"What an excellent day for an exorcism." ~The Exorcist (1973)
This is an okay book. Fair. Acceptable. But it takes too long to really get humming (I
"What an excellent day for an exorcism." ~The Exorcist (1973)
This is an okay book. Fair. Acceptable. But it takes too long to really get humming (I'm all in for foreplay, but Hendrix really pushes the limits to impatience here). More than three-quarters of the novel is essentially an angsty teen, coming-of-age high school drama about a group of girls and their growing pains with each other and with the world around them. It could very well be Gossip Girl or One Tree Hill -- except that one of the main characters might be demonically possessed (instead of merely being a catty bitch). Sometimes it's nigh on impossible to tell the difference.
Here's the thing -- this book suffers by comparison to a lot of other things. Nobody writes the mysterious, dark and turbulent interior lives of teenage girls better than Megan Abbott. Seeing Hendrix attempt to do the same thing here as he explores the iron bonds of friendship forged by Abby and Gretchen when they were children pales in execution and gravitas to Ms. Abbott's vast talents with her mighty quill.
The demonic possession and exorcism angle is adequately covered -- but again suffers by comparison to 2015's Bram Stoker Award winning A Head Full of Ghosts. And no matter who you are, if you're writing about this subject, your book is always going to be compared to Blatty's classic horror novel The Exorcist and Friedkin's enduring film adaptation of the same name.
Hendrix might have thought he was doing something new and clever here by mashing-up a coming-of-age teen drama with the horror tropes of demonic possession stories, but he doesn't quite make it. Some scenes are definitely creepy and unsettling, there just weren't enough of them (too few of them coming too late in the story) to sustain any kind of coiled tension and impending sense of doom in the reader. And boy, is it really hard to write an exorcism scene that chills, rather than have it feel like a spoof out of a Scary Movie sequel, or a daytime soap opera.
Oooooh, this is a tough one to review, because it's not going to be for everyone, and I also don't want to give too much away. It's a slim volume thatOooooh, this is a tough one to review, because it's not going to be for everyone, and I also don't want to give too much away. It's a slim volume that packs such a WALLOP! that creeps up on you, it would be super easy to spoil it for someone if you weren't careful.
Many people have this filed as 'Mystery' or 'Psychological Thriller' and it's sorta a blend of those, but way closer to 'Psychological Horror' for me than anything else. It's an unsettling, paranoid mindfuck that at first appearances seems pretty slow-moving and innocuous. There's a young couple on a road trip to visit the guy's parents at their secluded farmhouse, and the girlfriend is "thinking of ending things". In her head she's ruminating on the course of their courtship and mulling over the nagging feeling that it's time to pull the plug on a relationship whose expiration date is past.
But she also has a secret. Dun-dun-DUUUUUN.
But the boyfriend -- who starts the novel normal and quite nice -- starts to appear odd and off kilter as soon as we get to the farmhouse. Then things inexorably creep to majorly weird and unsettling with the parents by the time we get to dessert.
And just as you're processing what's happening in that farmhouse and freaked the hell out because you don't know where the threat is coming from, the book will move to its final act in a deserted high school.
This isn't a book about what HAPPENS. It's one of those HOW WE GET THERE. It's a book of atmosphere and tension and a narrator who absolutely takes the cake on unreliable. It's a paranoid chant in places, and I was literally gripping the book as I was reading it because everything started to feel so portentous, so HEAVY, that the most horrible thing could happen at any moment. All bets are off. As a reader, when I am in the hands of a writer like that, and at their complete mercy, there is no other place I would rather be.
"Creepy as hell. You owe me a few fingernails, Reid, because I've bitten them off reading your book!"
When Mr. Cutter endorses a book like that I will do just about anything (and I do mean anything people) to get my hands on a copy. Fortunately, I didn't have to kill anybody (and lose precious reading time getting rid of the body since my woodchipper is in the shop). The publisher provided a review copy for free, no violence required, no cleanup in aisle four. Thanks Simon and Schuster Canada!
I want to compare this short read (which you should do in one sitting for maximum impact) with other great stories of the same ilk, but I don't want to risk spoiling anything. I'm Thinking of Ending Things is psychological, subtle, mind-bendy, and utterly unnerving. I can't wait to read this one again to enjoy its construction and appreciate even more the flawless execution of its moving parts.
!!! 2015 Winner of Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel!!!
I read this last summer so the details are a bit sketchy now to pull off an in-depth review, but!!! 2015 Winner of Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel!!!
I read this last summer so the details are a bit sketchy now to pull off an in-depth review, but I hate leaving review spaces blank, and this is me trying to push some of my favorites back in front of your face again in case you missed them. A Head Full of Ghosts just snagged the 2015 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel which should help give it a much-deserved boost in exposure.
I loved this one, not only because parts of it genuinely creeped me the hell out and raised the little hairs on the back of my neck, but the uncertainty of whether I was dealing with an unreliable narrator or not kept me on edge, and off kilter through the entirety of the novel. In its most simplistic terms, this is an "exorcism" book -- teenager Marjorie is Regan MacNeil (minus the pea soup vomiting and ...ahem...crucifix play). She is out of control -- her behavior becoming increasingly odd, violent and disturbing to her family -- especially her younger sister Merry (our intrepid narrator looking back on events from an adult p.o.v.)
Can I just say right here right now, creepy kids creep me the hell out? Of course they do.
As this desperate family plunges into the darkness of either a spiritually possessed child, or one who is mentally ill, reality show producers come a-calling, hoping to sensationalize and to capitalize for a quick buck on the family's suffering. Which brings us to the "meta" aspects of this novel which give it an extra layer of fun. Not only do we get the transcripts of the reality documentary, we also get the blog entries of an intrepid blogger who has a keen interest (obsession) in delving into the case.
(And in case you haven't heard, our intrepid blogger is based upon Goodreads' very own karen!).
There's nothing too graphic here for anyone worried about the "exorcism" angle -- it's very much in the vein of psychological horror because as readers we can never be sure if what's really happening is supernatural in origin, or a product of mental disturbance combined with the shameless exploitation of modern reality tv (and what a desperate family may be driven to do under the right financial pressures).
I loved the uncertainty. I loved all the "meta" stuff and breaking through the fourth wall. But most of all, I loved that Paul Tremblay can write a scene that has me trembling, and looking over my shoulder, and then sleeping with the lights on!
Eeek! I'm already behind on my October reading (let alone reviewing) but wanted to make sure I drew this one to your attention.October Country 2015 #1
Eeek! I'm already behind on my October reading (let alone reviewing) but wanted to make sure I drew this one to your attention.
HUSK (which every time I see that title I'm overcome with the urge to shout "Tusk!") is not horror per se, but it is a thrilling, page-turning nightmare vision of the near future. Reading this I couldn't help be reminded of King's early Bachman books, especially The Running Man. Both are set in a bleak future where people are struggling to eat and live, so much so that it is driving them to do desperate, dangerous things for money.
In HUSK's case, people are being driven to "rent out" their bodies to the very, very rich -- the 1% of the 1% -- to inhabit and do with as they please for periods of up to 72 hours. I don't even like to lend someone my jacket or use my bathroom. Imagining someone taking over my body and using it up in any porny, germy, physically punishing way they can think of gives me the heebie jeebies. Unclean! Unclean!
As if all the drug-fueled orgies and exposure to all kinds of STD's isn't bad enough, not to mention the cuts and bruises and dehydration and sheer exhaustion from lack of sleep (talk about being rode hard and put away wet), our protagonist Rhodes begins to suspect his body is being used for more sinister and nefarious purposes. ::cue ominous music::
It's especially worrisome when other Husks begin to show up dead or missing.
All the elements are present and accounted for here to make for a gripping read. Messum -- author of the unputdownable BAIT -- has a keen sense of where the pressure points of tension live in his story and how to exploit them. This isn't as fast or burning a read as BAIT -- it takes its time a bit more with world-building and character development and unraveling the mystery at the heart of the story, but these are all good things.
It wasn't surprising for me to read then that HUSK's been optioned by a UK company to adapt into a television series. The tone and themes are very similar to another show I adore and can't wait to get more of -- Black Mirror. That HUSK would make a great Black Mirror episode is probably the highest praise I can give it.
***The author was gracious enough to provide me with a free copy for review....more
Eh. This one just couldn't carry its weight to the end for me. It just went on for too long so much so by the end my eyes were glazing over and I didn Eh. This one just couldn't carry its weight to the end for me. It just went on for too long so much so by the end my eyes were glazing over and I didn't really care anymore. Maybe if pared back by about 100 pages a tighter, leaner narrative would have been the result and that might have helped things.
The book has a great premise and there are a few creepy scenes, but overall things just take too long to unspool. By the time all the pieces start to come together, none of it feels like a surprise or that compelling. And since there is a "Manson Family" vibe to the whole affair it all starts to feel a little too recycled in its familiarity, despite the supernatural elements that by the climax also feel rather clumsy and heavy-handed.
It's a bummer to have to 2-star this one. I really thought it was going to grab me by the short hairs, especially after this resounding endorsement from Nick Cutter:
"A monstrous Russian nesting doll of a book, holding secrets within secrets; the plot barrels headlong towards one of the most shocking climaxes you're ever likely to read. This one is going to wreck you."
Either Mr. Cutter is extending a tremendous generosity to a fellow author, or I'm just the bitchy meanie who missed the point. Maybe a little from Column A, and a little from Column B.
Wreck me? Hardly. I saw the ending coming a mile away.
Short, pulpy fun. Effective, evocative writing, very vivid and visual. And a twist ending (which I'm not sure I totally understood LOL, but enjoyed neShort, pulpy fun. Effective, evocative writing, very vivid and visual. And a twist ending (which I'm not sure I totally understood LOL, but enjoyed nevertheless). Still, this little diddy is a definite recommended read that's available for FREE from your preferred book retailer. This flavourful free taste has only whetted my appetite for more Xane.
I'm a self-identified horror addict and veteran of the genre. It takes A LOT to rattle my cage. This book? It is an unholy abomi SWEET UNHOLY JEBUS!!!!
I'm a self-identified horror addict and veteran of the genre. It takes A LOT to rattle my cage. This book? It is an unholy abomination - a dark, seething morass of gore and human depravity. It is not a fun read. But if you are so minded, it is a keenly compelling and profoundly disturbing one.
And now a word about this book's parentage. What unhinged mind gave birth to such a darkling monster?
There's this Canadian author Craig Davidson. You may have heard of him. He is a wonderful literary writer who has been nominated for prestigious awards, and one of his short stories has even been adapted into a critically acclaimed film. But Davidson has a dark side you see -- an alter ego that hijacks his more literary proclivities and pushes his writing into macabre and horrific territory.
Meet Nick Cutter, one of the most exciting things to happen to horror in the last decade. And he's CANADIAN. So just when you think we're all nice and polite and spend our days drinking Tim Horton's coffee and playing hockey, think again.
About being Richard Bachman (Stephen King's too short-lived alter ego) King quotes the late Donald Westlake referring to his very own alter ego Richard Stark: "I write Westlake stories on sunny days. When it rains. I'm Stark." For Davidson, I like to imagine the same rule applies. Sunny days he writes as Craig -- when it rains, Cutter takes over the writing room and anything goes. Anything.
But here's the twist (are you still with me?): before there was Cutter, there was this guy Patrick Lestewka -- and let's be clear here -- he makes Nick Cutter look like Mister Rogers. In fact, I think when Davidson realized he had this sub-id consciousness living inside of him -- this psycho "other" -- it scared the living shit out of him so much that he created Nick Cutter TO KILL Lestewka in an act of self-preservation. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn't? It doesn't bear pondering.
Lestewka had to die. Unlike the late, gone too soon Bachman, we will NOT mourn his passing. Instead we will breathe a sigh of relief, for it is a terrible, grotesque landscape in which he maneuvered, where he beckons us to come play, where the light never shines, where all hope is gone, and cruelty is the only currency.
Back in 2014, I shared a Q&A with Nick Cutter on my blog. I didn't know about Lestewka then, and now really wish I had because I would have loved to have gotten Cutter's take on the guy -- maybe even a confession of murder of the pseudonym! Ah well, there's always next time. ...more
Ah shizzle. I'm going to be the party pooper on this one. It was okay. Love the premise but it just didn't bite me, at least not in any place where I like to be bitten.
Creepy undertones, exotic setting, with a familiar Twilight Zone / Night Gallery vibe. Should be all good things but it ultimately just doesn't deliver on the goods in a memorable way.
Since this one fizzled for me, I want to take the time to put a plug in for Tor shorts. They're offering some amazing, inventive prose for FREE, and the accompanying artwork for each story is sublime. I keep meaning to read more of these. Bookmark this page!
Three of my most favorite Stephen King sci-fi-esque stories include the novellas The Mist and The Langoliers and the not to be missed short story "The Three of my most favorite Stephen King sci-fi-esque stories include the novellas The Mist and The Langoliers and the not to be missed short story "The Jaunt" (which if you haven't read this delightful, chilling diddy yet GO DO IT NOW and thank me later). Seriously, it's awesome.
The Fold in all of its pulpy goodness, thrums along with a vibration that's very Stephen King in its approach to sci-fi and I couldn't help but be reminded of those three stories while burning through its pages. It's fun, it doesn't take itself too seriously, and the plot doesn't get too bogged down or concern itself too much with the science. For sci-fi purists, Clines approach would probably come off as lazy here -- but for me, it was just right, just enough at all the right times.
There comes a moment in the novel (you'll know when you get there) where I screamed and thought the story was heading in a very different (much desired) direction than where it eventually ends up. The horror fiend in me perpetually lusting after her next scare was okay with that though. There's still lots that will goose your adrenaline centers and get the heart racing. This is a sci-fi thriller, with the emphasis on thrill with some other "stuff" thrown in to blow your skirt up at the end. And I can't talk about that "stuff" because you know, that would make me a spoilering asshole. Let's leave all that fine spoilering to Uncle Stevie, shall we? He does it so well.
I absolutely love and cannot recommend enough Clines other book 14 which in the telling and execution falls much more on the horror end of the spectrum. The two books read extremely well side by side however, and if you read one you will absolutely have to read the other to enjoy the tuning fork resonance that Clines has set up so very nicely.
And how much did I love our main character Mike Erikson? He's the smartest guy you will ever meet with a crazy IQ score and a photographic memory -- he literally remembers everything he's ever seen or heard. Which sounds awesome when you're simply talking about replaying your favorite Marvel movie in your head while you fall asleep. Not so awesome when you have instant full sensory engaged memories of somebody's horrible death. This "talent" / "curse" should make Mike either a full-on arrogant asshole, a complete weirdo with no social skills or a combination of both, but he's neither. Mike is just a nice guy, a school teacher trying to live out his life with relative normalcy.
His supporting cast are the jerk faces and arrogant assholes almost laughably so sometimes. But they do get better and more likable as the story hits the 3/4 mark. I did shake my head at how many times the phrase "but that's impossible!" was thrown about even as they stood around this spectacular fold in space-time dimension and all these crazy incidences keep piling up on top of one another. Rather than see it as a weakness in the story though, I actually found it added some much needed comic-relief. When things are at their craziest and someone is still shouting "but that's impossible!" you really have to laugh. At least I did.
So final verdict -- a pulpy, extremely fun, page-turning sci-fi thriller that will make a most excellent addition to your summer reading.
A reclusive couple's power goes out and they are forced to use their scarce survivalist supplies to live off the grid.
Sometimes I can be too damn liteA reclusive couple's power goes out and they are forced to use their scarce survivalist supplies to live off the grid.
Sometimes I can be too damn literal for my own good -- and resistant to anything mind-bendy, trippy, weird, or otherwise Weird. That one sentence plot summary above (not to mention the snappy title and awesome cover art) had me salivating to get my hands on this Grindhouse novella. I love any kind of a survival story, especially if you throw in off the grid and possibly end of the world elements.
Survival makes strange bedfellows of us all. It brings out the best (and worst) in us. It makes allies of enemies and makes us kill (and sometimes possibly eat) our allies. For dramatic purposes, survivalstories are the sweetsweetsiren song in my wheelhouse.
This story? Well, it's kind of false advertising in a way. It *is* a story about a couple losing their power, and it is *sort of* about a couple trying to live "off the grid" but it is in no way a literal interpretation of these things. This is not a survival story.
If anything, it is much more a dark, grotesque psychological exploration of paranoia and our often tenuous relationship with reality and our construction of it. Any other time, and *that* could have been in my wheelhouse too, it's just I was expecting (due to my own penchant for literalness) a grabby, clawing "oh my god the water's turned off and our cupboards are bare" survival story and what I got was an unsettling, weird, examination of one couple's descent into Hell? madness? bad hygiene? a horrible toxic marriage? a fifth dimension?
Normally, I love it in the shadowy, shaky corners of The Twilight Zone, it just didn't work for me here. Effective, evocative writing though!!! Kudos for that. And some fairly, squishy, glucky, squirmy scenes for those who appreciate things of an effluvium nature. ...more
I am familiar with Richard Chizmar because A) I *love* Cemetery Dance Publications (which he founded) and B) Chizmar has launched a massive King re-read and you can follow his progress (not to mention fabulous guest posts) here at his blog Stephen King Revisited.
So in my Twitter feed this evening was a link to this short story. Who can resist a short story called "The Box"? Every time I see that title I give a little shudder and give in to a lot curiosity, because WHO DOESN'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT'S IN THE BOX?!
I'll ALWAYS need to know what's in the mothereffing box. Yeah, curiosity. She's a real bitch.
So this story? It's gooooood. Pulpy good and creepy (if a little derivative and predictable). Still, at 15 pages, definitely worth a read. Go check it out now! Don't you want to know what's in the box too??? ...more