What Makes You Read a Book? What Catches Your Eye? Try My “3-Paragraph Test!”



European cover. 

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty picky when it comes to reading. Especially when I’m looking for fiction to read. Too many books and so little time—isn’t that how the saying goes? So you can imagine when it comes to novels. I mean, lots of time goes into reading one. Novels are a commitment. And I love commitment. I do. But not to just any Tom, Dick, or Harry.

So about five or so years ago, I decided I needed to be realistic about not being able to read EVERY published novel on the planet before I die. So I came up with my “3 Paragraph Test”—I’d use the first few paragraphs to test a book’s opening (the most important part) to see if its prose style, voice, etc. are up to my standards for that commitment.

I’ll even go a page or so…or, if I want to be fair and I can’t glean enough from the first few paragraphs, then I’ll go a whole first chapter, if it’s short.

So, I wanted to start sharing with you books that had beginnings I really like!—Ones that pulled me in and made me want to keep reading. Let me know what you think!


“It’s better to kill people at the end of their psychology. They have nothing left to offer themselves or the world.

Not that I should have been killing anyone just then. Having fed less than twenty hours ago I should have wakened slaked and mellow, indifferent to blood for at least a week. Instead I’d woken in a state of—-not to put too fine a point on it—complete fucking pandemonium. Voices in the head (repeating, God only knew why, ‘He lied in every word…He lied in every word’…), earthquake in the heart, Sartrean nausea in the soul—and thirst as I hadn’t felt in centuries. Not the domesticated version, to be fobbed off with a half-dozen pouches from the fridge. No. This was The Lash, old school, non-negotiable, the red


US cover.

chorus that deafened the capillaries with its single moronic imperative: GET LIVING BLOOD NOW, OR DIE.”

Glenn Duncan, By Blood We Live, 2014

Dracul—The Prequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula—Is Finally Here!


My preordered copy of the book just arrived and with it came some interesting information I’d like to share with you! This is the prequel to Dracula, co-written by Bram Stoker’s (author of the 1890 novel Dracula) great-nephew and manager of his estate—Dacre Stoker!



“The Man Upstairs”—A Horror Story by Ray Bradbury, from Dark Carnival & The October Country…


“The Halloween Tree”—art by Ray Bradbury.

The October Countrythat country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…

—Ray Bradury

In celebration of fall, I am always drawn back to the fiction of the late Ray Bradbury—it’s a gross understatement (quantitatively and qualitatively) to say Bradbury taught a generation to write…he’s still teaching us to write. His style lightly macabre, flickered like a candle; it was also wondrously garish, carnivalesque. Ray Bradbury, like Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, and Shirley Jackson, was a stylist. And we don’t see many of those in any generation. I relish them. I envy them. I yearn for them, innocent—like that shiny red apple bobbing in the basin—its poison silent, and resting.


The Man Upstairs

Ray Bradbury, 1947

Originally appeared in Bradbury’s 1947 collection Dark Carnival. It was collected eight years later in The October Country (1955). (See book cover images above.)

‘The red glass did things to Mr. Koberman. His face, his suit, his hands. The clothes seemed to melt away. Douglas almost believed, for one terrible moment, that he could see inside Mr. Koberman. And what he saw made him lean wildly against the small red pane, blinking.’

He remembered how carefully and expertly Grandmother would fondle the cold cut guts of the chicken and withdraw the marvels therein; the wet shining loops of meat-smelling intestine, the muscled lump of heart, the gizzard with the collection of seeds in it. How neatly and nicely Grandma would slit the chicken and push her fat little hand in to deprive it of its medals. These would be segregated, some in pans of water, others in paper to be thrown to the dog later, perhaps. And then the ritual of taxidermy, stuffing the bird with watered, seasoned bread, and performing surgery with a swift, bright needle, stitch after pulled-tight stitch.

This was one of the prime thrills of Douglas’s eleven-year-old life span.

Altogether, he counted twenty knives in the various squeaking drawers of the magic kitchen table from which Grandma, a kindly, gentle-faced, white-haired old witch, drew paraphernalia for her miracles.

Douglas was to be quiet. He could stand across the table from Grandmama, his freckled nose tucked over the edge, watching, but any loose boy-talk might interfere with the spell. It was a wonder when Grandma brandished silver shakers over the bird, supposedly sprinkling showers of mummy-dust and pulverized Indian bones, muttering mystical verses under her toothless breath.

“Grammy,” said Douglas at last, breaking the silence, “Am I like that inside?” He pointed at the chicken.

“Yes,” said Grandma. “A little more orderly and presentable, but just about the same. . . .”

“And more of it!” added Douglas, proud of his guts.

“Yes,” said Grandma. “More of it.”

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“The Woman with the ‘Oily Eyes’”— A Vintage Vampire Story by Dick Donovan, 1899

Art by Glen Chadbourne.

The Woman with the ‘Oily Eyes’

Dick Donovan

Originally published in in the collection Tales of Terror by Dick Donovan (Chatto and Windus, 1899). The collection also included “The Sequel to the Woman with the Oily Eyes”.

The Story as Told by Dr. Peter Haslar, F.R.C.S. Lond…

ALTHOUGH often urged to put into print the remarkable story which follows I have always strenuously refused to do so, partly on account of personal reasons and partly out of respect for the feelings of the relatives of those concerned. But after much consideration I have come to the conclusion that my original objections can no longer be urged. The principal actors are dead. I myself am well stricken in years, and before very long must pay the debt of nature which is exacted from everything that lives.

Although so long a time has elapsed since the grim tragedy I am about to record, I cannot think of it even now without a shudder. The story of the life of every man and woman is probably more or less a tragedy, but nothing I have ever heard of can compare in ghastly, weird horror with all the peculiar circumstances of the case in point. Most certainly I would never have put pen to paper to record it had it not been from a sense of duty. Long years ago certain garbled versions crept into the public journals, and though at the time I did not consider it desirable to contradict them, I do think now that the moment has come when I, the only living being fully acquainted with the facts, should make them known, otherwise lies will become history, and posterity will accept it as truth. But there is still another reason I may venture to advance for breaking the silence of years. I think in the interest of science the case should be recorded. I have not always held this view, but when a man bends under the weight of years, and he sniffs the mould of his grave, his ideas undergo a complete change, and the opinions of his youth are not the opinions of his old age. There may be exceptions to this, but I fancy they must be very few. With these preliminary remarks I will plunge at once into my story.

It was the end of August 1857 that I acted as best man at the wedding of my friend jack Redcar, C.E. It was a memorable year, for our hold on our magnificent Indian Empire had nearly been shaken loose by a mutiny which had threatened to spread throughout the whole of India. At the beginning of 1856 I had returned home from India after a three years’ spell. I had gone out as a young medico in the service of the H.E.I.C., but my health broke down and I was compelled to resign my appointment. A year later my friend Redcar, who had also been in the Company’s service as a civil engineer, came back to England, as his father had recently died and left him a modest fortune. Jack was not only my senior in years, but I had always considered him my superior in every respect. We were at a public school together, and both went up to Oxford, though not together, for he was finishing his final year when I was a freshman.

Although erratic and a bit wild he was a brilliant fellow; and while I was considered dull and plodding, and found some difficulty in mastering my subjects, there was nothing he tackled that he failed to succeed in, and come out with flying colours. In the early stage of our acquaintance he made me his fag, and patronised me, but that did not last long. A friendship sprang up. He took a great liking to me, why I know not; but it was reciprocated, and when he got his Indian appointment I resolved to follow, and by dint of hard work, and having a friend at court, I succeeded in obtaining my commission in John Company’s service. Jack married Maude Vane Tremlett, as sweet a woman as ever drew God’s breath of life. If I attempted to describe her in detail I am afraid it might be considered that I was exaggerating, but briefly I may say she was the perfection of physical beauty. Jack himself was an exceptionally fine fellow. A brawny giant with a singularly handsome face. At the time of his wedding he was thirty or thereabouts, while Maude was in her twenty-fifth year. There was a universal opinion that a better matched couple had never been brought together. He had a masterful nature; nevertheless was kind, gentle, and manly to a degree.

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Who Is She?



Someone is slaughtering women in Boston. For nearly a decade, a dozen bodies have been found in and around the city. Missing their heads and all internal organs, the corpses quickly dissolve into a foul necrotic sludge soon after discovery. The authorities have no leads. The public is terrified. The local papers have named the killer The Headsman, but it is not a man who is behind these deaths.


When the 13th victim is discovered, something is obviously different. This body does not decompose as rapidly as the others. Evidence shows that the neck has been ravaged, the body cavity has been scraped clean, and not one single drop of blood remains. Above all, though, authorities are able to gather enough clues to identify her and set them on the path to find her killer.


Her name is Maan-Daa. Once she was a young peasant Khmer woman expecting her first child. Now, centuries later, in a country far from the land of her birth, she has become a ravenous creature out of the darkest legend. Hungering for the flesh of innocents, she will unleash hell upon the citizens of Boston and blood will flow in the streets.


Coming Soon from Pete Kahle!


“Sometimes They Come Back”—An Early Horror Story by Stephen King, 1978


Art by Betamaxxmusic @ deviantart.com inspired by poster for the 1991 film based on Stephen King’s story “Sometimes They Come Back”. 

Jim Norman’s wife had been waiting for him since two, and when she saw the car pull up in front of their apartment building, she came out to meet him. She had gone to the store and bought a celebration meal—a couple of steaks, a bottle of Lancer’s, a head of lettuce, and Thousand Island dressing. Now, watching him get out of the car, she found herself hoping with some desperation (and not for the first time that day) that there was going to be something to celebrate.

He came up the walk, holding his new briefcase in one hand and four texts in the other. She could see the title of the top one—Introduction to Grammar. She put her hands on his shoulder and asked,

‘How did it go?’

And he smiled.

But that night, he had the old dream for the first time in a very long time and woke up sweating, with a scream behind his lips.

His interview had been conducted by the principal of Harold Davis High School and the head of the English Department. The subject of his breakdown had come up.

He had expected it would.

The principal, a bald and cadaverous man named Fenton, had leaned back and looked at the ceiling. Simmons, the English head, lit his pipe.

‘I was under a great deal of pressure at the time,’ Jim Norman said. His fingers wanted to twist about in his lap, but he wouldn’t let them.

‘I think we understand that,’ Fenton said, smiling. ‘And while we have no desire to pry, I’m sure we’d all agree that teaching is a pressure occupation, especially at the high-school level. You’re on-stage five periods out of seven, and you’re playing to the toughest audience in the world. That’s why,’ he finished with some pride, ‘teachers have more ulcers than any other professional group, with the exception of air-traffic controllers.’

Jim said, ‘The pressures involved in my breakdown were extreme.’

Fenton and Simmons nodded noncommittal encouragement, and Simmons clicked his lighter open to rekindle his pipe. Suddenly the office seemed very tight, very close. Jim had the queer sensation that someone had just turned on a heat lamp over the back of his neck. His fingers were twisting in his lap, and he made them stop.

‘I was in my senior year and practice teaching. My mother had died the summer before—cancer—and in my last conversation with her, she asked me to go right on and finish. My brother, my older brother, died when we were both quite young. He had been planning to teach and she thought…’

He could see from their eyes that he was wandering and thought: God, I’m making a botch of this.

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