Tag Archives: Horror

Reindeer Hell

2. The Ritual – Adam Nevill

Wet. Cold. Brutal. The Ritual is a lovely book. I truly enjoyed reading it, but I do gravitate toward journey stories and when that journey ends up involving an ancient cemetery, metal, hooves, and a single person who keeps having to defend their life choices to their bitchy friends who are, in the end, kinda envious of their freedom and fortitude, I know I’m going to love it. And it was scary too.

Nevill’s description of that upper floor of the first creepy-ass cabin they ran into did my head in- it’s always better to describe the unnatural in increments – plus he said the sculpture’s tail was mouse-eaten and that is truly terrifying when coupled with the knowledge that the lost middle-aged men went into that cabin with wet jeans…and also came out with wet jeans and nightmares.

If being chilled to the bone and unable to get warm doesn’t scare you, then this won’t really work for you and you’ll probably get annoyed by the amount of environmental description but for me that worked very well. I also really, really liked the little old lady who doesn’t say anything. She’s pretty much my favorite character, even if she is technically against our protagonist.

If you’ve seen the movie, then what I just described might sound odd – because they pretty much took out all my favorite parts. The cabin sculpture’s not the same, the little old lady is missing, and so are most of the hooves and the metal and the cemetery (or maybe they found that but I don’t recall the super cool church that went with it). The movie is as pretty and full of trees as I expected, but, as per usual, the book is better.

This is Finny. He has been turning to calcium from the inside while keeping the most feisty attitude long enough that I am pretty sure he is a mythological beast creature. Brutal.

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“There’s been a murder almost everywhere in this house.”

75. Anna Dressed in Blood – Kendare Blake

It took me a bit to realize the head I was in was male. I’m so used to YA books with supernatural elements being told from female perspectives that it was a bit of a shock to figure out this was a young guy’s head. Also, he didn’t constantly think about boobs and changing his clothes, so how was I supposed to know? Anyway, the head belongs to Cas (Theseus Cassio) and his father was killed by a ghost. Now he and his mom follow other ghosts and kill them, along with their cat, Tybalt. Somebody likes Shakespeare. The titular ghost is up in Thunder Bay, Canada, and she is a doozy. She’s sixteen and she’s killed a lot of people. A lot. Pretty much anyone who comes in her house.

I didn’t expect this to be as good as it was. It was very teen and yet involved pop culture references that would probably work better for people in their 30s, so that worked for me; but it was just better than it seemed like it should be. The characters seemed natural, the gory parts were gory, and one of the characters attempted to stop library vandalism – good. The one thing that was pretty off-putting was the design choice of printing the book in dried-blood-brown ink. It makes sense, but it hurt my eyes a little to read it all the same. And it really wasn’t necessary for such a compelling narrative to have that kind of gimmick.

Salem’s ready for some in your face ghost hunting too.

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Mr. Rogers is nowhere in sight.

51. The Neighborhood – S.K. Epperson

There’s a bird hoarding nutbar whose brain will turn on him and a lot of other people, a lying doctor whose brother has SMALLPOX, of all the diseases to somehow get, and he’s trying to pass it off as HIV to a nurse he hired out of his hospital, the vocally disabled ex-cop who gardens and totally works out and also makes eyes for the eyeless as a single father, the ex-burglar who is pretty much just a dick – even when he’s shackled in a basement -, and the mentally underdeveloped adult who keeps getting into trouble he really doesn’t deserve. Epperson’s ensemble have generally distinct personalities, different motivations, and her story comes together in an entirely unpleasant for the characters but highly readable way.

I’ve now read three of her books and frankly, I like her stories. I also like how she works in awful things and diseases! By the way, the nurse and the ex-cop get together and since she was with the dude with Smallpox when he died and he was totally breathing in the room…everyone in the neighborhood who isn’t dead will now die of Smallpox. It’s a very stealthy way to have a happy ending that will turn out TERRIBLE. Yay!

All’s well that ends well; Merricat and Danger Crumples know how loaded endings can really be.

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They did not talk about Madeline Ashton.

70. We Are All Completely Fine – Daryl Gregory

“We’re different from other people,” she’d said. “We only feel at home when we’re a little bit afraid.”

As someone who has many similarities in thinking to a prey animal, I understand that sentiment better than I want to. I sometimes think that one of the reasons that guinea pigs and I get along so well is that very similarity – prey knows prey. And I am very strong and resilient, but I am also hypervigilant and many other things people don’t associate with being strong or resilient. I’m the worst kind of prey.

The premise of this clever little novella is a support group for people who’ve been through trauma that has a supernatural edge. There are five of them and they’re in group therapy – brought together to identify and process and try to work on what makes them different and deal with how trauma has re-wired their brains. Except that they find out they really just need to band together and try to help the youngest and most fiery of their five escape the cult that keeps coming after her because of what she keeps on the inside. It sort of works, sort of, and for the most part they come to a level of understanding and acceptance.

I really liked this, and it is the first work of Daryl Gregory I’ve ever read, but I kept feeling like I was missing something or that he was referencing his other works. It seemed like a novella relying on some shorthand I wasn’t privy to. We’ll see. However, we will not see soon, because my theme this year is to review the books of authors that I haven’t read much. If I haven’t read more than three of their books, they’re in. Short stories don’t count, although they certainly counted last year.

When Finny is feeling completely fine, he puts his little front feets out like this.

 

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Whiner.

32. The Bachman Books: Road Work – Richard Bachman

When I first read this book I felt very little sympathy for the main character. He seemed like a controlling jerk who can’t cope with change and decides to take it out on everyone else. I still think that’s a big part of who the main character is; he seems to be angry in part because he can’t control how things are changing and has acted like a complete entitled ass about some of it. However, as one ages, one has the possibility of understanding how people get to this point more easily. I imagine if he was a lady he wouldn’t have made the same decisions because he would’ve had more of an idea how stacked against you society can be and maybe not been so extreme in his reactions so as not to “cause a scene.” Of course, then there’s no book. “Woman calmly endures negative change despite many things working against her” is just how things are. Ew.

Danger Crumples faces the future while Ozymandias tries to hide under a stuffed turtle.

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Hand faces. There’s also a demented parrot.

14. Master of Lies – Graham Masterton

I thought this was going to be about castration and cults, but, it’s mostly not. It’s about an Italian cop and a very corrupt San Francisco police department and everybody’s in on it – except that guy who gets castrated. Also, there are hand faces.

I actually think the Fog City Satan case might make for a weird season of True Detective. It would resemble a crossover between seasons one and two – the vague supernatural (that would become super not vague) of season one and basically most of season two without any prostitution or drugs or Taylor Kitsch. Just some corruption, smarmy dialogue, and – now that I think about it – it’s got nothing really from season one. Take season two, add fully formed families for supernatural sacrifice and some hand faces, and it might have actually been a little better television.

Also, I think the state of constant upset in the world is making me super desensitized to gore and Graham Masterton’s usual level of vulgar description – or, he was getting soft in this one. Or bloodless. He did use the word “musk” one too many times and I never really squirmed after the scene with the nails in the first chapter.

“When is a book that says it’s about castration and cults actually going to be about castration and cults? What do we have to do to get some castration and cults going? Geez.” – Peregrine is very interested in “c” words. She’s cute.

 

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Cold sliced meat mentions: 0 (Stupid post-apocalyptic country)

27. Chimera – Mira Grant

It’s the end of the trilogy and Sal has finally realized that being afraid of cars is a learned behavior she shouldn’t have had. Finally. Geez. It took enough pages. I don’t recall anyone gaslighting her about cars in the first one, just her reacting to them- so, not signposted and I feel right for being annoyed the whole time. Also noticed by me – she lost her concern for her collection of carnivorous plants at some point. And I thought she and her boyfriend were compassionate.

Anyway, she has turned that lost compassion for plants into compassion for a zombie-child that read to me like a distraction for the sciencey parts and brought another confusing character relationship to the forefront. Sherman? When did Sherman not just seem like surface-level manipulative about “loving” Sal? Why does he love Sal? Why is anyone even interested in Sal beyond her tapeworm being skilled, again?

So, Sal finds a kid and goes on a post-apocalypse road trip and makes bad friends and bits of her have been put into the water supply by Sherman while he giggles like a maniac but also tries to present himself as a viable love interest. Yep, that’s a run-on, but, so’s the plot.

Thankfully, Tansy aka Foxy from Newsflesh part deux, doesn’t say anything in the entire book. Instead, the role of warped person who makes functional suggestions and does the heavy work is taken by Fishy, a guy who pretends to be in a video game. Actually, Fishy reminds me a lot of Shawn from Newsflesh. I feel like everyone in these two series is basically recycled somehow. But Georgia wasn’t as boring a narrator as Sal. Yeesh. Both, however, are diseased, broken, apparently good looking women. Okay then. I’m sure all the characters in both series would have a hell of a brunch together, although it might devolve into carnage if the cold cuts tray wasn’t re-stocked a few times.

“Seriously? No luncheon meats? None?” Thaddeus is shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

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“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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