Weekend Getaway

February 28, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

weekendWeekend Getaway by Tom Deady

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I first heard of Tom Deady through Cemetery Dance, when they published his first novel, Haven. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s received a lot of praise, and since I have a lot of other books at the front of my reading list, I thought it might be worth reading one of his shorter works before I get around to that novel. Weekend Getaway was that work, a novella about a weekend getaway to a mountain cabin that goes awry.

To start with, it feels like Deady is channeling Jack Ketchum here, as the story develops into a The Girl Next Door sort of story. The problem is that Jack Ketchum is about the best at writing these kinds of stories, and Weekend Getaway lacks a certain touch that Ketchum brings to his works. Ketchum manages to have us understand his antagonists, even if we don’t agree with them, but the antagonist in Deady’s story is just a psychopath, full stop. He makes an attempt to give him depth, but instead turns him into a cliche, and since the entire story is balanced on the antagonist, the whole novella feels cliched.

It seems like a disservice to compare the story to Ketchum, but it feels so much like a Ketchum premise that it’s hard not to. Had I not read all of Ketchum’s works a few years ago, I might have been able to appreciate this a bit more, but the problems with the antagonist still stand. Readers who have yet to discover Ketchum might enjoy this story, but honestly, I’d recommend they read The Girl Next Door instead and skip this one entirely.

To Deady’s credit, he tells a good tale that moves swiftly, and progresses naturally, enough so that I’m still looking forward to Haven. Had I not already bought that book, I might not have felt the urge to move on to it after finishing Weekend Getaway, but the timing worked out in his favor here. Maybe I’ll even get to it this year!

Started: December 20, 2017
Finished: December 20, 2017

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Night Things

February 27, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

nightNight Things by Michael Talbot

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Part of me wishes I could have met Michael Talbot. That he wrote two books about real-world topics that have fascinated me for years (the bog bodies and the Winchester House) suggests that we might have had a lot to talk about, and it’s no surprise that I would be excited to read those novels. It’s just a shame that those two books were so disappointing.

Night Things is about a single mother and her son moving into a house modeled after the Winchester House, where staircases lead up to nowhere, doors open up onto empty walls, and some rooms are barely even accessible. They move there shortly after the mother marries a rock star (literally), and the tensions regarding these new relationships are carried over into this strange house. Of course, there’s more to the house than just being odd, and the story shows us how the three of them deal with this strange old house.

Unfortunately, the story isn’t all that good. It feels muddled, with the story jumping around from point to point, and the characters doing what’s necessary to keep the plot moving instead of acting according to their development. They’re one-dimensional, with the human villains coming across as more cartoonish than anything, to the point where I thought they were just acting to serve another purpose. No, they’re just acting the way Talbot wanted them to be, mustache-twisting and all.

This third and final novel by Michael Talbot is a sort of confirmation as to why he stopped writing fiction after this book. The Delicate Dependency wasn’t without its own issues, but it was still good. Talbot’s other two books are major disappointments, even if you don’t look at them in comparison with his first novel.

Started: December 17, 2017
Finished: December 20, 2017

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Wylding Hall

February 26, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

wyldingWylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand

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I saw this on sale in December, saw that it was an award-winning novella, and saw that it was compared favorably to The Haunting of Hill House, so of course I bought it. I was tempted to read it in a rush, but forced myself to slow down and savor it, looking for the secrets behind the story that Shirley Jackson did so well in her novel. I’m pleased to say this is the best way to approach the story.

The book is about a folk band reminiscing on the days when they recorded their now-famous album some thirty-plus years ago. It’s told in an epistolary style, as if the story is a collection of interviews with the principle people involved with the recording. It works well, in that Hand creates a unique voice for each character, but it’s also a little confusing to remember who is who, since the narrative involves more than just the members of the band. By the halfway point, I was able to remember who was who, but it took a little time, and in retrospect, I wish I had taken some notes to help me remember.

What makes the story interesting is that one of the band members disappeared during the recording of the album, never to be seen again. This isn’t a spoiler (it’s mentioned early in the novella), but it gives the story and interesting spin, since we’re in the position of learning about the principle person involved with the recordings without ever getting his own perspective on things. It reminded me a bit of The Sound and the Fury, in that they both have that theme, though Hand’s story is much, much easier to read.

For most of the book, the supernatural element is a tiny part of the story, and couldn’t be described as unsettling, or even spooky, but near the end, Hand shows us how deftly she can build the story to its one defining moment. It’s a genuinely spooky moment, though it isn’t graphic or even violent, and remembering it now still sends chills up my arms. For most of the story, the creatures seem ordinary, and like The Haunting of Hill House, the supernatural moments could be explained away (in this case by drug-induced hallucinations), except for some key details. The build-up takes a while, and the conclusion comes quickly, but the payoff is worth it.

I’m glad I read this novella, since the only other books of Hand’s I’ve read are her Boba Fett juvenile novels, which weren’t impressive. I’m glad to see she handles horror so well, and I look forward to seeing what she can do with a full-length novel.

Started: December 13, 2017
Finished: December 16, 2017

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Bone Harvest

February 23, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

harvestBone Harvest by James A. Moore

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I received this chapbook as part of a grab-bag of books from Cemetery Dance, and gave it a quick read one morning. It’s about a bone creature who resurrects himself through a gruesome process involving mushrooms and four innocent people. The story is part of a larger group of works, which Moore explains in the foreword to the chapbook, and which feels necessary to understand the context of the story; otherwise, it’s a brutal read that doesn’t serve a lot of purpose.

The story is told well, and is intriguing enough for me to be curious about the other works, but I’m not going to seek them out right now. Moore also notes that the story is intended to give the bone creature a backstory to make it more than just an evil creature doing evil things, but I’m not sure he succeeded with it. He gives the creature a moment of compassion, but it’s twisted up into something darker, and it doesn’t provide any compassion or sympathy for the beast. It’s just a beast.

Started: December 15, 2017
Finished: December 15, 2017

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The Conformity

February 22, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

conformityThe Conformity by John Hornor Jacobs

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In the previous two books in Jacobs’ trilogy, he borrowed heavily from existing horror stories, but made his stories unique partly through Shreve’s voice. In The Conformity, he mixes up his formula, and I question if it works as well as he thinks it does.

For one thing, what he borrows from horror is a little too distinctive to borrow: He adopts the giant-person-made-up-of-regular-people idea that Clive Barker used in “In the Hills, the Cities”. I’ve never seen that trope used in any other horror story, namely because it’s so distinctive, an author wouldn’t be able to get away with it without looking like a copycat. It’s not the point of Jacobs’ story like it was in Barker’s, but still, it was impossible to read this book and not think of Barker’s story.

For another, Jacobs goes outside of Shreve to narrate parts of the story, and I don’t understand why he broke that formula. In regards to the story, it makes sense — Shreve is knocked unconscious for several days, and it’s up to others in the Society of Extranaturals to continue the story — but since Shreve can now jump into anyone’s head and experience their lives directly, I question why Jacobs didn’t use this as a way to show what the other characters are doing.

The pacing of the novel feels off, too. The ending comes rather suddenly, when Jacobs spends pages and chapters showing us a side-quest that never serves a purpose to the overall story. It feels like Jacobs was padding the story to get to a certain page-count, which is still odd, when he could have spent more time drawing out the ending of the book instead.

I didn’t thing The Conformity was bad, but I can’t deny I was disappointed, either. Jacobs started out telling a unique, if familiar, story, and then ended it in a way that was weaker than the first two books. I still liked the trilogy enough to want to read more of his fiction, and I would still recommend the series to readers looking for a unique take on a coming-of-age story, but I feel like the author didn’t quite stick the landing here. Consider this book a 7.5 performance from a 9.8 athlete.

Started: December 8, 2017
Finished: December 13, 2017

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Childgrave

February 21, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

graveChildgrave by Ken Greenhall

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I devoured the other two Greenhall books I read earlier this year. Elizabeth was eerily reminiscent of The Haunting of Hill House, and Hell Hound was a fascinating look at sociopathy, so I was eager to read Childgrave, even before Valancourt Books reprinted it. Once the reprint became available, I bought it and started reading.

The story is about Jonathan, a photographer who becomes infatuated with Sara, a harpist, and invites her into his life. Once she befriends him and his daughter, he begins to see apparitions in the photos he takes of his daughter. Later, he learns that the apparitions are connected to Sara, but instead of driving him away, it only serves to draw him closer to her.

The story manages to be eerie without being creepy, so long as you overlook Jonathan’s harassment of Sara through most of the book. He’s convinced he’s in love with her, and goes out of his way to be with her, which is in and of itself pretty creepy. It’s hard to tell if Greenhall intended this to be unsettling (the book was originally published in 1981, when this sort of behavior wasn’t yet considered harassment), but looking at it from a modern eye, it certainly is.

Jonathan also serves as our narrator, and his obsession with Sara suggests he might not be a reliable narrator. At one point, he declares himself as “being an emotionally mature individual”, while confessing love to a woman he doesn’t even know, which made me question some of the events in the book. The thing is, he doesn’t come across as unreliable; instead, he just comes across as a narrator I can’t trust. I don’t think he’s lying to me about what’s happening around him, but I can’t believe everything he tells me, either.

The book is unusual in that it’s essentially two stories in one, neatly divided down the middle of the book. Interestingly, the second story is the one that reveals the significance of the title, so we spend a lot of the book wondering what, exactly, Childgrave is. It’s a long build-up, but it is necessary, even if it gives the book a disjointed feel. Again, I wonder if this was intentional on Greenhall’s part.

Childgrave reminds me of Charles Grant’s quiet horror, in that it has a slow build-up without much violence or gore. It doesn’t quite reach the standard Grant created with his Oxrun Station books, but it’s reminiscent enough to belong to the same class. Fans of that style of horror would do themselves a favor to read Childgrave, and then move on to Elizabeth and Hell Hound.

Started: December 1, 2017
Finished: December 12, 2017

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The Shibboleth

February 20, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

shibbolethThe Shibboleth by John Hornor Jacobs

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A shibboleth is, according to Wikipedia, any custom or tradition that distinguishes one group of people from others. In the case of Shreve and Jack, our main characters for this sequel to The Twelve-Fingered Boy, this is the power they have. These powers are important to a group called the Society of Extranaturals, which is the group for which Quincrux, the antagonist from the first book, is trying to recruit the two boys.

Jacobs takes a risk with this novel, separating both Shreve and Jack at the start of the book. It was their relationship that carried the story, and the first half of the novel is just about Shreve. Luckily, Jacobs still uses that relationship to define Shreve’s state of mind, even though he’s not present; in fact, it’s his absence that drives Shreve’s character. Eventually, the two characters reunite, but this series continues to be a coming-of-age story, and one of the risks of growing up through the teen years is friends growing apart.

The story will likely remind most readers of X-Men, and fans of Stephen King will see some influence from The Shop, the secret agency that recurs throughout his middle-era books. Like The Twelve-Fingered Boy, though, the book does its own thing with borrowed themes, and stands on its own well enough. It’s much darker than either influence (yes, some parts are even darker than Firestarter), and Shreve’s voice stands out to make the book unique.

Since this is the middle book of a trilogy, it ends at the darkest moment for the main characters, leading us to the final showdown in the third book. Jacobs sets up the events well for the conclusion, even going so far as to play with our expectations for how it will develop. Following the tone he’s created with the first two books, the third should be just as impressive.

Started: December 4, 2017
Finished: December 8, 2017

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The Twelve-Fingered Boy

February 19, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

twelveThe Twelve-Fingered Boy by John Hornor Jacobs

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Shreve Cannon is a big-wig in juvie. He’s the connection if you want candy, and he knows how to use people’s sweet teeth to get what he wants. That all changes, though, when Jack, the new kid, shows up. He seems to be the usual newbie, crying at night and keeping to himself, but Shreve figures he’s something special because of his twelve fingers. And then there’s the thing that happens when Jack gets angry.

The premise isn’t anything new, but Jacobs brings a new voice to this kind of story, through Shreve. He’s a standard juvie/jail tough guy, at least as much as his front will allow. He winds up being more compassionate and sympathetic than one would expect, since his tough guy image is related to his position as the candy supplier. He still talks like a tough guy, though, and he serves as the narrator, which makes it a little difficult to get into the story, since his voice can be off-putting.

Jacobs also makes the story bigger than just Jack and Shreve, but what sells the story is the relationship between the two boys. It’s a coming-of-age story set against the background of developing powers, those powers serving as a metaphor for developing into the adult they will become. It’s a compelling story, with strong characterization, and even if parts of the story seem like they’re heavily borrowed from Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort, it’s unique enough to stand on its own.

This is the first book in a trilogy, though, so be forewarned that the story Jacobs is writing is larger than the one that exists in this book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but just know going into the story that you won’t get all your questions answered here. Jacobs raises a lot of them, so it’s best to be prepared going forward.

Started: December 1, 2017
Finished: December 3, 2017

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Rebel Force: Uprising

February 16, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

uprisingRebel Force: Uprising by Alex Wheeler

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Now that X-7 has found his identity, it’s time for Luke to get brainwashed to serve the Empire. I guess. This is an odd book that attempts to take us up to the events of The Empire Strikes Back, but what happens in between is hardly groundbreaking stuff. It feels convoluted and forced.

Wheeler continues to mischaracterize the main characters. He manages to make them sound right while having them act completely out of character. The choices they make continue to serve the plot and not the characters, and when he’s writing about characters everyone already knows and loves, it’s a poor choice. We’re going to be able to tell when they act out of character, and the story will suffer for it. He managed to do this for five out of the six books in this series.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it brings this series to a close. It doesn’t feel like Wheeler gets the characters he’s writing about, and he tries to include so much fan service that it makes the Expanded Universe feel so much smaller. At least the books didn’t take that long to read, but I certainly wouldn’t add this to any must-read lists.

Started: November 30, 2017
Finished: December 1, 2017

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The Bog

February 15, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

bogThe Bog by Michael Talbot

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I’ve been looking for years for the definitive horror novel set in a bog. Neither Rick Hautala’s Moonbog nor Phil Rickman’s The Man in the Moss quite hit the mark, and I was hoping that Michael Talbot’s The Bog — featuring the actual bog bodies and enjoying a reprint by Valancourt Books — would be the one. Alas, I’m still looking.

The story gets off to a good start, but it suffers for not being atmospheric and having weak characterization, and that the narrative itself feels very telly. The story also jumps all over the place, so that as soon as you start to get a handle on one part of the plot, Talbot introduces a different aspect of it and decides to make that the focus of his story.

It also doesn’t help that this is another book featuring a character with an eidetic memory, which makes this the fourth book in the last three months to feature one. This isn’t Talbot’s fault — if anything, this book has the earliest publication date of all four books — but it is a tiresome device, and one that’s still being reused. It just hurts that I’ve seen it so frequently in my latest reads.

Another aspect of the book that felt weak was the magic Talbot incorporated into the story. For me, what makes a magic system work is its rules; they have to hang together well, and the story has to be supported by those rules. Talbot explains all of the rules, but he doesn’t do so until nearly the end of the book, so for much of the story we’re wading about, trying to understand why things are happening the way they do. I think the story would have been stronger had we had those rules explained earlier in the book.

The Delicate Dependency was an odd book with fast-paced action interspersed with boring day-to-day minutiae, and I was expecting something similar with The Bog, Talbot’s second book. Instead, what I got was an unfocused mess with a few points in its favor, but not enough to elevate it to the classic status I was expecting from a Valancourt reprint. Maybe I just let my expectations get the better of me.

Started: November 21, 2017
Finished: November 30, 2017

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