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The Magicians [Apr. 26th, 2016|09:49 am]
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The Magicians (The Magicians #1)The Magicians by Lev Grossman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was having a mixed reaction to THE MAGICIANS for the first hundred pages or so. I thought the story was interesting, yet it was also kind of snoozy and unengaging at times. But then the Antarctica sequence happened and I was sold! Even just the passage describing the flight of the geese was so incredible I couldn’t help falling in love with Grossman’s prose. The novel turned snoozy again a few times after that — it’s hard to summarize entire years of schooling in a handful of paragraphs and still keep it lively, just as it’s hard to present bored, jaded characters with few interests outside of drinking without risking boring your reader, too — but the final third of the novel, when THE MAGICIANS is fully in conversation with portal fantasies like THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, is where I thought it truly came alive.

I think Grossman must have been a prickly teenager, because he gets prickly teenagers exactly right in Quentin Coldwater. He also gets right that strong, seductive feeling of finally finding someplace you belong when you get to college and make friends you really click with, and the nebulous anxiety that overtakes you as college draws to an end, and the fear of the indifferent outside world after graduation. In fact, Grossman nails so many of the character-related details that it almost comes as a surprise that he also nails so many of the fantasy-related details with equal accuracy.

I greatly enjoyed THE MAGICIANS, despite the snoozy bits, and am looking forward to reading THE MAGICIAN KING next.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Brian Moreland Talks About BLOOD SACRIFICES [Apr. 19th, 2016|07:00 am]
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blood-sacrifices-four-tales-of-terror

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Brian Moreland, whose latest collection is Blood Sacrifices. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Some evils require sacrifices.

From the author of Dead of Winter and The Devil’s Woods come four tales of blood-tingling horror:

The Girl from the Blood Coven

In this short prequel to “The Witching House,” when Abigail Blackwood claims her hippy commune family has been massacred, Sheriff Travis Keagan and his deputies investigate. They discover there’s more than weed smoking going on at Blevins House. Much more.

The Witching House

Sarah Donovan is scared of just about everything, but she helps her adventurous boyfriend investigate the old, abandoned Blevins House, scene of a forty-year-old unsolved massacre. Little do they know the house is hungry for fresh prey…

Darkness Rising

When Marty Weaver encounters three killers who like to play sadistic games with their victims, his own scarred past is unearthed. And when his pain is triggered, blood will flow…and hell will rise.

The Vagrants

Beneath the city of Boston, evil is gathering. While living under a bridge with the homeless, journalist Daniel Finley witnessed something that nearly cost him his sanity. Now, with a book published about the experience, he’s caught between the Irish mafia and a deranged cult preparing to shed blood on the street.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Brian Moreland:

Blood Sacrifices is a collection of three novellas and one short story inspired by two of my favorite authors, H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker. I love how both authors create feelings of dread with their prose and fill their stories with fantastic monsters, ancient gods, and a sense that there are other realms beyond the ones we can see. Each story in my collection is about ordinary people encountering extraordinary horrors that come from alternate realms, especially “Darkness Rising” and “The Vagrants.” And each story has at least one scene that frightened me as I wrote the scene.

In the opening short story “The Girl from the Blood Coven” and its novella sequel, “The Witching House,” what started out as a haunted house story turned into something more when I began to discover the mysteries of what made the house haunted. It began in 1972, when a coven of witches were murdered inside the three-story rock house. Sheriff Keagan and his deputies are the unfortunate souls who have to investigate the house that had once been a hippy commune, isolated in the backwoods of East Texas. If you were to drive through some of that thick pine country, just some of the country roads are scary enough, and so are the people who live deep in the pines. What Sheriff Keagan discovers inside the Old Blevins House gave me chills as I wrote the story.

“The Witching House” takes place forty years after the massacre. Sarah Donovan, her new boyfriend, Dean, and a married couple, Meg and Casey, are members of an urban exploring club that likes to explore abandoned haunted buildings. When they hear that the Old Blevins House has been boarded up for decades, they decide it would be fun to break in and explore it. What they soon discover is that the house is more than just a little haunted. There’s something living down in the basement that’s hungry for human blood.

Now, the basement has always been a scary place for me. There’s an otherworldly feeling I get when I go underground or inside a tunnel. When I was younger I was afraid of the dark and claustrophobic, while at the same time being a curious explorer who liked to scare myself for the adrenaline rush. I once explored the water drainage pipes that ran beneath the neighborhood. I crawled on all fours through a maze of tunnels through pitch darkness, spider webs, with all my fears of death prodding me along. I ended up crawling out of a sidewalk drain about a mile away from where I started. I also enjoyed walking through abandoned houses, especially ones with basements, even though they spooked me.

I remember visiting a house with a basement that had a dirt floor, and there was something creepy about going down those slatted steps into that dark, cave-like cellar. That basement inspired the scenes that I wrote for my two witch stories and “Darkness Rising.” And my exploration of urban tunnels inspired the abandoned subway tunnel scenes beneath Boston that I wrote for “The Vagrants.”

For me, one the scariest parts of Blood Sacrifices is when the characters go down underground. At one point in “The Witching House,” Casey and Meg get separated and Casey goes looking for her in the basement. Here’s an excerpt:

The cellar smelled earthy, like a creek after a heavy rain. At the bottom was a dirt floor. White mushrooms clustered in the corner. Casey’s hiking shoes sank into damp, black soil that hadn’t seen sunlight in over a century. He saw fingers moving in the dirt, and his breath caught in his throat. It was an illusion brought on by a sudden fear. The fingers were actually earthworms poking their heads out to observe this giant intruder.

Casey stepped over them and ventured into the gloom. There was a chill down here that prickled his skin. A few cold drops dripped onto his neck and rolled down his back, making him shiver. Tilting his headlamp up, Casey saw beads of dampness clinging to the ceiling. The wood overhead was covered in a skin of black mold. Spores of the stuff floated in the air; he inhaled them, tasted the blight on his tongue. Another drop of moisture struck his forehead and ran stickily down his cheek. He wiped away the scourge and moved on, eager to find his bare-skinned nymph.

The basement was as pitch-black as any underground cave. Impossible to tell how far it went. The more he pressed, the more he kept finding dark upon dark. There seemed to be nothing down here except dirt and mushrooms and moss-covered walls. The deeper Casey walked, his mind kept going back to the witches who had vanished in this house. A question burrowed at the back of his brain: If all the cult members were murdered, who killed them?

Casey will soon discover the answer to that question. Inside the basements of abandoned houses and old buildings of the stories that make up Blood Sacrifices, I tapped into my fears of the dark underground places that can lead us to other worlds where fantastic horrors have been waiting for us to enter.

Brian Moreland: Website / Blog / Twitter / Facebook

Blood Sacrifices: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Samhain Publishing

Brian Moreland is a best-selling and award-winning author of novels and short stories in the horror and supernatural suspense genre. In 2007, his novel Shadows in the Mist, a Nazi occult thriller set during World War II, won a gold medal for Best Horror Novel in an international contest. The novel went on to be published in Austria and Germany under the title SchattenkriegerShadows in the MistDead of Winterand The Devil’s Woods are his currently available novels, as well as his Kindle short-story The Girl from the Blood Coven and the novella it led into called The Witching House.  Now, he has released the full-length The Devil’s Woods. His novella, The Vagrants, was released in 2014, and another, Darkness Rising, in 2015. He loves hiking, kayaking, watching sports, dancing, and making guacamole. Brian lives in Dallas, Texas where he is diligently writing his next horror novel.  When not working on his books or books for other writers, Brian edits documentaries and TV commercials around the globe. He produced a World War II documentary in Normandy, France, and worked at two military bases in Iraq with a film crew.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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It’s The Scariest Part’s Second Anniversary! [Apr. 14th, 2016|01:59 pm]
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Believe it or not, today marks the second anniversary of my ongoing blog feature The Scariest Part!

It’s pretty amazing that it’s been two years already. The feature is still going strong, even if it doesn’t always run every week anymore, and we’ve had some truly great authors join us. This year alone we’ve hosted Nathan Ballingrud, Kristin Dearborn, John C. Foster, Jonathan Janz, Mia Marshall, Loren Rhoads, Paul Tremblay, and so many more.

If you’ve got a project coming out that you’d like to promote on The Scariest Part, check out the guidelines here. Just a reminder: my guests have been overwhelmingly book authors, but I’m interested in featuring comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators, too!

Here’s to many more years of The Scariest Part!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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“Whatever Happened to Solstice Young?” in DARK DISCOVERIES #34 [Apr. 7th, 2016|04:08 pm]
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Dark Discoveries

“Whatever Happened to Solstice Young?”, my first brand new story since 2014, will be appearing in Dark Discoveries #34 alongside Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Laird Barron, Darren Speegle, and many other fabulous authors. The issue is due on newsstands by the end of the month, but apparently you can already pre-order a copy for yourself at the Dark Discoveries website and have it sent right to your door, bypassing any cashiers who might give you a strange look for buying a horror fiction magazine. Don’t miss out!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Glorious Plague [Apr. 5th, 2016|08:31 pm]
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Glorious PlagueGlorious Plague by Karen Heuler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very weird novel about a very weird apocalypse, beautifully written. The pace is slow — Heuler is less concerned with plot than with how her characters adapt to their strange new world of gods, angels, devils, and a lack of municipal infrastructure — but the emotional payoffs are authentic and worth the effort. I’m also convinced there’s a deft political allegory lurking just beneath the surface of this novel, but that’s neither here nor there. Read it for the unique experience it offers. I’m certain you’ve never read an apocalypse tale quite like this one.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Jonathan Janz Talks About CHILDREN OF THE DARK [Apr. 5th, 2016|07:00 am]
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CHILDREN OF THE DARK Cover!

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Jonathan Janz, whose latest novel is Children of the Dark. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Will Burgess is used to hard knocks. Abandoned by his father, son of a drug-addicted mother, and charged with raising his six-year-old sister, Will has far more to worry about than most high school freshmen. To make matters worse, Mia Samuels, the girl of Will’s dreams, is dating his worst enemy, the most sadistic upperclassman at Shadeland High. Will’s troubles, however, are just beginning.

Because one of the nation’s most notorious criminals — the Moonlight Killer — has escaped from prison and is headed straight toward Will’s hometown. And something else is lurking in Savage Hollow, the forest surrounding Will’s rundown house. Something ancient and infinitely evil. When the worst storm of the decade descends on Shadeland, Will and his friends must confront unfathomable horrors. Everyone Will loves — his mother, his little sister, Mia, and his friends — will be threatened.

And very few of them will escape with their lives.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Jonathan Janz:

First of all, thank you for having me on, Nicholas! I really appreciate the opportunity to visit.

There were several scenes in Children of the Dark that forced me out of my comfort zone, not the least of which because they involved violence and children. As a father of three kids under the age of ten, this was painful enough. I can’t imagine any of my kids coming to harm, and I certainly didn’t want the kids in my novel to be hurt or threatened either.

But in the waning moments of the book, I was forced to place two of my most beloved characters in mortal danger, and because of the circumstances of the situation, only one of them could survive. In her outstanding review of my novel, author A.E. Siraki wrote, “Janz knows how to tug at the heartstrings of readers and to cause maximum amounts of anguish. Without spoiling the plot toward the end, there is a Sophie’s Choice moment that I thought was incredibly emotionally resonant and for me, Janz has proven yet again what an evocative writer he is.”

The mention of the William Styron novel Sophie’s Choice was particularly gratifying to me because it captures the difficulty of the moment for my central character (Will Burgess), who is forced to choose between two of the people he loves the most — arguably the two people he does love the most. I could have waffled and allowed both characters to live, but given the situation in which they found themselves, the veering onto this avenue would have rung false. Above all, an author must be true to the story and true to the characters, because without that, a narrative loses its integrity.

As alluded to earlier, the characters between Will must choose are both children. I’m OCD anyway and prone to intrusive thoughts, and due to this psychological/emotional problem, I’m besieged by frightening thoughts about harm coming to one of my own children anyway. I have nightmares about it. In my waking hours, our house becomes fraught with danger. Like a Final Destination movie, I begin to view every setting we inhabit as a hostile, sentient entity intent on doing my kids harm.

Writing the aforementioned scene in Children of the Dark forced me to confront those debilitating fears and to allow the unthinkable to happen to one of my favorite characters. Leading up to this scene, I was gripped by a suffocating sense of dread. I was assaulted by images of the tragedy occurring, haunted by the soon-to-be uttered screams of my doomed character. And while harm coming to a fictional character is infinitely preferable to harm happening to someone I love, the former occurrence reminds me of the latter possibility.

On the day I wrote the scene, my already over-active OCD and intrusive thoughts shifted into trembling-hand, sweaty-forehead mode. I assumed my accustomed spot in my writing chair like a man about to blast into space in an experimental shuttle. And as my fingers quaked and typed, quaked and typed, I found myself cringing, my stomach roiling. When it was over, I set the computer aside, lowered my head, and supported my brow with an ice-cold palm. I felt enervated, hollowed out. I was already in mourning for my character, who after all deserved nothing that happened to him/her, who only deserved happiness and joy. Who would now never breathe again.

Sometimes we have to venture into shadowy realms in order to capture the truth of a story. In Children of the Dark, I found that truth, but not without enduring a severe test of endurance and grappling with my darkest fears.

Jonathan Janz: Website / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon Author Page

Children of the Dark: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

Jonathan Janz grew up between a dark forest and a graveyard, and in a way, that explains everything. Brian Keene named his debut novel The Sorrows “the best horror novel of 2012.” Library Journal deemed his follow-up, House of Skin, “reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.” 2013 saw the publication of his novel of vampirism and demonic possession The Darkest Lullaby, as well as his serialized horror novel Savage Species. Of Savage Species, Publishers Weekly said, “Fans of old-school splatter punk horror — Janz cites Richard Laymon as an influence, and it shows — will find much to relish.” Jonathan’s Kindle Worlds novel Bloodshot: Kingdom of Shadows marked his first foray into the superhero/action genre. Jack Ketchum called his vampire western Dust Devils a “Rousing-good weird western,” and his sequel to The Sorrows (Castle of Sorrows) was selected one of 2014’s top three novels by Pod of Horror. 2015 saw the release of The Nightmare Girl, which prompted Pod of Horror to call Jonathan “Horror’s Next Big Thing.” 2015 also saw the release of Wolf Land, which Publishers Weekly called “gruesome yet entertaining gorefest” with “an impressive and bloody climax.” He has also written four novellas (Exorcist Road, The Clearing of Travis Coble, Old Order, and Witching Hour Theatre) and several short stories. His primary interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children, and though he realizes that every author’s wife and children are wonderful and amazing, in this case the cliché happens to be true.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Last Days of Jack Sparks [Mar. 27th, 2016|12:19 pm]
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The Last Days of Jack SparksThe Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This funny, delightful, and at times truly terrifying horror novel took me completely by surprise. As characters go, Jack Sparks is a wonderful creation, one in a long list of unreliable narrators whose lies slowly unravel over the course of the story. His voice is funny and highly readable, and despite Sparks’ numerous faults, it’s also shockingly relatable, especially in this self-aggrandizing Internet age, where it sometimes seems the number of your social media followers is more important than your character or integrity. That charming voice is responsible for a good deal of this novel’s strength, but author Jason Arnopp succeeds in telling a compelling horror story as well. Exorcisms, demons, ghosts, and gruesome deaths are all here for both the casual horror fan and the devoted horror reader alike. But perhaps the novel’s greatest strength is how surprisingly touching the story becomes by the end. Jack Sparks is unlikeable from the start — cynical, flippant, contemptuous, manipulative — but by the end we really feel for him. I’m looking forward to whatever Arnopp writes next.


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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Kristin Dearborn Talks About WOMAN IN WHITE [Mar. 22nd, 2016|07:00 am]
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woman_in_white

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m delighted to have Kristin Dearborn as my guest. An up-and-coming horror author I’m sure you’ll all be hearing more about soon, her new novella is Woman in White. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Rocky Rhodes, Maine.

As a fierce snowstorm descends upon the sleepy little town, a Good Samaritan stops to help a catatonic woman sitting in the middle of the icy road, and is never seen or heard from again. When the police find his car, it is splattered in more blood than the human body can hold.

While the storm rages on, the wave of disappearances continue, the victims sharing only one commonality: they are all male. Now it’s up to three young women to figure out who or what is responsible: a forensic chemist, a waitress struggling with an abusive boyfriend, and a gamer coping with the loss of her lover.

Their search will lead them on a journey filled with unspeakable horrors that are all connected to a mysterious Woman in White.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Kristin Dearborn:

Woman in White is a winter novella in the vein of Christopher Golden’s Snowblind, Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, or Ron Malfi’s Snow. A lifelong resident of New England, I am intimately aware of what a drag winter is, with the long, dark nights and everything muffled and muted by a blanket of snow. Don’t get me wrong. On a sunny winter day, it’s like the whole world is covered in glitter. You can ski, snowshoe, build a snowman, and the blue of a winter sky is blinding and brilliant. It’s the gloomy days that get to you. The days where you can’t tell where the sky ends and the snow begins because everything is the same flat grey. Nighttime goes on seemingly forever, and for most of us there are months where you go to work before the sun is up and get home as the sun is setting.

But the winter isn’t the scariest part of my novella.

The book tells the story of three young women in a tiny Maine town in winter, each of whom is battling her own figurative demons. One of the characters, Angela, has finally left her abusive boyfriend. Just out of high school, she found herself knocked up. She realized she couldn’t have Nate’s child. If she couldn’t subject a kid to his abusive bullshit, maybe it was time she shouldn’t either. So she got an abortion against his wishes and broke up with him, her childhood sweetheart. There are plenty of scary things in Rocky Rhodes, Maine, and many of them crawled out of the depths of my imagination. Angela’s experience with Nate isn’t one of them — one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

There is a moment in the book where Angela decides to walk home alone from work at night in a storm. Another character asks her to call when she gets home, but she’s sick of answering to people, sick of feeling like a puppet while someone else pulls the strings. She tells him no. As she’s slogging along through the snow, Nate appears and at gunpoint forces her into the car. The scariest part of Woman in White, to me, is how conflicted Angela feels when he appears. It’s so much work to get away from an abuser. It’s infinitely easier to just stay where he wants you. When Nate pulls a gun, Angela is flooded with momentary relief because he’s removed her choice. He brings her home to the apartment where she used to live, where she can sleep in her own bed once again.

Every time we hear about a woman staying with her abuser, we wonder why didn’t she just leave? Why didn’t she tell someone? Talking about it makes it sound like an easy thing, just…go. Setting aside, for a moment, that in 98% of domestic violence cases, the abusers control the money. In my book, Angela has to crawl back to her father’s house when she leaves Nate, and Dad isn’t the kind of guy who makes it easy for her. I wanted to write a book that takes a look at some of these issues in a way that’s not nearly as preachy as my The Scariest Part blog post. I wanted to do it in a way that subverts some of the horror tropes that are tried and true, as old as time. Did I succeed? Give Woman in White a read. And check out the links I posted. See how you can help in your community. Thanks for reading.

Kristin Dearborn: Website / Twitter / Facebook

Woman in White: Amazon / DarkFuse

If it screams, squelches, or bleeds, Kristin Dearborn has probably written about it. She’s written books such as Sacrifice Island (DarkFuse), Trinity (DarkFuse), and had fiction published in several magazines and anthologies. Stolen Away was recently a limited edition offered from Thunderstorm Books, which sold out. She revels in comments like, “But you look so normal…how do you come up with that stuff?” A life-long New Englander, she aspires to the footsteps of the local masters, Messrs. King and Lovecraft. When not writing or rotting her brain with cheesy horror flicks (preferably creature features!), she can be found scaling rock cliffs or zipping around Vermont on a motorcycle, or gallivanting around the globe.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Slade House [Mar. 13th, 2016|09:30 am]
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Slade HouseSlade House by David Mitchell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A haunted house horror novel written by one of the premier literary voices of our time? Sign me up, I thought. But as I made my way through SLADE HOUSE, my high expectations began to fade. Imagine five linked short stories, each focusing on a different character in a different time period, that all end exactly the same way and you’ll have a good idea of what’s happening here. Alas, I find the repetition works against Mitchell’s novel rather than for it. In the latter half of the novel, by the time the trap is sprung on each new character, we’re no longer surprised. We’re expecting it, even waiting for it.

For a novel like this, a lot is riding on the ending. Will it paint the events we have seen repeated over and over again in a new light? Will the characters we’ve spent the previous pages with make a triumphant reappearance? Will those who have set the trap get their comeuppance? Without giving anything away, I’ll only say the ending felt uninspired, and several things I wanted to see happen did not. It didn’t help that the dialogue between the characters who set the traps feels clumsy and burdened with exposition — which is odd because the rest of the novel’s dialogue feels quite naturalistic and enjoyable to me.

What saves SLADE HOUSE’s repetitious approach from turning into tedium is Mitchell’s often masterful prose, his way of creating realistic characters you can really get behind, and his skill with those little details that lend verisimilitude. (I found myself especially charmed by mildly autistic Nathan’s fleeting mentions of the doctor who is helping him learn to read other people’s facial expressions and body language.) Still, in the end I found SLADE HOUSE a disappointing read. Mitchell completists may enjoy it, especially for its links to his other novels, but the casual reader may close the novel feeling it was a missed opportunity.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Ballad of Black Tom [Mar. 5th, 2016|08:56 am]
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The Ballad of Black TomThe Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hundred stars! A thousand! LaValle beautifully, masterfully, excitingly retells the events of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 story “The Horror at Red Hook” from the point of view of an entirely new and original character. But what sets THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM above your average Lovecraft homage or pastiche is that it is vibrantly and passionately in conversation with it — interrogating it, responding to it, at times even refuting it.

I’ve loved everything LaValle has written. His oeuvre flirts with the horror genre to varying degrees — the catalog of faux horror movies in THE ECSTATIC, the supernatural investigation in BIG MACHINE, the creature stalking the psychiatric hospital in THE DEVIL IN SILVER — but THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM is his most straightforward genre piece, and therefore his most accessible for new readers. And my hope is that it brings LaValle many, many new readers, because his work is consistently outstanding.

I can’t recommend THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM highly enough. A familiarity with “The Horror at Red Hook” adds an extra layer to the tale but isn’t necessary for your enjoyment. Like all great works, THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM stands on its own.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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