The hush at the end of the world

Good Morning, Midnight ★★★★
by Lily Brooks-Dalton
Random House
Available: August 9th 2016

goodmorningGood Morning, Midnight is the quietest apocalypse book you’re ever likely to read. From the stark, icy silences of the vast Arctic, to the soundless black infinity of outer space, this introspective book is about loneliness and isolation, not bombs, or germs or zombies and fighting like a dog over the last can of beans.

If your reader’s desire is to immerse yourself in a well-constructed and deftly explored end of the world scenario then you just might be disappointed here. Getting into the nitty gritty details of an apocalypse — the whys and wherefores — that’s not this book.

Instead what we have here is a thoughtful and poignantly written contemplation on the ways humans can cut themselves off from other humans, can so easily become trapped in their own inability to connect and build lasting relationships, moving through life untethered — on the outside of everything, apart from everyone. The two vividly described settings — the Arctic and outer space — are perfect metaphors for our disconnected protagonists to move in. Our genius astronomer Augustine is stationed at the top of the world in a remote Arctic research station when the world ends. Our intrepid female astronaut Sullivan (or Sully) is on a round trip back to Earth from the outer reaches of Jupiter, confined in tight quarters with the rest of her crew.

Each is struggling with a loneliness they can’t quite define, a torment that only becomes amplified and more crushing as the terrifying realization begins to crystallize that the world might just have ended. From space, Sully and her crew are disturbed at the utter hush of zero communication coming from Earth. What sort of cataclysmic, inexplicable event could have happened to the home planet they are speeding toward? Augustine’s Arctic life is just as silent, save for the company of a mysterious young girl left behind after the research station is evacuated.

The real strength of this book (especially considering its modest length) is the striking descriptions (at times breathtakingly rendered) of life in space and in an Arctic research facility. The attention to detail put me RIGHT THERE, I could see, taste, touch everything. I lived on the Aether and experienced the excitement, the boredom, the claustrophobia, the anxiety, the fear. The challenge of meals, and going to the bathroom, and sleeping, and staying in shape. I came to know the frigid wind of the Arctic wanting to rip my face off, and the despair of feeling swallowed up by a white frozen landscape void of humans and seemingly hope. Until the sun rises. And the descriptions — often eloquent — are not plodding or heavy. No word is wasted. The prose is so sharp and so observant.

Our protagonists Augustine and Sully — though they keep themselves busy and strive for ways to normalize a far from normal situation — will have a lot of time on their hands, empty hours that will torment them, and force them to confront painful truths about themselves and the life choices they’ve made. What lies on the other side of the apocalyptic silence is a mystery that won’t be solved, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t answers to be found.

An advanced reading copy was provided through Netgalley.


Confessions of a true crime addict

True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray ★★★★
James Renner
Thomas Dunne Books (May 2016)
Available Now!

truecrimeaddictI came to know author James Renner through his wacky, engrossing, bewitchingly unique novels – The Man from Primrose Lane and The Great Forgetting. And while he has a noteworthy talent spinning wild and crazy tales of speculative fiction, Renner is also a dedicated true crime writer. In fact, the journalism and true crime writing came first. And now he’s returned to these stomping grounds in a big way with his new release True Crime Addict.

What sets this true crime book apart from most is not only the exceptionally sharp, punchy, lucid writing, but that Renner very much writes himself into the story as an observer, participant and one could even argue collateral damage to the unsolved Maura Murray missing person case. We realize almost from the opening paragraphs, that this is going to be a very personal journey for Renner, where he not only loses himself down the addicting, obsessive rabbit hole of trying to solve the mystery of a young woman’s inexplicable disappearance into seemingly thin air, he also lays bare his own personal demons, that include his young son’s struggle with uncontrollable violent outbursts (and quite possibly prescient abilities). This book really is one man’s unflinching look into the abyss, and what stares back at him.

Maura Murray in 2003

         Maura Murray in 2003

Renner is not the only person to have fallen down the rabbit hole of the Maura Murray case (a quick Google search will prove that), but given his personality and dark obsessive tendencies that he comes by quite honestly, Renner is arguably the one who’s fallen the hardest and most completely. The publication of this book is the culmination (and hopefully for him) an emotional catharsis of a very long journey that Renner has recorded in detail on his Maura Murray blog that he launched in June 2011.

This book really could not have come at a better time. We seem to be in the midst of a true crime renaissance with recent cultural watershed phenomena like Making a Murderer, The Jinx and the first season of Sarah Koenig’s podcast Serial which I became obsessed with when it ran in the fall of 2014. And you might as well throw The People vs OJ on that pile too, because it was also fantastic and drew a huge viewing audience.

I want to thank karen for putting a copy of this book in my hands and it is with great enthusiasm I write this review in the hopes it brings even more much deserved attention to what Renner has accomplished here.

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


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_

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