“Death by Drive-In” – an entertaining short story anthology from the folks at Coffin Hop.

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From the folks at Coffin Hop:  http://coffinhop.com/

These are stories inspired by the classic era of the b-movies often shown at drive-in theaters.  I grew up watching the tv versions of a drive-in theater with the local legend, “Sammy Terry” on Friday nights on WTTV and then “Science Fiction Theater” on Saturdays, so I actually enjoyed this collection quite a bit. Sure, there were a few stories that didn’t quite do it for me, but isn’t that the case with all anthologies? (It has been in my experience.) I blew through the seventeen stories it contains in just a few hours, and there were several that were very well done, I thought. (The ones that didn’t do it for me were generally the ones that relied too much on the gross-out factor. There was also some careless editing, particularly in one story the femur is misplaced in the lower leg which, as an inveterate stickler, I found distracting.)

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Some of my favorites:
“The Colossal Monster” by Ron Smales – this one was kind of the switcheroo of the classic sci-fi film, “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” for in this story radiation causes the victim to inexplicably grow in size. A scientist finds a way to “cure” him, but will it be in time, and might there be other, less supernatural forces that are stacking the odds against him?

(Below: Grant Williams as the afflicted Scott Carey in 1957’s “The Incredible Shrinking Man” – a classic!)

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“Microwave Popcorn” by Dan Dillard
A great, short story with a couple helpings of humor added to the recipe. A somewhat superannuated employee at a factory, facing an imminent pink slip, is temporarily changed into an electrified man by the collaboration of faulty wiring and a break room microwave. He uses his newfound powers to set a few things right. In one of my favorite lines, when confronted, he admits, “guilty, as CHARGED.” Nice.

“The Queen of Screams” by Penelope Crowe
An aging, b-movie horror queen falls out of favor and resorts to drastic, plastic surgical measures in a desperate bid to regain her former status.

The collection also included stories by two authors I’ve read before. I posted about Joanna Parypinski’s novel, “Pandora”, last year, and – though I never blogged about it – I also enjoyed Red Tash’s novel “This Brilliant Darkness.”

In this collection, Parypinski’s “Poseidon’s Revenge” features a likable, trident-wielding heroine who takes the concept of an actress questioning her character’s “motivation” to a whole new level. Tash’s entry, “A Lycan for Pinterest” (ha ha – great title!) uses our culture’s growing obsession (probably not too strong a word) with that social media as a vehicle to explore the potential of an inter-species(?) relationship.

There were also several stories featuring homages to the characters of classic horror. “The Lagoon” by Nina D’Arcangela (I assume that’s a great nom de plume), told in the first person by someone you quickly realize is not a human, was another good one falling into that group.

(below: remember this chilling scene from the original “Creature from the Black Lagoon?”)

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“Retirement” by Jamie Friesen features an aging Godzilla, basking on a beach at a resort reminiscing about the glory of his past ravagings. A.F. Stewart’s “Revenge of the Monsters” is also in a similar vein. All the classic horror icons (Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, the Mummy, etc.) are hanging out at their favorite watering hole when they decide to go on another rampage, lest we puny humans forget their powers.

(below: Power lines stop Godzilla? Bah!)

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Julianne Snow’s “Little Shop of Cupcake Horrors” was amusing and reminds us that we should be careful who we buy our flour from… (I read this one morning before work while sitting in Panera, and – trust me – I gave the display case a wary glance on my way out…) 🙂

So overall a fun collection. If you’re a fan of the classic b-movie horror/sci-fi/fantasy from the height of the drive-in era,you’d probably enjoy it too.

If youre interested in getting a copy of this anthology (profits for which go to benefit litworld.org) check the following link. http://coffinhop.com/death-by-drive-in-collectors-ep/

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I Opened the Box

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Pandora by Joanna Parypinski

This just-published horror novel was a great warm-up read for me as I prepare for my traditional October foray into readings that feature horror, the macabre, and the supernatural. Probably everyone is familiar with the story of “Pandora” from Classical Mythology, the poor unfortunate who – through curiosity rather than malice – releases a plague of evils upon mankind after opening the box wherein they were contained. The author of this book, via several “interlude” chapters, gives the reader a glimpse into the history of “the box,” peering further and further backward into human history. The last of these deals with a “brief history” of ancient Greece and ends – with great effectiveness, I think – “The box came before this.” (One of my favorite glimpses of the box’s past was the story of Eliza, who brought it to America. In her case, the box “consumed her” – in a way my imagination made similar to Tolkein’s “The One Ring” and its pernicious effect on the creature Gollum)

When we start the story, however, the box has taken up residence in the basement (buried hidden behind a wall, naturally) of a house in the town of “Sickle Falls.” A young couple, Maria and Chris Vakros, is just moving into the house, unaware of the tragedy that marked the end of the last resident’s ownership.

Maria quickly senses the presence of something evil in the basement, while young Benjamin Behren, a fourteen-year-old neighborhood boy plagued by bullies and by the awkwardness of that age, has personal experience with the basement from previously being dared to go into the house and basement while it was unoccupied.

We meet other residents of Sickle falls including writer Edna Murphy, struggling to retain her grasp on her sanity as she writes about a character who has lost his. There’s also Father O’Clery, who somehow knows something of the precipitant evil that the town unwittingly awaits. The loathsome bully, Rocco, and his sidekicks give us a sufficient dose of non-supernatural evil too. And then, there’s also “The Reaper”…

In addition to “interlude” chapters that detail fragments of the history of the box, there are also interludes that tell the story of The Reaper, a self appointed avenging angel who murders the impure while traveling the country. The Reaper’s weapon of choice? Not the familiar scythe we’re used to seeing the fabled “grim reaper” depicted as carrying. No, this reaper uses a razor-sharp sickle. And guess where The Reaper’s headed now? Why, Sickle Falls of course. Lots of work to do there. I should mention here that Parypinski pulls off a nice “twist” involving this character, one I didn’t see coming, anyway.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, much more than I did a “more credentialed” ‘horror in the basement’ novel by Chris Bohjalian (The Night Strangers) last year. It’s worth a read and perfect for October…

(below: a “scythe” – the traditional implement of the grim reaper. I’ve held one before – I think it was on my Granddad’s property in West Virginia – and remember thinking, “this could do some damage if wielded maliciously.’ The handle on his did not look like this one, though. It was that classic ‘weathered gray’ look that tools take on once they’ve reached a sufficient age. The smaller implement, the “sickle,” a hand held tool that can be used for smaller jobs, like weeding. I think my mom has one of these for her garden. Coincidentally. I’m currently watching season 3 of the tv series “Breaking Bad” and some of the bad guys left a chalk drawing next to one guy’s car as their calling card. The DEA agent called it a scythe, but it could also be a sickle, maybe. Oh, well. Guess I went a little overboard on the sickle/scythe thing there, but that’s me being me!)

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September Reading – The Month Ahead

What reading do I have planned for September? Let’s start with my “required reads.”

The Great Gatsby by. F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Yes, I’ve read this before (at least once) but my “Great Books” discussion group is reading this for our September meeting. We usually discuss shorter works, but we don’t meet over the summer and for September’s meeting it is traditional to read a novel. That’s what they tell me, anyway, I haven’t been a member for that long yet. 🙂

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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This is the September selection for the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club. In honor of “National Banned Books Week,” we read a book that has suffered the ignominy of being banned. Last year it was Huckleberry Finn. I’ve read this before too. Twice. It will be interesting to see what my fellow KVMLBC members, an intelligent group, will have to say about this one. I always learn a lot at these meetings. It’s a good choice, too, with Bradbury having just passed away earlier this year.

Speaking of re-reads, I’m doing a nostalgic re-read of Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes – a favorite from my youth. Look for a post on this around the middle of the month. Fellow blogger Dale at Mirror with Clouds is also re-reading. Why not join us?

I’m also reading Pandora by Joanna Parypinski. A just-published first novel. After reading a short story of hers in an anthology a few months ago, I stumbled upon her blog and, since she is a graduate of Butler University (here in Indianapolis, just down the road from my office) thought I’d “support the home team” and read her book. I’ve already started and am enjoying it thus far.

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What else? Well, there are five Saturdays in September, and that is the day of the week I draw a card to pick which of my fifty-two scheduled short stories to read. The Queen of Diamonds led me, on September 1, to Maya Angelou’s “Reunion,” which I just posted about. Four more to go, though, and I look forward to learning which ones fate picks for me this month.

There’s also my neglected “Author Biography” 2012 reading project. I have a Charles Dickens bio (Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin) queued up in my e-reader, but haven’t been able to get into it yet.

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That’s about it for me. So, what are YOU reading in September. I’d love to hear about your reading plans…

-Jay