Shutter by Courtney Alameda

(Last Updated On: June 17, 2019)

Fast-paced and atmospheric, Alameda’s debut novel gripped me with its fantastic world-building from the first page! While I found the characters a little flat, I really enjoyed this horrific read.

About the Book

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends  |  Release Date: February 3, 2015  |  Pages: 384
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Urban Fantasy  |  Format: Paperback  |  Source: Purchased

Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She’s aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera’s technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever.

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain.

As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn’t exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she’s faced before . . . or die trying.

Lock, stock, and lens, she’s in for one hell of a week.

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My Review

“Nothing monstrous was conquered with a kiss, nor by love. Evil went down by the trigger, overcome with bullets, shutters, blood, and courage.”

After reading and loving Pitch Dark last year, I was excited to check out Alameda’s debut for some more spooky goodness. Friends, while I expected to enjoy Shutter a lot more than I did, it was a creepy and enjoyable read for me. It’s fast-paced and hauntingly atmospheric; Alameda has a way with words that is impossible to ignore. If you are a fan of spooky stories that deliver on the horror with imaginative detail, then keep reading because this book might be for you!

Shutter is told in the third person perspective of Micheline Helsing, one of the last descendants in the lineage of the Van Helsings, and I honestly was sucked into the book with its opening lines: “Call it a reaper’s insomnia, but the dead wouldn’t let me sleep at night. Everytime the sun went down, I swore I sensed them stirring, starving.” There is something about the writing style that sets an almost noir mood with the words and painting the scene of my mind in black and white.

But noir this book is not (this book isn’t characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity); Shutter is a fantasy/horror novel set in an alternate San Francisco Bay Area where the monsters and ghosts are real and there’s a centuries-old system in place to fight them. Only instead of slayers and watchers we have the Helsing Corps, which was founded by and run by the descendants of Bram Stoker and Abraham Van Helsing (and others that have since died out over time). They fight the things that go bump in the night with technology and Micheline’s instrument of choice is a camera that captures the ghostlight and exorcises ghosts. I’ll admit that I spent a lot of time picturing the fighting scenes in terms of the videogame Fatal Frame II, in which you also use a camera to exorcise ghosts (and the game is terrifying 11/10).

“We did such human things before we reaped – showered, read the newspaper, kissed our families goodbye – always with the expectation of returning with the dawn. Optimistic by default.”

This book is action-packed and fast-paced, and the writing style is gripping. Unfortunately for me, I got bored with all the action by the middle of night three and found myself skimming over a lot of it. This is definitely a me-thing: I personally struggle sometimes with action-heavy plots because I appreciate character development and world-building so much, and it felt like the action was at the expense of little character development. Our main character Micheline felt like a real, three-dimensional character to me; however, Oliver, Jude, and Ryder felt more two-dimensional to me.

Oliver a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera’s technology
Jude can predict death and is a womanizer
Ryder the forbidden love interest for Micheline

They are each very interesting and I enjoyed learning about them, I just wish there was more, especially with Jude and his ability. The four of them have their own little found family and I definitely believed their chemistry. The romance subplot was heartwarming and felt like childhood love to me, in no way forced.

Micheline has the weight of the world and her closest friends on her shoulders, holding a lot of guilt for getting them all into a life-threatening predicament. She disobeyed direct orders and protocol — as well as left her crew behind — to go after a ghost on her own, a decision that has disastrous consequences as they all become infected with some gross ghost goop that leads to them being “soul-chained.” They have seven days to destroy the ghost that chained them, or they will die.

“Bloodlines and last names don’t make a man extraordinary-the extraordinary existed in what we did in life, no in who we were.”

Where this book shines is with its world-building. Alameda crafted an amazingly intricate world that could very well exist right now, and I loved that she used the lore from the horror classics to tie into the story. I loved the technology used as well, the mirrors and cameras relating to the superstitions of these technologies when they first came to be and gave almost a sense of plausibility to their power. Unfortunately, there were some elements of the worldbuilding that bothered me when I thought too closely about them. Like how come she never needs to change rolls of film when taking pictures? If an entity is trapped in an Obscura, how was it also touching Micheline? These little questions aren’t the end of the world to me and didn’t hamper my experience while reading, but Cam and I definitely had LOTS of these when we finished reading! I have to admit that the open-ended ending left me feeling rather unfulfilled, though. There are a lot of questions that come up at the end of the book and none of them are answered. The last few pages are written as if there is going to be a sequel or companion novel, but to my knowledge, this is a standalone… so warning if you are bothered by endings that don’t wrap things up nicely.

One of the things I loved about this book is that beneath the surface of this genre-bending monster horror story it is also about Micheline processing her grief. She’s closed off, trusting only in the hunt and technology; in herself. After losing loved ones she kind of pulled away. Her father pulled away. She’s afraid to reciprocate the feelings of the love interest, instead of asking him to choose between following the rules or her. I think in a way she wants to solve this problem and save the lives of her found family to make up for the past and those she couldn’t save, but along the way, she opens up to love and seeking help from others.

Overall this was a solid debut novel from Courtney Alameda; she has an amazing imagination and talent for pulling together the lore and world-building in her stories. While I enjoyed her sophomore novel Pitch Dark a bit more than this debut, it is obvious from that Alameda is incredibly talented. If you enjoy action-packed stories and horror, Shutter is definitely a book that you will not want to miss!

🤝 Buddy read with the lovely Camilla @ Reader in the Attic!

spacer_wLet’s go on another adventure together!


  1. Diana @fortunatelythebook

    March 28, 2019 at 9:26 AM

    Happy to read this! I love the cover so much, I definitely read it, maybe for Halloween!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      April 16, 2019 at 5:52 PM

      The cover is STUNNING (so is the cover for her second novel PITCH DARK)! This book would make an excellent Halloween read!

  2. Jules_Writes

    March 28, 2019 at 11:40 AM

    Creepy, creepy cover! Great review.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      April 16, 2019 at 5:53 PM

      Thank you so much, and I agree the cover is creepy (and stunning)!

  3. Isabelle @ BookwyrmBites

    March 28, 2019 at 7:37 PM

    *hears SF Bay Area, metaphorical ears perk up* oooooh I am fascinated by the idea of using a camera to exorcise ghosts; admittedly I don’t read much paranormal so I don’t know if it’s a trope/common device, but it’s such a cool and new idea to me. and I’m absolutely with you on needing character and world development to balance out heavy plot! action is entertaining, but I want to CONNECT with a story.

    still, I’m glad you enjoyed this one, Kal, and I hope your current/next read is even better 💕

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      April 16, 2019 at 6:03 PM

      HARD SAME THOUGH! I honestly get such a rush of glee whenever I read a book that is set around where I live. I also don’t know if it is a common trope, the only other reference I had was the Fatal Frame II video game, but Cam did say she’d read it before so IDK. I liked it! I just wish I cared for the characters a bit more than I did.

  4. Phantom Paper

    March 29, 2019 at 3:35 AM

    Wonderful review! Makes a non-horror fan want to read it 😄 One minor quibble I have about this is the character names, they all sound too good! Fascinating story though 😉

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      April 16, 2019 at 6:06 PM

      I think in terms of horror it’s pretty accessible to people that generally steer clear from the genre, it is definitely more on the paranormal urban fantasy side but it is creepily atmospheric!

      1. Phantom Paper

        April 27, 2019 at 11:39 AM

        I thought I couldn’t do horror but nowadays I realised that I can take it when it’s in a mixed genre book. It’s only the pure horror stories that are wayyyy too scary for me, my imagination’s sufficient already! 😅

        1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

          May 13, 2019 at 7:32 PM

          That makes perfect sense, and honestly I really dig scifi/horror mashups a lot for some reason!

  5. meandinkblog

    March 29, 2019 at 9:52 AM

    This sounds really interesting and I love the quotes that you have used— the writing style looks great!! I too prefer character development over action scenes but I am tempted to look into this book!! 🙂 Lovely review!!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      April 16, 2019 at 6:10 PM

      Thank you so much, and while the characters weren’t as developed as I would have liked the worldbuilding is pretty stellar! I hope you enjoy the book if you end up picking it up.

  6. Norrie

    March 30, 2019 at 4:16 AM

    Oh, damn, this sounds awesome! 🙂

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      April 16, 2019 at 9:51 PM

      It really was such a cool read!

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  8. waytoofantasy

    April 2, 2019 at 10:54 AM

    I love books with this type of atmosphere to them! Great review!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      April 18, 2019 at 2:55 PM

      Thank you so much, and me too! I need more books like this in my life!

  9. March in Review // For REAL This Time – Reader Voracious Blog

    April 2, 2019 at 11:41 AM

    […] Shutter by Courtney Alameda: this was a buddy read with Camilla @ Reader in the Attic, and I really enjoyed reading & discussing this one with her! After falling in love with Pitch Dark last year, I wanted to read her 2015 debut. It’s obvious that she has a way with words and crafting intricate worlds that deliver on the horror, but I was left a little disconnected from the characters. | 📖 Read my full review […]

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  11. theorangutanlibrarian

    April 7, 2019 at 9:42 AM

    This sounds so creepy and intriguing- wonderful review!!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      April 18, 2019 at 3:43 PM

      Thank you, this was honestly such a creepy and atmospheric read!

  12. Destiny @ Howling Libraries

    May 16, 2019 at 3:27 PM

    Amazing review! I’m sorry it wasn’t a total win for you, but I’m still excited to read it after hearing the good things you said about it. ♥

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      May 17, 2019 at 7:06 PM

      Thank you so much, love! It honestly is such a cool read and I hope it’s a big win for you when you do read it!

  13. Book Review || Shutter by Courtney Alameda – The Reader in the Attic

    May 21, 2019 at 8:25 AM

    […] Anyway, here’s time for a review! I did this read with my dear Kal @Reader Voracious. You can find her review right here  […]

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