Tag Archives: Top 100 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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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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