Books

Down with the Fallen debuts Nov. 7

My story “Grandfather’s Room” will appear in the post-apocalyptic horror anthology, Down with the Fallen, edited by Jordon Greene and available Nov. 7 from Franklin/Kerr Press. Click here to pre-order. To read an excerpt, click here.

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DOWN with Grandfather

Excited that my story “Grandfather’s Room” was selected for the upcoming post-apocalyptic horror anthology, Down with the Fallen, from Franklin/Kerr Press.

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THE FIELD among Year’s Best Horror

The Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2 is out now! The anthology, edited by Randy Chandler and Cheryl Mullenax from Comet Press, includes my short story “The Field.” Get your copy NOW!

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New book from Marvin Brown

THTLB-coverPhotoMy first nonfiction work, The House the Lord Built is now available! The book details the 40-year history of The House of the Lord, one of Akron, Ohio’s largest churches under the leadership of Bishop F. Josephus Johnson II. In prose, photographs and members’ own words, the past, present and future of the House is revealed and celebrated!
Purchase the book at Amazon.com. Learn more at my website: www.marvincbrown.com.

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Open Book

The Man from Primrose Lane (2012)

By James Renner

365 pages

 

The Man from Primrose Lane is an effective crime thriller and character study that builds steadily for its first two-thirds, then zings us in its final third by charging full bore into the realm of science fiction. Whether you accept this final twist (although Renner points us toward it for much of the novel) will likely determine whether you like this book.

The Man from Primrose LaneStructured expertly by fellow Ohio author Renner, story proper involves a once-famous true-crime writer inching back from years of depression following a personal tragedy. David Neff found great and early success writing about serial killers. Now he lives comfortably off residuals, and finds solace (and insecurity) in his role as a father.

The death of a local oddball, the titular character also known as “the man with a thousand mittens,” plunges David back into the true-crime game. But first he has to strip himself of the antidepressant that stifles his writing and investigative instincts. Renner makes a point of writing realistically about the effects of antidepressant drugs and the dangers of divesting oneself from them, though this concern seems to drift away once the novel shifts into high gear.

There’s a lot here to digest: two love stories, interludes, a father-son tale, past crimes and the present-day crimes they intersect, serial killers, mobsters, hidden family secrets and of course sci-fi machinations.

I appreciate Renner’s careful prose, his deliberate writing. It brings weight to what might otherwise have been a routine police procedural; it keeps the novel from spinning off into absurdity once the sci-fi element reaches its fevered pitch. I like Renner’s insights into journalism—he knows his way around a newsroom, how editors and reporters talk. I like his presentation of crime details, his use of cop-speak, and especially the way his story pauses for bold strokes of characterization, including bittersweet time-spanning interludes involving a son trying to come to terms with and avenge his father’s untimely death.

David’s beloved wife, Elizabeth, is particularly well-realized. During a classroom meet cute she is quickly sketched as a quirky, damaged woman. But Renner deepens the character as the story unfolds; despite being presenting mostly in flashback and moments of reflective emotion, she really becomes one of the book’s most vivid characters.

As the book slides between past, present and the future—sometimes within the same scene—we get the sweep of David’s life: a brash, intelligent young man; an empowered, loving husband; a regretful son; a disillusioned, recovering author; a yearning middle-ager with reawakening sexual desires; a frightened, hopeful father.

Gradually we realize the novel’s major theme is obsession. What we first take as grief, then a dogged pursuit of answers, grows into something much darker. David is given disturbing means to follow his obsessions to harrowing depths.

The crime story aspect is the book’s engine, though. It keeps us turning pages. (Renner’s true-crime background pays off in spades.) Personally I would have been content without the genre-bending shakeup of the final third. The crime story, characters and well-written prose were enough carry me through the book. But, hey, I’m not going to fault the author for trying something different with a well-worn genre.

The book’s a treat for Akron, Ohio, residents like myself, with its spot-on detailing of local roads, communities, restaurants, public figures and landmarks. The cities of Mansfield and Cuyahoga Falls and the state of Pennsylvania also figure into the plot. Of course Cleveland—in current and future forms—looms large here.

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Open Book

Doctor Sleep (2013)

By Stephen King

544 pages

 

One reason Stephen King’s The Shining endures as a great horror novel of the modern era is that it draws it terrors not just from the outside, but strikes at us from within. The book centers it terrors on alcoholism, isolation and abuse as much as spectral hauntings.Doctor Sleep

Stanley Kubrick, who directed the film version of the book, said what primary lead him to adapt King’s work was the book’s deft construction that overlapped madness with the supernatural until the two became almost interchangeable/undistinguishable. By the time the supernatural elements take center stage, Kubrick said, the reader has accepted them unquestioned.

Jack Torrance, a former teacher, struggling writer and dry drunk, becomes the winter caretaker at an isolated resort hotel in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Jack, his wife Wendy and young son Danny will spend the winter in the vast, empty hotel that is certainly haunted by its long history of tragedy and by the ghosts of its victims and victimizers.

It’s insidious how King shows the ghosts of the hotel whittle away at Jack, prying him with alcohol, teasing out his marital and parental insecurities until they break the man. The saddest part of the novel for me is when Jack surrenders to his demons and takes up the task of the hotel’s demons—to kill his paranormal son.

King, who outside of his Dark Tower series, has long made clear he isn’t interested in doing sequels to his works, lit a fuse when he announced a year ago he was writing just that—and to one of his best and oldest works. Doctor Sleep, thus, arrives with expectations that couldn’t be any higher. Well, the novel does not surpass or even match The Shining, and interestingly, it’s not as scary. But it’s a very good book, rich in characterization and subtle terrors that accumulate until you realize King’s horror has as crept up on you from all sides, and on various levels—physical, spiritual, emotional, supernatural. And there’s consistent humor throughout the tale that, strangely, enhances the horror.

Danny has survived the dreadful events of the first book—along with his mother and Dick Hallorann, the hotel chef and mentor to the boy. They are all back for the brief first part of the book, which picks up not long after events of the original novel. In a few pages King has swept us 30 years back, effectively reuniting us with characters and tone we remember. Soon, though, Doctor Sleep jumps ahead and we are reunited with some, but not all, of our dear friends. Danny is now Dan, a thirtysomething hospice caretaker (affectionately nicknamed Doctor Sleep) who uses his shining to help ease the final moments of terminal patients. Finally coming to a sense of purpose and sobriety (You thought he escaped his dad’s legacy of addiction, did you?), Dan’s life is upended once again. This time by a remarkable 12-year-old girl who also has the shining, and the tribe of supernatural baddies who will stop at nothing to possess Abra for her special gifts.

About that tribe: it calls itself the True Knot. Outwardly, its members look like grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles crisscrossing the highways and byways of the country in their deluxe campers. It’s a nice touch King adds, having seeming innocuous and ubiquitous RV people mask a terrifying tribe of vampires. Oh, it’s not blood the Knot craves, but “steam”—the fear, power, essence, soul—that seeps from special victims as they are slowly tortured to death. The best steam comes from children with supernatural abilities like the shining, abilities possessed by Dan and, to a more powerful degree, Abra. The steam keeps the Knot from aging and enhances its members’ various supernatural abilities; but you don’t want to know the shocking consequences it faces for going too long without its steam-power.

There are several instances where King ratchets up suspense to almost unbearable levels and then lets the characters, and the reader, off the hook. Honesty, I expected a lot more deaths. Is he softening in his older years? Certainly not in a scene of the Knot torturing a boy for his steam. Despite having a sixth sense, the boy’s tricked into his doom as he shortcuts through a cornfield, heading home from baseball practice. As he cries out for his mother, King takes the scene far enough to not be forgotten for the rest of the book, but restrained enough to let our imagination punish us more than King does.

King’s also brutal in detailing the lifelong and legacy-bearing struggles of alcoholism. The author draws on apparent personal experiences with addiction and makes this the strongest element of the story: the tricks and trades of AA members, the powerful undercurrents of alcohol addiction, how it’s as worrisome an intruder as the supernatural elements of the story. For Dan to stand against formidable opponents—dead and alive—he needs to remain sober, but remaining sober means facing the fears and shame that drove him to drink in the first place.

The bond between Dan and Abra is excellent and instantly summons our dread for the terrors they face. Abra’s an expertly realized tween with an extraordinary gift.

If The Shining is essentially a three-act play of dread with four main characters isolated and confined to tight spaces, Doctor Sleep is a wide-open, multi-character, time-spanning follow-up that nevertheless evokes the era of the first book. King links the books with an assuredness of an old pro, setting me adrift on rippling prose that, from chapter to chapter, pushed me back into a story from my youth (redrum!), then pulled me again into its chilling present-day continuation.

 

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Be Cool

“The writer has to have patience, the perseverance to just sit there alone and grind it out. And if it’s not worth doing that, then he doesn’t want to write.”

Elmore Leonard

1925-2013

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Unity in the Community

Right now!

Hanging out at the Unity in the Community event.

Unity

 

 

4073 Medina Rd., Akron, OH 43333

From 11-4 p.m.

Today

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A better way to look at things

I appreciate all the kind words, gifts and food (oh, my love handles!) on this special day.

BloghouseI lost my best friend in earlier in 2013, which was an emotional gut-punch that still has me shaken. Since I’ve known him for more than 26 years, to build another best-friend relationship in that amount of time would carry me into my early 70s, which is to say, unlikely. That’s sad to think about.

A better way to look at things: His memory endures in the soft corners of my soul; his legacy is a tribute to himself and a tangible gift to those—wife, son, father, sister, friends—who stand in his absence.

That knowledge, and your well wishes, cut through the pain and makes this day joyous for me.

Also, thanks to the staff of the Hudson Library & Historical Society for hosting a wonderful book fair, as well as The Learned Owl Book Shop for its continued support of local authors.

Happy birthday to me.

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The Learned Owl

The Learned Owl Book Shop

The Learned Owl Book Shop, nestled in Hudson, Ohio, north of the Clocktower, is one of those fantastic independently own books stores that seem so hard to find these days. Around since 1968, The Learned Owl offers three floors of books for all ages and interests, is a major supporter of local authors, and participates in annual events, like the upcoming Ohio Author and Book Fair. I will be appearing at this year’s event with 40 other authors. Click here to learn more.

My novels Jigsaw Man and Covet are available at The Learned Owl, and many other local authors’ works are awaiting your discovery. Definitely a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

| The Learned Owl

  204 N Main St.

  Hudson, OH 44236

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