Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
This book might trigger anyone who has ever done time working on the floor of a big retail chain store. Personally, I didn’t find the ghosts in this story to be much scarier than the thought of spending day after day forcing a smile while being subjected to the abuse of customers, trying to uphold policies that only exist to make the wealthy higher-ups wealthier while the hardest working people at the bottom struggle to survive.
This book is advertised as a horror-comedy, though it’s not really funny and it’s not all that scary. Hendrix spends more time focusing on the gruelling job of a retail store employee than on shadows in the dark. There isn’t really any build up of suspense, just a red herring and then a sudden jump into action. And to be honest, the action wasn’t all that interesting. It felt rushed, uninspired, a bit lazy. There were unanswered questions. Why did certain characters bring five pairs of handcuffs with them to film ghosts? Why was that a better solution than holding hands during the seance (this was written in a pre-Covid time)? Why did the tv suddenly show security camera footage? Why did it take the police all night to find the store when you could literally see the highway from the parking lot?
I read the kindle edition, and I regret not picking up a physical copy of the book because it sounds like it was really well-designed. I like the creativity of presenting this book like an IKEA catalogue, and it’s possible that it might have increased my enjoyment of the story. I have to admit though, the story itself didn’t really live up to its potential. It was difficult to care about the characters. They felt weak and none of them was all that likeable, especially the protagonist Amy. By the time I reached the end I had fully stopped caring what happened to her, which was maybe for the best because the story lacked a proper resolution. Had Grady continued writing, we may have just had the same story again. And I honestly wouldn’t want to read this again. ★★★☆☆
Hide by Kiersten White
A group of twenty-somethings are chosen to compete in a unique contest: they are to spend 7 days hiding in an abandoned amusement park. From dawn to dusk they are safe, but once the sun goes up, they must ensure they can’t be found by whoever – or whatever – is hunting them.
This story is woven around a large group of characters, which is a difficult thing to do well. If there isn’t enough information given about them, the reader doesn’t care what happens to them, but if too much information is provided it’s easy to lose track of who’s who. I personally loved the amount of backstory that White offers for each of the 14 contestants. I wasn’t just rooting for the main protagonist, Mack, I was rooting for most of them. But I admit, it did get a bit confusing, particularly when the title of the “other Ava” kept being switched around, depending on the perspective. At one point near the end of the book, there’s a reference to a character who disappeared early on and Mack can’t remember which one they were. Neither could I. There were a few too many people to keep track of.
Faults aside, I think this was overall a really enjoyable story. Not really that scary, but it definitely kept my interest the whole way through. The first half of the book leaves the mystery open, providing enough little hints to keep things interesting. When the big reveal comes, it ties all the loose ends together, which is something that a surprising amount of authors seem to struggle with these days. But there is one all-too-common trope that White does fall into: leaving the ending open for the reader to decide. However, it was still a fun read, and one I might actually pick up again in the future. ★★★★☆
Verity by Colleen Hoover
Lowen Ashleigh has hit a low point in her life. The money from her last book has stopped coming in and she’s about to lose her apartment. Suddenly, she is given an offer she can’t turn down. She is hired on to finish a series of books by the popular author Verity Crawford. Lowen temporarily moves into the Crawford house to look through Verity’s manuscripts, and finds a written confession that makes her wonder if something more sinister has been going on.
I don’t like to do too much research about a book before picking it up because I want to avoid spoilers. Instead I’ve been reading books based on the amount of positive reviews from other readers, unfortunately I’m realizing that might not be the best tactic. Despite the many great reviews, I found this book disappointing. I didn’t love the author’s writing style. It felt more like a young adult book than a proper suspense story. Everything seemed too convenient, and by the time I was halfway through I was ready to throw my Kindle against the wall if the main character mentioned one more time that she was trying to convince herself she didn’t have feelings for Jeremy. There was zero chemistry between the two main characters, and I saw the ending coming from a mile away (even though I was hoping for a twist).
The author follows the annoying trend of using “romantic” female names like Lowen, Verity, Chastin and Harper. Personally I find this really cringey. But it was the melodramatic reactions by Lowen’s character that annoyed me the most. Every time she read a part of the manuscript she doubled over in pain, or vomited, or cried uncontrollably. And then had yet another internal dialog where she insisted she wasn’t — couldn’t be falling for Jeremy, but of course she was. The only interesting thing about Lowen’s character was her sleep disorder, and the author did absolutely nothing with it. There was one short scene that I think was maybe supposed to be scary (it wasn’t) and no explanation at all as to why it happened. And can we talk about how long it took her to finish that manuscript? What was it, two whole weeks? I can finish this trainwreck of a novel in two sittings, but it took her two whole weeks to finish that juicy manuscript?
Hoover summed it up best when she wrote: “What you read will taste so bad at times, you’ll want to spit it out.” This might be a good book for a young person graduating from the Young Adult genre, or someone who enjoys light romance novels. For me, it was a disappointment. ★★☆☆☆
The Stories of Ray Bradbury
I’m going to rate this short story collection story by story, as I usually do, but since there are 100 of them it’s probably going to take me more than one month to get through them all!
The Night: Told from the viewpoint of a young boy who witnesses his mother’s controlled panic when his older brother doesn’t come home at the usual time. Bradbury does a good job of creating tension in a story that really isn’t about anything much. He has a beautiful way of weaving together a child’s fear of the unknown and a mother’s fear of known terrors, until they’re one and the same thing. ★★☆☆☆
The Scythe: A destitute family happen upon a farmhouse that has been left to the next person that finds it. But it comes with a costlier price than money. ★★★★★
Homecoming: The coming-of-age story of a young vampire. Though I’m not usually interested in vampire stories, I was interested to learn that this story was inspired by the Addams Family, created by Bradbury’s friend Charles. ★★★☆☆
The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit: A group of poor men in Mexico City pool their last few dollars together to buy a beautiful, life-changing suit. ★★★★☆
The Crowd: After surviving a car accident, a man starts to notice patterns in other accidents. Is he struggling to come to terms with what happened, or is there something supernatural at work? An interesting story. ★★★★☆
The Coffin: I enjoyed this story about a man whose much-despised brother leaves a jarring little surprise for him after he passes away. ★★★★☆
The Fox & The Forest: I’ve loved this story ever since I first heard it on an old radio theatre podcast. A husband and wife escape from a dystopian future into the past, and are hunted by “searchers” who want to bring them back to their own time. There’s a good twist near the end. ★★★★★
The Lake: The story of a boy who loses a close friend at a young age and the effect it has on him years later. A lot of Bradbury’s stories are quite bleak but he’s such a brilliant writer with such creative ideas that they’re usually still enjoyable. This one was a bit too depressing for me though. ★★☆☆☆
Calling Mexico: A bittersweet story about an elderly man trying to escape into a memory of the good old days. ★★★☆☆
The Happiness Machine: An inventor sets out to build a machine that can create happiness for the people he loves. But does he understand happiness himself? ★★★☆☆
There Was An Old Woman: A stubborn old woman refuses to die. This was a silly story that wasn’t really my cup of tea but it was a fun idea. ★★☆☆☆
There Will Come Soft Rains: In a post-apocalyptic world, a house goes on living after its inhabitants are gone. The concept of a “smart” house aren’t really sci fi anymore, so it’s not too hard to imagine this actually happening. I couldn’t help but wonder though – if the people are all gone, how did the dog survive? ★★☆☆☆
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: