Serena’s Review: “The Gameshouse”

41716946Book: “The Gameshouse” by Claire North

Publishing Info: Orbit, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Everyone has heard of the Gameshouse. But few know all its secrets…

It is the place where fortunes can be made and lost through chess, backgammon – every game under the sun.
But those whom fortune favors may be invited to compete in the higher league… a league where the games played are of politics and empires, of economics and kings. It is a league where Capture the Castle involves real castles, where hide and seek takes place on the scale of a continent.

Among those worthy of competing in the higher league, three unusually talented contestants play for the highest stakes of all…

Review: This book sounded like something altogether different. So different in fact that I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting! Was this a fantasy story? Some type of sci-fi dystopian future ala “The Hunger Games?” Would the said three contestants be fighting against each other? The sheer mystery of all, plus the appropriately creepy cover, was enough for me!

Throughout history disasters have struck, luck has failed one and served another, the slightest change can have lasting effects. It all seems so random. But what if behind many of these grand events lay a sinister and beguiling underworld where grand players used the entire earth as their playing board and kings and countries as their pawns? Who would join such a game? And more importantly, who would win?

Other than the intriguing general description, I didn’t know a whole lot about this book before picking up. Most importantly, I didn’t know that it had previously been released as three separate novellas. Once I realized this, it didn’t hugely change my take on the book, it is a fact worth noting going in, that this isn’t your typical, singe protagonist, linear story that one typically expects to find in novels. But, given the stories it does tell, I think the three separate novellas do fit very well together as a larger collection like this. It would have been interesting reading them individually, but together, you can see a greater progression, especially in the scale of the “games,” as each story unfolds.

That said, while the scale does get grander from the first to the last, I do think I enjoyed the first story the most. The smaller, more intimate setting and stakes somehow made it all feel a bit more personal and lead me to be more invested in the protagonist of that story and its outcome. As the three stories unfold, the fantasy elements begin to take over more completely. The first one felt more grounded as an alternate history with only a smidge of fantasy thrown in.

While the fantasy increased, story by story, I really liked the alternate history and blend of historical ficiton and fantasy that was woven across all three. These stories are definitely global and I liked that we got to deep dive into a few locations and times that aren’t often seen. The second book in particular, with its lush descriptions of early 20th century Thailand, was very interesting. While Venice (the setting of the first book) is always fun, it’s definitely a more common setting for a story. And the third one takes place in modern days and across the entire world. Each of these three had their own strengths, but, setting-wise, I did like the second one best.

The writing was also strong and quirky, living up to all the absurdity of its concept without becoming a mockery of it. There were some clever bit of commentary on identity, order, and chaos that were also slipped in there between the high stakes and increasing fantasy fare. I haven’t read anything else by this author, but this one was pretty darn fun and fans of hers are sure to be pleased. New readers might just find a new author to check out as well!

Rating 8: Three unique stories that seamlessly blend alternative history, fantasy and thrilling adventure!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Gameshouse” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Let the (deadly) games begin!”

Find “The Gameshouse” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Full Throttle”

43801817Book: “Full Throttle” by Joe Hill

Publishing Info: William Morrow, October 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: In this masterful collection of short fiction, Joe Hill dissects timeless human struggles in thirteen relentless tales of supernatural suspense, including “In The Tall Grass,” one of two stories co-written with Stephen King, basis for the terrifying feature film from Netflix.

A little door that opens to a world of fairy tale wonders becomes the blood-drenched stomping ground for a gang of hunters in “Faun.” A grief-stricken librarian climbs behind the wheel of an antique Bookmobile to deliver fresh reads to the dead in “Late Returns.” In “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain,” two young friends stumble on the corpse of a plesiosaur at the water’s edge, a discovery that forces them to confront the inescapable truth of their own mortality . . . and other horrors that lurk in the water’s shivery depths. And tension shimmers in the sweltering heat of the Nevada desert as a faceless trucker finds himself caught in a sinister dance with a tribe of motorcycle outlaws in “Throttle,” co-written with Stephen King.

Featuring two previously unpublished stories, and a brace of shocking chillers, Full Throttle is a darkly imagined odyssey through the complexities of the human psyche. Hypnotic and disquieting, it mines our tormented secrets, hidden vulnerabilities, and basest fears, and demonstrates this exceptional talent at his very best.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending my an eARC of this book!

Happy Horrorpalooza 2019 everyone! As you may know, in October I try to stick to books that have horror based or Halloween-y themes, as this is absolutely my favorite time of the year and I like to inundate myself with all things scary and spooky. So how lucky are we that we get to kick off the month with a book from one of my favorite horror authors, Joe Hill. Hill is one of those authors that I will always swear my devotion to, and so when I found out that he had a new short stories collection coming out I was stoked as heck. Granted, I had already read a few of the tales in “Full Throttle”, his new collection, as they had been published previously with other collections or in collaboration with his father, Stephen King. But a majority of the tales were new to me, and I couldn’t wait to tackle them all. As per usual with short stories collections, I’ll talk about my favorites, and then give an overall review of the series as a whole. And I have lots to say about my favorites.

“Dark Carousel”

This story is one of the most blatantly horror-centric tales in the collection, and it has a good amount of winking and nudging towards well loved tropes and stories in the genre. With nods towards “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, I took great delight in this creepy tale. Four friends attend a carnival and take a ride on the carousel. After they accuse the carousel operator of wrongdoing, they decide to have some fun and take their revenge on him. But little do they know that they are being watched by non-human eyes, and that their misdeeds will have dire consequences. I really, really loved this story, from the characterizations of our protagonists to the slow build of dread at the carnival and afterwards, and the come down that has ambiguity and a sense of inevitability. The loving references to “Something Wicked This Way Comes” were fun to spot, and the overall wrongness of the carnival and the carousel made for an eerie and unsettling, yet never over the top, scary story. The story isn’t terribly complicated, but it is very effective in what it is trying to achieve. The best horror story in the collection for me, hands down.

“By The Silver Waters of Lake Champlain”

This was one of the stories I had read previously before picking up this book, but given how much I loved it the first time I was excited (and apprehensive) to read it again. But on a second go through, my love for the story only grew, and it is probably my favorite story in the collection. Friends Gail and Joel are visiting Lake Champlain on vacation, and one lazy Sunday morning the two of them find the body of what looks to be a plesiosaur-like reptile. Convinced it’s the famed lake monster Champ, they have dreams that their discovery will make them rich and famous. But instead of fame and glory, they have to confront the hard truths of growing up, loss, and mortality. I first read this story a few years ago, and it blew me away and left me crying. Reading it this time and knowing how it all ends made the experience all the more bittersweet. Hill has the ability to capture tween and teenage voices in authentic ways, and he also knows how to give hints to his characters realities without being explicit. We can surmise that Gail and Joel are both a bit lonely at home, and that their parents, at least during this story, are more focused on nursing vacation hangovers than on their children and what they are getting up to on a foggy morning by the lake. Gail and Joel are probably friends more based on circumstance than anything else, but that doesn’t make their friendship any less valid, nor does it cheapen the ultimate ending this story has. They are connected by interest in the Lake Champlain Monster as well, and honestly anything that shows weird and funny friendship obsessions with cryptids is going to resonate with me, given my past (and present) fascinations with similar topics. But on top of that, for me this is one of the most emotionally charged stories in the bunch (one of the others will be addressed in a moment). Hill is so good at writing grief and trauma, and the last paragraphs are still haunting and incredibly emotional. This is a story that I would LOVE to see expanded into a novel, where Gail goes back to the lake to try to get answers and closure. And even on the second read through I was left a bit emotionally compromised. Nay, extremely emotionally compromised.

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Actual footage of my emotions at the end. (source)

“Late Returns”

I will wholeheartedly own up to the fact that as a librarian I was no doubt going to be biased towards this story. A new librarian, trying to escape his own grief and loss, takes over the Bookmobile job in hopes of spreading the love of reading to people who can’t necessarily make it into the actual library. As he makes the rounds, he starts to encounter people from other times, who may need to read books that were published after their deaths in order to feel complete. This is one of the less creepy or scary stories from the collection, and the unabashed love of reading and the testament to the power of a book is so sublime and wholesome. Hill also tinkers and plays with the idea of time and space continuums in this story in really unique ways. For example, should one of these ‘late returns’ (the name given to the out of time patrons) pick up a book that was published after their death, it may be indecipherable to them if they shouldn’t be reading it. But it will also morph it’s design to fit the design of the era the person was from. It’s little details like these that feel original and incredibly clever. On top of that, we get more emotional moments for some of the characters, from our protagonist processing his own grief to one late return whose son is fighting in Vietnam, and she doesn’t know if she will ever see him again. Again, while I love the scares and thrills that Hill creates, it’s how he taps into the human condition and all its complexities that makes him stand out.

As for the rest of the collection, most if the stories are strong in their own ways. The two collaborations with his Dad show how well they work together, though I will say that “In The Tall Grass” (another I’d read previously) sort of makes me feel like they were trying to one up each other in the shocks department (and I ultimately didn’t really care for it when all was said and done). It is a good balance of a number of genres, and they all fit together even if they aren’t explicitly connected. At the end he has little background notes about how each came to be written, and I thought that gave them even more context which enhanced the reading experience.

“Full Throttle” is a perfectly compiled collection of Hill’s various offerings, and if you want a taste of what he can do, you have a smorgasbord to choose from.

Rating 8: A solid collection of horror, thriller, and dark fantasy, “Full Throttle” has scares and heart and confirms Joe Hill’s prowess as an author of many genres.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Full Throttle” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward To in 2019”.

Find “Full Throttle” at your library using WorldCat!