Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: The Ravine by William Meikle

The Ravine by William Meikle

Paperback, 218 pages Published November 19th 2013 by Dark Regions Press

I have seen Meikle’s name around before. I knew he was a Scottish born writer who writes both science fiction and horror often blending both. When I saw that he had a horror western released by Dark Regions Press I thought it was a great place to sample his work.

There is quite a bit to like here, I know at times this review will sound negative but I think Meikle did enough to interest me in his other books. At 212 pages The Ravine is a short novel but to me that is the BEST length for horror novel is around 200 pages. This novel is written with lean no nonsense style with short chapters that reminded me of David Morrell. A few lines of dialogue made me laugh like “What’s the plan?” “Don’t get dead.”

Good plan.

The story of an old west town laid siege by a plague and a spiritual war between angels and demons. My favorite character was the town saloon bouncer a badass named Issac. The novel has a few strong characters like the town Doc but I didn’t really find any of the characters stood out as a hero. There are lots of good moments of suspense,and as a monster novel there are plenty of moments I enjoyed.

So what didn’t like? Well this is a western but several of my favorite elements of the western are MIA in this novel. To me a western fits into the history or tapestry of the period and the environment. This novel failed to connect me as a reader with either element. I am not exactly sure when this takes place, maybe after the civil war as there is a group of Cavalry after all. I am not sure where we are because nothing really gives this story a sense of place.

The atmosphere of the old west is something missing from this novel. At no point did I get a sense of what season it was. Was the ground muddy? Were the characters swatting away flies? Zane Grey was the best at this in the western novel but I felt it was lacking here.

I think libraries should carry this book in their collection and I am sold on reading more of William Meikle’s work. I think this worked more as a horror novel than it did a western. It could have been set anywhere or in any period. I just wish it was more grounded in the west.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book review: Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron

Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron
Hardcover, 361 pages Published October 3rd 2013 by Viking Penguin

When I requested this book my editor at Monster Librarian pointed out “David you do know this is a YA novel.” Granted I don’t read a lot of YA stuff but have from time to time and I am not against such things. I tend to enjoy a harder, darker horror in general but I thought the concept I read online sounded interesting.

It is indeed an interesting book filled with fun ideas. Man Made Boy is the story of Boy, the son of the Frankestein monster and the Bride who lives in a NYC refuge for monsters. Hidden in plain sight from the public as a part of a freak show the monsters live in a labyrinth behind/under a theater in the city. I LOVED this concept. The set-up is beautifully done and creatures a wonderful environment that is both gothic and surreal.

Boy is a teenager and this for sure a road trip coming of age novel. Boy decides he wants to leave the show and live in the outside world. Which is not the easiest thing to do when you are made up of re-animated body parts, but he gets out there and gets a job. Once he travels he meets other monsters, falls in love and has adventures.

Where it gets muddied is a secondary plot about Boy’s love for hacking. He creates a villain named Vi. A sentient computer virus, which in effect makes Boy like Doctor Frankenstein.

The theme is not subtle, it is about responsibility. I thought the novel was fun overall and would be perfect for young teens. I should point out there is some strong language and suggestion of sexuality entirely off camera. The book says for 12 and up, that in my mind is fair but I was reading adult horror novels at that age so take that with a grain of salt.

I think YA collections should have this book, kids looking for a light hearted fantasy will enjoy it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

CD Review: Dreams in the Witch House Rock Opera

Dreams in the Witch House (Lovecraftian Rock Opera) CD

Running Time: One Hour and five minutes

Presented by The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society

Adapting Lovecraft into other media has not always been the easiest thing for writers, directors and producers. It is one of the many reasons Lovecraftians have such interest and dread thinking about Del Toro $150 million (projected) epic take on At the mountains of Madness. One can hardly think of Re-animator as faith and often films like The Thing ( based on a John W. Campbell story) or Alien are often considered more Lovecraft than the films credited to the Lovecraft stories. Certainly a John Carpenter movie like At the Mouth of Madness feel more Lovecraftian than say Karloff’s Die Monster Die which was loosely based on Colour out of space.

In my opinion Stuart Gordan’s best Lovecraft film is Dagon ( based on the Shadow Over Innsmouth) but he also did a pretty solid while not entirely faithful version of Dreams in the Witch House. However I have now discovered a much more faithful adaptation of Dreams of the Witch House, but the most Lovecraft feeling media I have consumed since the Silent film of Call of Cthulhu.

Executive producer Mike Dalager has completed a project so wide in scope it is amazing that it was finished at all. With over a dozen voice actors and six member band that lived in various countries. Writing a rock opera based on a beloved story is challenge enough. Then organize members to record in LA, Sweden and Denmark. Get guest guitar performances from famous members of metal bands like Douglas Blair Lucek of WASP and then pay for it all when certainly no record label is backing you.

The audacity of this project is my favorite thing about it. I personally prefer a heavier brand of metal but a few of the songs are metal with excellent guitar leads. For a preexisting band like say Iron Maiden to choose to write and record a rock opera is one thing. They have an infrastructure in place. To say I am impressed by this project is an understatement. I think every library with HP Lovecraft books should have this in their collection and connected to his name in their database. I am serious about that.

The music is very well performed, some were a little more traditional rock for my taste, but it is all very, very well done. The songs range from operatic metal to straight rock, some with 90’s feeling. The most impressive part is all the songs tell the story of Dreams in the Witch House better than Stuart Gordan’s Master of horror episode. It is the story of Miskatonic University student, Walter Gilman who starts having nightmares while staying in Arkham's infamous Witch House. Brown Jenkin ( played here by Chris Laney) is a hybrid humanoid rat-like creature who torments the sleeping Mathematics genius as he unlocks the secrets of universe and opens up travel to other planes of reality.

Big thumbs up.

Check out this video for my favorite song on the record: Or this song featuring guitar leads by WASP’s Douglas Blair Lucek

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: One By Conrad Williams

One By Conrad Williams

Paperback, 363 pages

Published June 1st 2009 by Virgin Books (first published April 2nd 2009) ISBN13: 9780753518106

British Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2010)

My favorite sub-genre of horror novel is Post-apocalypse. I love the classics like Alas Babylon and On the beach as well as more modern classics like Swan Song, The Road and the Stand. I had this one on the shelf for a long time and I’m sorry it took me so long to get to it. I know this will sound like hyperbole but One is much darker than any of those other novels even McCarthy’s the Road. Much like my experience reading Swan Song my heart hurt for the character’s experiencing the events of the novel. It doesn’t have the epic scope of Swan Song but in all the good ways this was a British Swan Song. That folks is my second favorite novel of all time so keep that in mind.

I went into this novel cold. I didn’t read much about the plot and for that I was glad I didn’t. If you trust me and you are a fan of post apocalypse novels then stop right here and order the book.

So in many ways ONE is a masterpiece of the subgenre. Ironically considering the title it is like two books starting off like a straight forward end of the world novel and then in the second half becoming an excellent supernatural horror novel that is really the novel I wanted Simon Clark’s Blood Crazy to be.

Jane, who is a father and deep sea diver is deep off the coast of Britian when the majority of the human race is cooked by a massive solar flame. The first half of the novel is a painful hike across the ash cover remains of a Scotland and England burnt to a crisp. Jane needs to make it back to London in an attempt to find his son, who in his heart he admits is likely dead.

Like the McCarthy’s The Road this novel explores the nature of the relationship between Father and son. ONE however does this through a series of beautifully written letters/journals Jane keeps for his son as he survives. In the second half of the novel Williams takes the story 5 years into the future. A disease that no one can understand is carried in the layer of ash that has coated the earth. It could be argued that the infected feral cannibal humans running around London know as Skinners in the novel are zombies. Not exactly and that sells Conrad Williams skill short. I never felt like I was reading a zombie novel, but something similar and more original.

This is my first novel by Conrad Williams but I am so impressed I plan to read everything as soon as I can get my hands on them. Best novel I have read all year and probably my second favorite reading experience behind Cody Goodfellow’s Repo Shark.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review: The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

Paperback, 336 pages

Published September 1st 2001 by Mysterious Press (first published January 1st 2000) ISBN13: 9780446677929

Macavity Award Nominee for Best Mystery Novel (2001), Anthony Award Nominee for Best Novel (2001), Hammett Prize Nominee (2000), Edgar Award for Best Novel (2001)

The Bottoms is one of those novels I have been saving for the right time. Joe R. Lansdale is one of my favorite writers best known for his series Hap and Leonard and the Movie Bubba-Ho-Tep based on his short story. If you are not familiar with Lansdale he is a master story-teller who grew up in east texas. He writes some southern gothic, some horror but really Lansdale is just Lansdale an effective story teller who normally makes me laugh a lot in the time I am reading his work.

The reason I decided now was the time to read this novel was the news that a film of the Bottoms was on the way. Not only that but it will be written and directed by the team that made Frailty. That movie was the best horror movie of the year it came out and also a serial Killer story set in Texas.

The Bottoms is less horror and more mystery than Frailty but I see now this is a perfect fit. The novel has it’s horror elements including the legend of the Goat Man who provides many moments for Lansdale to show his horror chops. That said this a mystery set against the rural poverty of east Texas in the depression.

I am not a fan of first person narrative, but Lansdale being a master pulls it off to the point of being invisible most of the book. You forget at times this is a story being told by a man in an old folks home. The story works on many levels, as a mystery, an exploration of racism, A coming of age story and the unintended truths uncovered by a mystery.

Is it the most fun I have had reading Lansdale? Probably not I laugh a lot reading Hap and Leonard novels but this is the best Lansdale I’ve read. This is modern classic and a must read novel.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: Luther - The Calling by Neil Cross

Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published September 4th 2012 by Touchstone (first published 2011)

ISBN13: 9781451673098

Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel (2012) In the last few years my viewing habits have switched from movies to TV more and more. This is mostly a result of TV networks and producers finally realizing the thing they have that movies don’t is the ability expand a story like novelist would. That is also why True Detective was such an effective crime show – written by a novelist it has a fine ability to tell a slow burn mystery.

Luther as a show is a bit closer to the traditional police procedural set in modern London. Cross who has written several fantastic novels (I reviewed Burials here on the blog) and two of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who does an amazing job. For my money I think Luther is a pretty well written show over-all. Effective drama, horror and mystery written an amazing detail to plotting. All three series of Luther blew me away and quickly it became one of my favorite shows. I often point as trendy as True Detective is I think Luther is a better cop show over all.

There are not a ton of episodes, but each and every one of them is written by Neil Cross who wanted to fill in the back ground of his main character in this novel –prequel.

DCI John Luther is a well intentioned cop, but he is not exactly good cop. He breaks the rules constantly because of the stress of the major homicides and kidnappings that he deals with. East London is a character in show as much as his partners and wife are. In the show he is divorced, trying to deal with the loss of his wife, here we watch the marriage fall apart and the novel sets up the events that take place in the first series.

I think this novel is fantastic and captures the feeling of the show. The story of a killer who murders pregnant women and steals their babies is as horrible as it sounds. The novel has many cringe worthy moments. It doesn’t feel like a tie-in but an extension of the story. I was glad to know this part of Luther’s story. The mystery is effective, scares delivery and none of it sacrifices character development. I think it is better to start with the Series and then read the novel. But I suppose it doesn’t ruin the show.

Oh yes you need to read this novel, and watch the show both are top notch crime fiction.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book Review: The Detainee by Peter Liney

The Detainee by Peter Liney

Hardcover, 352 pages Published March 11th 2014 by Jo Fletcher Books

I am a sucker for a good Dystopia. I mean me of all people, I often complain about end of the world stories that do not have enough gloom. So what went wrong here? Plenty of other people liked this novel. It is doing well on good reads for ranking. I am not going to say this is a horrible novel, because there are few elements of good here, but I have to admit it didn't connect with me.

This first person narrative was the first strike against novel for me, certain novels lend themselves to this kind of storytelling. The Shawshank Redemption, A Simple Plan or American Psycho are stories that are told, but I felt this was a story that needed to be happening. 70 pages in I, as the reader had no idea who the main character was. He was an amorphous I. The book went on at length about his setting, and a few of the unfortunate events he had to deal with but I didn't learn his name until I looked it up in an online review of novel. That is a bad sign.

I mention this because my habit as a reviewer at this point is to say "This novel is the story of..." but I never got a strong sense of who the narrator was. Now I know he is Clancy, some people call him "Big Guy" that he is considered unproductive and has been exiled to a giant trash heap of an island. This is where this hyper-capitlist future sends the "unproductive." Thus the island population contains many people of an advanced age thus making it kind of an opposite to Logan’s Run. It is a great concept; I like the point of view and the message. As a concept it has potential to be a fantastic dystopia warning novel, my favorite kind of science fiction- Horror crossover really. Basically a warning of what could happen if the right wing’s stance against social programs and welfare were taken to an extreme.

This is not an essay it is a novel, and no matter how interested I am in seeing a dystopia make this point it has to function as a novel or story. I admit I found myself skipping entire paragraphs, I know lots of people read this way but I do not. I was bored most of the time I had this book in front of me.

When I looked at online reviews I was surprised how many people liked the book. This book has been promoted as Hunger Games for adults and certainly many responded to the book’s take on ageism. I think libraries should collect this book and make it available despite my personal dislike for it. Certainly the themes are worthy.