I had some idea what to expect when I picked up the late Michael Crichton's sci-fi thriller Sphere because I'd seen the movie years ago -- a movie I l...more I had some idea what to expect when I picked up the late Michael Crichton's sci-fi thriller Sphere because I'd seen the movie years ago -- a movie I love by the way despite a lot of lambasting from the critics and grumbling from the book's fans. Sure it isn't perfect (with its moments of cheese and flubs); nevertheless, the exciting, chilling core of Crichton's story is evident and for me the film still stands as a great example of escapist cinema, that mesmerizing addictive blend of science fiction and horror.
But I'm probably more forgiving than most. One of my favorite movie genres is space horror. There's something about the claustrophobic squeeze of the 'group in peril' scenario as it hurtles through the freezing, oxygenless void of space where no one can hear you scream. Or the imperiled stranded on an uninhabited, hostile planet where the very environment wants to kill you -- Alien, Aliens, Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Event Horizon, and Pitch Black just to name a few.
Sphere is not set in space, but it might as well be. It takes the reader deep into the darkest part of the ocean where unfathomable pressure forces threaten to crush and demolish, where the only breathable oxygen is what you bring with you, where the landscape is as alien and inhospitable as anything found in outer space.
A thriller should thrill. It should keep you turning the pages long into the night, white-knuckled and on the edge of your seat. Horror should unsettle and disturb you, compelling you to look over your shoulder and under the bed for that unnamed threat. Science fiction should challenge your concept of reality, bending your mind to what's possible, to what could actually be. In Sphere Crichton is firing on all cylinders as a storyteller, accomplishing all three of these seemingly without any effort at all.
It's such a treat to see an author in this much control of his narrative. I read this compulsively, voraciously, rarely coming up for air. I can only imagine the inexorable tension I would have experienced had I not seen the movie and therefore knew most of what to expect. Even so, the whole experience remained thrilling and deliciously unnerving. The pacing is pitch perfect, each devastating reveal coming at the exact right moment. Who or what "Jerry" is becomes a maddening puzzle, his voice and demeanor as terrifying and memorable as HAL 9000.(less)
If the plethora of J-horror coming out of Japan the last 15 years hasn't convinced you of the country's own unique brand of crazy pants in the best, m...more If the plethora of J-horror coming out of Japan the last 15 years hasn't convinced you of the country's own unique brand of crazy pants in the best, most entertaining way, then this book will. And there's a movie! Which I now have to hunt down.
Because crazy pants, did I mention? So much crazy pants.
This isn't horror, but it is really messed up. It's a revenge tale about screwed up, damaged narrators who each get to tell a piece of the story, so you won't have all the pieces of the puzzle until the very end.
No one is likable. If you are a reader who wants an emotional story and characters that you can relate to, then skip this one.
But if you're like me, and you like the crazy pants, then definitely check this one out.
a post-apocalyptic zombie soap opera, where the soap is made out of lye. The story is harsh -- almost nihilistic in its way -- extremely violent, and peppered throughout with characters hooking up in almost sure to be doomed relationships.
Now, after wading through another 1068 pages of Compendium 2 I can't say much has changed.
Other than the fact I'm completely, utterly exhausted from all the carnage and devastation.
Seriously guys, when this series goes dark side it does not fuck around. It is bleak goddammit, B-L-E-A-K. Surviving the zombies is the easy part; it's all the crazy, fucked-up, out to slice and dice you and take what you have humans with Grade A mental issues that Rick's gang has to worry about the most. It's one tragedy heaped upon one depravity after another. And what does it do to a person to take on the savages and repel them? End them? Mutilate them? It's certainly changed Rick from the man we first came to know in the first few issues. It's most definitely changed little Carl (who is starting to creep me out a little bit truth be told). In some ways, all the survivors have been carved into new animals by forces beyond their control.
It's good. It keeps the pages turning most of the time, but it can become positively grueling and yes, even a bit repetitive at times, over the long haul. Especially if you're a pig like me and devour the story in huge non-stop helpings. (view spoiler)[The big shocker for me this time was Carl getting half his head blown off. My jaw literally dropped open. But then he survives, and I mean, nothing against the kid, but I felt cheated. I felt like Kirkman was out and out cheating. That's the kind of thing that happens on soap operas all the time and we roll our eyes. I'm surprised there wasn't an "experimental" brain transplant tried or some such thing. (hide spoiler)]
What's more, I find myself missing characters introduced in the television show -- namely Carol, Daryl and even Merle. It really sucks not to have those guys around and I find the story is suffering from their absence. Michonne however, continues to be kick-ass and delightful. She is the saving grace of this entire series character wise if you ask me, reminding me of Agent 355 from Y: The Last Man series. I like Glenn too, but I find Maggie really whiny most of the time. I should be more forgiving I suppose considering everything the poor thing has been through.
So the series is not without problems. By issue #96, it's starting to repeat itself and Kirkland needs to get serious about wrapping this baby up. Go out on a high note, man. Some are already saying you've stayed too long at the party. The goal should be for the narrative to remain fresh and bloody and vital. The gore should still feel wet on the pages. Unfortunately, it's starting to feel like a limping, dessicating zombie. I've given it my all, I've suspended my disbelief where I had to, and I would argue this remains required reading in the genre; however, let's end it. It's time. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Just before picking this book up - my first Lehane (it won't be my last) - I came across a quote by him illuminating the working-class, blue-collar na...more Just before picking this book up - my first Lehane (it won't be my last) - I came across a quote by him illuminating the working-class, blue-collar nature of noir:
In Greek tragedy, they fall from great heights. In noir, they fall from the curb.
I love this quote. It slices right to the heart of who we are reading about, and even why we are reading about them.
In Mystic River, Lehane is shooting from both barrels; he intuitively knows who he is writing about and where -- the gritty, depressed, working-class neighborhoods of South Boston and the largely white, blue-collar families who live there. These are residents bound to one another when not by blood, then by loyalties forged from childhood friendships and the kinship that comes from growing up in the same neighborhood. A shared history, a sense of community, no matter how co-dependent, damaging or predatory.
Lehane's characters are so vivid and three-dimensional they sigh and bleed across the pages. But you won't love them. They are beyond flawed, and you could even argue beyond redemption. Lehane is not writing about beauty and love or hope and healing. Lehane is painting a portrait of despair and guilt. His characters are damaged goods in many ways, with painful histories that have consumed them with a slow-burning rage.
The love Jimmy Marcus has for his eldest daughter Katie is primal, almost animalistic in its fierceness. When a savage beating and shooting violently rips her away from him, Jimmy vows to see her killer brought to justice, one way or another. Who could have killed Katie Marcus? Nineteen years old, sweet and non-threatening, a good friend, a loving sister, working part-time in her father's neighborhood corner store. When Jimmy's childhood friend Sean is brought in to lead the investigation, there are more questions than answers to be found. It doesn't take long however, before Sean and his senior partner Whitey begin looking hard at Dave Boyle - another childhood friend from the neighborhood with dark secrets of his own.
The handling of the mystery here, the construction, the pacing, the clues and final reveal, it's all flawlessly done. My only regret reading this novel is that I had seen the film first. While already knowing who killed Katie did not diminish my enjoyment, I can only imagine the sheer thrill this book delivers at the moment of climax if you didn't know.
I found the women in this story to be at least as interesting as the men, if not more so. (view spoiler)[While I could sympathize with Celeste's confusion and doubt about Dave, I questioned her motives for going to Jimmy with her suspicions. Why go to the father? Why not the police? What did she think was going to happen? She knew the rules of the neighborhood. Did she really imagine Jimmy would not act, unequivocally and ruthlessly? She signed Dave's death warrant the moment she decided to tell Jimmy what she thought she knew. She got her husband killed and unraveled her own life, perhaps even her own sanity, in one careless impulse.
Jimmy's wife Annabeth is ruthless in her own way, thinking only of her own family and status in the neighborhood. Her acceptance of Jimmy's violence, her pride in it, is practically sociopathic. Her husband won't find the cure for cancer, but dammit, he looks after his own. He does what needs to be done, like a King that rules over his realm. Her support is icky but oh so very real. Her disdain of Celeste's weakness, and her betrayal of her husband, more revealing of character than any other act or a thousand words. (hide spoiler)]
This is a story that starts with tragedy and ends tragically. It is immensely engrossing and immeasurably rewarding. I did not just love it, I lived it.
A word on the audiobook: There is an abridged version available out there with a very poor reader. Avoid that one. I listened to the unabridged version and it is fantastic. The reader's voice is strong and he carries the Boston accent nicely without it overpowering the story.
During a solo work/study trip to Ireland in fall of 2000 I was out one dusky evening exploring the cobble-stoned lanes of Dublin's City Centre when I...more During a solo work/study trip to Ireland in fall of 2000 I was out one dusky evening exploring the cobble-stoned lanes of Dublin's City Centre when I stumbled upon the entrance to the Irish Film Institute movie house. Excited, I shyly stuck my head inside the front door. I felt a little bit like Alice discovering the rabbit hole. Hanging on the wall to my left as I walked inside was this movie poster:
Remember, this would have been before the deluge of Asian horror (and the numerous American re-makes) found its way to Western audiences. I had never heard of such a movie. All I knew is that the image on the poster ran a cold shiver of dread down my spine. Turns out the Institute was screening a double feature that night of the original Japanese film version of this book called Ringu followed by its sequel.
How could I resist such a temptation? I could not, and bought my tickets immediately. I had never, ever experienced anything like it to that point and it scared the pee out of me*. Later I would return to the hostel where I was staying to find the staff had relocated me to the very top floor in a room all by myself! Everything creaked and groaned in that place and to say I had an uneasy night of sleep would be putting it very politely.
Even though this book is the source material for a game-changing, must-be-experienced horror film, I cannot give it the same high marks. There is definitely something lost in translation. The prose is stilted and restrained in places, not doing its part to build upon the dread and tension the subject matter deserves. It feels a bit dated and old-fashioned, and to be blunt, sexist in a way that kept me out of the story. No woman is treated very well in this novel, and I hated the way Asakawa speaks to his wife.
While there is an indisputable vibe of disquiet, Suzuki's book is much more focused on communicating the details of the unraveling mystery, making it a plot-driven whodunit piece than a sensory onslaught ghost story. If I had not seen the movies first, I would imagine the aspects of the mystery would have kept me quite riveted. It is a fascinating case after all and the way Asakawa and his friend Ryuji systematically follow a series of clues uncovering the tape's origin and purpose is compelling. But I had seen the movies first, so there was no big reveal for me, and I was a little impatient at times at how long Suzuki was drawing out some of the investigation.
Having said that, I am very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Suzuki obviously has a larger vision for his story that goes beyond what has been captured on film. I'm keen to discover what surprises completing the trilogy will bring.
I'm actually shocked by how utterly and completely this book frustrated and bored the hell out of me, how crushingly disappointed I am by t...more* 1/2 stars
I'm actually shocked by how utterly and completely this book frustrated and bored the hell out of me, how crushingly disappointed I am by the whole affair. I mean, this is John Wyndham for Chrissake -- author of The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids (both of which are all levels of awesome).
This? This just pisses me off. It's made me want to make my Jules face -- yeah, I got one ... what of it?
I mean, you have GOT to be fucking kidding me. How does such a fantastic idea in the hands of a gifted writer turn into such tepid, meandering ruminations on ethics, philosophy, the human condition and God himself. Rather than action or character development we are treated to long rambling speeches that go nowhere by characters we could care less about which add nothing to the story's drama nor our enjoyment of it.
The only reason this book didn't get slapped with one star is because it contains an awesome premise -- a staggering golden nugget of an idea alluded to in its clever title -- that has gone on to embed itself in popular culture influencing many authors and filmmakers since its original publication in 1957. The Children of Midwich are phenomenally creepy, the ramifications of their existence fraught with peril presenting a terrible, terrifying dilemma. I can dig that. British filmmakers dug that very thing and turned it into the unnerving and unforgettable classic Village of the Damned (1960).
Do yourself a favor -- skip the book, watch the movie. Now how many times in a life do you get to say that?
Wow, freaking wow. I had no idea I would be sucked into this novel the way I was -- I couldn't put it down! I know that phrase is overused, but seriou...more Wow, freaking wow. I had no idea I would be sucked into this novel the way I was -- I couldn't put it down! I know that phrase is overused, but seriously, I couldn't put it down! And when I did have to abandon it for life and work, I couldn't wait to get back to it. This is so different than Cain's other noir novels where sex and violence, scheming, backstabbing and a dead body feature so prominently. Unlike Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce is a full-length novel that takes its time delving deep into character and focusing on the minutiae of one woman's epic financial rise during the Great Depression (and her extremely damaging and twisted relationship with her eldest daughter Veda).
Veda -- what a vile and loathsome (and brilliant) literary creation. Don't get me wrong; I had my problems with Mildred too, but Veda just takes the cake. I've never wanted to scream and slap someone across the face so badly as I wanted to with her. (view spoiler)[When Mildred FINALLY loses her cool and starts to choke her, I'm actually cheering her on! Yes! Choke on that, you witch! (hide spoiler)]
There's something very Shakespearean tragic about the entire Pierce clan -- such flaws and blatant hubris marking their unraveling. Cain isn't writing a love story or a novel of redemption. He shines a light on greed and pride in such a way that you must look, even though it's so ugly, so distasteful. Cain is a master in this, capturing 1930's California and a woman's place in it. Without ever losing the propulsive thread of his tawdry, daytime drama narrative, Cain is able to show the sneering side of class consciousness, the brute realities of gender roles, and the poisonous type of love that can bring a family to its knees.
Veda may be a villain, and easy to despise, but I became so frustrated with Mildred's choices and blind (not to mention unhealthy) devotion to her daughter that I came to despise her a little too. Can we say that by the end of all this mess everyone gets what they deserve? Well, this is Cain, so I'll let you figure it out.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Stealing a man's wife, that's nothing, but stealing his car, that's larceny. ~The Postman Always Rings Twice
If Noir can be said to have a cold, black heart it’s Postman that provided the juice to electroshock it into a beating, breathing existence. It is without a doubt one of the most important crime novels of the 20th century (of any century really) and has gone on to influence entire generations of writers and filmmakers. As a debut, it shocked, titillated and disgusted, banned upon publication in Boston and in Canada. Before I even knew anything about this book, or the films that were based on it, I adored that title. To this day, it remains one of my favourites.
What Cain accomplishes in just a mere 100 pages is impressive. He finds the voice of the common man, and the dark and dangerous shortcut to greed, lust, and violence. More than anything, Cain understands how easily man is corrupted, how easily he can corrupt others, like an infection. And I use “man” here in the generic sense encompassing both genders, because when it comes to villains and black hearts, Cain is an equal opportunist.
Entire books and dissertations have been written about Cain’s women – the good, the bad, the rampant sexism, the alleged misogyny – whatever. Cain’s characters don’t bleed political correctness that's obvious – what they are is a symbol of their time and circumstances – hewed from harshness, beacons of egocentrism, proprietors of antisocialism. The women like to be smacked around a little (it helps get them in the mood), and the men are only too willing to oblige the ladies in that regard. Men aren't asking for what ought to be freely given, and should it be denied to them, why... they'll just take it anyway, won't they?
Based on all of this, Postman easily garners five stars, so why am I only giving it four? My only hesitation stems from this: I just didn’t enjoy it as much as Double Indemnity. Neither Frank nor Cora drew me in to quite the same extent that Walter and Phyllis did – the former are cold, dislikable and a bit icky, whereas the latter duo are fascinating in their terribleness and villainy. They are even sympathetic in their own messed up way … whereas Frank and Cora felt like reptiles crawling on their bellies, sniffing for a blood meal. Plus, Phyllis is simply an awe-inspiring, terrifying creation – a walking, talking sociopath before the term was even widely known. She is quiet, sexy, subtle and deranged -- I love her.
Having said that, Postman is lean and mean hard-boiled pulp fiction and you gotta respect that. It’s not shy about going for the jugular with absolutely no foreplay. But Cain doesn’t need it, requiring so little time and so few words to get the reader foaming at the mouth -- when he’s ready to go, so are you. This is a must-read, but you know that already. (less)
There's a reason this is a classic and has stood the test of time, and you only have to read the first few pages to fully understand why. It all start...more There's a reason this is a classic and has stood the test of time, and you only have to read the first few pages to fully understand why. It all starts with a delicious chill up your spine, your eyeballs riveted to the page, your breath held, the "gotta know what happens next" monster rattling the bars of his cage. Your first thought: Strap on baby, this is gonna be g-ooood
Cain is a MASTER storyteller: his cutthroat instincts for plot and pacing unerring and enviable. His ear for dialogue is enough to make grown men cry and women purr. It's sharp, with staccato beats and primal rhythms. And he makes it all look so easy which anyone who has ever put pen to paper knows, easy it is not ... ever. Whether you believe Cain to be a genius, an idiot savant or the prince of pulp, there's no denying his enduring appeal and lasting legacy to the world of literature. And not just the written word, but film as well, since so many of his stories have been adapted into silver screen classics that resonate with awesomeness to this day.
As a movie, Double Indemnity is pure gold, yet the vein from which it is mined is richer still. Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis is THE femme fatale, yet there is so much nuance and depth missing from her character in the film (in what is already an amazing performance). Cain's Phyllis is so much more than a sultry seductress and the cold-blooded spider hanging in her web. But I will leave the pleasure of that discovery to you.
Before I say anything about this classic bit of horror, I want to put a plug in for the film adap...moreRichard Matheson (1926 - 2013)
Thanks for the stories.
Before I say anything about this classic bit of horror, I want to put a plug in for the film adaptation. Stir of Echoes starring Kevin Bacon is a truly terrifying ghost story. I always felt it didn't get the attention it deserved because The Sixth Sense was released earlier the same year and stole all the thunder (for the record, I think Stir of Echoes is the better movie). If you haven't seen it I highly recommend that you do. You won't even spoil Matheson's novel because the movie takes a very different approach to the story and the mystery.
Now with that out of the way on to the book! The more Richard Matheson I read, the more I understand why Stephen King touts him as his biggest influence. Twenty years before King ever started writing about small towns and all the ugly things small town residents can get up to, Matheson was writing about horror in the suburbs. He takes the familiar, safe, boring 'burbs and all the white, middle-class people who abide there and introduces monsters. Sometimes the monsters are purely psychological, sometimes ghostly, other times it is an affliction (as with Scott Carey in The Incredible Shrinking Man or Robert Neville in I am Legend).
Whatever "the monster", what you really get as a reader is some pretty keen insight into human behavior. And sometimes it can be a lot uncomfortable to read. People can think pretty ugly, and act even uglier. Tom Wallace is your "every man", your average middle class schmoe attempting to live out the American Dream with his young wife and son. Tom's life takes a turn for the bizarre when he jokingly allows his brother-in-law to hypnotize him. Suddenly Tom's mind is wide open and he begins to "know" things and see things, a forbidden knowledge that throws his life into chaos.
This is a simple story, but it packs a lot of punch. It is a ghost story and a mystery and a peek into 1950's human psychology. It's interesting to read just how the husbands and wives relate to one another in this novel; it becomes quickly apparent that not only is the story set during that time, but that the author is also writing from a pre-Women's Lib perspective. This gives the novel an authentic old-fashioned feel that works extremely well given the subject matter. I loved it.
One note about the reader -- he is fantastic, and I think contributed a lot to my overall enjoyment of the story. He has this wicked bass voice and when he whispers it will give you chills.(less)
This is my second go-around with this sprawling, epic compendium in preparation for tackling the follow-up. I'm so glad I did a re-read because there...moreThis is my second go-around with this sprawling, epic compendium in preparation for tackling the follow-up. I'm so glad I did a re-read because there was a lot I had plain forgotten and much more I had gotten tangled-up with the television series. Only reading the source material again, did I realize just how much the producers of the show actually changed from Kirkman's comic. The fundamentals of the story are essentially the same, but the devilish details have undergone quite a makeover. I have to say, as much as I'm a fan of the comic, most of the changes I approve of and in some cases, even prefer.
Carol's character is much more likeable and awesome on the small screen (certainly not as needy and neurotic as comic book Carol). The invention of Daryl (my favorite on-screen character) and his uber-violent, redneck brother Merle (played oh-so-convincingly by Michael Rooker), have been magnificent contributions to the ensemble cast.
(view spoiler)[I definitely prefer Lori's on-screen death (grisly and upsetting as it was), to the comic's quick gut-shot death (even though that was quite shocking in its own way with little Judith in her arms). I'm glad they didn't put Dale and Andrea together in the show, though I do wish they hadn't made Andrea so unlikable. Her character in the comic is kick-ass and great. On the show? Grrrrr... I want to smack her most of the time.
It remains to be seen what they will do with Michonne's character but I'm glad the show did not go as dark and disturbing as the comic with what happened between her and the Governor. That was some sick shit I did not need to ever read or see. Loved how the show handled it overall. Television Michonne seems more together and not as damaged. She's not talking to voices in her head either (at least not yet). (hide spoiler)]
The Walking Dead launched in the fall of 2003 and shows no signs of wrapping up. Kirkman has created a post-apocalyptic zombie soap opera, where the soap is made out of lye. The story is harsh -- almost nihilistic in its way -- extremely violent, and peppered throughout with characters hooking up in almost sure to be doomed relationships. Because really, no one is safe, and you come to terms with that pretty quickly. Kirkman is not fucking around here. He has a vision and you just know it’s going to involve a lot of gore and heartbreak. No one should feel safe with zombies gnawing at the door and the world collapsing in on itself -- and you will not feel safe reading this series.
Rather than take years to ingest this story -- painstakingly patient -- issue by issue -- I gorged unapologetically over a gluttonous three days. This 1088 page compendium weighs nearly five pounds, and it was a bitch to maneuver in bed at night, but to get so much of the story so quickly was worth it. I’m not one of those people that can eat her chocolates one a day; quite often it’s the whole box in one sitting stomach ache be damned! This first compendium collects up to issue #48 (Book Four in hardcover or Volume Eight in soft).
The Walking Dead is archetype apocalyptic zombie horror. The story gripped me, shook me, unsettled me and left me panting for more, but make no mistake, there is nothing original here (at least not yet). The zombies are your average grasping, gnawing, slow-moving creatures seen in any Romero movie. The survivors are shell-shocked, hardened, weary and a bit mad (as you would expect). At the collapse of civilization as we know it, people begin doing whatever they have to do to survive, and that ain’t always pretty. The strong begin preying on the weak, and when the worst of human nature begins to reveal itself, survivors realize the zombies are the least of their problems in this new world order.
I thought a graphic novel about zombies cast in black and white would look dull and lifeless on the page. I now think color would have been overkill in this case, detracting from the story. The art is simply outstanding – emotions and action, both subtle and in your face, are captured perfectly. The violence is extreme and I was not prepared for that (don’t ask me why). It takes a lot to shock me these days, and there are sequences that did just that. (view spoiler)[Totally did not see the rape and torture of Michonne coming. I really thought there would be a last minute reprieve / rescue. And if I didn’t see that coming, you know I didn’t expect Michonne to turn the tables on the Governor and mutilate his body. Gruesome stuff! But very well-presented. It felt earned not gratuitous. Lori’s death, along with the baby, shocked me too. Like holy moses batman, that was intense and so unexpected. (hide spoiler)]
While the unrelenting nature of the story appealed to me, I cannot say I’ve fallen in love with any of the characters. Don’t get me wrong – these are well-developed, flawed beings whose actions and motivations seem all too real. However, for me, there is a coldness present that prevented me from really warming up to anyone, even the “hero” of this story, Rick Grimes. I felt the same way when I read Stephen King’s The Stand – epic story by a master, but no character stole my heart.
This won’t keep me from reading on in the series though, because I HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Everything ends on such a OMFG note that I felt assaulted and struck mute. Sweet. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I've put off writing a review for this book because I always struggle with the great ones and Woodrell's Winter's Bone is one of those (with a capital...moreI've put off writing a review for this book because I always struggle with the great ones and Woodrell's Winter's Bone is one of those (with a capital G). It's craft and heart and drama and beauty. It's poetry and grit, entangled in an embrace of love and hatred.
Woodrell offers up a stinging portrait of impoverished life in the Ozarks, where kin saves as often as it condemns. The hill people of Ree's world live by their own laws separate from that of the state -- of paramount importance, don't be a snitch and mind your own business. Bad things happen to anyone who talks too much or asks too many questions. Unfortunately, sixteen year old Ree has a lot of questions that need answering with only her to ask them. Left on her own to protect a shattered mother and two helpless kid brothers, Ree is desperate to uncover the whereabouts of her meth-making father. She must venture into the cold and ice and pass over hostile thresholds where she is neither invited nor wanted.
Ree’s fierceness and courage stole my heart. She ranks as one of my favorite literary characters OF ALL TIME. Her stubbornness and smart mouth made me smile as much as it made me fear for her safety. Ree has her own set of rules to live by that include, stepping in to do for her brothers where her parents have failed and “Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered.” Ree is an old soul, mature beyond her years, forced to grow up fast and smart in a world that has teeth and a taste for blood.
This is a harsh story, one where the author pulls no punches. Woodrell is not out to romanticize this hill life or the hardscrabble characters living it. He wants us to see the ugly, to feel it in our bones, but for all of that there is tremendous beauty here as well, not just in the prose that SINGS but in the simplicity of a proud people who do what they must to survive in an environment that does not forgive weakness or stupidity lightly.
I cannot recommend this book enough. I am also going to recommend Kemper’s review here, because he does such a wonderful job capturing the book’s honesty and intensity. If I haven’t convinced you to read Winter’s Bone, he will.
***A note on the audio version: Outstanding! Emma Galvin captures Ree’s strength and vulnerability perfectly. Woodrell’s prose is so gorgeous it soars when read aloud.
Love and hate hold hands always so it made natural sense that they'd get confused by upset married folk in the wee hours once in a while and a nosebleed or bruised breast might result. But it just seemed proof that a great foulness was afoot in the world when a no-strings roll in the hay with a stranger led to chipped teeth or cigarette burns on the wrist. `Winter's Bone
Cormac McCarthy is a goddamned poet with some mad, kick-ass storytelling skills. Speechless for the moment. Brain is goo. Please stand by.
This book br...moreCormac McCarthy is a goddamned poet with some mad, kick-ass storytelling skills. Speechless for the moment. Brain is goo. Please stand by.
This book broke my brain. On the surface, McCarthy is weaving a modern day western aptly soaked in blood and ruthlessness, where the line between hero and villain is sharply drawn. On that same surface, what we have is a cast of archetypes – the weary sheriff who has stayed too long and seen too much; the everyday man living right until he is undone by greed; the young and dutiful wife committed to “standing by her man” no matter what; and finally, the relentless villain who will cut down any and all who cross his path.
That’s on the surface.
Even if you only read the book for that tale it is an awesome and rewarding one – tense, violent, dark, oppressive. Who will live? Who will die?
But as you read, your brain is going to want to do a lot more thinking about the story; in fact, the story will demand it. Those archetypical characters will demand it too. Like a hologram, just shift them a few degrees to the right or left and they become much more nuanced than you first thought, showing other angles and deeper reflections.
Who is Anton Chigurh? A blood-thirsty villain? an amoral badass? a demented sociopath? ... yes, yes and yes. But he also walks through the story doling out justice Old Testament style. There is that Biblical quality to him. You’ve committed your sins, and now the reaper has come a-calling. Not for vengeance, not for his pleasure, but for justice. There is a debt to pay that is non-negotiable. Chigurh does not like loose ends. There are “rules” to death and dying. But that is part of his mad psychology (and his hubris).
Chigurh's character made me think about free will versus destiny. What are the choices any man or woman makes to get them to the exact moment he or she is now? Is it all random or has it been predestined all along? I’m not sure what Chigurh believes; he is definitely an enigma on this point. (view spoiler)[Certainly if Carla Jean had called the coin correctly, Chigurh would have let her live. He seems to deeply respect the other “laws” at work around him. The moment that Llewellyn takes the money, his fate is sealed. There is nothing from that moment on that will ever deter Chigurh from collecting on Llewellyn’s death. That debt must be paid. It is non-negotiable. What is negotiable is Carla Jean’s life: if Llewellyn had returned the money as requested, Chigurh would have let her live. (hide spoiler)]
There is a randomness to his killing philosophy in the sense that like the proverbial Hand of Death, there will always be innocent bystanders. “Innocence” does not compute, nor is it ever a factor. Bad things happen to good people all the time, even when you’re minding your own business you can be violently drawn into someone else’s.
I love Carla Jean. She is a heap of contradictions: innocent but knowing, vulnerable but strong, naïve but wise. She is loyal and loving and though she finds herself in a heap of trouble, does not buckle under the pressure. (view spoiler)[Her confrontation with Chigurh is my favorite scene of the entire novel. I find it heartbreaking. This is an innocent facing death. It’s not fair, it shouldn’t be happening, but it is. Chigurh offers her a faint hope with the coin toss, but even that does not pan out for her. What breaks my heart the most about her death is that she went out of this life believing Llewellyn did not love her, that he had betrayed her. (hide spoiler)] Llewellyn is a good man. I don’t believe it was naked greed that makes him run off with the money, but a hope for a better life, an easier life for him and Carla Jean. I think he is a man filled with love and a lot of the choices he makes in this novel he makes thinking only of his young wife and the life he wants to give her.
I love, love, love this exchange between the two of them that comes early on in the novel; as subtle as it is I think it screams volumes about their relationship. For me, it reads as such a tender and playful moment.
Where have you been all day? Went to get you some cigarettes. I don’t even want to know. I don’t even want to know what you all been up to. He sipped the beer and nodded. That’ll work, he said. I think it’s better just to not even know even. You keep runnin that mouth and I’m goin to take you back there and screw you. Big talk. Just keep it up. That’s what she said. Just let me finish this beer. We’ll see what she said and what she didn’t say.
This novel made my head explode with questions. McCarthy gives the reader a lot to ponder and chew on, but there are just as many places where McCarthy is mute and leaves it up to the reader to do all the work and come up with some answers, and, as in life, answers are not easy to come by. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I know I must be missing something here, but I just don't get why this has endured as a profound piece of classic American literature. Apparently 1930...moreI know I must be missing something here, but I just don't get why this has endured as a profound piece of classic American literature. Apparently 1930s French Existentialists went gaga over it and Simone de Beauvoir named it as "the first existentialist novel to have appeared in America". So if you are a literary theorist, and get off on those labels and how they come to mean something to a certain group of people during a certain period of time, then you probably want to read this book and are going to think it's pretty important.
As for myself, I was bored senseless. I didn't know what to expect going in (having never seen the movie), but somehow I had the words horror and dystopia clanging around in my head. I was neither horrified nor presented with a gripping dystopian landscape. The concept is appealing I give you that -- an idea redolent with potential: a marathon dance in the dirty '30s that exploits and capitalizes on participant despair and desperation. The dancers dance because they have no other options. Guess that’s what got the French Existentialists all worked up.
In the introduction to this 2010 edition Gloria Beatty is described as driving the story:
with a tremendous negative energy that wells up from her understanding that the world – her world, the world that plays out beneath the Hollywood sign – is one of amorality and illusion.
She is also described as a complete nihilist. ::yawn:: Nihilists piss me off. It’s too easy to hate everything and everyone and only see the hypocrisy and cruelty in the world.
So the themes are “big” in this book, I get it, and I get why certain people would be attracted to it and want to talk about these big themes (I went to grad school with some of you), but not I sir for this very simple reason; I hate “big” ideas (insert jazz hands here) that don’t come wrapped in a gripping story that’s going to smack me in the face and wake me up. Story. Comes. First. Always. You may be brilliant and have awesome insights into the human condition, but unless you can weave a tale that’s going to put me on my ass I don’t want to hear about it. And I’m not helping you along by faking it When Harry Met Sally Style pretending you wrote a great novel because I’m keen to wax poetic on how the world is shit and then we die.
it's McCoy's Horses that…so beautifully reflects the darkest side of the Depression days in the U.S., even more so than Steinbeck's wonderful The Grapes of Wrath. McCoy gets to the very core of human desperation and misery, a cutthroat atmosphere where people will resort to ANYTHING just to survive.
Excuse me?! First of all, unlike Steinbeck, McCoy doesn’t come close to accomplishing any of that and second of all, comparing this short, painful, pretentious book to one of the greatest novels ever written is JUST SO WRONG. Epic delusions of grandeur my friend and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Epic fail. (less)
If you haven’t already done so, make time to read (or listen) to this book as soon as possible. It is as unique as it is beautiful, heartbreaking as i...moreIf you haven’t already done so, make time to read (or listen) to this book as soon as possible. It is as unique as it is beautiful, heartbreaking as it is hopeful, filled to the brim with love and ugliness, hope and despair. I absolutely adored this book the first time I read it, and had no idea that experience could be rivaled, but this audiobook read by Allan Corduner took the story to a whole other level of amazing.
Corduner is a remarkable, theatrical voice and perfect as Death, the omniscient narrator, but he also breathes such distinctive life into Papa, Mama, Max, Rudy and Liesel herself. The novel is presented in such an unusual way on the page that I feared there would be something profoundly missing from the audio version, but there really isn’t; if anything Zusak’s lyrical prose just sings in Corduner’s mouth and sounds even better read aloud. What is missing here though, are Max’s sketches which accompany the stories he writes for Liesel. Those you cannot miss, which is why I’m giving the highest recommendation to both the novel and the audiobook.
Corduner’s delivery of the ending is more profound and sad than I could have ever imagined. (view spoiler)[Liesel’s guttural screams for Rudy to wake up left me sobbing, as did her wretched grieving over the broken bodies of Mama and Papa. (hide spoiler)] Highest possible recommendation ever!
Original review of novel (January 2009):
This book left me gutted and absolutely speechless. It is the kind of book that we can only hope to see once or twice in a generation. And that’s if we’re lucky.
Narrating The Book Thief is Death, who confesses he is haunted by humans — our beauty, our savagery, our contradictions. I, on the other hand, will remain haunted by Liesel’s story for the rest of my life (and little Rudy Steiner). There is really no way to describe this book that will come anywhere close to doing it justice. It defies all regular categorization and usual comparisons.
There are only a handful of books that after the reading is done I want to run out and buy copies for everyone I know and plead with them to drop whatever it is they are doing and read it immediately (before they get hit by a bus or a comet smashes into the Earth) — this is one of those books. The words lyrical and profound, spiritual and uncompromising are quite often overused, to the point where we’ve rendered them almost meaningless and that’s too bad -- because I want to use them here and have them mean something.
Zusak’s prose is staggeringly gorgeous both in its simplicity and in its complexity; his choice of words is flawless and inspired. I am humbled by such immense talent. The Book Thief is a gift for the ages, a love song to words, books, and what it means to be human. It is a story that will steal (and break) your heart.
Summer came. For the book thief, everything was going nicely. For me, the sky was the color of Jews. When their bodies had finished scouring for gaps in the door, their souls rose up. When their fingernails had scratched at the wood and in some cases were nailed into it by sheer force of desperation, their spirits came toward me, into my arms, and we climbed out of those shower facilities, onto the roof and up, into eternity's certain breadth. They just kept feeding me. Minute after minute. Shower after shower (The Book Thief)
I've been completely fangirling over Gillian Flynn since her debut Sharp Objects six years ago. It remains one of my all-time-favorites, along with Fl...more I've been completely fangirling over Gillian Flynn since her debut Sharp Objects six years ago. It remains one of my all-time-favorites, along with Flynn's sophomore novel Dark Places. No one writes the inner workings of warped and damaged human psychology better than this woman. With complete conviction I place her in the same category alongside the likes of Flannery O'Connor and Shirley Jackson. Flynn has a devilish, uncanny flair for creating memorable characters and twisty plots that drive down unexpected roads shrouded in fog the end of which you cannot see until you're smack upon it.
So you can bet I've been anxiously awaiting this latest release with agonized, bated breath. Despite missing some of the texture and nuances of her first two books, this time out Flynn has offered up a bonafide page turner of the sordid, sensationalist kind that makes summer reading oh-so-sweet. Trust me when I say, if you're only going to take one book to the beach or cottage this summer, it's gotta be Gone Girl.
I'm also going to encourage you to avoid all reviews (except this one, haha!) before you pick this up. Even more than her other novels, Gone Girl is so easy to spoil. Which is why I'm going to say very little about the actual inner workings of the story itself. And if I feel the need to get even close to doing that, be rest assured it will be put behind a spoiler tag.
A list of lovables:
Narrative voice: What makes Gone Girl such a compulsive read is the alternating points of view. Dueling voices in any novel can result in epic fail, especially when the voices are so similar as to be indistinguishable. If you're going to tell the story from different points of view, you better make sure the points of view are actually...different. I don't think I've ever seen alternating voices handled so effectively as they are here with husband Nick and wife Amy. As you read, you begin to wonder if either of these narrators are in the least reliable, if you're perhaps not getting full disclosure after all. I absolutely adored that pernicious doubt and shifting sympathies. It's like watching nature programs that can be shot to make you cheer for the wolf pack one week, and for the moose the week after.
Is this manipulative? You bet it is! But trust me, being manipulated by a master like Flynn is sheer delight.
Media as judge, jury and executioner: C'mon, we all know it don't we? Murder suspects of every sort and circumstance are tried first in the media and found guilty or innocent before the case ever makes it to trial. Before an arrest is even made, pundits, "news" anchors and bloggers put forth his or her theories and "insights" decrying yay or nay. You've seen Nancy Grace at work, haven't you? Flynn does a wonderful job here of dissecting our at times unhealthy, obsessive appetite for the sordid. How our voracious consumption of mass media provokes sympathy or outrage, how easily we are influenced to see a person as a saint or a devil. Innocent until proven guilty? Not so much these days. And good luck finding an impartial jury. Change of venue? With the meteoric rise of social media, you would have to go all the way to Mars in some instances in order to enlist "untainted" jurors.
The only thing humans do with more abandon and conviction than fall in love is fall out of love: Love is grand, marriage can be a beautiful, wonderful thing...except when it isn't. The rise and fall of any relationship carries within it the potential to be staggering in scope and severity. What we once adored about one another, we now loathe. What we lingered over and savored to the last sub-atomic particle, we now want to obliterate from our awareness, pull an eternal sunshine of the spotless mind if you please. Oh yeah, I think we've all been there. More than anything, Flynn is putting gender relations and the perils of romance under a microscope, and her scrutiny doesn't miss a thing. It's tawdry, and titillating, and twisted, and didn't I already say the perfect effing read for this summer??? You bet.
The only fly in the ointment here is that Flynn manages heaping amounts of sensational, but only moderate traces of substance. This novel's engine runs on the nitroglycerin of shocking twists and the suspension of disbelief. Flynn largely ignores the gritty demands of realism here as they will only act as sugar in the gasoline, binding and stalling a story that has taken flight like a jet-fueled rocket bound for stratospheric heights. When you are strapped on to that rocket, you won't be worrying about realism though. Or subtleties. You'll be banging on the table like Harry's Sally screaming - yes! yes! oh YES!
Except in this case, you'll mean it. I didn't have to fake a single thing :)
In a word ... outstanding. I can't believe I almost missed reading (or rather listening) to this book. Unfortunately, I have this thing where books th...moreIn a word ... outstanding. I can't believe I almost missed reading (or rather listening) to this book. Unfortunately, I have this thing where books that are SUPER POPULAR alienate me off the bat. And when this book first came out, it blasted off into the SUPER POPULAR stratosphere and any enthusiasm I might have had waned to a lukewarm indifference, and the book went on my "maybe someday I'll get to it" pile.
No matter how much I tried to ignore its existence however, the book and I kept crossing paths. Friends were reviewing it so favorably I started to feel like I was missing out on something big and awesome -- and life is too short on the big and the awesome to walk blithely past an easy opportunity for both.
The Help is about race relations in the American South during the 1960s, how even though black women were entrusted to raise white children and prepare the family's daily meals they were still considered "other" and "less than". I cannot speak to whether the author does this aspect of the story justice. I'm a white girl who grew up on a very white island off the coast of Canada, which means I can't say if Stockett's handling of the details is misinformed and/or offensive. I realize there is always a distinct possibility that any story about race can itself descend unwittingly into racism. Such criticism has been launched at this book. For example, this reviewer here.
For me, the story won me over and completely sucked me in because it was a book about women friendships -- how they endure, how they can poison, how they can save. It looks at how mothers grieve the loss of a child, it looks at the complicated, thorny relationship shared between mothers and daughters. It looks at the cold hard face of domestic violence and despair. It looks at loneliness and desperation. In other words, The Help is a historical representation of the lives of women in a particular time and place and to reduce it to an offensive piece on race and race relations is to do it a grave injustice.
I. LOVE. THESE. WOMEN. They are inspiring, strong, funny, daring. I love how they bring out the best in each other. I love their fierceness, their loyalty, their instinct to protect each other. I also love how Stockett shows the "other" side of womanhood, the side that's not so attractive but just as real -- the envy, the bitterness, the vitriol, the peevishness, the manipulation, the bullying. That sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Forget the mens; I can't remember a villain so well-written as Hilly Holbrook. That bitch be cold. I love this observation made by Minny:
Womens, they ain't like men. A woman ain't gone beat you with a stick. Miss Hilly wouldn't pull no pistol on me. Miss Leefolt wouldn't come burn my house down. No, white womens like to keep they hands clean. They got a shiny little set of tools they use, sharp as witches' fingernails, tidy and laid out neat, like the picks on a dentist tray. They gone take they time with em.
I don't know how this book reads textually, but as an audiobook it is truly a marvel. The voices are fantastic, the ebb and flow of the prose and dialect like an angel singing in your ear.
I love books set in the American South; I've never been but the lushness of the landscape calls to me for all the reasons Becky captures here:
"The slower pace, the afternoon thunderstorms, the heat and humidity that makes it hard to breathe, the crickets, crepe myrtles and spanish moss, the old feel and the history... all of it." See Becky's review
More than the landscape, there’s the food. The descriptions of Southern cooking in this book can make a grown woman weep. I sighed, I drooled, I yearned.
Despite its serious and tragic subject matter, The Help is also EXTREMELY FUNNY. I was seriously laughing my ass off in parts – the whole “pecker pie” incident involving Minny and Celia got me to giggling so hard tears were rolling down my face.
Once I popped in the first CD I could not stop listening. I gorged. But unlike eating an entire box of chocolates in one gluttonous sitting, I wasn’t left with a big bellyache of regret. This book will make you cheer. It will uplift you. It will entertain you. If I could marry it, I would. (less)
Simply written, but powerful nonetheless. Yolen does not attempt to trivialize or sanitize the brutal reality of the death camps. Hannah is a reluctan...moreSimply written, but powerful nonetheless. Yolen does not attempt to trivialize or sanitize the brutal reality of the death camps. Hannah is a reluctant hero thrown into an impossible situation. She comes to realize the importance of memory and of bearing witness. An unconventional coming-of-age story... this is speculative fiction at its best.
Part of her revolted against the insanity of the rules. Part of her was grateful. In a world of chaos, any guidelines helped. And she knew that each day she remained alive, she remained alive. One plus one plus one. The Devil's arithmetic...(135)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Fiction cannot recite the numbing numbers, but it can be that witness, that memory. A storyteller can attempt to tell the human tale, can make a galaxy out of the chaos, can point to the fact that some people survived even as most people died. And can remind us that the swallows still sing around the smokestacks.