Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

So I decided I’m going to do something a little different with this blog.

Of course, this will still be a place to spread the word about my own upcoming publications, etc., but I wanted to go beyond that. I’ve been reading so many cool books lately that I thought I should start reviewing them here. Well, the truth of the matter is, I’ve been reading pretty cool books for most of my life. I’m just going to start writing about them now.

I probably won’t review every single book I read (probably will only stick to those that have been released in the past couple of years). The stuff I cover will always be on the dark tip (whether that ends up being horror, dark comedy, an amalgam of the two, or whatever, is up to my own discretion).

Also, my review format will be anything but traditional. Probably fairly brief for the most part, but hopefully still engaging enough to get you interested in the book. You’ll get my thoughts, in whatever form they might take. Sure, that means most of the time you’ll get some idea of what each book is “about,” but I also want to talk about craft and the vibes I get when I read each book, and sometimes I might go off on a tangent that only makes sense to me, but still relates to the book in some way. You might even hear me occasionally talk crap about a moment in a book I otherwise really enjoyed.

Allow me to give you an example: I had a hell of a good time reading The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro, but there was this one moment where the preteen kid is listening to My Bloody Valentine, and it really took me out of the story. I started thinking it was highly unlikely someone his age would be exposed to a band like that, even with the Internet at his fingertips. Not impossible, but just so out of place that it seemed more like an attempt to make a cool reference than give the kid authentic music taste. Now…had he been 16, I’d have bought it. But yeah…otherwise an awesome book, but stuff like that is just a pet peeve of mine.

So with that out of the way, allow me to begin with my first review.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Please forgive me because it’s actually been a few weeks since I’ve finished reading this book, but it was so good I really wanted to make it the first of my reviews. Yes, I’ve already admitted how much I like it, but you still need to read the rest of this before you go purchase it, okay?

I had heard a lot of hype about this novel, which initially made me hesitant since hype only delivers half of the time (maybe I’m being generous?).  This book, though—the first I’ve read from Tremblay—delivered and then some. It takes what all those awful exorcism movies have attempted to do in the past decade or so and does it right. Just nails it.

Maybe this is a spoiler alert, maybe not (POTENTIAL READER BEWARE), but one of my favorite aspects of the book is you’re never quite sure if this horrible situation was actually a true possession or the result of schizophrenia. I love a good open question, especially when it’s done well. And, come on, when you really think about it, which one of those situations is truly the scarier of the two? Flip a coin. I also love the creative device of turning this family’s nightmare into a reality show. In the wrong hands, this could have been a major shit show, but Tremblay does a masterful job. I’d say he’s a top shelf writer, one who I want to read more of now. I can’t think of anything about his style that would make me get nitpicky.

Perhaps most impressively, his portrayals of the sisters Marjorie and Merry are so wonderful. I mean…I’m certainly no expert on being a prepubescent girl, but their characters felt real to me, including Merry’s 1st person chapters. It’s rare, I believe, that a writer can capture the opposite gender so perfectly, especially with such a large age difference between author and character. I’d be interested to get a female perspective on this, though. Women, both young and old, who have read this book…chime in! Am I wrong on this, or what?

 Most importantly…this is a horror book, after all…you’re probably wondering if it’s scary. I have to say there were more than a few moments where I felt desperately creeped out by what was happening. So awesome that the written word can still have such power, that it can send a shock o my old and bitter bones.

A Head Full of Ghosts is nominated for a Bram Stoker Award this year. Completely deserved.

Update: This book won the Stoker Award!

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