BOOK REVIEW | I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Ian Reid

5/5 stars

I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry, but I’m Thinking of Ending Things painted with every color in my reader’s palette. I finished this mere minutes ago, reread certain sections backwards as per Ian Reid’s subtle guidance, and am totally blown away. And I’m sad. This is a profoundly sad book. This is the sort of book that causes book hangover – this story will live with me for a while, and all other books will not stack up. The ending didn’t matter to me as the journey was so enthralling. But the ending, wow.

An unnamed female narrator is on a road trip with her boyfriend Jake. They are heading to the small farm where he grew up so she can meet his parents, but she has one thing on her mind: ending things. She has been thinking about ending things with Jake for a while, but decides to go through with the trip, thinking that meeting his parents might change her mind about the relationship.

Along the way they ask each other many philosophical questions, often alluding to the nature of relationships, how you can never truly know someone else, how your thoughts are the only thing that is real, and whether we can get through life without meaningful relationships. What ensues is, hands down, one of the most chilling and atmospheric stories I have ever read.

This book is touted as psychological horror, but it’s so much more than that. Yes, Reid has painted an incredibly eerie portrait of the old farmhouse, as well as a rural school where our characters end up, but everything going on below the surface is heavy and black once pieced together. Towards the end of the book, it’s suggested that the story is read again, backwards. Each chapter is prefaced by an italicized vignette – a conversation that is taking place about an even that occurred. I read these sections backwards, and was blown away by Reid’s process.

I’ve read many reviews that suggest this book made no sense, and I can see that if it was picked up as a typical horror read. This is not classic horror (though it can be read as such), this is pure psychological horror, dealing with a heavy topic. I don’t want to spoil this for potential readers, but go into this book knowing that everything is not as it seems, and if you enjoy books that deal with the metaphysical or mental health you’ll find a connection here.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Dark Tower #1 – The Gunslinger by Stephen King


4/5 stars

This book is so difficult to review, so I’m not really going to review it. Stephen King is a master of his craft, and the first book in the Dark Tower series is no joke.

This book focuses on word building and filling in backstory; sort of a 200 page prologue. There is so much going on in this short book that it’s almost difficult to comprehend. I want to continue with this series but may need to read this again first.

What surprised me the most is how violent and gory this book is – for some reason I suspected a bit of a lighter fantasy. Nope, this is classic King.

We follow the Gunslinger as he follows The Man in Black. Along the way he meets a boy from another time / dimension. That’s, more or less, the point of this book. We also learn a bit about the Gunslinger’s past and relationship to the man in black.

I’ll be circling back to this book in 2018 if I decide to take on the entire series. I’m not a fan of fantasy (too realistic and cynical I guess), but I’ve always wanted to tackle these books.

BOOK REVIEW | A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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4/5 stars

I am so behind on book reviews and am trying to get caught up before 2017 ends, so I’ll keep this brief!

I am a horror fanatic but, admittedly, not a huge fan of exorcism stories. I’m not sure why, but they have never been my go-to for horror, and I rarely find them genuinely scary. In A Head Full of Ghosts, Tremblay takes the familiar exorcism narrative and flips it on its head. Clearly a fan of the genre, I felt like I was reading the work of someone who did their homework, and I mean that in the best way possible!

We follow the Barrett family as they search for the root of 14 year old Marjorie’s sudden strange behaviour. It she acting out as teenagers often do? Is it mental illness? Or is this a genuine possession? It all starts years after the drama, when Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry, is being interviewed by a best-selling author for a tell-all about her family’s experience. Take everything you know about demons and exorcism, and add in a reality TV scenario along with a complicated family dynamic and you’ve got the makings of a great book. Through unique blog entries, Tremblay is able to dive deep into the business of making horror movies, and I must say I flagged many pages so that I can remember to check out some of the iconic scenes he mentions later.

I loved this book and I’m glad that I went for it, regardless of my fatigue with exorcism stories. This is a great addition to the horror section of my bookshelf!

BOOK REVIEW | The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

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3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.

That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.

My thoughts:
Ania Ahlborn takes the dysfunctional family to new heights with her latest book, The Devil Crept In. She explores the lengths that a mother would go to to protect her child, while delivering just the right amount of mystery to keep you flipping the pages.

Stevie is a bit of a weird kid: he has a speech disorder, a couple missing fingertips, and no friends except for his cousin, Jude. With an abusive drunk for a step-father and an older brother who wants little to do with him, Stevie depends on his relationship with Jude for escape. Jude, who developed behavioral problems after his father’s death, is known to be aggressive and is often in trouble. When Jude goes missing, most people chock it up as Jude acting out again. Stevie knows that Jude didn’t just run away and is determined to find him, even venturing out into the woods to search for him on his own. Stevie is a great unreliable narrator; he’s constantly on edge and questioning every shadow he sees while trying to find answers. Suddenly Jude returns – but, it’s not the Jude that Stevie knew: he’s unresponsive and blank, with peeling, itchy skin.

The story is told in three parts, and is a bit slow to get going. I really enjoyed the middle section when we are introduced to Rosie and her struggles. Rosie’s longing and self-consciousness are relatable, and in a strange way I understand the choices she made. You’ll have to read the book to understand what I mean! The action picks up in the final third, and it’s a brutal and gruesome as I hoped it would be. I could have done without the epilogue, as I wasn’t crazy about how it capped off some of the story lines. Ahlborn really shined in her capture of Stevie’s childhood, and I completely believed I was in the mind of a ten year old boy. I also loved the big brother / little brother dynamic between Dunk and Stevie – Ahlborn totally nailed this relationship. It’s hard to read a story like this and not be reminded of the King; I can certainly feel Ahlborn’s influence, and fans of his will likely enjoy this book.

My only complaint with this book is that it just wasn’t scary enough – I didn’t feel a foreboding sense of dread. . Creepy? Definitely. Disturbing? Heck yes! This was a great read, but not one that kept me up at night.

BOOK REVIEW | The Shining by Stephen King

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4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

My thoughts:
Man, Stephen King can tell a story like no one else. The Shining was a (creepy and terrifying) pleasure to read. It has been so much fun working through the King’s catalogue!

The world’s a hard place, Danny. It don’t care. It don’t hate you and me, but it don’t love us either. Terrible things happen in the world, and they’re things no one can explain. Good people die in bad, painful ways and leave the folks that love them all alone. Sometimes it seems like it’s only the bad people who stay healthy and prosper.

Jack Torrence is a recovering alcoholic and down on his luck. He’s lost his teaching job, but needs to take care of his family. A friend sets him up with a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, and he quickly accepts. Jack moves into the hotel with his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny. Danny has always been special – he can shine. His ability to shine means he can read people’s thoughts and you guessed it – see dead people. Shortly after arriving at the Overlook, Jack discovers details of the hotel’s history and some of the crimes that occurred there. Many presences haunt the Overlook, and the hotel slowly begins to manipulate Jack, ultimately turning him against his family.

Jack is a fantastic villain – I didn’t know if his words were his own, or a part of the hotel’s manipulation. It always sort of felt like a combination of both, that the hotel brought out his inner demons, rather than completely overtaking him. Nothing is scarier than the devil you know, right?

I’d love to know what happens to Danny, so may jump right in to Doctor Sleep!

BOOK REVIEW | Brother by Ania Ahlborn

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Deep in the heart of Appalachia stands a crooked farmhouse miles from any road. The Morrows keep to themselves, and it’s served them well so far. When girls go missing off the side of the highway, the cops don’t knock on their door. Which is a good thing, seeing as to what’s buried in the Morrows’ backyard.

But nineteen-year-old Michael Morrow isn’t like the rest of his family. He doesn’t take pleasure in the screams that echo through the trees. Michael pines for normalcy, and he’s sure that someday he’ll see the world beyond West Virginia. When he meets Alice, a pretty girl working at a record shop in the small nearby town of Dahlia, he’s immediately smitten. For a moment, he nearly forgets about the monster he’s become. But his brother, Rebel, is all too eager to remind Michael of his place…

My thoughts:
It’s been a while since I read a horror novel that got under my skin, leaving me utterly terrified and disgusted. Enter Ania Ahlborn’s Brother. This is the horrific story of an Appalachian family bound together by a disturbing practice. Readers be warned – this one is twisted, depraved, gory, violent, and so so brutal. I loved it.

Michael has never really fit in with his family. He gets along with his sister, Misty, but couldn’t be more different than his brother, Reb (short for Rebel). The relationship with father seems non-existent and his mother is cold and unloving, but needs Michael around to make good use of his…unique…skill set.  On a trip into town with Reb, Michael meets a girl named Alice who works at the local record shop. Alice dreams of a better life for herself; she is a talented comic artist who fantasizes about getting out of West Vigninia and making something of her work. As their relationship develops, Michael starts to imagine a life with Alice and away from his family.  Tension builds from this point on, as you wonder how Michael would be able to bring someone into the folds of his offbeat family unit. Reb is quick to remind Michael that family is everything. As the story unfolds blood is spilled and horrific secrets are revealed. The final pages left me so upset I was almost in tears.

Here’s something I’ve never said before: this book would make an amazing graphic novel. As soon as we learn that Alice draws comics, I started picturing this book in panels. I’m not a huge graphic novel reader, but I couldn’t shake this the entire time I was reading it. It would be SO GOOD!

Ahlborn is clearly a huge fan of 80’s music and classic horror movies; a woman after my own heart. The music references are a ton of fun (Ania also thanks The Cure in the book’s acknowledgements – one of my favourite bands), and I can’t help but wonder if naming her central character Michael is a subtle nod to one of my all time favourite scary guys, Michael Myers.

If you’re a fan of horror, you must read this book – it gets 5 starts from me for shocking me right to the end.

BOOK REVIEW | N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

My thoughts:
Everyone…lives inside the world inside their own head. An inscape, a world of thought. Emotions are as real as gravity. Dreams are as powerful as history. Creative people, like writers and Henry Rollins, spend a lot of their time hanging out in their thoughtworld.

This is my third Joe Hill read, and I am 100% sold now – this book is fantastic. Yep, I’m going all in. I need to read everything he’s written, and will be first in line when he releases something new. Joe’s books are consistently imaginative and a bit over the top, and this one takes the cake in the best way possible. This is the story of Vic McQueen, the perils of motherhood, the loss of childhood innocence, and the power of imagination. Oh yeah, there’s a totally terrifying bad guy too.

As a child, Vic McQueen discovers that she has a special gift – she is a strong creative who utilizes her bicycle to conjure up a bridge that she can cross to find misplaced objects. She meets a librarian named Maggie who helps her to understand her gift; she also warns her about someone named Charlie Manx. Charlie possesses the same gift, and uses it to kidnap children  and take them to a place where they can be eternally happy, Christmasland. Vic and Charlie eventually meet, and let’s just say the encounter does not end well.

Years later, Vic is an adult with a son named Wayne, and a complicated relationship with Wayne’s father, Lou. She appears to be descending into madness as a result of her childhood encounter with Charlie, but lovable Lou stays by her side and believes her story without question. Before long, Charlie returns.

This book reads like a movie – I was able to perfectly picture every character and every scene thanks to Hill’s engrossing prose. Hill has created a world where the impossible seems possible, with a flawed but completely kick-ass main character, and one of the best villains that I’ve read. Charlie Manx is way more interesting than your run of the mill bad guy, he truly believes he is helping children by bringing them to a place where they will experience nothing but joy. As it turns out, even kids need to work through unpleasant emotions and life disappointments – less they turn into tiny gleeful killers.

I leave you with one of my favourite moments from the book, an exchange between Lou and Wayne:

I think you’re suffering from the human condition.
Can you die from that?
Yeah…it’s pretty much fatal in every case.