ElCicco #CBR5 Review #47: Locke & Key Volumes 1-6 by Joe Hill, Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

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Locke & Key is a six volume graphic novel that is scary, smart, and humorous. The first five volumes [Welcome to Lovecraft, Head Games, Crown of Shadows, Keys to the Kingdom, Clockworks] have already been published. Volume 6 [Alpha & Omega] will be published in February 2014, but you can pick up the single issues now, except for the final chapter. That will be published Nov. 27 and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Locke & Key involves quite a bit of murder and horror, which is familiar territory for author Joe Hill and his father Stephen King. I usually shy away from creepy stuff, but the story line is so good, it sucked me in, and the artwork is a stunning complement to the writing.

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The series focuses on the Locke family and their ancestral home Keyhouse, which sits on the edge of a small Massachusetts island town called Lovecraft. When mom Nina, teen son Tyler, teen daughter Kinsey and first grader Bode arrive at Keyhouse, which has been maintained by cool, artsy Uncle Duncan, their dad Rendell has just been brutally murdered by a mentally unstable high school student named Sam Lesser. Tyler feels responsible, Kinsey is overcome by fear and tears, Bode feels lost and alone, and Nina hides inside a wine bottle. The local police keep a watch on the family when Sam Lesser escapes Juvenile Detention in California. Sam is on the road to find the family, drawn forward by a voice that comes to him and promises him everything he desires in return for his service in locating some keys.

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Throughout the volumes, Bode, Kinsey and Tyler find unusual keys around Keyhouse, keys that unlock magical/supernatural powers. Meanwhile the malevolent force that sucks in Sam also tries to work on the members of the Locke family. The story itself is fascinating because it’s more than a traditional quest story or “forces-of-good-versus-forces-of-evil” story. It is truly a psychological thriller. Many of the keys have the power to transform the person him or herself — to change form or look or even to get literally inside someone’s head. In the wrong hands, they could wreak havoc not just on one person or the town of Lovecraft, but the whole world.

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I enjoy graphic novels, but for me, it’s only worthwhile if the plot and writing are any good. That’s the hook for me, while my husband gets pulled in by art first. We both loved Locke & Key. Hill’s creative plot and sympathetic characters made me keep reading even when I was terrified about what was going to happen next (which I hate; I generally avoid horror in all forms). He goes back in time to provide an unusual family history for the Lockes, and his tale of the creation of the keys demonstrates an inventive mix of historical and supernatural imagination. The modern day Lockes are dealing with the usual teen angst and high school drama, which is also the source for the humor in the story. I especially enjoyed the prom scene that gives a hilarious nod to “Carrie.” Hill has written a “sins-of-the-father/sins-of-the-son” storyline that unfolds with tragic consequences but the possibility of redemption.

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My husband recommended Locke & Key and we discussed the merits of the graphic novel form over traditional fiction for this story. Certainly, Locke & Key could have been told as a novel, but given the incredibly imaginative creatures and scenarios Hill envisioned, the graphic novel form was the perfect form for the story. Rodriguez’ ghosts and demons, the keys, the settings (Rodriguez is trained as an architect and it shows in his blueprints for Keyhouse) and characters are better than anything my poor imagination could have come up with. I also loved his homage to Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes at the opening of Vol. 4.

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I both look forward to and dread the last installment of Locke & Key. Hill has no compunction about killing characters in brutal ways, and children are not exempt from that. I’m worried about losing some of them (I love Rufus and Erin — two characters who know the truth and suffer horribly because of it), and I hate to see the story end because it’s so good. The series has been nominated for The Eisner and other awards, and fellow writers such as Warren Ellis and Robert Crais have praised the writing and art. As they say, this is a graphic novel for those who don’t really like graphic novels.

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Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #84: The Small Hand by Susan Hill

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The premise is chilling, the finished novel is somewhat less so. Which is kind of a shame, since I was all geared up for this being The Woman in Black Returns in terms of sheer terror. The full review is on my blog here

Malin’s #CBR5 Books #69-71: Charley Davidson books 1-3″ by Darynda Jones

First Grave on the Right – 3 stars

Second Grave on the Left – 3.5 stars

Third Grave Dead Ahead – 4 stars

Charley Davidson is a private investigator in Albuquerque. She’s also the Grim Reaper. She can speak every language in the world, she pretty much remembers every thing that’s happened in her life, from the moment she was born, and dead people pass through her as a portal to the next world. Because she constantly sees dead people, she’s been able to help her father (now a former cop) and uncle (still a cop) solve crimes since she was a little girl. It’s much easier to solve a murder if the dead person can tell you who did the deed. Her office is above her father’s bar, and her best friend and next door neighbour is her extremely over qualified secretary. Charley loves coffee, slogans with cheesy sayings on them (most chapters begin with said cheesy lines), and has a dreadful relationship with her stepmother.

As the first book begins, she’s been having super sexy dream encounters with a mystery guy. Who sort of reminds her of the scary dark presence that’s been shadowing her on and off since the day she was born, and who’s even saved her life on occasion. As Charley’s dream encounters continue, she starts getting tiny hints as to who her shadowy seducer may be, and she tries to discover his true identity while also trying to solve the murder of three lawyers.

In the second book, Cookie, Charley’s secretary and best friend drags her out of bed in the middle of the night because a close friend of hers has disappeared, and sent a text asking Cookie and Charley to help. As they start investigating, it turns out that several people Mimi (the missing woman) went to high school with, have started turning up dead recently. Reyes Farrow, Charley’s mysterious life-long protector, has abandoned his corporeal body and is determined to let it die. He’s not at all impressed when Charley is determined to track said body down to save it, as he claims the dangerous entities that have control over it, are trying to trap her, and want nothing more than to see her dead.

In the third book, Charley is doing everything in her power to stay awake. Every time she falls asleep, Reyes is there, accusing and upset because of what she did at the end of book 2. Hence, Charley pretty much mainlines caffeine and does her best to never sleep. She’s trying to solve a missing person’s case, prove that an arrogant doctor is a ruthless murderer, and the less sleep she has, the crazier and more unpredictable things become. Reyes also wants her to prove that Earl Walker, the man he was sent to prison for killing, is still alive, so he can clear his name.

My actual review is on my blog.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 16: Ghost Planet by Sharon Fisher

Goodreads summary: Psychologist Elizabeth Cole prepared for the worst when she accepted a job on a newly discovered world—a world where every colonist is tethered to an alien who manifests in the form of a dead loved one. But she never expected she’d struggle with the requirement to shun these “ghosts.” She never expected to be so attracted to the charming Irishman assigned as her supervisor. And she certainly never expected to discover she died in a transport crash en route to the planet. 

As a ghost, Elizabeth is symbiotically linked to her supervisor, Murphy—creator of the Ghost Protocol, which forbids him to acknowledge or interact with her. Confused and alone—oppressed by her ghost status and tormented by forbidden love—Elizabeth works to unlock the secrets of her own existence. 

But her quest for answers lands her in a tug-of-war between powerful interests, and she soon finds herself a pawn in the struggle for control of the planet…a struggle that could separate her forever from the man that she loves.

This book was the April selection for the Vaginal Fantasy Hangout, so I picked it up expectantly… and literally didn’t put it down until about 9 hours later once I’d read it completely. Thank god I work in an isolated space, because I am ashamed to admit that I took a holiday at my desk yesterday and was completely absorbed in this book. Sharon Fisher, I blame you for rising workplace delinquency! Kind of.

Anyway, let me get a few nitpicks out of the way, with the acknowledgement that for some people who have been discussing Ghost Planet on Goodreads, they are more than minor nitpicks. I did feel that the worldbuilding was a little lacking — the planet is described as having taken on ecological characteristics similar to Earth in order to be pretty recognizable to the colonists. In one sense, this is a nice shorthand, since we can fairly easily imagine a less populated, less polluted Earth. On the other hand, it functions to deprive us of what could have been some more thoughtful descriptions of the planet and the process of that adaptation, and more detail about the settlements that the colonists live in. Another related issue, which may be more due to its ‘sci-fi lite’ status than to a unique deficiency of this book, is that outside of the special attention paid to Elizabeth’s particular research (which I’ll get to later,) the futuristic technology which enables the colonization of this planet (e.g. space travel, any terraforming concerns?) and that which is used by the colonists (flat-reader) is given no description practically at all. If I had to guess, a “flat-reader” is a tablet computer, but why not just call it a tablet, unless it’s actually a futuristic descendent of a tablet? In which case, what makes it so? Anyway, little things like that make the sci-fi geek in me wish there was a little more in the way of techie detail.

At the end of the day, though, if an original concept and a well-paced plot that do that concept justice are set in front of me, I am going to completely forget about other minor concerns and just love the shit out of a book. And that’s basically what happened. I loved the main character, both as a personality and as a scientist. I read a lot of doom-and-gloom dystopia that tends to paint scientists as misanthropic megalomaniacs with unethical aspirations toward human purity or genetic cleansing, so it was refreshing to have a protagonist who is as empathetic as she is pragmatic. She actually explicitly employs the scientific method, which is pretty darn cool: she has a hypothesis, gathers data to support it, but also considers other possibilities and doesn’t reject them until she has absolutely enough evidence to do so. Not surprisingly, a character like this reasons well with others and builds a totally believable team of support, both from secondary characters and from me, who really wanted her to succeed in love and life!

I really highly recommend this. It was addictive and a great mix of psycho-biological drama and romance, and a really promising debut novel from this author.

Teresaelectro’s #CBR5 Review #3: Thicker Than Water by Mike Carey

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Thicker than Water is the fourth tale of Felix Castor’s trials and tribulations in modern day London. Fix as his friends call him is a freelance exorcist with a problem with authority and penchant for chaos. Demons, ghosts, zombies and werewolves are very real and aren’t hiding in the shadows these days. Nevertheless, Fix can barely make enough money to pay his eccentric landlady and confidant Pen.

This time, the case is personal – a bully from his past named Kenny Seddon has written “F..Castor” on a bloody car window where said bully had a party with a couple of straight razors. Fix is already on the Met’s radar for past indescretions and is promptly dragged into the case. One cop in particular really hates Castor, which thrusts him upon an unwanted walk down memory lane to clear his name. And if that wasn’t enough, his estranged brother who is Catholic Priest striving for sainthood is somehow mixed up with the case and refuses to show his cards.

Read the rest of the review on my blog.