Go Ahead and Be An Ass

When my daughter was little, certain relatives used to complain how she didn’t seem to like them very much. Now, clearly, the expectation was, as parents, her father and I would somehow fix it. Would force her to like them, as was our duty and their due.

Evidently, “huh, well, have you tried being more likable?” wasn’t the right answer.

Except, you know what? It was.

It may not have been the most polite or diplomatic answer, it was not the answer they wanted. But it WAS right, and true.

They felt entitled to have her feel and behave toward them in a particular way, regardless of their own attitudes and behavior. Whether they’d earned it or not, they felt they deserved it, were owed it.

Because, reasons. Because, family.

Because, bullshit. You can’t dictate, command, or demand those things from another person.

So, the “don’t be an ass” thing? It’s advice. Advice. A suggestion. It’s not a rule, not an order, not a law.

You might think that something so simple and basic would be, well, simple and basic, kind of obvious. I mean, duh, right? Not something to draw a lot of protest and pushback and backlash. Who would argue with something so fundamental?

Asses, mostly.

Asses for whom assdom is a lifestyle choice, who maybe have little else going for them, little else to hold onto. Who revel in their assdom and are all too glad to lash out at any perceived attack, slight, or threat upon it.

Honestly, why should you have to examine your own attitudes and behavior when it’s everyone else’s reactions that are the real issue? All these intolerant-against-assdom so-called liberal cuck virtue-signaling snowflakes buzzword whatever?

If you’re happy being an ass, if it’s working for you, if it’s getting you the results you want, then by all means, carry on. Nobody’s stopping you. Nobody CAN stop you. There’s no Ass Police, no legal or governmental authorities.

Drawback: there’s also no law saying other people have to put up with it; they can’t be forced to socialize with you, work with you, interact with you on a personal or business level. And, brace yourself because this may be a shock, it isn’t even censorship!

“But but but free speech!” Absolutely. Go ahead and say anything you want, knock yourself out.

“But but but free speech and everybody HAS to listen to meeee!” Bzzt. Nope. Everybody gets to decide for themselves if they want to or not.

“But but but free speech and nobody can say anything back or criticize me!” Bzzt. Nope again. Two-way street there, chumley.

“But but but you’re bullying meeee!” Bzzt. Third strike; on Family Feud we’d kick it over to the other team now.

Bonus round: Bullying is different, and you know it. But “mocking” doesn’t play as well into the persecutory victimhood ideation as well, does it?

Okay, now we’re getting into some upper-division assdom, the really pro levels, the asses who might build their entire identities around such perceived injustices.

Going back to the basic premise, if you want to be liked, try being more likable. Instead of, y’know, railing against everyone else for only liking the likable people.

It’s like when the creepy dude complains about girls finding him creepy, and someone suggests he maybe not do (creepything), and he sulks because girls should just stop thinking (creepything) is creepy.

Hey, it’s advice; all anybody can do is offer suggestions. You gotta do what works for you.

Maybe you don’t want to change your behavior. Maybe you’re deeply invested in your assdom, maybe it really IS all you have to define yourself and hold onto.

Ask yourself, though … IS it working for you? IS it getting you the results you want? What results DO you want?

If the results you want involve clippetyclopping along being an ass, hey, go for it. Not that you need my or anybody else’s permission. Remember, it’s not a rule, not a law. Just advice.

If the results you want involve clippetyclopping along being an ass without any social consequence or repercussion, well, that’s where you’re going to clippetyclop your way right into a wall, because of that whole matter of others being able to make their own decisions and stuff having consequences.

You have every right to be an ass. Others have every right not to like you for being one. Which still won’t stop you, if you’re a really dug-in, dedicated, and determined ass.

I believe in you.

Pre-surgery book sale!

CHRISTINE MORGAN horror novels $8 each!

BLACK ROSES — demon dream lover incubus smut!

GIFTED CHILDREN — science experiment spooky kids!

CHANGELING MOON — warring secret shapeshifters!

TELL NO TALES — reality show on haunted pirate island!
HIS BLOOD — let’s bring back vampire Jesus!

HORNED ONES — show cave, cave-in, cave monsters!

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James Lowder’s ‘The Corpse’ Stories

In the shadowy underworld of Prohibition-era Chicago, where mobsters run rampant and crime bosses rule the roost, one mysterious vigilante will stand against them. They call him the Corpse, and whether he’s living or dead, man or monster, nobody seems to know.

He appears and disappears like a specter, he leaves grave worms as a calling card, and those who’ve seen him — and survived to tell the tale — report that his tattered cloak and bullet-riddled clothing cover a cadaverous form, his face pallid, his eyes haunted as the eyes of the damned.

His solitary dark crusade against the forces of evil unfolds through several stories by acclaimed editor (and no slouch of an author either) James Lowder.

“King of the Frozen Men” — short story in Sojourn 2

“Orphans of the Air” — short story in Peel Back the Skin

“The Crooked Smile Killers” — novelette in Genius Loci

“The Night Chicago Died” — illustrated novelette in Pulp Zombies

I recently read them all back-to-back, and can say with certainty that these need to be a collection, especially as I’m told there are more stories on the way. They hit all the right notes for me, great characters and action, the wonderful sense of historical accuracy, the angst and pathos, the rough justice of the street.

Moody and broody, atmospheric and gritty, hearkening back to the classic pulps and cliffhangers … if Daredevil had been made like an old-timey radio drama or black-and-white serial, it would be this.

Review — Apologies to the Cat’s Meat Man

I got an early look at this one, and now it’s available for you to experience!


Title: Apologies to the Cat’s Meat Man

Author: Alan M. Clark

Publisher: IFD Publishing

Website: http://www.ifdpublishing.com

Back in August, appropriately enough, I read and reviewed another in the author’s victims-of-Jack-the-Ripper series, A Brutal Chill in August. It blew me away, historical fiction done right, so you’d better believe I was ready for more!

Oh, and if you’re one of those brats saying yeah but they all must be the same because of how they ended, like someone I knew once refused to watch La Bamba because it’d have the same ending as The Buddy Holly Story, well, *raspberries* to you; that’s totally not the point and you know it!

These were real people. With their very own real lives, pasts, hopes, fears, dreams, and feelings. Different people. Individuals with their own stories, who deserve to be remembered as something other than statistics.

Sure, on the surface, there might be similarities between Annie Chapman in this book and Polly Nichols in Brutal Chill – both were underprivileged women of their time, struggling to get by in a difficult world. They had their flaws and weaknesses, they made their mistakes.

In Annie’s case, she was plagued by what we might call ‘being a sensitive soul.’ It’s hard enough even these days to be squeamish and easily upset, in a world with modern hygiene and conveniences. She had troubled relationships with her family and friends, and with alcohol as so many did and still do.

The real horrors of this book have nothing to do with the Ripper and his knife. They have to do with futility and hopelessness, the devastating legacy of realizing you’re becoming just like a loved/hated parent, the desperation, the loss of control.

For me, the most harrowing scenes by far, still haunting me even now as I write this, have to do with the move-along policies directed at the city’s legions of homeless. Not allowed to rest more than a few minutes in any given spot, hundreds take to the streets in an unending, plodding, circular trudge through the long hours of the night. It’s a cruel purgatory, and I couldn’t help thinking that too many places in this day and age still haven’t come very far, in terms of how society treats its least fortunate.

Once again, Clark’s skill shows through in terms of bringing the era and setting and characters to vivid life. Not a feel-good read, not a fun read, but another powerful one, and a stirring memorial for a woman who was more than a mark on a killer’s scoresheet.


Review — Confessions of an English Psychopath

Title: Confessions of an English Psychopath

Author: Jack Strange

Website: https://www.amazon.com/Jack-Strange/e/B01F9Q50RM

That moment when you contact the author to ask who he’d cast as the main character, so as to better help get a mental picture and audible voice in your head … and the author comes back with the answer “Jude Law” and your brain goes *whoof* and your glasses fog up …

Nor does it hurt that the premise is a bit like that absolutely delightful Kingsmen: The Secret Service movie, done with similar British-style cuttingly polite wit. It’s brisk and clever, hilarious even as it’s reprehensible — the guy’s a serial killer, after all, a psychopath just like it says right there in the title.

A psychopath recruited and trained by a clandestine agency to carry out discreet ‘cleaning’ missions; well, naturally he’s a natural. But, one problem with people like that is, they have this thing about rules and authority not applying to them. An operative like Lawrence Odd may be among the best in the department, but he’s also going to push, or outright ignore, boundaries.

Locked doors and secret files within the agency office? Oh, that just won’t do. Company policies against fraternizing socially after hours? As if that’s any reason not to strike up a relationship with an attractive co-worker. As far as Lawrence is concerned, even those who technically may be the boss of him aren’t, well, the boss of him.

The first-person conversational POV really puts the reader right there in his head, which is simultaneously fascinating and uncomfortable. He’s a bad guy, he’s fundamentally bent on some deep human and empathic level, yet, you kinda gotta like him and feel sorry for and root for him. Beyond his surface charm and arrogance, he has an almost childlike bewilderment, as if sincerely perplexed why others just don’t understand.

Times like these are when the bad-guys-vs.-worse-guys thing comes in handy. When Lawrence goes rogue, he has reasons. There’s a certain guilty-pleasure quality to it all, and when you also get to envision Jude Law in the role? *whoof*

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes


Title: Behind Her Eyes

Author: Sarah Pinborough

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Website: http://www.flatironbooks.com

I picked up this book at one of the author’s recent Portland appearances. Knew very little of it beforehand, but I’d been most favorably impressed by everything else of hers I’d read, and people were saying good things, and the whole growing breakthrough best-seller take the world by storm buzz. Besides, signed copy, I’m often a sucker for a signed copy!

Anyway, so, there I was at the reading, and during the Q/A someone mentioned the ending in a “no spoilers but holy wow that ending!” kind of way, which further intrigued me. I dove right in and was instantly engaged, instantly immersed.

The story’s about secrets, and obsession, and love, and betrayal. Louise is recently divorced, doing the working-mom / shared-custody juggling act, which leaves her little time for herself or a social life. When she does meet an interesting guy, he then turns out to be not only married but her new boss, making extra awkwardness all around. To step it up even further, Louise then finds herself becoming friends with his wife … without letting on to either that she knows the other … and the more she gets to know them, the more enmeshed she becomes, the more thoroughly entangled in their the complex turbulence of their marriage.

A situation like this could have the makings of a light-hearted farce or rom-com, one of those hilarious Shakespearean cases of mistaken identities and misunderstandings, where after some tribulations, everything sorts itself out and works out okay. It could, but, this is not that situation. This is a situation of pain, torment, temptation, agonizing choices, troubled pasts, and slowly-unveiling threats of physical danger.

Fascinating stuff, intense human drama, even without the other less-normal elements … the characters are presented so well, so multi-faceted and true … I’d find myself believing and sympathizing with one, then another, then having distrust and second-guessing, then chastising, then rooting for, then wanting to smack them … around and around, just like real people, nothing one-dimensional here.

I was also rolling along feeling fairly smug and pleased with myself because I thought I’d figured it out, I thought I knew what was going on. Oh, pride before the fall! THAT ENDING was a wallop, a rug-pulled-out-from-under. Not an utter shock of an out-of-nowhere blindside; all the clues really had been there … but the way they fit together … it was like one of those optical illusions where you know there’s something, but you don’t see it, but you know it’s there, and then something CLICKS in your brain and THERE IT IS.

Wow. I mean, wow. I mean, I had to drop a note to the author just ALL-CAPS HOLY *BLEEP* to get it out of my system before attempting a serious review. Yet, here I am doing that serious review and I’m still ALL-CAPS HOLY *BLEEP*. My head is full of thunderclap fireworks, just all concussive sonic boom and flash-dazzle afterimages, even now a few days later.

Other reviewers have said, and I add my voice to theirs, READ THIS NOW. NOW NOW NOW. Don’t let anybody spoil it for you. Not only is the read itself a remarkable experience of building and deepening psychological terror, not only is it a vivid and inescapable drawing-in to the twisted dark complexities of emotion and relationships …

THAT ENDING! That wallop! That moment where suddenly, and, as the kids say, you just can’t even. I just couldn’t even. I still can’t even. I mean, I read a lot; I reviewed 120 books last year; I’ve been a reader all my life; I sometimes feel like I’m getting old and jaded … and still. Still. Wow.

I literally (in the literal sense!) had to put it down when I was done and just go walk around for a while, my mind full of those thunderclap fireworks. I was speechless. I was awestruck. If anybody had been there to try and talk to me at that time, all I could’ve done was blink and shake my head and mutely gawp like a goldfish.

Basically, yeah, every good thing anybody’s been saying about this book? Truth. More than worthy of its spot on the best-seller lists. I know it’s only February, but for this NOT to be the best book I read all year, someone is going to have to come up with something pretty damn amazing. The bar has been set way high. Way, way high. Because … wow. Just wow. Thunderclap fireworks, rocked to the core. Wow.

Bonus Reviews!

Not everything I read is a good fit for the HFR, for various reasons … sometimes it’s not technically horror, sometimes it’s a novella or short, sometimes the HFR has already covered a book by the time I get to it. When that happens, I still want the world to know what I think because I’m megalomaniacal that way, so, I bring them here!

Up this week: On the Bricks by Penni Jones, and The Head by Brian Barr!

Title: On the Bricks

Author: Penni Jones

Publisher: Pandamoon Publishing

Website: http://www.pandamoonpublishing.com

I don’t know if “gritty chick-lit” is a thing, or if this would be it if it was, but if it isn’t it should be, and that’s the phrase my mind kept wanting to call it. Because it certainly isn’t your usual yuppie or sassy sex in the city gets her groove back kind of thing … the main character here just finished a ten-stretch for murder, and moves in with her struggling rehab sister who runs a halfway house for juvies, prosties, druggies, and abused women.

But, by similar token, neither is it the hurr-hurr women’s prison cell block hot mamas 70s-style ‘sploitation all for the titillation of the guys. Having still not seen that OitnB show, I can’t say for comparison there, but if the show is tonewise like this book, I should bump it up on my list.

Anyway! Our protagonist, Cass, finally gets parole after serving her time for the murder of her then-boyfriend’s ex-wife. A murder she didn’t commit, but somehow got swept along into taking the fall for. All of a sudden, she’s leaving her cellmate (best friend and more), going back to the real world. Back to a small part of the real world, where plenty of people know her and remember. Not far from where her now-remarried former boyfriend, and the kids Cass had hoped to adopt, still live.

The smart thing to do would be to keep her head down, let the past go, and get on with her life. But it seems fate, with a cruel sense of humor, keeps throwing twists and obstacles in the way. The biggie is that her father left her a big chunk of money, on the condition she prove her innocence.

Gee, thanks Dad. She could really use that inheritance, not least of all to help save the halfway house from foreclosure. How’s she supposed to prove her innocence NOW, when she couldn’t a decade ago? When the people with information are far from inclined to help? When some, in fact, are inclined to stop her nosing around by whatever methods necessary?

Meanwhile, there’s her libido to consider, a problem further impacted by a hunky parole officer and some chance run-ins with her old flame. And there’s her struggles getting along on the outside, where prison social skills don’t go over so well … there’s added responsibility when her sister backslides into bad habits …

Most of all, what this book really does well is depict just how damn complex, complicated, mercurial, contradictory, and convoluted relationships between women can be. How love and hate, contempt and admiration, being willing to go to the mat for someone while also wanting to claw her eyes out, how all these can exist simultaneously.

It’s a solid good read, gripping, well-written, believable even in its moments of incredible frustration (when other characters know stuff, and Cass KNOWS they know stuff, and can’t just grab them and shake until truth-words fall out). Thumbs up, would certainly read more from this author!


Title: The Head

Author: Brian Barr

Website: https://www.amazon.com/Brian-Barr/e/B010Y0MEJU

This one’s a short story all out in the big world on its own, the whimsical adventure of a lady who finds a severed head in the yard … wait, what? Yes, that. A severed head, but it gets weirder. The head is alive, the head can talk, the head belongs to a very nice seeming guy named Bill.

In a sense, it’s a fairy tale; there are elements here of The Frog Prince and of Bluebeard, but through a warped kaleidoscope lens. Whimsical adventure, yes. Love story, even, because once Elizabeth takes Bill’s head home and they chat and talk, well, hey, romance can happen in unconventional ways.

The thing is, though, Bill would rather have their romance happen in somewhat more conventional ways, ways involving the rest of his actual body. That’s where the adventure comes in, the classic fairy tale quest. It may not be a looming castle in the dark wood, it may be a rundown old house at the end of a dirt road, but the effect is much the same.

And, like many fairy tales used to be back in the good old days, that happily-ever-after doesn’t always work out so well for all concerned.

My only problem was a minor matter of copy-edit type nits, homonyms and such that slipped through. But, all in all, an entertaining and fun messed-up little bedtime story!


And don’t forget, you can always find more of what I think over at The Horror Fiction Review!