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”

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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.

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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)”

Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 1)

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A few days ago, I wrote some meandering thoughts on the upcoming Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark film adaptation, which I’m simultaneously uneasy and excited about, so I thought for the fun of it, I’d do a countdown of my favourites from the classic children’s trilogy. This book series, as I’ve noted, is vital in forming my love of the horror genre. It’s about as important to me as one of my own creations.

These are loosely rated from tamest to scariest. What I found unnerving could easily not be to somebody else, however. I personally find ones with human, or once-human, perpetrators to be the most memorable, rather than the more supernatural shorts. Each of the three books has its own signature “feel” as well, which affected my ratings. Whereas the second book is about human evils and the third about paranormal, cosmic horrors, the first book is more lighthearted campfire horror and hence, fewer stories from it made this list, though I would call it equally as enjoyable as its sequels.

10. Such Things Happen from Book 3
The fear of witchcraft is heavily ingrained in American folklore. In my speculation, it’s a combination of the young country’s large expanses of isolation, which can lead to seeing things that aren’t easily explained, and America’s staunch religious background. Its root is a fear of becoming cursed or damned, and that fear is portrayed with eerie accuracy in this story about a man who accidentally earns the hate of a supposed witch by running over her cat. “Such Things Happen” doesn’t get mentioned enough, as it’s more on the psychological edge and it’s possible there’s nothing paranormal in this story.

9. The Window from Book 2
A woman wakes up late in the night to find a golden-eyed corpse staring in her window. She makes the mistake of running and it attacks her. The woman and her brothers discover that it’s a vampire ravaging fresh crypts in the graveyard and bleeding the living who are unlucky enough to be in its path. What makes this story haunting is the sheer anxiety of looking out the window at night. What would you do if you saw something that wasn’t exactly human anymore?

8. One Sunday Morning from Book 2
“One Sunday Morning” is an extremely short story about a woman who arrives at her church early to find she has intruded on a sermon for the dead, but all you need to care about is this illustration, and where it will show itself in your nightmares tonight.

Related image Continue reading “Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 1)”

Thoughts on the Scary Stories Movie

The new Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark film has broken my personal record for being the third book-to-film adaptation I’ve ever actually been hyped for. I mean, this means as much to me as a film adaptation of my own books would. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, if you’re not familiar, are a trilogy of books by folklorist Alvin Schwartz and artist Stephen Gammell. Its legacy is being one of the most banned and challenged children’s series in recent history, compiling folklore, ghost stories and urban legends and retelling them in a nightmarish and surreal tone.

Scary Stories has been challenged by a number of American and international school boards for its raw and unrelenting depictions of cannibalism, black magic, violence, death and the undead. The Grimms could get away with it but Schwartz and Gammell couldn’t, the reason being that there’s something these books have that the Grimms didn’t… and that’s the signature artwork.

The disturbing artwork is the primary reason it was banned. Gammell’s work is stunningly beautiful from a technical perspective, but often featured grotesque, deformed humanoid monsters and scenes of surreal horror that were difficult to describe even as an adult. Obviously, they gave a number of children unlikely and specific phobias, but that hardly stopped them from loving the series.
There exists an alternate version with more subdued artwork by Brett Helquist that is largely, and unfairly, disliked by fans. Brett Helquist is a great artist, but his style is not the most suited to this collection, in my opinion. I feel the artist caught an unwarranted amount of hell for his work on the rerelease, seeing as Helquist was just doing his job, and his illustrations were good. They just weren’t Gammell’s.

Stephen Gammell’s notorious illustrations are one of the driving forces behind my desire to create. I had and have never seen anything vaguely akin to his style. It can’t be replicated, by anyone who retains their sanity, at least. Something interesting is that Gammell is quoted as being bemused that so many children found the illustrations scary, believing they were far too unrealistic to creep anyone out. About that…

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When I heard that the plot of the upcoming film, which comes out in August, would involve teenagers in a haunted house, I was devastated… I thought, oh God, they’ve turned my beloved into another cheese-laden summer slasher movie… but I was relieved quite a lot when I saw who the directors were and the monsters’ visual appeal in the trailers. I was severely anxious for a minute there. My reaction was about to become a horror story of its own, but I’m less doubtful now. Continue reading “Thoughts on the Scary Stories Movie”

✨Infinite Summer is Free on Kindle!✨

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I believe nearly the entire Poetry Collection is effectively free in all of its digital forms, except for the omnibus of art and cut materials that is Book Zero. This particular entry is loosely themed around fairytale horrors and romances.
This giveaway, like the others, is indefinitely permanent, because it’s my personal motto that poetry is the one genre that should not be barred behind hefty prices. If it’s in my control, at least, which most of it is. By its nature, poetry is intended to be shared among others. It and the rest of the series is available on Kindle, but the first three are also in ePub and PDF formats on Smashwords, Kobo, and other major sellers worldwide. Enjoy!

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✨Blood Ballet is Free on Kindle!✨

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Forever and ever and ever, so feel free to pick one up if it interests you! Blood Ballet is a compilation of horror poems with themes of feminism and body horror. It’s also available in ePub and PDF through Smashwords, Kobo, and the other major retailers. In a bit of other news, I’ve had to delay the next few entries in the series, Book 4 to June 16 and Books 5 and 6 to next year, to focus on more important work, so this should make up for it! Enjoy! If you read it, you’re welcome to let me know what you thought. 🙂

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Featured Releases

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These are the first four entries in my ongoing poetry saga. As always, eBook versions are $3USD or less – several are free, including a PDF version for those without eBook readers. These are available from Smashwords, Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books, and others, and all have a print edition for sale. Feel free to add them to Goodreads if you have an interest in reviewing one later. These make up books zero-through-three and the fourth and fifth should be out this June.

Absolute Heaven Blurb: Absolute Heaven is an omnibus of poems that capture the darkness which hides deep in the mind. Devilishly blurring the lines between romantic hatred and grotesque love, Absolute Heaven is a work of raw emotion, blood and nightmare that spans all genres of horror. Not for the faint of soul or the weak at heart.”

Cosmic Love Blurb: Solemn and dreamlike, Cosmic Love paints a vivid image of love and hurt in the wake of an unknowable future. An infusion of science and magic, heart and mind, this poetry collection rains down its verses like stars. Cosmic Love is nothing short of inspiring with its dark, imaginative romances.

Blood Ballet Blurb: Straight from the dark side of the female experience, this collection is a theatre of blood sprouted from an embryo of prejudice, injustice and mental illness. The poems in Blood Ballet may wear a violent mask, but their core holds a thousand years of women’s heartbreak and pain. Blood Ballet is a social and psychological horror story of murders, witch hunts, self-harm and nightmares – a hidden history brought to the open in honor of those who have had to suffer it in silence.

Infinite Summer Blurb: Infinite Summer is spun with a love that peaks and dies like the sun. Inspired by the dual nature of fairytales, this collection of poems is heavy with magic, ghosts, and memories lost to the golden enchantments of a summer’s day. Infinite Summer is in equal parts haunting and charming, a macabre kind of romance that only an imp’s curse could bring about.

My Books Hit #1 and #2!

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This was really awesome, and thanks so much to anyone who downloaded a copy! I promise to bear a larger variety of posts next week. My fiction and the poetry book coming out on the 25th have eaten up much of my reviewing and book-related posts, you’ll understand. Today is one of the last to get Absolute Heaven for free if you want it.
As a side note, you can’t really see it in the screenshot but it kind of unsettled me that Absolute Heaven‘s occultish cover was next to this incredibly wholesome-looking religious poetry collection. I’m like, oh no, this looks awkward, but hey, the symbolism on AH’s cover is Christian.

To tell the truth, I never expected even this much out of my poetry. You would think with the constant of poetry on book sites that it’s not as much of a niche as it is. Feel free to support their ongoing progress with a review if you’re up to it. Cosmic Love, as it has been since its publication a month ago, is always free on most eBook sellers.

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Poetry Giveaway – Absolute Heaven

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Absolute Heaven is absolutely free on Amazon Kindle from today until this weekend (May 22-26), if you’re feeling brave for some unadulterated weirdness from the bowels of Hell and beneath. Objectively, this is a very strange book. I birthed this monstrosity, so I don’t really see it as abnormal, but it is really out there and different. So, if that’s your flavor, or if you just want to own the whole collection, pick one up. It’s free in all regions.

Oh, and if you do read it, add it to Goodreads or write a review. It doesn’t have to be anything poignant, lengthy or gushing, just your honest thoughts are appreciated. 🙂

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Book Review – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Screenplay) by J.K. Rowling

★★★★ 4 Stars

Series: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplays
Genre:
 Fantasy / Adventure
Publication Date: November 18th, 2016
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

“My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”

In my honest opinion, the Fantastic Beasts series was a fantastic way for Rowling to rejuvenate the Harry Potter universe and spread its branches in fresh, inventive directions. It needed this after Cursed Child, which I didn’t particularly like and thought was a mishandled retcon of the original novels. Like virtually every witchy soul in this strange little world, the novels remain amongst my favourites, and if ever somehow they don’t age well for me in years to come, I will forever be fond towards them.

Screenplays, by their nature, aren’t exactly “engaging” in the way a novel is, but it’s fun and a quick read nonetheless, and the movie the script goes with is really entertaining. Fantastic Beasts wins where Cursed Child faltered. The characters are consistent, moreso because they are new characters that haven’t really been a major part of the series before, and because Rowling herself actually developed and wrote this one in its entirety. Cursed Child took established characters from the novels and… descended into strange, fanfiction-like caricatures of them. Traumatic flashes of My Immortal and its infamous poetic prose dashed through my head the entire time with that screenplay. Continue reading “Book Review – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Screenplay) by J.K. Rowling”

Book Review – Seafire by Natalie C. Parker

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Adventure / Post-Apocalyptic
Publication Date: August 28th, 2018
Publisher: Razorbill

“Four years ago this had been a fantasy. Trapped on a beach with nothing but a gut wound, her best friend, and this very ship in pieces. Caledonia could only dream of the day she had the means to stand up and fight. It had come sooner than she could have hoped, the morning Pisces looked at her square in the eyes and said she wanted revenge. It came as they bent their minds to the task of recovering their ship. It came one girl at a time.”

Oh, I am conflicted. Flighty as the tides that carry in the flotsam and treasure alike. Let me just say that I adore this novel. In most aspects, I do. But the traits I didn’t like are extremely troubling in a relentless way that niggles at the back of your head. This book is its own contained Stop & Go Station, a whiplash of dark and urgent and whimsical and tranquil that is still somehow extremely addictive either way it goes. But it also makes you nervous because it’s very obvious when someone’s bound to die.

I really appreciate the simpler prose. Parker doesn’t inject what is really a pretty straightforward story with lacy, flowery padding. My biggest issue was how the characterization was handled, but I’ll get to that. The plot of Seafire concerns a young woman, Caledonia, who along with her best friend, Pisces are the sole survivors of a massacre upon their ship, in some kind of apocalyptic era where the world is extremely hot and oceanic. The waters are controlled by a warlord named Aric Athair who forcibly recruits children and turns them into soulless murder machines.

The praise suggested it was inspired by the film Fury Road, which I was afraid, because it was the praise that compared the two, that Seafire would just be a straight rip-off. Thankfully, it’s not, though there are distinct shades of that movie in this. If you liked it, you’d probably like this too. I did, anyway. Continue reading “Book Review – Seafire by Natalie C. Parker”

✨Blood Ballet – A Free eBook✨

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Blood Ballet is a book of horror poetry laced, in both subtle and violent ways, with feminist themes. There’s no more of a dystopian time to publish something of this nature, hm? Though I expected it to give me a lot more hassle during publication. The paperback may or may not be available yet, depending on what time you look at this, and the “official” Kindle version isn’t free yet, but the ePub and alternate Kindle version is. I know, confusing. Here are the main sellers, but check your favourite eBook place to see if Blood Ballet has arrived there, because it might have.
Fair warning, this entry is arguably one of the darkest, and has some potentially troubling content.

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Cosmic Love Hits #1 in Contemporary Poetry!

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Cosmic Love has since dropped to around #10 or so, but for quite a few days it was the top hit in contemporary poetry! It’s also charted fairly well in dark fantasy, considering there’s a much larger volume of that genre out there. If any readers of this blog picked a copy up, I thank you! It’s much appreciated.
The Kindle edition and ePub are still free for the taking, as I’ve noted before. The next entry in the series should be out around May 16th-May 18th, with books three and four following suit close behind. I’m still not sure of the status of five, six and beyond, because after these I am taking a break from poetry to work on my fiction. Poetry is my hobby, fiction is my passion.
Stay tuned for a trivia and commentary later this week. It’s not an analysis, don’t worry. How pompous would you have to be to analyze your own book? No, it’s just some fun facts and making-of tidbits. Nothing grand, but might be of interest.

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Poem – “Flower Crown”

Flower Crown

The triad of sisters crowned with poppies,
Twirling into the hour of the equinox
The spring of mother water spider
Crawling up from the guts of the earth
To rain upon heaven from the inside out
Gentle dream of the aeon before judgment

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Lovecraft Reviews – “The Book” and “Memory”

The Book – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Autumn 1933

“For he who passes the gateway always wins a shadow, and never again can he be alone.”

The Necronomicon strikes again in its coat of human skin, to terrorize a poor stranger who happens to find it lying by a gutter. It’s interesting how throughout H.P. Lovecraft’s body of work, the book of curses manages to destroy reality in such a variety of different ways. In this incarnation, it wavers reality through its very fabric, and the narrator is stalked through the state of flux by a hoard of beings he cannot see.

Does “The Book” sounds familiar? That’s because it’s an apparently incomplete reimagining, or perhaps another version, of “The Festival”. The prose is tighter in this story, at least, and it has traces of that unusual dream-discomfort I love to see in horror and suspense, but this and “The Festival” are essentially the same plot with a different outcome. Reading a heavy dose of Lovecraft at once can, in fact, invoke a feeling of those “choose-your-own-adventure” books from the 90s.

The 1890s, that is.

Memory – ★★★ 3 Stars

Written: Spring 1919

“Memory” recalls a primordial past, a vein of previous selves that are perhaps better left behind. This free verse piece has the atmosphere of a sinister, dystopian Arabian Nights, but that’s really the only strength it has to tell, as it’s only three pages. I’ve always thought that Lovecraft was more cut out for poems and prose than storytelling, personally, though his creative ideas were psychedelic and grotesque, mostly in a good way.

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Cosmic Love – An Eternal eBook Giveaway

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Cosmic Love, the latest in my foray into genre poetry, is now officially free ad infinitum. Forever and eternal, worldwide. At least the eBook versions, but there’s also a fairly snazzy paperback available for not too much if you prefer print. I know some stand by print religiously, so I make a point to offer it if I can.
This entry in the series is one of romantic melancholy, with some tinges of science fiction aesthetic and dark fantasy.

All versions should be in beautiful order. If you get a copy, reviews would be appreciated. Feel free to interact with me on Goodreads, I love to hear what people think. I’ll be doing a series of commentary on this and Absolute Heaven soon as well. Tell your poetic friends, help it hit the top of the chart! At least for its fifteen minutes of fame, that is. It’s also available on several other eBook sellers, like Apple Books, but I certainly don’t feel like listing them all, so you’re free to search your favourites. Enjoy! 🙂

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Featured Releases – Cosmic Love, Absolute Heaven

 

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Absolute Heaven Blurb: Absolute Heaven is an omnibus of poems that capture the darkness which hides deep in the mind. Devilishly blurring the lines between romantic hatred and grotesque love, Absolute Heaven is a work of raw emotion, blood and nightmare that spans all genres of horror. Not for the faint of soul or the weak at heart.”
Cosmic Love Blurb: Solemn and dreamlike, Cosmic Love paints a vivid image of love and hurt in the wake of an unknowable future. An infusion of science and magic, heart and mind, this poetry collection rains down its verses like stars. Cosmic Love is nothing short of inspiring with its dark, imaginative romances.

The first two official entries in the S.M. Shuford Poetry Collection. Besides Absolute Heaven, which is namely cut material and is massive, the series will be made up of short chapbooks that I’ll be publishing periodically from 2019 to 2021. There is set to be fourteen books, and each time one comes out I’ll be doing a series of commentary. I’d rather do this than promotional material on this blog, I think that’s far more interesting. People will be less pressured to decide if they want to read them or not. Some digital editions will be free indefinitely.

Cosmic Love and the upcoming smaller entries after it are available in paperback for a standard of $6USD for a brand new copy, if you prefer print, but the digital copies are or are soon to be. It’s now out internationally in ePub, you’ll just have to check your favourite book-vendor to see if they’ve got it.
Absolute Heaven is on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. If either of these look interesting to you, I’ve been trying hard to repair my earlier efforts, so I’d appreciate adding them to Goodreads or picking up a copy. It’s up to you, though.

✨Cosmic Love – A Free eBook✨

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My treat to you. Cosmic Love is the first entry in an ongoing saga of personal poetry, which will span a wild spectrum of genres. As a whole, the S.M. Shuford Poetry Collection is contemporary poetry blended in with some experimental, haiku and fantasy-horror touches. If you’ve followed this blog long enough to have a copy of the old version, throw it out and get this one. It’s far superior. I promise.

This is the link to the ePub, PDF, and international Kindle edition. The paperback is available to buy on Amazon as well, in most regions, with a slightly prettier Kindle version to be out on there soon. It would be out today, but there were some difficulties publishing it.

Paperback – https://www.amazon.com/dp/1096296942
eBook – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/793028

Since this will be free forever, do me a favour and rate or review it if you download a copy. We can make Cosmic Love hit the top 10 in free books! You can do this on Goodreads, Amazon, or wherever you get your books. This is a lot more helpful to an author than most promotions end up being. These are not the only regions or sellers Cosmic Love will be available from, it’s also soon to be on Apple Books, Kobo, and a few others, so if you have one you’d rather get it from, it might be on there. You’ll have to check back in a few days.