Book Review: The Fisherman by John Langan

The Fisherman by John Langan

The Blurb:

In upstate New York, in the woods around Woodstock, Dutchman’s Creek flows out of the Ashokan Reservoir. Steep-banked, fast-moving, it offers the promise of fine fishing, and of something more, a possibility too fantastic to be true. When Abe and Dan, two widowers who have found solace in each other’s company and a shared passion for fishing, hear rumors of the Creek, and what might be found there, the remedy to both their losses, they dismiss it as just another fish story. Soon, though, the men find themselves drawn into a tale as deep and old as the Reservoir. It’s a tale of dark pacts, of long-buried secrets, and of a mysterious figure known as Der Fisher: the Fisherman. It will bring Abe and Dan face to face with all that they have lost, and with the price they must pay to regain it.

This is a classically-built lovecraftian story. The horror builds slowly, the pace of the story allowing the reader to spend plenty of time anticipating the cosmic horror slinking towards them out of the shadows. Through Langan’s writing, the woods of upstate New York take on a timeless, sinister aspect, the very mountains radiating an unfathomable malice. As the pace of the story picks up, the weirdness amplifies in stride, providing he reader with the kinds of cosmic chills Lovecraft was so well known for.

I love these kinds of stories. The kind of evil that simply is, that threatens us simply because we are so insignificant as to be beneath its notice. Langan has also successfully brought this horror to a human scale with sympathetic characters. The evil is unknowable, but it’s effects on ordinary people are not.

Fans of HP Lovecraft and weird horror will definitely enjoy this finely crafted story. Horror aficionados in general will find a lot to love here as well.

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

Charles Thomas “Tommy” Tester is a Harlem native who understands the uselessness of a black man working hard for a good wage in New York City. Unlike his bricklayer father, who’s body is broken and wallet empty from long hours of backbreaking work for meager pay. Tommy prefers to hustle for his money, the mystique of a carefully chosen suit and an old guitar doing a good portion of the legwork for him. If he sometimes gets involved with the arcane and the occult, at least he’s making a loving sufficient to support himself and his aging father. But after an encounter with a sorceress in Queens, events begin to spiral out of control. Tommy has attracted he attention of dangerous beings, and he, New York, and reality itself are in grave danger.

I’m a huge fan of HP Lovecraft’s stories, though the man’s personal beliefs are frankly odious. I love the concept of unknowable cosmic horrors, of elder gods so ancient and vast that human beings (always so full of ourselves) are essentially bacteria in comparison. However, Lovecraft’s blatant racism shouldn’t be ignored, and the best modern Lovecraft derivatives take this into account rather than trying to smooth over it.

This is a retelling of one of Lovecraft’s famous short stories, but the narrative takes us along the flip side of the original. This is a story about race and arcane magic, of injustice and revenge, of the dark, foreign, and “lesser” discovering beings who make their oppressors less than nothing.

Thus may be a book about elder gods and magic, but it is also a brutal and and all-to-relevant story of those pushed out to the margins, and what happens when they are pushed too far.

Book Review: The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

Nolan Moore is, for better or for worse, that “ALIENS” guy. A former Hollywood screenwriter and renaissance man, he now hosts a popular web series The Anomaly Files, where he seeks out evidence in support of theories not supported my mainstream science. For their latest episode (and a make-or-break moment for the show) Nolan and the Anomaly Files crew head to the Grand Canyon, where a Smithsonian expedition in 1909 is rumored to have discovered a hidden cave filled with wonderful and terrible things. When, with a bit of luck they do discover the cave, they find that what it contains is far more dangerous and horrifying than they could ever have guessed.

This was a fantastic book, the story somewhere between science fiction and horror. The giants of this particular genre– Michael Crichton, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child deliver stories that are out here, couldn’t possibly be true…but while reading, some small part of our lizard brain whispers “maybe.” The Anomaly treads along that fine line, with occasional lateral movements into Lovecraftian territory.

Perhaps my favorite part of this story is its self-awareness. Nolan makes a living trying to prove the conspiracy theorists right, but isn’t truly a believer himself. When confronted by a situation that represents both his life’s ambition and most primal nightmare, he has no roadmap for how to react to the situation.

If you like your genetics with a side of dinosaurs, or your rainforests with a touch of retroviral monsters, then dive into a story that gives us archaeology sandwiched between survival horror and an unknowable, unsympathetic force.

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

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: A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess

A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess

Spoiler Alert: This is the second book in the Kingdom of Fire Series (you can read my review of the first book, A Shadow Bright and Burning, here). There are definitely going to be spoilers for the first book in this review. 

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So after defeating Korozoth, The Shadow and Fog, Henrietta Howell finds herself more or less (increasingly less) accepted by the sorcerer community. The ward that protected London is gone, Rook is slowly turning into a monster, she’s still of magician stock, she’s not the chosen one, the remaining Ancient Ones continue to devastate the country, and oh yeah, R’hlem the Skinned Man is demanding she be turned over to him. And engraving that demand in the flesh and bones of her countrymen. So, things are not exactly going smoothly.

When Henrietta’s research uncovers a possible way to defeat the Ancient Ones, her fellow sorcerers are hesitant to jump, as it seems magician magic is needed to defeat the monsters. Henrietta must risk herself, her friends, and her country to uncover the secrets of the Ancient Ones and stop their reign of terror.

I really enjoyed the first book on this series. Cluess’ intelligent use of sexism and classism to construct her magical world was cannily done. Her use of lovecraftian imagery against a Jane Eyre background was excellent, and provided some truly creepy imagery.

Poison does neglect the sharp societal insight of the first book, and the shadow-haunted visuals of the previous story are toned down a bit here. The first was atmospheric and gothic, this book lends itself more to adventure. Less a Jane Eyre and more a Jane Austen.

That is not to say that I didn’t like the book. Cluess keeps the plot running at a frenetic pace (I finished the book in a single day). She also has provided her main characters room to grow and mature. Henrietta herself is a fantastic heroine, flawed and idealistic, traumatized and striving. It is easy for characters like this to become so involved in navel gazing that the reader loses interest, but Cluess manages to keep Henrietta in our hearts.

The requisite love triangle is still there (grumble, grumble, grumble), but the dynamics change throughout the book. In the interest of maintaining a spoiler-free review, I won’t go into detail. Suffice it to say that no one comes out smelling like a rose.

So, if you enjoyed the first book, you’re likely going to enjoy this one as well. Anyone seeking an intelligent YA fantasy series should certainly add this one to their TBR list (but definitely start with the first one).

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

Book Review: Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

In 1977, the four teenaged members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club–Leader Pete, brainy Kerry, tough Andy (call her Andrea and die), and Nate–and their dog, solved their last case. The sightings of lake monsters and rumors of hauntings around an old house set in the middle of a deep lake turned out to be nothing more than a man in a mask.  But 13 years later, the four amateur detectives are shadows of what they once were, underachieving, mentally unstable, hair trigger violent, and (in one case) dead. Long suspecting that something about their last case was not what it seemed, the surviving members of the group (and new dog, Tim) head back to the scene of the hauntings to discover the source of their nightmares. Set against an enemy who is no man in a mask, the damaged Blyton Summer Detective Club faces down ancient monsters and an imminent apocalypse. 

 Meddling Kids starts off facing the camera with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and remains in that pose for the entirety of this story. This is a geeky book, full of references both subtle and overt to many disparate aspects of cult horror (“fuck Salem”, indeed). 

The book is touted as a mashup of Scooby Doo and H.P. Lovecraft, and largely lives up to the blurb. The four main characters are recognizable as rearranged bits and pieces from the Scooby Doo set, and the elder God and unnamable horror aspects take liberally from H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. With a plot like that, you have a good idea where things are going before you start the book. However, Cantero manages not to make Meddling Kids feel tired, including enough surprises and humor to make the read enjoyable. 

This is a book created for fans of cult horror.  If you’re looking for something that lovingly messes with your favorite genre, add this book to your to read list!

Book Review: After the End of the World by Jonathan L. Howard

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After the End of the World by Jonathan L. Howard

This is the second book in the Carter & Lovecraft Series, and so there are going to be massive, earth-shattering spoilers for the first book in this review. Go ahead and read the first book, then . This review will still be here when you’re ready.

 

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I’m a huge fan of Jonathan L. Howard’s books. In his Johannes Cabal series, you found yourself cheering on a cold, calculating sociopathic necromancer (you can read my review of The Fall of the House of Cabal here). The Carter & Lovecraft series introduces us to Emily Lovecraft (descendant of H.P. Lovecraft) and Daniel Carter (descendant of Randolph Carter). After the events of the last book, Carter and Lovecraft have found themselves in the “unfolded” world, where H.P. Lovecraft wasn’t so much a writer of weird fiction as a historian. Rather than Providence, Rhode Island, they now live in Arkham, Massachusetts, and Innsmouth, Kingsport, and Dunwich are right down the road.

Weird deaths and disappearances, machinations of the elder gods, and fraught archaeology are the leas of their problems however. It seems in this world, the Third Reich developed nuclear weapons in 1941, wiped out Russia in a single blow, and ended the second world war before it had really begun. As a result, the United States finds itself an ally of the Nazis, Britain is an inconsequential former power, France is in ruins, and much of Europe and Asia are ruled by Axis powers. Oh, and there are Nazis. No matter how picturesque Arkham may be compared to Providence, Lovecraft and Carter are determined to “fold” reality back into proper place and ensure that the Nazis don’t rise to become a modern global power.

The first book in the series was a bit long an meandering, but it did have a wonderfully brilliant character in Emily Lovecraft. Most books that use H.P. Lovecraft’s writings as inspiration tend to overlook the author’s racism and his discomfort with women. I’m a fan of Lovecraft’s work, but he is certainly problematic as a person. Yes, yes, he was writing in the ’20s and ’30s when racism was the norm, but he did express admiration for parts of the Nazi agenda prior to his death. And there’s more than one of his stories that reveals his dread of thinking of the “pure” white race being diluted and corrupted with “lesser” races/species.

Howard takes a full on look at this aspect of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing. He doesn’t dismiss or excuse it, and through the character of Emily Lovecraft, he points out these issues, and brings them front and center into the plot.

This is on full display in After the End of the World, where Emily (who is black) finds herself in a world where calling someone a Nazi is unconscionably rude (they prefer to call it the N-word), but where calling her a very degrading world for a black person, which I will not write in this blog, is completely acceptable. More than once, she makes a comment about finding a way back to the real world, so she no longer has “to be nice to Nazis.” If you’ve been watching the news at all in the past year, I’m sure a great many of you share that sentiment.

This book is quite a bit more fun than the previous one. In addition, the parallels to the current political climate in the US and abroad (which I do believe to be intentional on Mr. Howard’s part) make for grim, but fascinating reading. What would it look like if the Nazi’s had remained a world power? If Hitler hadn’t killed himself in his bunker but had lived on to shape the future of the Third Reich? Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think it may look similar to America under the Trump administration.

Jonathan L. Howard fans, especially those who read Carter & Lovecraft, should absolutely read this book. Even if you weren’t the biggest fan of the first book, I find this one to be much more entertaining, and the series deserves anther try. If this book sounds intriguing to you and you haven’t read the previous one, I really do encourage you to read that first, to get to know the main characters a bit better.

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

Book Review: I am Providence by Nick Mamatas

I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Colleen Danzig is an aspiring writer of Lovecraftian fiction. While attending the biggest gathering for Lovecraftian literary types: The Summer Tentacular in Providence, Rhode Island, she finds the hardcore fans more than a little off-putting. When her roommate–a widely admired and equally despised writer named Panossian–is murdered and his face surgically removed, Colleen finds that she is the only one who seems to care about Panossian’s death. Deciding to start her own investigation, she delves into the underbelly of the Lovecraftian fandom, a place where racism and sexism merge with mystical thinking, and more than one convention goer seems to be searching for a book bound in human skin . . .

This is a meta-fiction, a Lovecraft book about Lovecraft folks. There are no cosmic horrors here, though, just the banal horror of truly terrible people. I do like the split narrative between the well-meaning and frustrated Colleen and the dead, decomposing, but still conscious Panossian, which did give the book a touch of Lovecraftian horror. the tone of the book is bitter and snarky, focusing on the trouble that arises when you have too many socially-backward folks in one place. Despite the occasionally sour-grapes-esque tone, Mamatas does bring forward some legitimate problems both with Lovecraft himself and with a subset of his fans (see previous: racism, sexism, etc.).

The plot of the book stumbles at times, switching viewpoints or segueing with little warning. In addition, the various secondary characters tend to be a bit one dimensional, which occasionally makes it difficult to keep these players straight.

The book is quite funny at times, but I would recommend it more for the serious Lovecraft fan, and not a casual reader.

Book Review: Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

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Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

This is A. Lee Martinez’s debut novel, and I recently had the hankering for a reread. I still remember picking it off an end cap in my local library as I looked for something the read over the winter break. The bold title and the one-eyed, tentacled monster on the front had me hooked. I’ve been a huge fan of Martinez ever since.

This book revolves around Duke (a werewolf) and Earl (a vampire), who stumble upon a diner in the middle of the desert that is besieged by zombies. In an effort to earn a couple of bucks and help out Loretta, the diner’s owner, Duke and Earl agree to stick around and do some light repair work. And find the source of the restless dead. As it turns out, Rockwood County has a rather bizarre and supernatural past, and the Law of Anomalous Phenomena Attraction (weird shit pulls in more weird shit) means that things are only going to get stranger and more difficult.

With this book, Martinez set his style as something of an American Terry Pratchett. His style of writing is zingy and humorous, sarcastic and witty. His subject matter tends to be a little out there, whether lovecraftian, sci-fi, sword and sorcery, or what have you. The writing in Gil’s All Fright Diner is a bit rougher than his later work, but nevertheless you can see the promise in the colorful characterizations of Duke and Earl, the flow of the banter, and the arcane twists of the plot.

If you enjoy science fiction, fantasy, or monsters, but would like a light-hearted read rather than something overly serious (and who wouldn’t in these abysmal times?), Martinez’s books are a good bet.

Gil’s All Fright Diner is current;y available for purchase.

Book Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

shadow-bright-and-burningA Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

Henrietta Howel can set herself on fire. Along with all the other problems brought on with self immolation is one unfortunate fact: women in Victorian England aren’t allowed to do magic.

Welcome to a lovecraftian Victorian England, where a witch opened a portal into another dimension, setting free the Ancient Ones, hideous monsters bent on the submission and eradication of the human race. (Male) sorcerers are tasked with trying to hold the monsters at bay, and any magic outside the narrow confines of their purview is punishable by ugly death.

Henrietta Howel grows up in Jane Eyre-esque poverty at a charity school for girls, trying to keep her firestarter tendencies under the radar. But when a visiting sorcerer discovers her magical abilities, the cat is out of the bag. Rather than be put to death, she is brought to London to fulfill an ancient prophecy which will pit her against the Ancient Ones as humanity’s last hope. But is she really the chosen one?

All in all I found this book to be an engaging and fast-paced read. Cluess borrows elements from several sources (Jane Eyre, Harry Potter, and Lovecraft being the most obvious), but she is able to make the combination work (and let’s face it, bringing Jane Eyre into the Cthulhu mythos is not a task for the faint of heart). Parts of the book were genuinely creepy, especially the familiars, humans transformed by the ancient ones to do their bidding. The major flaw in this book comes from the overdone romance angle, as our heroine has not one, not two, but three possible romantic entanglements within the book. Is it too much to ask for the protagonist to stand on her own for a bit before delving into the pathos of teenage love?

Ah well. In all, this book was very enjoyable and I look forward to the next in the series. I think Cluess has a promising future ahead of her.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. A Shadow Bright and Burning is currently available for purchase.