Browse any horror section in any book store and chances are, you’ll find a bunch of Stephen King and Dean Koontz books. Mr. Koontz is a name I’ve heard a lot about, and in early 2020 I picked up a bunch of his books for cheap. My goal in 2020 was to read my first Stephen King book, as well as my first Dean Koontz book. I accomplished that when I finished IT, and in November I read The Voice of the Night. This book is said to be Koontz’s best work. Koontz has a mixed reputation. Some people enjoy his work, while others claim he’s pretty trash. I’ll have to read more before I come to my own conclusion, but after reading Voice of the Night I can say he ain’t half bad.
I HEAR VOICES IN MY HEAD…
Dean Koontz pulls no punches. The book opens immediately with our two main characters — Colin and Roy. Roy is your typical asshole whose mantra in life is to kill or be killed. As you might guess, Colin is the complete opposite, and that’s where the dynamic lies. Colin wants Roy to like him. Roy’s intentions, however, are a little more sinister…
Like… REALLYsinister. Colin does his best to give Roy the benefit of the doubt. He can’t tell with absolute certainty whether or not Roy is just pulling his leg. For instance, in the passage above we see Roy fantasize about people dying in a terrible train wreck (hence the cover of the American edition). That’s just something normal people don’t daydream about…
Like most sociopaths, Roy is charming and manipulative like a used car salesman. He leans into Colin’s desire for belonging and friendship. You may be able to fool naive Colin, Roy, but ya sure can’t fool us!
“Death isn’t the end. It’s the center… it’s the most exciting thing in life.” Oooh-kay. Poor Colin still can’t see the 5 alarm fire and red flags that are pouring out of Roy. This book is very dialogue heavy. Which means it makes for a rather quick read that constantly moves at a brisk pace. It’s an interesting character study, for sure.
I like how Koontz continually ups the ante. Things start out “small” but gradually escalates like a well crafted thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Apparently, Mr. Koontz was not a big fan of the 1963 cult classic!
“Even in the fast-dwindling, purple-amber light of late evening, the sudden sprinkle of sweat on his forehead and upper lip was visible; darkly glistening jewels.”Loved that description! And although Roy is a psychopath, I love the diatribe he spews here. Not that I believe in it, but I love how Koontz continues to build Roy’s aggressiveness and mad world views.
And this is where we get the Star 1985 cover from.
We get to see how Roy’s negative influence starts to creep up on Colin. The passage above says it all. Disturbing stuff…
Colin’s broken relationship with his father explains a lot. He’s constantly belittled and demeaned. Perhaps that is why he is seeking belonging with a guy like Roy. From one asshole father to an asshole “friend.”
My favorite passage from the book. The way he describes the darkening sky puts you right there as we rapidly approach the climax of the book.
A lot of people hate on Dean Koontz, but many have praised The Voice of the Night. I’m glad this was my first Koontz book. I definitely enjoyed it, and I am curious what other works of his I might enjoy. I plan to read more in the years to come. I’m sure some I won’t like (at all). But for this book, I loved the back and forth dynamic between Roy and Colin. It’s all fairly predictable, but it’s an intriguing character study. While it doesn’t crack my favorite reads of 2020 list, it definitely ranks somewhere in the upper half echelon. Speaking of 2020, kiss my ass! Goodbye 2020 and hello 2021! Happy New Year y’all!
Richard Laymon is considered one of the most prolific horror writers of his day. Sadly he passed away on February 14, 2001, leaving this world far too early. It’s crazy that it’s almost been 20 years since his passing. He had a writing style that was unique and unforgettable. His horror was of the “splatterpunk” variety — extreme gore, sex scenes aplenty and all manner of depravity that is akin to surfing the Dark Web. It’s an unsettling place to visit, but one in which you’ll always remember — for better or for worse. My favorite book of his is by far Night in the Lonesome October. It is a masterful piece of horror fiction. I can’t think of another book like it. It’s one of those books that has to be read late at night only. Richard Laymon created a dreamy and dangerous world here like no one else could. I’m sad he’s gone, but I am thankful we’ll always have books like this to remember him by!
I know the front cover is generic as all hell, but don’t let that discourage you from picking up a copy. There are other editions with better covers, but it’s the inside that counts.
Cemetery Dance’s synopsis of Night in the Lonesome October is the best:
Shortly after returning to college for the start of the Fall semester, Ed Logan learns that the girl he loves has found herself a new boyfriend and won’t be coming back to school. Heartbroken and restless, Ed strikes out late one night for a walk through town. He doesn’t much care where he’s going, but soon finds himself fascinated by what he discovers between midnight and dawn — frightened by the town’s lurking terrors, lured by its mysteries… and enthralled by a strange, beautiful girl who roams the lonely streets.
It is told in first person form, from the eyes of our 20 year old protagonist, Ed Logan. His girlfriend Holly breaks up with him, and he enters a spiraling stage of depression. To alleviate his pain, he wanders the dark streets of his small town, Willmington, in an attempt to “get his mind off things.” It is there on those seedy streets after midnight that he runs into all sorts of — shall we say — “interesting” characters. But chief amongst them is a mysterious and alluringly beautiful girl that immediately captures Ed Logan’s fancy. He begins to follow her night after night and fancies himself as sort of her guardian. Why is she roaming the streets late at night? Where is she going? Ed endeavors to find out, and what he finds, may be more than he can handle. I won’t spoil this wonderful book but I have to share a few highlights…
By the way, this book is not to be confused with Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, which I have also heard great things about. Both Laymon and Zelazny used Edgar Allan Poe as inspiration — it was Poe that first coined the unique phrase.
Chapter one begins with a banger of an opening sentence. I was twenty years old and heartbroken the night it started.Well damn, now I’m curious to know more. We find out Holly Johnson crushed his heart. Damn you, Holly. But hey, if you didn’t dump Ed’s ole ass, then I guess we wouldn’t have this fantastic tale, would we? So thank you, Holly.
Early on, we are introduced to one of my favorite characters Richard Laymon has ever crafted. The bike hag, as Ed calls her, never fails to send a chill or two down my spine. I can always hear the BRING-BRINGGG! of her bell as she zips by Ed Logan. She appears throughout the novel and is delightfully demented in a very subtle, unsettling manner.
Afraid the old crone may turn him into a toad or something, Ed Logan is eager to duck and hide from the bike hag. And upon doing so, he spots the new girl of his dreams. I love how Laymon tells it straight — he is not one to use fancy prose. He simply wrote, “But then from the east a girl came walking.”Right away, you know it’s a major beat change and that this mysterious female of the night is going to be one of the key players in this story. Ed is captivated immediately, and many crazy adventures are yet to come…
As stated earlier, the bike hag is a fun recurring character. Ed is seriously paranoid of her. Is she even human? What mystical and deadly powers might this bike hag possess? Each night that Ed roams the streets, he risks running into the bike hag. I love how the page above shares all the various fears that Ed holds for the bike hag. You can’t help YOURSELF from the growing paranoia…
Laymon builds up the anticipation — at first Ed is unsuccessful in locating his new dream girl. I love the analogy to Ahab and the White Whale from the classic story Moby Dick. You can’t help but root for Ed Logan. You know he’ll eventually meet her, but Laymon doesn’t give it to you right away. He builds just enough to make that magical moment mean something.
While Ed is on the hunt for his dream girl, he encounters seemingly every single lunatic that lives in Willmington. In particular, this eerie porch scene gave me the heebie-jeebies!
I could picture this scene in my head so vividly… as I read it at 2 in the morning. Creepy!
I love the first person narrative. We really get in Ed Logan’s head. Laymon does a great job selling the fact that the night time is when the demented roam and rule. You can almost feel the seediness and peril of the night dripping off the pages. Well done, Uncle Dick. Well done, indeed.
More creepy 3 AM shenanigans abound! Laymon lays it on thick and you truly come to believe that this town is Loonyville. You can’t go anywhere after dark without being accosted by some creep or another.
The book picks up the pace even further once Ed Logan and Casey, the mysterious midnight girl, meet. These two night owls then begin wandering the streets of Willmington past the witching hour, playing risky games such as “Ride or Hide” and meeting all sorts of vagabonds and sycophants along the way. There’s a lot more to this book than just midnight excursions, including a main bad guy (not the bike hag) that plays a major role. I won’t delve any further; you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out!
RECEPTION AND REVERENCE
A while back, I was browsing Reddit and came across a Richard Laymon appreciation post. The poster shared how his mom cleaned her house and found his old well read collection of Richard Laymon tomes. This led to a bunch of replies praising Richard Laymon. One person said reading Laymon is like remembering every detail about a nightmare you’ve had.Perfectly stated!
This reply resonated with me so much that now whenever my wife and I go somewhere that seems a bit sketch, I’ll look at her and say, “Hey babe, this place is kinda Richard Laymon, huh?” She would always chuckle a bit and say “Yup…” She’s read one of his novels (Island) and enjoyed that one very much. You read one Richard Laymon novel and you know exactly what kind of writer he is…
But my absolute favorite reply in that thread came from the esteemed user with the moniker, socially_bereaved. Mr. Bereaved sums it up wonderfully: “That book is the “hey u up?” text at 2 AM of books.”I laughed my ass off when I read that, because Night in the Lonesome October is exactly that. Now if that doesn’t stir your interest, then goodness I don’t know what will.
I have read over 15 Richard Laymon novels since I first discovered him in mid 2019, and this one remains by far my favorite of his up to this point. His other novels range in quality. Most are good, a few are clunkers, but Night in the Lonesome October is absolutely fantastic. You have to read this book late at night. Richard Laymon crafted such a dreamy, otherworldly universe that you’ll feel as though you’re roaming the seedy streets with Ed Logan himself. Even to this day, I still look back fondly on my reading experience with this one. I read it over the course of 3 nights, and loved the hell out of it. It’s probably my favorite horror book that I’ve read thus far.
In tough and uncertain times like this, sometimes you just need to escape from it all for a couple hours. I can’t recommend this book wholeheartedly enough. The ending, which don’t worry I won’t spoil, is the cherry on top of this wicked cake. It ends like how a raunchy young adult coming-of-age movie might, where it ends with a one line banger. I read the last line, pumped my fist and yelled, “FUCK YEAH!” Immediately after which, I could envision the end credits scrolling with some high energy song accompanying it as I sat there with a stupid, satisfied smile on my face. From beginning to end, Richard Laymon hits a grand slam. This book is often cited as one of his finest works. Read it to find out why. If you don’t, perhaps the bike hag herself will give you “the works…”
34 years ago yesterday, Stephen King’s It was first published. September 15, 1986. I had no idea that was the case until moments ago when I googled the original publication date for this review. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was just yesterday 34 years ago! What a random fun coincidence. Earlier this year I set a goal to read all 1,000+ pages of It, and I’m proud to say I did that. It was also the first Stephen King book I have read, and it definitely won’t be the last. This is often considered Stephen King’s most popular book. It has been critically acclaimed, has been translated into a mini series back in 1990, and also received two full length feature film adaptations. It is as synonymous with the words “horror novel” as any other horror book one could name. But did it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look…
I can vividly remember getting my dad to buy me the VHS of the 1990 movie at a Suncoast at the local mall. At the time I had no idea it was based off a book. I just knew there was a creepy clown on the cover and I was sold. I remember watching the movie with my best friend Nelson, and not liking it as much as I hoped. I was a kid at the time so I definitely didn’t understand all the complexities and subtleties. The best part for me of course was whenever Pennywise the clown appeared onscreen (played by Tim Curry). The other “boring” parts Nelson and I didn’t care much for, but like I said, we were just little kids at the time who wanted their horror films to be over the top.
It was only years later that I found out It originated as a book. A really thick ass book. I was probably in junior high by then, and had no interest in reading a book well over 1,000 pages… especially when Goosebumps scratched my itch for the macabre at just around 120 pages per entry.
Then It was released in theaters on September 8, 2017. A girl I had just started dating wanted to watch It, and so I took her. I wanted to see it as well, but kept my expectations low because of how disappointing I found the 1990 version to be. We ended up really liking the 2017 version and then earlier this year my wife and I watched It Chapter Two. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to tackle the book.
At its core it’s a story about relationships: friendship and love. Loyalty. Courage. Overcoming fears. Regrets. Redemption. It was never meant to be focused on the clown, Pennywise, even though he does play a significant role. It is truly “The Losers,” as they’re affectionately called in the book, that make It work on so many different levels. It was that shift in mentality that allowed me to enjoy the movies and the book as much as I did. Of course, it helps to view things from an adult lens as opposed to the one we had when we were 9 or 10 years old. It follows these friends and their adventures in the small town of Derry both past and present, as they are haunted and stalked by a vengeful clown spirit that won’t let them go. Or, is it the kids then turned adults who won’t let It go? Hmm. It could be both…
There are large portions of this very large book that don’t implicitly involve Pennywise the clown. So if you go into It expecting a ton of scary clown thrills, you will likely be disappointed. To be sure, there are a fair share of chills, and the spirit of Pennywise permeates the subtext of the story, but as I said it is more about relationships and righting old wrongs. The more you care about the human characters, the more you will get out of this book. And for the most part, I was quite invested in the human characters, even if Stephen King does seem to go on and on and on at times. He is an exceptionally skilled writer, no doubt about that, but It easily could have been trimmed to around 700-800 pages without losing its soul. Hell, it would have been even better had it been!
The first page sets up the infamous sewer scene, one of the most iconic moments in horror literature. Poor little Georgie just had to be on that rainy street on that rainy day, didn’t he? But in the famous words of Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” And what a struggle Georgie had with Pennywise! A struggle that would cost Georgie his arm and ultimately, his incredibly young life. And with that struggle, we get the progression that we need to drive the story forward. Georgie’s older brother, Bill Denbrough, and his “Loser” friends, are then moved to action and sworn to vengeance. Even if it does take them 27 long years…
As I said, Pennywise doesn’t always show up, but man, when he does, he steals the scene. As you can see, Stephen King has a way with words. It’s nothing overly complex. In fact, it’s pretty straight forward and simple. But he has a way of painting these pictures in your head. At least here he does, anyhow. My favorite line from this page is a very simple but creepy one: “There was a clown in the stormdrain.” Like, what?! It conjures such an unsettling image in the mind that you can’t help but feel a little uneasy, especially if you were George himself. Six year old George, no less! So It definitely opens up with a bang. I won’t spoil the rest!
The 2016 Scribner edition I read in particular is 1,153 pages long. Not every page is as thrilling as the first couple pages you see here, so some readers have expressed disappointment or even “bait-and-switch” in the most extreme cases. I don’t think it’s bait-and-switch. For example, look at almost any Godzilla movie. Godzilla rarely appears for a very long running time in his movies, yet they are not bait-and-switch. The same with It and Pennywise. You just have to be ready to dive into Derry and its world, its cast of flawed and imperfect human characters. If you want unabashed wanton clown terror mayhem, then go watch Art the Clown in the Terrifier movies. Don’t read Stephen King’s It because you would only be setting yourself up for disappointment.
For those patient enough however to stick it through, I think you will find It to be a more rewarding read than not. I really enjoyed it, and would easily give it 4+ stars had it been trimmed down a good 250-300 pages or so. Also, toward the end, there is a certain scene with Beverly Marsh that thankfully did not appear in the movie that completely took me out of it and made me go “WHAT?!?!”I had to read that particular part 3-4 times to believe my eyes. WTF Stephen King?! You’ll know it when you read it. I found it gross and completely unnecessary to the story. Some have defended that part by saying Mr. King did his job — it is the job of the author in a horror book to shock and offend, but “that moment” came so out of left field for me that I cannot comprehend or defend it in any way. But It certainly has earned its place in horror literature lore, and I do recommend diehard horror fans to read It at least once before all is said and done.
Over the past year, since getting back into reading, I’ve heard a lot of great things about Boy’s Life. McCammon was well known for his horror novels, but it really wasn’t until Boy’s Life that he reached new heights of reverence. Boy’s Life has elements of horror, to be sure, but it’s much more than just that. There’s a big mystery behind the core of this story, and although that mystery isn’t always the main focus, McCammon takes you on this wild ride of an 11 year old boy who comes of age in the south in the mid 1960s. It is also a powerful tale of a father and son who bear personal witness to a heinous crime and have to navigate life with all of that trauma weighing them down.
I absolutely love that back cover. The praises, the summary… it all meshes and makes a strong declaration to the reader: READ ME!
After finishing Boy’s Life on April 2, 2020, I went on a “bit” of a McCammon kick. A month later, I was lucky enough to come across a lot of 11 Robert R. McCammon books for just $39.99. I’ve read one since and can’t wait to eventually read the rest. McCammon is a writer’s writer; he writes in a way that is lyrical and puts you right there at the scene of the crime. I’m a huge fan of his writing!
This is my collection of 15 Robert R. McCammon books. Most of them fall under the horror genre. I’ve heard some amazing things about Swan Song, a tome that spans nearly 1,000 pages long. It is said to be a super epic tale about the end of the world, similar to Stephen King’s The Stand (which I am currently reading — what with COVID-19 and all), but I hear Swan Song is that much more superior.
Look at all that amazing art work. The titles, the font, the colors… everything is just so gorgeous and striking. They sure as hell don’t make covers like this anymore! His earlier works are said to be weaker than his later entries, as McCammon grew as a writer with each passing book. But I digress. Back to Boy’s Life…
Boy’s Life opts for the first person narrative, and when done right, I really prefer this form of storytelling. Nothing puts you in the shoes and the heart of the main character quite like seeing and hearing things from their perspective. I like how Cory reflects on his younger life, as he rapidly approaches his 40th birthday. It is very reminiscent of Fred Savage’s character, Kevin Arnold, looking back on his formative years from the seminal ’80s TV show The Wonder Years. Being a huge Wonder Years fan, right away McCammon had me sold. Kevin Arnold living in a supernatural world? I’m *SO*there. Take my money, McCammon!
McCammon’s prose is full of these rich, beautiful word pictures. He makes the reader see beyond the text and into the amazing world he has crafted. Often times, I stop after a certain passage and just have to read it twice. The writing has a timeless quality to it that pulls you in.
At 578 pages long, Boy’s Life did admittedly drag slightly for me in a few places, but for the most part I was enthralled by the characters and curious about the mystery that wraps itself around the story. When McCammon nails a passage, man, does he ever stick the landing! For example, the excerpt you see above is perhaps my favorite from the book. It is just so haunting… so nostalgic… so full of kinetic energy that you can almost feel it pulsating off the page like fierce firecrackers spouting off in a barrel. “We pedaled on, four buddies with the wind at our backs and all roads leading to the future.”Powerful shit! Good shit!
I don’t want to spoil this beautiful story for those who haven’t read it, but I will reiterate that it really isn’t a horror novel. Sure, it has got some spooky and supernatural elements to it, but it’s really more about a boy coming of age in the mid 1960s, and his looking back on those formative years that shaped him into the man he would become. There is a definite nostalgic quality to the writing and storytelling. It may be dauntingly overlong to some, but I encourage you to give it a shot if anything in this review resonated with you in the least. It is truly a defining piece of work and often cited as McCammon’s very finest.
This is the one I remember most, though. I remember when Boy’s Life popped on my radar. As per usual, the first thing I did was visit Goodreads to see the overall consensus. Now I don’t always base my feelings on what strangers think, but I think it’s a fun bar that can be factored in when deciding whether I want to buy a book or not. And I just remember seeing the insane amount of 5 star reviews for Boy’s Life. And how there were barely any 1 or 2 star reviews. No book is ever perfect, and most books will have its fair share of supporters as well as detractors (some far more than others), but Boy’s Life averaged a whopping 4.36 rating as rated by more than 25,000 readers. That blew my mind, and I knew right away it was a book I had to read in 2020. It was also Char’s highlighted review that inspired me to buy a copy that very day.
Perfectly stated, Char. Indeed.
McCammon does an excellent job of plopping you into the shoes of 11 year old Cory Mackenson smack dab in the middle of Zephyr circa 1964. The small sleepy town of Zephyr feels like a real breathing place. Themes of racism, bullying, injustice, social inequity and standing up for what you believe in rings loud and proud throughout the pages of Boy’s Life. It’s not perfect but there are many moments where I finished a reading session with one word ringing loud in my mind: “wow.” The story gets really heartbreaking at times and I love the ending where it fast forwards to the year 1991 and we get to see present day Cory Mackenson returning to his childhood town. That part filled me with so much nostalgia in spite of the fact that I am not Cory or never been to his hometown of Zephyr. It’s simply a testament to McCammon’s immense skill of making you feel like you know Cory and his town like the back of your own real life childhood hometown. Also love the father-son relationship in this story. Highly recommended for fans of coming-of-age stories, with a hint of the supernatural.
After devouring Guy N. Smith’s Cannibals, one thing was clear: I needed more Guy in my life. I won Manitou Doll and Cannibals from the same eBay seller, so naturally, Manitou Doll was the next book to be read. The cover piqued my interest immediately. It’s so exotic, so… EVIL. Just look at that glorious wooden carved doll, bursting to life with a demonic eye peering out of its shell. Top it off with the chilling silhouette of a mysterious woman worshiping in the distance of a gorgeous mountain range, and it instantly transports you back to those magical, halcyon days of browsing the horror section at your local mom and pop rental store, gawking at all the amazing and cool VHS covers that the ’80s had to offer. The little caption “Hell’s fury breaks loose on a holiday weekend” only further adds to the fun, promising much carnage and sinister shenanigans to come. It’s one of the most intriguing book covers I have ever seen, so I couldn’t wait to read it especially given how much I enjoyed Cannibals. Can Guy N. Smith go 2 for 2?
The back cover suggests a seedy story taking place at a rainy fairground where shady happenings are the order of the day. Manitou Doll centers around the Caitlins and their daughter, Rowena (who is hard of hearing), and the deadly misadventures they find themselves caught up in upon stepping foot on the fairground’s foul and drenched soil.
Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the horrific idea of killer dolls and such. Sure, Chucky from Child’s Play is arguably the most iconic of its ilk, but the Zuni warrior doll from Trilogy of Terror always haunted me. It seemed like Manitou Doll had all the potential to be an awesome story about a killer doll on the rampage.
There are some scenes in the book describing the fair’s Punch and Judy show. Those things always creep the hell out of me!
I couldn’t wait to dive in. Let’s see if Guy N. Smith does killer dolls right.
The horror began on September 16, 1868. The prologue is a bit slow moving at first, but you can feel Guy slowly ratcheting up the tension as the inevitable “breaking point” event creeps ever closer. I felt a sense of impending doom building as I continued to read, waiting for that horrific “oh shit” moment.
And whoop, there it is. A terrible raping occurs, and from that, a curse was born for future generations to come. And rue that day they did.
Guy is no Ernest Hemingway, but I do enjoy his prose. He does a good job of dropping you in the middle of a creepy hamlet, or in this case, a rain soaked and rundown fairground. He has a certain way with words that puts you in the middle of the action.
As with many horror books of the time, plenty of side characters are introduced solely for them to meet a bitter end not long thereafter. Enter Margaret Stott, who is about to suffer a most horrifying demise.
These passages haunt me even now to this day, and it’s been a year since I’ve read this book. I will always remember this scene in particular. I could picture Margaret’s mind snapping, her will breaking and all her humanity stripped. It is as harrowing as it gets. The poor woman found herself trapped in an area where the air supply was limited, movement was restricted and she was at the mercy of darkness…
Guy N. Smith has a way of burrowing underneath your skin. You just get that shiver running through your spine as you spiral deeper and deeper into the abyss. Not recommended for those with claustrophobia!
Insane mirth — yes, indeed. That about sums it up! What a haunting passage. There are quite a few of these disturbing moments. Another one is the weird spook ride where young Rowena Caitlin ends up … well, I don’t want to spoil it.
I just wish that there was more killer doll action. The cover makes it seem like it might be, but it’s more about the drama that exists between the Caitlin family and the strange doll carver, Jane. It’s filled with cliches and tropes as one might expect, but a little too much is focused on the humans than the doll. Maybe my expectations were too high. I just wanted straight maniac doll horror. Instead, it’s scattered among the human drama which at times felt like a bit of a slog to get through.
Manitou Doll had a ton of potential to be THE killer doll pulp novel of its time. But there isn’t enough doll action here for my liking, and too much human drama that I honestly didn’t care about much. The characters are flat, one dimensional and a bit annoying at times. There are some nice evil doll moments sprinkled throughout, but not enough for me to recommend this. It’s just an OK read; I wouldn’t go out of my way to track this one down. I do love Guy’s description of the decrepit fairground. And that cover is totally badass. What a shame then that the story didn’t deliver. Your mileage may vary, but for me this is definitely a case where admirable ambition was largely nullified by subpar execution. I didn’t have as much fun reading Manitou Doll as I had hoped. Not a terrible read — just disappointingly average!
Last summer I began my journey into the sordid and macabre world of vintage horror fiction. Browsing eBay late one night, I happened to come across an auction for a book called CANNIBALS. After Googling Guy N. Smith, I discovered that he was a rather popular English writer of pulp horror fiction. In other words, if you enjoy trashy and wildly graphic horror stories, Guy N. Smith is your guy (sorry). Guy is most well known for his infamous Crabs franchise, of which he wrote no less than EIGHT books about killer crabs. I knew then that I had to buy Cannibals. Put it on my watch list and a few days later, placed my bid at the last possible second and won the sucker. The excitement level was palpable — I couldn’t wait to read my first adult horror book, something long overdue. Did Guy deliver? Let’s delve in…
Cannibals won’t win any awards for originality, but the plot is right up my alley. Of the many different horror sub-genres, I’ve always been a sucker for grotesque inbred creatures attacking poor unwitting fools. I love how the back of the book has the same killer art as the front cover. That hideous creature is just so gruesome. What is up with those webbed claws and that third eye?! Definitely not something you would want to run into late at night, or any other time of the day! I also love the simple plot and how you know there will be an uprising of the monsters. Much blood shed is promised, and much is spilled and splattered through the book’s 208 pages. It is a wild, bloody ride!
WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE…
Wrong Turn opened in theaters on May 30, 2003. I scored two tickets for a special pre-screening the night before, and invited a good college buddy of mine along. It was a packed house! Lots of girls screaming in the audience and lots of funny comments like “OH HELL NO! GIRL YOU BETTER WATCH YO BACK!” made for a very fun evening of slasher movie madness. Cannibals is kind of like Wrong Turn and The Hills Have Eyes… but on steroids.
ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE
Most horror books open with an excerpt from later in the book. It’s usually a nasty bit that the author wants to highlight right from jump street. The one in Cannibals is no exception; it is a particularly abominable excerpt…
The first page introduces us to Doug Geddis, an elderly member of the hamlet known as Invercurie. We find out he’s in his late 50s and that he’s seen through shit. He is clearly apprehensive, and praying that whatever was lurking outside were villagers rather than… well, you know. Right away Guy N. Smith paints a desolate scene. One that feels hopeless, isolated from civilization and ripe for some inbred monster mayhem.
It isn’t long before readers find Doug Geddis is up to no good. Greedy to make a buck, he’s willing to risk the lives of careless holidaymakers. What a great word, by the way. You gotta love English writers; they use certain words and phrases American writers don’t. Little details like that can make a book feel “exotic” and extra fun to read. I also love his wife’s accent and how Guy writes it as how you would hear her speak it: “Douglas, ye can nae bring outsiders to Invercurie, ye can nae risk them seeing…” and then ol’ Douglas the mad lad telling her to shut up. Or think it, anyhow. The page ends on this chilling line: “Death would always stalk the night hours in Invercurie.” Ooh, spooky! Even the word “Invercurie” seems to curdle the blood… it just sounds like the sort of place where really bad and awful things happen… the type of place that deserves to be blotted off the map and blown to bits. A region where no God of any kind exists…
Soon we get some foolhardy holidaymakers crashing the scene. They’re needed for the body count, y’know. Once again we get another chilling line in italics: Invercurie ceases to be a place of beauty after dark. Ye mustna go up into the mountains. Creepy stuff!
Be ready for a lot of words written in italics. I suppose it was Guy’s way of being extra dramatic and look-at-me. Whatever the odd case may be, I find it works. My eyes were always drawn to the italics, and I knew anything in italics usually meant some sort of vulgar language or graphic description. Guy’s vivid description of the beasts is second to none. He really excels at grossing you out and making you feel super glad you’re anywhere but Invercurie!
When shit hits the fan, it really hits the fan. This is like nothing I’ve ever read from R.L. Stine, that’s for sure! Oh no, people die here and die in very gruesome ways. It is not for the faint of heart. Cannibals is balls to the walls horror and depravity personified. Being my first adult horror book read, I could not believe how vile and despicable it was. Each reading session concluded with me wanting to thoroughly scrub myself clean!
Guy N. Smith is a savage. The story moves along at a brisk pace, there is plenty of monster mayhem and it never drags. This isn’t one of those lame horror stories where it’s 80% buildup and then finally the monsters appear during the final 20%. These godforsaken creatures show up early and often. At first it’s a bunch of slaughtering up in their dank decrepit cave. But before things come to a fiery conclusion, the creatures shamble out of their cave to wreck havoc and smash shit up down in the village. This was no lame first book in a series where it sets up events for the middle book. This is a standalone where Guy unleashed all hell and said, “Here, have some more hell! And take another heaping of hell after that!” I enjoyed the hell out of it, pun intended. It’s way better than any Hills Have Eyes or Wrong Turn movie. Sometimes, it’s a lot more frightening imagining something with your mind than it is to see with your eyes.Cannibals is damn bloody fun, full of wanton destruction and chaos. I was sad when it finally ended, but also relieved. I needed a shower badly! This is just one of those books… it’s completely vile and foul… and I loved every friggin’ second of it
I hate spiders. The mere sight of one is enough to make me squirm. They’re just so creepy looking, with those eight freaky legs and the way their bodies scurry so erratically… ugh! Arachnophobia? Who, me? Get outta here! Naw, I’ll be the first to admit that spiders simply scare the shit outta me. And I know I’m not alone. Millions of people are afraid of spiders. I remember watching Arachnophobia as a kid in the early ’90s and barely being able to watch the movie without diving behind the comforts of my family couch. Spiders have frightened millions of people for centuries, so it’s only natural for someone to write a scary book about them. And in the summer of 1980, a sick and twisted man named Richard Lewis did just that. Just last week, Spiders celebrated 40 years since it was published. For 40 years it has terrorized readers, and here’s to 40 more!
The first page of Spiders introduces us to 67 year old Dan Mason, who retired 2 years ago from a managerial position in the sugar industry. The story takes place in Kent, a county in South East England. I love how this first page paints a perfect picture of late autumn in the Kentish countryside. It really sets the stage for the horrors to come… invading… crawling… swarming…
It doesn’t take long before the first spider comes creeping along. Dan was tugging out weeds in his farmhouse garden when he accidentally unearthed a strange looking spider. He tried killing it but to no avail. I love how Lewis describes the action. How Dan felt an involuntary shiver of fear run down his back as he saw the 8 eyes staring unblinkingly at him… as if the creature was thinking hate. Ugh, my skin is crawling already! Unfortunately for our man Dan, before he can flick the injured spider off his glove, it jumped high in the air and landed on his uncovered arm. The nightmare begins!
But our man Dan manages to survive the stinging bite. However, later that evening, the injured spider and hundreds of his wicked friends decide to pay ol’ Dan a late night visit. The descriptions of the spiders and the way they deal with disposing of humans is vile and despicable. This is trashy pulp horror at its best. It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for damn sure! And with the demise of Dan Mason, we are then introduced to his son, Alan Mason. Soon, Alan and the whole countryside will be fending off the creepy crawlers. It’s a wild and fast-paced ride!
And when I say it’s vile, I mean IT’S VILE. Not even babies and toddlers are safe! The scene of poor Sheila and her little boy, Damien, haunts me to this day. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. This book will make you fear spiders even more! Poor Damien too… all the little tyke ever wanted was to play with the “piedah”…
I first read Spiders last summer and absolutely loved every blood dripping second of it! It is a harrowing and unsettling read from the first page to the last page. And at a mere 153 pages, it won’t take you long to blow through it. Lewis designed the book in a way where it feels like a series of short stories, but they’re all connected with a central plot weaving a common thread (no pun intended). The protagonist, Alan Mason, is very believable and someone you root for. You feel his struggle, his pain and his elation at various points of the story as he attempts to go from dad avenger to nation savior. The spiders are brutal and horrifying. No one is safe from having their flesh ripped apart. Spiders does fetch a fair penny, as copies on eBay currently go for around $20. As a big fan of “when animals attack” pulp fiction, Spiders hit the mark BIG TIME for me. I can’t wait to read its sequel, The Web. If that one is anywhere near as fun as Spiders, then I’d be more than satisfied. Fantastic job, Richard Lewis, you mad mad man you!
Nothing beats discovering an obscure video game that turns out to be a “hidden gem” and then sharing it with the community. It’s no different with books, as I have found out over the past year or so. And God, there are so many books out there. So many great ones. So many bad ones. But every once in a while, you come across one that leaves a lasting imprint long after you’ve read it. It magically leaves you feeling nostalgic about the story as soon as you finish that final fateful page. Kazumi Yumoto’s The Friends took me back to the good old days of boyhood summers and crazy adventures shared among friends under a scorching sun. More than a summer of fun, it’s a summer of life lessons that shape your world views, helping you to take steps toward adolescence.
Last year I found myself browsing the middle grade fiction aisle when I first ran across The Friends. Even though I’m in my mid 30s, you can never be too old for a good book with a message that even adults can appreciate. The simple title and the cover grabbed my attention. Looks like an easy read about 3 Japanese boys having random adventures in the suburbs of Japan. But what’s that boy pointing at, and what’s written on the list the other boy is holding? And good God, look at those haircuts. I swear almost every Asian boy had that hairstyle at some point in the mid ’90s! I know, because my brother had it! I flipped the book over to read the synopsis on the back. It had vibes of Stand By Me meets Tuesdays With Morrie in a Japanese setting. TAKE MY TWO BUCKS!
Summer has once again arrived. But for 12-year-old Yamashita, this is no regular summer. His grandmother has passed away. Yamashita and his two best friends, Kiyama and Kawabe, are suddenly interested in what death entails. Do the dead go on to become ghosts… or what? It isn’t long that they spot a very old man who looks like he’s on the verge of crossing over to the other side. Morbidly fascinated, they begin watching him. But soon, he begins watching the boys back, and they ultimately become friends. Life lessons, both fun and hard, naturally ensue.
I read this book last June, and coincidentally enough, it opens in June. I love when that happens in books. It makes me feel like it was “meant to be.” I’m a dork, I know! But yeah, Kazumi Yumoto’s writing is simple and flows easily. It is a comforting read, even though the book touches on some deep and heavy themes. I’m actually glad I read this one first as an adult, as I don’t think I would have appreciated it nearly as much if I had read it as a kid instead.
The bond shared between the 3 boys is endearing and nostalgic. It takes me back to my childhood summers, long and lazy hot days that seemed like they would never end. No school, no homework. Just all the hours in the day to hang out with your buds and do nothing and everything. Ahhh. Even though I didn’t grow up in Japan, I can still relate to Yamashita, Kiyama and Kawabe. They feel like friends I grew up with. Heck, at times I felt as though I were one of them. It carries the book from beginning to end, and throwing the old man into the mix gives the concoction the right amount of spice it needs. Life is not all rainbows and sunshine, and I love how Kazumi Yumoto walks that fine balance between simple and nuanced. For a middle grade book, this is a remarkable achievement!
THIS REVIEWER SAID IT PERFECTLY
I couldn’t have said it any better. There is something special about the way this book was written. It came from a time when cell phones, social media and such did not exist. When boys went out of the house to hang with their best friends and find adventure together. The humanity behind this book, and the relationship between the boys and the old man is touching and magical.
If you enjoy coming of age stories about best friends, or if the idea of Stand By Me meets Tuesdays With Morrie peaks your interest, then I cannot recommend The Friends wholeheartedly enough. It’s only been a year since I read it, and already I have — illogically perhaps — an immense amount of nostalgia toward it. It’s definitely because of the way Kazumi Yumoto wrote this book. There is a timeless quality to it… the kind of book that begs to be read every few summers or so. In another author’s hands, The Friends could have been cheesy or hokey. Luckily, Yumoto found a way to make the lessons land without being overly preachy.
R.L. Stine’s Hit and Run holds quite a bit of nostalgic goodness for me. It was the very first teen thriller I ever read, and I’ll always remember it fondly as such. One day in 1995 my dad took me to the local library and I spotted it on the shelf. The covers for the older teen thrillers always used to creep me out a bit, and I guess on that particular night I finally felt brave enough to give one of his “scarier” books a try. I remember feeling excited and a little anxious on the car ride home. I read the blurb on the back feverishly, and couldn’t wait to read it and see how it would compare to his Goosebumps books.
The back had me hooked from the start. I knew it was going to be more intense than any of his Goosebumps, but just how much was the question. I remember running into my room as soon as we got home. My brother recently moved out into the bedroom down the hall because we were old enough to have some privacy of our own. And boy, was I ever glad for that. I would be able to devour this book in peace and quiet. Though I loved Boyz II Men and Selena almost as much as the next guy, it’d be awfully difficult to read a book while my brother blasted Dreaming of You or End of the Road for the 150th time.
By the way, I always got a real kick out of spotting the blood stained “Thriller” label on these teen books. It was always like a quick instant adrenaline pump. It was a simple symbol that gave me that extra jolt whenever I saw it on the shelf.
I also loved how at certain angles the fancy embossed title and R.L. Stine’s name appeared silver…
… while at other angles it appeared purple. I must have wasted 5 minutes gawking at this color change before I began reading the book in 1995! Good times.
And who could forget the classic list of other teen horror books at the back of these novels? It was fun to see all the titles and even check off the ones you have read. Sad but true: I own all of those titles above
Hit and Run is about four high school friends who love to play ribs on each other. Cassie Martin is the only girl in the group — her 3 friends are Scott, Eddie and Winks. From the first page we find out that Cassie has a crush on her friend, Scott. One of the biggest differences between these YA (Young Adult) thrillers and Goosebumps was that the characters are older and they do things teenagers in high school would do, such as kissing. I’m pretty sure the kissing scene between Cassie and Scott was the first time I read about two characters lip locking. Needless to say, as an 11 year old I remember thinking I was reading something that maybe I shouldn’t. It’s super tame now looking back on it, but that was all part of the fun and innocence of it back then reading it as a kid.
One wild night while the 4 friends are out driving, they hit a creepy looking guy on an isolated stretch of road. Stricken with panic that their futures would be over if anyone ever found out, they decide to make a pact to keep it their secret. A deadly secret that each of them would take to the grave. Only, they soon find themselves terrorized by the man they supposedly killed. But the dead can’t come back to life… or can they?
I read it in one long sitting back in 1995 and absolutely loved it. After finishing it I could almost feel the sudden growth of a few whiskers on my chin! Just 2 short years later, I Know What You Did Last Summer came out with basically the same premise. I remember thinking that they stole their ideas from R.L. Stine’s Hit and Run…
Four young friends (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr.), a hit and run, one supposedly dead body and a pact to take it to the grave. But soon thereafter they’re relentlessly stalked. Yeah, stop me if you’ve heard that one before! It was only in recent years that I found out I Know What You Did Last Summer was based off the book of the same name by an author named Lois Duncan. Oops, so much for being a copycat of R.L. Stine’s Hit and Run! Maybe it was the other way around…
Lois Duncan was a popular writer of teen thrillers back in the ’70s and ’80s.
I bought this book last year and it’s on my to-be-read list, along with like 5,000 other books! I’m curious how similar it is to the 1997 movie.
Speaking of Lois Duncan, that wasn’t her only teen thriller converted into a movie. In 2018, Down A Dark Hall was converted from the page to the screen. Of course, I bought this book last year as well, but I digress
I recently read Hit and Run for the first time in 25 years. Like a total dork, I read it late at night and tried to blow through all 164 pages in one sitting like I did when I was 11, as if to recapture some long lost magic. Alas, I had to tap out about halfway as Mr. Sandman came knocking on my door. I finished it the very next morning. It was a nostalgic read and hardly anything more. Being Stine, you can expect plenty of short paragraphs, tons of dialogue, cliffhanger chapter endings and fake out “scares” galore. He had a formula that worked for me when I was a kid. Now as an adult, clearly nowhere near the target demographic range, I didn’t enjoy Hit and Run as much as I did 25 years ago. It definitely loses something reading it as an adult, but I enjoyed the trip down memory lane nevertheless. You can see the “twist” coming a mile away, and I’m tempted to give it a ho-hum middle of the road (no pun intended) 2.5 out of 5 stars rating but for nostalgic reasons I’ll bump it up half a star.
As a kid I loved going to the library. My mom and dad would take me there at least once a week. I always made a beeline for the scary books. Anything that had to do with ghosts, monsters and the macabre — I was there. Over time however, namely around high school and college, I fell out of love with reading. Reading became a chore. Something I had to do in order to ace a test. I lost my way with reading, and every year “reading more” became a New Years resolution that would inevitably crash and burn by February. But as readers of Adventures in Book Shopping know, over the past year I’ve rediscovered my passion for books. So much so that I decided to add a brand new category to RVGFanatic: BOOKS R US.
I understand this may seem like quite a deviation as for the past 13+ years I’ve used RVGFanatic mainly as a platform for all things Super Nintendo. However, I have never shied away from writing about other random things. I will continue to write SNES game reviews and articles when I feel inspired to. But to be perfectly honest and frank, over the past year the bulk of my down time has been devoted to reading the many books on my to-be-read shelf. Due to this rediscovered passion of reading, I’d like to share some quick thoughts about the books I read. I hope this addition to RVGFanatic will serve you in some small way, whether it conjures nostalgic memories about books from our youth, or simply gawking at the trashy, pulpy horror fiction paperbacks that proliferated bookstores throughout the ’80s and early ’90s. I hope you will come along for the ride! Now, let us continue on with the main show…
HOW THE FEAR BEGAN
My love for R.L. Stine began in the early-mid ’90s, when I, like countless other kids, fell helplessly in love with his Goosebumps series. My best friend Nelson and I devoured them often in one sitting.
But I knew Goosebumps weren’t the only “scary” books R.L. Stine wrote. Prior to evil talking dummies and egg monsters from space, R.L. Stine wrote scary books for a slightly older audience. His Point Horror books (such as The Babysitter series) and his Fear Street franchise were popular sellers back in the day. Reading one was sort of like a rite of passage. After consuming Goosebumps by the dozens, Fear Street was the next natural step.
I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on a Fear Street novel. One day in late 1992, Nelson and I were on our way to the kids section. But you could never get there first before passing by the aisle displaying the latest teen novels. Remember those movable glass panels libraries used back in the ’90s? It afforded you a glimpse at those teen covers and it was here that Nelson and I had our very first Fear Street encounter. The cover showed a high school cheerleader, possessed by an evil spirit, clutching her pom pom. But there was something eerie and unnatural about the pom pom. We did a double take and realized there was a skull staring back at us. Nelson and I, in our typical exaggerated dorkiness, looked at each other, looked back at the book cover, then looked back at one another with our mouths wide open. We forced ourselves to creep toward the teen section to get a closer look. The forbidden book stood high on the top glass panel as if not to be touched. He dared me to reach up and take it down. Naturally, I countered by double dog daring him. Finally, after some back and forth ribbing, we agreed to call it a tie. Maybe one day we’ll both read it, but for now, hey, we were only 9 year old kids…
There was nothing like going into Waldenbooks and heading straight for the horror section. There was a new Goosebumps book published each month, but perhaps even better than that was scanning the covers of all those teen thrillers. When you were only 9, it felt like you were getting a glimpse behind the curtain.
RETURN TO FEAR STREET
In January of 2019, my girlfriend and I were out for lunch one day. We ordered some Chinese food and picked up some Popeyes fries since the two stores were in the same plaza (nothing like combining different comfort food together). We had about 15 minutes to kill and saw that there was a Goodwill nearby. We checked it out and I ended up buying a book and an Ernest collection DVD for $2. The very next month we found ourselves back in that plaza and I came across an old childhood book, Bunnicula. I bought it for a buck and thus began the nostalgic book hunting adventures.
April 13, 2019. My girlfriend used to live about 2 hours away, and she worked on Saturdays until 8 PM. Both were less than ideal but we worked around it. It was on this fateful cloudy Saturday afternoon that I met up with her during her lunch break. Before heading back to work, she loaned me the key to her apartment so I could hang out at her place to watch sports or play my Switch until she gets off at 8. Before heading to her place though, something told me to check one of the Goodwill stores near her place. I had never been there before, and I kind of had this crazy feeling that I was going to find some nostalgic books from my childhood there. After pulling into the parking lot, I noticed two things right away. Number one, it was FREAKING HUGE and second, it was one of those beautiful lazy cloudy spring afternoons you never wanted to end. The good gut feeling I had prior to entering the parking lot had just multiplied tenfold! There was going to be a special find inside that Goodwill store. I could feel it in my bones…
I was speechless when I arrived at the books section. It was a freaking gold mine. Most of the books were in great condition, and each book sold for $1.99. It wasn’t long before my eye caught sight of the wonders hidden within.
R.L. Stine’s teen thrillers and Fear Street franchise haunted me as a kid, but I didn’t get to read very many of them. Mostly, I remember gawking at their gaudy covers as a kid and wishing I would be able to read them. I never got around to, other than reading maybe 5 or 6 of them. So seeing all this left me speechless. Talk about taking a time machine and rewinding the clock some 25, 30 years!
For those counting at home, there are 52 teen thrillers in the cart, 51 of which penned by R.L. Stine. I bought most of the Fear Street books in one fell swoop. All of them were in good to excellent condition, and it felt like one of those lucky legendary finds that you’ll never forget. I was at the right place at the right time.
In addition to the 52 books, I found 15 other books from my childhood. Stuff like Old Yeller, My Teacher is an Alien and Aliens Ate My Homework. I spent $133.33. Each book sold for $1.99. It was insane to buy 67 books, and I remember laughing to myself at what a stupid crazy find this all was, as well as how to break this to my girlfriend
Last month, it hit me that it was the one year anniversary since I bought these books. April 13, 2019. What an incredible haul, and what a fateful Saturday that proved to be. It made me recall that day and weekend with a deep fondness. Truth be told, I haven’t read any of these books in the past year until recently. But that’s the thing about a library… just as it is with video games… it’s nice knowing you have a copy for whenever the urge strikes to read (or play) a certain title. Now that I’ve added a section devoted entirely to books on RVGFanatic, be on the lookout for random book reviews and such. I’m sure I’ll end up writing about some of the books you see above. So until next time, happy gaming AND happy reading!