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Doctor Strange Epic Collection: A Separate RealityDoctor Strange Epic Collection: A Separate Reality by Roy Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a newcomer to Doctor Strange in the comics, I picked up this collection on the suggestion of a knowledgeable friend. Instantly, I learned things about the character I never knew. For instance, in the early days, Doctor Strange wore a mask that covered his entire head in order to protect his identity! He even went by the pseudonym Stephen Sanders for a brief time! He has a magic-wielding girlfriend from another dimension named Clea, and unlike in the MCU films, Wong has no magic but is instead Strange’s manservant, who does things like fix meals, chauffeur, and clean Strange’s cloak of levitation for him!

The story arcs collected here feature some of Doctor Strange’s most iconic classic villains: Nightmare, the Undying Ones, Shuma-Gorath, Sise-Neg, and Silver Dagger. They’re all good fun, with a healthy dose of psychedelic surrealism whenever Strange enters another dimension of reality. Modern comics readers who are used to more naturalistic dialogue might find the highly dramatic and excessively declarative dialogue of writers Roy Thomas, Gardner Fox, and Steve Englehart over the top, but it was the style at the time and there’s a certain period charm to it. The art is excellent, particular that of Frank Brunner in the later issues.

This is a very enjoyable collection that I would recommend for Doctor Strange fans and newcomers alike. It’s pricey, but the book is worth it for the full-color art. I look forward to reading more Doctor Strange in the future!

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Josh’s Worst Nightmare

A while back, I had a fun conversation with author Josh Schlossberg for the Josh’s Worst Nightmare podcast about death, decay, aging, and transformation. How can these topics be “fun”? You can find out for yourself now that the podcast is available! Click here to listen!

Worse Angels

Worse AngelsWorse Angels by Laird Barron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WORSE ANGELS is another exceptional novel in author Laird Barron’s Isaiah Coleridge series. Tasked with determining whether a death that was ruled a suicide might actually be a murder, Coleridge finds himself at odds with yet another shady corporation, the Redlick Group, and their secretive supercollider project that may have a darker purpose than scientific research.

In the course of his investigation, Coleridge runs up against Redlick’s spokesman/enforcer Tom Mandibole, who also happens to be a recurring devilish character in Barron’s horror fiction. (I last encountered Mandibole in the 2015 novella X’S FOR EYES.) It makes for a fun Easter egg, creating a link between Barron’s cosmic horror tales and his more mainstream Isaiah Coleridge novels, and positing, perhaps, that they exist in the same shared world.

I don’t know if more Isaiah Coleridge novels are on the way — as of this writing, I haven’t heard anything — but I eagerly await more. These novels are witty, brutally violent at times, brimming with a barely glimpsed darkness, and highly enjoyable.

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The Scariest Part: Nick Roberts Talks About THE EXORCIST’S HOUSE

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Nick Roberts, whose latest novel is The Exorcist’s HouseHere is the book’s description:

In the summer of 1994, psychologist Daniel Hill buys a rustic farmhouse nestled in the rolling hills of West Virginia.

Along with his wife and teenage daughter, the family uproots their lives in Ohio and moves south. They are initially seduced by the natural beauty of the country setting. That soon changes when they discover a hidden room in the basement with a well, boarded shut and adorned with crucifixes.

Local legends about the previous owner being an exorcist come to light, but by then, all Hell has broken loose.

This 1990s horror novel is perfect for fans of family thriller books, stories of demonic possession, exorcism fiction, the occult, or thrillers like The Exorcist, A Head Full of Ghosts, and The Amityville Horror.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Nick Roberts:

Before we go any further, just know that I will not be telling you what the scariest part of my new novel, The Exorcist House, is, so don’t get your hopes up. Go into this blog with low expectations on discovering a spoiler, and we’ll both have a good time.

I have two issues with this premise of discussing the “scariest part.” The first is that finding something scary is subjective. What scares me may not scare you. If I were to describe what I believe the scariest scene in my book is and you think it’s dumb, then I just lost your potential business.

On the flip side, if I were to tell you about that same scene, and my description alone gives you the willies, it would totally lessen the intended effect had you just stumbled upon it and were completely caught off guard. So, moving forward, don’t plan on any specifics, but I may discuss types of scenes that cause me to pull my exposed feet back under the covers. But before we get to that stuff, please allow me to indulge in a bit of a backstory.

My first novel, Anathema, was written in the summer of 2019. I had two goals going into it: finish the book no matter what and stay to true to my vision. Writing it was strenuous, exhilarating, stressful, euphoric, and a complete learning experience, but I completed it. The final product was a dark, deeply personal story that I thought would not be for everyone. J. Ellington Ashton Press published it in February 2020, and then COVID hit.

Every promotional event that I had lined up was cancelled as the world shut down. I was bummed, but also a little relieved. As an introvert, the thought of presenting at the West Virginia Book Festival or hosting book signings was anxiety-inducing.

The one fear that I did not have was the fear of what people would think of my book. I was proud enough of telling the exact story that I set out to write — no matter how bleak — to not worry about what most people would think of it. Anathema sold relatively well for a small press, and the reviews were positive. At the 2020-2021 Horror Authors Guild Awards, it won Debut Novel of the Year.

My second book, The Exorcist’s House, was a much easier baby to bring into this world. Like the summer before, I made the commitment to sit down at 10 AM every day and crank out at least 1,000 words. In a few short months, I had a first draft. I attribute this relatively painless birth to already having a set writing routine in place and promising myself along the way that I was going to have fun with this one.

The barebones synopsis is that a family moves into an old farmhouse in West Virginia and finds out that the previous owner was an exorcist. Personally, exorcism stories or tales of demonic possession scare the shit out of me. You can keep your serial killers, your zombies, your Universal horror movie monsters — what really gets under my skin is the thought of some unknown entity taking over my body from within. Or worse: taking over a loved one, forcing me to watch their deterioration into madness and/or eternal damnation. No, I don’t believe in demons, but I find that my darkest fears are the most irrational.

We have now arrived at what I consider to be the scariest part to my rendition of an exorcism novel. (Thanks for hanging in there if you’ve made it this far.) The process of demonic possession has been historically broken down into four degrees: infestation, oppression, obsession, and possession. The beginning stages have always been the ones that have given me the shivers, such as characters noticing objects in their house having been moved or smell strange odors or feel uncanny temperature changes. These initial tell-tale signs not only foreshadow the horror that is to come, but they also show the sadistic nature of this invasive presence. Like a cat playing with a wounded mouse, the evil spirits reveal just enough to terrify you but not enough to convince you that you’re not just going mental.

For example (fine, I’ll give you a specific scene, damn it), in one of the beginning chapters of The Exorcist’s House, a contractor who was hired to do some repairs on the house before the new family moved in, got a little too close to the basement. A few weeks later, and he’s on a new job halfway across the state, but whatever it was that he encountered at the last job (he was positive it was a grinning face in the darkness of that cracked basement door) has followed him to his new location.

After a long day of roofing, he’s hitting the bourbon as hard as he can until that hideous face is blurred from his consciousness. Just as he’s about to pass out in his motel room, he hears a scratching at the metal grate near the ceiling. He opens his eyes and sees the face looking down at him in bed, smiling with glowing eyes.

See, I just ruined my own night just now. In going against my better judgement and revealing a specific scene from my novel — one that creeps me out even writing it — I have set myself on edge. As I type this in my bedroom, I am trying not to look at the vent in the wall. I’m trying not to focus on the slivers of darkness and what could be in there. Watching. Smiling. Waiting.

The Exorcist’s House: Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Nick Roberts: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Nick Roberts is a resident of St. Albans, West Virginia and a graduate of Marshall University. He is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the Horror Authors Guild. His short works have been published in The Blue Mountain Review, Stonecrop Magazine, The Fiction Pool, Haunted MTL, The Indiana Horror Review, and anthologies by publishers such as J. Ellington Ashton Press and Sinister Smile Press. His novel Anathema won Debut Novel of the Year at the 2020-2021 Horror Authors Guild Awards. His second novel, The Exorcist’s House, was released in 2022 by Crystal Lake Publishing.