Sleeping Beauties

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You may have noticed that I do not generally review books by very, very popular authors. I mean, do you really come here for me to tell you that Stephen King is worth reading? Likely not, but what about Owen King? Personally, I’ve never read anything by Owen, but I love his father’s and brother’s (Joe Hill) works a lot, so I thought why not give him a try?

A pandemic affecting only women quickly makes its way across the globe. This disease puts all of the human female population into a strange sleeping state and covers their bodies in a fluffy cocoon. If anyone tries to wake them or take the cocoon off, the women suddenly wake and become murderous. But there is one female prisoner in a small American town who seems to be immune, and she also claims to know what this disease is as well as how to stop it. When others in the town hear of her existence, two groups form: one that wants to protect and listen to this strange woman and one that wants to kill her, hoping that her death ends this terrible curse upon their women.

I actually put off reading this novel last year because I didn’t think I could read a book about a pandemic during a pandemic without hurting my mental health, and I’m glad I made that decision. This book was published in 2017, apparently, but it felt like a reimagining of 2020-2021. Aside from the obvious– a pandemic– and the way everyone in the world lost their common sense because of it, it was also the politicization of the tragedy and just general greed and power grabbing in a time of crisis that made it extremely difficult not to draw parallels to the past year or so. After living through the past year I can say that the plot itself as well as the way the cast dealt with the disease is definitely realistic, which made it even more chilling.

This book is…. expansive. The main plot point is the global outbreak of disease, so there are a lot of people involved in the plot and the effects of the disease throw a wrench in all aspects of modern life. I mean, think about it. If all of the women in the world were suddenly in an unending sleep, how many ways would the world change? With such a large cast and a plot that affects the whole world, I could see how this might be a hard book to keep focused and to end satisfyingly. I definitely felt like the book could have been trimmed down. The ending was imperfect and slightly anticlimactic. However, I always find satisfying endings difficult for books that deal with world-changing stakes, so I forgive it. It felt like there were some unnecessary scenes that could have been dropped to make the plot feel tighter, but I feel like I am nitpicking at this point. The book was simply a fun read to get lost in.

I love Stephen King’s characters and the way he dives into the depths of their fictional minds in such a way that makes them realistic, relatable, and slightly unsettling. However, I didn’t feel quite the same magic with the characters in Sleeping Beauties, perhaps because of the sheer number of characters, or perhaps because it wasn’t entirely King Sr.’s writing since it was a joint project. There is also some controversy about whether a book written by two white men does its feminist themes justice. I’m female but no expert on what being a good feminist or ally means, but I didn’t find the novel offensive to me as a woman.

As I said, this was fun… or as fun as a book on this topic can be. I feel like it was an interesting thought experiment that makes for a lot of good discussion. It wasn’t the best King/Hill book I’ve read, but it has my recommendation as a slightly creepy, often violent, but smart read.

The Winter People

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m going to try to switch my review posting date from every other Saturday to every other Sunday. It seems like I have been finishing up books on the weekends, so this gives me an extra day off of work to finish reading and write up a review. It feels weird since I have uploaded on Saturdays for years, but let’s see how it goes! Hopefully I will miss less upload dates this way.

Now, to the review of The Winter People. There are two timelines in this book. One timeline takes place in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s following Sara Harrison Shea. Sara shares her perspectives on the people and events in her childhood and during her young married life through her journal. However, Sara’s death was very odd. Some say she went mad after the death of her daughter, and in Sara’s journal she claims that her daughter came back from the dead. Sara’s journal was published and became part the area’s local legend. In the present day, 19-year-old Ruthie stumbles upon Sara’s journal after her mother disappears, which leads Ruthie down a rabbit hole of other mysteries. As Ruthie and her little sister, Fawn, search for their missing mother, they uncover family secrets and discover things that perhaps would be better left buried.

The characters didn’t do a lot for me, sadly. Sara and Ruthie (arguably the main characters though there are sections from a few other characters’ perspectives as well) were just fine. I preferred reading from Sara’s sections because I found her childhood and adult experiences more interesting. As a side note, I think I might have also enjoyed a book solely based on Sara’s life. Since we read from Sara’s journal, it makes you wonder just how reliable she is as a narrator, which is something I often enjoy. And with a few chapters from her husband’s perspective mixed in, this adds to the reader questioning Sara’s stability. Ruthie and the present day sections were interesting enough, and they add a whole other layer to Sara’s story, but I didn’t find the present-day characters or storyline quite as engaging. There are a few other women tangled up in the mystery of Ruthie’s missing mother, but I found them forgettable beyond their role of advancing the plot.

For me, the best parts of the book were the plot and atmosphere. Sometimes multiple perspectives and timelines can make a plot feel muddled or confusing, and sometimes one timeline/perspective is clearly stronger or more interesting, which makes the narrative feel unbalanced and/or makes the reader bored with one side of the story. I liked the way they were integrated here though. Despite having a preference for Sara’s perspective, the alternating timelines built tension, and when one gave me a new answer about something, it would often raise more questions, which made the book a very fast read. The twists are fun, but I guessed several reveals in the latter half of the novel. The author is quite good at setting up tense moments. I read this via audiobook though, so the narration probably also helped increase the tension via tone and pacing. I was hooked until the end, yet I don’t think that I will remember this book a year or two from now.

In the end, I gave The Winter People 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was a quick, entertaining read that made me think about grief and loss, but in my opinion, it didn’t do enough to set itself apart from other, similar stories I have read.

Locke and Key Vol. 1-3

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As 2020 comes to a close, I have found myself in a reading slump. I haven’t read a full novel in several months now. Luckily, I read a lot more during the spring and summer and had several reviews scheduled ahead throughout the year. This has been my worst reading year since I got back into reading in my 20’s, so as I struggle to meet my 50 book reading goal, I have turned to graphic novels. (If you’re struggling to read even 1, 2, or 3 books this year, I’m not putting you down of course. Everyone has different goals!) But that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I have been wanting to watch the Locke and Key series, but I wanted to read the graphic novels first, so it worked out.

Locke and Key is about the Locke family. After tragedy upends the family’s life, they move to an intricate New England manor called Keyhouse. The youngest son begins finding strange, magical keys throughout the manor, and what the family thinks is just a heinous crime turns out to have occult origins. The Locke kids must combat supernatural forces as well as the more normal trials of growing up and surviving trauma.

To begin, the series does deal with tough topics and disturbing scenes, like murder, alcoholism, and abuse. It is a horror graphic novel, though the kids are the main characters. Speaking of the kids, there are three Locke children, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode. I’m usually not a fan of child characters, but I like this group. They all have well developed characterization. They feel like realistic children, but they aren’t grating or annoying. Tyler, the oldest, puts on a brave face and carries a lot of guilt and pain, but he is the rock of the family in a lot of ways. Kinsey is just becoming a teen and is struggling with fitting in and knowing herself on top of what her family has gone through. She would rather repress or remove her pain and fear than confront it, but I wouldn’t call her a coward. Bode, the youngest, still has childlike wonder and immerses himself in the mysteries of the house. He takes a lot of the craziness and dysfunction in stride, but his family doesn’t always listen or have time for him. Other characters, like their mother and uncle, are also fleshed out well and will likely continue to develop as the series progresses. I love good character development, and I think this series delivers.

Plot-wise, I found the first volume to be very cohesive and engaging. The next volumes meander a little, and I wasn’t sure where the series was going, but were enough twists and mysteries to keep me interested. The concept of the different magical keys is very interesting too. Some keys open doors where crossing the threshold turns one into a ghost, while others can open up a person’s mind. I wouldn’t say that the use of the keys made anything too convenient, and I don’t think (so far) that they are over used as a plot device, which was a concern of mine. By volume three I am wondering just how everything will come together in the end, but I trust Joe Hill as an author since I’ve loved several of his novels. I have high hopes for the series as a whole.

So, if you’re like me and need something quick, short, and satisfying to read, I would recommend this series. I don’t find it scary as much as sad or slightly disturbing or unsettling at times. Overall, I would rate the first three volumes four out of five stars. The overall plot could be tighter, but I still enjoy the side plots that develop the characters and expand the world. The artwork is also very colorful and creative, and I enjoy the art style more than many other graphic novels.

The Only Good Indians

This was an extremely unique read. I went in knowing that it was written by and about Native American men, specifically Blackfeet, and that there was a killer elk after several of the characters. Honestly, that was more than enough to interest me. I mean, seriously, have you ever heard of something like that before in traditional publishing?

Ten years ago, Lewis, Ricky, Cass, and Gabe went hunting where they were not supposed to be. Like anyone who is young and stupid, they thought they wouldn’t get caught. What happened was much worse than they imagined. They survived the hunting trip, grew up a little, and some moved off of the reservation. Ten years later Ricky is standing outside of a bar miles and miles away from the reservation. Not long after that moment, he is dead. The reports claimed that he was beat up in a bar fight, but when strange things begin happening to Lewis, he questions the media’s mundane narrative.

So, let’s start with the pros. This is a super unique premise with characters you don’t see very often in fiction in general, let alone in horror. I really enjoyed the characterization in the novel. All of the Blackfeet men were well written. I got a clear sense of each one’s personality and what they cared about. The story is told in a few different perspectives, but each voice felt different. The book went by quickly because I kept wanting to turn the page and figure out what was happening. It was gripping for sure, but there was ample time to get to know everyone. I also really liked the writing style itself. It was almost conversational or casual in tone. It felt like the story was being told to me instead of me actually reading it. I didn’t check out the audiobook, but if it is read well, I think that the writing would lend itself really well to that format.

I’ll admit that what I didn’t like was all up to personal preference, so there’s a good chance that you might disagree with my small “cons” list. I usually go into my books pretty blindly without wanting to know too much. So, though I usually don’t mind some gore, there was quite a bit in this novel. If you don’t like descriptions of blood, guts, and dead animals (dogs, if that bothers you), you might not want to read this. There was just a bit too much gore description for me, personally, but I could have easily looked up the amount of gore or trigger warnings if I hadn’t wanted to go in without knowing anything. The was creepy and tense, but I wouldn’t call it scary, and I think that the imagery would be great for a slasher movie. However, what I found the scariest, and what hooked me and made finish the rest in one sitting, was one character’s decent into madness and how the other characters heard about and interpreted the subsequent events.

So, to sum it up, if a Blackfeet-inspired slasher sounds like something you’d like this spooky season, don’t hesitate to read this!

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

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What a wild ride. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix was my kind of crazy though. If you visit this book’s page on Goodreads you will see two very different top reviews. The top review (written by a white man) claims that this book is harmful, racist, and not at all a feminist book. The second top review (by a white female) is completely the opposite. I side much more with the female reviewer, but in my review I will reference some of the points made by the male reviewer just in case you read that review and are put off by the accusations. I will speak in vague terms, but there may be slight spoilers about scenes or some of the horror elements.

But first let’s take a step back and explain the basic plot. The book takes place in the American south during the 90’s. Several women in a very white, suburban community have decided to host a book club where they read thrillers, true crime, and horror, much to the annoyance of their husbands. A rich stranger moves into their community, and one of the book club members, Patricia Campbell, finds some strange coincidences and occurrences tied to this man. Her fellow book club members doubt her and hold onto their perfect lives, while the husbands view Patricia as an unstable influence on their wives. But what if Patricia is actually on the right track? What if this man really is a too goo to be true presence in their town?

I loved the plot and characters so, so much. Patricia and her book club members are innocent of a lot about the real world because they are just housewives. Even Patricia, who was once a nurse, has her days filled with vacuuming the curtains, polishing the good China, and making lunch for her children. Despite that, you can see some fire in their personalities even early on. Patricia certainly has a hunger for something more in her life. Overall, I felt that the women were realistically portrayed and varied in personality, which made them all unique.

As for the plot, it takes place over several years, so you see the characters and community change over time, which I really liked. However, I found it to be a fairly fast read. It was hard to put down with several twists and turns. Some of the main characters’ plans get thwarted, so they have to pick up the pieces and decide where to go from there. I liked that things weren’t easy for them, and many external forces complicated their decision making. The plot progressed realistically for the time period, though the fantastical elements required some suspension of disbelief. The horror elements included gore, bugs, and things that were emotionally horrific, which I will explain in more detail below. One thing I didn’t understand was the fact that Nazism was brought into the plot. I didn’t think it made sense, and there was already so much going on in the plot and themes that it could have been dropped. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the strange happenings in novel began mainly happening to non-white characters? Or that the evil in the novel that build up over time was parallel to the evils of the rise of Nazism?

The next few paragraphs will touch on some of the critism the novel is getting about sexism and racism, so there may be slight spoilers below. Skip to the last paragraph for my final thoughts.

First, is the novel sexist? Their husbands are mostly stereotypical for the time and place. They are domineering, abusive, and honestly think little of their wives and their interests. They don’t take the wives concerns about the new stranger seriously at all. All of this certainly makes the men sexists, and even the way the women treat each other at times stems from this internalized misogyny. However, I think that the book makes it pretty clear that this is wrong. I was legitimately angry and frustrated at how Patricia and the other women were treated and how they treated each other. Their husbands gas lighted and belittled them constantly, but if there is one thing I learned from horror authors like Stephen King, sometimes the most disturbing and chilling horror comes from everyday injustices. That doesn’t make the author or the book sexist; it just shows how awful humans can be to each other, which makes great horror in my opinion. The book ends on a hopeful note, and shows the women taking charge to improve their lives, so I can’t see how the book or author reads as sexist when the characters grow and shed the toxicity they experienced from others and from themselves.

I’ll also touch on the racism accusations in the view I mentioned, but being white myself, I wouldn’t take my opinion as infallible. So, there is one main character who is black, and she is hired as a maid and caretaker by a few of the white women in the community. There are scenes where the white women visit the black woman at her home. The black woman’s home and community are poor, and when the white women visit they are confronted by some young black men who threaten them. The black community was being hit the hardest by the strange happenings in the area, so it makes sense that the young black men were wary of the strangers in their community. (They also experienced some displacement by white building developments, and there was a rumor in their community that a white man had been creeping around their children.)The young men were easily dispersed when the black woman told them she knew the white women. So, I think that the young men being intimidating was not a racist portrayal. They had good reasons to act that way toward white strangers, and the white women (though startled) were unharmed. Some white characters had misgivings about visiting the black community, but that was realistic for the time and setting, and the characters who felt this way were not portrayed positively by the narrative.

There are accusations that the “white savior” trope was part of the novel because Patricia and her friends sought to help the black community when the strange things began happening. I disagree with this as well. Though Patricia tried, she largely failed to do much, and the black characters tell her exactly that. The white women do not really get involved in solving what is going on until their own homes and families are threatened. The black characters call them out for that, and Patricia is able to convey this sentiment to her friends and finally call them to action. And during the climax of the novel, though there are more white characters taking part than black, it is the black character who does more to resolve the situation than several of the white characters.

So, with all of that being said, I would not be put off by some of the reviews you might see floating around (says the book reviewers herself). Try the book (perhaps through your library like I did) and form an opinion for yourself. If you liked Out by Natsuo Karino but want something with vampires and some American southern flair, try this. It was creative with multiple kinds of horror and with a dash of humor. Four and half out of five stars.

Mexican Gothic

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Earlier this year I read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel Gods of Jade and Shadow, which I really enjoyed but had a few minor problems with. However, I think Mexican Gothic really shows the writing talent that Moreno-Garcia has, and she seems to be getting a lot of well-deserved hype for her newest novel.

Mexican Gothic takes place in Mexico in the 1950’s. Noemí Taboada loves parties, fashion, and flirting, but when her father takes her aside and tells her that her cousin, Catalina, has sent an erratic, strange letter, Noemí gives up her city life to visit her cousin in the Mexican countryside. Catalina had married into an English family (the Doyles) a few years before and moved into her husband’s family home called High Place. Once upon a time High Place was funded by a bustling, rich silver mining operation that employed many locals. Now High Place is a rundown, moldy mess of a house with no electricity and only a few silent servants. Catalina’s new family claims she is sick with tuberculosis, but Noemí has other suspicions. Noemí must navigate the family’s strange rules, the possibly haunted house, and the patriarch’s odd beliefs in order to find out what has happened to her cousin.

My personal life has been very stressful lately, which has greatly impacted my reading. I guess I’ve been in a reading slump, but this book pulled me out of it. I could not put it down once I got past the first few chapters! It felt like each chapter hinted a little at what was going on in High Place, and I kept thinking “just one more chapter, I’ll get some answers, then I’ll stop.” The sense of suspense and unease was woven throughout the narrative, and I really wasn’t sure if the author would kill off the characters I liked. The novel was very atmospheric. I’d call it “creepily claustrophobic.” I really enjoyed the novel’s pacing and the tension was addictive. The climax was satisfying, and the explanation for all the strange events was delightfully devious, if unsettling.

I also really enjoyed the characters, but Noemí was of course my favorite. I loved how she was so un-apologetically herself. She liked fine clothes, parties, flirting, her cigarettes, and she didn’t really care if other characters judged her for it. She was also so committed to her cousin and the people she cared about. She was also much more brave than I would have been in that situation. Catalina was unfortunately not given much time on the page. She is mentioned in Noemí’s flashbacks and memories enough that you get a sense of who she is, and her actions within the novel showed what a strong person she really was, but I thought she could have been developed more. The Doyles are also an interesting bunch. It was fun trying to figure out who to trust in the house and what all of their motivations were. The “bad guys” were pretty terrible, which made them satisfying to dislike and cheer against.

Though perhaps not an all-time favorite, I have to give it five stars. One small thing I didn’t like would be the romance. Although I actually liked the idea of them being together, it felt a little out of place and could have been developed more. Also, as I said earlier, I think Catalina could have been utilized more. I would have liked to hear more about how she fared in the Doyles’ household before Noemí arrived, for one thing. But with the book only being about 300 pages, it could have felt odd for Catalina to have her own chapters or to be centered on more. Having Catalina be more passive added to the suspense since the reader only knows what Noemí has found out, but I was interested in the goings on in High Place when it was just Catalina by herself. Like I said, those are just small gripes compared to how much I enjoyed this novel. If you’re looking for a spooky, quick read with a great lead character, pick this up!

The Institute

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I have never, ever bought a brand new Stephen King book until now. Why? Well, partially because I got into his work very late, and I’m also very cheap and usually do not buy a book at cover price. Buuuut… I love this cover, and I just really, really wanted to read a brand new Stephen King. I also recently read Firestarter by him, and The Institute sounded like it was in the same vein.

On the spur of the moment, Tim Jamieson decides to hitchhike north instead of flying. An acquaintance may have a job for him in New York, but along the way Tim finds a job as a night knocker in a sleepy South Carolina town. Far up north in the Maine wilderness, Luke Ellis wakes up in a room that is not his bedroom. Luke finds that he has been abducted in the night from his Minneapolis home and put into a government facility with several other children. And what is the reason for his and the other children’s abduction? The children are said to have telekinetic and telepathic powers. But why are they locked away from the rest of the world? Tim and Luke’s paths eventually cross, but the effects may be far reaching.

If you’ve read Firestarter, you probably see the similarities already. I also got some strong It vibes with there being a group of children characters fighting against an evil. If you haven’t read those two, you should. But concerning The Institute, it was actually a lot of fun. There was a lot of adventure and excitement, and the secrets of the government facility are unraveled at a good pace. It was great to cheer for the kids in the face of a shady government entity. I wouldn’t call this horror even though that seems to be its given genre. Horrible things do happen, and they even happen to children, but I guess I would call this book more of a dark, modern-day sci-fi? Is that even a real genre?

Anyway, the pacing of the book starts a just little slowly. The book is separated into several sections, with the first forty pages focusing entirely on Tim Jamieson. From then on we focus primarily on the kids in The Institute, so don’t be disappointed or confused by the early focus on Tim. Tim returns later in the novel, and introducing him in depth early on makes more sense in the latter part of the book. Speaking of the latter half of the book, although Stephen King is known for sometimes not ending his books well, I thought that the ending for The Institute was pretty satisfying.

What I disliked about the novel actually bothered me quite bit though. The kids do remind me of the children in It, but one of the reasons for this is that the kids sometimes talk like those kids from the 50’s and 60’s. Maybe I’m just out of touch with the youth, but I haven’t heard phrases like “starvin’ Marvin,” “jeepers,” or “yankin’ your chain” from many people younger than me or even my own age. King threw in a fair amount of modern references that make more sense, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the children’s dialogue often felt too old for them. Luke is a boy genius, so his dialogue was forgivable, but some of the other children just felt a bit off.

You don’t need anyone, especially me, to tell you that a Stephen King book is good. This one is good though, and I would recommend picking it up if it sounds interesting to you. Again, it’s not quite scary but more disturbing. I don’t think it will be a classic like It, but I gave it a solid four out of five stars, and I’ve thought about the book a while after I finished it.

 

Fellside

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I’m sure most of us here remember or have heard of The Girl With All of the Gifts. It is sci-fi/post-apocalyptic novel with action, surprises, heart-warming moments, and it gives a lot of food for thought with its themes. The author’s next novel, Fellside, is more of a mystery/thriller with a touch of fantasy.

Fellside is a maximum security women’s prison in the Yorkshire Moors. Jess Moulson finds herself heading toward the prison after an intentionally-set inferno consumed her apartment, killing a child in the flat above her. Jess has no memory of the fire, and she would have never killed Alex, the child from upstairs that she had befriended. With no memory and no grounds to defend herself, Jess goes to Fellside where she encounters a drug ring, tough and troubled convicts looking for a fight, rampant corruption, and a familiar ghost.

I was completely on board with the tone and pace of this novel, at least during the first half. It is creepy, you are unsure of what is going on, and we start becoming close to the main character who has an unreliable memory. However, I have heard that many readers found the pace of Fellside slow, and I can at least see why. The book begins after the tragic fire, so we know how the biggest plot point turns out, but we spend the rest of the novel rather slowly finding out how it all happened. The novel also focuses on some other subplots related to the prison staff and inmates, but they lack the same emotional pull as the mystery of how/who started the fire and killed Alex. The prison subplots have been done before– corruption, drug rings, prison riots and fights– so I wish there was more focus on Jess’s personal mystery because that felt more unique and interesting.

Although Jess is our main character, there are several chapters that center on other characters within the prison. These chapters usually move the prison-related plots forward, so I found myself wanting more of Jess’s chapters instead. In fact, you could probably completely remove several of the side character chapters without impacting the overall plot much, but it would speed up the book and make it more focused on Jess and the fire. I know it probably sounds like I hated the subplots (I didn’t), but they made the book less unique, they slowed it down, and they took focus away from Jess and her troubles, which was what hooked me to begin with. Add to that, when we do figure out everything about Jess, the ghost, and the fire, I ended up pretty disappointed. Also, I mentioned that there is some fantastical element to the novel. This element is not clearly explained in the way it works, its limitations, and who can use it and why. Some readers won’t care that it isn’t clearly defined, but I know other readers who are more strict about magic systems. I am usually OK with a lot being open to interpretation, but even I wanted a clearer explanation of what was going on. Because things were a little muddled in how they were described, the scenes taking place on other planes of existence felt cheesy and unrealistic, which clashed with how dark and serious the “real world” issues had become by the ending.

I had high hopes for this one, but it was a slight disappointment. M. R. Carey can certainly write, and he has some very unique plot ideas. I am still interested to read more from this author, but this novel wasn’t quite as strong. I gave it a three out of five stars.

 

Heart-Shaped Box

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If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you know that I have become a fan of Joe Hill’s novels. I read and loved NOS4A2, and I read and liked Horns by him. So, I decided to go back to his first novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it as much as the previous two I have read.

Judas Coyne, an old rock/metal star, buys a ghost online. Judas does not quite believe in the ghost he is supposedly buying, but it is in his image to like Gothic or macabre items. Plus, he’s rich and a bit bored. He soon finds out that the ghost is indeed real. In fact, it has ties to Judas’s past and wants revenge. It is out to kill him and everyone he loves, and the seller has a no returns policy.

So far, I would not really call any of Joe Hill’s books scary. His novels tend to be a mix of horror elements, cool characters, an adventurous plot, and a dash of a romantic subplot. I would say that all three of his novels that I have read contain these themes. Personally, I like this mixture, but if you’re looking for a real scare, I would look elsewhere. Since this was Hill’s first novel, it simply isn’t as polished as his others. The plot itself is interesting, but it feels thin compared to his newer works. The best part of the plot (and the scariest parts) took place in Judas’s home in the first half of the novel. After that, the plot dragged a bit with a lengthy road trip. The ending felt a little sudden and chaotic after the relatively dull middle section. Hill’s novels tend to have some paranormal/magical elements in them, but in his later works he does a better job of describing the images and explaining the paranormal logic or magic behind these scenes.

Character-wise, I did not connect with Judas and his friends. Judas felt like the stereotypical aging rocker who has a much younger groupie girlfriend. Marybeth, his girlfriend, felt like a slightly more original character, but only slightly. The best characters in my opinion were Judas’s dogs and Marybeth’s grandma. I just love a badass no-nonsense grandma character.

I was slightly disappointed in Heart-Shaped Box, but only because Joe Hill’s newer works are just better. He’s definitely improved as an author, and I would still highly recommend NOS4A2. I will definitely be reading The Fireman and Strange Weather by him in the future.

 

Unbury Carol

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I loved Malerman’s Bird Box, and I was very excited for his new book. However, I just don’t think this was my cup of tea.

Carol Evers is beloved and wealthy woman in her small western town, but she has a secret. Sometimes she goes into a death-like coma, but she always wakes up a few days later. Fearful of what others might think or do to her, Carol only shares her secret with her husband and close friend. After her friend dies, Carol suddenly goes into another coma. Now that he is the only one who knows Carol is alive, her husband arranges for her funeral. He plans to bury Carol while she is comatose, and take all of her money. However, there is one more person who knows about Carol’s condition, but he is a famous outlaw that loved Carol 20 years ago. Can he get to Carol in time? Does he still care enough to save her?

I truly wanted to love this book. It sounded very interesting and unique, but the characters were bland and hard to connect with. The plot was basically the wild west damsel in distress trope with a few supernatural elements thrown in. Some things just weren’t explained well. It felt like I was thrust into a story that had already been going on for a few chapters. Suddenly I am supposed to care about all these characters when one is dead in chapter one and another goes into a coma soon after? For the most part, I was just bored. I think many people will love this novel, and I do tip my hat to Malerman’s imagination, but it just was not the right book for me. Despite all this, I would not be opposed to trying it again at a later date.

Unbury Carol is expected to be published April, 2018.
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.