Friday, July 3, 2015

Review: Good the Goblin Queen, by Becket

When it comes to whimsy, there are limits. A little bit of whimsy can be a lot of fun, but too much can be exhausting. Becket, in Good the Goblin Queen, takes whimsy way too far. The story plays out like Dr. Seuss on steroids, with made up words and invented rhymes, all which play no role but to add to the endless whimsy. While the story has a fun concept - a girl who wishes to be queen is transformed into a goblin so she can be queen of the goblins - the author takes a heavy-handed approach to its humor by whacking the reader upside the head with the countless whimsical inventions - as many as can be fit into a single sentence, page, and book. While some children may find it amusing, the length of the book may put this out of reach of those who would likely enjoy it, and older audiences will grow bored with the lack of grounding and structure.

To begin the whimsy, a human girl named Good is adopted by a pair of orangutans. She is not happy with herself or her family. Her parents behave just like orangutans. They party all the time and rip up her books so she has to bury them in the backyard to keep them safe. Oh, and there's the bananas. That's the sole diet of Good's orangutan family. Clever? Somehow her father is elected President of the United States, and here's where things seem to take on a form of allegory. Does the orangutan president represent any one particular president? Since this book was written in 2015, could that president be President Obama? Could there be a poorer choice of comparison to a black president? Perhaps Becket is simply being whimsical, but part of me doubts it. I think he was just using poor taste.

Good happens to see a whole bunch of shooting stars one night and wishes upon them that she could be queen. Wishing on stars is apparently illegal, so when the secret service alerts the president that somebody wished on what was likely over one hundred stars, Good runs away. She runs into a ghost named Mr. Fuddlebee, who gives her a device called a Crinomatic that will make her wish come true. It does just that, but transforms her into a goblin, but before she can reverse it, the Crinomatic breaks. A group of seven goblins approaches her and recognizes her as the goblin queen. They then vow to take her back to the Goblin Kingdom.

The rest of the story is a series of adventures with the goal of reaching the Goblin Kingdom. The characters run into such conflicts as Nightmare Hollow, a giant, gremlins, and Old Queen Crinkle, queen of the vampires. These conflicts are largely resolved by Mr. Fuddlebee as a deus ex machina figure, or by the fact that the villains give the heroes endless amounts of time to solve their dilemma, such as the giant who waits for the heroes to repair the Crinomatic that will save them before deciding to step on them. All of this is told with lots of energy and humor that would, as I said before, amuse a younger audience, but just doesn't work for teens or adults.

Becket's dialogue and his writing set a tone of Dr. Seuss whimsy. The goblins always confuse big words that Good uses, in a way that would be comical to young readers. Sometimes this is done inventively, and it does give the novel some charm. The need to rhyme so frequently grows tiresome, and suggests an inventiveness without purpose. For example: "There were biggle goblins and sniggle goblins. There were snuggle goblins and huggle goblins; snicker goblins and bicker goblins; nag goblins, lag goblins, and bag goblins." The use of such nonsense words seems to provide no purpose other than to show that the author was in an inventive mood and that he enjoyed making things up on the fly. And that's how large segments of this book felt - simply made up along the way rather than developed organically.

But this is a parable of sorts. Underneath all the whimsy there is an important message the author would like to impart, and that's why I feel like the comparison of an orangutan to Obama is on purpose. At the end of the story, Good is faced with a dilemma that she herself cannot conquer, but from a book she learns some wisdom: to ask for help from DIOS. DIOS is an acronym for Dimensionally Intelligent Operating System, and it exists everywhere. All Good has to do is ask for help. DIOS, if you know Spanish, also stands for God. The message the book wants to communicate is that all you have to do is ask for help from God, or some other Dimensionally Intelligent Operating System, and everything will work out in the end. If you already believe this is true, you don't need to read a whimsical book about a goblin queen to know it, and if you don't believe this is true, the book is simply a waste of time.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review: The Wreckers, by Iain Lawrence

Sometimes a nation's economy is so poor it relies on thievery. Somalia is notorious for piracy to bring money to its people. Iain Lawrence takes a look at a different sort of piracy, that of wrecking ships to loot them. Using false lights, the people who live on the island of Pendennis lure lost ships to "The Tombstones," where the ships are wrecked and their loot free for anyone on Pendennis to grab. What a terrifying position it would be on that ship, and that's the position Lawrence puts the reader in his debut fiction novel, The Wreckers. This is a story with plenty of adventure and mystery to satisfy readers.

It just so happens that the first time fourteen-year-old John Spencer's father allows him to take a ride on his ship, the Isle of Skye, is also the time the Isle of Skye is wrecked. John survives the wreck and lays dazed as he watches the people who live on the island, those he believes are there to rescue him, kill one of the crew members of the Isle of Skye. John flees, chased by the wreckers, and is pulled into a hiding place by a man with no legs named Stumps. Stumps, John learns, has John's father held prisoner on the belief that the Isle of Skye smuggled gold.

Eventually the wreckers do catch up with John. A man named Caleb Stratton intends to kill John, but another, more powerful man, named Simon Mawgan instead takes John in. Even under the safety of Mawgan, John feels uneasy. There seems to be something sinister about Mawgan, and Mawgan seems to have other motives in holding onto John. Mawgan doesn't believe John that the Isle of Skye has no gold, only cheap wine in its holds. Why then was there sawdust? Why then was the cargo loaded in the dark? All is not bad for John, however. He meets a friend in Mawgan's niece, Mary, who shows him around the island.

Much of the tension revolves around who John can trust and what the wreckers plan to do with him, as well as whether his father is still alive. Lawrence sets the stakes early when he shows the wreckers killing off survivors, so the reader knows the threats to John's life are not idle. In the end the story isn't all that difficult to predict, but it's well-told and never dull. Lawrence's greatest creation is probably Mawgan, who is shrouded in mystery. At times he seems full of evil, and at other times he seems genuinely good, as his niece claims. Those who enjoy a good adventure will want to give this a read.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review: Sasquatch, by Roland Smith

What if Sasquatch were real? What would we do if we did discover Sasquatch? What would Sasquatch do? These are all questions at the heart of Roland Smith's young adult novel, Sasquatch, and he does an interesting job in answering them. The story has enough maturity to make it believable, while still making use of enough young adult tropes to keep teen readers interested. There are elements of mystery as new characters are introduced and as the possibility of meeting Sasquatch nears. Smith wonders whether Sasquatch might be just as compassionate as human beings are capable of, and that makes for a much more compelling read than you might imagine.

Dylan Hickock's father loves to tinker with things. He's the kind of person who will devote all of his resources to solving a problem. One day when he returns from a hunting trip, Dylan realizes a new problem has arisen. Yet this one his father keeps to himself for a while, in order to keep his wife's mind at ease. She is planning to go to Egypt for several months to complete her college degree. This leaves Dylan alone with his father's new obsession, and Dylan, of course, becomes involved as well.

This obsession revolves around the existence of Bigfoot, or Sasquatch. Dylan's father claims he saw Sasquatch while on that hunting trip, and he takes Dylan to a secret Bigfoot meeting where a man shows photographs of who he claims is Bigfoot racing up a mountain carrying a deer carcass. A group of men want to investigate this area, around Mount St. Helens, and seek out Bigfoot. Here's where the trouble begins. There are four groups of thought regarding what to do with Bigfoot once he's found: 1) tranquilize him and study him; 2) kill him; 3) capture him at any cost (dead or alive); or 4) leave him alone. The first three options seek to expose Sasquatch to the public. The idea is that he can be better protected if his existence is made known. However, to kill a Sasquatch means to kill what is likely an endangered species, and it also means ending the life of a sentient being.

Dylan's father joins the expedition as a saboteur, and he is helped by Buckley Johnson, a mysterious man with a bad hip who would rather see Sasquatch left alone. It seems that Buck knows much more about Sasquatch than he lets on. The expedition team to hunt Sasquatch convenes at Dylan's house, where Dylan meets Dr. Flagg, the leader of the group. Dr. Flagg's philosophy is to capture Sasquatch at any cost, though he seems to lean more towards killing one. That's why the team has brought in Kurt Skipp, a skilled hunter and a man of few words. Dylan knows Skipp is trouble when he first sees him slice an apple into four pieces with the mere flick of a wrist.

The story does move at a moderate pace, a tad slow, and perhaps without as much action as one might expect from the title. All of the action comes right at the end. Smith seems more interested in the possibility that Sasquatch exists, and how people will react to discovering it. I think it's a small group of people who believe Sasquatch exists, or who are even interested in its existence, but there is always somebody claiming to have some blurry photo of the beast and there is always some new TV show set out to find one. The evidence suggests Sasquatch doesn't exist, but Sasquatch is a mythical being that can't be killed. The world is a large and mysterious place. Mankind has seen a lot of it, but not all of it. The ocean harbors all sorts of unknown beings, but on the land, the possibilities of discovering a new creature the size of Sasquatch are much more limited. It's true, as the book argues, that scientists do continually discover new land species all the time, especially in the rainforest, and that's what keeps the hope of Sasquatch's existence alive.

Smith approaches the topic of Sasquatch with a lot more compassion than I expected. My expectations based on the cover, and my misconception this was a horror story, led me to believe there would be lots of murders. That's not quite the case. Most of the mystery comes from the human characters, such as Buck and Kurt Skipp and whether Mount St. Helens will erupt during the Sasquatch expedition. Sasquatch, in fact, may be the least dangerous character of the bunch, and in that sense Smith may approach wildlife with a touch of naivete, just as a Disney film sometimes portrays a dangerous animal like a bear as friendly. It's hard to believe that a Sasquatch could be morally cultivated to know right from wrong rather than a being that acts on instinct to protect itself.

Still, Sasquatch could symbolize humanity's desire to tinker with the unknown. It's in our nature to discover new things about the world, as though we're afraid the world would become dull without any new discoveries. But what price do we pay by not leaving things alone? Is that price worth what we gain from the discovery? The novel stops short of answering these questions, and instead wraps up the story with a series of action set pieces. In the search for Sasquatch, it remains just as mystical as before the search. The book ends up being satisfying, but difficult to recommend. Just like many young adult novels, there is a mix of sophistication along with the usual YA tropes, but in both cases there doesn't seem to be enough to fully satisfy either adult or young adult readers.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

I listened to Stardust on Audible, as read by Neil Gaiman, who does an excellent job bringing his story to life. And yet, as much as I admired Gaiman's reading, I couldn't help but feel that the story plods along too slowly, with too many detours, and not quite enough excitement. Everything falls into place so neatly and without much suspense. It's all a little too pleasant.

Tristan Thorn lives in the city of Wall, a fictional place in England that separates the "real" world from the "fantasy" world of Faerie. Tristan is in love with Wall's most beautiful woman, Victoria (thought I imagine he has slim pickings in such a walled off town), and sets off to collect a fallen star in exchange for her love. Wall's entrance and exit is guarded 24/7 and nobody is allowed to come or go, yet Tristan gets a special pass. This is because he is not one hundred percent human. His father made love with a faerie woman during a festival many years before, and everybody in Wall except Tristan seem to know this. So the guards allow him to leave.

The fallen star is not simply a hunk of rock and metal, but it takes the form of a young woman named Yvaine. And Tristan is not the only person after her (falling stars are not uncommon in this fantasy world, it seems). The Lord of Stormhold, old as he is, tosses a topaz into the sky, which knocks Yvaine down to Earth, and sets his remaining living sons on task to find the topaz. He who retrieves it will gain Stormhold. That is, if Septimus, the seventh son, doesn't kill them all first. There is also a witch, named Lamia (in the movie), who sets off to collect the star's heart and bring it to her sisters so they can eat it and regain their youth.

While all of the side plots are relatively simple, the problem is that there are too many interruptions to the story. This problem arises right away when the story begins from the perspective of Tristan's father and of his meeting and coupling the fairy. When it switches to Tristan, I couldn't help but wonder whether the story's opening was necessary. Sure it sets up the fact that Tristan is different, but Tristan's half-human, half-faerie quality is barely harnessed. He knows the location of any place if asked, though he doesn't knows how he knows this. And the story breaks often to tell of what the witch is doing, and the point of this only seems to show off her power. And then there's the somewhat amusing plot around Primus, who seeks to avoid assassination from his brother.

There's also the problem that everything is predictable and the resolutions to these plots are anticlimatic. The obvious prediction is that Tristan will fall for the star. Yvaine spews so much hatred towards him when they first meet that you know by the end it will turn into love. Throughout the whole story, neither Tristan nor Yvaine need to lift a finger to get out of any predicament, except once. Tristan is helped all along the way, first by a mole-like creature who provides him a magic candle that allows Tristan to cover lots of ground quickly. The only time Tristan does anything to save himself is by thrusting his arm into fire at just the right moment in order to light the candle and escape the witch. Otherwise there is always some sort of convenience that allows Tristan and Yvaine to skate past danger unharmed. While there is a lot to be said about Gaiman's magical prose, it's the story that's most important, and in this case the story just grows dull.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: Interworld, by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

An interesting tidbit in the book's "Afterword" mentions that Interworld was originally planned as a television series in the mid-90s. That idea was scrapped however, as there was concern over the audience base, and the story was later written into a young adult novel in 2007 (and a now completed trilogy). That concern over the audience is legitimate, as authors Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves can't seem to decide whether to aim this at a younger audience or an older audience. On one hand, the science behind the story is surprisingly complex. It's so complex that there were several passages that went way over my head, but those were the moments that intrigued me the most. On the other hand, the plot goes the usual way of young adult action stories, with paper-thin characters and an improbable showdown between the good guys and bad guys. If Gaiman and Reaves stuck with one or the other, they may have had something.

Gaiman fans may recall Neverworld as they read Interworld, as both stories are about a character who somehow has the ability to travel to parallel worlds. In Interworld, that character is Joey Harker, a high school student who has absolutely no sense of direction. That is, until he realizes he has the ability to Walk. Walking means to travel between the different parallel universes through a space called the In-Between. To Walk requires an innate ability to understand the In-Between, which Joey has. He doesn't realize this until the day of his social studies final exam, given by his teacher, Mr. Dimas, whose teaching methods seem questionable. The exam puts students into groups, blindfolds them, and sets them off into a random part of town, from which they must make their way back to school. Joey, of course, gets lost, and in his panic, he Walks.

During his Walking, Joey bumps into an armored stranger who wants him to follow him. Panicked yet again, Joey flees and Walks into another group of strangers who use magic to put him under their spell. This is when we learn who the first stranger is. His name is Jay, and it is his recorded journal entry that changes the novel from mundane young adult fiction into something much more interesting and complex. Joey Harker's ability to Walk is not his alone, or maybe it is, but also the infinite versions of Joey Harkers that exist in all of the parallel universes. Jay is one of these. These Joey Harkers have different names, all beginning with the letter J, and some are different sexes and others are different species (one has wings, one is like a werewolf, one is a cyborg), and all are different shapes and sizes. Joey, amongst all of these, is the plainest, but, oddly enough, plainness is usually what makes one a hero in stories like this.

Jay rescues Joey and, after some plot turns I won't reveal, gets him back to the home world, the Interworld, a base that floats from universe to universe, untrackable except by Walkers. Here we learn that the construct of the Altiverse (which contains the infinite universes that frequently pop up) is like a spectrum. Instead of our political spectrum of left and right (democrat and republican), the spectrum falls between magic and science. Some worlds are entirely magical, and these worlds produce persons who can use magic. The worlds based on science produce very sophisticated technology. Then there are worlds in between, that have a little of both. Our Earth would fall more in the science side, but close to the middle of the spectrum. This spectrum is important, because a balance must be kept. However, two organizations, HEX and Binary, fight to make the Altiverse fit squarely into only one side, science or magic. Interworld's job is to make sure the balance remains intact. Thus we have themes of not just science vs. spirituality, but the damage wrought by humanity's turn to extremes.

The story is peopled with many characters, though none are very complex. Just as is the case for many young adult adventure stories, most of the characters are just names with one character trait, and even Joey is paper-thin for a hero. It seems Gaiman could have made a much more interesting story out of one of the other versions of Joey, such as J/O, the cyborg with a Napoleon complex; or Jo, the winged girl; or Jakon, the werewolf girl; or Josef, the tanky kid whose version of Earth has a very strong gravity. The most interesting character of all is Hue, a mudluff, or a creature that resides in the In-Between. The In-Between is apparently peopled with mudluffs, who are supposedly dangerous, but Hue is the only one we meet, and he is hardly dangerous. Hue is a bubble-like creature who can change colors, which is how he communicates. He grows loyal to Joey and also serves as a plot device to move the story forward at several key moments. It's difficult to imagine the story working without Hue.

The main trouble with the story, however, is choosing its audience. It begins with the young adult audience in mind, with a kid worried about impressing a girl clearly not interested in him, and the usual teenage concerns written into such stories. Then the story grows more thematically complex, and it dives pretty deep into the science behind parallel universes, as Joey gets some schooling in Interworld, a la Harry Potter in Hogwarts. In this stretch there were moments of humor and moments of philosophy, and also a surprisingly touching moment involving Joey's mother. But then the story leaves behind the complexity and dives yet again into the young adult story formula. Not that I mean to degrade the young adult genre, but there are certain conventions some authors use that clearly mark a story as young adult, and those conventions are so predictable that it is difficult for adults to enjoy. That's where Interworld heads, which is a shame. I was beginning to feel that this was going to be another masterwork from Gaiman, but instead grew disappointed.

So who does this appeal to? Not to adults who would like something more from the plot, and not to teenagers who may grow bored with the lengthy passages dealing with the science. It's a very strange novel, in that regard, and makes me wish that authors didn't aim to make a story young adult, but trusted in the ability for young adults to enjoy a good story. Gaiman's Graveyard Book is aimed at young adults, but is written in such a way that adults can enjoy it as well. The misstep in Interworld is Gaiman and Reaves' belief that teenagers could be smart enough to understand or enjoy the science, but without realizing that teenagers that smart would also desire something more than the easy-to-predict storyline. This paradox makes it difficult for me to know who to recommend the novel to, except fans of Gaiman who are willing to read anything he writes.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Review: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl has been talked about so much that it's difficult to begin reading the book (or watching the movie) without having an inkling of what is going to happen. It is well-known, then, that the story has a twist, and for those with any semblance of prediction ability, the possibilities for the twist in the story are limited. When I began reading the story, I began with an idea of what this twist was and I was not surprised when it happened. What did surprise me was the boldness of the ending. I will try my best not to give away any details that reveal any twists, but the nature of the book makes it difficult to write about without making any future readers suspicious of what this twist may be. Regardless of whether you know the twist or not, this book is engaging and thrilling from beginning to end.

Nick and Amy Dunne wed five years ago, and it seemed like the perfect match. Both were good-looking, and both found each other exciting. Fast-forward five years, and things are much less than perfect. Nick comes home one day to find the front door wide open, furniture strewn about the house, and his wife missing. The police get involved and right away it's clear that Nick is the number one suspect. The husband is always the top suspect because murders are most often committed by those closest to the victim. Flynn expertly puts us in the perspective of Nick while keeping him at arm's length. We want to believe and trust him, but as events unfold, we clearly cannot trust him.

Meanwhile, the story shares Amy's perspective in the form of diary entries. The diaries begin at the start of the relationship and tell an exciting, happy time. As time unfolds, however, we see problems in the marriage. Nick skipping an anniversary dinner to have drinks with friends and then getting upset with Amy for her disappointment. Nick losing his job. Amy's insecurities with being the titular character of her parents' set of youth books called the Amazing Amy series. As the years go by, the relationship grows more and more miserable.

And yet, all I will say, is the novel is not about one unreliable narrator, but two. That's the nature of diary entries. We are getting the story from one person, and even in Amy's descriptions, one can't help but feel she isn't all she says she is. She says she tries her best to be the cool wife who won't disapprove of Nick coming home late, but she comes off, in some ways, as the passive aggressive wife who is upset by this but only communicates it through her silence. And Nick is caught up in lie after lie. Sure, he admits to the reader that he has lied, but he does not say what he has lied about. And perceptive readers will catch on to some information he is leaving out. He often seems fearful of being found out about something possibly incriminating, but he never says what it is, not even in the confidence of the reader, who can't possibly report that information to the police.

Then the novel drops its bombshell. When other novels lay out their big plot twists, it usually means the story is coming to an end. In this case, however, it is just the beginning. The novel doesn't slow down its momentum - it gains momentum. From this moment forward it challenges its readers in their values and their beliefs about what they think they know about missing persons and murder cases like this one. Do you trust what the media tells you? Do you trust the way the media portrays certain people? In most cases, we do trust the media. The media is a powerful, influential force, and it exerts its power by creating a narrative of events even if it doesn't have all of the facts. Rolling Stone magazine had the nation believing, for some time, that the University of Virginia allowed one of its fraternities to get away with gang rape, only for an investigation to later reveal that Rolling Stone hadn't done its fact-checking and the rape likely didn't happen. The gang rape was Rolling Stone's narrative, but it was a false narrative. Gone Girl makes us wonder whether there really is a way to objectively tell a story.

Gone Girl will make you think about issues of trust, of relationships (in particular marriage), of narratives, of the thin line between good and evil, of how media helps shape that line, and of so many things. Her novel may make you angry, and I honestly can't think of any reason somebody will be completely satisfied with the ending, though I don't mean this in a bad way. You will be challenged constantly. You will be thrilled and excited by the intense chess match that plays out. You will be amazed by the wits of its major characters. Ultimately you will be angry. I'm still reeling a little bit, but as with many inevitable things in life, you have no choice but to settle with the fact that evil is unavoidable, no matter how blatantly obvious it is.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Review: Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is nearly the spitting image of his father with Heart-Shaped Box, a ghostly thriller with the same sort of villains and dialogue Stephen King might have written. I've already read Horns, so I know Joe Hill has his own style, and I believe he will grow into an excellent horror writer with unique ideas. Heart-Shaped Box isn't quite as good as Horns, as it suffers from habits I'm worried could bog down some of Hill's later works. For one, Hill loves to give background information. He allows background information to take over the main plot where just a little bit of background information might have been more effective. It's a shame, too, because the novel has lots of promise at the start and even gets good again towards the end.

Judas Coyne, known as Jude, has retired from the heavy metal lifestyle after members of his band passed away due to one cause or another. Still filthy rich, Jude collects grotesque objects, such as a five-hundred-year-old peasant skull and a three-hundred-year-old confession signed by a witch. He also owns a video of a gang suffocating a couple (and it's this video that understandably precipitates his divorce). Jude even collects women and names them after states like Florida and Georgia. These women, like Jude, also love the grotesque, dressing in the Goth fashion of black hair, lipstick, and fingernails. Jude's obsession with grotesque objects eventually leads him to purchase a ghost.

Now, he doesn't directly purchase the ghost. He purchases a suit that belonged to the deceased. This suit is shipped to him in a heart-shaped box. His dogs, Angus and Bon, don't like it. His girlfriend, Georgia, doesn't like it either. Jude himself begins to dislike it when a creepy old man with a razor-sharp pendulum begins to make an appearance. Eventually, Jude's secretary, named Danny, drives himself to suicide, and it seems clear that this ghost is out to kill Jude and everyone he loves. Jude discovers that this ghost is the grandfather of Jude's troubled ex-girlfriend, Florida, who apparently committed suicide not long after Jude kicked him out. So the ghost is out for revenge, right?

The story goes back and forth between Jude and Georgia's escape from the ghost to background information about Jude's past, namely his relationship with Florida (the woman, not the state). It's not that this background is bad, per se, but it delves too far and takes on improvised characteristics, where revelations from the past help form plot points in the present. This seems lazy, the way that Jude suddenly remembers important things with perfect clarity. There is a lot of emotional power in what happens in the story, but the improvised feeling takes away the emotional impact from these events. Florida, anyway, is not the one we were following from the start. It is Jude and Georgia we care about, but their stories are sidelined. Hill had a similar problem with Horns, which has a terrific opening, but then stalls with a needlessly long background story.

Hill does write some powerful passages of horror. His description of the ghost, Craddock, is his best work in the whole story. Craddock is what makes the story interesting, since Jude and Georgia fail to have an intriguing personality despite their anti-social tendencies. When Craddock first appears, the imagery Hill uses is haunting. At that point I thought that I was in for a treat. Unfortunately, Hill never replicates that horror. There are some moments of fear for the lives of the main characters, and some moments of awful violence. But, as threatening as the ghost is, he disappears and reappears at the convenience of the plot. He is there, however, just enough to let us know this will end in death, his or theirs. At least something big is at stake.

In his first two novels, Hill displays a love of music. Heart-Shaped Box is devoted almost entirely to heavy metal/rock n' roll. The references to rock bands are everywhere. Jude's own name is an obvious reference to The Beatles (a band Ig in Horns loved a lot, and a band King also adores). Nirvana is another reference, and there is also mention of the Foo Fighters, Metallica, and others. It's disappointing this music doesn't have a very big impact on the plot. It seems that Hill missed an opportunity that his novel's title promised. Hill clearly wants to aim for something unique, but his heavy focus on background information grounds him in conventional plotting. His story is well-organized and it plods along slowly and deliberately, like a storyteller who wants to take his time and let the story live on as long as he can - just as Jude clings to life. These are the tells of a good storyteller, and I hope Hill has his breakout moment soon. It would be nice to have a new horror writer to look forward to for another generation.