Becky’s Two Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Book Review: “Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill

“Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill was a creepy fucking book. I felt it was fitting to post this review on Halloween. It was creepy, but it was also really good. I am looking forward to reading more of Joe Hill’s work.

In “Heart-Shaped Box” the main character, Jude, has an unusual hobby of collecting the strange, and eerie. In his collection are pieces of art by a serial killer, a skull damaged by medieval brain surgery, various disturbing trinkets, and even a snuff film. As a semi-retired rock star, he even has a collection of girls that could easily be mistaken for vampires. “Jude collected them in almost exactly the same way the Pied Piper had collected rats, and children. He made melodies out of hate and perversion and pain, and they came to him, skipping to the music, hoping he would let them sing along.” (Heart-Shaped Box, pg 41). Jude finds his world turned upside down after he adds a dead man’s suit to his collection. The dead man came along with the suit – as advertised – and suddenly Jude is confronted with a very real horror in his home.

Jude was an interesting character. He was a dick and you kind of wanted to hate him, but at the same time, you want him to triumph over the terror that has come down on him and the girl of the season. His peculiarities, we learn, go way back to his childhood. “He liked the gloosh of it when he bit into it, the faintly corrupt, sticky-sweet sap, the rotten-soft texture of the cherry itself. He imagined he was helping himself to a chocolate-covered eyeball. Even in those days, Jude took pleasure in dreaming up the worst, reveled in gruesome possibilities.” (Heart-Shaped Box, pg 46). I loved this passage; the visualization that Joe Hill was able to create was impressive. I was reminded of a different author that tends to write horror novels as well – Stephen King. Who just so happens to be Joe Hill’s father. So it makes sense that he would have the ability to tell a story that makes you hold your breath while you’re reading. A book that you have to read with the lights on, yes I was impressed with Joe Hill’s writing.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone, that’s for sure. But if you like to read scary stories, this is something you should definitely add to your list. I really enjoyed it and am already trying to get my hands on more of Joe Hill’s work. Just don’t read “Heart-Shaped Box” without some space in your freezer to hide the book.

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Becky’s One Hundred and Ninety-First Book Review: “The Missing” by Sarah Langan

“The Missing” by Sarah Langan is a book that I have been reading aloud with FH over the last few months. We keep it in the car to read on long drives, which is why it has taken so long, but we finally finished it last night. My initial assessment upon completion of this book was what a weird fucking book. FH shares this opinion.

The prologue certainly gathered our attention, we don’t know whom is narrating but they paint an intriguing picture. “Through the cracks in my windows and chimney flue, there is only the howling wind, and underneath that, barely discernible screams.” (The Missing, pg 3). The prologue ends with this: “I have a story for you. Forgive me if it seems I’m telling you things that I could not possibly know. This is a small town, and you hear gossip. Besides, the dead do speak.
So gather round, as I used to tell the children during story hour. Gather round.” (The Missing, pg 5). I thought this was definitely an interesting way to start a story. For the rest of the novel we were trying to decide which character was narrating at the beginning.

“The Missing” begins with a class trip. Lois Larkin takes her kids on a field trip and a troublemaker, James Walker, basically is responsible for beginning an epidemic. He sneaks away from the group into the woods where he goes to die. It is only when Lois is back on the bus heading home that she realizes that James is not on the bus. A search party is put together and Lois wanders away from the others. “Lois, the voice said. It came from two places. It licked her ears and sated the itch like rain on a thirsty flower…
…Something moved inside her, and she jumped back and scrambled a few feet from the hole while sliding on her butt so that the legs of her trousers turned dark with soot. The thing peered out from her eyes. She could feel it. An enemy slithering between her ears. Lois, it whispered. Her heart pounded, and for a moment she was tempted to gouge her eyes in order to pull the thing out.” (The Missing, pg 97). I really liked this quote because I think it is a good representation of just how weird Sarah Langan’s writing can be. She doesn’t lack for imagery.

Part of what makes “The Missing” so interesting is that it is told through a few different characters. This lets the reader see how a wide scope of people react to the dire situation the town finds themselves in. One of the main characters is Fenstad Wintrob, a physiatrist with a troubled marriage, one kid away at college, and a rebellious teenager daughter at home. His character makes a dramatic change as the madness in the town unfolds. Some characters fight to survive and others go a different direction. I enjoyed observing how different individuals react to a crisis.

Would I recommend this book? Not to most people, that’s for sure. It is just so strange. It seemed almost like Sarah Langan was creating the strangest thing she could think of and then going to the next level with it to the realm of beyond ridiculous. It certainly kept things interesting. I’m glad that this wasn’t the first book of hers that I had read. Overall I think I enjoyed the book, but it doesn’t really inspire me to pick up more of her work.

Side note – One thing that tends to stick out when reading a book aloud are errors, both spelling and grammatical. I was sad to see that “The Missing” (printed Oct 2007) had more than a few mistakes. Shame on whomever edited this edition. That is all.

Becky’s One Hundred and Fortieth Book Review: “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson

“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson is a classic that has been told and retold numerous times. Even though I knew the story from a young age, I had never taken the time to pick up the book and read it for myself. When I did I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. “It was a night of little ease to his toiling mind, toiling in mere darkness and besieged by questions.” (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, pg 13).

I really enjoyed the way that Robert Louis Stevenson manipulated language throughout his novel. Reading him was like sneaking bites of dark chocolate. Even though it was a story that I knew, turning each page was a delicious indulgence. “…the ghost of some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace: punishment coming,” (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, pg 17). Robert Louis Stevenson chose each word so carefully to paint such a dark and addictive picture.

I really enjoyed the way that Robert Louis Stevenson focused on the split personality aspects in the book, the book may be about a man who finds a way to let the monster inside of him come out on his own and be separate, but the true lesson of the book is, “…man is not truly one, but truly two. I say two, because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that point. Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same lines; and I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens.” (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, pg 78). The thing that sets Dr. Jekyll apart from other men is that he finds a way to let the monster out. There is no denying that Mr. Hyde is still ultimately a piece of Dr. Jekyll, one that grows stronger the more he shows his face. In a way, it makes him more self-aware than most. He embraces the monster.

Would I recommend The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Yes, it was a very fun read and even though it would be hard to not know the tale, it was still surprising and interesting. 

Becky’s One Hundred and Twelfth Book Review: “No Reflection” by John Caliburn

“No Reflection” is a collection of short horror stories. The book is John Caliburn’s debut and I have to say, for a first book, it was pretty entertaining. The biggest downside I would say is that most of the stories left me wanting to read more and since they were short stories, there was no more. I liked the majority of the stories though and would definitely pick up something else Caliburn puts out. I’m going to do a short review on each story since there were only seven individual stories and a poem.

The first story is ‘No Reflection’ and I think was the story I liked the least. The main character works in a museum storage room and comes across a mysterious, ancient mirror called ‘The Mirror of Divination’. He is not a very likable character to begin with, he seems like a bum with no regard for anyone else. I am not sure if Caliburn made the character a jerk on purpose, but the whole time I was reading the story, I was hoping it would end the way that it did. So at least that worked out for me. I wouldn’t have led with this story in my collection personally.

The second story I found much more entertaining. It was called, ‘A Child’s Imagination’ and is nice and disturbing, which is how I like my horror stories. (Why do you think I read so much Stephen King?) This short story I could have read a lot more of if Caliburn had expanded it to a full novel. Owen, the main character, is the son of two individuals who own a restaurant that is failing. The really interesting thing about this story was how we were able to understand just how upsetting Owen’s parents troubles were to him. They upset him so much that he became rather twisted. Whenever he fell asleep, he would dream of a magical world where he was surrounded by various animals who were all his friend. Then Owen realized that his friends could all be ingredients for his parent’s restaurant. Pretty entertaining, although disturbing.

The third story was ‘Delusional’ and it is about a mental patient trying to explain to his doctor what had happened to his wife. Her death was the reason that he was institutionalized. The patient explained that he couldn’t go to sleep or the world would end. I found this whole concept to be rather interesting. It was also a different sort of take on a guy in a mental institue. I would have loved for this story to be expanded.

The next story was called ‘Rustling Sheets’ and I didn’t love it. A family moves into a home and the little boy is so excited to finally have his own room with bunk beds. That is until he realizes that he has something else in the room with him. It didn’t get much more exciting than that.

The next story was ‘The Magician’s Assistant’ and I really enjoyed it. The premise of the story is this woman is dating a magician and she is his assistant. Then she finds out that he has been unfaithful and decides to take revenge in the sickest way possible. I don’t think this story could really be expanded upon, although I would have loved to read more about it. One of the best stories in this collection by far.

The next story was ‘Fear of the Shadows’ which was very intriguing. It was a different sort of take on a child being afraid of his stepfather. In this story, the child is forced to chose between his fear of his stepfather and his fear of the dark. He knows that the dark hides theses frightening creatures that can hurt him, but then there is his stepfather who can hurt him as well. It was interesting to read and there was a fair amount of language that really engrossed my attention.

The last story was ‘Watery Grave’. The main character, Alan, just had a huge estate left to him by the aunt whom he killed. Shockingly, she came back to haunt him. Not a great story. I wouldn’t have ended with this personally.

The collection of short stories is concluded with ‘Closet’, a poem. It is short and sweet. I wouldn’t have minded reading some more poetry by Caliburn.

Overall, I think that the collection was very well done. I think that Caliburn has some real potential as an author and I look forward to seeing what he does next. Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone, but I think most individuals who enjoy the occasional horror story would enjoy several of the short stories featured in “No Relfection”. There were definitely some disturbing parts of the stories, so they wouldn’t be for everyone.

Becky’s One Hundred and Thirteenth Book Review: “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King

The long anticipated review of Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep” is here. I have to say, although I usually expect great things from Stephen King, I was pleasantly surprised by how amazing “Doctor Sleep” turned out to be. “The Shining” really is a classic, so there was all that extra pressure on King to produce something as amazing if not better in the sequel. In my humble opinion, he exceeded expectations.

If you haven’t read “The Shining”, there will be some spoilers so beware!

“Doctor Sleep” picks up shortly after “The Shining” left off. Danny is still a boy and he has found that despite the fact that the Overlook Hotel has been destroyed, some of its inhabitants have followed Danny down to Florida. He discovers this early one morning when he walks into his bathroom, “She was smiling the way you do when you see an old friend. Or, perhaps, something good to eat.” (Doctor Sleep, pg 5). Dick is contacted and he teaches Danny just how to ward off these unwanted visitors. The story then flashes forward.

Danny is now an adult and has followed in his father’s footsteps when it comes to drinking. It was a little upsetting seeing Danny – a sweet little boy who everyone cheered for in “The Shining” to be reduced to an alcoholic drinking away the pain. He goes by Dan now and his alcoholic mind is an interesting one to say the least. “Dan eyed it with morbid fascination, reflecting (not for the first time) that the hungover eye had a weird ability to find the ugliest things in any given landscape.” (Doctor Sleep, pg 41). I liked this quote because it was so true, and I really liked the way that Stephen King wrote this sentence. As an adult, Dan finds himself reflecting on his father and what was the reason that he drank. Dan drank because it made the shining a lot duller. “It was strange to feel sympathy for a man who had almost killed you, but the sympathy was there.” (Doctor Sleep, pg 68).

Dan finds himself wandering from town to town, working wherever he can find the work and moving on as he gets the urge. He really has struck rock bottom and although Dan seems to know that, he just doesn’t care. For the first part of the book, Dan goes from place to place just waiting to die it seems. His go-to place for work? Hospice care. That certainly says something. I’ve never been an alcoholic or an addict of any sort really, but there have been times when I felt I was at my lowest and I felt myself identifying a lot with Dan. There was this one quote that I really liked because it was insightful and true. “Drinking was undoubtedly a part of it, but when you were down, some guys just seemed to feel an urge to walk up your back and plant a foot on your neck instead of helping you to stand. It was lousy, but so much of human nature was. Of course when you were running with the bottom dogs, what you mostly saw were paws, claws, and assholes.” (Doctor Sleep, pg 68-69). I love this kind of raw humor and it can frequently be found in King’s works.

Around this point in the book, Dan gets to a new town and meets some people who are the complete opposites of the awful humans described above. He makes some friends and is dragged to his first AA meeting. This dramatically changes his life. As he is getting sober, Dan makes a friend in the oddest way. A girl, Abra Stone, is born with the shining and they communicate via a blackboard in his bedroom. This unexpected friendship is another thing that will dramatically change Dan’s life.

While all of this is going on, the reader is also learning about the bad guys in the book. There is a group of individuals who are similar in a lot of ways with vampires, they call themselves The True Knot. They are nearly immortal and they survive by sucking the life out of children with the shining. We read about the terrible things that this group does and soon they come to the attention of Abra and Dan. They soon realize that if they don’t stop The True Knot, then Abra will become their next target. The book only gets better from there. One last quote that I just thought amusing and wanted to include, “Perhaps kids really did come into the world trailing clouds of glory, as Wordsworth had so confidently proclaimed, but they also shit in their pants until they learned better.” (Doctor Sleep, pg 123)

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely! I think that any Stephen King fan would enjoy reading “Doctor Sleep”. I also think that even if horror isn’t your favorite genre to read, you might enjoy reading “Doctor Sleep”. It was very well done and I am glad that Stephen King took the risk to write a sequel. It would be amazing if he continued the series following Abra next. I’m already dying to read it again.

Becky’s One Hundred and Ninth Book Review: “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson

“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson is a classic that I didn’t even know about until I read “Audrey’s Door” by Sarah Langan. It was one of the books that Langan said inspired her to write “Audrey’s Door” (along with “The Tenant” by Roland Topor and a few others I think). After reading and loving “Audrey’s Door” I decided to check out the books that inspired it. “The Haunting of Hill House” was the first that I got my hands on.

The premise of “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson is a group of strangers are invited to participate in a study at Hill House in an attempt to see if any paranormal activity will occur. There is Dr. Montague who does the research and invites several people who have been involved with suspected paranormal activities in the past to participate in his study. Eleanor and Theo both respond and as a condition for using the house, Dr. Montague is required to have Luke stay there as well, a member of the family that currently owns the home.

As soon as the group arrives, everyone is immediately uncomfortable with Hill House. It doesn’t help that in the letters inviting them to Hill House Dr. Montague explicitly states to not stop in the town and not mention that they are heading for Hill House. Eleanor does stop in the town but refrains from mentioning her destination. She finds the town to have a very odd air to it and does not stay long. Once she arrives at Hill House, she is not exactly welcomed with open arms by Mr. Dudley and then she is led to her room by Mrs. Dudley. Neither of whom have much of a personality, and Mrs. Dudley takes things a step further by letting each guest know individually that she leaves before it gets dark. There will be no one to hear you, in the dark, in the night.

Things very quickly become stranger for the guests at Hill House. The group experiences a variety of spooky events including doors closing by themselves and a distinct banging in the night. Very quickly things start to get even weirder and also personal for one of the guests. The book is short, something like two hundred pages and I got through it very quickly. It was quite an entertaining read.

“The Haunting of Hill House” was not only a great book, but has been adapted into a few movies including the 1999 movie ‘The Haunting’ starring Liam Nieson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It wasn’t until I read this book that I was able to realize how similar it was to the book. There were some changes made of course, but for the most part the movie was true to the book.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that it is one of those books that anyone who is a fan of horror/thrillers should read because it has been the inspiration for many of the now-classics. It was a short read too, so it would be great for even those who do not like to read all that much.

Becky’s One Hundred and Sixth Book Review: “The Shining” by Stephen King

“The Shining” is a classic and it deserves all the credit that it gets. Stephen King himself believes that he was able to take Jack Torrance to a whole new level of frightening because he was so real. The alcoholic who was raised by an alcoholic – a loving father and husband one minute and an abusive bastard the next. This was not the first time that I have read “The Shining” but with the sequel coming out (September 27) I wanted to recapture and relive the horror.

It’s hard to say what it is that makes “The Shining” so frightening. There are many aspects of the book that help build up suspense. You have the flashbacks to Jack’s drinking days, both from his perspective and Wendy’s. Then Wendy frequently turns her mind to the Donner party when she thinks of them snowed in at the hotel. In addition to both adults having paranoid moments, Danny has Tony warning him before they even get to the hotel.

Danny’s dis-trustfulness about the Overlook hotel is obvious to any adult willing to look at him long enough. Dick Halloran tries to get Danny to go to Florida with him in a joking manner, but at the same time he is serious. Dick is the one who explains to Danny what ‘the shining’ is and he also gives him some warnings about the hotel. Dick tells Danny to stay away from room 217. He also gives Danny the advice to close his eyes when he sees something scary and it should go away. Wendy also at one point asks Danny if he wants to go stay someplace else for the winter. There are so many warnings in the beginning, but the Torrance family is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Jack needs the job at the Overlook and the only other option Wendy has for a place to live would be with her mother. Something that leaves an awful taste in her mouth. Not to mention Danny expressing his extreme unhappiness at the thought.

Their stay starts out uneventful enough and Wendy thinks that this is just what the family needed. A fresh start away from everyone else. A place for Jack to work on his play. Danny is learning how to read and is desperate to do so. Wendy thinks this is because he wants to win his father’s approval and while that is part of it, he also is desperate to know what some of the signs are that Tony shows him sometimes. Most of all, Danny wants to know what Redrum is, even though he is very afraid of it.

Stephen King is a masterful storyteller. He is able to take truth and fiction and weave it all together to make a terrifying story. “The Shining” is a wonderful book and a must-read for any fan of the thriller/horror genre.