Thursday, September 21, 2017

Book Review: Behold The Void by Philip Fracassi

Behold The Void by Philip Fracassi

Introduction by Laird Barron

Paperback, 292 pages

Published March 10th 2017 by JournalStone

A short story collection is one of the best ways to get to know an author. I heard Philip Fracassi on A podcast, a epic 3 part interview on This is Horror, and was convinced the guy seemed legit. I looked him up at my library, saw nothing so I requested a purchase and within two months I got a notice it was there. I knew he had worked as a screenwriter but honestly had never heard of him before the interview. Well it was clear I have to fix that.

Introduced by cosmic horror master Laird Barron this collection that has creepy and haunting cover. It feels like the intriduction to the author I was looking for. Fracassi clearly has a perfect balance of skill and style. The stories are all genre but have a diverse feel with in that spectrum. Some are straight fucked-up horror and some feel like classic weird tales.

Weighing with 9 tales some are novella length and had a previous life as chapbooks. The best of these long pieces was Altar a story that took place near a pool. The weirdest story of the book was Coffin whose POV character was excellent, she was the most interesting character in the book.

To me the best story in the collection was Fail-safe. In fact I would go so far as to say it was the best pure horror short story I have read since Brian Evenson's Any Corpse. This story is short on pages but loaded with high concept and perfectly composed moments of suspense and terror. The story includes misdirection, atmosphere and white knuckle scares. For this reader these 20 pages made the whole book worth it. To me it would have made a perfect Tales from the Darkside episode.

Don't get me wrong I read and enjoyed all of it. Fracassi found a fan in me. This is excellent horror literature, the prose is inventive and stylish. The Characters fully developed and Fracassi brings powerful new voice to the table. I know this is a short review but I feel confident that serious horror fans will enjoy this book.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Review: The Changeling by Victor LaValle

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Hardcover, 431 pages

Published June 13th 2017 by Spiegel & Grau

I really loved this book, and I know the hyperbole has started, Lavalle's last book book has seems to have won every major award. this book is no different it is getting rave reviews from almost everyone who read it. The reasons are clear. This book is the real deal story telling to it's core. It has a fantasy feel to that at moments feels like full on fable or fairy tale and other times brutal horror. At the heart of this novel is a very rich story that feels like it is being told to you as you sit on rocking chairs on the front porch. I picked up the book based on the strength of Lavalle's last book The Ballad of Black Tom. I think it was good that I didn't know anything about the plot.

It is the story of Apollo Kagwa son of single mother and African immigrant in New York City. His father left them and the reason is a mystery. The elements of this mystery unfold in a very magical way. Early in the story Lavalle creates a simple story that has a natural feeling of scope and magic. It is kinda hard to explain, the events of the novel are subtle with a slow burn but the way it is told just feels powerful. The pages fly by.

Apollo receives a clue left at his door step that leads him to want to collect books, there are really cool moments centered around the magic and power of books. Those passages set the tone but the zigs and zags into romance and horror. When Apollo meets the love of his life. A Librarian whose entry into his life fills a void. But there is tragedy coming. Soon his son and his wife are missing presumed dead, he ends up briefly in jail orginally charged with their murder. After he is released from prison he wants to get to the truth, is he unlucky or are dark forces working against him?

The strength of this novel is the constant balance that Lavalle brings to the text between the magic and beauty and the dark evil as it builds to a boil. I am sure some readers will feel jolted by the tone shift half way into this novel but this is earned through moments of tension slow building in the first half. The New York setting and characters are really well developed.

Was it perfect? Most seem to think so, the book is racking up five star reviews and started already to win awards. For me there were two elements that didn't work. For one thing I didn't like the addition of modern technology into the story. The inclusion of a phone app into a story that drew strength from a spiritual tone was jarring to me. There was one chapter that ended with joke involving an app that was so corny I almost slammed the book shut.

Apollo is tragic character but one I liked enough to feel for. I liked the strengths of this novel enough to ignore the parts I didn't like. I thought it was very, very good but I didn't like it as much as some. The Ballad of Black Tom was a masterpiece and this one was very good but I am not sure I would use the word that strong of a word here. Lavalle is an amazing writer and I think I will read what ever he writes at this point.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book Review: The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

he Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

hardcover, 288 pages

Published April 2017 by Harper

I have to admit I have never heard of Lidia Yuknavitch before. I have gathered since I started this book that she is an author whose books are shelved and marketed as lit fiction. Certainly this is one of those cases where a book is very clearly genre and is never slapped with the honest label. I understand that to the author she may not have set out to write a science fiction horror post apocalypse novel, but she did. I am sure all she meant to do was do a modern Joan of Arc novel.

Look it was the genre elements that hooked my interest and it the reason many of you read these reviews. Yuknavitch is a talented writer and I am I positive I will read her again. The concept alone, Joan of Arc re-told after the majority of humanity has escaped a radiated earth to live in a orbiting habitat. The humans who survive are transforming, fluid with gender and sexuality becoming a memory. All coo elements that make for interesting read.

Book of Joan is a an ultra-feminist speculative fiction that will get lazy comparisons to Leguin's Left Hand of Darkness just because of the gender fluid moments. I suspect fans of Leguin however will love this novel. There is alot to like here. Normally I am annoyed when a novel like this is not called science fiction, but I have seen worst cases. The novel is not hard sci-fi at all and is more surreal than anything.

Early in the novel I was riding with it. The prose is crisp and the pace starts up OK. I enjoyed the flurry of weird ideas, I had put the hold on the book so many months ago I had forgotten why I was interested so I went in cold. I thought Yuknavitch put more energy into the setting and the world building in the early pages, that is one reason why the first half of the novel worked better for me. In the second half the novel lost focus. So did I.

This novel is really cool, and I liked the themes and methods Yuknavitch used to express herself. I really enjoyed the first one hundred pages. The ecological message is as strong as the feminist one, but I don't think the story suffers for that reason. The last sixty became confusing for me. I admit I got lost and pages went by. That could have been on me, there is no denying the talent involved in the writing.

Overall I liked this book even if I was less happy with the last parts of the narrative. I think fans of smart politically charged speculative fiction should read this book. Fans of smart weird stuff will also enjoy.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: What Immortal Hand by Johnny Worthen

What Immortal Hand by Johnny Worthen
Paperback, First, 318 pages Published September 2017 by Omnium Gatherum

I was sent a review copy so I could not have gone into this novel anymore cold than I did. I expected something good based on OG's history of cool indie horror titles. WIH is a strange horror novel, and one I am glad I read it. Also kinda glad I didn't read the back cover description which gave away an aspect of the book I didn't see coming. Don't worry I'll warn you before I explain. You don't have to take the red pill.

Lets start with the story. Our POV is Michael Oswald a private detective who is hired by an insurance company to track down a stolen truck. Not because of the two people that went missing, but the rare equipment insured on the missing truck. This investigation leads Oswald across the southwest although mostly Utah and California. He eventually discovered a mass graves filled with bodies both fresh and ancient history.

How Oswald finds the bodies becomes a more important mystery than what happened to the truck. Let me cut to the chase here to avoid spoilers and then I'll come back to the story.

Did I enjoy this novel? Yes This is a odd horror novel that starts off as weird crime noir that has a edge of southwest gothic to it. The turn the novel takes as we enter the last 100 pages is a great one that crept up on me. It took a pretty simple novel and turned the narrative into a bit of live wire. It took a pretty simple book and gave it a really interesting edge. Before that twist I was enjoying it, but my feelings for the book really spiked.

That said I was not a huge fan of the last twenty or so pages.I didn't find the ending as satisfying as I had hoped but it didn't ruin the experience. The book is well written and Oswald is likable enough character. The story moves at a good pace but the things that made the book stand-up were back loaded. I enjoyed the book, and thought it was fun but honestly don't think it holds a candle to some of the very exciting things we have in the modern horror underground. I am thinking of authors like Laura Lee Bahr, Cody Goodfellow or Jeremy Robert Johnson for examples. Those writers are telling daring and brave stories in the sense that they are trying to break new ground.

This is a very good book but it felt a little safe to me. That is OK hell I like Vanilla ice cream. I enjoyed this book enough to give it four stars the problem is stacking it up against the amazing things I have read this year. It is a good book judged on it's own merits, but the hard part about giving a recommendation comes to how much do you devote to reading?. Hell I get it I released a book this year too. There is alot of amazing things out there and it is tough as hell to compete. Worthen should be proud of this book, no matter what I say. I really liked this book, think it is great but I am pretty positive even in September that it will not make my Top 10 list of the year.

OK Spoilers Bonus:

On the back cover the book is compared the 1985 World Fantasy award winning novel Song of Kali by Dan Simmons. That is really a bold claim and one I am glad had not read. I didn't read anything about the book dealing with Kali or thuggee cults. I am glad I didn't because that was actually a good twist for me. The twist introducing those elements worked for me but going fully into in the last pages didn't work as much for me. I am not sure how I would have written to the back differently I am just saying I am glad I didn't know.

(Audio) Book Review: Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

9 1/2 hours audio recording. I don't listen to alot of audio books anymore. I used to rock most Stephen King novels that way, and it used to be the soundtrack of my long walks. The growth of podcasts, my interest in sports and thus sports radio sorta killed my audio book consumption. But in a convoluted way I owe sports radio local legend and world class curmudgeon Jeff Dothseth. In between insulting basically everyone in San Diego but enemies and friends alike Jeff mentioned Author Don Winslow's new book the Force. I wanted to read that but it is popular and the book has 150 holds at the library. Jeff also mentioned This novel The Dawn Patrol which he described as a Mystery set in Pacific Beach. I was sold.

Last month I had a trip planned to Carbondale Illinois to go watch the total solar eclipse. This is only a four hour drive from my hometown Bloomington Indiana where I would be visiting my father. However I understood that the traffic into and out of the tiny college town of Carbondale would suck. Indeed on the way home the Drive from Carbondale to Mt. Vernon (normally 45 minutes)took 4.5 hours. I listened to more than half of this book on the drive there and drive back. That said I spent alot of that long drive to Mt. Vernon explaining how amazing it was to see the eclipse.

OK Dawn Patrol is written by the genius crime writer Don Winslow known for his cartel crime novels and Read by Ray Porter. Who I knew from his reading of San Diego's own Jonathan Maberry's books. Winslow is known for very honest and brutal modern crime novels. The Savages and and his novel Cartal are known for the detailed research as much as the characters. Dawn Patrol is the most classic noir novel set in San Diego I have read. It has a classic detective novel feel.

The mystery at the heart of this story is only one thread in a rich tapestry. The title perfectly captures the most important aspect of the novel The six characters that make up the Dawn Patrol surfing crew. While our main POV character is Boone Daniels PB surfer turned washed up cop, all the members of the crew did attention and add essential flavor to the story. Boone fits alot of surfer guy and novel detective story tropes but when he is given the job solving the murder of a stripper it drags him in the underworld of San Diego.

In many ways Dawn Patrol reminded me of Terriers, the short lived noir comedy Series on FX set here in San Diego. While I like Terriers slightly more, they kinda have a similar DNA.

As San Diegan my favorite aspect of this novel was the asides where Boone via Winslow explained San Diego to the readers not from here the city. This is important to explain the differences between OB, PB and mission bay for example. Living here I of course know much of this but Winslow really gave history and context that most San Diegans have no clue about. Like Why the Gaslamp district exists, and it's more than 100 years of history. This alone makes the book a worthwhile read

A part of me wishes I had read this novel myself but the audio book was well produced. Ray Porter is a world class reader. I think if you like crime novels you can't go wrong here, but if you are in San Diego you should read this local novel.