Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: Freezer Books

Dead Detective and Purgatorial Politics

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox, publishing day 22 July 2021.

Joe Lazarus is on a stake-out. It’s raining. He’s hunkered down in a ditch, his expensive coat splattered with mud. Can it get any worse? Sure! He’s only minutes away from stumbling over his own corpse. Supernatural detective story where the dead DI has to find his own murderer? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that. The detective story is intertwined with a story-line about politics in purgatory, and both are overshadowed by a dark entity that waits for your dead soul, which is in purgatory already, to cross a certain line of interference just to drag you off into the deepest pits of hell.

The detective part of the story and the interactions between Lazarus and his ‘dead soul’s guide to the afterlife’ Daisy-May kept me turning the pages until I reached about 50% -although it was pretty bog-standard and obvious to me who-dunnit. Obviously the mystery behind Lazarus’s death is just part of a bigger picture. But, because the underworld/afterlife part of the world-building wasn’t fully realised, it bogged down the whole story and left me with many questions that weren’t answered.

2.5 – so 3/5 Harpies

Taking a Stand

You may have read about my struggle with Stephen King’s The Stand but today is the day I can finally finally finally announce that I did it. I finished it. It took me roughly seven months (and two weeks to eventually write this review, but that’s somehow very fitting).

The Stand is no doubt a masterpiece, albeit a very long one. But still, why did it take months for me to finish it? That was probably a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. I had a hard time picking it up time and time again, probably because the page count is so daunting. Once I picked it up, I immersed myself easily. But after reading for quite a while, you still seem to barely make a dent in this huge doorstopper. Let us just say it was the wrong pick for this weird year, not because of the content, but probably because of the format.

Talking of content, I would maybe recommend reading it in 2022, or later. An apocalyptic horror novel about a virus gone wild is probably something that will sit better by then.

As always, nobody writes characters like Mr. King. This book has such a huge cast, and still he manages to make all of them memorable, interesting and fully fleshed out. Even with weeks passing between single reading sessions (cough cough), you step right back among them.

There is a certain ingenuity with which he lets the reader look at ordinary things and recognize the disaster that might lurk just beneath the surface. So, what happens if society has the chance to start over? If we can reshape the way humans are interacting in a social context, rebuild the way we are organized based on the knowledge and experiences we have right now? Well, in King’s opinion we get either a peaceful, benevolent community….or bloody mayhem. I think he has a point.

4/5 Goodreads stars

Haunted on the High Seas

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton, publishing date 01 October 2020.

Here’s what I wrote after reading the sampler:

The excerpt of Turton’s book makes we want to read the full story. No, that’s not true. The foreword by Stuart Turton alone made me want to read this. Fortunately, I’ll only have to wait about 6 weeks until publishing day.

Bonus, one of the male characters shares a name, and some features even, of a family member of mine.

The Right honourable Harpy Eagle on NetGalley

I might have squealed, or done a little happy dance when I received an e-ARC of this book. Having enjoyed Turton’s debut novel The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I was really looking forward to his new book.

The book is set in the early 17th century. A ship loaded with spices and other valuable cargo is setting off from Batavia (Jakarta in Indonesia) on an eight month journey to Amsterdam. On board of the ship are several nobles, lots of musketeers and sailors, the best detective in the world and his assistant, and ‘Old Tom’, the devil.

Turton writes very vivid main and secondary characters. His descriptions of the life on ship and the ship itself are detailed but never boring. The story’s pace is good throughout and keeps you turning the pages, because you need to know who’s behind all this.

Why am I not giving this book 5 stars? I kept wondering throughout the book how some of the characters managed to obtain their information; character A finds out something, which two chapters later is used by character D, who shares it with character F. But there’s no mention of A talking to D at all.

4/5 Goodreads stars

Vampires in the South

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, published 7 April 2020.

It was hailed as “Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meets Dracula,” a fitting description, I think. It’s a story about middle-class ladies from the US South, endlessly polite and tirelessly slaving away at home to make life easier for their husbands and children.

Did I say polite ladies? I did. Well, polite until you start messing with children, especially their children. Then the book club ladies forget all about their nice Southern manners and realise that their new neighbour is more than just very charming.

If you like your books bloody, with pop culture and some satire mixed with your horror, then read this book. Better yet, get the audiobook. It might take you a moment to get used to the Southern Drawl, but it adds to the atmosphere.

4/5 Goodreads stars

August Buddyread Review

The August Buddy Read Book from Otherland was The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, published 14 July 2020. The Magpie’s prediction – in a private chat – was right. (If she’s right with the next three books too, we should consider buying a lottery ticket.)

Ten years ago, the week before Thanksgiving, four Native American men went on a hunt. The four Blackfeet shot and butchered a lot of elk, but came home empty handed. This event will haunt them.

The story has a stuttering start, because the four protagonists have to be introduced. Once the reader has an idea of who the players are and what went down ten years ago, it’s hard to stop turning the pages. (I overshot the buddyread mark twice.)

This is a horror story. There is suspense and lots of graphic violence. The switching POV heightens the characters’ feeling of fear that’s leading to madness. But, and here’s the main reason why this is not a five star read for me, this is where this revenge story stops tingling spines. The fear never left the page, I didn’t turn around and look for someone with a knife behind me once. The story’s outcome was clear from the start; and the title is a dead give-away (excuse the pun).

So what sets this story apart from all the other slasher horror novels? It’s the cultural identity, the #ownvoice, that makes the characters and story come alive.

Jones provides a background to his four protagonists that does not paint the idyllic picture most people conjure up first when seeing the word Native Americans. He shows us rusting trucks, tiny improvised sweat lodges, unemployment, guilt at not living a true-to-your-roots life, and lots of basketball.

This is a solid slasher horror read for anyone who is easily spooked. I’d recommend reading it for the glimpse into a culture we hardly ever hear about outside of history books.

4/5 Goodreads stars

August Buddyread Reveal

Another month, another fabulous buddyread. Our speculations were running wild, as they always do. But this time we managed to get it right. We proudly present our highly anticipated August pick: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones.

This book has been on my radar since March. There could not have been a better fit. I am just in the right mood for a bit of horror. The first couple of pages already hint at something creepy going on, mixed with social commentary. A very gripping combination, I am really interested to see where this one goes.

Me(h)xican Gothic

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, publishing date June 30, 2020.

The story of Noemí and her cousin Catalina reminded me of books that are actually mentioned in the story, like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

It’s the 1950s in Mexico. Society girl Noemí wants to check on her cousin Catalina, who should be embracing wedded bliss. Instead she sent a missive to her relatives that hints at strange things going on in her new home in a rural part of Mexico. Indeed, from the moment of her arrival Noemí knows that something sinister is going on in this very strange, stuck in the Victorian era, house and household.

The writing is excellent and makes the dark house, the foggy cemetery, and especially the creepy figures come alive. Nevertheless, and although the beginning and ending of the book are worthy of the Gothic Horror genre, the middle is boring. One could easily skip the middle part and still understand the end of the story. Further, having an idea what the underlying problem of the plot was very early on made it a dull read for me.

3/5 Goodreads stars

The Sunken Land Begins to Make Me Really Uncomfortable

Our July Buddyread, The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison, went deep into the lands of weird fiction. I’ve only read some Vandermeer books in this genre, so this is quite new to me.

The story follows Shaw and Victoria, who both meet very strange people. Shaw is employed by a conspiracy theorist in London, while Victoria tries to make sense of her new life and the past of her mother in a small town in the Midlands.

It was, indeed, very weird. I believe there is no point in the story where it is possible to really get what’s going on. You can figure something out, but it will always be an interpretation of the story. The dialogues are equally really weird, people speak to, and not with, each other, and complete parts of their meetings are left out.

The mood of the book was incredibly depressing. The author manages to set the mood perfectly, especially with this much water in the book. The prose is incredible, and the mood took some time to leave after I set the book down.

I really liked the book, mainly because of the incredible prose. But it is a very difficult read, even though it is short. I definitely recommend a walk in the warm sun after reading!

May Buddy Read: If it Bleeds

If it Bleeds by Stephen King was the Sceptre May buddy read. Fetching the envelope with the yet secret book from the mailbox, I remember thinking, ‘Well, it can’t be a King, it’s too slim’. I laughed so hard when I opened the brown paper envelope a few minutes later.

Not having read a Stephen King book for ages, only partly Mr King’s fault (I wasn’t a big fan of The Dark Tower), I was a bit hesitant to start these novellas. Only a few pages into the first story I was hooked though. There was something about the writing, it felt like coming home to a favourite book. (Why did I put Mr King off for so long?) And the plots reminded me of The X-Files; a bit creepy, but nothing too scary.

There’s “Mr Hannigan’s Phone”, a story about a young boy who still gets messages from his former employer’s phone long after Mr Hannigan and his phone were buried. There’s “The Life of Chuck”, a story told in reverse chronology, from Chuck on his deathbed to Chuck’s childhood. Then the story about a writer with writer’s block who strikes a deal with the dev… “Rat” which allows him to finish his novel, but at what costs? And, of course, the title story, “If It Bleeds”. It’s basically a sequel to The Outsider starring Holly Gibney, who sees beyond some facial hair and smells a rat.

My favourite story? Can’t say exactly. I liked all of them for different reasons. “If It Bleeds” put Mr Mercedes and The Outsider on my reading list. “The Life of Chuck” was interesting because of the unusual timeline. “Mr Hannigan’s Phone” made me wonder who I might be able to reach with that ancient iPhone I keep in one of my drawers. “Rat” spoke to me, because I’ve had to battle writer’s block before, worst was staring at the blank page when I tried to write my MA thesis. Though that was not the main reason, it reminded me of one of my favourite childhood books, Jules Ratte. A story about a girl who finds a very intelligent, speaking rat and keeps it as a pet. She’s taking it to school too, so the rat can help her cheat on her tests.

Since I tend to read everything a book has to offer, yes truly everything from the copyright page to the acknowledgements, I must say that the best part of the book was the Author’s Note. That’s just be though, you might like a different part of the book best.

4/5 Goodreads stars

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