Review ~ A Song for Quiet

A Song for Quiet (Persons Non Grata, #2)

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

Deacon James is a rambling bluesman straight from Georgia, a black man with troubles that he can’t escape, and music that won’t let him go. On a train to Arkham, he meets trouble — visions of nightmares, gaping mouths and grasping tendrils, and a madman who calls himself John Persons. According to the stranger, Deacon is carrying a seed in his head, a thing that will destroy the world if he lets it hatch.

The mad ravings chase Deacon to his next gig. His saxophone doesn’t call up his audience from their seats, it calls up monstrosities from across dimensions. As Deacon flees, chased by horrors and cultists, he stumbles upon a runaway girl, who is trying to escape her father, and the destiny he has waiting for her. Like Deacon, she carries something deep inside her, something twisted and dangerous. Together, they seek to leave Arkham, only to find the Thousand Young lurking in the woods.

The song in Deacon’s head is growing stronger, and soon he won’t be able to ignore it any more.

Why did I choose this book?

Undeniably, H. P. Lovecraft was very influential to the genres of horror and fantasy. He was also racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic. I like the concept of all the people Lovecraft took exception to jumping into his sandbox and adding wings to his castles. I really enjoyed Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom and had heard that Malaysian writer Cassandra Khaw’s A Song for Quiet is another worthy addition to this genre niche.

Ladies of Horror Fiction challenged readers to make their first read of 2019 a female horror author—it was the perfect “excuse” to read A Song for Quiet.

So, what did I think?

Khaw imbues her writing with rhythm which is very appropriate when the main character is a jazz musician. I also enjoyed the little Lovecraft subversions: things like a white cowboy character being described as simian and Arkham being a progressive enough place to allow a black female business owner.

Khaw also does a good job giving shape and physicality to what can often be vague cosmic horror. It’s easy to duck the unimaginable, but Deacon’s visions and the Thousand Young are good and gory. I also like that there is some small measure of hope in this story. I plan on reading more horror this year, but I am a little worried. I think that I have less patience for hopelessness these days.

I enjoyed A Song for Quiet so much that I’m going to have to read Hammers on Bone, the first book on the loose series, in the near future. The first features John Persons, a minor character here, who isn’t quite a person. I am intrigued.

Other Info

Genre: horror
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Release date: August 29, 2017
My copy: OverDrive Read via Tempe Library

Review ~ The Valley of Fear

Cover via Goodreads

The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle

A coded warning sends Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to a country retreat, where they follow a perplexing trail of clues to unmask a murderer — and to break the stranglehold of a terrorist cult. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are some of my favorites. I’m doing a reread of the stories, many of which I haven’t read in a long while, in their narratively chronological order. (This was not my idea—Noonlight Reads set this challenge at the beginning of last year. I wasn’t able to take part then, but I decided to give it a shot starting this year.)

What Worked
Like A Study in Scarlet, The Valley of Fear is split into two parts, the second of which provides background and is set in the United States. What works best is, of course, the initial Holmes mystery. It even provides some Moriarty context, although within the chronology of Doyle’s writing, this story comes over twenty years after Moriarty’s debut (I think) in “The Final Problem.”

What Didn’t Work
So, in 1893 , Doyle writes what he hopes will be his final Holmes story, “The Final Problem.” Just to make sure, he kills Holmes off. He’s tired of the franchise and wants to move on. The public, though, has an insatiable appetite for Holmes (we still do, it seems).  Doyle eventually writes The Hound of the Baskervilles, a retro story, and then officially brings Holmes back from the dead in 1903 in “The Adventure of the Empty House.” Another decade after that, Doyle is still writing Holmes…

In the narrative chronology, the story immediately after The Valley of Fear is “A Scandal in Bohemia.” The second Holmes story published (I believe), “Scandal” is one of the most beloved Holmes mysteries and for good reason. The language and the story sparkle. In comparison, the Holmes portion of Fear feels workman-like and the melodramatic American section feels like a story Doyle would rather be telling.

End of the day, The Valley of Fear *is* Sherlock Holmes and it does add to the cannon with Moriarty tidbits. It’s a bit better than many of the secondary works that will come later when Doyle finally does write his last Holmes story.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, public domain, originally published 1914
Genre: mystery

Mini Reviews, Vol. 12

alt text The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. A. Hoffmann

E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote some weird stuff. This is his most well-known work (written in 1816), though most people are more familiar with the ballet than the original story. The ballet smooths out some of the weird, like the seven-headed rat king, to present a more family friendly fantasy. The original is a little darker and a lot bloodier. Definitely worth revisiting come Christmas time!

alt text The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum

I have a confession to make: I don’t really like the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. As a movie it’s always felt big and loud to me, even though I can appreciate that it’s quite good for 1939. So, as a kid, I never read the Oz books. Since the Tin Man is more or less and automaton, there are other clockwork men further in the series, and the first one was kinda fun, I’ll be dipping in and out of the series for a while.

alt text The Chronological Man: The Monster In The Mist by Andrew Mayne

Man, the beginning of the month was rough for me DNF-wise. I dumped a couple books off my TBR challenge list. But I settled on The Monster in the Mist. It’s was a mostly fun, steampunk-ish adventure that ran a little too long with its action scenes. The next in the series sounds way over the top, so I’m going to pass on it.

alt text Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

If I had a time machine, I would go back and tell myself to go see this at the theater. Arguably, the best thing about the original Blade Runner is its setting and this sequel, despite some apprehensions, nailed the setting. Plus, it’s the film for which Roger Deakins (my favorite cinematographer) finally won an Oscar. I really should have seen it on the big screen.  I’m not sure I buy the plot and I didn’t care for Jared Leto as the villain, but Ryan Gosling was spot-on in the role of K. (I seem to prefer Gosling in roles where his character is fairly unemotional. See also, Drive (2011).)

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Mini Reviews, Vol. 11

alt text Baker Street By-Ways by James Edward Holroyd

I found this slim paperback at Book Vault, out in Mesa. I didn’t realize that Otto Penzler, whom I know as an editor of mystery anthologies, had put together a collection of Sherlockania in the mid-90s. I’d be interested in other volumes even though this one was a little uneven.

Originally published in 1959, the tone is very “boys-club.” Holroyd grumbles repeatedly about how fed-up his and his friends’ wives are with their Sherlock hobby.  He also doesn’t bother to attribute a quote to an “American woman writer.” Perhaps I should know who he means, but not even Goggle could come up with the mother of the quote.

There are a few good crunchy bits, mostly concerning London geography. The book could have used a few more maps though.


alt text The Box Jumper by Lisa Mannetti

My interest in this novelette featuring Houdini was stoked when it was nominated in 2015 for a Shirley Jackson Award. Houdini and “psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic“? Yes, please!

Alas, it mostly didn’t work for me. The story is told through eyes  of Leona, an assistant to Houdini. She’s not the most reliable narrator and that always bugs me. Still, several of the scenes were quite unsettling.

alt text Anything But Ordinary Addie by Mara Rockliff (Author), Iacopo Bruno (Illustrations)

One of my favorite books of last year was Adelaide Herrmann: Queen of Magic, edited by  Margaret B. Steele. This book was directly inspired by that biography. It is a beautiful over-sized picture book for young readers. I’m not super keen on every book needing to be a mirror for the reader, but I would have loved a book about a red-haired female magician. The excitement and empowerment is amped up for a younger audience, but it certainly captures the spirit of Adelaide Herrmann.


Review ~ Cabal

Cover via Goodreads

Cabal by Clive Barker

Cabal is the story of Boone, a tortured soul haunted by the conviction that he has committed atrocious crimes. In a necropolis in the wilds of Canada, he seeks refuge and finds the last great creatures of the world – the shape-shifters known as the Nightbreed. They are possessed of unearthly powers-and so is Boone. In the hunt for Boone, they too will be hunted. Now only the courage of this strange human can save them from extinction. And only the undying passion of a woman can save Boone from his own corrupting hell…

This novella is the basis for the Major Motion Picture – Nightbreed. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I rewatched Nightbreed during Readers Imbibing Peril, or rather I watched a longer cut which is sort of a director’s cut—there are several versions of the film due to the back and forth between Barker (who directed), the studio, and, later, fans. I’m a bit of fan of the movie and the concept of the Nightbreed and I got curious about the book. Again. I’ve owned the book in the past; bought it in high school and sold it in college, mostly unread, to a used store for end-of-the-semester cash…

What Worked
The movie, and the blurb above, focus mostly on Boone and his journey into accepting his new life/death as the destroyer/savior of the Nightbreed. One of the things I liked most about the book was Lori’s story. In the movie, there’s kind of a “love of a good woman” vibe. In the book, Lori is more motivated by her realization that there could be more than just being human. Also, lust plays a bigger factor in her decision than love. The Nightbreed movie glazes over the sex that is present in the book in a way that Barker’s Hellraiser movies doesn’t.

What Didn’t Work
I don’t remember why the book didn’t catch with me the first time around. The movie is fairly faithful to the text, even the theatrical version which is the only one I would have seen at the time. I’m guessing that what I really wanted then (and now) was more of the Nightbreed and was impatient with beginning with Boone. The Nightbreed are a group of monsters, some of which can hide their forms. What are their stories?

And what was with the title?

Cabal: (archaic) a secret intrigue.

Oddly, one of the things I like best about this book is that it leaves the story open to be a series…which Barker has never written. As readers, we never get the full idea of what that intrigue might be. (There are some comics that presumable extend the story, but I haven’t read them.)

Barker always feels a little disjointed to me, but Cabal is a simpler story, not as deep in philosophies, but holds together better.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle edition, Crossroad Press, 2014 (original 1989)
Acquired: Amazon, 11/1/17
Genre: horror

Review ~ The Ballad of Black Tom

Cover via Goodreads

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I like the intersection of music and fiction, especially in horror. I’ve seen lots of good reviews and accolades for this story, including a Shirley Jackson award for Best Novella (2016). Decided to read it despite its Lovecraft connection.

What Worked
Crisp writing. I hadn’t encountered Victor LaValle before, but I’m going to endeavor to read more of his works. I like his style.

The problematic aspects of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories have become a bone of contention for many readers. The inspiration for The Ballad of Black Tom, “The Horror at Red Hook,” is a product of xenophobia and racism. LaValle subverts that story and those themes with such grace and ease that he makes Lovecraft look truly foolish. I’ve read both: The Ballad of Black Tom first and “The Horror at Red Hook” second. There is no contest, LaValle has written the superior story.

I also really appreciate that the age of easy publishing has given novellas have a new life. The Ballad of Black Tom is the right size. In another age, the story might have been expanded into a novel for publication or buried in an anthology. Tor gave it the opportunity to be its own thing.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle Book / OverDrive Read, Tom Doherty Associates, February 16, 2016
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: horror

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Review ~ Infernal Parade

Cover via Goodreads

Infernal Parade by Clive Barker, illustrated by Bob Eggleton

This astonishing novella, Infernal Parade, perfectly encapsulates Barker’s unique abilities. Like the earlier Tortured Souls, an account of bizarre–and agonizing–transformations, Infernal Parade is tightly focused, intensely imagined, and utterly unlike anything else you will ever read. It begins with the tale of a convicted criminal, Tom Requiem, who returns from the brink of death to restore both fear and a touch of awe to a complacent world. Tom becomes the leader of the eponymous “parade,” which ranges from the familiar precincts of North Dakota to the mythical city of Karantica. Golems, vengeful humans both living and dead, and assorted impossible creatures parade across these pages. The result is a series of highly compressed, interrelated narratives that are memorable, disturbing, and impossible to set aside. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This slim little volume caught my eye when I was browsing the new release shelves at the library. I’m a semi Barker fan; my favorite of his works being the also short The Thief of Always.

What Worked
This novella is a collection of shorter works that chain on to each other, as a parade might. Each focuses on a separate member of the Infernal Parade beginning with their leader Tom Requiem. In total, this all reads a little like an inky black and blood-red (and shorter) version of Ray Bradbury’s From the Dust Returned. These characters form a sort of tense family as they march into the world.

What Didn’t Work
Really, the parade just sort of passes by. There isn’t any real ending or conclusion, or much in the way of purpose to this group of stories. Each chapter is accompanied by an illustration, all very well done, by Bob Eggleton. Honestly, I feel like these vignettes would have been better as a series of comics. Rightly or not, I expect more open-ended storytelling from comics than hardback prose.

None of the “What Didn’t Work” takes away from the fact that the parade is a creepy good time while its there. I read Infernal Parade first during the readathon a couple weekends ago and it was a great choice to kick things off.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Subterranean Press, 2017
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: horror