I always feel guilty when I snag a book from Netgalley and don't love it. But hey -- impartial reviewing and honest reader response is what we all cra I always feel guilty when I snag a book from Netgalley and don't love it. But hey -- impartial reviewing and honest reader response is what we all crave, right? So I get over that guilt pretty quickly.
Adam Rockoff has a great idea here. While my real passion is to watch horror movies (not read about them) every once in a while a book like this sneaks past my defenses with a come hither look I can't resist. That's what this book did with its great cover and catchy (if wordy) title.
Essentially what Rockoff is attempting to do here (and largely fails) is what Stephen King accomplished decades ago with flair and brilliance in his nonfiction study of the horror genre Danse Macabre. What did I want this Christmas season? What do I long for keenly every year that passes? A goddamn, updated sequel! Get on that Uncle Stevie, before it's too late!
King's masterpiece covers horror in all its manifestations in print, and on the big and small screens. Rockoff narrows his focus to just the movies, and that would be enough if it had been a wide view of horror on the big screen, but Rockoff's kink is the slasher / exploitation films (the subtitle for this book should have been my first clue).
Rockoff has already written a book about the rise of the slasher film called Going to Pieces -- heh, cute title -- and without having read it, I'm left with a sneaking suspicion that this follow-up book treads a lot of the same ground. In The Horror of it All Rockoff has a major rant against Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel for a special edition episode of their show Sneak Previews aired in 1980 in which the film critics lambast these "slasher" flicks as a dangerous and despicable trend in film both demeaning and dangerous to women (these men are so high up on their high horse here I can't imagine they can still see the ground). Don't get me wrong -- I love Roger Ebert, he remains one of my favorite film critics -- but boy, was he mostly a fuss bucket when it came to horror movies in general. It wasn't his genre of choice and it showed in many of his prejudicial (and often undeserved) negative reviews of some great movies.
Rockoff is justified in tearing a strip off these two men in an instance where they show complete ignorance about a genre and its fans. Neither Siskel or Ebert appear to have actually sat through any of these movies they are so quick to dismiss as sleazy and misogynist. They show no awareness of "the Final Girl" who often survives to slay the "monster" herself, as well as suffering from the common misconception that it's only women killed in slasher films. Quite the contrary; studies show men are just as likely to die violent deaths on screen in horror movies as their female counterparts.
But I get it. As a fan of the genre since before I could tie my own shoes, I've come up against that kind of prejudice many, many times. Horror is a genre where the consumer is attacked as often as the content itself. Understanding the appeal factor of horror is difficult for some people to accept, people who will look at you with a wary expression as they ask "how can you read/watch that stuff"? As if we should be ashamed, as if we are somehow mentally warped or our moral compass dangerously askew. Don't worry, it isn't. Horror appeals to many of us for very solid, rational, non-psychopathic reasons, I swear. And it appeals just as equally to men as it does women. And that doesn't make the men misogynists, or the women failed feminists.
But I digress. Back to Rockoff. His goal here is to really champion for the slasher films and the deranged and disturbing pushing all the boundaries it can possibly think of exploitation films. And I wouldn't have had a problem with that. But it gets a bit repetitive and tiresome and a lot of the movies he winds up talking about are pretty obscure if you're not a complete and utter fanatic for everything underground and out of print (I'm not).
In his introduction, Rockoff promises to approach horror in a very personal essay, knitting together his experiences of the genre using memoir as a lens. I love that idea. I love hearing about people's personal reactions to movies or what was going on in their lives when. One of my favorites of these sorts of anecdotes came from my own mother. She was dating my father at the time of the theatrical release of The Exorcist.
It was a date movie for them (these are my genes). They had to park the car at the very back of the mall parking lot. When the movie let out after 11pm the mall was closed and the parking lot was almost empty. They walked to the dark, abandoned hinterland of the lot to their car. When my mother went to open the passenger door (this was 1970's Newfoundland - people rarely locked their car doors) a giant looming shadow of a man sat up in the back seat and groaned. My mother screamed. My father cursed (and probably shit himself). Turns out that while they were watching the movie, this guy stumbled out of the bar drunk and crawled into my parents car to pass out mistaking the car as belonging to his friend.
Rockoff has a few personal stories like this, humorous and charming, but not nearly enough of them. He can't help but slip into the film school analysis voice, reviewing and critiquing. Too much of the book's contents feel like grad school essays, a little pompous and righteous. In an effort to "legitimize" horror and testify to its importance and validity, Rockoff comes off sounding like a bit of a haughty dick.
Then there's some sections that just don't work at all, and their inclusion confounds me. Case in point -- in Chapter 5 "Sounds of the Devil" Rockoff talks about the (un)natural marriage of heavy metal music to horror movies. The two go together like PB&J in some ways, in other ways it's a misfit experiment gone awry. He raises a few interesting points and then inexplicably goes right off the reservation with a blow-by-blow account of the time in 1985 Tipper Gore helped found the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and brought the fight to Washington in the hopes of compelling the music industry to adopt a voluntary rating system warning of the explicit lyrics destined to corrupt and warp innocent children.
If you've made it to the end of this lengthy, rambling review I thank you. You are a good sport and too kind. I didn't hate this book but it failed to really engage me or entertain. I don't recommend it; instead, pop some popcorn, turn out the lights and cue up your favorite scary movie.
This is when Goodreads is acting at its optimal best -- friend reads book and writes great review: friend recommends book to you: you seek book out an This is when Goodreads is acting at its optimal best -- friend reads book and writes great review: friend recommends book to you: you seek book out and read it: you enjoy book and will now recommend it to others.
I most likely would never have stumbled across this title on my own, especially since it is a short novella available only in ebook format by an author I had not previously heard of. This is why we cherish our book pushing friends who can give us a poke, a nudge, a heads-up when something special passes across their reading radar.
For those of you Goodreads users who believe three stars indicates an average, unenthusiastic endorsement, PLEASE do not take my rating as such. The Shelter is a supremely creepy, in a lot of ways "classic" horror story that is filled with sublime suspense and great characterization. The tone and mood are heavy and dark, cynical even. I was enthralled every moment. The writing hits that sweet spot at the intersection of literary meets pulp.
The Shelter is a familiar horror trope of going where you're not supposed to and paying the price. Yet, for all of its familiarity and even its predictability, the story still manages to suspend the reader in a prolonged state of uneasiness and upset. The exploration of the nebulous and often toxic ties binding together young boys where bullying and manipulation masquerade as genuine friendship is also very well done.
If you're looking for a quick and dirty foray into the dark for Halloween, you'll not go wrong with this one.
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.
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.
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
Meh. Having cut my reading teeth on horror, I'm always on the lookout for "appropriate" suggestions to make to kids who come seeking a shivery experie Meh. Having cut my reading teeth on horror, I'm always on the lookout for "appropriate" suggestions to make to kids who come seeking a shivery experience of jolts and scares. David Lubar's Weenies series has been one I've gone back to time and time again. Perhaps I've just read one too many Weenie tales, because unfortunately this latest collection feels like Lubar merely phoned it in. There was little pizzazz and very few genuine creeps and giggles, elements I have come to expect from the series.
If you've got a reluctant young reader in your life, and he or she is a fan of the heebie-jeebies track down the earlier books. Some of those are a hoot and a half. ...more
What the hell do you read next after you finish a book like this!?
While not a full on frontal assault horror novel in the tradition of The Shining or What the hell do you read next after you finish a book like this!?
While not a full on frontal assault horror novel in the tradition of The Shining or Pet Sematary, Revival definitely ranks as one of the darkest, most unsettling books King has written in a long time. It's a slow burn that touches on a lot of themes we've come to expect from King in his golden years -- family, nostalgia, grief and loss. King turned 67 this year and he seems to have reached a point in his life where the "big questions" about what it all means Alfie, and where we all end up are weighing heavy on his mind and heart. It's inevitable, right? I turned 40 this year, and I know those questions have already started to weigh on me.
This is one of those books I want to peel back layer by layer and dig down deep into its beating heart. King has moved past penning coming-of-age novels to now tackling what happens when we get old. What do our relationships look like to friends, lovers, siblings, parents when we start to lose hair where we want it, and gain it where we don't? What does a life of regret look like? What does redemption look like?
There is this exploration in Revival in a luxurious, patient way that could only be written by an author of King's maturity and discipline. It's been a humbling, emotional experience for me as a Constant Reader to watch how this man's work and art have aged with him, have reached places only possible because he's lived this long to keep telling the tales.
I get frustrated sometimes with certain fans (with hearts in the right place) who still want King to be churning out the kind of books he was writing in the 80's. Some of the best stuff the man has written happened in that decade. No doubt. He was a writing machine. With young kids and a coke habit to boot. But he's not that man anymore. Decades have come and gone and the writing should be changing to reflect that. Not just the style, but the contents. What King cares about, what he's come to realize and believe to be true, these are some of the passions that he injects into his writing now. There is a self-awareness and self-reflection that just wasn't apparent in his earlier novels. I'm not saying one is better than the other, just different, with different rewards to be found and had.
The first three-quarters of this book represent some of the most literary writing King has done over the span of his incredibly long (and hopefully even longer) prolific career. Yes it feels familiar -- there is the small Maine town and the coming-of-age elements of young children navigating a threatening and perilous world. But the writing is so rich this time, lyrical even. The doom is laying on the horizon, you can almost glimpse it, but you don't really know where it's going to come from. Or when.
One of the things I've loved about King over the years is his profound ability to assemble a world and characters that are so very, very normal. They are us. They are him. They are who we know and love. And the world they populate is normal too. Small town USA. Baseball games, apple pie. Rock and roll on the radio. But into this normal world creeps something slimy and sinister. While ordinary life of first loves, car accidents, weddings, births and tinnitus march ever onward, the sinister stays hidden in the shadows, watching and waiting to make its move. It's all so very fucking normal, until it isn't.
It's the rat trap waiting in the dark hole that you just had to stick your hand into. *SNAP*
The last quarter of this book is the snap! and it's either going to work for you or not. King has written a beautiful dedication (he often does) paying his respects to all those legendary writers of the dark who helped "build his house". In the pages of Revival the long shadow of their influence live and breathe in Charles Jacobs' obsession with electricity and his unnatural lifelong quest for answers and revelation. The Bible says: seek and ye shall find. But we must be prepared for the unraveling of the mystery and realize that we are just as likely to fall to our knees in horror as wonder.
I'm shouting his name from the rooftops, are you paying attention? This gentleman has got some serious skill people Alan Ryker! Alan Ryker! Alan Ryker!
I'm shouting his name from the rooftops, are you paying attention? This gentleman has got some serious skill people, writing chops to make you quiver and shake.
Dream of the Serpent is only my second Ryker book (the first being The Hoard) but with it he has clinched a spot on my author to watch radar. Color me a smitten kitten.
Burning is the sort of thing that changes you forever. It makes you realize that you're an animal, that all the rest is pretense.
The prose and pacing is exquisitely rendered here reflecting a maturity and mastery of the craft that is a pleasure to read even when what you are reading is fraught with pain and despair. When I picked up this book I was wholly unprepared to read such a graphic, explicit depiction of a young man's savage burns and the life he must confront post-fire. It is tragedy at its most gripping and devastating, so poignant and raw and in your face. It's impossible not to become positively engrossed in Cody's story and his ultimate fate.
This is not a "horror" story per se, but there is plenty here that is shocking and horrific. It is in its way a love story as well, or at least just what and how much we are willing to sacrifice for those we love. Amongst the punishing bleak detail of excruciating hopelessness, there emerges a twisty, mindfuck tale of second chances that's mysterious and oh so satisfyingly constructed in its parts.
Bravo Mr. Ryker. Bravo.
A free copy was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for an honest review....more