Tag Archives: horror

#2. The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

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The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey is a fascinating take on the zombie/end-of-the-world story. It is a science-fiction infusion of survival, drama, terror, and melancholy that works on many different levels as it is experienced at points by very different people: soldiers, scientists, teachers…and Melanie.

Melanie is a very special student in a classroom located at a secure military encampment far outside of London. Restrained each morning at gunpoint and wheeled to class, Melanie learns advanced calculus, Greek mythology, and the geography of a world which she is starting to suspect no longer exists. She’s glad to be safe at the base, away from a horrible plague that wiped out most of society, but unsettling questions are creeping into her mind. Is this how every child goes to school? What happened to her parents, the parents of her classmates? And why does her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, look so very sad whenever Melanie talks to her about these things?

This is a thrilling, emotional book. I would recommend it to anyone; you’ll probably find yourself somewhere in one (or several) of the people as they scramble to survive in a world that may very well have hit its carrying capacity for life as we know it.

Rating: 5 out of 5 canteens of filtered water from a hidden supply cache. 

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2015 Spring Round-Up

Happy June, all you readerly types!

Spring just flew right on by, didn’t it? I am happy to say that while :ahem: enjoying bountiful spring showers and helping my preschoolers wrap up their year, I did manage to get a few books read. Here is the 2015 Spring Round-Up for Earl Grey and a Million Words.

#2. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

yes-please-9781447283287This was a fun read! I have enjoyed Amy Poehler’s work since Upright Citizen’s Brigade somehow made its way onto Comedy Central in the late ’90s. Though I didn’t always understand the performance art vibe of the quirky sketch show, I liked the brazen energy of that little blond woman. This book acts as a scrapbook of her childhood, the formation of her career, the heartache of divorce, and the joy she finds in her sons and her deep friendships with other funny women. The section devoted to Parks and Rec made me predictably weepy, and her reflections on motherhood are sincerely charming. I especially appreciate how much she focuses on embracing joy in life and being kind. It feels so genuine, and reappears constantly as she describes crummy jobs and meeting big-time celebs on SNL. Through the highs and the lows, be kind to your heart. Laugh a lot. Help when you can. It’s all great advice.

Yes Please is an excellent autobiography; I am only sad that I didn’t wait and purchase this one on audiobook. She reads the book herself, and I can only imagine it’s a riot.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: Amy declares in her book that she drinks tea instead of coffee, as it has always been the beverage she drinks with her Bostonian mother while they chat. In this spirit, I recommend Paris Tea by Harney and Sons: a bright, fruity black tea with dreamy vanilla tones.

#3. The Martian by Andy Weir

martianI had read about this book on a Best of the Year list somewhere, so I picked it up in paperback toward the end of March. I won’t lie: this took me a long time to read. It’s a fantastic sci-fi survival story, but it focuses intently on very real science. It was the most frustrating part of the book for me — as I am not the most tech-minded person out there — but also the thing I admired most about it. Weir took real-life space travel protocol and extrapolated it out into a very readable, suspenseful book. It became a bestseller overnight for good reason. Hell, there’s even a movie adaption:

If you don’t mind reading page after page of water condensation logs and satellite trajectories, you will be rewarded with plenty of laugh-out-loud gallows humor provided by our protagonist Mark Watney. He’s stranded on Mars after a freak accident during a sandstorm, but he’s not ready to throw in the towel just yet. His tenacity is impressive, though perhaps misplaced: the terrain is unforgiving, the supplies are low, and Mark has an unfortunate gift for making things explode. Armed with botany skills and an annoyingly vast array of 1970s music and TV shows left behind by his crew mates, Mark tries his damnedest to stay alive long enough to get rescued. That is, if anyone ever realizes he’s still up there.

I would definitely recommend this one. It opened me up to the world of hard sci-fi, and I am excited to see what they do with the film.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: For the truly brave of heart, you could do as Watney does and enjoy some Martian coffee: a caffeine pill dissolved in water.

#4. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

CBJccHTUYAATN2cI love this book! I’ll say that again: I LOVE THIS BOOK! This was a spot-on recommendation from a friend of mine who knows I enjoy horror stories. The book itself is formatted like an Ikea catalogue, with glossy, wide pages, order forms & advertisements, and chapter headings resembling product descriptions. This book manages to combine the soul-sucking nature of retail work with the chilling ambiance of a haunted house. Imagine, if you will, a haunted house. Now imagine a superstore that resembles a gigantic house. Think ghosts can live there?

They totally can.

At the Cuyahoga branch of Orsk, an unabashed copycat of Ikea, the workers are starting to notice some strange things. Gross smells, misplaced furniture, water stains, and creepy scrawling notes in the bathrooms are becoming too prevalent to ignore. One night, some of them stay behind to figure out what’s really going on when the store closes. They’re in for far more than affordable living room sets and knockoff Swedish cabinetry.

I started this book on a road trip to Iowa and completed it by the time we settled into our hotel. The action moves quickly, even before any of the hapless employees realize the sinister nature of the Orsk building. It’s a unique setup for a horror story and is filled with characters you root for as they try to figure out a way to escape their horrifying ordeal.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: If you’re anything like our disgruntled retail saleswoman Amy, reluctant protagonist, you’ll opt for a refillable styrofoam cup of gas station coffee. If you’re more like me, you’ll raise a delicious (though slightly overpriced) cup of Starbucks in honor of this consumerist nightmare.

#5. Feed by Mira Grant

feedFeed is a dystopian horror story set in 2040, one generation after The Rising. The Rising refers to the fateful outbreak of Kellis-Amberlee, a virus which turns humans into zombies. We view this world through the eyes of Georgia Mason, voracious Newsie in this frightening place. She works with her brother Shawn and their partner Buffy as they try to make a name for themselves in the highly competitive blogosphere. In this future, blogging has become a more credible news source than mainstream outlets, as most network news stations refused to report on the Kellis-Amberlee virus when it first struck. In a life-changing development in their journalistic careers, Georgia, Shawn, and Buffy win a spot following the presidential campaign of a Midwestern senator and hit the road with his whole political team. But politicking after The Rising is a lot different than it used to be: zombie animals, frightened communities barricaded behind chain link fences, constant blood tests, and security sabotages make the campaign trail a potentially deadly place. In the face of viral outbreaks and political backstabbing, Georgia is determined to deliver the news…no matter the cost.

This was an interesting read, but I didn’t find myself as invested in the story as I had hoped. I will say, the world-building is phenomenal. It’s filled with detailed descriptions of daily life, public policy, transportation procedures, and security features in a world where zombies are just a normal part of the everyday. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. The main characters, however, did not feel as real to me as the world they inhabited. Georgia is a no-nonsense, high-stakes news reporter from the first page, but her initial motivation is never terribly clear to me. She rants about the power of the truth extensively and has a reputation for being a newshound, but most of the blog excerpts we read are not actually news stories. They are opinion-laden editorials about why she likes reporting the news so damn much!

About halfway in, when the plot thickened and the team was threatened from every possible direction, I was already kind of burned out on Georgia’s truth and justice monologues. I think if her news obsession had been portrayed as more of a growing realization that the search for truth was deeper and different than she had imagined it would be, if there had been some hint of naïveté at the beginning, I think I would have been able to relate to her better. As she is, she is a very strong lead character. She’s just flat.

The other characters feel equally flat, except maybe Buffy. She’s introduced as a sort of in-her-own-world boho figure, writing fiction for the site and never stepping into any zombie hot zones. As the novel progresses, we also learn she’s incredibly skilled in computer programming and creating secret bugging devices, as well as being devoutly religious on the down-low. She’s an interesting character, though unfortunately we don’t see as much of her as we do Georgia and Shawn. Also, just as a side note, Georgia and Shawn’s relationship is very awkward to me. They joke about their codependency, but it does little to lighten the feeling that their togetherness is excessive. Having a sibling myself, I couldn’t 100% get behind their repeated declarations of love for each other. Maybe if I lived in a world overrun with zombies, I would feel differently about it.

I recommend this one if you are interested in zombie stories, but otherwise it didn’t resonate too strongly with me. I might eventually read the others in this trilogy, but I’m still unsure.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: Even in this screwed-up version of the future of America, there’s still Starbucks. So treat yourself to a Vanilla Creme Frappuccino and watch the world end.

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#5. Fragile Things & #6. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

FragileThingsShortFictionsandWondersPS_PaperbackPS_1213846460After reading American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane last year, I thought I might dive in to the other Gaiman books on my shelf.

Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things is a short story/poetry collection full of creepy vignettes and heartfelt nostalgia. I was blown away just by the first paragraph of the first story, a Sherlock Holmes/H.P. Lovecraft mashup of sorts called “A Study in Emerald.” What if the Old Ones…came? And then life continued as normal? It is ingeniously written, blending the narrative deftness of a detective story and the weighty gloom of supernatural horror, and got me excited for the remainder of the book. Some of my other favorites from this collection are “October in the Chair,” “Locks,” “Instructions,” “Feeders and Eaters,” “Goliath,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” and “Sunbird.” Fairy tales, body horror, flying saucers, even a brief immersion into the Matrix universe — the creativity and diversity are so impressive!

Coraline is a delightful book, one I have been meaning to read for quite some time now. I thoroughly enjoyed the film that came out, and even had the very great privilege to talk to Henry Selick about it at SXSW in 2009. Coraline is a bright young girl who considers herself an expert explorer. Though she feels her parents and her life are fairly dull, she learns to be brave under some nightmarish circumstances that occur in her very own house. The edition I read was filled with amazing artwork, including some particularly frightening images of the Other Mother.

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Can you tell that I was a little bit into Coraline? Coraline/me, right. Flo the Progressive Lady/Delia, left.

Does anyone have any more Neil Gaiman recommendations for me?

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#1. NOS4A2 by Joe Jill

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Jade enjoys this chilling tale.

Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is a thriller, a prolonged suspension of disbelief, and a nightmare of familiar things turned grim. Charlie Manx, a seemingly soulless individual responsible for the disappearances of dozens of children, has a problem. He needs some help tending to Christmasland, the amusement park of winter delights, year-round! A place of terrifying delights where lost children will be happy…forever. The only thing in his way is a the troubled but determined Vic McQueen, a woman whose one afternoon encounter with Charlie Manx as  a teenager has left fingerprints on every part of her life.

Charlie Manx and Victoria McQueen have something in common, a gift for finding places that aren’t on the map. Covered bridges, magical cars, and Scrabble tiles all play a part in the strange world of NOS4A2. Referred to as “inscapes,” these rarely attainable places will resonate with fans of Joe Hill’s other works, with sly allusions to Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and Locke and Key.

This novel definitely fulfilled my need for creepiness. The character of Charlie Manx and his wretched Rolls-Royce Wraith will haunt you days after finishing this macabre story. Victoria McQueen is an interesting hero — half-mad from her unusual abilities, heartbroken by a hard life — who sometimes makes it hard for us to root for her. Ultimately, we see the various ways disappointment and disconnection have shaped her (along with the occasional phone calls from dead children) and how she never stops trying to make her wrongs right.

I really enjoyed this novel, and my admiration for Joe Hill grows stronger with each new book.

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Fall Favorites: #21. The Gates & #22. The Long Halloween

fall fave booksI took a break last week from American Gods to read some Halloween fare: The Gates By John Connolly and The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. The Gates is an entertaining story about a young boy named Samuel who stumbles upon a demonic plot to overthrow Earth while trick-or-treating three days before Halloween. (He feels his early attempts will be admired for his “initiative.”) A portal to the gates of Hell is opened when a “bit” out of the Large Hadron Collider flies off and winds up in the basement of bored suburbanites performing strange rituals, you know, just to liven things up a bit. Samuel spends the next three days trying to warn the town about the oncoming disaster and ultimately turns to his friends, his small dog, a misplaced minor demon named Nurd, and the CERN team in Switzerland to help vanquish his monstrous foes. This is is a fun, lighthearted, read that’s great for Halloween or any pleasant fall weekend.

The Long Halloween is a Batman graphic novel that takes place shortly after the events of Batman: Year One. A mysterious serial killer shows up on the scene who murders mob members and corrupt officials on major holidays, starting with Halloween night. The Holiday Killer eludes Gotham police, DA Harvey Dent, and Batman himself for nearly a year as they struggle through each calendar month, anticipating the next strike.

This novel explores Batman’s rogues gallery of madmen and supervillains as Gotham’s criminal element moves away from organized crime and more into the chaotic crime sprees of Joker, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, and others more typically associated with Batman’s canon. Gordon remarks to Batman, as they walk through Arkham Asylum, “So many are here. Nearly double from when you first appeared. Not that there is a direct correlation, but…do you give it any thought?” To which Batman, guided so intensely by his desire to rid Gotham of the evil that runs through the city’s veins, simply answers, “No.” The idea that Batman has created his own most diabolical enemies is a long-running one, and such a dark implication in Batman’s pursuit of justice only deepens the complexity of his character. The illustrations are mind-bogglingly stylized, and I especially love the massive foliage design of Poison Ivy. Batman fans, either new to the world or dyed-in-the-wool, must read this story.

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#19. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

ImageShirley Jackson creates a heavy, dreadful atmosphere in even the most mundane settings: a flower garden, a dentist’s office, the town square. Though her titular story is best-known for its cruel revelation in the end, her other stories create a more subtle ambiance of unease. Nearly all of her protagonists are lonely women; housewives or young professionals in the city who feel lost and trapped in busy streets or all-too-quiet country roads. There are several stories which incorporate a man of many roles named James Harris, the so-called Daemon Lover who leads others astray. Sometimes they are small manipulations, such as selling a much beloved book out from under a starry-eyed bookshop patron, other times more drastic, such as leaving his betrothed alone on their wedding day or luring a sleepy traveler into a dizzying frenzy of escape.

Shirley Jackson creates an impeccable world of sadness amid change, with several very short works (perhaps no more than five pages) devolving into frightening character rants about the newness of the world, the fast pace of daily life, and the unavoidable gaze of the many eyes around us. She uses this modern dread to examine the inner lives of women, the mechanizations of work, classism, and racism. This is a different kind of horror, a real one that manifests late at night when you feel out of place or right in the middle of the day when you can’t figure out how you got from Point A to Point B. 

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#10. The Shining by Stephen King

ImageThe Shining is, obviously, a modern horror classic. Everyone knows the story in one way or another: isolation, madness, murder, ghosts, all in a grand hotel. Kubrick’s The Shining is one of my favorite films, and I recently saw the documentary Room 237, so my interest in exploring the novel was particularly piqued.

I know King did not like Kubrick’s film adaptation. (This has apparently softened in more recent years, but at the time of the film’s release he was quite angry with the iconic director for tossing his screenplay and leaving huge chunks of familial context out.) They’re actually a bit hard to compare, when all is said and done. They are two entirely different animals, the enigmatic world of the films’ Overlook Hotel and the menacing depths of the novel’s Overlook. One tells a story of grim madness with a ghost and ghoul or two amid unnerving symmetry and sumptuous cinematic detail. One tells the detailed story of a family’s very gradual descent into the dark history of an incredibly haunted place. The tone of the film is one of doom from the very beginning; the book is one of utter suspense, as bumps in the night are interrupted by the mundane tasks of everyday life. And familiar things that become unfamiliar are, in my opinion, far more terrifying.

I really enjoyed the novel. The characters are so easy to relate to in the beginning that it becomes even more sickeningly frightening to see Jack Torrance, recovering alcoholic trying to pull his family back together, truly become consumed by the spirit of the Overlook. The slow build to all the visions and voices the hotel has to offer the Torrance family creates an unforgettable atmosphere of excitement mingled with dread.

It’s an interesting study in how memories are like ghosts, haunting us and causing us to haunt one another.

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