Five For Friday!

Thanks to Little Red Reviewer for giving me this idea.  Basically, the idea is to grab five books off my bookshelf, take a picture of them and post it here, and open up the discussion.  If you read this post, take a look at the books listed below and drop a comment.  Have you read them?  Do you like them?  Would you recommend them to someone else?  Or, do you hate them? (a perfectly valid response)

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Gil’s All Fright Diner, by A. Lee Martinez.  This one I have not read yet.  I picked it up at a used bookstore a month ago, after the title and cover art caught my eye.  I have a huge TBR pile, but I’m hoping to get to this one this year.

Riddle-Master, by Patricia McKillip.  This is actually an omnibus of the Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy.  I first read the series as a teenager and loved it.  Aside from Tolkien, McKillip’s trilogy is one of my favorite fantasy stories, and I reread it every few years.

The Complete Stories, by Flannery O’Connor.  I recently got into a discussion about O’Connor’s work the other day on Twitter, and I had to get my hands on this collection.  If you’ve never read O’Connor’s stories, you’re definitely missing out.  Her story, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, is one of the most powerful short stories of the 20th Century.  I strongly encourage you to find a copy and give it a read.

The Black Stranger and Other American Tales, by Robert E. Howard.  Howard is most famous for his Conan stories, but he has written tales in several genres.  This book is a collection of some of his horror stories, including Pigeons From Hell.  If you enjoy horror, especially Southern Gothic, you need to read this story.  Howard is still one of my favorite authors.  He had some serious writing chops.  If you’ve never read him, or dismissed him as “that guy that wrote Conan”, you need to check him out.  He’s written sword and sorcery, boxing stories, westerns, mysteries, and adventure tales.  Check him out!

Patient Zero, by Jonathan Maberry.  A friend introduced me to Maberry’s stories back around 2010, particularly his Joe Ledger series.  Patient Zero is the first Joe Ledger book, and I love that series.  Ledger is a snarky police detective who gets hired by a classified government agency, the DMS.  In Patient Zero, Ledger finds himself going after a shadowy terrorist organization that has come up with a formula that turns people into zombies, and that plans to unleash an apocalyptic outbreak in America.  It’s a fast and furious read, and kicks off one hell of a wild ride of a series that I’ve enjoyed reading.  I’ve read Patient Zero and many of the other novels of the series over five times now.  Well worth the money and time to grab yourself a copy.

That’s it for today.  Y’all have an awesome weekend!

Kicking Off Women in Horror Month

It’s February 1st, and Women in Horror Month has begun.  I’m starting my celebration of all the talented women horror writers out there with Devil’s Call, by J. Danielle Dorn.

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At this moment, I’m only a few pages into the novel, but already I’m loving this story.  My attention was captured from the very first sentence:

“Before I leave you in this world, my dear, I aim to record what came to pass when your momma rode from the Nebraska Territory to Louisiana to the frozen Badlands to bring to justice the monster who murdered your father.”

I enjoy horror, westerns, weird westerns, and fantasy, and it looks like this novel will have elements from all those genres.  Check back at my blog later this month when I will be posting a full review.  In the meantime, if you’re a fan of horror fiction, I highly recommend this novel.

Here’s some other titles on my list to read for this month as part of WiHM:

Skin Folk, by Nalo Hopkinson

The Very Best of Caitlin Kiernan, by Caitlin Kiernan.  (coming out later this month)

Island of Bones, by Gaby Triana

The Hole by Hye-young Pyun

Craven Manor, by Darcy Coates

The Rust Maidens, by Gwendolyn Kiste

The Fray, by Holly McKee

Bella Strega, by Elizabeth Price

The Devil Crept In, by Ania Ahlborn

Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard

Of course, there are many other great novels and story collections by women horror writers out there, but this list is a great place to start.  Whether you choose one from this list or elsewhere, I encourage you to grab one of the many great horror novels by women authors and join me in celebrating WiHM.

To quote the late great Stan Lee,

Excelsior!

Black Wings

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I just finished reading Black Wings by Megan Hart, and I have to say it was a damned good read.  The premise is one I’ve seen before; genius kid turns evil and cooks up a wicked scheme of some sort or other.  However, while the overall theme might not be original, I thought Hart did an excellent job of taking that trope and making it her own.  I was kept guessing as to the direction the story would take, almost until the conclusion.

The story centers around Marian Blake and her relationship with her daughter, Briella.  Briella is an off-the-charts level genius child who, after having trouble fitting in with her classmates and struggling with a public-school system unable to meet her needs, is transferred to Parkhaven, a special school for highly gifted children.  Creepy and worrisome events begin to take place, and Briella starts down a dark path.

As I mentioned earlier, Hart does a great job of unfolding the story without giving out much as to what will be coming next.  I remember closing the book at one point and thinking that there were at least four or five directions the story could be going.  I won’t go into detail, no spoilers here, but the story, at different points, looked like it could possibly become a dark urban fantasy, a ghost story, a tale of possession (of sorts), a creepy cautionary tale, or perhaps sci-fi horror.  The novel ended up having bits and pieces of all that, but ultimately the story removed all those hats and forged its own identity.

I read the last forty pages in one sitting.  The tension was high enough and the mystery of what was going to happen kept me going till the end.  The ending…well, it blew me away.  I did not see it coming, yet in hindsight, it was in keeping with the characters’ personalities and should have been patently obvious.  Kudos to Megan Hart for a skillfully woven tale that kept me guessing.

I recommend this book to not only fans of horror fiction, but to anyone who enjoys a good story.  More than anything else, the novel centers around relationships, and the effects that one’s actions have on the relationships with other people.  Hart did an excellent job of exploring the personality and motivations of all the characters involved, giving us a well-rounded cast of three-dimensional individuals.  I give this story four stars.

Disclaimer:  Flame Tree provided me with a free advance reading copy of the novel, in exchange for an honest review.  I did not receive any compensation, other than the book, for this review, and the thoughts and opinions expressed herein are completely my own.

Thirteen Reads for Women in Horror Month

A little over a week to go till we begin the 2019 Women in Horror Month, and I am excited!  I’ve been compiling a list of books to read, review and promote as part of the celebration of WIHM at my blog.  It was a challenge compiling this list; there are just so many talented women horror writers out there, and so many, well, just plain damned good books to choose from.

What follows is a list of books from women authors that I feel will give a good sampling of titles to read for WIHM.  These are all books that caught my eye, either from articles I’ve read, recommendations on Amazon, or by word of mouth.  Each of these titles captured my attention and I look forward to reading them.  Some I’ve already read, but the bulk of these novels will be a new experience for me, and I look forward to reading as many of them as I can through February.  I invite anyone and everyone reading this blog post to join me in celebrating WIHM by choosing one or more books to read from the list that follows.  Enjoy!

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Bailey’s Cafe, by Gloria Naylor.  I hemmed and hawed about including this book in a list of horror stories.  I’m sure there are those in the literary world that will raise dudgeons to new heights at the suggestion that Bailey’s Cafe is a horror novel.  Bailey’s Cafe is a literary masterpiece, they’ll say, while wringing their hands in dismay that I would consign the novel to the realm of genre fiction.  In response, I would have no choice but to open the book and direct their attention to any of several passages that are dark, disturbing, and quite chilling.  I will agree that Naylor’s novel transcends genre, but I firmly believe that any fan of horror fiction could pick up a copy of Bailey’s Cafe and thoroughly enjoy it.  I first read this book around twenty years ago.  I remember sitting down to start reading shortly after dinner one night.  I finished the book in the wee hours of the next morning, and I was so stunned by what I had read that I couldn’t go to sleep for another hour.  I just sat there thinking about it.  Yeah, it’s that good.  If you only have time to read one book this month, I urge you to give this one a shot.  Not only do I regard this as a great piece of fiction by a woman writer, I think it’s a masterpiece of modern American literature, period.

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Black Wings, by Megan Hart.  I received an advance reading copy of this novel from Flame Tree Press, and I’ll be buying an official copy when it’s released on February 14th.  I’m two-thirds of the way through the book now and loving it.  The story is about a young girl with a genius-plus intelligence who begins exhibiting some disquieting signs.  It’s a gripping story, and so far, it’s keeping me guessing as to what’s going to happen.  I’ll be writing and posting a formal review in a few days, but for now, I’ll say I definitely recommend this to all fans of horror fiction.  Watch for this one!

henderson close

The Haunting of Henderson Close, by Catherine Cavendish.  I read this one earlier this year for the first time, and it was my introduction to the writing of Catherine Cavendish.  I’ve posted about the novel here on my blog and on Amazon.  No need to rehash my review here; let it suffice to say if you enjoy a good ghost story, you’ll love this novel.  It’s haunting, creepy, scary and sad, and I loved every minute I spent reading it.  The author has a beautiful and elegant prose that I loved, and I look forward to reading more by her.

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Skin Folk: Stories, by Nalo Hopkinson.  This book, and, to be honest, all the rest of the following titles are ones that I have not read yet.  I selected them because everything I’ve heard or read about them indicates that they will be good reads.  I encountered this collection of stories while browsing around on Amazon.  According to the description on Amazon, it’s a set of stories that range from “science fiction to Caribbean folklore,” and from “passionate love to chilling horror.”  I enjoy stories that delve into folklore and mythology, and as I really haven’t read anything dealing with Caribbean folklore, it was a no-brainer putting it on my list of books to read in the coming month.

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Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard.  I learned of this novel after hearing it discussed on one of my favorite podcasts, Three Guys With Beards.  Kat Howard was a guest on an episode from 2016, and they discussed her then just-released novel.  The book is basically a modern fairy tale that explores the dangers involved in dealing with the Fae.  This sounds like a really fun read, and I’m looking forward to it.

black magic women

Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, edited by Sumiko Saulson.  February is not only WIHM, it’s also African-American History Month, and with that in mind, this title and the next one are books I recommend as a celebration of both themes. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this anthology, and I look forward to enjoying the stories therein.

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Sycorax’s Daughters, edited by Kinitra Brooks, PHD.  Another great collection of stories written by African-American women horror writers.  I will be writing more about this book and Black Magic Women through the month of February.

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Rust Maidens, by Gwendolyn Kiste.  “Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.”  That’s the beginning of the description for this novel on Amazon, and when I read further, I knew I had to get this book.  It sounds like one of the more original ideas in horror fiction in recent years, and I am eager to read this novel.  Check it out, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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The Hole, by Hye-Young Pyun.  This novel is about a man named Oghi, who awakens after an accident to find he’s paralyzed and disfigured, and in the care of his mother-in-law.  Needless to say, creepy things begin happening, and the story spirals into horror as Oghi tries to find a way to escape.  Hye-Young Pyun is an emerging writer of horror fiction, and from all accounts, is an author to watch.  The two books she’s released thus far have garnered acclaim.  Can’t wait to read this one.

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All the Names They Used For God, by Anjali Sachdev.  A collection of stories by another emerging writer.  Sachdev’s book was named one of the best books of the year by NPR.  As with the others on the list, I’m eager to delve into this book.

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Devil’s Call, by J. Danielle Dorn.  Three men murder another man in the presence of his pregnant wife.  The men don’t realize that the woman is one in a long line of witches.  Hell ensues.  Yep, I’m definitely looking forward to this story.

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The Fray, by Holly McKee.  This is the first novel by McKee, and it sounds like a good one.  An expedition into the Alaskan wilds and a fight for survival, both from the natural dangers of the wilderness and terrifying mythical beings.  I will definitely be reading this one.

bella strega

Bella Strega, by Elizabeth Price.  A woman unjustly accused of being a witch and subsequently put to death leads to a modern day tale of terror aboard a haunted ship.  Sounds like a great, scary read.  As with the others, can’t wait to crack it open.

That’s it for this list.  I hope you enjoy reading them, and that you use this list to spur yourself to find and read other stories by women horror writers.  There are tons of great ones out there; I haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s available.  Start your journey today!

Review of The Haunting of Henderson Close

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I opened up a package a couple of weeks ago to find several advance reading copies sent my way from Flame Tree Press.  One of the novels in the box was The Haunting of Henderson Close, by Catherine Cavendish.  I took it and the other books and put them on the bookshelf down in my “studio” on the lower level of my house.  There it sat for a few days till I began reading.  I was hooked from the first paragraph:

                        The tall woman lifted her skirt as she crossed the filthy,

                        narrow street.  Her nose wrinkled at the stench of human

                        waste, rotting fruit and vegetables and all manner of foul

                        remains that sloshed their way down the gutters of the

                        open sewer that was Henderson Close, deep in the squalid

                        heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Thus begins a tale that now sits in my list of favorite ghost stories.  I can’t say it’s the scariest story I’ve ever read.  Nor is it necessarily the freakiest or creepiest book I’ve come across.  It does, however, have a sense of atmosphere I haven’t encountered very often.  Cavendish does an excellent job of conveying the sights, sounds, and smells of the locales in her story.  And she does it without an overabundance of needless description.  I have read novels in the past where the author beat me over the head for several pages describing a single site in the story.  Cavendish, thankfully, escorts the reader with a rich, yet to the point flair for description as she guides you through the tale.

The novel begins with a brutal murder that takes place in Henderson Close, back in 1891.  The story then jumps to the present, where we follow Hannah, a new tour guide working at Henderson Close.  She leads tour groups on a haunted tour through Henderson Close, regaling them with stories, some humorous and some frightening.  Strange things start happening almost immediately after Hannah comes on board as a staff member.  Sightings of mysterious people who vanish afterward, time-slips, strange sounds and smells, and something dark and deadly lurking within Henderson Close.

Tension builds throughout the book as bit by bit, the true nature of the evil at the heart of the Old Town is gradually revealed.  I enjoyed the way the author told the story.  She doesn’t rely on the stereotypical jump scare, or a gross-out scene, to hook the reader’s attention and keep him turning the pages.  Cavendish’s technique is the literary equivalent of peeling an onion.  Bit by bit, piece by piece, she leads us toward the core of the tale.  Her skill at weaving words and sentences into elegant prose keeps us looking over her shoulder as she pares the onion down to it’s core.  And, like the experience of a cook in the process of cutting into an onion, there may well be tears by the finale of the tale.

I loved this book.  It’s the first story I’ve read by Catherine Cavendish, and it won’t be the last.  She’s a gifted storyteller, and I was a bit sad to read the last page and then put the book down, in much the same way one feels upon watching the end of the final episode of a well-done television series.  I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a hauntingly good tale.

My Favorite Reads of 2018

Well, it’s the end of the year, and book-wise, 2018 was awesome.  I found many new authors and books and have managed to compile a to-be-read list of novels and collections that will keep me busy for the next couple of years at least.  Looking back, here are some of my favorite stories from the past year.  I should mention that this list is of the books I read this past year, and not necessarily new books that were printed in 2018.  I enjoyed all of the books listed here, and they are not listed in any particular order.

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts.  This one is not a horror novel, although some parts of it are rather grim.  It’s the tale of an Australian expatriate who makes it to Bombay, India, where he embarks on a personal journey through the underworld of that city.    Shantaram is a beautifully written story, filled with life, love, laughter, and the grim truth of death, betrayal, and sorrow too deep for words.  It’s a powerful tale.

Ghost Road Blues and Dead Man’s Song, by Jonathan Maberry.  These two books appeared in the early 2000’s, and are the first two installments of the Pine Deep Trilogy by Maberry.  Awesome story about the bloody and brutal events leading up to Halloween in the town of Pine Deep.  Bad Moon Rising is the final part of the story, but as I’ve yet to read that book, it shall have to be on next year’s list.  Maberry is one of my favorite authors, and if you’ve never read his work before, you should give the Pine Deep books a read.

Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiassen.  This one is a mystery novel set in the Florida Keys.  It’s one of the funniest stories I’ve read in a while.  It’s about a man named Andrew Yancy, a Health Inspector who one day ends up with a human arm in his freezer.  His subsequent investigation introduces him to a wild assortment of zany characters, including a voodoo witch known as the Dragon Queen, a particularly foul-tempered monkey, and a new girlfriend who happens to be a coroner and has some particularly interesting romantic habits.  Yancy himself is an oddball character.  He was removed from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office after assaulting the abusive husband of his ex-girlfriend.  It would seem that Yancy discovered a rather unique way of using a vacuum cleaner on the abusive husband.  If you’re in the mood for a thoroughly entertaining and wildly funny novel, give this one a try.

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman.  This book really needs no introduction, with all the buzz about it and the recent arrival of its movie adaptation.  One of the best horror stories I’ve read in recent years, hands down.  If you still haven’t read this one or at least seen the movie, you’re missing out.  Badly.

For Emmy, by Mary SanGiovanni.  This is a novella of cosmic horror.  It’s a bit of a quieter tale, but I enjoyed it.  If you like Lovecraftian stories, and especially those of the Cthulhu Mythos, you’ll enjoy SanGiovanni’s story.

Mayan Blue, by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, aka The Sisters of Slaughter.  A riveting and quite bloody tale of terror that explores some of the darker elements of Mayan mythology.  When what appears to be Mayan ruins are discovered in a cavern in the state of Georgia, a seal is removed from a door and hell subsequently breaks loose.  The story focuses on two members of a team sent to explore the ruins, and who find themselves lost in the brutally dangerous Mayan land of the dead, Xibalba.  This book was a definite page-turner.  Any fan of horror should enjoy this story.

Coyote Songs, by Gabino Iglesias.  Another tale that really needs no introduction.  Great book written by a great author.  Iglesias’ writing is a literary punch in the gut that hits hard and leaves the reader gasping for breath.  I highly recommend this novel.

The Pale Ones, by Bartholomew Bennett.  This is a straightforward tale of a man who makes his living buying and selling books, mostly through online markets.  As he goes through the daily grind of searching out collections, he runs into another individual plying the same trade, who then leads him on a quest for rare literary gems that will garner substantial rewards.  The man soon learns that all is not what it seems with his new-found associate.  This is a quieter, but thoroughly enjoyable story, filled with a mounting sense of dread as the protagonist learns disquieting truths about his companion.  Well worth the time and effort.

Angler in Darkness, by Edward Erdelac.  I first discovered Erdelac’s writing several years ago when a friend introduced me to a weird western series known as The Merkabah Rider series.  I will be writing more in depth about that storyline in a later blog post, but for now, I’ll just say that if you enjoy weird westerns, you definitely need to give the series a read.  Angler in Darkness is a set of short stories written by Erdelac, set in a variety of times and locales.  They are all enjoyable.  While elements of horror can be found in his stories, Erdelac’s tales, in my opinion, are better categorized as heroic adventure.  If you’ve never read him before, you can’t go wrong with this collection.  He’s a talented writer and I’ve enjoyed every story I’ve read from him.

That’s it for now.  A Happy New Year to all, and see y’all in 2019!

Mayan Blue: A Bloody Good Tale

mayan blue

         2018, book-wise, has been an interesting year for me.  I’ve ‘discovered’ lots of new authors and novels I hadn’t heard of before.  As far as horror fiction went, in the past my reading largely consisted of the old stuff, by Lovecraft, Poe, Bierce, Bloch, Blackwood, and other like authors.  My knowledge of contemporary authors and stories was quite meager: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robert R. McCammon, Larry Correia, Jonathan Maberry, and that was about it.  Thanks to some podcasts I began listening to in the last few months, I learned about several authors and novels that sounded interesting and I checked them out.  The website, Bookbub, also played a large role in expanding my explorations into contemporary horror fiction.

One find was Mayan Blue, by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lazon, known in the horror community as the Sisters of Slaughter (SOS).  Upon reading the description of the novel on Amazon, I decided to buy the Kindle edition.  I’m glad I made the purchase.

The novel begins with a depiction of a sacrificial ceremony hundreds of years in the past, then shifts to the present day, where an archaeology professor is about to discover his ultimate find: proof that the Mayan civilization had extended all the way north into what is now the state of Georgia.  The professor removes an elaborately carved stone disc from a doorway inside a cavern and unwittingly frees an ancient evil.  The story then proceeds on to the efforts of a group of students to find the professor.  There are five of them, one of whom is an assistant to the professor and the leader of the small group.

Wes, the assistant, and a young woman named Alissa who secretly has a crust on Wes, are the two main characters of the story.  The other three member of the group are Tyler, Dennis, and another young woman named Kelly.

SLIGHT SPOILER AHEAD

The SOS employ some of the archetypes found frequently in horror movies and novels, that of the promiscuous woman and the men who seem to have no thought other than sleeping with her.  Kelly and the two guys, Tyler and Dennis, perform those roles, and it should come as no surprise to the reader that they are marked for death.  Sex and lust are often rewarded with death in horror fiction.  The professor also pays the price for his hubris fairly quickly in the novel.  We’ve seen these characters many times before on the screen and on the page.

The SOS’s story does not feel stale or overworked, however.  On the contrary, the feeling I got from reading the book was of tale-spinners who clearly love the genre they write in and who had a lot of fun using those archetypes.  They do manage to give their characters just enough depth that you feel sorry for them as they meet their awful fates.

It doesn’t take long before Wes and Alissa are the only survivors of their little group.  From there, the story plunges into a world of sheer terror, as they find themselves in Xibalba, land of the dead.  I found myself increasingly engrossed in the tale and it didn’t take long before I was almost not willing to stop and eat or take care of any other needs so I could continue onward through the novel.

Though there is some predictability early on in the novel, as I mentioned above, later on the story takes twists and turns unforeseen by the reader as Wes and Alissa make their way through the dark and deadly underworld in which they find themselves trapped.  Word of warning, the tale is not for the squeamish.  The SOS do not shrink from throwing blood and gore and a multitude of disgustingly putrid creatures at the reader.  Several of the scenes had me squirming with horror and disgust as I read them.  One particularly intense part, involving a maggot, almost did me in.  If it had been a movie I was watching instead of a print tale, I probably would have closed my eyes till the scene was over.  I’m not in possession of the strongest stomach.

One element of the book I appreciated was how it delved into Central American mythology.  I’ve never really read much of the mythology or folklore of the Mayan culture, or really of any cultures south of the border, and after reading Mayan Blue, my appetite has been whetted for more.

All in all, I enjoyed the novel and I give the story both thumbs up.  With Mayan Blue, the SOS have woven a tale of terror that will go into my list of favorite horror novels, and I look forward to reading more from them.  If you enjoy horror fiction and can stand some blood and gore, you can’t go wrong with this story.  Give it a read today.

Coyote Songs: A Tale of Savage Beauty

 

coyote songs

Several weeks ago, I was listening to an episode of the Three Guys With Beards podcast, and one of the guys mentioned he was reading Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias.  The praise he gave the book, and the tidbits he mentioned piqued my curiosity, and I proceeded to Amazon to check out the novel.  It didn’t take me long to purchase a copy for my Kindle and throw it in my TBR list.  Two weeks later, I started reading it.  Fast forward a few days.  I’ve finished the story and I feel numb, like I’ve been in one hell of a bar fight and then gotten drunk to dull the subsequent aches and pains.

Coyote Songs is a tale of savage beauty, and Gabino Iglesias’s tight, vibrant language tells the story in a raw, powerful voice.  Here’s an example of his writing from one of many memorable scenes in the book:

“He would become a ghost.  If society was going to push him into the shadows, he was going to become a shark in those shadows.”

The novel follows the lives of several characters, including a boy on a quest for vengeance, a coyote on a mission from the Holy Virgin, a ghost of a murdered woman whose rage floods the land around her, and a performance artist who wants to put on an exhibition that will catapult her into legend.  Their tales slowly intertwine as the novel unfolds, culminating in a violent dance of death in a brutal, mystical version of the Southwest.

This is the first time I’ve read anything by Iglesias, and I look forward to what he’ll deliver in the future.  There are a few characters that I hope will show up again, as the little bits of them we see in Coyote Songs hint at larger stories in the tapestry of their lives.  For instance, there is a priest with some definite darkness in his past that I would like to see in a future story.  Hell, if Mr. Iglesias were to write a novel about that character, I’d buy the book.  Then there is the ‘coyote’, one of the main characters, whose story hints at more to come.

One of my favorite characters in the book is a relatively minor figure, that of a witch to whom the coyote goes for guidance.  The few facts presented to the reader about the witch only serve to whet the appetite for more.  Again, if Gabino Iglesias ever focused a novel on her, I’d be first in line to buy it.

I enjoyed Iglesias’s skill in fleshing out the characters in the story.  Even the story of the performance artist, whom I was not inclined to like the first time she appeared, gradually pulled me in till I was hooked, and I found myself looking forward to the next chapters in her tale as I made my way through the book.

Bottom line, this is a horrifically wonderful book and I highly recommend it.  Be warned, the violence and horror in the tale are graphic and gory, and not for the faint of heart.  Iglesias pulls no punches in his depiction of the savagery and brutality inherent in the landscape of his story.

Now go, find yourself a copy and give it a read.  Here’s a link to it on Amazon.

Bird Box: Josh Malerman Delivers, and Then Some

bird box

Last night, I finished reading Bird Box by Josh Malerman, and all I can say is…Damn.  Just, damn.

A little about myself, in regards to horror fiction.  I grew up reading the classics: H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Bloch, and others from that era.  Contemporary horror fiction, save for a small handful of books or stories, was largely unfamiliar to me.  The few new stories I did read, for the most part I didn’t like.  The one exception when I was a child was Stephen King.  I loved the stories in Night Shift.

In the eighties and nineties, I did read several novels by Robert R. McCammon, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and F. Paul Wilson, and I enjoyed them, but that was it for new stuff.  The opinion that nothing much compared with the classics stayed with me, and except for those three authors, I remained cut off from the contemporary scene.

Fast forward to 2010.  A friend at work recommended two books to me, and after repeatedly being urged to read them, I bought Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia and Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry.  I was blown away by both novels, and from then till now, I’ve bought the latest books in both the MHI and Joe Ledger series as fast as they’ve been released.  Those novels opened the door to a world of fiction I was largely unfamiliar with.  As time went by, I began exploring the works of other authors and loved the treasures I was finding.

Now, it’s 2018, and I have a TBR list of over 200 horror novels and anthologies.  And the list is growing.  I can’t believe I closed myself off to so many awesome stories and authors, and there’s a lot of catching up to do.

One such author I sadly only recently learned about is Josh Malerman.  His name and his books were brought to my attention, thanks to the Three Guys With Beards podcast a couple of months ago, and I added Bird Box and Black Mad Wheel to my reading list.  After seeing ads for the upcoming film version of Bird Box on Netflix, I bought a copy of the book for Kindle and began reading it this week.  To be precise, I started the book on Tuesday night, and I was finished with it on Wednesday, shortly after dinner.

As I said at the beginning of this review, damn.  Where the hell was I in 2014, when the book first arrived on the scene?

Bird Box follows the tale of Malorie, a woman living in a house with two children, named Boy and Girl.  They are completely cut off from the outside world.  All the windows of the house are covered over, and when necessity requires that one or more of them have to exit the house for food or water, they do so blindfolded.  Something lurks out there, something that even the barest glimpse of drives the viewer to insanity and death.

The tale begins with Malorie making the decision to leave with the two children and make a journey down river to a slim hope of safety.  As they make their voyage, they become aware that something is following them, something they dare not see.  They can only rely on their hearing to guide them on their journey.  The book then alternates between their journey and flashbacks of Malorie’s life and experiences with other survivors.

I found myself riveted by Malerman’s storytelling ability.  From the opening line till the climax, I could barely stand to put the book down.  If my day job and other duties hadn’t intervened, I would have finished sometime Wednesday morning.  I found myself looking forward to break and lunchtime so I could get some more reading in.

Every so often, I’ll read a book where I’ll read a chapter or two, put it down, and though I’m interested in the story, it’s okay if I leave the book on my nightstand for a few days before picking it back up again.  Not so with Bird Box.  I had to stop myself several times from reading too quickly.  The growing tension and sense of dread instilled a desire to push forward breathlessly to see what would happen next, and I had to force myself to slow down so I wouldn’t miss anything in my rush to get to the climax.  It’s a rare book that does that to me.

SPOILER AHEAD

One part that kept me glued to the page (actually, screen, since I tend to buy most of my books on Kindle), was near the end, when Malorie and the children were arriving at their destination.  The terror they felt as they sat there in their boat, listening to the broadcast up ahead and knowing that one of the monsters responsible for the ‘apocalypse’ was there in the river, next to them, clutched me in its icy grasp as well.  As the creature reached down and slowly started to pull Malorie’s blindfold off, the real world around me, as far as I was concerned, was nonexistent.  All that mattered was the tale and what would happen next.

The only regret I had about purchasing and reading Bird Box, was that I didn’t read it years ago.  I thoroughly enjoyed the story.  It’s an intense, gripping read that is now on my list of top ten favorite horror novels, next to works like It, The Wolf’s Hour, Twilight Eyes, and Ghost Road Blues.  I highly recommend it.  If, like me, you’re unfamiliar with the newer authors out there like Malerman, you owe it to yourself to grab a copy of Bird Box first chance you get.  What are you waiting for?

Horror and Me Part One: The Finger From the Chest

Do you remember the first scary story you ever read?  Can you remember where you read it?  I do.  It was a fiendishly frightening tale titled The Calamander Chest by Joseph Payne Brennan, and it was in an anthology titled Ghosts and Ghastlies, edited by Helen Hoke (more on her later).  The book was one I spotted on the shelf at my school library.  The title caught my attention as I browsed, looking for something new to read.  I pulled it from the shelf, and the image on the front cover of some ghoulish creature reaching toward me, with the title just under his outreaching, clawed hand, hooked me and I went straightway to check it out.

It was later that evening that I finally had the chance to crack it open and read.  I was in my great-grandmother’s house, an old shotgun style house in Old Metairie, and I couldn’t have chosen a better location.  The house rested on old, huge blocks of stone, about two and a half to three feet off the ground.  It was high enough that one could crawl under the house with no difficulty, and indeed I and my cousins often did just that.  It was fun to get under there and pretend we were down in a cave, or in a dungeon or something.

At night-time, the house creaked and groaned, and often there would come a scratching and scurrying inside the walls.  My mother and I and my siblings lived there for several years, from the time I was seven till I was thirteen or fourteen, and it was there that I was introduced to horror fiction.

When I opened Ghosts and Ghastlies, the first tale in the book was The Calamander Chest.  I sat in my bed, late at night, under a thick blanket with a flashlight, and read that story.  When I finished, I sat there in my bed, looking around the room.  I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared as I was that evening, sitting in my bed and thinking about what I’d just read.  The image of that long, white finger protruding from the chest, scrabbling and scratching at the wood, seared itself in my mind.  I looked around my bedroom and my eyes fixed on the chifferobe in the corner, and I became convinced that something lurked inside.  This was a problem.  I had to use the bathroom, but to do so would mean getting out of bed, walking across the cold floor to the bathroom door on the other side of the room, and what if I came out of the bathroom only to see the door of the chifferobe standing open and a long white finger sticking out of it, beckoning to me?

The solution to my problem was easy.  I screamed.  Loud.  I shouted for my mother, over and over again, till I heard her coming through the house to my room.  She was not pleased to have been awakened in such a fashion and she let me know her thoughts on the matter.  I listened to her, and then explained that she was going to have to go turn on the light in the bathroom and stand outside the door until I finished and got back in bed.  When she learned about the story I’d read, I received a lecture about how I was not to read stories like that again.  She was convinced that my mind would get warped, and that reading stories about ghosts and demons and monsters would only open the door for demons to enter my life.  Hearing my mother tell me in a matter-of-fact tone of voice that horror fiction might possibly invite demons to come torment me accomplished two things that night.

One, I now had the certainty that there really were monsters out there.  My mother was convinced demons were real, and after listening to her, I had no doubts on the matter.  I followed that idea to its next, logical step.  If demons were real, then ghosts must be real too.  And of course, if there really were ghosts, then why not ghouls and vampires and all manner of other beasts and evil things that made strange noises in the night, and might come sneaking and slouching into my room to cart me off to some hellish fate.  That thing under the bed, that lay there waiting for the dark and still of night to come reaching up and over to grab me and drag me under there with it, well, that thing might be real.  Maybe it was a demon.

Oh yeah.  There was no way I was getting out of bed.  Not unless my mother stayed in the room and waited for me to use the bathroom, and not unless she stayed until I was safely back under the blankets.  She groaned, and then promised me she would wait.  I did my business and got back in bed and then she went trudging back to her room.

The second thing that her admonition about demons accomplished was to further instill in me a desire to read books and stories about all things scary and fearsome.  If those things were real, then the more knowledge I had about them, the better.  One simply must be informed.  How could I hope to stay safe from their clutches unless I knew how they operated and what it would take to stop them?

Helen Hoke became my guide.  She had many books she had edited, all about the strange and horrible and ghastly things out there, and I went on to read them all.  They were part of a series of anthologies she referred to as the Terrific Triple Titles.  Ghost and Ghastlies; Spooks Spooks Spooks; Terrors, Torments, and Traumas; Weirdies Weirdies Weirdies; Ghosts Ghosts Ghosts; and many others with similar titles.  I read them all.  Her collections mostly featured older stories, from authors such as H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Bloch, William Hope Hodgson, H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, and many others from their era.  I loved them, and read them all, many times.  When I exhausted my school library’s titles from Hoke, I went to the public library and devoured the additional titles they had.  Then I went back and read through all of them a second time.  Great stuff, those books.

Just last night, I was pleased to learn that one of Hoke’s anthologies had been released in a Kindle format.  Spooks Spooks Spooks is now available under the title of Gray Barker’s Spooks, Spooks, Spooks: A Closetful of Supernatural Spellbinders.  Oh, yeah, I purchased it with no hesitation and it is now at the top of my TBR pile.  Here’s a link to the kindle book on Amazon if you’re interested.  The new edition is from New Saucerian Press, and in the description, they mentioned some of the other titles that Hoke put out in the sixties and seventies.  Keeping my fingers crossed that New Saucerian will go on to release the other books for Kindle.

In October of this year, I found an anthology on Amazon titled Thrillers and More Thrillers, and bought a used copy from one of their third-party sellers.  The book contained The Calamander Chest, and I eagerly awaited it so I could read that story again.  The last time I read the story was forty years ago, when I was ten or eleven, and I was curious to see if it was as good as I remembered.  It was.  As part of a Halloween tradition in my house, I read a scary story aloud to my wife and son at night through the month of October, finishing on Halloween night.  On that night, we steer clear of scary stories and I read something humorous instead.  My wife is convinced that on Halloween, the veil between the worlds is the weakest, and focusing on horror might lead to something emerging through that veil to plague and terrorize us.  Maybe she’s right.

When I read The Calamander Chest to my family, I was pleased to note that it was just as spooky for them as it was for me, back at the young age I first encountered it.  It’s one of the best and creepiest scary stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.  If you’ve never read it, I highly encourage you to find a copy and give it a go.  It shouldn’t be difficult to find a used copy of a collection on Amazon.  The one I purchased is Thrillers and More Thrillers, selected by Robert Arthur.  Here’s a link.  The story can also be found on YouTube, read by Vincent Price.  Here’s a link to the first part.  When you go there, you should see the link to the second part of the story.  He does a fine job of narrating the story, and I definitely recommend it.

That’s all for now.  This blog post is the first of what I intend to be an exploration of my journeys through horror fiction and movies.  Stay tuned for the next installment, Spiders Under My Bed.  Thanks for stopping by!