I believe a reviewer should finish a book before submitting a review. What do you think?
Knowing that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son, I had fairly high expectations for this book and Mr. Hill didn't disappoint. Although the book got bogged down now and then, overall I was hooked! Yea, this story had much of the the "Kingesque" feel, I found myself anxious to get back to the story to see what would happen next. I liked that Hill gave us characters with such depth and I'm happy to report that the narrator was a great fit for the story too. If you want a good super creepy read that suspends belief, this might be just right for you.
I'm a big fan of SF/F/Horror, and all things in between and out.
Joe Hill’s latest novel might be his most epic horror story yet (Locke & Key excluded) – it’s crammed full with a murderous automobile, a punk-rock librarian, a haunting and monstrous villains, and flawed heroes that are utterly human and sympathetic. It’s both a coming of age story/loss of innocence story, and a tale of failed parents searching for redemption. I finished listening to it a few weeks back, and it’s 20 pretty incredible hours of storytelling, marred by one thread’s disappointing conclusion.
Charlie Manx abducts children in his Rolls-Royce Wraith and whisks them away to the fantasy world of Christmasland. Christmasland is like a twisted mix of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island and Narnia under the reign of the White Witch. In Christmasland, it’s always Christmas and never anything else, and children are encouraged to ditch all their inhibitions.
We follow Vic “the Brat” McQueen, a kid from a broken family who rides a bicycle that helps her find loss things. As a teenager, she faced down Charlie Manx and managed to escape with her life. Now, years later, Manx is back with a vendetta and comes for Vic’s son.
I’m always floored by how endearing Hill’s characters are – he makes them feel so authentic that we can’t help rooting for them. As we track Vic from her childhood to her own, broken motherhood, we witness her fall from grace. Since we’re riding shotgun with her, we never stop loving her, even when everyone else in the story thinks she’s gone mad. And it’s impossible not to love some of the characters she encounters – Lou Carmody, an overweight geek who is reminiscent of LOST‘s Hurley; Tabitha Hunter, a cop who like Dana Scully thinks every puzzle can be solved with logic; and Maggie Lee, the aforementioned punk rock librarian with a special bag of Scrabble Tiles. We always know who we’re rooting for Hill’s books, and who we’re rooting against. Manx is a monster, and his henchman Bing Partridge is maybe even more despicable.
Maybe it’s because Hill is so good at his job, that I’m somewhat disappointed in how NOS4A2 ended. Not the very end, mind you – the final scene, as well as the, uh, post-credits scene, I found hopeful and haunting. But the fate of a central character felt like a slap in the face, and not in a good way. It might not frustrate others the way it frustrated me, but it felt like an easy way out, and left a bad taste in my mouth. Without getting overly spoilerly, I wish Hill had made a different choice, because it’s not very satisfying considering the story that’s come before it.
Kate Mulgrew’s reading is absolutely superb. She mines every bit of Hill’s prose to pour in as much emotion as is humanly possibly. Her reading is raw and powerful, and floored me. I mentioned last year how awesome she was in the incredible Shadow Show anthology, and I’m so happy she read this one – I hope she reads many more audiobooks in the future.
In short, NOS4A2 is a sprawling book filled with horror and magic, good and evil, and a winter wonderland that can be as devastating and deceptive as childhood. I don’t think it’s Hill’s best – that one thread really felt cheap to me, but there is a lot to like, and it’s well worth the ride.
Originally posted at the AudioBookaneers.
Say something about yourself!
"You better watch out, you better not pout...Charlie Manx is coming 2 town." Don't be surprised if this coming Christmas, when the snowflakes start to fall, the colored lights brighten the night, and Christmas songs tinkle from every speaker everywhere, you find yourself reluctant to trim the tree, refusing to let your children sit on Santa's lap, acting horrified when the kids want to build a snowman, and definitely throwing your Christmas CD's through the air like clay pigeons. Halloween will become the new jolly holiday, jumping next to New Year's Eve, because Joe Hill obliterates everything warm and cozy about the holiday no-longer-to-be-mentioned, including the once delicious homey smell of gingerbread, and choirs of *angelic* children singing carols....it's giving me bad goose bumps just thinking about their innocent toothy-smiling faces.
I have always said that a good scary book is my favorite guilty pleasure, and what I think is one of the hardest kinds of book to find...Merry Christmas to me...I found one, (but almost ruined Christmas in the process)! Hill has a jolly time here, visions of psychologically damaged children grown-up, bearing the weight of their injustices, acting on the misdeeds hard-wired into their little heads. Victoria McQueen (Vic the Brat) we meet during her troubled childhood. On her beloved banana seated bike, she can escape her quarreling parents, or just get away to another world by crossing a magical bridge that she can imagine, or conjure. It takes her to her *inscape*, a place where she finds things that are lost, or where she can stay lost, but a toll is taken out of her, no free ride. She grows into a tattooed, bad-ass, motor cycle mama that's not so good at the mama part to her son, Bruce Wayne -- haunted through the years by her memories of a specific trip across that bridge where she met Charlie Manx -- the Grinch's mean and ugly older brother.
Charlie Manx is no Nosferatu, sucking the blood from his victims; he is more like part Transformer, part chi-vampire, part Mr. Burns as a giant gangly giggly mortician that drives a vintage Rolls Royce Wraith that is connected to him psychically--and he/the Wraith is powered by the goodness and joy of children. He is aided by a demonic, sadistic oaf of an elf, the gas-mask wearing (literally Mo-Fo'er) Mr. Bing Partridge, and his ever present canister of gingerbread-scented sevoflurane (that gas that puts you out on the operating table while you count backwards from 100...and get to 96). The very naughty team do away with the pesky parents, then whisk the cherubic children off to Christmasland, where there are no rules, everyday is Christmas, and no parent can tell them what to do. Christmasland is Charlie Manx's inscape--his off the map destination to keep his hoard of children and stay away from people that want to stop his murderous ways.
Bing is a character that will be remembered (and dismembered?). Belittled and badgered one time too many by his cruel parents, he puts them to sleep for good, and takes over his dad's collection of porn. He is oafish and slow, and fond of childish demented rhyming. Charlie Manx was nagged by a wife that felt he was never good enough, and claimed he was *sucking the life out of his daughters,* (now residents of Christmas land themselves...so what exactly happened to Mrs. Manx?..). There is lots of fun here, so much so that it is hard to look at this as just horror--can we say delicious horror? The puns, the metonymy, the tropes, the references to King's books (Salem's Lot, Christine, It, etc., the movie Psycho? The White Christmas song crooner? Batman? Maxwell's Silver Hammer?...) could make this a great ghoulish game of Bingo, or even better, a wild drinking game..."I found Pennywise!!" down the hatch...
Downside, I'd have to put Kate Mulgrew on the naughty list, her over exuberance did mellow, but jeez, it was painful in the beginning, and I think she herself mixed up the voice of whom was whom. Did an obsessively nagging wife turn Charlie into an energy-sucking fiend, did Santa miss him the year he wished for a puppy to dissect, or what is his black-back story, and how did he hook up with the Wraith? Some etiology or info would have been helpful to understanding his motivation. But then, I guess a monster's motivation is...he's a monster!
There's so much more I'd like to say (oh, the kiddies at Christmasland!) but I don't want to give away even one eye-popping detail. More like a 3.5 star, but like I always say, it's a hard genre to get a good book out of, and this was a lot of creepy scary fun. It could have been whittled down a couple of hours-but the time didn't bother me because I didn't want my trip to Christmasland to be over. Only my second book by the genetically gifted Joe Hill, I had read Heart Shaped Box, but I found this one the better package under the tree! If you are a fan of the genre, get out a tally sheet, or line up a couple of six packs, and definitely download, but remember, when your family is crying because you won't make a snowman with them -- I warned you...NOS4A2 is COMN4U.
Joe Hill himself calls NOS4A2 his "senior thesis on horror fiction", and notes that in some ways that makes it a senior thesis on Stephen King. This is a very accurate description of Hill's latest novel, as he expertly applies the formula his father made famous and crafts a truly chilling story. While I don't think NOS4A2 is as good as King's best work, it's certainly a respectful addition to the genre, and well worth your time if scary books are your thing.
The first ingredient of every Stephen King-esque horror story is a flawed protagonist. Someone the reader can identify with as they start out normal but eventually delve deeper and deeper into the supernatural. As things build and build, our main character will need to overcome their own weaknesses to survive.
In NOS4A2 we follow Vic "Brat" McQueen, an average girl with the not-so-average ability to find things. How does she find things? She rides her bike through an abandoned covered bridge and across space in time, to the exact place she needs to be to find what she's looking for. I'm sure you can guess what happens next: eventually Vic goes looking for the wrong thing, and ends up in big trouble. This is where the story truly takes off.
Charles Manx is the main boogeyman lurking within the pages of NOS4A2. Manx is 150 years old, drives a strange 1930s Rolls Royce, and kidnaps innocent children away to a terrible realm known as Christmasland where the kids deteriorate over time, becoming twisted and evil pictures of lost innocence. At times Manx is a perfectly crafted, terrifying mixture of Hannibal Lecter and Pennywise the evil clown - but at times he wanders a bit too close to some sort of Christmas-themed Batman villain. Does a bad guy using gingerbread-scented smoke as a weapon sound goofy or scary to you? It can obviously go either way, and Hill is an excellent writer who manages to keep it on the creepy side throughout most of this novel. Every once in a while he drifts a bit, but for the most part he stays on the rails.
My main criticism of NOS4A2 is that it's just too long, and for what it's worth I've had a similar opinion of most of Stephen King's latest work (11-22-64, Duma Key, Under the Dome). Personally I'm hoping that Joe Hill's next book breaks away from dear old dad in this department and tightens things up considerably. I think that a tight, concentrated version of NOS4A2 at half the length could have been a 5 star book. It's especially disappointing that despite all of this length, we don't learn much of Manx's backstory. His methods are creative, but his motivation is lacking. He's just kind of generic evil. A writer as talented as Joe Hill should be able to give us more.
Kate Mulgrew does a fantastic job with the narration. Her Manx voice is especially creepy, and the performance is just excellent overall. My only criticism is that she pronounced Haverill as Hay-ver-hill which just sounds weird to this Massachusetts native. Everyone knows it's Hay-vrill! A very minor criticism of her otherwise awesome performance!
Tell us about yourself!
You know those audio books that you love so much that you start writing the glowing review in your head while doing crunches at the gym when you've barely reached part 2? The kind of book that has you lowering your headphones and casting a withering glare for only the most dire of interruptions?? The kind you finish in record time, pausing only to bathe and even then skipping conditioner and all but the major body parts??? Well this is that book, and if you enjoy nerd humor, awesome characters, a seriously creepy narrator and an even creepier Christmas madman then buy it!!- and listen allllll the way to the end....
Joe Hill surpasses his father in storytelling. Despite a few plot points that I didn't feel were adequately explained, I really enjoyed this book. The story never felt like it was dragging and there are few wonderfully creepy passages that gave my jaded ear a start. I thoroughly enjoyed Kate Mulgrew's narration, although I do understand why others may not like it. If you listen to the sample and are put off, spring for a print version. This story is definitely worth a credit.
I enjoyed this one a lot. I chose to listen to it rather than read it because I figured it would be a nice long book for my daily commute, and I didn't want to fork out the wad of cash for the hardcover. It was read by none other than "Captain Janeway" and her narration was a unique and somewhat tiring experience. You know how normally at the beginning of an audio book it says "read for you by so-and-so?" Well, this one said "Performed by Kate Mulgrew" and holy hell it was a performance all right.
She turned every single character into a buffoonish cartoon caricature. It was like Gollum meets Spongebob. She can do voices, I'll give her that. But her delivery is something else. I don't even know how to describe it, other than to say that I will never buy another audio book with her narrating. To me, a good reader is transparent; you focus on the story, not who is reading it to you. In this case, I found myself constantly yanked out of the story by some over-the-top "acting" or whatever you want to call it.
The story though...the story itself overcame the problems I had with Kate, and really sucked me in. It's been a while since I spent every spare second I had with earbuds glued to my ears because I couldn't stop listening. The characters were great, (except that one character had a stutter and Kate really liked to lay into that) the pacing was good, and I will never listen to Christmas songs in quite the same way again. I'm very glad Stephen King's son didn't decide to become an accountant or something.
I did not like the main character’s thoughts, choices, and actions.
COMPARING JOE HILL TO STEPHEN KING:
Normally I would not want to compare Joe Hill (JH) to his father Stephen King (SK). But that’s the reason I bought this book. I wanted to see if Joe had his dad’s talent or style. So I am comparing them. When SK was talking to a group he said something about elevators breaking. Then with a grin and a gleam in his eye he said “so when you get on the elevator tonight...” He’s having fun scaring you. In SK’S book “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” the girl is lost in the woods and finds all these icky and gross things. She has to do undesirable boring chores. She trudges along, does the job, and hopes to be done soon. I loved her attitude, and I had hope - lots of hope.
Here, I did not feel hope and I did not enjoy Vic’s attitude (the main character in In NOS4A2). She makes bad decisions. She has poor judgment. She frequently sounds mean (although part of that might be the narrator’s fault). In her conflicts with bad guys she is beaten up, injured, limping, suffering and then briefly does some lucky thing to get away or hurt the guy. And her life is worse than it was before. I want to root for someone. I didn’t feel that here. It was not fun.
JH says he is not a fan of Dudley Do-Right heroes. I’m sure many readers will appreciate that. But the way it’s done in this book is not for me. Another way to put it: SK has fun with his stories. JH beats you up.
Another example. In SK’s “It,” Bill rides like the wind on his bike yelling Hi Ho Silver - Away (or something like that). When Vic rides her bike, bats hurt her, something slips, the bike loses a part, she is injured, she hurts.
I was frustrated when the heroine tries to convince herself that she is insane. She doesn’t believe the truth when Maggie tells her something. She sees the bridge but refuses to believe it exists. She knows the bridge takes her to where lost things are. So when it takes her to Bing, a bad guy, why does she think he’s a good guy? Why does she turn her back on him and get taken? She does not do smart things.
Hunter an FBI agent says “Manx is dead.” Vic repeatedly tells Hunter that Manx is alive and kidnaped her son. That conversation was repeated soooo many times during the last part of the book. I was tired of hearing it.
I was disappointed with the main crisis/fight with Manx. I wanted to see him get it, to see him suffer. I did not have a winning feeling. I would have liked that whole section different.
Some good guys get killed which made me mad. Life is too short to read depressing books.
I loved Mustachio25's review (an Amazon reviewer). He lists several gaps in JH’s logic and plotting. Two of those are: “Why does Manx's magical car heal him, while McQueen's magical bike doesn't? If Vic can replace her bike with a motorcycle to use her inscape, why didn't Manx substitute a prison laundry van for his Rolls-Royce and drive off to Christmasland?”
I did not like the narrator Kate Mulgrew. The adjectives that came to mind as I listened to her: angry, loud, demanding, harsh, strident, irritating, jarring. Too many characters sounded mean. If I were reading, the characters would have sounded different . My favorite narrator Frank Muller had a curiosity and wonder in his voice. That was missing here.
The character Maggie stammered which is ok to read. But listening to the narrator stammer was annoying. I would have preferred she soften and shorten the stammering.
Genre: paranormal suspense thriller
Say something about yourself!
I loved the child like imagination along with Hill's ability to suck his reader in with strong characters and his ability to take you into the story.
Indian in the Cuboard, why I have no idea.
The main character of course, she reminded me of the girl out of Tabiitha Kings only novel, or the Girl with the Dragon tattoo.
Yes I had a hard time setting down my iPod.
Joe Hill is a talented writer, however his novel Horns is awful.
The best!..... by a country mile!
She absolutely nailed it! I immediately did a search to see what other books featured her extensive talent for voices. Her inflections and intonations has made her my favorite narrator.
I have listened to over 2 dozen books over the past year .... lots of King, Koontz, McCammon, Simmons and Due.... so Mr. Hill is in very good company... I have never written a review.. for anything!... however, I felt compelled to do so 4 NOS4A2! If you like any of the aforementioned authors you should purchase this audio book now!... no really... put whatever you're listening to now on hold and start this book! Kate Mulgrew "sleighed" the narration.