Review – The Book of Apex: Volume 4

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When I got an email from Andrea at Little Red Reviewer saying that she was organizing a blog tour for The Book of Apex, I readily agreed because it was on my list of books to purchase and it sounded like all the awesome.

Luckily, the publisher was willing to share a copy with me and I read it like the obsessed reader I can be. Except for when I got down to the last few stories, in which I drug my reading feet. Seriously, getting to the end was a joy but also sad because all the stories, which are so amazing, different, macabre, scary, creepy, and excellent were over. But the good news is that I now get to talk about them.

First, I’m going to share the full list of stories because there are some amazing writers in this anthology and all deserve a mention.

Table of Contents:

The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente

The Leavings of the Wolf by Elizabeth Bear

The 24 Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak

Faithful City by Michael Pevzner

So Glad We Had This Time Together by Cat Rambo

Sweetheart Showdown by Sarah Dalton

Bear in Contradicting Landscape by David J. Schwartz

My Body, Her Canvas by A.C. Wise

A Member of the Wedding of Heaven and Hell by Richard Bowes

Copper, Iron, Blood and Love by Mari Ness

The Second Card of the Major Arcana by Thoraiya Dyer

Love is a Parasite Meme by Lavie Tidhar

Decomposition by Rachel Swirsky

Tomorrow’s Dictator by Rahul Kanakia

Winter Scheming by Brit Mandelo

In the Dark by Ian Nichols

The Silk Merchant by Ken Liu

Ironheart by Alec Austin

Coyote Gets His Own Back by Sarah Monette

Waiting for Beauty by Marie Brennan

Murdered Sleep by Kat Howard

Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine

Sexagesimal by Katharine E.K. Duckett

During the Pause by Adam-Troy Castro

Weaving Dreams by Mary Robinette Kowal

Always the Same. Till it is Not by Cecil Castellucci

Sprig by Alex Bledsoe

Splinter by Shira Lipkin

Erzulie Dantor by Tim Susman

Labyrinth by Mari Ness

Blood from Stone by Alethea Kontis

Trixie and the Pandas of Dread by Eugie Foster

The Performance Artist by Lettie Prell

I want to talk about every single story here because they were all that good but in terms of space, here are a few of my favorites.

The 24 Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak — This story will bring out all the feels. It traces the 24 hour life of boy as seen through the eyes of his older brother, who is only a child himself. The baby, then unruly teenager, and then old man, is so sad and absolutely amazing at the same time.

My Body, Her Canvas by A.C. Wise — A man gives his body, and his soul, to a woman he loves — an artist who doesn’t even see him as a person, only a canvas for her art. She calls on him when she needs to expel personal demons, and he answers her call each time.

The Silk Merchant by Ken Liu — A Young man wants to know the secret of the finest silk in all the world. He finds his answer, right next to his broken heart.

Always the Same. Till it is Not by Cecil Castellucci — A zombie story, but a zombie story where the zombies are, well, more than just zombies. They evolve.

During the Pause by Adam-Troy Castro — Your planet is about the be destroyed and we have a message for you. We are here to tell just how horrible your last few minutes of life will be. Aliens, please stay away.

Trixie and the Pandas of Dread by Eugie Foster — Trixie, a godmobile, and farting pandas. I laughed so hard at this one. A vengeful god, a self-doubting god, a god with farting pandas.

The Performance Artist by Lettie Prell — This is the last story in the anthology and it’s simply one of the most amazing. It’s also terrifying. A performance artist puts herself on display, downloads herself into a machine, and becomes the installation.

If you missed it, I posted a few thoughts from author Cecil Castellucci earlier this month. Take a look.

Final thoughts: buy this one.

The Book of Apex: Volume 4

Edited by Lynne M. Thomas

An Apex Publications Book

ISBN: 9781937009205

Those Mountains of Madness

I read H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness (my review), and while it was interesting, it left me wanting. I didn’t love it, but I wanted to. I was sad it didn’t happen that way. This was a story I should love, or at least, that’s what I thought.

Then came along Tales to Terrify which was featuring the story. Audio books aren’t my thing but why not give it a go. It’s three podcasts and I could stop listening at anytime. Since I was already familiar with the story, it should work out fine.

Can I tell you how happy I am that I gave it a try! I *happy dance* was so happy and totally creeped out. It was everything I wanted from this story which I didn’t get from my reading experience.

I came to love the words used by Lovecraft: ‘purposeful malignancy,’ ‘morbid survival,’ ‘from nightmarish antiquity,’ and ‘cosmic octopi.’

Part one of the story is all about the staging of the expedition. Generally, I enjoyed this part of the book in both reading and listening forms. For some reason I can’t understand, I liked the lists of needed materials for the expedition. Part two was lost on me while reading but not listening. It’s an exploration of the dead city of a once thriving civilization that inhabited Earth long before humans. Shoggoths of the sea with accidental intelligence, cthulhu spawn — seriously, let those words sink in and you’ll be checking under the couch for monsters too. As part three begins, and it comes to a close, it’s pure dread mixed with remorse and a hint of foreboding — all in the name of science.

If you listen, you’ll be rewarded by the wonderfully creepy voice of Bob Nuefeld. Actually, his voice isn’t creepy at all but the perfect choice for this tale. He reads Lovecraft’s words with an incredible voice that warbles in all the right places. Also, in part two, there’s a great discussion of horror works that is absolutely worth listening to.

Go listen. Then hide from the shoggoths.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Review – World War Z

World War ZMy husband, who doesn’t read much fiction, bought World War Z one night as we were browsing our local bookstore. I’d heard about it, good things too, but I figured I was done with the zombie thing. A few weeks after said purchase, we find ourselves at the movies and on comes the preview of the movie version of World War Z, which looks awesome by the way. We get home and my husband goes looking for the book, and for the next two evenings, does nothing but read. For a man who doesn’t read fiction, he can’t get enough of it. Of course, I had to read it. And now that the movie is coming out, I’m finally getting around to my review. Here’s my take.

There’s a reason this book is subtitled an oral history of the zombie war. It’s exactly what it is. The author himself plays a part as the curator of the stories of individuals that have survived the zombie war. He travels the world speaking with people who have, in some way, large or small, made an impact in the war. The introduction of this book is critical to understand why these stories are being collected and told this way. You see, Brooks was an agent of the United Nations that helped to document the ten year war against the zombie outbreak, but when the final document is published, he realizes how much was left out. He plans to change that with this book.

I have to give it to the author — this was an incredibly effective way to make this fiction seem real. The individuals’ stories fake or not, are scary and totally believable. He pulls in religious factors, political factions, impact of political decisions, and the final result on not just humanity but the world as a whole. I have to say, bravo on that one. Brooks made a zombie story completely believable. The way he describes the spread of the plague — organ donation as one way — is brilliant and the political ramification in attempting to stop it are so detailed you can picture this happening in the world we live in.

OK, so I’ve gushed but I do have some little complaints. It began to feel repetitive and tedious to me. There’s a ton of military interviews and only so many descriptions of how to shoot a zombie in the head that I can take. But, it makes sense, he’s describing a war and I get that. I’m just not much for reading battle scenes, of which there are many here. Also, he interviews very few women. Jenny, over at Jenny’s Books, talk about this so I hand it over to her. Go read it.

I didn’t read The Zombie Survival Guide, which is Brooks’s first book. My sister, a zombie aficionado, did and when I told her I was reading this I’m pretty sure she starting salivating and wanted to get her hands on it.  I promised I’d send it as soon as I finished the review, which oddly, I wrote after only a few days which is totally not my style but anything for the sister.

So, the movie. Will I be seeing it? Probably. I have to say the preview looked damn good and if it’s anything like the book, I’ll probably not want to leave my house for a bit. Until I’m sure there aren’t any walking dead in my hallway. But, I know to aim for the head so I’m prepared.

World War Z

By Max Brooks
Crown Publishing Group
ISBN: 9780307346612

Review – At the Mountains of Madness

At the Mountains of MadnessThis turned out to be a difficult review to write (one of the reasons why it’s taken me so long to post it). After reading The Shunned House, also by Lovecraft, I had very high hopes for At the Mountains of Madness. Unfortunately, I’m torn. I alternately liked and disliked this book and I’m not at all sure what to say about it.

There is one thing this man can do really well and that is freak you out. I read several chapters of this book before bed one night and woke up every hour with the strangest dreams. I stopped reading it in bed after that. While the story is slow, it’s a re-telling of an Antarctica expedition that went bad, it does have some great parts. Notably, the descriptions of alien-like cities, worlds, and creatures left behind. The expeditions to and explorations of these alien cities are some of the most interesting parts of this book. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the equipment on the expedition. I know that sounds boring but it’s not. Don’t forget, this is a recounting of an expedition so these details are important to the story and while they may seem boring, they set the scene, if you will.

What I didn’t so much enjoy was the slowness of the story. I know I should’ve had sympathy for the narrator who was having trouble telling his story but I wanted to poke him and tell him to move it along. The tension does build this way and you do end up wondering what happened because he doesn’t come right out and tell you. He holds back; obviously the story is terrifying for him and re-living the story isn’t something he wants to do. You need to stay with him and listen carefully because those details provide a much larger and scarier picture. The problem for me was that I didn’t have much patience for the character and I wanted to know more about the aliens before he was ready to divulge info. Yes, the story does provide ample time to use your imagination but mine didn’t seem to be working when I was reading. This happens.

The version I borrowed from the library had an introduction by China Mieville, a favorite author of mine. But thanks to schedules and the library wanting their books back, I didn’t have the chance to read his breakdown of the story which I think would’ve gone a long way for me in thinking more deeply about the story itself. I was saving it for the end and never got to it since it took me longer to read than anticipated. I’m thinking I might need to request this again to read that introduction.

I still want to read more Lovecraft though. Is there something you’d recommend?

At the Mountains of Madness

By H.P. Lovecraft

The Modern Library

ISBN: 0812974417

 

Review – The Shunned House

The Shunned HouseI’ve never read Lovecraft; I always had good intentions though. Time got away from me and I kept saying I would get to it. I never did, until recently that is. I found a story, this one in fact, while browsing the Gutenberg Project website. It was the only Lovecraft story they had listed and I thought why not, I always meant to read one of his stories.

An abandoned house sits on Benefit Street in the New England town of Providence, Rhode Island. The house, empty for years, is the source of many rumors, and many of these rumors have easily been explained away by most of the town’s people. Then one man and his uncle decide to finally put an end to the rumors. Both have a very strong interest in the house and have been actively researching it for years. They plan to spend the night in the basement of the house and discover the source of the supernatural rumors.

For a short story, about 35 pages, The Shunned House packs in so much. I loved the rumors, all neatly explained away by stoic New Englanders, the research done on the house and all its inhabitants, and the guesses as to the source of the possible supernatural on-goings at the place. It had a great creepy feeling, yet, having read it at lunch, it didn’t scare me much but I’m not sure if I’d go in for reading this while cozy in bed. At least not without all the lights on…but that would be a great way to read Lovecraft, if you aren’t attached to sleeping at all.

The Shunned House
By H.P. Lovecraft
A Gutenberg Project Ebook

Review – Bag of Bones

Bag of BonesThere are so many good reviews of this that of course I had to read it. It’s one of King’s many books that I never got around to, and with the number of books this man writes and publishes, I’m not surprised it took me this long to read it.

Mike Noonan is an author, a good mid-list author at that. He leads a comfortable life with his wife Jo in New England. When Jo unexpectedly dies of a brain aneurysm, Mike is left alone and almost incapacitated by her sudden death. His wife also left him with a bit of mystery and he wants answers. Since Jo’s death, Mike has developed writer’s block, something he’s never even briefly experienced in his career as a writer. Thinking a change in scenery will help with his writer’s block and hopefully quell the obsession he’s developing with his dead wife’s coming and goings, Mike heads to his vacation house on a lake in the woods of Maine. Shortly after arriving, he finds himself caught up in a nasty custody battle over a three year-old girl he accidentally made friends with when he saw her walking down the middle of a busy road. Unwilling to let Mattie, the young mother, get destroyed by the system, Mike steps in and learns what it means to be a stranger in this part of Maine.

I jumped into this book anticipating a full out ghost story and found myself in the middle of a custody battle. Strange how books emerge sometimes. The ghost element was more than strong and I liked the small town history and how it all tied back to Mike and the property he owns but the custody battle felt like it really never fit for me even when every last tie was explained. I think my expectations were set up to be very different from what I actually got in reading the book. This sounds negative but it’s not. It just wasn’t what I had in mind when I started this book.

That said, I did enjoy this book very much. It reminded me of 11/22/63 in the slight love story that starts to develop, and then when the ghosts start in, there’s nowhere to hide for the reader or the characters. This book spooked me early on but as the story got going, I was more interested in the ghosts themselves than some of the living characters. Anything that scared me in the beginning was out the door by this time because I wanted to know every last detail of this town’s ghosts and have them out every bitter secret.

Even with all the ghosts and their brutal pasts emerging, the main story was sad. Mike Noonan is a man lost without his wife and drifting without a career now that he can no longer write without getting violently ill. When he decides to visit the lake home, he hopes he’ll be able to write again, and when he does, it’s not what he thinks it will be. He ends up have to mourn not only his wife but a part of his life he never thought he’d lose. The custody battle is heartbreaking, as all are, but there’s a cruel aspect to it all that ties back very well to the area’s unfortunately well-known and well-hidden past.

There are a few references to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca in Bag of Bones. I adored Rebecca and referencing it here only made my love of it stronger. Why not invoke a book with a ghostly aspect to enhance another ghost story?

I know many people might stay away from an author like King and may not like horror/ghosts stories either. Well, in some ways this book is many of those things but I still want to encourage you to try it. It’s a good story with some extra supernatural parts to make it interesting. It’s more than its ghosts. In other words, it’s a keeper.

Bag of Bones
By Stephen King
Scribner
ISBN: 9781439106211
4 stars

Stephen King Button BlueThis book was read for The Stephen King Project Challenge. You can find more information here.

Review – Salem’s Lot

I’ve been re-reading a lot lately. I tend to re-read when I’m in a slump but earlier this year I decided I would pick up several books that I kept meaning to re-read and actually do it. So I did. This is one of those books. After finishing 11/22/63 last year, I wanted more King but what I wanted was old King. Salem’s Lot seemed like a perfect match. The last time I picked this one up I was high school and I’m glad to know this one still delivers. It was as creepy as I remembered.

Ben Mears is a writer looking for inspiration and believes he’ll find it in Jerusalem’s Lot, Salem’s Lot to the locals, where he spent several happy years as a child living with his aunt. He’s also planned to exorcize a few demons while writing his next book and he thinks he know what will give him the inspiration to do it — the old Marsten house in Salem’s Lot which gave him nightmares as a child. Ben tried to rent the old house but as it turned out, it was already sold. The house, which was the place of a murder/suicide, is now home to something much more sinister. When strange things begin happening around town, and the dead start disappearing, Ben and a few friends go hunting for more than just the truth about the strange rumors in town.

The start moves slow but builds quickly once the people start disappearing. Isn’t it always that way? While it takes more than vampires to be creepy these days (at least none of these sparkle in the sun!), King does what he does best, creep you out by making you think that noise you heard was really nails tapping on your window and not a tree branch. Yes, pale faces hovering at second story windows, nails tapping on the glass, eyes as black as coal, teeth long and pointy, blood, and gore all about to happen. Oh, good fun. The vampire myths are pretty straight forward in this book — stakes through the heart, garlic, crosses — and I liked the simplicity there. I also liked that they were dead and dead-looking. There was no attraction to these monsters. The aspect that religion plays is small but I liked that it was included, and I liked even better that it came in the form of an alcoholic priest with faltering faith. Really, what a better way to fight vampires than a priest who doesn’t believe what he preaches. I’m not calling it out for hypocrisy but for reality. I liked that about the priest.

I read horror every once in a while and always enjoy the genre when I read it. I’ll even say that there are very few books that scare me, but for the first time in a long time, I found myself reading this book strictly during daytime hours and switching to another book to read in bed. The reason? Well, at first, I didn’t think much of it because when I’m reading two books I tend to consider one a day book and one a night book. In this case, I think my subconscious made the decision for me. Who am I kidding; I didn’t want to imagine ghostly white faces hovering outside my bedroom window. There I said it.

So, yes, it was worth the re-read. Now I need to see what other King I have on my list and get to it. It’s nice to re-discover an author every few years.

Salem’s Lot

By Stephen King

Pocket Books

ISBN: 067103975X

4 stars

Review – Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus

There are books that make me feel very sad; Frankenstein is one of those books. It was a strangely profound sadness that for whatever reason, made me wish the book wouldn’t end because I wanted to find a morsel of light in this dark, lonely tale. It was not to happen.

Having been encouraged early on by loving, generous parents, Victor Frankenstein grows up in a happy household in Geneva surrounded by the comforts of home and family. While as a child he was mildly obsessed with old scientific theories, his father encourages him to broaden his thoughts. Right before he is to leave for school in Germany, the first of his life’s tragedies happen — his mother, a beloved figure to him, passes away after nursing his much loved adopted sister, Elizabeth, back to health. He leaves for Germany with a heavy heart. While there, he throws himself into the sciences, exceeds all his expectation with his interest in chemistry and like sciences. It’s this interest though that causes his second tragedy — the creation of a monster with parts culled from places unmentioned. When the monster escapes, his fears all become real and death follows wherever he goes. He falls into a deep depression knowing that whatever he has to do to stop the monster of his creation, he will never be happy and there will never be any solace.

This is not my first time reading this book but parts felt completely new to me. I love when this happens to me while re-reading. It’s like discovering something that you want to share with everyone. That said, Frankenstein is not an easy read. The words flow easily enough but it’s the emotional toll that got me this time. I really, truly, felt so sad while reading that at one point I burst out crying for no reason. To be affected like this by a book I’ve experienced before surprised me.

There is so much to this book but for the sake of those that don’t like spoilers, I won’t mention all that happens. There are moments when reading though that you wonder how much one person can take and if it’s fair for Frankenstein to heap all the blame on himself. While, yes, he created a monster that has crossed the line and taken life, and has held over him another life if he didn’t comply with his wishes, sometimes things in life are not meant to be. The monster is a physical manifestation for everything that has gone wrong for him. The loneliness that comes with the realization for Frankenstein made me want to put the book down. I couldn’t though because I was waiting for some kind of resolution. When it happens, it’s not satisfying at all. There is remorse, for Frankenstein, and in some way for the monster as well, but it didn’t make me feel any better. It only brings on more grief.

Now that I’ve sufficiently depressed you, let’s talk about something else. The monster has no name; he is simply the monster. Frankenstein is the scientist. Why did I need a reminder of that? Huh, the things we forget. I didn’t remember much from the first reading of this (it may well have been shortly after high school) and my memory faded. I was happy to renew it though. Of course, now each time I see a movie based on the book I’m going to be looking for mistakes.

I read this book for the Gender in SFF challenge. Glad I finally found an excuse to pick this one up again. If you like horror, fantasy, and science fiction, read this one. If you shy away from this one because you think I might be gruesome, it’s not. It’s worth a read.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus

By Mary Shelley

Signet Classic

ISBN: 0451527712

4.5 stars