Book Review: All The Missing Girls

All the Missing Girls ★★★
Megan Miranda
Simon and Schuster Canada
Release Date: June 28, 2016

missing_girlsHeaded to the beach or cottage this summer? Got a long plane ride ahead of you? Just hanging out by the pool with a pitcher of margaritas? Yeah, this is the book you’ll want to have with you. It’s one of those unreliable narrator psychological thrillers that once you start it, you will be utterly compelled to keep turning the pages until you get to the end to find out what the hell really happened? As these kind of books go, it’s a satisfying resolution. There are enough sleights of hand, and red herrings, to keep a reader on their toes and guessing until the last page is turned.

The author is trying something a little tricky with her narrative too; she tells the story backwards over the course of fifteen days. This is a neat little fun trick, but really, at the end of the day, I don’t think it added much to the tension of the novel, or its structure. Had she just adhered to a straight linear narrative approach I don’t think anything would have been lost in the overall impact and delivery of her story.

There are also a few scenes that genuinely had me feeling creeped out and uneasy, because for most of the novel you’re really not sure where the threat is coming from (and even if there’s any threat at all). Miranda conjures up a heavy and pressing atmosphere that’s practically claustrophobic at times, always welcome in a book like this. The setting is suitably small town and insular, carrying its secrets and guarding them closely to the peril of those who wish to turn over the mossy rock and expose the dank underbelly to the glaring sun.

None of the characters are very likeable, but I think because out of necessity, Miranda has to create an impenetrable distance between them and the reader to keep us off kilter and guessing. At their core however, most of their motivations are very relatable and when you finish reading and put the book down, you’ll find yourself questioning what you would have done in the same circumstances.

I would like to thank Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy to review.

What’s love got to do with it?

Modern Romance ★★★★
by Aziz Ansari
Penguin Press, 2015

modern_romanceI’ve been so behind on my reviewing these days, but I had so much fun with this one I wanted to make sure I didn’t let it fall through the dark cracks into the swirling abyss where my non-reviewed books go.

I’m a huge fan of Ansari. I think he’s cute as a button and funny as goddamn hell. I watched him in Parks & Rec, his most recent Netflix original Master of None (which I highly recommend), and thoroughly enjoy his stand-up concerts. He’s not at the same level as Louis CK or Patton Oswalt, but he’s also a lot younger than these gentlemen who have been honing their dark and brilliant comedy for decades now.

Modern Romance is not your typical “comedian writes a book” fare. It’s not a memoir, or a book filled with ruminations on the life of a comedian. It’s a thinky piece, backed up by real sociological research, with pie charts and everything! Ansari’s approach to breaking down the ins and outs of dating and hooking up and settling down in the 21st century is as intriguing and compelling as it is infectious and informative. I loved every minute of it. The layout is light and breezy, and super accessible without distilling and dumbing down the subject matter too much as to be insulting to its audience. Ansari wants to make you laugh, make no mistake, but he’s also very earnest in his desire to tell you what he’s learned.

And can I just say I find all of it utterly FASCINATING. I’m addicted to “meet cute” stories (even though I would never consider myself a romantic, and have an averse reaction to rom-com movies — that make me break out in hives). But how people meet and when they decide “to put a ring on it” (or not) can always get my attention. I have to check myself from being perpetually nosy all of the time, getting the “deets” on all this stuff from my friends, both of the online and the in real life variety.

For me, this book is too short. With its laudable success my hope is that Ansari will be compelled to pen a follow-up, because if there’s one thesis that comes chiming out loud and clear here, it’s that the 21st century dating world is changing fast, at warp speed, impacting how we communicate with one another, form bonds and friendships, and take that scary running leap into “the big commitment”. A lot of the current research being done is showing that the bonds we form online, platonic or otherwise, can no longer be dismissed so easily as superficial and suffering by comparison to those we forge “IRL” (in real life). I do believe most of us on this site would concur that social media has opened up a “brave new world” that’s not just brighter and more vibrant, but has proven increasingly successful in bringing colorful people into our lives that we otherwise would not have known existed, friendships that we now rely upon and cherish.

And that “modern romance” is blooming out of those virtual connections should really be coming as no surprise to anyone.

Ansari does an excellent job of pointing out the pros and cons of modern romance in the 21st century in all its tech’d out, geeked out splendor. We now have more choice than ever before, all at our fingertips with the click of a button or the swipe of a screen, but that landslide of choices might also be paralyzing some of us into making any choice at all. Our standards and expectations for a lifelong partnership might have been raised to exceptionally high, unreasonable levels too. With all that choice at our fingertips, why would we settle for anything less than AMAZING? That perfect “soul mate” who is going to fulfill every single one of our needs every day for the rest of our days. Pfft, people you know this: that person does not exist.

But it’s not all bad news. Technology has not ruined romance for us living in the 21st century. In fact, for many of us, especially women — things have improved vastly. Not because of the tech component, but because women are no longer expected to settle down as early as possible. We can invest in our careers now, and date more and live life as a single, learning about ourselves and the things that are going to make us happy if we do decide to pair off.

There are many areas (due to space constraints) that this book by necessity leaves unaddressed or goes light on, and Ansari is very good about pointing those out at the beginning. One thing missing for me is a breakdown of dating from an extrovert versus introvert point of view. I think our current technology has been an absolute miracle and felicia_daymarvel to introverts who struggle to put themselves out there in the real world of bars and supermarkets and church basements, but are absolutely charming and brave and socially high functioning on the interwebs. It’s been an essential transition for that half of the human population to discover their “tribe” and connect in meaningful ways to people it would have been extremely unlikely they would have ever met IRL.

(and it’s here I’m going to put a plug in for Felicia Day’s memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet who also describes this “social revolution” for introverts in a way that resonated with me completely).

So in case it isn’t obvious by now, I loved this book and I think everyone should read it, young/old, guy/girl, married/single. While it’s easy to despair of the human race, and we know there are too many assholes and unforgivable idiots and sneaky jerkfaces running around out there, human behaviour and why we do the shit we do is still endlessly fascinating, isn’t it? I think so.

#31HorrorFilms31Days Roundup

Scary-movie1This was the year I decided to take the 31 Horror Films in 31 Days challenge. The rules are pretty simple — beginning October 1st watch 31 previously unseen horror movies by midnight of Halloween, tweeting each one with a descriptive blurb and the hashtag #31HorrorFilms31Days. This was a no brainer. In my world, watching 31 horror movies would be a breeze and a pleasure.

The real “challenge” I faced was cobbling together a list of 31 horror movies I’d never seen before (because I’ve seen a lot). Not only that, I wanted them to be movies I thought had a decent chance of being good. It’d be easy come up with a list of B-grade pieces of schlocky garbage. I wanted my challenge to be a labor of love, a genuine attempt at uncovering some diamonds in the rough and a perfect opportunity to catch some classics I’ve managed to miss along the way.

The verdict — I’m deliriously pleased to announce — is that horror is not dead. Despite too many baaad remakes and too many rip-offs and too many shaky cameras, the genre is alive and well. Not just good movies, but great movies are being made. Even M. Night seems to be back in the game after I’d sworn off his movies for good after The Happening, in which nothing actually happens other than people get the_nightmarescared by “gently rustling leaves.” Two hours of my life I won’t ever get back, fuck you very much. The Visit isn’t half bad though, with some creepy scenes and a “twist” that has a “the call is coming from inside the house!” kind of vibe. The kids are a bit overly precocious and annoying, but the old woman is TERRIFYING.

Listed below is my complete round-up of all 33 movies I ended up watching by Halloween. They were all previously unseen. I’ve assigned a rating out of 5. No movie scored 5/5 but two came very close — not surprisingly Jacob’s Ladder and the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Not necessarily the best, but the two that scared me the most (as in sleep with the light on nearly make me pee my pants level of scare) included most unexpectedly a new documentary called The Nightmare about sleep paralysis. The human brain is an asshole and some unlucky people fall under its torment nightly. Don’t miss this. I will say the same bansheefor  The Banshee Chapter. Ever heard of Shortwave Numbers Stations? Yeah, me neither. This movie makes use of them in a way that completely unnerved me. Sit alone in a dark room and listen to the swedish rhapsody. I dare you.

Also high on my list from Canada is Backcountry — a gripping man versus nature tale about an intrepid couple who go into the woods — and meet a bear. It’s beautifully shot and terrifying to watch unfold. Not as good as Open Water, but very compelling nevertheless in its convincing actors and in the confident execution of its simple plot.

Lastly, please share what scared YOU this October. I’m already working on my list for next year!

33) HALLOWEEN TALES | Anthology of ten ghoulish tales reminiscent of Creepshow & Tales From the Crypt 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days #Horror

32) THE VISIT | Old people be scary. Precocious kids can’t see dead people but get traumatized for life anyway 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

31) INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS 1978 “They’re already here!” 4.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days #MissionAccomplished

30) DEAD WITHIN Couple hiding from zombie-esque plague become unhinged in their isolation. Slow burn but good 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

29) HOUSEBOUND | Bratty adult with legal troubles is trapped at home with mum under house arrest. Funny & scary 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

28) HELLRAISER (1987) | Ugly characters. Ugly movie. Pinhead is a dick. How has this spawned so many sequels? Hated 0/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

27) BIG ASS SPIDER! As much scary fun you can have w/ a giant arachnid & it still be legal 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

26) STARRY EYES Bleak Faustian tale mixing Cronenberg body horror w/ Lynch weirdness. Compelling but difficult to watch #31HorrorFilms31Days

25) THE LAZARUS EFFECT | Didn’t little Gage teach you people nothing?! Sci-fi Pet Sematary 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

24) THE GALLOWS Is this House of Leaves high school? How big is it anyway? Silly shaky mess copycatting much better 2/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

23) DIABOLIQUE Stripped to its bare essentials this classic is effective but sorely missing Hitchcock’s stylings 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

22) BACKCOUNTRY (Canada 2014) | Open Water in the woods with a bear. Lush & nerve-wracking 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

21) HIDDEN (2015) Intense, claustrophobic survival story about a family hiding underground 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

20) WE ARE WHAT WE ARE | If Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a subtle, lyrical well-acted movie. This one surprised me 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

19) THE HAUNTER (Canada 2013) Teen caught in time loop in haunted house. Must unravel sinister mystery. Nice twist 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

18) THE AWAKENING (2011) | Jimmy McNulty is a British boarding school teacher. There is a boy ghost. And a twist. 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

17) THE GIFT (2015) | More psychological thriller but still intense and creepy. Bullies suck. Karma is a bitch. 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

16) WE ARE STILL HERE Never bring hippies into a haunted house with ancient curse. Good! 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

15) THE HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME (Spain 2013) | Well plotted ghost story genuinely frightening and emotional Rating 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

14) DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD | Russian zombies kick Nazi zombie ass. Gory slapstick fun! 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

13) INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 | Pissed off demon in a breathing mask torments teen girl. Intensely scary for a sequel. 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

12) DEAD SNOW Cabin in the Norwegian mountains movie w/ NAZI zombies. Spectacular cinematography, splatter and fun. 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

11) CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO | “No, I’m not on my period. Why do you ask?” Flesh eating disease is an asshole. Rating: 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

10) THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL | Adventures in babysitting. Nostalgic 70s stylings & slow build make this a real gem 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

9) THE PYRAMID Can a movie be so bad it’s good? Yes. Just not this one. What a laughable mess in every way. Rating 1/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

8) THE BANSHEE CHAPTER Effing scary!! Sound effects are unnerving. Lovecraft + hallucinogens = bad news Rating: 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

7) GRABBERS Creature feature with drunk Irish and tentacles. Hilarity abounds. Nearly peed myself laughing. Rating 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

6) JUG FACE Hicklit meets The Lottery. Young girl cheats Pit. The Pit wants what it wants. Backwoods chaos ensues 2.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

5) THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT Found footage. 5 friends. Haunted houses. Hells no! Scare tactics on crack 4/5 #PeedALittle #31HorrorFilms31Days

4) JACOB’S LADDER | Vietnam vet has hellish visions. Doesn’t know what’s real anymore. Terrifying and beautiful 4.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

3) RE-ANIMATOR Sometimes dead is better. Ayuh. Above all else, keep your head. Cheesy gory fun. My rating: 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

2) THE NIGHTMARE 2015 | Dramatized documentary about sleep paralysis. Scary! My rating: 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

1) HERE COMES THE DEVIL – (Mexico 2012) Creepy kids get lost in a cave overnight. Come home acting even creepier 2/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

Welcome to The Coliseum (or, the many faces of Craig Davidson)

coliseumThe Coliseum ★★★★
Patrick Lestewka
Necro Publications, 2011

Deep in the Canadian back country a new experiment in extreme penal punishment is underway. Although officially known as the Innuvik Penitentiary, it’s more widely known as: The Coliseum. On October 15th, 1993, the first twenty prisoners were unleashed. These were the worst of the worst. Brutal criminals, psychopaths, lunatics, call them what you will. Today there is a batch of new fish. How long will they survive? What became of the original 20 prisoners? And what the hell is breeding in the deep, dark recesses of…THE COLISEUM

SWEET UNHOLY JEBUS!!!!

I’m a self-identified horror addict and veteran of the genre. It takes A LOT to rattle my cage. This book? It is an unholy abomination – a dark, seething morass of gore and human depravity. It is not a fun read. But if you are so minded, it is a keenly compelling and profoundly disturbing one.

And now a word about this book’s parentage. What unhinged mind gave birth to such a darkling monster?

There’s this Canadian author Craig Davidson. You may have heard of him. He is a wonderful literary writer who has been nominated for prestigious awards, and one of his short stories has even been adapted into a critically acclaimed film. But Davidson has a dark side you see — an alter ego that hijacks his more literary proclivities and pushes his writing into macabre and horrific territory.

Craig Davidson (aka Nick Cutter, aka Patrick Lestewka)

Craig Davidson (aka Nick Cutter, aka Patrick Lestewka)

Meet Nick Cutter, one of the most exciting things to happen to horror in the last decade. And he’s CANADIAN. So just when you think we’re all nice and polite and spend our days drinking Tim Horton’s coffee and playing hockey, think again.

About being Richard Bachman (Stephen King’s too short-lived alter ego) King quotes the late Donald Westlake referring to his very own alter ego Richard Stark: “I write Westlake stories on sunny days. When it rains. I’m Stark.” For Davidson, I like to imagine the same rule applies. Sunny days he writes as Craig — when it rains, Cutter takes over the writing room and anything goes. Anything.

But here’s the twist (are you still with me?): before there was Cutter, there was this guy Patrick Lestewka — and let’s be clear here — he makes Nick Cutter look like Mister Rogers. In fact, I think when Davidson realized he had this sub-id consciousness living inside of him — this psycho “other” — it scared the living shit out of him so much that he created Nick Cutter TO KILL Lestewka in an act of self-preservation. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t? It doesn’t bear pondering.

Lestewka had to die. Unlike the late, gone too soon Bachman, we will NOT mourn his passing. Instead we will breathe a sigh of relief, for it is a terrible, grotesque landscape in which he maneuvered, where he beckons us to come play, where the light never shines, where all hope is gone, and cruelty is the only currency.

Back in 2014, I shared a Q&A with Nick Cutter. I didn’t know about Lestewka then, and now really wish I had because I would have loved to have gotten Cutter’s take on the guy — maybe even a confession of murder of the pseudonym! Ah well, there’s always next time!

Book Review: HUSK by J. Kent Messum

Husk ★★★★
J. Kent Messum
Penguin 2015

husk_messumOctober Country 2015 #1

Eeek! I’m already behind on my October reading (let alone reviewing) but wanted to make sure I drew this one to your attention.

HUSK (which every time I see that title I’m overcome with the urge to shout “Tusk!”) is not horror per se, but it is a thrilling, page-turning nightmare vision of the near future. Reading this I couldn’t help be reminded of King’s early Bachman books, especially The Running Man. Both are set in a bleak future where people are struggling to eat and live, so much so that it is driving them to do desperate, dangerous things for money.

In HUSK’s case, people are being driven to “rent out” their bodies to the very, very rich — the 1% of the 1% — to inhabit and do with as they please for periods of up to 72 hours. I don’t even like to lend someone my jacket or use my bathroom. Imagining someone taking over my body and using it up in any porny, germy, physically punishing way they can think of gives me the heebie jeebies. Unclean! Unclean!

As if all the drug-fueled orgies and exposure to all kinds of STD’s isn’t bad enough, not to mention the cuts and bruises and dehydration and sheer exhaustion from lack of sleep (talk about being rode hard and put away wet), our protagonist Rhodes begins to suspect his body is being used for more sinister and nefarious purposes. ::cue ominous music::

It’s especially worrisome when other Husks begin to show up dead or missing.

All the elements are present and accounted for here to make for a gripping read. Messum — author of the unputdownable BAIT — has a keen sense of where the pressure points of tension live in his story and how to exploit them. This isn’t as fast or burning a read as BAIT — it takes its time a bit more with world-building and character development and unraveling the mystery at the heart of the story, but these are all good things.

It wasn’t surprising for me to read then that HUSK’s been optioned by a UK company to adapt into a television series. The tone and themes are very similar to another show I adore and can’t wait to get more of — Black Mirror. That HUSK would make a great Black Mirror episode is probably the highest praise I can give it.

***The author was gracious enough to provide me with a free copy for review.

About the author:
Official Website
Twitter: @_JamieK_

Also available:

bait

My Favorite Movie Endings of All Time

the_end_small_2Just recently a friend and I had an animated discussion about our favorite movie endings. It turned out to be so much fun that I thought I’d compile my picks into a blog post.

Neither one of us is a rabid cinephile or film critic; we just love movies. So our respective lists turned out to be hodge-podges of personal favorites and guilty pleasures (as opposed to a more sober, hypercritical assemblage of undisputed “classics”). Sorry no Casablanca, Chinatown or Citizen Kane here. That’s not to say that I don’t take the movies on my list seriously; I take them very seriously. I love them all. Especially their endings.

BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

Read the full post »

New Nick Cutter book is a mad mélange of literary ingredients

The Acolyte ★★★★
Nick Cutter
Chizine Publications
Available May 5, 2015

The Acolyte (2015), Chizine

The Acolyte (2015), Chizine

Maybe there’s a God above,
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not someone who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah

~ Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen

I don’t know how to describe the mad, dark, mash-up genius contained in the pages of Nick Cutter’s upcoming release The Acolyte — but I’ve found myself in a similar state of speechlessness with other titles released by the incomparable ChiZine Publications. Their motto is Embrace the Odd and embrace it they do with abandon. ChiZine’s book covers alone are enough to send this bibliophile into paroxysms of delight. Here are a few of my favorites:


ChiZine has also recently gotten into the graphic novel game and I adore this cover too:

Let me wrap up the fangirling over cover art to conclude that ChiZine is a wickedly weird and dangerous publishing house ruthlessly seeking out unique voices in speculative fiction. There is nothing safe or sanitized or boring about them. And while I’m not always in the mood to enter into the wacky landscapes they pimp, I’m very grateful that they exist, and very proud that they are Canadian.

Craig Davidson (aka Nick Cutter)

Craig Davidson (aka Nick Cutter)

Nick Cutter (a pseudonym for Craig Davidson) blasted onto the horror scene in 2014 with The Troop — the book Stephen King declared scared the hell out of him. For the record, it scared the hell out of me too. In January, Cutter followed up with an equally gripping and richly written sci-fi horror novel The Deep.

Fans of either or both of those books should not expect the same kind of story in The Acolyte. I’m not surprised it was ChiZine who published it for him because it is an odd, intense mixture of horror, police procedural, dystopia, and noir. It is violent, contemplative, thematic, and disturbing. It’s not a book you ‘enjoy’ or ‘savor’: it is one you endure and survive.

And that’s all I’m going to say about it. Read the plot summary if you want, but it’s not going to help prepare you for what lies in wait in its pages. If you are feeling adventurous and brave, and want a taste of something not so mainstream that will take you off the beaten path into a darker part of the forest, then by all means take The Acolyte home with you.

An advanced reading copy was provided by the publisher for review.

Check out more horror from Nick Cutter:

troop-usthedeepcutter

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