Remembering Richard Laymon

Cheers to ya, Uncle Dick
Cheers to ya, Uncle Dick

Today marks 20 years since the unfortunate and untimely passing of one of horror’s most prolific writers, Richard Laymon. On February 14, 2001, Mr. Laymon sadly left this world far too soon, dying at the tender age of 54. To honor his amazing legacy and life, I can’t think of a better time than now to share some memories and highlights. So whether you’re brand new to Laymon’s lunacy or a long time fan, sit back and grab a cold one. This one’s for you, Uncle Dicky!

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

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Ever since the ripe age of 6 — when I first experienced John Carpenter’s masterpiece, Halloween — I have been a huge fan of horror. Naturally, that love carried into the mid ’90s with R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumps books.

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Following Goosebumps, the next logical evolution was Fear Street. R.L. Stine wrote this series for a teenage audience. I had a blast reading these books, especially The Babysitter and its sequels. Fond memories of reading Hit and Run in one sitting late one summer night in 1995.

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Given my history with horror, one might assume the next step to be venturing out with adult horror books, such as Stephen King’s It. Except I didn’t. By the time I hit high school in the fall of 1997, I stopped reading for leisure and only read to fulfill class assignments and essays. Reading — something I once loved dearly — became strictly perfunctory.

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Fast forward over 20 years to April of 2019. Randomly visiting a Goodwill by my girlfriend’s place 2 hours out of town, I hit the mother lode. Displayed enticingly before me on the shelf were over 50 R.L. Stine horror books. And just like that, I was back in.

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2 short months later, in the summer of 2019, I did a random search for horror books on eBay. Came across CANNIBALS by Guy N. Smith. Up to this point in my life, I had yet to read an adult horror novel. I knew right away that Cannibals had to be the one to pop my cherry. It was, and it was glorious.

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Suddenly, the floodgates opened. The summer of 2019 began my obsession with buying and reading as many vintage horror paperbacks as I could. Books like SPIDERS by Richard Lewis spooked the shit out of me, and I couldn’t get enough.

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Sure, there were some disappointments along the way, such as Guy N. Smith’s MANITOU DOLL. But I loved the fantastic art of these (cheesy) vintage horror paperbacks from hell, and I loved hunting for the next great creepy read.

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Enter Richard Laymon. In July of 2019, I was browsing the horror aisle at a mom and pop book shop and came across THE CELLAR. I had been reading online and the name “Richard Laymon” had crossed my desk more times than once. I picked it up, recalling that the word on the street was that Richard Laymon isn’t for the faint of heart. And boy, were they not kidding.

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A week or so later, I won a lot of Richard Laymon books off eBay. One of the books was The Woods Are Dark. It was the first Laymon book I read. It was graphic, insane and read like a trashy 1980s slasher movie. Admittedly, it wasn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read, but it certainly left an impression.

This is the infamous edited version
This is the infamous edited version
Night Show was in the lot as well. AMAZING cover!
In the same lot I bought. AMAZING cover!

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In September of 2019, I struck gold when I won a massive lot of 39 Richard Laymon novels. As the auction title suggested, it was an “instant collection.” I remember making an $87 offer, so with shipping it would be just under $100. The seller was nice enough to accept, and I won the whole shebang for $99.63 (this was right before eBay started taxing winning bidders). $2.55 a pop? Sign me up!

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I remember the day the package came. My heart raced a bit faster when I got home from work and saw that big brown box sitting gloriously on the porch. Opening it felt like Christmas morning! There were so many books that the seller organized them in two layers. Here’s the top…

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And here’s the bottom. The rest of that year I started devouring Richard Laymon novels like crazy. One a month, sometimes two. Although many of his books are over 400 pages, because of the plentiful dialogue and the crazy plot points that move briskly, those pages (often times) fly by rather fast!

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From that picture I’ve read One Rainy Night, To Wake the Dead, and The Beast House (sequel to The Cellar — the first Laymon book I bought). Of those 3, I enjoyed To Wake the Dead the most — it’s a creepy story about an ancient mummy that comes back to life and wrecks havoc on an unsuspecting community! Throw in a ludicrous sub-plot about the (really) dark side of human beings and you have a truly horrific and harrowing read!

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From this pile I’ve read Out Are the Lights, The Woods Are Dark (the version in the picture above is the unedited edition), Endless Night and The Traveling Vampire Show. My wife and I are currently reading Darkness, Tell Us. That one involves a Ouija board and some college kids. As you can expect, much mayhem ensues. The Traveling Vampire Show is a coming-of-age novel that’s often lauded by many horror fans. I was actually somewhat disappointed in TVS. I thought it would be a lot more epic but it ended up being a bit uneven.

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I’ve read In the Dark, Night Show, and After Midnight. In the Dark is easily my favorite of this pile. It’s about a quiet librarian who one evening discovers a note offering her some cash in exchange for completing a simple task. As one might guess, the tasks get increasingly more complex and dangerous as the cash offerings go up. Not to mention… is the “Game Master” even human at all… or is it some kind of monstrous demon? It is a very unsettling read at times. Laymon, at his best, paints these horrific and vivid images in your brain that you’ll NEVER forget.

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The last pile I’ve read Island, Funland, Bite, Come Out Tonight, The Cellar and Night in the Lonesome October. NitLO is hands down my favorite Richard Laymon horror book of all time. I don’t think anything will ever top that, or even come close. You can read my review for more. One of the most atmospheric and addicting books I’ve ever read. Funland takes place in a beach town and involves a corrupt amusement park. “The Trolls” are running roughshod and people are disappearing after dark. A local gang of teenagers decide to take matters into their own hands and do some investigating. But has this group of vigilantes bitten off more than they can chew? The climax is all sorts of trippy and insane. A lot of people love Funland but it had some pacing issues for me. Still, definitely a fun Laymon entry. Also notable for being the first 500+ page book I ever read!

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But my favorite book in that pile, and my second overall favorite Laymon novel thus far, is COME OUT TONIGHT. This book is just a notch below Night in the Lonesome October for me. It captured the seedy streets of Los Angeles perfectly. Check out this bat shit crazy plot: it’s one of LA’s most scorching summer nights. Duane and Sherry are about to get it on, but there’s no condom. So Duane goes down to the local 7-11 and never returns. Sherry, sensing that something terrible has happened, ventures out into the muggy and sweltering LA night… what she finds will change her life forever. Very underrated and reads just like a movie. You can almost see every single scene unfolding in your head and it’s just magic when a writer can do that!

Sherry was such a bad ass chick! Loved it
Sherry is such a bad ass chick! Loved it

BTW, Island is my wife’s favorite. I enjoyed that one, too. It’s brutal, and if it wasn’t made clear to you yet, just know that Laymon isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of potential trigger warnings. Rape and a heavy focus on women’s breasts are pretty much in all his novels. Every book of his has the word “rump” in it many times over. He had a very distinct writer’s voice, and you can tell a Laymon book almost right away. No one wrote like how he did.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Rest In Power, Uncle Dick
Rest In Power, Uncle Dick

Although the horror world lost Richard Laymon all too awfully soon, his legacy lives on with his 40+ published books. So far I’ve read about 20 of them, with my top 3 favorites being Night in the Lonesome October, Come Out Tonight and In the Dark. Don’t get me wrong, he’s had his fair share of 2 star duds. Bite was a sack of shit and Out Are the Lights was a bad day at the office for ol’ Uncle Dicky. But for the most part, his books are entertaining and wild. If you have any interest in horror at all, I recommend reading a few of his works before all is said and done. I especially recommend Night in the Lonesome October. That one MUST be read exclusively at night. I often wish I could go back and read that one for the first time again.

Preach, brother!
Preach, brother!

It’s been 20 years now since Richard Laymon’s passing. And yet the horror community still raves about his work and he is often recommended in horror book recommendation topics. It’s not hard to see why. I’m sad knowing I’ve already gone through half his catalog. I will certainly savor the last 20 or so Laymon books I have yet to read over the next 10-15 years. I hope this article inspires you to pick up a Laymon book in the near future. Happy reading!

 

Dennis, your sister knows whats up!
Yo Dennis — your sister knows what’s up!

The Bullies and Me (Harriet Savitz)

Harriet May Savitz | January 1991 | 107 pages
Harriet Savitz | January 1991 | 107 pages

There are some books that, no matter what happens, stay with you for a lifetime. Maybe it’s for a captivating storyline, or characters you deeply identified with. Maybe it’s the prose or the way the writer made you feel. Maybe it’s for purely sentimental and nostalgic reasons. And that rereading that book takes you back to a simpler time in your life. It is, in essence, something closely akin to your very own personal time machine. Video games do that for me. Movies. Music. And books. One book that has resonated with me throughout the years for all the reasons listed above is an obscure little Apple Scholastic Paperback (remember those from the early-mid ’90s?) by the name of The Bullies and Me. It’s a simple book, but it’s a damn good one. I recently reread it earlier this month for the first time in nearly 25 years. It has definitely stood the test of time. I cannot wait to pass this title down to my kids one day.

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The year was 1995. I was on the verge of graduating elementary school and I had the world at my fingertips. I was never the coolest kid, but I had a close circle of friends, I had a loving family for the most part and I was ready to tackle the treacherous waters that was junior high. Before graduation my best friend Nelson randomly handed me this book one day.

“Hey Steve, check this book out. I just finished it and it’s pretty good. Feel free to keep it, actually.”

“Oh, cool, man. Thanks. I’ll read it at some point.”

Nelson and I went on to graduate. It was off to middle school in the fall of 1995.

And then one day in January of 1996, my parents gave me the devastating news that we were moving. Not terribly far away, but enough to change life forever. A few days ago it was the 25th anniversary of that move. It blew my mind. Time flies. Hell, January is a wild month for me personally. RVGFanatic turned 14 years old on January 7. On January 17, I celebrated 15 years since I got back into the Super Nintendo. All of this feels like a lifetime ago. But I digress.

I did not transition to my new town nor my new middle school with flying colors. It took me at least a year to adjust and finally find my legs. I remember being so terribly lonely, missing my best bud Nelly and my old hometown. The one I grew up in and called home for over 10 years of my 12 year old life. And that’s when one day I spotted Nelson’s copy of The Bullies and Me just lying there in my closet. I remember thinking that this was the closest link to Nelson and so I took the book to school. I began to read it and it was scary how similar the main character Allan and I were. I felt the book was written specifically for me. It was exactly what I needed to read during that critical time of transition. The Bullies and Me exemplify how literature can change our lives for the better. Because of this book, I was able to move on with my life and make the most out of what I perceived, at the time, to be a less than ideal situation. Thank you Nelson, and thank you Harriet Savitz.

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The story opens with one of the book’s main set pieces, Silver Lake. This is where the birds and ducks call home. Tony and Pete love to scare them. As you might guess, they are the bullies in the story. But initially, they are “friends” with Allan.

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Unbelievable, I remember thinking, as I read this for the first time after moving in early 1996. I moved in the middle of 7th grade, while Allan moved right before 6th grade. Hey, close enough! Immediately, I felt a kinship with the guy. My man!

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Allan’s best friend back in his old hometown of Mapletown is David. David in my mind immediately became Nelson. For many mornings in 1996, I too had an ache in my stomach. I knew exactly how Allan felt.

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Grandmom plays an important role in this story. She too is having a difficult time adjusting, but for different reasons. Her husband passed away and similar to Allan, she is grieving her loss and “stuck in the past” as well.

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This was basically me for the first half of 1996. 25 years ago now. Jesus Christ!

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Oh man, another passage that I recall totally hitting me in the feels. I kept thinking no one in my whole 7th grade class understood how great it was to live in my old hometown.

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The first two sentences above have always stuck with me. I just love how those sentences take me back to all those glorious spring and summer childhood days that seemed to stretch on forever. In fact, here’s how much of an influence this book has made on me: I’ve copied those exact two sentences over the years!

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See the second paragraph in the picture above. Sound familiar? I don’t mean to copy but those are two of my favorite sentences I’ve ever read in a book.

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One day, while hanging out with Tony and Pete at Silver Lake, Allan finds himself in a bit of a tight spot. Tony and Pete start throwing rocks at the birds. Allan doesn’t want to, but Tony calls him out. Hesitantly, Allan begins to throw rocks too. But he aims to miss while the boys try to go for the kill. It isn’t long before one of the rocks hits one of the birds. Allan isn’t sure if it was his rock or Tony’s or Pete’s that struck the bird, but he is instantly remorseful. The last sentence above is particularly haunting. “All the way home I wondered which stone, and was I the one who threw it.” Simple yet so powerful in conveying how important it is to say NO when pressured to do something you know is wrong or that you don’t wish to do.

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It’s funny how the things we try to hide have a way of coming back to us. Allan finds this out firsthand when Grandmom brings up the topic of the snowbirds. As always, Grandmom is wise. I love how realistic these characters are. The way they speak and interact with one another makes them feel like they could be any family in any neighborhood. Hell, maybe even your very own.

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Throughout the book David and Allan talk on the phone. These parts were great because it felt a lot like Nelson and me speaking over the phone.

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We’re soon introduced to Alexander, or Flute. Flute plays in the school band. Tony and Pete love to rag on “The Bandies” as they call them, and Allan is left in an awkward position. He twists the truth and denies his slowly budding friendship with Flute. Again, like a lot of 11 year old boys would do in Allan’s shoes.

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Back at home we learn Grandmom used to be a librarian and owns a shit ton of books. The ironic thing is now I have a shit ton of books, too. I suppose I’ve gone from being Allan to being Grandmom… :P

How can I say no to badass covers like this?
How can I say no to badass covers like this?

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I love Grandmom’s response to Allan’s question, “Are you cold?” The woman simply answers, lost in her books and reminiscing, “My memories keep me warm.” The rest of the scene plays out as awkwardly as it would in real life. If I were Allan, I wouldn’t know what to say either, except to eventually find a way to say bye and take my leave.

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Issues continue to crop up at home, and not just for Allan. His mom and Grandmom have a little argument, and Allan’s mom laments the fact that if only Grandpop were still around then things would be a whole lot better for all.

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Meanwhile, David and Allan have planned an epic sleepover. Horror movies and video games galore. It was going to be a glorious weekend. Unfortunately, David calls the day of to report that he’s terribly ill. Allan suggests maybe David could visit him tomorrow, but David knows he won’t recover by then. What else could go wrong?

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I love how straight to the point and real the dad’s question is. “Are you sorry we moved here?” I can’t tell you how many times I wanted my own dad to ask me that. But we never were very good at talking like this. He went to work, made the money to pay the bills, put food on our table and clothes on our backs. I must have read this specific passage a thousand times… and imagined my own dad and me having this conversation. It always ended the same way, too… with my dad saying he thought he was doing the right thing for all of us. Somehow, as strange as it may seem, that always brought me a little bit of extra comfort.

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I just love Allan. He has such great heart and character, even if at times he does succumb to peer pressure. The last line here is very touching. I know he would rather lose every model car in his precious collection than ever hurt Snowbird one bit.

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Once again, Tony is being a prick to the ducks and birds at Silver Lake. But this time, Allan stands up to Tony because he knows that standing by idly is just as bad as if HE himself were the one throwing the stones.

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But Tony is the kind of guy to forget that you stood up to him. So the next day it’s as if nothing ever happened at Silver Lake. And once more, Allan finds himself living a double life of sorts. The book perfectly depicts the hardship (relatively speaking) of not knowing for sure who to eat with at lunch, and how we often place high value in how others perceive us. There seems to be a big part in many of us to uphold a certain image, even if it doesn’t project who we really are on the inside. Thankfully, as we grow up, things like this become a little easier to handle as we learn to not give a fuck. Or at least, not nearly as much as when we were in our formative years!

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Later that weekend, unbeknownst to his parents, Allan decides to take the bus to make the 90 minute trek over to his old hometown. This is one of my favorite parts of the book. I am not ashamed to admit that I lived vicariously through Allan, and his old stomping grounds became mine.

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Oh how life imitates art. Little did I know reading this back in 1996 that 10 years later, in 2006 I would visit my childhood home with the same exact feelings. Hell, I even went back inside for the first time in 10 years! At the time my parents were renting our old house to some tenants. I wasn’t close with them but they knew me, so the lady let me in to use the restroom and reminisce. That night (January 26, 2006) marked 10 years since I’d moved. I’d stopped by the local Game Crazy at my childhood Hollywood Video just down the ol’ block to pick up a few Super Nintendo games prior to coming. It felt as if I was going back home to play SNES games with Nelson. It was one of those weird and magical nights… the ones that go on to be fondly remembered forever.

Heading back to the old stomping grounds
Heading back to the old stomping grounds
10 years to the day since I moved... I had to return
10 years to the day since I moved… I had to return
Lotsa memories...
Lotsa memories…
I'll never forget the drive home that night
I’ll never forget the drive home that night
I used to walk here ALL the time as a kid
I used to walk here ALL the time as a kid
From across the street. Damn glorious times
From across the street. Damn glorious times

And you want to know the craziest “life comes full circle” thing of it all? Back in September of 2020, my wife and I moved into that same exact childhood home. My dad gave the tenants from 1996 the heads-up, they moved out in July and for the whole month of August we renovated the old place. It cost me $60,000 — but to get a house “for free” and not just any house but MY OLD HOUSE… that’s priceless. Crazy how life works out sometimes, eh?

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Back at the ranch, Allan’s trip down memory lane hits a snag and goes slightly awry. He tries to surprise visit David, but of course David is not home. Not only that, but he is out kicking it with Jimmy Burns. Allan can’t help but feel disappointed. You feel him going from the highest of highs at the beginning of his odyssey… to the lowest of lows within a single page. Tough shit, kid.

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Back at school, Allan once again finds himself in the throes of cafeteria conundrum. Harriet Savitz perfectly conveys the immense pressure of the middle school lunchroom. It can be as savage as a jaguar-infested jungle or shark-infested waters. OK, not really, but when you’re 12 or so, it can sure seem that way sometimes. BTW, another great description by Savitz in the last paragraph above. Really paints a vivid picture, pardon the pun!

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Another phone call attempt to his best friend David that ends in futility and bitter disappointment. I bet ‘cha David’s with that prick, Jimmy Burns. What a bitch.

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As stated earlier, Allan is such a likable and relatable character. He’s not perfect; he makes his share of mistakes but he has a good heart. This example above helps to solidify that. He could have gone with the model car — which he wanted so badly to add to his collection — but instead he went for the bear because Beth had failed at winning it previously. Good guy Allan. A sweet and selfless moment indeed.

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The 3 pictures above display BY FAR my favorite part of The Bullies and Me. When I first read this 25 years ago in 1996, it helped to bring clarity and light to my own similar situation. I read it a thousand times to let Grandmom’s epiphany sink in even further. I love how she changes and realizes that she can’t spend the rest of her life stuck in the attic looking at old things. How she had to make a decision whether to spend the time she has left looking back in the past, or to move forward. That last line is intensely introspective, and powerful: “While I watched Grandmom stack the books, one pile for the library, one pile for her, I wondered if I was doing the same thing, looking back too much and not moving forward.”

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We all have watershed moments in our lives. The day our braces come off. The day we graduate from college and enter the working force. The day we decide to be partners with someone for the rest of our lives. Following that “come to Jesus” talk with Grandmom, Allan experiences another watershed moment. Earlier in the story Tony visits, sees Allan’s old teddy bear and beats the poor thing up. But when Flute visits, he just gets it. And that’s when Allan gets it, too. People like Flute and Beth are his real friends. They’re good people and they care for him just like how true friends ought. Unlike Tony and his lackey, Pete. So fuck those guys. And fuck Jimmy Burns as well.

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Now hurling toward the climax, Flute and Allan find Tony and Pete throwing rocks at the ducks and birds. Those assholes. Flute and Allan don’t need to utter a single word, they know what’s up. They know what’s about to go down…

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Allan tussles with Tony and at last bests the bully. Before the bullies leave the scene of the crime, Tony declares a harrowing threat: “What ‘cha gonna do, sit here with Flute and guard the ducks all day?” Allan hates to admit the truth but realizes that Tony’s right. Maybe Snowbird, Evelyn, Big Al and all the others can no longer be safe at Silver Lake. Shit. What CAN he do??

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BOO-YAH! That’s what he can do. Actually, it’s Grandmom who helps to make this happen. After speaking with Councilperson Roberts (or the mayor, anyhow), there are now signs posted at Silver Lake to help keep the creatures safe. Take that, Tony — ya fucking bastard!

;)
;)

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Things wrap up nicely. The creatures of Silver Lake are now safe and Allan no longer has to worry about them or the bullies. It also looks like Allan will finally get that epic sleepover weekend with David after all, and this time with Flute included. Allan grows up quite a bit over these 107 pages. He comes to realize the true meaning of friendship, stands up for what he believes is right even in the face of danger, and learns to make the most out of his present situation. All lessons that anyone can absorb and be all the better for it. It is a perfect and satisfactory conclusion. Like a lovely bowtie on a well wrapped Christmas gift!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My Amazon review from 20+ years ago!
My Amazon review from 20+ years ago!

It blows my mind that it’s been 25 years since I moved. It blows my mind even further that my wife and I are now living in my old childhood home. It’s crazy that RVGFanatic has been around in cyberspace for 14 years now. Was it really 15 years ago that I got back into all things Super Nintendo? How time flies. And speaking of anniversaries, The Bullies and Me quietly celebrated 30 years earlier this month. I read it recently again and it’s held up well. Its lessons and messages still stand the test of time. It’s one of my all-time favorite books, not just for sentimental reasons. In a brief 107 pages, Harriet Savitz wrote a masterpiece for any kid who has ever had to endure the hardship of moving. And how, no matter how bleak at times that things may seem, we always have the power to make our lives as positive and happy as we deem it to be.

5Stars

The Voice of the Night (Dean Koontz)

Dean Koontz | July 1991 | 339 pages
Dean Koontz | July 1991 | 339 pages

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.

Here are some cool variant covers
Here are some cool variant covers
Back cover of the Star edition (1985)
Back cover of the Star edition (1985)
Another Star variant
Another Star variant

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I HEAR VOICES IN MY HEAD…

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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…

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Like… REALLY sinister. 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…

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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!

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“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.

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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.

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Apparently, Mr. Koontz was not a big fan of the 1963 cult classic!

Can't wait for the 2021 rematch!
Can’t wait for the 2021 rematch!

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“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.

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And this is where we get the Star 1985 cover from.

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We get to see how Roy’s negative influence starts to creep up on Colin. The passage above says it all. Disturbing stuff…

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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.”

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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.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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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!

3HalfStars

Night in the Lonesome October (Richard Laymon)

Richard Laymon | September 1, 2002 | 346 pages
Richard Laymon | September 1, 2002 | 346 pages

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!

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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.

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Cemetery Dance’s synopsis of Night in the Lonesome October is the best:

Creepy hardcover version
Creepy hardcover version

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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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!

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I could picture this scene in my head so vividly… as I read it at 2 in the morning. Creepy!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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…

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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.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My wife and I carved this for Halloween 2020
My wife and I carved this for Halloween 2020

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.

Don't let the bike hag touch you...
Don’t let the bike hag touch you…

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…”

5Stars

It (Stephen King)

Stephen King | September 15, 1986 | 1,153 pages
Stephen King | January 5, 2016 | 1,153 pages

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…

This is the gargantuan 2016 edition by Scribner
This is the gargantuan 2016 edition by Scribner
High praise indeed
High praise indeed

IT MEMORIES

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

Sorry Pennywise, It aint all about you
Sorry Pennywise, It ain’t all about you

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!

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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…

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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!

Fuck that boat, Georgie! Get the hell on out!
Fuck that boat, Georgie! Get the hell on out!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The best cover of It ever released
The best cover of It ever released (October 1, 1987)

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.

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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.

3HalfStars

Boy’s Life (Robert R. McCammon)

Robert R. McCammon | April 28, 1992 | 536 pages
Robert R. McCammon | April 28, 1992 | 578 pages

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.

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I absolutely love that back cover. The praises, the summary… it all meshes and makes a strong declaration to the reader: READ ME!

What a gorgeous stepback art cover!
What a gorgeous stepback art cover!

MCCAMMON CANON

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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!

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

BOY’S LOVE

The praise for this book is seemingly endless
The praise for this book is seemingly endless
I'm so glad I read it in 2020!
The effusive shower of adoration continues

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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.

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Perfectly stated, Char. Indeed.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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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.

4Stars

Manitou Doll (Guy N. Smith)

Guy N. Smith | May 28, 1981 | 236 pages
Guy N. Smith | May 28, 1981 | 236 pages

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?

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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.

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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.

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There are some scenes in the book describing the fair’s Punch and Judy show. Those things always creep the hell out of me!

Ugh!
Ugh!

I couldn’t wait to dive in. Let’s see if Guy N. Smith does killer dolls right.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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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!

2HalfStars

Cannibals (Guy N. Smith)

Guy N. Smith | December 1986 | 186 pages
Guy N. Smith | December 1986 | 208 pages

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…

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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!

Guy N. Smith
Guy N. Smith

WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE…

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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.

The Hills Have Eyes, a cult classic
The Hills Have Eyes, a 1977 cult classic

ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE

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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…

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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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 :P

5Stars

Spiders (Richard Lewis)

Richard Lewis | June 3, 1980 | 153 pages
Richard Lewis | June 3, 1980 | 153 pages

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!

Poor, poor Dan Mason...
Poor, poor Dan Mason…
The book opens with this alarming statistic
The book opens with this alarming statistic

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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”…

Oh HELL no
Oh HELL no

CLOSING THOUGHTS

What an awesome cover!
What an amazing cover :D

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!

5Stars

The Friends (Kazumi Yumoto)

Kazumi Yumoto | May 11, 1998 | 170 pages
Kazumi Yumoto | May 11, 1998 | 170 pages

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.

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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!

A Japanese Stand By Me? Say no more, fam
A Japanese Stand By Me? Say no more, fam
When the night has come, and the way is dark, And that moon is the only light you see. No I won't be afraid, no I-I-I won't be afraid Just as long as the people come and stand by me.
When the night has come, and the way is dark,
And that moon is the only light you see.
No I won’t be afraid, no I-I-I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand by me.

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.

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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! :D 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.

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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

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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.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I love this cover so much more than the other one
I love this cover!

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.

4HalfStars