2012 Year End Blog Round-up

I enjoyed last year’s year-end blog post round-up, so here is a brief post summarizing and reflecting on the last year at Tales from the Bookworm’s Lair.

I wrote 46 new blog posts this year (including this one), which is certainly on the low side, but I hope to boost my numbers in 2013! What can I say, finishing a dissertation and starting a full-time college teaching gig takes a lot of time and doesn’t leave much room left for reading and blogging about books.

Here are the top search terms that visitors have used to reach my blog:

tintin covers
doc savage
tin tin
choose your own adventure
tintin cover
cthulhu mythos
the ship that sailed to mars
fuck me ray bradbury
james bama doc savage covers
classic vampire novels
alternative book titles
doc savage covers
alternate book titles
tin tin covers
tintin cover art
amazing stories
celebrity libraries
stephen king books
doc savage cover art
the insidious dr. fu manchu
the swap academy greg stevens

Obviously I need to write more about Tintin and Doc Savage!

Here are the most popular blog posts I’ve done thus far (my general home page gets the most hits by far, but people also seem drawn to particular posts):

Making reading sexy
Great “new” Doc Savage and Tintin Covers
Book Review: The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu, by Sax Rohmer
Classic fantasy novel: The Ship That Sailed to Mars by William Timlin
Choose Your Own Adventure books analysis
New interview with Doc Savage cover artist James Bama
Stephen King Flowchart
20 celebrity libraries
Cartographic analysis of maps in fantasy novels
Review: Hell Island by Matthew Reilly
Alternate book titles for the classics
Modern science is catching up with occult tomes
Book Review: That Which Should Not Be by Brett J. Talley
Book Review: The Hunt for Bin Laden: Task Force Dagger by Robin Moore
Rachel Bloom has finally met Ray Bradbury
Review: Nick Carter #53: The Arab Plague
New Doc Savage novels!
Book review: Roberts Ridge: A Story of Courage and Sacrifice on Takur Ghar Mountain, Afghanistan by Malcolm MacPherson
10 classic vampire novels that inspired Anno Dracula
Book Review: Level 26: Dark Origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski

So what do these results tell us? I’m not entirely sure, but several things are apparent:

1. Not much has changed since last year. These results are all remarkably similar to those from December 31, 2011.
2. My post regarding The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society (link NSFW) was probably the single most popular blog post I’ve ever done, and has returned the most traffic to my blog of any site. As I said last year, carry on, ladies! May your outdoor reading adventures continue into the New Year, especially when it gets a little warmer.
3. Readers STILL love both Doc Savage and Tintin, and are frequently visiting in search of more. I didn’t write anything new about those series this year, but obviously there’s a great deal of interest in them, so I probably should.
4. As I said last year, t’s never clear to me what readers will enjoy and what they won’t, and that’s ok. I write this blog almost entirely for myself. However, I love interacting with readers, and hope to encourage more of that in the new year (suggestions on how to do that are always welcome). Here’s hoping I have a bit more time for reading, reviewing, and blogging in 2013. Now that I am also reviewing for Hellnotes (and reposting those reviews here after a brief delay), I am reading and reviewing even more horror-themed fiction than usual, but that’s not at all a bad thing.

I have several new blog posts queued up for the new year, and will open with something I had never done before: interview an author. So look for that soon. I will also have to include a post or two about recent book acquisitions (when not blogging I have been having a number of new book-related adventures) and some long-overdue commentary about the state of the book industry (writing, publishing, retailing, reading).

Just to close things out — and because I don’t like to do posts that don’t include an image to accompany a wall of text — here’s a picture of me reading my Kindle on the couch with my Chihuahua Crisco, who is apparently exhausted from all the reading that he’s been doing.
photo (2)

Hope the new year brings you many great books!

Book Review: Hard Bite by Anonymous-9

HB_1000Hard Bite
Blasted Heath, 2012
ISBN-10: 1480093084
140pp. eBook $2.99

As soon as I read the brief synopsis of the plot – a paraplegic injured in a car accident uses his helper monkey to get revenge on hit-and-run-drivers – I knew I had to read it. While I wasn’t too sure who “Anonymous-9” was, but this is a premise like that demands a closer look.

Mild plot spoilers follow.

Dean Drayhart was an ordinary guy until the car accident. He was paralyzed from the waist down, his daughter was killed, and his wife left him. Now he’s trapped in a motorized wheelchair, though he does have a cute little helper monkey named Sid to perform small tasks that Dean can’t. Because he doesn’t have a lot of reasons to live, Dean decides to embark on an unlikely path: he becomes a vigilante who targets hit-and-run drivers, with Sid as his weapon of choice. Dean’s plan works for a while until Sid rips out the throat of a Mexican drug lord, then all hell breaks loose. Dean and Sid rapidly become the targets of both the police and a ruthless Mexican drug cartel. The cartel grabs Dean’s nurse to force him to surrender as he, Sid, and Dean’s streetwalker girlfriend have to dodge cops and crooks alike.

This is a pretty gritty noir tale – Dean starts off in a rough situation and things only go downhill from there – while also being ridiculously funny at the same time (a paralyzed serial killer with a pet assassin-monkey). Despite the inherent darkness of the plot, Dean (and Sid) are portrayed sympathetically. We know that the things Dean does are terrible but yet, he’s suffered tremendously and he only targets those who have escaped justice. It’s a tough balancing act, but Anonymous-9 (nom de plume of Elaine Ash) does a good job with it. Obviously the premise is an engaging one, and characterization and dialogue are likewise strong. While HARD BITE starts as a serial killer/vigilante novel told from Dean’s perspective, about halfway through we also have interludes told from the perspective of the detectives trying to unravel a series of odd but related crimes and Orella Malalinda, the badass woman who heads a drug cartel and wants to find the man (and monkey) who killed her son.

HARD BITE isn’t a long novel, and because it’s fast-paced you’ll finish it before you know it. It has such an audacious and outlandish premise that there are few similar books I can point to. It’s reminiscent of some of Duane Swierczynski’s work, so if you enjoy a blend of pulpy violence with dark comedy, I think you’ll like HARD BITE. Recommended.

Buy the book on Amazon

Review copyright © 2012 J. Andrew Byers

Review: Fireproof by Gerard Brennan

Gerard Brennan
Blasted Heath, 2012
248pp. eBook $0.99

Irish author Gerard Brennan’s FIREPROOF is described as “equal parts crime fiction, dark urban fantasy and black comedy.” Not having read any of Brennan’s previous work – though his WEE ROCKETS seems to have garnered a lot of critical attention – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I know that Brennan is mainly known as a writer of gritty crime fiction, and there’s certainly plenty of that here. But this is also a darkly comedic supernatural horror novel.

Mild plot spoilers follow.

Mike Rocks was not an altogether bad guy – he’s extremely funny and charismatic after all – but he did some bad things when he was alive. Now that he’s dead he’s found himself in Hell and being tormented by demons. Mike’s a quick-talking kind of guy and he works a deal with Satan for a chance to get out of Hell: all he has to do is create a mass movement on Earth that will make Satan popular. No problem, right? Mike’s not quite sure how he’ll manage to pull that off, but he figures he might as well give it his best shot. He does, however, also have some unfinished business to take care of. Now that he’s back on the mean streets of modern-day Belfast, he wants to get revenge on the thugs who killed him. Along the way, Mike meets a girl named Cathy who falls for him. She’s got some issues of her own, though: while she’s a sweet social worker, she also wants to become a contract killer. Mike founds the True Church of Satan on Earth, enlisting an unlikely blend of street thugs, goth kids, and various rebels and thrillseekers. He’s got to keep his infernal master happy while pursuing his own agenda, and maybe – just maybe – finding a way to not have to return to Hell.

Characterization is clearly one of Brennan’s strengths, and the demons we encounter (Lucifer, Cerebus the multi-headed hellhound of mythological fame, an especially annoying imp, etc.) are all especially entertaining. I should note that there’s plenty of violence in FIREPROOF – this certainly isn’t just a humor-filled look at the afterlife – including some scenes of fairly gruesome torture. Fans of crime fiction and horror won’t be disappointed on that score. But this isn’t an unrelentingly dark novel; there’s plenty of room for humor, and yes, redemption as well. It’s got a quick-moving, humorous plot that I could easily see filmed as a dark comedy along the lines of Little Nicky or Bedazzled.

FIREPROOF fills an odd niche: it’s got brutal violence, street criminals and low lives, overt supernatural happenings, and dark comedy. I don’t know that I can name a single other book that’s got all that. I enjoyed FIREPROOF. The plot zips right along, the characters are interesting, the dialogue fast and natural-sounding. Recommended for those who like some comedy with their horror/crime thrillers.

Buy the book on Amazon

Review copyright © 2012 J. Andrew Byers

Book Review: A Book of Horrors, ed. Stephen Jones

a-book-of-horrors2It’s a rare treat these days to get a brand-new horror anthology with top-notch authors and all never-before-published stories, but that’s exactly what master anthologist Stephen Jones delivers. After a short introduction in which Jones laments the rise of paranormal romance and similar fiction, the collection offers fifteen all-new stories. I’ll provide brief descriptions and impressions of each tale.

Mild plot spoilers follow.

Stephen King, “The Little Green God of Agony”: A nice little Stephen King short story that showcases King’s abundant talents, but is ultimately a little forgettable, and therefore just a middling kind of story for the likes of King. He clearly writes from the heart on this one: it’s the story of rich man who can buy anything but relief from the chronic pain he suffers. He’s tried everything to end his pain, except do the years of intensive physical therapy his doctors recommend. He finally calls in a different kind of pain relief specialist. An interesting look at the nature of pain from someone who’s certainly experienced a lot of it. Recommended.

Caitlin R. Kiernan, “Charcloth, Firesteel and Flint”: I hesitate to say much about this one, lest I ruin the fun. Suffice it to say, this is a story about a hitchhiker who is more than she appears to be, and a driver who picks up a hitchhiker who is also more than he appears. And fire. Fire is the essential element here. Kiernan’s writing is very evocative, using deep mythological and historical themes to paint a dark picture without directly depicting any actual blood, death, terror, etc. That takes real talent. Very well done.

Peter Crowther, “Ghosts with Teeth”: I’m just going to say it – I didn’t like this one. It’s a ghost story (I guess, though maybe it’s a story of spirit/demonic possession?), but it’s one of those horror stories that plays it so coyly with the reader that you can never tell what’s actually going on. There are some interesting elements, but in general, I’m not entirely sure I know what happened in the story, so I can’t recommend it.

Angela Slatter, “The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter”: A very nice piece about a female coffin-maker in a world where coffin-making is both artistic and necessary to ensure that the dead stay dead. The protagonist is tormented by the ghost of her dead father – or is she? – and both she and her client have ulterior motives, which provides some interesting conflict to drive the story. I’d actually have liked to see Slatter do a little more with differentiating her setting from our own world’s historical past, but this is a short piece, so I understand why that additional fleshing-out of the setting may not have been possible. It’s well done though.

Brian Hodge, “Roots and All”: Take a modern-day rural community that’s been overrun by meth producers and sellers and add in some creepy, old-fashioned folktales and local legends. Ends on a dark note, with no easy answers. This was a nice long story, and one of my favorites in the collection.

Dennis Etchison, “Tell Me I’ll See You Again”: Very short piece about a group of children who fake elaborate deaths. Unfortunately pretty forgettable.

John Ajvide Lindqvist, “The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer”: The first piece I’ve read from the Swedish creator of “Let the Right One In,” but I’m looking forward to reading more from him. Dark and moody story – and I think a uniquely Scandinavian one – about a widower and his son who move into a new home while dealing with their grief. It’s a story about their broken, distant relationship as much as it is about a murderous ghost. Very good stuff.

Ramsey Campbell, “Getting It Wrong”: Eric Edgeworth is not a very nice man. Sure, he may know a lot about films (though clearly not as much as he thinks he does), but he’s not the guy you want to call for help if you’re a participant on a quiz show. Campbell is nearly always reliable, and this story is no exception: nicely dark, though subtlely so, with a definite sardonic humor about it. Lots of fun.

Robert Shearman, “Alice Through the Plastic Sheet”: A bizarre little tale about some creepy new neighbors who move in next door and start causing problems, despite the fact that they’re never seen. Vaguely amusing, and I got what Shearman was going for here, but not one of my favorites in this very strong collection.

Lisa Tuttle, “The Man in the Ditch”: A young couple with a troubled past move into an isolated home in a rural area. It’s a simple enough ghost story, but surprisingly effective. Extremely spooky with a great ending.

Reggie Oliver, “A Child’s Problem”: Take a moment and Google the 1857 painting entitled “The Child’s Problem” by Patrice Richard Dadd. Pretty creepy image, right? That’s a pivotal scene in this novella. In many ways, this story is constructed as a kind of backstory for that painting. The story of a young aristocratic British boy sent to live with his emotionally distant, unpleasant uncle on an old estate where mysterious happenings abound. Oliver shows himself to be an outstanding writer, and is certainly a worthy successor of authors like M. R. James and others who wrote nineteenth-century antiquarian ghost stories. Extremely well done and enjoyable, even if you think you don’t like nineteenth-century ghost stories.

Michael Marshall Smith, “Sad, Dark Thing”: A man without much reason to go on living happens upon a “sad, dark thing” (that I won’t, and can’t, reveal). Sorry for the enigmatic description, but it’s better I not reveal too much. A bit more characterization could have made this even stronger, but I thought Smith did a superb job with this under-stated premise.

Elizabeth Hand, “Near Zennor”: Probably the longest tale in the collection, and certainly one of the strongest. An architect, grieving over the death of his wife, returns to the rural area where his wife grew up to find out more about her childhood after discovering some odd letters she wrote to a children’s book author as a young girl. Extremely evocative and hinting at a great deal – certainly one of those occasions in which the story is immeasurably strengthened by the fact that the reader (and protagonist) don’t actually know exactly what is going on. A real sense of dread and foreboding throughout. This story was sufficiently strong that it made me seek out other work by Elizabeth Hand.

Richard Christian Matheson, “Last Words”: Nice, short, haunting little closing story about a serial killer and the people he has killed. I don’t want to say more so as to not spoil it for you. A great piece, and a great way to close the anthology.

All in all, despite a couple misses – almost inevitable in an ambitious collection like this one – this is book that’s a must-read for fans of horror, especially those interested in horror fiction that’s neither paranormal romance nor torture porn. I also like that the collection includes brief afterwords by the authors reflecting on their stories; those are all-too-uncommon these days, and I appreciate it when an editor takes the time to solicit commentary from authors. The stories by King, Kiernan, Hodge, Oliver, Hand, and Matheson make this one a must-read. Several additional stories come close to hitting this very high bar. You simply must pick up a copy of A BOOK OF HORRORS.

Buy the book on Amazon

Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers

Book Review: JournalStone’s 2011 Warped Words: 90 Minutes to Live, ed. Joel Kirkpatrick

Front-Cover-Image1In 2011, JournalStone, a small but growing publishing company that specializes in horror, science fiction, and fantasy literature, sponsored a writing contest. The criteria were simple: the stories had to contain two elements – the idea of “90 minutes to live” and a lock of human hair. The best contest entries are presented here in this anthology. The results, as with almost every anthology, range in appeal and presentation, but I have to say that this was one of the most enjoyable collections I’ve read in a while. The genres covered range from horror to science fiction to young adult fiction, but almost out of necessity – given the themes – the stories tend toward a dark tone.

Some minor plot spoilers follow, though I won’t give away major twists. Also, because I plan to briefly mention each story, I won’t delve too deeply into any of them. The best stories, I found, were the ones that used the “90 minutes to live” element to good effect; I thought the lock of hair element worked well in a few of the stories, but was either a very minor element or seemed too forced in others. If I had a suggestion for JournalStone’s next contest, it would be to only have a single, broad story element requirement.

Mild plot spoilers follow.

1st Place Winner: “Dead Already” by John La Rue. Great story that was set, perhaps unexpectedly, on a derelict spaceship in the aftermath of a major war. The set-up worked well, the science elements of the story were smart and made sense, and the characters’ histories were intriguing. It all came together in this one, and I can see why JournalStone awarded the story first place. I’d actually really like to delve more into this story’s setting, so let’s hope that La Rue writes a follow-on story.

2nd Place Winner: “Godforsaken” by Brad Carpenter. A nicely done, visceral horror tale of a retired special effects artist who gets in way over his head with some found footage of a body horror film. I could see where the story was going immediately, but it was well done and I enjoyed the ride nevertheless. If you’re a fan of, say, the SAW films and wondered how that might play out with a touch of the supernatural, look no further.

3rd Place Winner: “Acapulco Blue” by Bruce Golden. An old guy living in a future utopia/dystopian (as always, depends on your perspective) has one last chance to strike a blow for human freedom. Short but engaging. I’m not entirely sure I would have given it 3rd place, given the strength of some of the other stories in the collection, but I certainly enjoyed it.

“The Writer” by Jeffrey Wilson. Horror stories about horror authors are almost a sub-genre unto themselves, but this one works well. Nice and creepy.

“An Eye for an Eye” by Brett J. Talley. I have come to really enjoy Brett Talley’s work, and this story was no exception. A quick little piece about a man who is buried alive, with a real gutpunch of an ending. Good stuff.

“House of Roses” by Jasmine Cabanaw. Nice little haunted house story about a young couple and an engagement ring that’s more than it appears.

“City of Fire” by Timothy Miller. Science fiction tale of a world that’s facing its apocalypse. Fast-moving action yarn.

“Roque’s Requiem” by Bill Patterson. A very touching story of a disaster befalling a near-future space station and true heroism. Great story.

“The Glade” by Peter Orr. One of the few fantasy stories in the collection about a very bad man facing his own mortality. I hesitate to say more lest I ruin the surprise. Great piece, and one of the few stories in the collection to convincingly integrate the lock of hair required element along with the 90 minutes to live element.

“Baby Girl” by Nu Yang. Crime tale set in a paranormal romance/urban fantasy Southern California setting. It was fairly well done, but this kind of setting just isn’t usually my cup of tea.

“Uninvited” by J. G. Faherty. It takes a lot for a young adult story to meet my expectations, and this one didn’t quite hit the mark. A couple of teenagers meddle with some super-technology, make contact with another world, and terrible things happen. Not bad, I was just looking for something a little deeper.

“Mack and Stretch Save the Earth” by David Perlmutter. A young adult/science fiction story. To me, this one bombed. At the end of the story, I think I “got” what the author was going for, but I just didn’t care for the result.

Honorable Mention: “In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree” by Jennifer Phillips. A very short tale that’s hauntingly beautiful. The story of a comatose patient with “locked-in syndrome” facing certain doom from the oncoming tsunami in Indonesia. No supernatural elements whatsoever, but undeniably good.

I enjoyed this collection a great deal and recommend it to those looking for some dark explorations of the human condition. In hindsight, I think that the “90 minutes to live” element was strong enough to stand on its own. I’m not sure that the requirement that a lock of hair also figure into the stories added much. The stories in this collection were, by and large, very successful, which is a real tribute to the authors, since most of them don’t have a great many published works under their belt. I fully expect that we’ll be seeing much more from some of them. Highly recommended.

Buy the book on Amazon

Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers