As an active member of the Horror Writers Association, I am privileged to receive free copies of some of the latest writing in the genre. The three novels reviewed here are some of the best. I am reviewing them here in the order I read them, not preference.
Island of Bones, by Gaby Triana
This was an incredibly fun read and is recommended for anyone who enjoys ghost stories.
The story begins when our heroine’s grandmother dies. Born and raised in the Northeast, young Ellie has never been to Florida. But her grandmother, Leanne, was a Key West girl and often reminisced about life there and the home she called Casa de los Cayos. She loved her home, but was unfortunately forced out after the disappearance and suspected drowning of her husband who went treasure hunting one day and never came back. Ellie, who has just broken up with her boyfriend, feels the need for a change and volunteers to take her grandmother’s ashes down to Key West in a quest to locate Casa de los Cayos. And so, the adventure begins.
A haunted resort, ghosts, ghost hunters, a hurricane, a very strange cat, and some thoroughly despicable characters are all part of this weirdly imaginative tale. A real page-turner with numerous unexpected twists and turns, I thoroughly enjoyed this story.
The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste
Something is happening on Denton Street and it isn’t pretty. Young girls are turning to rust, literally! Set in Cleveland, Ohio, the street depicted was eerily familiar to me. I grew up in nearby Michigan in a similar neighborhood. The story begins with the ominous words: Pray for the Rust Maidens. This phrase, scribbled on the wall of an old abandoned steel mill, causes Phoebe Shaw to shiver with dread. Phoebe escaped from Cleveland long before, but now is returning – the house she grew up in is being torn down along with all the other structures on Denton Street.
The story flashes back and forth between present time and the 1980s when Phoebe and her best friend, Jacqueline, graduated from high school. Phoebe plans to leave Cleveland with Jacqueline, but strange events soon enfold the young women and plunge them into a new and horrifying reality.
Kiste is a beautiful writer. I read her anthology of short stories (And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe) last year and it remains one of my favorite reads. The Rust Maidens is her first full-length novel. There are many layers to this work and, while it may drag a bit in spots, it is truly worth the time you put into it.
Highly recommended for fans of “quiet” horror.
The Nightmare Room by Chris Sorensen
This is one terrific read! A total page-turner – it kept me up in the wee smalls, unable to put it down!
The story revolves around audiobook narrator, Peter Larson, and his wife, Hannah, who, after the tragic death of their son, move from New York to Maple City, Illinois, the town Peter grew up in. His father, in the early stages of dementia, is being transferred to a nursing home and Peter plans on moving to the old family homestead. However, when they arrive, Peter and Hannah are informed by the realtor that the home is to be sold to pay for the cost of his mother’s and father’s long-term care.
But fear not, Hannah and Peter will not be orphans of the storm, Dad owns another property – an old abandoned farm house sadly in need of some tender loving care. When Hannah, still grieving for her lost son, sees the house, it kindles something inside of her and she throws herself into the renovation project. Peter is not as enthusiastic, but does not want to extinguish the spark he sees in his wife’s eyes – a spark that has been missing since the boy’s death. Needless to say, there are things in this farmhouse that cannot be fixed by hammer and nails or a fresh coat of paint. The basement, especially, holds terrors that soon begin to plague Peter’s mind.
Full of twists and turns, Sorensen’s narrative moves effortlessly through both the supernatural and real tortures of the mind. His depiction of the grief experienced by Hannah and Peter is so real it is almost palpable. These are fully-fleshed characters who are easy to identify with and become invested in.
I loved this book. It’s one of the best horror novels I’ve read in a long time. The first in a series (The Messy Man Series), I can’t want to see what Sorensen comes up with next. Most highly recommended.