Tag Archives: horror

Far Far Away

farfarawayby Tom McNeal

An usual narrator (ghost of Jacob Grimm, the German folklorist), a small town that feels subtly unsettling, and a villain that really creeped me out made this a memorable read.  The book feels like a combination of a classic Hawthorne short story and a Coen Brothers movie — the sinister thread goes through the whole book and you are just wondering worriedly what’s going to happen next… I was not sure who’s the audience of this dark tale but am hoping that it will find some deserved adoration from teen readers.

 

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The Grimm Conclusion

grimmby Adam Gidwitz

I waited for a while to read this one.  Was somewhat apprehensive.  When one becomes friendly and very fond of an author, one sometimes also becomes worried.  What if… What if the book isn’t as good as you’d hoped?  As good as you  believe that particular author could have made it?  What it…

So, I didn’t read the galley.  I did attend an overwhelmingly successful event at Book Court in Brooklyn with Adam entertaining a host of young readers and their parents.  And then, finally, after I started seeing my students toting around this third volume and hearing that they really really enjoyed it (one of them read it more than twice in the week of its publication) I braced myself and delved into it!

What a treat!  I couldn’t put the book down.  Adam not only featured some of MY favorite Grimm tales, he even used one of my favorite STORY TIME staple (Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock!)  And not only Adam continues with the intrusive and flippant (but often kind and comforting) storyteller/narrator, he brings this narrator INTO the story (or, rather, brings the protagonists OUT of the story and into current day Brooklyn.)  I was worried when I knew that there is a metafiction element of the tale that it would have seemed trite or forced — but Adam did it in a natural and fluid way that really works.  The story as a whole seems a bit darker than the first two, but it is to my liking.  And as in so many stories for children (and adults) the power of storytelling is celebrated at the end!

Same as in the first two books, there are definitely some very sticky moral dilemmas that the two kids have to face and conquer.  I am happy to report that the messages do not get in the way of the enjoyment of the tales. And I suspect that these important “lessons” are being absorbed and are strengthening child readers everywhere as I type!

Finally, the new “Kingdom of Children” that the narrator refers to in the end of this book is an apt metaphor for the realm of imagination, for stories and books, and especially for the Grimm trilogy, where children venture in to “run, to play… to tell their tales and face their fears and let whatever is inside out.”

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Lockwood & Co #1: Screaming Staircase

screamingstaircaseby Jonathan Stroud

I truly enjoyed Stroud’s narrative tone, characters and world building in this first volume of a new fantasy/horror series.  In Lucy we find a fresh, sharp-minded, slightly paranoid and self-doubting, but in the end completely lovable main character/narrator.  Lockwood and George are also interesting and multi-faceted characters who maintain the flavorful exchanges between these young people.  The premise also provides a new world for the author and the readers to venture into and explore — The Problem, consisting of ghosts, hauntings, and the solutions of using special child agents trained to deal with them, with all the life-threatening dangers that could befall anyone at any moment.  I’m in awe of Stroud’s talent.

So why didn’t I absolutely love the book?  Probably because I figured too many things out too early so the wait for the reveal seemed a bit long and drawn out?  Or perhaps there were just a few repetitive descriptions/scenarios too many?  (How many times do the readers need to be told how the first hints of haunting feel or look like?)  Do I still want to see what unfolds in book 2?  Yes.  If the Bartimaeus trilogy is any indicator, the sequels will give us more layers and nuanced interactions.  The story will only evolves into something grander and hopefully the ending will be as satisfying — and perhaps unexpected, too?

 

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Doll Bones

dollbonesby Holly Black

I was pleased that Holly Black decided to maintain the mystery and the suspense over the paranormal scenario of the story all the way to the very very end.  To me, that’s the best part of the whole book.  Some other aspects, however, did not speak to me that much.  I was told the three main characters’ personalities, a bit of their back stories, and about the fact that they had been best friends with such amazing bonds as telling those fantastical stories…. but, as a reader, I never quite “felt” any of these facts.  Partly because on their “quest,” most I saw was their bickering and distrust of each other.

For example, when Zach worried about the two girls’ talking about him behind his back, his thoughts are whether they talked about he smelled bad or that he’s stupid.  I would hope, that after being close friends with each other for years, there might have been some darker, deeper secrets or concerns that made Zach squirm.

There are also just so many details that do not advance the plot or our understanding of the characters.  A list of 27 flavors of donuts that do not carry overt or hidden meanings baffled me.

I was also puzzled by each character’s ability to succinctly explain why have been acting in such a way toward their friends, sounding like what a therapist might present, after listening to 12/13 year olds relating the events and their feelings.  Alice revealed that the reason why she couldn’t believe in Eleanor’s ghost was that “There can’t be a ghost, a real ghost.  Because if there is, then some random dead girl wants to haunt Poppy, but my own dead parents can’t be bothered to come back and haunt me.”   And Poppy’s confession, “I thought that we could do this thing, and when it was over we’d have something that no one else had — an experience that would keep us together.”  Even Zach’s father confessed, “But I’ve been thinking that protecting somebody by hurting them before someone else gets the chance isn’t the kind of protecting that anyone wants.”

Don’t get me wrong — I believe in the validity of all of these statements and those are at the heart of this story — that we act certain ways because there are some additional, underlying emotional reasons which are seldom on the surface for others to interpret quickly or easily.  I just have a bit of trouble with how all of these ideas are delivered as “statements” by these characters.  I wish that readers had chances to perhaps sort some of these out by ourselves.  For example, perhaps in one of the shouting matches, Alice could have said something like, “There are NO GHOSTS!  If there are, WHY WOULDN’T MY PARENTS TALK O ME???!!!”  (haha.. much exaggerated)

I also was not creeped out enough by the book — and I wish I had been — the cover gave me so much hope!

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane (and Word Count)

theoceanattheendofthelaneby Neil Gaiman

This is typical Gaiman: the nightmarish landscapes and events are always presented with a reassuring glow of beauty that makes the scene and the story much less horrifying. Rather, it becomes purely entertaining. A bit of chill here and there and things mostly work out — except that there is always that trademark tinge of melancholy – like a lonely tinkling of a music box that plays a haunting and unfamiliar tune, slowly coming to a pause. The book reads like an expanded short story and I think it probably would have benefited from being a short story, rather than a novel (which even though meets the “novel” length requirement, reads more or less like a novella, with such a local setting and a tight plot time frame.)

Did I enjoy it? Definitely. Did it sweep me off of my feet? Not like some of his other work did in the past. However, since Gaiman proclaimed that this is as close to an “actual account” of his childhood as he could manage, the readers do get a glimpse of this creative writer’s mental landscape and the psyches that bring us illuminating stories.

I got a bit curious about the definition of novels, novella, etc. by length, and found this list on the Nebula award:

  • Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
  • Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
  • Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 words or more.
  • At the author’s request, a novella-length work published individually, rather than as a part of a collection, anthology, or other collective work, shall appear in the novel category.

Source: http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/faq/

On the same site, I also found an article about the definition of “a word”:

“So, years ago, publishers set up a standard definition: a word is six characters (including spaces).” — more detailed explanation and rationale for this can be found here:

http://www.sfwa.org/2005/01/what-is-a-word/

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Smoke and Mirror

smokeandmirrors
by Neil Gaiman – read by Neil Gaiman

This is a short stories collection from 1998.  As I love Fragile Things and especially love how Gaiman reads his own tales — he is quite a voice actor, changing his tones, inflections, accents — all dexterously and effortlessly and all quite fitting the characters, the advantage of having the author (who is a good storyteller) reading the stories.

I did not love all the tales — not even most of them.  Of the 31 tales and verses, I think I only really enjoyed about a dozen or so.  Something felt lacking — quite a few seem to be character sketches or exercises in painting imageries and building atmosphere, for something bigger and more complete — but not deep or polished themselves.  I often enjoy Gaiman’s somewhat dark or even brutal (and honest, perhaps?) depictions of sexual acts in his writing for adults.  But, I found myself slightly appalled by certain gratuitous passages, shaking my head, gently whispering in my mind, “Neil, you did not have to resort to this — the story itself is strong and intriguing enough…”  — but, of course, many of these stories were meant to be slightly pornographic (light erotica) — I just didn’t quite prepare myself for so many of them being this way.  Now I’ve listened to it once, I’ll be able to go back and pick out the tales that I want to listen to over and over again (like quite a few of those in Fragile Things) and also figure out why some of the stories did not work for me the first time.  (They might grow on me upon repeat listening.)

 

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The Dead

thedead

by Charlie Higson

I am not an aficionado of zombie stories.  Yes, I’ve had a few books and movies under my belt: thoroughly enjoyed World War Z and Zombieland.  But I am in no urgent need for yellow pus, green liquidy drippings, splattered red blood, or all sorts of creatively severed  body parts — any time, anywhere.  I did greatly appreciate the first book in Higson’s zombie series, The Enemy.  And finally got around to read the second installment, a prequel, a “history,” of The Enemy. 

I cannot be more pleased by The Dead.  There is everything I love: exploration of loyalty, what makes someone a leader or a follower, what gives people courage, survival strategies — all told in a highly realized, logically plausible setting and string of events.  Tension and surprises keep the reader incredibly involved and the passages describing the mind deterioration of some characters are simply brilliant.

In a few weeks, I know I’ll be ready for book 3 – The Fear. 

 

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