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 PREVIEW | February 2017 Anticipated Reads

Here are the books I’m excited about this February! What will you be reading this month? Let me know if you plan to read any of these!

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A Separation by Katie Kitamura
Releases: February 7th, 2017

A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it’s time for them to separate. For the moment it’s a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go and search for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she’s not even sure if she wants to find him. Adrift in the wild landscape, she traces the disintegration of their relationship, and discovers she understands less than she thought about the man she used to love.

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All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Releases: February 7, 2017
Read my full review here!

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

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Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard
Releases: February 2, 2017
Read my full review here!

The day Adam Dunne’s girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads “I’m sorry–S” sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.

Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate–and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before.

To get answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground …

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The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn
Releases: February 7, 2017
Read my full review here!

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.

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Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
Releases: February 7, 2017
Read my full review here!

Jeremy works at the counter of Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s a small town—the first “a” in the name is pronounced ay—smack in the center of the state. This is the late 1990s, pre-DVD, and the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut. But there are regular customers, a predictable rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: It’s a job; it’s quiet and regular; he gets to watch movies; he likes the owner, Sarah Jane; it gets him out of the house, where he and his dad try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.

But when Stephanie Parsons, a local schoolteacher, comes in to return her copy of Targets, starring Boris Karloff—an old movie, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, Lindsey Redinius brings back She’s All That, a new release, and complains that there’s something wrong with it: “There’s another movie on this tape.”

So Jeremy takes a look. And indeed, in the middle of the movie the screen blink dark for a moment and She’s All That is replaced by a black-and-white scene, shot in a barn, with only the faint sounds of someone breathing. Four minutes later, She’s All That is back. But there is something profoundly disturbing about that scene; Jeremy’s compelled to watch it three or four times. The scenes recorded onto Targets are similar, undoubtedly created by the same hand. Creepy. And the barn looks a lot like a barn just outside of town.

Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious. In truth, it freaks him out, deeply. This has gone far enough, maybe too far already. But Stephanie is pushing, and once Sarah Jane takes a look and becomes obsessed, there’s no more ignoring the disturbing scenes on the videos. And all of a sudden, what had once been the placid, regular old Iowa fields and farmhouses now feels haunted and threatening, imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. For Jeremy, and all those around him, life will never be the same . . .

BOOK REVIEW | Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Still known to millions primarily as the author of the The Lottery, Shirley Jackson (1916–1965) has been curiously absent from the mainstream American literary canon. A genius of literary suspense and psychological horror, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of postwar America more deeply than anyone. Now, biographer Ruth Franklin reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the author of such classics as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition that stretches back to Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on “domestic horror.” Almost two decades before The Feminine Mystique ignited the women’s movement, Jackson’ stories and nonfiction chronicles were already exploring the exploitation and the desperate isolation of women, particularly married women, in American society. Franklin’s portrait of Jackson gives us “a way of reading Jackson and her work that threads her into the weave of the world of words, as a writer and as a woman, rather than excludes her as an anomaly” (Neil Gaiman).

The increasingly prescient Jackson emerges as a ferociously talented, determined, and prodigiously creative writer in a time when it was unusual for a woman to have both a family and a profession. A mother of four and the wife of the prominent New Yorker critic and academic Stanley Edgar Hyman, Jackson lived a seemingly bucolic life in the New England town of North Bennington, Vermont. Yet, much like her stories, which channeled the occult while exploring the claustrophobia of marriage and motherhood, Jackson’s creative ascent was haunted by a darker side. As her career progressed, her marriage became more tenuous, her anxiety mounted, and she became addicted to amphetamines and tranquilizers. In sobering detail, Franklin insightfully examines the effects of Jackson’s California upbringing, in the shadow of a hypercritical mother, on her relationship with her husband, juxtaposing Hyman’s infidelities, domineering behavior, and professional jealousy with his unerring admiration for Jackson’s fiction, which he was convinced was among the most brilliant he had ever encountered.

Based on a wealth of previously undiscovered correspondence and dozens of new interviews, Shirley Jackson—an exploration of astonishing talent shaped by a damaging childhood and turbulent marriage—becomes the definitive biography of a generational avatar and an American literary giant.

My thoughts:
She kept it up until the end, sending her literary bombs unerringly to their targets, then standing back to watch them explode.

Ruth Franklin hit a home run for me with her comprehensive biography of the amazing Shirley Jackson. If you’re a fan of Shirley’s work, this is a must read. After reading this, I am more enamored with Shirley than I already was. She went against the grain in so many ways, and it was a pleasure to step into her world.

Franklin was granted access to many fascinating letters written by Shirley and her husband Stanley, which provided a truly intimate reading experience. Through the correspondence, we gain insight into their rocky marriage, as well as Shirley’s tenuous relationship with her mother, Geraldine. Reading this biography allows for a deeper understanding of many of Shirley’s works – whether it be humour or horror, Shirley wrote what she knew.

One of my favourite parts of the book comes in a discussion about Shirley’s humerous book about raising her children, Life Among the Savages. Franklin goes on to illustrate how much Shirley’s kids loved this book, displaying the book jacket in their kitchen and endearingly dubbing it Life Among the Cabbages.

Shirley was a woman who struggled greatly in her short life. She struggled with her relationships to her husband and mother, with her weight, financially, with household tasks, with her role was a working mother, and with her eventual agoraphobia. As a mother who works outside of the house in an anxiety ridden and fast paced world, I can relate to many of these challenges.

This is a detailed biography that does sway from the narrative at times, but I found all of those moments to be worthwhile. This book has a well deserved place alongside of Shirley’s on my shelves.

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.

BOOK REVIEW | The Good House by Tananarive Due

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
The home that belonged to Angela Toussaint’s late grandmother is so beloved that townspeople in Sacajawea, Washington, call it the Good House. But that all changes one summer when an unexpected tragedy takes place behind its closed doors…and the Toussaint’s family history — and future — is dramatically transformed.

Angela has not returned to the Good House since her son, Corey, died there two years ago. But now, Angela is finally ready to return to her hometown and go beyond the grave to unearth the truth about Corey’s death. Could it be related to a terrifying entity Angela’s grandmother battled seven decades ago? And what about the other senseless calamities that Sacajawea has seen in recent years? Has Angela’s grandmother, an African American woman reputed to have “powers,” put a curse on the entire community?

My thoughts:
Angela Toussaint’s Fourth of July party began well enough, but no one would remember that because of the way it would end. That’s what everyone would talk about later. The way it ended.

Why isn’t Tananarive Due a superstar in the horror genre?! She should be way more popular than she is – she is a master of her craft. I absolutely loved Due’s My Soul to Keep (book 1 of her African Immortal series), and The Good House is just as amazing. Her stories are sweeping and full of depth, with interesting historical elements. They are dramatic and fantastical, yet somehow so realistic. More than anything, her books are fun to read.

We follow Angela Toussaint as she returns to her hometown 2 years after a personal tragedy. We learn about her past though flashbacks, and begin to put the pieces of the tragedy together along side her. There’s mystery, voodoo, and a ton of tension.

It’s been said before, but fans of Stephen King must read this book. Like King, Due creates vast and complex stories with well rounded characters that you truly care about. Even her supporting characters have enough depth for the reader to get invested in. The Good House reminds me so much of King’s Bag of Bones, though the stories are completely different. There is a mysterious house that the protagonists return to in both, but it’s the eerie atmosphere that felt strikingly familiar. In both stories, of course, terrible things happen.

Next time you’re in the mood for something spooky, pick up one of Due’s books (if you can find one – they aren’t easily accessible in bookstores), and enjoy submerging yourself into her world.

BOOK REVIEW | The Other by Thomas Tryon

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Holland and Niles Perry are identical thirteen-year-old twins. They are close, close enough, almost, to read each other’s thoughts, but they couldn’t be more different. Holland is bold and mischievous, a bad influence, while Niles is kind and eager to please, the sort of boy who makes parents proud. The Perrys live in the bucolic New England town their family settled centuries ago, and as it happens, the extended clan has gathered at its ancestral farm this summer to mourn the death of the twins’ father in a most unfortunate accident. Mrs. Perry still hasn’t recovered from the shock of her husband’s gruesome end and stays sequestered in her room, leaving her sons to roam free. As the summer goes on, though, and Holland’s pranks become increasingly sinister, Niles finds he can no longer make excuses for his brother’s actions.

My thoughts:
Niles, look at me…You have a secret. Tell it to me. Tell it to Ada.

This is the sort of book that makes you want to start reading it again as soon as you’ve finished the last page. I went into The Other expecting a quick read, and ended up getting more than I bargained for. This is the dark tale of twin brothers Niles and Holland; a story full of plot twists and chilling imagery. Reading keeps you wondering if things are things what we think they are, or if we are at the mercy of a disturbed mind? As with many works that centre around disturbed children, expect some animal violence as well.

As Dan Chon mentions in his Afterword in the NYBR edition, The Other calls to mind works by Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith – not bad company to be in for Tryon. While this was a bit slow in pace, I really enjoyed it and loved reading the final chapters on Halloween!