A Review of 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

This is the first full length book I have read by Joe Hill. My first experience with him were graphic novels based on his attempt at reviving the television series Tales from the Darkside. This book is an anthology of short stories reminiscent of his father’s, Steven King, work.

“Best New Horror” is the first story in the anthology. An editor for a Best New Horror of the year publication is in search of the next great thing. He comes across a story from an elusive writer that blows him away but the search may not be leading to exactly what he expected and sometimes real life is the scariest story there is.

“Pop Art” is not exactly a ghost story in the conventional way but it is very strange. It is the tale of a young boy who befriends a new kid at school who is a plastic boy full of air and the hazards that come along with the possibility of popping.

“You Will Hear the Locust Sing” is about a boy who loves insects so much that one day he wakes up realizing he is one. What does one do with these new found powers and the prejudice that comes with being a giant insect?

“Abraham’s Boys” is the story of a family with a secret dating back to medieval times. Abraham realizes the time is now to tell his boys what that secret entails and their future responsibilities.

“The Black Phone is about a kidnapping gone wrong, with victims reaching out from the grave and a sister projecting telepathically from across town. The black phone is a disconnected phone with a connection that’s out of this world.

There are many other stories in this anthology but the ones listed are some of my favorites. These were really fun to read and the writing was excellent. Joe Hill has inherited his dad’s talent to not only write about ghosts, but also the monsters within. And not all of his stories are scary. They are also about relationships: reconnecting, finding one’s self amidst the chaos of life and loss.

My only real criticism for the installments in this collection is that many of them have ambiguous endings that aren’t always easy to read. I’m not a huge fan of narratives that leave things up for interpretation. I think that more solid conclusions would’ve helped. Some of them read more like the missing chapter, or beginning chapters, of a longer book.

I give this one a 4 out of 5. I love short story collections but sometimes it’s better to be more familiar with a writer’s larger body of work before one jumps into the collections. I would recommend this book to any fans of Joe Hill or Stephen King as it fits right into their style and I intend to read the rest of Hill’s novels in the near future.

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A Review of Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard T Chizmar

Gwendy Peterson is a chubby little girl just finished with the 6th grade. For the first time ever, that school year it came to her attention that she was fat when a mean little boy named Frankie Stoner started calling her Goodyear, like the blimp. The mob mentality of children enticed others to join in and the teasing hurt her on a deep level. There is a cliffside in her town of Castle Rock with a set of 305 stairs to the top called The Suicide stairs because 2 people since the 1930s have committed suicide by jumping from those stairs. Gwendy decides to start running those stairs every morning that summer and watching what she eats. She doesn’t want to start middle school as the fat girl. Mid summer she reaches the top and a mysterious man is sitting on the bench at the top. He entrusts her with a box that has 2 levers and 8 buttons. This encounter sets her on a path that changes her entire life.

This novella is really short. It has short chapters and some intermittent illustrations that help to break up the narrative. I read this book in just a couple of hours. Part of this was the short length. The other part was that I just couldn’t put it down. I started this book at bed time thinking I would read a couple chapters but then I found that it was 11 pm and I was done. Every single page kept me interested and wanting more. The jumps through time are very well written and each time I was immediately excited for if she was going to push a button or not.

At the end of this book I was satisfied but at the same time left wanting just a little more and I think that is the hallmark of a author. They can wrap up a story but still leave you wanting just one more little bite. I give this one a solid 5 out of 5 and recommend it to all king fans. Some of King’s best work isn’t in your face horror, and this novella is definitely that. Do yourself a favor and dedicate a couple hours out of your day to devour this one. You won’t be disappointed.

A Review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling

This is the script book based on the theatrical movie written by JK Rowling. Newt Scamander is a rescuer of fantastic beasts in the wizarding world. His goal in life is creature conservation and to do this he is working on a manuscript about creatures about fantastic beasts to shed light on them so that witches and wizards will no longer fear them but respect them. This is a precursor to the Harry Potter series taking place during the time period of Dumbledore’s fabled wizard battle with Grindewald.

This book is essentially the movie but because it is also a script is has stage notes that shed some light onto the scenes. Sometimes an actor will portray a look and the director is satisfied but that doesn’t mean the audience knows exactly what the writer was trying to convey with the look. My eyes were opened even further and now I want to watch the movie again.

Newt is an endearing main character and readers and watchers of the movie alike will find it hard not to fall in love with his charming awkwardness. JK Rowling truly outdid herself with the installment. I didn’t think it possible that I would like anything better than the original series but this is now at the top of my list alongside Deathly Hallows! I easily give this a 5 out of 5. Normally I wouldn’t be rereading a book but this only took a little over an hour for me to read and because it incited so many more emotions than the movie did I will probably read this one again and again. I look forward to future installments.

A Review of Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

Cassie Wright is a porn star at the end of her career. She wants to retire and go out with a bang. Her personal assistant suggests she try to break the record for the most sexual acts performed in one day, by performing sexual acts with 600 men in one day. This narrative is told from the view points of 3 of these men and Ms. Wright’s personal assistant, Sheila.

This is the third novel by author Chuck Palahniuk and once again he proves why he should be crowned the king of the bizarre sides of the human psyche. While his tales aren’t necessarily horror in the scary sense, they are definitely horror in the fact that they are so disturbing that they will stay with you for a long time to come. This is the second story I’ve read by him that delves into the twisted dark vortex of sexual deviancy. Palahniuk has a way of opening up the human mind and showing the readers the real darkness that can lie within.

There is a lot of strong language and extremely graphic sexual scenes dealing with the porn industry so go into this book knowing this. The other thing I noted was that I wish there was at least one chapter told from the point of view of Cassie. We catch a glimpse of her through her conversations with her personal assistant but I felt it could use a bit more.

I gave this one a 4 out of 5. The characters are well developed and though I speculated on the outcome of this plot as it unravelled I was still surprised by the ending. From beginning to end, I kept being shocked by things that happened and it creeped me out knowing that these thoughts and acts could really happen. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Mr. Palahniuk and to those that like to be shocked and are not easily offended.

A Review of The Town and the City by Jack Kerouac

No one appreciates the love of their family and small town life until they find themselves out of it and making their way in the big wide world. Adventure awaits the Martin family as the older boys, Joe, Peter, and Francis leave their small town of Galloway to go to college. Joe decides against college and instead becomes a truck driver travelling the united states. Peter is the star football player at high school and despite his worries of being a little fish in a big pond now, he makes the university team. Soft spoken and sickly Francis is not the sports type which doesn’t exactly make him popular with his sports obsessed family. He finds himself being sucked into the literary circles of the big city when he leaves for university.

This is a really long book and the problem I had with it, is that it takes so long for anything of value to happen it became a chore to read. There is an extremely long back story to each character in this book and so much unnecessary information is given that I feel like I am just spying on a family in their day to day lives. Ordinary conversations that does nothing to further the plot reigns supreme in this portrait of small town life. I really thought I would like this one because Kerouac is such a well known author and I grew up in a small town and thought I could relate.

I gave this book a 3 out of 5. For me, this book never really delivered after the slow and monotonous lead up. It is very much suited to a previous time when people were in a slower mindset, when slow build up was the norm. Because of the generational gap I never felt like I related to any of the characters or cared what happened to this. I was disappointed and have crossed Jack Kerouac off my list of authors to read more of.

A Review of Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

The narrator of this story is a man utterly bored with his life. Because he feels it has no meaning and we’re all living to pretty much die he can’t sleep. His extreme somnia leads him to visit a doctor so he can get sleeping pills. His doctor doesn’t want to prescribe him anything. He tells him instead to visit a support group for people with serious illnesses. That will put some perspective into his life. Out of desperation, he takes the doctor’s advice. What he finds at these support groups helps. When he sees death right in front of him he suddenly feels reborn and crying in the arms of these people on the brink of death gives him the ability to once again sleep like a baby. Until Marla Singer shows up. He recognizes right away that she is also a “faker” there to feel alive and he knows that she knows that he is also a faker. Suddenly his safe haven is no longer safe and insomnia returns. Until he meets Tyler on a beach. After a night drinking he asks the narrator to hit him. Reluctantly the narrator does and the fight club is born. But after awhile this isn’t even good enough and things start to escalate… chaos ensues.

This is the second book by Chuck Palahniuk that I have read. While this one wasn’t as disturbing as Haunted, this is an exceptional book. I had previously seen the movie many times, so the twist ending isn’t much of a twist for me. It probably isn’t for anyone at this point with Tyler Durden being so deeply enmeshed in pop culture at this point in time. This book was the author’s debut in 1997 and was born from a short story he wrote when he was bored at work one day. Not only is the writing good, but there’s actually some really good social commentary about how we deal with others and our own self involved society.

The only thing I really didn’t like about this book is the abrupt ending. While there was resolution to the major plot, I feel like it didn’t give a real resolution to the character relationships. The end left me wanting a whole lot more and I got excited when I saw there was an afterward but it really didn’t address anything from the story.

I really enjoyed this book. I give it a solid 5 out of 5. I think the social commentary is even more relevant today than it was when it came out 20 years ago. He calls it a single serving lifestyle and in today’s world everything is meant to be thrown away. We are even more self absorbed than we were when it was first written. I highly recommend this book. I think it would make a good book club read as well. There are a lot of social and personal issues worth discussing. It is very graphic in its descriptions of violence and some sexual activity.

A Review of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the revised edition

I read this book with my Facebook book club, The Writer’s Block: A Book Club. When this book was chosen I was really excited because it’s been a classic on my TBR pile for a long time. This was finally the push I needed to actually get into it. After we voted on the book the next order of business was the edition: The Original or The Revised. I didn’t even know there was more than one edition, so this took some research on my part. I discovered that the revised edition is the version that Mary Shelley herself has proclaimed the true edition, so that is the one I decided we would read.

The basic premise for this story is well known to most people. Victor Frankenstein is obsessed with the pursuit of knowledge and the understanding of science. His goal becomes to bring to life one who has surpassed death. He creates a homunculus and then through science brings it to life and the monster is then so horrifying to him that it becomes beyond his control and havoc ensues.

I quite enjoyed this book but more when the tale is told through the monster’s perspective than Victor’s. I feel that Victor is a slightly insane, narcissistic, selfish individual and the monster a victim of circumstance and what the depths of loneliness can drive a man to do. There is nothing worse than rejection and the monster knows nothing but this in its pitiful life even among the destruction it causes.

I don’t feel this book to be much like any of the Frankenstein movie/tv/comic adaptations at all. I came into this book thinking I knew exactly what was going to happen but I was wrong. I think this story is much more of a sad tragedy than a real monster/ghost story. I do recommend this book to lovers of classics but it’s not a book for everyone. It is definitely written in a gothic antiquated style of writing. And Victor is extremely self absorbed so he tends to rattle for chapters on inner monologue.