Random Review Friday!
Updated: Sep 30
Random reviews are back! This week, we have reviews from author Sue Rovens of HORROR SHOW by Greg Kihn (1996). Also, author Craig Brownlie shares his combined review of EVERY WOMAN KNOWS THIS by Laurel Hightower and THEY MOSTLY COME AT NIGHT by Wesley Southard.
Enjoy and grab the books at their respective links to check them out for yourself.
HORROR SHOW by Greg Kihn.
To those of us who recall the early days of MTV, an actual channel devoted to music videos instead of the trials and tribulations of Spring Break, the name Greg Kihn might ring a bell. During those wild, heady years of the early and mid-80s, this man and his band came rockin’ and rollin’ onto the public scene, entertaining the masses with such hits as “Jeopardy” and “The Break-Up Song”. In 1996, this singer/songwriter/radio DJ turned author and dropped a horror novel into our proverbial laps. In 1997, this decent sized tome even garnered a nomination for a Bram Stoker Award.
Horror Show, the 350-page horror/humor/romance novel has managed to garner an average of 4.2 stars on Amazon and a 3.65 average rating on Goodreads (as of this writing). The story follows Clint Stockbern, a reporter from Monster Magazine, desperate to interview fifties horror movie director, Landis Woodley, who’s been a recluse for years. Convincing the man to finally let him in his home, Clint ends up not only discovering an excess of B-Movie memorabilia, but a host of alarming scares as well.
Although the plot itself would intrigue most connoisseurs of the horror genre, I unfortunately found the writing style lacking and the characters and dialogue to be rather formulaic. The concept itself was fantastic and could have gone down some creepy paths, but I felt that most of the potential scares were lacking. I was pretty let down by the end. Horror Show reads like an author’s first attempt at creating an homage to 50s and 60s B horror movies.
I personally have a strong appreciation for old school horror and suspense and that’s what initially drew me to this book. It was a bonus when I recognized who the author was, as I enjoyed some of his music during my college years.
While I kept hoping for the book to turn into a more serious story, one with fewer cliches and overdone tropes, it simply never got there. Having said that, I’m almost certain some people will love this from start to finish. If you like B horror movies, retro themes, and don’t mind twists that you can see coming for miles, you’ll dig this one. I just like my horror to be a little more subtle, chilling, and unexpected.
Rating from Sue: 2.75 stars.
About Sue Rovens:
Sue Rovens is an indie suspense/horror author who lives in Normal, Illinois. She has written five novels and two books of short horror stories.
Track 9, her second novel, snagged a starred review in Publisher's Weekly (May 2018), her short story, “Coming Over”, from her book, In a Corner, Darkly (Volume 1) was turned into a screenplay and short student indie film by the theater department of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and another short story, “When the Earth Bled”, won 2nd place in the Support Indie Authors short story contest. Her three most recent books (Buried, Rage, and Sanctum) are under Plump Toad Press.
Sue owns a blog (suerovens.com) which includes interviews with authors, musicians, podcasters, and artists. She is also a current member of both the Chicago Writers Association and the Alliance for Independent Authors (ALLi).
EVERY WOMAN KNOWS THIS by Laurel Hightower
THEY MOSTLY COME AT NIGHT by Wesley Southard
Maybe you read horror because you are looking for that twist of the knife or that exploding eyeball or even that colonoscopy by a very tiny man carrying an even tinier camera, but I hear you saying you want a story, damnit, and you want a surprise. I’m not talking about a twist ending. I’m talking about that much harder prize, one that arises naturally from great ideas married to excellent craft.
More than a half dozen presidents and more than a few dozen Stephen King books ago, I sat before a mentor. He rifled the pages of my magnum opus, a stage play. He looked at me with a smile and commented, “It’s about something.” He went on to tell me that it was a pleasure to read something with a story, a plot.
I must have looked crestfallen. Full of vim and sap, I thought the idea was to start a movement. Go gaga for Dada. I wanted to be innovative or at least experimental.
How could I, at such an inquisitive age, admit I liked a book with a beginning, a middle, and an end? A good literary experiment could be a marvelous thing (see Dangerous Visions, Ed. Harlan Ellison), but it’s difficult to synthesize a story out of parts.
It took a while to understand that a story could look straightforward and still be subversive. Maybe I knew it in my bones. You probably do, considering where you’re reading this.
Laurel Hightower and Wesley Southard know it.
Hightower takes your hand, walks you to a tableau, waves her pen, and makes the characters come alive. The magic of stories like the titular tale and One of Those Faces is her ability to let you see through her eyes and still make the story universal.
In Someone Has To Do It, Nell copes with her grieving brother, who himself faces the ultimate trigger for any widower. The choice of POV takes you into the story as a witness, more than an active participant.
Distancing for effect (think a Wes Anderson movie for more upfront usage) is hard to pull off on the page and it’s magical to see it utilized subtly in a horror story. Hightower lets you stand next to the stage manager in the wings, which is a great place to be when the performance on the stage is going so well.Southard finds you at the airport gate waiting to board Southwest. Just when you think you’ve figured out how to game the seating, he leans over and says, “let me tell you about this thing that happened to my cousin.” Except he’s not actually looking at you. He’s focused on the people opposite who clearly did not hear him speak.
In The Lengths I’ll Go, Chad wants to watch his game on the bar TV while his friends insist on tormenting him. Memorable stories like this have a rhythm that end up feeling like a dance between writer and reader. The reader anticipates and the writer leads. Remember when you first learned all the steps to… well, let’s say a waltz, but who waltzes anymore? How about the two-step? Anyway, the magic happens because the dance can lead anywhere, and it works best if it feels like an improvisation with certain moves both dancers expect. It can be fun, but it’s hard as hell to do well in public. Southard leads well in public.
In Hightower’s Starman and Southard’s Echo, the protagonists face inescapable cycles, worthy of Rod Serling, but so modern that they feel like a cross between Twilight Zone and Black Mirror. We thrive inside the maze of repetition and difference in these stories because that is an apt definition of life. Instead of making us ask how to escape such unending recurrence, these stories ask us to consider the meaning of escape.
I suspect my long-departed mentor might even appreciate these stories in whatever inescapable destination waits for all of us.
Craig's Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
About Craig Brownlie:
Craig Brownlie was born in East Orange, New Jersey and grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. Among other endeavors, he has washed dishes, spun records on the radio, directed and designed stage shows, joined the Pennsylvania and Federal Bar Associations, and managed software development projects. His first published book was 1987's Financial Commercial Loan Handbook from Financial Publishing Company (uncredited). In addition, he has written numerous plays, books, short stories, poems, and non-fiction pieces. He blogs at craigbrownlie.com