By Joe Hill

(Morrow, $28.99, 704 pages

Who is this author?

No, he’s not the Joe Hill of the labor movement folk song. He’s the Joe Hill who decided not to hitch a ride to publishing glory by using his famous family name, which is King. As in: Stephen. (And as in Tabitha, Joe’s mom, and Owen, his brother, also published writers.)

Hill has earned his own acclaim with several works of fantasy fiction: the bestselling “Horns,” “Heart-Shaped Box” and prize-winning “20th Century Ghosts.” He’s known for his devilish humor and ability to simultaneously scare and delight readers, which is not as easy as it may sound…but then, it runs in the family. He is also the Eisner Award-winning writer of an ongoing comic book series, Locke & Key.

What is this book about?

If a guy driving a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with a license plate reading NOS4A2 offers you a ride to an amusement park called Christmasland, run like hell. Kids who make the trip with seductive and evil Charles Talent Manx are changed forever, and not for the better. The one girl who manages to escape is Victoria McQueen. She has supernatural powers too: she can find missing things if she rides her bike over the mysterious Shorter Way covered bridge that appears when she needs it and leads to wherever she needs to go…and then disappears. Now grown, she’d like to forget all about Charlie, but she can’t: Mr. NOS4A2 is back on the road and he’s just picked up a new rider: her own son.

Why you’ll like it:

Hill can bring the scary, and the funny, too: Pronounce “NOS4A2” like a word and see if you don’t recognize the name. And doesn’t Charlis Talent Manx sound a bit like Charles Manson? Little ironic goodies like those sparkle throughout the book, which also has the power to scare the daylights out of its readers. But most important: this is a work of horror fiction, and it horrifies like the best of them. Hill may not want to use his famous dad’s last name, but he’s producing books that will thrill those readers just as Stephen King does. The only downside of this book is that it turns Christmas into something more like Halloween.


What others are saying:

In The New York Times , Janet Maslin says: “…throat-grabbing…Mr. Hill envisions an epic battle between real and imaginary worlds, makes this fight credible and creates a heroine who can recklessly crash from one realm to the other…NOS4A2 is full of chills and cliffhangers, but it never turns needlessly grotesque.”

The Washington Post calls this book: “…horror fiction at its most ambitious…A road novel, a horror novel and—most centrally—a novel of character, NOS4A2 is a substantial accomplishment, and it marks Hill…as a major force—perhaps the major force—among the younger generation of horror writers. Like the best of its dark breed, it offers visceral narrative pleasures while never losing sight of the human element that lies just below the extravagantly imagined surface. The result is a frightening, ultimately moving novel that speaks directly to the plight of abducted children. At the same time, it presents a deeply empathetic portrait of a damaged woman struggling to recover her lost, best self.”

 Publishers Weekly says: “Horror is too simplistic a word for Joe Hill’s new novel, but there’s no denying it makes the skin crawl like a worm on a hot rock. …what makes it work best is that it is a novel of well-defined characters, and one character in particular: ….Victoria McQueen. ….She can find lost things. She does this by concentrating on the object and riding her bike…subtly carried away into a world that seems as real as her own. …It’s an amazing talent but it has a price, both physical and emotional. …as she gets older she comes across someone she thinks can explain them to her—a woman with a bag of Scrabble game tiles through which she divines answers, reminiscent of an ancient soothsayer prowling through animal guts and rattling human knuckle bones….. In contrast to Vic…is Charles Manx…He arrives in our world out of a place called Christmasland, a phantasmagoric amusement park full of dark possibilities and, in spite of its child-pleasing title, containing about as much light and happiness as a concentration camp at midnight. Like Dracula, Manx has his Renfield—Bing Partridge, a pathetic gas-mask-wearing follower…. Manx, Bing, and Vic cross paths, as one would expect, and it’s a dynamic collision… With this novel, riveting from beginning to end, Joe Hill has become a master of his craft.

“What child wouldn’t want to live in a place where it’s Christmas every day? Where life is hot cocoa, gingerbread, gifts, and amusement park rides? Every year, Charlie Manx takes one or two “special” children in his vintage Rolls Royce (license plate reads “NOS4A2″) to Christmasland, a place that can’t be found on any conventional map, where they get to experience the joy of Christmas morning every day and never grow up. But underneath the pretty wrapping paper, Christmasland is not all that it seems. Vic McQueen can also travel to places that most people don’t know exist, and at age 17, she attempts to put a stop to Manx’s trips to Christmasland. Years later when Manx resurfaces and kidnaps her son, Vic will risk everything to rescue her son and put an end to Christmasland once and for all. …Fascinating and utterly engaging, this novel is sure to leave readers wanting more. One thing is certain, however. After reading this book, readers will never hear Christmas carols in quite the same way again, says Library Journal.


Kirkus Reviews says: “A good-natured romp in the garden of good and evil…If you remember Stephen King’s It or, heck, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” you’ll remember that there are few setups creepier than a dude with shiny toys luring children to their doom. It gets creepier still when Santa Claus has “gaping jaws,” and a supernatural harpy comes equipped with ornaments that “dangled from her pierced breasts”–why, it’s enough to put a person off Christmas forever. The author of all this mayhem (and Hill is so skillful that we don’t know till the very end whether he’ll get away with it) is a mysterious but charming hellion named Charles Talent Manx, who likes nothing better than to take the local youth for a one-way spin in a Rolls-Royce Wraith bearing the easily deciphered license plate that is the novel’s title. Can anyone stop his infernal joy riding? Maybe, just maybe, and it makes perfect sense that it’s a steampunk-ish young woman who patrols the Massachusetts landscape on a Raleigh bike. Though there are King-ian shades–the underworld setup, the possessed car, the cool chick–Hill’s story is quite original, and, for horror fans of a certain ironic bent, it’s an unqualified delight, well-written and, within limits, believable…. Bonus points for being smart and having a young woman as a heroine who doesn’t need saving herself.

When is it available?

You can scare up a copy at the Downtown Hartford Public Library or its Ropkins Branch.

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