Review: Black Mad Wheel

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Review for "Black Mad Wheel" by Josh Malerman (2017)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Oooh, no. Just…no. HELL NO.

Maybe my hopes were a little too high for this one, especially after the success of Josh Malerman’s first novel, Bird Box. My reaction to this one was: WTF? And not in a good way, either.

The U.S military hires a rock band of former WWII soldiers for a top secret mission in the Namibian desert, to search for the source of a mysterious sound that incapacitates people who hear it and makes their weapons useless. The band hesitates, but finally accepts the offer to go to the desert in search of the sound after the promise of a large salary.

There are a few moments early on that manage to pull you in and give you just enough hope that this book would be creepy, much like Bird Box. But this one just ended up being weird, boring, and just plain silly. Plus, I just didn’t get it. We also see the Big Bad Guy, which is a psychological thriller no-no.

Skip this one.

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Review: The Troop

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Review for "The Troop" by Nick Cutter (2014)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I liked this book.

Started off a bit slow, with Scoutmaster Tim Riggs taking five boys into the wilderness for their annual camping trip on Falstaff Island, a remote outpost near Prince Edward Island. On their first night, a very hungry stranger enters their camp. He isn’t well. He is unknowingly infested with a horrifying efficient, genetically modified parasite, which eventually takes each character to the brink of their own survival.

Now I will admit that there were some parts of this book that I didn’t want to read so I skipped it (i.e., scenes of self mutilation, a particularly detailed account of the torture of a cat, etc). Otherwise I didn’t find this book as gory as some other online reviewers have. I guess it’s a matter of personal taste. Otherwise it’s a great novel, with echoes of some pretty classic works–Stand by Me, The Lord of the Flies–all throughout.

If you like old school, 1980’s era Stephen King-esque horror, then this book is for you.

Review: A Head Full of Ghosts

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Review for "A Head Full of Ghosts" by Paul Tremblay (2015)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Didn’t like this. I’m surprised by how many kudos it’s gotten on Goodreads. The plot is interesting enough: a middle class family with two daughters, the youngest bearing witness to her older sister’s supposed demonic possession and the family’s decision to share it on reality television.

The pacing of this book is slow, and trust me…’slow’ is a compliment here. After 150 pages, there’s not much happening beyond the standard cliched “Exorcist” fare, you know…green vomit, talking in different voices, etc. There are also major structural concerns here, one being the fact that much of the book is broken up with written anecdotes by an anonymous person critiquing the reality show of which the main characters are a part of. Other than a few pop culture references, these blog passages in the book are completely useless.

There’s a twist at the end if you care enough to make it there. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Review: Horrorstor

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Review for "Horrorstor" by Grady Hendrix (2014)

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

I worked in a department store for almost 3 years. You name it and I’ve seen it–screaming kids who ruin displays, rude customers, disgusting things found in dressing rooms, thieves, bosses that love to scream at you, and the hell that comes with the Worst Day of the Year (otherwise known to the average person as Black Friday). I’ve worked early mornings, late nights in retail. I’ve been in the store when they turn the lights off and the alarms on, and let’s face it: stores can be very creepy places.

Enter Horrorstor, a horror novel about the goings-on at Orsk, an Ikea knockoff furniture store in suburban Ohio. Amy is a ‘substandard’ performing retail drone summoned by her boss, Basil, to investigate the strange goings-on after dark on the sales floor. It’s a neat little book, with color photographs, catalogue drawings, diagrams, and descriptions of Scandinavian-sounding furniture. This is my second book by Grady Hendrix (the other being My Best Friend’s Exorcism) and he has a knack for just good ol’ plain, standard, cheap horror: cheesy dialogue, the girl who stupidly runs back into danger, etc. Nothing happens here that you don’t expect, so it’s all totally fun and readable because anyone who takes this book seriously is nuts.

3.75 just for the hell of it, because I’d definitely read this again. I’d frame this book if I could.

Review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism

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Review for “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” by Grady Hendrix (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

To read this book is to step into a E.T. movie freaked, Day-Glo’d, Swatch watch filled, Phil Collins and Tiffany mall rat music crazed past. I’ve been all about getting this book for the past few weeks, because any book that takes place in the 80’s is truly a book after my own heart. From the first page, I must say that Grady Hendrix completely nails the setting of this story. Going to the roller rink, watching The Equalizer on TV, the ever-present “satanic panic,” crimped hair…lemme tell ya’ll, there was so much of myself in this book that it was hard to control myself from shedding nostalgic tears. Partly because the 80’s were my childhood and one of the definitive times in my life when I was truly happy. The other part is because I saw so much of myself in the lives of the two main characters.

The novel focuses on the friendship of Abby and Gretchen, two teenage girls that have been the best of friends since grade school after bonding during an E.T. skating party gone horribly wrong. As they enter the tenth grade, they merge into a four girl clique. One night, after a skinny dipping disaster and a bad LSD trip, Gretchen disappears in the woods and later reappears acting strangely. Gretchen’s parents refuse to intervene to help her, and things continue to go downhill for Abby at school. Eventually Abby makes the determination that Gretchen is possessed by an evil demon, and the “exorcism” begins…

Now this book doesn’t stray too far from tried and true cliches of any exorcist-themed horror story–there’s projectile vomiting, dead birds crashing into windows, bloody maxi pads, and demons that supposedly speak in German. Some scenes were genuinely scary and others were just plain gross. I won’t give away all the specifics, but this book does mess with your head a lot. Is Gretchen truly possessed by the devil? Although you’re led to believe that something sinister is definitely happening, the inclusion of such cliches makes you wonder. There’s a kind of magical realism at work as Hendrix writes about these things as if he’s serious, but all throughout reading you have to stifle your laughs. There’s an undertone of humor here that can’t be ignored and made all of the cheesiness (at least for me) forgivable. Besides, it was less about the horror element for me and more about the power of female friendship, which kept me reading and shone through everything else. I never stopped feeling for Abby or Gretchen and what brought them together in the first place. As I’ve said before, there is so much of myself in this book: finding a best friend, experiencing the time of your life with your best friend, going through the depths of hell and back with your best friend. That’s what it was all about.

I think this book is best enjoyed by those who promise themselves before reading it not take it that seriously. With chapters named after popular 80’s songs (“We Got the Beat,” “I Would Die 4 U,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and “867-5309/Jenny”) you can’t, because you’re caught in an 80’s time capsule and don’t want to be let out.

Rock on. And gag me with a spoon.

Review: Brother

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Review for “Brother” for Ania Ahlborn (released on September 29. 2015)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Creepy, horrifying, disturbing, gross. And excellent.

Did I mention that I am giving this book 4.5 stars?

This book is horror at its best. The Morrows are a West Virginian family living deep in the Appalachian wilderness (think: “Deliverance”), so deep that “no one can hear the screams.” And for good reason. The Morrows–mom Claudine, dad Wade, and their son Rebel–are a family of psychotic killers that prey on young women that are unfortunate enough to cross their path. This book follows the thoughts of nineteen-year-old Michael, Rebel’s “adopted” brother and the polar opposite of the Morrows. Although he participates in his family’s gruesome “activities,” he gets no pleasure from them. He dreams of other possibilities for his life and contemplates running away when he meets an attractive girl in town named Alice.

[Pause.]

To tell you more about this book is to completely spoil it, which I won’t do. There are flashbacks throughout this novel, that, when taken as a whole, make the events you’re reading about all the more disturbing. There is also a sickening, depraved twist in this novel that I won’t give away either, other than to say that I did not see IT coming, even from a million miles away…

I don’t think I want to know where Ania Alhborn got the idea for this book. A lot of the details harken back to the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” but in the Acknowledgements section, the author says she didn’t get her inspiration from that movie. Regardless, I was completely engrossed in this book. It’s a must read, especially if you like horror, and extremes are your thing. Highly recommended!

[NOTE: I received an advanced publishers’ copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]