Tag Archives: horror

“From the Corner of His Eye” by Dean Koontz

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After starting a full-time job, I don’t have as much time for reading.  Thus I sneak in as much as I can through audio books, which allow me to read during my biking commute and on my lunch hour (so I can eat and read at the same time).  The interesting thing about audio books, I’ve found, is that there are some stories that are best heard out loud, and some you’d rather read a print version.  Dean Koontz is one such author that writes stories that are best listened to out loud.  Anyone who knows me well is aware that Dean Koontz is my go-to author when I’m stuck in a book rut, or want to listen to something entertaining that doesn’t require a lot of brain power.  Koontz is often criticized because his characters tend to be almost cartoonish–there is almost always characters that are pure, good, and almost angel-like, and they must battle against an evil man/corporation/mystical force.  For a summer, read I am fine with characters and a plot like that.

A fellow Koontz fan recommended this book to me, claiming it was one of her favorite Koontz novels.  Right away, I realized that the book description on Amazon or Goodreads is misleading.  My short synopsis: What does a little boy named Bartholomew, a young girl who delivered a baby after being raped, and a psychopath all have in common?  In this novel of good versus evil, metaphysics, and science fiction, three stories come together in a climax that makes you question the nature of the world.  If I say any more than this, I’m afraid I might give away some spoilers. Suffice to say, this book was enjoyable in that the characters were well-developed, there were a lot of twists and turns, and I thought the ending was satisfying and tied together everything well.  It is a Koontz book however, meaning that the characters are not complex (either they are good or bad people), there is a dog (Koontz loves dogs), and the romance(s) are all very innocent.

If I had to rate this book in terms of other Koontz novels, this one would be in my top ten.   What Koontz does well is creating villains.  The villain character in this book was creepy and believable.  Also, although his characters aren’t complex, they are well-developed.  Part of the pleasure of reading this book is seeing how the characters all come together and connect at the very end.  Part thriller, part family sagas, part mediation on the nature of life/death and multiple universes, this book is all around an entertaining summer read you can sink your teeth into.

 

Thanks for stopping by my blog!  Be sure to subscribe to get the latest updates on what I’m reading this summer.  As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments about the books I discuss, and your recommendations.

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Filed under horror, Thriller

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson

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Where do I even begin?

I’ve read my fair share of books that scared me, scarred me, haunted me.

But until now, I had never encountered a book that managed to do all of that while also being mesmerizing and surprisingly readable.

This book is a young woman’s (Maya) confession in a police station.  All we know at the beginning is that she and many other girls were kidnapped and endured unspeakable horrors at the hands of a man referred to as “The Gardener.”  Though reluctant at first to open up to the cops, Maya slowly shares her heartbreaking account of her childhood and life as a prisoner with the other women.

Soon we learn that the gardener tattoos each woman with large butterfly wings (each woman’s unique) on their backs and refers to them as his “butterflies.”  As Maya confesses to the cops, the reader is taken with her on the same twisted, terrifying path of discovery as to what being a “butterfly” for the Gardener entails.

We know from the beginning that Maya and other women ultimately escape.  The purpose of the story and the impending climax is how Maya eventually became free and why she seems to hesitate at incriminating her captor.  As the novel builds up to this, the author develops through Maya’s account the characters of the butterflies and the gardener, giving them a raw humanity that sparks conflicting emotions.  It’s not a victim versus villain scenario.  It’s a complicated exploration of the dichotomy of the human condition.

This book with scare you, scar you, haunt you.  Its superior writing and storytelling are worth every emotion.

Have you read this book?  Let me know in the comments what you thought!

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Filed under Fiction, horror, Mystery

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

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“he knows that it’s impossible to tell a wolf
from a man if
he keeps his chin up
and his teeth clean.”-Sharp Teeth

What drew me to this book?  Was it the short and snappy title?  The stark cover?  Is it simply impossible for me to want to read anything but horror this summer?

No matter the reason, I found myself picking up a copy of Sharp Teeth and was subsequently sucked into an alternative reality of Los Angeles: a place spread out over the desert where wild dogs fight for power, money, and love.  Written in free verse, it reads like an epic poem; a classic tale of a hero on a journey fighting an enemy and winning the love of a fair lady.

In short, the novel centers around Anthony, a dog catcher who falls in love with an unnamed werewolf who just left her pack.  Their romance buds in the midst of a gritty and apocalyptic LA, where werewolves slip between their human and dog forms as their competition builds up to an inevitable war.  The plot is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, or West Side Story.  There’s impending chaos, but the beauty of the story is how love endures within the storm.

The most striking thing about the book is the metaphor of what the werewolves symbolize.  It’s not just a story about werewolves engaged in gang wars, but how we all have a little dog inside us; a wildness that we can learn to control, but not always.

Most of the time, the werewolves can turn into humans or into a dog whenever they wish.  When they are about to fight or kill, most often they revert to their wild side and become a dog.  However, they prefer to make love in human form.  The process of the characters changing into dogs represents their resignation to their basic, barbaric side.  As dogs, they can fight and kill with no remorse.  As humans, they are held to the same societal norms as everyone else.

Lark, a former alpha werewolf from one of the packs, is the character that stands apart because for him, turning into a dog is an escape from human responsibilities.  As a dog, he prefers to enjoy the freedom and simplicity that comes with being an animal by being with his “owner.”

Supporting the romance, action, and metaphor of this book is how the book is structured.  The free verse strategy makes you slow down and savor the words.  Otherwise, with the intense action the reader would easily slide through the story without taking time to appreciate some beautiful anecdotes.  I’ll end this review with one such example:

“Everyone is always looking in the wrong direction,
we worry about our lovers while losing our jobs
we stress out about cancer while our children run away
we ponder the stars while burning the earth.
Lark used to say the bullet we’re running from
is almost never the one that hits us.”

 

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Filed under Fiction, horror, Romance, Uncategorized

Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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Summer is in full swing and for a few months I am not a student who is also working two part time jobs. That means that my schedule is full of opportunities to read, and reading I have been doing. Guilty pleasure reading that is. My plan to tackle the behemoth that is Infinite Jest was put on the back burner when I stumbled across the horror novel Let Me In by the Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist. An anti-Twilight vampire romance/horror novel? My curiosity thus piqued, I began the ultimate descent into a Swedish vampire nightmare.

The book begins with introducing a young boy Oskar, who is a loner and frequently bullied at his school. One day he meets a young girl, Eli, at his apartment whom he befriends and falls in love with; even as he becomes more aware of her increasingly bizarre habits and behaviors. Peppered in with the central story are other characters within the town. There’s a group of poor alcoholic peers dealing with their own issues and the mysterious murder of one of their friends, the bully’s point of view, and a teenage boy living in Oskar’s apartment complex. Eli’s “father” is given his own storyline as well. I am still deciding whether or not I like this tactic. On one hand, using multiple characters and perspectives, Lindqvist transforms the novel from a simple bloody horror fest to a sort of social commentary on the poor and overlooked population in Sweden. However, I found myself caring more about Oskar and Eli and wished their relationship and plot line had been more flushed out.

This is a heavy, dark book, and not just because of the vampire aspect. Pedophilia, genital mutilation, violence, alcoholism, poverty, and loneliness are all equally prominent themes which together create a sense of pure dread. I took longer to read this book than I expected because I needed to take frequent breaks and watch something funny on Netflix to mitigate the effects this story had on me.

On the other hand, this book is very well written and fans of the horror genre will not be disappointed. It’s creepy in a way that it sneaks up on you, making you feel like you’re walking down a dark street and are positive someone is following you, even though you keep turning around and see nothing.

As people have said before, this is the ultimate anti-Twilight book. It’s a vampire love story, but it’s not sparkly skin and Robert Pattinson’s pouty expression. It takes the erotic themes associated with vampires and twists them in a way that is satisfyingly disturbing to a horror fan like me.

Curl up in a blanket, and invite this book in.

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Filed under Fiction, horror, Romance, Sci-fi/Fantasy

Horror Novels as Scary as the Films

In college, I developed an obsession of horror movies.  Not the gory ones meant to shock and appall you, but the slow burning ones that creep under your skin and exploit your perception of what is safe and comforting.  Many people like to be scared for kicks, I just prefer to do so within the solace of my apartment.

Anyways, I was jonesing for a good scare last weekend and without anything better to do, ended up reading two books that were written in the 60s/70s and promptly had successful movie adaptations that are considered classic horror films.  Have you figured out what those books are?

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Of course, The Exorcist, the movie that spawned a whole franchise of demonic possession films. Most people are familiar with the story: a sweet girl Regan, who is the daughter of an actress becomes possessed after talking to an entity she calls “Captain Howdy.”  After exhausting all other options, her desperate mother calls upon a Jesuit priest to help her daughter.

The movie is frightening in that you see a very innocent young girl turn into a projectile vomiting, swearing, cross desecrating, head turning all the way around being.  The book however is even more terrifying in that there is more of a build up of the characters, so Regan’s decline into possession is gradual and ultimately shocking.  Also, if you thought the movie was bad, the book describes in detail some more disgusting things the demon makes Regan do, which ultimately would not be appropriate at all to be shown in a movie.

Besides containing more horror than the movie, the book is better in that the characters have time to become more developed, and thus the motivations and actions shown in the movie are better understood.  For example, Karass, the priest that determines Regan is possessed, is shown to be a man full of guilt for abandoning his mother and feeling responsible for her death.  This is touched upon in the movie, but the book does a better job of showing the scope of his emotional baggage.  Compared to the movie, his ultimate action to save Regan in the book seemed more natural and satisfying.

The last great thing about the book versus the movie is the build up towards the exorcism.  In a movie, if they spent screen time covering all the events leading to the exorcism, it would quickly become boring as it would be a string of scenes involving Karass doing research.  In the book, it was a logical string of events that created eager anticipation for the climax.  Karass is very careful in the book to admit that Regan is possessed.  He actually spends most of the book convinced that she is suffering from some sort of mental disease.  It is only when he carefully considers her actions and eliminates any clear sign of mental illness that he decides to propose exorcism.  I actually appreciated this attention to detail because it seemed realistic to me.

Watching the movie before reading the book did not make this horror story any less enjoyable.  Of course, the book is always better so reading the novel made me appreciate the movie that much more.  I give this book five out of five stars for great character development, and a good mix of shocking and slow building horror.

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What if you found out the person that had vowed to love and respect you til death do you part, was actually a member of a satanic cult and let the Devil have his way with you? Yeah I don’t know what I’d do either, but that is the very situation Rosemary finds herself in in this book that went on to become a successful horror movie in the late 60s.

The horror in this book isn’t your typical serial killer or monster/ghost situation. Rather what makes it scary is the idea that the people you think are your friends and the person you think you love are actually conspiring against you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Poor Rosemary, she married the man she loved and for that her parents cut all ties with her.  All she wanted was to have a happy life in New York with her husband and have three children.  After moving into a fancy new apartment and making friends with her new neighbors, the Castevets, she finds out she is pregnant.  From there, the horror starts to sneak in as she realizes something is wrong with her pregnancy, and her husband and neighbors might not be the devoted husband and nice old people they seem to be.  Furthermore, her husband suddenly starts to become more successful in his acting career.  Is she going crazy or is there some deep dark secret the Castevets and her husband are hiding?

Of course, many people have seen the movie already or already know the ending.  I had already seen the movie myself but I enjoyed the book a lot more.  I realized that Roman Polanski did a great job adapting the book and casting the characters, but overall I feel that Rosemary’s Baby is more effective as a book rather than a movie.  My biggest issue with the movie was that not a lot happened.  In the book, you get more into Rosemary’s mind and psyche and that drives you to keep reading.  The only thing the movie added to the story was showing how the pregnancy affected Rosemary’s health.

I give this book five out of five stars because it is a good mix of camp and horror, and hooks you from the first page (I ended up reading this in less than 24 hours).

Overall, I highly recommend both of these books to the lovers of classic horror. After watching the movies, you will enjoy the great writing of these two books.  After going back and reading the novels, you will then have a greater appreciation for the films.

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Filed under Fiction, horror

Sci Fi and Horror Short Stories…Oh My!

Last week I wondered whether I was becoming a literary masochist.  Between the two volumes of short stories I read, I bounced between being horrified and depressed.  All that influenced my reading choices however was that both of the authors happen to be my two favorite novelists.  With that, let me dive into the scary one first:

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Night Shift by Stephen King

Just when I think that King can’t frighten me anymore and that I’ve read enough of his work that I know what to expect from him, he shocks me again.  Though some of these stories have ties to his other novels, such as Salem’s Lot, The Stand, and Christine, there is plenty of new horror to experience in this anthology.  Many of his short stories in this book have been made into movies, such as Children of the CornQuitters Inc., and The Ledge.  

Just as he does in his novels, each short story starts out slowly, with characters surprisingly well developped given how condensed the action is, and by the time you start to notice the goosebumps rising on your arms, the climax whacks you in the face and you suddenly feel yourself shifting uncomforably in your seat.  King is a master of what I consider to be the key to creating good horror: he takes a seemingly normal situation you would feel comfortable in, then turns the plot completely around, making you realize no one is safe and evil can lurk anywhere.

Best story in the book: it’s a tie between Graveyard Shift and The Ledge.  Graveyard Shift is terribly frightening for any one who has even a sliver of disdain for rats.  The Ledge is less scary but is suspenseful and has one of the greatest literary twists at the end.  It will have you on the edge of your seat, pun intended.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

After I read Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury became one of my all time favorite authors.  Although I am not a huge fan of science fiction, he uses the genre as a way to promote his warnings about humans and violence and our dependency on technology.  In that way, his books are powerful and dreamlike.

The Illustrated Man is a collection of short stories with an encompassing theme: in the prologue a man meets a tattooed carnie in Wisconsin.  Each tattoo tells a story.  Following are the stories that are pictured on the tattooed man’s body.  Many of the stories are about space travel, Mars, and aliens.  The sub plot in these novels is about how advances in technology have caused man to become isolated, either physically or mentally from others.  The other main theme is the generation gap between parents who hold onto old traditions and books, and the younger generation that embraces technology and distances themselves, again physically or mentally, from their forefathers.

This anthology is sometimes depressing, sometimes scary, but overall thought provoking.  It never ceases to amaze me that Bradbury warned us of a world of people dependent on technology and passionate about violent media in the 1950s, before TV had become ubiquitous.

Without a doubt, the best short story is The Veldt, which is about two children who live in a smart house.  They come to love their nursery, essentially a room completely composed of TV screens, more than their parents.  This story is completely terrifying and makes you question your own dependence on techonolgy.  If you aren’t a fan of science fiction, I recommend you at least read The Veldt.  

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

I was trying to articulate why it is I love short stories so much.  The fact that you can read them quickly is, of course, a plus, but the reason goes deeper than that.  David Sedaris said: “A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.” I don’t think I could explain my sentiments better than that.  Great short stories, such as the ones I’ve talked about in this post, have done just that.  They achieve what a great novel does in a fraction of the pages: leave you dizzy, unoriented, and somehow different.

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Filed under Fiction, horror, Sci-fi/Fantasy, Short Stories

New Year, New Book Challenge

2015 is officially here, and with the arrival of a new year, I’ve set out to conquer my 2015 reading challenge. In 2014, I successfully met my goal of reading 50 books. This year, I’m upping the ante and am determined to read 75 books. Sound crazy? I think so too. However, I have adopted the Nike attitude and will “Just do it.”

Thus far, I have read two books. Here they are:

1) “It” by Stephen King

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You might say I’ve developed a sort of obsession of King novels. You wouldn’t be wrong. From the past few books of his I’ve read, I know that I can expect a novel with meticulously developed characters, a long yet well crafted plot, and a struggle between good and evil. In “It,” these three main aspects were encountered, as well as the theme of childhood memories. Many people have probably seen the movie or are somewhat aware of the plot, so in brief, the book is about a group of adults who return to their childhood town to combat an evil entity that terrorized them as children.

As far as horror goes, this book was on par with “Christine.” The evil clown was absolutely terrifying and I’m sure if I encountered such a being as him as a kid, I’d repress those memories too. The book was further terrifying because of the sad childhoods each of the children had. The girl, Beverly, is severely beaten by her dad. One of the kids has a mom with an un-diagnosed case of Munchausen by proxy syndrome. The main character Bill finds his brother dead in a gutter with his arm ripped off. I mean, all of the characters need some serious therapy for what they went through growing up, evil clown aside.

What startled me about the book was that it showed how easy it is to repress bad memories for the sake of self preservation/so you don’t end up in the looney bin. When brought back together again after 30 years, the characters finally have to face their past so they can stop the evil clown from terrorizing and killing another generation of children.

Nearing the end of the book, I was so depressed I bought a bottle of wine and wrapped myself in a blanket to get to the end. Of course, the wine only exacerbated my feelings so I was an emotional wreck, akin to Bridget Jones after a break-up. I had to watch re-runs of “How I Met Your Mother” for a few hours to fully recover.

With that said, this has been the first novel I’ve read in awhile that really made me feel something. It tore me apart and beat on my soul, but that’s what books are supposed to do: take you out of this world and throw you back as a changed person.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars for being well written and emotionally twisting.

2) “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson
Oye, Mr. Thompson. The author famous for creating a new genre, gonzo journalism, and being an open receptacle for every kind of legal and illegal drug. I’ve joked before that I don’t feel like a real writer because I’ve never taken hard core drugs and my best writing is done in the early morning with a cup of hot coffee, not sloshed in a townie bar with a pint nearby. Thompson, on the other hand, truly lived the motto: “Write drunk, edit sober.” Although how often he edited sober is debatable.

F&L in short, is a fun drug fueled romp. I devoured the book the way Thompson took ether: I eagerly inhaled it. Having no desire to ever take drugs, it was never the less entertaining to read about his exploits, from leaving hotels without paying to getting pulled over and forgetting he was holding a beer, to his “lawyer” that matched him pill for pill. Honestly, you have to give the guy a lot of credit for being continuously high and drunk and still managing to write a funny, yet self aware book.

This book is a classic piece of American literature, and it deserves it’s fame. It represents the period of American history in which it was written and is an excellent example of gonzo journalism.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars for being well written and entertaining.

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The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Nowadays, zombie books are as prolific as YA novels. They’re everywhere. I was reluctant to buy into this new sub-genre of sci-fi/horror until I read “Warm Bodies” and was won over. 95% of the time, I like reading books with memorable characters and that have a deeper meaning than what is presented at the surface. “Warm Bodies” showed me that zombie novels can be taken seriously as literature.

The best part about working at a bookstore is that you’re surrounded by people that are just as/if not more obsessed with books as you are. A co-worker of mine at BookPeople in Texas had bought “The Girl With All the Gifts” and was telling me that the book came highly recommended to her. “Warm Bodies” was still fresh on my mind, so my curiosity was piqued when I heard that this was a zombie book. Not only that, I heard that this book was considered to be one of the best zombie novels since “World War Z.” I was determined to read TGWATG as soon as possible.

Basic premise: Melanie is a unique girl. She lives in a cell and every morning is tied to a chair and brought to class with other students. And…that’s all I will say right now because I don’t want to give away any spoliers. This book is a thriller, a horror story (quite a bit of gore), and a mediation on what it means to be human. It is a thought provoking page turner that is horrifying, saddening, and hopeful. I also appreciated the effort the author put into trying to make the science in the novel make sense.

If you enjoy sci-fi or horror novels, or liked “World War Z,” you will definitely be impressed by TGWATG. It offers everything a fan of these genres craves in a book, and to top it off it is well-crafted and has an important message at the end.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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Filed under horror, Sci-fi/Fantasy