Sunday, February 28, 2010

Other Notable Women Horror Authors

Today is the last day of Women in Horror Recognition Month. I'm sorry I didn't get around to reviewing as many horror books by women authors as I planned. But I did read eight books this month, which is a record for me. I think I read 12 books in total last year - I'm addicted to T.V. and the internet. Here's a list of women horror authors that I didn't get around to reading. For lists of more women horror authors, check out my reviews of Women of Darkness and Women of Darkness II and the 2009 Bram Stoker Award Preliminary Ballot.

Anne Rice - I secretly hate vampires, which is why I didn't read any Anne Rice books this month. I read half of Interview With the Vampire for my Living With the Undead elective in college, but I just couldn't finish it. I was thinking of trying her witch series. Has anyone read those books? If so, what did you think?

Mary Shelley - The author of Frankenstein, which I haven't read yet (horrible, I know), but I found a website where you can download the e-book for free.

Shirley Jackson - Author of horror staple The Haunting of Hill House, which I recently checked out from the library and will hopefully have a review of soon. Interestingly, the copy I got was re-named The Haunting after the horrid movie based on the novel and uses the film's poster as the book cover. Because a classic like The Haunting of Hill House really needs help from a crappy movie to sell copies....

Tabitha King - The wife of Stephen King is also a horror author. I have her books The Trap
and Small World and planned on reviewing them this month, but never got around to it. I'll try to review them soon.

Sarah Langan - I reviewed Audrey's Door, which I though was great, not too long ago and am currently reading The Keeper, which is crazy creepy so far.

Alexandra Sokoloff - I had actually never heard of Sokoloff until I read this interview, but all her novels sound intriguing. She is the author of The Harrowing, The Price and The Unseen.

Tamara Thorne - Author of novels Thunder Road, Haunted, The Forgotten, Eternity, Moonfall, Bad Things, The Sorority: Eve, The Sorority: Merilynn, The Sorority: Samantha and Candle Bay.

Mary Sangiovanni - Author of novels The Hollower and Found You.

V.C. Andrews - I guess only her books up to Dark Angel qualify as novels for Women in Horror Month since Andrew Neiderman became her ghostwriter after she passed away. I don't really consider V.C. Andrews to be horror, which is why I didn't review any of her novels this month. Her novels are often described as "gothic horror", but I think her novels are more Jacqueline Susann-ish, having lots of soap opera drama, except darker and with more incest. Her novels do have some gothic horror qualities, but I think the soap opera drama and romance elements outweigh them.

Laurell K. Hamilton
- I've never actually read any paranormal romance novels before, but it has become such a popular genre that I thought I should include an author from it. I like romance and horror separately, but I'm not sure if I would like them together. Does anyone have any paranormal romance recommendations?

R.L. STINE BOOK OF THE WEEK: Goosebumps: Monster Blood II

He's one hungry hamster!

From the back cover:

IT'S BAAACK....

Evan Ross can't stop thinking about Monster Blood and what happened last summer. It was so horrible. So terrifying. Too bad Evan's science teacher doesn't believe him. Now he's stuck cleaning out the hamster's cage for making up stories.

Then Evan's friend Andy comes to town, and things go from bad to worse. Because Andy's got a present for Evan. It's green and slimy and it's starting to grow....

My thoughts:

I was not looking forward to reading this Goosebumps book at all after reading the first Monster Blood last week and hating it. Well, I was right to be apprehensive because the sequel is worse than the first book.

The plot is almost identical to the first book, but a hamster grows bigger instead of a dog. And Evan moved at the end of the first book, so R.L. made Andy move in with her Aunt while her parents live overseas for a year. Once again nothing happens until the last few chapters. Actually, more stuff happens in the first book. At least the Monster Blood kept growing bigger and turned into a blob at the end. In Monster Blood II, Evan and Andy bury it and nothing really happens until they feed some to Cuddles (the hamster).

Usually I don't give major spoilers in my reviews but maybe telling everyone the ending will deter you from ever reading this garbage. All of a sudden the hamster and Evan return to their normal size. Why? It turns out there is an expiry date on the can of Monster Blood, which is the current date. Bravo, R.L., what a clever way to get Evan and Cuddles out of this jam. I threw the book on the GROUND. I'M AN ADULT! I shouldn't be reading this crap, man. Well, not really, there was still another chapter left, so I finished it, found out that Andy's parents sent her more Monster Blood, Cuddles ate some more, and then I threw it on the ground.

Oh and R.L. milked this plot for two more books, which you will never read reviews for on this blog. I think I have already suffered enough.

Rating: 1/5

PG Gore: "The hamster lowered its hot, furry body over him. Evan could feel the creature's booming heartbeat as it pressed him to the floor.

Then its teeth rose up over Evan's head.

The hamster's mouth opened wide.

The teeth swung down.

A wave of hot, sour hamster breath blew down over Evan.

He shut his eyes.

"Sorry," he murmured to Andy.

He held his breath and waited for the teeth to clamp down."

Published in: 1994

Evident by references to: Michael Jordan

Next week: Fear Street: Bad Moonlight

Sunday, February 21, 2010

R.L. STINE BOOK OF THE WEEK: Goosebumps: Monster Blood

It's a monster blood drive!

From the back cover:

BLOOD, BLOOD, EVERYWHERE...

While staying with his weird great-aunt Kathryn, Evan visits a funky old toy store and buys a dusty can of monster blood. It's fun to play with at first. And Evan's dog, Trigger, likes it so much, he eats some!

But then Evan notices something weird about the green, slimy stuff - it seems to be growing.

And growing.

And growing.

And all that growing has given the monster blood a monstrous appetite.

My thoughts:

I struggled to get through this one, which was a surprise since I really enjoyed the last two Goosebumps books I've read.

Nothing really happens. Evan buys monster blood and it keeps growing. That's pretty much it until the last few chapters. Oh, and his dog gets bigger. Not really exciting...pretty much just like Honey I Blew Up the Kid, only the dog doesn't grow as large as the kid. And the shocking twist wasn't very shocking and didn't make much sense.

Even though it was dull for the most part, the last few chapters were exciting when the monster blood became like the blob and devoured everything in its path. So I guess it deserves a 2 instead of a 1.

Rating: 2/5

PG gore: "Plop. Plop. Plop.

A robin pulling at a worm in the grass, didn't look up in time. The trembling green mass rolled over it.

"Oh!" Evan moaned, turning back to see the bird sucked into the green ball. Its wings flapping frantically, the bird uttered a final cry, then disappeared inside."

Published in: 1992

Evident by references to: Nintendo, a VCR

Next week: Monster Blood II *sigh* not looking forward to this one...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

BOOK NEWS: Fresh Blood Writing Contest Top Five

The judges of the Fresh Blood Writing Contest have narrowed the nine novels down to five finalists:

A Fine Likeness by Sean McLachlan
Breed by Sean Logan
Disunity by Aaron Dries
Heart of the City by Lisa A. Koosis
The Sorrows by Jonathan Janz

Visit the ChiZine website to read the short introductions the authors have written about themselves and why you should vote for them.

The Fan Favourite winner is Disunity by Aaron Dries.

Don't forget to check out ChiZine on March 15, when readers get to vote for the best cover copy and Jeff Strand will be the guest judge.

BOOK REVIEW: Family Inheritance by Deborah LeBlanc

About the Author

Deborah LeBlanc is the author of Family Inheritance, Grave Intent, A House Divided, Morbid Curiosity and Water Witch. She is currently the president of the Horror Writers Association. She often involves her Cajun background in her plots and her south-central Louisiana home as a setting in her novels.

Review

Jessica LaJeune returns to her hometown when her brother, Todd, is admitted to a mental institution. She has the ability to heal people by touching their forehead and is hoping to heal Todd. But he is infected by Maikana, a powerful demon who inhabits people and drives them mad. Meanwhile a rausant (a Cajun healer) who lives deep in the swamp, dreams of Jessica and is desperate to find her. Will their healing power together be strong enough to destroy Maikana?

The plot of Family Inheritance is one of the most unique I've read - not just within the horror genre, but all genres. I haven't read many stories about Cajun mythology but I've enjoyed the ones I read. Maikana is a terrifying monster. Being fine one minute and then insane the next is a scary thought. Especially if the voice you're hearing is that of Maikana forcing you to do horrible things.

The pace is slow at the beginning, but gradually builds suspense. The book goes out with a bang, having all the gore and deaths in one frightening scene.

The characters are realistic and well-developed, especially the main character, Jessica, who I really cared for. Whenever I read about Todd I cringed, thinking about what it would be like to go crazy and felt sorry for him and Jessica.

Family Inheritance is a great departure from the usual gory monster books I read, instead involving a unique demon and a chilling atmosphere in place of gore. Highly recommended for horror readers who are sick of reading the same monster stories.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Borrowed Flesh by Sephera Giron

About the Author

Sephera Giron is the author of Eternal Sunset, House of Pain, The Birds and the Bees, Borrowed Flesh, Mistress of the Dark and Hungarian Rhapsody. She lives in Toronto and is the Horror Writers Association Ontario rep. In addition to being a published author Giron is an actress and has appeared in a community theatre version of Evita, and is also a tarot card reader.

Review

The back cover blurb of Borrowed Flesh is misleading and had me pretty disappointed. Basically, it says the book is about a witch who kills virgins and bathes in their blood in order to gain eternal youth. This only happens twice (providing the only gore and horror) and is not the focal point of the novel. Here's what the back cover blurb should say:

Vanessa is a witch with eternal life who makes a living reading tarot cards. When several of the town's women residents come to her for help with their straying husbands, she has a feeling there is something else keeping the men away. When she tries to solve the mystery she realizes she's not the only witch in town.

Borrowed Flesh should have been marketed as a paranormal romance because the novel focuses Vanessa's budding relationship with David. The parts where she bathes in virgin blood could have been easily cut out because it's not essential to the plot and are the only parts that could be considered horror.

The characters aren't very deep and I didn't find myself caring about what happens to them. Vanessa is portrayed as a "good" witch, yet she kills innocent virgins to obtain something as frivolous as looking young, which made me dislike her. She's the heroine of the novel and Giron tries to make her seem caring, but I couldn't get over the fact that she murders young women and bathes in their blood just to look pretty. Also, some characters are mentioned over and over without explaining them. Sophie constantly appears in Vanessa's dreams but there's no explanation of who she is or why she is significant to Vanessa's life. And Vanessa's ex Demian is described a bit, but there's no clarification of why he and Vanessa broke up or what their relationship was like, Giron just says how Vanessa will always love him over and over.

Although I didn't care for the characters, the novel held my interest until the end because of Giron's direct writing style and my curiosity of why the husbands went missing. Which brings me to the part of the novel which I hated the most: the anticlimactic ending. I got to the end just to find a measly five pages dedicated to the fight between our heroine, Vanessa, and the "bad" witch. And the reason behind her holding the men hostage was so ridiculous that it made me upset I wasted my time on the rest of the book just to reach this crazy conclusion.

I like Giron's writing style and will read more of her work, but I would recommend skipping this one.

Rating: 2/5

Sunday, February 14, 2010

R.L. STINE BOOK OF THE WEEK: Fear Street: Broken Hearts

Valentine's Day can be a killer.

From the back cover:

Roses are red, corpses are blue
On Valentine's Day, you'll die too!

There's someone out there, someone who kills on Valentine's Day. Josie and Melissa are scared - especially when they receive threatening valentines. Then the murders begin. Who is sending these horrible valentines to the girls of Shadyside High? And who will be the next to die?

My thoughts:

Happy Valentine's Day a.k.a stupid Hallmark holiday made up to make people spend money everyone! For Valentine's Day I read R.L. Stine's valentine-themed Fear Street book, Broken Hearts. This was one of my favourites when I was younger, but while re-reading it I was disappointed.

I was expecting Broken Hearts to be like the films Valentine or My Bloody Valentine minus the gore, but it's not because this is another Fear Street book where nothing happens. No maggot-filled chocolates, or a human heart (or even animal heart) make an appearance. All we get are lame rhyming valentines, for example:

Roses are black
Violets are gray
On Valentine’s Day
You’ll start to decay

While the Valentine's rhymes fail to scare, what happens to Rachel in the first chapter is frightening. Rachel refuses to wear a helmet while horseback riding, and ends up being bucked off her horse, falling on her head. She becomes brain damaged, having to forever act like a child. When I read this book ages ago, it made me paranoid of not wearing a helmet when I should, for fear I would hit my head and become brain damaged - which is worse than being dead.

So most of the book revolves around boring arguments between Rachel's sisters Josie and Erica about who is going to watch her, since she has to be supervised all the time.

But I liked the characters in Broken Hearts with the exception of that skanky bitch Josie. Which just made it more satisfying when she got her comeuppance. I couldn't dislike Melissa, since she has the same name as me. But she dated someone named Luke, which is my brother's name and I found that to be pretty creepy....

The supposed motive of killing someone for blabbing about cheating off her test is ridiculous. I'll teach her not to tattle when someone cheats off her test! If you're smarter than me and sit beside me, that gives me the right to look off your paper! I almost wish he had been the killer, because that would be hilarious. But the identity of the killer was surprising.

I'll give Broken Hearts a 3 because the characters were likable for a change and I was surprised by who the killer was.

Rating: 3/5

PG-13 Gore/Dead Animal of the Week: "The little terrier was on its back, its head twisted to the side, eyes wide in a blank, unseeing stare.
Josie felt sick. She started to turn away, but something caught her eye.
What was that shiny thing in Muggy's stomach?
Pressing both hands over her mouth, she squinted at it. It took her awhile to realize it was a letter opener. A silver letter opener. The letter opener from the desk in the den."

Body Count: 2

Next week: Goosebumps: Monster Blood

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: The Cipher by Kathe Koja

About the Author

Kathe Koja is the author of the horror novels The Cipher, Bad Brains, Skin, Strange Angels, Kink and the collection Extremities. The Cipher won the 1991 Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, a tie with Melanie Tem's Prodigal. Unfortunately, she now mainly writes young adult fiction and her website doesn't even mention her adult novels anywhere.

Review

Nicholas and his lover, Nakota, discover a black-hole-like thing, which they name "The Funhole," in his apartment building's storage closet. They are so fascinated by it that they perform experiments to see what the Funhole will do. First they put a jar of insects next to it, then they dangle a mouse over it and they eventually lower a video camera down. The video makes Nakota obsessive and she almost dives into the Funhole, being saved by Nicholas who inadvertently plunges his hand into the hole.

The plot is bizarre. Basically, it's 356 pages about a hole. But even stranger is how compelling it is despite the simple plot. I didn't expect it to hold my interest, but its fast pace had me flipping the pages. It gradually builds tension, beginning with a bit of an interest in the hole, eventually turning into a full-blown obsession. Koja has a way with words, writing poetic prose that makes you think.

Nicholas is a very likable narrator and I felt afraid for him. I identified with him and his messed up relationship with Nakota. But I hated Nakota. She was selfish, rude, crazy and basically just a bitch. I couldn't understand why Nicholas wanted to be with her.

The ending was inevitable, but it didn't explain what happened to Nicholas. I can guess, but I would rather have had Koja describe it because her words are better than my imagination. And there was never an explanation for what the Funhole really was, why it was there, etc.

The Cipher is a very unique horror novel, perfect for those of you who are sick and tired of reading the same monster plots over and over.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, February 8, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Wilding by Melanie Tem

About the Author

Melanie Tem is the author of Prodigal, Blood Moon, Wilding, Making Love (with Nancy Holder), Revenant, Desmodus, Witch-Light (with Nancy Holder), The Tides, Black River, Daughters (with husband, Steve Rasnic Tem), Slain in the Spirit and The Deceiver; and the collections Daddy's Side, Beautiful Strangers (with Steve Rasnic Tem) and The Ice Downstream: A Short Story Collection. Tem won a Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel with Prodigal.

Review

Wilding is a saga about a family of female werewolves, focusing on the family living in present-day Colorado. The clan has been split in two: the city family, living in a quartet of brick houses built by their ancestors, with matriarch Mary, her daughter Ruth, Ruth's daughter Lydia and Lydia's pregnant teen daughter Deborah; and the country family, living in a cave in the mountains, controlled by Mary's sister Hannah, and her several daughters (there are no sons because if a boy is born, they kill him, no husbands because they are only used to make babies and then killed). Deborah runs away when the family decides she isn't ready for the initiation, prompting them to search for her.

The plot focuses more on the dysfunctional family and subplots (Deborah living on the streets with a homeless man, Ruth and her cousin Marguerite attempting to take over the family, Lydia's new friendship/lesbian relationship with a co-worker) than it does on the werewolf aspect. It felt as if the werewolf plot was incidental and a few kills were described in passing.

The story of each woman is told in alternating chapters, making it a quick read when you want to find out what happens to a particular character and have to read through three chapters to return to her. And the mountain clan is barely mentioned. It would be more interesting if the main characters featured a few from the city and a few from the country, instead of all of them being from the city.

The description of Colorado and the houses, caves, mountains and werewolves, is very well-written, making me feel like I'm there and witnessing a person turn into a wolf. But at times the story gets bogged down with description. For instance, Tem will be writing about a major event - like Mary finding Deborah - and stop in the middle to write pages of description about a memory Mary has about that particular place. It becomes very distracting and irritating.

The characters are interesting, but being werewolves, they seem like they have no emotions. Most of the minor characters are so nice to them, but it's like they can't comprehend the kindness and lash out at them instead, making it difficult to like the characters. But I guess I'm just used to the werewolves being the villains instead of the protagonists.

Wilding is okay as a family saga, not-so-great as a werewolf novel. But I enjoy family sagas, so I'm giving it a 3. If you want to read a good werewolf novel, try The Howling by Gary Brandner, The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber or Ravenous by Ray Garton.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, February 7, 2010

R.L. STINE BOOK OF THE WEEK:Fear Street: Secret Admirer

Someone loves her to death.

From the back cover:

Her number-one fan

Selena is on top of the world. Her acting career at Shadyside High is blossoming - everyone admires her. So when she starts receiving bouquets of black flowers from a person called "The Sun," she treats them like a joke.

But Selena soon realizes that this is no laughing matter. Her understudy is injured in a suspicious accident. Then a speeding car nearly kills her. Selena knows "The Sun" is responsible.

And that her number-one fan has become her number-one nightmare.

My thoughts:

I'm taking a break from Women in Horror Recognition Month to do my favourite post of the week, R.L. Stine Book of the Week.

I actually couldn't guess the killer this time. Well I did initially, but then I was thrown off the trail by every single character acting weird and suspicious. There was a point in the novel where I suspected Katy (Selena's best girl friend), Jake Jacoby (Selena's best guy friend, awesome name, right?), Danny (Selena's ex boyfriend), Eddy (Selena's new boyfriend) and even Selena herself ( I thought maybe she could be nuts and sending herself black flowers for attention or something). Since I suspected everyone, I wasn't really shocked when the killer was revealed.

Not much happens in Secret Admirer. Basically just what is stated on the back cover. Selena gets black flowers sent to her, creepy notes, a few accidents where people end up a bit bruised and one murder.

I couldn't stand Selena. She kept being described as a once-fat girl who is now skinny and popular, but the only two people she talks to are her childhood friends Katy and Jake. I don't understand where her popularity comes into play. Haven't they heard of the term "drama geek"? And everyone accused her of being self-centered, arrogant and bitchy. But she wasn't any of these things because she was completely devoid of personality.

And Selena's new boyfriend Eddy was insanely creepy. He knew tons of information about her before she told him anything and although she thought this was strange, she didn't care because he was so cute. Later, the explanation for him knowing all this stuff about her is he had a crush on her when she was a freshman. Yeah, because when you have a crush on someone, you find out as much about them as you can and then you dazzle them with all your stalkerish information on your first date.

I didn't mind this book, but it loses major points for dull and moronic main character Selena and her creepy, stalker boyfriend.

Rating: 2/5

PG-13 Gore/Dead Animal of the Week: "The rat lay in a puddle of brown wrapping paper near the door.
The dead rat.
Already half-decayed. Its wiry legs stiff. Its patchy fur matted. Its head...
Its head chewed to a pulp. Chewed by a cat or some other animal.
A headless dead rat."

Body Count: 1

Next week: Fear Street: Broken Hearts

Friday, February 5, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Baby Dolly by Ruby Jean Jensen

About the Author

I couldn't find much about Ruby Jean Jensen, so I'm just going to write what was in the back of the book. Ruby Jean Jensen lives on twelve acres near Rogers, Arkansas with her husband and two dogs, a pug and a German shepherd. Writing novels is the fulfillment of a dream begun in childhood. She writes horror because so many individual lives seem to teeter on its threshold. Jensen has written a lot of horror novels, many of them featuring killer dolls. Here's a list of her novels:
Review

I think the pic of the cover is too small to see this, but at the top it says "In the chilling tradition of V.C. Andrews." Which is strange because this novel features no incest, it's about a killer doll.

Baby Dolly is about a baby doll that sucks the life out of people, specifically several generations of the same family. The book begins in 1882 with a girl, Sybil, receiving the baby doll and being disappointed because she thinks she's too grown up for dolls. So she places the doll in her sister's bed and the next day her sister is dead. When Sybil realizes that the doll did it, she hides it in the attic. The next part of the novel takes place in 1910, when Sybil is grown and has a family of her own. Then, 1950 when Sybil is a grandma and, finally, the present (which was 1991) where a family has inherited the house - and the doll.

Baby Dolly is the standard evil doll story: doll kills someone, no one suspects it, when someone does no one believes him/her, and when they finally believe they don't know what to do about it. Except this novel is like three short novels where the formula repeats itself. The book is 477 pages, which is too long for the simple plot.

The pace moves quickly during Book One, mainly because of the character of Rose, who is an unwed teenage mother in 1882. What her mother, Sybil, does to get rid of the baby is horrible. And the baby doll makes a few appearances. During the middle, the pace slows down a lot. The novel could have went from 1882 to the present day. We already know the doll is evil, the middle doesn't add anything new, and it's boring. But near the end, the story becomes really creepy when the doll starts crawling around and (somehow) opening and breaking down doors.

The characters aren't given much depth. There isn't much back story for any of them, except for Sybil who was cruel therefore I hated her and Gertrude who was nice, but dull, so I never really cared about her. But I did like Rose.

Baby Dolly is an okay entry in the killer doll subgenre, but it could have been better if the middle part was eliminated.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, February 4, 2010

2009 Bram Stoker Preliminary Ballot

The preliminary ballot for the 2009 Bram Stoker Awards has been announced, the nominees will be chosen from this list. This year, for the first time, the awards will be presented outside of North America. The Stoker Awards banquet will be held in Brighton, England, at the 2010 World Horror Convention on March 27. Also, since it's Women in Horror Recognition Month, I think I should note that a lot of women authors appear on the list, which is great. Here's the list:

Superior Achievement in a Novel

Quarantined by Joe McKinney
As Fate Would Have It by Michael Louis Calvillo
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
Cursed by Jeremy Shipp
Sacrifice by John Everson
Audrey's Door by Sarah Langan
Eternal Vigilance II: Death of Illusions by Gabrielle Faust
A Twisted Ladder by Rhodi Hawk
Voracious by Alice Henderson
The Bone Factory by Nate Kenyon

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

Damnable by Hank Schwaeble
The Black Act by Louise Bohmer
Slaughter by Marcus Griffin
Breathers by S. G. Browne
The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay
Solomon's Grave by Daniel G. Keohane
Dismember by Daniel Pyle
Slights by Kaaron Warren
The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

Mama Fish by Rio Youers
Hunger of Empty Vessels by Scott Edelman
Diana and the Goong-si by Lisa Morton
Doc Good's Traveling Show by Gene O’Neill
The Gray Zone by John R. Little
The Lucid Dreaming by Lisa Morton
Dreaming Robot Monster by Mort Castle
Little Graveyard on the Prairie by Steven E. Wedel
Rot by Michele Lee
Black Butterflies by Kurt Newton

Superior Achievement in a Short Fiction

In the Porches of My Ears by Norman Prentiss
Blanket of White by Amy Grech
Keeping Watch by Nate Kenyon
One More Day by Brian Freeman
The Crossing of Aldo Ray by Weston Ochse
Where Sunlight Sleeps by Brian Freeman
The Night Nurse by Harry Shannon
Plague Dogs by Joe McKinney
The Outlaws of Hill County by John Palisano
Nub Hut by Kurt Dinan

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

Midnight Walk edited by Lisa Morton
Poe edited by Ellen Datlow
Harlan County Horrors edited by Mari Adkins
He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson edited by Christopher Conlon
Lovecraft Unbound edited by Ellen Datlow
Dark Delicacies 3: Haunted edited by Del Howison and Jeff Gelb
Butcher Shop Quartet 2 edited by Frank J. Hutton
Grants Pass edited by Amanda Pillar and Jennifer Brozek
Mighty Unclean edited by Bill Breedlove
British Invasion by Chris Golden, Tim Lebbon and James Moore

Superior Achievement in a Collection

A Taste of Tenderloin by Gene O'Neill
Shades of Blood and Shadow by Angeline Hawkes
Martyrs and Monsters by Robert Dunbar
In the Closet, Under the Bed by Lee Thomas
A Little Help From My Fiends by Michael McCarty
Got to Kill Them All and Other Stories by Dennis Etchison
Dark Entities by David Dunwoody
Shards by Shane Jiraiya Cummings
Unhappy Endings by Brian Keene
You Might Sleep… by Nick Mamatas

Superior Achievement in a Nonfiction

Writers Workshop of Horror by Michael Knost
Stephen King: The Non-Fiction by Rocky Wood and Justin Brook
Cinema Knife Fight by L. L. Soares and Michael Arruda
Esoteria-Land by Michael McCarty
Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues edited by Loren Rhoads
The Stephen King Illustrated Companion by Bev Vincent

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

Chimeric Machines by Lucy A. Snyder
Mortician's Tea by G. O. Clark
Double Visions by Bruce Boston
Voices From the Dark by Gary William Crawford
Barfodder by Rain Graves
Starkweather Dreams by Christopher Conlon
Toward Absolute Zero by Karen L. Newman
North Left of Earth by Bruce Boston
Grave Bits by Todd Hanks

BOOK REVIEW: Breeding Ground by Sarah Pinborough

About the Author

Sarah Pinborough is the author of The Hidden, The Reckoning, Breeding Ground, The Taken, Tower Hill, The Language of Dying, Feeding Ground (the sequel to Breeding Ground), and was featured in the anthology Waiting for October. Her next book is a departure from horror and will be published in March 2010. A Matter of Blood will be the first novel in a thriller trilogy. For more about Pinborough, visit her website, or check out these interviews.

Review

I used to belong to a Horror E-mail Book Club, where I would be sent the first 20 pages or so of a horror novel over the course of a week. But then they changed it to a thriller book club instead. I was really upset about it, and I still miss it. Anyway, that's how I became hooked on Breeding Ground. I read the first 20 pages of it, ending in the middle of a scene where Matt and Chloe are about to visit a doctor to find out what's wrong with Chloe, and I HAD to find out what happened next. Unfortunately, none of the local bookstores carried it anymore, since it had been published a few years prior, and I couldn't find it at used bookstores or the library either. I ended up going to The World's Biggest Bookstore on my birthday one year just to get that book. For all the trouble I went to to get it, I ended up being disappointed. I think I still have those Horror Book Club e-mails saved in my inbox if anyone wants me to forward them.

Matt and Chloe are expecting a baby, but instead Chloe gives birth to a creature which looks like a giant spider. The spiders (later named "Widows") use women as hosts, killing all females in England. After the death of his beloved Chloe, Matt goes in search of other survivors. He finds a few men and, surprisingly, a few women. Together they seek a safe haven, away from the Widows.

The story moves along quickly, gripping you from page one (as I've already mentioned) and keeps you wanting to read on to see if Matt will discover more survivors and if they will live through encounters with the Widows.

The apocalyptic plot isn't anything new, neither is having aliens use humans as hosts, but having the alien-type-thing be a big spider is unique. And the explanation for how the Widows came into being is interesting and all too realistic. But killing off almost the entire female population in Britain is pretty anti-feminist. I understand that it had to be women, because men can't give birth, but maybe Pinborough could have developed an idea which didn't involve all the women dying. There are a few women survivors, but there is no explanation why they survived while every other woman died. Also, there is no talk in the book about whether the Widows are terrorizing the whole world, or just England. You would think that's the first thing the characters would want to find out, so they can escape the Widows (like in 28 Days Later), but I guess they never thought of that.

The worst part of the novel is unfortunately the most important part: the characters. Breeding Ground is told from the perspective of Matt, who is kind of a douche. Immediately after the love of his life dies, Matt starts sleeping with one of the only female survivors. No one else trusts her because, well she's a woman and they just assume she will become pregnant with a Widow. But of course Matt trusts her, endangering all the other mens' lives, just because he hopes to bang her. And she's only 21! He even keeps mentioning how young she is compared to him. SPOILER ALERT (just highlight it to read it) After the 21-year-old dies, he starts sleeping with the other only surviving woman. First of all, how dumb is this woman? Secondly, why does he never care about any of his lovers, moving onto another immediately after one dies? Thirdly, why is this jerk such a ladies man and why does he get the affections of all England's remaining women? I never warmed to any of the characters, but Matt was the only one I really hated.

I haven't read the sequel, Feeding Ground, yet but I heard it doesn't have any of the characters from this novel, so maybe it will be slightly better. Breeding Ground isn't a bad novel, I love apocalyptic stories and this one is interesting and well-written, but all the women dying, the characters not trying to find out what's going on in the rest of the world and jerky Matt bothered me.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

About the Author

Poppy Z. Brite is the author of the novels Lost Souls, Drawing Blood, Exquisite Corpse, Courtney Love: The Real Story, The Crow: The Lazarus Heart, The Value of X, Liquor, Triads (with Krista Faust), Prime, Soul Kitchen; the novellas Plastic Jesus and D*U*C*K; and the short story collections Wormwood, Are You Loathsome Tonight?, Wrong Things (with Caitlin R. Kiernan), The Devil You Know and Antediluvian Tales. She is also the editor of the vampire erotica anthologies Love in Vein and Twice Bitten (Love in Vein II). She currently lives in New Orleans and often uses it as the setting for her novels, writing vivid descriptions of locales. In the early 00's, Brite grew tired of horror and wrote Liquor, a dark comedy about the restaurant industry, following it with the sequels Prime and Soul Kitchen. Unfortunately, she said of her last book, the collection Antediluvian Tales, "if not my last book ever, then my last one for some time." She is currently writing short non-fiction pieces and freelance editing. For more information on Brite, please visit her website, which is very detailed and personal, featuring a much more detailed biography than the one I just provided, pictures of places featured in her writing, pictures of her several adorable cats, detailed bios of characters, a huge list of every character she has ever written, her online journal and more.

Review

Exquisite Corpse tells the story of four gay men. Andrew, an HIV positive, notorious serial killer (he killed 23 young men in 10 years) imprisoned in a London jail, escapes and flees to New Orleans. Jay, a predator of young gay men living in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Tran, a young Vietnamese man, who was recently kicked out of his parents' home when they found out his sexual orientation, seeks refuge at Jay's home. And Luke, Tran's ex-lover, who is HIV positive and still desperately in love with him.

The plot is more of a love story than a horror story. For its reputation of being one of the goriest novels ever written, I was surprised there are only a few chapters dedicated to murder. Only four men are killed by the serial killer lovers, not that it isn't enough, I was just expecting the novel to be a bloodbath from everything I heard about it. But when there is violence, it is brutal and disturbing. For instance, there's a scene involving a screwdriver which I can't forget and it makes me shudder just to think of it.

The love story focuses more on Tran and Luke than the killers, Andrew and Jay. The latter don't even meet until 3/4 of the way into the book, and are only lovers for a brief time before the ending. Most of the killing/cannibalism/necrophilia is done by themselves separately, at the beginning and ending. The middle of the novel is mostly dedicated to the explanation of the demise of Tran and Luke's twisted relationship.

Being told through the eyes of the killers, I found myself empathizing with them (much like the film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) and even liking them. Which Brite states in her biography as the reason Penguin declined to publish Exquisite Corpse, "I felt very uncomfortable with the mixture of a journalistic approach to the characters and a tendency to see them as admirable," her editor wrote to her. It's a unique approach to write a horror novel from the supposed villain's perspective and I enjoyed seeing why they killed, how they felt afterward, etc.

I liked the characters Andrew and Jay, but I loved Tran and Luke and desperately wanted them to get back together. Interestingly, Brite didn't like Tran, or any of her characters, writing this on her website,
"Readers seem to hate Luke and love Tran, which I'll never understand: Luke strikes me as self-pitying and caustic but ultimately sympathetic, whereas Tran is so incredibly stupid that you can’t understand why somebody hasn’t put him out of his misery. Exquisite Corpse wasn't any fun at all to write, not because of the "horrific, pornographic, unjustifiable" violence (to use some of the descriptions employed by publishers and reviewers), but because I really never warmed up to most of the characters, which is very unusual for me."
Tran is a bit dumb, but he doesn't come across as a moron, he simply seems young and naive. It is unusual that Brite didn't warm up to any of them, because I found them all likable.

The novel is only 240 pages long and I wish it had been longer, especially the part when Andrew and Jay become lovers. After that it ends too quickly. Instead, they could have had a long relationship and kill several boys together. Or it would have been interesting if Brite had written more about Andrew's life before he was imprisoned. Maybe she could write a prequel detailing his 23 murders.

I highly recommend Exquisite Corpse, especially if you like love stories combined with extreme gore.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Women of Darkness II edited by Kathryn Ptacek

Yesterday, I reviewed Women of Darkness, in which I explained that I think this follow-up is better than the original. In her introduction, Kathryn Ptacek explains that the short story collection is comprised of dark tales, "sometimes unpleasant, always unsettling." She's right, I found all of these stories to be unsettling and I believe many of the dark images will remain burned in my memory for years to come. You can read my short biography of Kathryn Ptacek, which I wrote yesterday, here. I will follow the format I used yesterday to review the stories, writing the name and author, one line about the plot and my rating of each story.

The Co-op by Melanie Tem - Mothers in a babysitting co-op share dark secrets. Rating: 4/5

Fruits of Love by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro - A historical fiction piece about a woman who is won in a card game by a brutish man. Rating: 4/5

Sarah and the Slime Creature by Resa Nelson - A woman who was sexually abused by her stepbrother when she was young has trouble trusting men as an adult. Rating: 4/5

Just Idle Chatter by Jean Paiva - A boy eavesdrops on his strange neighbours, finding out something disturbing. Rating: 4/5

Act of Love by Kristl Volk Franklin - A young girl is disturbed by witnessing her father's abuse of her mother. Rating: 4/5

Arc Light by Lisa W. Cantrell - A welder overcomes his fear of the dark. Rating: 4/5

The Pit by Patricia Ramsey-Jones - A dog who is forced into dog fighting gets revenge on his cruel owner. Rating: 3/5

A Rainy Evening in Western Illinois by Rebecca Lyons - A man believes he witnessed a horrible car accident. Rating: 4/5

Coming Back by Ginger LaJeunesse - A mother who dies in car accident forces herself to come back to life for her son. Rating: 5/5

I Know What To Do by Yvonne Navarro - A couple moves into a new apartment to find it already occupied by a vicious cockroach that won't die. Rating: 4/5

The Drought by Lois Tilton - A group observing how elephants react to a drought, learn that dehydration makes them crazy - and dangerous. Rating: 4/5

The Nightmare's Tale by Tanith Lee - A historical fiction about revenge. Rating: 2/5

He Whistles Far and Wee by Kiel Stuart - A creepy man sells balloons to children in a tropical paradise. Rating: 4/5

Dirty Pain by Lisa Swallow - A man needs pain - from himself and others - to feel normal. Rating: 3/5

Last Echoes by Janet Lorimer - A woman who loves nursery rhymes moves to an old-fashioned town where they participate in a dark ritual from a nursery rhyme. Rating: 4/5

Daddy's Coming Home by Lynn S. Hightower - Supposedly a man's dead father has come back and he returns home to investigate. Rating: 3/5

A Touch of the Old Lilith by Nina Kiriki Hoffman - A young woman's grandmother tells her all the women in her family have some Lilith in them and will end up killing any man who becomes close to them. Rating: 3/5

Footprints in the Water by Poppy Z. Brite - A man who's twin brother is dead, asks a man who possesses special powers to bring him back to life. Rating: 2/5

I loved the story, Coming Back, it is well-written, emotional and has a very strong female main character. He Whistles Far and Wee gave me the chills while reading it alone at night; the man who sold balloons to children is very creepy. The ending of The Co-op shocked and appalled me. Usually historical fiction bores me, but Fruits of Love fascinated me and taught me something. And I Know What To Do repulsed me; I loathe cockroaches (that segment in Creepshow scarred me for life).

Although the subject matter of each story varies greatly, the quality does not. All of the stories featured in this collection are well-written, have spooky imagery, surprising twist endings and fascinating characters. If you're a fan of dark short stories, seek out this collection.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, February 1, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Women of Darkness edited by Kathryn Ptacek

About the Editor

Kathryn Ptacek is the author of horror novels, Shadoweyes, Blood Autumn (pictured right), Kachina, In Silence Sealed and Ghost Dance, but has also written novels in several other genres, including historical fiction, romance, suspense and fantasy. She also publishes the Gila Queen's Guide to Markets, a useful tool for writers looking for outlets to publish their work. In 1989, her short story, Each Night, Each Year, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. Ptacek was married to late horror author Charles L. Grant. It was announced on January 25 that she will be this year's recipient of the Horror Writers Association Silver Hammer Award for being the volunteer who has contributed the most to the HWA. Ptacek is the editor of the HWA newsletter.

Review

In the introduction to Women of Darkness, Kathryn Ptacek explains how, out of curiosity, she grabbed a few horror short story collections and counted how many featured female authors, finding very few or none, which lead her to publish this "women only" collection of horror short stories.

I decided to do the same experiment, grabbing three random short story collections, finding The Museum of Horrors edited by Dennis Etchison has 4/18, Greystone Bay Vol. 1 edited by Charles L. Grant has 4/14 and Prime Evil edited by Douglas E. Winter has 0/13. I guess it shouldn't come as a shock seeing as how out of approximately 300 horror novels I own, only 20 are by women. Anyway, I'm glad that Ptacek came up with the brilliant idea of publishing an all-female horror short story collection. But I'm less than thrilled with the content. That may have something to do with the fact that I read the second volume first and thought it was amazing - very high quality, creepy stories - therefore was disappointed when reading the first collection. I'm going to write the name and author, one line about the plot and my rating of each story to give you an idea of how much they vary - in subject matter and quality.

Baby by Kit Reed - A childless woman, who is less than thrilled about parenthood, visits her sister who recently had a baby - an odd, creepy baby. Rating: 3/5

Ransom Cowl Walks the Road by Nancy Varian Berberick - A murderer who had died long ago, seems to have come back to life. Rating: 3/5

True Love by Patricia Russo - A historical horror about love. Rating: 1/5

In the Shadows of my Fear by Joan Vander Putten - A man who killed his girlfriend visits her body which he dumped in the ocean. Rating: 1/5

The Spirit Cabinet by Lisa Tuttle - A couple moves into an old house in the UK and realize it's haunted by a ghost, much to the delight of the girlfriend. Rating: 4/5

Hooked on Buzzer by Elizabeth Massie - A young woman punished by shock treatment as a child becomes addicted to it. Rating: 1/5

Little Maid Lost by Rivka Jacobs - A strange man with magical powers befriends a teenage girl who works in her parents' seedy motel. Rating: 2/5

Mother Calls But I Do Not Answer by Rachel Cosgrove Payes - A teenage girl with a harelip becomes obsessed with staring in the mirror, so she can see her friends who live inside. Rating: 3/5

Nobody Lives There Now. Nothing Happens. by Carol Orlock - Ghosts move into a house in a small town. Rating: 1/5

The Baku by Lucy Taylor - An American woman who recently moved to Japan becomes familiar with the legend of the Baku. Rating: 2/5

The Devil's Rose by Tanith Lee - Another historical fiction story about love and its repercussions. Rating: 2/5

Midnight Madness by Wendy Webb - A bargain hunter goes to a store holding a midnight madness sale to find it virtually deserted and eerie. Rating: 4/5

Monster McGill by Cary G. Osborne - A wrestling match turns violent when a wrestler the audience hates goes up against a fan favourite. Rating: 4/5

Aspen Graffiti by Melanie Tem - A woman whose husband going through a mid-life crisis left her, finds out what really happens to men when they leave their wives. Rating: 3/5

Sister by Wennicke Eide Cox - A young girl visits her sister's dead body at the lake everyday, and helps her get revenge on her killer/mother's boyfriend. Rating: 3/5

Samba Sentado by Karen Haber - A woman visiting her sister in Brazil becomes involved in voodoo. Rating: 4/5

When Thunder Walks by Conda V. Douglas - A woman who is accepted as a Navajo jeweler gets more than she bargained for. Rating: 1/5

Slide Number Seven by Sharon Epperson - A woman who works in a lab becomes infected with a deadly disease. Rating: 4/5

The Unloved by Melissa Mia Hall - Twin women rent out an apartment above their garage to a man who doesn't know they share a dark secret. Rating: 4/5

Cannibal Cats Come Out Tonight by Nancy Holder - Two best friends become addicted to eating human meat. Rating: 5/5

As you can see, I loved some of the stories and hated others. Some were painfully dull, but saved somewhat by the shocking twist ending. And others were the opposite: interesting all the way through but letdown by an ending that didn't live up to the rest of the story.

Some of my favourite stories might be worth slogging through the boring ones. I love cannibalism in fiction and loved Cannibal Cats Come Out Tonight, laughing out loud at the boys' list of celebrities they want to eat. Yum I bet Madonna tastes delicious. Also, since I work at a store during hours when it's mostly deserted (I start at 7:00 am), I can relate to the creepiness of being in an empty store, seen in Midnight Madness.

The best part of Women of Darkness is that now I have tons of new women horror authors to add to my reading list. Even though some stories didn't grab me, I would give all the writers another chance because 10 pages is such a short time to gauge an author's writing ability. I have already put a few books on hold at my local library.

Although the quality of Women of Darkness is somewhat spotty, I would recommend it if you can get it from the library or used for the right price.

Rating: 3/5