Tag Archives: Review

The City

“My name is Jonah Ellington Basie Hines Eldridge Wilson Hampton Armstrong Kirk. From as young as I can remember, I loved the city. Mine is a story of love reciprocated. It is the story of loss and hope, and of the strangeness that lies just beneath the surface tension of daily life, a strangeness infinite fathoms in depth.”

Thus begins The City. Jonah Kirk is a musical child prodigy growing up in the sixties, and here he tells about “the dark times” of his life. Estranged from his father, he is nonetheless surrounded by love in the form of his mother and grandparents. Over the course of the narrative he also builds strong relationships with Malcolm Pomerantz and his sister Amalia, Mr. George Yoshioka who lives in an apartment on the floor above Jonah and his mother, and of course Miss Pearl who claims to be the personification of the city itself. He also is threatened by dangerous people after having apparently prophetic dreams. As Jonah’s story progresses, he works to figure out what these people are up to, and what he can do to stop them while protecting those he cares about.

As a long-time fan of Dean Koontz, I looked forward to reading this latest release. His prose is beautiful and evocative, and some of the characters come right off the page. I was particularly taken with Mr. Yoshioka, a man with his own painful past and secrets to keep, yet who is unfailingly kind and patient. There are parts of the book where I was totally caught up, which is something I expect from a Koontz novel. However, unlike most books from this talented author, I had a really difficult time getting into the story. The beginning is almost painfully slow, and there are sections throughout that lagged. I would also add that the supernatural element that I have come to expect was almost nonexistent here.

The end is a true end, tying up the various threads of the story, and it did evoke an emotional response from me. But this is the only Koontz book I’ve ever read where I had to make myself keep reading, and that’s a disappointment. There are some readers who I’m certain will absolutely love The City, but it didn’t quite meet my high expectations.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Mr. Mercedes

Stephen King is definitely the Alfred Hitchcock of the literary world. It’s likely he could take an inner city phone book and turn it into a riveting novel. Mr. Mercedes isn’t a phone book, but it sure as hell ranks up there with some of Hitchcock’s greatest hits. In fact, one might say that Mr. Mercedes is King’s Psycho.

King rocks the suspense/thriller genres here. Taking a step away from the deeply supernatural fare he’s known for, he proves that he is, without doubt, one of the world’s top writers. That he continues to come up with fresh material and interesting stories is further testament to his prowess. But he doesn’t leave the horror out, either. In fact, there’s one scene that will be impossible to get out of my head, probably for the rest of my life.

Mr. Mercedes tells the story of retired cop, Bill Hodges, who has taken to heavy drinking and flirting with suicide night after night since he left the force. Before he left, there was one particular unsolved case that haunted him, and continues to do so months and years later. An unknown subject stole a Mercedes and rammed it into a crowd of hundreds of local unemployed people, killing eight and injuring many others. The perpetrator was never caught, and that is what bothers Hodges the most. When the killer reaches out and taunts Hodges in the hopes of pushing the overweight cop past the mental tipping point, it instead revives Hodges’ passion, and renews his intent to take Mr. Mercedes down, even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

Hodges sets out to bring a killer to justice, and in the process manages to fall in love and care about not only himself, but others as well. Especially his estranged daughter, whose absence from his life is one of his greatest failures. Now though, he seeks redemption, and believes he can only find it by catching the murderer. Along the way, Hodges gathers an odd, ragtag team of crime solvers: a school-aged neighbor kid who happens to be somewhat of a genius, and a bipolar woman who turns out to be an incredible asset, despite her mental challenges. This latter character might remind you of Chloe from 24. In another comparison, this team is very much like characters from The Drawing of the Three, volume two in King’s epic Dark Tower series. In young Jerome we find shades of Odetta, and in bipolar Holly we find pieces of Eddie Dean, the young heroin addict.

The antagonist, on the other hand, is one of the creepier King has ever put on paper. One might compare him to Pennywise the Clown, only without the makeup and killer smile. However, Pennywise’s evil intent is alive and thriving here. There’s even a vague reference in this book, as well as nods to several other King books.

Without giving anything away, it’s worth your while to take your time with this book, in spite of the overwhelming urge you’ll likely experience to zip through to the stunning conclusion as quickly as possible. King handles tension and horror as masterfully as ever and his character development is in tremendous form. We find ourselves rooting for the underdog protagonists, despite the many mistake both sides make that puts everyone’s lives in peril.

Mr. Mercedes is available in hardcover through Scribner and is the first in a trilogy centered on the murders that take place in this first episode. Finders Keepers, the second volume, is slated to be released in early 2015.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red

Let me start by saying that I’m an animal lover. In particular, a dog lover. I have had dogs in my life off and on since early childhood, and currently have two that I spend most days with (and fight over bed-space at night). So I will tell you now, this was a hard read.

Don’t get me wrong. Red is a relatively short novel, originally published in 1995. The writing is not difficult, in fact it’s deceptively smooth and pulled me in within just a few paragraphs. But the subject matter is, for me, quite painful. This is the kind of horror story that makes me uneasy, not just because I became emotionally involved with the characters, but because this is the everyday horror that is seen all around us. There are no ghosts, no boogeyman, no mutated alien creatures or even the walking undead. This is a story of casual human cruelty, written from the point of view of a man who has already weathered many tragedies in his life.

Avery Ludlow is in his sixties, living in a house filled with memories—both good and bad—and the dog his wife had given him for his fifty-third birthday. Then one day three boys interrupt him by the river where he’s fishing. He can smell the gun oil on their brand-new shotgun, and knows immediately that these aren’t hunters. They’re rich kids who don’t care about the river and the fish or the old man and his old dog. And just out of boredom and spite, and a terrifying sense of entitlement, they shoot the dog.

This is the beginning of the story, of the loss of the dog, Red, and what Avery determines he must do to make things right. There is no flowery language or drawn-out descriptions to be had here, but I was swiftly immersed in the simple quiet beauty of this man’s life, and brought to tears by the terrible things he had to endure.

I am glad that I was cautioned (by several people) about the subject matter of this novel. But even more, I am glad that I read it. I would whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone. It is an amazing tale of love and remembrance, about a man who would certainly be worth knowing.

Jack Ketchum is a Bram Stoker Award winning author, the 2011 World Horror Convention Grand Master, and winner of the Best Screenplay Award at the prestigious Sitges Film Festival in Germany for The Woman.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Butcher’s Road

Set in 1932, Lee Thomas’s stunning and tragic novel, Butcher’s Road, manages to mix gang warfare, small-time criminals, and alchemy into a heady cocktail of darkly sinister whodunnit the likes of which I hadn’t read in some time.

It is the story of Butch Cardinal, a small-time hood, who never mixes in the big nasty stuff—until the day he becomes an unwitting pawn in a strange and brutal shell game, where the red rubber ball is in fact an occult article that can provide a powerful service. Butch, a former wrestler, is forced to run and not trust anyone or anything to be as it seems.

Along the way, Thomas gives us a fantastic cast of characters: the aforementioned Butch, a deep and flawed man, living most of his life in a cloak if denial and shadows of guilt. Rabin, a hit man like no other you’ve ever encountered, so brutal in his craft I kept waiting for him to break out a dental drill and ask if it was safe. Hollis, another former wrestler and club owner who provides solace and an anchor for Butch when the wasters get rough. You will meet the “Alchemi,” a mysterious group of men with special talents who are also after Butch. These well-drawn folks and lots more can be found in Butcher’s Road, as they weave in and out of the grimy neighborhoods and suburban crime-boss estates, seedy hotels, and damp alleys.

From Chicago to New Orleans, Butcher’s Road is a long and winding road, unpaved and rough at times…but what a satisfying journey it is.

Butcher’s Road is available from Lethe Press.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chasing the Sandman: Tales of the Macabre

There are times when a reader wants a great short story collection that can be digested in small bites, like nibbling on a favorite food, not wanting to finish. Unlike novels, which demand a commitment that sometimes cannot be fulfilled due to poor writing, inconsistent storytelling, or myriad technical errors, none of those holds true for Brandon Meyers’ Chasing the Sandman: Tales of the Macabre. As a self-published book (generally a red flag for those seeking professional writing), Sandman did have some technical errors and awkward imagery, but the incredibly imagined tales are so engrossing and frightening, it’s difficult not to read it right through.

Rarely does short fiction cause me nightmares. However, the opening story, “Graveyard Shift,” not only gave me a horrible case of the heebie-jeebies, but stayed with me for weeks afterward and chased me in my sleep. When police officer Mickey O’Houlihan investigates a suspicious sighting during a much-needed cigarette break, he finds far more than he could ever imagine. Whatever you do, don’t think of spiders the size of wild boars. Meyers really knows how to set the tension and push it higher and higher, and that admirable skill is quite evident here. Rarely do I use trite phrases like “edge of your seat,” but in this case it truly fits. No wasted ideas, no underused moments. For this story alone, it’s worth the price.

“A View of the Top” pits brother and sister against a sadistic sort while they attempt to find their way through a hedge maze. Reminiscent of the maze in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, this is a wicked little story that will make you think twice before entering that corn maze next Halloween.

“Spirit House” telegraphs its ending far in advance, but the writing holds you to the page, and that’s the mark of a great storyteller, especially when it leaves you wanting more. For comic-book fans, you’ll adore “1st Appearance,” an incredibly creative tale, weaving in a unique twist on the power of comic books. “Into the Deep” is a tidy tale in which chance plays a big role in the actions of two men who find themselves in an unexpected place in unexpected conditions, despite their best laid plans.

In all, there are twenty-one darkly humorous and imaginatively frightening tales in this collection, and the greatest shortcoming is that many of the stories are just too darned short. The characterization and storytelling is adept and intriguing, and the creativity is stunningly original.

Perhaps the most admirable trait of this collection is its consistency. Meyers brings a definite tongue-in-cheek sensibility to his writing, though doesn’t overuse it. Chasing the Sandman harkens back to the pulp era, when one could buy a magazine for a nickel or a dime and expect to be scared witless by stories from H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Lawrence Bloch, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Heinlein and others. And there are definite winks and nods to these authors, as well as Stephen King and more modern dark fiction. Meyers may not be of that caliber (yet), but the foundation is laid for future writing, and I, for one, am definitely looking forward to it.

Chasing the Sandman is available through Amazon in paperback and digital formats.

Myers also maintains a web-comic, A Beer for the Shower, with collaborative writing partner Bryan Pedas, which displays his agile wit and humor to an advantage, and gives fans access to his talent on a regular basis.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Captured Souls

Everybody wants the perfect mate. But how far would you go to make sure that happens?

Miriam Frederick is a university professor who has figured out a way to find that special someone with science. She uses her sexuality to lure three different men to her home, trapping them in rooms specially designed for them. The first man is a writer, and Miriam sets him up with all the trappings a writer would need. The second, an athlete, and the third, an Adonis. All have been given everything they could ever want or need—except their freedom. They also don’t realize they have been “wired” and everything they do is recorded by Miriam.

As Miriam plays with her lovers, trying to make them into the perfect man, she decides to add a woman to the mix. But can she compete?

Captured Souls, by Sephera Giron, reminded me a lot of John Fowles’s The Collector, updated for the Information Age. However, whereas Frederick in The Collector is more obsessed with his subject, he only wants Miranda to love him. Miriam, on the other hand, is not looking for love so much as she wants control over her subjects, and needs them at her beck and call.

I have read Sephera Giron’s books before, and enjoyed them. This is no exception. Erotic, yet creepy, Captured Souls is fascinating. Can someone be happy with everything they could possibly want if denied their freedom? Would a writer be able to thrive in that kind of environment better than an athlete or someone obsessed with their own beauty? How long could you conduct such an experiment before it crumbles around you?

I was hooked on this book after the first few chapters. I enjoyed the diary form of the story, and the characters were interesting to watch in how they dealt with their new lives. The professor’s growing stress and anger at her captives is palpable in the writing.

This is a book you don’t want to miss! Captured Souls is available through Samhain Publishing.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wicked Seasons: The Journal of New England Horror Writers, Volume II

Typically I shy away from short fiction collections unless I see the name King or Gaiman or some other major league writer on the cover in large letters. So to say that I approached Wicked Seasons: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers, Volume II, with trepidation is an understatement. However, what a treat it turned out to be, especially for this horror-loving writer and reader.

I was immediately engrossed (and a bit grossed out) by the stories presented in this annual collection. There’s not a lot here that one might label traditional horror, though the stories are definitely spooky, humorous, eerie and twisted. More akin to old episodes of Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents or Tales from the Darkside. The thread of suspense and bizarre is definitely on display. However, every wicked story is right at home in this collection, and fit nicely into the breeding ground of dark fiction that is New England.

Wicked Seasons is edited by Stacey Longo and contains stories from Rob Smales, Scott Goudsward, Kristy Peterson Schoonover, Catherine Grant, Christopher Golden, and James A. Moore, to name a few. The collection does not stumble in presenting the strange, macabre, or downright grisly. You’ll not find the monsters and aliens of stories that might have appeared in the fifties or sixties in this anthology, but monsters of the more or less human kind.

Catherine Grant’s “Three Fat Guys Soap” is just such a story, in which a strange and horrific method of making soap becomes a stunning act of revenge, and is immensely satisfying for anyone who has ever been bullied by their boss.

“Blood Prophet,” by Scott T. Goudsward, is another example of the horror of humanity in which child abuse and religious dementia play a center stage role, and makes the ending all the more satisfying.

Christopher Golden brings us “The Secret Backs of Things,” which brings to mind Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s a puzzle in which events are merely hinted at, leaving the reader to figure the rest out.

“The Basement Legs,” by Robert J. Duperre, tells about a man who comes to the defense of a young, pregnant Filipino woman who lives in his apartment building. Duperre earns kudos here for bringing a whole new meaning to your local UPS service.

Kristi Petersen Schoonover writes “To Chance Tomorrow,” a cautionary story about science’s role in our lives, and the dubious changes it provides for our future, but at what cost?

If it’s hauntings that scare you, Addison Clift’s “Furious Demon” is a deliciously creepy tale of a woman’s dead father coming back to haunt her and who very well may have molested her when she was a child.

Rob Smales’s “A Night at the Show” and Errick A. Nunnally’s “Lycanthrobastards” are dark werewolf tales that provide surprising departures from standard fare, with fantastic results.

The Wicked Seasons table of contents also includes Trisha J. Wooldridge, Lucien E.G. Spelman, Michael J. Evans, Paul McMahon, and Gregory L. Norris—all very entertaining and chilling reads. For someone who doesn’t often read anthologies, Wicked Seasons exceeded all expectations and converted this reader to seeking out other, similar collections. Also, don’t miss the introduction from Jeff Strand. It’s as entertaining as the central stories.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

White

White is a British Fantasy Award-winning novella by Tim Lebbon, originally published in 1999 and now the debut release under his very own Dreaming In Fire Press. The setting is Cornwall, where a group of people are holed up in a manor after the ostensible end of the world. Two of the characters have been stationed here to “keep a check on the radiation levels in the Atlantic Drift, since things had gone to shit in South America and the dirty reactors began to melt down in Brazil.”

The other characters are friends, lovers, or acquaintances who are now more or less trapped together. After losing contact with the outside world when television and radio go silent and the phones stop working, they spend their time dealing with the uncertainty of survival in their own ways. Meanwhile, it is snowing. It snows every night, and by the time they decide it might be in their best interest to travel to the nearest village for news and help, it is already impossible to get through the deep snow.

This is a tale that is grounded in the characters reactions, to their predicament and to each other. And as they find themselves confined to a small section of the manor that they can keep heated, living on the remains of food stored in the pantry, and uncertain of what is going on with civilization as a whole, they are handed another dilemma. There is something outside in the cold, something moving at the periphery of vision, only half seen and terrifying because of it. And then those who have spoken of seeing something out there in the snow begin to die. Ripped apart and left as red splatter in the pure white, they are a warning of what’s to come.

Included with this re-release of White is a short story, “Kissing at Shadows,” which first appeared in Cemetery Dance #36. This is another take on post-apocalyptic survival. Where White is definitely horror, “Kissing” is more of a love story and centers on a man who makes a solitary annual journey to visit his wife. Regardless of the obvious dangers, and the fact that his daughter begs him not to go, he has a promise to keep. A quick, immersive read, and yet quite touching.

I really enjoyed both of these tales, and would certainly recommend them. White is available through Dreaming in Fire Press.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

American Elsewhere

Mona Bright, ex-cop turned drifter, learns, years after her mother’s death, that she has inherited her mother’s house (which she didn’t know existed) and that it’s located in a town called Wink, New Mexico.  And as far as she can determine, Wink doesn’t exist.  Not on any map, and not as far as the people she asks knows, which only serves to make her ever more curious about her mother, her mother’s past, and why Wink is such a well-kept secret.

Already adrift in her life after the death of her unborn child, Mona is presented with a rare opportunity to learn the truth about her mother, who seemed to become a completely different person without reason nor cause, slowly, it seemed, submitting to a bizarre form of insanity.  Mona goes in search of her own past and hoping, in the process, to solve the riddle of her life.

Never has the cautionary adage of “be careful what you wish for” been more appropriate than in Mona’s case.  Because Wink, which may or may not exist in our current reality, is full of things that can drive any person lip-smacking, drool-spewing insane.  But the town also holds all the answers that Mona wants to—needs to—discover.  But what price is she willing pay?

Robert Jackson Bennett is a masterful l writer of unclassifiable fiction. Is American Elsewhere science fiction, fantasy, or  horror?    Is it a crime novel, a mystery, or satire?  Is it an allegory of insular life in small town America, a commentary on the intolerance of outsiders? A send-up of the illusory wholesomeness of small town life? Perhaps American Elsewhere is all of these things, and none of them.  Bennett’s prose style wavers between sparse and direct, never shying away from the gore and uglier elements that horror encompasses, while at other times tends toward hyperbole and over-expositing, with the potential of losing his readers through the lengthy trek of its 600-plus pages.

However, the individual elements make an excellent story, if the length isn’t too daunting for the average reader.  Horror blends well with science fiction, which blends well with the human drama woven throughout, which again blends well with the horror.  And while we’re shown the enemy and learn to despise them, we also invest in their pain because of how they’ve become that way.

At the center of it all, is Mona’s quest for truth.

Like the original Twilight Zone series, the story has an affinity for small towns and the monsters behind the masks.  When Mona begins to suspect that there’s a lot more going on, she wants to flee but instead gets sucked into learning everything she can.  Because somewhere in all that strangeness and bizarre discoveries is the mother she thought she knew and tried to love.

Mona herself, written as the protagonist, is difficult to invest in at first.  She’s standoffish, rebellious, and sarcastic.  Her role as a former police officer sometimes felt more like a convenience that was whipped out whenever it suited the plot.  Otherwise, she did not act or behave like a police officer, former or not.  There are sections where suspension of  disbelief is necessary, but the story is able to overcome those issues.

Bennett’s prose tends to meander in places and depicts confusing events, but once we choose to invest in the characters and their stories, there is a tremendous payoff.  To say that the ending is more than a little surprising would be an understatement.

With strong echoes of H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub and Clive Barker, American Elsewhere may not be a traditional read, but it is thoroughly entertaining, and will like satisfy fans of dark fiction, horror and science fiction.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Alien: Out of the Shadows

I can honestly say that my favorite scary movie is Alien. I was blown away by the sequel, Aliens, as well. So I was very excited to hear about the release of Alien: Out of the Shadows, by Tim Lebbon, an official canon novel that takes place in the interim between those two movies.

First and foremost—Ripley. She is smart, strong, brave and bad-ass. She is also scared, filled with survivor’s guilt, and humanly flawed. She is one of my favorite heroines, and this book gives you the opportunity to get to know her better.

The basic premise of the book is that Ripley’s EEV is picked up by a mining operation ship in orbit around yet another deadly, inhospitable planet. While mining for trimonite, a rare and sought after mineral, the miners stumble onto another ancient derelict spaceship. Besides the dead and petrified remnants of those who had once flown this ship and the ruins of an advanced culture where the ship crashed, they also find the preserved alien eggs that started the havoc in the first movie.

This is a fairly fast-paced story, and a lot of people die—badly. There is a lot of tension, and the feeling of holding your breath as you hurry to find out what happens next. I was a little worried about how it was going to end (without fundamentally altering Ripley or anything that happens at the beginning of the second movie) and still be able to get caught up with the action and characters. Turns out I didn’t have to worry. While I might wish that some things could have turned out differently, I wouldn’t want to change the continuing story.

It’s my understanding that there will be two more official tie-in novels released this year, and based on this first one I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting them all. I would definitely suggest this to any fans of the Alien universe.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments