“The Waiting” — So much more than just a ghost story

To call “The Waiting” a ghost story does not do it justice. It is so much more than that. It is, in many ways, a love story. But again, that doesn’t do it justice. What it is, is a damn good story.

Evan Tormer is a widower caring for his mentally disabled son, Shaun, when life takes another turn for the worse and he is left unemployed. His longtime best friend, Jason, offers to let him live in the family cabin as a caretaker. Living in the cabin would not only help Evan financially, but it would allow the struggling author to finish his book. The Tormers move to the home which is situated on an island called “The Fin” and try to begin life anew. But, as is the case with most ghost stories, everything isn’t as it seems.

The book is amazingly well written, with richly developed characters and an environment that I almost lost myself in. Evan’s dedication and love for his son is believable and heart-wrenching. His grief for the loss of his wife was palpable through each page of the novel. “The Waiting” is a story of love, loss, regret and insanity.

Joe Hart is a new author for me, however this will not be the last book of his that I read. His writing style reminds me somewhat of Stephen King, but probably more so of King’s son – Joe Hill. He’s descriptive, but not as verbose as King. If you enjoy ghost stories, I highly recommend this book and look forward to more books by Joe Hart.  — 5 out of 5 stars

Odd Thomas – Less than satisfying

As a Dean Koontz fan, I was excited to discover that one of his most interesting characters would be morphed into a movie.  Odd Thomas was, for a time, one of my favorite current literary characters (he has since become a bit too preachy for me and I still haven’t read the newest Odd  book).  So I was intrigued to see how the book would come to life on the screen.  I will say that the casting off the titular character was pretty spot on.  Anton Yelchin made me believe he was Odd.   But where Odd’s casting worked, I was very disappointed in both the characterization and casting of Odd’s friend, Ozzie.  His role was barely a footnote in the story and the scene he is in could easily have been left on the cutting room floor if not for the fact that it would piss off the book lovers.  I was also disappointed that Elvis was left out entirely.  And no, that life size cut out doesn’t fix it.  Elvis was part of what showed Odd’s true character – how much he wanted to help the dead and how frustrating their inability to speak could be.   While the story itself seemed pretty close to the book (it’s been YEARS since I last read the novel) I think it could have seemed confusing to those who weren’t already familiar with the stories/characters.  The special effects seemed cheap and more like a “made for tv” movie rather than a major theatrical release, which may explain why it never actually made it into the theaters and instead went the direct to DVD route.  I give Odd Thomas 2 out of 5 stars.

Haunter — A different kind of ghost story

In a typical ghost story, a family moves into a home and after a series of strange, unexplainable events, slowly discovers that they are being haunted by the dead.  “Haunter” flips the tables on that scenario and shows it from the ghost’s point of view.

“Haunter” is the story of Lisa Johnson, an eternally 15 year old girl, one day shy of her 16th birthday, who keeps waking up to the same day over and over (reminded me a bit of the Bill Murray classic, “Groundhog Day” each time).  The day always starts out the same – with her little brother, Robbie, calling out to her on a walkie talkie – and progresses through having the same lunch, same conversations and same dinner day after day.  Lisa knows something is up, in fact, she has “awakened” to the fact that she, and all of her family, are, in fact, dead.

Told from the perspective of the awesome Abigail Breslin as Lisa, the story progresses smoothly as Lisa discovers what she is and what happened to her family.  The only issue I had with the story was how quickly she put the pieces together on how to solve the problem at the end.  I won’t say more, because I don’t believe in spoiling the story for everyone, especially for a movie that I think people should actually plan to watch, but suffice it to say that I felt the final “battle” seemed a bit too easy to get to.  I am not sure what I would have done differently, and maybe if I watch it again I will change my mind but I really think something was a bit off with the ending.

While I may have been a bit underwhelmed at the final battle, I was very impressed at the way the movie handled time periods.  When we watch Lisa, it is VERY apparent that we are watching a family in the the mid 1980’s.  I guessed 1984-1985 at the beginning (hey, I lived through those years, I practically WAS Lisa Johnson – except for the dead part) just due to the “look” of the house/people.  They nailed the 80’s time period.  It didn’t hurt that Lisa’s room was decorated with a lot of music posters that I actually paused the movie to try to get a better look at.  Or that she wore the same sweatshirt (Siouxsie and the Banshees) in practically every scene.  When the movie cuts to the future/current time, it’s obvious that it’s nowadays simply by the colors/electronic gadgets used.  I never felt that I had to guess the time period, and to me that made the movie even more likable.

In the end, I have to say that “Haunter” is a well done addition to the ghost story theme.  I give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

How to Survive Your Sisters – Glad I survived it

Let me just start out by saying, I love free books.  I used to be a library wraith, skulking through the aisles of nearby libraries looking for cool, free, clean books to read.  It was the clean part that did me in on library books.  I found some rather questionable things inside the pages of a few books and that pretty much put me off of libraries forever.  Now I use e-readers (I have both a Nook and a Kindle) and love them.  I can have a bazillion books with me wherever I go, AND there are actually a lot of free books available in e-reader format.

“How to Survive Your Sisters” by Ellie Campbell was a free book I got off of Amazon.  The cover shows a kind of pissed off looking blonde in a wedding dress and between that and the title (in big pink letters) I fully expected a humorous chick-lit romp.  What I got was a bunch of whiny, annoying characters who did nothing to make me care one iota for them.  Okay, I may have cared a bit for Milly – the middle sister with four kids and a spreading midsection – but pretty much everyone else is just plain irritating.  The girl on the cover is, I suspect, supposed to be Natalie who is planning a wedding for a good chunk of the book.  She makes bridezillas seem like purring kittens.  Which could, in the right hands, be funny.  I’ve read books about annoying characters but what makes the books palatable, if not always enjoyable, is the sprinkling (and sometimes dousing) with humor.  “How to Survive Your Sisters” was simply not funny.  I don’t know if it TRIED to be funny but I didn’t get it’s British humor, or if it was simply just a non-funny book.  Whatever the case, I found it tedious and far too long at 379 pages (which isn’t a big book, at all – just in this book it felt like an eternity).

In the end, I can safely say that Ellie Campbell is not the next Sophie Kinsella or Emily Giffin.  I will likely be passing up any more of her books, free or not.

I give “How to Survive Your Sisters” 1.5 stars.

A mirror possessed – Oculus

I love horror, but to be quite honest, I’m really easily spooked by certain things. When my husband and I were looking at buying new bedroom furniture, I was skeptical about buying a mirror for on top of the dresser. I tried to pass this off as being frugal – why get the mirror when we have huge mirrors in the bathroom where we would likely be getting ready anyways? – but the truth of the matter is that mirrors spook me. Not all mirrors – I mean, I am, afterall, female, and do use mirrors on a daily basis (though some might argue that point) – but I find mirrors in a dark room eerie. When I use the bathroom at night I make a concerted effort NOT to look in the mirrors in the dark room. I don’t know what I am expecting to find inside, but I know I don’t want to find it.

So when Oculus was first advertised as a movie about a possessed mirror I was both intrigued and, if I am truly honest, a bit squeamish about the concept. But being the horror (especially paranormal horror) lover that I am, I had to see the flick. On my way out of the house, I looked at the mirror we had just hung in the bedroom and thought, “damn, I may not be able to look at you once we get home”. Alas, I shouldn’t have worried. While Oculus is a decent movie about a possessed mirror, it wasn’t all that scary. Suspenseful, yes. Intriguing, yes. But not cover your eyes scary. Not, don’t go into the basement because there is a demon down there, scary. And it was about a specific mirror. A specific UGLY mirror. One I don’t own. So my mirrors are safe for now.

As for the movie, I enjoyed it. I found the characterizations to be realistic. I especially liked the flashback scenes and how they were interspersed throughout the movie. I found the “what is real and what is just the mirror doing it’s evil juju?” stuff very engrossing and even my husband, who is only horror tolerant – not a horror addict like me – liked the movie though he found the ending to be lacking.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie and will likely watch it again when it is out on dvd or cable. I give it a solid 3.75 out of 5.

Cringe worthy – but in a good way – “The Bird Eater” by Ania Ahlborn

I love to read, and my favorite genre is horror.  But good horror is hard to find.  So I am always on the lookout for a new author to add to my “must read list” because Stephen King, while prolific, simply isn’t going to publish a book every two weeks.  When Amazon offered Prime members a free book in March I was very excited to see that “The Bird Eater” was listed as horror and thought I would give it a try.  I am so glad I did.

“The Bird Eater” is the tale of Aaron Holbrook, a grief crippled father who lost his only son in a car crash in which he was the driver.  Now, a struggling alcoholic, Aaron has returned to his hometown to deal with his past “demons” at the recommendation of his psychologist.  And demons he has.  I will not spoil the surprise for you because you must read the book, but Aaron’s past is less like a painting by Thomas Kinkaide and more Edvard Munch.

Creepy, disturbing, sometimes downright icky, the book is definitely scary.  In fact, it is one of the scariest books I have read in a long time.  Ahlborn is like an artist, her writing is so evocative that I could truly “see” the images she created, using words as her brush and paint.  It was one of those books that had me reading at all hours, where I kept saying “just one more chapter” because I couldn’t wait to see where the author was taking me next.

Thank you Amazon, for introducing me to my new favorite horror author.  I have already started another one of her books and plan to finish them all in quick succession.  If you like horror and are not afraid of a little gore, I highly recommend this book.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.