Welcome to Area X. Ecologically pristine. Cut off from civilization. Hostile to humans. What lurks there? Does it have a name? Will you live to tell a Welcome to Area X. Ecologically pristine. Cut off from civilization. Hostile to humans. What lurks there? Does it have a name? Will you live to tell about what you've seen? Who will believe you?
If one can be said to "do" weird, then I don't think I do it very well. Annihilation -- the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy -- is Weird with a capital 'W' with its roots in H.P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood. It has a post-modern mindfuck vibe as well reminiscent of House of Leaves.
That is to say, there were parts of this book that worked really well for me (especially the first half). I felt the epic creep and that twisting, squirming sense of dread of what I couldn't see, of what was lurking right in the corner of my eye. But as with most Weird fiction I've tried, there was a lot of "huh?" and a growing sense of impatience that acts like a maddening itch I can't scratch.
Ever sit on a sneeze that just won't happen for more than 15 minutes? Yeah, kinda like that. Or put another way, lots of really great, thoughtful foreplay that does not deliver on that big finish (I'm a fan of the big finish. The journey is nice and all but I need to know there is a final destination and that there will be fireworks when I get there, that this all means something. I hate ambiguity. It is not my friend).
This book is also well-written. If you are a fan of the word-smithing and an author who is in complete control of creating mood and atmosphere then this is something you might want to check out. There are scenes that practically pulse with claustrophobia and paranoia. The dread is definitely present and some of the reveals are quite shocking and satisfying. I just needed more. What should have been leading towards a crashing climax and a crescendo of realizations simply just....peters out with a whimper, instead of delivering on the bang. Did I mention how much I love the bang?
For you Weird aficionados out there and fans of the unreliable narrator (I'm primarily looking at you mark monday) you might want to give this a second look. ...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 l 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....more
I've been a lifelong fan of horror and the older I get, it seems to me the harder it's getting to scare me and to get my hands on the good stuff. One I've been a lifelong fan of horror and the older I get, it seems to me the harder it's getting to scare me and to get my hands on the good stuff. One positive thing about this sad development is that it's forced me to venture out into other genres and try new things and find new loves. My first love however -- my one true love -- will always remain horror. It's in my DNA (literally probably because my parents were huge fans of things going bump in the night). I was weaned on the stuff, and on the stuff I shall die.
Why am I rambling thus? For a fan with such an unquenchable appetite for these matters, discovering newcomer Nick Cutter is the equivalent of venturing to the end of the rainbow and having a leprechaun hand you over his pot of gold. I'm so gobsmacked and excited by my good fortune (our good fortune) that I'm still in a bit of a dizzy fangirl spin. The only thing that could make this any better would be if this discovery heralded an ushering in of a whole new Golden Age for horror the likes of which not seen since the '80s. Yes? Please? C'mon now!
Well, whatever the case, Nick Cutter is doing his part penning two terrifying tales in two years, written to make grown women scream and grown men wet their pants. He's got the horror cred down; you don't have to read him too closely to see that he too was weaned on the stuff and inside his writer's heart beats the heart of a horror geek.
Reading The Deep I was put through quite the mental and emotional ringer. Between its covers some of my most vulnerable pulse points of fear were ruthlessly exploited. I was reminded of Sphere, The Thing, Event Horizon, and Alien. There's body horror that's going to remind you of early Cronenberg. And just when things start to feel familiar and you think you have a handle on it all, Cutter veers the story off into an angle of Weird that's psychologically trippy and very Lovecraftian in execution. And while this story is going to remind you of a lot of other things, it is still going to shock you and lay you down and have its way with you.
Nick Cutter is a pseudonym for a talented author who can write a mean literary novel and win prizes for them. But I'm selfish and insatiable. Now that he's ventured over to the dark side I want him to stay here and to play here forever, and ever and ever. Yeah, I'm a smitten kitten alright.
A free copy was provided through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Check out my review of Nick Cutter's debut fright fest -- The Troop.
Despite the gushing praise this book has been receiving -- including a blurb by Josh Whedon -- I approached The Girl With All the Gifts with a fair amDespite the gushing praise this book has been receiving -- including a blurb by Josh Whedon -- I approached The Girl With All the Gifts with a fair amount of trepidation. I'm a zombie traditionalist at heart, which means my foray into "experimental" zombie fiction -- literary or otherwise -- has met with mixed results. I normally don't like my zombies to talk, fall in love or have existential crises. Hell, I don't even want my zombies to run; I'm all about the Romero shuffle (though there was something truly terrifying and unsettling about Danny Boyle's fast-moving zombies that scared the piss out of me). Even for a traditionalist like me, there's exceptions to every rule. And I found a few more buried like awesome treasure in the pages of M.R Carey's novel.
In case you didn't know, M.R Carey is the not so cryptic pen name for the super-talented Mike Carey. This gentleman knows how to tell a story, where the pulse points live and when to go for the jugular. He also knows that without giving the reader characters to care about your story is gonna have all the pop of a wet firecracker.
A lot of what we get here we've seen before. The world is in the shitter. The zombies (or hungries in this case) have risen up and wiped out humanity. It's about twenty years later and our entry point into the story starts at a fortified base that doubles as a research lab. There are doctors and soldiers, fences and guns. But there are also civilian teachers and children who are their students. And here's where the story takes a bit of a twist: If you do not want to know anything else about this book then beware some mild spoilers ahead under the spoiler tag
(view spoiler)[These aren't ordinary children; they're infected with the zombie virus but have not fully succumbed to it. The children can think, learn, talk and feel. But don't get too close, because they will chew your face off.
Melanie is one of these children. She's precocious and extremely intelligent but she does not know she's a zombie despite her rigidly controlled life in a cell surrounded by soldiers who keep her muzzled and their guns pointed at her head. With no memory of who she is or where she came from, Melanie persists in her ignorant state until a cataclysmic event forces her to confront both the reality and the mystery of the monster that dwells within. (hide spoiler)]
Like a lot of my favorite zombie stories, this one soon slides into the 'group in peril' scenario. A rag tag group of survivors, including Melanie, are left to fend for themselves beyond the safety of the fences where the hungries thrive. Where will they go and what will they have to do in order to get there in one piece?
I love the chemistry of this group and the characterization. They all start out as stereotypes but as the story moves along, each of them evolves from an archetype into a real person with depth and distinctive personalities. I'm a sucker for character, and I felt I got it in spades here. Another rewarding aspect is the time spent describing the zombie virus. Usually the answer to what makes a zombie even possible is ignored, but not so here. Carey offers up a pretty interesting scenario that for me anyway, leads to a very satisfying climax.
Is this a perfect read? Nope. There are a few incredulous moments (view spoiler)[like why was Parks so quick to use his gun and only his gun when noise is the enemy? Shouldn't he have had a machete or a crossbow as a first line of defence? (hide spoiler)] and a few places where the narrative dips and nearly stalls; however those instances are rare. For the most part this is cinematic zombie gold. It's a heady mix of tension and release, adrenaline and emotion. A must-read for all zombie lovers and the zombie curious. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Whoah. This is some really good shit. Color me very impressed. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked this one up, but it totally de4.5 stars
Whoah. This is some really good shit. Color me very impressed. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked this one up, but it totally delivered on tension and suspense, a palpable dread, and a suffocating sense of doom.
Just as a launching off point I'm going to throw two pop culture references at you that I couldn't stop thinking about while reading this book. The first is the music video "Just" by Radiohead. Remember that's the one where there's this guy who just lies down in the street for no apparent reason and when this other guy starts screaming for a reason why he's done this and when the man finally tells him, everyone who is in earshot lies down too, as if whatever he's said is just too huge and overwhelming for the mind to process that the only human response is to collapse.
The second reference I'm going to throw at you is a Twilight Zone episode from the '80s called "Need to Know" where everyone starts going insane in this small town and it's eventually discovered that the source of the problem is not a physical disease, but an idea, a single short phrase, that is being passed from person to person by word of mouth. That horrible phrase is nothing more or less than the purpose and meaning of existence; the moral of the story being -- Knowledge we are not ready to receive will drive us mad.
I freaking love that Radiohead video and I was twelve years old when I saw that Twilight Zone episode and it scared the crap out of me (which is Trudi speak for I loved it). So in a lot of ways I was already primed to love this book where a mysterious pandemic plague is causing the "infected" to go on homicidal killing sprees before killing themselves. In the escalating chaos and confusion, the source of the infection is identified as having seen something the human mind cannot fathom, a creature that is so beyond our comprehension we are literally driven mad by it. But who is to know for sure, since no one has survived to confirm what it is that they saw.
Your only defence is to close your eyes, and keep them closed.
Humans hide in houses behind windows that are painted, covered with blankets or boarded up. They dare not venture outside for water or food unless they are blindfolded. If you thought surviving the end of days was tough with all of your faculties and sight, try doing it completely blind and feeling hunted and watched the entire time.
I love survival stories of all kinds: but an apocalypse scenario where the group must survive together is my favorite. And it's done so well here, I really can't stress that enough. The way the tension builds gradually as the unknowable threat outside the doors of the safe house becomes more menacing and tangible. How so much is implied rather than relying on big gushy scenes of gore and explicit violence. How the daily trek to the well blindfolded to get fresh water becomes an exercise in exquisite pulse-pounding suspense to unnerve the most steely-nerved of all readers.
Did you hear that? Sssshhhhh. I think it came from behind you. Whatever you do, don't open your eyes.
Readers who have a perpetual desire for answers and reasons may find the lack of explanation here troubling. I didn't. I was okay that we really don't know what the hell is going on and can only guess (and imagine our worst fears). If something like this ever goes down for real we'll be just as much in the dark as the characters in Bird Box discovering we are as much at the mercy of our ignorance and fear of the unknown as anything that may or may not be hunting us. ...more
Child narrators under the age of 10 are tricky to say the least. It can be so easily flubbed and come off as gimmicky or inauthentic. Mostly, I'm not Child narrators under the age of 10 are tricky to say the least. It can be so easily flubbed and come off as gimmicky or inauthentic. Mostly, I'm not a fan. Louis CK's rant about children and their secrets beautifully sums up the why for me.
So this book, with its five-year old narrator Anna, is going to fail or succeed depending on your acceptance of the childish, stream-of-consciousness storytelling style. Anna is in the grips of some nasty peril after just losing both her parents to a bear mauling. What's more, she is saddled with the responsibility of her baby brother Stick, aged 2. Anna's point of view is limited by what she knows and what she is able to articulate (for the record, not a whole lot). There's repetition and tangent after tangent. As with any child, you must have patience. You'll get all the information you need eventually, it just might take a while to get there.
Anna's voice grew on me, it really did. She's bratty and self-absorbed like any young kid, but also sweet and funny and brave. Her thorny relationship with her baby brother is heart-wrenching at times, the way she hates him and loves him in equal contradicting measure. There is tension here and a palpable suspense as we watch two hapless babes in the woods stumble from one threat to another -- sunburn, dehydration, poison ivy, and of course, the black bear who may or may not still be stalking them (and who continues to feed on their parents).
This is one of those books you're just going to have to try and see for yourself whether Anna's voice makes you want to keep reading, or throw the book across the room as if it had cooties. Either reaction is possible.
Some spoilers ahead under the spoiler tag:
(view spoiler)[I'm not certain the dramatic back story of the affair and Anna's parents separation was really necessary. I felt this domestic conflict didn't add much to the story other than to reinforce the on-going theme of the "family unit" and Anna's "we are four", "we are two", "I am one" interpretation.
Anna's months of silence after her ordeal and her long road to recovery was interesting. She was obviously much more traumatized by events than her initial telling of the story would have us believe. The trauma definitely lingers since she is haunted by a nightmare for the rest of her life of getting mauled by a bear.
Two scenes made me tear up:
At the end when Anna and Stick curl up by the front door waiting for "Daddy" to come home.
I look at the door too. It is closed. When the door is open, there is the backyard and then my tree and then the gate where Daddy comes in. He is not home from work. It stays shut and so Stick came down to see if Daddy came and fell asleep.
When Anna and Stick are grown, they revisit the site of the accident. Anna lies in the grass where she is certain her mother took her last breath.
Lying on the ground I can see him. And that's when I know that Mom could see us. If she was still conscious when she was lying here, and if her eyes were open, she would have seen me luring Alex into the canoe....Maybe she saw that I got into the canoe after him and started to paddle with my hands. Maybe she knew that we got away.
I thought that was a lovely note to end on. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It puzzles me -- and sometimes frustrates me to no end -- how or why some books get categorized/released as Young Adult. These days it seems the label It puzzles me -- and sometimes frustrates me to no end -- how or why some books get categorized/released as Young Adult. These days it seems the label has become so loosey-goosey all that's required is that there be a teen protagonist. Content, language, themes -- all of the meatier, important elements of any book are blithely ignored in the rush to market and movie deals.
There are definitely books that walk the hinterland -- the very, very outer reaches of YA and upon reading them you realize that there's way more 'Adult' in the pages than 'Young'. On any given Sunday it shouldn't really matter ....except for when it does. In the case of Scowler it makes me think about how many people will ignore it and miss out turned off by its YA label, and then it makes me think about the young teen readers who will lack the emotional maturity and mental resilience to process such a dark and disturbing tale.
Yes, it's that good and that dark. Patriarch Marvin Burke is as chilling and disturbing a villain as any I've encountered and belongs in the pages of a Frank Bill novel. The language is vibrant and pulsing -- a living, breathing thing:
The cracks in the dirt now yawned to proportions slutty with thirst...
There it was. A miracle, really, finding this speck of bone in a world of dust. There was a brown spot of blood on the tooth's root, and to Ry it seemed the encapsulation of the bum deal of life: a once-perfect thing plucked and bloodied and tossed to the dirt.
I had originally shelved this as 'horror' but am now removing it because while Scowler is horrific in parts, it has much more in common with realistic, gritty fiction that has a psychological underbelly.
This whole book left me stupid happy and deliriously impressed and I spent most of my time declaring:
Jesse would have loved Mark Watney. I lo4.5 stars
This whole book left me stupid happy and deliriously impressed and I spent most of my time declaring:
Jesse would have loved Mark Watney. I love Mark Watney. He's super smart but not just in a poindexter nerd alert bookish kind of way. Watney's got some serious problem solving skills; he's McGyver in a space suit. Give this guy a toothpick, some tinfoil and a ziplock bag and he'll build you an airplane. But don't forget the duct tape. Duct tape is awesome and I will be putting in a supply of it in order to survive the zombie apocalypse.
Watney is also a funny, the glass is half-full kind of guy who gets repeatedly knocked on his ass but finds a way to get right back up again. And who doesn't love a fighter?
The Martian is being referred to as Cast Away in space and that's pretty accurate as those things go. It's definitely an adventure survival story (my favorite kind), and just like Tom Hanks, Watney finds himself stranded and completely alone. The only difference is rather than washing up on a deserted island with a plethora of unopened FedEx packages, Watney finds himself abandoned on Mars with....well, you'll have to read the book to find out.
There's a lot of geeked out science descriptions, but I found most of it to be pretty accessible, even to a softcore sci-fi gal like myself. There's a real balance and warmth to the story as Watney battles with the unforgiving Mars environment that wants to kill him every time he turns around. It's thrilling and edge of your seat stuff with lots of laughs built in to break the inexorable tension.
Calling all horror fans! Don't forget to cast your vote for Nick Cutter's The Troop in Best Horror for 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. -------------
FirCalling all horror fans! Don't forget to cast your vote for Nick Cutter's The Troop in Best Horror for 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. -------------
First of all, when Stephen King goes out of his way to blurb a book, I pay attention. About The Troop he says:
"This is old-school horror at its best. Not for the faint-hearted, but for the rest of us sick puppies, it's a perfect gift for a winter night."
I'm a sick puppy! Right away, I perk up like one of those Pointer dogs on the scent. Secondly, the book description refers to The Troop as Lord of the Flies meets The Ruins. Oh yeah! You just pressed two of my book buttons right there. I'm lighting up and going off all over the damn place.
So yeah, Stephen King is not lying or exaggerating. This book IS NOT for the faint-hearted. It's for the sick puppies -- it will make you squirm and gag and cringe and hold on for dear life. It will also creep you the fuck out and make your skin crawl off in self defense. Your skin may never speak to you again actually.
I usually run an image free zone in my reviews, but for this book, I'm hoping a picture speaks a thousand words.
Here are some of the faces this book made me make:
Get the picture? I'm a horror veteran, and let me tell you, this book scarred me. There are scenes I will NEVER forget. If they invented brain bleach tomorrow, it still couldn't erase the shock and ewww and WTF? from my mind.
Five stars for totally creeping me out and giving me a raging case of heebie jeebies. I could not put this book down and I will be recommending it to other sick puppies. Plus, I actually CARED about the characters. Newt!!! And perhaps (view spoiler)[having one of the boys turn out to be a bonafide animal torturing sociopath is a bit of overkill, but so what? I admire the author's commitment to grab you by the throat, full-throttle storytelling. (hide spoiler)]
Nick Cutter is a great pseudonym for a horror writer. Let's hope we hear more from him in the future.
A free copy was provided by the publisher through NetGalley for an honest review.
This review has been posted at Busty Book Bimbo where you can also find my Q&A with the author Nick Cutter. ["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"]>...more
I really want to tear this book a new one, but it would be the equivalent of beating the shit out of the 80 pound asthmatic kid at school who wears gl I really want to tear this book a new one, but it would be the equivalent of beating the shit out of the 80 pound asthmatic kid at school who wears glasses and stealing his lunch money.
See, here's the problem: I picked up this book with entirely different expectations of what it's actually about. The blurb caught my eye immediately:
On the mysterious island of Nil, the rules are set. You have exactly 365 days to escape—or you die.
My mind immediately began racing with awesome possibilities and potential -- Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games, Battle Royale, The Long Walk -- yeah, no. NIL is not any of these, not even close. What I should have done was keep reading the plot summary after that initial sexy blurb, which states:
Lost and alone, Charley finds no sign of other people until she meets Thad, the gorgeous leader of a clan of teenage refugees. Soon Charley learns that leaving the island is harder than she thought . . . and so is falling in love.
But I don't want a teenage love story on a deserted island!!!
I want death games, and blood and danger and action and running and characters I can root for and scream in agony when they meet horrible, unpredictable ends.
Yeah, that is so not this book. There's a little bit of that -- about 13.36% (the rest is all lurve and angst of the teenage variety, my favorite kind). If the author really wants to have a love story (and let's face it, these days it's almost impossible to publish a YA novel without one), then it should have been more balanced. There are some great ideas and plot devices introduced here, but none of them ever get the attention they deserve, or are they ever fully fleshed out.
(view spoiler)[We never get an explanation of what is bringing teens (and only teens) to the mysterious island for their 365 days. Why is it only teens (other than the fact that this is a YA novel), when the event also brings other objects and warm-blooded animals across too? And that stunt that Thad pulls at the very end, his LAST FUCKING SHOT TO LIVE as far as he knows ... why would he push Charley through the gate? That's not romantic, that's just motherfucking stupid, I'm sorry. Ah, but of course, we know there will be some miracle to save him after all, so there's really no tension or upset at this dumber than a bag of hair sacrifice. Sigh. (hide spoiler)]
Young teens put off by violence seeking a more tepid adventure on a desert island may find some appeal here. I found it mostly pedestrian, safe and largely unsatisfying. The only positive I can think to throw out right now is that at least there was no love triangle. At least there was that.
A free copy was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for an honest review. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is one creepy-ass unsolved mystery, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. The true story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident and the inexpl This is one creepy-ass unsolved mystery, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. The true story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident and the inexplicable deaths of nine experienced hikers is one of those strange but true tales that leaves a person shuddering from the heebie-jeebies.
Remote and inhospitable Ural Mountains, Russia. February 1959.
A group of nine university students -- 7 men, 2 women -- set up their tent for the evening.
The experienced hikers begin the ritual of settling in for the night ahead, removing packs and boots and outer layers of clothing.
The stove in the middle of the large canvas tent remains unlit. Whatever happens next, occurs before the evening meal.
For reasons unknown to this day, all nine hikers suddenly abandon their tent and go running out into the frigid night improperly clothed and in sock feet. So desperate were they to get away, some of the hikers cut their way out of the back of the tent rather than go out the front.
When the bodies are later recovered some have died from hypothermia, others are found in a deep ravine with violent injuries such as crushed ribs, fractured skull, and one of the hikers is missing her tongue.
What force or event could have possibly compelled nine seasoned hikers to all lose their shit at the same time and act in such an erratic and life-threatening manner? To leave the sanctuary of their tent and flee into the frozen night barely dressed to certain death?
It has been established that it was no avalanche. So what else does that leave?
Over the years, theories have abounded, from the plausible and sane to the completely nutty. Donnie Eichar goes on a quest halfway around the world to retrace the steps of the Dyatlov group searching for the truth of what happened that night. In his quest he meets some colorful Russian characters, including a tenth member of the Dyatlov group who turned back at the last minute, a decision that saved his life.
This book is really three narratives woven together -- 1) the Dyatlov Incident pieced together from photos and journals the doomed hikers painstakingly kept along the way 2) the search and rescue which followed and 3) Eichar's trips to Russia and his own trek to Dead Mountain.
As I followed in the hikers' footsteps, reading their journal entries, seeing their smiling faces in the photographs, I couldn't help become emotional for the horror I knew was waiting for them. It's a story that's as sad as it is unsettling.
After three years of research and exhaustive interviews, Eichar is able to put forth an interesting theory about what exactly happened that night, one that certainly has more substance than UFO's or the Abominable Snowman. Yet, it's still only a theory. The maddening, pull your hair out aspect of this story is that we will probably never know what happened that night. It is a secret that the young hikers took to their untimely and tragic graves.
Photo: Yuri Yudin hugging Lyudmila Dubinina as he prepares to leave the group because of illness, as Igor Dyatlov looks on smiling
You know, the thing about a shark...he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living... until he bites ya ~JAWS (1975)
The perfect beach read (for my twisted tastes anyway) found as summer's door closes on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. The book's blurb describes BAIT as: "Survivor meets Lord of the Flies meets Drugstore Cowboy" and that's pretty accurate as blurbs go, with a side portion of Trainspotting to sweeten the deal.
Subtract the worst of SAW's gory torture-porn aspects, I also couldn't help be reminded of it as well -- oh yes ladies and gentlemen, BAIT is a winner, a white-knuckled page-turner with a gaping maw of shark's teeth ready to take a chomp out of your ass at any moment. I'd love to see this as a movie, and its length would have made it the perfect one hour Twilight Zone or Night Gallery episode.
The novel works so well because Messum takes some time (amidst the roiling action) to develop his cast of sad, deplorable and desperate characters. As readers, what are we to think of protagonists plagued by heroin addiction and the jagged guilt of dirty deeds?
The six victims who wake up stranded on a deserted beach are not the people we usually cheer for. It's hard to warm up to them, and unless you've suffered from addiction yourself, it's very hard to relate to them in any way. Despite this challenge, Messum takes what could have easily resulted in stereotypical junkies -- no archetypes or caricatures here -- and turns them into sympathetic characters, nicely fleshed out in a short period of time with minimal details.
On the surface, BAIT is a thrill-kill, adrenaline read, a man versus nature versus man extravaganza. But beneath the surface, there is deep water that runs, not just with sharks, but with thematic purpose tinged with social commentary and observations of the human condition -- our rage, our prejudices, our lack of empathy and understanding, our human ability to dehumanize ourselves and others around us. In some respects, this cautionary tale has an allegorical feel to it all, about justice and second chances and who deserves them.
As the dog days of September draw near, I can't recommend this book enough for a quick and satisfying read.
A free copy was provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. ...more
I don't get it. Were my expectations just too unreasonable? An okay premise with promise that's all too simplistically delivered. The twists aren't re I don't get it. Were my expectations just too unreasonable? An okay premise with promise that's all too simplistically delivered. The twists aren't really twists. The setup and foreshadowing is so heavy-handed nothing felt truly out of left field (like every M. Night movie since The Sixth Sense). (view spoiler)[And do I really have to buy into the gob-smacking coincidence that THE Ben Parrish -- Cassie's unrequited crush from high school -- becomes her baby brother's protector in the alien military complex that's the most important one on the continent? (hide spoiler)]
Eh. Just couldn't do it my friends. My cup of cynicism runneth over. But I swear it's not entirely my fault. It's true I do find it difficult to love pure plot-driven books. I harbor a reader need to love and care about the characters (or at least find them interesting should they be vile). That just wasn't happening here. All the characters are unfortunately pretty bland and uninspiring, and running around doing and saying the oddest things at the most head-scratching of times. I also didn't buy into the romance angle. The chemistry (there wasn't any) just fizzled and epically failed. Once you've seen it done well elsewhere, it becomes impossible to settle for anything less.
For an 'aliens/trust no one' invasion type story, this did not carry any of the gravity and sophistication of a classic sci-fi tale. This is no Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The War of the Worlds. And I'm not letting it off the hook for this just because it's written for teens: some of the best books I've ever read have been written for teens. I never lower my standards or my expectations just because what I happen to be reading has been classified as Young Adult.
Maybe I'm just cranky. Maybe I just wished I was reading about zombies instead. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Bottom line, this book has *a lot* to recommend it: it is a dark, dream-like, post-apocalyptic landscape with sharp turns and compelling plot twists. Bottom line, this book has *a lot* to recommend it: it is a dark, dream-like, post-apocalyptic landscape with sharp turns and compelling plot twists. I experienced a few moments of genuine shock (remarkable for a jaded reader like myself) and not once did I ever want to stop reading. I just had to know how it was all going to come out. The only way to really know if this book is for you is to go on this journey with Zoe, our narrator, and see for yourself.
This is one of those books that when I finished it, I sat for a moment and didn't know quite what to do with myself, pondering "what the hell did I just read?"
Zoe is a difficult narrator to get to know. She speaks and thinks in metaphors and similes (more on that later). Part of her story is constructed of remembrances of things past -- the THEN -- the other half is told in urgent tones of events unfolding in the moment -- the NOW. While Zoe's story is sympathetic, it took me a long while to warm up to her, even when the only religion she has in this dead and deformed new world is to hold on to the last remnants of her humanity. This means rushing in to "do the right thing" even when the choice to do so is stupid, dangerous or even meaningless.
But her compulsion brings some interesting people into her fractured life, and some monsters as well.
About those metaphors and similes? This is probably what irritated me the most about the book, for if a strong-willed editor had cut half of the flowery phrases from the myriad of thousands to choose from I could see myself giving the novel four stars no problem. Unfortunately, all of the "like a" and "as a" sentences often took me right out of the story, standing out like heavy oak coffee tables that you stub your toe on in the middle of the night (see what I did there?)
Not all of the language in this book makes you want to howl and curse in pain. Some of it is quite beautiful, poetic, startling even. It creates a pall over the story, a tension and a mystery. Zoe's dreamlike narration made me feel like I was moving through heavy water. When the jolts come (and they do, trust me), they really bite you because you've been lulled into a state of complacency.
I did warm up to Zoe eventually, and I keened for a happy ending. White Horse is the first book of a planned trilogy, but the good news is, it ably stands as a complete and satisfying story for those readers wary of committing to yet another series. ...more