Book review: The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren

The Grief HoleThe Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who’d have thought musicians have a dark side?

Theresa helps women find emergency housing. But sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes she has to intervene because she can see ghosts clustering around an imminent victim. After an intervention leaves her battered, she goes to reconnect with her Uncle and Aunt, where she is drawn into the mystery surrounding her lost cousin and her art. Is she strong enough to not be drawn in too far?

This is a tough review for me to write as I haven’t actually finished it, yet feel compelled to say something before DNFing.

I bought Kaaron’s book almost two years ago and thought it was about damned time I read it. I was immediately drawn in. As much as I hate using the terms “powerful” and “evocative” in book reviews,* I actually think they are apt here. There are some real gut-punch moments that bring you to the world of grief. The list of awards it has won is thus unsurprising.

And of course, this is exactly the time to read such a book…

With the stress of a pandemic, the upheavals to work, the uncertainties of the near future, this was just not the sort of book I could keep reading. This is a compliment to Kaaron, as this book certainly “evokes”* but that is just not what I need right now. I will have to return to finish the last third when real-life feels less like a horror novel.

* There are quite a few buzzwords that appear in book reviews and blurbs that don’t really say anything. Powerful? Like a steroid munching Nordic strongman, or a highly effecting and engaging narrative? Evocative? As in the imagination is stirred, or the emotions, or both?

Expect my next fiction review to be of something a little more light-hearted.

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Book Review: The Hoodoo Man by Steve Harris

The Hoodoo ManThe Hoodoo Man by Steve Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Budgie as a weapon? Sure, why not.

Danny Stafford was an ordinary kid until his brother shot him in the face. It was an accident that changed Danny, but it isn’t until his 30s that the change fully takes hold. Now in a stable relationship, renovating a house, and working a dead-end job, Danny’s life is turned upside down. And that’s before the Hoodoo Man starts coming for him.

Back in my formative years, the local librarian introduced me to the adult section of the library after I’d read everything on offer for young adults and kids. This novel, The Hoodoo Man, was the first she pulled off of the shelf for me to try. A brand new horror novel by a UK author. Bit of a leap. But I was hooked. I clearly remember devouring this book, to the point that I missed at least one meal.

Twenty-six years later I wanted to test if my memory of this novel held up. Was The Hoodoo Man as good all these years later, or was I just an impressionable kid who had just discovered his first horror novel? Oh, it stands up alright. It has aged very well and I wasn’t disappointed at all. My immediate response upon finishing was to exclaim “Well, I’m going to have to find more of Steve Harris’ books.”

This is where this story becomes interesting. The Hoodoo Man was Steve’s third novel and it was his most successful, it put him on the map, and became his website’s name. But his career was all but over by the time his seventh novel was released and he retired at the end of the 90s. His career came to an end after his publisher was bought out and he was dumped. He had one completed novel he was shopping around, another in the works, and a third that had originally been intended as his sixth novel but was deemed too terrifying*. Harris’ novels went out of print and after no success in finding a new publisher, he retired from writing and ran to the hills**.

In this day and age, a writer in this situation would probably take their back-catalog and self-publish, then release their new material. Of course, a publisher would be unlikely to let an author go out of print. But it does make me wonder how many authors are in a sense lost to us because of the machinations of the publishing world. I guess they won’t be getting any money from me*** hunting down Harris’ back-catalog in the secondhand stores.

*The Switch was an attempt by Steve to bring the reader as close to feeling actual pain as possible. Back when his website was active I read an excerpt and can confirm that he succeeded. I have never looked at liver the same since.
**This bad reference to Iron Maiden’s bass player of the same name brought to you by the number 666.
***Obviously, Steve won’t be either.
http://www.shadow-writer.co.uk/kinter…

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Book Review: The Call of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft

The Call of CthulhuThe Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Why choose the lesser evil? Vote Cthulhu.

Francis Thurston starts fossicking through his uncle’s things and discovers some notes and a carving. Fascinated, he searches high and low to uncover the origins of the carving. Soon he is traversing the world to uncover a cult and the being they worship. Things only get better from there on in.

It is hard to review a classic work of fiction. Usually, there are only a few paths open to you:
1) Fawning sycophancy;
2) A belligerent dismissal of the work as rubbish which avoids engaging in anything other than superficial comment;
3) Overly detailed comment and critique that ends up being worthy of a Masters dissertation that no-one will bother reading and just assume you did #2 (i.e. a complete waste of time);
4) A review that is clearly based on having watched the movie adaptation.

The reasons that this is a hugely influential work are clear. The mystery being uncovered with a slow reveal. The dense and subtle narrative. The gradual rise in tension as we come to the realisation. It is also a bleak comment on human existence and our insignificance. But there is also the use of the memoir narrative that appears to have been very popular in speculative fiction in the past. For me, this style removes both the narrator and the reader from the events of the story, which removes much of the tension and emotion.

I feel comfortable saying my rating is “good but not great” because Lovecraft himself described this as a middling effort.

giphy

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How to write suspense

'Oh-oh!... The tempo of the background music just changed.'

TL/DW = the unknown.

  1. Limit the point of view so the reader has limited information.
  2. Choose the right setting to limit the known.
  3. Style and form can be used to mess with the conveying and pacing of information.
  4. Dramatic irony can be used to reveal some information to the reader that the characters don’t know.
  5. Cliffhangers can be used… If you also like coming up with implausible resolutions to them.

creating-suspense-using-gen

See also: http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-conferencesevents/nine-tricks-to-writing-suspense-fiction

Book vs Movie: Stephen King’s It – What’s the Difference?

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With the release of the new movie adaptation of Stephen King’s It, unsurprisingly this month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix is covering the book vs the 1990 mini-series.

The It mini-series come out on video – yes VHS, yes I am old – when I was just at the start of my teenage years. The adolescent characters facing the genuinely scary Pennywise was too much for me. Tim Curry’s portrayal of the demonic clown left me sleepless for a week. It is the only movie to have ever had this much of an impact on me.

I mean Pennywise is already a scary clown. But he turns into a giant nope. In Australia we’re wary of tiny nopes. A giant nope is a ticket to nightmares.

nopenopenope_e5af97_2685388

So guess what book I refuse to read and which recent adaptation I won’t be watching.*

Although, apparently the new movie is genuinely good:

*Yeah, I know, I probably wouldn’t find it scary now. I probably will eventually read the novel and watch the new movie. Maybe.

Book Review: The Dead Zone by Stephen King

The Dead ZoneThe Dead Zone by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are some authors who are so far beyond reviews that it is almost an insult to review their work. Stephen King is one of those authors. Hope he doesn’t mind the insult…

Is there really much point in giving a brief introduction to The Dead Zone? It was a TV show, a movie, a bestselling book, and has been in print for almost as long as I’ve been alive. The only thing I feel the need to point out is that despite being a Stephen King novel this is not a horror story. I know King has a wide palate now, but his early work and reputation was built upon the horror genre. With the title as it is and a story about a psychic trying to stop Armageddon, you could be forgiven for stepping into this novel expecting a horror novel. Give me a break, I didn’t read the blurb or any reviews.

The supernatural elements of this story disguise a tale of living life after a setback (car crash and coma). Cut the finale and downplay the psychic angle (maybe drop the aspects that resemble plot development as well) and you have a literary novel. It is these extra elements that make this story worth reading whilst making it a very human novel to read. This is certainly a great example of King’s work and demonstrates why he has been a bestselling author for 40 years.

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Book Review: The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy, #1)The Strain by Guillermo del Toro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this novel after watching the fantastic Pan’s Labyrinth. If you haven’t watched that movie, do so now. In fairness though, this novel has more in common with Del Toro’s contribution to the Blade series of movies than it does to Pan’s Labyrinth.

This is another take on the viral outbreak thriller, thankfully it doesn’t take it down the path of zombies, as most recent novels in this genre have done. Non-sparkly vampires are back!

The only disappointment for me was that this was definitely the first instalment in a trilogy and felt a little more unfinished than I’d have liked. The writing is very reminiscent of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Prendergast series. Worth a read for horror and thriller fans.

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Genre vs Literature


During a discussion the other day my favourite authors and books came up as a topic of conversation. Needless to say I listed off writers like Lee Child, Matthew Reilly, Robert Crais, Matt Hilton, etc. Now these people weren’t exactly literary snobs, but they did respond as if I was supposed to list the authors of classic literature and contemporary literature.

Seriously?

Can we all stop pretending that there is something superior about literary fiction. I’ve seen discussions of social problems in crime fiction, fantastic use of literary techniques in horror, exploration of character and humanity in science fiction; all performed with more skill and insight than I have seen in the literary genre.

How about we go back to judging a book by its cover.

Combating Writer’s Block: Advice by Genre

There is no worse disease for a writer than writer’s block. I’d also say that writer’s block is terrible for readers too, uninspired prose is what we expect from policy and political people, not our entertainment. I’m a fan of Stephen King’s writing advice: set a daily word goal and stay at it until you reach the goal. There is something about daily writing and forcing yourself to write that seems to make things flow.

But Tyson, I hear you say, I’m stuck with no ideas for what to write next. Luckily I was procrastinating whilst writing the other day and came up with a definitive fail safe for each major genre. Any additions are welcome in the comments.

Thriller Writers
When writer’s block strikes kill someone or blow something up.

Crime Writers
When writer’s block strikes describe the main character getting drunk and wallowing in self pity.

Mystery Writers
When writer’s block strikes introduce a red herring.

Romance Writers
When writer’s block strikes introduce new character with rock hard abs.

Literature Writers
When writer’s block strikes describe a tree in intimate detail.

Fantasy Writers
When writer’s block strikes have a talking dragon appear, or have the characters go on a long walk somewhere.

Sci-fi Writers
When writer’s block strikes cut and paste physics article from Wikipedia into your novel.

Horror Writers
When writer’s block strikes cut and paste autopsy reports into your novel.

Paranormal Writers
If you already have vampires, ghosts and werewolves in your novel, introduce ninjas and pirates as characters.

If you are really stuck after all of these ideas, then there is no novel in existence that can’t/couldn’t be improved by the addition of pirates and/or ninjas.

E-readers are filled with garbage?

An article in The Guardian on Sunday suggested that garbage, which they defined as genre fiction, was the big seller on Kindles and e-readers. See article here.

Prepare for the irony.

Okay, irony aside, The Guardian has published a number of articles extolling the inferiority of e-readers and e-books. For example, they deride romance and erotica as genres, yet they have always sold well. They deride horror, yet Steven King has been a bestselling author for 40 years. Excuse my cherry picking, but I can’t be bothered digging out my stats sheets to bury this argument further.

For years the literary fiction and biography markets have been kept afloat by the gift and commuter sales. Commuters can’t be seen to be reading anything other than high art or an intriguing insight into some mundane public figure, whose only claim to fame was being able to stand in front of a camera at the right moments. Similarly the books people received as gifts were always some intellectual boorish bunk posing as entertainment.

Now commuters don’t have to have the cover of their book on display and are free to read what they actually enjoy reading. Gift givers are wising up and going to wishlists and giving download vouchers. This isn’t just the end of snobbery, it is the start of truly great works of fiction.

Book review: Origin by Joe Konrath

OriginOrigin by J.A. Konrath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

People would assume that because I’m a writer I would have heard of Joe Konrath as a result of his excellent blog about writing and self-publishing. Well, I’d like to say that I found out about the world of self-publishing and writing via Joe after I’d become a fan of his books. I liked his mix of humour and darkly themed tales. I especially liked his novel Shaken, which had me buying anything else I could find of his.

Actually, come to think of it, Shaken may have been the first e-book that my wife and I bought.

Origin is less Jack Daniels and more horror, that is to say, it has less humour and is more about the thrills. Origin definitely keeps the pace up and is an enjoyable read. At about 60% finished (e-book remember) I had trouble putting this book down to do even important tasks, like take the dog out and make tea.

I’ve given 4 stars, but it is somewhere between a 3.5 and 4 star book. The mix of genres works most of the time, but at other times it feels like someone should be eaten by a monster, not making doe eyes. Definitely a book for horror fans, or anyone who likes thrills and can handle a little horror.

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Book Review: The Kult by Shaun Jeffrey

The KultThe Kult by Shaun Jeffrey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After I read Shaun’s book Dead Man’s Eye I did two things: bought his other books and made a cup of tea. What can I say, I like tea.

Shaun is what you expect from an indie author; he writes books that entertain him first, pouring a lot of energy and enthusiasm into his stories. I enjoyed The Kult, not just because of that, but because Shaun has also turned out a fine thriller.

Actually, calling this book a horror is probably underplaying the thriller aspects of the novel. The last half of the book had me rapt. I recommending reading Shaun’s books for fans of thrillers, horror or for those who feel like something fast paced with tension.

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Book Review: The Dead Man: Kill Them All by Harry Shannon

Kill Them All(The Dead Man # 6)Kill Them All by Harry Shannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harry is the latest author to contribute to The Dead Man series of novellas. It must be daunting to receive the call.

Lee Goldberg: Hi Harry. Do you want to write an edition of The Dead Man?
Harry Shannon: Why sure Lee, I love that series.
Lee: Okay, just don’t fuck it up!

Fortunately Harry has come through with the writing goods to keep the series’ reputation intact. Matt and his axe are back, once again visiting a small town, ready to kick some evil arse (I’m Australian, we spell it arse, not ass). This time, though, some professional bad guys are after his blood, literally.

Harry’s other books are worth checking out as well. He writes horror (the Night Series) and thrillers (Mick Callahan series), showing the creepy thrills in this Dead Man book weren’t an accident. Lee and Will continue to deliver the goods with this series.

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May, the Zombie Awareness Month

It is time for everyone to buy their gray ribbon for Zombie Awareness.
http://www.zombieresearch.org/awareness.html

Every year we are asked to support worthy causes and this May is the time to recognise those who have been bitten or those who have been chased when their chainsaw ran out of fuel. The awareness campaign also funds vigilance towards the impending doom of the Zombie Pandemic.

Remember to keep your shotgun at hand and chainsaw sharp and fuelled this May!

Be prepared!

 Zombie killer of the month:

Alice. Because I’m male.

Book Review: The Deadman: Hell in Heaven – Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin

I’m not a fan of gambling. I once watched a friend of mine place $1000 worth of $1 bets on roulette in the space of half-an-hour before heading to the ATM to get more money to throw away. I’m pretty sure I could have found more fun things to do with that grand, and not all of them would have been immoral. Since I’m not a fan of gambling I’m not a fan of horse racing, a sport that exists merely in order to gamble. In spite of that, I feel the need to use horse-racing vernacular.

Since I have begun receiving each Deadman novella prior to release, I feel like I’ve had the inside running on the Darby winner. Hell in Heaven is the third in the series and once again it is a winner! It will be on sale from tomorrow (4th May) so grab it. If you like a well written, pacy, horror thriller, this book, and series, is for you.

A quick recap is in order, but I’ll try not to add any spoilers, the last time I did friends disowned me, even though I was saving them from The Crying Game. The hero of this series is Matt Cahill and his trusty axe. In the first book, Matt recovered from a mild case of death to discover that he could now see the evil eating away at people’s souls. This lead him to discover he had picked up a nemesis he dubbed ‘Mr Dark’. In the second book Matt has set out to track down Mr Dark and introduce him to his axe. To find answers he stops off at a mental hospital. Nothing bad ever happens in a mental hospital. Now in the third installment Matt has stumbled into Heaven, population 136, actually 137: they were expecting him. Matt may be able to see evil, but does it have to be evil that makes bad things happen?

This series has kept me rapt from the first page, quite an accomplishment considering that the authors have been running a baton relay of writing. Fortunately these authors are the Jamaican sprint team doing the 4x100m relay, each stage just gets better and better. A few thrills, a bit of mystery, a strong overarching storyline, a cool lead character and a few horrifying bad guys, should keep people glued to their e-reader (unless you prefer to read dead trees, in which case glued to the page). Also I should note the bonus chapters for the next installment of the Deadman series, The Dead Woman, will be by David McAfee and appear to promise the series will keep going strong.

Book Review: Dead Man – Ring of Knives by James Daniels

There is a saying in the music industry that the second album is the hardest. You are backing up your first work in the series and the pressure is on to not just come up with new material but to create something better. But what do you do with the band that changes its entire lineup and releases a new album? Well normally you would avoid it like a “Guns ‘n’ Roses”* Chinese Democracy album.

James Daniels has had the unenviable task of taking on the second installment of the Dead Man series of novellas started by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. Now James has taken an interesting tact with the second novel: he has tried to outdo Lee and William and succeeded. Given the high standard set in the first novella, Face of Evil, this is no mean feat.

When we left Matt Cahill he was starting his trek to discover why he made an amazing recovery from his mild case of death and why he can now see evil as other’s souls are eaten away by it. Seeking answers he is trying to speak with another who has been similarly afflicted. What better setting for a horror novel than a psychiatric hospital!? This book expands upon how Matt’s story and hints at Mr Dark. But Mr Dark isn’t who Matt has to be worried about in this book.

So James has done this series proud and has created a thrilling, suspenseful read. I really enjoyed this sequel and I pity the poor writer following on from James. They don’t have to just be as good or better than the first, now they have to top this one as well.

*It hasn’t been Guns ‘n’ Roses since Slash left.