Started this months ago, took a break because -- intense -- and finished the other day. Used the Kindle immersion reading, and listened to the audio b...moreStarted this months ago, took a break because -- intense -- and finished the other day. Used the Kindle immersion reading, and listened to the audio book while reading. Yeah, I'm that big of a geek. Kate Mulgrew did an amazing job narrating. (less)
(Review originally published at Red Adept Reviews.)
Overall: 4 1/4 stars
Plot/Storyline: 4 1/4 stars
I genuinely liked it, but Bedbugs is definitely a sl...more(Review originally published at Red Adept Reviews.)
Overall: 4 1/4 stars
Plot/Storyline: 4 1/4 stars
I genuinely liked it, but Bedbugs is definitely a slow burn, er, itch. There are no really big scary moments to be had, at least not for the vast majority of the book, and Mr. Winters took his time in ratcheting up the psychological tensions as opposed to the showy terror.
What we have is the story of a woman who, like most people, has reasonable fears and flickering moments of paranoia. As the book goes on, the reasonable fears grow and what was a flicker - the babysitter is probably a bit of a skank - becomes a steady light - the babysitter's skankiness makes her dirty and a danger to my home, the babysitter's skankiness makes her dirty and a danger to my home.
The question becomes if Susan is a reliable narrator and what, if anything, she observes is the truth, and what is her descent into madness? This is the level at which Bedbugs succeeds. Is she the sane? Is she insane? In either case, what will her beliefs make her do next?
Verdict: Don't read if you want big time scares, but if you like your horrors to build slowly, this bedbug should bite.
Characters: 4 stars
Susan is an interesting character and we spend a lot of time in her head, but other characters - like her husband - remain rather unformed. Some of this is probably about Susan's growing suspicions, but I still was left ambivalent toward him, and feeling like he was more a vaguely drawn figure than a fully realized person.
I never had any great warmth for Susan, but the author did a wonderful job of showing who she was at the beginning and then slowly taking her to a dark place. I enjoyed how a few thoughts that seemed so fleeting came back to become obsessions, as if the initial thoughts had deeper roots than first imagined.
Verdict: While I felt that some of the characters were given too little detail, the author did such a beautiful job with the main character and so I have to rate this pretty high.
Writing style: 4 ¼ stars
Nicely done. Smart and capable! I felt like this writer knew what he wanted to do and just how to do it. While I wasn't dazzled, I was impressed. More than anything else, I want to feel the storyteller knows what the hell he's doing! (less)
I'm very ambivalent about this one. I enjoyed aspects of i...more(Review originally appeared at Red Adept Reviews)
Overall: 3 ½ stars
Plot/Storyline: 3 ¼ stars
I'm very ambivalent about this one. I enjoyed aspects of it, perhaps even most of it, but a few moments felt false. If someone asked be about it I'd say, "yeah, it wasn't bad, you might like it." I just find myself without enthusiasm this time around.
Maureen is a woman who secretly lived with spousal abuse for years and now finds herself a widow. While getting down the Halloween ornaments from the attic, she finds a package left for her by her husband. A Ouija GPS. Yes, really. Her husband still thinks he can tell her where to get off.
I felt compassion for her during the moments recounting her abusive marriage. Those moments felt real, right down to how he manipulated her and isolated her from others, and how she learned to accept it as her lot in life. I just don't think the horror element, at least the execution of it, quite meshed. I get why it's there thematically, but I felt that the author didn't quite know how to execute it. There was an issue that was wrapped up vaguely and in a couple sentences, because I think Ms. Weiner knew the point couldn't stand up to any real scrutiny. It felt like she didn't know what to do with it and hoped no one noticed; in truth, the whole horror element felt that way. I don't know and can't know if this was the case, but this is how it felt.
I did find it to be a little bit scary, and I think that's largely due to the built up empathy for the main character, and wanted her to have a better life. I didn't know where the story was going and had a twinge of anxiety at the slight chance that it wouldn't end well. Plus, most GPS systems are very Uncanny Valley - the point at which tech stuff like computers and robots become so human that, instead of being endearing, it's just creepy.
Characters: 3 ¾ stars
I obviously cared about Maureen, and I found her believable in many ways, but I can't say any of the characterization blew me away, and I'm someone who is a fan of this writer's characters, like the sisters in In Her Shoes, and Cannie in Good in Bed.
What I do appreciate here, and in her previous efforts, is her respect for characters and heroines over the age of forty.
Writing Style: 3 ½ stars
I know Jennifer Weiner can write, but I just don't think all the elements were written cohesively. While there were moments when the language was lovely and evocative, so much of the time I was just a bit underwhelmed. (less)
(Review originally published at Red Adept Reviews.)
Overall: 4 1/2 stars (I'm rounding down when choosing stars, because I expect a lot from this autho...more(Review originally published at Red Adept Reviews.)
Overall: 4 1/2 stars (I'm rounding down when choosing stars, because I expect a lot from this author!)
Plot/Storyline: 4 1/4 stars
This is a short story, and so it's also straightforward. There's not much to complain about here. This reminded me a little of the Twilight Zone episode in which the kid wishes people into the cornfield - only with a way more sympathetic kid. I didn't fully buy a scene where the father had a friend over to drink and talk about the athletic prowess of the visitor's son. I can see this coming up in the natural course of things, but the way it was presented seemed ham-fisted.
Other than that, good tale, appropriately told for a length that doesn't lend itself to too much complexity. There are no big surprises here, but this was the sort of story where the pleasure is in knowing what is coming and waiting for that pay off.
If you want those surprises, you won't be as happy with this as I was - and you should read Sugar Daddy. If you aren't a fan of short stories, you won't like it as much either, which seems obvious, but often when I read reviews of short stories folks are punishing them for being short.
Characterization: 4 1/2 stars
There isn't a lot of depth or nuance here. Because of the length of the story and because of the tradition that this story is a part of, the style is broad, with the little boy being very good and his father being very bad, but that works. This is a horror story that wants the reader to see matters in simple terms and to see punishment doled out accordingly.
Writing style: 4 1/4 stars
I find the author to be ridiculously talented. If the writing isn't as effortlessly good as it seems, and when is it really as effortlessly good as it seems, then he can keep it his little secret. Still, I did feel like one more pass to tighten it all up a little would have aided the story.
I do want to ding Mr. Menapace for one thing. Without spoilers, let me say he explained something at the very end, perhaps because he very much wanted the reader to "get" the meaning/play on words. If you spell it out, you have to lose cool points. (Or a quarter of a point.) Not getting it wouldn't change the story in any real way and knowing it makes the reader feel all smarty-pants - until you EXPLAIN it. In all seriousness, it felt clumsy and took away some of the power of the ending.
Personal Enjoyment: 4 1/2 stars
This is an optional category for when we average it all out and the score just doesn't feel right. This is what we use to acknowledge that a story can be more - or less - than the sum of its parts. I had a little extra enjoyment reading this simply because when I read his earlier story, the often mentioned in this review, Sugar Daddy, I was so very impressed. In reading this, while I didn't enjoy it quite as much, I still saw all that talented that makes me think/hope Mr. Menapace has a long career ahead of him. It's cool to read an author you like and imagine you might get to say, "Yeah, well, I knew him way back when!" (less)
I think the most important phrase in the (Amazon)description might be "lite...more(Originally published at Red Adept Reviews.)
Overall: 4 stars
I think the most important phrase in the (Amazon)description might be "literary fiction," followed by "psychology of the protagonist." The horror angle in the stories is almost always a metaphor for other things - loneliness, fear, isolation, regret. The word "haunting" really does double duty here. While there were chilling moments, if you're looking for escapist gore I'd suggest you take a pass. However, if you're looking for well-written fiction about what it is to be human and, oh yeah, supernatural stuff happens, then you'll probably be quite pleased.
In fact, the book description is pretty perfect.
I'm not rating characterization as a specific category since there are over a dozen stories here and too many characters to take into account as a whole, I was consistently impressed by the author's ability to make each main character unique and whole in their own right. It's very easy for an author to fall into the same voice for multiple characters, and I didn't feel like any two main characters were alike.
The Other Room: 4 1/2 stars
Hey this would be a good name for the anthology. The first good thing about this story was that it let me know I was going to enjoy this anthology. I read this out in my backyard - er, garden to the Brits - and I think I must have looked fairly slack-jawed to anyone passing by. I simply wanted to know what happened next and I was legitimately concerned for Waits, a man who finds that an adjacent hotel room leads to a different version of his life. My only issue was the ending. The author seems to like a certain ambiguity, and it often works, but I almost felt like maybe he simply didn't know how to make the power of the ending match the rest, and - more so than usual - this is really a subjective opinion, and based on my personal need for fully resolution. The same general type of ending here worked perfectly for me in another story.
Home Time: 5 stars
This is one of the stories that really gets full use out of the word "haunting." Beautifully written, evocative, masterful. Home Time makes wonderful use of a Philip Larkin poem entitled The Explosion, and the way the author allowed the words of the poem and the words of his story to plait together was ... wow. The main character is from a down on its luck ex-mining town, but I think his point of view resonates with anyone who's entered adulthood sure, on the surface, that they've "escaped," while secretly terrified that all roads lead back to the past. (There's a scene in a Buffy episode I'm really struggling not to reference right now.)
Some Stories for Escapists #1: The Werewolves: 4 1/4 stars
A little bit of flash. Nicely done. To quote Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein: Larry Talbot: You don't understand. When the moon rises, I'll turn into a wolf.
Costello: Yeah ... you and about five million other guys.
First Time Buyers: 4 ¼ stars
In Danse Macabre, Stephen King discusses the original Amityville Horror movie and says that perhaps the scariest part of it is not the overt supernatural stuff but how the house is ruining these people financially. He suggests that perhaps it should have been called The Horror of The Shrinking Bank Account. I believe the main characters in his story can relate the pressures of a new house, precarious employment, and a bad economy.
Schrodinger's Box: 5 stars. Not actually a horror story though. The first story where the author takes an overt philosophical turn - or at least the first time I noticed it. In Home Time, the author uses a poem that a character is reading to bring home the theme of the story. This time we have the example of Schrodinger's cat to tell the story of a woman who feels boxed in. The ending honors the story title and also provides a pitch perfect ending.
The Watchers: 4 3/4 stars
Okay, we're back to the supernatural as metaphor. The Watchers was about a lot of things, among them the nature of attraction, and -- I believe - how some people lose their identity and just become a projection of what their partner needs. How a gaze can feel like an assault. The desire to be honestly seen. There were moments when the story didn't feel as tight as some of the others, but I was still engrossed.
Some Stories for Escapists #2: The Plague: 4 stars
More flash. I wondered if the writer had something more specific in mind than what I could place - if the plague was a parable for disease in general, or a specific malady. What I do know is that it was an astute exploration of the nature of denial and ostracization. (Spell check says that isn't a word, but I think it is.)
The Final Wish: 2 ¾ stars
Look, a story I didn't care for! I think I understood what the author wanted and where he was going but the writing felt like a young person's experiments with writing more than a mature effort. I had to struggle to rate this one and make sure I didn't punish it for not being as good as the previous stories. I'd sensed that the author might have a tendency for florid language, but this is the first and last instance where it felt like he gave in to that tendency.
A Writer's Words: 4 stars
This story was scary for me at moments -- I find few things as terrifying as the thought of the type of loss of expression that the main character, Liam, suffers, and even as a reader I felt like I was on the brink of a panic attack at moments. I felt a little differently about it at the end of the story though, as this author made me see it in a new way. I don't know if the ending was supposed to be as scary as the rest and I'm just quirky, but the ending felt like a letting go -- the feeling you get when the worst happens and you're still standing. Although, it's a little unclear if Liam is still standing anywhere. Hmmm...
One nitpick: the character of Liam says that it was a Twilight Zone with the earwig eating through someone's brain -- it was a Night Gallery. Of course, sometimes these errors can be deliberate and the main character was a little distressed.
Some Stories for Escapists #3: The Haunted House: 3 1/2 stars
This is a very short story with layers of meaning, where the "scary" takes back seat to the use of language to draw in a reader and make, in this case, her think. However, this one was not one of my favorites.
Red Route: 4 ¼ stars
I think a lot of people will sorta figure it out, but this is still well worth the read. Nicely done.
When The Walls Bend: 4 ¾ stars
In some ways, this is the most traditional, purest horror story in the collection. The author brings the same psychological angle that elevate other stories, but there's I was also genuinely frightened of the things going bump in the night and one line made me gasp. This is also another one where the author doesn't spell out everything.
The book contained an author's note at the end in which he discusses the inspirations behind the stories. I wrote the review before reading it, even though I was aware it was there, because I think a story has to stand on its own with no additional help from the author. I loved reading it afterward though, and seeing where I'd misunderstood the writer's intent - and misunderstood it. I had to smile that I'd mentioned that one of the stories reminded me of King's discussion of Amityville Horror in his Danse Macabre, and then the author cited DM as an influence for the Some Stories for Escapists flash pieces. It made me feel like a read smartypants.
Writing Style: 4 ¾ stars
I think from my comments it's clear that I'm pretty pleased and pretty impressed by almost all aspects of Mr. Everington's skills. I sense he will not be the reader for everyone, probably not for the horror fan who values gore over the literary, but I see all the tools in place for someone who knows how to tell a good story.
Editing: 4 stars
Periodic issues. For instance, twice "starring" was used when "staring" was the intended word, "eek" instead of "eke" the unintentional misspelling of a character's name, or the wrong tense of a word made it through. I enjoyed this collection so very much and would have liked it even better with an extra pair of eyes making sure it was publishing ready. Perhaps it's even more important since what shines through these stories is the author's love of language. (less)
Plot/Storyline: 5 stars. I was pulled in from the description, which made me purchase it,...more(Originally published at Red Adept Reviews.)
Overall: 5 stars.
Plot/Storyline: 5 stars. I was pulled in from the description, which made me purchase it, to the actual execution of the story. There was a lot of suspense here and I had a strong desire to read on and find out what was going to happen next. I felt like I was in the hands of an expert writer who knew his genre. There was all the built-in dread that I could hope for.
A portion of the story is told from the point of view of an author who was a part of these events and who is looking back at it at a distance of twenty years, telling it to an audience as if it's fiction. The events he remembers are current, with mentions of Red Bull and Vodka and the Jodie Foster movie Panic Room as a movie that is not too far in the past for them. Since the author is looking back on this twenty years from now, it's good to know that writers will still be of interest and in demand. This is a promise, right?
Characters: 5 Well-drawn recognizable characters here. The guy who dreams of better things, and who looks at his friends with a barely concealed sense of superiority, the opportunist with questionable morals and get-rich-quick schemes who is destined to fail, the long-time customers of a bar, drinking their drinks and measuring their lives by empty beer bottles and puffs of cigarettes. I felt like I not only knew these types, but also these particular people.
Writing Style: 5 stars. The descriptions and dialogue were so well done that I felt like I was there, a part of the author's world, unable to look away. I was enthusiastic from blurb, and it was great that the actual writing allowed the interesting story to be brought to life and handled expertly.
I had a really interactive experience due to the writing. I wondered what was going to happen. I tried to figure it out. I looked at certain lines and wondered if they were foreshadowing or contained clues. Sometimes I could tell something was a clue and that I tried to decipher the clue. All the time Mr. Menapace doled out just enough to keep me eagerly reading.
Mr. Menapace also wrote this with a great awareness and a sly sense of humor. He switched between first person and third person and I thought, "oh, that's a risky thing to do," later in the story his author character commented, "It's a risky technique - switching perspective back and forth like that - but if you're careful, it can be a nifty took in the toolbox." This was not the only time that the author character, talking to people in an auditorium, talks to the reader as well. I'd say more about this aspect, but would prefer readers to discover exactly how it pans out without my spoiling it.
The author sets up the concept of there being something scary behind a locked door, and that's a classic. Stephen King wrote many years ago about how a reader's imagination is bigger than anything an author can produce. When the Bad Thing shows up there is usually a letdown, or at least a release of tension, because the reality, the tangible monster, can never match what the reader - or viewer, in the case of movies - had conjured up in his or her imagination. This story has a door, and the author knows the nature of the story needs the door to be opened and for the characters and the reader to enter in and see what's beyond the door, and in doing so he risks disappointing the reader in the way King wrote about. Whether or not he succeeds is for the reader to decide, but I think he got away with it by focusing on the nature of dread, which is in anticipation, and the idea that any dread the reader felt waiting for the door to open is but a fraction of what someone would feel if they waited decades for the other shoe to drop after surviving the thing in the room.
This is a story meant for people who not only enjoy horror, but who appreciate writing as a craft. Yeah, I liked it a whole lot.
Editing: 5 stars. He left the first "t" out of Fred Flintstone. Inexcusable. Pistols at dawn.
After reading the first story, Firmament, (3 1/4 Stars) I had somewhat lowered expecta...more(Originally published at Red Adept Reviews.)
Overall: 3 1/2 stars
After reading the first story, Firmament, (3 1/4 Stars) I had somewhat lowered expectations for how well this anthology would work for me. It dealt with a family, consisting of a mother and son, who'd just lost the man of the house. For largely subjective reasons, it didn't quite scratch my story itch. The main character and her son were in mourning, but I couldn't seem to care about her. Stories of grief often don't work for me because it seems to be that there are moments in mourning when we all do some pretty standard things, and those are touchstones in stories, but I think that if anything brings out the sense of individuality, the quirks in someone's nature, it's loss. Too often writers relate the universal stuff, hoping the reader will have experienced that same moment, when what rings truest for me are the unusual choices. This was why the mother didn't work for me. The character of the son was better drawn and his grief, alone in his understanding of what death means, was so much more effective. The general skill shown by the author and worthwhile ending didn't fully redeem the story for me.
However, every single issue I had with Firmament, every perceived weakness, was reversed later on in the anthology. I felt that, based on Firmament, Mr. Napier probably wasn't going to be able to present a portrait of loss that would move me, and then be proceeded to prove me wrong in multiple stories. I didn't think his words would sing for me, only to find that Mi Casa Es Su Casa (4 Stars) read like a poem and All The Little Secrets was a gem of a story (4 3/4 Stars). "Secrets" was a character piece that worked for me much like some of the better, more personal episodes of X-Files, such as Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose. (Yes, I just went full on geek.) Sci-Fi used as a mirror and as a character study. I'd actually love to read more stories related to this one.
Taking Quinn Home (3 3/4 Stars) was a classic horror tale. It was set in modern times, but we'll all recognize the timeless themes and source of the menace. The characters were almost all quite well done and most of them behaved completely logically and believably. There was genuine menace and a wonderfully slow build-up. Yes, I'd call most of the story masterful, particularly the events leading up to all hell breaking loose. It only failed for me based on a moment when I didn't buy a character's choice, another moment where a character does something convenient to prevent plot holes, and, some fridge logic. Fridge logic is when a while after the story, or during a break, you're going about your business and then a question or flaw pops into your head. (To use an example from a movie: How did Red know what Andy did on his last night in order to narrate it, when we only see them reuniting at the very end and his last line is about having hope for the reunion?) The story was well-written enough to work at the moment, but didn't hold up under too much scrutiny. Also, during THE most tense, intense, scary scene in the story, this line happens, "...I tilted the axe's handle upward it a harp jabbing motion." Until then, I was holding my breath, y'all.
A Collection of True Evils (3 3/4 Stars) was the second story and the tale of two men who seek out a legendarily evil book. Some really classic stuff here and some good moments, but it sputtered for me a little at the end. The characters weren't deep, but I don't think they needed to be in this case. The build-up was better than the pay-off. There is some real creepiness here though. And tattoos from hell.
The Mannerisms of Runners (3 3/4 Stars) reminded me of Stephen King's pet theme about hell being repetition as a runner repeatedly, among other things, spits out something you really don't want to spit out. Another story where character took a backseat to mood and story, but it was appropriate.
The Tour Don't Roll Through Seattle (3 Stars) was interesting but I was haunted too much by the ghost of similar stories such as Robert Bloch's That Hell Bound Train, or, even more appropriately an excellent story called Beluthahatchie by Andy Duncan. There may or may not be a cameo in it by Kurt Cobain, or a grunge guy who'd probably be flattered to be mistaken for him. Deals with the devil rarely work out well.
Riding in Trucks with Ghosts (4 1/2 Stars) is a story about loss and covers a small sliver of similar terror with Firmament, but - for my money - much more evocatively and successfully. In Firmament, the weakness was the mother character and the strength was the young boy. In "Riding" we again meet a young boy, but he becomes the main character and that makes all the difference.
Butt of The Joke (2 1/2 Stars) is perhaps the weakest selection for me. It's the story of a comedian with woman problems. There was some nice use of language and the author worked the theme like crazy, but it fell flat for me. Yes, like a joke. The strengths of the story didn't make up for the predictability. For some reason, this reminded me a little of updated Poe.
Lunatic Mile (4 Stars) is for me, hands down, the gross out story of the volume. (This family here makes The Addams Family look all snuggly.) The fact that I can say this makes for an interesting point. A lot of the stories are more along the lines of psychological horror, some are sci-fi, and some like Farewell, From The Eleventh Hole (4 stars) has a supernatural event, but was really more a piece on the nature of life and loneliness. There are some really blood-spattered moments throughout 13 Broken Nightlights, but it's not the norm.
Grave Seasons (4 Stars) had a little something in common with Lunatic Mile and a tiny bit to do with Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, maybe a little bit of Stephen King's Children of The Corn. Rather than these similarities detracting from the story, I believe Grave Seasons fit well into those traditions.
Editing: 4 Stars
As mentioned, one error took me out of the story, and there were a few mistakes here and there, but really not too bad. I'm still mighty bummed about that one sentence breaking up the drama!
(Please note that the author has contacted me to say he's corrected errors and my review refers to the original version.) (less)
The story description above is pretty much the story. Very simple....more(Originally published at Red Adept Reviews.)
Overall: 3 stars
Plot/Storyline: 3 stars
The story description above is pretty much the story. Very simple. Dreaming, Not Sleeping was about a woman who cannot wait to go to bed because of a night visitor. A demon? An incubus? While the story deals with sexual longing, I think it's also the story about losing someone you love and being powerless to stop it, as well as falling out of love with one person and in love or lust with someone, er, something else. There is clearly a horror element here, a Hell Raiser vibe.
This is definitely a short story, but even taking that into account, the story seems ... insubstantial. I believe the story was meant to succeed by calling up dream logic, a dream landscape, but because there was nothing else -- no contrast or context - something vital seemed missing to anchor it all.
Characters: 2 1/2 stars
There's not a lot of characters. The only two characters, if you don't count the night visitor, are the husband and wife, and then story shifts between the two points of view. We get no hint of their daily lives as the story only concerns her desire to go to sleep and his increasing sense of loss and powerlessness.
The husband seems completely paralyzed. He sees his wife pulling away from him, and he sees something icky in the room, and yet his response is to ask his wife what happened and accept her saying that she doesn't recall. Other than that, he seems to stand by - sleep by? - and presumably hope it all sorts out.
I can't say I bought that. I'm not sure I know anyone, even the most passive person, who would really not say or do more than this character under the circumstances. I don't quibble with the husband feeling in over his head, or where the story ended up, but I don't believe the nearly complete inertia. I do suppose that inertia in a story about sleep has a certain poetry though.
Writing Style: 3 3/4 stars
The language in the story was nicely done. There's something about dreamscapes that brings out the baroque in writers and I love reading stories that capture that feeling. Dreaming, Not Sleeping because of the use of language felt sensual when needed and horrifying when needed. I believe horror is definitely a good match for the author's skills, I just wish that the depth of the story had matched her talent with words and her ability to set a mood. (less)
Almost all the stories were done well, but the mix was, well, too grim and depressing for me to give this 5 stars. A few slightly lighter selections w...moreAlmost all the stories were done well, but the mix was, well, too grim and depressing for me to give this 5 stars. A few slightly lighter selections would have been great.(less)