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.