Friday, October 26, 2018

Magic (William Goldman)

Magic by William Goldman
You know what's fun? When authors you love dip into a different genre. When Stephen King writes a horror novel no one bats an eyelash or even yawns with boredom- it is a tenet of this universe we live in that Stephen King will continue to publish horror novels until well after he has died. But, what if King wrote a romance novel? THAT would be news. People would be falling over themselves to find out what it was about, did it sound like Stephen King, or did it sound like he was trying to be someone different? Like, Stephen King dressed up as Nora Roberts and now he's seeing how he feels.

Wait, that took a really weird turn. The point was, seeing an author write something outside of their normal genre is like seeing a teacher outside of school who is wearing shorts. It feels weird and exciting and wrong all at once.

Then a few months ago, I learned that William Goldman, author of my favorite book of all time The Princess Bride, had written a horror novel I about jumped out of my skin. How had I not known?? While I was busy rereading Princess Bride and buying every copy available, this classic nugget snuck past me.

Obviously I had to immediately find it on ThriftBooks and get a copy. Then I felt like I had to wait until SpoOkctober to really appreciate it. I'm glad I did! Autumn is the perfect time of year for this one.

This was a quick read, but fun nonetheless. The main character, Corky, is a magician who is actually making it places in this world, getting gigs on TV and on the precipice of the "big break!" As the story progresses, told in three parts (present, past, continuing present), we find that there might be something to worry about in Corky's noggin. By the end, Corky's noggin is the least of our problems. By the end, our problems are well outside of Corky's head.

Filled with Goldman's classically sharp wit, the book is entertaining even if it doesn't hold up too well to the passing of time. This one, like many written in the 70's and 80's, has that very decisive sound to it that lets you know what decade its from.   I don't know that I can put my finger on what that is, but somehow all of them (Rosemary's Baby, Stepford Wives, Psycho, The Omen) have the same sound. to them. (Incidentally, they also all have that same delicious smell. Smells like childhood.)

The pace of this one is pretty manic, so you have to keep your wits about you and be on your toes. Afterall, you don't want to fall for the magician's sleight of hand, right?

The final breakdown:
The Book
Overall fun, I enjoyed the banter between people, and would definitely enjoy seeing a rebooted movie with some more modern effects.

The Writing
What you'd expect from Goldman, fast paced witty banter that he's using to distract you from the truth.

These older books are harder for to read, honestly. There's something to the tone from that period that just doesn't grip me in the same way as The Shining or R.L.Stine do.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Apartment (S.L. Grey)

The Apartment by S.L. Grey
Oh, you guys! SpoOkctober is almost over! Our Wicked Wednesdays and Frightening Fridays are almost at an end.  

So, as you all know, I love horror. And as our society changes, I love seeing the new concepts for horror that arise. Like, the first time I used Uber, I honestly flashed back through every page of my forensic psych book. Does anyone remember that couch surfing website? "Come sleep on my couch for the night and just buy me dinner!" (Sure, I heard that line before. ) And now there's AirBnB.

I mean, I realize, logically, that there is only a very small percentage of the world that are actually violently insane, but honestly, wouldn't it be just my luck to end up swapping with them?

And then, just wandering through Barnes and Noble one night, this gift from the Horror Gods appeared on a table out of nowhere. (I mean, obviously not out of no where, it was a themed table, but still.) The Apartment, a creepy book about an AirBnB gone wrong, put out by Blumhouse Books (I've already mentioned that I love almost every movie out of their catalog) I was ecstatic!

A married couple from South Africa decides to use a house swapping website to spend a week in Paris and let another couple live in their home. That seems totally legit to me. Apparently they've had some rough times recently, and they're having a hard time getting past it. So they plop their daughter off at the parent's house (interestingly,also a B and B.) and wander off into Europe, expecting a miracle.

Well something supernatural happens, but it isn't a Miracle that's for damn sure. Between the creepy Mother Gothel witch living upstairs to the weird and gross garret where a homeless kid seemed to be crashing the stay itself is miserable. Of course their relationship starts to break down from the first moment of stress in the trip, and by the time they get home they're barely speaking.

THEN something ELSE happens!

But... I barely remember the details... because I was just so bored! I really wanted this book to work and be scary and blow my mind the way The Shining  did in high school. It didn't, though. Instead I found myself annoyed at how good it could have been if they hadn't ruined it. The atmosphere of the titular apartment was stale and imaginationless, rather than being a mysterious enigma. The build to a Big Bad was almost good, but the Big Bad just made it dull and unsatisfying.

I so hoped that I would recommend this book to you guys, but I really don't. I guess I was hoping for Hell House in the twenty-first century and was underwhelmed by this particular choice.

The final break down:

The Book

The Writing


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson)

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
There are certain horror novels that even the nonbookish have heard of before. Hell House by Richard Matheson, Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, Psycho by Anthony Burgess, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. These are some of the greats that the genre has built itself upon. The master blue-prints of writing horror: the mothers and fathers of atmosphere; the people who turn houses and motels and apartment buildings into characters all on their own. They do it so well, we often don't realize until much later in the book that we're more scared of bedroom and then boogie man under the bed.

For this #BellesWickedWednesday let's look at The Haunting of Hill House, released in 1959. Jackson's classic is set in an already old and abandoned house, Hill Manor, which is fittingly set at the bottom of a bunch of hills. The family who owns the property refuses to live there, has never been able to keep rented tenets for more than a few days, and keeps the gate locked at all times, and guarded by the obligatory crazy groundskeeper. (I think Jackson is the one who made it obligatory. She was the first one to make a crazy groundskeeper cool in horror.)  

We already know before getting to the house that this was put together by Dr. Montague, a scientist who wants to see if he can establish physical proof of paranormal phenomena that have long been rumored to be happening at the house. He invites along two women, Eleanor and Theodora. Both are thought to be "spiritually sensitive", in the hopes that they will help the house open up emotionally or whatever it is they do. The only stipulation of the family is that their heir, Luke, stay in the house with the guests as a chaperone (or maybe they want him gone so someone else can inherit the house... I mean, if it had  such an intense reputation, why would send your male heir to live there? SKETCH!)
Obviously, as always happens in these situations, the house lives up to its reputation quite well, scaring the bejesus (and a little more) out of everyone staying there.

Ok, so can you please indulge me and let me review this two different ways? First we'll talk about it as a horror classic, a pillar of its genre. It is... masterful. The build of suspense is so steady, so rhythmic, that you can't help but be drawn into the power of this house. The descriptions of the hauntings themselves are gripping and absolutely drip with the atmosphere of evil in the house.

Now, from a modern reading perspective: I never get much into those 50's/60's/70's horror reads. Every time I pick up a classic and read it, I can completely understand why it's a classic, but that doesn't mean I find it especially terrifying or creepy. So, while I enjoy reading them, maybe they weren't actually the right choices (yes I chose multiple classics for this October).

So with reviewing it, I am going to be honest with you, I am grading it on a "Classic Curve", where it gets bonus points for being a classic of the genre.

The final breakdown:

The Book
I 100% believe everyone should read this book. It is fantastic in its own rite.

The Writing
Not the best writing of Jackson's catalog, but still ok.

Read it in one sitting with the lights off, that is the best way to really take advantage of the atmosphere.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Red Rain (R. L. Stine)

Red Rain by R.L. Stine
When I was in elementary school, I was sent to the principal’s office once. My parents were called as well. They came in and sat down with me, and the principal (who by the way didn’t believe this was happening) reintroduced them to my first grade teacher, who then proceeded to tell them why they were there:
I was reading something “too mature” for me. My parents stared at her.
“What do you mean? How  mature?” my mother (an English teacher, by the way) asked her, warily.
“Well, I don’t want to alarm you, but… it’s Goosebumps. I caught her with three different books from that series.”
Crickets. I’m not kidding people, absolute crickets. My dad finally folds his fingers together on the desk, “Where do you think she got the books? Is she also running a job on the side to afford them?”
This time, crickets from the teacher. The principal is smirking, because to him this is ridiculous.
To anyone sane, this is ridiculous. I was seven. Wasn’t Goosebumps meant for children?

That wasn’t even the last time that happened. (In third grade it was And Then There Were None. I actually got in double trouble that time because when I got in trouble, I pointed out that I was not reading the copy called Ten Little N***rs. I was trying to point out that I was being politically correct. Mrs. Pulis did not approve. Side note: the principal again found the whole thing ridiculous and funny. I miss him.) This time my father was a little more pissed at having his time wasted.
“I’m not sure what you’re concerned about most here? Is it that you worry she will accept an invitation out of the blue from an anonymous stranger inviting her to a sketchy island with a bunch of other strangers? I just need to know what you feel I need to parent her through.”
I was never called to the principal’s office again.

But, I digress. The point of this story was not my elementary school teachers preoccupation with my advanced reading skills, or my ability to separate fantasy from reality (I would not, as it happens, have accepted that invitation.) This story is about the fact that I have loved R.L. Stine since he first hit the market in the 90’s. His story lines were inventive, his plot lines were well thought out, and the twists were creepy enough to stick with me, even to this day in some cases. (Does anyone else remember Bad Dog?? I still feel sad every time I see a stray animal!)

SO. When I found out that Stine was now also writing books for adults, the exact words that came out of my mouth were “nipvsidvhnikahiehifchniledhnived;JVDHO;RSNIljifhnikwhndihniv.” (That’s verbatim.)

The story starts with a woman witnessing first hand the horrors of post hurricane devastation on an island of the Outer Banks. As blood red rain begins to fall from the sky, she notices two little boys- twins (always creepy)- walking out of the gloom towards her alone.

Cut to a few days prior and we see her learn the bizarre history of the island, where the living are said to coexist with the dead. (The island is fictional, in case you were wondering.)

Apparently, years before, another hurricane had completely decimated the island, nothing was left standing, and very few were left alive.  However, the island was rebuilt in a short amount of time because the dead rose up to help the living rebuild. Afterwards, they enjoyed living again so much, they decided to stay. The island is full of weird stories and creepy resurrection rituals, giving the main character the heebie jeebies as she documents for her travel blog.

After the hurricane and the red rain she takes home the twin boys- whom she apparently felt motherly love for at first sight- to help them learn to live again after losing their home and parents.

Then shit starts getting weird.

You’d think shit got weird in the chapter with the resurrection from the dead ceremony, but no, by the end of this book that will feel like a goddamned Goosebumps novel again. And the weirdness. Is. AWESOME!

Just like I remembered, the story telling is virtually flawless. The red herrings he throws you are believable enough for you to bite, but the reality is way better. I did NOT see the final twist coming. Like, at all. I honestly cannot even say enough good things about this book.

The character development was also stellar, which I think can often be lacking in horror books where the tendency can be to put so much time into the ambiance and not as much into the people living it. But I actually felt for the characters. (Except the teenagers because I don’t particularly feel for teenagers in general.) Side characters were given some back story, but not so much that the plot suffered or the pacing.

Overall, I recommend this book to ANYONE who is not afraid of a scary read. It was that good. Hands down, my favorite horror read this year.

The Final Breakdown: (hint- it’s 5’s all around.)

The Book
This was a great twist on your classic Children of the Damned and Village of the Damned tropes, which Stine admits were a huge influence on him. Honestly, what’s creepier than children, am I right?

The Writing
As with everything of his I read when I was growing up, the writing is fantastic. I was drawn in from the first page, and pissed that the last page was the last.

I read this book in about twenty-four hours once I actually concentrated on it (as in, finished the other book I was reading at the same time.)


Friday, October 12, 2018

Merciless (Danielle Vega)

Merciless by Danielle Vega
Remember when I told you that My Best Friend's Exorcism was what would happen if you combined Mean Girls  with The Exorcist?
Well, get comfy in your Friday sweatpants, everybody, because I have another one for you. Merciless by Danielle Vega follows a new girl- Sophia- trying to fit in at a new high school, which, as Mean Girls taught us, is basically like trying to live in a jungle. On her first day Sophia finds that, for whatever reson, the popular girls have taken a liking to her. Like any normal teenage girl, suspicious, she hesitantly spends time with them. For some reason (we don't get an explanation of why, except maybe because this is set in the deep south? I would have liked a little more back story on this part) these girls are weirdly religious. And by weirdly, I don't mean like "Yeah she grew up in an atheist home but now she goes to church three days a week" weirdly, I mean one of them "baptizes" Sophia in a school bathroom sink by mixing communion wine she caries in a flask into some water.

Whatever, I mean teenage girls are weird, right? Ok, well, that is just about the least weird thing that these bitches end up putting Sophia through by the end of the book. They get it in their weirdly religious heads that another girl is possessed by a demon and that they have to save her, which of course they tangle Sophia into as well. If you've seen The Exorcist then you know that these things can get a little... Physically and psychologically demanding of all involved. But hey- who could be more level headed and able to keep cool under the stress of fighting Satan's army than a teenage girl, right?

This was a fun, fast read. I read the entire thing in a day (it was a TOTAL ACCIDENT that I stayed up till 3:00 AM, I swear.) and was ready to read the sequel as soon as I finished. (I didn't though, I was a good girl and went to sleep. Mostly because I don't have the sequel yet.) The attempt to be Mean Girls -esque was a little intense and obvious, but that didn't take away from the fun of the story. I also would have liked more interaction with the supposedly possessed girl and our protagonist before the exorcism began, but I absolutely loved how Sophia's back story was laid out for us slowly over the course of the book.

The final breakdown:

The Book
Fun read overall, very inventive for a YA horror.

The Writing
Fast paced, but as I said, I wish it hadn't been so overtly Mean Girls . Some areas even felt word for word.

I read the thing in twelve hours, I forgot to eat at one point. This score was pretty obvi.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hark! The Herald Angels Scream (Anthology)

Hark! The Herald Angels Scream 
*I was given an advanced copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review*
What could possibly get you in the
Christmas spirit more than horror stories?? Or maybe, you'd rather get in the Halloween spirit by reading about people being tormented during the most wonderful time of the year!
Frankly, I think Christmas is an EXCELLENT setting for horror. I mean, who WASN'T freaked out by the Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol ? (I, personally, would have liked more characterization of him to really Amp up the creep factor.)
As a huge fan of Blumhouse Productions, I was very into the idea of reading their holiday themed anthology Hark! The Herald Angels Scream  which features stories from some of the hottest names in the horror circuit right now.

Sadly, most of those stories just didn't do it for me. There were a handful that were definetly worth it, but more that fell flat.

This is why I hate reviewing anthologies, because I wish I could review each story individually, but that would just be a nightmare for you to read. Then what? They're short stories, a review would be almost as long as them, how would I keep from ruining it for you??

So instead I'll give you the short lists: the three best and the three worst. At least, that way, you'll have my recommendations for what to hit and what to miss.

The Good
Story 1: Absinthe & Angels
What couple hasn't thought about taking a nice, romantic, secluded holiday together in a snowy cabin with no one for miles around? (well, me, personally, but that's because I studied forensic psychology and I'm sure there's a psychopath hanging out waiting to take advantage.)
This story is about a couple who rents a cabin alone a few miles away from where their friends are staying, to have a more romantic Christmas. After indulging in some Absinthe, they receive some unexpected visitors. Based on the cover art, you should be able to tell that it all goes downhill from there.
It was a very solid start for the book, and left me very hopeful for the rest of the anthology.

Story 2: Christmas in Barcelona
Another great one came right at the beginning, really drawing me in. This one, follows a husband and wife as they travel out of the country for the holiday with their young infant. Like so many babies, he doesn't do well with the trip, but that isn't the most horrific part of this story. I'm really only going to tell you that much, because the uncertainty about what is going to happen is part of what made the build so fantastic.

Story 18: The Hangman's Bride
Finishing the book on a strong high note, is this story of a young orphan who is taken in by a manipulative chimney sweep who,in exchange for room and board (barely) forces the boy to work for him, climbing into the flues with his tiny, flexible body. (ie, literally the guy's dirty work.) While working in a large manor, he begins to experience strange things in the flues (and just in the company of the residents, frankly.) This one was a wild ride, and honestly was more of a novella, with more in-depth fleshing out of characters, as well as a beginning, middle, and end.

The Bad
Story 5: Not Just for Christmas
This one, I think, was meant to be a lighthearted, comedic story. I just found it asinine and annoying. A father trys to buy his place in his estranged family back with an expensive, hybrid dog that can be programmed like a smart thermometer. As you can imagine, things go awry. That's all I'm gonna say.

Story 6: Tenets
Honestly, this one might have been a good kernel to start a full novella or novel, but as a short story it was disjointed, confusing, and not scary in the least. There were too many narrators to keep up with, for a "twist" ending that... Wasn't twisted? I don't know, you can read it, but I don't recommend it, and I wish I could get my time back that I wasted trying to figure it out. (I read  this one twice to make sure I didn't miss anything. I didn't.)

Story 7: Good Deeds
Can I just tell you, that in trying to make this list and write my reviews, I have had to look this story up like five times because I keep forgetting what the fuck it was about. And then I remember. I can't even tell you anything about it because the premise is so basic, I would be giving everything away. What I can say, is this is exactly what we all feared sitting around a bonfire when some guy breaks out his acoustic guitar.

SO- the moral of the story? I don't know, I mean, some of them are good, some of them aren't, and they're all mixed together so it's hard to tell you whether you should read it or not. I, personally, will not be recommending it simply because the balance was tipped more towards boring than terrifying for me.

The Book

The Writing


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Menendez Murders (Robert Rand)

Let's kick off our October event #BellesWickedWednesdays with a true life horror story. This is true horror whether you think the brothers deserved jail time or not... For everyone involved.

*I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. *
I feel like my childhood is set out like a time line of tragedies. When I was really little, the Challenger exploded while my mom watched on tv, so excited to watch a fellow teacher adventuring into the unknown; the Menendez brothers who blew away the country when they blew away their parents; when a white Ford bronco slowly cruised through LA with half the force behind it, buying time for The Juice while he tried to figure out what to do next; and watching my friend's parents flying off to help try and find survivors in the wreckage of a building in Oklahoma City where someone had decided to prove a point. Looking back, it seems like not a year went by through Junior High where there was some national show of hatred to shock the country. I remember hearing about them, seeing them on the news, talking about them in class, knowing the basic facts about the events. But when it comes to the depth of what happened -the horror in full form- that was all kept away from me.
So when BenBella Books was nice enough to share an advanced copy of The Menendez Murders with me, I was very excited to hear what actually happened over those years.

The story is not a surprise- you already know the outcome- there's no twist ending: they're still gonna go to jail for life. They're still gonna lose all of their appeals. But Rand gives you such detail and depth of the investigation that you'll still find yourself completely rapt by it.

Rand chose to give a completely chronological account of the information as it became available, very similar to The Run of His Life about OJ (fun fact : he actually makes an appearance in this book!) He has taken information from all credible sources and masterfully cuts back and forth between them to give you a realistic idea of how the entire saga unfolded, day by day.
It's a powerful book, as it brings to mind the question of: is there a breaking point before a child will kill their own parents? Can a parent be so terrible that they drive their children to murder? Even as I felt myself horrified by the idea of killing one's own parents, I was equally full of aching sadness for the brothers and the miserable excuse for a life their parents forced them to lead.

Be warned, if you're looking for a gruesome read about the nitty gritty details, this may not be the account for you. Rand's piece focuses just as much on the crazy court room drama (including the behind the scenes shit that never made it to the news but is fascinating none the less.), so if you're not looking to hear the legal differences between the two sets of trials, or the more technical points of the detective work leading up to them, I would suggest finding a different account of the event.

The Book

The Writing