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    Originally posted by Julzz View Post
    How are the illustrations, are there quite a few? Also is this signed by Alan Lee. Thanks
    The illustrations are quite good, though the only ones in color are on the front of the book (same pic on the traycase) and the DJ cover. There are probably around a dozen or so black and white pieces inside. Here are a few:

    1st set.jpg

    2nd set.jpg

    And yes, signed by Alan Lee.
    “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
    -John Barth


      Conjure WifeFritz Leiber

      “There are two sides to every woman. . . One is rational, like a man. The other knows.”

      Norman, a successful professor at a mid-level private college is happily married to his wife Tansy when he one day catches her practicing witchcraft. He immediately pounces on her superstitions and has her rid the house of all things magic, which she does both out of love for her husband and embarrassment for her beliefs. As all protective charms against Norman are destroyed he begins injuring himself in small ways, having troubles at school and with students, and he begins questioning the validity of his claims against his wife’s practices as ‘nonsense’. As his career comes further under fire in the ultra-competitive world of academia he wonders if he’s coming under full attack, with his wife’s charms the only thing that had been protecting him from disaster. Then Tansy herself comes under fire…

      Mostly the book deals with a man of letters and science confronted with potential supernatural elements. He can deny these bizarre occurrences if he chooses, and let his wife slip away, or he can embrace the witchcraft he’s spent his life labeling as superstitious mumbo-jumbo and fight for her.

      A fantastic horror story, coming in at number 16 on the Centipede Press top 100 horror novels of all time, Conjure Wife is easily accessible, fast paced, knowledgeable of the occult and has a few bone-chilling moments, even for hardened horror readers.

      “He heard a little sound start and stop in Tansy’s throat. It might have been a gasp, or a sob, or a snarl.”

      5- stars






      Last edited by bugen; 05-12-2016, 03:04 AM.
      “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
      -John Barth


        Sounds like a good read, I haven't read Leiber in a while.


          The Death Artist - Dennis Etchison

          "Above the hissing of a propane flame he heard children roaming free in the hallways between the nearby apartments, finding their own reckless way, making choices the consequences of which would not be felt for years to come." (a pearl)

          "Darwin was wrong. He hadn't figured on the networks." (a truth)

          This collection is predominantly composed of psychological horror stories, but its own brand. What I found throughout the read was prose written in a fascinating, approachable way, with the stories ending not even close to how I was expecting, or just as often, not ending at all. I would consider this a critique in most short story situations, but here with Mr. Etchison I feel this actually enhances the effect. In many cases we’ve just spent half an hour with characters we somehow know intimately, and an ending with a kind of ellipsis effect means the story continues after its conclusion. This adds mystery by keeping characters alive, and also absolves us from witnessing their doom.

          It's difficult to pull the strongest stories from the bunch. "Call Home" was a ridiculous, disturbing scam a man has enacted upon him by an 8 year old girl. "A Wind from the South", again disturbing, details a woman's confrontation in her home by another, strange woman, with the conversation providing the unsettling horror. 'Inside the Cackle Factory', a bizarre story framed around the pre-screening audience process of picking winning upcoming TV pilots, ends the book with a wow as the reader is forced to deal with a myriad of possibilities.

          A sorcerer with words, Mr. Etchison accomplishes all of this with a somewhat open-ended style. I’m the type of reader who generally likes a palpable conclusion to a story in order to enjoy it to its fullest, so when I found myself rating nearly every story very highly I paused to consider if what I’m looking for in short stories has changed, or if the writing is just that good.

          The writing is just that good.

          4 stars
          Last edited by bugen; 01-03-2015, 05:15 AM.
          “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
          -John Barth


            The Killer Inside MeJim Thompson

            “It’s a screwed up, bitched up world, and I’m afraid it’s going to stay that way. And I’ll tell you why. Because no one, almost no one, sees anything wrong with it.”

            This book takes a fairly strong stomach as the story unfolds from the first-person perspective of our main character, a brutal killer with an otherwise rational mind. Published in 1952, society hasn't changed much since. The perspective is relatable partially due to the killer’s logical mind and partially due to us recognizing every character type as living and breathing today. Perhaps not always the case in major cities, there are a ton of small towns in this country that still behave exactly as written here.

            Resonating on a special frequency due to current popular events, extra weight is given in that our killer, Lou Ford, is a cop. We’re all closer and closer to realizing the truth about the Protect and Serve institution - that it's a bunch of flawed people making the same mistakes we all make, just with guns. I didn’t see the ‘power corrupts’ theme here, as no blame for Lou’s behavior is laid on his job. He’s screwed up, but not drunk on power, though he does recognize and call out a few times how easy it is to railroad people.

            The motive for his behavior is mostly hidden until near the end. It’s another element we’re all familiar with, maybe even tired with. That doesn’t make it any less true.

            The Killer Inside Me
            cuts deep. The way Lou rationalizes violence is a theme that’s not too far from any of us, so perhaps this is an area in which we should be exercising more caution than we currently do. Our leaders will fearlessly send us to our deaths, but wouldn’t for a moment make the same decisions if they were themselves going. Lou isn’t a coward, and is perfectly willing to dirty his hands while blithely going about his bloody business.

            “The man with the grin is the man who will win.”


            4 stars






            Last edited by bugen; 05-12-2016, 03:29 AM.
            “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
            -John Barth



              DustHugh Howey
              “They ought to have been left on their own, both people and the planet. Mankind had the right to go extinct. That’s what life did: it went extinct. It made room for the next in line.”

              Does the end justify the means? The debate on this theme has raged for a long time, and an intelligent person can take up either side of the argument and win. Of course, when an equally intelligent person argues the opposite side, a stalemate results. The same is true with idiots on both sides, which we're much more familiar with. But no matter how you slice it this is an impossible argument unless the terms of battle are unequal in the first place.

              With this book the trilogy becomes a study on the theme. While it’s heavily weighted in one direction on the surface, the other side is present as well, and by the time it's over we’re provided with an extra layer of philosophy by asking the question.

              I’ve found it difficult and tedious to review the third book in a trilogy without spoiling the story, so I’m going to recap Wool and Shift briefly, touch lightly on Dust, and let your imaginations take you where they will.

              In Wool, some of the people buried in the underground silo where they’ve been living and dying for hundreds, or thousands, of years, learn of a conspiracy to alter the truth of the uninhabitable surface world through equipment that’s been tampered with. Still, the toxicity on the surface is immediately deadly, so the story is contained to infighting amongst the massive but packed-to-the-brim silo.

              In Shift, we see the origin of the silos, and some of our characters dealing with this new subterranean world while coming from the old, and one of our main characters starts to believe and act on her belief that there are others that may be reached.

              In Dust, the conspiracy of the silos is fully uncovered, as many our characters become aware they are not alone with their silo, but there are many other mysterious silos in the vicinity, presumably with many other people. They also learn that there is one silo to rule them all… The read bogs down a bit in the beginning, but then moves forward at a brisk pace it maintains for the rest of the novel.

              With compelling characters in dangerous, claustrophobic situations that are not at all far from our imaginations, The Silo Saga almost tells the story of the world we’re in right now, but removes it from today’s context and places it into tomorrow’s where we’ve already destroyed everything. It does, however, maintain hope, and this is no small feat at the end of the world, where the trilogy begins.

              “What lasts forever?” she obliged, sure to regret it but sensing that he was waiting for her to ask.

              “Our decisions,” he said.

              4 stars




              Last edited by bugen; 05-12-2016, 08:33 AM.
              “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
              -John Barth



                “I have been in several provinces. . . in all, the principal occupation is love, the next is slander, and the third is talking nonsense.”

                Candide seems to have mastered one central theme, and the book will pound you over the head with it:

                If a man is standing over an open cesspool, breathing in the vapors, he can tell himself, "that’s the sweet aroma of butternut pumpkin pie on a summer morning, perhaps with a hint of maple and notes of nutmeg and gingerbread." He can see the murky surface and say, "that water is the purest cerulean blue, and my reflection shows a man of stature and prominence with the world at my feet." A man can tell himself these things about his life so many times that he actually believes them. He’s still standing over a cesspool.

                This is a satire, a comedy, but it can be horrifying in its depiction of our reality. Still, I found myself bellowing laughter probably a dozen times at top volume.

                Candide, a young man fresh out of philosophical studies with his master, has learned that ‘Everything is as it should, and must, be. The world is perfect, because even when there are hardships they serve other purposes and lead to unforeseeable circumstances which turn the world positively forward. Therefore, everything is good.'

                At the tale’s onset Candide pursues and falls in love with the beautiful Cunegonde. Then his philosophy teacher is imprisoned and hanged setting off a dramatic chain of events which eventually familiarizes Candide with the real world. Cunegonde is stolen from him, circumstances lead to him killing a Baron, and he flees his city to begin adventuring in search for his love. He is bludgeoned by life at every turn yet maintains his positive attitude of ‘everything is good, all is as it should be.’ As his fortunes rise and fall throughout his adventures he encounters all manner of people, most of who take advantage of his naivety and leave him as penniless as possible, often barely with his life.

                I hadn’t a clue I was going to love this book like I did. It’s philosophy, and while philosophy can often be rewarding it’s many times too heavy to replace entertainment. Written in 1759, this short novel (or this particular translation – I can’t find the credit) is 100% applicable today and is nearly 100% accessible. It’s quite a marvel, as often classics have an additional language barrier to overcome which affects the rating if reviewing in today’s context for today’s readers.

                is a puzzle-box, and I can’t help but feel there are more secrets here. It’s a lively story of optimism and despair, and deserves permanent shelf-space.

                "What is this optimism?” said Cacambo.

                “Alas!” said Candide, “it is the madness of maintaining that everything is right when it is wrong.”

                5 stars






                Last edited by bugen; 05-12-2016, 04:18 AM.
                “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                -John Barth



                  Ronald Kelly - Blood Kin
                  This was my first novel by Ronald Kelly, though I had read some of his short fiction before. Kelly has a keen eye for pacing, and the novel moves along at a steady clip, never to fast or too slow.

                  Blood Kin has it's fair share of action and gore (including some truly eye-popping scenes), but also develops interesting and believable characters. Kelly's writing style actually reminds me a bit of a Southern Stephen King, maybe not quite as sophisticated in some ways, but he possesses the same well balanced home-style writing that makes for a quick, enjoyable, and relatable read.

                  The story centres around a century old former preacher turned vampire (Grandpappy Craven) who is trying to convert his descendents to vampirism. It takes place in a small southern US town called Green Hollow and it's surrounding areas. It's small town feel reminds me again of King, 'Salem's Lot specifically. The story makes for some interesting morality plays, especially with Wendell Craven, a relative of Grandpappy who is also a preacher.

                  My one complaint of this novel was some of Christian overtones, which I'm sure to many won't matter. Also they do fit the plot and characters, so who the hell am I to complain? I'm just not a big fan of overtly religious stories, this one touches on some religious elements but doesn't go over board. This ain't The Exorcist. With that said though I quite liked Blood Kin and will definitely be reading more Ronald Kelly some time soon. 4/5
                  Last edited by Theli; 12-11-2014, 10:26 PM.


                    I haven't read any of Mr. Kelly's work but need to and this looks like it may be a good start. Pitfall has been making the rounds and looks interesting too. I'd love to hear if anyone has a favorite they're sure would make for a great intro to the author.

                    Nice review, Theli, thanks for posting!
                    “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                    -John Barth



                      Shatterday – Harlan Ellison

                      “A world that has grown so complex and uncaring with systems and brutalization of individuals because of the inertia produced by those systems’ perpetuation of self, that merely to live is to be assaulted daily by circumstances.”

                      Shatterday is another collection favorited by one of the best short story writers I’ve had the privilege to read, and probably the best when it comes to combining horror and emotion, John R. Little. I know I keep mentioning Mr. Little, but it’s for damn good reason. Again, John provided a list of his favorite collections, and this was the second Ellison title on the list. The other was the immortal Deathbird Stories.

                      This book opens up with the Earth-shattering "Jeffty is Five," and it goes downhill from there. Not because the rest of the collection is somehow mediocre, but because it’s impossible to follow up a story like Jeffty. This story will be present in the upcoming Subterranean Ellison Award-Winners collection, The Top of the Volcano, which is the first thing I checked after I’d finished it. Ellison then goes on to tell a bunch of stories ranging from fair to great, heavily weighted on the ‘great’ side.

                      But first, in "Jeffty is Five," two five-year old boys are friends and playmates, and after a brief separation of a couple of years are reunited. Our narrator, however, continues to age normally while Jeffty does not. We follow our narrator as he moves away for years, then returns to his hometown as a full-grown man with Jeffty still a 5 year old child. Not just that he hadn’t grown, he was still actually 5 years old with the matching mentality. The world interacts differently with Jeffty, too. When he turns on a radio, it broadcasts stations that were played when they were five. When our narrator does the same on the same device, it’s modern stations. That’s the setup, and the story is a deep examination of self, of childhood vs. adulthood, innocence and loss, and can floor a reader. Be warned.

                      The book does not reach this height again, but there are no less than 7 ingenious stories remaining out of the next 15 tales, a couple of fair ones, and a handful of really good ones.

                      Highlights include:

                      "Flop Sweat" concerns a radio talk show host, her two guests, an unstoppable serial killer, and the end of the world.
                      "Would You Do It For a Penny?" is about a man with zero scruples hunting for women to seduce.
                      "The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge" is about a contractor screwing over a retiree, and the vengeance taken upon him.
                      "Count the Clock that Tells the Time" is about not wasting your life, about moving forward.
                      "In the Fourth Year of the War" concerns a man fiercely battling the other person inside his own head, forcing him to take revenge on those who’ve damaged him in the past.
                      "The Executioner of the Malformed Children" tells the tale of a boy injured so badly his parents give him up to the only institution that can save him, and who turn him into a warrior against demons from the future.
                      And in "Shatterday", a man accidently calls his home number from a restaurant and he picks up the phone at home. Battle is joined with himself.

                      These were all of my favorites, and every one of them is brilliant. Spread throughout the collection are Ellison’s introductions before each story (except Malformed Children, where he says he doesn’t want to talk about it). These intros do a great job of explaining the context of the story and while I generally skip Intros at the beginning of a book if I’m reading it for the first time, I’m glad these were all there in Shatterday and they're all worth reading.

                      Another amazing collection from Ellison, my only complaint is that the first story is just too good.

                      “He never lied; it simply wasn’t worth the trouble.”

                      4 stars

                      Last edited by bugen; 05-12-2016, 08:34 AM.
                      “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                      -John Barth



                        Today marks 6 months of book reviews and I've got to take a large-sized break. There is one more to go, and I hope you'll agree it's appropriate.

                        Thanks to everyone for reading and writing.

                        “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                        -John Barth



                          Midnight Promises - Richard Chizmar

                          “I… I thought I was the only one. But… but you’re like me, aren’t you?” she asked.
                          “Like you and then some.”

                          Richard Chizmar’s outstanding collection of short stories, Midnight Promises, is another title suggested to me from John R. Little’s favorites list. And an unmistakable pattern has emerged.

                          The pattern is humanity and empathy, it’s spoken of in the Afterward by Ray Garton, and it permeates most of the stories here to a saturation point very few writers can reach. Midnight Promises consists of hardship, friendship, and companionship, but its power comes from stripping away the friendlier elements and leaving us bare. This collection largely deals with loss.

                          I had a single 1 star rating given, and one 2 star (fair to good) rating, and every other story in this collection was very good to amazing (3- or higher). I’d like to focus on two of the seventeen stories, both of which hit with excruciating force.

                          "Heroes" concerns the relationship between an adult man and his dying father, and the lengths to which this man will go to keep his father alive. Fathers and sons have strained relationships these days, though it’s likely been like that throughout history. This particular story deals with a father/son relationship with the strongest of bonds. Some of us can relate, while most of us probably cannot, but all of us can see the reality of such a relationship through this story and our sense of nostalgia and longing is played upon here whether or not our own bonds compare. We at least wish they did, and because of it our hearts can expect some trauma from this story. Even writing this sentence makes me wish my relationship with my father was better than it is, and it hurts. Top quality stuff.

                          The second is the title story, "Midnight Promises". A woman visits the hospital every waking hour she is allowed, even at the expense of her own health, in order to stay by her dying husband’s side. Cancer is getting in its final blows, and communication is one-sided as the wife gives comfort by displaying old photos from their lives when they were together and happy.

                          Both of these stories are heartbreaking, and both contain horror though I’m not going to spoil it. But most important is the skill on display in order to tie us inexorably to the characters; Chizmar’s ability to make us empathize with them. When they get hurt, so do we. If they’re emotionally involved in a situation, then so are we. A rare quality.

                          Everything else in the collection is quite good at the least. Other highlights for me were:

                          "A Season of Change", about an officer's loss and his revenge.
                          "Homesick", about going home, even if you're the child of the most powerful man in the world.
                          "Beachcomber", about a powerful spirit and the sacrifices he makes.
                          "Devil's Night", about a high-schooler witnessing and investigating a murder around Halloween.
                          "Only the Strong Survive", about a girl with special powers and her domineering will.

                          There are many other great tales in this collection, and there is one common thread weaving through them all, portrayed no better than in the stories 'Heroes' and 'Midnight Promises'. Mr. Chizmar can write real, vulnerable characters whom we can instantly attach ourselves to, and this makes the situations they find themselves in far more deeply felt.

                          He would have spent huge amounts of energy over the years building this company that we love, and we would all miss terribly were Cemetery Dance not around. It must have been an agonizing decision whether to pursue writing or build this company. Either way, we the readers won, and either way, we lost.

                          I take some consolation in the fact another short story collection by Mr. Chizmar is scheduled to be published by Subterranean Press sometime next year. It cannot arrive quickly enough.

                          I leave you with my favorite quote from this book, echoing forever:

                          “Come dance the cemetery dance…”

                          4 stars






                          Last edited by bugen; 05-12-2016, 04:36 AM.
                          “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                          -John Barth



                            Sounds like I need to track down some of Rich's work and more Harlan Ellison.


                              Holiday Horrorsvarious authors
                              “I chuckle to myself to keep from sobbing. It's been over a year since I've seen my children.”
                              (from "Visitation Rights")

                              A chapbook from Cemetery Dance containing 4 Christmas-themed short stories, Holiday Horrors is super-fast and is a great read at this time of year. I’ve been waiting to get to it for many months and had no intention of posting a review, but was blindsided by one of the stories and figured I’d briefly share.

                              In no particular order:

                              "Stocking Stuffers" by Ray Garton is a bloody tale where a man recounts to a prostitute why he hates Christmas.
                              3+ stars

                              "Merry Christmas, Asshole" by Robert Brouhard is tale of revenge as a philanderer’s past exploits have returned to haunt him during the holidays.
                              3 stars

                              "The Christmas Creep" by Glen Krisch deals with the daughter of a strung-out mother, the mother herself, the sweet old grandmother and the underlying evil in a decaying town where it’s always Christmas.
                              3- stars

                              "Visitation Rights" by Kealan Patrick Burke is a heart-heavy story about a divorced man trying to reconcile with his two daughters over Christmas despite a long absence imposed by an embittered ex-wife. This one opens the book and steals the show.
                              4+ stars

                              I believe this chapbook cost me about $4, and mine’s not signed but I’m glad I bought it, glad I waited until now to read it, and quite happy to have liked it as much as I did. They're all good, but don’t miss that Burke story (also found his collection, Dead of Winter).

                              Merry Christmas, everyone!


                              Last edited by bugen; 05-12-2016, 08:35 AM.
                              “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                              -John Barth



                                "Antarctica" - Jamie Delano (from Hellblazer vol. 2 - The Devil You Know)

                                "Hell is a slow, cold dream… a numb descent to absolute zero… a dead-eyed observation of atrocity. It’s where you go to chill out when the horror catches up with you. You can easily die there, and never even care."

                                Hellblazer is the comic series that inspired the Keanu Reeves film Constantine, and the below is limited to the final two issues of volume 2. Within this volume, among six others, is a two-part story that's some of the best material I've ever read in the format. "Antarctica" (credited as from The Horrorist #1-2) is a self-contained arc and it's absolutely brutal in its depiction of the world.

                                Constantine is searching for the woman with 'black hole eyes', immortalized by a war photographer in a famous picture taken years earlier. The woman herself is a sad case, exhibiting a kind of stoic misery as the surrounding death toll grows.

                                The story can seem a bit abstract at times, and is certainly philosophical while still containing fire and brimstone, but it's more. It cuts deeply with its unapologetic depression, and an intensely introspective John Constantine brings his pain to the surface while the writing lashes both character and reader.

                                If you're in a melancholy mood, I'd recommend against reading this. If in an even darker place for God's sake stay away. But if you're looking for potency, Jamie Delano's "Antarctica" is a spellbinding, emotionally heavy tale that might have you clinging closer to the person next to you in gratitude for being there should you be so lucky.

                                5 stars

                                Last edited by bugen; 01-03-2015, 07:22 AM.
                                “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                                -John Barth