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.

Overall
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

Review ~ The Time Machine

Cover via Goodreads

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

The Time Machine tells the story of the Time Traveler, an inventor living in Victorian England. Traveling into the distant future using his time machine he encounters the descendants of humans and witnesses the end of life on earth. Wells’ first published book, The Time Machine, popularized the concept of human time travel and has influenced countless works of fiction. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
After reading The War of the Worlds in December and Melville’s Moby-Dick in February, I’ve become intrigued by the amount science and natural history that is included in these 100+ year old novels and by the genre called scientific romance. (No, Moby-Dick doesn’t quite fit that genre, but it does include an enthusiasm for scientific fact that I feel is missing from a lot of modern literature, even modern science fiction.) So, there’s probably going to be quite a bit of Wells, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventures in this blog in the near future.

I also have a guilty pleasure to admit to. Back at the beginning of March, ABC premiered Time After Time. It’s based Karl Alexander’s novel of the same name (and a subsequent 1979 movie). The premise? A young H. G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper to the modern era and falls in love with Jane, a historian (in the TV series). The science in the show is terrible. Actually, much of the writing is pretty bad and occasionally cliched. But H. G. and Jane are so cute together.* It’s enough to melt even my cold unromantic heart. But if you haven’t watched, don’t invest your time; it’s already been cancelled.

* I’m guessing that the series wasn’t going to bring too much of the historical Wells into the story. His views on sex were, uh, progressive.

What Worked
I enjoy Wells’ writing style. He adeptly mixes science with his social and psychological views. The Time Machine is a fairly simple story. Our narrator tells of the Time Traveller and recounts the Traveller’s tale after he returns from journeying to the far future.

The Traveller’s first jump takes him to a future in which humanity has split into two species: the Eloi and the Morlocks. Both are the products of a society in which one class valued ease of life and the other class has been forced to be the laborers. Taken to the extreme, the Eloi no longer know how to do anything, while the Morlocks only thrive underground, taking care of the machinery that keeps both societies going. Since agriculture is no longer supported, the Eloi live on plants and the Morlocks…live on Eloi. In both cases, intellectualism has fallen by the wayside. The Traveller’s second jump takes him to the end of the world.

In both cases, the imagery Wells uses is unlike anything I’ve read. I’ve watched the 1960 film ages ago and I don’t remember it doing justice to the text in this regard. It’s far enough into the future to be alien. And, while the novel (novella) might have spawned an entire science fiction genre, it doesn’t deal with the usual time travel paradox problems.

What Didn’t Work
It was way too short. I was reading an ebook version released in conjunction with Felix Palma’s The Map of Time. The last half of the file was a preview of that book! Curse you, ebooks!

Also, I part of my brain cries out, “But Katherine, didn’t you just complain about three guys creating a world-altering technology basically in their basement. Isn’t Wells doing the same thing here?” And, well, yes. Perhaps the Victorian scientific romance is the basis for the now very annoying trope of the lone mad scientist. (Or maybe it’s Mary Shelley’s fault. I haven’t done enough reading…) But, I’ll give hundred year old novels a bit of a pass on this one.

Likewise, I’ll give it a pass on the only female in the book being Weena, a helpless Eloi who continually needs to be saved and/or protected. For a while, Wells doesn’t describe the Eloi in terms of having gender. They seem to be a rather dim bunch, with a simple language, living in structures that they have not built themselves. Kind of reminded me of villagers in Minecraft…

Overall
I enjoyed The Time Machine. It wasn’t on my March TBR list, but it might have broke my reading slump.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ebook, Atria Books, May 31, 2011
Acquired: March 10, 2017, Amazon
Genre: science fiction, scientific romance

Review ~ Blackwater Lake

Cover via Goodreads

Blackwater Lake by Maggie James

Matthew Stanyer fears the worst when he reports his parents missing. His father, Joseph Stanyer, has been struggling to cope with his wife Evie, whose dementia is rapidly worsening. When their bodies are found close to Blackwater Lake, a local beauty spot, the inquest rules the deaths as a murder-suicide. A conclusion that’s supported by the note Joseph leaves for his son.

Grief-stricken, Matthew begins to clear his parents’ house of decades of compulsive hoarding, only to discover the dark enigmas hidden within its walls. Ones that lead Matthew to ask: why did his father choose Blackwater Lake to end his life? What other secrets do its waters conceal? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Picked it up free from Amazon in November 2015; wanted to read more self-pubbed authors especially in the horror and thriller genre. Read it now because I wanted something short for Bout of Book that would be a contrast to Moby-Dick.

What Worked
Good pacing and short chapters kept the story moving along.

What Didn’t Work
I don’t read many thrillers, so maybe what didn’t work for me is a function of the genre rather than a deficit on the writer’s part. In a mystery, I feel like there should be a balance between the gathering of clues (the reveal of information) and the characters working to construct a narrative from those clues. In Blackwater Lake, Matthew’s only job is to uncover the clues in his mother’s hoard of stuff. The clues are presented in rather neat narrative order. Instead of a puzzle to be solved, this story is more like train tracks being revealed on a sunny day after a light snow. Is the reveal of information more important in thrillers than the puzzle is in mysteries?

Pet Peeve Alert: There was also the use of “(for really no good reason) I can’t go to the police,” which was only used as a later stumbling block.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Orelia Publishing, September 27, 2015
Acquired: November 17, 2015, Amazon
Genre: suspense

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Generator Points Earned: .5 (only a novella)
Generator Points Total: 3

Review ~ The Raven and the Reindeer

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The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher

When Gerta’s friend Kay is stolen away by the mysterious Snow Queen, it’s up to Gerta to find him. Her journey will take her through a dangerous land of snow and witchcraft, accompanied only by a bandit and a talking raven. Can she win her friend’s release, or will following her heart take her to unexpected places?

A strange, sly retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Snow Queen,” by T. Kingfisher, author of “Bryony and Roses” and “The Seventh Bride.” (via Goodreads)

As T. Kingfisher (or, Ursula Vernon as she’s otherwise known) points out in her acknowledgements, Hans Christian Andersen “was a weird dude.” When a witch, a sarcastic raven, a magical reindeer skin, and a half dozen giant white otters are added in, you don’t notice so much. As in the shorter stories I’ve lately read by Vernon, I enjoy her humor and her mixing of myths and religions.

“Are you a witch?” asked Janna.

“No,” said the old woman, “I’m a Lutheran. But we’ll make d0…”

In modern life, we often have the family we’re born into and the family we choose. Often what is expected of us is deeply connected with that first kind of family. Greta is expected to become a weaver. She’s expected to marry the boy (literally) next door and expected to live ever after, even if not entirely happily. Kay’s kidnapping sets this plan on end. As Gerta fights to regain status quo, she finds a new type of family and new paths that aren’t expected.

With snow and reindeer and a Snow Queen, this was pretty much a perfect read for Christmas week. The beginning is maybe a little slow to start, but the plot is threaded together more tightly than I was expecting. The payoff for early misadventures is at the end.

Publishing info, my copy: kindle, Red Wombat Tea Company, 2016
Acquired: Dec. 7, 2016, Amazon
Genre: fantasy, fairy tale

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Generator Points Earned: 1
Generator Points Total: 1

Mini Reviews ~ All Sorts of Peril

MiniReviews

From the Dust Returned

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury
William Marrow, 2001, Hardback

In 1946, Charles Addams (of Addams Family fame) illustrated “Homecoming,”  a story Ray Bradbury sold to Mademoiselle magazine. This *almost* began a continuing collaboration  between the two. Both got busy on other projects, though Bradbury occasionally added stories to the history of the Elliot family, residents of October Country. Where Addams’ family is “creepy” and “kooky,” Bradbury’s is more in the realm of uncanny and maybe even evil. Many of the stories are told through the eyes of Timothy, the normal and unfortunate one of the family. While strong on atmosphere, the plot of the book is rough, stitching together a collection of short stories.

A Vampire Quintet

A Vampire Quintet by Eugie Foster
Self-published, 2013, Kindle edition

Simply, five pretty darn good vampire tales by one of my favorite authors. The settings are diverse, from a fairy tale land to a cyberpunk cityscape, and all present a new little twist to vampire mythos. A shock to no one, my favorite was “Ascendancy of Blood,” a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.

Ghostbusters Poster

Ghostbusters (2016)
Directed by Paul Feig
Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones

The 1984 Ghostbusters is one of my favorite films; the only way that the new Ghostbusters could possibly “ruin my childhood” would be if it were so superior that I’d have to have a new favorite Ghostbusters. And that’s win-win, you know? Alas, the new Ghostbusters isn’t that good.

The best thing: This movie is about four grown women and in no way involves weight loss, marriage, or motherhood. These female characters get to be geeky about science, tech, and history. I’ll admit it, that’s cool to see in a movie.

Mixed things: Most of the comedy was what I expected—not very funny to me—but I was really surprised by how much I liked Leslie Jones’ character. Patty is pretty funny. I loved all the actor cameos, and not just from the 1984 cast. You don’t need Michael Kenneth Williams to play a DHS heavy, but it doesn’t hurt. I thought the ghosts looked great. I don’t think the up-ing of tech and action did anything good for the film. The derivative bits were very flat.

All in all, I wish this were a better movie. I wish it would have been so good that its critics had nothing to criticize. As it is, the fact that the characters are female isn’t what makes the movie not very good.

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RIPXI Info | Reviews

Review ~ The Great God Pan

Cover via Goodreads

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen

The Great God Pan is a novella written by Arthur Machen. On publication it was widely denounced by the press as degenerate and horrific because of its decadent style and sexual content, although it has since garnered a reputation as a classic of horror. Machen’s story was only one of many at the time to focus on Pan as a useful symbol for the power of nature and paganism. (via Goodreads)

I was surprised to find that this story begins with brain surgery. The 1890s were an interesting time for science as it started to truly butt heads with ideas supernatural in nature. In the first section, Dr. Raymond takes the concept of opening a mind rather literally. The surgery is performed on an unfortunate women, Mary. Her mind *is* opened—to the possession of the Great God Pan. Mary later gives birth and the child, Helen, is taken to the country. Time passes…

The next several sections of the book are a collection of second hand reports. A woman is corrupting men. Things are being done in bedrooms. The sexy details are all implied.  The men are ruined, frightened to death or influenced to commit suicide. Our two secondary narrators, Villiers and Clarke, piece together information and realize that this women is Helen, Mary’s daughter. They finally catch up with her and convince *her* to commit suicide. In her death throes, she transforms from human to animal, to something more primordial.

The Great God Pan was a scandalous book.  In a post-Fifty Shades of Greythe-internet-is-for-porn world, a reader might be left wondering what acts of debauchery are being perpetrated. Still, there is an element that may be radical to a modern reader: it’s Helen who has the power after her mother Mary has suffered at the hands of Dr. Raymond and Pan. Female sexuality is also given a predatory, feral sheen. Women are obviously very dangerous. This was a selection from the Obscure Literary Monsters list. I find it odd that the monster is supposedly Pan and not Helen.

Publishing info, my copy: 1894
Acquired: Project Gutenberg
Genre: horror