Monday, October 31, 2016

Retrospective: Fear Street by R.L.Stine

While everyone looks back fondly on the Goosebumps books as being Stine's defining work, this series seems to have been forgotten in recent years. For me, however, these books are what got me interested in the horror genre and, even now, I find myself picking them up and rereading them every now and again.

The books all take place in a town called Shadyside (state unknown). It focuses primarily on high schoolers (naturally) and how they all have strange and terrifying encounters all tied into a simple stretch of land called Fear Street, named after one of the town's founders, Simon Fear.  If you haven't guessed, this really is just Goosebumps for high schoolers. The advantage of this is, unlike Goosebumps, these books can kill off characters. Yeah, people actually die in these stories. In Goosebumps it's only implied that people died with the twist endings but in Fear Street people can be straight up murdered. Pets too. Heaven forbid anyone have a pet in these books. They're always the first to go.

One of the fun things about the Fear Street books is that you never know what form the threat is going to take. The threats can be either realistic or supernatural in nature and sometimes it seems like it's going to be one way, then switches to another. Are you dealing with a psychotic killer? Is it some kind of ghost? Is your main character just crazy? All of these are completely possible and you have to try and figure out which it is by the end of the story. There is also a twist with each book, naturally, but unlike Goosebumps where it comes in the final chapter to throw off the happy ending, here it comes near the climax of the book, like most horror stories. As a result, these usually have a happy ending. There is a handful of books where things end on a scary note but, for the most part, things tend to wrap up nicely...except for...y'know...the people who got murdered along the way. Stine also does a really good job of making Shadyside into a community and making these books all feel like they all happen in the same place. Characters in one book are mentioned or appear in another, the events of previous books do not go ignored (most of the time), everything comes together and the sense of community in Shadyside is strong.

Now, I'm not going to lie and say everyone of these is particularly scary. There are some stinkers in there. For instance, I never got what was so scary about the Super Chiller stories. Is it just because they're longer than the other stories? I dunno. Also, some of the earlier stories, like The New Girl and Surprise Party, haven't exactly aged well. You can tell they are kind of stuck in that late 80's, early 90's space in time and feel a little dated. This gets better with time, though, with the stories making less references as they go on and making them feel a bit more immortal.

If you want to get into the real meat of these stories, the best of the best, the scariest and most brutal of the books, I highly recommend the Fear Street Saga books. These books delve into the origins of Fear Street and follow members of the Fear Family and you discover how twisted they are and how such evil can infect the town of Shadyside.  These are indeed the darkest stories in the series and having them set in the past, mostly in the late 1800's, it makes you feel like there are less options and less chances for our main characters to come out of their situations alive. And, sometimes, they don't.

If you get into these books, there's no type of scary story that you'll miss out on. If you like ghost stories, they're here. If you like murder mysteries, they're here. If you stories that delve into the minds of a psychopath, they're here. They're pretty much a breeze to get through. Give yourself one of these books and a day without distractions and you'll be done with in a few hours, easy. They have the same feel as any scary movie you can find on TV during this time of year. Teenagers, suspense, scares, brutal deaths, and even gore, these have it all. If you feel like a quick scare this Halloween but don't feel like watching a movie, pick up one of these. Just remember, if you decide to take a walk down Fear Street this Halloween, brace yourself. For the curse may follow you home, and spell out your doom.

Have you read the Fear Street books? Which was your favorite? If you haven't, do you want to now? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Speaking of teenagers, I wonder what that kid from Glee has been up to?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Need by Carrie Jones

You know you're in deep crap when there are red flags on the back friggin' cover telling you that this book is going to be terrible. Strike 1: Somebody called this book a mix between Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer. Uh oh. Strike 2: Awful writing excerpt on the back cover trying to sound more artsy than it really is. Ugh! Strike 3: Getting three pages...three pages...into this thing only to discover it is in the first person perspective of an unholy annoying character who loves to whine. SOMEBODY SAVE ME!

Premise: Zara White is sad because she recently lost her stepfather to an unexpected heart attack. Naturally, this prompts her mother to send her away to live with her grandmother until she feels better. She instantly falls for the first hot guy she lays eyes on, is immediately overwhelmed by everybody in this small town wanting to be her BFF, and yet she still finds stuff to complain about. But something is amiss in this small, Maine town as boys go missing and Zara falls upon an ancient conflict going on between weres and pixies (you heard me) and she, naturally, gets thrown into the mix of all of this.

Is this starting to sound the tiniest bit familiar to anyone? How about I throw in the fact that these pixies are human sized, beautiful creatures that leave behind sparkling dust and and drink blood. Yeah. These are the freaking Twilight vampires all over again! Not to mention that they're fighting against werewolves! And I don't care if there are also werebears and weretigers and wereeagles, IT'S THE SAME GOSH DARN THING! To the letter this is the exact same story as that one and it gets to the point where I think that Meyer woman needs to sue this chick!

Oh, and I'm not afraid to say that Zara has to be the. worst. character. I've. EVER. read. Every single thing this girl says or does makes me want to strangle her. She's big into Amnesty International and stuff like that, and that's fine and all, except she's the type of person to preach about it. As in if anyone doesn't agree with her, she judges you. Oh, and she deals with all this paranormal stuff by "being sarcastic". Except what she does is NOT sarcasm!!! I know sarcasm. I grew up with sarcasm and you, my good woman, SUCK AT SARCASM! It's not humorous. It does nothing to lighten the tone. You're! Just! Rude! Oh, and get used to her complaining about Maine. Because every single gosh darn word out of this broad's mouth is either failed sarcasm or complaining about Maine. It's ALL she does! There is no reason that everybody, freakin' EVERYBODY, loves this girl and wants her for whatever reason. There's nothing to love at all! Not even Amnesty International can this stupid, insipid, annoying brat likable.

On top of that, this book is just horribly written. Nobody, not even the normal humans, acts like a normal human. Zara's schtick is that she's able to perfectly recite the scientific names of all phobias when she's nervous. Outside of this being a cheap gimmick, it contributes nothing about her character and is just an attempt to try and make her seem smart when she's not. Also, the stereotypes practically walk up to you and introduce themselves as they come. "Hi, my name is Ian and I"ll be your third wheel for the story." "Hello there. My name is Meghan and I'll be your mean girl for this afternoon." "Greetings, friend! I'm Issie and I'm your quirky best friend that you've just met right now and will refuse to go away!" "Hello, my name is Nick and I'll be your hunky, perfect, overly protective and sometimes physically abusive boyfriend who has no personality except for being inexplicably in love with you and who you only like for my body." And it's not just the characters. Everything is so predictable that it makes the story painfully boring! The foreshadowing is so heavy-handed that nothing comes as a surprise. "I've never known my real father and for some reason this pixie king wants to kidnap me." Gee, I WONDER what that could mean?!?! "Wow, Nick is so big and strong and physically fit and so protective of everybody and everything. Not at all like these strange, shapeshifters whose duty it is to protect all of humanity from the evil pixies. There's clearly NO correlation between those two things." See, Zara? THAT IS SARCASM!

And while I'm at it, this thing just!!! Near the end there are four times, four times, that this piece of crap could have ended but it just kept going! Just needlessly going on and on and on until loose ends that you don't even care about are tied up. I can't believe this thing has a sequel (which I will NOT be reading) when they left NOTHING unsaid. Oh, and let me just take a quick second to go over this ending, okay? And I'm not bothering to put up a Spoiler Warning this time. The more people who read this and get the book spoiled for them so they never read it will be a blessing unto mankind! So this pixie king is in control of his and his people's need to drink blood so long as he has a queen with him. There are about a thousand ways this can be solved peacefully and put a stop to any fuss, and there's proof in that fact when Zara's mother was able to solve this problem peacefully several years ago. So, how does Zara handle this situation? By trapping all the pixies in the same building so they can't escape and they have no outlet for their hunger so they'll turn on and kill each other. Yeah, our peace-loving, world saving, Amnesty International protagonist solves the problem WITH GENOCIDE! Congratulations! You've committed one of the worst crimes possible against a race that is unable to control their nature just because their nature didn't agree with you. You suck, Zara! You suck!

Final Verdict
I don't know if you really got this but I hated this book! Hated, hated, hated this book! Hated every single stupid, simpering, poorly written word of it! And this isn't like a movie where you just waste a couple of hours on it. I wasted hours and hours and hours of my life that I'll never get back ever because of this horrible, awful, disgusting thing! It's so bad, I'm not even going to throw it in the Waste Bin of Despair. No, this thing is going straight into the FURNACE OF EVERLASTING TORMENT! Don't buy it. Don't read it. Keep away from this book if it's the last book you'll ever read!

Have you read the book? How did you survive? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Let us end this month of Halloween by doing something a little different. Instead of a critique, I'm going to do an appreciation of the book series that got me interested in reading scary stories in the first place.

Monday, October 24, 2016

And I Darken by Kiersten White

The infamous Son of the Dragon is reimagined in this historical remix as the Daughter of the Dragon and Vlad the Impaler becomes Lada the Impaler. Already this is an interesting idea but throw in war, rebellion, betrayal, and one of the most complicated love triangles I've ever seen and you have a quite the interesting tale on your hands.

As I stated before, the story is that of Ladislav Dragwlya and her younger brother Radu. When their home country of Wallachia is taken over by the Ottoman Empire, the siblings are sent to live in the Ottoman courts where they are held hostage in order to secure their father's loyalty. While Lada despises the Ottomans and constantly plots her revenge against them, soft-hearted Radu finds peace among them and longs to join the Muslim religion. Then the two meet Mehmed, the son of the sultan, who befriends them and seeks their help in securing the empire for himself.

While this book delves deeply into politics and strategy of war, it never gets overly complicated. It keeps the focus where it should be: on Lada and Radu. Lada is the kind character that everybody wants in a strong, independent female. She's strong, confident, capable, and smart. The downside? She's got to be one of the most brutal, heartless characters I've ever read (that made her that way on purpose). While this is definitely a good thing, it does kinda make her hard to read. She's always yelling and attacking, scornful and cruel. She does have something of a heart, as she is very protective of Radu and genuinely cares for Mehmed and her country of Wallachia, but because she's so harsh and mean the rest of the time you find it kind of hard to believe that she's genuine in these scenes, even though the book tells you she is.

Radu is very much his sister's polar opposite. He's gentle, caring, kind, easily accepted in social circles and, as you can probably guess in three seconds of knowing the guy, gay. This is something that this world seems oddly accepting of. Almost unrealistically so. True, he never comes forward with this. People just kind of know and don't say anything about further about it. It seems like everyone is a little too accepting, given the era this story is supposed to take place. It also takes up the vast majority of Radu's scenes. Where Lada is fighting and actually making a difference in the plot involving the war, Radu's storyline mostly consists of dealing with his feelings for Mehmed. This is kind of disappointing when we're shown early in the story that Radu is just as capable of scheming as his sister, and much more subtle about it. As in getting someone else blamed for something they didn't do. Sadly, he never really shows that cunning again. He just kind of chats with officials, deals with converting to a different faith, and mopes about how the man he loves not only loves his sister but has a whole harem of women to himself. An interesting character, but he doesn't really live up to his potential.

Aside from them....I honestly don't remember anything about the rest of the characters in this book. Lada's personal soldiers are an interesting lot and her second in command is cool but if you asked me to put the names and personalities together, I probably wouldn't be able to. With the exception of the second in command, Nicholae (I had to look that up), all the rest are kind of background noise. Even Mehmed, the third point in this complicated triangle, kinda falls flat when going up against these two massive characters. He seems nice and all, but a lot of times he comes off as being kind of an idiot, not believing people about threats against his life, not mentioning important things to his friends, and he seems barely in control of his own life. The motivations of those going against the trio are very standard. They want to rule the empire instead of Mehmed, they want to get rid of him and take over, yadda yadda. We've heard it before.

While the structure is basic, there is intrigue and action that keeps the plot moving and the story interesting. There are mysteries to solve, things that both Lada and Radu have the ability to accomplish, and dangers to face. Despite all the things that threaten to tear the siblings apart, from loving the same man to having conflicting feelings about the Empire they grew up in, you want them to come through together and you want them to continue to care about each other. This is hindered by knowing how history has gone in real life and you know the path that Lada is to go down. Creative license can only go so far when you're retelling history, but it's up to the author to see how far it goes.

Final Verdict
This one is an interesting bit of work for me. There were parts I enjoyed, and others I didn't. Some of it seems like my personal feelings just getting in the way, other times it felt genuinely flawed. Ultimately I couldn't decide if I wanted to say it was worth your money at the local bookstore or worth checking out at your local library. So, I've added a new rating between these two. If this book sounds like something just up your alley, definitely go buy it but wait for it on paperback!

Did you read the book? What did you think? Any other good historical retellings out there? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Bibliosuckophobia. The fear that the book you're about to read is going to suck.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud

Ah, ghosts. That most mysterious and my favorite of all Halloween creatures. They are so often over looked when it comes to creatures to write about. Everyone wants to tackle vampires and werewolves and here ghosts are, a spectral being that could be almost anything and possesses more unanswered questions than any other, waiting to be written. Mr. Stroud here took on the task of making a proper ghost story. How'd he do? Let's take a look.

The story takes place in England where the country has been taken over by a Problem, that being the world is full of ghosts. Ghosts have become something of a plague in this world, tormenting and sometimes killing the people of England. To fight this spectral epidemic, multiple companies of young children who have the ability to see, hear, even communicate with ghosts are armed to the teeth with silver rapiers, iron chains, and all manner of ghosts fighting materials to eliminate the supernatural pests. One of these companies is Lockwood & Co., run by the eccentric Anthony Lockwood. When one job ends in disaster, Lockwood and his crew take on an expensive job to discover the secrets of the Red Room and the Screaming Staircase in one of the most haunted locations in the country.

Okay, I really, really, really wanted to like this book more than I did. The world that the author creates is so well done. It's creative, well established, and it's clear that the author paid good attention to ghost lore in general. Lockwood & Co. consists of three young ghost hunters; Lockwood, Lucy, and George. All these characters are likable, memorable, and just well written. Lockwood is the kind of guy I'd follow in a heartbeat. You can tell that he'd just three steps ahead of everyone and really cares about his crew. They're all really great.

So, what's my problem? It's simple. It. Is. BORING! I'm really sorry to say it...but it's so boring! Every time I tried to read it I just felt my eyelids slide and my attention float away. The world building is good but it just goes on for so long, and the action is so few and far in between and so little happens between major events that, yeah, I couldn't focus on it. I got tired every time I read it and that is NOT something you want to happen when you've still got three hours of work to go in the wee hours of the morning!

I think the way this book is set up kind of contributes to this problem. It's starts with a bang but then it takes forever for anything to happen again. The pace of the story is just off and all over the place. Also, while the world is well set up and I liked it, it also adds to the problem of the book. It's over detailed. It goes on and on about these details when there's a glossary in the back of the book that explains ALL of this that you can just look at if you get lost. But since the book explains everything anyway, the glossary is pointless.

Finally, the story contains a mystery involving a ghost trapped in a locket and the company is trying to figure out who she is and why she stuck around. Lockwood and his friends are the first to try and do this and, once again, it's a good idea that's marred by a predictably boring resolution. You know the answer to the mystery almost immediately and it's a bit of a disappointment.

Final Verdict
I feel bad for not liking this more. There is some solid, good ideas in the book, but it's just ruined by boring exposition, a slow pace, and a predictable ending. The good stuff is still there thought and, if you don't think that this stuff will bother you, definitely check it out at your local library.

Did you read the book? What did you think? Do you want to read the book now? Any other cool ghost books out there? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: How do you make the one of the most terrifying tyrants of all time even scarier? Give him a period.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Artemis by Chris Snider

I got this book looking for something quick and scary that I could read to add to my month of scary book reviews. I found it on a book promotion page on Facebook, found an interesting premise, and got all excited about it. And then I read it. It' First off, it's labeled as a horror book, but it's not. It's a superhero comic without actually being a comic. Let's just get right to it, shall we?

Joseph Art is a scientist who is working on trying to create a devise that allows humans to talk to animals, an invention that will set him up for life and help him free his sister from her abusive husband. But the evil business tycoon who funds him named Lex Luthor...I mean...Vincent Lankston decides to take the invention for himself and kill Joseph. But science happens and the murder attempt turns Joseph into a terrifying creature with superhuman senses, strength, speed, and the ability to communicate with animals. He uses his newfound powers to avenge animals from those who abused them, taking on the name Artemis. He's pursued by a Commissioner Gordon....I mean....Chief John Colton who wants to bring him to justice, as well as an evil clown serial killer named the Joker...I mean...Axe the Clown who wants him to stop stealing his thunder.

So, yeah, if you haven't already guessed, I have a few issues with this book. The first of which being that Yes, we have two people who brutally kill a lot of other people in this book and the deaths are bloody and gory but...that doesn't count as horror to me! Horror is just as much about what you don't see as opposed to what's shown you. There's almost no suspense, no chills, nothing! It's just a bloodbath and that's it. Heck, we don't even SEE the bloodbath happening most of the time. We just show up randomly at the crime scene when the worst of it is over and stare in horror at the aftermath. It does come close to showing us horror, but I'll get to that in a minute. As I said before, this is a superhero story. Well, an anti hero story, would be more accurate.

Okay, first off, let me get something really clear. I like animals! Animals should be treated with kindness and respect. Animal abuse is wrong and should not be done. With that said, Artemis's idea of punishing animals abusers is just over the top! Granted, he does to them what they did to the animals, but this includes burying a man up to his neck and running over his head with a lawnmower! Look, I know that's what the man did to a cat, a human doing that to a human is just ten times worse. The author tries to soften the blow by giving background on each and every person he kills and talks about how they're just nasty, miserable people who deserve to die so you don't feel bad when Artemis murders them, but it kinda backfires. You see that these people have rough lives, anger issues, and what not and you can think of a thousand different ways they could be helped and kept from doing these things again, only to witness their horror as this creature kills them horribly. No.'s It doesn't work.

This is just one of many reasons why Artemis isn't a good superhero. Heck, he's not even a good anti hero. Anti heroes, while morally gray and have a tendency to be the most brutal characters in comics, have to have something about them that you like and want to root for. Punisher wants to make the streets safe so nobody loses their family like he did. Deadpool is funny as heck and, while selfish at times, ultimately does make the right decisions and doesn't hurt people unnecessarily. Artemis....only starts helping humans because his sister tells him to. They try to make it more of a "try to find the man within the beast" kind of deal, where it's the animal side of him that kills humans horribly and the human side wants to help people. This, however, doesn't work either. Unlike characters that try to do this, like the Hulk or Dr Jeykll, Artemis is fully in control of himself all the time. He doesn't do anything unconsciously, there's no other personality telling him what to do, it's him the whole time. He's always responsible for his actions and when he actively makes a decision to hurt someone way beyond that which they deserve, you don't sympathize with him. I don't want to root for Artemis. I just want someone to stop him before he kills my neighbor for forgetting to feed his cat!

Oh, and get used to knowing the full names and lives of absolutely every character in this book. I mean all of them. They ALL have at least a page devoted to who they are, where they come from, what their marital status is, how they take their tea, etc. Even the victims all have stories and lives and dreams and then...die. It doesn't make you feel like you know them any better or build the world or...or do anything really. It's just an information dump and then...death. The only times this works is when we're talking about the Chief, Joseph's friend Wayne, and the other killer in the book, Axe the Clown. Axe's backstory, compared to most other villain origins that I've known is...pretty bland. Tragic, yes, but not original. Oh, and he's also a total match for our superhuman-animal-human-hybrid-protagonist because....he lifts weights. Diabolical fiend!

Final Verdict
Ugh, if I don't stop now, this review is going to be longer than the book itself. This book just...fails. I feel bad because it really does try. I can tell a lot of effort went into this and the author really did try to make this work. But it doesn't. The characters aren't likable, the idea was weak, it's not scary, it's not a good hero story, it's not original and, with an honestly heavy heart, I have to say that this book really does belong in the Waste Bin of Despair.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Do you disagree with my rating? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Who ya gonna call....when the Ghostbusters aren't available?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

I seriously debated on whether or not I was going to include this one. Who am I to review a classic? Still, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had a lot to say about it and decided to add it to the mix. That being said, let's take a look at the quintessential creepy carnival story that inspired so many after it.

The story of Something Wicked This Way Comes is that of two young boys named Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. They, like the rest of the town in which they live, are astonished when quite suddenly a carnival arrives out of nowhere in the middle of the night. Run by a mysterious man named Mr. Dark, the carnival offers the people of the town their wildest dreams. But there's a price. Jim and Will discover the carnival's secret and try to share it with the rest of the town, but they are naturally met with disbelief. It's up to them to stop Mr. Dark and his creepy carnies before they steal the souls of everyone they know and love.

This story is just the kind of horror story that I love. It has something that most other horror stories and movies and generally the genre at large seems to lack: subtlety. The scares are discovered slowly and, while they're not especially bloody, they're still terrifying. The fate of each victim is unique to the character themselves and is a reflection on them and their hearts desires. As each person becomes charmed by the carnival, they one by one bring about their own demises. It's not just randomly chopping people up or brutal stabbings, as you'd tend to find nowadays. It's the kind of horror that doesn't need blood to be terrifying and I just love it.

The characters are just spot on. Jim and Will are two very typical young boys, getting into mischief and whatnot, but each with his own distinct personality that contributes to the story. You feel Jim's frustrations with his life and understand why the carnival possesses such sway over him, feeding on his desire and luring him in. Will's loyalty comes through as he fights to protect Jim and everyone else threatened by the carnival. Even Will's father, an aged and world-weary man, is a really nice guy who doesn't just brush off the boys but becomes their most valuable ally. They're a great team and you want to see them all resist the temptations of the carnival.

The carnies are an interesting bunch as well. Mr. Dark, like any good villain, has a wonderfully devious charm and a charisma that welcomes you in and hides his diabolical nature. Throw in a creepy gypsy woman, a talking skeleton, and a carousel that ages people forwards or backwards, and you have a crew of fiends and freaks that brings the carnival to life.

It's also aged really well. The story is immortal in that you can read it anytime, past or present, and it makes sense. It's not difficult to read and has a lot of great detail and atmosphere. It brings to mind the kind of threat that doesn't flat out tell you it's coming to get you, but tries to slowly sneak up on you without you realizing it. There's an elegance to it that you just don't see very much anymore. While some things might come a little out of nowhere (Boy Scout bow and arrow vs. hot air balloon and other such encounters) it all comes together and makes for just a great time.

Final Verdict
There needs to be more stories like this nowadays. There's a reason Bradbury is one of the big names in horror and I'd be stupid if I didn't put this right where it belongs on the Shelf of Recommendation. 

Have you read the book? What did you think? If you haven't, do you want to read it now? What's your favorite creepy carnival story? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Da na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na WOLFMAN!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Insanity by Cameron Jace

Okay, okay, last Alice in Wonderland-esque book that I'm going to review...for awhile. Taking a leaf out of the book of American McGee, Insanity is an attempt at not only making the story modern, but also dark and creepy. I really enjoyed American McGee's Alice and Alice: Madness Returns and when I saw this I thought maybe this is the closest I'd get to getting the same thing in book form. Let's dive right in.

Alice Wonder is a young girl who has been locked up in Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum for causing an accident and killing everyone in her class, including her boyfriend Adam J. Dixon, and claiming a mysterious rabbit-man was really responsible. Of course nobody believes her until a new resident at the asylum arrives. Carter Pillar, a hookah-smoking criminal mastermind and serial killer, believes that Alice is innocent and her claims are true. Working together, Alice and Pillar decode clues found in Lewis Carroll's paintings and photographs to find Wonderland and return its murderous inhabitants back there.

Lots of things in this book show not only vast amounts of creativity, but also an understanding as to how much work was actually put into this book. The author uses a lot of creative tie-ins to Carroll's original story that most people wouldn't think of. How Carter proves that Alice is the one he's looking for is actually really clever and something that you'd never think of, unless you read the original book. The author also points out that the facts concerning Carroll's life and Oxford University are completely true, as well as the existence of an Alice in Wonderland shop and the unusual event known as Kattenstoet in which residents of a town in Belgium celebrate throwing cats out of their windows. Yeah.

The characters in this story are all very well written. Alice is quite unlike most Alices you find in these kinds of stories. Her sanity really is in question most of the time, as she can't help but have flashbacks out of nowhere and can't seem to remember things that others say she'd said or done. She also possesses odd quirks of only being able to walk on white tiles and a terrible fear of mirrors. She's a fascinating little thing. Carter Pillar is also a curious piece of work. You want to know him, but you'd be afraid that he'd kill you the whole time. He's a deadly balance of charm and threat, and I love characters like him. The villain of the book, the Cheshire Cat, is a terrifying presence with a surprisingly sad backstory, yet you want to see him stopped as opposed to redeemed. I really appreciate the time and effort put into these characters and they're great to read about.

Sometimes, though, the information regarding where they're going or what they're doing kinda gets in the way. It sometimes feels a bit like an information dump as opposed to clever exposition. Fortunately, the information is pretty interesting, and the real-life locations are described really well. I like the information, I just wish the plot didn't have to sit down and take notes along with the rest of us. There are some other slightly unrealistic bits that seem kind of out of place. A fight in the Vatican that nobody seems to notice is a bit of a stretch and I have a hard time picturing how a girl eating cheese in the Great Hall of Oxford would suddenly become a viral sensation on Youtube. The formatting of the book itself is also kind of strange. The words just kinda stop or drop off leaving large blank spaces that would normally mean you've reached a new chapter, but just keep going on the next page. I don't know if this was an attempt to add to the insane nature of the book or if something went wrong with during the printing process. Kinda strange, but if the formatting of the book is the thing I have the biggest problem with, that's actually a pretty good sign.

Final Verdict
While not quite as haunting as American McGee, this book was still an enjoyable, creepy trip with great characters and genuine threats. The adventure of the story, the threat of the villain, and the question of whether it's real or not drags you in and I'd say this book is definitely worth your money at your local bookstore.

Have you read the book? Do you want to read it now? What's a good example of a twisted tale done right? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: And with the pricking of my thumbs......

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Once Upon A Curse

It's anthology time again (what can I say? I like short stories). This time we're looking at a collection of dark fairy tales by a multitude of writers who came together to give us seventeen tales. How'd it turn out? Well, let's just dive right into this.

Each story in this book is a reworking of a preexisting tale. Some of them are more obvious like The Queen of Frost and Darkness, Beauty Inside Beast, and Still Red. Others, however, become clear once you actually start reading it. Those remaining are newish in theory, but have traditional elements that aren't exactly like any before it. I've read a lot of these kinds of stories in the past and, I admit, I had higher expectations for this one than I do and I can say, in all honesty, the overall feel of the book and these stories gets a solid, resounding, honest-to-goodness....meh.

As I said, I've looked into a lot of "dark" fairy tale type stories before. Heck, I've written some myself. The thing is, when you're promising me a "dark" retelling of a classic tale, you'd better dang well give it to me! Classic fairy tales themselves can be really dark and scary, gory and unsettling. So if you're "dark" version of this tale is actually tamer than the source material, we have a problem. Most of the "dark" elements in these stories are simply the inclusion of things like vampires or the-bad-guy-was-the-good-guy-after-all, kinds of things. These can work, they really can. The problem is that they have been done. to. death! Oh, and NONE OF THEM ARE SCARY! I wasn't scared or unsettled once in this book! Nadda once. That's a problem. I've seen these kinds of things over and over, and I could barely find any genuine scares or originality.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "C'mon! They're fairytales, you can't honestly expect anything that original if they're fairytales, right?" Yes! Yes, I can! If you're going to take on the job of telling the same story, but in a different way, originality is key. It has been done, many times. I don't want to read the first few words and know exactly what I'm going to get. That just makes it boring. Fairytales, like any other story, can be retold in clever ways so that you almost don't even realize it until you're halfway into it. Did you know The Matrix was a retelling of Alice in Wonderland? Didn't occur to you before, did it? That's because it's a retelling that's just modern enough, just clever enough, and just subtle enough that you don't realize until you're halfway in. These stories don't give you that.

There are, however, some good things about this book. That being, they're all written well. Each author who contributed to this book did well at making their individual voices shine in each story. They all brought their own unique voices and styles and seeing them all come together was interesting and, heck, I kind of want to check out some of these other works that they have out.

My biggest and final complaint, however, is this. *SPOILER ALERT* The vast majority of these stories, I'm talking at least 3/4 of them all end in happy endings. I'm sorry, but I don't think happy endings and dark stories go hand in hand. Most of these stories are can barely be considered dark as it is, and you throw in the fact that they all link pinkies and skip merrily into the sunset on top of that? That is NOT a dark fairy tale! I'm sorry, it's just not! Those that do have an ominous or unpleasant ending are actually okay, but again, not scary. It just misses the mark and I was really disappointed in a lot of them, overall *END OF SPOILERS*

Final Verdict
Once Upon A Curse just falls flat. While there is some enjoyable world building and good voice and presentation, in the end, the stories themselves just come off cliche, boring, and NOT SCARY! It's just too tame, even for me and I'm a chicken. If you do like this kind of thing, pretty packaging and simple stories, this story might be worth checking out at your local library.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Do you want to read it now? What do you look for in a dark fairytale? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: We're all mad here....

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

While not the scariest book in the world, I felt it necessary to take a little time to review this book in light of the recent movie that came out. First rule of book-to-movie-adaptations: Don't expect Tim Burton to be all that faithful to the source material. That being said, I'm here to look at the book, not the movie so...let's do this thing.

This book is the story of Jacob Portman, a whiny rich kid from Florida who is traumatized by the shocking death of his grandfather by a horrible monster. Of course, nobody believes Jacob when he says he saw a monster, so he does a bit of research and finds the island where his grandfather used to live. When he goes there, he discovers that the fantastical children his grandfather used to tell him of in stories not only exist, but are still alive. Living in a time loop with their bird-lady matron, these special children stay hidden from the people of the world, and the terrifying monsters that want to eat them.

The gimmick for this book is a really good one. The story was written around antique photographs that the author collects and many of which are included in the story itself. Each peculiar child has their own special ability from controlling fire (it's EMMA that does this NOT OLIVE!!!), having prophetic dreams, even being a human beehive. While the existence of super, special X-men powers is not special, they're certainly interesting and creative. They add a lot to each character and having the visuals makes it easy to keep track of who is who and what they can do.

The story does take a little while to get started, but once it does it's pretty straight forward. The character of Miss Peregrine is actually really likable. She doesn't sugar-coat things and is very honest with Jacob, telling him how things are and welcoming him readily into the peculiar lifestyle. She's got a big job to do, both taking care of these kids and trying to protect them, but she'd got a great attitude and doesn't patronize the kids but treats them with respect. She's great to read about.

While the peculiar kids, Jacob, and Miss Peregrine are the heart and soul of the story, the rest of the cast, I have to admit, kinda fall flat. The other inhabitants are the island vary from stereotypical to just not very interesting. Jacob's parents are particularly annoying. While you do sympathize with them in a "what would you do if your kid suddenly started talking about monsters and kids with X-men powers?" kinda way, they are either unhelpful or just downright annoying. I just think the parents, Dad in particular, would have been much cooler if they woke up to the truth of the situation instead of just being in the way. A lot of books have parents like this and it's a cliche that I kinda wish would be dropped. Parents can be cool too, y'know!

Final Verdict
Not new, but definitely fun. Creative, edgy, interesting, a ghoulish black and white photos make this book a great time. For me, this book is definitely worth your money at your local bookstore.

Have you read the book? What did you think? How'd you think it compared to the movie? If you haven't read the book, do you want to now? Comment below and tell me what you think!

Next time: ...and they all lived happily ever after...though they probably shouldn't have.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan

The best-selling writer of the Cirque du Freak series takes a gory spin on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in this tale of adventure, suffering, and sacrifice. I loved this guy's previous works. This is the guy who made me like vampires again after the Dark Age (the Twilight period) and I looked forward to this stand alone novel. How'd it do? Let's find out.

The story is of Jebel Rum, who lives in the kingdom of Wadi, a kingdom of tyrants and cruelty. His father, Rashed Rum, is the kingdom's famed executioner and is looking to retire soon. When he announces those who have the potential to take over the post, he leaves his skinny son out. This wounds Jebel's pride to the point where the runs away in search of a fire god, who is said to grant invincibility to any man who can find him and offer up a slave in tribute to him. Jebel brings along a slave named Tel Hasani, and together they travel in search of the fire god to restore Jebel's honor.

Be warned: This is definitely among the most brutal books I've ever read in my life. Every which way you turn, there's another twist that leaves you flinching and there's little end to the suffering and torment. They have grave robbers, cults, monsters, mobs, and even cannibalism. There's a lot of suffering in this book, and it includes the suffering and death of children as well. Funnily enough, however, that's actually a good thing. This book has the ability to make you feel everything. Every bit of pain, every shocking discovery, just sucks you into the story and takes you right in the moment. But, just when it seems like everything is going to be doom and gloom, there's a few bright moments that shine through and give our protagonists (and the readers) the strength to go on.

By far the greatest thing about this book, in my opinion, is the character development of the main character. When I was in the first few chapters, I didn't like Jebel at all. He's incredibly vain and proud and full of himself and I was really starting to hope he wouldn't make it through the book. However, as the book progresses and you see him go through all these terrible things, something remarkable happens. He learns. Each experience, no matter how horrific, teaches him something. Humility, respect for life, patience, and sacrifice are all lessons that he takes away from this experience and reshapes him as a person. It gets to the point, when his life seriously is in danger, you really don't want to see him die. It was a great experience and I'm glad I got to experience it with him.

The world building is also great. This world just has a language of its own, the culture is vast, but it's also dangerous and cruel. It's almost like this living thing, a harsh creature of fire and broken glass that threatens to tear out protagonists apart but also possesses wisdom and a beauty all its own. It's a great journey through such a world and it's written wonderfully.

Final Verdict
Bloody, gothic, gory, heartbreaking, The Thin Executioner has got it all, along with some great world building and character development. It's one of my favorites and I can say, with pride, that this is going straight onto the Shelf of Recommendation!

Have you read the book? What did you think? If you haven't, do you want to read it now? What's your favorite journey-type story of all? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Never judge a book by it's movie...especially if Burton is at the helm....

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Legend of Darklore Manor and other tales of terror by Joseph Vargo and Joseph Iorillo

It's October everyone! Leaves are falling, the sky is darkening, and a climate of creepiness is taking over as Halloween makes its approach. So, I've decided (just this minute) to dedicate this entire month to looking over scary books. Let's see which ones leave us shivering under the covers or scare us with how bad they are!

Let's start off with this little gem. Awhile ago, I discovered a band called Nox Arcana, which does scary soundtracks and each album had a story attached to it. The leader of the band, artist Joseph Vargo, teamed up with his writer friend Joseph Iorillo and brought us a short story inspired by Nox Arcana's debut album Darklore Manor along with twelve other short stories of horror.

This book has officially become my horror book standard. Each of the thirteen tales within the pages are dripping with atmosphere, each story has its own thrills. Some are definitely scarier than others, mind you, but each one has its own style and unique setup, without it feeling disjointed. Vargo's demons and ghouls blend perfectly with Iorillo's talent for suspense and mystery and each tale ends on a chilling note.

There's also a lot of variety between these stories, each one taking advantage of classic horror ideas. Evil voodoo women, ancient curses, urban legends, insanity, secret societies and...the bane of my existence...friggin' scary dolls. Ugh. There's something for everyone and each one is a great thrill.

But the real meat of the story comes at the end as we reach the title story, The Legend of Darklore Manor. This story is just a ride from beginning to end, rich with legend and scares and threats that lurk just out of sight in the corner of your eye. It's especially fun to read the story along side Darklore Manor the album, as the pounding music, the creepy sounds, the dark laughter in the track just fuels the imagination and the story becomes complete.

I've read my share of scary story compilations and short stories, but none of them are quite as good as this one. There is a bit of gore, but none of the stories rely on it like most scary movies do. The artwork is also just sublime. Vargo did all of the pictures in this, and each of them are spectacularly creepy and suck you into each new tale. I'm not going to lie, I lost a little sleep over this book. Don't judge me! Look at this thing!

Tell me you wouldn't have a little trouble turning off the light if you thought this thing was lurking in the corners of your room!

Final Verdict
This book is everything you want while you're seeking a good scare this coming October. There's something for everyone and it's all just so perfectly creepy. I'm happy to announce that this book is headed straight for the Shelf of Recommendation!

Have you read the book? What did you think? If you haven't, do you want to read it now? (of course you do!) Any scary books you want me to look over this month? Comment below and tell me what you thought!

Next Time: (singing) Mmm, skinny, chop chop chop.....