Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Send . . . More . . . BOOKS!

I've recently read my way through an interesting variety of books from non-fiction to sci-fi to horror to, well, more horror. Here are some quick little mini-reviews of each.

Blister by Jeff Strand

This is a fantastic read. A cartoonist takes a break after pulling a prank on some asshole kid. He goes out to his agent's lake house to cool off and learns of a local town secret called Blister. I won't say anymore about the plot. You don't need to know more. Just go into this story blind and enjoy the hell out of it. Strand gives a gut punch of a, well, a love story of sorts that examines the way people see each other and how terribly bad things can go when you're an outsider in a tightly knit community. Everything is all fun and games until someone finds a reason to hate you. Great little novella. Highly recommended.

Stranglehold by Jack Ketchum

Wow. What a gut punch. I've read most of Ketchum's novels and novellas and this one is right up there with The Girl Next Door and Red as far as the emotional distress factor is concerned. I listened to the audiobook and I wonder had I been reading the paperback if I would have put it down because of how poignant the material is. This is a story that follows a woman and man who eventually become married and have a child. The child begins to show some very startling behaviors and soon his parents divorce when his father becomes abusive. It only gets worse from there (not the book, but the circumstances in which this broken family finds themselves), and there were moments I cried, moments I wanted to stop listening, but I forged ahead. In the end I was emotionally exhausted. I don't do trigger warnings often, but I would warn anyone with young children to tread these waters with care. In the words of Tommy Chong: "It kinda grabs you by the boo-boo..."

The Iceman: Confession of a Mafia Contract Killer by Philip Carlo

I hadn't heard of this guy until picking up this book. Wow. Not just a contract killer, but a straight out serial killer. To know that people like Richard Kuklinski walk the earth is truly terrifying. This one is prime reading for true crime and mafia fans alike. Gives a whole different perspective to mob life than a book like Wise Guy does. Kuklinski didn't just kill for money, he killed because he liked it. That's some scary shit. Also interesting is the guy's background. Makes you wonder whether killers are born or made that way.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

I'm not a fan of Blade Runner. I've watched the entire movie once and fallen asleep watching it maybe another two times. It's dreadfully boring. I was apprehensive going into this book, but it has such a stellar reputation that I figured it was a good jumping off point with PKD's work. Also, I'm not a big sci-fi fan, so I went in blind (outside of watching the adaptation years ago). I tend to prefer sci-fi in the shorter form from authors like Asimov, Bradbury, Matheson, and Ellison. Recently I saw a poster online for Blade Runner and it said: inspired by the Philip K. Dick story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Inspired? Yeah, sounds about right. The source material was way better than the movie, though I feel like I need to give the movie another shot just to see if it makes more sense to me now. It was a weird book, no doubt, but ultimately enjoyable. Perhaps a bit too short. It just kind of ended and I thought there was so much more to explore. In a way it felt like the plot wasn't fully developed, but maybe I'm just dense. Who knows.

Slugs by Shaun Hutson

This one was fun for about a hundred and fifty pages, then it became tedious. In my experience, these novels about masses of animals or insects taking over a town would work better in novella form. I felt the exact same way about James Herbert's Rats (which I didn't think was a very good novel to begin with). This was my first Shaun Hutson read and I enjoyed his pulpy style quite a lot. I am interested in reading something like Spawn or Heathen, but good luck to me in finding one of those vintage paperbacks. I mean, I could buy one of the newer editions, but I just love the feel of a good ol' mass market paperback, and you can't beat the cheesy artwork. I may have to cave though. Spawn sounds like a hell of a ride.

That's all for now. I hope you found something of interest in these little reviews. Maybe one of these is on your bookshelf right now. If not, most of them are available at your favorite online retailer. Grab one, sit back, and read a book.

Up next will be books such as Nursery Tale by T. M. Wright, Technicolor Terrorists by Andre Duza, The Auctioneer by Joan Samson (I feel like I've been reading this one for a while now!), and others.

Until next time...

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Thoughts on Several Books . . . I Can't Keep Up

So my idea was to post my thoughts on each and every book I read in to 2018, sort of like little reviews. I figured it would be a good exercise since I've grown to despise writing reviews. Turns out I also dislike updating my blog. I know, I know, blogging is dead. People don't read them anymore. Well, I know that's bullshit because I see the numbers. That's why I still post here, albeit infrequently.

That all being said, I have read quite a few books since Stirring the Sheets by Chad Lutzke (awesome little novella--seek it out and read it), and I've decided to put them all into this one post with a quick paragraph of my thoughts on each one.

Savage by Richard Laymon

Great book. Very unlike anything else I have read by Laymon, and I've read a lot of his books. Still doesn't take over my top two favorite Laymon novels (In the Dark and Night in the Lonsesome October), but Savage is most certainly number three. A historical horror that follows Jack the Ripper from England to the American wild west, this story takes the usual twists and turns you expect from a Laymon novel and adds a rich story that I was genuinely moved by, at times feeling extreme sympathy for our hero, and even anger with some of his motivations. Those are the kind of responses I cherish from a novel. If you find Laymon to be to exploitative or maybe just too crazy, give this one a shot. It's well worth it.

The Amulet by Michael McDowell

This is my second McDowell outing. The first was his acclaimed The Elementals, which is one of my favorite novels. The Amulet, however, falls far from the bar I've set for McDowell. A great effort for a first novel, but nothing more than a weird slasher story where the slasher is an amulet that causes people to murder everyone around them when in possession of the piece of jewelry. Pretty much that simple. As I read I kept hoping for some amazing twist that would pay off, but nope. The story goes right where you think it will. I heard that it was originally a screenplay that he turned into a novel, and it reads that way. A slasher film with a twist on the trope, but no pay off. I think it would have made a good movie in the early eighties, considering that the most interesting part of the story aside form our protagonist's growing insecurities concerning her war-damaged husband wrapped from head to tow in bandages and her vile mother-in-law were the various ways people died.

Panacea by F. Paul Wilson

Holy shit this was a good book. Wow. Not my typical fare, the story starts out like a medical thriller and turns into something so much more. Wilson is a master storyteller, this we know, but when I read something like this I'm left in awe, wondering why the hell I even try. The plot is incredibly weaved like a gorgeous tapestry full of hints and clues as to where you're going, but when everything is unfolded, you're still taken by surprise. Books such as this one separate the bestsellers from the midlisters. If I could write something 1/10 this good I would be a happy man.

Life by Kieth Richards

I like the Stones, but I'm no super fan (I'm a Beatles guy). I love rock/metal autobiographies, so I thought I would give this one a shot. Kieth Richards, if nothing, is passionate about music. That was one thing that made the book lag in the beginning. He spends a lot of time talking about the music that influenced him. Too much time. That aside, it's a good rock bio. He doesn't talk much shit and seems like a fairly decent chap, though he most certainly has an anger problem. The legend of Kieth Richards is bigger than the man himself, which is kind of interesting. certainly a great read for Stones fans, though I would have rather read one of those rock bios written from the perspectives of all the members of the band, like the Aerosmith bio Walk This Way or Motley Crue's The Dirt.

Whoopsy Daisy by David Allen Coe

Stumbled upon this on YouTube and listened to it at work one day. Not a fan of Coe aside from the album he did with the Pantera guys Rebel Meets Rebel (awesome record!). Written in '97 just after his wife of 14 years left him, this is kind of a depressing book from a guy who is in a lot of emotional pain. He talks about being famous and what it really means. he breaks down touring and what he actually earns, and discusses some of the mistakes he's made in life. Most of all, he breaks down why he thinks his wife left him. Here's a man haunted by his past. if you are a fan of David Allen Coe or, like me, just like autobiographies, give it a read. I would be interested in one of his previous books that's a more proper autobiography. Apparently he's written quite a few.

Lowland Riders by Chet Williamson

 I made it very close to the end but completely lost interest. A really cool Death Wish premise about a guy whose family is murdered by street thugs who in turn kills one of the murderers and then lives in the subway system fearing persecution for his crime. I wanted to like this novel, but I struggled with it because I stopped caring. It's like two separate stories that aren't getting along together, almost as if the supernatural elements were just thrown in. I hate giving up on a book within fifty pages of the end, but I had to move on to something else. I might go back in a few weeks and finish it...and I might not.

Well, that's it for now. I feel like I'm missing something. I started a few books that I had to put down, so maybe that's it. Anyway, I'm reading Slugs by Shaun Hutson, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison, The Ice Man: Confession of a Mafia Contract Killer by Philip Carlo, and The Auctioneer by Joan Samson. I like this method of short reviews of each book in one post. I think I'll be doing this from now on.

Happy reading, folks!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Are You Obsessed?

I have a book coming out on June 19th from Grand Mal Press called Death Obsessed. This is my fourth novel, and, in my opinion, the best of the lot. With a title like Death Obsessed, you would have to imagine that death has a lot to do with the story. And you would be correct. But on top of that there's a lot of personal stuff in the book. Not regarding the characters and their struggles necessarily, but the setting. C'mon, I'll give you a tour of the various settings in the book. No spoilers (the book isn't even out yet!), just a tour around San Diego.

A lot of writers use local backdrops for their stories. It's a smart thing to do, because you don't know any geography as well as you know the place you live. We take liberties, though. With Death Obsessed I took many liberties. I used a few places that do not exist anymore. We'll get to those. The story starts out in Calvin's apartment when he has an impromptu argument with his pregnant girlfriend. I have used this very apartment in several stories. The building on Madison Avenue in El Cajon was one a few of my friends lived in just out of high school. The building also appears in In Black and a few short stories. Different people live in that particular apartment, and I've never made a conscious effort at a connected world. I'm not really into that sort of thing. I just think it's a great apartment. I mean, it isn't. It was kind of a crap hole, but it works well in stories. The manager is always Mr. Fingers. He's an unreasonable type. Everyone calls him Butterfingers.

Up next is the Museum of Death. This was a real place in San Diego in the mid-nineties. I believe it now resides somewhere in Los Angeles. The way I describe the Museum of Death is how I remember it, though I only made the trip downtown to see the place once. It was a life-changing experience, seeing all those photographs of dead people, police photos, etc. There's a scene in the book that deals with a series of photos with a couple and a mutilated body. Those pictures are real. I saw 'em. I believe you can find them on the Internet (I wouldn't know; I don't search for photos of dead bodies...not any more). Me and a good friend drove down to the Museum of death in 1997. he had just gotten his driver's license. We were listening to Black Sabbath and taking back roads from El Cajon into downtown San Diego. Talking, singing, full of piss and vinegar. After spending a good hour or so in the Museum of Death we came out changed. Our minds were pretty fucked. It's a lot to take in, seeing all that death. The light outside seemed brighter and I was suddenly very aware of my mortality. I don't think we spoke a word on the drive home. Black Sabbath was even darker than before. Everything was darker. I remember driving home from my friend's house and just laying there on my bed thing about what we had seen. Life is fragile. We're not ten feet tall and bullet proof.

The next trip on our tour across San Diego County is Lakeside. A place called the Hall of Hell. This was a real place, described in accurate detail. Essentially it was a drainage culvert. In Junior High kids would dare one another to walk through the Hall of Hell. I'm claustrophobic, so I had no part in tripping through a jet black culvert. Story was some kid got lost inside and the fire department had to get him out. His name was Eric, but I'll leave his last name out, you know, for the sake of his reputation in prison. I remember being peer pressured to smoke pot at the opening of the culvert, but I was always secure with myself and not one to succumb to peer pressure. I waited until I was damn well ready before I tried weed. That idiot's name was David -----, and I'm sure he had a lucrative career as a car thief or maybe a meth dealer. he wasn't a friend of mine, just sort of hanging around for some reason. I can see the texture of his greasy black hair and weak-ass mustache to this day.

Another backdrop for a scene is Balboa Park. That exists. It's a cool place. If you visit San Diego it's worth checking out. Only one scene takes place there, and being that it wasn't a huge element of that scene, it's not accentuated and described in lush detail. I wouldn't even mention it here except that I like Balboa Park a lot. I don't get down there as much as I would like, but I always enjoy myself. It's a great place to sit in a patch of shade and people-watch.

 The building in which the finale takes place is completely fabricated, but was inspired by photographs of abandoned buildings: mental institutions, hospitals, houses, etc. I used material from an unpublished short story in those last chapters. It all came together rather well.

Well, that was the tour. I hope you got something out of it. But more than that, I hope you will consider buying a copy of Death Obsessed. The book comes out on June 19th, 2018. The ebook is currently on sale for .99 cents as a pre-order. The price will go up to $3.99 on release day. The paperback is on sale RIGHT NOW for $10.99 until release day when the price goes up to $14.99.

Remember those old VHS tapes with labels that said “banned in 40 countries” and “not for the faint of heart,” with titles like Faces of Death and Mondo Violence? Well, they’re back, only this time it’s a book.

This book.

Death Obsessed is Faces of Death with an identity crisis. Get ready for something mondo macabre! Back when he was a teenager, Calvin was into the morbid stuff. He thought he outgrew it, but he’s only a video clip away from becoming obsessed, and what’s Ronnie going to think about that? She’s not the kind of girl who digs cemeteries and dead things. But Hazel, she’s something else altogether, and oh how persuasive is a woman who knows what she wants. Drawn back to a place Calvin had forgotten about, and lured by the baritone drawl of Mr. Ghastly, who promises the much sought after death scenes classic known as Death’s Door, Calvin trips down one hell of a rabbit hole, and everything is at stake. Can he leave his nine-to-five life in the dust for some real action, or will he be left sick, all alone, and Death Obsessed?

"For anyone who dared picked up Faces of Death at the video store as a teenager or perused the atrocities of early internet shock sites like Rotten.com, Death Obsessed is a nightmarish trip down a rabbit hole slick with corpse slime and grave dirt. It's a supernatural glimpse at the deranged world behind the execution videos and crime scene photos and the people who enjoy them." -- Mike Lombardo, writer/director of I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday

Thoughts on Stirring the Sheets by Chad Lutzke

Chad Lutzke's latest novella, Stirring the Sheets, out now from Bloodshot Books, is one of those stories that packs an emotional punch that leaves the reader with mental bruises that linger and throb when probed with thought. It's a story about loss, about moving on, about heartache. It's about the crazy that invades when we are forced to deal with those terrible events in life such as the death of a loved one

Emmett is a mortician, an older gentleman, and is suffering from the pain of losing his wife. He lives mechanically, trying to convince himself that he is all right, but is he? A body comes into the morgue one night and she bears a striking resemblance to his wife when she was younger. Emmett gets to thinking and...

Well, you'll have to read the book. I'm not giving away anything you can't read on the back cover copy, although the Amazon listing is rather vague. It's a quick read, a one-sitter, and that's not necessarily due to the brevity in length, but the insistence on gaining the readers apt attention. Everyone will find something in Emmett that they can relate to. And, unless you're a heartless asshole, despite certain extenuating circumstances and decisions, you will find yourself feeling for Emmett. I know I did. Chad does a fine job reaching emotional depths both touching and terrifying in their reality. This story could have happened right down the street, and you or I never would have known.

Now, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. The physical version is quite affordable, but never fear, it's also available for kindle download. Get a print cope HERE, or a digital copy HERE.

Up next is either Panacea by F. Paul Wilson, The Amulet by Michael McDowell, or Savage by Richard Laymon. I'm taking way too much time to post my thoughts on the books I've been reading. I need to get on it.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thoughts on The Haunting of Hill House

Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is a classic. It has been adapted into at least two films, one in the 60s that is pretty good and the other in the 90s that is a steaming pile of crap. I always site Jackson's story "The Lottery" as the piece of fiction that opened my mind to the written word (this is after reading King, Lumley, and whatever schools taught at the time, but getting no inspiration), and though that story had such a profound affect on me, I have never gone back to read any of Shirley Jackson's novels...until now.

My favorite haunted house stories are Richard Matheson's Hell House, Douglas Clegg's Harrow House series, and The Elementals by Michael McDowell. Reading The Haunting of Hill House doesn't change my adoration of those books, but falls somewhere in the top ten. I loved the book, but there was something about the ambiguity that eventually lost me. More than a haunted house story, this was the story of a woman losing her mind. Now, perhaps it was the haunts that edged her mind into the realms of insanity, but she appeared to be going down that road right from the beginning. In the end, I wasn't even sure there was a haunting at all. I do understand that this was intentional, and it sure did have my mind running overtime after finishing the book. For a book to leave a lasting impression is something any author strives to achieve (well, most authors--some just pump out the pulp and cash in the checks). For the lingering affects, Jackson succeeded, and I am always pleased and interested in downbeat endings. At the time when this book was originally published it must have been quite a shock, much like the end of "The Lottery". All these years later the shock is dulled by so many books that have come since, and especially by the film industry. Consider the end to Night of the Living Dead. To this day, after watching that movie time and time again, it still gets to me. It's not so much a twist ending as it is a nihilistic mindbend, just a straight out glass of half-full fuck you. I can appreciate that.

A great book, no doubt. Up next is Stirring the Sheets by Chad Luzke, The Hell-Bound Heart by Clive Barker and several others. I'm falling behind on these, having been so focused on my forthcoming novel Death Obsessed, which is up for pre-order. Only .99 cents until June 19th when the price goes up to $3.99. The print book will be available around June 9th for $11.99 until release day when the price goes up. Pre-order HERE.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Thoughts on Death Mask by Graham Masterton

Graham Masterson's Death Mask is a bullet train of a supernatural murder mystery. I listened to the audiobook, but I can tell that this is one of those stories that could easily be read in a single sitting with red eyes when you know you ought to be sleeping so you won't be a complete zombie at work the following day.

Confession time: I have never read a Graham Masterton book. I tried Famine once, but couldn't get into it. It felt kind of bloated, like so many of the 80s tomes, as if his editor said, "flesh it out, old boy! More pages! The readers want MORE PAGES!" In Death Mask there's not one wasted word. This story is tight and you are not going to be able to figure out the twists. The story starts like this: There's an artists who discovers that she has this bizarre ability to paint a rose that suddenly appears in her garden like a miracle.Meanwhile a group of people in an elevator are slaughtered by a knife-wielding madman. One person survives. As more elevator massacres occur in town, the artist (who works as a freelance sketch artist for the police) and her gifted mother-in-law (she can read tea leaves and cards and communicate with the dead, etc.) go down a strange path to discover who is behind the murders and why no one can find them.

Easily one of the best books I've read in a while. Had me guessing the entire time, and I was wrong. If you can predict where this story is going, you're a closer reader than I. The prose is effortless the way a Joe Lansdale novel feels, seemingly simple, but deceptively lethal. If you're going to start this one, be prepared to have the time to finish it, otherwise it will eat at you between readings. Novels like this are the type I love to read, and I hope to be able to write someday.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Death Obsessed book cover reveal!

I've been waiting for weeks to share the cover of my next book Death Obsessed, and here it is! Artwork by the talented Matthew Revert. Isn't it a thing of beauty?

Remember those old VHS tapes with labels that said “banned in 40 countries” and “not for the faint of heart,” with titles like Faces of Death and Mondo Violence? Well, they’re back, only this time it’s a book. This book. Death Obsessed is Faces of Death with an identity crisis. Get ready for something mondo macabre!

Back when he was a teenager, Calvin was into the morbid stuff. He thought he outgrew it, but he’s only a video clip away from becoming obsessed, and what’s Ronnie going to think about that? She’s not the kind of girl who digs cemeteries and dead things. But Hazel, she’s something else altogether, and oh how persuasive is a woman who knows what she wants.

Drawn back to a place Calvin had forgotten about, and lured by the baritone drawl of Mr. Ghastly, who promises the much sought after death scenes classic known as Death’s Door, Calvin trips down one hell of a rabbit hole, and everything is at stake. Can he leave his nine-to-five life in the dust for some real action, or will he be left sick, all alone, and Death Obsessed?
 Out in June/July from Grand Mal Press!

Thoughts on Stinger by Robert R. McCammon

My latest venture into the fiction of Robert R. McCammon was the novel Stinger. I listened to the recently released audiobook. Here are my thoughts on both the story and the audiobook.

Stinger is sort of like West Side Story meets The Thing. There are two rival gangs of high schoolers in a desperate Texas town who, along with the rest of the town, become the pawns in a battle between alien lifeforms. I won't say much more about the plot, but in true McCammon fashion,we are introduced to a garden variety of people who have dreams and fears, people who could easily walk out of the pages and into you life. The people of Inferno are nothing if not flawed, most of them. And that's what makes them breathe. I have no idea if there really is a Texas town called Inferno, but McCammon convinced me that there is, right down to little bits of slang that I assume he made up. The teens call a pretty girl a "smash fox" and there's a term for going crazy that something like "looking into the great big empty". That one seems to be a general perception of Inferno harbored by so many of its inhabitants. In a way, having something as traumatic and extreme as an alien visitation is just what Inferno needs, minus the death and destruction, of course.

There were several elements of the plot that I predicted, but that's only because there is so much going on in this story. Twice as many plot elements took me by surprise, leading to a satisfying ending. Had the supernatural elements been removed and the conflict changed (I'm not suggesting this, by the way), this story would have been recognized as an American classic, or what some people refer to as the Great American Novel (well, Boy's Life takes that honor, I suppose). I only mention this because genre fiction gets a bad rap, and authors like Robert McCammon, though a New York Times bestseller, do not get the praise and name recognition they deserve. This might sound crazy in the horror world (yep, McCammon is well renowned to us), but he really should be a household name, and very few horror authors cross that barrier. I, for one, am glad we have authors like McCammon who are bringing the literary bend to a genre that sometimes seems steeped in pulp (again, don't get me wrong here, I like pulp horror too, I write it, but it's great to have authors with such incredible talent--a more recent example, just to throw another name out there, would be Ronald Malfi).

On to the audiobook narrator, Nick Sullivan. I listen to maybe ten audiobooks a year. Some narrators have strengths and weaknesses, and others read the book with such precision that they transport the listener into another world. Nick Sullivan is that kind of narrator. He does unique voices for each and every character (and there are a lot of them in this book), including accents, for which there are several considering some of the characters have a Texas drawl and others are hispanic. His reading is natural and pleasant to the ear. If you are a fan of audiobooks than I would absolutely suggest you check this one out. You can get it HERE on Amazon.

Well, I'm not sure what McCammon book I will read next. I have a collection of them on my bookshelf, some read, others in the TBR pile. Stinger reaffirmed by growing love for McCammon's work. Though Gone South still stands tall as my favorite, Stinger did not disappoint.

Up next will be my thoughts on Graham Masterton's Death Mask. I'm currently reading The Amulet by Michael McDowell, and The Silence by Tim Lebbon.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Thoughts on Deadly Eyes aka The Rats by James Herbert

This is going to be a short one. I really don't have much to say about Deadly Eyes. I didn't really like the book all that much. I like the idea of rats the size of small dogs killing people and spreading disease (one that kills the carrier in a a matter of days if not hours), but the book just didn't connect with me.

First off, lets talk about the packaging of this paperback. When I found it in a library book store, I thought it was a James Herbert book I had never heard of: Deadly Eyes. Then I see that it was published originally as The Rats (we've all heard of or read The Rats), and what I bought was a paperback that was released when the film adaptation was released. Included are pictures from the movie . . . Let's just say the pics leave a lot to be desired.

As for the story, there's not much to elaborate on from what I wrote in the first paragraph. The characters were pretty flat. There just wasn't any real connection there. The scenes with rats killing or stalking people were ace, but that can't hold a story. Some of it was fun, and I think that's the way people remember this book: just a fun pulp horror story to pass the time. This all being said, I do intend on reading the sequels. I'm curious what Herbert did his rats and if the stories got any better. I've yet to read Guy N. Smith's crabs books, but something tells me they are probably a lot like The Rats, only with crabs.

Next up is Stinger by Robert R. McCammon. I finished the audiobook last week and will give a much deeper examination of my thoughts on not only the book, but the audio production as well.

Until next time . . .

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Thoughts on Catacomb by Andrew Laurance

I was drawn to this book firstly by the cover. Like so many horror novels from the eighties and early nineties, this one has . . . wait for it . . . an embossed skeleton. It's an eye-catching cover, so, after reading the back cover copy, I decided to give it a shot. The story is about a teenager who is a monk at a Spanish monastery who has the uncanny ability to communicate with the dead. At first he is startled by his special talent, but eventually he becomes quite comfortable with his bizarre communications and learns of things that could potentially damage organized religion as we know it.

Despite having a decent hook, this book is a bit slow to gain speed, but when it does, it cooks. I'm not a religious guy, and though I enjoyed The Exorcist, I tent to steer away from books that have a sizable religious element, so I was kind of surprised that I enjoyed the hell out of this one. There are some great sequences and twists as out young monk  leaves the monastery and really lives for the first time since he was just a little boy, only he is such a special individual that his life goes off the rails rather quickly. Some of the material seemed rushed, especially considering how easily he accepts what happens to him, particularly during the final third of the book. I also felt like some of the more powerful government and religious figures accepted his uncanny ability in ways that were almost implausible.

I rarely say that a book should be expanded upon, because I'm into lean and trim fiction, but this one feels like it could have been beefed up a bit to add some depth. Then again I might just be picking at it. I enjoyed the book, but I certainly don't see it making some kind of miraculous comeback (the edition I have was an early nineties reprint nearly ten years after being published initially in the UK under the title The Hiss). I will most certainly buy another from the author if I come across it. Aside from how quickly certain parts of the plot develop, it's an original story that doesn't rely on a path paved by the telekinetic kids, haunted houses, and haunted Indian burial grounds so many other authors of the time hacked to death.

That's it for now. Up next is either Stinger by Robert McCammon or Deadly Eyes (aka Rats) by James Herbert. See you then!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Thoughts on The Specimen by Pete Kahle

Right off the bat I've got to say that for a debut novel, Pete Kahle has shown us that he knows what the hell he's doing. I haven't read a debut this strong in years. It's astonishing what he managed to do in this tome with character development and a plot that is told in a nonlinear format that most authors take years of novel writing to develop. Bravo, Pete!

So, The Specimen is a story about parasitic entities called Riders that, throughout human history, have been latching onto various people, living within them, and causing a great deal of bloodshed. There is a secret agency out to destroy the alien race of Riders, and have been doing so for many years, but their collective has corruption of its own. There's so much in this story that I can't even begin a good synopsis without spoilers, so I'll leave it at that.

The character development in this story is as rich and detailed as a Stephen King or Robert McCammon novel with visceral violence and gore that leans to the extreme in its vivid detail. Blood and body fluids abound! I found it interesting early in the story when a couple of guys were called "your typical goon", which I thought was a bad descriptor, until I realized that was a way of saying, hey, there are so many richly detailed characters in this book that these guys, who are only in the story for a few pages, are just a couple of red shirts. believe me, there's no lack of detail concerning the characters who matter to the story. They live. They breathe.

Now, I'm not a huge fan of massive tomes. They tend to feel padded and under-edited. I think this book could have been dialed down just a bit. There are a ton of sub-plots going on and the time-line jumps around a lot. It all makes sense and wasn't confusing at all, but I found the present day material to be the most interesting, and really the heart of the story. I think a lot of the story that was told through reports from the Graylock Institute (I may have flubbed the name there) could have been weaved into the narrative and completely eliminated, but that's just probably just me trying to slim down a novel that gives a great pleasure to people who like to sit down with that huge six-hundred-pager and commit for a while. I also think the intermissions (read the book to find out what I'm talking about), which gives the story nice historical context, were ultimately unnecessary. In fact, during the climax it is all summarized in a few paragraphs. The intermission chapters were well written, but I think they could have been pulled from the manuscript and used as promotional tools on a website or Patreon page or something. But who am I to suggest such a thing? Pete Kahle has done very well with this book, getting a shout-out recently from Brian Keene and earning almost 200 reviews on Amazon (that's fucking astonishing for both a debut novel and a small press author).

lastly, I listened to the audiobook version of the book, so I would be remiss to not mention a bit about that experience. First off, the narrator did a fantastic job. There were a number of accents that he nailed with convincing accuracy, which is so important. That gives the narrative movement and theater. No one wants to slog through an otherwise good book that feels like a sluggish monologue. Also, there were sound effects here and there that really added to the experience. They were used sparingly and were quite effective, making for a fun and entertaining experience.

Look, I know what Pete is doing with Bloodshot Books is important, but he needs to get another novel out there. I absolutely love reading new authors that are the real deal, and Kahle has got the goods. I highly recommend reading The Specimen, or better yet, listening to the audiobook (yes, the highlighted words are links).

Next up is Catacombs by Andrew Laurance, originally published under the title The Hiss. See ya then!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Thoughts on Paperbacks From Hell

The non fiction book of 2017 was Paperbacks From Hell by Grady Henrix, hands down. Not that I read a whole lot of non fiction in 2017. I just can't see something else that's better than a book about mass market paperback from the seventies until the crash in the nineties, loaded with colorful pictures of cover art, sublime and glorious. If nothing else, I imagine this book has and will continue to reinvigorate people's fondness for long lost paperbacks that have been relegated to used book stores, thrift shops, and library book sales. Some of them have been terribly mistreated, probably considered a slice of schlock that wasn't worth preservation. I have plenty that were used as door stops and bent and torn and probably thrown across a room a time or two (I can only imagine how previous owners treated some of the books in my collection). Covers taped on, spines so cracked you can hardly read the title much less the author's name. But the words are still there on the pages (if they're not falling out), and thus the story can be read, for better or worse. Some of those old books are great (Michael McDowell's The Elementals and T. M. Wright's Strange Seed are recent gems I've read), and others are utter trash (William W. Johnstone's The Devil's Kiss fits nicely in this category). Paperbacks From Hell covers it all, with brief summaries of certain titles, interesting factoids about certain authors, and even insight on some of the cover artists that brought us all those amazing creatures, skeletons, demons, evil children, native spirits, and devils that popped in embossed foil, holograms, and step-back art.

I savored this book slowly since getting it for Christmas. I didn't want to just blow through it. I lingered on the cover art, following paint brush strokes and skeleton faces, baby dollies and evil entities. The book is written with a nice dose of humor and sarcasm that could only come from someone who truly appreciates the subject matter. Hendrix has obviously read a great deal of the books (probably pored over them while writing the book and probably sick to death of embossed skeletons by the time he was finished). Putting a book like this one together is clearly a labor of love, and the insight on the titles that are summarized come from more than just reading the back cover copy.

My guess is that finding autobiographical info on the more obscure authors who graced paperback racks back in the seventies and eighties is pretty difficult. I could have done with more of that. I found the little biographical tidbits fascinating. I think there should be a companion book that focuses on some of the more prolific authors of the time, as well as the cover artists. A few authors and cover artists are highlighted, but there are plenty more, and I for one would be fascinated to learn more.

If you're a horror fan and you don't have this book, shame on you. You can purchase it HERE, and though there is an ebook available, do yourself a favor and pick up the physical version. It's full-color and well worth the investment.

That's all for now. Next up is Pete Kahle's The Specimen. I've already finished it, so those thoughts will be posted soon. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Thoughts on American Gothic by Robert Bloch

I'm a huge fan of Robert Bloch. He was one of the absolute best writers of short stories ever. King of the twist ending and able to develop a character in a paragraph or less. I read a ton of his short fiction before I ever read one of his novels. My first was Lori, and it's a good one. Lori is one of those reads that even someone like me who is a dreadfully slow reader can get through in one day. The man just knew how to structure sentences for maximum readability, something that was probably spawned from the economy of words in his short fiction. I've since read a number of Bloch's novels and the latest was American Gothic. These are a few of my thoughts.

First off, it was clear from the first page or two that this was a story based in part on the notorious serial killer H. H. Holmes. The villain's name is G. Gordon Gregg and we quickly discover that he has built a castle in Chicago with quite a number of rooms as well as staircases that lead to secret passage ways and doors that blend into walls. H. H. Holmes hired several contractors to build portions of his mansion using separate plans so no one but himself would know about the secret passages and whatnot. Fascinating stuff, so it's no surprise that Bloch decided to render a fictional account of the infamous H. H. Holmes and wrap it up in a mystery. There's an afterward entitled Post Mortem in which Bloch explains a bit about Homes and the inspiration for American Gothic.

The story itself was very much a mystery like the early Bloch material such as The Scarf, The Couch and Psycho, only this one was a historical piece. The characters were well drawn and he certainly didn't beat the reader over the head with the fact that is was the late eighteen hundreds, which is something that often happens with period pieces. I do have to say that when reading Robert W. Chambers, who was alive and writing close to the time this story took place, his work in many of the stories in The King in Yellow are so fully drenched in the stagnant alleyways and unpaved avenues of New York that you can't help but feel like you are right there in another time. Though you don't ever forget the time period in which American Gothic takes place, I felt that the presence of time could have been a little richer.

I like the protagonist, Crystal, a go-get-'em journalist who risks life and limb to break a story no one has faith in. She has to take seriously desperate measures and essentially she's working on a hunch. I can't help but see in her a character I wrote a in an unpublished novella and an unpublished novel. My investigative journalist, Veronica Hensley, is Crystal reincarnated, only she deals with modern menaces both human and inhuman.

There's no real motive for why G. Gordon Gregg does what he does (some kind of absurd romanticism as shown in his collection at the end of the story?), but who cares? Do we always have to have a reason? It's not like he was going to make some confession in the last chapter when he's getting doused with his own flesh dissolving chemicals and stabbed with his own knife. Just accept that G. Gordon Gregg is a goddamned vicious psychopath (a specialty of Robert Bloch), and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Thoughts on Pin by Andrew Neiderman

Book three of 2018 is Pin by Andrew Neiderman. Here are my thoughts:

This was my first Andrew Neiderman read. I had heard a lot about this book, always with some half-joking comment about incestuous themes, which, quite honestly, was off-putting.Though the cover is eye-catching, this book has sat on my shelf solely because of the whole incest thing. I just didn't wasn't to read something like that. Once I realized how deeply I was judging the book without even giving it a chance, I decided to dig in. I'm glad I did.

In a nutshell, Pin is about a brother and sister who were raised in a unique environment where their mother was a crazed clean freak and their father a emotionless family physician who they referred to as The Doctor rather than Dad. The Doctor had a life-sized figure that displayed the human anatomy very similar to the clear pages you would find in an old encyclopedia under the human anatomy section, muscles, veins, tendons and all. The kids became obsessed with this figure and name him Pin. For Leon, the obsession never ended, even after both of their parents died in a car wreck, however when his sister Ursula begins to grow up and becomes interested in a young man, Leon becomes jealous and filters his own frustrations through Pin, an inanimate thing he has quite fully convinced himself is a living, breathing human being. A human he talks to. A human who talks back.

Pretty big nutshell there. I never was good at one sentence pitches.

So, I loved the book. I read it rather quickly, engrossed with this bizarre tale and not once put off by the incestuous stuff people seem to immediately associate with the story (believe me, it sounds far worse than it is). The relationship between Leon and Ursula is unusual and creepy, however the first act of the story convincingly develops this unhealthy relationship in a way that gives the reader a sense of sympathy, though that wanes as our Narrator, Leon, becomes more and more unreasonable and crazed. He and his sister went through a lot with The Doctor, things no children should ever have to face. They were raised like little experiments for their sick father, which ends up disturbing them quite severely, making it difficult for them to function in the real world.

This was an unusual story. Kind of a slow burn, I suppose. In many ways I could see what was happening and how things would transpire. I think that certain themes have probably been ripped off and used in horror films. I didn't see the ending coming, though I feel like I should have. Really, I was so engrossed in the story that I wasn't looking to figure out what was going to happen. The epilogue, however, should have been . . . Hold on a minute. I'm going to go check something. Never mind. I was about to write about dropping the epilogue, but as I was typing I suddenly understood it. I'd forgotten how Leon names Pin early on in the story, and that tidbit has everything to do with those final three pages.

In closing, I loved the book. I'm going to read more Andrew Neiderman, sooner than later (I still have no interest in V. C. Andrews). Up next will be either Pete Khale's Specimen, Robert Bloch's American Gothic, or Paperbacks From Hell (I'm reading all three at the moment). See you then!

If Pin sounds good, buy it HERE.

If you liked Pin, consider Brothers in Blood, my own bizarre tale of homicidal twin brothers.

"Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre with twins!" - Jack Bantry, author of The Lucky Ones Died First

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Thoughts on Gone South

My second read of 2017 was Gone South by Robert McCammon. Initial thought on finishing it . . . I loved it! I've read a few of his books and this was the best by far. Better than . . . wait for it . . . Boy's Life. Yep, I said it. I actually didn't even finish Boy's Life. I had consumed far too many southern coming of age stories at the time (Fear by Ronald Kelly, Midnight Rain by James Newman, etc.), so I was admittedly burnt out on that trope. I'll finish Boy's Life one day, but for now Gone South takes the cake.

Every character was complex and interesting from our Vietnam vet protagonist who finds himself on hard times and makes a life changing mistake that throws him into a downward spiral of twists and turns through the American South, to the bounty hunters who crisscross the same path looking for him. I mean, you got one guy who is a consummate professional and part time gambler who has an arm and partial face of a twin brother connected to his chest. Team him up with a greenhorn Elvis impersonator who goes by the name of Pelvis, and you have a misfit duo that can't help but get in each other's way. Both of these characters are revealed through the story and far more complex than your run of the mill antagonists. You get to liking Pelvis and even the professional bounty hunter, especially when they make it to a podunk bayou town that runs by its own set of laws, which is to say no law at all.

I'm not going to get into all of the characters, but they were well fleshed out and could have climbed out of the pages. Their motivations were justified by their varied pasts and the actions that set the whole shebang in motion. Every action has a reaction, that's for sure. As crazy as some of this book gets, it's plausible. Not once did I lose my suspension of disbelief.

Gone South is character driven fiction at its very best. This isn't horror, this is a southern fried crime thriller. The cherry on top is a fulfilling ending that brings the plot to completion with a bit of a twist that had me thinking about fate long after I was finished with the book.

Highly recommended especially if you like the twisty, turny plotting of Laymon and the oddball charm of Lansdale's Hap and Leonard books. I know my thoughts don;t get too deep, but I'm hoping that these posts will act as a sort of exercise in the way I consume and analyze fiction. Up next are my thoughts on Andrew Neiderman's Pin. See you soon!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Thoughts on A Choir of Ill Children

I am going to attempt to post some thoughts on every book I read this year. In addition, I am attempting to read one book per week. I'm a terribly slow reader, so this will be difficult. Audio books are our friends. This is the first book, and though it may seem I am behind, I have finished a second book and am halfway through books four and five. Right on track. These posts will be my thoughts, not reviews. I did reviews for SplatterpunkZine for a while and found that I'm not reviewer material. But I would like to share my thoughts, so here they are.

A Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli

I've read, or attempted to read, several Piccirilli novels. The Night Class was fantastic. I couldn't get into Dark Father. Hexes was a mess. A Choir of Ill Children, however . . . I'm not sure what to think. I liked it, but I didn't love it. Present tense always throws me, but I can get over that. The author did a great job with it, actually. The setting is just straight out weird, with all kinds of oddball characters that kept me thinking "what the fuck?!" Why did these people do what they did? What kind of weirdo town is this?

Honestly, I'm not even sure what the story was about. It was interesting enough to read through without trouble, but it was like some mirror world to this one where everyone has pretty much gone insane. Maybe magic had something to do with it. Maybe I'm just dense. I dunno. The book kind of felt like a sequel that would have been easier to digest having read this first one.

Over all, it was a worthy read, expertly written, funny at times, and constantly going down bizarre, unexpected paths. I have a feeling that a second read would clear things up for me, but I rarely read books twice.

Remember, I'm not a great reviewer. These are just my thoughts. Since I tend to read older books I figure YOU have probably already read this one, so getting a detailed review isn't necessary. Next up is Gone South by Robert R. McCammon. See you soon!