If I had to describe this book to you in a single sentence, I would tell you that it's like Gone Girl meets Darkness Falls. Told in past and present, THE DEAD GIRLS alternates between a group of friends in the 90s who become fascinated by one girl's stories of an evil witch ghost called the Red Lady, and one woman living in the now who is haunted by something terrible and menacing.
Heather and Becca were supposed to be best friends forever. Then Becca started telling Red Lady stories, which are truly horrific. They're about a witch who was murdered by the town and then came back as a vengeful ghost. Becca has a lot of reasons to feel vengeful, and she ends up dragging her whole group of friends, including Heather, into her morbid fascination. Now, Heather is an adult, has a job as a psychologist, and also married. She's haunted by something that happened 30 years ago, and when someone starts stalking her and leaving her morbid clues, she naturally assumes it's someone from her childhood who wants to help her remember what she's tried so very hard to forget.
This was really, really fun. I'm not going to pretend it's high literature, but I don't always go in for that. Sometimes I want to be a low brow basic B who reads trashy mysteries on the bus with titles that scare her neighbors. And yes, I see you woman who was staring at me and this book from across the aisle with obvious suspicion. Welcome to the Dead Girl's Club, population ME. No, but seriously, I literally devoured this in a single day. I actually read this on my lunch break because I wanted closure and it was scary enough that I didn't want to read it after dark. It's the perfect blend of Gillian Flynn-esque murder mystery and supernatural horror, even if the twist at the end is a little diet-meh.
If you love mysteries about dysfunctional women and want to feel a little nostalgic about the 90s, this is a fantastic book. It's breezy, fun, and has a gorgeous cover. Do you need anything else in a book? Probably not, don't be a snob. Only I'm allowed to be a snob, and even I liked this book.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
I love Gothic horror and the fact that this is set in a creepy boarding school in Patagonia with Argentinian characters seemed like a slam dunk. I'm sad that it wasn't, because I was really, really looking forward to this book and was so sure that it would be good. Here's the problem, though: good writing is like a carrot on a stick. You want to withhold enough information to keep the reader interested and make them think that they have a chance at catching the carrot; but if you hold the carrot too far away and don't reveal enough information, the reader will be bored and confused and will wander away in search of something more interesting.
The plot of this story is very difficult to explain. There are two timelines (I think, although both appear to be happening concurrently), with two narrators. One is a young teacher named Mavi, the other is a mysterious crystal being named Angel. There's a curse on the school. There's a student missing. Something creepy is happening. And don't worry, the book will keep reminding you how creepy it is; even when it isn't.
I found the timeline really confusing and the storyline was really disorganized. I kept waiting for things to click into place, but that never happened. I know people harangue authors for info-dumps, but I would actually prefer a well-written info-dump if it was interesting to keeping the reader totally in the dark. I love the cover for this book and I thought the atmosphere of this book was really well done, with regard to the arctic setting and the dilapidated mansion, and I really wanted to love it for being infused with South American folklore, but the pacing and story were just totes off.
Your mileage may vary with this one, and if this ends up being one of your top books for fall, more power to you. I guess it depends on how you feel about going into a book totally cold and-- based on other reviews I saw-- not getting to find out anything until the end. A similar book to this is HOUSE OF LEAVES, which I also couldn't get into. So if you like HOUSE OF LEAVES, you will probably like THE TENTH GIRL. I have so many other ARCs that I'd rather read than spending anymore time with this one, so I'm sorry to say I'm ghosting THE TENTH GIRL and leaving it on unread.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
The best thing in the world is when you find an author who really resonates with you. For me, Jennifer Armintrout is that author. It's like she peered into my mind, saw the checklist detailing everything I love to see in fiction, and then immediately set out to write a fleet of books that have every single one of those delicious tropes that I love so much.
I kickedstarted my Jenny Trout Experience with THE TURNING, which is a dark vampire erotica with an evil villain, vampires who actually behave like vampires, and enough horror to put the romance elements in their place. QUEENE OF LIGHT is a fantasy story about faeries and court intrigue, with high stakes coups and betrayals and yes, also doomed romance. How could the author write two totally different styles of books and have them both be so different, and yet so good? I have no idea, and yet she did it again with AMERICAN VAMPIRE.
AMERICAN VAMPIRE is a totally different book from her two other series done under this name. For starters, it is a standalone, which will come as a relief to those of you who want to read a good book without committing to a long-term relationship. This book is the perfect one-night stand for the impatient reader. The tone is also different. It's got a small town horror vibe reminding me of American Gothic, and it's really creepy.
Graf is a vampire who's on his way to a racy orgy party at the home of his sire. He gets lost en route, and finds himself in a small town that looks to be abandoned. When he goes into a gas station, however, he ends up finding a cowering girl and a monster. The girl is our heroine, Jessa, and the monster is this powerful and evil entity that's been holding the town in thrall for five years. Nobody's been able to get in or out in all that time, and the townsfolk have started to get kind of, well, crazy.
One thing I really liked about this book is how imperfect the narrators are. Graf is not a nice man and is a bit of a psychotic playboy who's used to getting his way. Jessa is also morally grey. She's an adulteress and has a slew of emotional issues and personal baggage. That said, neither of them are truly Bad People, and they have some pretty intense character arcs that transform them over the course of the novel as they slowly start to fall for each other despite knowing that they shouldn't.
The backdrop of horror is also really well done. It reminds me of Stephen King's older stories, the ones that took place in a small town hiding a big evil, like NEEDFUL THINGS or IT. In fact, the monster in this book is actually called "It" by the townsfolk (although nothing like Stephen King's IT), which made me wonder if that was maybe done in homage to the King of Horror himself. The way the townsfolk - and Jess and Graf - were trapped in the town gave this book a desperate, claustrophobic vibe that had me frantically turning pages, and Armintrout doesn't skimp on the gore.
If you're into horror novels with romance (or romance novels with horror), and want to read a vampire story that has an unusual plot and an even more unusual romance, you should definitely read AMERICAN VAMPIRE. I went in not expecting much and ended up being totally surprised.
A few years ago, Halle put most of her books on sale and I went on a buying spree. Karina Halle has a big cult following and I wanted to experience the edgy blend of horror and romance that she's become known for with books like Experiment in Terror and The Artists. What I'm quickly finding is that she's very hit or miss. Some of her books are very well done, and others are... not.
I was side-eying this book from the get-go with its slightly judgey sounding disclaimer in the blurb:
"A note about this book: Donners of the Dead is set in 1851 – couples were often thrust into marriage together with short courtships, racism was widespread and not overly frowned upon, and women had little to no rights. What wouldn't fly in today's day and age was unfortunately the norm back then - it is worth keeping that in mind when reading this book."
Like, I get the need for disclaimers if you're going to emulate a bodice-ripper from the days of yore. Whenever you're writing about a different era in which bad things happened to women and minorities, it can be uncomfortable - at best.
That said, there were nuances, even back then, and the words you used with certain people varied. It is pretty gross to see the love interest in this book casually deride the heroine for being half-Native, calling her pine nut, and, I think, "Injun." The others in their treasure-hunting party were certainly happy to fling the word "Injun" around like racist confetti. Which, on the one hand, okay, they are working class and ignorant, so it fits. But it felt gratuitous and, well, forced.
The plot of this book is pretty creative. Eve is hired on as a tracker to look for treasure when she and her party encounter a bunch of zombies influenced by the Wendigo myth. The execution was lacking. There's a lot of gore, but the horror lacks subtlety. Eve is a helpless heroine, shrieking, flinching, and constantly looking to Jake in a way that's reminiscent of Kagome's catch-phrase, "Go get 'em, Inuyasha!" Like, girl, take some responsibility and at least put some value on your damn life?
I did not like Jake at all, and the historical context seemed limited to homespun, casual racism in dialogue, and an overuse of the words "I reckon." I was hoping for Dawn of the Dead meets Rosemary Rogers, and instead I got... not that. If you're looking for a Western romp, just read Rosemary Rogers instead. Jake McGraw can only dream of being Steve Morgan when he grows up.
After reading so many Harlequin manga, it feels weird to pick up a manga that isn't about gushy romance, but gushy body parts. You think I'm kidding? Man, this is some creepy shit. I thought it was going to be a light-hearted gothic novel with cute little anime girls but now I'm literally freaking out because it's midnight and someone I know might disappear into the woods.
Jeanie and Amber are twin girls who are going to a boarding college in the Australian bushlands because reasons. They thought it would be an opportunity to connect with her aunt, but she drops them off and then immediately leaves under the cover of night, leaving them at the mercy of the crotchety and slightly creepy teachers, and the older than dirt VP. Almost as soon as they take up residence in the school, creepy things happen. Seances go awry, mirrors don't act normally, things watch them in the shadows, and they have some MFing terrifying nightmares about dead girls frolicking in trees raining blood. OH. EM. GEE.
I was actually very impressed by this story and how thoughtful and mysterious and creepy everything is. Sometimes horror anime goes totally over the top, like Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, or "When the Cicadas Cry" had a good atmosphere but also relied on shock horror and had a lot of splatterpunk, whereas THE DREAMING is much more psychological in nature and reminds me of Japanese horror films like The Ring and The Grudge in how it relies on atmosphere, emotion, and secrets to keep the story driving to its inevitable and creepy climax.
Even after finishing this review, I still have chills. I'm going to have to stay up for another hour or two reading something that isn't scary. If you enjoy horror movies, you should pick up this book. It is almost cinematic in its delivery, to the point where I could almost hear the wind and the eerie howls. Apparently the story was loosely inspired by The Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Have you ever felt both simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed by a book? Because that's kind of how I felt about this one, BLEDDING SORROW. It wasn't bad, but everyone was singing its praises to me about how it was such a mind-shattering Gothic novel that didn't care about happy endings, and reveled in its own twisted nature. That sounded like something I could totally get on board with, and I knew already that this author was fully capable of writing such dark and gloomy stuff that reading it could just about ruin your day, because Marilyn Harris also wrote THE EDEN PASSION, which has the dubious honor of being one of the more twisted and unpleasant "romance" novels I have ever read.
BLEDDING SORROW is only a romance in the most liberal sense of the word. There are two people who are in love in this book, but other than that, it doesn't really fit the genre for a wide variety of reasons. The focus of BLEDDING SORROW is definitely Gothic horror. The setting is an old Elizabethan house owned by the Bleddings, minor nobility that can be traced back centuries. The current owner, Geoffrey Bledding, is impoverished and must lease it out to the Historical Trust's various events. He and his staff are relegated to a distant wing of the house and are expected to make nice with the tourists and the students touring his home, which he does, playing host most convincingly.
But Geoffrey is not the gentlemanly lord that he seems. He's got his wife, Ann, locked away (an homage to the madwoman in the attic trope, perhaps), only he's the one who has caused her to be mad through many nights of druggings and rapes. Poor Ann's only solace are the small mercies of Caldy More, the servant, and the curious attentions of the handsome new coachman whose job it is to drive the coach and do menial tasks around the estate. Ironically, the first Geoffrey Bledding was also cuckolded by a coachman, and his reaction to this was, well, shall we say unreasonable.
Ghosts haunt BLEDDING SORROW, foreshadowing what will happen. All of the characters in the book seem to be locked into their paths, without question; this is a book that seems to believe in both fate, and the idea that history repeats itself. You'll suspect the ending, but it will probably still take you by surprise. I read a spoiler in one of the reviews on Goodreads and was still taken aback. Holy shit. What an unfair, depraved little book. But then, of course the woman who decided to have a narcissistic coward as the hero of her romance would choose to end her Gothic romance in this way.
Should you read it? Only if you like dark, depressing books and aren't easily offended by outmoded tropes and language. BLEDDING SORROW is not PC, and it doesn't pull back any punches when it comes to the mistreatment of its characters. I think it might have been a more effective book if the characters were more fully fleshed out. Ironically, the supporting character, Caldy More, has the most deep and thoughtful development over the book, whereas the three mains feel much more shallow and superficial - at least to me. That said, I did think it was interesting, and if you can manage to find a copy (sadly it's still out of print), it's worth a read for the WTFery alone.
I'm low-key impressed by how good this was. I got this out of the Kindle freebie section and if you've been following my reviews, you know that I have some thoughts on the freebie section. It's a lot like a bargain grocery store in the sense that you can get some high quality goods for next to nothing... and you can also get a hell of a lot of stuff that's barely fit for consumption. The "bad" basically subsidizes the "good."
BLACK BAYOU is one of the first books in a while that successfully creeped me out. In a way, it's reminiscent of some of those occult movies from the early 2000s, especially Rose Red (2002). The book opens with our heroine, Marigold, waking up to her parents trying to murder her in a bathtub. Beside her is the corpse of her dead sister. Before her parents can succeed, the police arrive and her parents are both shot and killed.
It turns out that her parents were both "angels of death," and had been killing the patients at the hospitals at which they worked for years. People in her town blame her for the killings and her boyfriend breaks up with her because he can't stand the pressure. Having nowhere else to go, Marigold is sent to live with her last remaining relative, her aunt Delilah in New Orleans.
Her aunt is creepy and aloof, but worse still is the house. Something about it creeps her out and it doesn't help when a local tour guide/voodoo practicioner tries to warn her to get out. That night, Marigold has horrifying delusions that are so terrifying that she locks herself in the wardrobe to stay safe. It turns out that the guide is named Louis Dupont and he and his family go way back with the La Roux family, as the La Roux family owned several of his ancestors as slaves. He tells Marigold about some of her chilling family history, which are linked to the mysterious occurrences in the house.
This isn't really a romance, at least not in the traditional sense, but I really liked the relationship between Louis and Marigold, and since this is the first book in a series, there's a chance that they might have a relationship later on. There's also a super twisted scene in an ancestral tomb in a graveyard, which was exactly what I needed for my romance novel scavenger hunt. Oh man, I am so glad I read this while it was light out and not in bed, at night. I would have peed myself in fear.
I'll be the first to tell you that the Kindle freebie section is a crapshoot, but BLACK BAYOU is one of the gems. I enjoyed the book and its creepiness; it was the perfect fall read leading up to Halloween.
I bought this book when it was on sale for 99-cents because I really liked what I've read from this author before (for the most part) and the summary sounded a lot like a modern homage to STEPFORD WIVES, which is one of my favorite horror novels (and I love both movies as well, for different reasons). A reboot with fresh-faced yoga moms sporting glow-ups? It's the obvious conclusion.
Sidney, the heroine of this novel, is twice-divorced, overweight, and a struggling self-published author who has just moved to the bedroom community of Lassister Cove. All of the women there are yoga moms in the extreme and keep raving about this exclusive and intensive spa treatment called "Regimen," available at the Lotus spa and massage center. Everyone who's been through it says it's completely changed their lives - physically and mentally.
But there's a dark twist. Some of the people who participated in the spa treatment have disappeared. And the one person who's been friendly to her, a man named Leo, is most definitely in on it and hiding something from her. He seems to be on her side, and she's more attracted to him than she feels that she should be, but when her adult daughter starts to join the Regimen program, Sidney must play her cards very carefully...especially when her own life may be at risk.
God, this was so suspenseful and good. I blew through it in just a few hours (hence the lack of status updates). It kind of reminds me of a Criminal Minds episode I watched that creeped me out for days afterwards (can't say any more, because spoilers, but if you read this, and you watch criminal minds, I'm pretty sure you'll know exactly what I'm talking about). It was definitely inspired by Stepford Wives too but is different enough that I was never entirely sure what was going to happen, or what sort of twist it might take. I also feel like maybe there's a dash of Anne Stuart in this as well - she's famous in her psychological thrillers for having heroes who also might be the villain.
Honestly, it's a bit of a crime how underrated this author is. She's like Tarryn Fisher in that even while you can tell that her works are self-published, that gives them this edgy, personal charm that you probably wouldn't get in something mass-produced and edited multiple times, watered down in order to be palatable to a PC audience. She's had a couple books I didn't like so much but man, her thrillers are awesome. I can't wait to read the others I have on my Kindle so I can go out and buy some more.
I am shocked that this was published by the same Octavia E. Butler who wrote PARABLE OF THE SOWER and KINDRED. It felt like it was written by a totally different person. If I hadn't looked at the publication date and seen the "2005," I would have thought that this was a less-successful first novel. That seriously bums me out because I love vampire novels, and the idea of reading a novel about a black vampire that explores the themes of racism within a supernatural context sounded fascinating, especially since I had loved what I'd read of this author before and how she explored similar themes within the science-fiction framework. Joining me in this buddy read was my fellow vampire-lover, Heather, who doesn't seem to be into this book either for many of the same reasons I'm about to dive into.
Shori is an adolescent vampire who awakes at the beginning of the novel to find herself mortally wounded and in a severe amount of pain. She's picked by a hitchhiker who intends to drive her to the hospital - until she bites him and that makes him sexually attracted to her and crave her like she's a drug and he's an addict. This would be fine if she didn't flipping look like a preteen. It's mentioned several times that she looks like a child, and while complaining about this in one of my status updates, I had someone basically tell me that I shouldn't be so offended. Well, I am. I think that's gross. And I don't care if she's fifty-three in human years, even in vampire years she's prepubescent, because it's mentioned several times that she's not fully developed and can't yet reproduce, even if her sexual organs are functioning (ugh and they are - prepare yourself for incredibly gross sex scenes).
I don't have children so I can't imagine how gross and uncomfortable this would be for people who do. I don't want to read about adolescent sex (or sex with people who look adolescent), especially not if it's framed as a functional and desirable relationship. I get that Octavia Butler was a daring writer who pushed boundaries of what was socially acceptable in order to challenge the status quo (something my critic seemed to be arguing, albeit slightly less eloquently), but it's my right to say when I feel like an author goes too far for my own personal tastes. I felt the same way about Bryn Greenwood's ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, which is basically a romance between an eight-year-old girl and a fully grown man. One person's "oh my god, that's so brave and literary!" is another person's "no, god no, why would you write that? what the hell?"
Apart from the grossness of the female character and her - ahem - relationships with other characters in the book, I did like the way vampires were presented here (they call themselves the Ina, and they have their own rules and social hierarchies that reminded me of the Xenogenesis saga, except that didn't have gross underage freakiness), and I thought the trial at the end was interesting. The problem with this book is that it's slow AF, and while the human and compassionate part of you wants Shori to get revenge for the awful things that happened to her, the reader and hedonist part of you is going to be bored off your ass waiting for anything resembling a climax (EW, no, not that kind of climax - get out of here you gross person) to happen. This is Butler's weakest effort by far.
We don't often get to revisit the books of our youth - the classics, yes, but the mindless, pulpy trash we read in abundance? That's harder, because those are the tomes that tend to slip through the cracks of time, only to be forgotten in favor of newer, shinier trash.
THE DAWNING was some mindless, pulpy trash I read in middle school, when I was starting my short-lived "horror" phase. Everything was Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, and Dean Koontz. And this guy, apparently. Hugh B. Cave. I found this book while going through some boxes of old books I'd chosen to keep, and when I looked up my pal, Hugh, I found that he apparently used to primarily write books about evil voodoo ritual inspired by his residence in Haiti. This book, THE DAWNING, seems to be a one-off.
THE DAWNING is more science-fiction than horror. Specifically, it is post-apocalyptic. Technology is beginning to fail, the cities are hopelessly polluted. Gun violence runs rampant as people get desperate, scared, and violent, and the streets are terrorized by gangs of teens who are high on a dangerous drug called "Hallelujah."
The violence has increased to the point that a small group of individuals have decided to band together and go out into the wilderness, where the corruption is lesser and they have a greater chance to survive. Going back to their roots, so to speak. They're a pretty motley group, but mostly get along - there's Cricket, the animal lover; Max, the lovable brogrammer; Dan, the doctor; Don, the teacher (not smart, having a Dan AND a Don); Professor Varga (who I kept reading as Professor "Viagra"); and Cuyler, wife-beater, racist, gun nut, outdoorsman, and probable Trump supporter.
As a group they mostly function together... except for Cuyler. Cuyler is a little too fond of his guns and he enjoys killing the animals they come across in the wild. You know, for fun. The rest of the group can see and hear that his wife is subjected to the same brutal treatment that he uses with everything else, but in typical non-confrontational fashion, none of them want to get involved and sow trouble. They decide they may be forced to put up with Cuyler.
- until strange and awful things start happening at their camp.
BECAUSE OF COURSE THEY DO
The funny thing is, I was about thirteen or fourteen when I read this book and I remember thinking about how weird it was, reading about a bunch of "old" people. I had carried my adolescent impressions of the book with me for all these years, thinking that it was about a bunch of older people led by their "wizened" professor/grandfatherly figure. You can imagine my amusement and horror when I realized that all of the main characters are the age I am now, and the "wizened" professor is actually in his early forties - within my dating range, in fact. This, gentle readers, is what "growing old" feels like, in action, and I can't help but be reminded of that surreal shock of the kids in IT, when they return to their town as adults and are shocked to find that time has moved on without them.
THE DAWNING is a pretty good book. I liked the survival elements, and the horror elements, although I feel like it gets a little too mystical towards the end. Still, what can you expect from a pulpy horror novel from a dude who enjoys writing about voodoo?
P.S. I'm one of those people who enjoys reading the ads in the back of the book, and I was amused to see Mary Ann Mitchell's SIPS OF BLOOD in the back, which I've also read.
Quirk Books is my go-to for fun, quirky reads. They specialize in books that pay homage to or satirize pop-culture, and NIGHT OF THE LIVING TREKKIES is no exception. First, let's take a moment to appreciate the frak out of that cover. The artist totally nailed the 1960s pulp look (trust me, I would know: I read them). The book is just as good. NIGHT OF THE LIVING TREKKIES is a gory celebration of comic book/sci-fi conventions, Star Trek, Star Wars, zombie movies and books (specifically The Walking Dead and Dawn of the Dead), and horror movie cliches.
Jim is a veteran from the Afghanistan war and it messed him up. He used to be big into Star Trek, but after serving in a real war he lost interest in watching fake ones, even if they're set in space. But he's reunited with his long lost love when the hotel he works at ends up becoming the venue for GulfCon, a Star Trek convention.
Pretty soon, things start to go wrong in a bad way. People getting hurt or sick and a series of mysterious no-call, no-shows and outright disappearances. There's also a bunch of creepy people huddled in the alley outside the hotel who don't look like your typical homeless people. That's because they aren't. They're zombies - but of course, this being an homage to Star Trek, they aren't going to be your typical zombies, oh my no. How pedestrian.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING TREKKIES kind of reminded me of Scott Sigler's INFECTED (only better written and without all the shock horror and gore). The zombies and their transformation were truly terrifying, and even though I don't like zombie films or books typically, I really appreciated the survival element in this book, as Jim and his new friends navigate the hotel and try to figure out what's causing the outbreak as well as how to survive. The Star Wars references were also hilarious.
If you enjoy any of the things that I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review (Star Wars, Star Trek, zombies, etc.), I think you'll enjoy NIGHT OF THE LIVING TREKKIES. It's been a while since I had so much fun being scared.
When Alice was a little girl, two of her friends stabbed her and left her for dead because they believed that the character from Alice's father's famous comic books, Mr. Tender, would grant them their hearts' desires if they used Alice as a sacrifice. Now a young woman, Alice finds herself a victim to her father's comic books once more, as figures from her past start resurfacing in mysterious and sinister ways. Somebody is watching her - and they want something from her. Something dangerous.
There was a great story buried inside this merely good story. I loved the premise. Mr. Tender kind of reminds me of the creepy owner of Christmasland from Joe Hill's NOS4A2, or the proprietor of Stephen King's eponymous NEEDFUL THINGS. The murder that nearly killed Alice and scarred her for life was obviously inspired as well by the Slenderman myths, and the murders that periodically surface that were inspired by those myths. There's also a dash of MISERY in here, as well, lightly seasoned with some of Gillian Flynn's "damaged-girl-returns-home-to-confront-her-demons" existential crisis turned domestic horror vibes, as well, and even some of Marisha Pessl's NIGHT FILM in the sense that explores what happens when art and obsession go dark and twisted.
MISTER TENDER'S GIRL is definitely an ode to the horror drama and for most of the story (I'd say about 60%), it succeeds admirably. I only got 4 hours of sleep last night because I didn't want to put the book down: it sucks you into its bleak and chilling atmosphere, and doesn't let you go. It's like literary quicksand. The last 30% is where the book suffers because, in my opinion, it jumps the shark. Things just become too ridiculous, and it becomes like this crazy version of the Gong Show, where every one wants to out-psycho everyone else, and I'm just sitting here, like, "Wtf r u doin? Stahp."
I'll give it 3 stars because it was well-written and I think the author has the makings of a truly memorable story under his belt. This one just wasn't it, sadly. Still, it's fun and worth a gander.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Riley turns the knife so its blade catches the candlelight. "I read about this method of exorcism called bleeding," she explains. "If you harm the host body enough, it scares the demon away" (131).
It never occurred to me that Mean Girls meets American Psycho: The Book could be a thing or that it needed to be made, but apparently Danielle Vega thought so - much to my detriment. The first sign that something fishy was afoot is a "warning" in the inside cover of this book that says "For mature audiences only" which I sneered at, because the only other books I've seen with such a disclaimer are yaoi manga and Maya Banks's Sweet series.
"Go to hell, warning!" I thought to myself, blithely turning the page, where I promptly met Sofia, the sniveling new girl who, like the character in Mean Girls, ends up befriending the outcast girl. Sort of. But then, that same day, she also ends up befriending the popular girls, sort of, including Queen Bee. Regina. I mean, Riley.
The difference is that the "Plastics" in this book should be called the "Fanatics." They are all super religious and think that Brooklyn is possessed by a demon and needs to be exorcised.
"Okay," I thought to myself. "That's weird. I hope this is going somewhere."
***WARNING: SPOILERS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF GRAPHIC CONTENT***
Well, it was going somewhere. Torture. Graphic descriptions of torture. Graphic descriptions of torture that are really not appropriate for teenagers. I know, I know, there's a warning in the front cover, but I thought it was some sort of weird shtick, like the pentacle and the inverted cross on the cover. I mean, isn't Razorbill Penguin's young adult and middle grade imprint? How graphic could this book possibly be? Well, LET ME JUST TELL YOU SOME OF THE THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THIS BOOK. Someone gets a finger chopped off by a knife, somebody gets crucified, somebody gets flesh literally chewed off, somebody gets burned alive, not to mention the stabbings, attempted drownings, and various other things that happen in here. Things I totally did not sign up for.
Oh, and that ending - that ending made me so mad. Because it turns out Brooklyn was possessed by a demon after all, so the torture was totally justified. The sociopathic squad was doing the right thing. At that point I was wringing my hands and being like, "Am I being too puritanical? Is this actually a good book, despite the graphic content?" I hated AMERICAN PSYCHO after all, and couldn't get around the violence. But when I got to THE ENDING(!), I was like, "Nope, this is a terrible book and I am going to give it the bad review it deserves (but not the bad review it needs right now)."
This was a gross and awful book and actually slightly ruined what was otherwise a good day.
There's something so satisfying about finishing a long book, and NOS4A2 is no exception. At just over 700 pages, NOS4A2 drops you into a dark and scary world, where certain objects have powers that tie into the soul, and children disappear forever into a bright and terrifyingly cheerful place called Christmasland...
While reading, I kept thinking that this book reminded me of something and then it hit me, all at once - Stephen King's IT. Like the children of IT, we follow the heroine, Vic, from a young age. We see her first interaction with Charlie Manx and how she is barely able to escape him, but hurts him in the process. We follow her to adulthood and see how the experience shaped and hardened her, and how she struggles to prepare herself for the second dark showdown that she knows, deep down, she might not survive.
I think Joe Hill registered the similarity, too, because it seemed like some Easter Eggs were tossed in there for the fans. As a child, for example, Vic's bike has magical powers, and she chooses it over a Schwinn (the bike that Bill road in IT). Later on, when she has her magical motorcycle, she says HI-YO, SILVER, which was Stuttering Bill's rallying cry, whenever he road his own somewhat magical bike. I don't think this is a coincidence; I choose to believe that this book was Joe Hill paying homage to his dad's legacy.
That isn't to say that this book doesn't stand on its own. Between Christmasland, the Gasmask Man, The House of Sleep, and Charlie Manx, I didn't sleep all that well last night. In fact, I was pretty freaked out. Sometimes horror novels are too over-the-top ridiculous, but this book does a really good job of tapping into those subconscious fears that we all have (just like IT - sorry). It's also creative and original in a way that a lot of horror novels aren't - no werewolves or monsters in here, just a very creepy man and his very creepy henchman, and an army of terrifying little children.
Also, I loved the heroine, and if there was anything I took issue with, it was the fact that Joe Hill pulled a George R.R. Martin with her and basically tortured her every chance he got. So many bad things happened to Vic in this book, and I was hoping that her ending would be much happier than it was (ditto Maggie). There's just something about a tattooed artist with a magical motorcycle, y'know?
If you enjoy horror, and especially if you enjoyed IT, you should read NOS4A2. The graphic novel is pretty good, too. I received an ARC of it from Netgalley, and that was actually what got me interested in reading the book. The artist really does a great job bringing the book to life.
FANTASTICLAND was an unholy amount of fun, in that "I'm going to hell for enjoying this" sort of way. I think the best way to blurb it is by saying that it's like LORD OF THE FLIES, if LORD OF THE FLIES was delivered in a mock-documentary format like WORLD WAR Z - only it's much better than either of those two books. Basically, there's a theme park called "Fantastic Land" that is utterly devastated by a gigantic hurricane called Sadie. Escape from the park is cut off by water, and everything loses power. The employees are marooned there, but with plenty of food and water. Seems like things should be OK, right?
That's what everyone else thinks too, at first. Until the bodies start piling up. The employees separate into "tribes" based on which parts of the park they take over as their command centers, and things start getting pretty brutal, pretty fast. Each interview, with various "survivors" and other people who were either directly or peripherally involved with this horror show, give you more information about what went down, and it is chilling.
I made the mistake of reading this late at night and ended up staying up until midnight on a work night because I wanted to find out what happened next. A lot of people criticized this book, saying it was ridiculous and wasn't realistic, and I think that was a critique of LORD OF THE FLIES, too. Personally, I thought it felt realistic, as people are herd animals who do utterly stupid things in crowds when they think the rest of the group's OK with it (see: Trump voters), and cruelty can sometimes be a more advanced and sociopathic byproduct of cruelty, so I bought it.
I liked that everyone had their own "voice." I liked that everyone tried to rationalize their actions and point the finger at someone else, who was "worse." The public displays of violence for power, the savage coups, and the scavenging and fringe behaviors were really fascinating from a psychological perspective. One of the scariest scenes in this book didn't even have any violence at all - it involved a cat and mouse game in an abandoned hotel and it was something right out of Stephen King.
If you're a fan of J.G. Ballard or Joe Hill, I think you'll really enjoy FANTASTICLAND.
The first time I read this book, I was fourteen. Just a few years older than the kids in IT. I remember it was summer, and as I read about the Losers' Summer of '58 in the Summer of '04, I remember feeling utterly absorbed. I couldn't put the book down and finished it in an entire weekend. I was terrified of using the bathroom at night, half-convinced that a gloved clown hand would come out the back of the tank when I sat down and drag me into the pits of sewer-hell. I gave the shower drain a wide berth. I had a new, respectful fear of balloons and floating.
It was a book that stayed with me over the years.
I tried rereading the book a couple times. but usually ended up giving up around the 900-page mark. This time, with the movie coming out, I told myself I was going to finish. It felt like the perfect time, in a way - I had been a young teenager (almost a preteen) when I started the book. Now, I'm an adult, just a few years younger than the "grown-ups" in this story. And, like the Losers, I returned to face IT a second time, wondering if it would be the way it was when I was a kid.
(Incidentally, the first IT movie was released in 1990, and the 2017 of the reboot is 27 years later. Let that sink in.)
IT is a really great horror story - for the most part, which I'll get to later. The atmosphere, the build-up, the gloomy Gothic vibe of Derry and its apathetic townsfolk: all of these combine to create a pretty menacing environment. And then, of course, there's IT. A killer clown that can also be a leper, a werewolf, or an abuser - whatever you fear the most, except when its Pennywise, leaving balloons like the Joker and his calling cards, and reminding you constantly that down here, everything floats.
The horror aspect is good, but what stuck with me is the coming of age aspect, and the bittersweet nostalgia of childhood when viewed through the lenses of an adult. Most of the story is focused on the relationship between the kids in this book: Mike, Stan, Richie, Eddie, Bill, Beverly, and Ben. Their interactions with each other make this story, and after spending over a thousand pages with these kids, I loved them almost as much as they loved each other - although, more on that, later. It's hard to capture that intensity of the friendship of youth, how quickly it springs, and how eternal it feels... until, one day, it stops, and you find that you can't even remember the last name of the person you would have pledged your undying loyalty to. I had a friend like that, growing up. We were inseparable, and then one day, not. Now I can't remember her last name or even her eye color.
As an adult, what struck me most powerfully this time around was the feeling of nostalgia. I'll be coming up on my ten-year reunion in a few months, and honestly, it freaks me out a little thinking about people who I knew when we were kids being all grown up, some of them with kids of their own now, looking the same but also looking completely different. When the Losers visit Derry as adults and go wandering through some of their old haunts, their wistfulness hit me hard. (And then, of course, sh*t started going down, and nostalgia ceded to "sweet Jesus in a jam jar, get me out of this place").
One thing I love about Stephen King novels is that he really has an ear for how people talk and think. And perhaps one of the most terrifying aspects of Stephen King novels is that, quite often, the real monsters in the book aren't the monsters themselves - but monsters hiding inside human skins. IT features some real doozies in the form of Tom Rogan, Henry Bowers, Mrs. Kaspbrak, and Mr. Marsh. What this means, unfortunately, is that there are some pretty terrible scenes in here involving bigoted slurs, racial violence, physical and sexual abuse, and domestic violence. There are two particularly grim scenes, one homophobic, one anti-black, and both are peppered with slurs and violence. This was upsetting to read, but it does serve to illustrate a point about Derry and the people living in it, and it was always clear to me that the people saying these things were Not Good People. (As for Richie's racist Voice impressions and the constant Jew jokes made at Stan's expense... weeeeeeell...)
So, by this point, you're probably asking yourself why I'm giving it 4-stars instead of 5, since I not only reread the book (which I rarely do), but also enjoyed it in a profound and interesting way. Well, I can give you not one, not two, but three reasons why this book doesn't get 5-stars.
I won't say any more on the matter, because spoilers, but if you've read the book you'll know what I'm talking about. I wasn't thrilled about the deadlights or Chud, either, but those were the main ones.
Here's a picture of my first edition. It was so heavy I damn near gave myself carpal tunnel holding the thing up while trying to read it.
Also, according to this other article I read, people think Pennywise is "hot"? I looked to see if Stephen King had an excellent rejoinder for that one, too, but didn't see one. Perhaps he didn't wish to dignify it with a response. I'm sure there's fanfiction of it, though. That's actually more frightening to me than this book - and considering that I stayed up until 3AM last night, too wound up to sleep after reading some of this terrifying clown nonsense, that says something.
I just read this book called YOU PLAY THE GIRL, a book of essays about pop culture written through a feminist lens, and one of the essays was about Stepford Wives - I seem to recall the author juxtaposed it against the Desperate Housewives and writing a good deal about what it means to be a "housewife," whether you're a good one or a dysfunctional one. I really liked what the author had to say, and it actually motivated me to go dig out my old copy of STEPFORD WIVES for a belated reread.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***
Disclaimer: I'm a feminist, so obviously I'm a little biased, but in my opinion, STEPFORD WIVES is a feminist book in the same vein as THE HANDMAID'S TALES. STEPFORD is set in the middle of the civil rights era, where Betty Friedan is giving her talks and NOW chapters are rallying for equal rights for women. Men, for the first time, are suddenly expected to share in the housework, and women are being empowered to seek out their own jobs and goals independent of marriage and children, becoming sexually and fiscally autonomous.
One of the biggest issues that women continue to face is objectification. You see this a lot when sexist dudes talk about women, reducing them to their parts ("grab some p*ssy," "Tits or GTFO"), or talking about them as if they are trophies to be won for their accomplishments ("I'm such a nice guy, so why don't I have a girlfriend?"). It's gotten better, but not nearly as much as it should have, and one of the more chilling aspects for me is how modern STEPFORD WIVES feels, despite being published in 1972. I don't know about you, but it doesn't speak very highly towards our society that we're still being plagued by the same exact issues almost fifty years later. Especially since the chilling climax of this book is objectification in the ultimate sense: taking living, breathing women and replacing them with actual objects: in this case, robots.
I've read this book several times over the course of my life, and with every reread I take something new from the text. I feel like I was able to appreciate it more this time because I've been reading more books about history and feminism, so I have a better appreciation for the zeitgeist of the time of this book's publication, and what the broader historical context behind it was. In fact, I would say STEPFORD WIVES actually improves with subsequent reads, because there are all these sinister hints that you pick up on while reading between the lines that make it even more terrifying.
When Joanna first finds out about the Men's Association, she is against it. She expects her husband, who claims to be a feminist, will be, too, but he joins because "the only way to change it is from the inside" (6). The irony here is that the only changes being made on "the inside" are occurring within the context of her marriage: Walter sabotages Joanna so slowly that by the time she finally feels the noose tightening, it's already too late.
After one of his Men's Association meetings, Walter comes home late and masturbates furiously in their bed, but acts ashamed when she catches him: His eye-whites looked at her and turned instantly away; all of him turned from her, and the tenting of the blanket at his groin was gone as she saw it, replaced by the shape of his hip (15). They have sex at her insistence, which ends up being "one of their best times ever - for her, at least" and she says, "What did they do...show you dirty movies or something?" (16). This is one of those moments where, in subsequent rereads, the reader wonders: did the members of the Men's Association indoctrinate Walter by showing him what they do to their wives, and did the possibilities of that excite him instead of horrifying him?
Towards the end, after Bobbie, a friend to Walter and Joanna, "changes", Walter hesitates when it's time to say goodbye: Bobbie moved to Walter at the door and offered her cheek. He hesitated - Joanna wondered why - and pecked it (77). I took this to mean that Walter is thinking of his own wife's pending transformation and feeling guilt and uncertainty. Should he go through with it? When Joanna is worried about her friend, Walter has this to say: "There's nothing in the water, there's nothing in the air....They changed for exactly the reasons they told you: because they realized they'd been lazy and negligent. If Bobbie's taking an interest in her appearance, it's about time. It wouldn't hurt YOU to look in a mirror once in a while" (86). He goes on to say: "You're a very pretty woman and you don't do a damn thing with yourself any more unless there's a party or something" (86). That's when I felt like it became too late for Joanna. In the midst of her mental breakdown, she let herself - and the house - go, and Walter decided he didn't want to deal with that, any of it, anymore. Why settle for a flawed woman when you could have a perfect one?
When Joanna tries to run away from the women and the men from the Men's Association corner her, they hunt her down like an animal and mock her fear. I took this to mean that the objectification was complete: they no longer saw her as human - they knew she was about to become a robot, and so to them, she was just a thing. What makes this even more ironic is when they say, "[W]e don't want ROBOTS for wives. We want real women" (114). Because I've heard so many men say similar things - that they want smart, clever, beautiful women...but there's always a qualifier. As long as they don't try too hard, as long as they aren't more successful than me, as long as they aren't shrill or know-it-all.
The Men of Stepford want "real" women...but they also don't want flawed, forgetful women who sometimes let themselves go and don't want to do all the housework. They want the women of their fantasies made real: they want Pygmalion.
"Suppose one of these women you think is a robot - suppose she was to cut herself on the finger, and bleed. Would THAT convince you she was a real person? Or would you say we made robots with blood under the skin?" (114)
The ending of this book is depressing AF. I'm not sure what the message is, exactly, either - is it saying that men are inherently sexist and unwilling to move towards equality? Or is it a warning of the reductio ad absurdum variety of what objectification can lead to if left unchecked? And what of the children: are they going to groom their daughters to become robots when they come of age as well, marrying themselves off to the highest bidder? The story becomes even bleaker if you consider the possibilities. I took it as a warning, and a criticism of the patriarchy, but STEPFORD is open to so many possible interpretations, and I think that's what makes it such an interesting and lasting book.
1. a feeling of satisfaction you get when your relentless nagging & begging results in another book in your favorite vampire series
Mandatory disclosure time: I was the beta reader for this book and Heather is a good friend of mine. In fact, I basically nagged and nagged her about writing a Branek story after reading and falling in love with the other book in this series, DREAMS FOR THE DEAD. If you know me, you know that I have two modes: "Not interested" and "F*cking obsessed." For this series, it was the latter. I'm now in the works of hounding Heather for a Jared story, and then maybe a Gus story. I'm relentlessly incorrigible.
DEAD HEART went live today on Amazon, and I bought a copy as soon as I got home so I could read and review it in a somewhat unbiased manner (because when you pay for goods and services rendered, I feel like that automatically makes you much more invested in said goods and services). Heather added a lot of new scenes in this book that I hadn't read before, so it was extra fun for me to see what had been kept, what had been changed, what had been expanded on. The sexy scenes in this book were super hot and disturbing, exactly how vampires should be written. Oh, and Branek is a bisexual vampire who swings both ways, as long as there's blood to be drunk and good times to be had. You'll love him to death...and then when you die, he will do horrible things to your dead body.
It's hard for me to say which book I liked best. DREAMS FOR THE DEAD was really, really good, but I like the protagonist of DEAD HEART better, as he's more in the vein (heh, vein) of the gleefully psychotic heroes I find so interesting in fiction (even if I'd avoid them like the plague in real life). This is the sort of hero that Trisha Baker was trying to come up with, I think, when she wrote CRIMSON KISS with its evil vampire hero, Simon Baldevar, but I like Branek so much better.
P.S. Yes, I am the "Nenia" in the dedication. This is the first time someone has dedicated a book to me, ever, and I was so happy that I immediately considered screen-shotting my Kindle app from my PC so I could print that sh*t out and tack it to my wall right next to my diploma. #priorities
But seriously, if you love heroes that will scare the F out of you & dark stories, you should read this.
Some books are bad. Some books are very bad. And some books are so bad that they take the concept of "terrible" to such deplorably base lows that it is almost avant garde. That is how bad CRIMSON SHADOWS was: bad enough that it ought to be showcased in an exhibit as a symbol of existential despair and intellectual ennui.
I've been working my way through the Crimson series since April of last year. CRIMSON KISS was good enough that I bought the entire series immediately. "Finally!" I thought. "A vampire series that isn't afraid to be dark! Complex and interesting characters and relationships, a heroine who wants to kill the hero in the name of revenge, and a 'love interest' who is genuinely dark and terrifying and seems utterly incapable of being redeemed."
Doesn't that sound awesome? I thought so too. Hence the four star rating and foolish optimism.
The second book, CRIMSON NIGHT, was where I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake. Simon Baldevar, the vampire antihero from the first book, was pretty solidly established as an abusive, sociopathic freak of nature whose good looks were his only redeeming characteristic. What he did to the heroine was awful (what didn't he do to the heroine? Poor Meghann). It seemed like Baker was setting the stage for a love-hate relationship of epic proportions borne of revenge and reluctant sexual attraction, because Simon was so obviously a villain. Instead, she set about ret-conning everything that had happened in the previous book, painting Meghann's abuse in a rosy light, and actively attempting to make Simon into a romantic hero, replete with candlelight and roses. Oh, and the sex? The sex was weird. Let's just say that it involves blood, and not in an "Oh! I bit you during intercourse! I'm a vampire! I find that sexy!" way.
Since the book ended with them having children, I figured that those children were probably going to come into play in CRIMSON SHADOWS. Vampires aren't supposed to have children, but Simon is good at alchemy and managed to magic Meghann into being fertile for vampy offspring. For some reason, one of the children is human (but psychic) and the other child is vampiric (and deformed). That could be interesting, I thought. Misguidedly. Naively. Innocently.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF GRAPHIC CONTENT***
Reading this book put me into such a weird mood, because while it was utterly bad and ruined what started out as such a strong series for me, I couldn't help but applaud the author for her give-no-f*cks attitude. Trisha Baker obviously writes whatever she wants, and on one level, I have to respect that. This book was over-the-top in a way that most books stopped being over the top in the mid-80s. It was a throwback to an era where the sex was gratuitous and awful, the heroines were infuriating and foot-stampy, and the heroes were psychotic d-bags who equated murder with courtship.
On the other hand, what the actual hell did I just read? Some of you have been following my status updates for this book and have seen examples of the sex scenes included in CRIMSON SHADOWS. My 'favorite' was this scene where Simon teabags Meghann's bloody neck before having her give him a blowjob. Ew.
Speaking of EW, Mikal. Mikal is a piece of work. He is the vampiric twin of Meghann and Simon and does some of the most heinous things I've seen a character do in a romance novel. He rapes someone to death when he is still just a child (and of course, his character is gay and his father says how disgusting this is). He rapes and kills an old lady. He tricks his sister into sleeping with him, and then later rapes and beats her and his mother (even shouting "I never got to breast feed!" before attacking her in the boob with his fangs, because that just happened).
I also hated Jimmy by the end of this book, too. Jimmy is still hanging around Maggie, even though she's back with Simon. He slut-shames her and insults her and makes her feel bad about being with a serial killer vampire (which...okay, I had mixed feelings about that - because girl, please, have some pride. He hits you and threatens you and treats you like a child - why are you still with him?). After Meghann makes it pretty clear that they're never going to happen, he decides that he's going to go after her daughter, Ellie, instead. Ellie, who is human and seventeen. Ellie, who he raised as a daughter. Jimmy looks thirty and has been a vampire for a lot longer than that. This was so creepy to me. I mean, how do you go from, "I'm your daddy" to "I'm your daddy"? (Please don't answer this. It was a rhetorical question. I don't want to know.)
Throw in a bunch of special snowflake action, additional magical powers that manifest when convenient to the plot, surprise incest, vilification of gay characters, gratuitous gore, and a bunch of stupid sexist a-holes and spineless heroines, and you get the book equivalent of a middle finger. By the time I reached the end, I was ready to flip this book the bird right on back. There's just one book left in this series and, yes, I own it...but now I'm a little afraid to pick it up.
This is one of those rare instances where I watched the movie before I read the book. Coraline (2009) came out while I was in college and all of my friends couldn't stop talking about this creepy story; they said it started out whimsical and turned into a total mindfuck, like Mirrormask (2005) - only better.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, Coraline is a little girl who moves to a new apartment in this rural area peopled with colorful characters, like a retired mouse trainer and two washed up film stars who haven't gotten over their halcyon days. Her parents are hard-working and don't really have time for her, so Coraline is often left to her own devices and feeling frustrated as a result. When she finds a mysterious locked door in the wall of her new home that leads to another, magical world, she is absolutely delighted. It's like Narnia, or Harry Potter - only not.
At a glance, the other world seems to be better than Coraline's own reality. Her other mother bakes delicious meals, her other father is always willing to take the time to delight her with games and conversation. Her film star neighbors are young and still very much entertaining, and her creepy mouse-trainer neighbor is ... well, still creepy but now he has something to show for his efforts. Everything in this whimsical world is Coraline's for the asking, if she can only ignore the darker edge beneath the glamor...and the horrible, infamous catch.
I read this book in a single sitting. It's middle-grade, so the language is fairly simple, and the book itself is quite short with drawings interspersed between the text that take up even more of the page count. I liked the story, but as with most of Neil Gaiman's written works, it was lacking some crucial element to make me really love it. I'm finding that to be the case when it comes to Gaiman's works - the movie versions are phenomenal (like Stardust), but the books themselves feel wooden and three-dimensional by comparison, despite being imaginative. I kept comparing the book to the movie while reading, too. Coraline's challenges are way easier in the book than they are in the movie, and the character of Wybie (who I loved in the movie) is omitted entirely in the book.
Overall, CORALINE was an okay book but I'm sorry to say that the movie is much better.
My reactions while reading this book can basically be summed up in a single word: Okay! Okay. Okay? Okay...
Spoiler alert: this book was not okay.
Dear people who read this book and gave it five stars - what the hell? Did you get a different book than I did? What is this so-called brilliant homage that you read, because I got a really lame story about this boy in the friend-zone who ends up obsessed with this manic pixie dream girl stereotype who's in love with the bad boy AND a story about this old man whose name is LITERALLY "Eggs" and his relationship with his passive aggressive wife as he struggles to rectify his cringe-worthy resentment towards his severely disabled son and utter denial of his own health problems.
Oh, and there's some supernatural stuff thrown in there and the book tries to pretend it's so meta but it's completely half-assed. Basically, this is a "supernatural" story the way McDonald's new Szechuan sauce is Chinese food.
Also, let me assure you that I did not hate this book because it was not another YOU. I get that authors don't want to write the same story over and over again and I don't just respect that, I love that. Sometimes it pays off. This didn't. This was a major backslide. If I didn't know better, I would have thought that this was Kepnes's debut effort, and not YOU, because it seems so much more undeveloped and unpolished by comparison.
Part of the reason that I loved YOU so much was the smart writing, the cutting insights on society, the smart pop culture references, and the chilling way that she made reality itself seem just as horrifying as the sociopathic main character (in fact, I may have deactivated some of my own social media accounts after reading that book). This book plodded. It didn't really have much of a plot. The characters were about what you'd expect in one of those airport bookstore-type novels aimed at middle-aged women written by someone who knows nothing about women. And the pop culture references were painful. I think there were references to the movie, Big Eyes, and Colleen Hoover? One of those references is already dated and the CH reference just felt like a "Heyyyyy, buddy!"
I'm really disappointed by this book. I don't want to say anything else because I don't want to spoil too much, but yeah, if you're expecting this to be on par with YOU, just save yourself the trouble right now and lower your expectations by about 200%.
P.S. It's not just me. I buddy-read this with my friend Heather, and I just checked out her review, and it looks like we were disappointed for roughly the same reasons. I feel validated.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
I'm going to be honest, I liked the beginning of this book twice as much as I liked the end, which I despised. The beginning of this book follows the typical "psycho becomes obsessed with a girl" formula, of books like Caroline Kepnes's YOU and John Fowles's THE COLLECTOR. Teo is a medical student who lives with his mom and is a Norman Bates psychotic stuffed shirt type, buttoned up with mommy issues and personal hang-ups. Luckily, he doesn't kill his mom in this one - but he does kill her dog (spoiler).
One day, he meets a carefree and beautiful bohemian type at a party. Her name is Clarice, which maybe is a nod to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, as well, since Hannibal Lector was also a doctor. Clarice is writing a screenplay called Perfect Days, which sounds a bit like THE BEACH - it's about a bunch of flaky young women with issues who end up going on an adventure across Brazil with a mysterious and darkly handsome stranger.
Teo, naturally, falls in love with her - if by "love," you mean, he stalks her, drugs her, and then kidnaps her, taking her by force across the same road trip in her screenplay. He's determined to make her love him, but Clarice has an iron will and things take an odd turn after several weeks of captivity, when she seems to give in.
This is a brutal story and there's trigger warnings across the board. Apart from the druggings and abductions and animal death, there's also rape and medical gore and a whole bunch of unpleasant and disgusting narrative descriptions. I actually found myself cringing at certain points in the book, which I don't do too often, and haven't done since reading A LITTLE LIFE. I also didn't like the ending at all. Until I got to the end, I was going to praise this book for empowering the heroine, Clarice, and making her such a flawed and dimensional heroine, but the ending felt like a slap in the face. I'm not going to say anything else, but if you think you know what happens, you probably don't.
In the beginning of this book, I thought it would be an easy four stars. By the time the last sixty pages were rolling along, I was considering giving this book a two. I'll average them and give a three.
It's not exactly a secret that I like dark romance novels, especially when it comes to bodice rippers and vampire novels. CRIMSON KISS was basically a combination of both, and I really enjoyed it, despite the dark content. And trust me, there was a lot of dark content: sexual, physical, and psychological torture; rape and abuse; bloody or gory descriptions; mentions of pedophilia & bestiality. It could have been a really awful book but I felt for the most part that Trisha Baker handled the content well. The relationship between Meghann and Simon Baldevar was obviously an unhealthy one, and even when she kept going back to him again and again, it was obvious that she was still caught up in his web. CRIMSON KISS made me feel uncomfortable, but it was also an interesting portrait of twisted characters who become infinitely more debauched and depraved with the jaded ennui that comes from immortality.
CRIMSON NIGHT is...not like that. First, let me just say that if you choose to write your (anti)hero as twisted as Simon is, you have two choices if you want him to end up with the heroine: he either (a) has to enter one hell of a redemption arc (and have a viable reason for wanting to do so), or (b) has to completely and utterly break the heroine psychologically, to the point that it becomes a grim Stockholm syndrome mess. I have seen stories that took both routes, and one usually becomes a dark romance, and the other a dark tragedy. Those are really the only two options when it comes to antihero "love" interests, but I got the impression that Baker wasn't sure which route to pick, so she tried to do both at the same time.
It did not work.
***SPOILERS AND GRAPHIC CONTENT DESCRIPTIONS***
CRIMSON KISS was a portrait of abuse. Simon isolated Meghann from her family, tortured her, abused her, forced her to kill and torture others (including her ex-fiance). He came damn close to killing her, just to prove a point! She was kept in isolation, unless he wanted to parade her around in front of others as a trophy to exert his power over her and show just how confident he was that she couldn't escape. When Meghann did escape, she wasn't just trying to kill him for her freedom. No, she was subverting his control, which he took personally. This was the set-up for what I thought was going to be an intense revenge arc, with the two of them resorting to bloody Machiavellian schemes to get back at one another, culminating in either hate-infused lust, or a twisted mutual respect (like the kind that Hannibal had for Clarice).
Instead, in CRIMSON NIGHT, I honestly felt that Baker set about ret-conning the events of the previous book. First, Simon decides that he doesn't want revenge on Meghann because she didn't really mean to kill him. It was an "accident." At first I thought this was arrogance on his part, but Meghann also seems to corroborate this later on. Boom - angsty revenge plot out the window. Second, Meghann starts looking back on her past with Simon with a rosy lens. She talks about the fun outings they had together, how much she enjoyed having sex with him. It's been a while since I read the book, but I don't remember this happening. She was miserable all the time. She was his prisoner. She was embarrassed by his weird kinks and depressed about being his sexual prisoner. Seeing his treatment of her seemingly romanticized like this really put a bad taste in my mouth.
Simon is still a bad guy in this book. His treatment of his sire, Nicholas, was awful. At one point, he uses his mind powers to convince someone to commit suicide. He disparages the two wives he had before Meghann for being unattractive (I think he describes her as being like "lard") and weak, respectively. He refers to the gay vampire, Charles, as a sodomite/catamite so many times that I lost count. There are some graphic descriptions of torture in this book, as in the other, but they are less frequent. Mostly, we just get to see Simon demean other women (and gay people), while Meghann admires his thickly lined pockets, sexual prowess, and predilection for intimidating people.
Then there was some stuff that was just weird. Weird sexual things involving blood and lactation (almost all the sex in this book involves blood, so if that's a squick factor for you, be forewarned). The vampire pregnancy. The science used to explain said pregnancy (this was actually kind of cool). Simon's druidic/alchemical powers. Demon summoning. Entire swaths of the story set in Elizabethan England (and more ret-conning to make Simon look like a more sympathetic character). This story was just...weird. Uncomfortably weird. Weirdly uncomfortable. Uncomforweird.
You're probably asking yourself why I didn't give it a one-star since I hated it so much. Well, that's the thing. I didn't hate it. I hated the romance, and I hated Simon, and by the end of the story I even hated Meghann because she was just so passive and idiotic. But I didn't hate the story. I couldn't put the book down, and finished it in a day. I've never read a vampire story quite like this.
Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to you.
I haven't read a lot of Mira Grant's work, but what I have read, I've really liked. Grant writes good, compelling female heroines, and fuses science fiction and horror with an ease that I haven't really seen anyone master since Michael Crichton - and FINAL GIRLS is something out of a Michael Crichton nightmare.
Dr. Jennifer Webb is the inventor of some controversial technology that "treats" clients by having them undergo and resolve psychic conflict in the form of fully immersive virtual reality horror scenarios paired with psychotropic drugs, all to manipulate the emotional centers of the brain. Esther Hoffman is a pop science reporter for a magazine called Science Digest. She's been sent to the VR clinic by her boss to experience the scenario firsthand and see if the claims of its healing magic have any merit. She's understandably skeptical, because she's been burned by regression therapy before.
Esther agrees to go through the scenario, along with another patient - for SCIENCE - and immediately it's clear that...things are not right. Because when have things ever gone right in books or movies when done for SCIENCE? Science is always the villain in fiction.
FINAL GIRLS explores the relationship between mind and body in a way that's straight out of The Matrix: that fear response is an electrochemical reaction to outside stimuli. It actually struck me as really interesting, because the "conditioning" done here kind of reminded me of the "conditioning" that's done in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Both use traumatic events to manipulate emotional response and cognitive associations in order to change behavior. I was actually discussing this in a book club, recently, because my point was that superficial conditioning like this doesn't really work that well because of all the layers of thought processing that exist in the brain: behavior and emotional response are easier to change than core concepts making up identity and personality.I felt like we see that with Esther, who, at one point, understands that her altered reality isn't quite right, even though she gives into it (partially because of the drugs, because, you know, drugs).
I'm not 100% sure I buy this concept. I studied psychology in school, and the premise of this "therapy" felt a lot like that "day-care sex-abuse hysteria" phenomenon that happened in the 80s and 90s, when repressed memories entered the mainstream vocabulary and suddenly everyone was claiming that their schools participated in Satan-worshiping and orgies. Webb's "therapy" felt like it was more about brain-washing and creating false memories than it was about repairing old ones. I wondered if perhaps that was the point. Grant drops several hints that suggest this book could go either way, which is brilliant, if that was truly her intention. I love it when things go all meta on me.
FINAL GIRLS is a horror novel for the 21st century that will have you thinking twice the next time you say to yourself, "I wish my video games were real." Still not convinced it's such a bad idea? I have two words for you, my friend: Silent Hill. Convincingly creepy as it was, I do wish FINAL GIRLS was longer. Reading it was like reading one of those Tor.com shorts. Interesting and frustrating all at once. There was an interesting concept here, and I would have liked to see it explored at length instead of being presented in this abbreviated form.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Mirrors have always vaguely creeped me out, helped in part by such delightful films as Mirrors and Occulus. There's just something about the idea of something stealing and perverting your image into something demonic or evil that's, well, creepy. When you think about it, cameras are much the same.
SELFIES takes that concept and runs with it in a creepy short story about a girl named Ellie who buys a phone from a kiosk in the mall and starts talking lots of selfies with it. The problem is, some of the selfies don't look right. And the more pictures she takes, the more wrong they look, until suddenly, she starts seeing her face everywhere she looks...only it isn't exactly hers.
This story is very creepy and sent shivers down my spine, but from a technical standpoint, I do feel like it could have been constructed better. The beginning spoils the end, and the details of the story are so vague that you're never really sure what, exactly, is happening. I still wasn't sure what was happening by the end.
Still, SELFIES is free (from Tor.com) and is an interesting (and creepy) take on vanity in the technological age. Read it, if you dare. Just not at night. And not before taking a selfie. o.o
Reading this book was like reliving the summer after freshman year of high school. DEAD SEED was originally published as "Vampires Don't Exist" on Quizilla, a magical fairyland of badly written fanfiction and erotica that has since gone to the internet graveyard. To give you an idea of the quality of some of these fics, "waist" was frequently used interchangeably with "waste" and I distinctly recall one story where the anatomically-confused author seemed absurdly sure that rectal hymens existed.
Anyway, I read Vampires Don't Exist in its original form in 2004. Vampires were super popular back then, too, except instead of TWILIGHT fanfic, it was usually Lestat and Louis fanfic (or fanfic knock-offs), where the vampires were always French and had waist-length long hair and frilly shirts and called everyone "mon cherry" (sic). The heroine in these stories was always a virgin who shopped at Hot Topic and wasn't understood by the preps. She always had a terrible life until the day she was kidnapped by the immortal hero of these stories who would whisk her away to a life of opulently decorated mansions and dubious consent, which she would hate until the day she realized she loved this hero and inevitably developed immortality and/or supernatural powers of her own.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF GRAPHIC CONTENT***
Vampires Don't Exist took this to the extreme with a hero who was so unabashedly psychotic that I still remembered him over ten years later. Oh, yes, Aimeric was like the Hannibal Lecter of vampires. He even had a room that he decided to upholster in human skin, and a torture room in his mansion's basement, where he would dismember people before the horrified heroine as a way to "punish" her. When I saw that this book was on Amazon, I was a little curious, because I had read the series as a young teenager and how often do we get the opportunity to reexperience the webfics of our youth? So many people inevitably end up pulling their creations and never republishing. There are countless online stories like these that I will never be able to revisit as an adult, and that makes me oddly sad....
Anyway, for $2.99 this seemed like a relatively inexpensive experiment, and I decided, "What the heck. In the immortal words of Darkwing Duck, Let's get dangerous."
Aralyn's mother and sister died in a car crash and her dad became an alcoholic after the accident and doesn't give two coin flips about her. One day, she decides to die by throwing herself over a cliff. She's rescued at the last minute - she thinks, by the human man who's standing nearby watching the sea. He's cute, and they end up kissing, but he's actually Norman Bates and after calling her a slut, starts cutting her with his knife while he attempts to rape her. She's rescued - again - and knocked out, and when she wakes up, it's in a vampire mansion...by her sister, Claire, who it turns out is a vampire.
Claire leaves and Aralyn meets two more vampires, Virgil and Morgan, who's basically Igor in vampire form. Then she meets Aimeric, the Hannibal Lecter vampire. He tries to rape her, she rebuffs him, he takes her to the torture dungeon and tortures a human (he keeps a steady supply in cages so they're always at the ready - ugh). Then he rapes her, and this pretty much happens for a while. Aralyn is defiant, people get tortured, she feels bad, and the cycle continues, with her getting tortured as well, including but not limiting waterboarding, sexual assault by him and others, and branding.
There's a subplot with another vampire called Orrin, who might want to help free Aralyn, but 3/4 of the way through the book, Aralyn decides she loves Aimeric, even after all that physical, sexual, and psychological torture, and she sees his special "room," and he impregnates her by ordering three humans to rape her while she he watches (since vampires can't get people pregnant, hence the title of this newly edited edition, DEAD SEED). As the reader works his or her way through this sadistic psychodrama of torture and misery, they can't help but wonder, will Aralyn ever manage to escape? Or will she stay with this madman of depthless depravity?
I'm not going to spoil the ending for you, because I know I have friends who are just as morbidly curious as I am and I'm 99% sure that this review will encourage them to pick up the title for themselves and see if it's really that bad (yes). Let's just say that the ending gives literal meaning to the term "deus ex machina" and if you have any suspension of disbelief left by the time you get to that point, it will be gone and you will just be like, WTF. And keep in mind that this is after the heroine discovers that vampire transformations will have her looking like a Hot Topic commercial, replete with blue streaks in her hair. Because hair extensions come with the package, I guess.
It's been so long since I read the original that I'm not sure I can really do a fair comparison between the two works. I remember the original being more graphic and messed up, and I'm not sure whether that's because I was younger and just more easily traumatized, or if the author actually cleaned up the work for publication and censored out some of the more graphic parts. I was looking at some of the other reviews for DEAD SEED and other readers have made similar claims that this book felt "toned down", so maybe it was. It's still pretty gross, though. Honestly, what was most amusing to me was how this is just such a perfect snapshot of this type of fiction of this particular time, and the "emo" culture embedded in the prose was just perfect. I could almost envision those Livejournal 100x100 web icons that we used to collect and display on our Xanga pages. It was just...SO NOSTALGIC. She even links to a MySpace page in the back as a way of contacting her. I almost cried. It was wonderful.
That said, it's pretty obvious that this is a self-published work. Characterization is inconsistent, and there are a couple of pretty glaring errors and editor could have fixed. Honestly, if someone went over this with a fine-toothed comb and tightened the characterization, this would be like a modern-day bodice ripper, only with vampires instead of pirates or what have you. I would love that, but I know a lot of people won't, and if dark fiction, rape, torture, and poorly executed Stockholm syndrome plots make you see red, steer clear. If you have time to kill, though, and want to see what the 2004 version of "new adult" fiction looks like, drop the $2.99 and indulge in some over the top craziness that was self-published before self-publishing was cool.
Tanith Lee died on May 24, 2015. I was devastated, not just because she was so talented and I loved her books, but because she's one of the few authors out there I would have loved to have sat down with over cocktails and chatted with about anything - her books were indicative of an unusual, creative mind. I wish I could have found out more about how she saw the world, what books she liked to read, what inspired her, what chilled her (the other is Rosemary Rogers).
I don't always enjoy Tanith Lee's work, but I always appreciate her books. She has a writing style that is completely her own and some people like it, some people don't. I like it. Obviously. I like purple prose, when done well. Especially dramatic, overwrought prose. (Which is probably why I also love Rosemary Rogers and Victoria Holt.) Lee writes a lot of dark fantasy and sci-fi and Gothic novels, so this flair for the dramatic refines, rather than bogs down, her narratives and lends to the overall atmosphere of her dark worlds.
DARK DANCE is part occult horror, part vintage gothic, and part vampire legend. The main character, Rachaela Day, lives a dreary life in shades of gray. She grew up in a home where her father was absent and her mother was indifferent, and after her mother's passing, she just started going through the motions. She lives alone, has no friends, no hobbies, and is woefully underemployed. She's content with this until one day, people representing her father's family, the Scarabae, request that she return home. To her family.
Rachaela refuses initially but fate - and the Scarabae - have other ideas, and before she's really aware of what's happening, she ends up in a private car to a small British town in the middle of nowhere where the names are always changing and the train never seems to run. In a large manor in the moors, where all of the windows are brilliant stained glass, the Scarabae are there to welcome Rachaela with open arms, including her father, Adamus Scarabae. He's fascinated with her, and hasn't aged a day since Rachaela's conception nearly 30 years ago. But his interest is sinister, as magnetic as it is repellent, and Rachaela's efforts to escape the sinister family might not be enough.
It's been a while since I read a vampire novel that was so unapologetically disturbing. There's shock horror, and then there's "I'm going to tell this story the way it should be told, even if it offends a whole bunch of people and has the censorious members of our community pounding down my door." This book is the latter. Trisha Baker's CRIMSON KISS is like that as well (indeed, Trisha Baker is one of the recommended authors for fans of DARK DANCE. Big surprise, there). What this means is that none of the characters are likable - especially Adamus, Rachaela, and Ruth - and this book features some very disturbing content, like the sexualization of children and incest.The upside is, it's not at all romanticized, in my opinion, and feels more like inevitable doom than a fetish.
New adult authors, take note. THIS is how you write a dark and disturbing story. Save your cutesy "don't read this if you're easily offended" mock trigger warnings. THIS is disturbing and gritty as it was meant to be: inevitable, alluring, and impossible to put down.
RIP, Tanith Lee. I hope you're raising terror among the angels up there in author heaven.
This was a Kindle Clean-Out Club buddy read with my friend Heather. We both like vampire novels and agree that many of the best ones were the super dark vampire stories written pre-TWILIGHT. SIPS OF BLOOD seemed like the perfect read for us, because not only is it a vampire novel from the 90s, it's also a vampire novel from the 90s about the Marquis de Sade.
Taking famous crazy people throughout history and turning them into vampires is not a novel concept. I've read a number of vampire stories about Vlad the Impaler, Elizabeth Báthory, and the Count of St. Germain. Marquis de Sade is another obvious choice, given that his love of hurting people got him his own eponym (i.e. "sadism").
SIPS OF BLOOD is a weird, disorganized novel that has the same gritty, grungy feel as another vampire novel I read a while ago called DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON (one of the Elizabeth Báthory stories I referred to earlier). SIPS OF BLOOD is about three vampires: Louis, Marie, and Liliana. Louis is the Marquis de Sade and he is crazy. Marie is his mother-in-law and she is also crazy. Liliana is Louis's niece and she is crazy, but way less crazy than her crazy vampire relatives, and tries to go the "vegetarian" vampire route a la Edward Cullen by feeding off small rodents and the blood of corpses at the morgue where she conveniently works.
There isn't really much of a plot, apart from, "Gee, I'm a vampire, how can I get me some gross vampire sex?" Marie tries to seduce her neighbor's son, Wil (one of the few characters in this book I liked, so obviously bad things happened to him), and most of the book is about her pursuing him in a way that gives new and terrifying meaning to the word "cougar" while her other love interest, a married man named Garrett, mopes on the sidelines and tries to satisfy his desires while being ignored by his mistress. He ends up getting AIDS, and then is tortured and murdered by Louis. Louis decides that he wants to have sex with his house-keeper's seventeen-year-old daughter (did I mention that he looks seventy?) and for some reason, Cecelia is totally game for this... uh... okay. I kept hoping that Liliana and Wil would get together, but she ends up getting raped by two different guys (one of whom is her uncle) and then murdered by being literally torn apart by rogue vampires after getting impaled on a fence.
This was a very strange and unpleasant book. I couldn't put it down because I was filled with a morbid fascination to keep turning the pages and find out what happened to the two characters in this book I actually cared about. People suffered a lot in this book, which isn't surprising considering who this book is about, but the extent of the cruelty still took me off-guard.
Also, there were a lot of typos in here - especially towards the end. "Jealously" was used instead of "jealousy" (or vice-versa), there were a couple misspellings, and at least once, Wil's name changed to "Will" and then back again on a page. Not sure if these were conversion errors from when the book was turned into an e-book or if they were in the original text, but that was extra.
P.S. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to figure out that Louis and Donatien were both referring to the same person. Whoops.
We're doing a Halloween 2016 Reading Challenge in the Unapologetic Romance Readers group and one of the categories is a romance novel with blood on the cover. This proved surprisingly difficult, because while 80s and 90s vampire romance novels were content to own up to their gothic horror roots and splatter their covers with blood, modern day vampire romance novels are much more coy and more likely to feature a woman in a prom dress being coddled by a brooding heartthrob than, well, a bleeding heart.
Luckily, being the old soul that I am, I have a conveniently large horde of retro romance novels to dip into for precisely these kinds of occasions. COVENANT WITH THE VAMPIRE is not a romance so I'm technically cheating, but given that the summary of the book speaks of seductive caresses and the hero's intense love for his wife and child, I figured that this was going to be a case of blurred genres.
I could not have been more wrong. This is a horror novel in every sense of the word. I actually considered putting it down at one point, because it's just awful. There's incest and necrophilia, creepy vampire foreplay, and really unpleasant torture scenes that are described in gory detail although not, thankfully, put into practice. At least not in this volume - I noticed that there are sequels. Perhaps the author is saving those delightful little nuggets for laterz.
COVENANT WITH THE VAMPIRE is about Arkady Tsepesh, a descendant of Vlad the Impaler. He lives in England, with his English wife, Mary, who is pregnant with their unborn son. When he is summoned by his uncle, to care for him in his failing health, his return to Romania is swift. An imposing castle greets him, run by superstitious and resentful servants. Vlad is effusive when he receives the couple and seems genuinely glad for their presence but there is something creepy about him. Mary, especially, finds him off-putting, but can't exactly put her finger on why.
Things get worse as Arkady's sister, Zsusanna, begins to sicken. Various people affiliated with Vlad and his family in some tangential way disappear. One of the servants shows up wearing one of these missing men's watch fobs and rings with blood on his wrist. And, of course, Vlad continues being creepy. Arkady takes a hit as well, with powerful headaches that come and go without warning, and lapses in memory that he is unable to explain. Mary and Arkady are starting to suspect that Vlad's servants' inexplicable terror and loathing of their master are perhaps not so inexplicable, after all.
To be fair to the book, it is a faithful reimagining of Bram Stoker's original DRACULA. Like the original, this book is written in epistolary format from multiple POVs, and the build-up is slow, gradual, and atmospheric. Many retellings often just focus on Dracula, and I appreciated how this book incorporated Romanian folklore about strigoi, as well as vampires' servants and brides.
My problem with this book is that it was just too gross. A lot of the random scenes in this book felt like they were included for shock value. I'm not averse to gore and violence necessarily, but I do think it should serve some purpose. George R.R. Martin, for all his faults, can be excellent at using horrible acts correctly: to show the effects of extreme terror or loathing, or as acts of power by someone who is attempting to curry favor or fear. I did not get that same impression here.
The diary entries also did not work for me. All the characters sounded very similar - bland and disconnected. I thought the story was interesting and liked the twist at the end, but I felt like it was told in a very poor way and that the medium in which the story was delivered was a huge contributing factor in this.
As far as COVENANT WITH THE VAMPIRE goes, I am not a fan. I love vampire stories but I did not like this one at all and will probably not be pursuing the sequels. Oh, and yeah, I was wrong - it's not a romance. (Whatever, I'm still counting it towards the challenge.)
Like most American children, Disney's Peter Pan was a part of my video library (we watched it on VHS, and waiting for the tape to rewind is an exercise in patience that few children these days know). Because my mother was a firm believer in reading, we also had the book, as well - a lovely illustrated edition of J.M. Barrie's classic tale. They're very different stories, though. Even as a child, I remember picking up the book and thinking to myself, "this is wrong" as I flipped through it. That's because 9 times out of 10, you know that all of your favorite characters are going to be safe and sound in the Disney movie (with a few notable exceptions), but in Barrie's book, death was very much present and very much real, and the morality of the characters is far more ambiguous.
Brom wrote THE CHILD THIEF with this initial version of the story in mind. Peter Pan is kind of creepy when you think about him too hard. I mean, he floats around outside nurseries, waiting for the parents to go to sleep before sneaking in and seducing children away and he has a markedly cavalier attitude when it comes to rules and the well being of himself and his lost boys.
THE CHILD THIEF opens in New York. We're introduced to a handful of children who have been forced to grow up before their time, either because of sexual abuse, drugs, crime, or neglect. Peter looks for these children specifically, because these are the children who are willing to leave their old lives behind and risk everything to follow him into the Mist to Avalon. One of these boys is Nick, who is facing persecution from a drug gang because he tried to make off with their stash when he ran away. Peter saves him from a slow and painful death and takes him through the Mist...but "Neverland" isn't like the stories, at all. It's actually incredibly dangerous...and terrifying.
I wasn't really prepared for the sexual and physical violence, the language, and the viciousness of the children and monsters in this story. It reads kind of like LORD OF THE FLIES, in the sense that the children gradually become more and more "wild" as the magic of Avalon infects them and they lose sight of their old lives in their blind following of Peter and his mission. Psychologically, it's very interesting, but it doesn't make for comfortable reading, either. I was expecting something along the lines of Clive Barker's ABARAT, I think - dark and brutal, but also fanciful and charming and morally sound. As convoluted as it can sometimes be, you can still recognize "good" in Barker's work. Here, "good" is much more ambiguous.
Despite all that, I was still mostly on board with Brom's reimagining of Peter Pan. Yes, it was darker and a bit bleaker than I'd anticipated, but it was an interesting story, and the use of Celtic folklore to explain both Peter's origins and the world he came from was inspired. The problem happens in the third act, when THE CHILD THIEF jumps the shark. There's too many things going on at once, with fight scenes that go on for way too long, and then a couple things happen that had me squinting at the book and going, "Wait, did that really happen?" And I started having flashbacks to the first, traumatic time that I watched the Super Mario Bros. movie and found out that the Mushroom Kingdom is actually a dystopian world forcibly torn from ours by the same comet that killed the dinosaurs.
I only paid $1.99 for this ebook, so I'm not as annoyed as I would have been had I paid the full $12.99 for it. For $1.99 it was solidly entertaining. I did enjoy the author's art, too. His style reminded me of the art work you see on old Magic: The Gathering trading cards. I also liked the idea behind the story and the use of Celtic mythology. The story did not live up to my expectations, however, and I thought the pacing and writing quality were both way off, with some passages being beautifully written and others reminiscent of the trashy indie pulp sci-fi serials that go for $0.99 a chapter. Some tighter editing could have made a huge difference. Ultimately, given the choice between ABARAT and CHILD THIEF, I'd pick ABARAT every time, although just between you and me, I like Brom's illustrations better. Maybe the two of them can work together on a new book. I'd definitely buy that...