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Thursday, March 16, 2017

What I’m Reading: Abigale Hall, H.H. Holmes Bio and Hekla’s Children

Today I have three excellent, must buy, new books for libraries- a historical, psychological suspense, a true crime biography, and a straight up horror. All reviews appear in the current issue of Booklist, but below you will find my draft reviews with additional appeal statements and more readalikes.

Abigale Hall by Lauren Forry
Apr. 2017. 376p. Skyhorse, hardcover, $24.99  (9781510717268)First published March 15, 2017 (Booklist).

WWII left many British children orphaned and Eliza [17] and Rebecca [12] are not alone in being sent to live with an Aunt who doesn’t want them. But, when the girls are suddenly shipped off to live at Abigale Hall, a creepy and isolated home in Wales, their situation goes from pitiable to horrifying. With a prologue that sets up the mortal danger that surrounds this home, the reader is not surprised when Eliza starts noticing terrible things from day one, including that evil housekeeper, Mrs Pollard, is intent on keeping the girls isolated and under her absolute control. Told with compelling narration that alternates between two sympathetic protagonists, Eliza, desperately trying to figure out why so many women associated with the manor have gone missing, and her boyfriend Peter, back in London, risking all to track down his beloved and bring her home, this is a story that goes from merely atmospheric to outright terrifying as you compulsively turn the pages. Forry lulls you into thinking this is just a typical Historic, Gothic Thriller in the style of Rebecca, until the increasing panic, merging storylines, and uncovered, deadly secrets begin to precariously pile up, ultimately crashing down in a dark and very sinister collapse. Shirley Jackson’s influence clings to every page of this intense debut, but despite the novel’s setting in the past, it would also be enjoyed by fans of the intense female driven psychological suspense from this century like the novels of Gillian Flynn and especially, Sarah Pinborough Behind Her Eyes.
Further Appeal: The mix of a historical setting with all the trends and writing twists found in today's psychological thrillers made for a fun read. I want to stress that this book is VERY SINISTER. Much more so than your typical historical suspense. The readalikes I offer in the review and below reflect that.

Booklist added a YA statement on this title. I went back and forth on it and in the end let them decide. I think the book is more sinister than your typical teen suspense. Not that teens don't like dark, but one of the things I liked about this book is that it takes a surprisingly dark turn. One that may shock some readers. Again, like the readalikes also reflect this.


The moral here, this is a good book that will shake some readers out of their "girl" centered psychological suspense doldrums.


Three Words That Describe This Book: alternating POV, Gothic, Sinister


Readalikes: Use the links in the review above to see more of what I have to say about Jackson, Flynn and Pinborough. But if you want a similar gothic and sinister feel, with an creepy house setting, compelling narration, and a steadily increasing pace try The Darkling by R. B. Chesterton or Her Fearful Symmetry by Andrey Niffenegger [all links are to my reviews which also contain more readlaike options unless noted otherwise].


If you want another WWII era, British psychological suspense but don't mind a more methodical pace, there is no better choice than The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. That book is oppressive on top of being sinister as it plays with your mind. Seriously. I still think about it 7 years later.


Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil by Adam Selzer
Apr. 2017. 460p. Skyhorse, hardcover, $26.99 (9781510713437). 364.15. First published March 15, 2017 (Booklist).

Selzer has made a career over fact checking the most sordid details of Chicago history, disseminating the weird, gritty but 100% true history of the city and its most unsavory people through popular mystery tours, a podcast, and books. When the unprecedented success of The Devil in The White City stirred up a renewed interest in serial killer H.H. Holmes, Selzer did what he had always done before, he doubted every word and made it his mission to painstakingly research Holmes, his life, his family, and his crimes with intense determination and doggedness. The result is this comprehensive, compelling, and surprising biography of Holmes, written in a conversational style, as if we are a passenger on one of Selzer’s tours. The book follows every move Holmes ever took, dragging us all over the country, breathlessly following his trail of deceit and lies. Using thousands of primary sources to draw the most accurate picture of this American villain yet, Selzer keeps the delicate balance of the salacious and mundane details in check, contradicting with solid facts, some of the most outrageous claims made by Holmes, the press and even Larson himself. What emerges is the picture of a terrible but intriguing man, one who continues to capture our imagination over a century later, and one whose story leaps off the page in Selzer’s uniquely suited hands. A must read for fans of Erik Larson, of course, but this biography will also hold its own independently of Larsson's popularity in all true crime collections.

Further Appeal: Yes I reviewed a biography. There is a first time for everything.

I have to admit, I went into this one a bit skeptical. Was this just a way to cash in on Holmes fever?That's why you need to take my glowing, star review seriously. This book was great. Why? Because Selzer did exhaustive research but still kept his conversational tone throughout. Reading the book is like being on a tour of Holmes' life. I loved every minute of the ride.


Plus, he [kindly] contradicts some of Larson's major "plot points" about Holmes. The biggest one comes when Selzer reveals the true story behind the pharmacy and its owners; the one across the street from Holmes' place in Chicago. Those who have read Devil and the White City will know what place I am talking about.


This book will be very popular everywhere, but of course around here in particular.


Three Words That Describe This Book: Surprising, Compelling, Comprehensive


Readalikes: Any true crime fan will love this book. But of course Devil in the White City fans will especially want to check this title out. Here is a link to every time I mentioned that book on the blog with tons more readalikes. That link also includes my review of the book itself. With the movie "in development," this will be a nice "While You Wait" option someday soon.

Hekla’s Children by James Brogden
Mar. 2017. 400p. Titan, paperback, $14.95 (9781785654381)First published March 15, 2017 (Booklist) 

A school teacher takes a group of teens into a rugged, British park to practice their survival skills, but after stopping at a spring off trail, the children vanish into thin air. Only one returns, but with no memory of what has happened. The plot thickens as nine year later, an archaeologist is called in by the police to identify some bones in the same park. But these bones are mummified and date back to the Bronze Age. Are the two events connected? Yes, because as we readers had already seen in the prologue of Brogden’s excellent horror-thriller hybrid, this is not your average park. This land was the home to an ancient people, the Un, who had been victim to a horrific monster, the Afaugh. The Un managed to capture the monster and set up a system to forever guard the world from his terrifying influence, but when the bones were excavated in modern times, the Un’s hold on the Afaugh is weakened. With an engrossing plot, steadily intensifying dread, an interesting and diverse cast of characters, shifting points of view, and expert world building, Brogden takes readers on a fast paced and terrifying ride as everyone tries to solve two mysteries, one modern and one ancient, but both with strong ties to a horrific, supernatural evil. Don’t underestimate the appeal here. It is a horror novel and a standout thriller that can hold its own against the best in either genre today. Give out not only to readers looking for tales of ancient evil’s revenge in modern times like those by Graham Masterton or Preston and Child, but also, to those who enjoy terrifying and engrossing thrillers by the likes of Tom Piccirilli or Karin Slaughter.

Further Appeal: I read a lot of horror so listen to me when I give a book a star! I made so many notes about the appeal while reading this that I couldn't fit them all into the review so I want to include them here. 

"Multiple points of view from Nathan to one of the teens to professor to police and more. From the past. Even the Afaugh himself. Keeps the pace moving quickly."

"Intensifying dread. Constantly, intensifying."

 "Strong female characters and diverse cast."

 "Ancient evil with an archeological explanation."

"The Un world building is awesome. We get to understand the ancient evil in a way most books don’t do. We get to go inside and see what the missing teens saw. We get the full story. Adds tension. Anxiety.  We know and believe in the ancient evil and need to help the dumb modern people stop it. Before it is too late."

Three Words That Describe This Book: Awesome World Building, intense dread, shifting POV

Readalikes: Please look at the authors I mentioned above but ancient evil is also huge subgenre in horror. Here is a link to everything I tagged ancient evil on RA for All: Horror.

I know these authors are listed with that page but specifically I want to direct you to My Soul To Keep by Tananarive Due and Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry.

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