Book Review: Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix

Paperbacks from Hell: A History of Horror Fiction from the ’70s and ’80s by Grady Hendrix

I remember walking into a used bookstore or into my local library book sale as a teenager and heading straight for the most lurid, monstrous, kitschy horror titles I could find. I cut my teeth on 666 and The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. I read and reread Swan Song and Stinger by Robert McCammon. Cult horror was an important part of my childhood (started off by writers like R.L. Stine, Lois Duncan, and Christopher Pike). How could I resist revisiting something so fun?

Grady Hendrix clearly loves the topic. He revisits cult favorites and forgotten (some rightfully so) tales. In chapters broken down by existential threat (evil children, murderous animals, demons, haunted houses, D&D, etc), he brings the best and the worst of cult horror novels into the light of day. I especially enjoy the attention he gives to the cover artists of these books. Often the unknown and unsung heroes of the genre, these frequently anonymous artists created some absolutely stunning artwork to accompany some truly weird books.

Unfortunately, my TBR may never be the same. There were so many books included in this that I had never heard of but now absolutely have to read. Fortunately, a suggested reading list graces the back of the book, allowing you to ease into the world of cult horror. And ease I probably should. It’s been a while since I went to the forgotten paperbacks section of my local used bookstore. I’m rather looking forward to rifling through the titles, hoping to find a gem with a macabre and melodramatic cover, just waiting to be rediscovered.

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Book Review: The Elementals by Michael McDowell

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The Elementals by Michael McDowell

I have to shout a thank you out to the folks at The Nocturnal Reader’s Box, and of course Grady Hendrix and Paperbacks from Hell for introducing me to this author. Nocturnal Reader’s had to post a picture of the very pretty book you see above, and then after reading the blurb, I simply had to read it. Hearing Hendrix sing McDowell’s praises in Paperbacks from Hell cemented my decision.

This book features two wealthy Mobile, Alabama families, the McCrays and the Savages. The two families have been friends for years, and the McCray daughter is married to the surviving Savage son. But the Savages are an old and strange family, and after the traumatic funeral of the Savage matriarch, the two families descend on their shared vacation spot: Beldame. Beldame consists of three identical old Victorian houses on a spit of sand in the Gulf of Mexico. One house traditionally occupied by the McCrays, another by the Savages, and one that is slowly being consumed by the sand dunes. But as the days drag by, it becomes more and more obvious that the abandoned house isn’t so empty. Something is occupying the crumbling building, something evil, something hungry . . .

This is easily one of the best horror books I’ve read in a long time. My biggest regret is that I didn’t read any of McDowell’s books years ago (The Elementals was originally published in 1981). I am very glad that McDowell’s book are starting to garner fresh attention, both through Paperbacks from Hell and Valancourt Books’ gorgeous paperback editions.

The Elementals is delightfully scary without needless gore. I’m not some wilting flower, but I have to say that the recent popularity of “torture porn” style horror simply made the genre gross and not very much fun. There were a couple of places in this book where I was so utterly creeped out that I found myself holding the book as far away as possible, because it was freaking scary but I still needed to find out what happened. This is the reading equivalent of watching a scary movie through your fingers, and it totally works.

Horror buffs who’ve not read McDowell’s books should start now. Right now. McDowell is an incredibly talented writer  who chose to use his gifts for cult horror books, and I think we should all be grateful. Expect a review of Cold Moon Over Babylon, also by McDowell (and one of the books in October’s Nocturnal Reader’s Box), in the near future.

 

Book Review and GIVEAWAY!!! Bloodstains with Brönte by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Bloodstains with Brönte by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Giveaway details are at the end of my review!

Fair warning, this is the second book on the Crimes with the Classics series, so expect spoilers below for the first book. But good news! You can read this book and have fun without reading the previous book. 

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Okay, so this book finds Emily Cavanagh in the midst of renovations to turn the mansion she inherited from her murdered aunt into a writer’s retreat. Unfortunately, Emily’s ward, Katie, seems to have a horrible past with one of the workers, and the other seems to have developed an unhealthy obsession for the young woman. When one of the young men turns up dead at a murder-mystery fundraiser at Emily’s house, Katie becomes the primary suspect. With tensions running high and the dreary winter storms setting in, Emily must uncover the truth if she’s to save her young friend. 

I like a cozy mystery every now and then. A nice bit of fiction to consume in an autumn afternoon. Bloodstains with Brönte fit the bill perfectly. You have a quirky, independent woman pulled unexpectedly into crime solving, a small town with a crazy high murder per capita rate, a great setting in an antique house replete with hidden staircases and dark corners, and colorful local townsfolk to provide a plethora of red herrings for our heroine to follow.

My one complaint is with Emily herself. I expect my detectives to be flawed, and no mystery novel would be complete without pointing the finger at the wrong person once or twice, but midway through the book, Emily completely abandons all logic (it’s actually stated that “He might have reason on his side, but affection trumped reason in her book.”) in the face of Katie’s possible guilt. I’m all for sticking up for friends and family, but I prefer my amateur detectives to be a bit less willing to divorce their investigation from the facts. Fortunately, Emily eventually comes around, and the book continues on in a more satisfying way, but come on.

So cozy mystery lovers and fans of Louise Penny take note. Despite its flaws, this is a fun little tea cake of a mystery series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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Giveaway Details: 

Enter for a chance to win a finished copy of this book! (US only, sorry)

How to Enter:

Like and comment on this post for one entry

You can get bonus entries by following and liking the giveaway post on my Instagram page (@irregularreader) and by following me on Twitter (@readirregular) and retweeting the giveaway post. 

A winner will be randomly selected on December 20th, 2017. The book will be mailed directly from the publisher!

You know you want a free book for the holiday season!

Book Review: These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas


These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

Evelyn is bored. Bored with dresses and balls, bored with her mother’s constant matchmaking schemes, bored with the petty gentlemen she is forced to be pleasant to.

And so begins just about every Victorian-era book, no matter the genre. This one does branch out a bit more: Evelyn’s sister Rose disappears, and her trail follows a mysterious (and huge) Frenchman into London. With her parents concerned more for their reputation than Rose’s safety, Evelyn runs off to find Rose herself. Enlisting the help of dashing Mr. Kent, Evelyn is also forced to work with the infuriating Mr. Braddock, who has a game changing revelation for her: she and her sister may have special powers.

I’m not one of those people who automatically dismiss YA books as beneath my notice. There’s some fantastic work out there and some great stories being told. However, this is one of those genres where it is all too easy to fall into a formulaic trap. Like many recent psychological thrillers have been diminished by trying too hard to be the next Gone Girl, a lot of YA (especially the fantasy genre, which tends to be one of my favorites) suffers by trying to be the next Twilight or Hunger Games. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A young, headstrong girl is dissatisfied with her life, but unsure what she wants to do to improve it. After a calamitous event, she is forced to engage a wider, crueler world at its own level, discovering herself in the process. Oh, and you naturally need two potential romantic interests for her, one is “safe,” and has been around forever, the other someone she will never ever like, someone just so infuriating. . .

It sometimes seems like the same song set to different music. That’s not to say that books that follow the formula are all bad, but you need great characters, strong writing, and something special to set your story apart. Unfortunately, These Vicious Masks falls a bit short. Evelyn is intelligent and willing to defy convention if she can help others, but never becomes a truly sympathetic character. The love triangle is of the dimensions expected from the genre, and doesn’t deviate from the pattern.

Still, YA fantasy enthusiasts may want to give the book a go. I’ve always said that I am picky about the genre.

An audio book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

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The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Fair warning: this is the second book in the Winternight trilogy. There’s definitely going to be spoilers ahead for the first book in the series, The Bear and the Nightingale. If you want, you can read my review of that book here.

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Vasya has been driven from her village after the deaths of her father and stepmother. The options are slim for a young woman in medieval Russia — convent or marriage. Vasya, ever seeking to be her own master, decides to create a third option: to wander the vast expanses of Rus’ disguised as a boy, and explore the wide world now open to her. But the road and the places upon it are dangerous. Unnatural and vicious bandits are plundering remote towns in northern Rus’, and political intrigue and betrayal surround the residents of Moscow. Pulled into the events of the larger world, Vasya finds herself walking on a knife’s edge to help her family and her country, and to safeguard her precious freedom.

I simply adore this series. The Bear and the Nightingale was one of those delightful little surprises you come across occasionally. Expecting a typical historical fantasy, I found myself enveloped in a fairy tale story richly woven through with historical detail and living, breathing characters. The Girl in the Tower stays true to form. Arden’s careful attention to detail, and phenomenal gift for bringing fully-fleshed characters to her tales are undiminished in the second book.

Vasya has become a bit older and harder than last we saw her, but still retains her close ties with the many spirits who inhabit her world. Her choices and their consequences are rarely easy, and we get to see her grow and change as the plot moves along. Her relationship with Morozko, the winter demon is well done. No sappy love story here, but a subtler, bittersweet rapport that feels much more real.

If you enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale, then you’ll most likely love the continuation to the story. Fans of fantasy, fairy tales, and magic should definitely check out this phenomenal and original series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Book Review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughn


Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughn

James Whitehouse is a successful politician and close friends with the Prime Minister. Sophie is his faithful wife. Then a scandal breaks, James is accused first of having an affair with a member of his staff, then of rape. Sophie desperately needs to believe in her husband’s innocence. Kate Woodcroft, the prosecuting attorney, sincerely believes in his guilt. As the case moves on, secrets from the past threaten to come to light.

This is a slow-building thriller that explores the nature of love and truth, privilege and power. Vaughn does a splendid job of alternating between the past and present, and between husband, wife, and prosecutor. We explore each person’s life, and see what a fragile thing truth really is.

The book builds slowly, which can be frustrating for those who want the plot to go-go-go. And any one experiencing psychological thriller fatigue (like me), can find the slower pace a bit trying. But in all, Vaughn’s exploration of how privilege impacts truth is a vital and important topic in this day and age. I would recommend you give it a go.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Comic Book Story of Video Games by Jonathan Hennessey and Jack McGowan

The Comic Book Story of Video Games: The Incredible History of the Electronic Gaming Revolution by Jonathan Hennessey and Jack McGowan

Is there anyone left who doesn’t believe that video games are a legitimate form of entertainment? Advances in graphics and animation, and a focus on storytelling and character development have made video games a truly creative and unique medium. Yet, it seems to be easy for some to dismiss video games as time wasters, or simple orgies of violence, and overlook the artistry involved in their creation.

From the electric innovations of the 19th century, to the sanity consuming Angry Birds and Minecraft, The Comic Book Story of Video Games provides a complex and entertaining look at how we arrived where we are today. Told in an immensely fun graphic novel format, the book sails through the early days of oscilloscopes and simple gameplay, through the silicon valley book, the rise of arcade games and home consoles, the birth and death of Atari, the ridiculously long-lasting success of Nintendo, and the fierce battles in the console wars. 

Graphic novels are a great way to present a nonfiction story. They allow the drier, less flashy bits to be glossed over in a few images, letting the “meat” of the story shine through. Though by necessity less in-depth than a full-length book, they nevertheless provide an accessible and detailed way to tell a story. I would love for more nonfiction to be presented this way.
Most in the gaming world will find this book fascinating. The book is sprinkled with enough gaming Easter eggs to delight gamers, but even more casual gamers (or nongamers) will find this story incredibly interesting.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Bok Review: The Creeps by Fran Krause

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The Creeps by Fran Krause

So somehow I missed Deep Dark Fears, the first book in this collection. But you had better believe that it is now on my TBR. Originally based in the Tumblr-verse, Krause collected people’s secret fears and illustrated them in innocent looking cartoon format. Deep Dark Fears was understandably popular and led to a second book featuring even more creeps, as well as a few original, longer stories, also fully realized in cartoon form.

The fears on display (some relayed anonymously, some not) run the gamut from more-or-less logical (swallowing spiders while you sleep, blerg), to anatomically unlikely (eyeballs popping out while sneezing), to the humorous (your cat ratting you out to the police). Some are funny, others are thought-provoking, others are downright creepy. All in all, this is a fun little collection that illustrates the uniqueness and the similarities in each of us.

Anyone looking for a quick afternoon’s read will likely by delighted by this fun little book. As I said earlier, I cannot wait to get my hands on the first book, and I dearly hope a third is in the works.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Great Quake by Henry Fountain

The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet by Henry Fountain

On March 27th, 1964, at 5:36pm, the most powerful earthquake in the United States (measuring a 9.2 on the Richter Scale) struck Southeastern Alaska. The quake leveled large swathes of Valdez and Anchorage, tidal waves inundated native villages (and in fact killed people as far away as California), and fires destroyed several small towns. Roads and rail lines were ripped apart, isolating entire regions of the sparsely populated state. In the aftermath of the quake, scientists studying the event would uncover data which would change how geologists viewed the world, and bring a previously dismissed theory into prominence.

This is an incredibly readable telling of the effects of the Great Alaska Earthquake, and the aftershocks felt by the scientific community after the Earth stopped shaking. Fountain has written a history book in the vein of Erik Larsen’s Isaac’s Storm. You’re going to find far more than just a tale of an Earthquake here. Fountain provides background on the major players, as well as the history of Alaska, and the fields of geology and seismology. As a result, The Great Quake is a readable and informative story of an unimaginable disaster, and the science underlying the event.

Fans of narrative nonfiction will find a lot to like here. The 1964 Alaskan earthquake is largely forgotten in the Lower 48, but the data derived from this disaster continues to reverberate into the modern day.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Box Review and Unboxing: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box – November

It’s gray and dreary here in November, the perfect time to find a package on your doorstep that promises oodles of goodies. Let’s dig in, shall we?

The books this month are two new releases. 

The first is The Wilderness Within by John Claude Smith, which sounds like a delightfully trippy tale of madness. Here’s the Goodreads description:

The forest is alive.

While visiting fellow writer, Frank Harlan Marshall, Derek Gray senses a palpable dread within Frank’s house and the forest that surrounds it; a subtle, malignant sentience. What should be a joyous event, as they await the surprise arrival of a long-lost friend, comedian “Dizzy Izzy” Haberstein, is fraught with unease Derek does not understand.

Derek’s confusion is upended by the chance meeting with musician Alethea, formerly of Dark Angel Asylum, a band that dropped out of sight once the leader, Aleister Blut, ended up in an insane asylum. As their relationship blossoms, Derek’s disorientation at the hands of the forest manifests as his world turns sideways…and one of Frank’s fictional creations–a murderous monster named Average Joe–gains foothold in the surreal, psychological terrain.
As the worlds of reality and fantasy meld, what transpires bounds from deeply profound to pure madness.

This promises to be an interesting read.

Next up is a collection of short stories by Ronald Malfi titled We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone.  From the Goodreads description: 

A new mother is pursued by mysterious men in black. A misguided youth learns the dark secrets of the world from an elderly neighbor on Halloween night. A housewarming party where the guests never leave. A caretaker tends to his rusted relic of a god deep in the desert… 

In his debut short story collection, Bram Stoker Award finalist Ronald Malfi mines the depths and depravities of the human condition, exploring the dark underside of religion, marriage, love, fear, regret, and hunger in a world that spins just slightly askew on its axis. Rich in atmosphere and character, Malfi’s debut collection is not to be missed.

I have been assured that I do NOT want to read this book at night!

And now, onto the goodies, those delightful little extras that are always so on the mark. This month continues Nocturnal Reader’s winning streak.

Per usual  the box included a bookmark and a pin. This month’s pin is a sliding bucket of blood ready to dump all over poor Carrie. 

This month’s art print features Butterball the Cenobite from Clive Harper’s Hellraiser series.

A Nocturnal Reader’s-themed pennant added some gray-scale whimsy to the box (and is now proudly gracing the wall in my reading room).

The remaining goodies were perfect for the colder, rainy (and possibly snowy) November days ahead

Included this month was this fantastic Shirley Jackson pillow case, which promptly swallowed one of my more abused throw pillows.

There was also apple strudel flavored coffee from The Coffee Shop of Horrors (LOVE their coffee), perfect for a cold morning

And this incredibly cozy Nights Watch hat (from GoT) that actually fits over my oversized head (yay!)

So a wonderful collection of stuffs his month. I have to say (as I have many times before) that the Nocturnal Reader’s Box has been one of the most consistently wonderful subscription boxes I’ve encountered. Visit them at their website to subscribe!