Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bleeding Shadows by Joe R. Lansdale

This guy by the name of Dan Schwent lent me this book, and I must say I'm mighty grateful. This is an excellent collection of short stories.

I've gotten to the point where I can't say much more about Lansdale's short fiction than 'I just love it.' I don't think I've read a bad story by the man. All of his stuff fits somewhere between 'good' and 'great.'

This is a big, fat collection of shorts that'll give you your money's worth.

Which stories did I like best?

A Visit with Friends
Mr. Bear
Hide and Horns
The Folding Man
Dread Island

Thank you, Mr. Dantastic!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Professor Challenger: The Island of Terror by William Meikle

This novella serves as an homage and as a sequel to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. In addition to literature's most famous detective, Doyle created an irascible beast of a manly adventurer known as Professor Challenger.

Here's how he's described in The Lost World:

"His appearance made me gasp. I was prepared for something strange, but not for so overpowering a personality as this. It was his size, which took one's breath away – his size and his imposing presence. His head was enormous, the largest I have ever seen upon a human being. I am sure that his top hat, had I ventured to don it, would have slipped over me entirely and rested on my shoulders. He had the face and beard, which I associate with an Assyrian bull; the former florid, the latter so black as almost to have a suspicion of blue, spade-shaped and rippling down over his chest. The hair was peculiar, plastered down in front in a long, curving wisp over his massive forehead. The eyes were blue-grey under great black tufts, very clear, very critical, and very masterful. A huge spread of shoulders and a chest like a barrel were the other parts of him which appeared above the table, save for two enormous hands covered with long black hair. This and a bellowing, roaring, rumbling voice made up my first impression of the notorious Professor Challenger."

While Meikle did an excellent job of telling this story with the same flavor and style of Doyle's writing, I don't feel that he did enough with Challenger's character. Sure, the Professor is featured prominently in the narrative but not prominently enough for a man who, from what I understand, is like a force of nature. I wanted more rude, bombastic behavior, more displays of brute strength, more bravado, more cunning intellect.

Perhaps Meikle will write another piece featuring Challenger. If he does, I'll read it. This was action-packed and fun to read. Some of the scenes inside the lighthouse in the end are especially fine.

Recommended to fans of Doyle and/or Challenger.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Revival by Stephen King

King's writing is smooth. It always has been. And now it's leaner, too. This and Doctor Sleep feel streamlined compared to his earlier stuff (not his early stuff).

This book seemed like it could have been outlined, plotted even, before King sat down to write, even though King says he doesn't do that sort of thing. I liked this book's structure. Every scene, set piece had its mirror or counterpart later on in the narrative.

King's publishers like to tout his books as being SCARY AS HELL TALES OF HORROR, whereas I think most folks who have been reading him for decades think of his books as Stephen King books, not horror novels. With that being said, I wasn't disappointed in the least to find that most of this book doesn't read like a horror novel at all. In fact, some of the horror elements sprinkled in here and there throughout the narrative felt a bit tacked-on and out of place.

I liked the relaxed pace of the book, the characters, the settings, the themes. I pretty much liked it all.

But I especially liked the ending. Maybe the marketing team at his publisher got it right this time. That ending really does make this thing a true horror novel.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mr. Tucker & Me is FREE for a limited time

As my holiday gift to you, Mr. Tucker & Me will be FREE to download from Amazon through 12/22/14.

WARNING: This short is not horror, and it's not a holiday story. It fits somewhere in the science-fiction & fantasy spectrum.

I hope you like it.

Got to Amazon and grab it!

And speaking of free, you can also grab "It Came From Hell and Smashed the Angels," if you're so inclined.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

When We Join Jesus in Hell by Lee Thompson

The title of this thing is one of the best titles ever conceived of for a work of horror fiction. Frankly, that was 99% of why I bought this book. I didn't read the ad copy for it or any reviews. I just liked the title and knew the author had a good reputation.

All right.

Now, this isn't a long piece, so I can't say much about it without spoiling it for folks. I'll just say four things:

1) It quickly rose to a level of 'holy fuck!' that I wasn't quite ready for (which, of course, in hindsight is a great thing)

2) It went on a detour of sorts that I couldn't have been more pleased with

3) The writer's voice is unique and immediately compelling

4) I've already purchased two more books by Mr. Lee Thompson because I was so impressed with this novella (and the bonus short story included with this edition)

Highly recommended!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Walls of Madness by Craig Saunders

This novella is about the right length to explore a schizophrenic man's fixations, obsessions, hallucinations, and his inability to cope with the real world we all share or the nightmare world that exists only (presumably) inside his head. We're also presented with some glimpses of the early childhood origins of the symbols and themes that inhabit this man's hellish world.

And the book doesn't go much beyond what I've relayed above. Does it need to? No, I don't think so. To me, it seems that the point of the book was to construct an artist's representation of a schizophrenic man's internal life.

Can I know if this was successful? No.

Was I adequately convinced? Yes.

If you're not put off by what I've written above, I'd say give it a go. The prose is lean, almost minimalist, which is nice considering that this particular type of book could easily get weighed down with dense stream of consciousness passages and endless descriptions of hallucinations.

Saunders, thankfully, does not outstay his welcome.

Friday, November 28, 2014

My Top 10 Reads from the Last 12 Months

Of all the books I've read in the past twelve months, these are my favorites.

Note: None of these books were published in 2014 (or in December, 2013).

10. The Drive-In (Series) by Joe R. Lansdale

I especially like Lansdale's wackier stuff like Zeppelins West and Flaming London. The Drive-In is almost as wacky as those books. However, it's not an absurd pastiche. Instead, it's an homage to B-movie horror flicks (obviously). I found this to be a highly entertaining read, once I got past the dreadful John Hughes-style breakfast scene with the protagonist's wise-cracking and flirty parents, that is.

The Drive-In's way over-the-top in its depiction of humanity crumbling in a nightmare world of rapidly diminishing resources. Oh, and it's all played for laughs. So, if you're one to not find a thing funny about wide-spread degradation, cannibalism, and murder, then you might want to read one of Lansdale's Hap and Leonard books. They're good, too, and the violence is handled in a more serious manner.

I nearly forgot to mention The Popcorn King. This great villain alone is worth the price of admission.

You know, I'm pretty sure I liked this one a smidgen more than the first one. The scope expanded and the dark humor got even darker and funnier. I was somewhat reluctant to pick this one up right away because the end of the first book seemed to hint that this one might be a The Lost World pastiche. I don't dislike dinosaurs, but they really aren't a selling point for me. Now, there are dinosaurs in The Drive-In 2, but in no way are they the focus. They're not even a huge threat and kind of keep their distance for the most part. It's almost as if Lansdale changed his mind about the second book featuring dinosaurs between the writing of book 1 and book 2, which is fine by me. I'd certainly rather have another great villain like Popalong Cassidy any day.

Oh, and there is some great imagery in this book and a few scenes that really had me laughing out loud (not just the usual quick exhalation through the nostrils kind of thing). Lansdale's got great comic timing.

I'll be picking up The Drive-In 3 in the near future.

I'd say that this third and final installment of The Drive-In Trilogy was the best, as the third in any trilogy should be. Although, unlike the first two installments, it did lack a colorful central villain. We are given a baddie named Bjoe, but he's not really in the same category as The Popcorn King and Popalong Cassidy. He's more mundane. But I would argue that the real villain in this final volume is the Drive-In world itself. This is more of a man against an uncaring, insane universe type of story than a take down the bad guy story. And it was excellent.

With The Drive-In series, Lansdale expertly combines elements of horror, adventure, science-fiction, absurdism, social satire, and post-apocalyptic survival. And running throughout there is a deep thread of dark, dark humor that I greatly appreciated.

I think readers' opinions will be divided on how Lansdale wraps this whole crazy thing up. Some will hate the ending, some will love it. I doubt many would fall anywhere in between. I loved it. Although the way things worked themselves out wasn't entirely unexpected, it was unexpectedly thought-provoking. Suddenly, the laughter just stops, and you're left stunned, unpacking an infinite series of Russian nesting dolls fashioned out of cruelty, suffering, and abuse.

Joe R. Lansdale is a national treasure!

9. Dweller by Jeff Strand

Jeff Strand lived in Ohio for a number of years and yet it's apparent that he didn't research* the Ohio Sasquatch before writing this book. Unlike the creature portrayed in Dweller, the line of Sasquatch native to Ohio does not have a mouth full of gnarly teeth and flesh-ripping talons. And the Ohio Sasquatch most certainly doesn't eat people! The Ohio Sasquatch is an herbivore and not savage in any way. In fact, you'll see Sasquatch all over Ohio lending a helping hand in various human communities, ladling out hearty homemade stews at local soup kitchens, working together to build playgrounds in poor neighborhoods, and serving as volunteer firefighters. This is not to say that there aren't lines of Sasquatch that fit Strand's description. They're just not found in Ohio. If he'd added one minor detail regarding the Sasquatch's origins in this book, it would have proved to be much more believable. Simply changing the title to A Kentucky Sasquatch in Ohio would have lent the work the authenticity it so desperately needs.

But how was the story? Early on, I suspected this was going to be basically a retelling of Stephen King's Carrie. Just substitute Sasquatch for telekinesis. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that this wasn't to be the case. I won't say any more than that. Pick it up and see for yourself what it's all about. You won't be disappointed.

*The only alternative to Strand's not having researched the Ohio Sasquatch is that he wrote this book to intentionally demonize them. Based on Strand's generally amicable online presence, I can't see this as being a realistic proposition.

8. When We Join Jesus in Hell by Lee Thompson

The title of this thing is one of the best titles ever conceived of for a work of horror fiction. Frankly, that was 99% of why I bought this book. I didn't read the ad copy for it or any reviews. I just liked the title and knew the author had a good reputation.

All right.

Now, this isn't a long piece, so I can't say much about it without spoiling it for folks. I'll just say four things:

1) It quickly rose to a level of 'holy fuck!' that I wasn't quite ready for (which, of course, in hindsight is a great thing)

2) It went on a detour of sorts that I couldn't have been more pleased with

3) The writer's voice is unique and immediately compelling

4) I've already purchased two more books by Mr. Lee Thompson because I was so impressed with this novella (and the bonus short story included with this edition)

7. A Modest Collection of Slightly Shocking Fairy Tales by Richard McGowan

Of the works I've read thus far by Richard McGowan, this is my favorite. He's perfectly nailed the standard narrative voice of the fairy tale and has ratcheted up the cruelty and brutality so often found in tales of this type to a dizzying extreme. Although the title of this little collection claims that the stories to be found therein will be slightly shocking, I'd guess that most people would find them to be rather shocking, or exceedingly shocking. These pieces are chock-full of taboo sex, twisted violence, and countless scenes of pitch-perfect insanity.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the author on a random day when he was giving books away. No arrangement was made to read this in exchange for a review. I later purchased a paperback copy of this book and the illustrations are excellent and are a perfect match for the text. Bravo!

6. Pivot by LC Barlow

Here's a list of five (5) things about this book that'll turn some folks off:

1) It's written in first person. (I'm not sure why this is such a turn-off for a lot of folks, but it is.)
2) The action flips back and forth in time throughout the narrative.
3) The narrator/protagonist commits numerous horrendous acts.
4) This book is filled with intimate accounts of extreme violence (some involving animals and children).
5) You will find some typos in this book. (More on this later.)

If you like literary horror, and none of the above 'issues' are deal-breakers for you, then I'd highly recommend picking this book up.

I found this immediately engaging. The writing is so smooth. It's idiosyncratic, too, but it did not in any way come off as cutesy or forced. It all seemed quite natural, in fact. And that's a hard thing to accomplish.

At the risk of going overboard on the praise here, I'd say that I was reminded of both Murakami and LaValle while I was reading this thing. Now, I'm not saying that Barlow is the equal of either of these writers, nor am I saying that she's actively trying to emulate either of them. I'm just saying that there was some ineffable quality about the writing that's common among them. Hell, I don't know what it is, but I like it when I read it.

But what about those typos? Yes, there are typos. Not a ton of typos. But they are there. The book needed another round of proofreading. This is true. And the book overall is far from perfect. There is a glaring flaw late in the book that I found maddening, wherein a scene recounted earlier is told again, nearly word for word. I understood why the scene was revisited. It was important to do so, but it could have been condensed, should have been condensed, and wasn't.

Yes, yes, this book has some flaws, but, as with so many beautiful things in life, it's very easy to look past them.

5. Hope for the Wicked by Edward Lorn

Hope for the Wicked combines several genres seamlessly. It has elements of the wise-cracking PI novel, the suspense thriller. and the horror shockfest. Even though the chassis this thing's built on is a hard-boiled detective story (the kind where the investigators get pulled deeper and deeper into an ugly underworld), I'd say the book would appeal most to horror fans. One reason is that the PIs are only PIs for a short time, and then they revert back to their old jobs as hired assassins. But the biggest reason this book will likely not appeal to your typical suspense reader is that it deals with subject matter that is extremely dark and discomfiting.

One thing that struck me while reading this book was that Lorn isn't afraid to take risks. There is one storytelling choice in particular that demonstrates that the man has rather large balls. Very large and admirable balls. And what I'm talking about here has nothing to do with the graphic subject matter, the pervasive theme of child abuse, the scenes of extreme violence and gore. I can't tell you what I'm referring to, actually. To do so would ruin the story for you.

You'll just have to read it to find out.

Not for the squeamish.


Note: I've read more works by Edward Lorn in the last 12 months than by any other writer. That's saying something. When I read this book and wrote this review, I did not know Edward Lorn. Since then, I have worked with him on a number of projects and we've become friends.

4. Animosity by James Newman

This suspense novel is damned near perfect. The only things keeping me from proclaiming this the best thriller I've ever read are some decisions two characters make in the second half of the novel that I didn't quite find believable. Other people might read the whole book and have no idea what I'm talking about, and that would be great. That would mean that they loved this thing even more than I did.

This book does everything a suspense novel should do:

- It kept me up late
- It prevented me from doing far more important things
- It made me feel physically tense most of the time I was reading it
- It caused me to hold my breath at several junctures
- It kept me flipping pages like mad to see what happens next
- It forced me to consume the story in just a few huge gulps

A damn fine read!

3. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Upon finishing this book I knew two things:

1) Its reputation in my mind would grow over time

2) I wanted to revisit it in the near future and give it another read (which is something I rarely even consider)

For me, it didn't have the visceral impact that many people report after reading it. I didn't find the book scary. In fact, some aspects I found rather silly, like the introduction of Mrs. Montague near the end of the book. She was such a broadly drawn caricature of a overbearing wife, and she seemed to go completely against the grain of the novel. But the more I thought about it, I realized she did have a purpose after all, and a crucial one. (To go into why I believe her appearance to be so important would spoil the book.) I also thought Dr. Montague was a pretty ridiculous character himself, and a truly pathetic paranormal investigator. He's shown measuring a single cold spot in the house, and for the rest of the novel he's just hanging out eating big meals, sipping brandy, and playing chess.

And, yes, I know that the Montagues and their investigations aren't what this book is all about. I understand that this is Eleanor's story, and that this novel's chief strength lies with this fascinating, well-drawn character. I found her relationship with Theodora more engrossing than any of the supernatural elements in the story. It was far more interesting to watch Shirley Jackson writing around lesbian sexuality. And I'm sure that someone somewhere has already made the case that it's this repressed, forbidden sexuality that's the true source of the psychic disturbances experienced at Hill House.

Did I think this was a fine ghost story? Yes. It also ended the way I like horror stories to end. I was very pleased in this regard. And, yes, yes, the writing was beautiful at times, especially the first and last paragraphs of the book. I do understand why this novel is considered a classic. But, I do have to admit that after my first reading, it didn't immediately land in my own personal list of classics.

2. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

I often find Ray Bradbury's writing a bit precious. At some point in his career it seems to me that he became more concerned with being a GREAT AUTHOR than simply telling a great story. And, yes, I felt that way sometimes while listening to The Halloween Tree.


And that's a rather large 'BUT.'

But, with The Halloween Tree he did manage to pull off the gorgeous poetic prose, the grand imagery, while telling a wonderful story. I don't use the word 'wonderful' often in a serious manner, but here it fits. There seems to be no other word to describe this book.

Every word seems perfectly chosen, each sentence, paragraph, and scene, meticulously crafted to evoke the spirit of Halloween and the feeling of being a young boy.

I listened to Bronson Pinchot's excellent narration, Bradbury's hypnotic meditation on death and rebirth, and let the grandest Halloween vistas build and burn in my mind, endlessly reforming and shattering, reassembling and disintegrating, painting themselves over and over, only to be washed away a thousand times.

I cannot imagine a book that more perfectly captures the soul of the holiday.

Don't even ask me what price I'd pay to be a boy again, running wild through the streets with my older brothers on Halloween night. I'm afraid of what my answer might be.

Highest possible recommendation!

1. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Note to readers: Don't read the Introduction by Jonathan Lethem until after you've finished the book. Like many introductions, it completely spoils the novel.

I felt this book had too much falling action. That's it. Nothing else negative to say about this one. Every other aspect of this book I found to be absolutely delightful. This will easily find itself at the top of my 'Best of 2014' list and in my list of all-time favorite novels (if I had one written out somewhere).

This--not The Haunting of Hill House--is Jackson's masterpiece.

This book is the product of a creative genius who has mastered her craft.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Hanover Block is now available in paperback

The paperback edition of The Hanover Block is now available.

You can get it here.

If you order the paperback, the Kindle Edition is FREE.*

And, of course, you can still buy just the Kindle Edition or read it through Kindle Unlimited.

If you read it, I hope you like it.

And I'd also like to say thank you! to everyone who's already bought a copy. I most sincerely appreciate your support.

*Offer available only through Amazon's Matchbook program. See Amazon for details.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

I often find Ray Bradbury's writing a bit precious. At some point in his career it seems to me that he became more concerned with being a GREAT AUTHOR than simply telling a great story. And, yes, I felt that way sometimes while listening to The Halloween Tree.


And that's a rather large 'BUT.'

But, with The Halloween Tree he did manage to pull off the gorgeous poetic prose, the grand imagery, while telling a wonderful story. I don't use the word 'wonderful' often in a serious manner, but here it fits. There seems to be no other word to describe this book.

Every word seems perfectly chosen, each sentence, paragraph, and scene, meticulously crafted to evoke the spirit of Halloween and the feeling of being a young boy.

I listened to Bronson Pinchot's excellent narration, Bradbury's hypnotic meditation on death and rebirth, and let the grandest Halloween vistas build and burn in my mind, endlessly reforming and shattering, reassembling and disintegrating, painting themselves over and over, only to be washed away a thousand times.

I cannot imagine a book that more perfectly captures the soul of the holiday.

Don't even ask me what price I'd pay to be a boy again, running wild through the streets with my older brothers on Halloween night. I'm afraid of what my answer might be.

Highest possible recommendation!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Ape Man's Brother by Joe R. Lansdale

I like Lansdale's gritty westerns, his crazy horror stories, his extreme noir, and his literary stuff. But, man, do I really love his wackier stories.

This is Lansdale writing in wacky mode. Like much of his crazy shit, it's a literary pastiche with lots of crude humor and outlandish situations.

Makes me smile just to think about it.

Joe R. Lansdale is a national treasure.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Deadlift by Craig Saunders

I liked this. The taut storytelling, the stripped-down prose style. It read like not a word was wasted.

Deadlift's a cool noir tale with a unique central conceit that, on its own, would have made for a pretty fine read, but Saunders mixes in a little something extra that takes this up another level for me.

I didn't much care for the ending, but I would imagine that I'd be in the minority in this regard.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Fog Warning by Edward Lorn

Edward Lorn's not afraid. That's the scariest thing about reading his stuff. He's got no problem going into that dark basement without a flashlight, and you just know that it makes him so damned giddy to drag you down those rickety stairs right along with him.

He loves taking flawed people, real people, and putting them through the wringer. But I think he especially likes the wringer.

I'm pretty sure Mr. Lorn has his pockets stuffed with blank fortune cookie slips and whenever a harrowing moment of human devastation springs to mind, he jots it down on a little wrinkled piece of paper and saves it for later. I imagine he's got a giant bowl on his desk--the one he used to pass out candy on Halloweens past before the neighborhood kids stopped coming to his door--filled to overflowing with fortunes foretelling awful fates. And when he's writing, and he comes to a point in the story where he says to himself 'time for something awful to happen,' he grabs a slip of paper from this bowl and smiles like a mischievous little boy reaching out to snap a bra strap. Really. Fucking. Hard.

He grabbed a doozy this time around. And I can see him now jumping up and down in his chair and clapping his hands together like one of those little wind-up monkeys clanging their cymbals together.

Clang, clang, clang, hee, hee, hee....

Full Disclosure: I served as a beta reader for this story. I did some light editorial work on this one, too. Edward Lorn's also helped me out in this manner for some of my stuff. You may think that the above review is biased now that you know this.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Hanover Block Released!

The Kindle Edition of my new novella, The Hanover Block, is now available.

It's also available for $0.00 to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

What's it about?

Living in the long shadow of a tragic accident, Marion struggles through his solitary suburban life. He's resigned himself to a static existence, to living and dying in a world where every house looks exactly the same. Then he notices changes in his neighborhood. Tool sheds and playhouses are cropping up all over, hastily constructed and set at odd angles. The nutjob down the road builds an outhouse in the middle of his front yard, and the guy right next door is erecting two geodesic climbing domes, one nested inside the other.

People are doing strange things on their lawns.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Late Night Horror Show by Bryan Smith

This is mindless good fun, and a book that was obviously and unapologetically written to appeal directly to your ghoulish and prurient proclivities. Everything I've read by Bryan Smith so far has been has been like a love letter to your lizard brain.

This is no exception.

Is it ridiculous? Yes.
Is it over-the-top? Yes.
Are all of the characters stock horror movie cliches (hot guys and horny gals in their early 20s)? Yes.
Is this book chock-a-block with gratuitous sex and violence? Yes.
Will you care? Should you care? No. No! NO!

If this is the sort of thing you're in the mood for, pick it up. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Monstrocity by Jeffrey Thomas

This book had a lot of elements that I like: a vast, nasty SF city populated with alien and human monsters, general sleaziness and grime, an investigation into the occult, sex, violence, and gore. But I was bored to tears for the last 40% of it and couldn't wait to be finished so that I could move on to something else.

The vast conspiracy seemed pretty nebulous, and I found it hard to care about how things would turn out. I wasn't impressed with the world-building either. One of the major alien races seemed to have been constructed based on the George Lucas alien creation method wherein you must use exaggerated and bigoted cultural caricatures.

I'll give Mr. Thomas another go, but I'll likely skip his other Punktown stories.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

In the Tall Grass by Stephen King & Joe Hill

The product description for this book wasn't honest, and that kind of ticks me off. The way it's listed on Amazon, it looks like you're going to get a novella-length story written by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. There is no mention of the fact that the last 25% of the eBook's length is taken up by teaser chapters from King and Hill's forthcoming novels (at the time), Doctor Sleep and NOS4A2, respectively. When the advertisements stuffed into the back amount for 25% of the page count, it just seems to me like you're paying to be pitched to. Also, not knowing from the get-go that the last 25% of the book is ad space, you get a false sense of how long the story is going to be. It really kind of fucks with the story's rhythm and flow. Yes, you can open up the Look Inside sample and see the teasers listed in the TOC for this book, but who does that when purchasing something written by Stephen King? I'd say about 1% of the potential buyers. Also, when you've downloaded (side-loaded, or whatever) the book to your Kindle and open that puppy up, you are taken to the beginning of the book to start reading. It takes a special effort to look at the table of contents. And why exactly would you look at the table of contents before you start reading what you think is a novella?

Oh, wait, what about the story, the (at most) novelette, In the Tall Grass? It was pretty good. It started out genuinely scary and got rather disturbing and disgusting as it went along. All very good for a horror story. BUT the ending was so goofy and filled with dopey, unrealistic characters, and, worst of all, it was redundant. We already knew what kind of story this was pretty early on. We didn't need a giant, tacky neon sign at the end to spell it all out for us.

Get it from your local library's digital collection or wait for a price break.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Carrie by Stephen King

I liked this more than I expected I would. Generally, if I've seen the movie adaptation before reading the book, I'm bored. Rarely do I ever actually read the book if I've seen the movie first. I figure it's all been spoiled. I never read the first three Harry Potter books because I'd already seen the films and started the books at Goblet of Fire.

So, why'd I read this one?

A friend of mine is re-reading all of Stephen King's novels in publication date chronological order and I told him I might join him to read the ones I've not yet read. And, no, I'd not yet read King's first published novel. For some reason, I only started reading King's earliest works within the last ten years or so, though I've been reading King for close to three decades.

So, what did I think of King's first one? I liked it. It had more meat to it than I was expecting. Is it a simple tale of bullying and revenge or is it really an expression of a culture's reactionary fear of budding female sexual empowerment and its perceived destructive impact on civilization? Structurally, it seems quite a bit different from his later stuff. The use of in-universe book excerpts and newspaper clippings was something I don't recall King using much, if at all, in later works. (I could be wrong. I'm sure someone will tell me if I am.) The writing was more stripped down, more to the point, which I liked.

This was interesting as a cultural artifact, too, a book very much of its time. Small town white America's racism is assumed. One of the main characters muses about growing up to be a clone of her mother one day and doing whatever is necessary to keep the blacks out of the country club. Two different faces, one covered in blood, the other in a mud mask, are described within thirty pages as looking like something you'd find in a minstrel show. Oh, and we also have a small town police chief slapping the shit out of people left and right because they're 'hysterical.' To me, this reads as unintentionally comical today.

Overall, I found this an engrossing read. However, I did find multiple characters recounting their versions of the same events a bit redundant at times, and the various document excerpts tacked on at the very end were pointless. But the book's true ending was much better than the ending of the DePalma film I saw so many years ago.

So the book is still better than the movie, even after the movie spoiled the book.

Books win again.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cruelty (Episodes 1-5) by Edward Lorn

Full Disclosure: You might think this review is biased because Edward Lorn and I are friends who help each other out with beta reading/editing/proofreading and the like. However, you must also keep in mind that I wouldn't offer to read early drafts of some creepy Internet stranger's work unless I really and truly enjoyed something else I'd read by that person. Early drafts are often pretty shitty. Lorn's aren't. But most are. And I didn't read this book as an early draft. I bought it fair and square from Amazon, and I'm under no obligation to review this book, and Edward Lorn's under no obligation to review any of my work.

Of all the works I've read thus far by Edward Lorn, this is my favorite.

I must also point out that the next installment of this serial was due out in September, and I don't have episode six of Cruelty on my Kindle yet.

My calendar must be broken.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fuckness by Andersen Prunty

Full Disclosure: I don't know the author of this book. I've never interacted with him. He didn't provide a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I bought this book on Amazon and will likely be paying interest on this purchase for the rest of my life. I've seen this book around, popping up here and there, for quite some time, and I never much cared for the title. I thought it was kind of gimmicky and really didn't have much interest in picking this up. Then a friend recommended it and, since I sometimes listen to people, I got an electronic copy and soon discovered that the setting for this story is likely an analog for my hometown; the geographical coordinates of the place match exactly, along with other details provided by the author. This fact alone would make any review I'd write biased, because when I was reading it I was filled with a cold and bitter nostalgia. So, I don't think it would be fair to write a review of this book. All thoughts on its contents are tainted. Read it yourself if you want to know what it's about. You might like it. You might not.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blue Estate (Volume 1) by Viktor Kalvachev & Andrew Osborne

Uneven writing and uneven artwork. There is nothing new here to make this really stand out from other works of noir fiction.

Also, this four-issue collection doesn't complete a single story arc, which I found less than satisfying.

I didn't hate it. It just felt flat to me. However, if someone handed me the rest of the comics in the series, I'd read them.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

28 Far Cries by Marc Nash

The flash pieces in this book are like ZIP files that need to be unpacked.

No. That's close but not quite right.

This book is like a display case filled with 28 finely crafted, exquisitely detailed miniature sculptures. You have to pick each one up in turn, examine it on its own while lying on a hammock for a while, before returning to the case to pick up another. After reading one or two of these pieces, I decided to take my sweet time with this collection, and I'm glad I did. You could read this in an afternoon, I suppose, but I wouldn't recommend it. These flash fiction pieces have drag. (And somehow I mean drag as in the longitudinal retarding force exerted by air or other fluid surrounding a moving object.) There are little gnarly bits sticking out of these stories that you should allow to snag your attention. You should take some pleasure in examining the embedded hooks. You can tell the author has worked and reworked these pieces, grabbing different disparate bits over time and mashing them into place, working them in, rubbing and rearranging until they work.

Nash is playing with language here. That seems to be his main focus. He likes obscure and archaic words, and especially words or phrases with double or triple meanings. It was fun to see how he'd mash ideas together, reconcile juxtapositions, flog a pun to death, turn concepts inside out, and meditate on a peculiar concept until it nearly breaks under his scrutiny. In addition to inspecting the meaning of words, Nash is also obviously obsessively concerned with the sounds we make when we speak them. There is a rough rhythm to these pieces, a lot of hard consonant sounds that pop and crack and jolt and jar as you go.

This collection isn't for everyone. Many of the pieces aren't proper stories. Many are more like inspections of objects and concepts at a microscopic level. Yes, you will find stories in this thing, but there are plenty of chunks of writing therein that could just as easily be labeled anti-story. If you think you might like that sort of thing, give this a go. I had fun reading it. But, admittedly, it was less the pleasure one usually associates with reading and more the kind of fun one has while solving puzzles.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Horror 101: The Way Forward by Joe Mynhardt (Editor)

If you can get it on a freebie day, you'll be glad someone collected and compiled these blog posts from various websites for you.

You'll find some helpful nuggets mixed in with some thinly-veiled fits of self-promotion.

The verdict? Not worthless!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Write Good or Die by Scott Nicholson (Editor)

A collection of mostly out-dated blog posts. A bit of useful information here and there. Since you can nab it for free, you probably won't cry about it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Read Jeffrey Ford!

Jeffrey Ford's my favorite author. Sadly, he's not as widely read as he should be, despite the fact that just about everything he's ever written has won some award or another. He writes science fiction, fantasy, mystery and a little bit of horror. But nothing he's ever written falls neatly into any of those categories. Really, he just writes Jeffrey Ford stories, and that's what makes him great.

Here's a list of his books. The nice thing about Ford is that he's equally adept with the short story as he is with the novel. So, if you like one form over the other, he's got you covered.

Well-Built City trilogy (Fantasy/SF)

The Physiognomy (World Fantasy Award)
The Beyond


Vanitas (Fantasy/SF)
The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque (Mystery)
The Girl in the Glass (Mystery) (Edgar Allen Poe Award)
The Shadow Year (Literary/Mainstream/Fantasy) (World Fantasy Award)


The Fantasy Writer's Assistant (World Fantasy Award)
The Empire of Ice Cream
The Drowned Life (World Fantasy Award)
Crackpot Palace: Stories

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Crawl by Edward Lorn

Full Disclosure: I'd say that Edward Lorn and I are pals. It's not like our families take our summer vacations together or anything, but we do communicate over the Internet on a fairly regular basis. We also have worked together on a forthcoming anthology project. You may think this review is biased as a result.

Crawl, as a novella of horror, is damned near perfect. The only things I didn't like about it were pretty subjective: some of the humor fell flat, the pop culture references served to date the piece prematurely, and there were some oft-used phrases that could have been replaced with something fresher.

Crawl gains your sympathy by putting you in a car with a married couple whose wounds are still fresh after the discovery of the husband's infidelity. Then the car crashes and it's a fight for survival, but not in the way you might think. Where this story went surprised me, so I won't say any more about it. Just read it.

Or listen to it. That's what I did. I'm not an audio book person, really, but I did enjoy the presentation. The only negative thing I can say about it is that I got the 'I'm embarrassed for you' goosebumps every time the female narrator, Maria Hunter Welles, switched to speaking in her 'man voices.' But this likely only bothered me because I don't listen to audio books very often. But it wasn't a huge deal as 95% of the book didn't require that Welles switch to her various 'man voices.' And that 95% was delivered in an appropriately dramatic, clean, and professional manner.

Crawl is further evidence for the argument that the novella is the perfect length for works of horror fiction. You have just the right number of pages to flesh out your characters and to roll out the brutality and the terror in an unrelenting fashion up until the very last word. You can end a novella any way you like (with or without a glimmer of hope) without much risk of pissing your reader off; the time investment isn't the same as with a novel. There are conventions of the horror novel that don't have to be adhered to in works of this length. The characters you've grown to sympathize with don't have to come through on the other side, gasping for breath, scarred and ready to start the healing process. They don't have to come through at all.

That's what I like about the novella as a vehicle for horror. You can do what you damned well please and the reader, if you've done your job, will be surprised at where the story turns, and where it stops.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ugly As Sin by James Newman

Ugly As Sin's main flaw is that it's not Animosity. Going in, I was anticipating a visit to the dentist after hours of teeth-grinding tension. However, 'Sin' didn't provide nearly the same levels of suspense as Animosity did. And not only did this book not possess Animosity's greatest asset, it unfortunately also had that book's greatest flaw. I'm talking about the bad guys doing stuff that was stupid or unbelievable, seemingly, only so that the protagonist (or the author) wouldn't have to work so hard in the end.

Now, the book didn't totally lack in suspense. It was suspenseful. Just not as suspenseful as Animosity. It was a quick read, fast-paced, and highly entertaining. The protagonist was a great big jerk, who was also a sympathetic character. (Nice work, Mr. Newman.) I also liked the villain of the piece and his motivation. There were a lot of weird touches in this book, too, peculiar little character ticks and stage business that made this a richer experience than your typical work of noir fiction.


P.S. For those (named Charlene) who might think this review is negative, I'll have you know that I already bought Newman's The Wicked and have it queued up on the old Kindle reading device.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bad Apples: Release Dates & Giveaways!

The five freshest voices in horror will make you reconsider leaving the house on October 31st with these all-new Halloween tales:

• A brother and sister creep out of the darkness with bags full of deadly tricks in Gregor Xane’s THE RIGGLE TWINS.

• A deformed boy just wants to be normal in Evans Light’s PUMPKINHEAD TED.

• A group of ghost hunters learn that looking for terror is a whole lot more fun than finding it in Adam Light’s GHOST LIGHT ROAD.

• Two bullies go looking for trouble but instead find a young boy and his imaginary friend in Jason Parent’s EASY PICKINGS.

• When a mysterious, Halloween-themed attraction comes to the town of Bay’s End, everyone is dying to pay a visit in Edward Lorn’s THE SCARE ROWS.

Available in eBook beginning September 7, 2014.

Paperback available September 14, 2014.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand

Jeff Strand's Wolf Hunt was a fine bit of breezy, gory horror. I like humor mixed with my horror, and Mr. Strand is quickly becoming a go-to guy for me when I'm in the mood for something smart, snappy, and soaked with blood.

For a while now, I've been searching for a good take on the werewolf story, and, while this story doesn't bring much new to the werewolf myth, it served as a pleasant enough distraction. However, I did find the two protagonists virtually interchangeable, and the plot was too simplistic. Don't get me wrong, I think a simple plot is a good idea for a humorous piece like this. Complicated plots can get in the way of the laughs. But, in this case, at the very least, a more sharply delineated three act structure would have helped a great deal. As is, I felt the story grew a bit repetitious and flat, and there never really was a grand twist or awesome reveal that propelled this book out of the merely really darn good territory.

Oh, and the ending seemed rushed.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I watched the 1978 cartoon adaptation of Watership Down when I was quite young, under 10 years old. I wasn't told beforehand that the film wasn't going to be your typical cartoon adventure about rabbits, so the mature themes and, particularly, the brutality and bloodshed left an indelible mark on my growing brain. There are frames from this film that I can still see clearly in my mind's eye decades after viewing it.

I've always been curious about the book and, for reasons unknowable to me, I just recently got around to picking it up. Based on my memories of the film version, I was expecting Game of Thrones with rabbits. I was expecting a relentless parade of death and despair. This isn't what I got. Yes, this is a mature book, and it is realistic and honest about the rabbit's place in the world, and it certainly doesn't shy away from the realities of their place in the food chain. But I was expecting crushing tragedy after crushing tragedy, and what I got was a much more balanced depiction of the rabbit's life.

I wasn't disappointed that my expectations didn't match this book's contents.

This was a slower read for me. But this, I have to admit can be, at least in part, attributed to the circumstances surrounding my reading of the book. I was extremely busy while reading this, and the only time I had to read was just before bed. The book didn't keep me up. I was out in under fifteen minutes almost every night (after the old Kindle slapped me in the face multiple times as I nodded off). But, structurally, it didn't feel like a novel. It felt like a collection of interconnected stories (or a fix-up) until about the halfway mark, when we're, at long last, introduced to the book's central conflict. Another aspect of the book that slowed it down for me was the stories within the story about rabbit folklore. These stories, in themselves, I found entertaining, but they did kill the momentum for me every time.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a great deal, and I think it will be one that will stick in my memory for years to come. It's a rich book with a layered narrative. There are beautiful passages sprinkled throughout. An obvious respect for nature and a passion for nature's beauty serves as a nice contrast to the harrowing events of the story. The narrative is at first biblical in tone, then dystopian. It veers suddenly into a heist story, returns again to dystopian mode, and finally settles into a tale of all-out resource war. Sprinkled between all of these shifts in narrative structure, there are stories within the main story, stories told between rabbits: their creation myths, tall tales of their legendary heroes, stories of what lies beyond death and the Black Rabbit who is waiting there to greet all rabbits when they stop running.

I'd certainly recommend this book. However, know that this is one to be sipped, not gulped.