CHANGELESS: A Review

Remember the first time you heard the 1976 LP, Boston? It blew you away. Swirling twin guitars, a sound that mixed Led Zep with Yes and The Beatles, hard rockin’ songs with a melody, high harmonies, soulful singing by Brad Delp, and one mean ass rock and roll organ.

PrintRemember the anticipation as you waited (and waited and waited and waited) for Boston’s second LP? And then, it finally arrived! Don’t Look Back. So you tossed it on your turntable (for those of you under 30, Google it) and you listened to the LP. And about halfway through Side Two you started to get a sour feeling in your belly. The album was good … but was not great. It was … the same, but not better. After two years, this is what you got? So, you listened to it again. For the next few days you walked around thinking: “Oh man, this sucks.”

Welcome to CHANGELESS, the literary equivalent of Boston’s Don’t Look Back.

CHANGELESS is the sequel to SOULLESS.(Read the Soulless review) It was Bram Stoker mixed with the sensibility of Jane Austen set in Charles Dickens’ London. It was a world in which vampires, werewolves and ghosts were accepted in English society. Author Gail Carriger deftly pulled off a screwball comedy of manners.

So what’s wrong with CHANGELESS? Nothing really, except the disarming freshness has worn off. The wackiness of an English woman without a soul who can disarm vampires and werewolves with a thrust of her silver-coated parasol and sitting in council with Queen Victoria discussing the “vampire problem” is no longer new. Carriger has done little to move the story (and her world) into something else. We are stuck in a world that we already know, in a story that seems stale and mundane. Maybe that’s my own fault, since I found Soulless so delightful I am guilty of creating false expectations. I have an sneaking suspicion that two years from now, I will rate this book higher than I do right now. 

Like Don’t Look Back, it’s more of the same thing … more than just a mere shadow, but it serves to remind you how brilliant the initial offering is.

4 palmettos

SCARIEST BOOKS I’ve Ever Read

(Listed in Alphabetical order)


 

1984 by George Orwell (1949)
1984 by George Orwell

This is scary because many aspects of this novel are no longer fiction.

Read the news … NOT the American media, who rarely tells you the true stories of what is happening in then world. Information insulation is another form of control. 

 
 CARRION COMFORT by Dan Simmons (1989) 

Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons
A great vampire novel, with a twist. The vampirism featured here is psychic, not blood-letting . A small group of people have an Ability, where they can possess someone mentally and use them to do their bidding. They also use their Ability to Feed, prolonging their lives by mentally drawing sustenance from people.

The battle among the Users with the Ability for power leads for a gargantuan plot and a cast of more than two dozen characters, from Nazis to southern sheriffs, to Holocaust survivors to Hollywood moguls to CEOs of the world’s largest corporations. Riveting and compelling.

Come on HBO … how about a mini-series?????

GHOST STORY by Peter Straub (1979)

Ghost Story by Peter StraubAn old-fashioned, c-r-e-e-p-y ghost story. Four elderly New England men are haunted an event in their past … they got away with murder … or did they?

As they ask in the novel: “What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?””I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me… the most dreadful thing…”

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Jack Ketchum (1989)

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
Not for the faint-hearted! The Girl Next Door is a dark and twisted story told through the eyes of a preteen boy. Set in the 1950s, it is a fictionalized account of one of America’s grizzliest true crime stories. D-i-s-t-u-r-b-i-n-g.

 
 
 
I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson (1954)

The novel that got me hooked on dark fiction and dystopian novels back when I was fifteen years old.
RobeI Am Legend by Richard Mathesonrt Neville is the apparent sole survivor of a pandemic whose symptoms resemble vampirism. It is implied that the pandemic was caused by a war, and that it was spread by dust storms in the cities and an explosion in the mosquito population.

The book follows Neville’s daily life in Los Angeles as he attempts to comprehend, research, and possibly cure the disease, to which he is immune. His past is revealed through flashbacks: the disease claimed his wife and daughter, and he was forced to kill his wife after she seemingly rose from the dead as a vampire and attacked him.

Forget the most recent Hollywood version of this novel starring Will Smith … READ THE BOOK!!

THE HOT ZONE by Richard Preston (1994)

This non-fiction bio-thriller is about the origins and incidents involving viral hemorrhagic fevers, partThe Hot Zone by Richard Prestonicularly ebola-viruses and marburg-viruses. You may begin to compulsively wash your hands and stay away from EVERYONE with a cough. Stephen King called the book, “one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read.”

And the U.S. govt. is bringing two ebola victims to America as I write this.

HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)

House of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiA young family moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane and discovers something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside!

One of the oddest, most challenging books you will read in a looong time. Bewildering and claustrophobic.

IT by Stephen King (1986)

It by Stephen KingI debated about putting The Shining in this place, but I opted for It.

King’s most epic horror story that pushes ALL the right buttons … misfit kids, bullies, disappearing children and a malevolent clown!

THE KILLER INSIDE ME by Jim Thompson (1952)

The Killer Inside Me by Jim ThompsonLou Ford, a 29-year-old deputy sheriff in a small Texas town appears to be a regular, small-town cop leading an unremarkable existence; beneath this facade, however, he is a cunning, depraved sociopath with sadistic sexual tastes. Horrific and darkly humorous.

ONE SECOND AFTER by William Fortschen (2009)
One Second After by William R. Forstchen

The scariest book I have ever read. Period.

Electromagnetic pulses can result from natural phenomena and, in much greater strength, from nuclear blasts. The result of an EMP is the destruction of unprotected electronic circuitry. With no electronics -vehicles won’t run; no phones, computers, radios, or televisions; no electricity. America descends into the Middle Ages.

In One Second After, we follow a small North Carolina mountain town quickly crumble. The lack of food and medicine leads to mass death. Cities turn against the countryside; friends and neighbors turn against each other in a desperate struggle to survive.

Read it and began your stockpiling.

SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson (1962)

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
This book single-handedly helped ban DDT across the world, resulting in the death of millions of people due to malaria which resurfaced. This was the book that started the environmental movement and it’s scary that people still defend this.

 

 

 

CHARLESTON’S GHOSTS – an interview with author James Caskey

Recently I had the opportunity to talk to Savannah author, James Caskey, about his new book, Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City (Manta Ray Books, 2014). Caskey is a kindred spirit – tour guide, researcher, storyteller and curious about the historical truth, no matter how many toes and sensibilities get stepped on.   charleson ghostsWe met several years ago when Caskey was the writer and producer of a television program, Phantoms of History.  He kindly asked me and my wife, Rebel Sinclair, to be a part of the show, which illustrated (and de-constructed) some of Charleston’s most famous ghost stories. Since that time, we have managed to find several opportunities to meet and talk (usually over food and spirits.)  


JONES: I understand why you wrote your first book, Haunted Savannah. You are a Savannah tour guide and operate a ghost tour business, so the book was a natural extension of your research for your tours. What inspired you to expand your research to other cities?

CASKEY: I’ve always been a storyteller. When I was younger I was an artist—I actually went to art school, and even in that creative medium, my paintings had a strong linear narrative. My art told historical stories, even the portraiture. Then in 2001 I got introduced to the world of guided walking tours, and it was just a natural fit for me: I had already been telling ghost stories for years, and it was sort of funny that there was this flash like: Wait, I can get paid for this?

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James Caskey

I had been researching ghost stories even before I opened Cobblestone Tours, and what I found surprised me: not only were most of the ghost stories which other guides were telling as accepted truth sometimes wrong, but their history was frequently way off base, as well. The nighttime tour landscape back then was dotted with fictional tales of monsters (presented as fact) that lived in lairs under the cemetery, that sort of thing. I wanted to do better than that. I began writing initially as a way of giving my own employees a study manual for their stories, my version of ‘Cliffs Notes for Ghost Tours.’ I found that I really enjoyed the research aspect, and loved sharing the stories because the true history was so much better than the bogus folklore, most of the time. True life is almost always better than fiction. Well, my little hobby grew from there. I was three years into this process when I realized I was writing a book, a volume which eventually became Haunted Savannah. It published in 2005. This is a very roundabout way of explaining that once the Savannah book was in stores, I really missed that ‘researching and writing’ process. It took me a long time to muster up the courage to tackle another major writing project. Once I decided to do it, though, I really wanted to engage a city with which I was completely unfamiliar. I mean, New Orleans is over eleven hours away by car, one way, and I knew very little about it. It was a big leap. The book is very much about that journey and exploration, and fortunately I get a lot of feedback from readers that they find that level of honesty refreshing. There was definitely a fear of failure, and some moments of confusion, mixed in with the joy of unveiling an exotic and personally unknown place. New Orleans has some great stories.

JONES: Your books are as much history as they are ghost stories. What are the major problems you encounter in this type of research?

CASKEY: Well, you have a certain type of person who prefers the erroneous folklore: some just really want their pre-conceived notions confirmed. However, the documented history I present in my books is unvarnished, and often less tidy than the version you might hear on a ghost tour. It can be an uncomfortable thing, to eviscerate a legend that another person believes as fact. I know from our discussions that you experienced the same exact thing regarding Lavinia Fisher when you wrote Wicked Charlestonthe fictionalized wedding dress, the erroneously high body count, etc. People will really argue for the campfire tale sometimes, even if you can back your assertations up, point by point. I want to present both sides: the legend AND the facts. If people just want a recounting of the bogus folklore, well… those books are already out there. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story and folklore can be very entertaining, but you’re also going to learn the truth from my books. I don’t research and write to satisfy people’s expectations: my writing is really a process of discovery.

JONES: Why did you choose Charleston as the subject for your third book?

CASKEY: Charleston SC is one of the most tragic and historically violent places in North America. It is haunted by more than just ghosts: secession, slavery, great fires, yellow fever, and a uniquely brutal timeline. There was no question whether or not I was going to write about it, the only question was when.

JONES: Are there major differences in the paranormal history between New Orleans, Savannah and Charleston? If so, what are they?

CASKEY: Honestly, I’m more fascinated by the similarities. Each location once had a huge Native American population, if you go back to before their contact with Spanish and English explorers. There was a horrific genocide in the American South, starting in the mid-1500’s, on a scale which is scarcely conceivable today. The American Indian populations were largely eradicated. All three towns had their formation shortly after that cauldron of disease, war, and death. It’s no wonder so many Southern seaport cities have such haunted reputations!

JONES: What was your favorite Charleston ghost story before you wrote the book? Is it still your favorite?

CASKEY: I probably liked the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon the most, going in. I still love it, but there are other stories which sparked my interest a little more, like Madame Talvande and the Sword Gates on Legare Street. Charleston has such a wonderfully twisted history, and is a fertile ground for storytellers.

JONES: What was the most surprising story you uncovered during your research about Charleston?

CASKEY: There are more than a few good candidates, but I would have to say that the story that most surprised me was the Tavern on East Bay. It’s just this tiny little liquor store; looking at it from the outside, one would never expect the supercharged ghost story it holds within. I talked to owner Gary Dow for hours, and it was by far the most entertaining day I’ve ever had as a researcher. The real surprise was his attitude toward the supernatural things happening to him on a nearly daily basis: he is fiercely protective of his ghosts. If you think the TV program ‘Ghost Adventures’ is the way to deal with spirits, you know, taunting and aggressive, well, Gary will politely take you to school on that subject. He likes his ghosts, and by every indication, the feeling is mutual.

JONES: What is the most haunted location in Charleston, and why?

CASKEY: I would have to say that block on Queen Street between Meeting and King is the most haunted, if you’re asking about concentration of stories. The Mills House, Poogan’s Porch, and Husk all have stories. Following a hunch, one day I had lunch at 82 Queen in that same block, and I casually asked my server if that spot was haunted. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Yes, of course it is.” I do know that area burned in the Great Fire of 1861, so perhaps the high number of hauntings in that area has something to do with that tragic event.

JONES: Any plans to research and write about other cities?

CASKEY: Yes, although I plan on taking a little break, I definitely would like to continue writing. There are a number of cities on my haunted hit-list.

JONES: Other than reading your new book, what are some of the must-do things to do during a visit to Charleston?

CASKEY: Eating and drinking have to be high on the list for anyone visiting Charleston. It’s a city famous for its food and hospitality. During one of my research trips while writing the book, I observed a family checking in to the hotel that had packed coolers full of cheap processed lunchmeat and sodas, and I couldn’t help but think that they were missing a major component of their vacation. It was oddly sad. To me, to not partake of the local cuisine would be like visiting Nashville (Music City) and only listening to ‘bubblegum pop’ the entire time. Other than that, I’d recommend taking a cultural tour of Charleston. Try a carriage or walking tour, and a couple of different house museums or heritage sites. The Old Slave Mart Museum on Chalmers Street is especially worthwhile. Oh, and you simply have to experience sunset at a rooftop bar. The view of the church-steepled skyline is pretty spectacular.


Contact James Caskey at JamesBCaskey.com.   To take a Savannah ghost or pub tour, contact GhostSavannah.com.