Spectre - Stephen Laws

This book was dumb as dog feces, but I had a helluva time with it. It’s gory and over-the-top in that glitzy, shameless way only good bad horror fiction from the 1980s can be.


The story of seven friends (six guys, one girl) haunted by an unfortunate happening in their younger years, this is a horror thriller that should not feel original but does. Sure, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel; but it isn’t a thoughtless hack job, either. If it hadn’t come out the same year as Stephen King’s It I would assume this was a cash-in on that novel’s gargantuan success, but it did come out in 1986 and it makes for an interesting snapshot of where horror literature was in the mid-80s.


Though not particularly scary (and just so goofy), I do feel this novel is a success and I am now interested in reading other releases by Stephen Laws. It is a shame he isn’t more known amongst modern horror fans.

Original post:




The Woods are Dark - Richard Laymon

4.5 stars rounded up!


Wow! This was my first Richard Laymon novel and I was not disappointed. I know Laymon has a bit of a bad reputation (as in, he’s known for writing trashy horror), so I was a bit hesitant when starting this short tale of a few people lost in the woods and on the run from an incestuous family of cannibals that . . . practice witchcraft? I think?


Oh, and the Devil shows up too. In literal monster form.


Needless to say, this thing is intense. I could not — and did not — want to put it down.

The whole time I was reading, I felt like I was reading Jack Ketchum’s Off Season (which is funny, since they were both published in 1981), only I enjoyed this one much more. Maybe it’s because I was able to sympathize more with the characters, despite Ketchum arguably fleshing his creations out more. I dunno. Laymon did a good job, here, of giving me just enough information to make the characters distinctive and likable without getting bogged down in back story. This one is all action, all horror, from the start.


Easily the scariest book I’ve read this month thus far, I liked this one much more than I expected and I hope to squeeze in another Laymon before the end of March.

Original post:



Hell Hound - Grady Hendrix, Ken Greenhall, Jessica Hamilton

Ken Greenhall’s long-forgotten horror masterpiece, Hell Hound, is finally getting the recognition it deserves, thanks to a recent reissue. This was my first novel by this author, but it certainly won’t be my last.


This tale — one of a psychotic and cunning Bull Terrier — is bloody and mean and aims for the throat; told in precise prose, this is a terrifying hellraiser not concerned with sentimentality or sympathy. The obvious comparison is to Stephen King’s Cujo, though these stories are wildly different. Of the two, Cujo is perhaps better written, but something must be said for this book’s heartlessness.


This is a novel more horror readers should be aware of. The length of a long novella, this is a quick, effective read: one that is finally getting its due.

Original post:



The House Next Door - Anne Rivers Siddons

When compiling a list of vintage horror books to read and review this month, my first and best source was Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. Invaluable was it in determining which novels I wanted to take a chance on it. In Danse King spends three or four pages dissecting this — Anne Siddons’s 1978 release, The House Next Door, one of the smartest and most atmospheric haunted house tales I’ve read yet.


Told from the point of view of Colquitt Kennedy, an upper-middle class woman living in an upscale Atlanta suburb with her husband, Walter, this unfolding of the mysterious and macabre does not happen quickly; this author deals in dread, letting her readers squirm. I love that quality in horror from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and it’s something that seems to have been lost sometime in the ‘80s. Quiet terror with a focus on the psychological is much more effective, to me, than buckets of guts and blood and dismembered bodies.


Not only does The House Next Door work as a horror show, but is also works — at times — as a satire. Siddons gleefully mocks the foibles of suburban life: the block parties, the whispering neighbors, the hypocrisy — all unfolding in houses with freshly manicured lawns and evenly painted shutters. Because of that, this story feels authentically American. The author’s sense of setting, locale, is impeccable.


This is one of the finest haunted house stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading. While not as explosive as The Shining or as iconic as The Haunting of Hill House, this very much deserves to get a look from horror fans.

Original post:



The Revelation - Bentley Little

I think this is the scariest Bentley Little novel I’ve read. The Mailman was scary, too, though; it is a hard call. Regardless, Little’s debut novel is a shocker, almost sure to rattle the nerves of even the most jaded horror reader.


A wave of crime is hitting the small town of Randall, Arizona. Churches are desecrated. A local minister and his family have gone missing. Fires are set. Over the course of only a few days, this town goes straight to Hell and it’s up to a handful of people to save it. Perhaps this is not the most original plot, but it is fun — and herein can be found a few excellent twists.


I could not put this one down, and I defy anyone to do so once this book is begun. One of the finest horror debuts I’ve had the pleasure of reading, Bentley Little’s tale of a small town’s destruction is a corker.

Original post:



The Front Runner - Patricia Nell Warren

“The angel of death had cruised him. Death, that hustler, that last lover.”


Published between the era of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, and the AIDS crisis, The Front Runner is a very blunt and honest look at homosexuality in the world of American sports, circa 1975. By its time’s standards — as well as the current day — this book is progressive; the ideas are daring, the revelations unflinching. The front cover calls it “controversial” and “unusual” and “as moving as any love story ever written.” I would agree with all those descriptors. What is this novel? It is a tragedy.


The first person narrator is a college track coach quickly entering middle age. In the fall of ‘74 he received three candidates for his team — three boys kicked out of their previous school for their homosexuality. He, the coach, being gay himself, takes them under his wing; a romantic relationship between he and one of the boys soon develops.


This book is almost certain to make any reader a little uncomfortable; good literature does that. This challenges every societal norm of its time and even some that are still in place today. While a bit excessively dated at times (some of the male characters are a bit too chauvinistic for my tastes), this story can be enjoyed by modern audiences. The pacing, too, is an issue — the middle is a bit of a slog, at times — but the noteworthy beginning and extraordinarily written finale more than make up for it.



Original post:



My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult has a talent for making her readers consider, and reconsider, issues they’ve never thought much of before. At the center of this, perhaps her most famous novel, is medical emancipation: a thirteen-year-old girl wants to have control of her own body; she doesn’t want to leave decisions up to her parents.


Anna’s older sister, Kate, has fought Cancer since the age of two. She is doing badly, nearly dead, when Anna has had enough and consults a lawyer about filing a petition to emancipate herself. She’s had to donate body organs to her sister time and time again, from birth, with no say.


This book is competently written, but I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I expected to. The first half dragged; Julia and Campbell’s relationship seems forced; the ending is tragedy porn. The topic at the novel’s center is intriguing, as is always the case with Picoult . . . This one just didn’t entirely get off the ground, for me. I found myself indifferent to the plight of this family. I never felt I was in their heads.


I can recommend this to fans of Picoult, but no one else.

Original post: