The Alpha Species is the follow-up to W.W. Mortensen’s debut novel EIGHT, and continues the story of Rebecca and Ed’s terrifying trip into the Amazon jungle from where the first book left off. Therefore, in order to fully understand this book, it’s recommended that readers are familiar with EIGHT before moving on to The Alpha Species.
World’s Scariest Places: The Catacombs
The Catacombs is written in first-person narrative, mostly from the perspective of an American called Will, though includes some shorter chapters from the perspective of other characters. Will has relocated to Paris with the intention of starting over, after a boating disaster turned his life upside down, killing his younger sister and best friend, on the night before his wedding.
He befriends a local girl called Danièle, who shows him video footage of an Australian woman lost in the Catacombs beneath the city. She convinces him to join her on a night-time trip, deep into the caverns and tunnels on a hunt for this missing woman, along with her friends, Pascal and Rob. Although reluctant, Will later agrees to accompany them, after an unexpected conversation with his ex-fiance spurs him on.
Initially I was a little sceptical going into this book, I’d read the previous novel in the ‘World’s Scariest Places’ series last year and was a bit underwhelmed by the story. Suicide Forest didn’t live up to the creepy goose-pimply tale I’d been expecting, but I was hoping, considering the location, that The Catacombs would make for a much scarier story.
…possible spoiler warning…
World’s Scariest Places: Suicide Forest
I took an interest in Jeremy Bates’s World’s Scariest Places series as it focused on real locations, which can sometimes be a nice change from made-up places usually found in fiction. However, as I began reading I remembered that what had originally piqued my interest in Suicide Forest, was the film which I had reviewed a few years before for a previous incarnation of the blog.
So I decided to post my movie review of The Forest first, and those interested can read it here.
I really wanted to enjoy this book, as suicide and depression are issues that are quite close to my heart, and I thought that some of these aspects of the story might be quite fascinating. However, the writing style and prose itself were very tedious, and I found myself struggling to continue reading beyond the initial 20% of the book.
My many issues with this novel include the monotonous plot – vastly different from that of The Forest – and the characters who deliberately set off for hiking and camping without proper equipment and clothing, then leaving the proper trails and paths behind, despite numerous signs and warnings not to do so.
I had expected this book to be immensely creepy or scary, considering the location, but in reality there were very few creepy moments and nothing that truly scared me. The characters plodded slowly along through this boring and overly descriptive story, until finally something of significance happened about halfway through, after which the plot dissolved into somewhat predictable and fairly ridiculous events.
At just 1 out of 5 stars, I couldn’t wait for Suicide Forest to be over, and I could move on and read something much more exciting. Frankly, and probably surprisingly, despite my negative review of the film, The Forest had a much more engaging plot than this snoozefest of a novel.
Bird Box was added to my TBR list so long ago that I’ve almost completely forgotten the reason why, however I think it was due to its description as ‘the scariest horror novel of all time’ or something along those lines. Not entirely certain though, but when I discovered that Netflix had turned the book into a film, I finally decided to increase the priority and get the book read sooner rather than later.
It is a post-apocalyptic tale of survival, in which a single mother attempts to raise her two young children, while protecting them from an unknown danger that lurks outdoors. Having deduced that the time is ripe, Malorie gathers the children together and they flee their home to try and find safety elsewhere. They make their escape by boat, while blindfolded to protect themselves from looking at whatever force or creature lurks outside, causing people to commit suicide.
To me, the premise sounded a little bonkers, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that it would work. Driving a car while attempting not to look at what’s happening around you? Rowing a boat blindfolded along a rough river in the dark? Walking anywhere outside with your eyes closed/covered and somehow not tripping over or falling down steps/stairs and hurting yourself all the time?
Unsurprisingly, my initial suspicion was right. First off, the fact that the writer couldn’t be bothered to give the children proper names, instead simply referring to them as ‘Boy’ or ‘Girl’ for the majority of the novel, really irked my nerves. Second, and most importantly, there was no explanation for what it was that actually happened. What did people see outside that caused them to commit suicide? Was it a creature? If so, where did it come from? How many creatures were there? The list of unanswered questions goes on and on, without resolution.
I comprehend the meaning behind the story less now that I’ve read the book, than I did before I started. Therefore, I rate this book at just 2 out of 5 stars. There is very, very little horror in this novel, or suspense, or action, or indeed very much of anything of real substance. It actually becomes a bit dull and repetitive as the book plods along with this ridiculous concept. It also boasts the longest boat ride since Gendry in the TV version of Game of Thrones. That said however, it did enough to keep me reading until the end, but I only wish that there had been a more satisfying conclusion.
Since I finished the book, I decided to persevere and watch the film as well, which stars Sandra Bullock as Malorie. I thought that maybe seeing the story visually might be better than reading about it, however I’m still not convinced. There were a few differences between the book and the film, some obviously understandable, but others that simply just confused me. If you want to watch it for yourself though, I’ll let you make up your own mind about it.
You Don’t Know Her. But She Knows You.
Rachel, a troubled alcoholic regularly takes the same train to and from her work in London. As the train slowly trundles along the tracks past her old home, she remembers her old life, back when she used to be content and happily married to the man of her dreams.
Now however, even after two years of separation Rachel still struggles to move forward from her unexpected divorce. As a means of escape she likes to imagine the perfect, happy lives of the couple who live a few houses down from the home she used to own with her husband.
Every day the train slows down as it approaches her old street, and she catches brief glimpses of the happy couple from the two-storey, Victorian semi-detached house. But one day Rachel makes a shocking discovery and finds herself a part of the ‘perfect life’, which she has been secretly watching from the train.
“It’s not that unusual, death by train. Two to three hundred a year, they say, so at least one every couple of days. I’m not sure how many of those are accidental.” – Rachel’s inner thoughts. (p21)
Having recently, in a bid to be healthier, decided to give up alcohol, I was rather surprised to find that the content of Paula Hawkins novel The Girl on the Train was so full to bursting of those really embarrassing ‘Oh my God I got so drunk, I can’t remember what I did last night’ type moments, coupled with an almost constant state of perpetual drunkenness that it has quite convinced me to turn my recent sobriety into a permanent situation. I am aware, of course, that this is not really the main concept or raison d’etre of the novel, however it is definitely the aspect that will forever remain engraved in my memory.
The Girl on the Train is an uncharacteristic deviation from my preferred genres. Maybe that is why I dislike this rather sappy and somewhat romantic, psychological thriller, I’ve never been a fan of the romance genre.
The book began well however, keeping the reader intrigued by the mystery, giving out its information in small doses, piece by small piece, never letting the questions grow stale before providing adequate context and resolution. Unfortunately, somewhere around the moment that the real plot becomes clear, the story takes a rather repetitive turn, dragging on and on endlessly repeating the same patterns, until I just couldn’t wait for the end to come.
At 2 out of 5 stars it may be suitable for those who enjoy sappy romance and crime thrillers, but personally it’s not really my cup of tea.
William Thompson is a Physics Professor sentenced to 25 years in prison for child rape and attempted murder, but volunteers instead to complete his punishment in an Experimental Corrections Program. Will feels that he has been wrongly convicted due to circumstantial evidence and takes the more welcoming prospect of just one year in the Red Box facility, instead of losing a quarter of his life behind bars.
Meanwhile, Law Professor Jonathan McDougal is using his position as director of the DNA Project to research and expose the secrets behind the relatively unknown Compressed Punishment Program and believing in William’s innocence, uses the court case as an excuse to dig deeper into the corporation.
Unfortunately a number of employees of the Detroit facility have discovered a leak within their organisation and aim to recover the missing files and protect the Compressed Punishment Program by any means necessary. Allowing Dr. McDougal to continue to probe into their test subject, William Thompson’s early release would be disastrous for the future of the project. Can Jonathan piece together the evidence before it’s too late?
William, unaware of Dr. McDougal’s attempts to prove mistrial on his behalf, soon learns the real reality behind the experimental program after being placed in a biomechanical device known as the Exoskeleton, and strange things begin to happen.
“Innocence or guilt is irrelevant.” – opening line.
“He had done things he was sure he’d regret one day, when the ugly head of conscience emerged from the murky waters of circumstance”. – William Thompson’s inner thoughts. (p18)
“Dental pain is the king of all pains”. – Dr Colby. (p98)
Exoskeleton is an engrossing first novel from experimental physicist Shane Stadler. The story begins with a convict entering a research facility to begin a program supposedly designed to punish him for his crimes, but soon fast tracks towards a more science fiction orientated theme that becomes increasingly creepy and disturbing in tone as it continues.
Exoskeleton is an excellent book which grips and enthrals the reader from start to finish, from the very beginning you feel as initially confused as the main character, wondering just exactly what the future has in store for Mr. William Thompson. But the confusion eventually gives way to both shock and empathy as the torture begins and the story ratchets up a gear with every passing page.
A 5 out of 5 stars this is a recommended read for those of unsqueamish disposition who love horror and sci-fi.
Book 1: Trespass
Having been a fan of some of Michael Campling’s other books – The Colony B series, and his LitRPG collaboration with Saffron Bryant, Prison Quest – I really thought that I would enjoy this time travel and historical fantasy trilogy. However, after just reading book one, Trespass, I’m a bit disappointed. The story jumps back and forth between three different time periods, and although that doesn’t really bother me, I do feel that as a result not much of real consequence actually happens.
If I had read the free copy of Trespass that I received direct from signing up to Michael Campling’s e-mail newsletter, I would probably have stopped reading at this point, rating the first book at just 2 out of 5 stars. Unfortunately, I have already purchased The Darkeningstone Trilogy Boxset, so I’m going to persevere and continue reading book two, Outcast and hope that the story improves.
Book 2: Outcast
Outcast continues the interlocking stories of Jake and Cally, which began in Trespass: Jake is lost in the forest, while Cally is working on her University Dissertation.
I found this novel more interesting than its predecessor, but I felt that the Darkeningstone played very little part in this story, which was quite disappointing. I liked the survival techniques that Jake used to keep his spirits up and his body alive while he searched for a way back home, as well as the different tribes people and their primitive ways of life.
It did enough to keep me reading, so I’d rate Outcast at 3 out of 5 stars, but the story is probably more suited to young adults than someone in their 30s. However, having come this far it seems silly not to continue on and read the last part of the trilogy, Scaderstone Pit, and I will reserve final judgement until I finish reading the entire series.
Book 3: Scaderstone Pit
As I began reading this trilogy I wasn’t sure that I was going to enjoy it, the premise seemed interesting – a time travel mystery – however, the constant back and forth between different time periods seemed to really slow down the pace of the book. Just as something intriguing happens, we jump to another time period with different characters and as the major action began there, we would again jump elsewhere.
I felt that despite the deeply intricate detail that went into the crafting of this story, in the earlier books not much seemed to happen, or at least not that much that felt significant. I was tempted to give up reading a couple of times early on, however bearing in mind the respect that I have for some of this author’s other books, I kept on reading.
Having persevered all the way to the end of the trilogy, all I can say is that I’m glad I kept going. The third novel, Scaderstone Pit really tied all of the elements of this story together, and every detail finally clicked into place. Unfortunately, there were a number of spelling errors and missing words which let this entire series down, and this is unusual for Michael Campling.
At 4 out of 5 stars, The Darkeningstone Trilogy is perfect for young adult fans of time travel. It’s not perfect but if you can stick with it all the way to the end, you may be surprised by how well each different element blends together.
I was drawn to Bonfire out of sheer curiosity, as it was written by actress turned writer, Krysten Ritter who is probably better known as Jessica Jones from the Netflix and Marvel series of the same name, or her appearances in AMC’s Breaking Bad. Bonfire is Ritter’s debut novel, and is a psychological suspense, mystery thriller.
High School student, Abby Williams is mercilessly bullied by her ex-best friend, Kaycee Mitchell and her posse of popular pals. However, the four girls soon become sick with an unknown illness, and shortly after graduation Kaycee skips town. On turning 18-years-old Abby also leaves the small town of Barrens in her rearview mirror, vowing never to return.
Ten years later, Abby returns to Barrens as an environmental lawyer, to investigate complaints made against the organisation, Optimal Plastics. Optimal practically runs the small town of Barrens, making it difficult for Abby and her colleagues to collect any unbiased opinions and truthful information about the company’s actions.
Concerned about contaminated water in the local reservoir, and with a head full of unexplained questions from her past, Abby must tread carefully or risk unearthing secrets that are best left buried.
I’m not usually a fan of legal style thrillers and worried a little that I’d made a mistake in choosing to read Bonfire, but found the environmental side interesting, as they tested the local water for pollutants. However, the book was a little repetitive with Abby’s continual flashbacks to her earlier life in Barrens. It was always the same specific memories: her dog, Kaycee being sick in the bathroom, or her father’s treatment of her, which gradually got a bit monotonous.
I almost got bored before I was even a quarter of the way through, but curiosity over the fate of Optimal Plastics, and Kaycee Mitchell kept me reading. Overall, Bonfire is an ok read at 3 out of 5 stars. It did enough to keep me interested, but the story’s nothing unique or impressive.
Four Past Midnight is a collection of four different horror novellas from Stephen King.
This is by far one of my favourite Stephen King stories. It is a science fiction, horror, mystery thriller with a chillingly spooky time travel theme. You can read my full review of the Langoliers here.
Secret Window, Secret Garden
This story of a writer accused of plagiarism is probably known better in film format, as it starred Johnny Depp. However, as a book I couldn’t really get into it, finding it rather dull, boring and predicable.
The Library Policeman
This one held the promise of an intriguing tale to scare the kiddies into returning their library books, but it just seemed to be a never-ending story. It started well, but eventually I just couldn’t wait for the end. Far, far too long. I lost interest altogether.
The Sun Dog
The final novella is part of the Castle Rock Series and gives me goosebumps and chills all over, with its terrifyingly realistic descriptions and paranormal events. Don’t read it in bed at night when its dark, or you’ll be apt to get nightmares. Fair warning to those faint of heart.
Overall, at 4 out of 5 stars this is a great collection. With my personal favourites ‘The Langoliers’ and ‘The Sun Dog’, the best picks of the four stories.
I wanted to share with you one of my favourite Stephen King horror stories The Langoliers, which I mentioned during a previous review (Slithers by W.W. Mortensen). Note if you like Slithers, you’ll probably enjoy The Langoliers, and vice versa.
It is one of four novellas which make up the Four Past Midnight Collection, and it has always left me with goose bumps, ever since reading it as a teenager. It opened up my mind towards things that we normally take for granted and don’t tend to think about.
Quote from the ‘Introductory Note’ by Stephen King himself:
“Time, for instance, and the corrosive effects it can have on the human heart. The past, and the shadows it throws upon the present – shadows where unpleasant things sometimes grow and even more unpleasant things hide . . . and grow fat.”
During a routine flight from Los Angeles to Boston eleven passengers awake to discover themselves immersed in a rather disturbing situation. While they were peacefully sleeping, the rest of the plane’s passengers and crew have mysteriously vanished.
The Langoliers is a science fiction, horror and mystery novella all rolled into one. The surviving passengers must now band together and solve this complex mystery. Thankfully they happen to have a competent pilot amongst them who can both fly the plane and land safely, but will Brian’s skills be enough to save them from this odd situation?
As mentioned before, this spine-tingling story always creeps me out, and Stephen King does a terrific job building up the suspense and terror as you follow this terrified group of survivors seeking only to return to normality. It is a little longer than most novellas at just shy of 300 pages, however it keeps the reader hooked, with such themes as severe mental illness under stress, childhood nightmares that come to life, and of course its locked room mystery.
It has been a long time since I read any of the other three novellas in the Four Past Midnight collection, however if memory serves me right The Langoliers remains my personal favourite at the full 5 out of 5 stars.
One final note to this review is that there was also a two part TV adaptation of The Langoliers back in 1995. It seems a little dated now, especially since it doesn’t have all of the fancy CGI special effects that we usually have nowadays, but I think the story probably works best in print rather than on a screen.