1) The main character Kirby is fantastic. She is a survivor (literally), independent, courageous and dete...more There's a lot for me to love about this book:
1) The main character Kirby is fantastic. She is a survivor (literally), independent, courageous and determined, a bit of a smart ass with a smart mouth. But she's no mere Mary Sue, possessing vulnerabilities and flaws that make her uniquely "Kirby" and nobody else. I found her funny and totally sympathetic. Quite honestly, the entire novel pivots around her. Without her, the intricate house of cards the author builds would collapse in on itself at the slightest shift.
2) The villain Harper is a skeevy, creepy predator, a wholly horrific construct of misogyny and homicidal tendencies. There isn't much depth or nuance to this guy -- he's just a walking talking body of hedonistic impulses and demented desires. We don't get any personal history for him or why he should have become what he's become. We know some of his twisted motivations derive from the magical qualities of "the House" -- but not all of them. You could even argue that "the House" sees the evil in him and draws Harper to itself.
3) It's about time travel in that tangly mind-fuck way that makes my brain itch, a pleasant buzz but one with bite. The mechanics of the time travel are not explained or explored in the ways they usually are in a sci-fi novel. The time travel just exists. There is a "House" that holds the magic and its door opens onto different years of the same city anywhere from the 1930s to the 1990s. It's this "House" that allows for a time traveling serial killer, and for that unique premise alone the book deserves a second look.
What can I say? This book has a lot going for it, and I liked it, I liked it a lot. But not once did I love it. I was intrigued, I played along with the mystery of the time travel, fitting pieces together where I could and trying not to get too caught up in the logic, faulty or otherwise. While Kirby stood out bright as the sun as one of "the Shining Girls", the rest of Harper's victims feel underdeveloped by comparison, almost throwaways, mere plot devices. It was hard not to get them mixed up with each other.
I also felt a tad underwhelmed by Kirby's "hunt" of her attempted killer. The uncovering and following of clues felt clunky, a cobbled together hodge-podge process where results are based more on luck and coincidence than real groundwork and actual "hunting".
This is largely a plot driven piece and if puzzles and the snake eating its own tail nature of time travel appeals to you then definitely check this out. As I was reading it, I was struck by its cinematic qualities, and won't be surprised if The Shining Girls gets optioned for the big screen.
Patrick Ness is a magnificent storyteller and master wordsmith in possession of a vibrant imagination. His Chaos Walking trilogy is tremendously uniqu...more Patrick Ness is a magnificent storyteller and master wordsmith in possession of a vibrant imagination. His Chaos Walking trilogy is tremendously unique and exciting, and his A Monster Calls brought me to my knees with its merciless emotional elegance and purity of Truth.
More Than This shows glimpses of greatness, but never quite reaches that level of soul-satisfying, heart-stopping, mind-melting resolution for me. It's an existential tale of seeking -- the search for meaning, for Truth, for understanding and forgiveness and discovery of self -- where redemption and final destination are displaced for the all important journey. This is a story without a climax, a story which poses many questions and offers no definitive answers.
The characters are great. I loved them. Especially Tomasz. I want an entire book just of that kid. Seth's back story and his relationship with Gudmund (while taking up very few pages of the novel) burns bright, so vivid, so emotional. I quickly became astonishingly invested in their story after only a few scenes, in what they meant to each other and how they expressed their thoughts and feelings. So tenderly realized. There were times I did not want to return to the "other story" going on, I so wanted to stay with these two and find out everything about them -- everything that came before and everything to come after.
Patrick Ness, you need to write a love story. I believe you have it in you to break all of our hearts.
But this is not that book. This is something else. It defies categorization, and sometimes that's a wonderful, brilliant thing. Here, I'm left feeling a little let down and yearning for more. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
First of all, there are some fantastic four and five star reviews available that really sell the merits of this book's accomp...moreOCTOBER COUNTRY 2013 - #1
First of all, there are some fantastic four and five star reviews available that really sell the merits of this book's accomplishments in mood and story. But it's this review that most closely captures my reading experience of it.
What can I say? I like my horror to hit the lizard part of my brain, rather than the mysterious, atmospheric-laden kind that's literary and beautiful, yes, but misses my lizard brain altogether and goes right for the higher thinking part. I'm not opposed to literary horror -- some of it can be quite effective and evocative -- but it's not my favorite, it's not what I seek out, and it's not what I tend to remember. The best horror combines the elements of both, succeeding not only in a literary sense, but in attacking that primal part of our brain that feels and reacts rather than thinks and considers.
I want to provoke an emotional, even visceral, reaction in my readers. Making them think as they read is not my deal...if the tale is good enough and the characters vivid enough, thinking will supplant emotion [only] when the tale has been told and the book set aside.
As a reader of horror, that's the experience I'm seeking first and foremost. I want to be made to feel on an instinctual level of 'fight or flight'. The cerebral stuff is for another time and place.
Aspects of The Sorrow King tickled my lizard brain, but like Elise's time spent in the Obscura, or Steven's long midnight walks, it's more a tale constructed out of dreams and moods, colors and sounds. Don't get me wrong -- things really do happen, frightening things accompanied by disturbing imagery -- I just feel like I spent too much time in my head while reading this one, and not enough time looking over my shoulder for the monster creeping up behind me. (less)
I'm going to tell you two things that made me want to read this book:
1) The cover - I mean, c'mon...how kick-ass creepy is this?
2) The first sentence...more I'm going to tell you two things that made me want to read this book:
1) The cover - I mean, c'mon...how kick-ass creepy is this?
2) The first sentence of the book jacket description: "A seven-year-old girl puts a nail gun to her grandmother's neck and fires."
Creepy, evil kids doing creepy evil things is usually a win for me. So it was a foregone conclusion that I would dive into this book with abandon.
First of all -- it isn't horror, despite the cover and the book jacket description. It's more a mash-up of mystery sci-fi with a philosophical bent to it. There are creepy parts, but those are almost incidental to the book's defined purpose. And what is that purpose?
The writing is great. Liz Jensen knows what to do with words. Hesketh Lock is a remarkable character study of a person living with Asperger's Syndrome. I'm no expert by any means (and maybe it's a terribly erroneous portrait), nevertheless I appreciated the attention to detail. I found Hesketh's way of looking at the world and interacting with it endlessly fascinating.
The book opens with Hesketh being sent to different countries on various continents to investigate cases of industrial sabotage. It's not entirely clear how these financially devastating actions by valued employees are even related to the other disturbing cases occurring at the same time of children murdering their caregivers. Hence the mystery. But Hesketh is on the case and with his very unusual brain and the aid of Venn diagrams moves closer to the truth with each passing day.
Even up to the three-quarter mark I was still chomping at the bit to uncover what the hell was really going on. I needed to know. Things were going from bad to worse. What could be behind it all? Demons? Aliens? Time-traveling scientists? So many cryptic clues, hinting at something universally "big" in a space-time-evolutionary way.
I was ready for it. I believed in the author. It felt like she had a plan. I trusted her. Even with a mere 10 pages left and no definitive climax or resolution in sight, I was only slightly worried and concerned.
Ever watch an overwrought, existential and confused piece of French cinema replete with embedded themes and imagery and allegory that you were supposed to "get" but didn't, and then the end title comes up and looks like this:
And then you shout at the screen and shake your fist: What the bleep?! You fume and even cry real tears. Because you realize no one's going to tell you the answer. Oh no. You will have to guess, extrapolate, surmise and theorize, with your friends, or worse still, with the obnoxious douche you have to work with every day.
Well piss on that. If that's what I wanted to spend my time doing I would have gotten my PhD in goddam philosophy. I can tolerate some ambiguity, but by and large I don't like it. It aggravates me. I'm reading for answers and resolution, not for more questions and uncertainty. Ambiguity stinks. Ambiguity is not my friend. Which is also probably why David Lynch movies make me want to stab somebody, him mostly.
So for a horror novel, that turned out to be a mysterious sci-fi piece that turned out to be an exercise in pointless philosophy showcasing an excruciatingly ambiguous ending -- two stars. (less)
Meh. It was okay. But for a trilogy that began so strongly, and appeared to pick up momentum in book 2, I found this final installment to be a tepid a...more Meh. It was okay. But for a trilogy that began so strongly, and appeared to pick up momentum in book 2, I found this final installment to be a tepid affair. From the very beginning this series tantalized me with mentions of Black Wings and sinister, dangerous things. It never quite lived up to that promise for me. There is simply waaaay too much emphasis on the romantic elements to suit my tastes. These books were obviously not written to please me.
The pacing for this one just felt "off" as well, really uneven. The ending feels rushed, and important developments are over too quickly. (view spoiler)[Hell was a few pages. Getting in and getting out should have been a much bigger part of the novel (hide spoiler)].
And *enough* with the love triangles already!! Jeesh. (view spoiler)[Killing Tucker pissed me off (it felt like cheating to suck as much angst out of the plot as possible). This worked in book 2 when Clara's mom dies, but to use this device again felt overly manipulative. Then to *bring him back* from the dead just felt too *deus ex machina*. Oh, it's okay. Haha. Fooled you! He's not really dead! You didn't think I'd kill him for *real* did you? Silly girl.(hide spoiler)]
And now I do feel like a silly girl for having stuck with this series for so long.
I'm going to go read about zombies and the end of the world.
You know, just to cleanse the palate.
If you wish to join me -- you will find me here.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Huh. Well, that was...interesting. Overall, I can say I enjoyed it. But two things chipped away at the star rating: 1) not enough creee-py (though a f...more Huh. Well, that was...interesting. Overall, I can say I enjoyed it. But two things chipped away at the star rating: 1) not enough creee-py (though a few scenes work incredibly well) and 2) waaaaay too much solving of codes and clues and shop-talk about genetics and DNA (oh, and these biological aspects are much more strap on your suspension of disbelief fantastical than this guy's done his research science fiction with the emphasis on science).
There's some crazy ass theories going on in these pages and if you don't commit to just sit back and enjoy the ride you will not. This is j-horror, not a medical thriller nor Isaac Asimov. Reality bends, and bends some more. Just go with it.
For fans familiar with the Ring movies, this is a pretty wild *evolution* of the original premise and curse. It seems overly ambitious to me at this point, without the "meat" to sustain it in a satisfying, credible way. But I'm willing to give Suzuki a chance and see what he can pull off in the final installment of the trilogy - Loop.
One more thing: (view spoiler)[is the identity of the young woman coming out of Mai's apartment supposed to be a "big reveal" moment towards the end of the novel? I assumed immediately this is vengeful Sadako in the flesh. And it also seemed fairly obvious to me that the only way she could be walking and talking is if she's the "thing" Mai gave birth to (because we know Mai gives birth to something). When Ando receives the fax and figures out the woman he's been shtupping is in fact Sadako, his terror and bewilderment is way out of proportion to the reader's. I felt like saying, "d'uh man, pay attention." (hide spoiler)]
Certainly that fax reveal pails in comparison to this fax reveal.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I came at this little book with expectations waaaay too high, and my overall tepid response to it is the result.
That cover, that awesome cover scream...more I came at this little book with expectations waaaay too high, and my overall tepid response to it is the result.
That cover, that awesome cover screams epic creep. I wanted Coraline. This is not Coraline. I hate to pit books against each other in caged death matches, but my reader brain kept doing that here, and guess which competitor got gutted and left for dead? It was gruesome to watch so ill-prepared was the one for the other.
Doll Bones will have some appeal to younger middle-grade readers. It's not too scary, and has likeable protagonists who hit the road on an adventure Stand by Me style. You've got two girls and a boy, so there's a nice gender balance too. (less)
I'm pretty sure the idea of being forced to live my life over and over again is something plucked from my worst nightmares, but who among us hasn't be...more I'm pretty sure the idea of being forced to live my life over and over again is something plucked from my worst nightmares, but who among us hasn't been at least tempted to dream of it occasionally with a wistful sigh. Please, please, please, just one more chance to live the best moments again and when necessary, to make different choices? But I would imagine if any of us were actually tasked to unravel all the "right" and "wrong" choices from our life and to relive the bad with the good, we'd go screaming into the night like raving banshees.
For what is a perfect life? How many kicks at the can would it take for you to answer that question, if it is indeed answerable at all? Change one thing, change everything, change nothing, change all the good, change all the bad. Round and round and round. It's exhausting just thinking about it. What's the saying? If I only knew then, what I know now...what? What would you do different? And would different choices always translate into better choices?
Ursula is a normal British girl except she's pretty certain she's lived her life before, maybe many, many times. The older she gets, the stronger these feelings of deju vu become, hounding her like ghosts in the night. Her prescience is rarely crystal clear, more like moods or instinct. Do this. Don't do that. Run away. Run toward. Stay still.
Life After Life starts slow and unassuming. The story is teasing, the pacing a dawdling, scenic walk through the English countryside. But from the very first page I was enthralled and little did I realize what a powerful spell Atkinson was casting on my reader brain. Because as you continue to read, the book picks up gravity and speed and texture. Each life after life reinforces the tender bonds you have been working on with each of the characters. Your acquaintance with them is not one brief life, but many, many lives. Like Ursula we are both cursed and blessed with the long view, the big picture. We come to know all the various permutations of death, cruelty, love and loss. We bear witness through two World Wars and how some forces, no matter how forewarned, are unstoppable, greater even than the hand of time.
This is a very English story, and is steeped in pre-1950 historical detail. Not ever having watched an episode of Downton Abbey I'll go out on a limb here and suggest fans of that show will love this novel for its acute sense of time and attention to detail. Atkinson is ruthless in her pursuit for authenticity. This is wartime England, no time to pussyfoot around. This has got to be right, and in her quest I believe she succeeds magnificently. The details are small but glorious, and paint such an intimate portrait you will feel absorbed into Ursula's quiet family life where there are disagreements and births, and jealousies and forgiveness. Yes, there is the rumble of the earth as the German bombs fall during the Blitz, but such terrible moments co-exist with the stark ordinariness of a life lived. Dinners, and picnics, and birthdays and games of cricket, and work, and gardening, and lots and lots of tea.
"Ow!" one of the evacuees squealed beneath the table. "Some bugger just kicked me."...Something cold and wet nosed itself up Ursula's skirt. She hoped very much that it was the nose of one of the dogs and not one of the evacuees.
This knowledge of the ATS girl's background seemed to particularly infuriate Edwina, who was gripping the butter knife in her hand as if she were planning to attack someone with it--Maurice or the ATS girl, or anyone within stabbing distance by the look of it. Ursula wondered how much harm a butter knife could do. Enough she supposed.
There is whimsy and humor laced throughout this novel and it makes for a beautiful contrast to the more serious components of tragedy and war. Life is a farce after all; if you can't find the humor in it you've been doing it wrong or have missed the point entirely. Atkinson has not missed the point. As readers, we are in capable hands. She has one helluva story to tell you, and trust me, you don't want to miss it.
I have a book shelf named "what the bleep" for books that unexpectedly shock my delicate sensibilities, blow my mind, and/or turn it into a pretzel. S...more I have a book shelf named "what the bleep" for books that unexpectedly shock my delicate sensibilities, blow my mind, and/or turn it into a pretzel. Sometimes the "what the bleep" is shouted in disgust or disappointment (as in -- this book sucks and the weirdness cannot save it). Other times, I shout it with glee for books that break my brain or tickle it so deliciously I can't help rubbing my hands together and cackling like a villain ripped from the pages of a Marvel comic.
I am delighted to report that '14' by Peter Clines is of the latter variety. It truly is a Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. I think what I loved most about this book is that it doesn't play by any fucking rule book whatsoever. It's horror, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery and episodes of Friends mixed with Scooby-Doo and the movie Singles all rolled up into one. It should be a bloody, confused mess, but IT ISN'T. Once it really gets going, it shimmies and jives like John Travolta boogying his way through Saturday Night Fever, with pizzazz and fervor and purpose. And a HUGE side helping of crazy pants.
And it TAKES ITS TIME. Oh, how I love it when a writer can give me some literary foreplay I can work with. Clines lays on the mystery quite thick in the early stages. There's something going on, with lots of hints and just enough reveals to keep us interested and reading on with bated breath. But for a long, long, time Clines keeps the mystery unsolved. The stakes get higher and higher. And the reveal -- while a creaky house of cards and not built of perfection -- is supremely shocking and satisfying. At least it was for me.
This book is a celebration of weird and wacky, finding the fun and the supremely creepy all in one place. Clines borrows from a lot of different sources including Lovecraft, House of Leaves, and John Dies at the End, and cooks it all up in an unforgettable stew of unique flavors and textures. He's a guy to watch. Read this book. (less)
This classic short story popped up in my feed this evening, and I decided to hunt it down and read it for myself. Gorgeous gut puncher is all I can sa...more This classic short story popped up in my feed this evening, and I decided to hunt it down and read it for myself. Gorgeous gut puncher is all I can say. I love a story that can sneak up on you like that and demand from you everything in you to give. It's one of those stories that insinuates itself into your soul, that lingers in the mind.
LeGuin poses the age-old question, does the end ever justify the means? Is the sacrifice of one or few ever worth it if it means protection of the many? Humans have played those odds since the beginning of time with varying results, and varying degrees of guilt. And we will continue to do so. Because life is messy and perpetually grey. Very seldom is it simple and black and white. It's what you can live with. And those that can't? We all have an internal meter that measures bullshit and our humanity. In a perfect world, should the bullshit get too thick, should our humanity become too thin, that's when it's time to walk away from Omelas.
Or is it? What's worse, staying and doing nothing? Or leaving and doing nothing? You can stand up and say something is wrong that you cannot stand it, that you cannot bear it, but if you do nothing to change it, what have you really accomplished? And who among us has the energy, will, courage and daring to change the things we know are wrong? All the daily wrongs that we see every single day. All of the unhappiness, desperation, cruelty. Child soldiers in Africa, dehumanizing labor camps in North Korea, women being stoned to death, children being worked to death. Maybe our happiness does come at a high price after all.
I really, really wanted to love this collection. I was so stoked to get my hands on it (as excited as I get about short story anthologies anyways). It...moreI really, really wanted to love this collection. I was so stoked to get my hands on it (as excited as I get about short story anthologies anyways). It contains an original story by Stephen King for heaven's sake, not to mention other original contributions from some of the genre's heaviest hitters including: Ramsey Campbell, John Ajvide Lindqvist and Dennis Etchison.
I think what frustrated me the most about this collection is that the majority of the stories have great beginnings but fizzle out on underwhelming, meh endings. Regardless of how pregnant with potential the premise, none of the authors really nail it, hit it out of the park, stick the landing (pick your metaphor, I got plenty).
That's not to say I didn't enjoy myself, because I did. I just expected more. I wanted that punch to the solar plexus, that tingly feeling of dread or shivery sensation of creep. Instead, I was moderately entertained and mildly amused.
Not surprisingly, one of the strongest is Stephen King's "The Little Green God of Agony", which carries a Twilight Zone or Creepshow vibe. A master of suspense, King controls the mounting tension on this one near perfectly. Anyone who is aware of King's long road to recovery after his near fatal accident won't be surprised to see him turn his writer's eye to the subject of excruciating pain. A pain so intolerable, one can only imagine the body has been possessed by an evil entity that feeds off the agony. While the ending is not that surprising really, it sure is sweet getting there.
King may be my sentimental favorite of the collection, but Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist (author of Let the Right One In) offers the most original and beautifully executed story. "The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer" is a darkly imagined ghost story about grief that resonates with sadness and desperation. A mother dies suddenly, and in the vacuum of a father and son's loss a ghost finds its way in. Not just any ghost. A murderer of children. This one actually wormed its way in and unnerved me. The writing is very good. It's really hard to believe that the same country that exported ABBA, has given us Lindqvist. Both are fantastic, but one of these things is not like the other.
The story idea I was most excited about came from horror legend Ramsey Campbell called "Getting It Wrong". It's a deadly games premise whereby a radio quiz show called Inquisition requires its contestants to answer questions correctly ... or bad things happen. I love the set-up on this one. Imagine taking a show like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and amping up the stakes so it's not money you're winning or losing, but the right to keep limbs intact, or eyeballs in your head. Now you're really in the hot seat. You have a life line, literally. So, idea? Perfect. Set-up? Pretty damn fine. Final denouement? Meh. This story could have been so much more, with just a little more meat on its bones.
Finally, Elizabeth Hand's novella "Near Zennor" just sucked me in and kept me turning the pages. It takes place on the English moors and has a very Gothic vibe. A man loses his wife suddenly and finds some old letters she wrote when she was just a girl to the author of a series of children's books. It becomes a mystery that he wants to investigate and he travels to the place where she spent one summer in 1971. This is an odd story that I couldn't quite make up my mind about as I was reading it, but still, it's very strong and I couldn't put it down even when there didn't seem to be anything really happening.
Overall, a fair collection with a couple of pieces worth the price of admission.
Silly, sweet and lots of fun, yet with a pleasing underbelly of bite. Newly minted grim reaper Lex returns in this sequel to Croak. Like most sequels...moreSilly, sweet and lots of fun, yet with a pleasing underbelly of bite. Newly minted grim reaper Lex returns in this sequel to Croak. Like most sequels worth reading, the stakes have become higher, and the world-building a little more fleshed out and fully realized.
Things I liked:
The Junior Grims of Croak actually act like normal teenagers. They don't know everything and can be impulsive and smart-mouthed. The chemistry between Lex and Driggs continues to be made of win. And while the copious make-out sessions had me rolling my eyes, what else would two hormone driven teenagers living in such close proximity get up to? Plus, hilarity ensues when Uncle Mort has to play chaperone all the time. His vigilant attempts to halt any over-enthusiastic pawing sessions did make me laugh.
Speaking of -- Uncle Mort. I keep picturing him as Woody Harrelson. He's brash, funny, sarcastic and a welcome adult presence in a world populated with angsty teen Grims.
The world-building. This version of the Afterlife rules, even if it is a little too rainbows and lollipops sometimes (Edgar Allen Poe needs a bigger part in the next book). Zara's plan, the search for the Wrong Book, Lex's exploration of her Damning capabilities - (view spoiler)[not to mention Drigg's discovering his exact opposite ability to un-Damn (hide spoiler)] - all add up to a nice bit of escapist reading. I'll be definitely seeking out the final book in the trilogy.
This is good my fellow Constant Readers, just not...wow. I can't speak of O'Nan's work, but for King this is a fairly familiar and predictable story i...more This is good my fellow Constant Readers, just not...wow. I can't speak of O'Nan's work, but for King this is a fairly familiar and predictable story idea. The execution is nice, the prose tight and strong, but unlike countless other times in my life, he just didn't blow my skirt up with this short novella.
Still, it's always such a joy to slip into King's world, his rhythmic use of language, his crystalline images and always effective creation of dread and unease. It's perhaps morbid of me to consider that I have way less unread King ahead of me than behind me. In that context, every new thing is precious in its own way, even this simple story about love of the game (baseball that is) and the sharp regrets that come with the measure of a full life. (less)
The very short and dirty review for this collection could be -- when it is good it is very, very good. But when it is bad it is horrid.
I did not love...more The very short and dirty review for this collection could be -- when it is good it is very, very good. But when it is bad it is horrid.
I did not love all these stories equally. In fact, several verged on epic fail for me. Which is not hard to do. I am probably the worst reader of short stories. However, those that did work sent me into such shuddering, paroxysms of delight there are no words to express my infinite admiration. My favorites worked so exquisitely on a sub-atomic, cellular level that I immediately wanted to catch a red eye to Vegas and marry them no questions asked, no pre-nup, with Elvis Presley looking on curling his lip in approval. Thank you, thank you very much. My five stars is the only way I can think of to reflect that boundless joy. Is it for every story? Absolutely not. But I have no problem letting those five stars stand.
My first introduction to Kij Johnson was in June 2011 when I read her short story Ponies. It tickled something very profound in my imagination and gave a real goose to my pleasure center (at least the part of my brain that perpetually craves dark and disturbed). Funny thing is, I picked up this collection based solely on the cover and title. I didn't even notice that the author is the very same author who had impressed me with her little diddy about prepubescent girls and their pet ponies. When I finally put the two together in an "a-ha, duh" moment, saying I was pleased would be quite an understatement.
Kij Johnson is a bit of a mad scientist in her approach to storytelling. There is folklore, magical realism, science fiction, fantasy, fable, myth and legend. That sounds messy and confusing, and it should be. It should be a disastrous, alchemical experiment that blows the whole meth lab sky high. But somehow she makes it work, each story its own landscape playing by its own rules. She blends things in ways that made me think of how van Gogh saw sunflowers and starry nights. Even where I floundered, and did not appreciate the final destination, her prose ran like silk across the neurons of my brain, stroking them into a blissed out reader high.
Kij Johnson is on my radar. I will most definitely be keeping my eye out for more of her strange and wonderful words.
My two favorite stories of the collection are available online for free:
Ponies: If you haven't already, read this weird and deranged tale about youthful female rites of passage and the more brutal realities of fitting in. This is a macabre spin on the innocence lost theme delivered with cutting precision that slices deep.
26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss: This one made me laugh with its whimsy and weep with its melancholy. I don't even know how to describe everything it made me feel actually. Aimee becomes the proprietor of 26 monkeys and a series of circus acts. Her biggest trick is that she makes all the monkeys vanish onstage. Where do the monkeys go? She does not know. All Aimee knows is that they return to her a few hours later bearing little trinkets from wherever they have been. The ending? Perfection in eight little words.
Honorable mentions must go to:
Names for Water - a phone call from unknown origin that whispers like water. I don't know if everyone will love the resolution here, but it gave me goosebumps.
Fox Magic - an Asian-themed fable about love's blindness. A fox falls in love with a man and lures him away from his human life.
Dia Chjerman's Tale - short, almost purely science fiction tale with apocalyptic overtones. There is a vibe of dread here that I really grooved on.
At the Mouth of the River of Bees - I'm usually not one for magical realism (sometimes I'm not even sure if I'm applying the term correctly), but there's a real dreamy quality to this one that almost hypnotized me. A woman follows a literal river of bees to its mouth. What will be waiting for her when she finally gets there? I'm thinking pet owners (and dog lovers) will find this one especially poignant. (less)
Mr. King and I (or Uncle Stevie if I may) have a loooong history that stretches back decades now. His books have become the s...more OCTOBER COUNTRY 2013 - #2
Mr. King and I (or Uncle Stevie if I may) have a loooong history that stretches back decades now. His books have become the soundtrack to my life, the novels I reach for in times of stress and grief in search of comfort and solace. Some may find that weird, considering the man's reputation as America's Boogeyman, but it's never been weird to me.
No one can spin a yarn quite like this man to keep you reading well past dark and into the wee hours of the morning. No one is as good as he is at locating our primal fears and anxieties and purging them in a storytelling catharsis that's as addicting as it is healing. No one can write characters as real as the person you fall asleep next to at night, or have hated to your very core since you were a child.
Yes, Stephen King knows what scares us, because it scares him too, but he also knows how we love, how we fail, how we fall down and find the courage to pick ourselves up again. He knows what makes us human, and better than that, he knows how to write it all down on the page capturing the very essence of our humanity like a magician captures lightning in a bottle.
Can he do it every time? No. But I don't love him any less for that fact. Does he try his very best to do it every time? You bet, with intent and integrity. King is no sell-out, and no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise.
zip it...shhhh...no...talk to the hand
I imagine King approached the story of Danny Torrence all grown up with a lot of respect and trepidation. The Shining is one of King's most memorable novels, with an iconic film adaptation that in some ways has even eclipsed the book itself. As a reader I approached this sequel with trepidations of my own. Even though you do your best to stranglehold your galloping expectations, you can't help but get excited and to imagine how it's all going to come together, what it's going to feel like.
This is a good book. Once you start it, like so many of King's best works, you will want to (have to) finish it. But it isn't The Shining and anyone expecting a full frontal assault horror novel on par with that classic will be sorely disappointed. In a lot of ways Doctor Sleep is a completely different book altogether, because it's written by a completely different man who has lived a lot of life and learned a lot of things. It's probably not even fair to compare the two, but it's inevitable. A sequel is a sequel.
As a sequel it does succeed brilliantly in one important aspect, and that is answering the question: "hey, whatever happened to the kid in The Shining?" Dan Torrence carries some heavy burdens which have derailed his life in more ways than one. Blocking out his traumatic childhood has doomed him to repeat history -- at least that of his father and Jack Torrence's black temper and unquenchable thirst for booze. Dan is an alcoholic, selfish and unscrupulous, and facing his rock-bottom. Anyone who knows anything about King's personal life, knows he is a recovering alcoholic. So who better to write a story about a life lost to booze and the battle to get healthy "one day at a time".
Dan's life, what it was, what it becomes, is a great part of this novel, and I loved reading about it. Then there's the other part -- a band of psychic vampires traveling the dusty back roads of America by RV calling themselves the True Knot. These are interesting, hideous creatures with a colorful history. On the King villain scale however, we've encountered way worse, and way more memorable.
Ditto Abra. As a child heroine facing down the supernatural dark King has equipped her with some pretty mighty powers. She is in fact, King's most powerful, making little Danny Torrence, Carrie White, Charlie McGee, and Johnny Smith combined look like a dim bulb on a Christmas tree. Becky describes it best in her review this way:
Things were just so easy for her, since she was so powerful in the shining, and on top of that, she had a support system - two parents, Danny, Billy, and John. And she was more than twice Danny's age when he had to fight for his life, alone. So I just didn't really feel all that concerned about her, as unfair as it may be. I feel like King went easy on her.
Abra surpasses super-human into superhero range. And while I feared for those around her, I never ever feared for her.
(view spoiler)[Overall, I think that the odds just seemed so greatly on the side of the heroes, so vastly uneven. Not only was the Knot low on steam, but did they really have to be plagued by measles too? And did Abra have to be so very strong, "a lighthouse" to Danny's "flashlight"? (hide spoiler)]
There is a lot to enjoy here, but for me there is an emotional depth missing that I've come to crave with King's books and the characters he creates. I wanted to live in this story, and think about it constantly, and I did neither. I enjoyed it for the adventure it was, and will have no problems recommending it, but it won't live on and linger in the mind the way so many of his other books have for me.
The one part that really shook me up? (view spoiler)[The torture killing of the baseball kid. Man, that scene is BRUTAL. King pulls no punches there, and I felt it right to my bones. Also, Danny seeing Jack at the end, and blowing him a kiss. I choked up at that even though I knew I was being manipulated. Damn you King!! Well played. (hide spoiler)]
I stumbled across this book at work the other day, and it called to me with a sweet siren song of potential. This edition comes replete with charcoal...more I stumbled across this book at work the other day, and it called to me with a sweet siren song of potential. This edition comes replete with charcoal illustrations, ribbon bookmarks (always classy) and is published by Centipede Press -- centipede!! Eww! Awesome, right? Plus it's about a scary ass hotel. I'm thinking Overlook, I'm thinking House of Leaves, Hill House, Hell House... well, it's none of these. The Deadfall Hotel has such potential, but it never really fires up all its engines and VROOOMS, you know? Some of the language is great. There are several moments where the atmosphere is suitably creepy. But it's just not enough to sustain over 300 pages.
Plus it's not really scary. It's very old-fashioned. Very English. Very childlike too. Not childish, but like a classic Grimm's fairy tale almost, complete with an eleven year old girl. Now, give the guts of this story to Neil Gaiman or Guillermo del Toro? Then you'd have something. I'd be all over that baby.
Charcoal drawings (Do not be fooled. They are awesome. This book is not)
Anyone remember Dead Like Me? I flipping LOVED that show, and was so profoundly irate and indignant when dull-witted, moronic executives ripped it off...more Anyone remember Dead Like Me? I flipping LOVED that show, and was so profoundly irate and indignant when dull-witted, moronic executives ripped it off the airwaves after its second season, with so much story left to tell. I will always remember it as an outstanding piece of television where young Georgia Lass is killed quite spectacularly one spring afternoon by an auspicious toilet seat that careens out of the sky after falling from the Russian space station. Smartmouth, antisocial George doesn't "pass over" into any recognizable afterlife however. Instead, she is recruited (against her will) to be a bonafide Grim Reaper. Her job is to "reap" the souls from dead bodies and send them on their merry way across a barrier she isn't allowed to cross. Sound morbid? It isn't. It's deliciously dark, shot through with potent humor, sharp observations, genuine emotion and a brilliant cast. I miss it still.
When I read the premise of Croak it immediately made me think of Dead Like Me. But I knew better than to hold this little book up against that show's richly developed canvas. That doesn't mean Croak is a bad book, because it isn't. It's sweet and funny and fun. Unlike Georgia Lass, Lex doesn't have to die to become a reaper. Instead, having gotten in trouble one too many times in her adolescent life, she is shipped off for the summer to stay with her eccentric, unknowable Uncle Mort who just happens to live in a tiny speck of a town known as Croak. When angry, violent, sarcastic Lex shows up in Croak she's in for the surprise of her life. Rather than milking cows and shoveling pig shit all summer long, her Uncle is going to teach her all about reaping the souls of the dead. She'll even get her own scythe.
I liked the world-building here. There are some nice details about reaping and death and souls and what happens after, though many of those details fall on the side of fluffy and superficial. Still, it is interesting finding out about "the rules". The set-up is gradual and natural and doesn't feel like a big info-dump. Uncle Mort is suitably crazy and charming and kept reminding me of Woody Harrelson in Zombieland. The "romantic interest" (c'mon, you knew there'd be one of those, right?) is actually a winner. This isn't insta-love (well, yes and no) but I didn't care because Driggs (I swear that's his name) is actually pretty funny. I really warmed up to his character. Some of the dialogue he and Lex share reminded me of my favorite screwball comedies from the 30's and 40's. And this made me giggle:
What happened next was an odd conglomeration of each of them moving in to give the other a hug, each thinking that the other was moving in to do something more, a subsequent dual retreat in the form of an awkward, octopus-like limb flailing, and a grand finale of something that could only be described as a clumsy, platonic chest bump. It wasn't pretty.
Snicker. For a breezy summer read to make you smile and keep the pages turning, you could do a lot worse than this little book. I've already added Book 2 - Scorch to my to-read pile. Interested to see where the story goes next.