Book Review: House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

71Vmj-9DZYLNothing I ever say about this body of work (I hesitate to call it a novel. No other work of fiction exists like it.) will come close to offering up the sum total of my thoughts. I’ll do my best.

It took me a couple years to pick this book up. While I cherish my physical books, I often buy unknown (to me) authors in Kindle format, and take the books on my travels. The lack of a Kindle option kept me passing it over on my reading list, until it didn’t. Heading into my annual New Orleans trip, something told me this was the book I had to have with me. So I ordered it.

This is not an easy read. Nor is it a page turner. It certainly isn’t a book you can or should pick up when you’re sleepy or distracted. But it is, hands down, the most ambitious work I’ve ever held in my hands. And yes, I’ve read (and love) War and Peace.

The Navidson Record, or the story that everything else in this book centers around, is, at its core, with all the loveliness and exquisite detail stripped away, a tale of found footage. Especially disturbing footage, from narrators who don’t have the funds for special effects of the nature required to create their extraordinary experiences within the house, leaving behind years of speculation by critics, experts, psychologists, paranormal hunters, authors, and all nature of individuals.

Pulling back further, telling the story is Johnny Truant, an incredibly unreliable narrator who has come across a collection of analysis on The Navidson Record, and, as he begins to assemble and make sense of it, his own reality spirals further out of control. Most of his contributions to the story are a collection of nonsensical ramblings, sometimes for pages and pages on end, with seemingly no connection to the narrative. In the back of the book, there is also a collection of letters from his institutionalized mother, known as P, whose exact diagnosis is never given but evidence leans toward schizophrenia. As with P’s words to her son, it is unclear how much of what she relays to him is the result of her paranoia and hallucinations, and what is real (if anything). Similarly, It is unclear how much of Johnny’s rambling is a retelling of reality and how much is simply from the fabric of his imagination. After all, he tells (and shows us) what a practiced liar he is (not to mention his relationship with drugs).

687637As Johnny adds footnotes to The Navidson Record, he continuously tells the reader that most of the sources don’t actually exist, and his research turned up no evidence of any of the people involved in the project. Again, it is unclear if this is because it does not exist to him, or to us, or both.

At the center of the tale is, of course, The Navidson Record itself, a story told through Hi 8 footage, cassette recordings, interviews, journal entries, and critical analysis. Will Navidson, his family, and all those he brings into his terrifying discovery of a house with continuously shifting dimensions and intentions, all react very differently to events, both at the surface and deeper down, where the house leaves its mark. Deeper still, the Navidson Record is really two stories: that of the wonders of the house and what it means/where it came from, and the enduring relationship of Will and his partner Karen. Taken separately, they are both fascinating, rewarding stories, one relying on the supernatural, and the other, something more sublime. Taken together, the tale seems to send a deeper message, about the restorative and unshakeable nature of love itself. Will and Karen are not necessarily sympathetic characters, but your sense of what drives them toward one another is nothing short of magnetic.

Layered in through the 700+ pages were exhaustive source notes, quotes, psychological analysis, and all manner of detail that, while overwhelming to the reader, helped to bring this into something cohesive. Dare I say it, real. Was it all necessary? Not to tell the story, no. But I suspect the author wanted to do far more here than simply tell a story. He wanted to leave his readers changed. Questioning.

I could dive in further, but, truly, this isn’t a book I can explain effectively to others. My husband asked me what it was about, and I started to tell him, then came up short. Read it for yourself. Push past the slow parts and rest assured, every detail, every word, every layer is part of this tremendously powerful and delicate dance.

Bravo, Mr. Danieleswki.

Pick up a copy here.

Thrills & Chills: Sarah’s 13 Favorite Scary Books

It’s my favorite time of year: Fall. Samhain. SCARY MOVIES AND BOOKS. In honor of all things creepy, I’m counting down my thirteen favorite horror stories, listed by category. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

  1. 5ffa0ebdaa4023657ca311fb7e014164Favorite Classic Horror: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
    Forget everything you know about the spinoffs and mishmashes of Frankenstein. Shelley’s original is absolutely horrifying. Frankenstein’s monster becomes the embodiment of fear, revenge, intent to take everything from his creator.

    Runner Up: The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen

  2. fear-street-rl-stine-movieFavorite Scary Books Growing Up: Christopher Pike and RL Stine’s Fear Street
    By the time I was in middle school I’d graduated to Stephen King, but before that, I DEVOURED all the Fear Street books, and anything by Christopher Pike (who, by comparison, was just a little bit dicier, and I  was all about dicey). I was a few years too old for the Goosebumps books, but my sister read them.

    Runner Up: Some of those Choose Your Own Adventures got pretty real, y’all.

  3. il_570xN.582911280_rzp3Favorite Horror Fantasy Story: Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
    The story goes, King wrote this for his young daughter who thought his other books were too scary for her. The result is something that is half-fantasy and half-absolutely terrifying. It may have been written for his daughter, but the undercurrent of evil running through this story has stayed with me all these years, and remains one of my favorite books of his.

    Runner Up: The Silmarillion. Arguably not horror, but some of those stories really mess with your head.

  4. images (9)Favorite Horror Story of 2010s: N0S4A2 by Joe Hill
    So, I find it really interesting (and maybe unfair) that Stephen King’s son has a talent for spinning a scary yarn as well. Even more surprising is that he is FAN-EFFING-TASTIC at it. He writes unlikeable characters and makes them sympathetic and relatable, and heroes you’ll be thinking about for months. But he also craps all over them. My kind of author. In fact, the hardest part of this post was trying to decide which of his books to pick for this category.

    Runner Up: The Vines by Christopher Rice

  5. hqdefaultFavorite Ghost Story: The Mezzotint in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by MR James
    The Mezzotint is one of a handful of short stories in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by MR James. Touted as the non-fiction of an antiquary, all the stories within the collection are unique, but none so much as The Mezzotint, which involves a picture that, shall we say, changes each time you look at it. Not in good ways, either.

    Runner Up: Beloved by Toni Morrison. This one deserves its own category, honestly.

  6. suzanne-narrativeFavorite Stories About Witches: Mayfair Trilogy by Anne Rice
    This series changed my life, both as a writer, and as a reader. Anne’s mythologies around her witches are rich and carefully woven, bringing forth a contemporary family of witches you secretly wish you were related to. But with a tantalizing past, and a family ghost that is not the protector he claims, it’s not all fun and spells.

    Runner Up: Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy

  7. Screen+shot+2012-02-04+at+12.38.53+PMFavorite YA Horror: The Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Trilogy by Ransom Riggs
    If you’re not familiar with these, Riggs came across a collection of ridiculously creepy old photos, and spun a story around them about “peculiar” (read: supernatural) children under the protection of time loops and powerful female avian shifters. The stories and approach are unique, riveting, and just so different from anything else out there. And despite being for children, there’s no shortage of scary.

    Runner Up: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

  8. 174840f1e6994b5c20e69e2506066ff6Favorite Supernatural: The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice
    Rice has a gift of language (another family with talent running rampant), and storytelling. Together, this makes for compelling work in any genre he operates in, but his first supernatural book, The Heavens Rise, was a damned masterpiece. Equal parts terrifying, gothic, lyrical, and devastating, this book has stayed with me since I read it.

    Runner Up: The Talisman and Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub

  9. MrStraker-SalemsLot-QuoteFavorite Scary Novel That Kept Me Up for Days: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
    This is not even in my top 10 of my favorite King novels, but it shows the power of the storytelling and imagery here that I did not sleep for days. No exaggeration. These are not sparkly vampires. They are not moody, or interesting. They’re unrepentant killers, they’ve done this before, and escape is looking like less of an option. Oy.

    Runner Up: It by Stephen King. In fact, this one might even be tied, because, clowns.

  10. 6a010534a3c8d0970c0105359b8bf3970c-800wiFavorite Scary Story Involving A Building: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
    I think the most interesting thing about Jackson’s story is that it isn’t overtly scary. Everything that happens is subtle.. from the nuances of the house, to the slow decline of the inhabitants. The ending feels tragic, and inevitable. Her beautiful use of storytelling and language brings this one home for me, and you don’t even realize until after you’ve put it down what she’s done.

    Runner Up: The Shining by Stephen King.

  11. 767104Favorite Gothic Romance Horror: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    Strange category, I know. But there are books you won’t find in any horror category that are terrifying, nonetheless. Rebecca is one of those books. The mood throughout the book never allows you to put your guard down. Every word keeps you dangling. As with Shirley Jackson, du Maurier plays on subtleties to the extent you don’t realize you’ve arrived until you’re there.

    Runner Up: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. (In another category, such as classic romance, this would actually win for me).

  12. lord-of-the-flies-quoteFavorite “This Could Happen, OMG” Horror Story: Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    Dude. We all know this level of raw savagery exists in all of us. Its at the core of our species. And, in the right circumstances, it may be forced to the surface. A whole ‘notha level of horror exists when it plays out among children. Just give him the damn conch already!

    Runner Up: Run by Blake Crouch

  13. petsematary-03First Adult Horror Story I Ever Read: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
    My very first horror books were the Fear Street books, and Christopher Pike. But those were aimed at teenagers. My mother was a huge King fan and had a stack of his paperbacks. She was a fantastic storyteller, my mom, and would often tell me about the books, leaving me more and more curious. But could I handle that level of scary? I picked up Pet Sematary and my entire life changed. I was horrified, and addicted all at once. When I finished all her King books, I moved on to John Saul, Dean Koontz, and Peter Straub. I’ve had a love affair with horror ever since.

Sound off in the comments with your own favorites!

Sarah’s 10 Point Reviews: Crimson Peak (Movie)


  1. Guillermo Del Toro’s command of cinema is unparalleled. From the opening shot, I’m already giddy.

  2. Who do I have to bribe to be in the Tom Hiddleston/Charlie Hunnam sandwich?

  3. No, that was a serious question. Please tell me.

  4. Allerdale Hall. I wanted to make comparisons to Thornfield Hall, or Manderley. Hell, I half-expected Miss Havisham to come wandering out in her mouldering wedding gown. But truly, Allerdale Hall stands on its own. The red clay (everywhere) adds an element that borders on heavy-handed but lands on evocative.

  5. Jessica Chastain commands the role of Lucille like its her job. Which it is. And she should be getting a raise for this performance. Stole every moment she was on screen.

  6. A+ casting all around. Mia Wacaneverspellherlastname was mesmerizing. Her hair alone deserves an Oscar. Hiddles did a great job playing the divided, tormented lead. And I enjoyed seeing Charlie Hunnam play a rather benign fellow just looking for a little love, dangit.

  7. Touted as horror, but I felt the strong waves of gothic romance. From the lyrical, almost poetic dialogue, to the rotting Victorian England backdrop. Dark, depressing, unrelenting. Right up my alley!

  8. Dammit all to hell. I wish I’d written this book. The lovely dialogue, the delicious, twisted deceptions. Jealous writer syndrome over here.

  9. Speaking of not really horror: there were no “jump out of my seat” moments, but my heart raced the entire film. See next point.

  10. One (of many) things I love about Del Toro is his cinematic insistence that the greatest evil is not the ghosts or monsters outside, but the ones within.

Film Score: A


I read. I watch original cable shows. I take in a movie from time to time. And most of what I absorb can be described in ten bullet points. Thus, Sarah’s 10 Point Reviews was born. You’ll find no rhyme or reason to what and when I review something. My motivations tend to as random as my reviews. You’re welcome to add your own ten bullets in the comments, if the mood strikes. Enjoy!

Book Review: Wayward Pines Trilogy by Blake Crouch

I often ask for great horror and thriller recommendations on my social media pages. After Blake Crouch came up a few times, I decided to see what the fuss was about. Wayward Pines was everything I thought it would be, and nothing I thought it would be. I’m a notoriously slow reader, and I finished the series in two nights.

My reviews of the individual titles are below.


Pines-Blake_Crouch_(2012)Wayward Pines is everything I expected, and nothing like what I expected. The cross of multiple genres- thriller, horror, sci-fi, dystopian- is so finely woven together that you never get genre whiplash. The narrative moves quickly- so quickly I read it over one evening and a short plane ride. And while this particular theory/idea has been tackled before, Crouch adds his own unique spins and twists so that Wayward Pines stands well on its own. Quick, thrilling, and well-spun. I immediately picked up the second book.

Pick up a copy here.


wayward-175Fantastic second book in the trilogy. Not a moment of downtime from a racing heartbeat, and a sense of anxious anticipation. I had no idea how it was going to go, or end, possibly because of Crouch’s ability to keep the reader in the NOW. Getting ready to dig into the third book tonight. I haven’t been this riveted to the page in a long time.

Pick up a copy here.

The Last Town

20423680Overall, I really enjoyed this series. Read all three books in three days, which is quick for me. I stayed up late into the night, all three nights. and immediately picked up a few more of Crouch’s books. As a series, I would score it a 4.5, but am giving this book 4, largely because it has the designation of the book that either resolves things, or doesn’t. Having read on Crouch’s website that he doesn’t plan to write a fourth book, I have to assume this is where the story ends.

Problem areas for me:

–> The story was too short for so much ground that needed to be covered. A lot of that page time felt wasted by unnecessary flashbacks (telling us things we already know), and a very long battle sequence that could have been cut in half– or the story elongated.
–> Dialogue, for some reason, leaned on the cheesy side, especially the conversations where the love triangle elements were involved. In another book I might not have noticed, but Crouch’s writing is so strong otherwise that some of the exchanges took me out of the story momentarily. I also couldn’t help but feeling a second love triangle was unnecessary, given all the other odds and threads, but it did at least serve the purpose of explaining how Ethan got there in the first place.
–> Some missed opportunities: Adam’s experiences, while teased at being the key to their survival as a race, ended up being a red herring. More emphasis should have been given to the fact, though, that a dude survived four years beyond the gate!

Like the other books, The Last Town was fast-paced and I imagine some will disagree, but I liked the ending. I actually didn’t guess that was Ethan’s intention until the moment was upon me, and, given this is the last book, this is probably the best choice for where to leave it. And kudos for the shortest epilogue I’ve ever read in a book. It’s technically a cliffhanger, though, given the implications nearing the final pages, it could also be seen as a great conclusion.

Pick up a copy here.

Overall Collection Rating: 5 Stars

Book Review: Heart Shaped Box, 20th Century Ghosts, Horns, and N024A2 by Joe Hill

When I first heard the son of Stephen King was an author, I was skeptical. What are the odds there would be two masters of horror living under one roof? Curiosity got the best of me, and one thing led to another. And now Joe Hill is on the short list of authors I’ll one-click regardless of what he publishes. His talent and gift for language and storytelling is uniquely his.

My reviews of the individual titles are below, in the order I read them.

Heart Shaped Box

I’ll admit, I picked this up curious about what the son of Stephen King could do. About ten pages in I forgot that experiment, and instead was drawn in by the engaging writing.

Hill uses simple, clear language, but combines it in a way that is highly vivid and visceral. This is subtle horror, not “in your face,” and effect is powerful. On the outset, his characters have the potential to turn into tired cliches, but he never lets that happen. Every single character, even the passing ones, is clear and distinct, the sum of the parts being greater than the individual.

Also remarkable is how easily he takes the two main characters, Jude and Georgia, who are not immediately likable but at some point (and what that point is, I could not define) you begin to see them as people who you WANT to see succeed, to beat this thing. Not only as individuals, but as a team.

Original, fabulously written, and engaging til the last page.

It takes a lot to hold my interest nowadays, but I could not put this book down. Moving on to his other work now.

Pick up a copy here.


20th Century Ghosts

The title here may be misleading, depending on your interpretation of ghosts. Most of these stories were not spooky in a literal sense. However, each tale features characters who are haunted by something… whether that be something intrinsic or extrinsic.

I’m not usually a fan of short fiction, as I find myself just getting interest in a story by the time it ends. Hill, however, manages to create entire, fully-fleshed works of fiction so that you walk away from each story feeling satisfied (or at least, ready to move on). The best here was probably Pop Art, which in concept was completely off-the-wall but is presented so sympathetic and believable that you can’t help feeling a different person when you finish. Voluntary Committal was another that will stay with me.

Of all the stories, my favorite was My Father’s Mask, but with one caveat: while most of the stories in this collection were sufficient in length, this one really required an entire novel. Heck, maybe several novels. I sincerely hope he expands on his story later, because the potential here is both intriguing and endless.

Most of the stories here would fall into the categories of speculative or literary fiction. Definitely a collection to check out, and one I would recommend to anyone. There’s a story (or fifteen) here for every reader.

Pick up a copy here.



download (1)Joe Hill is my new favorite name in horror. A phenomenal journey across a story so unique and engaging, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. The characters at the surface were not the type of people I would find engaging, but turned out to be individuals I cared a great deal about. Even the villain was dimensional enough as to be relatable. I can’t say enough good things about this book, which takes the award for the best horror novel I’ve read in the last decade. A+

Pick up a copy here.



I don’t know that any one genre can properly encapsulate Horns, which is one of the most rich and unexpectedly delightful books I’ve read in years. It takes an incredibly talented voice to mix murder mystery, romance, paranormal, and side-splitting humor in one story, weaving them all together seamlessly. While none of the characters were wholly lovable, they were all enough to carry the story forward, and to make you root for them. While some have complained of the pacing, it never slowed for me, each narrative thread pushing you toward the next action, the next twist. I couldn’t put it down.

My only piece of constructive feedback is that, even allowing for an unreliable narrator who is self-hating, I struggled to feel that Hill made Ig the person everyone else saw him as. We were told who Ig was, but often it was only through the eyes of others that he was ever really that person. But given the narrative voice, and Ig’s frame of mind, I can forgive this and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

Joe Hill is easily taking the place of others as my favorite author.

Pick up a copy here.

Overall Collection Rating: 5 Stars

An Interview with Christopher Rice

rice2I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite authors, Christopher Rice.

Let’s all take a moment of silence for my inner fangirl.

Back on track, I was first turned on to Rice’s work when he released his first novel, A Density of Souls. Like many, I was curious what the son of Anne Rice could bring to the table, and I was not, at all, disappointed. I’ve been an avid reader of his work ever since. You can read my reviews of The Heavens Rise and The Vines, which are easily my two favorites.

In addition to being a talented and prolific writer, he is also the co-host of The Dinner Party Show, an endlessly entertaining live comedy variety show that airs on Sunday nights.

This week, he embarks on the tour for his latest supernatural thriller, The Vines. I’ll be traveling to New Orleans in a few days to participate in Undead Con as a panelist, an event Rice is featured at. I also suspect his mother has a secret plan to crown him as Lestat at the Lestat Coronation Ball on Halloween, and I wouldn’t miss that for all the world.

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An Interview with Becket, Author of The Blood Vivicanti

BecketI am pleased to welcome Becket, author of The Blood Vivicanti, for an interview. You may be most familiar with Becket on his Facebook page, where he talks about his job as Anne Rice’s personal assistant, his awe-inspiring years living in a New Orleans monastery, and his love of everything geek. Now, Becket can add “author” to his list of life experiences as he introduces us to the first of six installments in the serial novel, The Blood Vivicanti. The serial involves an entirely new and unique set of blood-drinkers, which were born of a collaboration between Becket and Anne Rice.

I hope you enjoy my interview with the charming and lovely Becket, who, on top of everything else, is just an all-around awesome guy to chat with. And thank you, Becket, for stopping by!

Stay tuned after the interview for my review of The Blood Vivicanti, as well as links where you can connect with Becket online.

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