Tag Archives: Top 100 horror

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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Top 100 Horror Books: 999

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

“999” is an anthology of tales by some of horror’s greatest writers, edited by Al Sarrantonio.

I’m not the ideal audience for a book of short stories. I know this. It’s my shortcoming, has nothing to do with the stories themselves. I read to escape, and short stories are not generally long enough for me to escape into.

I like “Amerikanski Dead at the Moscow Morgue” by Kim Newman, because there was a lot of cleverness in both the zombies and what ends up driving them.

“The Ruins of Contracoeur” by Joyce Carol Oates was a little marvel, warping a seriously gothic sensibility with modern technology. And an ending that I won’t soon forget–it was squicky. Gave me a little shudder.

“The Owl and the Pussycat” by Thomas M. Disch is good for a few nightmares. When you finally figure out where the story is going, it’s like an asteroid rushing toward the earth in a big-budget movie–you can’t look away.

Loved “Good Friday” by F. Paul Wilson. There was enough story there to allow me to root for the characters. Well, some of them.

My very favorite was one I had read before, “Mad Dog Summer” by  Joe R. Lansdale, who can do no wrong in my book. Perhaps not classic horror, but the story will chill you even while the writing has you sweating along to the east Texas summer heat.

The last story in the book was “Elsewhere” by William Peter Blatty (yeah, wrote a little book called The Exorcist, you might have heard of that.) I did not see the first twist coming until he wanted me to see it coming. And the note upon which the story actually ended had me pondering for days after reading it.

For my own sanity, I need to give myself more time to read anthologies instead of trying to read them as quickly as a novel. Great way to give myself mental whiplash. I do wish, though, that this Top 100 list had fewer anthologies on it.

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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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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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Shining On

My friend DeAnna exerts a strange sort of influence over what I read. In a similar manner, so does Bob Spiller.

Because of a remark by DeAnna, I’m rereading The Shining. In fact, I’m rereading the Shining so that I may immediately reread Dr. Sleep after I finish, to see how the books hold up when read in order. (Bonus: The Shining is on the list of top 100 horror novels that DeAnna and Shannon and I are working our way through.)

First of all, King tells you in the first 20 pages or so exactly what’s going to happen in the rest of the book. I can’t figure out if I knew that the first time I read it. But this time? All I could think was, how does he get away with this? Because it works. This is a scary book. Even though I’ve read it more than once, I’m still completely gripped by the story and how it unfolds.

Of course, I’m reading it now as a parent. I’m wondering why the wife didn’t haul her happy ass out the shed herself to see if there was a snowmobile out there. I hate her back story of subordinating her life and her personality to be part of her man’s life, even though it rings so true.

King neatly sets these people up as isolated, without support beyond their little family unit. Then he builds on that from every freaking angle. The isolation of being in the mountains, amplified by the weather. The loss of contact with the outside world, and nobody out there seems to care or want to look in on them.

The demon of alcoholism–you have to wonder how much of King’s own life colored his writing here. I hope for his sake, and the sake of his family, that this is his worst nightmare, that this is his imagination taking him to the sickest, saddest, darkest place he could conjure up, poking it with his writing like your tongue pokes a sore spot on your gum, knowing you can make it worse but at the same time not really wanting to. It makes me wonder–do all alcoholics see their drinking as not their fault?

I also wonder if this novel could be written today. For a large number of people, the answer would be an automatic no, because they’d cite the use of computers and cell phones and internet. And yet, I know there are places in Estes Park, where the Stanley Hotel that inspired this novel sits, where you can’t get cell phone service. Heck, I live in the middle of a city–in a cell phone dead spot. So for me, the bones of the story stand strong.

For me, the story is working on two levels. One, the supernatural side of things, and insidious way the spirit of the hotel is seeping into Jack’s brain and taking it over like mold on a soft, ripe cheese, sending hairy, feathered veins deep into the center. Then there’s the cold and the isolation, physical and mental players that don’t need a single ghost to do their worst and creep me out. The family dynamics are also chilling as you watch these two adults fight against turning into what they hated most about their own parents. It’s never said outright, but you can feel Jack thinking about his drinking in the light of, “Hey, my dad was a drunk and I turned out okay.”

But did you, Jack? Even without the Overlook, could you have stayed the course of sobriety, conquered your temper and finished your play? Sure, the demons outside Jack’s head are worse than the personal demons he carries around with him already, but just barely.

For me, this is a proper horror novel and well deserves its spot on the top 100 list.

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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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