!!! 2015 Winner of Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel!!!
I read this last summer so the details are a bit sketchy now to pull off an in-depth review, but!!! 2015 Winner of Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel!!!
I read this last summer so the details are a bit sketchy now to pull off an in-depth review, but I hate leaving review spaces blank, and this is me trying to push some of my favorites back in front of your face again in case you missed them. A Head Full of Ghosts just snagged the 2015 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel which should help give it a much-deserved boost in exposure.
I loved this one, not only because parts of it genuinely creeped me the hell out and raised the little hairs on the back of my neck, but the uncertainty of whether I was dealing with an unreliable narrator or not kept me on edge, and off kilter through the entirety of the novel. In its most simplistic terms, this is an "exorcism" book -- teenager Marjorie is Regan MacNeil (minus the pea soup vomiting and ...ahem...crucifix play). She is out of control -- her behavior becoming increasingly odd, violent and disturbing to her family -- especially her younger sister Merry (our intrepid narrator looking back on events from an adult p.o.v.)
Can I just say right here right now, creepy kids creep me the hell out? Of course they do.
As this desperate family plunges into the darkness of either a spiritually possessed child, or one who is mentally ill, reality show producers come a-calling, hoping to sensationalize and to capitalize for a quick buck on the family's suffering. Which brings us to the "meta" aspects of this novel which give it an extra layer of fun. Not only do we get the transcripts of the reality documentary, we also get the blog entries of an intrepid blogger who has a keen interest (obsession) in delving into the case.
(And in case you haven't heard, our intrepid blogger is based upon Goodreads' very own karen!).
There's nothing too graphic here for anyone worried about the "exorcism" angle -- it's very much in the vein of psychological horror because as readers we can never be sure if what's really happening is supernatural in origin, or a product of mental disturbance combined with the shameless exploitation of modern reality tv (and what a desperate family may be driven to do under the right financial pressures).
I loved the uncertainty. I loved all the "meta" stuff and breaking through the fourth wall. But most of all, I loved that Paul Tremblay can write a scene that has me trembling, and looking over my shoulder, and then sleeping with the lights on!
Eeek! I'm already behind on my October reading (let alone reviewing) but wanted to make sure I drew this one to your attention.October Country 2015 #1
Eeek! I'm already behind on my October reading (let alone reviewing) but wanted to make sure I drew this one to your attention.
HUSK (which every time I see that title I'm overcome with the urge to shout "Tusk!") is not horror per se, but it is a thrilling, page-turning nightmare vision of the near future. Reading this I couldn't help be reminded of King's early Bachman books, especially The Running Man. Both are set in a bleak future where people are struggling to eat and live, so much so that it is driving them to do desperate, dangerous things for money.
In HUSK's case, people are being driven to "rent out" their bodies to the very, very rich -- the 1% of the 1% -- to inhabit and do with as they please for periods of up to 72 hours. I don't even like to lend someone my jacket or use my bathroom. Imagining someone taking over my body and using it up in any porny, germy, physically punishing way they can think of gives me the heebie jeebies. Unclean! Unclean!
As if all the drug-fueled orgies and exposure to all kinds of STD's isn't bad enough, not to mention the cuts and bruises and dehydration and sheer exhaustion from lack of sleep (talk about being rode hard and put away wet), our protagonist Rhodes begins to suspect his body is being used for more sinister and nefarious purposes. ::cue ominous music::
It's especially worrisome when other Husks begin to show up dead or missing.
All the elements are present and accounted for here to make for a gripping read. Messum -- author of the unputdownable BAIT -- has a keen sense of where the pressure points of tension live in his story and how to exploit them. This isn't as fast or burning a read as BAIT -- it takes its time a bit more with world-building and character development and unraveling the mystery at the heart of the story, but these are all good things.
It wasn't surprising for me to read then that HUSK's been optioned by a UK company to adapt into a television series. The tone and themes are very similar to another show I adore and can't wait to get more of -- Black Mirror. That HUSK would make a great Black Mirror episode is probably the highest praise I can give it.
***The author was gracious enough to provide me with a free copy for review....more
Eh. This one just couldn't carry its weight to the end for me. It just went on for too long so much so by the end my eyes were glazing over and I didn Eh. This one just couldn't carry its weight to the end for me. It just went on for too long so much so by the end my eyes were glazing over and I didn't really care anymore. Maybe if pared back by about 100 pages a tighter, leaner narrative would have been the result and that might have helped things.
The book has a great premise and there are a few creepy scenes, but overall things just take too long to unspool. By the time all the pieces start to come together, none of it feels like a surprise or that compelling. And since there is a "Manson Family" vibe to the whole affair it all starts to feel a little too recycled in its familiarity, despite the supernatural elements that by the climax also feel rather clumsy and heavy-handed.
It's a bummer to have to 2-star this one. I really thought it was going to grab me by the short hairs, especially after this resounding endorsement from Nick Cutter:
"A monstrous Russian nesting doll of a book, holding secrets within secrets; the plot barrels headlong towards one of the most shocking climaxes you're ever likely to read. This one is going to wreck you."
Either Mr. Cutter is extending a tremendous generosity to a fellow author, or I'm just the bitchy meanie who missed the point. Maybe a little from Column A, and a little from Column B.
Wreck me? Hardly. I saw the ending coming a mile away.
Short, pulpy fun. Effective, evocative writing, very vivid and visual. And a twist ending (which I'm not sure I totally understood LOL, but enjoyed neShort, pulpy fun. Effective, evocative writing, very vivid and visual. And a twist ending (which I'm not sure I totally understood LOL, but enjoyed nevertheless). Still, this little diddy is a definite recommended read that's available for FREE from your preferred book retailer. This flavourful free taste has only whetted my appetite for more Xane.
I'm a self-identified horror addict and veteran of the genre. It takes A LOT to rattle my cage. This book? It is an unholy abomi SWEET UNHOLY JEBUS!!!!
I'm a self-identified horror addict and veteran of the genre. It takes A LOT to rattle my cage. This book? It is an unholy abomination - a dark, seething morass of gore and human depravity. It is not a fun read. But if you are so minded, it is a keenly compelling and profoundly disturbing one.
And now a word about this book's parentage. What unhinged mind gave birth to such a darkling monster?
There's this Canadian author Craig Davidson. You may have heard of him. He is a wonderful literary writer who has been nominated for prestigious awards, and one of his short stories has even been adapted into a critically acclaimed film. But Davidson has a dark side you see -- an alter ego that hijacks his more literary proclivities and pushes his writing into macabre and horrific territory.
Meet Nick Cutter, one of the most exciting things to happen to horror in the last decade. And he's CANADIAN. So just when you think we're all nice and polite and spend our days drinking Tim Horton's coffee and playing hockey, think again.
About being Richard Bachman (Stephen King's too short-lived alter ego) King quotes the late Donald Westlake referring to his very own alter ego Richard Stark: "I write Westlake stories on sunny days. When it rains. I'm Stark." For Davidson, I like to imagine the same rule applies. Sunny days he writes as Craig -- when it rains, Cutter takes over the writing room and anything goes. Anything.
But here's the twist (are you still with me?): before there was Cutter, there was this guy Patrick Lestewka -- and let's be clear here -- he makes Nick Cutter look like Mister Rogers. In fact, I think when Davidson realized he had this sub-id consciousness living inside of him -- this psycho "other" -- it scared the living shit out of him so much that he created Nick Cutter TO KILL Lestewka in an act of self-preservation. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn't? It doesn't bear pondering.
Lestewka had to die. Unlike the late, gone too soon Bachman, we will NOT mourn his passing. Instead we will breathe a sigh of relief, for it is a terrible, grotesque landscape in which he maneuvered, where he beckons us to come play, where the light never shines, where all hope is gone, and cruelty is the only currency.
Back in 2014, I shared a Q&A with Nick Cutter on my blog. I didn't know about Lestewka then, and now really wish I had because I would have loved to have gotten Cutter's take on the guy -- maybe even a confession of murder of the pseudonym! Ah well, there's always next time. ...more
Ah shizzle. I'm going to be the party pooper on this one. It was okay. Love the premise but it just didn't bite me, at least not in any place where I like to be bitten.
Creepy undertones, exotic setting, with a familiar Twilight Zone / Night Gallery vibe. Should be all good things but it ultimately just doesn't deliver on the goods in a memorable way.
Since this one fizzled for me, I want to take the time to put a plug in for Tor shorts. They're offering some amazing, inventive prose for FREE, and the accompanying artwork for each story is sublime. I keep meaning to read more of these. Bookmark this page!
Three of my most favorite Stephen King sci-fi-esque stories include the novellas The Mist and The Langoliers and the not to be missed short story "The Three of my most favorite Stephen King sci-fi-esque stories include the novellas The Mist and The Langoliers and the not to be missed short story "The Jaunt" (which if you haven't read this delightful, chilling diddy yet GO DO IT NOW and thank me later). Seriously, it's awesome.
The Fold in all of its pulpy goodness, thrums along with a vibration that's very Stephen King in its approach to sci-fi and I couldn't help but be reminded of those three stories while burning through its pages. It's fun, it doesn't take itself too seriously, and the plot doesn't get too bogged down or concern itself too much with the science. For sci-fi purists, Clines approach would probably come off as lazy here -- but for me, it was just right, just enough at all the right times.
There comes a moment in the novel (you'll know when you get there) where I screamed and thought the story was heading in a very different (much desired) direction than where it eventually ends up. The horror fiend in me perpetually lusting after her next scare was okay with that though. There's still lots that will goose your adrenaline centers and get the heart racing. This is a sci-fi thriller, with the emphasis on thrill with some other "stuff" thrown in to blow your skirt up at the end. And I can't talk about that "stuff" because you know, that would make me a spoilering asshole. Let's leave all that fine spoilering to Uncle Stevie, shall we? He does it so well.
I absolutely love and cannot recommend enough Clines other book 14 which in the telling and execution falls much more on the horror end of the spectrum. The two books read extremely well side by side however, and if you read one you will absolutely have to read the other to enjoy the tuning fork resonance that Clines has set up so very nicely.
And how much did I love our main character Mike Erikson? He's the smartest guy you will ever meet with a crazy IQ score and a photographic memory -- he literally remembers everything he's ever seen or heard. Which sounds awesome when you're simply talking about replaying your favorite Marvel movie in your head while you fall asleep. Not so awesome when you have instant full sensory engaged memories of somebody's horrible death. This "talent" / "curse" should make Mike either a full-on arrogant asshole, a complete weirdo with no social skills or a combination of both, but he's neither. Mike is just a nice guy, a school teacher trying to live out his life with relative normalcy.
His supporting cast are the jerk faces and arrogant assholes almost laughably so sometimes. But they do get better and more likable as the story hits the 3/4 mark. I did shake my head at how many times the phrase "but that's impossible!" was thrown about even as they stood around this spectacular fold in space-time dimension and all these crazy incidences keep piling up on top of one another. Rather than see it as a weakness in the story though, I actually found it added some much needed comic-relief. When things are at their craziest and someone is still shouting "but that's impossible!" you really have to laugh. At least I did.
So final verdict -- a pulpy, extremely fun, page-turning sci-fi thriller that will make a most excellent addition to your summer reading.
A reclusive couple's power goes out and they are forced to use their scarce survivalist supplies to live off the grid.
Sometimes I can be too damn liteA reclusive couple's power goes out and they are forced to use their scarce survivalist supplies to live off the grid.
Sometimes I can be too damn literal for my own good -- and resistant to anything mind-bendy, trippy, weird, or otherwise Weird. That one sentence plot summary above (not to mention the snappy title and awesome cover art) had me salivating to get my hands on this Grindhouse novella. I love any kind of a survival story, especially if you throw in off the grid and possibly end of the world elements.
Survival makes strange bedfellows of us all. It brings out the best (and worst) in us. It makes allies of enemies and makes us kill (and sometimes possibly eat) our allies. For dramatic purposes, survivalstories are the sweetsweetsiren song in my wheelhouse.
This story? Well, it's kind of false advertising in a way. It *is* a story about a couple losing their power, and it is *sort of* about a couple trying to live "off the grid" but it is in no way a literal interpretation of these things. This is not a survival story.
If anything, it is much more a dark, grotesque psychological exploration of paranoia and our often tenuous relationship with reality and our construction of it. Any other time, and *that* could have been in my wheelhouse too, it's just I was expecting (due to my own penchant for literalness) a grabby, clawing "oh my god the water's turned off and our cupboards are bare" survival story and what I got was an unsettling, weird, examination of one couple's descent into Hell? madness? bad hygiene? a horrible toxic marriage? a fifth dimension?
Normally, I love it in the shadowy, shaky corners of The Twilight Zone, it just didn't work for me here. Effective, evocative writing though!!! Kudos for that. And some fairly, squishy, glucky, squirmy scenes for those who appreciate things of an effluvium nature. ...more
I am familiar with Richard Chizmar because A) I *love* Cemetery Dance Publications (which he founded) and B) Chizmar has launched a massive King re-read and you can follow his progress (not to mention fabulous guest posts) here at his blog Stephen King Revisited.
So in my Twitter feed this evening was a link to this short story. Who can resist a short story called "The Box"? Every time I see that title I give a little shudder and give in to a lot curiosity, because WHO DOESN'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT'S IN THE BOX?!
I'll ALWAYS need to know what's in the mothereffing box. Yeah, curiosity. She's a real bitch.
So this story? It's gooooood. Pulpy good and creepy (if a little derivative and predictable). Still, at 15 pages, definitely worth a read. Go check it out now! Don't you want to know what's in the box too??? ...more
I always feel guilty when I snag a book from NetGalley and don't love it. But hey -- impartial reviewing and honest reader response is what we all cra I always feel guilty when I snag a book from NetGalley and don't love it. But hey -- impartial reviewing and honest reader response is what we all crave, right? So I get over that guilt pretty quickly.
Adam Rockoff has a great idea here. While my real passion is to watch horror movies (not read about them) every once in a while a book like this sneaks past my defenses with a come hither look I can't resist. That's what this book did with its great cover and catchy (if wordy) title.
Essentially what Rockoff is attempting to do here (and largely fails) is what Stephen King accomplished decades ago with flair and brilliance in his nonfiction study of the horror genre Danse Macabre. What did I want this Christmas season? What do I long for keenly every year that passes? A goddamn, updated sequel! Get on that Uncle Stevie, before it's too late!
King's masterpiece covers horror in all its manifestations in print, and on the big and small screens. Rockoff narrows his focus to just the movies, and that would be enough if it had been a wide view of horror on the big screen, but Rockoff's kink is the slasher / exploitation films (the subtitle for this book should have been my first clue).
Rockoff has already written a book about the rise of the slasher film called Going to Pieces -- heh, cute title -- and without having read it, I'm left with a sneaking suspicion that this follow-up book treads a lot of the same ground. In The Horror of it All Rockoff has a major rant against Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel for a special edition episode of their show Sneak Previews aired in 1980 in which the film critics lambast these "slasher" flicks as a dangerous and despicable trend in film both demeaning and dangerous to women (these men are so high up on their high horse here I can't imagine they can still see the ground). Don't get me wrong -- I love Roger Ebert, he remains one of my favorite film critics -- but boy, was he mostly a fuss bucket when it came to horror movies in general. It wasn't his genre of choice and it showed in many of his prejudicial (and often undeserved) negative reviews of some great movies.
Rockoff is justified in tearing a strip off these two men in an instance where they show complete ignorance about a genre and its fans. Neither Siskel or Ebert appear to have actually sat through any of these movies they are so quick to dismiss as sleazy and misogynist. They show no awareness of "the Final Girl" who often survives to slay the "monster" herself, as well as suffering from the common misconception that it's only women killed in slasher films. Quite the contrary; studies show men are just as likely to die violent deaths on screen in horror movies as their female counterparts.
But I get it. As a fan of the genre since before I could tie my own shoes, I've come up against that kind of prejudice many, many times. Horror is a genre where the consumer is attacked as often as the content itself. Understanding the appeal factor of horror is difficult for some people to accept, people who will look at you with a wary expression as they ask "how can you read/watch that stuff"? As if we should be ashamed, as if we are somehow mentally warped or our moral compass dangerously askew. Don't worry, it isn't. Horror appeals to many of us for very solid, rational, non-psychopathic reasons, I swear. And it appeals just as equally to men as it does women. And that doesn't make the men misogynists, or the women failed feminists.
But I digress. Back to Rockoff. His goal here is to really champion for the slasher films and the deranged and disturbing pushing all the boundaries it can possibly think of exploitation films. And I wouldn't have had a problem with that. But it gets a bit repetitive and tiresome and a lot of the movies he winds up talking about are pretty obscure if you're not a complete and utter fanatic for everything underground and out of print (I'm not).
In his introduction, Rockoff promises to approach horror in a very personal essay, knitting together his experiences of the genre using memoir as a lens. I love that idea. I love hearing about people's personal reactions to movies or what was going on in their lives when. One of my favorites of these sorts of anecdotes came from my own mother. She was dating my father at the time of the theatrical release of The Exorcist.
It was a date movie for them (these are my genes). They had to park the car at the very back of the mall parking lot. When the movie let out after 11pm the mall was closed and the parking lot was almost empty. They walked to the dark, abandoned hinterland of the lot to their car. When my mother went to open the passenger door (this was 1970's Newfoundland - people rarely locked their car doors) a giant looming shadow of a man sat up in the back seat and groaned. My mother screamed. My father cursed (and probably shit himself). Turns out that while they were watching the movie, this guy stumbled out of the bar drunk and crawled into my parents car to pass out mistaking the car as belonging to his friend.
Rockoff has a few personal stories like this, humorous and charming, but not nearly enough of them. He can't help but slip into the film school analysis voice, reviewing and critiquing. Too much of the book's contents feel like grad school essays, a little pompous and righteous. In an effort to "legitimize" horror and testify to its importance and validity, Rockoff comes off sounding like a bit of a haughty dick.
Then there's some sections that just don't work at all, and their inclusion confounds me. Case in point -- in Chapter 5 "Sounds of the Devil" Rockoff talks about the (un)natural marriage of heavy metal music to horror movies. The two go together like PB&J in some ways, in other ways it's a misfit experiment gone awry. He raises a few interesting points and then inexplicably goes right off the reservation with a blow-by-blow account of the time in 1985 Tipper Gore helped found the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and brought the fight to Washington in the hopes of compelling the music industry to adopt a voluntary rating system warning of the explicit lyrics destined to corrupt and warp innocent children.
If you've made it to the end of this lengthy, rambling review I thank you. You are a good sport and too kind. I didn't hate this book but it failed to really engage me or entertain. I don't recommend it; instead, pop some popcorn, turn out the lights and cue up your favorite scary movie.
This is when Goodreads is acting at its optimal best -- friend reads book and writes great review: friend recommends book to you: you seek book out an This is when Goodreads is acting at its optimal best -- friend reads book and writes great review: friend recommends book to you: you seek book out and read it: you enjoy book and will now recommend it to others.
I most likely would never have stumbled across this title on my own, especially since it is a short novella available only in ebook format by an author I had not previously heard of. This is why we cherish our book pushing friends who can give us a poke, a nudge, a heads-up when something special passes across their reading radar.
For those of you Goodreads users who believe three stars indicates an average, unenthusiastic endorsement, PLEASE do not take my rating as such. The Shelter is a supremely creepy, in a lot of ways "classic" horror story that is filled with sublime suspense and great characterization. The tone and mood are heavy and dark, cynical even. I was enthralled every moment. The writing hits that sweet spot at the intersection of literary meets pulp.
The Shelter is a familiar horror trope of going where you're not supposed to and paying the price. Yet, for all of its familiarity and even its predictability, the story still manages to suspend the reader in a prolonged state of uneasiness and upset. The exploration of the nebulous and often toxic ties binding together young boys where bullying and manipulation masquerade as genuine friendship is also very well done.
If you're looking for a quick and dirty foray into the dark for Halloween, you'll not go wrong with this one.