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Some questions simply just don't need to be asked, and questions having to do with whether or not I'd be interested in an early peek at the new Castle Rock story are right up there on the top of the list. Automatic answer is a big ol' YES PLEASE, probably with some gimme-gimme and grabby hands thrown in.
I didn't know what it was about, didn't care what it was about. A Castle Rock story by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar was all I needed to know. I didn't go looking for any online info or even read the back cover.
All else I had to go on was the title ... which made me think of grandmas and cookie tins repurposed as storage for sewing supplies ... so, as a result, I found myself in for all kinds of surprises. Not unwelcome ones, by any means, but a momentary step-back to recalibrate my expectations.
This isn't grandma. This isn't sewing supplies. Gwendy is twelve at the start of the story, and one day she meets a stranger at the park. A man in black, and if his use of the word 'palaver' isn't enough to set off warning bells, the name by which he introduces himself leaves little doubt.
He has something for Gwendy, a special gadget, a mystery box. It can do amazing things, but its gifts come at a price. Remember that one Twilight Zone episode, you know the one? Kind of like that, only, also, not really.
Gwendy then faces the ultimate, tremendous, tantalizing struggle between could and should ... who has the right to decide the fate of others ... with great power etc. etc. ... while she's just an ordinary girl with all the ordinary Pandora-effect curiosity, and right at the critical swing point between childhood superstition and adult skepticism.
Naturally, even though I full well know better, I said to myself, let's read a couple pages, a little bit before sleep. Uh-huh. Of course I wound up reading clear to the end, as if my schedule weren't wonky enough already.
No regrets, though. Well worth it, even with the whining and swearing at the alarm clock. This is a perfect bite-sized little read, as satisfying as an exquisite morsel of chocolate (read, and you'll see, you'll know what I mean!)
In 1974, 12 year old Gwendy Peterson is trying hard to lose weight. She climbs the tall "Suicide Stairs" every day in her small town of Castle Rock, and she's even starting to see some progress. One day she meets a strange man named Mr. Farris who gives her a special box, one that changes her life over the course of her junior high, high school, and even college years.
During this time, Gwendy becomes the smartest and most beautiful girl in school. Her old friends become jealous and boys dream of dating her. She knows it's due to the strange powers the box have given, but when she decides to finally do things with it Mr. Farris cautioned about, even world events seem to now be under Gwendy--and the button box's--control.
It was great to read a long lost tale set in Castle Rock, and this novella-sized story can be enjoyed in a single sitting. A coming of age tale with supernatural leanings and a constant, gloomy undercurrent, GWENDY'S BUTTON BOX is a smart, satisfying story that causes the reader to contemplate their own life path and think twice about what "buttons" one may push.
The first chapter of this book gave me such a vivid and visceral reaction, such a fuming frothing fists-clenched fit of rage, I almost couldn't stand it.
Why? Because Dave. That damn guy, that guy everyone knows at least one of. The user, the loser, the abuser, the sulky overgrown manchild who does nothing and expects someone else to take care of him.
I hate that guy. In the vehement want-to-slap-the-crap-out-of-them way I normally hate very few people. Kneejerk, hit a nerve, too close to home. I didn't know if I'd be able to keep reading.
But, after a few moments to collect myself, I pressed on. After all, the cover blurb promised gore and horror, so, I was optimistic really awful things were gonna happen to Dave. (the blurb also promised redemption, for which in his case I wasn't a fan, but could at least hope it'd come at a high price).
Anyway, so, here's Dave, petulant and demanding, living with his long-suffering mother. Through glimpses into his past, we learn of the person he once was, the potential he once had. We see where things went wrong, how he became the angry slacker with no life, who stays up watching movies all night and listening to the lady next door scream at her boyfriends.
Until the night the lady next door turns out to be not only screaming, but missing, and Dave wonders if he could have saved her. Until he realizes there's a maniac -- human or otherwise -- on the loose. Until its next target is his mom.
The prospect manages to spur Dave into action, getting him off the couch and onto the trail of a monster ... where the gore and horror really kicks into high gear. I do still think Dave ultimately got off a little too easy there at the end, but then, as I said ... I hate that guy.
THE CLUB by Kyle M. Scott (2017 Amazon Digital / 222 pp / eBook)
This is the first book I’ve read by the author and it definitely won’t be the last. It’s a brutally dark and gruesome romp through the darkest recesses of a murderous sociopath’s mind, blood-soaked with some more gore for fun along the way. After reading this book, I think it’s safe to say that Scott can craft a gruesome tale alongside the best of them. Think Edward Lee. Think Jack Ketchum. Think the film 'Another Day in Paradise' meets 'The Devil’s Rejects,' or 'The Hills Have Eyes,' maybe even 'Hostel,' but with torture segments far more dark and sexually depraved. Warning: this book is not for the faint of heart. If you are fluent with the terms Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror and the content doesn’t bother you or that’s your thing, you’ll be okay. But, if you aren’t and are easily offended you’ll most likely want to stay away from this one and go on to tell the author he needs every bit of counseling and therapy he can afford.
The book tells the twisted story through the eyes of five separate characters. Four of them amidst a murderous rampage, an over-the-road-trip killing spree across the darker parts of the U.S, and one of their helpless hostages; a gorgeous girl that the leader of the group of misfits, Jason, wants to save all for himself, going into depth the special plans he has for her after he kills and has his way with her sister. And, although we never really get a clear description of any of the characters’ appearance, we do get a strong sense of their emotion, impending doom as the plot thickens, and their overall character, enabling us to connect with them very much the same through their different POV’s on what is going on at the time and how they’re feeling about their overall missions and objectives. The crew hits the deep woods after the cops thicken in town, as there are too many risks. After a falling out with one of their members, Conner (he’s wanting to leave before getting caught by the cops), the hostage escapes, as the others hold him over the fire and put an end to his cowardly weakness. Now Jason has the girls all to himself.
This is where things really start to get bloody and interesting. After everything the girl and the crew has been through leading up to this point, it only takes a turn for the worse. Her character develops into much more of a fighter, and the content of the book picks up heightened levels of dark and sexual depravity, as the crew stumbles upon a mansion in the middle of the woods and gets a literal taste of their own medicine as they fight for survival of the fittest. The driveway is full of fancy, black luxury vehicles, and there appears to be quite the gathering going on inside. It has to be safe, right? After all it’s a club constructed of some of the richest and wealthiest men and woman in the country.
Recommended for fans of Splatterpunk, Extreme Horror, and Dark Fiction alike.
-Jon R. Meyers
FATHOMLESS by Greig Beck (2016 Cohesion Press / 412 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)
There's so much under us and we have no idea ... under the earth, under the sea ... we send our submersibles into the deepest waters, we venture into the darkest of caves ... but we've barely explored the eensiest fraction of either.
So, naturally, when there's an opportunity to do both, on a scale of unprecedented immensity -- not just a subterranean river or lake but an entire vast underground sea! -- how could evolutionary biologist Cate Granger pass it up? Especially if there's a chance she might also solve an old family mystery. All she has to do is come up with the funding.
Okay, maybe it's beyond the university's budget, but she isn't going to let that stop her. Not when she can enlist the aid of Valery Mironov, a Russian billionaire with all sorts of connections and an interest in ancient marine life. He can provide all the hardware, though he does want to come along.
That's when the problems really begin. Problems besides the usual ones of interpersonal conflicts among the team, and the general risks of the mission. Problems like enemies, and sabotage. And, of course, that vast underground sea is far from empty. Cut off from the rest of the world for countless millennia, its denizens include hungry life forms thought long extinct.
The result is a harrowing nightmare of survival adventure showcasing multiple phobias, where situations rapidly go from bad to worse. Aside from a few nagging but minor inconsistencies here and there, I found Fathomless to be another worthy addition to my personal playlist of chompy toothy aquatic monster mega-hits, packed with action and exceptionally fantastic full-immersion environmental and critter descriptions.
ROTTEN LITTLE ANIMALS by Kevin Shamel (2009 Eraserhead Press / 109 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
All those charming secret-life-of-pets stories where animals are as intelligent as people and of course they can really talk ... helpful animals, loyal, devoted, friendly ... and even the grouchy curmudgeonly ones turn out to be good-hearted in the end ...
Yeah, this book is not that. Oh, some of these animals may live with us and work with us and even love us in their way, but they'll interfere and sabotage and do whatever's necessary to keep their secret. Including killing any humans who stumble across the truth.
Which is what a motley crew of rats and chickens and various disreputable strays should have done when a snooping nosy kid discovers them filming a low-budget zombie-cat movie. Instead, they have the bright idea to abduct him and make a movie about that. THEN kill him. And eat him.
The result is far from any Disney-esque magical fairytale of wonder and adventure and catchy little songs. There's drinking and drug use, porn, cross-species sex, violence, betrayal, and just all kinds of grim nasty stuff.
Hilariously offensive, totally wrong, severely messed up, terrifically tacky, and an absolute blast from start to finish. It'd make a great animated feature, a la Sausage Party, with notable Hollywood celebs as voice actors. And a really big-letters parental advisory plastered all over the place.