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: 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: 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.

Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

It started with strange news reports out of Russia, stories of people seeing … something and going mad, performing grotesque acts of violence on themselves and others. Then the incidents are reported in Alaska, whatever it is seems to be moving slowly westward, and no one seems to know what it is. Five years later, and the world may as well be empty. Malorie has been living in isolation with her two young children. The only rule: don’t look outside. The children have never been outside their sealed-off house without blindfolds. But now, they have to leave, and their best chance for safe refuge lies twenty miles away, down the river. Calorie will have to row the distance blindfolded, with another but her and her children’s senses to guide her. But as they set out, it soon becomes clear that something is stalking them.

This was my first read of 2018, and my god, it scared the crap out of me! The book is told entirely from Malorie’s point of view, and since she cannot look at what is happening without going mad, neither can we. Malerman forces the reader to go through the book blinded, relying on the information Malorie is able to glean using her other senses. The tension in this book is thick enough to cut with a knife. Even in story form, the lack of visual data is terrifying.

The story moves back and forth between when the incidents are just beginning, and five years later when Malorie is making her journey downriver towards (what she hopes is) safety. Malerman let’s the tension build slowly, and keeps the reader in a state of near panic for most of the book. I read Bird Box in one sitting because I literally could not stop reading. Malerman is clearly a master of the horror genre, I can’t wait to read his other books.

Book Review: Prudence and Imprudence by Gail Carriger

 

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Prudence and Imprudence by Gail Carriger

Okay, these books are pretty much a sequel to Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, so if you haven’t read those books, you probably aren’t going to get a lot out of them. However, you really should read that series, it is one of the best examples of paranormal-steampunk out there. But for now, if you keep reading, there’s going to be spoilers for the Parasol Protectorate series.

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So I was a huge fan of the previous books featuring Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Conall Maccon. Carriger manages to give us stuffy Victorians, steampunk gadgets, werewolves, vampires, and tea fanatics, and make the entire thing funny, entertaining, and (most astonishingly) not ridiculous.

Prudence and Imprudence continue the story two decades later, featuring (naturally) Alexia and Conall’s metanatural daughter, Prudence (though she prefers to go by Rue). Having been raised by a combination of her werewolf father, preternatural mother, and vampire spy master Lord Akeldama, Rue has had anything but the typical Victorian childhood. Fortunately, Rue is her mother’s daughter and thrives in the atypical. When Lord Akeldama presents Rue with her very own Dirigible for her birthday, she naturally takes to the skies with her best friends Percy and Primrose Tunstell, and Quesnel leFoux. Through the two books, she travels to first India and then Egypt, her time heavy with the style of adventures Alexia Tarabotti would have dived into in her day.

It is always hard to continue a series in the same world, but with new characters. People inevitably long for the good old days with the characters they know and love. Carriger does a great job of modernizing her story (to the 1890s, let’s not get crazy), and keeping enough of the old guard about to make the entry into Rue’s world both novel and satisfying (it doesn’t hurt that there are so many ageless characters to choose from). It is gratifying to see what became of some of our favorites in the intervening two decades, but Carriger keeps the focus on the newest generation, and does a wonderful job of it. Rue is definitely her mother’s daughter, though she would never admit it. Seeing Ivy’s twins grown up and rebellious in their own ways is fun. And of course, we have our requisite bad boy in Quesnel leFoux.

What I especially like in this series is Carriger’s willingness to tackle the dark sides of the Victorian era. She deals frankly (though in a steampunk fantasy way) with the violence the British wrought in India and their other colonies, and with the Victorian tendency to see people other than themselves as less than human. Rue marches straight into the teeth of these issues, and the books are the better for it. So many Victorian-era books glide over the problems with the era. I’m not opposed to romanticism on the face of it, but these books came through like a breath of fresh air.

If you were a fan of the Parasol Protectorate series, you should definitely check these books out. If you haven’t read the first series of books, this review is probably highly confusing. Go read ’em!

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: Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix

Paperbacks from Hell: A History of Horror Fiction from the ’70s and ’80s by Grady Hendrix

I remember walking into a used bookstore or into my local library book sale as a teenager and heading straight for the most lurid, monstrous, kitschy horror titles I could find. I cut my teeth on 666 and The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. I read and reread Swan Song and Stinger by Robert McCammon. Cult horror was an important part of my childhood (started off by writers like R.L. Stine, Lois Duncan, and Christopher Pike). How could I resist revisiting something so fun?

Grady Hendrix clearly loves the topic. He revisits cult favorites and forgotten (some rightfully so) tales. In chapters broken down by existential threat (evil children, murderous animals, demons, haunted houses, D&D, etc), he brings the best and the worst of cult horror novels into the light of day. I especially enjoy the attention he gives to the cover artists of these books. Often the unknown and unsung heroes of the genre, these frequently anonymous artists created some absolutely stunning artwork to accompany some truly weird books.

Unfortunately, my TBR may never be the same. There were so many books included in this that I had never heard of but now absolutely have to read. Fortunately, a suggested reading list graces the back of the book, allowing you to ease into the world of cult horror. And ease I probably should. It’s been a while since I went to the forgotten paperbacks section of my local used bookstore. I’m rather looking forward to rifling through the titles, hoping to find a gem with a macabre and melodramatic cover, just waiting to be rediscovered.

Book Review: The Elementals by Michael McDowell

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The Elementals by Michael McDowell

I have to shout a thank you out to the folks at The Nocturnal Reader’s Box, and of course Grady Hendrix and Paperbacks from Hell for introducing me to this author. Nocturnal Reader’s had to post a picture of the very pretty book you see above, and then after reading the blurb, I simply had to read it. Hearing Hendrix sing McDowell’s praises in Paperbacks from Hell cemented my decision.

This book features two wealthy Mobile, Alabama families, the McCrays and the Savages. The two families have been friends for years, and the McCray daughter is married to the surviving Savage son. But the Savages are an old and strange family, and after the traumatic funeral of the Savage matriarch, the two families descend on their shared vacation spot: Beldame. Beldame consists of three identical old Victorian houses on a spit of sand in the Gulf of Mexico. One house traditionally occupied by the McCrays, another by the Savages, and one that is slowly being consumed by the sand dunes. But as the days drag by, it becomes more and more obvious that the abandoned house isn’t so empty. Something is occupying the crumbling building, something evil, something hungry . . .

This is easily one of the best horror books I’ve read in a long time. My biggest regret is that I didn’t read any of McDowell’s books years ago (The Elementals was originally published in 1981). I am very glad that McDowell’s book are starting to garner fresh attention, both through Paperbacks from Hell and Valancourt Books’ gorgeous paperback editions.

The Elementals is delightfully scary without needless gore. I’m not some wilting flower, but I have to say that the recent popularity of “torture porn” style horror simply made the genre gross and not very much fun. There were a couple of places in this book where I was so utterly creeped out that I found myself holding the book as far away as possible, because it was freaking scary but I still needed to find out what happened. This is the reading equivalent of watching a scary movie through your fingers, and it totally works.

Horror buffs who’ve not read McDowell’s books should start now. Right now. McDowell is an incredibly talented writer  who chose to use his gifts for cult horror books, and I think we should all be grateful. Expect a review of Cold Moon Over Babylon, also by McDowell (and one of the books in October’s Nocturnal Reader’s Box), in the near future.

 

Bok Review: The Creeps by Fran Krause

the creeps

The Creeps by Fran Krause

So somehow I missed Deep Dark Fears, the first book in this collection. But you had better believe that it is now on my TBR. Originally based in the Tumblr-verse, Krause collected people’s secret fears and illustrated them in innocent looking cartoon format. Deep Dark Fears was understandably popular and led to a second book featuring even more creeps, as well as a few original, longer stories, also fully realized in cartoon form.

The fears on display (some relayed anonymously, some not) run the gamut from more-or-less logical (swallowing spiders while you sleep, blerg), to anatomically unlikely (eyeballs popping out while sneezing), to the humorous (your cat ratting you out to the police). Some are funny, others are thought-provoking, others are downright creepy. All in all, this is a fun little collection that illustrates the uniqueness and the similarities in each of us.

Anyone looking for a quick afternoon’s read will likely by delighted by this fun little book. As I said earlier, I cannot wait to get my hands on the first book, and I dearly hope a third is in the works.

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