Even if, as rumor would have it, Dahl loathed children, he certainly wrote cracking good stories for them. I guess I was a little too old when this onEven if, as rumor would have it, Dahl loathed children, he certainly wrote cracking good stories for them. I guess I was a little too old when this one came out . . . I'm sure I'd have loved/been terrified by it as a child. (I had quite a complicated relationship with James and the Giant Peach, I recall.) Despite its goofy "witches hate kids because they smell like poo" plot*, The Witches can be disturbing and intense, and the illustrations by Quentin Blake only accentuate the uncanniness of the titular menace. But of course the brave narrator and his Van Helsing-level witchhunter Grandmamma win the good fight in the end, though not without a whimsical twist of fate. And a slight whiff of genocide. Oh, Dahl. You scamp.
*Not to mention the totally fucked up selective misogyny. Grandmamma is not down with the sisters....more
Though bleaker than the first book -- if that's even possible -- The Curse of the Wendigo is another cracking adventure in monstrumology from Ri4.5/5
Though bleaker than the first book -- if that's even possible -- The Curse of the Wendigo is another cracking adventure in monstrumology from Rick Yancey. This time, Pellinore Warthrop and young Will Henry trek to the trackless wilds of Canada, seeking a fellow monstrumologist who has gone missing in search of the infamous Wendigo. Their ordeal in the virgin forest nods to a certain other tale of The Wendigo, but this time it doesn't end there: the "curse" follows them home to America, and in its ravening hunger, this beast will leave a trail of bodies strewn across Manhattan . . . some of them belonging to beloved friends. This monster is even more dangerous than the slavering, subhuman Anthropophagi of the first book . . . for the cunning Wendigo not only hunts its prey, it knows its prey, and once you hear it call your name, there is no escape.
Darker, scarier and far more devastating than its predecessor, The Curse of the Wendigo once again serves buckets of blood and viscera, but also engages more deeply with the emotionally scarred monstrumologist, and baldly shows how punishments for our past actions can reverberate on our present. I'd say the themes are actually fairly adult -- the moral weight of guilt, love lost, hope slashed, and aspirations denied sits heavy on the book; even the "victory" is imbued with loss and a sense of failure. Definitely for older teens, who may better intuit the emotional world this book charts.
Though I did miss the slightly quippier tone of the first book, The Curse of the Wendigo is certainly haunting, and beautifully written in a style that would please Mr. Blackwood immensely. I'm fully invested in this series -- cannot wait to read The Isle of Blood...more
Read over the long weekend I spent with a cold. I'll need some time to digest, but off the top of my head I can say I very much enjoyed Aickman's uncaRead over the long weekend I spent with a cold. I'll need some time to digest, but off the top of my head I can say I very much enjoyed Aickman's uncanny sensibility. On the other hand, he does tend to go on -- particularly in descriptions of people interacting with nature -- which in some cases takes the air out of stories that might have been masterpieces had they 20 fewer pages and a bit more punch. The ones that will stick: "The Wine-Dark Sea"; "Never Visit Venice"; "Into the Wood." A more thoughtful review coming eventually....more
I normally love Burke's writing, and recently raved about the collection The Number 121 to Pennsylvania and Others, but this one is just a "like" for me. Still better than a lot of stuff out there, though! Many of these stories seem as if Burke is experimenting with the craft in various ways -- creating atmosphere with really dense descriptive passages; several very abrupt or open-ended (as in "huh?") endings; and some themes that get a persistent working-over. The stories are listed as copyright 2001-2011, and I'd wager many are from the earlier end of that spectrum. While it's interesting to watch a writer you respect at play with his craft, I don't think these are Burke's best . . . mainly because you can see the puppetmaster at work.
Elsewhere is an eerie little haunted-house story strong on atmospherics and clever dialogue, but it's one which ultimately disappoints with a pretty stock plot.
Ambitious real estate agent Joan Freeboard is offered a huge fee if she can sell a notoriously haunted mansion on an island in the Hudson river. Known as the scene of a particularly gruesome murder-suicide, even the family heirs refuse to live in it, decamping to Italy and putting it on the market.
Joan knows she has to do something to dispel the ridiculous rumors, so in order to clear the house's reputation she hatches a clever PR plan: she retains the services of a psychic, an occult expert from NYU, and her closest friend, writer Terence Dare, to spend five days with her at Elsewhere. If all goes well, they can debunk the ghost stories, and Terence can write an account of the experiment for a high-profile magazine -- which will also serve as excellent publicity for the house's sale.
Needless to say, things don't go as planned. But I'll bet you expected that. (At least you do if you've ever read The Haunting of Hill House.)
And that's the real problem with Elsewhere: it's just a bit too predictable to actually be scary. Perhaps that's unfair, since the novella was originally published in 1999 -- earlier than some of the works it ultimately feels derivative of. But if you're up on your contemporary horror, you can see the end coming from miles away. This is especially irritating because, a) we all know Blatty is fully capable of scaring the crap out of readers; and b) because the story's setup seems so obvious you're sure the twist simply can't be what you think it is. And yet.
Elsewhere was a perfectly fine way to while away a Sunday afternoon, and I'm not sorry I read it; I just wish I'd read it before subsequent works made it essentially redundant.
Libba Bray's The Diviners, yet another YA novel with a seriously dark streak, is set in the glittering Manhattan of the 1920s -- where jazz club4.75/5
Libba Bray's The Diviners, yet another YA novel with a seriously dark streak, is set in the glittering Manhattan of the 1920s -- where jazz clubs are hopping, stars are being made, illegal hooch is flowing, and just about anything can happen.
Including the apocalypse.
A small-town girl from Ohio who commits a tipsy and socially ruinous party-foul, seventeen-year-old firecracker Evie O'Neill has been packed off to stay with her bachelor uncle Will in Manhattan (some punishment, right?). Despite the fact that she's stuck with a stuffy academic who runs a creepy museum (formally known as "The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult," but mostly referred to as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies"), Evie is thrilled at the chance to taste big-city life for herself, and proceeds to duck Will and drag her quiet friend Mabel into fabulously-attired trouble at every opportunity.
But then Will is called to consult on a brutal murder with ritualistic occult overtones, and Evie brashly invites herself along to the crime scene. Here, her "party trick" again rears its ugly head: Evie has the ability to see a person's history just by touching their belongings. And, when she unthinkingly straightens the buckle on the dead girl's shoe, Evie has a vision like never before: she sees the killer, and he's not like you or me. In fact, it's the infamous occultist John Hobbes (also known as Naughty John) . . . and he's been dead for 50 years. Impossible as it may seem, he's back, and he's got a plan to bring on the end times -- one that's going to take several more bloody rituals.
Though it takes Evie, Will, and a host of friends (among them Will's taciturn assistant Jericho, shy Mabel, and street-smart scoundrel Sam Lloyd) almost 600 pages to unravel the supernatural killer's complex and gruesome intentions, The Diviners has never dull moment. Manhattan in 1926 is a huge canvas, and Bray brings it to life with flair -- the catchy slang, the clothes, the music, the promise in the air -- so "everything's jake," as Evie might say. The cast is also quite large, and full of vivid characters like iconoclastic Ziegfeld girl Theta; her charming "brother" Henry (read: gay bestie); Memphis, a poet who longs to be part of the Harlem Renaissance but runs numbers in the meantime; and Memphis's little brother Isaiah, who is having apocalyptic visions of his own. Each provides additional interest and intrigue, since they all have unique secrets and nightmares to conceal.
And, as the plot thickens and the killer counts down to a rare comet's appearance in the sky, they all, knowingly or not, play a part in the action.
I'll freely admit I thoroughly enjoyed every page of The Diviners, but do have one or two slight reservations, the foremost being that at times this book is extremely frightening and/or bloody, and it also includes scenes of sexual violence. While I found the book (appealingly) disturbing as a horror-jaded adult, it certainly would have scared the bejayzus out of me when I was the tender target age for YA lit.
Also, some aspects of the novel are almost laughably revisionist. For example: were seventeen year-olds really nightly fixtures at underground gin-joints, and did unescorted white girls often go to Harlem to hear jazz and flirt with black musicians, or wind up at hush-hush gay nightclubs? True, Bray is focused on boho underground culture -- theatricals, artists and musicians -- but the easy attitudes her characters have about race and sexual preference certainly weren't the norm at the time. In fact these kinds of "transgressions" regularly got people beaten or killed up until at least the 1960s, and (sadly) still might in some places. I guess I really can't fault Bray for trying to inject a little tolerance into her imagined 1920s -- after all, if we can buy a supernaturally resurrected serial killer, I guess Theta can fall for Memphis and Henry can dance cheek-to-stubbled-cheek with whomever he likes.
In the end, I might hesitate before handing The Diviners to my (imaginary) thirteen year-old cousin, but it's most definitely going on my Best-of-2012 list. And despite frequent rants about "sequelitis" on the YA and paranormal fiction shelves, I am not at all unhappy to hear Evie and company will return for further adventures. If nothing else, they bring the kind of clever vibe to fighting apocalyptic evil that calls to mind a different set of supernatural white-hats, also led by a sassy blonde. In fact, sometimes you can almost hear Will cleaning his glasses -- and if you get that reference, you'll love The Diviners....more
If you love Sherlock, you'll find things to like here, but like many anthologies, it's kind of hit and miss. Favorites included James A. Moore's Lovec If you love Sherlock, you'll find things to like here, but like many anthologies, it's kind of hit and miss. Favorites included James A. Moore's Lovecraftian "Emily's Kiss," and Simon Kurt Unworth's exceedingly creepy "The Hand-Delivered Letter," in which Moriarty exacts a quite unexpected type of revenge. ...more
I read this book when I was in elementary school -- most significantly I remember "The Upper Berth," by Francis Marion Crawford scaring the bejaysus oI read this book when I was in elementary school -- most significantly I remember "The Upper Berth," by Francis Marion Crawford scaring the bejaysus out of me. I don't think I slept for a week.
I just took a break from writing this to buy a copy online for nostalgia's sake. Can't wait to revisit my childhood! ...more
A thoroughly entertaining collection, perhaps a bit less steampunk than advertised, but quite solid as an hommage to classic Victorian supernatural liA thoroughly entertaining collection, perhaps a bit less steampunk than advertised, but quite solid as an hommage to classic Victorian supernatural literature. See my full review here:
There was quite the trend for horrifying book covers in the 70s -- lots of creepy children with blank, staring eyes, or faces distorted with terror, dThere was quite the trend for horrifying book covers in the 70s -- lots of creepy children with blank, staring eyes, or faces distorted with terror, dripping blood or gouting flames. I used to dread standing in line at the supermarket with my mom, because invariably there would be some gruesome John Saul novel in the racks that would later compel nightmares of glowing-eyed waifs coming to get me. I also remember the cover of Audrey Rose scaring the bejayzus out of me when I first saw in on the couch at my friend's house. Her mom was reading it, and it was an object of horror and fascination. But I was maybe 10, and I liked being scared (still do), so of course my friend swiped it and we read it.
Obviously the book made an impression on me, but I don't think the story was nearly as scary as the cover. More supernatural family drama that horror. I can't really give an honest review because I've long since seen the awful movie, and I can't unsee it.
Wow. Haunted houses, haunted people, haunting book. Reading Houdini Heart feels like having a breakdown, only more eloquent than mine could ever be. TWow. Haunted houses, haunted people, haunting book. Reading Houdini Heart feels like having a breakdown, only more eloquent than mine could ever be. This book just picks you up and carries you downstream into madness along with the unnamed narrator, a successful Hollywood writer for whom something -- a number of things, actually -- has gone hideously wrong. She's now holing up in small town Vermont, in River House, a once magnificent old home come down in the world, now functioning as a seedy residence hotel. River House had captured her imagination in childhood, and now she's returned there to escape, to write, to die. Once again, the house itself takes over her imagination, this time revealing all the madness it, and she, has been keeping inside.
In some weirdly specific ways, Houdini Heart recalls House of Leaves, but it's less philosophically and multiple-narratively freighted. It also plays overtly with Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House legacy, even incorporating the author herself into the phantasm. Lovecraft makes an appearance as well, along with any number of celebrities who visited River House in better days. (Including Houdini. You work out what the title signifies.) What's wonderful is that, while acknowledging this venerable literary tradition, Ki Longfellow's prose is always immediate and visceral -- it feels like madness -- and her her plot is a juggernaut which immediately starts tearing rents in reality, rather than conducting a leisurely examination of the uncanny. If I said I'm still not sure how to interpret the ending, I'm sure I wouldn't be alone. (And I'm also sure that's a completely appropriate response.) But I'd still say it was a fantastic ride. Houdini Heart is gripping and wickedly intelligent, a modern classic of psychological horror....more
The Croning is a perfectly horrible book, and I mean that in high compliment.
It's rare that a horror story actually scares me these days (and more'sThe Croning is a perfectly horrible book, and I mean that in high compliment.
It's rare that a horror story actually scares me these days (and more's the pity), but Barron's first novel is wrong in all the right ways, leaving behind a caul of unease, and a wicked dose of the cosmic heebie-jeebies. (I'm thrilled to admit that when I finished it last night, I left the lights on.) Also? Un-put-downable. The Croning sustains the poisonous adrenaline level of one of Barron's short stories over almost 250 pages; once you open the cover you are done for. But the faint-of-heart be warned: this is a seriously dark and unpleasant ride, with a sucking black hole where some might prefer redemptive resolution.
With each tautly descriptive and hallucinogenic page, the dread level ratchets up another notch, for both the reader and our "hero" Don Miller. Don, a former geologist and cave-expert now in his early 80s, has recently come to suspect that his notoriously unreliable memory is finally going for good. As Don settles into uneasy retirement in his wife's ancestral family home in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, he reviews his apparently charmed life: moderate wealth, adventurous travel, family and a 50-plus-year marriage with love of his life, the still-vivacious -- and still-successful -- archaeologist Michelle Mock.
But there is something wrong. Don feels a creeping dread about the house and the Mock family's mysterious history, as well as Michelle's long absences, unreliable itineraries, and violent mood swings. Now, Don's fears begin to coalesce into a pattern of nagging inconsistencies and memory-repression so terrifying as to indeed resemble dementia. This challenging timeline structure leaps back and forth across more than half a century of Don's life, methodically revealing the horrors that have been conspiratorially hidden from him until now, and unveiling the truly nightmarish source of Don's dis-ease -- his brushes with a cthonic cult that has flourished from before the dawn of time, and demands unimaginable sacrifice from its chosen acolytes.
In The Croning, Barron has fleshed out the rumors of "Old Leech" and his minions, who have appeared in certain of his short stories, creating an ancient and bloodthirsty mythology of Lovecraftian scale, but with a stench of cosmic horror that is entirely his own. It's sick, but I want more.