White Death by Christine Morgan


Finished: March 24, 2018

I first read one of Christine Morgan’s stories in the anthology, Not Your Average Monster: A Bestiary of Horrors. Her short story, “Soft-Walker”, just blew me away. Not only was her writing style just beautiful, but her mixture of humanity and gods was just fantastic. If you haven’t read that short piece yet, then you’re seriously missing out.

Needless to say, when I was offered an advanced copy of White Death in exchange for an honest review, I leapt at the chance!

My review:

If you have read anything on the Great Blizzard of 1888, then you’ll have a good idea of where this story is going. The blizzard that tore through was one of the worst in history. Morgan takes what you might already know and gives it a fascinating supernatural twist. What sets off this sudden onslaught, prefaced by such mild weather? Angering the dreaded Wanageeska.

This novel has numerous strengths, but here are a couple that I loved:

  • The introduction of the Wanageeska is a wonderful twist on what is already a horrifying story. I absolutely loved this. The opening chapters really brought a sense of adventure that I rarely see so well portrayed. The description of these creatures and how they are characterized is also really fascinating, and add a layer on top of the gruesome plight of the town.
  • The descriptions of how these poor people deal with the oncoming storm is just heart-wrenching. You really get a feel for how terrible frostbite and those arctic temperatures can be when people aren’t protected against it. One of the major takeaways is just how frail humans are in the face of extreme weather. Morgan goes so far as to describe in great detail how it feels to have your eyelids frozen shut in multiple ways, and as someone who has never dealt with cold of that nature, it gave me chills.

I can imagine this would be even more frightening for people who are currently snowed in, for people who regularly experience snowstorms where you don’t know how long it’ll last. The only difficulty I had with it (which was pretty minor) was that there were a lot of characters which made them hard to keep track of. Though considering how this storm ripped through this town, I entirely understand why Morgan chose to do that. Ultimately it didn’t change how good the book was in the least! I definitely recommend it!

What I consider a 5-star book:

  1. Is it a fun read? I don’t know if “fun” is the right word for this book. 😉 More like fascinating. I was curious to see if each person was going to survive or not. Some survived in really surprising ways too!
  2. Would you recommend it to others? Absolutely! If you’re curious to see how an unprepared group of people deal with a sudden, arctic front, this is definitely the book to check out. It reminded me of the survival stories in the arctic from explorers to lost travelers. Even shelter didn’t always help these poor people, especially considering how few their resources were during this time of the frontier.
  3. Would you re-read it? There are many scenes I would want to check out again in this. Her language and descriptions are just incredible. I’ve not seen the horrors of arctic weather quite described like this before.
  4. Does it stick with you? Oh definitely! Every time I hear of an arctic front moving in and the dangers of frostbite, I’m pretty sure the imagery from this book is going to come blaring to mind.

My overall rating? 5/5

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My Love of Lore

I’ve been a long-time listener of the podcast series Lore. I forget how I first found out about it. My friends know that I write horror and that I love dark tales, so when I ended up having multiple close friends recommend it, I decided to check it out. Basically Aaron Mahnke will choose a particular topic or theme, and then explore it by beautifully mixing tales with history, and analyzing the topic with respect for the time periods he’s analyzing. He’s tackled changelings, werewolves, vampires, etc.

I was thrilled to hear it was going to get a series on Amazon, but I tried not to get my hopes up. The podcast series was great, but I wasn’t sure how well it could be transferred to a video series. I’m happy to say that after spending the last week watching all the episodes available, that my fears were mistaken. In fact, I would even say that the visuals add so much to the words that Mahnke puts to the episodes.

They do historical reenactments, portraying terrifying experiences and really making the viewer experience the same frightening beliefs that their characters do. Sometimes this gets to be very uncomfortable, especially since historically women were powerless or seen as property and therefore are truly at the whims of the people around them, no matter how disturbing their beliefs. They are also able to pull in historical scenes more often too, whether that’s through video clips that are available or historical documents that really bring the stories home. The series also doesn’t shy away from blood and gore, but they do switch to illustrations whenever they go to portray a gruesome scene, thereby showing the gore just as clearly but taking away the potential production costs.

And that artwork is simply gorgeous. The werewolf episode for example just had me giddy as a long-time werewolf lover. The art style changes each episode to better reflect the topic for the episode. It feels organic and fluid and matches beautifully with the topic of the episode. It reminds me of the switch to animation that you see in Kill Bill Volume 1, which I loved then and I still love now.

My only complaint is that the series was too short, though considering the podcast has over a hundred episodes, I think they have plenty to work with down the road.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman 


Finished: June 11, 2017

Malerman was featured on The Outer Dark podcast sometime last year, I believe. I liked what he had to say and the title and description of the book intrigued me, plus they gave it high praise on the podcast, so I added it to Goodreads. Fast forward to this summer, and Goodreads tells me it’s on sale for $2, so I just had to give it a try!

My review:

Josh Malerman’s Bird Box was one of the more terrifying horror novels I’ve read in a while. There are a number of scenes that are so suspenseful that you almost don’t want to find out what happens next. The scene in the bar was one of the more painful scenes for me. That was when I truly started admiring Malerman’s style and how intense his writing became. I binged half this book in a day because once it got rolling, it was hard to put down.

The only difficulty was the constant changes in perspective. It changes times a lot and sometimes it was difficult for me to pinpoint when a scene was happening and I had to reread sections. Overall this didn’t change how good the novel was, but it did make it slower to start. I definitely recommend it!
What I consider a 5-star book:

  1. Is it a fun read? Definitely! I actually found it hard to stop once I reached the halfway point.
  2. Would you recommend it to others? I’ve actually been dropping plot pieces to friends, describing the dystopian world and the claustrophobia of the blindness that Malerman is so good at. The premise alone sells this book, but the stellar writing is what makes me finish it.
  3. Would you re-read it? I typically don’t reread many books, but I would reread sections of this one. The writing was beautifully gruesome.
  4. Does it stick with you? Oh yes! Sometimes a bit too well. 😉

My overall rating? 5/5

Why I Love The Hobbit

I’m a professional woman with a full-time job.

Tonight I’m going to see the midnight showing of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.

Some people think these two statements don’t go together. For some reason folks have a hard time believing that an adult with a full plate of responsibilities would be interested in taking time off to go to a midnight showing of a movie, not to mention a fantasy film. Aren’t there more important things you could do with your time? Couldn’t you just wait to see it at another time?

These aren’t questions that are always stated, but I can still see them in the curious glances and the odd looks I get. People tend to be shocked when they find out that I’m such a big Lord of the Rings fan, at least until I start talking about it. This seems as good a time as any to explain why I have such an obsession with this franchise, and more specifically, the Desolation of Smaug film.

SmaugHow I met The Hobbit

I have to credit my discovery of The Hobbit from watching the Rankin/Bass version. I absolutely loved the songs, the animation, and all the little character quirks. It was a movie that I grew up with and one that I still rank up there on my favorites list along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Last Unicorn, and Flight of Dragons. It was a fun film as a child and as I got older I realized how rare and wonderful it was.

I’m pretty sure I read the book sometime before I got assigned to read it in High School, but I can’t say when that was exactly. I can say that it was one of my favorite reading assignments. It was a topic I could definitely write about.

Riddles in the Dark

My mother was an elementary teacher. Often I found myself in her classroom helping her clean up or wasting time while she finished getting her classroom and paperwork ready for the next day. I’m pretty sure this was common for teacher’s kids. You just get really used to being at school.

I was reading the Hobbit for maybe the second time, and I was going through a phase where I was asking all my sisters the riddles that Gollum asks Bilbo. It was fun to watch them try to figure it out, much as I had when I first picked up the book. It was only natural to follow this fun with writing a riddle on the board for my mother’s class the next day.

They were a group of fourth graders and all of them were curious and confused at the same time. They spent a few minutes at the beginning of class each day while the kids puzzled over what the answer could be. I’m certain my mom helped them out, she did have a class to run after all, but she thought it went over so well that I should put up another the next day. It didn’t take us long to run out of riddles, and we couldn’t find any good ones really online, so we did the next best thing. We started pulling out quotes from the book and put them up instead.

It only lasted a few weeks, but the kids in the classroom loved it. It’s cool that they got to try to unravel some interesting word puzzles. Most of them had likely not read The Hobbit, so they were really at more of a disadvantage than I was as the reader. After all, I could just glance at the next few lines to see the answer. Some of the riddles were tough too. I like to think that a few of those kids looked at words a bit differently after that.

The Tainted Woods of Mirkwood

When I was a kid, I would go exploring through the woods in our subdivision all the time. My sisters and I spent a good chunk of our childhood in the woods exploring, building forts from sticks, and just getting into trouble. The idea that a disease could come across an entire forest, causing a species of enormous, dark creatures to turn it into their new home intrigued me. The fact that they took the form of giant insects was just downright frightening.

That isn’t the only adventure Bilbo has in Mirkwood though. He also has to deal with the wood elves, King Thranduil’s people, who are terribly mischievous. These scenes are reminiscent of fairy lore in how Bilbo is never sure how much of what he’s seeing is real or not. When you do finally meet the people, they aren’t at all how the typical elves are portrayed. Their elven guards don’t always do what they should and the frequent parties cause many to indulge perhaps too much in wine. They are in many ways counter to the typical view of elves. They are more hunters than magic wielders like the otherworldly elves of Rivendell or Lothelorien. They rely on stealth, speed, and guerrilla tactics; which honestly made me like them all the more. After all, those were the same tactics I might use.

King Thranduil is an especially interesting character. There are some in-depth character analyses of him if you’re interested. He is really just as much a villain as Smaug, but he walks that line quite carefully. He has a multitude of reasons for why he does the things he does, definitely moreso than Smaug does, but that certainly doesn’t make his actions less cruel. He’s what I would call a “lovable bad guy”, or any bad guy who doesn’t quite fit the mold. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter is the first character that comes to mind, but there are dozens more.

The Cleverness of Dragons

It’s difficult for me to explain the impact Smaug had on me, being so little when I first watched the Rankin/Bass film. He was unlike most of the villains you saw at the time, and didn’t seem cruel simply for the sake of being so. He was arrogant and greedy, yes, but he was also undeniably clever. If he was allowed to keep what he had stolen, he would have been a rather quiet neighbor. There is a great build-up of Smaug in the novel as this powerful foe, and maybe a few mentions of his keen wit, but it wasn’t revered to the same level as his fire, his ferocity, and his strength. Indeed Smaug shows how dangerous he is not by murdering thousands, not by destroying buildings, and not by burning people alive; he does it through speech. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t done these terrible things, and they are mentioned, but really you don’t see Smaug in his true fury until he speaks to Bilbo.

You realize quickly that it is good that Bilbo is so very familiar with riddles because Smaug is the ultimate riddle. He is described as a one-man army, yet a common thread in the book is that looks and first impressions can be deceiving. He is a foe who has to be cracked with quick words and a sharp mind, not with anything so basic as a sword. He was perhaps the first intelligent, well-spoken, clever enemy that I ever saw, and I absolutely loved him for it.

There Are Flaws

To be fair, The Hobbit itself is not a perfect book. Tolkien wrote it for children, and so it leans more on the comical side compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. When I was younger, I adored it specifically because it was so very accessible. I couldn’t get through the Rings because it required a different level of concentration, and The Hobbit made for an excellent fantasy gateway drug you could say. Tolkien considered several times writing a more adult version of it, but I believe friends like C.S. Lewis talked him out of it. A second book on the same story, even if it was in a different style, would be overdone and simply felt repetitive, though today many wish he had written it.

Battles happen in The Hobbit, but you don’t really get to see them. You get to see the skirmishes that Bilbo takes part in, but since it is geared for children and Tolkien had seen war, it is completely understandable why he didn’t want to include it in the book. However its absence is keenly felt. It almost feels like a let-down that you aren’t inside the battles like you are in Rings. You know the battles happened, you see the damage and the fall-out, but since you aren’t a part of it, you can feel the censoring. Even kids can pick up on a missing part of the story.

Even still, The Hobbit is one of my favorite books, perhaps the favorite. I still love it even for all its flaws and weirdness. Even with it’s strange gaps and multitude of characters. As a writer I’ve learned that there is no such thing as a perfect book. It’s going to have problems. A book is a child of carefully molded love, and since people come with their own flaws, so do their creations.

So when someone asks me why I’m going to a midnight showing of Desolation of Smaug tonight, I’m going to explain how much the book has meant to me. I’m going to tell them how much I love how the creepy forests of Mirkwood, the caustic King Thranduil, and the silver-tongued Smaug. Or maybe I’ll just save myself the trouble and point to this post.

Review: The Color of Magic

The Color of MagicThis was a fabulous book. I admit when I first started, it took a bit to wrap my brain around the eclectic style and imagery that Pratchett uses. Once I got into the storyline though, it became a fun rollercoaster. Seriously, what is there not to love about place & time distortions happening in the middle of your storyline? His writing reminds me greatly of Douglas Adams’ work, as in they both make me laugh out loud and look ridiculous wherever I’m reading.

Will definitely be continuing this series!