Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Drive-In 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.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The writing in Hammett's Maltese Falcon seemed to get more fluid as it went along. It started out stilted and choppy. I also wasn't particularly keen on his predilection for cataloging every single item of clothing every character was wearing. Another thing that I found strange was his choice to describe in user-manual detail exactly how, step-by-step, Sam Spade rolls a cigarette. This happened early in the book and killed the forward movement of the narrative for me.

But I read on because I found this to be a pretty interesting read (as a cultural artifact, if nothing else). I was surprised to learn that Spade's physical appearance differs so greatly from how the archetypal hard-boiled detective is portrayed in film. He's described here as a blond Satan (his countenance comprised of letter Vs, like something we'd see in a Silver Age Marvel comic book), nothing like Humphrey Bogart. I was also surprised to learn that Sam Spade is a complete asshole. You find this out early on, and it colors your perception of him throughout the book.

This book had some scenes that were pretty silly. For example, at one point a stranger comes into Spade's office, and after a short conversation, points a gun at him and wants to search the office. Spade brutally disarms the gunman, knocks him out cold, and then searches through the guy's belongings. When the gunman wakes up, they finish their conversation, come to an agreement, and Spade hands the loaded gun back to the gunman! Well, of course, the gunman goes right back to pointing the thing at Sam. Pretty silly.

One more thing that I found disappointing was that the titular falcon winds up in Spade's hands through absolutely no detective work on his part. I like it when detectives succeed through detection. I don't know, maybe I'm alone in this.

I still plan on reading Red Harvest. I've not given up on Hammett, yet.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Long Walk Down a Dark Alley by J.D. Brink

This micro-collection of shorts by J.D. Brink contains two supernatural noir tales, a science-fiction hard-boiled detective story, and a fairly run-of-the mill vampire story that doesn't quite fit. If the vampire story were an episode of a cable television horror anthology series, it's only redeeming quality would be the obligatory gratuitous nudity.

The noir/hard-boiled stuff is pretty good though. I especially liked the SF piece "Eating in the Underworld," which features a sex-bot custom-built to 'live' exclusively on a diet of human semen.

Note: I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest (non-reciprocal) review.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Cthulhu Child by David Brian

David Brian is a classy writer. He's actually got style and sophistication. Even when he's telling us about death, dementia, and cannibalism, he does it with good manners. This is not to say that what he's writing isn't sufficiently macabre or horrific. Brian just delivers a dab of refinement with his monsters.

The stories in this little collection are all good little horror pieces, with one notable exception (and this was a great story, just not horror per se). But, sadly, the stories taken separately are much better than the collection as a whole. The selections for this book didn't quite jive for me. The first two stories shared a key element that diminished the impact of both stories due to their being placed back-to-back. The best story of the bunch isn't technically a horror story at all (as noted above). However, this story, "Sugar Sweet," is easily the most disturbing and most effective piece in the book.

I think there is an art (like flower arrangement?) to picking and placing stories in a collection. If this collection contained more stories, perhaps it would have been easier to avoid some of the placement pitfalls encountered here. But, as it stands, you'd be best served to buy this book and read the stories out of order, with a fair chunk of time between them. If you do that, I'd say you'll be quite pleased.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pivot by L.C. 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.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Titus Groan is considered by many to be a masterpiece of the literature of the fantastic. I don't think that I can argue with that assessment. However, I can say that it's a masterpiece that I certainly wasn't pleased to be reading for much of the time I was doing so. The primary reason for this was that I felt that it was overly descriptive, tediously so. And I think of myself as someone who has a high tolerance for fictional works that others deem too descriptive.

Below you'll find a passage describing the head of a character--a poet--in the story whose existence is of little consequence to the narrative:

"It was a long head.

It was a wedge, a sliver, a grotesque slice in which it seemed the features had been forced to stake their claims, and it appeared that they had done so in a great hurry and with no attempt to form any kind of symmetrical pattern for their mutual advantage. The nose had evidently been first upon the scene and had spread itself down the entire length of the wedge, beginning among the grey stubble of the hair and ending among the grey stubble of the beard, and spreading on both sides with a ruthless disregard for the eyes and mouth which found precarious purchase. The mouth was forced by the lie of the terrain left to it, to slant at an angle which gave to its right-hand side an expression of grim amusement and to its left, which dipped downwards across the chin, a remorseless twist. It was forced by not only the unfriendly monopoly of the nose, but also by the tapering character of the head to be a short mouth; but it obvious by its very nature that, under normal conditions, it would have covered twice the area. The eyes in whose expression might be read the unending grudge they bore against the nose were as small as marbles and peered out between the grey grass of the hair.

This head, set at a long incline upon a neck as wry as a turtle's cut across the narrow vertical black strip of the window.

Steerpike watched it turn upon the neck slowly. It would not have surprised him if it had dropped off, so toylike was its angle.

As he watched, fascinated, the mouth opened and a voice as strange and deep as the echo of a lugubrious ocean stole out into the morning.

Never was a face so belied by its voice.

The accent was of so weird a lilt that at first Steerpike could not recognize more than one sentence in three, but he had quickly attuned himself to the original cadence and as the words fell into place Steerpike realised he was staring at a poet."

That's over 350 words used to describe some minor character's face, and this is not the most egregious example of what I would consider to be excessive descriptive verbiage. I would have--and easily could have--included much, much longer passages to illustrate my point, but I didn't want this review to run on forever.

I'm sure many find the passage above to be beautiful, poetic, a magical feat of descriptive language, and I'd understand where they'd be coming from. This book does contain great imagery--tons and tons of great imagery, in fact. There are scenes in this book that will forever be seared into my brain. There are brilliant set pieces, memorable character ticks and traits, and scenes of astounding power and depth. I just wish that the author would have been more selective when deciding when and where to lay it on so thick. As it was, the onslaught quickly became numbing--exhausting--and it was very easy to nod off while reading this book when the author's obsessive focus on all the little details too often brought the action to a languid, meditative...zzzz

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tuesday Tease!

Michael Brookes, author of Conversations in the Abyss (among many others) and book reviewer/promoter extraordinaire, is running an exclusive excerpt from Six Dead Spots on his Tuesday Tease feature today.

To read the excerpt, head over to his website The Cult of Me.

If what you've read catches your fancy, remember you can grab an eBook copy of Six Dead Spots at the discounted price of $1 this week as part of the Smashwords "Read An E-Book Week" promotional event.

Six Dead Spots for $1 at Smashwords (ePub) - Enter the discount code REW75 at checkout to get 75% off the list price

Six Dead Spots for $1 on PayHip (Mobi, ePub, or PDF) - Payments made through PayPal

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Read An E-Book Week!

Smashwords is now holding their annual promotional event called Read An E-Book Week. It runs from Sunday, March 2 through Sunday, March 8. A slew of publishers and author-publishers are offering their wares for free or at steep discounts for this event.

I'll be participating this time around and my horror novella Six Dead Spots will be available throughout the week for just one lousy buck. Please note, my book is available on Smashwords in ePub format only. But it is DRM-free, so if you're a Kindle person, and if you are so inclined, you can convert the ePub to Mobi format (for Kindle) easily enough through a variety of free downloadable software. Or, if that sounds too complicated, you can buy a Mobi version for the same price here.

Here's a link to the "Read An E-Book Week" catalog.

Bellow you'll find a direct link to the Six Dead Spots product page on Smashwords:

Six Dead Spots for $1 (ePub) - Use the coupon code "REW75" at checkout to get 75% off the list price!

And right down there you'll see a direct link to my PayHip product page for Six Dead Spots:

Six Dead Spots for $1 (Mobi, ePub, or PDF) - payments made via PayPal

Saturday, March 1, 2014

No, not more writing advice!

There is a glut of advice for writers on the Internet. So, why am I adding to the landfill of 'how-tos' and 'helpful hints?'

Because Meghan over at THe GaL iN THe BLue MaSK told me to. She's obviously unstable (she's a writer) and probably a little bit dangerous. So, I thought it'd be wise to just do it and avoid any nasty repercussions.

If you're at all interested, you can find this thing she made me write in a section of her website called Between the Bindings.

My contribution is entitled Finish Your Book: 11 Painful Steps!