Tag Archives: horror

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.

SPOILER ALERT!

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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A Choir of Ill Children from the Nightmare Magazine Top 100 Horror Books

And here we are with another book read.

Confession: although I never got to meet Tom in person, I got to know him through email when we were trying to invite him to Colorado Springs for a conference or workshop. Then I discovered he had written a mystery novel (not his usual fare) set in a small town in upstate NY, which led to me writing to ask him, “What the heck?” Turns out there had been some sort of family cabin on a lake there when he was growing up, and the memories never left him. He was a wonderful writer and a fine human being, and he was taken from us much too soon earlier this year.

Now then. A Choir of Ill Children. A Southern Gothic novel, which I fully expected to trudge through while women fainted and ghosts fluttered and nothing solid ever really happened.

I’m pleased to say i was so, so wrong. I loved this book. The language is lyrical with a mysterious beat that hooks you and draws you in. The characters are drawn in bold, strong, colorful strokes, and the creepy atmosphere of Kingdom Come, the backwater swamp town where the story is set, will creep into your bones so hard you’ll be itching from imaginary mosquito bites and sweating in the literary humidity.

I sometimes complain because not enough questions are answered in horror novels. In this book, while every single question isn’t answered, there is a sense of completeness, of story finished when you reach the end. Some might call the ending too pat, or too much of a turnaround, but I don’t think so.

I will also never see the word “vinegar” the same ever again. But this book is full of that, little twists and sidesteps that you don’t see coming.

For instance, the main character owns the town sawmill. There are a million ways Piccirilli could have played that character in that situation, but he made it unique. Not the literary hero drowning in white man’s guilt, and not the bored and/or cruel overseer that we’ve seen a million times.

The main character is aware of his town, his family, and his place in both. That sounds frustratingly vague. I don’t want to give up too much about the plot. You’ve got granny witches, conjoined triplets, ghosts, missing parents, a best friend who is truly afflicted by speaking in tongues, a documentary crew of two, and a mysterious girl found in the woods. It all ties up in ways you won’t expect, that you couldn’t expect.

I kept telling myself, as I read the book, “I should hate this. It’s too lyrical. It’s not straightforward enough.” At the same time, I was falling in love with the words and couldn’t put it down.

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Top 100 Horror Novels: Nightworld

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

This time out, I read Nightworld, a Repairman Jack novel by F. Paul Wilson.

SCORE!

My only complaint is that this is the last book in the Repairman Jack series, and now I have to go back and read them all, even though I now know how they’ll ultimately end.

Oh, who am I kidding? By the time I circle back around to the rest of the series, I will have forgotten most of the important bits.

When this book opens, if you’re unfamiliar with the series, then there are a million different ways it could go. It opens with the sun rising late one morning. Catastrophic climate change? Aliens? The end of the world? Black magic?

So the sun is rising late and setting early. Then these giant sinkholes open up, first in NYC but then around the world. And horrors start creeping out during the hours of darkness. Which, remember, are steadily increasing as the days get shorter.

One thing I unashamedly love is a good ensemble cast of characters. Hey, if it’s good enough for Buffy, it’s good enough for me! But even when you have a climax pitting one “good” person against one “evil” being, well, that person didn’t get there on his own. He didn’t get there without the help and luck and sacrifice of a lot of other characters. Damn it, now I really need to read the rest of this series so I can get the back story on all these people.

I am also a sucker for justice, especially on the small-scale. So if someone with questionable moral fiber hatches a plot to exploit or profit from the coming disaster, I enjoy seeing him get his ass handed to him. Especially if it’s a fate worse than death.

Good old-fashioned monsters. Yup, that’s what I like. Lovecraftian-influenced horrors that only come out at night, things with squishy bodies and too many teeth, slithering and flying (and swimming) about in the dark, tapping at your windows, scratching at your door.

Did I have any quibbles? As usual, the women are mostly minor players. They chiefly serve as the ones who need to be protected, although you will be slightly bludgeoned by the mother-child, mama bear stereotype. Repeatedly. I guess women can only be tough if they have a child to protect. That isn’t something that struck me while I was reading the book, but stuck out when I reflected back on the characters in the story to write this review.

Also, the world-wide implications of lessening daylight were somewhat glossed over. They were mentioned, but didn’t seem to really impact any of the main characters. Not that I think the author necessarily had time and space to put all that in, but I missed it. But I’m a fan of dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories, so a lot of questions occurred to me that might not bother other readers.

Onward and upward. This was a book that would make me look under the bed before shutting off the light at night.

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Three Scary Women

Me. Talk to me before that first cup of tea in the morning. Very scary.

DeAnna. Writes a cool blog. Knows more about writing than anyone else I know. Her Goodreads list is always intriguing and makes me want to read most of what she’s read.

Shannon. Also writes a cool blog. She actually writes the scariest stuff I’ve ever read.

The three of us decided to make our way through a couple of lists of horror novels. The first, which I previously mentioned, is Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books. The second, which DeAnna found, is called The Definitive 30 Scariest Books Ever Written.

We’ll just see about that, won’t we. Because so far, some of the horror novels are not particularly scary. Which begs the question, what is the point of a horror novel if not to scare you?

The other two have listed the books off the list that they’ve already read, so I thought I’d do the same.

From the 100, I’ve already read The Exorcist, The Year’s Best Fantasy Book One, The Silence of the Lambs, 20th Century Ghosts, seven Stephen King novels, probably all three Dean Koontz novels, The Drive-In, Rosemary’s Baby, three by Lovecraft, Swan Song, The Wolf’s Hour, Interview with a Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, Frankenstien, four by Dan Simmons, The Bridge, Dracula, and six books by Peter Straub.

36 out of 100.

On the scary list, I have read Rebecca, The Exorcist, Dracula, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Pet Sematary, Coraline, Slaughterhouse Five, The Silence of the Lambs and Frankenstein.

10 out of 30.

Running right around 30% for both lists.

Can’t wait to make my way through the lists, see what I think, see what the other two think. Because they’re scarysmart, in every sense of the word.

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How Horrible (and I love it)

I love a challenge.

Someone on FB referenced Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books. Since I’m a big fan of horror, I thought I’d better get to work and make my way through the list. It’s mid-September and I’ve been thinking about Halloween for a month now. Nights are getting cooler and longer. The wind is less flirty and more whispery.

The task is easier said than done, my friends. Easier said than done.

The list is alphabetical, so I dove right into the Clive Barker. I remember reading his books long ago, when I first discovered modern horror. (Thank you, Stephen King, for Salem’s Lot.)  I remember being genuinely frightened by some of his short stories. But the first book on the list, Books of Blood volumes 1-3, is not available at the library.

Hey, I’m ambitious, not rich. I want to read all 100, not buy all 100.

I moved right on to The Hellbound Heart. (Yes, yes, the basis for all the Hellraiser movies.) While the writing is beautiful and evocative, and the concept is fairly frightening, I hit a snag. If the earth had opened up and swallowed all of the characters, I would not have cared. For me, the book lacked a key element–I couldn’t relate to any of the characters. I didn’t like them. There wasn’t a single one I thought, “Ooh, I’d like to sit down and have a cuppa with that one,” or “I bet it would be fun to eavesdrop on that one’s cell phone calls on the bus.” Nope.

The Damnation Game suffered a similar lack. I don’t think I reached 50 pages before I put it down and thought about how I’d avoid all of the characters, given a chance.

Next on the list: a book of short stories by Laird Barron, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories. I’d love to give it a go. Library doesn’t have it, and remember: I’m thrifty.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. Oh, I read this one all right. My cousin Janet left it lying about so I picked it up and read it when I was much too young for such things. . Scared the bejesus out of me. That one had me checking under the bed before I could go to sleep at night.

I’m about to segue into some Ray Bradbury, so the reading should get vastly more enjoyable. I may have to make a trip to the used bookstore to look for the Barron. And yes, I could buy electronic copies and read them on my tablet, but remember the thrifty/cheap comments earlier? I wasn’t kidding.

On a related note, the scariest short story I’ve ever read is an untitled story by Shannon Lawrence, one of my critique group members. It was a rough draft, and it still had the perfect balance of horror with some mundane but disgusting details. Thanks to Shannon, I will never, EVER use a porta potty again.

Would you read your way through a list like this? And what’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?

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