Friday, April 20, 2018

Death Obsessed book cover reveal!

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on Stinger by Robert R. McCammon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Thoughts on Deadly Eyes aka The Rats by James Herbert

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

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

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

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

Until next time . . .

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Thoughts on Catacomb by Andrew Laurance

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Thoughts on The Specimen by Pete Kahle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Thoughts on Paperbacks From Hell

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Thoughts on American Gothic by Robert Bloch

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

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

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

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

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