Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: Dark Hollow by Brian Keene

Dark Hollow (The Levi Stoltzfus Series #1)by Brian Keene

Paperback, 290 pages

Published June 2012 by Deadite Press (first published January 2006)

More than any author I can think of it is very hard to separate Brian Keene from his work. Everyone who has ever written a novel has their reflection on the pages, but Keene is such a part of his work. I read both The Rising (his first novel) and Terminal when they came out ages ago. I liked both alot but for whatever reason they didn't click with me in the sense that I felt the need to track down everything by the man.

Now that we share a publisher (in Deadite) and have hung out at a few cons, and I listen every week to his podcast, I feel I know the guy. I like Brian Keene the guy, I like Brian Keene the writer so I decided I needed to revisit his work.

I started with the short novel "The Darkness on the Edge of Town." I reviewed it here and found that to be a great tribute to Stephen King's the Mist, even surpassing that story in several ways. Next up obviously was the novel The Dark Hollow. I chose this book because of Keene's podcast the horror show. He devoted an episode to the origin of the novel and hinted before it aired that he went to really dark places. I chose to wait on listening to the podcast until I had finished the book. I suggest that route.

In many respects DH had many strikes against it for me. First off Keene tends to write in first person. I generally prefer third person for horror and often find that style distracting. DH also feels heavy with autobiographical elements. That was something I could tell just by reading it before Keene's podcast confirmed it. The third thing I normally don't like is novels about authors. I can't really complain because I have written one myself. The plot could have functioned without him being a writer, but it didn't end up hurting the novel for me.

All those things should have affected DH for me, but it didn't. I enjoyed it none the less. In fact I really enjoyed the read. Brian Keene is a grandmaster of horror, and earned it. He spent time in his speech telling us he didn't feel worthy but honestly when it comes to impact to the genre community alone he is a grandmaster. The novels are effective enough on their own. He is a grandmaster. No debate.

I am not going to say a lot about the plot because I went in cold, and it worked for me. Pow-wow Magic, haunted hollows in the woods and a marriage on the brink. Cool plot and great characters that all reflect Brian Keene’s talent and ability.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Magazine Review: Cemetery Dance #72

Cemetery Dance issue #72

I have certain traditions for my visits to my homestate of Indiana involving my trips back to the west coast. Certain foods I always pack in my bag, Dylan's magic tofu and seseme cashew noodles from the Bloomingfoods Deli for food. And reading wise I always stop by The Book Corner in Downtown Bloomington and pick up the latest issue of Cemetery Dance to read on the flight. I have done this since the 50th issue. Since it is four times year most of the time it works out. I have had to buy a few at powells in Portland.

#72 was great reading for the flight home. The regular columns I always zip through. Tom Monteleone's depressing column on all the deaths in the horror community probably the most important.

The two highlights were new short stories by Norman Partrdge and Stephen King. The King story was a short but excellent end of the world heart breaker.

Cemetery Dance is a fantastic horror magazine, that is a must read/support for those who believe in short horror fiction.

Book Review: Low Down Death Right Easy by J. David Osborne

Low Down Death Right Easy by J. David Osborne

Paperback, 188 pages

Published February 2013 by Swallowdown Press

Shooters in basketball never shoot 100%. Batters in baseball are considered amazing if they bat .300. What does it mean then that every single book that Swallowdown press the mutant literary children of Jeremy Robert Johnson has ruled. I mean 100% badass dark bizarro novels from the man himself, Cody Goodfellow, Forrest Armstrong and now two from J. David Osbourne.

The first one was bleak mind fucker about a Russian prison. Osbourne has chosen another Disney worthy local full of sunshine and rainbows in the meth infused rural Oklahoma backwaters. This novel to me feels a bit like Gummo crossed with Winter's Bone.

I mean the McGuffin in this novel is a random decapitated human head found by the characters during a hand fishing trip. Yikes this is not the kinda place I would ever like to hang out. What makes it a readable experience is Osbourne's ability with the written word.

The prose is the special effect here. The characters and descriptions are sparse at times leaving alot to the readers to fill in. Other times random sentences over achieve in character and world building. No one will accuse JDO of over writing.

This book is a must for word smiths with a fondness for dark tone. Big thumbs up.

Monday, April 6, 2015

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Book Review: To Each Their Darkness by Gary A. Braunbeck

To Each Their Darkness by Gary A. Braunbeck

Paperback, 346 pages

Published: 2010 by Apex Publications

Awards: Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction (2010)

The craft of the horror story is unique. It is sometimes a science as much as it is an art. For me the story that was my light bulb moment was The Raft by Stephen King. I started to understand how he built the story, the little moments he made to make the suspense thicker. To make the story scary and most important the emotional dept he gave to make me care about the whole thing.

The tradition of horror writers writing about their craft is an old one. It goes back to Supernatural horror in Literiture by HP Lovecraft which you find often as a thin stand alone book. Ray Bradbury and William F. Nolan had an excellent entries into this narrow subgenre. David Morrell the author of First Blood wrote one of my favorites The two most famous of course are On Writing and Danse Macabre by the king himself.

All of these books provide excellent advice, and great stories. They all are a little different and in many ways reflect the style and talent of the author.

Enter Gary Braunbeck. Well known to horror readers the Ohio native has been at it for a long time. He has not had the mainstream success that many of the names listed above but when I heard he wrote this book I put it to the top of my TBR.

Braunbeck novels and stories have several going for them. First off they are set in the Midwest one state removed from my home state. Second they drip with a darkness and emotionally wrecked core that no one else has captured. Reading his prose is like handling a rusty sharp edge.

This book is fantastic and towards the second half Braunbeck gives you a few nuts and bolts of his stories, but that is not what makes this powerful read. Sure those of us who are genre writers will learn a lot, but that is not the core of this book. Gary lets us into the pain of his life, he shines a spotlight on the events that inform his fiction. You find out where he gets the dark paints, how he works the canvas to make it blacker than black.

This not hyperbole, a 200% must read for genre authors or Braunbeck fans. I am lucky not to deal with depression but I was fascinated to see how an author overcame such challenges and created such an amazing variety of novels.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: The Least of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones

The Least of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones

Trade Paperback, 188 pages

Published by Broken River Books

I really enjoyed this short novel. SGJ is a name I have heard through out the years. I met him in passing at conventions and always meant to read his work.

It is hard at this point to write something bold and innovative in the sub-genre of Serial Killer tale. From Robert Bloch’s Psycho to Thomas Harris and his Lector novels this is a subject really well explored in both novels and film. it is hard to picture these days anyone coming up with a truly original take on the serial killer story. That is what the Least of my Scars is.

I didn’t know this before I started reading, going on the strength of the author I went into this book totally cold. Not knowing anything about what it was about. It is a short but powerful business. It took me twenty-seven pages but when I figured what was going on I laughed out loud.

The main Character William Colton Hughes is shut-in hitman/serial killer. His victims come to him, and the killer is not entirely certain why or how they end up at his door. His victims show up, some times they hang, other times they bring food. One of the most fantastic moments of the novel comes when there is a knock at the door. One knock and the person is gone. That doesn’t happen. Then Hughes starts to question. Where is it that I live? Why do these people keep showing up?

Hughes is a killer and clearly mad, he is our only window into this world, and thus SGJ has created a fantastic unreliable narrator.

The concept is weird, and is often the case with bizarro literature you just have to ride with it. It gets weirder as it goes but SGJ pays off the reader quite nicely. His prose here is lean and deliberate, if you pay attention to things like story construction and wordsmithing then you can’t go wrong. It is a well done piece of work on several levels.

This is a fantastic piece of experimental horror. It is a dark bizarro weird crime novel,and would make great combo with Brian Evenson's Last Days. If weird horror and crime appeal to you I advise you not to miss it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Book Review: I Wanna be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert

Paperback, 352 pages Published July 8th 2008 by MTV Books

I found this book in a really interesting way. At my school a couple of my students have a volunteer job at the San Diego book project. Down in this sketchy basement there is pallets and dumpsters filled with used books that are destined to for libraries in smaller communities and various non-profits. The people who run the book project are clear they want people to take books and enjoy them if they find ones they like. I have found several cool retro science fiction books, including Ace doubles.

One day I was sifting through the pile and I saw this book. I was never a big Ramones fan so I almost chucked it but I read the back. It was a coming of age punk rock novel set in the midwest. As the author of a published coming of age novel about punk rock in the midwest myself I was intrigued. Granted my novel has skinheads and werewolves but they are both about small town punks moving to Chicago.

I had to read it. I am glad I did. I know now this is a debut novel and I can say it has all the benefits of a first novel in terms of passion and story dedication. It has none of the negatives of a first novel, it is confidently written in fact.

The story is strongly plotted and the characters are vivid. The setting from the small town punk scene to the large scale tours are fully realized worlds. You often hear the term world building being used in large scale fantasy and science fiction novel but the author did a wonderful job building this world.

The story of Emily Black a young small town punk rocker who was raised by her father after her mother left them to chase punk rock dreams. While Emily works to realize those dreams her mother lives a nightmare. The question becomes will they ever find each other.

I enjoyed every page of this book. It was the punk rock coming of age promised on the cover. One of the reasons I started writing punk fiction myself was it is rare to find fiction set in this world that is authentic. This is a case where I closed the book feeling like the author and I went to alot of the same shows, watched the same bands and felt much the same ways about the scene. This is punk fiction done very well.