Title and author: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Dave McKean.
Genre: Fantasy fiction suitable for teens but equally enjoyable for adults.
What led you to pick up the book? It had ‘Neil Gaiman’ written on the cover.
Summarize the plot without revealing the ending . One night a man named Jack breaks into a house and kills an entire family…nearly. A toddler escapes and winds up in the cemetery at the end of the road, where he is taken in and raised by the resident Dead.
This is a Graveyard Book mousepad from Neverwhere.net. It’s designed by Kendra Stout and it’s neat.
What did you like most? Learning what ‘life’ is like for the Dead and what abilities they have. His relationship with Silas, his father figure, was touching. I also liked that the reader was left to work out the… race? of one characters–Gaiman knows his readers are intelligent.
What did you dislike? That there wasn’t enough of it.
Graveyard Book illustration by Dave McKean
Thoughts on the main character : Each chapter has Bod (short for Nobody Owens) a few years older so we get to see his progression towards adulthood, which felt true.
Share a favourite scene. The scene beyond the ghoul gate (Ghulheim) was particularly inventive–it put me in mind of Neverwhere. The bizarre physics and characters were pure Gaiman. The danse macabray chapter was great fun, as well. There was a suspense as to where the on Earth the chapter was going and why.
Ghulheim — (poss. by Simon Dalton)
Opinion on the ending. It worked and didn’t bring a tear to my eye at all. Nope.
Overall rating: 10/10. If you’re a Gaiman fan and haven’t read it because it’s ‘for kids’ or something, read it anyway.
This week, reviews of comic adaptations of a Neil Gaiman novel and two of his short stories.
The comic adaptation of Neverwhere written by Mike Carey (who also did the incredible Lucifer) and illustratied by Glenn Fabry was overseen by Gaiman and was excellent.
Due to being a decent human being, an English everyman schlub is pulled into a parallel dimension that exists below London. The story is of him trying to help a young woman learn who killed her family and to get back to his life in London Above. It’s a bit Wizard of Oz in that way, except it takes a great deal more than clicking his heels together to return home. The story (and illustrations) are incredibly imaginative and entertaining.
It’s difficult to speak to how much was left out, because it’s been a decade since I read the novel and watched the TV miniseries, but all the big points were there and the illustrations more closely captured what was in my head than television could do. It’s nine issues and I highly recommend it.
Only the End of the World Again was a short story written for Oni Press that was eventually collected in Smoke and Mirrors . Written by Gaiman, it was adapted to comic by P. Craig Russell and illustrated by Troy Nixey and coloured by Matthew Hollingsworth for the collection. It’s a new take on the Elder Gods of Lovecraft and casts a very unlikely hero–in the form of a werewolf–to try to avert world-ending disaster…again. Some of the art was nightmare fuel , which was appropriate for the story. Still … shudder.
’Murder Mysteries’ began as a short story written for horror anthology Midnight Graffiti and was collected in Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors in the late 80s. In 2002, Gaiman and P. Craig Russell adapted it into a graphic novel. Set before the creation of the universe, it’s about the first murder and explains why Lucifer the angel chose such a drastic career change. The illustrations are incredible and definitely helped, in terms of picturing how angels created everything and what the universe would look like prior to that.
“Fire and Flesh” by Michael Fletcher
“With You” by Ian Welke
“Tree Hugger” by Gef Fox
“Convention of Ekphrasis” by Libby Cudmore and Matthew Quinn Martin
“90-Day Limit” by Philip M. Roberts
“Hurricane Drunk” by Harry Markov
“Lakeshore Drive” by Joanna Parypinski
“Orpheus and Eurydice” by Miranda Ciccone
“Fate’s Mask” by Steve Toase
“Palace of Rats” by Anna Sykora
“The Pianist’s Wife” by Nicole M. Taylor
“Nightcrawlers” by Jean Graham
“In the Paint” by Michael Haynes
“Beneath the Surface” by Milo James Fowler
“The Beatification of Thomas Small, or How to Make a Saint” by Priya Sharma
“What It Means to Love” by Andrew Bourelle
“His City” by Craig Pay
“The Dubious Apotheosis of Baskin Gough” by Patrick S. McGinnity
“Triptych” by Adele Gardner
“The House That Wept Puddin’” by Eric Dimbleby
“The Last Laugh” by Brooke Miller
What led you to pick up the book? I’ve been reading Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood–classic weird fiction writers–and wanted to see what modern authors were doing. This seemed like a good place to start.
What stories did you like most? There was a nice mix of styles and time periods so it’s difficult to compare, but ‘The Pianist’s Wife’ by Nicole M. Taylor was a wonderful Victorian ghost story and was my absolute favourite. Followed closely by ‘The Beatification of Thomas Small, or How to Make a Saint’ by Priya Sharma, which was set during the Inquisition. It was excellently written and gave some insight into the psychology of Inquisitors. ‘Lakeshore Drive’ by Joanna Parypinski will tickle fans of the Inferno like myself. ‘Hurricane Drunk’ by Harry Markov was an interesting take on the Baba Yaga tale.
Were there any stories you disliked? I’ve never been all that interested in what happens after humans nuke the hell out of each other, but even those stories were well done. Nothing was badly written and I didn’t feel like skipping any stories.
Overall rating: 9/10. The only quibble I had was the number of typos, which wasn’t an enormous amount, but enough that I noticed and it took me out of the story (ies) for a moment. If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, it’s 10/10.
Further thoughts: Shumate did an excellent job in terms of the ordering of the stories–there was a certain flow from one to the next even though the selections had such varied themes and time periods. This drew the collection together very well and isn’t the easiest thing to do.
On the subject of varied themes: there really was something for everyone from monsters to psychological torment to sci-fi-ish fantasy to post-apocalyptic survivor stories. It’d be a great introduction to weird fiction for someone because of the variety of themes. It’s also the sort of book I will probably re-read at some point.
And I loved the cover art, which was done by Nihil , who will be getting his own post soon. Cover art absolutely matters and this choice was excellent.
Halfway through Arcane II I went to the Cold Fusion Media site and got the five issues of Arkham Tales that were available for free. Because I need more of this fiction in my life and I trust Cold Fusion Media to choose good work. I had to go for the freebies at this point, because being unemployed really cuts into the book-buying budget, but I’ll definitely be picking up the first Arcane anthology and Shumate’s novella The Demon Cross .
I received a copy of this book to review, but was under no obligation to give a good review.
In ‘The Exiles’ from Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man , the year is 2120 and Poe lives on Mars with Ambrose Bierce, Shakespeare, Dickens, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Bram Stoker and all of their creations. Back on Earth, their works had been condemned as flights of fancy and were not to be tolerated. They were systematically destroyed by the rationalist governments of the world. Some copies were kept as mementos of a less enlightened time and it was the life in those books that kept the authors alive.
Now, men were coming to Mars–no doubt to destroy the planet just as they’d destroyed Earth–and Poe is having none of it. He rouses the others to invent the most terrifying creations to frighten the humans off. They’ve taken everything else, they shan’t have the final place they call home.
The descriptions are fantastic (in both senses of the word) and atmosphere is expertly rendered. The idea of gifted writers being able to create terrors out of thin air to do their bidding is a wonderful image and having multiple characters from famous authors participate (the witches from Macbeth, yes!) was brilliant. 10/10
A quote I particularly enjoyed: ‘Twenty nights I was stabbed, butchered, a screaming bat pinned to a surgical mat, a thing rotting underground in a black box; bad, wicked dreams. Our whole crew dreamed of witch-things and were-things, vampires and phantoms, things they couldn’t know anything about. Why? Because books on such ghastly subjects were destroyed a century ago. By law. Forbidden for anyone for own the grisly volumes.’ More quotes here .
‘Poe Posthumous’ the first story in Joyce Carol Oates’ Wild Nights: Stories about the last days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James and Hemingway, envisioned the final days Poe spent after escaping Baltimore to be a Lighthouse keeper and experience true solitude. I was expecting an attempt at filling in the blanks surrounding Poe’s actual death, which was quite mysterious , and, though it didn’t include the facts of the man’s death, Oates made his fictional death into something of which Lovecraft would have been proud. There were traces of Poe’s stories–the beloved pet that … doesn’t end well… madness, a journal, a startling revelation. 9/10
A quote: I am perfectly at ease with aloneness . As Pascal observed in the 139th Pensee: …all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.
This Diary shall record whether such a ‘truth’ is universal, or applies merely to the weak.
More quotes can be found under ‘ W ‘ for Wild Nights.
If you’re looking for something less horror and more historical fiction regarding Poe’s death, I highly recommend Matthew Pearl’s The Poe Shadow .
Poe didn’t leave us with an inordinate amount of work so rabid fans must look elsewhere for their Eddie Poe fix. Happily, talented writers often include him in their stories. Here are the first two I could find. More reviews will be forthcoming.
Batman: Nevermore by Len Wein and Guy Davis: This five issue series takes place outside of the Batman canon and features Poe as a young reporter in Baltimore during a string of horrifying crimes. At the first two of the crime scenes, the police see a figure that looks like a giant raven near the scene and therefore dub them ‘The Raven Murders.’ The victims both belonged to the Gotham Club, an exclusive club for gentlemen (of the smoking room variety, not pole-dancer variety). Poe goes to the club to interview them about an upcoming costume ball (Masque of the Red Death alert) and meets M. Valdemar, Roderick Usher and Arthur Gordon Pym. Also in attendance is a young man named Bruce Wayne. The series incorporates many of Poe’s plots and themes, both from his fiction and poetry. It’s entertaining even for those of us who’ve never read a Batman comic and should please Poe fans, as well. (There’s only one thing that may irk some, which is that our man is portrayed as a weakling, whereas, in reality, he was quite physically fit.) Still, I give it 8/10.
In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe by Jonathan Scott Fuqua, Steven Parke and Stephen John Phillips
I prefer to review things I enjoyed rather than slagging off something I didn’t, however, since this falls into the category of ‘Poe in fiction’, here goes.:
The only good thing about this…thing is the cover, which is above. The premise is that Poe’s talent came from demonic sources/his dead father and if he leaves Baltimore it fails. It turns out that the demons are all in his head and he could have been creative anywhere. Fuckin’ hell. But that’s only the crap icing on the crap cake, because the plot and graphics are execrable, as well. Rather than a straight up graphic novel, the ‘characters’ of Poe, Mrs Clemm and Virginia, are played by actual people. Poor sods.
The ‘plot’ includes the infuriating idea that Poe was in a love triangle with his aunt and niece. What a load of tosh. Look, I know, when someone says something’s dreadful, it’s human nature to be tempted to see if it’s really as bad as all that, but please, heed my warning: don’t. Just… don’t. 0/10.
Seriously… just don’t.
Wikipedia has a list of other work that feature Poe as a character, some of which are on my shelves and will be reviewed upon being read.
Once again, William Nicholson has written a book that makes my mind spin. He wrote Shadowlands as well as a truly excellent, philosophical novel called The Society of Others . His books are the type where it seems he’s telling a simple story, but there are layers upon layers of other things happening. The one I’m reading now focuses on love, but seems to me to address any feeling people have at all.
I’m currently reading The Trial of True Love (about halfway through) and it’s made me consider the times I’ve thought I was in love with someone. Looking back, I would now term it ‘obsessed’ or that I was bored with my life and needed something to focus on and so was in the frame of mind that would allow me to pick out some random woman and say I was in love with her. If she doesn’t return the love that’s even better, as I didn’t really want a relationship–I just wanted something to obsess over–and it’s more romantic if it’s unrequited. Then you get to suffer for your love.
The book is about a writer who is writing a book about true love and love at first site. He’s thirty, broke and has never been in love. While working on the book, he falls into love at first site, which he takes to be a coincidence. I think it’s that he was thinking about it and writing about it and so he wanted to experience it and so did. It’s written in first person, so to hear him talk about the way he feels about this woman reminds me of how I ‘felt’ about one woman in particular. I put that in quotes because I had convinced myself I loved her and would do anything she asked, but that’s not what was happening in reality.
Another book I’m reading right now [Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert] addresses this sort of thing—how we define emotions we’ve experienced in the past. What is the true emotion? What we feel at any moment, which is influenced by if we’ve eaten/got enough sleep/our childhoods/our cultural background or how we view those emotions two days or a month or a decade later, when we can see the picture most clearly? I cannot remember if I was aware that I was lying to myself—I don’t believe I was. I recently found a large notebook’s worth of papers devoted to this woman. If she’d've returned the sentiment, it would have been romantic, but when it’s one-sided it’s creepy.
This also reminds me of the times men have told me they loved me when they didn’t really know me. One man was particularly adamant and we talking to one another enough (I never spoke to my inamorata) that I heard his side of things enough to see that he’d never accept that I simply didn’t love him. He seemed to take it that I was intentionally trying to be alone and that if I’d only try we’d be happy for ever. His ‘love’ for me was based purely in his mind, as my ‘love’ was. Even though he and I interacted and I had no real contact with the woman I was enamoured with I think our experiences were the same. I just knew if I had the chance she’d realise we were meant to be together. Ironically, these two experiences, which lasted several years, over-lapped by a considerable time and I did not see the similarities. We are blind to our own ironies, I believe.
Back to the novel, the protagonist (in his bid to get this woman to let him into her world) has explained to her why he believes in true love (she does not) and why he believes he could meet his true love and never stray. He says that true love is just that. Love that has to do with truth. His true love would know everything there is to know about him and still love him and if he were to have an affair he’d have to tell his wife about that affair to keep their love anchored in truth, which would be unthinkable. I find that idea simple yet interesting. Do the people who cheat NOT believe in true love—do they believe in keeping secrets from the person to whom they are supposed to be closest?
Personally, I really lucked out in finding someone who is my best friend and got to know that person over a long period of time. It wasn’t a being-struck-by-lightning sort of thing, but from my own experience, while being struck by lightning is dramatic and makes every second of every day beautiful or terrible it’s also painful as hell and one is never quite the same as before and not in a good way.
[I found this when going through some old files. It must have been written in May/June 2006, but I thought it was worth posting.]
What led you to pick up the book? It’s written by a guy whose blog is very insightful and amusing. I also enjoy lad lit, as I identify with the hapless dudes who have a terrible time with the ladies and just sorting their lives out in general.
Summarize the plot without revealing the ending. An Irishman living in Sweden tries to get his life on track after the break up of a long-term relationship.
What did you like most? The humour was funny, which is what you want in humour. Also, I enjoyed learning about Sweden through the eyes of an Irishman. The main characters were involved in the techy/computery/softwarey industry, which isn’t something you see much and was interesting. It made me never want to get involved in a start-up, though. There were more sub-plots than most lad lit books have, which is a good thing.
What did you dislike? Irish characters with unpronounceable names. If I wanted to be tripped up every time I came across a protagonist’s name I’d read Dostoevsky. [FYI: Eoin is pronounced like Owen or own and Eamonn is AY-mun.]
Thoughts on the main character: He was a good bloke. Very everyman, trying to learn to stand up for himself and be a good dad and just a good person.
Opinion on the ending. It was satisfying without feeling too forced, which is something that often happens in the genre.
Overall rating: 9/10 for lad lit. High Fidelity is my 10. I’d definitely recommend it.
What led you to pick up this book? I wanted to read more steampunk fiction and had heard good things about this one on my favourite (now-defunct) book forum Readerville.
Summarize the plot, but don’t give away the ending . Three dissimilar people take on a nefarious Cabal set on seizing power through a mysterious Process. The Process can render memories into the physical form of blue glass books, which can then be ‘read’ by anyone. The books are addictive and the chemicals used to make them highly dangerous. Lots of swordplay, as well as most other weapons available to the Victorians.
What did you like most about the book? The action sequences were well done. Usually I don’t appreciate action scenes–I see them as necessary to get back to the characters or plot–but these were good. There are several on trains and airships that were suspenseful and interesting. And the sex scenes were well-written. This is saying something, as some of the best writers can’t write a sex scene that isn’t cringe-inducing. Dahlquist doesn’t get too explicit, yet one knows what’s going on, which is perfect. I also liked the descriptions of the Process and the gadgetry involved with that.
What did you dislike about the book? The story is told from three different points of view and each character had their own questions they wanted answered; this resulted in paragraphs of questions running through each of their minds, which was quite confusing.
What did you think of the main character? The story is told from three different points of view–a German doctor sent to look after the German prince of Macklenburg, a spoiled but resourceful young woman of means and a hardened assassin. Each character is rendered believably and they take turns telling the story–pushing the plot along. The Cabal consists of enough characters to populate a Russian novel and all of their motivations and machinations get confusing at times. It’s obvious Dahlquist has put much thought into each of the characters, though. The most prominent of the bad guys is the Contessa. Classic Lady MacBeth type, but entertaining enough. It was never clear to me what drove her other than power-lust.
Share some quotes from the book.
The chief one that comes to mind is: Dreading what you cannot change serves no purpose.
Share a favorite scene from the book.
There’s a sequence where all three of the protagonists are at a massive estate in the English countryside that is well rendered. None know where the other two are (or where they personally are on the estate) and the reader really gets a sense of the size of the grounds and the playing-it-by-ear-ness of what the characters are doing.
What about the ending?
The ending was fine. Usually I’m unhappy with endings of novels–particularly long novels where it can feel like the author simply tired of writing and said, “Fine, here’s the end,” but this one felt true to the story. This is a Victorian England story written in that style, so certain things had to happen and that was to be expected.
Overall Rating: 7/10 It could have used some editing, but overall it was a fun ride.
[Post from a previous blog. Original post date: 10 October, 2007]
Title and author: ‘The Terror: A Mystery’ by Arthur Machen
What led you to pick up the book? I wanted to read more Machen and this was the first one on my Kindle
Summarize the plot without revealing the ending. During the first world war people begin dying under mysterious circumstance in remote villages in England and Wales. Each death has a different MO but there are so many they have to be connected somehow. This was during the first war using tanks and planes and there were rumours of weaponized gases so the British put nothing past the Germans. Typical of war-time situations, the British imbued the Germans with near magical abilities, so between new technology and nefarious Germans, they could be targeting innocents all over Great Britain for no reason than to destabilise the country from within.
What did you like most? Machen’s gift for language. Particularly his descriptions of nature and the Welsh countryside. Also the explanation of how everyone had been killed was creative.
What did you dislike? The explanation of the cause behind the killings.
Thoughts on the main character: He was sort of a non-character. Well-written, but mostly there as an intelligent stand-in for the reader. There was nothing outstanding about him.
Opinion on the ending: As I said, I wasn’t crazy about the explanation of the cause, but it made sense from Machen’s p.o.v., as he was quite religious and into spiritualism. Animals in the countryside decided that since humans were becoming animalistic and killing one another horribly then they had no reason to obey humans, as they were no better than animals. Man had forsaken his role of leader and protector and had become one of them. The ability of group-think on this level was explained as something we do not yet understand, as we know very little about the world of the spirits. The ending was also a warning, that, as it stopped as quickly as it started, it could begin again if man decides to act violently towards his fellow man on a scale of WWI
Share some quotes:
—- [Regarding the new technologies of planes and tanks] We have just begun to navigate a strange region; we must expect to encounter strange adventures, strange perils. [This is applicable with any technology that has incredible power]
—-People seized on this theory largely because it offered at least the comfort of an explanation, and any explanation, even the poorest, is better than an intolerable and terrible mystery.
—-Germany had by this time perpetrated so many horrors and had so excelled in devilish ingenuities that no abomination seemed too abominable to be probable, or too ingeniously wicked to be beyond the tortuous malice of the Hun. [This was written in 1917. Yikes.]
What led you to pick up the book? It was in the first set of e-books I bought through StoryBundle . It was a great deal on several horror/fantasy books, which is a genre I’m trying to become more familiar with.
Summarize the plot without revealing the ending. A boy,Owen, living on a small island meets and begins worshipping a Lovecraftian monster. He asks only one thing: for the girl that he sees only at the summers. He loves her when he first sees her. She is purity.
The summer after the both of them finish high school, she shows up on the island with a boy. A boy who is moneyed and self-assured. And very possessive of the girl.
Owen knows this is wrong–Jimmy should not have Jenna. Jenna has always been his. So he formulates a plan.
What did you like most? I’m still getting to grips with horror as a genre and am recovering from my literary fiction snobbishness, so I liked (was surprised by) how well it was written. The writing wasn’t luminous, but I also have no complaints, which is saying something. I enjoyed the plot, which I thought was going to be predictable but turned out to be anything but. The general tone was Lovecraftian at times. The tone also reminded me of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History in that there’s a coldness to the protagonist, who is also trying to fit in with a set of privileged teens.
Also, the story is told from four different points of view and each character, when narrating, had their own voice. This is difficult to do and Clegg handled it well. He also captured the variety of forces at work on hormonal teenage boys and the ways those forces manifest in a way that felt organic.
What did you dislike? Whilst the writing is fine overall, there are some clumsy phrases. ‘Spring shat out of winter in New England,’ springs to mind.
Give an opinion on the ending Surprising. It did not go the way I’d thought it would do (in a good way). I also liked that we’re never told if the boy’s god from the deeps, Dagon, is really exerting force in his life or if it’s all in his head. And I do love unreliable narrators.
Title and author of book? Complete Death Note Black Edition written by Tsugumi Ohba, art by Takeshi Obata
Genre? Manga. This is my first manga and I quite enjoyed it.
What led you to pick up this book? It’s about a person who can kill criminals without being caught and decides to make the world a better place in this way and how that person is considered a criminal. And it has a goth look to it.
Summarize the plot, but don’t give away the ending. It’s about a notebook that falls from the world of the gods of death. A human picks it up and learns that when he writes a name in it, the person dies. The notebook is accompanied by the god of death who owns it, a Shinigami, named Ryuk. (pronounced ryooku) who only the person who picked up the death notebook, Light Yagami, can see. Say hello, Ryuk.
Light knows that criminals dying left and right will provoke suspicions, including that of his father, a top police detective. Light is extremely intelligent and goes to great measures to avoid being caught, which involves pitting his considerable wits against several other geniuses.
What did you like most about the book? The speculation on the way the world would respond to someone topping all of the criminals read as realistic and was interesting. The quirks of the geniuses was fun.
What did you dislike about the book? We can see the thoughts of all of the characters and they think a lot . All of the thinking about their very complicated plans and what they think the others are thinking and planning can get confusing. Some of the rules of the book also seemed contrived rather than organic.
What did you think of the main character? He was extremely intelligent but completely heartless. He had absolutely no compunction about killing both his sister and father. In a way, it makes sense, as God doesn’t have a problem killing people, either, and Light wants to be Kira/God.
Share a favourite scene from the book. The end had me at the edge of my seat, wondering who’s side everyone would take. The beginning also had several tense scenes where we’re learning how the book works and getting an idea of Light’s intelligence.
What about the ending? It made sense in terms of the narrative of the story but I was disappointed that the ‘good’ guys won, as I wanted . The very end, where Kira has become a god and has worshippers, as well as how it’s revealed by Ryuk that there is no heaven or hell and that when people die they’re just dead was great.
Overall Rating: 9/10
Other Thoughts? Thoughts on the philosophies in the series. Kira’s principle’s are quite Satanic, in that he believes that people are allowed to pursue their own happiness as long as they don’t impinge on others’ rights to do so as well. He says, ‘It all boils down to those who interfere with people’s pursuit of happiness and those who do not….The right to be happy, that is something that everybody has equal claim to. But that is not something you get by harming, deceiving or even killing other people. To pursue your happiness without getting in the way of others, while respecting the rights of others; that is the way humans should lead their lives.’
This is an excellent example of Satanic philosophy, stated succinctly. Towards the end, when Light explains his philosophy, Near says ‘Nobody can tell what is right and what is wrong, what is righteous and what is evil. Even if there is a god and I had his teachings before me, I would think it through and decide if that was right or wrong myself…’ though Near is pitted against Kira, his feeling is also quite Satanic, as Satanists believe in knowing oneself and one’s personal philosophy rather than what others tell you. This is also one of the overlaps with Buddhism, as the Buddha said, ‘Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.’ I’m still with Kira, obviously.
Bonus factoid: A friend of mine who speaks Japanese says the translation of the word ‘Note’ in ‘Death Note’ is actually the word for ‘notebook’, so it should be called ‘Death Notebook’.
This clip is from the live action film. Shinigamis need apples in the way smokers need cigarettes.