Tag Archives: Nightmare Magazine

Top 100 Horror: Sunglasses After Dark by Nancy A. Collins

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

Sunglasses After Dark is the first Sonja Blue book, originally published in, I believe, 1989.

When this was made into an e-book, there were some grievous errors made. I kept stumbling across typos, usually “ly” left off. So “actually” became “actual.”

But the worst error I found? “The looks on their faces…” became “The looks on their feces…”

Big, BIG difference there. I don’t know if it’s just the version I got from Amazon or what, but the book was riddled with errors.

Which is a pity, because it’s a cracking good vampire story, and I don’t think or say that lightly. It’s not even apparent in the beginning that Sonja is a vampire, and even when you get to that realization…”vampire” just isn’t a big enough word to cover it all.

SPOILER ALERT! I liked the way this book built, and the way the reader is initially led down the completely wrong path in regards to Sonja Blue. Gradually, you realize your error, taking the word of those around her, or her enemies, for who or what she is. Then you realize that she doesn’t even know what she is. If you’ve ever tried to write that way, misdirecting the reader without them knowing that’s what you’re doing, then you know how hard it is to do well.

Although I loved most of the pace and the plotting, the big show down at the end fell flat for me. It was build up, build up, build up, fearsomeness, ohmygod, build up…and then poof, it’s over in a minute, and our heroine wins too easily. It’s one of those moments where the protagonist grits her teeth and decides to win, so she does. That always feels like a let down to me.

But the writing in the rest of the book? If I can find the next one in the series without all the hideous typos, I want to read more.

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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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Making More Progress on the Top 100 Horror Novels (Audrey’s Door)

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

I’ve been reading ferociously lately, trying to get through more of the list and inspire my own writing. And then the real horror hit me–how behind I was in posting my progress and reviews. Oh, no!

Next up is Audrey’s Door by Sarah Langan.

If I may be blunt? Fucking finally. It’s current. It’s written by a woman. And it’s scary.

For me, “scary” has been missing from a lot of the books on this list. Some I doubt  are even properly classified as  horror. But I blunder onward, always reading.

Classic haunted house story, but with so many interesting and diverting twists. The main character is mentally ill–that journey, alone, could have made an entire book. The romantic piece of the story could also have stood alone. But twine them together with an eerie old building that defies nature, and  you’ve got a cracking story that won’t let you go.

Some could, uncharitably, point out that I am never in favor of having a monster that is never actually seen in a book. Well, yeah, unless it’s done superbly. In this story, what lurks on the other side is never really fully seen, but I was so wrapped up in the story (and probably my security  blanket, two cats, a flashlight and a baseball bat) that I didn’t care.

One of the facets that riveted me to my chair was Audrey’s mental illness, and her history with it. How she thought about it. How she lived with it on a daily basis. How she perceived it. I think there’s a great deal of misunderstanding and unfounded assumptions about people who are mentally ill not being aware of their illness. This book lays waste to that theory. Audrey knows exactly what her problems are, and while she may not know how to fix them, she knows how to cope with them and work around them.

When I read this book, I could feel the influence of Rosemary’s Baby, and perhaps a hint of Lovecraft.

Yes, this is a haunted house novel. But it is so much more. It’s become one of my favorites from this list, and I can’t wait to read her other novels.  Although, of course, after I finish this list. THIS DAMN LIST. Wait, maybe I died and this is a form of purgatory? Well, that’s a story for me to write.

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How Horrible, Part 2

One does not gulp down Ray Bradbury like the literary equivalent of a spit-flavored electrolyte beverage on a hot day.

From the Dust Returned. Beautiful imagery, lyrical writing. Some of the autumnal descriptions made me envious of the ability to so perfectly capture a fleeting feeling. It was a book to savor, with a hot cup of tea on a crisp fall day. It is horror in its most beautiful, whimsical form, something a child could read, or your granny, without fear of getting a nightmare as a result.

WE INTERRUPT THIS BLOG for a very important message. Stephen King’s latest, Mr. Mercedes, jumped off the library’s Rapid Read shelf and into my waiting arms. Since I had to read it and return it in just seven days, my reading list took a detour. Incidentally, really liked it. If you don’t like Stephen King because of the supernatural elements–try this one on for size, because there weren’t any. Just the random madness of our fellow human beings to scare yourself with.

Onto Something Wicked This Way Comes, another Bradbury. Once again, the writing is beautiful and lyrical.

But I do have a beef. I know that Bradbury was a product of his time, but he’s almost Hemingway in his treatment of women. They are mothers and teachers, in need of protection. They provide soft smiles, warm hugs and always cry on cue when some misfortune befalls their menfolk. It’s as if Bradbury couldn’t conceive of teenage girls having the same wanderlust or need for adventure that the teenage boys had. (Who am I kidding? There are no teenage girls in this book, active or passive.)

I refuse to believe that Bradbury was surrounded his entire life by dull, soft, weepy women.

What surprised me was to see the reference to Pinhead at the circus. Today, most people think of the Hellraiser movie or Clive Barker’s books when they hear that name. But Bradbury used it before Barker, and I believe the usage goes even further back in time, referring to a specific kind of birth defect that often ended up as a sideshow freak.

Next came Alone With the Horrors, a collection of Ramsey Campbell’s short stories.

Finally, we got into some work that I would call scary. But what really echoes through these stories is the keen ache of loneliness, the disconnected and distanced feeling of being alone in the world. Most of the victims in these stories could have survived if they’d only had a friend, a lover, a sibling, someone to lend an ear or a shoulder and occasionally draw them out into the real world instead of letting them inhabit the inside of their own skulls until it drove them beyond reason. As a mood piece, this collection is stellar. But you’ll walk away feeling sad and lonely, not frightened.

One of the stories could have served as a precursor to Barker’s Hellbound Heart, although I’m kicking myself for not writing down the title.

Ever onward through the list!

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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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