I'm so remiss in my reviews of late, but I really wanted to make sure I wrote something for this one to draw your attention to it: A) because it's a wI'm so remiss in my reviews of late, but I really wanted to make sure I wrote something for this one to draw your attention to it: A) because it's a whole lot of wacky, weird and wild fun (something I've come to expect from this author) and B) said author was generous enough to send me a copy in the mail so the very least I can do is tell the reading world what I thought of it.
James Renner is the author of the mind-bending, genre-mashing The Man from Primrose Lane and you really must read that one if you are looking for something that is wholly unlike anything else. There was some buzz a few years back that Bradley Cooper had been tapped to star in a film adaptation, but no updates on that yet.
I didn't know what to expect in picking up The Great Forgetting, but you can bet I approached it with keen anticipation. Renner is a brave author who doesn't ever make safe choices. He marches out into the badlands of crazy and bewildering, sees what he finds there, and then puts it into his story. It doesn't always work, but considering the kind of unique crazy pants he's peddling, it works amazingly, unforgettably (heh) well most of the time.
This one starts as almost a quiet domestic drama: an unassuming high school teacher returns to his hometown where his sister is looking after their senile father. Jack has to deal with an ex-girlfriend who married his best childhood friend Tony. But Tony has gone missing and his wife wants Jack to help her get him declared deceased. In his efforts to do this, Jack meets a boy named Cole, the last person Tony had any significant contact with before his disappearance. Cole is a patient in a psychiatric ward suffering from complex and paranoid delusions. Or are they? The more Jack talks to him the further down the rabbit hole he goes. And takes us with him.
Side note of interest: James Renner is definitely an author to watch. And while he has a noteworthy talent spinning wild and crazy tales of speculative fiction, Renner is also a dedicated true crime writer. He is currently researching the unsolved disappearance of Umass nursing student, Maura Murray and will publish True Crime Addict in May 2016 about his experiences. The Maura Murray case is a real life rabbit hole story and it is very easy to become lost in all the moving pieces and arm chair detective theories that exist for this cold case. Renner also maintains a blog of his ongoing investigations that makes for riveting reading if you are into that sort of thing.
Two young armchair detectives are also hosting a pretty decent podcast right now about the Maura Murray case in which Renner has been a guest. The hosts are currently at work on a documentary. ...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.
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 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 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.
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 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
This new series by Steve Niles (he of 30 Days of Night fame) has got my attention. It's the future, and the robots have risen up and destroyed the Ea This new series by Steve Niles (he of 30 Days of Night fame) has got my attention. It's the future, and the robots have risen up and destroyed the Earth. But don't think Terminator, think War of the Worlds (the remake with Tom Cruise). While of man-made and not alien origin, the robots are huge towering machines that lumber across the land like metal warships, either solo or in groups, hunting humans for their blood. The machines require blood for fuel; their continued existence depends on procuring it, but such insatiable appetite has wiped the planet clean of all life forms unlucky enough to have blood pumping in their veins -- big or small, animal or human.
Humans are on the cusp of extinction. What gives this story its twist is that they are not the only ones -- vampires are also facing annihilation. Without humans (or even animals) to feed on, they too are starving and dying off. Thus evolves an unlikely and tenuous alliance -- vampire and human -- against the unstoppable machines. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
I love the premise here. It's got me. I love the artwork even more. While not created equal in every panel, the majority of it is gorgeous, capturing a grey, dead, post-apocalyptic landscape punctuated by explosions of ruby as the last of the world's blood is shed and consumed by metal monsters.
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
If the plethora of J-horror coming out of Japan the last 15 years hasn't convinced you of the country's own unique brand of crazy pants in the best, m If the plethora of J-horror coming out of Japan the last 15 years hasn't convinced you of the country's own unique brand of crazy pants in the best, most entertaining way, then this book will. And there's a movie! Which I now have to hunt down.
Because crazy pants, did I mention? So much crazy pants.
This isn't horror, but it is really messed up. It's a revenge tale about screwed up, damaged narrators who each get to tell a piece of the story, so you won't have all the pieces of the puzzle until the very end.
No one is likable. If you are a reader who wants an emotional story and characters that you can relate to, then skip this one.
But if you're like me, and you like the crazy pants, then definitely check this one out.
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.
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