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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 – Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

January 19, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s no surprise that when this book came out, I snapped it up at my local brick and mortar (albeit big chain) book store. I wanted it. Had to have it, but I was skeptical. I felt content that Danny Torrence got his deserved “happily ever after” when the smoke cleared and the therapy was concluded and perhaps after his hefty share of mood-altering drugs. I mean, it would be only fair after you lived through that kind of hell in the snowy Colorado mountains, right?

I bought it even though I was trepidatious, and I didn’t really have any concrete expectations of the book, which is probably a good thing. I’d read little bits and pieces of information about it, and it was enough that I thought I’d be able to engross myself in it while on vacation.

I’m glad I didn’t have any expectations; they probably would not have been met.

Doctor Sleep was not a bad book. It had some really interesting angles and elements, but it just didn’t…work for me as a sequel to the life of Danny Torrence. Even with his past, I feel like this could easily have been another character with the same “shining” he had and the story would not have suffered from the change.  The only thing I can think that might have changed my perception of the book was how long ago I read The Shining. While it wasn’t that far back that I don’t remember it, it’s far gone enough that I don’t vividly remember most scenes. Don’t get me wrong, the book left enough scars on my brain that they won’t ever be gone and I get chills thinking about spending a week in the Stanley Hotel (more about that later), but you readers will understand. I know, I remember, but they are the slightly sunbleached memories of paper decorations left too long in a window.

The True Knot’s pursuit of and acquisition of steam was great, and I liked precocious little Abra as much as I liked Danny when he was little. Danny seemed real, and genuinely a kid of a traumatic childhood, but in a sense, it felt like he was living the epilogue to his father’s life. The sins of the father, so to speak. His challenges were great, his guilt and his demons his own, but it just felt like something was missing from this book, though I don’t think *what* is something that can be defined. It was a pretty quick read for me, partly because the story is King’s typical ramp from the mundane into a crescendoing race for your life, and partly because I was invested in knowing what happened to Danny and how it all worked out in the end. I liked the book, but I didn’t love it and for a devout King fan-girl like me, that’s saying something.

Medium: Dead-tree version from brick-and-mortar store. 

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 3 stars

Potential re-read: Maybe. When I have time, I may re-read The Shining and then go right into this one to see if it changes my perception of the book.

Dead-tree worthy?: As a collector of Stephen King books, yes. As a reader, this is a hefty volume to house when one is not in love with it. It’s hard to say. “Maybe” is the best, most clear answer I can give. YMMV.

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.

2013 – The Year of the Con

August 22, 2012 Leave a comment

There are all kinds of wonderful writer-ly things I’m going to be doing through the end of next year, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand it. Well…two kinds of things at least. First, getting to go and see Stephen King’s reading in Lowell, MA in December. I’m leery about going to the Great White North in the midst of Hell, err, winter, but it’s worth it to be 4 rows from a living god. Thankfully, this is scheduled to happen before the Mayan apocalypse, and I can’t say that the proximity of such an event to the end of the world as we know it (I hope I’m not the only one I ear-wormed there) is entirely coincidental. But I won’t care. After being in the same room with a man I’ve admired since I was a teenager, I will die happy.

Provided that we live through the apocalypse (given our track record so far with the raptures, I think we’ve got a shot), 2013 will be the year of the Con. For starters, I’ll be attending the local ConCarolinas because it’s local, fun, relatively cheap, and has some awesome guests. Then, a short week and a half later, I’ll be headed to the Big Easy to attend the World Horror Convention at the reportedly haunted Hotel Monteleone in the French quarter. And, because that just wasn’t awesome enough, I also have a ticket to the Bram Stoker Awards dinner. This is the moment I might actually die, just for those who may be concerned. I will be in the same room as big name horror authors and editors. I’m all but squeeing with glee as I type this out. Six weeks (ish) later, I will also be attending Dragon*Con in Atlanta. Or, at least, that’s the plan. Depends on whether I remember to scope out hotel reservations and get registered when it gets posted. Since this year’s event hasn’t happened yet, I’ll have to wait to find out the details…and that might be my undoing.

So, next year will be even more busy, chaotic and (hopefully) productive and successful. I’m looking forward to one hell of a year. C’mon Lucky 13 – show me whatcha got!

Until later…

All the…Cool Things…

I blame the title on my utterly random music collection spitting out Blink-182 at me while I was pondering the blank page. This is probably the most harmless of its influences, so instead of “blame,” perhaps I’ll just “give credit…” 😉

So I’ve been quiet for a while and what this means for you is that you get to hear all kinds of stuff that has been happening in the world of me. Some is awesome, some is terrifying yet awesome, and some has me so excited, I swear I might just pee my pants.

Not really, but you know what I mean, I’m sure.

At least, I hope you do.

Anywhooo…..last weekend was ConCarolinas and, of course, I had a fabulous time. I spent much of my weekend in panels, but it was well worth the cost of admission. The more I write, the more I learn, the more value I find in listening to writers who have been where I am right now. I’ll gush more later, but I ended up with pages of notes, an armful of autographed books and the first half dozen handwritten pages of a WIP. Suffice to say, I was a happy girl.

This was not my first author encounter of the year, however, and it won’t be the last. The wildly popular Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, trekked on over to Concord, NC and I had the good fortune of getting to see her and get yet another autographed book. (If you have a chance to catch her on her book tour, or any other appearance, I highly recommend it. Even if only to hear her swear in public as she reads Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. If you can’t catch up with her on a reading, go buy the audiobook. Seriously. It’s worth every penny.) More to come on this, along with a companion review next week!

Even though I have a deep and utter loathing of snow and all winter weather shenanigans, I am very excited to say that I will be going to see Stephen King in Lowell, MA this December. The Master, the Man I’ve been reading since I was a teenager is doing a rare reading and QA session at the school I’m attending electronically, and I’m braving potentially shitty snow to see him in person. I’m thinking this is a once in a lifetime event and I will be there, come hell or high water. Err…snow.

I’ve also fallen into a super cool opportunity. Normally, I’m not much of a risk taker. I do take calculated risks, but since I’m not much of a gambler, I’m not going all in unless I know I’ve got an unbeatable hand. I’m also (usually) in control of my baser instincts that would have me leaping off cliff edges. Well, a few days ago, after falling into an internet research hole, I found a call for slush pile readers for a new horror magazine, Nightmare, edited by John Joseph Adams. I blame the application email I sent on the post-homework, post-work delirium of the wee hours. Well, that and the assumption that I’d never be accepted. Um. Right. About that… So, I have a new job title… “Slush Pile Reader for Nightmare Magazine.” I’m thrilled and I can’t wait to dig in. I won’t be posting much about it, however. I wouldn’t want someone talking about the work I submitted to a magazine, so I wouldn’t do that to someone else. Unless maybe it’s a post-publication moment to brag about “I recommended that one…”

Well, I think that’s enough for y’all to chew on for now. I will be back on Sunday with Something Like a Review for another Seth Grahame-Smith book, How to Survive a Horror Movie. Check back in on Sunday morning and, until then, may your weekend come just at the right time.

Something Like a Review – 11/22/63 by Stephen King

February 26, 2012 2 comments

11/22/63 by Stephen KingI will do my best to set aside my hero-worship and fangirl-ism long enough to chat about this hefty tome, but understand that if my idolatry creeps in, I swear it’s not my fault. I’ve had an obsession with Stephen King’s stories since I was a teenager, I’ve spent years being mystified by his skills, and recently, have been trying to learn lessons from The Master to make what I do better.

That being said, I don’t think that everything he’s ever written is amazing. Not only would that be impossible, it would be bullshit. Those who’ve read Dreamcatcher or slogged through books 3 and 5 of the Dark Tower series (The Wastelands and The Wolves of Calla, respectively) know exactly what I mean. There are probably more that left me scratching my head trying to figure out where the hell the guy who scared the living bejesus out of me with It, or Pet Semetary decided to hide when the book was written, but they aren’t as memorable as the three I’ve mentioned.

For those who are looking for the traditional King book where blood is spilled in ways that sometimes make you cringe (don’t think about the shit-weasels, that’s not what I mean, but about Georgie’s missing arm…or the elevator and halls of the Overlook, or Carrie at the prom), you’re going to be disappointed. If that’s what you’re looking for, if that’s what you crave, don’t bother. This is not a slash and splash thriller. There are moments of gore and scenes with cinematic fighting, but 11/22/63 is different. It still provides the tension you’d expect from a man who fiddles with the dark side of our imagination, but this is a more introspective kind of horror. We all wonder “what if…,” and this story jumps in to answer it – and reveals the consequences of making “what if” happen.

I have seen more conflicting reviews on this book than I have on King’s others, and one of the ones that intrigued me most was posted by the lovable, if snarky, Insatiable Booksluts. Take a peek to see their Triple-Decker review (part 1 and part 2) – and enjoy their widely disparate views on the story. I’ll admit that I read their reviews before I had an opportunity to pick up the book and read it for myself, so I approached both the reviews and the book with a dose of skepticism, but after I knocked the fangirlism down a couple of notches, I will admit they do have some valid points, though I don’t agree with all of them. The plot lines are separated by a rift rivaled only by the Grand Canyon, and the 1950’s/60’s plot line has a tendency to meander and wander through the idyllic streets of Jodie, Texas. You know, since it’s safe and utopian and all. There is more foreshadowing and, as mentioned in one of the booksluttian reviews, “fortune telling” than I recall seeing ever before in a King novel. This isn’t to say the subtle clues that you realize later were clues, but you were too sucked in to see them for what they were, but big, thick, unmistakeable shadows drawn with the extra-large crayons they give little kids to fit in their chubby little hands before they can properly hold crayons. Or maybe these shadows were filled in with a Sharpie. All I know is that when I came across some of them, I tripped and then looked around to figure out what happened. It was unpleasant, somewhat jarring, but no worse than slamming across a pothole in a winter street. You wince, check to see if you made your tongue bleed when you bit into it, but you move on all the same. I’m guessing that these heavy-handed marks were to impart a sense of nostalgia, to convey that this story was told in almost memoir fashion, but the story didn’t need it and the tension would have existed without them.

Even with those frustrations, there was more to love about this book than not, and the detractors were overcome by the positives. I loved, loved, loved stepping back into 1958 and getting to peek in on Ritchie and Bev in Derry, post conflict. This is a testament to King’s world-building, which I’ve gushed about elsewhere, but it lends so much more richness to the story. It creates context and makes his world come more alive for the reader, creating a sense of familiarity, of returning home to familiar faces.

I’m not enough of a conspiracy theorist to know the ins and outs of the speculations regarding the Kennedy assassination. (Tinfoil hats just don’t come in my size, doggone it.) I do have a broad, generalized understanding, and it’s enough to get through the story. I loved seeing the interpretation of “what might have been,” and how the butterfly effect morphed into a flock of condors and shredded the fabric of our reality. It’s part of what brought the crazy story to balance, to make those harmonics Jake Epping liked to ramble about ring through to the end. You can make some wrongs right, but who’s to say that it’s not going to undo the good they inspired?

I love the underdog stories, the ones where the hero in charge of saving the world, of righting the wrongs and of surviving the impossible is in the hands of the Average Joe (or in this case, Jake), and this is certainly one of those stories. There’s no high-tech solutions, no secret file accidentally glimpsed in some obscure basement – just a regular guy trying to save one of the most powerful men in the world. All in the hopes of making the world he came from a better place. How could that possibly go wrong?

This is a mixed recommendation. If you’re looking for a book that will make you afraid to turn off your light and sleep, skip it. You’re only going to be disappointed. If you can put up with the minor annoyances for a good story and a “what if” interpretation, pick it up. You won’t be disappointed. I gave it 5 stars, but this one is going to swing from one extreme to the other, depending on your personal tolerances and love for conspiracies.

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