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Women are fascinating, and for a man, they’re also quite confusing. Because of this, one of the things I love in literature is when you’re handed insight into the mind of the opposite sex. It’s like being given a silver decoder ring, only now you have to figure out how to use it. (Yeah, there’s excitement in the unknowing, too, similar to putting together one of those monochrome puzzles.)
The story is told from the point of view of a peculiar girl named Scarborough (Scree to those who know her), who grows up on an apple orchard in Maine. Raised by her mom and stepdad, she has a rather mundane, if not comfortable, childhood. That is until a tragedy comes about (one that is ostensibly young Scree’s fault), leaving her one parent short. Scree comes to long for something other than what she has known her whole life. She feels trapped, and when her brother comes back, his girlfriend pregnant, Scree is dead set against that poor baby being confined in the same life she has been subjected to.
The girl saves up her money working at a restaurant, steals the child, and then flees, ending up in an odd yet opulent resort. It is here that the bulk of the tale takes place, as Scree is haunted by strange visions while she tries to learn to be happy, to find love, and make peace with her guilt.
This truly is a wonderful tale, completely feminine in the best of ways. Some might find the storytelling to be languid, or even meandering at times, but that’s only because Schoonover dives headlong into her character, letting the reader get to know Scree in an intimate way. We know her thoughts, her longings and fears, and since the story is told from her viewpoint, the clues as to what is actually happening are hidden in plain sight, beneath the miasma of Scree’s desires.
As I said earlier, this is an insightful novel. It might not be an illustration of all women (or girls, as the case may be), but in the specific instance of Scree, Schoonover manages to create a sort of everywoman, one who’s believable despite the fantastic situation she finds herself in. She’s a female character that isn’t simply a reflection of the men around her, one that indeed longs for love and affection yet also strives to become powerful and independent, and it is that inner struggle that drives the book’s plot. And the author also does something quite strange for a work of fiction such as this: the settings, even the previously mentioned ritzy resort she finds herself in, are presented in an ordinary, almost dreary manner. It is the character’s interactions and viewpoints that matter, what she makes of the setting rather than what the setting actually is, that gives it depth.
As you can plainly see, I adored this book…until the very end. At that point the author uses a writing convention that is tantamount to cheating in order to manipulate the reader’s view of the story being told. I hate to be vague about it, but to give away what happens in the very last section would be to give away the twist ending, which would be a shame. However, I was slightly disappointed when I came across this last bit, and felt it took a little of the power away from the tale. Which was a shame.
That being said, it didn’t dishearten me enough to alter my view of what came before. I still feel Bad Apple is a powerful and enlightening tale, and in the end, I think the author was painted into a corner by just how personal a story it is. Tell the tale in third person, and my problems with the ending disappear…yet at the same time, the intimacy of the first-person narrative is lost. It’s a no-win situation at best.
In closing, I give this book a hearty recommendation. There are worse sins an author can commit, such as telling a substandard story. And Bad Apple is certainly not that.
Shades of Lovecraft collects eight tales that are competent and thoughtful tributes to one of the genres founding fathers, heavy on influence and tentacles.
We begin with “Dead City.” After a flood, a town resident refuses to evacuate with most of the populace, he bonds with a strange old man as they realize this flood is merely a doorway to bigger, beastlier things.
“Ensnared” finds the crew of a fishing vessel in haunted waters, hauling in a catch they would have done better to have cut loose.
“The Shimmering” is a wonderful old-school adventure into the more science fiction side of Lovecraftian tributes. A man is the sole heir of his missing uncle’s estate. Upon moving in he makes odd discoveries through reading the volumes in the library. Then he notices bizarre lights in the woods, and upon exploring them finds that there are things much stranger than the lights out there.
All the stories in this collection are strong and well-written. But as it is with a lot of Lovecraft’s original work, they can get a little tedious. Rather, they don’t all resonate. The stories that left an impression, I singled out above; and while I didn’t mention the rest, it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy them.
With Shades of Lovecraft, Paul Melniczek delivers a lovingly rendered homage to one of the true masters of modern horror literature. Recommended.
After the Mississippi river floods leaves a majority of southern Missouri underwater, good ol’ boy David Miller sets out by boat to see if he can “be of any help” to the neighboring communities. After making his way through flooded fields and soggy streets, he finds himself in the odd little burg of Clayton.
Consisting of strange shacks built on stilts and a boardwalk all above the flood line, it’s like the residents of Clayton knew the flood was coming. David shores up and pays a visit to the town, but the pale and unfriendly denizens, with their glossy fish eyes and strange postures, unsettle him and he leaves.
It’s then that he encounters a couple who fill him in on the town’s ungodly history and their diabolical plan to bring about something this world has never seen—and will never survive.
The Smell of Cherries, by Jeffrey Goddin, is a short collection of horror tales. The ideas within are great, but they all seem to suffer from the same malady: They could have used some extra fleshing out.
Starting off with the titular tale, “The Smell Of Cherries,” we have the time-tested “new security guard on the night beat seeing weird shit” plot, mixed with a bit of the “government experiment gone wrong” trope. It ends abruptly and with little luster.
“Year of the Serpent” finds a truck driver reconnecting with an old buddy and his new girlfriend…who reminds him of a past lover. One long dead.
The third story and my favorite of the bunch is “Night Shoot.” A pair of cops respond to the report of a body being found down by the docks. They find a lot of strange things that don’t quite add up and soon wish they had ignored the call. Even though this story is a bit of a mess—plot points are flirted with and then not ever really expanded on—the vagueness sort of works. It’s more like an episode of a cheesy horror-anthology series than a story.
“The Pacific Club” is the final and strongest story in the book. A nice mystery, but one that reads a little too compacted.
As I said at the start, I think the main issue with this collection would be the cramped feel of the stories; they all hint to larger aspirations that went unrealized.
John Skipp has reviewed Shock Totem #6 on Fangoria’s website.
“[Jack] Ketchum and I are in firm agreement that Shock Totem is living proof that we’re in a golden age when it comes to the short horror story. Some of the best stories ever written are being written right now.”
Marta is a bitchy ball-buster who knows Felix will do anything for her. Although unsure of Marta’s plan to cross into Mexico to film a documentary about illegal immigrants, he agrees to help her, as Marta knew he would. She is also hoping to find out what happened to her parents, from whom she was separated as a little girl.
She plans to wear a tiny camera, set into a crucifix, around her neck, which will provide feedback to Felix’s computer.
After one of their frequent fights, Marta takes off into Mexico, leaving Felix behind. But Marta, while tough, is no match for the crazy family that kidnaps her before she can cross back into America. Not only do they want her to mate with the mentally-challenged but insanely strong son, they have kidnapped others who will provide meat for their taco stand.
Marta realizes this and is horrified because she had eaten at the stand earlier that day—yet she is also craving the forbidden food when its aroma envelops the house. She also has to fight for her life against the giant son, who is a wrestler—but he doesn’t go up against other wrestlers. His opponents are Mexicans trying to get to the border, and are no match for the brutality they find themselves trying to survive.
Felix realizes Marta is in danger and does everything he can to get to her. But will he be successful or sautéed?
This is extreme horror at its best. It’s suspenseful, nasty, and completely disgusting. I loved it. Shane McKenzie doesn’t pull his punches; he lets his readers have it without one shred of remorse.
Muerte Con Carne is another literary knife to the gut from a great author.
The Serial Killer trope is a hard one to crack. I mean, we’ve all seen hundreds of movies that have had hundreds of imitators…it’s like a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. With Hacks, Brian Knight delivers a gore-drenched love letter to the “stalker in the woods” corner or our horror estate. While not going above and beyond with originality, it makes up for it with strong characters and detailed plotting.
A fine young talent receives an invite to a prestigious retreat for writers. He is ecstatic and eager to attend, not only to hobnob with the elite of his field but to get away from the soon-to-be ex-wife and her unabashed bitchiness.
Once there, the body count starts to rise.
As I mentioned earlier, the plot is fairly cookie-cutter stuff. Where Knight shines is with his rich character portrayals—most of which are based on actual writers I would wager. The writing is strong and the pacing excellent.
Writing is about entertaining the reader. If you can do that, you can’t ask for more. Knight does that with Hacks, and he does it well.
I had no idea what to expect with Bleeding the Vein. The back cover synopsis was cryptic and the artwork strange. I was also unfamiliar with author T.G. Arsenault.
So I shrugged and dove in.
Eddie Townsend used to be a Naval Officer who fell for a Filipino stripper on his first tour of duty. In exchange for sex, Eddie is drawn into an ever escalating quid-pro-quo, with her demands growing more and more bizarre. When he finally makes the discovery that this woman isn’t even human, he has to kill her.
Now, Eddie Townsend is an alcoholic and shambling joke in his home town, spoken of in hushed tones or behind cupped palms.
A vile stench begins to waft about the village. A smell of death and rot. Then strange things happen to the pregnant ladies of Shadow Creek. Things Eddie recognizes. Things Eddie thought couldn’t happen. Not again, anyway.
Arsenault delivers a truly original take on the “evil in a small town” trope, giving us a fresh creature to skulk in our nightmares. I’m not going to spoil it by giving it’s name or origins, but I was compelled to Google it after completion.
Bleeding the Vein is a good old-fashioned horror novel. A small town, its people, and an evil monster. Classic!
After reading Erik Williams’ chapbook, The Reverend’s Powder, I was sold. His lean prose and vicious brutality made me smile and wince at the same time. So when Gallows Press sent me a box of books to review, and I saw his name among them, his was the first to be read.
Progeny concerns sort-of-private detective Frank Baldwin, who does stuff for money. Not handjobs in the bus-station men’s room kind of stuff. He finds people and things for a fee. When he’s hired by a man to locate his missing daughter, a pop megastar, and return her to him for $100,000, it seems too good to be true.
Baldwin uses his familiarity with Tijuana to his advantage but soon discovers that this case is nothing like he expected. Nothing is what it initially seems. The missing girl seems tethered to a vicious death cult, nightmares that could be prophetic, and a terrifying arachnoid god.
If I had any qualms at all with this novel it would be that it’s too short. I wanted more. I hope to read more of Erik’s work. He definitely has the goods.
I have long been a fan of all things cryptozoological—along with UFOs, treasure hunting, archeology, and just about every other “nerdist” pursuit one could think of in the realm of mystery. But cryptozoology, the study of “hidden animals,” is the one I find most interesting, as it refers to the search for undiscovered—though quite possibly nonexistent—animals such as Bigfoot, Loch Ness, Champ, and the chupacabra.
Animals that could very well be—and indeed in some cases likely are—lurking in our own backyards.
Around my hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts, we have the Bridgewater Triangle, an area of about 200 square miles that encompasses the Hockomock Swamp (Hockomock meaning the “place where spirits dwell”). For centuries it has been the location of UFO and Bigfoot sightings, as well as giant birds and mysterious lights. There have been reports of ghosts, of Satanic rituals being performed. Though I’ve not witnessed anything out of the norm in the triangle—and I’ve looked—it has nonetheless fascinated me since childhood.
The small town of Fouke, Arkansas, has been that place of fascination and mystery for many people, as well, specifically musician and author Lyle Blackburn. And his first book, The Beast of Boggy Creek: The True Story of the Fouke Monster, is a testament to this.
Lyle Blackburn is probably best known as Count Lyle, lead singer/guitarist for the gothabilly horror-punk band Ghoultown. But he’s also a damn good writer, and The Beast of Boggy Creek showcases this.
The book attempts to compile the complete history behind the legendary cryptid known as the Fouke Monster, from possible sightings in centuries past to more modern-day sightings, specifically the 1971 sightings that sparked the backwoods legend we now know as the Fouke Monster. Obviously it covers the classic horror film, The Legend of Boggy Creek, in depth, as would be expected, but it goes beyond that.
Peppered throughout The Beast of Boggy Creek are detailed eye-witness accounts, collected theories, a chronicle of sightings of “hairy bipedal man-ape creatures within 50 miles of Fouke” (though not a comprehensive list of all sightings, as that alone would take up an entire book itself, if not more). There are also personal anecdotes from the author, maps, illustrations, photos, and an exhaustive bibliography for the would-be crypto-geek.
This is a detailed and engrossing history lesson, one that could only have been written by someone with a passion for the subject matter and the inherent mysteries that surround cryptozoology. Perhaps the best thing about this book, however, is not that it is such a comprehensive look at the Fouke Monster, but that it is presented as a compelling, personal story. Lyle Blackburn doesn’t just give you the details in a stale, here-are-the-facts manner, as is often the case with similar works of nonfiction; he presents it all as if he were on stage with Ghoultown—it’s a show, it’s entertainment, and for all intents and purposes, it’s real.
Whether you’re a hardened believer, a skeptic, or something in between, The Beast of Boggy Creek is a highly recommended and entertaining read.
And if you want more, check out Lyle’s Monstro Bizarro column over at the Rue Morgue website for additional crypto reads.
A short clip of Lyle’s appearance on Discovery Channel’s new series, Monsters & Mysteries in America“
This review originally appeared in Shock Totem #5, July 2012.