Posts Tagged ‘Goodreads



28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Dead(ish)

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DEAD[ish] (DEAD[ish] #1)DEAD[ish] by Naomi Kramer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m not really sure what to say about Dead(ish); I almost feel bad giving it the score I did. There’s things to like here; the concept is amusing (for the short form, girl gets murdered by boyfriend, hires a P.I. to help find her body, wacky hijinks ensue), the writing style and voice are clear and entertaining, and the technical aspects of the work are well done.

Why only two stars, then? Primarily because it feels disjointed, and a trifle incomplete. Scenes just sort of happen, with little rhyme or reason. There’s one point that the dead woman is “teasing” the PI in the shower, seemingly with no better explanation than “because reasons!” There’s several sequences featuring an almost painfully flaming gay man that, while perhaps funny, seem almost ridiculously overblown when compared to the relative down-to-earth tropes and characterization of the other players. The boyfriend-slash-murderer also manages to land himself in the unbelievable category, apparently having a secret gay side, huge amounts of debts and bizarre culinary skills that are never explained and clash with the manner of presentation.

Overall, I think it’s the illogic of the thing that bothered me the most. To me, for something to be humorous – which Dead(ish) seems to be attempting – it has to make sense, by it’s own rules and logic if by no other judgement… and Dead(ish) seems to fall short on that score. With a bit more content – filling in some of the blank spots, detailing the character motivations and backgrounds a bit more – I’d say there’s enough spark here to warrant at least 3 and perhaps a 4 star rating. But it’s not quite there, yet.

Also, final warning – and one that’s echoed on Amazon’s page – but there’s a boatload of foul language and obscure Aussie slang in here, so be prepared if such things are not on your “okay” list, or be prepared to do some websearching to sort out the slang.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: The Scarlet Gospels

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The Scarlet GospelsThe Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s taken years for Scarlet Gospels to finally arrive; the final confrontation between long-time Barker characters Pinhead and Harry D’Amour has been discussed, whispered of, teased and hinted at for so long it would be impossible for the book to stand up to the hype and expectations. The question, however, is whether or not its a good book.

My answer? “Kinda.” It’s amusing and reasonably well crafted, but there’s a few too many issues for me to be as positive and fanboyish as I have been about previous works. First off: It’s bloody short. Clocking in around 360 pages, it feels like an appetizer (especially when compared to other tomes in the back catalog), a feeling that is only made worse by previous statements made that it was potentially going to be in the 1000-2000 page range. Now, being short is not necessarily a flaw, provided the tale is there and there’s no obvious scarring, but that’s where Gospels is most obviously broken; there seem to be chunks of it missing, sudden flash cuts through potentially important events and conversations (often while in the same scene) that look as though someone just ripped pages out and said “Nah, nobody’ll miss that!” Harry and his friends’ journey across the landscape of Hell and the arrival of a certain character on earth, his plans and his disappearance from the pages being skimmed over in four paragraphs are the most obvious points, but there’s plenty of them.

Second, the level of torture porn involved. “Wait,” I hear you saying, “it’s Clive Barker! Isn’t that what you came for?” Well, yeah. That is kind of the point, especially when Pinhead is on screen, but much of the violence after the initial outburst and a couple of Harry’s flashbacks really feels like heaping abuse on Pinhead just to abuse Pinhead. Very little of it felt like it flowed naturally from the characters and their motivations (at least as presented in the book), feeling more like Barker was just tired of the Cenobite and wanted to punish him. Given certain comments the author has made during interviews, it feels even more like that’s the case. (Mind you, I’m not objecting to Pinhead getting his ass kicked and suffering; I just object on the grounds that it feels artificial and forced in context.)

Next, and this might irritate a few folks, but I got tired of hearing about how gay almost everyone was. I don’t care that they’re gay; given Pinhead’s job and history, sex is going to come up and so mentioning it is fine. There’s even some great comedic moments based on it, and with certain characters it is an important facet of how they behave and why they’re involved. But when every single character with the exception of Harry and Norma must divulge a constant stream of their bedroom antics, make a dick joke at least once every three pages, or discuss how stunningly huge that demon’s penis is, it gets tiresome. I’d be just as irate if Harry felt the need to constantly remind the other characters of his sexual exploits or discuss the size of everyone’s breasts. It’s not relevant and most of the time it feels crammed in (pardoning any puns.) I suspect if one were to dissect the book, you’d find more paragraphs of Dale and Caz swapping sex stories than you would with Pinhead plotting or explaining why he’s doing what he’s doing.

Which brings me to the last point. Pinhead’s motivations. At the start, they’re pretty clear; he’s wiping the earth of magic users and stealing their knowledge. Okay, great. Pinhead wants power. It starts getting murkier as we go further in, when he starts using those powers to pretty much attempt to murder everyone in Hell; by the time he reaches his destination, I was left sitting there asking myself “Why did he do all this again?” Following the revelation of what he finds there he pulls a 180 and opts for that lovely villain trope of “I vant to destroy zee vurld! Because reasons!” Again, felt like there were some missing pages. It’s not necessarily that sudden shift or apparent lack of rationale for doing what he’s doing – because Pinhead is consistently painted as a plotter, a tempter, a manipulator, having a reason for doing the things he’s doing – that are annoying; it’s the feeling like those things were there… somewhere… and were just skipped or glossed over. Without spoiling anything, it’s also unclear how he goes from the site of the climactic battle to his final meeting with Harry to his (apparent) demise; he just is in those places because reasons. No discussion of how he got from where we see him and the condition he’s in to the next spot where that condition is vastly different.

And I lied. There’s one more point. The Lament Configuration. And this is a SPOILER!!!! so stop here and skip ahead to the last paragraph, but this bothered me. One of them turns up at the end of the book, and like typical idiots, random character A decides to play with it and open a portal to Hell. Now, with no Pinhead (or other Cenobites, for that matter) to answer the call, it just opens the portal with no demonic arrival, and that’s fine. Then one of the other characters says “Hey, derp, what happens if you throw a Portable Hole into a Bag of Holding?” and punts the Configuration into Hell, making the puzzle box very upset and blowing up the portal. It’s actually a cool and amusing scene, but left me going “Why has nobody done that before?” Obviously, even if they had, it’s likely the Cenobites would have fetched it (unless the damage due to portal implosion was too severe; we’re left with a question mark on that count), but it still seems like a reasonable and at least semi-intelligent reaction, at least from someone who knows what they are and what they do, which plenty of characters in past appearances do. Just a little nag.

Final analysis? In my opinion, not the grand denouement I was hoping for. It was an entertaining read, and saying goodbye to Pinhead and Harry after three decades was something that probably needed to be done… but it still left me sad, and not the way some series do when they finally end, the sense of loss, that those characters have come to the end and its time to say goodbye; it was just thinking to myself that they deserved better. It left too many things hanging (and not in a “I can’t wait for him to write a book that talks about this! way) and overall just seemed like an excuse to murder Pinhead. Which needed to happen eventually, granted, but… not like that. One quick hop-back, that is a little spoilerific: Harry vs Pinhead is almost irrelevant; Harry could have been absent and the Cenobite would almost assuredly have ended up in the same place and still just as dead… and that’s a problem. When you throw two of your most known characters into a box for the cage match of doom and one of them is almost totally irrelevant, you might want to reevaluate your choices.

But that’s just my opinion.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: How the Snake Got Its Tail

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How the Snake Got Its TailHow the Snake Got Its Tail by Richard Rensberry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not really sure how to feel on this one…

Disclaimer: I got this book for free; do what you will with that information. This is also based entirely on the Kindle edition.

I enjoyed the artwork; the split panels were interesting, and while I don’t necessarily think it’s the best way to do things for a Kindle version, I imagine a print copy would look gorgeous. Some of them (“To stood up, Fro laid down” being my favorite) would probably even made decent posters.

The reading level is fine, appropriate language and word-choice for the target audience. Overall, seems competent enough and suitable.

I will say, however – and this may merely be because I don’t have a lot of experience with kids – that the “plot twist” just kind of appears suddenly with no real correlation to anything, and Fro’s last panel seems just a touch excessive. I’m all for keeping people off drugs, but this book seems to go with the logic of “smoke a joint and die,” which I don’t necessarily think is the best tactic, and the presentation felt a little heavy handed and sudden.

Just my opinion, though. As noted, it’s amusing at first, and the artwork’s great, so worth looking at, at least.

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26
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Demonic Dolls

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Demonic Dolls: True Tales of Terrible ToysDemonic Dolls: True Tales of Terrible Toys by John Harker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun and fascinating.

We’ve all heard tales of haunted dolls, regardless of our positions on the scale of skepticism. Collected here are a pile of those stories, from well-known miniature miscreants such as Robert and Annabelle, to internet mainstays like Harold the Haunted Doll, and numerous lesser known dolls with… Ahem… Questionable habits and provenances.

Regardless of your belief standpoint, each article is interesting and well written, and some of them – Claire and Peggy come immediately to mind – are incredibly disturbing. The last section and it’s warning of “caveat emptor” as regards deliberate purchase of “haunted” objects is perhaps a much needed warning, whether you take it to avoid being scammed or because you don’t really want that lovely Eeyore plush choking you to death one night.

All in all, a fun read and had some cases and information I hadn’t seen elsewhere before, so worth checking out if this is your sort of thing.

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26
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: For Those With Eyes To See

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For Those With Eyes to SeeFor Those With Eyes to See by Troy Blackford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What do a blogger selling hate culture, an ominous refrigerated U-Haul, a mysterious iPhone e-mail and a bunch of “googly eyes” have in common?

This book, that’s what. A collection of short stories, For Those With Eyes to See spans the spectrum of the bizarre, worrisome and horrifying. While a lot of similar anthologies suffer from obvious “weak points,” stories that either don’t fit the overall tone or that are somehow inferior to the others, Blackford’s collection seems to suffer from no such weakness; each tale serves as a quick read, often with an O. Henry punch at the end, and keeps you hungry for more without feeling incomplete. Each piece has something to recommend it, whether it be the eventual fate of the almost-too-nice crafter who just wanted some eyes for her stuffed animals in the titular tale or the sudden reversal and light of hope found in ‘Now for the Sunbeams.’

The language is clear and well-written, having a knack for finding just the right word without needless excursions to the thesaurus or dictionary. (the singular exception being ‘All in Your Head’ and it’s use of otolaryngological… but given the context and the way it’s used, we’ll give that one a pass.) The characters are entertaining and well fleshed out given the truncated word count, and each of them are entertaining in their own way (my favorite being Paul Whirlpool from ‘That’s When You Know You’re Doing Something Right’), with a unique voice and feel to them that sometimes evades short fiction.

If you have a taste for the weird, miss the days when short fiction was common and collections were the norm (especially those who enjoyed Barker’s In The Flesh or King’s Night Shift) then this book is probably worth a look. If you don’t feel like reading it in order (which you should, because they’re all great and I thought the order of placement was part of the fun), I at the very least advise you to check out ‘That’s When You Know You’re Doing Something Right,’ ‘Such A Good Idea,’ and ‘Monday Morning,’ which were my personal favorites.

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26
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Watcher

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WatcherWatcher by Alen B. Curtiss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s not often that we get to crawl inside the mind of a killer and stay there; rarer still that the cesspit is exposed as much more than an excuse for random blood and guts. The Watcher allows us both.

A piece of short fiction, The Watcher goes into perversely loving detail as we are presented with the titular character’s attack on a young woman… and the surprising aftermath. I’m known to have a sick enjoyment of things that leave me feeling filthy and unclean – tend to rate such things as being much more difficult to achieve than the usual happy thoughts or scary stuff; 8MM, for example, is one of my favorite movies for this reason – and this managed that feat quite easily. The language, the hints of what led to The Watcher’s state of mind and his increasing mental instability as the siege continues were all well done and vividly presented, focusing on smell and taste – I’ll never look at gumdrops quite the same way again, I’ll tell you that – as much as the usual sight and sound.

Only a few small quibbled prevented me from flagging this as five stars; first, some of the language is a trifle awkward or repetitive. Not a huge amount, and not really what it was docked for, but there was more than one moment where I paused upon seeing the same word for the third or fourth time on a page. Second was the focus on the victim; her backstory was interesting enough but I felt it toned it back too much when we popped into her head to “take a break” as it were from The Watcher; disgusting though he may be, I think there would have been a little more “oomph” if we were with him the whole time. Lastly, the ending. I like it, I do, and part of me says that it makes the victim’s chapters necessary in its way, but I felt it was a little too foreshadowed and predictable by the time it came. It’s not all bad, as it at least doesn’t take the typical slasher-film route, nor does it give you the snuggle-bunny feeling of “It’s all okay, now,” so bonus points for being original. Just not quite what I was hoping for.

There’s also the tightrope issue of wanting more. Short fiction always has that abyss yawning below, while the author skips across, trying to keep a balance between word-glut and not telling enough; to be certain, leaving the readers wanting to know more is usually a good thing, but at the same time too much left unsaid can sometimes stifle the enjoyment. I think this one stays on the “good questions left” side of things, but I’d still like to see more. Expansion on The Watcher’s youth and early “career” would be a fascinating read, I suspect. While one can make some educated guesses on why he is the way he is (there’s certainly a handful of clues scattered about), the warped part of me would have liked more of the psychology behind him. Of course, that could very easily balloon up to novel-length, which might kill the charm of being inside The Watcher’s head.

Overall, though, a pleasing read for those who don’t mind getting their hands (and minds) dirty. Great presentation, good characterization, and a twist ending put it well ahead of the pack.

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26
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: The Unborn

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The UnbornThe Unborn by David Shobin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s very difficult to take this book seriously. Perhaps it’s just more a product of its time than I can stomach, or perhaps my own familiarity with computers and what they can (and can’t) realistically do – let alone what they could do 30+ years ago – renders me unable to stretch my belief far enough to find something of value here. Whatever the reason, I found myself shrieking at this book, throwing my hands in the air and saying “Oh, jeez, that is so stupid!” almost constantly.

The premise: Samantha discovers she’s pregnant; the father doesn’t want anything to do with it. Being a modern (for the early 80s, anyway) empowered woman, Sam vetoes abortion right off (after a bit of politically correct babble about respecting the right to choose) and determines she’s still a bit short to meet expenses if she wants to keep the child. Seeking alternate income, she ends up in a sleep study group, purportedly testing a new sleeping pill; upon the doctor discovering her pregnancy, the focus shifts to seeing if fetuses dream (oh, and she starts dating the doctor, too, since he’s so young and caring and interesting. Blech.) Of course, the medical complex where the experiments are being conducted has a supercomputer (called MEDIC, tee hee) that starts to “dream” itself, and it’s eventually discovered that during the experiments the computer is “talking” to the fetus. Chaos ensues.

Alright, so maybe I made fun of it a little much in the synopsis, but honestly it felt entirely too contrived. The romance angle felt forced – Doctor Bryson goes on at length how sex was just a physical release and his true love is his research, then proceeds to tell us every chance he gets about how it’s totally different with Samantha, and the whole “Dating your patient, who also ends up being your employee, who falsified records to participate in your study, who is pregnant with another man’s baby that you guys hardly ever talk about” was crossing so many lines and flying counter to every bit of logic one could apply that it became just stupid. The characters were all very basic tropes and felt like cardboard cut outs – pretty, intelligent, strong woman in trouble(TM); motherly, understanding type who’s playing matchmaker and faithful sidekick, and so on. Three quarters of the characters have apparently never heard of an ethics committee or are capable of thinking past their own cubicles.

And then there’s the computer. Keep in mind this is the early 80s. MEDIC is the room-sized, runs off tapes and reel-to-reel recorders for it’s data input and storage, prints things out via typewriter (and receives most of it’s input the same way). Yet somehow it can store the complete medical knowledge of mankind, cross reference all of it in seconds and perform “free associative thinking” tasks without a hiccup. Uh. No. Mind you, I’m not adverse to science fiction, but this felt like the author was merely pulling things out of his butt and shoving them together, without any logic applied. Oh, did I mention it responds to – and responds with – direct english commands with a minimum of “computer-ese”? Yeah. You can ask it, for example “Describe last analysis of patient Samantha Kirsten and likely results of death.” And the computer comes back with “1.5 Hours – Liver failure, renal failure, hypertension, cardiac arrest likely.” *facepalm* Oh, and does it in about 5 seconds. Without anyone having to thread a different reel of tape (this is before hard drives and gigabytes of RAM, mind you; we’d just gotten past the punch card stage.) despite it being several days later on a system that is purportedly running 24/7. Not buying it.

This computer also somehow taps into the EEG nodes that our doctor put on Sam’s belly to monitor her fetus, and not only records/references this data, but somehow begins beaming everything it knows into the little amphibian’s head. Bet you didn’t know those little nodules could do that, did ya? Oh, and then the fetus – and mind you, I really hate typing that word over and over again, but it’s how the book refers to it, so… – figures out how to excrete hormones and neurotransmitters at will, using its supreme medical knowledge in conjunction with this technique to essentially mind control mommy into doing fun things like forcing Bryson to ejaculate into her repeatedly (because his semen contains a hormone that promotes fetal growth, makes labor easier, and is a primary component in its mind-control scheme) and eat raw fish eyes (because they’re oh so good for baby, apparently). Yeah. There never seems to be much point in this – the computer supposedly can’t “think” in terms of this being an ultimate plan, and no motive/reasoning/higher cognitive function is ever ascribed to the fetus – so I guess this all falls under the “just because” header.

The book has the appropriately predictable “dun dun dun!” ending, though it still doesn’t make any sense – I’m really wondering how a kid sitting in a cradle is going to access his computer “mentor,” or even what the point of it would be – unless it also developed psychic powers or something, and it’s left very vague, as though it was tacked on merely because that was the custom of the country, to have that last “scare.” Add in that government agents appear, sweep everything under the rug – including the murder, the attempted murder, the break in, and all the data Bryson had collected “proving” something was up – and tell mommy a fairy tale that she believes since she conveniently has amnesia as a residual effect from stress, flatlining during the labor (because the baby tried to kill her during birth) and the fetus mind-control of her, and it leaves you with an entirely too tidy and predictable ending.

So why two stars? Why not the 0 or 1 this would appear to deserve from my tearing apart the entirety of its insipid plot? Mainly the writing itself. When the author isn’t discussing the state of Samantha’s breasts – which happens way too often – he does a good job of keeping the language flowing, and the imagery he manages to conjure is suitably disturbing when taken out of context. It’s just when you try to put it into the whole that it becomes problematic. The scene with the fish eyes is duly repulsive, and when Bryson suffers a bit of… performance anxiety, Samantha’s response and the way it’s written is suitably disturbing. Moments like that pepper the script, and when the characters aren’t making goo-goo eyes at one another or otherwise behaving like bloody idiots, the dialogue is amusing and well-written.

Honestly, though, I’d steer clear. A lot of people can use language well, and several of them can tell an interesting, coherent and intelligent story while they do it. Just not worth the time, in this reader’s humble opinion.

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23
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Why People Believe Weird Things

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our TimeWhy People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I grabbed this book, expecting it to explore and debunk (or confirm) some of the weird things that people let cross their minds in the dark hours of the evening; even the chapter headings seemed to imply that would be the result.
What I found instead is a fascinating, psychology-lite explanation of just how people come to some of these conclusions. It may not have been the book I thought I was getting, but it was certainly interesting.
Providing a bit of insight into the why of how we think rather than just the what of it, the book provides rational explanations for such things as ghosts and flat earth logic, including discussions of what about such things provides comfort and logic to minds that desperately need it.
On closing the book, the only thing I felt could have been done better was the presentation of the weird beliefs themselves; while the book does a decent job of explaining why people cling to these beliefs, even in the face of evidence or when presented with potential alternative explanations, it frequently begins each chapter by presenting the “weird thing” as being utterly ludicrous and overblown, lacking any sense of nuance and leading the reader to genuinely believe in the insanity of anyone who actually believes it.
To be fair, I do tend to think a lot of those folks are crazy, but coming out of the gate swinging when you haven’t even presented the theory seems a little extreme, in my book.
Overall, worth poking at if you have an interest in psychology or the rationales that lead someone to potentially illogical beliefs, but less so if you’re actually looking for weird things.

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20
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: You Suck! – A Love Story

You Suck (A Love Story, #2)You Suck by Christopher Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“You killed me! You suck!”
With an opener like that, what can go wrong? The answer is ultimately very little. Christopher Moore applies his usual talents in taking the fantastic and mythic and bringing it down to a basic, human (or nearly so) level with fine form here, the second volume of the A Love Story trilogy. A pair of vampire lovers, when confronted with mundane things like goth fangirls eager to appease their dark masters, getting back a security deposit, and dealing with their former friends (and turkey bowling champions) who have of late become vampire hunters and problem gamblers, are made to deal with things in a far less supernatural fashion than one might expect… though there’s plenty of inappropriate uses of super strength, speed, and stamina on display here, as well as more than a few tantalizing and titillating saucy bits.

All in all a highly entertaining read that frequently had me laughing, and kept the pages turning steadily until the end, and well worth your time if you’re in any way interested in satire, urban fantasy, or Christopher Moore’s other works. Give it a try.

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28
Jan
18

Goodreads Review: The Graveyard Book

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The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gaiman does it again; as with most of his works, he sets a basic stage with a great deal of drama, then scales things back to a much more human level, spending much of the story’s time making you care deeply for the people you walk these strange roads with. Inevitably, as is Gaiman’s usual method, once you’ve reached the peak of that emotional investment, when you regard folks such as Bod, Scarlett, the Hempstock witch, and dear old (and possibly formerly murderous) Silas as your dearest friends, he lays you low with a swift punch directly to the feels.

The Graveyard Book despite its trappings of fantasy and high adventure as a young boy raised by ghosts probes the past, discovers how he was orphaned and hopes to gain vengeance against the one who harmed him, is at its heart a book about growing up. The wonders of childhood rendered commonplace until viewed through the lens of another, the desperate attempts to keep things the same even as they change, and the knowledge that eventually, everything fades. Buried in that melancholy, though, is a hopeful message: Life is for living; live it while you can. As one of the ghosts that form Nobody Owens’ extended family tells him, that family’s time is passed; there is no change for them, no truly new experiences to be had. His time to join them in that state will come one day, but for now he should live his life to the absolute fullest so he can ride with the Lady of the Grey with no regrets or fear.

Bod’s struggle with those concepts, alongside his troubles with things as mundane as the school bully and as fantastic as a troublesome spirit waiting for a master of unimaginable power known as the Sleer, is presented lovingly and beautifully, and lets the reader feel as they are in some way growing up with him; as the book opens, things are fresh and new, but like with age or the nature of the graveyard he inhabits, the shine begins to wear, rot seeps in, and all we can do is mourn for it.

As with anything Gaiman, I strongly recommend giving it a read. It’s very easily one of his best, and even adults can pull something from it, despite it being marketed as a book for younger audiences.

Just mind the Sleer. And ‘ware the Man Jack.

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