Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Survivor Song [review]

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow on July 7, 2020
my rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.86 (as of 2020-07-24)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website

In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.

Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed—viciously attacked by an infected neighbor—and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.

Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares—terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink. 


There are elephants at the Southwick Zoo maybe thirty miles west, and Natalie hopes those fuckers are on lockdown.

My introduction to Paul Tremblay was A Head Full of Ghosts, which I absolutely adored. I’ve since read two more of his horror novels, and his newest short story collection; my experiences with the 3 varied slightly but I’m still a fan of Tremblay’s. I was particularly looking forward to this novel because I have a rabies phobia and could not imagine many things more terrifying than a super rabies epidemic. To read this during a worldwide pandemic was even more compelling.

Tremblay really hit it out of the park with this one. I picked my copy up as soon as I got home from the bookstore and literally didn’t put it down until I hit the last page. The entire story takes place in the span of just a few hours and there is such an urgency to it that I couldn’t imagine going to bed without finishing it.

This is really a twist on the traditional zombie story; those who are bitten by a carrier of the super rabies experience symptoms within an hour, compared to the traditional weeks one has with rabies as we know it. This means the virus in this story is spread remarkably quickly, leading those infected to become extremely violent and uncontainable. While the story itself is certainly action-packed, I found the ‘zombie’ story itself secondary to the characters. This is far more a story about the friendship between two women, and the lengths one will go to in order to save a loved one than it is a story about zombies.

And god, some of the pieces of this were prophetic as hell. At one point we meet a group of right wingers who insist that the virus is biowarfare unleashed by foreign countries — or by our own government, as a means of pushing vaccines. I’m sure some people will see these as caricatures but I honestly felt like I was seeing some of my relatives portrayed on the page. Even more: the panic and anger and fear of healthcare workers given insufficient training and even more insufficient PPE had me grimacing in sympathy, knowing that this was the case in my own country just a couple months ago.

Like I said above, the characters are really what made this for me. Rams, one of the POV characters, is a British biracial self-identified asexual woman (who I also read as aromantic). Natalie is a pregnant spitfire of a woman. I loved their relationship and felt like Tremblay did an incredible job of portraying what felt like a very real friendship. I was also delighted and surprised by the appearance of two characters from Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. While the two are not at all plot-dependent, I think one would struggle to connect with these characters and would find a specific interlude to be much less emotionally impactful if one had not read Disappearance. The discussions in this book also spoil some of the events in Disappearance, so I would highly recommend reading that first if it’s on your TBR!

Anyway, yeah, I just loved this book. I’m so impressed with Tremblay and am really looking forward to seeing whatever he puts out next!

content warnings: violence against animals and humans; animal [and human] death; gore; racism and xenophobia (challenged on page); death of a loved one.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock [review]

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow on March 14, 2017 (originally 2016)
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.58 (as of 2020-03-15)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

A family is shaken to its core after the mysterious disappearance of a teenage boy in this eerie tale, a blend of literary fiction, psychological suspense, and supernatural horror from the author of A Head Full of Ghosts.


Elizabeth sends her a list of groceries. As she types milk 1% and diet soda and 1 lb turkey and cheese and bread she wonders how it was she got here, to this particular moment; calmly texting an ordinary grocery list seconds after shutting off a national cable news show discussing the evils of her missing son.

This took me a bit to get into but ended up being quite thrilling. There were some very spooky bits and the “twist” (I suppose it could be called) was so disturbing it actually made me nauseous and I had to put down the book for a bit. This is an interesting combination of horror and thriller, and it’s hard to figure out which the book really is, so I’d classify it as both. I didn’t feel any of the characters besides Elizabeth were particularly compelling, but I did find the plot interesting and am glad I read it.


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Growing Things and Other Stories [review]

Growing Things and Other Stories by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow on July 2, 2019
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.58 (as of 2019-10-01)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

A chilling anthology featuring nineteen pieces of short fiction from the multiple award-winning author of the national bestseller The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.

In “The Teacher,” a Bram Stoker Award nominee for best short story, a student is forced to watch a disturbing video that will haunt and torment her and her classmates’ lives.

Four men rob a pawn shop at gunpoint only to vanish, one-by-one, as they speed away from the crime scene in “The Getaway.”

In “Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks,” a meth addict kidnaps her daughter from her estranged mother as their town is terrorized by a giant monster . . . or not.

Joining these haunting works are stories linked to Tremblay’s previous novels. The tour de force metafictional novella “Notes from the Dog Walkers” deconstructs horror and publishing, possibly bringing in a character from A Head Full of Ghosts, all while serving as a prequel to Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. “The Thirteenth Temple” follows another character from A Head Full of Ghosts—Merry, who has published a tell-all memoir written years after the events of the novel. And the title story, “Growing Things,” a shivery tale loosely shared between the sisters in A Head Full of Ghosts, is told here in full.

From global catastrophe to the demons inside our heads, Tremblay illuminates our primal fears and darkest dreams in startlingly original fiction that leaves us unmoored. As he lowers the sky and yanks the ground from beneath our feet, we are compelled to contemplate the darkness inside our own hearts and minds.


No one is more disappointed than me that I didn’t absolutely love this collection. After reading A Head Full of Ghosts, I knew Tremblay would become one of my favorite horror authors. It took me way too long to pick up another one of his books, but my conflicted experience Growing Things certainly won’t make me give up on loving his work. Here is a list of the stories, as well as my individual rating for each:

  • Growing Things 4/5
  • Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks 3/5
  • Something About Birds 4.5/5
  • The Getaway 4/5
  • Nineteen Snapshots of Dennisport 3/5
  • Where We Will All Be 2.5/5
  • The Teacher 4/5
  • Notes for “The Barn in the Wild” 4.5/5
  • _____ 3/5
  • Our Town’s Monster 2/5
  • A Haunted House Is a Wheel upon Which Some Are Broken 4/5
  • It Won’t Go Away 4/5
  • Notes from the Dog Walkers 2/5
  • Further Questions for the Somnambulist 2/5
  • The Ice Tower 3/5
  • The Society of the Monsterhood 2/5
  • Her Red Right Hand 2.5/5
  • It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks 4/5
  • The Thirteenth Temple 4/5 

I’m the baseball pitch that stops before home. I’m an empty notebook. I’m half the distance to the wall. I’m the video with an ending I won’t ever watch.

That comes to an average of 3.26, which I rounded down to a 3. The collection certainly wasn’t bad, but there were just enough stories I didn’t get along with to make it a less-than-spectacular reading experience. There was a lot to appreciate here. I found Tremblay’s meta and self-referential tendencies to be quite fun and look forward to tying bits here to his other works as I make my way through them. There is even a notes section at the end that includes tidbits — inspirations, writing processes, etc. — about many of the works. It was quite insightful and added  a lot to the experience for me.

Time is not an arrow. It is a bottomless bag in which we collect and place things that will be forgotten.

I think this collection will work well for those who like authors to play around with their writing. As I mentioned above, some of the pieces are meta and Tremblay definitely isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself. Horror fans in general will probably enjoy this, but I can see it appealing to those who aren’t diehard genre readers as well. I think the nature of short story collections usually mean that everyone can find something they’ll like.

I used to hope that when I died I’d go to some kind of afterlife where I’d instantly know all these weird statistics like how many heartbeats I had in my life or how many breaths or how many times I said the word “tomato” or how many people thought I was a good person or how many holes there were in the ceiling tiles of my dentist’s office.

Overall, while this didn’t quite live up to expectations, I still enjoyed it and will be recommending it to others!


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A Head Full of Ghosts [review]

 

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A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, narrated by Joy Osmanski.
Published by William Morrow on June 2, 2015.
hours, 49 minutes.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
3.81 (as of 2018/03/28)
cw: menstruation, explicit sexual content, demonic possession, homophobic slurs

Spoiler-free Review of an Audiobook

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface–and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

I think this is the first audiobook I’ve ever listened to in its entirety! I was doing busywork at my job and had run out of new podcast eps (which never happens to me!), so I sorted my TBR by random and went through until I found a book that a) had an audiobook format, b) was available to listen to now through my library, and c) had a narrator whose voice I liked. Usually it’s a struggle to find something that fits all three of these, but A Head Full of Ghosts nailed it!

This was such a compelling read and I will probably end up purchasing a physical copy later on to re-read. The narrator, Joy Osmanski, did a phenomenal job and I felt pulled right into the story. The point-of-view is that of an adult reflecting on her experiences as a young child. I thought this was really well-done, because we get a really innocent perspective that realistically contains more mature insights. It also switches a lot between past and present in a way that I think really worked with the story.

I was a bit anxious starting this out, because it explicitly states in the blurb that the MC’s older sister is displaying symptoms of schizophrenia. While I can’t speak directly to the rep (which may not be great, especially considering some stuff that goes on toward at the end that I can’t discuss without spoilers), I do want to address the concern that this links mental illness and demonic possessions. Because it doesn’t. I thought it was clear as a reader that this was a commentary on the danger of ignoring science in favor of superstition. To me, the implication was that, had Marjorie’s experience been treated seriously and as a medical concern, things would have turned out a lot differently for the Barrett family.

While this certainly had its spooky bits and while I would probably file it under the horror genre, it wasn’t outright scary, so if you’re easily frightened (like me) you could still enjoy this! There were some unsettling graphic bits (both involving gore and sexual content), so I’d pass on this if you want to avoid anything of that nature. But overall, I think this is a book that horror lovers (particularly those who like to deconstruct the genre) will enjoy and I recommend it highly.

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)