Hello everyone and welcome to another Bites from Our Backlist, where I talk about the books that I’ve read recently and share my in depth thoughts about each title.
Today I’m sharing my thoughts on some popular horror novels that released last year. In general, Winston slept through them so he’s definitely not the one to ask about how they were.
*I received all these titles from Netgalley and their respective publishers in exchange for an honest reviews. All opinions are my own and do not reflect the thoughts of the author’s or publishers.
The Companion by Katie AlenderThe Companion by Katie Alender
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on August 25, 2020
The other orphans say Margot is lucky. Lucky to survive the horrible accident that killed her family. Lucky to have her own room because she wakes up screaming every night.
And finally, lucky to be chosen by a prestigious family to live at their remote country estate.
But it wasn't luck that made the Suttons rescue Margot from her bleak existence at the group home. Margot was hand-picked to be a companion to their silent, mysterious daughter, Agatha. At first, helping with Agatha - and getting to know her handsome older brother - seems much better than the group home. But soon, the isolated, gothic house begins playing tricks on Margot’s mind, making her question everything she believes about the Suttons... and herself.
Margot’s bad dreams may have stopped when she came to live with Agatha – but the real nightmare has just begun.
What I Loved: I adore haunted house novels and was super excited about this one. It had plenty of eerie scenes and I enjoyed Margot and her grappling with grief throughout the story. There are definitely disturbing scenes that made my skin crawl, which is a great sign when it comes to horror. The writing was beautiful and descriptive, which lent itself to the atmosphere of Margot’s situation. What I have always appreciated about Alender’s work is her ability to weave important issues into her story. I adore the idea that “hauntings” serve as a representation of mental illness or grief. The premise, combined with this nuanced view of grief was promising, but the idea of it was far better than the execution, as I will discuss below.
What I Didn’t Love: With all that said, there were quite a few things I disliked about The Companion. First and foremost, the novel was predictable. The twist that is supposed to be shocking and unexpected is overdone and, as a result, the tension that would normally propel the plot was not present. Also, many of the characters lacked development and were a bit flat. Maybe it was because I read too many haunted house novels last years but this one just really disappointed me because I was so excited to read it.
Overall, I gave this one 3 stars and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA horror, especially The Haunted by Danielle Vega.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham JonesThe Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
on July 14, 2020
A tale of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.
Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.
What I Loved: This literary horror novel is set on Indian reservation and explores indigenous life in America. I have read a handful of Jones’ novels previously and always appreciate his biting social commentary. As so many other reviewers have said, it is reminiscent of Jordan Peele’s work in cinema. There are also some truly chilling scenes, especially the opening elk hunt scene. So much of this story was simultaneously achingly beautiful and proactively barbaric. I enjoy hauntings and body horror and The Only Good Indians was brimming with these themes.
What I Didn’t Love: Despite the pros, the pacing was quite slow in spots, to the point that I almost became bored. I have read a handful of Jones’ novels and I have found that I struggled in the same way with all of them. I want to like literary, character driven horror- but up to this point have been failing. However, in the third act, when people started dying, I was hooked and it made me kind of sad because I wished that the rest of the book had been just as enthralling. I am not normally a rereader but I would like to think that someday, maybe I’ll come back to this book and read it through again in the hopes of understanding it more and appreciating the author’s restrained pacing.
With that said, I gave this one 3 ½ stars and would recommend to anyone who enjoys literary novels with horror elements.
The Shadows by Alex NorthThe Shadows by Alex North
Published by Celadon Books on July 7, 2020
You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile--always on the outside of the group. Some part of you suspected he might be capable of doing something awful. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree did just that, committing a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet--and inspired more than one copycat.
Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree--and his victim--were Paul’s friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and senile, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home.
It's not long before things start to go wrong. Reading the news, Paul learns another copycat has struck. His mother is distressed, insistent that there's something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.
It wasn't just the murder.
It was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again...
The haunting new thriller from Alex North, author of the New York Times bestseller The Whisper Man.
What I Loved: I absolutely adored The Whisper Man and was so excited by The Shadows as a sort of companion to North’s first novel. The only similarities between the two was how dark they were and, as someone who reads horror novels on a regular basis, I enjoyed it. Unfortunately that is where the positives stop for me. I thought the concept was great but found the execution ultimately lacking.
What I Didn’t Love: First, there were so many characters, in both timelines and so it got confusing really quick. One of the major components of the book is this idea of lucid dreaming and honestly, the book felt like one disjointed, chaotic dream that wrapped up with more questions than answers. This chaos did not lend itself well to a coherent and clear plot. Half the time I could not tell whether the chapter I was reading was occurring in Paul’s head as a dream, or did it really happen? It irritates me just thinking about it.
Overall, I gave this one 3 stars.
Hatch by Kenneth OppelHatch (The Overthrow) by Kenneth Oppel
on September 15, 2020
Fans left desperate for more at the end of Bloom will dive into this second book of the Overthrow trilogy--where the danger mounts and alien creatures begin to hatch.
First the rain brought seeds. Seeds that grew into alien plants that burrowed and strangled and fed.
Seth, Anaya, and Petra are strangely immune to the plants' toxins and found a way to combat them. But just as they have their first success, the rain begins again. This rain brings eggs. That hatch into insects. Not small insects. Bird-sized mosquitos that carry disease. Borer worms that can eat through the foundation of a house. Boat-sized water striders that carry away their prey.
But our heroes aren't able to help this time--they've been locked away in a government lab with other kids who are also immune. What is their secret? Could they be...part alien themselves? Whose side are they on?
Kenneth Oppel expertly escalates the threats and ratchets up the tension in this can't-read-it-fast-enough adventure with an alien twist. Readers will be gasping for the next book as soon as they turn the last page...
What I Loved: In this sequel to one of my favorite MG horror novels of all time, Oppel offers a more character driven sequel and sets things up for the final book coming out this year. I absolutely adored Bloom. I loved how bold it was as far as middle grade horror was concerned. There was so much body horror and action. I felt like Hatch was quieter. The majority of the book is spent learning more about the three kids and their growing abilities. I did really enjoy the end of the book and the cliff hanger for the next book. Even if I am unsure of how I feel about the concept of “aliens”.
What I Didn’t Love: This is complicated. I loved the first book so much and this one just seemed so different and so much slower. Bloom gave me intense The Ruins vibes and this one felt more like X-Men meets Alien. I really missed a lot of aspects of the world. It felt like Hatch was mostly just setting things up for the final book, a frequent complaint of the second book in a trilogy.
Overall, I gave this 4/5 stars and would recommend it for anyone looking for a solid middle grade horror novel.
Wonderland by Zoje StageWonderland by Zoje Stage
on July 14, 2020
If Shirley Jackson wrote The Shining, it might look like this deliciously unsettling horror novel from the acclaimed author of Baby Teeth.
A mother must protect her family from the unnatural forces threatening their new and improved life in a rural farmhouse.
The Bennett family - artist parents and two precocious children - are leaving their familiar urban surroundings for a new home in far upstate New York. They're an hour from the nearest city, a mile from the nearest house, and everyone has their own room for the very first time. Shaw, the father, even gets his own painting studio, now that he and his wife Orla, a retired dancer, have agreed that it's his turn to pursue his passion.
But none of the Bennetts expect what lies waiting in the lovely woods, where secrets run dark and deep. Orla must finally find a way to communicate with - not just resist - this unknown entity that is coming to her family, calling to them from the land, in the earth, beneath the trees... and in their minds.
What I Loved: Like I said above, I read a lot of haunted house stories last year because I absolutely love them. While I know some did not like this book because it felt repetitive, I really enjoyed the slow pacing and eerie atmosphere. Also, this book is very very cold, some thing I wasn’t expecting but really appreciated it. Maybe its because I have always loved a novel with an eerie woodland setting and Wonderland is as close to wooded and isolated as it gets. I also enjoyed the narrator and the authenticity of Orla’s voice and she slowly comes to grips with the situation she and her little family find themselves in.
What I Didn’t Love: I really only had one complaint about the novel and that came in the last 1/4th of the book, when the story transitioned from a haunted house story to a cosmic horror novel. I struggle with cosmic horror because it feels way over the top. Honestly it’s really the only reason I can’t give my first Zoje Stage novel five stars.
But I did give it 4.5 stars and recommend it to fans of other haunted house stories like In The Grip Of It and The Twisted Ones.
What About You
Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments!