Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011, a look back

Here are the books I have read in 2011:

Mentor
Ancestor
The List
Survivor
Post Office
Teacher Man
Dear American Airlines
Last Known Victim
Blaze
Peter & The Starcatchers
Fanboy & Goth Girl
Mile 81
In Cold Blood
The House of Thunder
Your Heart Belongs to Me
Rage
The Good Guy
The Man who loved Books too Much
Lemons Never Lie
In The Night Room
Ham on Rye
That's Not in My American History Book
Afraid
Sh*t My Dad Says
Playing for Pizza
Be the Monkey - a dialog between Barry Eisler and JA Konrath
It's Always Something
2030
Other Kingdoms
Danse Macabre
This Book is Overdue
The Elephant went to Hollywood
Blockade Billy
My Lucky life in and out of Show Buisness
Squirrel seeks Chipmunk
Official Book Club Selection
The Island of Dr. Moruea
Playing for Keeps
The Day After
Sunken Treasure
Heaven is For Real
The Professor and The Mad Man
Unkillable
Musciophilia
The Storyteller
Cell
The Colorado Kid
A Million Little Pieces
Ernest Hemingway: A Writer's Life
Always Looking Up
I Like You
The Last Lecture
Stories I told Myself
The Bride Collector
Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim
The Time of My Life
Wishful Drinking
Naked
Born Standing up
Dreams From My Father
My Reading Life
The Audacity of Hope
Scratch Beginings
Handle With Care
The Doomsday Club
My Boring-Ass Life
The Tenth Justice
The Girl who Played With Fire
Son of Groucho
The Last Bookstore in America
Origin
How to tell a story and other Essays
Darkness Under The Sun
Truck Stop
UR
Brian's Hunt
Brian's Return


What I'll be up to in 2012:

In the year ahead I plan on writing more short stories and novellas. I usually plan a book a year but hopefully will get the ball rolling on some stand alone stuff.

Hope everyone has a very happy new year!



Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Black Books

So I'm on my vacation from work. Usually on my vacations I tend to veg out, gorge on a little sleep, do a little writing, catch up on tv shows.

And one show, I'm delighted to say, has caught my attention. It's called Black Books. It stars Dylan Moran, Simon Peg's nemesis in Shaun of the Dead and also his fitness motivator in Run, Fatboy, Run. With him is a long haired sidekick who embodies a weirdo Curly sensibility and a short haired woman on the lookout for Mr. Right or even Mr. Right-now-will-have-to-do. This British comedy series is unlike anything I have seen so far. It takes place in a small bookshop where Bernard Black, the owner, is much like a tyrant to his customers. He hates life, traffic, idiots, skinheads, books, customers and people. People are the worst for him. Not only that but he gives off the air like he's always recovering from a bender. His turns of phrase and one-liners are the best, often producing stomach aches of laughter from both me and my wife.

The show ran from 2000 to 2004 and only has 18 episodes. Which is kind of tragic when you think about it that there are so few episodes but, I guess, when you nail it down, it was better that they quit on a strong note. The show is driven largely by his friends, Manny and Fran, who try to get Bernard to be more sociable as he is kind of a stick in the mud.

The antics are endless. Sometimes he pays the customers to take certain books out of the shop. He invents a wine bottle lollipop. He often finds himself in situations that get him into a bit of trouble. With a screwball comedy like this, I love the duality. While Bernard is surrounded and sometimes confounded by books, his friend, Manny, loves them. Manny often recommends books, handles book orders, does the accounting, opens up shop, and yet he and Bernard are complete opposites from each other. It's funny to think that this whole show came about because of a Little Book of Calm.

That's another thing. The fake book titles are hysterical. With titles such as The History of Screaming, Blue Sands and Tempopocalypse, how could this bookstore not thrive?

Now that I know about this one, I might just check out Spaced, which is considered the sister show to this one and done by the same guys, starring Simon Peg.

Don't believe that a show could be this funny? Well take a gander at the first episode below. I was smitten with the first three minutes.




Monday, October 31, 2011

From a Buick 8

Well, we've finally come to the end of the whole Halloween-31-books-that-terrify-me segment of this blog. It has been delayed repeatedly since I, like most modern day blue-collar workers, have been busy. But I wanted to end on a crucial note. As you might've guessed; I've saved the best for last.

I was never a big fan of Christine. The movie was kinda goofy and weird to me. But this book, depicting another car that seems to have a life of its own, captured me from the first line. The book is split up through several points of view. All the stories revolve around this one mysterious car recovered by Troop D, a state police barracks in western Pennsylvania. Ned, the son of a recently killed state trooper, drunk driving related, meets the troop and learns of the car and its shadowy, mystical and disturbing origins.

The car was abandoned by the owner, who wandered off near a stream. Thought to have drowned himself, though they never find the body, the car is impounded. But the stories that all the policemen trade are laced in trickery and a deceiving mask to our own world. The car is unique. It has the appearance of a 1953 Buick Roadmaster and yet the wheel is immobile, the dashboard instruments are useless props and the engine has no moving parts.

While listening to this thing on audiobook, I began to question, "So what is it if it is not clearly a car?" The answer? It is a portal. To where? We don't know. For what purpose? We do not know. But one thing is clear. This memorably mysterious yarn, published in 2002, left its mark on me. This is one story that evolves. The deeper the story goes, the more complicated it gets. With a hint of Alice in wonderland and the tread marks of Christine, this is the top of the heap of must-read books.

The book has film rights which were acquired and Tobe Hooper is attached to direct. I think he'd be perfect to capture the unsettling mythos of the car. In 2009 the ball got rolling but the movie is now in limbo, said to have productions problems. Whenever the book gets made into a movie, I believe it will be just as scary as the revolving tale itself.

To wrap it up, I shall borrow the line from Poltergeist part II:

"Car's still angry, eh?"
"Angry? That car is PISSED!"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Misery

Originally destined to be a Bachman book, this little number is not light on the scares. I can recall reading this one on break when I used to work the overnight shift at Target.

Each page I read with skimming intensity, only to be dashed to pieces every time I returned back to work. But I always remembered to bring the red hardcover with me. I also guarded it heavily, seeing as how one book was stolen from me already while reading on the night shift.

I've watched the movie many times, still finding new things in it. What gets me the most is how it's the world's worst way to write yet also the most humbling. Think about it. Writing is the most solitary thing you can do. Yet, we all feel we have an Annie Wilkes who tells us what to write and feeds our ego.

This book remains on my "To be finished" shelf. I've only made it about halfway through the book. Maybe I'm too terrified to continue.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Shining

Here's what we know about The Shining. It was a 1977 novel. It was King's third published novel and in 1980 it became the groundbreaking film starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Now here's some of what you probably didn't know.

King picked in a US Atlas, at random, the town in which he would set a story. That setting would be Boulder, Colorado. They decide to check into a hotel just as they are closing up for the season. They checked into room 217.

The novel was originally going to be titled Darkshine.

The first draft of the novel took less than four months to complete.

King is in the midst of penning the sequel, Doctor Sleep.




Friday, October 28, 2011

Four Past Midnight

Consisting of four novellas, this collection is packed full of good stories.

The Langoliers - On flight 29, ten passengers wake up to discover that the rest of the travlers are gone. Not only that, but they seem to be involved in a dry world where the past gets eaten up by strange creatures.

The Sun Dog - King has said that this serves as a prequel to his novel Needful Things.

The Library Policemen -After his son was afraid to return a late book for fear of what might happen to him, King penned this disturbing tale.

Secret Window - Not only is Mort Rainey going through a tough time: divorced wife, no kids, writer's block and a cabin all to himself, but a stranger comes to him accusing him of plagiarism.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gerald's Game

Well, we had to come to it eventually. So let's talk about Gerald's Game. I read this during college, when I foolishly thought I could take some air conditioning classes. The tests were tough and my brain was getting crammed. In between, the breaks in class, before the period would start, I'd thumb through the pages of this book.

The setup is simple. During a sex game gone awry, a wife accidentally kills her husband by kicking him. This induces a heart attack and the wife is handcuffed to the bed post.

It really is a freakish read. One that I devoured at the time but felt void of any lasting message. It's just brutal and incredibly long. At the time I thought there would be an amazing and startling revelation but one never came.

King doesn't do it often but sometimes I'll come across duds from some of my favorite authors. Along with Cell, this has to be the number one book I was disappointed in while attending college.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Just after Sunset

Just after Sunset, King's fifth collection, creates a deep atmosphere. I picked it up at my local library one day and just started reading it at home. I finished 90 percent of it while hanging out at Starbucks. It's that good. You lose complete concept of time. So, without further ado, here are my favorites of the bunch.

Willa - A haunting tale about a man trying to find his wife at the train station where he waits, alongside a group of abandoned passengers to locate her. The problem is that no train is arriving and a deeper mystery is at hand.

The Cat from Hell - The only reason why this story makes the list is because I had already seen it. It was part of an adaptation in the 1989 movie Tales from the Darkside, in which a hitman is hired to off a cat who supposedly can't die. Very gruesome story, but it is one that keeps you constantly on edge. I was afraid of cats for a while, not only because of that Pet Semetary movie, but also because of this story.

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates - A widow receives a phone call from her dead husband, who predicts two tragedies which come true.

A Very Tight Place - This has got to be the grossest story, aside from Guts, that I have ever read. It's a revenge tale involving on man's hatred for another. It involves a gun, a locked door and a tipped over port-o-potty while someone is still in kit. Need I say more? It was very hard to finish this one but I absolutely had to find out what would happen next.

N. - I don't know how King arranges his stories, but this should have been the last one. It's the perfect cap of the whole collection. A man, plagued by constant OCD, confides in his therapist that he must do these things to keep the balance. That, if he doesn't, a beast very well might make it's way into our world and that these checks and balances are the only thing keeping it at bay. Naturally, the therapist thinks the man is having paranoid delusions but he soon dismisses that when his client dies and he starts to feel the strange compulsion of OCD once he visits Ackerman's field; the last place the patient says that the beast was spotted.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nightmares and Dreamscapes

This has to be one of the largest collections of short stories I have ever seen to date. At a startling 912 pages, I would be highly surprised if you read though this entire tome with no favorites. It is impossible, I tell you. Fortunately, I didn't find it necessary to strain my eyes because the pocket paperback version looks like it was printed in size ten font. In all likelihood that means that if you lost the corner of a page, say if it tore against something, you'd probably be losing 250 words or more just from that small rip. So, I decided to rent the audio book and listened to it an hour before I would go into work, which, at that time, I was working as a busser at an upscale restaurant. I would just sit in the parking lot, sometimes fumbling with my tie in the rear view mirror as I listened to spine-tingling tales.

Here are the best stories of the bunch, in my opinion.

Dolan's Cadillac - A bittersweet tale of revenge in which a widower gets the drop, quite literally, on a mob-affiliated bad guy who had a hand in the murder of his wife.

The End of The Whole Mess - This story was narrated by Matthew Broderick. It tells the story of a man who is trying to rid the world of human violence by inspecting a certain community's drinking water. But what he finds is way more destructive than violence itself.

The Night Flier - This is the tale of a vampire who invades the skies in a small cesna plane, which substitutes as a perfect mobile coffin. Wherever he lands, he feeds, then takes to the air. A reporter is trying to track him down. I remember this was made into a horror movie that was also very close adaptation of the original.

Chattery Teeth - A man wronged in the past by a hitchhiker makes the mistake again but this time doesn't pay such a heavy price. With him he carries a pair of chattery teeth. It looks like a harmless child's toy but there is more to be said about innocent smiling trinkets.

You Know They Got a Hell of a Band - This one isn't scary. Just disturbing. A husband and wife, knowing they are lost, pull into a small town where they try to peacefully figure out their predicament over food at a local diner. The problem is they notice that the guests and staff look very similar to dead rockers and singers of yesteryear.

Sorry, Right Number - This is recorded as a radio play, much in the same vein as that Radio show called Suspense! (You can still find it on iTunes), where they debuted the episode, Sorry, Wrong Number. Now, having heard both, I respect each interpretation and think that each one is equally disturbing.

Crouch End - This tale was narrated by Tim Curry. Oh, and he does give a chilling narration to this story. Two London police officers working the night shift are discussing a case in which a woman came into the precinct in hysterics. Saying that her husband had disappeared and that there were monsters afoot.

The Doctor's Case - A mystery story involving Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. In a startling turn of events, Dr. Watson actually solves the mystery. Not a bad interpretation. Very much like Conan Doyle. Sounded nothing like a Stephen King story.

Umney's Last Case - A stubborn detective in the 1930's gets a surprise visit from one fellow named Landry who happens to be the fiction writer who wrote him. Now, having lived his life penning the 1930's, Landry wants to switch places with Umney.





Monday, October 24, 2011

Skelton Crew

This one collection kept me occupied when I frequented laundromats. It was so cram-packed with stories. Some chilling, some weird, but always a wide ride. Here are my favorites from Stephen King's Skeleton Crew.

The Mist - Included was the novella called The Mist, in which a group of survivors occupy a local grocery store as a ghostly mist covers the land. But, within the mist are dark creatures from another world that are hungry as well. Got about halfway before I moved on to the short stories. Just couldn't finish it. Too disturbing for me. But I did see the movie version and was equally terrified by that.

The Jaunt - By far the scariest science fiction story I've read in recent years. It's about a family about to use a device to travel that has been around for a while. The father explains to his son how someone stumbled onto the device, how it works, how they tested it on prisoners. But the father also explains how it is very important that all passengers inhale the sleeping gas before the trip. No human can be conscious in the jaunt. I was not prepared for the twist ending at all. But, man, was that story a trip.

Word Processor of The Gods - A hapless writer with an abusive wife and a teen son is the recent recipient of a hand-built word processor. What he comes to find out is that he can write things into existence. Whats worse...he can also delete things. Namely, abusive people.

Survivor Type - Disgraced surgeon, Richard Pine, is trapped on an island. Destined to write out the rest of his days trying to survive, he writes about smuggling drugs and the eventual madness that sets in. It's a gruesome little tale in diary form. There's no end to the lengths he will go to just to survive. After braking his ankle while trying to flag down a plane, he amputates it, desperate for something to eat.



Sunday, October 23, 2011

Everything's Eventual

There may be 14 dark tales in this collection, but I would say that 6 of these stories are pure gold. Read this one while I was still in high school.

Autopsy Room Four - A man is paralyzed but the medics pronounced him dead. Now he must try to find a way to alert them to their own mistake. It's kind of a re-hash of a popular Alfred Hitchcock episode but it is still pretty well written.

The Man In The Black Suit - A creepy man pays a little boy a visit. Very chilling. Kind of reminds me of that crazy ghost preacher in Poltergeist 2. This story nabbed King an O. Henry award.

The Road Virus Heads North - a man, while browsing a garage sale, picks up a sinister painting that seems to change in appearance as he drives home. The real question is...what is waiting for him when he gets there?

Lunch at The Gotham Cafe - A man and a woman are in the midst of a divorce settlement. They meet the lawyer at a popular cafe. But, to their surprise, a matre d goes nuts and starts slicing everything in his path. This was later turned into a short film which King praised in public.

1408 - I saw the movie of this first and thought it was brilliant. But the story was great too. It was like a little seedling of what is essentially a good haunted hotel room story. Much of the dialogue used is in the movie so it has my stamp of approval. Funny thing is, King used this story in his book On Writing to show how he edits his work. What started as an example became a financial succes in the box office. The film grossed $131 Million worldwide.

Riding the Bullet - This story became Stephen's intro into e-books. During the first 24 hours, 400,000 copies were downloaded. A man decides to hitchhike, on his way to his sick mother, but when a stranger picks him up, he gives his passenger a choice: "Either you die or your mother does. Who will it be?"


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Night Shift

Okay, so I know were back to King books again but this time I'm taking you through the short story collections in the order I read them. If there is one thing I can count on with King, it's that he could weave a good yarn big or small.

The first collection I was ever introduced to was Night Shift. On a whim I picked up an audio book of it and would listen to it in my car at 2am before I would head into work as a preloader for a shipping company an hour later. If anything, these stories kept me awake with their atmosphere as well as the bone-chilling situations. Here are some of my favorites.


The Mangler - a terrifying story about a laundry machine that will mangle you if you get too close. Seems to have a life of its own.

The Boogeyman - a troubled man meets with a psychiatrist to discuss his past of nighlty visits by what he calls the boogeyman. A really nice twist at the end.

The Lawnmower Man - a man has a run in with a weird human-like being that manipulates lawnmowers with his mind. Oddly enough, this was the basis for the movie The Lawnmower Man starring Jeff Fahey and Pierce Brosnan. However, King so disliked the outcome that he sued the filmmakers for changing his work that bared "no meaningful resemblance." Good story, very weird.

Quitters, Inc. - One man tries to come to grips with quitting his smoking habit. So he hires a company that does it for him. But the company is more than just a healthy reminder, they are stealthy and all the way extreme. Quitting might be the least of his troubles.



Friday, October 21, 2011

The Heart-shaped Box

For those of you that don't know, this title is written under Stephen King's Son. Since his son wanted to strike out on his own, without the help of his father's fame, he decided to publish his books under the name of Joe Hill. He's also written a short story collection called 20th Century Ghosts, which I have not read yet. But the real breakout novel I'm here to discuss is The Heart-Shaped Box. Wow, what a ride.

Right from the first chapter, we are propelled into the life of retired rocker Judas Coyne. We get a glimpse of the macabre items he collects. He is said to have a painting by John Wayne Gacy, a skull, a couple snuff films, etc. But when his buddy finds a dead man's suit on ebay, he gives Judas a call. Jude, as they call him, can't resist such a deal. So he buys the suit and it comes in a heart-shaped box. But, as the days are passing, things are happening that can't be explained away. It seems the ghost of the dead man is still attached to the suit, now infecting Jude's life with creepy things in the night.

The characters, atmosphere and storytelling really shines in this one. My buddy Matt was singing praises of this book non-stop. Only after my wife and I read the entire thing did he then reveal that this was Stephen King's boy. Well, it shows.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Life Expectancy

Although some would describe Life Expectancy as suspense, I feel that there are roots grounded in horror. So, okay, the cover doesn't look like much. And yes, it does remind me of that one Goosebumps book: The Cuckoo Clock of Doom. But the story itself, a man who knows he will have five horrid days in his life just screams terror. This was the first book I read of Dean Koontz and I've been chugging along trying to see if Koontz could recapture that lightning in a bottle. Sadly, after reading nine of his titles, it doesn't look like I'll have a terrifying ride as I've had with this one. If anyone out there knows of a good Dean Koontz title that is completely underated, be sure to let me know in the comments section.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Red Dragon

Thomas Harris is among the top of the list of my favorite writers of all time. Why? It's due to his methodical way of working. To his credit, Thomas works slowly. So slowly, in fact, it seems he only comes out with a book once every ten years. Which is a long stretch for any writer. But this just ensures me that he takes time with his art and heavily researches his material. Case in point: Red Dragon.

Red Dragon is the beginning of an already dark tale. Will Graham, a brilliant FBI profiler is pulled out of his own self-retirement to catch a killer known only as the Tooth Fairy. But the FBI is getting desperate. They beg Will to sign on to the case, in hopes that he could crack this one. But Will still has his own demons to work out, namely, seeking the help of his old nemesis: Hannibal Lecter.

This was the first story that touched on the iconic villain of Lecter. It was later turned into a movie by Michael Mann in the eighties called Manhunter which held great critics reviews but failed miserably in the box office. Years later, Thomas writes The Silence of The Lambs, which I have not read yet and don't intend to read, ever. The reason? The film was all I needed. Going back, I remember reading this in high school, sometimes thumbing through the pages on the way to my next class. The writing draws you in. It's like poetry in motion. There is a reason why this author is a master at prose... because he takes his time.

Sure, I have read the sequel Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, how Hannibal became a cannibal, which I hold both books in high regard. But I always keep coming back to Red Dragon, which was a scary, suspenseful thriller that has left a mark.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frankenstein

Speaking of Frankenstein, did you know that till this day, people still refer to the creature as Frankenstein when, in actuality, it's really supposed to be Frankenstein's monster?

Though I have yet to clear ten pages of it, I am fascinated with its creation.

Mary Shelly was only eighteen when she penned this Gothic tale. Legend has it that she spent a cold stormy night with Lord Byron and John Polidori, weaving ghostly tales to amuse themselves. While one wrote about a talkative skull and another envisioned the story known as The Vampyre, Shelly wrote her tale of terror and found success.

One day I will read the entire book, which looks to be a quick read. But what inspires me the most about this woman, is that she finally realized she was a success when she said, " I think I can maintain myself, and there is something inspiriting in the idea."

Oh, and one very important detail that you may not be familiar with. In the original story, there was never a character named Igor.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde

This is another case of slim novel (Novella, in fact), but perfect execution. Robert Louis Stevenson who was famous for Treasure Island and Kidnapped first penned this forever immortalized classic in just three days. Three days. That's when he had entered a period so few writers are familiar with: a white-hot fury of words. When he showed the manuscript to his wife, she suggested that it be written as an allegorical story. Stevenson thought about it then burned his manuscript, showing her the ashes and forcing himself to write the whole thing over which took another three days.

Upon its publication in 1886, it was sold for one U.S. dollar to people, the book was slowly building it's success. By 1901 it had sold 250,000 copies. Not bad for a rewrite.

Today, the story still fascinates us. It's been rewritten by other authors, parodied and played by several actors and ranks up there with the likes of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man.

Quite recently it was adapted as a mini series by the BBC and written by Steven Moffat, the creator of Sherlock, updating the tale and bringing a new face of horror to the already classic tale of dual personalities.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Many would view The Island of Dr. Moreau as a science fiction novel. And it is classified that in libraries. But when I read this story for the first time on my kindle, I was in for a shock. Like so many terrifying tales before it, it is not what is shown to you that is horrifying. It is what you don't see. It a slim novel but very hard to get through seeing as how you're almost too stunned to turn the next page.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Desperation

Desperation came right after my reading of Insomnia. A worthy read. It was 560 pages, roughly around the same amount as Insomnia but with a much slower, different story.

King was inspired to write this on a cross-country drive in 1991. He was nearing the town of Ruth, Nevada. He found the town ghostly and somewhat void of human life. He had a thought that all the townsfolk might be dead. Then he thought of how they would've died. The Sheriff killed them was the thought that popped in.

So here we have this story, of people finding their way to the town of Desperation, Nevada. A couple, a family, the town vet, a traveling author with his agent who picks up a hitchhiker are all tossed into the web of this ghost town. And they all meet the town's Sheriff Collie Entragian, who seems to be a tall, eccentric, rude man of authority. But then that eccentricity turns to real fear as it becomes clear that the sheriff has been tidying up the roads by taking people back to the town in order to kill them. Later, we find that not only is the sheriff crazy, but he seems to speak a different ancient language mixed in with his regular speech and looks to being led by supernatural forces.

But the real gem character, out of the many who are well balanced and trying to survive the horror in this story, is David Carver, a small boy who is being led to help the survivors escape the town.

I devoured this book. I even watched the movie which starred Ron Perlman and Steven Weber, two great character actors. But, for those who have not read it yet, go to the book first, folks. You know by now that it's always better than the movie.



Friday, October 14, 2011

Insomnia

After taking a dip into my first Stephen King book, Different Seasons, I started to get comfortable. Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil and The Body were great novellas. I was a bit weirded out by The Breathing Method though. It's one I'm sure is the most overlooked from all of King's works.

The next book I came across was a tome called Insomnia. No, it has nothing to do with the Chris Nolan directed movie of the same name. But I'd like to bring up two points: 1) I originally envisioned the main character of this tale, Ralph Roberts, as the talented comedian Robin Williams. 2) I can't for the life of me figure out why this King book has not become a movie yet.

I discovered this book a midst a box of random props from my days in doing plays at my high school. It was dusty and yellow but that bothered me none. I took it out, started thumbing through it whenever we had rehearsals. I connected with it. Like the main character, I was plagued with insomnia. Sometimes by choice, sometimes an unwilling participant.

But this didn't help any. The book prolonged my personal insomnia even more.

The novel follows Ralph Roberts, a recently widowed middle-aged man. He's retired but is somehow unable to fall asleep at night. His symptoms get worse as he has sensitivity to light and colors, thinking things are invisible or intangible, common stuff when you have this problem. But then it grows more severe and he starts to see bald doctors with giant scissors, going door to door in the middle of the night, snipping the life force away from people.

The novel gradually, slowly, works its suspense and mystery. When the characters are firmly established, that's when the real horror begins. I guess you can say I liked this one from the beginning. I read the last hundred pages on a nice summer morning, keeping tabs on a yard sale for my mom, diligently taping some torn pages as I continued to be enthralled by the magic that was King.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Carrie

Surprisingly, out of the 21 books I've read of King, I like this one the least. I dunno. Maybe it was the fact that it was hyped up so much. Maybe becuase I spent most of my childhood fearing horror movies, expecially Carrie, because people talked about it all the damn time.

But what strikes me as odd was when my unlce bestowed upon me a pretty hefty collection of Stephen King books. Carrie, as you may know, is one of his slimmest books. 192 pages as a hardcover. I think the longest book I read of his was Duma Key, which was pretty decent, but the ending left me on a hook. That one was a gargantuan 1,104 pages. I haven't made it to his other tomes such as The Stand, The Dark Tower Series, or Under The Dome but I'm sure I will one day. And what with his newest book 11/22/63 coming out next month, I thought it only fair to make mention of this book.

We all know the story by now; teenage girl, going through a change, not popular, finds out she has wicked telekentic powers and, in a fit of rage after being dumped with pigs blood at her senior prom, wreaks havoc on the kids, the bullies and even her own abusive mother. The story was unique for its time and tripped a bunch of people out. It's what got King started.

But the book is clunky. It's a compilation of fake articles, interviews, sometimes recorded, magazine articles and a series of letters. I felt that there never could be a connection to Carrie as a sympathetic character. It felt like I was receiving all my information secondhand.

In any case, the premise is still scary, Stephen King is still writing, I'm still reading and it is still one of the most banned books in schools today. It definitively made an impact.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Richard Matheson

I used to think that nobody could write better than R. L. Stine. Then came Christopher Pike. Then Neil Gaimen. Then Stephen King. You see where I'm going with this, right?

I'm climbing up the ladder. And on each rung, I've learned lessons, took notes and have been amazed at some of the verbal gymnastics that writers accomplish in their stories. (Especially, Harlan Ellison. That guy is a history of words himself.)

But one writer I took a chance on.

A buddy of mine, Matt, introduced me to Matheson one day at a comic shop. There was a graphic novel by the name of I Am Legend, which said it was based on the novel. "It's crazy, man," he said. "It's about this guy whose holed up in his house, fending for himself as the last man alive against countless hordes of vampires." I was intrigued, but not enough to read the graphic novel. It sounded like an interesting concept but one which I thought would be very difficult to pull off and make believable.

Little did I know, when I walked into Borders and purchased my first Matheson book, I was carrying the words of a Master Storyteller.

Gradually I made my way through the book. Sometimes at night. Which wasn't a very wise thing to do. Nevertheless, I devoured page upon page. The book holds the novel plus 10 spine-tingling short stories. And brother, you won't know what hits you when you read those. It was almost like he walloped me with the novel, of it's premise, its fluidity, its science to explain why the vampires have survived for so long, but not only that, it had moxy. Matheson was not afraid to take such a big step and redefine the genre. Then his shorts were like quick jabs to the gut, taking you, the reader, by suprise, asking, "Hey! How'd he get away with that? I never saw that one coming?"

Don't know about Matheson? Sure you do. In some capacity.

He's written dozens of episodes of the Twilight Zone, adapted one of his short stories into a screenplay which later became Duel, directed by Steven Spielberg.

Almost each one of his novels have been adapted for the screen: What Dreams May Come, A Stir of Echoes, Somwhere in Time, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Hell House (WARNING: For those who think they know what true terror is and have not read this book, you are sorely mistaken and should test your mettle against this book. But don't read it in the dark, it only heightens the sensitivity of your fears.), Button, Button and many others.

I will say this, I've seen almost all of these movies and have read almost all of his books, except for one. The books are way better. Especially when you compare them for that sorry excuse for I Am Legend that stared Will Smith. I'm sorry, but any movie with the line: "I...like...Shrek." does not even deserve a mention next to Matheson.

However, he has dipped a little. His newest book, Other Kingdoms, left me wanting more and made me a little disappointed.

But, as with all authors, I don't flat out quit reading them if they have a dud. Stephen King and Dean Koontz have done that plenty of times and I still read them.

Heck, I was surprised to learn that a new movie coming out, Real Steel, was actually based on a Matheson story. Now that I know that, I might give this movie a watch. As for the horror titles, Matheson will always be at the top.




Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe

Now on to the more adult books. I have to confess, I didn't open up a story of Edgar Allen Poe's until I was in college. It was an intro to fiction course with a workbook called The Story and It's Writer, which I now own. (Picked it up at a goodwill shop for 89 cents. It retails for about fifty bucks on Amazon.)

The first story I read of his was The Cask of Amontillado.

A creepy story in which one friend decides to dispose of his close mate by tricking him into going down his wine cellar, where there is supposedly a rare wine which one one has drunk.

From that one story, I needed more.

Then I started tearing through them one by one...

The Tell-tale heart, The Fall of The House of Usher, The Raven, each one taught me a new lesson in what it really is to write true horror.

Now, as it turns out, one of my favorite actors is playing the master storyteller in a murder mystery that is sure to make any fan drool with fandom.




Monday, October 10, 2011

The Graveyard book

The Graveyard Book is one of those books that pops up, totally unexpected, and completely takes your breath away. Neil Gaimen, the man who brought you such goodies as The Sandman Series, American Gods, Neverwhere and Coraline, offers another children's book with errie twist.

Neil Gaimen was always fascinated with The Jungle Book, the idea of being raised by animals and living among them. This sparked his imagination into a question, "What would happen if a little boy were raised by ghosts?"

This book, which has eight chapters, is read by Gaimen himself for free. You can find the videos of him reading it on a book tour at

If you have an hour to kill, this Halloween, be sure to press play and listen to a truly fantastic, charming story.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ghost Hotel Series

As a kid, I was always eager to get one thing from school. The Scholastic Book Order forms. It was the greatest thing. The teacher would hand them out, we'd pick which books we wanted, we'd give her the money to buy them and in exactly one week, ta-da, your very own book.

I remember one time I got a handful of books, about three, and was happy to go home and read them. But later that day I found out one of my classmates had a copy of Ghost Hotel. I was so obsessed with Ghost stories that I immediately offered a trade, "I'll give you these three if you let me have that."

This book came out around 1996. I still have the copy of that book. Although it's a slim book, about 170 pages, I've never been able to finish it. I've gotten about halfway. I guess I was always too afraid to finish it. Or maybe I enjoyed the lingering mystery of it all these years. But, in all likelihood, my reading list, as always, continues to grow. Just like Ghost Hotel, some books get pushed to the wayside.

Still, there may be one day in which I read it. Possibly this month.

I also have the other two books that came after it: Return to Ghost Hotel and Escape from Ghost Hotel. I may do a weekend trilogy reading. If you remember this book, be sure to let me know what you thought of it. Here's the back cover summary:

Anna, as an adopted child has always wondered who her real parents were. When Anna and her family check into the strange hotel, Anna meets the ghostly Colonel and Mrs. Terwillinger.

Unable to resist the lure of the past, Anna is drawn back in time to the danger-filled days of the Underground Railroad, which helped runaway slaves to freedom. Here Anna discovers the mystery of her childhood - a mystery that must be solved if Anna is ever to find her way home again.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Resident Evil Series

We've come across a lot of authors who put a lot of initials in front of their names: J.M. Barrie, T.C. Boyle, R.L. Stine, etc.

But one author who might've escaped you is one S.D. Perry. I didn't catch wind of her until 2003...when she completely novelized the first Resident Evil video game.

As far as the movies go, I'll make this as short as I can: The first one was great, different. Apocalypse? A joke. Extinction? It was extinct enough. Afterlife? Why am I still watching this? Why are these so popular? I hear they are making yet another grimy installment, sure to confuse and baffle theater goers as to why this series is just chugging right along. It's called Retribution. Yeah...I doubt it.

But looking back, you can see how the RE series has come a long way. It spanned video games, movies, comics, graphic novels and now books. I was hesitant about reading this series but gave it a shot and, boy, was I surprised.

RE Book #1: The Umbrella Conspiracy - This classically depicts the events of the first game. It has all the mystery and suspense without any of the tedious tasks of finding keys and running from one corner of the mansion to another. Even though I played the game, it still gave me a really good chill. I'd say for the person who isn't into video games at all, they should pick this book up. It may turn them on to the story, without any of the carpal tunnel syndrome you get from playing the game hours on end.

RE Book #2: Caliban Cove - This book is a take on Rebbecca Chambers. She was the only underage member of the STARS search and rescue team. It was pretty good.

RE Book #3: City Of the Dead - Okay. Here is where it gets tricky. This is the third book but really it's based on the second video game which is called Resident Evil 2. So really, it may be the third book but it's really the second story in the series. Get it? Got it? Good. The Cove book was an added subplot that was a completely original work from the author herself. This time around, instead of a mansion, the zombies are roaming the streets of Raccoon City. Leon Kennedy, a rookie cop, and Claire Redfield, the sister of one of the STARS members, have come to the city to try to make sense of the madness of this disease.

RE Book #4: Underworld - This book, another original story from the author, finds the surviving STARS members, along with Leon Kennedy, in a secret facility known only as The Planet. It was lacking something. I just don't know what. Maybe it tried too hard.

RE Book #5: Nemesis - Well, where do I start? I played the game, originally called Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and really liked it. As for the book, I've only read three chapters. I left the book in the cafeteria when I was working the overnight shift at Target and never saw it again. Some rotten bastard stole it right from under me.

RE Book #6: Code Veronica - I loved this story! The game might have had six different titles but the book was a completely well done story that perfectly matched, possibly, better than the game itself.

RE Book #7: Zero Hour - This is basically a prequel of a prequel. This story happens before the events of Umbrella Conspiracy. This happens to be one book, out of many, which I haven't read on my book shelf. Believe it or not, I took it with me on three moves. Twice from two different houses and finally to my new apartment. I just haven't been able to bring myself to read it. Maybe I don't want the series to end.

If you ask me, they should base the movies on these books. Not some hap-hazard-half-baked-half-cocked-half-limping screwed up train of disappointment fecal matter pie that they have become. Maybe I'm being to harsh. Or maybe I'm just bitter. One of the two.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Danger.com


This book I hardly remember buying, but the impact of its message haunts me to this day. We've all done it. Gone on chat rooms, poked around, made a mockery of the mystery of who is on the other end.

Jordan Clay's Series Danger.com exploits that fear and what happens when a hapless dude hooks up, via chat room, with a very strange, needy chick. Think Fatal Attraction for the Internet.

In the story we meet, Jonah. Then we meet his online squeeze. Her screen name is Gemini 7 but her real life name is Nicole Gemini. Bit of a stretch, don't you think?

Anyway, the barriers start to come down and Jonah gets to meet the blonde haired beauty. Unfortuneatly, Jonah already has a girlfriend. Jen is his main squeeze but, he's grown tired, always sick of hearing them refered to as Jonah-and-jen or some such stupid thing. This was way before the whole Brangelina phase. So, in effort to stretch out, live dangerously, he meets Nicole...who isn't so sweet once you get to know her.

Slowly, things begin to happen. Jonah's dad gets into a mysterious car accident. Jonah's girl, Jen, is found with pills in her purse which lands her in a drug rehabilitation clinic. Yep, I see a pattern here. New girl in town. Jealous, nasty, possibly crazy. It's all coming together. It's been referred to as a Cyberthriller that turns Teen Gothic and it shows.

In the final chapters we get a taste of the madness as a battle ensues and Nicole is killed. I'm not quite sure how she died but in the last scene we get, big surprise, a girl coming after Jonah who looks just like Nicole. Yep, Nicole had a twin that we never knew of who was causing all that trouble. It was a high fly ball out of nowhere that kinda turned me off to the series all together.

The series only lasted 7 books, which is no big surprise. And the book was only 99 cents, but still, it left a lasting impression. However , chat room thrillers have now gone, I hope, to a bygone era.




Thursday, October 6, 2011

Graveyard School


Now that Camp Zombie is out of the way, I can tell you about another little series I got involved in: The Graveyard School Books.



These revolved around a fictional town of Grove Hill. The books lasted from 1994 to 1999. While I considered them books, they were technically defined as novellas because they were so short. They were shorter than the Goosebumps series. But there was a difference. Big difference. Characters ate eyeballs, corpses and coffins rose up out of the floor of the boy's bathroom like something out of the movie Poltergeist. I mean, this was some hardcore stuff.



Across from the school sits an abandoned cemetery...which isn't much of a stretch. Proviso West, the high school I attended, was just a street away from the cemetery. You could see it right when you walked out of the main entrance.



All totaled, the series lasts about 28 books. I've read Don't Eat The Mystery meat #1, Slime Lake #7, Let's scare The Teacher to Death #8 and There's a Ghost in The Boy's Bathroom #10. The others were just a little bit too goofy for my taste. That seems to be a theme of YA Horror; somehow it always turns to humor rather than horror.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Camp Zombie





























Okay, so this series, in particular, wasn't very impressive with me. But it did keep me up at night. The idea of a Zombie camp counselor, roaming the grounds. Sheesh...just leaves you with an unsettling feeling. Come to think of it, I'm glad I never attended a camp. Maybe this book had something to do with it.

Oddly enough, I've only read the Second Summer.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ghosts of Fear street


All I'm going to say about this series is that it was something new, before my journey into Christopher Pike. This was like Goosebumps 2.0 and it left a mark on me. While the descriptions got better and the stories were more engaging, I found the dialogue to be a little wooden at times. Not to say that I didn't have favorites. But, like the Goosebumps series, I slowly began to realize that the books were getting...well...goofier.

The ones that did it right, out of the 35 book series, were Who's Been Sleeping In My Grave, The Ooze, and How to be a Vampire

The one thing that I took away from these books was to always make the dialogue interesting.

Also, the covers were pretty out there. Look at the the one above. It's almost like the vampire is a puppeteer or someone who goes (forgive the pun) Bat-s#*t Crazy about reading.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Christopher Pike

Before the Borders in Oak Park closed, I began having a fix for something new. A little over ten years ago, when a Goosebumps fix seemed hopeless and dated, I wandered over to a section, in that same Borders, and spied some young adult horror fiction.

Christopher Pike caught my eye with his book, The Weekend. Here's what I read from the back cover:

The weekend in Mexico seemed like a dream holiday, with an oceanside mansion all to themselves, but someone was taking their revenge. There was the girl upstairs fighting for her life, and the garage explosion that could have killed them all.

First off, whoa. I mean, wtf. So many questions. Who is the girl? Why did they all gather there? Mexico? Sounds dangerous. What caused the garage to explode?

Ironically, I have never read The Weekend. But that didn't stop me from pulling 22 plus titles to the ground as I sat cross-legged, reading only the back cover of each and every one of them. My mother got mad at me for making such a mess but I didn't care. I was addicted to the thought-bubbles exploding out of my head. Now, looking back on it, I can say that Christopher Pike helped me be more intriguing when it comes to writing a back cover summary of a book. I try to raise as many questions as possible when writing a good summary for the back cover, which can take me anywhere from a couple days to a couple months.

In the end, even though I wanted to bring all the titles home with me, I only walked away with a handful...Chain Letter, Chain Letter 2, Tales of Terror and, of course, The Grave.

Chain Letter was a fresh idea, kinda peculiar.

Chain Letter 2 was even weirder.

Tales of Terror was just plain wrong, but I liked it. There was a bit of a Misery-like story in there but I was easy to forgive at that age.

But The Grave showed me a combo of horror, suspense, supernatural, mythology and a dose of the macabre. 90 percent of the book was perfect terror and mystery... the ending was a bit goofy. Oh, and hey, check out the description of The Grave:

An innocent man is attacked by a cult and buried alive. A pretty girl meets a fascinating guy, who hardly seems to blink or breathe, and emits a cool presence. They're both living in a weird realm where life and death mirror each other--where the grave no longer promises escape.

Do I detect some pre-Twilight Edward descriptions?


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Goosebumps

Not only is R.L. Stine famous for writing the popular Goosebumps series, he was also a huge chunk of my childhood. Specifically, he and my brother got me into collecting books.

My brother bought 5-10 books in the Goosebumps series...I bought the rest. I'd make a trip to our local Target with my mom and find an entire endcap loaded with new titles. I was in literary ecstasy.

Not only were the stories fresh and weird, they also helped shape my imagination. They fed little into details, giving you just the basic concept and characters and dialogue. This is where I focused more on the setting, drawing vivid pictures in my mind of the landscape, roads and houses. Whenever I couldn't picture something quite right I'd close the book, close my eyes and paint inside my head.

Of course, I can go on and on about my favorites of the 62 classic titles, ( Welcome to Dead House, Monster Blood I,II,III,IV, Let's Get Invisible, The Haunted Mask, Night of The Jack-o-lanterns, A Shocker on Shock Street, Attack of The Mutant) but I would rather want to know what your favorites were and why?

After the last book, Monster Blood IV, the series sat for a while until Stine released a 2000 series version of it with Cry of The Cat... which just wasn't my cup of tea.

Reading all of those books was a lesson in creating your own setting whether they be from memory, real landmarks or just pure imagination.

Later, it became a popular tv show. Only caught a couple episodes in my youth but still, to this day, remember the chilling theme song.

For a man who has sold over 400 million books, I'm happy to see he has done so well. I just hope future generations will go back to the original 62 in the series.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Scary Stories


























It's October. That means spring has taken a hike, the hi-jinks are about to begin and somebody's house or car, might be yours, will get properly toilet papered this evening. Oh, also, people will be listening, watching and reading all things horror.

So what am I going to do with 31 days?

Share the best books of the genre I've ever read.

I grew up reading these. Each one was a lesson in real horror compared to the crap that's out there today. I'm all for old school horror. I'm talking about the books that made it hard for me to sleep at night.

Today, I'm reviewing Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz.

After a stint in the navy, Schwartz became interested in writing. Later, he got a degree in journalism. When he set to work, he penned a series of stories to tell in the dark, which were part old folk lore and part urban legends.

From 1981 to 1991 he gave us three books, packed with such memorable classics as The Big Toe, The Hook or The Viper. (Which I know the last one is a little silly and not really scary, "I've come to Vipe your Vindows," granted, but still a classic yarn.)

But what I love most about these stories are the details that aren't being shared. It just makes it that much creepier and certainly a tactic I hope to employ in my stories. If you're looking for a really good example, I recommend The Monkey's Paw. I won't spoil it for you, but I'll just say, you'll be relieved at the end but it will keep you up at night regardless.

There are so many simple, effective scary stories in these four collections. Some are not even 500 words long.


But, then again, some of my favorites are the ones that still terrorize me today such as the bride who accidentally got locked up in a steamer trunk...or The Dead Man's Hand, The Cat's Paw, or countless others.

Also the illustrations were also like something out of a bad dream. If the story didn't scare you, the illustration would.

I know now that the twists, turns and hauntingly mind-bending stories collected within these slim books was the closest I was going to get at that time to Horror and Suspense that matched Alfred Hitchcock.

So here's a salute, to ALA's No. 1 banned book. Great way to kick off the month. Share with your friends...if you dare.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rage


When finding something to read next, I wouldn't normally gravitate towards rare books. But reading that one book in my last post by Allison Bartlett really got me interested in them. It is true that every book tells a story. Just looking at some of the books on my wall I can associate them with a memory. Catcher in the Rye? Found in the attic of my parents house. My wife suggested I read it. Catch-22? Bought it after I read the first five chapters for my intro to fiction class. Magic Man? It was in the bargain bin right before I was going to walk out of a Borders without buying anything. The list goes on.

But when I found out that Stephen King purposely pulled one of his books out of print, I have to admit, my interest was piqued.

I wasn't outwardly looking for it, but, one day in Woodridge, I stumbled upon a collection in a Goodwill store. The collection was called The Bachman Books. Of course, everyone knows by now that King was writing under another pen name and called himself: Richard Bachman. Inside was the full novels of Roadwork, The Running Man, The Long Walk and...right at the beginning of the book: Rage. The out of print book.

It only cost me 75 cents.

Rage is a slim book, about 169 pages. But packed into those pages is a very disturbing story. Now, look, I know that this is a controversial book and that's why I'm going to warn some people about this book. This book is not for disturbed minds. A smart person can read this book and not be affected. However, if a disturbed individual read this...well...it's more likely to grease his crazy wheel.

The book starts with Charlie Decker, a troubled teen already facing hard times when he brought a pipe wrench to school and decked a teacher with it. Now, at the start of the book, he's recalling flashbacks of his troubled family life. Later he sets fire to his locker then walks into his homeroom in high school and shoots his algebra teacher. What follows next is a series of surreal discussions, confessions, proclamations, sex education, procrastinations and a fair-fight slap match between two girls who hate each other. Charlie is obsessed with the concept of getting it on. It's very hard to determine what he's talking about but, then again, the book is through Charlie's point of view and in the story he's a very dangerous sociopath who now has a the control of a classroom under his thumb. The group of twenty five students band together to discuss their life, their flaws and their somewhat broken future. Eventually, they all gang up on this one bully named Ted Jones and it is unclear exactly what they did to him but, by the end of it, he's nothing but a drooling, whimpering mess. The book is intense, dangerous, but chocked full of suspense. I'm not saying that it's good but I am saying that my curiosity of it was satisfied and, happily, that book is now closed. It still sits on my shelf. I might read it again someday. But by then it will be with a wistful eye and a shake of the head.

One of the major reasons why Stephen King pulled the book was because one such troubled teen shot a teacher...and they found Rage in his locker.

So now comes the opinion you've probably been wondering about: Was he right in making the book out of print? I would say yes. Knowing a person has imitated a work of fiction to such a degree must weigh pretty heavy. But I believe that he did what he felt he had to do. I mean, how much can you ask of the guy?

My wife has always told me something that has stuck with me. She's said, "Never apologize for your work." And I stand by that. Books will offend, books will pry, books will certainly provoke thought. But the writer's work is to simply write. Separate indivdiuals who cannot give this material the fear and respect it deserves, to just read it and walk away from it, were more disturbed from the get-go.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much



The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, penned by Allison Hoover Bartlett, paints the portrait of an underground thief known as John Gilkey. Gilkey, raised by a lenient family, does not believe in right or wrong. He believes in winning and losing.

Ms. Bartlett does a fantastic job researching her subject, both man and mystery. It's hard to believe, when I picked this book up at a closing Borders, that I'd be so protective of it. I never want to let it go. The story was so compelling I actually, PURPOSELY, read slowly. Having only 14 chapters, it is a light read.

Gilkey never fails to fascinate. He started stealing rare books in 1999, believing that a man was only as good and as noteworthy if he had a private collection of handsomely rare books. He printed out a list of 100 classic books. He wanted to collect them all. So, on his journey to aquire more books, without paying for them, he concocts schemes and excuses to get his way. First he starts with credit card number receipts, using the number over the phone to a bookdealer and walking in to collect the book later. But from there, his schemes become more elaborate and creative. It just goes to show what man will do, what lengths he will endure, for a good book.

Not only do with get to know the lowly thief, jumping from bookshop to bookshop across america, but we also learn of the man who tracks him down: Ken Sanders. He's a gruff, tough, no room for enough businessman who believes that John Gilkey made off with thousands of dollars, hurting the booksellers. Though we know that he is correct, there is something seductive in turning these pages. I guess we're all trying to find the method in the madness.

Bartlett even outlines book thieves in history, who have actually maimed and killed people, even burning down their houses, to aquire one rare book. Now that's what I call a Bibliomaniac.

Gilkey, never wanting a downside to his life, offers many different ways that the book could end. Like the diligient listener that she is, Bartlett hears him out. All of the concepts sound interesting. He offers to open his own bookshop, write detective novels starring a character similiar to himself, perhaps produce author Bobble heads to give to people who send him books. A man as obsssesd as Gilkey had me hooked from page one.

I give this five out of five stars. Do yourself a favor and read this one slowly. Savor it, becuase it's just that good.