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REVIEW: Monster Massacre

Monster-Massacre-vol-1_web.jpg.size-600Editor: Dave Elliot

2013, Titan Comics

Filed Under: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Horror

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 5
Art... 8

The cover of this anthology doesn’t do the best job of conveying the book’s contents. It reminds me of the cover of an angry electro album I listened to in high school. While plenty of the work in here is muscly “babes and monsters” artwork reminiscent of Heavy Metal–which is something I’m not particularly interested in reading–there are also some quirky stories and plenty of instances of the downright grotesque.

The list of contributors to this volume is a regular who’s-who of comic artists (or so I’m told). Indeed the opening selection, and one of the best storylines on offer here, is by comic patron saints Jacky Kirby and Joe Simon (the inspirations for Chabon’s Kavalier & Clay). It tells of a mysterious “angel of death” terrorizing a French village and the doctor who uncovers the angel’s true identity–a prehistoric predatory insect somehow preserved beneath the earth in the town’s outskirts.
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REVIEW: Joyland

Author: Stephen King

2013, Hard Case Crime

Filed under: Horror, Mystery

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 4

I’m not much of a horror reader, so I have little experience reading Stephen King, but since his latest novel ventures into mystery territory, I thought I’d give it a try.

Perhaps my impression is colored a bit by his reputation, but Joyland definitely reads to me like the work of an experienced, competent, slightly bored novelist. There’s a pat mystery with a thrilling (if off-the-shelf) conclusion, but it’s wrapped in quite a bit of meandering, and a substantial B-story that has next to nothing to do with the main plot. It’s not a bad way to spend a couple of afternoons, but if you’re hoping for more than a quick, forgettable book, look elsewhere.

The main character, our narrator, is pretty boring, though everyone tells him he’s special. The worst part of the book is him walking around, thinking his boring thoughts, using up words to get us near 300 pages. His name is Devin Jones (I just had to look that up, is how boring he is), and he’s a college student having a quarter-life crisis because his one and only girlfriend obviously doesn’t want to be his girlfriend anymore, though she’s not quite dumping him.

He takes a summer off from school and works at a South Carolina amusement park called Joyland. Devin meets a couple of lifelong friends, finds that he’s good at dressing up in a big dog costume, and generally has a mediocre summer in terms of general interest. Every detail of this summer, especially the workings of Joyland, is described for us, dragging out the first hundred pages of this book. The best parts are the bits of carny lingo King calls “the Talk,” though they don’t entirely make up for the rest of the dry exposition.

Luckily, after this extended setup, the story picks up in two directions. Devin and his friends Erin and Tom (luckily almost every other character besides Devin is more memorable than he is) hear a story about a murder that happened in Joyland’s Horror House a few years earlier. They visit the Horror House on a day off, and Tom sees the ghost of the girl, which scares him for the rest of his life.

Then they try to solve the mystery of the girl’s murder. I have some quibbles with King’s handling of this mystery—too much supernatural, and the solution is a bit too pat—but overall, if you’re looking for a light mystery, this fits the bill. King certainly knows how to draw out tension and how to feed out plot points bit by bit.

There’s also that tangential B story, about a young boy with muscular dystrophy and his (hot) mother, whom Devin helps. This subplot is wish fulfillment in the vein of The Shawshank Redemption, both satisfying and saccharine in the way that Andy Dufresne’s adventures are.

The thread tying these storylines together is supposedly that some people die before their time, and that’s not fair. It’s quite a lazy throughline for a mystery novel with a murder at its center, but again, look elsewhere for world-bending depth.

So, even though this is my first first-hand experience with King, I think this book fits his reputation. It’s not the work of a great writer, but it’s satisfying in a simple way that I expect from a good pulp writer. I won’t remember it next week, but it made for a pretty fun afternoon read.

Similar books: False Negative, by Joseph Koenig; Lady, Go Die!, by Mickey Spillane; Snow White Must Die, by Nele Neuhaus

A review copy was provided.

REVIEW: The Infernals

Author: John Connolly

2011 Atria Books

Filed Under: Young Adult, Humor, Fantasy, Horror

Find it on Goodreads.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 8

A direct follow-up to Connolly’s wonderful 2009 book, The Gates, Infernals delivers everything you could want from a sequel. It’s another great adventure, and delivers all the wacky characters and narratorial humor that made the first book so exceptional.

After helping to save the world from an invasion from Hell, Samuel Johnson, with his trusty dog Boswell by his side, is trying to get back to a normal life. It doesn’t last long. The leader of the failed invasion, Mrs. Abernathy (formerly the demon Ba’al before he was trapped in the possessed body of Samuel’s elderly neighbor), seethes in Hell. The Great Malevolence–Satan–has fallen into a weepy melancholy following the defeat, leaving the underworld open to a tumultuous civil war.

Abernathy, in an attempt to restore her standing as Hell’s #2 demon, as well as save her own hide by preventing the traitorous demon Abignor from usurping rule, manages to open a small portal to Earth long enough to capture poor Samuel and Boswell. They will be an offering to restore the spirits of The Great Malevolence.


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REVIEW: Nocturnes

[This collection of spooky short stories is a C4 Great Read.]

Author: John Connolly

2006, Atria Books

Filed Under: Short Stories, Horror

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 5

I’ve still never read any of the crime fiction Connolly made his name with, but this is the third supernatural book of his I’ve tackled and loved: it’s just as good as the others. Perhaps as a result of his experience writing thrillers, Connolly has a real knack for building tension. The stories in this collection range from a few pages to over a hundred, but each is expertly paced and crafted. He manages to write stories that are taut and spooky without dipping into cliche or camp. His The Book of Lost Things reminds me of Stephen King at his best, and the mood and creativity of The Gates readily compares to Neil Gaiman’s work. This collection of scary tales marries those styles almost perfectly.


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REVIEW: The Darker Side

Author: Cody McFadyen

2008, Bantam

Filed Under: Thriller, Horror

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 3

This is a book that will in no way exercise your mind, or place any demands upon you as a reader. When I first started it, I read the first few pages, gave a book-snobby, mocking laugh, and put it right back down on my counter. I scooped it up on the way out the door to work a few days later, since I was running late and couldn’t remember where I had left 1Q84.

I crushed through the first third or so of the book on my commute that day, and found myself engaged and ready to read on the next day. A thriller about team of detectives hunting down a serial killer, The Darker Side takes a lot of cues from The Silence of the Lambs, and, since the murders center around a theme of Catholic contrition, even more from Seven.
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REVIEW: I Don’t Know the Author or the Title But It’s Red and It Has 3 Zombie Stories In It

Author: Kelly Link

2011, Jelly Ink (self-published)

Filed Under: Horror, Short Stories, Short-Run.

Get the book.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 6

This is a short, little volume collecting, as you might have guessed, three zombie stories. Each of these stories, all by Kelly Link and originally published in different books, is good in its own way, but what really makes the collection worth notice is its consistent originality. There aren’t really any shambling corpses, no survivors banding together in a boarded-up house. One of the stories doesn’t even have actual zombies–or any sort of supernatural element–in it.
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REVIEW: The Last Werewolf

Author: Glen Duncan

2011, Knopf

Filed Under: Horror, Literary

Get this book

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6

It seems like trying to write a “literary” book in the sexy-supernatural genre is the authorial movement du jour. Lately, many authors are hoping to cash in on readers who like Twilight but are too ashamed to admit it. Justin Cronin’s The Passage, Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, and Lev Grossman’s The Magician King are just three recent novels that try to adultify trending YA themes. Duncan is in the same boat, but he more or less succeeds where others have fallen short.

Why? Well, basically because the writing is pretty good, and the plot avoids being overwrought. (Neither The Magicians nor its sequel (while enjoyable) were very well-written; The Passage was a structural mess.) So let’s begin with the writing. Duncan is no Henry James, but he’s read him and it shows. He finds a great balance between action and tangent and he tinges his narrator with just enough snark. Most importantly, he has bouts of eloquence without looking like he’s trying too hard.
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REVIEW: The Siege of Trencher’s Farm

Author: Gordon Williams

1969, Titan

Filed Under: Horror, Thriller.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 2
Entertainment..... 4
Depth..... 1

This is a book that is (to the best of my knowledge) being reprinted for the first time since its original 1969 release. This is because it’s the basis for the movie Straw Dogs (1971), which is getting the remake treatment and hitting theaters this fall–with Dustin Hoffman being replaced by James Marsden. In fact, “Straw Dogs” is presented on the new cover in much larger type than the book’s actual title. This makes sense to me: with it’s one-dimensional characters and blindly stumbling plot, Trencher’s Farm would make a better horror movie than a book.
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REVIEW: The Squirrel Machine

Author: Hans Rickheit

2009, Fantagraphics Books

Filed Under: Graphic Novel, Sci-Fi, Horror.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 5
Visuals... 8

This book is pretty messed up. I’m not even really sure what it’s about, but it’s pretty messed up.

Edward and William are two very smart little rich kids living off their father’s inheritance. As a hobby, they make steampunky musical instruments out of animal carcasses and phonographs and sundry things. There’s a crazy woman known as Pig Lady, and they somehow have a cavernous workshop hidden beneath the house their father left them. There’s their odd mother, and a girl named Morgen who gets banged in what I can best describe as a snail sorter. And there’s this:
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REVIEW: You Think That’s Bad

Author: Jim Shepard

2011, Knopf

Filed Under: Short StoriesHistorical, Horror, Literary.

Get a copy at Powell’s.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 7

You Think That’s Bad offers 11 stories inspired by a diverse array of subjects, from flood control and avalanche research to World War II and the Japanese film industry. Each one is thoroughly researched, tightly written, and full of compelling, hopeless characters. As a collection, though, You Think That’s Bad strikes the same emotional chord a little too often to make the whole something greater than its best parts.

One story is about a Black World operative who can’t talk to his wife. One is about a Dutch hydraulics engineer who can’t talk to his wife. There’s a particle physicist who can’t talk to his wife; there’s a Japanese special effects designer who can’t talk to his wife; there’s a Polish mountaineer who does a better job talking to his wife, but not nearly good enough to save either of them from himself. It’s tragic watching these obsessed men ruin their lives one after the other, but some things start to feel repetitive.
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