Behrg Reviews: Ararat by Christopher Golden

ararat.jpgArarat has a lot going for it beginning with its killer premise – a cave opening up on the top of Mount Ararat which may or may not house the remains of Noah’s Arc. Add to it the cherished (by me at least) landscape of snow sprinkled with a generous dash of horror and I was fully engaged before starting page one.

Whether my expectations were simply too high or the book didn’t live up to its premise is a matter for debate, but when I finished this novel I felt like I do after leaving a buffet — full, but far from satisfied.

The first half of the novel moves quickly enough, though I was disappointed our two protagonists were already looking for the arc. Without getting into spoilers I liked the twist that was offered, defying expectations, but the last half of the novel felt incongruous with the former half. The horror elements for me felt over the top when compared to the compelling premise and, for the first time in a long time, I was left wishing the author had used more finesse and restraint to deliver something truly unique rather than devolve into “more of the same.” Again, I blame my expectations as the first half of the novel kept me engaged with the slow-build of tension and questions, but by the end I was just looking forward to my dinner mint and forgetting the fact that I had overindulged myself at another far too ordinary buffet.

Ararat recently won the Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in a novel, so it certainly has its supporters and fans and I’ve seen mostly rave reviews. I’m glad I tackled this one and did enjoy it, but I feel there was a lot more within the source material that would have made for a stronger story.

Final judgement: Come for the premise, but don’t expect a gourmet meal.

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Behrg reviews “Obscura” by Joe Hart

obscuraIf I had to resort to the old Hollywood 5-second pitch, I’d describe this book as “Shutter Island in space.” That being said, this one deserves much more than a quick cursory glance.

Obscura hits the ground running, forcing the reader to start jogging along if you don’t want to get left behind. A disease similar to dementia and Alzheimer’s is now affecting healthy young individuals, from adults to children. Due to circumstances which you’ll discover once you read the book — because this IS a book you’ll read — Dr. Gillian Ryan is asked to go up to a space shuttle where some of the crew on board are experiencing similar symptoms.

From there it’s one seriously messed up flight. Combining elements of horror, science fiction, and psychological suspense, Hart does an amazing job at keeping the reader constantly guessing. But take away the mind games, the exploration of drug addiction, or the tantalizing concept of teleportation; it’s really the depth of emotion and character that take this to another level.

While I’ve been a fan of the author’s work for some time and have watched his career with admiration, this is the novel that sets him apart from would-be writers. High concept, brilliant ideas, but flawlessly executed. Great to have a book on the contender’s list for top book of the year so early in the year. Can’t recommend this one enough.

** I received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher through NetGalley. This is no way influenced by review. Book will be hitting the streets May 8th.

Book Review: “The Red Church” by Scott Nicholson

Haven’t been posting as many of my reviews here on the blog, but here’s one for a novel I thought was quite unique. Definitely worth checking out.

red church.jpgThe Red Church is a book that’s been on my radar for years, finally had the chance to dig into it, and glad I did. Instead of just uncovering a quick treasure that’s been buried underground and has maybe lost some of it’s shine, this was like unearthing a fossil only to realize that you’re standing not over a single specimen but an entire burial ground that could fill museums. Reminiscent of early King, Nicholson is a master wordsmith, and his imagery is as haunting as it is poignant. At times the religious aspects of the book felt a little heavy handed, but the final picture painted is worth every stroke of the artist’s brush.

Far from your run-of-the-mill supernatural horror story, this is one that will sit with you long after you’ve digested it. Will be looking into more of Nicholson’s work for sure.

“When you have one of those waking nightmares, when you think bad things in the dark and can’t go to sleep, you think happy thoughts. Cartoon dogs, fat clowns, things like that. Except sometimes the cartoon dogs bite and the fat clowns grow sharp smiles.”

 

Book Review: “The Halloween Children” by Brian James Freeman & Norman Prentiss

“The Halloween Children are watching me. They’re watching us all …”

halloween childrenThis novella reminded me a bit of a Jack Ketchum story. The first 2/3 of the book is spent exploring the characters – in this case a quite dysfunctional family. A constant sense of dread continues to build as questions are strung throughout the narrative like carefully placed decorations, until you reach the end which comes screaming at you like a freight train lifted from its tracks.

The narrative point of views, in flipping from Lynn and Harris’s perspectives, worked extremely well as you couldn’t fully trust either of the two narrators. The savvy reader begins to get the real picture of what’s going on by what’s NOT being said. I’ve always enjoyed the unreliable narrator motif, and it’s used here in quite a unique way that’s not fully understood until you reach the end.

But the ending — I’ll admit, a few times I grew a little weary of the bickering between the two parents, but this has one of the best endings for a book I’ve ever read. The thematic metaphors woven throughout one of the most tragic and shocking finales you’ll find … as I was reading I felt as if my jaw kept dropping lower and lower. Beautifully crafted, this is horror that will affect even the most jaded of horror fans.

A fantastic collaboration between two amazing authors, this is a book that will stay with you long after you close the final page.

“You’re all guilty. You’re all the Halloween Children.”

NOTE: This book will be released June 7th, by Random House and their Hydra imprint. You can pre-order a copy here.

** I received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own. **

Book Review: “Hex” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

hex.jpgA present-day witch story that cleverly combines new horror with old-school horror, Hex is a novel that is quite unique. Part “Cabin in the Woods,” part “Under the Dome,” the reader is brought into a town under self-quarantine, and the slow-burn suspense builds like watching a spark travel down the wick towards a stick of dynamite. In this instance, that wick may be a little long, but when it reaches the blasting cap, you better believe it explodes.

The last quarter of this novel is incredible, and the way Heuvelt underscores the action and horror with underlying thematic elements only adds to its mastery. Definitely a novel deserving of the praise its received and a great example of how to cull from the horror greats who have come before you while simultaneously cementing your own unique vision on a work. One of my favorite reads so far from this year.

See you in Doodle Town.

Horror After Dark Reviews Happiness

Another astonishing genre-breaking novel from an author that is consistently blending his stories into multiple areas of classification. I enjoy being challenged to think “outside the box”, and The Behrg excels at writing tales that push you to do just that–all within a fun and different framework.

Much thanks to Kim Yerina and the Horror After Dark website for reviewing “Happiness Is A Commodity” — you can check out the full review here.

HAD is also running a give-away for 2 free copies of Happiness. Enter the drawing here! Get Happy!!!

happiness

 

 

Why Horror Gets a Bad Wrap — a Book Review of “The Woods are Dark” by Richard Laymon

One of the inherent challenges in reading and reviewing a novel that came out 35 years ago is whether you allow more recent influences to affect your opinion on what you read. I find it nearly impossible not to have this occur, so up front, my review may be (read: IS) biased, based on the time frame I’m reading this book versus when it originally came out.

Take a breath. Here goes.

You know how horror gets a bad wrap?

People that don’t read in the genre have some vague notion that horror is just some ridiculous bloody chop shop with tons of gore and naked people running around with little to no character development.

Well, this book is what gives the horror genre a bad wrap.

woods.jpgThe Woods are Dark is the epitome of every B-Horror flick you’ve ever seen. A bunch of horny people get kidnapped out in a town, dragged into the woods, and are terrorized by naked cannibals. These same people pretty much all end up naked themselves, ditching any moral compass and turning into killers — one who may be worse than the “Krulls” who are chasing them.

The writing itself felt like it was put together by a teenage boy who giggles every time he hears the word “penis” or “breasts.” Characters are thin caricatures, the plot is a big circle, and there’s not a single character you can latch onto, hoping they make it through alive.

I did like the idea of these kidnapped people becoming savages themselves in an effort to turn the table, so to speak, and there were some undercurrents in the novel that, had they been better developed, could have turned this into a much more sophisticated read. As it stands, however, this is the schlock everyone assumes we “horror aficionados” love.

The horror I’ve come to love, and the reason I’m so attracted to the genre, has nothing to do with naked blood splattered people running around making hair-brain decisions. Yes, that’s a sub-genre within the greater horror genre, but there’s so much more to the reason we love the dark.

Horror is a place where anything can happen, ranging from the supernatural to every day disturbances. We hear and see enough of those disturbances on a daily basis. Lately it seems a day can’t go by without a mass shooting somewhere. It’s mind-boggingly tragic and almost incomprehensible.

This too, is not what horror is about.

Horror is the escape FROM these real life tragedies.

Death, sickness, unemployment, relationships ending, car accidents, or just plain old misplacing your cell phone. We need a break from the awfulness we experience daily, and horror is that place we can crawl into where the baddies aren’t some random cosmic occurrence, but things we can put names to. Where heroes can rise up AGAINST evil. Where we can experience those heart-pounding moments of fear and fright and still make it to bed safely that evening.

This is why I write in the genre. Why I read in the genre. Why books that don’t have some defining moment of dread or horror don’t really make sense to me. After all, I get enough of a dose of real life every day.

Give me the supernatural, the unknown, the mystery, the noise in the dark, the shadow in the night, the monster, the killer, the kidnapper, the harbinger of doom, the apocalypse, the end of times, the demons and ghosts and beings from other worlds or other dimensions … for these are the ammunition, the body armor, if you will, we need to face the real challenges we meet each night and each day.