Book Review: Eden by Tim Lebbon

Eden by Tim Lebbon

Rating:  ★★★

Eden is a science fiction eco-thriller in which a group of extreme sports enthusiasts and supposed environmentalists race through one of the last places on Earth that has been reserved for nature. Eden is known as a Virgin Zone, a place where all the humans have been relocated, and whose borders are agressively protected by paramilitary groups (Zeds? Zions? I don’t really care).  These places have been given back to nature in an effort to preserve them from human pollution/poaching/ deforestation/etc..

I had been looking forward to this since I first heard about it.  It sounded like it might be one of those SciFi-Horror crossover books I’m so fond of (a la Crichton) and best of all it was set in a jungle- which is one of my favorite settings for a book (especially one that contains elements of horror).

Which is why I am so very displeased to tell you that this is probably one of the most mediocre, vanilla, unexciting books I have ever fucking read.

I didn’t even know it was possible to write a Science-Fiction-Eco-Thriller-Horror-Genre-Bender that was this fucking boring.

First of all- the character motivations don’t make any sense.  Supposedly all these characters care deeply for the environment.  They believe in the purpose of the Virgin Zones.  They think what humans have done to the planet is horrible.

So what the hell are they doing violating the laws of these zones? Contaminating these pure zones with their presence?  For bragging rights?  I don’t buy it.  And judging by the number of times the author made his characters repeat some justification of their actions, I don’t think he really bought it either.

But that’s not really my problem with this book.  I can get down with a good popcorn thriller where the idiot victim is running up the stairs instead of outside.  It’s basically my favorite kind of book (and movie for that matter).

What is not forgivable, is that the big bad guys are a lynx, a coyote, and a wolf.

First of all.  I thought Eden was supposed to be what was left of the Amazon Rainforest.  None of those animals are native to that area (I have yet to even mention the grizzly that shows up- I’m not spoiling this. I’m doing you a favor.).  I am willing to accept that perhaps I am mistaken about where Eden is set.  I still think that these are ridiculously boring choices for what is supposed to be a horror book.

It was borderline insulting. As if the author put no thought or effort into the book at all. Like these were the first animals he thought of so he went with it and never bothered to edit them into something more exciting (hell I would have accepted the bear- but it gets no action).

Jurassic World More Teeth

Why yes, Dr. Wu.  Yes I did.

What about a crocodile?  A huge nest of giant poisonous spiders?  An anaconda?  A leopard?!  A terrible alien predator thing with too many teeth?

Forgive my rambling.  The characters weren’t too terrible for what they are.  I can’t say I cared too much for any of them but it’s not the kind of book you read for it’s deep character building.

There wasn’t much suspense built in. The author reveals his hand too early, doesn’t take the time to build up the suspense properly.  There are subplots that don’t make much sense…. ugh.  The reason for the animal attacks is never given any explanation or thought (and frankly, that subplot was a lot scarier than what actually happened).

I know this is a very rant-tastic review so I’d like to close this by saying Eden isn’t really as bad as all that… but it’s also not worth reading. I’d check out Devolution by Max Brooks if you’re looking for something in this vein.  Or a re-read of Jurassic Park.  Or pretty much anything else. #SorryNotSorry

Book Review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Rating:  ★★★★

I read SGJ’s Mapping the Interior late last year and was very impressed.  So impressed in fact, that I went through and added just about everything he’d ever written to my TBR.  So of course I was very excited to read this.

The premise is this: ten years ago, four friends embarked on an illegal hunting trip.  They knew what they did was wrong.  They did it anyway.  Now, something evil is hunting them back.

The story started out very strong.  I heard the term literary horror for the first time last year in reference to another book, and that phrase kept popping up over and over again in my head while I was reading this.  There was symbolism, biting social commentary, the imagery and tone were perfect.

There were times in reading this I was genuinely unsure if I wanted to continue- not because the book was bad, but because it was just that dark.  I cherished every single word I read in that first fifty percent.  I cared about the characters, I cared about Lewis’s marriage.  I cared about their friendships and their pets.  If this had been a novella, and had ended after Lewis’s part, I think it would have been damn near perfect.

However, after Lewis’s part, we shift POVs.  And while I enjoyed those parts too, I think the problem was that I was already so attached to Lewis I wasn’t ready to leave him.  I do wonder if I would have enjoyed this a little more if those parts had been switched around.  I don’t think either Gabe or Cass came across as sympathetic as Lewis did, so it was difficult to become reinvested in their story lines after finishing Lewis’s.

There’s a lot of basketball in this story – so the parts of this that talked about basketball I sometimes drifted off.  I’m less than five feet tall and have always been more inclined towards mental gymnastics then physcial ones, so it’s just not my thing, though I think it was used very well here.  Basketball seemed to make up a decent chunk of the second half, so the pace felt inevitably slower, hence the 4 stars instead of 5.

This is very much a supernatural story with a very supernatural ending, so if that’s not your thing this may not be for you.  The horror aspect is brutal and visceral – so consider yourself warned.  It won’t be for everyone.

But if you think you can cope with it- I highly recommend trying this out.  I was even more impressed with this than the last SGJ book I read, and I’m eager to read his other works.

The Only Good Indians released on July 14, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the review copy.

Have you read The Only Good Indians?  What did you think?

Overdue: Apologies and Book Reviews

Joey back baby

Hello friends!! I want to start by apologizing for disappearing out of the blue in such turbulent times, and thank those of you who reached out to check in.  We’re all safe and healthy, for which I am grateful.  I’ve been in a strange place- trying to homeschool my daughter and work full time while also feeling fairly isolated from other adult contact and feeling paranoid everytime I had to leave the house.

It didn’t make for a good time to read, and I ended up gaming and binging movies all weekend because I couldn’t focus enough to read.  I tried, and my eyes drifted off the page every two minutes. And then by the time I figured out I wasn’t going to be able to read any time soon and therefore wasn’t going to be able to blog any time soon – it felt like too much time had gone by to double back and put any sort of notice up.

So again- I’m sorry, but please know how much I appreciated it when you all reached out, if only to check in and say hi.

Dog Sorry giphy

That being said- I took a vacation a couple weeks ago, and was able to get a couple books read! And though I seem to have less reading time on my hands now that I’m back home I’m still trying to keep up.  I’m moving slower than I used to so bear with me if posts are still infrequent.

I have tons to catch up on, so I’m going to start with my long overdue review of:

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, by Max Brooks

Devolution by Max Brooks

Rating:  ★★★★

I posted a Can’t Wait Wednesday about Devolution back when I first heard about it- and that excitement never waned.  When I attempted to read over the past few months, this was the book I picked up.

It starts a little slow- an introduction to the world and the characters, their relationships with each other.  It took me until about the 25% mark to get into the unputdownable parts.  Is it a little over the top? Yeah.  Did I care?  Nope.

The sasquatch (es? what is the plural of sasquatch?!) in this book reminded me a lot of the creatures encountered in Michael Crichton’s Congo, and I ate up every second of it.  There was tree knocking and howls, rock throwing and glowing eyes in the dark.  It was exactly what I hoped for.

It was both similar and different to Max’s previous success, World War Z.  It’s similar in style – where WWZ was an oral retelling, this is told mostly in journal entries.  It’s different because it is told primarily from one POV – Kate’s. I found this style much better suited to my tastes, because with the journal entries felt like one cohesive, connected story, not bits and pieces of a much larger story.  There’s no knowing how or if Kate survived, only that her journal did.

There were parts that made me cringe away in horror and parts that had me holding my breath.  The atmosphere and tone were perfect.  I only deducted a star for the slow beginning.

If you liked WWZ, if you’ve ever wondered about the existence of sasquatch, I’d definitely recommend this! It’s a fun summer read with a creepy tone.  Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley who provided a free copy in exchange for a review.  Devolution can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

If you read Devolution and I missed your review – please link to it below! I’d love to know what you thought.

 

Book Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Rating:  ★★★★

This is my second time reading Hendrix and it did not disappoint. The first time I read Horrorstor, and it felt fun and a little campy, and I listened to it on audio. I read a physical copy of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires and it was a very different experience.

The premise is that Patricia, a housewife in South Carolina, gave up her career to be a wife and mother. She takes up reading in a book club with five friends. They read true crime novels. When a new neighbor moves in down the street, and fishy things start happening around him, Patricia starts to suspect the new neighbor may be up to no good, but everyone agrees Patricia is just letting her reading get to her head.

There aren’t any real twists or turns in the plot. Everything is pretty much as it seems. Which works in this instance because it allows the author to build suspense. There were several scenes where I felt like I was holding my breath. Is there such a thing as white knuckle reading?  I was doing that.  A good portion of my reading is comprised of horror and thriller books, so that’s probably one of the highest compliments I could pay this.

The characters aren’t the most robust I’ve ever encountered, but the author does a good job of fleshing them out. They each have their own little quirks and idiosyncrasies, different relationships with each other and with their husbands. Warning: the way women are treated in this book will make you want to scream. They are discounted as silly. Their thoughts, opinions and feelings meaningless, and treated like objects.  I don’t think Hendrix was endorsing this behavior – I think it was more based on what he read and observed growing up (afterall, he said the inspiration for this book was his own mother).

There are some graphic scenes, and there are things that happen off page involving children under the age of 10 which are terrible. I’m putting it here as a warning for people who would rather avoid it. I think the beginning of the book is a little misleading in that it’s fun and campy, like Horrorstor, but ultimately takes a very dark turn.

I thoroughly enjoyed this in the end, despite the semi depressing ending, and look forward to reading the next book from Hendrix.  The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires released on April 7, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher who sent a free review copy!

Book Review: Follow Me To Ground by Sue Rainsford

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford

Rating:  ★★★★

This book is so weird.  I mean that in the best way possible.  I don’t even know how to go about describing it, because it’s just that weird.  Witchy healer does witchy things?  Witchy healer starts an affair with a guy who might not be so upstanding himself and chaos ensues?  Is she good?  Is she not so good?  No one knows.  Certainly not this reader.

It’s like this: Ada starts out seeming like a perfectly sweet, innocent young girl, with some peculiar abilities.  She cures illnesses, which she learned to do from her father.  A man named Samson from the village begins an affair with her.  Her father is not enthused.  Neither, it seems, is his sister.  Throughout this affair, we begin catching glimpses into something darker lurking beneath the surface.  Maybe Ada is not so innocent as she seems.  Maybe Samson’s not either.  Maybe it’s both of them.  Maybe it’s everyone else.  I’m still not sure.

But I think that’s what makes it interesting.  I’ve put off writing this review for probably two weeks now because I still don’t know how I feel about it except to say that I mostly enjoyed it.  The writing is strong and the pages breeze by.  The plot is meandering- not always my favorite- but I think it works here because it’s only 200 or so pages long to begin with.

The magic is confounding, and not too in your face.  It seems like a subtle but necessary element.  If you’re squeamish (like myself), I’m just giving you a heads up, this book is no picnic.  The way the healing is done… it gets graphic.

I read Imaginary Friend not too long ago, and complained that literary horror wasn’t something I wanted to revisit.  Well, I feel like I did accidentally revisit it here, and apparently it does work in small doses.

The ending is ambiguous- we’re left to draw our own conclusions about everything that takes place in those last few pages.  It annoyed me upon finishing, but it’s also the reason I’ve found this so haunting.

Follow Me To Ground releases on January 21, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for the digital ARC.

Book Review: Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Rating:  ★★★★

This is my first experience with Stephen Graham Jones, and I’m really sort of sorry for it. I wish I had started reading his work sooner.   Mapping the Interior is a story about a boy who is being haunted by the ghost of his father.  It’s a quick story, and the plot really is that straightforward.  It can be read in just a couple hours.

The prose is easy to read but also had a really strong sense of voice, which I loved.  It held a rhythm and cadence that felt unique to Jones.  This is a horror story, and it’s a slow burn, at least as far as a novella can be slow.  At first, the ghost just seems like a benevolent spirit, watching over his sons, but after a dangerous encounter with the neighbor’s dogs, we know that’s not quite what’s happening. (Content Warnings: violence against animals.)

The ending snuck up on me, and I wasn’t at all prepared for it.  It’s disturbing, not necessarily scary.  There are a couple flashes of horror between the beginning and the end, but it wasn’t anything that felt so horrific I couldn’t hand it off to a friend to read.  But then the ending came and I had to put the book down, and stop, and digest, and think about it, and think about it some more.  My initial reaction was that I didn’t like the ending at all.  It was a little ambiguous.  It makes you think twice about our heroic protagonist.  It seems to renege on the initial conclusions we’ve drawn.

If you’re wondering why I was raving about Jones all last week, it’s because this book stuck with me long after I had set it down.  It may be with me for awhile yet.  I’ve been putting off this review because I’m still not 100% sure how I felt about it.

If I had one critique, it’s that Mapping the Interior often felt literary: metaphorical and symbolic and allegorical.  But I was never quite able to grasp the meaning or the message behind it all.

Mapping the Interior can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good horror story now and then.

Book Review: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

Rating:  ★★★1/2

I have been reading this book for like two months.  A variety of factors dragged it out that long, but part of it was the sheer effort it takes to read this.  It’s more than 700 pages long, and includes about 200 pages of appendices, and over 400 footnotes.  Some of those footnotes I skipped outright, because they were just lists of names or titles of books and movies, but most of them I read as they were given to me.

And then you have pages where the writing is sideways or upside down…. yeah.  So reading this was limited to time I wasn’t on mom or work duty, when I knew there would be no distractions.  Was it worth it in the end?  The truth is… I don’t know.

When this book was good, it was terrifying, and when it was bad, it was mind numbingly boring.  The story is like this: A man known as Zampano dies, leaving behind his scribblings about a film made by an award winning journalist named Will Navidson, who lived in a house that was larger on the inside than it was on the outside.  These scribblings are discovered by a man named Johnny Truant, who allows Zampano’s notes to consume him completely.

The result is an odd mashup of what feels like a dry non fictional analysis of a home made film, parts of “found footage” style storytelling regarding Navidson’s home, and Johnny Truant’s first person ravings about nothing that seems particularly related to anything else.

Is it possible I missed the point?  Yup.  Definitely possible.

I absolutely loved the found footage parts.  They were legitimately scary, and I don’t say that often.  If I had read only those parts, it would have easily been a five star book.

But those wonderfully terrifying parts were dragged down by Zampano’s analysis.  I mean… I don’t want to read an analysis of any documentary, why in the hell would I want to read a fictional analysis of a fictional documentary?  I didn’t.  It was chock full of names and videos and reference points, some fictional, some not, and it didn’t feel like it was adding much of anything to the story.  Sometimes these parts felt endless.

And then we have Johnny Truant.  I’m somewhat on the fence about Johnny.  For starters, he’s an unreliable narrator, and he tells the reader this very early on.  I wasn’t inclined to believe most of what he wrote, but at the same time, his slow descent into madness feels real.  He often goes off on tangents within the footnotes, that seemingly have nothing to do with anything else happening in the story, but also mirror Navidson’s and Zampano’s stories on a metaphorical level.  In the end, I’m simply not sure what they were meant to contribute.

I don’t regret reading this- because my curiosity would never have been satisfied otherwise, but I wish I’d had the good sense to skip the parts I wasn’t enjoying.  If, like me, you’re curious about this one, read the first couple chapters in their entirety to get a sense of the story and what’s being told, and then read only what you want out of it.  There isn’t any big reveal at the end connecting all the parts together.  The story is largely open to interpretation, ambiguous through and through.

If you do hope to read it, I would recommend only a hard copy of the book.  I think this would be near impossible to read or interpret in any other format.  House of Leaves can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.

Book Review: People of the Lake by Nick Scorza

Rating:  ★★★

People of the Lake is about a girl who spends the summer with her dad in his hometown. It’s a quiet little town on Redmarch Lake, except the people there are weird. They don’t like outsiders. They don’t talk to outsiders. And they are definitely hiding something.

One night, after a party in the woods, a teenage boy washes up dead on the lakeshore, and the following morning a note shows up from Clara’s twin sister, written in a secret language they shared as twins. The only problem? Clara’s sister Zoe has been dead for eight years.

This book was slow to get going. It lingers a lot on unnecessary details. Clara’s inner monologue is often repetitive, as is the recounting of her mornings at the coffee shop. The dialogue often felt stiff and cliched. It isn’t bad per se, but it’s not really good either.

I also struggled with the way Clara was written. She was written very much how I think adults believe teenage girls are, rather than how they actually are. She was never fully realized as a person outside of her teenage girl-dom. There were a lot of tropes and cliches stuffed in that just came across as dated. (A step dad she doesn’t want to know, the weird unfriendly goth girl, the awkward Dad… the list goes on.)

That said, I did enjoy the plot. A lot of the details were held back until the end, keeping me in suspense. Even when I struggled, I wanted to see where the crazy train was taking me. There’s a silly romance shoehorned in at the end that you’ll see coming a mile away. By the time they got to “I love you’s” I was rolling my eyes.

There’s some odd pieces of history going back to the 1400s thrown in, that don’t feel like they ever culminate into anything. They reveal bits and pieces of the town’s history but don’t actually contribute to the overall story beyond what the character’s tell us (and what the character’s tell us is much more coherent).

The spook factor was decent. I loved the imagery of lights in the woods and the howling, accompanied by the ever present lake, so silent and still. It’s definitely supernatural in nature, as a heads up, if that kind of horror is not your thing.

I think this could have actually been great if there had been some stronger editing to get rid of the tropes and repetitiveness, and maybe been trimmed down to a novella size to keep the pace up.  Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss who provided an eARC for review.

People of the Lake released on October 15, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads or Amazon.

Monster Books on my TBR

My favorite kind of horror always involves monsters.  From the Chupacabra to the Mothman, Nessie to Big Foot- I want to watch it, I want to read it.

Mosasaurus gif

Unfortunately, I don’t do as much of the latter as I’d like.  So instead, in honor of my favorite month for all things scary, here are some of the monster books on my TBR!

Relic

Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child – The first of the Pendergast novels.  I have seen the movie and love it.  If for no other reason than nostalgia.  The monster in this book is described as a chimeric fish, reptile, primate, insect… thing.

Meg by Steve Alten

Meg by Steve Alten – If I’m being honest, I thought the movie was kind of lame.  Sure there was plenty of carnage in that one beach scene- but if you’re going to call it horror, you gotta kill off more of the main cast.  I’m hoping the book does it better.  (In case you can’t tell, the monster in this book is a Megalodon shark.)

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The Terror by Dan Simmons – I know a show exists based on this book, but I actually haven’t seen it yet!  Anyway, I’m dying to read it, but at the same time, Simmons and his 700+ page books also terrify me.

Communion by Whitley Strieber

Communion by Whitley Strieber – I’m told this is one of the more horrifying books out there.  I believe the monster in this book is aliens, but I can’t confirm how much page time they get.  Either way- I’m excited to read it!

Congo by Michael Crichton

Congo by Michael Crichton – Much like Relic, I’m dying to read this for the nostalgia factor alone.  The monster in this book is a highly intelligent, very aggressive, species of gorilla.

The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone – The blurb describes an odd montage of events for a monster book, but I’m really not that picky.  No idea what the monster is, just trusting there is one.

Below by Ryan Lockwood

Below by Ryan Lockwood – I’m guessing it’s a Kraken?  I see tentacles.  Doesn’t matter really.  I’ll read it.

Admiral By Sean Danker

Admiral by Sean Danker – Yes to all the things lurking in the creepy alien mist on a seemingly dead planet.

Nemo Rising by C. Courtney Joyner

Nemo Rising by C. Courtney Joyner – This is really more fantasy/sci-fi than horror, but with a cover like that I couldn’t leave it out.  Intended to act as a sequel to 20,000 Leauges Under the Sea.

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger – The sequel to this recently released with mostly positive reviews, but the original has actually been on my TBR since it released.  Being that I haven’t read it yet, I can’t confirm any actual monsters, but I’ll be very disappointed if there aren’t.

Do you like monster books?  Which ones are on your TBR?