Obscuradrome Reviews The Thicket, by Joe R. Lansdale

The-ThicketThe Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale, is a Western novel that slides past genre into mainstream like butter dripping off a hot biscuit. A young boy becomes a man seeking revenge on the men who kidnapped his sister. The story is very simple, and one we’ve all read before, yet in Lansdale’s hands, this classic plot takes on a life of its own, and when fueled by his vivid characters, the plot disappears altogether, forcing you to turn the pages, compelled to follow them until the end. 

Barely escaping the pox, Jack Parker, his Grandfather, and his sister Lula, head out-of-town with the deeds to their property and little more than the clothes on their backs. When they finally board a ferry to get away from the diseased land, nasty outlaws with quick tempers make matters worse. Mother Nature rears her ugly head, and once the skies clear Jack finds himself alone. Only one thing matters for Jack; Finding the men who took his sister. 

I’m going to admit that when I read the first page of this novel, I groaned. Lately, when I encounter a novel written in the 1st person point-of-view, I tend to groan because there aren’t too many writers that can pull off that POV very well. But then I thought, this is a Lansdale novel, it’s got to be good. And I was correct. If anyone can pull off a well-written 1st person narrative, it’s Lansdale. He does it proper not so much by focusing on the main character, but by widening the lens to capture the lives of his other characters. When filtered through the eyes of a naive, still-wet-behind-the-ears boy like Jack Parker, these characters come alive in ways only Lansdale could achieve. 

The other characters include a gravedigger, a dwarf bounty-hunter, a beautiful lady of the night, and a stinky old hog. Once Jack joins forces with these misfits, the real adventure begins. As unlikely as they sound, these characters test Jack’s trust issues, and while he never loses focus of the task at hand, he still manages to question their motives, which creates a very interesting dynamic for the reader. Who can you trust when everyone seems to let you down at every corner? 

The outlaw thugs are as nasty as they come. Lansdale builds our dread of these characters by keeping them off stage for most of the novel. We learn more about them from our heroes encounters with the other characters inhabiting the story, and it’s this second-hand history that scares us more than jumping into their point of view ever could. 

Lansdale’s vivid style put you in the Thicket. You feel the muggy heat, smell the funk of the characters, hear the outlaws hiding in the brush, and feel the pains and pleasures of a young man desperately needing to grow up and learn to trust people. One thing about Lansdale’s style that interests me is his vivid description of one character in particular. There’s a certain very well-known actor that could play the dwarf bounty-hunter, Shorty, to near perfection. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter. Last thing I need is people complaining about me planting an image in their heads. I don’t know if it was Lansdale’s intention to plant that image himself, and it really doesn’t matter, as it’s neither a good thing or a bad thing, just something I found very interesting. 

The Thicket captures East Texas as only someone from that area could. Caught at that strange time when both horses and motor cars roamed the trails, the story is a snapshot of the point where America begins to grow up, just as Jack takes those first giant steps into manhood. And while Jack is becoming a man, we go through that change with him, feeling every confusing emotion, reliving the conflicting expectations of our world when faced with all that life throws at us, and when we finally break through the other side and the blinders are ripped away, we learn that there is only one thing that really matters, that the love of family and friends is the strongest love of all. 

Buy The Thicket Here.

Visit Joe R. Lansdale’s website here.

Splatterpunk Lives! Obscuradrome Reviews Bleed by Ed Kurtz

Coined by David J. Schow many many moons ago, Splatterpunk is by definition a genre of Horror fiction with no boundaries. Characterized by graphic violence and gore, the genre throws suggestion out the window, preferring to grab the reader by the neck and shove their face into the bloody mess as the story unfolds, in minute by minute detail. Personally, I like the stuff, grew up on it, cut my writing teeth on it. Schow remains in my list of all time favorites, which also includes Joe R. Lansdale, Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, and Jack Ketchum–all writers of the Splatterpunk genre at one time or another. The term is an 80’s and 90’s term, and you don’t hear it thrown around too much today unless you run in the circles I keep.

The circles I keep somehow put author Ed Kurtz’s name in my path. His novel Bleed came out earlier this year, and after reading the snyopsis, I knew it was going up to the top of my reading list. Here’s the info from the back cover:

When Walt Blackmore moves into an old gable front house on the outskirts of a small town, things are really looking up for him; he has an adoring girlfriend to whom he plans to propose, a new job teaching English at the local high school, and an altogether bright future. His outlook and destiny are irreparably changed, however, when an unusual dark red spot appears on the ceiling in the hallway. Bit by bit, the spot grows, first into a dripping blood stain and eventually into a grotesque, muttering creature. 
As the creature grows, Walt finds himself more and more interested in fostering its well-being. At first he only feeds it stray animals so that the blood-hungry monster can survive, but this soon fails to satisfy the creature’s ghastly needs. It is gradually becoming human again, and for that to happen it requires human blood and human flesh. And once Walt has crossed the line from curiosity to murder, there is no going back.

Who wouldn’t want to read that? This is Splatterpunk, like Frank Cotton from Hellraiser amped up on steroids, turned up to eleven, one more louder than ten. Ah, but of course, there was a little trepidation. The 80’s and 90’s were in the way back when days, and my reading tastes have changed. This often happens to writers.  As we hone and develop our craft, what used to inspire us years ago changes as we come into our own writing style. We start to write what we want to read as what we want to read changes into what we write. A weird little vicious cycle. So yeah, I was a little nervous reading a book possibly filled with so much blood and gore that it might distract me from the story.

I’m so glad I trusted my guts on this one, pun intended. Splatterpunk works not because of its gratuitous depiction of all the bloody, nasty bits, but in the way it ties an emotional impact to the characters that experience the violence. It’s that ‘ Oh my God, the killer is peeling off Bonnie’s face, with his bare hands, and gulping it down. No, not Bonnie…please not Bonnie‘ feeling when you’re reading the story–you’re grossed out about the events, but cannot put the book down because of what’s happening to a character you care about. It takes real talent to pull that off, that tense moment when you’re on the edge of your seat needing to know what happens next AND ready to hurl your dinner in the wastebasket.

On all counts, Kurtz delivers the goods.

Without spoiling anything, one of the things I really liked about this novel was no character was safe. Through careful pacing and deliberate POV changes, the story unfolds logically, yet gleefully unpredictable. Readers can’t help but to size up characters when they start a story, attempting to gauge who’s a fighter and who’s going to die. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by Kurtz’s ability to make me throw out my character gauge and just enjoy the story.

The story isn’t perfect. One character’s mental deconstruction left me scratching my head a little, but it certainly didn’t force me out of the story, and it’s something I can easily forgive as long as the story keeps me entertained. 

If you’re looking for something reminiscent of the good ole days, the heyday of Horror of the 80’s and 90’s,  it’s still here, lurking on the shelves of a bookstore near you, ready to drop body parts on your head and drip blood down your neck. Splatterpunk isn’t dead, it was just taking a little nap, and Ed Kurtz woke it up, just for you.

Pick up Bleed in paperback here.

Pick up Bleed for your Kindle here.

Obscuradrome Reviews Growing Up Dead In Texas, by Stephen Graham Jones.

Prolific writer Stephen Graham Jones‘  latest novel, Growing Up Dead in Texas arrived in my mailbox about two months ago. I made a promise to review the book, a promise I am fulfilling a little late it seems. I promised to read the book before I read anything else, even if that meant putting down my current book for a while. When the package came in the mail, I ripped it open and started it immediately. A slow reader by nature, I really tried to pay close attention to the details so I would be able to write my review. I wanted to find the heart of the book and open it up, see what made it tick. That’s really all I ever do when I write a review. I find the details and hold on to them, turn them around in my head to see how it all fits into the story. 

I failed with this novel. The details? Hahaha. Yeah, right. The details took my ass for a ride, a glorious ride through West Texas. I wasn’t even halfway through the book when I started to wonder how I was going to write a review without writing GREAT, BRILLIANT, AWESOME, JAW-DROPPING, GREAT, BRILLIANT, AWESOME, etc. over and over again, sounding like some spastic geek stuck in compliment repeater mode.

Set in Texas, I figured as a Texan I would feel right at home reading it. Funny thing is, I’ve never been west of Waco, and Texas is big, huge. Massive. From where I live in Texas, I could drive east for ten hours and cross four states. Drive west for ten hours–yep, you guessed it–still in Texas. My Texas is about as different from Stephen’s Texas as you can get, yet everything felt familiar. This book captures a feeling, and man, that’s hard to do with a whole novel. The feeling should be familiar to anyone who picks up the book, whether they live in Texas, or the South, or where ever. 

It’s the feeling of life. A life that we’ve all lived, a life that all of our children will live. If you ever played basketball in school, thought Evel Knievel was the real deal, pushed Hot Wheels around the floor in your house, listened to old Country & Western tunes in your truck, had a truck, or even if none of this even remotely reminds you of you, Growing Up Dead in Texas will still resonate with that indescribable tickle in the back of your brain that maybe, yes maybe, you’ve been here before. 

There’s a good reason why I haven’t written this review until now. I was afraid to write it. I figured that no matter what I said wouldn’t be able give this book justice. Touted as a mystery and a memoir, this is about as close to Stephen Graham Jones as you’re going to get. Writer’s basically write themselves into their stories; it’s unavoidable and comes with the territory. Stephen leads the reader down the path of memory into the heart of this story, the fire of this story, and it’s a story only he could tell.  

The thing about this book is that I don’t know what really happened and what is made up, and personally, I don’t care. I believe it all, but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Stephen was compelled to write this story and share it. You can feel the passion welling up in the words, in Stephen’s voice, as he weaves this tale as only he can. 

I knew there was no way I could do the book justice. After all these words I still don’t think I’ve written a review. All I can hope for is that you pick up this book and experience it like I did. Maybe then and only then you will understand. 

Growing Up Dead in Texas-Paperback.

Growing Up Dead in Texas-Kindle edition.

Not From Around Here: Obscuradrome reviews Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters/ The Ones That Got Away, by Stephen Graham Jones/ Another Booked Podcast

Last month I went on a mission. With an extra twenty-dollar bill in my wallet, I went into my local bookstore and found Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters in the wild, waiting for me to casually reach out so it could sink its teeth into me. Trust me, I was bitten. Edited by Paul Tremblay and John Langan, this very affordable treasure trove hits all the masters, and includes some fresh blood definitely worth taking a gander at. These twenty-six tales will chill you to the bone. I really wanted to get this review out before Halloween, but I had a couple of deadlines to make, and that work thing that always gets in the way, but you don’t need Halloween to read these stories. I really liked how the stories were grouped together, starting with some familiar faces that felt like a Famous Monsters of Filmland reunion. Here’s some highlights:

Godzilla’s Twelve-Step Program,” Joe R. Lansdale. The master of the macabre truly shows off his writing prowess here, and it’s funny as Hell too.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” Jim Shepard. I LOVE it when someone takes a classic film and gives us another perspective. Well Done.

After Moreau,” Jeffrey Ford. Again, another perspective that really surprised. 

Under Cover of Night,” Christopher Golden. Golden is the master of getting into his character’s heads and never letting us up for air. 

Underneath Me, Steady Air,” Carrie Laben. Once you realize who the main star is, you’re so taken by her gifted prose that you can easily forgive her for mining the ole’ Public Domain for this inspiration.

Rawhead Rex,” Clive Barker. A classic, and not for the faint of heart.

Wishbones,” Cherie Priest. The Steampunk Queen shows us that she really can deliver the scares.

Not from Around Here,” David J. Schow. Confession. I bought the book to have this one story. Sorry, I’m just being honest here. The King of Splatterpunk gives us a completely dark and twisted tale that I could spend a whole blog on. Thank you, dear editors, for getting this story, and thank you, Mr. Schow, for writing it. 

The Third Bear,” Jeff Vandermeer. An Epic Tale that doesn’t waste any time. Relentless.

Proboscis,” Laird Barron. One of my new favorite writers. This one grabs you by the throat. 

Little Monsters,” Stephen Graham Jones. The Kevin Bacon of Horror Fiction, and that is meant as a compliment. This short little piece may be the longest paragraph ever written, but it is a damned good longest paragraph.

The Monsters of Heaven,” Nathan Ballingrud. Wow. Raw emotion combined with dread. 

Absolute Zero,” Nadia Bulkin. Mindblowing story. Definitely a rising star in the world of speculative fiction.

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 Stephen Graham Jones certainly needs no introduction here. I don’t know why it took me so long to get a copy of The Ones That Got Away, and knowing what I know now after reading it, I could really kick myself in the butt. Nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, this collection represents the best short fiction by Dr. Jones. The first story, “Father, Son, Holy Rabbit” blew me away. This collection includes “Raphael“, “So Perfect“, “Lonegan’s Luck“, “Wolf Island“, (a personal favorite) “Teeth“, and a new story, “Crawlspace” amongst others. (Going back and editing this, I realize I need to write a complete review of this collection. So, coming soon, a full review.) Now available in ereader format, do yourself a favor and get your hands on this one before it gets away again.

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Booked Podcast is back to reviewing again, this time tackling a new edition of Chris Doomsdealer Deal’s Cienfuegos and D.B. Cox’s Unaccustomed Mercy. Both of these books may be short, but the stories inside speak volumes. If you click right here, you can listen to the reviews right now.

The Blues of Erich Zann: Obscuradrome reviews Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

John Hornor Jacobs is quickly making a name for himself in the Horror fiction world. I recently finished his debut novel Southern Gods and now find myself compelled to tell everyone I know about this book. When it comes to Horror fiction, I tend to be very fussy and extremely critical. With so many titles hitting the shelves every month, I don’t have time to weed through the duds to find a gem. Fortunately, my own social media connections brought this book to my attention, and for once I’m glad I’m on Twitter.

From the description at Amazon: Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find Ramblin’ John Hastur. The mysterious blues man’s dark, driving music – broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station – is said to make living men insane and dead men rise. Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur’s trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas, where he hears rumors the musician has sold his soul to the Devil. But as Ingram closes in on Hastur and those who have crossed his path, he’ll learn there are forces much more malevolent than the Devil and reckonings more painful than Hell… In a masterful debut of Lovecraftian horror and Southern gothic menace, John Hornor Jacobs reveals the fragility of free will, the dangerous power of sacrifice, and the insidious strength of blood.

Let’s get something out of the way right now. I already know what some of you are thinking. “Blues guitarist, sold his soul to the Devil. Isn’t this Crossroads (NOT the Britney Spears movie!) and Angel Heart mixed up together?”

NO!

Though the initial premise is the same, Jacobs’ novel simply uses that motif as a springboard to delve into deeper and darker things. Truth be told, William Hjortsberg’s novel Falling Angel more than likely served as a massive influence. Of course, that’s like saying the Bible is influential to Christians. Hjortsberg’s novel is paramount to understanding how the Horror/Noir genre works.

Southern Gods shows us a different path for the Horror/Noir genre, a path that is fresh and new and so well-written I’m pissed I didn’t think of it myself. This is the kind of story that spurs feelings of inspiration. Jacob’s writing is confident for a debut novel, and it’s obvious he’s studied his craft. The story opens with a Prologue, something of which I haven’t seen in a while. The opening could serve as a short story on its own, something reminiscent of T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies. While Klein’s novel was an homage to Arthur Machen, Jacobs’ novel leans in a very welcoming Lovecraftian way, and this is definitely where he gets the brownie points from me.

Lovecraft’s themes of cosmic chaos and madness fit well here, and I must applaud Jacobs’ ability to tie it all to a story set in the 1950’s American South and not make it feel forced. This is a very personal story for his characters, and what they have at stake, what they have to risk, is what drives the plot. The dual main characters are strong and memorable. Bull Ingram is a tough guy for hire who isn’t afraid of anyone and doesn’t mind using his fists to achieve his goals. As tough as he is, Bull is also vulnerable and caring. The other main character, Sarah, has just returned to her childhood home with her daughter Franny, escaping a loveless marriage to take care of her dying mother. Through the course of the story, Sarah learns that not everything is as it appears, and that she cannot always follow in someone’s footsteps, sometimes you have to take the lead.

What makes fiction work is an unlikely mix of the unpredictable with the logical. Reader’s don’t want to see what you have in store for them, yet the twists and turns in your story must make sense or they are going to get frustrated. While reading this book, just when I thought I knew what was going to happen next, Jacobs threw something else my way, a twist I didn’t see coming, yet it made so much sense that there really wasn’t any other direction the story could go.

I hate using a rating system, but if I could rate this, and I’ll have to do that when I rate the book on Amazon and B&N, then I’m going to give this one a STRONG 4 and 1/2 stars out of 5. If you like your Horror a little on the Noirish side, and want to read something refreshing and unique, then you must give this book a try. You will not be disappointed.

Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs. Buy this book.

One Buck Horror. Get Creeped Out For a Dollar!

 One Buck Horror, a new online anthology available for ereaders, takes us back to the time when we feared what goes bump in the night. For me, that was yesterday, mainly because I have an over active imagination, but also because I remember how scared I used to get wondering if there was something under my bed, or lurking behind the shower curtain. As adults, we all claim to have outgrown those fears, but trust me, when it’s dark and you’re all alone, its easy to let your mind get the best of you. One Buck Horror, a bimonthly anthology, gives use a handful of tales to remind us how easy it is to get scared. It’s very fitting that the protagonists of these five tales are children, or at least teenagers, because it’s that time of our lives when we believe what we fear the most can also hurt us the most. 

“Jenny’s House” by Ada Hoffmann is a creepy little tale written in the voice of a grade schooler. This one reminded me of some of the short stories William F. Nolan used to write, mixed in with that old school Stephen King vibe that makes us smile as well as cringe. 

“A Lullaby for Caliban” by Mark Onspaugh deals with gang initiation rites and a traveling sideshow carnival, complete with “pickled punks”. Icky creepy goodness.

“The Last Nephew” by Elizabeth Twist teaches us that getting mixed up in Ancient Rites and Ouija boards only opens up a much larger can of worms, and one that’s not easily closed.

“The Cornfield” by Mike Trier was my favorite of the bunch. A very simple tale that rides you hard and wet after the initial set up. Great atmosphere here, especially since I hate looking at fields in the moonlight. 

“The Ginger Men” by Julie Jansen is a very inventive revenge tale that reminded me of some of Richard Matheson’s and Ira Levin’s works. 

All of the stories also reminded me of those old Creepy and Eerie comics all us Horror fiends used to read back in the day. The vibe is Old School to the max, and that’s a very good thing. 

Can Writers Submit to One Buck Horror?

You betcha. One Buck Horror is currently open to short story submissions of 3000 words or less. Writers who’d like to learn more about submitting to One Buck Horror should visit our submission guidelines at http://www.onebuckhorror.com/submissions.

Finally, here’s where you can buy one buck horror online:

Amazon

Barnes And Noble.

Stranger Will by Caleb J. Ross-Bob’s Review

I’m a very picky reader. I gave up reading formulaic so-called ‘Bestseller’ fiction years ago, primarily because most ‘Bestsellers’ cater to what I call the Highest Common Denominator Reader. Being a Highest Common Denominator Reader doesn’t make you a bad reader. But if you read the same things over and over, eventually you’re going to get bored with the subject matter, then bored with reading altogether, which is a bad thing in my view. Ten years ago I became bored with reading. Oh, I still read, but mainly I was rereading the books I liked, afraid to venture out on a literary limb and try something new, lest I get burned again. There’s nothing worse than checking out the back of a book and feeling that thrill that yes, maybe, this one will be the one, this book will be enjoyable and rewarding, only to find the words inside are stagnant. Dead.

Stranger Will by Caleb J. Ross is not one of those Highest Common Denominator Reader books. I’m sure he will take that as a compliment. We were in the same initial group in WriteClub 2010, and I certainly enjoyed his feedback concerning my project, and I also enjoyed reading his project. After participating with him on a podcast at the velvet last year debating Literary vs. Genre fiction, I realized that behind Caleb’s witty commentary and massive amount of intelligence, he is also extremely serious about his writing.

Saying Stranger Will is compelling is the understatement of the year. The main character, William, removes the stains the dead leave behind, literally. William’s whole life is calls at 3 am in the morning, chemicals in the back of a van working into his pores, his life. He’s in a dead-end job and in a marriage teetering on failing miserably. His pregnant wife is focused on their soon to be born child while he is focused on spending as much time away from her as possible. The harsh reality settles in: When all you see is death, what’s the point? A principal of the local elementary school takes William under her wing, determined to show him there is another way. Her group is intent on making the world perfect, one child at a time. Once William is in the group, he realizes perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Quality fiction is both compelling and unpredictable. It’s also dangerous, which is why we read it. Ross writes with all of these factors in mind. From the first pages, he takes you by the hand, leading you down dark corridors where you really don’t want to go, but you’re unable to turn away. And when you look back at him, and he gives you that sly grin, you know that you have to walk the path, there is no turning back because you’re in too deep. Fiction 101 dictates we know our characters, and it’s obvious Caleb has spent a lot of time with his story people. Readers seek out this intimacy and relish the thrill when they find it. Consider yourselves warned. Caleb writes with an intelligence and depth far beyond his years, and his words will scar your heart forever.

In early August, Mr. Ross will grace us here with his presence as part of his Stranger Will For Strange Blog Tour He suggested I take out insurance on this place. Rest assured, there will be plenty of hand sanitizer to go around. Let’s hope the lingering after-effect of his visit will shine a bright light here and wherever else his tour takes him.

Buy Stranger Will here.