Category Archives: Review

“Hey, it’s Randy. We’ve got until tomorrow morning to sacrifice Stephen to the devil.”

71. Living with the Dead – Kelley Armstrong

You know, I’m not sure that Hope and Karl can really carry a story. Hope’s a demon who has a hard time controlling her massive powers and Karl is a werewolf slash jewel thief (sometimes) that loves that demon. Karl didn’t really pop out much to me in the other werewolf stories, so his whole near-redemption situation wasn’t all that intriguing. I think maybe Armstrong knows that not all the characters really deserve their own book length work, but still wanted to use these two, and so she stuck them in with some other narrators in Living with the Dead. The result is a bit of a mess. The plot’s fine, a little involved considering that this is book nine in the Otherworld series and the reader is only familiar with a couple of the characters already – and vaguely familiar at that. Robyn, Hope’s friend that doesn’t know she’s a demon, who also has a dead husband who was – surprise! – a necromancer, starts finding lots of dead people around her. And not in a Sixth Sense way, in a “you must be the killer, you’re around” way. Oh, those supernatural crimes inspire the best police work. Well, this one kind of does once Robyn’s dead husband starts helping Finn, another new narrator.

Sometimes you read books in a series to have read the whole series…and if Armstrong’s writing wasn’t so easy to glide through, I might’ve skipped this one.

Ozma looks for a story with more dynamic narrators on the other side of the couch. The cooler werewolves are not back there, little Oz, I’m sorry.

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“In the back shakes a tambourine/Nicotine from a silver screen”

38. Silver Scream – David J. Schow, ed.

In 1988, Dark Harvest published Silver Scream, a collection of movie-centric horror stories edited by Splatterpunk dude David J. Schow. It’s awesome…except for the note at the end. Too much, man, too much. Don’t splatter me with such random tidbits. I prefer to be splattered in a much more specific way. That sounds horrible, not unlike many of the events in the stories of Silver Scream.

Ozymandias is ready to walk the path of cinematic terror. Are you?

“Cuts” by F. Paul Wilson – This reminded me of this movie that keeps randomly playing on Flix Retro called Mark of the Devil. It turns out it was part of a Hammer television series in the 1980s called Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense and involves this dude (Dirk Benedict) who murders a voodoo dude-slash-tattoo artist and grows a tattoo of the murder on his chest that he must – MUST – keep from his new bride Jenny Seagrove. In “Cuts,” things get a little bloodier than murder. Yep. It just proves that you should never mess with anyone who writes about voodoo. Also, do not fuck with books when you make them into movies. Most of the time it goes badly and in this case, you’ll suffer extensively.

“The Movie People” – Robert Bloch – I haven’t read Psycho as of yet, so I believe this is one of my first exposures to Robert Bloch’s writing (I can’t recall if he’s been in any of the other short story collections I’ve read, I’ve read a lot of them over the years). It’s a wistful story of loneliness and reaching out across time and really, really taking one’s craft as an extra seriously.

“Sinema” – Ray Garton – Holy shit this story was great. A basically abandoned kid and a serial killer in the midst of a strictly religious town watch movies together and make friends…until there are reasons for them to be not friends. A little more sadistic at the end than I would’ve liked, but I am glad the basically abandoned kid got the upper hand at some point.

Ozymandias will control what we watch from now on. He has taken control of the remote for all time.

“More Sinned Against” – Karl Edward Wagner – 100% my favorite story in the collection. I know the sacrifices women are expected and conditioned to make so that they can support someone else’s dream. It doesn’t always turn out quite like this, but the excuses were so familiar. “If I just had this, we could do this,” and they never, ever mean it. They were always planning to get ahead of you and expected you to just stay where you were. They were special, you were not. Well, getting your own action figure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes. Everyone is special.

“Bargain Cinema” – Jay Scheckley – A ballad of co-dependency. Don’t be Chuck and Patty.

“Lifecast” – Craig Spector – Sounds like Troma maybe screwed someone over at some point. Hmmm. This tale of make-up work and, yes, more voodoo, ends in a way that I was not expecting. Yikes.

Ozymandias was always very independent, and very special. He would never have made any mistakes while practicing voodoo.

“The Show Goes On” – Ramsey Campbell – Abandoned theaters are super creepy. I have been in exactly one abandoned theater myself, I was not alone – there was a print of Coach Carter there in addition to other people I came with, and thankfully it wasn’t as far gone as the theater in this story. Parts of this story made my breathing wonky because it was so easy to picture all the dust and mold and musty smells. It was also very tense, as a lot of urban exploration can be, even without the hauntings.

“The Cutter” – Edward Bryant – Delusions of romance and grandeur drive a movie theater owner who used to edit in Hollywood. He re-cuts the movies he shows and he creepily pursues and finally “edits” a young woman with a bad attitude who lets him do things for her. Eek.

There are two other things I took issue with about this collection besides the overly wordy and inside jokey essay at the end. One, the last story was Way. Too. Long. I lost interest nearly a quarter in and never regained it. I’m surprised I made it through the whole thing. And- there are no stories by women in here. There are several stories about women and featuring their perspectives, but I bet there were some stories about movies by women that really could’ve been worth including. It would’ve been nice to see more equal representation.

Ozy and Pammy, equals and Teddy Bear pigs.

 

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“Let’s play a game, it’s called scary noises.”

20. Torments – Lisa W. Cantrell

The sequel to the paperback with one of my all time favorite covers featuring an angry jack o’lantern munching on a bannister – The Manse, Torments really feels like a major re-tread. I haven’t even read The Manse, but there was so much summary information about what happened in it, that I almost feel like I don’t need to. I will eventually, of course, and maybe I’ll get déjà vu.

Anyway, this manse is haunted. So haunted that the land around it is super haunted and the town and the people and the construction site and the new apartment buildings and it’s just got super penetrating haunting powers. I think we all know how this turns out on Halloween and that it requires an elderly black woman to save whatever and whomever can be saved.

Finny’s idea of torment is sitting still for pictures. He never does. He never will. He might end up running a very specifically themed haunted house attraction someday.

 

Happy Halloween! Here are my little trick-or-treaters in Danger Things II, such a sweet little group.

 

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There are an awful lot of stakes raised here for a book that didn’t involve many vampires.

65. Wolfman Confidential – Justin Robinson

Things are getting a lot darker in the City of Devils. It would stand to reason that any story involving more of the mobster and cop elements of the adventures of Nick Moss would be on the more serious side – even if those mobsters are a sidhe, the girl version of Krang from Ninja Turtles, and a germaphobe.

At first I was a little nervous about the amount of new characters that continued to pop up and have things resolved throughout the novel. That nerviness turned out to be unfounded by the end, thankfully, as the characters circled back around or their involvement in the main plot became clear. It’s so important in a series with a world as unusual and detailed as this one to not just mention some new person or location or thing solely for its own sake and Robinson manages to keep the newness and revealed relevance fun throughout. There are a lot of weird and wonderful set pieces with a ghost gang’s lair, goblins, a phantom and his young protégé, and – unexpectedly – people.

I have to say, though, my favorite scene involved the familiar monsters who hang out at Nick’s house every night trying to get him to let them turn him. Nick basically giving story-time to Sam, Mira, and Lurkimer made for a good moment of grounding in a very action packed story.

Ozma is waiting for Pere to tell her stories about her own version of the Night War.

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“Don’t stay up thinking of ways to get rid of me, it makes wrinkles. “

17. Usher’s Passing – Robert McCammon

Well, well, well. I was really pleased with the depths that McCammon was able to get to in this one. It was swampy with dread and covered with dust and blood. Sticky. Dusty. Crumbling. It falls into the Southern Gothic pantheon for me but it moved way faster than molasses and both was and wasn’t entirely taken up with the main family, which was quite nice.

I’ve read some McCammon where it felt like the ensemble was getting away from him and a little too much stayed in and that was definitely not the case here. That said, electric blue still made quite the appearance. But of course it did.

A McCammon book without electric blue is like a day without me seeing a picture of Danger Crumples. Not going to happen

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It’s a Daddy’s Dyin’…Who’s Got the Will? for the 1970s jet set.

39. The Legacy – John Coyne

It’s the old “invite a bunch of people to a house under the guise of giving them an inheritance” story. House on Haunted Hill, House on Skull Mountain, there are more, it’s a thing. But this one has the weirdest cover ever – a white Persian cat’s head on top of a zombie hand with red nails, the cat’s head is stuck on the wrist, so it’s like Thing in costume for Halloween. The box for the movie haunted me back in the days of video stores. I am ridiculously allergic to cats but I like them (and after ten plus years of immunity treatment, I can actually hang out in the homes of persons with cats for a while) and so that cover was unnerving on a couple of levels. I still haven’t seen the movie, but I love Katharine Ross, so maybe someday I actually will watch it. Reading it didn’t really help me understand why that exact thing is on the cover. I mean, I know what it is, but, on the cover? Really?

This book is super 1970s. There’s a fashion designer, a music executive, misogyny, and not everyone who shows up to inherit knows why they’re there. The pacing was pretty slow and it didn’t really ratchet up the tension when the guests started dying. I think on the whole I could use this review some random person on a message board left for my book Dawn of the Interns to sum things up: “It is worth to read.” It IS worth to read if you want a dose of the 1970s and like those stories about people grouped together in rich people houses to “last through the night.”

looks exactly like Katharine Ross, doesn’t she? Maybe I’ll submit her to those magazine “Separated at Birth” things… Maybe not.

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“Only the ghosts in this house are glad we’re here.”

34. October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween – Richard Chizmar & Robert Morrish, eds.

October is one of the months that I always wish I could take entirely off my day job – at least, pre-climate change. Now it usually has a crappy hot week and some not really all that fallesque weeks and way less of what I expect – not enough crisp air and insect and plant death to make my allergies just a bit easier to manage. Also, it should come as no surprise that Halloween is my favorite holiday. I may have even mentioned that before on here. I’m not sure, but it’s still my favorite holiday.

It’s also the month when I adopted Horace, the heart of my herd and the sweetest guinea pig. He was so excited to find out there were other guinea pigs in my house when I brought him home that he didn’t stop vocalizing for half an hour. It was the best. Although I did not get him on Halloween, it was close, October 24th, and so essentially, adopting him is one of my favorite Halloween-adjacent memories.

October Dreams has an interesting structure. It goes back and forth between short stories and “My Favorite Halloween Memory” segments from horror authors. Some of the memories are better than the stories as they truly give a picture of Halloween and they really break up the experience of reading this 660 page long collection. I’m not going to discuss them further beyond saying that they are the full size Snickers of the reading experience.

You could say that Horace is the full size Snickers of guinea pigs. He was a big pig and incredibly sweet.

Dean Koontz – “The Black Pumpkin” – Once again I found myself really enjoying the work of Dean Koontz. A kid buys a super gnarly pumpkin from a super gnarly man despite his reservations and because of some taunting from his jackass brother; and it, well, had the exact ending I expected.

Poppy Z. Brite – “Lantern Marsh” – Before the immense life changes, and really, still after, you could always count on the swampy and mysterious to work their way into a Brite story. This is no exception and plays a little off the weirdness of coming home and reacting to how your hometown doesn’t stay frozen just because you left.

Thomas Ligotti – “Conversations in a Dead Language” – An off-kilter selection covering the ins and outs of handing out candy.

Thomas F. Monteleone – “Yesterday’s Child” – This one had great atmosphere and some creepery to go with.

Peregrine is creeping up on Horace who thinks he’s creeping up on that pumpkin. This herd can handle some creepery.

Simon Clark – “The Whitby Experience” – A vacation gone wrong in the best way. Misty…confusing…pizza gets burned – they’re going to have a bad time.

Ray Bradbury – “In-Between, A Halloween Poem” – It’s a poem. I’m fine with poems. Poems about Halloween are fine.

Jack Ketchum – “Gone” – Sometimes it seems like letting strangers knock on your door for candy really is opening yourself up to psychological punishment. Especially if you’ve lost a child that you’ll never see through the opposite end of the experiment.

Gahan Wilson – “Yesterday’s Witch” – This was just cute.

Paula Guran – “A Short History of Halloween” – Non-fiction interlude! I appreciated this because, to a librarian, there are no celebrations of anything without helpful, verified information.

Horace runs from my nerdery. He did not want to know the illustrious history of pumpkin photoshoots.

John Shirley – “Mask Game” – Family conflicts played out without those helpful puppets you see in movies with family counseling scenes sometimes. The classic example being What About Bob? This story also reminded me of all those times on Supernatural when young people inadvertently summoned old gods or goddesses.

David B. Silva – “Out of the Dark” – It’s always good to be nice to that immortal entity you trapped in a trunk.

Ray Bradbury – “Heavy Set” – I did not expect this kind of a story from Ray Bradbury, I really don’t associate him with assholes who lift weights in their mom’s yard.

Richard Laymon – “Boo” – An interesting twist on the “Bet you can’t go up on the creepy porch” story. He added stalking.

Douglas E. Winter – “Masks” – My strongest anxious memories are about waiting. So this story was very effective for me.

Horace is waiting for me to stop taking pictures so he doesn’t have to establish a new residence atop this pumpkin.

Caitlin R. Kiernan – “A Redress for Andromeda” – I read this story previously in a different collection of hers and I have to say it’s a bit more to my taste than most of her work. A little more plot and less reliance on atmosphere to carry everything.

Lewis Shiner – “The Circle” – One hell of a time travel tale. It also involved those super awkward feelings that happen when you tried to get all your friends to like your new boyfriend and he sucked and then you broke up. Tail between legs.

Gary A. Braunbeck – ” ‘First of All, It Was October…’ An Overview of Halloween Films” – Non-fiction interlude two! This was a great list. But I do not agree about Ernest Scared Stupid. I was in fact scared stupid by that movie. Some of us are scared of trolls. And rolling over to find one in your bed is just well, let’s just say it kept me up at night for years, despite the overall stupidity of the whole enterprise.

This one time I made Horace come with me to investigate whether or not something else that scared me stupid was still in the basement. It was. Horace was a valiant pig, he totally helped me be less terrified.

Tim Lebbon – “Pay the Ghost” – Very reminiscent of True Crime. Loss, weird journeys, pits full of dead things.

F. Paul Wilson – “Buckets” – One time I was grading this beginner college course on philosophy. It actually didn’t really fit my idea of “philosophy,” but anyway, one assignment was an argumentative paper. A student turned in a paper full of the images that anti-abortion zealots use on their posters, images of bloody fetuses and about one page saying she wasn’t a fan of abortion in the least objective terms possible. That was a fail and from my perspective, so was this story.

Stephen Mark Rainey – “Orchestra” – This was an unexpectedly clever story. It was interesting to see old dude pro musicians as the protagonists and it does not have a nice ending.

Charles L. Grant – “Eyes” – Another disturbing story. Damn, dude. The things some people do for their kids.

Horace and Peregrine took a long time to be proper friends. Horace would’ve done a lot for her, including endure many sharp nips until she let him skritch her chin with his face.

Dominick Cancilla – “Deathmask” – Super creepy teenager and mom paranoia story. I really enjoyed this one.

Michael Marshall Smith – “Some Witch’s Bed” – “He will never forget her” – you’re damn right.

Ramsey Campbell – “The Trick” – Not a very nice story at all. There’s a dog involved, just a warning for those of you who want to be warned about that sort of thing.

Peter Straub – “Porkpie Hat” – So, I have to admit that whenever anyone mentions jazz I immediately think of white middle aged men snapping their fingers and trying to seem cool in record stores. I also think “Just play the right notes!” and I can’t even remember where that quote came from anymore. However, Straub managed to suck me in by saying Hat, the main character, was from Mississippi. Fine. We’ll see what you do with it, man. We’ll see. Of course, this is a Mississippi I do not know, one that feels closer in kin to Joe Lansdale’s East Texas than my Hattiesburg, I’m also, like, way younger than the characters, so, that has an effect. Anyway, it was a really solid, image-invoking, page turner of a story. Thankfully, not too much jazz description had to be endured.

Horace had his MA in telling stories to ladypigs.

Stefan Dziemianowicz – “Trick-or-Read, A Reader’s Guide to Halloween Fiction” – Non-fiction informational interlude number three! SO helpful. I loved this list because it allowed me to check things off and to find new books.

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“Thou art to be hanged and then burned over a basket of living cats.” (Warlock)

34. Witchfinder General: The Biography of Matthew Hopkins – Craig Cabell

It took me a very long time to finish this because it includes full representations of pamphlets from the time period which are extremely hard to get through. So little punctuation, so many block paragraphs…I will be forever grateful for the invention of indentation. One of those pamphlets, the short one, is by the subject, who is listed in the Dramatis Personae (yep, that’s how he put it) as “Matthew Hopkins, Son of James Hopkins: shipping clerk and witchfinder.” Nice dig, Cabell.

The longest pamphlet is by Hopkins’ assistant John Stearne and it is all about teats. Seriously. Teats- it could have a protrusion, but it could not have too much of one, or there could be a dark circle in it or a pinprick, but it might not be too obvious because they can like suck them back in after their Imps suck blood out of them and it might have a darker circle around it and it could be anywhere – anywhere – on their body. His pamphlet was endless and the reason why I put the book down for months at a time. All block paragraphs, half-teat coverage, half half-assed justification and confessions. He’s like the toady of the head dickface who wants you to think he’s a nice guy (TM) while he cops a feel checking for “teats.” If fedoras had existed in that time, he’d have been wearing one. Matthew was wearing the most ostentatious hat, after all, like Mystery on the Pick Up Artist reality show formerly on VH1.

The weirdest element of the witchfinder situation to me is that he only worked for a few years – 1645-7 – and he “sent over 200 people, mainly women, to their death for the crime of witchcraft.” That’s a hell of an impact. By the way, only one was burned. One. Her name was Mary Lakeland, of Ipswich, and apparently she was also a Royalist agent.

He also died at age 28, of consumption, which is the most inaccurate part of the film starring Vincent Price. Apparently the whole depiction of “accusation, torture, and forced confession” is pretty accurate; also, the film was shot in the original locations. It definitely added more authority to have Vincent Price as opposed to your average peacocking 26 year old “wallowing in his own self-glorification” for a fee. Thankfully he did get to experience at least one of his own torture methods before he died – the “swim test,” he was proven to be a witch based on his own ideas about water and witches. Why there’s no statue of him in his home town that’s just labeled “Total dick” for people to spit on I will never know. It might help future generations as we go backward through time morally.

Yes, Pere and Merri, we would all be hanged as witches if we lived then…fun. Hopefully before we had to hear a witchfinder say the word “fleshie,” which was an overused teat-description in the pamphlets.

 

Salem’s version is a lot cuter and maybe more sassy too.

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“THE CATSsssssss” seven extra s’s in the blurb preface. Yep. Now I’m scared.

24. The Cats – Nick Sharman

I must begin with a note about the cautiousness of our publishing times, well, 2013 and probably still today. When pitching editors in ye olde New York City about the first book in my Squirrelpocalypse Trilogy, I was told to market it as middle grade instead of YA even though to me it was gory and funny enough to just be aimed at nerdy 30+ year olds who grew up watching Gremlins and Ghostbusters. YA was my genre compromise because it takes place at a boarding high school. The editorial argument was that the premise of a rising plague of person-devouring squirrels was for middle school kids. Far too ridiculous for anyone else. Not entirely. I think maybe it would’ve been more disturbing if I let diseased rodents rip the flesh off of middle schoolers. If I did that I’d have to seriously consider Splatterpunk as my defunct genre of choice and I’ve already got enough “too many dudes in here” genre issues in Horror Comedy. Anyway, all of that happened way before I read my copy of The Cats.

The Cats is about a plague of diseased cats (and one naked middle schooler) trying to kill off London when they get too hot. The cat-madness infection responds to temperature and that poor young boy was feeding them when the a/c broke and got swept up into the highjinks. It was marketed to adults because it’s not silly to let diseased cats try to take over London. Nope. Nick Sharman was published in an age of opportunity for letting small animals rage in print.

Ozymandias and Danger Crumples demonstrate small animals about to rage. Well, sort of, I separated them shortly after this photo. They were fighting about how maybe my writing would’ve been more acceptable in the 80s. Danger thought 90s. That’s what guinea pigs fight about. Literary problems.

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Happy “Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary” and “Deathday” to a LOT of people! Second most had birthday! Fall break!

41. Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson – Judy Oppenheimer

The “private demons” of the title turned out to be more along the lines of “communal” demons to me. I related quite heavily to a lot of what’s presented in a pretty novelesque fashion in this biography. And that’s both good and bad. Referring to oneself as “gratuitously difficult” is definitely something I understand wholeheartedly. I also understand trying to save or fix yourself through writing; dating someone who legitimately believes in you but also can’t stop trying to be the center of attention; moving to a new place and having some people make it a point to make sure you never forget you’re not one of them (Outlander! I’m only from one effing state away.); and collecting objects other people find morbid. Bones! Usually not human! I don’t think any of the ones I have are human! Many are fake! Anyway, I’ve always seen myself and what I could become reflected in Shirley Jackson’s work – particularly We Have Always Lived in the Castle’s Merricat (if I was left completely alone it would probably take about a week for me to start ritualizing, just replace Jonah the cat with my pigs, I do not keep sugar on hand though, just for reference).

It really shouldn’t have surprised me that I’d relate to her. I guess I just didn’t expect her to be so utterly relatable. After all, she actually had a career that involved writing as her main occupation, and she had children, and I hadn’t realized that I totally have depression when I first read this. I have not been able to get near the level of writing career I want (not unlike most writers), and I also have yet to become addicted to barbiturates. I am pretty into Lemonheads though. Not making light of addiction, just relating to the fact that Shirley Jackson was also heavily into candy. So, for me, this was essential reading because it’s yet another example of how I’m not entirely delusional about who I’ve always thought I am and how hard I keep trying to do the work that means something to me. Some people aren’t easy and don’t have it easy, it’s a thing; it’s not just me – or you, or anyone who doesn’t give up just because someone else wants them to be nicer.

Apparently there’s a newer Shirley Jackson biography. Swell. We’ll see if I still find myself in that one, it supposedly has a lot of information gleaned from previously unpublished sources and maybe won’t be quite as novely as Private Demons. I hope I do.

Murderface and Pickles. Ladies of ritual and discerning taste I also admire.

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