There's a buzz book for the summer - you might have heard of it already -- The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Featuring a time traveling serial kille There's a buzz book for the summer - you might have heard of it already -- The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Featuring a time traveling serial killer, it has huge potential for a beach read thriller, but I don't know. Despite enjoying the main character, I felt it was missing something and my overall reaction after reading it was lukewarm.
This book on the other hand is much more to my liking. Probably closer to three and a half stars, it's an easy four in my books because it features all the elements I adore -- suburban New England setting, family secrets and lies, prepubescent girls doing naughty things with tragic consequence. It's an "all grown up and looking back" story as the adult tries to untangle the mysterious events of a dark childhood summer. It's a dual narrative that flips back and forth in time -- from the summer of 1979 to the summer of 2003. There's mood and atmosphere and dread and intrigue. It's a voyeuristic look into the oft-twisted and inappropriate shenanigans of life in the 'burbs.
Sadie is a pushy, bratty kid, with razor sharp smarts and a vivid imagination that's only going to get her into trouble. Her mother is a domineering, manic depressive drunk who isn't going to be there for Sadie when she needs her the most. Out of boredom and as an act of rebellion, Sadie hatches an elaborate ruse to amuse herself and her best friend. It's the summer of 1979 and her victim is the neighborhood outcast, a young girl with a miserable home life. The consequences of this cruel prank will have a tragic ripple effect.
Sadie grows up. The memory of that time is locked away in a deep, dark corner of her mind. She has a husband and two beautiful children. But sorrow has found Sadie. She is grieving her miscarriage and in this vulnerable state, back walks the boy she crushed on as a young girl. He's all grown up and stirring up more than the overwhelming sexual attraction she feels for him. Sadie begins to think about that summer long ago, seeking truth to all the unanswered questions she's lived with her entire life.
For a debut novel, The Longings of Wayward Girls (great title) shows a lot of promise. In the best ways, I was reminded of Megan Abbott's The End of Everything, and Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects. Author Karen Brown is on my radar now and I will definitely be seeking out more of her writing.
1) The main character Kirby is fantastic. She is a survivor (literally), independent, courageous and dete There's a lot for me to love about this book:
1) The main character Kirby is fantastic. She is a survivor (literally), independent, courageous and determined, a bit of a smart ass with a smart mouth. But she's no mere Mary Sue, possessing vulnerabilities and flaws that make her uniquely "Kirby" and nobody else. I found her funny and totally sympathetic. Quite honestly, the entire novel pivots around her. Without her, the intricate house of cards the author builds would collapse in on itself at the slightest shift.
2) The villain Harper is a skeevy, creepy predator, a wholly horrific construct of misogyny and homicidal tendencies. There isn't much depth or nuance to this guy -- he's just a walking talking body of hedonistic impulses and demented desires. We don't get any personal history for him or why he should have become what he's become. We know some of his twisted motivations derive from the magical qualities of "the House" -- but not all of them. You could even argue that "the House" sees the evil in him and draws Harper to itself.
3) It's about time travel in that tangly mind-fuck way that makes my brain itch, a pleasant buzz but one with bite. The mechanics of the time travel are not explained or explored in the ways they usually are in a sci-fi novel. The time travel just exists. There is a "House" that holds the magic and its door opens onto different years of the same city anywhere from the 1930s to the 1990s. It's this "House" that allows for a time traveling serial killer, and for that unique premise alone the book deserves a second look.
What can I say? This book has a lot going for it, and I liked it, I liked it a lot. But not once did I love it. I was intrigued, I played along with the mystery of the time travel, fitting pieces together where I could and trying not to get too caught up in the logic, faulty or otherwise. While Kirby stood out bright as the sun as one of "the Shining Girls", the rest of Harper's victims feel underdeveloped by comparison, almost throwaways, mere plot devices. It was hard not to get them mixed up with each other.
I also felt a tad underwhelmed by Kirby's "hunt" of her attempted killer. The uncovering and following of clues felt clunky, a cobbled together hodge-podge process where results are based more on luck and coincidence than real groundwork and actual "hunting".
This is largely a plot driven piece and if puzzles and the snake eating its own tail nature of time travel appeals to you then definitely check this out. As I was reading it, I was struck by its cinematic qualities, and won't be surprised if The Shining Girls gets optioned for the big screen.
First of all, there are some fantastic four and five star reviews available that really sell the merits of this book's accompOCTOBER COUNTRY 2013 - #1
First of all, there are some fantastic four and five star reviews available that really sell the merits of this book's accomplishments in mood and story. But it's this review that most closely captures my reading experience of it.
What can I say? I like my horror to hit the lizard part of my brain, rather than the mysterious, atmospheric-laden kind that's literary and beautiful, yes, but misses my lizard brain altogether and goes right for the higher thinking part. I'm not opposed to literary horror -- some of it can be quite effective and evocative -- but it's not my favorite, it's not what I seek out, and it's not what I tend to remember. The best horror combines the elements of both, succeeding not only in a literary sense, but in attacking that primal part of our brain that feels and reacts rather than thinks and considers.
I want to provoke an emotional, even visceral, reaction in my readers. Making them think as they read is not my deal...if the tale is good enough and the characters vivid enough, thinking will supplant emotion [only] when the tale has been told and the book set aside.
As a reader of horror, that's the experience I'm seeking first and foremost. I want to be made to feel on an instinctual level of 'fight or flight'. The cerebral stuff is for another time and place.
Aspects of The Sorrow King tickled my lizard brain, but like Elise's time spent in the Obscura, or Steven's long midnight walks, it's more a tale constructed out of dreams and moods, colors and sounds. Don't get me wrong -- things really do happen, frightening things accompanied by disturbing imagery -- I just feel like I spent too much time in my head while reading this one, and not enough time looking over my shoulder for the monster creeping up behind me. ...more
"I can't be an angel. I'm a librarian. That's absurd."
"You? One of heaven's brutes. Unthinking drones, that's all you ever were, and all you'll ever
"I can't be an angel. I'm a librarian. That's absurd."
"You? One of heaven's brutes. Unthinking drones, that's all you ever were, and all you'll ever be. A coward who didn't even have the courage to stand with us and Fall. Now look at you! Neutered. A little puppy dog waiting for its master to throw it a scrap."
I came across this one quite by accident poking around looking for something else. Anything with blood and feathers in the title is going to get my attention. Not because I have anything against birds, mind you; this has much more to do with my on-going fascination with bad-ass angels and when they get to warring with each other in a most epic way and humans are caught in the crossfire.
I could blame all the Catholic catechisms I was forced to endure as a restless child who would have much rather been reading Stephen King, but no. Quite simply, if you extract all of the awesome potential of these creatures away from the sticky, rigid confines of religious canon, what you end up with is a tremendous mythology to fuel a thousand stories and then some. Vampires? Werewolves? Fairies? Shapeshifters? Piss on that. Give me glorious, prideful, warring Angels and their Fallen Brethren any day of the week (and twice on Wednesdays when the CW's Supernatural airs).
This isn't one of the best angel/demon books I've read, but I did enjoy parts of it very much. Lou Morgan has set up her "world" and the rules that govern it quite nicely. I liked her application of angel lore. Figuring out the differences between Earthbounds, Fallen, and Descendeds kept me interested for the first half, and her vision of Hell and its frigid, demented landscape kept me turning the pages for the second half.
Where this one is lacking for me is with character and dialogue. If you're going to introduce Archangels and Lucifer, you better give them some awesome things to say. They shouldn't speak (or act) like anybody else. Just about everything that pours out of their mouths should raise the hairs on the back of your neck. There was a little touch of that, but not nearly enough for my liking. For comic relief, Vin is adorable, but I've seen his character done many times before, and done better. Alice and Mallory should have more chemistry. In fact, for all the main characters I kept expecting to feel more. Even when Alice descends into Hell itself I didn't feel worried or afraid ... just curious, as in ... this should be interesting.
The series shows promise however, and I'll probably seek out the next book. Blood and Feathers is very cinematic and plot-driven. I can see it making a decent movie.
Surely fear is the oldest emotion. Not love, not pride, not greed. The emotion urging you to run is older than the one telling you to embrace. ~The Bu
Surely fear is the oldest emotion. Not love, not pride, not greed. The emotion urging you to run is older than the one telling you to embrace. ~The Burn Palace
Let's get the Negative Nelly rant out of the way first: I may have just taken too damn long to read this book (it was a hellish work week, and I couldn't seem to find the time needed to just attack the book and submerse myself in it the way it demands). It starts out really strong -- with a great premise -- but somewhere along the way, Dobyns has created so many colorful characters and so many plot threads that the book begins to unravel and stall, rather than gain momentum and tightly coil for the final climactic reveal.
I am officially diagnosing this novel with Attention Deficit Disorder. Because there are so many leads to uncover and investigate, as well as so many people to get to know within the borders of this sleepy little Rhode Island town, the narration flits about quickly often jerkily with no discernible pattern, from character to character, plot point to plot point -- a busy bee desperate to pollinate ALL the flowers in the garden.
Dobyns almost pulls it off. Parts of this novel work extremely well, but it is messy and misdirected in too many places and dare I say a little bit of the investigation starts to feel like an episode of Scooby-Doo. Alright, that's harsh. I should retract that.
Dobyns has proven in the past he has the writing chops to create memorable characters and capture the psychology of small towns besieged by fear and paranoia. What didn't work for me here, worked exceedingly well I thought in The Church of Dead Girls. The difference between that book and this one comes down to narration. While Dead Girls introduces almost as many characters, I feel the story benefits tremendously from the voice of a single narrator telling the story in first-person. It gives the novel a cohesiveness and determined direction that this one seems lacking in.
Okay, those are my complaints. Here are some things I enjoyed, because overall, I did like this book very much. When I did get the time to sit with it for a few hours, I found it casting a spell over me. The descriptive prose sucked me into the streets and lives of Brewster, Rhode Island. Stephen King has been very supportive of Dobyns in the past, blurbing his books, and this time is no different. King writes:
"I entered the small-town world Stephen Dobyns creates with such affection, horror, and fidelity....Dobyns has always been good, but this book is authentically great. The characters are vivid originals, not a stereotype among them, and the story pulled this reader in so completely that I didn't want the book to end, and actually did go back to re-read the first chapter."
Super generous, yes? Reading Dobyns you can definitely sense a "King vibe" going on and it is not a stretch to say that Dobyns has been influenced by King's New England tales of the macabre and small town sinister shenanigans. Dobyns appears to be paying homage to King specifically here with such references as:
1. The novel opens with a baby being stolen from hospital room 217. Later, an abusive father states: "No boy likes to be corrected." (The Shining)
2. One of the lead detectives is named Bobby Anderson. (The Tommyknockers)
3. Another main character describes reading The Shining, Cujo and The Dark Half.
Okay, small things to be sure, but they jumped out at me despite that and made me smile.
I also really enjoyed how the kids are written in this story. They are quirky and precocious without coming off as bratty and annoying. They are King-worthy kids, the highest compliment I can pay. I just wish there had been more of them and less of some of the other plot threads. (view spoiler)[I never quite got why Dobyns introduces Hercel's telekinetic ability though. It seems out of place in a story that turns out NOT to be supernatural but man-made. Hercel's ability struck me as interesting, and I wanted to know more. Instead, it just basically serves as a Deus ex Machina last minute escape when the children are being hunted by coyotes. Disappointing. (hide spoiler)]
So that's it. If only I had more glowing praise to offer. This is a dense book that demands your attention and patience. If you like a challenge, and lots of colorful characters, you may just love this. Dobyns is a great writer and I would never discourage anyone from picking up one of his books.
***Review of ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm pretty sure the idea of being forced to live my life over and over again is something plucked from my worst nightmares, but who among us hasn't be I'm pretty sure the idea of being forced to live my life over and over again is something plucked from my worst nightmares, but who among us hasn't been at least tempted to dream of it occasionally with a wistful sigh. Please, please, please, just one more chance to live the best moments again and when necessary, to make different choices? But I would imagine if any of us were actually tasked to unravel all the "right" and "wrong" choices from our life and to relive the bad with the good, we'd go screaming into the night like raving banshees.
For what is a perfect life? How many kicks at the can would it take for you to answer that question, if it is indeed answerable at all? Change one thing, change everything, change nothing, change all the good, change all the bad. Round and round and round. It's exhausting just thinking about it. What's the saying? If I only knew then, what I know now...what? What would you do different? And would different choices always translate into better choices?
Ursula is a normal British girl except she's pretty certain she's lived her life before, maybe many, many times. The older she gets, the stronger these feelings of deju vu become, hounding her like ghosts in the night. Her prescience is rarely crystal clear, more like moods or instinct. Do this. Don't do that. Run away. Run toward. Stay still.
Life After Life starts slow and unassuming. The story is teasing, the pacing a dawdling, scenic walk through the English countryside. But from the very first page I was enthralled and little did I realize what a powerful spell Atkinson was casting on my reader brain. Because as you continue to read, the book picks up gravity and speed and texture. Each life after life reinforces the tender bonds you have been working on with each of the characters. Your acquaintance with them is not one brief life, but many, many lives. Like Ursula we are both cursed and blessed with the long view, the big picture. We come to know all the various permutations of death, cruelty, love and loss. We bear witness through two World Wars and how some forces, no matter how forewarned, are unstoppable, greater even than the hand of time.
This is a very English story, and is steeped in pre-1950 historical detail. Not ever having watched an episode of Downton Abbey I'll go out on a limb here and suggest fans of that show will love this novel for its acute sense of time and attention to detail. Atkinson is ruthless in her pursuit for authenticity. This is wartime England, no time to pussyfoot around. This has got to be right, and in her quest I believe she succeeds magnificently. The details are small but glorious, and paint such an intimate portrait you will feel absorbed into Ursula's quiet family life where there are disagreements and births, and jealousies and forgiveness. Yes, there is the rumble of the earth as the German bombs fall during the Blitz, but such terrible moments co-exist with the stark ordinariness of a life lived. Dinners, and picnics, and birthdays and games of cricket, and work, and gardening, and lots and lots of tea.
"Ow!" one of the evacuees squealed beneath the table. "Some bugger just kicked me."...Something cold and wet nosed itself up Ursula's skirt. She hoped very much that it was the nose of one of the dogs and not one of the evacuees.
This knowledge of the ATS girl's background seemed to particularly infuriate Edwina, who was gripping the butter knife in her hand as if she were planning to attack someone with it--Maurice or the ATS girl, or anyone within stabbing distance by the look of it. Ursula wondered how much harm a butter knife could do. Enough she supposed.
There is whimsy and humor laced throughout this novel and it makes for a beautiful contrast to the more serious components of tragedy and war. Life is a farce after all; if you can't find the humor in it you've been doing it wrong or have missed the point entirely. Atkinson has not missed the point. As readers, we are in capable hands. She has one helluva story to tell you, and trust me, you don't want to miss it.
First of all, Carol knows what she's talking about. This is another great installment in the Scudder series and I really wavered over whether to give First of all, Carol knows what she's talking about. This is another great installment in the Scudder series and I really wavered over whether to give it five stars or not. It's a flashback novel, back to Scudder's hard drinking, bar crawling days of wee morning hours and head splitting hangovers. This is Scudder in all his glorious dysfunction, surrounded by the other barflies that make up his small cadre of "friends". It's 1970's New York, where Irish bars have Republican Army connections.
Because this is the most intricately plotted of the series thus far, I feel like I didn't get as much Scudder this time around. There's so much going on in this book that Scudder is nearly lost in the details and dialogue required to drive the action forward. Don't get me wrong; he's there, just not as there when it comes to his private ruminations and general observations about life. Turns out that's what I really love even more than a richly constructed plot. My favorite thing about this one is that ending. Holy moses. Betrayal and backstabbing, revenge and a couple of suicides.
(view spoiler)[ I was surprised that Skip went ahead and turned in the actors, including best friend Bobby Ruslander. Betrayal is a horrible thing, and Bobby is a huge asshole for what he did, but for Skip to turn them in to the Irish heavies knowing full well they would be killed, well, that's going to be tough to live with. Scudder takes the reward though "and somewhere along the line it stopped being blood money and became...just money."
Carolyn's suicide was a bit of a shock, but Scudder using her death to frame Tommy really shocked me. He was pretty positive Tommy killed his wife after all, and Tommy is a huge sleazeball, but still. Just desserts? Poetic justice? Scudder justice anyway. I can't help question though whether Scudder would have made the same choice sober. (hide spoiler)]
The last few pages of the novel are the best. Scudder's voice is so strong, the bittersweet nostalgia acute as he recounts all the landmarks that have crumbled and disappeared, all the lost souls lost for good to the hereafter: "So many changes, eating away at the world like water dripping on a rock." It's a strong man looking back from a better place in his life, yet it's a man who still finds himself longing, just a little bit, for "the good old days" of bourbon and coffee, and nights spent drinking til the sacred ginmill closes.
And so we'll drink the final drink That cuts the brain in sections Where answers do not signify And there aren't any questions.
I broke my heart the other day. It will mend again tomorrow. If I'd been drunk when I was born I'd be ignorant of sorrow.
And so we've had another night Of poetry and poses, And each man knows he'll be alone When the sacred ginmill closes.
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 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)]
This was a blast -- a seamless mash-up of pulpy noir goodness set in a gritty urban landscape featuring soul Collectors and very bad ass mofo angels a This was a blast -- a seamless mash-up of pulpy noir goodness set in a gritty urban landscape featuring soul Collectors and very bad ass mofo angels and demons. Who would I recommend this book to? Fans of the movie The Prophecy most definitely. And to a lesser extent that movie Fallen starring Denzel Washinton and Elias Koteas (I love Elias Koteas).
And if you've ever been a fan of Supernatural's angel-demon-apocalypse epic story arc then this is most definitely the book for you. Even though Dead Harvest is laced with all the delicious tropes of detective noir fiction, I would find it hard to believe that the author hasn't also been influenced by the Winchester Family Business. The references to 'vessels' and 'meat-suits' and fallen angels, and 'free will' and souls and a war on earth between the hosts of heaven and the legions of hell... well, I know the writers of Supernatural didn't invent this mythology, but they've certainly put their own stamp on it in a way that it shone through the pages of this book with the brightness of a soul ripped from its mortal host.
That's another thing -- even the way the souls are harvested. I could not help but be reminded of this:
Not that you have to be a Supernatural fangirl like myself to enjoy this book. Not in the least. Soul collector Sam Thornton is a great character -- and while I had an easy time picturing him as Dean Winchester -- he's also cut from the mold of classic noir detectives. He's an anti-hero with a past. He's stopped consciously looking for redemption but somewhere deep inside he still hopes for it. Even though his line of work whittles away his humanity one job at a time, Sam still manages to hold on to some of who he used to be. He smokes, he drinks, he curses. He's not impervious to fear, or to making stupid mistakes. Or to still long to "do the right thing."
Never in his wildest dreams though, would he have imagined himself smack dab in an otherworldly conspiracy between angels and demons to kick-start a war on earth to bring on the apocalypse.
You think either side wants a war? When last it happened one-third our number fell -- and all because a son of fire refused to kneel before a son of clay. You couldn't begin to understand the world of shit that would rain down upon us...
While this book is largely a plot-driven, action piece, it also contains some great dialogue that had me snickering a few times:
Just because you're thinking about stabbing somebody doesn't mean you have to be a dick about it.
"Is he - I mean, do you have to go..." she stammered. "Is he in hell?" I laughed. "Near enough - he's in Staten Island."
This is an Angry Robot book. If you've never heard of these guys, check them out. They are publishing some wickedly fine shit. I've become so enamored of their catalogue that I've given them their very own goodreads shelf. High praise indeed.
Hope you check this one out. If you do, be sure to let me know what you think! Unless you hate it. Those thoughts you can keep to yourself. I won't mind. ...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 wa 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?...more
This is very good, just a smidge shy of four star good actually. It's been awhile since I've read such a convincing "monster" story as engrossing as t This is very good, just a smidge shy of four star good actually. It's been awhile since I've read such a convincing "monster" story as engrossing as this one. And it's squicky goodness too. I'm still scratching and feeling all paranoid. The hoarding details are tremendously well done, treated with real understanding and sensitivity yet not shying away from the more horrific and disgusting dimensions of the disorder.
I was a little disappointed with the soft, ambiguous ending, pretty much standard for this kind of "monster of the week" fare. It's not certain who survives in the end, and there's always that dangling promise that the threat will be back. Oh yes it will. ::Cue ominous music::
Another good thing about reading this book? It will make you want to clean for your life!!!!
***ARC received from Dark Fuse publishers through NetGalley...more
Well, well, well, what do we have here? A bona fide horror story my friends and Constant Readers, sprouted from the father/son imagination team of Ste Well, well, well, what do we have here? A bona fide horror story my friends and Constant Readers, sprouted from the father/son imagination team of Stephen King and Joe Hill. This story is not without its problems (and won't be suited to everyone's tastes). It is ghoulish and a tad gory, and depending on your sensibilities you may be disgusted, even offended. But before it goes there it is a magnificent piece of storytelling steeped in dread and what I like to call, epic creep. One reviewer has likened it to Open Water meets The Ruins and that's not inaccurate. There is a Mile 81 vibe as promised, but I was reminded more of King's earlier classic short stories such as "Children of the Corn" and "The Raft" and if I had to pick a movie, The Blair Witch Project.
Getting lost in tall grass is one of my most primal fears. And I don't mean grass that comes up to your waist (icky enough), but grass that is over your head and obscures the view of what's in front of you. Stuff lives in grass. Entire ecosystems of crawly, stinging biting things. Then there's mud and dew and pollen and mice and snakes and well... you get my point. I don't want to be there. No way.
The first half of this 60 page short story is so very strong in the way it taps into our claustrophobic fear of becoming lost. As humans we are very good at -- not to mention very attached to -- knowing where we are at any given moment in space and time. Our evolutionary sense of well-being depends on it. Strip it away and we quickly lose our shit. Panic, fear, frustration, they all come bubbling to the surface as we projectile rage against the environment that has conspired against us in such an unforgivable betrayal. What is that tree doing there? That wasn't there before. I thought the river was to the east of us. I'm sure the car is just over the next hill there.
As much as we hate it, getting lost is pretty much a universal human experience. It's probably happened to all of us at one time or another, even if it was for a very short period of time in a new city or on a short hike in a national park. King and Hill take that germ of an idea and run with it like mad lunatics in an asylum. This is a supernatural horror story, so if you like realism and stories that "could really happen" this might not be your thing. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the explanation of what is really going on in the tall grass, but enjoyed the first half of the story so much I'm willing to overlook that here. Plus, the story is just so well-written. It's tightly coiled prose with some great phrasing and sentence structure. These guys know what they're doing, okay?
Imagine being a fly on the wall for the father/son conversation such a collaboration requires. There are a few things that happen in the story where I was like: "Okay, whose idea was that?! Fess up!" I guess part of the fun is in trying to guess, and perhaps never knowing. These guys work good together though, and I'm looking forward to many more collaborations (fingers crossed).
Note: If you buy this as an ebook for three bucks it also comes with sneak previews of Doctor Sleep (King's sequel to The Shining) and Hill's novel NOS4A2. Let me just say that these previews have got me so revved up to read the books next year. If I thought I couldn't wait before, now I'm positively slavering to get my hands on them. At least Hill's book is coming in April; King's Doctor Sleep has been pushed to September! Almost another whole year! And what if the Mayan calender is right and we all go boom in December? What then people? What then?...more
Yowzers, this is some pretty sick, disturbing shit, but I'm not going to label it 'torture porn'. The Fallen Boys avoids that fate by offering: 1) a s Yowzers, this is some pretty sick, disturbing shit, but I'm not going to label it 'torture porn'. The Fallen Boys avoids that fate by offering: 1) a solid story that takes its time to unfold and 2) strongly developed characters who I spent pretty much the entire novel scared to death for their safety.
The tension throughout the story is coiled and lethal. While there are a few uneven parts where the momentum lags for a bit and seems to meander, overall it is a pacing that builds, and builds and continues to build towards a crashing climax. At times I couldn't move my eyes fast enough across the page just to get to the next scene and towards some sense of light and hope. Let me end the suspense right now -- there is no light and hope. I'm sorry if you think that's spoilery, but I want you to know what you're up against before you pick it up. This book is unrelentingly dark and damaged and absolutely merciless as it moves towards its final destination. I also loved that there were a few twists thrown into this story that I didn't quite see coming.
The ending -- argh!!!!! (view spoiler)[Did everyone have to die? Really? Throw me a bone here. I was SO UPSET at the utter carnage. Even Marshall dies, right? The rats get him. What a way to go! Oh wait, we should assume there is one survivor: When Jenn Kyoto stumbles out of the forest and meets Joe he takes her to the police station. I don't think he would have done that if he had killed her or was going to kill her. So amen, one survivor. (hide spoiler)]
While not quite as strong as these horror classics of the same ilk, this book could keep company with The Summer I Died, The Girl Next Door, and Let's Go Play At The Adams'. That is the highest compliment I can pay, believe me. If you have the stomach and nerves for dark, damaged and desperate, this is the book for you. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is good my fellow Constant Readers, just not...wow. I can't speak of O'Nan's work, but for King this is a fairly familiar and predictable story i This is good my fellow Constant Readers, just not...wow. I can't speak of O'Nan's work, but for King this is a fairly familiar and predictable story idea. The execution is nice, the prose tight and strong, but unlike countless other times in my life, he just didn't blow my skirt up with this short novella.
Still, it's always such a joy to slip into King's world, his rhythmic use of language, his crystalline images and always effective creation of dread and unease. It's perhaps morbid of me to consider that I have way less unread King ahead of me than behind me. In that context, every new thing is precious in its own way, even this simple story about love of the game (baseball that is) and the sharp regrets that come with the measure of a full life. ...more
Short story collections and anthologies are always a mixed bag for me. Not only do I struggle with my own personal hang-ups when it comes to the short Short story collections and anthologies are always a mixed bag for me. Not only do I struggle with my own personal hang-ups when it comes to the short story format itself, you pretty much know going in to any anthology there will be hits and there will be misses. If you're lucky, a few will emerge as outstanding pieces of awesomeness, and I'm thankful to report I experienced that here.
Two things attracted me to this collection: 1) Ellen Datlow (editor extraordinaire) and 2) you had me at dystopia. I'm addicted to tales of dark and dangerous futures comprised of post-apocalyptic landscapes, where human survival is not a given, and the long and suffocating reach of a rigidly controlled society is profoundly felt.
I admit that these days we've gotten pretty footloose and fancy-free when it comes to our definition of dystopia. I'm not a purist by any means, but there are elements I expect to see (or not as it were) if I'm going to consider a story full-on dystopian. Much of it has to do with how well the society and its rules are conceived. Dystopia (just like the devil) is in the details. But we are talking about a spectrum. And there are an infinite number of spaces on that spectrum where a story can fall. The joy comes with the discovery of just how much variety and interpretation can be applied to a genre, how much can any one writer push the boundaries past what we've come to know and expect.
For whatever the reasons (and pundits and academics will argue the causes til they run out of oxygen), YA publishing is in the throes of a passionate obsession with dystopian tales and end-of-the-world scenarios. Readers are responding in kind, feeding the monster. And I couldn't be happier about that. The more authors, new and established, are encouraged to play around in the dystopia sandbox, the better off the genre will be. Push it to its limits, see what it can do, uncover all it has to teach us and the infinite number of ways it has to thrill and chill.
The short stories comprising this anthology (like every other anthology I've ever read) are not equally strong. There are definite misses where either the idea is confused or fumbled altogether, the characters underdeveloped, the prose weak. But I don't want to focus on the negative here, because there are also some outstanding pieces of writing not to be missed.
After the Cure, Carrie Ryan: You may already know Ryan from her Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy (which I highly recommend checking out). Here, Ryan tells the story of a young girl who is a recovering blood-sucking predator of humankind. In a new post-apocalyptic world of survivors, she has been cured. But it has left her lonely and longing for something more. No longer quite human, but no longer able to run with her pack, she seeks out the company of a young man with a tragic past. The writing here is beautiful, the mood melancholy.
The Great Game at the End of the World, Matthew Kressel: This one has such a weird and dreamlike quality to it, with an unsettling underbelly vibe that I can't quite call sinister, but feels like something Lovecraft could have written. A brother and his younger sister are the sole survivors of a mysterious, unknowable, cataclysmic "event". The siblings are forced to adapt to their new environment. All I can say is that it's a strange and wonderful piece.
Reunion, Susan Beth Pfeffer: Pfeffer is a prolific and bestselling YA author. This story is dark and damaged in so many ways, with a nice twist at the end. There aren't a lot of details about the society, but what we do get is reminiscent of Nazi Germany or Communist Russia. A mother and daughter proceed to interview young girls in the hope of finding their child / sister who was stolen from them years before. They recount their ordeal to her, how they had to submit themselves to the murderous whims of savage soldiers in order to find out her fate. This one is so tightly plotted, it had me sitting on the edge of my seat.
Rust With Wings, Steven Gould: I loved this one because it is such good ol' fashioned, high octane fun of action and peril. It has its roots firmly planted in the 1950's sci-fi tradition of "bugs gone wild".
The Marker, Cecil Castellucci: Interesting idea satisfyingly realized. Trust me, that's all you need to know.
Before I wrap this up, I do want to mention "Faint Heart" by Sarah Rees Brennan because it is the only one that reads like the beginning of a novel, rather than a short story. The cliffhanger ending left me screaming "Nooooo!" because I desperately wanted to know what was going to happen next. It is a "deadly games" premise where certain males are forced to compete to the death in The Trials. The sole survivor wins the hand of the "queen" - a genetically cloned model of perfection. I was just really getting into the story and warming up to the characters when it was over. This aggravated me more than pleased me.
This anthology is a rich grab bag, so don't be shy about diving in because you're sure to find something to suit your tastes. Just for the sheer variety of the stories -- I never knew what to expect next -- and the overall quality of the writing, I am highly recommending you check it out! ...more
WOOL began its life as a self-published short novella in July of 2011. That's hard to believe. I feel like I've been hearing about this th Outstanding!
WOOL began its life as a self-published short novella in July of 2011. That's hard to believe. I feel like I've been hearing about this thing for ages and ages.
So I'm late to the party, but not that late. Due to excited reader response over WOOL 1, author Hugh Howey quickly released the next four parts in the series. Then came along this Omnibus which collects Parts 1-5. There is now a 2013 edition with a great new cover that features a blurb by none other than Justin Cronin, author of The Passage.
In a few short years, Howey has given all struggling writers out there toiling away at their craft in obscurity real hope. Word of mouth among bloggers and enthusiastic readers on sites like Amazon and Goodreads has the potential to lift the curse of invisibility from self-published works so that they may find their way to audiences who will love them. Never before have the barriers between author and reader been so few, the access so direct. No longer are authors strictly dependent on big publishing houses to discover them and deem their work important enough to go to market accompanied by a sexy publicity campaign. Authors and readers are doing it for themselves, and I for one think it's a beautiful thing.
I love everything about this story -- I love the details of the world-building, I love the characters, I love the shifting points of view, I love the slow burn when you're not sure what is going on. When it became clear to me exactly what was going on I love that I wasn't disappointed. For a post-apocalyptic story trodding very familiar science fiction territory, it still feels fresh. The author definitely gives it his own spin.
I love that the stakes are so high. I love that the author is patient and in control of his narrative. That he doesn't reveal too much too soon. That he understands the relationship between tension and release. All of that to say, I love that the writing is so strong and capable (I've read too much self-published stuff where the prose is inexcusably sloppy). Howey's writing is the exact opposite of sloppy. It's polished. Its engine hums. The shoes are shiny and it's wearing a tie. It's ready to take home to mom.
Finally, I love Juliette. She's Ellen Ripley, Katniss Everdeen, and Dana Scully all rolled up into one. She's got brains and courage and heart and a will made of iron.
There's a lot of under-developed, underwhelming dystopian fiction kicking around out there these days. WOOL leaves those attempts in its dust. It's worth your time. Trust me.
That was exhausting. I am tired, annoyed, frustrated, and hugely disappointed. Writing a review for this one is gonna hurt. ---- My problems with thisThat was exhausting. I am tired, annoyed, frustrated, and hugely disappointed. Writing a review for this one is gonna hurt. ---- My problems with this second installment of Mike Mullin's Ashfall series are many I'm afraid to say, and too big to ignore. I really like this guy, and I wanted this novel to be great in the shadow of its awesome predecessor. Not. Even. Close. Without any spoilers for Ashfall or Ashen Winter, here is some of what's caused my sadness and frustration.
Anyone who knows me even a little, knows I'm a Stephen King fangirl. I love the man, okay? Not in a creepy Annie Wilkes I want to chain him to a bed as my "pet" sort of love, but his books are like meth to me. I'm hooked. I gotta have 'em. But that doesn't mean I can't put my critics hat on when need be too. I don't slaver and drool over everything the man writes. And contrary to popular critical opinion, I have no interest in reading the man's grocery list. Which brings me to one of my more recent King disappointments (it does happen). Under the Dome for me was good, but far from great. And here's why. I bring it up now because it's the same effing problem I have with Ashen Winter:
Under the Dome starts with a bang...and maintains its narrative momentum throughout. It hurtles along at an almost break-neck speed, but for a book that's over a 1000 pages, such a pace begins to wear in places. It becomes an at-times uncomfortable frenetic pattern of -- and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.
Ditto Ashen Winter. It too starts with a bang and hurtles along at lightening speed for (in my opinion) a bloated 600 pages. The action sequences are too many to count, and exhaustively and excruciatingly described.
As with Mira Grant's book Feed, I fear Mike Mullin has fallen in love with his research and wants to include every single thing he has learned. What's worse, no detail is too small. In my review for Feed I write that: "I respect any author who goes the extra mile to "do the research" and "get the details right" but sweet holy Moses, there is no need to put EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER LEARNED into the story." I didn't think it would be possible, but that's even doubly true here.
Another thing that annoyed me and took me out of the story too many times to count are the cliffhangers which come at the end of almost Every. Single. Chapter. It's cheesy. It made me feel like I was reading a middle school chapter book or a "choose your own adventure" type deal for the kiddies. This is such a sharp departure from Ashfall I really don't know what to make of it. Ashen Winter may feature cannibals and sex slaves but it still felt ultimately "childish" to me.
Now I am woman enough to admit this could be more my fault than the book's fault. I am NOT a fan of action movies. I barely (if ever) go to the movies over the summer because the gigantic, exploding, frantic, mostly special effects all style no substance blockbusters just don't do it for me. I'm more likely to walk out with a headache and a scowl on my face, than jittering with excitement and awe. That's what happened here with this book. Mullin can write action, no doubt of that, but there's just TOO MUCH action and not enough dialogue or genuine suspense. Suspense ONLY works if it is paired with tension and release. Nobody understood that better than Hitchcock. If it's ALL release -- a go, go, go, fast and furious approach -- then you really miss the tension, that vital inexorable build that is so critical to creating suspense.
Okay, last criticism. Because this book is chock full of action, Alex and Darla (Alex especially this time) are running around behaving like movie action superheroes -- jumping, leaping, dodging bullets, getting shot, breaking in, breaking out -- at one point hanging on to the bottom of a MOVING TRUCK Robert DeNiro style à la Cape Fear. Really??? C'mon!!!! As each disaster and run of bad luck kept piling up (fodder for the chapter cliffhangers), I began to think it should have been subtitled: a series of unfortunate events. In my review for A Breath of Snow and Ashes I write: "how many times can any handful of people escape from prison, mob scenes, near death, kidnappings, etc, etc." I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, trust me, but even this was too much for me I'm afraid.
Okay, so that's the ugly truth of the bad news. The good news? Mullin is a very talented writer, and despite my disappointment here, I will continue to seek out his books. The other good news? While I'm not recommending Ashen Winter, I will continue to highly recommend Ashfall; it is awesome, and succeeds in every way where its sequel does not. ...more