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 compelli...moreKate 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!)(less)
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 -- I...moreAs 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.(less)
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 chil...moreDreadful, 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.(less)
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...more4/5
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!) (less)
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"...moreThe 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, a bit 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. (less)
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, d...moreThere 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's...moreThe 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.
The Town that Forgot How to Breathe was a book I impulsively chose by its cover (and I've seen several reviews that started the same way). Though I h...more The Town that Forgot How to Breathe was a book I impulsively chose by its cover (and I've seen several reviews that started the same way). Though I had never heard of it, I'm very glad I did, because this strangely charming and incredibly eerie book -- part horror story, part eco-parable, all magically weird -- got under my skin with its vivid imagery and unusual setting.
Formerly a rich fishing ground, the tiny Newfoundland village of Bareneed's maritime industry has collapsed from overfishing, and the town and its inhabitants are slipping into a depression both economic and existential. But something strange is afoot in Bareneed: when several locals fall ill with an unrecognizable breathing disorder (viral? hysterical? fatal?), and perfectly-preserved dead bodies start washing up on the rocky shore, that's only the tip of the iceberg that eventually draws ghosts, sea monsters and military intervention into one -- mostly quite effective -- tall tale.
Harvey constructs TTTFHTB around a rotating set of POV characters, among them a local doctor and a police officer, both capable but out of their depth; a beatific little old lady who knows more than she's letting on; a man-child whose painted apocalyptic visions are coming to pass; and a "townie" fisheries officer with roots in Bareneed, who takes a summer-rental with his eight-year-old daughter. It's a large cast of characters for a small town, but Harvey gives them each a unique voice and perspective on the mysteries unfolding around them.
Only one of the many narrative threads falls short of its initial promise, which left me wondering if it might have been better left out -- but that same thread also offers up some of the most chilling and atmospheric scenes in the novel, so I'll let that shortcoming slide. I see the reviews here on Goodreads are very mixed -- I expect you either like this sort of fiction, or you don't. I'm giving TTTFHTB four enthusiastic stars, and would probably go 4.5 if GR would let me. If Stephen King's creepy, insular Maine towns appeal, if you loved the myth and magic of "The X-Files," if you enjoy a dank whiff of Lovecraftian horror, or if you've ever dreamed of seeing a mermaid, this book should be right in your wheelhouse. (less)
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 y...moreLikely 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.