Ya Asylum

Tuesday, October 28th 2014

October Event: Horror Games

horrorlove

 

One of my favorite things to do anywhere, anytime is get my friends together and break out the horror board games, while I love video games, they can’t compare to board games. Since I have all the emotion of a slightly moist brick, I’ll skip to part where I say if you haven’t experienced it, you don’t know what you’re missing. And in the spirit of the high holy days–Halloween, obviously–here’s some great horror board games.

 

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1. Last Night on Earth

If you ever wanted to be a character in a zombie B-movie then here’s your chance. This game oozes theme as you take on the role of a survivor in the town of Woodinvale and complete scenarios to see who lives another day. This is a semi-cooperative game where one group of players controls the zombies and another controls the survivors. The rules are finicky and there are really dumb design choices (roll to move? What is this? The 1920s?), but flows fairly easily after a few games. Overall, a descent game.

 

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2. Ghost Stories

In this one you play as Taoist monks fighting off every Asian movie monstrosity in the book and it’s fully cooperative for up to 4 players. The rules are easy to learn. The art is beautiful, the layout perfect, and it is face-breakingly hard. I think my highest score is -29, so yeah, I’ve never won, but it remains one of my all time favorites. It’s pure fly around the board in a frenzy fun from beginning to end. You can also get it as an iOS app.

 

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3. Betrayal at House on the Hill

You and at least two other investigators decide to search the old creepy house on the edge of town. You uncover the house’s mysteries by drawing room tiles and building the mansion as you go. Eventually, one of the players will betray the others and that’s when the fun begins. From there the game morphs into 1 of 50 possible stories from the Horror Greatest Hits collection (My favorite one so far is the one where I fed my friends to my cats. FOR SCIENCE!). It’s easy to learn and utterly addictive, a great, great game for halloween. (Aside: for various reasons this game can be hard to find. I’ve seen it go for as high as $200, but $40-50 is the normal price.)

 

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4. Elder Sign

The Elder Gods are awakening in the Arkham Museum. It’s up to you and the other gloriously pulpy investigators to stop the end of the world. This is a really fun dice game from Fantasy Flight Games’ Call of Cthulhu line and like Betrayal, is completely addictive. Like all FFG games, the art is gorgeous, the rules are a touch on the complex side (no where near its I-need-a-Ph. D.-in-game-design-to-understand-these-damn-rules cousin Arkham Horror). It’s a quick play and can be brought out at a moment’s notice. Also a brutally hard iOS and Android game.

 

Camp Grizzly

5. Camp Grizzly

I cheated twice here. One, this game isn’t out yet. Second, I did get in on the back end of the Kickstarter for this one.

It’s 1979, you play as a camp councilor at Camp Grizzly when Otis, “a serial killer with unhealthy bear fetish,” starts murdering everything that moves. This game is a fiendishly fun, and an unapologetic open-mouth kiss to slasher movies. If it happened in an ’80s slasher, it will happen in this game. Keep an eye out for this one early next year, it’s never too early to prepare for this happiest time of the year.

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timon

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Monday, October 27th 2014

October Event Review: The Violet Hour by Whitney A. Miller.

The Violet HourThe Violet Hour Genres: Horror
Published by Flux on March 8th, 2014
Pages: 312
Format: Paperback
Goodreads
The voice inside me is breaking free. I can't stop it.

Some call VisionCrest the pinnacle of religious enlightenment. Others call it a powerful cult. For seventeen years, Harlow Wintergreen has called it her life.

As the daughter of VisionCrest's patriarch, Harlow is expected to be perfect at all times. She must be considered a paragon of integrity by the other Ministry teens and a future leader in the eyes of the world.

Despite the constant scrutiny Harlow is keeping a dark and dangerous secret, even from her best friend and the boy she loves. She hears a voice in her head that seems to have a mind of its own, plaguing her with violent and bloody visions. It commands her to kill. And the urge to obey is getting harder and harder to control ....
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If I sound pissed off in this review, it’s only because I am. And with good reason. This book comes close to being a YA horror classic so many times, a slight breeze could’ve knocked it over the line. Thankfully, instead of zipping past great and melting into a failure blob, it still a good read.

One of my major gripes with the current state of YA horror is the disappearing best friend trope. This is where the bland ‘protagonist’ has a perky, cute, or funny best friend, but because the friend is more interesting , she gets shoved off scene ASAP. Miller doesn’t do that with Dora in The Crimson Sight. I wish she did.

Dora is by far the single most bloody irritating character I’ve bloody encountered in a bloody long time. I kept hoping with each new page she’d finally bloody die a bloody death. I’d rather have a loving  sexual encounter with a rusty cheese grater than read another line from Dora. So today, for the sake of my increasingly dwindling sanity, you get to suffer with me.

“It’s about time you make your move! Like the famous king of punk, that Sid’s cruising’ for a Nancy, and you–” Dora stabbed one black-chipped nail in my direction–“are just the Sex Pistol for the job.”

Thankfully, our main character, Harlow, is infinitely more interesting. She receives ultra-violent visions from a being called Isiris and must fight them off. I’m not a big fan of the ultra-violence, but here it’s horrifying and delicious in all the right ways. In my Unbreakable review, I gave some well-deserved flack to Kami Garcia for the off-screen non-threatening villain, Lord Murder Twiddlethumbs, and while Isiris is off-screen for most of the book, Miller does an incredible of making her threatening. Even better, the fake violence turns to real violence just as the visions wear out their welcome.

“You know what I think? That woman is one microdermabrasion short of a lobotomy, true, but you’re overtired and stressing yourself way too hard lately. You feel me?” Dora put her head up and looked me hard in the eye. “Everything is fine, Swizzle Stick. Say it with me.”

Even better, Miller takes what could’ve easily devolved into high school drama bullshit and ties it back to the plot in some wonderfully clarifying ways. This is what some folks in the industry call ‘good writing.’ I can not praise her enough for this.

“Easy-peasy Japanesey, is that it?” Dora asked. “And miss all the Harajuku shenanigans?”

By far, the biggest irritation in The Black Beyond is how odd and off-putting all the characters act, like they’re all aliens in human suits. On top of this, we have the worst hammered in semi-love quadrangle I’ve ever, ever read. I’m not even sure what Miller’s shooting for here, Buffy-esque quirkiness? Cult induced weirdness? Snappy dialogue? It fails regardless, but it could’ve worked if Miller did one single thing. . .

Dora saw it too. “Darling, the world is your oyster. You’re going to pry it open and steal its pearl, and no silly boy is going to stop you,” she said. It was the Dora version of a pep talk.

. . . Atmosphere. This book suffers from the same problem that turned The Merciless into a sludgy mess of terrible. Both books have religious elements, but neither ever engages with it. In this instance, the cult setting gives the potential for some truly great atmosphere, but their beliefs are never dealt with, or even explained in any meaningful way. This lack of atmosphere gluing everything together undermines a good half of the conflicts, it’s what makes Dora 2D, the Japanese punk setting come off as a distraction, drains the power out of the climax, renders the tension between Harlow and her dad meaningless, and thoroughly knocked me out of the last half of the book. At one point Harlow mentions how her dad perverted the beliefs of VisionQuest and I thought “wow, I wish I knew enough about their beliefs to make that moment work.”

Dora groaned. “Let’s just nail you to the cross right now, Moan of Arc. Are you gonna be this big of a drag the whole trip or just for your super-sweet seventeen? He agreed to go, didn’t he?”

I’m not asking for this book to be some profound meditation on growing up in a cult. For horror to be scary there must be some kind–any kind–of depth. Without these depth and atmosphere, The Chartreuse Puke has little to no dread and all the pieces of the book never really gel into a single whole.

“Holy Hera in a headbasket! Where have you been?”

As I said, it’s still a good book, in spite of my complaints. I recommend giving it a read. Miller does a lot of cool things, including having an Asian character in an Asian setting (And good on Flux for not whitewashing the book’s cover). The ending is interesting, and she pulls off a final chapter that succeeds where many hacks have failed before. And if my Dora quotes don’t irritate you, then hurry up and read it already.

She flicked the sole of my foot with her finger. “It’s on like Donkey Kong, sister.”

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Saturday, October 25th 2014

October Event Review: Hollow Pike by James Dawson

Hollow PikeHollow Pike Genres: Horror
on 2012
Pages: 312
Format: Paperback
Goodreads
Something wicked this way comes...

She thought she’d be safe in the country, but you can’t escape your own nightmares, and Lis London dreams repeatedly that someone is trying to kill her. Lis thinks she’s being paranoid - after all who would want to murder her? She doesn’t believe in the local legends of witchcraft. She doesn’t believe that anything bad will really happen to her. You never do, do you? Not until you’re alone in the woods, after dark - and a twig snaps... Hollow Pike - where witchcraft never sleeps.
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In my desperation to find solid YA horror I turned to the U.K.’s James Dawson. As luck would have it, Empty Expressway is a witch story. What could possibly be better for Halloween? I love witch stories, but unfortunately I can’t think of a single instance where I was completely thrilled with the result. Nine times out of ten, books, movies, and TV shows use the interesting witchery stuff as a backdrop to all the contrived drama, or there’s no rules to the magic and it devolves into a series of ass pulls. See also The Secret CircleAmerican Horror Story: Coven, and The Craft.

The story begins with Lis London dreaming and waking up. The second time I’ve come across this trope in as many books.

Horror writers, look me in the eyes. I know I’m reading horror, I’m assuming it will get scary at some point. So please stop using the dream sequence to squeeze in some creepy bits right at the beginning. I’m not going to burn your book and mail you the ashes if you go longer than a paragraph without a crowbarred-in creepy bit. Take a deep breath and take your time. You have the whole book to disappointment me.

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So Lis is moving from her school in Wales to the Yorkshire Dales. Wait. Yorkshire? Bloody Yorkshire? What? Was hell full at the time? And Lis even mentions the Yorkshire Dales in the same sentence as the word ‘glamorous.’ Can you believe it, dear reader? What’s next, Lis? Is Leeds the English Milan? Or are you going to tell me that you can totally see Nottingham through the impenetrable smog?

The first third of the book focuses on Lis, her new school, and the people she meets. This sets up some brilliant and refreshing moments later on when Dawson beautifully annihilates the Pretty Little Liars/Mean Girls trope. Each of the characters are well drawn and Dawson brings a hint of complexity that boarders on Stephanie Perkins-esque, but never quite gets there. There’s also a lot of high quality diversity here, biracial characters and several LGBQT characters, and of course, the Welshy girl.

The atmosphere slowly builds over the course of the book until the forest by Lis’ home becomes an ever present threat, eerily lurking in the background in every scene. The central mystery is very well drawn, every one looked guilty and I truly wanted to see how it wrapped up. Even more stunning is how Dawson seamlessly weaves the history of the area’s witch trails into the narrative, and his research is immaculate.

The writing is okay, but he uses exclamation marks like he’s trying to build Mt. Everest from 12-point Times New Roman. It undermined the hell Yorkshire out of the tone and makes the dialogue come off as “HEY LOOK AT US. WE’RE FUN AND CLEVER. LOOK AT THE GOOD TIME EVERYONE’S HAVING, YEAH?” Words! fail! me! a!t! h!o!w! !rr!tat!ng th!s! be!came!!!!!!!

So Abysmal Tollbooth does some new things, plays with cliches, and has descent atmosphere, so why am I not all–

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Because the ending breaks into the book and drowns the beautiful set-up in a septic tank. Using the “she’s a witch, may we burn her?” bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail without changing a word would’ve made a better ending.

 

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A sign that everything would fall apart was that in spite of Lis’ virtues, she never makes an active choiceThe characters stupidly accept a concept of determinism introduced in the Yorkshired finale without a second thought (by the villains). The determinism undermines everything that came before it, even the diversity. Literally, my first thought was ‘so the two bi characters are bi because witchcraft?’ Worse, the book tries to have both ‘there are no witches’ and ‘there are witches’ at the same time. These are mutually exclusive by any form of logic, one automatically negates the other. In a single scene, every trope Dawson turned on its head is turned right-side up and made worse. I’m still completely gobsmacked this is how Abandoned Canal ends after all the competence that came before.

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While Dawson does lay the ground work for the ending, the execution is inexcusably terrible. Villains give the ole James Bond monologue, the characters are rescued via witchery ex machina. The last time I remember a character not rescuing themselves from a situation like this is back when Nancy Drew needed Ned Nickerson and her dad to show up and untie her. I’m just glad neither Yorkshire nor Wales were hurt by this plane crash of an ending.

At the risk of coming off as a pretentious MFA student, what breaks my heart is a bit near the beginning where Dawson describes the town’s shopping area. It is one of the most brilliant and wonderful things I’ve read all year in YA horror. It was atmospheric, thematic, it revealed character, and gave the book a sense of contrast. I want to see more of that James Dawson, that James Dawson would be a force to reckon with. I’ve got two more of his books to review, so here’s hoping this one is the worst of the lot.

I know what your thinking, what with the malicious rumors floating around about me, but no, I’m not an MFA student. I’m just pretentious.

Final word: if  you can turn off your brain and let the eeriness wash over you, then Dawson’s Creek is a descent Halloween read. Otherwise, the finish line face plant broke my heart.

timon

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Thursday, October 23rd 2014

Review + Sale: SOUL CUTTER

SOUL CUTTERSOUL CUTTER by Lexa Cain
Genres: Horror
Published by MuseItUp Publishing Format: eBook
Source: ARC from author, Bought
Goodreads
The Soul Cutter is hunting again.

Seventeen-year-old Élan spends her free time videoing psychic scams and outing them online. Skepticism makes life safe—all the ghosts Élan encounters are fakes. When her estranged mother disappears from a film shoot in Egypt, Élan puts her medium-busting activities on hold and joins the search.

The Soul Cutter is hunting again.

Seventeen-year-old Élan spends her free time videoing psychic scams and outing them online. Skepticism makes life safe—all the ghosts Élan encounters are fakes. When her estranged mother disappears from a film shoot in Egypt, Élan puts her medium-busting activities on hold and joins the search.

In Egypt, the superstitious film crew sucks at finding her mom. When a hotel guest is killed, whispers start—the locals think their legendary Soul Cutter has come back from the dead. Élan's only ally is Ramsey, a film-crew intern, but he’s arrogant, stubborn—and hiding dangerous secrets.

When Élan discovers the Soul Cutter is no scam, she finds herself locked in a deadly battle against a supernatural killer with more than her mother’s life at stake.

Élan is fighting for her very soul.

 
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Review

I have to say: I know Lexa. I even read this pre-agent/pre-book deal and loved it. Lexa gave me an ARC before the book was published (though I’ve since bought one as well). When I first read this book though, I didn’t know Lexa very well. So my opinion of it wasn’t based on how awesome of a person she is :)

This is also a re-post, but I thought it would be great to highlight this book again for Halloween. 

ALSO! There is a sale, you can buy the SOUL CUTTER for 0.99!

Now, on to the review …

The Plot:

Élan has a rather horrible mother. Her mom spends all her time away from home on TV as part of a psychic duo. To fill her time, Élan goes around exposing fake psychics with a couple of her friends. When her mom goes missing in Egypt, Élan feels like she has no choice but to go to Egypt and look for her. Her mother doesn’t have all the time in the world either — she’s diabetic. Without her insulin, she’ll die.

The pacing is ideal, in my opinion. Élan doesn’t just sit around waiting for someone to help her: she takes action and searches for clues. It doesn’t take long for the creepiness to start either — and wow, does it get creepy. The whole premise of the SOUL CUTTER is so remarkably original in my opinion. There’s twist and turns. I was in agony as the story continued on because of how much I wanted Élan to succeed — to survive.

The Characters:

Élan is a heroine I can get behind. She’s strong, sensible, and willing to do what’s needed to get done. She’s loyal too. If I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t go to Egypt to find my useless mother. My favorite aspect of Élan is how she can be petrified, but still keeps going. She doesn’t like her fear get the best of her. I also liked how, even though there was a boy involved, she was got things done on her own. She wasn’t perfect, of course no one is, and when she needed it she would accept help, but she didn’t relay on others.

Ramsey *swoons*. Ramsey, Ramsey, Ramsey! Smart, savvy, handsome, sensitive, and sometimes a little arrogant — gotta love him. I admired how complex of a character Ramsey was. How I thought I finally understood all of him, but then another layer of him would come undone.

Soul Cutter — another complex character. Another filled with twists and turns. When I thought I understood him — thought I knew what he was up to — Lexa would throw me for a loop.

The Romance:

Élan/Ramsey — yeah, this needed to happen in my opinion. I liked how the romance was developed slowly. They didn’t fall for each other instantly, but only after they started to learn each other’s secrets. Only after they witnessed each other at their worst — and best. It was really endearing.

The Writing:

Excellent. Third person POV is something that’s really difficult for me to connect with and so often I find there’s no voice in third person. There’s exceptions: Neil Gaimain and Laini Taylor are honestly the only ones I can think of right now. Other than Lexa Cain, that is. Élan and Ramsey both share POV in this story, and each has their own voice. I can’t imagine this story working as well in first person POV.

And the setting! The setting was so vivid in the story. Lexa has a skill at setting the atmosphere. It’s so captivating. To have a horror story succeed, the atmosphere has to be set just right — and that’s what happened in the story. Plus, have I mentioned it’s set in Egypt? I’ve always been fascinated by Egypt, and I loved all the new aspects I learned about the country and its culture through this amazing book.

Fan Girl Love:

Sometimes I make covers for books I <3 lots. Fan covers. So here’s mine for SOUL CUTTER:

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Not that I don’t like the real cover for SOUL CUTTER. It’s pretty and interesting — you can get a sense of the story from it. But I couldn’t think of another way to express my absolute love for this story — aside from reviewing it and talking about it all the time — other than spending a couple of hours making some fan art :)

I can’t draw worth anything, but I can use Photoshop. So here it is: my version of the SOUL CUTTER (though I know it’s not perfect. Couldn’t figure out how to add the glistening bottles without making it look not-so-great).

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Wednesday, October 22nd 2014

When Stars Die: Anniversary Blog Blitz

When Stars DieWhen Stars Die Goodreads
“Yet, even when stars die, they leave a lasting impact through their light, their diamond brilliance as they scatter their material to form new stars. When people die, they leave the same impact with the footprints they leave on people's hearts. Even the ones who feel insignificant go out, leaving behind dust that can nourish the world anew."

Amelia Gareth's brother is a witch and the only way to save her family from the taint in his blood is to become a professed nun at Cathedral Reims in the snowy city of Malva. However, in order to become professed, she must endure trials that all nuns must face.

Surviving these trials is not easy, especially for Amelia, who is being stalked by shadowy beings only she can see. They're searching for people they can physically touch, because only those they can touch can see them. Amelia soon learns why she is being stalked when she accidentally harms her best friend with fire during the third trial. Fire is a witch's signature. The shadows are after witches.

Now Amelia must decide what to do: should she continue on her path to profession knowing there is no redemption, or should she give up on her dream and turn away from Cathedral Reims in order to stop the shadows who plan to destroy everything she loves?
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It’s the first anniversary of the lovely book When Stars Die, by Amber Skye Forbes! In celebration – because come on, there’s nothing more awesome than a bookish birthday – Amber is doing a giveaway of a $20 Amazon gift card (which, if you are so inclined, you could possibly use to buy When Stars Die and/or its sequel, The Stars are Infinite. Just saying ;))It’s easy to enter – just sign up for her newsletter in the month of October and you’re good to go!

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Amber Skye Forbes is a dancing writer who prefers pointe shoes over street shoes, leotards over skirts, and ballet buns over hairstyles. She loves striped tights and bows and will edit your face with a Sharpie if she doesn’t like your attitude. She lives in Augusta, Georgia where she writes dark fiction that will one day put her in a psychiatric ward… again. But she doesn’t care because her cat is a superhero who will break her out. Follow Amber’s blog or find her on Twitter!

 

 

Enter the giveaway. Buy the book. Stalk – er, that is, what I meant to say was follow Amber’s blog. All that fun stuff.  Oh, and book 2 in the Stars trilogy, The Stars Are Infinite (which, can I just say – I LOVE THE TITLES OF THESE BOOKS. SO. MUCH) comes out in December, so don’t forget to pick that one up too.

And I, for one, am going to go curl up with When Stars Die, because a) witches and b) cool shadowy-ghosty things. I mean, what more could a girl want?

topaz2

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Tuesday, October 21st 2014

Review: Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Welcome To The Dark HouseWelcome To The Dark House Genres: Horror
on Published July 22nd 2014 by Disney-Hyperion
Pages: 368 pages
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads
What’s your worst nightmare?

For Ivy Jensen, it’s the eyes of a killer that haunt her nights. For Parker Bradley, it’s bloodthirsty sea serpents that slither in his dreams.

And for seven essay contestants, it’s their worst nightmares that win them an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at director Justin Blake’s latest, confidential project. Ivy doesn’t even like scary movies, but she’s ready to face her real-world fears. Parker’s sympathetic words and perfect smile help keep her spirits up. . . at least for now.

Not everyone is so charming, though. Horror-film fanatic Garth Vader wants to stir up trouble. It’s bad enough he has to stay in the middle of nowhere with this group—the girl who locks herself in her room; the know-it-all roommate; “Mister Sensitive”; and the one who’s too cheery for her own good. Someone has to make things interesting.

Except, things are already a little weird. The hostess is a serial-killer look-alike, the dream-stealing Nightmare Elf is lurking about, and the seventh member of the group is missing.

By the time Ivy and Parker realize what’s really at stake, it’s too late to wake up and run.
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Stolarz’s Welcome to the Dark House tries to recapture old school slasher thrills, but instead of learning from Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween and translating them into something that works for an active, non-visual medium, it follows the path of the mediocre ’80s knock-offs, where sex and nudity tries to glue together a narrative with the occasional jump scare and murder.

Foreclose On The Meh House begins with seven essay contestants winning a trip to go meet a Wes Craven-esque movie director and screen his new film. Each one has their own tacked on tragedy, something that resembles a personality, and don’t actively irritate me at best. There’s the survivor girl, the cliche horror fan guy called Garth Vader. Stolarz even calls this character a cliche through another POV. Which begs the question, if he’s cliche, then why the hell is he in this book?

Deep breath. Deep breath.

Then there’s the one who’s best friend died. The crazy one. The movie director wanna-be who makes the whole book feel like that one time the ’90s discovered metafiction. The one who doesn’t matter in any significant way. The guy with no personality or goals and is obviously the villain. (I wrote this line before I finished the book, but I was correct.) (On second thought, this could’ve been a misdirect.)

And. Of. Course. There’s no cell phone service at the creepy house. Brush off the cobwebs folks, shit’s getting real.

The writing is ok, the dialogue is meh, the execution is serviceable. Stolarz never bored me, but never really pulled me in either. This book is so utterly devoid of personality that even the character deaths come off as lifeless and uninteresting. I caught myself zoning out several times and had to go back to the last part I remembered.

The book is told through the first-person narration from six of the seven contestants. Stolarz does do a good job of making the characters different enough that I was never confused on who was narrating, but the multiple narrator thing is criminally underused. The pacing tries for the old school slasher set-up where the death won’t start until the halfway point, and the budding romances, drama, and the occasional hint at creepiness never interests more than a nun’s lingerie collection. Worse, the hints are more than enough for any sane person to start demanding answers and/or go back home. They don’t of course, that might introduce tension to the plot. None of the scares are scary, except for the swimming pool filled with flesh-eating eels, but this is more because I’m terrified of large bodies of water and nothing in particular on the book’s part.

Then they go to the abandoned carnival. And the black girl dies first. (Assuming I was correct about the villain, which also assumes there is a non-supernatual villain.)

Oh. Dear. I was going to give Stolarz kudos for having that character mention the racism she faced as the only black girl at an all white boarding school, but not after invoking this trope.

Characters are quickly killed off do to combination lack of higher brain functions and suicidal death wish. The characters are so blasé and accepting of their deaths that I’d consider this a great work of YA existentialist fiction if there was a scene where Parker and Ivy sleep together, smoke cigarettes afterwards, and discuss how being killed by the Nightmare Elf reflects the absurdity of existing in a meaningless universe.

The term for this book is the usual. It’s the usual characters doing the usual things with the usual scares and the usual deaths with the usual attitude. The same bloody usual I see in book after book, movie after movie.

And on top of this, this book has the gall to not have an ending. This is why I can’t say for sure I was right about the villain. The book just stops. Ivy escapes, wakes up from a nightmare, and closes out with information the reader already knows. I did laugh out loud when Parker stopped to pick up Ivy’s necklace and got left behind. Since this is the dumbest of the dumb behavior, I assume he’s working with the villain. Either way I didn’t really care, I will not be reading further in this series. And after some more thought, there’s really not enough evidence to say one way or another if the killer is non-supernatural or supernatural. I lean toward non, but there’s enough unreliable narrator going on to keep me from saying for certain.

I’ve seen a lot of these ‘intro’ horror books lately. I’m glad they’re out there, I’m glad publishers are finally loosening their purse strings for horror, but here’s the thing, Goosebumps-esque books didn’t attach me at the hip to this genre as a young lad, Silent Hill 2 did. There is no standard in either books or games that classifies the masterpiece that is Silent Hill 2 as ‘intro’ horror. The game is straight-up, unapologetic, nightmare fuel horror. If you want to create an audience for horror that’s how you get people hooked, you give them good stories and  pure unfiltered horror. Not through watered down pandering to the mainstream.

Welcome to—bleh, I don’t care enough to keep mocking the title, takes the worst tropes of ’80s slasher movies, lacks grit and teeth like ’90s slashers, and is forgettable as ’00 slashers. Read Gretchen McNeil’s Ten instead.

timon

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Wednesday, October 8th 2014

Review: The Gateway Through Which They Came by Heather Marie

The Gateway Through Which They CameThe Gateway Through Which They Came Genres: Paranormal
on August 25, 2014
Pages: 218
Format: eBook
Goodreads
To seventeen-year-old Aiden Ortiz, letting the dead walk through his body to reach the other side comes with the territory. Being a Gateway isn’t an easy job, but someone’s gotta send Bleeders where they belong. Heaven. Salvation. Call it whatever you want. Dead is dead. But when his search for Koren Banks––the girl who went mysteriously missing seven months ago––leaves him with more questions than answers, he finds himself involved in something far more sinister and beyond his control.

With the threat of the Dark Priest's resurrection, and his plan to summon his demon brothers from hell, Aiden is left to discover his identity before the Dark Priest's curse infecting his blood consumes him, and before the world as he knows it succumbs to the darkness of hell on earth.
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Well. This won’t end well.

There are three types of psychological horror. The first is where a protagonist you like slowly loses their minds and you as the reader feel increasing dread as you realize you’re trapped in a book with a crazy person. The second is where the boring protagonist discovers they were CRAZY ALL ALONG and probably EVIL ALL ALONG. This is what writers who’ve only watched horror movies on Netflix that one weekend when nothing good was on TMZ think is clever. Then there’s the third type, where everything is such a confusing mess that you can feel your sanity slip into oblivion as you hopelessly struggle to figure out what the hell is going on.

I’m not sure what this book wants to be, this may sound like a nitpick, but knowing what a book is effects how I read it. I don’t read romance expecting monsters to jump out and eat the characters, and if I read splatterpunk I wouldn’t expect endless scenes of refined British ladies having tea parties and being perfectly pleasant to each other. In this case, I expected something along the lines of Anna Dressed In Blood, general horror with an occult/’mythological’ twist. That’s what the synopsis lead me to believe.

Then Aiden starts thinking he’s going insane by the third scene. But… there isn’t enough context or contrast yet to tell one way or other. This part was so jarring I thought my e-book was missing a section. At this point the book pivots and tries to evolve into a slow-burn psychological novel. These two sub-genres should work together, but the execution here makes everything such a confusing, frustrating mess that I that I still don’t know what the overarching story is.

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Okay, let me back up.

First off, Heather Marie has a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. Aiden is Hispanic. His best friend is gay. Both are realistically portrayed and they are a welcome relief to all the Whitey C. Whitebread characters I’ve read lately. Aiden is the first MC of color I’ve read for review since The Merciless and Trevor is only gay character I’ve come across in the last seven books I’ve read. Full kudos to Heather Marie here.

Things looked promising for the first few paragraphs of The Window Through Which They Threw The Brick. Heather Marie has good flow and the best male voice I’ve come across since Daniel Kraus’ Scowler.

And then came the flow-breaking flashback to shoehorn in the angsty, out-of-place teen drama.

So Aiden Ortiz is a gateway, someone who the dead pass through to cross over to the other side. Here’s where the first snake in this tangle of snakes raises it head. Outside of getting really cold and occasionally passing out, there’s not really a cost to being a gateway. In horror, paranormalwhatever they’re calling it these days, there needs to be a high, nerve-wrecking cost in order to create a sense of dread. As it stands, being a gateway looks really easy, but Aiden complains about it endlessly. So he ends up sounding like he kicks the crutches out from under cute, wide-eyed orphans for the lulz. This bleed out my sympathy until I wanted to punch him every time he opened his freaking gop. They’re. Dead. Dude. Take time out from your busy moping schedule and bloody help them.

Another reason I’m still so utterly confused is that there’s never enough information or context to understand Heather Marie’s world. Endless paragraphs are devoted to telling me the context for all the relationships, but the book doesn’t dive into the rules of the world for over half the book. Every time it seems like someone will finally give some info, something happens to prevent it. For no good reason. One time the priest mentor figure had to reschedule because of something or other, a flat tire, I think. The scares work the exact same way. Something tense happens, then build-up, oh it’s another human being, drama talk, end scene. Every time. This was probably building to a twist, but I stopped caring.

At this point, I reread the synopsis of the book and thought I was going nuts. Aiden spends a flashback asking a school secretary about the girl he likes but then the girl shows up out of the blue by the fifth or sixth scene. So he never actually looks for her. The whole curse bit actually spoils the book because going by the text alone I never would’ve guessed curses were even possible. So the first part of the synopsis isn’t true and the second part needs a spoiler warning.

By the time I reached the multiple paragraph Firefly reference I finally said enough. My father was a Firefly reference, dammit. I’ll have none of this! I stopped at the halfway point before my confusion and questions and frustrations and irritations turned me into this:

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In spite of the tangled mess I’ve detailed here, Heather Marie does shows a lot of talent, she’s trying to do the things that make a good paranormal/horror novel—likable characters, ambiguity, atmosphere, etc, etc, etc, but her execution isn’t there yet. My only regret in DNF-ing this review is I won’t find out how Trevor and Evan ended up. (You deserve better, Trevor.) Once Heather Marie has a few more books under her belt I’ll probably read her again, like I said, there’s a lot of promise here, but The Browser Through Which They Read Tumblr is not that book.

timon

Tuesday, October 7th 2014

Horror October Line Up!

Hosted by Oh! The Books!

It’s OCTOBER! I love October, as I’m sure Timon and Topaz do too. It’s the best month if you ask me. Fall is beautiful. Plus, best of all, October has Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday ever. Love, love, love Halloween.

So, for Horror October, we’re going to talk about horrors here.

For example, I’m going to review the following books:

FERAL by Holly Schindler (who was so gracious as to send me a hardcover that’s signed just because I mentioned liking horror on Twitter!)

THE GIRL IN THE WELL by Rin Chupeco

COME CLOSER by Sara Gran

I’ll also be doing a few talks about J-Horror: Americanization of J-Horror movies v. The Original (Grudge, Ring, & Dark Water).

HOUSE KEEPING STUFF: I said I was going to do the Weekly Wrap-Up every week, but I lied. I’ll do a Monthly Wrap-Up the last Monday of every month!

For Timon, he’ll be covering some oft he following:

Hollow Pike by James Dawson

Horror Games

Why I Love Horror

Horror Atmosphere

Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

The Gateway Through Which They Came by Heather Marie (TOMORROW!)

And Topaz?

She’s a wonderful free spirit that continuous surprises me (in only good ways!) so we’ll see what she has planned :)

Is there anything in particular you guys want to see from us? 

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Sunday, October 5th 2014

Bookish Playlist: “Destiny Laughed”

bookishplaylist

I’ve really been in an MG kind of mood lately, so when my little sister came home raving about a book she and her classmates were reading, I thought I’d give it a try, just out of curiosity. Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, completely blew away all my expectations. It’s funny and heartwarming and there are some beautiful messages – not even going to pretend there weren’t some tears shed over here.

Plus, it turns out R.J. Palacio is a music buff! Those of you who’ve read the book will know that it’s divided into sections, each narrated by a different character, and at the beginning there’s a song lyric that encompasses either an overarching theme for the section or just a significant moment. So in honour of Miss Palacio’s awesome music taste – because seriously, the ones she chose are beyond amazing – here’s Destiny Laughed, containing some songs from Wonder and some of my own picks. Check it out on 8tracks by clicking on the cover below!

Album Cover

All bookish playlists contain major spoilers for their respective books!

i. The Outside // Taylor Swift

so how can I ever try to be better?
nobody ever lets me in
I can still see you
this ain’t the best view
on the outside looking in

At the very beginning, August is basically shunned by everybody expect for the people who were forced to befriend him. It’s terrible to read about the things that his classmates say and do to him – some of them are downright deplorable (but of course, it’s also the reality of elementary school bullying). This song talks about the feeling of desolation that comes from constantly being the outsider, and it’s a feeling Auggie knows too well.

ii. Space Oddity // David Bowie

for here, am I floating in a tin can
far above the world
planet earth is blue
and there’s nothing I can do

Oh my gosh, I was SO EXCITED that Palacio included this song in such a special way – it’s one of my favourites in the entire book. Of course, this is for Auggie and Miranda and their friendship, but also for all of the characters who are outcasts (and I’m about 99.9% sure that they all are in one part or another). There’s so much hopelessness in the feeling that you’re getting farther and farther away from earth and no one knows how to connect with you anymore.

iii. Best Shot // Birdy & Jaymes Young

I’ll be here, giving it my best shot
baby, your love’s got more than I need
here, crying from the rooftops
nothing can stop us if we believe
here, giving it my best shot
baby, I find that we can be free
when you’re here, here with me

Via and Auggie have a lovely relationship. They’re much closer than most siblings, and Via is protective of Auggie in a way that might be almost overprotective had it not been for Auggie’s situation. Still, she can’t save him from every single hurt, and I think she kind of feels the loss once Auggie starts school and is bombarded with bullying from all sides. This song shows beautifully how she finally learns to make peace with the fact that even though she can’t guide her baby brother every step of the way, she’ll always do her best to help him find his own path.

iv. Vienna // Billy Joel

and you know that when the truth is told
that you can get what you want or you can just get old
you’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
why don’t you realise Vienna waits for you?
when will you realise Vienna waits for you?

But at the same time, thinking about Via always makes me sad because I feel like she’s had to grow up so fast. After everything with August, she seems to be overlooked – she’s always known as “that girl with the disabled little brother”. Having to protect Auggie 24/7 has turned her into somebody who’s constantly on the defensive, waiting for people to call her out on flaws that, most of the time, don’t even exist. And there’s something bittersweet about this because, on the flipside, there are people looking out for her, just as she looks out for August. After all, as Justin says, the universe does take care of all its birds.

v. Count On Me // Bruno Mars

you can count on me like 1, 2, 3, I’ll be there
and I know when I need it I can
count on you like 4, 3, 2, and you’ll be there
’cause that’s what friends are supposed to do, oh yeah

And then there’s Summer. There are no words for how much I love her and the steadfast way she sticks with August – without prompting, without drama, just in her quiet and constant way. She’s always there to catch him, and I don’t think she gets enough credit for that. While the rest of the world is in turmoil over a) the way August looks and b) the way everybody else reacts to how he looks, Summer never wavers. She’s always there for him.

vi. Little Lion Man // Mumford & Sons

but it was not your fault but mine
and it was your heart on the line
I really fucked it up this time
didn’t I, my dear?
didn’t I, my dear?

I’ll admit it: I really, really wanted to hate Jack during the whole Bleeding Scream thing on Halloween. But I just couldn’t do it, especially after he found out and the sheer horror as he realised how much he hurt August. That scene is what I was thinking of when I chose this song, but now that I’m writing this I think it also ties into all of the characters in their lowest moments: August after the Halloween scene, Via when she’s questioning whether she’s a good sister, Miranda at camp, lying to her friends about her life at home. Weep, little lion man, you’re not as brave as you were at the start.

vii. Darling I Do // Landon Pigg & Lucy Schwartz

golden leaves looked brown to me
the world had less colour without you
shapes in the sky looked plain to my eye
the world had less colour without you
I know plenty of people with eyes closed
they don’t see you like I do, darling I do

But eventually Jack and Auggie do make up, and it just made me so happy to see how relieved Jack was to be friends with him again. It’s one of those things where he didn’t really understand what he was missing until he had it back – August and Jack weren’t quite complete without each other as friends. And I’m so incredibly amazed at how Jack held his ground even when everybody at school turned against him for sticking with August.

viii. Give Up The Ghost // Rosi Golan & Johnny McDaid

come here
it’s all worth the fight when it’s you, dear
we’re hitting our heads on the walls here
we don’t have to hold on so tightly

Besides the fact that this is a ridiculously beautiful song on its own, I think it encompasses the whole book so well. It’s about learning the right time to fight for what you want – and more than that, for what you deserve – but it’s also about learning when it’s okay to let go a little and just breathe. Bonus points because one of the lyrics also paraphrases Mr. Browne’s December precept: it’s fortune that favours the brave ones.

ix. Yellow // Coldplay

your skin, oh yeah your skin and bones
turn into something beautiful
and you know, you know I love you so
you know I love you so

I cried SO HARD when Daisy died, oh my gosh. I have a feeling Auggie would sing something like this to her, because she’s been with him since the beginning. She was the one person who always thought he was beautiful, and I think he saw her the same way (and yes, I am the type of person who includes a song for a dog. Don’t say a word). But this is also for the relationship between August and his mom, because I’m so in awe of how she walked the fine line between protecting him and teaching him to protect himself.

x. Wonder // Natalie Merchant

oh, I believe
fate smiled and destiny
laughed as she came to my cradle
know this child will be able
laughed as my body she lifted
know this child will be gifted
with love, with patience and with faith
she’ll make her way

Of course, for Auggie, who truly is a wonder.

Suggestions for future bookish playlists? Check out my Goodreads shelves and leave a comment below!

topaz2

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Thursday, October 2nd 2014

In Which I Rant About Feminism, Books are Powerful, and the Doctor is Right As Usual

I don’t know if you guys have seen the beyond beautiful speech Emma Watson gave for the UN last month on the new #HeForShe movement (if not, have you been living under a rock?!). But it got me thinking about something very important – feminism and the fight for gender equality. And, perhaps more to the point, how that relates to us as readers.

I’m one of those “inadvertent feminists” Emma Watson talks about in her speech. To be honest, I never really considered myself a feminist up until recently. I mean, of course I thought the genders should be equal – that always seemed like common sense to me, until I started reading the news and realising that, hey, it actually wasn’t really common sense at all.

Which is why we need to change that. And fast.

One of the things that stuck with me in Watson’s speech was this:

“No country in the world can yet say that they have achieved gender equality.”

I wish I could argue with it, but sadly, it’s the truth.

What I can say, though, is that we have a medium to go beyond the borders of countries. There’s something that every single one of you reading this post love, with all your hearts, with everything you have. It’s something you’re influenced by, something that has changed you irrevocably – no matter your gender or your age or where you live.

Of course. You knew the second you read the first sentence of that paragraph that I was talking about books, didn’t you? I don’t think there’s anybody sitting here who can say that books haven’t changed their view of the world, that they haven’t seen everything and everyone around them in so much more clarity because of some ink printed on paper. The thing is, books have such power – and what I’ve found is that it’s a power that we too often overlook.

So here’s our job as readers: to spread this love of books in a way that embodies the principles of gender equality.

Alright, so let me rephrase that in layman’s terms, shall I? ;)

Take J.K. Rowling, for example. One of the most popular authors in the world, yes? There’s a reason all but the most hardcore Harry Potter fans know her simply as “J.K.” – because she specifically chose to use only her initials on the front cover of the books.

Now, why on earth would she do something like that?

Oh, maybe because she was afraid boys wouldn’t want to read her books because they were written by a woman.

What is this Fuckery?

It’s things like this that we absolutely have to abolish in the literary world. It’s so incredibly imperative that we begin to stop and think about what we’re reading, what’s influencing our views on the world. Are we truly picking books that put female characters in situations where they can shine (whether that’s in the traditional “strong female character” archetype or otherwise)? Are we reading enough books that were written by women? When recommending books to kids, since I know a lot of us work in libraries and bookstores and schools, are we making sure that we expose them to a wide variety of books – written by men and women, with both male and female protagonists?

If not, there’s a huge, huge problem here.

I work in my school library, and just the other day I was recommending a book to a little boy. Sweet kid, fourth grader, seemed all smiles and charm. I gave him the lovely MG book A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L’Engle, and was rambling on about everything I loved about it when he halted me in my tracks with these words:

“Yeah, but it’s a girl book.”

Waitwaitwaitwaitwait.

girl book?

I guess I didn’t get the memo, because nobody ever told me that the books I read are girl books. What do you think would happen if I ever read a boy book? Or has that never been risked before?

Is it too big of a leap to think hey, maybe there doesn’t actually have to be a thing like girl books and boy books? Maybe we can all just read whatever the hell we want to. Maybe it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy who likes reading about sparkling vampires or if you’re a girl who likes reading about touchdowns and home runs.

Maybe – and stick with me here, everybody – just maybe books are actually a universal phenomenon, no matter what letter chromosomes you have.

So my dear fellow readers, this is where you come in. It’s your job to put books in the hands of people who have to figure out that gender equality is a thing we need, like right now. Perhaps no amount of speeches or long, ranty blog posts will ever change their minds – but hey, what if they start reading about strong and beautiful and brave and funny and diverse and amazing women who aren’t actually that set apart from men just because they happen to have different body parts? I don’t know about you, but I think there’s a pretty damn high chance that reading about that might just make them think a little differently about women in the real world.

In her UN speech, Watson has this to say about the parents, teachers, and mentors who treated her exactly the same as they would men:

“These influences were the gender equality ambassadors that made me who I am today.”

And it’s occurred to me that not everybody can have that same privilege to be judged not for their gender, but for the “content of their character” (because Martin Luther King did have a point there – whether that’s racism or sexism we’re referring to). So that’s why we need to give those people a substitute. We need to give them gender equality ambassadors that will speak to them just as loudly as any person. Books are by far the most potent catalysts I’ve ever come across – they can spur people into action, and we don’t talk about that enough. We can’t just leave such a compelling tool sitting off to the side, unused.

Watson talks about how in order to change the way we look at feminism, men need to take part in the discussion just as much as women do. But I think there’s an even greater medium that’s capable of reaching men and women alike: books. You guys, gender equality fundamentally starts with us, the readers. It’s so important that we spread the word – until our films and our television shows and our music and, most importantly, our books, begin to reflect the changing standards of our society, there is no way that women and men can achieve the standard of equality that we’re striving for.

To sum it up in one GIF:

Best Weapons In the World

It’s so vitally important that we remember this: that our books can change our lives. They can change our viewpoints. They can change the way we look at our friends and our family and the people we work with.

So who’s to say they can’t change the world as well?

topaz

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