Archive for Book Reviews
Jessica Burke and Anthony Burdge
Myth Ink Books, 2013
Trade paperback, 146 pp., $12.00; eBook, $2.99
By Michael R. Collings
This small collection of eight Lovecraft-inspired tales is an idiosyncratically appealing homage to things dark and horrible. Unusual for a horror collection, it begins with two long-ish free verse poems, one by each of the authors, followed by a story/non-story with the intriguing title, “A Guide to Acclimating New Felines to their New Homes—Best done with Kittens under the age of 10 months, Can be Adapted with Ease**.” The note indicated by the double asterisk reads: “**Can be adapted for older cats, but be aware, after 10 months, they can transmute. Older cats should, unfortunately, be implanted with a locator chip which would help them beam their way home, Scotty. More about that in chapters 12 through 16.” The text then begins with “Step 3: Preliminary Introduction” and ends with “Step 4: More Proper Introductions and setting Boundaries.”
Direct storytelling begins with the innocuously titled “A Daddy & Me Day,” featuring a father and son traveling by train for a visit to Dad’s workplace. All normal and happy. Then, small details begin to intrude and set the reader wondering…such as the two small lumps that are forming on little Stevie’s head. And his too-long-for-his-age fingernails. And then there’s old Chary and the boat that they will have to take across the river to get to Dad’s work place. Ahh…at last the penny falls.
“Hungry Snow,” “Keepsakes,” and “Concerning the Storm” provide a solid core for the collection—stories whose titles lead inevitably into anatomies of horror—drawing them out to their graphic, highly uncomfortable conclusions—aptly preparing the way for the pièce de résistance, the eponymous concluding tale, “The Friendly Horror.”
Here Burke and Burdge demonstrate their full imaginative powers, in a novella based on—you guessed it—a Lovecraftian ice-cream shop. Oh, you didn’t guess it? Well, probably no one would. And that is what makes “The Friendly Horror” so fascinating. It is a multigenerational tale about an insidious plan to convert much of New England into Cthulhu-worshipping Innsmouthian fish-people…by way of carefully balanced recipes contrived by and sold at the Maxfield Ice Cream Parlor. In its own way, it is a delightful romp; at the same time, it is a neatly structured tale of slow, inevitable transformation and horror.
Ultimately The Friendly horror and Other Weird Tales is a bit uneven—and occasionally a little rough in language and grammar—but the final story makes up for a great many small false steps and makes the collection memorable.
In this first-ever complete history of the movie dubbed “nothing less than the reinvention of mainstream American cinema” by Entertainment Weekly, discover everything about Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant 1994 film—from its origins to its sensational release (screaming women! fainting men!) to its phenomenal effect on how movies are both made and seen. We’ll get down to brass tacks, describing what Marsellus Wallace looks like (and what might be in his briefcase), why hamburgers—preferably Big Kahuna burgers—are the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast, and much more. The book is illustrated throughout with glorious Pulp-inspired artwork, images of movies and cultural touchstones that influenced Tarantino, and a stunning selection of movie stills and behind-the-scenes photos from the film’s production—included thanks to the generous cooperation and support of Quentin Tarantino and Miramax Films.
If you are any kind of fan of Tarantino’s films, then this book will be a must-own for you. It doesn’t just show behind-the-scenes footage of the film, it lets you into Tarantino’s psyche. It describes his inspirations, his ambitions, and more. One might even say it is semi-biographical, as it relates how specific milestones in his life can be found reflected in his films.
PULP FICTION: THE COMPLETE STORY OF QUENTIN TARANTINO’S MASTERPIECE is amazingly thorough and chocked full of articles and photos related to PULP FICTION and Tarantino himself. My favorite aspect of this book is how it shows the influence the film has had on everyday life, not just in the movie industry. The impact it has had on pop culture is almost immeasurable. From quotes to gestures to facial expressions, we can see this film almost everywhere in both subtle and straightforward features.
PULP FICTION: THE COMPLETE STORY OF QUENTIN TARANTINO’S MASTERPIECE is not just a tome devoted to a movie…it is a chronicle of a generation-inspiring film that filmmakers for generations to come will study and analyze. I highly recommend this book and suggest you pick it up asap. It is available now.
Small Beer Press
July, 2013; $16.00 PB
Reviewed by K. H. Vaughan
The titular lake monsters of North America do not exist in any objective sense. They are vehicles for our fears and objects on which to project our hopes and dreams. It doesn’t really even matter whether they exist or not: people organize their lives around them. The idea of them speaks to a yearning for something. Something else. Something out there.
This collection by Nate Ballingrud includes nine stories, including the Shirley Jackson Award-winning The Monsters of Heaven. These are stories populated with monsters, including a number of familiar ones, but they are anything but conventional. Many horror stories, especially short ones, are about a monster or a location. The characters exist primarily to encounter that element and to demonstrate its impact. The characters in North American Lake Monsters are richly drawn. They are fallible, selfish, and often filled with violent rage. They struggle with their obligations to themselves and others. Their pain and regret is communicated with raw and painful detail, and acted out in bad decisions. Monsters and the supernatural are the least of the problems most of these people have. In some cases, it isn’t even clear that a supernatural element is necessary; they could just be ordinary stories of human tragedy, and another writer might have edited out the fantastic element from some of them. This would have been a loss.
In most of these stories, the main characters face some combination of domestic or natural disaster in addition to an encounter with the supernatural. The touch of the strange may be slight, but in each case the protagonist spirals out of orbit. The tragedy and horror is not usually found in the monster, but in the humans. The idea that humans are the real monster is not new, but this is something slightly different. It is clear that the monsters in these stories are, in fact, monstrous. They are not misunderstood outsiders, but are explicitly strange, violent, and even malevolent creatures: monsters in the truest sense. I think what makes the collection so unusual is that Ballingrud so skillfully avoids either easy solution in his stories. The characters do not exist simply so they can be traumatized or destroyed by the monsters, and the monsters themselves do not exist as simple metaphors or just to shine a light on human characteristics. Each exists independently of the other for narrative purposes. The stories of the monsters themselves are often unknown, and in the cases in which we do learn them, they are not made more human as a result. They do not instruct, or offer a hint of a greater moral order. They simply exist, occasionally intersecting with our lives, and if they are seen as more than that, then that perspective is most likely illusory. The ultimate focus is not on the supernatural events but on interior conflicts. Indeed, a number of the stories end with the protagonist lost in contemplation, crushed by the weight of their own self-understanding, or lack thereof.
The beauty of the work as a whole is that it offers no clear and easy answers; any generalization that might be supported by some stories is contradicted by others. It makes for an intellectually stimulating collection that pulls the reader in unexpected directions. The pieces don’t always come to a satisfactory resolution, but it is clear that this is a conscious choice. The lack of denouement, the uncertainty, is part of the fabric of the individual stories and of the collection as a whole. It is suggestive of a particular kind of world: one that is dark, weird, and just beyond our ability to impose order and understanding. These are not happy endings. They are sad and unsettling, but always beautifully written with skillful and insightful prose. It is a remarkable collection.
Written by Jeff VanderMeer and illustrated by Jeremy Zerfoss
Harry N. Abrams
October, 2013; $24.95 PB
reviewed by K. H. Vaughan
This is not a book about horror, but so many of our Hellnotes readers are writers themselves that a review of the most exciting book on writing to be published in a long time seemed to me like a no-brainer. Wonderbook is a comprehensive examination of the writing process from inspiration to revision, written by award-winning writer, editor, and teacher Jeff Vandermeer. There are many good books on writing, but high-quality books aimed more specifically at writers of genre fiction are much rarer. Vandermeer does not suggest a single “correct” strategy or style, but describes a variety of alternatives and their advantages and pitfalls. He clearly knows his history and theory but is in no way pedantic or dogmatic. If anything, he makes a willful effort to offer ideas that run counter to advice just given, recognizing that the ultimate benefit to the writer is not to be found in following advice, but in struggling with it.
The text is jam-packed with strategies for attacking different aspects of writing. It unpacks the nuts and bolts of the process, offering a wealth of general guidance and specific techniques for creating better fiction. In addition to Vandermeer’s insightful discussion, there are frequent sidebars and essays from some of the best writers of imaginative fiction in the business. The text is rich in detail and generously enhanced with a variety of exercises and appendices. You could spend years mining the ore within and that doesn’t even touch the in-depth online content at the companion website wonderbooknow.com.
The book exudes a sense of whimsy and humor. A central thesis of the work is that although writing is hard work, it requires a core of play. Wonderbook is pervaded with a strong philosophical commitment to the unconscious as a critical aspect of creativity. Vandermeer encourages the writer to nurture that aspect of self, and to cultivate a working relationship with the powerful intuitive forces that underlie the process. The brain must be filled with interesting contents and given room to experiment with them. The finished product must ultimately be analyzed, polished, and edited, but the effective writer explores the absurd and unexpected freely.
The book also stands out because of its unique design, which features gorgeous illustrations by Jeremy Zerfross. The art is sumptuous, idiosyncratic, and beautifully intertwined with the text across the span of the volume. The illustrations serve to illuminate and expand upon the ideas in fascinating and effective ways. Writers spend a tremendous amount of time with the written word, and the most common advice offered to aspiring writers is to write and read. This makes good sense; you don’t learn the craft without hands-on practice. But most guides to writing are written in plain text, and no matter how good they are, they necessarily engage the lexical brain. Thus, our efforts to change our approach are filtered through the very process that we want to change. Wonderbook stands this model on its ear.
People often suggest editing in a different format than the one you write in as a way of breaking frame: editing on hard-copy if you use computer, changing fonts, even doing the editing in a different location. Anything to break set and allow you to see the work differently than you did when creating it initially. It is impossible to approach the content of Wonderbook in the same way one might simply read another book on writing. By engaging the brain in a more holistic fashion, and relating the linguistic to the visual, it creates a richer experience that should allow writers make new discoveries and see their work in a new light. Wonderbook is the only book on writing I am aware of that employs this technique to break set when thinking about the writing process itself. The luxurious and absurd imagery forces you to process the ideas in different ways than a more conventional presentation ever could. It is a brilliant and effective strategy.
Taken as a whole, Wonderbook leaves all others far behind in both its scope and in its commitment to a unique philosophy of pedagogy. This is a book that a writer will want to spend a long time with, rereading, tagging, and playing. There should be a copy in every middle and high school library, and it should be considered for college writing courses. Is it possible that part of my reaction is because this is the right book at the right time for me, personally? I suppose, but I doubt it. Although aimed at beginning and intermediate writers, even seasoned professionals who have enjoyed success will find something of value within.
Edited by Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson
Grey Matter Press
September, 2013; $14.99 PB
Reviewed by Sandra Scholes
There is a need for horror more than ever before as it is pure escapism in a broadly sinister way. This first volume of Dark Visions is edited by Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson and made up of 13 short and terrifying stories by some of the most interesting horror and slipstream writers in the business. Some I recognized, like David A. Riley and Sean Logan, while I think I will have to check out other works by the authors I am unfamiliar with.
According to the blurb, this compilation of stories acts as a guide book for the evil minions that lurk within humankind and try to destroy it. Think of The Twilight Zone introduction from the popular TV series, and you will get the idea that this compilation is more than just a series of short fictional works. It is touted as a guide book where humanity must survive at all costs, and in these they rarely do. The book caters to both old and new readers who still like to be scared, though don’t want to spend too much time on reading a full novel. For those who are unfamiliar with any of the authors, they can get this book and sample whether they will like to read more of the author’s work from the stories, so from the reader’s point of view it can open up a whole new set of authors they can rely on to give them a real good scare.
The eerie thing is, the stories all start in the most normal possible way, with some wanting to live without pain, a young man trying to shed his troubled past and a man who is plagued by nightmares he can’t fathom. “The Troll,” by Jonathan Balog reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “Troll Bridge,” even with its description of a young boy trying to escape the bullies who traumatise him every day at school. Life can be lonely, but what he finds under the bridge can more than make up for it.
David A. Riley’s “Scrap,” concerns two brothers living in England who have been abused at the hands of those who should be caring for them. What they see as a new opportunity to turn their lives around turns out to be anything but. David lures readers into the plot and shocks with the greatest of ease.
Sean Logan’s “Raining Stones,” takes readers to San Francisco this time where some horrific murders have taken place. Lonnie has dreams and hallucinations of what has happened, but thinks they might be real. It is the reader’s task to find out if they are figments of his imagination or reality.
The cover artwork is in red and black showing only a single eye cut off from the rest of the face and does the job of creating that haunting first impression.
I would recommend Dark Visions for anyone who wants to seek out new and interesting writers in the horror field who could become popular favorites in the months to come.
Trade paperback, 308 pp., $16.00
by Michael R. Collings
Redheads is a bit of a quirky novel, fascinating and engaging but not quite—for me, at least—complete.
The plot is direct enough: someone is killing…make that slaughtering women, quite literally, since in every case the killer takes the time to consume some portion of the body. The slayings are horrific and bloody; they all occur within a few miles of an ocean; and they have been going on for decades.
And the victims are all redheads.
Chris Wilcox is the husband of one of the victims who, through a number of circumstances all believable presented, is independently wealthy and had both the time and the money to devote himself to tracking the killer. This entails traveling across the globe to visit the scenes of the crimes, collecting all of the data he can on what happened to each of the women, and gathering a small group of skilled associates to help him…all of whom have suffered losses to the killer.
Working together in what is essentially a procedural novel, Chris and his cohorts uncover more and more information about the killer and, somewhere around the middle of the novel, make a starling and ultimately (for several of them) a fatal discovery: the killer is not human.
From that point, the meticulously developed trains of evidence lead Chris and the others deeper and deeper into a gigantic web of deceit and disguise, into the heart of a secret so devastating that even to know of it leads to death. And, eventually, it leads to the killer himself/itself.
And that is where the novel does not deliver quite enough. Everything leading up to the final disclosures is so well handled, so complete in detail, so convincing in narration, that the climax seems underwritten. The anomalous fact that the victims were redheads is explained, but perhaps too superficially; and, more critically, the nature of the killer is itself left vague.
Still, the novel is tight, well-written, and shows a new writer off to a promising beginning. While Redheads will not rank among my favorites, I look forward to reading more of Moore’s tales.
Paperback, 260 pages, young adult
Reviewed by- Amy Shane
Review: Follow Ani through the zombie filled continuation of Twice Shy, where life as a zombie is not what it is cracked up to be.
With the event of prom fourteen months earlier, and Ani’s small slip up, her secret is partially out and the zombie virus has been discovered. This leaves Ani and 7 of her classmates infected and known world-wide as the zombie survivors of Prompocalypse.
Now acting like a new undead person, Ani must suffer with her classmates the horror of returning back to high school. If you call being chained to your desk, wearing helmets and metal bite guards, while surrounded by guards with flame throwers, a normal high school day. Luckily she has Mike, her partly brain eaten boyfriend, there with her. Unfortunately, Devon, his ex girlfriend, just happens to be there as well. Life could only get worse if they were all dead- wait they already are.
With a storyline that stretches through their days at school, medical testing, and zombie virus injections, you follow the trials and tribulations of not only being a teenager, but being a zombie teenager.
With a realistic approach to how society might actually react to a zombie virus outbreak. This book highlights social disorder and raises the question of, “What do you do with the living undead?” Are they people with rights or subjects only to be kept around for medical experiments?
Special Dead highlights the fall of social structure at the dawn of a deadly virus and the challenges faced by those who are left to cope with the disease. Although teenagers themselves, they are faced with choices which all have deadly consequences, as well as being emotionally charged. If you are a fan of zombies, sci- fi, or gory medical research this book taps into it all.
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