House of Bones

I was honestly really surprised to discover House of Bones, a novel by Graham Masterton, was for young adults. I honestly didn’t believe it at first. You see, Graham Masterton usually writes adult horror. Very adult horror. Oodles of gore and scads of sex (Masterton doubles as a prolific author of sex manuals). So I thought maybe Goodreads had this book labeled wrong. Then I realized that House of Bones was originally published by the Point horror label, the big teen horror publisher when I was growing up. As far as I can tell, it’s Masterton’s only contribution to the label. This made me intrigued. I wondered how much Masterton really toned it down. And I wondered how this one would compare to his adult fiction.

And I was more than pleasantly surprised. House of Bones is easily one of Masterton’s most entertaining novels. It absolutely manages to be creepy and disturbing without being very gory at all.

The plot revolves around 18-year-old John, a recent graduate starting at his first real job, a real estate agency. On his first day, he makes a huge mistake when left alone in the office, and accidentally lends a prospective client a key to an off-limits house. Apparently, Mr. Vane, the owner has a list of properties which only he is allowed to show. None of his employees are allowed any access to these properties, and John learns out why after the wife of the client he leant the key to reports her husband missing. John and his coworkers begin to do a little investigating and soon learn the dark secret of Mr. Vane and his “special list” properties.

House of Bones isn’t long, only about 250 pages, and the action moves along at a quick pace. John and his coworkers are a likable group of young adults, and you find yourself genuinely fearing for their safety and caring about their fates. Masterton also ably conveys the atmosphere of fear and foreboding exerted by the cursed abodes; the terror of the houses and their sinister, otherworldly inhabitants is palpable.

Masterton’s works have always gotten under my skin in the best way possible, and House of Bones is no exception. I highly recommend it for teens, as well as adult horror fans who might find the explicitness of Masterton’s other writing a bit overwhelming.

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The Restless Dead

The Restless Dead, edited by Deborah Noyes, is a companion to her previous anthology, Gothic. So how does Dead stack up to its predecessor? Well, like I’ve said before, anthologies tend to be a mixed bag, and with Dead, like Gothic, being relatively short, it’s easier for the misses to seem to weigh heavier against the hits. Still, overall, I liked it.

The collection opens with “The Wrong Grave” by Kelly Link. Now, normally, I love Kelly Link. Love. She writes some of the best weird/whimsical fiction out there, and a lot of her stories really get under my skin and stay with me. However, “Grave” is not one of her best. That being said, it was still entertaining. I guess Ms. Link has just set the bar so high with her other work, that for one to be any less than stellar is somewhat disappointing.

Chris Wooding fairs better with the second story in the collection, the haunted house tale, “The House and the Locket.” Being set in Victorian era England (a favorite setting of mine, for both fiction and nonfiction reading) means this one got bonus points right off the bat. Being one of the few legitimately creepy stories in the book got it more points. “Locket” one had a neat little twist, and if anything, its only flaw was being too brief. I could have stayed in Wooding’s world a little bit longer and am now eagerly looking forward to reading his similarly Victorian London-set novel, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray.

I loved Annette Curtis Klause as a teenager; Blood and Chocolate is an old favorite of mine. While I did enjoy her contribution, “Kissing Dead Boys,” I found the main character somewhat obnoxious, and the whole thing seemed like it was trying a little too hard to be edgy.

Marcus Sedgwick is always a fantastic writer, and “The Heart of Another,” his riff on the Edgar Allan Poe story, “The Tell-Tale Heart” is no exception. I simply do not understand why he is not as widely appreciated in the U.S. as in the U.K. where I’ve found his books to be much more readily available.

Herbie Brennan’s “The Necromancers” is actually the first thing I’ve read by this particular author. Although this story of a pesky undead grandfather and a missing inheritance was one of the more light-hearted stories of the bunch, I was impressed by Brennan’s style. I’ll definitely be checking out more of the prolific Irish author’s works in the near future.

Deborah Noyes’s own contribution, “No Visible Power” is a period piece ghost story with a neat little twist, although the ending comes a bit too abruptly, as our narrator’s fate is shoehorned into the last two sentences, coming across almost like an afterthought.

Libba Bray proves again why she is one of my favorite YA authors writing today (seriously, if you haven’t read A Great and Terrible Beauty and its sequels, stop what you’re doing right now and go read them. Right now. Seriously, why are you still here? I said go.) “Bad Things” concerns vengeful spirits and possible Satan worshiping and comes with a nasty little bite at the end.

“The Gray Boy’s Work” is really the only serious clunker in the bunch. I normally like stories with a fairy tale or fable like quality to them, but this one just really missed the mark. I think M.T. Anderson just tried too hard to make his story “different” here and failed hard.

I’m skipping reviewing Holly Black’s “The Poison Eaters,” for inclusion in an upcoming review of her short story collection of the same name, so please forgive my not including it here.

Finally, Nancy Etchemendy’s “Honey in the Wound” is a haunting, tragic tale set in a rural American town in the 1920s. It deals with loss and grief, and how sometimes letting go is the only healthy option. To say more would spoil the magic of this particular story. I’d never heard of Etchemendy before I picked up Restless Dead, but I definitely won’t forget her now.

Overall, this is another solid collection by Noyes. My one complaint is that I wish her collections were longer. I was left hungry for more at the end of Restless Dead, much like I was with Gothic. More and, possibly, longer works would fill that hunger and also give the few less than stellar entries less weight to bring the rest of the collection down.

Christopher Pike’s Tale’s of Terror: Volume 2

Pike’s solid second collection bring back more nostalgia from my childhood and early teens. It’s an easy reminder why Pike was one of the reigning kings of teen horror back in the day. Tales of Terror 2 contains five stories, although not all of them are strictly horror. I’d say a better title might be Tales of the Strange, but that’s a minor quibble with an otherwise stellar collection.

“The Burning Witch,” is the first story in the book and definitely solid horror. In it, Pike brings back Marvin Summer, “Master of Murder” in a tale of witchcraft, reincarnation, and revenge. A bit of a downer for Summer fans, it’s still a strong lead off to the collection and was one of my favorites. This is also the bloodiest story in the collection.

“The Tomb of Time” was an interesting story that probably could have been fleshed out a little better. It was still enjoyable – I guess I just wished it was a little longer. It’s more science fiction than strict horror, although it still feels like classic Pike.

“Bamboo” is apparently one of Pike’s own favorites, and I really enjoyed it as well. It’s a tragic tale of three doomed friends and their elderly neighbor who subtly guides them along a path that will prepare for their futures. This is probably some of Pike’s finest writing, even if again, it’s not strictly horror.

“The Thin Line” is an all-too realistic terror tale, about a high school basket ball player, who, after losing everything, takes his frustration out on his team and coach in a very violent manner. I’m honestly not sure a story like this could get published today, with a school shooter as its main character. However, “Thin Line” is far from exploitative, as it thoughtfully explores the long lasting impacts of violence.

The final story, “The Tears of Theresa,” was a suspenseful tale of a kidnapped couple and the man who wants revenge on them. I was pretty sure from the beginning that there was a twist coming, but I was actually wrong about what it was, which is a nice surprise in this era of Shyamalan, Gone Girl, and company. The ending could have been a little bit better explained, but all in all it was a good story, and a fine end to the collection.

Extremeties

Okay, folks! This one’s going to be a short one, because I honestly don’t have much to say about the David Lubar collection, Extremities: Stories of Death, Murder and Revenge. It’s a bit of a conundrum in that it’s hard to figure out who exactly it was written for. On one hand, the language is very simple; it’s written much more like a middle-grade novel or even a children’s book. However, many are the stories are gruesome and contain more adult themes, which place it more in the YA fiction category. So it’s definitely for older readers, but the simple prose is so plain as to make some of the stories almost boring, despite some original concepts. Older, but reluctant readers are probably the best audience for this one, because it’s a quick, easy read, and most of the individual stories are only about 5 pages long. Overall, it’s not a bad book, if you’re looking for something fast, fun, and not particularly thought provoking. Still, outside of teens in the aforementioned reluctant readers market, I don’t know if I’d eagerly recommend it to anyone.

Christopher Pike’s Tales of Terror

This is a great collection, especially for those of you, who, like me grew up reading Pike’s books back in the day. Newer readers can also appreciate this collection, however, as it stand on its own as a collection of a fun, fast paced horror, even for those who don’t remember the 90’s.

The first story, “Death of Despair,” has a creepy premise and starts the collection out on a high note. In it, Mike wakes up after a wild party and notices that everything feels just a little bit off. He’s further confused when one by one his ex-girlfriends come to visit him, informing him that they are actually visiting him from their dreams and hinting that he has died. The twist on this one is really killer, and it’s one of the best stories in the collection.

“The Fan From Hell” brings back Marvin Summers, from Master of Murder, and he’s always an entertaining main character. Readers new to Pike shouldn’t fret, however, because you don’t have to be familiar with the novel to understand this story. “Fan From Hell” revolves around a stalker fan seducing Martin and eventually blackmailing him. Can he outsmart her and regain control of his life? This was a lot of fun.

“The Last Dawn” is more apocalyptic and vaguely sci fi than straight up horror, but the situation the children in the story find themselves enduring is subtly terrifying. It’s bleak and tragic, but features, in my opinion, some of Pike’s best writing.

“Timespell” is a science fiction story of advanced beings mixed with a contemporary teen drama. It is by far the most amusing story collected here, and even though it’s not horror, it ranks with “Death of Despair” as my favorite in the book.

“Revenge” is a story of an angry jilted boyfriend, and the revenge he plans to enact on his ex. Things don’t go completely as planned though, and maybe that’s best for both of them. This is probably the weakest story of the bunch, but it’s a quick read and still worth your time.

The last story, “Dark Walk,” explores how your imagination can run away from you, making monsters out of the mundane. The final shocking twist takes the story into real horror territory, and “Walk” rounds out the collection on a high note.

Scary Out There

Scary Out There is a collection of YA horror stories, edited by Jonathan Mayberry and presented by the Horror Writer’s Association. It features stories by such genre fiction notables as Cherie Priest, Tim Waggoner, and R.L. Stine, among others. It’s because of this prestigious pedigree that I decided to make this my first review for my blog. Overall, it’s a pretty solid collection, but, like any anthology, there are some magnificent standouts and some misses, so I’m here to break it down for you.

“The Doomsday Glass”-Brenna Yovanoff

“Doomsday Glass” kicks off the collection with a bang. This story of a female virtual reality gamer fighting both sexist harassment and (genuinely creepy) monsters in the fictional gaming world of Vertigo is both action packed and topical. It ends on a bit of a downbeat note, with our protagonist realizing that while she may have won one battle, she still has many more ahead of her. This is an unfortunately accurate portrayal of our current society, where women still have a long way to ago before we are treated equally, particularly in the tech and gaming worlds.

“What Happens to Girls That Disappear”-Carrie Ryan

“What Happens to Girls That Disappear” is the sad story of a lost and lonely high school girl who begins receiving texts one day from a dangerous, mysterious stranger. While she’s aware that getting involved with him will lead her to a bad end, she’s also afraid that this might be her one way out of her depressing life. This one was a bit of a downer and, while well-written, just didn’t stick out to me.

“The Mermaid Aquarium: Weeki Wachee Springs, 1951”-Cherie Priest

Perhaps my favorite story in the collection, “The Mermaid Aquarium” sees two sisters joining a mermaid show in a 1950s Florida roadside attraction. One day, during a show, one of the sisters attracts the unwanted attentions of a mysterious stranger, placing her and those around her in mortal danger. Cherie Priest is a fantastic writer, with a knack for historical settings and descriptions of the American South. This story is a great introduction to her work, which covers a wide variety of genres: horror, Southern Gothic, steampunk, urban fantasy, and more. I can honestly not recommend her, or this story, enough.

“Invisible Girl”-Rachel Tafoya

Casey wakes up one morning to discover she can’t see her toes anymore. She can feel them, but they’ve become invisible. As the story goes on, Casey discovers more and more body parts disappearing, and the reader discovers that this is less a horror story about a girl turning invisible and more an allegory for the dangers of self-harm. It’s not terrible, but it eventually feels a little too much like a somewhat fantastical After School Special, rather than horror.

“Death and Twinkies”-Zac Brewer
Though this story was well written, it was one of my least favorites. The real horror in the story wasn’t the protagonist meeting the personification of death, it was his miserable home life, where he was neglected and abused. Despite that heavy subject matter, this one’s tone was too light and breezy, which made it ultimately forgettable.

“Danny”-Josh Malerman

“Danny” is the story of a babysitter, Kelly, and the strange family she reluctantly babysits for one night. When the story begins, Kelly is excited for her first babysitting gig, but after arriving at the Donalds’ home, Kelly is informed that their son, Danny, is actually imaginary. Apparently after the couple realized they couldn’t have children, they decided just to invent a fake one (instead of I don’t know, maybe adopting?). Kelly agrees to “babysit” to help the Donalds’ keep up their charade, but their big house is creepy at night, and Kelly keeps hearing noises coming from upstairs, even though she’s supposedly alone. Is Danny maybe more real than she thought? This story ramps up the tension and suspense gradually, and the stinger at the end feels like something out of The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery. Easily one of the best stories in the book.

“Make It Right”-Madeleine Roux

It’s unfortunate that the protagonist of this story came across as so obnoxious. I understand that she’s suppose to have had a rough life, but her snark and “bad girl” attitude wore on me a little bit. Otherwise, however, this is an interesting story, touching on violence born from rabid racism and the lengths a person will go to avenge someone they care about.

“Beyond the Sea”-Nancy Holder

In Nancy Holder’s “Beyond the Sea,” a teenage girl returns to the spot where her best friend drowned a year before, intending to end her life there as well. While this story of guilt, redemption, and second chances was well written and had a touching ending, for some reason I just couldn’t get into it. I normally really like Holder as a writer, and she has a strong background in YA horror fiction, so I guess I just expected more from her.

“The Whisper-Whisper Men”-Tim Waggoner

In Waggoner’s story a girl discovers one day that all of the people around her are gradually disappearing, and she’s the only one who notices. “The Whisper-Whisper Men” unfortunately suffers from a little too much tell and not quite enough show, and there’s some time wasted on detailed descriptions of characters that are not all that important to the story. However, Waggoner is a veteran horror writer who knows how to suck you in, and the plot is intriguing. Plus, it touched on two of my greatest fears (losing someone I love and being alone, in case you were wondering), so the themes really hit home for me. Not Waggoner’s best work, but a nice addition to the anthology.

“Non-Player Character”-Neal & Brendan Shusterman

Neal Shusterman is a great writer of sci-fi/fantasy stories that often dip into horror territory. “Character” starts out as a melancholy sci-fi tale of parental neglect caused by futuristic video gaming. I know that sounds a bit odd, but if you bear with the story, it packs a nice bloody punch at the end. Also, if you like this, you should definitely check out some of his novel length works.

“What Happens When the Heart Just Stops”-Christopher Golden

With his entry, Golden proves once again why he is one of the most underrated horror writers out there today. This story of a post apocalyptic world where vampiric monsters roam the skies at night seeking humans to “bleed” is grim and frightening. My only complaint is that I felt so much more could be done with the story and the world. I’d love for Golden to expand this story into a full length novel.

“Chlorine-Damaged Hair, and Other Pool Hazards”-Kendare Blake

“Chlorine-Damaged Hair” is likely the goriest tale in the collection. It’s a spin on the classic tale of a woman scorned who enacts a gruesome revenge on her shallow lover. I can’t really explain any more without spoiling the story, but, while more squeamish readers might want to sit this one out, those with the stomach will relish the gooey gore.

“The Old Radio”-R.L. Stine

With R.L. Stine, you know you’re always in for a good time, and “The Old Radio” is no exception. Stine’s books and stories are like the comfort food of horror. You kinda know what you’re going to get, but you go along for the ride anyway, because you can trust it’s going to be a fun ride. In this story, a kid overhears a murder occur via an antique radio his stepdad gives him. He soon realizes that he knows who the killers are…and that they might know he heard them.

The Boyfriend-Steve Rasnic Tem

Clowns are creepy. I dare you to watch the original IT and tell me differently. This story concerns a teenage girl, Aria, and her mom’s boyfriend, who just happens to make a living as a party clown. He also has a habit of leaving the house in the middle of the night when he thinks everyone else is asleep. When he takes her little brother with him one night, Aria follows them, and what she witnesses is pretty grizzly. I wasn’t originally totally won over by this story, but I guess it really got under my skin, because I keep going back over it in my head. I’ve never read anything else by Tem, but he’s on my radar now.

“Corazon Oscuro”-Rachel Caine

I was surprised that the creepiest story in the collection came from Caine, whom I tend to associate more with urban fantasy than horror. Her tale revolves around a mother and daughter on a road trip and the deadly spirit they run while driving down a desolate desert highway late one night. However, nothing is quite as it seems in this one, where seemingly normal humans may pose even more of a threat than terrifying angry ghost girls covered in crawling scorpions.

“Bearwalker”-Ilsa J. Bick

Bick is fantastic writer, and “Bearwalker” is one of the best things I have read by her. It’s ultimately a tragic tale of parental neglect and abuse but with a vengeful spirit thrown into the mix as well. This is another one of the best stories in the collection, even if it ends the book on a somewhat melancholy note.

Before I conclude, I should also note that there’s also a few selections of poetry included here, but I’m not going to cover them in depth here. Only one, Ellen Hopkin’s “As Good as Your Word” really told a full story, and while Hopkins is a talented poet, I just couldn’t get into her contribution. Some of the other loosely-linked collections of poetry are barely even horror, and the only ones I particularly enjoyed were one or two of Lucy Snyder’s entries.

Overall, Scary Out There is a pretty solid collection, with stories that cover a wide variety of creeps and ghouls. Every genre fan should find at least a couple of things to catch their interest. I’d love to see the Horror Writer’s Association put out another of these collections, or even a whole series of them.

Welcome

Welcome to YA Horror, my new blog where I review (mostly) YA horror novels. Occasionally a middle grade or possibly even a children’s book may show up here. I may even occasionally put out a movie recommendation.

The genesis for this sight came from my tenure as the Teen Service librarian at my local library. Not only did I arrange programming for local middle and high school students, but I managed our young adult collection as well. At one point, I was asked by some of the other area librarians to help beef-up the YA Reader’s Advisory collection, in particular for the YA horror section. As a life long horror fan, this was perfect work for me, and I missed doing it once I left the library. While I have another blog, where I discuss horror movies and general horror fiction, I decided I wanted to keep reading and reviewing YA horror as well, but that that particular interest needed its own page. So I founded this site as well. I hope you enjoy.

And if you’re interested, you can check my other page at:

https://finalwomen.blogspot.com

Hope you enjoy!