I wasn’t familiar with Gord Downie’s work and picked up this book solely based on Jeff Lemire’s name. Now Lemire’s work I know well and love, as both writer and artist. In this slim volume, he’s employed as only the latter. The inimitable craggy features and large expressive eyes are all Lemire.
But turns out, it isn’t just a book. More of a properly illustrated expanded booklet that a CD might come with. And what I originally thought were poems are actually songs. Which makes perfect sense, because their musicality was noticeable and notable upon reading.
The book is structured in a way that it actually doesn’t need words to its art or art to its word, which is to say both aspects of it are self-contained, but in tandem they work perfectly, telling a sad and poignant tale of a young indigenous boy who died fleeing one of those horrible reeducational schools that Canada used to have.
It’s nice that Canada is finally reckoning with its ugly past. Just recently the country made the news for a significant payout to the indigenous families who were victims of their oppression. This book contributes to the awareness and recognition, which is always good.
It does it in such a gut-wrenching, heart-rending fashion that it sticks in your memory like a good song album. Which, of course, it is. Recommended.
Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell
Now here's a fun throwback. it stands to mention I have read a number of Campbell's books and didn't especially like any of them. In fact, found them slow to torpid and uniformly underwhelming. But this one apparently at the time of reading worked just right. The book has recently been reissued by Flame Tree Press who love Campbell's work in the way I can't possibly. The new version's cover leaves a lot to be desired. But the book lives on.
So here it is...blasting from the distant past of 2011...and very different reading tastes.
I wanted a change of pace from blood guts and gore of last week's Deathbringer, so I picked up Ancient Images, which has sat on my TBR list for a long long time. This is only my second book by Campbell, first one was Overnight, which has left me interested in the writer, but not overall impressed by the book. Ancient Images "wowed" me. I could barely put it down, the San Francisco Chronicle claims on the book cover that it's to be read in one sitting, took me 4 days on and off(life kept getting in the way), but what a great book. There is just something so right with the way this guy writes, the way he brings on the dread, the suspense, the unease without having to resort to gore and guts on every other page, not that I don't appreciate a gorefest now and then. The story is ingenious, a movie buff's dream, a film editor's in pursuit of a missing pre-war (WW2) horror film starring Lugosi and Karloff. The film's existence has been in question for 50 years and seems like someone or something will stop at nothing to keep it hidden...or maybe it's all a bunch of spooky coincidences and overactive imaginations. Campbell's done great things with this plot.
It is set in the late 80s, so no cell phones or internet, which actually adds to the suspense and occasional isolation the main character deals with as she struggles to find the film. It's also occasionally extremely British, where politeness and propriety can be a tad maddening at times. Keeping that in mind, this is a great book, intelligent, well written and really scary. The cover, however cheesy, is actually plot relevant. I can't wait to read more of Ramsey Campbell's work and I highly recommend this book.
Out There: Stories by Kate Folk
Every so often this formulaic, commercial, predictable world we read in serves up a marvel like this. A collection of stories so wild…so perfectly out there. Straight up from some awesome intersection of literature, speculative fiction, magic realism, fantasy, and science fiction.
I’ve read all these comparisons to other authors which is a lame and lazy way to advertise, and the thing is Kate Folk doesn’t need it–she is very comfortably doing her own thing and that thing is great.
Folk’s own blend of irreality, of normal situations and lives infused with the strange. It’s so much fun. And that last story (the one that takes up the final fifth of the book) alone is pure magic and the star of the show. It’s clever, hilarious, and poignant, and (okay, this one comparison really was kind of on the money) it does read like a Black Mirror episode, a good one, one on par with San Junipero.
So I loved these short stories for how original, smart, quirky, interesting, bizarre they were. It probably won’t sing for everyone, but for those who do hear its funhouse tune, it’ll be pure magic. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
Blue in Green by Ram V.
Writing about music is tricky. Jazz, about the trickiest of all music, particularly so. I’ve recently tried and it’s a challenge. But then Ram V. comes along and makes it look easy.
Of course, comparisons to Ram V. are probably typically a losing game–he’s just that good of a writer. The more I read of him the more I am impressed.
Almost too lyrical and literary for the comic book format, which is especially showcased here in this tale of regrets, family legacies, and music set to the saddest most melancholy chord progression, the despondency of a saxophone dying in the night.
The art certainly helps, especially the striking watercolors here. Almost too murky and blurry at first, but then, once you get used to it, you’ll notice it comes into focus at all the right times conveying the mood perfectly.
All in all, a striking and strikingly poignant production. Bleakly beautiful or beautifully bleak. Well worth a read. Recommended.
Gothic by Philip Fracassi
There have been many of tales about author (or any creative types, really) finding inspiration in the most peculiar (dark, scary) places. This one got a desk for a muse. Not just any desk, of course. An antique grotesque with terrible bloody history to it. You know, just the sort of gift one might expect from a loved one with more money than sense. Madness ensues…
So, how meta is it when a genre writer writes of a genre writer? Some?
Both are men in their 50s, but Fracassi’s star seems to be ascending while his protagonist’s, Tyson’s, has been on a steady downward spiral for years. When we meet Tyson, he’s in the process of sabotaging his last chance at redemption by risking a deal with Morrow.
But on the flip side, Tyson is a nice guy. Something of an old-fashioned flabby sad sack, but a devoted dad, a loving partner, a good friend, etc.
And then his girlfriend decides to replace the desk he’s had since college and had written all his bestsellers at, with a 25K monstrosity. And Tyson immediately gets possessed by his new possession; his entire personality switch flips, and now he’s a total ass. Obnoxious, rude, volent ass. This is the guy you’re stuck with for the rest of the novel.
But then, there is so plenty going on around Tyson. From a mysterious femme fatale coming after his precious desk to reboarding the rollercoaster of fame and fortune to the way it all affects his relationships. And at the center of it all is one freakishly terrifying desk.
There will be blood. It’s only a matter of time.
So did Fracassi succeed at writing a genuinely terrifying tale about a man desperately trying to write genuinely terrifying tales? Well, he comes close.
The writing itself is somewhat uneven, peculiarly so because when it’s good it’s really good, but then there are weird repetitions, relays, all-over-the-place pacing and tonal switches. Sometimes it varies between near amateurish name-dropping fanboy glee and solid literary frightfest. It’s entirely possible some of it is due to this being an ARC, but it reads perfectly finished otherwise.
But the sustained darkness of the overall plot and the mood are solid. As is the character writing. The book absolutely succeeds at drawing the reader into its nightmare and holding them there. I read the entire thing in one morning/afternoon, which is no small task given the book’s size (400 pages), so that alone speaks volumes of it. There’s definitely something about the way it all unfolds even though you know (you know) where it’s going and then that positively theatrical/cinematic denouncement. Very nice. So I’m rounding up my rating.
Fracassi as a career screenwriter is, of course, no stranger to cinematic writing. What’s funny is that his screenwriting work was featured by Disney and Lifetime. Read this book, then think about that fact. It’s freaking hilarious.
Overall, interesting, compelling, and worth checking out. Recommended for fans of dark fiction. Thanks Netgalley.
I’ve read Tynion before. Something is Killing the Children, The Woods. All YA, twee, underwhelming. So I didn’t expect much going in and was very pleasantly surprised by this awesome and very much adult comic series about…well, the truth.
Such a tragically malleable thing these days, isn’t it? Well, Tynion picked up on that and came up with an absolutely wild spin on the reasons for it, creating a world of rival agencies that fight to control the very fabric of our reality and one man caught in the middle of it all.
Great from the get-go, this story just gets darker and stranger the further you go. Conspiracy theories, madness, oh so tangled webs. Who knew Tynion had it in him? The writing’s so good. Such a dramatic improvement over his teeny-bopper series.
The art’s terrific too, watercolors and ink? Moody, stark, beautiful. Compliments the story perfectly. All in all, very, very good, Can’t wait to read more. Recommended.
The first omnibus of Stranger Things comics was actually rather decent, but this one didn’t quite maintain the quality. Somehow the decision was made to reduce the excitement and increase the kiddiness of it all, so that the three stories here are very young reading. Cute and fans of the show might still enjoy them, but overall, too light, with the cute leaning into cutesy, especially with the last story of Erica The Great.
Presumably, these comics will continue, because the spring of nostalgia is strong, and the show is likely to take its time returning for the final season. But you can skip this one and miss out on nothing. If you’re a completist, though, take comfort in knowing it’s only about 50% the size of its predecessor and reads very quickly.
At first read, this seems like a peculiar idea…making a mediocre comic to accompany a superlative show. But stay with it, that’s just the first story featuring everyone’s least favorite Will. Going forth, there are much more interesting stories. It is, after all, an omnibus.
The second and third stories are continuations of each others, featuring some of the other “numbered” supernaturally gifted kids from the facility, and the last one is about Dustin’s adventures in the science camp.
You read and you read and you realize it’s kind of a nice companion to the show. Especially considering how long the show takes between the seasons and how awesome of a tapestry it creates, allowing for many side wanders and tangential tales.
This book is about 400 pages long, but reads very quickly. I wouldn’t say it’s meant for kids though it features kids, much the same way the TV show really isn’t a kids show. But it does have a certain all-age appeal. The art is bright and fun, too. Actually, the covers are the real stunners. The art in between isn’t quite of the same quality, but it works. And overall, it’s just a fun read.
100 Places to See After You Die: A Travel Guide to the Afterlife by Ken Jennings
I like Jennings. He’s by far my favorite Jeopardy GOAT which to the uninitiated is Greatest of All Time. He’s also a fun writer, and I’ve enjoyed his books over the years, so I immediately requested the ARC of his latest when it popped up on Netgalley.
The concept here is charmingly simple…the book is essentially a compendium of afterlife as it is depicted in mythology, religion, books, movies, arts, etc. There are sections on each with alphabetically arranged entries. But, of course, Jennings ad libs. The idea here is to stick to the facts but give them a humorous spin, turning this into something of travelogue, albeit to destinations perhaps best left alone, speculative or otherwise.
So do you want Jennings as your Virgil for touring the underworld? Well, sure, he’s a fun guy. So this book is on lighter side for such a heavy topic. But then it’s also lite as it lightweight in a way. Like Jennings deliberately holds back his famous snark and sarcasm it seems to appease the general public. Must be all that Jeopardy host training.
He’s a smart, funny, erudite guy with sweeping knowledge of random facts and pop culture and he utilizes it all well, but…mildly? Like holding most of his opinions to himself. Which is a shame, says this reader, because nonfiction if often best when it is presented by an opinionated author.
So basically don’t go in expecting too much meditation on the subject or comparative studies or things like that. You will learn some things, especially in the first two sections of religion and mythology. The rest are basically Jennings rehashing plots of famous books, movies, etc. Which is entertaining but only so much. And reader beware, he does give away the plot. Every single time. The ending and all.
So overall, this quirky travelogue is somewhat educational, plenty entertaining, leaves something to be desired (specifically more of the author's personality, thoughts, opinions, etc.). Worth a read. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
There are few modern authors as adept at telling all-age fairy tale-like stories as Gaiman. Which makes him a perfect choice for writing a book on Norse mythology. Or rather, a retelling of Norse Mythology for the myths themselves have already been written a long time ago. All Gaiman had to do was spin the already existing yarn into…what’s appropriate here? a fair isle sweater?
And he did just that, by highlighting the humor and absurdity and wiliness of it all. Very clever.
Modern audience is probably (sadly) most familiar with Norse mythology from Marvel Universe. Think of this as a clever expansion pack. Closer to the origin, goofier, and more elaborate. Norse mythology is a universe of its own and its own marvel. So yeah, take that MU machine.
And because it is sort of fairy tale-like and fairy tales always come with pictures, the best way to adapt this book was turning it into a graphic novel. Using frequent Gaiman collaborator Russell (Sandman, American Gods) and a slew of awesomely talented artists. This book is as fun to read as it is gorgeous. Cover gallery alone is just pure wow.
All in all, oodles of entertainment. Recommended.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.