2 ARC Reviews – ‘The Binding’ & ‘Crimson Souls’

I’ve been productive today and finished off reviews for not one, but TWO of the ARCs I had on my reading list! Finally some decent progress through my pile, so I don’t feel too guilty. 😀 Only five more to go now…

Both of the following are horror reads – I’ve become a tad obsessed with this genre lately, but sadly it seems that I peaked with the first couple novels I picked up, and it’s been a struggle recapturing the same highs I felt with, for eg. The Girl From The Well. But anyway, onward to the reviews!


Title: The Binding
Author: Nicholas Wolff
Genre: Horror
Expected Date of Publication: June 28th, 2016
Page Count: 416 pages (paperback)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
When a rare mental disorder begins to consume his small-town neighbors, a young psychiatrist digs up the past for clues to the epidemic’s bone-chilling source in this brilliant supernatural horror debut, written in the bestselling tradition of Peter Straub.

Convinced that evil spirits have overtaken his daughter, a desperate father introduces her to Nat Thayer, a young psychiatrist in their sleepy blue-blooded Massachusetts college town. Thayer quickly diagnoses the girl with Cotard Delusion, an obscure condition sometimes described as “walking corpse syndrome.” But Thayer soon realizes his patient—and many of the local families—are actually being targeted by a malignant force resurrected from the town’s wicked history. Thayer must discover the source of the spreading plague…before there is no one left to save.

First I’d like to note that the summary really doesn’t accurately reflect the book. One might assume that the mental disorder diagnosed by the psychiatrist, Nat Thayer, is what’s afflicting the local families. However, despite sharing a common source, there are actually two distinct issues plaguing the town – ironically Becca’s diagnosis of ‘Walking Corpse Syndrome’ literally describes the other drama taking place in this unfortunate town. You see, Northam has a problem with the restless dead – there are zombies, Jim, but not as we know them.

I found the writing to be strong in general, and along with a low-key feeling of dread slowly building up throughout the novel, there are also some outright creepy moments that left me thoroughly spooked. The strength of this novel is in its creativity with regard to the supernatural threat. We’ve all come across tales of possession and the zombie genre is nearly tapped out – the horror market is oversaturated with zombie stories right now. But The Binding comes up with a new take on both subgenres by exploring the lesser-known phenomenon of ‘nzombes‘, related to voodoo practices in Haiti. This was much more thrilling as the zombies weren’t slow shuffling hordes merely in search of brains, and we were left in the dark as to the motivations behind the killings and wondering who would be next.

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I enjoyed how the supernatural horror was fused with a strong crime procedural aspect. This appealed to me, as I have a personal preference for stories involving those in the medical or law enforcement professions tangling with paranormal phenomena and struggling to reconcile their logical worldview with the reality of what’s going on. Those who prefer hardcore horror may be a little disappointed, as much of the plot is engaged with investigating the deaths and mysterious happenings as opposed to full-blown blood and gore.

But where The Binding struggles is in the decision to juggle multiple storylines from several different character perspectives. By splitting its focus and devoting a select few chapters here and there to different characters, there was little development for a couple individuals whose story arcs were left so insubstantial and lacking in relevance that they may as well have not been included. If asked to name names, I would point out Ramona Best as one character whose POV could’ve been neatly excised without affecting the plot too much and would’ve allowed for a more concise and cohesive narrative.

The biggest issue for me was the sudden and overwhelming attraction/obsession that our main protagonist developed towards a teenager under his care. Nat was completely unprofessional and the ‘romance’ very paper-thin and awkwardly shoe-horned in without any foundation. There was a couple mentions that it was not right as she was so young and he could lose his reputation and license as a result, but then comes the obnoxious scene where his best friend the sheriff orders them drinks at the bar and toasts to Nat’s so-called love affair.

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It seems we’re actually meant to support his infatuation with a vulnerable young woman seeking professional help from him, but I found it so distasteful that it marred my enjoyment of the story from that point onward as Nat’s sole focus became protecting Becca as opposed to defeating the evil force targeting his town.

Aside from that, I found The Binding to be a worthwhile read and would recommend it to those interested in a genre-straddling supernatural crime thriller. I’d definitely read another novel by this author, just hopefully with fewer competing storylines and characters allowed to properly breathe and develop!

Rating: 3 out of 5 creeped-out kitties!

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Title: Crimson Souls
Author: William Holden
Genre: Horror, LGBT
Expected Date of Publication: June 14th, 2016
Page Count: 282 pages (paperback)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
In 1920, Phineas Nathanial Roberts fought back against the “Secret Court” of Harvard’s elite and their unjust purge of homosexual men. The members of the court, fearing his influence, attacked him and threw him off a bridge to look like a suicide. As Phineas lay in the river dying, he was given the chance of eternal life, a life that would allow him to seek out the men who had murdered him. He accepts the offer and becomes Nate, The Midnight Barke, a shadower ruling over the dark realm of his Netherworld. Now, over eighty years later, Nate has tracked down the last remaining descendants of the members of the Secret Court, and for one night will gather them together for a final confrontation of lust, desire, and revenge.
This is the first of two gay-themed horror ARCs I have, and I’m really hoping I enjoy the other one more – I don’t think I could possibly find it less appealing.

This novel really was not for me. I wasn’t a fan of the author’s choice of words and the way characters and events are described. Now I’m not ordinarily picky – I read books that are more like screenplays with sparse prose and more focus on dialogue/action, and I read high fantasy novels that relish in page after page of lengthy rambling elegantly wordy prose.

The problem I have here is too much focus on bodily functions – not the sex scenes (although there is an overabundance of those), but for eg. this is the way a character’s fear is described:

“A lump filled Thad’s throat as if his heart had somehow become lodged inside. He felt a liquid fart squeeze from his clenched ass.”
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Obviously the former is figurative, not literal, it’s a familiar expression I’ve seen before in various forms. But the latter…is that another metaphor? Is it meant to be literal? Either way, it’s not an appealing turn of phrase, and the book abounds with similar phrases, there’s so many references to bowels churning and the like! I know this is horror, but I expected it to be torture or death that would make me feel queasy, not hearing about the workings of someone’s digestive system!

There’s other odd choices, like male characters being described as having ‘small erect tits‘. Peculiar descriptions like that have the effect of taking me out of the story because I’m too busy puzzling over that choice.

Another issue for me is the pacing. I’m past the first quarter of the book and nearing the half-way mark, but no real plot has emerged as yet. We’re being introduced to a new character’s viewpoint in practically every single chapter, but there’s no overall plot cohesion, no endgame in sight. 41% is enough investment for me – I should know where this is going by now and it was too tedious to continue after reaching this point.

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Note that this seems to be a deliberate choice. William Holden explains in an interview that:

“The novel is non-linear; each chapter is from the viewpoint of a different character and how they see and understand the protagonist, Nate, the Midnight Barker.”
I respect the author’s storytelling choice, but it wasn’t for me. I wouldn’t have minded as much if there was strong characterization – to be honest, my preference is always character over plot. If a novel has fantastically rendered characters and a shaky plot, I can easily overlook the latter. But there’s a very weak semblance of plot up to the point I read combined with two-dimensional characters with no real substance to them.

The cast so far are overwrought and melodramatic to a fault.  Aside from wailing and moaning and other overreactions, there was this constantly tossed in:

“A tear of regret fell from Noah’s eye.”
“A tear rolled down Andy’s face as he remembered the painful good-bye they’d shared on their last night together.”
“A tear rolled down Noah’s cheek.”
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The ‘single tear’ should be credited as a character in its own right. It failed as a means of inciting some emotion in me because it was more like a cheap shorthand manner of indicating this was supposed to be a poignant moment.

And they all completely fail to act like sensible rational human beings. One character flees his workplace in terror, nearly vacating his bowels along the way as he encounters a strange shadowed being that ominously stalks him throughout the hallways, but then laughs it off as an overactive imagination shortly afterward? Nobody with that much terror and evidence of something odd going on would just dismiss it that easily!

Another character is threatened by Nate making sinister references to taking his life, but he’s so overcome by his hormones that he goes along with the seduction til it’s too late! A third character knows it’s a bad idea to get involved with his student, but even though he’s spent years ignoring attractive young men in his class, he just can’t resist bedding this one. A fourth character is in a long-standing abusive relationship of ten years and thoroughly cowed by his partner, but when approached by a handsome stranger in public (where he’s been too afraid to drink anything but water because that’s how submissive he is to his partner’s demands), he allows the man to stroke and kiss him in front of everyone!

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It’s not that I don’t believe people can be motivated by lust, but when all these grown adult men are making nonsensical decisions purely based on hormones, it’s very unrealistic. The most believable character is the schizophrenic in a mental institution because at least his erratic decision-making processes and lack of logical thinking make sense given his mental illness!

I’m normally a big fan of villains, but here, the villain is a walking, talking cliche:

“Stop your infernal whining,” Nate howled. “There is nothing I despise more than a weak pathetic man.”
“Please stop your infernal whining…Keep quiet. You’re starting to irritate me.”
“This is touching, but your romantic drivel is starting to make me nauseous.”
He’s out to convince these men to come to his dinner party for some nefarious purpose, and yet he insults them with every breath? Hasn’t he ever heard the saying, ‘You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar’?

I know he’s on a mission of vengeance and that could explain his impatience and brusque manner, but Nate’s pontificating and vitriolic outbursts are couched in such affected mannerisms that make it seem more like Villainy 101 rather than indicating anything deeper about his character.

There wasn’t anyone that I found engaging or likable – even the villain failed to excite me, and the lack of plot made it difficult to progress. I really wanted to like this one, but unfortunately I couldn’t finish it.

No Rating (since this was a DNF)


I received both books free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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