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Breed: A Novel by Chase Novak

breedI’ve never really read anything from the Horror genre. Unless you count those scary stories that were ubiquitous growing up, which not many horror-genre fanatics would (seriously, though, why was it okay for little kids to read those stories? Do you remember the one where the spider laid eggs in the woman’s cheek?! ENDLESS NIGHTMARES!). But I heard about the premise of the novel somewhere and then I saw on the cover that Stephen King recommended it and I thought, if I’m going to try a new genre, why not start with a book stamped with the approval of the author of that genre.

So, premise. Alex and Leslie Twisden are hella-wealthy. Like, “Oh that ottoman? It’s been in the family for generations and is worth a bajillion dollars” wealthy. They have everything they could ever want, except a child. Even after spending unspeakable amounts of money and meeting with fertility specialists, taking homeopathic medications, and dealing with witch doctors, they are sans an heir. Leslie is ready to throw in the natural-birth towel and adopt a child. But after running into a formerly barren couple of their acquaintance pushing a pram, Alex insists they try just one last time.

The couple – rather reluctantly – tells them about a doctor somewhere in an eastern European country whose success rate is unmatched. It’s all very experimental but Alex is so desperate and Leslie loves him so much, that they decide to give it a go. Soon they find themselves in the cold, desolate office of the doctor who has three shots prepared for each of them. Leslie watches as Alex writhes and screams in pain with each administration. With each needle, Leslie’s resolve falters. And when it’s her turn, she refuses to go through with it. She begs Alex for mercy, a reprieve from what appeared to be excruciating pain. But Alex simply steps out of the office at the doctor’s suggestion and listens as his wife screams his name in vain.

Yikes, guys. Grounds for divorce, much?

But it works. Leslie gets pregnant. And hairy. Like, unbelievable hairy. Everywhere. And Alex is right behind her. And they’re both craving meat. The very rare kind. And Alex can’t help thinking how much he wants to maul the family lawyer. Even though all the lawyer is doing is getting Leslie off the hook for biting a doctor. But none of that matters because soon it is time for Leslie to give birth. And she has twins. Well, triplets, really, but the third is barely human and is disposed of in short order.

The twins – Adam and Alice – live what appears to be a privileged life: prep school, wealthy home, refined parents. But nobody knows that their parents lock them in their rooms every night. And their pets keep disappearing. And so do their nannies. And nobody knows that Adam and Alice have been planning their escape from a home they have never felt safe in.

All right. Enough plot summary, guys. This book could have been so good. The plot was so promising! But the tropes used by the author came off as cliche. And some of the messages – meant to be subtle, I’m sure – came off so heavy handed. For example, Adam and Alice come to depend on one of their teachers to escape their parents. And the teacher is gay. Big deal. But Novak makes such a big deal about it. He has the teacher endlessly second-guess his actions because they might be construed as predatory. But the story takes place in Manhattan in the year 2012, not in some rural town in the 1950s. If somebody observes a man hugging a young child in a Museum, no one assumes that the Pedo-bear is on the prowl.

I wanted so much to like this book. But the poor writing, the cliches, and the unnecessarily conspicuous message that gay people are just like us were so tiresome that I couldn’t reach the end soon enough.

3 out of five coffees. Also, check out this campy trailer for the book. Are these a thing now?

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Posted by on January 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Party Wolves in My Skull by Michael Allen Rose

You probably haven’t heard of Bizarro Fiction. I know I hadn’t.

As an established genre, Bizarro is a relatively new concept, though the form and ideas have been around for a long time. As the official Bizarro website states, ‘Bizarro, simply put, is the genre of the weird.’ Combining logic of the absurd with twisted, occasionally pornographic, and always macabre themes, it brings to mind the writings of Christopher Moore, Franz Kafka, and even Lewis Carroll, just to name a few.

Since it is such a new genre, Bizarro is always looking to further the art form and release new talent on an unsuspecting world. One of the eight books released this year by the New Bizarro Author Series, Party Wolves in My Skull by Michael Allen Rose is a shining example of what it means to be shelved in the Bizarro section.

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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthyFirst of all, please don’t think I picked this book up because of the Oprah endorsement. I’m made of meatier things than can be swayed by an Empress. But when it comes to Viggo Mortensen, I’m JELLY. It might have something to do with his hair/face/body. Anyhoo, I remember seeing the cover of the book whilst shelving at the unnamed bookstore I worked for and thinking, “Oh, Viggo, when will we stop playing these games?” At around the same time my brother saw No Country for Old Men and was all, “I’m scared to sleep alone.” That movie being based on a McCarthy book paired with Viggo on the cover of THIS book slayed me. So I began the reading.

And let me tell you. It is not a happy read. Clinically depressed people and people prone to over-sympathizing, stay away. You will not have a happy thought for days. Not exaggerating.

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Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren ChildThe liquidation book fairies were very kind to me last week.  As I was cleaning up what was left of our Kids’ department for the umpteenth time one morning, I stumbled upon this lovely version of Goldilocks, as told by Lauren Child.  When I saw that it was illustrated with photographs of handmade dolls posed in a handcrafted cabin, I knew that I had to buy a copy for fellow bookseller and reviewer hardboundandgagged.  In case you don’t know her in real life (which I imagine most of you don’t), she is not only a fantastic kids’ bookseller, but she also does some very unique artwork.  A lot of that artwork utilizes dolls, and she poses them for photographs that are works of art in and of themselves.  So, basically, this book could have had her name written on it.

After I bought it and brought it home, however, I realized that I had a problem.  Although this book was perfect for her, after looking through it in more detail, I realized I was going to need a copy for myself.  And that is the really impressive part – somehow, the very next day, while cleaning up the Kids’ section yet again, a second copy materialized in front of me.  A liquidation miracle!  That kind of magical discovery would never happen while buying books online.  Suffice it to say, we both have our own copies now, and she kindly allowed me to write the review.

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The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town by Gregory Miller

The Uncanny ValleyThe premise of The Uncanny Valley is that a radio station in central Pennsylvania launched a campaign to compile stories and personal accounts from small town citizens that showcase the culture of their hometowns.  Supposedly, thirty-three entries came from the same unheard-of town called Uncanny Valley, which may or may not have ever existed on a map, and the tales they tell are singular and incredible.  Those stories are collected in this book, written in thirty-three individual voices belonging to the residents of this ethereal town.

It would be easy to categorize this as a collection of ghost stories, except that so many of them are about living, breathing people who stay that way, albeit usually with some kind of transformation.  Rather, this is a series of distinctly peculiar tales that add on one another to create a composite view of a remarkable town and its denizens.  In bite-sized installments, none of the stories more than a few pages long, we are taken on a journey through the strange and wondrous annals of the Uncanny Valley.  The fictional small town setting serves as a microcosm, within which rules we live by are bent at will and nothing is more certain than uncertainty.

Miller manages his large cast of characters adeptly, successfully transitioning between old and young, male and female, corporeal and not.  Their personal tales are deftly interwoven, giving credence to their existence as neighbors, family, and friends.  It’s fun to see characters who gave testimony earlier in the book appear in the third person walking in and out of their friends’ accounts.  Frankly, I was waiting for some historical or character discrepancy to surface, but was pleasantly surprised to find consistency throughout.

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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Book Reviews, Horror

 

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Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Much as I love short story anthologies, I tend to find them lying around half-finished, simply because it is so easy to put them down at the end of a story and get sidetracked by some other shiny book.  So although I bought this book and started reading it back in September when it was first released, it was only recently that I picked it up again and realized I had a couple stories left to go.

The premise of this anthology is an argument started via blog between YA authors Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black about the relative merits of these mythological creatures.  The stories alternate between zombies and unicorns, with a few combining the two.  The editors provide introductions to each story, arguing the virtues of Team Zombie (Larbalestier) and Team Unicorn (Black).  Many big-name YA authors have contributed, including Meg Cabot, Garth Nix, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, and Scott Westerfeld.  The bickering between the editors feels, at times, a bit contrived, but the stories deliver in fun and exciting ways.

Personally, I was firmly on Team Unicorn when I picked this book up.  In a revelation that is sure to send shock waves through the book blogosphere, I must admit: I am not a fan of zombie literature.  I know it has been very popular of late, with World War Z and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hitting bestseller lists everywhere.  But I just do not see the appeal of shuffling, leaking, previously-dead people trying to eat your brain.  Unicorns, on the other hand, have a complex and contradictory mythology.  They have healing powers and a sense of purity about them, and yet they can also be deadly.  They have an air of mystery about them.  They glow.  And they don’t leak body fluids.

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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff by Mary Roach

Stiff by Mary Roach

If you’re anything like me, you watch those formulaic detective shows. You know, the ones where everything is packaged in a neat bow at the end – usually with the help of a medical examiner who knows the exact time and date the victim was murdered. And if you’re any more like me (which, creeeepy!), you’ve wondered at the accuracy of that time and date. I mean, is it even possible to know stuff like that?

Apparently, it is.

In one of the disturbingly engaging chapters in Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, she describes a section of the University of Tennessee’s campus devoted to the study of decomposing bodies in various states of…disposal? Eek, that sounds a little indelicate. But get this: some are splayed naked under trees while others are dressed to the nines but stuffed in a car’s trunk. Still others are in shallow graves or dumped in marshy lake water. All of this is done under the scientific eyes of Professors and soon-to-be medical examiners to determine the rate at which the human body decays in various circumstances. E. GADS. Let me warn you right now: if you are at all queasy about this subject matter, for the love of all that is good and holy, do not do an image search of the University of Tennessee body farm. What is seen cannot be unseen.
 

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