Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book Review: Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix

So I think this might actually be the first nonfiction book I’ve reviewed, but if I’m going to toss one of those in the mix it might as well be a doozy such as this one.

Before I get into the actual review, I have to mention I had the pleasure of seeing Hendrix do a presentation for this book at Mysterious Galaxy, and it was without a doubt the most entertaining author event I’ve ever been to. Words can not describe…but lets just say if I had randomly wandered into the bookstore that night not knowing a thing about this book I would have bought it after just a few minutes into this maniacally organized presentation. I’m not sure if Hendrix is still doing events for this book, but if he is, and if he’s coming to your town, you’d be a damned fool to skip it. Would I lie to you?

Quirk has done a bang-up job with this book. From the gorgeous embossed cover to the beautiful reproductions of the infamous covers throughout the pages, they weren’t skimping on the professionalism here. And these aspects alone would make this a good coffee table book. Luckily, the content is just as entertaining as the book is easy on the eyes. She’s got beauty and brains, folks.

The thing that immediately strikes me is Hendrix’s enthusiasm for the material. This wasn’t just sheer research (though, yes, there was much research to be done). This was a true labor of love. Hendrix seemingly knows every minute detail of practically every book he mentions, from the names of the people who created the cover art to (in the case of some authors) what happened to the “one-hit wonders” of horror fiction. And the best aspect of Hendrix’s writing is that he effortlessly speaks about these books with a keen sense of humor. I chuckled more times than I could count, and it’ll reel me in to read this book again eventually.

Though I’ve read my fair share of obscure horror novels, I realized after reading Paperback from Hell that I am just an amateur and have much catching up to do. There were at least a dozen books with descriptions that made my jaw drop at how full-blown bonkers they were, ones that I now must try to hunt down in some dusty old used bookstore (SO many books in the “Hail Satan” chapter, for instance. Yowza.)

If I were to voice one small complaint, it would be that I thought Hendrix was a tiny bit dismissive of Splatterpunk. I wish he had delved into the subversive elements of this sub-genre a bit more, as it’s a very important movement to me, and most of the first-wave Splatterpunk authors are my biggest personal influences. To be fair, he did name a few authors who stood out to him, so I could just be taking it personal, as Hendrix took plenty of digs at other sub-genres. I also thought Rex Miller’s Slob got the short end of the stick (despite giving it so much page space, which I do applaud Hendrix for). I just feel this novel deserves more respect, as it’s one of my all-time favorites. Really, though, at this point I’m just nitpicking so I don’t sound like I’m giving Hendrix a massage with a happy ending. Time for me to shut up.

You probably already know if you want this book or not. There’s a pretty specific audience for it. The average soccer mom probably isn’t going to be too into this. However, if you are within the target audience and were on the fence, trust me…it’s well worth your hard-earned cash.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Book Review: Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay

After 2015’s brilliant A Head Full of Ghosts, Paul Tremblay quickly became an author I had to continue following. Though his next book sat in my to-be-read pile a bit longer than I’d hoped, I finally got around to reading it.

A teenage boy named Tommy Sanderson mysteriously disappears. The world his family and friends live in slowly crumbles. Various twists and turns appear, which I shall not begin to describe because I prefer to keep this a spoiler-free zone, so that’s all you’re going to get regarding the plot. Deal with it.

I noticed some people claiming Disappearance at Devil’s Rock was a bit of a disappointment after Tremblay’s last book, and though it does not reach its predecessor’s greatness, it is far from disappointing. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. Tremblay’s main strengths are characters and language, two things that are immensely important to me both as a reader and a writer, and he beautifully weaves these elements into this story that I can’t help but love it. His characterizations of the children in this book are especially effective, successfully nailing realistic portrayals of young boys on the cusp of puberty and how quickly their innocence can go astray. He also deeply carves into the headspace of Tommy’s mother Elizabeth and his younger sister Kate, creating a strong emotional core. The sense of loss in this book is raw and exposed. And, God, so many sentences and turns of phrase that color me green.

A few loose ends throughout are likely the cause of some readers’ complaints, but I’ll defend this approach if I have to go down swinging. It adds an element of realism to a piece fiction that may or may not involve supernatural elements. And the less things are explained, the scarier they are, at least as far as I’m concerned. This is not to say that nothing in this book comes with an explanation, so don’t expect to be left completely in the dark. But you also shouldn’t expect to have everything wrapped up in a neat little gift box with a pretty little bow. Thank you, Tremblay, for taking this approach. It was a gift in its own way.

If your tastes in dark fiction lean more toward the literary, you really should be reading Paul Tremblay. I’d still recommend starting with A Head Full of Ghosts, but once you’re hooked on his work after that gem you should give Disappearance at Devil’s Rock a try. It’s a keeper.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Reading This Saturday

If anyone lives in or near Vista or just wants to make the trek to Standards Record Store, I'm doing a reading there this Saturday at 7pm. 216 E Broadway Vista, CA

Pick up a copy of Secrets of the Weird, the limited Civilized Cannibals tape, and buy some sick records from one of the best shops in San Diego County. See ya there!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Reading This Friday!

Whoah...two posts in one night! Just wanted to share that I'm doing a reading this Saturday at Heartwork Coffee Bar. They are celebrating the release of their zine Extraction, I'll be reading a very special chapter of Secrets of the Weird (seriously, don't miss this!), followed by a Misfits cover band. Should be a hoot...see you there!

HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. 4 Available Now

The 4th volume of the HWA Poetry Showcase is out now, featuring my poem "Skin to Scales." Check it out here;

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Signings for California Screamin' at Warwick's and Dark Delicacies

A couple of upcoming signings for the new California Screamin' anthology, which features my short story "The Perfect Playground." Myself along with various other authors for the book will be at Dark Delicacies in Burbank on Saturday November 4th from 4pm to 6pm, and a few of us will be signing at Warwick's in La Jolla (the info is in the flyer above). Hope to see some of you there!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Review: The Dark at the End of the Tunnel by Taylor Grant

After seeing Taylor Grant read at two StokerCons in a row (one of which I was graced with the privilege of sharing the reading slot) and being quite impressed each time, I knew I needed to pick this book up at some point, so I finally ripped it out of my mental to-do list and bought the damned thing. And it does not disappoint.

Throughout this collection, Grant proves his talent as a short story writer. Writing short stories that are satisfying for both the writer and the reader can be a challenging task. Grant mentions in his introduction that he wrote the majority of these stories for his own personal enjoyment with no real yearning to have them published. Thankfully his senses were slapped into him and he pursued publication, because it would be a shame to have these tales rotting in some dank drawer, whimpering to be read by the craving eyes of the horror public. These are no self-indulgent, masturbatory tales. Quite the opposite. They deserve to be read and enjoyed.

The book starts out strong with “Masks,” which deals with a man who doesn’t quite feel like himself anymore. This is immediately followed by what is likely my favorite piece in the collection: “The Silent Ones.” Such a depressing story that addresses the topic of loneliness in a way I’ve not seen done before, and it gets pretty damned weird along the way. “Dead Pull” is a fun and satisfying story, especially for someone such as myself who loves animals dearly and abhors those who mistreat them. “The Infected” takes a clever approach to tackling the drudgery of being a working stiff versus following your creative dreams, which intersects with a peculiar “fiction” manuscript passed down from grandfather to father to son that begs to be completed. There are no stinkers in the bunch. It comes as no surprise that this book was a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award.

Grant has an enviable command of language, his stories and the ideas that spawn them are unique, and he doesn’t stick to one type of horror. Some of these stories could be referred to as “quiet horror,” while others are far more brutal. Some have a sci-fi edge, and there are occasional hints of the black humor you might find in a classic E.C. Comics story. Being able to hop genres while maintaining quality and style is a commendable feat, so pick up this book and see how it’s done.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Cover Reveal: California Screamin' Anthology

There's a new anthology coming your way this October called California Screamin'. Alongside stories from quite a few awesome other authors will be a reprint of my short story "The Perfect Playground." More info to come...

Friday, September 1, 2017

Book Review: Baby Powder by John C. Foster

I always love a good single-author short story collection (not bad ones, though…keep those far away from me pretty please). I especially enjoy collections in which each story stands apart from the next. Welcome to the latest perfect example of this, Baby Powder by John C. Foster.

There’s a lot to dig into here. This does not mean the collection is dense and/or difficult to get through. In fact, it’s a fairly quick read despite being 300 pages. But the ideas, and very often the well-crafted language, will stick with you in way flavor-of-the-month genre books will not. A good mix of horror and science fiction-ish pieces here. I’m not going to go over every story in the collection, but I would like to highlight a few faves.

The opener, “Highballing Through Gehenna,” comes out swinging. A very bleak and strange tale, leaving most of the facts to the imagination, letting the mind get used to an apocalypse of a different sort. Stressful on the level of Train to Busan. However, the threat these train passengers face is not of the zombie variety.

“Talk to Leo” is an unsettling piece about ventriloquism. Sort of. The creeps don’t let up much during this story, and I believe it’s because Foster doesn’t over-explain the situation. I love when authors make this choice. Sure, things can still be a bit scary if you know exactly what you’re facing, but I believe frights you can’t conveniently put in a box are far more powerful.

“Meat” is killer. Trees that eat people. ‘Nuff said.

I’ve always wondered why there aren’t more horror stories that deal with the death penalty, and “A Lamb to Slaughter” does so beautifully. It will make you think without feeling like you’ve been preached to. It also heads in unexpected directions.

But the real treasure of this collection is the final story, which also happens to be the title story. “Baby Powder” is where Foster’s true magic as a writer has comes together to create something special. The story focuses on a “haunted house,” for lack of a better term, but it goes much deeper than that. The prose is wonderful throughout, the characters are memorable, and the vibe of the whole story left me rattled for a couple of days after I read it. I don’t want to say anything else for fear of spoiling the wonder, but it’s worth buying this book for this story alone (plus, you also get a lot of other really awesome stories, so you really can’t lose.) Just one of those “wow” moments. I knew after reading Mister White that Foster was a good writer. After reading “Baby Powder,” I now see how great he is. His finest moment so far. No pressure.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

San Diego Horror Professionals Volume 3 Now Available

Volume 3 of the San Diego Horror Professionals anthology series (Grand Mal Press) is now available! The print version is ready to go, and the ebook should be available soon. This features my short story "The Heretic Lambs," stories by the other usual suspects from the previous 2 volumes, AND stories by a few new additions to the crew. Check it out here:

Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: The Insides by Jeremy P. Bushnell

A little over a year ago on this here blog I raved about Bushnell’s debut novel, The Weirdness, and it’s taken me a while to get my crapola together and review his second book (which actually came out not long after I reviewed the first book). But the important thing is that I AM getting to it, and that I’m sharing it with you. Better late than never, as they say…

I am happy to say that Bushnell does not suffer from the dreaded “sophmore slump.” However, The Insides is decidedly different in tone than his first book. The Weirdness was more of a dark comedy with some slight horror elements, but The Insides is overall a darker tale. This is not to say it is devoid of humor, as there are some great character moments that bring the laughs, but these moments serve to balance out the human drama and darkly fantastical moments that take up the bulk of this book.

The protagonist is a woman named Ollie who once dabbled in magic (and was apparently quite proficient in her craft), but eventually abandoned it and started a family (a family she is now estranged from). Her life mostly consists of working in a butcher shop, engaging in relationships that some might deem inappropriate, and hanging out with her long-time friend/now roommate Victor, yet she is soon thrust into a world of magic and strangeness again due to a coworker named Guychardson and a peculiar knife he possesses. Ollie can’t shake her attraction to the knife, and she soon learns it has powers that threaten the fabric of reality, powers that make her wish she had never known of its existence.

Meanwhile, a psychic named Maja has been hired to track down this same knife. And she’s teamed up with an ex-marine who wears a pig mask (and goes by the handy name of “Pig”) and seems to subsist solely on sugary candy. Though I think most of the primary characters are interesting and well fleshed out, it is Maja who I find most fascinating, for a couple of reasons. First, I love how she is so stoic and calculating about her abilities. And though she often abhors the guilt by association she endures to survive, her bottom line is earning her pay (though she is also haunted by a violent act she was involved in long ago, which gives her sympathetic depth). Secondly, I truly enjoyed her relationship with Pig, as their personalities couldn’t have been more different, and their scenes were often like that of a buddy cop movie gone terribly wrong. But I commend Bushnell for creating two women who are very strong and diverse. I’m certainly no woman, but it never felt like I was reading “male writes female characters.” I was invested these women and their motives and lives.

Though the magical world pervades the novel more and more as the pages turn (with a mind-bending and horror-ish climax being the highlight of the book), it is only one element of a complex story that is ultimately about relationships and regret. The Insides succeeds because it never sacrifices heart for strangeness but instead finds a happy medium between the two.