by Christopher Golden
St. Martin’s Press
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
Twelve years before, the small New England town of Conventry experienced a snow storm that left dozens of people dead. These individuals died, not because of the extreme weather conditions, but by what was inside the snow…creatures that flew in the wind and kamikazed unsuspecting individuals by grabbing them, lifting them high into the sky, and then dropping them to their deaths. Some of the people, however, disappeared into the snow, never to be seen again.
Then, twelve years later, another snow storm approaches the town. Those who lost a loved one before must now fight for their lives, because the creatures are back. But even more astounding, the people who disappeared into the snow over a decade before are now back, hoping to escape the things that are after them.
What Christopher Golden has done with the horror genre is to create a new, exciting, and utterly terrifying ice creature that comes during a heavy snow and kills those it can get its hands on. Suffice it to say, that the beginning of Snowblind is a frenzy of death as is the ending. I wish the novel had been longer with the last third running an extra fifty-to-sixty pages. Though the middle was good, it seemed to drag in parts, especially with regards to the robbery sequence. A longer ending would have balanced this out.
One thing that ranks Mr. Golden with the top writers of today is his sheer brilliance with the written word. His style of writing is simple; yet, poignant. It would appear to be easy to emulate, but is actually quite difficult and takes years to master. This is a gifted writer at work. He should already be on The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List. He’s that good!
Great story development, fantastic characters, and bloody frightening creatures that are the stuff nightmares are born of. Get Snowblind and read it during the next blizzard if you can stand the branches knocking against your window at night. Who knows…maybe it’s not the branches at all.
September, 2013; $6.99 PB
Reviewed by K. H. Vaughan
This slim 48-page volume parodies the style of the classic Little Golden Books® that anyone who has had a childhood or been a parent knows far too well. How many time did I have to re-read the Saggy Baggy Elephant or Scuffy the Tugboat to my own kids? Impossible to count. These staid and realistic books with their strong sense of moral rectitude and earnest instruction have been a staple of American culture since the series entered print in 1942. Although more recent years have increased the diversity of themes and artistic styles, there has always been a signature look, and a distinct lack of whimsy or subversion. They are purely conventional, conservative and by the numbers, which is part of what makes this Little Horror Book from Shock Totem so effective.
Writer John Boden describes the piece as a having its origin in pieces of microflash fiction and experiments with structure. In a series of short vignettes, Boden gives us a fractured view of the apocalypse, including the day-to-day work of a soul-harvester, the breakdown of social order, and the mental and emotional collapse of everyday people confronted with a world in which the normal rules of the universe have suddenly come to a halt. The world is ending, but it does not appear to be the glorious Rapture that some fervently believe in. Boden provides glimpses as it all falls apart, piece by piece.
It is an experimental work, quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. The prose is lyrical and the imagery surreal. And despite the conceit that this is a children book, it is clearly far too explicit and disturbing for actual children. Dominoes provides the adult horror fan a unique experience that is designed to play with the reader’s expectations in distressing ways. The vision of the apocalypse within is horrifying, and the close focus on individual events instead of the big picture makes the book all the more disorienting and creepy. The imagery is specific and powerful, hinting at how truly terrible the world at large must be just outside our view.
In keeping with the theme, the book is illustrated by Yannick Bouchard, who has created a series of drawings that might not be out of place in a classic children’s picture book if it weren’t for the content. They are effective, both amplifying and disrupting the text. Sometimes the effect is explicitly graphic, and at others, far more subtle. For example, you might not notice the thin strands of line around the necks of the children on the cover at first. Realizing they are there is delicious in a darkly perverse way.
Books like Dominoes are a strong argument for supporting smaller publishing houses. A major house would not have taken a chance on a piece like this: too unusual, too disturbing. Boden has created a transgressive, disturbing, nasty little piece of art. It is a breath of fresh and tainted air in an otherwise conventional marketplace. Recommended.
By Brian James Freeman
Cemetery Dance Publications
Signed Limited Hardcover, $35.00, 99pp
Cover Illustrated by Vincent Chong
Interior illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne
Introduction by Ron McLarty
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
The magnificent Brian James Freeman, the publisher of Lonely Road Books and the author of The Painted Darkness, Blue November Storms, More Than Midnight, and Black Fire, is back with a new anthology of short stories. In this excellent collection, Weak and Wounded, the author ties all five stories together by leading the reader in one direction, and then on the very last page, slamming him in the side of the head and dragging him off, kicking and screaming, into another direction.
As Hannibal Lector might say, “This is rather slippery of you, Mr. Freeman.”
Oh, I should also point out that the author seems to have an innate distrust of therapists. Of course, if the therapist looked like Gillian Anderson from Hannibal, it might be different.
The new anthology opens up with a short Introduction by the profound actor and writer, Ron McLarty. This is quickly followed by the “Running Rain,” “Making the Passage of Time,” “Where Sunlight Sleeps,” “The Last Beautiful Day,” and “Walking With the Ghost of Pier 13.”
The first short story is “Running Rain,” which centers on a man who jogs around a small town as a way of wrestling with the deaths of son and several other teenagers at the hands of the Riverside Strangler. The pain hasn’t lessened, but the man has come to grips with the horrible tragedies. The real question to ask is who is the Riverside Strangler and why did he suddenly stop killing? The answer might just be in the story, if the reader pays close enough attention.
The second story is “Making the Passage of Time.” In this particular piece of fiction, a young couple is watching TV in bed when the world unexpectedly comes to an end. Everything happens so fast that they only have minutes to prepare themselves for the inevitable. As John and Julie barricade themselves inside the guest’s bathroom, stabling sheets of plastic over the door and vent, they begin thinking about how time is measured. The seconds are counted by them as the final moments in time draws nearer and their lives reach the apex of everything they once believed in.
“When Sunlight Sleeps” is the next short story in this brilliant anthology. In this tale of the macabre, a man takes his son out every Saturday on what’s called the “Mommy Tour.” You see, the man’s wife died six months before, and the little boy’s therapist suggested the tour as a way for him to open up the hidden spot inside himself (the place where sunlight never sleeps) and to eventually talk about his mother’s death. On the tour, the father takes his son where his parents worked and where they first met. Last is a tour of the Scenic View location in the national forest that the parents used to visit on a regular basis before the wife passed away. Of course, this being a story by Brian James Freeman (think Stephen King), the ending is rather revealing with a slight twist that takes the reader in an entirely different direction. And, it’s not necessarily a pleasant direction, either.
The fourth story is “The Last Beautiful Day,” and this one involves a man, whose wife lost her baby in the beginning stages of child birth. The man’s therapist makes the suggestion that he might handle the grief better if he takes a part-time job at the hospital (never listen to your therapist). Unfortunately for him the work entails dealing with people who have just lost their child. Though he hates the job, the man feels needed and responsible to those who have lost a newborn. It might be a beautiful day for others, but certainly not for him.
The final story is “Walking With the Ghosts of Pier 13.” The United States has been under attack by extremist fronts and outright terrorists, who desire nothing better than to blow themselves up amidst a crowd of people, taking dozens of innocent lives with them. A man visits Pier 13 on the coast of New Jersey where his brother was killed years before in a terrorist explosion. He wants to retain the memory of his brother and not let it die as newer memories push their way to the forefront of his mind. By the time the reader reaches this final story, he’s subconsciously searching for the twist that Brian James Freeman is so good at delivering. It’s here in spades as the man decides to visit New York City for one last time in remembrance of all the angry young men out there who desire to be heard.
One trait that author, Brian James Freeman, has is his richness with words. This is a writer that Dean Koontz might have mentored in his younger days. Mr. Freeman always manages to choose the correct word to depict a scene or to convey a character’s emotional outlook. You know the old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words? Well, with Mr. Freeman’s skill as a wordsmith, a single word is definitely worth a thousand pictures. This man knows how to write and to paint pictures inside the reader’s mind with his craftsmanship. At no time does the unveiling of a story seem forced or coerced. Rather, the words and sentences appear to flow effortlessly like molasses onto a hot bun, drawing the reader not only into the delightful tale, but also into the mind of the author.
I have to tell you that I’ve seen some pictures of Brian James Freeman. And, to all appearances, he seems to be perfectly normal. I mean he doesn’t have two heads, or horns, or anything of that nature. Still, it’s that mind of his that has you guessing and wondering about what devious new ideas are being brewed and stirred. Because I can guarantee you that they are, and that it won’t be long before he puts them down on paper to share with his growing legion of fans.
Smilowitch and Blackwood Publishing
September, 2013; $12.95 PB
Reviewed by Josh Black
Originally published in 2008, this 2013 reprint is technically David Fingerman’s first short story collection. A strong Twilight Zone vibe runs through the pages, but it isn’t just mimicry. Fingerman’s voice brings a distinctive flavor to the stories, drawing readers through the cracks of reality to see what’s just beyond. Divided into sections grouped by characters’ ages, the collection as a whole looks at the encroachment of the uncanny through all of life’s stages.
The first section, “Too Young To Know Any Better”, features stories in which the main characters are children. Most are creepy cautionary tales. There are killer toys, cursed objects, and the kinds of places and people your parents told you to stay away from. The stories here read very much like grown-up versions of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, and kids of all ages will delight in the darkness.
In the next section, “Old Enough To Know Better”, the characters are in their twenties and thirties. Some are aimless, others socially deviant, and some are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’ll come across alternate dimensions, ill-fated love, and a healthy dose of revenge by way of dark magic.
The journey through life continues in “Is This A Mid-Life Crisis?”, and crisis is quite an understatement. Here are bad habits with eternal consequences, a supernatural prison break, post-apocalypse vacationing, and fear of the dark leading to a very unexpected outcome.
The autumn years of life are reflected on in the final section, “Senior Moments”. Keeping with the rest of the book, these moments are anything but quiet. Death sentence reality shows make an appearance, as do scheming souls, cannibals, serial killers, and snow crabs. Yes, snow crabs.
Edging Past Reality does a good job of setting the stage for Fingerman’s next collection Two Degrees Closer to Hell, which tends to speculate on the afterlife. It’s also an entertaining, wonderfully macabre book in its own right. The unique structure gives a sense of progression, and the single-idea-based, no-frills approach of the stories is refreshingly old-fashioned. Fingerman’s stories bring to mind those of Matheson, Beaumont and Nolan. If much of what’s here seems familiar, it’s in a comforting sort of way. Edging Past Reality is a fine and twisted collection, a perfect choice for when you just want something to escape into.
by Noel Osualdini
Two policemen at the door. I wipe a spatter of blood from the glass.
First cop, accusingly: “Haven’t seen your wife around for a while, John.”
“At her mother’s,” I reply. I nudge a cold forelimb out of sight.
“And your kids?”
The hum of a bandsaw from the next room, whining as it hits bone. Stained sawdust at their feet.
“Can I help you two gentlemen with anything?” I venture.
The first cop regards something over my shoulder, points it out to his partner.
The second cop, reading: “Yeah, two barbeque packs and a kilo extra of sausages, thanks.”
By Todd Keisling
Precipice Books, 2011, $12.95, 179pp.
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
Todd Keisling is the author of A Life Transparent and The Liminal Man, both of which deal with the character of Donovan Candle: a rather ordinary person who works hard at the mundane things of life so he can take care of his family and not be troubled with the more important aspects such as happiness and satisfaction and self-fulfillment. The fact that he inadvertently gets involved in rather bizarre situations is what gives these two novels the cutting edge they need to stand above the rest.
The novel, A Life Transparent, is the first in this series and introduces the reader to Donovan Candle and the boring job he has as a telephone salesman. He tries to make the everyday quota of sales and to work his way up the ladder to a better position, but his heart just isn’t in it. That doesn’t stop him from being disappointed when he doesn’t get the expected raise or promotion.
When Candle leaves work, he goes home to a wonderful wife. However, truth be told, he’s bored with his marriage as well, but attempts to hide it from his spouse. He does admire his brother, and the freedom the man has as a private detective. He even uses his brother as the main character in a novel he’s been working on for years, but can’t seem to finish.
In other words, Candle’s life is weary, tedious, and uninteresting. He’s not happy with the ways things are, but hey, that’s life.
Things, however, begin to slowly change as Candle starts seeing bizarre apparitions and appears to become transparent to those around him. The man believes he’s becoming crazy. All of that really takes a dive for the worse when Candle’s wife is abducted by a mysterious stranger, who believes he needs a little excitement in his rather boring life. To get his wife back, Candle has to find a person who somehow managed to escape the clutches of the stranger. Unfortunately, once the person is found, Candle realizes that he’s in for a bigger fight…one he might not win without the help of his brother.
What makes this story so good is the underlying theme about how so many people are truly bored with their jobs and marriages and lives. Boy, did this novel hit the nail on the head. The fact is that the majority of people fit this description to a tee. They’re living their lives with a ho-hum attitude and don’t know how to change things for the better or to escape their dire predicament.
What Todd Keisling offers the reader is a supernatural answer to their apparent dilemma, which will hopefully open their eyes to the reality of their life and how lucky they actually are. Often times it takes something drastic to wake a person up so they can see what’s really holding them back. In most cases, it’s simply themselves and their fear of achieving the things they want.
A Life Transparent makes you think and question your own life and how to change a negative into a positive without having to go through what Donovan Candle experiences.
I’m avidly anticipating the second book in the series, The Liminal Man, and finding out where Donovan Candle is in his life and how he’s changed it so he experiences more happiness and fulfillment with his wife, the upcoming child, and his new job with his brother. I suspect that novel will make the reader think as well, which is always good. We need to be questioning our lives so we know if we’re on the right path or not. Books that make you think and question your reality are simply the best, and I wish there were more of them for the readers out there.