Cody's Bookshelf

So many books, so little time


Spectre - Stephen Laws

This book was dumb as dog feces, but I had a helluva time with it. It’s gory and over-the-top in that glitzy, shameless way only good bad horror fiction from the 1980s can be.


The story of seven friends (six guys, one girl) haunted by an unfortunate happening in their younger years, this is a horror thriller that should not feel original but does. Sure, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel; but it isn’t a thoughtless hack job, either. If it hadn’t come out the same year as Stephen King’s It I would assume this was a cash-in on that novel’s gargantuan success, but it did come out in 1986 and it makes for an interesting snapshot of where horror literature was in the mid-80s.


Though not particularly scary (and just so goofy), I do feel this novel is a success and I am now interested in reading other releases by Stephen Laws. It is a shame he isn’t more known amongst modern horror fans.


The Woods are Dark - Richard Laymon

4.5 stars rounded up!


Wow! This was my first Richard Laymon novel and I was not disappointed. I know Laymon has a bit of a bad reputation (as in, he’s known for writing trashy horror), so I was a bit hesitant when starting this short tale of a few people lost in the woods and on the run from an incestuous family of cannibals that . . . practice witchcraft? I think?


Oh, and the Devil shows up too. In literal monster form.


Needless to say, this thing is intense. I could not — and did not — want to put it down.

The whole time I was reading, I felt like I was reading Jack Ketchum’s Off Season (which is funny, since they were both published in 1981), only I enjoyed this one much more. Maybe it’s because I was able to sympathize more with the characters, despite Ketchum arguably fleshing his creations out more. I dunno. Laymon did a good job, here, of giving me just enough information to make the characters distinctive and likable without getting bogged down in back story. This one is all action, all horror, from the start.


Easily the scariest book I’ve read this month thus far, I liked this one much more than I expected and I hope to squeeze in another Laymon before the end of March.


Hell Hound - Grady Hendrix, Ken Greenhall, Jessica Hamilton

Ken Greenhall’s long-forgotten horror masterpiece, Hell Hound, is finally getting the recognition it deserves, thanks to a recent reissue. This was my first novel by this author, but it certainly won’t be my last.


This tale — one of a psychotic and cunning Bull Terrier — is bloody and mean and aims for the throat; told in precise prose, this is a terrifying hellraiser not concerned with sentimentality or sympathy. The obvious comparison is to Stephen King’s Cujo, though these stories are wildly different. Of the two, Cujo is perhaps better written, but something must be said for this book’s heartlessness.


This is a novel more horror readers should be aware of. The length of a long novella, this is a quick, effective read: one that is finally getting its due.


The House Next Door - Anne Rivers Siddons

When compiling a list of vintage horror books to read and review this month, my first and best source was Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. Invaluable was it in determining which novels I wanted to take a chance on it. In Danse King spends three or four pages dissecting this — Anne Siddons’s 1978 release, The House Next Door, one of the smartest and most atmospheric haunted house tales I’ve read yet.


Told from the point of view of Colquitt Kennedy, an upper-middle class woman living in an upscale Atlanta suburb with her husband, Walter, this unfolding of the mysterious and macabre does not happen quickly; this author deals in dread, letting her readers squirm. I love that quality in horror from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and it’s something that seems to have been lost sometime in the ‘80s. Quiet terror with a focus on the psychological is much more effective, to me, than buckets of guts and blood and dismembered bodies.


Not only does The House Next Door work as a horror show, but is also works — at times — as a satire. Siddons gleefully mocks the foibles of suburban life: the block parties, the whispering neighbors, the hypocrisy — all unfolding in houses with freshly manicured lawns and evenly painted shutters. Because of that, this story feels authentically American. The author’s sense of setting, locale, is impeccable.


This is one of the finest haunted house stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading. While not as explosive as The Shining or as iconic as The Haunting of Hill House, this very much deserves to get a look from horror fans.


The Revelation - Bentley Little

I think this is the scariest Bentley Little novel I’ve read. The Mailman was scary, too, though; it is a hard call. Regardless, Little’s debut novel is a shocker, almost sure to rattle the nerves of even the most jaded horror reader.


A wave of crime is hitting the small town of Randall, Arizona. Churches are desecrated. A local minister and his family have gone missing. Fires are set. Over the course of only a few days, this town goes straight to Hell and it’s up to a handful of people to save it. Perhaps this is not the most original plot, but it is fun — and herein can be found a few excellent twists.


I could not put this one down, and I defy anyone to do so once this book is begun. One of the finest horror debuts I’ve had the pleasure of reading, Bentley Little’s tale of a small town’s destruction is a corker.


The Front Runner - Patricia Nell Warren

“The angel of death had cruised him. Death, that hustler, that last lover.”


Published between the era of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, and the AIDS crisis, The Front Runner is a very blunt and honest look at homosexuality in the world of American sports, circa 1975. By its time’s standards — as well as the current day — this book is progressive; the ideas are daring, the revelations unflinching. The front cover calls it “controversial” and “unusual” and “as moving as any love story ever written.” I would agree with all those descriptors. What is this novel? It is a tragedy.


The first person narrator is a college track coach quickly entering middle age. In the fall of ‘74 he received three candidates for his team — three boys kicked out of their previous school for their homosexuality. He, the coach, being gay himself, takes them under his wing; a romantic relationship between he and one of the boys soon develops.


This book is almost certain to make any reader a little uncomfortable; good literature does that. This challenges every societal norm of its time and even some that are still in place today. While a bit excessively dated at times (some of the male characters are a bit too chauvinistic for my tastes), this story can be enjoyed by modern audiences. The pacing, too, is an issue — the middle is a bit of a slog, at times — but the noteworthy beginning and extraordinarily written finale more than make up for it.




My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult has a talent for making her readers consider, and reconsider, issues they’ve never thought much of before. At the center of this, perhaps her most famous novel, is medical emancipation: a thirteen-year-old girl wants to have control of her own body; she doesn’t want to leave decisions up to her parents.


Anna’s older sister, Kate, has fought Cancer since the age of two. She is doing badly, nearly dead, when Anna has had enough and consults a lawyer about filing a petition to emancipate herself. She’s had to donate body organs to her sister time and time again, from birth, with no say.


This book is competently written, but I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I expected to. The first half dragged; Julia and Campbell’s relationship seems forced; the ending is tragedy porn. The topic at the novel’s center is intriguing, as is always the case with Picoult . . . This one just didn’t entirely get off the ground, for me. I found myself indifferent to the plight of this family. I never felt I was in their heads.


I can recommend this to fans of Picoult, but no one else.


The Vampire Armand  - Anne Rice

I am giving this book two stars only because Anne Rice is a talented author, and I can’t bear to give this a single-star rating (though, honestly, it might deserve it).


Man, what a bummer. I loved the last four volumes in this series, but this was a mess. Written after a short hiatus from the Vampire Chronicles, this volume follows Memnoch the Devil, which Rice said was supposed to be the series finale. That would have made sense, and it would have been a fine note to end on. Instead, three years later, this mess hit bookstore shelves.


First off, Lestat is almost nowhere to be found here. I think because, up to this point, the Brat Prince features heavily in all the vampire novels that Rice wasn’t sure where to go with this story. Armand is certainly one of the more interesting immortals — for his age, if nothing else — but he makes for a booooooring narrator. He lacks all the wit and humor of Lestat; he has no personality of his own. What a dud. And don’t get me started on the disjointed ‘feel’ of the story: first half is littered with awkward, heavy-handed sex; second half is . . . I don’t even know, dude. Boring AF. I can’t remember a thing that happened. Maybe that’s for the best.


They can’t all be winners. I will be taking an extended break from this series.


Memnoch the Devil - Anne Rice

When Anne Rice fans are asked which of her books they feel most passionate about — whether positively or negatively — the answer is almost invariable: Memnoch the Devil. Acting as a bit of a precursor to Rice’s Christian fiction novels of the mid-00s, this book is tonally out of step with the previous Vampire Chronicles (save for, perhaps, Interview With the Vampire, as this too has the ‘feel’ of an interview in spots) And seems to be cause for great joy, and disgust, in many readers.


Lestat wants to know the will of God, and the Devil: what are their purposes for him? Which does he serve? What is Heaven, what is Hell, what is the true story of creation, where and why is purgatory? These questions and more Memnoch, Lestat’s guide of the spiritual regions, are answered. This one is steeped in biblical and evolutionary history; I found it fascinating but can understand those who can’t get on with this book.


Perhaps more than anything, this novel is remembered for the infamous scene in which Lestat feeds on the bleeding crucified Christ. That moment, I think, sums up this book well. This certainly isn’t for all readers, but I had a great time. This book offered up questions I often find myself pondering and will continue pondering for time to come. The idea of an imperfect, foolish God and a tricky, boastful, but generally well-natured Devil (or Memnoch) is intriguing . . . not to mention the concept of what Hell really is. But I won’t spoil that!


I’m totally addicted to this series now and am blowing through the books. I don’t want it to end.


The Tale of the Body Thief  - Anne Rice

It is official: this is the book that made me an unwavering fan of Lestat. While the previous Vampire Chronicle, Queen of the Damned<m features an array of characters and scenarios, there wasn’t as much a focus on the Brat Prince. In this, the fourth book in the series, Anne Rice has almost inverted that: Lestat de Lioncourt is front and center through all of it; the reader gets to, finally, see him fall, and seek redemption.


The concept is pretty simple: Lestat, after over two centuries of being a vampire, has grown weary of it all. He’s tired of the purgatory, the repetition; he longs to feel human pleasures again. He comes across a mysterious spirit — a body thief — that allows him to trade places with a human man.


By combining her trademark erotic and horrific tendencies with a hilarious and enthralling fish-out-of-water scenario (Lestat was human in the 1700s, mind you, and is attempting human life once more in the early 1990s), Anne Rice created a truly addictive read — perhaps the closest she’s come to a true crime thriller . . . sort of. This book is jam-packed with cool ideas and a lot of intriguing theology talk. I know the next novel in the series goes deep in that direction, and I can’t wait to jump on it.


An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

This book has a rocky start. Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, this is about a young, upwardly mobile married couple in Atlanta faced with unforeseen circumstances that threaten to rip their marriage apart. As seen in the book’s synopsis, the husband — Roy — is wrongfully arrested and sentenced for twelve years. Celestial, his wife, is left alone to work at her business and visit hubby when possible.


I didn’t much care for these characters, especially Roy. At least not at first. For the first 150 pages or so, this novel seems to be a portrait of the toxicity of masculinity. Celestial’s life is ripped to and fro by the men around her, and I just wanted to shake her shoulders and scream “Wake up!” Ugh.


Things did pick up in the latter half, and the writing got less choppy. There were fewer exposition dumps and the characters became more sympathetic. My internal rating slowly rose to what it is now: four stars. The author stuck the landing; she didn’t go for what was easy, but what was appropriate for the story. I respect that.


I am glad I read this, but I doubt I’ll revisit it. At times too flimsy, at other times downright frustrating, this is an uneven story with a killer second act.


The Queen of the Damned - Anne Rice

The Vampire Chronicles — Anne Rice’s seminal work — keeps getting better. While I was lukewarm on Interview With the Vampire (though my reading of its sequels has deepened my appreciation of that dark little novel), I quite enjoyed The Vampire Lestat and was blown away by The Queen of the Damned. This novel shows Rice getting a firm grip on her vampires; she juggles action and exposition (and angst — oh, the angst!) expertly here, never allowing the story’s pace to flag. Not once was I bored or wanted to skim, as has been the case at times in the previous two Vampire books.


At the end of book two, Lestat awakened Akasha, the Queen of the Undead, from a six thousand-year slumber, and upon wakening she yearns to rule with an iron fist. The worlds of the mortal and immortal alike are in peril; some Vampires are spared from certain death . . . why? What is she saving them for? Read and find out.


This book features, on top of many exquisitely horrific moments, some superb character development. Marius, Armand, Pandora, Jesse, Daniel, the Twins . . . I loved these characters, one and all, and can’t wait to read about them in future volumes. Lestat and Louis’s relationship is also brought full circle in a heartbreaking callback scene to Interview With the Vampire. I was choking back the tears when reading that.


What can I say, I had a blast with this book. I will soon be starting volume four!


Baby Teeth - Zoje Stage

DNF @ 39%.


I wanted to like this book. Really. It’s getting so much hype and sounded like it could be creepy. It isn’t. I found myself bored and annoyed. None of these characters are likable. The mom is a wilted flower, a crying dishrag; the dad is an oblivious fool; the daughter — she who is supposedly so evil — just does strange things that aren’t particularly scary. Just strange kid things, like talking in a strange voice sometimes. Spooky!


This book is a lot of Hanna, the daughter, doing something bad and Suzette, the Mom, saying “Wait until your father hears about this!” but half the time she never tells her husband, and the other half of the time hubby takes the daughter’s side. It feels repetitive and lame. This isn’t the suspenseful thriller it is made out to be.


Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.


The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin

“... they break through the surface in astounding numbers. They climb the nearest vertical object; the husks of their nymphal skins drop crisply to the ground. Their bodies are pale and not yet hardened. In the darkness, they sing.”


Despite my low rating, I do think it is possible for people to enjoy this novel. In fact, I’ve seen almost nothing but positive reviews for this, and I understand why: it is a character-driven literary thriller filled with gorgeous prose. As well, the idea (four young siblings visit a psychic who tells each of them the date of his or her death, and their lives unspool from there) is pretty clever. That’s why I bought this book new and paid almost full price for it; I thought there was no way I wouldn’t like it.


I was wrong.


My biggest problem is with the narrative’s structure. These siblings, after visiting the psychic, soon depart from one another and go on to live their lives. The youngest, Simon, goes to San Francisco with one of his sisters, Klara. I enjoyed these two, especially Simon. The focus is on these two for a while, and the reader is left in the dark about their older siblings. Each ‘part’ of this novel focuses on a different sibling, and typically he or she doesn’t interact much with his or her family . . . despite this being, in part, a novel about the ties that bind us to familial relationships. So it doesn’t work, for me. The end result is not a cohesive novel, but instead a series of vignettes spread out over four decades. Told in only 330 pages, the story feels excessively rushed and I never got the chance to feel for these characters. Klara was the closest to likable; I didn’t much care for the other siblings at all. They are selfish and brooding.


This is a unique story, and I give kudos to Chloe Benjamin for trying it. While it is not something I personally enjoyed, I could see it being appreciated by other readers. It just didn’t get off the ground, and I hate that. Perhaps if the story had been fleshed out a good deal more and the siblings had more things to do with one another, it would’ve been a better read.


Providence: A Novel - Caroline Kepnes

Caroline Kepnes has one of the most unique voices in modern fiction, and by this point I will buy anything of hers on day one. No questions asked. She’s that good, folks. When the opportunity arose for me to read and review her new novel, Providence, some four months before release date, I jumped at the chance. And here we are.


The first fifty or so pages of this book is some of Kepnes’s finest writing to date. The reader is introduced to Jon and Chloe, best friends in junior high, and they immediately jumped off the page. Kepnes’s first two novels didn’t really feature kids, so it’s here she shows she can write them just as well as adults.


And then . . . we go forward in time, after some crazy circumstances tear these friends apart. The reader is introduced to Egg and Lo, a married couple; we also get to see other characters as they develop through the years. It’s all still very good — Kepnes really can’t write badly — but I must admit I felt a little deflated after the excellent opening chapters. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed this read through and through. It is a crime thriller of the highest order: likable characters and copious Lovecraft references make this a highly enjoyable read. I just felt there was a bit too much pining on the part of a couple of the leads. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory here, but at times I just felt this novel wasn’t living up to its potential. Kepnes has created a neat concept and doesn’t really utilize it much, and when she does it feels rushed.


Don’t get me wrong: I loved this book. It is beautifully written and shows this author is able to stretch her wings and try new things. Fans of her previous releases will find much to love about this.


Broken Shells: A Subterranean Horror Novella - Michael Patrick Hicks

Release Date: 02.06.18


This story’s ending is what earned it the fifth star. What can I say, I’m a bleak guy, and this is a bleak story. Without diving into spoilers, I think this story could have gone one of two ways . . . And Michael Hicks chose the courageous way. He went where the story commanded. And I applaud him! That final chapter - shivers.


Broken Shells, the upcoming horror novella from Hicks, is a creature feature of the best sort. All kinds of gooshy, nasty bugs are present and accounted for; to make a pun, Hicks preys on the fear of insects. Me, I don’t mind bugs so much . . . But I am very claustrophobic. This story did get me there. A large portion of this story involves the main character being trapped and having to escape; I was on the brink of an anxiety attack while reading. That’s how I know this author did his job.


This is a fun, scary read, and it is easily conquerable in a sit or two. Highly recommended! Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Currently reading

Koko by Peter Straub
Nightmares & Dreamscapes by Stephen King