Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-First Book Review: “Horns” by Joe Hill

What would you do if one day you woke up and discovered you had grown horns? Not only that, but your horns had a strange psychic kind of power and influence over other people. You suddenly have the ability to hear the worst things people think. And you can push people with your horns to do the terrible things they want to do in the darkest parts of their minds, but normally would never actually go through with. That is the strange situation in “Horns” by Joe Hill.

Ig, our main character, wakes up the morning after drinking very heavily and pissing all over the memorial to his dead girlfriend with such horns. The girlfriend that everyone thinks he murdered. At first he is resistant to the idea of interacting with anyone and then he realizes that this newly discovered power could be the key to solving Merrin’s murder. Is it a gift? A curse? Or a bit of both? “It did no good to tell himself that it was all in his head if it went on happening anyway. His belief was not required; his disbelief was of no consequence. The horns were always there when he reached up to touch them. Even when he didn’t touch them, he was aware of the sore, sensitive tips sticking out into the cool riverside breeze. They had the convincing and literal solidity of bone.” (Horns, pg 24). I like the way that Ig starts to roll with the punches in this book.

Ig is an interesting character. He’s not exactly a good guy and it’s a little difficult to tell if that is who he always was or if Merrin’s murder is what really led to him becoming this bitter person. The addition of horns is more understandable the more we learn about what Ig has been through and how he views the world. I do enjoy the way Joe Hill writes. He is talented and his mind goes places that are intriguing to say the least. I enjoyed the way that we learn bits and pieces about the other people in Ig’s life. Mainly we get a peek at what Merrin was like and we learn about his unlikely friendship with Lee. Everyone it seems has a secret to hide. Hill certainly has a talent for developing disturbing characters with multiple layers. Just when you think you know what a character is about, they do something to surprise you.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone, but yes. For those that can appreciate the dark humor that is prevalent in Joe Hill’s book would certainly enjoy “Horns”. It was a real page turner; I could not put it down. I look forward to reading whatever Hill comes up with next.

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Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifty-Third Book Review: “NOS4A2” by Joe Hill

“NOS4A2” was a really weird book – not that I would expect anything less from Joe Hill. He has a distinctive way of looking at the world. He creates characters that provoke pity and disgust more than anything else and then turns them into the good guys. His ability to completely envelope your senses with his words made NOS4A2 a real page-turner. It was hard to pull myself out of that world. Even though I finished the book several months ago I still find my mind wandering to Vic and wondering “what if”. NOS4A2 was an intense read.

When we first meet Vic, she is introduced as “The Brat” and this is right before Vic discovers her ability to travel in a non-traditional manner. She uses the Shorter Way Bridge almost as a portal to find things. After several trips across, she wants to find someone to explain this ability to her, someone to confirm that she isn’t losing her mind. That is when Vic meets Maggie. “There’s the real world, with all its annoying facts and rules. In the real world, there are things that are true and things that aren’t. Mostly the real world s-s-s-suh-sucks. But everyone also lives in the world inside their own head. An inscape, a world of thought. In a world made of thought – in an inscape – every idea is a fact. Emotions are as real as gravity. Dreams are as powerful as history. Creative people, like writers, and Henry Rollins, spend a lot of their time hanging out in their thoughtworld. S-s-strong creative, though, can use a knife to cut the stitches between the two worlds, can bring them together. Your bike. My tiles. Those are our knives.” (NOS4A2, pg 100). I really liked this quote for several reasons. One, it paints a clearer picture of how Vic is able to do what she does with the Shorter Way Bridge. Secondly, I can totally relate. No, I don’t have a knife to cut stiches between the words, but as a creative individual I experience my own version of a powerful inscape. Joe Hill eloquently describes this other level of consciousness that many people experience – he puts a name on it, he makes it make sense.

While Vic is the protagonist of our story, the antagonist and the nicknamed NOS4A2 is Charles Manx. He is vampire-esc in his behavior and his knife is a car. He uses his car to “save” children, or at least that is how he explains it. He makes for a very creepy bad guy and his ability to recruit Bing just confirms how powerful and influential Manx is. Bing didn’t question, he just followed, worshipped, adored, and obeyed. Bing was his own kind of creepy and together Manx and Bing are a whole new kind of evil.

What I really enjoyed about NOS4A2 was how much of an anti-hero Vic is. We meet her as a kid and it is clear that she comes from a dysfunctional family. She uses her ability to spend time traveling through her inscape to get away from her reality. In doing so, she convinces herself that what she is doing is not real. As she becomes a damaged adult, she blames it on her parents and her own mind. “She had crossed the bridge almost a dozen times in five years, and always it was less like an experience, more like a sensation. It was not a thing she did, it was a thing she felt: a dreamy awareness of gliding, a distant sense of static roaring. It was not unlike the feel of sinking into a doze, easing herself into the envelope of sleep.” (NOS4A2, pg 79). I think the way that Vic felt about the whole experience helped her bury the memories. I like the way that she describes the experience. And one of the most challenging things for Vic is facing this reality and accepting it as fact.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – but only to a certain kind of reader. NOS4A2 is an intensely weird book, and at times it was on the border of ick. Even I got a little squeamish. This is not a book for everybody. But if you like weird, and you like Stephen King, then you’ll love Joe Hill. Like father, like son. I’m looking forward to reading more of Joe Hill’s works and I happen to have another in my personal library as we speak. This was a very enjoyable and intense read – not for the faint of heart.

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.