So this is how this one begins -- and let me tell you, the opening passage gave me the shivers, the little hairs on the back of my neck stood to atten So this is how this one begins -- and let me tell you, the opening passage gave me the shivers, the little hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention. If Ms. Megan Abbott should ever wish to venture into horror, I have no doubt she could make that genre her bitch. Read this:
At night, the sounds from the canyon shifted and changed. The bungalow seemed to lift itself with every echo and the walls were breathing. Panting. Just after two, she'd wake, her eyes stinging, as if someone had waved a flashlight across them. And then she'd hear the noise. Every night. The tapping noise, like a small animal trapped behind the wall.
Eeeek! Like seriously, if that doesn't creep you out check your pulse because you might be dead.
So this gripping short story isn't Megan Abbott doing horror, but nevertheless does this lady have a flair for the dark and ... unhinged. She loves to troll the deep end of those viscous psychological waters, where things with teeth swim, and bite. On the surface this story is a period piece -- circa 1950's Hollywood. Abbott is comfortable here in her noir sandbox.
The Little Men features Penny, an aging actress who has given up the fight and has decided to move on and do something else with her life. A fresh start if you will. She thinks she finds it in a new place to live, a place that will be all hers that she won't have to share with anyone. Her landlady seems kind and generous (at first), her neighbors friendly and warm. But there's something not right about this new low-rent bungalow, filled as it is with a dead man's things.
As Penny begins to uncover more and more about the life of the man who lived in the bungalow before her, she also begins to see and hear things. Disturbing things. What's real and what isn't? Is Penny losing her mind or is there something more sinister afoot?
Reading this I could not help be reminded of the classic short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Both women in these stories are coming unhinged, but there's a gravity and justification to their decline that lends empathy to their plight. Both women are trapped in their lives with few to no options, and are suffocating from the stranglehold their current realities have put them in.
In Penny's case, 1950's Hollywood is a cruel and capricious mistress. Women are (ab)used until they are no longer wanted: "You were a luscious piece of candy, he said, but now I gotta spit you out." In the land of casting couches, you sleep with the devil and wake up in Hell.
This is a gripping read with layers and subtext and all the more remarkable for its short length. This is Megan Abbott at her most teasing and it is excruciatingly delicious. This woman will always leave you wanting more, always more.
A free advanced copy was provided through NetGalley....more
Sigh. This almost got two stars. Almost. I mean, I liked it. There are things to like, but it's so far underachieving for King, so sub-par of his tale Sigh. This almost got two stars. Almost. I mean, I liked it. There are things to like, but it's so far underachieving for King, so sub-par of his talent and storytelling capabilities that it made me cringe in parts and left me embarrassed for the guy. The last third of the book with Hodges and Holly and Jerome running around trying to solve a mystery like an after-school special mixed with an episode of Scooby-Doo was just paaainful. Nothing about any of that was worthy of King for me.
I know Mr. Mercedes had it's many problems and weaknesses: I present to you Exhibit A and Exhibit B. But I really liked it. A LOT. Mainly because the villain -- Brady Hartfield -- is some nasty piece of psychotic work. One of the better, more convincing villains King has written about in a long time. Brady isn't just a one-dimensional evil dude with sick tendencies and impulses -- King managed to flesh him out some and gave him an appropriately damaging childhood replete with a disturbed and abusive mother. There was some context there. Some texture and layering.
Unfortunately I do not feel the same about the villain presented to us in this book -- Morris Bellamy. Bellamy is a petulant, spoiled asshat -- entitled and vicious. I HATED him. He did not interest me in the least and the only satisfaction I was able to take from his legacy of brutal violent impulses was (view spoiler)[to see him die a burning fiery death (hide spoiler)].
For me, the most terrifying villain King has ever written is Annie Wilkes. On cold, dark winter nights I can still have feverish nightmares about her. Annie is the consummate fangirl gone wrong. She is a study in complexity and contradiction, a woman suffering from real mental illness and a menacing determinism and world view that bears no bargaining with. You're either one of the good guys (a "do-bee") or one of the bad guys (a "dirty bird"). And god help you if you turn out to be a "cockadoodie brat".
Morris Bellamy is just a selfish, shallow, ignorant prick who loves to blame the world for all his problems. He blames his mother for the first time he ends up in juvenile detention. He blames author John Rothstein for "selling out" and destroying his favorite literary creation thus setting in motion a terrible series of events. And most pathetic of all, he blames his "friend" -- future rare book proprietor -- of making him so mad that he goes out and (view spoiler)[gets blind drunk and brutally rapes a woman, a crime which lands Bellamy in prison with a life sentence rather than the home invasion and execution of the recluse author of his precious Johnny Gold. (hide spoiler)]
Whenever King writes about writing and the synergy that happens between reader and author I'm there. He captures some of that magic in these pages but I feel like it all gets poisoned with the less than inspiring creation that is Bellamy.
Since King is determined to get to the end of this foray into crime fiction, I am hopeful that the final book in the trilogy (if there has to be one) will return its focus to Brady Hartfield who may have developed some unusual skills. ::cue ominous music:: ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I don't know how to describe the mad, dark, mash-up genius contained in the pages of Nick Cutter's upcoming release The Acolyte -- but I've found myse I don't know how to describe the mad, dark, mash-up genius contained in the pages of Nick Cutter's upcoming release The Acolyte -- but I've found myself in a similar state of speechlessness with other titles released by the incomparable ChiZine Publications. Their motto is Embrace the Odd and embrace it they do with abandon. ChiZine's book covers alone are enough to send this bibliophile into paroxysms of delight. Here are a few of my favorites:
ChiZine has also recently gotten into the graphic novel game and I adore this cover too:
Let me wrap up the fangirling over cover art to conclude that ChiZine is a wickedly weird and dangerous publishing house ruthlessly seeking out unique voices in speculative fiction. There is nothing safe or sanitized or boring about them. And while I'm not always in the mood to enter into the wacky landscapes they pimp, I'm very grateful that they exist, and very proud that they are Canadian.
Fans of either or both of those books should not expect the same kind of story in The Acolyte. I'm not surprised it was ChiZine who published it for him because it is an odd, intense mixture of horror, police procedural, dystopia, and noir. It is violent, contemplative, thematic, and disturbing. It's not a book you 'enjoy' or 'savor': it is one you endure and survive.
And that's all I'm going to say about it. Read the plot summary if you want, but it's not going to help prepare you for what lies in wait in its pages. If you are feeling adventurous and brave, and want a taste of something not so mainstream that will take you off the beaten path into a darker part of the forest, then by all means take The Acolyte home with you.
An advanced reading copy was provided by the publisher for review....more
I picked up this book with the initial impression that I was in for an urban fantasy *Available today!*
All hope abandon, ye who enter here.
I picked up this book with the initial impression that I was in for an urban fantasy piece in which Hell (and angels and demons) would play a role, but that some of the story would inevitably take place in a concrete, corrupted human city. But no. This is full on, 24/7 Hell, all the time Hell, everything Hell. There is no reprieve. And very little hope. The hope is so miniscule you need a very expensive microscope to see it.
So yeah. Hell. In as much technicolor, cinematic horrorscape that you probably can't handle. Seriously, it's brutal. Claustrophobic and suffocating. Unsworth's painstaking, meticulous world-building of this feared and unknown domain is impressive to say the least. He spares no detail and isn't shy about unleashing buckets of effluvia, viscera, despair and derangement. This isn't your paranormal fantasy version of Hell where the Demons are sexy anti-heroes brooding about looking for bodices to rip open. Noooooo. These are deformed, mutated, merciless beasts seeking out any hole of any body to violate, and throw in some torture on the side for good measure.
Unsworth creates a Hell populated by innumerable species of Demons of varying size, hierarchy, power and cruelty. In this devilish brew, forsaken humans doomed to suffer Hell's torment, must co-exist. They are Demon slaves. Mere chattel. With meaningless jobs and tasks to perform in the ever present threat of Demon violence.
Thomas Fool is one of those humans, and one of Hell's Information Men. Normally, Fool's job consists of looking the other way -- of NOT investigating Hell's crimes. But when a human corpse shows up with its soul entirely gone, Fool is pushed into an investigation he is not ready for. He must learn his Detective's trade fast before whatever is consuming human souls turns its appetites on all of Hell itself.
This is a book extremely dense with description, and understandably so because the author has cut himself out a big job to build Hell and its fiery inhabitants from scratch missing no detail, no matter how small. There is A LOT of narrative exposition to move the story and action along too. Dialogue is minimally used. And that means the book can read heavy and slow in parts. You have to be patient with it and soak up the landscape. Let it unfurl in your mind and agree to stay with it until the tale is done.
Now that the book is done, and I've laid it aside, I find flashes of it continuing to haunt me -- certain scenes appear to be burned onto my retinas. I can't unsee them. This is a dark book, but for those seeking a dark fantasy set in the darkest and most fearful place, then you might want to give this one a go.
A free copy was provided by NetGalley in exchange for this review.
I wasn't super hopping crazy for Beukes's The Shining Girls, but with Broken Monsters this woman has now got my full attention. I'm here to tell you t I wasn't super hopping crazy for Beukes's The Shining Girls, but with Broken Monsters this woman has now got my full attention. I'm here to tell you the lady's got mad skills.
It helped a lot I think that I picked this book up at the exact right time. I was ready. I was primed if you will. That kind of timing doesn't always work out. But I'd just come off my binge listening, over analyzing obsession with Sarah Koenig's Serial podcast where I lost countless hours pondering motives, cell phone logs, cell tower pings and an anti-Glee cast of Baltimore teens. I was in an arm-chair detective frame of mind. I was already down in the rabbit hole before the first page was turned. The exact right place to be for where Beukes was going to take me.
And where was that exactly? Broken Monsters is unique and surreal and dark and weird, but there's some lingering familiarity of remembrances past that give the story texture and resonance. And what the hell do I mean by that?
Well, think of the gritty procedural elements to be found in True Detective, Seven or Silence of the Lambs. That's a start. There's a substantive case here and a seasoned kick-ass woman detective chasing down clues and following a trail that's twisted (and broken!) and could run cold at any moment. There's pacing and reveals. Tension and release.
Then there's the atmosphere, mood and vivid -- vivid! -- descriptions of crime scenes, urban decay, and violence that bleed across the page -- an artistic fusion of destruction with creation -- visual feasts in the mind's eye both terrible and beautiful.
The following images may be offensive to some so I shall hide them behind a spoiler tag. However, fans of True Detective and NBC's Hannibal should click (because you know you want to).
I mention these two television shows not just for the obvious authentic procedural similarities found in Broken Monsters, but for each show's masterful artistic vision and gobsmacking cinematography. Whatever inky black well these kinds of hellish tableaux originate from, Beukes has a bucket of her own and is drinking her fill to bursting.
Something else she's mastered with Broken Monsters is a rich cast of characters whose stories intertwine and crash together then rip apart again. She is a maestro here -- a mad puppet master -- creating a symphony of action and reaction. I surely do not want to be Job when this woman is God.
With so many characters running around you really have to sit up and pay attention as a reader. Beukes is not slacking so we can't either. It's easy to get a bit lost and confused in the early stages getting to know everyone and their back stories. It wasn't a smooth transition for me -- I had to go back and re-read a few sections just to orient myself before I read on. But that's okay. With that kind of investment comes huge reward.
I can't say I was completely satisfied with the crashing cacophony that was the book's climax. In some ways it was effing brilliant -- in others it was a hot mess (get on board the Lindsey Lohan/Charlie Sheen train to hell!!!!) Still, as Charlie would say: WINNING!
I agree Charlie. This is definitely a check mark in the win column for Lauren Beukes. I'll be coming back for more.
(Sorry, but nobody puts Charlie in a corner under a spoiler tag. Deal with it people) ["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"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Holy shit snacks! What the hell did I just read? I frigging absolutely loved this book. It is such an awesome mindfuck. It's a locked Chinese box with Holy shit snacks! What the hell did I just read? I frigging absolutely loved this book. It is such an awesome mindfuck. It's a locked Chinese box with so many secrets. It's a book that sneaks up on you with its pages and pages of normalcy and sweetness and sadness and intrigue. There's grief and loss, mystery and murder. Then -- when you are least expecting it -- KA-POW! It pounces from the left, and bites you from the right. It punches you in the face and kicks you in the kidneys.
Bruised, battered, confused and reeling. You are in shock. Your adrenaline spikes. All the answers start to pour forth faster than your brain can deal with them. You hang on for the ride, delirious, but hungry for more answers, more revelations, just more! more! more of everything! How is this possibly going to end? What a maze! Which way is out? Is there even a way out?
David Neff is a memorable, sympathetic main character. I don't think any part of this teetering, layered narrative -- so many branches on a tree, so many ripples on a lake -- would have worked without normal, nice guy David and his charming, precocious four year old son Tanner. We come to know them, like them, feel empathy and yes, even love. You root for father and son and pray for their release from the tangled and warped web in which they are ensnared.
David reminded me a lot of Jake Gyllenhaal's character in Zodiac -- one of my favorite movies that also deals with obsession and its damaging, lingering effects.
This is a dramatic and thrilling story that's well-constructed and well-told. It's everything I was hoping to get from The Shining Girls and did not. It surprised me in many ways -- not just its twists, but how emotionally invested I became in the story, its characters, and its outcome.
Read this review! It will make you want to read this book. And you should. Read this book. Yes, you most definitely should.
I love to be scared and suspended in a state of heebie-jeebies. I crave the dread, succumbing to the paranoia and to that always elusive (but much des I love to be scared and suspended in a state of heebie-jeebies. I crave the dread, succumbing to the paranoia and to that always elusive (but much desired) sensation of epic creep. I don't mind when authors reach for the gross out (that's all fine for a good bit of schlocky fun); but where horror's beating heart really lies -- where it lives and breathes in the darkened shadows -- is in the dread and creep. That's how it all began with Gothic fiction. Those are its roots baby, and on some primal level as voracious consumers of the tale, this is still what we crave when we ask somebody to "tell us a scary story".
Of course, horror by its very nature and definition is extremely fluid and subjective (I would argue the most subjective of all the genres). What scares and unsettles us is so specific to the individual. Horror can be, and often is, in the eye of the beholder. It's an emotion that happens in the nervous system, not the brain. Horror can be smart and demanding of its reader/viewer, but the desired experience is to feel during and think later.
I'm always on the hunt for the next thing that's going to scare the pants off me. Over the years, there have been long dry spells. I'm getting older, and more critical. I don't scare as easy as I used to and most of my horror consumption of late has been of the film kind, not the book kind. That doesn't mean I stop looking.
I'm always looking.
When a co-worker brought I Remember You to my attention, I was intrigued. It was in translation from Icelandic. I had never read anything by an Icelandic author before and this particular one was being touted as terrifying. So I took a chance, and I'm really glad I did. This is a ghost story, and like a lot of the best ghost stories, there is a mystery that demands to be solved.
I Remember You is a duel narrative that switches off every chapter. The first narrative is of three friends who travel to a remote abandoned village in Iceland. Their plan is to renovate a property there and make it a travel destination for those seeking natural beauty and escape. From the first moments of their arrival, the friends begin to notice strange occurrences. As the days pass, things get stranger and more frightening as the group realize they are trapped with no easy escape.
The second narrative follows a doctor whose son disappeared three years previously. His body was never found and the loss continues to torment him and his estranged wife. As the chapters flip back and forth (often ending on a cliffhanger), the tension and stakes ratchet up accordingly. The two dueling narratives eventually collide and combine in a most satisfying way. This isn't a fast-paced story. It takes its time. Each reveal meant to be savored.
I recommend reading this late at night, preferably with the wind howling high and loud outside your window and if the lights should flicker, well -- don't be alarmed. It's just the wind.
I enjoyed this book a lot. It's moody and atmospheric and creepy as all hell in parts. This would make a fantastic movie (I'm going to betray my reader heart here and say it would probably make a better movie than book). I love ghost stories on film and if you love any of the following movies, you will probably love this book.
What a nasty piece of work this turned out to be living as it does at the seedy intersection of pulp and pornography, violence and depravity. I though What a nasty piece of work this turned out to be living as it does at the seedy intersection of pulp and pornography, violence and depravity. I thought I was a big girl and could handle stepping over the borderline into such dark corners, but this one shook me up quite a bit and left me feeling a bit sick and dirty. The only thing I can compare it to is how I felt after watching Requiem for a Dream.
I blithely walked into this one expecting a lighter, fluffier piece of pulp fiction -- an exaggerated "put your lips together and blow" Hollywood-style noir. Instead I got closer to a Larry Flynt fantasy than I ever wanted to get in this life. Kemper perfectly describes the experience this way:
This is a solid little piece of pulp with an edgy nastiness to it, like popping a piece of candy in your mouth and finding out it was actually a hunk of broken glass.
Yup. And I can still taste the blood.
So giving this a star rating is tough. I didn't enjoy it and found most of the story and the characters vile and despicable. However, the fact that I was so unsettled and left feeling so out of sorts is a testament to Block's ability as a writer. I'm really, really happy he found another way to make his living as a novelist however. ...more
This is a high three. High being the operative word here because the meth fumes wafting from its pages are strong enough to transmogrify the reader in This is a high three. High being the operative word here because the meth fumes wafting from its pages are strong enough to transmogrify the reader into a slavering crystal junkie. Buyer beware. If that's not enough, the uncompromising and relentless violence as well as the suffocating pall of dysfunctional rural living are such to jar anyone's safe suburban sensibilities and make you glad you're a city rat.
Matthew McBride is a welcome addition to the Rural Noir / Hick Lit crowd -- (i.e. Daniel Woodrell, Tom Franklin, Donald Ray Pollock and Frank Bill to name my favorites). McBride situates himself on the spectrum somewhere between the gorgeous prose of Woodrell and Franklin and the harsh chainsaw vernacular of Bill and Pollock. It is to McBride's disadvantage however, to be keeping company on the shelf with such esteemed writers who have proven their mettle. His inexperience and exuberancy to tell rather than show only serve to highlight some of the novel's weaknesses.
For all of that, there are singular awesome scenes in these pages, and the last forty are some messed up, edge-of-your-seat stuff. I will definitely be checking out more from Matthew McBride. ...more
3) Last but not least, the author's blog post entitled: God Bless Librarians. In case you didn't know, flattery will get you everywhere, and it just might make me read your book (joking! I'm really not that shallow or vain, I promise; I just thought it was a nice post).
This is a beautiful book that hits a lot of my kinks: small towns, seeecrets, family drama, and coming-of-age. Krueger's storytelling style was reminiscent for me of some of Stephen King's best work (when he's not trying to scare the bejesus out of us that is). Krueger's two main protagonists are young brothers -- Frank (13) and Jake (10).
Frank is hitting adolescence hard with a penchant for doing things he's not supposed to and an even worse habit for eavesdropping. Jake is his quiet sidekick who likes to listen and observe more than run his mouth because he is plagued by an awful stutter. As they run around small town 1961 Minnesota all the best elements of King's novella "The Body" are present. It will be a summer of tragedy and innocence lost.
Where it missed that fifth star I will put under a spoiler tag:
(view spoiler)[I saw the ending/twist coming a mile away, and it's not like me to "figure these things out" which probably means the author was not trying to hide it, but rather have the readers be in the know and sweat it out. I appreciate that, but I felt to have the jealous, mentally challenged sister kill in a moment of blind rage was too predictable in a very Gothic "woman in the attic" way.
It was interesting to introduce the element of racism as it applied to Native Americans in Minnesota in 1961, but I felt at times the reading came too close to mimicking To Kill a Mockingbird in that one respect and that Frank's dad was very Atticus Finch in a preacher's garb rather than a lawyer's suit. (hide spoiler)]
But these are VERY small quibbles in what is a gripping story, wonderfully told. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more