I’m not entirely sure when I stopped reading books, but it was probably around the time I got my first iPhone. I’m not even sure that I missed reading until a couple of years ago, when I spent a summer living in a small cabin in northern Canada. We were a 3 hour drive from the nearest city, in an absolutely beautiful corner of the Ontario wilderness surrounded by forests, lakes, and wildlife. Those who know me well know that the wilderness is not an environment where I flourish, and although I could appreciate the natural beauty around me, if it wasn’t for my Kindle I probably would have lost my mind from the boredom of an internet-free existence in a place with no malls, bars or coffee shops.
My renewed love for books has had two big advantages. First of all, it has allowed me to enjoy reading good stories again. There’s really nothing like a good story. Of course, you can get them from a lot of different mediums, but they’re never quite as fleshed out as they are in a book. The second advantage is that I’m enjoying the act of creative writing again. University papers aside, it’s been about 3 years since I’ve written anything, and I’ve missed it.
So to make sure I keep reading and writing, I’ve decided to compile a list of the books I’ve read at the end of every month or two throughout the rest of the year and do a brief review of each one to let you know whether they were worth a read. Genres will vary, though they will likely be mostly thrillers/suspense/horror/mystery or classic literature.
Shore Lodge by Susan Specht Oram
After the death of her husband, Jacklyn Stone is taken to a remote lodge by her children to help her cope with her all-consuming grief. It is not long before she realizes she is a prisoner and she sets out to escape back home to the mainland before she loses everything she has known.
This book is advertised as a “high-stakes psychological thriller” but I didn’t find it very thrilling. I usually love suspenseful books, but this one left me disappointed. It wasn’t very well-written and none of the characters were particularly likeable. It was pretty slow moving and I kept expecting a twist that never came. It does get exciting very briefly, but only near the end. I personally wouldn’t read another book by this author. ★★☆☆☆
The House at the End of the World by Dean Koontz
An artist named Katie has moved to a secluded house on a small island after a tragedy steals her life from her. While she hides away from the world, there is an event on a neighbouring island that serves as a shadowy government facility. Two strangers appear on Katie’s island and things get weird.
I started this right after finishing Shore Lodge and it was a breath of fresh air. I’m actually not sure if I liked it because it was a good book, or because the previous one was so disappointing, but I finished this in just a couple of days. Dean Koontz has a very specific formula for his books, and this one has everything you’d expect. The characters were likeable and the plot was interesting. I knocked one star off my rating because the climax seemed a little rushed and the story seemed to drag on a bit too long afterwards. Otherwise it was great. ★★★★☆
The Troop by Nick Cutter
A boy scout troop is enjoying a multi-day wilderness excursion on a small island (I know, there’s a theme here) when a strange man appears. He appears to be afflicted with a parasitic infection, which has terrifying symptoms. And it’s spreading.
Honestly, I didn’t enjoy this book. The synopsis made it sounds like a creature-feature but it was about kids being terrorized on an island. It had lots of action, but I found it too disturbing. The first half of the book is pretty boring and the second of just way too disgusting for my taste. I did, however, think that the story was told in an interesting way with faux interviews and news clippings breaking up the narrative (the author Nick Cutter, aka Craig Davidson, has cited Stephen King’s Carrie as an inspiration). Still, too gross for me. ★☆☆☆☆
The Haar by David Sodergren
An aging widow finds a mysterious creature in the fog, who helps her fight against the wealthy and ruthless property developer that is trying to push her out of her seaside home. Along the way, she is given a sort of second chance at a love she lost.
This is the loveliest horror book I have ever read. It isn’t shy on gore, but this was such a well-written story that it didn’t really bother me. Muriel, the badass Scottish granny who served as the story’s protagonist, is a likeable character who is easy to sympathize with. The monster, Avalon, works as a sort of antihero that you can’t help rooting for. Sodergren has masterfully woven deeply-layered characters into a complex horror story that I personally think is one of the best out there. I would 100% read another book by this author. In fact, I will probably read this book again at some point. ★★★★★
Strange Highways by Dean Koontz
Strange Highways is Koontz’s only collection of short stories. I’ve always found it difficult to rate short story collections as a whole because there are strengths and weaknesses in every compilation. This one is no exception, though I would say it’s pretty strong overall and fans of Koontz will not be disappointed. He is a master of weaving together thrilling stories with an overall focus on light conquering darkness. Stories are rated individually below:
Strange Highways: A typical Koontz story where a struggling writer returns to his hometown and is swept into a strange chain of events that may allow him to right a wrong from the past. ★★★★★
The Black Pumpkin: A young boy and his older brother bring home a scary-looking pumpkin from a weird guy on a farm. Terror ensues. This felt like something I would expect to find in one of Stephen King’s short story collection. Satisfyingly creepy. ★★★★★
Miss Attila the Hun: An alien attempts to take over a small town. Decent story, though I personally found the “love overcoming evil” theme a little too on the nose. ★★★☆☆
Down in the Darkness: A man and his wife buy a new house and a mysterious cellar door appears, beckoning him to make a terrible choice. I thought this one was excellent. ★★★★★
Ollie’s Hands: A man with a unique affliction saves a young woman and uses his power in an attempt to save her life. A tragic, well-written story. ★★★★☆
Snatcher: This story follows a thief who steals a handbag that contains more than he bargained for. Another one that felt like something written by Stephen King. ★★★☆☆
Trapped: A widow and her young son are held prisoner in their own home by mutant lab rats. I feel like Koontz has done this concept before, but better. ★★☆☆☆
Bruno: A quirky story of a private eye who teams up with a mutant from another dimension to track down an alien who has set out to destroy the world. Not a great story overall, but it reminded me of those fun old-time radio mysteries from the past, so I gave it an extra star for nostalgia’s sake. ★★☆☆☆
We Three: A tale of three young siblings who think that they’re destined to take over the world. Probably my least favourite story in this collection due to the incest-heavy plot, and it didn’t seem to have a proper ending. ★☆☆☆☆
Hardshell: A policeman chases an alien killer through a warehouse, but he has a secret of his own. ★★☆☆☆
Kittens: A clever but disturbing story about a small girl whose parents aren’t telling the whole truth about where her kittens have gone. ★★☆☆☆
The Night of the Storm: A post-apocalyptic story about a group of bored robots who go on a hunting trip in the woods and encounter humans for the first time. ★★★☆☆
Twilight of the Dawn: A story about a man who is determined to hate everything about religion, even if it means hurting the people he loves. I found the protagonist a bit too unlikeable in this one, and thought it could have been told just as well in fewer pages. ★★★☆☆
Kindle Unlimited – is it worth it?
I signed up for a Kindle Unlimited trial subscription in February and ended up reading way more than I thought I would. Is it worth it? Honestly, not really. There were a few good books, but the selection of free stuff is mainly romance and self-published stuff, and after the first few novels nothing really interested me. I recommend signing up if there’s a free or super cheap trial, but I honestly don’t think it’s worth paying full price. A lot of the books on there are pretty cheap to buy anyway.
If you have any requests for future reviews, please leave your suggestions in a comment below! You can also check out some of my other monthly book reviews: