BOOK REVIEW: Little Monsters, Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire

Little Monsters, Vol. 1Little Monsters, Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Release Date: October 11, 2022

Get Speechify to make any book an audiobook

It’s vampiric Lord of the Flies in a dystopian wasteland. Checks a lot of boxes. To begin on a positive note, I loved the character development in this book. Each of the kids is distinct and one rapidly develops an affinity for some of them and a distrust of others. Long story short, you want to know what happens to these kids, and why they’re in the situation in which they find themselves.

What I didn’t like is what I call the “resolution to hook” ratio. When something is written with serialization in mind, it’s a challenge to provide a satisfying story arc. There’s an incentive to end with a big hook, so as to draw readers farther down the line, and often the whole climax-resolution-conclusion bit is skipped or glossed over. Often, this leaves no (or a weak) resolution, such that reading the volume doesn’t scratch the itch that good stories do. Steamrolling through the end of the story arc to end on a cliffhanger may attract some continuing readers, but for those of us wary of the sunk cost fallacy (giving into an investment made with the assumption that it will eventually turn out positively,) it’s a sign to move on to the next story. (Lest one be Lost-ed – i.e. to be drawn in by a brilliant and inventive story only to see it become increasingly muddled, ultimately to end in a sad crash landing.)

The art is somewhat crudely rendered, but I suspect that was a conscious choice to achieve the desired atmospherics. And, I think it worked. The art clearly conveys the action.

If you have faith that you’ll eventually get that narrative itch scratched, you may want to check this one out. It does have a lot of potential. For my part, I’m once bitten, twice shy.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Stephen King by Bev Vincent

Stephen King: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and InfluencesStephen King: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and Influences by Bev Vincent
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Release Date: October 18, 2022

This book offers one-stop shopping for anyone who wants to know about the life and works of one of the most popular and prolific genre fiction writers ever, Stephen King. The book is built around decade-by-decade examination of the books that King published as well as the adaptations that those books spawned (film, tv, comic book, theater, etc.) It’s arranged in an encyclopedic fashion (though chronologically) with entries on all of King’s titles, and has many textboxes about niche subjects including: King’s side hustles (e.g. owning radio stations, playing in a rock bank, etc.,) major events in King’s life, fictional places and characters that grew lives of their own, adaptations other than film and tv [film & tv adaptations are presented in the body of the text,] and various other quirky King-related topics.

The book is illustrated with a large collection of photos of King from various time periods and engaged in various activities.

Many fascinating insights can be discovered throughout the book. I learned, for example, that the Richard Bachman alias resulted from King’s prolific nature (and because BTO was playing at the time.) Publishers thought that readers would only buy one or two titles from a given author per year, but King had a back log of unpublished material – so he started publishing books under the Bachman persona. King was ever experimenting with various approaches to publishing and that makes the book potentially interesting for those with a curiosity about publishing innovations. The book is forthright about King’s alcohol and drug addictions and the influence they had on his work.

Oddly, I’m not the target audience for this book. I’ve only read a couple of King’s books (and one of those was “On Writing,” his nonfiction guide to writing.) That said, I found the book quite interesting.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Darkness by S. Elizabeth

The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and MacabreThe Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre by S. Elizabeth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Release: September 6, 2022

As the title suggests, this book collects a diverse group of artworks that share the common theme of the macabre. While most of these works are paintings, a few photos and sculptures are included. It’s also predominantly Western (European and North American) art, but some exceptions exist, notably several Japanese works are included. Where the collection really shows its breadth is in the styles of art and eras included. The works range from more than half-a-millennium old to some produced within the last couple years, with the expected variations in styles and media, given the centuries covered. The collection is also varied with respect to the popularity of the pieces and artists. You’ll likely see some familiar works (e.g. Fuseli’s “The Nightmare,” Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” and Dalí’s “The Face of War.”) However, most of the works were new to me. (Granted, I’m a visual arts neophyte.)

The pieces are arranged into four topical divisions, each containing three chapters. The subjects include realist content such as: bodily ailments, crime, dark takes on nature, and architectural ruins. However, much of the book delves into surreal and supernatural subject matter, including: nightmares, hallucinations, gods, monsters, ghosts, and magic.

The book lets the art do the heavy lifting, but it does have brief chapter introductions and captions for each piece that includes not only the title, artist, and (if known) the year the art was released, but also some interesting tidbits about artwork and / or artist. These write ups are concise, intriguing, and well-written, and offer some fascinating insights. The book also presents numerous quotes from poets, artists, and other intellectuals.

I learned a great deal from reading this book and discovered some new favorite artworks, art that is beautiful or grotesque but often a combination of both — but always evocative. If you’re interested in how artists depict the darkness in the lives and souls of humanity, you should definitely give this book a looksie.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Cross to Bear by Marko Stojanović 

Cross to BearCross to Bear by Marko Stojanović
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Out: July 5, 2022

This Western-Dark Fantasy hybrid tells the story of two men who fled the Old World, seeking anonymity in the American West, two men whose stories tragically intersect. The protagonist is a battle-weary ex-killer for the enforcement arm of a secret society. It’s a twist on the clichéd “man-of-violence who walks away from it all only to be drawn back.” The other immigrant to the West is none other than Jack the Ripper.

I thought the author built a clever story that both drew heavily on the conventions of the Western, but with some atypical elements to give it a unique flavor. While the story draws on the clichés of the genre, by telling it slant they aren’t quite as blinding. The story builds emotional resonance and feels unique despite the fact that the components of the mashup are familiar.

I only felt one clunker in the story, a point during which the protagonist tells another man that he should keep in mind that the protagonist’s son is a Lord and, therefore, is this other man’s better. This would make an American LAUGH and LAUGH. I’m not saying that promise of equality embedded in the American mythos worked out for everyone, but the idea that this deputy would find claims to aristocracy a meaningful basis of superiority (and that the protagonist wouldn’t know better than to say it, having lived there as long as he did) seem unbelievable.

If you like Westerns and cross-genre comics, you’ll probably find this one to be a compelling read.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Room by Gerry Duggan

The Dark RoomThe Dark Room by Gerry Duggan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Out: June 29, 2022

The MacGuffin of this dark fantasy story is a camera that shows scenes not as they appear to the photographer, but in a way that reflects the blessings or curses of the photographic subject. There’s a demon looking for the camera, and he’s focused his search on Dounia, proprietress of a cabinet of curiosity style collection of usual objects. Dounia is a plucky young woman who’s well-connected within the supernatural community.

The setting of the story is a New York that’s a bit like the London of Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” book, which is to say normal on the surface but overlapped with a city of mythic and magic beings.

The art is clearly drawn and uses color boldly, particularly given the ghastly subject matter. Different color palettes are used for different realms, and the cast does move around among the homes of folkloric and fantastical beings. I liked the color and don’t think it detracted from the macabre content, and – it should be noted – that the tone always retains a level of humor and lightheartedness.

I enjoyed reading this comic, and thought the art was skillfully rendered. If you’re interested in dark fantasy graphic novels, you might want to give it a look.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Bone Orchard: The Passageway by Jeff Lemire

Bone Orchard: The PassagewayBone Orchard: The Passageway by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Out: June 21, 2022

A geologist from the Geologic Survey is dispatched to a remote lighthouse island to investigate an unusual hole in the rock, and what he finds is beyond expectation.

I must admit, I might have found this book more intense were it not for my own recent reading history. In the past year or so, I’ve read more than one book placing a stranger on a lighthouse island, and so it feels cliché. I can’t say for certain whether it’s truly an overused plot device or a fluke of my reading selections (though they were all new releases.) The lighthouse is a visceral setting by virtue of its isolation, with only an antisocial lighthouse keeper for company.

The bigger challenge for me was the decision to let the art do much of the heavy lifting at the climax of the story. This created a great deal of ambiguity, and I couldn’t tell whether it was purposeful / strategic ambiguity or whether it was just a misunderstanding of what the reader would glean from the rapid succession of stylized panels. The artist did a good job of capturing the stark and frightful imagery necessary to achieve the requisite emotional palette for the story. However, I was distracted by so many questions: “Is this meant to be real or a dream?” “Why does the island work that way?” “What is the story’s base reality?” etc.

The book’s art and premise are good (if overly familiar,) but I felt the story was given short shrift, possibly the author was more focused on the overarching story and not enough on this as a standalone entity. Long-story-short: it’s okay, and maybe as a whole the series will be more promising.


View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Shock Treatment by Cullen Bunn, Peter Milligan, & Aaron Douglas

Shock TreatmentShock Treatment by Cullen Bunn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Out: June 7, 2022

This graphic novel consists of three unrelated pieces of short fiction. All of the stories are of the horror / dark speculative fiction genres, but – otherwise – they are distinct both with respect to story and art. I enjoyed them all, but definitely felt there was a variation in quality.

“Piecemeal” (Cullen Bunn) is about a clique of teenagers who stumble onto a long-deserted house, and find formaldehyde-preserved body parts. It’s got a “Final Destination” meets “Freddie Krueger” kind of vibe. I would rate it as my least favorite. Despite an intriguing (if simple) premise, it never achieved a high creepiness factor, and it resolved too easily / cleanly for my tastes. It also had the most chaotic art, which I’m sure was on purpose, but it didn’t do much for me.

“God of Tremors” (Peter Milligan) this is a period piece set in the 19th century household of a prominent Anglican vicar. It’s about a boy with epilepsy whose anti-science father wants to beat the demon out of him (because that’s what used to cause medical conditions.) While his mother tries with limited success to protect the boy, he ultimately gets help from an unexpected source. This was my favorite because it generated emotional resonance and offered evocative character development. It also had the cleanest artistic style of the three, though I don’t know how important that was to my liking it.

“10 Years to Death” (Aaron Douglas) shows a boy’s uncle telling him a disturbing tale that took place at a prison where the uncle works as the head jailer. That may seem completely unbelievable, unless you’ve had an uncle who didn’t know how to interact with kids so he just – for good or ill – treated them like adults. This was my favorite as far as story premise is concerned. The way the story unfolds is compelling and well-presented.

If you like short fiction of the dark / horror genre, you may want to look into this one.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Night Mary by Rick Remender

Night MaryNight Mary by Rick Remender
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

In this graphic novel, the protagonist is a young woman, Mary, who is a talented lucid dreamer – i.e. being conscious in one’s dreams. While lucid dreaming is a real thing, the sci-fi “magic” of the story world is that, using an experimental medication in conjunction with skilled dreamers allows the lucid dreamer to observe and take part in the dreams of another person. Said experimental medication was developed by Mary’s father, who’s a bit of a shady “evil scientist” type, and he employs Mary as his lucid dreamer (even though she is still a high school student.)

The story is intense and provocative. Character development is good and we learn that Mary is dealing with her own mental health issues, presumably PTSD-like traumatization related to an automobile accident she was in with her mother, but she may have already been anxiety prone. Mary’s father is a complex character throughout. He’s cold and distant as a father and obsessive as a scientist, but not altogether dastardly. I enjoyed falling into the story and found it to be narratively taut. That said, it wasn’t with out some problems of pacing and villain monologuing around the climax.

The artwork by Kieron Dwyer succeeded in creating a visceral horror / surreal feel. Also, the use of different color palettes for the real world versus various dream worlds helps to clarify where one is, which is useful in a story that shifts between the real (waking) world and dream scenes.

If you enjoy stories set in dreams and the sci-fi of the unconscious mind, you may want to look into this one.

View all my reviews

Gothic Imagination [Free Verse]

I first saw the stone beast
by the light of a bright day --
frozen, still & placid

My second sighting was on a rainy night,
a steady, careless rain,
the kind of rain
that seems to have declared
itself the new default mode.

I saw it in the space of lightning flash --
the silhouetted gargoyle.
It lacked the fine detail
of its sculptor's effort.
It lacked the clean edges
and ornamental effects.
Imagination filled in the lost detail
with scales rippling under
muscular flesh.

And while the lightning felt prolonged,
it was still just a flash --
leaving me to wonder whether
I'd really seen it rear back,
preparing to lunge off the wall?

And then I saw the world through its eyes
and all was better...

and then all was worse.

Dreaming Evil Clowns [Spencerian Sonnet]

My lungs were burning as I ran through town,
and tried to escape the streets of cobbled stone
and he from whom I ran, that evil clown,
whose paint obscured a face I once had known,

but how could I know something that's unknown
and, thinking that, I knew it made no sense,
though I knew it true deep within my bones.

Then stirred by eyes so burning and intense,
I picked a pointy stick for my defense,
and chucked it at the creature's beastly heart.
I missed its heart by width of a ten-pence.
The clown, in turn, tossed it back like a dart.

Awaking to sharp pains in my frail chest,
the clown had slayed me, or so I guessed.