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John Darnielle’s debut novel, Wolf in White Van, is a New York Times bestseller, finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a National Book Award nominee. After learning this information a few months ago I HAD to get my hands on this book. Horror getting close to awards? Count me in!

But I didn’t get my hands on that one, I instead ended up with Darnielle’s second novel, Universal Harvester. By the looks of the blurbs on the front and back covers, I figure it would do for now, I can still get the experience of reading this writer. Sometimes these things happen in life for a reason, right?

What’s it about?

We follow several characters, afflicted by the same questions of how to continue after sufferring an irreplacable loss. Each of the characters suffer in silence, leading to the inevitable reality of what we do and the choices we make, as humans, when someone we need is ripped from us way too soon. Way before they should be.

Being led by a possibly unreliable narrator, an unknown “I” scattered throughout, we start with a teenager working in a movie rental store who discovers some spliced footage on some of the VHS rental tapes. His investigation into the mystery footage takes him on a journey of finding his place in the world. He finds peace? Maybe in another version of the story. 😉 Or does he?

“Not everybody wants to get out and see the world. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you just want to figure out how to fit yourself into the world you already know.” (pg. 60)

What’s so great about it?

Darnielle handles and recreates the intricacies of some very complicated emotions. He gets it right. No joke. He gets it right. From innocence to shame. From eagerness to severe emotional pain.

The amount of depth we get with every character in only 214 pages (Picador paperback), is enough to praise. Now, to get this full depth, to take away more from the story than you came with, you MUST read what isn’t written. The author communicates much of the story ‘between the lines’.

I can’t help but feel a twinge, a little poke of hope as I consider the novel in entirety. The resilience and strength humans can, if wanted, find in recuperation from grief.

“Curiosity had always felt, to him, like something you ought to be ashamed of, an accusing finger pointing out that there’s something you don’t know yet.” (pg. 176-77)

My thoughts

Afterall, I feel refreshed. It is the best when I see horror executed in the deep sensible way that Darnielle pulls off with Universal Harvester. The subject matter and how we are pulled through this mystery of what’s on the tapes was fun. I found myself thinking one thing would happen and Darnielle would pull me in a different direction.

As much as I wish I could rate this piece higher, the transitions between thoughts, between characters and time periods caught me off guard. I need to be eased into his style instead of thrown in right at the start. It took some getting used to, simple headers or some different formatting would be of great help in this area.

I must say, at the end of the day, I am very grateful I ended up with this novel in my hands…now to find Wolf in White Van!

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

So if you’re into Horrors of being human, Horrors of failed expectations and grief and pain, check this out. Pull up a pillow and blanket, sit on the couch, and read it in one sitting. Yes, better in one sitting.

I am very interested in the thoughts of others on this piece, let me know what you thought of Universal Harvester in the comments below!

Photographs pulled from Google Images.

Book Reviews

A Murder in Reverse: “Wrong Place Wrong Time”

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The Plot

“A brilliantly genre-bending, mind-twisting answer to the question How far would you go to save your child?”  — Ruth Ware, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jen watches her son murder a stranger. Stab him to death. She and her husband, Kelly, watch as their son Todd is taken into custody.

The next morning, Jen wakes up and it’s yesterday. Jen knows that at the end of the night, her son kills someone. She is determined to stop it.

Jen goes further and further back in time trying to discover why Todd murdered a stranger and how to stop it.

The Verdict

This book is twisty. Right when you think you know the ending, something else is there to prove that the story is more multifaceted than that. While the premise of the novel is simple, Gillian McAllister elevates a simple concept with deep, dark twists.

It is best that you don’t know too much going into this one. For fans of Blake Crouch, this is such a good thriller with time travelling vibes.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Woom: An Extreme Horror Novel

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“That doesn’t invalidate it,” Angel said. “There’s no statute of limitations on pain.”

The Plot

Angel is a man who knows pain: physical, mental, sexual. The story begins with Angel visiting Room 6 at the Lonely Motel and ordering a plus-size sex worker to his room. What comes next is Angel’s retellings of painful stories while performing sexual acts on the sex worker, Shyla.

The novel reads as a book of short stories, as Angel relays stories to Shyla and she tells him stories back. This is a novel of pain and disgust. Angel’s stories are so dark and traumatic that Shyla can’t believe they are true. As Angel bares his soul, we see a side of him that is melancholy and unable to process hurt in a natural way.

The Verdict

This novel is full of disgusting visuals and isn’t afraid to get dirty. This truly is an extreme horror novel. As a warning, there is discussion of feces, blood, rape, sex, and body horror. This novel is not for the faint of heart. You’ll close this short novel feeling dirty. Angel is a character that begs for sympathy while his stories narrate that he may not be as innocent as he perceives.

When the subtitle says this novel is extreme horror, believe it. Only the strong will survive Duncan Ralston’s Woom. It is more splatterpunk than anything, but true literary quality lies beneath the filth.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Read it yourself by clicking below!

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Book Reviews

Did She Do It? Stacy Willingham’s “All the Dangerous Things” Asks Us Just This

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One year ago, Isabelle’s life crumbled when her baby was abducted from her home. Her marriage to her husband, Ben, is destroyed as they try to navigate the fallout.

The Plot

Even one year after the abduction, Isabelle seeks answers. She is still doing appearances at true crime expos to get information on the attendees, thinking the abductor will be there one day. Abductors usually revisit their crime and Isabelle swaps her appearances for the event guest list, never taking any money for her talks.

Some think that Isabelle killed her own baby as evidence from the case says the perpetrator came from inside the house. Isabelle hasn’t slept – not fully – since Mason was abducted. Her therapist is worried that she may be having hallucinations. Is Isabelle the killer or is she on a quest for true justice?

The Verdict

I absolutely loved the complication of not knowing whether Isabelle was a reliable or unreliable narrator. This was my favorite aspect of the novel. It made me question everything that Isabelle had to say and the actions she executed.

Isabelle is a character that, as a mother, I really felt for. I wanted to believe that Isabelle was innocent, but I was hanging on the edge of my seat waiting to find out. Stacy Willingham is the master of a story that winds all around, waiting for you to find the truth.

If you are interested in reading Willingham’s first novel, A Flicker in the Dark, check out my review here.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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