This book starts out with Sasha, Harry, and their Golden Retriever— Dash, deciding to leave the city and move to their dream home; a rural home built on 40 acres at the base of the Tetons in Idaho. Sasha planned to work remotely while Harry would work full time on building their homestead.
The first time they had the chance to meet their closest neighbors— Dan and Lucy Steiner, what started off as a great conversation took a turn for the worse. Dan and Lucy said something completely insane— that the valley they were living in was possessed by a malevolent spirit hell bent on causing harm to those who resided here. To make matters worse, this spirit would attack them multiple times a season, and each seasons attack was different, and required unique rituals to protect yourself from the spirit.
The entire book takes place over a year, so you get to experience each season— and all that comes with it. Sasha and Harry, though a team, deal with the stress of the spirit in different ways. I really enjoyed all of the characters in the book— except Harry. I get why his character is the way he is, but I personally wouldn’t tolerate his bullshit shenanigans the way Sasha does.
Overall, this was a great suspenseful read. Not really scary, but definitely suspenseful in that you don’t really know what to expect. The author does a great job connecting you with the characters emotions, which can create a sense of unease at time, which I truly appreciated.
What an eerie, but gorgeously written book! I found myself wishing I was right there, in the characters life...until I absolutely did not want to be! I was not expecting all the creep factors this book had. And I appreciate it all so much! I can see many patrons, and even my husband, not being able to put this book down!
The set up for this novel is great. A couple moves into the country only to be haunted by "spirits." The execution wasn't perfect. The alternating POV sometimes slowed the momentum and I felt like there was a lot of development of the least likable character in the book. It almost felt like we were being made sympathetic for a character that was about to do something bad. The best character in the book was of course the dog and thankfully, he made it out alive. There were many other animal deaths that didn't feel necessary. Overall, it was an interesting premise with an unsatisfying ending. I'm not sure I would recommend it to my students as it was way too adult for them.
I am a member of the American Library Association Reading List Award Committee. This title was suggested for the 2023 list. It was not nominated for the award. The complete list of winners and shortlisted titles is at <a href="https://rusaupdate.org/2023/01/2023-reading-list-announced-years-best-in-genre-fiction-for-adult-readers/">
'Old Country' is the near pitch-perfect horror debut from two brothers, Matt & Harrison Query—it has gobs of atmosphere, intriguing and realistic characters, stakes that feel real, gorgeous scenery and settings, and a plot-line that expands upon a common horror trope (possessed/haunted piece of land) in new and exciting ways, leaving readers with a pounding and fresh story that grabs you from the beginning pages and never lets go.
We first meet Harry and Sasha as they’re moving to a newly bought piece of land in rural Idaho near the Tetons—Harry is a former marine still working through some PTSD from the War in Afghanistan, and Sasha is his loving and take-no-crap wife that supports and pushes him at various times. Moving from the Denver suburbs, the two of them make ends meet with Sasha’s job allowing her to work remotely, and Harry spends his days maintaining the land. And, at first, it seems almost too good to be true—the mountain scenery is breathtaking, the land is rolling and open for their pet golden retriever to run around endlessly within the safe confines of their property fence, and the neighbors seem to be like people who could become their pseudo third set of parents. But, as is common with all horror novels, things aren’t as they seem, and their neighbors soon fill them in on a secret regarding the land they now own—it’s possessed by some kind of demon, one that came long before the first Native Americans even settled in the area, and it will destroy them if they don’t carry out certain rituals at various times of the year. The rituals, according to their neighbors, change each season, and, at first, Harry runs them off their property, calling them crazy. But, when the events the neighbors warned them about first begin, both Harry and Sasha jump into quick action and participate in the required ritual, forcing them to realize that the land may actually be haunted by something far more ancient than even time itself.
The rest of the book never slows down—we follow Harry and Sasha and their golden retriever Dash as they make a life for themselves on the valley property, and we watch as they go through the various rituals that the demon demands for each season in exchange for safe living. The couple also interacts with the locals at various times, including the sheriff and other neighbors outside the ones closest to them, and readers follow along as they settle into a new kind of routine that will most likely stick with them for the rest of their lives if the land itself has anything to say about it. The story climaxes to a clash of violence, and the sense of anxiety and tension built throughout the entire book never quite disappears when it’s over, forcing readers to think about the events and the themes of the book long after they’re done reading it.
The book itself is so technically well put together that I couldn’t believe this was a debut novel—we see the action unfold through both Harry’s and Sasha’s eyes, and they each have their own distinct voices, never once seeming like they’re the same person in any way, shape, or form. If I had to take a guess, it wouldn’t surprise me if each Query brother wrote from the perspective of one of the characters, and, if that’s what did occur, it worked wonders. The dialogue is realistic, the characters grow and change as human beings and spouses as the story unfolds, and their actions and emotions are flawed and complex, just like real-life human beings. We see Harry at some of his darkest moments, and we watch as Sasha pushes him when they occur, fighting him when necessary and supporting him at other times. The couple as a team are one of the best literary duos I’ve read about in years, and their backstories are fleshed out in ways that are perfectly put in along with the plot writing-wise, which allowed for me to never feel overwhelmed with the background of information that needed to be explained to understand the two of them both as a team and as individual humans in a committed relationship.
The plot is, from a surface level, a retread of a common theme in horror movies/books (think something like ‘Poltergeist,’ where there’s a family who moves into a house and then soon discovers that it’s haunted and/or possessed), but the Query brothers add more than enough original plot points and storylines to the overarching plot that it feels like an entirely new idea. The inclusion of a spirit/demon that is older than even the first Native Americans to the area also twists a common and harmful horror trope, that of the ‘old Indian burial ground/lands,’ firmly into new territory, and it adds a new kind of element to the story that made the entity feel even more wicked and evil than most similar villains in other horror stories. Simply put, it’s nice to see authors, especially white authors, moving away from the harmful ‘Indian burial grounds’ trope found in many older horror movies and books, and the Query brothers do so here by taking the basis of the idea but removing stereotypical Native American origins for it and using a broader reasoning for its existence instead. And, the way that they spread the demon’s actions out over the course of all four seasons, along with making the purpose and reasoning behind the rituals needed to contain the demon generally unknown, allowed the novel to feel like it was moving at a breakneck pace.
The real standout of this story though is the scenery/setting and the sense of atmosphere built up throughout it—the Query brothers do a tremendous job of painting a beautiful Western picture in reader’s minds, never going on for too long about the natural details of their world’s setting, and they include just enough to make you feel like you’re right there trout fishing with Harry or out roaming the trails in the mountains with Sasha. The changing of the seasons allows for certain scents and smells and sights to also jump off the page and into readers’ minds, and I felt like I was taking a trip throughout a year’s journey over the course of just 340 pages instead, something that seems almost impossible for one author, let alone two, to do in such a compact space. The general idea of the mountains starting to make the couple feel closed-in heightens the tension and terror of the events that occur throughout the course of the novel as well, and the dark atmosphere created by both the setting and the action caused by the scenery itself, such as the weather or seasonal patterns, makes the entire thing scream to be adapted for a visual medium in the best way.
At the end of the day, this is a phenomenal novel. The ending, while a bit muted compared with the rest of the book, leaves just enough open to interpretation that readers are left with a vague sense of unease, and it sets the stage perfectly for a sequel if the Query brothers ever want to explore that territory. If you’re looking for a horror novel that is heavy on atmosphere, realistic characterization, and fascinating folklore, look no further than ‘Old Country.’
Thanks to NetGalley, Grand Central Publishing, and Matt & Harrison Query for the digital ARC of ‘Old Country’ in exchange for an honest review.
I really wanted to like this one but I just could not get into the story. I loved the scenery, loved the idea of this story but it just didn’t stick with me.
See, here’s the thing: I’m not a patient person. I can do slow burn, but this book was far too slow for me. I was never hooked, never got invested in the characters, wasn’t intrigued by the plot or compelled by the metaphorical “big bad” of the novel, and, overall, I was simply bored for the entire read.
The book comes across as a little Jack London (man tries to prove he can best nature, but nature always wins) meets Stephen King (don’t mess with ancient spirits, dude, because you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup), and that’s part of the issue: it’s just too on the nose. It reads like a slow burn ghost story, psychological screw-you-up written by two white dudes approaching middle age. And that’s exactly who Matt and Harrison Query are: two brothers who look like poster boys for LL Bean. It makes sense, then, that this literary effort would harken back to books about the horrors of nature written by old, white men.
What these authors do well together–and I mean fantastically well–is they seem to work seamlessly together. There’s no signs anywhere in the text that this is the work of two authors. It’s as if they are of the same mind. Some of the prose and imagery is unbelievably beautiful, and even though I found the book tedious and predictable, I could still feel the palpable dread in the third act as winter came closer and closer.
There are so many things that could’ve made this book better, but that’s the main problem: that there are so many things. If you like your horror glacially slow, then I’m sure this won’t be an issue for you. Me? I need something to keep me going and invested in a book for it to keep my interest.
Thanks to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for granting me access to this title. Thanks once again go to Grand Central Publishing for sending me a complimentary copy of this book.
Please note this review is being written as part of a series of backdated ARC reviews that were due earlier in the year but, for one reason or another, I wasn’t able to get to them by the publication date. And as this book has received a rating of 3 stars or under from me it will not be posted on social media or any bookseller website as per personal policy.
File Under: Ghost Story/Just Not For Me/Folk Horror/Psychological Fiction
Unfortunately, I have been locked out of my netgalley account for a few months and was not able to see which books I had on my list or even know to check if they downloaded properly, in order to properly read and review. I do apologize and am doing a 3 for neutral. Will update once I’m able to obtain a copy and read!
Old Country is hands-down my favorite horror book! With relatable characters in a familiar (to me) setting, it was chilling and made me question my own relationship with nature and the supernatural. I absolutely recommend this one!
Old Country is set in the mountains of rural Idaho, the perfect setting for this haunting story. There is the right amount of creepy, chill factor to keep me up at night turning the pages and jumping at shadows. While there are sections that tended to drag, they didn’t deter me from enjoying this scary horror.
ARC was provided by NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Pub Date: July 26, 2022
Harry and Sasha bought the house of their dreams in the country. When they got there they looked over their land and started making improvements. Later they met their neighbors who welcomed them then after they spoke to harry and Sasha separately and told them about the land spirit and told them to do these rituals to keep the spirit at bay. In the spring they had to light a fire when they saw a light in the pond. The second in the summer it was the bear chase. The fall is the scarecrows and the winter the spirit is for only harry to see since he killed 5 people.
The ending was good. Seemed like the spirit finally was giving them peace. Since spring came around and nothing happened. Maybe it was over, maybe it wasn’t.
I don’t read many books in the horror genre so this story was different from any other story I have read! I was hooked from the beginning. Though I have read reviews claiming the middle dragged a bit, I didn’t think so. I didn’t think the book was terribly scary; however, I would have been terrified if I had actually been in the situation the main characters found themselves in!
The story is told in the alternating perspectives of Harry and Sasha, who buy a house in the country and then discover it comes with a curse! Sasha accepts their reality and tries to make the best of things. However, Harry is skeptical of the curse and it’s hidden meaning. He keeps testing the limits of the curse…with horrifying consequences!
This one makes the perfect spooky season read!
My thanks to @netgalley and @grandcentralpub for my digital copy. My thoughts are my own.
The main characters, Harry and Sasha, were okay and their dog, Dash, was great. I liked the friendly, loving relationship with the elderly neighbors. There was so much of Harry’s military background that became repetitive, and the f bombs were overdone and annoying. The horror was scary at times but just plain ridiculous at other times, and the ending was abrupt and ambiguous.
Reddit brought me here… I was so intrigued by this authors short story on Reddit that when I heard he was given the opportunity to write his own book, I rushed to look for it.
Old Country is a wonderful Stephen K.-esque type of book. Every part keeps you enthralled.
The only reason why this gets 4 stars instead of 5 is Harry’s character. They made him too cringey—too stereotypical marine that it distracted from the story and enjoyment of the book.
Besides that Old Country is a delightfully spooky read!
This book was... Omg, I still don't have the words to properly describe it. A trip would be a great word. The main character needs some serious anger management classes. Every single time something happened he hammered the poor old couple that only wanted to help them. It was truly spooky and so original. I had major full-body chills.
You just have to give tho one a chance if you're into spooky reads. One of my top 5 reads of 2022.
If you're a true horror lover, this is the book for you! Creepy, nerve jangling, look over your shoulder story that will get under your skin, under your door and under your bed. Sleep with the lights on, the curtains drawn and the doors locked!
Unable to finish. This did not hold my attention. Too long to to get into what was happening. Need horror novels to grab me faster.
Really slow getting into this one - a bit disjointed - a couple but a dream house in the Teton valley - meet older neighbors that earn them the valley is haunted - very slow for me
Many thanks to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for this ARC in exchange for my honest review. It's my absolute pleasure to rave about it.
#NetGalley #GrabdCentralPublishing #MattQuery #HarrisonQuery #OldCountry
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Every once in awhile a book comes along that grabs you by the throat and forces its way down into your system, making it impossible to do or think about anything else until you've finished it. After it's finished, of course, it's difficult to return to life as you knew it. This book had my attention from the very beginning. It's very nearly a perfect story. Harry and Sasha dream of owning a ranch in the mountains and they've finally made this dream a reality. They even find friends in their closest neighbors. That is, until said neighbors come for a visit and bring along a housewarming gift. A gift in the form of a set of rules detailing how to live with the ancient and potentially malevolent mountian spirit that haunts their dream home.
This book has everything that makes a great horror story. It has ghosts, creepy scarecrows, some gore, and characters you care about very quickly. It's very rare that I find a ghost story that checks all the boxes. Too often a "haunting" becomes an allegory for mental illness, or a squatter who has been secretly living in the attic, or any other number of not ghosts! I hate that! That alone made me love this book. Add in the originality of the different rituals needed for Harry and Sasha to appease the spirit based on the season, the addition of an unexpected pregnancy, plus Harry's tough guy attitude and you have an almost perfect story. The writing was relatable and skillful. Best of all, however, the dog doesn't die!!
The one criticism I have to offer involves the ending. It's not enough of a problem to deduct a star but the ending could have been more complete. Maybe it's because I didn't want the story to end but I wanted more for sure. I felt like the climax was just a little bit too easy and left me with a few wants other than wanting to hear more. Still, this was the best book I've read this year. Do yourself a favor and read this.
This book promises creepiness and it delivers! It is told by both Harry and Sasha in alternating chapters. The characters were well written and I completely enjoyed the duel POV. The author did a phenomenal job creating a chilling atmosphere with the remote setting. The story grabbed my attention early on and builds nicely throughout the book - I devoured this book wanting to know what's next.
Creepy atmosphere, malevolent spirit, good characters, great pacing, and a golden retriever - what more could you want?