TBR Spotlight: Japanese Horror & Thriller

I have been on a bit of a quest lately to find more diverse horror novels from around the world and this seemed like a perfect excuse to add lots of books to my to-read list from my favourite subgenre of horror and thriller: J-horror. I generally read A LOT of Japanese literature and I find that their darker novels can be atmospheric, creepy and chilling in ways you would never see in Western fiction. I might write a list of my favourite Japanese novels on a later date but for now, these are some of the ones I have recently added to my to-read pile.

Another by Yukito Ayatsuji

About:
“In the spring of 1998, Kouichi Sakakibara transfers to Yomiyama North Middle School. In class, he develops a sense of unease as he notices that the people around him act like they’re walking on eggshells, and students and teachers alike seem frightened. As a chain of horrific deaths begin to unfold around him, he comes to discover that he has been placed in the cursed Class 3 in which the student body head count is always one more than expected. Class 3 is haunted by a vengeful spirit responsible for gruesome deaths in an effort to satisfy its spite. To stop the vicious cycle gripping his new school, Kouichi decides to get to the bottom of the curse, but is he prepared for the horror that lies ahead…?”

Another is a horror manga series rather than a novel. I didn’t hear of it until a week ago and I have been interested in reading more horror manga lately so it automatically ended up on my GoodReads to-read list. I will probably start this one once I am finished reading Tokyo Ghoul.

(If you don’t know what manga are, they are simply Japanese graphic novels.)

Goth by Otsuichi

About:
“Someone had taken apart her body in the forest. Her eyes, tongue, ears, thumbs, organs–each was nailed to a tree.

One tree had, from top to bottom: the left big toe, the upper lip, the nose, and the stomach. Another had other bits of her arranged like Christmas tree decorations.

The murder was soon the talk of the nation…

Psychologically twisted and emotionally wrenching, this compelling story takes Japan’s horror tradition to a whole new level of fear.”

I saw this novel on a few lists of diverse horror reads and was drawn to both the title and the dramatic cover. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but this one is so monochrome you can’t help but look at it. The blurb of this novel sounds very grim and disturbing but I tend to look for that in books, especially Japanese ones. I would say that I am weird and apologise, but you are reading my horror blog, you should expect this sort of book taste by now.

Auto Fiction by Hitomi Kanehara

About:

“Rin is flying back from her honeymoon. She’s madly in love with her husband, Shin, and the future looks rosy. Then Shin disappears to the bathroom while he thinks Rin is sleeping and she starts to imagine that he has gone to seduce the flight attendant. As her thoughts spiral out of control the phrase ‘madly in love’ takes on a more sinister meaning.

Prizewinning author Hitomi Kanehara’s sensational novel, Autofiction, follows Rin’s life backwards through time from this moment so that we see her when she is eighteen, sixteen and finally fifteen, and a picture of the dark heart and violent past of this disturbed young woman gradually develops.”

This is more of a thriller novel than a horror novel. I discovered this book when it appeared in my GoodReads recommendation list after I read Battle Royale recently. Battle Royale was so good that I naturally added books suggested because of it to my to read pile. Also I love books about stalkers and I haven’t read one about a “madly in love” woman before.

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

About:

“Six Four. The nightmare no parent could endure. The case no detective could solve. The twist no listener could predict.

For five days in January 1989, the parents of a seven-year-old Tokyo schoolgirl sat and listened to the demands of their daughter’s kidnapper. They would never learn his identity. They would never see their daughter again.

For the 14 years that followed, the Japanese public listened to the police’s apologies. They would never forget the botched investigation that became known as Six Four. They would never forgive the authorities their failure. For one week in late 2002, the press officer attached to the police department in question confronted an anomaly in the case.

He could never imagine what he would uncover. He would never have looked if he’d known what he would find.”

A best selling thriller novel that is starting to pick up popularity all over the world. Usually I have to buy Japanese novels online but I have seen this one for sale in shops here in Ireland. I plan to snatch it up soon and get reading. I haven’t read a book about a missing child in a long time so I am excited for it.

The Summer of the Ubume by Natsuhiko Kyogoku

About:

“The Summer of Ubume is the first of Japan’s hugely popular Kyogokudo series, which has 9 titles and 4 spin-offs thus far.

Akihiko “Kyogokudo” Chuzenji, the title’s hero, is an exorcist with a twist: he doesn’t believe in ghosts. To circumnavigate his clients’ inability to come to grips with a problem being their own, he creates fake supernatural explanations–ghosts–that he the “exorcises” by way of staged rituals. His patients’ belief that he has vanquished the ghost creating their problems cures them.

In this first adventure, Kyogokudo, must unravel the mystery of a woman who has been pregnant for 20 months and find her husband, who disappeared two months into the pregnancy. And unravel he does, in the book’s final disturbing scene.”

An Umbume is the ghost of a woman who died while while pregnant they normally appear holding their dead baby or care for living children they find. They are one of my favourite ghosts from Japanese folklore so naturally I wanted to read this book once I saw the title. I also badly need to know what the “final disturbing scene” is that is mentioned in the blurb.

Have you read any of the books mentioned above? If so let me know what you thought of them. Or suggest a diverse and dark book to help me with my quest. They don’t have to be horror or thriller, they can just be on the dark side.

REVIEW: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Synopsis:

Synopsis from GoodReads.com:
“A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.”

Review:

This book had so much potential. I was excited for it, I enjoyed the writer’s previous work and it had no shortage of good ideas. In the end I was left disappointed. I was so disappointed that I got three quarters of the way through it and decided to just skip ahead to read the big “who done it?” reveal you get at the end of every mystery novel, because I can’t leave a mystery unsolved even if the book is disappointing.

The main downfall I found was the characters. It was hard to care about any of them. That makes it hard to get into a book if everyone is your cardboard cut out, mystery novel trope character. Girl on the Train had those elements but it did them well and you ended up caring about the characters and what happened to them. This wasn’t the case with this book.

Another issue I had was the narration. This book was written in the same format as Girl on the Train: a mystery novel told from different perspectives. This can work well. It adds layers to the story and you can see the same mystery from different perspectives. It might have been done well in that novel but in Into the Water that style fell short for one big reason: There were too many point of view characters! We heard EVERYONE’S perspective. I am surprised there wasn’t a chapter dedicated to what a random cat’s thoughts on the whole thing. That and the fact that few of the characters were memorable made for a confusing read. I am normally perfectly fine with books that change character perspective but the fact that some of the characters were boring and non memorable made it hard to remember who was who in the story.

I doubt I will rush to read a Hawkins book again after this one. It might not have been the worst book in the world but it was such a default, dull mystery novel that it just left me disappointed and bored. I had to force myself to read it every day.

Warnings:

Strong language at times. Sexual references.


Rating:

2 our of 5

There was nothing overtly offensive about this book but overall it was just a snooze fest.

Dark Reads of the Month: May


This is a series that I started on Goth Amino in December and decided to add to my proper blog. It isn’t really a wrap up, I just read a pile of books (9 this month) and then pick out 3 of the darkest and most interesting. It gives me the chance to discuss and recommend classics or older books which might not get full reviews.

This month I had an accidental reading theme. I read a lot of books about people being kept locked up against their will or in situations they can’t escape. I don’t know what caused that theme, my to read pile just lined up that way. It was an intense month of reading.

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

This is a fiction novel based on the real life torture and murder of Sylvia Likens. A young girl and her sister are left in the care of a woman who locks her in the basement, beats her and tells neighbourhood children to abuse her.

This book was so upsetting that I had to take a break from reading for two days, and that is impressive because I’m not normally bothered by things I read. It was just so intense. It is hard to say you enjoyed a book about someone being tortured to death but this is a great book. Well written and atmospheric. I will warn you though, this book has ALL of the trigger warnings. Rape, torture, abuse, general very adult content, it is all there. So if you are easily upset maybe this isn’t the book for you. Maybe read the wiki page on the real crime so you know what you are in for.

Read my full review here

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

If you don’t know what this book is about I am going to do you a favour and not tell you. Rosemary’s Baby is pretty famous so I already knew everything about it when I started reading and  I feel like it ruined the ending for me, so that is why I am not telling you anything. Don’t even read the blurb because that contains spoilers too. If you know what this book is about please don’t be a twat and write spoilers in the comments.
I have read a few of Levin’s books now and  I think this one is my favourite. Since I refuse to give out spoilers I can’t say why. Levin just does a brilliant job with writing horror that takes place in a normal every day situation. It makes you wonder if things are real or not. This is the worst review because I refuse to spoil things. Just read Rosemary’s Baby and enjoy it. A bit of a warning, this book is very much a product of its time so some of the attitudes to things like marital rape are a bit worrying by today’s standards.

Flowers in the Attic by V.C Andrews


This is an American gothic horror novel about 4 children who are told to stay in the attic of a grand mansion for a few days so their mother can claim an inheritance, but 3 years later they are still there.

I discovered this book through Tea with Mermaids blog. She has great taste, go check her out. We disagree on this book though because I enjoyed it and she didn’t. I read a lot of upsetting literature so I was a bit more immune to this novel and its upsetting plot twists.

This is a book that has been banned in several places due to its content, and banned books are always fun to read. I have read a few books about people in this situation but this book stands out because I have never seen one set in a large mansion where the captives get nice clothes and gifts when they are not being horribly abused. It also packs plenty of plot twists and mystery which is just the cherry on top of an already great novel. This book contains incest, abuse and sexual themes. The incest is the reason why it has been banned.

Waiting for it Wednesday: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

Book Synopsis:

“When a bookshop patron commits suicide, it’s his favorite store clerk who must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when Joey McGinty, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s back room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?”

Why I need it:

A mystery set in a bookshop, what more could you want?

I love books that are about books, writers or bookshops. I think it is because I am such a bookworm I love stories that are set in my own world. I can easily picture the sort of bookshop this novel is set in because my favourite bookshop has a back room that customers can easily walk into. A suicide in there is easy for me to visualise. And I was a bookseller myself once upon a time so that adds to the appeal of this novel. When you sell books you get to know your regulars very well.

I also have my usual reasoning for looking forward to this novel: I LOVE a good mystery. A novel like this I will fly through if it is well written because a good mystery novel reveals something in each chapter that raises more questions and keeps the reader hooked with that “just one more chapter” feeling. I hope this book delivers on that.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is scheduled for release on the 13th of June 2017

Waiting for Wednesday is a weekly meme started by Break the Spine to spotlight upcoming releases, and continued by Wishful Endings

REVIEW: The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

Summary:

Synopsis from GoodReads.com:
“Suburbia. Shady, tree-lined streets, well-tended lawns and cozy homes. A nice, quiet place to grow up. Unless you are teenage Meg or her crippled sister, Susan. On a dead-end street, in the dark, damp basement of the Chandler house, Meg and Susan are left captive to the savage whims and rages of a distant aunt who is rapidly descending into madness. It is a madness that infects all three of her sons and finally the entire neighborhood. Only one troubled boy stands hesitantly between Meg and Susan and their cruel, torturous deaths. A boy with a very adult decision to make.”

Review:

Have you ever read a book so upsetting that all you can do afterward is just sit there and stare into space? One that fills you with the urge to read the happiest novel you can find afterward in an attempt to counteract what you just read? Well….This book is that bad.

Now dont get me wrong, the writing itself is amazing. It is detailed without being pornographic or too crude for the sake of it, it makes you feel all of the emotions and drags you along for a rollercoaster ride of horror. This book is amazing in that sense, the subject matter is just horrific.

Before I started this book I read some interesting reviews. The vast majority of them were from people saying they had to stop reading or simply asking “what the hell is wrong with this book?!” Others labelled it “gore porn”. I think the latter is going a bit too far. I would consider books like Clockwork Orange or American Psycho more pornographic than this. They are entirely fictional, sexual, novels written about some sort of fantasy. This book avoids that title because it is not entirely fictional. It is based on something that happened in real life, and even though some scenes are added in or exaggerated for dramatic effect, it really happened to a real person, Sylvia Likens. I think this puts the book more in line with other upsetting abuse novels like A Child Called IT, than gore porn.

Did I enjoy it? It is hard to say. The writing was brilliant, like I said earlier, and I enjoyed it enough to finish it. But I also had an advantage going into this novel because I had read about the real life events before.  I am a bit of a crime junkie so I knew what I was going into. It is just hard to say you “enjoyed” a novel that is about a teenage girl being abused and tortured. It was upsetting but that is a good thing because it made you get upset. It takes a good writer to make you feel that way.

The only real flaw I found in it was the ending. It annoyed me. I don’t believe in giving spoilers in my reviews but I will just say that I feel like justice was not served in the end. If you have read this book you will know what I am talking about.

If you are tempted to read this book and are anyway sensitive prepare for the worst, or even better, just put it in your freezer and forget about it. Bury it under a pile of frozen peas and go read something happier.

Warnings:

EVERYTHING! Strong language, child abuse, torture, sexual abuse, sexual language, sexual scenes, genital mutilation, rape, and emotional abuse.

Rating:

 3 out of 5

This book might have upset me but it kept me hooked and reading. I like when a crime novel gives me all of the nitty gritty details rather than show me things through rose tinted glasses. We might hate it and it might be upsetting but this sort of thing sadly happens in the real world. And sometimes we just need to read a book like this to satisfy morbid curiosity about what that sort of situation is like. If you are up to it, go give this book a read.

…Now I off to pet a bunny or something to cheer myself up.

As always feel free to follow me on GoodReads. What is the most upsetting novel you have ever read?

REVIEW: Strawberries by Casey Bartsch

Summary:

Synopsis from GoodReads.com:

“Strawberries is the name he has been given.
When they let him out, they had no way of knowing what he was. A psychopath. A killer. The body count is at twenty already, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Agent Harry Bland can’t see one anyway. He doesn’t have a single clue to go on. It doesn’t help that his mind won’t focus. His heart just isn’t in it anymore. Half way across the country, Sylvia is in a different state of mind. When she isn’t selling sex to the rich, she is doing her best to disappear. She lives a life of assumed names, one night stands, and a constant stream of narcotics. Sylvia has heard of Strawberries. Of course she has. So has everyone who has turned on the television or surfed the net. Yet, she has no way of knowing just how much his life will affect hers.
Seedy hotels, cross country truckers looking for the meaning of life, homemade pie, a reporter with her own secret agenda, obscenely expensive champagne, and plenty of spilled blood await our cast. But make sure to read fast…..Strawberries has killed number 21″

Review:

I was sent an ARC copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Strawberries was a bit of a roller-coaster ride and I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started it. I had been promised the typical serial killer thriller level of gore so of course that perked my interest. It turned out different from what I expected.

Yes it delivered on the gore front, creatively so at times, but it didn’t follow the formula of the typical crime novel. I read a lot of crime and thriller fiction and many new crime novels follow a similar layout and writing style but this book was different. This had its good and bad points.

The story is written from different perspectives and follows multiple characters. This is different from the typical crime novel because some of the main characters seem to have nothing to do with Strawberries the killer. This makes you wonder where it is going while you are reading it but it has a downside because sometimes you wonder if the story has drifted off topic. It all wrapped up brilliantly in the end though. I am glad I kept reading. I had a feeling it would all work out in the end and it did just that. I don’t believe in giving spoilers in my reviews so I will say no more on the subject.

I also enjoyed the portrayal of the sex worker in the novel. She was realistic and portrayed as an actual person, which is something I like to see in my fictional prostitutes. She wasn’t sexualised, didn’t have a tragic backstory and had tons of character. Actually all of the characters were relate-able in their own ways, and there was a lot of enjoyable romance.

Warnings:

Adult themed novel with sex scenes, sexual references, graphic gore, drug use and strong language.

Rating:

3.5 out of 5. 

This is a solid crime novel with some very clever writing. If you are looking for a good gory crime novel with great characterization I would suggest you pick this one up. Strawberries was release on the 30th of April so you should be able to get your hands on it now.

As always feel free to follow me on GoodReads. What is your favourite crime novel? Tell me. The bigger my to-read pile the better.

 

Waiting for Wednesday: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Book Synopsis:

“A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.”

Why I need it:

The answer to this is simple: I really enjoyed Girl on the Train. It was not a masterpiece but it was a simple and easy to read thriller that ticked all the boxes that Gone Girl missed. I am looking forward to reading another book by the same writer.

The blurb for the book also tempts me because it leaves me wondering if a serial killer is on the loose or if the deaths of the two women are linked in some way. Paula Hawkins is usually fantastic when it comes to writing relationships, emotions and realistic regular people so if the deaths are linked I am sure there will be some sort of interesting character web in this book somewhere. If they are not, I love a good serial killer novel so I will be happy either way. I will be snatching it up the moment it comes out so watch this space for a review coming soon.

Also Look at that cover!

Into the Water is expected for release on the 2nd of May 2017

Waiting for Wednesday is a weekly meme started by Break the Spine to spotlight upcoming releases, and continued by Wishful Endings