Quickie Reviews: Nightmares, Anyone?

You know what I, as someone living with generalized anxiety disorder, just love? Books that scare me so bad I can’t sleep.

Ha! But seriously, I’m glad I’m done with these because I literally cannot sleep.

Station Eleven

Station Eleven, Emily St. John MandelThis is the first book I read for my first book club meetup (squee!). It was really good, but post-apocalyptic settings have never been my jam. I keep thinking about a few specific moments in the novel and it’s freaking me the hell out. We’re discussing the book this Saturday; I’m excited to learn about what other people thought.

A Window Opens

A Window Opens, Elisabeth EganAlice lands her dream job at Scroll, a hip startup that’s going to “revolutionize reading.” But between trying to please a demanding boss, keeping her family afloat while her husband starts his own business, and squeezing in doctor’s appointments for her father, Alice is beginning to wonder if she really can have it all. This is a case of reading a well-written book at the wrong time. Not only did this book give me cold sweat-inducing flashbacks to working in the startup world, the main characters deals with some personal things that hit just a little too close to home right now. A month ago I probably would have raved about this book; but now it just makes me feel annoyed and guilty and upset.

The Curse of the Pharaohs

The Curse of the Pharaohs, Elizabeth PetersThis one didn’t scare me, but it did keep me up late reading. It’s the sequel to Crocodile on the Sandbank, and it’s just as marvelous. Lots of great characters — especially Amelia and Emerson — and a wonderful mystery.

What book is keeping you up at night?

Review: Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth PetersMiss Amelia Peabody, bluestocking and self-proclaimed “spinster,” has left England to pursue her passion for Egyptology. It’s 1884 — on the cusp of the 20th century — and she’s determined to spend her inheritance doing what she enjoys.

En route to Cairo, Amelia meets Miss Evelyn Barton-Forbes, a young woman with a shameful secret. Amelia takes the girl under her wing, and together they embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

This adventure takes them to Amarna, the ancient city established by Akhenaten more than 500 years previously. They meet up with two gentlemen they met in Cairo: Radcliffe Emerson, a prickly excavator, and his brother Walter, a master of hieroglyphics.

Something strange is happening on the outskirts of the destroyed city. The locals are nervous, especially after a mummy goes missing. Amelia, Evelyn, Radcliffe, and Walter are under siege, and their enemy may be supernatural.

Cheeky and wonderful

Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first in author Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, and it is fantastic. Set in 1884 but published in 1975, it’s a marvelous mixture of Victorian language and modern thinking.

Amelia is my new favorite character. She’s smart, practical, and outspoken, with a soft sentimental underbelly she tries to hide. If you enjoy Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, you’ll love Peters’ book.

Evelyn and Walter are younger and stupider (in Amelia’s opinion as well as mine), and it’s fun seeing Amelia boss them around and mow down their ridiculous notions like so much grass.

Although I caught onto the mystery’s final solution before it was revealed, the journey to that solution was surprising and exciting. The story and characters are fun, funny, and charming.

I loved Crocodile on the Sandbank. And the best part? There’s 19 more books in the series!

(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. February’s challenge was to read a book involving spies, detectives, private investigators, or a character in disguise.)

Review: This House is Haunted

This House is Haunted, John BoyneHeartbroken after the loss of her father, schoolteacher Eliza Caine is desperate to leave London. When she applies for a position as a governess at a home outside Norwich, she is surprised at her potential employer’s response: he doesn’t ask about her education or for references, or even tell her the number and age of the children she will be teaching.

Her arrival in Norwich does not allay her unease. First someone tries to push her in front of an oncoming train. Then when she arrives at her destination, she is greeted by two children who insist that she is the only adult in the house.

Eliza’s conversations with the village’s residents — including the family lawyer — do not bear much fruit either. People are afraid to tell Eliza anything about the home, the children, or their parents.

Strange and awful things are happening at Gaudlin Hall. Eliza has never been prone to hysterics; but after a pair of invisible hands tries to push her out a window, the young woman knows one thing for certain: this house is haunted.

Heebie-jeebies, anyone?

Nothing hits the spot like a ghost story — especially one with Gothic undertones. This House is Haunted was published in 2013, but it reads like something straight from the mind of Horace Walpole or Wilkie Collins.

It starts out placidly enough, with the narrator and her father going to hear the author Charles Dickens speak. Mr. Caine is out of the way soon enough, however, and Eliza is off to Gaudlin Hall.

Her students, Isabella and Eustace, are bright but strange. Eustace always seems to be on the verge of spilling every secret he’s ever learned, and Isabella is a disconcerting mix of childish and worldly.

Eliza is smart, kind, and — as it turns out — very brave. She’s determined to learn the truth about Gaudlin Hall and its inhabitants, and to protect them if she must.

As with other novels in this genre, though, I found the characters the littlest bit flat. The plot takes precedence; every character is there to move that plot along and keep the story moving forward. I didn’t feel very connected to any of them.

The story itself was excellent, of course. Some lovely twists and a few truly chilling moments. If you’re a fan of The Woman in White or Nine Coaches Waiting, I recommend you pick up a copy of This House is Haunted.

Maybe just don’t read it late at night.

Review: The Winter People

The Winter People, Jennifer McMahonWest Hall, Vermont is haunted by legends. In 1908 Sara Harrison Shea was found dead in the field behind her home. Since then more people have disappeared, perished under mysterious circumstances, or seen frightening things in the forest near the Devil’s Hand.

The latest person to disappear is Alice, mother of 19-year-old Ruthie and six-year-old Fawn. While searching for clues to her disappearance, the children find a copy of Sara’s diary under a loose floorboard in Alice’s room.

Ruthie and Fawn aren’t the only ones looking for someone they love. Sara’s diary holds a dangerous secret, one that some people would do anything to get their hands on. Can Ruthie find her mother in time, or will the secret Sara Harrison Shea died to protect be their undoing?

Creeeepy!

I’m a sucker for a good mystery, and The Winter People has tons of them. What happened to Alice? What terrible secret did Sara Harrison Shea know? What, exactly, lurks in the woods near the Devil’s Hand?

Author Jennifer McMahon packs some amazing themes — especially parents’ love for their children — and moments into just 314 pages. Every character is desperate to find what they’ve lost, and some go beyond desperation and into madness. It’s beautiful and brutal to read.

I love that the author chose to alternate her chapters between past and present. The book starts with Sara Harrison Shea, but her story is not linear. Her chapters skip back and forth through her timeline, slowly unspooling the secrets and horrors of her final days.

Sara is the most well fleshed out character, but that’s not to say that Ruthie, Fawn, and the others are two-dimensional. They’re all wonderful and exciting to read about. By the end of the book I was rooting for everyone.

Sara’s final secret may not be a complete surprise, but it’s definitely heartbreaking. The Winter People ends with the perfect balance of bitter, sweet, and frightening. An awesome ghost story, just in time for Halloween.

(I read this book as part of the Monthly Motif Challenge. October’s challenge was to read a cozy mystery, ghost story, paranormal creeptastic, or murder mystery.)

Scare Yourself Silly with These Spooky October Reads

October is a bizarre time of the year, especially in America. It’s a weird mix of history, the occult, slutty costumes, and candy corn. The weather is finally starting to cool off, which means winter isn’t far behind. As the world turns colder, humans draw closer to their hearths and homes. Wrapped up in the winter’s silence, our minds are free to dwell on the things that go bump in the night, the things that may be just outside our windows…

Now is the time to read dark things, frightening things that make you question the world, its inhabitants, and even yourself. Any of these books is a good place to start.

The Seeker

Aine Cahill arrives in Concord, Massachusetts in search of the truth about her ancestor. The more she digs for the truth, the faster her world unravels. There are old, evil things lurking in the forests, things that Aine slowly realizes have been with her since childhood. This one kept me up at night.

The Woman in Black

A young solicitor arrives in a remote village to settle a client’s affairs. There he is terrified by a ghostly figure in black. He’s determined to discharge his duties, but he has no idea of the horrors in store for him. This book is atmospheric in the extreme — the house itself is the best character — managed to terrify me without using a single jump scare.

Heart-Shaped Box

Judas Coyne loves the macabre, so when he’s given the chance to buy a “haunted” suit he does so gleefully. But it turns out the suit is truly haunted…and its ghost has a score to settle with Judas. This book was too scary for me, but if you enjoy being absolutely paralyzed with fright, this could be the book for you.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

Sometimes true things are the scariest of all. The big house a little way out of town is locked up for the night, the 12 inhabitants asleep in their beds. In the morning one of them, a four year-old, is dead. A London detective nearly destroys his life uncovering the truth — but we may never know the whole story. I’m just as obsessed with this book as I am with author Kate Summerscale’s other book, The Wicked Boy.