(4 stars) The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
Kingfisher tells us from chapter one that the dog (Bongo, best dog ever) and the narrator (Mouse, also quite enjoyable) will be okay at the end of the book. This is good, because I liked them both very much, and this book was SO CREEPY that I really needed some reassurances by the end.
Mouse gets called up by her dying father to help with his dead mother’s estate — specifically, the big old house in the creepy woods which Mouse discovers to be absolutely brimming with the old lady’s JUNK: “it was pretty obvious that the porch had been a dumping ground for old furniture, gardening equipment, and what looked like an ancient grill. All the corners had been filled in with more junk. It was really kind of impressive. She hadn’t just hoarded; she’d made walls and ramparts out of her possessions, like she was expecting a siege.” So yeah, it’s full of junk and REALLY creepy. Mouse had no relationship with her mean, MEAN grandma, but remembers her step-grandfather fondly. So when she finds a journal by him claiming a manuscript exists somewhere in the house — a manuscript about the twisted ones — she’s bound and determined to find it.
The manuscript, unfortunately, is the main plot device in this novel, and also its weakest link. It doesn’t help that while reading The Twisted Ones, I was also listening to Verity by Colleen Hoover (see below), which uses the same device much more effectively. That being said, the book is still super creepy and gripping, and I’m giving it 4 stars based on two facts:
- I literally stayed up til midnight (I am a 10pm bedtime person) in order to finish the damn thing because I couldn’t put it down.
- I love how the voice the author gave Mouse for narration. She’s very funny and loves her dog very much.
- “Bongo is an excellent watchdog, by which I mean that he will watch very alertly as the serial killer breaks into the house and skins me.”
- “‘You’re not smart,’ I told him. He wagged his tail and licked the screen again, on the off chance that it had become tasty.”
It was just really fun reading this incredibly creepy story about evil forest people, with frequent breaks to discuss Bongo’s stupidity, or the grandmother’s meanness, or the dumbness of Mouse’s clients.
(3 stars) The Whisper Man by Alex North
This book was all over Goodreads’s and other site’s “best of” lists this year, so I had pretty high expectations. It didn’t quite live up to those, but it was a thriller with some good twists. Apparently Alex North is a nom de plume — does anyone know who he really is yet? The internet is all “what an amazing debut!” but Goodreads says “Alex North is a British crime writer who has previously published under another name” so I’m calling bullshit on that.
“If you leave a door half open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken.
If you play outside alone, soon you won’t be going home.
If your window’s left unlatched, you’ll hear him tapping at the glass.
If you’re lonely, sad, and blue, the Whisper Man will come for you.”
ANYWAY. Tom Kennedy and his seven year old son Jake have just moved to Featherbank after the death of Jake’s mother. Tom didn’t communicate with his son very well before his wife died, and doing so after from a well of grief seems impossible for both of them. Instead of a fresh start, however, they end up right in the middle of a new horror: a little boy disappears, just like 20 years ago when multiple children were abducted in this town. The killer is in jail, so who’s doing it now?
The book had some good plot twists, but man, Tom Kennedy was just the pits. He obviously needed some serious help — not only for the depression following his wife’s death, but also some really disturbing things from his own past. I did like the detective — Pete — who solved the original case and gets pulled back in for this one, although he seemed to be a bit of a stereotype of an ex-alcoholic cop just living for one more case. All in all, it was a perfectly fine read but I don’t see what all the hype was about.
(4 stars) Verity by Colleen Hoover
This book was MESSED UP. By the end, I was almost laughing at just the endless horrible things that happen within it. If you are any kind of sensitive — especially to children getting hurt — do NOT read this. I am giving it 4 stars because I could not WAIT to see what happened next for like 90% of the novel, and the ending was the kind of batshit crazy that’s hard to achieve. What might be most amazing, however, is that it’s billed as romance and I downloaded it for free through Audible Escape as a romance novel.
I mean, the book starts with someone getting killed in a hit and run directly in front of our main character’s eyes. That basically sets the tone for this one.
“A writer should never have the audacity to write about themselves unless they’re willing to separate every layer of protection between the author’s soul and their book. The words should come directly from the center of the gut, tearing through flesh and bone as they break free. Ugly and honest and bloody and a little bit terrifying, but completely exposed.”
Lowen Ashleigh has been hired for the job of a lifetime — ghostwriting the final three novels in a successful series for a LOT of money. The former author, Verity Crawford, has been in an accident and can no longer walk or communicate. Due to a series of unfortunate events, Lowen gets evicted and ends up moving in with the Crawford family while doing research for the next book. Verity is at home, cared for by a nurse, while her husband Jeremy flirt relentlessly with Lowen and their sole remaining child Crew spends as much time as possible with his mother. Yes, sole remaining child — his older twin sisters both died tragically the previous year.
“What you read will taste so bad at times, you’ll want to spit it out, but you’ll swallow these words and they will become part of you, part of your gut, and you will hurt because of them.”
When not flirting with her new boss, Lowen spends all of her time holed up in Verity’s study — not doing research, but reading an autobiographical manuscript that she stumbles upon on the first night. In it, Verity outlines what a horrible human being she is — how she lied to trap her husband, how her obsession with him led her to try to abort their children, and a lot of other really bad stuff y’all. Lowen becomes obsessed with Verity — she can’t stop reading the manuscript, which comes off like a cleaned up diary. She’s convinced that Verity’s faking her injuries to gain sympathy from Jeremy. In addition to writing about what a horrible mother she is, Verity also enjoys graphically describing her sex life with Jeremy — descriptions that get Lowen even more interested in her boss.
This book, Verity, and the manuscript within the book — they’re nuts, okay? The descriptions of the sex and violence, the massive amount of disbelief you’re required to suspend in order to continue — it’s all over the top and just crazy. But I could not stop listening to this book. It hooked me like Verity’s manuscript hooked Lowen. I would strongly suggest not reading ANY spoilers or information — dive in expecting a scary ride and stay with it til the end.
(2 stars) A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill
“…there’s no such thing as a happy ending. The songs, books, and movies with “happy endings” all stop at the moment of triumph….There are, however, good stopping places.”
This was not a happy book. It was not the book I expected, either, and not really a book I liked, in the end.
It starts out well — in the 1960s, Margaret decides she doesn’t want a boring life with a boring man, so she marries Harry — a dreamer and creator obsessed with Lovecraft. They have three children — two girls and a boy — but Harry dies before the boy (Noah, who narrates/is the focus of most of the novel) gets much older than 5. Harry’s death is the final tear in the fabric of this family — which as suffered emotional and financial crises since day one — and Noah grows up in a very broken home. One of the main points of contention in the family is the Wandering Dark, a haunted house that Harry dreamed up and Margaret later resurrects to pay the bills. The Wandering Dark is full of fake monsters, but Noah grows up alongside another, very real, monster — a giant creature he calls My Friend that comes to visit him at night.
Hamill’s plan seems be to set up a world with figurative monsters and literal ones, and to watch as they basically wreak havoc on one family. I really enjoyed the early chapters, watching Margaret fall in love with Lovecraft and the horror genre. But it gets so bleak so fast, and it’s just…messy. The narrative jumps and skips in time and perspective. The worst part, though, was the relationship between the monster and Noah. It basically grooms him from the start, and by the end the relationship became extremely upsetting.