Of all Christopher Moore's novels, which range from the adolescent and ridiculous (Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings) to the pretty much peOf all Christopher Moore's novels, which range from the adolescent and ridiculous (Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings) to the pretty much perfect (Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal), the ones that Charlie Asher lives in are my favorites. Secondhand Souls is of course the sequel to A Dirty Job, which introduced us to Charlie, beta male junk shop owner, and the hidden world of the Death Merchants. (Also: a devastatingly cool record-shop owner called Minty Fresh, a toddler who may-or-may-not be Death and her pet Hellhounds, Lily the PerkyGoth, Audrey the Buddhist nun, The Emperor of San Francisco, The Morrigan and The Squirrel People, among others.) Read that before you read this, or you'll be really lost. In fact, you probably are already.
With the whole bizarre gang back in play -- plus some new additions -- Secondhand Souls is not a mere cheesey sequel (though cheez plays a critical role); it's more like visiting with batshit crazy old friends. Unfortunately for them it turns out, due in large part to the events in A Dirty Job, there's a dangerous backlog of uncollected souls lurking around San Francisco, and Charlie and friends are once again embroiled in the danger and magical maneuvering that is dealing with the powers of darkness rising. Fortunately, they are more than weird enough to handle the crisis. I don't want to spoil the plot, so I'll just say it's hilarious.
Maybe I love these books because they capture San Francisco's magic in ways that ring true in my heart. It's like an idealized version of my hometown -- in the topography of Moore's books I basically live across the street from Minty's shop, and nobody ever has to step over homeless people sleeping in the vestibule. Crazy people are really helpful geniuses, and even normal folks can afford the rents. (I find all this somehow reassuring, as magic is in short supply around here these days.) Also, the characters have more fun talking to each other than anybody ever has had in the history of ever. (Except maybe "The Gilmore Girls.") For nutty-but-somehow-deep dialogue, you really can't beat Christopher Moore. 5 whole-hearted, sunny-yet-deeply-morbid stars. ...more
This is the second Christianity-themed book by Michael Faber I've read this year. (The other was The Fire Gospel, which was far more cynical). I am baThis is the second Christianity-themed book by Michael Faber I've read this year. (The other was The Fire Gospel, which was far more cynical). I am basically a devout agnostic, because it's as arrogant to assume you know there's nothing as it is to assume you know there's something. So why do these tales fascinate me? In the case of The Book of Strange New Things, maybe it's because Faber's story gives the reader access to the mind of a true believer -- not a blathering fundamentalist, mind you, just a decent man who has found real joy in religion after an early life of excess. Sometimes I envy the ease and succor genuine faith seems to give . . . but Faber deftly shows how that comfort and safety can sometimes be woefully misleading.
When Peter, a minister happily married to Bea, the woman who "saved" him, agrees to take on the open-ended position of chaplain for a corporation settlement and the nearby indigenous beings on the distant planet Oasis, he and his wife are both thrilled and terrified: thrilled he will be spreading God's word to new worlds, terrified of the months-long separation ahead. Arriving on Oasis, Peter is astonished and excited by the devout nature of the local, "alien," populace. Already prepared by the previous chaplain (now AWOL), many have rechristened themselves "Jesus Lover," followed by a number. (For example Peter's first interaction is with Jesus Lover One. Jesus Lover Five becomes a good friend. Etc.) So ecstatic are these "Oasans" to learn more of what they call "The Book of Strange New Things," they welcome him warmly and begin building him a church, which Peter makes his home between short visits to the base. He feels blessed to be granted such a perfect opportunity to do God's work. He's also more comfortable with the small, peaceful locals than most of the cynical humans back at base.
But there are deeper issues hiding under his blithe good works. Does Peter's new flock truly understand the teachings of Christ? How can he know what they make of his sermons, try as he does to make the metaphors clear for them? And will his email-only relationship with Bea, who is unexpectedly pregnant and sending alarming news of chaos on planet Earth daily, survive this mission? Less gut-punchingly painful than The Sparrow, another good-intentions-gone-wrong tale you should read if you haven't, The Book of Strange New Things is most concerned with the things we take for granted, and the small misunderstandings in communication that can easily grow into gulfs.
I hope I haven't given the impression this book is a downer -- it's really not. The indigenous culture Faber imagines is genuinely compelling and wonderful, as is his depiction of a faith not imperious or crazed, but warm and accepting. Not exactly action-packed, but truly thoughtful speculative fiction.
Charming, fresh, moving and funny. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is as good as everybody says it is, and I can't think of a single reason not to give itCharming, fresh, moving and funny. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is as good as everybody says it is, and I can't think of a single reason not to give it 5 stars. (Except maybe that it has permanently predisposed me to dislike pretty much everything about Seattle. Sheesh!)...more
Kate Maruyama's Harrowgate came out of left field late in the year to rock my top ten of 2013. Harrowing (pun intended) yet can't-put-it-down compelliKate Maruyama's Harrowgate came out of left field late in the year to rock my top ten of 2013. Harrowing (pun intended) yet can't-put-it-down compelling, Maruyama's debut defies genre, a unique family romance that both spooked me and pulled at my heartstrings, romantic and repellent at the same time. I'd love to say more, but you'll be glad I didn't. Harrowgate winks at some familiar tropes -- happy couple in spooky New York apartment? Check. Meddling older woman with special teas? Check. However, it unfolds in a truly unique fashion. An excellent and memorable debut novel. I look forward to much more from Maruyama!
(Edited to note that although I purchased a Kindle copy, and reviewed from that, I was also the lucky recipient of a signed First-Reads copy from the author through a Goodreads giveaway. It's one I'm happy to make room on an actual shelf for. Thanks!)...more
As a kid, I absolutely loved this book, but for the life of (the adult) me could not remember the name. A GR trivia question brought it all back -- IAs a kid, I absolutely loved this book, but for the life of (the adult) me could not remember the name. A GR trivia question brought it all back -- I need to read this one again! It might seem a little tame by today's standards, but when I was 8-or-9 reading The Saturdays felt like having the adventures myself. A classic....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.
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
Blurbs keep comparing Chase Novak's debut* novel Breed to Rosemary's Baby, and indeed there's something there, in that both books tell the stories4/5
Blurbs keep comparing Chase Novak's debut* novel Breed to Rosemary's Baby, and indeed there's something there, in that both books tell the stories of well-off Manhattanites and their unusual offspring. In fact, there's a scene early on that feels very much like an hommage to Levin's classic, but that's really where the similarities end.
A more satisfying comparison might be: Breed is to the dark side of contemporary parenting as American Psycho is to the cutthroat financial world of the Reagan era. Violent, creepy and at times unexpectedly touching, Novak's novel delivers the squicky medical/body horror, and reads as a vicious satire on the lives of the mega-rich who know they'll get everything they want simply because they have the money to pay for it. (And pay they do.) Breed might also be read as a smack upside the head to helicopter parents, a tweak of the nose to the fertility industry, or a Frankenstein-ian take on the hubris of tampering with the natural order. But I digress . . .
Meet Leslie and Alex Twisden, New York power couple. They have satisfying careers (he's a high-profile attorney, she's a respected editor), old money, and a fabulous Manhattan townhouse full of antique heirlooms. They are also madly in love. The one thing they don't seem to have is the ability to conceive. After three years and going on a million dollars spent on "everything from laser surgery to Chinese tea," they've had no luck. So when Alex and Leslie run into old friends from an infertility support group, now hugely with child, the Twisdens pull some strings to learn their secret. (Weirdly, I liked the Twisdens, particularly Leslie, in spite of themselves. They sound terrible on paper, but they felt authentic, if not quite sympathetic.)
Cut to the Ljubljana, Slovenia clinic of one Dr. Kis, purportedly a cutting-edge pioneer in "fertility enhancement treatments." His unorthodox methods clearly worked for their friends, so Alex made the arrangements and convinced a tired and reluctant Leslie to try this one last treatment. Within the week, they are standing in a bleak waiting room, swallowing their dismay at the shabby premises, the doctor's inability to speak English, and his uncouth bedside manner. Shortly, they will undergo Dr. Kis' groundbreaking procedure: painful injections filled with genetically questionable material, administered with a roughness that could be confused with assault.
But back at their hotel that night, Leslie and Alex fall on each other like teenagers. Like animals.
Ten years later: The Twisden twins, Alice and Adam, are thriving, and well-loved, if more than a little sheltered. The Twisdens have always been a close-knit family, needing or wanting few outside connections. But of late the twins have become concerned -- frightened, even -- about their parents' increasingly erratic behavior. The nearly raw meat they eat at dinner, the strange, animalistic sounds coming from their parents' room, and sometimes the basement. And then there's the fact that Leslie and Alex lock the twins into their own rooms each night . . . from the outside. Finally, Adam's fear and curiosity lead him to buck the status quo, and his actions trigger a bloody and disturbing series of events that will have repercussions far beyond just the Twisden family.
To say any more about the plot would deprive you of discovering its twisted joys, but I will say I've never read a horror story -- and I've read more than my share -- that addresses this truly taboo territory. Breed is inventive and propulsive reading. It's hard to put down, even as you're pretty sure you don't really want to know what's going to happen next.
Breed certainly isn't flawless -- sometimes it's difficult to suspend disbelief in the characters' actions, for example the key bit about flying off to get an experimental treatment from a creepy doctor in an unfamiliar Eastern European city with seemingly no medical regulations. Never having been desperate to, um, breed, maybe I just don't understand the lengths to which people will go. To me it seems like a colossally stupid idea, but -- like climbing Everest with no mountaineering experience -- perhaps it would appeal to those with more money than sense.
One other flaw is that the climax of the book, though emotionally satisfying in its way, is completely rushed. Some of that may be stylistic choice, an attempt to indicate heightened stakes and anxiety levels, but for me it was like an episode of "24" -- too much happens, too fast and too conveniently. If I hadn't been told there was a sequel in the works I'd have thought Breed full of dangling and/or unnecessary plot threads. I'll suspend critique on the dangly bits until I see where Novak's overall arc is heading, but the main events of this book did wrap up just a little too neatly.
Still, I'd highly recommend Breed to anyone who's looking for something innovative in the horror field; it's frequently disgusting, and its theme just plain wrong (in the right way). Not even remotely for the squeamish.
* Since the cat is already out of the bag on this nom de plume, it can't hurt to tell you that, while this is Chase Novak's first novel, the talent actually belongs to two-time National Book Award nominee Scott Spencer, author of 11 novels, one of which is Endless Love. (BTW -- the book is far, far better than the movie. It's stalkerrific!) ...more
The rare sequel I enjoyed more than its predecessor (2011's A Discovery of Witches, which was more a 4/5), the second book in her "All Souls Trilogy"The rare sequel I enjoyed more than its predecessor (2011's A Discovery of Witches, which was more a 4/5), the second book in her "All Souls Trilogy" gives scientific historian Harkness an even wider canvas on which to strut her stuff. The story of time-walking witch Diana Bishop, her vampire lover Matthew Clairmont, and the search for the mysterious manuscript Ashmole 782 continues. Shadow of Night, however, eschews laboratories and yoga in modern Oxford, instead name-dropping its way around Tudor England and Emperor Rudolf's Prague, where the couple have time-traveled seeking answers about Diana's burgeoning powers, and the manuscript prior to its corruption.
But Diana has difficulty adjusting to the role of women in the 1590s, as well as wife to a 1,500 year old vampire with a host of secret identities. She clashes openly with Kit Marlowe (who is not-so-secretly in love with Matthew), practices alchemy with the Countess of Pembroke, trains her power with a London coven, and (barely) escapes the advances of a certain smitten Hapsburg. (Also present and accounted for? Magicians John Dee and Edward Kelly, Sir Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare and Queen Bess herself, also overly fond of Matthew.) The couple also spend some idyllic time at the deClairmont family fortress Sept Tours, where Diana finally meets Matthew's legendary father Philippe (dead since WWII in the present). But Diana's presence in the past -- and her relationship with a vampire -- draw unwanted attention at a time of witch hunts and fear, and forces both human and supernatural threaten danger from all sides.
In other hands all of this might feel like overload, but Harkness's encyclopedic knowledge of the period, deft character sketches (who knew Elizabeth the Great was such a brat?), and an almost supernatural attention to detail transport readers as effortlessly across time as . . . well, a time-walking witch. Also? Diana and Matthew's romance is (finally!) steamier, despite all the layers of muslin and brocade. And there's a dragon! (Sort of.) I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Almost certainly on my Best of 2012 list. ...more
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.
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.