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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-02-11 00:32
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
A Head Full of Ghosts - Paul G. Tremblay

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's something wrong with fourteen-year-old Marjorie Barrett - her mental health seems to be declining, yet treatment from medical professionals isn't helping her one bit. Desperate to pull through the tough time where money is dwindling and Marjorie's sanity is failing, the Barretts decide to sign up for a reality TV show, where the "possession" of their daughter can be documented every minute of every day.

(WARNING: This review contains spoilers.)

This was Horror Aficionados' January group read! Once again, a book that wasn't even on my radar, and I never expected to like it as much as I did. What I assumed to be a story of a typical, run-of-the-mill possession, turned out to be a very thought provoking tale about the hardship (and destruction) of one family. It also touched upon several controversial subjects relating to religion and the patriarchy that dominates the Catholic faith. There certainly was a narrative here that presented itself in the form of blog posts that were periodically included amongst the chapters, and whilst the posts themselves were rather long-winded, they added a contextual dissection of events, often including an abundance of pop culture references. I found that my appreciation of these interruptions varied - one moment I enjoyed Karen's rambling, the next I felt disinterested.

Back to the story itself - Merry's account of her younger self instantly pulled me in; I found how her eight-year-old mind worked to be endearing, despite at times seeming to have a great deal of maturity for her age. What she, as a child, had to go through was nothing short of appalling, but rather than some evil force being the obvious villain, it was a lot more close to home, or should I say, close to Merry.

The plot heavily relied upon the interpretation of the reader, as it's essentially up to you to make your own conclusion as to whether Marjorie was indeed inhabited by some demonic entity. As for me - I leaned toward the non-supernatural explanation. There was just nothing concrete; she didn't display anything remotely inhuman. Sure, she appeared to be knowledgeable, but as stated in the book, she owned a laptop and spent most of her time on it, and we all know that literally anything can be found on the internet if you know where to look. I believe that she was a very sick girl that was exploited for money. A blunt way of putting it, but it's the ugly truth - in the face of serious financial struggle, her parents made a decision to forgo conventional medicine, and instead used their own daughter's aliment to save their nice house. What thus followed was the moronic reliance upon a priest and the accommodation of a TV crew. If you haven't already guessed, I one hundred percent believed the parents to be at fault. They were the villain.

Of course, I could be completely wrong in my thinking and theory. Perhaps Tremblay's intention was indeed to tell a tale of a devilish presence residing within a teenager. I'd just have to question the lack of paranormal activity if that were the case; unlike The Exorcist, there was nothing that couldn't be rationally explained. It also crossed my mind how unreliable Merry was as a protagonist. She admitted to making things up, to embellishing the truth, and it struck me that she probably had some mental issues of her own. The very last twist only proved how inaccurate her initial account turned out to be.

In itself, fellow reviewers tend to either love or hate this one. In no shape or form would I describe it as poor, quite the contrary. I couldn't wait to pick it up and continue reading, despite little happening in the grand scheme of things. It's not full of blatant scares and gore, but a slow burn of the foolishness of humankind.

Also, reality shows are stupid.

In conclusion: A different sort of horror; one that made me think and question everything. My first experience of this author, and it won't be the last!

Notable Quote:

"On the last day, their father left the house to go find food. He told Merry not to open the front door no matter what and to stay out of the basement. Hours passed and Merry didn't know what to do because Marjorie was coughing and moaning and speaking gibberish. She needed food, water, something. Merry went down into the basement to look for some secret stash of food that they'd forgotten. Instead she found tips of the growing things poking out of the basement's dirt floor. She watched them grow and grow, and as they grew, they pushed up a large shape out of the dirt, and it hung off the growing things like a broken puppet. It was the body of their mother."

© Red Lace 2018

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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/02/11/a-head-full-of-ghosts-by-paul-tremblay
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review 2017-10-30 00:00
A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel
A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel - Paul Tremblay I'm not sure I can really put into words exactly what I think of this book. I have a lot of feelings and thoughts, but my brain has too much going on right now to really focus on writing a review. (Maybe I shouldn't have read this so close to NaNoWriMo :/ )

There are some possible issues people could have with this book, on both sides of things (mental illness being associated with possession, as well as the portrayal of Catholicism). Mental illness and possession have been linked before, but I think this book actually did a pretty good job of showing how harmful church interventions can be. So...I can't say anything about the portrayal of schizophrenia, if that's what Marjorie was dealing with, or the portrayal of the church because my family is protestant and I'm not practicing an Abrahamic religion at all. That said, I don't think I've ever seen or read anything that so clearly demonstrated how outrageous and damaging the "Oh no!
Your [family member term] is possessed by a demon! We must exorcise it!" stuff can be. I don't think exorcisms are really done anymore, but there's a good reason for that. People died. Like, a lot.
But...I didn't have any major issue with it. That could be just because I'm not in a position to be harmed by it, idk.

So much, and almost nothing, happened in this book, and I came out of it with way more questions than answers. Was Marjorie schizophrenic? Was their father mentally ill, or otherwise unstable? He sure seemed to be unraveling. What about the mom? She was at least portrayed as being on the way to dipsomania. And then there's Meredith. What the heck, man? Was she possessed? The ending sure seemed to suggest she might be, or maybe that she's being...haunted? IDK. That whole thing with the coffee shop getting cold left me wondering. And oh boy, that twist at the end with Marjorie convincing 8 year old Meredith to poison the whole family? Daaaayum. Poor kid. But that also left me with questions. Did Marjorie get the potassium cyanide? Was it really their father who'd acquired it and was planning to poison them all? And then there are Merry's memories from then. How much can really be trusted? She was only 8, which means she definitely could have remembered a lot, but she was also young enough and traumatized enough to have some false memories. So many questions! I normally hate that, but I liked it in this book because speculating on what was real and what wasn't is fun, and maybe Merry herself doesn't really know what's real in her memories. It wasn't really terrifying (there were a few intense, kinda scary bits, though), or at least not in the way you'd expect. Personally, I've always found it far more terrifying to think about the super-religious families and what they put their kids/whoever through with jumping to the conclusion their loved one is possessed. Human horror is more horrifying than monsters any day.

The blogger bits were kind of interesting, I guess, but I don't feel like they added much to the story, honestly. They were fun to read (and I'd love to find a blog like that one), but I could have lived without them for sure.

I think my favorite thing about this book was how it reminded me a lot of campy horror movies, but in a way that was very self-aware. No, that's not exactly right. Closer to satire, I think. Think Scream, particularly the character Randy from the first two films. This book reminded me of the Scream franchise. Oh wow, I'm really getting off track here. Anyway. The Scream franchise is probably my favorite horror franchise, and part of that is because of how it calls out horror genre tropes/cliches and plays with them. This book did that with possession stories.

So, I really liked this book, but not in the ways I expected. I thought I was going to get some kind of haunted house or possession story, but it was...not really that at all.
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review 2017-02-02 01:16
Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay
Disappearance at Devil's Rock: A Novel - Paul Tremblay

This is a slower paced mystery about a missing 14-year-old boy, his devastated mother and his heartbroken sister. It is a good story but it is not a horror novel. Do not be led astray like me.


A family is shaken to its core after the mysterious disappearance of a teenage boy in this eerie tale, a blend of literary fiction, psychological suspense, and supernatural horror from the author of A Head Full of Ghosts.


I think I missed the supernatural horror bits. First The Turner House disappoints with its false ghost promises and now there’s this one. Damn, I am totally striking out in January.

Anyway, I listened to this book on audio and though it was too long and I drifted here and there, I never felt an urge to shut it off. I’d probably give it a 3 ½ but I’ll bump it up to a 4 because it was quite a bit better than “meh”.


The story revolves around what really happened the day (or was it night? The mind fails me once again) Tommy and his two pals went out to Devil’s Rock to do something . . . Tommy’s two buddies returned home safe and sound but Tommy did not. Now it’s up to Tommy’s mom to piece together exactly what happened. When Tommy’s diaries pages start appearing out of the ether she begins to question everything.


And I don’t blame her. I really felt compassion for Tommy’s mom. She was a well written character and even had some realistic flaws, eventually breaking down and losing her cool. I loved to read that. It made the story come alive for me.


Basically, the story is one long, slow reveal of what happened prior to that fateful day (evening?) at Devil’s Rock. It’s set in the present day but the past is shown via the diary entries and through flashbacks. I’m not going to give it away. If you want to know, you’ll have to read the book.


It’s an enjoyable thriller only marred by too much inane and repetitive dialogue between the boys. They are teenagers and their conversations go a little like this, a little too often for my liking.

Josh: Anyone up for Mindcraft?


Luis: Mindcraft is AWESOME man but dad says I need to get homework done tonight.


Tommy: Your dad is such a Hard-o! (I did not mean hard-on pervy spellcheck)


Josh: Chirps!


They have their own lingo, which is normal for most teen boys, but that doesn’t mean it’s fun to read and, believe me, it's even less fun to listen to. Almost immediately that lingo annoyed me and when the boys were together it never let up.


The narrator, Erin Bennett, does a decent job with the work but she's just a little too polished at times and I did feel pulled out of the story on a few occasions, especially when she calls out a name before speaking their dialogue. I’m not sure if it was a narrator choice or if the book was written that way but it was off-putting and strange.


The actual mystery is doled out slowly as it should be, I take no issue with that. I only wish the book had been pruned a bit where the silly conversations and sometimes repetitive scenes were involved.


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review 2016-12-19 21:05
Unsettling yet compulsive reading
Disappearance at Devil's Rock: A Novel - Paul Tremblay

This was certainly different and I had a real problem with the author's writing style from the start. The way he phrased sentences and presented the various characters as they related to each other reminded me of studying Shakespeare at school!....

Josh: "You were playing on our server?"

Tommy:"What's the big deal?"

Arnold: "No worries. I was on some public one. Not yours."

Josh: "How'd  you know Tommy was playing then?"

Arnold: "Huh? Nah, I didn't know."

Josh: "You just said you did."

This rather irritating way of placing the speakers name at the start, inserting a colon immediately after, and then stating what was said....


Now having established my concerns, I must admit I was someone smitten with the suggestive and creeping horror. Elizabeth Sanderson is awoken to the news that her son Tommy is missing. What happened on the final night when he disappeared at Devil's Rock when in the company of his friends Louis, Joss and the mysterious Arnold. What is the significance of dark shadows, the crack-head penny, and mysterious notes that appear randomly at night for Elizabeth's attention. Who can she trust; daughter Kate? mum Janice? Detective Allison Murtagh? I read this story over a 24 hour period and found its content very unsettling, the character of Arnold somewhat evil, and the outcome for Tommy, Louis, and Joss sadly inevitable. The events that took place on one fateful night at Devil's Rock cannot fail but make a lasting impression on the reader and that surely must be the mark of a good book.

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text 2016-10-07 17:13
2016 Mass Book Awards!
A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel - Paul Tremblay
Only the Strong - Jabari Asim
Honey from the Lion - Matthew Neill Null
The Muralist - B.A. Shapiro
The Secret Chord: A Novel - Geraldine Brooks
The Rumor: A Novel - Elin Hilderbrand
The Marriage of Opposites - Alice Hoffman
Bird - Noy Holland
On Hurricane Island - Ellen Meeropol
The Last Bookaneer - Matthew Pearl

For those of you who heard me make allusion to a book award that I was involved with, I can finally actually talk about it!  The winners for the 2016 Mass Book Awards have been announced!

2016 Winners: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, Rosemary:The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson, Immortality by Alan Feldman, The Thing About Jellyfish and Ketzel by Ali Benjamin, the Cat who Composed by Leslea Newman

This was loads of fun, if a bit chaotic.  I read a lot, but I read for several book clubs as well as review copies furnished by publishers... on top of any personal reading I want to do.  Shoehorning in a box of 12 books to read over about two months was plausible but required me to actually schedule reading.  Also, since I can't have one crazy thing in my life this also overlapped almost perfectly with the two month period from putting in an offer on a house to closing, as well as moving from part-time to full-time at my library.

I took part along with several others as judges for Adult Fiction, with the purpose of whittling down the long list (the 12 finalists) to one Winner and three Honors.  Some of the books were very easy to eliminate from the running, others took some dithering.  The winner stood out to all of us.

I do want to stress that just because I don't think highly of a book doesn't mean it's bad, just not for me.  Every book on the list already made it through a screening and narrowing down process, and we had to pull apart and rate them.  They all have their merits.

And now, the books and some thoughts from me on them.

A Head Full of Ghosts / Paul Tremblay (WINNER)
I didn't think I was going to like this book.  All three of us went into it with some trepidation, none of us were particularly into Horror, and everything about this book from the cover, to the synopsis, to the praise from other authors, said we were holding a horror novel in our hands.

And we loved it.

A Head Full of Ghosts isn't a book where the horror is a monster that goes bump in the night or a murderous villain in the dark.  Rather we get a self-aware book that exposes the horror genre while revealing itself.  The horror here is in misunderstanding and maltreatment of mental illness and in the exploitation of celebrity culture.  Don't go in with preconceptions of what the story is, let it show you.

Only the Strong / Jabari Asim (Honors)
I only fell in love with two books out of the twelve, and this was one of them.  Asim delivers masterful use of language and flawless shifting between narratives and narrators as the story comes full circle.  Read this book.

Honey From the Lion / Matthew Neill Null (Honors)
This book didn't work for me as a novel, but it definitely worked for the other to judges.  And even if I couldn't get into the book doesn't mean that it can't appreciate the craft of it.  Historical fiction tangled up in post-Civil War economics and environmentalism.

The Muralist / B. A. Shapiro (Honors)
Eminently readable and excellent as a book club pick.  The Muralist searches for the life of an artist in the center of the Abstract Expressionism movement.  A descendant seeking proof of a family legend and a young woman seeking to save her family from the Holocaust.  The story treats famous figures with a balance of respect and familiarity, and is very relateable to the ongoing discussions around immigration and refugees.

The Secret Chord / Geraldine Brooks (Long List)
Very close to making the Honors list.  Brooks is undeniably a skilled writer and she rose to the challenge of taking on historical figures of legend as the central story.  This book posed a challenge to me due to a general skittishness of anything I connect with my escaped childhood within the Church, and to due to my general skepticism when approaching novels about such significant figures.

The Rumor / Elin Hilderbrand (Long List)
I have discovered that I'm not a fan of Hilderbrand's writing.  I understand that her novels are incredibly popular beach reads, but they're just not for me.  This book is made up of characters who desperately need hobbies.  If I wanted this level of drama I'd read Sweet Valley High.

A Marriage of Opposites / Alice Hoffman (Long List)
Well written, but after deep investment in one character it jarringly switches half-way through to a different one.  In many ways your standard Hoffman novel, including possibly magical romance.

Bird / Noy Holland (Long List)
I still can't decide if I like or really dislike this one.  I could see what it was working towards, and there's a level of brilliance in the writing, but at the same time I was left wondering what I was reading.

On Hurricane Island / Ellen Meeropol (Long List)
Very timely novel, but suffers from too many individual story lines and perhaps not enough editing. 
It started out with a good rating, but that dropped a bit as I read.  I personally feel that a "civillian Gitmo" off the coast of Maine misses the whole point of Guantanamo being off US soil, and various other plot wholes just niggled at me too much.  The main villain was a mustache away from being Snidely Whiplash, and the sexual assault he perpetrated (as well as his extended daydreaming about it) was really hard for me to stomach (which is partially the point, but I also have issues with how sexual assault and rape is generally written about).
Complaints aside, it was well worth the read.

The Last Bookaneer / Matthew Pearl (Long List)
Pre-copyright book pirates sounds like an amazing premise to me.  Conceptually a great novel, but it failed to deliver on the action and adventure we hoped for.  Neat read, but drawn out.

Honeydew / Edith Pearlman (Long List)
Short story collections are hard.  As Helen Ellis says, "'For a collection of short stories' is the 'For your age' of the book world."  Overall this collection to me was made up of slice-of-life stories that failed at their hoped for intimacy.

Find Me / Laura Van Den Berg (Long List)
This book delivers a fresh take on the pandemic story line, told with a deliberately wandering and confused narrative.  Perhaps bordering on YA in tone, but a solid read.
Source: libromancersapprentice.blogspot.com/2016/10/2016-mass-book-awards.html
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