Strange Weather by Joe Hill – A Book Review

Joe Hill first won me over with his graphic novel series entitled Locke & Key.  Since then, I’ve particularly enjoyed his books Horns and Heart-Shaped Box.  Without a doubt, though, the short story collection called 20th Century Ghosts is my absolute favorite work by the author.

Because he does shorts so well, I knew I had to read Strange Weather.  This book is a compilation of four brief novels–also called novellas.

I’ll briefly review each installment …

The first is titled Snapshot.  It’s about a man using a Polaroid camera that essentially steals memories.  The main character first encounters this man as a child, and he is horrified to learn the villain has been terrorizing his elderly neighbor.  He is eventually forced to confront the evil stranger.  This story is a simple yet brilliantly imaginative concept.  It takes such a universal idea but makes it feel fresh, inventive, and unique.  Hill provided very likable, identifiable characters in this tale, and he kept me turning the pages until the very end.  My only complaint is the “epilogue” of sorts.  I think Hill let this story linger a bit too long as he updated us on the main character’s adulthood and connected his experience as a child to modern day technology.  This connected felt forced to me.

The second story is called Loaded.  There’s nothing supernatural about this installment, and that makes it the most horrifying of all.  It’s about our nation’s sick fetish with guns, and how lives are routinely ruined due to the rampant misuse of them.  Loaded is consistently either discomforting or flat-out terrifying.  Hill does not let up and go easy on the reader in this story.  I think it’s perhaps his best work … ever.

Aloft is the next novella in this book.  There have been a few moments in my life when I blatantly got jealous of an author because he or she came up with an idea that I wish could have been mine.  I don’t want to give too much away with this one because it genuinely surprised me and I want you to have a similar experience.  I’ll tell you this much–a skydiver lands on a UFO before opening his parachute.  … I know!  Great idea, right?

Hill finally delivers Rain as his last offering.  A freak thunderstorm breaks out in Boulder, Colorado, but this is no ordinary rainstorm.  This storm rains nails.  Honeysuckle must watch her girlfriend die in a flurry of crystalline spikes during this storm, and she then takes it upon herself to walk to Denver in order to inform her girlfriend’s father.  She encounters awful, post-apocalyptic scenes as a result, but also witnesses humanity’s will to continue.  Honeysuckle is challenged by awful scenarios throughout the story, but nothing is more revolting than her own neighbors.  Like Snapshot, I think Hill took this one just a bit too far.  I feel he should have left a mystique regarding the spiked rainfall that eventually plagues the planet, but he instead reveals the cause.  The perpetrator of the vile deed struck me as too contrived, too coincidental, and too, well, manufactured.

Overall, Strange Weather proved an incredibly enjoyable experience.  Hill has a talent at creating imaginative plots and filling them with rounded, charismatic characters.  If you’ve ever wanted to try Joe Hill, I believe this book encapsulates the best of what he has to offer.

Image result for strange weather book cover

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Locke & Key: Heaven and Earth by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez – A Book Review

You may remember that I did not care for the price of Locke & Key: Small World in relation to the amount of pages.  (Click HERE if you’d like to revisit my angst.)  Heaven and Earth, like Small World, is a collection of three very short stories involving the Locke & Key mythology.  Short stories may be an overstatement.  One of them is short.  The other two are downright minuscule.

The first short involves the family introduced in Small World.  It is an excellently executed short story that will have you tearing up before you know it.

The second short, which is far shorter, focuses upon the children in the first after they’ve reached early adulthood.  Some gangsters come their way with rape and murder on their minds.  Let’s just say the gangsters receive poetic justice.

The third will be over before you blink, but it will bring a smile to your face, guaranteed.

The book also contains photographs of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez exploring the island they used as a model for the book.  They are candid, interesting shots with the guys joking around.  There are a few alternate covers that use actual crafted keys to replicate those found in the stories, which are actually very cool.

Now that I’ve accepted the price point of these little additions to the Locke & Key story line, I’m not quite so upset.  As a Locke & Key fan, I would say that both Small World and Heaven and Earth are required reading.  I appreciate that they tried to fill in some space to better justify the price, but I personally would have much preferred one more story instead.

Image result for locke and key heaven and earth cover

 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Locke & Key: Small World by Hill and Rodriguez – A Book Review

Locke & Key proved itself a unique, must-read series years ago.  Written by Joe Hill and primarily drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, the series had a very clear beginning, middle, and end.  It also concluded on a good note, which is not always an easy feat to accomplish.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it follows the story of the Lockes, three siblings (high school aged and younger) and their mother. They move to the Locke family mansion after their father is murdered. This is the house their father grew up in, and it is full of mystery, horror, and paranormal keys that impart special abilities, as they soon discover.

Small World takes place long before the regular series.  It features an earlier Locke family with what they call the Small World Key.  It can put you into a doll house, take you out of a doll house, or any combination thereof.  This story features a spider that accidentally gets enlarged and set loose upon the family in their mansion.

The art is exquisite, as always, and the story is fine.  Unfortunately, this slim hardcover delivers an incredibly short tale.  The rest of the book is comprised of interviews, alternative covers, guest artists, notes, and the original script.

I won’t lie – considering that this book retails at $14.99, I felt very cheated.  I do admit that I bought it without researching the page length, which happens to be 24.  I did not even think about what the “Deluxe Edition” may mean.  Truthfully, I was unaware a single issue format had previously been released.  But, given the price and the fact that it’s a hardcover, I expected a book more consistent with those qualities.  I saw a new Locke & Key book and I bought it out of sheer loyalty.

The brief story shocked me in relation to its high price, and this ultimately soured me on the book.  As a result, I cannot recommend purchasing Locke & Key: Small World.  I’d pick it up at your local library instead.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill – A Book Review

I’ve read quite a bit by Joe Hill, and I have to say that 20th Century Ghosts is his best work.  The stories in this collection are nearly perfect.  Though each belongs to “genre,” they are so original and innovative that they demand their own definition.  Some are horrifying, some are thought-provoking, some are downright romantic, but each cuts to the core of the main character and, though briefly, provides a potent insight into the protagonist that many authors fail to achieve throughout an entire novel.

I won’t say that Hill is America’s greatest author, because he isn’t, and I think he would agree with that.  But in this collection the man did everything he does best without error.  Even if you’re not a fan of “genre,” I highly recommend this book.  For aspiring writers who need to see short stories done correctly or for literature fans who need a good thrill, 20th Century Ghosts is a rewarding experience.

 

My New Addictions

I’m a comic book guy.  Have been all my life.  Yes, my tastes have changed as I’ve gotten (much) older, but I still love the medium, the craft, and the sheer artistry involved.  When words and pictures come together to sequentially deliver a story – it’s stunning.

The problem is, I’m a little picky about what I buy.  Yes, I’ll pick up just about anything from the library, but, as would be expected, I’m a bit at the library’s mercy in terms of what’s available and when.

I’m more than willing to pay for those titles I truly love, but they’ve got to be awfully good to make it to my shelves.  Before my daughter was born, when my wife and I were DINKS (double-income, no kids), I’d buy a title on a lark.  Those days are over, though.  I’ve gotten much tighter with our money.

Consequently, for several years, I was elated with the titles I bought on a regular basis.  They were Y: The Last Man, 100 Bullets, Ex Machina, Promethea, and Sandman.  Unfortunately, those titles have all come to an end.  Before long, I was left with only DMZ and Fables.  Both excellent titles, but for a comic book addict like me, their trades did not come out often enough to keep me satisfied.

I took a few chances here and there.  The Unwritten utterly disappointed me, Greek Street didn’t hold my interest, and The Losers just wasn’t my thing.  Even Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century turned me off.

Oh, yes, I ran across several amazing graphic novels like Daytripper, Asterios Polyp, Blankets, Pride of Baghdad, and Mother, Come Home, but they were all one shots – not something I could collect month after month.

And then, after much searching, I finally came across three new titles (to me) for which I’m ready to commit both my time and my wallet.

The first is called American Vampire.  It’s a Vertigo title that features Skinner Sweet and Pearl.  Skinner is America’s first vampire, a breed apart from any others.  Though he is turned into a vampire in the 1800s, it’s in the 1920s that he creates another vampire from his blood, a young woman named Pearl.  What I love about the series is that its vampires are truly frightening, and that because these characters are immortal, their stories tend to jump around in time quite a bit.  Pearl and Skinner sometimes cross paths, and at other times are living out their own adventures.  Skinner seems to be a truly evil character, whereas Pearl fights against the darkness within her.  I’m not really a vampire guy, but this series quickly won me over after the first volume.  Smartly written by Scott Snyder with plenty of plot (and gore), it’s definitely worth following.

The second title is called Locke & Key.  It follows the story of the Lockes, three siblings (high school aged and younger) and their mother.  They move to the Locke family mansion after their father is murdered.  This is the house their father grew up in, and it is full of mystery, horror, and paranormal keys that impart special abilities, as they soon discover.  The artwork is beautiful, and the author, Joe Hill, layers plot upon plot, thus making each volume a rewarding read.  These are likable characters with a fascinating premise, and so I can’t wait to see this one through to the end.  Be warned, though, even though the artwork has a cartoonish flair to it, it gets pretty violent at times.  Definitely not for the faint of heart.

Finally, I’m collecting a title called Chew.  By far the strangest of my three new titles, this one is also the most enjoyable.  It is the story of Tony Chew, a detective who is largely successful because of a special ability he has.  Tony receives a psychic impression of anything he eats (except for beets, which is why he mostly only eats beets).  He relives anything’s last moments that he eats, which can prove pretty useful—and disgusting—when investigating a murder.  But this is not a one-note story.  I was amazed by all the interesting storylines that John Layman, the author, introduces, and can’t wait to see where he’s going.  Though there’s plenty of action, Chew is actually very funny and unlike anything I’ve ever read.  I love the offbeat, “anything is possible” vibe that it carries.

So there you have it.  After months and months of (literally) checking out differing titles these are the three (along with Fables and DMZ) that I’ve settled on.  I hope you’ll give them a look and enjoy them, too!