Saturday, November 12, 2022

Do You Re-Read Books?


Scott D. Parker

The new Bruce Springsteen album, Only the Strong Survive, was released yesterday. It’s an album of soul and R&B covers, most of which I don’t know. The album is wonderful, brimming over with joy that’ll just make you smile, get up out of your chair, and dance.

This new record marks Springsteen’s third album since 2019’s Western Stars (fourth if you include the live, slightly tweaked versions of the Western Stars album) and I know this new one will be one I live with and listen to for months to come.

The idea that I’ll be listening to this album over and over got me to thinking about books. The average album more or less lasts around an hour. After sixty minutes, you’ve heard all the songs and then you’re ready to move on or listen again.

Books are a different animal. I’m not sure how fast you read, but my reading speed is just average. I’ve never actually timed myself reading a book. Judging by all the audiobooks I listen to via Audible or the Libby app that is tied to my local library, however, many books range from seven hours to ten. Lots of them land in the 8.5-hour range.

So, it certainly takes longer to read/listen to a book and you certainly have more “first time” with a brand-new book, but how often do you go back and re-read a book? For me, it’s pretty rare. Usually when I re-read a book, I’m studying how it was written, structured, and marking up the pages with annotations and post-it notes. I’ve done this with The Da Vinci Code and Naked Heat, the second Richard Castle book, but I can’t remember the last time I re-read a book just for fun.

What about you? Do you return to favorite books and re-read them?

Friday, November 11, 2022

Fright Night: Origins by Tom Holland and A Jack Ulrich


The classic 80's movie gets a makeover once again, this time in a novel co-written by the original film's writer/director Tom Holland. 

If you're at the very low end of Gen X or the high end of Millennial, there's a chance you loved the movie Fright Night. Because there's a good chance you saw it, and to see it was to love it. There's less chance you've seen all the other movies. Fright Night Part Two is unfairly maligned. In my view it's a classic 80's vampire movie. The oddball crew of villains, the subverting of the male hero-saves-the-seduced-girlfriend trope, and some fantastic horror visuals. Seriously, the rollerblading vampire coming out of the mist? Nightmare fuel if you were young when you first saw it. I'm also a huge fan of the remake. They made some very smart choices and went in different directions to the original, and I believe if it was called anything other than Fright Night it would be hailed as a great vampire movie. And then there's also the sequel/remake of the which all of the same things happen to people of the same names, but in a different country with a gender-flipped villain. And it's also a fairly solid flick, up until the end. 

All of that is to say...when I heard Tom Holland was getting the rights back and planning to turn it into a trilogy of books, I was interested. 

And then...I read the book. 

Spoiler straight here: This is not going to be a good review. As a rule I wouldn't do this. I'm a writer, and I don't like shitting on writers. But also I figure Tom Holland is a big enough name that he can take a bad review, and the issues here might help indie authors or people just starting out on their journey. 

So, first, what works?

The novel is a fairly faithful re-tread of the original movie. So if you like the movie, the story here is going to be something you already buy in to. We get some interesting expansion on the world and the characters. A view inside their heads, and more backstory for Jerry Dandridge and Billy Cole. We also get a subplot of police investigating the murders which is a thread never picked up on in any of the movies. And we also get a setup for the rest of the trilogy, seeing ways in which this story can expand to a larger mythology. All good, right?


Firstly a word on Jerry's backstory. Neither the original movie nor the remake really gave us anything. And yet both managed to provide hints that felt like something. In the first film Chris Sarandon's Big Bad kept munching on apples and you got a sense either that he was from a species related to fruit bats or -if you really wanted to do some headcanon- a biblical feel. In the remake they made the smart choice of giving us one line of backstory, explaining that Jerry was from a species that originated in the Mediterranean and likes to burrow into the ground. We were left to let our imaginations do the rest. In the novel we are given everything. Jerry's real name. His country of origin. We see the moment he became a vampire. And the most disappointing thing about it is all feels. Essentially if you've seen Bram Stoker's Dracula, or read any vampire stories in the past thirty years, you already know exactly how this origin story goes. Simply swap out Vlad the Impaler enemy of Vlad the Impaler. In a franchise that has such a fun history of subverting tropes and giving fresh ideas, this choice just feels uninspired. 

But one excess trope in a book isn't enough to give it a bad review. 

It's on the technical level that Fright Night: Origins really starts to annoy. 

Firstly it's double-spaced after a full stop. Okay, not the end of the world. Not anything like industry standard for many years now...but not a buzz killer by itself. The novel reads very much like someone copied a screenplay into a word document, did a first draft at expanding with extra prose, and then pressed publish without running it past an editor. We jump from head to head within paragraphs. We are given a backstory on characters the moment they are introduced but then given exactly the same backstory either a page later or the very next time we see the character. 

Spelling and grammar mistakes happen. I'm dyslexic, I will always forgive those. And hell, I've self-published a few books in which readers have sent me spelling corrections. In the modern publishing ecosystem of ebooks, cheap prices, and updateable files, these things have become more acceptable. 

But when you're charging the prices currently listed for Fright Night: Origins you owe your readers at LEAST one pass through an editor and at bare minimum an understanding of the basic mechanics of prose. 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Done in darkness


This week, Beau goes through some things.


Seventeen-year-old Sarabeth has become increasingly rebellious since her parents found God and moved their family to a remote Arkansas farmstead where she's forced to wear long dresses, follow strict rules, and grow her hair down to her waist. She's all but given up on escaping the farm when a masked man appears one stifling summer morning and snatches her out of the cornfield.

A week after her abduction, she's found alongside a highway in a bloodstained dress--alive--but her family treats her like she's tainted, and there's little hope of finding her captor, who kept Sarabeth blindfolded in the dark the entire time, never uttering a word. One good thing arises from the horrific ordeal: a chance to leave the Ozarks and start a new life.

Five years later, Sarabeth is struggling to keep her past buried when investigator Nick Farrow calls. Convinced that her case is connected to the strikingly similar disappearance of another young girl, Farrow wants Sarabeth's help, and he'll do whatever it takes to get it, even if that means dragging her back to the last place she wants to go--the hills and hollers of home, to face her estranged family and all her deepest fears.

In this riveting new novel from Laura McHugh, blood ties and buried secrets draw a young woman back into the nightmare of her past to save a missing girl, unaware of what awaits her in the darkness.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Witnesses for the Dead

by Scott Adlerberg

Today is release day for a short story anthology I'm happy to be part of. It's called Witnesses for the Dead, from Soho Crime, and it's been edited by the estimable Gary Phillips and Gar Anthony Haywood.  

To paraphrase from what the book jacket says, the all-original stories in this collection are inspired by true events and set in motion by the act of witnessing. Darnella Frazier, the young woman who recorded George Floyd's death, serves as an inspiration, and to quote from the editors' introduction: "These tales are indeed about people driven, to lesser and greater degrees, to do the right thing, though what is 'right' in some cases is purely subjective...There are characters populating these pages who, rather than simply observing a crime, take the initiative to see that the guilty are punished and the victims receive justice. In some stories, our 'heroes' are drawn into perilous situations against their will, and must fight to survive just to ensure what they've witnessed will matter."

The roster of contributors is a standout one: Cara Black, Christopher Chambers, Sarah M. Chen, Aaron Philip Clark, Teresa Dovalpage, Tod Goldberg, Gar Anthony Haywood, Darrell James, Richie Narvaez, Gary Phillips, SJ Rozan, Alex Segura, Pamela Samuels Young.

And the subject matter of the stories is quite varied: In "Spiders and Fly", Gary Phillips writes about police corruption. Richie Narvaez's "The Gardener of Roses" sees a Puertorriquena college student on the run from the FBI for her accidental involvement in a "terrorist" plot.  Alex Segura writes a story called "Post-Game" about the early days of his PI character, Pete Fernandez. The protagonist of Sarah M. Chen's "A Family Matter" investigates the murder of a stranger, leading her to question the political structure of Taiwan entirely. Other stories feature a brothel, the film industry, immigrant detention centers at the Mexico-US border, and World War II-torn France. 

My story, "The Killing at Joshua Lake", takes place during the Covid-19 pandemic, and follows a man who leaves the locked-down New York City area to go squat for a while in the country at an old abandoned bungalow colony. While there, he witnesses something that leads him to get entangled with and endangered by a very rich and fractious family. In real life, I spent many a childhood summer at a bungalow colony in upstate New York, and it was a lot of fun to write a somewhat wry crime tale about one of these places long after the guests have gone but when deadly squabbles over the valuable land, and how that land should be used, have become a thing.

Witnesses for the Dead is a collection well worth taking a look at, and all royalties from it will be donated to the Alliance for Safe Traffic Stops.  

You can find it at local bookstores and also, of course, here: 

Sunday, November 6, 2022

A Middle-Grade Treasure Hunt

A darn good haul.

By Claire Booth

I spent yesterday morning on a treasure hunt. A friend of mine is a middle school librarian and needs more of some popular titles. So we hit a used bookstore sidewalk sale and then a couple of public libraries with shelves of donated books for sale. We made out pretty well. I might or might not have even plunged into a large bin full of unsorted books to see what I could find. Okay, you all know me and know I totally did that. Found some good stuff, too.

The morning was wonderful and I came away with two points:

First, I know there are plenty of places to donate books—a public library for fundraising resale, elder care facilities, Goodwill or other thrift stores. But if you have kids (or grandkids) who no longer want their Percy Jackson or Wings of Fire or John Green books—consider making a targeted donation. 

Ask your local middle school if they’d like middle grade books. High schools need popular young adult and adult series. Some might not want them, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. There’s not a lot of money budgeted for libraries in some school districts. Especially not money for fun books that will set kids toward a lifelong love of reading. A set of Artemis Fowl books would go a long way.

My second point is the reinforcement of something I knew already. Book lovers are the nicest people. The used bookstore owner has an educators’ discount and happily agreed to keep an eye out for items on my friend’s wish list. And the library volunteer sorting books out of that big donation bin pressed books into my friend’s hands when he found out where she worked. “They’re going to a kids’ library? Just take them.”

Yep, book people = good people. 


Book lovers come in any species.