Categories: Websites, Award Winners

2011 Black Quill Award Winners

Just discovered the Dark Scribe Magazine, a virtual magazine dedicated to the terrific books that keep readers up at night. Tons of great stuff but the most impressive feature is that the fact that they just announced their 4th Annual Black Quill Awards, which honors the best in dark genre (horror, suspense, and thrillers).

Here are the winners:


EDITOR'S CHOICE: A Dark Matter by Peter Straub

Summary: The charismatic and cunning Spenser Mallon is a campus guru in the 1960s, attracting the devotion and demanding sexual favors of his young acolytes. After he invites his most fervent followers to attend a secret ritual in a local meadow, the only thing that remains is a gruesomely dismembered body—and the shattered souls of all who were present. Years later, one man attempts to understand what happened to his wife and to his friends by writing a book about this horrible night, and it’s through this process that they begin to examine the unspeakable events that have bound them in ways they cannot fathom and find themselves face-to-face with the evil triggered so many years earlier.


READER'S CHOICE: Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon

Summary: Six high school students have survived nuclear war in a high-tech bomb shelter, but they-re not alone. Mutated insects are hungry and the human survivors are the only prey.


EDITOR'S CHOICE: Haunted Legends edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas

Summary: Darkly thrilling, these twenty new ghost stories have all the chills and power of traditional ghost stories, but each tale is a unique retelling of an urban legend from the world over.


EDITOR'S CHOICE: Occultation by Laird Barron

Summary: Pitting ordinary men and women against a carnivorous, chaotic cosmos, Occultation's eight tales of terror (two never before published) include the Theodore Sturgeon and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated story "The Forest" and Shirley Jackson Award nominee "The Lagerstatte." Featuring an introduction by Michael Shea, Occultation brings more of the spine-chillingly sublime cosmic horror Laird Barron's fans have come to expect.

For a complete list of winners, click on this link.


Categories: Vampires, Staff Picks

Review: The Fall

The Fall by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

May's Review: In the follow-up sequel to Del Toro's and Hogan's The Strain, The Fall chronicles the aftermath of the vampiric infection as nations slowly crumble and the Master sets his nefarious plans for world domination into motion. Amid this backdrop of suspended disbelief and gradual decay, our heroes led by vampire hunter Blade tries...Whoops! Sorry, wrong hero. What I means to say is that our heroes led by vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian and his band of followers, including former CDC member Eph Goodweather and exterminator Vasiliy Fet, struggle to save mankind only to find themselves drawn into a deadly war between two deadly vampire factions.

What I like about sequels is that the reader doesn't have to wait around for the main characters to catch up. None of this, "I wonder why my supposedly dead husband is now walking around and seems to be fixated on my neck" business. Instead, the reader is plunged right into the storyline that is filled with break-neck action sequences and plenty of suspense. The interludes are probably my favorite portions of the book because they reveal more of Setrakian's character, especially his all-consuming drive to kill the Master. I particularly liked Vasiliy's character in this book, especially when he reveals his hidden heritage and why he is helping Setrakian.

Overall this is a good vampire book with some moderate scare scenes. Enough to make me want to read the third and final book in the series which should be coming out this month.


In defense of horror

We all have a postulate buried deep in our minds: that an interest in horror is unhealthy and aberrant. So when people say, “Why do you write that stuff?” they are really inviting me to lie down on the couch and explain about the time I was locked in the cellar three weeks. Stephen King, Danse Macabre (1980)

In preparation for this year’s Freedom to Read Week (Feb 20-26, 2011) I thought I would do my small part and defend a much maligned genre (while reviewing a pretty nasty book in the process). Too often horror in all of its manifestations comes under the cross-hairs of censorship (and the egregious act of book banning). Because it is a genre that constantly pushes boundaries (and buttons) and is often steeped in violence either explicit or implied, horror will remain an easy target of those small-minded individuals who wish to sanitize (and anesthetize) our minds.

Survivor by J.F. Gonzalez was a tough book for me to finish and I nearly threw it down in complete revulsion more than once. Yet there was also something so utterly compelling about the story that kept me riveted and turning the pages to get to the end. Let’s call it the "slowing down to look at the accident" compulsion. In order to survive the worst circumstances imaginable the female protagonist makes a choice no human should ever make in order to save her own skin. It's brutal and calculating and really got me thinking...in the same situation, would I do the same? Could I do the same? And if I did, could I live with myself afterwords? If this book was half as tough to write as it is to read, my hat goes off to J.F. Gonzalez.

Understanding the appeal factor of horror is difficult for some people to comprehend – the same people who will look at you with a wary expression that screams: "how can you read that stuff"? To them horror is illicit, offensive and quite possibly damaging to society at large. Consuming horror in any shape or form should make us feel guilty, as if we are somehow mentally warped or that our moral compass is dangerously askew. Don't worry, it isn't. Horror appeals to many fans for very solid, rational, non-psychopathic reasons.

We love it because it's a genre that probes sensitive, taboo areas and it asks the difficult questions. The best horror fiction reflects back to us our collective cultural fears and everyday personal anxieties. Most importantly, horror allows readers to safely explore humanity's dark side, giving us a place where we can face our deepest fears from a vantage point of complete safety. In his non-fiction magnum opus on the horror genre – Danse Macabre – Stephen King explains that what the horror writer seeks to achieve is to locate societal “pressure points….terminals of fear…so deeply buried and yet so vital that we may tap them like artesian wells—saying one thing out loud while we express something else in a whisper”.

King deftly explains our attraction to the genre this way, and I've yet to come across anyone else who sums it up any better (or more honestly) than this:

Here is the final truth of horror: It does not love death, as some have suggested; it loves life. It does not celebrate deformity but by dwelling on deformity, it sings of health and energy. By showing us the miseries of the damned, it helps us to rediscover the smaller (but never petty) joys of our own lives. It is the barber’s leeches of the psyche, drawing not blood but anxiety....We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones (Stephen King, Danse Macabre).



Categories: Reading Lists

PW's Best Horror Novels of 2010

A couple of months back, Publisher Weekly magazine released its annual list of the Best Horror Novels of 2010. Here is their picks:

Feed by Mira Grant

PW's Verdict: Grant (a pseudonym for urban fantasist Seanan McGuire) hits hard in a brutal tale of three bloggers following a Republican presidential candidate through the zombie-infested Midwest.

A Special Place: The Heart of a Dark Matter by Peter Straub

PW's Verdict: This exquisitely horrifying outtake from A Dark Matter depicts a young psychopath's first steps along the path of becoming a serial killer. Straub drags the reader into the dark interstices of a deeply troubled mind, where brutality and murder seem only natural and right.


The Body Farm

“There is a patch of ground in Tennessee dedicated to the science of death, where human remains lie exposed to be studied for their secrets. The real-life scientist who founded the "Body Farm" has broken cold cases and revolutionized forensics . . . and now he spins an astonishing tale inspired by his own experiences.” (Description taken from “Carved in Bone”)

About the Author(s):
Jefferson Bass is the writing team of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. Dr. Bass, a world-renowned forensic anthropologist, founded the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility—the Body Farm—a quarter century ago. He is the author or coauthor of more than two hundred scientific publications, as well as a critically acclaimed memoir about his career at the Body Farm, Death's Acre....

Jon Jefferson is a veteran journalist, writer, and documentary filmmaker. His writings have been published in the New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, and Popular Science, and broadcast on National Public Radio. The coauthor of Death's Acre, he is also the writer and producer of two highly rated National Geographic documentaries about the Body Farm. (Taken from “Bones of Betrayal”)

About the Books: Although the story and the characters are fictional, the forensic details, methodology and the Body Farm itself are factual (three such farms are currently operating in the United States for those of you interested) and are taken from Dr. Bill Bass’s personal experiences.

Disclaimer: Just a note for you sensitive readers out there, evidently we are dealing with some pretty gruesome issues (i.e.: the very graphic decomposition of dead bodies, mayhem and murder) so this series may not be for everyone.

Carved in Bone

Renowned anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton has spent his career surrounded by death at the Body Farm. Now he's being called upon to help solve a baffling puzzle in a remote mountain community. The mummified corpse of a young woman dead for thirty years has been discovered in a cave, the body bizarrely preserved and transformed by the environment's unique chemistry. But Brockton's investigation is threatening to open old wounds among an insular people who won't forget or forgive. And a long-buried secret prematurely exposed could inflame Brockton's own guilt—and the dangerous hostility of bitter enemies determined to see him fail . . . by any means necessary. (Product Description)

My Review: Not bad for a fictional debut. I did find this book a little too detail oriented and not in a Patricia Cornwall or Kathy Reichs kind of way…it was more like being lectured at in a university setting, which I guess makes sense given the author’s background. However, there was enough plot and action that carried the mystery and held my interest. At any rate, I thought highly enough of this book to continue on with the series…

Flesh and Bone

Anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton founded Tennessee's world-famous Body Farm—a small piece of land where corpses are left to decay in order to gain important forensic information. Now, in the wake of a shocking crime in nearby Chattanooga, he's called upon by Jess Carter—the rising star of the state's medical examiners—to help her unravel a murderous puzzle. But after re-creating the death scene at the Body Farm, Brockton discovers his career, reputation, and life are in dire jeopardy when a second, unexplained corpse appears in the grisly setting.
Accused of a horrific crime—transformed overnight from a respected professor to a hated and feared pariah—Bill Brockton will need every ounce of his formidable forensic skills to escape the ingeniously woven net that's tightening around him . . . and to prove the seemingly impossible: his own innocence. (Product Description)

My Review: I enjoyed this rendition of the Body Farm much better than its debut. Bass corrected many of what I felt were the shortcomings from Carved in Bone to make this book on par with some of the other forensic mystery writers out there. The forensic details were just interesting and grisly enough to be interesting but not too “teachy” and the main characters were much more fleshed out. Suspenseful and entertaining, this book was the clincher for me to continue on with the series.

The Devil’s Bones

A burned car sits on a Tennessee hilltop, a woman's lifeless, charred body seated inside. Forensic anthropologist Bill Brockton's job is to discover the truth hidden in the fire-desecrated corpse. Was the woman's death accidental . . . or was she incinerated to cover up her murder?
But his research into the effect of flame on flesh and bone is about to collide with reality like a lit match meeting spilled gasoline. The arrival of a mysterious package—a set of suspiciously unnatural cremated remains—is pulling Brockton toward a nightmare too inhuman to imagine. And an old nemesis is waiting in the shadows to put him to the ultimate test, one that could reduce Brockton's life to smoldering ruins. (Product Description)

My Review: The devil was in the details with this one, as in too many details and plotlines not enough momentum to propel the story. I found myself just waiting around for something to happen which should not be the case in a thriller especially since there was three main subplots all occurring at the same time. Unlike the previous novel, this one was not tightly written or well planned. Bass seemed to have too many balls juggling in the air and thus was unable to fully develop and conclude any one of them satisfactorily. Despite its glowing reviews from all over the place I found this title to be the weakest one in the series.

Bones of Betrayal

The latest Body Farm novel finds forensic anthropologist Bill Brockton looking into an unusual death. A man’s body is pulled out of a swimming pool in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The autopsy reveals that he appears to have died after ingesting a highly radioactive pellet. When Brockton discovers that the victim was a key player in the Manhattan Project—that, in fact, he designed a reactor that was instrumental in the creation of the first atomic bomb more than 60 years ago—he realizes that to solve the crime, he must penetrate the secrets-laden history of the Manhattan Project itself. (From Booklist)

My Review: Bones of Betrayal is by far my most favorite book in the series. Brockton’s wry humour and Miranda’s (his research assistant) quiet insightfulness captures the reader from the very first page. The raw emotions and the unknown danger the characters find themselves in made me empathize with them that much more. I’ll admit, I found myself rooting for a happy ending.

The details in this book not only supplied the reader with the usual forensic information, but unknown historical facts regarding World War II as well. The very, very descriptive autopsy was...well umm…interesting...I could almost smell it! Overall, this forensic mystery was a captivating read with a very unpredictable ending.


Be careful who you slight

Slights by Kaaron Warren

After an accident in which her mother dies, Stevie has a near-death experience, and finds herself in a room full of people - everyone she's ever annoyed. They clutch at her, scratch and tear at her. But she finds herself drawn back to this place, again and again, determined to unlock its secrets. Which means she has to die, again and again. And Stevie starts to wonder whether other people see the same room...when they die (Product Description)

First of all, can I just say how much I love this cover? A bunch of new paperbacks arrived at the library a few months ago, and this immediately caught my eye for its supreme creepiness. For some reason it reminded me of that movie Jacob's Ladder, but I digress.

This is an exceptionally well-written book, with an original premise that's solidly executed, but reader beware: it is a dark, depressing, claustrophobic read that never lets up. It is a richly textured novel, quite literary, but also ruthless in its barbarity. This book will shock you and make you squirm, of that I am certain. It is a mystery wrapped up in devastating family secrets.

Stevie is a villain like no other I've read in a very long time. Getting inside her head is akin to cracking open a log on the forest floor and having all sorts of creepy crawlies come pouring out -- beetles, centipedes, maggots, you name it. The ick factor is off the charts. I wanted to feel sorry for her, find some reason for empathy, but she is just so completely rotten to her core that you can't. I'm telling you, you can't! Just when I felt myself starting to soften, my burgeoning empathy was squashed by a cruel or selfish word, thought or deed.

And it's not just Stevie: no one is likable in this book. There is no one to root for and I struggle with that kind of post-modern existential reading experience. I need a hero, or at least an anti-hero, someone with one redeeming quality to hang my hat on. But everyone is horrible. Maybe it's because they're seen through Stevie's eyes, but it doesn't matter because the end result is the same.

The first half of the novel reads like a coming-of-age story with lots of jagged edges. It's a slow build, but Stevie's reminisces are painful, ugly and uncomfortable to read because Warren's language is graphic, brutalizing, and scalpel sharp. Certainly not for everyone, but an intriguing and impressive debut.



Categories: News, Stephen King, Apocalypse

Ron Howard obsesses over Dark Tower dreams

It looks like it's finally going to happen!!!! -- Roland and the Dark Tower are coming to a big (and small screen) near you. Director Ron Howard is scheming and dreaming while I write this, and has been for well over a year now, all in the hopes of doing King's magnum opus justice. It's a daunting (not to mention terrifying) task considering the source material spans seven books and nearly 4000 pages (and that doesn't include the concordances, graphic novels, short stories, novellas, and poetry dedicated to Roland's world). In these seven books King creates a sprawling, genre-defying edifice that's a heady mash-up of science fiction, fantasy, western, and horror, unfolding upon a post-apocalyptic landscape in a world that has long since "moved on".

The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.

It was enough to discourage Lost creator J.J. Abrams, who walked away from the project some time ago justifiably intimidated. Not so Ron Howard and writing / producing partners Brian Grazer and Akiva Goldsman. They are on board full passion steam ahead, with King himself enthusiastically along for the ride. The roll out plan seems to be that Howard will direct the first film and then the first season of a tie-in television series, both of which Goldsman will write. Two more films would follow. Read full article here.

Ahhhhhh!!! I can't believe it ... part of me is so excited, but part of me is absolutely petrified they're gonna screw it up. It's not just the world building they've gotta get right - that would be tough enough to pull off credibly (and please avoid overdosing on CGI slickness!), it's the casting that will make or break this project. Who will play Roland? While many will argue he is now way too old, I still long to see Clint Eastwood step into the Gunslinger's scuffed boots. Even in his twilight years, I have full confidence that Dirty Harry can pull off mature, wise, mean Roland, merciless and calculating Roland, courageous and flawed, cool and temperamental. Who better to play a literary icon than a film legend?

Other names being thrown about include Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Craig, and heaven forbid, Kurt Russell. Then there's the casting of Susannah and Eddie Dean to consider ... not to mention uber-villain Flagg, the man in black himself!

If you want to keep up with all the news coming out fast and furious about these projects, refer to Lilja's Library Dark Tower page here -- the best, most comprehensive Stephen King website around.

Find the complete Dark Tower series in the RPL catalogue:

The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I

The Drawing of the Three: The Dark Tower II

The Waste Lands: The Dark Tower III

Wizard and Glass: The Dark Tower IV

Wolves of the Calla: The Dark Tower V

Song of Susannah: The Dark Tower VI

The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower VII



Judge a book by its cover (December 2010)

Even though we're told we never should, I love judging books by their covers, and here's one that caught my immediate attention! When I first saw that antique "English" carriage, all I could think of was Rosemary's Baby. When I read what it was about -- changelings and the dark underworld called "Gentry" I was reminded of the film Labyrinth. Either way, I definitely want to read this!!

The Replacement (2010)

by Brenna Yovanoff

Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.

Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs


Categories: What's New, Staff Picks

RPL wishes you a very scary Christmas!

A Special Place: The Heart of a Dark Matter (2010)

by Peter Straub

Young Keith Hayward idolizes his charming, charismatic Uncle Till. When Keith's mother asks Till to talk to Keith after the boy is found dismembering a dead cat, Till recognizes a kindred spirit and begins to instruct Keith on smart, secret ways to pursue his evil endeavors. As the years pass, Keith grows older and bolder in his sadistic pleasures, and when Till comes back into town, Keith finds the perfect way to impress him. Vivid but never overly graphic or grotesque, Straub's words paint horrific pictures of two depraved men. The violence is minimal, but understood in the most subtle of ways. This beautifully horrifying, delightfully disturbing tale of a family tree of evil will stay with the reader long after the last page is done (Publisher's Weekly Starred Review)

Feed (2010)

by Mira Grant

Large, sprawling, detailed world building delivered with a punch to the solar plexis. If zombies are your thing, then don't miss this above-average romp that distinguished itself from the pack this year.

The good news: we survived. The bad news: so did they.
The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.

Full Dark No Stars (2010)
by Stephen King

The master of the macabre is back with this chilling collection of four spine-tingling novellas that downplay the supernatural and focus on the jagged edges of real world fears. Ordinary people forced to make extraordinary choices and the horrible consequences that follow ... curl up tight under a warm blanket with a mug of hot chocolate ... you are in for a holiday treat you won't soon forget!!!

Joyride (2010)

by Jack Ketchum

Ketchum is not for the faint of heart. His books are white-knucklers that go straight for the jugular. But if you like your horror horrific, then you simply must give Ketchum a try. Joyride (2010) was previously published as Road Kill (1995)

Hoping to escape from her abusive ex-husband, a woman and her lover successfully carry out their plot to murder him, only to find themselves at the mercy of an obsessive, twisted stranger who witnessed the crime.

The Killing Kind (2010)

by Bryan Smith

In the tradition of a 1980's slasher flick, Bryan Smith offers up a truly grisly tale that will keep you reading long after midnight. Fans of Richard Laymon and Jack Ketchum will not want to miss this thrilling ride of terror and carnage!

A group of college friends are ready for a week of partying at their rented beach house. They didn’t count on a pair of homicidal maniacs crashing the party.

Neverland (2010)

by Douglas Clegg

...a southern gothic tale of family secrets and games of innocence turned to darkness.

Neverland has a secret history, unknown to the children....The rundown shack in the woods is the key to an age-old mystery, a place forbidden to all. But Sumter and his cousins gather in its dusty shadows to escape the tensions at their grandmother's house. Neverland becomes the place where children begin to worship a creature of shadows, which Sumter calls "Lucy."

....It begins with small sacrifices, little games, strange imaginings. While Sumter's games spiral out of control, twisting from the mysterious to the macabre, a nightmarish presence rises among the straggly trees beyond the bluffs overlooking the sea.



Categories: Stephen King

Update: Dark Towers

Supposedly, former actor turned mega director Ron Howard is in talks to adapt Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Supposedly there will feature films as well as a TV series.

Hmmm...I think I might hear shouts of joy coming from a couple of staff members.


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