Posts Tagged 'horror'

Book Review: Incubus, by Ann Arensberg

It’s not often that an American Book Award winner decides to write a supernatural thriller centered around the haunting of a small town in Maine, but that’s exactly what Ann Arensberg has done with Incubus. While the premise may not seem original (and indeed, seems like something Stephen King has pretty well covered!) Arensberg’s take is unique, owing to her choice of narrator.

We follow the increasingly frightening events through the eyes of Cora, wife of the town rector, Henry. The novel starts with a letter from Cora, stating that – due to the nearly unexplainable events that afflicted their town – she and Henry have established a center that studies supernatural phenomenon, and helps those who are currently suffering the way they suffered. It’s a nice touch, and made the novel seem as though it were actually a tale of true accounts.

Throughout the novel, Cora is preoccupied by the day-to-day, the mundane: caring for her garden, running the church’s bake sale, cooking three square meals a day for her husband. (Warning: Do not read while hungry. The descriptions of her food will set your stomach to rumbling!) Cora notes potentially-supernatural events – unseasonable heat, lack of rain, the paralytic nightmares suffered by her friends and family – dryly, straight-forwardly. Everything has a logical explanation for Cora, leaving the reader to doubt both her interpretations and our own…until there simply are not more logical explanations, and even Cora needs to recognize that something otherworldly has been influencing these events.

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Book Review: Suffer the Children, by Craig DiLouie

Movie popcorn is a peculiar thing. When the lights go down and the movie starts up, that $7 popcorn tastes goddamn incredible.

Nom nom nom.

But afterwards, when you’re left with all of the unpopped kernels at the bottom of the bag and fingers greasy with synthetic butter substitute, you sort of realize that you just paid way too much money for what amounts to some oversalted cardboard.

That mirrors my experience with Craigh DiLouie’s horror novel Suffer the Children: enjoyable while reading, certainly worth the money, but not likely to leave too much of an impression after.

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Book Review: Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King

Published in 1975 as the young Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot occasionally betrays its age. Many of its themes are still pertinent today–for example, the lament for small-town America, slowly fading into obscurity as the elderly pass away and the young flee for more opportunities, applies as much in 2013 as it did during the time of King’s writing. So too does the mundanity of evil. While there are actual vampires haunting the shadows of the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, the reader knows that a more common breed of monster has been there all along. The rapacious, the envious, the duplicitous. Child abusers, alcoholics, cheating spouses, malicious gossips, wife beaters.

When the evils of the everyday become subsumed by an ancient, supernatural Evil, it’s actually a fairly smooth transition–and that might be the scariest thing of all, King seems to say.


Despite the well-written and enduring truths that King has tapped into, some of the language and characterization used in Salem’s Lot is, to modern sensibilities, old-fashioned.

It was impossible to ignore the use of the derogatory “f-word” as a constant insult for perceived weakness  or potential homosexuality. Though the argument could be made that King was simply using it as a way to characterize the townspeople as bigoted or behind the more-progressive times, it didn’t come across that way to me. There was never any pushback to characters saying that word; it felt normalized and careless. Regardless of King’s intentions behind using the “f-word”, it was still very jarring and uncomfortable to see it in print so often.

King was also still growing into writing fully-realized female characters. Susan Norton, the heroine of Salem’s Lot, seems to exist in the novel only to give hero Ben Mears the excuse for a love scene and an impetus for revenge. Though she has some agency, when compared to the other main (male) characters, Susan is weak, flighty, and contributes very little. On the basis of her character alone, Salem’s Lot would fail the Bechdel Test.

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Book Review: Revenge, by Yoko Ogawa

I am all about revenge lately. Or perhaps it’s better to say I’m more into revenge than usual lately, as it’s something I definitely enjoy reading about and watching. (A personality test once told me that I value justice more than mercy. Yikes!) Anyway, I’m tearing through the first season of the television show Revenge (and simultaneously chuckling at and getting engrossed in its soap opera antics) and I recently finished up two Stephen King books in which revenge is doled out to rapists and torturers (Full Dark, No Stars and Misery, respectively), so when I saw Revenge by Yoko Ogawa pop up on Netgalley, I requested it immediately. I’ve enjoyed the few Japanese novels I’ve read in the past, and a little research on Ogawa revealed that she is a prolific and well-respected author, having won the Shirley Jackson Award in 2008 and numerous other Japanese honors.

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There were lots of things I liked about Revenge. As it’s subtitled Eleven Dark Tales, I was expecting a collection of scary and unrelated stories. Ogawa, however, twists our expectations of the short story format and instead allows the vignettes to build off of one another; each character is linked to another in a previous story in some significant (or insignificant) way. I really enjoyed trying to puzzle out the relationships between characters before it was revealed. I think this format allowed Ogawa to focus on the meat of each story, and to create her own closed, realistic (but slightly off) world populated by her characters. For those readers who don’t normally enjoy short stories, Revenge might be a good way to both challenge their expectations and expand their horizons!

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Review: Talulla Rising, by Glen Duncan

Talulla Rising, Glen Duncan’s sequel to 2011’s The Last Werewolf, is a great example of a slow-burning novel. It starts quietly, in an isolated cabin in Alaska, and quickly becomes a mysterious chase spanning the globe as our heroine attempts to avert the murder of her child in a cult ceremony.

Oh yeah, and our heroine is a werewolf who eviscerates and devours at least one human being each month.

First things first: I suggest playing this video as you read my review. (And yes, it’s taken from the werewolf playlist I’ve mentioned previously.)

I won’t keep you in suspense; I really, really enjoyed this book. It had much of the same black humor as the first book, and the same frenetic energy. Instead of following Jake, we follow Talulla–the new last werewolf–as she waits to give birth to her dead partner’s child/pup. Everything quickly goes to hell. In the interests of avoiding spoilers, I won’t detail exactly how or why.

I was wary of Talulla at first. She introduces herself as a bad girl, a nasty girl, a girl who has always done what she wanted, even before she became a monster every full moon. Not…the most endearing qualities, but I don’t need to actively like every character I read about, even if it’s the main character. Honestly, I think I just felt somewhat more detached from Talulla than I did from Jake. Duncan is a masterful writer, but it took me a while to really believe in Talulla and her voice; for stories written in a first-person narrative, a reader not believing in your POV character can be the kiss of death. I had the thought, more often than once, that Duncan was perhaps not as comfortable–or at least, as believable–writing from a woman’s perspective. I do, however, applaud his effort, and once the pace picked up, I found myself understanding Talulla a bit better, and even admiring her particular thoughts and skills as distinct from Marlowe’s.

She discovered that not only could she kill and eat people once a month, but she could kill and eat people once a month and love it.

There are many familiar faces, including Cloquet (love him!), Madeleine, and Mia. Their inclusion and contributions to the plot were frequently wonderful and unexpected. The evolution of Cloquet from a drug-addicted, foolish, love-struck man into Talulla’s companion was perhaps, to me, one of the most unambiguously positive outcomes of the last book. And though the specter of Jake hangs over Talulla (and Madeleine), having him there was nice for the reader–both for continuity and for the sheer enjoyment of his familiar voice.

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For all of the Steven King fans out there

Pop-culture site Vulture has posted great ranking of all of Steven King’s works.

I haven’t read very much of King’s oeuvre so far–just Carrie and On Writing. (I enjoyed the latter especially, and am thankful to my undergrad creative nonfiction professor for assigning it, so long ago!)

After reading their list, I think I’d like to check out Needful Things, The Long Walk, The Dead Zone, Misery and Full Dark, No Stars. I go through phases were all I want to read are psychological horror, and one may be coming up soon!

What are your favorite books by King?


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