Reviews – Two Books & A Movie

According to my Blog Calendar, this is the weekend I should be posting some sort of review, be it a book or a movie. This time around, being as I’ve been so intent on finishing up the first draft of my next Barnesville Chronicle novel this past month, reading anything too long and deep just hasn’t happened.

I haven’t watched any movies worth reviewing. Unless stating that The Adventures of Baron Munchausen isn’t my cup of tea, counts as a review. Technically it’s not a Monty Python movie, but Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle were both involved in its creation, as was Robin Williams! You’d think with that sort of line-up, it’d be something more amazing than I found it to be. It just left me confused and wondering what sort of drug Gilliam was on when he came up with all this. About halfway through, I decided I had more interesting things to do, like sort through my dresser for old clothes worthy of being donated somewhere.

Moving along, I did do a bit of reading.

Dreaming At The Top Of My Lungs by Israel Finn is a collection of short stories of the horror variety. There’s always a touch of envy in me for people who can pull off a successful short story. In a mere 112 pages, Israel managed to keep me fully engaged and amused for about ten days. As with any collection or anthology, by even the most famous of writers, there are going to be stories that readers will enjoy more than others. I have to be honest and say that there were a few in this collection I didn’t quite ‘get’ or felt like they were lacking somehow. However, the majority of them I thoroughly enjoyed and enough so that I’d easily consider picking up more work from this up-and-coming author. My biggest complaint about this book is that it was far, far too short.

Loch Ness Revenge by Hunter Shea was another quick read for me, coming in at 141 pages. Hunter is a pro at sucking the reader in and half-chewing them before spitting them back out covered in blood, goo, and whatever other sorts of partially digested stomach contents may have been in there at the time. And I mean that in nicest way possible. If you enjoy monster killing mayhem and madness, you really should check out not just Loch Ness Revenge, but all his other cryptid tales. I have the same complaint with this as I did Israel’s book – too short. I wanted more details about the characters and their lives, but with these shorter books, Hunter’s skills and talents as a story teller aren’t being put to their full potential. I really do prefer his novel length works. For me, a story is only as good as how well I get to know the players.

Short and sweet this time around, folks. I have some thicker works reaching the top of my TBR pile now and with first draft of my latest Barnesville Chronicle, The Witch’s Backbone finally done, maybe I’ll find some breathing room to do more reading.

Book Review – The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

As a female horror author, I decided last fall it was high time I read what is considered to be one of the first Gothic novels written by a woman, “The Mysteries of Udolpho” by Ann Radcliffe.

My first encounter with Gothic literature came at around the age of twelve. I’ve always been big into vampires, and as luck would have it, my best friend’s brother had a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that he was willing to let me have it. 19th Century novels are hard enough for most adults, but I was a determined reader and pushed my way through. I went on to read it at least ten more times over the years, each time understanding a little bit more.

From Stoker, I moved on to Poe, Dickens, and Hawthorne all on a voluntary basis, plus whatever reading of that period that was required of us for English classes such as Mark Twain. After high school, I discovered the likes of Willkie Collins, Emily Bronte, and Oscar Wilde. As a Civil War reenactor for nearly ten years, I wanted to learn more about the period based on the diaries which led me to the likes of Sarah Morgan, Rose Greenhow, and Mary Chestnut.

All this being the long-winded way of saying I am familiar with the ins and outs of 18th-19th century writing. Speaking of long-winded, let’s talk about the novel in question.

The Mysteries of Udolpho, published in 1794, takes us on what is now considered a typical Gothic adventure. A life of peace and happiness is shattered when young Emily is left a poor orphan and placed in the cruel hands of her nearest relative. In this case, an aunt. During Emily’s happier days she meets and falls in love with a handsome cavalier named Valencourt. But, alas, this love struck couple will not find it so easy to be married and live happily ever after. First, Emily must be torn from her native land of France to reside in Italy with her heartless aunt and uncle who want to marry her off to a wealthy friend who’s old enough to be Emily’s father. But, Emily’s heart has sworn allegiance to Valencourt and she’ll have no business with her elderly suitor. Next, she is removed to the isolated fortress of Castle Udolpho where, after the death of her aunt, it seems as if Emily is destined to suffer the same fate at the hands of her greedy uncle.

Getting to this point, unfortunately, took half the book and with a total of over 600 pages, that’s a long and somewhat tedious amount of reading. And yet, much like slogging my way through Dracula as a twelve-year-old, I persisted and emerged victorious. But, did Emily? Will she ever escape her treacherous uncle and the prison Castle Udolpho has become? Who is the mysterious male figure she keeps seeing at night moving about on the battlements? What of the female ghost-like apparition being reported by the servants and seen by Emily herself? Will she and Valencourt ever set eyes on each other again? I’m not telling!

Dark, brooding, and suspenseful, it’s easy to see how The Mysteries of Udolpho set the stage for so many other Gothic novels that would follow and why it was so popular with the ladies of its hay day. A tough read at times, but well worth the effort and satisfaction I got when I was finally able to close the covers knowing at long last, the eluded to mysteries of Udolpho.

Due to it taking half the novel to get to the good stuff, I’m giving it –

3 out of 5 Ravens

Book Review – Maledicus by Charles F. French

Roosevelt, Sam, and Jeremy are retired men living in a small town in eastern Pennsylvania. Each has suffered the tragic and overwhelming loss of a loved one. Together they have formed The Investigative Paranormal Society. The group is called to investigate the home of a local school teacher whose young niece is being frightened by a something in the house. Little do they know this no ordinary haunting, but one powered by a pure, unapologetic evil straight from the depth of Hell known as Maledicus.

I really like the author’s idea of using men of retirement age as his investigative team. I envisioned old wise men, the voices of reason and wisdom, and it seemed they would be a welcome change from the ghost taunting, over-dramatic, everything-bad-is-demonic, youngsters we see on all those ghost hunting shows.

What I got was a rather dry and somewhat academic-tainted story being told to me without a whole lot of emotion. The chapters devoted to the creation and back story of the title character were pretty interesting, but I found it next to impossible to envision or invest anything into what was going on with any of the other characters.

The dialogue doesn’t feel natural. Unnecessary exposition told me things I didn’t need to know nor did I care about it or I was told the same thing numerous times. On meeting the school teacher and her niece, I wanted to see and feel their bond, not just be told about it. Show them doing things together, don’t simply tell me about it and expect me to care. When the aunt is approached by her niece and told that a ‘bad man’ is frightening her, we aren’t shown how. Show me the child’s terror. The ghost hunters don’t even interview the little girl before investigating. Considering the stories we are told about Maledicus and his methods of torturing people while living, he wasn’t very creative in his semi-demon form. He gives the child a mysterious illness. That’s it? C’mon, Mal! You can do better than that!

Point Of View would change and jump around at very odd times. Quite often a section would begin with Character A’s POV, then jump for a paragraph to Character B’s POV, then back to Character A again.

I like a horror story that plunges me into the darkness, despair, terror and HORROR that the character’s experience. Take me down with them and scare me. Make me want to read the next chapter and stay up late doing so to see how they get out of it … if they do! This book did none of that.

Additionally, the font size used was too small and along with numerous typos, did not make for as an enjoyable read as I’d hoped.

TWO out of FIVE Ravens

Book Review – The Montauk Monster by Hunter Shea

So, you think you know the Montauk Monster, do you? You may want to think again. Horror author and Monster Man, Hunter Shea has a theory. Let’s hope he’s wrong.

In July 2008 a mysterious creature was found dead on a beach in Montauk, NY. Guesses of what the creature was ranged from a raccoon, a shell-less turtle, a small sheep, and a dog. But the most interesting guess was it was an experiment from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center nearby. Had this been a singular, isolated case perhaps less would have been thought of it. However, another odd-looking unidentified creature was found in March of 2011 in Northville, NY. In July 2012, a similar one appeared beneath the Brooklyn Bridge in the East River in New York City. Finally in December 2014, a forth body washed up on a beach in Santa Barbara, California.

MontaukMonster_Beach2   MontaukMonster_Beach

Enter Hunter Shea, creator of “Swamp Monster Massacre”, “The Jersey Devil”, and “Loch Ness Revenge”, horror novels where the author takes what we think we know about these legendary cryptids and twists them into blood-thirsty terrors, hell bent on destruction. “The Montauk Monster” is no exception. Where did these things come from, because believe you me, there’s more than one. Are they lab experiments or freaks of nature? Most importantly, how can they be stopped? Once you take Shea’s hand there’s no letting go. He takes off on a dead run from start to finish as one attack after another and the efforts to stop them are presented to us in all their gory Technicolor glory.

This is my fifth Hunter Shea novel and it’s become my favorite. With the others he uses a cryptid with known attributes. We know what Bigfoot looks like and, in general, their preferred habitat. The legend of the Jersey Devil has been around for hundreds of years, as have stories of Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster. We know them and in many cases, have grown to love them. Not so with the Montauk Monster. He’s new. He’s different. He’s anybody’s guess. I really enjoyed what Shea did with this one because it was so much his own creation, based less on what we know and more on our wildest, weirdest, and most terrifying speculations.

To learn more about Hunter, his monstrous menagerie, and other tales of terror check out his website: https://huntershea.com/

Five out of Five Ravens.

Book Review – THEY RISE by Hunter Shea

Because apparently sharks, jellyfish, sting rays, electric eels, fire corral, lion fish, sea snakes, stone fish, octopus, and squid are just not enough to keep some people out of the water, author Hunter Shea has come up with yet another nasty creature of the briny deep. His creation, the Chimaera fish (aka Ghost Shark), isn’t entirely fictional but let’s hope to Poseidon these things never actually become a hundred percent real.

Hunter specializes in monsters and cryptids. In “Swamp Monster Massacre” he takes on the legendary Big Foot\Skunk Ape.  In “The Montauk Monster” we get to meet his version of well, the Montauk Monster, a pseudo-cryptid that first washed up on the shores of Montauk, NY back in 2008.  Ghosts become deadly in Island of the Forbidden and zombies of all shapes and sizes populate the streets of Yonkers, and maybe even the world, in Tortures of the Damned.

For “They Rise” Hunter Shea takes us deep sea fishing off the coast of Florida. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but things go bad fast when the fish at the end of the line ends up eating, instead of begin eaten by, the fishermen. What appears to be an isolated incident soon turns into an aquatic nightmare as it’s discovered these apparently extinct prehistoric fish have grown to gargantuan proportions with appetites to match. And there’s not just a few, but thousands of them! Human flesh rates high on their menu to the point of ramming and capsizing boats and jumping on decks to get to whoever is foolish enough to stand out there.

For a book of only 150 pages, “They Rise” packs in a lot of information, intrigue, blood and guts gore action, and suspense.  Hunter Shea does not disappoint in the plot department at all and I enjoyed almost everything about this book. My only disappointment was central core character development. I didn’t feel like I got to know them as well as I would have liked and that left my sense of caring about what happened to them somewhat lacking. From reading several of his lengthier books, I know Hunter can do this quite well. “They Rise” would have benefited from a similar treatment.

Despite that, an overall enjoyable and fast-paced read. I’d maybe not suggest it for anyone who plans on doing any deep sea diving or ocean fishing in those warm, southern seas this summer. I know I won’t be and despite this creature being primarily fictional, I’m still going to add the Chimaera fish to my fast-growing list of reasons not to swim in those sorts of places just to be safe.

Be sure to check out all of Hunter’s twisted world at: https://huntershea.com/

3 out of 5 ravens.

Book Review – Dark Tower Series by Stephen King

Instead of going through and reviewing each of the books individually, I’m going to do a simplified, overall review of the series as a whole. You and I will both be glad I did.

I started reading “The Gunslinger” Book 1 of 7.5 in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series back in August 2015. As the pages went by, so did the months, until eventually I wrapped it all up last month by jumping slightly backwards to read what King places as Book 4.5, “The Wind Through The Keyhole”.

There’s so much here! King has truly created a world eerily familiar while at the same time completely different than our own. A future date is never specified for the time that the Gunslinger, Roland Deschaine, comes from, but it’s at least a few hundred years from now, if not a thousand or more. The world has changed, it’s ‘moved on’ as is worded in the books. Well-populated cities are few and far between. Machines and the electricity to run them are even more rare. We, you and me, or those closer to our timeline, are known only as The Old Ones. We are the faceless, nameless creators who pretty much screwed everything up at some point in the distant past.

Enter Roland, the Last Gunslinger, whose only mission in a long and troubled life is to reach the Dark Tower. He will do anything, go anywhere, kill anyone, in order to reach that destination. Roland is a highly trained killing machine and he does it all 19th century American Southwest cowboy-style, with a pair of ivory-handled revolvers that once belonged to his father. But, he can’t do it alone. He needs his posse, his ka-tet, to share in the adventure. And this is where the time travel comes in.

Through a series of free-standing, hovering doors scattered here and there along Roland’s route, he starts pulling people through into his own time. The first is heroin addict, Eddie Dean from 1987. Not to be confused with the Texas-born country and western singer of the same name. Next, comes Odetta\Detta Holmes aka Susannah Dean who is ripped from the year 1964. Again, try not to get her confused with the Civil Rights activist, singer and songwriter from the 1960s.  Last but not least we have eleven-year-old John “Jake” Chambers, who is rescued from an abandoned and seemingly possessed house in 1977 and brought into Roland’s ‘when’. The final member of the ka-tet is the billy-bumbler, Oy. A sort of long-necked dog that talks who very quickly wins over our hearts as Jake’s tried and true friend and loyal companion.

Obviously, if I spent somewhere around eight months reading this series, I must have enjoyed it. Very true. It contains a little bit of every genre out there; sci-fi, western, horror, fantasy, adventure, and yes, there’s even some romance going on. I really think it’s a must-read for any Stephen King fan. He does some pretty awesome writing here and yet…

For as much as I was impressed and for as much as I grew to love Roland and all the members of his ka-tet and their bond and adventures, I also found myself feeling disappointed with it. Some scenes felt like fillers and cop-outs. It was like King felt he needed to make this thing as thick and long-winded as possible so let’s add in this and that and the other thing and tie it all together in some obscure way that sort of makes sense. I questioned these scenes and their purpose in the grand scheme of it all; for example, the entire “Wizard of Oz” portion. Why? I honestly can’t recall for the life of me what this was all about. Why did we go there? Why did the dog need ruby slippers? And if King was going for some sort of how many other book references can he smash into this series theme, the shoes should have been silver as they are in the L. Frank Baum books. It all felt too contrived to me.

The other element I didn’t care for at all was the way King included himself in the end of the series, like some omnipotent God. I am King, the Great and Powerful. You are nothing without me.  If I die, you die. It seemed so self-glorifying and self-righteous and honestly, on some level, more filler to make this series much longer than it needed to be. Just get to the point already. Let’s get Roland and his ka-tet to the Dark Tower and let’s see what’s in there.

And once we finally do get there, all that time and build-up will be worth what Roland finds at the top, right? Um. Not so much. King should have spent less time blathering on about connecting this series to “The Wizard of Oz”, or “The Stand”, or “Salem’s Lot” and more time on this ending. It turned my whole perspective of the who, what, and why of Roland and his quest upside down.

Am I glad I read it despite what I felt was a horrible and disappointing ending? Yes, very much so. There’s a lot in the series to love and admire and at one point I found myself crying, yep. King wrung the tears out of me. For a writer to be able to get you so in love and involved with his fictional creations, you know he’s done an amazing job of drawing you into their lives and caring. Damn you, King!  Damn you, for being so awesome even if you disappointed me a bit at the end.

It’s not your typical King story. It’s not pure horror by any stretch of the imagination. Non-King fans will like this just as much as those who have been with him since the beginning.

I’d love to this is 5 Ravens, but… that ending.

4 out of 5 Ravens.