Review: The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft

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Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: August 29 to 30, 2013
Read count: 1

For those who enjoy rifling through old research notes, piecing together missing data, making sense of the big picture, and then being left hanging at the end.

I’m kidding, of course. The best part of any horror story is that it leaves you hanging. No explanation, no resolution, no sense of closure.

This story is told in a series of personal accounts in which the narrator pieces together what he thinks was the cause of his granduncle’s mysterious sudden death, speculating that the late uncle’s mysterious anthropological work most likely had something to do with it. He also speculates that the death is part of a larger ongoing mystery that has to do with a legendary mythical creature.

Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean with wings… is how I picture the Cthulhu.

It was a slow read for me due to too much telling and not enough showing. Much of the mystery’s pull is placed on the fear of the unknown, which in this case is “the fear of foreigners and their foreign-ness.”

What this story boils down to is a paranoid account of ethnocentric anxieties and xenophobic psychosis.

Original review can be found here.

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Review: Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: August 28 to 29, 2013
Read count: 2

Every-day life in a small town in Maine is disrupted when a werewolf comes tearing through, literally. He appears every full moon for a few months straight and takes out a couple people while putting everyone in town on edge. His targets and victims are random… at first. The only thing connecting them is that they’re alone when attacked. You’re led to believe that it’s a mindless animal… but is it really?

This was my first Stephen King book. I read it when I much younger, probably too young to have been browsing through the Stephen King shelves, and I remember really liking it. I still like it, although not as much due to having read better werewolf tales since then.

Half of the fun in reading this story is figuring out who or what the werewolf is, and the other half is Stephen King’s depictions of rural small-town life in hysterics. Since it’s been 100*F where I live for the past week, I thought I’d try the audio to enjoy its wintry depths~. (There’s actually no depths to speak of. The story is very much a linear narrative of a werewolf terrorizing the townsfolk.)

The book:
You get a better sense of the town, scenery, and individual characters in writing. Since this is a novella, events kick off on the first page and the bodies pile up quickly. What I like most about this book is it doesn’t take hundred of pages to set the plot in motion.

The movie:
Pulpy, campy, and so 80s. You know who the werewolf is when he is introduced in human form. Even if I hadn’t read the book, I would have been able to pick out the culprit. On the other hand, there’s Terry O’Quinn. With hair. (I don’t remember exactly. I think he had hair here.)

The audio:
The narrator is good. Make sure you have the 80s version though. It’s funnier than what I was expecting. A few quirky descriptions of the townsfolk made me laugh out loud.

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I’d like to read more Stephen King, but I don’t like the way he begins each book, sets up events, or introduces characters. All of this usually takes up half the book, and by chapter 7, I’m usually half-asleep with the book on my face. For these reasons, I find it difficult to settle into his stories and I always struggle with the narration until the main plot takes off. Once it takes off, though, the book is difficult to put down, but everything until that point is a sleepy uphill slog.

Original review can be found here.

Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: August 16 to 25, 2013
Read count: 1

If you have ever lost someone suddenly, unexpectedly, and all those feelings are still fresh and open, then the last few chapters of this book will get to you.

I love when poets write prose because the stories they tell are beautiful in both form and subject matter. Poets understand language structure in ways non-poet novelists don’t (or can’t). They understand the importance of a single turn of phrase or choosing the right word for the right moment to tie the whole story together. Prose is more than a means to move the plot along or to pile on with descriptions of places and things; it’s a space to fill with people’s—not characters’s—most disturbing thoughts. These are the things we don’t get to see in other people—that we wish we could know—that are revealed in writing that makes narration so important in a story.

Jason Mott is a great weaver of simple words, basic sentences, and vivid depictions of various forms of grief, and his writing feels very grounded in reality. Once settled into the story, you don’t feel the pull of his writing, or the emotional depth of the story, until you find yourself deep in the heart of the problem and in the mystery of the returns. And then you begin to think about all the people you’ve lost over the years and whether or not they might return. And what would happen if they do.

The literary-awards, as well as film/TV-rights, buzz surrounding Mr. Mott and this book are well deserved. Personally, though, I hate when good books are turned into spectacles, but spectacles are their destinies these days.

To say anymore about it would be intruding on your experience of this book, should you choose to read it. In the event that you do, I don’t want to be the person to ruin it for you. (Other reviewers are doing a pretty good job of that already—ha ha… *facepalm*. There’s an html spoiler code for a reason, people.)

* * * spoilers below * * * 

But why only~ 4 stars? Because I don’t like the way events were wrapped up. Too made-for-Lifetime-movie for me.

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Just got the ARC in the mail. Can’t wait to start. I’ve been looking forward to this book for a couple of months now.

I’d like to thank the people at Harlequin Books for sending me a copy to enjoy.

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Poets writing prose is probably one of my favorite literary things ever. Combine that with people returning from the grave for reasons yet to be known and I am hooked.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Inksuite by S. Jane Sloat

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: August 06 to 16, 2013
Read count: 1

A very nice collection of short poems about the simple things in life. What really impressed me were the quick turn of phrases that, upon first read may seem simple, but really stand out once read again.

I’d like to thank the author for sending me a copy to enjoy.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Rivers of London (Peter Grant, #1) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: July 27 to August 15, 2013
Read count: 1

If you like your urban fiction to have flavors of modern-day London and you like your London stories to have London-specific historical accounts popping up every so often, then look no further. This book could fill that void in your reading reservoir (river pun intended).

Peter Grant, a young officer in training, is done with his interim year, though his prospects for an exciting career in law enforcement are not bright. Then a chance encounter at the scene of a crime reveals that he has an innate sense of the paranormal. This leads him down a path to the weird(er) side of law enforcement—magic.

Peter becomes an officer and an apprentice to a wizard named Nightingale and moves into Nightingale’s huge Victorian estate—it’s all very English, you see. After settling into the narration, I somehow developed an English-accented reading voice inside my head that lasted for the duration of the book. If I stay very quiet, I can still hear it.

Peter’s journey into magic takes time, effort, and practice. Many exploding apples later he’s able to perform a single levitation spell on command. He’s not an overnight success. As a matter of fact, he can barely manage a spell on his own by the end of the book.

What I like most about this approach is that Aaronovitch ties real-world science and history into otherworldly magic to create a encompassing, believable world full of wonder and mystery and chaos. Since he’s just a regular guy with some magical inclination, Peter is no genius. Both science and magic are hard for him, so his training starts with very basic physics and chemistry to explain the nature of magic and how it works in our world. The reader learns more about the inner-workings of science and magic as Peter learns—and stumbles and flails and destroys cell phones. Aaronovitch doesn’t get into biology or species origins much in this book, but I suspect he’s saving them for later books (because you can’t introduce a host of creatures and not delve further into their origin mythology).

In terms of content, I don’t think Aaronovitch is shaking up the urban fantasy genre much with this book. What he does well, though, is tell a relatively familiar story in his own way. You get a strong sense of London, magic, creatures, and especially Peter Grant. He’s special in the most ordinary, economical, pragmatic, solid kind of way, and he’s special because he’s (street)smart, calculating, and doesn’t take things for granted. A sensible kind of smart that evolves as the character evolves.

Aaronovitch’s writing is so much better than what I’m used to seeing in this genre. He makes subtle, yet poignant commentary about racial identity, racial tensions, race relations, and ties them to Peter’s life. It’s evident when an author understands the depths of the character he’s created and the real-world problems that such a character would face if he were alive today. I think Aaronovitch has done this exceptionally well.

I’ll wrap up this review on a lighthearted note. The narration and dialogue are great. I love how it moves events along at an even pace while throwing in a hilarious quip here and there when you least expect it. Many of my favorite lines caught me off guard during the first read through.

Peter and Nightingale off to interview a possible witness:

“I’m just going to have a chat with this troll,” said Nightingale.
“Sir,” I said, “I think we’re supposed to call them rough sleepers.”
“Not this one we don’t,” said Nightingale. “He’s a troll.”

After Peter and Nightingale blew up a vampire den:

Concerned neighbours rushed out to see what was happening to their property values, but Nightingale showed them his warrant card.

Peter concerned for a possible witness… and himself:

I actually used the word “goovy” and she didn’t even flinch, which was worrying on so many levels.

The moment Peter and I connected on a spiritual~ level:

Not that [Mum] ever beat me, a deficiency that she later blamed for my failure to pass my A levels. Numerous university-bound cousins were held up as shining examples of discipline through physical violence.

I have never liked a first book in a series enough to give it 5-stars, so this is a first because this book really deserves the highest rating. Here’s to hoping that this series gets better with each book.

 

Since Peter Grant is biracial and the main character, there’s some controversy regarding the US Midnight Riot cover art. While I agree that intentionally obscuring the model’s face with a silhouette is suspicious, I still prefer the UK cover art because it fits more with the tone of the book and Peter’s personality.

Aside from hiding his racial identity, the US cover art also markets Peter as a trigger-happy, take-charge ass-kicker, and that’s just false advertisement. He doesn’t care for firearms and doesn’t like to intrude on other people unless he’s making an arrest. Clearly not the qualities of ass-kicker—well, not in this book anyway.

 

Original review can be found here.