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review 2020-05-27 19:00
THE TAINT AND OTHER NOVELLAS by Brian Lumley, narrated by Joshua Saxon
The Taint and Other Novellas - Brian Lumley,Joshua Saxon

Welcoming the chance to get my Lovcraftian horror on via the excellent narration of Joshua Saxon, I tore into THE TAINT AND OTHER NOVELLAS. What fun!

 

A collection of 5 novellas which were written back in the mid to late 1900s, these tales do not have the polish of Lumley's later works, like the Necroscope series. These stories are more the work of a writer starting out, (while serving in the military), a writer bewitched by Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. The fun parts of the mythos are here, but they lack the racism and other issues of Lovecraft's work.

 

My favorites of the 5 were: LORD OF THE WORMS This tale featured Titus Crow, a name I remember from back in the day, though I can't quite remember the tales in which he featured. In this story, he's invited to a home under the pretense of cataloging a large book collection at an old estate. Of course nothing is as it appears. Throw in some mesmerizing hypnotism, (see what I did there?!), some maggots and some spiked wine and you have yourself a great time!

 

THE TAINT was a fun tale involving fish-men. That's right, fish-men. With all the creepiness inherent in that phrase. It's not as much a pulp tale as one would think, with just the right mix of horror and perhaps a bit of social commentary, (but that's just my take.)

 

Finally, the last story THE TEMPLE HOUSE takes the form of a man inheriting an old estate from his uncle. He takes a friend and goes to Scotland to inspect his inheritance, and soon finds a letter from his uncle asking him to destroy the place. Why? You'll have to read this to find out!

 

Regarding the narrator, Joshua Saxon-I've only listened to one other performance of his, which was the excellent THE CIPHER by Kathe Koja. In that book he was voicing only one character while in this collection, he voices all kinds of people and he does it quite well. English, American, Scottish, he does them all and never for a moment did I doubt the origins of any of the characters. Well done, sir!

 

This was a collection full of fun Lovecraftian monsters, fish people, maggots and worms. If these are the things that delight you, then you'll enjoy the hell out of this volume!

 

Recommended!

 

You can get your audio here: THE TAINT AND OTHER NOVELLAS

 

*I received this audio download free from the narrator, in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it!*

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review 2020-05-05 19:00
THE CIPHER by Kathe Koja, narrated by Joshua Saxon
The Cipher - Kathe Koja

THE CIPHER! I don't even know what to say.

 

I've only recently joined the church of Koja. It may not be as big as some, Stephen King's say, but there are joys to be found in smaller congregations.

 

This is the story of Nakota and Nicholas who one day found a black hole, named it the funhole, and changed their lives forever. They stuck different things into the hole, (getting uncomfortable yet?), including bugs, a mouse, and then a hand. What happened to these items when they were thrust inside? You'll have to read this to find out!

 

I absolutely adore Ms. Koja's prose, and Joshua Saxon the narrator brought it home with flare. This must not have been an easy performance due to the style of the aforementioned prose-especially in the second half of the book because it's a stream-of-consciousness narrative. His voicing was phenomenal.

 

I'm a bit irritated with myself because the few clips I made of the audio that highlighted the prose apparently did not save. There were short, staccato-like descriptions that...stabbed at my heart. Beautiful, honest and evocative words that my brain immediately transferred to a visual-like a direct injection. For instance "...the flat was full of drizzly day." 7 words that draw a perfect scene. Brief, staccato, BAM: there's the picture-full and complete.

 

I could go on and on about this prose but I'll leave it at what I've written. Kathe Koja's writing probably isn't for everyone; the reviews seem pretty split on Goodreads. For me, however, I feel like I have been missing out out an author that is perfect for my dark and black heart. I'm on a mission to read everything she's written. I'm a Koja missionary, baby!

 

My highest recommendation!

 

*I received the audio-book from Audiobook Boom! and the narrator, in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it!*

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review 2020-04-28 15:45
DEVOLUTION: A FIRST HAND ACCOUNT OF THE RAINIER SASQUATCH MASSACRE by Max Brooks
Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre - Max Brooks

One word: SASQUATCH. I'm in!!

 

When a small group of environmentally conscious folk move into a "smart-community" (named Greenloop), in the Pacific northwest, everything seems to be just perfect. They are off the grid, groceries are flown in via drone, and they are self sufficient...until nearby Mount Rainier erupts. All of a sudden it becomes painfully clear that they are not capable of surviving very long without internet access, (can't order up those grocery drones now), and with the roads wiped out by lahars, there's no escape. Then, they start noticing noises from the woods and as all the local wildlife begins to run, they run into something deadly. Will our plucky group escape from Greenloop with their lives? Or will they stay and try to defend the lives they've built? You'll have to read this to find out!

 

The after-effects of a lahar:

 

I ended up loving characters that I nearly hated at first. Katie? I'm looking at you, girl! As the tale continues we learn more about each of the people living at Greenloop. Many of the important things about them aren't disclosed until much later in the book. My Google-foo was strong though and I discovered a lot of those particulars early on and that gave more depth to the tale. This entire group of people changed throughout, some in good ways, others not so much.

 

I thought that for a bigfoot story this tale was mostly realistic, though there were portions where I had a hard time suspending my disbelief. I cant say more about that without spoilers, but let's face it. This is a story about sasquatches, there's only so much realism there can be. And even though we're talking about somewhat of a creature feature here, the real focus is on the characters and not the cryptids. In that respect, it's not a creature feature at all, it's about the people.

 

DEVOLUTION is a quick read, fast paced and a lot of fun. There were gory scenes, lots of action and unexpected events popping up all over the place. It kept my attention, kept the pages turning and took my mind off this pandemic for a while. For these reasons I recommend it!

 

Available everywhere June 16th, but you can pre-order here: DEVOLUTION

 

*Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it!*

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review 2020-04-26 21:04
DARK CELEBRATIONS by Calvin Demmer
Dark Celebrations - Calvin Demmer

 

Having been totally knocked out by Demmer's THE SEA WAS A FAIR MASTER, (it was my favorite collection of 2019), I jumped at the chance to read his latest, DARK CELEBRATIONS. I don't regret it for an instant!

 

In this volume, which tells tales of celebrations and/or holidays from around the world, I found a wide variety on offer, and most of them worked well for me. My favorites were:

 

THREE DEAD MEN captivated me because it went nowhere near where I thought it was going. Think Kill Bill with mummies. That's right...mummies!

 

SPRING OUTBREAK was another tale that ran in the opposite from my preconceived notions. Picture spring break with zombies. That's right...zombies!

 

PROM SCREAMS had me thinking the main character was a real jerk and that he should just own up to what happened. I also found myself thinking about Charlene ,(Charlie), McGee and what could have happened to her later in life. (If you don't know who she is, look her up!) This story lead to so many different thoughts, I have to leave it there. I dug this one a lot!

 

UNIDENTIFIED FATHERLY OBJECT had cool ties to the earlier stories and that I enjoyed. It was a bit out there, (I WANT TO BELIEVE), just as the title suggests.

 

INDEPENDENCE DENIED: I was captivated because of its Lovecraftian feel. In the times we're in now, I wouldn't be surprised at all if natural disasters started to surge. It seems like that would be a perfect fit for the apocalyptic-feeling with which COVID19 has blanketed us. At the same time, this tale was entertaining enough to make me forget about that for a while and I'm thankful to Mr. Demmer for the brief escape.

 

The only reservation I had with this collection is that the first few stories didn't pique my interest as much as the later ones did. That could be because, admittedly, my expectations were high. It all worked out though, as for me, the stories got better and better until the phenomenal last act of INDEPENDENCE DENIED.

 

Once again Calvin Demmer wows us with a set of tales that are thoughtful, dark, sometimes funny, sometimes gory, and sometimes homages to H.P. himself. Once again, I found myself enthralled, most especially in the later stories, and I was happy to turn myself over to be thoroughly entertained.

 

Recommended!

 

Get your copy here: DARK CELEBRATIONS

 

*Thank you to Calvin Demmer for the paperback in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.* (less)

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review 2020-04-24 11:43
A spider web that traps readers and doesn’t let go
Odd Numbers - JJ Marsh

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

JJ Marsh is an author I’ve read great reviews about and has been on my list for a while, so I took the chance when I saw an ARC for her next book had become available. I can’t compare it to the rest of her works, but based on this novel, which is a new genre for her, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending her books, and I look forward to catching up on some of her previous novels.

I think the description above provides plenty of hints as to the plot, and this is one of those novels where the way the story is told and the fine details are fundamental, so I’ll try to avoid over explaining things or giving too many hints (I want to avoid spoilers at all cost). This is a story built around six friends (three women and three men) who meet at university, while they are studying to become international translators, and grow to be quite close. They come from different countries (mostly Europe, although one comes from the US, and one is from Indian origin), have very different personalities and backgrounds, and it’s likely that their friendship would have fizzled and died if not for a tragic event that takes place while they are away celebrating New Year (and the new millennium) in December 1999. After that, they meet every two years, and the event that binds them together weighs heavily on them all, having a very different impact in each one of them. Things come to a head on the 20th anniversary of that fateful New Year’s celebration and readers are privileged witnesses of another night to remember. This novel reminded me of a book I read and reviewed recently, The Hunting Party, but also of films like The Celebration (Festen), where there is a build-up of tension, strained relationships, plenty of secrets and lies, and a surprise or two. Although I think many readers will smell a rat from early on in the novel, even if they get it right (and let’s say things are left open to interpretation), the beauty of this novel is in the way it is built, the variety of points of view, and the psychological insights it offers into a catalogue of characters that are not miles away from people most of us know. Considering this is the author’s first incursion into the psychological drama genre, I take my hat off to her.

There are a variety of themes that come up in the novel, some more important to the action than others, for instance the nature of friendship, the way different people experience grief, the guilt of the survivor, how we change and evolve over time and how our relationships change with us, love, death, careers, priorities, family, charity missions, and, of course, lies.

As for the characters, I won’t go into too much detail about them, because the author does a great job of building them up through the novel, and readers should discover them as they read. Marsh chooses one of the female characters, Gael, as the main narrator, and she starts the story ‘now’ (in 2020). The whole novel is written in the first person, but not all from the same point of view. Although I’ve said that Gael is the main narrator, and she has more chapters than the rest, we also get to hear the voices of the other characters, who take us back into some of the reunions the friends have had over the years, and that allows readers to compare and contrast Gael’s version of the rest of her friends with their own words and insights. Readers can compose a mental picture and fit in the pieces of the puzzle, making their own minds up and deciding if they agree or not with Gael’s perceptions. It also makes for a more rounded reading experience, as we get to know each character more intimately, and perhaps to empathise, if not sympathise, with all of them. I liked Gael from the start: she is articulate, a journalist, and a bit of a free spirit, but she always tries to understand and accommodate others as well, and she is more of the observer and the outsider in the story, for reasons that will become evident to the readers from early on. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the friends are like an ersatz family, with individual roles they always fall back on when they are together (the nurturing mother, the responsible and dependable father, the youngest and spoilt sister, the rushed and sporty brother, the sister whom everybody confides in [Gael]), and this reminded me of Eric Berne’s Games People Play. All the characters are articulate and savvy enough to be aware of this and play it for keeps as well.

The book flows well, and the language used is appropriate to each one of the individual characters, fitting with their personalities and quirks without calling too much attention to itself. It helps move the story along, and manages to build up the tension, even when there isn’t a lot of action in the usual sense. There are mysterious events taking place (some that will have readers wondering if the characters are imagining them or not), clues that sometimes don’t seem to amount to much, hints, and some memorable scenes. But all those elements are woven subtly into the narrative creating a spider web that traps the readers and the more they read, the more they become entangled in the strands of the story and the characters, until it becomes almost impossible to put the book down.

There is a closure of sorts, although the ending is ambiguous and most of the surprises and big reveals have come before then. I liked the fact that there is much left to the imagination of each reader, but I know such things are down to personal taste.

This is a great psychological drama, with engaging characters (some more likeable than others), fascinating relationship dynamics, and a mystery at its heart. It’s a gripping read, perfect to keep our minds engaged and to have us pondering the ins and outs of friendships, relationships, and which actions would push us beyond the limits of forgiveness. A gem.

The last 7% of the e-book contains the first-chapter of the author’s work-in-progress, in case you wonder about its length.  

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