After the death of his wife, insurance salesman Oswald Priestly hopes for a fresh start when he moves himself and his teenaged daughter Amy into NazarAfter the death of his wife, insurance salesman Oswald Priestly hopes for a fresh start when he moves himself and his teenaged daughter Amy into Nazarill, a centuries-old hulk of a building newly renovated into "luxury apartments." Unfortunately the renovations haven't entirely effaced Nazarill's bloody past, which lies closer to the surface than either Priestly is prepared for. When fifteen year-old Amy's adolescent (and totally normal) rebellions start to puzzle, then annoy, and finally infuriate Oswald, Nazarill's dark heart begins to beat.
The story is told in alternating narrative voices, and readers are privy to the perspectives of both Oswald and Amy, which begin to warp as the house goes to work on them. While Amy struggles against childhood nightmares come to life, she also becomes driven to uncover the secrets of her new home; put simply, Oswald becomes obsessed with stopping her at any cost. We can only watch helplessly as their lives absorb the taint of old violence from Nazarill's walls.
Nazareth Hill puts me in mind of The Shining, in that it tells of a house that feeds on poisoning its tenants' minds (and fathers in particular), but its vibe is more a a very British old-school ghost story. It relies heavily on a classic slow build of suspense -- strange noises, bad lighting, doors just barely cracked open, and shapeless revenants glimpsed but not-quite seen. All this it does excellently (view spoiler)[Amy's adventures with the first floor in particular were spellbindingly awful for me (hide spoiler)], so when the shocks do come, they are really shocking. OMG-gasp-out-loud shocking.
Where Nazareth Hill falls a star short of perfect is in the unevenness of its characterization: who knew a middle-aged man could write a more nuanced teenaged girl than he could a middle-aged man? Obviously, readers are meant to sympathize with Amy, but it's a shame that Oswald, who starts out as a hapless widower coping with the mysteries of adolescence, becomes an entirely repulsive, over-the-top character. It feels plain lazy to make the heroine's father a total monster; even Jack Torrance retained a shred of humanity to the end.
4 out of 5 stars for excellence in atmosphere peopled by unevenly executed characters. ...more
Grady Hendrix, whose unique talent is to amuse and disturb simultaneously, does it again in his newest pop culture / horror mashup, the account of a nGrady Hendrix, whose unique talent is to amuse and disturb simultaneously, does it again in his newest pop culture / horror mashup, the account of a nasty case of possession at an American suburban high school in the totally gnarly 1980s.
You might want to read Hendrix's books in actual book form, or the experience could lose some of its zing. Like the craftily designed Horrorstör, a haunted-house story about an IKEA-ish superstore whose packaging closely resembles a catalog from an IKEA-ish superstore, My Best Friend's Exorcism has its own charming physical schtick: it looks a lot a high school yearbook from the 1980s, and every chapter is titled with a radio classic of the era. Loaded with black humor, that "playlist" includes "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "I Think We're Alone Now" as well as the obvious but always appropriate "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine"). Having attended a suburban high school in the 80s, I'm exactly the target demo for this book . . . and I can totally vouch for the bad hair, awesome music, and rampant demonic possession.
Seriously, though. This is the story of Gretchen, a (relatively) good girl going unpleasantly wrong after a blurry night of partying in the woods. It unfolds through the eyes of her BFF since childhood, the wry and increasingly horrified Abby. Entwined with the story of Gretchen's decline into corruption, Abby shares the history of their friendship, exposes the mean-girl cliquishness of high school, and makes a buttload of sassy pop culture references. If you're old enough to get the jokes, you'll laugh a lot. (Shout out to my Gen X peeps!).
I just realized that makes MBFE sound something like "Clueless" with less "barf me out!" and more more actual barf. Its sassy tone could fool you, but this is not a YA novel; even its humor is dark and disturbing, and also nobody wants to give teenagers any encouragement to be more violently crazy than they already are. Heavy on the body horror, splattery, squirmy, and sometimes pushing the yuck meter into the red, there's implied sexual violence, casually lethal cruelty and recreational drug and alcohol use. (view spoiler)[One disconnect I had with the plot had to do with the implication that casual drug experimentation led directly to Gretchen's possession-or-whatever. Partly, it's that it feels a little judgy and not tonally right for the book, which otherwise reflects how teenagers really behave when adults aren't looking. Also, it's an uninspired choice for the moment of infestation, since pretty much every book about demonic possession asserts drug use is one of the moral weaknesses that lets them take you. Like, duh.(hide spoiler)]. If you lived through, or at least heart the 1980s, adore pop culture trivia, and can stomach Gretchen's repulsive afflictions, you'll enjoy this totally gnarly novel. 4 solid stars . . . see spoiler above if you really want to know why it's not a 5 for me. Still, waaaaaay awesome!...more
A lovely genre-defying tale about a brilliant, genre-defying little girl. If you can, imagine a book about the zombie apocalypse that's not really aboA lovely genre-defying tale about a brilliant, genre-defying little girl. If you can, imagine a book about the zombie apocalypse that's not really about the zombies at all, a book both horrible and uplifting at the same time. That's The Girl With All the Gifts. I'm not sure if this novel is classed as YA . . . if it is, don't let it put you off. This is a book for anyone. Anyone who's not afraid of a little flesh-gobbling gore, fast-paced action, and a heartwarming center, that is. An unforgettable read....more
I thought I was tired of apocalypse fiction, and kind of felt that way for about the first 200 pages of The 5th Wave. Though the writing is excel4.5/5
I thought I was tired of apocalypse fiction, and kind of felt that way for about the first 200 pages of The 5th Wave. Though the writing is excellent, I just wasn't seeing anything particularly new in the story itself: "plucky young heroes coming of age while fighting totalitarianism/supernatural apocalypse/alien invasion/etc." has kind of become the go-to plot in YA fiction.
But then Rick Yancey proved me wrong, with the kind of plot twist you really don't see coming, and the remainder of the novel kicked into overdrive. Intricate plotting, and maybe most importantly, vivid, descriptive writing that carries the reader along for every excruciating inch of the ride -- The 5th Wave kept me riveted far too late into the night.
Personally, I prefer Yancey's Monstrumologist series, but then I'm a whore for period gore. But so far, anything he writes is a welcome addition to my shelves. The 5th Wave series will have a reserved space. ...more
What a wonderful, terrible, hilarious, disgusting, compelling adventure yarn The Monstrumologist is! I've never read anything even remotely like it. In a nutshell, here's why you should read this book.
1) The monsters -- Anthropophagi -- are completely terrifying. Savage, headless man-eaters, fierce, fast and thoroughly disgusting, they have inexplicably appeared in a small New England town and embarked on a feeding frenzy. These nasty beasties are a welcome development for horror fiction, which has nurtured too many romanticized monsters of late. You do not want to date one of these fellows, of that you can be sure. On they other hand, they'd love to have you incubate their offspring . . ..
2) The sweet-and-sour relationship between the Monstrumologist himself (who is rather like a bizarro-world Sherlock Holmes on one of his manic benders), and our narrator, the plucky and resilient twelve year-old orphan Will Henry. Will has recently inherited his father's position as the peculiar monster-hunting scientist Dr. Pellinore Warthrop's assistant, and is about to be plunged into the kind of mayhem that would make even professional monster-hunters quail. Before the tale is told Will will see (and do!) unthinkable things in the name of science, and forge himself a new family from the ashes of tragedy.
3) Yancey's writing is wonderful. Densely descriptive without being dull; poetic without being pretentious. Top notch plotting as well. I've seen reviews say it was slow in the middle, but I couldn't put it down at any point. When the action slows down, the character development picks up the slack with sharp, funny dialogue and moments of painful honesty about the human (and inhuman) condition. Also, the feeling of dread that builds throughout, especially in the quiet moments, leads to a spectacular payoff.
4) It's viscerrific! The Monstrumologist may be one of the bloodiest (and brain-iest, and pus-iest, and maggot-iest) books I have ever read. The gore is so over-the-top that sometimes I laughed and cringed simultaneously. I know it's considered a YA novel (and has the Printz-prize sticker to prove it); however I'm pretty sure it would have terrified me as a kid. Granted, I was kind of a wuss, but there were at least two scenes where the jaded, adult me felt the need to avert my gaze and skip ahead because I really didn't want any more detail about the disgustingness happening. (No, no, no, no, NO. A world of no.) You'd better be sure your kid can take it -- I'd read it first, just to be sure.
Grotesque, rollicking and unique fun, The Monstrumologist has made a Rick Yancey fan out of me. I can't wait to get my hands on the second installment, The Curse of the Wendigo....more
It's wonderful to know that everyone in the King family is blessed with mad skills. Not envious at all. Nope.
Kidding aside, Double Feature, Owen King'It's wonderful to know that everyone in the King family is blessed with mad skills. Not envious at all. Nope.
Kidding aside, Double Feature, Owen King's first novel, is a hilarious tragedy, a family romance, a loving commentary on what constitutes "art" (in film, specifically), and a damned good yarn. It's stuffed full of loud, round characters you both love and hate a little sometimes, but who impress themselves on your psyche with the heft of real people. It's much too snarky to be called a feel-good novel, but it left me feeling good, and that's an achievement all by itself. Looking forward to further enriching the King coffers with Owen's next . . . 5 stars.
Well, I did it. I read it. Much like narrator Davy, I really wanted to stop at several points, but couldn't help but go just a(NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH.)
Well, I did it. I read it. Much like narrator Davy, I really wanted to stop at several points, but couldn't help but go just a little further.
The Girl Next Door is -- both in storyline and in how I experienced it as a reader -- like the old adage about a frog in a pot of water: if you heat up the water gradually, the frog won't notice it's in mortal danger until far too late. Set in an utterly normal suburban neighborhood during the repressed-but-ready-to-blow 1950s, the book begins as a classic of a coming-of-age story about the neighborhood kids finding ways to fill the long days of summer. But from that benign place, The Girl Next Door begins a slow, inexorable dive, deep into dark psychological territory: savagery, complicity, guilt, sexual perversion, power, repression, moral responsibility, and of course, stark, gut-wrenching fear. (I'm not even going to start on the actual violence. Body horror is maybe the only horror genre that still deeply disturbs me.) And, in Ketchum's carefully crafted first-person narrative, you get to experience it with all the immediacy of a 12-year-old boy struggling to make sense of his own feelings, and swept up in events so monstrous they can hardly be real.
The effect? To make the reader feel fully complicit in the atrocities in the pages of this book. The main reason I wanted to stop reading The Girl Next Door is that I felt guilty turning every page. But my curiosity compelled me. In this, Ketchum pulls off a very neat trick, and my hat is off to him. I won't say this book was enjoyable -- because, ew -- but it certainly is impressive writing. Pick up this book at your own risk; you'll find it very hard to put down.
Dreadful, beautiful and unexpected. The story is lovely and real and moving, but Jim Kay's drawings really bring it to life. A Monster Calls is a chilDreadful, beautiful and unexpected. The story is lovely and real and moving, but Jim Kay's drawings really bring it to life. A Monster Calls is a children's book, but it's a story for everyone who has ever been truly afraid....more
Not at all what I expected, given the "pulp crime" vibe of the imprint and the cover, but emotionally compelling nonetheless. Joyland is King exertingNot at all what I expected, given the "pulp crime" vibe of the imprint and the cover, but emotionally compelling nonetheless. Joyland is King exerting his magical powers to create a sweeping sense of nostalgia for a time -- in the world, in a life -- long past. There's a nifty little ghost story/murder mystery (which I had figured out, BTW), but this novel is foremost about a coming-of-age summer, about how a job at a gem of an amusement park cures heartbreak, creates deep and far-reaching bonds, and turns Devin Jones into a man.
I suspect King can cough this kind of quasi-elegiac stuff up in his sleep by now, but his craftsmanship still wins the day, showing on every page. Yes, this is lightweight compared to, oh, say 11/22/63, but Joyland is still pretty great summer reading, and that's good enough for me.
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