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It seems like lately I have trouble finding time to read a long novel, so I’ve started branching out into an area I used to think that I hated: short stories. I used the idea of them, from reading them to writing them. But I decided to give them a try, what with the time issues and everything, and not only have I enjoyed writing short stories, but I have come across some really awesome anthologies. My latest find is called “The New Lovecraft Circle” edited by Robert M. Price with a preface by Ramsey Campbell.

The title pretty much tells you what kind of stories are inside: these are writers inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. I believe there are 25 short stories in all, all written in the same genre and style as Lovecraft. I have read several so far and have not been disappointed by any yet. I thoroughly enjoy Lovecraft’s stories, the psychological thriller/horror aspect, the magical realism/fantasy aspect, and the way he incorporates monsters or aliens in a way that doesn’t seem clichéd or lame. As I have mentioned in other blogs, I enjoy suspense and horror, but gore and blood are not particularly my thing, and so far none of these stories have any gore or blood in them. If you have never read Lovecraft, I would compare it to the macabre line that Edgar Allan Poe falls into. There is a twistedness to it, but nothing over the top.

So if you’re looking for some great, quick reads, check out this book. Some titles to look forward to are:
“The Plain of Sound” by Ramsey Campbell
“Demoniacal” by David Sutton
“The Last Supper” by Donald R. Burleson
“The Kiss of Bugg-Shash” by Brian Lumley
“The Keeper of the Flame” by Gary Myers
“The Horror on the Beach” by Alan Dean Foster

-AV

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I found this book randomly in a book store one day and bought it on a whim. “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt promised to be a chilling psychological thriller involving college students and a Greek centered mystery. The summary on the back reads: “Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last–inexorably–into evil.” It is a semi-long book, 559 pages with decently small print, but I read it fairly quickly. It is extremely well-written, and while in parts I was starting to feel it drag a little, it still captivated my attention well enough that I didn’t want to put it down until it was finished. So, all in all, I really liked it.

However, there were a few things that bothered me about this book, and one I wouldn’t necessarily consider Ms Tartt’s fault. It’s marketed as a “psychological thriller” over and over again in reviews on the book, which is half of the reason I bought it, but I would not consider it a psychological thriller. I feel like it never quite reaches the level of thriller. There was never a point in which I was on the edge of my seat, unsure as to where this book was going. It starts out in the prologue with a murder. You know who it is that dies, though you’re not sure why. And a lot of books have done something to that effect and still managed to keep the suspence level up. I don’t think this book does that. Again, I was always curious as to what exactly is going on, but I never felt a level of suspence that I think is needed for that branding.

Two, and this is a semi-minor thing: the usage of drugs and casual sex in this book. Now, I know this takes place in college. I know people experiment with drugs and casual hook-ups in college. I never did, and none of my close friends did, but I know it happens. That being said, I was not really buying how it was portrayed in this book. The main character is a guy named Richard. He seems like a kind of reserved, smart guy who is aspiring to be more than he is. He comes from a bad background, abusive, uncaring parents with little money. It doesn’t seem like he had many friends from back home. And yet, you’re following this guy’s life and all of a sudden he just has random sex with a stranger and mentions that he’s done it before. It may not sound like it from the way I typed the above, but it just seems really out of place. It comes out of nowhere with a character that didn’t seem like the type to just grab a girl and have sex with her. Secondly, and even worse, he randomly does drugs. And I’m not talking weed. He and this other girl (and other very minor characters and background characters) do more major drugs *recreationally*. They aren’t drug-addicts. There are some characters that are drug dealers and drug-addicts, but the main guy and his friend Judy don’t sound like they are. They just do them on occassion and at parties–but we’re talking cocaine and *meth*. Again, I didn’t do these drugs, so I can’t say for 100% certainty, but I was under the impression that (especially) meth was not done every once and a while and for fun. It was more for hardcore drug users who need professional help. What?? I was very taken aback from these parts of the book. I was not sure they portrayed real life very accurately.

Other than those two things, I didn’t really have a problem with the book. An interesting topic did come up while I was reading it and when I finished it, though. The idea of making the reader sympathetic to character(s) who did something terrible. Potential spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you don’t want anything ruined (but I won’t give away the major surprise points of the book I don’t think): but the characters that the book focuses upon committ a murder. In fact, some of them commit two murders. One is a little hazy on how it happened, the second one that everyone is involved in… well, let’s just say there’s not really a point in which I felt bad for the guy who was murdered. I actually at one point found myself thinking: If this happened to my friends and they felt this was the only was to help themselves, would I say anything to the cops? No!! That’s not what you should be thinking. You should think: Oh my god, this is atrocious! These people are cold monsters! How could Richard not go to the cops and tell them everything? How can he just go along with it? How could he even let himself get involved with it to begin with? But he does let himself get involved, to the point that if he did go to the cops, he would be serving some jail time. His life would be ruined. And it makes you think: If I was Richard, what would I do in that situation?

Would my friends that I’ve known for merely months be so important to me that I would just let them meticulously plan out someone’s murder? Once it happened, would I stay quiet? Just bear that burden forever? This book makes you feel sympathy, and even if it’s not neccessarily for the other characters, for the main character. Again, and at the very least, it doesn’t really paint the murder victim in a good light. Which, I don’t think he was a good person, but does that mean it’s okay to murder him? Richard does feel regret and remorse for it, as do other characters who experience some mental and emotional breakdowns, but still. Does the reader feel the appropriate remorse for what they did? I think this book raises some interesting questions as to what lengths people would go to in order to help themselves and people they barely know.

All in all, I give this book either a three and a half or a four out of five. If you can find it reasonably priced, and if you like ancient Greek culture, read it.

-AV

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I have been eyeing this book up in book stores for almost a year now. The title first caught my attention, as “pandemonium” just happens to be one of my favorite words (which weirdly makes sense if you know me well, haha). So when I had a little extra money, I finally decided to give it a chance.

I will admit that while I was hesitant to buy it at first because of the summary, the summary was the second reason I wanted to buy it. It was about demon or demon-like possessions, and I wasn’t sure how graphic it was going to get. It didn’t get graphic really at all. Basically, this book takes place in a world like our own, except that back in the 1950’s, all of a sudden there began demon-like possessions. They would suddenly take ahold of someone, and soon enough, the “demon” would leave the person (and whatever destruction they caused). As you go through the book, you start to find out that there are different types or “personalities” of demons that can possession a person, leading different theories as to what these “possessions” are. There is a group called the Jungians (after Jung) that think this is stems from the collective unconscious, rather than demons. The word archetype is thrown around a lot.

The main character was possessed as a child by the demon or archetype known as the Hellion. This “demon” is attracted to little boys, and it basically causes the little boy to become, well, a hellion. They destroy and don’t listen…and worse of all, its chosen weapon is a slingshot, and usually someone loses an eye. The person who loses her eye is the main character’s mother.

What I liked about this book: I did overall like this book. I’m really glad I read it. 1.) I think the overall idea of it is super interesting. 2.) Throughout the book, there are a few chapters or sections that take specific archetypes and elaborate on how they act, since the main character Del only really talks in length about two, the Hellion which has possessed him and the Painter, who he sees in action. 3.) While I didn’t feel specifically connected to any of the characters, as I didn’t really relate to them on any deep level, I liked the characters in general. No one really did anything that I thought was out-of-place or strange…except Mother Mariette, who proves to have probably the most “levels” to her personality. 4.) I like that some of the archetypes are not that bad, such as the Painter (while they destroy stuff, they generally don’t hurt anyone), but there are a lot of bad ones that cause a lot of hurt and death. However, the author conveys this well without getting graphic or disgusting, which I appreciate. 5.) There is a bit of a twist, or a few twists, that I didn’t see coming. I’m not good at mysteries or detective books and I don’t really even like them, so someone who reads a lot of that might see this stuff coming…but I didn’t, and I liked that. 6.) I don’t think I read anything that was super cliched.

What I didn’t like as much about this book: 1.) The wrap-up. As stated, there were some twists that I didn’t see coming, and while I liked them…the wrap-up in general was not very satisfying for me. I don’t want to ruin anything, but there are times that I enjoy books that leave a bit of an open ending so everyone can interpret it on their own, and there are times that I want the book to have a solid theory that they are sticking with and explain it. This book goes with more of an open-ending, and I wanted to bang it against a wall in hopes that it would tell me what specifically happened in this world.

And that’s about it. That was really the only thing that I would complain about with this book. I read it fairly quickly; it’s not very long and what I would call a quick read, and I was interested enough that I wanted to keep reading it in all of my spare time. Look it up on amazon or your local book store (I found mine in a local store for $5) and read the full summary on the back and see what you think. If it sounds at all interesting, buy it. I think it’s worth it.

-AV

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I am a huge fan of Anne Bishop, so it’s not a surprise that I was absolutely in love with this book. Her Black Jewels books are on the top of my favorite books of all time, and this book reminds me of those a lot. However, so far (as there is another one coming out next March and presumably more after that), this series isn’t *as* sexual and violent as Black Jewels or even the Sebastian/Belladonna books. There is violence, and there are sexual innuedos and such, but it’s nothing over-the-top. That being said, like her other books, this is not a young adult books. It is an adult book. There are adult themes and adult language and adult everything in it. I think the way it reminds me of parts of Black Jewels the best is her style. She can have a moment of violence or a really serious moment, and two paragraphs later there is a light-hearted-like moment or banter between characters. I’m not sure how I would really describe that style; I’ve seen other authors try to do it and it comes out immature sounding–but Ms Bishop does it to perfection, I think. There are laughs and tears and tension and friendship and action and drama and all that good stuff.

I hope she writes several of these books. Like Black Jewels, there is a plethora of characters to explore and lots of storylines she could run with. I liked all of the characters (and hated a few because they were supposed to be hated), but there is definitely room for growth in every single one of them, so I am excited to see what she does with them. One slight spoiler: she shies away from any major “good” character deaths, which I like as a reader but sometimes dislike as a writer–however, as it is the first book in an assumed trilogy or series, it didn’t really bother me over all. I know from her other books that she isn’t super hesitant to do horrible things to beloved characters, so part of me was a little relieved that she spared the ones I really liked this time around 🙂

Finally, just a little bit about the book: It is called “Written in Red,” and on the cover it says, “A novel of the Others.” There are humans in this book, and a few of them are major-ish characters, but it is a novel mostly about the “Others.” These Others basically rule the world, with humans living as best as they can beside them. The Others are what we would consider Otherwordly creatures, things that don’t exist, except that in this world, they do exist–and have existed longer than humans have. There are Wolves, Vampires, Bears, Elementals, Hawks, Crows, and more and worse–but these are like “Twilight.” They are the animals, but over time they have developed the ability to shape-shift into human forms. But if you piss one off, it will eat you in a second. No matter how much some of these characters bond with humans (which constantly baffles them, as they constantly remind themselves that they aren’t supposed to bond with their prey/meat), if it comes down to it, any of them would massacre a human town if they thought it needed to be done. In fact, it happened before in this world’s history. The main female character is Meg, and she is a blood prophet who escaped from her Controllers. Simon is a Wolf who is the leader of the Other land that Meg ends up in. And there are a tons of other main and supporting charactes that really flesh out with world.

Definitely encourage fantasy lovers and fans of Anne Bishop to pick up this book! I loved it and cannot wait for the next one coming next March!

-AV

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I just finished reading stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan’s first memoir “Dad is Fat,” and if you’re thinking about reading this–do it! If you’re looking for a funny book, read it! If you’re a parent or thinking about becoming a parent, you should also probably read it. I feel like it will both assure you that you want kids and also terrify you and make you rethink your decision. In a funny way, of course.

Jim Gaffigan is probably best known as the “Hot Pocket Guy.” In fact, a couple people at work were like, “Who?” And then I’m like, “He does the ‘Hot Pockets’ joke.” And they were like, “Ohhhh, that guy! Yeah, he’s funny!” And this book does not disappoint. If you have seen his comedy acts and you can read the whole book with his voice narrating it in your head–not gonna lie–it makes it even funnier.

Mr. Gaffigan is married to a woman he claims can get pregnant from looking at babies, and they have five children, who I believe are currently age 8 to infant. They live in an apartment in New York…which only has two bedrooms. I think my favorite part was when he drew pictures to show how they did bedtime.

The book revolves around how he and wife Jeannie live their lives with their five children and how they are received due to their large family count. This was a great read and definitely worth the cost.

–AV

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I very recently received my copy of Neil Gaiman’s latest (adult) book, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” I was super excited and had high expectations to begin with, as I have liked Neil Gaiman’s work in the past, and lately I seem to be on a Gaiman kick (still reading “Sandman,” btw). This is a short work, only about 180 pages, which is the only thing that immediately disappointed me. I tend to like longer works, and I swear some of my past purchases happened only because they sounded mildly interesting but were greater than 500 pages–although, I will say, lately shorter works have been really convenient for me due to time and energy issues. So, I got over it and bought it.

Just to address that right off the bat, I’m now very happy that he only wrote 180 pages. Not because it was bad…but because it would have quickly turned “bad” if he had kept writing. I think part of the “goodness” or “genius” or whatever of a writer is to know when to shut the hell up, if you know what I mean. I tend to get wordy. I was always told in essays and stories that I tended to go around and around a little too much. This book was exactly as long as it needed to be. It told the story, it said what he needed to say, and it was done. Perfect.

The story itself was phenomenal, I think. I always have expectations, and they are never ones that I can specifically put into words. I kind of just feel my expectations. You know how someone is like, “I’m so disappointed” and someone else is like, “Well, what did you expect?” and then that person is like, “I’m not really sure.” Kind of like that. It’s more of a feeling than a tangible thing. I don’t think this book hit those expectations because what I felt while I was reading did not match up to what I felt while I was anticipating it. Which, believe it or not, is not always a bad thing. Both were good feelings–just different. I’m not sure I will explain this well or not, either, but part of what I read on amazon or wherever I was reading about it doesn’t seem to set it up correctly. I read somewhere that it was like a fairy-tale for adults. I don’t think I would describe it that way. I can’t even say why for sure, and I feel like other people would disagree with me. But it felt more like a magical realism story or some kind of a modern myth than a fairy-tale. “Myth” didn’t really enter my head until I started picking up on the moon and the three women, though. I still like the term “magical realism” for things like this, although I don’t see them used often.

I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who wants to read it. It is scary, intense, and full without being overly so. I feel like this is one of those solid tales that did not need blood, gore, and gripping fear to let the reader feel tense and on-edge, ready to see what’s next. That’s part of why I feel Mr. Gaiman is such a great author. He uses what he feels the story needs. Some people like to throw blood-bathed walls and entrails around for no apparent reason. He uses them when needed, and this story didn’t need them, and so they were not there. However, this is an adult book. It’s nothing an older teenager couldn’t read, but it’s not written in a YA fashion. It’s just an adult book written about a seven year old boy who witnesses and goes through things that no little boy should ever have to encounter, and the 11 year old girl he befriends that helps him get through it, along with her mother and her grandmother. There is a pond behind the women’s farmhouse that Lettie refers to as her ocean–but it doesn’t look like an ocean to the little boy, but things quickly become not-as-he-thought-they-were. Lettie opens his eyes to the unimaginable, taken pretty much in stride by the boy, as all children seem to be open to “magical” things, moreso than adults. There are things out there that think they mean good, but they really only hurt and destroy. And Lettie takes it upon herself to set things straight…which sometimes goes well, and sometimes doesn’t end up quite like she planned.

Seriously…pick up a copy 🙂 I found it cheapest on amazon, if price is an issue. It was a quick read for me, but it’s one I will read again some day.
-AV

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A book I recently purchased is “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” by Susannah Cahalan. It is a memoir/autobiography of a young woman who very suddenly and unexpectedly finds herself in the grip of strange and unsettling symptoms. Quickly, her symptoms worsen and grow, until she is forced to go to the hospital, where numerous doctors and specialists assign and unassign themselves to her case. It takes almost a full month to fully understand what is going on inside this woman’s body. Ms Cahalan writes this book a few years later, and since she was incapable of retaining most memories during her time of illness, she uses a notebook she was given, a notebook her parents kept, notes from the doctors, recordings of her during her hospital stay, and, of course, what her friends, family, and those around her in the hospital remembered of that time. The book starts just a brief “second” before her symptoms start, goes through the worst of her illness (or, as she calls it, her month of madness), and her recovery.

The story itself is unsettling, that someone could experience all that this young woman did–and so quickly. But it is also, in a strange way, reassuring–the doctors worked hard, and Ms Cahalan was able to survive. Still, the book does raise a troubling question at one point: How many people out there suffer from this strange disease and never receive the correct treatment? Never have a diagnosis that is even close to correct? This disease looks like so many other things and has such a wide range of symptoms that it is almost obvious that people before and after Ms Cahalan’s time of illness never and will never receive the proper treatment they need.

Ms Cahalan’s profession was a writer for a local paper, and it shows in her writing. I have a love for memoirs/autobiographies/biographies anyways, but some are written better than others. Hers has the perfect style and tone for the story it reveals, and I have no complaints about anything in the book. I will admit I am about 50 pages from the end while writing this, but I’m sure in the last 50 pages nothing will happen to make me change my mind. A gripping book, an emotional book, and an uplifting book as you “watch” Ms Cahalan’s courageous battle against something so overwhelming and the work of friends, family, hospital staff, and doctors to help her get through and live. I definitely recommend this to anyone.

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