Clausen’s creative and interesting horror story ideas, even if I do wish these stories were longer!

For anyone looking for a small and succinct yet chilling read, I would recommend Human Flesh.

Star Rating: 3.5/5 Stars 

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith

This post was last updated in January 2020

Book Review: Chills & Creeps Volume 2: Eight Scary Stories by Nick Clausen

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

Chills & Creeps Vol 2 is the second anthology of horror and fantasy stories by Nick Clausen. I originally reviewed the first anthology for Rosie’s Book Review Team and, as I enjoyed the stories so much, I asked to read and review its sequel!

To echo the format of my previous review, I will discuss and review each story in turn.

1. Babysitter

The first story in the anthology is about Julie, a teenage girl hired as a babysitter. When she arrives at the house, she is greeted with a note informing her the children are already in bed and the parents have already gone out. However, what should be a straightforward babysitting job turns sinister when Julie hears unusual noises, and begins to suspect somebody is watching her…

I thought Babysitter was a really good – terrifying – story to open this anthology; it was a good length and it had me completely hooked throughout. The only negative I have is that the story ends on a frustrating cliffhanger, when I was so keen to find out more!* After the story ends, Clausen does then apologise for including an open-ending, which I appreciated, as I don’t particularly like them!

*If Babysitter was to be developed into a longer story (and perhaps without a cliffhanger ending), I wouldn’t be complaining…

2. The Teacher from Outer Space

As the title suggests, this story is Tommy, a young boy who suspects his teacher is an alien. However, once the teacher realises Tommy’s suspicions, there are dark consequences. All in all, this was a fun science-fiction story for children. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I can see younger readers definitely enjoying this.

3. The Scarecrow

The Scarecrow is about two children who build a scarecrow which, after being daubed with some blood as part of a childish “witchcraft experiment”, comes alive.

This story was disturbing and entertaining, though I think the descriptions of the scarecrow were lacking in detail. It was difficult to imagine its appearance – beyond its pumpkin head – and, subsequently, it was hard to empathise with the boys’ horror at the scarecrow coming to life.  I kept inadvertently imagining the scarecrow as if it was from the Doctor Who episode The Family of Blood because that was the best I could think of.

Image via BBC

4. The Well

This next horror story is about Oliver, who spends the night in a haunted well. I thought this was a decent horror story and obviously drew inspiration from Ring,  a series of horror novels written by Koji Suzuki.

5. Master of the Crabs

In my opinion, Master of the Crabs is a weird story. It is about Alex, a boy who gains control of an army of killer crabs. Unfortunately, I didn’t like this– it didn’t feel much like a mystery, horror, or a fantasy story, and the concept of “controlling crabs” didn’t engage me.

6. Under the Ice

Under the Ice is about Reggie, who is contacted by the ghostly presence of his dead sister. Reggie then suspects her death was not accidental, and notices his stepmother’s strange behaviour…

This story was ok; it’s not really a ghost story, it’s more of a murder mystery that happens to involve ghosts. I thought some parts were a little vague, but overall it was reasonable.

7. Headless

The penultimate story in this anthology is entitled Headless, a story about a boy named Jack who accidentally disturbs the resting place of a headless ghost. The ghost returns, seeking not only his head, but revenge.

I thought Headless was a really good ghost story, and I was kept entertained. I think it could have been even scarier too – in my opinion – but I still liked it.

8. Whiskers

Whiskers is the final story, and Clausen’s favourite, of the anthology.

Alvin is deeply attached to his dog, Rocky. However, Alvin’s father is sick of having a dog in the house and, one day, Rocky mysteriously vanishes.  Deeply upset, Alvin makes a deal with a witch for Rocky to return. Days go by, and yet there is no sign of Rocky. Alvin grows angrier. So angry, in fact, that he even growls sometimes. His hair grows long and unkempt, and he even begins to grow… whiskers!

I thought Whiskers was okay but, in my opinion, it wasn’t especially creepy or chilling. I wish Clausen had utilised more genre conventions from the werewolf subgenre of horror; I think this would have really enhanced the tale (no pun intended).

To conclude, Chills & Creeps Volume 2 is another enjoyable anthology. There are a lot more horror stories in this collection than fantasy or science-fiction. For me, this was ideal, as I tend to read more horror fiction than fantasy or sci-fi anyway.

Whilst some stories disappointed me in places, overall, this was still a fun collection of short stories, and I’d recommend both Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Chills & Creeps.

Star Rating: 3.5/5 Stars 

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith

This post was last updated in January 2020

Book Review: Chills & Creeps Volume 1: Eight Scary Stories by Nick Clausen

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

This is a book review for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Chills & Creeps is a short anthology of horror and fantasy stories, originally published in Danish, but now available to read in English.

It seems to me most logical to discuss each story in turn, allowing the chance to share my opinions whilst (hopefully) not giving too much away.

1. Under the Skin

This was a good horror story to begin with, about an upholsterer with a liking for human skin, and it was certainly chilling. Whilst I could predict what was going to happen, it was still horrifying to see this unfold. However, although the story was tense, I thought the ending was a little lacklustre.

2. Snapper the Fish

This was a horror story about a pet fish which only eats human flesh. I found it truly gripping and scary – I almost didn’t want to keep reading because of the horror, yet I found myself reading on regardless.

3. Deadly Dreams

This was a fantasy / science fiction short story about a video game that comes to life and has dangerous consequences for its players. It was a reasonable story, but I don’t have anything majorly positive or negative to say about it.

4. All Birds Hate Me

I thought this was the weirdest story in the anthology. The main character, Eagle, is a boy with an illness which causes all birds to attack him. The idea was scary enough – and Hitchcock-inspired, I’m sure – but as all the characters happen to be named after birds, the premise came across as odd and a little silly.

5. Ghost Tennis

This was a reasonable ghost story; a family move into a new home, only for their son Joe to discover the tennis court is haunted and the only way of placating the ghost is by playing tennis matches with it – as long as Joe always loses, of course.

6. Drip-Drip-Drip

This was another horror story I found genuinely unsettling. Nadia, a young girl, becomes entrapped in her own home as it slowly fills with water…

I am not the biggest fan of deep water, and the thought of drowning is terrifying to me. I also happen to enjoy stories in which the home is transformed into a place of horror and danger.*

* In fact, I wrote an entire dissertation on this subject.

7. When I Snap My Fingers…

This is another entertaining and thrilling horror story about two siblings; Curtis takes his little sister Rachel to a hypnotist’s tent at the fair. However, once hypnotised, Rachel no longer seems herself. In fact, it’s almost like she’s become someone else entirely. And now “Rachel” is determined to destroy her family’s life.

8. Lights Out

This was the last story in the anthology, a fantasy story about a boy who can control lights with his mind. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others, and I thought it lacked any real ‘chills or creeps’. I thought it was a shame to end on a story that wasn’t scary, when so many of the other stories heavily featured horrifying elements. In future anthologies, it might be sensible to organise the stories differently – perhaps by beginning with the least scary story, to build fear and suspense as the anthology progresses towards the most scary story.

Following each story, Clausen added an author’s note, explaining where his inspiration for the story came from. I appreciated this and found it very interesting; I like seeing where authors get their ideas from!

On the whole, whilst every story was not necessarily my cup of tea, Chills & Creeps Volume 1 was an enjoyable and well-executed collection of short stories. They reminded me of the Goosebumps series by R.L Stine, and I think Clausen has a talent for transforming the ordinary and everyday into the terrifying and repulsive, playing on childhood (or adulthood) fears we’ve faced at one point or another in our lives.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars  

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith

This post was last updated in January 2020.