Sunday, June 25, 2017

Horror and decadence.

The Fetishists

A. S. Coomer


Publisher: Grindhouse Press

Pub. Date: February 19, 2017

Rating: 4 & 1/2 out of 5 stars


If you're looking for a triple X rated horror thriller, you have come to the right place. In The Fetishists Jefferson Wellman, a well to do lawyer, is into the sadistic and decadent and will pay anything to get what he wants. He is told about a company that may be able to get him what he wants though a live evening fetish auction. It is no spoiler to say he ends up with more than he bargained for.

But if this was just a gratuitous kinky horror exploitation novel , I wouldn't be typing this. We start with a chapter titled "Now" (the morning after the auction) which then switches to the "previous evening" giving teasingly alternating looks at the results and the precipitating events. There was a bit of an expectancy for a Twilight Zone comeuppance tale at first, due to the main character's immensely dislikable personality, but that goes away as our protagonist is led deeper down the rabbit hole. The novel becomes pure horror and dread going instead for a very bleak journey into terror featuring body horror and issues of control, both mental and physical. This is one of those novels that is as uncomfortable as it is riveting and that is not an easy balance.

If I have an issue with the book, that is where it is, The humanist in me wants it to have some balancing moral ending . The evil in the tale is over-powering and I wanted a wrap-up that left me thinking evil doesn't always conquer. Despite my better judgement, I want it to be a moral tale. Yet the horror literature aficionado in me is mesmerized by that very evil and I have to constantly remind myself that this is just a book. Sometimes you have to read a novel the way the author intends it and, to be frank, I doubt A. S. Coomer was going for puppies and kittens here. He wrote a dark book drowning in nihilism and terror and that is what the reader gets.

At this point, I don't think i need to warn you that The Fetishists is not for everyone. I even hesitate to call it erotic horror. But if you are the type that enjoy their horror on the kinky and bleakly dark side, then you will probably love this. At the very least, you will enjoy the brilliant writing skills of a questionably sane writer who has the cojones to put something like this on paper.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A new start yet far away...

The Space Between the Stars

Anne Corlett


Publisher: Berkley

Pub. Date: June 13, 2017

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars


Anne Corlett's The Space Between the Stars is full of some beautiful writing. The challenge is figuring out what type of beautiful writing it is.

Jamie is one of the very few people left alive after a space-wide pandemic. She may be the only person alive in her space colony of ten thousand people and she has no idea if anyone else has survived. Earth in the past has been over-populated and the colonies were mainly populated by those who were compelled to resettle. Jamie was one of the few who volunteered, wanting to leave an unfulfilling relationship and looking for her own "space". Now her only thought is to return to Earth and hope against hope the man she left is still alive.

As it turns out, there are other survivors and they make a plan to return to earth. The small crew makes up a microcosm of reasons for returning. There are also others who do not want the survivors to return to Earth for their own reasons ranging from the political to social to personal. The trip to earth and what they find is pretty much the vehicle for the novel but the meat of the plot is found in the motives and expectation of Jamie and the others on the journey.

This all make for a rather introverted space journey. there are several discussions of a philosophical nature on whether expectations of a future are futile or not and basically about what the heck they are doing anyways.. Jamie gets a surprise that causes her to rethink her reasons for going back to earth then strengthens and re-frames them. Jamie is a big "if" in this novel. She embodies a will and purpose yet some may think that purpose as rather selfish and naive. She wavers between selfish and wise and I believe that is how the author wants her to be seen. There are no real heroes and villains here just a group of people struggling physically and psychologically in a Homeric journey through space.

And like most Homeric journeys, the author is portraying and exploring a few existential struggles in life along with it. But perhaps the venue is a bit wrong. Or maybe it's the marketing. The Space Between the Stars isn't really that much of either a science fiction novel or post-apocalyptic one although it is hyped as both in the promotional spin. Science fiction fans are bound to be disappointed in the simplicity of the idea and a distinct lack of world-building. Those who would like the literary drama of the story, which I feel is its strength, will be off put by the space adventure aspects. Essentially the epidemic and the colony aspects is a McGuffin and in that, some readers may feel a bit cheated. To add on to that, The other characters do not really flesh out all that well feeling like bit players in a B-science fiction movie when you want Ibsen.

It's unfortunate since Corlett has a story to tell here and the climatic ending brings much of it together emotionally . If The Space Between the Stars finds its audience they should be quite pleased with it. I'm just not sure who that is.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trick and treat

The Halloween Children

Brian James Freeman & Norman Prentiss


Publisher: Hydra

Pub. Date: June 13, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



Halloween in June? I guess so. This eerie Halloween tale which is a bit on the nasty side is being published in its first trade appearance this summer. It seems a little early but since Christmas is now getting celebrated beginning in October, I guess we can start Halloween a little early. In fact after reading this, it may be a wise idea.

Not that the timing matters. A good horror story is welcomed any time of year. Brian James Freeman and Norman Prentiss has written a neat little horror novel in The Halloween Children and any time is a good time to celebrate. The plot centers around the Naylor family and set just before Halloween. Harris is the maintenance man for the Stillbrook apartment complex where he and his family lives. His wife Lynn works at home while their two children, Matt and Amber are basically just typical children. Yet there is a dark side developing around the complex and the Naylor family has edges around them are just do not add up and may feed into that darkness. Matt and Lynn bicker about how to discipline the children and it is clear that mom and dad has favorites. Amber is telling weird stories that Lynn cannot believe are coming from her daughter and Harris has a disturbing way of teaching Matt how to take care of Amber's habit of putting her toys on his side of the room. On top of this there are odd and spooky things going on throughout the apartments: loud noises above their apartment from someone the children name Mr. Stompy, strange smells, and to add to the problem, the manager has cancelled the Halloween party. Let's just say this will not end well.

There are all the bells and whistles that make for a good and creepy Halloween tale but what makes this above average is the characterizations of the Naylor family. They seem average yet not quite together. The alternating chapters give first person narrations for both Harris and Lynn. We get a ongoing narrative with the advantage of seeing both persons' perception of what is going on and that gives us the tension. Which side is correct? Are either side giving us anything close to the truth? When odd and scary things happen, we wonder the same thing Harris is wondering, is he crazy or are people, or things, really out to get him? We do not get an answer until the end and that answer may not answer all our questions. But at the same time, it sets up a nice Halloween legend that fits into the story and the holiday.

So if you want to start Halloween a little early this is a good place to start. There is all the creepiness and haunting phenomena you can hope for. But whatever you do, don't cancel Halloween!

Friday, June 9, 2017

It came from the comic book ads

Just Add Water

Hunter Shea


Publisher: Lyrical Underground 

Pub. Date: June 13, 2017

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars


Hunter Shea is my go-to guy for monster stories. He writes them so well. If you are looking for urban legend creatures, monsters from the deep. animal lab experiments gone forth, or pretty much any type of creature you can name, he has you covered. But in Just Add Water he brings forth a rather violence and gruesome fiend from an unusual source. One that you baby boomers will certainly recognize with a bit of nostalgia.

Remember those ads in the comic book for sea monkeys? They were actually sneakily named brine shrimp. In real life, they never looked as good as the cartoon drawing meant to sell them. Yet many a kid was taken in only to get little ugly specks and muddy water. In Just Add Water, David and Patrick answers a similar comic book ad for Amazing Sea Serpents. Nothing happens, the water smells, and they end up dumping it down the toilet. Yet something does happen once the shit hits the sewer, so to speak. Eventually the sea serpents grow up and come back. That is when all the flesh ripping and eating begins.

There is a reason for these creatures and we do eventually get an explanation. but as it is in the best storytelling, the fun is getting there. While all Hunter Shea novels are fun this one seem slightly tongue-in-cheek, kind of Spielbergian 80s teen tongue-in-cheek. David and Patrick rules the day as they battle the creatures and leave the adults behind scratching their heads, as least the ones who survive. Just Add Water, despite some violence of the killer monster variety, is quick, comic book gruesome, and roller coastery. Maybe too quick. It is short at under 100 pages and in need of some fleshing out, no pun intended. But as just plain monster fun, it works. You might want to find a longer Hunter Shea novel to get the idea of what he really can do but if this one comes your way, grab it and enjoy it.

Note: It appears Just Add Water is the first of a series called Mail Order Massacres featuring horrors based on those funky comic books ads. The next one will be Optical Delusion and I already preordered it. That may give you an idea how much fun I found the first installment.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Murakami's best short fiction collection to date

Men Without Women: Stories

Haruki Murakami

 

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


To begin this review, I would like to feature a quote from one of Haruki Murakami's earlier novels, South of the Border, West of the Sun...
"Rain falls and the flowers bloom. No rain, they wither up. Bugs are eaten by the lizards, lizards are eaten by the birds. But in the end, every one of them dies. They die and dry up. One generation dies and the next one takes over. That's how it goes. Lots of different ways to live. And lots of different ways to die But in the end that doesn't make a bit of difference. All that remains in a desert."

Life is basically a desert, Murakami muses. But Murakami sees oases occasionally springing up that gives us some meaning if to only ourselves. Sometimes they are mirages but even mirages leaves memories. I believe he sees that hint of meaning mainly in relationships, especially the relationship between man and woman.

In Men without Women: Stories, Murakami's superlative thematic short fiction collection, we are introduced to men who are alone for different reasons in their lives. Some unintentionally and some by design. Some are divorced and some are widowed, and some never really found that oasis. Even when they do, it may be fraught with mystery and pitfalls. Each tale features a man who is either telling his story, or relating one of another, and ruminating over the haunting encounter,. These are tales that may seem simplistic but derives meaning from their relation to our own lives and struggle. Each of the seven pieces of fiction are excellent examples of storytelling and psychological drama of the most subtle kind. With the exception of one, maybe two, there is none of the author's magical realism and their points may fly by the reader only to be caught after the reading is well contemplated.

"Drive My Car" is about an actor who hired a female driver to transport him around the city. His wife has passed away and it first appears like the plot will focus on the man's relationship with his driver. But that soon changes as he tells his driver about his wife, her affairs and his attempt to discover why she had affairs when he maneuvers a friendship with one of her ex-lovers. It is a good example how Murakami can make strong emotions and regrets almost conversationally reflective.

In "Yesterday", Kitaru suggests that his friend Tanimura go out with his girl friend. It is Kitaru's strange solution to his concern that Tanimura has not had a girlfriend in a long time. Again, what would go off in one way for the conventional writer ends up in a study of Kitaru rather than the bewildered and slightly hapless Tanimura. The end reflects a common ploy in much of Murakami's works in that the resolution of the story comes with a reunion of the characters many years in the future when distances reveals meaning.

"An independent Organ" is another tale where the main narrator is telling the story of a Dr. Tokai, one of those individuals whose relationship with women is constructed in affairs and brief encounters. Tokai is a bit of a suave scoundrel who finally falls in love with tragic consequences. It is the most beautiful tale of the collection in my opinion.

"Scheherazade" is about a man who cannot go outside for reasons that are not made clear. He is given a "helper" who becomes his lover and tells him stories after their lovemaking. In typical Murakami style, her stories become sort of a confession that give insight to both the teller and the listener.

Is "Kino" magical realism? I'm not really sure. This story about a man who opens a bar and gets a odd regular is rather mysterious. The woman/man connection is very vague here mostly referring to how Kino finds a purpose after the end of his marriage. It is also the only story in which a cat plays a role. This may be a strange thing to say if you haven't read much Murakami. The Murakami fans will know what I am talking about.

"Samsa in Love" is a play on Kafka as an insect wakes up and find himself transformed into Gregor Samsa. The transformation seems rather pointless to the new Samsa. Then he meets a woman...

the collection ends with the title story. It is fitting it is the last tale as it brings the rest together. A man receives a call from another man to tell him a former girl friend from years before died. Then he abruptly hangs up. Our narrator has not seen this woman, she was not married at the time of their friendship, and he never knew the man who called. It turns into a reminiscence about chance encounter and wraps up the tragedy of having little control over those who have the most meaning for us...

"It's quite easy to become Men Without Women. You love a woman deeply, and then she goes off somewhere.That's all it takes. Most of the time (as I'm sure you are well aware) it's crafty sailors who take them away. They sweet-talk them into going with them, then carry them away to Marseilles or the Ivory Coast. And there's hardly anything we can do about it. Or else the women have nothing to do with sailors, and take their own lives. And there's very little we can do about that too. Not even the sailors can do a thing"


Men Without Women may be Murakami's best short fiction collection to date. It reads quickly but is deceptive in how much is going on within these well crafted tales. Even though I find his novels to be the real meat of his writings, I do not hesitate to recommend this collection as one's first journey into Murakami's world. it's that good.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Podcast: Book review and discussion. Feral

Author David Agranoff and I took part in a dual discussion of Feral by James DeMonaco and B. K. Evenson recently. You can read my written review here. This was my first appearance on an audio podcast so I guess you can say it is my debut.  It's something I hope to be doing more of and David is a good guy to do it with.

Here is the podcast. All 40 minutes. Enjoy. And let me know if I should quit my day job. And seriously, let me know if you would like to see more of this sort of thing on my blog.

  Feral Audio Review Featuring David Agranoff and Marvin Vernon

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Short fiction from Joyce Carol Oates

Dis Mem Ber and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense

Joyce Carol Oates


Publisher: Mysterious Press

Pub. Date: June 6, 2017

Rating" 4 out of 5 stars



It looks like Joyce Carol Oates, clearly a voracious writer, is putting out another short fiction collection close on the heels of the superlative The Doll-Master. Dis Mem Ber and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense collects all her published short stories from 2016. That entails seven in total. The precious collection was fully titled "The Doll-Master and other tales of terror". This new collection is correctly titled as tales of mystery and suspense as the horror aspect is toned down significantly. But the aspect of psychological dread remains in these tales. Oates' fiction is steeped in psychological nuances and these stories in Dis Mem Ber are no different. In fact, if you are looking for fiction with a punchline and a clear ending, I doubt if you will be happy with Oates. Yet if you want human frailty and complexity then she is the writer for you. There is a reason she is always mentioned in the "short list" of potential and future Nobel Prize winners in literature.

This collection is of the high quality you would expect from Oates but, at least for me, doesn't reach the high standard she made for herself in The Doll-Master. About four stories are excellent and hits me in my guts even with her subtleties. But the other three are more misses than hits. Of the successes, "Great Blue Heron" is the most beautifully written as it deals with a grieving widow who fantasizes over the predator bird on her lake with harrowing results. "Heartbreak" explores a competitive relationship between two young sisters and is the most directly powerful story of the lot. The title story examines similar young girl yearnings and fantasies of a young protagonist who may not be making the best decisions about who she hangs out with. "The Drowned Girl" is about a college student's obsession on a girl who drowned in a water tank. It's a sneaky little story about those dark obsessions that take us over. All four of these takes grabs on to some inner darknessof the reader just like the best Oates fiction is liable to do.

The other three works are of high quality but didn't really hold me. That is true especially for "Welcome to Friendly Skies!" which seems awkward. It may be possible evidence that humor is not the author's forte.

Yet four superlative stories of seven is not bad at all especially when the judgement is in the reader's subjective mind. What is unarguable is that any collection of Joyce Carol Oates will reward you with superb writing, dark imagery, and a glimpse into the human condition.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The problem with stains

Bleed

Ed Kurtz

 

Publisher: Journalstone

Pub. Date: March 24, 2017 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



If you are looking for a gruesome supernatural thriller that goes for the jugular and doesn't let up on the creep and slaughter factor, you will be hard pressed to find anything more suitable than Bleed by Ed Kurtz. It starts mundanely enough. Walt Blackmore, a teacher, has moved into an isolated cottage and is renovating it on his own. Walt tends to be a solitary person despite his luck in scoring a girlfriend and that is important to the plot as it develops. . He comes across a stain on the ceiling that eludes removal and actually start to grow with some alarming side effects. His girlfriend Amanda is first annoyed by the appearance and the stench of the stain and then becomes terrifyingly alarmed when it takes on some animal like effects including tentacles and a yearning for meat and blood. Walt is also repulsed but his repulsion soon turns into curiosity and then a nurturing for the still evolving creature. Of course this means nothing but bad things for everyone involved and especially for whoever crosses the path of Walt and his new companion

The “Ewww!” factor lies heavily in what the stain becomes but also in Walt’s insanely obsessive attraction and reaction to what the stain is becoming. There is at first a “Little Shop of Horror” aspect as the creature becomes increasingly demanding with its screams for blood substituting for the former’s cries of “Feed me!”. Yet my amusement with the comparison soon evaporates as Bleed continues into very dark and serious areas. The horror of Bleed is as dark, serious and gore filled as a novel can get. The horror is not so much in what the creature does as with Walt’s obsession and willingness to do the most sadistic and gruesome things to please his new friend. Several people, including his girlfriend, intrude into his madness and the results are never pretty. The violence and gore never lets up.

Walt’s own mental breakdown becomes an important point. He has already been portrayed as a bit of a loner and recluse despite his love for his girlfriend. In fact Amanda is kind of the weak point in the story. It is not quite certain what she sees in him and even more unclear why she has not introduced him to her friends, especially her business partner and close friend Nora. It is one of those odd things that challenges the belief suspension factor. Yet Walt’s own odd quirks feed, if you pardon the pun, right into his reaction to the growing and hungry stain. As the stain evolves it opens up a few other strange avenues including a very gross erotic attraction between man and monster. In this every relentless novel, the hits just speak coming.

Bleed is the kind of straightforward and never resting bundle of horror writing I love. Whatever development of the character exists ties directly to the plot. You can forgive those few inconsistencies because you are reading for the horrific thrills to come. It doesn’t try to be anything but terrifying and pummels you with that terror. The two characters that matter is Walt and that ever growing stain and it is in their disturbing and repulsive relationship where the success of this novel comes from. It is equal parts supernatural thriller, monster book and body horror. This just may be the book this year that friends give other friends just to see how much it will gross them out. But there is no question that, past the blood, violence and gore, there is a deeply disturbing and very entertaining horror novel. “Read it for the “Ewww!” but stay for the terror

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A surreal fairy tale

Moon Snake

Kirsten Alene


Publisher: Eraserhead Press 

Pub. Date: June 1, 2017

Rating:4 out of 5 stars

 

Moon Snake consists of two novellas that are part literary landscape and part magical fairytale, Kirsten Alene has an unique style that transmits a strange surreal innocence. Her worlds are her own with talking mastiffs, pear blossoms, avocado houses, dream ships, and many other strange things and entities . It's hard to compare her to anyone else but I kept envisioning the mystical worlds of Tanith Lee combined with the deceptive simplicity of Banana Yoshimoto. What brings Alene to the forefront is the fairy tale abstractness and characters that strive and develop in the forever changing imagery of a world foreign to anything we may know..

The title story starts with a red bridge being built to completion to a place that is feared. The place is Moon Snake and what the entry into Moon Snake will mean to the denizens of the author's fantastical world appears to be the question. The narrator and her friends, including Pecan Black, Lion James, and the shaman make up the bulk of the characters but the real joy of reading it is in the poetic but stark style of the author. I am not sure if there is a theme here and I find that to be a distraction. But it is easy to get caught up with the author's turns of phrases and the creative imagination that went into the telling of this story.

As much as "Moon Snake" both entertained and confused me, the second story fared better in my mind. "Cathedral Bone" seems to have a more direct connection with our own emotions. Again, we have an unnamed female narrator. She works as a volunteer for a cathedral and has talking mastiffs, lots of them, as companions who follow her around. There are also two men who are connected to her but she feels a bit wary about them. The mastiffs are dwindling and become scarcer. One mastiff bites one of the men and the dog is caged and starts to shrink. Again we have a story that seems elusive in meaning yet rich in imagery. But I sense a more emotional connection here. It appears to be a story of family and loss of family, the need and fear of intimacy and also what occurs when trust is lost. So many paths, so many possible connections.

Of course I may be wrong and this is both the strength and weakness of such a surreal style. The imagery is beautiful on its own. This book can be read for that alone. But Alene's writing goes beyond that , she is getting at something past the innocence of style and she makes you work for it. It so happens to be the type of labor I can love. Others may find it to be too challenging to seek meaning. To those readers, I simply say let yourself wander like the dream ship in the book and simply let the language wash over you. If you pick something up, great, Nurture it. If you don't, you will still sense the beauty of an imaginary world if nothing else.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Ghost in Beijing

Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story

C.M. Saunders

 

Publisher:  Deviant Doll Publications 

Pub Date: April 14, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Jerry has taken a job as an English teacher in Beijing, China. It is pretty much everything he wanted and expected except for one thing. His apartment is haunted.

Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story is, in a way, an old fashioned horror story that builds up slowly and ends with a shock. No fancy word plays and no secret message. It entertains by its sparse and direct storytelling. It is a refreshingly straight-ahead ghost story. C. M. Saunders spent time in China so he is able to portray the area quite accurately and catches a lots of the nuances of both Chinese culture and the traveler’s struggle with an unfamiliar environment. The perspective of the narrative is mainly through Jerry but the ghost story is feels quite Chinese in many ways. It has many of those little details that show up in Chinese ghost tales; strange hair in the sink, moaning ladies, apparitions in your dreams and in your bed, flickering lights and a few others. These should be familiar to anyone familiar with Asian horror films or literature, especially that of China, and the author incorporates them well. We also have the Chinese sidekick who helps Jerry understand what is going on, a blind fortune teller who “reads” palms in a very weird way, and the ubiquitous apartment employee that has seen and heard it all. The importance of the numbers “14F”, which I am assuming is accurate in the way the author describes it, was also fascinating to me. Throughout it all, there is a nice build-up of eerie events that lead into the surprising climax. It is a quick read but one that will stay with you… perhaps even in your dreams.

This is a revised version of Saunders’ story that was originally published in 2009. He includes an essay titled “Inside Apartment 14F” that explains the creation and evolution of his story as well as adding a mildly cautionary tale about editors and publishers. Also included is a work of short fiction titled “Little Dead Girl”. It is a much shorter ghost tale which is quite good but suffers from the inclusion in this book due to the similarities to the main event. But if seen as icing on the cake, it becomes a nice exclamation point to the very entertaining Apartment 14F and the essay that followed. Overall, a good read and a recommended one for those who like fiction about ghosts and China.



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Strange things in Oregon

Starr Creek

Nathan Carson


Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press

Pub Date: November 15, 2016

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

 

 Nathan Carson's debut novel Starr Creek is a very ambitious book despite its under 200 pages length. There is a lot going on in it and succeeds in some areas very well. Let's discuss where it succeeds.

The author has created a very interesting Oregon environment of tune-outs, drop-outs and turn-ons. Some of them are the exiles of society and others are just teens stoning out for the ride. While none of them grabbed me as essential and fully developed, they are all meant for the plot and speed it along nicely. Carson seems to have a counter-cultural sensitivity and it shows well here. His style is quite poetically descriptive and memorable lines keep popping out at the reader. I sense a little Brautigan here and the residents of Starr Creek seem be similar to the eccentric population of Christopher Moore's Pine Cove with a much darker sense of humor. But Carson's horror and Lovecraftian elements shine through too. The author has seized upon a fine plot where the residents encounter strange beasts and strange occurrences without really knowing until the end where they are coming from and what their intentions are. And of course, every character sees and react on this based on their individual motives. It's a nice bit of plotting.

It is also a frustrating piece of plotting. In Carson's ambitiousness he seem to be spreading out too many characters. There are a lot of intriguing dudes and scoundrels here but none are given enough room to really shine. Kira comes the closest but there just isn't enough rounding out of character even for her. It basically comes down to great writing and insufficient structuring for so many ideas. It's a common error in debut novels and it really shows here. But still, there is a good sense of environment and atmosphere that keeps me reading.

Then there is the end. I loved the build-in to it. But without giving it away, it ends suddenly. My big question is : is it a definitive ending that makes any thing else in this story moot or a cliffhanger. I'm kind of hoping it is a cliffhanger because the Starr Creek gang with all their flaws have real promise.

You probably noticed I said little about the actual plot. This is because if you do read this it is best that you go in with little knowledge to get into the atmosphere and to let the surprises sneak up on you. Carson is clearly showing off his counter cultural experiences and has his own unique perspective. Wherever he goes in his writing, Starr Creek is a good if incomplete example of his work and can only get better.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A matter of survival

Final Girls

Riley Sager


Publisher: Dutton

Pub. Date: July 11, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


The term “Final Girl” is a movie term referring to the final woman to confront the killer and survive in a slasher/horror movie. It is a well-known cliché that is prevalent in slasher films like Halloween, Friday the 13th and countless others but in real life it is virtually a non-existent event. Certainly it is common to anyone who has ever seen a slasher film. In the book of the same name by Riley Sager we are invited to contemplate the existence of three final girls and how the events afterward will affect them.

In Final Girls, Quincey Carpenter went to a cabin five years ago with five friends. She becomes the only survivor of a gruesome bloodbath. Before Quincey went through her nightmare, there were previously two similar but different incidents where two other women, Lisa and Samantha, survived a psychotic killer to be the only survivor. The media dubs all three “Final Girls” and, although they never met in person, there is a sense of unity and support between them as members of a club no one wants to be in. Quincy appears to be surviving well with help from her boyfriend and Coop, the police officer who saved her that night and became a sort of guardian for her. However her safety net starts to unravel when Lisa is reported to have committed suicide and Sam shows up on Quincey’s doorstep unannounced and for reasons not clearly apparent.

This sets up what is so far the best thriller to see light in the year of 2016. It is beautifully paced, constantly riveting, and pulls the reader into a tangled relationship that is not clearly revealed until the final chapter. Quincey is both strong in her willingness to survive but also fragile. She does not remember entirely what happened that night and has avoided confronting it, preferring to hide herself in her baking blog and letting her boyfriend and her guardian cop protect her. When Sam arrives it is both welcomed and questioned. Both of them are tough but not totally stable and the reason why Sam has chosen this particular time is constantly on Quincey’s mind. Yet they seem to connect because they went through a similar hell. Sam does indeed have an agenda but what it is will become slowly apparent as various twists and turns occur. Sam seems to be eager to get Quincey to remember the event of five years ago while Quincey feels safe and guarded in her loss of memory. The game between Quincey and Sam deepens while the reader is given flashbacks to Quincey’s horrific night five years ago. These flashbacks gives us more clue to the connection between past, present and the final girls.

I cannot overemphasize how deeply this tale of suspense grabbed me. Quincey is a beautifully complex character with levels of conflicts that one would see in anyone who went through such a nightmare. Sam is more of a mystery but she still rings true as one whose past is overwhelming her. The question forming the mystery are several. What really happened in the death of Lisa? What really happened five years ago at Pine Cottage where Quincy became the only survivor? And what is Sam’s real reason for showing up in Quincey’s life. The answers to these and other questions will probably not be the ones you expect but that is the wonder of a suspense mystery like this.

Final Girls is probably destined to be compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train but that may be unfair. I became fascinated by both Quincey and Sam in a way I did not in the other two best sellers. The twists and turns of Final Girls came on swift and natural but surprisingly. It is a clockwork of suspense hitting all the right alarms in your head. I feel comfortable in saying that we are looking as not only the big summer hit but one of the best, if not the best, thriller for 2017.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lovecraft meets Hip-Hop

Kanye West - Reanimator




Mash-ups are curious creatures. I would be hard pressed to call them anything but a novelty. We can blame Seth Grahame-Smith for the literary mash-up..or at least for its popularization due to the mystifying success of Pride and Prejudice with Zombies. I am still precariously on the fence with such endeavors. At best they are delightful diversions bringing out the best of the genres and authors they salute

Kanye West - Reanimator is somewhere in between. It is definitely funny and entertaining and it does an admirable job of blending H. P Lovecraft's style with the peculiarities of hip-hop. Yet even at its much less than a 100 pages length, it feels too long. The author had fun with this, using Lovecraft's serialized fiction, "Herbert West - Reanimator " and turning Mr. West into the rapper/beatmaster Kanye West as he uses the beat and the mixes to revive dead bodies. There is a lot of references to the need for fresh beats and quite a few musicians and rappers take a beating, so to speak, from Biggie to Paul McCartney. Maybe this is an acquired taste.

And I think i may have hit on the issue. I love Lovecraft and I am a bit of a music freak from rock to jazz to soul. But I honestly know little to nothing about hip-hop. I did really get into the earlier days with Run-DMC, Public Enemy and up to NWA but then I tapered off. There is clearly a number of in-jokes here .and I think too many of them went over my head. Plus I took points away whenever anyone mentioned Kim Kardashian.

So this is my recommendation. if you are into rap and Lovecraft both, this might be "Da Bomb". if not, it will be a risky endeavor. But again, let's give credit to the author for a noble attempt and some very funny turns of phrases. As for me, I am best off waiting for a classic rock version. Maybe...Leslie West -Reanimator?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Hap and Leonard and a midget vampire (maybe)

Rusty Puppy

Joe R. Lansdale

Publisher: Muholland Books

Pub. Date: February 23, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

 

We are now to the 12th installment of the Hap and Leonard series by Joe R. Lansdale and they just don't seem to wearing out their welcome. If they were real I would invite them to every party I held. Hap and I seem to be kindred spirits in our cautious liberalism and Leonard would keep the party lively assuming he doesn't kick the ass of everybody else at the party. I would just have to be careful I didn't provoke him into his habit of indiscriminate urinating...But I digress.

The last couple of books were fun but there was signs of a formula showing through. That isn't in itself a bad thing. All mystery series have formulas. But if it starts to show too much it doesn't feel fresh. Rusty Puppy feels fresh. There may be a number of reasons for this. First, Lansdale has added a new character in the form of Hap's daughter Chance. While her role in this book is minor, she still gives Hap something to reflect on and reveal new sides of him. Then there was that very close shave with death in Honky Tonk Samurai. I don't think it's just me to think Hap is a little more cautious and aware of his mortality (and others) in this book. Leonard is still Leonard but that is what makes him a delight in every single novel

The basic idea here is that a black womanwho lives across the street persuades Hap to investigate the murder of her son. At first he and Leonard simply plan to question a potential witness who claims he saw the police kill her son. Of course it gets much more complicated as they come to task with corrupt cops, an old acquaintance of Leonard who once beat him in a boxing match ("By points" Leonard reminds everyone), a vindictive bartender, and a four hundred year old vampire midget (or maybe just a foul-mouthed little girl)

As for the varied and sundry things that show up in every Hap and Leonard novel that gives it uniqueness, everything fits like a brass knuckle. The Lansdale wit is there, the dialogue is as snappy as a Texas turtle, and minor characters like Marvin Hansen shines when the time comes.

Oh. And Leonard has a new boy friend from an unlikely source.

Rusty Puppy is one of the best in the series and proves that there is still plenty of life in the East Texas odd couple. If you are already into the series you will not be disappointed and if you are not...What's holding you back?

Monday, May 8, 2017

A different kind of possession

The Time Eater

Aaron J. French

 

Publisher: Journalstone

Pub. Date: January 27, 2017

Rating: 4 & 1/2 out of 5 stars


Roger Boroughs and his friend James Steiner has been estranged since an incident in college when they summoned forth a strange and powerful entity they call the Time Eater. Many years later, Roger is requested by a woman named Annabelle to visit Roger, possibly for the last time since Roger is dying of a terminal illness. There is a great separation between them, much having to do with their two ex-wives as neither seemed to have really resolved their separation and hold many regrets. But Roger has discovered something even more disturbing, the Time Eater has possessed James and that may not only threaten their reality but shatter their very existence.

In The Time Eater, we basically have an exorcism story but it is not one that is typical of the usual type of demon exorcism. The demon Roger and James are confronting is a powerful entity from other dimensions or perhaps independent of all dimensions. They refer to it as a time eater because that appears to be what it mindlessly devours. Aaron J. French has cleverly combined an exorcism tale with huge chunks of Lovecraft and many other authors of the same era and before, such as Blackwood and Machen, who created a form of metaphysical horror. In the author’s prose, it comes out more like an existential horror since it questions our existence and sense of reality on our limited realm.

It can also be called psychological horror. The mindset of James and Roger, not to mention other characters, is basic to the plot and the tension. As we will see, the very identity of some of the characters become in question. French has built a sort of a Jenga game regarding the delicate interactions interaction of the protagonists It is a miracle the various twists and turns doesn’t topple them over.

In fact, I can see some readers faulting the author on this. When we get to the apparent final resolution, others may feel the need to read back and wonder if some things look a little too definitive and pat to be believable. I have called other authors on this very thing. But here it works because French has developed a very original and creative idea and placed the reader in a reality that stretches and boggles the imagination. The parameter of the story makes the reality of the characters believable even with all the twists and turns. Using an appropriate cliché, we accept it hook, line and sinker.

I have always admired Aaron J. French’s works but at the same time I wondered if he was too steeped in the esoteric to catch on, primarily the somewhat old fashioned and elusive metaphysical horror of his influences. The bio on the back pages of his book states he is pursuing a PhD in religious studies and I can’t say I’m surprised. Yet this is his best and most accessible work to date. It is the one by him I would most highly recommend.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A King and Wrightson classic

Creepshow

by Stephen King & Bernie Wrightson


Publisher: Plume

Pub date: (original) 1982

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars



Originally published in 1982, Creepshow was a collaboration between Stephen King and the late comic artist Bernie Wrightson to illustrate 5 short stories in a graphic novel format. It is a graphic adaptation of the George Romero film of the same name in which King wrote the screenplay. Both film and book purposely has a retro look which comes across as an imitation, or perhaps more accurately a tribute, to the earlier 50s horror comics most notably in style to EC Comics. The book even features a ghoulish host, like the comics had, who would briefly introduce each story. The book has been out of print for a while but it is being republished. The question is, does the scares of the 80s still impress in the 21st century.

It really isn’t a very hard question. While King has recently concentrated more on mysteries, he still remains the great horror genre icon. When it comes to horror, Bernie Wrightson was the art equivalence of King and stayed in the forefront with his stark lines and dark subjects. It’s not a surprise in how well both adapted to this tribute of the 50s horror magazines since they have both expressed their love for the comics and noted EC as a major influence. Yet Creepshow isn’t just a nostalgic trip back to either the 50’s or the 80s. It still dazzles with the artist’s bright colors and the author’s stark to-the-point tales. What stands out in this second reading is that King may not be just writing a tribute to early comics but highlighting a particular theme that still rings true in the popular media whether through writing, drawing or filming.

In “Father Day” we have the ubiquitous revenge from the grave story. “The Crate”, which was first published in Gallery magazine of July, 1979, covers the henpecked and miserable husband who finds the cure to his dilemma in a terror kept in a crate. “Something to Tide You Over” replays a popular topic from King’s earlier short fiction; rich men, adultery, revenge, and comeuppance. And finally “They’re Creeping up on You” is a tale reminiscent of Twilight Zone in which an evil man is brought down by what he fears the most. Through these four forays in dialogue and art there is a consistent theme of revenge and justice that was prevalent in the old EC comics. Creepshow continues that theme with a bit more bite from King and lots more color from Wrightson.

But a fifth story doesn’t fit that theme and for my money it is the best one. “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” was originally King’s story “Weeds” and in its prose form appeared first in Cavalier magazine of May, 1976. It is pretty much a rip off of Lovecraft’s “The Colour out of Space” and succeeds beautifully as it shifts the focus on one character, the simple Jordy, as he suffers from his meteoric find. Jordy brings humor (“Yuck! It’s meteor crap!”) and pathos to the story. In the movie. Jordy is played by Stephen King but Wrightson wisely keeps his features a bit vague. You don’t need to read the Lovecraft story to appreciate this one but it wouldn’t hurt.

Creepshow doesn’t just age well. It still feels both fresh and vintage at the same time. The stories still ring true for the genre and the love many have for the old comics is respected. Now if they would only repackage the movie. Blu-Ray anyone?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A battle of the sexes

Feral

By James Demonaco and B. K. Evenson

 

Publisher: Anchor

Pub Date: April 4, 2017 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


We are knee-deep back into the apocalypse with Feral, a new science fiction thriller by James Demonaco and B. K. Evenson. This is not unknown territory for either Demonaco or Evenson as Demonaco is best known as writer and director for The Purge film trilogy and B.K. Evenson is a pseudonym for Brian Evenson whose Last Days remains one of the most memorable forays into weird speculative fiction in the 21st century. Yet in their collaboration, we enter a weirdly familiar zombie-esque environment that pits the sexes against each other,.

In Feral, Allie is going though the usual teenage angst with the biggest problem being telling her best friend that her boyfriend posted a sex tape on the internet. Yet these mundane issues seem trite when all the men become sick and start attacking the women. Allie is barely able to save her sister Kim from an attack by her father and soon they are the few survivors living in the world where all men have become feral, attacking and killing any female on sight.

Flash forward to three years later. The few surviving women have hunkered down in make-shift forts battling off the ferals who are like animals and simple in their rage. A scientist is attempting to find a cure to the disease using the ferals Allie catches in her hunting forays outside the settlements as guinea pigs . It is on these explorations that she discover the ferals are showing signs that they may no longer be mindless and disorganized. She also discovers something else that will turn the women's perception of the world upside down.

The battle of the sexes taken to extremes is what attempts to set this novel apart from the many other post-apocalyptic zombie type books that inundate the market place. Yet there is lot of it that still sounds very familiar. Lets look at the good parts first. Allie is a powerful protagonist. She is forced into the role of protector and doesn't look back. It doesn't seem to be a role she always enjoys. It is a reluctant calling. Her teenage angst has turned into a one-sided survivalism aimed primary at the protection of the community but mostly the survival of her younger sister. When the big reveal comes, she become torn between her community and her own emotions. She is the best thing about the tale and her choices are what drives the plot. The authors has also created a believable nightmare environment where we can feel the dangers and the risks involved as we learn more about the choices facing this community of women. I liked the overall flow of theme and action throughout the novel.

Yet when all is said and done, there is too much that feels familiar. Perhaps The Walking Dead have inured us to this type of story. Beside Allie and one other, there are really few rounded out characters. It feels a little too much like a graphic novel in prose and sometimes I could read "Movie Deal" between the lines which i do not consider a good thing. There is indeed a riveting final battle for survival at the end and the authors put their all into the description. But it wasn't enough to rise above the formula. In fact, it kind of cinched the formula

In the balance though, Feral does become a very entertaining read and will please those who like post-apocalyptic novels. There are some soft moments that add to the reader's concern for the protagonist in this book, giving us a nice blend of action and emotional connection. But for me, It just isn't enough to place it above the pack of novels like this. I know that may be a tall order but when I read something like this, it is what I look for. Ultimately, we have a good novel in the sub-genre but not a contender.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Abduction and survival

Doll House

By John Hunt


Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Pub. Date: January 19, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

 

 Suspense novels that deal with abduction, torture, and rape have a fine line to tread. The good ones must shock and scare but not cross over the line into gratuitousness. At the beginning of the novel I worried Doll House would do just that. It is certainly shocking and gruesome but John Hunt manages something quite impressive. The gory descriptions of violence do manage to shock but they also serve to strengthen the character and her resolve to overcome her ordeal. Doll House eventually becomes a story of bravery and perseverance.

We meet Olivia and her father on the first page They are likeable and admirable people. Olivia is headed to college yet almost immediately she is abducted. That sets up the nightmare and the reader is thrown into a whirlwind of violence and terror. The author does a brilliant bit of paradox as Olivia is imprisoned in a room that is almost all pink. It's like a pretty doll house which is the farthest thing to that which she will be subjected to. That contradiction nicely serves to disorient the reader to the emotions and actions that will follow.

If this nightmare continued through the entire book it just may be too much for most people. Fortunately , through incidents that will remain unspoken to prevent spoilers, we do get a reprieve from the horrors. That does not mean the tension is over. The suspense is still carried on by Hunt's excellent storytelling skills and the book becomes more of a mystery and a portrayal of physical and emotional survival. But what keeps this tale so riveting is the relationship between the characters. Olivia and her father is the linchpin but even seemingly less important interactions like that of the victims (Yes, there's more than one victim. I'll let that little teaser out!) and even the interaction between the kidnapper are important.

A good horror-suspense tale to some extent must make the reader uncomfortable. It is about those things you do not want to experience in real life. Horror and suspense are indeed cathartic. Hunt packs a huge punch in this book, teetering over the boundary sometimes perhaps, but redeems himself by making the protagonist of the novel someone you cannot help but root for. Doll House is the first great suspense novel I've read this year.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A House is not a home

Liquid Status

By Bradley Sands


Publisher: Rooster Republic Press 

Pub. date: February 23, 2017

 Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

 

 Bradley Sands' previous books are bizarro with a strong touch of comic madness. They made sense and yet they didn't and that was fine because that was the joy of the ride. Yet the author's works to me seemed to want to be a bit more than that at times. He packs a good sense of surrealism and Dada right next to the humor. His new novella Liquid Status appears a lot more serious, breaking partially free of that comic feel that I both admired yet felt it perhaps limited his potential. In 76 pages, the potential becomes gloriously limitless.

Liquid Status starts with the death of a grandmother. The family is not given a name except for Mom, Dad, and the sons Paul and Matt. We are immediately told that the family has rules mostly originating from Mom. Yet when Grandma, as we know her, dies not only are the rules of the family dissolved but also the rules of nature and physics. We are introduced to the impossible. The family is thrown into isolation from the outlying world and trapped in the house. The front door disappears. Matt becomes a cardboard box. Bodies change consciousness. And on and on as the impossible becomes possible and randomness looks for a meaning.

What is this all about? At times it feels like stream of consciousness but I suspect it all has some form of structure and meaning to the author. A rigid family is thrown into chaos. Their horror is in the lack of control and alienation from their once meaningful world. House and family are becoming inseparable in both a physical and a emotional sense. For a short novella, there is a lot packed into these pages

As much as I loved the author's previous books there seems to be a maturing here. There is still humor but the humor is both dark and more intimate. Liquid Status may seem weird to the unsuspecting reader but it is a joy to read, massaging the intellect and baffling the imagination on every page. This comes with a high recommendation even if you may like your fiction a bit more grounded in mundane reality.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The evil within

Exorcist Falls

 By Jonathan Janz


Publisher: Sinister Grin Pres

Pub. Date: March 15, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


This publication of Exorcist Falls is actually two books. It starts with the previously published novella Exorcist Road and continues with the longer original novel Exorcist Falls. But they should be read as one book as Exorcist Falls starts two nights later and continues the suspense and horror already pouring out of the first work.

And when I say “Pouring” I mean a torrential downpour. The book gets right to the point on page one and doesn’t let up. We meet Father Jason Crowder as his friend and parishioner Danny Hartmann asks him to go to his brother’s house on a late raining night. Ron Hartman’s fourteen year old son Casey has attacked his family. Normally a priest wouldn’t be needed for such a problem but Casey is doing more than being violent. There is a serial killer loose and Casey is talking about things only the serial killer would know. Casey may be the Sweet Sixteen Serial Killer.

From here the novella and novel escalates into a dizzying combination of demonic possession horror and supernatural mystery. Is Casey possessed? Is he really the serial killer? The first question is answered quickly as Father Crowder calls in his mentor Father Sutherland and they prepare for the exorcism. The second question gets more interesting as red herrings and accusations fly constantly. Of course demons never make anything easy.


The first novella, Exorcist Road, takes place during the night of the exorcism and there is a clear ending in which we find out much about the possession and the murders. The title novel, as previously stated, starts two nights later. The problem is that any description of its plot will spoil portions of the novella so it is enough to say that the flow of the action blends seamlessly. Father Crowder is battling both demon and serial killer while fearing for both his body and soul. There are more clever turns all the way to the end.

I find exorcism thrillers to be a curious breed of horror novel. They focus on the most intimate of fears. The evil inside us. To some extent, they are comforting. Our dark secrets can be blamed on the supernatural, the demon inside us. If only it was that easy. Jonathan Janz gives us a turn by dealing with both horrors, that of the supernatural and that which is our own choosing, and suggests that maybe they are not all that separable. He does this in a tight well-structured plot and with a sharp eye for action and dialogue. If the action feels a bit too forced at times with its many twists and coincidences, it is easy to forgive when one’s words flow so easily on the pages. Exorcist Falls is a riveting horror thriller about supernatural horrors but and also the more mundane horrors of the human condition.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Killer Flowers

Crawlers

By Ray Garton


Publisher: RGB Publishing

Pub. Date: October 26, 2016

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars


Flowers that kill. I've read a few science fiction books with a plot centering on such a contrary idea. The most famous novel of this variety has to be Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham although it is a toss up whether the real nightmare in the book is man eating plants, stumbling blindly (literally) through the apocalypse, or listening to long winded lectures about how to deal with these dilemmas.

In Ray Garton's novella Crawlers, you don't have to worry about making such choices. It's killer flowers all the way down. In Mount Crag, it is the morning after a meteor shower and the townspeople wake up to burnt spots on the ground with unusual flowers growing out of them . They are all over town and at first they are simply a curiosity, looking more artificial than real. But it doesn't take long for the plants to show a more sinister side. Crawling attacking flowers with a terrible side effect becomes the order of the day.

Like I said. It's fun and seems more like the old science fiction horror films of the 60s and 70s. In fact, the author acknowledges this in his foreword. The consensus is that this is a quick read that excels in entertaining and has more than a few thrills. Like anything by Garton, it is well written and delivers. It appears Mount Crag is a setting for a few of Garton's tales so I wouldn't advise moving there in the near future. Just enjoy this horror adventure and smell the roses while you can.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Joys of short fiction!

The Man in the Palace Theater

 By Ray Garton

 

Publisher:  RGB Publishing 

Pub Date: June 29, 2012

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

One of the nice developments in Kindle reading is its suitability for singly distributed short fiction. Before eBooks, if one wanted to read a recommended short story, one had to hunt down or borrow the magazine it was published in or find a collection with that particular story. The only exception was publications of chapbooks, a small limited printing of that one short work which was usually sold to collectors for a pretty price and rarely becoming accessible to the casual readers. But with the advent of the Kindle ebooks, and Amazon's strange but effective distribution system it is simple to distribute a work of short fiction for a nominal charge, usually being one or two dollars. This theoretically enables many to read a brief essay or short fiction piece that would be hard to find otherwise and/or simply forgotten.

The Man in the Palace Theater by Ray Garton is a good example of this. It was published originally as a limited edition chapbook. However it can now be had as an Kindle eBook for pocket change, 99 cents at last glimpse, and worth every penny even at the equivalence of 20 plus pages. In the short tale, John Bellows has been missing for a while but shows up unexpectedly at his friend's work. He convince her to go with him to see something he says is amazing. She reluctantly follows him, knowing he has been through a number of problems and is concerned for his physical and mental health. He takes her to an old abandoned theater, the Palace Theater of the tale's title. What he expects her to see and what happens makes up for the rest of the story.

And therein lies the gist of this short tale. It is difficult to explain any more without giving it away. But like many horror stories, there is a great deal of psychological tension in it. John is indeed a man of many misfortunes. Has the effects of his misfortunes led to the events that take place? This is one of those stories where it is not always certain what is supernatural and that is psychological. In fact, can they always be separated? I would submit, after reading this story, that what is supernatural is not necessarily the biggest horror.

If you haven't discover the joy of obtaining single short fiction on your kindle, this would be a great piece to start with. Ray Garton is an established writer with an impressive literary resume. His Live Girls is my pick for one of the best, and possibly the most underrated, vampire novels in decades. This short work, even in its brevity, shows many of the skills which makes Garton an author worth reading. Give it a try. For 99 cents, It's a steal.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Werewolves in New Orleans

The Wild Harmonic

By Beth W. Patterson


Publisher: Hidden World Books

Pub Date: November1, 2016

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars


Birch “Buzz” MacKinley is a musician playing bass at the many music venues in New Orleans. Due to her troubled past and a closely guarded secret, she finds herself usually alone and trusting of few until she meets Rowan and his fellow musicians. She discovers she is not the only werewolf in town. In fact, there are many different forms of shapeshifters in existence living in a world and culture she never knew before. She also finds there is a growing danger around her and her new friends that exists side by side with her new companions.

In The Wild Harmonic, author Beth W. Patterson has created a rather different society of werewolves than we may be familiar with. In Patterson’s society of shapeshifters, werewolves tend to be especially good in particular careers like music and the helping professions. One of Buzz’s lycanthropic companions is a nun. But Buzz is particularly drawn to a pack that is into music and that is where this story gets its strengths. A musician herself, the author has a deep understanding of the power of music. Music is often involved in rituals seeking higher realms of existence and, in this novel, Patterson combines the two to create a rather unique combination of tune and growl so to speak. Without disparaging any of the author’s seemingly considerable skills, I think it is safe to say Patterson is a musician who writes rather than a writer who plays music. Her expertise and love for the music comes out that strong in both her writing style and her descriptions of the characters.

This is an interesting take on the werewolf tale with some rather intriguing complications. Rowan’s pack is only part of a bigger scenario. There is a danger lurking as shapeshifters disappear or are found dead. While Buzz is slowly becoming able to trust her pack mates, she discovers that not everyone who is a werewolf or another type of shapeshifter is on the same side. Hence, we have the conflict that moves the plot along.

Two things make The Wild Harmonic work, the hidden culture and society of the shapeshifters which I have already mentioned and the alternately fragile and strong character of Buzz. She is indeed shown as fragile at the beginning, isolated but grounded in her music. Then she meets Rowan. Glimpses of a paranormal romance show up and Buzz spends a lot of time pining over what may be unattainable. But Buzz becomes strong on her own and how that happens is an essential part of the story. It is not lost on me that Buzz is a bass player. Anyone who has worked as a musician and played in a substantial number of bands (raises hand) know that the bassist is the soul and anchor of a group and that was not lost on me as I discovered how the character of Buzz develops.

So we have a novel that is one part fantasy epic and one part paranormal romance with neither drowning out the other. But for me there is something missing. The horror is missing. While we have werewolves, other shapeshifters, and a looming threat, the tension seem to be missing. So much of the story is in setting up the culture and the musical and philosophical tones that we lose the horror. When we finally come in contact with the threat it is too late to regain it and, frankly, it is a little cartoonish and predictable for my taste. I wanted more old scares and less New Age. But what is there is quite substantial and entertaining. It is still a smart fantasy that will please most readers. Even though it is a standalone novel I think we may see Buzz again if the author has her way.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Gives a new meaning to "frozen with fear"

The Winter Over

By Matthew Iden

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer 

Pub. Date: February 1, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

  The first thing I recommend if you plan to read The Winter Over by Matthew Iden, is to turn your thermostat up. You are bound to feel more chilled than usual as you read this mystery/adventure novel set in the nine month long winter of Antarctica. The biggest strength of Iden's thriller is how he makes the dark and cold Antarctic environment and the seclusion of those inhabiting a research station come alive. The detail he puts in describing the compound and all the work needed to keep something like that operating is quite impressive. And they become very important details as we continue reading.

Cassie is a new worker at the Shackleton station. She is a hired as a vehicle mechanic but takes on a number of tasks in the station as many of the maintenance workers do. There is a bit of a class chasm between maintenance crew and scientists but the station keeps operating well despite of it. The long winter is about to start and the overall staff has been cut down to about 40 to keep the station going throughout the dark months and the well under freezing temperatures. The last plane is about to leave and there will be no way to leave the station after that. It's a yearly event which no one worries too much about except there is a seemingly accidental death just days before the last plane leaves. Cassie discovers some things to make her wonder about that death but it is not until well into the dark and cold isolation that she starts to put it all together.

I'm tempted to be corny and say, "But is it too late?" but won't because I think you get the idea. This is one of those stories that benefit from the reader knowing little about it before they dive into the pages. In basic plot ideas, The Winter Over is essentially one of those mysteries in which a finite number of people are trapped and you are wondering if any will make it out. But there are quite a few differences in this particular "And Then There Were None" scenario, of which many would make Agatha Christie envious. Iden spends a lot of time setting the scene well through half of the book. This leads a number of readers to call the book slow but I would rather call it " well planned". It isn't a case of "nothing happened" as much as a lot of little things are happening. Sooner or later though, all of frozen hell breaks out and it all makes sense. Lots of hints are scattered about and I suspect the savvy mystery buff will figure it out by the halfway point. Yet it is a very satisfying mystery that is weaved around a tight and well conceived setting. Like i said. Keep that thermostat up.

Many might consider this novel typical of a summer read and if you live in the desert like i do, it would probably a wise one when the temperature gauge hits 12oF.. But it's early in the year so let's call this a winter read perfect for around the fireplace. It is sort of a "Who Goes There?/The Thing" without the alien although there are monsters of a variety, the kind you meet every day. Mystery and adventure fans in particular will like this but anyone who loves good storytelling should give it a try.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Void and the Tingleverse

Dr. Chuck Tingle's Complete Guide to The Void

By Chuck Tingle


Publisher:  Amazon Digital Services LLC 

Pub Date: February 24, 2017

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

 Welcome to the Tingleverse

I must confess I have never read a Chuck Tingle novel. I have certainly heard of him and have chuckled over titles like Space Raptor Butt Invasion, Schrodinger's Butt, and Slammed In The Butt By Domald Tromp's Attempt To Avoid Accusations Of Plagiarism By Removing All Facts Or Concrete Plans From His Republican National Convention Speech. I must admit I am tempted to read one if his writing style is as silly as his titles. Yet I am not really into gay erotic sci-fi satire so I have avoided the temptation...so far

But there appears to be a darker side to Tingle. Threatening his loving and tingly Tingleverse is The Void. It is a dimension that is so totally terrifying just the mention of it can lead one to Void Madness, a condition that does not sound pleasant. Dr. Tingle wrote this brief 69 page work to help us recognize the dangers of The Void and to prevent being consumed by it, a place very few escape from. He tells us of the terrible creatures that come from The Void and gives some specific examples such as an especially vicious form of "Shrieking Mass"...

Throughout history, there has been several Shrieking Masses who greatly affected the course of humanity through their manipulation of humans. In recent history, the most notable Shrieking Mass is United States President Domald Tromp, who attained power despite the fact that the seams in his human suit remained clearly visible during his entire campaign cycle.


So what to make of this "guide"? Despite Tingle's endless admonition to be careful reading this book less you "succumb to the call of The Void", it is consistently humorous. I do not know if this is a companion book for fans of his novels or simply a sidestep into silliness. But it is entertaining and may cause me to take a look at one of his novels, butt pounding or no butt pounding.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Art and extremes

Unger House Radicals

By Chris Kelso

 

Publisher: Crowded Quarantine Publications 

Pub. Date: June 11, 2016

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

 Unger House Radicals starts with an Andy Warhol quote and a glimpse of the first narrator watching Andy Warhol's 8 hour film titled Sleep. Warhol was the poster boy for turning banality into art and The Factory was far from the idealist art community that many pretended it was. Mary Woronov popped that bubble in her memoir of negativity, nihilism, and drug use titled Swimming Underground: My Years in the Warhol Factory. Chris Kelso's strange and fragmented novel has its own art movement. creators and creative art house and, while thankfully entirely fictional, feels like a bit of a dark satire of the power of movements and the corruption of art.

In Unger House Radicals film maker Vincent Bittaker meets Brandon Swarthy, a serial killer. It's love at first killing. The two plot their own film movement and moves into the murder house of the serial killer Otto Spengler. Unger House becomes a focal point for the movement dubbed Ultra-realism in which Bittaker and Swarthy film murders as a testament to the ultimate and most realistic art. "What is more real than murder?" Swarthy asks. For the first part of the novel we follow their quest and relationship that takes strange sexual and psychological turns and plunges into the surreal.

But it doesn't end there. Ultra-realism catches on. The author continues the narration in the eyes of other participants and even critics as the movement becomes a cult and an equally disturbing counter revolution called The Last True Hope (Please do not let that be a Star Wars reference!) emerges. The narration is non-linear and very bizarre to the point of wondering if we entered another dimension only known to the author. This is one of those books which challenges the reader even if the writing flows like a sumofabitch through your veins as you read it. I'm not always sure I followed it but the emotional prose and the several philosophical tones that is batted back and forth never got lost in the shuffle.

Murder as art is one of those things that has become a clique in the barrage of mainstream serial killer novels flooding the market but they never go beyond the sensational. Vincenzo Bilof's The Violators and now, Unger Street Radicals show the the clique can go beyond the sensational and may reveal philosophical overtones that makes one thinks even if that thinking may feel somewhat uncomfortable. The violence and brutality may still be there but so is the examination of what is reality and how far is far enough. In Kelso's challenging and sometimes maddening book, we get a tome on the meaning , and meaningless, of movements. We examine if art can go beyond the boundaries of civilization and whether it should. But mainly we get a exhilarating and confusing ride. I have another Kelso novel to read and this one really whetted my appetite for more. A warning though. The Kelso universe may be very forbidding to some and should bear a label, "read at your own risk." But if you wish to take the risk you may be amazed and intrigued at what you read.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dr. Phil meets Natural Born Killers

Something Violent

By Kristopher Rufty


Publisher: DarkFuse

Pub. date: March 28, 2017

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Dr. Phil meets Natural Born Killers.

Actually it is Dr. Ron. Ron McClure is the marriage counselor to the stars. He is bit of a celebrity himself through his books and TV appearances. When he is leaving a convenience store he is a bit torn about approaching a crying women through fear of getting involved but also tempted because she is quite beautiful. The woman finally approached him and the temptation of her beauty wins out...until she chloroforms and abducts him. When he awakes, he is tied to a chair. He discovers that his abductors are Seth and Jody, a serial killer team called The Sweetheart Killers. Lately Seth and Jody are having troubles. Seth doesn't want to kill with Jody anymore. Now they want Ron to fix them, to put the zing back into their killing spree, and save their relationship. Despite the obvious conflict of interest in helping two killers be successful in their chosen occupation, Ron agrees to try. After all, they are probably going to kill him either way.

What entails in Something Violent is a series of alternating flashbacks told by each other chronicling how they met and the events leading up to the crisis prompting the decision to kidnap the famous marriage counselor. In between, the hapless Ron gives his sage observations. This is a combination of horror tale and psychological crime thriller. But for me, it is also a satire of the bad couple romance thrillers we see occasionally popping up mainly in movies like Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, and, as already mentioned, eNatural Born Killers. Seth and Jody are seriously unhinged but not so much that they don't want a special life with each other. So when the relationship falter , they act in the only way they know. They need to keep that homicidal spark that brought them together alive any way they can. The entire idea of a counselor struggling to save the joy of a behavior that will kill people, and probably himself, is deliciously perverse. Probably more so for myself since I am a retired therapist. Yet that is where the dark comedy comes in; A pair of killers struggling to find the humanity that keeps them together through their sociopathic thrills .

The other nice touch is hinted in the title. There appears to be a serial killer web site called Something Violent. Everyone needs a little support, I guess. This idea merges into the theme of the story and drives much of the narrative. How it does that will be left for the reader to discover. The author, Kristopher Rufty, does a nice job in moving the ideas along. There is lots of action and as should be expected in this type of dark thriller, lots of violence. The chain of events does call for a good amount of suspension of belief and if there is one main weakness, it is that the events often seems a bit to convoluted to come together comfortably. Yet I was able to exercise that suspension of belief mainly due to the fact that I saw it as a satire of serial killer tales, a kind of very dark comedy. The feel was enough to make me chuckle over the dilemma of Dr. Ron and his clients even in the goriest of passages.

In the last assessment, Something Violent gets my recommendation. It a clever take on the serial killer genre and remains entertaining throughout. It also makes me glad this couple never showed up during my counseling career.