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Something Like a Review – The Fireman by Joe Hill

The second I saw the promo for this release, I marked it down on my calendar. Fate intervened on my behalf and prevented me from buying it right away.

An ominous start for Something Like a Review from an author I’ve raved over in the past, isn’t it?

Patience, grasshopper.

My local indie bookstore hosted a release party for an author friend’s book, Daughters of Shadow and Blood, Book 2: Elena. While wandering the stacks, to what should my wondering eyes should appear, but an autographed copy! After spending roughly two hours cradling this substantial book to my chest, I knew I’d need to invest in a digital copy to prevent damage to my preciousssss.

Ahem.

Sorry.

Draco Incendia Trycophyton, aka Dragonscale, infects people all over the world. People spontaneously combust and spark wildfires decimating the land. The infected are feared, hunted and killed to contain the infection and prevent fires. But not everyone falls prey to the spore. Some learn to coexist with the fungus and band together to survive, living in harmony with the spore and each other.

This is a rich, complex story that has lingered in my mind long after finishing the book. The lush detail evoked a vibrant, post-apocalyptic world, but in the end, it wasn’t the spore I feared. Harper flees the world she has known after she’s infected and finds a group of survivors hiding out in the New Hampsire woods. Under the care of a mad leader, the group evolves into an zealous, persecutory evangelical knot more terrifying than the prospect of burning to death.

There’s a foreboding sparked by the realistic, plausible and almost prophetic example of the camp inhabitants and leaders and speaking to the larger problems in the real world lurking under the plot lines. Not only does it give the story depth, it creates a lasting impression of disturbance and unease.

And though expertly done, there were a few quirks that irritated me throughout the novel. Pop culture references are a pet peeve of mine because I think they can take away from the timelessness of the story. In this novel, there were a lot and covered everything from classic rock to Mary Poppins and Harry Potter. A few were great and integral to the character, but overall, I could have done with less and been happy. The other quirk I hadn’t noticed in his previous books was the habit of including little “throwaway” comments. These usually appeared at the end of chapters, and while they could be considered overt foreshadowing, they felt spoilery and frustrating. Omitting them altogether would punch up the tension, but that’s my opinion.”

Like NOS4A2, there were a couple of Easter eggs throwing back to King’s universe (like a character’s behavior leading to the comment that she had “forgotten the face of [her] father.” Even as hill builds a solid reputation for himself and his work apart from the spectre of his dad’s work, these little homages make my inner (and outer) fangirl squee with delight.

Overall, I loved this book and I’m glad I’ve read so few of Hill’s books that I still have plenty to get me through until the next one.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Definitely, especially to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. You’ll find your own reasons, I’m sure, but from this writer, my purchase is motivated by the need to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

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Something Like a Review – NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

 The first book I read by Joe Hill was 20th Century Ghosts, and that was before I knew anything about him. I was so smitten with his work that I looked for more. To my surprise (at the time), he had a new book coming out – NOS4A2. Since I’m kind of a nerd for reading license plates, I was stoked over the vampire reference. Get it? Stoked? *rimshot*

On release day, I bought the hardback – an expense only reserved for my most favorite authors – yet I still didn’t have time to sit down and read it. Since I had audible credits, I snagged it, downloaded it and listened.

Hill tells a fantastic story, weaving character and world-building detail with enviable skill. Victoria’s ability to find things leads her to a magical passage to take her wherever she wants to go. But even her benign magic goes wrong, leading her to Richard Manx and his ’38 Rolls Royce Wraith. Victoria escapes Manx’s attempt to  whisk her away to “Christmas Land.” Years later, it’s her son in Manx’s magical car, and she has to get him back before he’s changed forever.

One would think that a place called “Christmas Land” is a place any child would want to go, but Hill makes even the most appealing place a horrifying prospect. While you feel the child you were celebrating the prospect, the adult recoils as the story unfolds. It’s chilling, and not just because of the snow.

As if losing myself in a great story by a great author wasn’t enough, imagine my delight in discovering Stephen King universe Easter eggs. This was the story that secured future shelf space for more Hill books and recruited me to his legion of fans.

Though comparison to King is unnecessary (and a bit unfair), the biggest compliment I can pay Hill is that he’s taken up King’s mantle as a Master of Horror, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Absolutely. I want to go back and read the dead tree version and see what I missed!

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. Just yes.

Something Like a Review – Year One: A Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter Collection by John G. Hartness

Disclosure: I know the author personally. I purchased this book with my own Audible credit because I wanted to read it. This post is simply a reflection of my desire to share a piece of fiction I enjoyed from an author I choose to support.

One of the benefits of connecting with local writers is getting an opportunity to meet interesting people and discover stories you might not have found otherwise. Buying books becomes an act of shopping small, and when you find something you love, sharing that love promotes and supports people you know and care about.

I discovered John’s work after encountering him at ConCarolinas. And, yes, “encounter” is the correct verb. Though I was slow on the uptake, I did become hooked on Bubba and was curious about his other writing. His pitch for Quincy Harker snared me: “Mina Murray and Jonathan Harker had a son. They named him Quincy. His guardian angel calls him Q. Dracula calls him nephew.” Given my love for things horror, and his sense of humor, I was sold.

If I could imagine a figure from classic horror coming to live in Charlotte, North Carolina, Quincy and Uncle Luke (aka – Dracula, to the rest of us) would be the perfect fit. There’s plenty of culture to suit an old vamp like Luke, and enough to keep Quincy and Charlotte-Mecklenberg police officer Rebecca Flynn busy for a long time. And that’s before we through Federal Agent John Smith into the mix.

I already knew Hartness is adept at blending horror and humor, but in the Quincy Harker novellas, he skillfully tilts the scale away from the humor while still retaining snark to keep you snorting through Quincy’s one-liners. This series is darker, and deeper than the Bubba stories, but showcases John’s potential for range. His writing style is cinematic, and breathes life into the mundane that has me looking over my shoulder whenever I go through parts of Charlotte that show up in the novellas. This is one of those series that you can just imagine Netflix or Amazon Studios picking this up and making a series out of it. So, how ’bout it, guys? #HarkerTV Hells, yeah.

In the end, this is a series that should not be missed. The voice talent on the audiobook does a great job with all the characters, but especially Quincy. He’s the voice I hear in my head when I imagine this badass Demon Hunter. You can buy the individual novellas, but really, you’re going to want them all, so go for the compendium. It’s worth every cent.

 

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Yes, especially as the other novellas/collections are released.

Dead-tree worthy?: Probably, but I liked the audiobook so much that I probably will stick with that.

Something Like a Review – Z-Burbia by Jake Bible

The longer this year’s political campaign runs, the more I’m hoping for the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.

Then again, looking at some of the candidates, I’m not sure it hasn’t already happened. But this isn’t Something Like a Review about something as undead as the American political process. Instead, it’s about a charming gem of a book I discovered somewhat by accident. Let’s start over, shall we?

I am a little late to the zombie party. They seem to be everywhere. While I was in school, my stress dreams were always about the zombie apocalypse. Oddly, not in being afraid of it, but being in the midst of it and the weariness of having to endure it AGAIN. (Weird, right?) Then, when I could claim time as my own, I got into the cultural phenomenon known as The Walking Dead. Heavily. As in binged-five-seasons-in-4-days heavily. Then I remembered that I heard about (and wish-listed) a series at The World Horror Convention in 2015 by Jake Bible, and I decided to seek it out. I may be late, but the zombie party is still raging, and I’m glad that I found Z-Burbia.

With all the little suburban developments popping up like mushrooms, can you really imagine life post-zombie without imagining those clusters of cookie-cutter houses? Or of what survival will look like among the disparate families that inhabit them? Everyone knows that the HOA is the biggest pain point of living in these little suburbs…now just imagine if it survived the apocalypse too.

Gives you chills, doesn’t it?

Jake Bible does a fantastic job of creating a post-apocalyptic world rife with the challenges you expect – hungry zombies, resource shortages, and human threats – and sets it in the Blue Ridge mountains just outside Asheville, NC. And if zombies and cannibals weren’t enough to worry about it, he threads in the complications and frustrations of dealing with the HOA president and her cadre. Jason “Jace” Stanford (a.k.a. “Long Pork”) is one of the most delightfully sarcastic and funny characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Bible weaves Jace’s unique perspective through the horrors and gore of living through the zombie apocalypse in a way that kind of makes you want to hang out with him. If it weren’t for all the zombies and cannibals, that is.

This book was a lot of fun. I listened to it as an audiobook, which I think is the perfect way of enjoying it. Jace’s conversational asides draw you in, and the voice talent does a great job of presenting his sense of humor in a way that literally makes you laugh out loud. I very much look forward to reading/listening to the next books in this series.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com, or order an autographed copy from Malaprops (Indie) Bookstore in Asheville, NC

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Very possibly, but there are 6 novels in this series, so not any time soon. 🙂 New Jace is too enticing to revisit past Jace.

Dead-tree worthy?: Possibly, but I think I will probably stick with the audiobook. The conversational tone of this book lends itself so well to the medium, and the voice talent was great. The only drawback is that I giggled at otherwise inappropriate times, like walking down the aisle in the grocery store.

Something Like a Review – Scattered, Smothered, and Chunked: Bubba the Monster Hunter, Season 1 by John G. Hartness

February 11, 2016 1 comment

Disclosure: I know the author personally, but I don’t hold that against him when it comes to reading his work. 🙂 Even though I do know this guy, I purchased this book with my own Audible credit because I wanted to read it. This post is simply a reflection of my desire to share a piece of fiction I enjoyed from an author I choose to support.

Even with all that out of the way, I still have a bit of a story to tell. I am not a new-comer to the Bubba legacy. In fact, I learned about Bubba the Monster Hunter several years ago at ConCarolinas. John is one hell of a panelist and storyteller and hearing him talk about this “new” series was enough to get me out to author alley to buy an author-graphed copy. 

That was…something like 2012 or 2013.

Like I said, not a new-comer.

But, school happened, and time evaporated. I still attended cons and every time I caught him on (or crashing) a panel, his comments about his Bubba stories intrigued the hell out of me. When he announced the collection’s release as an audiobook, I finally sprang at it because I knew I could work that in to my crazy schedule. Until my iPod died. But that’s another story. Fast forward to last month, and finally, FINALLY, the stars aligned properly. I queued up Bubba and his redneck hijinks, and let me tell you, it was worth every sarcastic, irreverent second.

There is a fine balance between using evocative language and detail to bring a place to life for a person who’s never visited it and creating hyperbolic clichés. While I don’t consider myself an initiate in the Southern Gothic tradition, or even the Southern culture, living here for 15 years has introduced me to where the line is and how easy it is to lumber over it, even with the best of intentions. Hartness, however, uses a deft hand with language and detail to bring that humid Southern air into his stories without actually suffocating readers with farcical descriptions. That’s not to say that this shit isn’t funny as hell – or that Bubba doesn’t have “authentic” redneck qualities and characteristics. I giggled my ass off throughout the collection of stories. Bubba has a distinctive voice and personality all his own and is unabashedly, unapologetically a Georgia good ol’ boy, albeit with a few upgrades and refinements. Not to mention a serious calling to kick monster ass. His friends and family, like Skeeter and Agent Amy, are equally vibrant and create a story world you just want to hang around in, even if it means occasionally getting covered in exploded glittery fairy guts.

Hartness takes on some of the best monsters around – zombies, vampires, goblins, werewolves and even Bigfoot – and manages to bring something new to each. Then, he takes on some of the less expected evils – like cupids. You never get bored with a re-hash of a monster trope on Bubba’s watch because they’re all a little different than what you expect. Funnier, too.

One of the great things about this collection is that it is a collection. All of the stories in this book are both stand-alone novellas (available digitally), yet create an on-going narrative when read together. There are throwback references to other stories, especially as the characters develop a history with each other and the reader, yet each story stands on its own merit. Since Hartness releases stories about once a month or so, readers get a quick fix instead of having to wait for the bundled collection. The one minor drawback to this approach, however, is some of the repeated details that you encounter – like Bubba’s description, or being re-introduced to Bertha, his .50 Desert Eagle pistol. Taken as individual stories, these details are entertaining and helpful to re-orient the reader, but as a collection, even a different presentation in each story made me itch to get past it so I could get to the good stuff.

Since I listened to this as an audiobook, I had the added dimension of the voice talent to layer on top of already fun and engaging stories. By far, this collection hosts one of my favorite combinations between story and voice talent. The combination of Bubba and his cast of cohorts and rivals and the way Andrew McFerrin brings it to life is perfect. The only frustration I have is that I have to wait for another audiobook collection. It’s a first world problem, I know, especially since all the novellas are available digitally on John’s site and on Amazon, but I think I’m hooked to the auditory experience for this one. I’ll read the novellas to get me through, but I’ll definitely grab the next audiobook collection.

In a way, I’m glad I waited to get the audiobook as my first Bubba experience, but now that I know what I’ve been missing, I’m eager to get caught up and stay that way. I’m proud to say I’m a Bubba fan.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available digitally on John’s site, and in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Yes. Definitely.

Dead-tree worthy?: I have been staring at this question for a long time and wrestling with an answer. It’s not a reflection on the work, but on a question of preference. Can I imagine pulling this book off my shelf just to re-read the cupid story? Yup. But then again, it wouldn’t have that same…ambiance of the voice talent. I think the best answer I can give is YMMV. I think I’d prefer to keep this as an audiobook because my introduction to Bubba was an experience, and I’d hate to lose a part of that for the sake of shelf convenience.

Why Horror?

I used to get asked this a lot, especially when I was younger. At the age when a lot of my peers were running after soccer balls, riding bikes and starting to notice boys enough to figure out they weren’t as icky as they thought, I discovered an irrepressible love for horror. I loved Stephen King (natch), but I also loved the slash-n-splash horror novels my mom let me buy in bag fulls from the used bookstore and Goodwill. I devoured them one after another like the mental cotton candy they were. Though I probably couldn’t have articulated it, many of them were poorly written, and I knew it but I didn’t care. Most of them I dropped back in the bag to resell in exchange for more, but I kept the ones I really loved. I almost always had one with me, usually with some embossed weapon/torture device emblazoned on the front, and usually dripping with embossed blood. They had corny names in flashy fonts and laughable catch phrases, but that only enticed me to pick them up and see what was between their worn covers.

I had an English teacher in high school that both terrified me and inspired a healthy dose of hero worship that told me, quite bluntly, that I read crap. I only argued with her about Stephen King, but she did have a point. I read a LOT of bad fiction, especially when I was younger. When people got curious enough to ask, or paid enough attention to notice what I was reading, their questions were usually accompanied by a look of utter confusion or even disgust. “Why are you reading that?” was the most common. My response was usually something like a shrug, a smirk and a glib “why not?” I probably didn’t have the maturity or understanding to answer at the time, but I think I do now.

The answer struck me when I was watching the coverage of the Boston marathon explosions. I watched as much of it as I could stand, which was probably more than I should have. Growing up in New England, I was familiar with WCVB and I streamed their coverage. I perused reddit and, against my better judgment, looked at way too many pictures that were nauseatingly graphic. (Note to self: r/WTF means it when they use the NSFL tags.) When I couldn’t take any more, I turned on the TV, opting for The Chernobyl Diaries. After a minute, I had to chuckle. I’d swapped one horror for another. I’d gone from explosions and maiming to…well, maiming and torture. Yet there was a difference, I realized, and a pretty significant one.

Horror has been a staple for me as long as I can remember. I liked being scared by monsters in movies and books. I remember sneaking in as much of a horror movie as I could stand when I was home alone babysitting my sister or other kids after they’d gone to bed. I rarely made it all the way through, but I loved the rush and running around turning all the lights on afterwards. I imagined noises in the darkness outside caused by the scary guy in the mask looking in on me. (I did eventually stop watching the kind that targeted babysitters when I realized I’d have a hell of a time protecting the kids I was supposed to be keeping alive. Well, at least until I stopped babysitting.) The mind games in horror movies are a big fascination for me, both those played on the actors and those on the viewers. I love scary movies so much, I watch them at times that most people find totally inappropriate, like alone in the dark before bed or when I’m wrapping Christmas presents (movies like Friday the 13th are totally Christmas movies – they have a TON of red and green…). But why? And why after a tragedy like watching innocent people lose limbs for the crime of spectating at an athletic event? And the more I thought, the closer I got to an answer.

When there’s a tragedy, especially one that was intentionally perpetrated on innocent people, we all struggle to wrap our heads around it. The incessant news coverage, the (irresponsibly reported) speculation that becomes (temporary) “fact,” and the way we cling to social media to talk about it and try to make it into something that makes sense are all just symptoms of our NEED to understand. We NEED to put our world in perspective, in terms we can feel comfortable with and in a way that re-empowers us so we don’t feel helpless to protect loved ones or feel safe again. In the beginning, when it’s not clear who orchestrates and carries out events like 9-11, Sandy Hook, and the most recent explosions in Boston, we all feel insecure. We all panic a little inside and wonder “where will they strike next?” or think about how “it could have been here…it could have been me…” We feel guilty for being relieved that it WASN’T us, or our loved ones, because then it feels like we’re saying we’re glad it was someone else. We get angry because our power and security are stripped from us as individuals, as protectors of others, as a sovereign people in a nation relatively untouched by the acts of terrorism others regularly experience. We’re reminded of our vulnerabilities, and we’re reminded that we’re not as untouchable as we think. We get pissed off because we get scared. Not knowing who the bad guy is makes us point fingers and act paranoid senselessly. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, we had concentration camps of our own because of the way Japanese-Americans looked; actual involvement in the event or connections to them meant nothing. After 9-11, there was a LOT of anti-Muslim sentiment and some acts of violence and hate, simply because we connected them to the event. In Boston, a plane was grounded because two people on it spoke Arabic – before anyone had any idea who caused the explosions or why. Granted, I’m taking this one with a grain of salt since it is Fox “News,” but this shows how bad we want a bad guy to blame, to figure out who to pin the responsibility on, and give the monster a face we can recognize when it gets close enough to threaten our own.

In horror, it’s never that difficult. The bad guy is the one with the machete, the chainsaw, or the voice on the other end of the line. It’s the big guy with the knife blades for fingers who torments our dreams, or the creepy ass clown laughing in the storm drain. Even when the evil m-fer is invisible, we know what a ghost is and we figure out ways of fighting it. If the big bad is a mental manipulator who breaks into minds, we kid ourselves and swear we’d be stronger, that we’d show common sense where the character did not. We say we’d know better than to run upstairs when the bastard does get in the house.

In horror, fear is easy, accessible and when it gets too much, we can walk away. It puts our every day fears into perspective. “I may not make it until payday with that much in my checking account, but at least I’m not trapped in a car that won’t start with a rabid dog waiting to eat me outside.” We even think we learn survival skills, but really, we start to learn about people and how our fucked up little brains work. Every horror story is an exercise in abnormal psychology and that can help us understand the crazy bitch who yelled at us at work, or teach us to give the one with the shining eyes a wider berth because who KNOWS what that guy could really be capable of…

Even when the book ends in that unsettling way I have such a love-hate relationship with, the scary stuff is always resolved, usually by the one with the guts to stand up, say “fuck this,” and fight back. It teaches us that life, however twisted, is worth living and worth fighting to preserve. It teaches that no matter how dark, how impossible the struggle, and how slim the odds of surviving, it is possible in the end. The resolution might not one I like, but it lets me put the fear to bed. It may be something I carry with me (like World War Z, or Hell House, or One Second After, or Full Dark, No Stars, or The Stand…), but I understand it. I can dissect why the big bad scared me, and even if I didn’t learn anything, I saw the face of the monster and was able to recognize it for what it was. You can’t always do that with reality. Even when there’s someone to blame, even when there is someone to take ownership of the horrors in the world, we still don’t understand or have the answer to the most important question – “why?”

Fiction is worth more than the words on the page and it’s more than a way to spend a rainy afternoon curled up on the couch or to fill hours basking in the sun on the beach. Horror is more than the low-brow entertainment or cheap thrills some elitists claim it to be. Humans are story telling creatures because it’s the way we make sense of the world around us. As scary as the world’s getting, horror is something that will get some of us through, because it reveals the monsters, teaches us “why,” and reminds us that being brave and fighting back is the only way to survive the night.

Something Like a Review – Song of Kali by Dan Simmons

January 20, 2013 Leave a comment

I could mince words, but it would be a waste of both of our time. Succinctly put, this was a very disturbing, disorienting book. It was recommended reading somewhere along the line, but the source escapes me. I was intrigued by its rave reviews and the assurance that it was brilliant and terrifying.

A few disclaimers  –

* I’ve read a lot of horror (some of it REALLY bad).
* I’ve read a lot of captivating stories (some that make me want to quit writing because I feel as though I’ll never measure up).
* I’m picky about what I like reading and getting pickier.
* I am not a parent.

Simmons has crafted an incredible story and it twists and winds it way from normalcy to chaos and confusion. It feels like a nightmare tangled in the oppressive heat and chaos of the subcontinent. What got me most was the disorientation and the fear of the idea of being in a country where I couldn’t function well (not speaking the language, not understanding the culture) and being caught up in overwhelming trouble. This was the scariest part for me, however I understand where the stomach-curdling terror comes in for a large part of the population. I will not, however, give in to the temptation to spoil the story. This twist was something I had vague premonition of , but the resolution of it was not something I expected and I don’t want to ruin it. My caveat is that this will freak out parents. Bad. Never-gonna-let-the-kid-out-of-the-house freaked out. I would say that the freak out is totally worth it for the quality of the writing and the quality of the story, but YMMV.

I understand why this was an immediate sensation, and why this won the World Fantasy Award the minute it was published. I can’t imagine how hard a sophomore effort would be after that kind of splash into the shark tank. I will definitely be looking for more of Simmons’s work after reading this.

Medium: Dead-tree version from a long gone brick & mortar. Still makes me sad. I almost left the sticker on it for the sake of nostalgia.

Other: Multiple versions also available from Amazon.com.

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: Most likely, even if only to figure out how the hell he did it.

Dead-tree worthy?: Depends on the reader and what they’re after. A good scare and one to revisit? Sure. Looking to ride the crest of one big bad scare and then get it out of the house so it can’t be revisited? Probably not. I have to say this is one I can’t make a sweeping judgment on. Sample it first, or get it from the library and see how deep the hook goes. Beware, though. The gotcha is close to the end of the story…after you think “this can’t get any trippier…”

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