ROAD OF BONES by Christopher Golden


Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: January 25, 2022
Source: Borrowed from the library
Rating: ★★¾


An American documentarian travels a haunted highway across the frozen tundra of Siberia in New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden’s Road of Bones, a “tightly wound, atmospheric, and creepy as hell” (Stephen King) supernatural thriller.

Surrounded by barren trees in a snow-covered wilderness with a dim, dusky sky forever overhead, Siberia’s Kolyma Highway is 1200 miles of gravel packed permafrost within driving distance of the Arctic Circle. A narrow path where drivers face such challenging conditions as icy surfaces, limited visibility, and an average temperature of sixty degrees below zero, fatal car accidents are common.

But motorists are not the only victims of the highway. Known as the Road of Bones, it is a massive graveyard for the former Soviet Union’s gulag prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of people worked to death and left where their bodies fell, consumed by the frozen elements and plowed beneath the permafrost road.

Fascinated by the history, documentary producer Felix “Teig” Teigland is in Russia to drive the highway, envisioning a new series capturing Life and Death on the Road of Bones with a ride to the town of Akhust, “the coldest place on Earth”, collecting ghost stories and local legends along the way. Only, when Teig and his team reach their destination, they find an abandoned town, save one catatonic nine-year-old girl―and a pack of predatory wolves, faster and smarter than any wild animals should be.

Pursued by the otherworldly beasts, Teig’s companions confront even more uncanny and inexplicable phenomena along the Road of Bones, as if the ghosts of Stalin’s victims were haunting them. It is a harrowing journey that will push Teig beyond endurance and force him to confront the sins of his past.


ROAD OF BONES is a paranormal horror/thriller set during winter along the Kolyma Highway in Siberia. Until this book popped up on my radar, I had never heard of this road or its cruel, gruesome history. Possibly up to a million gulag prisoners died building this highway and their bodies were buried underneath, victims of Stalin’s cruelty.

A documentarian and his cameraman head out on this desolate highway looking for ghost stories on their way to Akhust, the coldest town on Earth. Once they get there, they find the town has been abandoned except for one little girl, and a pack of murderous wolves, that are now after them.

I have mixed feelings about this book, and I think it’s because I was expecting something different based on the synopsis. There was a fast-paced “chase” element, interesting Siberian folklore, and a few creepy moments. But where were the ghosts? Unfortunately the “road of  bones” and its tragic history were lost in the chase, except for a couple of odd disjointed parts.

ROAD OF BONES is heavy on the folktale, without a lot of whys, but I was enthralled with the descriptions of the bitter cold! (Again, where were the ghosts?)

THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR by Anne Rivers Siddons


Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: July 3, 2007 — Reprint edition
(First published in 1978)

I’ve seen THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR on so many “Best of Horror” lists, and now I know why. It’s an enthralling blend of Southern gothic fiction and quiet horror. The creepy, slow-build kind that makes you question what’s really going on, something sinister or is your mind playing tricks?

This book was originally published in the 1970s and is set during that time. Colquitt and her husband Walter live in an upscale Atlanta neighborhood. There’s a lot of tennis at the club, parties with the neighbors, and day drinking for these folks. Don’t get me wrong! I liked Colquitt and Walter.

For many years an empty wooded “unbuildable” lot sat next to their house, and that’s how they liked it. Then one day, a talented young architect finds a way to build newlyweds their modern dream home on that lot. Neighbors don’t like it, but what can you do? They welcome the couple into the fold, then have to stand back helplessly while their dream home becomes a nightmare. And this happens over and over, tragedy finding each family that moves in.

“In the moonlight the ice-sheathed trees tossed and tinkled like great crystal hands fingering the sky, weaving and reweaving an incantation over the sweetly sleeping shape of the house next door.”

I greatly enjoyed the author’s haunting, beautiful writing and her flawed & memorable characters. I especially loved trying to figure out that malevolent house and its terrible influence on the occupants & neighbors. This is the first book by Siddons I’ve read, and I understand her other books are more contemporary Southern fiction — probably wonderful, but I so wish she had written more horror like THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR. Fantastic! — 𝓓𝓲𝓪𝓷𝓪

Check out the different covers over the years, from 1978 to 2007. Such big difference! From horror to mystery/suspense to women’s fiction, maybe? I don’t think the most recent cover fits the story at all!

WITHIN THESE WALLS by Ania Ahlborn

WithinWalls
Publisher: Gallery Books
Released: April 21, 2015
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★½


In her all-new supernatural thriller, bestselling indie horror author Ania Ahlborn asks: How far would you go for success? What would you be capable of if the promise of forever was real?

With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed-up true-crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback, one more shot at the bestselling success he once enjoyed. His chance comes when he’s promised exclusive access to death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who’s ready to break his silence after thirty years, and who contacted Lucas personally from his maximum-security cell. With nothing left to lose, Lucas leaves New York to live and work from the scene of the crime: a split-level farmhouse on a gray-sanded beach in Washington State whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners—runaways who were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. There, Lucas sets out to capture the real story of the departed faithful. Except that he’s not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.


This book’s creepy cover drew me in, but it was the author’s engaging writing style that had me hooked. Right away, I felt like I knew these characters and was invested in their story. WITHIN THESE WALLS had the right amount of spooky that had me looking over my shoulder a few times. There were a few gory details, but nothing too over the top.

Something that worked very well for this book was the dual-time period element. In the present, we have Lucas Graham, a down-on-his-luck true crime writer who’s been given the chance to revamp his career by being granted an interview with convicted killer Jeffrey Halcomb. Jeffrey’s story, along with his deranged “family,” is told 30 years in the past. I enjoyed seeing how the two parts came together, and the ending really surprised me.

I listened to a big chunk of this book on audio (thanks, library!). R. C. Bray was fantastic as the narrator. He made a convincing desperate crime writer. He did well with the other characters’ voices too.

Overall, loved it! Nice mix of my favorite elements — suspense, ghosts, family drama, complex characters. Will definitely read more from Ania Ahlborn.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Short Story Review: THE LOTTERY by Shirley Jackson

TheLottery
Original Publication: The New Yorker
Publication Date: June 26, 1948
Source: Borrowed from the library
Rating: ★★★★★


The Lottery is a short story by Shirley Jackson which caused quite an uproar when it was published in 1948. It’s about an annual lottery held in a seemingly idyllic village, and readers don’t find out the winner’s prize until the end.

On the day of the drawing, the weather is gorgeous, and the townspeople happily gather in the square for the drawing, laughing and chatting amongst themselves. They talk about how this event has been a part of their village’s history for as long as anyone can remember, and though surrounding towns are doing away with the lottery, this particular village doesn’t want to mess with tradition.

This tale is short, but it packs quite a punch. It only took reading a couple of paragraphs before I got an ominous feeling about the whole thing, and the conclusion was nothing but disturbing. While a 21st century reader may or may not be as affected by the ending as the original audience, the underlying message of Jackson’s story is just as relevant today as ever. The Lottery is definitely worth reading a time or two.

Book Review: A COLD SEASON by Alison Littlewood

AColdSeason
Publisher: Jo Fletcher
Released: January 1, 2012
Source: Review copy from the Amazon Vine Program

Cass is building a new life for herself and her young son Ben after the death of her soldier husband Pete, returning to the village where she lived as a child. But their idyllic new home is not what she expected: the other flats are all empty, there’s strange graffiti on the walls, and the villagers are a bit odd.

And when an unexpectedly heavy snowstorm maroons the village, things get even harder. Ben is changing, he’s surly and aggressive and Cass’s only confidant is the smooth, charming Theodore Remick, the stand-in headmaster.

Not everyone approves of Cass’s growing closeness to Mr Remick, and it soon becomes obvious he’s not all he appears to be either. If she is to protect her beloved son, Cass is going to have to fight back.

Cass realises this is not the first time her family have been targeted by Theodore Remick. But this time, the stakes are immeasurably higher…

———

A COLD SEASON is a spooky tale set in the remote English village of Darnshaw. After losing her husband in Afghanistan, Cass and her young son Ben relocate to Darnshaw in hopes of starting a new life. Once they get to town, it’s clear there’s something amiss. It begins to snow, and it continues to snow until Darnshaw is cut off from the rest of the world. No one can go in or out. No phones or internet. And then Ben falls in with a creepy group of boys, and he begins to change.

I loved the frigid atmosphere, the heavy sense of foreboding, and the undercurrent of malevolence woven throughout the story. The author wrote in a way that made innocuous things and occurrences spine-chilling. While the build up was engrossing, I was a bit disappointed in the rushed ending. I was hoping for a big surprise twist, but it played out as expected. I also would have liked the villain’s back story and relationship to Cass and her family to have been fleshed out more.

Overall, A COLD SEASON was a pretty good Gothic suspense with plenty of creeptastic moments. I liked the snow – probably my favorite character.

Rating: 3 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book through the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for an honest review.