Kate’s Review: “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible”

23308488Book: “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and Robert Hack (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Archie Comics, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book?: The library!

Book Description: On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress Sabrina Spellman finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. Archie Comics’ latest horror sensation starts here! For TEEN+ readers.

Compiles the first six issues of the ongoing comic book series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Review: Okay readers, listen up! It is my first post in the month of October, and I have a certain thing I do every year during my favorite month: It’s called Horrorpalooza and I will be reading all horror, all the time. Well, at least things that have to do with horror, be it the genre itself or stories about ghosts, ghouls, witches, zombies, and other things that go bump in the night. So we are starting this horror festival off right with “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible”. I had a couple of associations for Archie Comics’ magical heroine Sabrina “The Teenage Witch” Spellman from my youth. When I was in elementary school it was the plucky spin off character from Archie Comics. When I was a tween and early teen it was Melissa Joan Hart’s TV character who showed up on my TV every Friday night (until she went to college and the cast went through a huge overhaul. Forget that!). So when I heard about the newest version from Archie comics, and heard that it was supposed to be scary and horror based, I didn’t have big expectations. I figured it would be marginally creepy, maybe like “Scream Queens” level creepy, and that it would be kind of fun.

Oh my God. I was so, so very wrong. Because in the very first scene, Diana Spellman is running through the woods with her baby daughter Sabrina, hoping to save her from the family of witches she had unwittingly married into…. Only to have Edward, her husband, stick her in a mental institution after wiping her sanity from her.

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This is not the Sabrina of my youth. (source)

Friends, in this story arc, Sabrina is a teenage witch living in the 1960s and her aunts are brides of Satan. As she is approaching her sixteenth birthday she has to choose between devoting her life to Satan and witchcraft, or to pick a mortal life to live with her high school sweetheart Harvey Kinkle. But there is also the threat of Madam Satan, a powerful witch from the Spellman family’s past who is hell bent on revenge. This is some Anne Rice “Witching Hour” stuff here, guys, and let me tell you, it is done VERY well. It also caught me completely off guard, as I did not expect this dark, twisted story to come from ARCHIE COMICS of all places! Between Aunts Hilda and Zelda partaking in cannibalism and Sabrina herself casting spells that take away people’s free will, and Madam FREAKING Satan peeling people’s faces off (off page, thankfully) to place across her own mutilated face, I felt like I was reading an old school folk tale about witches in all their evil, nasty glory, and I was LIVING FOR EVERY MOMENT OF IT. Because “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is a damn good horror comic, and I would even go so far as to say that it’s the best horror comic out there right now.

The twisting of the old Sabrina story is incredible, really. I love the new fun and funky witch stories that have cropped up in the 20th and 21st centuries, like “Bewitched” and the original “Sabrina” stories, but there is something to be said for some of the scary portrayals like “The Blair Witch Project” (and its recent sequel) and “The Witch.” By taking Sabrina Spellman, one of the tamest of witch stories, and making it into a Puritanical nightmare, Aguirre-Sacasa has made a new horror narrative that also, somehow, has its tongue planted firmly in cheek. There is something both upsetting and hilarious about seeing Sabrina Spellman ride a big black goat through the air as part of her “christening,” just as it’s unsettling seeing Betty and Veronica in Riverdale trying to raise a succubus to finally settle their feud over Archie once and for all. I was laughing and also freaking out about how royally screwed up this all was. We are following incredibly wicked characters, characters who commit heinous acts and commit themselves to what we are to believe is the worst kind of evil in this world, and yet they are so familiar and kind of devilishly fun in how they’ve gotten so twisted up. The only two characters that seem to have their original, fairly benign and caring hearts, are Sabrina herself, and her dutiful cat Salem. And my God was it just nostagia-filled loveliness to see that Salem is still there for his witch.

The artwork, too, is a sight to see. It was what really tipped me off right as I opened it that this was going to be something far greater than I anticipated. It looks like watercolor sketches, which gives the book an eerie and dreamy feel. Robert Hack has also been known for his other comic work, such as “Afterlife with Archie” and a few runs at “Doctor Who”, and his style really adds to the aesthetic of the story.

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(source)

I love the faded quality to it, with the splashes of realism when it comes to a book that Sabrina may be reading, or a very important moment or character. I find it gorgeous and I hope that Hack stays with the series in its entirety. I can’t imagine it with any other style.

So if you are looking for some serious hardcore witch stories this lovely October, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible” needs to be put on your list. The tribute to old time witch mythos combined with a familiar, if not very inverted, cast of characters is an act of genius. Sabrina Spellman, I am so happy that this is what you’ve become.

Rating 10: A fun and incredibly disturbing horror comic for fans of old school witch and witchcraft mythology. The best horror comic being written right now, hands down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is fairly new and has not found its way on many lists yet. But check out “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Witches and Other Sundry Spirits”.

Find “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Forsaken”

9775490Book: “Forsaken” by Leanna Ellis

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: “Hannah cannot move on.”

She pines for Jacob, the boy who saved her life when she drowned, bringing her back from the brink of death by breathing life into her.

“But Jacob is gone now, buried.”

Levi’s love for Hannah burns just as strong. But he knows how much Hannah loved his brother Jacob. He also knows the troubling event that took Jacob out of their lives. And he lives with that lie every day.

So when a stranger named Akiva comes to their community, he carries with him two secrets that will change their lives forever: he is in fact Jacob, whom Hannah had lost. And he is now a vampire.

When passions stir and secrets are revealed, Hannah must choose between light and dark, between the one she has always loved and the new possibility of love. But it’s more than a choice of passion; it’s a decision that will determine the fate of her soul.

Review: Did you know that there is not only Amish Romance, but apparently there is also AMISH VAMPIRE ROMANCE???

DID YOU!?!?!?

Because I didn’t, and the moment that I found this out I was like

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WHY IS THIS A THING?! (source)

So what did I do? I requested it as soon as I could because OH MY GOD HOW BIZARRE. I don’t know what I expected. I mean, it’s laid out pretty plainly just what this book is going to be. We have a pious and pure Amish woman who is tempted by a vampire because he’s her long lost love, so of course it’s going to be filled with over the top moments, dialogue, and nonsense. And I know that this book is SO not written for me. But….. Let’s be real, Amish Romance is a special niche of Christian fiction that lets people enjoy wholesome romantic scenes without having to worry about smutty moments. So to me, adding a vampire isn’t going to end up in any way outside of good conquering evil and goodness triumphing over the unholy. But this book gives it the ol’ college try of making the story unpredictable. As if we didn’t know that ultimately Hannah was going to choose the side of the light. Which, hey, more power to Hannah and more power to that kind of story, as some people like that kind of thing. But there sure were a lot of things about this book that rubbed me the wrong way outside of my own predilection for walking on the wild side, fiction wise.

And okay look, you’re going to get some spoilers here, so buckle up.

First of all, I was a bit taken aback by the implications that Jacob (or Akiva, as is his vampire name), the Amish boy who was so taken with travel, art, poetry, and a potential life outside of the Amish community, was effectively punished for his wanderlust by being turned into a vampire. And beyond that, he was portrayed as selfish for being intrigued by a life outside of his community, as if even deigning to imagine a life outside of it is an act punishable by vampirism. Though it seems not to happen terribly often from my limited research, Rumspringa does sometimes lead to people leaving the Amish community. So what is that saying about those who legitimately don’t fit in within the community they were born into and do want to leave it? As it was it kind of came off as judgmental and kind of shame-y, as if you were going to be corrupted for the rest of your days by choosing a different path. Or in Jacob’s case, even thinking about it, as he did, in fact, return home to be baptized! He was just turned into a vampire before he could be. So even thinking of it is so bad you’re punished in such a way? Jacob was this whole concept personified, especially since we had the contrast of his brother Levi (who is the other point in the love triangle with Hannah and Jacob/Akiva). Levi is not only a true and devout Amish man, but also the TRUE hero of the story here in more ways than one. The part that had me absolutely incensed was that when Hannah, our heroine, was younger she almost drowned, and as she remembers it Jacob pulled her out of the water she was caught up in and saved her by breathing air back into her lungs. It was actually a kind of nice backstory to their romance, in my opinion, as it displayed bravery on Jacob’s part and also affection, as well as showing why Hannah may have had a deeper connection to him outside of being essentially betrothed to him. But then, at DEFCON ONE of the climax, it is revealed that it was actually Levi the whole time that had saved her! And JACOB was panicky and scared and did nothing when she was unconscious! So Jacob, who is a freaking vampire and couldn’t even have ultimately won Hannah’s hand in this kind of gross and weird love triangle in the first place, doesn’t even get to have that act of heroism going for him, and is in fact a total coward!! Was that necessary? I don’t think so. I don’t understand why Jacob couldn’t have been more well rounded and multi-faceted, but oh well, apparently you can only be purely good (the steadfast and dependable Levi) or purely evil (the flitty-dreamer-coward-turned-vampire Jacob/Akiva). Heaven forbid there be complexity to these characters. Jacob could have been brave once in his life is all I’m saying.

I also took serious umbrage with poor Hannah’s portrayal. At one point I thought that we were getting a kind of self assured and headstrong female lead who could handle herself, as at one point she told Levi that she didn’t need him to protect her and that she could take care of herself. I’d hoped that that was going to be a theme for her throughout the book, but then it became abundantly clear that no, she couldn’t actually take care of herself and she quite obviously did need Levi’s protection and guidance. After all, Jacob encourages her to dance, drive in a car, and drink alcohol, and this is portrayed in a negative way as if he’s leading her astray IN SPITE OF THE FACT that Hannah never did participate in Rumspringa! So this could feasibly be seen as her doing what most Amish kids are encouraged to do!!! Not once is Hannah portrayed as her own person. She either belongs to Jacob, Levi, or a higher power. Never herself.

And again, I know that this is a different value system than mine, and that this book is not for me but more for them, but the moment you bring vampires into a story, it’s fair game for me. So let’s talk about the vampires. I liked that they are portrayed as more animalistic and less romantic. I liked the mythology that Ellis gave them, as limited as it felt at times. But I also felt like there wasn’t much research done into the history of vampires and how they are portrayed in literature. There was a scene with a character named Roc, a cop from New Orleans with his own personal vendetta against vampires (and a character that I actually thought was pretty okay, when all was said and done. Of course I like the hot mess abrasive cop who drinks too much). In this scene he’s talking with a childhood friend who is now a priest, and he asks if sunlight is indeed something that can hurt vampires. His friend says no. I was pretty excited, because yeah, in older vampire lore sunlight didn’t play into it, that’s a comparatively new part of the mythology. But then the priest said something along the lines of falsehoods being perpetuated by vampires and vampire sympathizers to keep their actual weaknesses hidden, to which Roc asked if that meant that Bram Stoker was a vampire or vampire sympathizer, to which he got a veiled yes.

Guys, in the book “Dracula”, Count Dracula WALKS AROUND IN THE DAYLIGHT. And by this books logic, that confirms that vampires can walk around in daylight! So how would being totally truthful make Stoker a vampire or vampire sympathizer?! I’m okay with promoting fun ideas of vampire myths being propaganda that can be twisted to what suits them, but if you’re going to do that, know which myths apply to which stories!

So yeah. This book wasn’t for me. I couldn’t even really enjoy it in a guilty pleasure ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of way. But, that said, I know that a lot of people probably would like this book, both legitimately and ironically. And so it’s with this book, “Forsaken”, that I finally get to pull out Ranganathan’s Rule Number 3 as I side eye the HELL out of it.

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Amish Vampire Fiction is not for me, but it may be for you. “Forsaken” is certainly unique, and while I didn’t enjoy it, that doesn’t mean that others won’t. Every book its reader. Just gotta keep repeating that.

Rating 2: I had high hopes for silly fun, but ultimately really didn’t enjoy this one. Some of the vampire stuff was pretty okay, but overall it didn’t do it for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Forsaken” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Amish Mysteries”, and “Magic, Adventure, Romance”.

Find “Forsaken” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Natural Way of Things”

28251422Book: “The Natural Way of Things” by Charlotte Wood

Publishing Info: Europa Editions, June 2016 (originally Allen & Unwin, October 2015)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert in a story of two friends, sisterly love and courage – a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted.

Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a ‘nurse’. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? What crime has brought them here from the city? Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world? Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them: in each girl’s past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue – but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the jailers have also become the jailed. The girls can only rescue themselves.

The Natural Way of Things is a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted. Most of all, it is the story of two friends, their sisterly love and courage.

With extraordinary echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies, The Natural Way of Things is a compulsively readable, scarifying and deeply moving contemporary novel. It confirms Charlotte Wood’s position as one of our most thoughtful, provocative and fearless truth-tellers, as she unflinchingly reveals us and our world to ourselves.

Review: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read a version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” that was amped up on steroids? Well “The Natural Way of Things” takes it a few steps further and puts it on PCP. This is one of the books that I heard about through a description my mother sent me via email. She knows what I like. Set in a desolate Outback wasteland, I also got hints of “Mad Max: Fury Road” from this book, as it’s a violent tale of misogyny run amok. Unfortunately in this one the imprisoned women don’t have an Imperator Furiosa or Max Rockatansky there to whisk them away in a tanker truck. These women, their crimes getting caught in a sex scandal with a man or men with a considerable amount of power, are trapped in a desert complex with sadistic guards and a dwindling food supply. Rough, rough stuff. Thanks for sending it my way, Mom. This is the same woman who sent me a review of the awesome “What Belongs To You”, a book that starts with a gay hook-up in a public bathroom in Bulgaria.

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Probably my Mom whenever she shoots me an edgy book recommendation. (source)

But I’m glad that it’s rough stuff. I like that Charlotte Wood takes a hideous thing and doesn’t make it titillating, doesn’t gloss it over. There are descriptions in this book, from wounds to violence to homemade tampons with gross supplies, that made me cringe and flinch. The crime these women committed was the crime of being sexual beings whose sexuality threatened male power structures. Is it a little on the nose? Sure. But that doesn’t make it any less effective.

We mainly follow two women in particular. There’s the young and fierce Yolanda, who had sex with a number of players on a sports team (though the consent of this was, to me, questionable at best). Then there’s Verla, a bit more mild mannered and caught in an affair with a high powered politician. They cope in different ways with their capture. Yolanda becomes obsessed with trapping and skinning rabbits for food, while Verla hunts ceaselessly for mushrooms. Their routines and their deep friendship is what keeps them going, but their circumstances are so horrific you kind of wonder why they would want to. I loved both of them in their own ways, Yolanda for her ferocity and Verla for her cunning. They are strong in very different ways, being two examples of well written and tough female characters who are still realistic within their circumstances. The other women are also given a lot of depth, with a lot of them having their own unique personalities. Some of them are kind, others are not, but they are all victims and Wood makes it clear that none of them deserve what is being heaped upon them.

Wood’s writing is literary and her prose is haunting. There are passages and phrases in this book that flow effortlessly and evoke vivid imagery. She portrayed this camp so well that I could see the dust in the air, feel the heat, smell the stenches. It was a hard read, but in it’s horror and devastation there was a beauty in her words and a poetry in her writing. Her characters are also well drawn out, from the prisoners to the guards as well. There are a couple of guards we focus on, and while they do have their moments of extreme violence towards women, their disdain for women in general adds to the violence in another way. One of the guards is described as a hippie type who loves yoga, but his poisonous bile he spews about his ex girlfriend goes to show that words can also reduce women to animals, almost as much as leashes and prisons can. I almost had a harder time reading these horrible words he was saying about a woman who wasn’t even present, just because who knows how many women are spoken of in such a dehumanizing and objectifying way every minute of every day. This was the realest part of the book, and it was a punch in the gut.

I think that the only part of this book I had an actual critical hard time with (because I mean, I had a hard time with a lot of it) was that I wasn’t totally certain if this was supposed to be set in the present, real Australia, or a fictional dystopian Australia. Lots of people have listed it as Sci-Fi and Speculative fiction, but I didn’t really see much that would imply that this was the case. Well, outside of the whole ‘women rounded up and sent to a prison camp for being involved in sex scandals’ thing. I guess that to me it didn’t really scream Sci-Fi as a whole with just that aspect of it.

In a time where rape culture and misogyny is being spoken of more and more, I think that a book like “The Natural Way of Things” is an important work to showcase and talk about. “Mad Max: Fury Road” brought up these themes and attracted the ire of angry misogynists all over the Internet. “The Natural Way of Things” pushes these themes further, and flat out spits in the faces of those same creeps. It wasn’t an easy book to read, but it’s scathing take down of societal hypocrisy and violent chauvinism makes it a must read.

Rating 8: A scathing and well written novel about dangerous misogyny and rebellion. This should probably be on Women’s Studies reading lists everywhere, and that’s not snark.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Natural Way of Things” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Best Feminist Fiction”, and “Australian Speculative Fiction”.

Find “The Natural Way of Things” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”

27064358Book: “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” by Paul Tremblay

Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Late one summer night, Elizabeth Sanderson receives the devastating news that every mother fears: her fourteen-year-old son, Tommy, has vanished without a trace in the woods of a local park.

The search isn’t yielding any answers, and Elizabeth and her young daughter, Kate, struggle to comprehend his disappearance. Feeling helpless and alone, their sorrow is compounded by anger and frustration. The local and state police haven’t uncovered any leads. Josh and Luis, the friends who were with Tommy last, may not be telling the whole truth about that night in Borderland State Park, when they were supposedly hanging out a landmark the local teens have renamed Devil’s Rock— rumored to be cursed.

Living in an all-too-real nightmare, riddled with worry, pain, and guilt, Elizabeth is wholly unprepared for the strange series of events that follow. She believes a ghostly shadow of Tommy materializes in her bedroom, while Kate and other local residents claim to see a shadow peering through their own windows in the dead of night. Then, random pages torn from Tommy’s journal begin to mysteriously appear—entries that reveal an introverted teenager obsessed with the phantasmagoric; the loss of his father, killed in a drunk-driving accident a decade earlier; a folktale involving the devil and the woods of Borderland; and a horrific incident that Tommy believed connected them all and changes everything.

As the search grows more desperate, and the implications of what happened becomes more haunting and sinister, no one is prepared for the shocking truth about that night and Tommy’s disappearance at Devil’s Rock.

Review: So the other night, the moment finished “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, I closed the book, set it on my night stand, and thought to myself

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(source)

I knew that I would need to ruminate on it for a little bit and let it stew. Its interesting, because Tremblay’s other book I’ve read, “A Head Full Of Ghosts”, seemed pretty straight forward and clear cut to me. I devoured that one, made an opinion, and called it a day, even though I know that others contest my theory about it (my friend Hillary in particular). But with “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” I found myself filled with questions. After going back and not only thinking about it, but re-reading parts of it as well, I have made up my mind about this book: I greatly enjoyed it. Part of that enjoyment comes from the fact that there isn’t really any clarity as to what really happened. We have about as much knowledge as the characters in this book, cobbled together from diary entries, hearsay, unreliable witness statements, and local legends and rumors. The big question is what happened to Tommy Sanderson? Is it supernatural, or just a regular, worldly evil? Tremblay is great at making you question the things that you read in his books, and boy was I questioning everything.

I first want to talk about the family that is holding out hope for Tommy. Tremblay writes the horror a parent feels when their child is missing in an honest and empathetic way, as Elizabeth is at times both completely panicked and anxiety driven, to numb and almost subdued. She has her moments of doubting everyone around her, even her other child, Kate, and wondering if anyone is being one hundred percent honest with her and what they know. It doesn’t help matters that she is convinced that she saw a vision of Tommy in his room after his disappearance, a shadowy shape crouched down and looking distorted. She feels his presence, she sees him, she smells him, but questions if it’s Tommy, or a ghost, or an omen, or merely her faculties starting to fall apart. This isn’t the first horrific loss that the family has experienced, as the family patriarch left them and then was killed in a drunk driving accident, which raises more questions about Tommy as well. Is this something that has haunted him and affected him for all these years? Is this a trauma that he never really recovered from, and that has altered his state of emotional being? Is this why he’s obsessed with zombies and disaster? Elizabeth’s inability to know and the fact that it is driving her mad is so heartbreaking, but so real. It’s also very hard to read about how it’s all affecting Kate, her other child and Tommy’s little sister. Kate is also hurting and scared, but has this twelve year old girl need to be tough and a supportive, so much so that she makes some very bad decisions when she thinks that she is taking care of her Mom. Seeing the role reversal of a child caring for a parent in this way is always so sad, and Elizabeth and Kate are just another well done example of this dichotomy. I really liked Kate and how Tremblay wrote her, complications and all.

The only insight we get into Tommy’s state of mind is through a frenzied journal, and what his friends and loved ones say about him. His friends portray him as just one of the gang, part of a group that is still having their long summer adventures a la “Stand By Me” or “The Goonies”. But Tremblay slowly reveals that maybe this isn’t the case, and that maybe even their perceptions and depictions of him, even beyond the secrets they are keeping, aren’t quite true either. Those around him only see him through the lenses of a mother, a little sister, and his pals, until the strange and upsetting diary is found. And even that is unclear as to what is the truth and what isn’t. I think that by making Tommy so mysterious, even when so much of him is laid out in the open, is what makes this book all the more scary, and all the more tragic. The one thing that is clear from all of the misdirection and false fronts is that Tommy is lost in more ways than one, and seeing it all written out and pieced together was incredibly heartbreaking. He is searching for someone to really understand him, and unfortunately a rather cryptic and strange character realizes this, and decides to take advantage of it. In this way, the horror of the story is far more real than ghosts, or devils, or other things that go bump in the night. It became evident that, even though perhaps there are strange and supernatural things afoot, the real scary thing is that sometimes we don’t really know those that we care about the most, and if they disappear we will be left with a huge, gaping hole that is filled with far too many questions. And we ultimately may not be able to protect them from those who want to take advantage of them.

And since this is a horror book, and since Tremblay is a damn fine horror writer, I need to talk about the creepy and weird shit that goes down. I already have an abject fear of waking up in the night to see a strange shadow person in the window or in the corner of my room, so whenever this part of the story happened shivers ran up my spine. Shadow people are present in many different kinds of folklore, and the way that they were described in this book was so effective and upsetting that I still feel a bit disturbed by it, a few days after finishing it. I like that Tremblay gives different explanations, from mass hysteria to the Third Man Phenomenon to just plain out supernatural terror. There is one scene written out in transcript form, that describes a Shadow Being combined with a bit of Uncanny horror to top it off, and I was practically shaking I was so tense. I don’t want to give anything away, but my God, it was so unsettling that it’s really sticking with me. Ultimately, the concept of shadow figures and shadow doubles could be a metaphor for other things, or it could just be a flat out creepy entity to instill fear into the reader. But it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that it scared the hell out of me, as unless it were a “Parent Trap” kind of situation I think that the thought of running into a Shadow Double or Doppelganger is just the very worst. Ugh. Thanks, Mr. Tremblay, for freaking me the hell out in that regard.

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More like ‘let’s stalk outside peoples’ windows together’, am I right?! (source)

I was left super disturbed by “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, and though it took a bit to build up and terrify me, terrify me it did. Paul Tremblay has continued to prove himself to be one of the best horror writers out there at the moment, filling his stories with scares and also a lot of emotions. And a whole lot of ambiguity, which I have accepted and come to really, really appreciate. If you read it at night, don’t do it by a window.

Rating 8: A slow burn horror story that is both terrifying and tragic, this newest book from the fabulous Paul Tremblay is another true winner. Ambiguity abound, but that can be the best thing about a horror story.

Reader’s Advisory:

Since “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” is still fairly new, it isn’t on many Goodreads Lists at the moment. However, with the themes it has, I would say look at “Popular Missing Persons Books” and “Popular Coming of Age Books”. And hey, if you have Netflix, give “Stranger Things” a try because MAN are they similar in a lot of ways (and I mean that it absolutely the best way possible)!

Find “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Loney”

25458371Book: “The Loney” by Andrew Michael Hurley

Publishing Info: John Murray, August 2015 (first published September, 2014)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest.

It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is.

I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget…

Review: Gothic horror is a genre that has been making something of a comeback in recent years. The themes of isolation and madness and the inability to trust what you are seeing are all very upsetting, and in a time when manor homes and country life has changed and dwindled these themes have evolved to fit even the urban life. So perhaps our recent fears of losing touch with each other in spite of being so connected have paved the way for this comeback. “The Loney” by Andrew Michael Hurley goes back to the basics of the gothic horror novel, setting it in an earlier time and yet making it feel even earlier. Though it takes place in the 1970s in England, sometimes I felt like it was the turn of the century given the superstitions and moralities that ruled in this book.

It concerns Smith, a man who in present days hears of a news story of a child’s remains, found in the area where his family took a Catholic Pilgrimmage in the 1970s when he was a boy. He takes the reader back in time to this long forgotten and repressed weekend. His older brother, Hanny, can’t talk, and their mother Mummer, zealously Catholic and desperate to cure him, thinks that a ritual in this area will cure him. Her strict and dogmatic approach to Catholicism is in stark contrast to that of the new Priest, Father Bernard, who is far more meditative and lenient when it comes to Christ’s teachings. The Old Ways versus Reform is one of the many themes in this book, as change is both sought out but also feared. Mummer doesn’t believe that medicine can cure Hanny, but also thinks that this new Priest isn’t devout enough, in spite of the fact he very well may be representative of changing times and ideals. Mummer is putting her faith into Father Bernard, but has no actual faith in him because he doesn’t line up with what she thinks faith should be. The priest who better lines up with her was Father Wilfred, a tyranical and steadfast priest who passed away shortly before their trip, a death surrounded by strange rumors of it’s circumstances.

And then there are the locals, which consist of two groups. The first is a man and woman couple, and a pregnant teenager that Hanny is especially taken by. Smith and Hanny don’t get much concrete information about the girl, why she is here, and who the father of her child is. Just that this may not necessarily be her first time at the birthing rodeo. Then there are the strange men who wander through the countryside with their dog, and in and out of the pilgrims’ path. I couldn’t help but get some serious “Wicker Man” (the original, not the terrible remake) vibes whenever they came into play, their own beliefs in stark contrast to those of Mummer and Father Bernard (and the newly deceased Father Wilfred). They too have their own rituals and beliefs, and their own zealotry. I can’t say that the way that they were mysterious and threatening in their weird ways was a new concept, but it did serve an interesting purpose in this book when contrasted with Mummer’s beliefs. Mummer may be faithful and righteous, but she is cruel and cold to her children, especially Hanny. And then you have the strange and threatening locals who have their own anti-Christian beliefs, but who ultimately get shit done in their own ways, even if it is also pretty terrible. And given that this book takes place in Lancashire, the area that has a history of witch trials and witch burnings, the locals and their motives and powers are all the more relevant and creepy. It became clear by the end that “The Loney” was a meditation of faith, religion, and true belief at the expense of others. Even if true belief does work in some cases, there is always going to be some kind of cost.

I say that this is horror because the setting is classic to the genre. The characters wander around misty and dank moors, surrounded by coastline, marsh, and ruins. Smith feels alone in his own fears and skepticism of how this pilgrimage will go, but his love for his older brother makes him desperate to believe that all is well, even when it’s clear that it most certainly isn’t. But while the themes were spot on in this book, in gothic tone and religious reflection, I think that my biggest problem with this book was that it wasn’t particularly scary. At least not to me. I had gone in expecting some kind of slow burn creepiness that would unsettle me through and through, but instead I was just sort of ‘oh. okay’ by the end of it. The themes are interesting, and I liked the comparison and contrasting between the Catholic beliefs and the beliefs and strange, Nativity-esque ritual that the locals were doing (and whose grim climax fittingly happens during Easter weekend). The metaphor and symbolism weren’t lost on me. But I wish that it had been scarier.

For those looking for a scary book, “The Loney” may not be for you. But for those looking for an examination of deep and unyielding faith and the awful things it can reap, you may want to check it out.

Rating 7: A story with fascinating themes on religion and zealous faith, but not as scary as I had hoped it would be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Loney” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Folk Horror and Mystery”, and “Best of Little Known Authors”.

Find “The Loney” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Lovecraft Country”

25109947Book: “Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff

Publishing Info: Harper, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description: The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two year old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned Atticus’s great grandmother—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.

Review: As a fan of horror literature, it’s no surprise that I do have a fondness for the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Last year my husband got me the complete annotated Lovecraft for our anniversary, and it sits on my shelf in it’s huge and daunting glory. Cthulhu is also one of the most badass literary monsters out there. But here is the thing about Lovecraft: He was an unrepentant racist and white supremacist. People can trot out the ‘man of his time’ argument, but that doesn’t matter at the end of the day. I don’t think that there is a problem enjoying his works and his writing, but to deny that other side of him is inherently dishonest and problematic.

And that brings us to “Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff. Ruff takes the works of Lovecraft and pays homage to them while simultaneously exploring and exposing American racism. He splits this book into multiple parts that all have their own little twists on Lovecraft stories or Lovecraft themes, and while they could probably stand alone, they all combine into an overarching narrative. While all of these stories have magical elements, from a haunted house to a magical cult of sorcerers to a magic elixir, all of these elements are connected to race. The haunted house does house a ghost, but the creaks and bumps in the night may also be the neighbors who are angry that a black woman has moved in. The sorcerer cult hopes to use Atticus as a vessel, as his ancestor was a slave who was raped by her master and started his recent familial line. The magical elixir gives a black woman the ability to turn white when it would be beneficial to her. They all reek of Lovecraft, but are so much more.

Our protagonists, led by Atticus Turner, are all members of an African American family in Jim Crow Era America, but their hardship and experiences of violent racism are by no means limited to the Deep South. Atticus has his uncle’s “Safe Negro Travel Guide” (based on “The Green Book”) to tell him what areas are or aren’t safe for him and George to be in, but that doesn’t keep him immune or safe from non-magical threats such as racist cops and locals who threaten or even give chase to them. It was pretty clear from the get go that the greatest threats in this book were not going to be Cthulhus or ancient ones, but White America and the hatred and bigotry that it stewed in during the time period of the novel. On the cover of this book, designed to look like a pulp novel, there are a number of things that show you just what you’re getting into. The blurb that sticks out says ‘America’s Demons Exposed!’, and right below it there are images of ghostly figures that look a whole lot like the Klan. This book is less about Lovecrafts works, and more about Lovecrafts thoughts, thoughts that were shared by people in all parts of America. And I think that Ruff did a great job of using this theme to talk about the ugliness that still haunts us today, even though we as a country are so uncomfortable thinking and facing that. America’s demons indeed.

And plus there were definitely some really creepy parts in this book. My favorite section was that of the Haunted House, “Dreams of the Which House” (a play on Lovecraft’s “Dreams in a Witch House” in both title and theme). The story concerns Letitia, Atticus’ childhood friend who had accompanied him on his road trip. She is looking to buy a house, and the one that Letitia settles on is in an all white neighborhood. It’s also very cheap because it’s haunted. So when Letitia is spending time in this house, there are strange and scary things that the ghost does. But then, there is an even bigger threat from the neighbors, who have started to harass Letitia just as much as a ghost might. I liked this one the best because I liked Letitia, I liked how she interacted with the ghost, and I liked how she made a stand in her house against ghost and Klan alike. Ruff also did a very good job of addressing racism in housing and property rights in this chapter, and microaggressions faced in day to day living (with Letitia and Atticus both being assumed to be ‘the help’ in her own home by white characters).

And I should say that while I think that Ruff did a good job, my perspective is that of a white woman, so if there are issues that POC have with this interpretation of racial oppression and bigotry, please do let me know.

“Lovecraft Country” is a book that I hope Lovecraft fans will read. I hope that many people will read it, as it explores themes that we simply can’t ignore.

Rating 8: A very well done horror story on both supernatural and realistic levels.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Lovecraft Country” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Quality Dark Fiction”, and “Best Weird Fiction Books”.

Find “Lovecraft Country” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Vampire Lestat”

43814Book: “The Vampire Lestat” by Anne Rice

Publishing Info: Knopf, 1985

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Once an aristocrat in the heady days of pre-revolutionary France, now Lestat is a rockstar in the demonic, shimmering 1980s. He rushes through the centuries in search of others like him, seeking answers to the mystery of his terrifying exsitence. His story, the second volume in Anne Rice’s best-selling Vampire Chronicles, is mesmerizing, passionate, and thrilling.

Review: When I was in high school, like many teenage girls who didn’t feel like they fit in anywhere, I went through a few identity explorations. I was a hippie, I was a rocker, I was a punk, and I was, mostly at the heart of myself, a goth. Black lipstick, black nail polish, dog collar, I had all of that and a sullen attitude and an obsession with the macabre. Though not as extreme, I was kind of Molly Shannon’s character from the “Goth Talk” Saturday Night Live skit.

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Though my best friend was more of a flannel and Minnesota Wild merchandise kind of guy. (source)

I also had a serious love for vampires. This was before “Twilight”, so my objects of obsession were “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles”. I read “Interview with the Vampire”, “The Vampire Lestat”, and “Queen of the Damned”, but quit the series once I figured out that it was super different from the movie “Queen of the Damned”, which was probably where my true heart was in regards to that that universe. But that should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, as that movie was all about vampire bad boy goth rocker Lestat and his swagger.

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I’m not sorry. (source)

So one night my husband and I decided to watch “Queen of the Damned”, and the next day I decided to pick up “The Vampire Lestat” at work. Call me inspired. It wasn’t long after starting, though, that I realized just how much that movie bastardized the book, the characters, most everything from the Anne Rice stories. I guess I’d blocked that out.

Picking up after “Interview with The Vampire”, “The Vampire Lestat” is the origin story of that book’s antagonist, Lestat de Lioncourt. We knew he was a snarky snippy bad boy in “Interview”, so now we get his side of the story in “The Vampire Lestat”. Unlike “Interview”, “The Vampire Lestat” is a book about a vampire who has few to no regrets about who he is at the end of the day. What I had forgotten from my high school years is that Lestat is not only a brat and an egoist, he also probably has too many emotions and feelings about those around him and those he cares about, which ultimately screws him over again and again. I like that Rice gave him the same problems as other angsty vampires of that trope, but instead of being gloomy and sulky, he turns it into armor. Lestat is definitely a cruel and destructive character by the end of this book, but seeing why he is that way is the kind of story I am a huge, huge sucker for. I especially liked his relationship with his friend and lover Nicky, a sensitive soul who isn’t cut out for the vampire life. It lays groundwork for why Lestat is so drawn to Louis, in spite of their clear differences. The descriptions of the decadent life of pre-Revolutionary France were sumptuous and rich, and Rice took me to every single place that she wanted to. While her writing can tread into the melodramatic at times, I love how she can really transport the reader into her world.

I also like the brass balls that Rice had in writing an openly bisexual character (knowing some of his love interests down the line I say bisexual instead of gay) to be her protagonist. While I’m sure in the 80s it could have been written off as ‘he’s a vampire and therefore some kind of twisted creature’, the love that Lestat has for Nicky and Louis both is never portrayed as anything other than real and all encompassing. True, they aren’t the most healthy of relationships (at all), but in the subtlety and banter and tenderness of these characters, Rice wrote up a story far more romantic than the movie version of “Queen of the Damned” did when they forced Lestat into a monogamous and hetero relationship with Jessie (not that I’m not a fan of that too, because I am, but it seems so sanitized compared to this book. And that came out in 2002! This book was written in 1985 for God’s sake!). And tragic. So very tragic. Lestat has vulnerability in this book that I had completely forgotten about, but it doesn’t compromise how ruthless he is. If anything the fact that he can love so much and be so cruel and vicious makes him all the more intriguing to me.

But then there are the not as good things. This book suffers from serious  fantasy bloat, as while it is supposed to be Lestat’s story we also get some background for other characters that doesn’t feel like it fits. I love Marius and I like Armand, but I wasn’t here for their stories, I was here for Lestat’s. Unfortunately, these backgrounds were shoehorned in, and I found myself skimming those parts, which is too bad because that mythology is definitely interesting. I just didn’t feel that it fit in this story. There was also the uncomfortable relationship that Lestat had with Gabrielle, his first vampire fledgling who also happens to be his mother. While nothing was explicit and while Lestat was more preoccupied with Nicky, the weird erotic undertones between these two were a bit off putting. I want to like Gabrielle, because there is a lot of depth there. She has her place as a woman during the 1700s, so becoming a vampire gives her a new freedom that she never could have experienced when she was alive. So it’s really unfortunate that her presence was a bit more uncomfortable than it should have been given the potential that was there.

Overall, re-reading “The Vampire Lestat” was a fun endeavor if only because I appreciated it a bit more this time around. I will probably re-visit “Queen of the Damned” (the book) at some point, but for now I’m content with the bastardized movie and thinking about Lestat, Louis, and Nicky.

Rating 7: I love Lestat to death and his voice is snarky, bitchy, and dark. His story, however, is a bit convoluted and sometimes loses him as the main character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Vampire Lestat” is included on these Goodreads Lists: “Rooting for the Bad Guy”, and “Best Gay Vampires” (you knew this was coming. Lestat and Louis FOREVER!).

Find “The Vampire Lestat” at your library using WorldCat!