This book opens with one of the coolest stories I've read in awhile: the short, brutal, and kind of hilarious "Kids." Within just a few paragraphs, La...moreThis book opens with one of the coolest stories I've read in awhile: the short, brutal, and kind of hilarious "Kids." Within just a few paragraphs, Langan had me both howling with uneasy laughter and wondering if he was plundering my mind for its deepest fears, and that's very much the way to my heart. (Other than through my chest, natch.)
The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies has been on my TBR list ever since it came out last spring. I can only say I wish I'd gotten to it sooner, because this collection is as close to perfect as it gets. There are no bad stories here, not even any "meh" ones. Just a series of really inventive tales, well told.
Of course I had favorites. But I had several. Besides "Kids," which I won't spoil by even hinting at its contents, there was also "Technicolor," a wild (and darkly genius) take on "The Masque of the Red Death," which may have inspired me to re-evaluate Poe. (I secretly find him awfully florid.) There are two new-Lovecraftian tales: "The Shallows," a slice-of-life story about a man and his mutant crab, going about their business in a world where the Old Ones now control reality; and the truly disturbing "City of the Dog," which takes as its inspiration HPL's underused ghouls (think "Pickman's Model"), and turns Albany into a carnivorously haunted blot on the landscape. Finally, the closing, and longest, tale in the collection is "Mother of Stone," in which a bloody pre-historic rite is accidentally resurrected at an otherwise homey Hudson Valley inn. Also, do not miss Langan's story notes (which illuminate several of the stories in unexpected ways), and Laird Barron's hilarious afterword.
I liked The Black Church well enough -- great creepy premise (who doesn't love a cursed object?), and what might have been a very interesting historic...moreI liked The Black Church well enough -- great creepy premise (who doesn't love a cursed object?), and what might have been a very interesting historical frame -- but it didn't feel fully fleshed-out somehow. Too long for a short story, but not long enough to deliver enough detail to do the premise justice. I liked it enough for a solid 3 stars; I just wish Tate had gone deeper into the history and mystery bits.(less)
Quick and dirty review, here. I really enjoyed this, my first Clegg novel (although I do love the creepy little illustrated story Isis). I see a lot o...moreQuick and dirty review, here. I really enjoyed this, my first Clegg novel (although I do love the creepy little illustrated story Isis). I see a lot of comparisons to Salem's Lot in the reviews here, but beyond a surface similarity involving creepy kids (among others) terrorizing a small town, I didn't get that vibe. Also take note of the cheesy stock "creepy kid" cover on this edition. It's right out of the John Saul school of the 1970s, and doesn't do much to dispel those kinds of comparisons.
Although this novel was written in the 90s, Clegg's approach is all bleak 21st century horror, and far less sentimental than King's.* Though the characters are well-drawn, and the flashbacks to their youth key to the story, there's very little romanticizing of childhood, or small town life, or of anything really, in The Children's Hour. (Okay, there is a lost first love subplot, but even that is mostly a catalyst for some seriously disturbing sh*t.) It's pretty relentlessly grim, even nihilistic at times, and comes with a vastly higher body count than any King novel I can recall.
Also, the entities that haunt The Children's Hour? Are. Not. Vampires. They are more like horrible meat puppets, vampiric in some ways, yes, but definitely not your standard-issue bloodsuckers. This menace is a lot more unsettling, unearthly, demonic. (My comparison: in an upside-down and backwards way, this book recalls Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror," and freakish Wilbur Whateley hiding that nightmarish entity in his farmhouse.)
I don't want to telegraph much more of the plot -- suffice it to say I was actually unnerved by some of the imagery in The Children's Hour. One night I left my bedside lamp burning after reading. That's one of my highest compliments. It's a good thing he's prolific, because I'll be reading more Clegg.
* For the record, I love King and his elegiac, nostalgic, sentimental side. This just isn't that. (less)
I don't want to mislead anyone, so I'll say it up front: Dark Places is no Gone Girl. Flynn really hit the perfect balance of satirical yet bracingly...moreI don't want to mislead anyone, so I'll say it up front: Dark Places is no Gone Girl. Flynn really hit the perfect balance of satirical yet bracingly honest characterization, snappy style and ridiculously twisty suspense in her amazingly great newest book, so don't go into this one expecting another like that one.
Not to say that I didn't enjoy Dark Places, because I really did. It too is propulsive reading, twisty and funny in its own way; but the tone is much angrier, the people much poorer, the locales much bleaker, and the crime at the center of the story much bloodier. Some scenes are exceptionally violent, and some themes will (rightly) disturb.
At the tender age of seven our protagonist, Libby Day, became the only survivor of a late-night home invasion massacre that killed her entire family. Well, Libby was the only survivor besides her sullen teenage brother Ben, the accused and convicted killer, whom she damningly testified against at the time. That was 1985.
This is the present: Now a semi-reclusive adult living on the dregs of a charitable trust in a crappy Kansas City rental, Libby has many reasons to be bitter. For starters she's just been told she's broke, and her sob story has been usurped by a hundred others, so there's no more cash rolling in. She might actually have to find a job.
But then Libby receives a letter from the Kill Club, a group of true crime and serial killer enthusiasts, and it seems her troubles might be allayed for a bit. She's offered $500 to make an appearance at their meeting, along with the promise of collectors interested in purchasing Day family "memorabilia." Little does she know, some are outspoken advocates for Ben's innocence, who claim Libby was too young to understand what had happened that night, that her testimony had been coerced. They also have theories galore about who really done it. Libby is initially furious at being lured into their delusions, but the idea has been planted in her head. What if she had been wrong? And the can of worms that is Dark Places is opened.
Libby is another of Flynn's wonderfully snarkastic antiheroes. She's selfish, spiteful, lazy, entitled and completely hilarious. Almost nobody in this book is traditionally likeable, but Flynn somehow manages to find a sympathetic core in her characters. Dark Places is primarily Libby's story in the present, but is intercut with chapters from her sad, exhausted mother's point of view, and from her her angry brother's, on the day of the murders in 1985. Ben's story is especially difficult to read, showcasing as it does the unsavory side of teenage outcasts and suburban metalheads with nothing better to do than get fucked up, have sex, and break things. (Yes, that's what disaffected teens do.) The ludicrous "Satanic Panic" that gripped America for a dozen years or so before the millennium hangs heavy over Ben's conviction -- because of course if he dyed his hair black and listened to Venom and Slayer, it stands to reason he massacred his family for Satan.
Gillian Flynn is a master craftsman of snark-laced suspense, and Dark Places a unique take on the usual thriller. I alternately cackled and winced, as I put the clues together along with Libby and her new friends, traveling across a depressed middle America to confront potential witnesses and accusers, in search of the truth of that horrible night. A truth which, by the way, you won't see coming at all.
Loved it. Brilliant. A melancholy fairy tale about a wonderful and terrible time and place just beyond reach of adult memory, and quintessentially Bri...moreLoved it. Brilliant. A melancholy fairy tale about a wonderful and terrible time and place just beyond reach of adult memory, and quintessentially British in mood and execution, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman at his best. Though this is meant to be an adult novel, it's certainly no scarier than The Graveyard Book or Coraline. Which is to say: for children, but also capable of terrifying adults on an existential level. The beauty of Gaiman is that he just writes stories, and different people find different things inside them. In that way, his tales are mythic.
More specific thoughts to come . . .
P.S. And the shout-out to Timothy and the Two Witches? Also brilliant. Serendipitously, I recently unearthed my battered old Dell Yearling copy of that book, which I loved to death as a child. Time for a reread.(less)
The tale of a mysterious and deadly "Curse" that ravages the upper crust of Princeton society in 1905 and 1906, Joyce Carol Oates' newest novel plays...moreThe tale of a mysterious and deadly "Curse" that ravages the upper crust of Princeton society in 1905 and 1906, Joyce Carol Oates' newest novel plays with Gothic conventions masterfully. An attempt to patch together the story of those dark years, The Accursed is the manuscript of amateur historian (and descendant of a "Cursed" family) M.W. van Dyck II. He presents a series of excerpts from journals, letters, newspapers, even a coded diary, written during the time of the "Curse," in an attempt to piece together the strange and horrible events that appear to have begun with the abduction of the innocent and beautiful Annabel Slade from the church on her wedding day.
Between the covers you will find demon lovers, murderous jealousy, miscegenation, beckoning apparitions, even a fairy kingdom. Also, an absolutely enormous cast of characters, some entirely fictional, like the sorely afflicted Slade family; others "real," like Woodrow Wilson (at the time President of Princeton University); ex-U.S. President Grover Cleveland; and Socialist writer Upton Sinclair. What I did not expect to find was a darkly satirical commentary on Christian piety, ivory tower backstabbing, gaping class division, the rise of Socialism, and, of course, the "Gothic novel" itself.
Meantime, I will say that no matter how scary this book is (and it is), Joe Hill is a completely good egg. I wa...moreWow. Thoughtful thoughts to come soon.
Meantime, I will say that no matter how scary this book is (and it is), Joe Hill is a completely good egg. I was lucky enough to hear him read and meet him at a signing last night in San Francisco. In addition to being one of the best writers of this generation, Joe is also very funny, amazingly nice to his fans, and draws groovy little pictures in your books when he signs them.
That being said, NOS4A2 is not a nice book. In fact, it pings the disturb-o-meter on about the second page, and rises from there throughout the remaining 687. NOS4A2 is relentless, in both pacing and subject matter. It's a giant ball of unease. It's also not actually about vampires, despite what the title might imply.
3.5 really. Black & Orange won the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in a First Novel in 2010. My first reaction says the concept is f...more3.5 really. Black & Orange won the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in a First Novel in 2010. My first reaction says the concept is fresh and the writing and characterization are excellent, but aspects of the hierarchy and politics of Ethridge's world are less clear than they might have been. In that way, Black & Orange reminds me a bit of The Night Watch (etc.) books by Sergei Lukyanenko, which I had a hard time warming to for similar reasons. If Ethridge is planning a sequel, which I'd read, maybe the aggregate exposure will bring the Church of Midnight and the Church of Morning into clearer focus. Still, I'm curious to read more from him. (less)
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 unca...moreRead 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.(less)
Short version: I *really* enjoyed Hide Me Among the Graves, but don't even contemplate reading it if you've not yet read The Stress of Her Regard, fir...moreShort version: I *really* enjoyed Hide Me Among the Graves, but don't even contemplate reading it if you've not yet read The Stress of Her Regard, first published in 1989 (and one of my perennial faves). While HMAtG isn't billed as a sequel per se, the reader definitely needs TSoHR to set up the unique type of menace our protagonists (who include Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti as well as descendants of characters from the 1989 book), are grappling with. As a stand-alone, it might confuse, but as a sequel, it's a long-awaited treat.
My advice? Read both. Also? Don't take the word "vampire" at face value.(less)
Oh, yes he did. Kiefer has written a rollicking apocalyptic thriller based on a uniquely blasphemous premise: God is not humanity's creator, but its c...moreOh, yes he did. Kiefer has written a rollicking apocalyptic thriller based on a uniquely blasphemous premise: God is not humanity's creator, but its creation . . . and, locked away by spells for millennia, It has become a hateful, barely-contained psychotic as a result of the mixed messages it receives from us every minute of every day. Now, two factions as old as time are at war; one wants to contain God, the other to unleash It. Caught in the middle of the apocalyptic muddle is our hero Kirt Tucker, a chronically depressed used-car salesman . . . and a (very surprised) sleeper agent for the forces of humanity. Will Kirt and friends prevail, or will God be unleashed to destroy Its tormentors?
I bought God Attacks! as a lark -- loved the goofy title and the unusual premise -- and was surprised to find a very good book. Both funny and dark, and crazy action-packed, with battling secret societies, marauding, body-thieving angels, a healthy dollop of gore, and a main character so well-drawn that the reader can feel his gob-smackedness emanating from the page. I was, however, slightly annoyed to discover, as the gripping action mounted, careening toward a climax . . . that there wasn't one, because God Attacks! is only the first of two parts. (Read the fine print much?) Anyway, I'll be back for part two, but I'll hate the wait. (less)
I am finding it hard to find time to review all the books I'm plowing through lately, but The Number 121 to Pennsylvania & Others deserves at leas...moreI am finding it hard to find time to review all the books I'm plowing through lately, but The Number 121 to Pennsylvania & Others deserves at least a quick one for several good reasons.
First off, I fully enjoyed every story in the collection, which is a rare thing. I've read several of Burke's books recently (Kin, and the whole Timmy Quinn series) and have yet to be disappointed; in fact I'd lay money that with his talent and his abundant output, he could be the "next big thing" in horror. With a nostalgic nuance that nods to Stephen King (especially in the short form) and a deft treatment of the dark supernatural lurking on the fraying fringes of normalcy that brings to mind John Connelly's Charlie Parker books, what's not to like? Also, Burke turns some lovely and evocative phrases: a graveside priest becomes "an oversized raven with a scabrous pink beak and a silver crown"; and a melancholy retiree watches "the sun die a phoenix death, bruising the clouds as it struggled to stay afloat." It might be that Irish way with the palaver, but I'm hooked.
So, the stories. I went through the misery of quitting cigarettes fairly recently, so I still have sympathy, and snickered through the nanny-state horror of "Prohibited," a kind of modern take on King's "Quitters, Inc."; I also loved the lighter mood of "High on the Vine," a clever suburban retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. As to the scary, Burke has a way with that helpless, paralyzing fear unique to childhood, the cold certainty that something-is-coming-to-get-you, and uses it to great effect in "Snowmen" and "Mr. Goodnight." And the almost novella-length closer "Saturday Night at Eddie's," an excerpt from the novel Currency of Souls, made me buy the longer work immediately. Can't wait to dive in.
Finally, and this is big, there were two stories in this collection that are going to stay with me -- in fact, they scared the absolute bejayzus out of me. I'm not an easy scare (those days are long gone), so that was a real treat. I would caution readers not to take on the back-to-back brain-f**k that is "Empathy" and "Peekers" just before bed, as I foolishly did. I read "Empathy," a computer-user's nightmare in the vein of "Ringu" but rooted in a real world atrocity, and knew I couldn't let that be the last thing on my mind before I slept. So I blithely continued on with the short, sharp and vastly creepy "Peekers," which mostly made me wish I lived in a wide-open warehouse space with no corners or doorjambs. (Alas, I live in a Victorian with many nooks, crannies and sliding pocket-doors just perfect for, well, peeking.) I stared at the space between those sliding doors until sleep finally carried me off. I felt like I was ten again, sleeping with the light on so nothing could get me. The next day I watched the short film made from that story (there's a link on Burke's author page here), hoping that if I saw it, it would somehow banish the creeps. No such luck.
Well-played, Mr. Burke. You win . . . and so do your readers with this fine collection. Five solid stars. (less)
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 club...more4.75/5
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.(less)
This book started out as a 2.5 and performed the unusual feat of raising itself to a 3.5 by the time I finished it. 99 Brief Scenes From The End Of Th...moreThis book started out as a 2.5 and performed the unusual feat of raising itself to a 3.5 by the time I finished it. 99 Brief Scenes From The End Of The World was stealthy, sneak-up-on-you-good, despite some important flaws, and I'm glad I stuck with it.
The bad news first: Right out of the box I was irritated that the structure of the book was not as implied by the title. I expected something more like David Eagleman's strange and wonderful Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, only with splatterrific zombie gore. So, when characters and locales began to make repeat appearances, I had to revise my expectation (99 unique pieces of flash-fiction), to reading what is better described as a novel with 99 chapters. These are not always "brief scenes," and some are really filler-y, not strictly necessary to the story as a whole. It seems to me that a final round of edits could have pulled this all together into a tight, suspenseful novel not reliant on the random titular number for its structure.
The good news: Grim's book does have a number of things going for it, and despite my irritation I found it impossible to put down. First and foremost, Grim -- a talented, descriptive writer -- does good character work. Once I finally got to know the core survivors, I cared about their fate(s), and admired the way his craft allows their singular stories eventually dovetail. Some of the global-picture characters (the foaming-at-the mouth US President, or the morality-challenged leaders of a Japanese science/weapons lab) certainly might have been excised or toned down. Though I suppose they serve to give us a window into the global situation, I found that the struggle for survival (and sanity) of the everyday citizens was more tethered in realism, and gave me more to sink my teeth into.
Speaking of which . . . absolutely key to this particular genre is the splatter, and Grim pours forth an endless stream of surprisingly innovative mayhem. The man knows his gore, and and has a million ways to spill it. in fact, a couple of unbelievably disgusting scenes really worked their way under my skin -- and I eat dinner while watching "The Walking Dead," so do the math. Grim also conceives an unusual twist on the now-standard zombie/rage virus trope (tiny spoiler: it's neither one!) whichmight allow a continuance of the story . . . something challenging to achieve when writing about an extinction-level event.
Because the unexpected twist piqued my interest, and because it takes a lot to actually gross me out, I not only upgraded this book to "liked a lot" status; I'll happily read any follow-up work Grim gets out there. (less)