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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals . . . a used hangman's noose . . . a snuff film. An aging death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can't help but reach for his wallet. I will "sell" my stepfather's ghost to the highest bidder. . . . For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man's suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn't afraid. He has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts—of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What's one more? But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It's the real thing. And suddenly the suit's previous owner is…

Heart-Shaped Box

by Joe Hill

Overall Book Review:

The plot of Heart-Shaped Box grabs the reader from the beginning, and its spookiness hounds them through the book’s pages like a vengeful specter. This ghost story is refreshing in its complexity. Joe Hill’s use of an ordinary modern setting infused with a creepy element of the supernatural makes the tale a haunting and eerie read.

Jude is the kind of protagonist who is easy to identify with because he has a very pragmatic no-nonsense outlook on life. Though he has both fame and fortune, it is apparent to the reader that he hass remained an ordinary person at heart. The intrusion of the supernatural into his life is therefore jarring and foreign, much as it would be for the reader in a similar situation, and it’s natural to sympathize with his initial struggle to put it out of his life and return to normal and later with his struggle to simply survive.

Heart-Shaped Box delivers a combination of talented writing, intriguing story, and vivid descriptions that are at times ominously spooky and at other times jarring and overwhelmingly violent. The author moves the story along at a pace that makes the reader feel they are right alongside the protagonists in a race against death. Joe Hill has crafted a memorable story, boxing it neatly up like a creepy heart-shaped present for his readers.

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language:  26 religious exclamations; 30 mild obscenities; 10 religious profanities; 32 derogatory names; 40 scatological words; 29 anatomical terms; 1 offensive hand gesture; 68 f-word derivatives.

Violence/Gore:  A few verbal threats; characters threaten each other with a weapons a few times; characters view a snuff film with few details given; a character keeps gruesome trophies; a few reports of suicides; a few reports of deaths in war; a few reports of domestic violence against men’s wives and children; report of a murder; report of a murder/suicide; report of torture in war; report of a plane crash; report of animals killed in a gruesome way as part of slaughtering; report of a fight; minor property damage; a character harms herself intentionally; a few fights with moderate injuries; a few attempted suicide; brief description of death by disease; a character tries to run others over with a car; a man hits a woman; an animal dies from injuries; a creepy scene involving a ouija board; a few creepy scenes in which characters encounter a ghost; a character points a gun at herself and threatens to commit suicide; a video of a gory murder is viewed, with details described; a fight with guns and melee weapons in which an animal is killed and people receive bloody wounds, which are graphically described; a character causes an accident, which results in gruesome injuries to animals and humans, some of which are described in detail; a fight in which characters are punched and stabbed, with bloody fatal injuries described; a character uses human blood paint to draw; an animal’s gory wounds are described; grotesque injuries are described after a fight; a character’s throat is slit, and the copious amount of blood is described.

Sex/Nudity:  Characters kiss a few times; woman propositions a man; characters hold hands; characters hug; a male character has his genitals mashed painfully during a fistfight; a woman’s clothing is torn, exposing her bra; a woman is naked in a video (not sexual); a character is partially naked in public; a character wears a revealing hospital gown (not sexual);  mention of prostitution; mention of fetish clubs; mention of orgies; woman wears panties and a revealing top a few times; a few mentions of oral sex; the word “orgasm” is used in a metaphorical way; mention of sterilization;report of a minor girl having an affair with an adult man; a man remembers an ex-girlfriend naked with few details described; report of a sexual assault; report of a parent having sex with their child; report of a man sexually molesting minors; a few reports of women working as strippers; report of a man having past sexual relationships with many women; a man imagines a woman nude; report of a woman partially naked walking down the road; a few reports of a man and woman having sex; mention of skinny dipping; characters discuss each other’s sexual pasts; report of an extramarital affair; mention of sex in marriage; report of a minor being a prostitute; mention that famous people sleep with their fans; mention of pornography; a character keeps photos of children in sexually abusive situations (these are not described, only mentioned that they exist); a woman wears only panties, and a man admires her; a man watches a stripper at a club (her breasts are described); a woman masturbates and a man fantasizes while watching her.

Mature Subject Matter:

Suicide is a major theme of this book; mental illness (depression); homosexuality (mention); discrimination based on sexual orientation; sexual assault (reported); incest (reported); child and spouse abuse (reported); snuff films; mention of a historical school shooting; pornography (mention); prostitution (mention); drug addiction (mention); kidnapping; death (parent, pet, sibling).

Alcohol / Drug Use:

Report of minors abusing oxycontin; adults drink alcohol; report of characters cooking meth; an adult character smokes cigarettes; report of minors drinking wine; cocaine and “dope” are mentioned; a character is named “Morphine”; morphine is used medicinally; a character is drugged to unconsciousness by another; report that a character chewed tobacco in the past.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

My taste in literature leans heavily towards sci-fi, fantasy, and (my favorite) horror, and the latter can present some fairly murky waters for parents to let their children explore. I enjoy novels of both the standard and graphic varieties. Since those genres, and graphic novels in particular, tend to appeal to boys, I hope that I can help other Boy Mommies in their quest to find books that their little video gamers--I mean, future bibliophiles will read and enjoy. When I am not reading, I enjoy tabletop role-playing games, video games, and singing karaoke. I have a wonderful husband who lets me indulge my reading habit by sharing the housework and being a great dad to our genius kids and their faithful hound.