The Lost Village by Camilla Sten
An amateur film crew arrives in a small Swedish village to investigate the mysterious disappearance of its 900 residents half a century earlier. The producer has a special connection to the village, and she is determined to find clues that will help her discover what caused an entire village to vanish into thin air.
This story is described as “Blair Witch meets Midsommar” but it reminded me more of Blake Crouch’s Abandon. This one didn’t seem quite as polished, but it was slightly less depressing. Slightly. It started out a bit awkwardly, with a flashback leading into a – what was it, a social media post? A go-fund-me pitch? – which then led to the present day narrative. The story alternated between the “then” and “now” narratives, which were broken up by letters from the past. Despite the fact that the transitions were not the smoothest, I found myself really engrossed in this book. Once it started moving, it was fairly fast-paced, and I was excited for a weird twist that revealed what happened to the 900 villagers who disappeared seemingly into thin air. Unfortunately, I felt that the big reveal was ultimately really underwhelming, and the reveal of the “ghost” near the end was a little far fetched. There were a few supernatural elements that seemed to be thrown in to amp up the excitement, then they were just discarded (trying not to give anything away, but still unclear on what those radio calls were). I also expected more of a resolution at the end. I wanted to find out what happened with the characters and whether their story made headlines, whether Alice finished her film with the information she had learned. But it just ended.
There were a few spelling and grammatical errors in the English translation, but not big enough to affect the story. Overall it was a fun read, but with a few flaws. ★★★☆☆
Eerie by Blake & Jordan Crouch
Because the previous novel reminded me of a Blake Crouch book, I thought I’d give another one of his novels a try. Eerie is about a cop who tracks several missing high-profile men to an apartment, where he is imprisoned in the building by an unknown entity and witnesses strange and terrifying events. This book started as an interesting investigative mystery, then turned into a crazy haunted house thriller, then went completely off the rails and transformed into a sci-fi family drama. I’m still trying to figure out what the heck I just read.
The ending was weird and disappointing, but overall the book was a fun ride. It’s a relatively short read; had it been longer, I might have regretted investing the time. I think this was one of Blake Crouch’s first novels (co-authored with his brother Jordan) and his work has definitely improved since, though this was overall a pretty enjoyable read. ★★★☆☆
Stolen Tongues by Felix Blackwell
Felix and his fiance Faye are celebrating their engagement in a remote cabin in the woods when they start to experience strange events. Shadows move in and out of the trees, footprints appear in the snow, and a child’s strange cries cut through the darkness. Faye starts behaving strangely in her sleep, and things quickly turn terrifying.
I may be in the minority, but I really disliked this book. It had an interesting concept, and some of the scenes would be pretty creepy in a film, but it took me ages to get through it. I thought the story had very little substance and it was extremely repetitious. The main characters were also unlikeable and lacked complexity, which was surprising considering the author based his own protagonists on himself and his wife. There were open plot points that were never closed, and when the meaning of the number 5 was revealed, it was massively underwhelming. The author chose to add an essay about the misrepresentation of native people in fiction at the end of the book in an attempt to defend his position as a white man writing about native culture, but I think this was a bad decision. His story only uses native culture as a plot device, and the only purpose of the indigenous characters is to be called upon when the white leads need more information.
I couldn’t quite understand why this book had such a huge cult following until I learned that it was a crowdfunded novel that begun on a Reddit forum (ah, the power of the internet). I actually think there was potential in this, but it was poorly executed. I added a star to my review because the prologue was fantastic, and could have worked well as a standalone short story. Sadly, the rest of the book just felt too disjointed and tiresome for my taste. ★★☆☆☆
Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
This has been one of my favourite thrillers since I read it for the first time years ago so I was looking forward to re-reading it. The first few pages introduce us to a team of biologists who are sourcing artifacts for New York’s Museum of Natural History deep in the jungles of the Amazon. The expedition ends in tragedy. Fast forward a few years later, and the museum is preparing to showcase a mysterious relic from the expedition as part of its new Superstition exhibit. As opening day draws nearer, bodies are being found in the dark corridors of the museum, and rumours of a ‘museum beast’ begin to circulate.
Relic is a fast-paced adventure that transports readers to a time not so long ago, when you couldn’t just find the answer to a question with the tap of a button on your phone. It has a long list of strong characters, particularly the fascinating FBI Agent Pendergast, who returns in many of the other books by authors Preston & Child. Still one of my favourite thrillers. ★★★★★
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
It can’t be easy trying to make your own way as a horror writer when your dad is Stephen King. This collection of short stories was my introduction to Joe Hill and I was pleasantly surprised. He was very clearly inspired by his father’s work, but he also brings his own style to his writing. 20th Century Ghosts is Hill’s first published collection, and though the title suggests it belongs to the horror genre, it’s actually a quite diverse collection of many different styles, mainly centering around the theme of childhood trauma.
Even though I didn’t love every story, Hill writes so masterfully I couldn’t put this book down. I’ll definitely be reading more of his work.
Best New Horror: The editor of a horror anthology seeks out the author of a story that captivated him and gets pulled into a horror of his own. I thought this one was a modern masterpiece. ★★★★★
20th Century Ghost: An aging theatre owner tells the story of his relationship with the theatre, and the girl who haunts it. One of the few ghost stories in this collection, and beautifully written. ★★★★☆
Pop Art: I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief enough to fully enjoy a story about a living boy made of plastic and filled with air, though it was an interesting story with well-developed characters and despite not being able to completely connect with it, the ending hurt. ★★★☆☆
You Will Hear the Locust Sing: A boy wakes up to discover that he has turned into a giant bug. Another story that was just too unbelievable for me to really get into, but the story wasn’t as good as Pop Art. ★☆☆☆☆
Abraham’s Boys: I’m personally not really a fan of vampire stories, but the concept of the Van Helsing family life was a unique one. ★★☆☆☆
Better Than Home: I found this one a bit boring. I might at some point go back and read it again to see if I’ll appreciate it more, but it’s not what I came here for. ★☆☆☆☆
The Black Phone: Young boys start disappearing in a small town. When Finney is kidnapped, he starts receiving calls from the killer’s previous victims on a strange black phone on the basement wall. This one was pretty creepy, though I expected the ending to be a little more creative. ★★★☆☆
In the Rundown: I thought this was one of the weakest points of this collection because it didn’t really feel like a finished story. It could have been interesting, but instead it just…ended. ★☆☆☆☆
The Cape: A well-written story about a boy who has the ability to fly but he doesn’t fully realize his power until adulthood. I felt that this story ran on a bit long, but the surprise ending was a nice touch. ★★★☆☆
Last Breath: A family visits a strange roadside attraction, where the curator has collected the dying words of his victims. This was delightfully creepy. ★★★★☆
The Widow’s Breakfast: This one was weird. It was a really sad tale of a drifter who is dealing with loss and loneliness. He comes across a family living in an old farmhouse who shows him kindness and…it’s all just a punchline to a joke nobody asked for? Three stars because it’s well written until the ending. ★★★☆☆
Dead Wood: Another beautifully written story that isn’t really a story. If you’re looking for something with a plot, it might be best to skip this one, but if you enjoy good writing you might like it. ★★★★☆
Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead: Two former lovers reunite decades later and reflect on what could have been. Not a horror or thriller at all, but I thought this story was absolutely beautiful. ★★★★★
My Father’s Mask: Honestly, I had to read this one twice to figure out what was going on, and I still had no idea what was going on. ★★☆☆☆
Voluntary Committal: This one was good, but like The Cape, I felt like it could have been told better in less pages. ★★★☆☆
Scheherazade’s Typewriter: Joe Hill left one last little gift for his readers at the end of the acknowledgements simply because he didn’t think anyone had hidden a story in the end of a book before. Short, but worth sticking around for. ★★★☆☆
Do you have any thoughts on these books, or recommendations on what I should read next? Leave a comment below! You can also check out my book reviews from last month: