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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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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA monster calls on Conor just after midnight in the shape of a yew tree looming over his bedroom window.  But Conor is not afraid.  “I’ve seen worse,” he says.  And he has – his waking life is filled with helping care for his mother during another round of cancer treatments, a father who has largely disappeared to be with his new family in America, a gang of bullies at school, and losing faith in his one true friend.  Amid all this turmoil, it is almost a relief to be visited by the yew tree at night.  Or at least it’s a nice change of pace from the monster in his other nightmare – the one that truly frightens him.

The idea for this book came from a Young Adult author named Siobhan Dowd, who unfortunately passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  (I am not familiar with Dowd’s work, but will certainly be looking it up now.)  Patrick Ness was called in to shape the idea into book form, along with illustrator Jim Kay, and the result is something special.  The language is simple but haunting, and Conor’s pain and uncertainty show in stark and heartrending ways.  The illustrations are dark, textured, and expressive, and add immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the book.  Simply put, this is a beautiful volume in terms of story, prose, and presentation.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHave you ever felt haunted by a book that wanted you to read it, no matter what?  The wonderfully-titled Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children followed me around for a couple of weeks, then appeared in my house under suspicious circumstances.  Which is to say, it was recommended to me on various websites, by word of mouth, and I saw it reviewed all over the place.  But I resisted, and wasn’t sure that I really wanted or needed to read it.  I wish I could remember what finally convinced me to pick it up, or where or when I finally bought it.  All I can say for sure, however, is that it made its way into my home, at the very top of my TBR, and I’m grateful that it did.

This book takes a series of odd (or let’s say “peculiar”) vintage photographs and builds a narrative around them.  The concept works so well that it becomes entirely plausible to consider the pictures as proof of the story, instead of merely a jumping off point for spinning this yarn.  In truth, I would have been fascinated by the book if it was just a collection of strange and creepy photographs with whatever limited information about their origin was available.  (The photos all come from personal collections, mostly cultivated through flea markets and other somewhat anonymous sources, so there is probably very little solid information available on any of them.)  In some cases you can guess at the techniques used to create an image of an invisible boy, or a girl trapped in a jar, or a young man lifting a large boulder with one hand.  Though I still found it impressive in an age when “dodge and burn” was not achieved by a mouse click in Photoshop.  Other of the photos are not as easy to explain away, and I spent more time than I care to admit just staring at them in amazement.

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