Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #90: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill


I try not to compare Joe Hill to his dad, because I don’t think he’s trying to cash in on his dad’s incredible fame. But even if Joe Hill had never HEARD of Stephen King, it’s hard not to compare the two. And knowing how much I love love love Stephen King, I mean it as a compliment when I say that this book reminded me a lot of King at his absolute best.

NOS4A2 is the license plate number of a 1930s Rolls-Royce that helps a man named Charles Manx kidnap children across the country and take them to his Christmasland, which doesn’t exist in the strictest sense of the word. Victoria McQueen has a transport with a similar ability — a bicycle that can cross a bridge to take her to whatever she is missing. 

This is a creepy, weird book starring a truly scary dude and a truly bad ass chick. Vic is wonderfully fleshed out and given realistic weaknesses to balance out her strengths. I could not put this thing down (700 pages in about 3 days), and I cannot wait for Hill’s next offering to the world of horror.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #52: NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

imagesI started reading Stephen King novels when I was WAY too young (my mother thought Firestarter was a kids’ book because it had Drew Barrymore on the cover) and I have always enjoyed horror fiction.  Is it possible to discuss Joe Hill without mentioning his father, Stephen King?  Even if they weren’t related, their style and stories are very similar.  I had high expectations of NOS4R2 after having enjoyed Hill’s earlier novels, but for some reason this one just left me cold.

My first thought was that this book was the most “Stephen King” of Hill’s books to date.  There were so many elements that seemed directly drawn from King: the talisman of childhood revealing another world, the corruption of innocence, the horror within the everyday.  But what really bugged me about this book was that it just seemed to go on forever.  Once the story was established, it followed a fairly well worn path, with all the characters doing exactly what you would expect.  It just seemed to me that a great chunk from the middle of the book could have been deleted without it affecting the story at all.  I found myself putting this book aside several times and vaguely looking for something else to read, as I simply was not caught up by the story.

Not a terrible read, but one that I never really felt involved in.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Reviews 24 & 25: Double Feature by Owen King and NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Unknown-1I didn’t plan to read these two books right after one another. And I didn’t originally intend to compare them to each other, but really, I couldn’t help it.

Stephen King’s sons are both fine writers, and they each have a certain gift for storytelling. Joe has proven in his earlier works (Horns, 20th Century Ghosts, and Heart Shaped Box) that he’s practically a chip off the old block –he takes some horror, mixes it with real life, and often has trouble wrapping it all up in the end, just like dear old dad. But I didn’t mind, because usually (although I must admit, I barely remember Heart Shaped Box) the first 2/3 of the story was worth it. Owen was more of a mystery to me, as I hadn’t read his previous book of interconnected short stories.

Both books had one thing in common: a main character who proved themselves VERY difficult to like or care about. But other than that, they completely stand on their own.

I think of the two, I slightly preferred Double Feature. DF is the story of Sam Dolan, son of B-movie actor Booth Dolan. Sam has lived his entire life resenting his father and attempting to step out of his shadow and make his own name in film. As the story begins, young 20-something Sam writes and directs his first movie. Its a terrible experience for Sam, one that ends up changing his life forever in many ways. I wasn’t too invested in this part of the story, and when King suddenly jumped plots and timeframes, I welcomed it. The book continues along, telling the story of Booth and Sam’s mom, Sam’s childhood, and Sam’s life 10 years after his disastrous film project. We meet a cast of outlandish characters: a crazy (literally) assistant director, a construction contractor who can’t stop adding on to his own house, Sam’s insane step mother, Sam’s teenage half-sister, his sloth-like roommate who won’t go outside the apartment, a lunatic catcher for the NY Yankees, a former college girlfriend, and a college janitor who becomes famous for all the wrong reasons.

The book was well written and I enjoyed the time and POV changes. While it wasn’t a laugh-out-loud book, there were parts that made me smirk and smile…I might classify it as a satire.

On the other hand, we have NOS4A2, Hill’s huge vampire novel. I didn’t dislike it, but was surprised that I kept putting it down and wondering what else I had to read instead.

Teenage Vic McQueen has a special bike that takes her to a magical bridge that doesn’t exist. When she crosses the bridge, she can find things. Her mom’s bracelet, her friend’s cat, or even answers to the questions she’s beginning to have about her sanity. On one of her final trips across the bridge, she comes across Charles Manx, an ageless monster who has a magic trick of his own. Manx uses his Rolls Royce to drive to Christmasland, where children live forever in complete innocence. He abducts them from their parents (who are then usually raped and murdered by Manx’s lackey), and drives them to Christmasland on the roads of his imagination. Vic and Manx cross paths and she becomes the first child to ever escape from him, which he doesn’t forget — even after he’s dead.

Of course, Vic grows up and has a child of her own. Vic battles addiction and sanity, always wondering if the trips she took over the bridge in her youth ever actually happened. When she finally feels she’s getting her life back together, Manx comes looking for her and her son, so that he can take him to Christmasland. And finally, that’s when the book started moving for me. Too bad that it was about 2/3 of the way through. And the ending was great, too (unlike Horns and many of daddy’s books).

Hill is a great storyteller. But I think his little brother is a better writer. And I’ll keep reading whatever the family writes (I just got Joyland and will be reading that soon) to see how and if they continue to influence each other.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #52: 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill


At the start of the year, I never would’ve guessed that I’d be wrapping up a full Cannonball, 52 books read and reviewed, just less than halfway through the year, let alone that I’d be fourth to do it. Maybe next year I can grab a medal position; I might have this year if not for allowing myself to get distracted with other mediums, film and television mainly, and going through periods where I was lucky to find a book I could stand to make it the entire way through. I’ve stalled on probably around a dozen books or so, ranging from Stephen King’s Under the Dome to Terry Pratchett’s Making Money, and it wouldn’t be right to review a book, or say I’ve read it, unless I make it all the way to the end.

Joe Hill made that mighty challenging with 20th Century Ghosts, hand-picked by me to close this out. This story ends where it began, with Hill, whose Heart-Shaped Box marked my first review of the year. My logic back then was why not start with a novel by the son of my favorite author, Stephen King? Because, as I would find out, he mirrors his father right down to his failings, most notably King’s inability to craft a suitable and satisfying ending for his stories. Now with 20th Century Ghosts, I find he’s just as un-engaging when he’s off his game as daddy.

Initially, I gave thought to reviewing this collection one short story at a time, but there are 16 total, and… well…

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Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #58: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

I may be in the minority here, but I didn’t like this novel as much as Joe Hill’s previous novels. I think part of it is that I didn’t read the description of the novel too closely, and basically ordered it because it was by Joe Hill, and I assumed that it would be about vampires based on the title. I was excited to see Hill’s take on vampires, especially given his father’s treatment of them in Salem’s Lot. However, while the character referred to in the title certainly has vampiric qualities, sapping life energy from others to remain alive, it isn’t a straight up vampire story as I expected. Additionally, I like Stephen King a lot, but one thing I’ve enjoyed about Joe Hill is that even though he works in the same genre as his father, his voice is very different and distinct. This novel reminded me more of his father than any of his previous works, which isn’t a bad thing, but it felt odd.
The novel begins with a creepy prologue, introducing the now comatose Charles Talent Manx, the novel’s villain. Of course, this is a horror story, so the reader immediately knows that there is no way this man will stay incapacitated. From here, the story flashes back in time to its protagonist, Victoria, or the Brat. After their return from a family holiday, 8 year old Victoria’s parents begin to fight about a lost bracelet, and Victoria wants to end their fight. She runs off with her trusty bicycle, and discovers that she can make a bridge with her mind that will take her to the things she is looking for. She doesn’t mention it to anyone, and makes up cover stories for how she found the lost items, which she even believes herself though she knows the truth deep down. As she gets older, she has questions about this ability, and the bike leads her to a person with answers. Victoria is not the only one with this type of skill, though in manifests differently in everyone, the one common factor being that all of the people have talismans, such as Victoria’s bike. However, the use of these skills takes a toll, exhibiting as illnesses and eye issues in the case of Victoria. During this conversation, she also learns of Charles Talent Manx, a man that has been using this ability to keep himself alive and kidnapping children in the process.

loulamac’s #CBR5 review #6: Guns by Stephen King, UR by Stephen King and In the Tall Grass by Stephen King & Joe Hill

In order to qualify these shorter entries in Stephen King’s oeuvre for CBR5, I decided to read and review them together. I’m a big fan, so I had nice time.


Stephen King, the novelist and gun-owner, wrote Guns in the media landscape shaped by the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings last year. Unlike many other commentators, he attempted to bring a measured view to the gun control debate. As an English pacifist, widespread gun ownership is anathema to me, but I appreciate our cousins across the Atlantic have a very different view. King avoids both the scare-mongering of the anti-gun movement and the outright insanity of the NRA to build a fair case for preserving an American’s right to bear arms while limiting the ownership of automatic weapons. Interesting statistics on America’s taste in TV shows, movies and compter games debunk the pat ‘culture of violence’ argument, whilst you can’t argue with the fall in gun crime seen when laws restricting the possession of assault weapons were passed in Australia.  This intelligent and considered essay could be the most thought-provoking yet reasonable piece you could read on the subject.


When asked to write a story exclusively for Kindle, Stephen King agreed, on the condition he could write it about a Kindle. UR was born. As with 11.22.63, the story deals with the slippery question of if one could change events, whether one should. Following a seeming computer glitch, the sinister device in this novella falls into the hands of Wesley, an English teacher at a college. In true Stephen King form, Wesley is an ordinary (even weak) man, who find himself tested by extraordinary circumstances. You see, the Kindle Wesley receives is a portal to myriad alternative realities where Hemingway wrote more novels and the Cuban Missile Crisis ended the world. When faced with an unpalatable version of their own future, Wesley and his friends decide to make a few small changes. As I would expect from one of the greatest living English-language writers, the tone builds from casually amusing to tense to downright anxiety-inducing. The characterisations are inevitably brief, but no less compelling for it. I love Stephen King.

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I’ve really enjoyed the two Joe Hill novels I’ve read, and as we have established above, I’m a huge Stephen King fan, so what could go wrong with a collaboration between the two? Not much. In the Tall Grass is every bit as unsettling, gruesome and frightening as you’d hope. The story opens with a brother and sister on a road trip across Kansas. She’s pregnant and going to stay with their aunt and uncle, he’s sharing the driving. When they hear a child calling for help, they stop, and are soon lost in the long grass by the side of the highway. What they lose – each other, their way and ultimately their minds – may have been explored better in other King novels (The Shining or Pet Sematary perhaps), but this is a great example of the art of short-story telling, and the inevitable bleak ending is predictable but no less awesome for it.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #17: Horns by Joe Hill


In spite of his debut novel Heart-Shaped Box faltering spectacularly down its final stretch, I picked Horns up from the library on a lark. With the book about to hit theaters, starring Daniel Radcliffe as its main character,Ig, I thought I might as well.

The end result, though, remained the same, with Horns just sort of sputtering out as it neared its final pages. The villain gets his, but it comes in such a hasty, anti-climactic fashion. Then Ig, our anti-hero, just sort of fades back into the woodwork in ludicrous fashion, robbing the story any sort of satisfying conclusion to what it’d spent all this time building up to.

In short, like Heart-Shaped BoxHorns just ends, not naturally, but rather because Hill decided it was time when, in reality, it was far from it. Though I guess it’s appropriate that the stories of each character meet such unsatisfactory endings, given I wasn’t invested in, let alone rooting for, a single one of them.

To be frank, Ig could’ve become the literal devil and brought about the end times, wiping everyone, himself included, out and it would’ve been alright in my book. At least then we wouldn’t have been subjected to any more of his philosophic rants. Or, even worse, have any more characters involuntarily reveal the dark secrets they, and everyone else, are hiding.

Look, Hill, I get it. We all have our secrets, things we’d never want anyone else to know. We tell lies, ranging from white ones to deadly, festering black ones. Even those people we think we can trust are no less deceptive than the rest. In fact, they sometimes harbor secrets deep, deep down that can inflict more physical and emotional harm on us than anything else imaginable.

Do we need to be reminded of this so routinely, however? It’s as if he gets a perverse feeling of joy from thinking up reprehensible back stories for his entire band of characters, all the way from Ig’s family to the priests at the local church. After so long, I just started skimming these passages and filling in the blanks myself, a task that isn’t all too difficult once you’ve read enough of them.

Worse still is when the reader is thrust into the head of Lee, a character so over-the-top in his villainy that he makes everyone else look like veritable saints by comparison. Like with the aforementioned passages, I often found myself starting to skim the bits involving him, trying to get back to what I felt was the real heart and meat of the story, Ig and Merrin’s relationship.

From the argument they had preceding her untimely demise to the letter from her that Ig discovers near the end, it was compelling enough that there was no need for the more fantastical aspects of the story, in my opinion. The horns might have been the intended hook, and they function as that rather nicely, but I think Horns would’ve functioned better if it were allowed to be more personal and slow-developing.

Because it wasn’t until we began to snatch glimpses of the past that the novel gains any sort of considerable immediacy, ironically enough. While I took issue with the way he jammed the flashbacks in, taking lengthy trips back in time seemingly at random rather than peppering that backstory throughout, the content made me forget about all my misgivings.

Likewise, Hill has enough of a flair for writing, clearly passed down from his father to him, that Horns remains an enjoyable enough read despite its bounty of problems. It wasn’t until I finished and went back to reflect upon the story that I really started noticing the flaws since, outside of the ending, they had felt minor in the larger scope of things at the time.

Lastly, Horns strikes me as the sort of book that will benefit from being adapted into a film. Some stories are just better served told through a visual medium, and given over to someone else to tidy up, and I thinkHorns certainly qualifies as one of those. We’ll see, though.

In the meantime, I’d suggest you give it a read, if only to prepare yourself for the movie. There are worse ways to spend your time.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.