The Houngan – J.N. Williamson

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A houngan is a male Voodoo priest. Van Cerf is a divorced father of a twelve-year old boy and unemployed. Van is an advertising writer who has struggled finding satisfaction in his work environment from the various employers he’s had through the years. As a result, he finds himself with bills mounting and his confidence at ever finding a job that’s fulfilling, emotionally and financially, dwindling. In a last ditch effort, Van calls upon an ex co-worker, who has taken a job with the DeSilvier Corporation, and discovers that she loves working there, but she tells him that they have so little turnover that they rarely ever are hiring. Undeterred, he drops in an attempt at securing an interview. In what seems to be a twist of fate, he’s able to meet with one of the Vice Presidents, Doyle Munro. After answering some unorthodox questions, Van is hired. He soon learns that the president of the corporation is Horace DeSilvier, a charismatic houngan that prides himself that his company has so little turnover due to their employee-friendly “family” environment. The question is, is that really why the turnover is low or is there something more sinister involved? Is voodoo the peaceful religion that DeSilvier portrays and has introduced to Van or is there more than meets the eye?

Williamson’s writing is very reminiscent of Charles L. Grant, another prolific writer from the 1980s. The Houngan is a slow burn for the first 2/3 of the story as it sets everything in place for the final 1/3. The character development is solid and you’re invested in Van’s plight as he attempts to discover what is really going on at DeSilvier. The ending is just ok. But, The Houngan is a solid read.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Exorcist Road – Jonathan Janz

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Jonathan Janz has always been a good writer. With Exorcist Road, Janz has shown that he has evolved into a great writer. Up until now, my favorite story of 2014 was Gord Rollo’s The Jigsaw Man which was absolutely amazing. Well, Mr. Rollo, you now have some company. Exorcist Road is an expertly written scare fest that will cause you to stay up all night. Half of the night will be spent reading the tale. The rest of the night will be spent trying to sleep with one eye open because Exorcist Road will scare the bejeezus out of you.

Danny Hartman, a Chicago police officer, wakes up his 29-year-old priest, Father Crowder, with a rap on the door in the middle of the night. He explains to Father Crowder that his partner and him were summoned to Danny’s brother’s house and fears that his nephew is possessed. His partner, Jack, also thinks that his nephew is the Sweet Sixteen killer that has been terrorizing the area. What the priest finds handcuffed to the bed in that affluent suburban Chicago home is not of this earth. Is it also responsible for killing 16-year old girls in the area?

Exorcist Road is full of twists and turns and new revelations around every corner, every page turned, and the gripping story refuses to be put down. You’ll cringe and your skin will crawl as the events are slowly revealed in teasing fashion. Janz pulls out all the stops and satisfies. There’s blood. There’s scares. There’s eerie creepiness all packed in what becomes a “who dunnit” mystery that delivers a punch to the midsection. Jonathan Janz has pulled up a chair to the big boy table and I don’t think he’ll be done eating for quite some time. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with the new face of horror. He just delivered one of the best reads of 2014.

5 out of 5 stars

NOS4A2 – Joe Hill

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I finished NOS4A2 just in time for the holidays and Joe Hill gave me a wonderful Xmas present. Hill’s strong suit has always been flawed characters that can carry a story into the world of fantastic and NOS4A2 continues on with that tradition.

The tale starts out by introducing us to an 8-year-old Vic (Victoria) McQueen, aka The Brat who discovers a unique talent she has while running away from her fighting parents. It seems that young Vic can summon a dilapidated covered bridge to appear while she is under great stress and riding her bike as fast as she can. This bridge can take her to other places across the country as her mind sees fit. She uses this bridge to find lost items by simply thinking about the item. The bridge does the rest. After her journeys, Vic comes out with the lost item, a very vague recollection of what happened and a doozy of a fever and headache. This goes on for a few years and all is well and good until her bridge leads her to Charlie Manx. You see. Charlie has his own special gift. It’s a 1938 Rolls Royce and the ability to kidnap children to take to Christmasland.

While reading NOS4A2, the lines between reality and delusion are wonderfully murky as the story unfolds. Hill’s characters are rich and vibrant, the dialogue crisp and witty, and the story itself is a blend of The Twilight Zone, his father’s earlier works and maybe even a dash of Clive Barker’s fantasy. It’s a tale that’ll keep you thinking and the last 1/3 is impossible not to devour at a breakneck pace.

4 out of 5 stars.

The Girl on the Glider – Brian Keene

imageAn autobiographical short-story that Keene serves up and let’s us see a brief snippet of a painful and haunted period of his life. In what he describes as 99.9% true, Keene relives a painful period of his life where a car accident outside his house claims the life of a young girl. At first, the events haunt Brian as they mix with the personal turmoil that he was going through at the time. In the end, he learns a valuable lesson. The tale he recounts will cause the hair to stand up on the back of your neck and the way he lets you in and allows you to take a peek at his personal life is very powerful. I have yet to see an author allow his readers to see this much of themselves, warts and all. It also gives me a new found respect for a writer whose work I already admire. Thank you, Brian.

5 out of 5 stars

Morbid Anatomy – Tim Curran

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A must read for fans of Lovecraft’s Herbert West – Reanimator or of Stuart Gordon’s wonderful movie adaptation from the 1980s. Haven’t read Lovecraft’s story? No problem. Curran includes that with Morbid Anatomy. Morbid Anatomy is a continuation of Lovecraft’s original story as we follow West to the muddy sludge-filled trenches littered with bloated decomposed bodies of Europe during World War I. Most of the story’s viewpoint is told by Creel, an American journalist who is attracted to the death and destruction war brings. Being assigned near West’s outfit gives Creel more than he bargains for. Curran weaves a blood drenched and maggot infested tale of life on the front lines in rich detail along with West’s special concoction that bring the dead back to life. Detailed descriptions have always been Tim’s calling card and he doesn’t back off the throttle with Morbid Anatomy. The only down side, for me, was that the story didn’t evolve more and I wanted more from Herbert West’s POV. Morbid Anatomy is still a fun journey where you’ll feel like you’re wading through the putrid stench of decomposing corpses. Enjoy!

4 stars out of 5

Crimson – Gord Rollo

imageCrimson is a tough one to review for me. After reading Rollo’s fantastic The Jigsaw Man, I couldn’t wait to dive into this one. Out of all the great books that I read in 2014, Jigsaw Man was tied for my absolute favorite. The writing was crisp, the characters were three-dimensional and fully fleshed out, and Rollo made an unbelievable story completely believable. Jigsaw Man was also his second novel. Crimson was his first and it shows. Gord’s fantastic writIng style is still there. But, you can tell he was still cutting his teeth. The characters didn’t feel fully developed and the story had the feel of a puzzle that was put together with the wrong pieces and were made to fit even when they didn’t. Don’t get me wrong. There are still some great ideas explored in Crimson. Unfortunately, all of those ideas didn’t make for a great, cohesive story. I’m going to chalk this up as Rollo learned many things between writing Crimson and Jigsaw Man. If the progression between #2 and #3 as it was for #1 and #2, then the third story of his should be lights out.

3 stars out of 5

Snowblind – Michael McBride


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 Snowblind was a fast and furious read. McBride’s tale, of an annual elk hunting trip for four college buddies now pushing towards their forties, is full of atmosphere and paranoia. While hunting, one of the hunters breaks his leg just as a blizzard is dumping foot after foot of the white stuff on the mountain. Visibility is zero and they’re lost. They eventually stumble onto a dilapidated cabin to get out of the miserable weather. Unfortunately for the hunters, they aren’t alone.
Snowblind was a fun story that fills the reader with dread as you try to put yourself in the characters shoes. What would I do if I were them? Would I be able to survive or would I be the next victim? Great stuff. The only reason that it’s a four star read and not a five is because I would’ve liked to have seen a little more character development. It’s not that they were cardboard cut outs. They were actually interesting and I wanted to know more about them and their backgrounds. I think that would’ve ratcheted the dread up even more by being more invested in the characters.

4 Stars

Sparrow Rock – Nate Kenyon

imagePete and his high school friends are looking for a place to party. One of he girls in the group, Sue, suggests that they use her grandpa’s newly built bomb shelter. She knows the code to get in. Once inside, a thunderous noise from the outside shakes the shelter. As Pete looks out of the hatch to see what the commotion is, mushroom clouds fill the horizon and the nightmare begins.

Sparrow Rock is an emotionally-charged entertaining read. It’s strength is its realistic and flawed characters that are developed and revealed throughout the story. As the danger ratchets up, Kenyon does a nice job taking us along for the ride. You feel like you’re in the bomb shelter with the group trying to figure out what to do next. You can almost taste the metallic ash of the fallout, smell the foul odors and feel the tension in the air. The ending wasn’t my favorite and it’s the only thing that keeps the story from being a full five stars. But, Kenyon does such a wonderful job painting the story and characters with such vibrant colors, you realize that Sparrow Rock is more about the journey and not the destination.

4 1/2 stars out of 5
Continue reading “Sparrow Rock – Nate Kenyon”

I’m starting to think I’ve contracted an illness. The dreaded “bitten by the book bug”. It’s quite possible that it’s more of an addiction than an illness. Others will argue that an illness and an addiction are one and the same.  I’m going to go with an illness. Because, I like the way it sounds better.  An addiction invokes visions of a strung out junkie slumped over in a grimy back alley in a dazed, semi-comatose state with a hypodermic sticking out of his arm. Either way, illness or addiction, mine started at an early age.

Some of my fondest memories of childhood are going to the local bookstore. There were no polished Barnes and Nobles in my small town in those days. My little haven of choice was called Read-Mor Bookstore and it sat inside a block building next to the downtown area. It had an alley that ran between it and the neighboring concrete establishment. Which I can’t, for the life of me, remember what was in it. Anyways, the alley ran between the buildings to a small parking lot in the back that was hidden from the street. The back entrance was more like entering a carnival fun house maze than a bookstore. The wooden door was old and creaky and groaned like an old lady with arthritis when you opened it. You had to meander through a couple of back rooms filled as far as the eye could see with teetering cardboard boxes. The place smelled like dust and old newspapers. I’m sure OSHA, or whatever government entity these days that monitors public safety, would’ve had a field day writing citations. But for an eight-year old, wide-eyed kid, not only did it feel safe and secure, it felt like home. And once you weaved through the clutter, you emerged through the back entrance into the main room of the store. I’ve always thought it felt like Dr Carter entering the main room of King Tut’s tomb and being immersed in all the wonderful treasures around him. The place was a maze of bookshelves that seemed to stretch to the ceiling and where time didn’t seem to exist. The smell of printed page was intoxicating and I would get lost among the Choose Your Own Adventure, The Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators and MAD magazines. The two dollar-bills that my mom had given me earlier were beginning to smolder a hole in the pocket of my jeans. There were so many items begging for me to take them up to the front counter. But, my two crumpled George Washingtons only stretched so far. Alas, I could buy one and only one item. So, I had to choose wisely. If the new issue of MAD Magazine was in, then it would win hands down. But, since Alfred E. Neuman’s goofy gap-toothed grin only appeared once a month, this gave me other opportunities to peruse outside of the magazine aisle.

As I grew, so did my taste in books. Then, one magical day, I wandered down an aisle that I hadn’t paid much attention to. This was the aisle of adult fiction. The books were thick here and they didn’t have pictures. But, I was looking for something outside of my children’s section offerings. And there it was in the K section of the “grown-up” aisle. I don’t recall the book glowing or angelic harp music playing, but it should have. Pet Sematary by Stephen King was my first foray into horror fiction. My life was forever changed.

As junior high shifted into high school, my appetite for all things horror grew. You couldn’t feed the beast too much or fast enough. I spent my earning at a summer job on a VCR. My parents had a big ‘ol console TV with an enormous tower antenna that rose up alongside the outside of the house. For such a formidable thing that stretched up to the heavens, it only blessed us with three clear channels. This didn’t bode well for my growing craving for horror. So I called upon my newly purchased VCR and the local video store to unlock even more doors.

The 80s were a wonderful time for all things macabre. Stephen King ruled my bookshelves and I soon branched out into Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, Dan Simmons, Brian Lumley, James Herbert, J.N. Williamson, and Clive Barker. I simply couldn’t get enough. Then, college hit and my reading for enjoyment came to a screeching halt.

I’d like to think that my head was overloaded with calculus, organic chemistry and physics and that was the reason why reading for pleasure didn’t seem so pleasurable anymore. I’m sure that was a big part of it. I’m also sure that girls and beer every other waking second of my college life was another. I had replaced one sinfully enjoyable experience with another. I was cheating on my first love.

After college, it was a few years before I could look at a book. For some reason, the magic was gone. Looking back, I truly believe what Robert McCammon said:

“We all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for god’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.”

I don’t remember what the occasion was. I want to say that I was on one of my many travel adventures. I worked for an airline out of college and was fortunate in that I have and still do travel all over the place. I believe it was on one of these earlier trips that the newness and novelty of looking out of the airplane window began to lose a little of its luster. So, I wandered into an airport bookstore and slowly discovered that there was still magic on those shelves. The funny thing is the magic didn’t wash over me like a tidal wave as it did when I was 12 and was discovering Pet Sematary for the first time. No, when you’re an adult and you’ve been tainted and you’ve allowed the magic to wither inside of you, it can be a long, arduous process to get it back. It has to slowly seep back into your pores working its way back down into your soul. And the path can be filled with many pitfalls trying to slow or stop the progress of the magic. But, I’m a stubborn bastard and eventually the magic began to weave its spell on me.

Around the corner, from my apartment, was a used book store. For a starving, fresh-out-of-college-and-saddled-with-debt person, like myself, this little slice of Mecca tucked neatly in a strip mall was just what the doctor ordered. Wandering among aisles of yellow paged paperbacks with finely aged ink brought back that intoxicating feeling again. Two dollars here, a dollar fifty there. Next thing I knew, I had a stack that weighed as much as a small Volkswagen that I was trying to wrestle to the counter without them toppling over. From that day on, I was hooked – again! Used book stores, EBay, garage sales, and yes, even the shiny Barnes and Nobles, were calling me and I answered the call. Boy, did I. My bookshelves began to groan from the weight of the paperbacks. I dreamed of building a new house. And within it, my very own library that would rival the Library of Congress in size and capacity.

Then, technology began to reach its evil tentacles into our homes. The internet evolved into online shopping and my shelves groaned even more. Suddenly, e-readers began to pop up much like dandelions on a lawn. At first, it was only a few techno-yuppies with bulging bank accounts and an insatiable appetite to be the first to have the latest electronic gizmo before the rest of their friends did. When I originally noticed them, I thought they were that year’s version of the Palm reader – some overpriced heap of shit that no one really needed. I mean, who the hell wants to read a book off of a computer screen? My mind couldn’t fathom it. A sterile, cold computer screen couldn’t emit that wonderful smell of ink on paper. That warm feeling of a book in your hand. The list of positive traits stretched on and on. And then, much like an addicts first time, I can still recall the “pushers” words to me. “Oh you don’t have a book with you? Here, you can read one off of my Nook”. Oh you bastard. How dare you do this to me? I didn’t want to like it. I really didn’t. I resisted and thought, “Well, this isn’t my Nook. I’m only going to read off of it because I don’t have any of my books with me.” How naive could I be? This is how addictions start. By justification and denial, and I was slathering both on in thick layers. Reading in the dark was the first benefit that jumped out at me. I really liked that. Then, the ability to highlight a word and get an instant definition from the online dictionary. The list of benefits began to mount. Those tricky little devils. They’ve thought of everything. Next thing you know, I’m the owner of my own Nook and I was off. Since then, I’ve graduated to an iPad and I’m amassing that library the size of the one in Washington DC. Instead of making more bookshelves grown, it’s now clogging up my iCloud. At least my house won’t look like something off the TV show “Hoarders”.

I’ve come a long way from that crowded neighborhood bookstore where I first began my love affair with books. My journey continues as we speak. The online group, Horror Aficionados on Goodreads have expanded my knowledge of horror authors exponentially. I’ve also met some great people along the way and look forward to talking to many more while discussing, sharing and debating all things macabre. If this really is an illness or an addiction, I sure hope they never find a cure.