Just finished reading American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett. I’ve been longing, nay gagging, to read this book for quite some time, partly because I’ve really enjoyed all this author’s other books and also I read a stellar review over at Little Red Reviewer. What can I say – other than it doesn’t disappoint.
In usual Bennett fashion the book seems to defy any particular genre. Is it sci-fi? Yes, in some respects. Is it horror? Definitely in certain places. Is it spooky and paranormal? The first half of the book definitely fits into that, well, actually, so does the second half!. Is it quirky and are there tentacles aplenty…I couldn’t possibly say, or at least if I told you I’d have to kill you – so think on!
Where to begin with this review! The book opens with a funeral and a will reading. Mona’s father having passed away has bequeathed upon her his worldly goods. No real sorrow here as there seems to have been little love lost between the two. Mona seems to be there for one purpose only – to get her hands upon her late father’s red sports car – that is until she discovers that there’s a house also involved in the will. A house that appears to have belonged to her mother and is situated in a place called Wink! An opportunity to maybe finally discover more about the mother she lost at such an early age and in such strange circumstances that the details have been indelibly imprinted upon her mind.
And so Mona sets off to lay claim to her property. Of course this isn’t as easy as it at first appears. The town of Wink seems to be unheard of. It doesn’t show on any maps, nobody can give you meaningful directions, you basically have more chance of happening upon Brigadoon. Remember that horror movie, I think it was called Children of the Corn (but I could be making that up) where once you’ve driven into the village, no matter which road you take to exit it leads you straight back? Well, this is the exact opposite. Wink seems to exist in a bubble. That being said Mona somehow manages to find a way in – making a rather dramatic entrance in her flashy red car as she interrupts a rather sombre funeral that practically all the town seems to be attending.
Wink is a strange place. Picture postcard perfect and yet goose bump forming with its quiet streets and creepy inhabitants. You could be forgiven for thinking Mona has entered the land of Stepford and yet this isn’t all about perfect partners in flowery pinafores making preserves. Things in Wink are not quite as they seem. The facades are perfect but inside the walls a different story unfolds. And, people don’t go out at night. There seems to be an unspoken agreement that its best to stay indoors! In trying to uncover more background about her mother Mona begins to reveal the weirdness that is Wink. Sometimes out of the corner of her eye things look different than they first seemed and after forming a tentative friendship with a couple of the more eccentric locals cracks begin to appear in the outer veneer. Is it wise to dig too deeply and has Mona’s arrival in the small town of Wink become the catalyst for a string of events that everyone will come to regret. Like I’m going to answer that!
The problem with reviewing this book is that it would be so easy to spoil the reveal and I really don’t want to do that so I’m basically not going to elaborate on the plot at all. On to other points
This is a big book with plenty of detail and information and yet it doesn’t feel slow. There’s this delicious creepiness that draws you in until you realise that you’ve read what effectively is the first half of the novel and what then turns into the fundamental turning point for the whole story.
In terms of characters. Lets just say they’re an eclectic bunch – not only the inhabitants of the town (and the outer boundaries of the town) but the owner and employees of a rather sleazy bar called the Roadhouse (situated just out of the town boundaries) – rather a den of iniquity with drugs, fighting, prostitution and a sinister and bizarre partnership between the owner and an unknown man who supplies the drugs that make the place a magnet for certain types. Of course he doesn’t supply these drugs out of the goodness of his little old heart and the services he requires in exchange are odd at best and nightmare inducing at worst (plus – there’s a particular scene which leads to the discovery of where these drugs actually originate and it’s pretty revolting to say the least – I think it would be enough to make anybody think twice!)
Plus, there are even odder characters that live in the forests on the outskirt of Wink – giant characters that seem to inhabit strange places and one particular character that dwells in a cave filled with tiny rabbit skulls – be very afraid of this particular person!
Then we have Mona – she’s really quite cool. Got a whole bunch of attitude and I confess a bit of a potty mouth but it fits in with her persona and doesn’t feel gratuitous. Mona never really settled down and a series of sad events in her past seem to have turned her into a bit of a hard case loner. She certainly isn’t a shrinking violet and doesn’t need rescuing – she can damn well look after herself thank you very much. I wouldn’t say I love Mona but she is a good character to read and the whole turning into a ‘green beret’ type kick ass in the forest was great readingl.
In terms of criticism I think the only point I would make is that I didn’t feel any particular attachment for any of the characters. I didn’t dislike them and I was crazy intrigued to know what was going on but I didn’t have that strange reader/character bond that you sometimes seem to feel for these imaginary people. That confessed it certainly didn’t stop me from feeling gripped and I wonder if it’s the author’s intention that you feel this way towards the characters – they’re all a little odd after all.
The setting is really very well portrayed and the town easy to envisage. Shrouded in mystery – why is this town here, how come nobody ever leaves. What strangeness exists in the woods and who is the guy with the long rabbit like ears (or could they be horns)!
On top of this – there’s this whole scene where one of the more unusual characters uses a scene from a Gene Kelly film – I loved that scene. Sorry, I know it’s a bit of a teaser to write this in this way but there’s nothing else for it!
Plus – who’d have thought sibling rivalry could be so drastic.
Anyway, that’s all I’m going to not say about it! Consider yourself teased and go check it out for yourselves. If you want to read about a mysteriously creepy little town and the whys and wherefores of the strange inhabitants who live there then pick up American Elsewhere.
As part of my Classics Club challenge I recently undertook to join the Classic Spin (see here). For this a book was picked from random from a list of your own chosen classics book list. The number 14 was picked and my No.14 was The Ghosts of Sleath.
I haven’t read any James Herbert for many years so was keen to see how I felt about this particular novel or more to the point how this experienced would compare to my younger self.
The story’s main protagonist is a psychic investigator – or ghost hunter if you will – called David Ash. I hadn’t realised in picking this book up that David Ash appeared in Herbert’s earlier novel Haunted where he investigated a haunted house – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a film or screen adaptation of the Haunted. Anyway, at the start of the novel David is asked to go check out a possible haunting in the small village of Sleath. However, this is much more than just a haunted house. This is a whole haunted village. Of course, even in spite of David’s previous ghostly experience he still remains sceptical of the whole ghostly phenomenon and so strides boldly into Sleath with every intention of setting up his paraphernalia and exposing a fraud.
As soon as he reaches Sleath, which isn’s easy as it seems to be nestled away, he immediately encounters a small boy on the road into the village who he nearly hits with his car. Upon further inspection of course there is no boy to be found. Sleath sounds like a chocolate box type of village. Picturesque cottages nestled around a village green, a pond, small school and a church. Why then is the place so unknown. Visitors stay away and the welcome at the local inn is less than cheerful. David then takes himself off to meet the local vicar – whose daughter is responsible for calling for the investigation in the first place following a number of suspected ghostly visitations and apparitions. And the two seem to share a strange psychic connection which develops into more as the story progresses.
Immediately there is a very strong sense of paranoia. The villagers are all unfriendly, which you could mistake for simple suspicion of outsiders, but comes across as something more. A lot of them seem nervous and look sleep deprived and within very short shrift of David arriving two people have been murdered, one in a particuarly grisly fashion.
On top of this we have the remains of the local country manor which was burnt down. A place which seems to ooze ominious darkness and the local school where school children can be heard singing ‘The Lord of the Dance’ – even though the school is no longer open!
I must admit that I’m glad I read this. I guess it’s a combination of ghost and horror story mixed in. It’s not all particularly unique and I wouldn’t say there were any major ‘wow’ moments but I really enjoyed the writing style. It comes across almost as an old fashioned tale and puts me in mind a little of Susan Hill. I would also say this isn’t character driven, in fact there’s such an abundance of characters that we jump between that there’s very little time to get to know anybody particularly well or form any real attachment but again, I think because there’s such a lot happening and all told in a way that is really quite intriguing there is literally never a dull moment! And you can’t help but be totally intrigued about what will eventually happen – not to mention it would be a little pointless getting too attached to some of these characters as Herbert is pretty ruthless to say the least.
What I did think was interesting is that although Herbert is writing about a haunted village here rather than a haunted house – it’s almost as though he treats it in the same style in terms of being a self contained haunting. The ghosts never leave the boundaries of the village in much the same way as ghosts don’t leave the house they’re haunting. Even when a pea soup fog descends it stays masking the village and doesn’t spread further afield.
In terms of criticisms I don’t really have a lot. I enjoyed the writing style but the only thing I would say, and perhaps this will be a bonus for some people, is apart from a particular instance based inside the church, I never experienced that chill that you have sometimes when reading something a bit creepy where the hairs on the back of your neck seem to literally rise and you have a horrible feeling of somebody watching you! But, I wouldn’t necessarily say this was a bad thing. Like I said, the story very much crosses over into horror and the last hundred pages kept me hooked waiting to see what was really going on and how it would pan out.
So, how did this compare. Well, I think if I’d read this when I was younger and going through my horror/slasher/thriller stage I probably would not have enjoyed this, even though it’s fairly fast pace – I think I was probably looking more for the creeped out factor then. As it is now and with a little more patience this wasn’t the case and I liked the style of writing.
So, I’m pleased to complete my Classic Spin challenge and also this counts as my first read from my Classics Club list - one down – 49 to go!
Just finished reading Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig which was frankly outstanding and I quite literally couldn’t put it down. Now, I wasn’t really planning on reading this series and I have in fact not read the first book Blackbirds. Basically, I ordered this from the library – not realising I was picking up the second in this series. I did of course realise my mistake when I went to pick it up but I thought I’d just give it a few pages and see how things went. I confess that I’d read a few negative reviews for Blackbirds that made me hesitate to pick it up and starting off with Mockingbird I could relate a little to those comments I’d read but within a few chapters I was under the spell.
Mockingbird brings to us Miriam. Miriam, following a trauma in her early adult life, has been gifted with the strange ability to see how and when a person will die. Unfortunately, she has no control over this strange psychic ability and it therefore occurs whenever she has physical contact with another person, so shaking hands or exchanging items or any other of the many ways in which we have regular contact with others. It’s not a particularly endearing ability this – looking at people in their final throes of death – whether it be through disease, accident or any of the other many ways to die such as murder or suicide. At the start of this book Miriam is trying to live a regular existence with Louis, who she apparently met in book No.1. She has a job at a 9 to 5 and even a home of sorts. But, she’s getting itchy feet – or more to the point itchy hands. She’s been controlling her ability and it’s starting to build a tension inside that’s about to erupt. Everything is about to get turned on it’s head in a very dramatic fashion.
Basically put we have a horror story with a difference and there’s certainly a pretty horrid story involved here with rather grisly murders. I’m not going to deny that this book is harsh. Bad language and then some. Murders galore. It’s not a pretty thing. Miriam has led a hard life so far and this hasn’t given her any airs and graces. She’s a bit foul mouthed, she’d as soon insult people as make friends and yet in this story you can definitely see she’s not as tough as she acts. She does have a hard exterior but it’s starting to crack, just a little. But even with all her cussing and such like she can be pretty funny.
I really liked the story line in this and the eventual reveal. I enjoyed all the little appearances with talking blackbirds and visitations from dead people. I also liked the way the story was interspersed with interludes that were like small snippets from Miriam’s past. It seems that we’ve started to explore this ability of Miriam’s a little and we’ve also had an introduction into other elements.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t have any criticisms. At the beginning I struggled a bit to get on with Miriam and I think I know why that is. She does have a bit of a masculine voice although this improved after the first few chapters. Just sometimes it felt like the way she reacted or spoke was more masculine. Not really articulating that very well so will swiftly move on….
I will definitely read future books in this series – I think it has the potential to be really good and I could hardly put this down. I’m not sure that I’ll go back and read Blackbirds – from some of the reviews it seems that Miriam may have been a bit more subdued in this edition – and I think I might prefer this version of Miriam. Looking forward to the next instalment.
And, on a separate note – these book covers are really something else. Just really take a good look at Mockingbirds – it has so many extra little things that at first glance you don’t notice.
Wow, just finished Twelve by Jasper Kent. My last book of 2011 and what a great book to end with! I will say that this book will probably not be to everyone’s liking (if you’re a bit squeamish) but I thought it was really good.
Twelve is a blend of historical fiction and supernatural chiller/horror. Personally I found it veered more towards horror than chiller as there is quite a bit of blood and gore plus some rather unsavoury scenes that would probably put some readers off. The setting is Russia, the year 1812. Napoleon is invading Russia with his Grande Armee. Four comrades in arms adopt drastic measures to try and help combat this foe but what they have actually invited amongst their midst is not everything that it at first seems.
This story is told by Aleksei, in the style of a memoir almost and brings to us the creatures from old peasant tales. Monsters whispered about behind closed doors as a warning – creatures from folklore known as the Voordalak or as they are known in this story – Oprichniki. The Oprichniki have been enlisted to work undercover causing chaos and mayhem – I suppost a little like the resistance or underground movement – except in this case there are only 12 of them so exactly how much chaos they can cause you would think would be minimal – except of course that not everything is as it seems. I’m not going to go to much further into the plot other than to say the mercenaries that Alexsei and his friends have sought help from could prove more deadly than they suspect (I don’t think I’m giving anything away by admitting that the Oprichniki are actually vampires – but this is a fact of which Alexsei and his comrades are ignorant).
What I like about this book – the writing is really good. The author displays a really good knowledge of this particular period of history and provides enough background to place you firmly in the throes of Russia during war and also later during the harshness of winter! I found the historical aspects really interesting and the fact that it was Russian history felt like a welcome change in setting and, the other bonus with the writing is that it didn’t feel too modern which I find a bit distracting when reading a historical novel – I want to feel something for the era I’m reading about and be able to picture it. So, obviously I liked the writing and the historical aspects.
In terms of the characters the story really focuses on two – Alexei and Iuda. Interestingly, the protagonist Alexsei is not exactly an endearing sort of chap – which at first I found a bit of a struggle as you do spend quite a bit of time in his head – he’s quite selfish he certainly isn’t loyal (n some respects that is) and those are two of his better-lesser characteristics! But, in spite of this he is aware of his shortcomings and does have quite a bit of internal conflict over them. Also, whilst saying Alexsei is is not endearing I will point out that I didn’t hate or dislike him – I was just sometimes a bit surprised by his thoughts and actions. Then we have Iuda who is a totally horrible character and is supposed to be so. He has no conscience whatsoever and is ruthless in the extreme – it also seems that he has the measure of Alexei to a certain extent which does give him an edge in terms of causing damage.
But, what I liked about this story the most, was the different levels that you can read into it. Throughout the novel we read about monsters but I think the author clearly wants you to think about the different levels of monstrosity. Here we are confronted with 12 monsters – and they really are pretty horrible. These are the good old fashioned monsters of bygone stories not as portrayed in more contemporary novels, flesh eating and blood sucking with no thought about the loss of life – and yet, by comparison with the wars raging around them they actually caused very little death. The wars that the Oprichniki use to hide their natures behind are no less horrible and cause far more human casualty. Then we have Alexei, okay, I’m not saying he’s a monster but when we look at Alexei he certainly isn’t perfect is he? He’s married with a child and yet carrying on an affair with a prostitue over which he has no regret or guilt about whatsoever, he readily admits that he wants no responsibility for her, he is turned on by her apparent wounds received at the hands of one of his own friends and also he’s a bit of a voyeur! Okay, so he’s not a monster because of those things and he does have the grace to at least ponder on them, but he is the good guy in this story!! Iuda is horrible – but he never pretends to be otherwise, he doesn’t cover himself with a veneer of respectability in the way what Alexei does – he is monstrous. So, different levels of monster is what I was thinking. Bit of a tangent there but I couldn’t help thinking about it particularly as Alexsie was racing around the country and witnessing the horrors of war around him.
In terms of criticism. Well, I don’t particularly find this a problem but worth mentioning – this is a long novel, with a lot of internal reflection so if you want your action all bam bam bam then this may not be for you. Here, it’s more bam, make a cup of tea, bam. But, I don’t mind that personally, just acknowledging it’s annoyance for some. Also, I didn’t think that the Oprichniki were as formidable as they seemed. But having said that I think the author was trying to get back to a more old fashioned type of vampire (with no real supernatural abilities), can live for ever (providing they’re not staked!), must avoid sunlight, sleeps underground, etc. And, finally, I would have liked a bit more hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-raising creepiness. I’m not denying that there is horror in spades but I like that neck tingling thing that makes you break from reading because you feel like someone is watching you!
All that being said I thought this was a really good book and I will definitely continue with the rest. Not meant as a comparison to the novels themselves but it puts me very much in mind of Bram Stoker’s Dracula – because of the monsters, Elizabeth Kostovo’s Historian (especially in terms of length) and an element of the Hitchhiker thrown in for good measure (purely for the nastiness)!
I think that if you want something a bit different combining a good tale of treachery and vengeance combined with a good historical novel, well written then this could be for you.