Even though this is my first Tony Burgess read, I'm not exactly a Burgess virgin. He's a bit of a cult figure in Canada, thanks largely in part to the...more Even though this is my first Tony Burgess read, I'm not exactly a Burgess virgin. He's a bit of a cult figure in Canada, thanks largely in part to the iconic zombie flick Pontypool, based on his novel Pontypool Changes Everything. Confession time: I've seen the movie (it's brilliant), but I never got around to reading Burgess's book. Or anything else by him either. Until now.
Sweet Jebus. I was dimly aware of his reputation as a gore master, a mad splatter genius who frequently pushes boundaries of decency and sanity every chance he gets. It's a reputation well-deserved. Reminiscent of another iconic Canadian's early work -- David Cronenberg -- Burgess delves into body horror in such a way to disarm the reader and distress the shit out of you.
It's not a mere gross out that's easily dismissed as senseless pulp either, but an exercise in relentless brutality that leaves you mentally and emotionally floundering. In a lot of ways, reading The n-Body Problem reminded me of Kafka's The Metamorphosis because I was left feeling similarly shuddering and sad. (view spoiler)[The narrator's fate as an armless, legless torso mummy wrapped and encased in glass is a metamorphosis that leads to much the same kind of alienation and dehumanization experienced by Gregor Samsa. Except the ultimate fate of the narrator here is so much worse, if such horrors can indeed be quantified. (hide spoiler)]
This isn't a book I would easily recommend. It's Grade A disturbing, and very much not nice. I repeat: This is not a nice book. It doesn't want to hold your hand, or stroke your hair. Or make you laugh and feel better about life's absurdities. It wants to show you something very dark and nasty, about humans, about death, about our fear of death and extinction. Approach with caution -- and a very strong stomach. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Deciding to tell a story about a physically disfigured child who lusts after his biological mother while living out their lives in the long, judgmenta...more Deciding to tell a story about a physically disfigured child who lusts after his biological mother while living out their lives in the long, judgmental, crucifying shadow of the Catholic Church in 1950's St. John's Newfoundland ... is ... curious at best. But also weird and ... questionable.
I'm not sure what kind of a book Johnston thought he was writing. At first it seems humorous and whimsical, a slice of Frank McCourt meets a heaping portion of John Irving. There's poverty, a dysfunctional family, religion, sexual awakening, and some odd occurrences that make you laugh just for their very oddness and inappropriateness.
But as the book progresses, the oddities start to fall flat onto the very shoulders of uninteresting and boring. If Son of a Certain Woman is meant to be Johnston's indictment of the corrupt and nasty hold the Catholic Church at one time held over the historic and capital city of St. John's it really doesn't succeed, neither as a parable, or tongue-in-cheek satire (if that's what you're looking for, get Codco on DVD).
Where it really fails is as a meaningful and emotional coming-of-age story. I didn't fall in love with anybody and did not feel as if there were any stakes worth cheering for. (view spoiler)[Despite Percy's precociousness and precarious place in the world, I could not open my mind wide enough to hope that his gob-smackingly, sensual mother finally lays him. (hide spoiler)]
My disappointment here is heartfelt. I love Johnston's writing and his unerring ability to capture the layered realities and eccentricities of my home and my people. I did enjoy some of his descriptions of the 1950's streets of St. John's, but sometimes, in an effort to paint that portrait, the brush strokes felt a little heavy-handed and clumsy, like a travel book or described video.
While it pains me to do it, I am recommending a pass on this one.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Elaine: (on boys giving wedgies) Boys are sick. Jerry: What do girls do? Elaine: We just tease someone 'til they develop an eating disorder.~Seinfeld
There can be something so vicious and primal about the way young women torment and bully each other. It's tribal and unrelenting and it disturbs me to my very core because I have three young nieces, one of who is on the cusp of tweendom. And right now I can't decide what would be worse - to have them grow up to be the bullies? Or the bullied?
All I can think of to do is to support their parents in any way I can, and stand vigilant to all warning signs and distress signals of it going either way (and pray that they will each find a neutral safety zone that falls outside the worst of the predator/prey relationships they are sure to confront).
Meet Regina Afton. She is at the very top of her high school's food chain, orchestrating feeding frenzies and character assassinations on a whim. But all that's about to change when after a drunken party it gets out that Regina had sex with her best friend's boyfriend. It doesn't matter that this is a lie. It doesn't matter that the boyfriend in fact tried to rape Regina. All that matters is what her "friends" are willing to believe.
Suddenly, Regina is enemy number one, being targeted as "slut" and "whore" in a ruthless, protracted campaign that only gets worse with each passing day. Summers paints a brutish portrait of the realities of bullying that left me squirming and feeling sick to my stomach.
Point of note: this is hardcore realistic fiction. There are no punches pulled here. If you are sensitive in any way to teen profanity, sexual content, alcohol consumption or drug abuse, then this book is probably not for you. However, if you are seeking out a well-written, emotional, honest book about the dark side of bullying amongst girls, then please read this. Then after you read it, recommend it to all the young women that you know.
For sure this book is dark. For sure there are scenes that are very difficult to read. However, as Regina fights for her survival, there is also hope and humor as she moves closer to uncovering her greatest strengths (and weaknesses).
This is the second installment of Atwood's great serial ebook experiment, and I'm definitely hooked. Choke Collar is an entertaining blend of dark hum...more This is the second installment of Atwood's great serial ebook experiment, and I'm definitely hooked. Choke Collar is an entertaining blend of dark humor mixed with delicious hints of dystopia dangers. I'm thoroughly enjoying the pacing and the when and the how Atwood is choosing to reveal things. I'm being pretty conservative with my star ratings so far, but that's only because I know the story is only barely getting warmed up. Don't let my three stars keep you from picking this up. Three stars in this case is not a reflection of "meh mediocrity" but rather "hmmmm...interesting. I want more please."
I love the nasty implications of "social experiments" gone horribly wrong, or hijacked for other nasty purposes. Humans do weird things when they are rigidly controlled. It is not in our nature it seems to respond well to being mere mice in a maze. Both Stan and Charmaine are great examples of this as they persist in their debauched extra-curricular activities.
(view spoiler)[Charmaine is fascinating to me as she continues to have her lurid affair with "Max" while she plays happy housewife with Stan yet still finds the time to take pride in her day job. Even though her day job is killing people by lethal injection, Charmaine finds the romance in it. She believes she has a "talent" -- and has even added her own personal touches -- the kiss on the forehead -- to a very ritualized procedure. It's amazing what can become "normal" under the right, twisted circumstances.
Stan is an ass, but I have to think much of his dysfunction and outright more unlikeable qualities are a result of Consilience than his natural character. He certainly paid for his pervy, lustful obsession with a woman who turned out to only exist in his imagination. Jocelyn is quite the bird too. A dominatrix flair with a Black Widow sting, and I found myself laughing helplessly at Stan's fate when he unwittingly falls into her spider trap and particular brand of torture.
The 'big reveal' offers a satisfying cliffhanger -- organ trafficking? Sweet. What will happen to Stan? Will Charmaine "kill him"? What will he do if he makes it outside the walls of Consilience? Does Stan even have it in him to be a hero? Is that even what Jocelyn and Phil really want or are they setting him up for something else? (hide spoiler)]
Ah Ms. Atwood. We meet again. You and I haven't been getting along so well of late. The Blind Assassin? Oryx and Crake? I tried to love them but it wa...more Ah Ms. Atwood. We meet again. You and I haven't been getting along so well of late. The Blind Assassin? Oryx and Crake? I tried to love them but it was not meant to be. But here we are. At last you've given me a tantalizing premise that I just can't walk away from. A dark future? Yes please. A sinister dystopian landscape dressed in idealistic utopian clothing? Tell me more!
While this first installment is short and sweet and only begins to hint at sinister shenanigans, I'm hooked already and will be sticking around for the duration. What I love about any well-constructed dystopia, is its construction. The devil is in the details. I love a slow reveal. I want a bit of foreplay. But then you had better be able to deliver on what you're promising!
I figure at this point in her writing career, I'm in good hands with Atwood and this crazy vision for the future she's concocted. I'm ready to go along for the ride anyway. I respect her tremendously as an author despite some painful misses, and The Handmaid's Tale has a permanent spot on my all-star team of favorites. Dystopias are my crystal meth, and Atwood's classic tale about reproductive rights is 'the blue stuff' -- Heisenberg grade if you kennit.
So far we have a kinky story going on that seems more lustful than outright unnerving and paranoid. But already I'm getting Stepford vibes that something is rotten in the the state of Consilience. Oh my my, Ms. Atwood, what do you have up your sleeve?(less)
I don't know how I'm going to do this, move through the hours like someone who wants to still be breathing when I had so firmly made up my mind to stop.
Wow. This little book has completely floored me. I was not expecting something so deep, so very melancholic yet shot through with the irrepressible human need to hope. Not just irrepressible, Summers shows us that hope is irreducible. Stripped to its basest core, hope just might be the evolutionary urge that has kept us going as a species for millennia -- in the face of disasters and war, atrocities and cruelty, in the face of bottomless grief, crushing despair, paralyzing loneliness and love lost. And I have no doubt that when the zombie apocalypse comes, it will be this amazing capacity to salvage hope from the ruins that will save us.
In This is Not a Test we meet Sloane, a young woman who has lost her ability to hope and thus, her will to live. She is alone with a father who beats her, abandoned by the only person in this life she has ever loved, her older sister Lily. Lily always told her they would escape together, that she would wait for her...and then she didn't. The depth of this betrayal slices through Sloane leaving her panicked, floundering, numb, then finally resigned. Her sister always said that Sloane would die without her -- and now Sloane has decided that she was right. At the point when Sloane knows she cannot possibly continue to live for another single intake of breath, zombies come pounding at the front door. The world is in chaos. Death is in every backyard, on every street corner. And suddenly, the young woman who was going to take her own life, is now running for it.
Yes this book has zombies but PLEASE, if that's not your thing, don't let it keep you from reading it. This is a story rich with emotion because Summers has such a genuine talent for creating memorable, unique characters. A book of six teens where every voice is distinctive and grounded firmly in reality is rare and precious. Hell, that's rare and precious for fiction period. The way these kids relate to one another, approaching with caution, testing for vulnerabilities, seeking approval, acceptance, a safe unconditional embrace, just left me riveted. I can tell you, I WAS IN THAT HIGH SCHOOL with them. I felt their fear and pain. I watched them come together, pull apart, rage and cry ... and I cried with them. Oh yes, there were tears people.
So many reviewers have pointed out that this book isn't about the zombies, but I would add that it's not just about the zombies. Because unlike some other books, the zombies are more than mere window dressing here or a fleeting, ill-defined threat. While there are very few actual sightings and encounters, there remains a stifling, almost suffocating sense of them at all times. In fact, there are several truly terrifying scenes, scenes that only work because Summers understands the critical relationship between tension and release. There is so much quiet in this novel, that when she ratchets up the suspense to a scream in the final 40 pages it's enough to make your heart beat right the fuck out of your chest.
I really loved everything about this book. I could search for flaws, as I'm sure they exist, but I'm not going to. I got lost in it. I thought about it when I was away from it, and I couldn't wait to get back to it. I was reading it on the bus on my way home today and nearly missed my stop because I was so engrossed. Read this! READ IT! I can't state it any more emphatically than that. Don't believe me? Read Catie's review. She'll convince you.
P.S. and I was so excited to learn that Courtney Summers is Canadian! Yay, Canada :)
Women and men. Girls and boys. People I might've known but can't recognize anymore. There is every shade of blood--black, brown, red, pink. All eyes looking at us through that same milky film that sees us for what we are and what they are not anymore.
I enjoyed parts of this book very much. Andrew Pyper is a talented storyteller and I will continue to seek him out. He gets character development, und...more I enjoyed parts of this book very much. Andrew Pyper is a talented storyteller and I will continue to seek him out. He gets character development, understands the integrity of back story, knows how to draw out suspense and when to twist the knife in. All of these elements are on spectacular display in his latest novel The Guardians, but I did find them to be a little lacking here.
This is a good novel, and if you desire an original take on a whodunit mystery with some horror elements thrown in for good measure, there’s a chance it will read as a great novel. I’m not a mystery lover so much of what Pyper achieves here stylistically was lost on me. The long drawn out approach to the missing and murdered, the red herrings, and the process of making just about everyone equally suspicious started to lose its charm for me about three-quarters of the way through.
I will say that this is an expertly plotted piece that hits no wrong notes. It is a unique premise blending several genres together in an interesting way. I love Pyper’s insights into the psyche of aspiring novelists. The sequences describing the writing circle itself cast a spell on me that reminded me both of Ghost Story and Stephen King’s novella The Breathing Method.
I did appreciate the ending (view spoiler)[and the fact that the father was able to sacrifice himself for his son using such currency as his own dark story. I also appreciated that what was looking to be a supernatural story, turned out to not be that at all. At least, I didn’t think so. The villains were vampires alright, but of the human sort. The fact that they could disappear into the night had more to do with their sociopathic tendencies and lifestyle, not anything paranormal. (hide spoiler)]
All of this to say it’s my fault that this book didn’t get a higher rating, not Pyper’s. Recommended. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Part of what we share is the knowledge that every small town has a second heart, smaller and darker than the one that pumps the blood of good intentions. We alone know that the picture of home cooking and oak trees and harmlessness is false. This is the secret that binds us. Along with the friends who share its weight. ~The Guardians
What is not to love about this book? It is a coming of age story about friendship. It is a story of ghosts and secrets. It is a tale of damaged men who discover the past cannot be outrun, but must be faced head on if one is to survive it. Best of all, The Guardians is a crystalline snapshot portrait of small town life wrapped in gorgeous prose that will scare the living bejeebers out of you.
The creep factor buried in its pages is huge and unrelenting. The story starts off subtle and small, like a soft tapping sound on your window at night, but by the end it has you by the throat and is screaming in your face. This is a genuine, honest to goodness haunted house story with teeth and I loved every minute of it.
I want to thank Sue for bringing this book to my attention. She promised epic heebie jeebies and she did not lie. How people live in houses with earthen cellars I do not know. (less)
I thought I would be ga-ga over the moon for this book. It has all the ingredients I’m usually such a sucker for – coming-of-age; first-person narrato...moreI thought I would be ga-ga over the moon for this book. It has all the ingredients I’m usually such a sucker for – coming-of-age; first-person narrator; dysfunctional family; humor; the mother and daughter relationship; it’s even set in Canada during a time period that should make me feel nostalgic. I really liked it, parts of it work amazingly well, but overall I’m left feeling empty and a little cheated. It’s like I was promised a real, live, bloody beating heart and then after being led down the garden path a few times I was handed a cut-out of a black and white diagram from a 1960s biology textbook. Or remember this ad from a few years ago? The expression on that kid’s face perfectly sums up how I’m feeling right now (a little cheated, a little mistreated).
The structure of this novel is impressive; Kirshner’s control of language is enviable and she is obviously a talented writer (hence the 3 stars). But here’s the thing: even though all the technical aspects of the novel are firmly in place – plotting, pacing, characterization, metaphors, analogies, foreshadowing, the works – most readers are searching for more than technical proficiency when they sit down and open a book. I don’t like to feel manipulated by literary devices and tricks of the trade. I want to be swept away goddamn it, and be pulled out of my own life for awhile. I want to live and breathe a story and totally believe in the characters I’m reading about. I want to feel their pain and cheer for their success. There is just something a little too contrived and … I don’t know … kitschy about the struggles in this one.
The first 1/3 of the book sort of reminded me of Running with Scissors – the dysfunction is such that it reaches almost the level of parody. Surely the narrator is taking liberties with memory and exaggeration. In the case of Where We Have to Go, I found myself struggling with the way Lucy’s parents related to her and spoke with her. Things are said that left me scratching my head thinking: “would parents really talk to their 11 year old kid like that? Even an only child?” As for Lucy, her precociousness is so over-the-top, her insights so keen, I could never really buy her as “just a kid”. Her “beyond her years” wisdom is jarring and unconvincing when we also consider she’s prancing around in ALF merchandise (not even realizing it’s long off the air and she’s watching it in syndication).
Other things that left me unsatisfied: (view spoiler)[Lucy’s mom and her friend trying to set Lucy up with a boy when she’s TWELVE YEARS OLD. Huh??? Really? I know young girls are growing up faster than ever these days, but do you really need your mother pimping you out? I also felt the “anorexia” bit kind of a throwaway part of the novel; it lagged and didn’t ring true for me. It felt like forced drama attempting to add “depth” to Lucy’s coming-of-age trials. I also did not appreciate the quick death of Lucy’s mother at the end. I felt emotionally manipulated. There’s nothing more tragic or devastating than dying mothers battling cancer. It felt like a cheap ploy and made me angry. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, while the novel is technically proficient and reads very strong in places, I find myself not able to recommend it. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Immensely enjoyable read about the devastating powers of peer pressure and conformity. If it's happening to the other guy, it's not happening to me. W...moreImmensely enjoyable read about the devastating powers of peer pressure and conformity. If it's happening to the other guy, it's not happening to me. We learn that early on and too many people take this lesson into their adult lives. We need to teach our children to be courageous and stand up for what's right.
Canada's Chocolate War. Sure to appeal to a teen audience.(less)
This book made me so uncomfortable for so many reasons...gritty, raw, powerful. At times I almost felt complicit in the brutality and dehumanizing act...moreThis book made me so uncomfortable for so many reasons...gritty, raw, powerful. At times I almost felt complicit in the brutality and dehumanizing actions of the Beckoners. Mac's immense talent is obvious; she remains in total control of her narrative and I as a reader was swept along for the ride, grimacing, white-knuckled, and nauseated, all the way to the bitter end. My one criticism is that the ending seemed a little too "and they all live happily ever after" for me. Perhaps Mac felt she had put the reader through enough and this was her way of apologizing...of offering a message of hope and optimism. But for me the almost trite resolution seemed out of place in a novel so fierce in its unflinching look at teen violence -- how savage, tribal and unrelenting it has become. (less)