Posts Tagged ‘Horror



28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Food Therapy

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Food Therapy (3:53 a.m. #2)Food Therapy by Nocomus Columbus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have a hankering for some immensely disturbing and disjointed peeks into a fractured individual (or three)? Then this is for you. As with his previous effort (3:53 a.m.), Food Therapy introduces us to some incredibly fractured individuals and lets us spend some time in their heads… until they get their just deserts, that is.

Speaking of deserts, Corey, our first new friend, loves them. As he tells his mother, why he’s only had two cases of Oreos today! Having been a hefty lad from the start, Corey ballooned up to over 800 pounds following the loss of his father, and has since taken up residence in the living room, reigning over his mother like a petty, piggish despot; his implement of rule? The backscratcher, his mighty scepter. Corey proves to be both vile and sympathetic (occasionally both simultaneously) as one eats their way through the pages (pun most definitely intended) and witnesses the tyrant’s rise – and eventual fall – while he obsesses over the pizza delivery girl, makes friends with a former solider, and talks to the ashes of a preacher’s son.

Then there’s his mother. Though we’re rarely allowed directly into her head, her actions convey the implication that she’s just as warped as her son… if not more so. From the moment she informs him that she’s opening a new business – a massage therapy center, to which exclusively male clients come, hmmm… – one has to wonder what’s going on in her head. When Jim, perhaps the only friend Corey has ever made, proposes they begin dating she only grows worse, culminating in her actions in the epilogue of the piece.

Lastly, there’s Jim. With “salvation” and “redemption” tattooed on his arms, he’s seen – and done – some terrible things. Before the tale is done, he’ll add at least one more to his count. With a clever callback to 3:53 AM, Food Therapy is tied up in a tasty bite sized package, leaving the reader wanting more.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: NOS4A2

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NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, NOS4A2. I will miss you so, now that our time is done.

I have to say, I enjoyed this immensely; I came to it with a bit of trepidation, motivated mostly by curiosity, given that the author is Stephen King’s son. Snatched up alongside Heart-Shaped Box, I think NOS4A2 must now take its place amongst my favorite books. Whatever magic King found in his own youth could quite possibly be genetic, as it shines out in his son’s work as well.

The basics are easy enough: Vic McQueen (known to her father as “The Brat”) goes looking for trouble, and finds it, in the form of Charles Talent Manx. Vic has a knack for finding things; gifted with psychic abilities that draw her to the place where she can find what she wants most – so long as she is astride her favorite bike, at least – she’s found bracelets, a lost kitten and other objects. This time, it puts her in the hands of a psychotic who is also capable of traveling hidden roads. Manx – and his car, a vintage Rolls Royce with the ironic license plate of “NOS4A2” (say it phonetically) – has a habit of kidnapping children, draining whatever it is that makes them human, and depositing them in Christmasland, a wonderful amusement park where the fun (often in the form of games like scissors-for-the-drifter or bite-the-smallest) never ends. Besting Manx – with the assistance of an overweight bike mechanic and a few onlookers at the local general store – Vic proves the only victim to ever escape that fate.

Twenty years later, Manx is back. The years have taken their toll on Vic, and the psychic damage incurred by her too-frequent reality-bending trips through the “Shorter Way” on her bike have left her broken, half-psychotic, and barely able to care for herself, let alone her lover and son. When Manx steps in to take her child as vengeance, Vic has to rediscover her childhood talent to bring him back… before Wayne joins the other monstrous children in Christmasland.

All in all, a remarkable book, entertaining on multiple levels. The dialogue is spot-on, from Manx’s creepy (and vaguely bigoted) Southern Gentleman style to Tabitha (the FBI agent helping to look for Wayne)’s no-nonsense geek-girl authority. The characters are all entertaining and compelling, leaving the reader with definite ties towards each (and emitting a silent cheer each time one gets their just rewards, or mourning when things end poorly.)

What I found most interesting about the book were the callbacks – both deliberate statements and in general tone – to some of King’s work. This was perhaps made more obvious to me by my reading of Doctor Sleep not long before, but in many ways the two novels seem to have some mirrored themes… but while I felt Doctor Sleep missed a few boats and was entirely too tidy, NOS4A2 chimes properly. The pain of growing up and the sacrifices we have to make during the process; the loss of childhood wonder (and what too much of that wonder can do); the destruction of innocence and the consequences it holds later in life; growing to understand your parents, even if you can’t forgive them. All of those, plus the typical “we have to pretend this isn’t in any way autobiographical, so we’ll wrap it up in a story about psychic powers and freaky vampire-things!” remind this reader strongly of early King, and do it well. The children of Christmasland, and the disturbing thoughts they bring to mind – especially the discussion regarding “pure fun” essentially being “pure evil” – are some of the best “vampires” I’ve seen lately, and Manx and Bing make suitably gruesome antagonists (all the more so because they truly believe themselves to be doing good.)

Overall, I’d recommend the book to anyone who has a taste for horror but has been sadly starved of late, old-school King fans, someone looking for vampire themes without the glitter, and anyone who read Doctor Sleep and liked the ideas – child psychic atoning for the sins of the father and the self – but didn’t care for the execution.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Doctor Sleep

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Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ooooh, Doctor Sleep. What do I say about you? I suppose I should mention that The Shining was never one of my favorites, despite my rabid love of most things Stephen King. It had moments, sure, but for the most part I could have lived my life quite happily without input from Danny Torrance and his drunken, abusive father and milquetoast mother.

Of course, thirty-ish years later, I’m still shelling out to buy the sequel, so I suppose that says something, doesn’t it?

The premise? Danny Torrance isn’t coping so well. Despite plenty of sunshine, love from his mother and a bit of psychic assistance from his pal Dick Halloran (who, as longtime readers may remember, saved little “Doc”‘s bacon back in The Shining), he’s become exactly what he despised. A washed up drunk who thinks it’s totally okay to steal from a single mother, so long as he can keep enough antifreeze in his system to keep the psychic voices quiet. Of course, that doesn’t make for much of a compelling character nor a Stephen King plot, so after finally discovering he’s hit rock bottom, Danny gets himself into the program, finds himself a nice quiet town, and all seems to be coming up roses at last.

Except for the guilt, that is. And the occasional psychic flashes of a young girl (Abra) who’s going to need his help, and of something terrible waiting ahead, a woman in a top hat who is not to be trifled with.

Doctor Sleep leads us down some interesting byways about redemption and the responsibilities inherent to the guilty and those with power, and prods at the idea of the abused-becoming-abuser (whether it be a child or a substance) concept, and does most of it fairly well; the prose is as clean and quick as King’s usual fare, and the True Knot are certainly an interesting take on vampires. Rosie the Hat makes for a suitably crazy villain, and despite the sappiness of the blossoming relationship between Abra and Danny (that has more than it’s share of echoes and callbacks to Doc and Dick in the original book, deliberately so), it works well enough, with the possible exception of one little plot twist regarding Abra’s heritage that comes up in the last few pages; most readers will see it coming, and dread it, and when it’s finally confirmed, it’s facepalm worthy (and a coincidence of the sort that only happens in Stephen King novels, to paraphrase one of his other characters from another series) but you can mostly ignore it and continue on.

Then you get to the ending. Had the book just stopped as Danny and his friends prepared to saddle up and ride down to the Overlook (because of course the ghosts of the past have their hands in the troubles of the present; if there’s one thing this book is about, it’s that one cannot escape the past; surprisingly, it manages to convey this theme without becoming completely heavy handed about it, and half the callbacks will only ding the “aha” moment later, or if you go back and reread the first one), I think I might have liked it better. Had the finale played out a little differently, or had the ultra-sappy reunion scene not been forced upon us (and this seems to be a trend with Mr. King of late; see also the end of 11/22/63 or Joyland) it might also have remained fairly well regarded. Alas, with the War of the Worlds-esque defeat of the True Knot and far too much handholding in the epilogue, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Now, that nastiness aside, there’s things to like here; most of the characters are interesting and well fleshed out (Rosie the Hat in particular is quite a joy to read, for me; that probably says something about my warped state of mind, but oh well.) and the plot moves along at a decent clip without skipping around unnecessarily. Personally, I would have liked to see more development for the members of the Knot, more background and detail on their escapades (actually, a whole novel on the main crew in this book coming together would do well on my wish list, methinks), but for who we get, King does well.

Overall, if you’re looking for a good redemption story, or if you just have to know what became of Danny, Wendy and Dick after the events of The Shining, it’s worth a read; otherwise, it’s probably safe to pass it up. You aren’t missing much. Except the opportunity to look with morbid curiosity every time an RV full of old people on vacation drives by you on the freeway…

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Dead(ish)

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DEAD[ish] (DEAD[ish] #1)DEAD[ish] by Naomi Kramer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m not really sure what to say about Dead(ish); I almost feel bad giving it the score I did. There’s things to like here; the concept is amusing (for the short form, girl gets murdered by boyfriend, hires a P.I. to help find her body, wacky hijinks ensue), the writing style and voice are clear and entertaining, and the technical aspects of the work are well done.

Why only two stars, then? Primarily because it feels disjointed, and a trifle incomplete. Scenes just sort of happen, with little rhyme or reason. There’s one point that the dead woman is “teasing” the PI in the shower, seemingly with no better explanation than “because reasons!” There’s several sequences featuring an almost painfully flaming gay man that, while perhaps funny, seem almost ridiculously overblown when compared to the relative down-to-earth tropes and characterization of the other players. The boyfriend-slash-murderer also manages to land himself in the unbelievable category, apparently having a secret gay side, huge amounts of debts and bizarre culinary skills that are never explained and clash with the manner of presentation.

Overall, I think it’s the illogic of the thing that bothered me the most. To me, for something to be humorous – which Dead(ish) seems to be attempting – it has to make sense, by it’s own rules and logic if by no other judgement… and Dead(ish) seems to fall short on that score. With a bit more content – filling in some of the blank spots, detailing the character motivations and backgrounds a bit more – I’d say there’s enough spark here to warrant at least 3 and perhaps a 4 star rating. But it’s not quite there, yet.

Also, final warning – and one that’s echoed on Amazon’s page – but there’s a boatload of foul language and obscure Aussie slang in here, so be prepared if such things are not on your “okay” list, or be prepared to do some websearching to sort out the slang.

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26
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: For Those With Eyes To See

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For Those With Eyes to SeeFor Those With Eyes to See by Troy Blackford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What do a blogger selling hate culture, an ominous refrigerated U-Haul, a mysterious iPhone e-mail and a bunch of “googly eyes” have in common?

This book, that’s what. A collection of short stories, For Those With Eyes to See spans the spectrum of the bizarre, worrisome and horrifying. While a lot of similar anthologies suffer from obvious “weak points,” stories that either don’t fit the overall tone or that are somehow inferior to the others, Blackford’s collection seems to suffer from no such weakness; each tale serves as a quick read, often with an O. Henry punch at the end, and keeps you hungry for more without feeling incomplete. Each piece has something to recommend it, whether it be the eventual fate of the almost-too-nice crafter who just wanted some eyes for her stuffed animals in the titular tale or the sudden reversal and light of hope found in ‘Now for the Sunbeams.’

The language is clear and well-written, having a knack for finding just the right word without needless excursions to the thesaurus or dictionary. (the singular exception being ‘All in Your Head’ and it’s use of otolaryngological… but given the context and the way it’s used, we’ll give that one a pass.) The characters are entertaining and well fleshed out given the truncated word count, and each of them are entertaining in their own way (my favorite being Paul Whirlpool from ‘That’s When You Know You’re Doing Something Right’), with a unique voice and feel to them that sometimes evades short fiction.

If you have a taste for the weird, miss the days when short fiction was common and collections were the norm (especially those who enjoyed Barker’s In The Flesh or King’s Night Shift) then this book is probably worth a look. If you don’t feel like reading it in order (which you should, because they’re all great and I thought the order of placement was part of the fun), I at the very least advise you to check out ‘That’s When You Know You’re Doing Something Right,’ ‘Such A Good Idea,’ and ‘Monday Morning,’ which were my personal favorites.

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26
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Watcher

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WatcherWatcher by Alen B. Curtiss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s not often that we get to crawl inside the mind of a killer and stay there; rarer still that the cesspit is exposed as much more than an excuse for random blood and guts. The Watcher allows us both.

A piece of short fiction, The Watcher goes into perversely loving detail as we are presented with the titular character’s attack on a young woman… and the surprising aftermath. I’m known to have a sick enjoyment of things that leave me feeling filthy and unclean – tend to rate such things as being much more difficult to achieve than the usual happy thoughts or scary stuff; 8MM, for example, is one of my favorite movies for this reason – and this managed that feat quite easily. The language, the hints of what led to The Watcher’s state of mind and his increasing mental instability as the siege continues were all well done and vividly presented, focusing on smell and taste – I’ll never look at gumdrops quite the same way again, I’ll tell you that – as much as the usual sight and sound.

Only a few small quibbled prevented me from flagging this as five stars; first, some of the language is a trifle awkward or repetitive. Not a huge amount, and not really what it was docked for, but there was more than one moment where I paused upon seeing the same word for the third or fourth time on a page. Second was the focus on the victim; her backstory was interesting enough but I felt it toned it back too much when we popped into her head to “take a break” as it were from The Watcher; disgusting though he may be, I think there would have been a little more “oomph” if we were with him the whole time. Lastly, the ending. I like it, I do, and part of me says that it makes the victim’s chapters necessary in its way, but I felt it was a little too foreshadowed and predictable by the time it came. It’s not all bad, as it at least doesn’t take the typical slasher-film route, nor does it give you the snuggle-bunny feeling of “It’s all okay, now,” so bonus points for being original. Just not quite what I was hoping for.

There’s also the tightrope issue of wanting more. Short fiction always has that abyss yawning below, while the author skips across, trying to keep a balance between word-glut and not telling enough; to be certain, leaving the readers wanting to know more is usually a good thing, but at the same time too much left unsaid can sometimes stifle the enjoyment. I think this one stays on the “good questions left” side of things, but I’d still like to see more. Expansion on The Watcher’s youth and early “career” would be a fascinating read, I suspect. While one can make some educated guesses on why he is the way he is (there’s certainly a handful of clues scattered about), the warped part of me would have liked more of the psychology behind him. Of course, that could very easily balloon up to novel-length, which might kill the charm of being inside The Watcher’s head.

Overall, though, a pleasing read for those who don’t mind getting their hands (and minds) dirty. Great presentation, good characterization, and a twist ending put it well ahead of the pack.

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26
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: The Unborn

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The UnbornThe Unborn by David Shobin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s very difficult to take this book seriously. Perhaps it’s just more a product of its time than I can stomach, or perhaps my own familiarity with computers and what they can (and can’t) realistically do – let alone what they could do 30+ years ago – renders me unable to stretch my belief far enough to find something of value here. Whatever the reason, I found myself shrieking at this book, throwing my hands in the air and saying “Oh, jeez, that is so stupid!” almost constantly.

The premise: Samantha discovers she’s pregnant; the father doesn’t want anything to do with it. Being a modern (for the early 80s, anyway) empowered woman, Sam vetoes abortion right off (after a bit of politically correct babble about respecting the right to choose) and determines she’s still a bit short to meet expenses if she wants to keep the child. Seeking alternate income, she ends up in a sleep study group, purportedly testing a new sleeping pill; upon the doctor discovering her pregnancy, the focus shifts to seeing if fetuses dream (oh, and she starts dating the doctor, too, since he’s so young and caring and interesting. Blech.) Of course, the medical complex where the experiments are being conducted has a supercomputer (called MEDIC, tee hee) that starts to “dream” itself, and it’s eventually discovered that during the experiments the computer is “talking” to the fetus. Chaos ensues.

Alright, so maybe I made fun of it a little much in the synopsis, but honestly it felt entirely too contrived. The romance angle felt forced – Doctor Bryson goes on at length how sex was just a physical release and his true love is his research, then proceeds to tell us every chance he gets about how it’s totally different with Samantha, and the whole “Dating your patient, who also ends up being your employee, who falsified records to participate in your study, who is pregnant with another man’s baby that you guys hardly ever talk about” was crossing so many lines and flying counter to every bit of logic one could apply that it became just stupid. The characters were all very basic tropes and felt like cardboard cut outs – pretty, intelligent, strong woman in trouble(TM); motherly, understanding type who’s playing matchmaker and faithful sidekick, and so on. Three quarters of the characters have apparently never heard of an ethics committee or are capable of thinking past their own cubicles.

And then there’s the computer. Keep in mind this is the early 80s. MEDIC is the room-sized, runs off tapes and reel-to-reel recorders for it’s data input and storage, prints things out via typewriter (and receives most of it’s input the same way). Yet somehow it can store the complete medical knowledge of mankind, cross reference all of it in seconds and perform “free associative thinking” tasks without a hiccup. Uh. No. Mind you, I’m not adverse to science fiction, but this felt like the author was merely pulling things out of his butt and shoving them together, without any logic applied. Oh, did I mention it responds to – and responds with – direct english commands with a minimum of “computer-ese”? Yeah. You can ask it, for example “Describe last analysis of patient Samantha Kirsten and likely results of death.” And the computer comes back with “1.5 Hours – Liver failure, renal failure, hypertension, cardiac arrest likely.” *facepalm* Oh, and does it in about 5 seconds. Without anyone having to thread a different reel of tape (this is before hard drives and gigabytes of RAM, mind you; we’d just gotten past the punch card stage.) despite it being several days later on a system that is purportedly running 24/7. Not buying it.

This computer also somehow taps into the EEG nodes that our doctor put on Sam’s belly to monitor her fetus, and not only records/references this data, but somehow begins beaming everything it knows into the little amphibian’s head. Bet you didn’t know those little nodules could do that, did ya? Oh, and then the fetus – and mind you, I really hate typing that word over and over again, but it’s how the book refers to it, so… – figures out how to excrete hormones and neurotransmitters at will, using its supreme medical knowledge in conjunction with this technique to essentially mind control mommy into doing fun things like forcing Bryson to ejaculate into her repeatedly (because his semen contains a hormone that promotes fetal growth, makes labor easier, and is a primary component in its mind-control scheme) and eat raw fish eyes (because they’re oh so good for baby, apparently). Yeah. There never seems to be much point in this – the computer supposedly can’t “think” in terms of this being an ultimate plan, and no motive/reasoning/higher cognitive function is ever ascribed to the fetus – so I guess this all falls under the “just because” header.

The book has the appropriately predictable “dun dun dun!” ending, though it still doesn’t make any sense – I’m really wondering how a kid sitting in a cradle is going to access his computer “mentor,” or even what the point of it would be – unless it also developed psychic powers or something, and it’s left very vague, as though it was tacked on merely because that was the custom of the country, to have that last “scare.” Add in that government agents appear, sweep everything under the rug – including the murder, the attempted murder, the break in, and all the data Bryson had collected “proving” something was up – and tell mommy a fairy tale that she believes since she conveniently has amnesia as a residual effect from stress, flatlining during the labor (because the baby tried to kill her during birth) and the fetus mind-control of her, and it leaves you with an entirely too tidy and predictable ending.

So why two stars? Why not the 0 or 1 this would appear to deserve from my tearing apart the entirety of its insipid plot? Mainly the writing itself. When the author isn’t discussing the state of Samantha’s breasts – which happens way too often – he does a good job of keeping the language flowing, and the imagery he manages to conjure is suitably disturbing when taken out of context. It’s just when you try to put it into the whole that it becomes problematic. The scene with the fish eyes is duly repulsive, and when Bryson suffers a bit of… performance anxiety, Samantha’s response and the way it’s written is suitably disturbing. Moments like that pepper the script, and when the characters aren’t making goo-goo eyes at one another or otherwise behaving like bloody idiots, the dialogue is amusing and well-written.

Honestly, though, I’d steer clear. A lot of people can use language well, and several of them can tell an interesting, coherent and intelligent story while they do it. Just not worth the time, in this reader’s humble opinion.

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