bookshelf books

The Books I Read: July – August 2023

The Client by John Grisham

I realized I had never read a John Grisham novel, and I like law (I watch Legal Eagle and listen to podcasts about it.) So I thought I ought to remedy that, since the guy basically invented legal thrillers. (Is there such a thing as lawyerpunk? Justicepunk?)

The style reminds me of Memory Man. Straightforward, good with tension, tight with time. All the events take place in only three or five days. (The justice system can work fast when it wants to in the Grishamverse). The story doesn’t seem like a thriller or suspense novel, but it is. It’s just about a kid who learns where a murdered body is buried. The thrill comes from the police, the federal justice system, and the press, and the mob leaning on a kid is smart enough to seek out a lawyer.

What I love most about it is the characters. Everyone is distinct and charismatic. Some of them muddle together but you always know who’s on who’s team. No one is really a bad guy–they all think they are the main character in their story and following the right thing. The writing style itself is so simple that I’m surprised Grisham became as popular as he did, with sentences like “The hangar floor was crystallized concrete.” Lots of the imagery is described by simple sentences, non-purple prose. These days you have to be “Where the Crawdads Sing” to get popular.

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix

A non-fiction book looking back at the world of pulpy horror novels from the seventies and eighties. You know it wasn’t just Stephen King back then. Horror movies weren’t the only ones having a renaissance–books preyed on our fears too. And they could be a lot nastier since they were only text.

Capitalizing on the Satanic Panic, psycho children, monster animals, haunted houses, and everything in-between. This book describes all the best. Personally, I came for the covers–those great covers that enticed everyone, more intriguing than movie posters, promising horrors within. It’s a fascinating look and an easy read. (I seem to be averaging a Grady Hendrix book every two months).

The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

I liked the Lady Astronaut series, and this promised to be like that with a little less hard science, so I was eager to pick it up. But I didn’t like it at all.

It’s a “cozy mystery”. Kind of like Death on the Nile or some other old-timey Sam Spade detective novel. Reading was frustrating because I kept waiting for them to get to the next uncovered clue. It always seemed like the story was padding itself in-between plot points, which was frustrating. Like the book itself was practicing delayed gratification. And in the last chapter, it’s like the characters don’t even care that they went through all this trauma. They’re not changed.

The text. Is. Repetitive. And it’s repetitive over two things. One is that the main character has a back injury and she’s constantly talking about her chronic pain. Every page she’s turning up or down the “pain management system” she’s got implanted. By the end, she must look like all the Rolling Stones AND Motley Crue put together.

The other thing is that she is on a honeymoon cruise with her husband (who’s an actual detective but he’s the suspect). And they are so lovey-dovey with each other I think I got a cavity. It’s obnoxious. This girl is high maintenance. She always needs her dog with her, she’s always suffering from PTSD. But I’m not the audience for this book. I almost stopped reading a few times, but I kept going because I thought it might be like Terraforming Romance. I was very glad when it was done. At least, I don’t have to like it to use it as a comp.

Class of ’86 by Brad Jones

This is a book written by Brad Jones, who plays The Cinema Snob, one of my favorite Internet reviewers. He specializes in horror, exploitation, and lower-than-low budget movies. The kind of stuff that even MST3K wouldn’t touch. And I guess he finally watched enough that he had to spew them back out somehow.

What I’m saying is, come into this expecting the same raw, grainy “first-time indie film” style used in Hobo with a Shotgun, Slumber Party Massacre, Hobgoblins, etc. That’s how Brad Jones rolls. He’s a “first iteration era” YouTuber, a humorist, but he hasn’t learned how to write a novel yet. This is a self-published work and it lacks the refinement of editing or proofreading that comes with multiple revisions. It lacks an eye to perfection. Which is fine if you’re making a cut-throat film. But as a reader, I expect more.

That’s not to say there are no good ideas in this. The characters act like silly caricatures, but that is the point. It’s like bizarro fiction. The story is like a combination of Class of Nuke’em High and My Bloody Valentine. It just means Brad Jones is not a writer of books. Maybe that’s just the book snob in me talking. I’d love to see what he can do when he really applies himself to the text.

Night’s Edge by Liz Kerin

The book was just too sad for me to finish. Not sad in a “Bridge to Terabithia” or “Flowers for Algernon” way. Sad in a “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore” sense.

This book is about the stigma attached to having a disease. It reminds me too much of the pandemic. People were acting like they did during the Red Scare. Who has it? Who doesn’t? Who’s vaccinated and who’s tested? Is such-and-such a cure or isn’t it? And most of all, who was being an asshole by still walking around in public knowing they were infected? What responsibility do we have as disease carriers?

Second, there’re two plotlines going on. One takes place in the present, the other is a flashback. The origin story, if you will. The overall story is about a daughter and her mother. The mother has gotten a disease that basically turns you into a vampire–sun kills you and you have to drink blood. She got the disease from sex with some trailer trash guy who sticks around like an abusive deadbeat. It’s all about that relationship and dealing with her mother and basically being in a situation you can’t get out of because of poverty and societal neglect. It takes the perspective of the daughter who’s the victim in all this. She knows this is all bad news but can’t do anything about it or leave because she has no power. Her mother needs her blood. It’s basically “Being Poor” as a novel and I just couldn’t take it.

Also, the book is vampire fiction. I’ve never really had any inclination toward vampires in any form. Not the Bela Lugosi or Interview with the Vampire or Blade or anything. They’ve never appealed to me.

Live Girls by Ray Garton

After reading “Paperbacks from Hell”, I found some of them were in eBook format. Some of those story concepts sounded too intriguing not to pick up. This book was written about modern vampires in New York. Yes, I know I just said I don’t like vampires, but this has to do with strippers and peep shows and the seedy NYC setting of the eighties.

It’s classic horror pulp, full of terror, horror, and gross-out. The kind of stuff Stephen King started out with. And I loved reading about classic New York when Times Square was full of peepshows and bums, not immigrants in Elmo costumes. The problem is you can’t talk about vampires in modern times. Too many advancements negate their existence–blood banks, constant surveillance, forensics. And to be brutal, their kills have to be sloppy. Detecting a vampire would be as easy as finding a superhero’s secret identity. They would have to organize like mob, which they kinda do in this book.

I got what I expected–a pulpy horror novel about vampires. The problem is, vampires aren’t scary to me. They’re monsters, but monsters with too many weaknesses. So steer clear if you have no interest in them.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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