Safe Inside the Violence by Chris Irvin
Short story writing calls for a particular talent. The short form needs to be concise, to the point, there must be an imperative drive. In so few words, a complete tale must be woven. If, at any given moment, the passion lets loose then there is a problem. Safe Inside the Violence expresses the aforementioned talent for clean writing. Each individual piece stands finely on its own, while as a group the tone remains uniform, lending the collection a feeling of despondency (in a good way).
The book starts with “Union Man”, based in small town America, taut and historically accurate in speak and vision, but this story left me wanting more. I was hoping for something longer. “Imaginary Drugs” harkens to summer camp or days on the beach. Everybody knows a Donny, the one kid you love to hate. This tale brought on feelings of nostalgia, true honest emotion for personal memories and disappointment for the protagonist.
“Digging Deep” was my favorite story in the book. Being from Massachusetts, I can relate to the atmosphere Irvin created. The main character is a new father, as am I, and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself at all the truths of new fatherhood. The story “Bringing in the Dead” seems pulled from a page of Irvin’s freshman delivery Federales. Harsh and unpredictable as this story is you’ll feel fulfilled.
The story I would relate most with crime fiction was “Lupe’s Lemon Elixir”. It would be difficult to do crime well without a ‘cleaner’ tale and that’s what we see here, with a similar Federales feel and brilliant descriptions of a chopped up Mexico. “Vacation Package” was brief, enigmatic, for me not memorable, though the concept was disheartening.
A haunting, metaphorical tale that makes you value the mentality and integrity of a good parent, “Beyond the Sea” had a slight magical realism tilt. “Safe Inside the Violence” was a locally based (Revere) story that was exceptionally loyal to the setting of the Greater Boston area, with the tension of the bustle and immediacy.
Smashed into the middle with the title story, “Napoleon of the North End” also reeked of Boston with the mentions of the Sox, B’s, Pats, even Dunks and ‘Gansett tallboys. “Blind Spot” was a dark, dirty story. Brilliant in its delivery and vicious in conclusion, this made for a favorite of mine.
“Bitter Work” is a glimpse of what occurs when you mix an amateur into the big times. This story was fast paced and what I’d expect from a crime collection. Yet another emotionally resonant tale was “Nor’easter”, which pits a mall Santa against the elements of winter and regret. It is heartwarming despite the despair.
“The Things We Leave Behind” is the black sheep of the collection. While Irvin maintains a composed and fluent voice, it seems a tad out of place. While I wouldn’t wholly classify “Safe” as a complete collection of crime—such literary gems mixed in between—I would call it a stellar selection of work from a mover and shaker. Irvin will be a name blossoming with every release. His sophomore novella, Burn Cards, is definitely in my future. Pick up Safe Inside the Violence from 280 steps:
The Door that Faced West by Alan M. Clark
Alan M. Clark is a hell of a writer. The Door that Faced West developed with the momentum of a coal burner, finishing as an oil-fashioned steam train. The majority of this frontier novel takes place in either wooded areas or small towns. You start to think…how can an entire story take place in this setting? Take for instance, The Revenant, another gleaming example of such a tale.
The focus is on brilliant characters that you feel indebted to and who can make you smile or tear.
We find Sadie at an uncomfortable and completely vulnerable crossroads, after leaving an abusive family; she finds a new home with the traveling troupe led by the merciless Harpe brothers. She is the protagonist with as much trepidation as tenacity. The Harpes kill and steal, such as modern gangsters, with no remorse and barely a second thought. The horrifying part of it all is the basis on a true story. You will fear for Sadie and the other characters’ livelihood, praying that some savior will show.
The book is haunting and touching at the same time, something rare in this age of media. The struggle is there, but so is the triumph. You want to cheer for the bad guys because they so happen to be intertwined with the good! Wiley Harpe is a devious bastard that you can’t help but to like; the reasoning is simply not there because he has no redeemable qualities. Micajah is a stone with sensibility, one that gets him in trouble more than ahead of the curve.
So far as historical novels go Door is lush and vibrant, full of exhilarating moments, not the typical dull and drab. I found myself not wanting it to end. I used the Audible version, which critically could have been better edited (a bit dicey in production), but was spot on with the voice. A narrator can make or break an audiobook for me and Hinckley did a great job of keeping it interesting. All in all, it was a spectacular offering from a decorated author. On to the next Clark novel!
The Laughter of Strangers by Michael J. Seidlinger
(Originally published on The New Book Review: http://thenewbookreview.blogspot.com/2014/01/d-g-sutter-undisputed-champion.html)
What is the purpose of identity? It is to dignify the existence of human separation. We are all equally varied in characteristics and personalities. Like two snowflakes, none of us are the same, and unlike Tyler Durden’s philosophy we are all special. In The Laughter of Strangers, Michael Seidlinger challenges the concept of self by giving several faces and facets to the boxer who is, was, and always will be Willem Floures.
While identity is a feature set aside for others to differentiate, ego and self-esteem are internal machines to determine identity; the protagonist’s main struggle in the book is discovering the “true” Willem Floures through rigorous tests of both. Is it Sugar, Black Mamba, or Executioner? Seidlinger takes readers on an existentially vagrant journey through the stages of Floures’s life, using boxing matches as vibrant reveries of combat against actions and behaviors of past and present.
His prose is clean and concise and he wastes no breath in getting the story across, in passages such as “Looking back all I hear is laughter. All I see is white. All I taste is the ache of my bleeding mouth, tongue numb, my eyes wanting so very much to roll back, have a look at the inside of my broken skull.”
Stories To Poke Your Eyes Out To by Jonathan Moon
Jonathan Moon recently released his latest collection under his own imprint, Barn Burner Books, called Stories to Poke Your Eyes Out To. When I say Jonathan Moon is a badass, I mean that in the most endearing of manners. This guy has gut. His writing has heart. You haven’t heard of him…? Hogwash. He is one of the front men for underground horror. It is a movement that’s pushing the big six out of the spotlight (Have you seen the Stoker recommended reading list?). This collection is further proof of why that is happening. Great writers are tired of going through the “time tested” method of submitting and waiting for days, months, and in professional markets years for a response (and with small royalty returns, nonetheless).
With this latest selection of stories Moon has shunned the big houses by creating an atmosphere within a cohesive work, one that is memorable to say the least. His words drift into your ears, only needing to read them for the sake of comprehension. You can hear a faint voice whispering the narrative on every page, a desperate voice with the need of escaping the pages.
The first of eighteen stories, which swing between flash and near-novella length, is called “Heart of an Angel”. It’s short, dark, and reminiscent of “The Tell-Tale Heart” in that something sick is speaking to the narrator, begging him for supplication.
“Real Love Burns” is the first introduction of the narrator’s lost love, January. It’s delivered with a graceful and beautiful language. There are demons and talking dog carcasses, and everything you’d expect from a black and white horror film. I’m usually uninterested in stories that involve zombies; however “Poisoned Meat” offered a very interesting take in that the virus is unprejudiced to different species. One of my favorite stories in the collection was “Roadside Crosses”, where we see the story through the eyes of characters with no connection at their own mile marker—great haunted road story with a devious villain. “Conversing Doctor DeFeo” follows next. The story reeks of hopelessness. It’s what happens when you start digging into things that are better left alone. There’s a Frankensteinian monster and an amazingly twisted storyline.
“Corpse Eater” is told using one of my favorite characters: new-guy-on-the-job. You can imagine from the title what will happen in this one. Still, worth every page. “Human as a Vulture” is probably the shortest piece in the book. Told in second person, it’s a nice tidbit to break up the longevity of a collection. “Disasternoon” is also short in form. It’s the most honest and real to life story in the book. “Bone Home” resonated for me. You will walk through a haunted house led by a creepy guide. You’ll feel as though you just took a ride on the Haunted Mansion in Disney, except with blood with crazier inhabitants. You’ll come to your doom in Bone Home and you’ll love every minute of it.
Revenge at its sweetest comes in “The Man with the Zaftig Gun”. MoOn has the knack for delivering flash fiction that’s to the point. “All That Glimmers Isn’t Copper” is told through two time channels. We flip from present to past with a cast of characters that are constantly fighting for power in a mine. Awfully frightening in nature (and Lovecraftian, too), it’s the story of how greed can shadow human judgment. Humorous, yet at the same time rather disturbing was “MC Stiches”. Everyone wonders about these freaks in the basement.
“Amputee Disco & the Lord of the Groove” was the first story where I saw MoOn’s bizarre side shine. He invented such strange creatures for the sake of the story. The surrealist can admire the dreamlike journey embarked upon in this one. Here we encounter another sharp, short prose that speaks volumes, “Soul in My Throat”. My favorite story, “So Proudly They Crawl”, in which an Aryan gang is attempting to create a race of super-soldiers, is next. It races along at light speed, the action not ending until you can finally breathe at the final word. The macabre creations in this story will have you wondering if a movie should be in the works.
“Self-mutilation Blues” is a flash with a catchy tune, one “you can dance to, baby”. It builds with anticipation and breaks with poignancy. As with every collection, you’ll come across a story about which you’re not crazy. “Temper like a Hammer” was the one for me. The characters seemed to blend together, and eventually I had trouble sorting them out. However, “Devil’s Bath Shack” brought me back to that reverie that is MoOn’s writing, that chilling voice that can take you to places you don’t really care to go. The narrator has come full circle and finally is contented with the fact that the pain never leaves.
As I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, anthologies and collections are hit or miss. Stories to Poke Your Eyes Out To was definitely a hit. It has every element to stand with the giants such as Clive Barker’s Books of Blood or King’s Night Shift. If it doesn’t become a standard, then color me an idiot. I’d buy the book one thousand times over, just to give them away on the street.
Pray to Stay Dead by Mason James Cole
It’s proven that we love zombies. If you appreciate horror fiction, there is a very good chance that you’ve read a zombie book here or there. Whether you’re a veteran or have recently picked one up to see what the hype is all about, they are almost unavoidable. With the pending second season of the Walking Dead, summer and fall zombie video game releases, and more zombie movies in the works, it doesn’t look like they’re going away in the near future. In “Pray to Stay Dead” we realize why zombie books will continue to stay relevant through this year and beyond—because of the genius of storytelling. There is a never-ending supply of scenarios into which a writer can throw the undead evaders. We’ve seen everything from survivors trapped in shopping malls to survivors trapped in prisons, from infection to unexplainable supernaturalism. Cole’s is original to say the least.
He uses three separate casts of characters to convey his story of the end of the world. At times they intertwine, but for the most part they have their own tantalizing adventures. The first is a clan of teenagers headed for Lake Tahoe that are blindsided by the zombie apocalypse. They meet a young man named Samson Niebolt, who offers to accommodate them at his family’s compound. With little to no options they follow. Once there, everything gets turned upside-down. Relationships start to fall apart and we learn that “big happy families” aren’t always as they let on. The teenagers must balance the weight of staying at the compound, and bearing the antics of the sadistic family, or venturing into a world that’s flooded with flesh-craving monsters. The true side of humanity comes out, and we see the lengths anyone would go to stay alive. At times it is sickening, but always entertaining.
Our second gang is an older couple named Misty and Crate. Their relationship has always been on the rocks, but the one thing that can possibly bring them together is the defense of their property. Residents come knocking and they must struggle with the choice to assist their fellow Americans or to look out for themselves. You start to wonder, if world came to an end… who could you really trust? How well do you know the people with whom you’re associated? Are the police any more trustworthy than your neighbors? They are the cranky old couple that you can’t help but to love. However, you wouldn’t want to get on their bad side.
The third is a man named Reggie. He only wants to find out if his daughter, Nef, is alive and well. Most of the time he is traveling through the empty streets, meeting with prejudices, encountering zombies, and trying to stay alive. Though, this is the shortest storyline, it is one of the most compassionate. The obsession over his daughter drives him. Nothing can stop a man for his children. I could feel Reggie’s desperation. I felt sorry for him, wanted to help him find his daughter.
Though the characters were well sketched, what I found most intriguing about this book was Cole’s ability to form setting. He didn’t go into long descriptions of the land or the buildings. He placed the characters in a very average town—small town America. You’ve driven by Misty’s Food and Gas numerous times, albeit without the pile of burning undead out front. When reading the parts about the family compound, I could place the buildings. I could close my eyes and imagine myself standing in the rooms. Great writers have that ability to construct a movie set in your brain. I loved that fact that I knew where everything was without having it explained to me. I was taken away in this story and did not return until the end of the book. When I wasn’t reading, I was thinking of reading. You’re probably wondering… where are the zombies? Don’t worry, they’re in there. However, the real monsters aren’t the ones walking around in decay. They are close by, with beating hearts and a hunger for survival.
Heinous by Jonathan Moon
Heinous… the word brings to mind many images. You think of crimes beyond the realm of comprehension—of murder, of rape, of unspeakable occurrences. What Mr. Moon accomplishes in this book, is bringing all of those things from your imagination to life. If you are faint of heart, I warn you to stop reading this review right now. This book is definitely not for you.
We start off in a literal forest of fog. It feels as if you’ve been thrown into a much darker and incomprehensible version of Wonderland. Here there are grisly visages of death everywhere. There are mountains of flesh and bodies wrapped in barbed wire. As a writer, I was very impressed with MOON’s ability to conjure these visualizations. Sometimes when I try to write disturbing fiction, it turns out flat, but Moon delivers the terror ceaselessly.
After the haze fades we find discover that our unnamed character—traveling through this fog, which I assumed was symbolic of his personal afterlife (heaven or hell—decide on your own), is Gavin Wagner. He’s been having this reoccurring dream, like a sick foreboding of purgatory, since his parents’ death. Taking us down memory lane, Gavin shows us the day that he and his best friend, Joshie, endeavored into the forest and met the ancient evil, Heinous. Once Heinous is inserted inside of Gavin like a parasite, there is no stopping the path of destruction.
Despite the fact that this is such a vicious book, Moon conversely uses beautiful language to convey his thoughts and vision. Gavin is a flawed character, but we can understand his pain. His personality begs the question—what darkness lies within us? What is waiting beneath our surface? Do we all have such a horrible alter ego, just waiting for that catalyst?
Moon is most known for his bizarro fiction, but what you get with “Heinous” is straight, rough horror. At times, you will be reading and get that drop in the middle of your chest, synonymous with a roller coaster ride. Other times, you’ll cringe at the very notion of Heinous’s inflictions. With horror, it’s difficult to evoke the emotions of fright or dread. For that, I must tip my hat to Jonathan Moon.
Hull’s Landing by James Melzer
The first attraction to James Melzer’s “Hull’s Landing” is the obviously disturbing cover. Before I even started the book, the cover had me craving it. Craving to discover what was happening with the girl praying on the ratty, stained mattress. Craving to discover what was going through the girl’s mind. Would it surprise you to discover that Melzer had not only written the book, but designed the cover as well? That speaks talent.
In Hull’s Landing you’ll fall right into the action, starting with the conflict—you won’t be spared a moment to stop and ponder the trees. At the start you’re introduced to a girl named Zoe, who has been chained up in a basement for six months, being defiled and abused by a group of men. It gets your mind wondering what has brought her there, why are these men taking advantage of the young girl, and where could this possibly be leading? And furthermore, how are they keeping such a vile secret without police intervention? What you have is a great blend of horror and mystery, two elements that tend to get seperated, but I feel go hand-in-hand. Enter Rita, the ten year Pittsburgh police veteran. She has returned to Hull’s Landing after years of being away, drawn by something unexplainable. We find out that Hull’s Landing is a town essentially absent of crime, save for a few fist fights, and Rita has assumed a position with the volunteer force. What begins is a spiral of corruption on a search for a girl that has been missing six months.
It isn’t easy to pack so much action into such little space, but Melzer accomplishes it with finesse. He pushes a cast of damaged characters into the pages where they tussle for power. Each is developed completely seperated from the other, and their voices distinct. Sometimes he takes risks with his prose, changing between viewpoints in the same scene, but rarely does it distract or pull you from the story. You’ll read on, forgetting that you’ve just changed to Chief Walker or the despicable Man in the Tennis Shoes (whose wicked ways I could not help but compare to Randall Flagg). The themes revolving around the main plot are very rich as well—Good vs. Evil, Redemption, Perseverance. There is no lack of substance in this thriller.
If you had to judge a book by the cover, this would be a great one to start with. Your eyes will be woven to the pages as Melzer pulls you along at a breakneck speed. Each second you aren’t reading, you’ll be wishing you were. And hell… for only $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords, how can you not invest?
When Colors Bleed by Estevan Vega
Short story collections can be hit or miss. I’ve read some that are just…eh. Sometimes you’re forced to wade through a story only to find that the following story blows your socks off. Estevan’s collection is far from that. The entire book was not only entertaining, but thought provoking and touching.
In “Baby Blue” you’re introduced to Casey, a woman who’s fed up with everything—her dead end job, her failed love life. Then, she meets a strange man who teaches her how to care again. Through his persistence she learns to look past exteriors and also learns the downfalls of desire. The story wrenched at my heart and had me thinking about it long after I was finished reading.
“Vanilla Red” is a vastly different story. Here you delve into the past of a depraved individual trying to reconcile with his past and control his impulses. It shows that we have only ourselves to blame and that it’s important to accept responsibility for our actions. Themes I agree with wholeheartedly. Compared to “Blue” it was more honest in content and was a welcomed change considering that I enjoy the darker side of human nature.
“The Man in the Colored Room” is the final story in this collection. The tale, like the others, was about making the correct decisions in life and above all keeping your faith. Not trying to be perfect, but doing things that are morally right and that make you happy. After reading through these three stories I was pleased that each of them had a good message, they were wholesome. I found that it’s never too late to change how we act…how we treat others. I do think I grew a little by reading this collection, learned a little about myself. For me it was a hit.
Bigfoot War by Eric S. Brown
Bigfoot. The great American myth. It’s long been wondered…should we fear this monstrosity? In Eric S. Brown’s Southern tale, he lays down the facts about the Bigfoot—not only are the creatures real, but they’re not your average ape out in the woods, waiting for some schmuck with a video recorder to come along. They’re out for blood!
Jeff Taylor has returned to Babble Creek to avenge the death of his father and brother. They were brutally murdered at the hands of the fable, but nobody will believe him. Taking an old acquaintance along for the ride, Jeff heads into the hills. What they uncover is a tribe of the beasts living just on the outskirts of town. Prepare for a war…
I was immediately skeptical before reading this book, that it would not live up to my expectations. How could it? A story would have to be tremendous to illuminate the Bigfoot mythos. Well, if there was anyone who could do it right, it was Eric S. Brown. The book was loaded with redneck juiciness and backwoods battles. Every bit of this book drew me in, left me craving more. The chapters were short and the changing viewpoints at every break were the perfect recipe for hard driving action. You meet many characters along the way, but Eric presents them in a gentle way so that the reader is not confused. One can tell that he actually lived the small town life, as his characters exude that Southern charm.
If I had to change one thing about this book it would be the overuse of the word “as”. However, this is such a small complaint from my overactive writer’s mind, easily overlooked. It in no way shadows the great book that truly jumps off the pages. I can see why so many people want it to be made into a movie. It has all the right makings.
The Church by John McCuaig
With the flood of zombie novels in the market, it’s hard to find an original one with entertainment value. There is the book that relies on the terror of the virus. There is the book that relies on spilled instestines and decaying bodies. However, McCuaig’s book is neither. He doesn’t waste time trying to shock or get too philosophical (despite the setting of a church). Using real life situation, Mr. McCuaig places focus on the characters.
Sam has lost his family, and searching asylum from the hordes of living dead, stumbles upon the church. Here he finds no comfort from the cold world, but rather, a new threat to his existence. He meets Reverend McKay, who at once seems to be exactly what any God-fearing man needs after the apocalypse, but turns out to be a tyrant. McKay and his cronies rule the church with a literal iron fist, extracting any threats to the small community and attempting to expand its borders. Sam is thrown into many positions of moral obligation and debate, with not only himself but outsiders to the community.
The story moves swiftly with the help of a first person narrative and McCuaig’s minimalist approach. He gives off just enough detail to really get a sense of the setting. His characters are complex and ever changing, you can’t expect what’s around the corner. The important story here is what goes on in Sam’s head, how he perceives those around him, and how he can cope with the new world exploding with death. But don’t get me wrong…there is action. The book is loaded with fights and zombie attacks. There are times when you’ll be cheering his characters on.
This book had me hook, line, and sinker. For the longest time I had been in a reading slump (taking two months to finish the book beforehand), but “The Church” I finished in a few days. There were some grammatical errors, which can lightly distract, but overall the book was tight. For a debut novel I give this one two thumbs up. I’m looking forward to the next book by McCuaig. Hopefully, the story will be just as ripe. For isn’t that why we read, for an entertaining story?