Thomas’s Top Reads: 2017
Now, I’ve never claimed to be a world champ reader. Truth is, i’m probably the world’s slowest reader. I have no shame at being slow, at least i’m reading, right? Any how. As we near the end of 2017, I thought it would be fun to share some of the books I’ve read throughout the year, not including some titles such as Salem’s Lot that I re-read every year. Being a fan of both fiction and non-fiction/history, you ought to find a great assortment here to look through. I’ve been trying to be more diverse in the genres I digest. Maybe that can be a goal for 2018, to read more of everything, not just horror. I’ll also include a short review of each book from myself. Well then, lets get this started shall we?
Harlem’s Hell Fighters: By Stephen L. Harris
What a fantastic bit of history. Hard to believe, 100 years feels almost like stepping into another world, a familiar one be it that. Towards the end, while the author did not specifically connect PTSD issues with returning troops from France, the evidence was hard to miss. As a veteran myself, there is some comfort knowing my generation is not alone, war, all war, leaves scars, some are visible while others are not. As for the book, Harris has put together a well researched and documented presentation on a seldom looked at era of history. I loved the connection of early jazz music and the organization the Harlem Hellfighters. I’m also glad to see American Experience have added their story to their Great War documentary. If you’re a fan of history and want to learn something new, I totally recommended this book. No bent. No rhetoric. Just data, story, and documentation.
The Strain (Book 1) & The Fall (Book 2): By Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Book 1 is an entertaining read, to be sure. Don’t expect something literary. You will find some historical fiction, which is fun. Great re-fleshing of classic Dracula tropes. Great book to have to read while commuting somewhere. Book 2 in Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s vampire trilogy certainly improved as far as editing issues or clumsy paragraphs or structure, and for the most part, the book was highly entertaining and fast paced. I ended no sooner when I had just picked the book up to read. Mostly I think because of the way the chapters were set up and that there were more action scenes this go around. There were only two hard hitting hang ups I found with this tale. One, it was missing that sort of charm from the first book, the historical backdrop to the modern chaos going on. Now, my own flaw is preferring apocalyptic tales as they are taking place, and not as an enduring obstacle. Second, the ending to The Fall is as true to the title as one can get; however, it left me no desire to pick up the third book as the first book had galvanized me into the second. It was well written and action oriented, and I enjoyed Goodweather’s journal entries as an added bonus. Be that is it may, I finished this book, technically, some time in Feb 2017, and I am just now getting to my review and have yet to pick up the third book.
Feed: By Michael Bray
FEED works in many ways because it is and isn’t a traditional monster story. Sure, we’ve got the Megladon that is very protective of its territory. But we’ve also got a cast of characters that are not in the least two-dimensional. Tyler, the main protagonist, has his flaws, but he’s also very human and real and because of that, he is relatable. As are the many other characters, even the ones that don’t last very long on “screen.” Nash would be another great character I liked reading, a very “Ahab” prototype, hell bent on revenge, even at the risk of his own son and Tyler. Survival and the lengths we’re willing to go to survive are strong motivators of the story, some of which play out in very grotesque ways. This highlights that FEED isn’t just a story about a shark gobbling up people, in fact, for most of it, there are other predators and demons one has to watch out for. My own personal phobia of the ocean no doubt played into my reaction to the story Michael Bray has cooked up for his readers, but it also says something of the quality of the writing, to be able to play on those phobias, the isolation, and claustrophobia, the unknown aspects of what’s really out there in the black depths of the water. FEED is definitely a read fans of horror will not want to miss.
First Blood: By David Morrell
I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea First Blood was a book before it was a movie. Glad to have this error corrected and was equally glad to have gotten the chance to read this amazing book. Now, there were some drastic changes from film to print or print to film more like. And that’s okay. I never expect the movie to be just like the film. There have to be differences, so long as the essence remains intact. And for the most part, the essence of First Blood, be it Sylvester Stallone or just the imaginative projection from hearing how David Morrell describes John Rambo, is beautifully captured, more so I would say in the book because we are given the characters internal thoughts. The director and Stallone for his part did a great job conveying through action and struggle Rambo’s internal conflicts, but in the book, it becomes, even more, clearer. Did you know that when Rambo arrived in that pinewoods mountain town, he had been kicked out, or “pushed,” as he calls it, at least a dozen times? That is where the “pushed” thing comes from during the movie that doesn’t make much sense, but in the book it does.
No spoilers here, but the end is veeerrryyy different, and I’m not sure which one I like the most. I feel for Rambo in both scenarios, and I love that end scene monolog he was with his old unit commander in the movie. But in the book…dang…it’s just… I’ve said enough.
As far as veteran issues go, both film and book appealed to me and wrung the gauntlet of emotions. Perhaps more so in the movie than here, despite the benefit of reading Rambo’s internal thoughts. In the book, I did enjoy the added polar conflicts between the sheriff, a Korean War veteran, and Rambo, a Vietnam veteran, and how each of them refuses to surrender to the other, more so than in the movie. In the movie, the sheriff is more of a chump and doesn’t know what he’s walking into, and just seems to be a dick for no reason. In the book, he is more clearly defined. Especially with what happens during the first hunting party. DAMN! is all I can say about that!
Overall, if you’re a fan of the movie, you may want to check out the book. I have few doubts you’ll be disappointed.
The Damnation Game: Clive Barker
I have to say, I am not a fan of the 1990 mass market cover. I thought it would make more sense as the book progressed, of what it is. Sadly, no such luck. As for the story, learning after the fact that this is Clive Barker’s first novel, I must say I am impressed. I would not have guessed that. I’d read his Books of Blood before this, as well as Cabal (love BTW), and bits of other books I intend to finish soon. His way with prose and imagination are flawless here. I was disappointed in Marty’s (or was it Martin?) character. So much time spent on him, knowing his boxer background and yet it’s mostly useless. He’s kind of a whimp. The rest of the characters are fantastic. I loved Whitehead’s vulnerability and Creys’ power yet dependency. For a story built around duality and life over death, or death over life, I feel the conclusion came to a satisfying end.
Abarat: By Clive Barker
The best thing going into this book was having no earthly idea what it was about. I’ve read Barker’s Books of Blood, and I’ve read The Hellbound Heart, and Cabal (a glimpse at least at his ability to create fantastic worlds), and so having read those was some what expecting something similar. Abarat isn’t dissimilar. Barker’s voice is still true, but you can pretty much exhume the horror expectations you might have. There’s some. But every good story has at least a little bit of terror. What sets Abarat apart is its surreal and equally abstract fantasy setting. The “real world” surround main protagonist Candy only lasts for maybe a few short chapters. The rest is spent in another realm. As I said, I’m glad I didn’t know, because I’m not a “fantasy” heavy reader. Had I skipped out on Abarat, I’d be disappointed. This is a fantastic story. I found myself routing for more than just the protagonist. I hoped Mischief would be okay in the Sea of Isabella. And I wondered, just as the characters did, what made Candy so special. AND to top things off, Abarat is part of a trilogy. You could definitely feel the build up to something bigger towards the end, but it didn’t diminish the conclusion to this first book. I’m looking forward to stepping back into the world of Abarat.
Ghost Story: By Peter Straub
Let the record show, Ghost Story was my first fully completed Peter Straub story. I had previously attempted Koko, which was not a bad read, it was in Straub’s style a slow burn. Perhaps it was meant to be because I’m glad Ghost Story was my first. The slow burn and careful timing of small town nostalgia and utterly chilling horror were perfectly placed. The intro was uber confusing, and then throughout the book the intent was revealed. The reader was supposed to be confused. And who wouldn’t be with an unnamed man holding a knife over a young girl, and a young girl who doesn’t quite seem right.
The characters throughout were fantastic and deeply rich. True, Dr. John Jaffery was probably the thinnest, the others had more “screen time.” Sears was my favorite, very gruff and matter-of-fact. Ricky was interesting, especially his relationship with his wife Stella. The Chowder Society, despite their turmoil, felt niche and fascinating. Kinda “old world” to read of those kinds of men only clubs. The twist with these old men was how they told each other ghost stories. My only wish was to have more time in those individual stories.
Speaking of ghosts, the antagonists in Ghost Story were brilliant. Seeing how this book was published in the mid to late 1970s, I can see where many other specter flicks had gotten their ideas. Even so, I was not accustomed to THESE type of ghosts, very powerful and still bound by some sort of law that governed how they existed.
For new readers, be prepared for a slow burn. All but for the last few chapters which kept me glued until the end. And I say slow burn with all the pleasure I’ve had reading this book. If you have the patience, you will enjoy this classic read.
Falling To Dark: Chad A. Clark
I love the return to ghosts as beings of nightmare fuel instead of haunting lovers who spin clay pots. Similar you might say to how 30 Days of Night returned vampires to the realm of monsterism. Chad’s short romp Falling to Dark was an interesting read and forced my thumb to swipe the next page, because I had to find out what happened next. There was some confusion at the beginning, if Greg really was a killer or not I cannot say. But what happened to him, and to those poor souls that became murderous spirits…I’ll stop here. You need to find out what happens for yourself.
Book of Blood: Vol I-III: By Clive Barker
Oh my. If anyone is looking for a true representation of Clive Barker’s work it is here in his Books of Blood collection. Few things tap into that spring well of creativity quite like short stories. There’s a certain affordability to experiment bound to the limits such as shorter fiction. And there was a good amount of experimentation taking place here. From haunted men to strange otherworldly clans of walking talking beasts. I think my favorite was the Meat Train one, so oddly captivating and it had this really dark cultish conclusion. There are many others here, none were flops in my estimation. A great collection to own and to read.
Necroscope: Brian Lumley
Wow, okay, it took me a little longer than usual to get through this book. The amount of detail was a real slog at the beginning, but once you start getting into it, the story really takes off. There are still spots of deep deep deeeeeeep detail on par with something from Lord of Rings or something, which I guess is one way of describing the magnitude of this series, minus any metaphor or symbolism Tolkien was a master for, still, its kinda nice having the horror equivalent of his work. As for the story, it was not what I originally believed it would be about, yeah, there are vampires, but not in a great abundance, but that’s okay. The part of Harry’s evolution was amazingly creative. Enjoyed this entry very much and am looking forward to starting book 2.
Every Part of the Animal: By Duncan Ralston
Duncan Ralston delivers another great tale of mystery. The story unfolds steady. We spend a lot of time with Bo and her son, Caleb, learning about who they are and why they are living in a really remote area in Alaska. It is soon discovered that Bo has some rather dark secrets. One of the more interesting characters, I thought, was pop megastar Rainey Layne, who was utterly loathsome. But as the story marches on, we get to learn a little bit why Rainey acts the way she does. I found myself drain to both women, surprisingly rooting for Bo and Rainey. The only drawbacks are not really drawbacks at all, the book does not profess to be horror, but given the talent of Duncan Ralston to craft some rather creepy tales, the expectation might be there. Every Part is actually more of a mystery novel, with a bit of bite at the end. Not gruesome, but an excellent spin on characterization. The abstinence of gore is okay, because that’s not what this book is about, this book (according to me) is about motherhood and the lengths one is willing to go to protect, not just the people in our lives, but the way we live our lives.
Lovecraft Country: By Matt Ruff
Let me say, period pieces really are my favorite niche in any genre. While working as a colorful backdrop, it also ought to really become a character in and of itself. That’s to say, the characters within the story should be effected in some way, both great and small. You can’t just say your on the 1950s and not have some sort of conflict within the boundaries of that era. And Lovecraft Country is sweating Jim Crow. Every action and resolution is weighed against a concise and chillingly real understanding of what it was like for African Americans during segregation. I’m actually a big fan of studying this precarious time in our country. Yes, there are lots of harrowing moments and events, but to me at least there are a lot of heroes that are born from the era. Author Matt Ruff capitalized on that, I think. His characters, the Berry’s and Turner’s, had to face extreme racism and event he more subtle and more sinister forms of it, but they stood the test, in their own way. Atticus’ father, Montrose, for example, I did not favor him in the beginning, to me he seemed a harsh kind of father figure, but later on, discovering his history and his ultimate message to the black youth around him, I began to like him more and more. For the historic setting and the story surrounding it, top marks.
But as a Lovecraft inspired work of fiction? Some debate could be made. There is a feeling, a vibe that hints at a cosmic dread, but nothing on the level as H.P. And for those looking for Lovecraft are bound to be disappoint, at least a little bit, right? And that’s okay. Truthfully, I had hopes of seeing more of Lovecraft’s world, not just having his work mentioned between a group of unlikely sci fi fans. The supernatural is certainly there, or as they call it “natural philosophy.” But what Lovecraft Country really lacked was teeth, especially if stamping the title with Lovecraft’s name. Lovecraft Country was like a PG romp into some rather serious issues dealing with race in America and reading the characters all coming out unspoiled seemed disingenuous. Fun, but not realistic.
In summary, Lovecraft Country works as a reminder and a warning regarding the legacy of Jim Crow America. The tension is clearly defined and some parts were hard to get past. The history was spot on and believable. But as a Lovecraft stamped title…it lacked that sense of dread, lurking creatures or not, that ought to come with every Lovecraft inspired book. An argument could be made that the dread was with the characters having to survive the effects of segregation, that the hidden lurking unfathomable monstrosity was in fact racism itself. Still, in the end it felt as if most things had been resolved, more or less. Parts of the book, which was designed in short story increments that connected eventually together, wrapped up too neatly. And the lack of death or any serious permanency felt strange compared to the real threat this part of our history posed to those who lived it.
Tinseltown: By William J. Mann
I’ve found history, post school, to be most enjoyable when its told from a storytelling perspective. While still backed by a decent bibliography and notes, Tinseltown sets upon the task of bringing the audience into a world a 100 years in the making. The data provided came across as genuine to the individual stories being told that one way or another connect. While the mystery itself remains “unsolved,” the author, William J. Mann offers his personal opinion, references an interesting clue (clew) to the case. I had my suspensions, but was still surprised on who he thinks, and most likely is correct, murdered William Desmond Taylor. It was also really interesting getting a closer examination of Hollywood pre-talkie era. And anyone who thinks the media/news reporting has run amok, they need to open a history book and see what past as journalism back in the 1920s.
A Tear in the Veil: By Patrick Loveland
A fantastic and wonderfully weird debut novel from Patrick Loveland. Word to the wise, come to Tear in the Veil with the expectation of delving into a fully fleshed out world. I have never been to San Francisco, which is where the gut of the story takes place, but after reading this very detailed work of fiction, I believe a part of me has, that part between imagination and reality where worlds are created in our dreams. Also on the latter, Tear in the Veil reminds me a lot (at least on the amount of detail) of works by Tolkien or Lumley, though its probably best described as a combination of a lot of writers, including Lovecraft. That said, it was difficult to zone in on the authors voice, the perspective often felt blurred between narrator and character, but perhaps that was entirely intentional. Either way, Tear in the Veil is not a book you want to miss out on, but when you do decide to read, dedicate some time to it, enjoy it, go slow and get to know the characters and the world they inhabit.
The Child at the End of Time: By Chad A. Clark
You really need to read Through the Slip, a prequel short story to this follow up, The Child at the End of Time. I was curious if Chad would be able to continue the incredible dark and nightmarish undertones from the prequel into this continuation and I have to say, I was not disappointed. Subtle at time and full force in your face. A balance a lot of other writers tend to struggle with. If you’re hunting for something along the sub-genre of end-times, but you also want it to be enjoyable to read, AND with a spellbinding story, look no further.
Who doesn’t love a good story? From great works such as, All Quiet on the Western Front and Salem’s Lot, Thomas S. Flowers aspires to create his own fantastic worlds with memorable characters and haunted places. His stories range from Shakespearean gore to classic monsters, historic paranormal thrillers, and haunted soldiers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, Thomas’s debut novel, Reinheit, was eventually published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series (4 books and counting), filled with werewolves, Frankenstein-inspired monsters, cults, alter-dimensional insects, witches, the undead, and the worst monster of all, PTSD, are published with Limitless Publishing. Keep up with Thomas and download a FREE book on his website www.ThomasSFlowers.com.
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This entry was posted on December 30, 2017 by Thomas S Flowers. It was filed under Book Review, History, Horror and was tagged with 2017, book reviews, books, Clive Barker, end of year, fiction, Horror, horror books, indie authors, indie books, lists, my reads, non-fiction, Reviews, top reads.