Queen Victoria Demon Hunter - A.E. Moorat
One of the reasons I loved the Nightmare on Elm Street movie franchises (especially #3) was the filmmakers' gradual realization of how funny horror can be. True, the first was meant to scare. But over time, those movies got more and more campy and, in my opinion, more and more worth seeing.
That was 20 years ago, though. Now we're in a world where reality is scary enough (not to mention reality TV). Horror isn't the escape it once was. So now we make scary things seem accessible or desirable. I mean, romantic vampires?
Thank goodness that books haven't gone entirely in that direction, what with a gaggle of offerings out there that mix horror into what we thought we knew. That's where this book lives: the retelling of the strong woman who leads her nation at a crucial time, imagining she must conquer all sorts of demons and werewolves - not the mention the occasional succubus - in doing so.
This makes for a brilliant and fun read. True, there is gore aplenty, but even it is accompanied with a tongue-in-cheek with that more than fits in with our British hosts. The writing is crisp, and the plot line follows just enough accurate history that it's a joyride to take the twists that adding demonic overseers would mean.
Like Freddy Kruger, Victoria the Demon Hunter is not for everyone. But if you like a good laugh with your shivers, I'd highly recommend.
Hater - David Moody
Somewhere between science fiction and social commentary rests the plot of this book: what happens if one day, for no discernible reason, otherwise normal people suddenly begin to viciously attack and kill their family, friends and random strangers?
Deemed Haters, these people act without provocation and are over-the-top in their brutality. Yet when we see inside them, they are acting out of fear, not fury.. So what is happening?
Moody builds suspense through the first three-quarters of this book - originally self-published, then bought for movie rights and re-leased - and creates true suspense and tension. It helps that our narrator is an everyman, Danny Coyne, who is trying to make sense of things just as you are as you read.
The last few chapters signal a change, though, in both tone and rhythm. It becomes clear - and I'm not giving anything away - that this is the beginning of a series. There will be no resolution.
Instead, the plot twist is so expected as to be cliche. That feels a bit lazy, given the care that went into getting us to this point. We've been made to care but now aren't sure why.
I've not read his sequel, Dog Blood, so perhaps he is able to keep the pace. I'm suspicious though. Dropping the commentary for what could happen in any zombie movie seems the easy way out.
I'd say I hate what he did at the end, but the bulk of this book lingers. And it's clear what can happen if you are identified as a Hater.
No Right To Remain Silent - Lucinda Roy
Part memoir, part explainer, this uneven book tries to offer insight into the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings from the view of a professor who knew, somewhat, the shooter.
Roy, as head of the English department, worked one-on-one with Seung-Hui Cho after his writings drew alarm and fear from classmates and poet Nikki Giovanni. But Roy is never really able to capture how menacing Cho could be, despite her background with words. Cho was an absence, not a presence. It's not surprising that people missed the threat.
Which brings us to the other drawback: the I-told-you-so tone of Roy's constant dealings with university administrators, before and after the shooting. She raises valid points. The administration never answered honestly, or talked at all, unless forced. There are still questions about what happened to Cho's medical records at the school, where he sought mental-health help at the urging of Roy.
Knowing Roy's background, from her British mother and Jamaican father to her time in Sierra Leone, is helpful at some points to understand her worldview. But the volume about her threatens to overwhelm her observations and details of the guilt of being a victim not in the room when Cho started shooting.
It's almost that there wasn't enough here for a book. There is enough to make it worthwhile, but not a must-read or riveting. A long essay would have sufficed.
Rag and Bone - Peter Manseau
Part travelogue, part religious history, Manseau takes us on a journey to all corners of the earth to show the bits and pieces of saints and martyrs we have come to revere and worship.
From the shrunken remains of St. Francis Xavier to Buddha's tooth to a whisker from the face of Mohammed, the tour is a fun romp that offers not just the history but how we use relics to try to connect to something larger than ourselves.
In lesser hands, this could have been a sarcastic or mocking look at the relics and those who love them. But Manseau is uniquely qualified: the son of a Catholic priest and nun, who both refused to reject the Church, and now a doctoral student in theology at Georgetown University.
The string of tales says more about those who remain than what they revere. How those connect is a true spiritual tribute to the link between life and death.