Monday, October 13, 2014

Reviews for the Week of October 13, 2014

(Note: Please see bottom of main page for submission info)

HALFWAY HOUSE by Weston Ochse (2014 JournalStone / 292 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

The residential treatment facility where I work is often referred to as a halfway house, so, I went into this book with not a little trepidation. It gets weird and creepy enough there anyway, thanks; what, I wondered, would the Weston Ochse treatment add to it?

To my surprise (and indeed relief; I do night shifts by myself), what I found in this Halfway House was quite different to say the least … in all sorts of strange but cool ways. The actual halfway house is there, is mentioned as a neighborhood fixture, but more in the background than center stage at first.

Center stage, you see, is taken up by what feels like the wildest, quirkiest Saint's Row expansion yet. With gang wars. And surfers. And an orphan's quest for validation of his lineage by way of a stolen piece of Elvis memorabilia. And a witch-curse trapping the souls of the dead. And the upside-down footprints of invading WWII soldiers.

In lesser hands, that combination could turn to total confusing mush. But, here, it all fits together, it all makes sense no matter how incongruous some scenes seem at first. The cast of flawed characters are sympathetic even when not particularly likable. The little touches – like the Paper Dogs – carry powerful impact.

Some plot twists and shocking developments left me reeling, saying, “hey, no, wait, what, that didn't just happen!” and going back to make sure I'd read it right (I had, and no amount of re-reading was going to change the harsh reality).

The story extends far beyond the surface, deftly layered to leave the reader with the sense of having gained a whole lot of depth and history without realizing it. Entire ranges of emotional experiences and relationships are well-presented here: family, nobility, loss, redemption, tragedy, the desire to belong.

This book will make you think. It'll make you feel. And you might not even notice right away, because you'll be too busy being entertained.

-Christine Morgan


WHERE ALL LIGHT TENDS TO GO by David Joy (to be released 3/15 by Putnam / 272 pp / hardcover & eBook)

Perhaps not strictly horror, but horrifying to be sure, a realistic and gritty tale of hopelessness, struggle, betrayal, misery and despair … with nary a whiff of the paranormal, just the all-too-normal human condition … yeah, I think it qualifies!

Jacob McNeely is only eighteen but he's already about given up on life. His father is a hill country drug lord, his mother's addicted to the worst of what the operation produces, he's dropped out of school while the only girl he's ever loved is getting ready to chase her college dreams, and he doesn't see any sort of future for himself.

Then things get worse. A fight here, a run-in with the law there, and soon Jacob's being dragged deeper and deeper into the mire and mess that is his father's business. Too deep. Deep, as in deadly-deep, when he's sent to help the Cabe brothers deal with a certain problem client, but things get out of hand.

The title is Where All Light Tends to Go, and that's also where the book goes: into darkness, and nothingness, entropy, and death. Not too shabby for a first novel (though in this case, first novel does not equal novice writer; the author has quite a list of other credits).

Powerful stuff. A difficult read, emotionally taxing. Real-world (TOO real) horrific, the kind of thing that makes a person crave a nice monster movie or zombie book as an escape.

This is some bleak, grim storytelling here. There's none of the good-ol-boy Dukes of Hazzard comedy, none of the brooding V.C. Andrews gothic, no rustic but beautiful Appalachian romance. It's hardship, it's dirt, it's anger and spite, crooked county cops, murder, revenge, and the poison kind of hate that can only build up and boil over.

I can't say I exactly enjoyed it, because it isn't quite that sort of book. But I was certainly hooked by it, and pulled through the emotional wringer.

Look for Where All Light Tends to Go in March of 2015. A film adaptation close on its heels would not surprise me, though, like with THE ROAD, it would not be the feel-good movie of the year.

-Christine Morgan

HELL COMES TO HOLLYWOOD II edited by Eric Miller (2014 Big Time Books / 374 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

“Twenty-two more tales of Tinseltown terror,” promises the tagline, and it does not disappoint. True, not ALL of the tales are about movies and the silver screen, but most of them are, and even those that aren't are still about the dream-chasing and star-making, the magic and mystery, the glittery facade and the sometimes darker truths behind it.

My personal favorites of the bunch include:

“Culling the Herd,” by Eric Miller, takes many a loving jab at horror fans, the zombie genre, and well-meaning activists who should know better.

Heather E. Ash's “Method” delves into the dubious world of child casting, and how to walk the fine line between encouragement and exploitation.

In “Hot Tub,” the ever-entertaining Hal Bodner serves up a steamy endless feast of eager young hardbodies to whet the sinister appetites of a spirit nothing like I Dream of Jeannie.

“Mexican Clown Hands” by R. B. Payne is set contemporary but has an older feel, a gritty sepia-toned noir feel, resulting in a creepy and effective whodunit.

The archetypal sleazy director gets taken to new lows in “The Devil's Friends” by Ron Zwang, when a guy can't even sell his soul to get ahead in this town.

Daniel P. Coughlin's “From Script to Scream” will resonate with the writers who yearn to see their creations made real (and show all those doubters, ha!).

“Buried!” by Kelly Kurtzhals is all about desperation and the lengths some fading stars will go to in hopes of regaining some fame and fortune.

Eric J. Guignard's “Dreams of a Little Suicide” ends the book on a poignant kind of downer set against the grand backdrop of the making of a legendary classic.

As usual, I have to make myself stop listing favorites or I might as well just hand over the entire table of contents.

It's twenty-two very diverse tales, twenty-two different takes on various elements ranging from script-writing to special effects, from old-school stage plays to the latest in 'reality' television.

Some are funny, some are scary, some are disturbing, some are sad. All are memorable, lingering in the mind like the evocative and unique aroma of movie-theater popcorn. So, settle into your seat and let's start the show.

-Christine Morgan

THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW will return in November, 2014...

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