An amusing, twisty little tale, but not without flaws. I know it was tailored to a specific anthology (Rogues), but I feel like Flynn's not quite at hAn amusing, twisty little tale, but not without flaws. I know it was tailored to a specific anthology (Rogues), but I feel like Flynn's not quite at her best on such a small canvas. The climax seemed rushed and kind of overstuffed. Still, a better way to kill an hour than most . . . 3.5 stars....more
I have always been a sucker for a good demonic possession story, and Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts has all the elements of a pretty great one.I have always been a sucker for a good demonic possession story, and Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts has all the elements of a pretty great one.
Part of what I enjoyed so much about the story was the deliberately ambiguous treatment of the difference between mental illness and demonic possession, a fine line I have often pondered myself. The afflicted fourteen year-old Marjorie even tells her sister she's faking, though clearly something is very wrong. The addition of a reality TV film crew -- invited to film Marjorie's exorcism to help defray her rising (and ineffectual) medical treatment costs -- only ups the ante, as we wonder if it's Marjorie or the demon playing to the cameras . . . and playing with her rapidly fracturing family.
The story unfolds primarily through the memories of Marjorie's then-8-year old sister, the gregarious Merry, who both loves and fears Marjorie in equal measure. The two have always been close, but much of the older girl's uncanny new behavior seems to manifest just for her, and Marjorie's midnight visits to Merry's room are among the most chilling moments in the novel. Maybe the demon is interested in the little one, too?
Finally, for us nerds who love the whole meta-thing, the book is laced with fun horror references and shout-outs, from contemporary to classic. Hommage is paid without imitation, for the most part. (There is one major plot twist you may face-palm yourself for not picking up on beforehand -- I know the work being referenced, and still didn't twig to it. Made for a nice "Oh no you di'n't!" moment, though, before the face-palm and creeping shame at my own obliviousness, that is.)
The only part of this book I wasn't overly fond of were the scattered blog entries from a horror site doing an in-depth re-watch and post-mortem of the resulting TV show (called "The Possession"). I'm not sure they added much to the story, and the verbiage was annoying -- probably like a real teenager's blog, now that I think of it. But enough of that.
Overall, I'd give A Head Full of Ghosts 4.75 stars. It's entertaining, creepy, and really hard to put down. I'm about to go order a copy of my own, because this one might benefit from additional readings. Wonderfully done!
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
One of the most gripping, best-written thrillers I've read in recent memory, Gone Girl is dark, twisty, emotionally insightful and -- surprisingly --One of the most gripping, best-written thrillers I've read in recent memory, Gone Girl is dark, twisty, emotionally insightful and -- surprisingly -- quite funny. This is one of those books you can't say much about, for fear of unleashing ruinous spoilers. And believe me, you don't want to be spoiled. This both is and is not the book you expect it to be, and I dare you to put it down once you've started. ...more
Kin begins at what is usually conceived as an ending: on the well-trod path of the final girl staggering away from a massacre, the lone survivor afterKin begins at what is usually conceived as an ending: on the well-trod path of the final girl staggering away from a massacre, the lone survivor after a family of backwoods cannibals takes an unhealthy interest in a group of teenage backpackers. (Slasher movies and torture porn. Yawn.)
But then the story turns itself inside out and slaps the reader upside the head by becoming not merely revenge fiction (though it's that, too), but an investigation of the ripple-effects of a horrific crime, and the ways in which formidable bonds can form from even the most tenuous connections in times of crisis. For Burke, the word "kin" is key, and the story clearly implies a broader sense of "family" than just that of the gruesome Merrills.
Kin is told from multiple, disparate points of view, all of which cross and weave together seamlessly as the denoument approaches. Among the sharply delineated characters are Claire, the survivor of inexpressible horrors; Peter, a slow but kind farm boy who, along with his father, finds the dying Claire on the road and takes her to the local doctor; Finch, a struggling Iraq war vet and the brother of Claire's boyfriend (now numbered among the cannibalized dead); and Luke, eldest son of the God-fearing, torture-loving, and flesh-eating Merrill clan. Burke's acute psychological profiles invite the reader to empathize not only with the crippling PTSD and survivor's guilt of victims, but also to approach an understanding of the repugnant family values that breed savages.
You should know what you are getting into when you pick up Kin: the violence level is exceptionally high and graphic (although one might intuit that from the blurb). Burke's book is certainly not for the faint of heart, but once you get through the first few raw, stomach-churning chapters, you'll find the payoff in beautiful (and hideous) prose, well-turned dialogue and believable characters, and a tautly constructed plot that keeps twisting until the very end. I'm giving Kin four-and-a-half stars and not five for one detail that felt a bit off to me, but it's a major spoiler, so you'll have to decide for yourself. Suffice it to say, I won't be able forget this novel anytime soon....more
Lisa Mannetti's Bram Stoker Award-winning The Gentling Box is pretty much a horrorshow from beginning to end: 1860s Hungary and Romania, gypsy curses,Lisa Mannetti's Bram Stoker Award-winning The Gentling Box is pretty much a horrorshow from beginning to end: 1860s Hungary and Romania, gypsy curses, the blackest magic and some pretty disturbing body horror.
Feeling something like a fairy-tale gone horribly wrong (as they are wont to do), this book clings like a bad dream.
"Memento" with more journaling and fewer tattoo needles. Kidding, sort of.
Watson's debut novel is a solid psychological thriller that kept me guessing"Memento" with more journaling and fewer tattoo needles. Kidding, sort of.
Watson's debut novel is a solid psychological thriller that kept me guessing, and kept me up late finishing it. To say more about the twists and turns than the book blurb does would constitute spoilers, but the narrator Christine's total amnesia, and the ways in which disturbing memories of her past begin to slip in by increments as she writes the details of her daily struggle, make for a taut and tantalizing narrative.
It's not a perfect book -- at least one major plot element will demand a HUGE suspension of disbelief -- but Watson's prose is quite effective in evoking the terror and dislocation Chrissy endures each morning upon waking to a blank slate. All told, Before I Go to Sleep is a creepy and intense read, and certainly better written than your standard pulp thriller. I'll give it 3.75 for the plot; 4.25 for the writing.
(That being said, I have read two books in the last month in which the narrator has to piece her own identity -- and the cause of her amnesia -- together from her handwritten notes. Gotta say The Rook was way more inventive, if not nearly as serious.)...more
After the Apocalypse as a title is a bit misleading -- evoking as it does zombies (there are only a few), nuclear winter, or some "Mad Max" scenario -After the Apocalypse as a title is a bit misleading -- evoking as it does zombies (there are only a few), nuclear winter, or some "Mad Max" scenario -- and yet it's also quite perfect. Because, like Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers, Maureen F. McHugh's thoughtful collection of stories is really about how we, just us normal people, get up and get on with it after the unthinkable has occurred.
At heart, these are intimate tales about people and their strange new lives: keeping family safe, finding work, finding food, losing their homes, their minds and their innocence. While some common genre tropes appear (a government "zombie reserve" that doubles as a fight-or-die penal colony; an unstoppable strain of avian flu that takes its sweet, relentless time to turn a human brain to mush; disparate strangers inexplicably drawn to converge in a particular place), the apocalypses -- yes, the plural form is required -- in these stories are equally the result of problems already on our doorsteps: natural disasters; overburdened and failing urban infrastructures; economic meltdowns; and machines that might just be smarter than we are.
With clean, evocative prose, a killer eye for detail, and a sympathetic, humorous (but never indulgent) view into the human condition, McHugh has crafted a work of speculative fiction about what humanity might stand to lose -- or just maybe gain -- when we are faced with the burdens of the end times already rearing their ugly heads. Her characters are not always kind, not always moral. But they are astute, funny and absolutely believable. (And as a bonus, one wears the coolest t-shirt ever: "If You're Really a Goth, Where Were You When We Sacked Rome?")...more
Set in in the years following WWI and framed by the majestic winter austerity of the French Pyrenees, The Winter Ghosts is a small, eerily beautifulSet in in the years following WWI and framed by the majestic winter austerity of the French Pyrenees, The Winter Ghosts is a small, eerily beautiful tale about loss, mourning and redemption. Within its modest number of pages, which easily could (and possibly should) be read in one sitting on a cold winter's night, new life is breathed into fairy tale, history lesson, love story, ghost story and travelogue.
If you've read Mosse before, the setting and even some of the details will be familiar ground, but this spare narrative about a grieving traveler who encounters the ephemeral in a tiny mountain village is unburdened by the complex twists and turns of her longer historical mysteries (which have their own pleasures), and feels strangely timeless, even archetypal. The writing itself is gorgeous, particularly when it comes to sights, smells, even food and fabric -- all the jewel-like details that make one place so very unlike any other. The Winter Ghosts is in fact an almost perfect gem of a book, and one that will no doubt linger at the edges of my mind for a very long time....more
Likely King's best novel in many years, UtD grabs you at the first page and never lets up, with a propulsive narrative that is both as disturbing as yLikely King's best novel in many years, UtD grabs you at the first page and never lets up, with a propulsive narrative that is both as disturbing as you might expect, and even more so. Everything you need to know is right there in the title: the town of Chester's Mill, Maine has become cut off from the world by a mysterious transparent "dome" which appears out of nowhere on a crisp fall day. No one can leave, and no one can enter. The town is on its own.
Less a traditional "horror" story (though there's plenty of gruesome moments), and more a hostage situation on a grand scale, UtD is most effective when showcasing the evil men (and all the other inhabitants of beleaguered Chester's Mill) can do when traditional moral structures collapse around them, when the world shrinks and becomes alien and full of menace, when any idea of a sympathetic, or even rational, god has gone the way of fresh supplies . . . and fresh air.
Along the way the reader meets a cast of characters roughly the size of a small Maine town; chief among them the corrupt Selectman who views the crisis as a golden opportunity; the adolescent whiz-kids intent on helping to solve it; the Revelations-spewing meth addict who runs the town's Christian (and only) radio station; the overtaxed PA who becomes the town's de-facto doctor; and leading the cast, a former soldier on the drift, who manages to just miss his opportunity to get out while the getting is good.
With strongly delineated heroes -- flawed though they may be -- to root for, and plenty of despicable self-proclaimed "good guys" to hiss at (small-town cops and elected officials take rather a drubbing, as do unchristian Christians), UtD takes an inexplicable disaster and puts a human face on the toll it exacts. I won't say any more than this -- when I was halfway through the book, I couldn't imagine any way things could get worse for Chester's Mill. Fortunately, good old Uncle Steve's imagination is a long way from running dry.