Nightmare City

Nightmare City by Andrew Klavan is…not great, if I’m being completely honest. I had high expectations for it; the plot sounded really interesting. Here’s an excerpt from the back cover: “The streets of his town are suddenly empty and silent. A strange fog has drifted in from the sea and hangs over everything. And something is moving in that fog. Something evil. Something hungry. Closing in on Tom.”

Sounds pretty cool right? Unfortunately it’s an interesting idea marred by its execution.

The first problem is the writing. While, based on subject matter and marketing, the book is clearly aimed at teens, the actual writing feels more like it’s aimed at younger children. A lot of the sentences are short, often fragmented. For example, “Tom sat up in bed, tossing the comforter aside. He shook his head to clear it. Weird call. Weird noise. Woke him up out of that great dream too. What was it? Oh yeah, he remembered: heaven.”

There’s also a lot of telling, rather than showing, which can doom a book. We’re told that Tom’s “blue eyes shone out intense, smart, steely and unwavering. His features were narrow and sharp, serious and purposeful…anyone else who looked at him recognized a young man who knew how to go after what he wanted, a young man who could not easily be turned away.” But we’re not shown it. If anything, throughout the book Tom comes across the opposite of all of the above; he’s self-conscious, awkward, and more than a little dense.

Klaven also often feels the need to define things he’s not sure his readers will get, like the definition of “malevolence,” or, more distractingly, during a hospital scene, what scrubs are. This would not be so out of place in a book for younger readers, but it’s kind of insulting to teens to treat them like they need so much explanation.

Then there’s the somewhat heavy handed Christianity aspect. I’m sure there are readers who may not be bothered by that, may even appreciate it, but to me, it came across as distracting and cliche. I was able to overlook it at first, but as it became more overt, it became harder to see past. Especially when Tom talks to Lisa, who discusses with Tom the nature of heaven and gives him advice based on Biblical quotes. She also leaves him with her cross necklace for protection, reminding him that God is with him. Again, I recognize that this will not bother some readers, but I was a little thrown off by my horror novel veering into “Inspirational Fiction” territory. That’s partially my fault though; if I had looked into the author a little more I would have seen that he is also the author of some more overtly Christian works.

Another problem I had is the depiction of women. Calling the female characters weak is an understatement. Lisa is okay; she starts out marginally interesting, although she kind of devolves into a stereotypical “good Christian girl” as the book goes on. Meanwhile, Marie is mostly described by her looks. Tom has supposedly been crushing on her for years, but the book doesn’t really explain why except that she is really pretty. That she eventually turns out to be villainous is telegraphed from the beginning. Between Lisa and Marie, you have the pure good girl and the duplicitous temptress. I am more than a little tired of women being reduced to one or the other in fiction, especially fiction written by men.

Finally, the book is pretty predictable. I don’t want to give anything away, but seasoned readers will probably guess what direction this book is going pretty quickly. That direction also doesn’t happen to be particularly scary, which is a letdown for a book with such a creepy premise.

I read Nightmare City pretty quickly, and I wasn’t ever really bored by it (although certain parts got repetitive), so I’m not going to say you shouldn’t read it. Just be aware of what you’re getting into before opening the cover and maybe you won’t feel as let down as I was. There is probably an audience for this book. It just wasn’t me.

The Night She Disappeared

The Night She Disappeared by April Henry is more of a thriller than a horror novel, but I think the situation (budding serial killer, kidnapping of a teenage girl) is horrific enough to warrant its inclusion in this blog.

The Night She Disappeared begins interestingly enough, with Drew and Kayla working late one night at Pete’s Pizza. A call comes in requesting a pizza delivery; the caller asks for Gabie to deliver it. Gabie isn’t working that night, so Kayla takes the delivery. She doesn’t come back. The book then follows Drew and Gabie as they wonder what happened to Kayla (contrary to the back cover, they don’t really do a whole lot detecting – for the first 3/4 of the book not much really happens; Drew and Gabbie mostly just talk about whether or not they think Kayla’s dead) and Kayla herself, trapped in her kidnapper’s basement. The point of view changes with each chapter, and occasionally, we even get glimpses of the killer’s thoughts.

To be perfectly honest, I did not particularly like this book. The lead characters are boring and flat. We’re told things about them: “Gabie is smart;” “Kayla is fun;” “Drew is poor.” But none of them really act in a way that shows us any more of their personality. The worst developed is Gabie, which is unforgivable as the book sets her up as the main character. Gabie tends to just behave in whatever manner is helpful to the book at any given moment. She never really develops a believable personality; her behavior is erratic, her thoughts all over the place. There is supposed to be a romance blossoming between Drew and Gabie, but it never comes across as real. The two characters have zero chemistry; I still have no idea what they supposedly saw in each other.

I will take this time to also note that Disappeared, published in 2012, contains the line, “That’s just whack,” a sentence I don’t believe I’ve heard since 1995. I have no idea why Henry thought a teen in 2012 would use this sentence in a serious conversation.

The police also behave bizarrely. Even though Drew tells them that the caller requested Gabie, they don’t even bother to begin to look into the possibility of her being the intended target. They then focus on one suspect based on the sketchiest of circumstantial evidence (on the night she went missing, his truck was seen near where her car was found) , and when (SPOILER ALERT) he kills himself, despite the fact that they still haven’t found anything concrete to tie him to Kayla’s disappearance, everyone just assumes Case Closed and immediately holds a funeral for Kayla, assuming she is dead too. She’s only been missing for a little over a week at this point. You can’t actually declare someone legally dead this early on, even if it is, sadly, a long time for a kidnapping victim to survive. I doubt any family would be okay with letting go that quickly, and I know the cops wouldn’t be allowed to close a case with such little evidence.

And to top it all off there is an out-of-left-field paranormal element that eventually pops up as well, where Gabie is suddenly telepathically connected to Kayla, or something. There’s also a subplot which never pans out about Kayla leaving her high school boyfriend for an older guy. They never even properly set the new guy up as a red herring. This book is just a mess.

April Henry is apparently a New York Times Bestselling Author, and her work has been praised by other writers I admire, so I’ll likely give another one of her books (possibly the interesting looking The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die) a read at some point, but I was not impressed by this effort and am baffled why so many people seem to enjoy it.

Favorites: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Mara Dyer wakes up after an accident mysteriously kills her friends. She has no idea how she survived. In the wake of the accident, Mara’s family moves to a new town. As more strange things happen around Mara, she begins to realize she has powers that she never knew. When she meets Noah, a swoon worthy boy with powers of his own, she begins to piece together the puzzle of what happened the night of the accident and discovers she’s not out of danger yet.

Going in to Mara Dyer, I didn’t know what to expect, but I ended up blown away. I’m always a little wary of books where romance plays a huge element in the plot, but, not only was I not bothered by it, I actually found myself deeply invested in the relationship between Mara and Noah.

Mara Dyer is the first book in a trilogy, and there’s now a second trilogy from Noah’s point of view, although I haven’t checked those out yet, and I’ve heard mixed reviews. Still, I love love love this book. Super duper recommended.

Favorites: The Fury

The Fury by Alexander Gordon Smith is an epic British horror novel, involving a group of teens who everyone wants to kill. And I mean everyone. One day, they suddenly find themselves inspiring intense, murderous rage in friends and strangers alike, a rage that disappears when they get far enough away. Their would-be murderers then forget everything that just happened. The only people the teens are safe with is each other. They soon realize something much bigger is at stake than their lives, and they may be the only ones who can save everything.

While The Fury is long, it is a quick read and one I recommend to every horror fan, regardless of age.

Favorites: The Blood Confession

I read The Blood Confession by Alisa M. Libby years ago, so I don’t remember too much about it. Honestly, it might be time for a reread. I did love it though, which is why I’m including it in this month’s series of brief reviews of my favorite ya horror.

The Blood Confession is a novel about Hungarian countess, Elizabeth Bathory (using the Anglicized version of her name here), possibly the world’s worst female serial killer (there is some question of the veracity of the accusations against her). This book tells her life story, and there is a supernatural element to it. Bathory receives many visits over the years from a supernatural figure who eventually leads her to her crimes and subsequent doom. It’s heartbreaking to trace her path from spoiled, lonely child to hardened killer, but Libby’s writing makes this transformation believable.

The book can be a little bit slow going, especially at first, but I urge readers to stick with it. You’ll be rewarded for your patience with this beautiful, disturbing novel.

Curse of the Bane (The Last Apprentice/Wardstone Chronicles Book 2)

I’m rereading this series right now. I know I said I probably wouldn’t post full reviews this month, but after reading it, I decided “why not?” This review is posted on Goodreads as well.

Another excellent entry in The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney. In this one, Tom and the Spook go to Priestown (it’s what it sounds like) to face the Bane, one of the most evil creatures the Spook has ever encountered. While there, they run afoul of the corrupt Quisitor (think Matthew Hopkins), who habitually burns innocent “witches” at the stake in order to profit from their deaths. Not only is he after the Spook, but he has Alice.

Alice is still my favorite character. The Spook himself is still frustrating at times, and my only complaint is how quick he is to anger in this one. He doesn’t always seem to tell Tom everything he needs to know. And while I understand why he doesn’t trust Alice, his treatment of her (and some of his comments about women in general) can be irritating. Still, that’s a fairly small complaint.

Although longer than its predecessor, Curse of the Bane is just as quick of a read, and it’s hard to put down. If you enjoyed the first one, you’ll like this too. But if you’re new to the series, start with the first one. These books are best read in order.

Favorites: Blackfin Sky

Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis is an excellent supernatural horror novel set in the small town of Blackfin where strange things regularly happen. Despite the town’s general oddness, no one is prepared when Sky shows up to school one day…three months after her body was found, drowned and definitely dead. Sky soon discovers she has supernatural powers and that her history is tied to that of a burnt out circus in the woods near her town.

I discovered this book when I was still working at the library and decided to read it based on the cover and back cover blurb alone. I was blown away, even more so when I investigated the author afterwards and discovered this was her debut novel. I recommend Blackfin Sky to anyone who likes their supernatural with a good dose of mystery, and I am eager to check out Ellis’s subsequent work (her fourth novel is due out in 2020).

Favorites: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

My first pick is an obvious one. I’m sure most YA fans have at least heard of, if not already read, Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (or seen its unfortunately lackluster movie adaptation).

I first read this novel during my final semester at university, and I was late to (0r flat out missed) several classes, because I could never put it down once I’d picked it up.

The original trilogy (including sequels: Hollow City and Library of Souls) is excellent, although this first one remains far and away my favorite. Riggs is also about to release the second book in the follow up trilogy, although I haven’t delved into that one yet.

Note: Definitely read these in order. They will make little sense if you start in the middle.

Favorite YA Horror Novels

I know I haven’t posted anything in a while, and with the holidays here, it looks like I’m going to be super busy over the next month. So I’ve decided to do something a little different. Over the next few weeks I’m going to spotlight different favorite YA horror novels that I’ve already read. The posts won’t be long or incredibly detailed (as in some cases I haven’t read the books since I was a teenager myself), but will just show you some of the best (in my opinion anyway) that the genre has to offer. Happy Holidays everyone!

Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit

Want some good seasonal reading to get into the Halloween mood? Here are some of my top YA picks for October.

The Wardstone Chronicles series by Joseph Delaney

These books tend to fall under both the Middle Grade and Young Adult categories, depending on where you are in the series. They’re fun, quick reads, and their universe feels eternally autumnal. Start with Revenge of the Witch. I dare you to be able to stop after just that one. I couldn’t.

Another middle grade title to check out is Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. You can read my recent review here.

Vivian Vande Velde is a reliable if not always phenomenal writer of children’s and YA fantasy, and her YA halloween collection, All Hallow’s Eve is a fun and quick read perfect for the season. Favorite entries include ghostly serial killer tale, “Morgan Roehmars’ Boys” and “My Real Mother” about an ungrateful adopted girl searching for her birth family.

Finally, I haven’t read Thirteen Days of Midnight by Leo Hunt (not to be confused with the similarly titled and covered Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman) yet, but it’s supposedly a fun YA novel, and it’s set during the Halloween season. I plan on getting my hands on a copy and reading it soon and didn’t want to leave it off the list just because I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Also Ray Bradbury books are good for all ages. Some of his seasonally appropriate titles include The October Country, The Halloween Tree, From the Dust Returned, and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

For some adult Halloween reading, check out my Final Women blog, here.