Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Books I Have Read in 2022: The Third 13

In the midst of all the writing I do, I'm also endeavoring to read 52 books in 2022. Here are my thoughts on the third batch of 13 books I read this year:

THE LIFE OF MARTA by Constantine Furman

Imagine attending a horror convention to meet an underappreciated celebrity and somehow developing an instant, deep friendship with them. That’s the level of wish fulfillment at work in Constantine Furman’s The Life of Marta, in which Bill Fullum, an accountant from New Mexico, goes to a convention in Texas to meet Marta Golea, an elderly woman who starred in some Italian horror films decades earlier. After a brief interaction, Marta is asking Bill to take her to a restaurant for dinner and then spend the weekend with her as her “handler” at the convention… and when the convention is over, she even asks him to come visit her at her home in Rome. Marta appreciates Bill’s fandom and kind words, but she has another reason for being drawn to him that he doesn’t realize: she’s alone in the world, having lost her husband and sons years earlier. And Bill resembles one of her late sons.

The Life of Marta is a very pleasant, heartwarming book about a genre fan enjoying a great, completely platonic friendship with a woman he considers to be a horror icon. Much of the book is taken up by conversations they have about Marta’s career, her family history (she’s originally from Romania), Bill’s love life, Italian culture, and Rocky V. Bill often comes off like a bit of a dope, but Furman created a very interesting and endearing character with Marta Golea. Readers are likely to love her just as much as Bill does.

My one criticism has to do with the overuse of speech tags. When Marta and Bill are talking, Furman makes sure to note which line is said by who on almost every line. It’s unnecessary, as the reader can follow the flow of dialogue without each line being attributed to the speaker. We also don’t need to know that someone “queried” when the question mark at the end of their line makes it clear they were asking a question. The overuse of speech tags and the need to switch them up for each line also leads to Furman saying some responses are “spat” back, which comes off as rude when the characters are just having a friendly chat.

Too many speech tags is a pet peeve of mine, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying The Life of Marta.


My review of TCM Underground can be read on Life Between Frames at THIS LINK.


The average life expectancy for a werewolf is four hundred years. Jake Marlowe has only been one for around two hundred years, but his days might be coming to an end prematurely. A long time has passed since the last time someone was turned into a werewolf – in fact, Jake might have been the last to be turned - so the World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena has deduced that he is the last remaining werewolf, and they aim to make species extinct… but not without giving themselves a challenge. They’re going to wait for the night of the next full moon so they can take Jake out while he’s in werewolf form. Since Jake is tired of living, it first appears that the book is just going to follow him through his last month of life and then climax with a confrontation between werewolf-Jake and WOCOP agents. But Glen Duncan has a lot more story to tell the readers than just that. At two different points The Last Werewolf surprised me with twists that sent things off in directions I wasn’t anticipating, getting more and more interesting as it went along. I ended up thoroughly enjoying this book, so I’m glad I stuck with it. The writing style, full of existential musings and metaphorical observations – and very British – was off-putting to me at first. But I fell into its groove, and soon the only off-putting thing was the amount of times Jake (and others) use a certain crude term for female genitalia. Like I said, very British. The subject comes up so often because, as it turns out, werewolves are exceptionally horny creatures, despite not being able to procreate. Which makes them the envy of vampires, who aren’t able to have sex.

CONFESS, FLETCH by Gregory Mcdonald

Irwin M. Fletcher did a good amount of living in the time between the first Fletch book and the second one, Confess, Fletch. He did so much, in fact, that author Gregory Macdonald would later go back and fill in that gap with another book called Carioca Fletch. When we catch up with Fletch in Confess, Fletch, it does feel like we’ve missed out on something. At this point he has a place in Italy and is engaged to a woman named Angela de Grassi – who has just sent him to Boston in search of stolen paintings that were once owned by her father, who was recently kidnapped and is believed to have been killed when his family couldn’t pay the ransom. 

Not content to tell us a simple story about Fletch looking for paintings, Macdonald also adds in the fact that the corpse of a murdered woman turns up in the place Fletch is renting (through a service called Houseswap; the place’s owner is staying in Fletch’s Italian villa while Fletch stays in Boston) on his first night there. The investigation of the murder is actually more interesting than the search for the paintings, because Macdonald leaves us out of the loop for much of the painting story. We’re told about Fletch doing certain things that will get him closer to the missing paintings, but when we’re reading about these things it’s not clear how or why he thinks it will be helpful. It will only become clear later in the book. The murder investigation isn’t particularly fascinating either, but it does allow for Fletch to have some great interactions with Inspector Flynn – a character who is so interesting, Macdonald wrote some books about him as well.

Macdonald’s writing remains very entertaining, but the overall story and the mysteries in Confess, Fletch don’t hold my interest as much as the first Fletch book did.

DRACULA by Bram Stoker

Here’s where I lose any credibility. Long ago, I picked up a copy of a book that had Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein on one side, and if you flipped it over and upside down it had Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula on the other. I read Frankenstein first and thoroughly enjoyed it – but then when I flipped it around to Dracula, I was disappointed. Revisiting the book years later, I once again found it a slog to get through. 

The events of Dracula take place over the course of six months, and it feels like it takes about six months to read through it. It goes on and on with massive blocks of text that are presented as if they’re journal entries written (or spoken into a phonograph) by the characters. Clearly these are very literary-minded people with photographic memories, as they can tell you every detail of every interaction they have, including line-for-line quotes of everything each person said. Even the vampire expert who takes every opportunity to grind an exciting moment to a halt so he can deliver a monologue. The epistolary style is an interesting approach to take for a book like this, but as I make my way through Dracula I start to wish it had been written in a more traditional way, as it would have allowed for some streamlining of the plot. The novel has a page count of 418, and Stoker really could have wrapped it up in much less time than that.

Dracula is a well regarded classic and it gave us one of the greatest characters in horror history. I don’t enjoy reading it, but I respect it.

JANE EYRE by Charlotte Brontë

A 19th century romance novel is not something I would usually choose to read, and prior to this my only familiarity with Jane Eyre was from seeing promos for film and TV adaptations – which left me befuddled as to why such a story would receive so many adaptations. After reading Charlotte Brontë’s book, I understand why people love to see this story brought to the screen. Jane Eyre is a fascinating character, with a surprising (for 1847) tendency to speak her mind and stand up for herself. The book introduces her as an orphaned child, in the care of abusive family members, then follows her off to a charity school for girls, where she eventually becomes a teacher. As an adult, she takes a job as a governess to a young girl at a mansion called Thornfield Hall – where she gradually finds herself falling for the master of the house, Edward Rochester. Despite the fact that he’s old enough to be her father and the book repeatedly mentions that he’s not exactly pleasant to look at. He’s also a peculiar fellow, and at times reads like a character who was written with Hugh Grant in mind (except for the looks) long before Grant was born. When Jane considers another man, he happens to be one of her cousins. So questionable choices are being made all over the place.

There is some strange stuff going on in Jane Eyre, which is why I was interested in giving it a chance. I was left wanting to read academic insight into the psychology of these characters, and I’m sure there are plenty of essays out there to be found.


As I said, there are strange things in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Like the fact that Edward Rochester keeps his first wife - Bertha Antoinetta Mason, who is said to have gone mad – locked up in the attic of his mansion. That character is shown so little respect in the pages of Jane Eyre, author Jane Rhys decided to bring sympathy to the character by telling her back story in her 1966 novel Wide Sargasso Sea. At the start, this book sort of mirrors the structure of Jane Eyre: Antoinette is introduced as a child, living on a rundown Jamaica estate with her ill brother, unhappy mother, and freed slaves. When things get even worse for the family, Antoinette goes off to spend time in a convent school. And once she reaches adulthood, Edward Rochester comes into her life. Rhys isn’t nearly as fond of Rochester as Brontë was.

Wide Sargasso Sea is an interesting companion piece to Jane Eyre, and the story of Antoinette feels like one that needed to be told.


Now we reach the book that gave me reason to revisit Dracula, read Jane Eyre, and seek out Wide Sargasso Sea along the way. Gwendolyn Kiste’s Reluctant Immortals centers on the characters Mina Harker from Stoker’s Dracula and Bertha Antoinetta Mason from Brontë’s Jane Eyre – and reveals that both women are still alive in 1967, living in the Hollywood area and spending every evening watching movies at the nearest drive-in theatre. Mina and Bee were both said to be dead by the end of the original novels they appeared in, but here it’s said that we shouldn’t have believed everything we read in Dracula and Jane Eyre, as those books were packed with lies. Which made reading those books before digging into Reluctant Immortals unnecessary, but I don’t regret doing it. And the idea that Dracula was packed with lies makes a lot of sense to me, given that the storytellers in that book had total recall that I already found to be highly suspicious.

Mina is still around in ‘67 because Dracula turned her into a vampire. Bee is still around because Kiste reveals there was something supernatural going on in Edward Rochester’s attic. Something that not only made Bee immortal, but Rochester as well. Bee has been far away from Rochester and Jane Eyre for many years by the time this story begins… but she will cross paths with them again as this story plays out. Mina has kept the cremated remains of Dracula trapped in multiple urns, but of course those ashes will be spilled and reform by the end of this novel, forcing both Mina and Bee to face off with the men who ruined their lives while also causing them to live forever. While doing this, they also have to make their way through California’s hippie scene.

Unlike Dracula and Jane Eyre, Reluctant Immortals is an action-packed story that’s told in quick, short sentences. Which made it a bit of a relief to read after making my way through the huge blocks of text in Stoker and Brontë’s novels. Some may see this book as being disrespectful to the classic works that inspired it, but I just found it to be a fun ‘60s horror adventure story. It’s worth a read.


Authors Dustin McNeill and Travis Mullins take an in-depth look at the first forty years of the Halloween franchise in this book, covering the making of the original Halloween and ten of its sequels from script to screen. The chapters covering the making of the films are broken up by at least one interview with someone who was involved with the franchise in some capacity. Those interviewed include cinematographers (Dean Cundey, Rob Draper, Phil Parmet, Brandon Trost), writers (Larry Rattner, Michael Jacobs, Daniel Farrands, Robert Zappia, Kevin Williamson, Larry Brand), directors (Tommy Lee Wallace, Dominique Othenin-Girard), editors (Patrick Lussier, Glenn Garland), an executive producer (David Thwaites), and novelization writers (Richard Curtis, Nicholas Grabowsky, John Passarella). I’m always interested in hearing the behind-the-scenes details on the making of movies like these, and McNeill and Mullins did a great job of digging up information. Now we just need a follow-up book to cover the two sequels that have been released since Taking Shape was published.


You can read my review of Reign of Chucky at Arrow in the Head or on Life Between Frames.


I find it fascinating when details are revealed about movies my favorite filmmakers weren’t able to get into production, and the same goes for details on unmade sequels to popular franchises. So when it was announced that Taking Shape authors Dustin McNeill and Travis Mullins had put together a follow-up novel that provides information on more than twenty scrapped additions to the Halloween franchise, Taking Shape II became an instant “must-read” for me. The book covers thirty years of Halloween history, going back to alternate versions of Halloween 4 and covering various failed attempts at making new Michael Myers movies all the way up to Halloween Returns, the last Halloween project to fall apart at Dimension Pictures. Along the way, we get information on unmade reboots, Hellraiser crossovers, sequels to Rob Zombie’s duology, Halloween: Resurrection follow-ups that would have featured the return of Busta Rhymes’ character, and yes – not surprisingly, since the franchise was at Dimension – the possibility of back-to-back direct-to-video sequels.

Reading the Taking Shape books left me with an even greater respect for producers Moustapha and Malek Akkad, and Taking Shape II made me disappointed that Halloween spent so many years stuck at Dimension, where the boss was a fool.

ANOTHER SPECTER TALE by Constantine Furman

With A Specter Tale, author Constantine Furman introduced readers to the supernatural horror villain Natali Stretesky. She was a murderer in her living days, until she was taken out by a mob of vigilantes. Now she haunts the town of Layford, Nebraska as the Layford Specter. The basic set-up was quite similar to the story of Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare on Elm Street – and the set-up for Another Specter Tale brings to mind A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, because this time around Natali possesses the body of the new kid in town. Just like Freddy did in his first sequel. As the story plays out, there are also elements that bring to mind Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, another sequel about a possessed teenager.

The new kid in this case is 18-year-old Lyuda Yermakova, who has moved to Layford with her father a year after her mother passed away. Lyuda befriends orphaned outcast Maggie Kraft, who happens to be the daughter of Natali’s high school BFF. When Maggie turns up dead, Natali is so outraged that she decides to possess Lyuda and use her body as a vessel to carry out some deadly vengeance. But Maggie isn’t the only person around with a connection to Natali’s past. The school principal used to date Natali back in high school, and when he realizes that the Layford Specter has infiltrated his school he seeks the help of a priest. It’s a simple story that doesn’t feel very eventful – at least up until the climactic sequence – but it’s interesting enough and the book is a very quick read.

I was a bit disappointed that Furman didn’t use the presence of people who had a connection to the living Natali as a way for us to learn a lot more about who she was as a person and why she became an unrepentant killer. We really don’t find out much about Natali that we didn’t already know from the first book. We know who her high school best friend and boyfriend were and there’s a very short exchange about how her relationship with the boyfriend ended, but I was hoping the story would go much deeper than that. I know there are more books in this series, so maybe Furman is saving that information for later.

DELIVERANCE by James Dickey

James Dickey’s Deliverance is a case where the film adaptation has become so iconic, it’s difficult to keep it out of your mind when looking through the book. I first saw Deliverance at a young age and loved it, so I sought out the source material – and didn’t get very far into it before giving up because it wasn’t as engaging as the adaptation. The book starts too early, spending a lot of pages digging into the professional and home life of narrator Ed Gentry, who is about to head out on a canoe trip with three friends. The film starts at the exact right spot: when the group has reached its backwoods destination.

Giving Dickey’s novel another try and getting through the everyday life preamble, I reached the point where the film begins – and from there, found that the adaptation was extremely faithful. The letdown here is that I had hoped to get further information from the book, more insight on the cast of characters, especially the two men who assault Ed and his friends as they try to make their way down the river. But the book doesn’t tell you much about the other characters, and nothing about the assailants, that isn’t in the movie. That’s because it’s told entirely from the perspective of Ed, so we only know what he knows, and we only know what he’s thinking at any given time.

So I didn’t get what I was hoping for in that area, but I did find that Dickey was capable of spending a whole lot of time describing activities most authors would have written about in a more simple manner, like going down a river in a canoe or climbing a cliff.

Deliverance is a gripping story that is very well told. I probably won’t read the novel again, but there are definitely more viewings of the movie ahead of me.

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