Review: Berserk

Along with fearless friends DeAnna Knippling and Shannon Lawrence, I am making my way through “Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books.”

Berserk by Tim Lebron has, for me, a very scifi feel to it.


The abilities of the berserkers came across to me as alien even before I knew they were created in a lab, not creatures of nature. They walked the line of some typical characteristics of vampires, but for some reason I could never make the leap that these creatures were the basis for vampire legends.

Much of the horror in the novel doesn’t come from the creatures. There’s the unending grief of one character for his son first, and then his wife. His life has lost meaning, until a strange, mostly dead girl gives him a reason to go on. The soldier is even more to be pitied, since there seems to be absolutely nothing giving his life meaning without the existence of the berserkers. Thus his choice at the end of the book.

It’s violent. How many ways can a human body be injured, shot, struck by a car, before it finally stops working? Apparently the amount of damage we can take is infinite, without a well-timed headshot.

Freakish, interesting, but not very scary to me.


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Review: The Ignored

Along with fearless friends DeAnna Knippling and Shannon Lawrence, I am making my way through “Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books.”

Next up: The Ignored, by Bentley Little.

Little is an incredibly prolific author, and I’ve enjoyed several of his books. I’m just not sure why the editors of Nightmare Magazine chose this one for their list.

Perhaps it’s meant to be read on a more allegorical level than I’m capable of. Perhaps I’m too dense to absorb all the symbolism.

On the other hand, the people in this book, the ignored, have the power to change their lives and choose not to. Even after they discover who and what they really are, they can choose to make a change, make a difference, but they don’t.

It’s another male-dominated book;  99% of the characters are male. The gang rape scenes are pretty loathsome. There are never any repercussions for the men involved, and what probably bothered me more was that there was no remorse, either. Even the main character kind of shrugs it off, as if there’s nothing he can do about it, so why even try. Even when it happens to him, he’s resigned rather than outraged.

While this book read as a great social commentary to me, it just didn’t feel like horror


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Review: Hell House

Along with fearless friends DeAnna Knippling and Shannon Lawrence, I am making my way through “Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books.”

My latest read was Hell House by Richard Matheson. Yes, you’ve probably heard that name before. Among many other works, he wrote “I Am Legend,” which has been adapted to the silver screen no less than four times.

My chief complaint about a lot of books on this list is that they aren’t scary.  When reading through someone’s Top 100 Horror books, I expect a few sleepless nights. Or at least the urge to check under the bed before I hop in and extinguish the lights.

It may be a product of its time, being initially published in 1971. To me, it feels like classic mid-century horror, with a very long, slow build and too much emphasis on people changing their clothes after arriving at their destination. And the pages are fairly dripping with sexual repression. The male characters are referred to by their last names, while the female characters by their first. Each character is rigid in their certainty that only they understand what’s going on.

Except poor Edith. She has no clue what’s going on. Get a glass or two of brandy in her and she’s randy as a rabbit. Or is she? Maybe the house is only making her think she wants to sleep with anyone who will look at her twice.

For all that, the last twenty pages or so of the book finally do amp up the tension. But it was not enough to put this book into my personal top 100.


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The Fabric Swatch From Hell

This might be even scarier than going to the dentist.

I recently changed primary care physicians. One of my main reasons: I want a doctor who is younger than I am, who is up on all the tech and the research and the new developments.

Fortunately, I found one who meets the trifecta: accepts our flavor of insurance, was accepting new patients, and I didn’t have to wait six months to get in for a physical. The good fortune continued, because she both has a sense of humor and appreciates my sense of humor. Not everyone does. Shocking, but true. There are people out there who don’t think I’m the least bit amusing. I can provide you with references.

New patient visits are always fun, where they ask about your family history and you have to report on the physical and mental states of your parents and any siblings. High cholesterol? Check. High blood pressure? Check. Diabetes? Check. Cancer? Check.

That last one rang the bell. I lost my brother this year to melanoma, and my heart still hurts. The doctor immediately wanted to know if I was seeing a dermatologist for a full skin check every year. I said I wasn’t, but I would.

The front desk staff at new doc’s office is terrific. Friendly and full of good cheer. Her nurse is terrific and funny. (Are you getting the feeling that humor plays a key role in my life?) Furthermore, I’d like to go on record stating that I love my dentist and his office staff as well. They treat me like a giant frightened child, which is essentially what I devolve to with anything more complicated than getting my teeth cleaned. The tech who did my latest mammogram? Chipper and cheerful. My daughters’ pediatrician? They’ve always made us feel like family. My optometrist is the bomb.

(Cue the ominous music.)

So I make an appointment and off I trot to the dermatologist’s office. When I arrive, I find a sleek, brass-filled glass-walled waiting area that looks like a Hollywood set. Lots of ads for cosmetic treatments (free consultation!). Magazines about golf, tennis and fashion. Not a People or an US Weekly anywhere in sight.

I check in, dutifully hand in the paperwork I did ahead of time, and take a seat. The waiting room is full of lithe, blonde teenage girls and women with beautifully coiffed hair who look like they haven’t eaten a carb since the 80s. On the far side of the waiting area sits one gray-haired gentleman with a little adhesive bandage on his nose.

I’m not even sure this is a doctor’s office.

The nurse comes out to get me and leads me back to the exam room. I sit in one of the chairs, wondering why there’s a blue plank in the room. The nurse asks why I’m here today.

At this point, I wonder if anyone in the entire medical profession knows how to read. I just wrote the reason for my visit in at least three different spots on the paperwork. Why do I have to write the equivalent of a masters thesis on every wart my family’s ever had if nobody is going to read it.

Full body check, I say.

She nods.

“You’ll need to take of your clothes, put on the gown and sit on the exam chair.” She gestures to the gown on the blue plank. “The more skin we can see, the better the exam will be, but you can leave on undergarments if you wish. When you’ve changed, crack the door open so we’ll know at a glance that you’re ready for us to come in.”

She leaves.

Crack the door open? I’ll have to think about that.

I take off my dress and my bra. The incipient panic attack rattling through my skull makes me decide to keep  my panties on. These are my big girl panties, I think. I will retain them and I will deal.

I pick up the gown. I shake it out. I shake harder, but there’s no more gown to be had. It looks so small. Must be the terror making everything (except my thighs) shrink. For a full minute I stand there with it in my hands, because I can’t remember if the nurse said to have the opening in the front or in the back.

I decide the opening shall be in the front. That will give me something to clutch. Except…I slide it over my arms and try to pull the edges closed. There is approximately enough material to cover half of me. Tugging and swearing did not make the garment any larger. Or my curves less luscious.

I perch on the edge of the blue plank, which vaguely resembles a weight bench. The lack of back support forces me to sit up straight, at which point I can clutch the gown mostly closed over the girls. When I look down, I realize leaving the panties on was a grand idea, because the toddler-sized gown parts at my waist and falls away like a cape.

I was supposed to crack open the door. Perhaps they could learn to knock, like every other doctor on the planet? I gingerly turn the knob and pull the door inward the tiniest fraction, so I can tell myself I followed the rules. Then I sit on the blue plank, tugging and yanking at this piece of cotton that’s barely large enough to qualify as a fabric swatch, covering various portion of my anatomy and wondering which would be the least horrific for the doctor to be confronted with.

The doctor (who of course hasn’t read any of the paperwork, either) and the nurse finally come in. The doctor wants to shake my hand when we meet, but I give her a brusque nod so I can maintain the completely illusory facade of dignity.

She refers to the blue plank as an exam chair. I’ve seen wider pieces of pasta. She begins by examining my scalp, calling out her findings to the nurse, who is tapping away on the computer screen. She quickly exams the frontal portion of my anatomy, explaining a little of her terminology to me as she goes.

“Please lean back in the chair.” I incorrectly assume that referring to the plank as a chair is a sign of humor. I lean back.

She pulls out a remote, and the plank hums and reclines. “When it’s flat, I want you to roll over onto your stomach.”

Blank stare from me. “You want me to what?” She might as well have asked me to perform eyeball surgery on myself. I’m supposed to somehow levitate myself over without strangling on my cape? I managed to keep from blurting out, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

She had the grace to look at her notes while I lumbered and thrashed myself over. She then gave the back half of me a look-see, and pronounced me free of brooding bumps and suspicious spots. She thrust a brochure about skin care into my hands, causing the gown to gape open again.

“Well, this is embarrassing,” I said.

“Not to worry.”

“You do realize I had to sit here, naked and terrified, waiting to meet you for the very first time while wearing a gown that wouldn’t cover an average grade schooler.”

Finally, something got through to her. She stopped and looked at me. “We have bigger gowns.” She turned to the nurse. “Don’t we have bigger gowns?”

The nurse nodded.

“Next time, just ask for a larger gown.” And she was gone.

So I didn’t get to point out that by the time one discovers the lack of coverage involved with a particular gown, the nurse is long gone. She doesn’t hang about chatting you up as you unbutton, unzip and unhook, offering to lend a hand with recalcitrant zippers and stubborn bra clasps.

I will go back next year. Cancer is the evil lurker in the dark, and I can suffer a little embarrassment to stay out of its devouring jaws. Heck, this didn’t hurt as much as the mammogram (squeeze), and it’s much less invasive than the annual pelvic exam (“Could you scoot down a little more?”)

At least I’ll know to ask for a larger gown-shaped fabric swatch.


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Review: Dead in the Water

Along with fearless friends DeAnna Knippling and Shannon Lawrence, I am making my way through “Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books.”

My latest read was Dead in the Water by Nancy Holder, published in 1994.

After reading this book, my resolve to never, ever step foot on a cruise ship has been cemented into reality. Nope. Not doing it.

For me, this ranks as one of the very scariest books on this list, so far.

The book opens with “This is how it will be when you drown:…” and by the end of the book, you’ve forgotten that there are other ways to die. Your brain is whipped, has been untangled and reraveled, so that you believe the only way anyone ever dies is by drowning.

As we meet the characters taking a freighter/cruise ship to Hawaii, they’re drawn in bold strokes. Caricatures and stereotypes, the tough female cop who is fighting against falling for her partner, the dying boy with his weepy physician father, the old woman who has lost her husband, and the constantly bickering rich couple. You probably formed a mental image of each of them as you read.

But then you learn more about them. Not that you’re going to love, or even like, all of them. But you get to know the people behind the facades. Not that weepy dad ever stops weeping, or dying boy stops having cancer, or rich couple ever stops bickering. But they become more rounded. Bloated by being in the water too long?

As the tale is told, reality becomes unstrung. You learn the truth ahead of the characters, but only just. It’s not a big, splashy book. But I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

DeAnna would want to know why I was scared, because the Big Bad is both seen and not seen, defined and yet left without any definite edges at the end of the book. I would say my preference would be to assume the depths of the oceans are filled with monsters, and not the bones of the dead waiting to devour my brain as they drag me down.

If you ever want to know how many different ways you can describe drowning, just read this book. But maybe not at night. It will leave you afraid to even wash your face in the bathroom sink.


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No! More!

That’s right.

No more new books coming into this household. Not headed for my to-read piles.

Piles. Who am I kidding? I have an entire bookcase of to-be-read books, plus a pile in my office, a pile in my bedroom, and a smaller pile of books I just received for Christmas.

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So. A moratorium on books. I will not buy new books, not even ebooks, until I have diminished the piles stacked around my house–and reviewed them.

Of course, this new rule excludes books that are given to me as gifts (Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and there’s a new Bujold out, for crying out loud), books that are lent to me, books written by my friends (admittedly, I have a very broad definition of friend), and books that I might purchase for other people. (You do know if I gift you a book, chances are good that I read it first, right?)

Any bets on how long I’ll last?

Or how long it will take me to make a significant dent in this collection?

How do YOU deal with an out-of-control reading pile?


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I need a theory to subscribe to!

Sometime in the month of December, my Spousal Unit received a copy of Men’s Health in the mail.

Odd. Neither of us asked for it or, more importantly, paid for it. We thought perhaps it was a fluke, or someone sent him a gift but didn’t claim credit for it.

Thing is, he subscribed to Men’s Health about 15 years ago, and we both read it for a year or two. Well, he read it. I mostly just looked at the photos.

When the new magazine came, I thought I’d check it out to see how it had been updated.

Still the same yummy photos, by the way. But the rest of the mag? The exact same articles we read 15 years ago. Which is why the SU stopped subscribing in the first place.

The fitness articles aren’t about fitness, they’re about getting shredded and having aggressive muscle tone. The cooking articles are about impressing a woman with a meal you don’t have to put much thought or effort into. The sex articles…well, I read it and giggled, thinking, “Really? They don’t know that already?” Maybe the fact that kissing isn’t just a function of foreplay is astounding news to a certain segment of the population.

But we’re still left with the question–how did this magazine find its way to us?

Then the mystery deepened, with the arrival of Glamour magazine, also in the Spousal Unit’s name.

It’s safe to say he never subscribed to this one in the past. Neither did I. And Things One and Two found the idea of this subscription hilarious.

This magazine is filled with women younger and thinner than I am, who all seem to have much more devotion to social media than I do. They wear clothes that aren’t practical for my life. My wardrobe needs are basically business casual, things without waistbands that allow me to sit in front of the computer for hours without binding me anywhere, and comfortable underwear.

I don’t think the SU would be happy if I decided our lives would improve if I started wearing jeans that cost more than an average mortgage payment. It’s still denim, people. And it really isn’t imbued with magical properties no matter what the ad campaigns say. The world economic climate is not going to plummet if I don’t realize that slim silver accessories are out and chunky gold or shellacked bird poop is in.

We’ll be watching the mailbox to see if any other interesting periodicals arrive with SU’s name on. His most recent subscriptions were Smithsonian and Rolling Stone, so I don’t see the overlap. If someone sent one of both of these as a gift, please let us know. And could you include a copy of People next time, so I’ll know who all the pop culture references in the other two magazines are referring to?

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