RA for All...The Road Show!

I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Review: The Fireman

The Fireman.
Hill, Joe (author)
May 2016. 608p. Morror, hardcover, $28.99
REVIEW. First published March, 1, 2016 (Booklist)

Today I am so excited that I can finally post the review I wrote for the forthcoming Joe Hill novel. I read the book back over the holidays and turned the review in promptly, but in order to best feature this FANTASTIC novel, the review was held until now. Here it is...
Joe Hill, is back with his original take on the apocalypse. Harper is a school nurse who fancies herself an American Mary Poppins, but when a deadly fungus starts infecting humanity, causing people to spontaneously combust, life as we know it ends and a fight to survive begins. Harper, now sick and pregnant, is just trying to make it until she can deliver, but when her husband tries to kill her, Harper is saved by the unlikely and mysterious superhero of this new age-- The Fireman-- who brings her to a community where the sick have learned to live symbiotically with the fungus. But is it really the safe haven it appears to be? Like NOS4A2, this is a long book, but with a curiously ominous tone set from the very first line, a brisk pace throughout, and dozens of detailed action scenes, readers will be hard pressed to stop turning the pages; add in the well developed cast of characters [both good and evil], fun pop culture references, and a satisfying but open ended conclusion, and this is a story that will infect you. Channelling Michael Crichton, Hill presents a strong scientific explanation for most of the dread, but also includes a healthy dose of the fantastic, arming the heroes with a dangerous power much like he did in Horns. Take the ideas, characters, and tone of Station Eleven and add a large helping of the action, villains, and unrelenting menace from Doctor Sleep and you have The Fireman, an excellent example of the very best that genre fiction has to offer all readers today.
Also, while I couldn't fit it into the review, if you have a fondness for the early days of MTV and/or Martha Quinn, this book is for you.

Put this book on hold now!!!! No seriously, stop reading my review and go place your hold. I'll wait.

Three Words That Describe This Book: unrelenting menace, nuanced characters, fun
--Note: yes I said "fun" and "unrelenting menace" are both key words to describe this book. There is a balance between terror and playfulness here that most horror authors cannot pull off without dropping the ball on one or the other. Putting together, those "two" words [I know it is 3 but work with me here] summarizes much of why someone would or would not enjoy this book.

Readadlikes: In the review I provided links to a few options. Please note that many of those links are to reviews by me which also contain more readalikes. You can have fun clicking your way down the suggestion wormhole.

The Fireman also reminded me of Zone One by Colson Whitehead and Flashback by Dan Simmons. All three are some of the most original and interesting post-apocalyptic novels novels I have read. All three are firmly "genre" in that the fear and terror sit center stage and they also have fantastic endings. Fantastic in the horror sense, by the way, which means the current conflict is satisfactorily resolved but the overall anxiety is still left open.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Review: Travelers Rest

This is a cross post with RA for All

Today I have a review of a book that walks a tightrope between psychological suspense and horror making it an AMAZING reading option for a large swath of readers. It is the best book I have read so far this year [...and I’ve already read The Fireman and loved that too!]

I am talking about Travelers Rest by Keith Lee Morris which came out in early January. After reading this novel I am SHOCKED that it is generating such little chatter.

Listen up library people...this is a book you should be handing out to lots and lots of readers. Why? Well that’s in the rest of this review.

Becky’s Soundbite Review:
“A family-- husband, wife, 10 year old son, and recovering alcoholic uncle are traveling East from Washington back to South Carolina over the Christmas break when a snow storm forces them to stop for the night in Good Night, Idaho at the historic "Travelers Rest" hotel, a seemingly small decision that forever changes all of their lives. With its slow burn pacing, readers are swept up into a time bending, haunted house story that is terrifying without any blood, but features a menace that is definitely not of this world. It is a story about familial love, memory, and identity that will make you think, but it is the creepy tone that will continue to haunt you after the final page. Think Twilight Zone meets The Shining and you know what your stay at Travelers Rest will entail.” [34 seconds]
A few more details about the story that may help you decide to read it, or to give people for whom this soundbite was intriguing. Although please note, I have given away nothing about the actual plot here.

This novel walks the line between psychological suspense and horror perfectly. It is a great example of why the two genres are very closely linked. Ultimately, because this story’s main intent is to provoke the emotion of fear and the menace involves an other worldly element I would classify it as horror, but the absence of gore means fans of the tension in psychological suspense who don’t want blood and guts, will also love it. [For a much longer discussion on this distinction, please go to this post on the horror blog.]

I want to stress that the pace is methodical. It starts with a lot of background detail about each family member, details which we need to understand why and how they are trapped in the situation which they find themselves. Details which take time to establish.

Also since the four are separated fairly quickly, the story needs to bounce back and forth between them, and while some are living in the present, others are moving through time, yet they are all in the sam geographic place. It is never confusing, just disorienting. Without Morris taking his time and setting everything up perfectly, the novel would have become a jumbled mess. So yes the pace is methodical, but it is satisfyingly so, since the story can sweep you up and carry you along in its wake.

Word geeks will love that the lack of punctuation in the title and the name of the hotel  is contemplated by the characters. That point alone could be discussed for hours after finishing the book.

While this novel has a Twilight Zone feel, it really is an original concept. As the characters try to get back together on the same time line and they learn more and more about the history of the unique town and Traveler’s Rest from two of its residents, the story goes from simply creepy to thought provoking.  There is a philosophical element at work here; you will contemplate ideas of memory, identity, family, and life choices.

As an added bonus, Travelers Rest has A PERFECT ENDING. Well perfect for horror fans. It would drive thriller readers crazy.

Just stop reading this review and get a copy of Travelers Rest into someone’s hands ASAP. Your patrons will thank you. Don’t believe me? Remember when I told you all to stop everything and suggest Bird Box to patrons.  I still have patrons AND librarians thanking me for making then read that book. I feel similarly about Travelers Rest.

Three Words That Describe This Book: creepy, methodically paced, thought provoking 

Readalikes: I mentioned the Twilight Zone above. This novel has the same type of plot and feel as any TZ episode, but it is more than just similar. The story has a few blatant nods to TZ particularly in the reoccurring TV that projects “old” shows and a lot of static with blurry figures going across the screen. Plus, these images end up coming into play toward the end of the novel.

Speaking of homage, there is also a nod to the classic haunted house tale, The Shining by Stephen King here. While Travler’s Rest is not nearly as terrifying [in fact, it is not trying to be that visceral], Morris does use an isolated hotel, cut off by a blizzard, and a compelling young boy protagonist stuck in a nightmarish situation. Think of Travelers Rest as "The Shining-lite."

Other classic haunted house stories that I was reminded of were House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. House of Leaves in particular is a great readalike because of the way both books create tension and terror through their style. In House of Leaves the stylistic choices are very literal, while in Traveler’s Rest it is in how the story is told. House of Leaves is one of the few books I have re-read multiple times. I own a well thumbed paperback.

The pacing, the menace, the historical importance of a physical building, and the overall sense of dread permeating everything reminded me of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Both novels create a terrifying and disorienting situation without any gore.

Finally, the young narrator, a family in turmoil, and the presence of something sinister in an old home preying on the people who live there [or is it all in our heads?] reminded me of A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay.