I don’t quite know what to make of this book. It starts off well, and throughout it’s atmospheric and leaves me curious. The bit about the power of books is creepily powerful, and there’s some great description in the most uncanny bits. The main character is handled well, too, in my opinion: he has a past which he never has to elaborate on, but which nonetheless colours everything he does and says. But then you get to the end of the book and it suddenly… stops. As my wife pointed out to me, the ending is pretty classic horror stuff, with no closure, but… Then you’ve got the narrator, telling his story. To whom? How? Why? That aspect all rather broke my engagement with the story, because I like there to be a reason.
If you’re a fan of John Connolly or of creepy crustaceans in horror novellas, this might be your thing, but I don’t think I’d recommend it in general.
I am a total wuss. Complete and total. So I expected to have the pants scared off me for picking up a horror novella, and it didn’t really happen. There were a few creepy moments, but mostly I found myself wondering why it felt like an episode of Scooby Doo. (Considering Scooby Doo on Zombie Island gave me nightmares as a kid, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be scary, but… I don’t know.)
The actual haunting part seemed solid and interesting. It was the characters and the way they went about tackling the problem that didn’t work for me — it just all felt totally unreal, and like set-up for the three main characters to set up like the Winchester brothers or the Mystery Gang. It felt truncated and just too easy, and some of the action scenes just made me go… “Really??”
If you’re looking for something scary, then this isn’t it, I think. There is a good story somewhere in here, but mostly it didn’t work for me.
Received to review via Netgalley; released in September 2016
Cherie Priest has written a whole bunch of different books, and I don’t love them all, but I have found them all to be solid stories. The Family Plot has a fun setting and concept: a salvage crew go in to get what they can from an old house scheduled for demolition. Problem is, the house has a history, and its past occupants aren’t all gone. It makes so much sense: of course old houses are creepy, and of course salvagers are going to be more interested the older it is. And of course, the older it is, the more history it has, tragedy included. The main character, Dahlia, believes in ghosts already; she’s felt them, she knows they’re there, and mostly they leave the living alone.
I won’t discuss too many of the details of the plot, because that mystery is part of the interest. It is worth noting though that every summary I can find doesn’t match with the events as they unfold in the ARC I got.
The problem with me is that I’m a total wuss, so horror isn’t normally my thing — in fact, I only picked this up because it was by Cherie Priest. Even so, I felt that a lot of the elements were pretty traditional and obvious. Doors that slam behind you and won’t open. Burials where there shouldn’t be burials. Ghosts who scratch messages into the floor. It felt like we saw it all a bit too clearly for it to be creepy. The final resolution — the whys and wherefores of the haunting — also didn’t quite satisfy me. There’s so much monstrous build-up, and then the solution is kind of… anti-climatic.
Nonetheless, the setting works really well, and I loved Dahlia. She’s capable, but not a superwoman. She knows what she’s doing, she’s decisive and smart, but she doesn’t always make the right decisions. And she’s not some fresh-faced kid with no history: she has a past which informs the way she acts now and the way she interacts with those around her. The supporting characters weren’t developed as much, but I found myself oddly interested in Bobby in particular, and how he might get his life together. At the very least, he raised a decent kid in Gabe.
Overall, it’s enjoyable, if not ground-breaking, and probably worth a look if you’re into ghost stories.
I was a little hesitant to read this one, because I’m a wuss (let’s not even talk about Scooby Doo on Zombie Island, okay), and I was told it was pretty creepy. But actually, my problem with this book was not the creepiness — at least, not the supernatural stuff. I was really viscerally discomforted by the human nastiness. And the misogyny. And just… I don’t know, it really wasn’t to my taste, and I can’t even really find anything to say about it. I was more grossed out than weirded out — and it seems weird, because other bloggers I know didn’t remark on this stuff at all. (Though there are some Goodreads reviews that do, which I guess is reassuring.)
The witch herself is kind of creepy, but the modern trappings of the story didn’t fit for me. Reporting the appearance of a dead witch in your house via an app…? It’s clever, it works, but apparently I like my horror traditional.
I also didn’t get into the characters, at all; that’s probably what makes horror actually horrifying and absorbing for me, caring about what happens to a character. So the lack of that… eh. I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it at all. For a counterpoint, you might like Mogsy’s review.
I’ve always heard amazing things about Tim Powers’ work, but I’ve tried The Stress of Her Regard before, and didn’t really get on with it. I didn’t do much better this time, although I persisted and read the whole thing. I feel like if I knew the life stories of Byron, Shelley, Polidori and Keats, I’d understand exactly what was going on better. It spends so much time on those characters, who from my point of view act erratically and often unpleasantly. (Dead child marionette. I won’t say more, just. Yeah.)
For the most part, it feels more horror than fantasy, albeit a very literary sort; that creeping disquiet, at times replaced by utter grotesqueness, and yet sometimes also laced with pity. It’s essentially about addiction, in a way, which makes it frustrating — the characters are always backsliding, always feeling that once more won’t hurt. Of course, it does.
Most of the characters are pretty unpleasant, too. There’s not much to just like about them — and the female characters are mostly hysterical, ineffectual, or killed.
I’d chalk it up to just not “getting it”, but actually, I don’t see what people like about it at all. I’m glad I’ve read it; now it’s out of the way!
Kelly Link’s writing is gorgeous. These stories don’t all have the same tone or theme or setting or anything like that, but they do have that writing style in common, and it’s great. I’m not actually very good at liking short stories — I like developed characters and longer plots — but these are, for the most part, pretty enjoyable. ‘The Surfer’ was, if anything, a little too long for me, because most of what happens is character development.
I was surprised to realise I’d read both ‘The Wizards of Perfil’ and ‘The Constable of Abal’ before; I’m not sure where I read them, but it must’ve been an anthology. They’re probably my favourite of the two for language, setting and worldbuilding — and unsurprisingly, they’re the most secondary-world-fantasy of the bunch.
I was less sure about the alternating stories of ‘Pretty Monsters’; I think I’d have to read them again to really get the whole plot. There’s a great atmosphere with all of these, though: creepy, subtly wrong, and sometimes wry and funny as well.
The Stepford Wives left me with a nasty squirmy feeling inside. It’s a famous story, so of course I knew the basics already, but somehow the matter-of-fact delivery just really unsettled me. Maybe what unsettled me most was following a couple of links and finding out that people take it quite literally, or the explanation of the male protagonist masturbating to the idea of killing his wife and replacing her with a robot. Ughh. Really the creepiest thing is that this feminist, decent-seeming guy… even he gives in to this idea.
The first thing to bother me, though, was Chuck Palahniuk’s introduction. Here’s a bit from it:
This is seems is progress: women may now choose to be pretty, stylishly dressed, and vapid. This is no longer the shrill, politically charged climate of 1972; if it’s a choice freely made, then it’s… okay.
Which, yes, Mr Palahniuk, it is. If it’s really a freely made choice, then I will support any woman’s decisions about her own body, her own life. It’s none of my business. Funnily enough, it seems like you still think women’s bodies are your business, that women’s careers must meet your standards.
Now, if you look at it from the angle that it’s incredibly difficult to make a free choice in this society, then I’d agree. It’s entirely true that there are still men like Ira Levin’s Dale Coba, still men who want women to be nothing more than dolls, and men who will force women to be nothing more than dolls. It’s true that just earlier this week someone was berating me in one of the Coursera forums and saying that women just can’t think scientifically, etc, and that the West is “feminised” and… There’s all kinds of stupid ideas still out there. That’s all true.
But even the pretty, stylishly dressed and vapid among us have inner lives, unlike Ira Levin’s Stepford women.