I recognize that this is kind of cheating given that I’ve already reviewed most of Joe Hill’s books on the blog, but it’s been a while since I talked about any of them, and I’m not just going to copy and paste my previous reviews. Truthfully, I’m not going to look at them at all, so you’re getting fresh eyes on why I love Joe Hill’s books so much. A bit of history is deserved, I think, too, so you understand why this particular author is getting a spotlight during Halloween. I have been afraid of Stephen King’s books since somewhere in high school, when I was assigned to read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Don’t ask me why my assigned reading was a horror book, I have no idea. It scared the living daylights out of me, and it’s not even a scary book! Many of King’s adaptations scares me, too, so I turned my back after Tom Gordon and said my peace with never trying it again.
Enter: Daniel Radcliffe. When I heard that he was going to be in an adaptation for a horror movie, I was so excited, but I generally love to read books before I watch movies. I didn’t for Horns because I was afraid that King’s son would be just as scary as him. Well, Horns is easily one of the weirdest movies that I’ve ever seen, and it had a strange comedic overtone to its horrific elements, so I decided to give the book a shot. It was love at first book, honestly, and not only have I now read nearly everything by Hill (I still haven’t read 20th Century Ghosts, I am the worst), I’ve started to slowly work my way back toward his father. I could probably say, with confidence, that Joe Hill is one of my favorite authors, too.
He’s also a wonderful person, and I got to meet him last year (?) for the release of Full Throttle, and he was just genuinely a really lovely guy.
I told him that I’d never cried over a ghost story before, but that the one in Full Throttle totally did me in. My dad ended up coming with me to this event, too, and he had a great time. He’s not a reader, so I’ll never convince him to read a Hill book, but he’s definitely interested in his adaptations now, so watch out, dad! I might have to sneak attack you with Locke & Key for the second season!
I thought about doing these in chronological order of publication, but there is a definite order to them for me, so it only makes sense to just out myself entirely and tell you which is my favorite. Spoiler: it’s not what you think.
Look, it shocked me, too, that The Fireman ended up being my favorite novel by Hill. I thought, just by proxy of Daniel Radcliffe being in the adaptation, that Horns would always remain my favorite, particularly because it was the first one that I read by Hill, but there is just something wonderful about The Fireman that’s going to forever hold it at the top in my heart. Truthfully, when I heard that it had a pregnant, woman MC, I was hella nervous. Some dude is going to accurately portrayed a pregnant woman as his narrator? Nah. And yet. Like, I don’t know why I was surprised, he was raised by freaking Stephen King, easily one of the most outspokenly progressive authors out there. Harper is well-developed, surprisingly realistic, and feminist as all hell. She’s an engaging narrator, and I loved the dual nature of her character–oftentimes ready to kick ass, but also always willing to look for help. She was so real. She felt like a person that I might know in real life, and I believed in her so much because she wasn’t just fierce and independent. She leaned on her friends, she didn’t try to do things she knew that she couldn’t alone, and she was ready to help and be helped. I just loved her. The plot of this was also very intriguing, and while it might feel a little too poignant to read it right now, it’s definitely worth the 700-page monstrosity.
I mean, come on, we all knew Locke & Key was going to be high on this list. I practically wept all over my review for the Netflix adaptation, and one of the best days of 2020 was when they announced the renewal. They’re now onset filming season two, and I’m actually ceasing to exist every time they post a picture. This graphic novel series was one of the more recent Hill stories I read, too, but it quickly solidified itself as one of my favorites just with Bode alone. He’s one of those characters, like Karou from Laini Taylor’s DOSAB, that I just randomly start screaming about because I love him so much. All of the Locke siblings were amazing, and the story is weird and chaotic and so damn interesting. Plus, Rodriguez’s art is something gorgeous to behold, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the new volume.
Horns was the first novel I read by Joe Hill, and it was a game changer for me. After spending literal years afraid of Stephen King and mostly avoiding all horror novels, except for classics, I was so nervous to crack open Horns, but the very strange and humorous way that Hill twists his stories makes for something outside of the realm of horror while also staying firmly inside. Plus, it’s got the devil (kind of), so I was pretty much sold from the get-go without even realizing it. And I don’t care what anyone says, the name Ignatius Perrish is fantastic, and I am here for all the ridiculous moments in this book that just nod at every possible bit of horror nonsense there is.
Not gonna lie, it was hard to decide which came first, Horns or NOS4A2. In the end, it was the devil that swayed me, although Vic McQueen is truly one of my favorite women MCs out there. Like, damn, girl, kill everyone. I still haven’t watched the adaptation for this, and I really should get on that this month because it’d be the perfect time for it. I kept waiting because I wanted to read the book first, and, for a while, NOS4A2 was the last Hill I had to read, and I didn’t want it to end. Also, quick fun Mary is an idiot moment, I kept reading the title out phonetically, like, N-O-S-4-A-2, not even realizing that it was a play on Nosferatu, which, obviously, makes a heck ton of sense once you read the book, and I’m never going to stop laughing at that. This book is easily the creepiest one he’s got, and it definitely gave me some nightmares, but it’s so expertly crafted that I would also 100% read it again.
It’s hard for me to remember a lot about short story collections, so please don’t see Full Throttle and Strange Weather here at the end and think that I don’t like them. I LOVE them, truly, but I only remember snatches of each because there’s more than one cohesive story inside, so it takes a bit more for me to make noise about a short story collection. These were fantastic, though, and I’m still as mad as I was at the beginning of this post that I haven’t read 20th Century Ghosts yet because I know it’s going to be fantastic. Hill is a wonderful short story writer, and I need more! I also love that a short story collection was the first thing he ever published, and that he’s continued to publish them in between his novels. I also loved that each of these had a cohesive thread tying each together so it didn’t just feel like a bunch of short stories, but rather, a different perspective on similar topics. Also, I’m just now remembering that I still haven’t watched In the Tall Grass, and I’m going to immediately go do that after this post.
While those two are only at the bottom of this list because that’s where they lie in my Joe Hill heart, Heart-Shaped Box would actually be at the end of a list of books I liked–or, rather, at the top of a list of books I disliked. This was the second book I read by Hill, and it’s the only one I don’t own. One of my previous coworkers lent it to me, and I’m really glad she did because I don’t ever intend on owning this. And though that will make my collection incomplete, I’m alright with it because the sketchy af incest abuse would have been enough to turn me off, but I also didn’t love the characters, and the story was a bit too close to regular horror for me, so it scared me enough that all that combined meant this is not a great read. I’m not really rec’ing it here, but I thought it was appropriate to include it since it’s by Hill, and I’ve read it, and we’re here reviewing them all, so.
And that’s a wrap! I had so much fun writing this post and getting to shout about Joe Hill, particularly because he hasn’t released a new book outside of Locke & Key in over a year, and I miss his writing so much.