Saturday, August 20, 2016

Book Review: The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published October 2013 by Tor

Winner of the British Fantasy Award for best Horror novel

I read this book based on the recommendation from Rob who slings books at San Diego's best book store Mysterious Galaxy. He really loved this novel and that was enough for me to check it out. Consider also that it was nominated for a British fantasy award for best horror novel. so take everything I have to say with a understanding this novel may just not have been for me. There is quality here, but...

This novel is the story of a woman named Catherine who is hired to to assess the value of the many dolls, puppets and battles scenes made out of animals stuffed by an artist taxidermist that makes up the creepy setting of the Red House. Catherine has a job to to do thus giving her the important haunted house trope of "why the hell do they stay."

If dolls and puppets creep you out then the red house in this novel is your absolute nightmare. Me personally I didn't find that creepy. I respect Nevill, he is clearly a talented writer and there were lots of elements that really worked there were just two elements that didn't work for me.

Catherine was not really a sympathetic character and in this case the suspense kinda depends on but worst of I don't find her believable. She was whinny and devoid of any back bone. Just didn't dig her at all. The second element I could not jive with was that the the book started strong but got weaker as the pages went along. I got bored in the second half, was starting to lose track of the story and felt there was no satisfaction the pay-off that was so well set up.

The author is talented and there was plenty of strong moments. I was unhappy with the ending but there are plenty of elements enough to get me back to check more of his work. I know this is a short review, I wish I connected to this book more.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Book Review: Pressure by Brian Keene

Pressure by Brian Keene

Hardcover, First Edition, 276 pages

Published June 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books

Brian Keene is a giant in our field, perhaps the most well know writer of our generation of horror authors who grew up reading Stephen King, Robert McCammon and Joe R Lansdale. Keene wears the influences on his sleeves like a crowded arm of tats but the reality is he would not have become one of the youngest Grand Masters of Horror at the 2014 World Horror Convention if he didn't have a excellent ability to tell a story with his own spin. Keene is an excellent writer with a shelf of classics that if you have not read...well you need to fix that.

Keene as an artist is pretty wide open through his popular Horror Show podcast and blogs. The author made clear he was approached to write this book. Pressure is not his masterpiece but it is a fun read. If you are looking for something more you might want to read Ghoul or The Rising. I have not read The Conmplex his last book before Pressure but I will soon. This story follows a famous diver named Carrie Anderson who is hired to investigate the collapse of the sea shelf in the Indian Ocean. This alone seemed a interesting set up for a end of the world novel but it is just the Maguffin that gets Carrie down to the bottom where we find a a big surprise.

As for the claim that it was Alien meets Jaws made by the publisher seems fair for the first 100 pages or so that would have made a stronger novella that the resulting novel. It is hard to talk about the strengths or weaknesses of this book with spoiling the book a little. Consider yourself warned...

The second half of the book takes on a completely different style of story and loses the monster aspect as well as the interesting setting of the deep seas dives. I mean the existence of the monster still drives the story but the creature is MIA in the second half. Keene does some interesting stuff with the evil corporation stuff in the second half. For me this was less interesting that the monster in the first half. To Keene's credit in the hands of an author with less skill I would have lost all interest.

I respect Brian Keene as a person and as a writer and think his skill saves this book although I wish the story had stayed out at sea, or maybe the monster could have came ashore looking for it's egg. If I sound negative it is only because of the high bar Brian Keene has set for himself with a catalog of effective horror novels. This is a fun monster novel that just needed a little more focus on the monster.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Book Review: Malediction by Lisa Morton

Malediction by Lisa Morton

Paperback, 388 pages

Published October 2013 by Evil Jester Press

I am a huge fan of Lisa Morton's work. Her short stories were for years were consistently among the best in anthologies and often rubbing elbows with stories of authors who were considered the greats of the genre. Long before she because president of the Horror Writers Association she was starting to rack up Stoker award nominations and is known as a Halloween expert. So of course she has written several books I enjoyed.

LM's fiction is as tied to Los Angeles as Stephen King is to Maine. This was true of her excellent first novel The Castle of Los Angeles, but as Spinal Tap would say this one goes to 11. I am not sure how much of the history is real or fictionalized but Morton weaves the text of a book by one of the novels characters called the Secret History of Los Angeles into Malediction.

It is excellently weaved into the text and honestly the majority of it sounds plausible with a supernatural bent to the idea of a curse that hangs like a psychic cloud over the city. It has laid dormant until May and Gwen come close together.

Like the + and - sides of a battery the two young women have discovered that they have psychic powers. May uses hers for bad a stubborn child who was sheltered and she causes the death of those who she sees are in her way. Gwen is a healer.

This is a good read but considering the scope and potential for a epic mythology the story actually felt short to me at almost 400 pages. That is a good thing. I kinda wish the character of Sam who write the Secret history of Los Angeles during his homeless psychotic break has been more connected to the supernatural forces weaved into the history.

In the end end the secret history fades a bit into the back ground as we end up with show down that reminded me of the second half of the stand. I mean we know Gwen and May are pretty much on the planet at this point to confront each other. The showdown was a little weak for all the excellent build up. Point is the build was great.

If you have not read Morton I think I would suggest her haunted theater novel The Castle of Los Angeles or Netherworld #1 first. That being said fans of Los Angeles fiction who can't go wrong it is the elements of LA lore mixed into this story that make it so fun.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Book Review: Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard

Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard
Hardcover, 306 pages

Published October 2015 by Thomas Dunne Books

Lovecraftian fiction is tricky. In some ways I enjoy well done Mythos stuff better than the writings of HPL himself. However the growth of the mythos genre has seen dozens of Cthulhu themed anthologies getting released yearly and most of them are pretty bad. Mindless rehashes of Lovecraft style and tropes with out much creative juice to float them.

I admit I would not have even considered this book if it didn't have back cover blurbs from two authors I trust (F.Paul Wilson and Stephen Graham Jones). I am glad I did because I enjoyed this novel.

Combining the PI novel with the mythos is far from a ground breaking idea a collection a few years ago called Hard boiled Cthulhu. That book was a mixed bag but had a really cool entry by one of my favorite Mythos writers Cody Goodfellow. The author CJ Henderson also had a series of novel called Teddy Knight about a PI that messed with mythos beasties.

Carter and Howard is light years ahead of the well intentioned but not entirely well executed novels by Henderson. The opening chapter is a doozy and does a great job planting a story seed. The story of the the "Child Catcher" serial killer was the most interesting aspect of the story to me. Dan Carter can't take the police work anymore, the suicide of his partner and the crazy-ness of the crime scene was enough to force to leave the force. To be become a private eye. shortly after he gets mysterious gift. He has inherited from a man he has never met a book store in Providence.

The book store is like a dream bookstore for the nerdiest of Lovecraft fans. Picture a amazing old bookstore that is filled with rare limited editions run by a fictional heir to Lovecraft himself. From there the book gets whackey - in a good way.

Howard does a excellent job touching on aspects of the complete works Lovecraftian through the novel, chapters shift at times between titles, characters and themes that came straight from HPL works. That said the story hinges on this interesting metaphysical fold in reality.

The novel balances the tone and atmosphere of the genres crossed in the story. That is no minor task. I felt like the story got a little convoluted early in the third act. I think the early parts of the novel the first 60 pages were the strongest of the novel. Once the mystery starts unravel the novel loses a little steam.

That said I think this a really solid work and one of the better Lovecraftian works and interesting that it comes from someone who is not a regular at the Lovecraft film fest or has 38 stories in the various Cthulhu anthologies.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Book Review: Wraith by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Wraith by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published April 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books

OK they had me at weaponized ghosts... Judith and Garfield Reeves Stevens are most widely know for writing several of the best Star Trek novels. People who have followed their original work are aware that they write a brand of techno thriller that gets strength from the intense amounts of research they do. That is one reason I really was interested in their take on remote viewing and paranormal spies that has not been done this effectively since Brian Lumley's first three Necroscope books.

The Reeves-Stevens won me over in the mid-90's by writing what I still believe is the best Star Trek novel ever, and consider that I read about 150 of them before I burned out on trek fiction. That novel Federation got crushed by the film of First Contact, which is actually cannon. to bad Federation not only had the second best Trek bad guy ever, but combined both of the first two crews in a logical non-corny way and made one of the worst most boring episodes of Trek into a cool prequel to their novel. Federation is the only Star Trek novel I re-read.

The story of a detective named Matt Caidin who is trying to put back the pieces of his life back together after a nasty divorce. He witnesses a crash at a diner where he is a regular. He is shocked when the woman who he saw die in the car shows up and asks him for help. That woman Laura Hart is a agent for Crosswind at black ops psychic national security agency that needs Matt to get information from her about the counter organization in Russian. He learns that it is her ghost and she died with information about a coming terrorist attack.

This novel has alot in common with Necroscope but with ghosts instead of vampires and of course the lack of cold war makes a different tone. Wraith doesn't have the bloated scope of that series. One of the strength of Wraith is the short and to the point nature of the story. That is not to say that alot doesn't happen in the book, because many things happen in the perfect 315 page length. there are plenty of seeds that could grown into more novels, or a TV series.

You might think that the authors strength for research and technical accuracy would be wasted in a story about remote viewing but you would be wrong. I can only assume that they did their homework because they seem familar with the rumors and lore of remote viewing. Their knack for research comes in handy when the various intelligence agencies try to track our hero Caidin when he goes off the map to try and stop the attacks.

Rogue agents from the counter Russian agency VEKTOR provides many of the novel most interesting moments. While Crosswind is using remote viewing to spy it is VEKTOR that weaponize the psychic field created by it's dead agents. These ghosts called Bezerkers. One of the scenes with these ghosts in a restaurant is very very effective.(page 195-96) Borodin the rogue Russian agent is a great villain and the novel gives him a proper motivation even if he seems like mustache twirling bad guy at first.

I really enjoyed this novel and thought it was light fun. I wouldn't say this is a must read, groundbreaking but it was solid. The cover art is a little corny but don't let that scare you off. Reeves-Stevens are a great team and I am always open to check out their work.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: The Lost World (Kolchak, The Night Stalker) by CJ Henderson

The Lost World (Kolchak, The Night Stalker) by CJ Henderson

Mass Market Paperback, 130 pages

Published 2012 by Moonstone Entertainment, Inc.

I'll keep this short as this was a short book. I have mixed history with the late CJ Henderson who I think is a great short story author, whose novels have not worked as well for me. I am however a big fan of the Kolchak TV series which sadly only lasted one season. Ahead of it's time TV didn't do long narrative at the time, so the silliness of Kolchak running into a new monster every week doomed the series. What they should have done was a series of TV movies yearly like the first two Matheson films. Enough of that back to the book.

Well enter moonstone books who are doing pulp paperbacks and comics that include everyone's favorite monster hunter and newspaper man Carl Kolchak. I think this novel is only for diehard fans of the character like me. So the next step for enjoying this book is to not think to deeply about it, for example think of it as a lost episode not a novel. A novel suggests a bigger more epic scope. That said this story probably far exceeds the budget ABC would have thrown at a episode.

I like that this was not a paint by the numbers Kolchak story taking him to south america and putting him in between rival drug gangs. Don't worry there is a supernatural twist and plenty of weird mystery involved. This is quick read, I read it over three sittings on my morning commute. Henderson captures the feeling of the TV show, and writes in first person like the original Jeff Rice novel. Directly in Kolchak always suppressed account.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Book Review: Arkwright by Allen Steele

Arkwright by Allen Steele

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published March 2016 by Tor Books

This might sound like hyperbole but in the history of Science Fiction novels this might be nerdiest of all hard sci-fi novels ever. Let me say at the start I was rooting for this novel, which is unabashed love letter to Golden Age Science Fiction. One of my favorite sub-genres of speculative fiction is the hard science generational ship novel. The history of these types of novels include classics by giants in the field like Gene Wolfe, Brian Aldiss and Heinlein. In fact one of my favorite novels of last year was a Generational ship novel by Kim Stanley Robinson called Aurora. While I am positive that Steele was working on Arkwright long before the release of Aurora it has become a accidental response. It is unfair for Steele's novel has to stand up to such a master work, but lets face it the books are almost debating each other. I can't help but compare the two books.

Arkwright is a neat concept that fails to live up to it's grand vision mostly because of the paper thin characters and the epic scope that in the right hands could have been stretched over a couple books. The formatting and structure of the story didn't work for me and the ending almost jumped the shark by using what I believe as a reader was the wrong POV. The AI onboard KSR's Aurora had more personality and humanity than just about any human in Arkwright.

The story spans hundreds of years starting with an awkward flashback to the world Science fiction convention in 1939. Blending real and fictional Sci-fi writers Steele creates a history for Nathan Arkwright, A combination of Heinlein and Roddenberry whose "Galaxy Patrol" novels and TV show provides the seed money for a generational starship that takes more than a few generation of his descendants to fund, build and launch. (It also seems that every generation has woman dropping everything their doing to follow a man on this quest - a little odd) Not to spoil the second half of the book but eventually the ship is launched and sent toward a near-by star and founds a colony hundreds of years in the future.

KSR's Aurora was pessimistic look at the idea of interstellar travel with not so subtle desperate plea for humans to take care of the planet they have. Arkwright offers a hard sci-fi look that is clearly more hopeful. It suggests a path for interstellar travel that KSR clearly thinks is impossible. Forget for a moment which book you agree with. Comparing these books is like comparing a Spielberg movie to a Roger Corman produced movie. I really hate to say that as I thought the concept was promising. The book was interesting enough to keep my interest until the end.

Steele has interesting ideas but the story is told without rhythm, with so many characters and jumping generations the story requires structure. That is one thing I thought Steele did well, but without the rhythm, the underdeveloped characters and poorly developed obstacles thrown at them the novel is as flat as a pancake. Obstacles in form of a glossed over terrorist that was contained to a few pages and the threat of near earth astoroid that was curiously unscary. I really wanted to like this book I just couldn't. If you are looking for a "Go team" look at space travel then you might enjoy this book. I clearly didn't. This is a case of a book that I liked less the more I thought about it.

side note: I like Neil Degrasse Tyson I do but the naming of the starship after him in this novel caused eye-rolling. I think we are just seeing to much of him.