Click-Clack The Rattlebag by Neil Gaiman

Happy Hallowe’en!

It’s also All Hallows’ Read, a festival that Neil Gaiman thought up 2 years ago, which proposes that on Hallowe’en, or during the week of Hallowe’en, we give each other scary books.  In the spirit of such a fun literary holiday, and also in an effort to suck up to my beloved Gaiman by doing everything he tells me to, I have listened to my very first audio book.

I know, I know.  Some people LOVE audio books; they save time, and they’re portable, and blah blah blah.  But they’ve just never been my thing.  I like to feel and smell and see the words, even as they paint a picture in my mind.  It took me ages to come around to e-books, and even then it was only to allow more room in my suitcase for shoes when I travel.  But my main problem with audio books is the voices.  If the narrator has a particular way of speaking (i.e. annoying), or a strange accent, or even if they just have too much POW! BANG! SLAM! during the exciting parts, it completely distracts me from the story.

All that being said, if anyone could have made me listen to (read?) an audio book, it was Neil Gaiman.  He is my absolute favourite author, whether it be novels, graphic novels, short stories or kids books. So, when Neil announced on his blog that he had teamed up with Audible to release a new, unpublished short story, (for free!), I was willing to give it a shot.  Especially considering it’s also narrated by Neil Gaiman, so I can’t be mad about the voice.  As an added incentive, Audible will donate $1 for every download through Halloween to the education charity DonorsChoose.

 “‘What kind of story would you like me to tell you?’ ‘Well,’ he said, thoughtfully, ‘I don’t think it should be too scary, because then when I go up to bed, I will just be thinking about monsters the whole time. But if it isn’t just a little bit scary, then I won’t be interested. And you make up scary stories, don’t you?'” So begins this sweet, witty, deceptive little tale from master storyteller Neil Gaiman. Lock the doors, turn off the lights, and enjoy. (Audible)

As mentioned, this is a short story, which Neil read at the George Mason Award evening, and it will be published in a forthcoming anthology.  The whole thing is only about 12 minutes long, and starts off with a brief introduction about All Hallows’ Read and the charitable donations.  Around the 2 minute mark, we get into the story, which is being told from the point of view of a guy taking care of his girlfriend’s little brother.  The boy requests a bedtime story, one that’s just the right amount of scary, while they walk through the big, old, and very dark house.  The boy specifically asks for a story about Click-Clack the Rattle Bag, because those are the best kinds of stories, and “Click-Clacks are the best monsters ever”.  They’re even scarier than vampires.

As always, Gaiman does an excellent job of setting up the story, and detailing the surroundings in a way that put a vivid picture in your head.  The use of the first person narration, as well as the language and phrasing used by the little boy, manage to inject you into the conversation.  There are a bare minimum of sound effects here, but they are used wisely to mimic a creaky old house.  The story is obviously a more family-friendly kind of scary, but the description of what Click-Clacks “do to people” is icky enough to give kids pause.

All in all, this is a great little story, and a perfect Hallowe’en treat (to go with the mountain of candy I am currently devouring).  I am intrigued by how different it is to hear a story, as opposed to reading it; it was kinda like listening to a spooky story being told around a campfire.

So, in the words of Neil Gaiman: “Go to www.Audible.com/ScareUs to download it if you’re in the US or the rest of the world except the UK and www.Audible.co.uk/ScareUs to download it if you’re in the UK/Commonwealth. And then download the story. As I may have told you already, it’s free — absolutely, utterly, perfectly free.

Floating Staircase by Ronald Malfi

This review has taken us an eternity to write. Not only is Floating Staircase one of the best books we’ve read my this author, but it’s also one of, if not the, best book of 2011. It’s virtually impossible to detail exactly what it is about this novel that we loved so much. See, a powerful, beautifully written book is something that a reader should find solace in. They should feel overjoyed for having read it, maybe even saddened when it’s over. For us, whenever we come across a book like this, we tend to feel a deep connection. We feel like a part of the story. With Floating Staircase… it’s more than that. This story left us elated, heart-broken, terrified, tired, amazed, and completely in awe of the author’s work.

But we never expected anything less from Ronald Malfi.

To Travis and Jodie Glasgow, the house in the idyllic small town seems perfect, the surrounding wood and lake like a postcard. But soon after they move in, things begin to… change. Strange noises wake Travis at night. His dreams are plagued by ghosts. Barely glimpsed shapes flit through the darkened hallways – shapes bearing a frightening resemblance to a little boy. Footprints appear. Strangest of all are the wooden stairs rising cryptically from the lake.

The more Travis investigates, the more he uncovers the house’s violent and tragic past… and the secrets can’t be buried forever.

Where Malfi gets off being such a damned good writer, we’ll never know. Beyond that, having such a phenomenal press such as Medallion behind him, we can only expect the best, right? With Floating Staircase, Malfi brought his A-game to bear… and then some. It’s not every day that you experience so many emotions in the run of one novel, and Floating Staircase is almost the perfect example of how an author can drag the reader along all of them. When Travis is feeling low about the circumstances that surround a painful memory, Malfi makes sure that the reader feels exactly that. It’s just insane how absolutely effective this author’s prose is.

Once Malfi grabs the reader, he never gets go.  What makes this author so special is he has the uncanny ability to completely manipulate the readers emotions without letting them know.  He creates a paranoid world filled with movements caught out the corner of the eye, and noises that are just subtle enough to make us question what we are hearing. The world of Floating Staircase is filled with hidden rooms, dark secrets and constant heartache. This is the world that slowly begins to haunt the reader in much the same way that Travis is tortured by his own past.  It isn’t until the insanely satisfying finale when the reader feels the  emotional burden is lifted, finally realizing how truly helpless they were in grasp of Malfi’s wonderful prose.

It would not be an overstatement to say that Floating Staircase is a modern classic ranking among some of the best supernatural affairs ever committed to print.  The characters are so deeply textured while the story and setting sizzle to life through Malfi’s unparalled literary talent.  Again, this review took us an eternity to write because greatness is such a difficult thing to communicate to another person.  The only way that a reader can possibly understand the beautiful story that Ron Malfi has given us is to pick up a copy for yourself.

Pat and Colum