Books I’ve Read But Will Never Review

 

I have no strict review guidelines, at least not as far as my casual reviews. I used to think it was better to try to make them poetic… which, looking back at some of my older reviews, maybe it wasn’t… But there are some books, while I might have liked them, I don’t feel adequate in reviewing them. I love nonfiction and memoirs, but I slightly dread getting requests to review them, because I’m not often as knowledgeable about the subject as I feel I would have to be to do the book justice. These are some that I probably won’t ever review, at least not in-depth, though some hold a lot of interest for me and I like to discuss them.

The Bible
Genre: Religion
I’ve read the majority of the Bible, and even took a class on theology. It’s a fascinating subject to me, but understandably, I would never feel right “reviewing” a religious text, period, even though it would be more of a general overview than a typical review. How could I possibly? The Bible means so much to some people, and to others bringing it up infuriates them. It’s not fair to either party, and I would need to gather loads of historical information and context to even begin. Not to mention that the only version I’ve read likely is missing crucial pieces. You can also count other religious texts as literature I will never review.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Genre: Magic Realism / Science Fiction
Infinite Jest tested my patience. I don’t believe I finished it. I admire Wallace as a journalist, his nonfiction is amongst my favourite, but I don’t personally enjoy his fiction. If you’ve never heard of this book, it’s a strange science fiction novel about the size of an orca, with about ten squillion characters, each with their own unique narrative styles. I don’t not recommend it, but to me, it wasn’t pleasant at all to attempt. It would be ideal for a specific type of reader, that is not me, but I would definitely download a preview before you buy a copy. Continue reading “Books I’ve Read But Will Never Review”

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Book Review – The Coma by Alex Garland

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Psychological Horror / Suspense
Publication Date: July 7th, 2005
Publisher: Faber & Faber

“When we wake, we die.”

Give The Coma a second chance, if at first it seems unclear or confusing. This novel is one of the moody, enigmatic types that likes to be shy with its details on your initial read-through, which gain an eerier significance on a revisit. It’s like an abstract painting in every sense, building up its steady storm of colours with intentions both sinister and serene.

Told through the deterioration of a man, Carl’s, psyche, after he is beaten to the point of unconsciousness on the subway, it’s less a linear story than it is a dreamlike exploration. In the aftermath of supposedly waking up, the pieces of reality that were once there don’t fit cleanly together anymore.

Maybe I’ve made it sound pretentious (a bad habit of mine when it comes to poetic books) but surprisingly, it’s not. Not even remotely. It’s just difficult to put into words. I read this a few years ago and wasn’t quite sure if I enjoyed it or not. I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time, and remember thinking it was ambitious, but perplexing. I didn’t get it, but it haunted me. Now I think it’s actually a brilliant psychological novella. A philosophy of dream to aspire to, that leaves you with a ravenous need to know, while allowing the reader freedom to come to their own conclusions about what happens.

The Coma kind of hooks you in without your say-so, Garland’s abstract writing always skirting the bare edge of creepiness, like there’s some cosmic, horrifying realization budding under the surface that you know you’re going to have to face.

“I do all this alone. Everything I achieve, I achieve alone, because it’s my head I’m locked into, and I share this space with nobody but myself.”

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Poem – “Heart in the Catacombs”

Heart in the Catacombs

Heart in the catacombs, in the valve
A facsimile of the orchard, necrotic
Digital memory of a lifetime, corrupted
Suspended in its nightmare, evolving
In the dark fog, in the core of a plastic apple
Heart in the catacombs, in the valve
In the wishing well of the blue-eyed devil

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Psychological Novels You Should Read

Psychological thriller and its fraternal twin, psychological horror, are hands-down, my favourite genres. It’s the genre I strive to carve my name in, and it’s the one I get the most excited about when seeking new books and movies.
While few and far-between, compared to other genres, the spectrum of dark psychological fiction consistently churns out works of pretty high quality. There are exceptions, of course, but of all the psychological media I’ve watched, read and played, I can’t name ten that were any worse than “mediocre”.

That being said, I believe that the key reason for this, unfortunately, is that the genre is somewhat alienating. You have to be passionate about it to make it, and creating a good psychological work involves an exploration of dark places in the human psyche. Not exactly a fun weekend trip, that. Discovering new works in the genre can be difficult. So, I thought I’d share a handful of diamonds in the rough that I’ve discovered, and loved, in my eternal quest to scour everything the psychological duo have to offer.

The Coma by Alex Garland
Genre: Psychological Suspense
The Coma is like a softer, more sinister Inception, taking place in the mind of a man after he is assaulted on a subway, and wakes in the hospital to find he can no longer hold a grasp on what is real and what isn’t. Everything that was once normal in his life seems out-of-place and has a surreal, stilted tone to it.
I finished this novel over a weekend, and at first wasn’t sure what to make of it, or even if I enjoyed it, but in retrospect, I think it’s excellent. Garland conveys a transfinite reality that can be broken and morphed at will by one person’s subconscious.

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi
Genre: Psychological Horror
Though its place on the roster shifts now and then, Perfect Blue is one of my favourite novels of all time and will likely remain one forever. It is, as you might have guessed, the basis for the cult horror anime Perfect Blue, but despite that and sharing a title, the film and the book aren’t incredibly similar other than the basic premise, and the creators’ shared disgust with the pop idol industry in Japan, and how those idols are (mis)treated by media and fans alike.
The master of creeps, the unnamed “Darling Rose”, who stalks and attempts to murder the pop singer heroine throughout the novel, is one of my favourite book villains. He is borderline inhuman, yet with an uncanny basis in reality, mirroring the crimes and motives of many real-life celebrity stalkers. Perfect Blue is not for everyone – some may be turned off by the blunt violence and abstract style, but I personally think it’s phenomenal both as a social satire and as a piece of horror. Continue reading “Psychological Novels You Should Read”

Price Drop – Dark Poetry on Kindle

ChapbookAbsHeav(Ebook)

The Kindle edition of Absolute Heaven has dropped, permanently, from $2.99 to $1.50 (USD)! The price drop is worldwide, so if you picked up the rest of my poetry collection, which is still largely free, by the way, if this is your first time hearing of it, here’s your chance to get this massive volume of cut, altered and early material from it for quite a bit cheaper. I’ve had some minor publication troubles with the paperback and ePub versions of the next book, so maybe this will make up for it in the meantime!
Absolute Heaven is a considerable volume with lots of illustrations, horror and offbeat philosophy, so if experimental works are your kind of thing, can’t hurt to give it a try. 🙂

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Lovecraft Reviews – “Hypnos”

Hypnos – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Spring 1922

“Death is merciful, for there is no return therefrom, but with him who has come back out of the nethermost chambers of night, haggard and knowing, peace rests nevermore.”

Is it dream that dictates the grey boundary between real and false, blurring and steeling the line at will? Is reality so murky, so mutable that it all might as well be delusion?
Hypnos, if you’ll recall, was the brother of Thanatos, after all. Dream, always so close to death.

This short is about a man who has an encounter with the god of dreams himself in a station, and finds he has something inexplicable in common, maybe a need for escape. They go to the man’s house and begin an opium-fueled trip that turns from a burst of creativity into a reality-warping nightmare, and possibly goes on for several years.

“Hypnos” is tilted more towards psychological horror than cosmic horror, even though Lovecraft uses the same kind of imagery he does in those stories. It’s a familiar paranoia, that sense of dread and conspiracy that spawns out of the blue, forcing you to question what’s real when it’s impossible to ever be one-hundred-percent sure. A vivid nightmare or a fever dream can do as much damage as opium, if not a little more because it’s a raw product of your imagination. When the man in the story sobers up, he is suddenly white-haired and elderly, and his friend has abandoned him. No one he asks believes that Hypnos was ever there at all.

I’m curious if this story wasn’t at least a partial inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The way Hypnos is described – gaunt, with ghostly pale skin and depthless black eyes, dressed in a black robe – sounds an awful lot like Dream. Kind of a neat coincidence, if not, though I wouldn’t be surprised, since The Sandman uses a lot of Lovecraftian themes.

Most Disappointing Books of 2019 (So Far)

I recently pieced together a rough selection of books that, for the time being, are the most likely to make it onto my “Best Books of 2019” list at the end of the year, so figured I may as well tackle the opposite end of the spectrum, while I’m at it. These are the current contenders for the most disappointing books I’ve read in 2019. If you want to keep up with my books, feel free to follow or friend me on Goodreads, too. Goodreads feels dead as a cemetery lately, so I wouldn’t mind more interaction.

Keep in mind for this list that a novel being disappointing does not necessarily make it “bad”, so if one of these happens to be your favourite, that’s totally fine. Varying opinions are what make people interesting. If they made it on this list, it simply means I didn’t enjoy them, expected much more from them, or expected something different than what I got.

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Romance
Books about bullying and how it differs between say, a lower-income public school and a prestigious prep school, carry a lot of psychological baggage for their writer to convey. Or, they should, if they want to remain in good taste. Gossip Girl was too self-indulgent and easy to take unironically for me to even find it a guilty pleasure, like I do the similar series, The Clique by Lisi Harrison. Neither I feel are especially good influences, not for their intended audience.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Humor
What I expected to be one of the best books, since I loved the film so much, turned out to be one of the worst. Starts strongly enough, but is ultimately made pointless by its ending and comes off as shockingly racist. I usually like to begin reviews with a quote and couldn’t find a suitable one in the actual meat of the text, so ended up having to use an unrelated quote that the novel used as a chapter header. That should tell you something. Skip the book and just watch the movie adaptation, you will have a much more fulfilling experience that way. Continue reading “Most Disappointing Books of 2019 (So Far)”

Poem – “No Concentration”

No Concentration

You strive to stay mellow, stay chill
A will all-important, an impossible achievement
When a cacophony’s always storming your way
No concentration, no focus, no cerebral strength
An antithesis of thought, you can’t breathe
Your brothers are so afraid of silence, its phantoms,
That their cowardice might be the end of you

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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MHz Comes Out August 7th

ChapbookCoverMHz(Ebook)

At long last. This chapbook was supposed to be out at the end of June, but suffered several delays due to a variety of pop-up annoyances and not having time to get the layout finished. Strangely, this happened last year as well with its previous incarnation. I should treat MHz better than that, as I actually adore these poems. This fourth entry is probably my favourite besides Infinite Summer.

The surreal themes of paranoia and delusion will probably make it less accessible than the others, I suppose, but do make it one of a kind. I get frustrated with the trend of modern poetry to be “relatable” at the cost of all else. Do you really want endless reflections on the misery of modern life? Because that’s what “relatable” ultimately boils down to, at least in my experience, and I’ve already done several books like that. This one is more for the imagery. Anyway, I hope you look forward to it. I’ll post the moment it’s up for download.

Infinite Summer – Free for Kindle and ePub

ChapbookCoverIS(Ebook)

For the time being, Infinite Summer is free in most regions for Kindle and all regions in ePub, as are the two previous entries in the S.M. Shuford Poetry Collection. However, if you want a print copy, a brand-new ones is around $6USD.
I feel I haven’t done Infinite Summer enough justice as its author, even though from an technical, can’t-really-judge-my-own-work standpoint, it’s arguably the best one that’s been published so far, save for maybe Loverboy. The promotion that went into it in both of its incarnations has been lackluster, which I’m trying to make up for now.
Anyway, feel free to check it and the other books in the series out if poetry interests you. There’s a little something for everyone’s tastes in my ever-growing library.

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“Sunshine Weeping Demon” Featured in RPB

Avant-garde magazine Radium Piano Band is back after a brief hiatus, and was kind enough to feature two new poems of mine – “Sunshine Weeping Demon” and “Rose and Thrombus”. These appear in my chapbooks MHz and Infinite Summer as well. A neat little fact about these two poems is that they were both inspired, in an abstract sense, by the creative work of two different horror-film directors – Dario Argento and Shinya Tsukamoto. It might show, it might not.
This issue is a very strong one, and I especially love the first poem, “The House of Blue Lights” by Lee Ballentine. Check it out! 🙂

Radium Piano Band – Issue #15
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Book Review – Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Mystery
Series: Blue Ant
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2003
Publisher: Penguin

“We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.”

Pattern Recognition is a capsule from which paranoia gradually blossoms. Earth is a microcosm, really, in the great span of things, but the rapid onset of technology and connection have had the ironic downside of making it feel as small as it is, tightly webbed yet somehow immensely lonely.

Predictable as it might be for me to say it, this novel feels eerily prescient and knowing in a way that goes beyond the author’s imagination. It seems to have anticipated that strange lonely closeness creeping in through our screens. There exists a paradox of clarity and riddle, or perhaps reality and falsehood, in its pages that makes it feel like something you’ve actually just watched unfold.

Gibson’s phenomenal writing does outclass the actual plot, I suppose, but it’s a pretty lofty height the story would have to reach in order to match the way it’s told. The writing in itself is a network of intricacy, the edges of deep, impenetrable mystery just visible as it develops the variables of its equation. Gibson uses the raw delicacy of poetry and yet keeps it secretive, an outstretched hand seeming to offer everything upfront but hiding a labyrinth of tiny microbes you’ll never see working against you.
There are stretches, especially in the beginning, that could easy have been boring if it’d been written by anybody else, but instead feel rather like a brief reprise before the catastrophe sets in. Continue reading “Book Review – Pattern Recognition by William Gibson”

Finally Back on Track!

Hello, I’m finally back on a somewhat regular basis, and with a lot of fresh content! July and June have been really weak months for me, and I’ve been focused on trying to get Haunt Me to Sleep‘s semi-final draft finished so it’ll be ready to format by October. Of the 54 pieces in the collection, around 46 are on their final draft, so I feel that’s good progress. Apparently, it’s only taken around five months, combined, to put this collection together, which surprised me.
For the rest of July, I’ve got several new Lovecraft reviews, stand-alone book reviews and some poetry. I’m also working on content for my Halloween special, because I have something fun planned and want to perfect it ahead of time.

Anyway, about the final poetry book I’ll publish this year, MHz, it’s gotten pushed back several times but God and the fates willing, should be out at last on July 31st. If not then, then August 7th. It should come out around that time, in any case, inititally for a dollar, and become free slightly later. Unless you want a print copy, which there will be. The three previous collections are still all free or cost under $3USD to download an eBook copy of your choice on Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords.

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The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)

On this day, more of this year is now dead than alive. Normally I cling to time like a miser clings to pocket change, but I will be happy when this year’s over. Not merely happy, but elated. 2019 has worked its way into the official hall of shame in my memories, slightly higher than middle school but slightly lower than the entirety of 2016. And there’s still five long months to suffer through!

One of the few upsides, however, is that I’ve discovered some truly wonderful books. Most of my reading this year has been average, as usual, with only a handful of ones I would call “bad” reads, and a surprising amount that really stood out. So far, these are the best contenders, in no particular order, for the final countdown I’ll be doing around the end of the year. Be sure to check them out if you can. These are books and authors definitely worth their salt!

The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Every now and then, the stars align and produce the exact book you desire at the exact moment you want to read it. This is one of those rare occurrences. The Mad and the Bad is an older, and comparatively obscure piece of noir fiction that is at the same time, far different from any noir fiction I’ve ever read – quirky and outlandish yet with an insanely dark sense of humor and irony. I plan on doing a review of this one eventually, so won’t spoil too much. You should just go out and read it, it shouldn’t take more than a few days to finish it.

Stain by A.G. Howard
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Young adult fiction needs more writers like A.G. Howard. Her writing style is unabashed and intelligent, and wickedly contorts the over-used tropes of fairytales into something brilliant. While I thought Howard’s more famous series, Splintered, was phenomenal, Stain shows a stronger sense of mischievous, calculating cunning and maturity in its development that ultimately made for a deeper story.

Smashed by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Short Stories
I am a hardcore Junji Ito fanatic, so pretty much any new work of his, even if it’s a stylish reprint of older stories, will automatically make the Top 10 for that year. Smashed got mixed reviews for being, I suppose, more haphazard in tone than his last two horror omnibuses, but as far as enjoyment of the stories goes, I actually liked this one more than both Shiver and Frankenstein. Continue reading “The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)”

Poem – “Surface Wound”

Surface Wound

Slicing thinner than a cat’s claw
Into sensitive throes of pain
That mean less than they imply
Only a surface wound,
But one infested with parasites
Implacable, coiling where they fall
Never relenting to leave you alone
Amidst your own thoughts

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Is It Ever Okay to Ban Books?

You would think the automatic, short answer to this question would be a resounding “NO”, and you would be correct… ninety-nine percent of the time. There is the rare book that should be banned for promoting hatred, but unfortunately, these tend to only be published within private circles. The good thing about that is they’ll probably never reach the mainstream public, but the bad thing is that someone thought it necessary for hate lit to exist in the first place, and also that they sometimes slip into the library of public domain if they’re old enough or the copyright has expired. Who would ever want to own the copyright for a piece of hate lit is beyond me, though.

When you consider most classics were banned somewhere simply for being honest about uncomfortable topics, or “brazen” with their writing styles, it really makes most controversies with books seem pointless. I think that there are cases where toning down content or mild censorship for a specific audience are okay, or even a good idea. But it should always be the decision of the author to do so. Massacring the hard work of another because of your own cowardice is the sin of sins, to me.

What brought the question up is that I’ve seen a recent upswing in banning and ordering censorship edits of books within independent publishing – yes, independent books, you read that right. The avenue created expressly for freedom of content is not allowing certain books on their platforms. And before you ask, yes, it’s mostly erotica and horror being subjected to censorship. What are arguably two of the first genres to ever exist, along with fantasy, have been challenged right and left since conception. Continue reading “Is It Ever Okay to Ban Books?”

Reviews Revisited – I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Mystery
Series: John Cleaver
Publication Date: March 30th, 2009
Publisher: Tor Books

“Fear is about things you can’t control. The future or the dark, or someone trying to kill you. You don’t get scared of yourself because you always know what you’re going to do.”

Dan Wells’s debut is an unusual witches’ brew of dark humor, cerebral horror and bleak small-town life. The writing has jagged edges in its beginnings, but I have yet to find another series that I love with so little wavering. This is one of those rarities where I feel it was written specifically for me, with everything I knew and didn’t know I sought in a novel.

Me and this series are like connate flowers. However, John Cleaver really schemed and staked his way into my heart, and was cemented as an instant perma-favourite series to me with the second book, Mr. Monster. I Am Not a Serial Killer suffers from initial uneasiness as Wells gets on his feet with the series, and sudden doses of genre whiplash. The first novel pools its arachnoid feet into many genres, but gives off a flighty self-consciousness about taking the leap from a mystery with paranormal aspects into straight-out horror, which it definitely becomes by the second book. This was the only trait it had I didn’t care for, and I still don’t upon revisits, but the unsure tone actually fits when the main character’s chaos of self. John is never sure what he wants to be.

John “It Doesn’t Matter What Other People Think When You’re Right” Cleaver is a bitter, anxious, antisocial teen with hair-trigger violent tendencies that he struggles to keep from unraveling on those who don’t deserve his wrath, whether it be his mother or his friends. He is pulled between crushing loneliness and craving nothing more than being alone, something that reflected painfully when I first read it. His discussions with his therapist, Dr. Neblin, devolve from him not taking them seriously and trying to freak the doctor out, into panic and emotional decay from trying to hold up the façade of being “normal” and never showing anger, out of fear of what he’ll end up doing.

“I’m on the edge, Neblin, I’m off the edge – I’m over the edge and falling to Hell on the other side. […] I’m down in the cracks of the sidewalk,” I said, “in the dirt and in the blood, and the ants are looking up and we’re damning you all, Neblin. I’m down in the cracks and I can’t get out.” Continue reading “Reviews Revisited – I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells”

Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 2)

Sorry for the delay between this and Part One, which began the countdown of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark I find to be the most unnerving, gruesome and haunting of them all, in light of the upcoming film adaptation. Please read Part One first if you haven’t already, and take into context that these are plucked from the original, beloved Schwartz and Gammell books, not any of the alternate reprints. Gammell’s illustrations (and a decent dose of nostalgia) have a massive effect on the creep factor that is absent from the Helquist-illustrated version.

5. Oh, Susanna! from Book 2
The story itself is disconcerting enough, being about a serial killer who sneaks into a student’s dorm and beheads her roommate while she’s trying to sleep, but the illustration for this is so abstract and bleak and “WTF” that it unintentionally makes it far more nightmarish. It depicts, at least in my personal interpretation, the killer as a skeletal beast severing the head of Susannah, the roommate, which carries the protagonist off into the abyss of horrific realization.
While it does it through grotesque methods, “Oh, Susanna!” is a great point to bring up when discussing cerebral depth in children’s books. This drawing made my imagination go insane and back around again, trying to determine what it meant.

Image result for oh susanna scary stories

4. Harold from Book 3
“Harold” is the darling of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and features on most of the new film’s promotional art. Scarecrows are not fundamentally scary. They are big, stuffed dolls with silly faces and button eyes. But that unchanging expression would be disturbing if say, you abused a scarecrow for kicks and it learned how to move like a person just to spite you. And it only gets worse. I won’t spoil this one because the ending is brutal. Most of the Scary Stories library, as far as the actual plots go, would not be upsetting to an adult, but I think this is one of the exceptions. Continue reading “Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 2)”

Depression and Recovery

Has this been the worst, most godforsaken, vindictive, worthless year in existence, or what? I thought 2016 was nothing but suffering, but 2016 was baby toys compared to what 2019 has been. It’s just 2016 with the last number turned upside-down, which apparently makes it worse, though some kind of time necromancy.
Apparently I am not the only one, because I’ve seen more posts about recovery, depression, mental breakdowns and sorrow than I can count in the past month, on different blogs. I usually can find something creative to say when an experience is bad, but I have none for this year, and it’s only halfway over.

I’m battling an extremely difficult recovery, so I know it’s only been a few days since I posted, but that’s the primary reason my review series haven’t wrapped up or developed. All the words have been gradually stolen from me by the abyss, even the ones written by other people! It seems like every time I try to read, a boombox cuts on somewhere and I get serenaded to tuneless bass. Such is life, and nobody in mine can stomach silence.
Cleaning up my ghost stories project has also cannibalized a chunk of my free time, but that’s one of the rare things that are actually positive, so I’m not going to blame it. I feel better now, so hopefully I’ll be able to get to them soon. I suppose many good things have come out of this year, but the costs they’ve come at are almost not worth it.