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The Residence

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

This book is described as “gripping and terrifying” so I gave it a chance via Netgalley. I saw it was about a haunting at the White House, but really didn’t skim past that. It wasn’t until I started reading that I realized it was historical fiction, about the real death of Franklin and Jane Pierce’s son, Bennie. Now, how much else of the book is real is up to you. Some events, like Jane writing letters to her dead son, are documented, but I’m guessing that most of the story is fiction.

Sadly, I was neither gripped not terrified while reading. Even though the characters were real people, I felt like they weren’t developed enough. As a mother, I can only imagine the loss Jane felt, and her sadness was noted at length, but Franklin seemed cold to the event.

As a child, Jane saw an entity in her home she named “Sir.” He would visit and guide her from time to time. After Bennie’s death, Sir visited Jane again, and through a series of events, Bennie was resurrected, of sorts. His ghost was corporeal, solid, with a scent, and the ability to move things. As creepy as this sounds, I was never really scared. The events just moved too quickly. I think the scare factor could have been ramped up a lot with some character and plot development. It felt like every event just happened so fast that there wasn’t enough suspense to be truly horrifying. If people like low burn horror, I guess this is a good one, but it just didn’t work for me.

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The Dark Half

I read 11 Stephen King books this year, and only one The Shining was a reread. His newest, If It Bleeds, was on the list, of course. But I also made it through The Regulators, The Talisman, Joyland, Black House, Doctor Sleep, Night Shift, Cycle of the Werewolf, and Blockade Billy. My goal is to read them all, and I’m certainly getting close. The Dark Half is one that I’ve never really heard much about one way or the other. I went into it knowing nothing about the plot.

At the beginning of the book, young Thad Beaumont gets headaches. His doctors soon determine he has a brain tumor, but when they open him up, they discover that it is actually part of another human- an eye, some teeth, etc. Apparently, when Thad was in utero, he had a twin that he absorbed. This occurrence is common and nothing ever comes of it. But in Thad’s case, some of the twin’s cells attached to Thad’s developing brain, which later had to be removed.

Fun fact: When I was pregnant with my first, we discovered the same thing. He was a twin, but the other sac was empty, so he ultimately absorbed it. We thought this idea was so funny that we bought him a onesie to celebrate. Let’s hope he doesn’t follow Thad’s path!

Thad grows up to be a writer under his own name and as the pseudonym of George Stark. My guess is that King got this idea as he abandoned his Richard Bachman alter ego. Like Bachman, Stark’s books are violent, graphic, and disturbing. In a silly photo shoot for a magazine, Thad and his wife “kill off” Stark with a mock grave, coming clean about the pseudonym.

Let the games begin. Someone is killing off people who are close to Thad’s career. He claims to be Stark, but how is that possible? When Thad’s fingerprints turn up at a crime scene, the plot goes into overdrive. I can’t say this is King’s greatest book, but I did like it, and the ending was satisfying and well thought out.

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The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

As much as I love horror, I’ve never read a Grady Hendrix book. I admit that I judged his books by the cover (and title, really). I expected them to be campy and cheesy and ridiculous. What I found was quite the opposite, though. This book was awesome, simple as that. I cannot wait to read his others now.

From Goodreads:

Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.

I grew up in and currently live in the south. I know people that are exactly like these characters. Anything out of the ordinary is immediately rejected. Several of the characters are super religious, so anything they don’t perceive as Christian-like, isn’t given a second thought, which is a major plot point in this book as well. The gross factor was pretty high in places. There’s one scene (this isn’t a spoiler) where a cockroach climbs into a person’s ear. Ever since seeing Star Trek Wrath of Khan as a child where the thing crawls into the guy’s ear, I’ve had a phobia of this very event. The cockroach scene almost sent me over the edge. Gah. But I flew through this tightly-written, creative, excellent book. Highly recommend.

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The Talisman

For anyone new to my reviews, I’m a huge Stephen King. I own all his books in hardback and am currently working my way through his catalog. This year, I’ve read Joyland, If It Bleeds, The Shining, Doctor Sleep, Night Shift, Cycle of the Werewolf, and Blockade Billy. I still have a few on the list to read in the next few months, as well.

From Goodreads:

On a brisk autumn day, a twelve-year-old boy stands on the shores of the gray Atlantic, near a silent amusement park and a fading ocean resort called the Alhambra. The past has driven Jack Sawyer here: his father is gone, his mother is dying, and the world no longer makes sense. But for Jack everything is about to change. For he has been chosen to make a journey back across America–and into another realm.

One of the most influential and heralded works of fantasy ever written, The Talisman is an extraordinary novel of loyalty, awakening, terror, and mystery. Jack Sawyer, on a desperate quest to save his mother’s life, must search for a prize across an epic landscape of innocents and monsters, of incredible dangers and even more incredible truths. The prize is essential, but the journey means even more. Let the quest begin. . . .

The Talisman is one of the few books King co-wrote, this one with the amazing Peter Straub, who also writes horror books. (Ghost Story is a great one of his). The main character, Jack, is excellent. Even though he’s only twelve, he’s brave and hard-working and smart. That said, the secondary characters annoyed me to no end. They were such a distraction to the main story. The villain wasn’t really all that scary. There were other minor villains that were much worse, and Jack finds himself in some difficult situations that seem to last forever while reading.

I always wonder if I love SK’s books because they are legitimately good or because he wrote them. Can I be objective or do I just think all his books are amazing. Well, we have an answer. This one was just okay for me. I didn’t LOVE it like I have most of his other books. I know there are plenty in the past that I read and just found mediocre, but as of late, most everything has been excellent. And even though I enjoyed this one, I didn’t give it five stars because it seemed to drag for me in a lot of ways.

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Lovecraft Country

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As much as I love books, most book podcasts are rather dull and very much like listening to NPR. I need something a bit grittier when it comes to book discussion. And a friend turned me on to Books in the Freezer. And granted, these girls are very sweet and aren’t gritty themselves, but the books they discuss definitely are. They recommend some books I’ve already read and loved, so I trust their judgment. They are also really good about letting their listeners know what kind of horror the books contain. I’m not a fan of body horror, so when something includes that, I make a note not to read it. So, when I needed a book recommended by your favorite blog, vlog, podcast, or online book club for the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I knew where to turn.

I’m a couple of years behind on this podcast, so I have no idea what new books they are recommending, but this is one I remember them discussing in an early episode. And with the upcoming HBO series based on the book, I wanted to give it a try. I’ve never read Lovecraft. I’ve been meaning to, but I’ve just never made it a priority. I can’t say that I missed anything in this book because I haven’t read Lovecraft, though.

The book is really a series of interrelated short stories, each featuring one member of two different families who are close friends with each other. The “main character” of each story is usually accompanied by other characters within the families, but that main person is the one affected by whatever crazy thing is happening. Set in the Jim Crow 1950s, the supernatural events of the story are not so subtly tinged with racism. The author does a great job capturing what life was like then for black people in the US.

This book wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought it would be more of just one big battle against monsters. And technically it was, but the monsters didn’t turn out to be space aliens or similar. They were simply racist white people, which is much more horrifying.

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Heart-Shaped Box

I don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve had one spooky incident, though, but it’s not enough to convince me. The aunt of a friend of mine had recently passed away, and he was given her cd collection. I was flipping through them when the stereo turned on by itself. He was convinced his aunt was saying hello, but I just chalked it up to electronics doing weird stuff.  There are people who believe, which is totally fine, but I’m just not one of them, so ghost stories don’t really scare me much. I’m much more terrified by religious demon possession terror, even though I don’t believe in that either, than ghosts. But I do enjoy a good, creepy story.

Heart-Shaped Box is Joe Hill’s first novel, published over 10 years ago. And although, he publishes under the name Joe Hill, his name is really Joseph Hillstrom King. Yes, son of the famous Stephen King. He chose to publish this way in an efforrt to make his way into publishing without being associated with his father. His identity has since been revealed, and I don’t think anyone cares much who his father is, simply because Joe Hill’s work is truly outstanding. I’ve read Horns and The Fireman and NOS4A2 (before I started reviewing books) and really liked them all. However, Heart-Shaped Box might be my favorite. NOS4A2 was the most disturbing, by far, but Heart-Shaped Box has a sufficiently creepy story and interesting characters.

Judas Coyne is a washed-up mid-50s rocker. He has tons of money, no career, and likes his girls young. Not that young, but a good 30 years younger than him. He treats them well until he gets bored, then sends them on their way. One of them ends up killing herself after being kicked to the curb, and her family isn’t happy. This girl’s stepfather recently passed away and is now haunting Jude and his current girlfriend. Haunting is putting it mildly. He is able to inflict harm upon them and guarantees they will both die. Jude and his girl spend the rest of the book trying to escape and destroy this ghost.

If you are a fan of horror novels, or even of Stephen King, you absolutely must read Joe Hill’s work. His works are definitely reminiscent of his father’s, but there’s no coat-tail riding here. Hill has carved his own path in the genre, and I look forward to reading more of his books.

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Needful Things

*originally posted 2010 on another site

I’d say I’m a pretty solid Stephen King fan. I’ve read a good chunk of his books, and find The Stand his best by far. Only a few in there that were quite wretched (From a Buick 8, anyone??). But when I went to my well-organized library, I was simply looking for a good story. And Needful Things seemed like a pretty good one at 700 pages long. Granted, it took me a couple months to get through, but I did enjoy it quite a bit.

The poor town of Castle Rock has been the setting of many King stories, and this was an excellent finale for the town. A new store, Needful Things, opens up downtown. It doesn’t seem to have much in stock, but it does seem to have the one thing that your heart desires. For example, young Brian Rusk wants a Sandy Koufax card more than anything in the world. Needful Things happens to have it. And what do you know, the card is even autographed! Mr. Gaunt, the owner of Needful Things, asks for a nominal price, and the card becomes Brian’s. Just one more thing. Brian must play a prank on another person in town. Someone he doesn’t know and probably has never met. Brian is asked to throw mud on a lady’s sheets. Innocent enough, but that’s where it all begins. Mr. Gaunt somehow knows how to pit enemies against each other. When the mud lady sees her ruined sheets, she automatically assumes it was done by her mortal enemy. And of course the enemy has a prank played on her, and she assumes it was done by the mud lady. Craziness ensues.

The characters literally go insane with jealousy, revenge, envy, wrath, and a few of the other deadly sins. Seems like Mr. Gaunt isn’t just a regular guy.

The resolution is quite explosive in a variety of ways, and the reader isn’t disappointed with the insane amount of horrifying acts in this book. It’s a pretty solid effort by King. Good story, good violence, good creativity.

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The Haunting of Hill House

I like a good horror story, and the less graphic it is, the better. I appreciate a writer who can create a suspenseful mood, a creepy atmosphere without having to use blood and gore to get the desired impact. There are a few stories like this that come to mind, namely Bird Box. I think it’s also much harder to write a good suspense novel than one full of gore.

The Haunting of Hill House is the type of story that you just don’t see anymore. It’s not graphic in the least. There’s nothing squeamish about it. Nothing that you will need to skim past because it’s so gross. But it’s definitely one of the creepiest books I’ve read. Shirley Jackson was a pioneer of the modern horror genre. Her short story, The Lottery is a must-read. I used to teach it and my students absolutely loved it. Again, nothing graphic (I taught it to 12-year-olds) but just a terrifying concept. I’ve been meaning to read Hill House for a while and was really excited when it came up on my Kindle.

The story follows a doctor who wants to “study” Hill House because no one can spend more than a few nights there. He brings along a member of the family that owns the house and two women who are in tune with the paranormal side of the world. The caretakers only work there during the daytime, refusing to be there after dark. We soon learn that the house is built in a very odd manner, circling in on itself leaving the residents confused and lost much of the time. They learn the backstory of Hill House, and the creepiness begins. The story is a slow-burner, meaning not a lot happens in the first half, but once it gets going, the psychological effects on the residents and the readers begin.

I really enjoyed this book. I understand why it’s considered one of the best horror books ever written. Even if this isn’t your genre of choice, don’t be too afraid to give it a try. There’s no blood and guts aspect to it. Just a good old-fashioned creepy tale.

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Horns

We all know how much I love Stephen King. My goal is to read everything he has written. Since he’s so prolific, I’m reading his new ones when they come out, and then trying to catch one or two old ones each year. This year I read The Stand, am currently reading The Outsider, have Insomnia to read next month, and then another new one in the fall, Elevation. When I heard his kid was publishing under a pseudonym (kinda… his name is Joseph Hillstrom King) I was skeptical. However, I appreciated that he kept his real last name out of the picture so he could be judged on his own merit. He has four novels and two short story collections out. Horns is the third book of his I have read. I started with NOS4A2 and that book scared the crap out of me. I recently read The Fireman and enjoyed that a lot. So, when I needed to read a book with a cover I hate, I opened up my kindle, changed it to picture view instead of list view and found Horns. For some reason, my Kindle version has the movie cover. Now, I love Daniel Radcliffe and I’m sure he’s great in this movie, but I really dislike movie covers on books.

Ignatius Perrish wakes up one morning with Horns growing out of his head. He quickly realizes people can see the horns, but quickly forget they are there. He also realizes people tell him their deepest darkest secrets. A year ago, Ig lost his girlfriend. She was raped and murdered, Ig was accused of it but evidence was destroyed, so the police had no choice but to let him go. Ig professed his innocence, but people still think he is guilty. Now that everyone confesses their secrets, Ig realizes some truths from his own family, including who killed his girlfriend. Ig makes it his mission to bring the killer to justice.

Joe Hill does some great writing. He has one novel that I haven’t read, and I will definitely make a point to get to that one. I wouldn’t say Horns is graphically scary, but it is psychologically scary. You really get sucked into Ig’s revenge plot.

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Carrion Comfort

When you read an 800 page book, sometimes it truly feels like an 800 page book. On and on and on, plodding and dull. I’m happy to report this was most definitely not one of those books. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was able to fly through this one. For the 2017 book challenge, I had to read an 800 pager, and this one had been on my list for awhile after Stephen King said this is one of the greatest horror novels of the 20th century. If that doesn’t convince you to read it, maybe I can just sway you a bit.

When I first read the blurb and saw the word vampire, I just sighed to myself and thought “ugh” because I am SO over vampires. And even though I just read The Historian (review The Historian) which is about tracking a vampire, it’s really not a vampire book. Same with The Passage series. Vampires play a role, but they don’t dominate the plot. Well, vampires are the entire plot of this one. Hear me out, though. These aren’t your traditional blood sucking creatures of the night. These vampires can control your mind. I know it sounds cheesy, but I promise it is terrifying.

The story follows a handful of these vampires and the people who are trying to track and kill them. The vampires can simply enter your mind and control your body. Your will is gone. You have no ability to resist. They use you as a toy. After some innocent people are killed in a suspicious way, a small group of everyday people uncover the truth of these vampires and vow to take them down. As the chase progresses, they gain a few more helpers and lose some along the way. But the vampires and their soulless acts are what really make this story horrifying. They have no problem using and destroying people for their fun and games.

I have read much more graphic books like The Troop (also recommended by SK), but this one was wholly terrifying. Yes, it could be descriptive in parts, but overall it was just so creepy what some people are capable of. Of course, these mind control people don’t exist, but their ability to kill with no conscience isn’t unique to fiction.