More2Read Review of Armageddon House

Lou Pendergrast has just posted a nice feature and review of Armageddon House at More2Read.com


The review begins:

Jenna and Mark, Polly and Greyson. Four somewhere in time, in isolation. They have memories vague, and thoughts, imagined things, with secrets and questions arising as things unfold…

Check out the rest of what Lou Pendergrast has to say here.

https://more2read.com/review/armageddon-house-by-michael-griffin/

My sincere thanks to Lou and More2Read.com for shining the spotlight on Armageddon House!

Quickie review: 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

When is a book that you give 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads a minor disappointment? I guess when it’s uneven, and held back by weaker material in the middle that could have been left out.

At its best, 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill is a top-notch collection of creepy, Twilight Zone influence dark fantasy and horror. It’s worth pointing out, now that everybody now knows Joe is Stephen King’s son, that despite that parentage, and the word “ghosts” in the collection title and “horror” in the title of the first story, this isn’t really a horror collection. A few stories have a psychological horror “tingle,” and some include horror elements, but overall the mood is pretty quiet.

Overall the collection shows above-average strength, but in my opinion that 4-star level is not reached by a bunch of 4-star stories, but a mix ranging from the fantastic (such as “Best New Horror,” “Pop Art,” and the title story) to the mundane and disappointing. Several more tepid pieces fill out the middle, and for me dissipate some of the energy built up in the best stuff at the very beginning and the end.

The worst thing I can say about it is that I had completely forgotten all details of several of the stories by the time I finished the book, and had to refer back to the table of contents to remind myself what happened in between the more powerful beginning and end. On the positive side, there is some really strong, wonderful material in here and I’d rather judge a story collection by its strongest pieces than the weaker ones. To be fair, this is Hill’s first collection and first book of any kind, so it includes some of his earliest published work. Hill made clear with his subsequent books (two very enjoyable novels, Heart Shaped Box and Horns) that his star is ascendant.

Ideally the editors might have removed a few of the less inspired or energetic stories from the middle, such as “You Will Hear the Locust Sing,” “Abraham’s Boys,” “In the Rundown,” and “Better Than Home” and either present a shorter collection with higher impact, or include instead some newer material more on the level of the best pieces at the very beginning and end. I think I’d rather read a 200 page book that sustains its strength, than a 300 page book with some 3-star stories in the middle.

I’d hate to bitch too much about a collection with great stuff in it like “Pop Art” and “Best New Horror.” If I seem somewhat disappointed, it’s just that unevenness through the middle. I’ve read some great story collections recently, and at one point thought this one might be right up there,but it’s still worth checking out. Just skip a few of the stories in the middle, if they seem to you like they might be drifting a little.

The Ones That Got Away

Just finished reading a very fine story collection by Stephen Graham Jones called The Ones That Got Away. It’s not The Ones WHO Got Away. There’s a story called “The Ones Who Got Away” but the collection’s title changes one word. No, really, it’s OK if you’re confused.

The Ones That Got Away by Stephen Graham Jones

The book collects thirteen stories published in a variety of venues ranging from more obscure journals and anthologies to the more prominent such as Cemetary Dance. In his story notes at the end, Jones offers entertaining and casual insights into the conception and crafting of each story, and in some cases talks about different versions of the story that existed along the way before he found a way to tell what he wanted told. I love this kind of stuff! It reminds me of the story notes that were always part of Harlan Ellison’s collections, which I looked forward to as much as the stories themselves. Jones seems to have such a humble attitude and likeable personality I imagine most readers will enjoy these bits, even those not looking for insight into the craft of writing.

I’ve always preferred horror fiction with a greater emphasis on character and story than on monsters and gore. Sometimes, though, horror fiction with literary aspirations takes this too far, and downplays the horrific aspect so much the end result is not horror at all, but a vague, low-key sort of ennui. This collection manages that balance perfectly, with plenty of gruesome details and chilling scenes that never become gratuitous or cause eye-rolls.

The first story, “Father, Son, Holy Rabbit” is exemplary. It’s a beautiful, sensitive story of fatherly love for a son, yet it’s also a tale so gruesome and disturbing as to cause nightmares. Despite its brevity, this story carries a serious payload.

Some stories are stronger than others, as in any collection, but not one is less than good. I suppose “The Meat Tree” is the one I feel could be removed without weakening the whole. In every other case, Jones combines a vivid conceptual imagination with convincing characters and conveys the whole in an engrossing voice. The final novella (“Crawlspace,” original to this collection) is some of the most gripping and anxiety-producing fiction I’ve ever read. It’s hard to imagine a reader making it from the first story to the last without being impressed.

The book was a finalist for a “Best Collection” Bram Stoker award, but was matched-up against the potent and masterful Occultation by Laird Barron (who wrote the introduction to Jones’s collection), and the book that won the award, Full Dark, No Stars by the world’s most popular author (doing some of his best work here) Stephen King.

Some writers exhibit a single strength, but Jones has all the bases covered. His writing has an edge without losing accessibility, his stories address familiar tropes and concepts in a way that seems fresh, and he seems in every case fully in control of his world, its mood, and the effect it has on the reader. I recommend this book, and it has definitely convinced me to seek out other works by Jones.