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Editorial Reviews

Editors Select, May 2013 - Christmasland is a place where every day is Christmas morning and every night is Christmas Eve. This might not sound like fertile ground for a horror novel, but rest assured; just as there's nothing funny about Pennywise the Dancing Clown in Stephen King's It, there's nothing merry about Christmasland in NOS4A2. Joe Hill tells the story of decrepit child thief Charlie Manx, who travels the country in his Rolls Royce Wraith taking mistreated kids to Christmasland, where they live happily forever playing games like "bite-the-smallest" and "scissors-for-the-drifter". The only girl who managed to escape his clutches and put Manx in prison for life finds that even Manx's death can't keep him from his quest to make sure every mistreated child is taken to Christmasland. As eerie as a Bing Crosby album played at half speed, NOS4A2 is a thoroughly creepy and compulsively readable supernatural thriller. Kate Mulgrew shines as narrator, turning in a spot-on performance as Victoria McQueen, a tough-as-nails if emotionally frail heroine. —Michael, Audible Editor

Publisher's Summary

Audie Award Finalist, Solo Narration - Female, 2014

Joe Hill, the acclaimed, award-winning author of the New York Times best sellers Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, plunges you into the dark side of imagination with a thrilling novel of supernatural suspense that will have you flinching at shadows and checking the rearview mirror again and again....

NOS4A2

Don't slow down

Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be. Vic doesn't tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her. She has trouble understanding it herself.

Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own. He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2. In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that lead to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland. Mile by mile, the journey across the highway of Charlie's twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.

And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble...and finds her way, inevitably, to Charlie.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie's unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget.

But Charlie Manx hasn't stopped thinking about the exceptional Victoria McQueen. On the road again, he won't slow down until he's taken his revenge. He's after something very special - something Vic can never replace.

As a life-and-death battle of wills builds her magic pitted against his - Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Charlie once and for all...or die trying....

Joe Hill's acclaimed works of fiction, Horns, Heart-Shaped Box, and 20th Century Ghosts, have already earned him international acclaim. With NOS4A2, this outstanding novelist - "one of America's finest horror writers" (Time magazine); "a major player in 21st-century fantastic fiction" (Washington Post) - crafts his finest work yet. Disturbing, mesmerizing, and full of twisting thrills, Hill's phantasmagoric, devilishly playful masterpiece is a terrifying high-octane ride.

©2013 Joe Hill (P)2013 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"Quite simply the best horror writer of our generation, Joe Hill’s masterful storytelling is on full display in NOS4A2. It is by turns terrifying and hilarious, horrifying and full of heart, and relentlessly compelling." (Michael Koryta, New York Times bestselling author of The Prophet)
"Fascinating and utterly engaging, this novel is sure to leave readers wanting more. One thing is for certain, however. After reading this book, readers will never hear Christmas carols in quite the same way again." (Library Journal, starred review)
"[A] new take on the fantasy-horror genre...Highly recommended." (The Sun Herald Sydney, Australia)

What members say

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Kate Mulgrew read excellently, the story was boring

I thought Kate Mulgrew was an excellent narrator, but I chose the story expecting it to be scary. It was far too long, dragging on with unnecessary descriptions, and the author seemed obsessed with giving overly literary and flowery descriptions of gore and injuries. There were dozens and dozens of people getting killed and injured in gruesome ways, and the main purpose for writing the book seemed to be for the author to be able to write bizarre metaphors for each injury and describe it in every gory detail. It became incredibly boring and really got in the way of the plot, which dragged on over 20 odd years. Wouldn't recommend it.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Kevin
  • SPRING, TX, United States
  • 04-04-15

Worst. Villain. Ever.

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Not sure...any readers of Stephen King will probably pick it up since it's written by his son, Joe Hill. There are also a few Dark Tower references scattered throughout that makes it entertaining.

Has NOS4A2 turned you off from other books in this genre?

No, I'll continue to read horror and science fiction. It just wasn't a good book. And to have good perspective, it's always good to read excellent works, the classics, and also terrible books. This just happened to land on the terrible end.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Kate Mulgrew?

Anyone who can get their accent under control. Kate's accent was way too northern, or mid-western for my liking. By doing that, it "regionalizes" the characters. I'd like to have Kate reading a book like "Fargo", but not something like this where the characters are all cross-country, yet they sound like they're all from North Dakota. It takes the reader out of the story when the narrator's accent gets the best of them.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment. I didn't know what the story was about; however I hoped it would at least be decent. It was terrible. See below for details.

Any additional comments?

I was not impressed with "NOS4A2" and it was no where good as I thought it would be. Maybe I went into it with high expectations, yet I didn't really know what it was about so I can't really blame myself for not liking it or holding it to a certain standard. All things considered, I've already read Joe Hill's other two works: "Heart-Shaped Box" and "Horns", as well as a couple of short stories, and I can say that there are now three distinct elements that are consistent in all Joe Hill novels:

1. Dead animals, or the killing of animals
2. Music/pop culture references
3. Tattoos

I would also add the supernatural element; however I think this has become the genre that Hill is sticking with. In regard to writing style, one of dislikes to "NOS4A2" was the overuse of similes. Every page was just about scattered with similes, like sprinkles on a cupcake, they were everywhere and really took away from the story.

Regarding the story, and in the words of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons: Worst. Villain. Ever. The villain was terrible, unoriginal, lame, and had way too much dialogue. Imagine having a poorly scripted Bond villain that was inept at killing, terrorizing, or even being menacing, yet all he wanted to do was talk about all the "bad" things he was going to do or even worst: bore you with details from his own life.

The heroine wasn't much better. I'm not sure if it was from the poor excuses she made or if it was Hill's attempt at making her vulnerable and driven by regret, but she was certainly hard to root for. And I'm not talking about in an anti-hero kind of way. She was very unlikable and annoying.

Even the sidekicks were terrible. The heroine's sidekick was chocked full of comic book references that only made him seem too immature to do anything serious and the villainous sidekick was too cliche to expect him to do any harm. I can honestly say that there were no characters that kept my interest.

As for the plot, this was one of those books that you get half way through hoping it will get better. Spoiler alert: it didn't. Then you reach the point of no return and figure that if you've made it more than halfway means you might as well finish it. Like any B-movie, you have to at least see how it ends. And like any bad B-movie, "NOS4A2" did not disappoint.

If I were ever to re-read this book, I'd probably look back and think I was being a bit harsh in the review. Chances are, the only way I'd re-read this book is if they made it into a movie and I'd be curious to go back and see if the movie was any better than the book.

It's also worth pointing out that this book had way too many penis references. Not sure why they were needed because they certainly didn't add to the plot. Just saying - it was one too many for my liking.

There were also obligatory references made to his last two novels, as well as references made to his father's Dark Tower series. I failed to mention in my other reviews, that there was at least one DT reference made in each novel. This one had a handful. At some point I just wanted to roll my eyes and say "Joe, I get it. Stephen King is your dad and everyone loves his Dark Tower series. Just because you're related, you're allowed to do stuff like that, but lets not over do it."

Pros: not many...actually the last page was the only pro because I knew that meant that I was finally finished.
Cons: many. Way too many to bore with details.
Bottom line: bad story that was poorly executed with flimsy characters and cheap plot devices.

11 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Gratuitously Negative

What would have made NOS4A2 better?

Careful editing might have reduced the slow pace of the story. It dragged out needlessly, sometimes seeming to imitate Stephen King's style, but without success.

What was most disappointing about Joe Hill’s story?

Gratuitous obscenities. Gratuitous vulgarity. Gratuitous violence. It was as though the author set out to decide what behavior and images would be most repulsive, sickening, offensive, disgusting, or distasteful and, then, put it all into his book. The fantasy was not fantastic--it was unrelenting nightmare.

Would you listen to another book narrated by Kate Mulgrew?

Yes. The narrator was not the problem. The problem was the story and the author's conception.

What character would you cut from NOS4A2?

The whole book is flawed, and so are the characters. Even the main character was not a particularly pleasant person. Normally, that would not bother me. I've read many dark books with dark characters. But this one offers no relief from ignorance and bad judgment.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Jennifer
  • Cuayhoga Falls, OH, United States
  • 12-09-13

Buy it!!

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....

9 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Worst narrator I've ever heard

What did you like best about NOS4A2? What did you like least?

I will never purchase another book read by this woman no matter how much I like the author. She makes every character sound like one of the Simpsons cartoons. I honestly don't think I can stand to finish it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Thank goodness for Audible's return policy

Gave up after Part 1. I was so looking forward to listening all weekend as I worked in the yard but, alas, couldn't do it. Very good reader though.

For my taste, the story jumped around too much. A little jumping eh, OK, but Mr. Hill was all over the map. Literally.

Hmmmm, maybe I'm just not a fan of magical characters with superpowers. If you are, like the bulk of the reviewers, you'll probably be quite happy.

9 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Cynthia
  • Monrovia, California, United States
  • 07-06-13

XMAS SCR4U

Audible released Joe Hill's "NOS4A2" (2013) with great fanfare. The book was a featured pre-order. It was on the top crawl. I kept getting it as a "We thought you'd like" suggestion from Audible's rather persistent algorithm. I looked at the description and thought, "I don't want to listen to this. At all." One of my worst childhood memories is of a trip to Santa's Village in Illinois. I road the Gravitron; the ride spun and the floor dropped out, leaving riders pinned to the wall. I spent the rest of the day in a dank restroom, propped up against a white porcelain toilet, throwing up. I felt so completely alone and disoriented for what seemed like a very long time.

The Audible reviews of "NOS4A2" are laudatory, and Janet Mullins of the New York Times wrote a wonderful review, "Villainous Christmas and Biker Chicks" (April 28, 2013). I obviously gave in, and went ahead and listened At the back of my mind, I hoped to exorcise the memory of that horrible day.

Hill's characters are finely drawn. Vic McQueen, who has a very special coveted bridge, takes on an ageless Charles Talent Manx , the owner of the 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith. Vic bests Manx once, but at a terrible personal cost. Manx is imprisoned, but eventually makes his way out, hell bent on revenge.

Manx is not only the owner of the Wraith, he is the founder of Christmasland. Every day is Christmas, and the children he has chosen to live there eat cotton candy all day, drink hot cocoa, and never age. Their parents are disposed of by Manx' Renfield (Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1897), Bing - after Bing plays with them a few days.

My favorite character is Vic's rescuer, Lou. Carmody. Lou is a fat comic book geek who happens to come riding by on his motorcycle after Vic's first escape from Manx. Kate Mulgrew's voice for Carmody is right. By the time the book was over, I wished Carmody was working at my local garage, fixing cars.

NOS4A2 really chilled me, although admittedly, I am more susceptible to this particular horror/fantasy novel than most. The book did not make my long ago trip to Santa's Village more bearable, though. It sharpened the many rowed teeth of that memory.

At the end of the book, Hill himself discusses his writing processes, and how he created the book. Hill loves audio books, and he explains why, and why he chose Mulgrew's to perform this book. He mentions there are some drawings in the text version of NOS4A2, which made me wish I had the time to actually sit down with a copy.

I suppose that I should mention that the author's real name is Joe Hillstrom King. Yes, he is novelist Stephen King and novelist Tabitha King's son. hill references some famous King places, like Derry, Maine. Hill's NOS4A2 invites comparison, but I am not doing that here: Hill has his own strong voice and unique style.

[if you found this review helpful, please let me know by pressing the helpful button. Thanks.]

36 of 55 people found this review helpful

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  • Paul
  • New York, NY, United States
  • 07-24-13

I just don't get it

I tried and gave up......I tried very hard to believe in the characters but I simply found myself wanting to find a better book.

10 of 15 people found this review helpful

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Pronunciation!

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Haverhill is pronounced Have-rill ! I don't understand why the narrator isn't given help on the correct pronunciation.

What could Joe Hill have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

I liked the book but it felt like a mashup of his father's earlier books. A little more originality is in order.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

Aside from the incorrect pronunciations, the narrator was ok.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Strangely, nothing. As a survivor from the "Old Yella dog must always die and you must cry" movies, I was unmoved by the death of Boomer.

Any additional comments?

No

6 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • Waltham, MA, United States
  • 12-19-14

Too familiar territory

I got this book because I have enjoyed many Stephen King novels, and this story seemed similar. The first 15 minutes were great, and then I quickly grew bored. What makes many Stephen King books so good is the way the reader cares about everyday people before the creepiness and supernatural kick in. Thirty years ago, I may have liked this, but I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I had read this before, and I quit halfway through the first part. The novel was too long for me to wait and hope it picked up. Maybe it did, but I didn't care to wait.

6 of 9 people found this review helpful