Book Review: Differently Morphous by Yahtzee Croshaw

Differently Morphous by Yahtzee Croshaw

For centuries, the Ministry of Occultism has worked in the shadows, keeping the world safe from otherworldly elder gods, “tainted” magic users, and monsters of all kinds. All this gets upended when a group of gelatinous refugees from another dimension garner a storm of media attention. Suddenly the Ministry of Occultism is thrown into the worst sort of attention. As awareness of shoggoths, er, fluidics suffuses the world consciousness, the Ministry finds itself on the wrong side of the political correctness debate. When a serial killer starts targeting fluidics, the agency’s top (read:only) field agents mget act quickly to save lives and prevent a PR Armageddon.

Croshaw is an author known for his irreverent, biting humor. His wit is on display here as he tackles the subject of political correctness in a bizarre, yet strangely relatable context. Before I get further, I am going to come down firmly on the side of political correctness. It takes little effort to take other people’s feelings and cultural history into consideration, and adjust your behavior accordingly. There’s nothing noble in adhering to the old days or old eays if that is just an excuse to be an uncaring asshat.

Now, as with any progressive movement, there is always pushback from people who feel uncomfortable with change, and who would rather not have to accept things they find disagreeable. Now, the line between acceptable and unacceptable in society is based on a lot of factors… not to long ago, being gay was officially considered a mental illness and criminal. The question recidivists often ask is where will acceptance end? When does it stop being acceptance of cultural or sexual differences and start becoming enabling of harmful behavior? The primary example pulled out for this is female genital mutilation, many cultures consider it a vital part of a girl’s development into a woman, but it has been recognized by many as harmful and cruel. What view takes precedence?

Croshaw heads into this thorny problem head on, and with his typical humorous twist. He, like South Park writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone, chooses to highlight he ridiculousness of both positions, leaving the reader bouncing against different levels of right and wrong: how can anyone hate the fluidics? They seem so polite and helpful? Do demons really require equal rights? Etc. Some people deride this as riding the median, but I think that exposing the flaws in both viewpoints forces people to examine their own thoughts and feelings.

Wow. That review got a lot more serious than I intended. Let me sum up by saying that this is an intelligent and entertaining story of monsters, bureaucracy, and modern life. It will make you laugh out loud and think deep(ish) thoughts. In a world were (justifiably) the subject of political correctness is an unchanging wall of seriousness and resentment, it is refreshing to look at the lighter side.

The book is currently available as an Audible original, meaning it is an audio book read by Croshaw himself. This is a role he is well suited for, after his years fronting the animated videogame review blog, Zero Punctuation. Fans of Yahtzee Crowshaw’s previous books, or fans of Christopher Moore and/or A. Lee Martinez are sure to enjoy this book.

Book Review: Dead Men Whistling by Graham Masterson

Dead Men Whistling by Graham Masterson

This is the ninth book in the Katie Maguire series, so this review will probably contain some minor spoilers for the previous books in the series. However, I read this book without having read the others, and was able to enjoy it on its own merits.


Garda detective Katie Maguire is still reeling from her last brutal case; her dog, Barney, was nearly beaten to death, and the man responsible for his condition has managed to avoid prosecution for his crimes.

When a Garda officer is found in a local park beheaded with a tin whistle sticking out of his neck, Katie Maguire finds herself thrown into a case that could bring down the entire Garda from within.

This is a dark, grim murder mystery, along the lines of Jeffery Deaver. Masterson was a horror writer prior to trying his hand at mysteries, and it shows. Beyond the gore, this is a book that doesn’t look away from the horror and terror of its plot. Many would try to come at the darkness of the plot from the side, or from any safer angle. Masterson sets off headlong into the jaws of the beast, and takes the reader along with him.

My biggest problem with the book is that it’s noisy. There are numerous subplots banging around in the background, and sometimes it is hard to find the thread of the main plot through all the chatter. Perhaps this is the inevitable result of a long running series, and those who have read the previous books may find more in hose subplots than I did.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: A Lady in Shadows by Lene Kaaberbøl

A Lady in Shadows by Lene Kaaberbøl

This is the second book in the Madeleine Karno series, so there will likely be spoilers in this review for the first book in the series. Or, if you’re like me and didn’t read the first book, Lady in Shadows is enjoyable as a standalone.


In 1894, the president of France was assassinated. In the wake of the riots and unrest that followed, the body of a young woman was discovered on the streets of Varbroug brutally mutilated in a fashion reminiscent of the Jack the Ripper murders which plagues London only a few years before. Madeleine Karno is struggling to continue her work as a female pathologist in a very male world. She has been accepted as the first female student at the University of Varbroug, but as a physiologist, not a medical student. With the brutal murder causing greater and greater amounts of sensation in the press and panic in the populace, Madeleine finds the investigation focused more on the victim’s status as a prostitute rather than who may have killed her. Determined to see justice done, Madeleine finds herself traveling farther and farther into the city’s dark secrets, and closer to a brutal killer.

This was a great historical mystery. The tone is dark where most entries in this genre tend towards the cozy. Madeleine Karno makes for a great protagonist. She is smart and driven, but not Wonder Woman. She makes mistakes, she falls into self doubt, and her struggles to reconcile her ambitions with her femininity seem very real and very relatable. This is no dilettante society dame dabbling in murder, or the ice queen career harpy we see so often. Rather, Karno knows she has brains and wants to use them, but is also trying to figure out how to balance her engagement to a German professor, the demands of running a household and (shudder) the possibility of children with realizing her goals of becoming a pathologist in her own right. This is a struggle that nearly every employed wo,an will recognize.

Those who enjoy period mysteries, especially featuring a strong and relatable female lead, should check this series out.

An audio book copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Indian Summer by Rick Hautala

Indian Summer by Rick Hautala

An Indian Summer has a small town Maine town making full use of the gloriously warm days before the chill of autumn sets in for good. Billy Crowell and his friends are playing home run derby at the local park and pretending their middle school is out for the summer when the town fire alarm sounds; a forest fire has broken out nearby. Trying to get a better look at the fire, Billy finds himself roped into helping keep the flames back. But as he makes his way along the fire line, he becomes lost, and the woods he’s known all his life are suddenly unfamiliar, dark, and threatening. After stumbling upon the bloody, ravaged corpse of a deer, it soon becomes clear that something terrifying lives in these woods…something edging closer and closer.

This is a great little horror novella that emulates Stephen King’s style more than a little. We have an idyllic small town, the fuzzy warmth of times gone by, and a young protagonist who must face a terrifying evil that lives under the idyllic surface. Most of the adults in the story seem to know that something is wrong, but without understanding or appreciating the depths of the darkness in their midst.

My biggest complaint about this story is that I felt there could have been more. I love a good scary short story, and I’m really coming to love the novella length tales, like Widow’s Point by Richard Chizmar. Most of the time, shorter is better; it allows a maximum of horror with none of the detritus that can take away from the terror. But here, I felt there was room enough for a novel-length book. I’d love more back story, more local lore I’d love more time with the strange and mysterious Ellie. I want the creeping terror that Joe Citro gave us in Shadow Child. I guess if the worst thing I can say about a book is that I wish there was more of it, that’s pretty good.

Book Review: The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

This is Holmberg’s fourth entry into her Paper Magician universe. This is not a direct sequel, rather The Plastic Magician explores new themes and magics within the same universe as the Paper Magician Trilogy. This means you can read this book as a standalone without having read the others. But I’m going to say right now that if you haven’t read the original trilogy, then you are seriously missing out.

In this story, we leave magicians Ceony Twill and Emery Thane behind and instead follow Alvie Brechenmacher, an American girl with German parents who desperately wants to be a polymaker, that is- a magician who works with plastic. As polymaking is the newest and least understood magic, there is an entire world waiting for discovery, and Alvie, naturally brilliant and creative, wants to make her mark on the world. When she manages to apprentice to the world’s foremost polymaker, all of Alvie’s dreams seem to be coming true. But when she and her mentor develop a groundbreaking new invention, old rivalries emerge and Alvie learns that the world of magician can be a dangerous one.

This was a great addition to the Paper Magician world. Alvie is a fantastic protagonist–unapologetically brilliant, kind, creative, and more than a little socially awkward. I also enjoyed how, despite the book’s historical setting, everyone seems to take Alvie’s intellect as a given, and as an asset. Alvie occupies the brilliant inventor trope that is so often the territory of male characters, and she does it well. I always love a female protagonist who is comfortable with their own intelligence.

In fact, my biggest complaint would be that the antagonist of this book, while amoral and devious, exists more as a witless foil than a true challenge. While he certainly succeeds in disrupting things in the book (as he must), once his master plan was revealed, I felt a bit let down (really guy, that was your plan? And then what?!).

In all, this is a fun YA book that will appeal to a wide age range. Fans of the previous books will enjoy this one, and anyone who thinks this book looks good should check out the Paper Magician, like, yesterday.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Buried Symbol by Jeffery L. Kohanek

The Buried Symbol by Jeffery L. Kohanek

At birth, every child in the empire is branded with a rune, which determines the path their life will take. The chosen follow their assigned path and thrive in their life’s calling. Then there are the unchosen, those who, at birth, are not favored by the gods. These are the equivalent of an untouchable caste, occupying the lowest rungs of society. They have no prospects, and no hope to improve their lot in life. Brock is one of these unfortunates, but he is determined to be more than his birthright dictates. Obtaining a counterfeit rune, he sets off to become one of the Empire’s ruling class. At the academy, he uncovers a lost form of magic, and secrets that could bring the Empire itself to its knees.

This book has a lot of potential. As a debut offering, there are fantastic bones to this story. The magic and caste systems are original and nicely developed, the protagonist is interesting and sympathetic, and the world is fleshed out and full of wonder and danger. The writing and pacing are a bit rough, but the underlying talent is there. With a book or two more of experience under his belt, Kohanek could make quite a name for himself in the fantasy genre.

The book is certainly designed to appeal more to young adult audiences, but older readers enthusiastic about fantasy will probably enjoy themselves as well.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan

The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan

Michael Simmons is a reasonably successful London art dealer. When one of his premier artists, Maggie Turner, gets involved with a violent, abusive man, Michael shows himself as a true friend, helping her get back on her feet and settled into her dream house, a remote, ancient stone cottage on the Irish coast, where she can rediscover her art again. At Maggie’s housewarming party, one of her friends decides to take advantage of the age of the house and breaks out a Ouija board. The party-goers unwittingly unleash something with their meddling, a being who calls himself The Master, and who slowly begins to take over Maggie’s mind and body.

This is a fantastic premise for a story. We have the broken, struggling to recover Maggie, and faithful friend and mentor Michael. We have the rugged and isolated Irish coast. We have a malevolent force, focused on the ragged psyche of Maggie, and the slow descent of a passionate woman into madness. The concept of the story is interesting on the face of it, add in the supernatural elements and this is a story with true haunting potential (see what I did there?).

Unfortunately, the story is told entirely from Michael Simmons’ point of view, and we see very little of Maggie’s struggles. In fact, we really only get to see Maggie in bits and pieces after her abusive relationship culminates in a hospital stay, at her housewarming party, and a few months later, when she has gone mad. All the horror and suspense of what must have occurred is pretty much nullified by the distance afforded by the narrator. As such, it is very hard to get into this book or to invest in Maggie or in Michael as characters.

In sum, there is the kernel of a truly terrifying book in here, but the author would have to let the reader into Maggie’s home and her headspace before it would be effective. Horror requires a narrator who cannot get away, who has no escape. Michael’s distance from the heart of the story gives us room to sidestep the horror.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Brigtly Burning by Alexa Donne

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

Here you have it, folks: Jane Eyre … IN SPACE!

How could I resist? I’ve just come from reading a shockingly good retelling of Jane EyreWITH ZOMBIES! And I’m certainly not the type of person who thinks the classics are sacrosanct, so in the immortal words: why the hell not?

This telling takes us to a dystopian future where the remainder of mankind lives in orbit around the earth after a supervolcano eruption has rendered the planet uninhabitable. However, that was centuries ago, and no one expected their orbital exile to last so long. The orbiting ships are breaking down, resources are scarce, and no one knows what awaits them on Earth…

Jane here takes the form of Stella Ainsley, and intelligent, kind, yet tough orphan who has been living on the poor farming ship Stalwart since she was banished there as a child by her Aunt Reed. Determined to escape the daily struggle of life aboard the Stalwart, Stella takes a governess job aboard the private ship Rochester. But the ship has a reputation; some say it is haunted. The Rochester’s broody, mysterious captain certainly doesn’t help matters, either.

This is a retelling that manages to separate itself from the original. I really loved the transfer of scene to ships orbiting the Earth; the sci-fi aspect was quite interesting and very well done. I also admire the writer’scourage in diverging in a few big ways from the original plot of the book, which is not an easy thing to do in such a beloved classic as Jane Eyre. In all, I think the author’s additions to the story really made it her own, and allowed her own voice to really show through. It’s always nice to be surprised by a story you think you know.

This book is aimed squarely at the YA crowd. If that isn’t one of your preferred genres, best give this a miss. But if you tend to love YA, and especially when there’s sci-fi in the mix, then this book is right up your alley!

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Air Raid Killer by Frank Goldammer

The Air Raid Killer by Frank Goldammer

Dresden, 1945, is a city on the edge. The Third Reich is in its (well deserved) death spiral, the Russians are encroaching to the east as American forces push through from the west, air raids are constant, and wartime rationing and an influx of refugees have left the city on the brink of starvation. Amidst all this chaos, a brutal killer stalks the streets. Max Heller is a Detective Inspector with the Dresden police, a man seeking justice in a country descended into paranoia and chaos. As the body count grows, Heller must not only find a way to stop a serial killer who strikes when the air raid sirens sound, but to ensure justice in a city still under the thumb of Hitler’s fanatics.

This book was fantastic, a noir in every sense of the world. Goldammer has painted a world in the deep blacks, grays, and browns of a world torn apart by war, an ancient city beset on all sides by enemies and destructive forces. Goldammer has painted us a vivid picture of a city under seige, and the hardships its people must endure. In the midst of starvation, overflowing refugee camps, and the brutality and paranoia of Hitler’s officials, one serial killer is something most people are content to overlook, to let slide without investigation as the realities of war seem so much mire dire. Max Heller is the perfect detective to place into this mess. His overarching sense of duty and justice compel him to see the case resolved, to ensure that he can do a small part to defend his world against true anarchy.

The story is compelling, with actual historical events woven through the plot. I finished the book in one day, more accurately one sitting. This is an engaging read, infused with the unreality and paranoia of the time period. Max Heller isn’t the most fleshed out protagonist out there, but he doesn’t have to be. Rather, he represents our “better angels” fighting a losing battle against horror.

Fans of WWII era stories, dark mysteries, or serial killer-related plots will really like this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Fury from the Tomb by SA Sidor

Fury from the Tomb by SA Sidor

In 1888, young Egyptologist Romulous Hardy is offered a vast sum of money by a reclusive millionaire to search for ancient tombs in Egypt. Hardy jumps at the chance to get out of the library and into the field, but soon finds himself dealing with things no one could have forseen. After tragedy befalls his expedition, Hardy is charged with bringing the mummies he recovered (six in all, though one sarcophagus is twice as big as any normal human) back to LA. When his train is waylaid in the Arizona desert, he learns that his cargo may be more dangerous than he ever suspected, and that cursed mummies are only the tip of the iceberg.

This was a fun, entertaining, and wild ride. Told in the style of old weird fiction stories, Sidor brings quite a bit of HP Lovecraft and The Mummy to the table. The latter half of the book, which takes place in Arizona and Mexico is evocative of Weird West stories. There are monsters and mummies and cultists and vampires. There are cowboys and banditos and Pinkertons and train heists. There’s cannibalism and curses and ancient legends. This book is a mashup of everything that makes weird fiction fun.

In fact, my biggest complaint is that in including everything, the story loses focus in places and drifts along, detached. Sometimes the actions runs along at breakneck pace, and sometimes it stutters to a halt to gaze for a while at the supernatural scenery.

Still, anyone who is looking for a good time with some good, old-fashioned pulp will probably enjoy this book. I mean, just look at that epic cover art! If the cover sings to you, then more than likely the book will as well.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.