A few weeks back, Ana and I decided to share our love for pushing the reading comfort zone, and we Dared the wonderful Kmont from Lurv à la Mode to guest review a book here!
We asked Kmont what genres she would normally never read, and from there gave her a selection of books in those genres. As it turns out, Kmont chose the Horror genre (*evil grin*), and we recommended…
Title: Summer of Night
Author: Dan Simmons
Summary: (from the publisher)
It’s the summer of 1960 and in the small town of Elm Haven, Illinois, five twelve-year-old boys are forging the powerful bonds that a lifetime of change will not break. But amid the sun-drenched cornfields and the sly flirtations of the local young girls, that loyalty will be pitilessly tested. From the silent depths of the Old Central School, a hulking fortress tinged with the mahogany scent of coffins, an invisible evil is emerging. And now Mike, Duane, Dale, Harlen, and Kevin must wage a fraternal war of blood — against an arcane abomination who stalks the hours after dark…
Why did we RECOMMEND this book: Dan Simmons is one heckuva writer–easily one of my favorites. No matter what genre he writes in, he does an impeccable job. I read Summer of Night a year or so back and loved it–and for someone starting out in the genre, it’s not so overwhelming (not to mention lengthy) as say, Stephen King’s It (although both books share the ‘young kids banding together to fight a greater evil’ element). Mr. Simmons’ characterizations and his careful, slow-simmering of plot and tension made this an ideal book to recommend!
And so, without further ado, we welcome you to The Book Smugglers’ first ever Guest Dare and turn the stage over to KMONT!!
Summer of Night
Reviewed by KMont, Lurv a la Mode
I hate horror, while also having a sick fascination with it. I recently had a close friend tell me I was a pansy for finding the trailer – yes, the trailer – for the upcoming M. Night Shyamalan flick, The Happening, quite frightening. But I couldn’t stop playing it over and over. And then there was my recent home screening of Will Smith’s I Am Legend (which Thea did a wonderful review of, from the book to the movie). It scared the supposed tough gal right out of me! And looking back, I can see how someone would laugh at me for it; it’s not horror in the sense of the more gory and gruesome kind…and then it hit me. It’s not the Freddy Kruger’s or Jason Voorhees characters that instill adrenaline fueled fear in my heart with their relentless pursuit of mayhem. It’s people like Shyamalan, with their dogged mind screws that really wrap me in emotional tethers. It’s the psychological aspects I get hooked up in. Too much gratuitous blood and gore, I’m rolling my eyes and searching for a romantic comedy. Summer of Night was my first official horror read though…and I was pleasantly surprised by its complexity and overall tone.
It’s the summer of 1960, the first freedom inspiring days of school’s out, the heat is on and childhood abounds. It’s the last day that good friends Dale and Lawrence Stewart, Mike O’Rourke, Duane McBride, Kevin Grumbacher and Jim Harlen will have to step foot in Old Central, the county’s educational pride and joy…and the boys’ virtual school prison with it’s yawning emptiness. Something’s in the air, and while the boys believe it’s the start to a long, hot summer filled with bike rides, free movie shows and lazy afternoon hang-out sessions, it’s actually something more sinister. No sooner are they officially released from school than Old Central releases a horrendous noise that echoes forth from its bowels. And therein lies the beginning to their nightmare. Soon, the boys each start to notice strange events and people about their small town of Elm Haven, Illinois. Each seems to cling to their innocence as best they can, as almost a shield against the strengthening evil, until it’s almost too late. They must learn to break past their fears and pull together if they have any chance of stopping the force staking its claim on them, the town and those last few innocent days of summer.
OK, so…wow. I was not expecting this book. When Thea and Ana approached me to do their first dare review, where I had to choose something outside my comfort zone, naturally horror came to mind. It is my nemesis, my one-time catalyst to an almost paralyzing fear of the dark. For more than five years, I bore the rather shameful adolescent fear of my closet (I heard that snickering). I never told anyone about it, but my mother knew. I hopped in her bed in the middle of the night too much for her not to know. I swore off this genre in any way, shape or form for the rest of my life. Till now. It sounds dramatic, but I still have flashbacks to this day, of that fear of the dark. And I think this is why I am now somewhat fascinated with the more psychological aspects of horror. Slowly, I’ve been allowing myself to open up to the genre again and danged if it’s not almost therapeutic.
So this book, this book I was not expecting. In many ways it’s wonderful. I have a fondness for books that take me right back to youth, to those days when a job and my own family had still never entered my mind. The main group of boys in it they all have this devil-may-care attitude of nothing can hurt them. They’ve survived another school year and they are invincible for it. Their level of intuition though, about the school, sets off the suspenseful tone and even though it took me till about ten chapters in to really get into the book, I really found myself enjoying it. I thought the pacing was slow, but in actuality, it was cleverly done. It lulled me into a safety net, and then when something spine tingling came along, I was rocked into breathless…well, horror. There are many, what I thought of at the time, side trips into the schools history, the boys’ back stories, and so on. There’s a crucial plot surround Mike’s grandmother that tied in so dang well. At first, I was impatient to get to the horror elements. I thought these side trips, while nicely implemented for character development, were simply an unnecessary distraction. But then those pockets of fear started popping up, then another round of character or plot development, and so on. It built and lulled, built and lulled till I realized this book had excellent pacing. It was clearly preparing for the big showdown. And I found myself really enjoying it all for what it was – masterfully drawn suspense.
Characters in this book were increasingly interesting. Each boy gets his face time and loving attention to detail. By book’s end, we know who each of them is, what makes them tick and their personalities really shine through, although some more than others. Dale and Lawrence, the former being the older brother by a year. I loved their relationship, as it reminded me a lot of mine with my sister. Dale is so tough and he’s the protector. Lawrence comes into his own in the book, and I could see how, if he were real, he would develop into quite the young man. Duane quickly became my favorite of them all, with his quietly impressive smarts and almost older mind. It’s Duane that really begins to delve into the whys of the strange events suffusing Elm Haven. And he pays a heavy price for it. I genuinely teared up when the evil finds him. I hung in till the bitter end of one scene with him, not quite believing what I was reading and hoping it would all end up in a different way.
Mike was the other standout for me. Speaking of role of protector, his fierce guarding of his grandmother, whose own history shapes this book as well, brought forth a strong admiration in me. Memo, as he lovingly calls her, has a past with one of the evil characters. It’s that past that drives the Soldier, an unknown, seemingly young man that shows up one day, in his relentless pursuit of her. Memo is incapacitated by stroke and therefore bedridden. Her youth is long gone and she communicates through an eye blinking system the family has worked out with her. But the Soldier promised once, when he was human, that he would claim her no matter what. And his stop-at-nothing stalking of her is one of the pivotal points in which the boys begin to see the light, so-to-speak.
And that brings us to the eeevil aspects of Summer of Night. Yes, I was so scared at some points that I had to stop reading it before bed, and certainly not when it was me and my daughter alone in the house. I’ll say right up front that the buildup of the monsters orchestrating all the strange occurrences was more of a thrill for me than the climax at the end. Again, I think it’s all about the mind screw with me. When we actually get to “see” the monsters, the Soldier with his funnel shaped mouth, as it’s described, and the subsequent deluge of infectious brown waste and slugs…yes it was gross as all get out, but it didn’t really horrify me…it was simply icky. I was much more the knuckle biter waiting to see what would happen. Soon, I didn’t mind that roller coaster pace, because those suspenseful parts were what had me breathing hard at night soon after I’d turned off my light.
That being said, I was a bit disappointed that the reasoning behind the chief monster weren’t delved into more. It all pretty much starts with a bell, the Borgia bell that’s still hanging in the belfry of Old Central. Duane does some rather ingenious digging up of facts on it, what leads to that price he pays. I found the history behind this evil fascinating, but it kind of fizzles out as we reach the climax of the book at the end. I was still thinking it had to more than the simple seeds of world domination…or maybe it was just evil for evil’s sake. Maybe I was over thinking it and it wasn’t necessary to go beyond that. Maybe I missed something. There is one name mentioned, Osiris, and I got a thrill at seeing some Egyptian mythology added in.
Osiris is the Egyptian god of life, death and fertility and he had a huge cult/fan base at one time who were very interested in immortality. In Summer of Night, this supreme evil force has denizens and servants of the town, in addition to this mysterious soldier, that do its bidding. Towards the end of the book, what seems to thrill them to no end is that there is life beyond death, their reward for serving their master. I’m sure there’s much more that ties in than this, but honestly I would have to reread the book and do a bit more research to be remotely sure.
One last thing that had me raising my brow was these eleven, twelve and thirteen year old boys and their liberal use of Molotov cocktails and guns. Indeed, it certainly was a different time altogether. Talk about a meeting of two opposites, their innocence and subsequent manning up. But then, their innocence was stolen from them by this evil and while I was certainly glad to cheer them on when they dropped a bomb or two on the bad guys, I had to convince myself to let it go. Just let it go and enjoy the story. Let go the fact that not one adult saw what was happening as they raced the streets of Elm Haven with murderous rendering truck drivers about to run them over in plain public view. As a matter of fact, it was as if the adults in the town were under some kind of influence that dulled their senses; sight hearing, smell. All the things the boys sensed were absent for the parents and other citizens…unless they inadvertently helped the boys in the way of information surrounding these mysteries. Those adults became the focus of the evil too.
All in all, this was a mixed bag of impressions for me. I loved the atmosphere of the book, the tension that builds up and how buildings and locations like Old Central almost became living, breathing characters themselves. I loved the interactions and histories of each main character. The history surrounding the slowly evolving evil was fascinating, and worth further research on, possibly a rereading of the book. I would say I enjoyed it to a point, a very good point, but it didn’t blow me away. The monsters themselves were a bit disappointing, but then again, they seemed to be the obligatory gore and that sort of thing has never impressed me. Will I pick up another horror book in the near future? Probably not. The genre still has its place in my squick zone, but should an intriguing storyline like this one capture my eye again…well, anything’s possible I suppose.
Rating: Based on all that, and if we’re scoring according to the Book Smuggler standard, I give Summer of Night a score between 6 and 7. It gets a Lurv à la Mode score of three scoops. Both scores, I feel, reflect the “OK” feel I had by book’s end.
Thea, Ana – thanks so much for this fun opportunity!
Next up for the Guest Dare: Kate from What Kate’s Reading does The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman (Her first ever Graphic Novel read!)
And again, a big Smuggler THANK YOU to Kmont for her bravery and for the awesome review!!!
TheaJune 11, 2008 at 6:59 am
Kmont–Can I just say again, thank you for the excellent review? I’m glad you enjoyed some aspects of the book (ugh that rendering truck, the smells, it all stands out so much in my mind after I read this one). I definitely agree, the characters are what make this book work though.
kmontJune 11, 2008 at 7:18 am
I can’t say it enough–I was impressed with this book, especially considering I’d never read the genre. The rendering truck practically made me gag whenever it came up.
Thanks again for asking me! And I really like Neil Gaiman and liked it so I can’t wait to see what Kate thinks of her dare book. He seems a pretty versatile writer, from a look-see at his back list.
AnaJune 11, 2008 at 7:32 am
Kmon, don’t get me started with Neil Gaiman. He is my God of Writing. and shhhhhhh I will let you know first hand that we are preparing a Gaiman Appreciation Week. Because of that I have been reading him non-stop and I can’t say enough good things about his books/graphic novels/short stories, etc etc.
RosarioJune 11, 2008 at 8:34 am
That’s a very good review. Horror is not usually my cup of tea (I blame Koontz’s Intensity, which left me sleepless for weeks in my teens), but I’m intrigued enough to give this a try.
meljean brookJune 11, 2008 at 9:33 am
Horror is my favorite genre after romance/UF (oh, and comic-y stuff), but I haven’t tried Simmons before. This review, though, has put him on my wish list — and it’s the suspense-y part that got me.
The last couple of horror novels have fallen flat for me, mostly because I couldn’t care about the protagonists (so I wasn’t scared for them). This sounds right up my alley, though.
TheaJune 11, 2008 at 10:07 am
Kmont, dude, Neil Gaiman is the shiz. Ana and I both have huge inappropriate crushes on his writing 😉
Rosario, oh Dean Koontz. I’ve always been more of a King gal, but his stuff is awesome. If you’re just stepping (back) into the genre, I’d definitely recommend Summer of Night 🙂
Meljean, you’re a horror fan too? *highfive* Yes, certainly give Simmons a try! I read his first novel, Song of Kali, and have been hooked ever since (on all his stuff, he writes everything!). You know, now that you mention it, I haven’t really read any new great horror recently though. Last year’s Heart-Shaped Box was good (written by Stephen King’s son, who writes as ‘Joe Hill’! Talk about pressure), but nothing to write home about.
And Meljean…I’m putting up my Demon Angel review tomorrow! *ninja*
meljean brookJune 11, 2008 at 10:47 am
Eek! *bites knuckles and reminds self to close eyes tomorrow*
I liked Heart-Shaped Box, too — I was really, really pleasantly surprised by it. The last one that didn’t work for me was The Missing by Sarah Langan. It was well-written enough that I’d try her again, but I kind of just wanted everyone in that particular book to die.
ChristineJune 12, 2008 at 9:10 pm
Great review, kmont!
And I’m so impressed with your bravery to take on the Smuggler’s Dare! Mwahahahaha!