Horns

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After reading and loving N0S4A2 by Joe Hill, I had to check out more of his work. Horns, his second novel, is a fun and interesting ride, but it is not quite as polished as N0S4A2.

Ignatius Perrish and Merrin Williams were an inseparable high school couple. When their adult lives threatened to distance them, Merrin was mysteriously murdered. Ig became the prime suspect, but after the crime scene evidence was destroyed, Ig could not be cleared or convicted. However, his small town and family believe the worst of him. A year after Merrin’s murder, Ig is a social outcast. His future plans are a distant memory, he drinks too much, and is a depressed mess. When the anniversary of Merrin’s death approaches, Ig goes on a particularly bad night of drinking and doing terrible things. He wakes up with a hangover… and horns. Ig’s devilish new powers may help him reclaim his life, or at least help him solve Merrin’s murder.

You might be wondering how well supernatural devil horns and a murder mystery could work together in a coherent plot line. I wondered the same thing. This book requires a fair bit of suspension of reality, but it is a fun ride. I think the plot works, but others have said that they felt like the devil incarnate thing and the murder mystery should have been two separate novels. The book is littered with Biblical references that help fit things together, but even I feel a slight disconnect between the two. Something about the pacing felt slightly off too. The first half of the novel reads a little slow with many flashbacks and character descriptions, but it creates many questions that need answers. Once everything was established I had a hard time putting the book down.

What I like the most about the two Joe Hill books I have read is that plays with perspective. Different people interpret statements in wildly different ways. Someone might see innuendo in a perfectly innocent text. Someone else might take something as an insult when no harm was meant. Hill seems to enjoy playing with the characters’ perspectives of events, and I love that. In Horns the theme also seems to be that you can never really know a person because everyone has their secrets. However, I do think that Hill’s characterization was a bit weaker in Horns than in N0S4A2. I loved the characters in N0S4A2. I missed them when the book ended, and I still think about them often. I just can’t say the same for anyone (except maybe Ig, the main character, but he is no Vic McQueen) in Horns.

My conclusion: Joe Hill just writes fun books. He takes a crazy, horrific concept and mashes it together with a mystery/thriller plot. Somehow it works. Horns‘ plot and characters were a bit less polished than his later work, but I think it is still a good read. I just bought Heart-Shaped Box, so I will likely read that before I continue on with his recent work.

N0S4A2

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This book was just plain fun. It has been a while since I enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this one. I started N0S4A2 when I was on a long drive with my boyfriend. I will admit that we both laughed at how crazy and unrelated everything in the novel seemed to be. A little girl can ride her bike across an imaginary bridge and find lost objects, there’s a vampire-like kidnapper on the loose, and there’s a seemingly psychic librarian who is a Scrabble whiz. What the hell is going on? Stick with it, my friends. After about a hundred pages I was totally hooked.

Because this novel is a bit thriller-y I don’t want to give much away. The little girl with the magical bike is Victoria McQueen, and she is our protagonist. She’s also a badass. She is as imperfect as it gets, but I grew to love her so much. In fact, all the main characters were written well. I want to be Vic, I fell in love with Lou, and I want Maggie as my best friend. The villains were sufficiently creepy too. Also, it hasn’t happened for a while (probably since reading the Song of Ice and Fire series), but I genuinely feared for my favorite characters. I had a feeling that this wasn’t the kind of book that would have a perfectly happy ending, and I was right. Joe Hill isn’t afraid to kill off his carefully crafted characters.

As I mentioned earlier, the plot sounds a little wacky, especially if you were expecting a traditional thriller. I would classify this as surreal horror, personally. Whatever you want to call it, it works. Of course the heroes get a little lucky, and of course the villains aren’t always doing the best thing to stop our heroes. Still, there isn’t anything that is particularly unbelievable. There is a fair amount of gore, but the novel did not scare me (and I consider myself a chicken). My main feelings while reading were anxiety for my favorite characters and curiosity about what happens next. The novel is very atmospheric, and it does the creepy Christmas theme extremely well.

I do feel a little bad that I haven’t read a Stephen King novel yet, but I just read a book by his son. Oh well! I do have 11/22/63 on my shelf…

 

Slade House

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I was in the mood for something creepy and Slade House has been hiding on my shelves for a while. It’s a small book, it can hide easily. I also heard it was related to David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, but after a quick Google I guess it doesn’t matter what order you read them in. And yes, I will read The Bone Clocks and probably anything else of his I can find because I really liked what Slade House had to offer.

Down Slade Alley is Slade House. It has been there for many years and yet it only appears every nine years. Guests come in, but they do not come out. Slade House is gripping. I had trouble putting it down because I wanted to know who would survive or if anyone would and I desperately wanted to know what the hell was going on. Not only is this a magical horror novel full of mysteries, twists, and turns, but it is also filled with unreliable characters. The narrators have drug problems, self-esteem issues, or simply aren’t who they appear to be. On top of all the reality bending we can’t really trust the characters we area adventuring around with. The book has chapters that take place every nine years and in each year’s section we are reading from the perspective of someone who does not have an entirely trustworthy world view. These characters are believable even if their perspective isn’t.

I hesitate to say much more, but I would highly recommend this novel. The only thing stopping it from being a 5-star read for me was that I wished the magic and causation for certain happenings was explained a touch more. Maybe I will see more if I read The Bone Clocks?

Bird Box

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Something is out there and when you see it you go violently insane. What is this thing… or things? Is it actually a being? A sickness of the mind? It’s hard to say when no one has lived to tell what happened to them. The world has effectively ended. Society as we know has come to a screeching halt as people all over the world start killing themselves and others after they see something. Malorie, newly pregnant and in disbelief about what is happening, finds herself seeking refuge with strangers and learning to navigate a world without sight.

I devoured this book. It is short, but it went so fast because I couldn’t put it down. I told myself, “just one more page,” but that one page turned into a few more chapters. As with many thrillers, the characters aren’t what keeps the pages turning. You want to know what happened or who did it. You want answers. That’s very much the case with this novel. Malorie as a character is merely a vehicle to take us through the plot. She and the other characters aren’t anything particularly special and that is one of the main reasons this wasn’t a five-star read for me.

Honestly, I thought the plot was excellent. The idea of not being able to look outside your windows or only being able to go outside with a blindfold on is scary. How do you get food? How do you raise children? How does humanity survive? All this and the “bad guy(s)” can’t even be seen! What do they look like? What do they/it want? Where did they/it/whatever come from? So many questions! And… so few answers. It’s not a spoiler to say that every question does not get an answer, but I really, really wanted to know everything. But, if every question came with an answer I don’t think this book would have been half as good.

Want a thriller that is open-ended and is a fun, fast ride? Read this.

The String Diaries

TSDbySLJIt’s dark, they’re in the middle of nowhere, and Hannah’s husband is bleeding to death in the passenger’s seat. She can’t risk taking him to a hospital and she can’t stop running because someone is after them. Hannah doesn’t even know who is after them though. It could even be her own father… because this someone has the ability to completely change his appearance. Going into this novel I had heard mixed things, but it sounded so interesting that I had to give it a chance. A fantasy thriller? Sign me up! Although I enjoyed this novel it has some problems that lowered my over all opinion of it.

This book is about 400 pages, but it feels like it needs to be longer. There is so much going on and by the end I still had so many questions. Many things were not fleshed out or explained enough. There’s some kind of magic that I would have liked to know more about. There is a race who can use said magic and though there are hints about their society and culture… I need to know more for them to feel realistic. There’s also some kind of secret society. But again, I want and need to know more! There is a sequel to this novel so hopefully it goes into more detail about all of these things. I just feel like this first novel could have done a little more to flesh the world out.

Without going into any spoilers I also have to mention the characters. They fell a little flat for me too. Not only because of their personalities (side note- but how the hell did Hannah’s kid stay asleep through everything that happened at the start and not freak out?), but in my opinion they made some dumb choices. Sometimes in mystery/thriller/horror novels (and movies) the characters go off alone or do something you just know is a bad idea. That annoys me, doesn’t feel realistic, and those moments appear in this novel. I was yelling at the pages… and I saw many events and twists coming.

I would not call this a thriller. It has moments of tension, but I don’t believe they are enough to call this a thriller through and through. It is an interesting fantasy novel with some mystery and action mixed in. The ending was abrupt and a little odd, but I am interested in seeing what the sequel has to offer. Hopefully it can answer many of my questions and breathe more life into this world.

The Prisoner of Hell Gate: A Novel

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Four grad students and their young professor are lounging on their boat around North Brother Island. The island houses the remains of the hospital that treated the typhoid outbreak of the early 1900’s. It is also where “Typhoid Mary” was kept for many years until her death. But what if she was still alive? Boredom and curiosity lead the students to the island and they end up stranded there, but not entirely alone.

I like the idea here. The island and Mary’s story are surrounded by mystery and creepiness. There’s a lot you can do with such a topic, but I don’t feel like this idea went anywhere. It is so predictable and not really scary. The creep factor is low. Mary isn’t really lurking in the shadows or a mysterious presence. Spoiler I guess, but she just comes out and basically greets everyone. Horror tropes ensue, but they are clumsy and filled with plot holes. Why did a character go off alone? Why did they conveniently set themselves up for being killed? Why did take a bunch of drugs? Why did they eat questionable food? The list goes on and on and on. There’s some paranormal subplot which doesn’t seem to fit. Is Mary real? She’d be over 100 if so and there’s no real explanation about how that is possible either. It is possible that the whole ordeal is a drug trip gone wrong and one character goes crazy, but that’s cheap.

Then there’s the characters. They are so incredibly shallow. They are just walking stereotypes that serve as check-boxes for diversities sake. There’s the misogynistic sort of hot professor guy, a Korean who is gay (because announcing his sexuality really matters apparently), a Jewish guy (again, why does that matter) who I only remember because him pushing his glasses up with his pinky is his only defining characteristic, a girl with a disability and a Spanish accent who constantly messes up English sayings. It seems like the author means this to be funny, but it comes off a little insulting. The final character is Karalee Soper, the great-granddaughter to the man who caught Typhoid Mary. Beyond that Karalee is a photographer with an abusive history. I’m all for diversity in books, but it feels so forced here.

So, pass on this one. Not scary, flat as paper characters, trope-filled plot. The most interesting thing is the historical facts and events sprinkled within, but do yourself a favor and read a nonfiction book for that.

*I received this for free from a Goodreads giveaway.

Painted Monsters and Other Strange Beasts

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When it comes to most horror I’m a giant chicken, but I do love Poe and Lovecraft. Their stories give me chills, but don’t leave me wide-eyed and awake at night. That and I can generally handle scary books better than scary movies. I took a little gamble on Orrin Grey’s Painted Monsters because it could have been the kind of thing that makes me sleep with the light on. Luckily it wasn’t.

What it is is a collection of great horror stories. As the title implies, many stories feature some kind of beast or monster(s), but there is also a great amount of suspense and imagery. I love Grey’s writing style. It is quick, witty, atmospheric, and cinematic. Not only is he good at setting up edge-of-your-seat plots and spine tingling scenes but he has talent at putting together good characters. I was surprised at the diverse cast of characters and how well put together many of them were.

Grey is very obviously well acquainted with all kinds of horror media. This collection is full of book and movie references. I’m not even close to being on his level so many of the references went over my head. However, this did not hurt my enjoyment of the stories too much. There were a few times where I felt a little left out or the hat tipping to other work got a little too distracting, but if you’re clueless like me you’ll probably still enjoy the stories and if you’re a big horror buff (particularly the classic stuff) you’ll be in heaven.

Three Gothic Novels

TGNbyCBB.png Though I usually do not review books I read for class I actually liked this one. (And I haven’t done much pleasure reading lately.) This specific edition includes three early American Gothic novels: Wieland, Arthur Mervyn, and Edgar Huntly. I enjoyed Wieland the most while the others were just OK. These novels and this author are the “father figures” of Gothic literature in America which is pretty interesting in itself.

Wieland is based in part on a real life mass murder. In the novel the character Wieland’s religious fanaticism, arguable mental instability, and influence from another character leads him to commit a terrible crime. The story employs some interesting and rather odd things like ventriloquism to tell the tale. At times the narration is melodramatic and rambling, but in my opinion that is to be expected from literature at this time. Though Wieland isn’t on the level of Poe it is an interesting look at Gothic literature’s roots.

The other two novels are much less creepy and interesting. At times their plots drag on and sometimes the amount of coincidence to drive the story is a bit too much for me. I skim read some parts of them because of this.