Friday, January 23, 2015

A Year in Books, 2014 Edition (Part 2)

Believe it or not, we're 23 days into 2015 and all over the net people is still talking about their resolutions--or lack thereof--and just generally taking stock of the year that's just gone by. I always assumed the subject to die down within the first week of January, but I guess I was wrong. Which is good, 'cause I was feeling kind of odd, talking about the list of books I read in 2014. Like that was soooo three weeks ago... And I guess if your here to get the scoop on my second half of the list, it's still a somewhat interesting subject, right? RIGHT?!

Anyway. For me, books can never be out of trend; listening (or reading about) what others read and what they though of those books is the primary way my TBR pile grows into Babylon-Tower-y proportions. So I hope you feel the same way, too. I hope you will find enough in this list to inspire you to try a new genre or a different author. I hope you will, too, share your love of books with me. Imagine yourself with a blanket on your legs, a cup of coffee in one hand, and a book on the other while a mesmerizing fire rages in the fireplace.

Now, ain't that a pretty picture?

7. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson - A classic haunted house story, I had heard so much about The Haunting of Hill House! I came to it with reserve, though, expecting the narrative and scary elements to not have aged well. And yes, I didn't find it Stephen-King-balls-to-the-wall scary, but Jackson's tale is less about the ghosts and much more about the human characters. As such, The Haunting is a wonderful exercise in character study. Every little detail shows us how fragmented and disenfranchised has Eleanor become. And the ending is just perfect in its muteness, blunt delivery. If you're in the fence about the horror genre and don't enjoy simplistic blood and guts plots, this is a book for you. Not a single drop of blood in sight. Not. One.

Blurb: The Haunting of Hill House is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly place called Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers--and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

8. Nathaniel by John Saul - This is a hard book to review. I read it for the first time in my teen years but I remembered almost nothing of it, except that at the time it seemed incredibly slow and boring. So, I decided to give it a second chance (because I didn't learn with my previous experience re-reading John Saul's material). This time, the gambled paid off. Kinda. I enjoyed the book, it was fast moving, interesting, with a real mystery at its heart. What I hated was the blatant sexism in the story. It drove me nuts to see the main character--a recently widowed woman with a young boy--being manipulated and put down by every male character in the book. And she wasn't the only one. Every female character in the story is treated like a child who can't be trusted with her own decisions. So yeah, a difficult book to review. Because the book is about 40 years old, I'm willing to say it reflects the reality of small-town living at the time. Because I'm a realist, I shake my head and wonder how many people today wouldn't find a single thing wrong in this book.

Blurb: For a hundred years, the people of Prairie Bend have whispered Nathaniel's name in wonder and fear. Some say he is a folktale, created to frighten children on cold winter nights. Some swear he is a terrifying spirit returned to avenge the past. Soon, some will learn that Nathaniel lives still. He is the voice that calls young Michel Hall across the prairie night, drawing him into the depths of the old, forbidden barn. A voice he will follow faithfully beyond the edge of terror.

9. Savage Night by Jim Thompson - Jim Thompson is the golden boy of Neo-noir literature. His main characters are cruel criminals that can kill a child in bed and a gun-holding mobster in the same breath. He describes their stories as they are getting to the end of the line, which makes for feverishly violent tales related by unreliable narrators. Savage Night is no exception. I spent the most part of the book wondering who should I really root for. Plot twists come left and right, and the ending could not be more surreal if David Lynch had written it. But reader beware: You'll feel dirty when you're done with this book. (I mean murder-dirty, not porn-dirty. Just sayin')

Blurb: Is Carl Bigelow a fresh-faced college kid looking for a room, or is he a poised hit man tracking down his victim? And if Carl is really two people, what about everyone around him? Savage Night is Thompson at his best, with plot reversals and nightmarish shifts of identity.

10. The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers - Ah, the stories that have been spun out of this anthology... Chambers's only experiment into horror has come to the modern masses in the most fashionable of ways: Via HBO's True Detective sloppy use of its mythology. And though I could write a whole post about what is wrong and the only two things that are right (spoiler alert, it's Harrelson and McConahey) about the show, this is not the post to do it. So I'll just say that if you're reading this collection of short stories hoping to make any sense of the murderous plot of the series, well, you'll be deeply disappointed. Chambers was in fact a very prolific, sought-after ROMANCE writer. Yep, that's how he paid his bills, and if you keep reading beyond your disappointment, you'll notice. The opening tale, The Repairer of Reputations, is a superb tale of madness and revenge. The following four are enjoyably dark, but then we reach The Prophet's Paradise, which is poetry, and it just breaks the mood. For me, this was the point where the balance started moving toward romance. To me, the last four stories are just sappy and overindulgent, but to each one its own. However, being that The King in Yellow is actually free to read and available in digital format, I see no reason why so many professed genre lovers haven't read the most influential piece in horror history. Did I mention The King in Yellow inspired Lovecraft to write the Cthulu mythos? Because he thought he could do it better than this lazy, undereducated a-hole (I'm paraphrasing here), but that's not the point.

Blurb: With its imaginative blend of horror, science fiction, romance, and lyrical prose, Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow is a classic masterpiece of weird fiction. This series of vaguely connected stories is linked by the presence of a monstrous and suppressed book which brings fright, madness, and spectral tragedy to all those who read it. An air of futility and doom pervade these pages like a sweet insidious poison. Dare you read it?

11. The King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories (Anthology) - Yes, I admit it! I fell victim to HBO's commercial machinery! How could I not? They put together this new anthology with every story ever written within the King in Yellow mythos and then stamped the cover with imagery from the show. To be honest, it was the idea of having the whole mythos under one handy book that sold me on it. Searching for every story individually is a pain, so I cracked. Sue me.

It opens with Ambrose Bierce's take on Carcosa, followed by Chambers's most relevant stories to the subject, and closes with Lovecraft's The Whisperer in Darkness, which is pretty chilly no matter the commonalities to the theme here. And though there are plenty of stories inspired by the King in Yellow, Carcosa, or the Yellow Sign, this is were everyone interested ought to begin.

Blurb: HBO's True Detective re-introduced the world to the disturbing vision of Robert W. Chambers' classic story collection, a set of linked tales that includes excerpts from the fictional play "The Yellow King", which purports to drive mad anyone who reads it. In this specially formatted ebook version, we've also included additional stories that relate to the preoccupation of Rust Cohle and the killer(s) he stalks.

12. Horns by Joe Hill - I'm a confessed fan of the King, everybody knows it, yet I raised my eyebrow at the supposedly prodigious writing abilities of his children, specially Hill's. As a writer, the easiness with which the progeny of famous scribes get big contracts gets me. It's not their fault, I know, but more often than not they'll get contracts not based on their mastery of words, but on their last name. Even if they don't write under it, because if sales are bad, the real name can always get somehow leaked to the press... Ask JK Rowling. So, after much begrudging, I decided I needed to check Hill's books for myself before getting on my soap box. And boy, has he got it! Horns is a quirky mix of dark humor, supernatural elements, an excellent premise, and a superb execution. I don't think many writers could've pulled this one up. Horns is an entertaining page-turner that turned me into a Hill fan. Now I can't wait to read The Heart Shaped Box!

Blurb: Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with one hell of a hangover, a raging headache... and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

Once Ig lived the life of the blessed, he had it all, including the pure love of Merrin Williams. Then Mertin was gone - raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances, with Ig the only suspect. He was never tried, but in the court of public opinion, Ig was and always would be guilty. Now Ig is possessed with a terrible new power--he can see people's darkest desires--and he means to use it to find the man who killed Merrin and destroyed his life.

13. Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell - If you read horror, you know who Ramsey Campbell is: The English version of Stephen King, a trail-blazer and outstanding figure in the genre. Ancient Images is not Ramsey Campbell at his best, though. Though interesting, the story never catches on, and there's a shadow lurking after the heroin in every single page. Wanna try this master? Short story is where he shines the best.

Blurb: A colleague's violent death and its apparent cause - a stolen copy of an old, never-released Karloff/Lugosi film - set film editor Sandy Allan on the trail of the film's origins and history. Mystery surrounds the movie, and as Sandy learns of the tragedies which haunted its production, she finds herself threatened by an ancient force protecting secrets deeper than the suppression of a 50-year-old movie.

14. The Oval Portrait and Other Short Stories (Anthology) - In honor of Halloween, I dedicated the whole month of October to read every single short story that landed on my computer, and believe me, there's tons of award-winning authors with free stuff on the net. From Lucy Snyder's sci-fi erotic fest Mandala Amygdala, to Bradbury's The Velt; the amount and scope of these stories is too vast for me to review each one. Instead, I leave you with a link to a few of my favorite ones. You're welcome.

15. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - I read this one at the same time that my 9 year-old, so we could talk about it and discuss it like our own little book club. It was a fantastic experience that doubled my enjoyment of the story. She is averse to scary stories, so it shocked when she picked The Graveyard Book at the library. Ghosts are a major part of the story, there's also murder, and plenty of mystery, but it never gets overwhelming or too scary. An excellent read for the group age at which is directed; for moms and dads, don't overanalyze it. Fun all the way through!

Blurb: Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack, who has already killed Bod's family...

16. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - For some reason I had the idea that The Great Gatsby was a romantic tale set in the 20s. You must imagine, then, my surprise to find a very sad tale of egotistical people that use and abuse people for entertainment without regards for the consequences of their acts. More than a tale of the roaring 20s and its overindulgence, I found it to be about Gatsby's insecurities and his need to be loved even if he couldn't love himself. Sad story indeed, even more so because it repeats itself all around us every day.

Blurb: Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eludes us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning-- 

Gatsby's rise to glory and eventual fall from grace becomes a kind of cautionary tale about the American Dream.

17. Ghost Story by Peter Straub - Ghost Story has to be my second pick for the best book of the year. It is a great story that has NOTHING to do with the movie. It keeps you glued to your seat and wondering what's going to happen, and more than once my heart skipped a beat. Straub's voice is compelling and easy to follow. Before you know it, he drops you in the middle of a dark, abandoned house with a monster looking for you. Read it, I tell you!

Blurb: For four aging men in the terror-stricken town of Milburn, New York, an act inadvertently carried out in their youth has come back to haunt them. Now they are about to learn what happens to those who believe they can burry the past -- and get away with murder.


Lexa Cain said...

I haven't read any of these except Ghost Story. I remember loving it way back when it first came out. I started Hill's Heart Shaped Box, but quit after a few chapters. I fid it hard to stick with a book unless I love the characters and can really root for them to win. Sadly, I can rarely find that kind of horror.

Thanks for all the recommendations. Have a wonderful weekend! :)

Michael Pierce said...

Great recommendations. I am currently reading Stephen King's new book, Revival, and enjoying it quite a bit so far. There are so many great books to read, it's pretty daunting.

Crystal Collier said...

I just started my 8 year old on The Graveyard Book, and it's holding his attention, which is great. It's hard to get him to read, but once he decides he likes a book, it's the best thing in the world.